What can we learn from the work-life balance tactics of hard driving entrepreneurs and company founders?
I'm often known for my research into extreme productivity, but people don't realize that I want extreme productivity so I can also spend time with my family and friends. Work-life balance, or integration, or blend continues to be a struggle for most of us.
I recently read the article, "24 Leaders Get Real on Balancing Work and Life [Actionable Tips for 2017]," by virtual assistant staffing company Zirtual. It summarizes the results from their interviews with two dozen entrepreneurs and startup leaders.
Work-Life Balance For Peak Productivity And To Banish Burnout
There seemed to be two main themes when it comes to why we should even care about work-life balance.
First, many of the entrepreneurs said that, while counterintuitive, working less actually improves their productivity and can prevent burn out.
Alex Chaidaroglou, CEO and cofounder of Altosight LTD, said, "We are doing a disservice to our clients, team and product if we burn out." And Sid Bharath of Thinkific shared, "We don't realize that the more we work, the higher the chances of us running out of creative ideas and burning out."
When I think back to the failure of my first startup, I can now see with hindsight that part of the problem was that I was working too much! My partner and I would routinely pull all-nighters, or sleep just a few hours on a futon in the office. Working 100 hours a week was the norm. But how creative could I have possibly been while I was fighting fatigue? How effective of a leader was I when I could barely stay awake? What was my sales presence like in front of potential customers?
When I interviewed over 300 entrepreneurs, Olympians and straight-A students for my last book, one of the 15 secrets uncovered was that most of them made sleep, relaxation and breaks a priority. For most white-collar workers today, our productivity and effectiveness is tied to the speed of our thinking. Without enough rest, our thinking slows down considerably.
The second big benefit to work-life balance is related to just having the priorities of life clearly identified. I was moved to read of Josh Steimle's message to his team at MWI, "This business matters a lot to me, but my family comes first, and I hope your families come before your job."
And as a divorced, single-father of three kids, the remarks of Dennis van der Heijden, landed to close to home for me. The CEO at Convert.com shared his perspective, "There will always be a something urgent, interesting and cool in the life of an entrepreneur, but children grow up and leave and so do spouses. So make time to see the growth of your children and invest time to add 'project spouse' to your important task manager list."
No. 1 Actionable Tip For Work-Life Balance
The Zirtual team also asked the 24 entrepreneurs and startup leaders for their number one most actionable tip for achieving work-life balance. There were many great tips including staying physically healthy by drinking more water, to being present and mindful, the 80/20 rule, and shutting off the dang smartphone.
But the most mentioned piece of advice? Schedule everything.
- "You schedule time for work, right? So you have to do that same for life/family." -Benjamin Twichell, WisePops
- "Utilizing your calendar is everything...You treat family time / work life balance as part of your schedule!" -Nathan Chan, Foundr Magazine
- "I set specific times when I am working and when I will spend time with friends and family." -Jason Quey, Cofounders With Class
- "I use the same system that I do at work--schedule it in! Block off times in your calendar to meet friends or family..." -Sid Bharath, Thinkific
- "Schedule recurring 'family time' in your calendar. In my house, Sundays are family days." -Rick Perreault, Unbounce
- "Setting a schedule. My work day pauses at 5 p.m." -William Harris, Elumynt
- My calendar is blocked in the afternoons for family time." -Dennis van der Jeijden, Convert.com
Followers of my work know I always say: schedule, don't list. Meaning, throw away your to-do list and just put all of your "to-do's" onto your calendar. It sounds extreme but I get emails from strangers daily telling me how this has transformed their lives.
This approach feels strange because it goes against everything you've ever been taught about time management. "The calendar is for calls and meetings, the task list is for everything you want to do." I call bull on that. If you want to have an amazing life, you have to be intentional about it. Your calendar is the plan for your time. And time equals life.
Does work-life balance mean time for exercise to you? Then set recurring time blocks for that morning jog or lunch-time walk around the parking lot. Does work-life balance mean spending an hour a night with your kids? Then time-block it and treat it the same way you would a doctor's appointment. Does balance mean keeping in touch with your best friends from college? Then schedule--right now--Sunday brunch with them, once every three months from now to eternity.
Remember, there are no right answers. Reflect on your top core values, and then create recurring time blocks on your calendar. For some, having dinner with the family every Friday is enough family time; for others it will be having dinner with the family seven days a week. For some, spending 20 minutes of pleasurable reading before bed will satisfy the value of "fun"; for others, it will be an hour of TV. You get to decide what is realistic and what "balance" looks like to you.
And don't worry that your spouse will be mildly annoyed that you have to schedule time on your calendar to see him. When you actually pull-off a few date nights he'll just try to sneak in a few more appointments.