Balancing act: How 4 busy tech CEOs make time for life outside of work

June 28, 2017

Most CEOs work a little longer than your average 40-hour work week. Take, for example, Yahoo’s former CEO Marissa Meyer, who was somewhat notorious for pulling all-nighters, working from the hospital bed after giving birth to twins and regularly clocking in 130-hour weeks.

But even the leaders of Austin's fastest-growing tech companies need time to pause, reflect, breathe and have fun. We caught up with four local CEOs who make the art of the life-work balance a priority.

 

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University of Texas alumni Katie May currently oversees the ShippingEasy team as CEO — a position she has held for more than four years. Previously, May founded Kidspot, a Melbourne-based media company for moms that News Ltd. acquired in 2011. May said she overcomes her biggest time sink — her inbox — by clearing it before she even comes into work.

On average, how many hours a week do you work?

It depends on that week’s priorities and travel schedule, but typically around 55 hours a week.

How do you keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed?

My inbox is my biggest enemy – so I have tactics to ensure it doesn’t overwhelm me and things don’t get trapped in there. I try to clear my inbox early in the morning before my house wakes up. Investing one to two hours – before anyone starts adding to the stack – brings a feeling of being in control. It also allows me to walk into the office available versus being bogged down by my inbox.

What types of activities do you do outside of work to offset the work hustle?

I aim to exercise daily by walking four to five days a week and then Pilates two days. Walking helps me process whatever is weighing me down and Pilates eases the terrible things my computer is doing to my back!

I also started dedicating 10 minutes a day to Headspace (short, guided meditation) earlier this year. I’m not sure what it does, but I keep hoping it will reduce my high-strung nature and type A habits. Lastly, I carve out dinners with my family and drinks and socializing with my friends. My relationships are important to me and are good for me. So, I try to prioritize them and find a balance that keeps them strong.

 

 

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Prior to starting his role as chairman and CEO at Revionics, Marc Hafner served as VP and general manager of NEC Corporation of America. Before that, he was CEO at PerformanceRetail. His background includes over 20 years of tech leadership. To relax, Hafner plays guitar, heads to the beach or his pool and cooks for friends a family. He said activities like these prevent him from losing focus.

On average, how many hours a week do you work?

We’re a truly global company so I am typically working 60-plus hours and at least some portion of every day. I generally stay connected constantly — which is of course both good and bad. I have long had the habit of clearing my plate of tasks very quickly, as I want to enable the next person to in turn get their tasks accomplished.

I also have found that if I don’t stay connected constantly, a tidal wave of asks and needs can quickly build up and trying to get back on top of it can be daunting. So I’m a very big user of technologies that keep me in touch wherever I may be – wifi on the airplane, email on my phone, etc.

How do you keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed?

I am a true multi-tasker. My whole life I have thrived on juggling multiple fast-changing priorities. Actually, in general, I’m more likely to feel bored than overwhelmed. But when I do feel like I’m in danger of getting snowed under, I prioritize the tasks ahead of me, remind myself to focus on those that are most near-term, most critical, and most importantly, most “controllable” tasks that I can address.  

Using that approach invariably brings me quickly to a place of focus and clarity of purpose. It clears away those feelings of concern about being able to keep up and allows you to instead start getting things accomplished. For me staying connected, even if just monitoring the flow of things in the background, helps me to be able to relax knowing I’m on top of the things that I absolutely need to be on top of.

What types of activities do you do outside of work to offset the work hustle?

It’s absolutely critical to build in recharge activities! I like the water, so you’ll find that I like to lie in my pool, go to the beach or take a cruise. I enjoy playing my guitar with my band. I also like to play tennis, go biking and golfing, go catch a movie and cook for friends and family. I get engaged in these activities and let the noise of business be a little more in the background, at least for a while – but not so much that I ever quit wondering what’s going on at the office right this moment!

 

 

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Before entering a 16-year-and-counting career in tech, Scrypt CEO Aleks Szymanski piloted helicopters for the Royal Air Force for 12 years. Szymanski said these years flying helped shape his delivery-oriented approach to business strategy.

His tip for overwhelmed leaders? Let go of the things that can be done tomorrow.

On average, how many hours a week do you work?

As a CEO of a cloud productivity company, you never stop working. Ideas and issues come at you all ways and continually. It’s not all bad. Most days end up being a blend of work, family time and (some) fun.

How do you keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed?

It’s critical to maintain perspective and set priorities. You simply cannot do everything today. It’s a matter of doing the right things today and letting go of those that can be done tomorrow. Otherwise, you will work 24/7 and that’s when things start to unravel.  

What types of activities do you do outside of work to offset the work hustle?

I try and offset the amount of time I am sat down commuting to work or at a desk. To me, that means indulging my passion for playing tennis and hanging out with my family and friends. After eight years of growing this company, the time I spend “offsetting” is more important than ever.

 

 

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CEO Luke Schneider has spent the last five years leading the Silvercar team. Before that, he served as CEO at Creative Kingdoms and before that as CTO as Zipcar. Throughout his 24-year career supporting companies from various growth stages, Schneider’s seen a few 100-plus hour work weeks — but says he tries to stay within the 50-60 hour range.  

How do you keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed?

I believe the feeling of being overwhelmed stems from a belief in our connected age that one needs to respond to ever increasing list of communication media. From email to Slack to in-app messaging from dozens of enterprise systems, everybody wants to provide a communication pathway.

I use a simple check down list: first, walk into someone's office and talk to them. If that is not possible, call them. And if that is not possible, email them. I ask my managers to use the same hierarchy with me. The richer the communication, the more efficient. Email is devoid of most elements that comprise rich, effective executive communication. If someone emails me about an important topic without trying to contact me in a better way first, I usually ignore it for at least a day.

Also, I have a "polar" approach to delegation, I believe in a relatively small amount of delegation for my personal work. I think staying close, and not over-relying on administrators helps me prioritize and more easily focus on what's important. I am unapologetic about ignoring or shutting down things I consider to be distractions. In contrast, with my managers, I give them plenty of rope and trust them to make good decisions. Hiring well and loading personal responsibility onto executives drives efficiency, development, and results.

What types of activities do you do outside of work to offset the work hustle?

Outside of work, I enjoy a variety of different things. First is family. My family has a gift for keeping me humble and grounded. After that most of what I do is outside. I find landscaping and gardening are great ways to connect with the natural world and create something beautiful. I also like to restore old cars by hand, build furniture and travel a good bit. More recently I have become a student of fly-fishing. I believe it is the kind of thing that will be both a mental and physical activity for years to come.

In any case, doing something physical, with the ability to reflect, process and decompress is key for me. Organizations like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, my children's school and our church are all worthy places where I like spending time, as well.

 


Images provided by participants and social media.

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