As an entrepreneur, you’re your own boss. That means more freedom—but also more responsibility to set boundaries.
Plus, if you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may work from home, which can present a number of challenges when it comes to keeping a balance between work and personal life. When your work and your life happen in the same physical place, it can be difficult to keep things cleanly separated.
In the previous chapter we talked about ways to better manage your time and focus, and this chapter is kind of a natural continuation of that conversation. Effectively balancing work and life has a lot to do with how you manage your time, as well as the physical space in which you operate.
Here's what to expect in this chapter:
- Work Schedule? What Work Schedule?
- Addressing the Two Big Entrepreneurial Work-Life Challenges
- Work-Life Balancing, and Why Planning Matters
Let me start by telling you a story about how I encountered my own time/space challenge, and how I navigated it.
Work Schedule? What Work Schedule?
Around 2010, my wife and I had what was probably one of the most important conversations we’ve ever had, and it was directly related to what I do online. It’s a conversation I will never forget because it had a lasting impact on my life, not just as an online entrepreneur, but also as a parent and a husband.
We had this conversation when our first child, Keoni, was just a baby. Because of this conversation, I’m able to be more focused on my work, and therefore very present and available to my kids, which means the world to me. It just goes to show how business lessons can apply and have such a positive effect on our personal lives too.
The subject of our discussion was my work schedule. The problem was: I didn’t have one.
As someone who has been somewhat successful online thus far earning a passive income, I do have the ability to work fewer hours, and if I really wanted to, not work at all. However, having this freedom to work whenever I want has put negative thoughts in my head about adhering to an actual schedule.
Why would I want to “force” myself to a schedule and work during specific hours of the day, when I have the freedom to work whenever I want?
I now know the answer.
There were a few problems with the lifestyle I was living prior to this life-changing conversation:
1. It was hard to decipher when I was working, and when I wasn’t.
Because I wasn’t on a schedule, it was often hard for my wife to know exactly when I was busy, and when I was not. Sometimes I’d be in my office doing work-related things, and sometimes I’d be in my office doing non-work-related things. If she wanted to talk about something, or needed some help with the baby, sometimes I’d be in the middle of something important, and sometimes I wouldn’t. It was tough for both of us.
2. Work was never “done” for the day.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, working from home is tough. It takes a lot of discipline to really clear your head of work-related items when you’re not working, because those work-related items can so easily be done at any time of the day.
Although my income streams at the time only required a few hours of work per week, I was spending a lot of my extra free time working on new projects to diversify and expand my passive income portfolio. Because of this, I felt like I could always do more work.
And that’s exactly what I ended up doing.
I compare it to a piece of artwork, or a painting—how do you ever know when it’s finished? It just seems like there’s always more you can do to make it better.
Not having a schedule made it really hard for me to stop.
3. There was too much randomness.
Not adhering to a schedule = total randomness.
This is a tough one, because a lot of us want to break free from that 9-to-5 schedule where it seems like every day is exactly the same. But at the same time, it’s that schedule that keeps our lives saner and less chaotic.
With a different schedule every day of the month, you can imagine how hard it was for my family and friends to understand when I was available, or when it was okay to plan events that involved me.
My wife and I (civilly) came up with a solution for this dilemma. It was basically a two-part solution:
- Create a schedule.
- Separate work stuff from non-work stuff.
Creating a Schedule
It was obvious that I needed to create a schedule, again not only for my wife’s sake, but for mine as well. Both she and I would then have a clear understanding of when I was working and unavailable (except for emergencies, obviously), and not working.
Before creating a schedule, I gave myself some guidelines:
- I didn’t want a straight 9-to-5 schedule.
- I wanted a long lunch.
- I wanted to allocate time on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday night to write blog posts for SPI, since I knew that’s when I wrote my best material.
- I wanted the schedule to be flexible, meaning I could trade time here and there throughout the week.
The nice thing is that if I didn’t have anything to work on, I could really easily just scrap those hours for the day and not worry about it. However, if I did have work to do, we’d all know exactly when that work was supposed to happen.
Result? I was more able to enjoy time I spent not working, and life just seemed that much better.
I’m really glad my wife and I had this discussion, and I think it’s one that everyone should have because it’s really easy for work-related things to get out of hand, making us forget sometimes why we’re really working in the first place.
