How To Create Boundaries in Your Work-Life Balance
An issue many business owners face when starting out is how to divide their time between work and personal life. Indeed, when you’re the boss, ‘sticking it to the man’ isn’t going to be a thing.
We spoke to small business owners in several industries to find out their different approaches to tackling this age-old problem. Previously, we discussed how to maximize productivity in your working day as a small business or remote worker, so what better way to continue the discussion?
Meet Our Experts
We spoke to five individuals who own their own businesses and work outside of a traditional office setting. Here are our experts:
- Dr. Joanna Martin, founder of One of Many, UK.
One of Many is the fastest growing women’s leadership community in the UK and is expanding quickly to reach women in dozens of countries through their online community and training opportunities.
“My typical day depends on the mode. We have two modes at work: ‘Seminar’ mode or ‘Between Seminars’ mode. If it’s Between Seminars, it’s most of the day in front of the computer in virtual meetings with the team, or writing. If it’s Seminar Mode, the days look quite different. Usually, it’s an early start as I’m onstage in front of 50-400 people for 2-4 days at a time.
- Osmaan Sharif, founder of Rapid Transformation
Rapid Transformation is a business coaching service that helps small business owners and entrepreneurs get unstuck and rapidly grow their business.
“My typical day involves face-to-face business coaching clients, spending time online doing video coaching calls, and creating new training and free resources for my website. I’m also checking email and connecting and setting tasks for my virtual assistant.”
- Lani Rosales, Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius
The American Genius provides a strong voice in the entrepreneur and tech world. As an online magazine and networking resource, it offers meaningful, concise insight into emerging technologies, the digital economy, best practices, and a shifting business culture.
“Most of my day is sitting in front of a computer, figuratively herding hundreds of thousands of cats! I run operations for the newsroom, so I field all incoming press releases, and I manage the writing team of 45 active writers across the nation. Every pitch, every story, every detail goes through me.
- Cat Townsend, Founder of The Good Alliance
The Good Alliance is a body of creative professionals dedicated to helping socially motivated entrepreneurs build their brand, get noticed, and make a bigger social impact.
“I am location independent. I’d call myself a digital nomad, except I’m afraid my life isn’t nearly as Instagrammable as many of the ‘nomads’ you see online. I get to skip winter entirely, moving from one hemisphere to the other as the sun does. And in the past 18 months, I have been able to run my business from poolside locations in Bali, beachside locations in Australia, mountain-top locations in Spain and canalside locations in Holland.”
- Hugh Howlett, Color Grader and founder of colour.sx
“My typical day consists of performing a color grade, either from a professional grading suite (which I drive to) or from my home computer. I recently graded a short animation, Inanimate, which came 3rd at Cannes film festival in the Cinéfondation category and was short-listed for the BAFTA Student Film Awards. ”
Refining Your Business With Solutions
A large part of defining your business is finding out what doesn’t work and fixing it. It’s an important process that every successful business has to go through. Here’s what our experts had to say about what this process involved for them.
The biggest problem with being my own boss is that I don’t have a boss to turn to. I often miss the framework of being part of a bigger organization. In a large organization, you can generally always find a rule, precedent, or someone with more experience to guide you. You can also focus on pushing the envelope in one area, because you have confidence that all your other areas are covered.
It’s hard to do that in your own business because all those other areas aren’t covered. And whilst you are searching for an answer in one area, things will start falling apart in another.
My biggest challenges have been missing being part of a bigger team like I was in the corporate world, plus having the feeling like I had to do ‘everything’.
To combat this, I surround myself with people who are part of ‘my team’ in some way, shape, or form. This includes a virtual assistant; collaborators and fellow business owners to mastermind with.
My biggest challenge has always been prioritization because if it’s on my plate, it feels like an emergency to me.
To start every day, I write down my top three objectives I must accomplish that day, and allow myself to worry about all of the other things in between those objectives. That way, I at least end the day having not been sidetracked by less relevant tasks.
Not working full time, and therefore a lack of potential income is my biggest worry. The fear of having to constantly search for work.
Over time, I have learned to combat this concern by having a sophisticated schedule in Excel that allows me to ensure I am filling my time months in advance. This can create problems if a project overruns, but it’s all the more reason to finish on time!
I feel constantly that there’s more I could be doing to make the business grow and to be of greater service. And sometimes it’s frustrating when I compare myself to people who can work full time. But I get around this by ensuring that work time is absolutely utilized. I don’t struggle to stay motivated. I love what we do as a business, and clearly, it’s something that people want, as we are in demand and the business is successful.
