As I headed into summer break this year, I read a tweet from Randi Zuckerberg (Mark’s sister) that made me rethink how I would spend my time away from the office and what I should do once I’m back.
“The entrepreneur’s dilemma:
Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time with family. Staying fit. Getting sleep.
I wish I could say Randi is wrong, but in my experience, she’s pretty close to the truth. Balancing all five of those objectives is almost impossible when you’re in startup mode. You would think that now after seven years since I started Vanderbloemen, balance would be attainable, and the startup fever would slow down. But it hasn’t. In fact, this year, it has sped up to a new level.
In my life, I’m learning Randi’s dilemma is too frequently true. Fighting it has led me to the brink of burnout many times. But lately, particularly as I sit and reflect on my summer break, I’m spending time looking for new answers, new ways out of the dilemma, and new approaches to balance that might help others on a journey like mine.
Here’s what I’m learning:
1. I need more sleep than I thought (just not all at once).
As long as I can recall, I have been really bad at sleeping. From an early age, I remember mom and dad putting me to bed at 8, and me watching the digital (Pittsburgh Steelers helmet) clock move from 8 pm all the way to 10 pm before falling asleep. These days, 6 hours is a long winter’s nap, but I’m discovering the value of rest and the cost associated with a lack of it.
If I think about the times I’ve gotten farthest off course with our business, I can draw a straight line back to a time when I was exhausted and sleep deprived.
So what to do when you only sleep a bit at night?
I’m learning the power of the power nap and am finding that when I rest a little more, I’m more productive. My friend Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, tells me that every good idea he’s had has come as he’s either fallen asleep or woken up. That inspired him to put a nap room in the HubSpot offices. If you’re a workaholic insomniac like me, try investing in a short midday snooze. It may give you a way out of the “founder’s dilemma.”
2. Building a great company means scheduling time to work on the business, without working in the business.
As I write this, I’m on a longer-than-normal summer break. I used to take less time away, but I am realizing that a little more time away, with some regular reflection on our work, helps me prepare for the upcoming year. I take my break during the slowest time of the year for my work. This year, as the break approached, I found my leadership team encouraging me to fully disengage from day-to-day operations and think about the business.
We spend our time away in the mountains (since in Texas we only have two seasons….summer, and August). My team literally said to me, “Go off to the mountains. Rest. Come back rested, and bring back two stone tablets with direction for the next year.”
As a founder, it is very hard for me to let go and let things run without my involvement. But I’m learning that disconnecting from the small things in our company actually connects me to a larger sense of where we are being led for the future. No matter how collaborative your leadership structure, founders have a unique and undeniable tie to the DNA and vision of the company. I’m learning that if I’m going to cultivate that and leverage it for the future, I have to get away. Are you finding ways to disconnect?
3. Rather than choose between making great friends and having a great family, I have chosen to combine the two.
I need to make sure to remember that my family members are my best friends. While I highly value the friendships I have at work, and a small group of guys that are my social network, they are not my key to success. I’m learning that solving the founder’s dilemma starts by remembering that your family is your best asset and your best group of friends. In doing so, you’ve lowered the dilemma list from 5 options to 4. But it’s not easy.
Founders are drawn toward building new friendships, and as a result, they often forget to invest in those closest to them. I’m blessed to have a large nuclear family as well as extended family. And while we aren’t perfect, beginning with me, it is a group that supports and provides real relationships for one another. Spending time with them, especially since there are so many, has a real impact on my ability to have time for friends outside the family. That’s a cost, but a cost I am betting is worth paying.
Too often, I’ve been tempted to spend so much time on work so that I can provide for a family rather than providing for the family with my presence. I imagine there are a few other entrepreneurs who can relate. But I am learning that the more time I spend with them, the better I am at my work. Maybe you don’t have a big family. I’d argue that the principle remains. Invest the most in the people closest to you, and your business acumen will soar.
I could write about fitness, but that has been a part of my business life as long as I can recall. Working out clears my mind, and I’m finding that I’m doing fewer workouts with a lot higher intensity and shorter duration. They give me the same clarity to think about our work as long, time-consuming workouts do. Some of my best decisions I’ve made have been on regular, long walks with my wife (our CFO) and Moses (our Chief Canine Officer and poodle).
I don’t have it all figured out, and I wobble out of balance all the time. It’s the tightrope founders are destined to walk. But reading Randi’s tweet, especially at the start of my time of annual retreat, has given me a renewed commitment to solving the founder’s dilemma by finding balance. I’m hoping and believing that the better I get at that, the better I’ll be as a founder, and more importantly, as a husband, father, and person.
Read more: Forbes