Working for Yourself, the Perfect Work+Life “Fit?” It Can Be, But…

I often present work+life fit strategies to groups of people who work for someone else—a big company, a government agency, or an academic institution. Inevitably, a participant will ask, “So, Cali, what does your work+life fit look like?”

I’ll begin to explain that, “I work for myself, and…” but before I can finish, it’s not unusual for someone to interrupt with, “Uh, see you have the perfect fit. You’re your own boss.” Cracking a knowing smile, I respond, “Yes, working for yourself has benefits, but is it perfect? Not necessarily. Unless you’re careful, there are dangers that can dash even the strongest work+life fit against the rocks.”

Owning your own business does give you more control of how, when, and where you work. But, you’re also the only one responsible for making sure all of that work gets done.  And unless you’re diligent, it’s easy to become the business owner that’s all toil…and no life. So, what do you do to avoid this fate?

Here are three steps I consistently follow to find the work+life fit that works for me and my business:

1)     I consciously choose where and when I allocate my time and energy, as much as possible. If I just let it all happen haphazardly, work will usually win.  Where there are periods of more work and less life, overall, I do choose how it all fits together. To make this happen, I:

  • Keep all of my work and personal “to dos” in the same calendar. You can’t keep separate calendars and effectively manage your work+life fit, yet you’d be surprised how many people have work responsibilities in one place and personal “to dos” in another. With a complete snapshot, the conflict is clear when a client wants to schedule a meeting the same time as your yoga class. You may choose to miss the class and meet with the client, or more likely you’ll find an alternative that lets you do both.
  • Set time aside every week to review my calendar and reflect upon what I want my work+life fit to look like for the next seven days, and the rest of the month. What’s happening that takes priority at work and in the other parts of my life? What’s missing? What’s there too much of?
  • Then, depending upon what I’ve decided I want to accomplish in the business and personally, I chart my work+life fit for the coming week and weeks on my calendar.

My experience has been that, as long as I stick with this system, I accomplish more of everything. But when I get lazy and let it slide, I look up and realize I wasn’t as efficient at work and I haven’t taken a walk with my husband, seen a friend, gotten to the gym, or balanced my checkbook in a month!

2)     Try to control technology so it doesn’t control me. I confess…this is a beast with which I continue to battle. Many business owners have offices in their homes, as I do.  It’s so easy to slip in a little bit of work here and there until the next thing you know, that’s all you’re doing.  A couple of changes I’ve made have helped:

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  • When I’m out of the office and engaged in non-work related activities, I wait to respond to non-urgent emails.
  • When I am home and I walk over the threshold of my office to do other things, my blackberry stays on my desk. I have to physically walk back into my office if I want to check in. As a result, I’m more present.
  • Finally, I’m trying to physically close the door to my office when I am “done” for the day. I’ve had mixed results, but so far I’m 30-50% less likely to mindlessly wander into my office and start working when I want to be doing something else.

3)     I plan and take vacations. Taking a vacation can be a big problem for business owners, because unlike those who work for someone else, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Vacation can seem like an avoidable extravagance you just, “can’t afford.”  Plus, who’s going to cover your clients if something happens while you’re away? After many years of struggling with my own vacation conundrum, here’s what finally moved the needle:

  • I faced the fact that vacation is a necessity, especially for an always-on, multiple-hat-wearing business owner.  I do some of my best work after taking time off.
  • I started scheduling my vacations far in advance, blocking off two days before I leave and one day after I return in my calendar as “prep” and “re-entry,” respectively. If the vacation is on my calendar, I plan my work around it and notify clients to minimize fire drills. Also, by blocking off two “prep” days before I leave, I complete the projects that inevitably pop up at the last minute without pulling all-nighters and starting vacation frazzled. Then, by blocking off the first day back in the office for “reentry,” I can catch up without immediately undoing all of the benefits of taking some time off!
  • I provide my mobile number in my out-of-office message if there’s an urgent issue. Otherwise, I trust that if someone needs me, they will find me.  It’s nice to fantasize that I’m indispensable, but since I’ve made this change, nothing has come up that couldn’t wait until I returned.


So, is working for yourself the “perfect” work+life fit fantasy that many people who work for others imagine it to be? For me, as long as I actively choose where and when I put my time and energy, try to control technology so it doesn’t control me, and take vacation, the answer is “yes.” What do you think?

This article is from the November 2010 print Fordyce Letter. 

Cali Williams Yost is the CEO and Founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., a research and consulting firm that works with organizations and individuals to make flexibility a lever for profit, growth and work+life fit. Clients range from BDO Seidman LLP and Quaker/Tropicana to the United Nations, Ernst&Young, Microsoft, and the U.S. Navy. Called one of the smartest and sophisticated thinkers by The New York Times, Yost has been shaping the global dialogue on work+life flexibility for nearly two decades.

A former commercial banker and graduate of Columbia Business School, Yost is author of the critically acclaimed Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You, the first work+life fit handbook for individuals. Since 2007, she has served as an expert blogger for Fast Company magazine. An in-demand consultant, keynote speaker and workshop presenter, Yost serves as an evangelist for the broad organizational impacts of work+life flexibility from employee engagement, innovation, cost containment and talent management to global client service, sustainability, and disaster preparedness. Her unique, often contrarian perspective has been featured in numerous national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, USA Today, NPR and Fox Business News.

Prior to founding the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., Yost held senior consulting roles with the Families and Work Institute and Bright Horizons Family Solutions, two of the field's pioneering organizations. In 2007, she was honored with the Rising Star Award from the Alliance of Work-Life Progress.