10 Tips for Saving Your Life From Your 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

(Image: Kenneth V. Pilon/Shutterstock)


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  • tommy says:

    I design clothes for a living and absolutely looooooove what i do.But there is a lot more to biz than being fashionably creative. I had to make a big decision to not throw all of me into what i do so i can have good quality time for my other loves i.e my hubby,children,friends and family. Its hard but when all is said and done a well balanced life is the only true measure of success. Thanks for sharing this.

  • LuAnn Lukenbach says:

    I started my business almost two years ago. I do it on the side and it is challenging to maintain balance while working a full time job. But I believe as you; you can be successful in your family, your business, and your life if you keep everything in balance. Thank you for your words of wisdom. They serve as a great reminder.

  • Paul Swarthout says:

    Hi Tim,
    No truer words have ever been written. I have counted myself among the ranks of entrepreneurs for 12 years. I have tried to incorporate #1, #3, and #4 into my business/home life since the beginning of my business. Vacations have been limited to 3 day weekends, and even those have been few and far between. Exercise? Yep, sounds like a good idea, but that sounds too much like work. 😉

    But I think you’re missing one very important fundamental. Regular exercise and regular meals touch on it, but you don’t actually state it. Here’s the 6th fundamental.

    6. Manage your Health Effectively. This isn’t about whether you’re going to catch the next bug-of-the-month illness that’s going around; this is about your long term health and the things that you need to do to avoid becoming a short-life statistic. Many long-term illnesses like heart ailments, lung ailments, depression, etc. can be avoided (or at least not hastened) by eating properly, sleeping properly, taking your vitamins, getting proper exercise, etc. Even if you will be one of the unlucky ones to contract a serious debillitating illness in your lifetime, there is no reason to make it show up 10 years early because you sacrificed your health for the sake of your business.

    Its really easy when you’re self-employed to skip breakfast, wolf down a candy bar or a bag of chips for lunch and justify it by saying that you cannot leave your desk. Its really easy to stay up all night to finish that proposal for a new client, or do the day’s accounting duties, or design your next marketing gimmick. Lack of proper nutrition can lead to a variety of long term debillitating illnesses. Lack of proper sleep can lead to depression, feelings of burn-out, and probably a whole host of illnesses that I don’t even know about….yet.

    In my 12 years, I have gone for weeks at a time, surviving on 2 or 3 hours of sleep per night and 2 or 3 grams of daily caffeine, while skipping breakfast and often lunch. In the end, I’m testimonial to the fact, that its just not worth it.

    If you give up your health, then the other 5 fundamentals won’t matter. Besides, most of us want to retire someday. Without your health, it may be difficult to live long enough to retire.

  • Phyllis says:

    Hi Tim,
    I believe there is a lot of truth in your comments, its 4 days before Christmas and I don’t have the first sign of Christmas in my house. No lights, no tree, no postage on greeting cards! Wow, I am losing early on in the game. I know you are right and I certainly don’t want to be out there alone. Thanks for the reality shock.

  • Tim Kern says:

    Thanks for this post on saving your life from your business. As an entrepreneur, I agree that the typical traps are too easy to step in!

    It’s easier when you’re divorced and childless, and with siblings scattered around the world and parents long in the grave. Really — it is easier, since there are fewer draws on time (notice I didn’t say “drains”); but it’s also harder to do the “family mealtimes” and to do “something to believe in.” The first is impossible (although I do see friends at the breakfast restaurant once a week); the second is more-difficult, because no one depends on me, and I don’t care so much about myself that I’m willing to work that much harder to be this much better-off. It’s probably a function of the exponentially-harder task of raising revenue balanced against the escalating income tax rates — you have to work a lot harder, to earn just a little more.

    So, I’ve developed one more thing, now that I’m getting close to that mystical age of 60 — and what, exactly, happens at 60, anyway? Do I suddenly become mentally incapacitated? Too late! I’m already un-hirable; besides, after working for myself for so long, I pretty much don’t want to settle in for a long-term job, keeping bosses and subordinates apart by being their shock absorber.

