Finding a healthy work-life balance can be one of the hardest parts of running a business. Thanks to our smartphones, work can easily follow us home, emails can be answered at any time of the day, and multitasking can take on a whole new meaning. But while being available for your business around the clock might seem to be a major productivity boost, it can lead to fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and lack of focus. This is called burnout.
“A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress,” Dr. David Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, tells Forbes. “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.” So how can you prevent this from happening?
“Take the day off and do nothing when you feel yourself pushing too hard,” suggests Eloise Bune, the founder and CEO of Handwriting.io. That’s the best-case scenario. But as every entrepreneur knows, it’s not always possible. Instead, there are manageable steps you can take every day to keep your stamina up and your stress levels down. Here’s how the founders of our portfolio companies stay mindful and find balance in their busy schedules:
When you’re running a business, it’s natural to want to stay connected 24/7. But many of our founders suggest taking some time off for a digital detox. Eloise suggests unplugging for an entire weekend once per quarter to explore the great outdoors, while Diane Loviglio of Boon + Gable leaves her phone at home whenever she’s running a quick errand. Or, you can cordon off a screen-free section of your house, like Mariah at Eloquii.
Spending time with your smartphone 24/7 also isn’t healthy — emotional instability, introversion, and materialism have all been linked with cell phone addiction, as well as sleep disruption and less engagement at work. “Incessant checking of emails, sending texts, tweeting, and surfing the web may act as pacifiers for the unstable individual distracting him or herself from the worries of the day and providing solace, albeit temporarily, from such concerns,” researchers at Baylor University wrote in a study on the subject.
Pet your dog
“I got a puppy over the summer,” says Liz Wessel, CEO of WayUp. At first, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to handle taking care of a pet, given her crazy work schedule. “I found that it was not only manageable, but that she helped me to stay happy, no matter what was going on at work. You look at a puppy’s face, and it’s hard not to get in a good mood.” There are health benefits to owning a pet, too. According to the CDC, keeping a pet can decrease your cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels. Plus, researchers in Japan found increased levels of oxytocin — the cuddle hormone — in dog owners. “My dog is my anxiety sponge,” admits Liz Brown, CEO of Viyet.
Set aside time to eat
Alice Cheng, the CEO of Culinary Agents, cooks as often as she can. “It’s soothing for me,” she says, and explains that she loves to try to recreate dishes she’s ordered at restaurants. “I think everyone needs to find their ‘thing’ that keeps them balanced and just make time for it.”
“Have a fabulous meal alone at the bar, with great wine, especially at the end of a long day,” says Krystle Mobayeni of BentoBox. “Even though I’m surrounded by people, it’s personal time — and wakes up all the senses I ignore at work all day.” One study showed that mindful eaters have a better sense of overall well-being and lower body weights than those who don’t take the time to enjoy their food.
Spend quality time with family
Many of our founders noted that their families are their top priority, and talked about special activities they do with their kids; Kate Ryder of Maven reads a children’s book to her son every day, while Lisa Skeete Tatum at Landit plays a “fierce” game of ping pong with her two boys. She makes sure to schedule family time and events into her calendar, giving it the same importance as business meetings. “I don’t believe ‘balance’ is achievable, but ‘priority sequencing’ and remembering what is truly important is what I strive for.”
Keep a journal
“A new routine for me this year is daily journaling,” says Sara Hicks of Reaction Commerce. Each morning, she takes five minutes to write in the Five Minute Journal, and finds the exercise thought-provoking and creatively stimulating. “It’s been a really valuable exercise that helps me to see patterns and understand where or when I might be out of balance. For me, the first step is awareness, so journaling helps me to be more aware, more present, and more able to stay aligned mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.” Shan, the CEO of Zola, also uses the Five Minute Journal, and says it helps her identify and appreciate the little things that make her days special.
Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile told Forbes that journaling is one of the best productivity tools for upping professional performance, and also one of the best-kept secrets.
Develop a ritual
“Morning rituals are a must even when traveling!” Shivani Siroya, CEO of Tala says. “Even if it’s a 20-minute walk — I go for a walk first thing to get fresh air, explore a new city and grab coffee.”
“I don’t jump right out of bed in the morning. I give myself the gift of 10 minutes of silence and calm to visualize the day,” says Lisa, while Krystle stretches for the same amount of time each morning. Mindfulness meditation has long been thought to reduce anxiety and stress levels, but until recently, the research wasn’t taken seriously by the medical community due to issues with experimental setups. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University conducted a review of 18,753 meditation studies and determined that 47 of them could be considered well-designed, valid studies and nearly all of them showed that yes, meditation can be effective in cutting down anxiety, depression, and pain.
Rachel Blumenthal, the founder of Rockets of Awesome, says she likes to take a brisk walk around her neighborhood with music blaring, to clear her headspace. She says, “My husband makes fun of me and calls it my ‘old lady exercise,’ but it really turns my head off.” Even if you’re not formally mediating, taking a few minutes to do nothing can be so helpful. This goes back to the idea that sometimes, you just need to take some time off—even if it’s only for an hour, or enough time to recharge your batteries.