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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Slow Down To Speed Up

Comments (39)

It’s Sunday morning. Take a deep breath. It’s summer time. Go for a walk. Or a run. Play with your family. Take a nap this afternoon. Read a book. Go to a movie. Chill.

Last week, I had two close friends tell me some version of “I’m too busy.” One insightfully said “I have no time these days. I’m doing too much.” The other simply said “sorry I didn’t call back – I have no time.”

I too am intensely busy. And anyone who knows me knows that I eventually hit a wall, have short term burnout, need to rest / recover, and then get back at it. However, as I’ve gone through this cycle throughout my life, I’m getting smarter about how to handle it. My week a quarter off the grid helps. July in Alaska helps (although this summer has a fun, European twist). Running helps. Time with Amy helps. And recognizing that as one gets busier, more crap creeps into the schedule, is important.

I’ve deliberately slowed down in June. I’ve cancelled a bunch of unnecessary things. I’m rethinking how I approach board meetings which are a massive time suck for any VC. I’ve been a lot more hesitant to say yes to a trip somewhere to do something. I’ve been aggressively using Skype and Google Video Chat for meetings. And I’m scheduling a lot less throughout the day – trying to have more adhoc time to work on whatever I feel like or whatever comes up.

Basically, I’m trying to slow down. If I do this right, I believe I’ll be able to cover even more ground. I think this applies to any entrepreneur, or anyone involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Being really busy” is seductive – it has nothing to do with getting things done, or actually accomplishing your goals. But there’s something satisfying, or at least addictive, about being so busy that you don’t have time to think or reflect on what is going on around you. This is a big mistake long term as you’ll ultimately make crummy decisions.

Slow down to speed up.

  • http://twitter.com/defrag Defrag/Glue

    Amen. I first noticed this when I was selling conference sponsorships. I got so obsessed w/ “hitting the number” that I began pushing everything I could into the schedule. And, as any race car driver will tell you, you cannot get a car to travel at maximum speed by holding the gas pedal to the floor (nor can you avoid walls by focusing on them). You ease up a bit on the gas, concentrate on the turns, drafting and not having to hard brake. The analogies are actually endless (you cannot swing a golf club at maximum club head speed by swinging it as hard as you physically can, etc), but the song remains the same.  ;-)

    • http://freepository.com John Minnihan

      “…the song remains the same”

      always w/ the musical sub-refs, you are.   Since I know you both (Brad + Eric), I’ve *seen* these behaviors + the subtle (+ not so subtle) changes in each of you over the past several years.  This is one of those ‘sounds common-sensical’ statements that seems less like advice + more observational, but it’s true – you need to focus on what’s ahead + do or act upon the stuff that gets you to that point on the horizon.

      Continuing Eric’s racing analogy, drivers don’t attempt to dodge wreckage as it occurs in front of them – they drive thru it, focused intently on the patch of clear raceway 1/2 mile ahead of them, all the while continuing at (more or less) the same speed.   

      So what Brad’s saying is that you must train yourself to ignore the flying debris around you, which is really hard, and simply keep the gas on + drive thru it.  I’m working on that myself + get a little better every day.

  • Anonymous

    I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s my take on the same subject: http://bit.ly/lmjDai
    I often think of the kindergarten teacher who, on walking into the room filled with screaming five year olds, chooses not to scream louder (or speed up) but instead to shut the lights and tell everyone it’s nap time. It’s really hard when your head is filled with screaming five year olds. 

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Adults need more nap time.

  • http://paulroales.com PaulRoales

    When someone says “I am to busy..sorry” what they really mean is “that is not a priority for me, other things are”

  • http://twitter.com/cselland Chris Selland

    Great advice Brad – thanks for the reminder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kare-Christine-Anderson/100000521862131 Kare Christine Anderson

    I’ve long called this Go slow to Go Fast

  • http://www.charliecrystle.com Charlie Crystle

    When you look at an empty day on your calendar, the inclination is to fill it. 

    Instead, create a single, day-long appointment to do a single thing, or nothing. These days I do more by doing less; or rather, committing to less, and focusing on what matters. The rest is noise.  

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    It’s obvious this is the right advice. 

    What I struggle with as a VC is saying “no.” It’s easy to do when I’m approached by random people, it’s much harder when friends or associates introduce somebody and ask that I meet them. And living somewhere like LA there is always somebody rolling through town.

    You guys are smart for having your investment “themes” because it makes saying no politely more palatable. I have thought a lot about this. I need to find a way to make this work.

    In a perfect world I’d meet with anybody who wanted a bit of time. But as you say, then I’d never get anything done.

