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Work Life Balance

Why Balls to the Walls Could Mean Failing Fast

The secret to improved productivity is taking time off. It’s not as counter-intuitive as it sounds. If you want to work better and smarter, you need some down time too.

Joe Robinson

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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.

Related: Can productivity tools help me?

Here’s why

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.

For innovation:

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.

Running out of juiceStress

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.

Related: The 5 Secrets to Prioritisation

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.

Break time

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.

Related: The Only Productivity Tip You’ll Ever Need

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.

Joe Robinson is author of Don't Miss Your Life, on the hidden skills of activating life after work, and a work-life balance trainer and executive coach.

Work Life Balance

Why Rest Is the Secret To Entrepreneurial Success

The surprising power of downtime: Here’s why the most successful founders work the least.

Aytekin Tank

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Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land mammal. These feline sprinters can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds flat. Explosive speed enables them to take down an antelope, but when they’re not hunting, cheetahs expend as little energy as possible.

In fact, researchers found that cheetahs burn about 2 000 calories per day – the same as an average-size man. “I guess both humans and cheetahs rest a lot to offset high-energy activities,” biologist Johnny Wilson told National Geographic.

Cheetahs work hard to capture their prey, but they quickly compensate for each burst by hiding, waiting and resting. Clearly, they don’t have startups to run, but I can’t help but draw a parallel between these big cats and modern founders.

In the early days of my 12-year entrepreneurial journey, I was the anti-cheetah. I thought success required 16-hour workdays. I was constantly building, growing and hustling. Over the years, I’ve learned that busy and successful are not the same thing. Yet, many of us spend the whole day sprinting, to the point where we’re stressed and exhausted.

According to Joseph Bienvenu, a psychiatrist and director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, busyness has become a widespread health issue:

“Emotional distress due to overbusyness manifests as difficulty focusing and concentrating, impatience and irritability, trouble getting adequate sleep, and mental and physical fatigue.”

As I’ve built my company, JotForm, I’ve learned that when we know how to balance work with restorative rest, our productivity can skyrocket — and we might even catch more antelope.

The roots of busyness run deep

Scholars believe Homer wrote the Odyssey near the end of the 8th century B.C. In book 9 of this epic poem, Odysseus describes the island of the Lotus-eaters, where the natives spend their days lounging and eating the intoxicating lotus fruit.

Once Odysseus’ crew tries the fruit, they forget about home and long to live out their days on the idyllic island. Eventually, Odysseus drags his men back to the ship and locks them up to break the spell.

Talk about a parable for laziness. It seems even Greek philosophers prized industry, and yes, busyness. Today, everyone from founders to football coaches despise anything that implies complacency. We’re always pushing to do more, to improve ourselves and to stay constantly in motion.

Subconsciously, we even evaluate peoples’ worth based on how many hours they work or how “in demand” they are. We prize “busy” above all else. At a certain point, however, we have to make a choice: Do we want to be busy, or do we want to make an impact?

Nothing is more precious than time. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Escaping the cult of “busy” means taking time to rest – and it requires us to step back and re-evaluate what matters most. I’d like to share how I’ve learned to reject the frenetic pace of startup culture, and how you can, too.

Related: You’ve Already Abandoned Your New Year’s Resolution. Here’s A Better Path To Reach Your Goals

Start small – and take breaks

Busyness robs us of precious hours: to think, play, explore, nurture relationships – and to rest.

“There is a simple way to take back your time: Do less,” journalist Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson wrote in John Hopkins Health Review.

“And yet, those two words are perhaps the most challenging call to action. Doing less means understanding your priorities and constantly defending them against the encroachments of the status quo, which dictates that busyness – and material wealth and value – is best.”

As Dickinson says, it’s not easy to reverse our mental conditioning. Doing less isn’t as simple as it sounds. That’s why I recommend starting small. First, take the time to discover your peak hours, then take breaks throughout the day. Not only will you feel better, but these short rest periods can actually improve the quality of your work.

In fact, regular breaks can prevent decision fatigue, restore motivation, increase productivity and creativity, and consolidate memories. Breaks that involve even five minutes of movement can also improve our health and well-being.

Taking time to grab a coffee or chat with a team member is far from “doing nothing,” but it’s an important way to step off the metaphorical treadmill and re-establish your priorities.

Reserve time for reflection

Some of the greatest founders, innovators and creators set aside large chunks of time just to reflect. For example, Microsoft founder Bill Gates first took solo Think Weeks – seven days spent reading, strategising and reflecting — before the idea spread through the company. Today, Gates credits those weeks with generating some of Microsoft’s top innovations.

Other founders, like Skillshare’s Mike Karnjanaprakorn, have now implemented the practice. So have Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Ferriss. Even people who can’t take a full week for reflection often thrive when they set limited working hours.

