Life as a business owner is a rollercoaster. The notion of work life balance seems a far-fetched fantasy. And in some ways, it is.
But the effects of ignoring work life balance are devastating. Both to your mental health and to the success of your business.
The very definition of work life balance leads us to a false premise. But there are powerfully effective strategies to maintaining balance as a business owner.
And we’re going to explore them in detail, as well as better ways to think about work life balance as you move forward in your business.
What is work life balance?
The standard definition of work life balance looks like this:
The division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.
It’s an either/or scenario.
Either you spend your energy working, or you spend your energy on ‘family or leisure’. Here’s another version of the definition:
The amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.
Notice the alternative to work is ‘family’ and ‘things you enjoy’. So it’s either work, or fun. It’s work, or family. It’s work, or everything else in life.
The ratio of work life balance fails us
Pitching work against everything else in life is insane.
It’s the reason so many business owners have a hard time maintaining work life balance. It’s unreasonably skewed.
Seth Godin shines a light on this absurd ratio:
Seems crazy, right?
And what of enjoyment? These definitions leave no room for work to be enjoyable or fun. Richard Branson has his own take on the matter:
“Given my well-known focus on business always being enjoyable and fun, the boundary between my work and my personal life does sometimes tend to blur a little.”
And they’re not the only forward thinkers on the topic. What a healthy work to life balance looks like for each of us is highly personal.
Sticking too close to standard definitions is setting business owners up to fail. It’s time to rethink what work life balance means for you, and we’re going to explore that in detail.
The importance of work life balance
So while the work-vs-everything ratio doesn’t serve us, the concept of balance is still important.
Without balance, we’re vulnerable to chronic stress, burnout, fatigue and a host of work-related health disorders.
Keeping things in balance is more important nowadays considering how we work:
Home life and work life are blended. How many of us take work home? Or use the same phone for personal and work purposes? Do you check work emails at night? Complete paperwork or orders from home? Take social media photos for your business account on weekends?
We all do. Work is no longer a neat 9-to-5. As business owners, work is an integral part of our lives.
We spend long hours at work, whether we’re working productively or not. And what suffers?
Our health, our family and friendships, our connection to something more than the everyday reality of life.
And here’s the kicker, while the rest of life suffers when there’s too much work, so does the work itself. Studies have proven that workaholics are less productive.
The blurred lines between work and life
So what happens when everything bleeds over?
If you’re a small business owner, entrepreneur or creative professional, the lines between business and private life are blurred even further.
Does any of this relate to you:
- You work from home in a home office, studio or your kitchen table.
- You work with your partner or discuss work strategies with your partner.
- You’ve found people in your industry that you genuinely enjoy. They’ve become real friends, not just industry associates. Your social outings now cross over with work.
- Your business grew out of a love of something. Not just a money idea. You pour heart and soul into it every day.
- You work flexible hours. Weekends and after 5pm. Even if there are set hours for your work, there’s still work to be done outside of those hours.
Is it any wonder we have a hard time switching off from work?
How to tell if you're out of balance
Ok, so let’s take a look at your own sense of balance right now. How can you tell if you’re out of balance?
Balance isn’t a tightrope, it’s a sliding scale.
When we are in balance, we can be active or passive. Active and in balance looks like effort. Passive and in balance looks like rest.
Dead-centre is not the aim. We slide back and forth between the active and passive states, depending on what’s called for in our lives at any given moment.
When we’re out of balance, we swing more wildly. We move into extreme states of active and passive energy use. We swing from struggle to fatigue.
You can check in with your own state of balance (or imbalance) by contemplating your responses to the following questions:
THE WORK LIFE BALANCE QUESTIONNAIRE
- Am I sleeping well, and enough?
- Does life excite me?
- Do I leave work happy?
- Do I wake up feeling eager?
- Am I happy with the hours and days I work?
- Is there always enough time for play?
- Am I proud of the work I put out into the world?
- Do I love the people I work with and serve?
- Is life full and rich and satisfying for me?
- Does my income easily support my lifestyle?
- Am I often present and enjoying the moment?
- Do I have healthy boundaries that serve me?
- Do I love what I do most days of my life?
- Do I allow myself to rest and relax and do absolutely nothing ‘productive’?
- Does work feel like joyful conscious effort, or like a hard struggle?
- Do I experience rest and recharge, or just fatigue and exhaustion?
How did you go? There’s no need for a scoring system. I bet you can tell if you feel in balance or not. If you’re still not sure, ask yourself the following:
Does life more often feel stressful or joyful?
HOW TO STAY IN BALANCE?
Balance is completely individual.
Take sleep for example: you might need nine hours sleep, or you might function best on seven hours.
I have friends who swear by daytime siestas. Others who stay up past midnight. How about you?
