How to Crack the Work/Life Balance Dilemma in Your Life
I started my business five years ago, leaving a comfortable corporate job of many years because I had the insane notion that I too can be independently successful and have the additional personal time. That I could take the vacations I always wanted and have the second home that I saw my employers have and enjoy life the way they seemed to. I knew having my own business would be slow going and hard, however I didn't know that it would be as difficult as it has been.
Some immediate facts verses myths learned for those who may be considering making the jump...or rather "lies I told myself" in the beginning:
Myth: "I'm tired of working all these hours, late nights and weekends for someone else's bottom line, it's time I reduce my hours and go in to business for myself"
Fact: At first, your hours will get worse, much worse. The first few years in my own business I put in 80-hour weeks, working six days a week. It does get better, but not much better until you build your business and decide to make a change. However, when all your efforts go to your own benefit, it does make the long hours a little easier to stomach.
Myth: "My family will understand as I'm doing this for the greater good in the long run"
Fact: Spouses and children need daily attention. The patient ones may wait and understand, however in today's instant gratification culture, combined with a loss of the old ideal of work/home roles and responsibilities, the attitude of "I'll give them attention later" needs to be addressed as a false ideology.
So what is the definition of work/life balance and how can you make it happen? I'd define the balance as simplicity and happiness within your own brain and heart. Not to go all hippie peace and love on you, but it really is this simple: a simple and happy brain and heart allow for a better clarity of mind and soul, which in turn makes you into a productivity machine in the time you set for yourself to do so.
I used to start my day at 5 AM, get up, rush out the door, get to the office, work till 6 or 8 at night, come home, say "Hi", have a drink(s) and get in about an hour of time in with the family before I passed out from exhaustion, to be repeated the next day. Yuck.
I asked myself "How much money do I need?" I have built this company that is now becoming more successful, so now I can afford the bigger house, the nicer cars, but "Oh, wait a minute, now I have to work even harder to maintain this lifestyle". What am I doing? I'm losing the one thing I wanted most at the beginning...more time to exist and be happy.
I needed to make a change immediately. What are my priorities and what is the minimum amount I need financially to make this happen? If I build this big machine, I'm just going to have to keep feeding it and at what cost -- My happiness? Screw that.
So I set out to make some changes...
Saying no to clients means saying yes to yourself. This is the biggest key to unlocking the mystery of the balance that I have found. That money looks great, and it would be great to invest or spend it, but do you absolutely need it? Are you constantly saying "yes" and taking on more work when you really can't? Are you telling yourself "I'll figure it out later"? I was -- because I wanted the financial safety net -- and yet it was stressing me out.
The weekend now means the end of the week not the post script. We have all heard of the ideas of leaving work at the office, leaving your phone off once you get home, etc. At first I thought "what kind of insanity is that? I have clients that expect answers and dilemmas that need resolving ASAP". But did it need to be done ASAP? I started to question this as my wife gave me a loving (but passive aggressive) glance every time I picked up my phone at 9:00 PM or began responding to an email. I knew I had to leave work at work, especially on a Friday, but how?
I had to retrain my clients and myself. I realized I had let my clients, my employees, and technologies train me, and not the other way around. So I began a slow six-month retraining of myself, my clients and my employees. I simply stopped answering emails after 6:00 PM and on the weekends. I left my laptop at the office. At first, there was a huge level of anxiety -- what if my clients thought I was ignoring them and went elsewhere?
I just let it go and told myself "It can all wait" and you know what? It could. Occasionally, I do get the odd comment of ". . . Well so and so is always available no matter what, you used to be too, what happened?" and my response it usually something to the effect of "My family and personal sanity takes precedence above all else. You know I'll always get the job done for you" and they always back off and mumble some sense of understanding.
Get an office. If you don't have an office, get one. I don't mean your dining room or an extra bed room. I mean go rent a small office. I asked around for a few months until I found someone willing to rent me a small office in their larger office for a very affordable price. At first it may seem like you can't afford the additional cost. At the end of the month, it's a small drop in the bucket. If you work from home, you really never really leave work.
At home it becomes 11 PM and you can't sleep so why not go answer a few emails? See how it starts? Leave work at work. Renting an office was a huge shift for me in the ability to get away and focus (without the distractions of home that often slowed me down) and it was a place that allowed me to separate life from work.
Create a spreadsheet. Start a schedule. We are all spreadsheet slaves to some extent, so use this to your advantage. Develop an Excel schedule by half hour, and stick to the routine. I printed out copies and have them on my monitor, in my truck, and at home on the fridge and on my nightstand to remind me to do this and that at that time. At first it seems odd and difficult, but eventually you retrain yourself to stick to a schedule that is healthy. It is no longer a day of "winging it" with what comes across your plate. When we are "winging it" with no plan, we are always busy -- but not with the stuff that makes us happy.
The importance of personal time is huge. I was working so much that my wife said "Please get a hobby." I took her advice and found several things to occupy my time. It was an excuse to do something with my hands and brain other than work. I took up flying and stained glass work. Two things I never thought I'd want to do and these two things have refocused my negative energies and helped to output positive energy because I felt like I was doing something to reward myself.
Remember the vacations, the extra house I mentioned? I realized it's not necessarily these things that will make me happy -- but it's the idea of them that does. And that underlying idea is time to be, for myself and for others, outside of growing a business.
Give yourself time to wakeup in the morning and give yourself time to go to sleep. I went from five hours of sleep a night to eight. I thought eight was a waste and impossible. I found out that your body adjusts surprisingly well when you put forth the effort. Sleep feeds the brain and body. When these are fed you can go to the office and focus well and work with a remarkable, clear and concise speed, which is far better than limping by with no sleep.
People may say "That's easier said than done." I think this is a cop out. Start small and simple. Adjust in baby steps. Retrain your clients. Set an early bed time for your phone and laptop. Set time for yourself- at least 3 to 4 hours a day. It's difficult at first, but by saying "yes" to yourself and "no" to the other things, you will begin to swing the balance in your favor. I've never been happier or richer in spirit since I've started doing this.
About the author: Joshua Huck - Owner, Precision Estimating and board member of CERT (Consulting Estimators Round Table)
With over 20 years of commercial, government and residential construction estimating experience, Josh has spent his career estimating projects up to $350MM in value. Having held positions as Chief Estimator and Director of Preconstruction for general contractors across the nation, he has the experience to provide accurate and thorough estimates for all project types and sizes. Josh is a veteran of the US Air Force.
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