The late Dr. Maya Angelou, for example, always drew clear boundaries in her schedule. The legendary writer, poet, singer and activist arrived at her desk around the same time each day. Afterward, she set aside work to spend time with her family.

“I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon,” Angelou said in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

“If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30. If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well. It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous.”

Challenge your body

Rest doesn’t necessarily mean lounging out on the couch, watching Netflix in a glassy-eyed trance. The most effective downtime also involves physical exertion, whether that’s a long walk, a hike or a bike ride. Restorative activities can help to balance out more brain-intensive work.

Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, says rest is a necessary form of mental restoration. And exercise is one of the best ways to recover the mental energy we need to perform at peak levels.

“There are so many people who find that a workout, a long hike, clears their minds, helps them calm down, gives their subconscious mind opportunity to think through problems,” Pang told Scientific American. “What all of that teaches us is that exercise is a really important form of rest.”

Related: How To Get The Best Out Of Your Brain At Work

Embrace the digital Sabbath

At least one day a week, give yourself a technology break. It’s not easy to cut the psychological strings, but going device-free on a Saturday, a Sunday or another day of your choice can give your mind space to wander, while enhancing your creativity.

If a full day away from screens and notifications feels challenging, you’re not alone. But remember that a stressed, tired brain can’t generate fresh ideas. We’re also more likely to make mistakes and overcomplicate solutions when we’ve exhausted our mental reserves.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, “Simple thinking can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”

Consider bootstrapping

VC-backed founders get the lion’s share of startup press. They make headlines with record-breaking funding rounds and dominate the top of TechCrunch. Outside investment can provide essential startup capital, but it can also tie founders to the pressures of hockey-stick growth targets and boards eager to recover their cash.

Instead of the 24/7 grind, I chose to bootstrap my company with a slow-and-steady approach to growth. It has taken time, and it hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve built a stable business that can even function without me. Most importantly, I have full control over my work and my life.

If that sounds like a privileged position, you’re absolutely right. I’m grateful for the ability to spend a whole summer with my wife and my newborn baby, for example, and I’ve worked hard to reach this point. Bootstrapping isn’t the right approach for everyone, but it can help you to maintain your freedom and live a more balanced life.

Work to live, instead of living to work

Even in a conversation about rest, we still tend to look through the lens of productivity. We’ve become obsessed with maximising every minute – and that’s fine, as long as we reclaim that time for our lives, not necessarily our work.

Related: Arianna Huffington’s Recipe for Success: Avoid Burnout

No matter how excited we may feel about our businesses, or each new project, a rich life also includes family, friends, exploration and adventure, in whatever proportion you desire. I certainly don’t want to regret relationships that fell apart while I was staring at a screen, or the opportunities I missed in the world outside my office.

Try to leave work at work – even if it’s in your home. Give yourself the gift of restorative downtime. And balance thinking hours with time spent in motion. Just like the cheetah, we can sprint to bring down the antelope, but then it’s time to rest.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Work Life Balance

Having The Time Of Your Life

How can you avoid a To-Do list that never gets ticked off by the end of the week? Or maximise the number of hours you work on critical projects, to achieve your career goals? And why is it important to take time out?

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Being an entrepreneur is a constant balancing act between the demands of your business needs and your personal life. The key to a work/life balance that ensures you achieving your work and personal goals for the year ahead, is effective time management.

Time is our greatest resource and there are many ways in which to maximise your ability to manage this precious commodity. But how can you avoid a To-Do list that never gets ticked off by the end of the week? Or maximise the number of hours you work on critical projects, to achieve your career goals?  And why is it important to take time out?

Unfortunately, time does equal money

In the modern workplace and in most businesses, time is synonymous with money. Whether you bill by the hour, or bake by the truckload, time is essential in running a successful career and business. Just think of how important time is in the service industry, and how time influences purchasing decisions. Think of all the drive-through fast food chains in a city – all there to save time. Because time is indeed money, it is critical to prioritise your time effectively. Keep in mind your most pressing deadlines, plan ahead and prioritise clients and customers effectively.

Related: 6 Steps To Go From Procrastinating To Productive

Me-time with a twist

Self-management impacts on your personal effectiveness and includes managing yourself and your time, being responsible for your achievements and being accountable for your results and successes. In business, if you prioritise a company’s time more efficiently, it can lead to improved customer service, improved delivery, increased profits, and increased market shares.

Imagine what it could do for you if you made the mind shift to prioritise your time and self-regulate your time daily?

Visualise that empty inbox

Start by removing thoughts of procrastination and imagine yourself as a “doer.” Think of the benefits of becoming a doer. What would our work life be like if we organised our tasks in order of importance, and not in order of enjoyment? What would it feel like to be thought of as someone who “got things done” and was “reliable?” How would we handle our paperwork? Imagine having an empty in-tray.