    Anyway, that one thing is to simply adjust my lifestyle demands to my comfort level, working at my own certain level. Of course, I still innovate; I still look for the cool assignments and consulting gigs; I just don’t fret if I don’t get them. The “plums” go into what I laughingly refer to as my “retirement fund,” the money I’ll use when I become deathly ill and have to retire. In the meantime, I enjoy my industry colleagues, my clients, and getting to know people in my little town, even as I try to do nice things behind peoples’ backs. (That’s my real amusement. They never know why things got easier! They don’t expect more, so they don’t slack off on their own efforts; but they can operate at some tiny, incrementally-higher level, just because they got a break.)

    Your article really made me think. I am re-starting my exercising, and I know that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t have done that without your clear exhortation!

    • Tim Berry says:

      Tim (Kern), thanks for the comment, and I feel like I should answer that what happens when you’re 60 question, since it comes straight from my last sentence; and I turned 60 almost two years ago now. Honest truth, 50 didn’t phase me, and neither did 40 or 30, or the quarter century 25. And I was physically better equipped to deal with it when I passed 60 than at 55 or so, because I’d wised up and started getting regular exercise. But for me, 60 sounds old. Doesn’t feel old physically exactly, but sounds old. And in my case, my dad has passed 90 and is still going strong, playing tennis, on the Internet regularly, very sharp, so I figure I have another 30-40 years. I still lift weights twice a week, ski, and go on long high-mountain hikes in the summer, but when I look in the mirror, I can’t deny it any more, that’s an old guy looking back at me. Seeking wisdom maybe, some days, but not finding it yet. Tim.

  • Donna Maria Coles Johnson says:

    I do some of these things well, others not so much. Lately, I’ve begun to see it as a question of non-negotiables, and the faith that if you are doing what you are called to do in life professionally, God will provide the increase. Serving others while also wrecklessly disregarding my own life is unwise and probably causes much pain and regret down the line.

  • Mike says:

    Well said, Tim. Something I and many people I know sometimes forget. If you chose family, then there’s no amount of business success that can make good, your failing at family.

  • eustace says:

    good post indeed. The lust for materialism and the greed to make it at all costs including sacrificing family and good friendships is the bane of many marriages and the rising divorce in the society. Success is sweet and wonderful but should not be at the altar of sacrificing family and true friendship

  • Maria Helm says:

    I love, love, love your post! I couldn’t agree more on your 5 fundamental rules. No matter how successful you are in business, your business cannot buy you love, happiness, and good health.

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  • Ryan says:

    Hey Tim,

    Really helpful. I fully agree and have been doing lots of these already. Especially helpful was making use of those middle of the night obsessing times to plan, make a list, and then relax knowing I at least recorded it. Thanks for posting… I came from a SmartBrief for Entrepreneurs newsletter (FYI)

  • Timo says:

    I might add one more thing, keep doing what you love or you will lose your spark. Running a business is different from doing what you love. In my case, developing creative for marketers. Hiring someone to take away the drudge of daily business concerns will free you up to do what you love. I didn’t and regret it. Take it from me, a burnt out, disillusioned, disheartened and broken guy who has spent his every dime, spurned his family obligations, and alienated his entire support group in search of solo success to only find there really isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just more rain and more taxes, and more paperwork. Once your business starts, the admin side never ends, it just grows and grows. Just like our greedy government!

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  • Jolene Anderson says:

    Well stated… what they didn’t teach us in Business School. Work life balance should be taught at every university and community college in America. Pursuing the American dream at the expense of family and relationships is too high a price to pay..

    Success is sweeter when it can be shared with loved ones

  • chad says:

    Tim…I felt like you were talking directly to me! Great advice and rules to live by. It’s so easy to get focused on the day to day grind of starting, then operating a business, it truly never ends no matter where you are in the business cycle.

    This will serve as a reminder to myself (and my family) that balance between life and business, is really the true sign of success. I certainly would hate to feel as though I wasted the scarcest resource!

  • Jayesh Bhatia says:

    Very Practical,

    After a really long time I have met (online and otherwise) a person, especially an entreprenuer, who does not measure Success by only growth, money, sales, etc.

    You said “Success in life can be something different than purely sales, growth, profits, and celebrity as an entrepreneurial success.” I would like to add that the best measure of success is to be able to define one’s objectives in life and achieve them, irrespective of whether the world celebrates your success or not.

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