I make a conscious effort to be transparent about how much I prioritize lifestyle and really strive for a work-life balance that works for me because for a long time I didn’t, and it’s because I thought business boundaries really weren’t possible as an entrepreneur. It took 5+ years in business to get there, but I finally figured out how to plan my business around my life and it’s led to me making more, working less, and feeling like I’m living more in alignment with my most important value: time with family. Read on to learn the exact steps I use to do this year after year.
There is SO much emotion around money. How we make it and how we spend it. And on the earnings side of that equation, there is still so much “hustle” culture that is really insidious. For some reason, even though “self-care” and “balance” are both terms that have managed to wiggle their way to the forefront of the public consciousness and vernacular, this idea prevails that those who work the hardest are the best kind of people. The smartest people. The most successful people. The most admirable people.
“Work smarter, not harder” we all say, and then we marvel at the employees who never take their sick days or use all of their unlimited vacation days. The local entrepreneur who for 50 years has been the first to open the doors and the last to leave. The CEO who wakes up at 4am to “get it all done”. Like something isn’t suffering in the process. We say “work smarter, not harder”, but we believe it’s better to work smarter AND harder, don’t we?
My dad was a high achiever who spent his career climbing the corporate ladder for the benefit of his family. To give us better than his parents could give him. When he passed away suddenly at 47 years old, it was a rude awakening for me. I was only 21 at the time, but I’d been working as much as I could around school hours and sports commitments since high school. I’d missed family dinners, parties, and even the last family vacation my parents took with my siblings all because my priorities were out of whack. Really it boiled down to the fact that I thought there was more time. There’d be another vacation, another dinner, another party, and at the time the prospect of working a double shift or getting overtime seemed like the priority. Hindsight is 20/20, right? My dad thought he had more time too, but he didn’t.
That realization that time was limited is the reason I ended up starting my business: I saw entrepreneurship as a way to hack the system. One of the things I loved best about deciding to start a business was the prospect of freedom. Freedom of time and money- now not tomorrow.
But of course, then I got into business and like so many entrepreneurs had to put in time to build. 60-80 hour weeks were standard, and I loved it. I was building something for myself, and it was hard but amazing. And there was a light at the end of the tunnel- once I got established I’d naturally start making more and working less, or so I thought. Instead, as I grew I gained more clients and the hours I was putting in shifted. They didn’t decrease, they were just spent differently. And yes, I had some weekdays off and could theoretically take unlimited vacation, but there were no “real” vacations (i.e. vacations unplugged from email and clients). I was always working. To sum it up, I was planning my life around my business instead of planning my business around my life, which didn’t make any sense because my top priority wasn’t my business.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my clients and feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do for work. But, at the end of the day, my business exists to fund my life and the things that are important to me, it’s not my life’s purpose.
When I looked around, I saw other business owners doing the same. Prioritizing work with few boundaries. I bought into the idea that that’s just the way things had to be, that if I started being less available my clients would be left in the lurch. The idea that if I wasn’t available to answer every email, call, and text and to be available for meetings every day of the week, there’d be some financial emergency my clients might need me for and I’d let them down was mostly ego sprinkled with a bit of fear and a dash of scarcity mindset. Which was a good thing because believe me- that life isn’t sustainable.
Here’s how I plan my business around my life now, which actually results in making more and working less:
- I plan out my vacation time and work hours for the year in advance, every year.
Not all businesses have the same hours, but every single established business you can think of has boundaries in the form of specific hours and days they are closed. I think many entrepreneurs resist the idea of having set hours because on the surface it feels like it restricts your freedom. You didn’t start a business to work a 9-5, right? You want to be able to do what you want when you want. But the reality is, not having any schedule means that work can suck up much more time than you intend. It also means clients will reach out to you whenever because that’s what you’re inviting them to do. The way I maintain flexibility in my life while still setting boundaries is that every year, I print out a year at a glance calendar for the upcoming year and mark my time off. Time off can be certain days of the week, full weeks, or even months depending on your business.
- I communicate with my clients about how to reach me and what to expect.
One of the happy surprises I experienced when I started setting boundaries in my business is that clients expect you to have boundaries. They expect that you have a life, a family, and that you’re not always at their beck and call.
Even clients who occasionally call, text or email during clear non-business hours like a Friday night or a Saturday night often don’t even expect a response. They are reaching out because their money (or whatever your business is) is on their minds and they are not working and have the time and space to check something off of their to-do list, but they generally don’t expect you to be reading what they’re sending. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients literally say in a voicemail or write “this isn’t at all urgent, if you see/hear this please don’t feel like you need to reply”.
Of course, there are always some exceptions to the rule- people who will text you at 11pm on a Saturday to ask your opinion on Apple stock, and get upset if you don’t answer until Monday even though the market is closed all weekend and they don’t even have any money they want to invest in it at the moment, but those kind of people don’t last long as my clients if they even become one to begin with. It’s up to you to decide if you want clients who don’t respect your boundaries or have general respect for your time.
That being said, it’s also up to you to decide if you want to be available for clients in a pinch during off hours. If you do, that’s completely okay. My clients know that if there is something time sensitive going on (say, they’re about to put in an offer on a house)- they can and should absolutely reach out and that I want to hear from them. I love the goal achievement phase of our planning and if I can’t reply right away because I’m in the thick of family time or something else I’ll always communicate that. Two-way communication is crucial for balance
- When I’m working, I’m working- I build my client work into my work hours.
Work/life balance as pictured on social media in the form of “work” from a beach is a slippery slope. Hey, I love working with a view as much as the next girl, but if I’m being honest there’s only so much you can get done efficiently that way. I mean, who is really getting reliable wifi (and typing at an acceptable WPM) from a chaise lounge? Not me.
While you theoretically can work from anywhere as an entrepreneur, and working from a coffee shop or the beach can be a nice change of pace, I’ve found that I’m much more efficient with my work hours when I’m in a true, reliable work environment. I’ve also realized that many of those glamorous “work from vacation” scenes are typically from entrepreneurs who don’t take real vacations. They are actually working from that $1000 per night bungalow instead of relaxing. No thank you.
The truth is, most of my work days are in my home office with the door closed, my double monitors, water, a coffee, and a few planners and pages of notes spread across my desk. If I didn’t have to feed Dean at 11am and 3pm most days, I probably wouldn’t even take a break. BUT having 2-3 long, focused days with another shorter workday or two thrown into the mix allows me the freedom to be fully present on the off days. I’m actually getting in the work I need to get done for my clients, and when I’m on vacation for the most part I don’t have things hanging over my head that need to get done before I “get back to work”.
The easiest way to do this is to use your calendar as a guide. If there’s a month that I’ve scheduled lots of time off and I only have 10 work days, I know I need to look at exactly what I need to get done during my working days so that I can deliver on what my clients expect from me and I’m meeting any deadlines for the next month so that I’m not forced to work on my days off and blur the lines. Making those to-do lists and planning dedicated time to get done what you need to is crucial. And often, it’s about making sure you’re looking ahead so that even the month before a month with lots of time off with deadlines sprinkled in you can get ahead.
Having the freedom to work when you want so often gets mistaken for not having to work. But that’s not true. It’s about putting boundaries around your working time, being disciplined enough to get the work hours your clients need for you in, and planning those work hours with your ideal life in mind so that your business doesn’t run your life.
What have you done to achieve this?