Meeting both business and personal demands has long been a juggling act for women entrepreneurs. Between the long hours, travel, meetings and employee and customer challenges, there’s little time left for personal needs. Still, leading a rich, well-rounded life is as essential to your business success as it is to your sanity.
We asked Canada’s leading businesswomen to tell us how they effectively manage work/life balance. Each issue we’ll bring you the tactics and strategies that help women grow their companies and careers, while still finding a little “me” time to help deal with the personal commitments of life.
Nancy Knowlton is president and co-CEO of SMART Technologies Inc., a Calgary-based manufacturer of interactive white boards and other group collaboration tools. Using SMART products, groups can access and share information for meetings, presentations, teaching and training, regardless of distance. Knowlton, who focuses primarily on SMART’s business development and strategic initiatives, has received many awards for exporting, tech innovation and business leadership.
Is the perfect work/life balance one-third work, one-third leisure and one-third sleep? Or some complex mathematical formula where “x” represents company revenues and “y” is how many kids you have? No way, says Knowlton. Achieving balance isn’t sticking to some imposed schedule that doesn’t work for you; it’s whatever makes you happy.
“Some people try and make me feel guilty for what they call ‘workaholism’, and I just don’t look at it like that at all,” says Knowlton, 53. “I work a 70- to 80-hour week, I spend five to ten hours with friends and family, and I get some relaxation time at home. That’s good enough for me. I like it,” she says. “I don’t like it when people tell me that I need to do something otherwise, because I enjoy the challenge of business and I don’t begrudge the time.”
Though Knowlton is happy to let work dominate her schedule, she still finds ways to integrate personal time. For example, she and her husband (SMART co-founder David Martin) have conducted business meetings with associates at home over dinner. “That’s an extremely enjoyable extension to my work day,” she says. “We’ll be in the kitchen, it will be completely social, but at the same time we’ll get our work done.”
And she uses her frequent business trips (Knowlton says she’s away from the office approximately 40% of the time) as an opportunity to not only take care of business, but also unwind. Her tips for a relaxing trip: indulge in hotel offerings such as hot tubs or a massage, get a few extra hours of sleep to accommodate for jet lag, and seek out restaurants that you can look forward to revisiting on future trips. By establishing such travel routines, she says, “these places don’t feel foreign, and we feel connected.” Another great tool (especially if you’re traveling to locales with a high-speed Internet connection) is voice-over-Internet (VoIP) technology. “It’s fantastic,” says Knowlton. “Before, I would never pick up the phone and call my friends or family at the end of the day, because it was too expensive. Now [with VoIP], it’s free; it’s no trouble.”
But Knowlton’s biggest tip for work/life balance is adopting a positive, roll-with-the-punches attitude. “It would be a shame to live your life and always feel that you were missing out on something,” she says. Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance, view your entrepreneurial lifestyle as a conscious and deliberate decision, then enjoy the ride. “I’ve never been concerned about work/life balance,” she says. “I love my life and I don’t really want to see a change.”