Founder Parent Hacks
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Being a new parent and a new CEO is really challenging. My son was 3 months old when I began the job at MIT that jumpstarted my career in entrepreneurship. I've now launched 4 startups and he's 10. I'll be honest with you: it hasn't been easy. But I also want you to know that it is possible to raise a family and a company simultaneously.
Tips for building your company and family simultaneously:
For those of you who have family or friends who are ready to jump in and help out as your family expands - amazing! For those of you who don’t have these magical people who make your life easier (like me), you may want to look strategically at your family’s greatest pain points and figure out what makes sense for you to outsource given your family's resources. From nannies and dog walkers to meal delivery services and clothes boxes, there are some pretty clever solutions out there these days. Figure out what will alleviate your stress the most and get help.
Shed everything in your life that doesn't spark joy
As soon as you have a child, your time becomes severely constrained. Time is also one of the most precious commodities in any startup. How you spend your time, then, becomes essential as a parent founder.
Although it sounds brutal, it helps to take a KonMari approach to reducing “clutter” in your life - i.e. people and activities that do not spark joy.
During the first year of my son’s life, I observed how I felt after hanging out with friends and slowly phased out people who left me feeling more drained than renewed. I did the same with activities. I used to be an avid runner but found, as I became a parent, that walking ultimately gave me more energy and was more sustainable.
As a parent founder you don’t have a whole lot of extra reserve, so it is important to make sure that your non-work relationships and commitments are ones that nurture and support you.
Optimize your schedule for maximum productivity
I’m a huge believer in block scheduling and I’m constantly evaluating if I’m using my time effectively. I’m constantly balancing and rebalancing personal and professional tasks to keep my head above water.
I’ve had to experiment over the years to figure out the “sweet spots” for creating extra time when I need it - and optimizing my most productive hours of the day.
I’m constantly timing myself doing activities to have a modular approach to decision-making throughout my day. Do I want to blow-dry my hair today? That’s going to add 8 minutes to my morning routine. When walking my dog: do I want to take the long route (42 minutes) or the short route (35 minutes)? I’m constantly thinking about how to add efficiency and am regularly asking myself how best to use my time.
Consider “parenting shifts” with your partner
In order for all of us to have our needs met, we decided to create “shifts,” for “parent-duty” in my house. For years, I was at work by 6:30 AM to avoid traffic and I left my office by 3:30 PM every day in order to be able to get to “pick-up” by 4:30 PM. I really missed being there when my son woke up, but I used FaceTime every morning to check in. Essentially, I was on “evening duty” and my husband was on “morning duty.” That rhythm worked well for us and prevented my son from having the longest day ever at daycare and/or school.
Divide household responsibilities with RACI
Much like the RACI model at work, my partner and I have “focus areas” of responsibilities so we know who will take the lead on which types of responsibilities at home. That way we aren’t mad at each other for assuming the other person was going to do something. It’s helpful to map these out and revisit them every so often to make sure household responsibilities and tasks are divided equitably. I love this piece from NPR on sharing household tasks equitably.
Be creative about “family dinner”
It’s really important to have a moment in the day when everyone is in the same place physically and emotionally. Meals are a great way to connect. Our schedules didn’t work out, however, to have family dinner at the same time for many years. Instead of “family dinner,” we did a make-shift family huddle around 6:30 PM every night. My husband would eat dinner, my son would have a pre-bed snack, and I’d pack lunches at the kitchen counter for the next day. It wasn’t a traditional family dinner per se, but we were all together for 30 minutes every day and it served the same function.
Plan your meals + grocery shop on Sundays
Meal planning has been a really stressful part of our lives. As a family, we now carve out time every Sunday to plan out our entire week’s food. We make a calendar for dinners for the week and go to the grocery store (or order groceries) on Sundays. That way, when we’re busy during the week, we know what to cook and have all of the ingredients ready to go.
Pack lunches + bags the night before
Do whatever you can to simplify the morning rush. I like to have lunches packed, clothes picked out, and backpacks filled with everything for the next day. I try to check the weather every night and make sure raincoats are out if need be. It’s helps to have the least amount of friction getting out the door.
Have a strategy for syncing calendars
In my house, we quickly check in via Whatsapp whenever we have scheduling issues surface. Then we create calendar invitations and invite the other person so there’s a reminder on their calendar that they agreed to do something. It’s taken a while for us to figure out norms, but that’s what works in my house to coordinate. Some of my friends do periodic calendar syncing meetings or have a shared calendar system. You have to figure out what works best for you.
Flex + communicate
It’s helpful to create a regular schedule and communicate it to everyone who interacts with you regularly. I always tell folks that I’m offline from 5-8 PM doing family stuff and if anything urgent comes up, feel free to text me to get my attention.
One of the best parts of being a founder is that you are your own boss. You get to dictate your schedule and meeting cadence. Make sure they work for you - and your family.
Unexpected things and one-off things come up like teacher conferences, sick kids, doctor appointments - you name it. I try to make sure that my whereabouts are known to direct reports so that I can truly be offline when I need to be, and they aren’t ever questioning my work ethic or wondering where I am.
Sneak away when you can for ME time
Late Friday afternoon is a pretty low ROI period of time for me in terms of work productivity. I've found it's a much better use of time to focus on self-care so I have enough energy reserved to make it through another week. I like taking 1-2 hours on Friday afternoons to something that is personally restorative - like window shopping at a mall, going for a walk, or getting my nails done.
Figure out what restores you and see if you can sneak away for those little moments when you can so you have more to give to your team and to your family.
I’m not going to lie that I’ve never felt overwhelmed. My partner and I have had some really tough times figuring out how to be partners to each other while juggling it all. Figuring out how to work through conflict and communicate is the key to pushing through a rough patch.
One of the best parts about “high growth” periods at home - and at work - is that sprints and phases come and go quickly. I often say to myself: "this too shall pass." Your kid won’t teethe forever. You will eventually all sleep through the night again. You will soon have a bigger team to carry more weight at your startup. Hang in there; it does get easier.