I do a lot of things. You probably do, too (since you’re reading a productivity blog, I can make that inference quite readily.)
Sometimes, I think about what I’d do if I had a less demanding career. Would I spend all that time reading classic Irish literature?
In reality, I’d probably fill my time with equally demanding hobbies or projects. It’s the Type A personality in me, something very common in tech and digital spaces.
With that in mind, it’s imperative to build some daily practices to rest, recover, and recharge. It’s absolutely impossible to have your nose to the grindstone at all times. The body is not a productivity machine, despite the best intentions of some corporate productivity gurus and toxic management teams.
Also, tons of research has shown that sleep improves decision making, the productivity curve slopes off after a certain number of hours, and better rested people are generally more productive people.
Still, it’s something tons of people (myself included) struggle with, so I wanted to share some tips that have helped me recharge as I work on growth at HubSpot, grow a content agency, and find time to see friends and family.
7 Tips for Rest and Recovery for Busy Entrepreneurs
1. Clearly delineate your working and non-working hours and working and non-working spaces
As a remote worker and as a founder, it’s nearly impossible to delineate my day between ‘working’ and ‘not working.’ While I love my flexibility, it’s constantly a battle for me to guard my down time. Especially during busy times (which seem to occur quite regularly), I can push myself beyond my desired cutoff point, working late into the night.
This affects my sleep, causing me to wake up more exhausted the next day, which causes a negative feedback loop of stress, caffeine, late nights, and repeated nights of poor sleep.
All you need to do to throw a wrench in this downward spiral is to hold yourself to a cutoff point, where you won’t do any work after a specific time. Could be 6pm for you. Could be that you work from 9am until noon and then from 6pm until 10pm. I’m not here to pick your schedule for you, but it’s very important that you pick times to work and times not to work and guard that downtime for your sanity and your own productivity. Everything else on this list is sort of secondary to the simple act of guarding your downtime, which is really aimed at preventing burnout.
Clearly defining when you’re working vs. not working goes beyond timing, though.
Mark Lindquist, marketing strategist at Mailshake, believes in the importance of having a separate space dedicated to work. “I work from my apartment most days, but I rarely work from my couch, and I never work in my bedroom,” according to Mark.
“I have a desk in a section of my living room, and I make sure to use that space for work, and only work. I really believe it’s important to get into the right mindset for work, and for relaxing. If you’re sending mixed signals to your brain and body that you’re in one mode when you’re trying to get into the other, you’ll suffer on both.”
2. Have a hobby stripped from “productive” goals
I typically end every year with a review of the past year as well as goals for the upcoming one. Until recently, I realized that I had really concrete, time-based goals for many of my hobbies (“get this level in krav maga by X date,” “be a B2 in Spanish by March 1st”). I also realized that took a lot of the fun out of doing them.
I like learning new things just for fun that don’t even have an indirect goal of helping my career or with self-improvement. That’s important. I do this with language acquisition (learned Spanish and now working on German). My current curiosity is with art. I’m a terrible artist, but I’ve gotten by through judicious use of graphic design tools and Canva and other alternatives.
However, I’ve been visiting tons of art and design museums lately and have been getting more and more interested in giving it a crack myself. Heck, it worked for Winston Churchill and George W Bush.
My business partner and colleague David Ly Khim also made the good point that the simple act of doing things outside of your jobs does typically indirectly help you at work too:
"It's often said that creativity is the ability to combine disparate concepts and ideas to create something novel or original. Hobbies outside of your day job help with that. The benefit of engaging in various activities is you flex different parts of your brain and different modes of thinking. This means you have different contexts to pull ideas from and see different angles to approach a problem you might face at work."
But don’t go sailing or skiing just because you think it’ll make you more creative at work, please.
3. Try more relaxing social gatherings
The typical hard driving urban lifestyle comes with a typical motto: work hard, play hard.
It’s a lifestyle driven by FOMO; you’ve got to be crushing it, from your morning workout, through your 10+ hour work day, up until your industry happy hour, and all of that floods into the weekend unmarred by any social pressure or boundaries.
Social activities then turn into just another exhausting corporatist checklist item draining you of energy.
The remedy isn’t to eliminate social activities; it’s to turn them into something a bit more relaxing.
Instead of the same-old, same-old, do something creative and fun: top golf, go karts, hikes, etc.
Personally, I’ve been enjoying more live music with mixed groups of friends and colleagues, crawfish boils, and definitely more time spent at kava bars.
