Entrepreneurs know how to work hard. Almost by definition they are people who get themselves going, start all sorts of projects, and push through with a venture until it succeeds or crashes.
Entrepreneurs clearly have no problem on the working-hard side of the equation. It is on the playing-hard side that they tend to fall short. The two sides need to balance if the entrepreneur is to sustain her or his momentum and succeed in the long term.
To understand why so many entrepreneurs suffer from an imbalance between work and play, one has to look at the forces that act on the business owner, both from inside and outside.
Apart from being self-motivated and driven individuals, the pressures from clients, creditors, financiers, competitors and staff tend to keep entrepreneurs working until all hours of the night.
A corporate executive could come to work slightly hung over from time to time, or disconnect somewhat from his work for a while as s/he deals with her/his divorce, and not much will happen to the company. There is no such luxury for the business owner. If the entrepreneur has a bad day, the entire business has a bad day, so business owners have no choice but to work hard and be fully engaged with their enterprise.
The problem is that there are no comparable pressures that come from the non-business side of the lives of entrepreneurs, the family, physical and spiritual modes of their being.
Even if the spouse complains, the children act up, or the entrepreneur’s body sends signals that the balance between work and play needs to be restored, the pressures are nowhere near as strong as those that keep the entrepreneur at his desk or in the workshop/factory.
Entrepreneurs need to play as hard as they work. And by “hard” it means that when they rest, entrepreneurs must truly switch off from their businesses. Just as they are fully engaged with their businesses when they are at work, they must engage with whatever they are doing to restore the balance, whether they are spending time with their family, sleeping, praying, gardening or exercising.
“You cannot restore the balance while you’re sitting at the dinner table ignoring your family while you are mulling over your millions of business problems.”
Why is it necessary to even have a balance? Because without regularly switching off from the business, entrepreneurs eventually deplete their energy levels. Without realising it, you slowly lose your ability to focus and to solve problems effectively. You become a bit of a zombie, staggering from one problem to another without any real direction.
“The longer you stay in the zombie zone, the less work you are actually able to deal with. So you try to work even harder. Eventually, you end up with burn-out.”
Playing hard does not mean that the entrepreneur has to take an extended sabbatical. Just spending an evening fully engaged with your family can fulfill the all-important function of replenishing your energy levels.
But there is another compelling reason entrepreneurs should from time to time get away from their businesses for slightly longer periods. If a business is to grow, it must have systems that run on their own without the constant involvement of the entrepreneur. The only way to develop such systems so that they work autonomously and robustly is to step away from them, at first for short periods, and then for longer spells until all you need to keep it going is a monthly report on your desk.
“You’ve got to systematise your business. If you are there all the time, making all the decisions and trying to do everything, the business remains totally dependent on you. If something happens to you the business is finished, so you’re kind of trapped in your business.
Getting away from the business for a week or two at a time is not only good for the entrepreneur, but good for the business as well. At first, it means even harder work as you have to prepare the business for your absence, but such work is a true investment that yields dividends in the form of business growth, greater freedom, as well as a more balanced and enriched life.
Fosters Kalaile* is the country manager for Business Partners International Malawi