The beginning of any new venture is exhilarating.
Whether it’s a startup or a new product, getting things off the ground can feel like an all-encompassing pursuit. It becomes your new obsession, and every day feels like a massive step forward because everything is new—your first customer is new, your first partnership is new, your first positive review online is new, and so on.
When my co-founder, Kelly, and I first started our company, Slumberkins, we lived and breathed our new venture every hour of every day. In fact, one of our earliest milestones for the company was pitching Slumberkins to the sharks on Shark Tank. It was a fun-filled, action-packed period of our lives where every day, every experience, felt brand new.
And then, about a year later, we both started to feel burned out.
Once you start to get something off the ground, the best problem in the world begins to arise: the burden of opportunity. Instead of us always chasing the next thing, the “next thing” would find us. Wanting to capitalize on everything that was coming our way, we said yes to everything: networking events, phone calls, coffee meetings, you name it. It took us a while to really feel the effects of our new day-to-day schedules as startup founders (while being new moms as well). And eventually, we had to be honest with ourselves about what we really needed—we needed to take care of ourselves.
If you want to be an effective leader (or effective at anything, period), you have to make self-care a priority. Here are a few of the things I started doing that helped me dramatically avoid burnout.
1. There will always be another opportunity for networking.
One thing that’s super common in the world of entrepreneurship is working all day and all night.
During the day you’re at the office—at night, you’re at events.
Since both Kelly and I are moms, going to networking events at night was hard. We needed to, and wanted to, be at home with our kids and our significant others. Still, we tried to push ourselves to get to as many as we could, until eventually we realized we were really spreading ourselves thin.
The truth is, networking can happen a million different ways. It doesn’t always have to be at some formal startup event from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. That’s the beauty of being a founder. You can set your own pace, and you can say no to things that aren’t in your best long-term interest.
For us, constantly chasing down events in our spare time was a net negative.
2. Therapy is not overrated. It’s essential.
In the world of entrepreneurship mental health tends to be treated as a last priority.
Kelly and I are both big believers in therapy. When we started Slumberkins together, we saw it as a family system—the business is the family and, as co-CEOs, we are its parents. Since we both have the same therapist, who is intimately familiar with our shared business life as well, we are able to both process through things that come up individually. This was a conscious decision we made once we had started down the startup path, and very quickly realized the mental strain that comes with the founder role.
What’s unfortunate is a lot of startup founders say, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time.” Honestly, if your number one reason for not going to therapy is because you don’t have time, then chances are, you need it way more than you think you do. There are plenty of days I don’t want to go to therapy. I’ll be exhausted, and the last thing I want to do is go process through how I’m feeling.
But it’s the commitment, the check-in, that makes all the difference in the end.
3. Value your time, and outsource what you can.
As a leader, it can sometimes feel like you are responsible for doing everything.
The reality is, great leaders don’t “do” everything. They make sure everything gets done, some way or another. But they don’t necessarily do everything themselves.
A big step both Kelly and I are making this year is hiring an executive assistant for the first time. Obviously, this wasn’t a chess piece we could move in the early stages of our company, but as the business has grown, and so have our responsibilities, now it makes sense. It has less to do with “hiring an assistant” and more to do with understanding where we should be spending the majority of our time for the highest impact—and then solving for that.
There are a lot of other ways you can achieve the same goal though, as a founder. Virtual assistants can be great. Outsourcing repetitive tasks to independent contractors. Anything in your day that’s taking time, you should question and see if it can be done more efficiently without you.
4. Workout at home (and save time in other little ways).
As much as I love to go to the gym, being a startup founder and a mom leaves very little time in the day.
Fitness has always been a big way for me to relieve stress, so this year, I bought myself a Peloton bike so that I could workout at home. Getting out of the house to go to the gym before work is almost impossible, and at night, I’m done for the day. So even though I haven’t historically enjoyed working out from home, I made the decision because the alternative was not getting to workout at all.
For the past few years, I have really tried to work smarter instead of harder, and look to optimize little pockets of my life wherever possible. For example, online grocery shopping changed my life. After seeing how much more efficient I could be with my time doing that, I’ve continued finding better ways to balance everything I need to do in a week.
You would be surprised how big of a difference you can make with one or two small shifts in your daily routine.