December 15, 2016

24 Leaders Get Real on Balancing Work and Life [Actionable Tips for 2017]

by Zirtual Team

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The end of the calendar year is an extremely busy time for most entrepreneurs and business leaders. From the months of October-December, most of us are busy converting new customers, fulfilling last-minute orders, launching special holiday campaigns and offers, and trying to drive as much business as we can before the new year.

In addition, a lot of us spend the last few months of the year evaluating successes and failures, adjusting budgets, and deciding how teams will grow or shrink in the year ahead.

It’s one of the most taxing times of the year for anyone managing a business.

It’s also the time of year when it’s easiest to neglect friendships, personal hobbies, and family life.

When business is booming and you’re quickly approaching important year-end deadlines, the last thing on your mind is the idea of taking a break to reset.

But if you want to survive as an entrepreneur and build a successful business, it’s essential that you make an effort to invest in work life balance—that’s the general consensus we got when we asked 24 entrepreneurs, founders, and business leaders the following 2 questions:

  • Question #1: Why does work/life balance matter to you? Why is it important? Why do you make it a priority? Why should it matter to other entrepreneurs and leaders?
  • Question #2: What is your #1 actionable tip for balancing work and life / work and family?

These are the open and honest responses they shared with us:

Why does work/life balance matter to you? Why is it important? Why do you make it a priority? Why should it matter to other entrepreneurs and leaders? 

There’s long-been a damaging belief among aspiring entrepreneurs that in order to be successful and make it big, you have to sacrifice everything—your time, your relationships, your family, your hobbies, your sanity. We wanted to hear the truth from a handful of entrepreneurs. This is what they told us:

“Work/life balance is important to me because I've realized that being out of balance causes more stress, tension - even physical sickness, which gets in the way of productivity and halts my goals.” — William Harris (@wmharris101), CEO at Elumynt

“My work is better when my life is balanced. My life is better when my work is balanced.” — Benjamin Twichell (@benkimotwichell), Marketing Director at WisePops

“Although there are certain periods in everyone's life that there is no work/life balance (some periods we might have to work A LOT and some others we might want to focus on other activities), it's very important to have a balance overall. The reason for that is that we are doing a disservice to our clients, team and product if we burn out and the journey is more important than the end goal. So, it's good to enjoy the process while building a successful business/career.” — Alex Chaidaroglou (@achaidaroglou), CEO & Cofounder at Altosight LTD

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“It matters because my job is not my life, and my life is more important than my job. I don't buy this Silicon Valley notion of dedicating your life to your job or your business. I don't think it's necessary for business success, or even beneficial. I think it's antiquated. I tell my team, "This business matters a lot to me, but my family comes first, and I hope your families come before your job." By putting the most important things first, I'm happier, but I think our business is also more successful because our team is incredibly loyal and dedicated as a result.” — Josh Steimle (@joshsteimle), CEO at MWI

“There will always be a something urgent, interesting and cool in the life of an entrepreneur, but children grow up and leave and so do spouses. So make time to see the growth of your children and invest time to add "project spouse" to your important task manager list.” — Dennis van der Heijden (@dennisvdheijden), CEO at Convert.com

“Because like a racehorse you cannot constantly have it running races. It needs rest, time in the paddock, training and prep. You need to treat yourself the same. All the most successful entrepreneurs have a good work life balance!” — Nathan Chan (@foundr), CEO at Foundr Magazine

“We do this because we want the freedom to focus on what's important to us. As you go down the entrepreneurship rabbit hole, it tends to have the opposite effect where you're working more than ever and even when given a choice, you pick work. This is completely backwards. Family first!” — Ajay Paghdal (@ajaypaghdal), CEO at Youth Noise

“I have two levels: uninterested and obsessed. There's very little in between, so when I like something or pick up a hobby, I want to do it all the time. Obviously I can't do every hobby all the time, and I still have to work. So I'm big on making the most of every minute to make time for all the things I love - like my day job, blogging, and dance classes - instead of having to choose.” — Brittany Berger (@thatbberg), Content Marketer at BrittanyBerger.com

