How To Stay Healthy While Hustlin’ A Startup


Next week is kind of a big deal for everyone here at Outspoken Media. On January 19th, Outspoken Media will turn two years old. Like any parent, part of me wants to know where the time went, while the other part marvels at how far we’ve come and all the lessons we’ve stuffed into just 24 months. It’s a weird feeling to think that one decision, the decision to jump toward an internet marketing company, changed an entire course. It’s a weirder feeling to look at your To Do list and realize just how not finished you are.

In conjunction with my partnership with the Nike Women: Make Yourself Movement I’ve been asked to share my one secret tip for staying healthy in the New Year. And while I’m sure you’re all as fascinated by my recent entrance into the world of kickboxing, I thought, instead, I’d take the business angle. Essentially, how to stay healthy (and sane) while growing a bustling startup. It’s something I know a lot of us struggle with.

Stay Focused On Your Mission

There’s a lot involved in not only running a business, but actively trying to grow it. There are so many details, meetings, relationships, projects, accountants and more meetings to worry about that, on some days, it’s a little overwhelming. [I call that day “Monday”. And sometimes “Tuesday”. ] And it’s easy to get stuck there. To lose total track of your mission, the reason you started the company, and where you wanted to go. Pretty soon your startup isn’t about what you set out to create, it’s about putting out fires and dealing with the day’s Must Dos. It’s not a healthy or optimal course. Don’t get me wrong, you may be able to sustain that way, but you’re definitely not going to be able to go forward. To grow healthy, focus on tomorrow. Focus on where you want to go, what you want to be and how today’s actions are building that. And if today’s actions aren’t building that, then it’s time to change the course. If something doesn’t have a purpose, drop it.

It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos that comes with growing a company, but have that mission statement front and center. It’ll help guide you when you’re not sure.

Get Organized

On any given day at Outspoken Media I can expect my schedule to be filled with client projects, client calls, internal projects, training employees, meetings, blogging, and squeezing in time to eat lunch. All of these things must find a way to work together and fit into the same 10-12 hour day. And to do that, you need to get organized. You need to find the tools and the resources that you’ll need to help you accomplish them as efficiently as possible. We use a lot of tools to keep us organized at Outspoken. As a company, tools like Skype, Google Calendar, and Basecamp allow us to seamlessly (well, maybe not “seamlessly” when Basecamp is sucking) coordinate projects, share links and keep each other in the loop of what we’re working on. On a personal level, tools like Google Docs, desk calendars (I need physical, written deadlines) and the almighty egg timer keep me organized and always on task. Those are the tools we rely on, but you may need to create your own toolbox for your startup. What is going to break down the bottlenecks in your process?

Be Awesome At Customer Service

If you want to grow a startup, you need to excel at customer service. We live or die by how we treat our customers. Everyone does, but it’s even more important as a smaller company because it becomes how you identify yourself to your clients and how you’ll start to build a strong referral database. Often, it’s the customer service aspect that caused an entrepreneur to go rogue in the first place – they wanted to create a better experience and left a company to do it. Make sure you’re keeping true to that. Forging strong relationships with your clients will keep you sane when the nights get hard and when you’re wondering if this is all worth it. It’s very similar to building a strong team. You’ll learn to rely on it.

Get Up Earlier

Dude, you want to improve your mental health, your physical health and the health of your business? Get up earlier. Just because you can roll into the office (or the coffee shop) at whatever time you want, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to delay the start of your day until 10:30am. When you wake up at 10:30am, you wake up already in the hustle and the bustle of the day. You don’t give yourself time to think, to reflect or to plan. Instead, you’re forced to jump right into the day. Wake up while it’s still quiet, while the roads are still empty and when the office is still dark. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll be and the effect that “quiet” time has on your day and your mind. Getting the Troy, NY office saved my sanity. It gave me a place to wake up early and run to every day. Peter Shankman wrote a standout post earlier this week on why you NEED to get up earlier and I’m pleading with you to go read it. For your mind, your body, all of it. It’s not whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. It’s whether you have the discipline to roll your ass out of bed when the alarm goes off, no matter how dark or cold it is. I’ve never looked back on a day and wished I had gotten up later. I have wished I woke up earlier.

Stop Hustlin’ & Find The Balance

Thank you, Amber Naslund.

It makes me really nervous when I see the tweets roll in from entrepreneurs talking about working constant 16 hour days on no sleep in the name of “hustling”, “getting some”, or “making things happen”. You’re no good to your business unless you’re taking care of yourself. And you’re not taking care of yourself if you’re always burning the candle at both ends and running ragged. In 2011, more of us need to stop listening to that “keep going until we stop” mentality that Scott Stratten warned us about. Because it’s destructive.

I’m no stranger to digging in, having a working weekend or a really late night at the office, but I’m also getting a hell of a lot better at finding the balance. In 2010 I learned how to be both an entrepreneur and just Lisa. It’s one of the reasons I also like getting up early because it means I can work a 12 hour day and still have time to make myself dinner and hit a kickboxing class. By giving myself more hours in the day, I give myself the opportunity for balance. One where I can leave the office at 7pm and go ice skating. Or attend my writing class. Or go home and snuggle with one of my cats if it’s that kind of night.

