In my world, holidays aren’t necessarily celebrated on their actual calendar dates, my working hours don’t fit into a nice, little 9-to-5 box, and I’m never completely “off the clock” … but I always make time for the people and things I enjoy. If you are a high powered executive, rising star salesperson, or solopreneur, you may be able to relate. After all, having more control over your schedule is probably one of the reasons you work so hard; but, in earning that control, the typical work-life balance recommendations (unplug for nights and weekends, just hire an assistant, etc.) aren’t the right fit. You have busy seasons, top clients/prospects, and responsibilities that you can’t ignore if you want to achieve the level of success you’ve dreamed of. So, in this article, I’ll share my six tips for creating the work-life balance that works best for you (whether you’re the head honcho of your corporation, an accountant in tax season, a retail worker during the holidays, or a small business owner struggling to make it through those first few years).
Before beginning your next busy season or a new endeavor (starting a business, accepting a promotion, or kicking off a big project – like an important trade show), sit your loved ones down for a heart-to-heart. Start by setting expectations, outlining your goals and the plans you’ve made to achieve them, and expressing your feelings about what will happen next. Then, reassure the people you care about, emphasizing that you aren’t pretending to be busy to avoid them, but that you are actually busy because you are trying to create a better life to share with them. Finally, give them an opportunity to ask questions, voice their concerns, and just let everything sink in. It is your responsibility to help your loved ones through this transition by maintaining an open dialog and don’t forget that, as hard as everything will be on you, your choices will impact them as well and you need to be sensitive to this.
2. Schedule something to look forward to.
The hope of your success may be enough to maintain your motivation through challenging times; but even your most loyal supporters are likely to need more to remain positive when those tough times carry on. Give your friends and family a more personal promise to look forward to (this can be something small like a few quiet moments together once a week or something big like an extravagant vacation once this season/project/etc. is over) because it’s not the actual event that matters. Instead, your commitment to something your schedule can realistically accommodate reminds your loved ones that they are still an important priority and you are doing your best to include them. Trust me – the people who truly care about you can handle any difficulties along the way if they know they’re there for a certain reason, over a certain time, and that there is some sort of light at the end of this long tunnel (like your promise, clearly written on the calendar). Giving them (and yourself) something personal to look forward to makes your collective challenges feel more worthwhile as you’re dealing with them.
3. Keep your Commitments Consistently.
You can’t work 24/7/365 so, aside from the basics (sleep, maintaining good hygiene, personal development, etc.), how are you spending the little free time you do have? You have a few options: doing things you enjoy, doing things other people enjoy (that you may or may not), and doing things no one really enjoys (but are required because you’re a grown up). There should be a balance between these activities… If you have to miss nearly everything except for pretty much every single thing you enjoy (which you have no problem making time for), you need a reality check. As you consider the activities you miss or reschedule most often, look for trends surrounding your availability that make your “valid reasons” appear less fair and then re-balance your life to include more of the activities that are important to those around you (even if it means missing your favorite television show or girls/guys night out sometimes). When you claim work as your excuse to get out of these important activities time and time again, you may look lazy or selfish; but, more importantly, you are destroying your credibility for any times when work is the real reason (not just an excuse).
4. Make up for anything you miss.
Sometimes things come up. That’s just life. You may have to take a phone call in the middle of your kid’s piano recital or you may have to push back your big holiday plans… and, if you want to achieve your goals, these are probably not things you can control. However, you can control what happens next. To remedy this situation, first and foremost, you need to apologize (and really mean it). By recognizing the importance of whatever you had to miss or reschedule, you’re making a good start towards moving forward. Next, you should match the remedy to the grievance. Again, your personal life VIPs already love you so the goal isn’t to buy their love and forgiveness; it’s just to recognize their pain (whether that’s a minor inconvenience or a major issue) and rebuild whatever was lost. Depending on the situation, you may need to think creatively to find a good solution. Remember, this is not necessarily about spending more money or making a drastic change (sabotaging your continued progress won’t help anyone), it’s about putting forth a genuine effort to show your loved ones you care even when you can’t be there.
5. Take advantage of flexibility.
One issue you may struggle with, especially if you are a working parent, is finding ways to participate in activities that take place when you’d typically be in your office. I’ve always considered myself lucky because my parents are self-employed (running their financial planning business out of our home throughout my childhood), so I learned at an early age that there are ways a schedule can be adjusted to accommodate other priorities. For example, I’m sure you know that there are 168 hours in every week; but, did you realize that shifting tasks that can be completed individually (like brainstorming, writing reports, etc) to early morning, late evening, or middle-of-the-night hours can not only free up some of your daytime hours, but also help you to complete your work more quickly? It’s true because, with fewer distractions to pull your focus, you won’t even notice how easily you are powering through your important projects. This idea of shifting tasks works even if it’s not a business task that you are shifting. Consider adjusting your sleep schedule and personal basics (as mentioned in tip #2) to create more time for the people and things you enjoy. When you start thinking about your week as 168 hours that can fit business, personal, sleep, and other interests instead of 40 hour “work weeks” that spill over into “off hours” (limiting your availability for activities that conflict with a more rigid timetable), it will be easier to schedule your time according to your priorities.
6. Don’t let guilt get you down.
As I mentioned before, I grew up in a “small business family” which means that these scheduling challenges are so normal in my environment that they hardly feel like challenges at all. However, I realize my situation is not normal for most others. In fact, I’ve observed that these challenges are a huge source of stress for many professionals. Hopefully, after reading this article, you are feeling a bit better about how you’ll cope with any future scheduling difficulties that arise, but in case you aren’t there yet, I have a little more inspiration…
I’m not sure who said it first, but there is a quote that can help you feel better about choosing what’s best for your future (note: I don’t think the intention of this quote is just to help entrepreneurs, so you have my permission to edit it for yourself making the phrasing describe your situation instead). The quote is, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” Remember that you are doing your best to create a better future for yourself and those around you. In all sincerity, you need to know that that’s awesome and should be thought of with admiration, not guilt.
In summary, utilize these tips to create the work-life balance that works best for you and give your loved ones a little credit; they care about you and, as long as they know you are in this together for the right reasons, they’ll be there for you no matter what – even if the traditional work-life balance recommendations don’t work for you.