An extra hour in the day? Founders want exercise, time alone or both

Top of the wishlist of how Australian founders would use an extra hour in the day is exercise.

Next on the list was “time alone” more than double from a year ago (7 vs 18 percent). Fewer founders would use the extra hour for “spending time with family and friends” (17 vs 26 percent in 2019). It appears ‘lockdown’ has impacted on their need for space to think. As one founder notes, COVID has “made me want to do more exercise to get out of the house and have more time to myself.”

This year’s founder Fitness, Fulfilment and Foresight report shows overall Australian founders have weathered COVID-19 better than expected. Given the events of the past year we anticipated that in 2020, mental wellness would have suffered but were surprised to find founder sentiment around business progress and personal wellbeing had not significantly declined compared to 2019.

The top three reported causes of stress among founders are business uncertainty, workload and finances with just over half feeling their stress has increased compared to this time last year. This was slightly lower than the increase in stress reported from 2018 to 2019.

Founders are early birds with 80 percent rising early but many founders aren’t getting enough sleep, averaging 6.7 hours per night versus the ideal 7.7 hours. “Lack of sleep” was the fourth biggest source of stress or concern and more than a third work more than 61 hours a week. Fifteen percent don’t leave their desk or office at all to get outside in the fresh air.

Despite all the disruption of last year, founder confidence is up, and stress levels have not dramatically increased.

Technology businesses have fared well during the pandemic and venture capital continues to flow. Only 10 percent said COVID was top of mind.

Their resilience also points to the high levels of stress that founders face on a day-to-day basis. It is already a high stakes role to rapidly build and grow a business, so startup founders were uniquely positioned to deal with the turbulence of 2020. But they are working longer hours, and this is reflected in the amount of time they allow for themselves.

A positive is the wiliness of founders to accept help. There has been a significant increase in those seeking advice from a counsellor or therapist compared to last year (36 percent in 2020, 20 percent in 2019). While founders continue to believe they should primarily be responsible for paying for various support services, they are more likely to accept investor offers for services to assist with physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Founders are clearly still suffering from high levels of stress, and even if they believe they are managing it, there is clear acknowledgement that it impacts their startups, from decision making to leadership and communications.

As a community we must take the approach that looking after yourself and ensuring you are mentally and physically well is a prerequisite for sustained high performance.

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