Your Start-up is a Part of Your Life, Not Your Entire Life

Burnout is now officially a medical diagnosis.


If you have ever had several stressful weeks in a row, you are probably familiar with the symptoms of burnout like; energy exhaustion; negative feelings or cynicism related to one’s job; or reduced professional efficacy.

For founders, the topic of work-life balance can be elusive – the line between work and life is very thin. With the weight of a company’s responsibilities on your shoulders, it’s hard for founders to maintain a typical work life balance. They work late nights, answer calls, send emails, finalize pitch deck etc. throughout the weekend without taking a break and end up exhausted and tired.

We have heard of different types of entrepreneurship like; Innovators, Imitators,. Researchers, Buyers, Hustlers, etc. People who work hard and put in constant effort are known as hustler entrepreneurs. They often start small and work toward growing it to a bigger business with their hard work rather than capital. Their aspirations to succeed are what motivates them, and they are willing to do whatever efforts it takes to achieve their goals. They do not give up easily and are willing to take up challenges to get what they want to achieve in their life.

Hustling is important – maybe the most important thing for startups – but we are still human. It’s critical to have a structure in place that allows you to get the work done that is necessary for the success of your business. But I also think people need to be a little more flexible and kind to themselves. At the end of it we all work to live, we don’t live to work.

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Hustling is important - maybe the most important thing for startups - but we are still human.

Prevent Burnout by Trusting your Team

It is not that the 24/7 hustlers of the world are anything bad, but it’s unrealistic – not to mention unhealthy – to expect everyone to hustle 24/7. Honestly, if you find yourself working too much, it means you don’t have trust in your colleagues and team and, hence you might not be delegating enough. You might be over-stretching yourself by not allowing others to do the job they are mandated to do.

There is a tendency on the part of some founders to do everything themselves without delegating the responsibilities to the team and this is one thing that leads to burnout. It adds to the perils of work life imbalance and the consequent stress on founders. This is an unhealthy trend or attribute and if not tacked it will do more bad to you than good.

The excessive “hustle” startup culture, which is something like working all hours, is dangerous and damaging to people’s health, people’s expectations of themselves and others, and to life and culture as a whole. We have heard of people who have burnt out and walked away from the companies they’ve started and spent so many unsociable hours working to build. It doesn’t have to be that way to be successful.

Are you getting addicted to your startup?

When you’re a founder, your company is part of your identity – but you have to take care of yourself, your well-being, your body and mind. There are jobs, there are careers, and there are passions. When you take the massive risk required to start your own business, it probably falls in the third category, passion. It’s something you’re deeply passionate about and identified with. Your work is almost like your identity. It’s something you couldn’t imagine stop doing.

When your business is your passion, you might not even realise how hard you are working. It’s nice when your work doesn’t feel like work, but it also means you have to be extra mindful of your energy levels and take care of yourself. You get addicted to it may not be an overstatement.

As a founder, it’s your job to increase efficiency of working. Your team needs trust, space, and resources to deliver – and they need to be supported enough to take time to breathe and focus on other things in their lives that matter. This culture comes from the top, the founders and evolves to be part of company culture.

What the founders follow in their startup is what will become the foundation of the company culture and the culture emerging out of unhealthy work life balance will be detrimental to the sustenance and growth of the company.

What is work-life balance for an entrepreneur?

What a work-life balance means to an entrepreneur and what it means to another individual, can be vastly different. A structured time schedule, coffee machine chit-chat, scheduled holidays, efficiency based on corporate performance measures and universally accepted professional codes which helps employees maintain a balance, essentially fly out the window.

When you have a startup to run or are a small business owner, you have no choice but to forget the 9 am-5 pm work environment and embrace a 24×7 work week. Responding to client calls and emails, through the day and night, last-minute projects, demanding roadmaps, pitch deck final touches, conference calls, and meetings are your new normal. Vacations and holidays are a daydream; tight deadlines are your new weekend agenda, and your social life seems to revolve around your colleagues and clients.

When that’s the case, it’s difficult to figure out the work-life balance that works for you. Because your work is your life, and your life is your work. If you were ever asked to stop, it would be like telling a runner not to run or a singer to stop singing. It would tear out a part of you, and you wouldn’t be the same person comfortable with the situation.

You have to be realistic about your schedule, calendar and commitments. I truly believe most jobs can be completed in the allotted time if you’re focused and dedicated. Some startup founders say they work nonstop, and maybe they’re in the office for the majority of the day—but they’ll break for an hour in the middle of the day to play games or take coffee breaks. They aren’t working the entire time they’re in the office. So instead of trying to show up an impressive number of work hours, make the hours you do work matter. This is good.

