Should startups have a work-life balance?


Our society, or more appropriately the entrepreneurship community, seems to have an idée fixe with the work-life balance concept. The general mind-set in the tech-preneurship community is that you should not have a work-life balance. Your work should become your life. Some go as far as arguing that if you truly enjoy what you are doing you cannot call that work, it is just another part of your life.

Work is life, the two are inseparable: the prelude to success

We constantly are bombarded with tales of how hard-work is synonymous with success in the entrepreneurship space. The term hard-work in this context seems to be associated with sleep deprivation and not having what the average person would regard as a standard work-life balance. People such as Donald Trump have often been quoted supporting this ideology never-sleep-never-separate-work-from-your-personal-life philosophy. In the words of Donald Trump “How does somebody that’s sleeping 12 and 14 hours a day compete with someone sleeping three of four hours?”

The reasoning behind this ideology is not necessarily sleep less and you will be successful, the narrative one has to draw from this is that the more time you spend working on your business the more likely you are to be successful.

According to this view differentiating between your personal life and consequentially spending less time (in this context sleep/rest or spending more time with your family and friends) on your business life is detrimental to your odds of success.

Quoting Gordon B. Hinckley: “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.”

Contrarian View

One cannot deny the merits of this line of reasoning, you have to put in the sweat equity in order to be successful and more often than not, that means you have to be willing to make a few sacrifices, or so we have been told. This is all conventional wisdom, and therein lies its problem — conventional wisdom in general is it is never questioned and becomes a thought-terminating cliché.

A lot of entrepreneurs are too quick to assert that what they do is not work because they enjoy it so much, which sounds great in principle. The problem is, assuming you are building an app for example, it is highly unlikely that you enjoy optimising your app, regularly facing potential disasters that could literally kill your business, constantly pivoting your business model to find that sweet spot that would actually make your venture profitable and managing diversity in your labour team. These are not inherently enjoyable tasks, you go through those mundane tasks because you want to build a successful business and you see a genuine opportunity to solve a problem.

The mere fact that you spend more hours performing these mundane tasks will not necessarily improve your odds of success.

As a human your concentration span is limited both genetically and biologically. When you look at the 10 000 hour principle popularised by Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, the hard work you have to put in to become an expert or to increase your odds of success as an entrepreneur has to be deliberate. This means you have to be fully engaged with the work you are doing. One could argue that it is a bit inane to assume that the only way to attain success as an entrepreneur is to make work your life.

Aside from diminishing concentration we need to understand that the blanket expression, “my work is my life”, is fundamentally flawed. Some aspects of your life constitute your work time, but there are certain aspects that are undeniably separate and must be kept separate. For example, spending some time with your family.

This is not to say entrepreneurs should not work very hard, hard work is without a doubt an integral part of success, however you should always ask yourself if the intensity at which you are working at is sustainable. Do you want to be in a position where you are totally burnt out because you could not find some balance in your life?

Let us know what your thoughts are. Should there be a line between professional and personal? Does it really make a difference?

Emmanuel Sibanda


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