The conventional wisdom is that entrepreneurs have no work-life balance. Their business challenge requires them to be workaholics, and robs them of time for other pursuits. But Martha Hartney, a self-employed lawyer in Boulder, Colo. – the startup capital of America, she proudly proclaims – insists that being an entrepreneur has allowed her the freedom to attain better balance.
"The best thing for my work-life balance was to become an entrepreneur. However, it takes a lot of self-discipline to do it," she said in an interview.
Ms. Hartney still works long hours. But the benefits she has gained come out of her concern about the patterns of energy and focus that we navigate through each day. And being self-employed allows her to honour those rhythms, doing the laundry in her PJs on Monday morning from home while she organizes her staff and gets slowly into the week, as well as being there for her children when needed.
A former marketing and advertising executive in Los Angeles, she has an idea of what having poor work-life balance is all about as she gave herself fully to that job. She gave that up to be a full-time homemaker but after a divorce and time at law school, she hung up her shingle as an estate planning attorney in Boulder.
At first, she felt guilty because she seemed to be spending too much time at home, mingling homemaking tasks with work. "I'd putter around the kitchen, washing dishes, cleaning counters, fold the laundry, make beds, clear up the clutter. But when I'd sit down to study or write, my head would be clear and focused. A lot would get done in very short periods of time," she wrote in the Law Business Mentors blog.
When she raised the issue with a business coach, the suggestion was that she create her work life around her home life. So she changed her mindset recognizing that the condition of her home had an impact on her business. When her home is orderly, her thinking is orderly – and vice-versa. "When I got over the guilt of doing laundry and working – that they could be done at the same time – it was important," she said in the interview.
She believes balance starts by making peace with your conflicting roles. She is, for example, a mother, friend, sister, aunt, ex-wife, business owner, manager and technician. Each role involves a different side of her – and different demands on her time. Giving each the proper time – and allocating it to a period of the day or week when her energy is ripe for the task – is vital in attaining balance.
That also involves understanding clearly what she does at work. She takes her cue from small business guru Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, who draws a distinction between working on your business (creating the strategy and processes that make it succeed) and working in your business (carrying out the tasks that keep it going).
Once you figure out those roles for your life, you need to block out time in your calendar so that what she calls "each of your internal employees" can do their thing. She tries to concentrate her efforts on a single task, echoing the advice of noted Toronto coach Dan Sullivan. For example, on "green" days – Tuesday and Thursday, plus Wednesday mornings – she focuses exclusively on the work that directly earns her revenue, meeting with clients and doing the associated legal work.
Monday mornings, times blocked out in purple on her calendar, she organizes staff and prepares for the activities coming up that week and, at the end of the day, she handles e-mail and phone messages. Saturdays and Sunday she doesn't work, unless inspired to write – and by that she means truly inspired, not pressured by obligation into it.
She urges you to consider how long it takes to switch tasks and get into gear for another activity. For her, it requires 15 to 20 minutes to make that transition – time to go outside, take a walk, and clear her head. If she's switching between left and right brain activities, it can take 30 minutes. She also finds she requires a lot of time to ease into her week. That's why you find her at home on Monday morning, lounging about in pyjamas, calling staff and getting organized, while simultaneously handling domestic chores. She knows her patterns, and as an entrepreneur, can indulge herself.
She also recommends entrepreneurs give themselves permission to work at home half a day a week – and to be free to do chores then. "Puttering is very productive time, mentally and emotionally. It has the added benefit of freeing your mind to focus on other things because you're not worried that the laundry isn't getting done – because you did it already!" she writes.
Want balance? Become an entrepreneur.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter