Keep On Smiling In A Startup

Are you spending too much time on social media? I used to, but not anymore. Nelio Content is saving my time from the very first day. Check it out by yourself!

Translated by Núria Adell.

The original title of this post according to our plan in Nelio Content’s editorial calendar was supposed to be “Reconciling work and family life”. My partners David and Toni have been pushing me to write on this topic for a while.

“Come on Ruth, you’re a ‘mompreneur’, mother of 4—I’m sure you have something interesting to share on this topic!”, said David to me. And Toni left the an editorial comment where he said I should “make sure the post starts with ‘I’m a mompreneur…'”.  I don’t really know why such insistence—there’s no proof that talking about this topic will generate more visits to our blog. Maybe it’s because they see a slightly malicious smile when I tell them: “Oh, I’m going to have so much fun the day that you become parents!” 😏

Anyway, the truth is I have always been quite reluctant to write about something that I haven’t read or studied minimally, and even more if it’s solely from my own personal experience, not contrasted with other sources. People ask me if I think it’s always possible to reconcile your work and family lives. My answer is usually NO. At some point, we’ve all gone through some personal, family or health circumstances that required such dedication that it was impossible to balance them with a work life as demanding as that of an entrepreneur.

Reading the answers that Lars Rebien Sørensen from Novo Nordisk,  Martin Sorrell from WPP, and Pablo Isla from Inditex gave when asked about their work/life balance on the interview The Best Performing CEOs in the World, I realized that I’m not the only one with a “fatalistic” vision. They all said they weren’t a model to follow in that aspect and that we are, without a doubt, in front of a very complex subject. It’s evident that being the CEO of a global company that offers a 24/7 service and in which you have to travel quite often does not help when looking for the longed-for reconciliation between the two worlds.

CEOs roundtable final 3
From left to right: Lars Rebien Sørensen, photographed by Thomas Skou; Pablo Isla, photographed by Ethan Hill; Martin Sorrell, photographed by Tony Luong. (Source: The Best-Peforming CEOs in the World).

Therefore, in agreement with these great CEOs in such a complex subject, I feel it’s too frivolous to simply write a post on it in this blog. So I hope you don’t mind that I change the topic and concentrate on something that’s very important: how to keep on smiling in a startup. Let’s see then if I am capable of talking about this, which is possibly as complex as the original topic. In any case, the title feels like a much more positive challenge ☺️, and you’ll see how the idea is not that far from what Toni and David had in mind.

Keep On Smiling

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of reading “La ciencia de la larga vida” (The science of a long life, in English) by Valentín Fuster (American-Spanish cardiologist) and Josep Corbella (journalist for La Vanguardia). This book discusses the secrets of longevity and how we should ensure we’re always active physically, intellectually, and emotionally if we want to enjoy a long and healthy life.

La ciencia de la larga vida
Cover Page of the book: La ciencia de la larga vida (in English: The Science of a Long Life) by Valentín Fuster and Josep Corbella.

One of the chapters of the book—number 15 to be more precise—is what inspired me to write this post. Its title is “Don’t lose your smile” (“No perder la sonrisa”, in Spanish).

Stress and How to Fight It

This chapter talks about stress and how to fight it. At the beginning of the chapter the authors explain that anxiety and stress accelerate aging and reduce one’s years of life. Of course, everything is scientifically proven. Later on, they clarify that stress reactions are, in origin, a basic mechanism of survival that allows us to react to threats. A certain level of stress, therefore, is healthy and pleasant because it activates the organism. But if the levels of moderated and functioning stress are shot up, what was initially a beneficial reaction becomes harmful.

They also explain that there are different levels of damaging stress that affect one’s health in different ways. On one extreme we have acute stress, typical of a rage or panic attack, and on the other, chronic stress. We can live with the latter, but it slowly mines our quality of life and our emotional well-being leading to premature aging. Carers of ill people, for instance, usually suffer this type of stress.

Stress, whatever type it is, consists in a loss of control of one’s self, when, for instance, we go through situations in which we don’t choose what we do, but feel dominated by the circumstances. Hence, in order to fight it, one must not let himself dominate by the environment and regain control.

El estrés consiste en una pérdida de control sobre uno mismo
Stress consists in a loss of control over one’s self.

I suppose the majority of us have felt, at some point, that the environment dominated us and that we needed to regain control. I perfectly remember how overwhelmed I felt when I found myself with four little kids—two girls who were 7 and 5, the third one who needed severe surgical interventions, and a newborn baby… I needed to get back some control over my life!

