Let’s face it: the importance of work-life balance has never been clearer. More and more people are experiencing burnout or feeling crush by their huge list of daily tasks. One of the challenges we all face as new entrepreneurs is making sure our new found passion/job does not overwhelm us.
For many of us, the idea of setting our own working hours was one of the initial reasons to start an online business. After a while though, it becomes clear that with this freedom comes great weight. Once you are in control of all aspects of your workday, you become the one who has to set limits.
It is a responsibility that especially solopreneurs struggle with. A survey showed that 81% of solopreneurs work late evenings and 89% work during weekends. While that may just be “the season of business that you’re in” (who hasn’t used this as an excuse?), there’s still room for balance within the treadmill phase.
Your business needs to not get burnt out and quit, so let’s get right to figuring out how to have better balance so that you can implement today.
What Does Work-Life Balance Mean?
What does a healthy work-life balance look like? It goes without saying that there is no one right answer to this question. You will get radically different answers depending on who you ask. Your grandfather will have a very different opinion than let’s say your father who in turn will have an opinion different from your sister.
Work-life balance has a really different meaning to people from different generations.
Back in the day, the importance of work-life balance was a less pressing issue. In the 1960s people just went to work and left everything at the office at the end of the day. You worked and then you went home. It sounds just crazy enough to work!
Although, of course, people still experienced work-related stress, they weren’t in the situation of bringing their work tasks home with them and even sleeping next to them (I’m looking at you, smart phone).
With advancements in technology, however, the importance of work-life balance has become more and more clear. With email, and especially with the intrusion of smartphones, people are increasingly confronted with work that is never done.
Particularly, work is taking up more and more of people’s free time.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines work-life balance as “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.” Having a healthy work-life balance means you spend an amount of time both on doing what you have to do and on doing what you want to do.
The big takeaway from all this is twofold. First, having balance is a feeling.
As long as you feel you have enough time to do justice to both your professional life and your personal life, you have balance.
I can’t tell you what the balance should be for you since you have to decide what works for you.
Second, you are the only one who can make this happen. There are two skills that are at the core of having a healthy professional life; time management and efficiency. As long as you can achieve your daily goals within the timeframe that you think it needs, you stay in control.
In this blog post, let’s look at why finding and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is vital to your success and productivity. Furthermore, let’s look at some tangible steps you can take today in order to make sure things stay balanced.
The Consequences Of Ignoring The Importance Of Work-Life Balance
If this is a confronting topic for you, I bet you’re thinking “is having a healthy work-life balance *really* that important?” The short answer is yes. There are many studies that all point in the same direction. Working long hours is not great but when combined with the feeling of being unable to give your personal life the attention it needs, it becomes downright unhealthy.
You can work as much as you want as long as you are the one who decides where the line is. The consequences of losing control of how much you work can be severe.
1. It Leads To Increased Levels Of Stress.
It is almost impossible to overstate the severity of being chronically stressed. A quick Google search yields consequences such as depression or anxiety all as a result of chronic stress. Popular websites like WebMD, and even the mayo clinic, further emphasize the importance of work-life balance. They feature articles on what happens when your work-life balance is out of whack.
Being stressed is often directly related to the number of hours you work in a given week. A Harvard study has shown that 95% of working professionals regularly work 50+ hours per week and almost half of them work up to 65 hours per week. Keep in mind, the more hours you work, the more time you spend thinking about it outside of office hours.
A Mental Health Foundation survey shows that, as a result of working long hours, a quarter of workers felt depressed, about a third reported feelings of anxiety and just over half felt irritable.
2. It Negatively Affects Your Relationships
Does this sound familiar? You tell your partner you just need to respond to this one email before you can put everything away. The moment you open your inbox you see that there are a few more things that really do require your attention… One hour later, your partner has fallen asleep on the couch and what was supposed to be a nice movie night is now more or less over.
People who are overworked often report being aware of the effect their long hours have on their personal lives. Missing out on important family moments are, sadly, not that uncommon. When your work-life balance is off, it is easy to feel left out and it is not surprising that many people report a sense of unhappiness as a result.
There is a direct correlation between the number of hours you work and your feeling of overall happiness. Feeling like you have to put your personal life on hold often results in a decline in well-being.
Once again, it’s important here to understand that a healthy work-life balance only exists in your head. It is the feeling that work is invading your personal life, and that you are powerless to stop it, that is what’s at the heart of this feeling of unhappiness.
