One of the main reasons many women decide to start their own business is the pursuit of a better work-life balance and the flexibility that self-employment can offer. There is this idea that running your own business will allow you to live and work on your terms and to achieve a better balance between time spent working and time spent on family or leisure activities. And in many regards, this is absolutely true. As the boss, you can decide when, how and where you work. You often have nobody other than yourself to answer to.
But the reality can be quite different as the boundaries between work and personal life can easily become blurred. Many of the women I speak to tell me the same story of struggling to keep that all-important work-life balance in check. The danger often comes when you love what you do and your job is also your hobby or passion. Then it becomes very difficult to separate the two and the waters can easily become very muddied.
So let’s take a look at 12 different ways to achieve a better work-life balance.
1. Set Work Hours and Stick to Them
When we work for ourselves it can be very tempting not to have a strict schedule. After all, we wanted flexibility, right? But this can have a very detrimental effect on our productivity. Instead, we should still have set work hours just like we would if we were working for someone else. Knowing that you start and finish at a certain time allows you to plan your workload. You can end the day knowing that you’re on track and can switch off for the rest of the day.
2. Prioritise Your Time
This follows on nicely from setting your working hours. Prioritising your time means that you give more weight to the jobs that really need to get done and that will move your business forward and stops you from spending too much time on “busy work”. Knowing that you got the important tasks done each day also lets you enjoy your downtime guilt-free.
3. Make your Workspace Work for You
If the Pandemic has taught us anything it’s that our workspace is extremely important. It has a massive impact on our productivity, professionalism and effectiveness at work. It may feel like a good idea to work from bed or the sofa, but we associate these environments much more with our personal lives.
Working from such personal spaces doesn’t allow us to get fully into the work zone. Instead, we may find ourselves getting distracted by downtime activities such as naps, Netflix or mindless social media scrolling. This then leaves us playing catch up at times when we wouldn’t normally be working.
If you are unable to create an effective workspace at home, consider heading to our coworking space in Totnes. Here you will find an appropriate workspace that has been designed to help you work in a more productive and comfortable way.
4. Take Regular Breaks
Hands up if you are rubbish at taking regular breaks throughout the workday? In order to stay focused and concentrate, we need to give our minds an occasional rest. We can do this by doing completely different tasks for a while. This may be reading a magazine or book, taking a walk or having a chat with a colleague. Taking a break allows you to come back to the task at hand with more energy and motivation. Not taking regular breaks is counterproductive.
5. Allocate Yourself Annual Leave and Use it
Annual leave is a legal requirement for employees and yet once we become our own employer we often deprive ourselves of this right. It’s easy to take days off here and there but to really feel the benefit of time off, we need longer breaks away from work. This allows us to properly get some distance from work and really start to relax. Be kind to yourself and plan in those longer holidays. Even if you are not travelling anywhere or leaving home, an extended break is still a good idea.
6. Unplug and Disconnect Regularly
Technology allows us to be available and accessible all the time, which makes it extremely challenging to really switch off from work. Having emails on our phones makes it all too easy to check in even when we have clocked off for the day and the temptation to respond after-hours can be too much.
So it’s important to ensure that you aren’t always connected when you are supposed to be taking time off. As long as people know when you are unreachable, no harm can come from switching off. But it will allow you to enjoy the present moment a lot more without the distraction of work in the background.
7. Take Regular Exercise
Exercise is another important factor in creating that all-important work-life balance. Studies have proven that exercise actually helps us to be more productive and focused. It is also a great way to reduce stress, improve the quality of our sleep and increase our energy levels, all of which helps us to perform better at work and be more present at home.
8. Schedule in Time for Yourself
If you find taking time for yourself to do something that isn’t related to work or family responsibilities, it can be helpful to schedule this time into your day. For example, going for a walk and spending time in nature is extremely good for our mental health and wellbeing. Scheduling in 30 mins during your lunch break to sit outside and read will enable you to release the guilt around it and you’ll feel so much better for it.
9. Let Go of Perfectionism
Overcoming perfectionism is something that so many entrepreneurs struggle with. But it really is the key to making progress in our business and reaching our goals. We are often our own worse critics and demand far more of ourselves. But there comes a time when you have to let perfectionism go and accept that what you have done is not perfect, but it’s good enough.
Refusing to stop working on something until it’s perfect is a sure-fire way to eat into your free time that you should be spending on non-work-related activities with friends and family. Remember, done is better than perfect.
10. Know your Boundaries
This may be one of the most important keys to achieving a better work-life balance. We all need to put boundaries in place around how, where and when we work and what is and is not acceptable for us. It might be that you never work weekends for example. Or maybe you never check your work emails past 5pm. Maybe you won’t travel more than an hour away from home for meetings. Whatever it is, make sure you work out what your boundaries are and stick to them.
11. Set Realistic Expectations
It’s important to set realistic expectations and make sure that your clients and customers are aware of how you work and what is acceptable. For example, communicating your working hours so that people know when they can reach you and when they will need to wait for a response.
If you make yourself available to your clients 24/7 you are putting yourself at severe risk of overload and eventually burnout. Modern technology is great at giving us lots of opportunities to communicate but we really need to make sure we use these tools wisely. Whatsapp, for example, is great for instantaneous communication, but without careful boundaries in place, you could find yourself at the whim of clients wanting answers at all hours.
Most people are very accommodating as long as they know what to expect right from the start. So bear this in mind as you try to create a better work-life balance.
12. Leave Work at Work
Finally, leave your work at work. Taking work home with you is a sure-fire way to make sure you don’t fully switch off. Even if you don’t end up doing any work after hours at home, it will still be at the back of your mind and you won’t be fully present in the moment.
This can become a bit trickier if you work from home as you can’t always completely separate work and home. But there are things you can do. Make sure you shut down on time at the end of the workday. Find a way to make sure that your workstation is out of sight once you finish work. If you have a separate home office simply leave the room and close the door and vow not to go back in until the following morning.
However, if you don’t have this luxury, there are still things you can do to make sure you leave work at work. You can either clear away all your work equipment and store it out of sight or try to partition off your workspace from the rest of your home. An attractive screen can be useful here. Like they say, “Out of sight out of mind”.
Again, if this isn’t possible, consider joining a local coworking space so that you can transition between work and home mode on your way to and from the space. That journey allows you to separate these two distinct areas of your life and restore some balance.
So those are our 12 Tips for achieving a better work-life balance. How many of these have you got sorted and how many are you still trying to master? Let us know in the comments below.
Stacey Sheppard is the founder of The Tribe, a small community-driven coworking space in Totnes that caters to creative, growth-oriented female entrepreneurs by providing an inspiring working environment designed to foster collaboration, connection and community.