Separating Work Stuff from Non-Work Stuff
How many times during the day are you actually working when you’re supposed to? Probably not as much as you should.
In fact, after literally keeping track of everything I did during a normal day, I noticed some rather disturbing issues, especially when it came to checking my emails and website stats, opening my Facebook account (personal, not the SPI page), and reading the news.
Basically, I was doing a lot of non-work-related things when I was supposed to be working. On the flip side, I was working (or thinking about work), when I probably shouldn’t have been.
So, how did we solve this problem?
It may sound a little odd to you, but I purchased a new MacBook Pro laptop computer.
Here’s why (and no, it wasn’t because I wanted a new laptop. That wasn’t even on my mind until this came up):
The computer in my office (an iMac) was where I did everything, including all of those personal things. It was hard for me to keep those things totally separate. By buying a laptop that was specifically just for personal, non-work-related items, I could more easily focus on work when I was supposed to work, and not be tempted to work when I was doing personal stuff.
Furthermore, because the laptop is portable, I could literally separate work from non-work stuff by keeping the office and the computer in it off limits during non-work hours.
I deleted all of my personal email accounts from my mail client on my work computer. I imported all of my personal bookmarks and files into the laptop, and deleted them from the iMac. All of my instant messaging and chat software (excluding Skype, which I use for business only), was transferred as well.
After I began living with this new setup, I began to notice major changes in my life, both in how much work I was actually able to get done as well as how I felt when work was “done” for the day. I was able to enjoy the time I spent not working even more.
After making these small steps toward a mindful separation of my work and personal life, I gradually found additional ways to keep work and life in their own spaces. The next step was to set up an office dedicated to my work-related stuff. When I’m in the office, I’m in work mode, and my family knows that. But when I’m not in the office, I can be totally present for my family, which is the best!
For a closer look at my home office, watch my office tour in SPI TV Ep. 2:
Addressing the Two Big Entrepreneurial Work-Life Challenges
Many people are attracted to the entrepreneurial way of life because it allows them to break away from the 9-to-5 routine: wake up, go to work, come home, then rinse and repeat. It’s nice to be able to work when you want to, and it’s especially nice to take a day off here and there.
However, without that routine in place, it’s tough to stay disciplined enough to work—or not work, when you should be doing the other. In the early days of working from home, I found myself always thinking about my business—and even doing work in the wee hours of the night—just because I could.
Don’t do what I did.
If you have a family, especially with children, this isn’t the healthiest of lifestyles. Strive to stay disciplined enough to give yourself some time away from work to do anything else and enjoy life.
First, create a schedule (like I did in the wake of my big conversation with my wife, April). Yes, even though we all want to break away from the routine, we still need some kind of schedule. Without it, our lives will be unpredictable and unstable. With a schedule in place, my mind knows when to stop thinking about my business and my family knows exactly when it’s “daddy time.”
Next, have a separate workspace. A physically separate workspace will do a couple of things. One, it will help you focus even more when you are working; and secondly, it will help stop you from being tempted to keep working when you shouldn’t. If there’s an office and it has a door—shut it. Along the same lines, a separate computer that is for only for personal use will further delineate the line between working and not working.
Even if you have a separate workspace, it can sometimes be tough to get into “work mode” because, well—you’re at home! It’s really easy to hit that snooze button and stay in bed just a little bit longer, and the television is always playing some interesting game show (or soap, if you’re into that) during the day.
Beyond a creating a schedule and having your own separate workspace, here are a few hacks I’ve learned that will help you get into work-mode even more:
- Get dressed for work at home. You don’t need to put on business attire, but if you change out of your PJs and into something for the day, your mind will be ready to do stuff and get things accomplished. Trust me: I’ve worked in my pajamas many times, and it’s really easy to just crawl right back into bed and go to sleep.
- Schedule important meetings or interviews early. If you know there’s something you must do, you’re more likely to get up in time and be ready for it. This is why I always try to schedule any interviews or meetings early in the morning.
- Exercise. After you exercise you often feel like you have more energy to do things—and there’s even research behind it. Of course, you have to make sure you’re drinking lots of fluids and eating right, or else you’re just going to feel tired instead.
In the next chapter, I’ll share a lot more advice about how to get—and stay—motivated when you’re just not feeling it.
