If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with my 6-month challenge and table of contents of weekly posts for the past 14 weeks.
tl;dr I know, I know. It’s Friday. I thought I could get it out this week, but was wrong — but getting closer and closer. No new updates… just been feverishly getting things ready. Been extremely busy. Shipping next week. I’ve also been exploring some other avenues of things and private experiments (which I won’t get into here publicly), but that’s been taking up my time as well. You never know until you try, right?
This is a short and sweet post on the joys of working nonstop as a founder (I kind of detest the word “entrepreneur” — it’s so overused these days that it’s lost its value). It builds character? 🙂 Just kidding…
I. Work/life balance in startups
II. Next week and key lessons learned
2. Startups Take Over Your Life
Just as the relationship between cofounders is more intense than it usually is between coworkers, so is the relationship between the founders and the company. Running a startup is not like having a job or being a student, because it never stops. This is so foreign to most people’s experience that they don’t get it till it happens.
I didn’t realize I would spend almost every waking moment either working or thinking about our startup. You enter a whole different way of life when it’s your company vs. working for someone else’s company.
It’s exacerbated by the fast pace of startups, which makes it seem like time slows down:
I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how one’s perspective on time shifts. Working on our startup, I remember time seeming to stretch out, so that a month was a huge interval.
In the best case, total immersion can be exciting:
It’s surprising how much you become consumed by your startup, in that you think about it day and night, but never once does it feel like “work.”
Though I have to say, that quote is from someone we funded this summer. In a couple years he may not sound so chipper.
– Paul Graham, What Startups Are Really Like
I. WORK/LIFE BALANCE IN STARTUPS
Quick status report/rant
Work, sleep and exercise. You can pick any two out of three. Or… sometimes, it’s just work… all the time.
It’s 5:36 am where I am now. I didn’t take any naps today. I actually got an interrupted (as opposed to uninterrupted) 5 hours of sleep.
Didn’t drink any coffee or any caffeinated beverages either — I guess I’m running on sheer adrenaline (oh, probably because Rock Health’s deadline was midnight earlier and I was rushing to get it in by then. Yeah, that’s probably where my adrenaline came from.)
…I was actually debating whether or not to go to sleep (I’m not tired right now, honest) or to go to the gym to work out. I decided to write this blog post instead 🙂
I wish there were more hours in a day so I can get in all three (work, sleep and exercise) comfortably and not have to compromise one (or two) over the others, multiple carbon copies of myself to divide and conquer the work, some time off to take a breather and relax.
The past two weeks have felt like unproductive, idle rest compared to the hurried, rushed frenzy of this week. And it’s still not over yet.
I used to take naps in the afternoon and noticed my productivity significantly dropped after that, since my body is conditioned to sleep and shut down once it hits my bed. I’ve consciously avoided taking naps all week and seen my alertness stay constant. So there’s that.
Sometimes I feel really bad, dejected and quite overwhelmed with myself, and other times I can quickly get over it in a second. It’s quasi-bipolar.
“Hustle and flow”
I came across Francisco Dao’s Hustle and Flow piece in PandoDaily today and it resonated a lot with me:
Amongst entrepreneurs it’s become a badge of honor to talk about how many hours they’re working, how inbox zero is a fantasy because they’re too slammed, how “you can sleep when you’re dead,” and various other claims about “hustling 24/7.” When you cut through the bluster, what these people are really saying is, “I don’t know how to work efficiently and effectively, and I’m also not taking care of myself.” Pro-tip: poor work and health habits are not something you want to be bragging about.
Now, I have never professed that you should eschew sleep for work nor have I “bragged” about how many hours I’m working or even said that loaded word, “hustle” (ugh, almost as overused as “entrepreneur”)… but I totally agree.
I’m very guilty of this. I’ve been conditioned throughout my life to think that more hours put in = more work done = higher productivity. Not true. I mentioned in a previous post that it’s all about energy management that leads to higher productivity (with regular exercise as a major energy booster).
Dao mentions that activity feels good, that it feels like we’re doing something:
Part of the reason we get seduced by hustle is, in the absence of actual flow, activity feels good. It feels right. It feels like we’re doing something, regardless of how poor our actual productivity might be. Furthermore, very few of us have had the luxury of learning our own state of flow. Everything we’ve done has been based on someone else’s demands. We followed our school’s demands, our parents’ demands, our boss’s demands. We never learned to work according to our own needs.