Just because you own a startup doesn’t mean you’re exempt from living a healthy lifestyle. It just means you might have to work harder to be able to attain it. Those are five things that have helped me stay sane while growing a business. Will you share your own struggles and triumphs in the comments?

Your Comments

  • Joe Hall

    You’re no good to your business unless you’re taking care of yourself.

    Amen to that! But ya know this is a lot easier said than done when you have a bajillion things and clients to take care of by tomorrow morning, and then several meetings after that! I need another Joe.

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s definitely a lot easier said than done but so is pretty much everything. :) If it’s important to you, you’ll make the time. And I really think getting up earlier would benefit most people, even if it’s just an hour. It’s an extra hour in your day you didn’t have before.

      I’m not sure the world could handle another Joe. ;)

  • Michael Dorausch

    Yes, Lisa! Let’s see you be more health minded in 2011. The long work days, endless travel, poor nutrition, lack of outdoor activity, is destroying many young peoples lives. Look at the “old” people in search. Matt Cutts got more fit (lost a lot of weight), Danny Sullivan rollerblades near daily, quite a few have cut back (or quit) smoking and drinking. Not much fun enjoying the fruits of ones startup (or any business) if you’re dead by 50.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, my original title for this post was “startup success means nothing if you’re dead by 30” but I couldn’t find a clever way to shorten it up. ;)

      I’m definitely trying to take better care of myself this year and, like I mentioned, the office has really helped. Being able to bike here in the summer, separating work from home, and finding ways to get out and be active has become really important to me. I love Outspoken Media and I love it even more when I come to it charged and healthy. Next kickboxing class is Sunday. :p

  • Todd Mintz

    For me, every day consists of 7 hours of sleep and 1 hour of exercise. Any work I do must fit around those obligations. And, it’s amazing how much more you can do if you know that you have to fit it into a compressed schedule…

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s amazing how much more you can get done when you shorten the amount of time you have to do it in. I’ve noticed that with myself, for sure. Also, exercise boosts productivity. It’s been proven. That’s why so many companies offer financial benefits for employees who exercise a certain amount of time per week. They say if you want something done, ask a busy person, right? There’s good reason. :)

  • john Falchetto

    So true and also the biggest ‘sin’ of all entrepreneurs. How many times do I see business owners abuse their bodies and mind for the sake of work.
    Workaholism is a disease. Early on when I started my first business I thought working myself into the ground was the way to go. I discovered that it isn’t so.
    Skipping sleep for a few extra hours of work destroyed my moral, creativity and attitude. Those who brag about how tired they are should be punched. It only means you can’t get your work done during a normal business hours. Workaholics don’t save the day, they just don’t know how to use it.

    • Lisa Barone

      Skipping sleep for a few extra hours of work destroyed my moral, creativity and attitude

      That’s so vital. Often we think if we can just stay up another few hours and “finish” then we’ll have less on our plate tomorrow. But then we set ourselves up to do tired work, while also robbing ourselves of the sleep we need to recharge. You never get caught up.

      Workaholics don’t save the day, they just don’t know how to use it.

      I cannot agree with this enough. I’m not going to sit at a computer for 14 hours just to impress someone with how “long” I’m working. There’s a difference between working a lot and working hard.

  • TrafficColeman

    Lisa..I’m most;y up around 7am…I look at my plans for the day and stick to them..I work on schedule so I can get everything done..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Steve

    I have spent 4 long years trying to learn all about the internet business. I am very concerned about the amount of hype out there. Fast talking people who are very difficult to understand, particularly in parts of the USA. However giving back is the key once you get on top. My advice is be ethical like your customers and remember “The buck stops with you” make sure customers can contact you. Talk slowly.


  • Sabre

    I find that making myself a list or giving myself a mantra to live by and subscribing anything I do to that keeps me in check most of the time. You have to define what success is to you, because it means different things to different people. Any startup, depending on who is running it can have different culture and different values. There’s no use subscribing to anyone else’s idea of success because it doesn’t enrich your business’ vision or your personal life.

    As for me, I like the Ralph Waldo Emerson adage:

    To laugh often and much;
    To win the respect of intelligent people
    and the affection of children;
    To earn the appreciation of honest critics
    and endure the betrayal of false friends;
    To appreciate beauty;
    To find the best in others;
    To leave the world a bit better, whether by
    a healthy child, a garden patch
    or a redeemed social condition;
    To know even one life has breathed
    easier because you have lived;
    This is to have succeeded.

    It may be something totally different for someone else. But I see people sacrificing their own priorities for something else in the short-term and they or their eventual goal ends up lost. Stay true to you.

    Also, I have to say I hate the mornings. I am never awake enough pre- 9am to do anything productive and I find the middle of the night to be so soothing that it relaxes and focuses me. To each their own!

