Stop the madness: balancing life and business

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be on Woman’s Hour with Juliette Roffe, the co-founder of Giraffe Restaurants, talking about work-life balance with Jenny Garvey (you can listen to the show here). It’s tough trying to juggle everything, and while Juliette and I were able to talk about our own experiences managing our families and our businesses, in 9 minutes we didn’t have enough time to get into HOW we manage to do it.

I wrote a little bit about my story here in this article, Are you driving your business or is your business driving you but now 18 months later, I’ve got a  bit more experience at trying to do it all and wanted to share some of my learning.

In the beginning

When I started Women Unlimited, I already had a business,  a boutique web design agency based in SW London.   I had started my web company because I wanted to create a business that I could work while I was raising my children.   After my son was born I settled into a nice schedule of working 2-3 days a week, flexibly depending on the amount of projects I had, and really enjoyed myself.  I was earning a great part-time income, enjoyed the work I was doing and spent the rest of my time playing and going out with my new son.

Building business

But after a while, it wasn’t enough for me.  Five months after my daughter was born, I decided that I wanted to build a more substantial organisation, where instead of winning the business and doing the business, I was going to focus on growing the business and found some talented freelancers to do the delivery.  It meant making a commitment to growth, and taking my enterprise more seriously. I’m still not quite sure what the internal driver for this was, but for whatever reason, I started to put more pressure on myself.

And it worked.  In the following 6 months I doubled my turnover, but interestingly, not my profit, and I started working more hours.  I increased the amount of time I was working to 4 days a week, and on one of those days I would drop my children off at the childminder at 6:15 in the morning to attend a breakfast networking session.

And then I decided to launch Women Unlimited.

Ouch!

Always an early riser, my schedule looked like this; 5-7am, 9-4 and then 7-10 pm – every day.   Time was broken down into chunks of business time and kid time.  And when I was with the kids, I was thinking about business.  When I was working my business, I was thinking about business.  I was consumed by my businesses and making them more successful; I rarely spoke to my husband, I was not engaged with my children, and there was nothing left over for me.

Crash

Then the inevitable crash happened.  After the second annual Women Unlimited conference, I was so exhausted and spent, that I literally laid on the couch for 3 weeks wondering what the hell I was doing.  And slowly realised that something needed to change.  I needed to find a way to live my life and create a successful business.  I needed to find a way to be the kind of mother that I wanted to be, the kind of wife that I wanted to be and the kind of woman that I wanted to be.  I needed to find a way to fit more time for me into my life and to be more present so that when I was with my family, I was really with them.

Stop the madness

So I stopped the madness.  I made the decision to put my family first and build my business around them.  I stepped off the hamster wheel and got back on again slowly – finding my way, figuring out where the push points were and how to navigate them.  I stopped working in the evenings (though still early mornings) and started taking my kids to the park more and having friends round.  I started spending more time doing homework (quality time?) and really participating in their lives and enjoying the time we spent together.   Don’t get me wrong, I still work hard, and my children go to after school club 2 days a week, but I feel like I am in charge of my life and my time rather than the other way round.  I am making choices that give me the best of all worlds.

There will always be things that I regret from that period, but I also accomplished a lot in a very short space of time.   And since making the decision to slow down and create more balance, I have also had to make some big sacrifices, including parking my web design business to focus on growing Women Unlimited.  But now, I am enjoying life a lot more and feel much more connected to my family and myself.  I hadn’t really intended to make this into such a personal story, but I think it’s important that we share with each other some of the challenges that we face and how we have overcome them and to learn from each other’s mistakes.

Top tips for work life balance

Here are my top tips for creating more balance in  your life

  1. Decide what your commitments are going to be in each area of your life and stick to them
    Make a choice about what your priorities are – you are in control
  2. Schedule in ME time
    If it’s not scheduled it doesn’t get done
  3. Give yourself some down time otherwise you WILL burn out
    Reading, bath-time, painting – whatever your thing, but give yourself time to not think about business
  4. Talk to your partner about how you can share the chores and household responsibilities
    Be clear on how they can help.  Delegate
  5. Be organised and write down a weekly schedule so you are able to manage your time
    I’m still working on this — but it does help
  6. Get help if you can afford it
    Identify the stress points in your life and find someone who can do them for you.   Getting a weekly cleaner has been a godsend for us.
  7.  Get out in the fresh air at least for 15 minutes every day
    It will clear away the cobwebs
  8. Learn to say no
    Every time you say yes, one of the other things in your life will have to pay the price
  9. Hire some people
    If you don’t already have a team, take on a part-timer who can do the things that you don’t love or aren’t great at and focus all your time and energy on your skills and talents that will build you a successful business
  10. Have fun!
    Go out with friends who make you feel good, or do something that makes you really enjoy, at least twice a week.

What are your stories and tips?  We’d love to hear from you about how you have managed to juggle it all -please let your comments below.

