It's Not Your 'Work' and 'Life' That Need Balancing

Last Updated Feb 7, 2011 1:51 PM EST

Creating a clear separation between work and "life" is impossible for the business owner. Your business is an extension of you.

You will bring work home. You will get calls at night. You will be preoccupied. That's how owning a business works.

Lots of business owners try to create that separation, though. A study done by the Corporate Executive Board March 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, surprisingly, "doing what I love."

Look, if you 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 because they don't feel like they're part of your business or a driving force in your life.

You have two choices: Pretend to strive for a better work-life "balance" by drawing symbolic lines in the sand, 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:
  • Get family on the payroll. (Tax breaks alone can make it worthwhile.) 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.
  • Take family 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, especially to them. Help your family appreciate the fact that your business doesn't just take time away from the family; it can also create mini-adventures and more time with you.
  • Ask for advice. My wife and kids love to be consulted. (Who doesn't?) I may not gain a lot of insight from their advice, but sometimes talking about a problem is all it takes to help me find answers on my own. Then, later you get to talk about out how things turned out. And if your spouse is as smart as mine, you'll be glad you asked.
  • Discuss your failures. Business is hard. 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 mistakes and asking for advice. Plus they'll better understand why you do what you do. Which sounds better: "I have to go back to work tonight," or, "I have to go back to work tonight to complete an order we fell behind on. My customer is counting on me and so far I've let them down"? Your kids will better understand your absence and learn about the importance of meeting commitments.
And while you're at it:
  • 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 writing assignments. Scott Ford, owner of Cornerstone Wealth Management Group, loves Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so he wrote Financial Jiu-Jitsu, a book on creating wealth by using martial arts principles. 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 is gravy.
Feel free to disagree, but it's a waste of time to create symbolic work-life boundaries you will never maintain. You are your company. That's a reality you can't change. Find opportunities to include family instead of exclude work. Find ways to reincorporate your interests with your business.

When work-life balance becomes irrelevant, both you and your family benefit.

Photo courtesy Flickr user TheGiantVermin, CC 2.0
  • 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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