Being in business today means a lot of hard work, often putting in long hours and taking few holidays, at least until the business is established and the cash flow has steadied.
Just about every self-employed business owner Ive met has been incredibly hard working, passionate about what they do and, above all, determined to succeed. These are admirable traits and can help to keep them going through the inevitable rocky times. But lately Ive noticed another, very worrying trend amongst my fellow small business owners; that seems to be growing as the economic problems persist.
They are working so hard to bring in business and keep existing customers happy, that they're forgetting to take care of themselves. As a result many are going down with various minor ailments - coughs, frequent colds, headaches, stomach bugs, and sometimes much worse medical conditions - because they have let their immune systems become run down.
Long hours spent working to meet deadlines, then early and/or late networking, combined with sleepless nights eventually take their toll. I doubt if anyone can say they haven't lain awake at some point wondering what to do next to get more orders or bookings. I cant.
Many people didn't take proper holidays this year, judging from the continuing chatter on Twitter and Facebook. So, at a time when we should be still feeling the benefit of a relaxing break which would normally fill us with enough energy and bounce for the rest of the year, were basically feeling knackered.
What's the answer?
Simply put - the answer is self-care. Easy to say but more difficult to put in practice. Lets give it a try anyway.
Sleep - while the number of hours needed each night for us to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed varies from individual to individual, finding your personal optimum needs is important. Once you know what yours is, you can take steps to make sure you get your full quota as often as possible. The quality of sleep also contributes to how refreshed you feel the next day. Follow a routine that gently relaxes you and make sure the bedroom itself is conducive to peaceful and sweet dreams.
Diet - Now that the days are getting shorter and temperatures dropping, its tempting to overload with too many stodgy and starchy carbs. Personally, I find if my energy levels drop I reach for sugary foods to get that extra boost, especially during the after-lunch dip. As well, such foods can be a comforting reward for putting a tough day at the coal face. A balanced, healthy diet is another vital component to small business self-care.
Exercise - Some people are great at this, I wish I were one of them! But even though you wont get me anywhere near a gym or pounding the pavements in running gear, I do enjoy walks by the beach, dancing like a lunatic when the right music comes on the radio and even a bit of brisk housework (but not too much). Whatever exercise you enjoy doing, give yourself permission to do it for 30 minutes every day, or as often as you can.
Switching Off - computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerrys, ringers, buzzers, pagers, etc. Unless you work for the emergency services you do not need to be contactable or online 24/7. If your business provides a service 24/7, find someone to cover for you while you're switched off and recharging your personal batteries (and no, playing Farmville doesnt count).
Self-Care tends to be relegated to the bottom of the list of a busy business owners priorities - but without good health and energy our productivity, efficiency and eventually profits too will all suffer.
So take care won't you?
Louise Barnes-Johnston, 2010