Life, work, family — How full are your tanks?

You hear a lot about work/life/balance these days. In fact, a Google search on that combination of words yields more than 36,000,000 results. People are busy and none more so than business owners.

Busy entrepreneurs have to balance running their companies with having quality family and personal time, taking care of their health, and simply enjoying life. Having only 24 hours a day doesn’t help matters, since that seldom seems adequate to accomplish all that needs to be done.

To help our clients with the issue of balance, we have them do an exercise we developed called “Life Tanks©” and we’d like to share a simplified version with you.

On a piece of paper, draw six circles, each of which represents a tank designed to hold a liquid. These symbolize six major areas of your life. Four are common for every business owner, so label them “business,” “family” (meaning your immediate family, or maybe just yourself if you’re single), “health” and “relationships” (those outside your immediate family).

The other two tanks are different for everyone. Yours may include things like recreation, church or sports, so label them accordingly. Keep in mind that these are major areas of your life. You undoubtedly have less significant areas that demand your time, but these six should be those that are most important to you.

Now draw horizontal lines across your tanks to signify the levels of time and energy you’re putting into each of them. Be honest. Ideally, all of your tanks would be full, with you having adequate time for all the things that are truly important to you.

Unfortunately, life has a way of getting in the way. We all go through “seasons” when things are out of balance and it’s unavoidable. If you’re a CPA, for example, your business tank is very full from January through April 15th, while some of your other tanks are depleted.

This is normal and okay so long as it’s a short-term thing. But people get into trouble when their lives remain out of balance for long periods of time and one or more of the tanks becomes empty. For instance, if you devote every waking moment to your business and spend very little time with your spouse and kids, your family will suffer. If you don’t spend time taking care of your body, you’ll develop health issues.

These scenarios are common and can have serious consequences. Over the years, we’ve had many unhappy business owners come to us with balance issues. One memorable example was a man who appeared to have everything going for him — an extremely successful business providing him with mega-income. His lifestyle appeared glamorous and privileged. But he broke down in our office and said he was miserable. He felt his business had become a beast that was consuming every aspect of his life and he didn’t know how to stop it.

Although our situation was never that extreme, there was a time when we felt our business had taken over our lives. In both his case and ours, it required taking a hard look at our tanks and acknowledging where our lives were out of balance, and then implementing changes.

Our personal solution involved a three-part strategy. First, we stopped doing business work on Sundays. That’s now a day devoted to church, family and personal time, giving us a physical and mental break.

Second, barring a true emergency or natural disaster, we take the 4th Friday of every month off to go do something fun together. This gives us additional quality time for recreation and doesn’t involve business.

Third, when we take time for recreation, dinner together or just a quiet evening at home, we earnestly avoid discussing business. This isn’t always easy to do but it’s important for our family life.

These steps were easy for us to implement and made a big difference, but did require a commitment on our part to make some changes. You may be able to think of equally simple solutions for balance issues in your own life. But you first have to realize if and where your life is out of balance.

If your tanks reveal a serious imbalance that isn’t temporary, you need to determine how you could restore some balance to your life. Could you hire someone or outsource work to take responsibilities off your plate? Are there other ways you could free up time to spend in areas with depleted tanks?

The tank exercise is a good indicator of the overall health and balance of your life, and chronically depleted areas need attention. If you make it a priority to take care of all your major tanks, you’ll be a much happier, healthier, more productive and truly successful business owner.

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business. Judy@BusinessTruths.com.