Chapter 11: Work-Life Balance
Striking the right balance between work and your personal life can be difficult. Whenever you are building a business, the claim on your time can be enormous. It usually requires self sacrifice and the unwavering support of your family for as long as it takes to make the business profitable. This book has been designed to help you know how to grow your business as quickly as possible and to make the best decisions concerning your money and time. It also covers how to systemise your business and help you create massive value in your business. This enables you to plan an exit strategy that makes sense for you and your business. You will have the choice of being able to sell your business for real money and not just have to walk away and abandon your equity. It also accelerates your path to profitability and helps you avoid the numerous pitfalls along the way.
Concentrating on your business is necessary to build a profitable company. But having your head down and working all the time is not healthy, and it is certainly not good for your home life. You must achieve balance in what you do. The concept of work-life balance assumes that you can work efficiently, get a lot done and have your business grow but at the same time enjoy a great home life. This includes an active social life, and balance in all other areas of your life. You may have decided to pursue having your own business for a variety of reasons, but most people simply want a better lifestyle. They want to be able to give their family the security and future that comes from building equity and value in a business. If all you are doing is slaving away as a glorified employee and just barely getting by, that does not ultimately achieve your goals. It just means that you are spending more time working and less time at home, and in the end you will have put your personal life on hold for nothing. This can be a sobering realisation and can place undue stress on all your personal relationships.
Allocate Time to Thinking and Planning
There are many techniques on how to bring back a balance in your life between work and life. One of the best ones that I have ever encountered is simply to spend a half a day each week away from the office and only concentrate on planning. Plan on spending this time away from the office and use it for executing some of the ideas in this book. The more time you can devote to thinking and planning the more benefits you will reap in terms of sanity and happiness in your family.
Be sure to dedicate your thinking time only to thinking. There is a difference between thinking and working, and you should not mix the two. When you are thinking, do not have interruptions that are work related. Insulate yourself from people ringing you up or sticking their head in your office and asking you to help them solve a problem. Thinking time needs to be thinking time. As a start, allocate a half a day a week to thinking and planning and gradually increase your time away from the office. Over time work toward spending three days a week away from the office, managing, planning, and growing your business. The sooner you can do that, the more value you will be creating in your business and the more options you will have for your exit strategy. You will be getting towards your goal of working on your business, not in your business.
Incorporate some celebration into your life. Celebrate wins and successes with your staff your vendor partners and your family. You don’t have to invite everyone to the same party or the same function, but you should get into a habit of really building some enjoyment into what you are doing. You will find that when you come home from your business, that you are actually in a happy mood and not grumpy from the constant draining work. You will not be constantly worrying about paying the bills or customers leaving or other business issues Instead, you will be developing the habit of enjoying your life. When you start celebrating the little things, more and bigger things will begin happening for you, giving you more occasions to celebrate. The more you can celebrate the more fun you have, and the better you work and home life will be.
Drawing a Salary
Many business owners simply take all of the income that they get and then reinvest it back into growing their business or paying the bills. They end up not taking any money out as a salary for themselves. That is a dangerous precedent to set. You need to start drawing a salary from the very first day you are in business. I recommend drawing a percentage of revenue. For example, pay yourself 5% or 10% of revenue every month and put it into a separate bank account. You could treat that bank account as an emergency account if you would like but get into a habit of paying yourself and not treating yourself as a free resource. When you cost projects, put a price tag on your time at a rate that reflects your value. As your business grows, any right-hand person you hire as a replacement will require compensation. If you are not drawing an equivalent sum when you hire a right-hand person, you are going to add a large expense to the company. This expense can fundamentally impact the expense flow of your company. By designing your business around this necessary expense and drawing a real salary, you will be able to replace yourself without negatively impacting your accounting.
For most business owners including myself, thinking about something other than work can be difficult. But to develop a balance in your life, you need to be able to come home from work, and say, “enough is enough. I am not going to think about work.” This can be very difficult for most people to understand, but you need to get into the habit of just letting go of whatever issues are pressing at work. Some people essentially “drop them off” by writing outstanding issues down on a piece of paper and saying, “I will let it go for now, I am at home. I will relax, turn off my mobile phone, and turn my attention to my home and family.” If you adopt this technique, you will have a much better home life. Six o’clock or seven o’clock in the morning or whenever you start work, switch back on again and concentrate on work. If you develop this work mode and home mode distinction, you will generally have a better work-life balance.
