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Why entrepreneurs must take a holiday this Christmas

Friday, 4 December 2015 | By Andrew Ward

It’s almost Christmas and there’s no beating around the bush: I’m exhausted.


The startup sector is full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. We are often the inspiration behind inspirational quotes, the envy of cog in the wheel employees and some of us even become cult figures leading global companies like Mark Zuckerberg or closer to home, the Atlassian founders.


But I don’t want to wax lyrical about the benefits about being an entrepreneur - this is a well canvassed topic.


What I can tell you is that in the three years since I started my business my water bill has gone through the roof.


Why? Because the shower is the only place I can slow down and think.


This year my business raised money, more than doubled our staff, is undergoing a website redesign and has attracted a new board member, and a high-profile new shareholder Compare the Market boss Matt McCann.


Yet despite plenty of cause to celebrate, I don’t want to make the mistake of pushing on at all costs.


Founders are often warned about startup burnout; the symptoms include anger, aggression, loss of motivation, detachment, anxiety, depression, and even physical signs like headache, exhaustion or back pain.


But the truth is that it’s not easily defined. There are no clear data or research on burnout among founders either in Australia or abroad - yet there are thousands of anecdotal stories.


Startup founders don’t have the luxury of four weeks annual leave, sick leave or even the chance to kick back and relax with the ebb and flow of a professional services job.


No month is a “slow period” for an entrepreneur.


The moments that you want to step away and clear the decks for the weekend are often the times that a startup needs to dig the deepest.


But this year I’m using Christmas to take stock and actually take a break.  I’ve learnt through past couple of years of putting it all on the line as a founder that taking time off is essential.


READ MORE FROM SMART COMPANY: More than half of small business owners haven’t had a holiday in over a year


Sometimes turning off can be the key to better and bigger wins in the months ahead. Here’s why:


Just stop


Even founders need to stop: if you can’t see clearly, you can lose sight of the problem you are solving.


Running a startup is not a horse race about putting the blinkers on to get to the finish line, you need to have the scope to see what others are doing and react accordingly to stay ahead.


Relaxing helps you get back to the reason and mindset of when and why you started the business in the first place and gives you the mental energy to pivot and change when needed.


That means putting a plan in place to make sure everything is ticking along.




On our family holidays we have a SelfWealth free zone, where business talk is banned. My wife and I are in the business together so it’s even more important to take that time and space to catch-up and enjoy each other’s company.


Go further and turn off everything work related. Turn off your email notifications, your phone if you need to and close your calendar.


Startup founders are often passionate by nature, and any time there’s a dent to that drive and enthusiasm it’s not good for the business.  The good news is that the passion comes back very quickly when it has time to breathe.


Leave the job behind and delegate


If you can afford it, leave. Get out of town, at least out of the house.


The holiday that works is anywhere where the mind can actually be clear. For me it’s not theme parks or tourist attractions on a schedule, but a rural setting near the water, with wine tastings and a few good meals with my wife and family.


The best way to do this, if you have employees, is to put your faith and delegate leadership to one of your staff. Holidays are a safe way to test the mettle of your staff to perform without you there.


Think ahead


It’s almost impossible to switch off, or think big picture if you are thinking about every little unticked box. So create a strategy for what you will deal with and prioritise when you get back from leave. The sense of being in control and organised will give you a sense of calm that no yoga session can compete with.


Founding a startup is like living in Melbourne, you go through the equivalent of four seasons in one day of emotional turmoil.


It’s not a smooth ride to success and this year I call on all startups to take a week to sit back, sip a beer, celebrate their wins and forget about work for a while.


Andrew Ward is the founder and CEO of SelfWeath, a peer-to-peer investment platform.



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