It’s the American dream: running a successful business by day, then spending free time with a close-knit, loving family by night. Many entrepreneurs work hard each day with that end-goal in mind — but it’s not always easy. Martha Stewart, who made a name for herself as a homemaking guru, even recently admitted in a CNN interview that she willingly gave up her marriage to pursue her blossoming career.
Not every entrepreneur would willingly let go of one half of the dream in order to achieve the other half, but I know from experience that if your home life is suffering because work is demanding your attention, you still won’t be happy, regardless of your success level.
When I began building my startup, my wife was studying for the bar exam, and we discovered within weeks that we were about to become first-time parents. Suddenly, my home life was about as stressful as you can imagine for a startup owner. We knew something would have to give so that I could focus on the business and make sure we were financially secure.
The answer — which worked — was a compromise, in which we gave each other the time and space to focus on our respective goals — I on my new business, she on her studies.
I’m lucky that my spouse understood the stakes and had the maturity to take a level-headed approach to our situation. To this day, she knows that everything I do is rooted in my goal of not letting the demands of my business undermine us individually or as a couple.
So, with all I’ve learned I can now truly say that, aside from picking the perfect partner, I can recommend four other habits I swear by that help keep my work responsibilities and home life balanced:
1. Throw out your rigid daily schedule.
No, seriously. Being too strict about which tasks you must complete at certain times means that you can’t pivot when necessary. I’ve learned to transition quickly between tasks according to what my team needs from me. If I learn an employee needs something by the end of the day, I know it’s time to switch gears and finish my other work after hours.
If you hit your work stride at midnight, when the rest of the world is asleep, that’s OK. Take advantage of your most productive hours, and don’t be afraid to ask for flexibility. I never put my business in a one-size-fits-all box because I believe that pretty much all employees need flexible work schedules.
I certainly do, and I practice what I preach. Companies from Aetna to Dell to Amazonoffer their teams the ability to work remotely in various capacities. Aetna, for example, provides four different options for scheduling remote work as well as trainings, to help employees adjust to the lifestyle.
2. Prioritize your family’s activities.
Stop using the default “I got caught up at work” excuse to explain away your lateness or absence. Look at the family calendar; resolve to be present for your kids’ extracurricular activities, your spouse’s birthday or any other important event; and make a thorough plan to work hard until it’s time to leave the office. Don’t be afraid to mute texts, chats or email that could distract you from finishing your tasks before you leave to spend time with your family.
Treat your spouse or partner to regular nights out, and don’t plan anything that could disrupt them. I personally try to plan one date every week so I can spend one-on-one time with my wife regularly. One good date night away from your business can solve a lot of problems before they start. And you don’t need to go for a candlelit steak dinner every time: Just spending time together and talking about home, work, news, entertainment or anything you both enjoy can help you find the balance necessary to focus for the rest of the workweek.
3. Don’t try to work through a sick day.
When I’m not feeling well enough to focus on my work, I listen to my body and take a day or two to recuperate — no work allowed. Even if you, like me, feel as if your electronic devices rule your world, you need to put them down when you’re seriously ill. You can’t make a solid decision when you’re totally wiped out.
Failing to take a mental and physical break when you’re sick is bad not only for your health, but also for your business. Sure, a company loses money when employees aren’t at work. But what if they are at work but can’t focus? Working when you’re ill (called “presenteeism”) or otherwise not fully productive is costly. Participants in a Virgin Pulse survey reported losing almost 58 days each year to presenteeism, far more than the four days they reported losing to absenteeism.
4. Stop brooding over failures.
Everyone makes mistakes, but your response to them will determine your path to success. Each setback offers clarity that will prevent its repetition. Learn from your mistakes — at work and at home — and move on from them as efficiently as possible. Rehashing your failures and wallowing in self-pity can also eat into a healthy work-life balance. When you’re focused on a past mistake, it’s hard to be present as a parent or partner.
If you’re great at what you do, perfection will follow. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has run through his share of failures — such as the abysmal performance of the Fire phone, which ended in millions in write-offs — but he and the company are still dominating the ecommerce industry. Your goal shouldn’t be perfection on your first try; it should be to learn how to be perfect over time. Balancing your business and home lives is a tough job, and you’ll improve as you go. For now, strive for greatness, not perfection.
The American dream likely looks different for each of us. Some might envision a suburban home with a white picket fence, while others imagine a penthouse apartment in the city. But we all dream of a life with a true balance between work and family and friends. It takes time and effort to build such a balance, but with these four strategies at your disposal, you’ll be able to make your vision a reality.
Article by Daniel Wesley for Entrepreneur.com