Self Development February 21, 2020

What are your thoughts on work-life balance as a founder?

Courtland Allen @csallen

Historically, the startup industry has glorified the workaholic lifestyle, but it seems that's changing more and more with each passing year.

People are building businesses that are less demanding, and they're being more disciplined about separating their work life from their personal life. For example, a recent Indie Hackers podcast guest [only works 25 hours/week](https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/142-dmitry-dragilev-of-just-reach-out—9am to 2pm on weekdays—so he can spend more time with his family.

What are your priorities?

Those of you who work long hours: Do you think there's there anything good to be said for that lifestyle?

  1. 8

    Personally, I often straddle the line on workaholism. I do a lot of things for work (podcast, coding, reading and strategizing, meeting people, etc.), and the Indie Hackers team is quite small, so it's easy to get absorbed and justify working long hours. It doesn't help that I love what I do, as my work is comprised of many things that genuinely used to be my hobbies.

    That said, I've tracked my time, and much of it is inefficient. If I sit at my computer for 10 hours straight, I average around 6.5 hours of productive work. I've tested on myself, and it's actually true that I get more done if I work longer hours, but at what cost? Often sleep, exercise, non-work hobbies, and time with friends.

    Lots of people have kids, spouses, jobs, and other responsibilities that force them to time-box work. I don't have any of that. But what's worked for me is scheduling things: poker games, dinners, hangouts, travel, etc. If I have to go see a movie with a friend at 7, then working is no longer an option. Plus "deadlines" like this actually make me more efficient during the workday. It's a great hack to counteract my addictive focus on work and minimized hours wasted doing fake work.

    I've also tried on-and-off schedules. For example, a couple weeks ago I was visiting friends and family in Atlanta, and I barely worked at all. Maybe 2 hours a day? But last week I was really burning the midnight oil. Sometimes this is just easier than having balance within the day.

    As much as I enjoy working, when I'm taking breaks, I always discover that I like doing that even more. But it's never long before I get excited about work again. It's one of those rare grass-always-seems-greener-on-my-current-side situations.

    I do wonder whether I could've gotten IH off the ground if I'd taken it easy in the early days. In January 2017, for example, I worked 135 productive hours, which means I worked about 207 total hours, which is about 50 hours/week. And that was a month where I spent 13 days on vacation!

    If I could go back in time knowing then what I know now, of course I could cut out the unimportant stuff, focus on what worked, and spend way less time working. But at the time, I had no idea, and I was running out of runway and needed to get revenue going urgently, so perhaps a temporary sacrifice was necessary.

    1. 3

      Scheduling things is the best solution for me too. I basically work in all those free moments between one activity and another.

      I try to schedule at least one different activity every day: playing tennis, seeing a friend, walking in nature... This method allows me to stay productive from when I get up to when I go to sleep without burning out.

    2. 3

      I agree that a temporary sacrifice is necessary to get something off the ground. While not sustainable that intense focus helps bring products to life.

      I do time-boxing now too. It creates a good sense of stability and balance for me... kind of the opposite of early startup life. Do you think time-boxing in the early days would have helped or hurt your chances of getting this off the ground?

    3. 1

      I feel like a lot fo the work involves entering a new domain that you aren't familiar with, like marketing, or sales, or something. For me, I have to put in the time to learn about this new hat I'm wearing, and then execute. Once i get it down a few times, it's time to automate. I feel like once you automate enough processes, then you start to work less hours

  2. 3

    I tend to work 60ish hrs/ week (full-time job + side projects), in the past I had no sense of work/life balance and it was really unhealthy. Now I climb with friends several days per week, run or bike regularly, date, and keep a clean apartment. The only thing that has changed is my mindset, I no longer lack the patience to get to where I want to go, I'll get there eventually but along the way, I want to enjoy the ride.

  3. 3

    I work 32 hours a week, and try my best not to work more.

    I’ve build my company so I can do what I like to do (build creative products) but also so I can spend time with my family. I simply don’t want to be that dad that’s never around, I want to experience my children growing up, and what I’m doing right now allows me to do that.

    But it’s a slippery slope and a serious balancing act, there’s always business related thoughts popping into my head and putting those on hold and being in the moment with my family is the biggest challenge.

    1. 3

      Yeah, I understand the feeling. It's pretty addictive having a business — you end up thinking about it all the time, because your mind is constantly mulling things over in the background, and your antennae are always raised to spot new ideas and think new business-related thoughts no matter where you go or what you're doing.

