The entrepreneurial dilemma: Do you really have to choose?

IMG_0107Over at Inc. yesterday, columnist Jessica Stillman focused on that perennial question of trade-offs. Randi Zuckerberg had tweeted a statement that seemed to encapsulate the entrepreneurial dilemma Stillman wanted to highlight: "Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick 3."

It is a different version of the old adage tossed at students: Sleep, study, socialize. You may pick 2. I have lost track of how many people have said to me, in a tone that implies this is supposed to be profound, "You can have it all, just not at the same time."

But is this refreshingly honest? I am not so sure.

If we can truly only pick 3, then all these categories should take roughly the same quantity of time. That is clearly not the case, so I assume the point of the entrepreneurial dilemma is that perhaps our entrepreneur will be able to build a company, and sleep (being human and all), and see his/her family, but everything else is going to have to go. Given that many people think you cannot even sleep and see your family if you want to succeed in business, I appreciate this slightly more abundant perspective on time.

That said, I still think the dilemma is overly gloomy. You can pick all 5 if you want.

Here is why. "Staying fit" is inherently a limited category. When I was studying time logs for I Know How She Does It, I saw that one of my subjects was a distance runner who had recorded her 168 hours when she was 3 weeks out from the Boston Marathon. That is pretty much the peak of training time before the taper, and people who qualify for Boston are very serious runners. This woman was devoting 10 hours a week to physical activity. Merely staying fit requires nowhere near that. Perhaps you cannot be right at the peak before the taper continuously while building a great company, but could you run 30 minutes 5 times per week on your basement (or hotel) treadmill? Probably. That is 2.5 hours.

Then we look at maintaining friendships. This means different things to different people, but if we are going to focus on "maintaining" (rather than trying to meet 10 new friends weekly, or scheduling frequent weekend-long friend excursions), let us assume our entrepreneur has 6 very close friends he/she would like to have play a role in his/her life. Would spending an hour every other week with each of these people do that? That could be combined in a thoughtful way -- a 3 hour dinner with 3 of the friends, perhaps, or a weekly long run with 2 of them (which would mean we could double up on the fitness front!). Human beings have to eat anyway, so our mindful entrepreneur could definitely aim to have breakfast or lunch with one friend a week. Those who are also very busy might be called while our entrepreneur is in a taxi on the way to the airport, or out walking his dog. I think devoting 3 hours per week (or even more!) to friendship maintenance seems possible.

So if we devote 2.5 hours to staying fit, and 3 hours to maintaining friendships, this is 5.5 hours per week. Let us say our entrepreneur plans to sleep 7.5 hours per night, or 52.5 hours per week. Add on the friendships and exercise and you get to 58 hours. There are 168 hours in a week, so this leaves 110 hours for some combination of work and family, and life maintenance. If our entrepreneur planned to work 65 hours, that would leave 45 hours for other things. This obviously presumes that someone else is available for lots of the family matters (e.g. if you have young kids) but let us presume that is true. There is still quite a bit of time.

How much time do you devote to maintaining friendships? Where do you fit this in?

Photo: Must we only pick one?

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15 Responses to The entrepreneurial dilemma: Do you really have to choose?


  1. Angela says:

    I just love your message. I think Randi ZUckerberg is right, maybe you can only pick 3, in one day. But as you point out over and over again, a person can accomplish more in a week. Step back even further and take a broader look and in a month, can you find balance?
    I truly was that person who thought: there isn’t enough time to feed my family well, clean my house, work full time, have self time, partner time, and anything else. At the end of the day I can have some but not all. For me it just felt like the daily grind and attempt to balance many things was overwhelming. The negative stories I was telling myself became my narrative, but the idea of looking at a fuller picture is so much more fulfilling. Putting forethought into your schedule also feels so empowering, you can really begin to tell the story you want to tell.

    • @Angela – thanks! Yes, there aren’t enough hours in the day, but we don’t live our lives in days, and things don’t have to happen every day at the same time in order to count.

      • Angela says:

        I just adore the positive view you put out there, and also the idea that a woman does not need to compromise on personal or professional ambitions. This can address the need to look at other factors in conjunction with what they want (locations, work flexibility options, even spousal or family support) instead of retreating on career goals or career field options. ‘I couldn’t have a fulfilling law/journalism/finance/medical career because I want to have a family and be involved’. Earlier and maybe even now there may be those voices saying ‘Only a certain type of woman would have one of those careers and be a mother’ or other versions of that.
        As I was reading your book ( I’m still reading it) I thought “She needs to take this message to high school girls” but I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought of a children’s book, and then you could do pre-school assemblies as well ; )

  2. Meghan says:

    I think Angela’s right (and you are) – if we pull back and look at a week (or even month, because honestly, being purposely social more than every other week is exhausting) we have plenty of time.
    I combine lots of activities, like your running buddy one. I used to work for a company and had a weekly phone meeting, and I cleared it with them to take the meeting while I ran. It kept me focused on the conversation and not my computer, and I liked to see how far I could go each week. I bike my son to school (3 miles through downtown Savannah, so it can be done). I only set up play dates with kids whose parents I like! I have a few friends who are back in school, so we’ll meet at a coffee shop to work/study together. And I am ruthless about my bedtime. I’m a partner in a small publishing-adjacent firm (book indexing and taxonomy), so I have my own projects, as well as managing others’ and being responsible for the marketing efforts, and I’m revising my first novel. So it’s not like I have no work to do. I do have a low socializing need, and am pretty content with group texts/emails and phone calls with my distant friends, and once-monthly dedicated coffee/lunch outings, and I’m cool with just 3 hrs of exercise a week, so I’m sure that helps.

