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False: Entrepreneurs Need to Work Until Their Eyes Bleed To Succeed

We have all heard it before:  If you are going to be an entrepreneur, you better be prepared to risk all and give all, and push yourself beyond your limits.  In many ways this is true, but those who don't put discipline to this concept end up burning out, or becoming so indifferent (or dare I say, lazy) that you invite defeat, and then act all surprised when it happens.  This "low" often means that you are unwilling to learn from your mistakes, which sets you in a very wrong direction.

I'm writing (and talking to myself as I write) to say that it isn't a hard requirement that an entrepreneur have no life apart from work.  Life is mashable -- In fact, the work-home balance is absolutely critical.  If any of you are like me, I have intense feelings of guilt when I take any time off, and this is precisely the negative perception that needs to be beaten, and for myself, is an ongoing area of growth.

So here are a few pointers on how to strike that work-home balance.

1. Build a culture of shared responsibilities

If you are a one person show, go get a partner.  Seriously, starting a business is difficult enough for a team, but no one person can survive physically, mentally, etc alone.

As your team grows, identify areas of the business that can have shared responsibility.  Anything from taking out the trash, making website edits, even to tech support.  It is old-school nowadays to expect that somebody will be hired for each and every little clerical, administrative and other duty around an office.  Even more so if you are bootstrapping, working from home or work in a shared or common workspace.  Keep a list of identified responsibilities (aka anything that needs done on a regular basis and would be bad if forgotten).  Discuss often and assign or choose to share those duties.  Use a google spreadsheet if you need to.  Part of sharing responsibility is understanding that things happen and when something gets forgotten, the "team" should pick up the slack and get it done.  What you want are "and other duties as required" team members.

If you build a company culture of sharing the load of misc things, then when somebody is out sick, or needs a personal day, or the "boss man" needs an afternoon with the family, the system doesn't fall apart.

On the flip-side, if you build a culture of expectancy, where everybody expects everything spoon fed to them, even the best intentioned employees become spoiled and get upset over little things.  "What do you mean there is no more *&@$#% coffee???"

Tip: You can demonstrate amazing leadership and team culture by helping with the menial tasks, like taking the trash out.  But only if other team members do it too.  If the boss is always the one taking out the trash, it doesn't send a strong leadership signal.

2. Reward Yourself Appropriately.  

Yeah I said it.  And don't feel guilty about it.  (that second part is harder than some may think)

Okay okay, I don't mean extravagance, like going out to buy a sports car or a Rolex (though there may be times when this is reasonable -- to most start ups, budget might be more like $20).  Reward yourself with something that is budget appropriate and soul-necessary.  What matters most to you?  Family time? Quiet time? A fishing trip?  A nice dinner ?

OK, I can already feel the push back on this via the cosmic inter-webs.  Let's look at it this way:  If we hire super-awesome-developer Jim, who shared with us that he doesn't mind taking a pay cut to work for us, but he wants flexible time for family as needed, what is our response?  If he is a superstar, we say YES.  We professionally explain that Superstar Jim will have an assigned workload, that he is expected to complete.  Do we care what hours he keeps to get it done?  You shouldn't.  Do we care if he gets 50hrs of work done in 35 hrs and knocks off early?  You shouldn't.  This makes Superstar Jim happy, and makes you happy.  You are getting a good deal on quality work.

Now lets flip the table.  YOU are Superstar Entrepreneur.  "The World" is considering hiring you to take on this monumental task of starting a disruptive business.   You agree to take a pay cut and take a risk to be a part of something special.  But in order for you to survive, you need _________ (fill in the blank) for your own sanity.  If you hit your marks, does the world care what hours you keep? Nope.  If you are making progress on all the characteristics of a successful start up, does the world care if you get it done in 35 or 45 hrs a week as opposed to 60 or 70 ?  No way.  So you get to work as many hours as you need to accomplish this weeks goals, AND you get to supplement your work week with some time doing something that matters to you.  This balance keeps Superstar Entrepreneur happy, and that is what the rest of the team actually wants to see.

So the path to feeling good about taking breaks and rewarding yourself (appropriately) requires planning!  Work hard and hit your goals and complete your tasks.  You can't do that without setting goals and assigning tasks.  *duh*

3. Track progress and Reflect (even when you lose).  

Have you ever had an awesome day, and then some stupid and cosmically insignificant thing happens and it ruins our day and you go home in a rotten mood?  Yeah, this happens all the time.  We tend to dwell on the most recent significant emotional change.  That might be somebody cutting you off while driving home, or it might be losing a bug sale.

You can beat the negative attitude by choosing to reflect on your momentum.  The only way to do that is to track your momentum!

It doesn't have to be hard.  Create a google spreadsheet.  Add big ups and downs with dates and a short note.  Make it a Friday afternoon thing.  Yes sometimes you will have down weeks.  Too many of those, and reviewing/reflecting will have a positive effect -- it will make you think about changing something to start winning.  Then when you change, put that in your spreadsheet!

Remember that momentum is a big picture.  Each day will have ups and downs.  If there were never downs, everybody would be wildly successful!  The reality is that there are a lot of little wins that we forget about.  But we remember the downs more than the wins.  If you don't have some way to reflect on your achievements to weigh against your downers, then you will be depressed and lose motivation.

Looking at wins even from earlier in the year can be a huge motivational boost for you and your team.

In Summary

There is no perfect recipe for keeping sane in a startup, and some weeks you WILL have to work insane hours and push yourself beyond the limits.  That doesn't mean it should be the expected norm.
Take control and make the norm into what you enjoy, with the balance you need.

Have more thoughts on work-home balance in startups?  I want to hear about them, share here or hit me up on twitter at @aschwabe.

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