How to Stay Sane at a Startup: 6 Lessons I Learned in My First Year

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

In the stressful world of startups, it's important to find ways to remain focused and protect our physical and mental health. Tips inside!

Startups are stressful. 

This may seem obvious, but it's one fact that's often lost in the fray.

When we talk about entrepreneurship and startups, we often hear things about MVPs, series A rounds, user growth, and revenue streams.

But, rarely do we talk about the psychological aspect of it all. The stress. The pressure to get a company off the ground can be overwhelming for anyone.

According to one study from UCSF, entrepreneurs are four times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public.

Related Article: 5 Mistakes That Will Sink Your Startup And How to Avoid Them

Forty-nine percent of the entrepreneurs in the study reported suffering from some kind of mental-health condition. It's staggering.

When I began my foray into the world of startups, the mental toll was barely even a blip on my radar. I'd worked long hours and under stressful conditions before. I thought it would be no different.

But I found rather quickly that the stress of a startup was like nothing I had experienced. I found myself paralyzed at times, unable to take a step forward. I knew I had to make some changes.

I'm not an expert in stress nor psychology, but, I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to find the right rhythm to keep up with the frantic startup life.

And I've developed some strategies that help me maintain my sanity even when battling through the darkest moments.

Here are six lessons I've learned:

1. Embrace Failure

There's no doubt about it. Somewhere along the way, you will fail in your startup.

Hopefully, it's a small failure and not a cataclysmic one. But, for many, even small missteps can feel like bullets to the chest.

Over the past year, I've failed hundreds of times. I've dealt with it by learning to embrace the failure and the questions that follow.

What went wrong? How did this happen? What could I have done differently? What did I learn?

And that last bit--learning--is the key. Without learning, it's failure. With learning, it's a step toward success. 

2. Stop Trying to Do It All

Business often boils down to one thing: Strategy. And strategy, as Clate Mask of InfusionSoft once said, is an exercise in saying, "No".

Sometimes the most important thing you can do for your business is to shed the distractions and focus on what works or what will work for you.

This may mean turning away revenue, trimming back your product, or pivoting your business radically. But the important thing is to find the one thing that works and then do it a bunch of times until you're successful.

If you can get to cash flow as a startup, you have a lot more freedom to take more bets.

Don't be afraid of missing out. Be afraid of missing the point.

Related Article: Comprehensive Starter Kit: 50 Free Resources to Help Grow Your Business

3. Learn How to Delegate

When you've got a tiny startup team, it can feel like you're the only one who can do this task or that task. It can feel like the whole business, and all of its tiny details, are on your plate.

But, the truth is that if you never delegate, you'll never scale. There's no path in which a startup founder can carry the same responsibilities from day one through to going public.

And, without delegating, you'll never build a team that's capable of off-loading you and growing the business.

So, hire good people that you can trust and take a leap of faith. It may not be perfect every time. 

Delegate, coach. Delegate, coach. Repeat.

4. Reduce the Noise

One of the most difficult parts of working for a startup is sacrificing in other aspects of your life. We've all heard how important it is to strike a positive work life balance, but sometimes it can feel like even critical things like friends and relationships are just a distraction.

I've found that one key to finding the right balance is to simply reduce all of the other noise that happens, not the important things, but the little things that bug us.

Small tasks and inconveniences like paying bills, keeping track of social events, and planning time off can seem huge when you're facing down a big project or a tight deadline.

I try to put as much as possible on autopilot

One thing that made a big difference for me was educating myself on my student loans, which, luckily, is part of my job anyway. I was able to refinance, save money, and put my bills on auto-pay.

This kind of small step goes a long way to help clear some head space for me to focus on more important things.

5. Block Off Time Away

Everyone should take time away from their startup. It's essential. And science shows that it's one of the lessons experienced entrepreneurs often carry that newbies don't.

For me, I've found that blocking off a set period of time every week, a full day if I can, to just completely unplug is what works best.

I use it like a "cheat day" in dieting, where it keeps me focused and motivated leading up to my time off, and when it comes, I feel like I've truly earned it.

I use this time to do anything and everything except for work. I'll go shopping, spend the day with my girlfriend, cook, clean, or do whatever other things I've been putting off while working late into the night.

6. Surround Yourself With Support

In life, like in work, we must often rely on others to help us. This is why it's so critical for entrepreneurs to build a solid support system of family and friends.

Related Article: To Outsource or In-house: When Outsourcing Works Best for Startups

These people don't necessarily have to live in the same startup world as you. In fact, it may actually be beneficial for you to find support of those not in startup land. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending all of your free time just discussing work.

But, no matter who you choose for your circle, finding the right shoulders to lean on can be a life saver.

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