Running your own business can be extremely demanding. It is even more challenging when you have family responsibilities to meet, such as bringing up children, caring for a dependent with disabilities or looking after elderly parents or relatives.
There are many steps you can take to achieve a better work-life balance. These include organising your time more effectively, getting help from others and creating greater work flexibility for yourself.
Consider all your commitments
- Take into account all of your work commitments, commitments to yourself, your business, clients and, where applicable, your business partner(s) and employees.
- Think about your domestic commitments.
- Also consider your life goals and how much time you need to put towards achieving these.
Analyse how you spend your time
- In a vertical column write down everything to which you currently devote time. This might include your partner, children, relatives, self, social life, domestic chores and work.
- Next to these, write how many hours you devote to each in an average working day. It might also be useful to consider how you spend your weekends - especially if you normally spend these working.
- Create an accurate picture of how you spend your time.
Identify a more favourable work-life balance
- Assess the data. Identify things to which you're devoting too much time or things to which you would like to (or should) give more time. Consider whether you are doing justice to all of your domestic and professional responsibilities.
- Think about how your commitments are likely to change. For example, your children might be coming up to school age, or ageing relatives might soon need more care from you.
- Remind yourself about your values, priorities and goals. Think about why you work - is it primarily for financial reasons, or are there others?
- Against your existing categories, enter new figures that you believe would give you a more ideal work-life balance.
- Although not all changes will be possible straight away, think about practical things you can do to work towards your revised figures.
2. Time at home
Sit down with your family regularly and plan ahead
- Run through your business commitments and work out how they impact on your family.
- Give family members notice of your forthcoming work commitments.
- Make sure that important family events (eg sports days, concerts and medical appointments) are mentioned in your work diary to avoid clashes. If applicable, make sure work colleagues know about these.
Organise your time
- Whether at work or home, writing daily or weekly to-do lists can help you prioritise tasks and ensure that you don't forget anything.
- Do as much as you can in advance.
Allow for crises such as illness or unexpected deadlines
- Build flexibility into your working week (see Flexible working arrangements).
- If you live with someone, make sure they are aware of any possible last-minute commitments that may come up.
- Plan in advance what to do if an unexpected work deadline arises.
Go for quality if you can?t have quantity
- If you only have limited time to spend with your loved ones make sure it is spent well. For example, play a game with your children rather than watching TV.
- Eat round the table (not the TV). Family dining is known to improve communication and harmony.
Make the most of your weekend
- If applicable, ask your partner to look after the children so that you can enjoy 'me time'. Part of the bargain should be that you return the compliment.
- Try to make childcare arrangements so that occasionally you can spend the weekend (or part of it) just with your partner or friends.
Manage household chores fairly
- Make sure everyone does their fair share of household tasks, including yourself.
- Check that everyone is happy with their role and show appreciation for what they do.
- If necessary, ask relatives to help. Or consider paying for services like cleaning and ironing.
- Look for ways to save time on chores, such as shopping online.
3. Care options
Consider the full variety of childcare choices available
- These range from live-in nannies and au pairs to registered childminders, crèches and nurseries.
- Take up offers of help from relatives and friends you can trust.
- If you have friends nearby with children of a similar age, do reciprocal child-minding.
Find out about free childcare and tax breaks
- These can help with overall costs.
Take advantage of school and holiday clubs
- Many schools run pre- and after-school clubs (sometimes called 'wraparound care').
- Find out about local school holiday clubs and other out-of-term schemes for children.
Find out about support for those who care for dependent relatives
- This could be an elderly parent, child or family member with disabilities.
- Contact social services to find out about support in your area. They might also be able to put you in touch with local carers' associations.
4. Reducing your workload
Keep your business goals realistic
- Don't set unrealistic goals and don't accept unreasonable demands from others. An unmanageable workload will increase your stress levels.
- Be practical about the standards you set. Aiming too high will create pressure.
- You may need to adapt or scale back your business plans if your domestic circumstances change.
Delegate tasks whenever possible
- Assign responsibility for some of your tasks to others to reduce your workload.
- Knowing when to delegate is a sign of efficient management. Don't be afraid to do it and learn when to let go.
- Make sure you can trust the abilities of the person you delegate to, or you could be making more work for yourself. Extra training may be required.
- Make your instructions clear and comprehensive. Institute effective lines of communication and build in handover periods.
Consider outsourcing some business activities
- You could outsource accounting, HR or marketing, for example.
- You need to have complete faith that the services you receive comply with best practice, that they are tailored to your individual needs and are delivered when you need them.
- Find a reputable service provider, preferably one experienced in businesses similar to yours. Always find out the cost and discuss service quality before going ahead.
5. Flexible working arrangements
Tailor your working hours to fit your domestic responsibilities
- Consider working longer days so you can fit your working week into four days.
- Employees have various family-friendly and flexible working rights.
Consider working part-time
- Obviously this will depend on how much you need to earn and the demands of your business.
- You could reduce your hours as a short-term measure, for example, if you have to nurse a sick relative. Your hours can be increased when circumstances change again.