Work/Life Balance Tools
To achieve work-life balance several very effective tools can assist you in starting and maintaining a distinct work mode and home mode. One very useful technique involves time management. There are many time management tools out there and essentially, they all work… if you follow them. Time management tools may fail for many people because instead of implementing an entire system and staying with it, they pick up a diary system, or a computer system, or some other sort of time management idea, use it for about a month and then they stop using it. Six months down the road, they have regressed back to their old ways and are no longer managing their time well. The following tools all work extremely well. I can recommend them because I use them, have found them interesting and tend to stay with them over time.
“Getting Things Done”
The first tool is a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I have mentioned this previously and want to reiterate that this book has some unbelievably good ideas about managing time. One of the key ideas it proposes is to concentrate on the next action. Define the next thing that you can do to move an idea or some work forward. If you cannot think immediately of what your next action should be, then procrastination tends to set in. What “Getting Things Done” helps you do is divide all your work into projects. Projects are simply groups of actions. Once you define a project, at your next designated planning and thinking time, determine what your next actions will be to advance that project. You may have twenty projects that you have written down in separate files or folders, but the best way to move your projects forward is to concentrate on one project at a time. Get things done that are related to that project up into the point that you cannot move it forward any further then move on to the next project.
Time Chunking or Time Blocking
To manage my time effectively, I “time chunk,” or “time block.” This just means that I block out some time just for a particular project in advance. I go into my diary typically on a Friday night and I look at the next week. I start designating time, or pre-blocking time for certain activities that I need to accomplish or certain projects that must get done before the end of the week.
Another tool that I use when appropriate helps me identify and focus on the top six items that I need to get done today. I repeat this process for tomorrow, the next day and the rest of the week. All you need to do then, is just look at the top six items you have prioritised and then have a list of everything else that you would like to get done. As long as you concentrate on getting the top six tasks done first, then you are free to do whatever you want for the rest of the day. Again, this comes back to the philosophy that you are only productive for two or three hours per day. The key is to maximize your productivity time to work on things that are important. For this, you need to be able to identify what is important. What do you have to get done? Block out the time to do those things. Once those critical items are accomplished, you are free to do all the other stuff. Sure enough, the day will fill up with stuff anyway. Things just happen and must be addressed. These tools: “Getting Things Done,” time chunking, and the top six are all very effective and if you integrate them into your day, you will see the benefits immediately.
E-mail is one of the greatest time wasters I encounter in my day. Despite its convenience and value, it can be disruptive. The instant communication aspect of e-mail infers that as soon as a message comes in, you are expected to open it, address it and respond. If you have blocked out time to focus on an important task, this intrusion can be distracting. In reality, e-mail is often just busy work. It may relate to other issues you should address, but should not take priority.
My suggestion is to cut down the number of times you retrieve e-mail to only twice per day. For example, you could check e-mail first thing in the morning when you come in, and again when you get back from lunch. Limit yourself to only two times a day to retrieve, process, file and address issues in your e-mail. Allow yourself a specific amount of time for e-mail, then go and do your top six items. Do not get sucked into looking at e-mail every thirty minutes or every hour, or worse yet, every time you are notified of an e-mail message arriving. If you can reduce this task to only once per day, that is even better. There are certain situations where you must check your e-mail frequently, such as if you are working with an associate on a project and are e-mailing back and forth to coordinate your work. In such cases, look only at the e-mails that concern your project and either filter or disregard the rest until your designated e-mail session. The key is to stay focused and keep your priorities organised.
There is a book out at the moment called the “4-Hour Work Week,” in which the author Tim Ferris suggests that you only look at email once per week. He suggests that he is more productive looking at e-mail once per week than he would be looking at it once per hour. There is a basic assumption underlying this philosophy. If you only need to look at your e-mail once per week, chances are you have a team of people that keep your business functioning for you. In such cases, you don’t have to be there making decisions and adding to the mix of e-mails. You can achieve this independence from e-mail when you have your business systemised. The more that you can systemise your business, the more you can keep work moving through your business without you having to be present. The side benefit is the reduction in the amount and urgency of e-mail you receive.