Entrepreneurship 101: How can startup founders take time off?

Entrepreneurship 101 is a series on the ‘human’ aspects of entrepreneurship. Through this series, YourStory will share ideas, suggestions, references, and examples to help you reflect and tread the entrepreneurial path smoothly.
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A startup founder doesn’t have specific office hours. They work round the clock to ensure that their business and teams are on track towards success — with undivided attention and time. There is always another product to launch, new clients to acquire, or investors to onboard. 

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), about 79 percent of company CEOs spend their weekends working. However, being burnt out does not help the cause. The hustle culture associated with startups comes with hidden costs of compromised work-life balance and mental wellbeing. It is therefore essential for founders to prioritise their downtime.

With this in mind, Entrepreneurship 101 asked entrepreneurs how they take time off work without disruptions. 

How often should you take time off work? 

Indian startups today offer generous vacation policies to their employees as an incentive. In fact, unicorns InMobi and Meesho allow employees to work from anywhere — the beachside, mountains, or in the office. 

However, this very idea and the logistics are terrifying for startup founders. Project: Time Off, a report analysing the balance sheets of American companies, suggest that companies leave $224 billion in unused vacation time on balance sheets every year

Rarely are startup founders seen taking long breaks to be with their families or indulge in a vacation by the beach. But are these week-long vacations once a year enough to recharge one’s mind and body for the rest of the 51 weeks? 

Amit Khatri, Co-founder of Noise, disagrees. He says downtime should not be limited to short vacations, even two to three times a year. “For me, downtime is dependent on external factors…Finding moments of downtime in your everyday routine is more practical and effective for one’s health and productivity,” he adds. 

The phone’s buzz 

Instead of burying themselves in their favourite book or getting their groove on, startup founders find themselves checking their emails and messages. Living in a world of perpetual connectivity and interruptions makes the job of switching off all the more difficult. 

“As a startup founder with a lean team, it (completely switching off during vacations) is not always possible… However, if you trust your people and empower them to do what is best in every given situation — you don’t need to be a constant presence around them,” suggests Ravi Bhushan, Founder and CEO of BrightCHAMPS

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HBR suggests that about 70 percent of CEOs work during vacations. This, again, translates to not taking effective downtime. What is even the point of taking a vacation if you can’t enjoy the sunset from the expensive villa overlooking the sea? 

If it’s impossible for you to completely switch off from work, an ideal way of balancing both work and play would be to dedicate up to one hour each day to check and respond to work calls or emails and then use the rest of the day to unwind. 

“Being a founder of a young startup, it is impossible to switch off completely. But I plan it well enough to sync up with the team at specific times,” agrees Ansul Goenka, CEO and Co-founder of QuickShift

Similarly, Suhasini Sampath, Co-founder and COO of Yogabar, says that during her time off, she avoids the urge to check sales numbers or follow up on the tinier things with her team. 

Effective ways to take time off 

Taking some time off as a startup entrepreneur should not be a taxing job. “I believe that taking time off helps me feel more energised and rejuvenated,” says Amit. 

 

One must smartly plan their vacation, ensuring it does not collide with important meetings or commitments. Additionally, in their absence, the founder must put the next senior in command, and trust their decision-making and crisis-management process. 

 

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, startup founders suggested ways in which entrepreneurs can effectively take off from work. 

Find your calling 

Founders must find a way to escape the mundane and hustle of everyday life. This could be in the form of pursuing a hobby, seeking escape in a book or a film, or indulging in a sport of their choice. 

For Amit, his mornings are precious to him. The co-founder of the consumer electronics brand dedicates his mornings to himself. 

“My fitness routine is extremely important to me, more mental than physical. It helps me really set the tone for the day…I find my peace and inspiration in being physically active,” he adds. 

When taking up reading as an escape, Suhasini suggests entrepreneurs pick books that are not in line with their work. Ravi, Founder of BrightChamps, writes poems to balance work and life. 

Time off social media 

The essence of social media might be to connect with our loved ones living in distant places. However, more recently, social media has become a platform to showcase one’s achievements and good times. 

People hardly talk about the everyday struggles or challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis. 

Instead, timelines are now flooded with fake positivity and glorification of the hustle culture. On bad days, these posts may take a toll on a founder’s mental health and push them to believe that everyone else is doing better in life. 

Therefore, instead of cluttering one’s thoughts, one should spend that free time every day indulging in mindful activities. 

Get rid of the guilt 

As a founder, staying from your company may lead to guilt but it is important to focus on the fact that taking time off from work is only a way to recharge, get creative, and return stronger and with a rejuvenated mind. 

“All my brilliant and out of the box ideas have come during my time off. Whether it’s a super-packed holiday or a quiet downtime, taking time off has worked wonders for giving me adequate mind space to think about how I want to design the future of my work, people, and ideas,” reveals  Anshul. 

“Guilt is a wasted emotion, in this context. If you're constantly feeling guilty, you're neither enjoying your time off nor being productive. Do I find myself wondering about work while away from it? Yes. Guilty? Not really, no,” says Ravi. 

Build a solid team 

“Sometimes, founders can have a difficult time letting go, which is what makes it impossible for them to switch off even when they can afford to,” says Ravi.

The solution is to build a team you can trust to lead in your absence. Try and inculcate the feeling of ownership of work, and responsibility for each other and towards the company. 

“Unless you trust your first line of decision-makers, you're always going to be worried and waiting for things to go wrong,” Ravi adds. 

Therefore, at every level, entrepreneurs must have people or team members they can trust. 

“Being able to do justice to your family/friends, and yourself while taking a break will only come by once you make the conscious effort to let go and have built that faith in your team,” agrees Suhasini. 

Delegating work the right way and creating a proper structure has helped Joseph George, Founder of Sunday Tech, stay away from the day-to-day operational issues and focus just on the business roadmap and long-term plans. 

Anshul, on the other hand, runs a mock drill of “Take the Founder’s cabin” where the leadership team gets to manage the founder’s office.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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