I grew up in the midwest, and I was taught from an early age that hard work was always the right answer - no matter what the question was. Like a lot of guys growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was taught by the example of my dad to put my family and my work ahead of my personal needs.

One of the hardest lessons that time has taught me is that taking care of me IS the first step of taking care of my family and my business. This idea runs against the grain of most business owners.

Think about your own experience. Do you drive yourself until something comes up that forces you slow down or stop? Maybe what hits you is a health issue, maybe a relationship issue, maybe a financial issue. Sound like your life?

It amazes me when I talk to a contractor who is flat on his back with a chest cold who is telling me how guilty he feels for not working that day. A little further into the conversation, and I usually find out that this same contractor is updating his mailing list and straightening out a few files instead of spending the day in bed drinking plenty of liquids. Our work ethic runs deep.

If this is you, you aren't alone.

As you think about your lifestyle, can you see that ignoring your personal needs might cause the very problems you face down the road? Ignoring your exercise routine often leads to endurance issues, for example. Ignoring stress issues can lead to many serious health problems. Ignoring proper diet often leads to weight issues. The very things you might put off today can come back and haunt you tomorrow.

As a business owner, you are your business. Your health and well-being directly affects the health of your business. If you are constantly tired or sick, how can your business thrive? How do you give your customers the best service possible? For the sake of your business and your customers, you must take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. For most of us, this means proper rest, proper diet, proper exercise, reading a book, going out to a movie, spending time on a hobby, and some occasional time off (including vacations). This is really the hardest part for me to embrace. I grew up thinking vacations were for the guys who just couldn't cut it.

And another thing... How many times each week do you say to yourself "I'll quit and go home, but I just want to get to one more thing"?

I always try and get "just one more thing" done before I quit for the day. This is all part of the same disease most entrepreneurs have. It takes a complete turn-around in your thinking to come to the conclusion that you would probably get more done tomorrow if you just knocked off at a reasonable time today. Doing something recreational or just getting a little more sleep will often lead to much more productivity the next day.

I once heard a motivational speaker who pointed out that we always seem to get more things done on the day before we go on vacation. It is amazing to think that my desk is cluttered all the time unless I know I am leaving town for a while. The day before I leave, I never start new projects but I always manage to clean up the 20 things that were nagging at me to be done. If I could get this much accomplished every day, I could knock off at 2 in the afternoon and go fishing most days. Why doesn't work go like that?

Truth is, I think I like working more than I like resting. I am really good at working, and not so good at resting.

In the new year, my personal goal is to pay a lot more attention to myself and to take better care of me. I will do it so that I have more energy and more drive. I will do it for my family and my customers. If you found yourself nodding your head as you read this, I suggest you think about doing more to take care of yourself - for your family, for your business, and for your customers.