As entrepreneurs, we had a vision, we realized it and now we're running our own companies. But the dream can suck the life out of our "work-life balance". 

When the success of the company rests on your shoulders, you've always got a reasonable (-sounding) excuse to put everything else on hold - "Let me just get through the new product launch and then I'll get around to...."  And then something causes you take stock of your life (and don't worry, it will). 

One good way to get started is to take a page from a new book by motivational speaker Sam Horn, Someday is Not a Day in the Week: 10 Hacks to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. She recommends drawing up two lists: Time Priorities and True Priorities. Basically, take a razor to the "time" list and carve out hours from your week spent doing things that aren't strictly necessary so you can add them to the "true" list, to those things that you've been meaning to do "some day." 

What I've learned juggling the demands of a start-up companies and a young family over the past couple of decades is that sometimes the best way to tackle the work-life balance problem is to think small. Make a handful of lifestyle corrections that, individually, may not sound all that thrilling, but taken together, they can prevent you from hitting the burn-out wall. To be sure, these sorts of tweaks are practical and tactical but they can help you re-connect you with your larger self. (You know-- that person who thinks and feels things that don't necessarily have anything to do with being a company founder and CEO.)

Here's my list of "life hacks" that have helped me preserve (more or less) my sanity:

1. Work from home one day a week, or whatever you can swing 

Few things give you a more grounded, in-control feeling than getting things done in your own space at your own pace without kids, or colleagues, underfoot. Instead of leaving the office to clear my head over a Starbucks coffee, I can tune out while folding the laundry, and cut back on evening housework.

Not to mention, working in pajamas is one of life's underrated pleasures.

2. Pencil in time for exercise 

It really bugged me that with the demands of company and family, my tennis game was going down the drain. OK, that may sound trivial, but it wasn't to me, because it was a meaningful part of my life outside of work. 

To get some balance back in my life, I re-arranged my schedule and two mornings a week, I woke up an hour earlier to work out with a tennis coach. If sweating on the court or the jogging track isn't your path to mind/body equanimity, try yoga or meditation or that hobby that you always loved but let go of after starting your business.

3. Learn something new, outside the office

It can be draining to always be the person who's supposed to have the answers as a business leader. It's surprisingly liberating to be on the other side, absorbing knowledge without the pressure to perform or to always be right.

I make it a point to regularly attend talks or take workshops with high-profile entrepreneurs and leaders -- which does have an obvious work pay-off. 

But don't be afraid to go farther afield -- check out classes and lectures at your local university or job incubator. One of my favorite stories from Sam Horn's book is about an orthodontist who staved off mid-career malaise by taking a weekly astronomy class. See who's speaking (at no cost) at your local university. I took a lot away from hearing Steve Blank, recognized for developing the Customer Development method that launched the Lean Startup movement, talk at Georgetown University. Next month, I'll be participating in Ayse Birsel's "Design the life You Love" workshop.

4. Put socializing on the schedule

It's shocking how easily old friends can fall off the map, and how hard it is to make new ones. Whenever possible, build bonding into the calendar ... or let someone else do it. A friend who is a Managing Director at a leading global consulting firm organizes a monthly lunch for women leaders. For me, it's a great opportunity to catch up and, for once, I don't have to be in charge.

Full disclosure: Sometimes small changes aren't enough and you need to be willing to shake things up in a more radical way to forestall burn-out. 

Jul 31, 2019