Work-Life Balance for Startup Founders



I was one of the lucky few that was able to snag a seat for Quick Left Startup Life Event In Boulder (sold out) where Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor will be promoting their new book, “Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.”

It then occurred to me that Brad Feld is one of the few people in the startup world actually creating a dialog about self-care, work-life balance, and having a life outside of work.

Similar to Brad and Amy, my wife and I plan our vacations a year ahead. We then build our work schedule around our vacation, even if we don’t know where we’ll be going during vacation.

Brad and Amy are not alone in evangelizing a balanced startup lifestyle.  I put together some posts written by other founders on this subject and wanted to share them with you.

Yeah, this one is gonna get a little touchy feely. Deal with it. This discussion needs to happen. To set the tone, we’ll start with…


The Lifestyle Business Bullsh*t
~ by DHH (aka David Heinemeier Hansson)

DHH questions the absurd myth that founders need to work 80 hours a week in order to get their startups launched.

“It’s been a long time since there was a direct correlation with the number of hours you work and the success you enjoy. It’s an antiquated notion from the days of manual labour that has no bearing on the world today. When you’re building products or services, there’s a nonlinear connection between input and output. You can put in just a little and
still get out a spectacular lot.”


Don’t Waste a Single Moment
~ by Danielle Morrill

Continuing the theme of time management, when you first start out as a founder, time shifts, priorities get moved around, and all of sudden, you’re losing more time than you’re gaining. It happens.  The trick isn’t to figure out how to get more into your day, it’s about taking out the stuff that doesn’t matter, and so that only your priorities remain.

“Make peace with the limitations of time and your body -if you are giving 14 hours of work plus active monitoring and engagement to your startup online then you are maxing out.  If you feel like this isn’t propelling you forward then re-assess what you are doing, don’t blame it on how much.


9 Reasons Why Doing a Startup is Like Running a Marathon
~ by Dan Martell

The title pretty much says it all. If you’re a founder, you’ll burn out fast if you don’t take care of yourself. You have to think about the long run.

  1. You need to set goals… that you can commit to
  2. The beginning is always the best part… then the pain comes
  3. It’s always easier with support… find a coach or mentor
  4. The prep-work will have a huge impact
  5. Things you don’t expect to go wrong, will.
  6. You need to have fun
  7. Running out of money (water) is very bad!
  8. It’s a mental game… against yourself.


How To Rewire Your Brain for Positivity and Happiness
~ by Walter Chen

Whether you’re a hacker or hustler, a designer or developer, an entrepreneur or CEO, your greatest asset is your mind, but only if you keep it sharp.  If you think you can sacrifice happiness for more productivity, think again.  Unhappiness actually leads to less productivity.

“Yes, I know that negative emotions can eat away at my productivity, creativity, decision-making skills. And yet, I have to admit that sometimes it’s really difficult to reverse the course of a slump. The unfortunate superpower of the negative is that it has a stronger impact than the positive. In fact negative impact of setbacks in your work is three times as powerful in affecting motivation than positive progress. It’s just easier to remember the bad stuff that has happened to you during the day than the good.”

Walter Chen provides some tips on how to harness the power of positivity to keep your mind sharp.  Told you this would get touchy feely:

  • At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen
  • Take a minute to say thanks or recognize someone for their efforts, from friends and family to people at work.
  • Do something nice. Acts of kindness boost happiness levels. Something as small and simpleas making someone smile works.
  • Mind your mind.  Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Opening our awareness beyond the narrowness of negativity can help bring back more balance and positivity into the picture.


The Importance of a Company’s “Culture”
~ by Tony Hsieh

As a founder, you are also a leader. If you’re unhappy, it will contaminate the culture and vice versa.  The most important element of a workspace is not the furniture, it’s the culture. Happiness is important. But can it be scaled? Let’s ask the guy who literally wrote the book on building a business around happiness.


A Note About the Help You Need
~ by Kate Kendall

No matter how many self-help books you read, sometimes, what you really need is help from others.  Kate Kendall considers herself to be a fairly self-reliant person. Even she advises against being hypnotized by the absurd startup lore of “doing it all alone”.  The truth is, you can’t do it alone, nor should you.

“So, if you’re more like me. Get out there and find the advice and support you need. Speak up for it… consistently. It’s not being shameless or weak, it’s being smart.”

