Founding, owning and growing a business requires incredible commitment of time, energy and resources. For many small business owners, this means sacrificing your personal life in favor of your professional life. As Jessica Bruder writes in a recent article for Inc., there is a “psychological price of entrepreneurship.” This often develops from a lack of healthy work-life balance. Bruder notes that new business owners “often make themselves less resilient by neglecting their health.” They fail to delegate at work and in their everyday life because they attribute small business success to their unwavering commitment and direct guidance. This is especially common when owners are in either startup mode or expansion mode.
Quoting psychiatrist Michael A. Freeman, Bruder writes that entrepreneurs in these stages “‘push themselves and abuse [both their] bodies'” and mental well-being. When expanding your business, achieving work-life balance might feel next to impossible. Business owners bear an outsized share of responsibility. As such, it should come as no surprise that a greater percentage of entrepreneurs report stress, worry and burnout on a regular basis. The expected societal norm is that business owners dedicate themselves solely to their companies. However, “‘other dimensions of your life should be part of your identity'” too! In this post, we offer fifteen tips for maintaining work-life balance as a boss.
There is no single definition of the perfect work-life balance, but there are many paths to better work-life balance. Follow below to learn how to maintain work-life balance as you grow your business.
15 Work-Life Balance Tips for Bosses with Growing Businesses
1. Understand the Impacts of Overworking
In the US, the average full-time employee spends more time than the global average on work and less than the average on personal time. According to the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Better Life Index, “full-time workers [in the US] devote…less than the OECD average of 15 hours…to personal care and leisure.” A Gallup poll from 2014 found that the average American works 47 hours each week. This is almost a “full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule entails.” This is despite the fact that research has repeatedly demonstrated “that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress.”
In “Poor work-life balance leads to poor health” for Medical News Today, Ana Sandoiu identifies the “damaging effects” of abandoning free time. Sandoiu writes that many studies show “long working hours are bad for one’s health, with adverse effects on cardiovascular and mental health.” According to Sandoiu, “long working hours have also been associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression” and with sleep deprivation. The latter has been linked to “a higher risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and mental disorders.” Consequences of poor work-life balance are rarely acute.
Those who overwork and disrupt their sleep patterns throughout their entire career struggle with health and physical functioning later in life. A 2016 study found that participants with imbalanced work and sleep patterns “scored lower on the RAND scale.” Their scores “for physical functioning, vitality, and general health” were all below those of workers with balanced lives. Those who consistently prioritize work risk damage to their mental and physical wellbeing.
2. Shift Your Focus to Results Instead of Time Spent
Next, try to shift your focus to results instead of time, energy or resources spent. In their article “How We Can Actually Improve Our Work-Life Balance — for Good“ for Healthline, Karin Gepp, PsyD and Naveen Kumar explain. According to Gepp and Kumar, both business owners and their employees should “‘focus on results, not on the time that people are logging on.’” Encouraging yourself and your employees to shift to a “results-driven ethos” could also “increase productivity, by narrowing time spent to more essential tasks.”
Some might refer to this approach as “working smart” instead of “working hard.” The resource “Work-life balance” from MentalHealth.org explains. It notes that the prioritization involved in “working smart” prevents you from getting “caught up in less productive activities.” Consider standardizing different processes and systems in your business. Try to standardize and automate each routine task, so your company runs smoothly and so you can focus more time on important tasks.
3. Rethink Your Office Layout
The third tip on our list of ways to achieve work-life balance is to rethink your office layout. Lauded for democratizing the office and improving communication amongst workers, the open concept emerged decades ago. It rose to prominence in Silicon Valley at the start of the new millennium. Today, two-thirds of white collar workers who do not work remotely find themselves in open layout office spaces. Though open-concept workplaces are routinely celebrated as hubs of collaboration, creativity and productivity, that might not actually be the case.
Avery Hartman explains in a 2020 article for Business Insider. Avery writes that workers in open-concept office spaces report “feeling less productive and more distracted” while struggling with more intense job expectations. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in open office spaces also “got sick more easily.” They consistently “felt pressured to work longer and harder because of their lack of privacy” too.
Longer Work Hours Might Not Equal More Productivity
Despite these longer hours, workers in open-concept offices are not always more productive. Quoting Intel chief technologist Melissa Gregg, Hartman writes that “‘the open-plan office…socializes productivity.'” The open-plan office “‘forces workers to watch each other’s work, and it creates very few spaces of privacy for individual workers.'” This results in a culture of “working for the sake of working and being busy for the sake of being busy.” This means workers are doing busy work instead of taking breaks when needed and actually being productive.
As Jared Lindzon writes in an article for Fast Company, the open floor plan can pressure workers to “‘always seem available but also busy.'” As a small business owner expanding his or her business, privacy to disconnect and recharge during the workday is incredibly important.
Without a private office space, taking time to yourself during the day becomes an even greater challenge. If you find yourself unable to spend time alone during the workday, it might be time to rethink your office’s open floor plan. Having your own private office space could help you achieve balance.
