The first thing to know about being an entrepreneur and work life balance is that there is no balance. There’s no balance if you work a normal 9 to 5, either. You just don’t feel as guilty because you have to be there 9 to 5. So you get over it. But your family always needs and deserves more time than you give them. There’s no “acceptable” amount of time you can be away from your spouse and children. It’s all negative. In an ideal world you would be with them pretty much all the time. It’s one more reason I sometimes wonder if my family wouldn’t be better off going and living like the Amish.
But since the work must get done, apparently, here’s how I live. It may not be right for you, or anyone else. I’m not even sure it’s right for me. But it’s what I do, or at least try to do.
Limits. I used to work…well, pretty much all the time. I used to sleep on the office floor on a regular basis, or on the couch in the lobby, or on a chair. Aeron chairs are great for working, but not so great for sleeping, by the way. The top of the back is pretty hard on the base of your skull.
Then one day my wife said it wasn’t working anymore, my schedule. So we sat down and discussed what would be reasonable. This was before we had kids. We decided that as a compromise, I would make sure I was always home by 10 pm. Yes, 10 pm was the limit. That included Saturdays, which I pretty much always worked. It seems ridiculous now, but that’s where I was about 10 years ago.
Gradually, that time got moved earlier and earlier. When we had kids, it got moved to 5 pm, and that’s where it has stayed. Now, we’re not 100% strict about it, but generally speaking if I’m out and about I try to be home by 5, and if I’m working at home I stand up at 5 and come out of my home office, and that’s it. I may go back in the office after the kids are in bed and catch up on a few things if my wife’s busy with something, and I’m frequently on my phone checking email, but I try not to sit down at the computer after 5.
I also don’t work weekends, unless there is an emergency. Sundays are completely out of the question unless a client’s website is down and it’s our fault, and Saturdays are mostly off limits as well.
Time with my wife. We were better about spending time together, one on one, when we lived in the US, before moving to Hong Kong. That’s because we had easier access to a babysitter. Now it’s tough, so we don’t get out much. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you should spend at least one night per week out with your significant other, leaving everything else behind, but I’m not very good at making it happen. It’s an area I’d like to improve in.
Time with kids. My wife and I go on a one-on-one “date” with a kid each week. We have two kids, so each kid gets a date each week, either with one of us or the other. During this time we do whatever the kid wants to do, which usually involves eating junk food at McDonalds (sigh) and watching videos or playing at the park.
Exercise. From 1999 when I started my business to 2007 I didn’t get any exercise. That’s only a slight exaggeration. At the beginning of 2007 I weighed more than I ever had in my life. Years of sitting in front of a computer typing away and eating junk food had rendered me so out of shape that when I would climb a single flight of stairs, it took me five minutes to recover to the point where I could carry on a normal conversation without having to pause to breathe every 10 seconds.
I realized I was dying, so I got back to the gym and started easing my way into a better diet. By the end of 2007 I had started doing triathlons and loved it. I’m down about 45 lbs from where I was then, and my latest passion is trail running. Last Saturday I participated in a 6-hour trail race that had about 8,000 feet of elevation gain (and an equal amount of descent) over a distance of about 13 miles.
Exercise for me isn’t very negotiable. I’ve found it has to be that way, otherwise I won’t do it at all. I’ve also found that I lack the motivation to exercise unless I’m signed up for an event. If I’m not training for a specific event, I get distracted by work and never make it out to run. But if I’m signed up for an event then it scares me, and I get out and get my training done. This time comes out of my work time, not family time. But I’m also able to make it productive time for more than just exercising because it’s my meditation time, and my education time. I listen to audiobooks from Audible.com while I run, played at triple speed, and this way I’ve been able to read hundreds of books over the past few years.
Faith. I’m a Mormon, or member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and with the assignment I have in my congregation I’m responsible, along with others, for the spiritual welfare of about 80 people. I don’t do all I can, or all I should, and I’m trying to do better. Other than time spent on my assignment, Sundays are “church day” for us. We wake up, we have breakfast, we get the kids ready for church, we travel to church (bike ride to the pier, 25 minute ferry boat ride, 10 minute taxi ride, then 5 minute walk), attend church for 3 hours, then travel back home (5 minute walk, 35 minute bus ride, 45 minute bus ride, 10 minute bike ride home). We leave around 10:30 am on Sundays and get home around 6 pm, usually a bit exhausted, and sometimes a bit sick because I haven’t been doing too well lately with the busses on the curving mountain roads.
I also study scripture a half hour each day, or at least I do during the week. Saturdays and Sundays are more difficult. I usually get this in by listening to an audio version of the scriptures while I’m out exercising, or traveling to the city for meetings.
Work. I work more or less from when I wake up until 5 pm. I take a break in the morning for breakfast with the family if I’m working from home at that time. I also usually take a break for lunch with the family.
I get a lot of work done in between things, or overlapping with things. That is, I’m frequently checking email on my phone during every spare second, responding to people, making appointments, etc. I think I do it too much. Another area to work on.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong we didn’t have a limit on me going out at night for events. I rarely went anywhere in Utah at night, so it was a non issue there. But here, there are too many great events. My wife and I decided I would only go out one night per week, and the other nights I would be at home. Every once in a while there is an exception. As I write this I’m about to be interviewed for a TV program, and the interview is at night so it can be live in the US in the morning. I’ve never been on TV before. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up, even though I was also out last night teaching an SEO class. It just came up today, so it’s not something I could have planned for.
So that’s life on a daily basis. It’s not balanced, but it’s what we do.
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