By: Peri Pakroo
If you’re at all like me, you probably feel like a broken record when catching up with friends and family. It pains me to hear myself saying for what seems like the millionth time, “Oh, we’re super busy as usual” or “Life has been nuts for the last couple months” or “The insanity never ends!” It can be particularly disheartening for small business owners to feel life spinning out of control, since so many entrepreneurs chose self-employment because they wanted a better life for themselves, on their own terms.
As a business consultant and author who advises students and clients on this issue, I am certainly not immune! I may even be a case study. Despite the efficient work habits and systems that I’ve developed over the decades, I now find myself struggling and sweating to keep all the balls in the air due to a major life development: having a baby eight months ago. With a bouncing baby in addition to my supercharged 4-year-old, I suddenly find myself pulling all-nighters again like a college student.
The fact is, many small business owners struggle to keep a balance in their lives. The good news is that there are simple ways to help tame a crazy, over-busy life. I’ve learned the following tips from years of personal experience, and from working with scores of business owners doing similar juggling acts. Remember, these tips help bring things back into balance, but there’s no such thing as “achieving” balance with any finality. It’s all about the cycle and learning how to control it.
- Find your own rhythm. The best way to be productive and efficient is to develop habits that work with your natural rhythms and temperament. Some people work best in crunch mode and flourish under deadline pressure. Others crumble under such conditions and need to chip away at projects diligently over time. Develop an awareness and sensitivity to what works for you, and develop habits accordingly. Remember the same will be true for your employees, and an environment that allows for diverse work styles can improve productivity and encourage employee loyalty.
- Learn to ride the waves and take time to rest. Something that has really worked for me over the years is to develop trust in the natural ebb and flow of productivity. When I’m on a roll and feel the energy flowing, I go with it. (Though these days, with the new baby, going on a work bender is easier said than done.) When I feel that I can barely put two coherent thoughts together, I let myself rest -- even if it’s for days on end. And -- this is crucial -- I don’t beat myself up during the down times. It took years, but finally I realized that the down times eventually come to an end and I’ll feel the energy again. In fact, some researchers say your brain is doing important work during this down time, even if you don’t think you are. Developing trust in this ebb/flow dynamic has been a major factor in my overall productivity. The same principle applies with your staff: when a big project is completed, take some time for recognition and relaxation…
- Be organized. Developing organizational skills and being methodical in your work has a simple, and powerful, benefit: You’ll get more work done with less time and effort. This in turn leaves you more time for your personal life: family time, hobbies, athletics, social causes, or whatever floats your boat. Use organizational tools and systems that work best for you. Some people use a technology-heavy approach with personal digital assistants (PDAs), shared online calendars (like Google’s), or project management software (like Basecamp). Others prefer to put pen to paper and use hard-copy lists and organizers. If you like the low-tech approach, go with it! Use what works for you. Find out what organizational methods your employees find useful -- consider implementing them across the company.
- Network with professional associates. I’m always emphasizing the importance of networking for small business owners. But even if you work for someone else, networking is key. Even though it’s work-related and not exactly personal time, networking with professional contacts over coffee or lunch puts the “personal” into your work. It’s incredibly energizing and motivating to interact with others in your field, especially if you have a job in which you usually work solo. Encourage your employees to do the same – their conversations could lead to useful insights for your business.
- Nurture personal relationships. As a small business owner, it’s often difficult to impossible to let go of work. Make a conscious effort to create space for quality time with your loved ones. Make dates with family and friends and treat your commitments seriously -- including ones you make to your family. For some reason, maybe because we assume our families will be understanding, it seems that people are more cavalier about changing or cancelling family activities than plans with friends. Your family relationships will surely suffer if this becomes a habit. Commit to it just like your other business commitments. Honor this in your employees’ lives as well -- particularly for your top-performers who put in extra time and hours when you need it.
- Don’t ignore the obvious. Live healthy. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Don’t drink too much. Laugh a lot. Smell the jasmine. Encourage your staff to do the same. These small quality choices will help to create a balanced approach to life and business that will benefit both.
Peri Pakroo is a business and communications consultant, specializing in legal and start-up issues for businesses and nonprofits. She has started, participated in and consulted with start-up businesses for 20 years. She is the author of The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit (Nolo) and top-selling business books. Her blog is peripakroo.com. For more information, please visit nolo.com; follow the author on Twitter and Facebook. Go to WomensSmallBusinessStartUpKit to access an e-galley of The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit on NetGalley. It can be read on the Nook, Kindle, Sony e-reader or on your computer.