How often have you finished a 10-hour day with yet another mountain of work on tomorrow’s agenda? Have you ever wished that you could run on just five hours of sleep? You might laugh when I say this, but that’s exactly the type of thinking that stifles growth and productivity.
Working outrageous hours is a badge of honor in some circles, but that badge comes with a price tag. Sacrificing activities that refill your tank and drive your passions will not produce the results you expect — it will lead to an internal imbalance that can hinder your career.
According to one survey, about
A whole life, composed of many pieces
The CEO of the company I worked for before starting my own used to remind me all the time, “It’s a whole life,” meaning: There’s more to life than just business.
He constantly urged me to exercise, read, and pick up other interests and his words have always stuck with me.
Today, carving out the time to go for a run is about more than personal fitness for me; I know I will be more productive and effective at work when I return. In fact, having hobbies can help you find common ground when networking with other business leaders who share those same interests.
What’s more, the grit and stamina developed during the pursuit of an outside interest will serve you well in the boardroom, too. Living a whole life will certainly make you happier, but it will also make you a better leader for your team. After all, no one wants to feel resented by the boss for taking a vacation.
Expecting too much from yourself is unfair to your team
Over one three-year stretch, I took no time off at all — not a single sick day or vacation day. I was proud of the commitment I displayed, and at the time, I had the energy to put forth because I was younger. But I also didn’t own that company, so I didn’t face the same pressures I do now. I couldn’t do it today.
When all you do is work, you expect too much of yourself and come to expect the same of your staff. This is dangerous, as it’s far too easy to grow bitter when your team is working normal hours and taking well-deserved vacations.
If you feel that people aren’t carrying their weight — as if you’re the only one bringing it 100 percent — that isn’t fair to you or your staff. You can’t expect people to do their best work under those conditions. Besides, working too many hours harms productivity, as Henry Ford proved back in 1926, when reducing the numbers of hours and days his employees worked each week paradoxically resulted in higher production levels.
The greater your work-life balance, the greater your capacity for innovation. A little downtime helps your brain form memories and helps you produce higher-quality work by restoring attention and motivation. Taking time off allows you to come back refreshed, with new ideas, new perspectives, and renewed energy and imagination — benefits that extend to your team as well.
You and your company will be much better off if you can shake the following misconceptions about a business leader’s work ethic.
Myth No. 1: I have to do it all.
Just because you are the founder or leader of your business does not mean that you should (or can) do all the work alone. You hired and pay some really great people to do a share of the work — so trust them to do what they do best.
Realize the people on your team are hungry to do more; they want to take things off your plate. So look at each item on your to-do list as an opportunity to delegate, and stop thinking that nobody can do it as well as you.
In fact, one consulting firm looking at small businesses discovered that a leader “trying to do it all” puts a limit on success. To avoid that bottleneck, invest as much time in creating systems others can run as you work on your own tasks.
Myth No. 2: I need to work long hours.
Small business owners, on average, work too many hours — most of them putting in more than 50 hours per week. If you care about high-quality work, then mandate time off. Set a structure around the maximum number of hours for yourself and your employees, and be vigilant about staying within that structure.
If taking a week off for vacation frightens you, consider reorganizing your calendar as an athlete in training would: Schedule a number of “conditioning days” for prep work and meetings, and a few “rest days” when you ban email or office visits. Then balance those out with “two-a-days” when the strategic focus is required for high-priority projects.
When you do take time off, use the opportunity to see what breaks while you’re gone and seize on those opportunities to systematize. You may find, just like a champion runner, that exponential growth occurs after a little rest. Just don’t forget to also require your people to take time off, and encourage them to focus on their own interests outside work.
Myth No. 3: Being a business owner means accepting and owning all the stress.
If you are the one dealing with all the stress, then you don’t have the right team in place. Putting out fires is not what you do best. The various leaders within your company should carry their shares of the load and help you put those fires out, or your company will suffer.
Think about the items on your to-do list that always get pushed to next week or next month. If you find you continually dodge these tasks because they just don’t seem that important, then throw that list away!
For everything else that really must be done — but keeps you from the work you do best — delegate, delegate, delegate. Great leadership involves pairing employees with tasks that match their skills.
Myth No. 4: Owning a business means trade-offs and sacrifices.
Remember that you create your own subjective reality. When you give up taking care of yourself to build a business, the first thing you probably sacrifice is sleep.
Those 10-hour workdays and shortened sleep schedules will hurt your bottom line. Identify what you sacrifice because of your business, and get those elements back into your life pronto. With more REM sleep and dream time, you could see a corresponding rise in productivity and revenue.
Living a whole life means making your business a part of it, not the other way around. To do so, I recommend performing a critical exercise: Imagine you are gravely ill and have to figure out a way for the business to operate without your working 70 hours a week. Design it to function that way from the get-go.
Shake off bad habits with a systematic approach
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs seem to think life ends when business begins. Actually, the amazing part about running the show is that you get to design your business and your private life from scratch, exactly as you please. To fully take control and live a whole life, you must clear hurdles — such as self-inflicted sleep deprivation — and create healthier routines.
To break each of these misguided trains of thought, you’ll need good people supporting you, and you’ll need to focus on creating systems, which equal freedom for business owners. For example, if employees have a system in place for answering common email inquiries, then they don’t need to ask you for clarification. Systems make people feel in control even when life gets chaotic.
So what steps are you taking to live a whole life as a business owner?