Is it ever okay to take a break from your startup?

As a startup entrepreneur, is it ever okay to take a day, or (avert your eyes) even a week off?

At any sign of fatigue, my first instinct is always to hit the accelerator. Another few hours of work are just a pump-up speech (and energy drink) away. But after years of leading scientific and technology teams, I’ve long since learned the limitations of constantly returning to this strategy.

Like many tough guy rules, like “don’t show emotion” and “don’t ask for help”, “don’t take breaks” is a simplistic platitude.

Make no mistake about it – I am obsessed with LabDoor. My work keeps me up late into each night. I come home and reflect on our daily successes and failures. Many nights are spent working through major work challenges in my dreams. Then, I wake up, strategize in the shower, and get back to work.

‘Sprint and Follow’ Leadership is great for a short-term boost in work output. But every time you force your team (and yourself) beyond its limits, know that you are borrowing against future productivity.

Remember when you used to pull ‘all-nighters’ in college? It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, and may have even saved you from a few failed exams. But when you understand these three factors, maybe you’ll reconsider:

  1. Why were you in the library at 3AM Wednesday morning? Could it have anything to do with that Sunday morning hangover that kept you unproductive until 3PM that day? A big Sunday study session would have saved you a full night of sleep.
  2. Was your mind at 100% for your big test? Scientifically, that’s nearly impossible. Studies show that 17 hours of sleep deprivation has cognitive effects equivalent to a BAC of 0.05%. At 24+ hours without sleep, your equivalent BAC level would leave you illegal to drive a car.
  3. What did you do immediately after that exam? Odds are that you didn’t immediately start studying for your next big test. Be honest – you skipped your next class, went straight to bed, and paid back your sleep debt.

We’re not building LabDoor for a quick exit. We have hundreds of big tests in front of us. In our early months, we were proud of our frequent all-nighters. Now, we’re planning ahead. Consistently shipping new code every day and novel science every week. And now we’re not embarrassed to take a couple weekends and holidays completely off the grid.

This blog post was written weeks ago, and automatically published today. Our office is closed, and everyone is home with their families. LabDoor is poised for a huge 2014, and our team is going to be running at 100% all year.