March 16, 2017
Recently, I came home from work at 10pm, opened the door and immediately heard my wife say how stressed she was. Her pharmaceutical company recently bought a biotech startup for a lot of money, and my wife is leading a very tough integration project. She works very hard, all the time, and is still behind on things.
The truth was that I was really stressed, too. After my wife finished complaining I complained right back. In general, running a Techstars program is super intense and stressful. This winter, though, just feels unusually challenging and demanding at work for me as well. I am behind on projects, concerned about not doing my best with founders, feel more tired and more stressed.
In general, I’ve been good at self-introspection, de-stressing and identifying causes of my stress and addressing them. I think this is an important quality particularly because when dealing with startups, the stress tends to be extreme. I want to share tips for how to deal with founder stress, which tends to be amplified nowadays:
Recognize That You Are Stressed
The first step in dealing with stress is recognizing that you are stressed. Do a self check-in once a week on how you are feeling. Literally, put it on the calendar.
If you are stressed, think about the source. What exactly is stressing you out? Uncertainty about the future? Fundraising? Cofounders? Co-workers? Whatever it is, figuring out the source of the stress helps address it better.
Get More Sleep
Whenever I feel really stressed, I go to bed. Stress for me is typically combined with physical and mental exhaustion. To deal with it I go straight to bed. I’ve never had a situation where I didn’t feel better after a full night of sleep. The chemical build up of stress tends to wash out and get garbage collected during the night. We are all sleep deprived these days, especially founders, so extra sleep really helps.
Conversely, lack of sleep and repeated stress causes people to malfunction. Literally, our brains don’t work well under repeated stress, can we can’t think straight. Ongoing sleep deprivation and stress can lead to permanent brain damage, so be sure to catch up on your sleep.
Take a Regular Vacation
Brad Feld has a rule of one week off the grid every quarter. While you, as founder, may not be able to afford this, there is no reason why you can’t take at least one weekend completely off every few months, and take a week off twice a year.
Plan vacations ahead of time, and don’t ignore them. You always comeback refreshed, and ready to go. Give your body and mind the break it needs and deserves.
Eat Better and Drink Less Alcohol
This one is really important, and often founders get this exactly backwards. Startup culture is a culture of unhealthy foods, snacks and drinking. All of these tend to compound stress. Make an effort to plan your meals and to cut out alcohol. Healthy food leads to a less stressed body.
Alcohol seems like it relieves stress, but it really doesn’t. I was drinking to reduce stress when I was running my second company, and developed an addiction. It was pretty bad, as I would drink, a lot, every single day.
I quit cold turkey over three years ago and never looked back. If you are founder and catch yourself drinking daily, be mindful that this is a response to stress and can turn into an addiction.
Exercise & Meditate
Regular exercise is an awesome way to release stress. Personally, I do yoga, running and strength training, and try to exercise every single day. By trying to exercise every day, I end up exercising five to six days a week.
I exercise first thing in the morning, because I realized that if I don’t do it then I won’t get to it at all. Any sort of exercise (at a gym or participating in sports) is a great way to destress. Figure out what works for you and commit to it.
Meditation is one activity I’ve not been able to incorporate into my daily routine yet. I’ve tried meditating a bunch, but never stuck to it. Many investors and founders do it and find it extremely beneficial for mindfulness, and stress relief. Similar to sleep, during the meditation, the brain tends to relax and clear out the clogs and stress that’s building up. Just ten minutes a day can make a massive difference in how you feel.
Have a Routine and Plan Your Calendar
As you probably know, I am a massive productivity nerd and do a lot of scheduling and planning. Uncertainty in the schedule causes stress. Startups in general are chaotic, but sometimes total chaos leads to stress.
You need to own your calendar and plan time for everything – meetings, work, email, family time, exercise — everything you do should be planned and mapped out onto a calendar. Planning helps you clearly know what to do next and it helps you to reduce the stress.
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