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How to Run Your Business and Have a Life, Too

Tips from successful small-business owners on balancing working hours and leisure time

By Jennifer Nelson

Editor’s note: This article is part of Lessons from Leaders, a Next Avenue initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur Innovation Exchange.

Being an entrepreneur means having the freedom and passion to do what you love, but it can be demanding, stressful, and exhausting, leaving no time for a life. How to find some equilibrium?

A business entrepreneur working late at night. Next Avenue, work life balance.
Staying in "hustle mode" all the time can lead to poor productivity, inefficiency and poor outcomes.  |  Credit: Getty

Running a business is not for the faint of heart. Even the smallest businesses have countless challenges. Owners often have little time, energy and reserves left for having a life — you know, family, friends, kids, hobbies and "me" time.

There must be a way to find balance and purpose beyond your business. We asked several successful business owners to temporarily act as mentors and give Next Avenue readers their best advice for running a business and having a life, too. Here is what they said.

Integrate, Don't Just Balance

Many people talk about work-life balance as if the scales should always be even. "In reality, life and business ebb and flow," says Celeste Robertson, an estate planning attorney and owner of The Law Offices of Celeste Robertson, LLC., with locations in Rockport and Corpus Christi, Texas. "Instead of trying to rigidly partition personal and professional time, I integrate them seamlessly."

"In reality, life and business ebb and flow."

For instance, when Robertson attends her child's sports events in the evening, she might allocate an hour in the early morning for a client consultation. If she has a crucial case the next day, she makes sure to spend quality time with her family beforehand.

"By integrating, you recognize that both spheres enrich each other, leading to a more holistic approach to entrepreneurship," Robertson says. "Instead of constantly feeling torn between work and life, you allow them to coexist harmoniously, ensuring neither is sacrificed at the other's expense."

You Are Not Your Business

"At some point, every entrepreneur (especially creative solo entrepreneurs like me) will mistake our occupations for our identities," says Sarah Bradshaw, a wedding photographer with locations near Greenville, South Carolina, and in Washington, D.C.

Bradshaw says you'll burn out and miss out on the essential things in life if you blur the line between yourself and your business. A healthy work-life integration has separation between the two.

"That's why I hate the phrase 'work-life balance' — it implies equal distribution of time, focus and importance," she says. "But all the things we have to do are not equally important, and most require 100% of us when we're doing them."

"Change your mindset...having a life actually makes you better at business."

Instead, work at giving each task in front of you your undivided attention for as long as it takes until completion rather than worrying about balance. You might spend three hours on payroll one night; that's the business you. You might spend an hour at family dinner; that's the real-life you.

They don't need to be equal that night or any other; they need your undivided attention while you're doing them so you're fully present and striving to separate the business you from the real-life you.

Don't Hustle All the Time

Many people believe they must "hustle" all the time to have a successful business. But Donna M. Marino, a psychologist and executive coach/trainer, says that's not true.

"It is true that you have to put the hours in and that getting off the ground takes a lot of effort," she says. "However, staying in this mode, spending too much time at work, and neglecting the rest of your life reduces focus, concentration, energy levels, and even passion for what you are doing."

That can lead to poor productivity, inefficiency and poor outcomes. "Change your mindset and start to believe having a life actually makes you better at business," says Marino.

Hire a 'No' Person

"I have a 'no' person who rejects most business ideas," says Marko Lazarevic, owner of Craft Coffee Spot, a digital coffee business that helps home brewers make the best coffee. "It's a game-changer for small business owners drowning in opportunities and tasks."


Think of this person as your professional bouncer, someone who helps you guard your time by saying "no" when you might hesitate. Lazarevic says your "no" person vets new projects, partnerships and even minor commitments against your core goals, keeping you from straying off track.

"By doing so, they not only protect your business focus but also free up precious time for your personal life," he says. "Essentially, they act as your time-saving sidekick, ensuring you don't spread yourself too thin." Lazarevic's "no" person is also his wife.

Follow the '3-3-3 Rule'

Many people do well to keep rules about work and personal time. The 3-3-3 rule is one such rule. "I work for three hours, spend three hours on family and myself, and keep three hours flexible," says Eric Jones, CEO of CoutureCandy, a special-occasion fashion ecommerce business.

This helps Jones focus on each area of his life without getting overwhelmed in any sector. "It's like keeping three different jars for work, life and surprises," he says, adding that his business still grows and he has time for all of the personal things that make life great when he sticks to the rule.

Make Time for Your Hobbies

"Building hobbies into your lifestyle that take you away from your phone or computer (where e-mails will constantly pop up) has been a great way to allow me to unplug from the grind of entrepreneurship," says Grace Thomas, founder and lead stylist of Builtgracefully, a personal wardrobe styling company in Portland, Oregon.

"I work for three hours, spend three hours on family and myself, and keep three hours flexible."

Thomas takes nightly walks where she leaves her phone at home, works out with a trainer so she can't skimp or skip out on physical activity, and watches "k-dramas" — Korean television programs — that require her to stop multi-tasking to read subtitles.

"The work will always be there," she says, "but stopping to do something for me, where I can't be interrupted, has been a great hack."

Running a business and having a life may always be challenging but no matter how hectic your schedule is, being available for what's most important to you can help.

Successful entrepreneurs delegate, time track, take mini breaks and squeeze every last drop from their personal lives to maintain their perspective and find a balance that make their work life succeed.

Photograph of Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based writer who also writes for MSNBC, FOXnews and AARP. Read More
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