Work Smarter, Not Harder: Achieving Work-Life Balance as an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs, we’ve all heard about the work-life balance, and we know firsthand how elusive it can sometimes be. Teams of one, or one and an assistant, are increasingly working longer hours to get #allthethings done. But ask yourself, honestly, is it working for you?

“Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” - Lori Greiner

Faruk Deveci goes into detail in his 2019 Medium post that entrepreneurs are more willing to work 80 hours a week for themselves, to make a success of their business than they are to work 40 hours a week for someone else. And while this may be true, do we really want to work 80 hours a week? Some might say yes, and others might completely disagree. If you work long hours without proper breaks, you run the risk of burnout, this brings with it its own set of problems where you sometimes can’t work at all.

So how do we make sure we’re working the hours that we want to work on our businesses and still having a life at the same time? Read on, we have some thoughts!

What is work-life balance?

At the Rootvik Agency, we don’t believe in work-life balance. Wait! Hear me out! We strive for a life-work balance. When discussing entrepreneur burnout, even Forbes uses the term work-life balance, so it’s no wonder it’s the “normal” way to say it. But what is that really saying? It’s saying that work comes before life. Is that really the narrative we want to continue?

We’re a long way from “8 hours labor, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest” from Robert Owen in 1817 (discussed in “The History of Work-Life Balance”), with entrepreneurs working longer hours, having poorer sleep hygiene, and spending less time with family and friends. 

Why did you become an entrepreneur? Maybe it was for the money, but there’s a chance it was to spend more time with your children, family, and friends. Ask yourself, honestly, is that what’s really happening?

In modern times we have a constant always-on mentality, so much so that we’ve co-opted the Pomodoro® Technique, from a way to study a sociology textbook in 1987, to a way to get more done in less time every day as an entrepreneur. In case you don’t know it, this is a process of setting a timer for 25 minutes and working for that time, then taking a 5-minute break, repeating that 4 times and taking a half-hour break. Don’t misunderstand, this technique works for a lot of people, and if it works for you that’s awesome! But we know humans can’t work for extended periods without a break, and still perform optimally, but we still expect this of ourselves. 

So how can we get the life-work balance back when we feel like we’re firefighting in our business and keep telling ourselves that we “couldn’t possibly work less?”

Work smarter.

Notice we’re not using the usual “work smarter not harder” quote here. As Alexandra Cote says when discussing Allen F. Morgenstern’s 1930 quote, “Truth be told, we can’t just take an idea from almost 100 years ago and hope it’s still valid.” As an entrepreneur you have to work hard, otherwise, things simply don’t get done. But what if by working smarter we were able to work harder as a byproduct?

Sounds great, but how do we do that?

Radical honesty.

Get serious with yourself about what you can actually get done in an hour/day/week. If you don’t know what that looks like, consider doing a time audit to see exactly where your time is going for a week. Chris Odogwu’s post entitled “What Is a Time Audit and Why Is It Important?” might help you out here. But the Cliff Notes version is - if you know where your time is going when you haven’t organized it properly, you can see what needs to be changed to (potentially) make you more productive. 

If we know where our time is going, if we recognize that we’re spending far too much time doom scrolling social media rather than working on the email newsletter that’s due to go out, we can adjust and get more done in less time. This means that there is more time for life and not work. 


Time block your calendar.

When used with a time audit, this can be a really helpful way to know what’s happening during the week. 

Time blocking in its simplest form is a process of chunking time in your calendar for specific tasks, as John Rampton writes in Forbes; “The key to time blocking is organizing the tasks that need to be completed and then set aside a specific timeframe to focus only on those items.”

  1. Northcote Parkinson’s Parkinson’s Law first appeared in The Economist in 1955 and states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Meaning, that if you give yourself a week to write the newsletter, that’s how long it’s going to take. If you give yourself 2 hours on a Friday afternoon to write it, you’ll get it done. We’re not suggesting that you need to skimp on hours, we’re merely illustrating that you can get more done, in less time, than you probably think.

We’ve all heard the quote “most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years," although where this actually originated is up for debate. But that doesn’t mean it’s not sound. We think we can get more done in a shorter time than we actually can, but have a hard time conceptualizing what compounding effects we can get over a longer time. How often have we set aside half an hour for something, only to still be doing the same thing two or even three hours later?

Employing time blocking after a time audit is a great way to know that your calendar is pretty accurate


Buffer your meetings.

Make sure that you have a 15-minute buffer before and after ALL your meetings. This is a non-negotiable in the entrepreneur's calendar! Try using the 15 minutes before a meeting to grab a drink or snack and visit the restroom, and the 15 minutes after the meeting to type up any notes, and create tasks that have arisen from the meeting so that you know all the action points and minutes have been accurately recorded.

Yes, this means that to have “back-to-back” meetings, there should be a 30-minute gap in the middle. Don’t be tempted to have a single 15-minute gap to do everything, each meeting should have 15 minutes on either side wherever possible. Of course, there are going to be times when this just doesn’t work with your schedule, so try to set aside 30-60 minutes later in the day to review the meetings, assign tasks, and complete your notes for all the meetings you had. You’ll thank yourself later!

