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To be a successful entrepreneur means you have to be an optimist. Look no further than the fact that 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021. Amid a stubborn pandemic, that was the most of any year on record and a 53 percent increase over 2019, according to Economic Innovation Group.
You need to believe in your vision and believe you can do what it takes to make that vision a success. That belief is what drives you. It’s what gets you up in the morning and what keeps you working hard all day. It’s also this kind of can-do attitude that convinces others you’re worth investing in and working with.
However, this unbridled optimism when it comes to your work can sometimes mean you have blinders on when it comes to the rest of your life. That drive to succeed in business can turn into an unbridled obsession with work. It’s something that might serve you well at the beginning but in the long run could damage both your mental and physical well-being. It could even end up being bad for business.
Related: Life-Work Balance Is Becoming the New Normal
As an entrepreneur and business owner, I understand both this drive and the temptation to put work before everything else. But I’ve also seen the benefits of resisting this temptation in favor of caring equally for the four pillars of life: self, work, personal relationships and the world. As my mother put it, taking care of each pillar is important because, when one is weak, the others will still be there to support you. You need to take care of the other aspects of your life outside of work. Then, when something goes wrong at work (and something will always go wrong), you’ll have the emotional and mental support you need to keep going.
Success in business doesn’t have to mean failure in your personal life
It might be tempting to dismiss this need for work-life balance as a future problem, especially if you’re young or just starting to grow your company. You might think that taking care of personal relationships and yourself can wait until after your business is a success. In reality, however, a healthy work-self-life balance should be seen as essential to the success of your startup, not as a distraction from it.
Not only is it essential to productivity, but a healthy balance is also smart long-term planning. It might feel like you can burn the candle from both ends for years without any fallout. But the truth is that you’ll hit a wall sooner or later. Without good health and the support of friends and family, you may not be able to pick yourself up after you do.
Related: How to Spot Entrepreneurial Burnout (Before It’s Too Late)
As a father of three children (not to mention a dog and a cat), I sometimes wonder where my career would be if I were still a bachelor. I know I’d be able to devote more time to working and accomplishing my goals more quickly. I also know, however, that I would have burned out a long time ago. Especially if I didn’t have my wife and kids to spend time with after stressful work days and close friends to confide in when things got tough. I might have made more progress in the short term. But, the stressors of entrepreneurship would have eventually gotten to me, and I wouldn’t be where I am today.
How to create a balance in every pillar of your life
If you’re in the thick of running a startup, maintaining a work-self-life balance might sound like a good idea in theory but impractical in reality. But it really is possible to work hard and still take care of yourself and your relationships. You just need the right strategies to help you do it:
1. Budget your time, not just your finances
Create a budget for your time that encompasses both your work and personal life. Divide this budget into two task categories: absolutely necessary and completely optional. Each of these categories should include both personal activities and work tasks. A meta-analysis in PLOS ONE showed that this kind of time management can have a major impact on your well-being. It can also help you focus on what’s truly important in your daily life, allowing you to move away from the idea that you have to pick between success at work or having a personal life.
2. Reevaluate every five years or at every milestone
A study by Frontiers in Psychology found that the top reason people habitually procrastinate (and fail to get things accomplished) is a lack of proper time management and budgeting. Just blocking off certain hours for specific tasks helps organize your life and keeps things moving. Major life events such as getting married, having kids and changing jobs can all have a huge impact on what takes up your time and what’s important to you. Even the simple process of getting older (and wiser) can change how you perceive the world and your place in it. The right balance in your 20s will look a lot different from the right balance in your 40s. Make sure to reconsider how you budget your time at least every five years and at major junctures in your life, whichever comes first.
3. Plan for the unexpected
Whether you’re at work or home, there will always be times when things don’t go as planned or an unavoidable emergency pops up. This can be especially true if you have younger children or aging parents. Surges in demand can happen at any time to anyone. If your time budget is already full when this happens, your mental and physical health will suffer. This can end up causing you to burn out or even develop physical health problems.
Related: What to Expect After a Year of the Unexpected
If I’ve learned anything from these past two years, it’s how quickly life as we know it can be disrupted. When it comes to budgeting your time, leave some room for the unexpected — because there’s no question the unexpected will make room for you. We all start with 168 hours in any given week. Harvard Business Review broke down a time budget by “taking out 49 hours for sleep, 56 for work, 7 for commuting, 13 for errands and routine housework and 20 hours for family (childcare, cooking and so on).” After all that, only 23 hours remain. You can tweak those numbers to fit your life. The end goal is to plan out how much time you want to spend on each element of your life (and how much you’d like to save for more fun or relaxing pursuits). And, stick to the schedule — with some flexibility built in, of course.
4. Be mindful of the balance of your team, not just yourself
While the specifics of your team’s personal lives may not be any of your business, that doesn’t mean their personal welfare isn’t. A recent review from Frontiers in Public Health found that Covid-19’s impact on the work environment has only made it more difficult for employees to maintain their mental well-being. Have conversations with your team members regularly to ensure they’re getting the work-life-self balance they need; Etsy is one example that comes to mind. If it’s becoming clear they aren’t, see what adjustments you can make at work in order to help.
5. Get an outside perspective (or three)
Because entrepreneurs are often self-starters, the idea of relying on someone else can sometimes be a difficult pill to swallow. But just as a business needs more than one employee in order to grow, a person can only get so far by going it alone. And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will: By letting others help you, you’re also helping them. According to an experiment published by the Harvard Business Review, mentoring provides mental health benefits to both mentees and mentors. So, really, you’re doing them a favor.
How do you actually know you’re accomplishing the right balance in life? It might feel like you are, but sometimes it takes an outside observer to see the warning lights flashing above you. A trusted third party can help you step outside yourself and see things from a more objective angle. Find a mentor, advisor or accountability partner who can help you stay on track and not lose sight of what’s important. Don’t feel like you can have only one of these, either. The more people who can offer you support, the better your chances at having a healthy balance in your life.
Successful entrepreneurship takes hard work, dedication and passion. Just remember, possessing these qualities doesn’t mean you can’t also have a healthy personal life. Create and maintain a healthy work-self-life balance right from the start. By doing so, you can strengthen the likelihood of long-term success in your business and long-term health and happiness in your life.