Work/life balance: how we get it wrong – and how to get it right

These two busy small business owners manage to find ways to spend time doing what they love outside of work - while achieving success in the business world too. They both put it down to maintaining perspective and being honest about what you want, and what you're able to achieve in the moment.

Patrick Harrison, Director of Solo & Smart, husband and father of two

Patrick Harrison returned to his family business to help lighten the load for his sick father. Devastatingly, his Dad passed away soon afterwards, leaving Harrison with a stressful workload, a young family, a law degree to study for and a very distinct need to establish firm boundaries and priorities in terms of time management. Here's how he manages to make it work and live a life he is proud of.

Patrick Harrison, director of Solo & Smart

Harrison juggles work, study and a young family and is always flexible about putting his attention where he thinks it is most needed.

I picked up a lot of responsibility, very quickly.

“I had been travelling and I returned home and started helping with the family business. My father had been diagnosed with cancer, and soon after, he pulled back from work and I took more on. Very quickly, I had a lot of additional responsibility. He needed someone to look after the business and that someone was me.

Our business is helping the self-employed look after their administration and helping companies that engage contractors look after their compliance. A lot of what we do for the compliance side is based on the legal aspect of things. My father had previously managed that and I needed to understand it, so I started a law degree.

Dad passed away when my son was born. There was no one to fall back on so I took it all on. I was working full-time and was studying law and I would put my son Finn to bed then study at night. It was all learning on the run. Finn’s first few months were pretty tough.

I learned I needed to recharge my own batteries first.

I quickly worked out I needed a balance so I would study and work really hard when uni was on and when uni had a break, I would take a break, too. I’d recharge the batteries and spend time with Finn and my wife Nikki and pull right back at work.

Since then, it’s been about how best to juggle those parts of my life. I do my best, I keep changing it and readjusting when I need to because life is always changing.

We have a baby daughter now as well, Milla. I go through times there is heaps of work on and I need to do a lot and I pull back from home. Then when Nikki, Finn and Milla need me, I shift back to family. I am led by their signals. Work is always there and there is always plenty to do. I can easily get stuck into work too much and then cracks at home start appearing and you get to the point where you think, hang on – this isn’t what I signed up for.

Sometimes the status quo is OK.

I have to pay attention to the signals and determine where the needs are. I am always balancing – week in, week out. I get perspective, have a look where I am spending my time and what is important. Most of work is now systemised so if I am not there it means things don’t fall over, but the proactive side takes a hit and things stay where they are. But sometimes, that’s enough.

There’s only so much capacity you have to get things done. I’m trying to keep my family as a priority and that means balancing my time however I can, like leaving work early but sending emails when the kids have gone to bed. That chopping and changing can be difficult and I could improve the work and home delineation more but I focus on things being impactful for “right now”, knowing that it’s ever-changing and so many stresses and challenges are temporary.

Life is short - and amazing.

My values have always been family orientated. I have always wanted to be a good family man and spend time with the kids and not be a workaholic. I am also so aware that the kids are only small for a short time. With my dad passing, it definitely hits home how short life is. I don’t want to waste it all in the office – I want to make the most of what we’ve got.”

Patrick Harrison, director of Solo & Smart

Harrison says you need to be aware you only have so much capacity to achieve everything that needs doing.

Harrison's learnings:

1. Learn to pay attention to the signals and cues in your life before things get overwhelming.

2. Remember that busy times will pass. Everything has a season.

3. Accept that sometimes, OK is enough and shine when you can.

Desiree Hough, Selling Agent at Desiree Hough and Chris Keane - Stone Real Estate, mum of three and grandmother of two

Desiree Hough believes in - and isn't afraid of - hard work. She's created a highly successful career in real estate, but explains that without her passion for 'soothing' pursuits like yoga and meditation, plus time with friends and family, the stress and pressure of work would be all-consuming. Hough says she 'fiercely guards' her downtime because simply, she needs it to be her best.