  3. Ana says:

    I think people tend to see the world in “all or nothing” categories. If you can’t go out every night for hours like you did in your 20s, you “aren’t socializing”. If you can’t train at the gym for 2 hours a day there “isn’t time to stay fit”. There is “no time to make dinner” because you are trying to execute a complex 3-course meal.
    For me, its about breaking it down the lowest amount of time that would give me he results I need (obviously if more time opens up, I can expand!)—so I work out 180 minutes a week usually. I try to schedule social outings 1-2 times a month, etc…

    • @Ana (and ARC) – yep, the all-or-nothing mindset doesn’t serve people well. But it does make a good excuse, because it’s easier to claim one’s job is so big and all consuming that there is absolutely no time to exercise than to actually get up off your chair for 20 minutes a day to walk!

  4. ARC says:

    +1 to what Ana said about changing your expectations.

    For me right now, “getting fit” is literally 20 minutes of walking daily. It feels too overwhelming otherwise. but yeah, I can absolutely find 20 minutes to walk.

    I also said I’d “never” be able to commit to a photo-a-day project. But this year, I’m doing it. With my DSLR camera, and editing/posting the photo to Flickr daily. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s maybe 20-25 minutes total once I got into a routine, and it’s improved my photography VASTLY in just one month.

    What makes both of these work for me is that they are priorities and I know I have to get them done each day, so I shove other, less-fruitful things out of the way (like hours on social media/blogs).

    Socially, I try to have one night out with friends each week and maybe one lunch with a work colleague (or former colleague) that serves both as socializing and “networking” even though I only choose to network with people I already know and like 🙂

  5. Cloud says:

    I recently gave a time management workshop at UCSD. I wanted some real time logs to use to explain how to use logs to diagnose issues, so I used some old logs of mine. When we got to the part that was non-work time, I asked them what they saw, and one person joked “that you don’t have a TV.” This is not true, I have a TV, and I do watch it occasionally, but only with my husband, so that time gets classified as “time with husband.”
    My point isn’t to say that TV is bad, but that we have time sinks we don’t always see, and I think that plays into the false choices like the one you describe.
    But of course I’d say that. I’m trying to bootstrap a business and see my family and stay in shape and keep up with my friends. And read for fun. And a few other things. (I took up crocheting!)
    BTW, I am as susceptible to this as anyone. My time sink is the internet, particularly twitter. If I’m feeling like “I don’t have enough time to do X” often I can find it by looking at how much time I’m frittering away on twitter. I love twitter and will keep using it… but moderation (and awareness) are key.

  6. Kristen says:

    I always look at getting sleep as more of a time investment vs. a time “spend”. The time I spend sleeping ensures that I get the maximum amount of work/play done the next day.

    If I don’t sleep, then there’s no way I will build a business and maintain friendships and exercise and spend time with my family.

    • @Kristen – I agree, but a lot of people are delusional. It’s funny how many think not sleeping is a badge of honor, as opposed to a problem.

      • Kristen says:

        If people really are not sleeping, then I can imagine they’d feel like they can’t fit everything in. Walking around in a sleepy stupor makes it hard to use your hours well at all!

        Plus, I always lack motivation when I’m tired, so I tend to be aimless and slow-moving.

  7. SHU says:

    I think it’s all shades of gray here. I feel like I do most of those things, but like you said – not “peak week Boston-training” style.

    This week, I have worked out every day except Monday, had lunch with a friend two days, worked full time, saw the kids for at least some time every day and attended a school event, spent some time with my husband alone, blogged, even (gasp) watched some TV, And I slept 7ish hours/night give or take. So, yeah.

  8. Greta says:

    I absolutely agree with Angela. I used to think that I had to schedule everything in 24 hrs but Laura made me think in 168 hrs. Her work has been absolutely life changing for me. And the idea about a children’s book is fantastic! Anyway if we can change a parent’s perspective, she will pass it on to her children.

  9. Caitlin says:

    I’m a little late to comment, but the other thing about friendship is that your friends are busy too. I don’t have kids yet and my friends are just starting to have them, but we are about 1-2 hours apart geographically. I don’t know how many hours per week I spend maintaining them, but they are good solid friendships. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and texting are great quick ways to keep in touch in between visits. My group gets together at least four times a year for an entire day. At first that sounded sad to me, but I would rather plan things out and see them four times a year than not! I also have dinner once a month with a friend from that group–we meet at a restaurant that’s halfway between us. We book the next visit at the end of the next one. Sometimes we reschedule but that’s easier than going back and forth trying to establish a time in the first place. Another friend lives closer so sometimes we have impromptu coffee dates and we often carpool to other friend events together, which gives us more time together. The reality is that after college (which is where I met most of my group) it’s tough to get together, even without kids and even if you live near each other. Accept that reality and work around it.

    • @Caitlin – good advice. I do think it’s like anything else – you can choose to make it a priority. If it isn’t, it isn’t, but it can be done!

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