When do you find time to take care of yourself when there is no time?
I haven’t gone to get my hair cut in quite some time. Quite some time might mean anything, but the way my hair grows, I can quickly turn from human to Wolfman Mark is two months time. As it stands, in the mornings when I look in the mirror, all I see is this impenetrable wall of hair exploding from all sides of my head. I really do need a haircut. The question is when. That same question also goes for everything else. My personal needs are fairly minimal though. The more important stuff is caring for and supporting my family’s needs. And between running a startup, my family’s needs, and my own needs, I have to get myself from the Jersey coast to my office in NYC, which has not been an easy task this winter.
There is that constant juggle and I never quite feel I am paying enough attention to each. Because I want Enhatch to be successful though, that is where the majority of my time goes. Even then it is hard to get to everything that needs to get done. I simply parcel out the time I have. It does not alleviate the guilt or the frustration of doing things not to my standards at home or at work, but I press on anyway because that is all you can do.
There is a point where it can be too much. I have seen plenty of entrepreneurs get burned out before they even had anything to show for their work. There is a point that all the hardwork and sleepless nights becomes counterproductive. At that point, you really are not helping anyone.
It is easy to neglect yourself, your family, your friends, and everything that truly is meaningful and valuable in life. The startup is important as well and the fight to pursue that crazy vision. It is that passion and relentlessness that is needed to last through the highs and lows of starting a business. But if you neglect yourself, everything begins to fall apart.
There is plenty of advice regarding managing one’s time, but I believe it comes down to routine and discipline. The routine helps to bring some order to the chaos of startup life and discipline helps you to stick to that routine. There is that power that comes in setting something down to a schedule.
Easier said than done of course. Much like the idea of parceling out chunks of time to dedicate to one particular thing I mentioned yesterday, sometimes plans don’t go according to plan. However, if you at least write it up and post it on your desk, on your computer screen, and other places you spend your time, then at least you can jolt yourself into getting back on track.
And as for that haircut, I plan to get that crossed off my list this week.
How to be productive in the swirl of startup chaos
Now that I have been back on the entrepreneur side, there are times I feel like I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off. One minute it is a sales call, then it is a product thing, then I have an investor meeting, then it is million other little things to take care of. Sometimes it seems all these things are happening in the same segments of time and they are all “priorities”.
It is all chaotic and kinetic and wildly exciting, but it also makes getting work accomplished somewhat difficult. Because there are days I am constantly switching in and out of conversations and tasks and meetings and messages, no activity ever gets as much attention or benefit of full thought as I would like.
That is to be expected. In a corporate job, you can schedule and plan out things in an orderly way around your meetings and coffee breaks and lunch excursions. Often the rhythm of it all affords one time to build out chunks of time. Sure, there are jobs that are just hectic by nature. Then there are times when times pick up and the pace quickens, but things tend to get back to a rhythm.
But in all the hustle and bustle where there are constant interruptions and updates and critical deadlines, you can only parcel out small bits of time to any one task. In the process to pushing through stuff, you are also mentally changing gears like you would change gears when mountain biking over some particularly treacherous terrain. It exacts more mental energy and concentration. You are focused more on the short term adjustments and switches than on the overall goals and bigger picture.
People call this type of activity multi-tasking, but I think of it more as context switching. It is not the tasks themselves or that you have a lot of them, but the fact that you are trying to jump in and out of different tasks quickly. If I were to sum it up I would say context switching is productivity killing. Scientists have dug into the mental toil of multi-tasking and identified the switching as where the real cost is extracted when it comes to productivity. Your brain needs time to stop one task and gear up to the next one, and each switch takes a bit of time. Thus you tend to make more mistakes, overlook things, and make poorer decisions.
What can be done to minimize this context switching? My friend and productivity extraordinaire Clay mentioned a good idea though when I saw him the other week. He said to parcel out days to focus mainly on one area (or at least break it up along mornings and afternoons). Thus there would be an investor day, a marketing day, an operations day, etc. By scheduling things in these blocks you can reduce the whipsaw shifts that occur throughout the day.
This is will be hard to do I admit. I have that sales type of nature which is somewhat manic and ADD like. I also tend to want to respond right away to things, which in general is a good thing, but also leads to lots of context switching. But if the benefit is in being more productive, getting more accomplished, and have more “think time” to consider longer term objectives, then it is worth trying.
I am unsure that an IT department can create the perfect enterprise app because they probably don’t suffer from the same pain that the “business” people suffer from. All the customer development and wireframes in the world does not replace the pure understanding of the pain…Can you imagine what would happen if enterprise employees were able to solve their own problems by building their own enterprise applications without any code?
This changes the entire game. Getting IT out of the business applications business is a huge mindset change, but doing it could lead us to much better systems that are oriented to what users actually need.
I intimated that I would be again posting with more frequency, but with a bit of a change. Instead of my long form posts, it will be more journal style as I work with my team to build Enhatch. Mostly it is due to time constraints, but it is also something of an experiment. Can I write something worthwhile every day about the startup life and give folks a true glimpse into the what it takes to build a company from the ground up?
It is easy to forget the trials and tribulations of getting a startup off the ground. Most founder stories are colored by the successes and the gory details dulled over time and sleepless nights. Hopefully this will keep me honest when years from now I am asked about what led to our success (that is certainly my hope at least). I expect my answer to be more along the lines of how many ways did we screw up yet still manage to make something of it. That to me is the interesting part of the proverbial founder story.
So that’s about it. I do not know if this will be interesting at all, but it is worth trying out at the very least. So I will begin to tag posts with “The Journey” for those posts related to my ongoing startup story. If you are in the least bit interested in following along, I invite you to join me through this story.
Just in NYC alone there are over 50 pure co-working space entities (some have more than one location like WeWork) and that number jumps to over 125 when including startup business accelerators.