Opinion

5 things founders can do to improve their mental health

- October 14, 2019 3 MIN READ
Creating a startup and putting your heart and soul into it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. But it can also be very taxing.

Stress levels can rise as the drive for funding, capturing new customers, refining and even pivoting on an idea and just keeping up with all the admin and other work can be overwhelming.

A recent KPMG report found that just one in five founders are satisfied with their mental wellbeing and stress levels with lack of exercise a top concern. A massive 70% spend nothing on improving mental wellbeing.

Media-Wize co-founders Anthony Caruana and Kathryn Van Kuyk

The study found that the following were major contributors to poor founder mental health:

  • Not exercising enough (56%)
  • Too busy with work (53%)
  • Not enough time to recover/switch off (47%)
  • Not getting enough sleep (45%)
  • Not enough time with family and friends (38%)

Asked if they could have an extra hour each day from a genie, founders said they would use that time for the following:

  • Physical fitness (56%)
  • Spending time with family and friends (53%)
  • Learning Work (47%)
  • Spending time alone (45%)

 

What can founders do?

  1. Don’t do it alone

Some businesses might be started by one person, but the most successful companies are those where founders surround themselves with people that complement their skills and help to take some of the load off. Also, outsourcing some operational tasks can help. Having an accountant do your regular tax reporting and other administrative tasks can reduce the load and enable you to focus on what you do best.

At Media-Wize, my co-founder Kathryn and I have complementary skills and we don’t try to overreach. When Kathryn is better at something, I hand it over and vice-versa.

And where we both need assistance, we intelligently outsource. We recently paid an accountant $150 to do our regular tax reporting as it’s a better use of resources than one of us spending four hours pulling all the pieces together.

 

  1. Quarantine your time

Your start-up might be important but it’s not the only thing in your life. I have a strict, no work in the evenings (unless I’m away from home) policy. Each week I plan what’s going on and block out time, so family events and priorities don’t get missed.

The one thing I won’t compromise on again is my personal fitness, I make time, no matter what each day to exercise. Most weeks I average 40 kilometres running as well as walking and doing strength training. It helps me relieve stress and keeps not only my body but my mind healthy.

Kathryn does the same with her family, her exercise and personal time. Your start-up is an important part of your life, but it’s not your actual life.

 

  1. Be thoughtful about what you prioritise

With instant messaging, email, phone calls and a multitude of other communication channels, it’s easy to be swept up in a tornado of perceived urgency. I only look at email twice a day. Not every message or request that arrives needs to be actioned the moment it arrives. When a request comes in, make a deliberate decision about when it needs to be actioned.

 

  1. Stay focussed – avoid distractions

Turn off notifications on your apps. It’s a simple way to remove distractions. When I add a new app to my phone or tablet, the first thing I do is check the notification settings (well, second after the security and privacy options) and disable them for all but the most important messages.

For example, my smartphone has a “do not disturb” feature. I enable it when I’m in deep work mode and when it’s outside work hours so that only a handful of specific people can call me. I also do the same when I’m driving.

I try to keep my desk clear as well so that the only things in front of me are the things I need.

 

  1. Learn to say no

“No” is both the easiest and most difficult word to say. Most people want to help and support those that ask for their help. But you simply can’t say yes to everything. A big part of prioritising is the ability to say “No” when something will distract you or get in the way of something more important.

 

As founders it’s up to us to take care of our mental, emotional and physical well-being. A work life balance is important, otherwise you lose effectiveness. Remember you’re here for a marathon, not a sprint.

 

  • Anthony Caruana is a freelance technology reporter and co-founder of Media-Wize

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