“In the long run, I am aiming for more life, instead of work. However, the problem we face as entrepreneurs is that there is always more we could be doing in our business. And when you are just starting something, that will always take priority. But, in the long run you have to be careful to keep a balance. Why? Because it helps keep you on track. If you don't do sport, eat well, or maintain relationships, things will go south very quickly. You will become tired, unfit, maybe sick and ultimately not happy. All things that will affect your business too! So even though it may seem like a waste of time (not working on the business) it is very important that you are 100% at all times! Not only that, but you have to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Usually it is to maintain a level of lifestyle for your family or to give yourself more time (your priorities will differ from mine). But try to keep those in mind when planning your time. Otherwise life will take a backseat to work every time.” — Ashley Faulkes (@madlemmingz), Founder at Mad Lemmings

“Work/life balance matters to me because as often as I may fail, I strive to do my work and life all to the glory of God. Practically, that means being diligent to do everything to the best of my ability. I believe it's important for other entrepreneurs/leaders because we are holistically beings. If we don't get enough exercise, we'll be prone to sickness, which can make work harder. If live is stressful at home, that will cloud the decisions made at work.”  — Jason Quey (@jdquey), Founder at Cofounders With Class

“Regardless of how hectic your schedule becomes, you'll eventually burn out if you don't find a balance between work and life. That balance can be insanely 70/30 skewed one way - that's okay. It's a balance that you're constantly trying to achieve, and that's why it's important. It helps you re-calibrate as to why you're working so hard. When I get more "life/family time" in, I get to take a step back and remember why I decided to work so hard in the first place - to get myself a yacht. Lol jk, to provide for my family ;)” — Johnathan Dane (@JohnathanDane), Founder/CEO at KlientBoost

“Burnout is a huge problem, and I've struggled with it off and on. But being more intentional about my boundaries has made a huge difference.” — Kaleigh Moore (@kaleighf), Freelance Writer at Lumen

“When we focus too much on work, we're hurting ourselves in the long-term. We don't realize that the more we work, the higher the chances of us running out of creative ideas and burning out. Eventually, as much as you enjoy doing the work, if you ignore other aspects of your life, especially your social life, you'll end up becoming unhappy.” — Sid Bharath (@Siddharth87), VP of Growth at Thinkific

“Work is fleeting. I've made great friends at work and built cool sub-communities. But you move on from jobs, and after a few months you don't talk as much to those people -- sounds cold, but it just happens. But family, that's forever. To go home and talk to people who genuinely and unconditionally care about your successes and failures, that's what really matters.  I actually moved from Minnesota to Texas for a job, and my girlfriend picked up and moved with me, too. She knew no one in Texas and had to find a new job (when she already had an awesome one back home). How terrible would it be if she went through all that and we only saw each other for 2-3 hours a day? Life is about balance, and if someone is selfless enough to sacrifice for you then you need to be selfless enough to sacrifice for them -- and for many driven entrepreneurs, that means trading time at work for time with your loved ones.” — Sean Bestor (@sbestor15), Head of Content at SumoMe

“Work life balance matters, because entrepreneurs have a tendency to work themselves to the bone. One could argue that if you are truly dedicated to growing your passions, than it's not really work—and to a degree that's true; however, I'd argue that you must completely remove yourself from work on occasion to see your efforts from a new perspective. Often times these breaks help me overcome challenges, career plateaus, and satisfy my responsibilities within my family and home life.” — Jacob Warwick (@jacobwarwick), Founder at Warwick Communications

“Work/life balance helps some entrepreneurs avoid burnout. Personally, I need it to keep my brain active and to produce my best creative work.” — Shayla Price (@shaylaprice), B2B Content Marketer

“Without having a work/life balance I wouldn't be happy. I take a few vacations a year that are often more than a week-long. This lets me relax, unwind, and then refocus. If you're constantly working, you will miss the big picture.” — Nathan Resnick (@naterez94), CEO at Sourcify

“I'm a father of two young boys and husband to my beautiful wife, so this topic really resonates with me. You will never feel satisfied with the amount of time you spend on work, and if you are like me, you will also never be satisfied with the amount of time you spend with your family. Neither is ever enough, but when I step back and think about the bigger picture, it always makes me prioritize my family, knowing that I won't achieve everything I want in business. I work hard in business to enjoy the rewards with my family, so it's critical that I give them the love and attention needed to enjoy that life together.” — Aaron Agius (@IAmAaronAgius), Managing Director at Louder Online

