How to maintain mindfulness in your startup

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The world of startups is exciting and fast-paced, but it’s also a space where it’s easy to get caught up in the commotion and hype. Running a startup means experiencing a range of highs and lows — from closing your first sale to losing out on a major partnership, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.

Staying grounded and focused is paramount to maximising individual and team productivity and that means knowing when to have time out.

What is mindfulness and why does it matter?

Practicing mindfulness is a way to ensure you’re connected to the present moment and helps to focus your attention and actions towards productive tasks.

According to a recent KMPG survey, Aussie founders are putting in an average of 64 hours a week to their jobs. Further to this, 40% of the surveyed founders in the study reported they worked 7 days a week for at least the last three months. Combined with a lack of work-life balance, the stresses of being a founder are impacting bottom line, team satisfaction, and individual health and wellbeing. So how can founders ensure they’re looking after themselves, avoiding burnout and fostering a healthy culture in the office?

Founders in our program and the Skalata team discussed mindfulness and wellbeing in the workplace and shared helpful tips for how best to look after yourself and your team. Below is a summary of the key takeaways.

Understand the balance of ‘work-life balance’

We’re frequently told that the ‘halo ideal’ of work-life balance — being able to split your time equally between your personal and work life — is a goal that should be achievable. In most professions, and especially in startups, this is impossible.

If you’re working in a rapidly growing startup, you’re not able to predict when you will have downtime or when you’ll be at your busiest. It’s unrealistic to expect that you can maintain a 50/50 balance at all times, or even that those two spheres of your life can be completely separate, but it is possible to ensure you set time aside to ensure you’re not neglecting one or the other.

In our program, we’ve seen founders go through the highest highs and the lowest lows of their businesses, the days when they get in at 7am or when they leave just after midnight.

Most of these founders are extremely hard on themselves when they fall short in their goals and start to feel the pressure when they miss out on social gatherings with friends or dinner at home because of a looming deadline.

When times like these roll around, we encourage the founders (and ourselves!) to take a step back, reflect on how things have been prioritised or managed across both spheres, and consider what success looks like the following month (i.e. how many dinners would you like to have at home, how many morning runs would you like to complete, what work tasks can be completed now to make next month much more productive?). You won’t get it right all the time, but with practice you can find a process that suits you. More on this below.

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Shift the mental success metric from “hours worked” to “outcomes delivered”

We’ve all been there. The late nights and early mornings over weeks or months that put us in a state of delusion that make us think, while we feel (and look) like sh*t, we’re killing it because we’re doing 12-hour days, 7 days a week.

Shifting the metric of success within your team from “hours worked” to “outcomes delivered” is the best way to escape this bizarre badge of honour and avoid unnecessary guilt or stress.

Focusing on outcomes, without making the process too prescriptive, allows team members to be more creative in how they tackle challenges or projects.

It also gives them the opportunity to be flexible with where/when specific tasks are completed. For example, team members might find it more productive to work from home (or off-site) during certain hours of the day or on certain days of the week.

Within the Skalata team, we use Weekdone to help us manage workloads and outcomes. Weekdone uses the OKR framework (Objectives and Key Results) which is helpful in clarifying what we’re working towards as a team, and how we’re contributing individually to the success of the company. Every quarter we set broad objectives as a team and individually and define the key results that need to be achieved in order to reach each objective.

This system helps us to be accountable, inspired (because we can see the big picture), and focused on the key results (the smaller steps we need to take to get to our goal).

Know when it’s time to take a break…

When you start to feel overwhelmed by small tasks or can’t remember the last time you went home at a reasonable hour, you’ve past your break due-date.

Everyone responds differently to stress so it’s important to understand your own symptoms and behaviours that lead to those moments of intense stress. This will allow you to identify when you need to hit reset before you reach your breaking point.

Be mindful in noticing when you start to lose momentum and be strict enough to give yourself a break. By the same merit, if you notice someone on your team displaying the same behaviours, check in with them to see how they’re going!

…and don’t feel guilty for taking a break!

Stopping for a breather is unlikely to cause your company to go up in smoke. Self-improvement author, Dale Carnegie summarised the perfect strategy in his book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”.

Ask yourself what the worst thing is that could happen if you took some time off. Chances are, it’s never that bad, and if it is bad, it’s likely reversible.

Burning the candle at both ends can work for a short period of time, but in order to keep the momentum going, you need to switch off.

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Building a culture that encourages mindfulness and wellbeing

Educate yourself and your team about the importance of wellbeing, both as an individual and a member of your team.

Provide tools and the knowledge for your team to keep track of their goals and mindfulness and set an example with your actions whether that’s avoiding sending emails after-hours or on the weekend or constantly staying back in the office late.

Some mindfulness apps that we like for their range of meditation options (sometimes all you need is a 5-minute guided meditation!)

  • Headspace — Covers plenty of themed meditation sessions to help with stress, sleep, focus and anxiety. It’s easy to jump into with the shortest session that goes for 1 minute!

  • Smiling Mind — Also covers a range of topics to help with stress, sleep, concentration, wellbeing and more.

To encourage founders to build a healthy culture within their own teams, we recently engaged a performance expert who will provide practical guidance and advice for founders to focus on mindfulness, health and wellbeing.

Tips on re-energising and regrouping

Regrouping your thoughts and preparing yourself for the day is important in clarifying your priorities for the day and focusing your energy.

The easiest way to do this on an individual level is to set a daily routine for yourself.

It could be reading for half an hour before bed, writing in a gratitude journal, aromatherapy sessions, meditation in the morning or making sure you get 8 hours of sleep every night.

As a team, make sure you have practices in place to help your team refocus, whether that’s through a lunchtime fitness class, a casual catch-up session to clarify priorities or a policy around how to manage emails.

At Skalata, we encourage our team to get a workout in during the day so that they can take the opportunity to step away from their desk and refocus. When we have a big deadline, we’ll often block out 2–3 hours in our calendars to ensure no meetings can be scheduled during this time.

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Summary

At the end of the day, your ability to perform well in your job is dependent on you being in a productive and attentive state of mind. Looking after yourself first will allow you to be more present and effective at work (and at home), will improve your decision-making abilities and will foster a positive culture within your team.

Knowing when it’s time to take a break, implementing strict routines for checking in with yourself and your team, and understanding that it’s okay to not be operating at 100% every hour of every day is the first step in becoming a more mindful leader and team member.

So, take a deep breath, look out the window (if you have one), and leave before 6pm tonight. I promise your work will still be there in the morning.

JASMIN CHIA
This article originally appeared on Medium.com