In fact, my personal vision of “the point of reconciliation” has always been limited to the following motto: you only have one life, and perhaps yours is particularly complicated, so make sure that whatever you enjoy and makes you happy is part of your life. In my case, this was doing a PhD thesis. On the one hand, I had a topic in mind that was sufficiently complex to keep me totally distracted from preoccupations whose solutions were out of my hands. Being able to dedicate a few intense hours to study, think, program, and write every night after dinner felt like an authentic luxury. It was a time that was exclusively mine and therefore, I suppose, it generated on me a sense of confidence and control of my environment that made me happy.

But don’t worry, it’s not about doing a doctoral thesis to fight stress. In fact, the two strategies that have been demonstrated to help combat stress are the following:

  • Exercising: people tend to be more active when they’re feeling good. But they also feel better the more active they are.
  • Social activity: people who help others tend to feel better, especially if such contribution seems valuable and is appreciated by others.

In particular, what caught my attention is their point on why physical activity is also psychological activity:

In order to regularly exercise, we first have to find the time and organize ourselves to do so. Hence, we must regain certain control on our timetable. For instance, deciding that from 2pm until 3pm we won’t accept any business meetings, but will go to the gym or the swimming pool instead. This is a good start to limit stress.

And on the other hand, physical activity provides a feeling of confidence on oneself, of being able to overcome challenges or simply difficulties, that is extremely useful to confront little daily problems that we all have.

As you can see, the key to fighting stress is nothing more than regaining certain control over our schedule or what we dedicate our time to.

The Stress of Entrepreneurs

How do entrepreneurs manage stress? I think most entrepreneurs enjoy action and love what we do (I would say it goes with the definition of entrepreneur). This level of action and stress is necessary for a startup to function, but the problem comes when it shoots up to the limit where it becomes dangerous for one’s health and so also for the business.

One of the errors that is often mentioned by the 24 entrepreneurs in Work-Life Balance: Tips From 24 Entrepreneurs Boiled Down To, by Kevin Kruse, is that there have been periods of their lives in which they have entered such a stressful work cycle that they ended up burning out. Getting burnt out is one of the main causes contributing to the failure of a startup. Many of them admit that, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, working less really improves productivity and can prevent burning out.

Sid Bharath from Thinkific shared: “We don’t realize that the more we work, the higher the chances of us running out of creative ideas and burning out.” For those like me that come from a culture in which the more one works, the better, this is still hard to assimilate… but it’s time to accept that you need time to be creative and you will only achieve it if you cut the day-to-day stress.

When they talk about tricks they use, some of them precisely talk about being physically healthy, drinking more water, applying the 80/20 rule or turning off the phone… but do you know what’s the trick that’s most mentioned by the majority? As it couldn’t be otherwise: managing one’s time.

Time Management 

  • “You schedule time for work, right? So you have to do that same for life/family.”—Benjamin Twichell, WisePops.
  • “Utilizing your calendar is everything…You treat family time/work life balance as part of your schedule!”—Nathan Chan, Foundr Magazine.
  • “I set specific times when I am working and when I will spend time with friends and family.”—Jason Quey, Cofounders With Class.
  • “I use the same system that I do at work—schedule it in! Block off times in your calendar to meet friends or family…”— Sid Bharath, Thinkific.
  • “Schedule recurring ‘family time’ in your calendar. In my house, Sundays are family days..”—Rick Perreault, Unbounce.
  • “Setting a schedule. My work day pauses at 5pm”— William Harris, Elumynt.
  • “My calendar is blocked in the afternoons for family time.”— Dennis van der Jeijden, Convert.com.

Conclusion

I have already talked about the importance of managing time to be more productive with your blog and the importance of having an editorial calendar like Nelio Content. However, corroborated by big entrepreneurs, saving time to disconnect from work and dedicating it to exercising or to social/family relationships is key for a startup to be healthy and get closer to become a success. On top of this, this is the best thing you can do to live a longer and better quality life, according to Dr. Fuster. So, what’s your excuse now?

At Nelio, we’re clear on this: we work hard in the office from 8am until 6pm. It is a priority for all of us to dedicate some time to exercising, our hobbies (check out how cool the keyboard David’s building is!) and to our family and friends.

Picture of the keyboard being built by David
Picture of the keyboard being built by David

And we don’t have any doubt that this contributes to us going to work each day with a big smile ☺️. Oh and by the way, I also found the next chapter of the book I previously mentioned very interesting 🤔.

Featured image by Ben White.

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Ruth obtained her PhD in Software Engineering at UPC and did a Master of Information Systems at DePaul University (Chicago). She has professional experience in the business world and at the University. Ruth has been University Lecturer at UPC, Vice-Dean for Corporate Relations of the Barcelona School of Informatics, and Associate Lecturer at ESADE. She specializes in software engineering and information systems management. She is also certified in Inboud Marketing.

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