“It's essential for us to have a balance to allow us to ask more of ourselves in everything we do, if we blinker out the world, we end up stagnating and being sub-par at both work and life. Additionally, beyond the detrimental effects to your work efficiency, there's genuinely no point in working hard for rewards such as being in control of your daily routine and earning more money, if you don't actually put both liberties to good use!” — Matthew Spurr (@MatthewSpurr), COO / Co-Founder at Quuu

“Work/life balance matters to me because all of the wealth and success is meaningless if there's no one to share it with or I'm too sick to enjoy it. For this reason, I place a great deal of importance on my personal health and the relationships I have with my friends and family.” — Christopher Gimmer (@cgimmer), Co-Founder at Snappa

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“Being a successful entrepreneur takes tenacity, consistency, and long-term commitment. If you don't prioritize work/life balance, you WILL burn out and drop out of your venture prematurely, and you can't be a successful entrepreneur without putting in the time. It's happened to me, it's happened to thousands of others, and all it takes to combat it is a consistent, deliberate effort to have a life outside of work.” — Sujan Patel (@sujanpatel), GM and Co-Founder at Web Profits

“Having a balance between your work life and personal life makes you more productive. If your evenings are stressful and full of extra work from the day, you eat more unhealthily, exercise less, and get worse sleep. All of those negatively impact your productivity and effectiveness at the office.” — Shrad Rao (@wagepoint), CEO at Wagepoint

“We work hard so that we can have a life, but it’s easy to forget that you need to actually enjoy life every day. Happiness, focus, and a positive mentality improve the speed at which you work, serving as a positive feedback loop for getting more stuff done yet taking less time. So while it may feel counter-intuitive, working less and having more fun can actually result in more work getting done (when done right).” — Derric Haynie (@Sixpeppers), CEO at SplashOPM

"Family is everything. If we're not building a business and working hard for our families, what are we working towards? But the less obvious answer, lies in the kind of culture and values you want your company and team to live by. As a CEO and entrepreneur, you're a role model for the entire team. If you're working long hours, not taking vacation and de-prioritizing family, there's a  higher chance this behavior will infiltrate throughout the business and negatively impact company morale and retention. When we started Unbounce, we wanted to create a culture a committed to flexibility and family. At Unbounce, we give 1 month of paid time off for both new mothers and fathers, we make it mandatory for employees to take all 4-weeks of their vacation each year, we give employees the flexibility to work from home and we even allow our furry friends in the office." — Rick Perreault (@rickperreault), CEO at Unbounce

What is your #1 actionable tip for balancing work and life / work and family?

We loved the honest and transparent responses that we got from this group of professionals, but we wanted to dig in a bit deeper. We wanted to find out how these busy entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders actually go about balancing work and life. Here’s what they told us:

“Setting a schedule. My work day pauses at 5pm. That's when I go home to help my kids with homework, make dinner, hold the baby, or whatever else is most helpful for our family at that time. We sit down and eat together, read together, do our bedtime routine together. Once the kids are in bed, I'm back on my computer working through the night. It's not perfectly balanced, but it's what works for us right now. Setting that schedule is critical to making sure that my family knows that I'm still here, even when I'm working "founder's" hours.” — William Harris (@wmharris101), CEO at Elumynt

“You schedule time for work, right? So you have to do that same for life/family. It doesn't have to be so formal as a google invite, but there needs to be at least a conscious mental dedication set aside. I've found myself unbalanced when I'm scheduling my work time and assuming my life and family time will simply follow.” — Benjamin Twichell (@benkimotwichell), Marketing Director at WisePops

“My number #1 tip is following the schedule of most people. I am in B2B, so it makes sense to give it my all Monday-Friday, but in the weekend it's good to relax. Usually, I will see some friends, have dinner and do some light work during Sunday. That way, I meet people where we might be able to help each other, have fun and recharge to have the mind capacity to give it my all again next week. Sunday is used as a stepping stone into Monday for maximum efficiency.” — Alex Chaidaroglou (@achaidaroglou), CEO & Cofounder at Altosight LTD

“Create boundaries. I used to work 100+ hours per week, sleep at the office, and never saw my wife. So we created a rule that I would end work at 5 pm, M-F. Not only did my relationship with my wife improve, but setting boundaries meant I had to be more strategic about my work which led to huge growth in my business. Win-win.” — Josh Steimle (@joshsteimle), CEO at MWI

“Be strict with time, my calendar is blocked in the afternoons for family time. A solid slot of a couple of hours every day lets the company team member know they can handle urgent things or wait, while family knows I'm there.” — Dennis van der Heijden (@dennisvdheijden), CEO at Convert.com

