For many entrepreneurs, it's easy to ignore the warning signs that you're unhealthy--much less take notice if your business isn't well. When you're so busy that you can't remember the last time you read a book, sat down for a meal or spent a night watching useless TV, then your health may be the last thing on your mind.
But ignoring your unhealthy habits and their subsequent risk factors is dangerous--not only to you, but also to your business. Lack of sleep and exercise, unhealthy foods and high stress won't keep you performing at your best. Your business is only as healthy as you are. "I can't be effective [as an entrepreneur] if my body isn't as healthy as possible," says Jonathan Fields, a serial entrepreneur who started New York City-based Sonic Yoga in 2001 following a frightening emergency surgery brought on by the stress of his career as an attorney.
With sales approaching $1 million and two locations, Fields, 41, now incorporates yoga, meditation and breathing exercises, as well as mountain biking and other outdoor activities, into his routine four or five days a week. He also keeps his diet well-rounded, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoiding red meat and pork but allowing the occasional indulgence.
For his instructors, Fields promotes wellness beyond their own yoga classes. Although the majority of his instructors are part-time, independent contractors, Fields gives them all unlimited memberships to Sonic Yoga so that they can enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation on their own. As a result, he's witnessed heightened productivity and morale. "I encourage them to make sure they're making time for themselves," says Fields. "As their boss, I'd like to see people work hard and give me everything they've got, but I also know that to get the most out of people, they need to be healthy."
And while you may not be in the business of offering a healthy product or service, you can still take some lessons from those who do. Consider Bear Naked founders Brendan Synnott, 28, and Kelly Flatley, 27. The partners' $20 million granola company is all about natural, healthy ingredients--not only in their products, but also in their company kitchen. "Our refrigerator is always stocked with fresh fruit, cartons of yogurt, cheese sticks, baby carrots," says Flatley, who co-founded the Norwalk, Connecticut, business in 2002. "A healthy snack is always available."
The partners also exercise regularly, both on their own and with employees. Last year, for instance, they took a company trip and spent a few days mountain biking, playing basketball and whitewater rafting--activities that not only did their bodies good, but also helped them bond as a team. Like Fields, the Bear Naked partners can attest to the benefits of their company-wide wellness initiatives. "We make them better employees and ultimately more productive," says Flatley.
Adds Synnott, "I would never understand why you would want to feed your employees [candy bars]." After all, who's more likely to be alert: the employee who snacks on fruits and vegetables, or the one who frequents the vending machine for greasy chips?
In the interest of staying healthy, don't forget to make time for those quiet moments alone, even as you're guiding your company and your employees toward wellness. "For me, being healthy is a bigger picture than just eating well and [exercising]," notes Flatley. "It's taking time to relax with a book or sitting on the sun porch."
For Fields, it can mean just a few minutes of meditation, even when he's at his busiest. And those few minutes can be golden. "The thought of just sitting still and not doing something for 10 seconds is brutal," he says. "But it's hugely beneficial for clarifying ideas and having breakthroughs, so it's worth the effort."
Here are some things you can do to improve the health of your business:
- Encourage employee wellness. Some companies even provide incentives for sticking to a wellness program, such as prizes and monetary rewards.
- Provide healthy snacks. Even if all you have is a vending machine, stock it with healthy things.
- Get fit. You're a role model for employees. They look to you for direction within your company. Why wouldn't they look to you as a model of healthy living?
- Meditate and relieve stress. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, take time to do something you really enjoy that doesn't have anything to do with your business. It can lead to moments of clarity, during which you unleash the creative ideas within.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.