Taking Time Off

With winter holidays approaching, a lot of people are taking a short break from work. Or, in the case of startup founders and many of their employees, they’re thinking about time off but not actually taking any. I think that’s a mistake.

People have preconceived notions about what counts as an appropriate work-life balance. A common opinion in Silicon Valley is that startup employees – especially founders – should focus 90% on work and 10% on life. That’s BS. As an investor, I hate seeing emails that say “I’ve been really sick this week, but don’t worry, I’m still working from home!” or _“I’m going on a 6-day trip to see family. Unfortunately, this trip was already booked by the time I started my company.” _When I read things like that, I don’t think about how dedicated the founder is; I think about how likely they are to burn out.

There’s a difference between lacking commitment and needing a break. If you’re a founder and you’re nonchalantly taking long vacations during your company’s first 6 or 12 months, that’s a red flag. However, if you have been working hard for a while and you need a break because you’re sick, or because you want to spend a week with your spouse and kids, or because you’re starting to feel burnt out and just need a few days to unwind, then that’s totally fine. If you’re choosing between burning out or taking a week off (and becoming 25% more productive for the following month as a result), then please, please, please take a little time off and don’t feel guilty about it.

While it’s an example of selection bias, a notable example of a company that succeeded without expecting crazy workweeks year-round is LinkedIn, which I joined in 2003 when it had about a dozen employees. For the two years I was there, I took a few weeks off annually, and I very rarely worked more than 40-45 hours per week. I wasn’t the exception; the rest of the engineering team, including the founding engineers, worked similar hours. That wasn’t laziness or a lack of dedication, but rather a commitment to sane schedules that maximized productive time rather than time spent in the office. Despite having a small engineering team, LinkedIn pushed out a lot of significant features during my two years there, and its member base grew by 100x. I view that as good evidence that startup teams can succeed in a big way by working smarter rather than longer.

In the long run, I think it’s very hard to build a sustainable company on top of unsustainable schedules. If you need a break, take it, and enjoy the holidays.

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