When you run your own business, no matter the size, it is important to also take time for yourself. Work-life balance can feel like a bit of a joke when you’re trying to keep a business going, but it’s important to remember that if you don’t cultivate some form of work-life balance now, you may very well find yourself a few years down the line suffering with burnout and exhaustion.
The first thing to bear in mind about work-life balance is that it’s not just something you achieve, tick off your to-do list and then carry on with your life. Work-life balance is something to be worked at, on a daily basis. It can be hard to factor in any form of balance when there are so many things to do, but it’s important to do it, nonetheless. Use tech to help you. Literally book diary time with yourself for self-care. It can be almost anything small or large but just time, planned well at a time when perhaps you expect to be running out of energy reserves, a time when you simply need to take a break, have a change of scenery or simply get something personal done.
Many people see me getting up at the crack of dawn, rushing between meetings, flying all over the world and everything else, and assume I am a workaholic with no work-life balance. Whilst that has been true in the past, I have learned from years of experience that it is important to have dedicated down time. You might see me rushing about all over the place, but what you don’t see is that I schedule one day per working week when I am at home, doing as I choose and putting all sorts of other things first. I love having no timetable and alongisde that no meetings, no guilt for being out running and not needing to be in a hurry to get even that done. I like having the time to meander and be early enough to have a quiet coffee contemplating the things we have achieved that week, whilst also prioritising the things I want to get ahead on and need to have done by the start of the following week. I have loved my work now for so many years I barely see it as work, albeit I have to remember that others (most importantly family) need to be put ahead of my work hobbies. What a charmed life I lead.
I might still have meetings or entertain guests, indeed I often try and do charitable acts, give time to others or help my own local community on Mondays and Fridays. These times I know I can make up by catching up over the weekend or during the following week and as mad as it might sound, somehow good things happen each time I widen my experiences, network in different ways or simply do a bit of giving back. (I never did this when after 9 years of running Pacific I got wholly focused on the company. Indeed for the whole of the time I ran Pacific I barely allowed myself to read anything expect industry news and books on leadership in order to grow my skill set.) Now I really enjoy my reading time but still work hard to be the expert in my choice of fields of interests.
These days for me, one of the most valuable things is time with family which is running out all too fast. In my mind when my children were young and I was missing out on some of their events I made a determined and well considered choice about the boundaries I drew in this area and I have no regrets about the life we now lead. Last week we learnt to cross country ski and ate a stupidly expensive meal in a silly ice hotel. It was half term and I was relaxed and enjoying family time whilst also contemplating times ahead.
I now take regular holidays where I can literally go from working at 100 miles per hour to practically comatose on a sun lounger in the space of a couple of hours. The people around me are astounded at how quickly I can become horizontal and switch myself off from the world – but with a life as busy as mine, I need to be able to flick that switch, and more importantly I need to make myself do so on a regular basis. Ultimately I think we all have methods of coping and a body worth listening to. You just have to keep listening and time the breaks as your business can allow. Most companies have some level of seasonaility. Think ahead about how to maximise long weekends and the times when your buisness is simply running well enough to take a breath.
Here are my tips for cultivating a work-life balance as a busy entrepreneur:
1. Communicate and delegate.
If you can’t do these, you may as well give up right now. You need to be able to delegate key tasks to members of your team. If you cannot genuinely trust others I do not think you will build a culture that accelerates world class growth. Critical to this, you must to be able to communicate well with your team and even more so listen to the value they can bring to help you become successful. If you have a great team around you, and you can learn to communicate and delegate well, you will be able to take time away from your business without worrying. My team used to gather when I was away and question, “what would Lara do?” They never went wrong and I always knew they had the success of the business at the heart of their decision making because they had open knowledge of the way the business ran and the part they played in it.
2. Take down time where you can get it.
Whilst we’d all like to book a long break on a deserted beach somewhere, realistically for most of us this is not an option. Actually, I probably could do that if I wanted, but I don’t want to! The key to work-life balance is in finding and carving out down time for yourself whenever and wherever you can. If you’re a parent, you probably already know all about this! You might not be able to take a week off, but you can probably stretch to a nice relaxing bath of an evening. I actually hate baths; I’d rather shower quicker and have more time on the bike!