  4. 2

    I think a founder should work as hard as he/she can to make something work, but when he/she feels stressed and needs some space, then make sure to take time off, do some exercise, be with family, have a good time.

    Over stressing yourself will only have negative effect to the business. It’s a long game like a marathon anyway.

    I haven’t exercised for 3 weeks now and I feel so bad but I have targets to go after. I think at diff times you’ll make diff choices. It’s never going to be a well balanced time, there is up and down.

  5. 2

    I learned today, that if I don't reward myself with the percs like:

    • Have a long lunch with my wife
    • Playing board games at 2 pm
    • Taking off when I feel burned out
    • Spend some extra time with my son during the morning
    • etc

    and I keep with long hours, stressful income, loneliness that comes with solo founding... I will long for a 9-5.

  6. 2

    I’ll start by saying I’ve burned out properly (medically) twice.

    I used to work 15 hour days.

    Now I gym 4x p/w, meditate daily and eat very well because it makes me much more stable and productive. Oh and I sleep a lot.

    1. 1

      I've found a balance between work hard, crash hard, and priorities. If you can slim down your priorites and get satisfaction from fewer things, you can be more successful overall in those fewer things. For me it's my family and work, that's about it. Some call that workaholic but I think it's just applying focus and priorities. 15 hour days I call crunch time, limit those to 2 week bursts no more often than every other month and only 6 days a week. The rest of the time expect 12 hours to work, 5 to family, 1 to unwind, 6 to sleep and take a nap on the weekends. That's been my life for 18 years, it works for me🎉

  7. 1

    For me, the only good thing is to try to achieve what you want faster (money, knowledge, build a product, etc.).

    Besides that, I don't see a workaholic lifestyle as a bad thing. If you are aware of the good and bad effects, and if it's something that you are doing because you love your job. My recommendation is don't be a workaholic in your work, because people will start to demand more from you, and it will be difficult to say no. It's better to be a workaholic doing different things (ex: side projects).

    The problem for me is when a workaholic lifestyle doesn't fit anymore in your life. For example: when you spend more time supporting than creating something; when you have kids; when you decide to have a balanced life, but your job keeps you away from that.

    So, you need to be aware of the pros and cons and understand that to change from a workaholic lifestyle to a balanced one, is a big change. I's evolves what you expected from you and also what the others expect from you.

  8. 1

    Early days it depends on your network and funds. More access to money equals more balance (you get to have a life!).

    I've always tried and more enjoyed the toilet paper entrepreneur approach which effectively means sweat equity to deliver, and when you don't have millions sitting around time isn't your ally! I'd imagine most on this site aren't self funded millionaires nor do they have access to that type of capital at favorible ownership rates without a product to show. Thus a prototype built by moonlight (and other getting rolling needs like early adopters or clients, finding funding, getting employees, HR, ....) while working on someone else's idea during they day to put food on the table and keep medical bills paid.

    Clearly I'm biased and apparently I should have posted this starting with: "Hi, I'm Aqua and I have a problem". 🤣 I'm subject to relentlessly throwing myself into my work and I get a kick out of solving hard problems and seeing the influence of those solutions ripple across the world... It's what drew me to this site, it's been something I've been looking for and here it is. Hoping I can find kindred spirits here that are looking to join forces and share learnings! Other people that should start their posts with the serenity prayer re:Workaholics.

    Although I suspect it's subjective... depends on your idea, funds, and timeline. However, if you want to change the world and contribute to the betterment of humanity it takes immersion and dedication (in my opinion)

    Go go workaholics! 🎉😁🎉

  9. 1

    I'm a bit surprised that this is still a thing? I thought it's been proved time and time again that workaholicism isn't glorified. It leads to burnout, depression, and alienates oneself.

    I've been on the far side if it, since 37Signals' have been talking about it for years.

    Edit: of course, I also have a kid + wife. And I don't like to "make friends" with coworkers. I'd rather have outside friends so it's easy to detach. Also many many hobbies away from the computer/startup.