I’m an early bird. When great ideas strike my brain at 4am, I run with them. On the flipside, you’ll rarely find me working after 4pm, when my brain is in shut down mode.
You might be in balance working 12 hour days, or you might be in balance working 4 hour days. In the same way, you might be in balance working six days a week, or two.
Staying in balance looks like listening to your rhythms. Pay attention to when you feel good versus when you feel tired, cranky, spent or joyless.
You might already know what balance looks like for you. While your version will look different to others, you’ll know when it’s right for you because it feels sustainable long-term, and it gives you joy.
Strategies for work life balance
Ok, so what do you do when things already are out of balance? The best strategy is to take the time to tune in and find custom solutions.
I believe strongly in intuitive business management. Meditation and mindfulness are just as important as showing up and getting the work done.
Take the time to check in with your body, your mind, your emotions, your instincts. The wisest part of you knows exactly what you need.
When you get good at listening, you can hear it whisper solutions. More sleep. Give me iron. Cancel that meetup. Book that singing lesson.
But if accessing intuition is not an option for you right now, if it’s too new or out of reach, you can still create a sense of harmony by considering the following:
Rebalancing requires learning the recognise the difference between contained and uncontained energy.
This is another way to think about work life balance. Instead of work-versus-everything, you can check in with yourself and see what states you’re spending your time in.
Can you grow and expand in your business, or do you spiral into chaos?
When it’s time to zone in, do you feel focussed or restricted in your energy?
Again, the solution is to learn to swing a little less wildly. You can start that shift by recognising your own patterns of balance or imbalance.
REBALANCE EVERY ASPECT
So if work life balance doesn’t mean work-vs-everything-else, how do we achieve balance?
What’s needed is a complete overhaul. Check in and rebalance every aspect of life. Let’s consider renaming it “Life Balance”.
Here’s how it looks:
And achieving balance through these aspects of life could include any number of activities such as:
- The pursuit of new hobbies
- Active mental pursuits like non-fiction reading and learning
- Joyful physical activity such as dance, nature walking, running, yoga
- Rest, sleep and meditation
- Playing guitar, sewing, planting a herb garden,
- Learning to taste wine or identify birds
- Making a playlist for someone special
- Updating your bucket list or advanced care directive (end-of-life plan)
- Booking a trip to Kangaroo Island (come say hi)
- Travelling to visit our earliest living relatives the thrombolites and stromatolites of Western Australia
- Learning self-care techniques like EFT
- Attending a festival
- Planning a dinner party
- Locking in date night with your sweetheart
- Make something creative through painting, building or cooking
These are just a few ideas. What would you add to your list? Look to the life balance wheel and pause on each section, asking yourself:
What do I need in my life to feel balanced in this area?
Rethinking work life integration
Part of this rebalancing is about revisiting the way we integrate work and the rest of life.
We’ve already looked at how the boundaries blur around work hours and non-work hours. But there are positive ways to bring more life to work as well.
Think about how you can bring elements of the outside world into your work environment.
For example, have you considered the atmosphere of your workplace?
Adding more ‘life’ to your workspace could include simple steps such as having plants in your studio, shop or office. Or choosing appropriate music to uplift, calm or create an atmosphere conducing to productivity.
What about connections to yourself, to nature, to others? You can incorporate mindfulness into your work via short visualisations before you start your day or on your lunch break.
Ingrid Fetell Lee discusses the overlooked importance of play
Have you considered how you could incorporate play into your work days?
What about health? It could be as simple as ensuring you eat nutritious meals at work. Or switching to more natural lighting and a more aesthetically pleasing vista.
What you can eliminate to create balance? Boundaries allow freedom. Think about what this might mean in terms of your phone ring tone, social media blockers, work hour limitations, and emails notifications.
And finally, what conscious effort do you place on positive mindframe? Can you learn to refocus on gratitude or appreciation instead of defaulting to complaints or stress?
Every small change will have a compounding effect on your sense of pleasure, balance and ease at work.
Work life balance isn’t something you can set up once and forget about.
It’s something you need to address on a regular basis. Checking in with yourself is the easiest way to get started.
Assess what your moods and actions tell you about your state of balance. And then seek to rebalance using the wide range of tools at your fingertips. Focus on areas that rebalancing feels easiest.
Taking good care of yourself is an important part of the process. Learn to slow down and pay attention to what’s important for you to work well and live well.
And be kind to yourself. We are all, always, learning and growing as business owners. Just do the best that you can do today.
Any little step in the right direction is wonderful.
Good work life balance can be achieved. And now you have the tools to make it happen.
Go get ’em, slowly, tiger.
HI, I'm SARAH
I’m here to help you work smarter, not harder. I teach passionate business owners how to charge premium prices, attract the best customers, save time and make money with ease.