Your business exists to make your life better. Not vice-versa. Don’t live to make your business better.
Obvious? Sure. But people forget.
Do you use what you “have to do” for your business as the constant recurring excuse for missing things that matter to people you love – soccer games, recitals, appointments, and so on? I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated saying about people on their death beds not wishing they’d spent more time in the office.
I think the “have to do” factor for entrepreneurs, startups, and small business owners is essentially infinite. If you are one of us, then you can – if you want – always find a “good” business reason to not do anything but the business for the rest of your life, non stop, without anything else.
So you have to draw lines and set priorities. As I was building my business my wife insisted I be home for family dinner every night I wasn’t traveling. I objected at times, but looking back, with the kids all grown up. I’m so glad. And she set vacations and paid deposits months in advance, so we had them. I’m glad for that too.
You know this. But so did I, and I would have really screwed this up without reminders. So this is your reminder. Life is more important than business.
Your business or your life? The nagging question comes up a lot. Recently I saw this startling statement:
Maximizing your chance for success means sacrificing health and family.
That was in this post by Jason Cohen on VentureBeat. He’s serious. He quotes Mark Cuban and one other successful entrepreneur. He says you can’t get it all done otherwise. Build your business first, then build your life. Yeah, right. Like business gets easier at some point? When it grows? Good luck with that.
Logical flaw: for every successful entrepreneur who cites sacrificing health and family as the key to success, there are 10 others who say sacrificing health and family is a tragic mistake. Another logical flaw: millions of people sacrificed health and family and weren’t successful. All their sacrifice did was ruin their lives. Nobody quotes them. They call that survivor bias.
Personally, I don’t buy the passion, obsession, sacrifice all for your business philosophy. Success in life can be something different than purely sales, growth, profits, and celebrity as an entrepreneurial success. Not many of us end up as top-ten world-class entrepreneurs, and, for the rest of us, having a life can be way more important. The sacrifice doesn’t cause success. It’s a rationalization. So I’d like to suggest two sets of rules to help you save your life from your business. The first five are fundamental rules. The second set, five more, are suggestions more than rules; different ways to think about things; reminders.
First, the five fundamentals. I consider these practical, realistic, actionable rules that are good for everybody. For the record, four of the five are rules that I’ve lived with for a long time. Two of them thanks go to my wife and not me; and the fifth, the exercise one, I learned the hard way, by not doing it. I promise you that you can live by all five and not have to sacrifice business success for any of them. These will help you keep your balance:
Develop and honor meal times with people you love. For me and my wife, as we built our business, it was about family meals, dinner time, once a day. We made the family dinner a priority. During crunch times, we’d stop, have dinner with our kids, and then go on later (see point 3, below). And you don’t need a marriage and children to make this rule important. Do it your way, not mine. It applies just as well to any relationship that’s important to you.
Schedule vacations long in advance. If you like what you do in your business, you’re always going to have trouble getting away. There will always be a good business reason to not go on vacations. If you’re scheduled long in advance, then the vacation is on the calendar. As you talk to clients, schedule business events, and generally work on the business, your vacation shows up, and you naturally work around it.
Get used to working at home. So you have a lot of work but you tear yourself away, take your dinner time, spend some time in real life, and then later on, when everybody else is watching dumbing and numbing television, you can get back on the computer and catch up with your obsession. That requires good Internet connection and related tools, like online productivity tools, GoToMyPC, and the like.
Don’t obsess; plan. Don’t wander through the rest of life with business thoughts running through your head like a helicopter background noise in your dreams. Take a few deep breaths. To get the business-helicopter-mind out of your head keep the planning realistic. Planning gets a lot of things out of your head and into the plan. When you wake up at night obsessing, go to your planning. Write it down. Relax, and go back to sleep.
Get regular exercise. I’ve been there: It’s so easy to put off exercise because you’re worried about the business. “I have too much to do, I don’t have time for exercise,” you tell yourself, and it becomes a rationalization to dive back into that project or those emails. But there’s a trick to exercise: you get more time back, in productivity, than what you put into the exercise. Seriously: put in 45 minutes 3-4 days a week and you’ll get back an hour of productive time for every half hour you spend. It has to do with sleep, stress, and mental health.
And then, after the fundamentals, five fine touches, embellishments, not-so-universal, but maybe still useful:
Do something you can believe in. It’s not just finding the best business opportunity; it’s finding one you believe in. There’s quality of work as well as quantity, and high quality makes high quantity easier to live with. Make sure that when you take a step back from it, every so often, you can see how what you do made other lives better.
Acknowledge risk. Don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose. Understand the risk you take. Talk about it with the other people in your life, so you don’t feel all alone with the risk. Think about the worst case. Learn to live with it.
Don’t clam up. Share carefully. Be able to talk about business problems, safely, with at least one other person in your life. Get out of the let’s solve them mode, and into the let’s just talk about them so creative juices can percolate. People who care about you take silence as being something like walls and barriers. Secrets are stressful. Sharing relieves stress. But be careful, mind the framework and parameters of sharing, people have to know when you don’t want to be told the obvious feedback.
Understand that you make mistakes. Acknowledge your mistakes, analyze them, and them package them up in your mind and store them somewhere out of site, somewhere where you can access them occasionally to help avoid making the same mistakes again, but, on the other hand, where they won’t just drive you crazy.
Tell the truth. Then you don’t have to keep track of which lies you told to which people. It’s hard enough to manage stress without having to manage complex alternate realities.
None of the above guarantees business success, but none of it is really going to get in the way of your success either, and it may help you stay sane in the meantime. Think about this: my wife taught me, early in our 40-year-marriage, that time is the scarcest resource, way scarcer than money. And some day you’re going to turn 60. Unless you die first.
Sometime around the middle of last week I published the following quote from Walt Disney:
A man should never neglect his family for business
Somebody who read that quote followed up by asking me:
Yes, it’s possible, but you need to apply common sense too, no?
That comment started me thinking. And I ended up drawing the diagram here and wondering whether there aren’t two competing worlds we live in or choose between.
I posed the three factors you can see in the diagram:
The people you care about
Work you like
And that led me to a the key question: Do the three factors pull away from the center, and away from each other; or do they push towards the center, and work better together.
So which of these is your world?
1. The Glass Half Empty
If all three of these main factors here pull you away from the others, you live in a sad world. In that case, time with people you care about takes you away from business. And work you like makes you less successful. The underlying world view is full of hard roads, long work weeks, managing by criticizing and threats, racing rats racing, and climbing corporate ladders. In this world, nice guys finish last.
The more attention you give to people you care about, the less you have work you like and business success.
The more attention given to work you like, the less of you is available for your people, and the less business success.
The more attention focused on business success, the less you can give to people you care about and the work you like.
2. The Glass Half Full
On the other hand, what if you live in a world in which all three factors pull towards the center? Focus on work you like, and you do more, achieve more, become more successful, all of which makes you happy and giving more of yourself to the people you care about.
Is that your world?
The easiest argument to make is that business success and work that you like go together. Do what you love, love what you do, be more likely to succeed. Building a business around doing what you love is hardly a novel idea.
It’s harder to argue that focusing on people you care about (you could call that family if you like, but it’s not necessary) generates work you like and business success. I think this is where we have to bring in the compromise, just as my friend suggested above. Find ways to compromise to maintain balance between work and the rest of life.
Is either one of these worlds real? They both are. It’s up to you.
(Photo credit: PeterPolak/Shutterstock)(Drawing/diagram is my own)