I think it’s difficult to overcome this mindset because how fast things move in Silicon Valley — if you’re very competitive and want to succeed, you’re constantly wired to be thinking about work and every little bit to help move it forward, regardless of your health and well-being and social relationships. I’m scared that every little “break” I take, someone out there is working harder and faster than me and will execute way better. For example, I don’t want to regret six months from now, a year from now — if I just worked harder, didn’t take off any vacations, etc I could’ve been the massive success! Or I could’ve been acquired! (insert your own startup dream here)
I know these are irrational thoughts, but just examples of how it’s so easy to guilt-trip yourself into working harder and longer hours, even if you actually might not be as productive (law of diminishing returns).
I also developed this mentality just as a student (since it worked well for me, but only in high-pressure, crunch time situations) as well as other stressful environments like investment banking where 80-100+ hours/week is the norm.
I feel guilty if I take time off to do “fun” things like go to Barnes & Noble and read for a couple hours for fun (strictly non-startup related too), or go take a hike somewhere or go grab drinks with friends in the city. Why do I feel like I deserve a break and time off when my product is still incomplete and imperfect? Especially since all my self-worth seems tied to this startup — and it seems like it’s all I ever eat, sleep and breathe. Not to mention, it’s like the only thing I can talk about with my friends because I’ve nearly zoned out everything else from my life to singularly focus on Cusoy. True story. And what do I have to show for it? I’d look like a hypocritical fool if I went out most weekends and had a great social life or bummed around while professing to be working on my startup.
Lack of urgency is one of the biggest killers of startup success. But you need to strike a balance between urgency and flow.
Dao also mentions flow as finding your personal rhythm:
Flow is different for every person and entails both physical and mental pacing. It doesn’t necessarily have to feel like a drug induced high, but finding your personal rhythm and state of flow will allow you to work more effectively instead of just harder. When in the proper state, thinking and decision making should come easy, and your work should feel effortless. You might find yourself staying up late because you’re more comfortable working at night, but you’re not giving up sleep just to show the world how much of a hustler you are. Claiming the raw number of hours you put in, or the amount of sleep you missed, as an indication of how serious you are just makes you look like an amateur.
Also kind of ties in with one of my first blog posts on Marissa Mayer’s recommendation of finding your rhythm so you won’t burn out.
Dao’s piece didn’t tell me anything groundbreaking or new — and I actually think most people know this to be true even if they may not practice it in person — but it was an excellent reminder to stay grounded and not get sucked into “hustling 24/7.”
I. NEXT WEEK AND KEY LESSONS LEARNED
So next week I plan to ship and see how users react to Cusoy.
…honestly, I’m totally over it being an ugly duckling, will people like it, will it break here or there, any mental hangups, etc. Whatever. I don’t even care right now — my MO is just ship-ship-ship. JFDI.
Key lessons learned:
- Don’t try to multitask. Especially on different projects. Stop it. Just stop. You’ll go crazy and it’ll stress you out even more and make you less focused, distracted and unproductive. Focus, focus, focus. Be ruthless. What is the single-most important thing you could be doing right now?
- Divide and conquer. And even when I do focus… when I think of all the things I want to do, it gets super overwhelming and looks impossible. But once I break it down into smaller, digestible chunks and am realistic and brutally honest with myself and my constraints and limitations — things go a lot better 🙂 I know this might come off as sheer common sense, but bad habits die hard and it takes a bit to shift towards new behaviors. You know what I’m talking about.
- Pomodoros. They really work. Again, they work extremely well for me (your mileage may vary). Helped me to laser focus at the task at hand and helped my brain to celebrate small wins throughout the day. No joke, some days I literally wouldn’t be able to get even 2 hours of work done (for whatever reason) — other days Pomodoros helped me power through 9 straight hours of work (also, neck pain!). It sounds extreme and crazy, but it’s part of my learning process about how I work best. I’d advise you to experiment to observe yourself and honestly analyze your work habits to maximize productivity.
Cheers to the “weekend”!
See you next week.
P.S. How is it November already?
P.P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter here.
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