I'm a Woman Entrepreneur Who Created a Better Work-Life Balance. How You Can Do That, Too.
In 2018 -- just last year! -- I felt that my whole life revolved around work. I didn’t feel that I had any control over my time; my business set my entire agenda, even on weekends.
According to a Harvard Business Review survey, that feeling is more or less universal: The study examined data about CEOs' use of time, covering some 60,000 combined hours of those executives' work lives. One finding was that those CEOs, on average, worked 9.7 hours per weekday.
More alarmingly, they also conducted business on 79 percent of their weekend days, putting in an average 3.9 hours each weekend day, as well as working 70 percent of their vacation days, averaging 2.4 hours daily. Seemingly non-stop, right?
To fix those same patterns in my own life, I decided to completely shift my mindset about how I structured my life. So now I’m working on a master plan to treat my personal life with as much importance as running the online retail company, Darn Good Yarn, that I founded in 2008. I'm putting this plan into work for 2019. Here's how it's going to work:
My master plan
In 2019, every day since Jan. 1, every minute of every day has been accounted for and will be, going into the future. The goal is to reduce my stress, operate my business with greater efficiency and do more of the things I love. The latter includes spending more time with my daughter, taking up a fun new hobby (scuba diving!) and deleting items off my plate to empower my team at work.
People think that being an entrepreneur affords you a plethora of “freedom” that has endless bounds. But you know that's not the case: While it’s true we can make our own decisions as business owners, our dedication to work can quickly turn into what feels like a 24/7 grind.
So, in search of answers to the question about scheduling in the things I love, I fine-tuned my master plan, to de-stress and give myself the time I needed in 2019. Here are the steps I took:
I identified what is truly important to me.
Start by identifying what’s truly important in your life. For me, aside from my business, the answers were my 2-year-old daughter and the opportunity to learn new skills. Identifying what’s truly important will help me re-prioritize and take a much more active approach to dedicating time to those areas.
In doing some research, I found that Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow Group, had taken a similar approach and prioritized his family. Rascoff believes it’s critical to have work-life balance in order to reach peak productivity and performance.
In an interview with Glassdoor, the CEO explained how he altered his schedule to spend more time with his family. “I am almost always with the kids and my wife by 7 p.m., unless I’m on a business trip," Rascoff said. "That is something we work hard at. I strongly believe it is unsustainable to work nonstop for years at a time.”
As I mentioned, I was feeling that my own business was controlling everything, even on weekends. Now that I have decided to take a step back and make sure that my daughter is No. 1 in my life, I’m working to structure my calendar so that I have each and every Friday open to spend quality time with her. I won’t schedule any meetings that day, and all of my staff has been looped in on this as well, so that they know I am essentially off the grid come Friday morning.
I blocked off time.
In addition to blocking off Fridays on my calendar for my daughter, I will now be scheduling out my weekends in addition to my weekday work schedule. I’ll be putting in time for Saturday lunches in town, weeknight bowling excursions, movie dates with my husband, etc. Everything will be scheduled and assigned equal allocations of time.
This strategy has worked for many entrepreneurs and is a goal preached by productivity experts. Paul Minors of Productivityist recently published a blog post on how he schedules everything in his life to get more done and filter out distractions. That's what I'm aiming for, too.
I'm streamlining everything.
Another way to create more time is to make the work you're doing run more efficiently. In 2018, I felt that I spent a lot of time jumping among the multiple lines of communication I was using to speak with various operational teams. We were using text, email, Slack, Asana and of course, good old-fashioned in-person conversations to communicate project statuses and ideas.
It all felt overwhelming, as if I needed to be checking each one of these platforms at all times to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks, adopted Slack into his workplace environment because his team members' email inboxes were exploding. In a recent Chief Executive.net interview, Landa stressed the importance of sorting through software options and taking a methodical approach to the search-and-implementation process. “It’s important to choose software that fits your organizational culture," Landa said.
I'm taking a similarly methodical approach, to streamline internal communication. With my team, I'm allocating what types of communications belong on each channel, and how we can better organize each one. Take, for instance, the fact that my team and I love sending one another funny GIFs and inspirational messages.
The problem was that they were diluting important messages on Slack feeds, causing scroll fatigue and distractions. This is just one example. To solve it, I created a feed called #fun! where all these messages can live.
I grew my support network.
While reorganizing and planning your personal time can certainly relieve some of your stress, the fact of the matter is that sometimes there’s just too much work on your plate as a founder.
To relieve that burden, I added nine employees in 2018. Yes, one big reason was our business growth; A major reason I added so many people was to decrease and better focus my own workload, as well as the individual workloads of my staff.
Still, I added people strategically: One hire was a personal assistant who keeps me on track, organizes my schedule and keeps my inbox clean. Those tasks seem miniscule, but they add up to several hours a day.
I’m also bringing on an individual to help with my company's strategic organizational efforts, in a kind of COO role but focused specifically on efficiency. One project this person will take on is rewriting all job descriptions.
According to The Society for Human Resource Management, “Job descriptions can be useful communication tools to tell employees exactly what tasks you expect them to perform. [They] may also address quality or quantity of performance standards, or even work rules that apply to a particular job. Without such clear communications, employees may not perform to your expectations.”
Given that my business is over ten years old, I’m in a position to bring on this sort of support. And I learned to boot-strap, having started my company in my home basement with little money saved. So, if you're at that stage without the luxury of bringing on more full-time staff, consider outsourcing resources like Upwork. I myself have relied on that company for things like HR guidelines and contracts, administrative support, accounting and web development.
Other executives have accessed highly skilled and experienced independent workers in this way. According to the Workforce 2020 report, 83 percent of executives polled said they planned to increase use of contingent, intermittent or consultant employees to increase their business agility in the next three years.
I told myself, "Go take action!"
Clearly, I’ve struggled with trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance. I've realized my difficulty in giving my best to my work life and personal life. In 2019, I'm hoping that slowing things down and planning my time better will help me be my best self in either setting.
Identifying your priorities the way I did and understanding how to make time for them is a great first step in gaining the time to do what you enjoy. Take time to reflect on your own personal and business goals this year, and look at the bigger picture in both aspects of your life.
What are your company’s goals this year? What are you proactively doing to achieve them? How will you evaluate whether the goals are being met?
Next, apply these questions to your personal life, ending with the most important one: What advice can you pass on to other women entrepreneurs for optimizing their time to achieve a work-life balance? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments section below.