Guy Vicars is an individual counsellor, psychotherapist and relationship therapist in private practice. He is an academic teacher in undergraduate and postgraduate courses in counselling.
Creating time to consider, and act on, how you protect and foster your health and wellbeing, is the best way to ensure the success of your business and satisfaction in your life.
Some years ago, I worked with a bloke who had a consulting business that was a one-man-show. He had a good life and looked after his family, managed to balance professional and home life, and enjoyed helping his clients.
As is typical for sole operators, he was everything from chief bottle washer, emptying the bins, cleaning the office, doing his own IT, running the accounts receivable and accounts payable department, answering the phones and scheduling appointments. You get the picture. And then he did the work his clients paid him to do; the work he loved.
He had an office set up at home. The office was the first room to the front door, meaning clients could come straight in without going through the rest of the house, and the bathroom was accessible without impacting the rest of the family… so long as he timed his clients right. That is, when the kids were at school and the wife was at work. Of course, this proved stressful in its own right, but, well, he figured this is just what you have to do.
He loved his office. It was a great size and of a style that suited him. Separate phone line. Fireplace. Comfortable. He had it set up just right.
Fact is, he could often be found in there, in his office, late at night. He enjoyed the space, so why not? It helps to start the following day getting a few extra things done. After all, there was only him. It made sense. Admittedly, he found it hard to get a break because the proximity of the office meant it was easy to slip in and do the ‘odd job’. It was almost addictive.
One morning he went into the office to answer the phone – early. He took the call. He was the consummate professional; available for his clients; responsive. It was good for business. That’s the turf for a ‘solo-preneur’.
After finishing the call, he looked down. On the top half he was wearing a T-shirt and jumper; on the bottom… nothing. Not a thread. Not a skerrick. Horrified, and stifling a yelp, he bent over double as he reached for the door, hoping no one would see him through the window, and fled.
Having working so hard to get it right, to balance everything and be ‘on top’, reality came crashing in. He had no time off, or time away from work, because everything was so ‘convenient’. There were no boundaries between work, home and family.
Despite being social and speaking to many people on the phone, he came to the sudden, surprising realisation that he was lonely, having little outside contact with friends or even colleagues.
He was stretched too thin and a creeping awareness emerged that he probably wasn’t providing the best service to his clients. To top it all off, he was exhausted.
A story that’s all too familiar
This story is pretty typical in many respects. Maybe you can identify with this ‘case study’. Perhaps you change the gender of the person, the marital status or the office setting.
However, the essential set of problems are easy to identify. The person needs to set some proper personal/professional boundaries. There needs to be greater, set time away from work doing other things, but particularly having social connections. Time to exercise is clearly important but so is time just doing nothing; an almost seemingly impossible luxury these days.
Getting the balance right
The economy is challenging to say the least, but couple that with working in a demanding industry undergoing huge ructions and ongoing change makes for a stressful work life, to put it mildly.
Unfortunately, when businesses and people are under pressure, the first things they tend to sacrifice for the greater good are things that don’t cost anything financially. Things like having a break, employing staff or even getting a cleaner. Things like getting out under the sky and moving the body. Things like being social (as opposed to being on social media).
In fact, the very things we all need to look after most – our health and wellbeing – are the things we tend to sacrifice first. How often have you said: “I’ll go for a longer run/gym session/swim…tomorrow.” You and I both know it never happens.
If you don’t look after you, no one else will. I’ll keep it brief but start here:
Drink water. This is especially important when you’re tired. People often reach for a snack or a coffee when, in fact, they are dehydrated.
Move your body – often. Sitting is the new smoking. If you can use a standing desk, it helps considerably. If not, at least take calls standing.
Notice your own daily rhythms and work accordingly. If you override them often, then you may not recognise important health signals, but they mean something, so figure it out for you.
Schedule times that best suit you. This includes scheduling meetings, time for computer work, emails and phone calls according to the times of the day that best suit your energy and concentration levels.
Establish good sleep hygiene practices.
Incorporate different, non-work-related stimuli into daily life. Examples include sport, hobbies and music, which all help to keep you fresh
Meet with friends regularly.
Get a mentor and/or a support group.
Be a mentor for others. This looks like more work, but studies also show that ‘giving’ has significant health benefits.
Quench thirst with soft drinks.
Overdo stimulants. This includes tea and coffee (e.g. energy drinks).
Work for the sake of putting in the hours; it’s counter-productive. After about a 38-hour work week, studies reveal that productivity dives sharply, so breaks are essential for health and wellbeing.
Reduce life to the narrow track of work only. This creates a stale mind.
Get lulled into taking a break by checking social media constantly or even frequently. Develop discipline around this. Early studies show what we know to be true when it comes to reliance on social media platforms, and the effects are negative.
Be on blue screens for an hour prior to bed.
These lists could go on for some time and each of us will have our idiosyncratic additions that make the lists even more meaningful and helpful. The point is, creating time to consider, and act on, how you protect and foster your greatest asset, will without doubt be the best way you ensure the success of your business and satisfaction in your life.
By the way, the names and faces of the people talked about in this ‘case study’ have been pixelated to protect my… um, their identity.