A friend who recently left her corporate job and is now self-employed asked me how I manage to run a business while still enjoying an active, interesting life outside of work. She wanted some suggestions, which made me reflect on what has been most important for me in achieving a healthy and happy work-life balance.
I focus on these ten goals – and I must emphasize that it is always a work in progress – I succeed at some better than others, but I’m always trying.
1. Be flexible about when you work and when you play.
Schedule your day creatively: wake up early to finish a project so you can slip out of the office for a long lunch with a friend, or work later in the evening so you can enjoy a daytime activity.
I find that fitting everything into a strict 8 AM-to-5 PM time frame is not my most effective or productive schedule. And hey, flexibility is one of the perks of self-employment people report valuing the most!
2. Don’t be afraid to say No.
If you receive an invitation to do something interesting – whether it be moderating a panel, traveling to a conference, becoming a member of a board, or chairing a committee – don’t say yes immediately.
Stop and think about how the request fits in with or enhances your priorities. No one can do everything, and you can quickly be overwhelmed if you say yes too often. If you get burnt out from being overcommitted you are no good to anyone.
3. Take great care of your physical self.
Regular exercise and healthy eating contribute to the energy, endurance, focus, and confidence of a successful career.
I make sure to schedule daily exercise and subscribe to Michael Pollan’s philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I prioritize my physical health, which results in increased motivation and productivity. It’s a
4. Quiet your mind.
For years I have been told that meditation reduces stress and anxiety and can increase productivity along with a multitude of other benefits. But I was too busy to slow down and try it.
I am now working on meditating in the morning – sometimes just going into a quiet room and taking a few deep breaths before starting the morning routine. I can now see where this habit is just as important as exercise and eating healthfully to having a balanced life.
5. Systematize everything you can.
This saves not only time, but the mental energy required to complete certain tasks and jobs. This applies to workflows at the office as well as household chores like paying bills.
6. Spend time with people who lift you up.
Conversations and connections with positive, energetic people naturally make me feel positive and energetic, and those are the influences I choose to surround myself with. Seek out others to lift up – as a mentor, colleague, or friend – and empower optimism.
7. Work smarter, not longer or harder.
I used to sit at my desk until late in the evening, spending hours at my computer — which often resulted in a sore neck and shoulders (and being cranky when I got home) rather than my best work.
I am happier and more productive working in spurts – I work as a sprinter runs, with high-intensity, uninterrupted periods followed by a break to renew and refresh. I think more clearly and creatively, and stay fully engaged.
8. Develop support systems.
I am very lucky to have an extremely supportive spouse. We work as a team to manage the household, business, and pleasure aspects of our lives, and we outsource the tasks that we have neither the time or energy to do ourselves.
It’s tough to do it all, so play to your strengths and outsource what you need – personal assistant, tech support, housekeeper – delegate tasks so you can focus on that work-life balance.
9. Find a way to schedule uninterrupted work time.
If you are surrounded by people you are vulnerable to distractions. I find it’s much simpler to achieve a ‘flow’ state when I’m in a quiet space – and sometimes feel I accomplish a full day’s work in two hours when the flow is working.
If you have to, leave your office or home and go sit in a library, coffee shop or other alternative space to get some uninterrupted time.
10. Know yourself and where you want to put your energy.
When you can identify what makes you happy, and what is meaningful, you’ll be able to seek out the activities that support those interests and values.
I have a strong desire to live a varied and interesting life, and that knowledge drives me to stretch my limits by challenging myself and re-defining what’s possible — while focusing on taking care of myself so that I can continue to do more.