How entrepreneurs can pay attention to mental health in four steps

How can entrepreneurs focus on mental health?

Anyone who starts a company is typically a determined, resilient person. Founders — myself included — are very good at focusing on mental performance: investing in coaching, optimising our schedule to maximise productivity etcetera. But that’s just one part of keeping mentally healthy.

The other two parts are mental health and mental wellbeing. You can’t just invest in one area and leave the other two on the sidelines. Just like you wouldn’t invest solely in sales and pay no attention to marketing or product development.

It is particularly important for entrepreneurs to look after their mental health for several reasons. For a start, the mental health of the founder impacts the entire company, the workplace environment, even the company culture. It affects your team’s wellbeing, and eventually their performance. But more importantly because it’ll mean you’re able to keep doing what you love — keep working on and building your business — for longer, without burning out.

I host conferences for tech entrepreneurs and over the last two years I’ve noticed that this has become a topic that people are taking a keener interest in. I have been asked several times whether we are hosting talks around founder-mental-health. So, this year at our first SaaStock Remote event, we are working this into our content.

Here are my four top tips for entrepreneurs to help you stay healthy on the journey.

1. Look after your body

For me, this means two things: sleep and exercise.

I exercise four to five times a week to kick-start my day, because I’ve found it helps to boost my mood, reduces stress, and improves my focus.

As for sleep, I prioritise getting eight hours of sleep a night. This takes quite a lot of work to get right. At the end of each workday at 05:30 I write down my top three priorities for the next day so it’s not playing on my mind all night, and I try and do a digital detox from 8:00pm to help me disconnect and unwind.

I speak with lots of founders who fall into the pattern of working longer and longer hours, neglecting exercise and sleep, but that’s a very short-term mindset. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s essential to look after yourself during the journey.

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2. Look after your mind

I had a fascinating interview recently with Rui Brandao, founder of Zenklub, who is a doctor-turned startup founder, about why it’s so important to look after our emotional wellbeing. It feels like only recently has it become acceptable for founders to start talking about their mental health.

Entrepreneurship is mentally and emotionally draining sometimes, so for me there’s a couple of things I do: daily meditation, and also journaling my priorities for the week ahead. I find the combination helps me stay focused, and not get too caught up in the highs and lows that really take a toll on your headspace.

3. Don’t go it alone

Entrepreneurship can feel like a lonely path — especially if you’re a sole founder. But it doesn’t have to be.

I host The SaaS Revolution Show podcast and the last question I ask every guest is ‘what do you do to stay healthy and sane on this journey’. The most common response I get is that they have a good support network in place: colleagues, investors, advisors, startup coaches or mentors.

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4. Take time off

This is the most important thing I’ve learned since founding SaaStock. I can’t work 16-hour days, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. No-one can. You might be able to sustain that intensity for a few weeks or months, but eventually you’ll burn out.

For me, I make sure I disconnect on weekends: unless it’s absolutely necessary I don’t work at the weekend. Instead I spend time with my family, and I make the effort to be present for them. Work will still be there on Monday morning!

Written by Alex Theuma, founder and CEO of SaaStock, a global series of SaaS conferences, and host of The SaaS Revolution Show Podcast

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