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Small business owners commit themselves to their businesses, frequently working 60+ hour weeks to stay afloat. It’s a labor of love, but it shouldn’t take over your life. Finding a balance between work and private life isn’t just about preserving your sanity—it’s critical to the future of your business.
“Entrepreneurs live and breathe their companies,” said Michael Overell, cofounder and CEO of RecruitLoop, a curated marketplace of independent recruiters. “When you believe in anything that much, you will tend to go overboard in working on it.”
The problem with overworking, however, is that it’s counterproductive. Lost productivity, burnout, clouded decisions and loss of passion can set a founder up for failure.
Renée Warren, founder and CEO at marketing firm Onboardly, is one of countless entrepreneurs who’ve struggled with finding a work/life balance. “When I’m out of orbit, everything in my life suffers,” she said. “I fight with my husband and cofounder. I eat poorly. I’m exhausted and completely out touch with my creative brain.”
Relaxation isn’t always intuitive. Business owners will frequently try and fail before finding the right approach.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment with your lifestyle in trying to find opportunities to relax,” Overell said. “One of our cofounders takes a long early morning walk every day and another one goes on an intensive meditation retreat every [year]. Our head of growth recently cut her hours and upped her workouts in order to be more productive at work.”
Find what makes you passionate, inspired, healthier and happier. This process requires time and effort, but the upside is a clearer mind, better decisions and less burnout.
Warren’s to-do list seems infinite. If she wanted to work forever, she could. What helps her stay productive, however, is a conscious effort to build variability into her day.
“I split my time between tasks so that I can relax in between,” she said. “If I am writing a blog post from 9:00-10:30am, then from 10:30am-11am I’ll check emails, or go grab a coffee.”
Warren looks for subtle “hacks” to help her stay focused without becoming exhausted or bored.
“I’ll never tackle the same type of task one after the other. It never fares well,” she said. “This allows me recoup and actually restart my thoughts when I get to the next task.”
Don’t let long-term ambition cloud your short-term judgement. Building a business takes years, not days. Warren stressed that it’s important for business owners to set realistic goals and expectations.
“You will have ups and downs. Just make sure to take a long-term view. Look at your milestones in terms of years.”
In addition to defining what you want to accomplish, make sure to have a bigger vision for why. Keeping your work in context is crucial for sustaining mental energy, both for you and your team.
When small business owners try to stick to a 9 to 5 workday, the results can be disastrous.
“It’s always going to be more of a give-and-take rather than a regimented schedule,” Overell said. “Owners need to be able to respond to crises and crunch times, but they also need to be able to let go and actually leave the office when they can.”
Warren describes this dynamic as a sequence of “ebbs” and “flows.” “The reality is that balance is out of my control,” she said. “Working hard is inevitable.”
To address symptoms of overwork before bad habits start to form, Warren encourages business owners to focus on the aspects of their schedules they can actually control, rather than letting their schedules control them.
For small business owners, work never stops. That doesn’t mean that downtime will never happen—it just happens on the business’s schedule, not your own. By embracing the ups and downs of small business ownership and building time for relaxation into your schedule, you can keep giving everything you’ve got to your small business without giving up your personal life.
Ritika Puri specializes in business, marketing, entrepreneurship and tech. She writes for American Express OPEN Forum, Forbes, Investopedia, Business Insider, CMO, the SAP Innovation Blog, and others.
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