The realities of a work-life balance

First of all, is there such a thing as a work-life balance when running your own business? Depending on who you ask, the answer will invariably be, “Of course! However…” or “No. Just, no.”

Author and speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk, once said that, ‘If you’re interested in work-life balance in the first 36 months of starting your own business, you will lose.’

That might be a glib appraisal of becoming your own boss, but few successful business owners will complain with what it implies. Knowing the realities of running a business and how it will suck up your time is key to evaluating whether it is the right move for you.

However, many thought a century ago that the rise of automation would result in fewer working hours for us humans. As anyone will tell you, this is far from the truth, we are working more hours than ever before, and part of this comes down to perception.

A man sits at his desk too long which has strained his eyes

There are two forces that drive an unhealthy relationship with work, especially for those running their own business. The first is the effect financial forces have on a business owner’s ability to ‘switch off’, either mentally or physically from work. When you have the success of a business, and/or the livelihoods of your employees within your hands, there is an enormous amount of pressure to keep the plates spinning financially. These financial forces are real and visible, and will dictate how you manage this idea of a ‘work-life balance’.

The second force is more abstract and is that of social expectations. There is a generally unquestioned expectation that as a business owner, your success can only be derived from continuous and blind dedication to your work, this resilience lauded in other forms in society as well. There is a strong celebration for people who seem to survive the trauma of working every minute of the day without society or those they celebrate questioning whether there is a better way of doing it.

Consider that it may not be your dedication to your business that drives its success. Instead, it may be an intelligent appraisal of how to meet your own expectations for yourself and the business while maintaining your own health. It is a considered approach to your work, rather than just working, that leads to smart decisions and a successful future.

Three people work hard at their business

Famous for his research into the idea of ‘deliberate practice’, Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, has been sometimes misinterpreted in his lifetime study of how humans learn. Extrapolating from a 1993 paper Ericsson wrote, author Malcolm Gladwell published the opinion that 10,000 hours of practice helps ensure that anyone can become an expert.

However, Ericsson states that 10,000 hours of random, blind, unconsidered practice will not yield results and this is the same for running a business. Just as deliberate practice (where you don’t just repeat the same thing over and over again but work at precise goals and skills in more intense and shorter bouts of practice) requires sacrifice and basically isn’t much fun, the same can be said for finding a work-life balance and driving the success of your business.

The most important thing to do is set up boundaries that you can intermittently push. There will be periods of running a business where you may have to favour your work over your personal life, and this won’t be pleasant. However, as long as this is not an indefinite favouritism and that what you are doing is considered, goal-oriented action, then it is the equivalent of undertaking deliberate practice.

The next stage in evaluating your work-life balance is to assess how your personal life will respond to what will inevitably be a strong level of stress put upon it by running a business. Do you have a family or loved ones and are they aware of what running a business will mean for them as well as you? If you don’t have a family then you may be able to dedicate more time to your business, but if you do, be aware that there will never be a clear and equal split of your time when running a business.

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