Part 1 of 5 in our entrepreneur series. This week: How to succeed without always working.
When it comes to starting and running your own business — whether you’re alone in the venture or with a partner — you will inevitably find yourself working all. the. time. For a while, you may take pride in it, wear your superhuman work ethic as a badge of honor, chalk it up to the passion that comes with doing what you love.
However, after a while, if you’re not careful, you’ll start to feel exhaustion creeping in, maybe get in a few more fights than usual with your spouse, spend days coming home after your kids have gone to sleep and leaving before they’ve awakened. Maybe it’s been months since you’ve seen your non-work friends.
Contrary to what other entrepreneurs may tell you or exhibit in their daily habits, this kind of home and life neglect is not par for the course, not necessary to get your startup off the ground, and more importantly, not healthy in any way. When it comes to maintaining a work-life balance, make sure you choose life.
Figure out what makes you happiest
While your passions may lead to future happiness, it’s important not to downplay the things that make you happiest in your life overall. Think about what you miss the most about your former life, whether it was maintaining a regular date night with your significant other, playing with your kids, the simple pleasures of a nice long hike or walk in the weekend, or being able to catch a film once in awhile.
Just being able to remind yourself of the simple pleasures available in life outside of the office and making them a priority is an important step in lifting yourself out of your burnout funk. It is important to craft your life for happiness. It doesn’t just happen on its own.
Keep a regular routine that includes your most valuable needs and stick with it
After you’ve isolated the activities that make you happy, make time for them. The best way to keep a balanced lifestyle is by keeping a regular routine. For entrepreneurs, this may not be feasible – after all, there are meetings and conferences to get to, tight deadlines and long-running tasks that take longer than anticipated (always).
But it’s still possible to keep a loose schedule for normal days that includes going home for dinner (even if you have to go right back to the office), a Saturday morning hike, or a yoga class. If you don’t have close to a “standard workday,” as many entrepreneurs don’t, you can still make up a plan for the day when you wake up, and make sure to schedule in time to do what you love.
Welcome pets to the office
Obviously, having dogs romp through office corridors isn’t feasible for every workplace, as some buildings don’t allow pets and some people have allergies. However, if it is possible, say, if you have a small animal-loving staff in a pet-friendly building, allowing your team and yourself to bring your dogs into the office can lower stress levels by at least 12 percent, according to a 2012 study by Virginia Commonwealth University, improve human relationships, and force you to go on walks, which helps you interact with the outside world as well as boost creative thinking. Plus, when you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed from work, who better to lift you out of your funk than man’s best friend?
For people who are self-employed or work independently – freelancers, entrepreneurs, and other independent contractors – it can seem like they’re constantly working, even when there’s no work coming in. One major contributor of this feeling of never quite being off the clock is having a smartphone within arm’s reach at every moment, beeping incessantly anytime you have yet another email, a text, a Facebook notification, a message on Slack, and all other app announcements.
While we feel we’re working all the time because we’re always getting these reminders of work at all hours, the quality of that work suffers, our relationships with the human beings around us suffer, we’re no longer able to recover from a hard week, and we sink even deeper into a cycle best described as pathological Internet addiction.
Maybe consider turning off all notifications and schedule in your online time: dedicate a chunk of time in your day to responding to emails, check Facebook and Twitter only at the end of the day as a reward (or even one every few hours if you suffer from major FOMO), and don’t take your phone out during meetings, meals, family time, or your peak work hours unless you’re waiting on an urgent message. Your work life will benefit from it, and so will your home life.
Exercise and live nutritiously
There’s no end to the benefits of exercise for a working adult. Beyond all the physical advantages of a regular workout (a longer lifespan, a slimmer waistline), exercise can also curb anxiety and lower stress levels, improve self-esteem, release endorphins and make you feel happier, boost your energy, and improve the quality of your work.
Most importantly, exercise and a healthy diet helps to remind you of life outside of work. Taking a midday yoga class or a quick gym break will send you back to the office refreshed, and a quick ten minute walk around the block allows you fresh air and a little creative boost.
For an entrepreneur who takes 18 hour days, 7 days a week and has their mobile pretty much surgically attached to their arm, the thought of taking a vacation is the furthest thing from their mind. After all, there’s too much to do at work! How will my staff survive without me? Maybe I’ll take a vacation later, after we have a working prototype, after TechCrunch Disrupt, after our staffing issues have been settled.
Of course, we all know that “later” might as well be never — there are always new problems, new work stresses, new detours. That’s why you should take a vacation as soon as possible. Vacations not only give you the necessary downtime to recover from months of overwork, they kickstart new ideas from unique experiences, re-centers your focus on the necessary goals, allows you more time with the people you love, and helps your team gain independence on their own without having to run to you with their problems all the time.