Most people constantly struggle to create a clear separation between work and “life.” (That’s especially true if you’re a small business owner and your business feels like an extension of you.)
You bring work home. You get calls at night. You’re preoccupied.
That’s just how life works.
Until it doesn’t.
Here are some ways to manage your work/life balance while still building a successful career or business:
1. Don’t think in terms of work/life balance. Just think life.
Artificial work-/life boundaries are almost impossible to maintain. You are, at least in part, your profession. Your profession is an inextricable part of your life, just like your family, friends, and interests. There is no real separation, because all those things make you who you are.
So don’t think in terms of separation. Think of ways to include interests, hobbies, passions, and personal values in your daily business life.
That way you won’t just be working; you’ll be living.
2. Include your family.
Most successful (at least professionally) people feel they don’t get to spend enough time with their families – and their families feel the same way. But if feel you don’t get to spend enough time with your family or if your family resents how your work intrudes, that’s not simply a sign of a work/life imbalance. Your family may feel neglected… but they also feel left out of an incredibly important aspect of your life.
Try including your family instead of excluding them. For example:
- Ask them for advice. Asking another person for help implicitly shows respect for his or her knowledge and experience. That’s reason enough to run a work problem by your spouse – or even your kids. While you may not gain a lot of insight from your family’s advice, sometimes talking about a problem is all it takes to help you find answers on your own. (Then later you get to talk about out how things turned out; win-win.)
- Discuss your failures. Business is hard. Life is hard. As parents we tend not to talk about our mistakes, but sharing what we did wrong can help our kids feel more comfortable talking about their own mistakes and asking us for advice. Plus, they’ll better understand why you do what you do. Which sounds better: “I’m going back to the office tonight,” or, “I have to go back to the office tonight to finish a project a customer is counting on me to finish”? Your children will better understand your absence… and they’ll about the importance of meeting commitments.
- Bring them along on business trips. Would you rather be on a plane by yourself or with your spouse or child? Of course you have to take care of business, but the trip will still feel like a mini-vacation (at least to your family.) Bringing your family along will help them appreciate the positive things your job brings to their lives – and will let them spend a little more time with you.
3. Create habits to help you stop working.
It’s easy to just keep going for another hour, or to reach for your tablet after you eat and work through the evening.
Here are a few ways to switch on at-home time and leave work behind:
- Ruthlessly prioritize. There are always more things you could do. Instead of approaching your work that way, know what you absolutely must accomplish and work to get those things done first. It’s a lot easier to put your work away when you know you’ve accomplished your critical tasks.
- Make fun plans for after work. If you have a dinner date you’re a lot more likely to leave on time. The same is true for a fun event, an outing with friends… or time you’ll spend not just with but doing things with your family. Having plans you can look forward to – or that people are counting on you for – makes it much easier to put work away.
- Build a shutdown routine. If you struggle to switch off, build a habit that makes it easier. Some people take a walk. Others set up the most important thing they need to accomplish the next day so they’ll know they can hit the ground running. Others take a moment to mentally recap their day; it’s a lot easier to feel good about what you’ve accomplished when you take a moment to reflect and feel good about yourself.
4. Don’t try to create an artificial work/life separation you will never maintain.
Your work is a part of you; that is a reality you cannot change. Find ways to include your family instead of exclude your work. Find ways to reincorporate your interests with your professional life.
Work is part of life. Find ways to live, both at home and at work.
Then you won’t need to think about creating separation. You’ll be too busy living.
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