I don't believe in balance. Certainly not for small business owners.
By balance I mean that idea that you can have all things in equilibrium -- with all areas carefully parceled out a fair portion of your time, energy and enthusiasm.
I mean, where's the fun in that?
There have been times when every minute I spent on a business I've owned has been pure joy. Where I'm getting back two-fold every bit of energy I put into the business. Where I'm "in the flow" of work and hours and days fly by.
Why would I want to exercise balance during those times?
That said, I also don't believe in the concept of quality time. When I'm committing extra hours of time to one item, the other areas in my life suffer at least by comparison. I know there are programs, systems, workouts, etc. designed to help you "short-cut" when time is short, but they've never really worked for me. So when work is "good" other areas tend to suffer.
The main problem is I form habits. If work is good I get used to spending 12 hours a day on work. But work never stays good forever, and then I'm spending 12 hours a day on sometime that makes me miserable.
What to do?
I've tried schedules, formulas, and different ways to try to stay engaged in other things (to find balance), but at the end of the day it's been simple ideas that have been the key. My specific "ideas" aren't important. I don't have a list posted or anything.
Taylor Gordon's post "How to Be a Successful Freelancer While Maintaining a Personal Life" highlights some of the same kind of simple ideas that have worked for me.
Say yes to participating in fun trips, activities, or social outings.
Say no to business projects that don’t pay enough or that stress you out
Create a Savings Account for Fun
There's nothing profound here, but I know it's when I'm sitting at dinner hearing the story about my brother's vacation that I remember why I like going on vacation. It's when I'm doing engaging work for a client that I remember why I started the business in the first place.
For me it's not about trying to find balance, it's about not losing myself in work. It's about maintaining some contact with the outside world and remembering that I hope to live in that world again some day.
Your business may be the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about when you shut your eyes. Being ambitious is the name of the game. But you also need to take time out for yourself because being focused all the time on your business can be exhausting.
When the business starts to take over my life it can be easy to point to business goals that I'm striving for that are the key. Once those are accomplished, once I reach that stage, then my life outside work can continue. Then I can reconnect with my family, my health, my life. Guess what? It never happens. Work always wants more. The business always wants more.
While I don't believe in balance, I do believe that the small business owner is the single most important asset a business has.
You are the key.
Take for yourself.
Take care of yourself.
Learn to Leave.