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Next to losing weight, achieving better work-life balance is probably America’s most popular new year’s resolution. With the advent of mobile technology, drawing the line between work time and play time becomes a bigger challenge every year. And while losing weight is a matter of discipline and scheduling, balancing your life can be a lot more complicated. There are clients, contractors, customers and, yes, even family members to consider. But achieving balance still begins with you. So to start the new year off right, here are ten things you can do to help achieve work-life balance.
Don’t Set Bad Precedents
Small business owners love to tell other aspiring entrepreneurs encouraging stuff like “Be prepared to not take a day off until you’re 60.” Which might be accurate, but it also sets the stage for some bad precedents. Yes, there’s a lot of labor involved in starting a small business, but don’t make a habit of working 16-hour days, weekends, and holidays unless that’s something you’re prepared to do for the long haul. Once you’ve established to yourself and others that business can be done anytime, that will become the norm. And it’ll be harder to change than you think.
Schedule Everything, Stick to That Schedule
To achieve true balance, you have to be a little OCD with your schedule. That doesn’t just mean scheduling meetings, phone calls and work time. It means actually writing down stuff like “Dinner with husband” or “Watching Thomas the Tank EngineK.” Keep those appointments like you would your professional ones. It might cost some spontaneity, but for someone with limited time it’s the only way to ensure you get the most out of work and life.
Designate Time to Disconnect
Much like you schedule time with friends and family, so should you schedule time to be off the grid. For example, set aside an hour or two a week where you leave your phone at home (or at least in another room) and focus on whatever it is you’re doing. That means doing stuff like sending email from the elliptical and reading reports by the pool are unacceptable. Mobile devices can be leashes, and learning to shed it is a key step in achieving balance.
Find a Non-Work Hobby
“I have a hobby,” you say. “Accounting is a hobby.” No, no it is not. Nobody in the history of work or life has ever worked on balance sheets just for the fun of it. If you had an interest or passion before you got into business, go back and revisit it no matter how silly it might seem. Maybe it’s playing piano, maybe it’s collecting model airplanes. Whatever it is, giving your brain a chance to work on challenges that have nothing to do with work will give it some well-needed exercise. It will give you something to get excited about when long work days get you down.
Form a Daily Routine
Though no two days are the same when running a small business, you can still structure the time you have to yourself to create some sort of routine. Maybe it means getting up early to work out or eat breakfast the same time every day. Or scheduling your day the exact same on days you’re not running all over the city. That routine will keep you grounded and allow you to find time for things other than work.
Wait to Check Business Emails
Some people literally look at their email before they brush their teeth in the morning. While it might seem like a pleasant transition from dreamland to real life, it’s actually highly unhealthy for your brain. Instead of it getting a chance to go from sleep to work, it’s instead jolted into work mode, and never really is allowed to relax in the morning. So keep your phone in the kitchen, and don’t check it until after you’ve had your morning coffee.
We’ve all had that client who likes to call at 6:45 a.m. with a question that could have probably waited until noon. If you pick up the phone, you’re setting a precedent that it’s ok to call you at all hours. Decide the hours during which you’ll accept work-related calls and emails, and do not deviate. Once you set that boundary, people will respect your non-work time.
Make Family Time Quality Time
Everyone just loves that dad on the soccer sidelines who’s conducting some big, important business call at full volume on his cell phone while the game’s going on. Don’t be that dad. Or mom. Would you take a call from your kid during an important business meeting? Probably not, so give your family the same respect you give your work colleagues and don’t combine the two.
Don’t Make Checking Your Phone Your Default
Bored at a red light? Check your email! Lunch taking a while to arrive? Fire off a couple quick meeting confirmations! Plane delayed? Let’s see what’s on Bloomberg. Checking your phone for work-related content is a popular residual activity for people killing time in the 21st century, mostly because we’ve forgotten how to set aside time to think. However, if you opt to do things like text or call loved ones, read up on your favorite hobby, or just read for pleasure when you’re idle, you’ll find work won’t dominate your thoughts.
Live Near Where You Work
There are about as many people who enjoy sitting in traffic as there are people who enjoy invasive surgery. But it’s also an immense drain on time you can spend doing things other than work. Even a 45-minute commute robs you of an hour and a half every day you could spend working out, reading, or playing with your kids. And minimizing the time you spend getting to and from work means you can increase your free time without losing business productivity.
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