5 thoughts for startups and small business on managing the work vs. home wrestling match

Well today is Valentines Day and, being the tool that I am, I’m sitting at the computer writing tomorrow’s post. Like many startup entrepreneurs I gave up much to follow the dream, and friends and family have definitely taken a hit. Ross and I work seven day weeks, have little vacation time, and have essentially given up any semblance of a social life in favor of building the company and pushing it to success.

We knew going in that it would be this way; founder after founder told us that we should prepare for this. Entrepreneur after entrepreneur warned us that our families would suffer. But until you’re living it, it is hard to imagine just how much one sacrifices in the name of the venture. We have each learned how to deal with this in our own ways; to find a balance and to make up for some of the time away and some of the focus lost. Here are 5 quotes on work and family and 5 tips for walking the line, finding the balance, and pursuing the grail.

I wish to thank my parents for making it all possible…and I wish to thank my children for making it necessary. – Victor Borge

Even a startup founder has got to make a living. Don’t forget that you’re not doing it just for yourself, but that you have a family that needs to eat as well. In other words, make absolutely sure that you can afford to follow the entrepreneurial path. When we were building the financial models for crowdSPRING, Ross and I looked hard at our personal and business budgets, and each spoke at length with our wives to make sure they understood the sacrifice involved. But, having said that, we did pay ourselves a salary (albeit a minimal one) from the very beginning and made sure that our investors understood that we would pay ourselves enough to assure that our families were taken care of.

It’s not enough to make time for your children. There are certain stages in their lives when you have to give them the time when they want it. You can’t run your family like a company. It doesn’t work. – Andrew Grove

There is no doubt about it: they need you and they will not hesitate to let you know this. So, although I work more than 12 hours most days, it is up to me where that work takes place; I try to be home for dinner every night, and I do my work at home after dinner. This way, I can still have that important time with the family while making sure that I take care of my work responsibilities. However, be careful not to lose track of the reason for working at home in the evenings: when one of my kids needs me, I stop what I am doing so I can focus on their need, whether that is homework help, a ride to a friend’s house, or just time to watch a little TV together. I can go back to work later if there is more to do. And there is always more to do.

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. – George Burns

Travel is a killer on families and friendships and many of us have to be away from home altogether too much. In the age of the internet and the cell phone, there is no excuse for traveling more than is absolutely necessary. Skype, GoToMeeting and other online tools allow us to video conference and collaborate online in ways that were impossible 10 years ago. Take advantage of these, try to limit the trips, and make every effort to be home as many nights of the week as you can.

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. – Mark Twain

The time commitment necessary when starting a company means that something has got to give; that a sacrifice will have to be made. Although I recognized early on that there would be little room for new friendships during this crazy time, I did not realy understand how difficult it would be to maintain the existing ones. Whatever spare time I have tends to go to my family, so time available for friends is rare. But, hard as it is, find a way to make time for your closest friends. An occasional email, a short online chat, or a drink in the evening goes a long way to maintaining those bonds.

If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut. – Albert Einstein

Einstein (as usual) was correct: work and play are of equal importance and one must find time for both. The important thing, when at play, is to keep your mouth (both actual and metaphorical) shut about work and allow yourself the luxury to focus on the “not-work.” Try hard to find a little time when you are NOT thinking about, talking about, or wondering about, work. I find that the simple act of reading the newspaper for 15 minutes in the morning is a powerful way for me to recharge, find new ideas, and give mindspace to something other than work. This also comes in handy at lunch, when you need something to talk about other than last night’s episode of Undercover Boss.

OK, done. Sharon should be back from her errands in a little while and we have a nice dinner planned for tonight. Ahhh.