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How to keep a healthy work life balance while working at a startup

According to a 2022 Sifted report, 87 percent of employees in the startup realm have had their mental health negatively impacted by the startup environment. In the same report, 84 percent of the employees also stated that they have been experiencing burnout. The truth is, the startup world is demanding and more often than not, founders and employees in this space find themselves burning the midnight oil. The thing is, not catering to your mental, social and physical wellbeing because you simply do not have the time to, can negatively impact your health, and, in turn, your work productivity. So, if your goal is to thrive in the startup world, you actually have to master how to have a life outside work. In this piece, we will look at how to keep a healthy work life balance while working at a startup.

 1) Become a time-management guru

The startup world is dynamic and most times, you will find yourself with work backlogs that never seem to clear up. You spend a few more hours at the office after 5:00pm and get to the office at the crack of dawn- you even carry the workload home and lock yourself in your room while your family members watch a TV program that you undoubtedly enjoy but you still cannot clear your backlog. Once you understand that there will always be work in your to-do list, you will now move on to the next step, prioritization. Sit down with your assigned tasks and see which ones take precedence over the other.

Once you do this, inform any affected parties i.e., if you are a developer and you had promised to complete the front end of a website at a given date but there is a debugging task that needs more of your attention, let the affected parties know in advance that the deadline you had settled on is impossible to beat and that you need an extension.

This way, you will not miss the deadline and be termed as unreliable or produce shoddy work because of mental exhaustion and be termed as incompetent. You should have a task planner that helps you set and meet your deadlines as well as track your progress. It will also help you know whether you can take on new tasks or not so that you do not find yourself overwhelmed every other day of the week. With today’s technological progression, you do not have to do this the old-fashioned way- pen and notebook style- you can use apps like Task Manager. Mastering time management will bring you one step closer to watching that TV program with the rest of your family members.

 2) Master the art of delegation

Do you struggle with delegation? Are you constantly worried that the person you are handing over a task to will not do it as well as you? Don’t worry, you are not alone. The thing is, if you do not learn how to effectively delegate, you will slow down productivity within your company. With that said, how do you effectively reassign a task to a colleague? Here’s a simplified guideline to get you started.

  • Identify a task that you can delegate. Remember when we talked about learning how to prioritize your tasks? Figure out which tasks are not a priority to you but they still need to be catered to. 
  • Know your colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses. Working closely with your colleagues will help you get to know which areas they thrive in. This, in turn, will help you delegate some of your tasks.
  • Offer guidance to the chosen colleague i.e., if you happen to have insights on how they can efficiently do the task you can share these pointers with them. Note that the term here is “guidance” and not “micro-manage”. You entrusting a task to a colleague means that you are confident that they will effectively complete it. You, therefore, have to let them do it.
  • Invest in training colleagues. What happens when you suddenly get a bad cold or you find yourself with a court appearance prompted by a crazy weekend? Somebody else needs to know how to do your job. Invest your time in training other people how to do it so that in the event that you are not present, the wheels of production keep turning.

The reason why most people fear delegation is because they are afraid that the results of the task will not be as expected. If this is your worry, then take time to train your colleagues on how to get the right results so that when you have a sizable backlog, you can comfortably delegate some of your tasks.

3) It’s okay to say NO

When you discover your priorities and create a plan for them, then you will know which tasks you can say “yes” to, and the ones you can say “no” to. This way, you will not be overwhelmed, a road that normally leads to burnout. 

Saying NO in the workplace can be extremely hard especially if a directive is coming from management or a work-friend. You have probably found yourself in multiple instances when you know you cannot handle a certain responsibility but you still take it on and then later you ask yourself, “what was I thinking?” It’s like when you are in a meeting and you are asked when you can deliver a project and you find yourself saying an insanely close date even though you are fully aware of your backlog and the priorities you have. 

Sound familiar? 

The question is, how do you say NO without feeling guilty or without coming off as rude or uncollaborative? 
Here are some helpful pointers to get you started!

Saying NO to colleagues.

  • Acknowledge the other party’s need in an empathetic manner. For instance, you could say, “I understand that you have a lot on your plate right now but I also have pending tasks that need my attention at the moment.”
  • Be assertive yet polite. Do not end up giving the other party false hope.
  • Offer an alternative but only when you have one. For example, you might have a day that you are free a week from receiving that request from a colleague, you can let them know this and that you will be ready to help then.
  • Delegation will ensure that you have time to socialize, practice your hobbies and rest. 

Saying NO to management/your boss:

Saying NO to your employer can be quite, well, scary. The upside to mastering this is that you will not produce shoddy work because of burnout. You will also be seen as someone who can be reasonable when they receive offers. So, the next time you have a full plate and your employer approaches you with an additional task, try this;

    • Appreciate the offer to work on a new task and the fact that they thought you would best tackle said task.
    • Give a detailed explanation on what you are working on at the moment and how it translates into the company’s productivity/brings value to the company.
    • Show them your task manager with the different tasks and their deadlines. Let the manager/employer know how taking on new tasks will negatively affect the progress of your current tasks.
    • Seek clarification on which tasks (the current ones you have or the ones you are being assigned) take priority over the other. If it so happens that the new assigned project is much more pressing, then clearly communicate to your boss, your colleagues and your immediate supervisor that you will cease working on the current tasks and you will be taking on that new task.

While none of this sounds easy, the only way you will become okay with saying NO is if you practice it. Always ensure, however, that your NO is backed up by a “why”. This applies to managers and employers as well.

4) Listen to your body

Have you ever felt extremely tired at 7:00 am in the morning? You go for a run, shower with cold water and drink three mugs of coffee but your body still feels heavy.

Here is an excerpt from Unimed Living detailing why we should listen to our bodies;

"The body is in fact an intelligent organism capable of acting independently of the mind via its own self-regulation and feedback systems."

When you start feeling like a boulder every morning you get out of bed, chances are, you need a break. Filling that Leave Request does not make you weak or lazy, it means you are self-aware and that you recognize that you need to rejuvenate in order to boost your level of productivity.

Before you take the healthy step of going on a leave, adhere to the following;

  • Find out the leave policy of your company. You can do this by consulting HR.
  • Once you find out when you are going for leave, inform your colleagues and/or supervisor. This way, work can continue in your absence. 
    Self-care during your time off will make you even more productive, stop putting off that leave!

5) Create time off activities outside work

For some of us, we have non-existent social lives because every minute of every day is invested in hitting our work targets. This means that even when you are not working on a project, you are on platforms that are related to your work. While this shows just how dedicated you are at your job, you need to learn how to build a life outside your work bubble.

You can do this by attending social events that are not work-related and taking an interest in hobbies that do not have ties with your profession. This way, you will build a healthy social life and widen your area of interest and by extension, creativity. 

Let’s face it, all the above points are easier said- in this case, read- than done. If you are struggling with establishing a healthy balance between your work and life, join the STN community.

What is STN?

Startup Talent Network is a platform where professionals in the startup realm can learn/upskill, network and discover/access new opportunities.

Here, you will be surrounded by peers who understand what it is like to work in the startup ecosystem and therefore, you will receive substantial support as you navigate this demanding route. This means that if you are struggling with taking a leave, saying NO, time management, delegating and building a life outside work, you can share these struggles and get advice from professionals who have learned how to effectively balance their work and personal life.

So what are you waiting for? Join the STN community today!