This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 6-June-2013 issue
If US stats are anything to go by, two out of three companies begin in a spare bedroom, garage, or possibly even a bathroom. In fact, that’s how companies as varied as Apple, Baskin-Robbins ice cream, Microsoft, Hallmark cards, the Lillian Vernon online gift catalogue and Purex laundry products got going. Thanks to the Internet, running a company from home is now more do-able and popular than ever before.
However, operating a home-based business also comes with its own unique challenges. How many times have I had a client on the phone when my kids started fighting, the neighbourhood tomcat began his piercing mating calls or there was the loud, unmistakeable jingle of the ice cream truck driving up and down our streets? What about the battle to keep work separate from family and personal life? And the loneliness of working from home can drive you crazy.
One solution to some of these issues: get a dog.
Why on earth should an entrepreneur get a dog? On the face of it, yes, it does sound bizarre. Seriously, before you dismiss the idea, consider the following good reasons to have a dog “on your workforce”:
- Dogs force you to exercise. When you work full-time from home, it is extremely enticing to work long hours on your computer without taking a break. However, this could have a very negative impact on your health. Sitting for more than six hours a day over a 10-20 year period can shave off roughly seven years of quality life, raise your risk of heart disease by a staggering 64% and your risk of prostate or breast cancer by 30%. As if this isn’t bad enough, working long hours is also bad for your business. It can cause burnout, demotivation, boredom and resentment. Also, a number of studies have found that consistently working over 40 hours per week makes you unproductive (not to mention very, very tired). This isn’t to say that working overtime is a no-go. Research back in the 1980s by the Business Roundtable showed that 60- or 70-hour weeks very temporarily led to short-term productivity gains – for example, by pushing extra hard for a few weeks to meet an important deadline. However, Evan Robinson, a software engineer with deep expertise in programmer productivity, cautions that raising your hours on the job by 50% (from 40 to 60 hours) does not lead to 50% greater output. By contrast, the numbers are usually closer to 25-30% more work in 50% more time.
So what does this all have to do with dogs? Unlike other domestic animals, dogs need regular walks. And they let you know it. It’s easy to tell your human running partner: “Sorry, I can’t make it today, I have an urgent client deadline for tomorrow.” But your dog won’t take no for an answer. I just have to take my running shoes out of the cupboard for my dog Pixel to start jumping on my chair and barking exuberantly at me. She literally demands that I take her for a run. And just as she needs the exercise, so do I. The regular runs with her keep me fit and ready to tackle whatever challenges the business day brings. But you don’t need to run for miles to reap the benefits. Just half an hour per day of walking with your dog can counteract the negative health effects of sitting all day. By forcing you to exercise, your dog is helping you and your business.
- You’ll sleep better at night. According to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, exercise fosters good sleep. And the more you exercise, the better you’ll sleep. But you don’t have to exercise a lot to see the rewards. A mere 10 minutes of daily walking (hint: with your dog) could improve the duration and quality of your sleep. This means you’ll wake up more refreshed the next day, which should translate into improved productivity for your business. So think of those regular walks with your dog as a natural sleep tonic that boosts your business.
- Dogs are fantastic stress busters. Another unanticipated benefit of having a dog is that they help us relieve stress. In a 2006 study from SUNY Buffalo in the US, 240 married couples with dogs conducted a variety of stressful tasks. In each, they were either alone, with their spouse or could see their dog before or after the task. It comes as no surprise that the lowest responses to stress were found in those who were able to see their dogs. It’s very hard to be stressed or in a bad mood when your dog is wagging their tail at you, asking plaintively for your attention.
- Dogs trigger other health benefits too. For over 25 years, studies have found that dogs help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Just 15-30 minutes with them can make you feel more relaxed and calmer. Playing with your dog also increases your brain’s dopamine and serotonin levels. These are chemicals linked with pleasure and tranquility. In their research, psychologists from Miami and St. Louis Universities found that the benefits of having a dog can be equivalent to having a human friend. On top of this, dogs have been shown to enhance our immunity. A stronger immune system means less sick days (or for entrepreneurs, fewer days coming into the office when you’re too sick to work).
- Dogs relieve the loneliness. Running a business is a lonely business, even if you have a supportive network of family, friends and staff. With your dog asleep in your place of work or bounding to greet you whenever you come into the office, you’ll feel less isolated.
- Walking your dog gives you thinking time to generate new ideas for your business. When I go running or walking with Pixel, it helps me defragment my mental hard drive. The exercise time-out is a fantastic trigger for new ideas. I set out just thinking about nothing at all other than keeping up with my part-greyhound, part-mini-Alsatian pavement special. Before you know it, our 12km run is over, and a whole lot of good ideas have crept into my head, or I’ve come up with a new solution to a pressing business challenge. Why? Because relaxing your brain’s analytical left-brain enables your creative sub-conscious and your right-brain to hold your attention. Forget about idea-brainstorming sessions, just walk your dog.
Yes, your dog could start barking while you’re on the phone with a client (and unfortunately there is no mute button for that).
But considering all the other benefits that dogs bring to the home-based entrepreneur, this is a small price to pay. So what are you waiting for? Go get a dog! Maybe companies should even have regular “bring your dog to work” days…