How to improve your work-life balance when running your own business
The UK has never been short of budding entrepreneurs. In fact, according to a survey in 2020, 64% of the UK workforce wants to set up their own business. But what's holding them back?
A quarter of British entrepreneurs are put off starting a business by a fear of stress, as well as other factors, like not spending enough time with their family. We want to help entrepreneurs achieve a positive work-life balance, so they can get rid of that unnecessary stress, grow their business with confidence, and maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle.
Laura Painter set up her small copywriting business, Pig Pen, in 2019. We asked her how she manages to maintain a healthy work-life balance, while running her own business. Here's what she had to say.
Why did you start your own business?
Like lots of women I found it hard to find the flexibility I needed at work after I had a baby. There was a whole world of extra work and life admin that just didn't exist before, and no extra hours in the day. My business partner Beth and I have been friends since school and we often talked about setting up our own copywriting business. When I decided to change my work situation we agreed to join forces and Pig Pen was born.
Finding that work-life balance can be hard. Do you feel you've achieved this?
Yes. I work three days a week at the moment - which means I've got a pretty even split between life and work. Although that will change when my daughter goes to school in September. These days, work is much more focused on getting things done than on being in a certain place during certain hours. I can plan my own day and make sure it works for me.
What does a positive work-life balance look like to you?
It sounds cliché, but for me a positive work-life balance is about working to live, not living to work. I want to work hard and do something I find fulfilling, and I want our business to grow. But I don't want that to be everything. Family time is every bit as important, although not always less work.
What are your biggest challenges running your own business?
Time! There's always more we could be doing. And because we're the ones delivering the work, it's hard to carve out the time for business development. But we're expanding our network of writers to free ourselves up more.
What are your top three tips for maintaining a positive work-life balance?
- Set boundaries and be disciplined about them – I don't always manage this, but I try and carve out specific times or days for work, during which I'm completely focused on the job at hand. And when I'm not working, I'm focused on other important things, like being present for my daughter. When I try to do both, I feel like I'm compromising in both areas. Having dedicated work time helps me to be more productive because I know I've only got that window, and there's no time to be browsing celebrity gossip online! I also have to remind myself quite often that some things can wait. There's rarely an email that can't wait until the next day.
- Create a separate space for work – my husband converted our garage into a home office and my work partner Beth and I work from there. That physical separation really helps with maintaining boundaries, and stops me from just quickly putting a wash on. (Glamorous.)
- Time that's just for you - it's easy just to move between 'work' work and 'home' work. But time that's just for me is crucial, whether that's doing some exercise, taking a proper lunch break, or reading a chapter of my book. It's very easy not to, but I can really feel the difference in my state of mind when I do. Mental health matters.
How do you manage your time and stay productive?
I'm a big fan of a list and the psychological benefits of ticking things off it. If I've written down everything I have to achieve, I'm much more likely to do it all. It also helps me pace my day and reduces stress. During lockdown, when Beth was having to homeschool, she used an app that sets 25 minute work blocks with five minute breaks in between, and a 30 minute break after four blocks. She found it really useful for setting achievable goals and feeling productive. And five minutes is just enough time to make a cup of tea and eat a biscuit.
Do you think flexibility plays an important role in maintaining a work-life balance?
I think flexibility is crucial to running a successful business, but I'm not sure it contributes to the work-life balance. The risk is that you end up being flexible with your personal time – working into the evenings and on weekends, or squeezing in a quick call on a day you're not meant to be working. It doesn't work in quite the same way the other way round.
Do you think a healthy lifestyle contributes to a positive work-life balance?
Definitely. It contributes so positively to your mental health and energy levels. I try to build exercise into my week and eat well. But I also eat a lot of Haribo, so it's a work in progress. I also believe that happy is the new healthy, so I always try to stay positive. We all have bad days, but if you can smile and laugh through them, it not only makes you a happier and healthier person, but the people around you too.
Whether you're starting a business from scratch or it's already off the ground, creating a work-life balance is an important aspect of any entrepreneur. Here's a roundup of Laura's top tips:
- Plan your days to make them work for you, not the other way around.
- Make time for friends and family.
- Delegate if possible. Expanding your network will free up your time.
- Set boundaries and stick to them.
- Create a separate space for work.
- Make time just for yourself (that isn't just household chores).
- Try writing lists or download a to-do list app.
- Take regular breaks away from your screen, or workspace.
- Be flexible - but don't work into your evenings.
- Stay physically fit. A healthy body helps a healthy brain.