Business

Small-business owners need to know when to flip the ‘off’ switch

When I wrote down a list of business goals for 2016, working fewer hours was not part of my plan. But as fate would have it, I finally found a reason to set some healthy limits.

I’m shutting down my computer each day no later than 7 p.m. My weekends are now more about rest, not work. And every day, no matter what is happening with my business, I find the time for a brisk, four-mile walk.

It hasn’t always been that way.

Time was, my daughter would sneak into my bedroom at night to confiscate my laptop, which she’d find resting on my chest as I drifted off to sleep. Weekends, all too often, were just another work day. And as for exercise…well, forget about it.

All that began to change when I realized that the stresses of owning a small business were taking a toll on my health. With so much clutter rolling around in my head, I was finding it hard to shut it all down at night. And too-little sleep was leading to stress and anxiety.

Some of you reading this column know exactly what I’m talking about, because you’ve shared your stories with me.

For good or ill, we Americans are obsessed with work. We boast of our long hours as if they were a badge of honor, and no one is more guilty of this than small business owners.

Because small companies are typically underfunded, owners often feel they have little choice but to take on extra duties, to do everything. I’ve talked with Charlotte entrepreneurs (and some employed professionals) who are routinely awake and working at 3 a.m. I used to be one of them.

For three months now, I’ve been committed to a more sane work life. I wish I could say the change has been easy, but that would be misleading. Sleep patterns, once broken, don’t simply snap back like a rubber band. It takes effort and readjustment. I’m having to reestablish what a pharmacist friend calls my “sleep hygiene.”

As for the work, well, some things simply aren’t getting done, but I’m learning to be OK with that. Those late-evening phone calls will simply have to wait, even when the caller-ID flashes a client’s number.

I’m also working to spread the message, talking with friends and colleagues who can’t seem to put work in its proper place. As much as we might like to think that we’re invincible, we all need balance in our lives, especially as our bodies grow older. So if you see me out walking when you think I should be working, don’t hate…I’m simply learning to put myself first; the work will still be there when I’m done.

ShopTalk focuses on Charlotte-area small businesses and how they meet challenges. Know a small business we should write about? Email Celeste Smith, cesmith@charlotteobserver.com.

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