3. It Causes An Overall Decline In Your Health
The connection between feeling stressed or overworked on the one side and its effect on your health is a well established one. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all possible effects chronic stress can have on your body. Instead, a quick summary will do.
A Harvard Medical School study showed that people who worked 55 or more hours a week increased their risk of heart attack by 13 percent. Furthermore, they are 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke. Yikes.
In addition to physical decline, being overworked also has an effect on your mental health. Overworking has been linked to all kinds of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and overall fatigue.
Besides directly affecting your health, a work-life imbalance also comes with indirect consequences. Studies have shown that people who experience stress are more likely to have poor diets, take up smoking/alcohol and are more prone to substance abuse.
4. Your Productivity Suffers
You might think that putting in a few more hours will automatically result in getting more done… Incidentally, this might very well be true. When you have an important deadline approaching, it can be a good idea to break out the energy drink and pull an all-nighter. Problems arise, however, when this becomes the norm.
Having a healthy work-life balance means you are both more productive and more efficient. Since most tasks are relatively free of stress, you become more interested in taking on new tasks, more open-minded and overall more creative. Chronic stress normally results in the opposite. You lose focus and struggle with staying on top of it all. Ultimately you start resenting your business and you will start looking for ways out of it.
This all sounds really dire (decreased productivity, strokes, angry spouses, oh my!), but there are steps you take immediately to help maintain your work-life balance.
4 Tips To Stay On Top Of Work-Life Balance
Maintaining a healthy balance between your professional and personal life is one of the make-or-break factors for your success as a new entrepreneur. Before we get into ways of maintaining control it’s important to reiterate two key things.
The first one is that work-life balance only exists in your head. The whole point of this article is that you should find something that works for you. That’s right: find something that works for you, not for me, not for your friends, just for you. You can work 120 hours a week as long as it feels right for you. Ultimately, as long as your situation feels balanced, you’re doing the right thing.
The second thing is that you are the only person who can do it. No one else can decide what’s good for you. This means that you cannot point to any external factors as the reason you’re not happy with the way things are going.
When thinking about your work-life balance, it is important to understand that it can be very tempting to address the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. As you experience stress or even when you resent your business, it can be tempting to become reactive.
After a hectic week, going away for the weekend may sound like a good idea. Take a break in order to free your mind from all the craziness, that kind of thinking. Power to you impulsive vacationers, but I’m sorry to say, this will not solve the problem.
Think about it: the long weekend might be nice and relaxing but your business is not going anywhere and it will be back next Monday to stress you out.
In order to keep your sanity, you really need to be proactive. You can act now and stop the problem from ever arising.
1. Set specific SMART goals
The feeling that work is never done is one all too common for new entrepreneurs. When first starting out, your online business will feel very exciting and working on it will be a blast. Any new thing you can work on feels like an interesting challenge.
After a while though it can feel like there is a seemingly endless list of tasks that you need to work on and it can be difficult to keep track of everything. This is where you need to be careful since before you know it, you can feel completely overwhelmed by it all.
One way to combat this is to set very specific, measurable goals.
Remember setting goals is not the same as deciding what to work on. Rather, it’s thinking about what you want your progress to look like at the end of the day.
For example, deciding to, say, work on an article on the importance of work-life balance is not an example of a SMART goal.
And a little recap for anyone’s who unfamiliar: SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. It’s a popular goal-setting tool.
My above goal isn’t a SMART goal because I neither specified a number of words nor an amount of time the task will take. This goal is too vague.
A better goal would be: by noon today, I will have created an outline and written 500 words on my article on the importance of work-life balance.
The benefit of setting goals in advance is that it allows you to reverse engineer your goals for the week, month and quarter. By setting goals for the week and then breaking them down into manageable tasks for the day, you will be able to put work away knowing you did enough. As long as you make sure you meet your daily tasks you keep the feeling of being overwhelmed at bay.
2. Make Sure To Set Clear Boundaries
This is going to be so simple that it’s complicated, but I want you to just let this piece of advice slap you in the face: just stop working.
The skill of setting boundaries is a very important one to master as a new entrepreneur though. The feeling of having control over when you work is what lies at the root of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Since we all have smartphones within an arm’s length, it looks like we are always available to our boss or our clients. It also means that you have never been more responsible for setting your own working hours.
