FounderFuel: Give yourself permission to take a break

Going back a few weeks, I’m working with a brilliant group of founders in Lisbon doing our FounderFuel training. We’ve explored what it means to really perform as a founder and be in that flow state, we’ve talked about the stresses and pressure of founderhood. Now we’re stood discussing the Recovery Zone on a giant floor matrix.

Every founder can name what their preferred rest and recovery activity is.

Every founder has committed to a small step to support their recovery.

Yet none of this will work unless we tackle the elephants in the room: Elephant 1 – we are (often viscerally) driven to do what we do; Elephant 2 – Guilt…

Guilt that we should be working.

Guilt that we should be doing more.

Guilt that resting might look bad (to our team, our investors, to… frankly… anyone)

And these thoughts are getting in the way of performing, and performing sustainably, on this marathon that is founderhood.

Understanding sustainable performance

Performing as a founder can mean many things: being able to do our best work, responding in the optimum way with a team member, or being resilient and responsive when the chips are down. All forms require energy. To do it sustainably over time, you need to manage energy – a philosophy borne out of the work by performance psychologist Jim Loehr and Tony Schwart: Sustainable performance comes from proactively managing our energy from sprint to recovery and back again – just like an athlete.

Unfortunately, recovery is still labelled as lazy or indulgent, rather than an integral part of performance. Yet, we implicitly know we can’t sprint or lift weights all the time when it comes to physical performance, so why do we not give our mental and cognitive performance the same grace?

We need to tackle the guilt.

Fight your gremlins

We all have an internal voice. Let’s face it, it is often not especially nice or useful. Hence my usual analogy of gremlins (…fellow 80s kids… not the fluffy sweet ones). We need to understand these gremlins to combat them. So, what do your gremlins say to you…

…when you try to take time off?

“I’ve got too much to do… I’ve got to get X done first… I can’t take a break when the team are working…”

These are the gremlins that stop you planning and taking a break, always kicking it down the road until you burn out.

…when you are taking a break?

“I’ll just quickly check my emails… I’ll just make sure nothing has gone wrong… I’ll just use this quiet time to do a couple of things…”

These gremlins fight against your willpower… nudging you to slip back to work. But when you do, it pulls your brain to work mode and undoes all the hard work of rest so far.

Give yourself permission to rest

Armed with the philosophy of sustainable performance – you have the ammunition to defend your need to rest. Give yourself permission to lean into it and that’s how we fight the gremlins.

Grab them by the scruff of the neck and tell them how important rest is to being a great founder, to doing great things and to coming back stronger. If you need evidence to fight back – in a 2017 experiment covered by the HBR, employees were forced to be completely offline when off (if they broke the rules they would not get paid for their holiday). After the trial, managers rated employee productivity, creativity, and happiness before and after: Creativity surged 33%, happiness went up 25%, and productivity increased by 13%.

For fighting back you’re using cognitive replacements – when the gremlin says “You should be working over lunch” you’re saying, “No, I should be giving my brain a rest right now, so I can work much more effectively this afternoon”. Use that founder willpower to keep repeating it too – that way, it starts becoming habit.

And make it purposeful recovery

Watch out for pretend recovery – like watching TV whilst clearing our emails. This is literally the worst of both worlds – we’re slower at the emails and not actually giving the brain a break to slip into rest mode either. It’s easy to find yourself here when the gremlin voices get too loud.

So, resist the temptation and be purposeful with the time you take. If an hour watching your latest Netflix series will recharge you take it purposefully and guilt free. If finishing an hour early to play with your kids will fuel you, do it and leave the phone somewhere else. Flick away any of those negative thoughts suggesting you should do just one more thing and surrender to your rewarding recovery time. That’s the only way we tap into the brain’s brilliant downtime software.


Written by Christina Richardson, founder at weare3Sixty
Founder coach & trainer | Startup exec-team coach | FounderCircle® creator & head-coach. Passionate about sustainable founder performance, wellbeing and the leadership transition from founder to C-suite.

About the FounderFuel Series: Actionable tools and bite-sized insights to empower entrepreneurs and founders to get the best from themselves and those around them as startup and scaleup leaders. Get the fuel direct to your inbox by signing up here.

At weare3Sixty we believe in supporting the humans behind the world’s ambitious startups and our mission is to make sure that every founder and startup leader in the ecosystem has the support and skills to reach their full potential as resilient, high-performing leaders.

Here you’ll find 1:1 founder coaching, team coaching and team training all dedicated to the unique ride that is starting up and scaling up. Not only that, with our group-coaching FounderCircles® you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of other talented founders on the journey too – all committed to fuelling themselves, their teams and each other for the ride.

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