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Work-life balance: should business be a pleasure?

5 October 2020: Some people try to keep business and pleasure separate to maintain a good work-life balance, while others enjoy their work so much that they find it hard to switch off. So where should the equilibrium lie? Author and practice owner Della Hudson outlines four ways busy professionals can gain some perspective.

Work plays a significant part in our lives and with the recent lockdown blurring the lines between home and working life still further, it’s understandable that many professionals struggle to disconnect from the office.

However, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is not only important for your physical and mental health, but it can also improve your productivity and ultimately your performance. 

It’s important to recognise this and take action where needed: as the old adage goes, either you run the day, or the day runs you. Here a few tactics or thought exercises I’ve found helpful over my career as an accountant in industry and practice.

Going cold turkey - holidays and dry January

Workaholism is an addiction. Like many other addictions, it starts to take its toll when it is at the expense of other things in our lives. It’s a trap many of us fall into when launching a startup or trying to impress a new manager or director. But then it becomes a habit or, if pricing or workflow don’t evolve and grow with the business, it remains a necessity. 

So why not try doing the equivalent of a dry January and going cold turkey for a whole week? One week with no work and no contact with the office at all. Most of the working population refer to this as a holiday. Are you able to turn on your out of office, brief your team or answering service, and take a whole week away from business knowing that you (and it) will survive? 

How many hours are acceptable?

I started my business when my children were small, so I had to do everything in the 25 hours a week when they were at school. In school holidays, this work could be shifted around and pushed into evenings and weekends. As they grew older, I was able to work for longer hours, but I chose not to do so. If I can start and grow an accountancy practice on relatively few hours, why do others feel the need to work 80 hours a week?

Putting in more hours allows you to grow faster and delays having to pay for additional labour. But the longer we work, the poorer the returns. You may only have a couple of hours per day of premium working time, then you step down to your normal work rate, and finally we’re only fit for filing. 

Sometimes it is necessary to power on through because of a deadline but, if every day is like this, there is no spare time to accommodate a crisis. This will differ for everybody but it’s why I am a fan of shorter working days rather than a shorter working week.

Perhaps we could start with the Working Time Directive and limit ourselves to an average 48 hours per week, then work down from there?

Hobbies and switching off

Many people continue to work long hours because they love their work and have no outside hobbies. But, just as every athlete builds recovery time into their training schedule, business owners need to have a chance to switch off their brains. 

Hobbies can work in two different ways. Some require little thought and so the brain can unravel and relax; I run for this reason. Some force you to use your brain in another way so that you are forced to switch off from the business altogether. I take language lessons or watch football for this reason although, as a Bristol City supporter, one is considerably easier than the other.

The risk is in switching one obsession (work) for another.

What about a four-hour working week?

This is really helpful as a thought exercise. If you could only work four hours per week, what are the things that only you could do? You would then have to delegate, outsource, or automate the rest. Now how about implementing some of your ideas in your own practice and enjoy your work even more.