    Aargh.

    • http://www.commun.it SharelOmer

      :) but you inspire others in a more collective way via your blog and advice.

      JFDI is our company moto :)

      • http://www.feld.com bfeld

        I love JFDI – always had. Up there with JGSD.

        • http://www.commun.it SharelOmer

          :) Just Get Something Done! i like… its my 1st time hearing about it…

          Like Art Williams said “Smart people over-think, JUST DO IT” :)  

          An approach of JFDI +  JGSD + a good tean that has lots of vibe + passion for what you do + stamina  = something good will come out of it :) not sure if the best startup but something good..

          Thanks for sharing Bred… super honored to talk to you.
          Sharel

        • http://www.totaltab.com Nick Reuter

          I can’t take credit for it (this one comes from @evanish:disqus  ) but I have loved using it ever since…. #ELaMF – “executing like a MF” 

  • http://www.rch-phd.com Rick Harris

    I agree with what you say in this post but I h-a-t-e the phrase “slow down to speed up”. You don’t give yourself any credit for deciding which meetings to take by conference call and which ones to attend. “Slowing down to speed up” is a slacker mantra, and you’re no slacker.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Eh – I prefer to think of it as a Buddhist Koan instead of a Slacker Phrase . 

  • johnhcook

    Great advice. Sounds like the title of your next book.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Actually the title of the next book is “Startup Marriage: Balancing Entrepreneurship And Relationship”

      • johnhcook

        Oh man, I will need to read that one for sure. :)

  • Lennie Rose

    I absolutely love this post because sometimes I can lost in the doing, miss the big picture, and find in the process that I’ve lost myself. As Vivian Gornick says it, “I’ve forgotten what I know.” Moving ahead has everything to do with getting un-mired and back to center where it can all expand again with perspective.

  • http://www.openviewpartners.com Scott Maxwell

    I was wondering if you were going to keep up your lightspeed pace forever!  I suspect that once you free up some time, you are going to fill it back up again, as you feed off being on the edge of chaos and being at the edge may be the learning maximizing point.  Hopefully, in the process, you will eliminate some of the less rewarding activities, expand the more rewarding, and test some new activities as you do!

    S

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yeah – I regularly go through this pruning process although my shears seems to be getting sharper as I get older.

  • http://www.migrationbox.com EduardoF

    I learned to “slow down to speed up” the hard way after TechStars. Other than hitting a wall after a very intense couple of months or so, I also encounter micro-burnout sometimes. I really enjoyed this post by Noah Kagan on that subject: http://blog.asmartbear.com/burn-out.html

  • http://twitter.com/tekstenr Ryan Teksten

    Brad–so true! Perspective often comes from sitting on the bench and taking stock of what’s rushing past you.  I’m enjoyed your “get uplugged” perspective to reboot and refit and will be emulating your July trip this year in Telemark, Norway.  Enjoy Alaska!  -rdt

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Enjoy Norway!

  • http://twitter.com/ditschfitness Gary Ditsch

    I’m smiling as I read this post.  I know that I’ve found the last couple months rewarding as I found myself with about 20 to 30 extra hours a week after shutting some things down.  The hard part is I spend 10 hours a week right now figuring out how to fill those hours in again, because something inside myself says that if I don’t I’m — (list of all the negative emotions one may have associated with failure or idle time).  I am just finishing up reading “100 Things Challenge”, while it talks about eliminating things, he expands that into his role as a business owner, life, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/Nyamacuhi Pauline Mwangi

    It is easy to be caught up in the web and at times it feels like chasing your tail.I learnt to slow down the the hard way. About six months ago, four of us started this project and there was always too much to do. And I would get panic attacks at night from just thinking of all the pending tasks. It took a doctor to actually point out that at the speed I was going with, the project would be very successful but I may not live to see it.

  • http://twitter.com/Nyamacuhi Pauline Mwangi

    It is easy to be caught up in the web and at times it feels like chasing your tail.I learnt to slow down the the hard way. About six months ago, four of us started this project and there was always too much to do. And I would get panic attacks at night from just thinking of all the pending tasks. It took a doctor to actually point out that at the speed I was going with, the project would be very successful but I may not live to see it.

  • http://www.sevenbranding.com/ Tamal Anwar

    Absolutely correct my friend! Life can be very busy for people in business, it gets addictive. I spend the whole day in computer, but right now I am following a strict routine to limit my work hours, lets hope to bring some valuable time out for my family and friends.

