Trying to Have a Life in Addition to Work? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am an entrepreneur trying to grow my business while trying to also have a life. I know I have some bad habits that I should probably correct and I want to develop good habits moving forward. What are your thoughts on this?

Want to Get it Right


Dear Want to Get it Right,

You are smart to be thinking about this. And you are right that habits can really make the difference between success and anything less than success.

First, the basics: A lot of research has been done on habits. There is strong support for establishing regular routines that add up to small wins over the day. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls these keystone habits. They help us to exert more self control over our emotional states, act less impulsively, and stay focused on what we think is most important.

Getting up at the same time, eating a healthy breakfast, and making the bed are examples. Habits like these tend to build on themselves and create a virtuous circle. You can start by looking back at times that you have been at your best and see if you had any habits then that seemed to keep you in the zone. If that doesn’t yield anything worthwhile, experiment with small things you think would make you feel great—then slowly keep what works and weed out what doesn’t. If, as you mention, you have habits you know for sure are not serving you, Duhigg has some very good ideas on how to stop them.

Some tips:

  • Don’t try to do everything at once—tackle one bad habit at a time.
  • Get support—a buddy, a group, a way to track success. Any and all positive reinforcement is good.
  • Substitute a bad habit with something good. For example, instead of going outside for a smoke, go outside for a walk around the block.

Research also shows that people who exercise are more likely to follow through with other habits that contribute to success. Exercise is one of the hardest things to fit in to a 24/7 work scenario, but cracking that code will absolutely serve your highest and best good.

My regular readers will roll their eyes at me, because I am a broken record on this: developing a habit of counting your blessings contributes to better brain chemistry as well as more creativity, resilience, and happiness. All it means is for you to regularly list the things you are grateful for. The great thing is that you can do it while you are walking around the block, waiting at a stop light, or standing in line at the market.

Now the work stuff.

When I was starting out as an entrepreneur, the book that rocked my world was The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. Clearly, I am not alone because Gerber has made himself the guru for small business and has a ton of wisdom to offer. I have used these concepts from Gerber again and again for myself and with clients:

  • Anything that gets done regularly needs a clearly articulated and written process. Regular processes help a business run smoothly. This sounds obvious—but I’ll bet if you look around, there are some areas where you don’t have one.
  • Don’t spend time on anything that someone else could be doing. As the head of your business, you are a finite resource. You have to drive down tasks and problems that some one else can take care of. By doing this, you free yourself and empower others.
  • Many entrepreneurs move fast and find explaining things over and over again to be boring.  So, be clear about the vision for the business, and the values you use to make decisions and then repeat.  Repeat long after you are bored silly, and then keep repeating.

As a lifelong student of success, I have experimented with lots of other ideas from Hyrum Smith, Steven Covey, David Allen, and others. Some habits that have made a difference for me are these:

  • Put yourself first—because if you go down, the whole house of cards goes down. To go the distance you will need to practice radical self-care: sleep, good food, lots of water, exercise, some fun, and rest. (Rest does not mean watching TV, although that can count as fun. Rest means prayer, meditation, staring at the horizon, reading for fun, cooking for fun.)
  • Decide what, after your own health, is most important to you and say no to everything else. Just say no. If you can’t, start with maybe and then say no. Be brutal. Get used to disappointing people. It is hard at first, but it gets easier.
  • Do the hard stuff first: visioning, strategy, emotional conversations, creative problem solving, etc. I tend to not be great at that kind of stuff at the end of the day. Neuroscience research supports this as well.
  • Look at the calendar every day for the crazy makers—in-person meetings that have no transportation time between them. Phone or web meetings with no call-in numbers or link. Meetings you need to prepare for that have no prep time already carved out. No breaks for food. Hour-long meetings that should be 15 minutes. Meetings that you shouldn’t be in at all. Eliminate time wasters, surprises, and stuff that will make you late. I guarantee this: the minute you take your eye off of it, your calendar will be the bane of your existence. (Of course, if you don’t keep a calendar, this would be a good time to start.)
  • Write everything down, even if you think you will remember it. Maybe you will, at this point in your journey. You probably have a great memory now, but as life gets more complicated (hyper growth! Lawsuits! Kids! Dogs! Aging parents!) you just won’t be able to keep track of it all. And your memory will decline inevitably as you age, much as I hate to say it, so having good systems to keep track of all the stuff you need to do and think about will be a habit you are grateful for.
  • Automate and/or delegate anything you can. With the online services available today, it is amazing what errands you can eliminate.
  • Keep your eye on your social media habits – anything that isn’t helping you be successful is quite literally a waste of your most valuable resource.  Don’t forget the job of the news people is to keep you paying attention to the news, don’t let yourself get sucked in.  Stay off of social media-  unless you are looking at puppies on Instagram, that is actually good for your brain.

Good luck to you.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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