Run a business without running yourself into the ground


Often when we ask each other “How are you doing” or “How’s business?” we are looking for a few positive words or a positive story. It’s not that we don’t want to hear a real answer to those questions, but it’s more of a comfortable way to briefly greet each other. More and more, though, I find myself reflecting when asked the “how’s business?” question. By client or friend, I’m prone to respond: “it’s great,” when in my heart the answer is much more complex.

The truth of the matter is running is business is hard! This may come as no surprise, but even when I have reached a goal or an important milestone there is always more work to be done. There are days when you feel like a million bucks, and days when the stress and anxiety take over. Amidst this rollercoaster I’m asked “how’s business?” to which I answer more and more along these lines: “today was very challenging because of x and y, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

In reflecting on this question, I’ve realized there are a few habits which help me keep a healthy balance. Habits that help me run a business without running myself into the ground. First a disclaimer: I strive for this, but often I fail. Failure, however, allows me to turn back towards my goals and renew my habits. I do not allow one failure to define me, but how I renew my efforts towards excellence. So, here are a few habits that help me.

  1. Strive For Greatness, Allow For GoodnessYou may have heard the saying “Perfect is the enemy of good.” It basically means don’t let your pursuit of perfection stop you from finishing something good (goodly? well? :P). In art, and by extension marketing, we strive for the perfect manifestation of an idea. This can lead to overwork, dissatisfaction with a project, and blown deadlines. But in business we always have to balance quality, timeline and budget, and allowing for goodness will help with that. Is the project great, or close enough to great to keep us on time and on budget? Our clients aren’t afflicted by the artistic perfectionism we inflect upon ourselves. Products/projects that we see as good (or good enough), clients consider great! And because we’re on time and on budget the client is doubly satisfied.

    This is a double-edged sword, though: balancing your mindset to strive for greatness and accepting the good. It is important to strive for greatness in all things (I hesitate to say perfection because in art that concept is completely subjective) because in striving for something more you reach beyond what may normally be seen as good.In accepting goodness you take the stress of perfection out of the picture. You also reduce stress on those around.

  2. DisconnectHopefully you’ve found something that makes you unique in the market and useful to your clients. I would bet that thing is not responding to every email, text, social message, or phone call the second it occurs (unless of course you’re in customer service or sales). One study I read concluded that for many of us, disconnecting and having healthier email habits can lead to a reduction in stress. Dr. Richard MacKinnon writes:

    Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it’s clear that it’s a source of stress of frustration for many of us. The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure! But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing.

    Here are a few tips from the study:

    • Open your email applications only when you are actively using them and close them down for periods to limit the interruption of incoming emails.
    • Consider how useful email notifications & push email are and turn them off.
    • Try scheduling a time for email into our work day rather than beginning and ending your life with emails (e.g., email before you’re into the office, or before you go to bed).

    I find scheduling email, and turning it off when I’m working on other tasks, extremely helpful. We also use Slack and text messages for anything more immediate. This allows us to utilize email for longer form discussions, or communications with our clients.

  3. Have Hobbies outside of your fieldThis is something that I struggle greatly with but I find deeply rewarding. Movies, TV, and entertainment are everywhere. I like them all, but in consuming them my mind often wanders back to work. In trying to relax, I end up thinking about work again. (My favorite movies and shows, however, are able to transport me to a place where I am consumed by the story and am fully engaged) Personally, I struggle with working too much. The threshold is different for everyone, but I can tell when I hit it by my stress level and that of my family’s. Having hobbies outside of my field allows me to get into a different headspace. This enables me to put work away more quickly and to be more present with my family and friends.

    One of my hobbies is reading. I mostly enjoy fantasy, biography, philosophy, and religious genres. I love reading about how people think in real life and through a lens. Reading helps me mentally transition from work to the rest of my life.

    Another hobby I have is cleaning and organizing. This may surprise you if you’ve ever seen my office or my house =) I take great pleasure in organizing things and cleaning, despite how cluttered life get. Cleaning and decluttering my spaces are a part of decluttering my mind. When I organize I’m able to daydream or just reflect. It gives my brain a chance to relax and not do any heavy lifting.

  4. Develop a FoundationThis can be religious, familial, cultural, or made up by you. Having a foundation allows for a baseline of goodness that you can return to during the highs and the lows. It keeps you moving forward when you have little left in stressful or busy times. For me, I find that having a firm Catholic foundation in my life affords me the support I need. It provides the structure to help me withstand the most difficult professional and personal struggles, as well as the successes. My faith builds up – and is built up by – my family. Just like training in sports, you have to develop and engage that foundation. Exercise those muscles at their core. Train your heart and mind to handle whatever life can throw at you.

Habit building for less stress and more balance are foundational to me, but it’s always a work in progress. Even engaging in one of these practices can be a big benefit in my day. On the days when I can hit multiple, I am truly at my best.

What do you think? What habits or practices do you employ to help you succeed and find life balance? Let us know on the socials! While you’re at it, check out my How I Work post for other things I do to be better.

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Ryan Freng
Owner and creative director. Shall we begin like David Copperfield? 'I am born...I grew up.' Wait, I’m running out of space? Ah crap, ooh, I’ve got it...