Ask an Entrepreneur: How Do You Maintain Work-Life Balance?

by Briana Morgaine 8 Minutes

Becoming an entrepreneur is extremely challenging.

All those proverbial “long days, late hours”? If you run your own business, you’ve probably experienced them (and if not, we’d all like to know your secrets, trust me).

However, for all that being an entrepreneur involves a huge time commitment, it is still vital that entrepreneurs find time to put their work aside and just relax. 

Have you fallen into the habit of constantly working? While it’s admirable to want to devote all your time to pursuing your goals, you’re probably also feeling a little burnt out. But, it can be very difficult to balance your work and the rest of your life when you’re trying to start and grow your business.

So, I’ve asked successful entrepreneurs to share their tips for achieving work-life balance.

Want to hear what they have to say? Keep reading.

Treat your business like a business

Ashley Love, of The Classy CEO.

Too many entrepreneurs find themselves starting their own business for increased freedom, only to work around the clock.

“When I first started my company, I wanted freedom, both fiscally and time wise. However, as a new business owner it’s really easy to work 80-plus hours a week,” says Ashley Love of The Classy CEO, a mentorship and empowerment coaching business she runs for new and aspiring female entrepreneurs.

“I always think of the quote from Lori Greiner: ‘Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week,’ which is completely true.”

To get around this, Love makes sure to “treat [her] business like a business.”

“I have a cut off time in my business,” she explains. “I make hard boundaries so I can enjoy the freedom I wanted in the first place. I make sure to also have scheduled time in the day for me, whether it’s watching a show on Netflix, taking a bubble bath, hitting the pool, etc. I always make sure there’s time for me and it’s non-negiotable time. I think that’s the key. The time for you must be necessary or you’ll work yourself to death.”

Be clear with your clients about your availability and bandwidth

Business communications specialist Rob Swystun.

Business communications specialist Rob Swystun.

In the same vein as the suggestion above, business communications specialist Rob Swystun suggests keeping everyone in the loop about your availability and your ability to take on projects.

“As a freelancer, I keep strict hours and let my clients know I won’t be working outside those hours,” he says. “Then, it’s just a matter of ignoring my email in the evenings and on weekends.”

Swystun also adds that this often brings about an interesting reaction: “I’m always surprised when I tell clients I don’t work evenings and weekends and get responses like ‘I wish I could do that,’ or ‘I hope to be able to do that someday.'”

To Swystun, the need to constantly be working shows a misalignment of priorities, and he urges entrepreneurs to take stock of what really matters. “People have really lost sight of what’s important in life in the pursuit of success, and my suggestion to them is to reevaluate what is really important to them,” he says. “Remember this: money comes and goes and you’ll always get more of it. But, time just goes. You’ll never get more of it. Keep that in mind. Whatever your business needs can always wait.”

Outsource what you can

Max Robinson, owner of Fish Tank Bank.

There are likely tasks that you perform that could easily be done by someone else—the trouble is, we are often reluctant to give up the reins.

However, in doing so you may find that you have more time to focus on the tasks that only you can accomplish, which will also translate into more free time in general.

Max Robinson, owner of Fish Tank Bank, found that hiring a virtual assistant (also known as a VA) helped him balance his responsibilities better. “My VA saves me huge amounts of time and allows me to focus on the more important aspects of the business (like dealing with customers),” says Robinson. “For example, I have my VA help with the running of the website and our email campaigns, something that I would often spend hours fretting over but can now feel less stressed about.”

Take deliberate breaks throughout your day for smaller tasks or exercise

Rikki Ayers, writer and owner of  Be Rad Media.

If you work from home, it can be especially tricky to separate your personal life from your workday. After all, the two blend into each other much more easily for those of us who don’t have an office to go to every day.

“I work remotely as a writer and also have my own small side copywriting business and a podcast; needless to say, my days are full and I do a lot of sitting and typing,” says Rikki Ayers, writer and owner of Be Rad Media.

“Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key as my work and home are a combined office, and it’s really easy to work all of the time, particularly if you’re excited about something,” says Ayers.

To maintain work-life balance, Ayers makes sure to break up the workday by integrating non-work activities throughout the day. “A few things that I do (and I recognize that I’m lucky to have fairly flexible work hours) include daily exercise (usually running, cycling, or yoga), weekly social networking or friend meet ups, and I do a fun thing I call ‘pomodoro fitness.’ I use the Tomato Timer app on my Mac and every 55 minutes I take a 10 exercise or ‘life stuff’ break.”

These can be small tasks, or quick bits of exercise: “For example, I’ll do some pushups and squats and then I’ll wash some dishes. Or, if I need to I’ll settle a bill or run to the store really quick,” says Ayers. “It’s a great break for my mind and my body and it makes typically boring things like chores and indoor workouts fun.”

