Work/Life Balance… what does that actually mean? It probably varies for everyone, but there are a few tricks I’ve found over the years that help me keep things in check as an entrepreneur.
First, let me give you a quick background on my work and my life:
I live in Denver, Colorado, with my lovely wife and two dogs. However, there will be 5 of us total soon as we’re expecting our first child later this year!
We live in a 2,500 square foot home in the suburbs, that was built in the 1970’s. So there’s always something to do or fix around the house! I also enjoy carpentry and typically engage in a new project every couple months.
I workout at my CrossFit gym 4-5 days/week, and I try to get outside as much as possible during the weekends. My wife and I live an average social life – hanging out with friends and family on occasion. That said, we’re not socialites… an ideal Friday night at our house involves a nice meal, some good wine, and a new episode of Shark Tank.
We also like to travel. This involves a couple domestic vacations each year and an overseas trip every other year (if we’re lucky).
Note: I’ve told you all of this because there’s a HUGE difference in balancing the above vs being a bachelor.
I’m involved in several tech businesses. The high-level details are below:
- I own and operate a web design agency (1-2 hours per week)
- I’m a partner in an online yoga business (2-4 hours per week)
- I’m a partner in an online construction management business (2-4 hours per week)
- I work full-time as a software engineer for a healthcare startup (40 hours per week)
Needless to say, I have my hands full. I enjoy working, for the most part, and I love solving problems with technology. However, as of late I’ve realized that I have to work smarter [and more efficiently] to manage all of this and still have a home life.
Now that you know my background, here’s a few tips I’ve used over the years to help balance things.
First and foremost, you have to establish rules. By rules I mean guidelines that will help maintain boundaries between work and home life. This is arguably the hardest part for most entrepreneurs. We’re constantly in problem-solving mode, so “turning off” our entrepreneurial instinct can be difficult, if not impossible. However, I can tell you from my own experience that drawing these boundaries has made me more efficient at work AND more happy at home.
Here’s a few examples of my rules:
- I put my phone in sleep mode from 9pm-6am. This means it won’t disturb me with calls, alerts or notifications during those hours.
- I never bring my phone (or other devices) to meals.
- I don’t take business calls on the weekends, unless they’re critical.
- I don’t set meetings on the weekends. That’s family time.
- I don’t respond to emails after 9pm. Unless one of my sites has crashed, it can wait until the morning.
- I check email once a day during vacations (if you can get away with not checking it at all then even better!).
It’s important to abide by these rules. The second you make an exception is the second the rule gets thrown out the window. Establish rules that make sense for you and keep them.
I find it very helpful to establish a schedule for work vs home life. For example, I usually work from the hours of 5am-5pm. After 5pm I rarely take on work unless it’s critical. This helps me focus on business before 5pm, and then focus on my family after 5pm. Having a clear distinction also helps my wife know that I’m usually busy during the day and that the evenings are “her” time. This helps us better plan and keep commitments.
Additionally, having a schedule allows you to “turn off” work mode for a while. This allows your brain to rest and rejuvenate so that you can get back to problem-solving when you turn work back on. Yes, I said “turn off work.” Some entrepreneurs would argue that you can never really turn it off, or that you never should turn it off. These are the same entrepreneurs who let business consume them and end up in a divorce (or two) during their lifetime. If business is the top priority in your life then this doesn’t apply to you… keep on working! But for the rest of us who prioritize family first, turning off work is mandatory to keep a happy home life.
Lastly, I’m very active with my business and family calendars. I post all my major work activities and tasks to their respective calendars so that I never miss or forget important things. My wife and I also share a family calendar where we can both create and manage events. This has been super helpful as we take on more responsibility and grow a family.
As entrepreneurs, it’s very easy to get distracted by new ideas and/or opportunities. I remember how excited I used to get talking to people about their website ideas when I was younger… as soon as they pitched me I’d start thinking about how I could build it! However, this will easily get you nowhere fast. Focus is critical to execute, regardless of what you’re doing.
Most of this requires what I call “blocking out the noise.” In other words, keep sight of the task(s) at hand and push the rest aside. This will boost your productivity ten fold, trust me. There’s a million ideas out there… the few that succeed are the ones that are nurtured and executed by focused entrepreneurs.
In today’s tech-driven society there’s a plethora of tools and resources at our disposal to help us work more efficiently as entrepreneurs. From email to finances, if you have a problem there’s probably a digital solution designed to solve it. A few of the tools I use include:
Gmail is by far the most superior email application available. Add in Google calendar and Google Drive and you have the total package. I manage 5 different Google accounts and calendars, which all sync to one master calendar. I can upload a document or file to Google Drive and share it with anyone instantly. Spend the $5/month for Google apps – you’ll be glad you did.
As an entrepreneur, I constantly have ideas and notes that come and go throughout the day. Instead of hoping to remember them when I’m in front my computer next, I pull up Evernote and log them to a “notebook.” Evernote is accessible and synced to all your devices. It’s also free!
Asana is a project management application that helps me keep my businesses better organized. It has a beautiful, easy-to-use interface with tons of helpful features – task creation and management, team collaboration, calendar view, etc. And just like Evernote, there’s a free version that’s accessible from all devices.
If you work alone this doesn’t apply to you, but for people who work with teams you’ve gotta try Slack. It’s one of the fastest growing tech companies in the last couple years, and for good reason. It’s an instant messaging (chat) tool that integrates with just about everything. This allows you and your team to have a centralized chat platform and pull in other data/information that helps you work more efficiently. For example, one of my tech startups uses Slack to pull in code updates so we know when our product is being updated. We also use it for sales and support to keep the entire team updated (in real-time) as business operations take place. It will truly change the way you communicate. And the best part, this one’s free too!
Managing finances is only fun for accounting folks. For the rest of us it’s a royal pain in the ass. So unless you’re an accountant, spend the $20/month to keep your finances organized in the cloud. Tools like Quickbooks and Xero help you connect bank accounts and credit cards so that all your business transactions are synced to one place. I dislike accounting so much that I take things a step further by having a personal accountant. Sure, I spend a couple hundred bucks a quarter for his service, but that’s money well spent since I can focus on growing my businesses instead of payroll and other daunting accounting tasks.
That being said, you also need to be cognizant of not embracing too many tools. This is easy to do, and may end up complicating your life instead of simplifying it. So tread carefully as you add a new tool to your arsenal.
These are just a few of the tips I use to achieve a good work/life balance as an entrepreneur. Some of these may not work for you, and that’s fine… but hopefully something here can help you. Let me know how you maintain balance in the comments below!
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.