As a business owner, and a relatively new one at that, I’m just in the learning stages on managing entrepreneurial work/life balance. But I had a bit of a head start thanks to my plethora of part-time employment and music gigs, and I have a supportive network of family and friends, which helps. Here are some of the tricks I’ve employed to manage a schedule that includes business management, family time, friends, church, music practice and writing.
1. Clearly identify short-term goals
Goal setting is not a once-and-done project. I re-evaluate and re-establish goals once a week, deciding what I want to accomplish that week. Here’s a tip: Beyond food and shelter, there’s not much that I truly “need,” so when I say I decide what I “want” to accomplish each week, I mean it. Whatever the things on my to-do list, they’re all there because I want them to be, regardless of who asked me to do them or who I think is relying on me. I have the final say in what makes the list. Kids need lunches packed? Laundry needs done? There are always alternatives, from buying school lunches or making the kids prepare their own lunches to hiring a launderer or buying disposable clothes. Each task is a conscious decision.
2. Establish priorities
So how do we decide what makes the list? That’s where priorities come in. Most of us set our priorities subconsciously, knowing deep down in our core that we value our families and our finances enough to make lunches and do laundry. But when you find your priorities starting to conflict, it may be time to consciously evaluate them and decide what they are.
I set my priorities on January 1st this year. As arbitrary a day as that is, folks everywhere consider it a day of resolutions, if only because resolutions need to go somewhere, and why not “start over” with the new year? So I listed the buckets in my life in order of priority – family, church, work, music, writing, friends, leisure. I thought long and hard about their importance. As hard as it was to rank them, rank them I did.
But that’s not to say that placing friends near the bottom of the list means my friends aren’t important to me. The rankings don’t necessarily direct my individual activities each and every time. For example, I missed a church meeting this week because of work and a friend. In that moment, work was more important, because my good friend and coworker Karen was struggling to keep up with her workload, and I got tied up helping her out. Does that mean my church isn’t important to me? Does it mean it’s less important than my work or my friend? Of course not. I found ways to make amends for missing the meeting and contributing my input via email after the fact, along with sending my heartfelt apologies. But in that moment, I felt that the needs of my friend and my business were more important. Setting priorities just helps define my road map toward overall success – and success, I define by achievement of my long-term goals.
3. Define long-term goals
Long-term goal setting was part of my New Year’s resolutions package, and I made my goals as clear as they could be. In Corporate America, they teach you to make your goals “SMART,” which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. I personally find the acronym useful but a little redundant.
Specific, measurable and time-bound tell you the same thing: When it’s all said and done, how do you know you achieved your goal? For example, if I said I wanted to “spend more time with my family,” would I get to the end of the year knowing, without a doubt, that I achieved that goal? A better goal is specific, measurable and time-bound: I will dine with my family (a specific activity) at least five times (measurable) per week (time-bound). I will also go on two (measurable) vacations (specific) that last at least four days each (measurable) this year (time-bound), and make every (measurable) gymnastics meet (specific) this year (time-bound). I may or may not meet those goals, but at the moment of choice – that point in time where I have to decide whether I’m going to work late again or leave it for tomorrow – I can count how many dinners we’ve had together this week and decide if the work is really so important that it supersedes my family dining goal. The goal helps navigate my road map.
Achievable and realistic also tell you the same thing: Is the goal possible? I may decide I want to play Carnegie Hall by the end of this year, but the goal isn’t very likely. Since I know, deep down, that I’m probably not going to achieve this, I’m not going to try very hard to get there. The goal is neither achievable nor realistic. It’s just plain not going to happen, so it doesn’t guide my daily decisions at all.
Therefore, I prefer to set long-term goals by deciding (1) is this goal even possible, and (2) at the end of the year, will I know, without a doubt, that I achieved the goal?
(4) Using the road map
Now that I know my long-term goals, my priorities, and my short-term goals, I can use the map to help make my daily decisions. Priorities conflict, and every day provides new exasperations. We struggle, we worry, we offend. No matter what our decisions, we always find ourselves stepping on other people’s toes. We can try to negotiate, compromise, apologize, but ultimately we’ll do it again. If my business fails, my family will suffer the financial consequences. So is it okay to miss that one gymnastics meet when attending it may mean the downfall of my business? Sometimes we have to make hard decisions.
But the map helps us look ahead and see the conflicts before they arise. I can plan my crucial work meetings around gymnastics, so long as I know the schedule ahead of time, and if I don’t, you can bet I’m going to harass the coach until I get it. I can anticipate the needs of my clients and make sure they’re met before the meet. And I can do these things by setting weekly short-term goals that help me remember that I have conflicting needs that both need to be addressed sometime during the week.
(5) One crucial tip for work/life balance success
Over time, I’ve found a surprising trick for succeeding at balance: Your priority buckets don’t necessarily have to stay separate.
I recruit my family and friends to help me at work and church. Most of the time, they are not only willing, but excited to do so. I get to spend time with my friends and family, meet and exceed my work goals, and achieve the goals with free labor.
I intersperse hobbies and leisure with work by doing fun activities during breaks – or even while I accomplish other things. I take mini-breaks after completing tasks by practicing music at the office (since my office is littered with pianos and guitars.) Throughout the day, the five-minute breaks add up. And you know all those bosses who told you not to Facebook at work? That only applies to non-motivated people. I find Facebook allows me to relax, socialize with my friends online, all while advertising my latest promotion, product or instructor and building relationships with customers who become my friends, which is good for my business AND my personal life.
I write blog posts and post them to my business website, which satisfies my itch to write while driving traffic to the site, increasing my rankings on the search engines and my online presence – all good for my business. I am a member of a social writing site called Writing.com, which allows me to cultivate friendships with other writers and get feedback on my writing. In this way I’ve mixed writing, work and friends.
So go ahead. Text at the dinner table when your office manager is having a crisis and desperately needs you. Just make sure you’re also texting your husband from work to tell him how much you love him. It all balances out in the end.