The life of an entrepreneur is hard.

Whether you're a "hacker", "hustler" or "hipster," once you leave the comforting blanket of a 9-to-5 corporate career, your business life will be an exhausting uphill climb. Additionally, most entrepreneurs don't qualify for quality healthcare plans, employment insurance, business incentives or the type of corporate discounts that would make their ventures more viable.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) recognizes that the majority of small businesses in America are under 10 employees. Over 41 million are reportedly solopreneurs. That means at least one-fifth of the American working population is going without even the basic government protection of unemployment insurance--and for every moment they don't work, they don't get paid.

Recently, I've been reading the comments from Elon Musk about how he has to keep working, and the open letter from Ariana Huffington asking him to stop. People on all sides are trying to convince him to "protect the asset"--meaning himself--by urging him to take a long-needed vacation.

His response has been pretty clear: If you can find someone that can stand in his place while he's not there, he'll go. Otherwise, he's irreplaceable right now.

And, as much as other people may wish it otherwise, he very well may be right.

At one point in my career, I was so involved in the building of my company that I had made myself truly irreplaceable. I was the leader, moral compass, and fount of all knowledge. Even on my infrequent hours off, I was constantly barraged by texts, tweets, forum posts, messages, calls, emails--even knocks on my door--to put out metaphorical fires. It had gotten to the point where I would visibly jump every time my phone buzzed.

When I realized how unhealthy that was, and how unhappy I was, I took steps to change things. This ultimately led to me leaving that company altogether, as they needed someone who would jump to attention when buzzed. I suspect that there was a similar watershed moment for Ms. Huffington, and for the other former round-the-clock workers who now tout the benefits of work-life-integration (or balance).

And then there's Elon Musk. By most people's definitions, he's a success. He could stop at any time and call it a day. And yet he is spending literally all his time--the most precious commodity anyone has--attempting to lead multiple companies single-handedly.

This is the epitome of the hustler mindset: "If I don't work, I don't get paid." On a company scale, it's: "If we don't deliver, we will fail."

Understanding that, how can you even attempt to have a balanced life as an entrepreneur? Start with these three strategies:

1. Get some perspective.

While your business is one of the most important things in the world to you, it most likely doesn't mean as much to others. Ask some pointed questions to find out where you fit on other people's priority lists.

Once you recognize that other people don't have you marked in their "urgent" column, you can relax. I like to study how long it takes to get a response on messages I send. If people respond immediately, your topic is probably important to them. If they don't, it's not.

2. Start small.

If you're working 100-plus hours a week like Musk (it's not uncommon for solopreneurs to work 16 hours a day), perhaps you want to start by taking an hour each day--away from working--to cook a meal and watch something on TV that isn't work-related.

I instituted a "tech-free" day once a week, and one full week a year to ensure that I don't fall into old habits. It only took my first week-long retreat for me to notice my stress levels had dropped and it was much easier to prioritize tasks.

3. Take care of yourself before your company.

Most of all, remember that you're more important than any job. Unless you have a passive income stream, you won't be getting paid while you don't work, but you may not be able to work if you are sick or injured.

To alleviate this possibility, challenge yourself to fit the same amount of work into less time. Then, rather than doing more work, take that free time off.

In a perfect world, I'd advocate for more (or any) vacation days for everyone--but I recognize that for many, that is simply not a possibility. For one hustler, living "paycheck to paycheck" with no light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps the best he can manage right now is take a few seconds out of his day to post something on Twitter.

It's a start.

Published on: Aug 23, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.