work life balance

Don’t Burn the Midnight Oil: 4 Strategies for Balancing Life and Startup Success

I’ll never forget Steve Jobs’ speech when he introduced the iPhone and iTunes App Store to the world. It inspired me to dive headfirst into mobile app design and development, working 24/7 to learn everything I could about this new ecosystem. It wasn’t easy!

As a solopreneur, I had to do everything myself, and it slowed things down. I didn’t have access to niche experts with specific skill sets, so when something crashed, I often spent weeks fixing it. My expertise is in business, marketing and design, so any technical glitch ended with me pulling an all-nighter poring over lines of code.

Several years of working these grueling hours led to me achieving my entrepreneurial dreams, but I can’t recommend this approach to everyone — it’s exhausting.

Americans are working longer hours than just six years ago. A 2017 Gallup poll found that we work an average of 44.5 hours per week versus 42.8 hours in 2012. While hard work is required for startup success, it’s also important to maintain a work-life balance.

When work takes over your life

I had a one-track mind back in my early days as an entrepreneur. Every second of every day was singularly focused on building my business and deciding what steps to take next. My task list was endless — each item I checked off was replaced with two more, and there was always something else to do. The work was never finished.

I sacrificed my social life and went weeks (sometimes months) without seeing friends and family. I buried myself indoors, over-caffeinated and unhealthy. Whenever I did socialize, I wasn’t present in the moment because my thoughts and balance shifted completely to work. Even though I loved what I was doing, I sacrificed my mental and physical health. I’d work until my vision got blurry, and once I literally made myself sick. A cold spiraled into full-blown bronchitis, and I was out of commission for a week.

That’s when I realized how important it is to take a break. If you don’t, life will force you into downtime, anyway.

Maintaining a work-life balance

An entrepreneur always needs to be at the helm of the ship, driving the business forward. You can’t afford to sacrifice your health. Work needs to be prioritized, but so do self-care and your social life.

recent Cigna survey found that around half of respondents feel alone or left out, especially younger generations. This loneliness isolates us and causes more problems than it’s worth. The following four steps are vital for balancing work and life:

  1. Enjoy the fresh air. It seems pointless to take a walk in the middle of the day, but a recent study of desk workers found that standing and walking around for five minutes every hour improves health and well-being. It doesn’t need to be a long, grueling hike to be beneficial. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath, stand up, and walk out of the office for a minute, even if it’s just to wander around the building. It gives you a chance to reset and refocus on the present moment. Research even suggests that when you get back, you are more likely to resolve the problems you faced before you took a break.
  2. Recharge your batteries. In addition to walking, you need to let your body and mind rest before diving back in; it can be something as simple as doodling. A 2009 study found that people who doodle remember 29 percent more information, making it a great way to activate the creative parts of your brain that an office just doesn’t. If you’re not into drawing, try meditation, yoga, surfing, a road trip — anything that gets you away from work for a moment. Even a cup of coffee is helpful. The caffeine boost can improve alertness and bolster your memory.
  3. Ditch digital. Digital detox is something I still rarely experience. I’m always dialed in and available to my team via phone, text, Slack, email, etc., except when I’m working on something or sleeping. That’s when I put my phone on do not disturb mode to relieve the anxiety of having to see who’s calling. Researchers at Kansas State University and the University of Maryland found that unplugging after work improves health, happiness and quality of life. If you don’t make time for the real world every day, you’ll lose yourself to technology.
  4. Prioritize your work. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and stressed by a huge pile of work. Lists can help you prioritize tasks to ensure the most pressing matters are taken care of first. You also get a bird’s-eye view of your calendar so you can better strategize. If any items on your list involve other people, contact them to schedule a time to work together. They might not need you today, and you’ll be able to quickly check those items off the list.

It’s incredibly easy to overlook work-life balance when you’re so fixated on and passionate about bringing an idea to life. You might be willing to sacrifice anything for success, but don’t ever sacrifice your own health.

It’s not a zero-sum game — some of the most successful leaders take time for themselves to rest and reset. Breaks improve productivity, company culture, and the creative process. If you haven’t already taken a break today, there’s no better time than right now.

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