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Work-Life Balance

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Does work-life balance truly exist — or is it a mark most small business owners aim for which remains just out of reach?

The notion of work-life balance reared its head in the 80’s. It was the time our culture began its shift to bigger and better toys. Or, as my client, John Lanza, puts it — the accumulation of stuff.

The idea of gathering more stuff while keeping a balance between work and non-work (i.e., life) hours seems a bit at odds, don’t you think?

Since that time, there are have been several reiterations of work-life balance all of which continue to elude most small business owners.

It’s time for a reboot.

The Balancing Act

Many small business owners, especially those that belong to the sandwich generation, have long given up on the idea of ever achieving a balance in their lives. Yet, like any worth-while goal, now is not the time to give up or give in to live a life filled with exhaustion, burnout, and regrets.

Let’s begin again with a few simple premises:

  1. Define work/non-work life balance for yourself. Each of us is after something different when it comes to balancing our work with the rest of our lives. (At one time, I defined work-life balance by the shoes in my closet.) Whether you’re after more time with your loved ones, greater revenue, or more energy, you get to decide for yourself.
  2. Experiment with strategies of achievement. There are many roads that lead to the same destination. Do some free wheeling to find what works best for you. And, be open to applying another strategy when the current one looses its shine.
  3. Think outside the schedule. Advancements in neurobiology are opening opportunities for better ways to approach performance. Whether you work in 40/20 minute cycles of productivity/restor schedule creative days and “hate to but have to” days, find your personal performance groove.
  4. Let go of accommodating everyone and every whim. I recently read we have an unlimited ability to respond and a limited ability to act. How true! Responding to and acting upon are two divergent concepts. One can respond (unlimited capability) by not acting (limited capacity).
  5. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. One of the great stresses in our modern day society is the compelling drive to stuff as much work as we can into hours of operation from 9 am – 5 pm. This is a hangover from the industrial age. With advancements in technology, you truly can operate your business during your most energized hours.

Over time, we’ve become highly skilled at optimizing websites, computers, and business models. Sadly, we still suck at optimizing our lives. But I believe in us and I believe we can do better.

It’s Saturday. My list of things that needed my attention was not only created—it was logged into my calendar complete with time projections to complete each item. Grocery shopping. Walk. Clean house. Bake cake. Create salad. Clean garage—a project started two weeks earlier. And, be ready by 5 pm for dinner and a play with my husband. Ta Dah! It was ambitious to say the least.

Although well intended, this particular day was a struggle. Grocery shopping—check. Walk—check. By mid-morning, my ambitious “to do” list had fallen apart. After a few late evenings with friends—and several early risings—I needed a nap!

In went my ear buds, up came my “going to sleep” meditation—my grand task list was history.

Small Business Owner Rode Hard & Put Out Wet

I never used to indulge in such wasteful activity. I felt guilty. Self-care, accomplished with a much needed nap, was a rare event on my calendar. As a progeny of parents raised during the Great Depression, I learned well. The subtle talent of “taskmaster” was not lost in my upbringing.

Like many small business owners, Monday through Friday was dedicated to business—devoid of any personal activities. Anything house or family related (other than preparing meals) was left for weekends. This is the pattern I learned from hard-working parents.

Time to play, have fun, or relax was for when chores were done.

This discipline served me well for decades. It taught me the importance of work and dedication to business and family. I learned self-control, commitment, delayed gratification, organization, and time management—all qualities and skills responsible for much of my business success.

Over time, I also got sick. Struggled with fibromyalgia. Walked into rooms forgetting what I went in for. Grappled to find words to express myself. Ate all the wrong foods. Indulged in a little too much wine at the end of the day to relax. Seldom availed myself of exercise. I was crabby. In a word, I was miserable—and I was making sure my husband was, too. I was exhausted!

Why? The beliefs of my upbringing caused me to push beyond my physical capabilities. Growing up in farming country, we referred to that as a horse that’s been “rode hard and put out to pasture wet.”

I love what Robin Galloway, Associate Professor at Oregon State University Extension Service, says about Don’t Get Rode Hard and Put Away Wet.

“Back in the old days, some folks reckoned an equine (horse, mule, or donkey) was just a disposable tool to get their jobs done. They might ride a horse hard, so it was sweaty, panting, and broken down. When done they would throw it out to pasture for flies to swarm and bite. Or they’d smack it on the butt and send it into the barn with saddle or harness marks plastering its stinky coat onto irritated skin. The animal would feel terrible and look horrible—it would be stiff and itchy, with sore spots. This is probably the origin of the expression to “get rode hard and put away wet.

Professionals in any field excel because they are dedicated to their jobs. This willingness to run hard often comes at the expense of our own needs and personal lives. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and when you lack social support (Psychology Today, 2011). The pressure resulting from these demands can create a sense of physical and emotional exhaustion that often leads to burnout (Igodan & Newcomb, 1986). To survive this intense chosen profession, we have to take care of ourselves.”

A Small Business Owners #1 Goal: Self-Care

When I surfaced an hour later, I was actually surprised at how energized I felt. I was refreshed and eager to take on whatever was next. In fact, I looked forward to it!

As I reflected on my choice, I realized that I had truly learned to make self-care and vibrant health a priority. It was no longer something to long for—like when or if I retired. My health—and sanity —became a goal equally as valuable as any business goal. Finally!

It wasn’t easy nor did it happen over night—it happened over years.

Here are a few of the approaches and beliefs I’ve adopted that got me to the point of guilt-free weekends and weekdays!

  1. Let go of feeling guilty.
  2. Recognize the word “should” means someone else’s agenda—not mine.
  3. Set a schedule that brings out the best in me.
  4. Acknowledge that a nap sometimes IS the next best step.
  5. Align expectations (mine and others) with reality.
  6. Take my needs (and schedule) into consideration when making plans.
  7. Contemplate what is required of me before saying, “yes” to anything.
  8. Set health as a goal to be achieved complete with plan of action and calendared appointments for “me”.
  9. Appreciate that clients come and go, but without me there is no business—no family matriarch.
  10. Admit that the superhero pose doesn’t make me a superhero.
  11. Offer myself within my capacity and capabilities.

All of these little nuggets allow me to better aim for the objective of healthy living. And, does it ever feel good.

Alas, it’s not always smooth sailing. Occasionally I need to prompt myself, calm myself, and get myself back on track. However, as the saying goes, I’ve come a long way.

Have you been able to shake the guilt of being everything to everybody all the time? How did you do it?

Core Business Assessment


Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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