4. Take Time Off for Yourself – Not Just for Your Family
Fourth on our list of work-life balance tips is to take time off for yourself — not just for your family. It is important to spend time on personal relationships like those with your children, romantic partner(s) and friends. However, alone time is also vital. Colbey Pfund elaborates in his article “How To Find Work-Life Balance As A Young Entrepreneur” for Forbes. According to Pfund, “entrepreneurs thrive on hustle culture…but it can quickly lead to burnout and even mental health issues.” In order to maintain balance, each business owner must “find a way to stay driven, while also making time for yourself.”
In a recent article for Very Well Mind, Kendra Cherry explains the importance of spending time alone. Cherry writes that spending time alone allows for “personal exploration” while boosting creativity and renewing “social energy.” First, having time to yourself after work, before work or on the weekends “is critical for growth and personal development.” It allows you to step back and reassess without the pressure, opinions and needs of others.
Next, spending time alone can boost creativity. Referencing a 2020 study from Nature Communications, Cherry notes that “perceived social isolation…[leads] to increased activity in the neural circuits related to imagination.” This means that when left alone, “the brain ramps up its creative networks to help fill [a] void.” During this time, your brain also has time to recharge — leading to more meaningful social interactions in the future. Spending time alone is key to reaching your work-life balance goals and could actually make you better at your job.
5. Make Public and Private Declarations to Keep Yourself Accountable
Another important step in striking a healthy balance between work and personal time is to share your goals with colleagues, family and friends. Setting private goals while discussing your intentions with others can help keep you accountable as you try to improve work-life balance. In their article “Work-Life Balance Is a Cycle, Not an Achievement” for Harvard Business Review, Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro explain.
First, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro recommend that bosses “make a public change…that explicitly shifts your colleagues’ expectations.” An example of a public change could be blocking off hours for your personal life on a shared calendar. It could also be establishing a company-wide half day one Friday each month. Business owners should also make private changes, such as “choosing not to work on evenings, weekends or during holidays — and sticking to that decision.” According to Lupu and Ruiz-Castro, “both public and private changes can be effective strategies, as long as they’re implemented in a sustainable manner.”
6. Track Your Hours, Emotions and Productivity
Sixth on our list of tips for balancing work and home life is to constantly assess how you work and how you feel. Keep track of time spent on different tasks, levels of productivity and emotions felt during these tasks. In her article “How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today” for Business News Daily, Marisa Sanfilippo explains. She writes that tracking “work-related activities” allows you to “analyze your to-do list and cut out tasks that have little to no value.” It also helps you choose to automate tasks and delegate certain tasks to others in your firm.
Considering how you feel during each task is especially important. This is because you — as a business owner — have the power to let go and delegate when appropriate. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro elaborate. They note that “awareness of your emotional state is essential in order to determine the changes you want to make.”
7. Create a Transitional Period Before and After Work
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, most Americans worked on-site. Today, a growing number of Americans work remotely either part-time or full-time. Those who commute to work often find that the time spent driving, biking or sitting on the train shifts their mindset. It creates a natural period of transition from their personal life to their work life. In “How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance” for the WSJ, Allison Pohle explains how to create this effect without a commute.
You could create this transition by changing clothes when you get home. You might also meditate before sitting down with friends and family or go for a walk after work. Quoting business owner Eric M. Bailey, Pohle notes that establishing boundaries “‘and then holding them sacred is very important” for creating work-life balance.
8. Schedule Meetings and Calls Ahead of Time
Pohl also suggests business owners schedule meetings and calls in advance, so they know what to expect and can organize available time. While this is not always possible, “blocking out your time” can help establish a sense of control. When possible, Pohl suggests “marking off time on your calendar.” This way, “you can have periods when you focus on work and periods when you are taking care of other responsibilities.” According to Pohle, “this type of time management can help contain your work to separate times of the day.” Creating blocks means “you are not constantly jumping between work mode, parent mode and life mode.”
9. Learn to Delegate at Home and at Work
In “How to Know When It’s Time to Grow Your Business,” we note that willingness to let go and delegate is essential. Business owners who either demand total control or fail to delegate effectively are not only ill-prepared for expansion. They are also ill-prepared to balance their work responsibilities with their personal life. In his article “Entrepreneurs Need To Pay More Attention To Work-Life Balance — Here’s How” for Forbes, CEO of NodeSource Joe McCann elaborates. Referencing recent data McCann writes that “30% of small business owners report working more than 50 hours per week.” He also notes that “nearly 20% report working 60 hours or more.” Close to 80% of respondents “report feeling like they work too much.” McCann attributes this to “all of those complex, creative tasks [business owners] feel like only they can handle.”
