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Maintaining work-life balance in a crisis

How entrepreneurs can cope when work and personal lives collide

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For entrepreneurs, whose work and personal lives tend to be intermingled, work-life harmony may be a better aspiration than work-life balance—especially in a crisis such as COVID-19 when working from home is the norm.

Clinical psychologist and CEO/Founder of MyWorkplaceHealth Joti Samra (R.Psych.) says conventional concepts about work-life balance are often overly restrictive for entrepreneurs and actually introduce more stress into their lives.

“A lot of people think work-life balance means working only a fixed number of hours a week, or clocking out at a certain time of day and leaving work behind,” says Samra. “That’s not realistic for most entrepreneurs. The boundaries are naturally blurry.”

She advocates instead for work-life ‘harmony,’ which is focusing on getting all the pieces to ‘play’ well together. That will look different for each person and evolve over time as work and personal circumstances shift, the way they have during the coronavirus pandemic.

“With many people working exclusively from home, our worlds have completely collided, which means people aren’t getting a break on either front,” Samra says.

Why harmony matters

Without work-life harmony, Samra says entrepreneurs may be at risk of burnout.

Burnout is an occupational phenomenon recognized by the World Health Organization that results from unmanaged chronic occupation-related stressors.

“Most entrepreneurs are very high achievers with a lot of ideas and plans,” she says. “Usually, that works well for them, but it can lead to burnout if they don’t get a chance to recharge.”

According to Samra, signs of burnout include physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, trouble concentrating, feeling emotionally distant from things you used to enjoy, irritability and distraction. All of these can impact productivity and the quality of work.

We often talk about how to bounce back after a crisis, but I think those challenges are an opportunity to make changes so you can bounce forward instead.

Tips for achieving work-life harmony

Samra suggests three things entrepreneurs can do to harmonize their work and personal lives and insulate themselves from burnout:

1. Let go of perfectionism

“Many people aspire to be the perfect parent and the perfect boss,” she says, “and to be fit, eat well, get eight hours of sleep every night, have quality time with all their friends and family. But it’s not realistic. You’re not going to hit an A+ in every one of those areas every day of your life.”

Giving yourself the flexibility to focus on one area at a time and not feel guilty about it will go a long way to keeping your self-expectations manageable and your stress under control, Samra says.

“Sometimes, spending some time with your kids means you’ll have to skip a workout. Or getting a new product launched means you’ll see less of your friends for a few weeks.”

2. Be intentional about what you focus on

She advises setting work and personal priorities—knowing what’s non-negotiable and has to get done today, this week or this month, identifying the actions you need to take to achieve those priorities, and accepting that other things will have to wait.

“It’s hard, because there are almost always too many things on the to-do list,” she says. “You have to be OK with letting some of them go.”

3. Hit the pause button

“In a way, this coronavirus situation has given us a gift,” says Samra. “As entrepreneurs, we’re always going, always doing, and it’s hard to find the time to stop, look around and adjust our work-life harmony.”

She suggests taking advantage of this forced slow-down to ask yourself if you want to return to the status quo when things start ramping up again, or if you actually want something different.

“We often talk about how to bounce back after a crisis,” she says. “There is an opportunity to make changes so you can bounce forward instead—and get yourself one step closer to your ideal life.”

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