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5 Tips for Maintaining Work-Life Balance, From People Who've Been There

5 Tips for Maintaining Work-Life Balance, From People Who've Been There

Patrick Llewellyn, president and CEO, 99designs.

Image credit: Cody Pickens
This story appears in the January 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Who couldn’t use a few more hours in the day or week? Entrepreneurs of all stripes report that one of the biggest challenges to starting a company is determining out how to harmoniously integrate their professional and personal lives. Work too hard, and your relationships and even your health could suffer; focus too much on private time, and you stand to lose your competitive edge. But there is a middle ground. We spoke to entrepreneurs and C-level executives for their take on the issue and how they manage it.

“The notion of ‘balance’ looks different for everyone. You have to find it where you can, when you can. We have offices all over the world, so I could work all the time if I allowed myself to. Instead, I pick and choose and weave everything into my schedule as best I can. In the mornings, I wake up and do calls between 6 and 8 a.m., then I have breakfast with my kids and take them to school before heading to the office. At the end of the day, I come home, put the kids to bed and go back to work. Every day, my balance is changing. And that’s OK.”

Patrick Llewellyn, president and CEO, 99designs

1. Forget the balancing act.

The notion of work-life balance implies that the two can and should be equivalent. Rather, consider the integration as a moving target that's a natural extension of your lifestyle.

“Work ebbs and flows. There are times when you're busy; there are times when you're not as busy. It's always changing. We all have completely different sets of work and personal realities at any one time. Naturally, how those fit together is going to be completely different for each of us. In this sense we're like snowflakes: You'll never see the same combinational [of work and personal realities] twice. Each of us can optimize our work-life fit differently. The equation will be different for each of us.”

Cali Yost, founder and CEO, Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit


“Whether you’re an entrepreneur starting a company or you’re working for someone else, work should be an extension of your life. If that’s not the case, if you don’t feel like work is an extension of who you are, you always will have a trade-off between work and life. We have a saying: ‘BYOS.’ It stands for ‘Bring Your Own Self.’ And it means that there should never be a separation between who our employees are outside these offices and who they are inside. Really, it’s all about passion. Every one of us has the opportunity to lead a passion-driven life; we just need to put the time in to understand what we expect from ourselves.”

Neil Grimmer, co-founder and CEO, Plum Organics

2. Leverage technology

Used efficiently, technology can make all aspects of your personal and professional strategy -- scheduling, collaborating, project management -- easier.

“My businesses are spread out over different locations and different time zones, so technology is critical to helping me control the intensity of the demands of work on my personal life. I’m big into digital Kanban boards [such as Trello and JIRA from Atlassian], which help with real-time prioritization of decisions. Real-time screen-share environments [SkypeShare, GoToMeeting and] are helpful as well, as are collaborative spreadsheets, documents and presentations. I use all of these tools to improve communication. That leads to better decisions across the company.”

Marc Diana, founder and CEO, MoneyTips; founding partner, Estalea


“I use time-tracking software [Toggl] to monitor how much time and energy I’m spending on everything I do. I have found I work better within time chunks. Day to day it doesn’t impact my workflow, but month to month I know how much time I’m spending doing development, project management and a host of other activities over the any given day. The data also tells me how much time I’m not spending doing other things, like taking care of myself. I know this approach isn’t for everyone, but the technology helps me manage better.”

Guy Gunaratne, co-founder, Storygami

Guy Gunaratne

3. Get selfish.

One of the best ways to ensure that work doesn’t overwhelm you -- and that you’re operating at peak performance -- is to fiercely protect the time you devote to personal activities. That means planning and prioritizing vacations, regular exercise and some form of mental recharging.

“No matter what, make time to work out or meditate. I like to get up early, before the day starts going
and other things can interrupt that special shutoff time. If you say you are going to do it later,
it always will get pushed off.”

Kate Weiler, co-founder and CEO, DRINKmaple
 (and six-time Ironman triathlon finisher)


“When you start a company, you can’t focus on anything else. Often, working by yourself in the room feels like you’re spitting into the wind. It can be overwhelming. Under these circumstances, it’s great to force yourself to do something else, to use a different part of your brain, to focus on something equally intense. For me, playing the banjo and Krav Maga [a form of contact combat] are these things. When I’m doing them, I have to focus so much on the instrument or the sport, I don’t have the choice of thinking about anything else. If I lose focus with the banjo, it sounds horrible. In Krav, if I lose focus, I get punched in the face.”

Dawn Nadeau, co-founder, I Am Elemental; founder and CEO, Vonk


“There has been tremendous research over the years that individuals who take time from their active work schedules have an increased ability to perform and contribute to their fullest. Many traditional approaches to vacation and sick leave can be counterproductive, by forcing an individual to justify or declare why they will be away from the office. Conversations between an employee and their manager are the most important connections people have to the organization. Removing barriers to open communication based on policies is one way we can establish a more productive work environment. Vacation and sick-leave policies requiring a set number of days are an example of artificial barriers that get created and can prevent employees and their managers from building collaborative relationships.”

Steven Rice, chief HR officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

4. Get outside help.

When you’re overtired and overworked, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the dramas of your own world. To combat this, Outsource tasks that aren’t fulfilling to you, and turn to friends and people in your professional network for guidance and support.

“You need to outsource the stuff you’re not good at. I love a clean house, but cleaning it is not my strength. Same with laundry and shopping for groceries. So I have my husband and nannies and other people help with that stuff. When I have free time, I don’t want to be doing these things; I prefer to spend it creating meaningful moments with my kids. Even if those moments aren’t meaningful to my kids, they’re meaningful to me.”

Donna Levin, co-founder and vice president, Global Workplace Solutions,


“Having a colleague who serves as a sort of ‘accountability buddy’ is incredibly important. Historically, this has been either a colleague or a friend. When it is time to volunteer at my daughter’s Daisy troop meeting, be at my son’s band concert or have time for a date night with my husband, this buddy supports me in holding these commitments as sacrosanct. My buddy helps me remember that the best thing that I can do is not overcommit but, rather, do—and be fully present for—all of the things to which I’m committed.”

Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, founder and CEO, BUILD

5. Prioritize.

Not all tasks, be they professional or personal, are created equal. The sooner you bring yourself to focus on the most important ones, the better off you’ll be.

“For me, integrating work and life is about ruthlessly prioritizing and focusing only on the things that matter -- both at work and at home. At work it might mean meeting a deadline or scoring a lunch with a key contact. If I go on a business trip, I make sure it’s really important and necessary. At home it might mean making sure my kids’ homework gets done. Making sure my kids eat dinner is a high priority, too, though their dinner might not always be homemade or on time. If you’re prioritizing the right way, you’re making sure none of these important things get dropped.”

Joanna Strober, co-founder and CEO, Kurbo Health


“As an entrepreneur, I like to say that everything costs something -- whether or not I choose to drink that fifth cup of coffee, pop something in my mouth or choose a certain kind of work over another kind of work. If you can live your life recognizing what something costs and ask yourself at every step of the way whether you’re willing to pay those costs, this allows you to be more consciously in sync with the things that matter most. Sometimes this means you fall into bed exhausted. But it also means you’re in charge of the choices you make.”

Kimberly Inskeep, president and chief culture officer, CAbi

Kimberly Inskeep, president and chief culture officer, CAbi
Image Credit: Alex Hoerner
Edition: October 2016

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