Work-Life Balance: How?!?!

"Next Level" sponsored by Next Insurance

NEXT Insurance is 100% dedicated to making it easy for small business owners and the self-employed to get the insurance they need to take their company to the next level. Autostraddle and NEXT Insurance are pleased to bring you the first installment of “Next Level,” an article series in which successful queer small business owners share how they tackle the challenges of business ownership to live their very best work lives. Today, we’re talking about achieving that oh-so-elusive work-life balance!


One of the most challenging aspects of being self-employed and/or owning your own business is achieving a healthy work-life balance. Every moment seems like a moment you could be doing more work to move your company forward, and it can be hard to tear yourself away and engage with the world around you — like your friends, family, relationships or hobbies. But working constantly can be destructive to your mental and physical health and won’t help your business succeed in the long run.

Since starting my media company, Autostraddle, in 2009, I’ve cycled through so many approaches to work-life balance, and honestly most of them have failed. So, I enlisted the help of a group of kick-ass queer business owners to give you the advice you need to succeed!

The queer business owners quoted in this piece are:

  • Kim Blessing and Delena Mobley of size and gender-inclusive fashion brand dom+bomb
  • Sheena Lister of short-hair styling products company Barb
  • Alyssa Kaliszewski of “vintage shop meets curated boutique” retail collective We Are Doll Parts in Seattle
  • Summer Trottier of Missouri-based apparel, accessories, and gifts store Culture Flock
  • Tracy Levesque of web design and development company Yikes!
  • Jennifer Vinciguerra, CPA, an accountant.

10 Ways To Get the Work-Life Balance You Deserve

Don’t Be Afraid To Give Yourself a Break

“Taking breaks” is just as important as “working” when it comes to manifesting quality work. You’ll bring more commitment and focus to the time you spend working if you carve out time for decompressing, too.

“We’ve had to practice saying ‘I’m exhausted and need a break,'” said Kim and Delena of dom+bomb. “As business owners, we all have a tendency to feel guilty if we’re not working on the business 24/7, but you can’t be successful if you don’t rest.”

Work Non-Traditional Hours

Sheena Lister, Barb‘s CEO, tries to work hard when she’s not with her loved ones, so she can give them her full attention when she is. “It’s not always easy,” she advises, “and in order to achieve this, I may have to work ‘unusual’ hours.”

For Summer and Brittany at Culture Flock, it means breaking out of the “millennial mentality” that real jobs are the kind you work from 8-5. “We work in a field where creativity is paramount,” Summer explains. “and that means a different set of rules than your typical desk job.”

Set Boundaries With Clients

It can be difficult to gain the confidence to start setting boundaries with clients to maintain a work-life balance, especially when you’re first starting out and you feel like you have to say “yes” to everything.

At Yikes, they ensure their employees can unplug by ensuring clients are aware they don’t work nights and weekends.

Kim and Delena of dom+bomb committed to being off on Sundays and Mondays, and they hold each other accountable for sticking to it.

For Jennifer Vinciguerra, CPA, “a big part of the ‘right fit’ [with a client] is someone who respects my boundaries outside of work hours, and understands my family comes first and foremost.”

Set Boundaries With Co-Workers

At Doll Parts, they admit that work-life balance “is definitely the hardest thing to balance as business owners.” But, “we make a point to have one day off a week and tell each other we won’t text/discuss work unless absolutely necessary.”

When you’re using platforms like Slack or even e-mail to communicate with your teams, it’s important to set strict in and out times after which it’s not expected for you to be available for work or work conversations.

When you become friends with your co-workers, work and life can get blurry. Doing your best to keep personal conversations to text rather than in your online office can make a big difference. At Autostraddle, we had a company culture that often involved being on Slack at night or on weekends in a social capacity — but we had to dial that back because even though we were talking about The Bold Type and not our to-do lists, it was pulling us away from building lives outside of the office.

Create a “Results-Only Work Environment”

Another key to work-life balance is measuring results by work accomplished, rather than hours worked. At Yikes, employees know that as long as they hit deadlines, do good work, make clients happy and are pleasant to work with, they can take off as much time as you want. “We have a very generous PTO policy,” Tracy explained, “but it’s also fine if someone wants to leave early or take the day off for whatever reason, as long as they’re doing a good job.”

Set Different Expectations Around a Busy Season

Jennifer said having kids changed the way she approached her work/life balance — she didn’t want to miss one minute more of time with them than she had to. But tax season is another story. “Tax season is the exception to this rule for me and is a large part of the reason I try to be super flexible the rest of the year,” Jennifer said. “I know the sacrifices that I force on myself and my family during those 3.5 months, so once we’re out of that window, they are my priority.”

If you have a busy season coming up — like an annual event run by your company or an annual fundraiser — schedule quality time like a date night or a weekend trip with your loved ones before and after crunch time.

Busy times can be a chance to forgive yourself for not balancing work and life and get that workaholic urge out of your system, as long as you keep it temporary. Still; year after year of seasonal busyness can eventually overwhelm you.

“I have no problem saying ‘no’ anymore,” Jennifer said. “And I’ve also begun the process of cutting back on my workload so that even tax season is less stressful.”

Share The Load

Work-life balance can be much easier to achieve if you have a business partner or employees to share the load with you. Part of why I started Autostraddle in the first place was ’cause managing my blogs alone was too much work, and I knew I needed other brains in the room to help it grow.

Becky and Alyssa from Doll Parts divide tasks and regularly communicate to avoid getting burnt out.

