How to Find and Maintain Work-Life Balance

How to Find and Maintain Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is notoriously difficult for entrepreneurs. But it's not impossible. Here's how you can find your perfect balance

By Richard Walton

There's no real definition of work-life balance. It means something different for every entrepreneur, depending on the way they work and the stage they're at with their business. In the course of my 20-year career, my balance has fluctuated enormously.

I started my first business at the age of 21, whilst living on an island off the coast of Honduras. For the first few years I was hooked on the excitement and adrenalin of doing something new, but as the company grew, I was forced to take a more managerial role and ended up stressed, overweight and unhappy living in English suburbia.

A warning from the doctor forced me to rethink my lifestyle, so my wife and I uprooted and moved to a remote corner of Costa Rica. I ran my business from the beach for four years, until we both started to crave something more than raw food and conversations about the quality of surf.

I now live in Cape Town, a kind of halfway point between the two extremes, where I have recently entered back into turbo mode with my new startup, AVirtual. This time though, I'm better prepared to handle the stress. Here's what I've learnt about work-life balance, and how I manage to hold onto it even in the most hectic moments.

Balance comes from your mind

I realise this is a frustratingly vague piece of advice, but it is the most important thing I've learnt about work-life balance: it's not necessarily about the hours you're working, it's about your perspective.

Let's rewind for a minute to when I was 27 years old, wedged behind a desk, updating spreadsheets. I was six years into running GVI, a business that I had founded to bring together my passion for adventure and conservation, and yet, whilst I was sending young people to remote corners of the earth, my world was becoming increasingly smaller. I'd lost all enthusiasm for my work, which was making me an ineffective leader, and more seriously, I was frightened about the future, about where I'd end up, and about what kind of father I'd be to my first child.

I realise this is a frustratingly vague piece of advice, but it is the most important thing I've learnt about work-life balance: it's not necessarily about the hours you're working, it's about your perspective.

I'm fortunate to have a very understanding wife, who knew that joining a gym or going on a diet wouldn't be enough for me (I've always been a person of extremes), so six months after my daughter was born, we sold our house and moved to Costa Rica. We were both seduced by the sun and golden sands, but more than that, we craved a slower pace of life and a place where the focus was on personal wellbeing and happiness rather than consumerism and professional success.

I began to eat healthier, and spend a larger portion of my day outside. Surfing helped me to get fit and reconnect with my head. When you're on the waves, it gives you a break from responsibility, business and social interaction, which is important when you're constantly bombarded with information. For your mind to function at its best, it needs space to refocus.

I also find that space through meditation, as do many other CEOs. In an article for sciencemag.com, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert reveal that our minds have a tendency to wander 50% of the time. Meditation brings you back into the present, which helps to boost productivity and aid concentration for the rest of the day.

Archana Patchirajan, founder of Sattva, credits meditation for enhancing her skills as a leader. Speaking to the Harvard Business Review, she said: "Thanks to meditation I have developed patience. I have a better relationship with my team. Best of all, I maintain my peace of mind."

Inner calm
Inner calm:

Taking time out of your working day to meditate can help relieve stress and improve your productivity

But it also depends on the people around you

It's impossible to let go and leave the office behind if you're distrustful of your staff. You have to build a team that you can depend on, and work on building a good relationship with each of your employees so that you are confident enough in their skills to leave them to get on with their job. You'll never be able to achieve work-life balance if you micromanage, and it will damage the productivity of your staff.

I've always been incredibly lucky to work with very talented people. I wouldn't have been able to move to the beach if I hadn't had a strong managerial base in the UK. It's also how I manage to lead multiple companies. For example, I'm no longer the CEO of my company GVI, but I was only able to step down because I had someone that I trusted and knew very well to take over. He had been in the company from the beginning, and whilst he's the polar opposite of me, the end result is just as good if not better. It means that I still get the pleasure of being involved in the business without the stress of the day-to-day activity.

Now with my new business, AVirtual, I've been thrown back into the centre of the action, but I work with a personal assistant who manages my schedule and handles administrative tasks so that I can concentrate on driving the company forward, and also occasionally take time off to go on vacation or play with my children. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to understand that asking for help isn't a weakness; in fact, it's actually a very effective productivity strategy and the sooner you implement it, the better.

It's impossible to let go and leave the office behind if you're distrustful of your staff. You have to work on building a good relationship with each of your employees so that you are confident enough in their skills to leave them to get on with their job.

Practice makes perfect

The truth is there is no quick fix for work-life balance; it's something that you have to prioritise and practise every day. That may sound painfully like another task to add to your to-do list, which at the start, it may well be, but over time, it will just become part of the way you work. Meditation, for example, is built into my daily schedule, as is free time. I find that if it’s in my calendar, I'm far less likely to forget or sideline it, as the time has already been set aside.

I'm strict with myself on holidays too. I switch my smartphone for an old Nokia, which only sends and receives texts and calls. It means I can't be tempted to check my emails, but if there's an urgent issue, the office can still reach me. You have to discover the methods that work for you, and recognise that your balance will be constantly redefined by the cycle of your work. Whatever stage you're at, prioritise your happiness, not just for you, but for the success of your company.


About the author

Richard Walton is the founder and managing director of AVirtual, which provides virtual personal assistants to entrepreneurs, executives and other professionals. The company was born out of Walton’s personal experience of trying to find a better work-life balance. Prior to AVirtual, Walton founded Global Vision International (GVI), which he grew to a 250-strong social enterprise operating in more than 40 countries.

 

  Subscribe for Free Content

Click here to get killer business content sent straight to your inbox

Subscribe to The Knowledge Hub

Join over 60,000 business owners. Get the latest advice, tips and expert opinion delivered to your inbox every month.