Desiree Hough, selling agent at Desiree Hough and Chris Keane, Stone Real Estate

Hough is very aware that without her prioritisation of yoga and meditation, her work stress would overwhelm her.

I run my own real estate company within a larger brand. Financially, it makes more sense for me to do what I am doing [but] you’ve got to be discerning about what you know about your strengths and weaknesses and what sort of work and life balance you want to create.

My job is a problem-solving one and it’s full of anxiety. You’ve got to have a “never give up attitude.” It’s the kind of job where you’ve got to think on your feet and be creative with your solutions. You’ve also got to be able to cope with disappointment as it’s a job that can be fraught with it. You’re constantly dealing with people’s stress, solving problems and coming up with resolutions.

My downtime is about self-healing.

There’s so much about me that is not to do with real estate. My personal life is the antithesis of work! It’s spending time with my family, yoga and meditation. They are my staples – my underpinnings to be able to cope with the level of stress that my job can create. For me, [downtime] is about soothing myself. You’ve got to have the balance and the experience to feel calm in the face of the storm.

Without my associate, I probably couldn’t do my job properly. He is as passionate about the job as I am. He fills all my gaps when it comes to my work-life balance, along with a very close colleague I have. I foster those relationships because it’s all about giving from your heart – equal levels of investment and withdrawal.

I feel like I've come into my own.

Your dreams change and evolve. When I was a single mother, my goal was just to have enough money to nurture and look after my family and be successful. I feel like I grew up with my children. Around 50, the children were leaving home and I started to really identify with who I was in the world and as a woman. It wasn’t until then I really hit my stride as an autonomous woman on my own and I started to become very successful at my job.

I was also travelling. I took time off for a few months and went and lived in Byron Bay. I started experimenting with things like that and found it worked. I came back from that trip and got straight back into the top ten agents of the brand I was working for and I began to learn about the law of attraction – that what you focus on grows. Once I started to really see that, I realised what sort of personal power I had.

The pressure for us to have a zen work-life balance as a young parent – forget about it. When you are a young parent, you are swamped. The kids need you, you have to sacrifice so much. That is part of what makes you whole – you strive, you sacrifice, you dedicate yourself to [your kids] and you give as much as you can to the other aspects of your life. It’s really not until your children start to move on [as successful people in their own lives] that you become your own woman again – I am right in that pivotal time and starting to feel who I am.

I've learned to make the most of the time I have.

If you’re rigid [when it comes to trying to achieve balance], you are really setting yourself up for a great deal of anxiety. Fluidity is a very, very important state of mind and being. Even now, I don’t manage [balance] beautifully, but I manage it the best I can. I meditate in the morning when I first wake up. I will get up and do just some yoga – 15 minutes if I don’t have much time. But even if you find just one minute where you can meditate – find the moment and just be in a mindful space. These are the things that are potent and relevant and we [should] take what we can get.

I could be a lot more successful and rise up and be that number one salesperson all the time. I am very good at what I do but do I really want to be managing a big business that would run me ragged? [I want to work but I also] want to spend time with my friends and family, travel, make time for yoga and meditation.

I'm constantly creating my ideal life.

Attitude is everything. It’s our greatest weapon against ourselves and also our greatest gift – it is literally the only thing we can control. I am a person just like everyone else who struggles and has fears and foibles. I meet my own edge all the time. But I do think about what sort of person I want to be, because I am making her right now.

Desiree Hough, selling agent at Desiree Hough and Chris Keane, Stone Real Estate

Hough says she believes that attitude is everything when it comes to achieving calm in your life.

Hough's learnings:

1. Find the moments. Whether it's deep breathing exercises in the car or a walk at lunchtime, grab windows of relaxation when you can.

2. Control what's controllable. Let go of what you can't change and adjust your attitude towards positivity.

3. Work hard and play hard. Value both sides of the spectrum.