  10. 1

    I've been thinking about this for a couple of years now. I've even started a podcast about it. I'm a millennial, and I feel that people my age have had very few time to learn how to balance work and life.
    When I was 20 (6 years ago), internet was becoming the place where all the discussions and business logics would take place. For me, staying 2 hours straight on Facebook was not a job. Neither studying all the specs of new smartphones and computers and whatever consumer electronics product there was.
    I started a blog in 2014, for fun, with my university mates, and that kinda defined my career path. I never logged my working hours up until a couple of years ago, but I think I've been working for at least 40 hours a week for a long time. It doesn't seem so much, but I was also studying in the meanwhile.
    Now, I plan everything: I timebox every day of the week, specifying things do to for work, for fun, for research, etc.
    I rarely feel like I'm in a rush now, like I can't do everything.
    I see things do to in a week, not in a day, and that means that when I plan tasks to do and events to go, I imagine I can spread them throughout the week, or even the month. This could be obvious to most of you, but it wasn't for me: social media and internet in general gave me the perception that I could do anything in a jiff. And that's not true, if I want to do things in a good way.

  11. 1

    Great topic! I work 10-20 hours a week. Spend rest of the time with family. I've chosen a market with low competition. I do not expect to create a unicorn company but I do believe that it once cover my cost of life ($2000-3000 a month). And I do believe it creates a long term value for its users. So it makes me feel good.

  12. 1

    Forgot where I caught it up. It something like: If you don't have time to sleep, exercise, cook, socialize, or your other good habits, then you have lost control over your life.

    Especially "successful" people don't want to admit it and instead glorify such shortcomings in their life.

    time=priorities. It helps me to review what tasks are actually important to myself (Do I enjoy doing it? Is it used by me or at least someone I like?), rank it, and chop what's in the Top-5 (or 1, 2, 3...), and ideate alternative ways to get unpleasant stuff done (e.g., hire someone, make it less complicated).

  13. 1

    I see many people that genuinely believe that if you want to work at a sane pace, you need to work as an employee. However, I always said that it can be different. There were a lot of such "relaxed" business owners at the IH podcast. I believe that there is no reason why working 60, 40 or even 20 hours a week should be a prerequisite to a sustainable business.

    We can see businesses with 10x profit per employee wage. We also see many consultants charge 10x compared to others.

    There is no theoretical reason why an employee (including founders) needs to spend more than 5 hours per week with the company having a profit of $5K/month/employee.

    If we believe in the market economy, this will mean the company has an unfair advantage (otherwise there would be copies which would drive margin down). Also, it could mean that significant time/money investment was made before.

  14. 1

    I think downtime and sleep (which isn’t down time) are vital for the kind of creative and critical thinking I’ll need to succeed. Are the people doing 80 hr weeks productive when measured by results? Some people need less sleep and can focus better and can do the 80h and if you enjoy it that’s great but I don’t think it is necessary for everyone.

  15. 1

    Balance is a luxury you need to earn

  16. 1

    I've managed to get my startup, www.hrpartner.io to the level where on a normal work day, I only work 4 to 6 hours on it.

    It is not so much about work/life balance for me - it is more about work/life integration.

    I don't formally structure my work days to say "I will work for x hours then enjoy leisure time", it is more about fitting in the stuff I have to do around circumstances. For instance, if I wake up and it is a beautiful day, I will go straight out for a 5km walk around the beautiful foreshore in my neighbourhood. (Note: While doing do, I will usually listen to a great IndieHackers or other SaaS podcast - so in a way, I am integrating work and pleasure in the same activity!).

    Then I will come home and look at emails etc. However, on a rainy day, I might do emails first, then perhaps some coding, and then turn off and enjoy some time playing guitar etc.

    Often, on days where my wife doesn't have to work, I will just opt not to work altogether and we will go out on a 'date' and enjoy time in the fresh air or explore a new coffee shop. On days that she might have a long shift, I will get down to some coding and release a new long awaited feature.

    I think it is impossible to totally separate work and 'life', but you just need to find a way to make them ebb and flow together. Yes there are some days where I will code for 12 hours straight, but then there are one or two day stretches where I won't even look at a computer screen.

  17. 1

    Simple: If work does not count as life for you, then you'll live a short life.

  18. 1

    In the early days of creating something new, does it even feel like work? The hours and days fly by and you're feeling exhilarated and present, not thinking about somewhere else you'd rather be. But, this is before the challenges creep in and things get more complicated, when you are no longer just creating. Then suddenly many of your hours are allocated to things that frustrate and grind you down. This is what makes the days long, literally and figuratively, and when I need to cut back and get in more personal time.

