Most people assume that if you don’t have a set 9-5 work schedule, you’ve really got it made. Certainly, you must be living it up if you don’t have to commute into work each morning and back home each night on someone else’s schedule.
To an extent this is true. The ability to work during times of your own peak performance is helpful. The lack of commute, at least for me, frees up at least 2.5 hours of extra time each day. However, anyone with enough tenacity to start their own business or become a freelancer will find themselves working an unscheduled 60+ hours each week early on.
With a scheduled job, you can much more easily compartmentalize your work and keep it separate from family, sleep, meals, and self time – all of which are critical to maintaining momentum and sanity.
Without a set schedule, your work life can seamlessly integrate with all of the other aspects of your life in unproductive and damaging ways. There is no 5 PM deadline to finishing up. Every day is an opportunity to get something done. Your family is always around, which for kids is confusing. They’re not sure when you can play and when to be quiet (more on balancing kids as an entrepreneur in tomorrow’s post).
Having experienced many of the pros and cons and ups and downs of working my own schedule from home with two kids for the past 7 months, here are my three absolute rules for work/life balance as an entrepreneur:
1. Create your own set schedule and stick to it.
This seems counterintuitive since you just escaped a set schedule, but after a few months on your own you should be aware of when you are most productive and how much structure you need. Create a schedule around this awareness.
For me, I immediately begin working when I wake up, taking a pause for breakfast with the family. I aim to get a high impact task (see my post about the HIT list here) by 11 AM. By focusing my productivity in the morning, even if I quit at 11 AM the day has already moved my business and my writing forward.
Additionally, I have set a tempo for the day. The momentum of knocking out a major task generally sustains my creativity and productivity through until late afternoon. I also never feel guilty putting my laptop away mid-day and taking my kids out on hike or enjoying a glass of wine with my spouse.
With a set schedule, your body and mind know what to expect, your significant other and/or kids know what to expect, and you can better compartmentalize your time into highly impactful investments in every area of your life.
2. Schedule firm appointments that reflect your values.
Back in the 9-5 world, you had set appointments, whether it was for a meeting, a status report to your boss, or a lunch with a client. You would never consider skipping or showing up late to these meetings because the people involved were critical to your success in your job.
The same holds true now that you work from home and, while this rule really can be applied to anyone, it is critical for entrepreneurs to constantly assess whether your schedule reflects the people critical to your success in life.
Whether it is your significant other, kids, friends, mentors, or time for self-reflection and development, if you don’t schedule it in and keep those appointments, these people will become overdrawn and will burn out.
In the first year of starting out on your own, the uphill climb can take enormous time and energy. How do you invest in yourself and everyone important to your success without scheduling back-to-back, color-coded appointments that fill every spare moment?
The key for me has been an understanding and application of high-impact tasks, which brings me to my third rule (you can see how these all intertwine).
3. Only engage in high-impact tasks.
This lesson, which was introduced to me by friend Judy Robinett and cemented through similar concepts from The 4-Hour Workweek, has been the single most significant boost to my productivity in every area of my life.
It can be stunningly easy to slip into busy work, both in work and in your personal life. I can spend 2 hours checking and responding to emails each day, or 20 minutes. I can spend an hour getting ready for the day, or 30 minutes. I can just eat dinner, or I can engage in high quality conversations with my family. I can watch my kids or I can play with my kids.
The whole idea of a life worth living is the creation of day-to-day experiences that are rich and fulfilling.
Step 1: Stop busy working your day away. Schedule brief and intensive time periods to take care of menial tasks like email. Create opportunities to turn everyday tasks into the best parts of your day. Cook with your significant other and attempt to learn something new about them. Play a game with your kids while you grocery shop.
Step 2: Plan ahead to engage in high-impact tasks. This is critical for success as an entrepreneur when there are so many distractions that don’t move your business forward. It’s also easily applied and even more rewarding in other areas of your life. Plan a high-impact hour for self-development, parenting, or moving your relationship forward.
The application of these rules has transformed constant work that trickled into every hour of every day into focused and fulfilling investments that create traction and sustain personal growth. After all, isn’t that why we take this journey?