Get More Done By Doing Less: Work-Life Balance as an Entrepreneur
By Thomas Pruchinski
The work-life balance scales tend to tip far to one side for entrepreneurs. There is a certain aspect of entrepreneurial culture that requires you to simply have to be on 24/7 if you have any wish to succeed. At times it seems that entrepreneurs and business leaders almost compete to see who will have a crazier daily schedule and bring themselves closer to the cracking point.
This kind of approach to being an entrepreneur may work for specific people in specific situations, but it is definitely not the best way to try to succeed. Not only is working yourself to the bone potentially very harmful to your health, but it can actually be counterproductive.
So, what’s the alternative?
The alternative is to realize there is a human being beneath your entrepreneur veneer and that you simply cannot ignore this fact if you are looking to do this for the long haul. The alternative is to find a balance.
The Dangers of Overworking
For entrepreneurs, it is very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of strategizing, day-to-day problems to solve, new ideas to test, and everything else in between. After all, you are doing it for yourself. You feel the drive.
Regardless of what’s driving you and how you might feel at the time, the compounded effects of overworking are very well-known to science – and they are nothing to scoff at.
For example, a study showed that regular exposure to stress at work dramatically increases the chances of suffering from metabolic syndrome, which is a clustering of at least three of the following: obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, or low levels of good cholesterol. As you might expect, those suffering from metabolic syndrome are far more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Another piece of research discovered a connection between working too much and a higher likelihood of having a stroke. Yet another study found that people who work long hours are also more likely to have coronary heart disease.
The same goes for your mental health. A recent study has shown that long working hours increase the chances of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety and that they negatively affect sleep. A study from Japan (home of karoshi) also concludes similarly, featuring a particularly damning quote, “…hours worked linearly erode workers’ mental health.”
And it’s not just your health that you are putting in danger. You actually become less and less productive the longer you work.
All in all, working your fingers to the bone might be counterproductive.
Instead, you might be able to get more done as an entrepreneur by doing less grinding and finding a bit of work-life balance.
Entrepreneurs Must Work Smarter to Achieve a Work-Life Balance
As we’ve seen, working more doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting more done. What you need to do is work smarter.
First of all, you need to stop multitasking. In fact, you need to become aware that multitasking is pretty much a myth if you ask science. According to the American Psychological Association, multitasking is simply rapid switching from one task to another, which carries with itself an adjustment period every time you do it. In other words, you are only wasting time by going back and forth between tasks. It may only take a moment to reacclimatize with each task and get to work, but those moments add up over time.
Focus on one task at a time; commit to it, and when it’s done, move on to the next. This will get your work done faster and most likely, better.
Another thing you need to do is to make sure you are focused on the task at hand and that no one is distracting you. Interruptions and other distractions have been found to be the most common productivity-killers. These days, as many of us are working from home, finding a place to work without distraction is more important than ever as our work and our life has quite literally become the same thing and finding balance as an entrepreneur is harder and harder.
One of the best ways to avoid distractions is to start practicing time blocking. Time blocking entails creating specified blocks of time (from Pomodoro’s 25-minute blocks to 90-minute blocks, whatever works best for you). And it’s best to knock out your most important task earlier in the day, when you are feeling fresh.
During the block of focused work, stick to the task intended for the time block. No email, no slack, no feeding the dog. You do not look at your phone, you do not answer miscellaneous messages – you focus.
Then, take a short break. You can use your 5 or 15 minute breaks to take a walk, do some stretches or have a chat. According to cognitive psychologists, getting your mind off work for a bit can actually improve learning and enable creative breakthroughs.
For those of us working from home, which tends to be many within the world of digital entrepreneurship, these gaps between tasks can be critical for your day. These are the moments when you fold some laundry or put on another pot of coffee. They are the moments when you get to enjoy working from home, while still being productive.
A simple timer can do wonders for your workflow productivity. Here are some great free chrome extensions that can help with segmenting your routine and also remind you to sit up straight, stretch, breathe deeply, drink water, and other factors that can help your work-life balance as busy entrepreneur.
Find Work-Life Balance with Sleep!
Sleep is probably the most overlooked aspect of any entrepreneur’s day. Just as it can become a contest to brag about how many hours you work in a given day, it can become a contest to brag about how little sleep you get on a given night. This is especially so in the entrepreneurial world, where there is never enough time to do everything you want. This is a huge mistake. Poor sleep will not only have negative effects on your health, but it will also hamper your judgment, your attention, and your overall performance.
Getting a good night’s sleep will do wonders for your health, your mood, and your overall ability to think clearly and give it your best.
4 to 6 hours is not a good night’s sleep. For the vast majority of people, seven hours is the minimum amount of sleep that they should get in order to feel healthy and maintain productivity.
You should also make sure that you create the right environment for sleep. This means no devices at least one hour before going to bed, a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, and a set of rituals that you will adhere to every evening.
Exercise Can Add Balance as an Entrepreneur
The benefits of regular exercise are innumerable, well-documented, and can have surprisingly positive effects on your work. Regular exercise is essential if you wish to stay healthy and in good physical shape, but it can also satisfy your brain, raising endorphins and allowing yourself to produce better work. There is so much written about this that it becomes easy to get confused about what you should or shouldn’t do.
This is why official government guidelines are often the best source of information on this. They are unbiased and they are backed by serious research. For example, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a great source of this kind of science-backed and hype-free tips.
Of course, you can always find what suits you best when it comes to working out, but be careful not to overdo it. Similar to working too many hours at your desk or not sleeping enough, working out improperly and cutting corners can be detrimental. This will negate many of the potential benefits of working out, as well as increase your chances of getting injured.
While some people would probably not put meditation in the same conversation as physical exercise, there are many similarities. Meditation is a great way to lower your stress levels, improve your mood, and bring added focus to the chaotic world of running a business. The mind-cleansing effects of proper meditation can even help you solve certain problems and come to new ideas.
Just because you are an entrepreneur doesn’t mean that you have to work yourself to death. Finding a work-life balance is just as important as finding the solution to your latest business conundrum. Too much overtime is bad for you, and it doesn’t necessarily translate to success. Sometimes you can get more done by doing less and focusing more on your well being.
Try it out. It might just be what the doctor ordered. (Before a doctor actually has to order you to do it.)