  19. 1

    Behold the 3 step process :

    1. Calculate what income you'd like to earn
    2. Work like crazy until you get to that income or close to it
    3. Once you're there, tune the work down to a level you'd like and enjoy!
    1. 1

      Hey Nick! Funny enough, I was scrolling through the replies to this post and your name caught my eye. I had a hunch, but went and checked to confirm that I’ve bought a couple udemy courses from you related to Django. Small-internet world!

      1. 1

        Heyo look at that. Small world indeed :) You building something?

        1. 1

          More to come soon! It’s a small personal hobby site. Not anything explicitly designed to generate revenue but more so a project I can point to on my path to being a developer. I’ll reply back next week when I have a couple pieces finalized!

          1. 1

            Nice! Can’t wait to see it

    2. 1

      In my experience, that only works if you get to that income in a reasonable time frame ;-) Otherwise you'll be trying to sustain working at an unsustainable rate.

      1. 1

        Ya, that's valid. I think also not setting that income sky high is important

    3. 1

      Yeah that's barely going to work. I've known people who've tried this, and still are. After a while this becomes a race. What's going to give in first? Your goals or your health? It becomes a fixation. Money is never enough, work becomes addictive, and you unlearn how to behave like a social human being, eventually working yourself into an early grave.

      Money alone should not be a goal. If you want to earn more money you should first value yourself more first, before you can invoice this to your customers. As such I believe time is the only resource I cannot get back, and charge a premium for it whenever in the position to do so. I have switched my goal to work the least possible amount, while being able to earn enough money to sustain. This is a powerful concept as there is no upper limit to the amount of money one can gather, but there is an absolute zero for the amount of time you can spend working.

      1. 1

        Ya I guess doesn't work for everyone but it did for me. Another important bit is not setting your income goal super high. Like set it to the level where you could live comfortably, not your dream income

  20. 1

    It all comes down to what fulfills you as a person. I've worked at two high growth, crazy hour startups and it was extremely chaotic at times, sometimes too extreme. Do I think it was necessary for the company? yes. Good for me? yes. Sustainable? nooooo.

    For samcart's launch I was up nearly 48 hours straight the day before and barely slept the week leading up to it (https://www.samcart.com/blog/14-launch-lessons/).

    Hunt a killer is a semi-unicorn in it's own right, fast company awards and dubbed "fastest-growing thriller subscription in the world." I spent more nights talking with the ceo than my ex. Note I said ex... I was 100% out of balance and spent way too much time working.

    Those long days and nights are a result of trying to reach a goal that should be unattainable. When you push yourself to your limits and do what you thought was nearly impossible, it's incredibly rewarding financially but more in a sense of accomplishment. I'll always cherish a special bond with those I did this with and have no regrets.

    I agree the startup industry glorifies the workaholic lifestyle but I wouldn't classify them as businesses. Fundera does this justice: "Startups focus on disrupting markets and driving top-line revenue at a fast pace. Small businesses, on the other hand, often set their goals on long-term, stable growth in an existing market." They're different and both have their pros/cons.

    I now run a small agency, work less and make more. Happier? meh. I miss the rush :)

  21. 1

    I usually have a full-time job and am therefore extremely aware of times and hours and how much I put into my projects, and how much I 'give' to my employer. For the past three weeks I was full-time on my own stuff, as I'm changing jobs, and realized (1) how much more I got done working alone with my own roadmap and (2) how there was no need for crazy hours to make big strides – as long as you use them right.

    In an environment where I can structure my work and am not held up by countless meetings, I can get done a ton working 1pm - 9pm (I sleep, get some good breakfast, run some errands, go to the gym, hang on the balcony, THEN start with my tasks), and there's really no need to do more, I'm quite exhausted after those hours (in a good way). I think the key is to maximize the hours that you can be productive, and spend non-productive hours on something else.

    I'm starting to believe that the crazy workaholic hours stem from unproductive environments. I would have no issues spending 14 hours per day on this all if I had to take all calls that people want from me, go to all events that people want me to be at, attend every meeting possible – but it's not needed and I get just as much done in the smaller hours I do.

  22. 1

    Yeah I'd love to work 25 hours/week. Currently building up to that! My current work hours at 7am to 3pm. I want to start freelancing, double my rate, then I can cut down to only working 4-5 hours a day.