“It’s much easier to do in a business with two founders,” said Kim and Delena of dom+bomb. “We can ‘tap out’ when one of us needs to. If one of us gets sick, or has a family emergency, the other can cover.”

Recognize Your Limitations

When Jennifer first started her business, she felt like she couldn’t say “no” to any client who reached out. “When prospective clients would reach out they typically provided loads of detail in their initial email,” she remembers. “Many times this would include horror stories about their experience with a previous accountant, and other times it might include a personal tragedy that left them overwhelmed and needing intense financial guidance. I wanted to help everyone!”

After a decade, she understood she had to be truthful about her abilities and practical about the limited time she had available.

Don’t Do Now What You Can’t Do Forever

Those first few years of running a business can be an “all hands on deck, all the time” situation — but once you strip away those “getting off the ground” tasks, what’s left needs to be a sustainable workload. Start planning now for how you’ll eventually reduce that workload before your clients or audience get used to an unsustainable level of output. Sketch out the elements of your job that you’ll eventually need to wrap up or offload to someone else, with goal dates and the amount of money you’ll need to make those adjustments.

Require Vacation

Even in offices with unlimited PTO, like ours, it can be tough to take time off as an owner or a self-employed person without feeling guilty — but time away from your day-in day-out work is just as important to your process as the work itself. Model this behavior yourself and encourage your employees to unplug entirely as often as possible.

It’s smart to not just tell your employees (and yourself) how much time they’re allowed to take off, but to require they take a certain number of weeks off, too. Our new CEO, Kylo, knew I hadn’t taken a day off for six months and asked me every day what dates I’d picked to take the vacation they knew I needed until, finally, I scheduled a long weekend trip around my birthday. (We also require our employees to take their birthdays off.) I’m glad they encouraged me to take the time, because it helped me shore up energy, remember that I had a body, and come back to work with a fresh perspective.

Make Plans

The best way to get out of the office at a reasonable hour is having another place you’re supposed to be. Make plans for dinner, schedule volunteer work, play pickleball with your friends. It can be tough to tear yourself away from your desk but once you’re out there on the court you’ll be glad you did.


Ultimately, looking for work-life balance in the early years of starting your own business is an elusive, slippery goal. “Most of our brainpower on a given day is related to the shop; even on days one of us isn’t “working” we’re working, or thinking about work,” says Alyssa Kaliszewski of We Are Doll Parts.

But starting your company with an immediate eye on work-life balance can go a long way. As Sheena Lister of Barb so helpfully put it: “I find that I am my happiest self when I feel fulfilled in both my work and personal life. So it’s important that I approach both with the same level of passion and love.”

Do you have any tips for keeping a healthy work-life balance? Let us know in the comments!

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Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3213 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. PERSONALLY: I find that working to combat internal people-pleasing tendencies is something that is super important when it comes to my boundaries…anywhere! I love learning from folks who seem to have got that down, though.

  2. these tips are great! my balance is in constant flux I feel like, so I feel like this is something I just always need to work on instead of assuming any solutions I find will be permanent. constant self-checkins really is the way!

  3. Yep. The boundaries bit got me during my first business – it was a fun work environment and I hired lots of my friends so the lines between work and life blurred to nonexistent … which is a one way ticket to burn out if you’re an eager beaver workaholic like me !

    So nice to see queer bizniz people soaring ☄️✨

  4. I’ll add a radical anti-growth mindset. Yes, you probably need to grow your business to the point where it is providing you with a stable income that supports your life. Then just stop! There’s no reason to keep getting bigger! The idea of unending growth is taken for granted by most small business folks because it’s a key tenet of capitalism, and baked into every other kind of business advice as a result. But it’s an idea that is grinding the earth and climate as well as our bodies into the ground. I grew my small business for a few years until it was just enough income to support my non-work life and goals, and now hold it steady there.

    • So appreciate you bringing this perspective to the conversation! I am not a business owner, but I have had the same thought about the organizations I work with when staff meetings are fixated on growth. It will never stop feeling impossible to me that so many folks think infinite growth is actually possible (not a call-out to anyone in this comments section or this article–this is solely a comment based on my experience with larger companies).

    • I absolutely agree with you. Sustained growth is better than never-ending exponential growth for the sake of “more.” I used to look at other agencies in the space we’re in and feel bad because they were bigger than us. But now I realize success is not all about more everything. Creating a supportive work environment, paying a decent wage and doing good work while truly achieving life/work balance IS success. And to be honest, when I talk to those founders with bigger agencies, their lives are stressful behind the curtain.

  5. Appreciate this article and will think on all it’s advice, although at the same time, this “tension” for lack of a better word feels very US to me (acoustumed to European privileged working conditions)

  6. “When you’re using platforms like Slack or even e-mail to communicate with your teams, it’s important to set strict in and out times after which it’s not expected for you to be available for work or work conversations.” I am a HUGE app notification snoozer. I don’t have my social media / personal notifications on when I’m in deep work (except emergency contacts) and I don’t have my work notifications on when I’m outside of work. Even when it feels itchy, I tell myself I am not 9-1-1 dispatch nor am I a plumber nor am I a PR agent for some celebrity or something. It can wait until I’m back at work tomorrow.

  7. Loved this, thank you! I know it’s dead simple and might seem like common sense, but the Make Plans tip is such a good one. It gets you away from work in a practical way, but it’s also a subconscious reminder that there’s more to your life than running this (very cool, very important) business!

  8. I love results-only work environments and I think it’s a great way to reward someone who can bang out their work because they like to wake up early/go to bed late… especiallllly when things like taking care of physical and mental health always have to happen in the middle of the work day.

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