The Smart Way to Self-Care

Run­ning your own busi­ness means work­ing, a lot—but also know­ing when and how to give your­self a break.

Inc. (USA) - - SPREAD THE WEALTH - He­laine Olen (@ helaine­olen) is a vet­eran per­sonal fi­nance jour­nal­ist, the au­thor of Pound Fool­ish: Ex­pos­ing the Dark Side of the Per­sonal Fi­nance In­dus­try, and the co-au­thor of The In­dex Card: Why Per­sonal Fi­nance Doesn’t Have to Be Com­pli­cated.

Xina Ei­land, founder of Wash­ing­ton, D.C.–based pub­lic­ity firm X+PR, al­ways pushed her­self hard. She would start her day by 7:30 a.m. and go till 9 at night. If she couldn’t sleep, she’d send emails to staff or clients at 2 a.m. “I worked all the time,” she says.

Un­til she couldn’t. In 2016, Ei­land sprained her an­kle while run­ning, her one re­lease from stress. She was ex­hausted, which she says con­trib­uted to the sever­ity of her in­jury, and she still can’t run. But the sprain, she says, forced her to con­front the lack of bal­ance in her life: “It made me re­al­ize I had a prob­lem.”

It’s a com­mon one for en­trepreneurs. Al­most half of all busi­ness own­ers clock more than 50 hours per week, and 82 per­cent work more than 40 hours, ac­cord­ing to a poll by the Al­ter­na­tive Board, a small-busi­ness ad­viser. Worse, fewer than half put in those hours hap­pily or en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. In­stead, their mo­ti­va­tions range from be­liev­ing their role is in­dis­pens­able to fear of fail­ure.

This isn’t a good long-term busi­ness strat­egy. (Just ask Tesla’s Elon Musk, whose in­creas­ingly er­ratic be­hav­ior and min­i­mal-sleep habit set off head­lines—and fed­eral charges— this sum­mer.) Busi­ness own­ers who reg­u­larly work ex­ces­sive hours told the Al­ter­na­tive Board they ex­pe­ri­ence im­pa­tience, in­som­nia, for­get­ful­ness, mood swings, and bursts of tem­per. “Burnout can hap­pen to any­one, no mat­ter how much they love their work,” says Nancy Cramer, a lead­er­ship con­sul­tant and founder of Cor­rect Course Con­sult­ing.

So how can you prac­tice self-care the smart way while still ef­fec­tively run­ning your busi­ness?


Just be­cause email, Slack, Face­book Mes­sen­ger, What­sApp, and countless other on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools ex­ist doesn’t mean you need to use all of them. It’s over­whelm­ing and you’ll strug­gle to keep up. In­stead, pick one, and re­quest that your clients use that method to get in touch. “Set the ex­pec­ta­tion and hold them to it,” says Melissa Mor­ris, a Gainesville, Florida–based busi­ness op­er­a­tions con­sul­tant for en­trepreneurs.

It’s also a good idea to set pa­ram­e­ters on time on­line. Car­rie Weaver, a pro­fes­sional coach and CEO of Sil­ver Branch Con­sult­ing, once ad­vised a client who would put her chil­dren to bed and then an­swer email at night for two hours. When Weaver in­structed her to stop, it turned out no one no­ticed the change—and her client was more re­laxed and ef­fec­tive at work. PLAn bIG bREAKS Earl Choate, the founder and CEO of Con­crete Cam­ou­flage, an Is­abella, Mis­souri–based e- com­merce com­pany that sells con­crete-stain­ing prod­ucts, takes Satur­days and Sun­days off and in­sists his em­ploy­ees do so as well. His ex­pla­na­tion? Back when he was a con­trac­tor, he no­ticed that when he and his crew put in more than five days in a row, the qual­ity and quan­tity of the work de­clined. “Ev­ery­one would fall back into the tired and dull fog,” he says.

Longer breaks are im­por­tant too, for your per­sonal health as well as your busi­ness; peo­ple who don’t take va­ca­tion time are more likely to suf­fer heart at­tacks, ac­cord­ing to the Fram­ing­ham Heart Study. Mark Asel­s­tine, the co-founder and CEO of wine club Un­corked Ven­tures in El Cer­rito, Cal­i­for­nia, be­gan tak­ing two weeks off ev­ery sum­mer af­ter notic­ing his pro­duc­tiv­ity wan­ing as the weather got warmer: “With half my sales oc­cur­ring at Christ­mas, sum­mer was about when I needed some time off.”

Yes, you’ll prob­a­bly get some push­back about tak­ing a real va­ca­tion. Ash­ley Si­mon, co-founder of New York City–based Cu­ri­ous Elixirs, a pur­veyor of non­al­co­holic cock­tails, says she re­ceived more than a few pas­sive-ag­gres­sive com­ments about a re­cent one-week break. And no amount of suc­cess seems to stop the va­ca­tion crit­ics: Red­dit co-founder Alexis Oha­nian re­cently took to Face­book to re­port a com­plaint from a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist when he took a hol­i­day ear­lier this year. “If you think that spend­ing time with your wife and kid on va­ca­tion is an ex­am­ple of a poor work ethic, you’re part of the prob­lem,” Oha­nian posted in re­but­tal.

If this hap­pens to you, don’t apol­o­gize. “I typ­i­cally ac­knowl­edge that yes, I’m su­per busy, but I still make time to do things that are im­por­tant to me,” Si­mon says, “and that I don’t think it’s smart or en­joy­able to work seven days a week for years on end.”

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