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Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. The mental and physical endurance it demands is very real, but so is the burnout, health issues, and strained relationships it can bring with it.

A survey revealed that 80% of small business owners feel they work too much. Working late to get that proposal out, waking up and checking emails first thing, prioritizing a meeting over dinner with family, working weekends to catch up on pending items, and so on. To add to it, the hustle culture that we’re surrounded by today does entrepreneurs no favours, making the coveted work-life balance an elusive reality.

Over the years, the concept of work-life balance has been subject to intense scrutiny; some think it is a myth, some don’t agree that work and life have to be pitted against each other, and some believe it’s not a balance – it’s a cycle.

But as much as we examine the concept under a microscope, try to re-word it, and find loopholes, no one really denies its importance. There is a general scientific consensus that a healthy work-life balance improves productivity, boosts happiness, and enhances your ability to make good decisions – which can make you a better founder, life partner, parent, and contributing member of society. 

The question that is always up for discussion is how do we make it a reality? 

Thankfully, time and again, many entrepreneurs, big and small, have shown us that it is possible. You can design your life in such a way that you get to enjoy everything important to you.

Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO of Thrive Global, says, “After my collapse, I made a lot of changes in my life. It’s not about working longer or working harder. It’s about working smarter, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

Jeff Weiner, CEO at LinkedIn, says, “Simply put, it’s looking forward to going to work in the morning, and looking forward to coming home at night. The only way I can do this is by practicing compassion in both facets of my life, and not taking anything or anyone for granted.”

Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Reddit, says, “This idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough. This is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now.”

Is your work-life balance off?

First and foremost, it starts with recognizing that work-life balance is crucial for long-term success. Many entrepreneurs are guilty of not accepting or realizing that their work-life balance is misaligned; such is the pull of being an all-consuming start-up founder. Here are some signs that may give you a reality check about your work-life balance:

  1. You are constantly tired: If you find yourself feeling exhausted all the time, it might be a sign that you’re not getting enough rest or relaxation.
  2. You have trouble focusing: When you have a lot on your plate, it can be hard to concentrate on any one task. This can lead to decreased productivity and feelings of overwhelm.
  3. You have no time for hobbies or personal interests: If you’re always working and never have time for what you enjoy, it can be a sign that your work is taking over your life.
  4. You’re neglecting your health: A lack of work-life balance can lead to poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy behaviours.
  5. You’re constantly stressed: Feeling stressed and anxious regularly can be a sign that you’re not finding enough time for self-care and relaxation.
  6. Your relationships are suffering: If you’re constantly working and never have time for friends and family, your relationships may suffer as a result.
  7. You’re experiencing burnout: Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that can result from chronic stress and overwork. If you’re experiencing burnout, it’s a sign that you must take a step back and prioritize self-care.

Define your priorities

Once you’ve courageously admitted that you need to improve your work-life balance, now it’s time to define your priorities. One of the biggest challenges of being a startup founder is that you may feel like you’re always “on.” Is it ever possible to switch ‘off’?

To overcome this, try this exercise. It’s as simple as making a list of the most important tasks that you wish to incorporate daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly into your life. For example:

Daily, apart from work, you may want to ensure you get time to:

  1. Eat at least one meal with family
  2. Exercise for an hour
  3. Meditate
  4. Get adequate sleep

On a weekly basis, you may want to add:

  1. Time for a hobby
  2. A movie with family/children
  3. Alone time to recharge

On a monthly basis, you may want to add: 

  1. A day out with family
  2. Dinner with friends
  3. A day at the spa
  4. Seeking support/therapy from experts/peers

On a yearly basis, you may want to add:

  1. Vacation with family
  2. An industry event
  3. An adventure sport
  4. An upskill course

Once you’ve defined what’s important to you to do in a day, week, month, and year, you can begin to schedule them in, which brings us to the next step. 

Set boundaries/Schedule

It’s easy to get carried away with work, but it’s essential to set boundaries between work and everything else you want to fit into your day. There’s only one way to achieve this: scheduling! 

It may sound boring and appear too rigid, but the secret to maximizing your day is scheduling in the big and the small things- meditation, work breaks, meetings, calls, dinners – pencil it all in! To make it even more seamless, try switching off work-related notifications during non-work times. 

Ivan Mazour, CEO and founder of Ometria, says he likes to keep usage of his time under his control. He doesn’t let calls, texts and notifications distract him. He keeps specific time aside to check his phone and responds to them only in the allocated time.

Delegate tasks

As a startup founder, you may feel like you need to do everything yourself. However, delegating tasks to employees, outsourcing certain responsibilities, or seeking expert help can make your workload much more manageable and set you up for a more sustainable work-life balance. 

Many start-up founders are seen struggling with delegation, though. It is tough to let go; it is difficult to trust someone to do something the way you would. But as Michael E. Gerber, American author and entrepreneur who coined the phrase ‘work on it, not in it’, said, “If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business – you have a job.”
If you are struggling with delegation, read our in depth breakdown on how to get delegation right as a start-up founder in this blog, Working on your business vs in your business.

Make time for self-care

Taking care of yourself lies at the core of managing work-life balance. Making time for activities that promote mental and physical well-being can help you stay happy, focused, and productive while also improving your overall well-being.

Jeff Bezos, Founder, Chairman, CEO & President at Amazon, says, “If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance.”

Self-care can look different for each person; here are some examples: 

  1. Exercise: Regular exercise can help improve physical health, reduce stress, and improve mood; it changes serotonin levels, stress hormones and endorphins.
  1. Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress, improve focus, and promote relaxation.
  1. Getting enough sleep: Not getting enough sleep can lead to irritability and stress. Our cognitive skills, including memory and reasoning, can suffer too. Getting enough sleep is critical for physical and mental health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
  1. Healthy eating: Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help maintain energy levels and promote overall health.
  1. Relaxation techniques: Engaging in activities that help you relax, such as taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to music.
  1. Spending time in nature: Spending time in nature can help lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, and reduce anxiety.
  1. Social connections: Spending time with loved ones or connecting with friends can help by providing a sense of belonging, community and support.
  1. Hobbies: Engaging in hobbies or activities that you enjoy, such as painting, playing music, or hiking, helps uplift your mood because it means spending time doing something without the pressures of deadlines, accountability, etc.; you’re doing it simply because you like it.
  1. Practicing gratitude: Practicing gratitude makes you focus on the positive aspects of life, thus reducing stress and promoting happiness. 

Learn how to say no

Learning how to say no, is a formidable skill. 

A quick reminder, saying no is not a sign of weakness or failure but rather a strategic decision to protect your resources and stay focused on your goal. 

Saying no allows founders to set boundaries around their time and energy, prioritize their workload, and focus on what is most important for their business. Effective communication is key to saying no gracefully – be honest, and respectful, and offer alternative solutions or referrals where possible. By learning to say no, startup founders can avoid burnout, increase productivity, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Being an entrepreneur and getting to work for yourself can be a luxurious, rewarding experience, but it also comes with its own challenges. Getting better at managing work-life balance as a start-up founder is a fool-proof method for long-term success. Prioritizing your mental and physical health, setting priorities, establishing boundaries, delegating tasks, making time for self-care, and learning how to say no are all strategies that can help you manage your workload and enjoy work without missing out on life! 

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