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As A Founder, This Is How I Spend My Downtime


Running a company means spending a lot of time outside of the office looking at sales numbers, checking email, and generally keeping up with your team.

As a founder, you have more at stake in your work life. There may be tens — or even hundreds — of people relying on you. There are certain decisions that simply won’t happen without your input.

Personally, I expect my team to move quickly and perform quickly, and that means I have to showcase that behavior. I have to lead by example.

If I’m being quite honest, I’d say I’m always working to some extent. And I think that’s something any entrepreneur can relate to. But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to work myself into an early grave or give up my time with my children in order to make it happen.

The truth is, you always have a choice as a founder. Yes, you have plenty of responsibilities on your plate. But that doesn’t mean you have to be “on” 24/7.

Here’s how I use my downtime, and why I believe it’s so important to running a startup:

During the week, I focus almost entirely on work.

My downtime during the week generally consists of early mornings and evenings. I spend a lot of this time catching up on email and thinking over the things I don’t get a chance to work on at the office.

First thing in the morning, I wake up and quickly check my email to see if there’s anything urgent that requires my attention. If not, I get in a quick workout before waking my kids up and getting them fed and dressed for the day.

Once I’m in the office, I’m fully present.

Typically, I get home from work reasonably early so I can see my kids again and we can have bath time and bedtime together. When I’m with them, I try to be completely engaged — no sneaking peeks at my email. After they go to bed, I usually hop online and answer email for an hour or two before going to bed.

It may sound a little hectic, but I’d much rather be caught up going into the next day, instead of sitting down in the office and feeling overwhelmed first thing in the morning.

The weekends are for family and friends.

Looking back, my weekends were very different before starting ThirdLove.

I spent a lot more time going out with friends. I trained for and finished an Ironman. And I had more time to focus on myself.

All that changed when I became a founder and had my children. While I still use weekends to unplug from work, I spend them differently now.

My number one priority on the weekends is my children. I’m very focused on work during the week, and the time I get to spend with my daughter and son during the week is limited to mornings and evenings. So, I try to capitalize on every minute we have during the weekend.

Ideally, the perfect weekend day starts with going to a community fitness class, because I never have time to make it during the week. Then, I do some sort of activity with my kids. We might go to see trains, check out the zoo, or head to a little amusement park. And in the evening, my husband and I may host a dinner with friends or go out with a group. But there are also plenty of times where we just stay in and relax, as well.

Maybe it sounds boring, but when you’re working constantly during the week, it’s essential you use your weekends to recharge and refocus.

Any great downtime routine is about being happy and effective.

You’ve probably heard plenty of stories about founders who hardly ever sleep. They go to bed at midnight and get up at 4 am to work on their company.

Personally, I get eight hours of sleep a night.

People are surprised to hear it, but I can’t run on fumes. That’s why I’m usually in bed at 10:00 pm and am up at 6:00 am. It’s pretty simple — sleep makes me more efficient. If I don’t get eight hours in, I’m slower. I’m less patient. It’s harder for me to make big decisions. And honestly, every founder is limited by time.

Nobody’s figured out how to get 25 hours in a day, which means efficiency — not overwork — is actually your best weapon.

Getting enough sleep, spending time doing things you enjoy, or recharging with your family all contribute to making you a better leader. Those things give you energy, which you can take into your work week and use to help your company thrive.

Just be cognizant of the way you’re spending your time and the lifestyle you’re leading. There are a lot of decisions you can make in your daily life that will make you more or less effective as a leader.

Choose how you spend your time wisely if you want to be at the top of your game.

Heidi Zak is the co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove. Prior to ThirdLove, Zak cut her teeth in retail at Aeropostale where she quickly rose to Director of the retail giant, launching and running the International Division, before becoming a marketing executive at Google. Zak holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University and an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her free time she loves spending time with her two kids. Heidi has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People, Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, Business Insider's 30 Female-Founded Startups to Watch, and SF Business Times 40 Under 40. Follow her on Instagram: @Heidi.

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