The challenges of entrepreneurship can be physically tough —the long hours, stress and work travel can eventually take a toll on your health, unless you take steps to regain a work/life balance. For an entrepreneur or a chief executive leading a growing company, keeping fit and taking breaks from work is a necessity: You have to plan for health and fitness in the same way you plan your business career. This will help you to keep a fresh perspective on any problems your company encounters and ultimately, to make better business decisions.
I have just returned from an exhausting tour in which I visited five countries in less than a month. It started with a memorable week in New Zealand, then on to Chile, Brazil and the UK, and finishing in India. And I have always travelled extensively, ever since we founded Virgin. At first, I was helping to build Virgin Records into a global music business; now, with our new business development focused on emerging markets and many of our Virgin Unite philanthropic initiatives based in Africa and Asia, it is unlikely that I will be able to slow the pace and extent of my business travel. Staying alert and being effective on such gruelling trips takes preparation.
But for me, fitness is a hobby. At school, I was a very keen sportsman until a knee injury cut short my hopes of professional success. Unable to pursue my dreams, I threw myself into my early business career and set up Student magazine. My passion for sport remained, and I have continued to play tennis, ski, sail and, more recently, to kite-surf.
I try to fit in at least one workout per day, and sometimes two, if I have the opportunity. Our home on Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands, is a great place for me to keep up my swimming. Most mornings when I am there, I head off for a swim around the island—about 3 miles (4.8km). It is the best way to clear the head (sometimes from the excesses of the night before!) and sets one up for the day.
Set on its own at the end of the archipelago of islands, Necker is also a great place to sail and kite-surf. After a long day of correspondence or calls, there is nothing better than setting off on my kite-surf—I soon feel refreshed and renewed.
Fitness goals aside, it is important to do something that helps you to achieve distance from the pressures of work. Many people who are faced with the increasing pressures of the modern, global and “always-on” business world struggle to stop working. By focusing on something else—in my case, on sports—you gain perspective on other areas of your life, and this helps you to achieve that elusive work/life balance.
Many of my pastimes are ones that my family enjoys too, which has helped a great deal. There is no better way to forget the stresses of a poorly performing company or the frustrations of not closing a deal than kite-surfing with your children or going with them on a long ski through the mountains.
During periods of travel, you have to plan for your exercise. In April 2010, when I signed up for the London Marathon to coincide with Virgin Money’s sponsoring the race, I faced the challenge of trying to fit the intensive training schedule into an already busy speaking and travel programme. Together with a coach, I mapped out the training runs I needed to do and looked at my destinations to try to make them match up. It was great fun. As I circled the world, I found myself running in the parks of Sydney, along the beach in Barcelona, and through the bush at our Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa.
Luckily, my children Holly and Sam had also decided to run the race with a group of friends, so we often trained together on our family breaks. This helped to maintain some friendly family competition and ensured that we all remained focused on the challenge ahead. On race day, we all completed the race in good time and along with their 32 teammates, Holly and Sam set a world record for the most people (34!) to finish a marathon while tied together.
Occasionally things don’t go according to plan. That same year, all three of us tried to kite-surf across the English Channel, but the weather prevented our attempt. In January, a ski accident caused me to snap an Achilles tendon and so I was unable to run, ski or kite-surf for more than six months. As a way of motivating myself to keep fit during that period, I threw myself into training for the swim leg of the London Triathlon. Holly and Sam completed all three legs of the race, so we all had a great time.
At Virgin, I am famous for searching out challenges that will help us to push ourselves harder—and that includes physically. But making small changes can be even more helpful in the long run. Next time you settle down on a Sunday morning to answer that mountain of email and requests, think about whether you might be better off first going for a run, swim or bike-ride, to refresh the body and the mind.
By NYT Syndicate
© 2011/ Richard Branson
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog
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