In early March 2020, when most of us were binging on Netflix and stockpiling toilet paper, Diaa Nour was consumed with an indoor bicycling challenge between fellow CEOs. Amidst the first wave of lockdowns around the country, Nour rode over 1,000 miles in a single week, ultimately winning the competition.
That level of intensity has long defined Nour’s life, something he refers to as “an all-in personality.” Nour describes this temperament in honest terms as his biggest asset and his biggest weakness. “There was a period in my life when I tried moderation,” he says, “but honestly, it wasn’t sustainable for me. So instead I learned to balance my extreme tendencies in a different way: by batching them.”
Nour was born in Egypt and moved to Switzerland nine months later. He lived there until he was 12, learning French as his second language. From a young age, he started running long distances with his dad, who played on the French national basketball team. By elementary school he was a self-identified endurance athlete.
His family then moved to the U.S. and placed him in an all-boys Jesuit school with no ESL program, so he was forced to learn English on his own. Nour didn’t bike much until he was 30, but quickly fell for the sport, especially long rides, sometimes pedaling all day. On these rides he would put his phone on silent and view his time in the saddle as a form of meditation, not letting others bother him.
Three years later, in late 2014, Nour founded Ventum Racing, with a group of engineers and avid triathletes. As the largest investor and CEO, the startup became his priority, and somewhat ironically he started riding much less. “I got really out of shape, focusing on the company and our growth,” says Nour.
Tip 1: Creating a Daily Routine
Ventum, like most of the bike industry, is booming. It produces road and gravel bikes as well as the original triathlon bikes, yet Nour is still hands-on with the business. “My days are hectic and vary a lot,” he says. “It’s just the nature of being a CEO at this stage in a business. So, I’ve learned that it’s important to keep some sense of normalcy and stability, amidst the chaos.”
Nour makes time for a core workout and short run everyday, using fitness as his daily constant. “I try to exercise in the morning before I go to the office, because I know that even with good intentions, it won’t happen. I can bring my bike and kit in, but inevitably will get caught up in projects and calls.” Nour uses daily exercise and a lot of coffee as his reliable routine.
Like many startup founders, Nour is an early riser, getting out of bed before 6 a.m. “I typically jump out of bed without an alarm, throw on loud music, and hit the gym,” says Nour. “I batch everything I do, from work to exercise to time with my family. I often work late into the night and when I take time off to see friends I’m fully present. Clear boundaries are the key to batching.”
Tip 2: Batching Instead of Balancing
Nour says the idea of balancing work, fitness, and personal life is a fallacy. “Thinking of it that way is like playing a constant game of Whack-a-mole. You can maybe get two of three right, but never all of them at the same time,” say Nour, who encourages others to batch them.
“At 40 years old, I still have a lot to learn, but I at least have a system for juggling all my priorities. Ten years ago I didn’t have the batching system figured out.” Nour never caps his important tasks with hours and minutes. “I don’t want to be managed by meetings and calendars. I think life is more flexible than that,” says Nour, who calls himself a distance athlete-turned-distance worker. Playing the long game, he says, is about batching your priorities into weeks and days, not minutes or hours.
Tip 3: Being Present Instead of Priorities
Nour has a unique perspective on priorities as well, believing that people should spend more time being present, instead of juggling a to-do list. “I start my week by thinking through my priorities and batching them into days. It’s important to have a single focus for a day and not have your brain always bouncing around. Last week, for example, I was focused on seeing my in-laws in Minneapolis. This week is about a big presentation to investors, so obviously my time is spent differently.”
The hardest thing to conquer when thinking about and batching is fear, says Nour. You can’t be afraid you’re going to miss an opportunity or be afraid to tell someone no. To stop the cycle of nonstop work, Nour will unplug completely. “The switch is the hardest part, but you just have to do it. Reminding yourself that personal fitness or family is just as important as your work can be hard, but it’s critical. It takes personal accountability and gives self-worth by drawing those boundaries,” says Nour.
Tip 4: Staying Fit
Nour has had a lot of coaches in his life, especially when he has a big athletic goal or just is prioritizing fitness for a long period of time. “They are important, because they force you to have accountability.” But he understands that having a trainer or coach isn’t always a reality.
Despite acknowledging that his happiest moments are when he’s physically fit, Nour says that staying in peak shape isn’t possible with a company to run and a relationship to prioritize. “It’s a demon I have to battle all the time. I often work with a mental health coach and highly recommend one to others. My head can spin when I’m not fit, which isn’t something I can always solve on my own,” says Nour.
The key, he believes, is letting go of hustle culture and realizing hustling doesn’t correlate with creating value. “You should always start with a strategy and plan, and execute on that. Hustle just means keep doing what you’re already doing. It means turning your brain off and working long hours without seeing the bigger picture,” says Nour. “The important thing is to be present, which I’ve learned to do by batching.”
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