Small Business Guides

How to get your work-life balance right in 2016

6 min read

Running a business can be stressful, because it's often hard to take time off or relax. But your business will run 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 so it is – up to a point.

Unfortunately, too much hard work can kill you – literally. Excessive stress can lead to lack of fitness, high blood pressure, heart problems, and 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. This will help you and your employees get the best of both worlds.

Take a scientific approach

Psychology 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 from science can help you make the most of your work time:

  • Don't force creativity
    The creative parts of the human 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 which 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. 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' are 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 times when your business needs you to put in extra hours of hard effort. This might occur when pitching for a new client, applying for angel investment funding or opening a new store.

Keep track of such 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.

Resist the urge to check your business email or log into your work systems out of hours.

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:

  1. Learn to delegate 
    The most successful business managers are those who can delegate the right work to the right people – and then let them get on with it. If you're a micromanager or someone who finds it hard to delegate work, try to change. Your business is more likely to flourish if you learn this skill, and you'll feel better too.
  2. Take all your holidays
    And encourage your staff to do the same. Without a holiday, life can start to feel like being on a treadmill. That's no way to run a business. Take breaks when you can, and make the most of your time away from work.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Switch off
    Learn how to switch off properly at the end of the day and at weekends too. Resist the urge to check your business email or log into your work systems out of hours. Relax and switch out of work mode entirely.

Improve your working environment

You can't escape work, but you can make the experience as pleasant as possible. Here are some tips:

  • Redesign your office
    Pool tables, break-out areas and bean-bags work well for tech startups. But just a few simple steps can improve your working environment. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint, a few plants, and rearranging the furniture are all it takes to brighten up your work space.
  • Take the office with you
    Online computing means you don't have to be in the office to be connected. Whether it's email, accounting software, inventory management or conferencing tools, you can take it with you. Online applications let you reconcile your bank account in a café, send invoices from the beach, and catch up with emails in the park. You can have a change of scene and still get your work done.
  • Enjoy natural daylight
    This is important for your mental health and sleeping patterns. It’s common for people to have difficulty sleeping if they don't get enough daylight. So if your office lacks windows, get out at lunchtime and take a break in natural light.
  • Be sociable
    Closed doors and cubicles make it harder to interact with your employees, and for them to interact with each other. The most successful modern businesses have offices that are specifically designed to encourage people to meet, chat and circulate thoughts and ideas. This improves wellbeing and productivity. So tear down those cubicle walls and encourage your staff to mingle.

Remember why you're in business

Think back to when you started your business, and ask yourself why you did it. Perhaps it was so you could have more independence, more money, greater intellectual challenge, or extra free time to spend with your family. Maybe it was all of those things.

Keep your goals in mind at all times, write them down and have them in a place where you can easily see and 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 business – and the health and freedom to enjoy it.