Improving the work-life balance: 6 steps every entrepreneur should take

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The work-life balance debate is now, more than ever, a hot topic. Patrick Pichette, Google’s long time CFO retirement announcement from this Thursday brought back, once again, the question most entrepreneurs have lingering in their heads: “So When Is It Going to Be Time?”

Time to spend with family and friends, time to travel and discover new places and cultures, time to be on your own and just kick back and relax, time to do whatever you want without checking your Smartphone every 2 minutes.

In his retirement memo, Pichette, 52, says: “After nearly seven years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family”, and to go beyond this safe cliché used extensively by notable executives leaving their positions, he continued his statement by offering an honest explanation regarding the never-ending struggles of work/life balance at his level. The entire note, published on his Google+ account is well worth a read.

After nearly 7 years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family.  Yeah, I know you’ve heard that line before.  We give a lot to our jobs.  I certainly did.  And while I am not looking for sympathy, I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life.

This story starts last fall. A very early morning last September, after a whole night of climbing, looking at the sunrise on top of Africa – Mt Kilimanjaro. Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer. (see exhibit #1 – Tamar and I on Kili).

And Tamar out of the blue said “Hey, why don’t we just keep on going”. Let’s explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it’s just next door, and we’re here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef… Antarctica, let’s go see Antarctica!?” Little did she know, she was tempting fate.

I remember telling Tamar a typical prudent CFO type response- I would love to keep going, but we have to go back. It’s not time yet, There is still so much to do at Google, with my career, so many people counting on me/us – Boards, Non Profits, etc.

But then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.

A few weeks later, I was happy back at work, but could not shake away THE question: When is it time for us to just keep going? And so began a reflection on my/our life. Through numerous hours of cycling last fall (my introvert happy place) I concluded on a few simple and self-evident truths:

First, The kids are gone.  Two are in college, one graduated and in a start-up in Africa. Beautiful young adults we are very proud of. Tamar honestly deserves most of the credit here. She has done a marvelous job. Simply marvelous. But the reality is that for Tamar and I, there will be no more Cheerios encrusted minivan, night watch because of ear infections, ice hockey rinks at 6:00am. Nobody is waiting for us/needing us.

Second, I am completing this summer 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work (depending on how you wish to cut the data). And being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged – I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.

Third, this summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.

If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.

Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road – celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.

Working at Google is a privilege, nothing less. I have worked with the best of the best, and know that I am leaving Google in great hands. I have made so many friends at Google it’s not funny. Larry, Sergey, Eric, thank you for friendship. I am forever grateful for letting me be me, for your trust, your warmth, your support, and for so much laughter through good and not so good times.

To be clear, I am still here. I wish to transition over the coming months but only after we have found a new Googley CFO and help him/her through an orderly transition, which will take some time.

In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful. Carpe Diem.

It’s true that every entrepreneur wants his/her business to grow beyond belief and passion is his/her main drive, but the fact of the matter is that, in most cases, even passion will need to be counterbalanced, because experience shows us that in order to work better you need to spend a little less time working.

Surrendering too much of your time to your business will, sooner rather than later, have a certain degree of negative impact on your personal life, because most entrepreneurs who have recently launched their startups will try to cram their schedule with as much work as possible, forgetting that they need some personal time to recharge their batteries and to connect with their loved ones.

So here are six simple things you can start doing today that will help you maintain a healthy balance between your work hours and your personal life.

Before you start your journey, take a step back and analyze your life in order to determine where exactly is your life out of balance. You need to give yourself some time to figure this out before creating an action plan to help you manage your professional and your personal life better.

Once you finished the first step, the next logic one is to get your priorities straight. Not sure what that means? Think about Henry David Thoreau saying: “It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”

So before diving head first in your busy life, decide what are the most important aspects that you want to invest your time and resources in? Think about your needs and wants. That doesn’t mean you are selfish. It means that you value and respect yourself and that you are smart enough to know that you can’t help others unless you are in a good place. So in order to get there, put yourself on top of your priorities list and just see how that feels.

Start taking some time for you, both inside and outside of work. Some entrepreneurs have created break rooms where they take some personal time in the afternoon just to kick back and relax, whether it’s reading a book or playing ping pong. This kind of space has a tremendous positive impact over your employee as well, because they use it not only to take a break from work, but also to connect with their colleagues, which leads to an increased inclusion feeling and better company culture. And when they return to their desks they are energized and locked in. Regardless of how busy you are, remember that you need some alone time, so make a schedule for that on a weekly basis.

Another aspect many entrepreneurs need to learn is how to leave things behind. Leave your work at the office! Don’t mix personal life with work (too much), because this is a sure-fire way to never be able to focus entirely on one of them. I know it’s not easy, because you feel the need to talk with your family about your business, especially if you are both active in the company, but if you can’t cut the business discussions completely, at least make a schedule or limit the amount of time you talk business.

Another thing you need to learn in order to manage to actually have a personal life is to delegate!  Delegating actually means that you don’t have to take everything on yourself and it goes hand in hand with trusting people. When you delegate, you not only get more time for yourself but you also empower your employees by showing them that you trust them and you believe that they can do a good job, so it’s a win-win situation.

And last but not least, learn how to say “No”! This line alone deserves one or two articles on its own, but for now, I will say just that: learning to say NO it’s an art and it actually takes a lot of time to master it, so you better start today!

One of the main reasons we end up not having time for ourselves or for doing the things we love is because we are always tempted to say Yes, when people ask us for something, even to things we really wouldn’t want to do.

So if you want to achieve a good balance between your personal and professional life, you need to learn to say “No” when it’s necessary. How do you know when it’s necessary? Check your priorities list!

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