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Flexibility and fun can make you a better entrepreneur

Published: 
Thursday, May 7, 2015

I can’t count the number of stressful situations I’ve found myself in since I launched my first business over 50 years ago. We faced the threat of being shut down a number of times in Virgin’s early years, and since then we’ve encountered what seems like a never-ending string of challenges.

Stress and business go hand-in-hand, and that’s not a bad thing—high-pressure situations can certainly be motivating—but too much pressure can be emotionally and physically damaging. I’ve found that the best way to manage stress is to find a good work-life balance.

Well-being in the workplace has been a hot topic for a while, as employers search for ways to disrupt stale corporate habits and help staff stay focused and engaged in a world where it’s almost impossible to switch off. In fact, we recently hosted a lively and interesting Virgin Disruptors debate on the topic.

For some people, achieving work-life balance depends on adhering to a strict routine: eat, sleep, exercise, repeat. However, I don’t have much of a set routine. I believe that flexibility is the answer for entrepreneurs. You can never be certain what tomorrow will throw at you, so the ability to adapt and prioritise is incredibly important. When a challenge presents itself, disrupting your plans, you need to be able assess its importance and reorganise your to-do list accordingly.

And while every entrepreneur needs to be able to multitask, constantly shifting focus isn’t always productive. To set priorities and give myself the space to focus, I write down lists of tasks that I need to complete and when I need to complete them, then organise them based on their possible impact on the company; this might work for you too.

Once you’ve prioritised your workload, it’s time to delegate; if you can. If you’re starting your business solo, you will be doing a number of jobs, from managing the accounts to product design, yet you still need to make time to think about big-picture issues. That’s a lot of pressure!

This is where the importance of having fun comes in. In order to be refreshed and ready to take on any challenge, you must find time for play. 

Devoting time to the things that make you happy will foster a positive attitude and help you tackle stressful challenges. It’s true that finding time for yourself or to think about the future of your enterprise may seem impossible when you’re just starting up a business, but remember: you won’t go far if you’re running on empty.

So having fun isn’t a reward for hard work; it’s your responsibility and your job to find time to laugh every day, whether you spend time catching up with friends, chatting with new people or sharing a joke on social media. Ditch any guilt you might feel about stopping work and schedule time for enjoying yourself in your planner.

Make this relaxation time a priority, particularly in the mornings. I’ve found that it’s not a good idea to dive straight into work when you wake up, so I dedicate my mornings to exercise and family time. It helps clear my mind and energises me for the day ahead.

This is also connected to my one piece of personal advice for budding entrepreneurs. Have fun. This is often underrated, but you are far more likely to succeed if you are enjoying yourself. If an opportunity doesn’t excite me, and if it’s not something through which I can make a difference in the world while having a lot of seriously creative fun, then I’d rather pass on it and move along to something else that does interest me.

So good luck, Tammy—a health and fitness retreat in Costa Rica sounds like it has work-life balance and fun written all over it. Just make sure you play as hard as you work, if not harder!

(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)

(Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to RichardBranson @nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, e-mail address and the name of the Web site or publication where you read the column.)