Entrepreneurship can be a deeply rewarding career. But make no mistake: It can also be brutal.
One one hand, you get to do work you love and enjoy perks (e.g., setting your schedule and increasing earning potential). On the other hand, you must endure the punishing realities: sleepless nights, loneliness, multiplied responsibilities, and full accountability for the success or failure of your venture, to name a few.
Is balance even possible? Well, perhaps not fully. While work-life balance is often elusive, especially as a consultant, Elaine Biech, author of The New Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond, says you can find a reasonable compromise. “If you don’t set healthy limits, work will take over your life, and eventually you will crash and burn.”
Biech says there are seven steps you can take to make progress toward balance:
1. First, identify the imbalance
Without first laying out your life priorities, it can be hard to create a work/life balance. Biech recommends this exercise from consulting whiz Geoff Bellman: Identify the three things you value most in life. Write them down. Now scan your checkbook, bank statement, and calendar. Do your choices match the three things you value the most?
Next ask your spouse, a colleague, or a friend what he or she believes you value the most. Did that person choose the three things you chose?
Now begin to make real choices. What do you need to do to demonstrate the value you place on the three things you chose?
2. Make your own rules
You started your business so that you could be your own boss. Begin by telling yourself what your hours will be. Running a business takes creativity and energy, so draining yourself becomes counterproductive.
At times you will stay late and work weekends simply to meet a deadline, but do not make that your standard approach. Set working hours that will put your business in perspective. For example, if a project is not done by 6:00 p.m., it will wait until tomorrow.
3. Remember to enjoy your work
“Don’t hurry through each project just to get to the next one,” says Biech. “If you love what you do, you may be missing some of the fun! Much of the pleasure may be in the doing. Be mindful. Stay in the moment while you’re working. This may not curb the hours, but it will make them more enjoyable!”
4. Take time off (even during business trips)
It is very important to take a break from your business. Go on vacation, even if it’s a week-long “staycation” spent at home. Invigorate your mind, rejuvenate your body, sleep late, relax, and read something that has nothing to do with work.
And these breaks don’t have to be planned either. If you finish with a client early, or your plane lands in the middle of the day, go for a walk on the beach at 2:00 in the afternoon to enjoy the flexibility that comes with working for yourself.
5. Fill your life with other interests
Just because your business keeps you busy, you’re still allowed to have a rich and rewarding life outside of work. So:
- join a book club
- learn how to play golf
- try water skiing
- fly a kite
- collect something
- take up hiking
- solve a Sudoku
- learn to paint
- take a cooking class
- create poetry
- complete crossword puzzles
- restore a classic car
- go for walks
- take an online course
- develop your family tree
- plan a trip
6. Take advantage of working from home
If you work from home, Biech recommends finding ways and times to get away from it all. For example: Go for a walk at noon, visit the gym a couple of times each week, eat lunch on the deck, or spend a few minutes playing with your dog or cat. If you’re exhausted, take a nap; you can always work a little later to make up for it.
7. Examine how you spend your time
Where can you become more efficient? To some extent, the issue of balance in life is really one of time management. Don’t mistake busyness for business. Deliberately prioritize what you want out of life. Biech says we can’t really save time, but we can shave time. Her book offers a wealth of time management tips. Here are just a few of them:
- Work on several large projects rather than dozens of small projects. You will invest a great deal of time moving from one client to another, getting up to speed, flying from one coast to the other, reminding yourself of all the personalities, and remembering names. This is why repeat business with the same customer is good.
- Prevent scope creep. This occurs when a project slowly grows larger than the original intent. It’s one of the greatest ways an entrepreneur can misuse time. Unless you are paid by the hour, scope creep will erode your profits and consume your time. Prevent scope creep with clear, measurable objectives and specific, identifiable timelines and deliverables. Then stick to them.
- Protect your time by scheduling calls and emails. Don’t deviate from the schedule. Calls can interrupt your concentration. Stay focused by accepting or returning phone calls at a specific time. Follow the same structure with email. Select certain times during the day to check and respond to emails.
“Focus on all the important areas of your life: social, family, spiritual, business, education. Identify how the balance might shift initially and determine how you want it to change and how soon. This helps you keep things in perspective during that tough initial push. Things will get easier over time, as you find your groove,” adds Biech.
Ultimately, stay mindful. “If you pay attention and get used to shifting with the rhythms of work, you can carve out time to relax and rejuvenate and connect with the people you love. Those are the true reasons we seek balance, and as long as we stay intentional about them, we can make them happen.”
Elaine Biech is the author of The New Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond. As a consultant, trainer, and president of ebb associates for more than 35 years, she helps global organizations to work through large-scale change and leaders to maximize their effectiveness. She has published 85 books, including the Washington Post #1 bestseller The Art and Science of Training. She is the recipient of numerous professional awards and accolades, including ATD’s inaugural CPLP Fellow Honoree, ISA’s Broomfield Award, and Wisconsin’s Women Entrepreneur’s Mentor Award. Learn more at elainebiech.com.
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