How are you?

When is the last time you responded with anything other than “busy?”

For all the conveniences our modern world has given us, it has also raised our expectations, forcing entrepreneurs to perform like corporations to remain competitive. Marketing a small business once consisted of offering a good product or service at a fair price and relying on the reputation you built.

Our clients were once our neighbors; we now contend globally. At all hours. With ratings.

Photo by Lili Lvnatikk

Building your brand has become as important as what you’re selling. There is constant pressure to be networking, a perpetual demand to construct a web presence with ever-changing, valuable (=shareable) content. Our phones are the last thing we look at before we go to bed and the first thing we reach for in the morning.

With everything on the line, business owners can no longer afford to keep business hours, sacrificing the personal for professional, and ending up dissatisfied with both.

Our livelihoods may be making us enough to support our lives, but are we actually living them?

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor

Most of us recognize we cannot berate people with our work woes if we want them to stick around. However, devoting all of your energy to what you do can leave you struggling to come up with much else to say.

It is a bitter irony to have your passion for your business distorted by exhaustion. Yet at times, many of us have been the bad date, the uninspiring boss, the unmemorable business owner, withdrawn and just trying to get through the day.

Photo by Ian Schneider

Even for the determined, it’s a system that’s unsustainable. Dynamic people don’t diligently toil away in an effort to form perfunctory, forgettable companies. Reaping such meager rewards is demoralizing, overwhelming, and can lead to feelings of despair.

Growing a business is a massive time commitment, and scheduling self-care can feel like adding another chore to one’s lengthy to-do list. Just as our work has bled into our social lives, this new landscape requires us to begin incorporating our passions into our workplaces, not just as a necessary step to injecting the work we do with vitality, but as a means of self-preservation.

I used to say, “Efficiency is sexy.” I meant it. There’s power in handling things like a boss, crossing through a list of tasks can be damn alluring.

But efficiency is also a recipe for stagnation. We take the same route home from work and perform the same circuit at the gym because these routines allow us to get things done quickly. These tasks are familiar and repetitive and so they are carried out mindlessly. Their competent, automatic execution ensures we don’t deplete our mental energy on the benign, but makes our lives less memorable in the process.

We tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. We read articles curated to suit our preferences, exposing us to the same ideas and beliefs we already support.

Adhering to what works is great for weeding out the things we don’t want to be distracted by, but terrible for innovation. Not wanting the responsibility of being a parent doesn’t preclude one from thoroughly enjoying playing with a niece or nephew — time unlikely to be considered “wasted” by strict standards of efficiency. Inefficiency can be positive, revitalizing us to help us gain more value from our lives.

Burnout is one of the biggest obstacles to retention and has been definitively traced back to loneliness, leaving business owners particularly susceptible to its effects. The minutiae of running the show is often a one (wo)man job, and even when partners are involved, the burden is usually divided as opposed to shared. Despite being perpetually connected, we feel little connection. Eventually, it colors all that we do.

Photo by Hannah Busing

Get Uncomfortable

The search for intimacy is both universal and timeless, allowing for seamless workplace integration. This does not mean promoting more taxing, small talk (for which my personal tolerance is none). This is about having meaningful exchanges, but focusing on fewer people.

Imagine starting each meeting with a question. What is something you’re really good at? What have you always wanted to try? What is something you loved that you thought you would hate? What is something everyone likes that you can’t stand? Most people will show up to a meeting, and then promptly tune out. Forcing them to speak immediately engages them, making them more invested in listening.

Though fairly innocuous, these questions are bound to elicit some initial discomfort. They lay outside the prescribed lane of what we have come to know as professionalism. If you want someone to fall in love with you, you are supposed to take them on an exciting shared experience. The feelings of risk and elation that correlate with trying something new transpose onto the person with whom the adventure was shared. Doing things we find uncomfortable often provide the biggest returns. Make your company one that’s easy to fall in love with, not least of all for yourself.

Photo by G. Crescoli

Create a Dialogue

Creating a safe space for open communication can have a huge impact on the quality of your ideas. Knowing your thoughts and concerns have the power to inspire change makes everyone more motivated to speak up.

Employees who feel empowered work harder to solve problems. How invaluable would their loyalty be to your company?

Place questions on a dry erase board where everyone can submit their answers. Have people share articles that resonate with them and compile them into a weekly email. Thinking critically should not fall solely on the shoulders of the person in charge. Exposing ourselves to new perspectives is the easiest way to learn and incentivizes everyone to not just show up, but be present.

Photo by Max Delsid

Throw Awesome Parties

Team building exercises incite groans because they are lame and disingenuous. Creating a culture is not achieved through sporadic events and retreats.

It is purported that in an eight-hour workday, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes. Far from being an interruption, regular intermissions in office hours inspire more concentrated efforts in the time that is actually devoted to work.

Invite speakers on a varied range of topics. Promote interaction. Have people submit suggestions. Better still, have them teach something themselves. Cooking for someone encourages feelings of being nurtured. Make each person responsible for bringing in something they love to make. Being led in guided meditation, listening to a musician perform a piece, or learning how to properly chop an onion is a chance to stretch the legs, mingle casually, and far more stimulating than hitting up the nearest happy hour.

Your work relationships don’t have to transfer into personal friendships, but saying hello each day shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Photo by Tolga Kilinc

Step Outside

Rarely do you hear entrepreneurs admitting to the intense impact social media marketing has on their lives. Making professional-looking Instagram campaigns happen on a zero dollar budget has become the gauge of whether a brand is truly authentic. In reality, the amount of work that goes into composing a shot, editing it, creating an engaging caption, and choosing the most responsive hashtags can be mindnumbing. If the hours between 7 pm and 9 pm are used as work hours, then why should how we spend our 9-to-5 be any less flexible?

Photo by Derick Anies

A 15-minute walk outside, regardless of weather conditions, has been proven to elevate one’s spirit. Just as a shower can take your mind off of a problem long enough to solve it, a walk around the neighborhood can help you flesh out an elusive idea.

One issue with working traditional hours is that places you would like to go are empty when you’re working and busy when you’re free. Why not take that ax-throwing tutorial at 3 pm on a Thursday? In fact, take the whole staff. It’s easy to feel like you lived a good day when it included a baseball game, kayaking at sunset, or annihilating your partner in pinball. You can even post a picture for posterity.

Running your own business can be overwhelming, even for those who enter into it with eyes wide open. What made our parents successful isn’t enough to cut it in today’s demanding commercial landscape. We must consciously carve out time to enjoy our lives if we intend to compete.

Our energy has a profound impact on those around us. Finding ways to imbue our work with vitality inspires participation from our employees, camaraderie from our customers, and rekindles our passion for what we are doing.

The entrepreneurial spirit is characterized by working with the design to build something of one’s own. Why resign ourselves to following the rules to someone else’s blueprint?

Photo by Filip Mroz

Originally published at on March 1, 2018.