“Utilizing your calendar is everything. Once it goes in your calendar, it's happening. You treat family time / work life balance as part of your schedule!” — Nathan Chan (@foundr), CEO at Foundr Magazine

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“Entrepreneurship can be all-consuming, leaving the people you care about feeling like second citizens. It's easy to focus on your work and let other things slide but making those important to you feel important is key. Just like I set calendar appointments for business, I've applied that same principle to other parts of my life too. Every morning, I've got a call scheduled with my significant other to catch up. At dinner time, I've got an appointment that says focus on family, not work. In the evening, I've got time blocked off for family. Simple reminders like this have gone a long way.” — Ajay Paghdal (@ajaypaghdal), CEO at Youth Noise

“Make sure to block off your most productive hours for your hardest work, even if that means making sacrifices. For me, I'm most productive at night. That means missing out on prime time TV (and I looooove my TV), going out with friends after work, and staying up late. That's when I'll get the most out of working on my side hustle. While it may make more sense for me to wake up early to work on it as others do, I know I'd get less done and have to work more in the long run.” — Brittany Berger (@thatbberg), Content Marketer at BrittanyBerger.com

“Setting expectations is the most crucial step for me. Whether it is family and friends, or clients, having the wrong expectations leads us all to problems, arguments, and failed relationships. Let me give you an example. You should let your client know when they can expect to hear from you and in what form. Sometimes they may want a say in this, but either way, it should always be discussed. From a personal level, I find it best to agree, especially with your spouse, on how you will balance work and life. When we take vacation, I rarely, if ever work - unless there is an emergency. That is what we have agreed upon. On weekends, we try to prioritize everything else: family, house, sport, fun, friends. If there is some quiet time, I may work if necessary, but not very often. Things are flexible but focused - on life balance and relationships.” — Ashley Faulkes (@madlemmingz), Founder at Mad Lemmings

“The biggest part that has helped me balance work and life has been to set up guard rails. Even though I can pick and choose my hours, I set specific times when I am working and when I will spend time with friends and family. This has given me peace of mind in being present with what I am doing.” — Jason Quey (@jdquey), Founder at Cofounders With Class

“When running a business, there is no balance. There's no zen. There's no harmony. The truth is, things can get chaotic - and I've found that my favorite thing to do is not complain. If there was some silver bullet, I would've found it a long time ago. But for now, it's rolling up your sleeves and working late when everyone else in the family is asleep. It's the only way I can focus and get things done.” — Johnathan Dane (@JohnathanDane), Founder/CEO at KlientBoost

“Set real office hours, and stick to them. Turn of email push notifications. Make rigid boundaries that keep you from working when you shouldn't be.” — Kaleigh Moore (@kaleighf), Freelance Writer at Lumen

“It's easy to get sucked into work because there's always something you need to do to grow your company. However, by neglecting other aspects of your life, you're actually shooting yourself in the foot in the long-term. To maintain work/life balance, I use the same system that I do at work - schedule it in! Block off times in your calendar to meet friends or family, go snowboarding, learn salsa, or whatever else to take your mind off work and regain your creative energy.” — Sid Bharath (@Siddharth87), VP of Growth at Thinkific

“I do everything I can to make sure the 9-10 hours I work a day are full and focused. I read about a company that has its employees work 5 hours a day and they get a ton done because they're laser-focused during those 5 hours. When you block off your day into chunks and set goals, you'd be surprised how much you can accomplish in a day. I keep in mind two things:  First, there's always work to do. Work will never be done, and you could work 18 hours a day and still find more and more to do. So be at peace with setting goals for a day and hitting those goals. Second, I used to work in radio, and literally my second day on-air the worst thing happens -- the sound board dies. That means no music, no words, nada...just dead air. I'm freaking out because every second feels like an hour. I called the station manager, half-sputtering out words a mile a minute. He laughed and said something I'll never forget: "Sean, we're not flying an airplane. No one is going to die. It's radio." For most of us, our work doesn't mean the difference between life and death. So just putting work into perspective of bigger things like family, living your life and realizing NOT sending out an email won't end the world makes it easier to unplug every day.” — Sean Bestor (@sbestor15), Head of Content at SumoMe

