I never thought, growing up, that I would go into “business” as a career choice. Being a businessperson sounded boring and awful. But like so many others in recent generations, the “go to college to get a good job” machine funelled me into an office job anyway. It turned out I did kind of hate working as a businessperson, but fortunately not quite as much as I loved it. And I’ve spent a lot of time ever since then soaking it in, learning everything I can about how I can best operate and succeed in an organization, as well as techniques for running my own life like a business.
In my career I’ve worked in all sorts of company environments; from the nimble and energetic startup to the lumbering megacorp; from the thriving and optimistic to the desperately needing improvement. Each one of these had its own set of lessons for me to soak in. Those lessons have been valuable beyond measure, not just in my professional journey, but in my personal life as well.
I know, it sounds freaking bizarre. Why would anyone want to run their life like a business? Businesses are dull and rigid, and can sometimes miraculously be dumber, greedier, and more soulless than the sum of their parts. What an example to follow! But stick with me for just a moment.
Okay, But Like, Why Though? Who Wants Their Life to Run Like a Business?
One of my central tenets of self improvement is that it’s best to look everywhere, and give everything a chance to teach you something new. Like sweet-awesome blogs with cool names, as a random example not related to anything. For all their flaws, there are a lot of things that businesses get right. For instance, they typically know how to:
- Stick to and accomplish long term goals
- Operate efficiently and yield a steady profit
- Endure and navigate hardships of all sorts and come out strong
- Effect significant social, political, and technological change in the world
Does any of that sound appealing to you? It should. If not, I really need to work on selling these ideas better. Yeesh.
Yes, there’s a lot about business that sucks. I don’t want you to try to “be” a business entirely. It’s great to be human – so much of what makes us special, a company could never have. But if we take a close look at what businesses do well and how they do it, there’s much we can learn from them, without giving up everything that makes us awesome.
Now, let’s get into some specific business tools and techniques that we can adapt to help us make our very human lives even better.
1. Take Your Calendar Seriously
Let’s start with a simple one: The old calendar. Calendars are essential to steady business operation, because every business has countless moving parts – team members, clients, customers, meetings, deadlines, quotas, outside vendors, and so on. Coordinating all of these people and events without some sort of written plan would be absolute madness! No one would ever know where to be, nothing would get done on time, and all sorts of tasks would fall through the – well, I want to say ‘cracks’ here, but it’s really more like gaping sinkholes in the ground. There needs to be a clear plot for what happens when, where, and with whom present.
Similarly, your life has no shortage of moving parts. Work obligations, social plans, health appointments, that stupid paperwork from the insurance company that’s been sitting on your desk to fill out for like four and a half months. In this sense, life is already a lot like a business. Protect yourself from gaping sinkholes by taking your calendar seriously. Keep track of your appointments, deadlines, and anything that is time-bound.
Of course, life does happen and events do change. There’s no harm in updating your schedule as needed. But having that calendar to start with is of paramount importance. It is the antidote to untold worry, stress, broken obligations, and missed chances.
2. Cut the Losses
If you’ve ever experienced a corporate layoff firsthand (or known someone who has), then you have some sense of just how ruthless an established business can be in pursuit of its goals. A business has very few ruths, if indeed any at all. It may seem cruel, but that’s rarely (if ever) the intent. It’s simply that a business must always work in its own best interest if it is to succeed.
Companies do not have the luxury of operating on emotions. A large organization is made up of many people and parts, and it can only work by sticking steadfastly to its overarching outcomes. That means that when something is no longer the right fit to serve the mission, be it a project, a team, or anything else, it has to go. Even if that feels like an uninviting option, it is usually for the best in the long run.
Fortunately, there’s a lot that you can get out of this principle without having to turn anyone’s life upside down in the process. By implementing strategies for working Smarter, you can become a world-class pro at identifying what no longer fits your long-term picture, and getting rid of it! Cut the losses, and make more room for what is working. Don’t be a victim of sunk-cost bias. To keep your tree of success growing, sometimes you need to trim the dead leaves and branches.
3. Celebrate the Wins
Despair not, because the flipside of this coin is in fact the bright side. Just as important as it is to cut your losses when running your life like a business, is to celebrate your wins. Every company worth its salt knows that success dries up quickly if you fail to reap its rewards and take a victory lap once in a while. In a company, those rewards may take the form of bonus payouts, awards and recognition for high achievers, new perks for employees, holiday and other special parties, or whatever the hell this nightmare was.
It’s up to you to decide how to celebrate the wins in the business of your life. It may be giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, going out for a drink with friends to commemorate a big achievement, throwing yourself a party here and there, or buying yourself a very special new hat. (But no ordinary hat will do. This is a celebration hat!)
Celebrating is fun and energizing, but it’s not just that. It also increases the amount of space that success takes up in your mind. It draws your attention into what is going well and where you are achieving; and where your attention goes, so do future results. Celebrate your wins, and you will inevitably keep building on them.
4. Manage Your Budget
Like it or not, a business ultimately exists for exactly one reason: to make a profit. Can a business do great things, make people happy, and change the world for the better along the way? Of course it can. But just as you and I need food and water to survive, a business will quickly cease to exist if its books are allowed to linger in the red.
And before you bring it up, I’m not suggesting that running your life like a business necessitates that you elevate profit above all else. Fortunately, that is not actually a survival need for you or me. Nonetheless, a well-balanced budget protects the business of your life from innumerable sources of pain and hardship. Not to mention that having your finances in order makes countless opportunities for your actual life’s mission: creating future joy, growth, and self-investment.
So we have two points here. In reverse order:
- A well managed budget has many uses in building a happier life.
- Businesses maintain their budgets like their lives depend on it (because they do).
See how we may have something useful to learn from here?
Keep track of your budget. Know what is coming in and going out each month. This will enable you to easily spot the leaks and improve your ‘profit margin’ over time. Make it a monthly habit to sit down and check-in on your finances. A YouCorp monthly budget meeting, if you will. And if you have a life partner, make sure you are both at the meeting!
5. Diversify Your Interests
When a business is small or just starting out, it may rely entirely on one product or service that it can produce extremely well, as a sole source of income and growth. See: why food trucks are so good.
But as things expand and evolve, it becomes increasingly risky (as well as limiting to growth) to rely too heavily on that one stream of income. There are more opportunities for explosive growth (and much smaller risk of catastrophic failure) when a business strategically diversifies itself into new offerings, new investments, and new areas of opportunity. Then if any one piece of the system fails, the others will be able to support it. Not to mention that any one of them could turn into a massive opportunity.
When you rely solely on one resource – whether professionally, socially, financially, or otherwise – everything is fine until it’s not. Put some of your time and energy into creating more than one stream of income, joining more than one community, exploring multiple skills and hobbies, meeting new people and growing your possibilities.
Those who run their lives like a business explore many options, and never run short of stability or opportunities.
6. Invest in the Future
It’s no secret: good things take time. For a large business, they often take a great deal of time. Major projects, initiatives, and investments can take months or even years to yield value. At any scale, the greatest rewards will always come to those who reach into the future by planting seeds today and steadily watering them until they bear fruit.
Short term needs, desires, and challenges are no joke. Trying to ignore these things and give ourselves tunnel vision is no way to live a happy or healthy life. But at the same time, we have to be careful not to let them take up everything. With no time, money, or energy left over for long-term possibilities, we’d end up chasing our tails in a stagnant loop forever. Budget these resources carefully (see #4) to ensure that there is always room to invest in your future growth and success.