I set up my first company, GVI when I was 21. At 41, I decided to take a sabbatical from business. I hired a personal assistant to help me properly switch off and enjoyed the freedom so much that I had the idea for my next company: AVirtual. My name is Richard Walton and I'm addicted to business. So you're probably assuming that my whole life is spent in the office or chained to my IPhone, right? That I'm one of those workaholic, terminal bachelor types. Well actually you're wrong. I'm married with four children and I start my working day by going surfing, but it hasn't always been like this.
Any entrepreneur will know the familiar sense of dread when someone starts talking about work-life balance, because the truth is that it doesn't exist for us.
When you start your own business it takes over your life, not because of the hours you spend at your desk, but because it's the thing you'll think about the most every day. That only increases when you're running more than one business. The stresses and responsibilities are multiplied and your to-do list feels like it's never ending. So how do I find time to surf?
1. I Prioritise My Happiness
I was six years into running GVI when I hit a wall. Whilst my company was sending groups of young people on expeditions to remote locations round the world, I was at my desk in the UK managing spreadsheets. I was stressed, overweight and unhappy. I craved adventure and my lifestyle was sucking away my enthusiasm, and making me scared about the future. After a health warning from the doctor, my wife and I decided that we needed to make a dramatic change to our lifestyle and so we moved to Costa Rica. Whilst it was a potentially risky move for my business, as it meant being separated from my team, it allowed me to take control of my life again and taught me the importance of prioritising happiness. We've now moved to Cape Town where AVirtual and GVI's head offices are based so it means that I'm surrounded by my management teams and can benefit from the city's booming business scene, but I still get the beach lifestyle. Whilst moving to a new country is probably too extreme for most people, it can sometimes be as simple as changing your daily habits and making time for the things you love.
2. I Have A Personal Assistant
It may seem like an obvious plug for my company AVirtual, but hiring a personal assistant has changed the way I do business more than anything else. The best PAs are invaluable to CEOs because they can give you the most precious resource: time. Time to concentrate on building partnerships and growing your business, time to relax and spend with your family. Anything that's not directly impacting the development of your vision can be delegated to an assistant, saving you the frustration and stress of ploughing through time consuming tasks with very little outcome. A PA's more or less like having extra brain who stores all the things you forget, reminds you of meetings, makes sure you're prepared and productive. For an entrepreneur with multiple businesses, a PA is absolutely essential.
3. I Use An Old-School Nokia Phone
Not all the time, but when I'm on holiday, I leave my smart phone at home. My old Nokia does everything I need it to do: make calls and send texts. If my office needs to contact me urgently they can, and if I need get on my emails for an emergency request or issue, I use my laptop. It just means that I'm not constantly distracted by my phone vibrating in my pocket every time I receive an email. I can relax and clear my head. It's amazing how much more creative you are when you have the space to think without interruption. Some of my best ideas have come to me when I'm on holiday.
4. I Meditate Every Day
Meditation is one of the most useful skills I've learnt and incorporated into my working day. Whilst it takes practice and discipline for it to become a habit, meditation is probably the easiest and most effective way to re-focus. Once you've mastered it, you can meditate almost anywhere and even 10 minutes is beneficial. There's no particular time when it's best to meditate as it's a very individual practice, but I find it particularly powerful in the early afternoon when my energy and concentration levels are dropping. It helps immensely with clarity and perspective, and also makes me feel good, which positively impacts the way I am with my employees, my friends and my family. No need to head for an ashram in the Himalayas, there's plenty of great apps and online meditation programmes. Headspace is one of my favourites.
5. I Make Lists
In the past, I probably wouldn't have wanted to consider myself a "list maker", but in recent years I've realised that lists are the way forward. When you've got a million things to think about, the only way you can feasibly even begin to put some order to your thoughts is to write them down. One of my favourites is a priority list, when you jot down tasks and number them 1 to 3 according to their importance (number one being top priority). It helps me to focus my concentration and also to delegate effectively. I take care of all the number ones and delegate everything else. It's a system my team knows and understands so it helps them to work productively too. At the end of the day, my assistant sends me a list of everything she's achieved so that I can satisfyingly tick tasks off my list and track progress. I also find it helpful to write down my goals, short term and long term, to remind myself what I'm trying to achieve with each company. I might not look at them often or even ever again, but just the act of writing them down is beneficial.
Richard Walton is the Founder of AVirtual www.avirtual.co.uk : a company that provides virtual PAs to small business, entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is regularly featured in the press talking about topics such as work-life balance and productivity.