Resolutions made in a new year are frequently discarded by the end of January. But a few years ago, when I was burnt out of running my own business, I made one resolution that I kept: to maintain a work-life balance.
When I was starting my business, I was hungry to succeed. And I would do anything I could to help, even if that meant putting in 12-to-18 hour days. I created my business for one reason: I didn’t want my children to be in day care, with both parents working outside the home. I wanted them to know their mother. As I launched my business, I would work non-stop while my son napped and continue after he went to sleep — sometimes until 4 a.m. I got by on very little sleep. But in the end, I had achieved what I wanted: a successful ecommerce business.
As the years went by, I watched both my business and my son grow. Often, he would sit by my side watching TV or playing on the floor as I diligently attended to my business. Gone were the days where I could pull all-nighters and ignore the business during the day. Then it hit me: What was I teaching by ignoring him while I worked at a computer all day? Sure, I was home with him, but what good was that if he didn’t have his mom?
Working all day, seven days a week, didn’t allow for much time for anything else. I made a resolution to balance my work, life, family, and hobbies. At first it wasn’t an easy transition. But over time I realized that I could do it. Now, twelve years after I launched my business, I am able to separate my business from my life.
Here are some of the steps I took to achieve it.
- Set up a specific area for work. Even when I had my offices and showroom locations where my employees were, I worked from home often – it was important to maintain a home office. Now I work entirely from home. It is in a separate room, with a door I can close – perfect to keep quiet during phone calls or close when the day is done. Once the door is closed for the day, I don’t enter it again until the next business day.
- Set specific hours for your work day. These hours may vary according to my peak and off-peak seasons, but either way my schedule stays basically the same. I work a set schedule and I don’t deviate from it. Unless an emergency happens, I do not work outside of those hours. There is nothing that can’t be done the next day. And while I used to sneak in a few hours on the weekends, I now leave those alone too. Family time is family time, which is just as important — if not more important — than my job. That means I’m done working at 4 p.m. so I can help with homework, cook dinner, and spend time with my kids.
- Set up a separate phone line. I don’t want my personal cell or home phone called at all hours of the day and night. If you’re running a business out of your home office, set up a dedicated line that goes straight to an out-of-office response outside your normal business hours.
- Give yourself a lunch break and a coffee break. Going 8 hours straight is not good for the soul or the stomach. I spent many days eating in front of my computer and quickly choking down a bite to answer the phone. I now step away and eat – at a table, away from my computer. My mind needs the break even if it is just for 5 or 20 minutes.
- Stop thinking about work. This is probably the hardest to achieve, for me. My mind is constantly churning out new ideas, things to try, or adding items to my to-do list. During my downtime I may be reading a number of ecommerce or SEO blogs and catching up on the latest trends. Instead of letting it consume me, I allow myself the chance to catch up on my reading during the morning over coffee. In the evening, I try to turn off all work-related distractions, including my mind.
- Don’t ignore your family or your hobbies. I learned that constant work, even if it is something you’re passionate about, can be monotonous and mundane if you do it too long. I’m a workaholic. I can’t stay idle for too long. I’m not one to sit in front of the TV for hours and vegetate. I have to be doing something at all times. But when my ecommerce business consumed all of my time, it burnt me out – and made me miss out on time spent with my family and myself. After the kids are asleep, the dishes are done, and the house is quiet, I no longer go back to work. I now pursue a new hobby: writing. Even if it’s for an hour or two before bed, I’m doing something for me.
- Be flexible. Nothing is carved in stone. Kids get sick; emergencies arise. You get a really gorgeous day in the middle of winter and you want to take off and go outside. That’s the beauty of being self-employed; you can change the rules to fit your schedule if needed. Don’t be afraid to be flexible.
It turns out that balancing my work and family wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I am much more satisfied and happy, having dedicated time for work, family, and play.
What things have you done to help balance your career and your time?