Get real, ‘Demi-Downtime’ is the key to work-life balance for entrepreneurs (and others)
Work-life balance for entrepreneurs? You must be joking! Isn’t work-life balance all about having plenty of time off? That doesn’t fit with entrepreneurship. We all know that running your own business involves hard work and long hours and that as an entrepreneur you most probably love your work.
Of course, the top goal of any new business is still to be in business this time next year. The one thing you have more control over than anything else is how hard you work. You’re the only person to blame if your business fails because you haven’t worked hard enough. So, how do you strike a balance? Family life, relationships, your health and fitness all need your time if they aren’t going to suffer unduly.
The answer lies in recognising that, in reality, work and life are not separate entities. Work is part of your life, and the best entrepreneur never stops thinking about it, even if it’s only in the back of his or her mind, working subconsciously on business issues. And lifeis part of work, because to maximise your success as an entrepreneur you need downtime, or what I prefer to call ‘Demi-Downtime’, for family, relationships, exercise, thinking and reflecting.
Demi-Downtime is the real-life state of mind when you’ve left the office and you’re not full on ‘at work’. It is however when you are still mulling over work issues, thinking through challenges, coming up with ideas, making decisions generally in the back of your mind, sometimes consciously and sometimes sub-consciously. If you are an entrepreneur, this zone will be instantly familiar to you.
So Demi-Downtime exists when you are quite likely to be doing something else: relaxing in the bath, jogging, hitting the gym, lying in bed, watching the news or even, dare I suggest, socially interacting with family and or friends. Every successful entrepreneur has these overlap zones, where while relaxing or socialising, they are also contemplating business issues. In reality it’s a two way street and just the same as daydreaming about beaches or snow covered peaks while at work. Demi-Downtime is an essential time for any entrepreneur. It’s removed from day to day pressure and provides quality thinking time. It’s what successful entrepreneurs do to relax.
Most entrepreneurs don’t recognise much of what is written about work-life balance as relevant to themselves. Too often commentators, advisers and academics seek to define the topic in terms of a golden ideal based on separate zones. However, I would suggest that nearly all entrepreneurs will be quite comfortable with the concept of Demi-Downtime.
So assuming you effectively adopt and manage the ‘Demi-Downtime’ concept, you will find a golden opportunity to merge work and life into one entity and get it all right all the time. Here are some ideas to help:
1. Get rid of any concept of switching your phone off over weekends or not picking up emails. You’re an entrepreneur not a 9-5 employee. Work for an entrepreneur never stops: simply move into Demi-Downtime mode over weekends. That means you’re always (well nearly always) available on the phone for important issues and you keep on top of your emails. So by Monday you’re on top of work, you’re on the ball, you know what’s happening and you’re running at maximum effectiveness and efficiency. By running in this mode you are of course ideally placed to relax or enjoy the company of family and friends fully too.
2. Plan your Demi-Downtime activities and add them to your schedule before you put in other commitments. Don’t let them go lightly and, when you have to, aim to move rather than cancel them.
3. Start early and don’t finish too late. It’s well known that, for the large majority of people, productivity between 7am and 11am is at least twice that between 5pm and 9pm, so ideally aim to be winding down around 5-5.30pm, and moving into Demi-Downtime and leaving work by 6-7pm.
4. Try hard not to be out of home on business for more than 12 hours a day. That will allow you to spend some quality time with your family, usually in the evenings. Later in the evening you can put a little more focus into work, catching up on emails and/or thinking and planning.
5. Take a decent lunch break and think of it as Demi-Downtime. Get out of the office, take some fresh air and relax. Use it to talk to a colleague about a work issue, or to take a no pressure more relaxed reflection on today’s challenges. You’ll be back in the office, re-energised, refreshed, and full of drive.
6. Don’t stress about work-life balance. Accept that for an entrepreneur work is life and life is work, just that there are times when work is at the top of the agenda, and times when it’s second or third, and only very few times when it’s not on the agenda at all.
Since writing this article, several people have pointed out that demi-downtime does not just apply to entrepreneurs. I agree that this is a completely valid point – demi-downtime can be used successfully by anyone for whom work is an important part of life (or vice versa perhaps?).
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