- Improved time management, delegation, outsourcing, job-sharing or employing staff can make working part-time hours feasible. Don't attempt to take on a full-time workload on part-time hours.
- Part-time businesses can be profitable. The key is to set realistic business goals and to be sure that you can generate sufficient income in this way.
Work from home when possible
- As well as saving the stress and time involved in commuting, working from home offers greater flexibility and fewer distractions.
- You will need the right equipment: a dedicated laptop or computer with reliable internet access, remote email/server access and the necessary software, a printer, a phone, stationery supplies, and a comfortable work area free of distractions.
- Communication and collaboration tools can help you work effectively with staff based elsewhere.
- A redirect on your work phone to your home line or mobile will allow others to reach you.
- Decide how many hours to work and stick to this. Otherwise work will spill over into your personal time.
- Don't let domestic distractions interfere with your work. Remain disciplined and use your time efficiently. Make sure that others you live with know not to disturb you while you are working at home.
- Recognise when you need to connect with your staff in person. If you work remotely all the time, you may risk losing touch with important business issues and feeling isolated.
6. Coping with stress
Keep a journal for a fortnight
- Log your mood swings, physical symptoms, sleep patterns and diet.
- Analyse the factors that trigger feelings of stress. If you get to know these, you can work on your responses and identify preventative measures.
- When you feel stressed there are a number of quick and effective things you can do. These include breathing deeply, taking a short walk outside or having a cup of decaffeinated tea or coffee away from your desk.
Learn how and when to say no
- Don't shy away from refusing or delegating a task if you're trying to take on too much.
- If you feel pressured by someone, tell them you will respond when you have had time to think.
Unwind after work
- Listen to calming music on the journey to and from work. If you travel on public transport, read a magazine or book, stream a TV show on your mobile, or listen to music or a podcast.
- Leave professional concerns in the workplace and domestic issues at home.
- Change into comfortable clothes shortly after arriving home.
- Take some time to sit down and relax before rushing to prepare meals or carry out other domestic chores.
Allow time for yourself
- Factor into your working week time for self-development - for example, learning a new skill.
- Do the same at home. Make time to watch a favourite TV programme, read or pursue a hobby.
- If applicable, come to a reciprocal arrangement with your partner about taking sole responsibility for looking after your children. This will create free time for you both.
- Don't let others encroach on time you set aside for yourself.
Look after your health
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Opt for energy-boosting snacks - avoid comfort eating or junk food. Binge-eating creates energy peaks and troughs.
- Make sure you get enough rest and sleep to avoid burnout.
- Find time to exercise. A bicycle ride or long walk in the open air can work wonders, as well as providing an excellent opportunity to enjoy time with your loved ones (or some time by yourself).
Meet your obligations under family-friendly employment law
- The law allows for paid maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave as well parental bereavement leave (should the worst happen) as well as further unpaid leave to look after children and other dependants.
- Fathers, parents and partners have the right to take unpaid time off for two ante-natal appointments.
- Most employment rights are protected while an employee is on leave, including rights to salary reviews, appraisals and promotions.
- Pregnant women and new mothers are protected against dismissal or redundancy on grounds of their pregnancy.
Recognise different types of commitment
- Your employees' domestic circumstances might be unfamiliar to you, but they can face the same work-life balance dilemmas.
- Interpret the term 'family' broadly. Step-parents have parental responsibilities to fulfil, as do parents of children from a previous relationship who aren't currently living with them.
- Remember that a person's care commitments can involve extended family members (eg a partner's parents).
Introduce a range of flexible-working solutions
Different solutions will suit different people. There are a range of flexible-working solutions for you to consider, including:
- having a flexi-time system
- allowing employees to go part-time or job-share if this helps them meet their domestic commitments
- different term-time and holiday-time working arrangements for those with parental responsibilities
- an annualised hours arrangement where employees have to work for an agreed amount of hours per year, not a set amount each week
- the ability for employees to work from home where feasible
- offering employees the chance to take career breaks
Offer flexible-working arrangements equitably
- All employees with at least 26 weeks' service have the right to request flexible working arrangements. You have a duty to consider these requests in a reasonable manner.
- You can refuse such requests if there are sound business reasons such as the burden of additional costs, an inability to rearrange the work amongst other staff or a detrimental effect on your ability to meet customer demand.
- Affording all employees equal treatment will protect you from charges of discrimination.
Avoid a long-hours culture in your business
- Allowing others to achieve a more favourable work-life balance can improve productivity. It can also help you recruit and retain staff.
- Allowing staff members (or yourself) to work excessive hours can have detrimental effects on health. Legally, employers have a duty of care to protect the health of their staff in their place of work.
- Read about work-life balance, stress and mental health from the Mental Health Foundation.
- Find guidance on dealing with stress from NHS Choices.
- Find information on help with childcare costs from GOV.UK.
- Contact your local council for information on registered childminders and school and holiday clubs through GOV.UK.
- Find guidance on the rights of working parents and carers from Acas.
- Read guidance on flexible working for employees (free registration required) from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development).
- Find guidance on the right to request flexible working from Acas.
- Download a guide to flexible working and work-life balance from Acas.