Work-Life Balancing, and Why Planning Matters
When most people think about work-life balance, they imagine a scale that can only be perfectly balanced with equal weight on both sides. But I think this idea is flawed, and I’ll tell you why—along with how you should be thinking about work-life balance instead.
How I Like to Think About Work-Life Balance
First, realize that in life, things rarely fall cleanly into one category or another.
There are many aspects of “business” that are only “business”—but there are other aspects of “business” that also bleed into “life.” So when you’re trying to build a work-life balance, how do you know what’s “life” and what’s “business”? There can be a lot of overlap, so trying to put things in neat categories can often backfire.
The second thing is, many people try to build perfect balance in their lives, but this implies that work-life balance is a static thing. But that’s a myth. If you’re trying to build a life with perfect balance on both sides—work and personal—that never needs to be adjusted, you’re going to be doomed from the start.
Instead of a scale with two sides, I like to think of work-life balance more like a constantly changing painting. It’s much more complex, with different colors and shades and textures, light and dark.
It’s a painting that’s alive. It’s always evolving.
Instead of thinking about it as work-life balance, meaning things are perfectly balanced and stay that way, I prefer to think of it as work-life balancing. Instead of trying to create a fixed situation, it becomes an ongoing act of not wavering too far to one side or the other, making adjustments as you go and trying to paint a balanced picture.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, but I think it gets closer to the truth of this work-life balance thing, and it’s helped me create balance in my own life in the past decade of being an entrepreneur.
There are times when the painting becomes dominated by certain shades or colors, but I always do my best to intentionally rebalance things. After a moment or season where things are busy on the business side, I try to tip the scale the other way, to rebalance the shades and colors of the painting.
This is how I’ve lived my life and run my business over the past ten years, and it’s worked out really well.
For instance, after launching a brand new course, a lot of time, money, effort, and focus goes into producing and marketing it. There are usually several weeks where I’m super focused on the course and less focused on my family.
However, after that busy period winds down, I make sure to spend dedicated time with my family, so I can focus on them and only them.
This is the part of the beauty of being an entrepreneur. You can create these yins and yangs, these darks and lights, these salt and pepper shakers or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of your life. The things that balance each other out. Your life will rarely be balanced within a single day or even a few weeks, but that’s okay as long as you’re aware of it and do something about it. You just need to do your best to not let the scale teeter too far to one side or the other.
The Power of Planning
But there’s a key element to successfully rebalancing, or adjusting the painting.
You have to understand that you can’t balance for light and dark, yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, or however else you want to describe it, unless you plan for it. But this is where I see a lot of newer entrepreneurs get into trouble. They get really excited about diving into their new business idea. They go in full-force and don’t consider what might happen on the other end.
They don’t think about how they’re going to balance all this work that they’re doing.
They end up creating tension, and their quality of life starts to suffer. Maybe it’s their health or fitness, or their relationships, but something starts to give.
One of the biggest keys to avoid this is to plan ahead.
In a lot of my courses, I talk about the importance of planning for the year using a calendar. Planning is crucial when it comes to your business. You need to know what’s going to happen and when, or you’re going to run into trouble. But planning isn’t just useful to make sure you’re taking adequate breaks between running promotions—it’s also useful for your sanity. Calendar planning can be incredibly helpful in creating work-life balance.
You can use your calendar to balance out the busy periods with lighter ones, to make sure you’re giving adequate attention to both your business and your health/family/hobbies/friends. Assign a timeframe around your busy periods, then plan some downtime coming out of them. Set up your calendar so you can actually see those blocks of time—work and “regular” life—set against each other.
There’s no magic formula or easy answer to make work and life balance perfectly. You have to figure out a lot of it as you go. But no matter what, planning ahead can still make a big difference.
This is something I addressed on the SPI Podcast in 2019 with one of my favorite people: Chalene Johnson. Chalene has helped a ton of people improve their health and fitness, as well as their businesses and yes, their work-life balance. She shares the work-life balance mistakes she’s made over the years and how they’ve helped her grow. We also talk about how Chalene and her family use written personal policies and procedures to set goals and keep track of when something is taking over their lives.
In chapter 5, we’ll talk a lot more about how to get and stay motivated so you can do the work that matters.