16 Replies to “Stop the madness: balancing life and business”

  1. I know a lot of other business owners will be able to relate to this post Julie, myself included. I realised over the summer that I was either in work mode or house wife mode. With virtually no time out for me.

    All of the tips you have listed are great I would also add one about social media and that’s Fear of Missing Out. So many people are switched on and connected to their social networks morning, noon and night. Whilst I love working with social media it is so important to turn it all off and see friends and family in the real world too.

    I have just spent 2 days looking after my four month old baby niece and this is a reason for making sure I do switch off from business and enjoy her whilst she is still so tiny. As once that time has gone, you never get it back especially to see children grow up.

  2. Yes most people tend to go extreme in one area of their lives and they end up upsetting the balance. One must have a good balance in life to exactly live a good life.

    However short term burst of extremities I find useful and can help get a new project going quickly.

  3. A great post Julie – and thanks for sharing – I know showing the less than ‘perfect’ bits is something us women business owners often struggle with, even though we all secretly know we have them – and it’s the best way for us all to learn from each other’s experiences!
    The part I have to frequently remind myself of is being present, when I’m with my children – as in 100% present and in that moment, rather than there in body, but in a totally different place in mind (wrestling with work matters!!)

  4. Fantastic Post Julie and some wise words there for women enterpreneurs!

    We’re so used to juggling the balls sometimes it’s good to remember why we started out on our journey in the first place.

    I’ve found that by taking regular breaks and scheduling in life appointments with myself it makes me far MORE productive than the days when you may well have been in the office all day but in reality didn’t actually achieve much!

    Thanks for sharing the tips :o)

    Tracy

  5. Julie, thanks for sharing this awesome post with us. You’ve spoken wisely. I find myself hard to find any balance in this hard working life.. But doing things i most like, is always a very fun thing to do..

  6. Though on weekdays I don’t spend a lot of time with my family, I am glad I can be there on weekends. I can’t truly enjoy the success of my business if I realize that I failed to focus on the people I love. I think your tips are amazing and it is better if I can use them to add more time spent with family.

  7. Thanks for sharing an honest and inspiring account Julie. I think this is such a personal learning curve for so many of us.

    I especially love your first tip – Decide what your commitments are going to be in each area of your life and stick to them – I wrote something similar in my newsletter recently, that it’s not about doing everything and being everything to everybody, and just because you ‘can do’ doesn’t mean you should (we women are too good at getting on and doing sometimes!) It’s about being you with everything that you’ve got – whether that’s in business or at home. So setting your own commitments and priorities is absolutely key, as is investing in me time, rest and fun!

    Here’s to the rest of the story and life in all its fullness!

  8. in this cruel financial age we are living in, it is the very most important thing to find the balance in our personal lives. i totally agree with you, i do it so in my private life. and if there is a balance inside, it makes easier to take the advantages of the everyday life. thanks for this inspirating text!

  9. Thank you for this great Post Julie.

    Im in business and I`m a mother. I agree with you and think your tips are amazing for many women.

    Thank you. You gives me hope for my life 🙂

    Wish you all the best. Greetings from Germany

  10. I can definitely relate to this. I think the hardest thing to do is to find time for ME time… everything becomes business time, no matter how hard I try to make it not be.

  11. Julie,

    As someone who also tries to balance a good part of my life working (ok mostly working) and family time…I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s as they say though right, you can’t do it all!

    But i must say that scheduling in ME time can be hard at times without feeling a bit too selfish 🙁

    Thanks for sharing a great post.

  12. Julie, you hear a lot about balance these days, it is mentioned for various things.
    You brought up an excellent example.
    We are also told to work hard, be efficient, focus and stay on our dreams, etc, etc. Well that is all good, but too often we end up getting a bit consumed by them. It is good to take a step back and remember why we started something, and that perhaps we never intended on it to consume so much of our time. Find a balance and let the business grow in a natural way. Life is too short.

  13. This post is packed with good information about business and really helpful enough to be more productive. I I have a lot of friend who are downing for lack of balance in their business. Thank your for sharing this one.

  14. Sometimes, I find myself in an exactly the type of situation you describe in “Crash”. I get to become absolutely obsessed with work and it hurts people around me and doesn’t help the work much either!

  15. Great tips Julie,
    You and I have been there.
    Back in the early 1980’s when I needed 36-hour days to get everything done, I bought a cassette time management course. The first cassette was all about your Tip #1. In order to plan your life, you had to determine your overall priorities in life and then make your planning support those priorities.
    RJ

  16. These are valuable points Julie. Although I do not have kids I am pretty disorganized and find myself struggling many times when I sit down to start work. I’m printing out these points and sticking them on my dashboard. Of course I can’t do some of them..read point 3.. but the point about getting some fresh air every day is something I have to get myself to do. I know that’s something I really need but there’s always something that’s more important to do and I keep telling myself that I’ll take that break after I finish this task, and then that task and it finally never happens.

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