To really create a boundary between her work life and home life, Ayers makes sure to carve out specific time where she won’t do any work at all. “For about three out of my five work days, as soon as my husband gets home from work I make a point of shutting down all work-related stuff so we can hang out,” she says. “It’s important to maintain relationships when you work from home!

Do it for your overall health

Investment and wellness blogger and lifestyle coach Michael Tamez.

If you can’t seem to find the time to pull away from work just because you know you should relax, investment and wellness blogger and lifestyle coach Michael Tamez suggests thinking of striking a balance for your health.

“When you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, or small business owner, your health should be your greatest wealth,” he says. “You cannot fully enjoy the fruits of your labor if you’re too sick to reap the benefits.”

Tamez doesn’t undervalue the importance of hard work, but he advocates a heavy emphasis on ensuring physical and mental wellbeing. “The most significant piece of advice I could ever give is this: Work hard, play harder!” he says. “You can always replace a job but you can never replace your health. You’ve got one chance to treat your body well, so make the best of it.”

In order to keep yourself feeling refreshed and physically well, Tamez recommends the following:

“Leave the work cell phone and laptop at home so you can enjoy your free time. Take a walk. Clear your mind. Meditate. Do yoga. Hang out with family and friends as much as possible. They’re not only there to support your career endeavors, but they can also help you remain grounded and balanced,” he says. “Your productivity will increase if you allow yourself the opportunity to play, enjoy life, and appreciate the company of loved ones.”

Use exercise as a way to both unwind and prepare for the day ahead

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.

A big part of successful work-life balance is figuring out ways to kill two birds with one stone. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, uses morning exercise as both a way keep herself feeling great, and as a way to prepare her for the workday.

“Creating a balance in your work and personal life is all about energy, and exercise is a great, natural way to keep energized,” she says. “Every morning, I wake up early so I can get an hour of spinning in before I head over to the office. It’s amazing how much energy I get out of it and how it charges me for the whole day.”

Sweeney suggests “joining a gym, a Pilates class, or even just going for a quick jog after work, and make sure to schedule in that exercise each day.”

Reframe the concept and focus on integration

William F. Davis, certified financial planner and financial advisor at JRB Wealth Management.

“Well, first off, we should stop calling it work-life balance. It is hardly balanced!” says William F. Davis, certified financial planner and financial advisor at JRB Wealth Management. “Instead, I like to call it work-life integration. We don’t balance our time—we find a way to integrate the two.”

Davis explains how this has worked within his own life: “I’ve recently started out on my own as a financial advisor after working within the confines (and steady paycheck) of a team,” he says. “The hours are less structured and more ‘as needed’—this means getting up early on a Sunday to answer a few emails or finish up a proposal. This also means cutting out at 4pm to make it to my son’s baseball game in time.”

To more easily integrate work into his personal life and vice versa, Davis favors structure. “I’m a big fan of using my calendar to schedule things—not only phone calls and meetings with clients, but also meeting prep time, housekeeping items (change the HVAC system filters!), workout time, client portfolio rebalances, etc.,” he says. “This structured way of doing things not only helps me schedule important tasks (the old adage is ‘what gets scheduled gets done!’), but also helps keep me on track and avoiding distractions and the ‘fires’ that might pop up throughout the day.”

So, you already know the importance of staying organized for optimum productivity—but consider organizing both your work and your social, home, and leisure activities in tandem, rather than as separate, discrete areas of your life.

Give up the idea of balance (for now)

Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix of Xero Shoes.

Maybe finding “balance” isn’t possible at this stage in your business—and maybe that’s okay!

“My way of ‘maintaining’ a healthy work-life balance is giving up the idea that there is such a thing—seriously,” says Steven Sashen, CEO of Xero Shoes. “Our company is growing super fast. If I thought there were a way to somehow ‘balance’ the requirements of managing something growing this quickly with other aspects of my life, it would simply add more stress.”

So, how does Sashen handle this? “Instead, I’ve simply accepted that this is the phase we’re in,” he says. “So, I work really hard, really long hours, and that’s fine.”

Sashen does add that working with his wife does help, as they’re both in it together and therefore aren’t battling different schedules. “I do have one secret weapon: my wife is my co-founder and CFO, so the fact that both of us are in this situation makes it easier to deal with,” he says. “Our ‘balancing act’ is that we curl up on the couch every night and watch some TV or a movie, and we have one nice meal out every week.”

Which piece of advice would you be interested in integrating into your routine? Do you have any tips for helping maintain work-life balance (or work-life integration)? 

Leave a comment and share your thoughts and experience. 

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by Briana Morgaine
Briana is a copy writer, copy editor, and freelance writer, covering the various facets of the small business and entrepreneurship space. She can be found writing for Bplans, and also on Twitter.