When many of us set out to a start a business, it’s often to make either a more positive change to our life, or to the world. Ask around and commonly cited reasons for starting a business tend to involve:
- flexibility of working hours,
- more quality time with family,
- higher income,
- realizing a passion,
- being the boss,
- location independence,
- having more control, especially control of income, or,
- overall, a better balance.
But nearly all business owners find themselves at one stage or another, living completely contrary to what they set out to achieve… 10 years into a 3 year plan, delaying gratification, with no end in sight.
A lot of digital nomads set out to start a lifestyle business that keeps them fed, sheltered and free to roam as they please. But lifestyle creep and the previously unforeseen success of their business can quickly change their 4-hour work week dream into 60 hours a week and on-call for the rest of the time.
I’ve also fallen into this trap – money was never a motivator, I simply wanted the freedom to live wherever I pleased and not have to take a significant pay cut to do so.
But since going down this path, I have regularly found myself working on weekends, replying to emails at before bed and so on. I simply let my business and my personal standards take control.
So how do we tackle this situation?
You Need to Put Your Lifestyle First
Both books discuss very different concepts, but converge on this very topic.
In The Now Habit, writer Neil Fiore discusses the concept of “The Unschedule.”
An “unschedule” is basically a schedule that encourages you to get started on tasks by defining small, focused, and clearly defined periods to get shit done.
Leisure time is essentially scheduled into your week and is a reward for these periods of focused work. The theory is that with less time available to get things done, we’re less inclined to procrastinate.
Though this isn’t anything revolutionary, and I’m sure plenty of other books make a great argument for other very similar systems, what is most important about unscheduled time in relation to this topic is its prioritization of life aka leisure.
Profit First on the other hand is a book about business finance. Although it delves into a number of quality lessons, it can be summarized by a simple formula:
Sales – Profit = Expenses
By deciding on your desired profit margin, rather than balancing the books at the end of the year and hoping for the best, you’re ensuring that expenditure doesn’t get out of hand and your business actually makes money.
I like this concept because of its simplicity, and in the context of this post, it can be translated into time and our other priorities in life.
Define Your Non-Negotiables
Before you can really work out how to put your lifestyle first, you’re going to need to have a clear vision of what it is you really want from life. This can go pretty deep and honestly, it’s a life long process of getting to know yourself. …but let’s get started anyway. These type of questions may help:
- How much time each week do I want to spend working, if any?
- What sort of income do I want to earn?
- Do I prioritize time with my family, a sport or hobby over building a business or working my job?
- What do I love doing?
- At what point in my life did I have the best “balance”? What was I doing during that time to create such a great balance?
- What gets me excited?
Fairly quickly you’ll realise if you’re a born workaholic looking to take over the world or someone looking to earn enough to facilitate your hobbies. Neither is right or wrong. Being between is also highly likely.
Ultimately you’re trying to get a list of things that makes you a happy person. Once you have this list, you can split off anything that isn’t work or business related.
For example, my current list of non-negotiables includes:
- mountain biking at least once a week in Summer and skiing once a week during Winter,
- lifting weights 3x a week,
- banning myself from any connectivity from 9:30pm onwards,
- hiking twice a week when the ground is clear of snow,
- finishing work at 6:15pm daily to spend time, have dinner with my family and put my son to bed,
- not working after 9:30pm,
- not working on Saturdays, only spending time on fun projects on Sundays
- attending at least 1 event each year to help with my personal development,
- being able to visit family overseas once a year, and
- taking 2x 1 week vacations completely disconnected each year.
Of course, yours can involve anything. I know others that:
- won’t take scheduled meetings other than impromptu ones, even if it means losing business,
- will be home and without distraction to spend time with their family from 4-8pm each night,
- become an athlete after 2pm,
- will only work up to a set number of hours each week,
- after hitting an income goal for the year (say $100,000), close up shop to return January 1 next year (even if they hit the goal in the first half of the year), and
- make time for daily CrossFit sessions, no matter what emergencies are going on with their business.
Location independent entrepreneur, Mark Brenwall discusses his “personal rules”, which I suppose are sort of like a list of company values. Mark won’t break his rules for anyone – because he knows they’re there for a reason.
Schedule Your Higher Life Priorities
With your list of “non-negotiables”, you can schedule your time. I personally use a Google Calendar for my scheduling, but any app or physical schedule will do the trick.
What you’re aiming to do is add all of the important tasks that you need to keep doing to be the person you want to be. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the point in retiring young if I have to exchange it for permanent damage to my posture and relationship.
By scheduling Yoga for Tuesday morning at 8am, a networking event every Thursday at 6:30pm and gym from 12-1pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you’re able to visibly see your obligations and work around them.
The benefit of having this visibility means that you are less likely to “overwork”, and more likely to be productive, as you “just want to finish off this task before going to the gym”.
Remember having a job? I used to always want to get stuff finished before leaving for the day. The problem with your own business? The day never ends.
With less time to get things done, you need to prioritize, which is a great lesson for later in your business life where you’ll need to be hiring someone to do the lower value tasks so you can focus on the most important stuff.
This Isn’t an Excuse to Be Lazy Though
You’ll note earlier that I used the word “balance”. By looking at what made you feel balanced earlier in life, usually you can identify some sort of high value activity you were doing at the time to give off this feeling. For instance, one of my most “balanced” times of my life involved mountain biking, yoga, lifting weights, lake swimming and hiking regularly, despite a fair amount of client stress and long hours at the computer.
Often mediocre life planners and wellness gurus preach a “healthy work/life balance”, sometimes requiring we need all of these things to keep ourselves happy. Don’t believe the hype.
FACT: If you want to achieve lofty goals, you need to make them a priority.
- Nobody became a pro surfer by allocating 1 hour to training each month and partying the rest of the time (many have tried).
- It’s also very hard to get a six-pack while trying to achieve your lifelong dreams of being a world-champion at donut eating.
- Likewise, you’re going to struggle to actually build a business on 4 hours a week.
Building a business most definitely takes sacrifice and putting off less important things until later.
Almost every successful business person talks about focus, and while some manage to build multiple businesses at once, for the most part you will need to commit to the more important one (for now).
“Prime your expectations for work and sacrifice, know your destination, envision your dreams, ready your means, and know that you are simply paying the toll because you don’t want to trade 5-for-2 for life! If you don’t do the hard work that Fastlane opportunity demands, someone else will.”
- MJ De Marco, The Millionaire Fastlane
Lifestyle First Allows You to Keep Pushing
By taking the time to put a few things ahead of your business, you’re making sure you can continue building something great in the future.
Give me just an hour a day of any of the activities from my “balanced period of time” and I’m a happy man, recharged to keep on pushing towards the few goals that are truly important. No doubt there is something that will keep you going strong too.