  • Suzanne Vara


    It is so easy to fall into the trap of burning the midnight oil. Doing this or that to try and get ahead for the next day while sacrificing you time or sleep. We all have done it and it takes an effort to walk away from it. The office at home is great but it supports this. There is no separation. The you time is more important than we want to think about, esp as a start-up. Sure we can say that we like to work and use that you time to work. Great, but then has to be away time from work as when we do not, we avoid the exercise, getting proper sleep and eating properly. It is true, we are no good to anyone when we are not taking care of ourselves.

    Ok I will take this as my intervention. I will try and stop the cat naps to try and make the east coast morning rush at 3am and then sleeping a bit to wake for the west coast morning rush. I will probably be much more productive if I got a full 8 hrs instead of 5 hrs here and 3 hrs there.

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t think people realize how destructive “burning the midnight oil” can be. While I can totally appreciate not wanting to sleep until something is “done”, if you’re working on it tired and you’re going to be tired tomorrow because you’re sacrificing sleep, what are you really accomplishing? When, exactly, does your brain get to recharge? I want to hit all those people who tweet about their 16 hour day and how they’re up working cause they can’t sleep. Hit them right in the face with a bed!

  • netmeg

    I’m too old to stay up now anyway. I had to take a nap first to make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve.

    I’ve been getting up at 6:30 so long I don’t need a clock. But I’m pushing it back to 6:00 this year, because I find if I can get my exercise in in the morning, I end up feeling better than if I leave it to night.

    Just curious, Lisa – where does the 30lbs of mac-n-cheese fit into all this healthy stuff?

    • Lisa Barone

      Yeah, me and my boyfriend looked at each other at around 10:30pm on New Years and wondered if we were going to be able to stay up. Staying up late is harder than it used to be.

      Working out is one thing I’ve had a hard time doing in the morning. I’ve always been a swing by the gym *after* work kind of person…which means I have to get up earlier so I can get out and get my butt into class while they’re still going on.

      And yeah, the mac n cheese really doesn’t fit into things at all.

  • SuperbadIM

    Wow! Now I feel really lazy.

    If I wake up at 8am on the West Coast, it’s almost lunch time in NY.

    Think of all the Tweets I’m missing out on!

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha. That’s how I felt when I lived in LA – like the day was half over by the time I even woke up. I still feel that way when I go to conferences and stuff. :)

  • Jessie Johnson

    Thank you for this, Lisa.

    I like the notion of team-building around customer service–these early customers, with the feedback they can provide, are just as much a part of the “team” as we are. That kind of relationship definitely helps pull us through those 16-hour days because we care so much about their pains.

    Kickboxing, I’d imagine, contributes to surviving a startup, too. We’re not quite 3 years old ourselves, and about 95% of our employees participate regularly in some kind of high-impact exercise (hockey, running, Taekwondo, personal trainers, basketball, ballet, sandbagging floodwaters in the spring). Something to be said for that mind-body connection :)

    Personally, I struggle most with #4, getting up early. I seem to get the best work done late at night, and a 6:00 am start would mean 3 hours of sleep. Always makes for interesting meetings the next (same?) day!

  • Reno


    Oh man, I envy your 12 hour days. What’s been a challenge for me is I have to be as devoted, if not more, to important things like church and spending time with people, along with growing business.

    I don’t think it’s a problem, just a challenge of balance and putting things that should be more important to work, stay that way.

    Thanks for post, it’s nice to see a glimpse of your working day.


  • Meg

    What a perfect and TRUE this are….Especially most suit on me is TO GET up EARLY…you are right atleast I get some plan to think and PLAN.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Growing a start up is definitely not easy, takes long hours, and a lot of hard work. Even after you aren’t considered in “start up” anymore, the long hours and hard work never end. I am connected to my clients all day long, but know when to turn it off, for my own sake and for the sake of my wife and son.

  • Mark Harai

    Great advice all the way around here Lisa – I’ve always been an early riser – Love the mornings! Now, I have a family of 6 monkeys that won’t let me sleep in to my usual 6AM ish rise – they get busy at around 4:30 AM! No more sleeping in for me : (

  • Ivan Walsh

    I’d suggest another way to save energy (ie make energy) is to leave you phone at home for 1 day. All those calls, IMs, tweets etc really take a toll.

    Take one day off the grid – totally unplug – and you’ll see a huge difference.


  • Toby

    Great post and it focuses the mind, We all know these things but sometimes daily life just ‘takes over’ certainly for me anyway – need to be reminded. I too used to be no stranger to late nights working but getting older it becomes tougher so yes its about finding balance

  • Val @ Web Tracking Guide

    My most exciting discoveries in this regards during the last few years were:

    1) I achieve more in my hobbies and personal projects when I also work in a full-time job. It’s unbelievable, but the job keeps me in the rhythm, and it also makes me value each free minute more.

    2) My most productive hours are often early in the morning, before I leave to work.

    When I lived a more relaxed life, I just slept until noon and could accomplish nothing.

    Go figure.

  • Joel Roggenkamp

    I totally agree with the part about waking up early.

    I’ve recently started a fun personal project, building an r/c airplane. I was worried that this would take away time from my business, but I’ve found that doing something that has nothing to do with my business or computers completely refreshed my mind and allowed me to concentrate better when I was working.