How to get your work-life balance right

Running a retail business can be stressful, because it's often hard to take time off and relax. But your business will run a lot more smoothly if you manage to get a good work-life balance. Here's how to do it.

All work and no play harms your business

Business owners tend to be workaholics. They believe that working hard is the route to success. And it is – up to a point.

Unfortunately, too much hard work can kill you – literally. Excessive stress levels can lead to lack of fitness, high blood pressure, heart problems, as well as other health problems. Death through overwork and stress is still common in some cultures today.

But driving yourself and your employees too hard is not only dangerous and unhealthy, it's also an inefficient way to run a business. It stifles creativity and kills motivation. A good work-life balance is essential if people are to perform to the best of their abilities.

In this guide we'll explore how you can balance your life with the optimum running of your business to help you and your employees get the best of both worlds.

Take a scientific approach

Psychological and scientific research have taught us a lot about how our brains work. If you want to get your work-life balance right, these lessons can help you make the most of your work time:

Don't force creativity
The creative parts of the brain often kick into action when our attention is elsewhere – especially when we're relaxed or tired. That’s why good ideas often 'pop into our minds' overnight. The best way to solve a problem creatively is to concentrate on it for a while, then forget about it and relax.

Early riser or night owl?
Some people work better in the morning, others in the evening. There's little you can do to change this, but you can adapt to it. Ask yourself what type of person you are and save the most challenging work for the time of day when you're at your mental peak.

Schedule your day sensibly
The afternoon lull, usually between 2pm and 4pm, is a bad time to do intensive intellectual work. That's true regardless of whether you're an early riser or a night owl. Unfortunately, taking a siesta or 'power nap' at work might not send the right message to your employees. If you can, try and use this period to get simple admin work completed instead.

Stress is good – in moderation
There's evidence that small amounts of stress from time to time may help our bodies stay in peak condition. However, long-term stress is bad for us, weakening our immune systems and prematurely ageing our bodies. If you're permanently stressed by your work, the cortisol and adrenaline in your bloodstream from the 'fight or flight response' will be damaging your health. Time to ease off.

Find the right work pattern

Hard work is unavoidable if you want your business to succeed. But that doesn't mean you have to work hard all the time.

There will be ebbs and flows in how busy you are day to day and from season to season. From peak sales periods, to hiring staff or opening a new store, there will be times when you need to put in extra hours of hard effort. 

Keep track of these times and try to compensate for them later. For example, after three weeks of hard, intense work, you might take a long weekend away to recharge your body and mind.

Think of your work pattern as being like a bank. You 'pay' in relaxation time so that you can 'spend' with hard work when you need to.

Five practical tips for balancing work with life

It's one thing to have good intentions about your work-life balance, but quite another to carry them out. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Learn to delegate
If you have staff, then learn how to delegate responsibility. Don’t try and do everything yourself. Teach the right work to the right people and then let them get on with it. Your business is more likely to flourish if you can learn how to delegate – and you’ll feel better for it too.

Get regular medical check-ups
The warning signs of overwork will be clear for everyone to see – except you. Business owners tend to be blind to their own symptoms of stress because they're so wrapped up in their work. So get regular check-ups – simple tests will indicate whether you need to reduce your workload.

Stay healthy
Eat sensibly, avoid stimulants, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Keeping your body healthy will help your mind cope with the pressures of running your business.

Switch off
Learn how to switch off on your days off. As a bricks-and-mortar retailer, you’ll likely be working weekends so make sure you plan your weeks so that you can take a day off in compensation. As an online retailer, it might seem hard to switch off because your shop’s always open, but try to carve out days or parts of your days where you can completely switch off and not think about work.

Take holidays
And encourage your staff to do the same. Without a holiday, life can start to feel like being on a treadmill. Take breaks when you can and make the most of your time away from work.

Improve your working environment

Where you work has a huge influence on mood, so make your workspace a great place to work with these tips:

Redesign your store
If you’re a bricks-and-mortar retailer then you’ll want to make your store as attractive as possible for customers, as well as employees. Introducing natural daylight, a few plants, and a fresh coat of paint can brighten everything up. If you have an office space in your shop or at home, then make this a bright, friendly space to be. 

Take the office with you
With online software, you can take your business with you wherever you go. So, whether it’s emails, accounting software, or inventory management, you can work from your shop, your home, or your local cafe. 

Create a relaxing staff room
Your staff will want somewhere nice to spend their breaks – especially if it’s pouring rain outside. Creating a nice space will encourage your staff to look after it, as well as giving them the chance to have a proper break and improve wellbeing and productivity.

Remember why you're in business

Think back to when you started your retail business, and ask yourself why you did it. Perhaps it was so you could have more independence, more money, or follow your passion.

Keep your goals in mind, write them down and have them in a place where you can easily refer to them. This will make it easier to avoid work becoming an end in itself. It's important to keep a sense of perspective. As the old saying goes, nobody died wishing they'd spent more time at work.

Your work-life balance affects how successful you'll be at running your business. Slaving away all the time will have a negative effect on both your business and your personal life. If you take the time to get the balance right, you'll have a successful retail business – and the health and freedom to enjoy it.

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