Expert Advice on Growing Your Business, While Still Having a Life

For entrepreneur and author Tim Berry, relationships — not business — are the most important thing in life. So it’s no surprise that he thinks it’s critical for those starting or growing a business not to get lost in their work in a way that sacrifices their relationships.

“You need to specifically manage the temptation to get lost in the business,” Berry said from his home in Eugene, Oregon.

The 64-year-old knows a thing or two about building a business while balancing work and family.

Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software, founder of, and co-founder of Bourland International. He’s been described as the “Obi-wan Kenobi of business planning” and is the author of “The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan” among other books.

He’s also been married 42 years and has raised five children, squeezing time away from his business ventures to coach soccer and eat dinner with the family every night.

Starting a business is like sponge, he says. It will suck up all your time if you allow it to. But he adds that it’s detrimental to both your business and your life to allow work to dominate your human priorities.

“People use their business as an excuse to be self-indulgent,” he says. “That’s deadly. That’s selfishness. Over time, those people end up alone.”

On scheduling…
Over the years, he’s found that scheduling the times he wasn’t working — rather then vice-versa — has helped him keep his priorities straight. He’s made sure to schedule soccer practices and games, family dinners, and times with his wife, and he says this type of planning has actually allowed him to be more productive.

“It’s like yang instead of the ying. And that helps with the discipline of telling your stupid mind to shut up,” he says. “Because my mind is very undisciplined and will ignore what my loved one is saying.”

On time management…
Berry says he’s worked in environments where people spend a lot of time pretending to work in order to look busy … but this sort of behavior doesn’t help get things done.

There’s only so much productivity per day and if you don’t ease off and do other things you don’t gain productivity,” he says.

Among the mistakes rookie business owners make when it comes to time management is not distinguishing between what is really important and what is really urgent, as described by Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” he notes.

On multitasking…
Also, too much multitasking can be problematic. Business owners need to recognize that some tasks — like writing and product/website design — need larger blocks of focused time. There are so many things competing for our attention these days, he says, so it’s important to schedule times for these tasks and to turn off Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and not answer the phone while you’re doing them.

“I’m always fighting the multitasking versus the concentration time,” he says. “I’ve learned the hard way that people need reflection time to be most creative and productive.”

On to-do lists…
While creating a to-do list is helpful, making a list that’s too long can be detrimental. Your list should only have a few priorities, he advises, otherwise no one thing is important enough and nothing gets done.

While technology can be useful for building your lists, it’s tempting to change tools instead of buckling down to do what you need to do.

“I found it was possible to waste enormous amounts of time changing management systems, he adds. “All I was doing was avoiding the discipline of getting organized.”

On business planning and hiring…
When it comes to business planning, Berry advocates creating a plan that is never complete and that is reviewed and revised at scheduled times monthly in order to examine things like profit and cash flow. This allows you to determine if you can hire someone else to do specific job.

When growing Palo Alto Software, Berry looked for confident and competent self-starters who he knew would take ownership of their part of the business.

“As I hired someone to take the phone calls and the tech support and database management and bookkeeping, I was buying my time to do the parts of the business that I was the best at,” he points out.

On work stress...
Some of the best advice Berry has heard about surviving stressful times came from his 9-year-old grandson, whose behavioral problems lead his teacher to tell him: Stop. Breathe. Think.

“… Just exhale. You do the business as part of your life. You don’t live for business,” he adds.

Learn more from Tim Berry on and follow him on Twitter @TimBerry. Editorial Staff Editorial Staff

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The Editorial Staff writes on topics relevant to small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners. Posts cover best practices, top tips, and studies that deliver insights specific to SMBs.

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