Balancing Out the 24x7x365 Nature of Online Business

We’re the first generation of business owners that are truly doing business every second of every day. The internet has allowed us to be open all the time. It’s a glorious, wonderful thing…mostly.

I remember going out to a bar with my business partners early on in our business, maybe 2007 or 2008. In the middle of our evening one of them pulled out his phone and checked our sales for the night. It was exhilarating to see our hard work keep working for us after we were done working. No one was at the office, no one was on the clock, yet we were still open for business and conducting transactions. If you told a business owner about this concept a generation ago it would blow their mind.

Unfortunately, if you’ve had a similar moment it’s quickly been followed by a moment of realization that things can go wrong at any time of any day, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Customer service inquiries pile up at all hours. Servers go down. Bugs in your code don’t take time off. There’s always that one thing that you want to get done sooner. It literally never ends.

If you’re not careful you can also be working every second of every day. The endless flow of work, or even the fear of something going wrong, can keep you tethered to your computer. Work used to be defined by driving to a building every Monday – Friday from 9 – 5. It was easy to check out when you left the office. When the office is pretty much everywhere, and problems happen at pretty much any time, it gets a lot more confusing. It’s really hard to manage without putting some guidelines in place, and then working hard to stick to those guidelines until they become habit.

Over the past few years my partners and I have forced ourselves to come to grips with these facts and start prioritizing some time away from work. We’ve set up smarter vacation policies so we can all completely check out during our vacations. Every critical business function has a person who is trained as a backup and can keep the ship moving during a planned or unplanned absence. I use my smartphone to my advantage to help me spend less time in front of the screen. If there’s a server issue we have automated text messages sent out to myself and my partner. I have a mobile hotspot on my phone (+1 for T-Mobile including this benefit at no extra cost) and a Chromebook for when I travel, so if I need to I can get online just about anywhere.

Essentially we’ve tried to remove any reason that we might convince ourselves to do unplanned work at night on a weekend, or during a vacation, or to avoid taking a day trip or vacation all together. Unless we’re having a server emergency, we’ve come to the conclusion that work can almost always wait. That’s something we’ve tried to bake into our culture by setting the example ourselves. 100 hour workweeks and weekend hackathons and product sprints sound great, but they don’t work for the long term. I know that I’m healthier, happier, more creative, and more productive when I have true work-life balance, and I bet you and your employees are too.

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