by Hagan Major
Let me guess. You’re reading this at your desk. You’re between phone calls and looking for something to keep you awake long enough to guzzle down your 18th cup of coffee.
No, wait. You’re reading this from bed. It’s 3 a.m., and you’re squinting at your smartphone, hoping you’re really finished with emails for the night.
Of course, as an entrepreneur, there probably isn’t much of a difference between your desk and your bed. In fact, anything can be a desk: the kitchen table, the elliptical at the gym, your friend’s sofa. Truth be told, your spouse and your friends are getting a little bit sick of competing with email, Google Analytics, and sales spreadsheets for your attention.
As important as your business is, blurring the lines between your personal life and business can wreak havoc on your productivity and happiness. What’s more, it’s probably hurting those you care about, too.
But They Don’t Understand the Stress of Starting a Business!
Easy there, friend. You’re right. They don’t. And because your personal and professional lives are so closely intertwined, that stress is only compounded as you alienate your friends and family. The criticism for not being around isn’t helping. As it is, your brain never seems to get rest. Even when you’re not working, you’re thinking about work. And let’s not forget the constant emails. For each one answered, two more appear.
If all these competing forces are making you want to pull your hair out, that’s stress. In fact, that startup stress could be manifesting as insomnia, depression, difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, forgetfulness, and difficulty making decisions.
Those symptoms certainly aren’t the recipe for entrepreneurial success. Sure, you might be getting a lot of work done, but you probably feel run down and not as sharp as usual. Even worse, that stress could be taking a toll on your physical health and personal relationships.
The Consequences of All Work and No Play
I have a tough time not imagining Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining” typing, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” After all, Jack Torrance (as he’s named in the movie) lives at the hotel where he works with his wife and son.
It’s not that the stress is going to make you put an axe through a door, but you might be taking your frustrations with work out on your family and friends.
Often, when things don’t go well with your company, you probably have a shorter fuse at home. Or you might be taking your frustrations out on yourself. If you lose a client or can’t seem to capture investors’ attention, it’s easy to internalize that sort of rejection.
On top of everything else, you’re so busy and exhausted that you’ve stopped working out. You’re eating all your meals at your desk, and the only sunlight you see is through your window. Your sleep schedule is virtually nonexistent.
If this sounds like your life, don’t feel bad. Plenty of entrepreneurs have this issue, and many don’t even realize they have a problem until there are drastic consequences. Many founders say the pressure of starting a business has derailed their marriages, and others have reported battling intense bouts of depression.
It isn’t surprising. Startups require a heavy investment of time, energy, and brainpower. The stress of making payroll and supporting your family takes an emotional toll, and while you’re trying to make it all work, everything else falls by the wayside.
The trouble spirals when these unhealthy work behaviors become habits. Even as your business becomes more established, it can be hard to even out the lopsidedness of your work-life balance.
Entrepreneurs tend to conflate the stresses of a constant workload with productivity. They view being overworked as a necessary evil, which isn’t true.
But there’s hope for the chronically overworked. It just requires a conscious effort to get your life back.
How to Separate Business From Life
The consequences of blending your business and personal life are clear, but luckily, so are the solutions. If you’ve forgotten how to have fun, I’ve got your back.
- Schedule time off to spend with friends and family. Keep those appointments the same way you would a business meeting. Brad Feld, co-founder of the Foundry Group, has created quarterly off-the-grid weeks with his wife and monthly “life dinners” to catch up.
- Don’t neglect your health. Find time in your schedule for workouts and other physical activities. Got a phone meeting? Take it outside as you walk around the block. If you find yourself feeling burnt out, take an hour to hit the gym.
- Keep friends outside of work. It’s great that you get along so well with your business partners and employees, but it’s important to have friends who have nothing to do with your business, too.
- Go to therapy, or find a mentor. Above all, you need a support system in place with someone who is dedicated to your mental and emotional well-being.
Finally — and I know it’s hard — turn off your phone. Unplugging from the constant notifications and emails is one of the best ways to untether yourself from your business when you should be recharging. So power down, and sleep tight. You’ve got a big day of balancing life and work ahead of you.
Hagan Major is president and chief operating officer of YellowHammer, a New York City-based performance trading platform that provides programmatic buying solutions for advertisers and agencies that demand a tangible return on their advertising dollars. As COO, Hagan is responsible for YellowHammer’s corporate strategy, client performance, and distribution. He oversees the development of YellowHammer’s technology platforms on the buying and selling sides, as well as the development of client strategies.
dana robinson | Courtesy of Hagan Major