Working 80-hour weeks makes you a bad CEO: How to set and keep boundaries as an entrepreneur


We’re not a big fan of conventional wisdom about entrepreneurship at Doyenne.

That’s because most of the conventional “wisdom” is built on the assumption that an entrepreneur is a man who has a stay-at-home partner who manages the household and provides care for the kids. According to this model, a “real” entrepreneur puts the business before everything else in life and works 80 hours a week.

We believe this attitude creates toxic and unproductive business relationships and decisions. It stifles the creative thinking required of the entrepreneurial journey. In other words, this notion that you are your best entrepreneur when you do nothing else in your life — it’s bullshit!

Research shows that driving while tired is just as bad as driving while drunk. The results can be deadly. So how are you supposed to make good business decisions if you don’t sleep? But our culture fully condones running a business while tired to the point of exhaustion. The math just doesn’t add up.

And, it isn’t just sleep we are supposed to sacrifice…it’s time with our families, commitments to our faith communities, exercise, doctor’s appointments, hobbies, TV, books…hell, even eating is a luxury under this ridiculous approach. Either you are passionate and committed to the business OR you aren’t. There isn’t a middle ground, only the constant struggle to pretend you have balance.

Who in the world wants to be this person or live this life?!? Women, in particular, are put in a double-bind. They are expected to be fully committed to our work, but also considered horrible wives and mothers if we are. It can be a no-win situation.

Women are told we need to be there for our kids, but that we need to put our business first in order to be taken seriously as entrepreneurs (or in any other leadership role). For moms, the message often gets framed in a way that communicates that parenting duties are the only semi-legitimate duties worth taking a break from entrepreneurship. But that’s just not true. For one, parenting is work! If you’re only “giving yourself a break” to take care of your kids, then you’re not actually giving yourself a break. You don’t have to be productive every minute of every day. There are lots of legitimate reasons to set the work aside — including wanting to watch TV with your husband.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom, or you love kickboxing, or both — you need to have a balanced life with interests and time spent outside of work. There is a business case for having a life outside your business and caring for yourself.

  • Engaging with people who don’t give a shit about your work helps keep you humble and gives you perspective. Let’s be real. The whole world does not revolve around your business, but it can begin to feel that way if you never leave. Perspective on yourself and your venture helps you think more clearly.
  • Committing genuine, meaningful time to your other roles (parent, friend, community member) can reduce the stress of trying to fake those roles — spend some time doing it right rather than time pretending to do it right. And, do it for yourself as much as for them. I take time to be with my kids because I want/need it, even if they don’t.
  • Challenging yourself with favorite hobbies or new activities keeps your brain from getting into a rut. You can find new ways of looking at or approaching problems in your business. Newsflash: Entrepreneurship requires creative problem-solving.
  • Eating is critical. Seriously. Hangry people can’t think, make mountains out of molehills, and often make poor decisions.
  • Having fun makes you a better person and helps you build work environments where people thrive, not just survive.

Many entrepreneurs leave the corporate environment to get away from these exact cultural norms. But when they start their own gig, they find that the entrepreneurial world — at least in the U.S. — has the same unhealthy pressures. They replicate the same norms in their business that they were trying to leave because these ideas are so ingrained into our idea of what it means to be a responsible person and to run a good business.

At Doyenne, one of our guiding principles states that entrepreneurship happens in a life, not the other way around.

We have a culture of taking pride in the wrong things, like working straight through the weekend and never taking vacation. Our culture celebrates practices that are simply bad for business. So when we say entrepreneurship happens in a life, we’re rejecting these bad business practices.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be your best self. And to be at your best, you need to learn how to set and keep boundaries. No one else will set boundaries for you, but if you establish them and follow them, the people you work with will get on board and make the necessary adjustments.

Here are some tips on how to set and keep boundaries:

1. Don’t respond to email on vacation

When I am on vacation, I tune completely out of email. It’s crucial to my health and my success as a business leader for me to get that space. We made the decision that Doyenne would shut down for the first two weeks of July and the last two weeks of December. Everyone knows that nothing gets done during those two periods in the U.S., yet most businesses continue to stay open. The notion that the world is going to crash if we take a semi-annual break — that’s nonsense. That’s fiction.

If you have a hard time not looking at email when you’re on vacation, you may need to acknowledge that you have an addiction. You have a need to be always “on,” and it isn’t healthy.

2. Respect others’ vacations and set a good example as a manager

When I know that someone I work closely with is on vacation, I make a note to not email them until they return. I set a reminder on my calendar to speak with them after their vacation. Keeping work out of your weekends and vacations is a two-way street. If you want your own personal time to be respected, you need to respect that of the people you work with.

There are many tools that can help with this, from reminders on your smartphone to email schedulers (Boomerang is one example) that allow you to draft an email and schedule it to send during an appropriate time. So even if you need to do work on a weekend, perhaps to catch up from taking a few necessary days off earlier in the week, you can schedule the emails to arrive when the recipient is back at work.

3. Don’t let your email dictate your daily rhythm

OK, I know I’m talking a lot about email, but it’s important. Too many entrepreneurs let their email inbox dictate their priorities for the day, because our culture has enforced this idea that every email must be responded to within 24 hours. But not every email is equally important. And even “important” emails can take a backseat to some entrepreneurial duties, like long-term planning. If I’m focused on strategy, you may not hear from me for a bit, and that’s OK.

4. Don’t get caught in an emotional spin cycle

Often, the reason we can’t let work go and ignore our own boundaries is because we get caught up in our emotions. We get upset about something and wonder how to fix it, what’s the right thing to say. But we stay there for days, or a week, just drowning in drama, getting nowhere.

Don’t do that. If you’ve spent more than 24 hours in constant worry about something, you need to seek an outside perspective. If at all possible, you should develop a few professional and personal allies that you can turn to in these moments — someone you can call and say, “I’m starting to swirl, I need 30 minutes of your time to get me off this ledge.” You need to free yourself from that swirling cycle of wasted energy.

5. Believe that taking time for yourself is productive

Doing nothing, for a change, can be the biggest boost to your overall productivity. As humans, we need downtime. I’m a highly productive person, so I completely understand the pressure to always be doing something. I have a to-do list that goes on for miles. But when I get to the end of a tough week, I’m going to give myself a beverage, sit down and play Tetris on my phone and I won’t feel guilty about that for half a second. If my husband says ‘What about the weeds?’ I’m going to say — this is Tetris and whiskey sour time. I will defend my downtime because I know it helps me be a bring my best self to everything I do.

Life first, business second

When people don’t step away from their work, they don’t see clearly. They miss opportunities. They let small obstacles become insurmountable barriers. They don’t understand what’s a fire to put out and what’s a major strategic move. And, worst of all, they miss out on their lives.

Self-care is about bringing your A game to the work. What do you need to bring your A game? I don’t think it’s no sleep, no time with your family, or skipping meals. The truth is: you’re worth it. Your health and happiness is worth setting and keeping boundaries around your personal time. But we know that message isn’t strong enough, so we’ll end with the one we know hits home: Not taking care of yourself makes you a bad CEO.

At Doyenne, we try our best to model this belief and we coach our members to do so as well. We will always support our entrepreneurs in their efforts to live a full life and build a business that works for them.