“Balance [for an entrepreneur] doesn’t exist,” says Dan Heitbohmer. ”It’s like taking oil and water and shaking them up, trying to keep them mixed. Impossible.”
Heitbohmer, 38, has learned the hard way that the elusive “balance” the media and healthcare professionals encourage is for a different type of person than the entrepreneur. It might work for the nine-to-fiver, but as the president of BuildCircle Inc, a cloud-based software that manages the complex series of communications that accompany any construction project, Heitbohmer says the only option available to him is simple compromise.
It was a tough lesson to learn, he says. Heitbohmer “crashed and burned” in December 2012, after a six-month stint of working 19-hour days at his company, while also helping his wife, Melissa, with their newborn and five-year-old twins. Ignoring his failing health, he was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia and spent two weeks in bed – all the while stressing about work, and feeling guilty about not being a fully engaged father and husband.
Something had to give, so he chose to compromise. Not just on one thing, but on everything: work, family and personal time. But before he chose compromise, he completely overhauled his work/life strategy. He began to do something that he had not done previously – he started planning in two-week chunks of time, based on quarterly objectives, and delegating tasks he once thought only he could do. He compromised his work ethic of “I’ll do it all” to one that’s “planning and team based”. He reconciled that sometimes his kids would get the short end of the stick, but less often than before. He viewed compromise not as a thing to be shunned, but a way to integrate the multiple facets of an entrepreneurial lifestyle.
“Now I take care of myself, I slow down,” says Heitbohmer. “I plan further in advance – something I never did before. And I am delegating more to the people around me, including my four other business partners.”
For many entrepreneurs, the luxury of a 14-day planning window and sticking to it seems unachievable. There are always fires to put out and issues cropping up that seem to threaten the very existence of the business. Heitbohmer now knows this to be false. Most things, he said, can fit into a two-week window of completion and allow for careful delegation. “Plus, I share a calendar with my wife so she knows exactly what’s happening in those two weeks,” says Heitbohmer.
His new approach is based on the agile management methodology, which emphasizes completing small portions of deliverables in each delivery cycle compared to iterative methods that evolve the entire set of deliverables over time and completing them near the end of the project. This allows him and his team to focus on what needs doing now and then moving on to a new deliverable.
Another key to his lowered stress level and higher productivity is the daily 15-minute company-wide meeting that answers only three questions: What did you work on yesterday? What are you working on today? What’s blocking your success? By answering these everyone is aware of the day’s challenges and who needs help.
For Dan Heitbohmer, planning and compromise have made him a better entrepreneur and a happier person.
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