As a startup founder, it’s only natural for you to get wrapped up in your business. You’re most likely extremely passionate about your mission and your vision, especially since they are so personal. You’re probably willing to sacrifice other obligations at first. But after those first few months of crazy hours, when the “honeymoon period” starts to wear off, you need to take stock of your work days and make sure you’re enacting steps to avoid burnout. With a limited number of hours in every day, it’s important to narrow in on your vision, learn to prioritize and focus, let go of things you don’t need to personally handle, create a support system and find ways to keep yourself energized.
Step one with any business venture should be to set and focus on your personal strategic priorities. Once you have your priorities in line, you can delegate any tasks that don’t advance to priorities. Having your strategic priorities in place will also help you say “no” to meetings, tasks and opportunities that aren’t aligned. Use those established priorities to create rituals and routines that work for you.
Automate and Delegate
How are you spending time outside of your priority areas? Which of these additional tasks can you hand over to others on your team, or to outside consultants? If you are a solopreneur, find support through freelance contractors or a virtual assistant. For any manual processes you lead, think about how you can automate those. Even something as simple as creating canned responses in Gmail or using a scheduling app like Calendly can save you a few minutes every day that add up in the long run.
Yes, we know. This step sounds a little rogue and a lot uncomfortable. But it is another key to you staying on top of your strategic priorities and maintaining your sanity. Notifications may seem like a necessity--nobody wants to miss anything important, after all--but they actually create a lot of anxiety, whether we are conscious of it or not. So, turn off those notifications and schedule specific times on your day-to-day calendar when you will check in on email, social media, phone messages, whatever it is that needs regular attending to. Just remember that nothing needs constant attending-to other than you.
Who is your thought partner? If you don’t have one lined up yet, it’s time to figure out who you can go to when you need to talk things out. It could be your co-founder, or a consultant who is supporting you. A chief of staff is always a good choice, as is an executive coach, if you have one. Whoever it is, find that one person who will listen and help you work through any problems and challenges as they arise.
Figure out what boosts your energy. Is it exercising, meditating, or socializing? Maybe it’s even as simple as changing your environment--whether for a quick walk or a totally different scene (cafe, library) for your workday. Find what works for you and build it into your everyday routines. Beyond the workday, make sure you are eating healthy and getting enough sleep. While it’s tempting to work when everyone else is asleep and the house is quiet, put yourself to bed and set the alarm for a little earlier so you can squeeze a few quiet work hours in tomorrow morning, after a full night’s sleep.
Use a Secret Weapon
We knew that would get your attention. Our secret weapon is a role we know so well, yet may not be a position you’ve considered as a startup founder: the chief of staff. Investing in a chief of staff can pay dividends as you try to parse out the tasks that are dragging you down and affecting your strategic priorities. And having a chief of staff from the get-go can be an incredibly helpful tool in the long run of the business. A chief of staff is often ready and willing to go above and beyond to help business thrive, and that’s exactly the kind of teammate you need right now.We want you to continue to pursue each day head-on, passionate about your startup that you’ve created. It’s your baby, after all. But make sure you’re not so head-over-heels in love with your company that you forget your life outside of work. Remember to step away and take the time for yourself and your family as often as possible to avoid burning out and losing steam on your startup.
Madeleine Niebauer is the Founder & CEO of vChief Virtual Chief of Staff service, which offers part-time and interim chief of staff support to start-ups, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of all sizes.