We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalie MacLees and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natalie, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
When I first started working for myself 10 years ago, I didn’t know any better, so I just went flat-out at building up my business. I didn’t say no to anyone or turn down any work.
I’d get out of bed and sit at the computer right away. I’d still be in my pajamas and I wouldn’t have brushed my teeth or combed my hair or washed my face or eaten breakfast. I’d just sit like that, until my blood sugar would get so low, my hands would shake when I was trying to type. At that point, usually around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I’d take a break for an hour or so to eat and shower and get dressed. But then I’d be right back at the computer until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and I’d head to bed.
Then I’d just repeat the next day – even if the next day was a holiday or a weekend. It was thrilling at first, but within a couple months, I was running on fumes. I was out of energy, overwhelmed, unhappy and totally burned out. I realized I had to make some changes. I hadn’t adjusted to entrepreneur life – where you never get to the bottom of your to-do list. I had to learn a different way of managing my tasks and my time.
First, I set a 7pm stop work time each day. No matter how much was left to do, at 7pm, I’d shut down the computer and walk away. I still remember how weird it felt the first night – I shut down my computer, walked away from my desk and just stood in my living room, staring out the window. I had no idea what to do with myself!
Gradually, I introduced other changes to bring my workday back into balance with the rest of my life. A few weeks after introducing the 7pm quit time, I quit working on Sundays and holidays. I felt so great with that change, that a few weeks after that, I made Saturdays half days, and eventually started taking Saturdays off too. Then I moved my quitting time back to 6pm.
I made room for the things I love – reading, hanging out with friends, hiking, knitting, crocheting, dance classes, yoga. I’m not a robot! I need things to keep me sane and grounded and to stay healthy. I’m not perfect at it – sometimes when there’s a lot to do, I work late or I work weekends, but I’m careful to keep an eye on that to be sure it’s always temporary and doesn’t become a habit.
I’ve learned that it’s simply not true that being an entrepreneur is non-stop hustle and there is no time for hobbies, breaks, or distractions. As a business owner, you are the best asset that your business has, and it’s very important that you take good care of yourself.
Free time is not a luxury that you have to earn. Free time is a necessity to keep you grounded and connected. Time spent doing hobbies you enjoy, connecting with friends and family, or just relaxing is vital to keeping your spirits up and helping you feel inspired to continue. Without time off, you can start to feel trapped by your business, suffocated, and unhappy. Self-care is important for everyone, but it’s extra important for entrepreneurs.
When I say self-care, I don’t just mean taking bubble baths and getting pedicures once in a while. Self-care is something you need to practice every single day. At its most basic, self-care means eating when you’re hungry, drinking when you’re thirsty, and sleeping when you’re tired.
Get creative and find ways to drink plenty of water every day. Do what you have to do to have healthy meals and snacks even when you’re busy and pressed for time. Do your best to get at least a little exercise and sunshine as often as you can. And maybe most importantly of all – try to get enough sleep! It makes such a difference in how you feel when you’re facing a long and difficult day.
I get extra frustrated by entrepreneurs on social media who brag about how many hours they work and how little they sleep. They either challenge others to do the same or brag about how other people can’t keep up with them. It’s a toxic and unhealthy perspective and I think it discourages a lot of potential entrepreneurs from following their dreams.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
N Squared is the second business I’ve started and I’d describe its creation as more of a series of happy accidents than anything my business partner, Nathan, and I set out with intention to do.
In 2012, I quit my job working at a startup and started my own web design agency, building websites for small businesses and nonprofits. A couple years later, Nathan and I decided to do a small trial project together. Our intentions didn’t go much further than “let’s build a small project and see if we like working with each other”.
We met each week for four hours and in a few months, we finished up our first product, Draw Attention, a tool for creating interactive images on WordPress websites. We spent a few more months fixing bugs and adding new features, making the tool even better. We decided to build something else together – a bigger and more complicated tool for taking appointments on WordPress websites, Simply Schedule Appointments.
It wasn’t until we were well into work on Simply Schedule Appointments in 2017 that we realized we were accidentally building a company and needed to go ahead and make it official. Nathan jokingly threw out ‘N Squared’ as a possible name on a flight back from a web development conference and I liked it so much I bought a domain name and surprised him with a quick simple website. The name stuck after that.
We started slowly ramping up our time working together from 4 hours a week to 8 hours and then to 16. Then in 2020, we hired our first employees to help with marketing and customer support. We had employees working full time in our business while we were each part time, still splitting our time between our individual businesses and the company we had created together.
Earlier this year, we realized we couldn’t put it off any longer, and we both went full time and shut down our individual businesses. We’re so busy all the time, I honestly have no idea how we managed to work on anything else for all that time.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m an introvert, and most of my good friends are, too, so it wouldn’t be many places with lots of people. That leaves out most of the usual suspects and tourist attractions in the city. But that leaves some really beautiful quiet places.
The Nicholas Flat Natural Reserve in Malibu is a great hike in the spring – everything is in bloom, there are loads of butterflies at points along the trail, and great ocean views at other points. It’s quiet and it’s unusual to run into more than one or two other hikers out there.
While out in Malibu, I’d be sure to make a stop into Paradise Cove for lunch and some beach adventures.
I haven’t been since it was burned by the Bobcat Fire a couple years ago, but Devil’s Punchbowl in the Angeles National Forest is great for scenery and short and medium length hikes. It’s also a great place to go in August to see the meteor showers away from a lot of light pollution. To have a real adventure on the weird side and a meal, it’s about a 20 minute drive to Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock. Delicious food and the oddest and most eccentric collection of things for sale. Plus dinosaur statues, a model wild west town, and other stuff too.
There are some great hikes with great views at Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area. I really like the Hillside Trail for the views at the top. A great place to eat nearby is Paco’s Cantina – they make their own flour tortillas to order and they are heavenly.
At some point in our travels all over LA County, we’d have to stop into the Bohemian House of Espresso and Chai in downtown LA.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My team. Every single person is dedicated to providing the best experience for our customers. Everyone shows up every day ready to answer support questions from our customers in a helpful and friendly way, ready to fix bugs and issues, ready to design and build new features, and ready to collaborate to make things better.
They are all amazing. They are kind, thoughtful, and bright. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever needs to be done. They are a joy to work with every day. We’d never have gotten to where we are without them.