Running a small business makes achieving a healthy work/life balance challenging under any circumstances. From keeping your customers and employees happy to keeping the lights on, work responsibilities often creep into personal time.
With so many balls to juggle at once, you may find that your relationships, your health, and your own happiness tends to take a back seat, even under the best circumstances. So when faced with extenuating circumstances, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting shifts in how we operate at work and in life—blending the two more than ever before—achieving a healthy work/life balance can feel practically impossible.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Both your business and your loved ones can get the time, attention, and care they deserve, without sacrificing your own well being. You can create greater work/life balance for yourself and support better work/life balance for your employees, no matter the circumstances or environment. Not only is it important to protect your own wellbeing, but it is up to you to model healthy behaviors, prioritize self-care, and set boundaries so your team can feel inspired and supported to do the same.
It starts with tackling time and task energy management.
Manage Your Energy for Better Work/Life Balance
None of us are given an endless supply of energy, but if we want to be able to handle the seemingly endless stream of tasks on our plate, we have to learn how to better manage the energy we have. This will become the foundation for improving your work/life balance.
We’re all given the same 24-hour day, which runs on a cycle that can be understood through the circadian rhythm, an internal biological process that regulates our sleep-wake and energetic cycles. Within each circadian day, we have multiple 90-minute blocks of productivity and heightened focus, known as ultradian cycles. The manner in which we cycle in and out of these 90-minute blocks is our ultradian rhythm, which offers insight into the ebb and flow of energy and focus you feel throughout the day.
The start of each ultradian cycle is the point at which your brain is most energetic and focused. Simply knowing this can help you better understand and manage your productivity and effectiveness. Expecting unrelenting top-performance and productivity from yourself will backfire because it goes against your very nature.
By tracking your own circadian rhythm and energy flow, you can begin to optimize your schedule and plan your day in a way that supports better output and efficiency.
Use this circadian rhythm tracker tool to get started, and you’ll soon see for yourself how being aware of your cycles can improve your time and energy management.
Emotions and Energy
If you are experiencing burnout or having trouble staying focused and energetic, your emotions may be what’s slowing you down. In fact, high-intensity emotions are often the main culprit behind mental exhaustion or fatigue—whether positive or negative.
Emotions are comprised of a complex state of feelings that cause both psychological and physical changes, which influence our thoughts and behaviors. So when your emotions are running the show, your mood, temperament, motivation, and productivity shift.
Being super excited and fired up about your work can ultimately be just as energetically draining as being extremely anxious or frustrating with your work, the former often leading to sudden burnout and the latter causing a slow burn.
Intense positive emotions may help you ramp up, achieve a goal, or get over a finish line, but if you rely on this intensity to sustain you, chances are you will fizzle out and hit a wall. Intense negative emotions, on the other hand, are likely to drag you down and eventually grind you to a halt.
Either way, being aware of your emotions while you work and while you think about work, can make a difference.
Make an effort to observe how you feel and how it affects your work before, during, and after a task. This awareness will help you determine where to focus your energy and how to plan your day, week, month, and year, as well as what to delegate, what to do more of, and generally offer insight into creating better balance.
Because we are all dealing with limited energy and time, it’s important to be as effective and productive as possible within our limitations. Take a look at your habits and identify behaviors you may want to change.
- Do you spend too much time on social media?
- Does reading or watching the news affect your mood?
- Do you check your email first thing in the morning and throughout the day?
- Are you staying up too late every night, binging Netflix?
- Are you hitting snooze most mornings?
- Do you find yourself going where the day takes you?
- Are you skipping your workouts?
To gain a better handle of your work/life balance, make an effort to eliminate or reduce behaviors that drain your time and energy. Set a screen time limit for yourself and turn off notifications on your mobile device. Pick certain times to check your email during the day. Schedule time for entertainment and fun. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier and get up 15 minutes earlier. Commit to your workouts. Limit your news consumption to certain times each day.
The trick is to be intentional and disciplined about how you are using your energy and focus throughout the day. You might be surprised by how much space you open up for a healthier work/life balance.
How to Improve Your Time Management
When running a small business, no matter how much or how little energy, time, attention, or focus you have, tasks still need to get done. And no matter how you feel emotionally, the show must go on. The best way to keep your work/life balance in check and take good care of yourself is to master time management, which is easier said than done when you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.