When thinking about meetings and the next section on boundaries, try to keep your meetings to time. Have a timed agenda if necessary, just make sure that everyone who is coming to the meeting has the same agenda as you (before the meeting) so they know what to prepare ahead of time. As Cameron Herold, author of Meetings Suck, said in 2017 “no agenda, no attenda.” A meeting with a well-written agenda has a higher chance of finishing on time, or early. As Josh Brown states; “What matters is not the agenda but the relevance and importance of what's on the agenda, i.e., the agenda items. They are the critical ingredient that can lend a nice flow to the meeting.”

Set boundaries (and stick to them).

Boundaries are commonly used when talking about clients, but they don’t have to be. Boundaries can be with yourself. Something as simple as “I won’t work after 6pm” could be a boundary that you have with yourself. Notice there’s a temporal element in that boundary, we could have easily said “I won’t work after my evening meal” but the problem with that is that you may be tempted to push your evening meal back so that you can work more (no judgment, we’ve all done it).

By using a strict cut-off time, there’s no negotiation needed, it’s 6pm, close the computer down and eat! Of course, we’re not saying that you can never work after 6pm, but that should be the exception and not the rule. If you have a bit project going on and you’re right in the middle of something, then it makes sense to carry on. But, as much as you can, keep to your boundary. 

With clients, having a policy for not replying to email/Voxer/Slack at the weekends, if that’s your downtime, could be a very healthy boundary to have. However, if that’s what you’re saying to your clients, you have no choice but to stick to it. The moment you send an email at the weekend, or “just send a quick message” you’ve broken the boundary, and clients may expect that the boundary isn’t in effect anymore. If this should happen, a quick line in an email to say “I’m replying to this at the weekend because it’s urgent, but this shouldn’t be considered as ‘usual’” could be handy to pop in.

Scheduling apps like Calendly, allow you to set working times so make sure you set those up. Some also allow you to schedule specific dates where people can’t book in with you (like your birthday), so pop those in too. If the scheduling tool is bringing in events from Google Calendar, you can schedule all-day events as out of office and your booking app shouldn’t allow people to book in during those times either, just make sure you’re using the right calendar inside Google!

Slack allows you to schedule messages (on every plan, even the free one), so make use of that. This also means that the great idea you had for your client while you were at a movie with your family on Sunday afternoon gets written down and you won’t forget it by Monday morning!

Outsource your work

Automate and overcome!

After you’ve done a task a few times, you’ll know how long it takes you (especially if you’ve done a time audit or time blocked your schedule), and with that information comes the question - can this be automated?

Naturally, some tasks don’t lend themselves to being automated (like writing a blog post), but you might be surprised at the number of tasks you’re consistently doing that could be automated with a bit of creative thinking.

If you use something like ClickUp, have you looked at their internal automation capabilities? If you’re constantly adding the same tasks to the same type of project, consider creating a template with those tasks on it already. When you’re happy with that, look at ClickUp’s automations and see if there’s a specific action you take on a task before you start adding the tasks. For example, you might change the status of the task to ‘in progress’ then add them. If this is the case, create a trigger for the status change and apply the template automatically. 

If you’re familiar with Zapier and/or Make (formerly Integromat), is there anything you can add to that as a workflow to reduce the time you’re spending on repetitive tasks? You might be surprised what you can MacGuyer up in an automation platform to save you some time.


Self-care isn’t selfish.

Read that title again.

Don’t be tempted to fill in the extra time you’ve saved so far with more work. Instead, spend the extra time on self-care and looking after your personal wellbeing. Remember, we’re talking about life-work balance here, not “let's automate some tasks and use the extra time to start another project,” that’s not what this is about!

Self-care looks different to everyone, it might be taking a few extra moments over your first coffee of the day, or going for a midday walk around your neighborhood, to journaling. It could be enjoying a midday meal with your spouse and discussing your days, or playing in the pool with your children. Whatever it looks like to you, set aside time for it.

If you have a problem seeing white space in your calendar and feeling the need to fill it with work (been there too), then fill up those spaces with self-care blocks. Extra points if you have those as “busy” so people can’t book meetings with you over the top of your personal time. 

You must prioritize yourself, your health, your relationships, your family, and your well-being - no excuses.


What did we learn?

  • Do a time audit if you’re not sure where you’re spending your time.
    • You can (and should) do more than one of these, at different seasons of your business. Repeat for new technology, new office space, new people etc.
    • This can also be helpful if you want to bring someone on board to help you. If you don’t know how long something takes, how can you let them know?
  • Time block your calendar for work tasks.
    • Make sure that everything is in your calendar. 
    • If it helps use the “if it’s not in the calendar, it’s not happening” mantra!
    • Make sure you share your calendar with your spouse so they know when you’re busy. You can make use of the “can’t see details” feature if you need to maintain the confidentiality of clients.
  • Buffer your meetings.
    • Make sure you have time before a meeting to look after your physical and mental well-being.
    • Make sure you have time to decompress & log everything after a meeting.
  • Set boundaries for clients and yourself.
    • If you’re setting boundaries around work times, and you work from home with a family, as much as is practicable, let them know your schedule and boundaries and when you’re not working.
    • Unless absolutely necessary, don’t break client boundaries. If you need to send an email at the weekend, either make it clear that this isn’t normal or schedule it for Monday morning. Same for Slack.
  • Think outside the box with templates and automation.
    • Start small, think of a single repetitive thing you’re doing, and think how you can make it faster or more automatic.
    • Use tools already at your disposal e.g. ClickUp templates and automations, or venture out into Zapier or Pipedream.
  • Self-care isn’t selfish.
    • This is vital.
    • Self-care looks different to everyone, stay true to you. 

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