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Maintaining work-life balance

How entrepreneurs can cope when work and personal lives collide

4-minute read

According to a BDC survey on the mental health of small business owners, 41% of those surveyed said they need support to better balance work and family.

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. They are in fact one of the greatest sources of stress, affecting 54% of those surveyed, which is a significant increase over recent years.

For business owners whose personal life and work tend to overlap, it may be a good idea to seek harmony, rather than balance, between these two spheres.

“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.

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 difficult times, 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

“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 the time to stop and see if you actually want something different.

“We often talk about how to bounce back after hard times,” 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.”

Put your well-being first

Visit our page on entrepreneurs’ well-being to find testimonials, practical tips and other resources to support and prioritize your mental health.

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