Work/life balance. Stepping away, switching off from your small business and disconnecting from your small business. Like splitting the atom, everyone’s happy to put their hands up and admit it’s possible, but very few of us have had much real success in doing it ourselves. If you’re a small business owner yourself, you’ll know just what I mean.
I certainly haven’t mastered the art of switching off from my small business, but I’m happy to say that I believe I’m getting better at it. So I thought I’d take a moment to relate my thoughts, inspired by the challenges I faced spending a relaxing and fulfilling Easter break – away from my business – with my family.
Before we go much further I suppose it might be constructive to settle my definition of ‘switching off’. For me, that means literally switching off your various devices (not too difficult, surely?) and also not thinking about your business. So over Easter, did I leave the hotel room without my iPhone and iPad? Yes I did! Did I stop thinking about my business? Yes indeed. Well…most of the time.
If you love your business – and for it to be successful, you’d better – to not think about it from time to time can be very difficult. Yet I believe that switching off from your business is, nonetheless, critical for the overall health and happiness of small business owners.
Social media, smartphones and the forward march of a society that demands constant connection to the net and to email can mean that the very thought of ‘disconnecting’ can seem almost impossible. But there are methods and habits to help switch off. So I’ll share five things that I do in both my work life and my home life that help me to switch off and break the work connection.
Commit to leaving work at a set time
Here’s a fact – when you know you’re going to leave work at a set time, you work more effectively. Of course you do – when you stop seeing your day as a bottomless bucket of hours, you set yourself to your tasks and focus on being as efficient as you possibly can be. If you don’t finish something, it’s not the end of the world. Just write yourself a note while it’s fresh in your mind so you can pick up right away when you return to it. I’m a self-confessed gadget enthusiast, but I still stick with the good old-fashioned habit of writing out a ‘to do’ list for the following day. The outcome is that I’m home for dinner with my family four days a week, and not distracted by thoughts of work. I reckon that’s a pretty good result.
Turn off your electronic devices
They have off buttons. They really do! And I don’t mean ‘sleep’ or ‘do not disturb’, I mean OFF. I have a rule in my household that electronic devices are not allowed at the dinner table – they all stay in my study on their respective chargers. No bings, no dings, no chirps or rings announcing texts, emails, tweets or updates. This is a toughie for young people. I was at a barbecue just last weekend with a visiting cousin-in-law and my cousin-in-law’s 21-year-old daughter. She must have sent 100 texts in a couple of hours to her boyfriend in Perth. My worst sin was checking the footy scores a couple of times.
I love reading. I’ve been an avid reader for a couple of decades. There’s just so much to be learned and so much to experience when you immerse yourself in a good book. Yes, I’ve read my share of business books, but I read a lot of fiction, too, and find it really helps me unwind (at the moment I’m hooked on the adventures of Jack Reacher). I’ve been using a Kindle for about six months now and I love it. Yes, I know it’s an electronic device, but it doesn’t make noises, and thus far no-one has managed to send me a text message on it.
Don’t take work home
Okay, I don’t quite have this one down pat yet, I’ll admit it. But I’m working on it. I have designated days of the week when I don’t do any work from home at all. And I really look forward to these evenings. My advice is that if you’re one of the many small business owners who takes work home regularly, be sure to set aside some evenings every week when you can switch off and relax, free from guilt.
No, not at breakfast time! And no, I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, recommend that you really hit the bottle, either. In fact I’ve only put this here to see how many of you read all the way to the fifth point in my blog! But I do still enjoy a wind-down drink now and then, and I have to admit that a fairly regular tipple possibly helped me get through being a small business owner in my twenties and thirties. And I’ve always been very fond of the Winston Churchill quote “I got more out of alcohol than alcohol got out of me!”
So there you have it. Four good ways and one bad way to switch off from your small business. It’s a challenge. Neil Young sang “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, and while that might work for rock stars, small business people need stamina to fuel lasting success. Regular breaks where our minds are off business matters are the times when we refresh ourselves in order to return with new energy, real enthusiasm and a great attitude. For me, these have helped me continue to love what I do, without burning out after almost two decades in business.