On top of that, the culture of working long hours is ingrained into the entrepreneur mindset. While admirable, that habit is unsustainable in the long run, compounds stress levels and even leads to mental health issues like burnout and depression. As Kunal Bahl, co-founder of India’s leading online marketplace Snapdeal puts it, “Most entrepreneurs are 24/7. We’re always on…not because we need to but because we like to.” But experience has also taught him the importance of taking a break, adding, “It doesn’t tire us out, because we are mature enough now to know when to take downtime when we need to.”
So how do you buckle down and prepare yourself for a long successful run as a founder? The solution is deceptively simple – self-care. This can be any act that gives your mind a break from work and supports your mental and physical health.
Let’s take a look at what some founders have to say:
#1: Take a mental break
A mental break from work now and then actually increases productivity. In fact, research has shown that the ideal work-break duration should be about 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break.
Ashley Peng, founder and CEO of Xiaobu (小步), a Chinese mobile platform for young parents, prescribes playful pillow fights with her daughter as a great way to de-stress. “It really releases all the anxiety and stress,” she enthused. “Everyone should try it.”
On the more cerebral end of the spectrum, Max Levchin, former Paypal co-founder and founder and CEO of financial service company Affirm, prefers reading. “You need a long book to blow your mind and not have to do anything with Silicon Valley,” he told us about re-reading A Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.
For lighter reads, his go-to books are ‘trashy spy novels’. “I don’t recommend them,” he said. “But they’re great to take the mind off the pain in entrepreneurship.”
#2: Take up a sport
Regular exercise is an excellent habit for founders and entrepreneurs who face constant stress. This study found that working out supports mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. On top of that, you also experience improved cognitive function – useful when making big decisions for your company!
Jane Sun, CEO of China’s largest online travel company Trip.com, goes for adrenaline-fuelled activities in her downtime. “Anything that is fun and adventurous I’m very interested in,” she said. She and her husband ski, dive and run marathons.
Ming Maa, President of Grab, told us his best non-financial investment was a table tennis table, which allowed him to get some exercise and relax with the family. “I’m not particularly good at ping-pong,” he said. “It’s a great way to spend time with my kids. My oldest is getting into his teenage years when they stop talking to you. But when you’re playing ping pong, that’s when they really open up.”
Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder and CSO, echoed the value of exercise. “Staying healthy is really important when you’re working hard,” he noted. “Working out…has helped me a lot to stay focused and get stuff done and be productive.”
#3: Get Help
Depending on your needs, getting help can range from having a good support and delegation system at work to booking a personal coach.
William Tanuwijaya and Patrick Cao of Indonesia’s Tokopedia spoke about the mutual support system the partners have for each other, with the Alibaba-inspired emphasis on ‘work happily, and live seriously’. “We realized…it’s about quality time,” said Williiam on striking work-life harmony. “From time to time we encourage our partners to take quality time with their partners.”
At the time of our interview, all three of Tokopedia’s founding partners had just become new parents as well, and being on common ground meant they were also “supporting each other on a day to day basis”.
Ankiti Bose, founder and CEO of Southeast Asian fashion and lifestyle marketplace Zilingo, opted for a professional coach. She said it helped her overcome the natural anxiety founders have about their businesses.
“Having a professional help you take a step back and rationalize all of the things that are happening is actually immensely helpful,” she said. She also preaches the value of delegation, citing the example of Zilingo’s previous lack of success with its private fashion labels: “Maybe you’re not the right person to do it. Then you should get the right people to help you.”
While this is not a comprehensive list of coping strategies, we hope it serves as a good starting point for your journey to becoming a healthier, and more effective leader. Stay well!