A different approach to work-life balance

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ryan Smith Photography

Business owners constantly struggle to create a clear separation between work and "life." But how do you do that when your business is an extension of you?

You will bring work home. You will get calls at night. You will often be preoccupied.

That's how owning a business works.

Many business owners still try hard to create that separation, though. A study by the Corporate Executive Board asked business owners how they think about satisfaction in their business. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance was the biggest factor in how they defined satisfaction, followed by "making customers happy" and "doing what I love."

One of the biggest issues where work-life balance is concerned is the lack of time spent with family. But if feel you don't get to spend enough time with your family, or if your family resents work intrusions, that's not a sign of a work-life imbalance. Your family resents your business at least partly because they don't feel like they're part of something that is a driving force in your life. They may feel neglected, but they also feel left out.

In that case, you have two choices: Pretend to strive for a better work-life balance by drawing symbolic lines in the sand (lines you know you'll eventually cross), or create a better balance between what you do and the people you do it with.

The key is to seize opportunities to include your family, not exclude them. Here's how:

Hire your family. We hope to teach our children our values. What better way for them to learn than by working with you? They'll feel more a part of your business and will better understand why you do the things you do. Time together is time together: the summer I spent helping my dad build a house was the best "quality time" we had. And don't forget the tax breaks.

Take them along on business trips. Would you rather be on a plane alone or with your spouse or child? Sure, you'll have to take care of business, but the trip will still feel like a mini-vacation, at least to them. Help your family appreciate the fact that your business doesn't just take time away from the family; it can also create outings and more time with you.

Ask for their advice. Everyone loves to be consulted. You may not gain a lot of insight from their advice, but sometimes talking about a problem is all it takes to help you find answers on your own. Then later you get to talk about out how things turned out.

Discuss your failures. Business is hard and life is hard. As parents we tend not to talk about our mistakes, but sharing what we did wrong can help our kids feel more comfortable talking about their own mistakes and asking for advice. Plus, they'll better understand why you do what you do. Which sounds better: "I'm going back to work tonight," or, "I have to go back to work tonight to finish a project a customer really needs"? Your kids will better understand your absence and learn about the importance of meeting commitments.

Reincorporate work and personal interests. Hopefully you started a business in order to do what you love, but over time you probably do less and less of what caused you to start your business in the first place. Find ways to blend the two. I like cycling, so I found ways to get paid for a few cycling-related photography assignments. If you're creative, you can incorporate almost any outside interest into any industry. And you can "afford" to charge less, too: If you get paid to do something you would do for free, any revenue you generate is gravy.

Don't try to create symbolic work-life boundaries you will never be able to maintain. You are your company; that's a reality you can't change. Find ways to include your family instead of exclude your work. Find ways to reincorporate your interests with your business.

That's something you can do.

  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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