When thinking about setting boundaries, it is important to be realistic. Starting a business is hard. You will have to put in a considerable amount of work and, for a while, there is simply no way around working long hours. However, the whole idea of setting boundaries is making sure you are the one who is in control.
You must decide when to work and when not to work.
3. Avoid Multitasking If You Can
Now this may not be a well-received piece of advice for everyone, but I’m gonna lay it out there anyway: multitasking is a huge disruptor.
When working on two things, you constantly go back and forth alternately thinking about each task. Every time you switch tasks, you are in fact disrupting your current workflow and losing focus on what you were doing.
Not all multitasking involves tasks that need your attention at the same moment. A common thing that many solopreneurs do is responding to email while working on their projects. Although this may sound like a trivial distraction, the amount of time lost really adds up since you’re basically creating a series of “now, where was I” moments.
4. Take Care Of Yourself
Workdays are long when you’re just starting out and it is all too easy to let work become this all-consuming monster. Taking care of yourself is a must here. Rest assured, when I say take care of yourself, I am not talking about working out. Although taking care of yourself obviously involves getting enough exercise, I’m talking about something far less intimidating.
Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the easiest things you can do to ensure you have the energy to perform your daily tasks. After a long day of hard work, it can be quite the challenge to spend time cooking a proper meal but the rewards are worth it. That packet of ramen noodles may look appealing to you now but, trust me, you will regret it later.
Having healthy meals that you enjoy is a vital remote work habit to build.
Besides eating healthy food, making sure you drink enough water is a tangible step you can take. Your daily recommended water intake is about 3,7 liters (15,5 cups) for men and 2,7 (11,5 cups) for women. About 20% of that normally comes through food but it still leaves quite a decent amount of water that you need to drink. Even being a little dehydrated can lead to headaches and an overall feeling of things being off.
Finally, just make you leave the house from time to time. Running an online business may be the dream, but it can be lonely at times, especially during a pandemic! Getting out to meet your friends is an obvious way to clear your head a bit and to spend an afternoon without thinking about work.
3 First Steps You Can Take Today
Although the importance of work-life balance cannot be overstated, some working on it is not easy. Shaking up everything may seem like what you need to do but please hear me out here.
Making small changes, instead of big ones will give you a better chance of success.
Anyone who has ever tried one of those crash diets probably knows what I’m talking about here. Just changing everything all at once will make it that much more difficult to stick with it. Besides, though results might come quickly, they are not very likely to last. In order to make lasting progress, you need to slowly make a few fundamental changes to your diet.
Working on your work-life balance needs a similar approach. Since the goal is to build a healthier routine, changes should both be made slowly and be given time to sink in. The goal here is building towards better time management in order to make sure you have time left for the things that make life worth living.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do today that are relatively small but will have a big impact.
1. Pick A Specific Time For Responding To Messages
This is a big one, trust me. Now that we all have smartphones, the constant stream of messages that comes with one can be a huge distraction. As we talked about before, constantly having to spend time to get back into what you were doing will add up in the long run.
While some emails do require your immediate attention, responding to all of them immediately is normally not necessary. Picking a specific time to check your inbox and respond to messages, whether it is once every morning or twice per day, will enable you to spend your time more productively and ultimately more efficiently.
2. Think About Your Peak Time
Actually analysing your daily workload, when to work on which task, can have unexpected benefits. For many solopreneurs, your daily tasks are just something you need to get through. Sadly, starting with something that looks easy and as a result, postponing the more intense or difficult tasks is the norm for most of us.
We all have moments when we operate at peak performance. Making good use of your peak moments can have a real impact on your workday. Are you a morning person? Then plan your more intense tasks in the morning. Remember, work smarter, not harder!
3. Spend 30 Minutes On You Every Day
Sometimes, it seems as if our daily workload comes at the expense of everything else in life. Personal time is one of those things that sometimes just melts away.
Set an amount of time aside that is just for you that is both specific and non-negotiable. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to spend that time on as long as it is something that you enjoy.
Final Thoughts On The Importance Of Work-Life Balance
Are you living a balanced life? Do you feel like you are the one who decides what your day looks like and when it ends? Well done! It seems like you understand the importance of work-life balance!
And if you’re not feeling confident in your balance quite yet, you should feel assured that you’re not a victim of your lack of balance. You have control.
Having both a satisfying professional life and a fulfilling personal life is possible. Although finding and maintaining balance requires some work on your end, it can and must be done.