Six Health Tips for Leaders and Entrepreneurs

The Automated Insurer | Leadership

By Mike de Waal | 6 September 2022

Key Points

As entrepreneurs, we often work long hours early into our startups when everything feels very tight financially, so prioritizing physical fitness levels and mental wellness is challenging but essential.

Based on my experience growing a successful insurtech business, these are my top six tips for entrepreneurs or any business leader:

  • Develop a support system;
  • Get a good night’s sleep;
  • Exercise regularly;
  • Eat well and limit sugar;
  • Set aside time for yourself;
  • Delegate.

Growing a successful insurtech business has taught me the importance of health and well-being for leaders. The key to success in entrepreneurship is managing the risks, and a founder that doesn’t prioritize his or her wellbeing is a serious business risk like any other.

As entrepreneurs, we often work long hours early into our startups when everything feels very tight financially, so prioritizing physical fitness levels and mental wellness is challenging but essential.

If you don’t take care of your health, it’ll be difficult for both you and others around you during this time when things are tough. On the flip side, leaders who value their health will have more energy to meet the demands of their role and motivate others to do their best work.

It may seem like an overwhelming task at first, however, taking small steps every day will help you build up momentum so that eventually reaching your health goals becomes more accessible than ever before.

Prioritize Mental and Physical Health

Successful entrepreneurs must learn how to integrate work with their personal lives by making sure they’re staying healthy while running their businesses. This is especially true in early-stage startups, which often require long hours (and many weekends) to get off of the ground.

Mental health is integral to any individual’s well-being and is especially critical for those starting their businesses. A lack of good mental health management can lead to poor decision-making, stress, and even depression, which can all interfere with the success of a business.

Start-up owners can do a few things to ensure they’re taking care of their mental health.

First, it’s essential to create a routine and stick to it. This can help to minimize stress and ensure that you’re taking some time for yourself each day. Additionally, it’s helpful to set realistic goals for yourself and your business. Unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and stress, so it’s important to have achievable goals to stay positive. Finally, finding a supportive community of entrepreneurs who can offer encouragement and advice when needed is important.

A flexible mindset is important to avoiding burnout. A study by Harvard Business Review found that “entrepreneurs with a fixed mindset [as opposed to a flexible mindset] viewed their feelings of job fit as so rigid that it influenced their feelings of passion, consequently leading to burnout.”

By following these tips, entrepreneurs can ensure that they’re taking care of their mental and physical health and staying on track for success.

1. Develop a Support System

A support system is a group of people who provide you with mental, emotional, and practical support when needed. They are also the people who support you when you’re doing well. Most support systems include family, close friends, work colleagues, etc. Without a support system, you may feel alone, depressed, and have no back to fall on when times are tough.

When developing a support group, you must know what you want. For example, if you are looking for professional support, look within professional organizations, reach out to people on LinkedIn, look up local entrepreneurship groups, or get to know your co-workers and employees better.

If you’re having difficulty finding people for your support group, try joining a gym or hobby club or volunteering for something you’re passionate about. This can help you meet good people with similar passions to add to your support group.

Build relationships with people by regularly checking in and asking how they’re doing. Don’t be scared of sharing what’s on your mind. If you open up to your support system, they may open up to you, and your relationship will strengthen.

2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s well known that entrepreneurs must make sacrifices to have a successful business. Some might deprioritize personal relationships with friends and family, and skip meals or sleep to build their business. Unfortunately, such sacrifices have led to approximately half of all CEOs getting less than six hours of sleep every night, and founders during the early stages of a startup have it even worse.

The first step to getting more sleep is setting boundaries. Entrepreneurs have a lot going on. With the onset of remote work, the boundaries between work time, family time, and social time have become blurry. Setting and communicating your work hours to co-workers and clients can help establish direct boundaries.

You’ll also need to find a routine or build healthy habits that help you relax. High-stress levels interfere with your ability to sleep, and if you don’t find healthy ways to relax before bed, you’ll have a more challenging time falling asleep.

Transitioning from business to bed doesn’t work; your brain needs time to switch from one place to the next. Try turning off your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed, reading a book, meditating, listening to music, or spending time with family.

Moreover, research shows the effects of caffeine can last for three to seven hours, so try giving yourself a caffeine-free window of about 7 hours before bed.

3. Exercise Regularly

Studies show that regular exercise can improve your mental health, memory, energy, and productivity and make you happier. However, it can be difficult for busy entrepreneurs to make exercise a daily habit.

The key is to make physical activity fun. Do what makes you feel good, so you keep coming back. Try different workout classes like a spin class or Crossfit, or other sports and activities like golfing, skating, skiing, rock climbing, or hiking until you find what works for you. Moreover, finding a workout partner or joining a sports team in your community can also help motivate you and provide a social component to your physical activity.

