“It’s a good thing that at a startup, being stressed is often balanced by being excited. Otherwise, the stress would kill you.” - Sachin Agarwal – Founder, Posterous.
Entrepreneurship or the startup life can seem exciting and glamorous, but this can be a question of perspective. Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions, often uses the analogy of a man riding a lion to illustrate the differing points of view. The people seeing the man are super impressed at his composure and bravery but the man himself, in all probability, is thinking how the hell he got on the lion in the first place and looking for ways to get off without getting eaten.
It is true that for most startups, the resource in shortest supply is the physical and mental bandwidth of the startup founder. Startup founders have a lot of passion for what they do and as has often been said, there is a tendency among them to link their own self-worth to the net worth of their startup. This usually means that they tend to drive themselves very hard – sometimes to breaking point. Studies dedicated to the health and well-being of entrepreneurs specifically are lacking, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that offers a clue as to the extent of the problem. A Gallup study showed that more than one in six entrepreneurs was likely to be a smoker. Then, there are those that take a much more terrible final step – Ilya Zhitomirsky of Diaspora, Aaron Swartz of Reddit and Austin Heinz of Cambrian Genomics – all being reported recently.
There are always a million things to do and no end to the workday in sight, so what can today’s super-stretched and super-stressed founder do to create a reasonable work-life balance?
The first step is to prioritize and create a manageable “to do” list. Identify those tasks that have the most strategic value or are likely to have the most impact and take only those yourself. This may mean putting some pet projects into cold storage and saying ‘no’ to some others, but be ruthless – remember, you only have so many hours to play with. Use Eisenhower’s Urgent / Important principle to define the order in which the tasks have to be taken up for execution while building a schedule and remember to create a buffer for that fire you will inevitably have to deal with.
Find someone to do stuff for you. Look at your calendar – there are probably a whole bunch of things that others can take up easily with the right training. For example, Nanette Miner, founder of The Training Doctor LLC, as a policy, gets outside help for tasks like admin work, website work and social media – what she calls “non-revenue generating” work. As you grow, consider building up your team one good person at a time and then move things on to their plates.
This is obviously the key. The Gallup study mentioned above found that entrepreneurs were slightly more likely than the average population to regularly visit the gym – those that do have the right idea. Alyssa Rapp, founder & CEO of Bottlenotes Media, credits athletics and particularly her daily 60-minute workout for her ability to maintain a balance in her life. A stiff workout can help burn off stress and induce a sense of overall well-being that can energise you for the day ahead. Enterprising startup minds have come up with the concept of Minimum Viable Fitness – a philosophy of getting fit by doing those small things right. The concept outlines Minimum Viable Nutrition and Minimum Viable Training for the entrepreneur struggling to come up with a programme that would work for their lifestyle.
Getting adequate sleep of the right quality may seem difficult, but it is extremely important. Business leaders like Arianna Huffington have spoken about the need to have healthy sleeping habits. One way to do this is to create a sleep schedule based on the work patterns of the day and to then follow it religiously. Seven to nine hours of quality sleep is recommended, so aim for that in your schedule.
Me Time & Us Time
Richard Branson said in a blog on Work-Life harmony, “You need to find time to play; then when opportunity knocks, open the door and make every second count.” Clearly indulging a hobby is becoming fashionable now. Apart from the mental relief, there seems to be a real positive impact on productivity too. A 2014 study in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, found that those with a creative hobby felt more relaxed and in greater control even while on the job. The unpredictable ebb and flow of a work day are usually seen as the enemy of an entrepreneur, but this can be an advantage too as they open up unexpected gaps in the schedule. The suggestion is to make the most of this flexibility, to go to a movie, read a book or get in that round of golf.
How about family time? Turning to Branson again – he talks of how he leverages technology tools like phones and emails to keep track of his schedule but as soon as he gets a few minutes, he talks to his wife and family. Nurturing and maintaining a connection with the family is not for the entrepreneur alone – this is important for the health of the family members too. A UCSF Study of nearly 250 US entrepreneurs had found that 72 percent reported mental health problems either themselves or in the immediate family. One way to build that connect is to take a regular family vacation – time away from the hustle will help bring you together like nothing else.
Simon Sinek said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” That may well be true but even the most passionate entrepreneur has to take care to ensure he takes those important steps to keep from running dry.
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This article was streamed from LinkedIn.com and first appeared @ forbes
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