Small Business Ownership: Always On

One of the things I do when writing a blog post is to categorize it so that one can search for similar topics on our website. The list of categories has grown over time but has always included #WorkLife. Work Life is usually followed by “balance” as in work/life balance, meaning how to manage one’s perspectives in life. For a small business owner, this is a difficult balance and sometimes, one is more successful at it than other times. Melissa and I find ourselves working, or at least talking about work, when we are “off” work, proving that we’re never really off work. We don’t necessarily show up at the office when the office officially opens. If we do not have a pressing deadline, we are likely to take a walk or run an errand before arriving at the office. However, even these seemingly personal endeavors usually involve work. For example, we often have an agenda to discuss on our walks and find ourselves updating each other on things that have happened the prior day or about upcoming to do items. “Work” often starts within minutes of waking up. And with the advent of smart phones and devices, we’re more accessible than ever with phones, emails, texts, etc., always available, even if we are not sitting at our desks. We are pretty good about “quitting time” and ending our work conversations by early evening, instead, holding items for the next morning. But, it is also not unusual to get client calls or case related calls into the evening; one client called me after 9:00 p.m. recently to cancel a research project scheduled for less than 2 weeks away. My mistake was answering that call; I wish I hadn’t! The point is, when one owns a business, one’s mind is constantly on duty, thinking about things, even in the middle of the night, truly losing sleep. The need to manage one’s thoughts, time, schedule, and availability requires practice. It doesn’t come easily. Keeping a notepad bedside for those late night thoughts that I don’t want to forget has helped me in that department. But, it is difficult to manage this all of the time, especially due to the fact that Melissa and I work together. I sometimes have to fight the urge to tell Melissa about an email that came in at 10 p.m. until the next day, but that is important to remember if we are to have any semblance of a normal “off time.” (We try not to be rigid about on/off times – we know we’re truly needed during “off” hours sometimes. But, constant availability can be abused.) I know that our clients put in late hours; I can tell by the time stamp on their emails. And, I remember the marketing campaign by PI attorney David Singer, whose commercials had “the lights are always on” as the tagline. Managing one’s “on” and “off” times are important skills. We’ve written previously about our “fine system” and about building some fun into business trips. These things help in finding some balance in the demanding lifestyle of entrepreneurs. It is a constant battle to strive for balance.

Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart. Owning a small business with one’s spouse is only for the heartiest of individuals. David and I are fortunate, in that our jobs within our company do not overlap. David has expertise in many areas, such as business management, finances, accounting, etc. that I do not possess. Similarly, my skill set as a research psychologist are unique within our organization. Our varied training, experiences, and jobs at Magnus make it unlikely either of us will “step on toes” as far as the other person is concerned. We function as a team, a formidable one in many people’s judgment, and one of the reasons this is possible is that we are never truly off work. David and I recently spent a few days in Key West with a childhood friend of mine, with whom I am getting reacquainted after a 20 year absence, and her significant other, a delightful man David and I had only met twice prior to our trip. We explained, at the beginning of our mini vacation, that although we were in Key West and not in our office, we might have to work during the time we were there. Our friends were slightly taken aback because when they requested time off from their jobs to take the trip, they knew they would be completely off work, free from work related interruptions, and thus, able to enjoy 100% of our time together having fun. Even when David and I are out of the country, including when we were in Australia (in a time zone one day ahead of the United States), we had to spend time during our vacation on work related tasks. There is no comparison, at least based on my experiences, between working for someone else and being self employed. If David and I think about a work issue at 7:00 a.m., we handle it right then; we don’t wait until the office opens at 9:00 a.m. Magnus’ clients call, email, and text us at all hours, on weekends, and on holidays. The nature of our business requires us to be responsive, regardless of where we are, what we are doing, or with whom we are spending time. We never know when, or from whom, our next big case will come. So, if you call me and hear what sounds like a jazz band marching down Bourbon Street in New Orleans in the background, it probably is! But, I’m ready to get to work on your case, even if it means catching the next flight to where I am needed!

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