Founders don’t get breaks.
That’s what I told myself for a while. Last week I took my first real break from the business, here’s what happened.
Last week I took a week out of the business to go skiing in Spain with my fiancée.
Since I launched Foursquare in Dec 2018, I’ve been continuously on. I have gone on holidays for a week or ten days but never switched off. My laptop has come with me and I’ve spent at least two-three hours a day on it working to make sure things are running smoothly. And of course, the holy grail of technology the smartphone means that everything I have on my laptop is also in my pocket. So, on holiday, I can check emails, check bank transactions and keep up with the team’s workflow all while sipping cocktails in a foreign country – but it’s not really a break.
I always use inverters commas when I call myself a ‘Founder’ because it makes me cringe a little. It’s one of these self-gratifying titles which is given to oneself, but the fact is there is no other title that best describes the role of starting a business. The first years as a founder is exciting, exhilarating, interesting and very engaging, so much so that the 60-hour weeks, the sleepless nights and constant thinking is fun and comes quite naturally – but you need to be careful.
Founders are creative people by nature, we have to be in order to create and implement our ideas. So, when we’re creating by working on our businesses, we feel energised. Coming up with a big new solution to a challenge, an improvement for a product or landing a big new deal with a client all produces energy and makes us want to stay up all night working on the finer details – to some degree it’s addictive.
During my break last week, I experienced what I can only describe as guilt for not being in the business. It was a strange feeling. I knew I deserved a break, but I felt I shouldn’t be having one. As I was trying to channel those thoughts into positive ones it got me thinking and I came up with three reasons why I or any other founder should take breaks from the business
1. Clarity of thought.
When you’re in it, you’re in it. What I mean by that is that when you’re working in the business, everything is going 100 miles an hour and it can be difficult to stop and really reflect on the bigger picture. When you’re making decisions day to day, there’s often not the time or mental capacity to think about how they effect the business as a whole or the affect they have on other areas of the business. Stepping back for a break from the daily grind and decision making has allowed me the space to refocus on the bigger picture. Taking a break from making 50-100 decisions a day on small operational issues has allowed my mind the space to think more clearly again about the business as a whole, the direction we’re aiming for and the steps we need to take in order to get there.
How long do you want to do this for? How long do you want to run this business for? I suppose your answer to that question will determine how relevant this point is for you. The fact is that the longer you work 60-80 weeks, the shorter you’re going to be able to keep that up. Some founders I speak to want to flip their businesses, they want to work really hard for one, two or three years building a business, sell it and then take a break. Others I speak to are building a business for the long term, they want to be in their business for the rest of their working lives. Some founders don’t know what they want to do with the business medium to long term, but I think it’s important to think about. If you’re planning on doing this role for a long time, then the only way you’re going to be able to do it is by looking after your health. Looking after your health means that you need to take regular breaks (as well as other wellbeing tips like eating well and exercising). If you’re in it for the long term, then a healthy you over a longer period of time is more of an asset to the business than a version of you that works 100% at the beginning but then fades away due to illness or complacency.
3. Space for the team
If you’re anything like me, you’ll know everything about your business inside out. You’ll be involved in almost all key decisions and your staff will know that they can knock on your door to ask you anything. I see this is a positive and a negative. It’s great that my team know I’m here to support them, but it can be a little limiting for them at times. If I’m in the business, it’s easier and more reassuring for them to ask for my help. If I’m not in the business, then they’re encouraged to carry out decision making more autonomously. Obviously, there are things to consider here such as whether the staff have been trained properly, whether you have the right people etc but as a general concept, I think it can be useful to spend time away from your team and allow them the space to make their own decisions, come up with their own ideas and even challenge the way you do things!
Thinking about the above three points, I managed to overcome my negative guilty feelings during my break last week. This week I’ve come back into the business with a clearer mind and a refreshed attitude – and an employee who thinks we should rebrand!