Ditching the daily grind to pursue your passion can be liberating. But without regular office hours, how do you manage your time? We spoke to four graduates of the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy who’ve been through it all – the trials of making ends meet, the tribulations of juggling a personal project with family commitments, knowing when to be ‘online’ and when to shut down for the night. Read their tips on tracking down the unicorn we know as a successful work/life balance.
1. Put yourself first
It may seem counterintuitive, but you are your socent’s greatest resource. Camila Carvalho of Tem Açúcar knows all about the commitment that comes with building and growing a social enterprise. Having spent the past three years advancing her social network for sharing between neighbours, she says understanding and prioritising your own needs is actually the least selfish thing you can do.
“In the early days, you will need to work more to break the inertia,” she explains. “However, the best entrepreneurs I know are those who can put themselves and their needs first from the beginning. Exhausted people make bad decisions. We often think it’s just a busy period and things will settle down, but that busy startup phase is usually much longer than you imagine so it’s best to manage your resources from day one.”
2. Plan for flexibility
Sheila Souza of community-based tourism socent Brazilidade says she works around the same number of hours now that she did in her last formal contracted job, but those hours are much more fluid.
“I always know when my day will start, but I never know when it will end,” she says. “Living in the favela, I might have to interrupt a call to stop my cat from fighting on my neighbour’s roof, or answer the door to someone seeking advice or information. But I’ve learnt that there are some things that are essential to ensuring both my work and personal life don’t collapse. I always try to make an annual strategic plan that includes what I consider to be essential and leaves space for spontaneous demands.”
Ian Dommisse of environmental awareness enterprise EcoBrick Exchange (EBE) also advocates planning for the unexpected. He currently divides his weekly calendar into four sections entitled: urgent and important, urgent but important, non urgent but important, and non urgent and not important. He then schedules a bit of time for procrastination, to create a sense of extra time and leave room for creativity.
3. Embrace downtime
Busy is not synonymous with productive. Dommisse says “busy-braggers” make him nervous.
“Busy-braggers are those who think it’s impressive to be working all the time. For me, a large perk of being an entrepreneur is the flexibility. But it’s important to implement boundaries to protect your time so you can work when and from whichever environment serves you best.”
This is something Priscilla Bertucci is also familiar with as the founder of three social enterprises, including social justice project SSEX BBOX. The SSEX BBOX project aims to shine a spotlight on gender and equality with a focus on the LGBTQIA+ community, and Priscilla says its early days were all-consuming.
“It was very intense so far as the amount of hours I put in. For the first five years I worked 24/7 on the project, but things changed as I started to mature and began to take better care of myself. Sometimes there are moments of intense work, but you also need to live one day at a time, relax and trust that what you’ve done for that day is enough.”
4. Avoid unhelpful comparison
No two socents are exactly the same and Souza says it’s worthwhile remembering that just because something works for others, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
“Trying to adapt to styles that are not yours can be frustrating and leave you discouraged. You go on to wonder whether you’re doing the right thing when in fact you just needed to make some minor adjustments. I know I’m in a social business, so many market practices do not apply to my business model. The same goes for partnerships and funding sources.”
Dommisse recommends “finding your tribe”.
“It’s invaluable to swap experiences with people in a similar field,” he says. “Form a small network of mentors that you can trust with your deepest fears and insecurities to guide you through the developmental stages. Being able to get these off your chest allows you to keep beaming confidence to the rest of the world.”
5. Attend birthday parties
This one sounds a bit facetious, but it’s vital to make time for social interaction and blow off a bit of steam. Carvalho says she’s in the process of taking time back to sit around the table with her parents and ask them how they are or talk to her friends and actually practise being present, rather than letting her mind drift back to work.
Souza’s found hosting friends at her house is the best way to maintain social connections in balance with her work.
“I always try to socialise at home when personal and work demands exhaust me,” she explains. “I call my friends to have a drink, listen to music, and watch a movie or a soccer game. And I allow my son to do the same with his friends. Here at home, there’s always movement. It’s also an environment that I can control so it’s a lot easier for my child.”
All four entrepreneurs agree: striking the right balance between work and personal is not a one–and–done type task. But with a little bit of self care, boundary–setting and flexibility, the two can coexist. In the words of Bertucci, “focus on what really matters to you and who matters in your life. The rest will work itself out.”