The classic stereotype of a successful entrepreneur and business owner is one that works hard around the clock until they achieve success. Long hours, short breaks, little social life and immense pressure are all assumed to come with the territory of getting a business off the ground -- and, in many ways, this is a necessary truth. Dedication to your company is an essential ingredient to avoiding failure.
I know this from personal experience. As founder and CEO of the Cutler Group, a PR firm for tech startups which just celebrated its third anniversary, I've spent countless hours doing my best to please clients by delivering results, manage employees, build our brand and learn along the way what it means to be a leader. And based on what I've seen in my own life and the lives of fellow entrepreneurs, I recognize how easy it is to get overwhelmed with the goal of making your company grow.
And here's what I realized: Getting consumed by your work isn't good for you or your business. Working too hard can be unhealthy, and your work will suffer as a result. A work-life balance can be tough to strike, but if done correctly you will be more effective at your job. If you figure out how to focus your energies appropriately, you can likely work (a bit) less and accomplish the same or more.
Here are five things I've started doing to reduce stress, increase productivity and prevent my life from getting consumed by work. I recommend any and all of these steps to fellow entrepreneurs, or anyone else who finds their balance out of whack.
1. Maintain your boundaries. There has to be a clearly delineated boundary between your work and your personal life. This applies to your daily routine, as well as making time for yourself on the weekend. For example, some people make a point of closing their computer at 7:30 each evening, or not working on Sundays, or not working once the family comes home. By separating your work time from your home time, you'll better associate your office with being productive and your home with relaxation.
2. Eat healthier. Fast food, junk food and cheese from a can all seem like a quick fix to your "hunger" problem. Just grab something to go, wolf it down, and you'll be back to work in no time, right? Unfortunately, not only is a constant diet of junk bad for your health, it can be bad for your productivity. Studies show that eating balanced meals helps boost concentration, and the chemicals found in vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower improve memory and retention. Meanwhile, sugary and fatty foods may provide a short boost in dopamine, but their effects quickly wear off, leading to a crash. The same happens with too much caffeine. Even making small changes in your diet -- substituting brown rice for white rice, or wheat bread for white, can make you more energized and ready to tackle your work.
3. Don't always socialize about the business. When socializing outside of the office, make sure to talk about things other than business. This has a twofold effect: One, you will reset your mind and come back to work the next day feeling refreshed; and two, you won't be known amongst your friends and colleagues as "He/She Who Can't Stop Talking About Work All The Time!"
4. Keep a meditative side. Regardless of your feelings on religion and spirituality, I feel it's healthy to cultivate a sense of introspection. This is best maintained by devoting a few minutes a day to some kind of meditation, prayer or deep thought. It can refresh you for the rest of the day, and keep the smaller, less important stresses in your life in perspective. More scientifically, researchers found that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks saw measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain that control memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
5. Exercise -- at lunch. As a relatively new practitioner of Pilates, I can tell you personally that some kind of body conditioning can do wonders for both the body and mind. (Joseph Pilates, the creator of this particular system, believed in the interrelated nature of body/mind health.) I've found that going during lunch provides a natural break in the day, and actually gives you more energy to power through the afternoon. Whether you want to break a sweat or simply stretch away the fatigue, there are plenty of options for getting into shape and getting your mind right midday. You might even have time to grab a salad afterwards.
Entrepreneurship can be stressful -- it is, in some ways, part of the appeal. But just because it's hard work doesn't mean you aren't allowed to have a life as well. You, and probably your colleagues and company overall, will be better off if you the leader are rested and happy.