Back when I was a young entrepreneur, I spent nearly every waking moment working on my startup. There was always more I could do, so I shunned time with friends thinking it “wasteful” and “unproductive.”

Maintain a Work / Life Balance as a Startup Founder

How wrong I was.

Seeing friends regularly provides as much happiness as an extra $97,000 per year in earnings.

The science of positive psychology has taught us a lot about the importance and power of friendship. A study in the UK showed that seeing friends regularly provides as much happiness as an extra $97,000 per year in earnings.

“Yes Chris,” you might say, “But $97,000 is chump change in comparison to the good I’m trying to bring about in the world. Taking that time away from my company would be selfish.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The work of performance psychologist Jim Loehr has established that business athletes are like sports athletes. We’re more productive when we alternate focused sprints and recovery time, rather than when we try to gut out 100-hour weeks. Meanwhile, K. Anders Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice shows that while greatness requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, it’s almost impossible to spend more than four hours per day on deliberate practice because of the intensity of focus it requires.

We’re more productive when we alternate focused sprints with recovery time

What’s really selfish is closing yourself off from the relationships that matter and the people who care about you.

“I hear you loud and clear Chris,” you could concede, “But I’ve got a great idea—what if I focus on friendships with fellow founders? They’ll understand my challenges and be better able to help me.” It’s certainly helpful to have friendships with people like you. But it’s also important to have friendships with people who live very different lives.

Frans Johansson, the author of “The Medici Effect” and “The Click Moment,” has written about how much innovation stems from “intersectional” thinking that combines two or more cultures or disciplines. Talking through your problems with fellow founders will feel good and help you follow what received wisdom considers best practices. Talking through your problems with friends outside of the entrepreneurial world will take longer and feel less comfortable, but these conversations will thus create unique innovation.

Greatness requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, but it’s almost impossible to spend more than 4 hours on it per day. 

Today, I’m still an entrepreneur, but I’m also older and wiser. I make time to talk with my friends, and it doesn’t even have to cut into my work hours. For example, I can call my East Coast friends on my drive in to work in the morning and my West Coast friends on my drive home at night. Giving myself the chance to recover from the marathon of work leaves me more energized and productive.

I share my challenges with fellow entrepreneurs and people from the startup world, but I also talk with friends who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and more. Not only does this help strengthen my relationships, but it also gives me insights that those who take a more blinkered approach tend to miss.

When’s the last time you spoke with a close friend from outside your industry or the startup world? Do you have close friends whom you’re starting to drift away from because talking with them doesn’t serve a “business” purpose? How many old friends can you reconnect with in the coming week?

What’s really selfish is closing yourself off from relationships that matter and people who care about you.