We recently sold a business for husband and wife proprietors of a property lettings and management agency who told me that they had not had a single day off for thirty-two years! They took a mobile phone wherever they went and regardless of whether they were away on holiday, eating Christmas lunch or fast asleep in the small hours of the morning, they would dutifully answer every call and deal with whatever emergency there was immediately.
One couple didn’t have a day off in 32 years. They sold up and had a holiday. Four weeks later, the husband died of a heart attack.
They finally sold their business, took their first proper holiday for thirty-two years and enjoyed another four weeks of their retirement before the husband died from a massive heart attack. I feel sad about this story whenever I tell it.
Take a break!
So many of the business owners that I deal with believe that they have to be available 24/7. I believe that they are wrong about this and that the benefit of any extra money that they earn from working these extra hours will be far outweighed by the damage that they do to their health, their sense of wellbeing and their relationship with their friends and family.
So, if you are working more hours than you should do, what can you do about it? My first suggestion would be to write down a set of rules.
- I will not work more than X hours per day
- I will not work more than a total of X hours per week
- I will not take calls before Xam or Ypm
- I will only take X calls per day between Xam and Ypm when on holiday
- I will not check my emails before Xam or Ypm
Next you need to think about how you can abide by these rules in practice. For example, if the bane of your life is out of hours property management calls, you might consider paying an offsite management company to deal with them for you. If you don’t have enough calls to justify this, you might be able to give the job to a trusted contractor who can deal with some of the work themselves and find someone else to do the jobs that they can’t do. There will be a cost associated with this. There will be a cost for each call and your nominated person might also make some mistakes and perhaps authorise someone to attend an emergency at 2am that could have waited until the morning. Nevertheless, the stress of being woken at 2am on a regular basis is so great that you might take the view that the cost is worth it.
Hide the phone!
For routine out of hours calls, consider using a professional answering service. People are far more likely to leave a message with a person than a machine and in my experience the professionalism of many of these answering services is excellent.
Not checking emails between certain hours is mostly a matter of personal willpower. Until a few years ago, it was not possible to check emails after one had left the office and whilst smart phones have brought us many benefits, the pressure to be available 24/7 has had a very negative impact on many people’s lives.
During holiday periods, you need to recharge your batteries and you cannot do this if you are answering phone calls and emails throughout the day. Consider leaving your phone with a colleague while you are away and taking a cheap pay-as-you- go phone with you for genuine emergencies. If you must work, try to do so at set hours each day.
Finally, make sure that you schedule exciting things into your leisure time. This needs to be done in the same way as you plan your working day. If you have nothing in particular to do on a Sunday, it’s so easy to let work fill the time up. If you have something exciting and pleasurable to do, you will be far more determined to ensure that work is not allowed to intrude upon it.
None of us want to be the richest person in the graveyard and by focusing just a little more on your work/life balance, you can make a hugely positive difference to the way that you feel about your life and happiness.
Adam Walker is a business transfer agent and management consultant who has specialised in the property sector for more than twenty-five years.