Days after my second son was born, I hopped on an airplane to visit a prospective client. My wife wasn't too happy. I had been absent for much of that year.
We recently celebrated his fifth birthday and I caught myself thinking back to that time, trying to remember more. But I can't, because I wasn't around. Bethany, my beautiful wife, tries to reconcile this by saying that I mostly just missed out on a lot of tantrums. That's hardly true. I should have been there for his crying and his laughter. I should have more memories of that first year.
Gary Keller, best-selling author of The One Thing, says "Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls - family, health, friends, integrity - are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered."
The myth of "balancing" all of life's competing demands is a problem many entrepreneurs face. Instead of thriving at one thing, we end up failing at many. But we try to do it all anyway.
Arianna Huffington brought the risks associated with overwork to the public stage when she shared her personal struggles behind building the Huffington Post. In one Businessweek interview she warned, "If success continues to be defined as driving yourself into the ground and burning out, it will be disastrous for our families, our companies, and our world."
"Doing it all" is a myth
A couple of weeks ago I was shocked when a friend asked me, "How do you do it all? The travel, the work, the kids, the wife, fitting in exercise. How do you do it?" He was coming to me as if I had it all figured out, which surprised me because maintaining a positive work-life balance has always been a struggle of mine.
A few years ago, I was working 12-16 hours a day. I had no income, my first son was on the way, and yet I continued to spend my time doing what I felt I had to do - work. From the moment I opened my eyes at 4 A.M., to the moment I closed them again, my laptop was open.
I can't say the commitment didn't pay off. Business progressed. However, the strain on my personal life and well-being nearly undid the benefits of growing my business.
My can-do attitude meant that I was saying yes when I should have been saying no; my time spent traveling intensified, and I struggled to balance this as my wife had two more babies. The chaos became detrimental for me on a personal level and was inherently bad for business.
To succeed, we must be willing to say "no"
I recently had dinner with the CEO of another business, and he brought up this same topic. He confessed his struggle of trying to find the perfect balance between work and personal life: "Jeremy, I'm struggling. I just don't feel like I can do it all."
And then the same, unanswerable question came again: "How do you do it all?"
The truth of the matter is, I don't. I don't do it all.
It's the answer nobody wants to admit. I sacrifice to build my business. I sacrificed time with my family, the first few years of my boys' lives, and financial stability.
Through all of this, I learned that I can't do it all, and that to succeed one must be willing to say "no." No to new opportunities. No to new ideas. No to things I want to do.
Instead, I prioritize and make time for the things that are important to me.
This means I put non-work events in my calendar and I give them as much respect as new client meetings. And I don't change them, schedule over them, or move them around.
My sons' baseball games, date nights with my wife, important doctor appointments are all in the calendar and they are all set in stone.
I also honor the Sabbath, which has been deemed family day. It's the day of the week that my boys and I look forward to the most.
The funny thing is, this schedule made saying no much easier. Putting work side-by-side with personal time and building relationships that are important to me brings other commitments into perspective.
Gary Keller's main point in The One Thing is that "Success demands singleness of purpose. It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world."
I may have learned this lesson the hard way, but others don't have to. To bring focus to business, improve results, reduce stress, enjoy family time, and get greater enjoyment out of life, start saying no today.