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14 work-life balance tips for small business owners

Businesswoman hanging a closed shop sign at window

Key takeaways

  • Creating a list of your priorities can help you assess your work-life balance and adjust it to fit your goals
  • Taking breaks allows you to approach your work with renewed focus and creativity
  • Avoiding multitasking can help you accomplish tasks more quickly and to a higher standard

Half of American small business owners said they worked more hours in 2022 than the year before, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report. That marked a 20% increase from the previous survey, which means year after year, more and more small business owners have found themselves putting in longer hours and struggling with work-life balance. These stark work-life balance statistics demonstrate how much business owners may be letting their well-being suffer in pursuit of running their company.

Work-life balance for self-employed people isn’t just a nice-to-have that you can put off until your company is more established; it’s a must-have that should be prioritized at every stage of running a business. Not only is a good work-life balance important to your physical and mental health, but it’s also essential to the health of your company.

According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, using work-time control and avoiding long work hours is linked to increased innovation—an essential skill for small business owners who need to solve problems and keep their company thriving.

Learn how to achieve a healthy work-life balance so you can prevent burnout, carve out time for personal activities, and approach your business with renewed energy.

14 work-life balance tips to reclaim your day

Work-life balance means something different to everyone. Ultimately, it’s not about maintaining rigid work hours (unless that’s important to you)—it’s about ensuring you have enough time for the parts of your life and work that you find most fulfilling.

Defining and achieving a good work-life balance is personal, so not every tip in this list will work for everyone. Choose the tips that sound the most practical for you.

1. Focus on small changes

Much like improving your diet, improving your work-life balance is a gradual process built around small, healthy habits. If you completely change your diet overnight, it’s going to be difficult to stick with—and the same goes for changing your work routine. The key to success is to form tiny habits that align with your goals.

Pick one item on this list to start. Once you’ve mastered that habit, try another item on the list. This will also allow you to focus on the changes that resonate with you the most.

2. Consider your priorities

Before you can reprioritize your schedule, it helps to have a “why.” Maybe you want to spend more time with your friends or family members, reduce your stress levels, improve your mental or physical health, or enjoy a favorite hobby.

When you have a “why,” it’s easier to stay motivated and enforce your boundaries. Try making a list of your priorities with your number-one priority at the top with lesser priorities toward the bottom. This will make it easier to say no to commitments that don’t align with your priorities.

3. Create a to-do list

Work life balance: business owner writing on a notepad in office

A list of priorities is a reflection of your values and long-term goals—a to-do list is a reflection of your short-term goals or the tasks that nurture your priorities and long-term goals.

Try making a to-do list for both your professional life and your personal life. Organize each one by importance, and you’ll always be able to keep track of the tasks that are most essential to your work and home life.

A to-do list is also great for time management. As a visual representation of your workload, you can use it to see when your schedule is getting too full and to prioritize the most important tasks.

4. Pay attention your productivity

Most of us have natural rhythms that make us more productive at certain times of day. You may find that you’re better at simple administrative tasks in the morning and deep work in the afternoon, or vice versa.

Organize your schedule to fit your natural rhythms. This will allow you to take advantage of your most productive times of day, so you’ll be able to get more done in less time.

5. Adjust your work schedule

One of the best things about being self-employed is having the ability to set your own hours. Unless you run a brick-and-mortar shop where customers expect you to be open at certain times of day, you can find a work schedule that’s right for you.

Take advantage of your flexible schedule by experimenting with different work hours until you find the schedule best for you.

You might take a two-hour lunch break so you have time to eat a healthy meal and exercise in the middle of the day. If you’re a morning person, you might try an early schedule, working 6 a.m. – 3 p.m. If you’re an evening person, you might work 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Try to build a schedule around your most productive hours and your natural rhythms. Remember that it’s less important to work set hours each day than it is to work a consistent amount of time across the week. So if you end up working a little longer on Monday night, give yourself permission to finish up earlier on another night of the week.

6. Take breaks

Business owner stretching while taking a break in office

Just because you’ve decided on set working hours doesn’t mean you should work every minute of that time. Taking breaks throughout the day to go for a walk, stretch, or get a cup of coffee can reset your brain, allowing you to return to your work feeling refreshed.

These short breaks will help you refocus and be more efficient. But don’t forget to take longer breaks as well. Taking vacation and fully disconnecting from your work can not only lead to less stress, it can also help you approach your work with more creativity. That’s why companies with the best work-life balance often have happier and more innovative team members. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to go away for vacation, taking a staycation can provide the break you need.