Tasks and Time
Start by getting a better handle on exactly what you need to accomplish and how much time each task takes. Everyone is different, so choose an approach you’re comfortable with, whether that’s a paper planner a digital app, or a mix of tools and methods—the key is not to overcomplicate it.
Then get clear on what your personal, business, and family responsibilities are, and take the time to map it all out. Getting it all out in front of you takes the guesswork out of what’s taking up your time and energy.
More often than not, people are surprised by how little or how much time a given task takes because they haven’t considered the timing of that task, the emotions associated with it, or some other factor that’s clouding their judgment. This exercise is about getting clear and objective about what you have on your plate.
Once you know what needs to be done, the next step is to set and manage your priorities. Many small business leaders fall into the trap of feeling like everything is a priority.
You’re not alone if everything feels urgent and necessary at the same time; but the truth is, part of your job as a leader is to prioritize tasks by importance and urgency, sorting out what needs to happen now, what can wait, what requires you to do it, what you should delegate to others, and which tasks you can strike from the list altogether.
One helpful framework for priority setting is known as the Eisenhower Matrix, which can help you make decisions on what’s urgent and important by sorting tasks into four categories — do, plan, delegate, or eliminate.
- If it’s urgent and important, DO it.
- If it’s urgent and not as important, DELEGATE it.
- If it’s not urgent but important, PLAN it.
- If it’s not urgent and not important, ELIMINATE it.
The more practiced you are at categorizing tasks, the better you will get at priority setting and handling what you have on your plate, opening up space for better work/life balance.
In addition to ensuring individual tasks get done, small business leaders also must plan for what needs to get done over time. Otherwise, bigger goals and deadlines can creep up on you.
Hustling to get something done at the last minute too often can destroy your work/life balance. Pulling late nights at the office, all-nighters on your laptop, or finding yourself working long hours during a family vacation or missing important events and personal commitments can put a damper on your relationships and your happiness.
As much as we may be tempted to blame overworking on circumstances outside of our control, the reality is it often comes down to a lack of proper planning. Quarterly and annual planning will help you achieve overarching goals and day-to-day tasks while keeping your eye on the prize.
To build your business around your lifestyle, rather than the other way around, identify your top priorities, and break them down into bite-sized chunks.
If you want to reach a goal in 12 months, set 90-day goals, sorted into 30-day projects, with weekly objectives tied to daily tasks. Reverse engineering what you set out to accomplish will help you create realistic timelines and achievable outcomes, giving you more control over your work/life balance.
Supporting Work/Life Balance for Your Employees
As a small business leader, you may feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. With so much responsibility, it can feel as if you are carrying a heavier load than your employees. But we all have different burdens and constraints. The people who work for you may be dealing with a lot outside of work that you know little about, and they may also feel like they have less control when it comes to creating work/life balance.
While it’s true that you have a business to run, deadlines to meet, product to ship, and customers to keep satisfied, it is also true that you can always make room for humanity. No matter how much pressure you’re under to keep the business afloat, it’s equally important to protect the mental health and well-being of the people who are getting the work done. You’ll enjoy the returns in loyalty, commitment, and performance over time.
It is possible to hold your team accountable while also allowing for flexibility. For example, childcare and virtual schooling in the era of Covid-19 might mean some employees need to work odd hours. If much of your team has returned to the office, those who are more vulnerable may need to continue a remote arrangement for a longer period.
In fact, offering generous flexibility and accommodations proactively rather than making those who need it feel anxious about asking for it, can make a difference. Even if someone is working fewer hours, as long as they are knocking out their tasks and meeting goals, don’t sweat it.
Reconsider priorities to reduce as much stress as possible. Some goals and deadlines can simply be shifted to a later date; if it’s not business-critical and won’t affect the bottom line, perhaps it can wait until next year.
The idea is to create an opportunity for everyone to succeed despite the circumstances, not to try to control and micromanage everything.
The word has been overused, but the reality is that we are in unprecedented times, so we all need to adapt. It’s okay to deviate from normal expectations.
Overall, supporting work/life balance for yourself and your employees is not about lowering your standards, it’s about finding ways to thrive in this moment and beyond.
Do you want support with developing or implementing policies that promote work/life balance in your small business? Contact us for a free consultation today.