How OpenTable’s founder traded 15-hour workdays for a little sanity

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From working in bed to conferencing behind the stroller, work-life balance can be a struggle. We’re asking Chicago business leaders how they balance their careers with, well, everything else. Welcome to “Day in the Work/Life.”

Chuck Templeton knows the value of a healthy work-life balance. For a while there — after founding restaurant booking service OpenTable in 1998 — he didn’t have any balance at all.

“I gained a bunch of weight, I didn’t have any friends, and I forgot what my wife looked like. It was terrible,” Templeton says. “I’m not a fan of that type of work environment. I’ll never go back to that again.”

These days, 15-hour workdays are no more. Family, fitness and free time are way higher on his list of priorities, right up there with his duties as managing director of Impact Engine, an accelerator housed at 1871.

Templeton rises between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. to run 6 to 13 miles each morning. But, like many in the tech world, his phone is first to greet him in the early hours.

“The first thing I do when I wake up is grab my phone and look at my emails,” he says. “As I’m sitting there for the first five or 10 minutes waking up, I kinda scroll through stuff and it gives my body a chance to get up and loosen up a little bit before I stumble out of bed.”

As he’s running, he’ll think through any tough questions that came his way electronically. After cooling down with some core exercise (yep, more of it), he makes his kids breakfast and lunch, then walks them to school. To end the morning workout, he bikes the 4½ miles from his Lakeview home to the Merchandise Mart while listening to books on tape (recent favorites are Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” and Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”).

Days in the tech hub involve meetings with speakers, entrepreneurs, investors and partners. Templeton eats lunch at his desk or in a meeting to save time.

By this point, the serial entrepreneur knows that delegating equals good leadership.

“I’ve got a really good team who is just awesome at what they do and so it certainly helps me with a lot of the stuff where I don’t add as much value and really focus on the things where I do add more value,” he says.

He also shaves off time with smart correspondence. That means cutting out the unnecessary niceties to get to the important stuff.

“It’s not 12 emails back and forth,” he says. “Here are the two times I’m available, let me know your number. It really reduces the number of communications.”

He’s out of there by 5 p.m. and back on his bike to head home for dinner. Then he plays games or hangs with his kids. After, he’ll walk the dog, then it’s back to work or quality time with his wife.

A lot of Templeton’s thinking jibes with Tim Ferriss’ “Four Hour Workweek.” For one, his family lives 500 feet from his kids’ school.

“That’s by design: We looked for a place that was near a school that we could walk to because we did the calculation one day and said, if we drove 10 minutes there in the morning and 10 minutes back, that’s 20 minutes a trip. Two trips a day is 40 minutes. And by the time they go through high school, that’s two months of spending time in the car. Rather than just a couple minutes’ walk.”

Templeton’s family also thinks about lifestyle design in other ways — ordering extra at a restaurant for leftovers, or choosing a home with a trove of dining options within walking distance. He says his family lives frugally, a message he says he tries to pass on to young entrepreneurs.

“If you can keep your lifestyle very minimal, you’re not buying huge houses and big cars and big payments and that kind of stuff, it makes it easier to live on a less amount of money every month,” he says. “That pressure that can really drive you crazy early on as an entrepreneur.”

Templeton’s mantra of the moment, he says, is: “Be here now.”

“It’s sort of a Zen survival mechanism,” he says. “Make sure you’re focused on what’s going on now. If you can solve it for now, usually in my opinion, most of the time things work out for you.”

ABOVE: Chuck Templeton swears this is the only image of him available.

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