3. Don’t mistake TV time as down time.
When it comes to stimulation of your brain, there’s little difference between reading emails and watching TV. Yes, you might really want to catch up on the latest episode of whatever is the new must-see TV, and of course I’m not suggesting you should never watch TV – but if you want to benefit from some real down time where your brain has a chance to relax and switch off, go for a walk or read a book instead. Incidentally, the same goes for social media. Just because you’re not doing work on your phone or laptop, you can’t really count scrolling through your newsfeed as relaxing. Actually I have barely watched TV for years. Perhaps on series a year but I love lots of other things including staying fit and having time to drive my kids like a taxi driver, usually standing cold on the side of any sports pitch! This is my valuable down time, and of course I score mummy points in the process.
4. Use tools to help you relax.
When your brain is whirring with the latest idea or development (or crisis) it can be hard to unwind, and that precious hour you’ve carved out of your schedule for some “me time” can end up being spent ruminating, planning or panicking. The original idea for Scentered was born out of this; I am a firm believer in the power of aromatherapy to help induce a change in the mind, whether that’s relaxation or focus or something else entirely. I carry Scentered balms with me all over the globe, and make use of them on a daily basis. Using the ritual of “Stop – Inhale – Reset” you can reset your mood and make the most of your precious hour of relaxation time. These days I always travel with a candle from my own range. The lighting of it is like a ritual which enables me to make a mood of my own. To change the ambience of any room helps me enjoy the experience of travel. Try it; it’s surprisingly simple and worth the effort. The flicker of a candle light changes the mood of any room.
5. Prioritise sleep.
Everyone knows Margaret Thatcher had a bonkers sleep routine while she was Prime Minister – but how many people know the toll that took on her in later life? Your brain needs sleep to recuperate, and getting enough sleep can make a marked difference to how you perform during the day. You might even find that when you’re well rested you are able to get more done in your day, thus allowing you more time for yourself. Winston Churchill regularly took daytime naps, even whilst leading the country through a war. Ironically I learned about Thatchers ability to work on only 4.5hrs sleep a night. Knowing she could sometimes enabled me to survive on similar amounts – but only in the short term.
6. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries can sound like a bit of an airy-fairy concept, but essentially what it means is “I will not answer my phone after 6pm” or “I will not pick up emails on a Sunday.” These are things that should be communicated to your team, to your family and to key clients who may contact you directly or have come to expect 24/7 access. You choose when to accept interruptions. Of course, the main concern with setting boundaries is that you must then enforce them. Even if the phone rings at 6:05, if you’ve said you won’t answer after 6, do not answer. If the matter is urgent, they will leave a voicemail. If it’s not urgent, they will deal with it for themselves and eventually get the message that post-6pm chats will not be happening. Oddly in the old days at our fastest growth some days I’d be on the phone to China at 6am on the way to work and late that night at midnight to complete a process.
7. Schedule down time.
I have scheduled “grey time” in my diary most days – this is an hour here and there where I have nothing planned. I don’t always use it to rest and recuperate; sometimes I use it to clear down my emails, or to go over my notes from a meeting. But it’s scheduled in, and I don’t move it to make space for other things. I make sure my online diary is shared with relevant members of my team so that they can see when I am not available, and I ensure that both my scheduled grey time and longer holidays or weekends off are saved in my online diary well in advance – which goes back to the communication aspect of work-life balance. I have already booked and announced most of my holidays to my team this year as I have also encouraged them to plan theirs.
8. Have a hobby.
It can be hard to enforce down time if your business is the only thing in your life! A hobby is a great way to give yourself a chance to wind down, away from your normal work routine. This year I will be entering some silly race at the end of th esummer, so I have something to stay fit for during the summer months. I have also decided to do Ride 25 this year, my seventh year cycling like a loon around the world.
How do you cultivate a work-life balance in your life? Are you happy with the amount of down time you have in your life? What can you do differently from now on to make things better, and who can you get to help you achieve new goals?