If you’re like most ecommerce entrepreneurs, you’ve had a busy last few weeks of work. The holiday shopping season is in full swing, Cyber Monday came and went, and you only have a few more weeks to keep pushing sales through until the end of the year. For many, it’s an extremely profitable time of year, but also a time of year that puts a lot of added stress and strain on your working relationships, personal relationships, and well-being.
In order to succeed and get the most of out this time of year, a lot of ecommerce entrepreneurs, and business leaders in general, for that matter, are forced to make sacrifices. Your family sees less of you, your friends see less of you, and you don’t get to spend nearly as much time on the things that make you happy and keep your body and mind healthy. It’s a challenging time of year, to say the least.
But there’s a big difference between making some temporary sacrifices for the sake and success of your business during a time when the opportunity is most ripe, and slowly letting your business completely consume and destroy you and the the relationships that matter to you most.
It might be the last thing you want to read or think about right now, but as a fellow entrepreneur who has personally struggled with work-life balance on numerous occasions over the past few years, I firmly believe it’s a reminder that every entrepreneur and business leader needs to receive from someone right now, during what is likely your busiest time of year. Not when things settle down, not when we’re weeks into 2018, but right now:
In order to build and grow a successful ecommerce business that allows you provide for yourself, your employees, and your family AND keep your physical health, personal and professional relationships, and mental sanity intact, you need to have work-life balance.
Here’s the thing: everyone knows you’re supposed to have work-life balance. That’s not the issue. No one would willingly say that they prefer to have an intentional imbalance between work and life. The problem, for most entrepreneurs, is that they just don’t know how to make it happen for themselves.
In this article, I’m offering some insights and simple tips on how you can balance work and life while still focusing on the growth and success of your ecommerce business.
Why So Many Entrepreneurs Struggle with Work-Life Balance Today
It’s a great time to be an ecommerce entrepreneur. The playing fields have been leveled, the barriers to entry are low, the tools are affordable, and consumers are more enthusiastic than ever about shopping online. To build and operate an ecommerce business today, you don’t have to go into an office or even sit at a desk. The internet and the SaaS industry have made it incredibly easy to run your business from virtually anywhere in the world. This freedom is great for flexibility and opportunity, but it also makes it increasingly hard to unplug and keep your work life separate from your personal life. Today, business is always on. Unless you intentionally turn off smartphone notifications, turn on an email autoresponder, and leave your laptop at home, it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing some sort of message about work outside of whatever normal working hours you’ve tried to set for yourself. And as you probably know, the urge to respond is often too great to ignore.
Now, let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with hustling, especially when you love what you do. In order to build a successful business, you will have nights, weekends, and maybe entire weeks when you have to put all your time and energy into work. It has to happen.
The “hustle” mentality and mantra made famous by other well-known entrepreneurs and startup founders of today isn’t the issue. The issue is when you don’t allow yourself any time or breaks to reset and refocus. When that happens, it can lead you down an unhealthy and unsustainable path that can be incredibly difficult to turn back from.
“Take care of yourself: When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers. Love those close to you: Failure of your company is not failure in life.” ―Ev Williams, co-founder of Medium and Twitter
The Case for Balancing Work and Life
An imbalance between work and life can wreak havoc on your professional and personal life. When you’re burning the candle at both ends, your performance suffers, your relationships suffer, and your health suffers.
For most people, more work means more stress, and too much prolonged stress can really take a toll on your body. According to the American Psychological Association, too much stress can negatively affect your musculoskeletal system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, nervous system, and the reproductive system. Here’s what the APA writes about how stress affects the body, focusing the nervous system in particular:
“Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the sympathetic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.”
An imbalance of work and life can also lead to unhappiness, which can affect your productivity in the workplace, and your ability to maintain healthy relationships with others in both professional and personal settings. According to Fast Company, happy people are 12 percent more effective and productive in their roles than unhappy people. Happy people are also more creative, and more effective at collaborating with others. Click here to see the findings.
Working consistently long hours with few breaks can also lead to burnout, which can lead to physical illness and an inability to function effectively in both your professional and personal life.
Now that you know the risks associated with a lack of work-life balance, it’s time to take action.
