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The best way to achieve healthy work-life balance

Want a clear separation between work and business? For the small business owner that's almost impossible. You are your business: virtually and symbolically, your business is an extension of you.

That means you will get calls at night. You will answer emails on the weekend. You will be preoccupied and distracted. That's all part of owning your own business.

Many entrepreneurs still try hard to create a clearer separation between business and family to achieve a better work-life balance. According to a study by the Enterprise Council on Small Business, the single biggest factor in how small business owners define "success" is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. (Interestingly, "doing what I love" came in third.)

When you feel you don't get to spend enough time with your family, or when your family resents work intrusions, that's a work-life balance issue -- but what is the answer? In general, you have two choices: Try to create a better work-life balance by drawing a symbolic line in the sand between the two (which rarely works), or try to create a better balance between what you do and the people you do it with.

Here are ways to take advantage of opportunities to include -- rather than exclude -- your family in your business and your life:

Put family members on your payroll. We all want 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 some of the things you do. And while it may not be perfect, any time spent together is still time together. The summer I spent helping my dad build a house was some of the best quality time we had. Plus the tax breaks alone can make employing family members pay off.

Take them on business trips. Would you rather be on a plane alone or with your spouse or child? When you arrive you'll obviously have to take care of business, but the trip will still feel like a mini-vacation to your family. Including them on trips can help your family appreciate the fact that your business doesn't just take time away from the family; it can also result in mini-adventures and more time spent with you.

Get their advice. Everyone likes to be consulted. People enjoy being asked to give their opinion. (If nothing else, it's flattering.) You may not gain a lot of insight from the advice you receive, but sometimes the process of explaining a problem may be all you need to find the answers on your own. And later you'll get to talk about out how things turned out, which helps your family feel more a part of what you do.

Discuss your mistakes. Life is tough. Business is tough. Many parents tend not to talk about their mistakes, but sharing what you did wrong can help your kids feel more comfortable talking about their own mistakes -- and asking for your advice.

Recapture what made you start your business. Most entrepreneurs start a business to do what they love (even if "what you love" is just "making money.") Over time, most small business owners also find they do a lot less of what they most want to do as the nuts and bolts of running a business takes precedence. Find ways to get back to basics, or find ways to blend business with your interests. If you're creative you can incorporate almost any outside interest into any industry. When you do, whatever income you generate is gravy, especially if you get paid to do something you would do for free.

Symbolic work-life boundaries are almost impossible to maintain, because you are your business. To create a better work-life balance, look for ways to include family instead of ways to exclude work. And look for ways to recapture what you love about your business, and, if possible, include a few personal interests too.

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