I over-prepare for everything. So much so that I found myself over-preparing to find work-life balance in my freeze-dried raw dog treats business before the business was even officially launched. But as much as I’ve learned in the past year ramping up to launch Kono’s Kitchen, I’ve also been learning how important it is to prioritize time for myself and my own mental health.
Right before I launched last month, I reflected on how far I’d come in a year, how much work I’d put into my first, real venture as an entrepreneur. Sure, I’ve had to balance working a full-time day job that I loved while working evenings and weekends on my business baby that I loved even more. I didn’t spend every night up until 3am, but there were a good number of 2am nights as I tweaked the code of my Shopify site or researched warehousing and fulfillment partners.
There was always something to do, and the reality of it is that there will always be something to do. Maybe it’s passion and maybe it’s my need to be in control, but I know that I will always have a hand in all areas of Kono’s Kitchen, even when I can start hiring people much smarter than me to handle specific areas. The work never stops, and I love it. I thrive on it.
At the same time, I knew that I needed to set boundaries and establish a routine. Here are some things that I’ve found have given me a sense of balance, especially as I start my day.
Set a routine
I set my routine during quarantine (yes, I launched a small business in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. I’ve always loved a challenge). The way I set it was to work backwards, as I normally do. I needed to start working my day job at 9am, and I wanted an hour in the morning to read and have coffee with no phone or watch nearby to distract me. That also meant no Kono to distract me (my pit mix, and the inspiration behind the company), so I had to tire him out first. Which I would do by walking him for about 30-45 minutes before I relaxed.
So my routine is essentially to wake up every morning around 6:30am, and after snoozing and slowly getting ready, I get out of the house with Kono by 7am for a morning walk. Our walks are always training walks to a certain extent, which wakes up both our brains. Then I get the coffee started, feed him, put away my phone and watch, and just read and enjoy my coffee for an hour. I’ve learned that inspiration strikes me the most when I’m reading books written by other entrepreneurs or listening to business podcasts like How I Built This with Guy Raz (one of my favorite podcasts ever). By the time I start working, I feel so refreshed, and I’ve already set aside time for myself to avoid burnout that usually comes with working on things nonstop without a break. Basically, I start my day with a break so I’m ready to tackle work.
Pick one thing to complete each day
My to-do list is never-ending. As much as I would love to check off every single thing on my list at the end of the day, I know it’s unrealistic. So I choose one thing that I’m going to complete each day. Maybe it’s writing an article for The Bork Magazine, or creating a text guide for the Kono’s Kitchen Instagram.
Your one to-do could be something as simple as responding to someone’s email. Congratulations, you’ve knocked one thing off your to-do list!
It can be incredibly overwhelming to think about everything you have to do that day. To the point where some people might just feel paralyzed and put everything out of their minds. So just pick one. You got this.
Set boundaries and assess how time-sensitive something actually is
This is something that I’m still learning. When an issue comes up, my instinct is to drop everything and find a solution. But I’m learning that when people come to me with problems, I have the ability to assess how urgent it actually is. I’ve learned to use phrases like “I’m eating at the moment, can I get back to you after I eat?” (because food is number one priority in my life, somewhere before or after Kono), “Is this something you can talk to [insert other person’s name] about?”, or “This sounds like a deeper conversation than I can get into right now. Are you available at 3pm on Wednesday to chat about it?”
In my experience, 95% of the time, things are not as urgent as I make them out to be in my mind. People are surprisingly understanding that you would not like to work through lunch, even if they choose to. And 5% of the time, it is actually important to address immediately, and I absolutely will drop whatever I’m doing to work with someone to find a solution.
Setting boundaries doesn’t mean creating rules that other people have to live by. Setting boundaries means creating guidelines for yourself while being flexible as needed.
Give yourself breaks so work stays fun
I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. Work? Fun? But as an entrepreneur working on my own business, every single thing I do is fun. When I first started researching raw diets and digging into potential business opportunities, I went down 4-hour rabbit holes watching YouTube videos on the pros and cons of raw feeding for dogs. I’ve also probably spent 200+ hours watching dog training videos because it’s something I’m super passionate about, and it’s given me knowledge to connect with other dog parents on our Instagram pretty organically. Even when I’m figuring out which sections I want on my homepage and creating the section backgrounds and page banners myself in Illustrator, I get so into it that I look up and realize “Oh man, it’s almost 1am and I need to be up by 6:30am.”
So I’ve taken control of my mindset in those moments when I just want to persevere with whatever I’m working on, and I give myself a hard stop. I give myself a break to watch one episode of Selling Sunset or Shark Tank, and after the episode, I can get back to work.
Finding balance means taking control of your time, and the best way to do that is by establishing a routine that defines not only when you get things done, but when you can just do nothing at all.
Michelle Chu is first and foremost Dog Mom to her pit bull mix Kono, and Founder & CEO of Kono’s Kitchen. She started Kono’s Kitchen to give back to the rescue community (10% of all profits go to the medical costs of a featured rescue dog each month) and empower dog parents to change the way they feed their dogs.
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