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Sometimes you have to stop doing things to make more progress.
2013 was a complicated year for me. Lots of things have gone well, but I struggled with a deep depression from January to May. My running has been erratic (no marathons this year) and I’ve struggled a lot physiologically, which at this point I think I’ve been able to determine is some version of what is called adrenal burnout or cortisol deficiency.
As part of trying to get back to a happy place, I decided to stop traveling. I haven’t been a plane for work since the middle of May. Yesterday was the first time I got on an airplane since June (when I went to visit my parents for their 50th anniversary). I’m on a two week vacation (one week completely off the grid) – something I do every year around Thanksgiving since my birthday is on December 1st.
My annual rhythm tends to run from 12/1 to 11/30 due to my birthday. It’s a much bigger marker for me than January 1st, especially since I still have some grumpy jewish kid behavior around Christmas. So – with a week to go in my version of this year, I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do differently in 2014.
I immediately flashed to no business travel. Waking up in my own bed at home for the past six months has been transformative for me. So I decided to continue to not do business travel in 2014.
But that’s an easy one, since I’m already doing (or not doing) it. So I’ve begun thinking about the next things I’m going to stop doing. Some are work related and some are personal. I’ve always been an abstainer instead of a moderator so things like “no alcohol” pop up to the top of the list quickly. But that’s less interesting to me at this point than things that are more profound in a business context, like “no travel.”
As I work on my list of things to stop doing, I’m curious about what, if anything, is on your list.
Last week my friends at FullContact announced a new paid vacation policy and wrote a post about it titled Paid Vacation? That’s Not Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Paid, PAID Vacation.
FullContact will now pay an employee $7500 to go on vacation. The rules are simple:
- You have to go on vacation.
- You have to disconnect entirely (no phone, no email).
- You can’t work.
If that whets your appetite, take a look at the presentation about the new policy.
Hiring great people is intensely competitive in my world. While part of this is around recruiting, a bigger part is creating an environment where these great people can periodically disconnect and recharge their batteries. I love the creativity of FullContact’s approach to Paid PAID vacation. And yes – FullContact is hiring.
Are you “too busy?” When someone asks you how you are doing do you immediately respond with something like “I”m incredibly busy?” If the answer is yes, go read the amazing opinion piece in the NY Times by Tim Kreider titled The ‘Busy’ Trap. I’ll wait.
I’ve spent the last month at my house in Keystone in Maker Mode. I’m about to submit the final draft of “Startup Communities: Build An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City” to my publisher on Thursday. I’m closing two new investments in July. I’m running my 22nd marathon in Missoula in a week after raising $11,487 as a Random Act of Kindness for Justin Salcedo from Devine, TX who has testicular cancer. I’ve stayed on top of the 250 to 500 emails a day I get and have been responsive to all of the companies I’m an investor in.
Sure – I’ve been “busy”, but I don’t feel busy. I wake up each morning without an alarm clock and have found that I’ve been sleeping 9 to 10 hours a night. I’ve spent more time with Amy than I have in a while and as a special bonus get to sleep with her every night. We go out to dinner a few times a week. We’ve watched a bunch of movies (all of the Avenger series, Kill Bill 1 and 2, and a few others.) I’ve read a couple of books. We’ve had a great time with a few friends who have come up and spent a night or two with us. And I’m in front of my computer a lot.
I’ve been to Boulder twice – once for Big Boulder (for 24 hours) and then last week for two days. Each time I felt ridiculously overstimulated. I was overscheduled, busy all day long running from thing to thing, and without any time and space to think. These trips were the only ones where I used my alarm clock (on my iPhone) to wake up an I ended up with 6 hours of sleep each night. Busy, busy, busy. And in Boulder, a tiny little town of 100,000 people.
When I reflect on these trips, I stayed on top of my work but I wasn’t productive. Or creative. Or particularly happy. Ok – I had fun – I like all my friends and all the people around me, but at my core I felt exhausted at the end of each day. I felt the pressure building up of the things I hadn’t had time to work on. And one these couple of days in Boulder I didn’t feel like I had time and space for anything else.
In contrast, as I sit here on a Sunday morning, I feel free. Amy is out for a hike, I’m going for a two hour run in a little while, and then I’m going to spend the afternoon working on my book. I have inbox zero (four new unread emails have appeared as I wrote this) and nothing is backlogged other than some additional writing I want to do. When I look at my schedule next week, there are a few things on my calendar during my manager hours (1pm – 4pm each day) but they don’t feel oppressive to me. I’m completely relaxed about my Thursday book deadline – totally comfortable that I’ll get there. And I’m excited about running my first marathon since the 50 mile race I did in April.
We are creating the Busy Trap ourselves. I think it’s a way of avoiding our fear of death. If we are in the Busy Trap, we don’t have to spend time alone, or thinking about ourselves, or thinking deeply about the stuff we are interested in. By always being tired and overworked, we get to claim that we are “productive” even if the things we are doing are pointless. We get to prove our worth by being able to declare how busy we are. But, in a lot of cases we aren’t really doing much.
I work hard. I work a lot. And I have in the past month. But I don’t feel “busy”. I don’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t feel oppressed. I feel like I’m doing some of the best work of my life so far. And I’m having a lot of fun.
Have you fallen into The Busy Trap?
