If it’s hard for entrepreneurs to have a life, it’s doubly so for entrepreneurs solving the biggest problems in the world. Not only are they obsessed with the success of their venture, every moment that they spend away from their startup is a moment that isn’t dedicated to changing the world. But even though it’s difficult, having a life is better for both you and your company.

I recently ran across an awesome New York Times editorial by Erin Callan, who was the CFO of Lehman Brothers in 2008—she had the foresight/luck to resign a number of months before the financial crisis brought down the firm. In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to this passage:

“I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.”

No one is going to maintain the boundaries between your work and the rest of your life other than you and your immediate family. Tweet This Quote

Sound familiar? No one is going to maintain the boundaries between your work and the rest of your life other than you and your immediate family. You and you alone have to take responsibility for making this balance work.

At times, I’ve struggled with this balance. I’ll never forget the night that a strategic planning session for my first startup went way over, and my wife was stuck in a hotel room, wondering where I was. This was in the days before cell phones were common, so she was expecting me to pick her up at 5 PM to go to a dinner with friends, and I didn’t show up until 8 PM, after the dinner was over.

I’ve never seen her so angry. With cold, quiet fury, she informed me that if I ever did something like that again, our marriage would be in trouble. And rightly so; I could have excused myself from the meeting to call her and let her know, and she would have been angry, but understanding.

That night taught me the importance of hard boundaries. From then on, I have a very simple, ironclad rule: If I’m going to be late, call my wife.

Think about the most important things in your life, and set hard boundaries to protect them. Tweet This Quote

The “hard boundaries” principle applies to nearly every aspect of life. For example, it’s a lot easier to enforce a ban on eating bread, than it is to cut your bread consumption by 75%. Everyone—including yourself—is more likely to respect a hard rather than soft boundary.

Since then, I’ve always established hard boundaries around things like when I’m in the office. I go home for dinner with my family every day. Period. Emergencies arise, but that’s just what they are—emergencies; temporary blips, not the new normal.

Despite working in Silicon Valley, where workaholism is king, my hard boundaries have never been an issue because I state them up front before accepting a role, and stick with them.

An Unreasonable Challenge:
Think about the most important things in your life, and set hard boundaries to protect them. At first, it may feel uncomfortable to tell people “no,” but the more you do it, the easier it will become, and the happier you (and your loved ones) will be!

About the author

Chris Yeh

Chris Yeh

Chris is the VP Marketing for PBworks, partner at Wasabi Ventures, and an avid startup investor and advisor. He is also a co-author of The Alliance and serial tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.