Labor Day is for celebrating the American worker, and of course, there are few Americans who work harder or devote more hours to work than small business owners. Although small businesses account for roughly 61% of America’s workforce, many owners of small businesses – such as restaurants or car dealerships – won’t be getting the day off this weekend because of the nature of being a small business owner.
Ironically, many people become small business owners because they want to set their own hours and be their own bosses. Most of them, however, are hit with a harsh reality when they set their dreams into motion – although their intention was to run a business, the business soon begins to run them.
While the work ethic of the average small business owner is commendable, it can be extremely unhealthy, as it can lead to emotional distress, poor sleep habits, obesity, poor eating habits, mental and physical exhaustion, and frayed relationships with family members and loved ones, among other things.
So how do people cope with the long hours and stress of running their own successful enterprise while keeping their sanity, as well as their personal lives, together? This Labor Day, Kapitus reached out to everyday small business owners for answers and tips.
Develop a ‘Work/Life Balance’ Mindset
Before a small business owner can even embark on setting a plan to balance work and personal life, they must adopt a certain mindset that there’s time for work, and time for play. Separating the two can be extremely difficult – after all, your small business is the way you make a living and support your family.
Much like giving up a bad habit, however, obtaining the discipline to mentally check out of work during non-work hours is hard and may take months or years to develop, but it will be well worth it for your physical and mental well-being.
“You need to make it an intention to change your role and your involvement in your business,” says Paul Cantrell, CEO of consulting firm The Business Superstars. “Set a goal that in one year you want to be working an X amount of hours per week, for example. Then figure out what you will need to do to help make that happen. If you don’t work toward that, nothing will ever change.”
Viktoria Krusenvald, co-founder of health and lifestyle website www.zerxza.com, told Kapitus that she began to burn out from the work of creating and operating her site, and had to train her mind to “shut off” from work.
“Due to health concerns, I started forcing myself into creating healthy habits – and yes, I’m saying ‘forcing’ myself because it took a lot of effort to actually convince my mind to NOT focus on work all the time,” says Krusenvald. “The first step to create a healthy work/life balance is to calm your mind and convince yourself to let go of work a bit – to take some distance.”
Just Say No to New Business
Some small business owners told Kapitus that one of the keys to achieving work/life balance and avoiding burnout is saying no to new business. Of course, that’s usually the antithesis of the mindset of most small business owners, who are often always thinking that they need more business. No matter what type of business you are in, however, bringing on new business when times are busy may cause you to take on an unrealistic workload, which can lead to burnout.
“With the mental health awareness going around, people have started using the tag of ‘fully booked’ at times when they feel they might not keep up with the orders,” says Leonardo Gomez, founder of dog toy maker Try Runball. “This has also helped them produce quality products and services for they had enough time to dedicate to each order. You can always close the shop for a couple of days and take a break as well.”
Catherine Nguyen, who owns her own photography business, adds, “As your business grows, you will find that customers start coming to you rather than you having to chase them down. When this happens, your instinct will be to say yes. After all, you’ve worked hard to get new business. Learn to say no when you are overextended. People who really want to work with you will wait for your next available time. If you say yes to everyone, you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. Things will inevitably start falling through the cracks and become even more stressful.”
Set Boundaries Between Work and Life
One of the most difficult things to do for small business owners is setting firm boundaries between work and non-work time, as smartphones, tablets and other devices can constantly keep us plugged in wherever we go. Therefore, small business owners need to do for themselves what most parents do for their children: block out periods when it’s time for work and when it’s time for play. Unlike children, however, it’s the work time that small business owners need to pry themselves away from.
One way to set firm boundaries between work and rest time is to turn off electronic work devices so that you’re not finding yourself checking your email or working on a document on your phone or tablet.
“I always make it a habit to steer away from my work cell phone and laptop during off-work hours,” says Sam Dolbel, co-founder of Sinc Business. “Because when I do, I tend to check and respond to work emails, read industry and business trends on LinkedIn, and think about work instead of rest. Those practices could eventually lead to work stress and burnout, and being burned out isn’t helpful when you’re running a business. What’s also good about steering away from those gadgets is that it grants me more time to focus on my physical health and social relationships.”
Some small business owners warn that you need to be firm in sticking to your non-work hours. “I create arbitrary walls based on time with my family that cannot be breached apart from exceptional circumstances,” says Patrick Devaney, editor-in-chief of Helpful Chef. “For example, my wife works on Saturdays, which means Sundays for me are non-negotiable. If there are tasks that need doing on a Sunday they need to be delegated or delayed, unless it is an emergency.”
Delegate, Create Physical Spaces
During the pandemic, working from home became the norm, and while this arrangement made it easier for American workers in many regards, it can also blur the line between work and off-hours because you are literally living where you work.
Tim Sutton, founder of Coffee Geek TV, suggests physically separating work and non-work spaces in your home.
“Since your workspace and living space are essentially the same, your mind can’t turn off as the sign isn’t as clear as leaving the office,” says Sutton. “The best practice is to create a designated workspace and break area to separate them mentally as well. For example, the desk is for work and the bed is for rest, so do not bring work to bed.”
Lauri Kinkar, CEO of Messente, emphasizes that it’s important to delegate tasks to trusted employees so you, as the business owner, don’t get swamped.
“It is also essential to set clearly defined work hours per day,” says Kinkar. “Determine which days are your day-offs and stick to them. Having a schedule and adhering to it will help you have boundaries between your work life and personal life…Give yourself a break and remember that taking care of your well-being is essential in making your business successful.”
Take Daily Breaks, Maximize Time With Family
Other small business owners stressed the need to make time each day to exercise, taking breaks and spending quality time with your loved ones.
“I make it a point to step outside multiple times a day to take in some fresh air. Whether it takes the form of meditation, reading, or simply setting my phone on silent,,” says Benjamin Farber, president of Bristol Associates. “I also schedule designated ‘quiet’ time as a form of self-care.”
Jaclyn Strauss, founder of My Macro Memoir, stresses daily meditation and being there for family as a way to avoid burnout.
“Every night, I am deliberate around being present at bedtime with both of my children,” says Strauss. “My son is nine years old, and my daughter is six. My son and I reflect on our days as we lay in bed together and talk about the highs from the day. With my daughter, we play a game called I LOVE. We take turns sharing the things we love most about each other until she is ready to drift off to sleep. Also, every night, I use a meditation app to unwind and clear my mind, and most nights do fall asleep before the guided meditation is over.”
In all, running your own successful business can be the most rewarding professional challenge of your life, but it’s important not to allow your business to consume you. In order to prevent yourself from having a stress-related breakdown, make sure you’re scheduling some time off for yourself; take breaks during the day; set boundaries between your work and personal life, and make sure to set aside time for family members and loved ones.