One thing I’ve learned over the past decade is that there’s no such thing as work-life balance—especially if you’re an entrepreneur.
I don’t mean that you can’t be successful and still have personal and family time. Carving out space for priorities outside of work is absolutely critical. But my professional life is fully ingrained with my personal life—there is no distinction between the two.
I’m currently launching two of my own companies, serving as the chief strategy officer of a tech company, and I am two-thirds of the way through a three-year executive management program at Harvard. My life is a whirlwind. And I accepted all these responsibilities because I felt I was ready. Not just professionally, but personally. By that, I mean that I’ve been figuring out how to work personal time into professional time and vice-versa, since the two are never going to be separate.
I believe that you can make big things happen in your professional life while also living an enriching personal life.
Here are the eight strategies I use to maintain that balance:
1. Take time away from technology.
When I have free time (I block out two or three hours each day), I try to avoid my smartphone and laptop. This is one of the most powerful steps I take to draw boundaries between my work and my personal life to keep myself from getting overwhelmed.
I encourage everyone to set aside some time every day to escape from technology. It provides an opportunity to reflect and focus on yourself (whatever that means to you).
Go to the gym, take your dog for a walk, or spend time with friends and family. These things can clear your head and leave you feeling re-engaged and recharged.
2. Achieve ‘inbox zero.’
I disabled email notifications on my phone, since they’re too distracting. When I do check email—about once an hour—I deal with each message immediately.
Whether that means answering it, deleting it, filing it, or scheduling it to bounce back into my inbox if it will take time to respond to, forcing myself to address emails right then and there helps me avoid procrastination (and forgetting to respond). This has become especially important now that I have five email inboxes to manage: three companies, my personal, and my school email. Keeping my inboxes at or near zero helps keep me organized (and somewhat sane).
If you’re someone who has a lot on your plate, remember that spare time doesn’t just “appear” and is a luxury. You have to schedule everything—including time to take care of backlogged tasks like emails.
3. Put your whole life on a calendar.
Personal stuff, too. Otherwise, it could fall by the wayside.
The busier I’ve become, the more I’ve realized it’s necessary to block time for everything. I’ll even look at the week ahead and ballpark how many hours I’ll need to complete work tasks. Whenever someone wants some of my time, I tell them to check my calendar. If a slot is open, that’s when we talk.
Allocating time for both work and personal tasks on a calendar where you can see everything at once will help you keep balance in your life.
4. Use the right form of communication for the task at hand.
When your time is limited, communicating quickly and effectively is vital.
The first step is choosing the right mode of communication for each task. For example, if you’re thinking about scheduling a meeting to tackle an issue, consider whether a meeting is truly necessary, or if an email thread will suffice.
If you just need to reach out to someone in particular, is an email even necessary? Typing out and reviewing a lengthy email can become time-consuming. In that situation, you might consider a quick phone call.
Don’t lose sight of tone and interpretation, though. I’ve struggled with sending one-sentence emails because, in my mind, it was the quickest and easiest way to communicate a simple point. But this can make the recipient think I was angry or upset, which caused unnecessary stress. In these situations, a simple text or Slack message would be ideal.
Finding the right balance between efficiency and thoughtfulness will help you not only save time, but also leave the right impression.
5. Make time for exercise every day.
On top of the health benefits, time at the gym helps me clear my head and physically perform better.
My typical work day starts at 5 a.m. and will go well past 6 p.m., but on most days I will squeeze in a two-hour block around lunchtime to eat and work out. For me, using the gym as a midday break from the grind has become a lifechanging routine. I find myself feeling recharged and more productive during the second half of the day when I make time for exercise right in the middle.
Maybe you’re a morning gym person—that’s OK, too. But if you start to drag a bit in the early afternoon, a workout could provide the boost you’ve been looking for.
6. Make the most of your productive hours.
Identify opportunities to be optimally productive and use them to your advantage.
I get most of my work done in the early hours of the morning. In the peace and quiet of an empty office, I can focus and power through tasks without anyone interrupting me. Taking full advantage of my best work hours is a huge part of being my most productive self.
So identify exactly when you’re most productive, whether it’s early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in between, and create a routine that helps you maximize those precious time slots.
7. Don’t look at your phone right when you wake up or before bed.
I’ve ruined a day right off the bat by grabbing my phone first thing in the morning on more than one occasion. In short: You don’t want an email about a work crisis to be the first thing you see when you wake up. It will set a negative tone for your entire day. Similarly, I avoid using my phone for about two hours before I go to sleep to wind down and remove myself entirely from work. That helps me get a good night’s sleep which is critical to maintaining this type of intensity.
If you’re like most people, the beginning and end of your days are spent staring at a phone screen. Give yourself a break—it could be an unexpected game-changer.
8. Don’t chain yourself to your desk during the workday.
Create separation between you and your desk every day, when you can.
For example, I very rarely eat lunch at my desk. I go for a walk outside, work out, meet someone, or disappear to Whole Foods. It doesn’t matter what you do, necessarily, as long as you remove yourself from the space where you spend so much of your day.
For most of us, work is never going to be confined to Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself is that my personal life and work life are woven together and that I need enough time for both to be truly successful. Instead of striving for something impossible, I’ve developed strategies that integrate them. If you’re both flexible and deliberate about how you spend your time, you can do it, too.