"It won't always be like this," I told myself. "Starting a company is hard."

Before I started my company, I spent over a decade working for a nonprofit that I loved. It was a fantastic organization where amazing mentors and colleagues taught me much of what I know about the practical side of emotional intelligence. 

Over the years I worked there, I put in my share of overtime. But as much I loved my job, I had a pretty strict routine of leaving work. On most days, I clocked out at 5 p.m.

But a funny thing happened once I started working for myself: The workdays got longer and longer, later and later. And while, yes, starting a company was hard, I'd soon learn that growing a company and maintaining it is pretty hard, too. 

After realizing that I was working much more than I wanted to, I made a change. I like to call it, "the rule of clocking out." It's based on principles of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions.

I've found this rule helps me to set my priorities, keep everything in its place, and take control of my life.

Here's how it works.

How to set priorities, avoid burnout, and find more time in your day

When I first started my company, I was influenced by personalities like Mark Cuban, who says you have to outwork your competition, or they'll put you out of business. To be fair, I've learned a lot from Cuban over the years--but I didn't want to live life like him.

My work is definitely a priority.

But so is my family. And my mental health. And volunteering my time to help others.

Of course, one of the greatest things about being your own boss is you get to set your own hours. After realizing that I was working much more than I wanted to, I made a change. I would set a time every day to clock out. Then I'd treat that time like an important appointment, one that I can't miss.

The principles of clocking out apply especially well to business owners. But in reality, they provide value for anyone.

For example, do you find that despite working later and later, there's always more work to get done?

Or that by focusing much of your energy on goals for your work or business, you forget about other priorities--like your mental or physical health?

Or maybe you need to learn to clock out, not from work, but from something else that's draining your time and energy--like a clingy friend, or even a Netflix or YouTube addiction.

If any of the above applies to you, it can be difficult to change. This is likely because your emotions are ruling your habits, causing you to repeat the same routine.

Here's where emotional intelligence comes in.

But breaking free can be simple, if you do the following:

  1. List your priorities: Take time to write down what's important to you, and what you want to spend more time on.
  2. Set a limit: Figure out which activity you're spending too much time on and set a limit on it, a time to clock out. This can be a set time every day, a countdown timer you set when engaging in an activity, or simply a set number (of episodes, for example, if watching your favorite show on Netflix).
  3. Communicate: When it comes to work, if people try to set a meeting with you after you've scheduled to clock out, simply tell them you're already booked. (After all, you are.) If you have a family, give them a head's up on your schedule and let them know what time you're clocking out. 

Because sure, you can stay late and clear out your inbox. But there will be more emails tomorrow.

You can binge your favorite show. But you'll just finish it quicker, and take away time from reading, sleeping, or something else that's important to you.

You can keep saying yes to everything. Or you can start saying no, and take control of your time.

So take a moment to get your emotions under control and figure out how you can start clocking out.

Because you'll find more happiness, not when you chase extremes.

But when you chase balance, instead.

(If you enjoyed this article, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, where every day for 10 days, you get a rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)