Follow These Steps to Find a Healthy Work-Life Balance

The portable sanitation industry and small-business ownership are demanding and difficult endeavors. To survive and thrive, PROs must carve out time for a rich personal life.

The other day a snapshot of a billboard popped up on my social media feed carrying an important message. It read, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

For many small-business owners, this roadside sign could make you hit the brakes, skid to a stop and think about what you’re doing. I know the reminder prompted me to reconsider my priorities. Maybe many of you can relate to my experience over a 40-year work life:

 I have never taken two weeks of vacation in a row. 

 I work on evenings and weekends when a project needs to get done. 

 Growing up I loved camping and fishing, but I haven’t done enough of either the past 25 years. 

 Many is the time I have that familiar conversation with a good friend or relative about how we should get together more often, then we never do it.

This is not to say I’ve put my personal life on hold entirely as I’ve been busy working. On the positive side of the ledger, I’ve attended all the kids’ sporting events, band concerts and theatrical events. Like many of you, I’ve utilized flextime so I’m not AWOL from important family and recreation time. In my wastewater industry-supporting role, I don’t do the same type of work you do. I’ve always viewed the life of a PRO as a 24/7 job, but one where you can hopefully take a few hours here or there to be involved in those family milestone events.

That said, I think most of us feel like we would do a lot more, on the homefront or with rest and relaxation, if work responsibilities weren’t constantly calling. 

I know, I know; this is the worst time of the year to be thinking of taking an extended vacation or impromptu days off in the middle of the week. The summer is no time for PROs to be planning a cruise or driving the length of Route 66. But as you toil away six or seven days a week in the busy season, maybe it should be a time to contemplate ways you might escape the grind of running your own business during the rest of the year.

We’re all in the same boat, so let me start rowing by throwing out some suggestions of ways to carve out time for rest and relaxation in the coming year. As the work piles up — both with the equipment in the field and the paperwork on your desks — this may seem like a hopeless exercise. But life is short, and we all need an occasional reset of priorities to have a healthy, balanced life. So here goes.

Consult the calendar

Make plans, or your plans will never materialize. I have an exceptionally busy lifelong friend who has an important position far beyond my station in life. When I want to see him, he pulls out a calendar and starts looking a few months down the road for a free afternoon. At first I thought this was odd, but unless he plans that far ahead, we just won’t be able to see each other. So don’t be afraid to look a year out if you want to plan for a family reunion or an important family trip. If you don’t write it down, it may never happen. 

And as for planning to block out time for a sabbatical from the portable sanitation grind, pay attention to the ebb and flow of your business and map out the slowest weeks of the year when you are most likely to be able to get away. For many PROs, this might come late in the year just before or after the holidays or on a few rainy weeks in March when customers aren’t so demanding. Learn to forecast these times and mark them off as vacation days, then follow through.

Talk to your family

Sit down for a family meeting and discuss what your spouse, your kids and your parents dream of doing together as a group. This might result in a fabulous family getaway, or it might simply be making a point of spending a day a month or several long weekends pursuing a shared interest or just spending time together. I suspect many of you hear from your families about the long hours you devote to work and the hope that you could take more time off. If you can make more room for family time the rest of the year, they might better understand your need to work 12 hours a day between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Set aside funds for fun

Remember the Christmas Club? In the old days we would set aside money throughout the year and withdraw it to buy holiday gifts. We did this to ensure an impressive pile of wrapped packages under the Christmas tree. At this time of the year, when the money is coming in, build a financial account to pay for vacations and cover your expenses when you’re not on duty. The cost of a special trip is not just in the plane tickets, hotels and meals out; you must also be able to pay your salary, insurances and other expenses when you aren’t working. After all, there’s no such thing as a paid vacation when you own the business.

Commit to delegating at work

It’s difficult for most small-business owners to give up decision making authority to others. It’s silly, really, how we feel compelled to be included on every day-to-day decision when there is usually someone in your crew who can take over when you go away. I always think about what I’ve seen at nearly 20 years of Pumper & Cleaner Expos (now the WWETT Show). As cellphones became commonplace about 15 years ago, it became a constant sight to see wastewater contractors duck out of Expo seminars to tend to one emergency or another back home.

What could be so important to distract these business owners during the one opportunity a year they have to gain continuing education credits or make important networking connections? So-and-so company needs six clean restrooms and we have to make some changes to a delivery route? You know you can train others to handle those situations. In fact, you probably have someone on your staff right now who could run the company if you want to leave for a three-week road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Empowering your crew provides many benefits.

Realize you can run the business from the beach

Back to technology for a moment. Maybe a decade ago it didn’t seem feasible to hit the road with your family and leave the management duties behind. But with cellphones, file sharing on the cloud and great workflow planning tools at your fingertips, you can easily keep in touch with the business from a national park campground, your parents’ house in Florida or while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Spending an hour a day on important communications with the office is a small price to pay to pull off the family vacation of a lifetime or spending precious days or weeks with parents or old friends. 

Encourage others to follow your lead

By carving out time to enrich your life, you are setting an example for so many other people who work hard and put off important time with family and friends and richly deserved vacations. We’re all dedicated to our businesses and often put work first, so your example is, in essence, giving others permission to reorder their priorities in life. 


Perhaps some of you have found a way to strike a healthy balance between work and leisure. If so, please share your secrets with the rest of us workaholics. 

I think ultimately, we all want to feel gratification for building strong businesses and serving our customers well. But at the same time, we want to be able to say we dedicated ourselves to family and stopping to smell the roses along the way. This reminds me of another adage I see pop up on social media occasionally that gives pause: “No one ever said on their death bed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work.’” 


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