Mental health & wellbeing, Startup Advice

More money and a creative boost: What happened when I decided to make work-life balance my priority

Alisha Dunsford /

Alisha Dunsford Studio Marche

Alisha Dunsford. Source: Supplied

Work-life balance. It’s one of those concepts that has crossed my mind a thousand times over the past 15 years in which I’ve built my business, but I have to admit, I never really took much notice of it or cared to entertain the thought. ‘Growth’ (bigger and better) was my mantra and to achieve this consistently meant it was ingrained in my personal mindset — a belief system I’m sure would be very familiar to many entrepreneurs.

My world was rocked three years ago when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and then again, just a year later, when my daughter was born with serious health complications. Life is full of moments like this for many people and at some point, they really make you stop, take a very good look at your life and question what’s really important, in addition to what you truly want to achieve.

For me, that time came 12 months ago when I realised that working myself into the ground to achieve my version of success, while trying to support my family and stay healthy, wasn’t sustainable.

As a result, I made the decision to scale back my business. It felt so hard at the time, but I knew it was the right move.

The journey to creating my perfect work-life balance then began and although it has not been an easy one, and mine may look different to yours, I am confident you can still achieve your version of success while making wellness and balance a priority.

Here’s four key things that have happened to me, as I strive to live my perfect work-life balance. 

My physical and emotional health is back in check

Honestly, this journey has made me realise just how much I neglected my physical and emotional wellbeing for many years in pursuit of ‘growth’.

I was quite good at telling myself that I was taking care of myself. But in hindsight, I realise I wasn’t really committed to doing so because I often felt anxious about taking time out from work for fear of falling behind on my goals and letting myself down. Over time, this built-up in the form of weight, stress and anxiety, and eventually, a mystery health scare (which thankfully turned out to be nothing too serious). However, I had reached a point where I could no longer ignore my wellness, or the risk of being seriously unwell and unable to care for my family.

It’s no secret exercise releases all sorts of incredible chemicals that impact your overall mental wellbeing. As I started to exercise in ways that made me feel good, I increased both my physical and mental strength, which has helped me take on each day with more energy and ease.

I’m eating more mindfully and as a result I feel like I’m firing on all systems, especially when life inevitably gets tough.

But perhaps what I realised was the most important thing of all: to talk it out. Someone once said to me, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, and there’s no doubt I’ve experienced the simple, yet powerful resonance of this message in managing the stress and anxiety that comes with being an entrepreneur.

Running a business can often be a lonely journey and we’re notorious for not asking for help when we need it, but reaching out to family, friends, a counsellor, or even a fellow business owner could help you get the handle you need over your emotional wellbeing — and lead you on to an even greater, more satisfying path than you had ever imagined.

My top physical and emotional health tip: be really honest with yourself about your level of physical and emotional self-care. Like really honest. Are you in a state of wellness that best supports you to achieve everything that’s on your list, and more? If not, start to think of, and trial, changes that could help progress you towards the version of yourself you’d like to be. 

I’m more creatively mindful and thoughtful in the work I produce

Instead of running on the hamster wheel of progress and tracking the upward revenue trajectory, in scaling back my business to achieve my ideal work-life balance, I now have the flexibility to make each and every creative project I work on a mindful and deliberate choice. I have released the pressure and expectation on myself to create a business that is as big as it can possibly be and as a result, I now focus on a ‘less is more’ mantra, choosing projects that enhance the quality of my life, not detract from it.

Many times over my career I have said ‘yes’ to a project that has an unrealistic timeline, or one that overextends on my natural capability, leading to increased stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until recently that it became clear how much this behaviour impacted my ability to make strategic, deep thinking a priority. Now, strategic thinking, planning and mindfulness in each creative choice I make is paramount. This naturally flows on to produce more effective results for my clients, and on a personal level, more creative satisfaction.

My top productivity tip: think about the impact ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’ has over your ideal work-life balance, and what changes you would have to make to be able to work more mindfully.

I enjoy life more

It seems obvious, but I enjoy the beauty of life far more now than I did before I scaled my business back, because I no longer focus my energy on exceeding my personal expectations. I find beauty in the new simplicity of my business and work in a mindful state, which is incredibly satisfying. I take time to stop and appreciate everything that is part of my life and I find myself randomly smiling for no reason, other than I feel happy.

When I moved my business focus from growth to value alignment, I finally had the time and headspace to appreciate my achievements and set new, more realistic business targets, as opposed to ticking off a goal setting list. I also now focus some of my energy on positive self-talk, so that when I don’t meet my targets, I simply see this as part of the journey and not a reason to emotionally beat myself up.

My top tip for enjoying life: don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, life is way too short!

I make more money

Money is not everything, and it’s never been a major motivator for me. But it does help you to do the other things in life that you’re passionate about, and for me that includes pilates and cooking organic food.

It seems counter intuitive but having a ‘bigger’ business does not always mean more profit. It often means more revenue, which is typically attached to higher overheads, and for some that can also result in a sharp decline of profit margins. In scaling back my business, I have experienced that in taking on fewer projects with less overheads, my profit margin has significantly increased. And together with the benefits of less stress, more time for friends and family, and an overall wellness focus, this is an incredibly valuable situation to be in and one that is hard to put a price tag on.

My top tip for making money: consider what’s really ‘valuable’ to you, and where you can improve the value you create as you work towards your ideal work-life balance. Are there any professional/commercial options that bring both financial and wellness abundance into your life?

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

NOW READ: Why this chief executive is paying his employees to sleep more

NOW READ: Three simple changes Finch co-founder Shahirah Gardner made to help combat burnout

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Alisha Dunsford

Alisha Dunsford is creative director and founder of creative agency Studio Marché.

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