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.
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.”