You would think that after 20 years of founding companies, I would have the whole work/life balance thing down to a science. When I sit down and talk to young entrepreneurs, often the first thing I’m asked is, “How do you maintain the other facets of your life while building a company?”
The reality is that though I can’t claim to be living a perfectly balanced life, it is a goal I strive for everyday. Even after all of these years, it’s still a daily struggle. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
One of the luxuries of entrepreneurship is that you can structure your time any way you like. If you’d like to spend more time outside of work, you can choose to do that. But first, consider how many times you’ve heard a startup founder bragging about all their free time — yeah, me neither.
While your friends might consider your lifestyle liberating, compared to the confines of their 9 to 5, the reality is just the opposite. A typical day job is like living in a house that requires a certain amount of daily upkeep to maintain, and founding a startup is like building your house from the foundation up — while living in it.
It’s important to understand that the rhythm of your daily life will forever change and you will likely be out of sync with your family and friends. This can be a lonely path at times, making it necessary to your mental health to…
Having a group of like-minded entrepreneurs that understand your daily struggles and triumphs will be critical to your happiness as a founder. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve leaned on my support network to get me through tough times or to poll them on a new feature or product I’m considering. A great network will also help you feel less isolated and will be there to remind you that it’s all worth it when you’re at the end of your rope.
Leaving your desk at 4:59pm isn’t really an option anymore, but you may find that there are other pockets of free time throughout your day. Use these to your advantage. Go to the gym in between conference calls, have a late lunch with your spouse. Appreciate any found time to the fullest, so that you aren’t bitter when you have to turn down happy hour invitations for the next few years.
This might seem strange at first, but believe me, it can be a life saver. Sit down weekly and create blocks of free time by sending calendar invitations to your loved ones — and be sure to keep those meetings. It’s important to set hard boundaries when you do afford yourself some quality time because it’s unlikely you’ll fit it in if you don’t make it a priority.
In part due to misconceptions about the lifestyle of the self-employed, and also due to your obvious go-getting tendencies, it’s likely that lots of people will want a piece of your time. But it’s okay to say ‘no’ when you’re offered a position on the PTA board, or when you’re asked to present at a meetup for local entrepreneurs. One of the best things about being a founder is that you are only accountable to yourself – so exercise your right to say ‘no’ to obligations that will distract you from the things that matter most to you. (And who knows, maybe being an active member in the PTA or your local entrepreneurial network is a priority – but only you can decide that.)
Embrace the Entrepreneurial Life
These tips are a lot easier to share than they are to practice. But every day I try to remind myself that I’ve never once regretted moving a meeting in order to see my daughter before she goes to bed, or reconfiguring my schedule to stave off burnout. If you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, it can seem like your life will never be normal again. That’s probably true – but if you practice some of these methods, you might just come to love the new normal more than you thought possible.
Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.