Hustle. For most founders, that’s the watchword.
If you’re trying to build a high-growth company, you should be grinding 24/7, networking in your downtime and practicing VC pitches in your sleep. You can sleep after you raise funds and relax after you exit. Maybe take a vacation when you’re dead.
The only problem with this idea? It’s a toxic myth that can wreck your business. The reality is that startup founders — perhaps more than anyone else — need to approach work in a balanced and holistic way.
After all, our businesses are in extremely sensitive positions. We make high-stakes decisions every day (fundraising, hiring, etc.) that will have downstream effects for years. One bad call, as we’re all too aware, can ultimately make or break us.
That’s exactly why we can’t afford to be underslept, overstressed or less than fully present. As a founder, no one will remind you to protect and balance your life as a whole person — but I’ve found it crucial for my company’s success. Here are four tactics that help me ward off stress and stay on-point in my work.
1. Say no to alarm clocks.
When the pace of business starts picking up, sleep is often the first thing to go. But there’s a mountain of evidence proving that sleep is vital to clear thinking, good decision making and long-term brain health. If you think you can lead a team without these capabilities, you’re dreaming.
Of course, there’s always a temptation to just knock out a few more tasks and keep pushing back bedtime by an hour, or four. With work pressures mounting, you’ll feel like you just don’t have time to sleep.
When I start slipping into this trap, I remind myself that I actually don’t have time to not sleep. Sleep deprivation tanks your work performance over the coming days and makes you more likely to get sick (which means missing even more work and potentially crucial deadlines). If you want to maximize productivity, go to bed.
My personal trick is to never use an alarm. If I’m eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep, I shouldn’t need one. I’ll wake up naturally when I’m fully rested.
2. Work in motion.
It’s the oldest productivity trick in the book, and probably the most neglected. But pushing back from your desk and taking a walk is an undeniably good idea.
The scientific evidence is rock solid. Even a five-minute walk improves your work performance, boosts your mood, reduces stress and amps up your creativity. Even so, it’s easy to get sucked into your screen: “I just need to knock out this next meeting / task / call — then I’ll step out of the office and reset.” (And you never do.)
Resisting this siren song is like learning to eat your vegetables. It’s a slog until you realize how good it feels. My attitude is this: If I can do it in motion, I should. Take walking meetings with your team. Take calls while walking around the block. Get out of the office for lunch. There’s no single trick to promote healthy movement — you have to build it into your company culture.
3. Make tech-free time.
Too much screen time has been linked to stress, anxiety and depression and brain damage. Similarly, there’s evidence showing your phone is sapping your brainpower. Even if it’s turned off and facedown, just having your phone in view diminishes your ability to focus and process information.
The solution here is obvious: Leave devices behind unless you truly need them. Meetings should be phone-free zones, if possible. I take notes with a pen and paper — it’s surprisingly refreshing. And when I’m doing solo work on my laptop, my phone is in another room.
You’re bad at multitasking, even if you think you’re great at it. I also make sure all my screens are off by 10 p.m., and I do my morning routine (e.g., exercise, meditation, breakfast) before I allow myself to read email or Slack updates.
Tech is highly addictive, so this is an ongoing battle, but it’s one worth fighting. The productivity gains are huge.
We all know that meditation is good for you. But that doesn’t make it any easier to actually do it. Still, the evidence is overwhelming that regular meditation is a health panacea that enhances creativity and innovation while boosting your overall productivity.
For me, meditation apps like Headspace were key to getting in the habit, but after a while, I found I didn’t need them anymore. These days, I like to meditate right before I go to bed for 10-15 minutes, and then again first thing in the morning. I also do yoga a few times a week, which I consider a form of movement meditation.
Our sales team even meditates together at the start of each workday, a surprisingly effective morale-boosting activity that I’m convinced helps drive sales.
What's the bottom line?
These tactics have been helpful for me, and I hope you find some value in them. But in closing, let me offer a word of caution: If my work has taught me anything, it’s that wellness isn’t something you can “hack.” It’s a day-by-day, organic process that you attend to — and keep attending to.
So, keep it on your agenda. Talk to your friends and teammates about it, and consider your own wellbeing a major unquantifiable business factor.