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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.
The phrase “work-life balance” is a vexing one. Some people think it is impossible. Others strive for it. Many entrepreneurs, and pundits about entrepreneurship, reject it as impossible. Others believe that figuring out how to balance work and life is a sign of a more enlightened entrepreneurial perspective.
In Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur Amy and I talk about many of the tactics we use to integrate work and life, which Amy loving refers to as “all the time that I’m not working.” We don’t often use the phrase work-life balance as we aren’t striving for a balance between the two, but rather an effective integration of them. I’ve been using the word “equilibrium” lately which feels different to me than the word “balance”, but I know many people will equate the two.
The challenge is that we are dealing with a very dynamic system that ebbs and flows continually. It’s early Saturday morning – I’m at the John Wayne Airport waiting for my flight home. I have an absurd amount of email backed up from the week. I’m currently on top everything in my portfolio, so I feel good about that, but I’ve got a long writing backlog. And there’s a bunch of things I’d like to explore. So I have much more work than I could possibly do this weekend, even if I spent the entire weekend working.
On the non-work front, I haven’t seen Amy (except for several times a day on Facetime) since early Tuesday morning when I left for Seattle. I miss her and Brooks the wonder dog. We have dinner with my brother, my partner Ryan, and their wives tonight. I have a 2:10 hour run on Sunday morning (I have a marathon next weekend) and a massage in the afternoon. And I want to watch last week’s episode of Scandal.
There’s no way to “balance” all that stuff or achieve any semblance of balance. But I can get to an equilibrium where I’m happy, Amy is happy, and I have fun. Sure – I’ll work some, but I’ll rest some also. I’ll spend some time by myself (mostly during my run) and I’ll get to go to bed and wake up with Amy each day. I’ll be in Boulder, a town I love, with friends who are dear to me. And I’m sure I’ll spend some time laying on the couch snuggling with my dog.
Next week will be completely different than this last week. Next weekend we are in Arkansas and I’m running a marathon. Amy will be there. Then I’ll be off to Boston for a few days. then DC, then NY. Alone again. I won’t be striving for “balance”, but I’ll roll with the ebb and flow.
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?
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.