You don’t need to run 5km, attend an aerobics class, or go to the gym to exercise. Any activity counts and adds up! Exercise can fit into anyone’s workday, even busy entrepreneurs. Make it a goal to avoid sitting for extended periods. Standing desks might be a worthwhile investment. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking across the office to chat with a co-worker instead of sending an email.

Using apps or wearable technology can help you keep track of your daily progress and set fitness goals. Doing so can motivate you to improve your health scores and enables you to recognize how much healthier you’ve become. Having visibility of your fitness progress can make exercise a goal you consistently work towards.

4. Eat Well and Limit Sugar.

It’s easy to grab junk food and pop when running from meeting to meeting. While this may satisfy your hunger and give you a quick boost at the moment, that feeling will fade quickly and leave you craving more sweets which ultimately causes lower energy levels.

On the other hand, healthy foods such as whole grain carbohydrates and healthy unsaturated fats provide the reserves and fuel your body and brain need throughout your busy day.

The first step to eating better is to focus on your body and health the same way you focus on your business. Many entrepreneurs mistakenly separate what they consume from how they work. Good food provides better fuel which helps increase your productivity and focus. You must understand that eating and being healthier can make you a better entrepreneur.

Understanding the importance of healthy eating is vital, but it’s nothing without action. Changing dietary habits is hard. As a first step, try making three good eating choices a day, emphasizing simple substitutions. For example, say you often eat sugary cereals in the morning for breakfast. A better option might be a whole grain, sugar-free cereal.

Unfortunately, many people quit their diets because they don’t see improvements immediately or try to change their entire diet overnight, which often causes a relapse. Instead, you must understand that changing dietary habits takes time. So, start with three minor adjustments per day and build off them.

5. Set Aside Time for Yourself

As an entrepreneur, you often give your daily energy and time to dozens of people, multiple projects, and countless business meetings, possibly at the expense of your well-being.

Unfortunately, this is a growing problem as entrepreneurs who are incredibly passionate about their businesses are more likely to burn out because they’re so dedicated to the work they love and rarely take time for their personal lives.

Finding time to focus on self-care is easier said than done, especially with work and family life demands. But it is possible.

You can start by identifying and ranking the activities outside of work that help you relax and recharge. Maybe it’s going on a hike, reading a good book, or taking a relaxing bath. Whatever it may be, try adding these activities to your weekly calendar the same way you would any can’t-miss client meeting. Making personal time as significant as other goals and actions you work toward means you’re much more likely to achieve it.

Additionally, learning to say no is essential to set time aside for yourself. Saying no doesn’t mean you have to stop being friendly or helpful. It’s more about setting boundaries of what’s an acceptable or unacceptable use of time. There’s an art to knowing when you should put yourself first, and the first step is to make it clear when coworkers or clients are consuming too much of your time.

6. Delegate

Entrepreneurs are involved – in some capacity – in every department of their organization, including; HR, marketing, sales, finance management, leadership, and day-to-day microtasks. So naturally, if you don’t learn how to delegate some of these tasks, it will take its toll on you mentally and physically.

You must be proactive when delegating tasks. While hard work and grit are admirable traits, taking on too much work and waiting until the last moment to delegate is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you must identify early on when your workload is becoming too much and take action to address the matter promptly.

To delegate effectively, you must understand your team’s limitations and skills. Every employee has unique abilities. For example, if one of your employees is slow but detail-oriented and well-organized, you may want to delegate essential but non-urgent tasks to them. On the other hand, if an employee works very fast but is prone to sloppiness, you can delegate more urgent yet less critical functions to them.

No matter who you’re delegating to, it’s vital to articulate your desired outcome for each task. Communicating your expectations mitigates confusion and problems down the line.

Good Health Produces Healthy Business

There will be times when prioritizing mental and physical health is tough, but staying positive and caring for yourself is essential. The more you can make it a routine, the better. People with good mental and physical health can better set realistic goals, plan activities, and manage stress, all of which are vital to leading a healthy business.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed when trying to manage your business and health. Many people can offer support, including friends, family, and other professionals.

Those close to you will soon see how much passion you have behind the business, which could lead them along a similar path toward success when things go smoothly!

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Mike de Waal

Mike de Waal is president and founder of Global IQX, an Ottawa-based software provider of AI-driven sales and service solutions to employee benefits insurers.  He has deep experience in both software development and business management skills. Early in his career, he worked as a computer programmer and then went on to become a financial planner and a benefits consultant with giant Manulife Financial before becoming a tech entrepreneur.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Cityscape at night. Blog header image for "Insurtech Challenges on the Way to Nirvana" article.