How to survive your own work ethic

Sarah Willingham says she could easily work 100-hour weeks, but forces herself not to.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 29 May 2019

Time is Sarah Willingham’s most valuable commodity. When she’s not growing bar chains London Cocktail Club and Craft Gin Club, the former Dragon’s Den investor, ex-Pizza Express exec and serial entrepreneur is a brand ambassador for Just Eat, mentors small businesses with American Express and has worked closely with accounting software firm Xero on a campaign promoting the introduction of Making Tax Digital.

Somehow, she’s also found the time to increase her investment portfolio with husband Michael Willingham-Toxvaerd, make regular television appearances and work as an ambassador for the charity In Kind Direct.

You would think all that would leave little time for a life outside of work, but Willingham says she still spends entire school holidays with her four children and enjoys a healthy work-life balance.

Her tip for making it work? Diarise your down time.

"I’m a big believer in balances, so it’s extremely important as a preventative measure or maintenance just to take time out.

"I thrive off adrenaline and find it quite easy to run at a very fast pace - I can easily do 100 hour weeks, but that’s not sustainable and I’ve learnt the hard way that if you try to do everything, you never end up doing anything well.

"Earlier in my career I used to have to physically diarise everything to make sure that I took the time off. So when I wasn’t working, it was diarised that I wasn’t working and I would force myself not to work.

"I don’t mix it ever. So I take calls and sit at my laptop when I’m working and don’t touch it when I’m not. When I haven't done that in the past it was so stressful it was awful.  Now it means when I’m at home it’s very much quality time. I’m so much better as a human being, miles better at work and much more focused. I find I want so much more because I have that balance now.

"So for me that's the secret, just try to separate working and not working, but be religious about it. Sometimes you’ve just got to work hard, but when you say you're not going to work, don’t. Don’t lie by a pool with your laptop, lie by the pool and just stare into space or swim.

"I’ve got the luxury now that I’m able to take that time, it’s taken me years to get here and it's always been my goal to have that balance. But I’ve had to learn how to do it."


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