When deciding to embark on the entrepreneurial journey, the first thing you often lose is work-life balance.
Those most dedicated to professional success commonly fail to show that same level of commitment to their personal wellbeing. Getting caught up in the starting and running of a business is not an excuse for disregarding your personal life.
It’s more than just a luxury for entrepreneurs to take time off. It’s a necessity. Many entrepreneurs work 24/7, 365 days a year, often driven by a fear that anything left unattended will lead to failure. But it might be wise to consider scheduling time for activities outside the office. It’s important not only for your life, but also for your business.
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For physical wellbeing:
You can’t operate a business if you’re unwell. A fit business person is going to perform optimally in their work. Taking time for regular physical activity will also ensure the de-stress factor, which is essential when running a successful business.
For mental health:
Working 24/7 is a surefire way to burn out. Life is about equilibrium. Ensuring you make time to have fun and connect with friends and family will keep you sane and productive.
Entrepreneurs who take time off to rest their brain and attend to other areas of life will have more clarity when faced with business challenges.
The invention of the 3M Post-It came from someone who allocated time off from his daily routine to create mental space for new ideas and a fresh perspective. Writers can attest to this.
After composing a first draft, there is great value in taking a break. Doing so allows the writer to edit with fresh eyes, and even generate new ideas. The same thing is applicable for any entrepreneur. Innovation often comes when we’re not actively engaged in or thinking about work.
Sometimes letting go is the key to success. This doesn’t mean an entrepreneur has to become lazy or irresponsible. Rather, by deliberately taking time off, we are forced to let go of everything we normally try to control, even for a short time. After all, there’s no way any of us can control every aspect of our business. When you cultivate a life outside work, you’ll ensure that there is more to you than your work.
Putting theory in action
As a university buddy was recounting a great trip to Europe, something snapped inside Jeff Platt. “It was like all of a sudden I woke up,” recalls the CEO of Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park. Though only 24 at the time, Platt was exhausted. H
e’d been working 16-hour days, seven days a week, for two years since launching the Los Angeles-based company’s second trampoline park. He had taken no vacations, and had no social life. But that habit is sustainable only until the reality of mental and physical limits strikes.
“I felt like I was missing out,” he says. “All I was doing was busting my butt. I was tired. I had to slow down. I stepped back and said, it’s time to hire some people.”
Entrepreneurs are often celebrated for wearing multiple hats and logging numerous hours. But working without let-up is a bad habit that can jeopardise business, health and the life you’re supposedly working toward.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of overdoing it, since capital in the early days is tight, but also because few ambitious achievers understand one of the biggest secrets of productivity – the refuelling principle. You get more done quicker when you recharge the brain and body. Studies show that performance increases after breaks of all durations: From extended holidays down to microbreaks of 30 seconds.
Continuous time on-task sets off strain reactions, such as stress, fatigue and negative mood, which drain focus and physical and emotional resources. The brain’s ability to self-regulate – to stay disciplined – wanes with each exercise of self-control during the day. It’s a loss of resources that must be replenished, or it becomes harder to stay on-task, be attentive and solve problems.
“There’s research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources,” says Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, who studies job demands and employee motivation.
“When you’re constantly draining your resources, you’re not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, performance declines. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks.”
That’s counter-intuitive in a culture programmed to believe that it takes near non-stop work to get the sale, beat the competitor or do whatever is needed to succeed. For most entrepreneurs, rest is considered the province of lesser mortals, put off for a future that never arrives.
It’s this mentality that keeps entrepreneurs exhausted, stuck and reaping a fraction of potential profits. It’s time to do the last thing in the world you would ever think to do: Take time off. Productivity and performance start with free time, which is the fuel for the energy, creativity and focus that lead to success.
It’s not the amount of time you spend working each day. Entrepreneurs get paid through problem-solving and creativity. You can create a solution in a shorter period of time if you are rested and rejuvenated.
Managing mental resources
Most of us wouldn’t think twice about taking a breather after an hour of action cricket or cycling, but mental fatigue is another story.
The brain is usually seen as an ethereal realm that exists apart from the body and the laws of physiology. Yet gray matter tires well before the body does. Since almost all of us are doing mental work these days, managing cognitive resources is not a nice thing to be able to do; it’s essential.
The brain is like a muscle. You can strengthen it or deplete it, Gabriel says: “If you let this muscle recharge and replenish, you’ll feel better mentally and see improvements in your performance.”
Regular refuelling is a pre-requisite for quality output, because the brain is an energy machine, consuming 20% of the body’s calories, even though it’s only 2% of total body mass. Energy that gets expended must be re-supplied.
One study found that mental fatigue takes hold after three hours of continuous time on-task; other scientists say brains need a break after 90 minutes, the length of the ‘basic rest-activity cycle’.
Burning up mental resources without replacing them leads to stress, burnout and poor performance. Stress constricts the brain to a narrow focus – a perceived threat – making it hard to concentrate on anything else, plan or make good decisions.
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Staying focused on a task uses up a key cognitive resource: Self-control. Studies show that regulating our emotions is taxing. Known in research circles as ego depletion, this holds that every time we exercise self-regulation – paying attention, suppressing emotions, managing how we act to conform to a cultural norm – we use limited regulatory resources and reduce the ability for further self-control, depleting energy and causing fatigue.
Recovery opportunities might range from breaks during the workday to diversions that shut off the work mind when you get home at night, to weekend activities, holidays and sleep. Holidays have been shown to lead to significantly higher performance.
The energising ingredients are time away from stressors, and mastery and social experiences that build competence and social connections.
Leaving work at work is an important recovery strategy – and the hardest. Detaching from work reduces fatigue and promotes positive effects at work.
Watching TV is not an effective diversion. The average state of a TV viewer is a mild depression. Instead, try new hobbies and experiences that satisfy core psychological needs such as autonomy and competence, which energise, empower and buffer job stress.
When time off is as important as time on, it can lead to all kinds of performance gains. “We’ve quadrupled the size of the company,” says Noah Katz, co-president of a New York firm with 850 employees. “You need to recharge the batteries. You come back like a tiger and get more done.”
New year, new start
Create a new calendar in which your weeks are broken down into ‘free days’, when no work or checking in to email or the office is allowed; ‘buffer days’, for planning and preparation; and ‘focus days’, for high-value, goal-oriented practices.
This can be shock treatment for you if you haven’t had a day off in months or a holiday in years but, after learning how to delegate, focus on what you do best and use free time to sharpen energy and clarity. You may wind up taking a month off a year.
By getting away from work and letting the mind get involved in thinking, hobbies and rejuvenation, you come back to the job and produce results faster. Thinking is one of the crucial benefits of stepping back. Just as quality time off fuels energetic resources on the job, reflective time is critical to producing solutions and creative breakthroughs.
There’s a good reason for that. When you’re thinking about a problem, it’s confined to one or two regions in the brain, but the solution may not be in those areas. By resting, the information sits in your brain and then percolates across other sections.