It’s June 1st. And that means it’s Life Dinner. On the first day of every month, Amy and I go out to dinner. It’s not “date night” (we have plenty of those). Instead, it’s a special celebration of being alive. It’s a chance to reflect on the last month and talk about what’s coming up in the next month. And an opportunity to give each other a “non-Hallmark promoted holiday” gift.
Recommendation for all entrepreneurs: If you have a significant other, declare tonight life dinner.
Here’s how. Make a reservation right now at one of your favorite restaurants. Go out – just the two of you. Buy your significant other a gift. If you are male, buy her flowers in addition to the gift. If you are female, buy him flowers also (guys like flowers too.) Or chocolate – chocolate is always good. Turn off your cell phones and hand them to the other person. Spend a long slow dinner enjoying each others company. Talk about what happened last month – the good and the bad. Don’t argue or justify – just talk about what happened, and more importantly, how you felt about it. Remember positive feedback is more effective than negative feedback. But don’t forget to talk about difficult things or ongoing challenges. Just don’t try to solve the problems in real time – focus on empathy. And keep talking. If tears flow, that’s ok – it happens. Use it to get to a deeper level about what’s going on. But stay calm – focus on empathy. Make sure you shift to talk about what’s going on in the upcoming month. And remember the tears – and try to propose some changes to the tempo so the next month goes better. Being in a relationship with an entrepreneur is hard – possibly harder than being an entrepreneur. Recognize that and keep talking. If you drink, get a nice bottle of wine. Don’t be afraid to get a second one. Order dessert, even if you are on a diet, it’s life dinner after all. Take your time. Don’t ask for the bill before the table is completely clear and you are done talking. By this point you won’t feel like checking in to Foursquare or checking your email (it’s Friday night – nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow is going on) so enjoy the rest of the evening and night together. And don’t give each other back your phones until the morning.
Amy and I have been doing this for 12 years. We miss one or two a year – that’s ok as it’s part of our fail 12.5% of the time rule (I get to blow it one out of eight times.) Occasionally we’ll invite another couple – tonight we are having dinner with Bala Kamallakharan (the creator of Startup Iceland) and his wife Agusta who have been incredible hosts for us this week in Iceland. But usually it’s just the two of us.
Every now and then it’s a total disaster. I can remember at least two times where the tears were so intense that the waiters stayed away for a while. But we hung there and kept talking. And the tears eventually stopped and we got to a deeper place. And it was good, full of truthiness, and worth it.
Our gifts have ranged greatly over the years. Amy gets lot of art and jewelry. I get Tom’s shoes with skulls and crossbones, remote control fart machines, and a Range Rover. I think this month I’m getting a bunch of Puffin Made In Iceland Wool Hats. It evens out over time but it always brings a special smile to each of our faces when we see the other person enjoying their Life Dinner gift.
Try it. Tonight.
I’ve described this magic approach to staying connected with family when you are far away three times in the past few days. The first time was to a set of entrepreneurs in TechStars New York who were from Vancouver and have spouses and significant others back home. The second time was to an entrepreneur at the NewMe Accelerator who has a spouse and kids in Atlanta. The third was last night to a team of entrepreneurs we are in the midst of closing a financing with. Since it came up three times in rapid succession, I decided it was time for a blog post describing it.
If you find yourself in this situation, where you are deeply engaged in something for an extended period of time (say – an accelerator) and your significant other – and kids if you have them – are somewhere far away, I expect you’ll do the equivalent of a Skype call each day. There will be periodic emails, texts, and phone calls as well. While these are all good, in many cases they increase the loneliness factor. You are deeply immersed in what is going on and no matter how hard you try to be present, will often be distracted during your Skype time. And you’ll get off the phone, or video, feeling more homesick then when you got on. No matter how homesick you feel, the people on the other end, who are immersed in their life, but often not having the same kind of deeply intense experience you are having, will be missing you more.
Go to the drug store – Wallgreens, CVS, or whatever the nearby equivalent is. Buy a large package of 3 x 5 index cards and some Avery labels that you can print out. Swing by the post office and pick up some stamps for post cards. Go back to the office and print out the mailing address for your sweetie and kids at home on the labels. Put the labels and stamps on each of the index cards. When you go home at night, put the stack next to your bed with a pen.
Each night, before you go to sleep, take five minutes and write a short note on an index card. Write about one special thing that happened to you that day. Draw a doodle or a picture. Tell your family that you love them. During this five minutes, think about one thing that is special about them, why you love them, and why they are important to you. Now, go to sleep. In the morning, read the card when you wake up. On your way back to the office drop the card in the mail.
After a few days a steady stream of cards will start showing up at your house far away. If you have kids, they’ll run to the mailbox to see if something new came today. Rather than a single Skype at the end of the day, there will now be something special that shows up in the middle of the day. And – it’ll be from the past – talking abut something that happened a few days ago. The connection will be through both space and time, using a media (postcard) that current generations rarely use any more.
It’s magic. I did this in college with my parents who I missed a great deal. Several years ago my mom sent all of the postcards from my freshman year to me. It blew me away that she’d kept them and I relived a bunch of past moments sitting down and reading through them with Amy. Some are awesome, some are silly, and some are totally crazy, but they were all a part of me and what I was thinking at the time.
If you like this idea, don’t wait. Go do it right now. And tell me how you like it. Or feel free to drop a post card in the mail to me every now and then.