OK, I’m tired of hearing the work-life balance commentary and nonsense. Over the 16 years I have been doing startups, there have been countless articles written on how you can balance work and life all of the time, specifically when referencing startups and early stage companies where the push for company viability and survival is so critical and demanding. Well, let me give everyone some advice and insight:
THERE IS NO WORK-LIFE BALANCE when starting or running a startup, especially if you are married and have children.
But, there is hope. The thing we should focus on is managing the imbalance of work-life balance. Let me explain.
On one hand, there will be lots of instances where working at a startup gets crazy and hectic. Your task backlog will grow every hour making it seem like nothing ever gets done. You may have to work a few 18 – 20 hour days or pull a few 24-hour all-nighters with no sleep when you are launching a new feature or product. You might be chasing a big deal that could change the trajectory of your company, or embarking on the never ending fundraising dance. Whatever it is, your work seems to never end, ever!
On the other hand, when your work life seems to be reaching normal levels (or not), there will be days where your personal and family life get hectic and tip the scales the other way. It could be end of school projects or sports with your children, planning for your significant other’s birthday festivities, death in the family, providing care for your elderly mother or father, relationship troubles that need intense and active attention. Or the fact that you simply need to get some extra rest because you’re exhausted from being a parent. The list goes on and on and on.
The key is there is rarely balance on both sides when working with startups and living life. So, when there is mutual balance, cherish those moments like unicorn mermaids. You will not see many like it on a consistent basis when working in an early stage startup. The startup and life journey are roller coasters but it’s all about managing the imbalance of work-life balance.
So how do you manage the imbalance? You should intentionally create days, called reset days (outside of your normal vacation days), whereby you can rest and slow down the pace. For example, a reset day may consist of you leaving work early and catching a movie with your significant other or by yourself. Or you may sleep late one morning and come in around 11 or 12. Or you may work on one or two low intensity items and leave the office like normal 9-to-5ers do. With children, things can be even more hectic, so setting the kids up on playdates or sleepovers so that you can reset and rest is always a good move. Having grandparents close by that you can occasionally drop the kids off with for a few hours or overnight is the best gift an entrepreneur could ever wish for. Over time, your reset days, in addition to your vacation days, will create the illusion of balance and give you the rest and peace of mind to continue the startup and life grind without burning out.
Another suggestion is to average no more than 48 – 56 work hours per week per month. I know you’re thinking, “There is no way I’m working an extra one to two days a week!”. Well, unfortunately, it simply happens by brute force in most startups, particularly during the early stages of a startup. This 48 – 56 hour monthly work week average includes hectic weeks and light weeks in a given month, late night and weekend hours, time you spend prepping for the next day, and hours you spend planning/thinking about the business. So if you’re like me, you’ll probably work an hour or two at night after the kids and significant other are asleep, work a few hours over the weekend, respond to emails at night and spend some time prepping for the next day before you go to bed or before you get into the office. So when you add all of that time up, your work week hours increase pretty quickly.
For example, a typical work month might look like this: you work 70 hours one week launching a new product or feature, 50 hours the next week dealing with the launch issues, 40 hours the following week as the bugs are fixed and things begin to calm down, then 35 hours the last week of the month when things are actually calm and you create some reset days. That averages out to about 48 hours a week for the month, which is the max hours most people should work in order to maintain some level of a healthy life outside of work, particularly those of us who have children. Your weekly hours will obviously be different than the example above but you get the point.
So, don’t be ashamed or feel guilty when you have to work an 80-hour week or pull an all-nighter, then leave early on a few reset days the following week. It’s OK. Don’t be ashamed or feel guilty when you have to leave the office early for dinner while the rest of the team is still there, or arrive in the office at 11 AM after working until 3 AM, or leave the office early for a middle school basketball game your child is playing in. It’s perfectly alright. Your work-life peaks and valleys will all normalize and somewhat balance each other out overtime if you are intentional in doing so. Just make sure you’re creating reset days that help balance your hectic days. Remember to manage the imbalance of work-life balance!