Critically, managing your time and self-regulating the hours, minutes and seconds in a work day will free up time for the people that matter in your life. Go watch that ballet recital or cricket game you never have time for. Have a coffee with a fellow entrepreneur and see how these small acts of rewarding you for time well spent, with energise you in your daily tasks.

Ditch the time wasters

A Time Waster is anything (or anyone) that doesn’t contribute to your daily goals or your To-Do List. Many of these time wasters have become a natural part of our work style. Now is the time to change – to reverse the process. It will take time and effort to get rid of time-wasting habits. Research shows that it takes approximately 21 days to change a habit.

For example, at first, we will have to make a conscious effort to keep our meetings on track. If things are dragging on, we need to stand up and indicate that the meeting is over (if you are running it), or to be excused (if your input is no longer required). This applies to all the time-wasting habits we have acquired.

Related: The Tools That 5 Highly Productive Entrepreneurs Use

It may be uncomfortable at first to tell a colleague that you are busy and unable to chat – but as you get used to being assertive and as they get accustomed to the fact that you are not always available – then it will become easier.

More tips to deal with time wasters

  • Fix a time for paperwork and admin;
  • Have clear daily objectives;
  • Delegate work as needed;
  • Group your telephone calls;
  • Be assertive with unannounced visitors.

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Work Life Balance

The Secret To Living A Balanced Life As A CEO? Pick A Strong Second In Command

The key is to find a partner who is strong in areas where you are weak.

John Suh

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Entrepreneurs are not known for having work-life balance. In my experience, trying to find balance as a start-up founder is like looking for a real-life unicorn. If you’re looking to create something that is disrupting an industry, the path isn’t going to be easy.

Building out a new idea practically guarantees imbalance. This is especially true in the early stages of a start-up. Prior to joining LegalZoom, I would work 100 hours a week. It was a fast-paced start-up world. I had to make certain sacrifices. For example, I chose not to have a family right away, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to be the present father I wanted to be. However, I was prepared to make those decisions. I believed in the work I was doing, and I knew it was going to take blood, sweat and tears.

So, what’s my advice to entrepreneurs on achieving balance? First, grow the company. Even in a company of 25 people, the burden of leadership generally falls on one person. It can take upwards of 100 people to really notice a shift in leadership. But, second, and most importantly, look for a co-partner that is just as strong as you are.

The one-two punch

Usually, when companies are founded, there is one individual who is celebrated. We forget there’s almost always another person behind the scenes helping to call the shots. Oftentimes, that person doesn’t want to share the spotlight. He or she is happy to have a non-public facing role and just want to get the work done.

We tend to talk about the visionaries, but there has to be a person in the company who helps turn that vision into reality. We all know Walt Disney, and maybe even the previous longtime CEO Michael Eisner, but what about Frank Wells? As the president and COO alongside Eisner, Wells helped lead the company through a 10-year period of unprecedented growth. Steve Jobs will forever be remembered as the visionary behind Apple, but Steve Wozniak provided the necessary engineering expertise to drive the company forward. Even today, many believe Elon Musk needs a strong second-in-command to help run Tesla.

I call this dynamic the “one-two punch” in leadership. As a CEO, you have to think critically about your second-in-command – whether it’s the COO, CTO or CFO.

Related: 5 Central Responsibilities Of Every CEO

We all want to be able to spend our time doing the things at which we excel. Excellence is what drives the company forward. At LegalZoom, I’ve been able to spend 80 percent of my working hours on tasks that leverage my strengths. The only way that I can do that is by having a partner who is strong in areas I may be weaker. In a strong one-two punch combination, both of us are spending 80 percent of our time on our strengths. The key is that those strengths don’t overlap.

How to find a great co-captain

The longer you wait to find your “two,” or if you make a mistake in selecting that person, you set yourself up for trouble. How do you find a second-in-command that can help you lead your company to success? It may seem obvious, but the first key is to understand where your weaknesses lie. It is essential that your co-leader make up for the skills that you lack, and vice versa.

It’s important to consider a person’s background as well, but don’t be afraid to look beyond the resume. I’ve judged candidates before based on raw talent and a gut feeling on their potential. Sometimes the best person for the role doesn’t necessarily have the strongest resume. Instead, he or she has a high level of motivation and a killer work ethic. These are the individuals that never hear “no.” They look for solutions rather than just identifying issues – and they are critical in the startup world.

Ultimately, while you bring different skill sets and career aspirations to the table, you and your co-partner must connect at a collegial level. At the end of the day, you have to appreciate what the other does. You have to share a common vision and mission.

Finding balance, after all

Any CEO with some semblance of balance in their life owes it to the small army of individuals behind them helping to make it happen. While you should prepare for imbalance early in your career and understand the sacrifices it takes to start a company, with the right “two,” you’ll have the support needed to succeed.

Related: Entelect CEO Shashi Hansjee’s 4 Life Hacks and 1 Little Quirk That Deliver the Dough

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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