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Time Out

Get a life! I mean a life beyond the endless hours you devote to your growing business. Business owners, like the legendary Knights of the Round Table, are notorious for always seeking, but never finding, the entrepreneurial Holy Grail: balance. A common entrepreneurial myth is that the "all work, no play" philosophy goes out the door once you're beyond start-up. While that may be true for some, it is hardly reality for millions of you.

I've talked to so many people (not entrepreneurs themselves) who think all the hard work of business ownership comes at the beginning. After the first few years, they believe entrepreneurs go into coast mode and spend their time living the good life-playing golf, lying on the beach or sailing their yachts. (Are you laughing yet?)

As I've said before, the pressure grows as your business does. There's more to do, more to manage and more at risk. In tough times like these, you tend to dig in, trust less and try to do more with less. Now, I'm not saying that's necessarily bad-tough times do call for tough measures. And I'm certainly not saying you should leave work every day at 5 and not think about business until 8 the next morning. You'll never succeed that way. But I do believe that most of you need to take a timeout, at least occasionally, and give your brain a rest.

Easy to say, but not quite so simple to do. Believe me, I know. While not a business owner, I work entrepreneurial hours, spending about 11 hours a day at the office. I'm writing this at home at 10 at night. The last time I went to the doctor (for a blood pressure check) he said that while he doesn't expect me to overhaul my work habits, I need to take a break every so often. So a few times a month, I've been trying to leave the office at 3 or 4 instead of 6. And I spend a mindless hour or two in front of the TV watching home and garden shows. Has this actually lowered my blood pressure? Too soon to say, but it can't hurt.

I certainly can't tell you how to relieve the stress and pressure most entrepreneurs face. As oxymoronic as it sounds, Entrepreneur's owner used to race cars to relax. A business owner friend of mine goes to the beach and just stares at the ocean. Another heads for the gym. I recently met a man who swears by a mini-vacation (Thursday to Sunday) every eight weeks. Another entrepreneurial friend can be found at the movies every Friday afternoon, accompanied only by a tub of popcorn. For you, the release might be music, golf, reading, cooking or spending time with your kids.

Tuning out for two hours per day (or even per month) is certainly not going to bring you balance. But I'm not sure balance is possible to achieve for business owners (or maybe anyone). Still, you have to make the effort. And while you're at it, if your employees are putting in long hours, cut them some slack, too. You (and they) will be more effective and productive. As 17th century French playwright Molière wrote, "Our minds need relaxations and give way unless we mix work and play."

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Time Out.

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