Summary: At a startup is there ever really such thing as “downtime”? How about “work / life” balance? The lines don’t exist for entrepreneurs, and is increasingly blurring in other jobs as well. Here’s a different way to think about what it all means.E-mail. Tweet. http://rdean.me/wlbmyth

As an entrepreneur, your work and your life are intertwined, there is no such thing as a “balance” between them. You’ve made immense personal sacrifice, ask much of those people near and dear to you, so anyone who tells you you need to make crisper distinctions, simply doesn’t understand what it takes, and what you’ve signed up for. Yes, taking a “job” is different, but startups demand this level of effort.

Moreover, this type of lifestyle is increasingly seeping into the mainstream. Given the nature of mobility devices (laptops, iPads, smartphones), connecting us ubiquitously wherever and whenever (including planes and trains) we are. This shift will change the very nature of work, and in turn blur the lines of work and life, the way most entrepreneurs face it.

So what does that really mean? The best metaphor I can use is pro sports, and with basketball and football seasons in full swing, I thought I’d illustrate what I mean using those as analogies.

1) Being in the game / on the field

These are the times you’re really “in the zone”, that’s in the office, building or selling products, or just being “in the game”, kicking ass and taking names by giving it your all out effort. By any definition an outsider can give, this is “doing work“. To most outsiders their definition of work begins and ends here; where most productivity gurus will focus on optimizing this aspect alone, and anything outside of this is considered “work”. But, as we know with entrepreneurs, and pro athletes, it doesn’t end there.

2) Resting while on the court

Then, there are all of the peripheral activities that you do, that are hardly seen as “essential” to the core objectives, but you go through each day, and no one would define as “personal time”. These are moments where you find “breaks in the action”, and you can use to quickly regroup your thoughts and prepare for the next set of time on the court. Such things include:

  • Lunch with co-workers
  • Some of those extra meetings discussing operations, facilities, or other matters
  • Speaking engagements, interviews, and even blogging

Yup, I said it. Some may take offense to these things, but realistically, while important and helpful, are not essential to your core business of building and selling stuff.

3) On the bench

There are also those times when you’re definitively “out of the game”, but are actively observing, preparing, and getting ready for your stint back on the court / on the field. This can include activities like commuting / travel, organizing your notes, preparing for an interview, or your Sunday night prep. Again, it’s all necessary and unavoidable, but you’ll definitely take on a different level of involvement than #1 & #2, but again are not considered “personal time”.

4) In practice / film room

These are the times you spend honing your skills,, dissecting what went right / wrong, and generally preparing for your next time back in the game. To me this is the time I spend reading relevant blogs / business books, attending conferences, researching competitors, playing with other products in the industry, and general networking events. To some extent some major internal strategic planning  sessions, or personnel reviews, could fall into this category as well.

5) Day off

Then there are the times where you need to unplug completely from anything related to your “job”. These can be daily activities like working out, or having a meal with people you care about. However, this can also be the more mundane stuff like doing laundry, paying bills, and generally making sure your personal life doesn’t collapse. The best example of this is when it comes in the form of quality time allowing you to reconnect and recharge over a longer period, like taking a Saturday evening out, a lazy Sunday with family & friends, or perhaps even a “vacation”.

6) Off season

When a real, longer break in the action comes your way, you can treat it as a longer “vacation”; however, the best players use the time to do extra preparation, training, and development of new skills. Think of this as the equivalent of an academic sabbatical. While it doesn’t have to be as exotic as Steve Jobs’ learning calligraphy, or taking spiritual enlightenment trips to India, there are many other examples, ranging from taking a trip, a class, working with other companies, or as I did: went to business school.

Other states

There are many other states, while you’re on the job (i.e. that do not fall well into states #1 – #5). They can be such things as:

  • Injured reserve (sick days)
  • Post-game celebration (co-worker bonding)
  • Community work such as working with other startups, directly, or through various incubators and academic institutions…some may call this “in the game”, but it’s likely because they do it better than I do
  • Oh yeah, and sleep…but only a little bit
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