7. Set time boundaries

In addition to—or instead of—deciding on your ideal work schedule, you can also focus on establishing a “no work” schedule. Choose times when you’re not going to check your work email or answer work-related calls. By setting boundaries like this, you’ll be able to dedicate time to loved ones or personal activities that are important to you. Setting these boundaries is one of the most important techniques to balance work and personal life obligations.

8. Set physical boundaries

A businesswoman remote working from home

If you run your business out of your home, it can be even more difficult to differentiate your work life from your home life. Remote work can encourage an “always on” mentality because your business is ever-present in your space. Research shows that while remote workers might have more flexible work arrangements, they often work longer hours than in-office workers.

For home businesses, you can combat this by separating your work environment from your home environment. If you have an extra room, set up your office there and close the door when your workday is done. If you don’t have a separate room with a door, try using a room divider or hanging a curtain to keep your workspace out of sight and out of mind during non-working hours.

9. Set technology boundaries

Always having work at your fingertips is one of the reasons people struggle with work-life balance. But that same technology that connects you to your work can help you disconnect.

You can limit your access to distracting apps during work hours, allowing you to be more productive. (There are plenty of focus apps to help you avoid distractions.) You can also limit your overall screen time per day or limit your access to work apps in the evening to help you unplug and be more present during personal or family time.

10. Learn to say “no”

Many people are afraid to say no to work-related tasks because they think it will negatively impact their success. This can be especially true for small business owners and solopreneurs who feel pressure to take every opportunity and sign every client—especially in the early stages of their business.

However, this philosophy can lead to overwork, and those long hours can actually cause your work performance to diminish—potentially leading to poorer quality of work and less happy clients. Learn to say no to additional work when your schedule is full, or tell potential clients that you won’t be able to start on their project for a few days, weeks, or months, depending on how your schedule is looking.

You can also say no to invitations in your personal life—even if you don’t have any other commitments. Occasionally saving your free time for relaxation can be an important form of self-care that helps with stress management.

11. Limit multitasking

Multitasking can be tempting as it may seem to help you get more done in less time. However, by dividing your attention, you actually extend the amount of time it takes to complete a task compared to if you’d given the task your undivided attention. Multitasking can also lead to low-quality work and mistakes.

Instead of trying to do multiple tasks at once, try giving your full focus to one thing at a time. It can make you more efficient and allow you to accomplish more in less time.

12. Be wary of work-life integration

Entrepreneur holding his baby and working with laptop while working from home

Work-life balance means setting clear boundaries between your work and home life and spending time on each one separately. Work-life integration means combining your personal time and your work time instead of separating them—tackling work and home tasks at all hours of the day.

This can mean reading work emails after hours while you’re spending time with loved ones. It can also mean taking care of personal tasks in the middle of your workday.

Anyone who had young children during the pandemic can tell you the importance of having childcare to separate your family life from your work life—without that separation, your productivity suffers.

Similarly, when your work life encroaches on your home life, it can negatively impact your personal relationships—you won’t be able to give your full attention to conversations with loved ones. This is one of the biggest work-life balance problems and solutions can be as simple as setting boundaries between your work time and family time, and unplugging when you’re with your loved one so you can be fully present.

13. Choose multi-purpose personal activities

Personal activities that fulfill more than one of your needs allow you to make better use of your free time and feel more satisfied with your personal life. Look for ways to combine socializing with hobbies or chores.

For example, you could invite a friend or family member to dinner once a week. You need to eat, and this allows you to nurture your personal relationships at the same time.

You could also find a workout buddy. Invite them to do yoga or go for a walk or run once a week, and then get a healthy meal afterwards. This allows you to prioritize your health and relationships simultaneously.

You can also embrace a relaxing hobby to reduce your stress levels and add a fulfilling personal activity to your day.

14. Outsource the work you don’t enjoy

Small business owners often end up doing everything for their company—from bookkeeping to marketing. But if there are tasks you don’t enjoy, it might be time to outsource.

Even if you don’t have the money to hire an employee, you can often hire a service to do your bookkeeping, marketing, or administrative work. A service is easier to cancel if you suddenly find that you need to reduce your costs or reallocate your funds.

You can also use technology to automate repetitive tasks or streamline the tasks you don’t enjoy. For example, Yelp has marketing tools for small business owners that can make it easier to connect with potential customers. From using Yelp Ads to connect with people who are searching for your services to using the “Request a Call” feature to allow customers to connect at a time that works for you, there are many ways you can use the perks of tech to leave room for the things you want to do.

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Improve your balance

There’s no such thing as perfect work-life balance, but there is better. And a better work-life balance is better for you (and your business).

It can improve your mental and physical health, allow you to tend to your personal relationships, and help you approach your work with renewed energy and creativity.

And when you’re a small business owner, that creativity is essential for running and growing your business successfully.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.