  • http://www.commun.it SharelOmer

    Gr8 post…

    Someone once said that being an entrepreneur is like a marathon runner… you have some sprints in a marathon but basically its a long lonely ride :)

    The weekend is a gr8 time to slow down, think outside of the box.. more strategy and less tactics :) day to day managing keep you too focused on the stressfully execution not the amazing privilege to give value to the world.

    Glad they invented the weekend :)

    Thanks,
    Sharel

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      When I was a young entrepreneur I used to work all weekend. My joke was that my weekend was Sunday night from 7pm to 10pm.

      It turns out that joke was on me. I now treasure my weekends. Sure – I have plenty of work that I do, but I recognize they are a valuable change of pace / tempo.

      • http://www.commun.it SharelOmer

        Hi Brad,
        10x for the personal reply :) it must be fun remembering those days…

        Lesson learend and we wil try to implement :)

        Have a GR8 week,
        Sharel

  • http://twitter.com/ktinboulder Kelly Taylor

    Brad,

    This reminds me of David Allen’s GTD Horizons of Focus.  He uses runway, 10k, 20k feet etc to visualize levels of thinking.  So, runway are things you have to deal with today, 50k feet are things like “why am I on this planet?”.  

    http://www.gtdtimes.com/2011/01/26/the-6-horizons-of-focus/

    I think it’s important to align your bigger goals in life, if you tell yourself you want to be close to your family and spend lots of time together but you don’t, then it’s time to slow down and adjust.

    Also, do a Calendar Retrospective from time to time to analyze how you are spending your time, are you doing what you want to be doing with your time?
    http://www.ktinboulder.com/2011/03/calendar-retrospective/

  • Beau Laskey

    Great post…i learned this concept years ago in the military in the SEAL Teams…the trainers always used to say, “slow is fast, smooth is fast.”  It’s very true.  Deliberate, thoughtful decisions and actions…though may seem slow…really allows you to speed up since you’re making better decisions the first time…it holds true for strategic actions down to tactical room clearing (CQB) ops…easier said than done though especially when you’re trying to shoot the bad guy before he shoots you.  In this world i have to deliberately keep telling myself this…otherwise i’d just be talking on my cell phone and answering emails, texts,etc…and 99% have nothing to do with what i want to really get done!    

  • Rich

    It has nothing to do with speed. It’s about working smart not hard. If you work hard it means you don’t know what you’re doing!

    That doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. Hard work is a great brute force way to succeed. But, have you ever noticed that some people make everything they do look easy? That’s because they work smart not hard.

    When I was 20, I could bench press 400lbs. Not a world record by any means. But, much more than the average person can lift at that age. I worked my ass off at the gym 3 hours a day 6 days a week.

    Years later when I learned to work smart. I managed to bench 365lbs, but only worked out 3 days a week for 1 hour a day.

  • http://www.totaltab.com Nick Reuter

    So this morning I read a blog post that showed up in Google Reader that had to do with how we live our lives too fast, and how we speed through without ever stopping to smell the roses. I dunno, but as an entrepreneur and driven individual I feel like my problem isn’t that I don’t stop and smell the roses, but that I want to smell every single damn rose in the entire field. So I run from rose to rose, sniff, sniff, sniff, as quickly as possible. And try to process and absorb all that beauty and life. And it gets overwhelming! 

    I think in general it’s safe to say that entrepreneurs really do squeeze every drop out of life, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that that hard work somehow means you didn’t necessarily pay attention to other things in life. On the contrary, an entrepreneurial endeavor that winds up in success can provide more time and flexibility than might be possible otherwise. On a side note: you could have summed up this whole post by just saying “Be the tortoise, not the hare”! 

  • http://www.totaltab.com Nick Reuter

    I couldn’t help myself. I wrote a response to this post on my own blog. I was inspired on thinking about the intersection between productivity, burnout, and other factors here.

    More: Startup Productivity: Are you the Hare or the Tortoise?

    Basically has to do with identifying where that line is between going 110% and going 10%. Where’s the sweet spot when it comes to productivity.

  • http://angel.co/energie-praemisse james ferguson

    >> this summer has a fun, European twist 
    If in the Alps you might like to take a look at http://www.brienzerseelauf.ch/ for the oldest long distance Swiss run celebrating its 55th year – 16th October 2011 - Beauty so sweet your teeth may hurt !
    I’m a swimmer not a runner so a compromise would be to stop in for a cold one on your way round the lake (no funding strings attached :)

  • http://twitter.com/snadahalli Sandeepa Nadahalli

    Good one! I liked it. I practice this too:)

  • http://twitter.com/chrisyeh Chris Yeh

    I find that having kids forces me to take time off on weekends.  They certainly don’t care about valuations or business models.  They just want their dad to take them swimming.

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