Most people (including many of my friends, peers, investors) think startup work-life balance is about time – like it’s an 8 hour day or something. But they are ALL wrong. Let me digress and come back.
I loved my teenage years. But, when I describe them to other people, most people think they sounded horrible. Why? Because I did homework all the time. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t hang out with friends outside of school. I didn’t watch TV or movies (I think The X-Files was popular sometime in those years, but to this day, I still don’t know whether Mulder/Sculley was the guy or the chick.) I spent most Friday nights doing math. And I programmed for fun. My parents aren’t Tiger parents. I just loved it. That WAS BALANCE to me. Would I have wanted to take 4 more AP classes? Hell no. I would’ve broken down. Would I wanted to have gone to parties. Absolutely not – I wouldn’t have had time to work on our robots. Spending that rough amount of time compartmentalized in that way was right for me. It made me happy. Things progressed and went well on all fronts. But, this kind of schedule wouldn’t have been right for other people. I know lots of people who had this kind of schedule growing up and hated it. That’s too bad. Looking back, it was clearly wrong for them. Conversely, I have other friends who spent way more time studying and on their geeky hobbies than I did and equally loved their time. I wouldn’t have been able to have had their schedules, but it was the right balance for them.
So, going back to the startup work-life balance issue. On one hand, you have this article which talks about Elon Musk taking one vacation in the past four years – as if that’s an unbalanced bad thing. Frankly, it sounds to me like he doesn’t need vacation very often. That IS BALANCE to him! On the other hand, Ryan Carson often describes his 4-day week, and that’s balance to him. Both Musk and Carson are manning fast-moving ships. Balance isn’t something you can quantify as a set amount of time.
Some people work more quickly than others. Some people think more quickly than others. Let me dive into something concrete. People in our industry seem to applaud all-nighters. Every time you pull an all-nighter, it could be that you don’t need much sleep, and that your optimal achievement-level is on very little sleep. But, it could also mean that you’re just a lot dumber and less efficient than your peers who could do the same thing without pulling an all-nighter. I’ve certainly pulled lots of all-nighters at LaunchBit that made me feel super slow the next day. Clearly, that’s not my optimal point on a regular basis. We need to think about what schedule is optimal for each of us on an individual level.
So let’s STOP talking about work-life balance in terms of 8-hour days or some other arbitrary fixed amount of time. Let’s START talking about how we can all find more productivity on an individual level while keeping the ship moving quickly, having fun, and without breaking ourselves.