Work / Life Balance for Founders

When you’re chasing the dream how do you manage?


I read an article recently about a high powered CEO who quit his job in light of a letter from his daughter that highlighted 22 milestones he had missed.

This brought a few thoughts to the foreground for me. How can you balance the ambition and drive of being a founder and still have a fulfilling work/life balance? I still remember the long hours I spent building Tier 3 and, even worse, the heated moments when I snapped at my wife saying: “I’m building a company here!” trying to justify the crazy schedules and missed family engagements.

A founder’s job is a constant juggling act and, to be perfectly honest, the workload and pressures of setting up a company are recurring themes throughout my working life. I am a very driven individual and often push everything out of the way to focus on the end goal.

This ability to focus and push forward is a key requirement for any founder. While this drive is the perfect attribute from a work perspective, it can cause other priorities to fall by the wayside. I am trying to adapt to and better handle the situations I find myself in. It’s not a complete list but here are a few tips I’d like to share:

  • Get some sleep — you cannot run on empty or resolve the demanding decisions a founder must face without a good night’s sleep.Work out how much sleep you need to function (mine is 9 hours) to maximize your brainpower.
  • Get some exercise — we’ve all heard of the phrase ‘a healthy body, a healthy mind’ but taking time out to pound the pavements or hit the gym to give you an outlet away from the office. One of the best things I do is just going for a walk every day. Exercise clears your mind and keeps your body in check. I should have adhered to this and made it part of my daily regiment as a founder.
  • Be task oriented — it’s easy to get distracted. Draw up a list of tasks you want to accomplish on a day-to-day basis and try to stick to this. There are loads of time management methods out there to help — try something like the pomodoro technique where you focus on one task for a 25 minute block, then take a 5 minute break. Do not get randomized by items as, without focus, your main mission will fall by the wayside.
  • Schedule working nights — you can’t be a founder without pulling a few all-nighters but try to schedule in these nocturnal shifts so you are prepared and well rested. These nights give you the opportunity to work completely uninterrupted and set up boundaries without the guilt of neglecting your family and friends. I often find myself hitting a coffee shop a couple of night a week to focus on my work and rid myself of distractions such as phone calls, meeting and answering emails.
  • Block at least one day of no meetings — it really helps to have one day where you can knuckle down and focus on nothing other than your work rather than being pulled into numerous meetings. This was an amazing suggestion passed along to me from Lucas Carlson and has made such a difference.
  • Really “be there” — you are pulled in all directions as a founder, there’s just so much to do. When you are at an event though, make sure that you give it 100 per cent of your attention to get the most out of the experience. Before you head home or to be with friends take a moment to pause and clear your head realizing that there will always be more to do but now is time to focus on what is coming.
  • Work to schedule time with your kids — this may sound a little formulaic but scheduling time with your children is so important. It gives you a break from work to spend time with your favorite people, and your children a guaranteed time when you’re not a founder — you’re their parent.
  • When home … be home and be active — working as a founder can be exhausting but don’t just hit the couch and turn on the television as soon as you get home. Be present and active — make sure you give your family your full attention.
  • Learn your pulse and the season you are in — a startup can quickly snowball from just having a couple of customers to a sprawling company that requires you to travel all over the place and raise your next round of funding at the same time. Be clear with your friends and family so they understand what’s going on and keep them in the loop about upcoming events. It is hard for every family unit, especially if you have little ones, when you are gone. Prepare yourself for those busy seasons by preparing for the downtime with family that you are going to need to recover.
  • Unplug at least once a year completely — take a vacation without your laptop, smartphone or any other device that connects you to your work. It’s important to disconnect and recharge your batteries, so you’re ready to hit work with renewed vigor on your return.

Just by doing these things you will be more productive and able to chase the dream while enjoying your life.