By Guy Browning
Everyone has heard of the phrase ‘work/life balance’.
Here are some other, better combinations to think about: boss/me, desk/bed, adults/kids, boring/fun, earning/spending, useful/useless, up/down, now/later. Getting the balance of these right is more important than this so-called work/life balance thing.
Part of the problem, they say, is that technology means that you can never really be away from work. Remember, just because somebody sends you an email, it doesn’t mean you have to respond as soon as you get it.
You could be in a meeting. With yourself. In bed. Or you know those parental controls you put on your kids’ devices? Get them to put controls on yours. That means you’ll have more time to play with your kids and they’ll have to spend less time on-screen to play with you.
When you work for a big company, you very quickly sort out your work/life balance. You see when you can leave early, when you can take a lunch break, when you can do offsite training and conferences, how many days off you have a year and so on. If you work for your own small business you should do exactly the same exercise, but most people don’t.
Why not? Because you think “if I ever stop working, even for a moment, then the business will collapse immediately”. Everyone who runs their own business knows that feeling. But if you don’t stop working like this then it’s quite likely that you will collapse, so it’s worth giving it some thought – the sooner the better.
A good first thought is to remember why you set up the business in the first place – probably to take back control of your life. However hard you work, remind yourself that you’re still in control and you still have choices.
For example, work/life balance doesn’t have to happen every day. You could try working for four days and then have a three-day weekend.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you can dedicate the first 20 years to your business and the next 20 to your children, because by then they will be gone.
Remember, too, that work/life balance doesn’t always mean work/family balance. It means doing stuff outside work that you find as fulfilling as work, or even more enjoyable. If you find that there is nothing outside work that you find anywhere near as fulfilling and enjoyable as work, then don’t bother with the life stuff. A lot of it is overrated anyway.
When you really love your work, the best holidays are working holidays, the best kind of socialising is networking, and the best kind of mindfulness retreat is meeting your accountant. If, on the other hand, you like the life stuff, your plan should be to work in a way that maximises the opportunity for doing not-work.
Try this. Look at your retirement in a slightly different way. Think about all the wonderful things you’ve got planned for it, then decide that you’re going to retire for a portion of every working week. So every Thursday, do that golf, travel, culture, yoga, wine tasting, line dancing or whatever.
The advantage of doing this is that you get the benefits of retirement while you can still enjoy them and you also don’t feel the need to actually retire until a lot later.
In the end, no one but you can decide how to balance your work and life. You’ve chosen your own particular tightrope and you know what’s important to you. Good luck, and don’t look down.
Guy Browning runs the design agency Smokehouse.