Step away from the startup (seriously, it will do you good)
This is a plea to founders and entrepreneurs as we approach the holiday season. It’s OK to take some time out, so please do.
This time of year was precious when I was in big company roles. A few days off to reboot, recharge and reset did wonders for my energy levels, mental state, and connection with family and friends.
The changes in working arrangements arising from the pandemic have reinforced this need. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development surveyed more than 1,000 employers, and found 47% quoting mental wellbeing as the main challenge of homeworking.
A 2020 study by Deloitte’s found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year.
As well as preventing harm, holiday time also stimulates new ideas or enthusiasm. 80% of US professional workers surveyed by the Korn Ferry recruitment company earlier this year said that they have had a breakthrough work idea while relaxing on holiday. In fact, some of my own best decisions – leave a job, stay in a job, move house, start a company – were made whilst fully relaxed, and away from the regular stresses of daily business. The same study found that a similar number planned to use more of their available holiday allowance in 2021 than in previous years, so the benefits of time out would seem to be gaining recognition.
In the startup world, I hear so many tell me that it’s different, that the clock is ticking, or the race is on to launch a product or raise the funds to do so. I’m not convinced, and believe that the benefits of a little downtime will far outweigh the risks in the long game. The CB Insights study of Why Startups Fail included ‘burned out / lacked passion’ in their top 12. It may only have registered 5% of the cases, but that remains an avoidable statistic if we take some positive action.
If you are a founder, have got this far, and are even thinking about taking some time out, here are a few thoughts on how to get the most out of it, and avoid any potential downsides.
- Time it well – if you are taking a break, choose to do it when everyone else has slowed down. Christmas and New Year are great opportunities, as there will be fewer people waiting on a response whilst they are digging into their turkey.
- Plan it well – set aside some time and set a return date, then stick to it.
- Communicate – with your team, with customers, investors, or others. Transparency is good, so tell what you are doing, and when they can expect to hear back from you.
- Use your team – talk with co-founders or senior team members to share the load. Delegation is good in these situations, and can tell you a lot about the capability around you for succession planning or staff development.
- Automate tasks – social media updates can be scheduled in advance, and create an outward impression of activity and continuity if that is important to you.
- Have a worst-case fallback – plan, so that if the worst really does happen, you can be contacted if necessary. It is a good test of the delegated team to handle situations without crashing your recovery time.
Most importantly, make sure you actually do it. Avoid going halfway, and lapsing, if you can. The credit that you put in the bank, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially will help later in the year when things get busy or tricky, which of course they will.