Actionable Ways to Balance Work and Life as Your Business Grows
You’ve spent time learning about the why of balancing work and life—now it’s time to focus in on the how. As ecommerce entrepreneurs, we have to approach work-life balance differently than other professionals, because we don’t work typical 9-5 jobs. We don’t leave our responsibilities at the office for another day, we take them everywhere. We’re committed and even obsessed to a certain point, with working hard to maintain and grow our businesses. But we need to do it in a way that helps us keep our health, productivity, and relationships intact. As leaders, we also need to be good examples for our employees.
So what can you do? Here are 9 actionable ways to be proactive about work-life balance as an ecommerce entrepreneur:
Tip #1: Set concrete boundaries. The easiest thing you can do to get better at balancing work and life is to set clear boundaries for yourself and others to follow. If you use Slack, for example, turn the snooze settings on during the time you’d like to be away from work each evening. Help your team understand that from 6AM-7AM, you’re at the gym or practicing meditation and will be unavailable. Block off your calendar. Set the expectations with clients or customers up front and help them understand that you are unavailable on Sundays (or whatever day you decide on, and don’t be afraid to tell them why. Stay true to the boundaries you set, and respect the boundaries that other people set for themselves.
Tip #2: Schedule breaks. Another easy thing you can do is to simply schedule breaks for yourself. In entrepreneurship, it’s so easy to go-go-go. But rest is important. It can help make you a healthier and more productive person. A break could be as short as 15 minutes a few times a day, or it could be an extended weekend once every month. The key is to be consistent with your breaks and to allow yourself to have them, even when your day is busy and you’ve got too much to do. Find something productive or enjoyable to do during your breaks—read a book, listen to a podcast, take a walk, grab a coffee, etc. Do something for you that gets you away from your computer.
Tip #3: Take up a hobby that allows you to unplug. If you struggle with allowing yourself to take breaks, take up a hobby that forces you to unplug. Swim laps in a pool each morning. Go for a run and leave your phone behind. Take a yoga class. Go to a movie. Sit in a sauna. Go for a bike ride. The key is to pick something that would make using your phone or computer impossible, difficult, or uncomfortable.
Tip #4: Automate with the right tools. If you’re feeling overworked, it might just be because you’re not leveraging enough tools to automate tedious tasks. To figure out what you could outsource or automate, use a tool like Harvest to track your time for an entire week. At the end of the week, look at what takes up most of your time and see if you can find a tool that would automate or streamline the work for you.
Tip #5: Use an alarm clock. That’s right an actual alarm clock! When you sleep at night, don’t keep your phone charging next to you. In fact, don’t even keep it in the same room as you. It’s too easy to check a notification that pops up right as you’re trying to fall asleep. Set expectations and help the people you work with understand that you will check messages any messages that are sent overnight at 5 AM (or whenever you start your day).
Tip #6: Reward the hustle. When you’re in the thick of trying to grow a business, the idea of celebrating can seem silly at times—but don’t be afraid to reward long work sessions! It’s important to take time every once in a while to refocus and reenergize. If you’ve worked from sun up to sun down for a few days straight, take a day off and invest in one or a few of your relationships instead. Make sure the people in your life are still getting the attention they want and need from you. Take the day off, nurture your relationships, then get back to the hustle.
Tip #7: Give undivided, screen-free attention. Keep your phone in your pocket when you’re having non-work conversations with friends, colleagues, spouses, or kids. Don’t try to multitask. No one enjoys talking to someone who can’t give them their undivided attention. Again, it’s about setting a good example for the people around you. If you don’t want your kids looking at their phones while you’re trying to talk with them at the dinner table, you have to show them kind of behavior you’d rather see.
Tip #8: Delegate. If you’re feeling a lot of stress when it comes to work, it could be because you’re trying to spin too many plates at once all by yourself. As entrepreneurs, it’s tempting to want to keep our hands on every project and task to ensure the work gets done on time and meets your expectactions—but it’s not a good way to scale or sustain your business. To create more work-life balance, push yourself to delegate more tasks to your most-trusted employees. It might mean that you need to spend time providing extra training to specific individuals on your team, but it’s worth it if it allows you to take more breaks during the day and outside of your primary work hours.
Tip #9: Find an accountability partner. Finally, find a mentor, friend, or colleague who can keep you accountable. No one is perfect when it comes to work-life balance. Everyone needs help. Find someone who is in a similar position as you, and work to keep each other accountable. Schedule regular phone calls to check in with each other and find out if you stayed true to your work life balance goals.
Over to You
How are you balancing work and life during the holiday shopping season? What has worked well for you in the past, and what hasn’t? Share your ideas in the comments below.