Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Work life balance for entrepreneurs: is it possible?

My business partner and I had dinner with two engineers from a well known tech company in the US which is one of the few employers that gives their staff more than two weeks leave (in fact they have unlimited paid leave!). This brought us on to an interesting conversation about work life balance and productivity. Americans apparently on average save up 9 unused annual leave days per year (and remember most of them only get 2 weeks in the first place).

Our friends contended that this puritanical work ethic is what is responsible for America's economic success to date (not sure if he was referring to the last 10 years:p). Some studies on German employees would beg to differ. Germans get 6 weeks paid leave per year but are just as productive over the course of that year as Americans (link). Other productivity studies indicate that working longer than 40hrs per week significantly harms productivity if you "surge" for more than 3 weeks.

But what about entrepreneurs?

This all makes me wonder - do these rules just apply to employees or could they also apply to business owners as well? At a recent networking event, Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian spoke about how he felt that entrepreneurs need to adopt a marathon mentality rather than trying to sprint non-stop until they die of a heart attack. When discussing this with a fellow attendee he said "Oh yes I agree - it's crazy to work more than 70 hours per week, but you absolutely have to put in 60 hour weeks otherwise you'll get left behind".

I question this. What makes entrepreneurs different from normal people. Sure we're more passionate about our job, but we're not physically different. I've always felt that working longer hours gives the illusion of productivity. You feel like you're doing more, but are you actually? I often find that if I take a nap, I can blaze through gnarly problems in 20 minutes that would have taken me hours had I pushed on. Often if I pull an all-nighter, I'll end up creating new bugs that will take more time to fix than if I hadn't worked at all. 

It's not just me either: in a post by the International Game Developers Association, the authors document how working long hours can actually result in negative productivity. Developers doing 60 hour weeks were creating more bugs than they were solving. Yowch!

Self experimentation
I'm keen to see whether a reasonable work life balance can work for entrepreneurs. I'm the tech co-founder of, a high volume photo editing service for eCommerce stores. We recently got accepted into the Muru-D startup accelerator and the pressure is on! My intention is to document my journey over the next few months, using apps, devices, research and self-reflection to examine whether it is possible to be a successful entrepreneur without "sacrificing myself at the alter of short term productivity" (as Todd Henry so poetically puts it).

I intend to discuss the effect of things like:

- sleep (some studies suggest we need 8.5hrs to perform at peak)
- play (does all work and no play make Jack not just a dull boy but also an unproductive one?)
- holidays (are the Germans onto something?)
- exercise (does high intensity boost productivity?)

- standing desks (sitting is the new devil after all?)
- meditation (can meditation boost productivity?)

by reference to peer reviewed literature as well as my own experience.

I welcome your comments and suggestions:)

No comments: