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There’s a reason the word “breakneck” is used to describe the pace of the tech industry, especially when it comes to launching a company. Between the speed of innovation, and how quickly the competition is heating up alongside it, entrepreneurs tend to thrive in high-stakes, high-pressure environments — betting big on themselves, their teams and their business as they ride the razor-thin edge of the line between reward and risk.
To be sure, that entrepreneurial mindset has spawned incredible successes. Yet, it’s also spawned another phenomenon: entrepreneurial exhaustion. From Elon Musk to Steve Jobs, examples abound of “around-the-clock” CEOs — whose passion for their product could only be described as relentless, even, at times, all-consuming.
It’s a feeling I relate to wholeheartedly. No one becomes an entrepreneur because it’s easy. Startups are hard, and time-intensive to say the least, especially when you’re part of the founding team. Yet, after years of trial and error, and learning some tough lessons along the way, I’ve come to realize that creating boundary-pushing technology doesn’t have to push you to the brink of burnout — even if you’re among those at the helm. In my experience, avoiding entrepreneurial exhaustion is as much of an exercise in what not to do, as it is an lesson in what to do — and it’s one that I learned late in the game, due to an “a-ha” moment delivered by, of all things, a flip phone.
You see, I had gotten used to the grind. From the get-go, our founding team hustled almost 24/7, bootstrapping MessageBird profitably for six years before taking on any outside funding. That’s why, weeks after that milestone finally came — and we raised what turned out to be the largest Series A ever secured by a European software company — I was surprised as anyone to find myself on a plane.
Boarding a flight wasn’t the surprise; the destination was. This time, I wasn’t on my way to one of our seven offices worldwide, armed with a carry-on and my laptop. Instead, I was on my way to my first vacation in six years — armed with my backpack and an early 2000s-style flip phone with just two numbers programmed in: the COO of MessageBird and my mom.
Leading up to the trip, I thought for sure that I would spend my time away worrying about what I missed, or what was going on without me. But, deep down, I knew I had to recharge. And, when I did, it led to takeaways I’ve carried with me ever since:
Let me be clear: There is no good time to disconnect. And in the beginning, as an entrepreneur, it’s downright impossible. When you’re launching a business, there’s no separation between work and life. Work is your life. There’s always more to do, more to conquer and new goals to hit. Taking a break, even for just a few hours, feels like a luxury at best, and a betrayal to your business, and your hard-working team, at worst.
But, during the trip, I tried to start thinking of time off as something I earned by hitting important milestones or surpassing goals. When I started to respect and celebrate the work that I’d done, I began to respect my own need to recharge — and that meant setting boundaries. Just because I could stay connected 24/7, didn’t mean I should stay connected. Now, when I decide where to allocate my time, I start by asking, “Is this going to serve the business?” and I go from there.
That flip phone I mentioned earlier? I decided to act like it came with instructions: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” I had gotten so used to pushing forward and forging ahead that I had developed tunnel vision — to the point that delegation felt uncomfortable, as if I was shirking responsibility or passing the buck.
Instead of shying away from it, I decided to lean into it and see what happened when I learned to set boundaries and let those around me take the reins. Everyone stepped up. Turns out, instead of feeling betrayed by my decision to take time off, they felt empowered by it. Disconnecting sends a signal that you trust your employees to get their work done — creating a sense of ownership which produces a workforce fueled by its own entrepreneurial spirit.
A lot of entrepreneurs, myself included, aren’t exactly cut out to spend weeks at a time lounging on a beach to unwind. I knew I needed to find an activity that would occupy my mind. So, I found an intensive muay Thai kickboxing program. When I trained, I found I was so focused on my form, the movement and dodging any actual punches that came my way, there was no room for outside thoughts to creep in.
Since then, I’ve realized channeling the laser-focus of my entrepreneurial spirit to something other than the business is a good thing, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. Whatever you do, whether it’s meditation, yoga or another activity, pick something that enables you let go of your worries about the future, and focus on being in the moment.
Disconnecting is difficult. Do it anyway. Though my “a-ha” moment came in the form of a vacation, I’ve found little ways to disconnect daily ever since — and it’s made all the difference. Whether you take time off, or just a little time out, you’ll feel recharged — and more charged up about your business than before.
Originally published at www.entrepreneur.com