Monday, December 28, 2009

Five Resolutions to Save Your Life From Your Business

Yes, it is the season to be jolly, yes, but also to reflect on what’s most important, and to carefully develop New Year’s resolutions. I hope that doesn’t kill the jolly. This next year is going to be better, right?

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest five New Year’s resolutions that can help you save the rest of your life from your business. Sure, growth, profits, and business health are important, but life and mental health are pretty important, too.

No, I’m not claiming any special expertise. Some of this is “Do as I say, not as I did.” But my wife and I do own a company that we bootstrapped over twenty years ago, that now has more than forty employees, and has never missed payroll. And our five kids all have college educations and jobs.

Respect meals together. Relationships really need those regular, repeated meal times. It’s not the food but rather the talk, the being together, and the comfort of a reliable routine. That’s true with or without kids. I thank my wife for always insisting on at least one family meal per day. Yes, there were many times when business travel, events or unforeseen circumstances forced us to make exceptions. But at least it was a general rule. Stop, step away from that computer, crawl out of the work and look around at the rest of your life.

Book vacations long in advance. I plead guilty. I’ve always loved my work. But my wife figured this one out early in our shared career. She realized that there would always be a lot of work and always good reasons to put off that vacation. But if it was booked in advance, and a long time in advance, then the excuses wouldn’t work. During years of consulting, there were always crunch times. If we had things booked ahead, we would alert clients in advance and set projects and deadlines accordingly. So vacations actually happened.

Work at home after dinner. No, you don’t have to go back to the office. You can work from anywhere so easily these days compared to what it used to be like. Place your files somewhere convenient online. Work with online productivity tools (Google Docs, Zoho, etc.). Make sure you have good bandwidth at home. Have dinner, spend time with people you love, and when the rest of them settle into their evenings, you can do that extra stuff you were thinking you’d do if you went back to the office.

Don’t obsess. Plan. Stop pretending you're listening to conversations while obsessing about business. Stop the helicopter mind that keeps you from listening. Slow down the stress. Use good business planning process to break it down into manageable pieces like objectives, tasks, deadlines, steps to be taken, etc. Then write those pieces down somewhere you can access online (I like Evernote for that) and when the thoughts come, get them written down quickly so you can go back to living and free your mind from the business. Don’t toss and turn at night. Instead, get up, get online, and jot it down in your plan. Then go back to sleep. And make sure you have regular plan reviews as part of the business day, roughly once a month, because plans are supposed to change. Assumptions change.

Get regular exercise. I did this one wrong, too—skipping regular exercise in favor of more coffee and more time with the work I love. There were always deadlines, emails to manage, new features to be added, and more work to be done. I’ve discovered in recent years what John Jantsch once called the math of exercise: as long as you stay within reason, you get the time you spend exercising back as increased productivity. Don’t skip the run or the workout or whatever for more time with your work. You’ll end up getting less done, not more.

About the author: Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software. He blogs regularly at Planning Startups Stories and writes articles for

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