4. Go to a sauna
One of my favorite places in the whole wide world right now is Generator Athlete Lab in Austin, Texas.
It’s an athletic recovery facility complete with an infrared sauna, ice bath, hot tub, vibration plate, and normatec compression therapy (plus recovery-based drinks and supplements).
I go several times per week, between meetings and at the end of a long day. It’s been absolutely revolutionary for my sleep and overall health.
Part of it is the social aspect - it’s 1-2 hours without looking at your phone or staring at a spreadsheet.
Part of it is physiological. Sauna use has tons of empirical evidence for heart health, longevity, and well-being.
There are tons of other recovery based activities you can engage in, from sauna to cryotherapy to float tanks to kayaking and more. In reality, a long walk in the sun can do the same thing for your health.
Meditation was probably the single biggest positive change I’ve added to my life.
From a very surface level perspective, setting aside ten to twenty minutes per day to focus on my breath is a benefit in itself. I’m sure it lowers blood pressure and whatever else meditation has been empirically shown to do.
To be honest, I don’t even care that much about the research or tactical benefits though – meditation has changed how I view emotions, thoughts, the world, and consciousness. It’s a profound lens with which you can view the world.
I know it’s en vogue now to talk about meditation with regards to its productivity boost or its stress reducing benefits. I implore you to look beyond those benefits and avoid looking at meditation as another tool in the product person’s tool belt. Look at it as a method of contemplation and a deeper way to interact with the world and your own thoughts.
It does, however, help you rest, recover, and sleep, so it absolutely needs to be on this list.
6. Let go
One thing I’ve learned since starting Omniscient Digital is I’m my own worst enemy. In other words, I tend to push myself too far, try to control too much, and put far too much on my own plate.
The best thing I’ve learned from a tactical management perspective this year is how to “scale myself,” or in other words, let go of things I can’t control or shouldn’t be working on.
There are a few ways you can do this:
- Automate stuff
- Delegate or hire people for stuff
- Just don’t do certain things
I’ve done a ton of automation work. We automate most aspects of our reporting for clients. At HubSpot, a massive part of my job is automating things and finding a more efficient way to do them (i.e. leverage).
I also love tools that reduce my cognitive load. Shift is one of them. I have like 8 different email accounts, so it helps to have everything in one place.
This is new to me, because I’ve got that Midwestern roll up your sleeves work ethic. “It will only take 30 minutes,” I used to tell myself. No longer! Now, it doesn’t matter how long it will take – if it’s an opportunity cost (i.e. if it’s not the most important thing I could be doing), I hire it out.
In fact, a heuristic I have is that the longer something takes, the more likely it is that I should be the one doing it (the logic being that shorter things are easier and tend to be repeatable, and thus, teachable).
Finally, I’ve learned to “let things that don’t matter truly slide.” If something stays on my to-do list for longer than 3-4 weeks, I just cut it. I don’t feel any guilt in removing something from my list, particularly if my behavioral data (my not doing the task) has empirically shown me that I don’t care about it and it probably doesn’t matter.
7. Sleep more
Sleeping is my biggest pain point. I’ve got the type of mind that is constantly turning, so sleep has always been difficult. It’s also the biggest focus for me right now. Why? It affects everything else.
If I want to be in peak physical fitness, sleep is the bottleneck.
If I want to make excellent decisions, sleep is imperative.
If I want to be a good friend, business partner, and employee, sleep will be crucial.
There are many books and blogs written about sleep, so I certainly can’t summarize everything here. However, here are the biggest things that have worked for me:
- Stop working at least one hour before bed (preferably 2+)
- Don’t look at screens (phone, laptop) 1 hour before bed (preferably 2+)
- Red lights in your bedroom before bed
- No caffeine after 2pm
- Get exercise and sun during the day
- Read before bed
Other than that, don’t stress it much. When you put sleep on a pedestal and have all these weird idiosyncratic routines, you turn it into just another Type A game to be won. Ironically, that’s when you have the hardest time sleeping. So just don’t think about it too much and try to sleep more.
Recovery is massively important, and you’ll make better business decisions when rested and recharged. You’ll also just feel better.
It can be hard for ambitious people to unwind. There are many ways to do it. I gave you some of my favorites here on this list, but I’m sure you can find your own. The important thing is action though. Just put a bigger focus on recovery, and you’ll come up with some magic of your own.