How to Start Fitting Work Into Life (and Stop Fitting Life Into Work)
Finding work-life balance can be challenging, especially for entrepreneurs. Sometimes, we fall prey to the illusion that personal time is another name for time we can put to better use by working. We might even feel that we'd be more productive if we could only forgo rest to work more. But our bodies will likely overrule us on that one.
And that's a good thing because the truth is, we can’t do our best work if we stay plugged in 24/7. To cite an age-old example, Isaac Newton spent plenty of time working, but he didn’t truly understand gravity until he rested under an apple tree.
What's more, there are benefits to spending time on things other than work and sleep. We don’t just take downtime to distract ourselves from responsibility: Time away from work actually makes us work harder and smarter during the hours we dedicate to working.
Work hard; play hard.
Technology has fundamentally changed the workplace: it's actually difficult to get away from work what with cell phones in our pockets and laptops on our coffee tables. However, to get the full benefits of recharging ourselves (not our devices) during our time off, we have to make sure that that time off truly is "off."
We accomplish this by being fully present in everything we do. That means no cursory glances at email under the table and no quick texts to employees when no one’s watching. Blocking off time for leisure makes this easier.
If I want to eat dinner with family, grab a drink with friends, exercise or read a book, I schedule some uninterrupted time to focus on that activity. Setting parameters helps me eliminate the guilt of not working while getting the most from my personal time.
This is more than just what you “should” do. It’s a complete priority shift. While shifting mindsets sounds like a daunting task, we can make the transition easier on ourselves by following a few simple steps:
1. Create flexible work hours.
This doesn’t mean we should let our work hours extend late into the evening. Flexible work schedules allow us to fit work around our lives -- not everything has to be on hold until 5 p.m.
Flexible hours benefit companies because this type of policy benefits individuals. Employee satisfaction is critical to keeping top-tier talent, and companies with flexible schedules report higher satisfaction, engagement and motivation among employees than those without.
2. Prioritize vacation time.
Entrepreneurs and employees both need time away from work. When we start to feel overwhelmed, vacations help us feel happier and refreshed, allowing us to return to work rejuvenated instead of exhausted.
Entrepreneurs often fall victim to the idea that their companies will crumble if they step away for even a second, but we have to let go of that mindset. Delegating work keeps companies strong and encourages a healthy work-life balance.
3. Don’t procrastinate.
Putting things off rarely does us much good, but it’s especially harmful to our work-life balance. To combat this, I put the most difficult items at the top of my daily list and tackle them first thing in the morning. Not only are we fresher in the morning and better equipped to take on tough issues, but we’re also less likely to get stuck working late when something that we start in the afternoon turns out to be more challenging than expected.
4. Set the example.
It’s crucial for leaders to set a positive example for managers and employees to follow. When you take time off, set boundaries and delegate responsibilities where appropriate. Others will notice and emulate that behavior on their own.
5. Reduce or eliminate weekend work.
Thinking carefully about scheduling helps keep our weekend work to a minimum. When I plan my weeks, I make sure not to schedule big meetings on Monday mornings that require a lot of prep work. Whether we like it or not, meetings such as these almost always end up encroaching upon our weekend relaxation.
Shifting from fitting life into work to fitting work into life requires us to challenge what we think we know about productivity. We have to learn to value personal time and activities the same way we value our work. The lifestyle changes feel small, but the rewards are better health and productivity -- both at work and away.