Work-life balance is like a unicorn: no one knows whether it really exists, but vague hope persists. Balance is particularly difficult for entrepreneurs because we wear so many hats. More often than not, work-life balance is like a seesaw, with life on one end and work at the other. One side is always either up or down, and time spent in the middle is fleeting. The seesaw will never be completely balanced, but there are ways to maximize the time spent in the middle. These seven tips will give you a start.
Define What Success Means to You
Deciding what success means to you is the first key in finding balance because it defines what path you need to walk. If success means a six-figure income and a month of vacation time a year, then anything that doesn't fit with that definition can be removed. If success means one client a week and extra spending money to do fun things with your family, then you don't need to put in the kind of work that would bring you a six-figure income. Your definition is unique to you, and removing the pressure to live up to someone else's definition of success saves time and gives you a destination. Success isn't just a question of work, but also of your private life. Write down your definition and use it as a measuring stick when you tackle the rest of these tips.
Finished Is Better Than Perfect
Rarely have I ever seen something as true as this video featuring artist Jeff Parker. His mantra is "finished, not perfect" and it's a great thing for photographic entrepreneurs to remember when they're trying find a balance between work and life. As creatives, we are often so focused on doing things perfectly that we cease to move forward, we waste valuable time and build unneeded hurdles on our way to success. Yes, plan and practice, but don't waste your life planning. Act, so that you can also live. Don't let fear of imperfection keep you in a holding patten where you aren't learning or growing. Get busy finishing things and learn as you go.
Build Business Systems
If you've been paying attention to the theme of these tips, you'll have noticed that time management is the focus. Business systems are a key way to streamline the time you spend working. Well-oiled machines work more smoothly and more reliably than machines that are rusty, ill fitted, or receive little maintenance. Business systems allow you to streamline the way you work, repeating the same steps to achieve desired results as efficiently as possible. When you know exactly what needs to get done, and what manner in which to do it, you achieve repeatable results with predictable outcomes. This is not only a time saver, but it allows you to plan because you will know exactly how much time each task will take. Better than this, you can pass tasks to other people when systems are in place with rules that can be followed. Allan Dib, founder of Successwise, has great tips on how to get started building business systems.
One thing most artistic entrepreneurs miss out on is the ability to outsource tasks. As creatives, we tend to think that we are the only ones who can handle certain tasks, and we often stress about the cost of paying someone else to do something we can do ourselves. What we fail to realize is what successful business people know: time really is money. Success in finding the balance between time spent at work and time spent cultivating a happy lifestyle is knowing where to spend your money and where to spend your time. If someone else can do the job at least 80 percent as well as you can, then you should seriously consider outsourcing it, whether that means sending it to a person or using technology to handle the task. Web design, SEO, newsletters, retouching, marketing, social media posts, book keeping, and scheduling are all areas that can be handled by someone else. Build these costs into your cost of doing business and outsource to a service provider, sub-contractor, or employee. Instead of wincing at the price, consider that the more time you have free, the more time you can spend on the things that actively make you money. This is a win-win in the work-life balance endeavor, because the result will either be more time, or more money.
Strip Time Eaters
Strip away any time you spend that doesn't either push you toward achieving your definition of success, or give you more time to spend outside of work living your life. Removing needless tasks (one's that don't actively make you money or advance your goals) can fall under the umbrella of building business systems, but more often than not, we lose valuable time doing things that do neither, like hanging out in Facebook groups or getting distracted by Angry Birds. You have to be completely ruthless with yourself when figuring out what things are time eaters in your life. If you have to delete Messenger from your phone, do it. If you have to lock your TV remotes up during the day, do it. During work hours, don't let anything distract you that doesn't add to the bottom line.
Sole proprietors rarely get to leave work at work. We often have home offices and deal with client needs and other issues while our families go about their normal evening tasks, spending time answering emails while our kids eat dinner or staying up late editing on a deadline while our family climbs into bed, only to be faced with overwhelming chores that didn't get done during work. If family life is important to your work life balance, and I submit that it absolutely should be, then you need to set boundaries and make it very clear that work does not enter beyond this hour. Use the previous tips to maximize your time at work so that you can confidently say, business hours are over at 4 p.m.
Another option is the possibility of introducing your family into your work environment. This is a much more difficult way to balance, and can often cause more trouble than it solves, but there are people who have been able to do it successfully. You'll have to carefully consider whether this is the right answer for you.
Feed Your Soul
So much time is spent trying to make work successful that we often neglect to do the things that make us happy, healthy people. Whether it's more time at the gym, hanging out with friends, meditating in the morning, volunteering for a charity, hiking with family, or reading a good book with a glass of wine, you have to spend time doing the things that feed your soul. People who are happier and more content are more productive. Taking care of yourself is better for you, better for your loved ones, and better for your business. If you aren't a priority in your own life, everything else will begin to crumble.
These tips have the common theme of time management, because time is your most valuable resource. It's limited and precious, and the only thing you cannot get more of. The old adage of working smarter, and not harder, is the key to finding the balance between your work and your life. Sharply defining your definition of success and ruthlessly pairing away anything that doesn't actively contribute to that goal is merely a way to organize where you spend your time. Recognizing that time is the true measure of what is important is the first step in catching the unicorn and finding the balance.