UK founders are burning out. In a 2019 study by 3Sixty, 77% of founders surveyed said that running a business had affected their mental health, 71% felt that it had affected their physical health, and over half identified with complete burn-out. Earlier this year the World Health Organisation even recognised burn-out as an occupational phenomenon that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
The good news for founders is that – with adequate preparation – Christmas is the perfect time to switch off, recover from stress and return revitalised in the new year. Whether it’s relaxing with one of the best books for entrepreneurs, hiring temporary staff to cope with extra demand or simply switching off the laptop, here’s how digital tech founders from across the UK plan to manage their work-life balance and avoid burn-out over Christmas.
Wind down gradually
Amy King, co-founder at Tech Nation Rising Stars winner and Applied AI cohort member People Matter, subscribes to a three-step rule to recover from burnout: Stop, Rest, and Reconnect.
The first step involves gradually slowing down to an eventual stop. “Truly stopping takes time – it’s a gradual unwinding process – but you can make a start over Christmas,” Amy says. “Have a go at ‘un-planning’ your schedule, taking time to simply relax away from obligations and tasks.”
People Matter co-founder Amy King
The second step, Rest, is “an essential and hugely effective way to recover from burnout”, Amy explains, as sleep trigger hormones and repair muscle tissue and process emotional problems. Here, going to bed at the same time each night, turning off smartphones and avoiding caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime can all help.
The final step, Reconnect, is a “deeply personal” one, and thereby unique to everyone, Amy says. “Start by defining what happiness looks like for you – what does a good life look like for you? Then define your values and spend 10 minutes writing down all the things that you’d want people to say about you after you have gone. Don’t over-think it. Then define (and set) achievable goals, including what your life looks like 12 months from now.”
Finally, Amy recommends that founders write in the third person about what’s happened in their life recently. “Some fascinating neuroscience research has highlighted that when we do this, we activate different areas of our brain to help us better manage our emotions,” she says.
Plan ahead with a strategy
Clinical psychologist Dr Nick Taylor knows a thing or two about managing mental health in the workplace. As founder and CEO of Unmind, a workplace mental health platform, he is helping employees to proactively measure and manage their mental wellbeing. For Nick, the trick to coping during the festive period lies in planning ahead.
“As a tech entrepreneur, it’s even harder as you may feel the need to be as ‘on’ as your product, however, it’s important to take time for yourself too,” says Nick. “Putting strategies in place to keep things going over the period and setting up time limits and effective boundaries for work over the period can help entrepreneurs effectively manage the balance and prevent them from feeling stressed or burnt out over the holidays.”
Unmind CEO Dr. Nick Taylor
Ed Davies, from Wearth London, even recommends starting preparations as early as summer. “This Christmas what has really helped is thinking ahead – we started our plans back in August, ensuring we had lots of new gift brands, planning our marketing strategy and the overall theme for the festive season.”
Additionally, Ed recommends that founders consider hiring more staff over Christmas time to cope with extra demand. “We’ve recognised that we needed some extra help and have hired a couple of interns to help out,” he says. “That’s not to say that it has been stress-free, but being prepared has helped to not feel overwhelmed and end up working too much.”
For Andres Korn, cofounder at StorkCard, a fintech app for helping manage finances during pregnancy, deadlines are another way of managing expectations around Christmas.
“I split my to-do list into pre-Christmas and post-Christmas items, before then setting a pre-Christmas deadline to wrap things up and a post-Christmas start date to pick things back up again,” he says. “This allows me to protect some family time but also not feel guilty or stressed about it.”
Take a break from the screen
Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO at food sharing platform Olio, has a zero-tolerance policy towards checking emails over the festival period.
“Entrepreneurship is a series of marathons, not a sprint. It’s therefore absolutely critical to carve out proper time over the holiday period to ensure that you rest and restore yourself,” Tessa says. “We mandate that the whole team switches off during this time – no emails are allowed – which means that we can hit the ground running in 2020 with all cylinders firing.”
Olio co-founder and CEO Tessa Clarke
Jonathan Tan, CEO at Greater Change, encourages founders to go one step further and leave devices behind. “I think the key thing is to force yourself to switch off by to dinner without your phone, or on holiday without your laptop – I find it impossible to stay off my emails otherwise,” he says. “It also helps to really have something else that you can throw yourself into in terms of leisure – whether that’s sports, videogames, or anything else.”
Work from home – or get away
Working from home, or even in a nearby cafe, is one way of staying closer to relatives at Christmas time. If founders insist on holding a meeting or working with others over the Christmas period, Dispace.co will let you rent out a nearby community space – everything from a pub’s spare room to a renovated church.
Varun Bhanot, co-founder at Unhoused.org, maintains that working from home is most effective. “The key to managing work-life balance over Christmas is flexible working,” he says. “Christmas is a time for family and friends, so utilising remote working tools such as Zoom and Slack in this period is more important than ever. This could mean working from home more so that familial commitments can be prioritised around work engagement.”
Unhouse.org co-founder Varun Bhanot
Lance Plunkett, CEO and co-founder of lost property platform Found, doesn’t mind opening the laptop over Christmas – but he prefers to do it in a more chill location. Literally.
“I’ll be finding some balance this Christmas by heading for a ski trip as breathing in fresh air, exercising and being in nature are great ways to reset yourself,” he says. “I’ll be taking my laptop so I can be present at all times, as the perk of our modern world is you can work from almost anywhere.
“The balance part comes from self-discipline and it’s different for everyone. My aim is to return refreshed and refocussed and ready for 2020.”
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