What is work/life balance?
Work/life balance is the constant struggle to find a balance between your work life and your personal life. Entrepreneurs and mission-driven people are notoriously bad at maintaining a work/life balance but it's important to remember that work/life balance doesn't look the same for everyone. One person might be perfectly healthy working 80 hours a week while another might need to work only 30 hours and do 10 hours of yoga and sleep at least 10 hours every night.
"So let's STOP talking about work-life balance in terms of 8 hr days or some other arbitrary fixed amount of time," Elizabeth writes. "And let's START talking about how we can all find more productivity on an individual level while keeping the ship moving quickly, having fun, and without breaking ourselves."
- Elizabeth Yin, 500 Startups
Also remember that a project doesn't have to be a sprint; it can be a marathon. A 60 hour work week isn't the only route to a successful project and many times even leads to burnout. A lot of project creators have other jobs and responsibilities, so figure out what works for you. There is no perfect formula.
- Look at all of the things you want to make time for. - Look at your project's top priority tasks and goals for the week and calculate how much time it will take to complete them all.
A good way to keep control of your time is time blocking.
Action Step: Set aside a specific amount of time for each task and stick to it as closely as you can.
This will prevent you from working more than you need to and taking time away from other important areas of your life. There's a common idea that when you're part of a startup, you should always be working, or if you're not working 80 hours a week you'll fail. This isn't true, so don't fall for it! You are the only person who knows how much you need to work in order to not only be productive but also keep yourself from burnout.
How to keep the different areas of your life in balance when you're working so hard
The number one thing you need to work on when you're trying to achieve a work/life balance is separation. When you're with your family/friends/SO, you're with them and when you're working, you're working. Try to keep the two areas separate and be present with the people you're with. But if you're mentally "not there" at any point, be honest about it! Sometimes all it takes to click back in to the present is vocalizing the fact that you're having a hard time being present.
Entrepreneur David Chait recommends being realistic about what you can and can't do when you're making plans with the people you care about.
"There's nothing worse than making a promise you can't keep," he wrote on Entrepreneur.com. "Even if you can only sit down for a quick meal or a late drink, it's better than nothing."
You should also make sure that your team knows that you have a life outside of your project or business. They can be another force holding you accountable when you start to spend more time than is healthy at work and they can also help you feel less guilty when you're spending time on something other than work.
Here's are some actionable steps you can take to keep the balance between your work and these other areas of your life.
1. Significant other. Sometimes you're going to be so busy that you don't even see your SO for a couple of days on end. This can be really, really hard for both of you to adjust to. One way to combat this is to set a date night that never gets broken, period. You and your SO can stay home and watch your favorite shows or get dressed up and go to a nice dinner. It doesn't so much matter what you do as much as it matters that you're doing it together. Also, date night is a phone-free, email-free zone. You can talk shop a little bit - your SO will undoubtedly want to know what you've been up to - but make sure you have a few other conversation topics saved up too
Action step: Sit down with your SO and pick a day and time each week that you'll have date time. To keep it easy and make sure it doesn't get broken, it can even be the same date each week, i.e., dinner at your favorite sushi spot every Tuesday at 6 pm.
2. Family. It can be disorienting to try to connect with family when they don't have any clue what you're doing -- Grandma might not quite understand what it means to be neck deep in a Kickstarter campaign, for example -- but staying in touch will keep you grounded and remind you that you're human.
Also, their disconnection from what you're doing can be an advantage at times: talking with someone, even if for 5 minutes, who doesn't know what the heck you're up to is actually a really refreshing break. It's easy to think that family will always be there for you (and it's most likely the case) but don't forget about them when things get busy. Even a once a week scheduled call with Mom can keep you connected with everyone else.
Action step: Call your someone in your immediate family this week. Tip: text them that you're going to call on said day and time, so they can plan on being available.
3. Friends. With social media, keeping in touch with friends is way easier than it ever had been before. You may not have the time to take a weekend getaway or to go out for drinks, but you can take two minutes to send a Facebook message or write on one of their Instagram photos so they know you're still thinking of them. Oftentimes your friends are also your cheerleaders and a solid part of your support system, so staying in touch will help you stay sane, maintain your friendships, and always have support when the going gets tough.
Action step: Send a text to 3 of your friends this week, even if it's just saying, "hey, just thought of you today and wanted to say hi!"
4. Food. When you're deep into work mode, it can be hard to remember to eat healthy food. Sometimes you'll find that you even forget to eat all together! A great way to head off either situation is with this action step: commit to meal prep one day of the week, like Sunday. Doing that will condense all of the time you'd normally take throughout the week for cooking into one, intense chunk. Some good ideas for meals that you can eat throughout the week are a full chicken roast that can be cut up and eaten in different form throughout the week. Other options are one dish meals like casseroles or stews.
For those days that you don't feel like eating the same thing again, a crock pot - which you can fill with delicious ingredients at the beginning of the day and come home to a homemade meal - can be your best friend. All it takes to find healthy, affordable recipes is a quick Google search.
5. Sleep. Fact: you're going to be sleep deprived at various points throughout this process and possibly for the entire thing. Figure out the number of hours you need in order to function at top capacity and stick to it, no matter how early or how late you go to sleep. If you don't meet that number at night, remember: naps are great and underrated!
Action step: This week, pick a time that you will aim to get to sleep every night for the next 5 days. Set a permanent alarm to go off fifteen minutes before bed so you don't forget. Have another that is set to go off 8 hours from sleep time. Take note of how you feel and make adjustments where needed for the next week.
Action step: try to turn off all screens ideally one to two hours before sleeping and make yourself some time tea.
6. Fitness. Staying fit is probably the first thing that people let slide when they get busy - but that's a bad move. Working out boosts your energy and keeps your body able to support you as you push forward. One way to make sure that you don't let this part of your life slip to the wayside is by finding another person or persons to keep you accountable. Have a gym partner. Become part of a sports team. This also kills two birds with one stone - you get time with loved ones while also getting exercise.
Another good idea is to work low level fitness into your daily routine. Take a twenty minute walk every few hours or take one upon waking up and one again at sunset. You could even schedule a phone conversation with a friend or family member during the walk and take care of that neglected part of your life too.
Action step: Find your gym partner. This could be really helpful to have it be someone else on your tribe. Regardless, work out a gym schedule with someone, even if you aren't on the same regimen at the gym itself. If going to the gym, sign up for a gym membership this week. If outdoor training, pick a route and pull out your gear. If attending a class, buy a punch card and put the days and times in your schedule. If incorporating something at home or the office, purchase a new piece of equipment this week.