Monday, April 18, 2011

Lesson #18: The Right Work-Life Balance for a Startup

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/18/2011


& Comment

Let's face it, startups often feel like an all-out sprint to get your product to market before your competitors do.  That typically means you are living and breathing your startup around the clock, often putting in long hours.  And, you typically can't ever get away from it, even in your limited free time.  Your friends want to talk about it, your best thinking is while you are alone in the shower, you get that great idea while at the gym, etc.  That is all fine and dandy, until you realize that a sprinter can only go all-out for a limited period of time, before collapsing from exhaustion.  So, I prefer to think of a startup as more of a marathon (albeit a really fast-paced marathon), and not a 100 yard dash.  So, like any good athlete, you are going to make sure you set your pace accordingly with the proper work-life balance.

You have to make time for your personal life, to clear your head, and start fresh each day.  You simply can't think clearly if you are continually exhausted, working the midnight oil seven days a week.  Now, this is going to sound completely out of character for a typical startup executive, but why can't you work a normal 8am-6pm, Monday to Friday work week, leaving your evenings and weekends for yourself, if you are religious about your work prioritization and how you actually spend your work time.

Prioritization is the absolute key to solving the work-life balance for any startup. Every minute you spend on non-mission critical items, requires you make up that time in other ways, late at night or on the weekend.  Do you like to sit back and chit chat about last night's ball game?  If so, do it in a minute, not ten minutes.  Do you like to brainstorm ideas with your team.  Fine, do so in a pre-scheduled hour, not an impromptu four hours, tying up your time, and your team's time.  Do you really need to call your phone service to resolve a billing dispute, or can someone on your team do that for you.

I try to prioritize all tasks (for myself and all team members) in a way that will maximize revenues and increase the odds of hitting our business goals.  So, if ten projects are on the list, you have to knock off #1 before you start wasting any time on #10, since your prioritization efforts dictated a higher ROI from those efforts. And, guess what, if you were right in your assumptions, revenues and profits will be soon to follow, and then you will no longer feel you have that "cash burn-out gun" constantly pointed at your head (which is never healthy to any startup executive's peace of mind).

A lot of time gets wasted in startups, particularly from the perspective of reinventing the wheel.  You are not the only startup to ever launch, quite the contrary.  So, surround yourself by proven entrepreneurs that have "been there, and done that" that can be your sounding board on various issues you run into.  Because the odds are, nine times out of ten, that they have already run through the same problems before, and can help you solve it in one hour, not one day.  So, piggyback on their learnings to save you the time from trying to solve that same dilemma from scratch.  And, if you don't directly know people that can help, there are tons of online Q&A sites, like Quora and ChaCha, and business networking sites, like LinkedIn, that may be of use.   If you can free up all those wasted hours, now you have more time to focus on the problems that really matter, issues specific to your business.  And, did I mention, more free time to spend on your personal life.

Also, it is important to avoid the usually time sink a founder experiences: their inability to hand off tasks and key projects to their staff.  You are not doing this all by yourself and you are not the only smart person in your office, if you are hiring correctly.  So, delegate where you can, to get back some much needed time for other things, while at the same time empowering your team and making them feel like they are valued and contributing to the overall success. 

To me, your personal life is the ying to your yang (work life).  You simply cannot have one without the other.  How can you possible focus on your work, if in the back of your head you know you are missing your kid's school play. Or, your marriage is suffering because your spouse feels they never see you.  Or, you just need a change of scenery from a quick vacation to clear the head.  You have to make time for these kinds of things to recharge your batteries and make your work time that much more efficient (the key word to all of this).  And, equally important, you have to encourage and permit your staff do the same, offering flexible work hours or otherwise (in this case, preaching what you practice).

Now, stop wasting time reading this blog and get back to work!  ;-)

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