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The search for work/life balance

If you run your own business there’s no 9-5. If you’re dreaming and/or building your own business, there’s no 9-5. It’s safe to say, if you have anything to do with a business you call your own – you will never have a 9-5 again!

Once you have your own company, it’s your life. You lose all sense of time – fact! This is why the clock just doesn’t seem to exist in any office, when you’re in charge. The lines, borders (whatever you want to call it) seem to never stay up. We all know, this way of working isn’t sustainable and we’re also probably very aware, it can be damaging to relationships and our mental health.

Taken to extremes, people can actually work themselves to death. In 2017 the Japanese government decided to issue policies to companies, after a young worker Matsuri Takahashi died from overworking herself. Japan is well known for its ‘presentism’ culture, where employees compete to be the first in and last out each day. There’s even a word for it; Karoshi. I understand that this is extreme, but now there’s a growing spread of this damaging overworking ethos to many countries, including the UK. But surely, as a small business owner/entrepreneur – you’re immune to overworking and burn-out? You can’t fall into the trap, when you’re the boss? Think again. 

Many small businesses admit that work is taking an increasingly central role in their lives. More than ever. Some feel they’re never really ‘there’ when with family and friends. With smart phones and wi-fi everywhere, it’s so easy to flick through emails, check the latest SEO stats and do a little networking.  Before you realise it, another day has gone by and you can’t recall anything your children or friends said to you.

A 2015 study by ‘Simply Business’ found 50% of business owners surveyed had cancelled a social event in the past week. And 25% took less than 10 days annual leave for themselves. Now when you compare, that most employees within a 9-5 role will receive 5.6 weeks  – you understand that running a small business is not for the faint hearted. That’s 28 days, without bank holidays and weekends included! I love how now you can refer to having a 9-5 job or a 5-9 job. But, the reality is you have both when you have your own enterprise.

We all had a pretty good idea, that setting up and running a business, was going to be hard. Working 15 hour days, 7 days a week, was only meant to be the a temporary plan. And as your business develops, you’ll be able to balance work and life commitments. But this is far harder said than done.

The normal sequence goes – your business thrives and you take on more employees. You hope you will be able to delegate and take more time for yourself. But instead, taking responsibility for other people’s wages and careers meant more pressure, more stress and more time working. Years on from your initial beginnings, you’re working long days and weeks. Everything was well intended and actually, you were just responding to your businesses needs. But, people can only cope with pressure for so long, until something gives. 

Constant long working hours and stress, are physically and mentally exhausting. In the long run this can lead to burnout, which obviously is detrimental to your business.

Occasional stress and high workloads are going to happen. Granted. Maybe a big order comes in. And there’s evidence to show, that short periods of pressure are actually good for us. It can be a buzz to challenge ourselves. But prolonged stress can create mental health issues, such as depression and/or anxiety. This is very common in people who run their own businesses. Is this you? Common symptoms include;

Emotional:

  • Feeling isolated
  • Low self esteem
  • Being irritable (not even the dog wants to talk to you!)
  • Lack of interest in things that would normally excite you
  • Lethargy

Physical Symptoms:

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Ageing (well you probably aren’t but each time you look in the mirror, there is another grey hair or wrinkle!)
  • Eating too much, or not feeling hungry
  • Unexplained aches and pains

The combination of physical and emotional symptoms can take it out of you. It’s easy to see how not eating and not sleeping (which is a form of torture by the way!) is going to negatively affect your ability to function. It seems not all of us got the memo. The Smith Institute found that more than two-thirds of us are working longer hours than two years ago.

When is it time to get help? As a general rule, if you’ve been feeling consistently ‘out of sorts’ for 3 weeks or your feelings are beginning to affect your ability to get up and work in the mornings – it’s time to stop. It’s time to give yourself the morning off and talk to someone. Pick up the phone to that girlfriend who’s been calling you for weeks, call a parent, call your other half… make an appointment with your GP. Whatever you need to do, you now need to do it…as this wasn’t the deal – was it?

It’s likely, by the time you seek help and open up, you’ve been suffering far longer than 3 weeks. If you work alone, there’s no one to mention, how ‘not’ yourself you’ve been. No one to tell you that you’ve lost your sparkle. Once you’ve spoken to someone, told them the truth, you’ll be on a path to improving your mental health.

The fact is, if you care about your business, it actually means you have to care about yourself. You have to understand that without you – the business does not exist. If you could ask the business, it would tell you to go and get some help. Have some time out. That it needs you and, it is nothing, without you.

Let’s say you do take time, talk to someone or generally get yourself back on track – how do you ensure that problems won’t emerge again? Especially if your business grows? The best medicine is prevention, and there are steps you can take to rebalance your ‘life scales’. Here at Holly & Co – we are all about cracking the Rubix cube and sharing tips and stories to try and gain better balance. For now, let’s borrow one.

Working Families, (an organisation that encourages work-life balance) is behind Go Home on Time day. “The boundaries between home and work are blurring – not many people are clocking off anymore and the rise of technology means work follows you home.” Sarah Jackson the Chief Executive says.

Borrow the ideas of ‘Go Home On Time Day,’ such as;

  1. Work set hours. Decide on whatever works best for you. That could be 8am to 6pm , or 5am – 11am , plus the odd hour on an evening or weekend. Use your free time to focus on the ‘life’ part.

  2. Remember to monitor working hours to ensure they don’t pile up without you noticing. Mark in your diary or calendar the hours that you work. Be honest. Time spent crocheting the cute personalised coffee mug warmers you sell while watching TV – is work. Even though you love it!

  3. If you don’t have an office it can be hard to separate work from leisure time. The answer could be dedicating a small area of your home as a working space. The benefit is, leaving that space gives the sense that you’ve finished work for the day.

  4. For those of you working at home, pick a finishing time, and then focus your attention elsewhere. Walk the dog, go for a jog, have a drink with a friend. The point is, to do something that allows you to transition from work to home mode.

  5. Switching off is a state of mind. It can be hard not to check your emails – it only takes a few seconds. But if that’s because you’re worried you’ll miss out on business, write a polite automated reply for when you are not available. Add a time frame by which you’ll get back to them. Maybe a quick tick form to fill out what they want and their reply details. That saves you wasting time too!

We will keep sharing and talking about this subject – as it is not a ‘one size fits all’ subject or solution. But, if we share, if we talk about it – I know that it will help. It’s easy to become caught up in the drama and pressure of your business. But remember, one day, you’ll look up from your laptop and realise life is passing you by. It’s your responsibility to find a way of making these two world work together. They can btw.

Entrepreneurs have great strengths to build their dreams; such tenacity and passion. There’s also the darker side – perfectionism and the need to control. Begin to treat yourself like a valued employee, and see R & R as an investment. Because, when you are healthy and happy – your business will be too. Fact!

Matchstick necklace by Allumer – a great reminder to wear to not to burn out! 


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