If you’re feeling stressed, stuck, lost, scattered, or just unhappy… please… PLEASE… ask for help. Talk to someone. Talk to your mentor. Talk to a coach. Talk to a therapist. Just start talking and sharing with people who are most important in your life.

As Kate Kendall said, asking for help when you actually need it is NOT an act of weakness. It actually takes a tremendous amount of courage to be vulnerable enough to ask for help.  I hope you find the courage to ask for help if you need it.

“We live in a culture that tells us… that we are not not ‘extraordinary‘ enough.  Somehow, in this world… an ‘ordinary life‘ has become synonymous with a ‘meaningless life‘…we are missing what is truly ‘important‘ for what is ‘extraordinary‘ … not understanding that it is in the ordinary moments in our lives that we’ll find the most joy in our lives.”

~ Brené Brown


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  • Absolutely true! If you cannot balance your life, you will not succeed in anything! I know from first hand experience, you must organize and balance your life.

  • Thanks for sharing! This blog has a lot of good information

  • The balance between life and work can be a very hard game to get the hang of but when you do you find peace in life and true happiness

    • Agreed. I try to focus on what’s most important for me (priorities) and create “equilibrium” around that.

  • 8. It’s a mental game… against yourself….yes it is very much so.

  • Its important to get a bit of balance in lives of start up entrepreneurs. You need to take care of yourself with a healthy balance and environment. The intermittent breaks will energize you and give your body a break from the long, sometimes stressful hours starting up businesses.

    • Reminds of the “sharpening the ax” analogy that the late Stephen Covey talked about. Gotta take breaks to keep the mind sharp.

  • I guess for a start up – work is life 🙂

    • I think you might be right about that 🙂 For me, balance isn’t like a template. It’s different for each person, dependent on their unique set of priorities. One size does not fit all.

  • Great point, it’s all too easy to burnout if you don’t get the balance right. There’s even research suggesting that burnout can cause heart health problems, along with many other ailments.

    • I get so much more done now that I focus on balance and take things a little slower. So much truth in this.

  • if you love what you do, there is balance

    • Good point. It’s much easier to reach balance if what you do for a living matches how you live your life.

  • very important task to keep life balance…eg. between career and freetime…otherwise very undesired side effects can apear …like this article

  • Balance isn’t quite the same everywhere though, or for every job/activity. And usually its a three or four way balancing act, A tight rope in 5 dimensions.

    • Yes, I would agree with you on that. It’s multifaceted, and different for each person. A person who only care about money will have their lives balanced differently compared to someone who also values having a family/social life. As you said, it’ll be different for each person/job.

  • KG Books

    Great post on balancing life and work.

  • Absolutely right. Entrepreneurs of today not just face a challenge about their start-up, but also about how they balance their personal and professional lives; and how the same is infused into the start-up they are putting their everything upon. I found this quite interesting resource on the topic. Cared to share –

    Thanks for such an article. Akash.

  • Harold Gardner

    I am not sure that working more hours actually means that you get more done. Tired folks are grumpy and error prone. When I put in too many hours, I usually have to spend a lot of time cleaning up after myself.

  • My grandmother used to say, “Enough is as good as a feast”

    It applies to more than eating..

  • This is a great list. I’m not in a startup right now but the Martell’s list of 9 really rings true to my experience. I look forward to reading the other pieces. ; )

  • I think as a startup the work life balance is kind of irrelevant, you want it to work no matter what, so long as family, health etc aren’t neglected for too long then its ok, them most successful people in the world hardly had ‘balanced’ lives to begin with 🙂

  • Stewart Marshall

    Getting the balance between life and work is hard. I certainly didn’t get it right for most of my working life in academia. I guess ut’s even harder when you work for yourself. But a colleague of mine said there is a Chinese saying to the effect that if you enjoy what you do then there is no distinction between pleasure and leisure 🙂

  • terrinakamura

    I think work/life balance is something everyone needs to achieve, regardless of whether or not one is in start-up mode.

    Most people are busy putting out the raging fires first, then focusing on the parts of one’s life that are more forgiving. Unfortunately family, friends and personal time can suffer since they often offer the most flexibility where work-related deadlines exert the most pressure.

    Thanks for the treasure trove of information, and I hope you have a great vacation this year — wherever you find yourself. (May I suggest Tuscany?)

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  • BALANCE is a key!

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  • Excellent blog. I’d like to share a blog by a young entrepreneur, founder of the British Blacklist, her take on this tricky subject would love to hear your thoughts!

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