Note to readers: Hello world is a program that developers run to check if a newly installed programming language is working alright. Startups and tech companies are continuously launching new software to run the real world. This column will attempt to be the "Hello World" for the real world.
At the beginning of this year, I asked the founder of a well-known startup how they managed to balance work timings. Not just on a personal level but at the company. You see there are different types of people who end up at a startup. Some like to work in the morning. Some at night. Some on weekends and some don’t. It’s easy to deal with the ones that don’t. But how do you accommodate the folks who are really good at their work but won’t keep to the office hours? In fact, many of us are productive outside of office hours and that’s also one of the reasons we choose to work at startups instead of companies.
Of late, we’ve started noticing that the lines between our personal life and professional life have started blurring. Being remote means you’re using some kind of a collaboration tool. I exaggerate. WhatsApp mostly. And the pings and the dings never stop. It gets worse in startups where work timings aren’t fixed. The folks who’re working outside 9-5, five days a week, will ping you on weekends and late at night. And of course, customers don’t like waiting either. So you feel like you’re on an endless work hamster wheel. Clearly, this can’t be good for your mental health.
If you’re lucky, you don’t draw a line between personal and professional. I guess you could say that you found your Ikigai — or the intersection of what you love doing and what you’re paid to do and what the world needs. And you may not care about these boundaries when you’re in that place. But the hard truth is that a majority of us did not find that sweet spot the first time around. We’ve all had to go through a few hoops to get there. And how do you not bungle your mental health in the process?
So the usual tips to make work-life better are simple to follow. Start by setting expectations right. The founder I talked about earlier had one rule: you can work at whatever time you like to. But in a four-hour window between 11.30 am and 3.30 pm, everyone was expected to be in the office or at their work desk. Exceptions are of course fine. It worked perfectly well for the startup. Personally, you can turn off notifications and let everyone know when you’re taking time off or need distraction-free time.
Some hygiene with respect to communication and collaboration also really helps. As Nir Eyal, the best-selling author of Hooked told me, “use meetings to arrive at a consensus or make decisions.” And not to brainstorm. Meetings are best when everyone is already on the same page. Amazon follows this really well. Sometimes to a fault but it works. When using collaboration tools, a senior manager at my workplace told me, “Don’t just say hi and run away.” Context is everything. So if you can write a crisp note, even if it’s on WhatsApp or Slack, it gets the job done and saves a lot of back and forth.
On the personal front, staying active, clean eating, limiting media consumption, and several other habits can help. But also, being aware of your mental health and seeking professional help is really important.
Lastly, but importantly, earmark time to spend with your family. As management guru Clay Christiensen says, some very successful people screw up their personal life because they don’t spend time with their family. You can have the best strategy in the world but if you don’t allocate resources to it, it will fail. In this case, the resource is time and most people don’t consciously allocate time to the family (sometimes just doing chores) because it doesn’t give you immediate gratification. But if you neglect it over a period of time, relationships will break and they can’t be put back.(Jayadevan PK is a former technology journalist and recovering startup founder. He now works with Freshworks Inc as an evangelist, focusing on efforts around brand building. He’s also a commissioned author at HarperCollins.)