For me, the answer to overcoming work problems is not working. When the stress and problems stack-up, my first instinct is to work more.
I’ll work through the weekends and late into the evenings, making the excuse that if I can just get this next bit of work done it will all be okay. And whilst there are times to dig in and work harder, more often than not, it is entirely the wrong choice for me. What actually works (and which is the hardest thing for me to actually do) is to totally switch off from work, and connect with something bigger.
For some people, this might be spending time with their kids or families. For me it is generally getting out in nature, spending time by the sea, or even visiting a museum or art gallery. As long as I’m plugged into my business, my business problems can feel insurmountable. But by getting out and connecting to something bigger, those same problems can instantly feel much easier to solve.
Years ago, I realized that every business owner had a different entrepreneurial superpower. I found out using a powerful profiling tool that my superpower is being a ‘Trader’.
This means that I focus on time doing more of those types of tasks and activities in business and getting help with the other things when needed. This has been a game changer for me and my clients, who I don’t work with now until they’ve also used the profiling tool on themselves.
Balancing Family Life With Business
Both Jo and Osmaan juggle a family life along with their businesses. It’s probably one of the go-to questions for any parent when they’re considering whether or not to take on a business venture.
My day starts with getting a 4-year-old to school and a baby fed, before a 1-minute commute across the garden to the studio where most of the magic happens.
Because I’m close by, I can occasionally pop back into the house for more tea, cuddles with Bub (who’s usually with our nanny), and lunch.
Mornings consist of our general routine. Helping get our 2 boys ready, dropping my wife to her work, and the boys to school or their grandparents’.
My day finishes around 3 pm for the school run. Then it’s Mum-mode until 7:30 pm. If it’s Seminar Mode, the days look quite different. Bub and our nanny usually travel to the hotel with me as I’m still breastfeeding. Long days, cranky kids, but I love it!
Sometimes I feel I have to run to keep up with it all. The balance between work life and Mum/wife-life can be one of the trickiest things.
The constant is just gently reminding myself that it’s a short and precious phase in my life as a Mum, and I do my best to stay present to all the yummy things I do get to enjoy with all the kidlets.
Knowing that in 10 or 15 years they won’t even want to talk to me, and I’ll have all the time in the world to grow the business!! Also, having a brilliant team who are empowered to make decisions and are on board with me being a good Mum, and support our family life, really helps.
Breaking Up Work and Fitting In a Social Life
We brought the conversation around to what methods our entrepreneurs use to break up their workload. Maybe it’s accessing their inner peace, or perhaps they have other ways to stay sane with the stress of running a business and balancing it with a social life, fitness, and the aspects of modern life.
Every day starts and ends with 10 mins of journaling. It’s not War and Peace, and I never refer to it again. But dumping stuff down on paper is the only way I can calm my head enough to either sleep or focus on work.
Then… what can I say? The quest for coffee features highly in the list of activities that break up my day.
In order to get the relentless list of ‘to dos’ done, I swear by a practice we call “Batching for Energy Matching”. Different tasks require a different kind of mindset and energy to do them. A meeting is a different energy to writing a promotional email, which is different again to looking over cash flows.
So, I divide my weeks up into half days of different energies. Then, I batch all the tasks of similar energies together.
For example, all Monday morning is big-picture planning and prioritization, with no interruptions from my team. Wednesday morning we have ALL the team meetings in a batch. All day Friday is creative, new projects, writing, dreaming things up. That way I am way more fruitful than if I try and skip from random task to random task.
I use the Pomodoro Technique to keep me productive: 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a short break. I get through my massive to-do lists so much quicker this way.
I also mix up where I work depending on the type of task/project I’m working on. For example, when I’m being creative, I’ll always be in a coffee shop or ‘buzzy’ environment. When doing finance stuff, I’ll do it around my kitchen table. Phone and catch-up calls happen when I’m on a sofa. This means that my mind is programmed to know what type of work I’m about to do and it stops everything blending into one by staying at my desk all day.
Motivation has never been a problem for me, in fact, it’s the opposite; if I were single, I’d work until 2 am every day, no problem.
So to improve my daily routine, I focus on health so I can live longer and accomplish more! I force myself to drink a lot of water which makes me get up pretty frequently, and at the end of every hour, I get up and stretch and walk around. We host so many events, and I speak at so many others, that staying active and socializing is built into my professional life (thank goodness). Otherwise, I would literally be a hermit.
