Achieving a better work-life balance as a small business owner

As a business coach in Bristol working with small business owners, the question I get asked all the time is, “How can I get a better work-life balance?” and that’s usually paired with “….whilst still growing my business?” or at least it’s implied.

I’ve been running my own businesses for the past 13 years, so I’m aware of the challenges that managing a successful small business can bring and can empathise with my clients. For me, owning my own business has always been about having the freedom to create my ideal lifestyle free of anyone else’s influences/opinions, to build the business that gave me the ideal work-life balance for me and to design my lifestyle. However, whilst it’s often our intention in setting out in business to achieve this, the realities of juggling all of the roles and responsibilities within a small business can often mean we find ourselves several months, or years in, and working harder than ever, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and tied to a business which can’t seem to function without us. Not exactly “living the dream!”

So what’s the first step towards achieving that better work-life balance that we’re striving for?

Well, for me, the first step is all about clarity. It’s about taking some time (I know, yet another thing to add to the never-ending to-do list, but it’ll be worth it I promise!) to get really clear on exactly what a “better work-life balance” means to you. So my suggestion is go and pop the kettle on (or if you can’t do it right now, schedule a time in your diary) and sit with a pen and blank piece of paper for 20mins and do a bit of lifestyle design.

What is it that you want your life to look like in an ideal world? Granted for some people this can feel like a daunting question to answer, and it doesn’t have to be 100% clear or accurate, and it doesn’t mean what you decide on today won’t change and evolve over the coming weeks, months or years – what we’re aiming for here is just some clarity, an outline of what you’re aiming at longer-term. It doesn’t have to be “Perfect” and remember that this is about YOUR ideal lifestyle – let go of the “shoulds” and remember that there are no wrong answers.

Take some time over this, you may not get clear on it in 1 sitting, it may take 3 tea-breaks spread over a week, sometimes it’s a really good idea to let it sit for a few days, and then come back to it to see if it all still feels right (the lifestyle design not the tea!) I have clients that have taken a couple of weeks to get clear on this, and others who’ve sat down and carved out their lifestyle design in under 10minutes. If you’re struggling to get clear, try thinking about the separate areas of your life – what do you want your family life to look like? What hobbies would you like to be doing and how often? How many weeks a year holiday would you like? Do you want to work full time or part time? Do you want to be working from home or from an office?

Having this clarity will really help you to then start to look at where you can take small steps towards achieving those goals today. If for example your goal is to work part-time, why not have a look and see where you might be able to take an afternoon off in the next week or two, and then start to work towards blocking out a regular afternoon off each week or each fortnight. If you'd like to take more holidays start by booking yourself a long weekend. If you want to work shorter days look at taking a long lunchbreak one day this week - make plans to meet with a friend for a couple of hours or book yourself in for a massage or some pampering, by making plans to fill the time it'll prevent the business from creeping back in and encroaching on it. Turn your phone off for those 2 hours and see what happens, if it all falls apart take a step back and put some systems in place and then try again, but chances are the world won't end, and if any emergencies do arise you'll be able to deal with them when you're back. It’s not the end goal, but it’s a fantastic step towards it and a giant leap towards a better work-life balance. Start to look at setting some boundaries around your time and your work-life balance that move you towards that end goal.

It’s really easy as a small business owner, to let our business take over and dictate our lifestyle, and it’s important to remember that this is YOUR business, you are in charge of what it looks like and how it grows and develops, and it’s up to you to create the lifestyle that you want. If you allow it to fill every second of every day, it will, it’s up to you to get clear on what you want your lifestyle to look like and then to start to create some boundaries that forces the business to “fit the mould” a bit better. Set a specific time to finish work for the day, and a clear start time - this means no email checking over breakfast or last thing at night! This will allow you to start to create a boundary between "home" time and "work" time so you start to feel like you can switch off. Creating routines to start and end your day can also be a great way to signal that work is over (or beginning) for the day and allow your mind to switch gear.

Parkinson’s Law states that “work will expand to fill the time available” and by creating boundaries for your business you’re forcing this to work to your advantage – how many of us have overslept and managed to get ourselves up, dressed and out the house in a fraction of the time we would usually spend getting ready?! Albeit not the most relaxing example maybe, but that is Parkinson’s Law at work. By getting clear on what you want your lifestyle to look like and then setting some boundaries to protect your work-life balance, what will often happen is not that you’ll get less done, but that you’ll just get the same amount done, only faster. It’ll force you to focus on the key tasks, the real priorities that drive the business forward, AND you’ll be happier and feel more rewarded because you’ve now got a better work-life balance.

So if you’re a small business owner and you’re looking to achieve a better work-life balance that’s just one quick strategy you can apply today to start moving towards your ideal lifestyle design.Let me know in the comments below how you get on with this, I’d love to hear from you. And if you’re looking for a business coach in Bristol get in touch via the contact page or email me at to arrange a free introductory session.

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