“3 F's—Fresh air, friends, and family. My business is largely conducted online. Whether I'm prospecting new clients, advertising my offerings or executing content strategy and copywriting, it's all be done online—and often supplemented on my phone. The continual connection to a computer can often leave me feeling disconnected from reality. I make a point to take several fresh air breaks, typically without my phone. Whether a walk around the block or a dedicated trek across town, the act of simply moving outside helps clear my head, keep me grounded on what's truly important, (such as friends and family) and even helps me brainstorm ways to improve my work and life as a whole. Furthermore, separating my office and home environment, which sometimes overlap, has been a challenge that I'm continuing to work on. I make it a point to go on walks with my girlfriend and friends as much as possible to remove myself (and them) from technology and the office.” — Jacob Warwick (@jacobwarwick), Founder at Warwick Communications

“Create a schedule and stick to it. Personally, I use Trello to help organize my workload and family activities. Knowing what I need to do and when I need to do it establishes some balance in my life.” — Shayla Price (@shaylaprice), B2B Content Marketer

“Focus on what you enjoy. If there is an aspect of my business that I don't like working on, I usually end up outsourcing it. This enables me to focus on my strengths and build a rock solid team by hiring people for what they like focusing on as well.” — Nathan Resnick (@naterez94), CEO at Sourcify

“I attend EVERY important event, milestone and often terrible school concerts because it matters to them. If i need to catch up on work, I simply sleep less and manage to get way better at systematizing things so i can delegate and outsource.” — Aaron Agius (@IAmAaronAgius), Managing Director at Louder Online

“I have found that using apps like Balanced have made me more mindful of the balance that I need to strike in order to keep my mind and body working most efficiently. I am subtly reminded each day that I need to go drink some water, call an old friend once a month, watch a TED Talk every week, hit the gym every 2 days etc.” — Matthew Spurr (@MatthewSpurr), COO / Co-Founder at Quuu

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“My #1 tip is to actually be present when you're spending time with friends and family. If you're constantly checking emails while you're supposed to be spending quality time with your significant other, they will feel neglected. I was really bad at this! Even if you end up working long hours, your family will really appreciate it if you completely turn off work when you're spending time with them and make them feel like a priority.” — Christopher Gimmer (@cgimmer), Co-Founder at Snappa

“Managing your stress level is crucial to work-life balance. Ideally, your work can stay at work and you have a few hours at night to work out, relax, and not be tying up loose ends or stressing about work when you're off the clock. To combat this, I put about 3 to 4 hours of work in on Sundays, clearing out my inbox, planning out the week, and tackling the busy work that often gets pushed to the weekday evenings. It puts me in a great position to take on the week, and more importantly, reduces the unproductive hour or two of weekday night work that pulls you out of relax mode and puts you back into work mode.” — Sujan Patel (@sujanpatel), GM and Co-Founder at Web Profits

“The best way I've found to achieve work/life balance is to always think in 80/20. For example, I could spend an evening editing a blog post, making it absolutely perfect, but before I dive into a project like this, I always ask myself "will this move the needle?" If tying up that last 20% and making it perfect won't make much of a difference, I let it go and enjoy the extra few hours I've saved.” — Shrad Rao (@wagepoint), CEO at Wagepoint

“I think the easiest (yet feels the hardest) thing to do is turn off your phone or put it in another room. Once the phone is out of your hands, you know you won't get distracted and can now focus on the people around you. There's actually a new app called Ransomly coming out that will block you from accessing your phone just to solve this problem. Whether you need the app or not, put the phone away!” — Derric Haynie (@Sixpeppers), CEO at SplashOPM

"Schedule recurring 'family time' in your calendar. In my house, Sundays are family days. This is the one day of the week when inboxes, phones and to-do list are put away and replaced with quality, distraction-free time with my wife and son. Making this regular commitment to be present for a certain amount of time, lessens the guilt I might feel after a series of long days and nights at the office - I know Sundays are always just around the corner." — Rick Perreault (@rickperreault), CEO at Unbounce

The Takeaway

As you probably know, there are A LOT of articles and resources online about the importance of work life balance. We set out to create a different kind of resource that offers real tips and advice from people who are in the exact same position as you. We wanted real advice from real people. The responses we received were inspiring! It’s our hope you take some of what you read today and apply it to your own life and situation as you wrap up the last few weeks of 2016.

Join the discussion: how do you manage work and life? Why is it important to you? Answer the two questions for yourself in the comments section below.

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