5 Startup Founders On Maintaining Mental Health While Grinding for Success

There is a way to grind and chase your goals without completely sacrificing your sleep, sanity, or general mental well-being.

By this point, it feels almost cliche to say, but it’s true: professionals are in the grips of an ongoing and perilous mental health crisis.

The primary inciting factor? We’re all working too hard. Particularly if you are a founder, it easy for your mental health to take a toll.

The Catch-22 of a Work-Hard Culture

This is something of a Catch-22. We believe––rightly, for the most part––that the best way to accomplish the things we want to accomplish is to work harder than our competition. But we also know that overworking is decidedly unhealthy. At the very least it’s making us unhappy.

See, we’re aware that life is too short to be busy all the time, but we know that if we stop to take a breath––relax with a movie or a book, or God forbid a Saturday hanging out with friends––we’ll fall behind our peers who are focused on their side hustles, their books, or those extra projects for the partner. And that feeling of falling behind? Of not living up to our potential while our peers chase their dreams? Well, that strikes us as just about the worst feeling in the world.

And so it can feel, at times, like we’re trapped.

Learning to Chase Your Goals Without Sacrificing Yourself

The truth, however, is there is a way to grind and chase your goals without completely sacrificing your sleep, sanity, or general mental well-being. In fact, a more balanced, responsible work ethic very well may prove more productive and effective in the long run. The best way to achieve your dreams, turns out, is to take measures to ensure you remain your best self.

We know this because, at Minutes, we collaborate every day with founders, C-suite executives, and New York Times bestsellers who attest to as much. These founders have achieved great things. They’ve built massively-profitable companies, competed in the Olympics, sold their massively-profitable companies–all while still protecting their happiness.

So, we rounded up what just a few of these founders have to say about maintaining mental health while grinding for success, and compiled their advice below. We hope you find it as useful as we have to protect your mental health as a founder.

— Dan Moore

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health as a Founder

1. No matter what, go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (Heidi Zak, CEO of ThirdLove).Heidi Zak, CEO of ThirdLove, on maintaining your mental health as a founder

“My normal sleep schedule is to be in bed by 10:30 p.m. and wake up around 6:30 a.m. I say “around” because I don’t use an alarm clock. My routine is so ingrained at this point that I wake up at almost the same time every morning without an alarm.

Yes, I try for eight hours of sleep a night. And many times that doesn’t happen with sending out late-night emails or being woken up by one of my kids in the middle of the night. Life happens. But if you’re able to aim for a consistent sleep routine, I’ve found it helps prevent stress and sickness.”

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2. Adopt the 80/20 principle (Sami Rusani, CRO of ShipChain).Sami Rusani, CRO of ShipChain, on maintaining your mental health as a founder

“This is when 20% of your effort produces 80% of the results. I can’t harp on time management enough. The 80/20 principle is real, and you should utilize it to become more productive.

‘Working’ all the time isn’t actually the most productive strategy. Sure, it looks impressive to people who don’t know any better, but you can get the same amount of work done by really focusing yourself for manageable periods of time.”

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3. Learn how to say ‘No’ (Sam Radocchia, Co-Founder of Chronicled).Sam Radocchia, Co-Founder of Chronicled, on maintaining your mental health as a founder

“The Art of Saying No really comes down to setting boundaries and making decisions from a place of abundance, rather than fear. When you make fear-based decisions, you’re generally thinking about missing out. Will I miss the biggest opportunity of my life by saying no? Will this client drop me? Will I lose the reference I need?

The worry that you’ll miss out on something leads you to take on everything. But when you consider decisions from a place of abundance, you think about how an opportunity will fit into your life. You consider that it might be a good option, but you realize there will be plenty more opportunities if you turn this one down. And the only way to get to that mindset of abundance is by setting boundaries.”

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4. Find what makes you feel cared for, then build a routine around it (Michael de la Maza, Co-founder, DemingWay.net).Michael de la Maza, Co-founder, DemingWay.com on maintaining your mental health as a founder

When you start to take care of yourself with the same devotion as you would a problem at work, or a big project for an important client, you’ll set yourself up for success over the long term. And especially after a particularly hectic week, a few restorative practices can help you come back first thing Monday morning, ready to go.”

5. Delegate your responsibilities at work (Taffi Dollar, CEO of Arrow Global Entertainment).Taffi Dollar, CEO of Arrow Global Entertainment, on maintaining your mental health as a founder

“Early in my career, I thought that to give up the chance to take on more was akin to forfeiting my chance at a future promotion or raise. But the truth is, if you accept more responsibility than you can reasonably handle, you’ll end up doing more damage than good. So, when you reach your breaking point, don’t try and barrel past it. Define what your boundaries are, speak up when you’ve reached them, and delegate some of your responsibilities to your people.

If this sounds hard, you’re not alone. I know many ambitious, inspired people suffer from the same false belief I sometimes suffer from, which is this idea that we have to do everything ourselves. It’s a belief compounded by the anxiety that if we’re not pushing ourselves past our limits of capacity, we’re not doing enough to get ahead or succeed. But your ambition cannot supersede the importance of maintaining your mental health. Because it’s true: at a certain point, overworking really does become unproductive.”

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By the Minutes staff

  • Originally published September 3, 2019, updated April 26, 2023