I ensure I leave the house/office at lunchtime and go for a walk. This helps me leave the work behind in a psychological and literal sense.
I also distinguish well between my social life and work. Once I’ve stopped working, that’s it! It has to be out of my mind. This is partly helped by the kind of work I do; if I’m not at the computer color grading, there isn’t really much to be thinking about around it.
I have recently joined some social sports teams—like dodgeball—and I go to midweek events so that my social life isn’t confined to the weekends. I actually find this is one of the things that makes working for myself better than most jobs.
I have a personal trainer who helps keep me motivated and gets me moving. I’m not a typical ‘gym’ kinda guy, so he’s helped me find shorter, and more ‘everyday’ activities to get me moving. These include brisk walks whilst listening to podcasts and running around the park with my 2 little sons.
Regular catch ups—face-to-face and online—with other small business owners. I typically co-work with a couple of people every 6 weeks, where we get together to work on projects; socialize, and help each other on current opportunities and challenges. Also spending time with my wife and friends is important, so I get those booked in my diary as a priority.
I have to say, I’m not so great at staying active (other than lifting the weight of a 1-year-old, and chasing around after her!)
I’ll usually bundle the kids up for a walk in the pram, or go on a bike ride once or twice a week after work. I manage to get down for a walk in our woods at least once a week, and that is a big bang-for-buck activity. I find this also helps me connect with nature, and even the divine; it gives me perspective on problems, gets me active, and feeling happy.
I work with my husband, and my team is all friends, so work is quite social even though I’m the boss. Because I spend a lot of time with lots of people at our seminars, I really like my alone time in between. But I do try to meet up with my girlfriends for some special time without kids at least every couple of months, as well as the Mummy play dates most Thursdays.
Whatever the day, I’ve discovered my effectiveness is in direct proportion to the amount of sunshine and fresh air I get.
When it comes to fitness, at a minimum I need to get my 10,000 steps every day. However, if I really need to bring my A-game to work, there is nothing that beats a morning run or yoga session. That doesn’t mean I don’t grumble all the way out the door on those mornings, or beg mercy that “I don’t have time for it this morning”. But even 15 minutes of moving my body can make all the difference to the rest of my day.
It can be irritating as anything, but every hour my Fitbit beeps at me, telling me I have ‘x’ amount of steps left to get in the hour. Sometimes that’ll be a good prompt to go and find some coffee, or even dance on the spot!
Advice to Yourself
Finally, we asked what advice our interviewees would give their former selves as they were about to start out in business.
You have way more time than you think. No need to rush. And it’s all going to work out fine!
Don’t try and do everything yourself. It’s okay not to be an ‘all-rounder’. Focus on your strengths and your entrepreneurial superpower.
I wish I could go back and explain what scaling is. My boss/husband is a big picture idealist, and I’m typically cynically mired in the details—yin and yang.
I never understood how *big* this company would become, how wide its reach. Had I truly understood, the groundwork would have been laid more firmly and less haphazardly, as it has caused a lot of revisions over the years to get it right and accomplish the founder’s vision.
I’ve only just started really! But I would probably say something to ease my nerves back then, along the lines of: It will work; you will get paid; you won’t just fail because people do want and need the service you are skilled in.
A Parting Quote
All of our interviewees were brilliant, and we are extremely grateful to them. We’re sure their tips will inspire and help you in your business.
With so much said, in so many areas, it was difficult to find a thought to really summarize this article. But Cat who said something that’s almost certainly relevant to every business ever:
Running your own business is definitely like spinning plates.
Everything you do—bookkeeping, marketing, sales, delivery—is new to you. But instead of being able to master the art of keeping one plate spinning, you typically start with at least half a dozen and have to run like a mad person trying to keep them all in the air.
I don’t think this ever changes. As a business owner, we will never be able to focus on just one plate. But what does change is that we realize that dropping plates isn’t the end of the world.
Instead of falling apart as yet another plate smashes on the ground, we get better at casually popping a new plate in the air, and sweeping up the broken crockery on the floor. One of the cruelest entrepreneurial myths is that all the plates need to keep spinning all the time. Great entrepreneurs smash plates all the time. And when they do, they smash dramatically! It’s their ability to casually pick up the pieces, whilst keeping the other plates spinning, that marks them as a great entrepreneur.
We couldn’t have said it better!