Smart ways to improve your work-life balance

Work-life balance writing on a piece of paper

One of the big advantages of running your own business is that you can do things your way. That includes how you balance work with your personal life - family, hobbies and relaxation time. Rachel Miller talks to three entrepreneurs about how they make time for life outside work

If you run your own business, you have one distinct advantage over the wage-slaves - you make the rules. Flexibility is one of the best things about being a business owner.

But making time for family, friends, health and hobbies can be easier said than done when you are seriously busy.

How famous entrepreneurs approach work-life balance

Twitter founder Evan Williams leaves the office in the middle of the day to go to the gym. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's former chief operating officer, goes home at 5.30pm every day so that she can have dinner with her children. Stefan Sagmeister closes his graphic design business every seven years so that he can take a year-long sabbatical to recharge his creative batteries.

These are all highly successful and incredibly busy people. But they have made a commitment to creating a work-life balance that works for them.

Richard Branson is another role model for many business owners that want to strike the right balance. Writing on the Virgin website, he said: "I've always lived the 'work hard, play hard' philosophy. Having a busy career doesn't mean that you can't live your life to the fullest. Prioritise time with your loved ones, and put it in your calendar as you would a meeting."

But Branson's strategy is less about schedules, and more about a mindset. He says: "I've never really thought of work and life as separate. If you can find a career you are passionate about, working hard doesn't have to be a chore."

We spoke to three entrepreneurs about their own approach to achieving a successful work-life balance.

Amanda Ruiz

1. The sole trader: Amanda FitzGerald

"My work-life balance is incredibly important to me. I start the day taking my kids to school and then usually go for a cycle or a run with the dog. Then I start work at 10am.

"I set up my first business after my first child was born, as a way to combine stimulating work with raising a family. Now my two children are older, I can work during school hours Mondays to Wednesday, and then two long days, thanks to childcare.

"I run a PR and marketing consultancy that opens doors for expert entrepreneurs. I use Thursdays and Fridays to go to client meetings, often in London, an hour away from the village where I live.

"Because I work for several clients, I followed John Richardson's advice on time management - working in specific time slots. I set a digital timer for 30 minutes and try to do set tasks in that time before taking a short break. It stops the day drifting away, and puts me in a productive mindset.

"It can be hard to switch off when you work for yourself. I heard about Digital Sabbath, and now I don't look at social media or email on Sundays at all. I feel really refreshed and detoxed by Monday morning, and I am excited to see my messages."

Amanda FitzGerald runs a PR and marketing business, providing valuable press coverage for business clients.

Rory MccGwire

2. The business owner: Rory MccGwire

"It took 18 years to get to the point where I was finally able to take a sabbatical from my content business. With my wife and three children, I travelled around Australia and Thailand for three months in 2009.

"The sabbatical was brilliant - not least for the company. It forced me to hand over the running of the business and by stepping back, it released a lot of energy in the business - we actually leaped ahead as a result. It also gave me an incredible sense of freedom and was the best thing we've ever done as a family. We reminisce about it all the time - when do you reminisce about work?

"I am totally flexible in the way I work and try to make the most of my productive times - which includes working on Saturday mornings. But because I work hard, I also give myself permission to take time off when I want to. I also make sure I eat breakfast and supper with my family.

"I have always believed that running a small business is a marathon, not a sprint. You see people burning out because they can't get off the hamster wheel. Slow down, then you can enjoy it more."

Rory MccGwire is chief executive of Atom Content Marketing, publishers of the Donut websites.

Ian Sanders

3. The business consultant: Ian Sanders

"When you work for yourself, it's important to build in flexibility. I think work is a mindset, not a place you go. You could have your best ideas on a run or on the train. You need to be aware of where you are most creative and when you are most productive and plan your schedule around that.

"It's also important to give yourself regular moments of downtime. Simply sitting at your desk and just carrying on is not productive. If you are getting stale, you should go and do something else for a few minutes.

"Segmenting my day really helps. I do that by working in different locations - at home, in a coffee shop or the local library. It actually makes me more productive and gives me a change of scenery and moments of downtime during the day.

"When you work from home, it helps to find a way to transition from family life to the working day. Walking my children to school is a good way of "walking to work", rather than just moving from the kitchen to the desk. I often go for a run or a cycle at lunchtime as well.

"It can be hard to switch off from work even when you are on the sofa in the evening, because you've always got your phone or iPad to hand. I often look at work-related things in the evening, and as long I'm enjoying it I don't beat myself up about it. But if you've got a slightly addictive personality, it's worth establishing some rules about switching off phones and laptops."

Ian Sanders is a business storyteller and adviser. The author of four books on working life, including Juggle!: Rethink work, reclaim your life, he also contributes to The Financial Times.

Ten ways to improve your work-life balance

  1. Set time limits and work within them. Don't be in work mode 24/7.
  2. Schedule time for family and friends just as you do for work.
  3. Break up your day to avoid burnout.
  4. Identify your most productive times and use them for work; use non-productive times for other things.
  5. Check email and social media at regular intervals, not constantly.
  6. Delegate more and stop micro-managing.
  7. Create new healthy habits and stick to them.
  8. Give your full attention to whatever you are doing at any one time.
  9. Give yourself a break - you can't do it all.
  10. Remember why you are in business in the first place.

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