Those who choose to delegate both at home and at work can improve work-life balance. At home, McCann recommends “hiring a cleaning service” or “trying a meal kit” to cut tasks that do not specifically require your attention. At work, try a similar approach. In her article “What Is Work-Life Balance?” for The Balance Small Business, Susan Ward explains. She suggests “delegating and outsourcing” certain tasks to others who might be better suited to that type of work. For example, you might delegate or outsource bookkeeping, social media management, PR, “customer support, data entry…[or] invoicing.” Spending less time — and less stress — on these tasks frees up energy for more creative work and personal commitments.
10. Don’t Accept New Responsibilities Without Making Cuts Elsewhere
Another key to achieving work-life balance while growing your business is to make cuts before accepting new responsibilities. In other words, do not take on new projects without finishing or delegating existing tasks. Overloading yourself will eventually lead to poor performance in one area or another and might negatively impact your physical or mental health.
11. Create Company-Wide Policies That You Follow Too
Eleventh on our list of work-life balance tips for bosses is to create company-wide policies that you follow as strictly as your employees do. Establishing these company-wide policies will not only help keep you accountable. It will also protect your employees. Modeling healthy behavior encourages your employees to make changes in their own lives. It gives them permission to value family, friends and personal time as much as or more than work. In “Is it possible to have work-life balance if your boss doesn’t?” for meditation and mindfulness platform Headspace, Rina Deshpande explains. She underscores the importance of modeling work-life balance for your employees.
According to a 2015 study, “supervisors who…separate home and life were more likely to be perceived…as keeping a healthy work-life balance.” Furthermore, employees surveyed in this study “were also more likely to segment time between work and home themselves” if their supervisor modeled this behavior. When bosses and their employees seek balance, “their energy and hours [are] spent more productively at work…over the long term.”
12. Experiment With Different Time Management Strategies Until You Strike the Right Balance
Work-life balance is a long-term goal, not an immediate achievement. There is no work-life balance strategy that works for every boss or employee. As such, business owners should experiment with different time management strategies and work-life balance approaches until they find what works best for them. In her article “Worrying About ‘Work-Life Balance’ Can Be a Trap. Here’s What to Try Instead” for TIME, Tara Law explains.
Law writes that “the people who are most successful at finding solutions are willing to experiment until they discover ones that work.” Quoting Stewart Friedman, Law writes that “workers who try out new solutions [for work-life balance]…actually receive better performance ratings from colleagues.” They also “tend to feel better about their lives overall.”
13. Involve Your Family and Friends
As a business owner, chances are your work and home lives are inextricably linked. Given this, it might be more feasible to focus on work-life integration instead of work-life balance. The latter implies two distinct elements that do not overlap while the former implies cohesion and synchronicity. When running a business – especially as that business expands – completely separating work from home is next to impossible.
Instead of forcing these two elements of your life into separate corners, consider involving your family and friends in your business. Do this through retreats, volunteer opportunities and other events. Help colleagues and employees strike a better work-life balance by making as many work events family-friendly as possible.
How to Involve Family and Friends
In her article “How to Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance as an Entrepreneur” for The Blueprint, Jill A. Chafin offers a few tips. Chafin recommends “giving back to the community” with the help of colleagues, family and friends. Chafin writes that “volunteer and pro bono work” not only “strengthens your business’ name and reputation.” These experiences “also make you feel all warm and fuzzy.” Plus, volunteering with friends, family and colleagues is an easy way to “establish positive connections” and “spark meaningful change.”
Business owners might also consider meshing their work and home lives by involving their children. In “How to Get Your Kids Involved in Your Growing Business” for American Express, Co-Founder of Tote + Pears Amber Anderson elaborates. Involving your kids in one way or another will help them understand your passion and commitment to the business. This could not only foster an entrepreneurial spirit but also limit feelings of loneliness and abandonment.
Anderson recommends sharing “what you are doing while you grow your business” so they can feel more involved in the process. Allow your kids to share their own ideas. Find ways to incorporate these ideas — even in the smallest ways — so they feel their “voice is valuable” too.
14. Take Meaningful Breaks
Part of working to improve work-life balance is taking breaks between tasks, so you can refocus, recharge and recommit. While any break is worthwhile, breaks that take you out of the office and provide true separation are most effective. In her article “How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers” for Psychology Today, Meg Selig identifies a few benefits of taking meaningful breaks during the workday. According to Selig, breaks can help “prevent decision fatigue [and] restore motivation” — particularly for “long-term goals.” Meaningful breaks can also “help consolidate memories, improve learning [and] increase productivity and creativity.”
15. Make Sure Your Business Still Aligns With Your Values
Last on our list is to make sure your company’s operations continue to align with your values. As mentioned above, the boss who is expanding his or her business might benefit more from work-life integration rather than work-life balance. Integrating your personal life with your work is impossible if your values are at odds with your business. In her article “How To Build Your Business Around Your Life” for Forbes, Stephanie Burns explains.
Quoting Jeremy Griffin, Burns writes that “‘your business needs to be built in accordance with your values.” This way, “it can coexist seamlessly with your life at large.’” When your business and your values no longer meet, that misalignment “‘can plague your happiness in your work.” It can also “make it hard for you to be truly creative or productive.”