Entrepreneurs tend to share a few things in common, including high thresholds for risk taking, persistence, and resilience. No doubt those qualities come in handy for starting a business, but they can have a few side effects. Chasing a dream is exhilarating—so exhilarating, in fact, that you might fail to notice how tired or hungry or thirsty it’s making you.
Many entrepreneurs don’t take enough time for themselves to decompress, a problem that startup culture itself tends to exacerbate. We work round-the-clock during sprints, churn out code during hackathons, and do whatever it takes to close during power quarters. We exhaust ourselves.
That’s a huge problem. In fact, research has shown that making decisions yourself depletes energy more rapidly than implementing those made by others. In order to steer your company in the right direction, taking some time to recharge is mission-critical. Here’s how.
As a company grows, a good founder wants to stay in touch with day-to-day business. Fifty years ago, you might have walked the factory floor; today you may take the time to tweak a piece of code or weigh in on the details of a new product rollout. This kind of hands-on management can be a good thing—in small doses. But if carried to an extreme, it can be damaging.
Many leaders have no problem handing off less important tasks to others, but researchers have found that when leaders’ abilities to self-regulate become frayed, they struggle to distinguish the important from the unimportant altogether. Under pressure, they work hard at everything, wasting energy on minutiae. By delegating smaller tasks to employees, entrepreneurs can preserve their own energy for big decisions—including the decision of which tasks to delegate.
In some ways, of course, having more employees to delegate to makes life more difficult. As soon as you hire an employee, you’re responsible for them. And the responsibility of managing others effectively can be a heavy burden for those who’ve started out as entrepreneurs and gradually shift into the role of an executive. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, even a “small business” can have as many as 1,500 employees, depending on the industry. Managed properly, every employee can be an invaluable resource. It’s worth setting aside the time to be able to treat them that way.
Just as flight attendants remind airline passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others, entrepreneurs need to reserve enough time to take care of themselves.
Maintaining a healthy sense of perspective also means ensuring that, when things are the hardest, you’re prepared to guide your team confidently. A healthy company needs a leader who prioritizes financial, mental, and emotional health.
A good rest can also improve your job performance. Countless top executives experience job-related anxiety. And research has found that anxious executives
avoid risk—not a great trait for an entrepreneur running a growing business. Taking a vacation (or even just a nap) can help you conserve valuable energy.
When I was young, I went on a backpacking trip up a mountain for 30 days. At the beginning of each day, our team would look at the map and chart a path we hoped would take us to our target in under six hours. We never made it to our destination in that timeframe. Inevitably, someone would get sick, someone’s pack would require rearranging, or we’d get lost. With each such change, our goals changed too.
Instead of fighting against those setbacks, by the end of the trip I began to accept that goals are always a little more elusive than they initially seem—but that patience and determination can carry a team through. By divorcing goals from rigid expectations about the right way to accomplish them, entrepreneurs can free up energy that’s better spent elsewhere.
When you’re caught up in solving a pressing problem with your business, eating lunch can feel like a disposable luxury. It isn’t.
A recent study of Israeli judges revealed that even important decision-makers aren’t immune to getting “hangry.” Researchers found that the likelihood of a judge granting parole plummets as they grow hungrier and more tired over the course of the day. The not-so-surprising solution? A snack. After a break for lunch, the likelihood of a judge granting parole climbed back to the level it was at the beginning of the day.
Entrepreneurs might be risk-loving, hard-working, and achievement-oriented. But we aren’t superhuman. Next time you have to make a big decision, stop. Breathe. Take a nap. Or head to the nearest snack stand.
Ethan Senturia is CEO of Dealstruck, a startup that creates custom loan and credit line packages for small to medium-sized businesses. Before founding Dealstruck, Ethan ran Internet marketing for lead generation startup Ampush Media, and prior to that started his career as a distressed credit analyst at Lehman Brothers.
This article was prepared with contributions from Mike Ent and Michelle Delgado of Hippo Reads.