A few years into a startup, one thing I've learned: Running a new company is a great way to push aside all those unimportant distractions in your life. You know, like paying income taxes.
Whoops. For years, I was a scrupulous April 15 filer, but ever since I co-founded Iodine, my digital health company, that IRS deadline has breezed by like a highway mile marker, along with so many other previous priorities. Thank god, and Uncle Sam, for extensions. Pre-startup, I used to hit the gym, pay bills promptly, keep the house in good repair. Post-startup, those things seem like romantic indulgences. Hell, even changing a light bulb seems out of the question these days. By my count, there are four or more that are burned out around my house. (At least I'm conserving electricity.)
So far, I've assured myself, and my spouse, that this is just a phase, part of the short-term growing pains of startup life. But now, two--erp, better make that three--years in, I'm starting to reckon with the fact that this state of disheveled affairs may be semi-permanent, and that I had better figure out a way to deal with it--or else accept the idea that I just won't.
This, of course, is the classic dilemma of work-life balance. And yeah, I read plenty of warnings beforehand about how difficult it would be to manage regular life while also managing the million and one details that come with launching a company. But there's nothing like landing in the slop with both shoes to help you truly recognize what you've stepped into.
For me, the work-life struggle hasn't been as simple as spending too much time at the office or the classic worry about neglecting my family. I've always made it a priority to be at home for dinner most nights, and most nights I am. Rather, it's been more of a muddling through, with some hazy sense that I've lost my to-do list along the way. Waking up at 4 a.m. and realizing that I forgot to register my kids for summer camp is not the way to thrive.
So, how to regain some sense of balance? I've adopted three basic strategies, principles that help me keep things in perspective and get things done.
1. I share my work at home
For years, I kept my work at work, sparing my spouse the minutiae of daily office life. No more. Now I share everything: the small triumphs, the petty grievances, the strategic opportunities. It helps her understand what all the fuss is about, and she's been generous and insightful about the challenges. It's one of the best things I've done.
2. I make time to sweat the small stuff
Early on in startup life, I realized the only way to get routine administrative tasks off my plate was to set aside Mondays as the one day to take care of them. Now I do the same with the life side of the ledger. Each morning, I take an hour before work to wrestle with mundane chores like bills and taxes; Saturday mornings I reserve for personal errands and logistics. It's not the most fun way to start the weekend, but carving out this time makes it possible to get more done.
3. I'm making peace with the new reality
Three years in, it's apparent to me that this problem isn't going away. Like so many other entrepreneurs, I'm going to contend with too many demands and too little time, at the office and at home. Some things are going to slip--and that's OK. At least that's what I tell myself. I also tell myself that it's working.
Yes, I know, these aren't necessarily practical, plug-and-play solutions that you can apply to your situation; they're more like coping mechanisms. But as any entrepreneur knows, coping may be the most important skill you can develop.