If I were to construct a word cloud to analyze everything that people say when they talk about successful founder attributes, I'd guess that the biggest word would be "passionate."
I have mixed views on what this means. Because, yes, I do think you need to be passionate about your startup to keep working relentlessly to hurdle the endless challenges you must overcome to reach your ultimate goals.
However, being passionate can take the form of an obsession that keeps you from being able to enjoy your life and fulfill your responsibilities to other people--most notably your family and friends. So being passionate about your startup is good as long as you can draw a line that allows you enough time to enjoy your life and succeed at fulfilling your obligations to family and friends.
Finding this line is a struggle for some very successful founders. Allbirds CEO Tim Brown told The Wall Street Journal that struggling to separate his mind from his business is the worst part of being an entrepreneur. As Brown told the Journal, "Your business embeds itself six inches into your brain, and you can't shake it. You're in the shower, you're out to dinner, you're on vacation--you're always thinking about it, even when you don't want to be."
Brown is like many entrepreneurs who need help "setting clear guardrails" for themselves. Here are four keys to freeing yourself from obsessive thinking about your business, based on my experience keeping my consulting business afloat since 1994.
1. Do the Most Thought-Intensive Work First Thing in the Morning
If you are going to free your mind from thinking about work, you ought to do the most important tasks when your mental energy is at its highest. In that way you will be able to do your best thinking to solve the most difficult problems.
What works for me is to do this first thing in the morning after breakfast and coffee. I avoid scheduling meetings later in the day when my mental energy is not as high. Such meetings allow me to help people who need it and are often energizing, but sometimes create new problems.
2. Take Time for Physical Exercise
If you can schedule physical exercise during your workday, it can be a time where your mind attacks your work-related challenges in a different, more soothing way. I am very grateful to have enough control of my schedule to be able to do hour or longer runs right before lunch most days when the weather is not too bad.
During these runs my mind is more focused on the sky, the trees, the wildlife, and other soothing sights. However, if there are any nagging work problems that I have not been able to solve when I am in the middle of thinking about work, during the run a solution often pops into my mind.
If you can't schedule long runs for the perfect time during the day, you might consider whether you should delegate parts of your job to other people so you can at least clear out some time for physical exercise during the day.
3. Be Present With Your Family When They Need Your Attention
Although my children have flown the coop, many founders are raising a family with young kids and running their companies. My suggestion if you have kids is to turn off your devices during dinner and afterwards until the children are heading to sleep. If you must think about work after that, go ahead -- but it will probably cost you some sleep.
4. Get Enough Sleep to Function Effectively Every Day
This leads to the last point. If you are not able to get a good night's sleep, you are going to be less productive the next day. Not only will you not be able to solve as many problems -- but the quality of those solutions will probably decline. And that will leave you with more problems, more stress, and less sleep.
Do these four things and you will be better able to separate yourself from the unceasing cognitive demands of being an entrepreneur.