How to win the Marathon of Business?

Founding a company is a marathon, not a sprint. We have seen entrepreneurs who go hard for six months and can’t keep it up. They go through sleepless nights. And then when the company needs them the most, they’re tired and useless. Their mental energy is completely exhausted. They are burnout!

That’s why I prefer to think about founding a company like a marathon. You could sprint the first 25 kilometers—but there’s still 25 more kilometers to go. Your time will be terrible. You’re better off keeping a moderate, sustainable pace.

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Work-life balance is not about getting something over on someone—it’s about making sure your mental state is good to go every day so you can steer the ship forward to reach the desired shore

It’s the same in business. You can up the pace occasionally when it’s necessary, but you don’t need to slog sacrificing your sleep.

Science teaches us, with less sleep, you get diminishing returns. Studies say anything less than five hours of sleep puts you at 60% capacity. I believe you can’t run a successful business at 60%. You need to be at 100% capacity because that’s what your clients demand, your team demands, and your family demands.

If you pace yourself, you’ll discover just how much more productive you can be.
Of course, there will always be more work to do. You could be selling more, could be marketing more, and could be writing more code. Absolutely. But at a certain point, you need to hang your hat and let go of what is unimportant. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself insane. Work-life balance is not about getting something over on someone—it’s about making sure your mental state is good to go every day so you can steer the ship forward to reach the desired shore.

It is also the leading cause for burnout, loss of motivation, loss of enthusiasm, and then the pessimism and negativity slowly sets in. Taking your work home can make one feel edgy all the time. These adverse factors slowly start to take hold of mental, physical, and emotional health and work efficiency which will not help you succeed in your dream venture.

Tips on How to Keep the Balance in Work-life and avoid Burnout

This is not an exhaustive list of do’s and don’t for founders to follow in order to maintain work-life balance by remaining healthy and balanced. However, this is a list of tips that can open up the mind of founders toward exploring ways to reach their goals without burning out. Here are some.

  • Don’t take on more than you can do or chew, even when you feel you may be the only one who can accomplish the task. Keep a good network of friends, colleagues, professionals, and freelancers to whom you can seek help or outsource. There is always an alternative that you can tap on.
  • Learn to say no. This is something difficult to practise but a must in business and profession to avoid burnout. Say no to your client, investor, colleague or family when you do not want to undertake a task or meet a schedule or go for a party. Prioritize what you want to do.
  • Time management skills are a blessing, if you have it in you. If not, see which time management tools work best for you and implement them in your workday.
  • Get a mentor who has done all of this before. Seek his/her advice before embarking on difficult tasks. Make things easier for yourself, so that you aren’t spending that extra time ruminating over it at home.
  • Make sure to have an exercise schedule, early in the morning or late in the day, short breaks between sessions for a breath of fresh air and to stretch your legs.
  • Make play a part of the work. Ask yourself what you can do to bring in the fun element into the workspace — music, movie nights, team bonding, light humour, all of this helps disperse the tension at the workspace not only for your but for your team too.
  • When you are taking a weekend off or a break, tell your colleagues or employees clearly that you will not be checking messages or emails during that period and stick to it.
  • Keep a dedicated device for work, a phone and/or laptop for work calls, notifications, emails, and messages. Sometimes work communication can get so overwhelming that it can become hard to differentiate between friends and family, clients and other peers. Be honest with your family or partner if you are having trouble with balance, ask them to point out to you any areas where you are allowing work to loom over personal life and relationships.

The work-life balance, as an entrepreneur is a tricky battle, but like any other, it is nurtured with practice, fostering skills, and dedication to the highest good of yourself and the business.

A work-life balance is a necessary part of any healthy work dynamic, a personal life constantly invaded by work can cause sleepless nights, irritable mornings, anxiety, low moods, and general listlessness. Entrepreneurs understand that they cannot follow elaborate health schemes and protocols. What they can do is include small check-ins on how they are feeling and how they can keep track of their mental, physical and emotional health.

If you don’t balance your act but work as if your start-up is your entire life, you may end up living a worrisome and frustrate life without achieving what you aimed for. This becomes a major reason of burnout. Failure is not the end of your life, if you are healthy enough mentally and physically you can try again. Many successful startup founders went through a series of failures before striking gold. Hustling is good but only as much as it is practised judiciously and carefully.

Joseph Varughese
Joseph Varughese
Joseph has 22 years of finance experience, 13 years in technology and 6 years as an entrepreneur. He writes on business life cycle, startup ecosystem and entrepreneurship.

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