If you ask a female entrepreneur why she decided to strike out on her own rather than working for a boss, one of the more common reasons you will hear is “I wanted more flexibility and freedom”. In a recent survey we conducted, half of South African small business owners told us that the flexibility of running their own business is the best aspect of being an entrepreneur.
Yet many female entrepreneurs find life in the trenches different to the dream of working in their pyjamas and flipping effortlessly from work teleconferences to doing the school run and preparing lunch for the kids. The lines between home and office and between personal time and work time can melt away, especially in a world where women are still often burdened with an unfair share of the childcare and domestic work.
The result? Far from achieving flexibility, freedom and a healthier work-life balance, you can find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of work and the number of chores you need to manage. However, even if achieving that satisfying work-life balance can seem impossible at times, you can achieve it with the right attitude, support from colleagues and loved ones, and some good planning.
To celebrate Women’s Month, let’s look at five ways to attain a more harmonious work-life balance:
- Manage your time carefully
- Outsource when it makes sense
- Create boundaries between work and personal life
- Minimise distractions
- Prioritise your mental and physical health
Let’s look at each of these tips for busy female entrepreneurs in more detail:
1. Manage your time carefully
The key to achieving the balance you want between work and life is to make the most of every moment of the day. This means you need to manage your schedule as carefully as you manage your finances. Perhaps even more so, since you can make more money but you can’t make more time.
Use a system to manage and allocate your productive hours, whether that is the calendar in Outlook or a Wallchart, and stick to your schedule as best you can. Budget time for the things you need to and want to do, and if you are running out of time, evaluate why and take corrective action.
2. Outsource when it makes sense
There’s no need to be Superwoman and try to do everything yourself – build a support system and ask for help when you need it. In some cases, that will mean seconding your spouse to do the housework or asking a family member to help with babysitting. In other words, it means outsourcing tasks and chores to someone else when it makes sense.
For example, consider hiring an au pair for the school run and to ferry kids around if you are working all hours of the night to catch up after looking after children in the working day. You can also get a personal or virtual assistant to help with personal and business admin such as filing, bookkeeping, or marketing.
You should consider outsourcing when the amount you will pay the person to do the work is less than the value of your own time, and when it will take you so long to do the task or learn the skill to do the work yourself that it is not worth your while.
3. Create boundaries between work and personal life
Friends, family and colleagues often imagine that you have endless flexibility if you are a female entrepreneur running a business from home. It’s therefore important to show them where the boundaries are between home and work life. One the one hand, that means managing the demanding client who expects you to pick up phone calls and briefs at 8pm when you are relaxing with your partner and children. On the other, it means cordoning off the time and space you need to work without disruption from your family.
To this end:
- Create a separate workspace in your home and instruct the children that they may not disturb you unless there is an emergency. If possible, disconnect from work e-mails and phone calls at the end of the day and on weekends.
- Organise playdates and extra murals for children when you are working. Block off specific times in your diary to take care of personal tasks.
- Learn to say no when a family member tries to overstep the bounds into your work time or space, or a client or colleague makes an unreasonable demand that will have a cost for your personal life.
4. Minimise distractions
Keep as focused on each task at hand as you can so that you don’t waste time. Do you need to complete a major document but keeping getting e-mails and social media notifications? Consider turning on airplane mode on your computer and smartphone, so you can work without distraction.
Are you constantly interrupted by phone calls and e-mails when you’re trying to get in the zone? Block off some time in the early morning or late afternoon to return calls and browse e-mails and ignore everything that isn’t urgent the rest of the time.
5. Prioritise your mental and physical health
Many female entrepreneurs will sacrifice coffee with a friend or an hour in the gym to get more work or domestic chores done. But not eating well, exercising, maintaining social connections or sleeping enough will make it harder for you to meet your business and personal goals in the longer term.
If you are not healthy and if you are not in a good mental space, your productivity will suffer. Taking care of business and your family starts with taking care of your own wellbeing.
Striking the right balance
The truth is that achieving balance as a female entrepreneur is not easy. There will be times when demands from the business, your family, your social circle and your community will seem overwhelming. But taking conscious control of your time, prioritising your wellbeing, delegating and outsourcing tasks, and minimising distractions can all help you to strike a perfect balance between your work and personal life.