A very close friend of mine we shall call James made a tough decision to resign from the company he was employed in a bid to venture into the SME environment and run his own firm. For at least 10 years, he had been working as an internal auditor for different corporate organizations and rose through the ranks of executive level within that period. This came with very attractive perks that included things such as gym membership, a company car, frequent travels and medical insurance for his family.

His main reason for leaving the employment world was largely motivated by the need to create a career for himself that would fit around his family and getting to spend more quality time with them focusing on some of the family projects he and his wife had committed. His wife on the other hand had unfortunately gone through a retrenchment exercise in her previous organization due to a restructuring exercise two years back. James’ desire was to further his profession by setting up an audit firm and begin to practice as a professional.

Three years later, James is still struggling to acquire clients and be able to meet their monthly obligations. During this period, a lot of sacrifices had to be made along the way so as to focus on ensuring there is bread on the table and that their kids are growing well. Consequently, his three children could not enjoy the kind of good things they were used to when their father was employed. It affected them psychologically especially when the usual weekend trips were no more because their parents were consistently busy try to look for means of survival.

Two years later, James seemed to be doing well in his auditing firm and it kept growing bigger and continued to hire more staff. He eventually began to handle bigger and more important projects. He assumed that as he got more staff, that he would step back and have a better work-life balance. But he still got many work calls even on weekends.

James is just an example of many small business owners whose work-life balance is dangerously out of control. The effects likely go further than physical illness and some experiencing mental illness each year. It is critical that business owners keep a close eye on their well-being.

Every entrepreneur desires to ensure their business is a success and this can mean putting in the extra hours from time to time. But consistently working long hours and managing an excessive workload can take a toll on their physical and mental well-being, with a high potential to negatively affect business performance.

On the other hand, many SMEs do not have the resources or support to enable them create a healthy balance. This is because setting up and running your own business demands a huge commitment that many employees would never want to undertake. Majority of the business owners have to be more than the CEO of the company and play every other important role from finance manager to the chief marketing officer as well as the HR person.

The concept of a work-life balance is the idea that a person’s life outside of his/her work is just as important as their working life and that the time a person spends working should be well-balanced by time spent doing things that promote the health and mental well-being of a person such as spending time with friends and family, keeping fit, doing hobbies etc.

On the positive side of work-life balance, the idea does bring into consideration the fact that being a workaholic is detrimental to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Socializing, physical activity and being with friends and family are all activities that contribute to being healthier and happier. Consequently, the entrepreneur is able to perform effectively and efficiently.

On the negative side of work-life balance is the assumption that work is some sort of toil and that the more you do of it, the worse off you will be in terms of your health and mental.

Achieving a stable work-life balance may take time and effort. It is not something that comes overnight. Rather, it is something that requires a lot of consistency and effort to achieve. While you might be able to do everything, it does not mean you should. There are a number of tips you can begin with to achieve:

Be realistic about the challenge
When starting your small business, it is typically a delusion to believe you can segregate your work commitment to the regular working hours, especially in the first years of the business. When you own and operate your own company, you must feed, nurture and support it as it requires, not as you desire. If a problem arises at your business during your “family time,” declining to deal with it ultimately creates more pressure.

Focus on priorities
The real key to finding some impression of work-life balance is to focus on making priorities. As an entrepreneur, it is possible that you will end up spending more of your hours in your business than with your family or significant other. As your start the entrepreneurial road, you need to always prepare and make a list of all your priorities daily. Focus on your most valued responsibilities and get them done at the point you’re most productive. Always begin with the one you consider most important.

Be proactive
Make sure that you create guidelines on how your priorities will influence your decisions. Having a list of priorities without defined set of rules and guidelines will limit their value. For example, people who have faith as a priority believe Sunday is a day of rest. This kind of value causes these entrepreneurs to keep their business closed on Sunday. This particular choice can effectively contribute to a desire to dedicate one day of the week to family or personal needs.

Another practical approach is to create a problem-response structure for your business. As you hire and develop reliable employees, you can delegate higher-level decision making responsibilities. Communicate and make it clear on which types of problems or situations that can cause your team to contact you during your “non-work” time. A clear and effective problem-response plan and empowered staff will guard against your key priorities.

Minimize distractions
The moment you begin your day always focus on those activities that will prepare you to be productive. Minimizing unnecessary distractions is critical to achieving your priorities. There are many distractions out there that pose as a threat to our lives and our businesses.

For instance, consider muting notifications on all devices and avoid opening your work e-mails during quality time meant for the family. Try and avoid as much as possible not talking on your phone when your family is in the car with you. Teach your spouse, kids and friends not to make non-emergency personal calls to you during work hours.

Minimizing distractions keeps you focused and productive throughout the day and it also helps you prioritize your schedules accordingly whether at work or at home.

Work-life balance takes time, requires discipline and effort on a daily and frequent basis. As an entrepreneur, you need to reframe your thinking, restructure your time and resource so as to take the pressure off. As you carve out your priorities, create a problem-response approach and minimize distractions, you will begin to work towards living a balanced life.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of Gateway Success Consultancy Ltd.
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