As a sports psychologist, I help the best athletes and high achievers in the world perform at their peak by leveraging their unfair advantage. I’ve worked closely with elite teams and performers across the NBA, NFL, Olympics, and Army Special Forces. In this four-part series (kicked off in the article Are you a stressed out CEO? 4 Proven Tactics from Elite Athletes), I’m excited to share my insights from working with these professional athletes— tailored to empower startup founders to perform at their best and achieve unparalleled success.
In the world of pro-athletes, the value of hard work is undeniably crucial, yet the top players also recognize the significance of rest and recovery. Interestingly, this principle holds equal weight for startup founders. Contrary to common misconceptions, regular breaks from work and engaging in rejuvenating activities are not mere interruptions to your work. They’re an investment in future performance. The data bears this out. We know that leaders who are well recovered have higher performing teams and that workers who are well recovered are more likely to be engaged in the next work period.
We also know that there’s little added productivity beyond the normal working week, and that when knowledge workers go over 60 hours in a week, their productivity actually falls about 25%. High levels of stress can lead to burnout and decreased productivity. This graph from Daniel Cook’s Rules of Productivity says it all:
Recovery in the NBA
Just as NBA players take days off between games and engage in regular recovery practices like yoga, founders also need days off and time away. This time away prevents burnout, refuels energy, and leads to better productivity and performance over the long-term. It can also boost creative thinking and problem-solving and lead to healthier dynamics amongst the team, which can raise team performance over the long-term.
Though sports has glorified the grind in popular media, writers often leave out how much recovery time the all-time greats had. Kobe Bryant would shoot in the early hours of the morning, but then he’d take a nap before doing anything again. This bout of hard work paired with recovery led to faster growth, prevented burnout, and turned him into a hall-of-famer.
As entrepreneurs, if you want to sustain high performance over the long haul, you need to engage the same practices pro players use to get through a full career.
Here are a few things you can do to build more recovery into your life
- Block out 8 hours to sleep– Quality sleep is a non-negotiable cornerstone for startup founders seeking optimal performance. The entrepreneurial journey is inherently demanding, and a well-rested mind is better equipped to navigate challenges, make strategic decisions, and foster creativity. Adequate sleep not only enhances cognitive functions but also fortifies emotional resilience, allowing founders to tackle setbacks with clarity and determination.
- Take 10-15 minute breaks between meetings– For startup founders, the relentless pace of back-to-back meetings can quickly lead to burnout and diminished productivity. Taking breaks between meetings is not a luxury but a strategic necessity. These short intervals offer a vital opportunity for mental reset and renewal.
- Come up with a pre-work and post-work routine– In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, where boundaries can easily blur, these routines serve as essential bookends to the day. A purposeful pre-work routine allows founders to set intentions, prioritize tasks, and mentally transition into work mode. Conversely, a post-work routine facilitates a deliberate shift away from professional responsibilities, enabling a smoother transition into personal time.
- Practice meditation, breathwork, or yoga– Amidst the chaos of decision-making and constant innovation, these practices provide a grounded space for self-reflection, allowing founders to approach challenges with heightened creativity and a centered perspective. Ultimately, yoga and meditation become indispensable tools for startup founders, promoting holistic well-being and fortifying the mental fortitude required for sustained success.
About the Auther:
Dr. Alex Auerbach is a performance psychologist with over 10 years of experience working with professional athletes, Olympians, elite military units, and start-up founders. He’s also the Chief Medical Officer of the Founder Mental Health Pledge, a non-profit dedicated to helping founders improve their mental health. Dr. Auerbach received a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and is a Board Certified Coach and Certified Mental Performance Consultant.