The Healthy Startup Founder
Startups and distance running share a kind of connection. They’re counter-intuitive pursuits that, for some, are addictive. Both activities demand commitment. Anyone can get excited by the start or finish line. However, what’s done in between, and leading-up-to, is the real test. It’s quiet out there, on your own. The reasons to quit sometimes overwhelm your will to persevere.
I know that making Officehours a success will take time. I also appreciate that doing so requires me to train/run smart. I can’t over-do it and crash early, nor, can I operate efficiently on an empty tank. Instead, I need to make smart decisions. This means staying relaxed, so I remain clear and focused. Following are some of the ways I’m doing this. Perhaps you can apply a few of these approaches, too.
Sock away savings
One of the worst ways to launch a startup, is without money. This will force you to give up early, or beg for funding—neither of which are things you should worry about. Instead, work a few months and save up a nest egg.
In doing so, you buy yourself some time to focus on your startup. We busted our asses on client work for the first two-thirds of 2015, just to establish some runway. As a result, our bank balance is decent, and we only need a little ongoing client work to maintain it.
Ideas are easily discovered, and equally easily abandoned. But, if you know why you committed to your startup, it’ll be that much easier to stay the course.
Officehours helps people find new opportunities, better enabling them to move their work forward. (I see it as one of the first startups of the collaborative economy.) Sure, it might not pan out, but I believe in its purpose enough to commit to it. I occasionally waver, but this greater purpose leads me back.
This is incredibly important. My hunch is that most startups fail not because they’re bad ideas—but because founders quit too early.
I find the idea of funding to be seductive and frightening. Easy access to working capital sounds great—but, I know it comes at a cost. What happens when your startup hits a bump? Who decides whether to keep going, or give up?
I prefer to stay “poor-ish,” initially, and retain control over such decisions. There’s great freedom in not needing to answer to a boss—particularly one who lent you a few million dollars. Besides, this approach forces you to find a means of making your own money.
Do fewer things
Feeling overtasked and out-of-control, is so common for startup founders that it’s considered normal. This results in a sort of tech-machismo that isn’t productive. I argue that the best way to get things done is to do fewer things. This requires you to put your smarts ahead of your enthusiasm.
Once a week, I revisit my goals: one for work, another for health, and another for family. At one point my hopes for each of these goals varied from week to week; now, they’re pretty consistent. These serve as a kind of compass that points me in the right direction.
During the week, I capture tasks in Todoist—mostly to keep my head clear. Each morning, I take 10 minutes for a recurring task (titled: Delete, think, prioritize). During this time, I: delete non-essentials; think about what’s most pressing; and, set priorities for the day.
A good measure of whether you’re doing this right, is if you tick off most items, each day. If you do, you can always squeeze in a few more. However, if most are incomplete, you need to be more ruthless in selecting what you’ll focus on.
Run at mid-day
It’s easy to drop exercise when you work on a startup. This is a mistake. All those hours of sitting are dangerous. So, around mid-day, I get off my ass, and go for a run or walk. These aren’t long—typically just an hour. But, it’s enough time to get some fresh air and let my mind wander—which can lead to new ideas.
I didn’t always do this, but I now treat it as a priority. And this doesn’t come easily for me. That said, I figure my health is more important than my work—and it should be. Besides, without the former, I can’t do the latter.
I also set an hourly alert. When it chimes, I do 50 jumping jacks—or some other quick exercise. Sometimes I run a flight of stairs 10 times. At others, I do crunches, stretch, or something other. This takes less than two minutes, and sort of wakes up my body.
For 20 years, I skipped breakfast. This left me ravenous, once lunch rolled around. So, I inhaled more—and worse—food than I should have. Since then, my diet has improved substantially.
I never miss breakfast (typically oatmeal, granola, fruit, chia pudding, or avocado on toast). I also take time to cook a proper lunch, and eat a pretty decent dinner. This isn’t difficult. Just stuff your fridge with real food (e.g. fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-wheat breads). The presence of good foods tends to lead to better dietary habits.
The regularity of my eating evens out how I feel. Plus, since I don’t go to restaurants much, I know exactly what goes in my body. Red Bull, slice pizza, and fast food seem like a way to save valuable minutes. I’m convinced that over time, these shortcuts result in a net loss, though.
Swap coffee for tea
Anxiety is ever-present, for startup founders. “What if we run out of money?” “What if someone strips our idea and markets it better?” “What if I’m just not good enough to make this work?” You can’t let these fears distract you from what you aim to achieve. So, it’s in your best interests to cut any factors that create such uneasiness.
I love coffee—especially espresso. In spite of my fondness for it, I recently realized that it contributed to a general sense of queasiness. So, I tapered it out. As a result, I’m more even and calm. I occasionally indulge, but I’m surprised by how big a difference I feel, as a result of making this change.
Go to bed early
One of the biggest mistakes I make, is in sacrificing sleep to get a jump on work. “If I just push through, I’ll get this thing done. Besides, I can catch up on sleep, on the weekend.” Although this works for a while, it saps your vital energy. This exacts a toll that affects you over the long run. Interesting sidebar: sleep deprivation will kill you faster than lack of food.
I find that no one thing affects my well-being as much as getting rest. Plus, I’ve noticed that if I get to bed before 10:00, I tend to skip putting back a drink or two. When I’m not as good, I try to squeeze in a quick nap. Even 20 minutes of shut-eye helps me reset and gain focus.
Listen to music that encourages flow
I enjoy music. In fact, I appreciate few things as much as a blank sheet of paper, a cup of coffee, and something good on the stereo. As I get older, though, music isn’t as easy. New music takes me longer to process, and older stuff feels tired. So, I spend a little too much time, trying to find something to listen to.
Lately, I said “no” to playing DJ. Instead, I find a Classical or Electronic channel on Songza, and let it play. By choosing an instrumental stream, I’m less distracted by vocals and lyrics. Plus, this sort of music helps me more readily achieve a flow state. I value this focus. (Lately, I’ve even worked in absolute silence—which I’m growing a fondness for.)
When you’re young, you can push yourself pretty hard—and mostly get away with it. But, those long hours will catch up with you. If you look at most successful companies, their paths were long. Odds are, if you achieve success, yours will take years of consistent effort. So, I suggest you take care of yourself—and enjoy the journey.