20-Hour Workdays: 4 Ways To Survive A Startup

Guest author Gary Whitehill is Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Startup Weekend.

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. But the most successful pioneers tend to share certain traits. Entrepreneurs are driven, innovative, persistent, resilient, and, as The New York Times’ David Segal suggests, just the right amount of crazy.

The daunting venture of building a company from the ground up requires a type of mania, a type of desire that, on occasion, borders on obsession. An entrepreneur’s startup really is like his or her baby, demanding constant love and attention.

Trace Cohen, President of Launch.it, had this to say about being a startup parent: “It's our job and privilege to do everything in our power to make sure our company grows up to be smart and strong. There is no 9-to-5 when it comes to a startup - it's a new experience for all of us, each and every time.”

This reality presents a significant challenge to both budding and seasoned entrepreneurs. A founder’s love for their company frequently comes at the expense of relationships with flesh-and-blood loved ones.

There's no way to fully avoid that impact, but there are things you can do to preserve some level of balance even as you pursue your startup dreams:

1. Keep Things Simple

With all the complexity at the office, it helps to simplify your personal time. Slowing down your personal life functions as a relaxant. Hurrying from happy-hour with coworkers to dinner with family to coffee with an old friend actually augments the stress accumulated during the workday. The simpler your social life, the more likely you are to actually enjoy your downtime and relax.

Reducing your social engagements also helps focus on the ones that really matter – the ones with family and close friends. Casual acquaintances may fall by the wayside, but in the long run, a few good friends and a supportive family will serve you better than a host of people no real connection to you.

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg intimates that he subscribes to this philosophy: "I spend a lot of time just, you know, with my girlfriend and my dog… so it’s really simple."

2. Reserve Family Time

'Simple’ is good, but ‘non-existent’ is not. In the midst of a startup, it is very easy to slip from a few social engagements to zero social engagements. But no matter how busy you are, you need to spend at least some time with people outside of work. This means carving out at least an hour per day to spend with your family or close friends.

For much of her career, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has left work at 5:30pm sharp in order to have dinner with her children. Sandberg admits that she returns to her business after dinner, often emailing from her bedroom into the wee hours of the night, but 6pm is dinner, overbearing workload or not.

3. Mix Things Up

When socializing or family time becomes a chore or an item to check off your to-do list, something has gone awry. Richard Branson, perhaps the paragon of the modern entrepreneur, confesses, "I am not able to share my own routine because I don’t have one, since I try to make every day unique." Granted, making "every day unique" is easier when you have your own personal spaceship, but Branson’s sentiment serves as an important counterpoint to Sandberg’s discipline.

4. Choose The Right Partner

Every relationship involves two individuals. You may take every conceivable step to make things work with the people around you, but your partner and friends have to be sympathetic to your cause.

Some relationships are forged in the startup furnace. Companies such as ModCloth, Evernote and Cisco Systems were founded by couples. Even if you're not lucky enough to find a business partner and a life partner in the same person, be sure to find somebody who is willing to support your venture.

Having a go-to support system is an often under-appreciated component of an entrepreneur’s well-being. Ingrid Vanderveldt, Dell’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, had this to say to me about her husband's importance to her career: ”Glenn is my rock. When I am going a million miles an hour he keeps a solid, steady and focused pace - managing the operations of our businesses and creating a loving home base to come back to. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for his 100% support.”

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.