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Congrats and good karma to my friend Bre Pettis on being able to take his new child - Nika – home from the NICU.
Over the last few months as we were working together to close the MakerBot financing, Bre and his partner Kio Stark had Nika prematurely, which resulted in a bonus six week stay in the NICU. I talked to Bre a number of times during this period, often when he was camped out at the NICU, and he was remarkably calm and engaged during this period.
He’s written a very detailed, thoughtful, and intense post about how to survive the NICU. While I don’t have any kids, nor do Amy and I plan to, I expect all of my obsessive behavior would come out with a vengeance if I ever ended up in a similar situation to Bre’s. My guess is that his rules apply to the hospital stay of any loved one and are well worth reading.
Bre – thanks for taking the time to write up your survival guide. I’m glad everyone is home, safe, and healthy.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an excellent post up on the HBR Blog titled Should Leaders Go on Vacation? Recently, I’ve seen plenty of commentary in the popular press (especially Fox News articles) about the inappropriateness of leaders taking vacation. Kanter does a nice job of dissecting the dynamics around leaders going on vacation and suggests the leader address five questions in the context of the vacation.
- What is the vacation narrative?
- What is the vacation timing?
- What is the rest of the team doing?
- Are there continuity, backup, and contingency plans?
- What is the vacation symbolism?
I’m a huge believer in the importance of vacations for leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyone else. I work extremely hard – usually 70+ hours a week. This is simply not sustainable, at least for me at age 45, over a period of time longer than about three months. I eventually burn out, get tired and cranky, become less effective, and get sick. Vacations are a way for me to recharge, build my energy back, explore some different things, spend extended and uninterrupted time with the most important person in my life (Amy), and just chill out. This vacation usually takes the form of a Qx Vacation that is off the grid which is now well known to everyone who works with me.
Amy and I ordinarily spend the month of July at our house in Homer, Alaska. While this isn’t “a vacation”, it’s a change of context that has become a very important part of our routine. I work while I’m there, am completely connected and available, but have a very different life tempo. And – most importantly – zero travel.
This summer we spent July in Paris. We both love Paris and went there to just “live.” We rented an apartment in the 8th, ran in the local park, shopped at the Monoprix down the block, ate lunch at all of the nearby restaurants, and had some amazing meals out. But mostly we just hung out, worked remotely, and spent time together.
I’ve had a fantasy about renting a house in the Tuscan countryside and spending a month in Tuscany for many years. We decided to do it this summer and we turned our month in Alaska into two months in Europe. However, rather than travel around and be tourists, we just lived. We had plenty of friends visit, but we spent the days exercising (I ran a lot), reading, writing, and working.
I plan to write at least one post about what I learned in my “summer in Europe” after I return to the US next week. It has been an amazing experience, especially since I was completely connected to my regular work, yet was able to observe a lot of activity from a distance and reflect on what I really thought was going on.
In the mean time, if you are a leader, entrepreneur, or anyone else, I hope you read Kanter’s post and think hard about both the value of time away and the expectation setting around it. Life is short – make sure you live it.
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.
Last night I had dinner with my brother Daniel, one of the partners at Slice of Lime, a Boulder-based web design and development firm. He and I were at TechStars at the end of the day where I gave a talk on “How To Be A CEO.” Afterwards, we had a nice dinner together at The Cheesecake Factory (his choice – I don’t think I’d been there in a decade – and it was surprisingly good), a great talk, and dynamite brother hang out time.
We do this once a month and have committed to each other to try to do this every month for the rest of our lives. For the first 25 years of my life we weren’t that close. While I don’t remember being an asshole older brother, I’m periodically reminded by Daniel about things I did that, while they fall in the “typical older brother” category, also could be consider major asshole moves. We became very close when he moved to Boulder 15 years ago (less than a year after I did) and we’ve never looked back.
We’ve modeled our relationship after our father (Stan) and his brother (Charlie). I’m very close to both my dad, who is one of my best friends, but also very close to Charlie who introduced me to computers when I was 11 and has been a great mentor to me, always inviting me along to meetings with major companies like Lotus, Microsoft, IBM, and DEC when he was the CIO at Frito Lay in the 1980′s. In 2000, Charlie and I became business partners when Mobius Venture Capital invested in The Feld Group and I joined the board. Over the next four years, I worked closely with Charlie and his partners at The Feld Group as they built the company before selling it to EDS in 2004.
While I’ve always viewed my relationship with my dad and Charlie as special, part of what drives that is their incredibly close relationship. My dad is older by about the same amount that I am older than my brother and, while there is the typical older brother / younger brother entertainment, these two guys completely have each other’s back, no matter what. Whenever my dad tells me he’s heading out to Charlie’s farm to hit baseballs (Charlie has a baseball diamond on his property), I can hear the joy and excitement of the kid from the Bronx who taught me how to hit a baseball in his voice.
So Daniel and I try hard to emulate the relationship and take it to another level. While we talk plenty about business stuff, we also spend a lot of time talking about our lives, what is driving us, what stresses us out, and what we strive to do better. We talk about things that only brothers can talk about and instinctively know when the other needs help and support. Often – we just hang out.
As I sit at my desk at my office in Boulder at the end of a Friday of another intense week, I think about how lucky I am to have role models like my father and his brother, both for themselves as individuals and for their relationship. Daniel – thanks for being an awesome brother. And dad and Charlie – thanks for leading the way!
This morning, as I cranked through my 5am – 7am routine (which ends at 6am today because I have to leave the house at 630am to get to CU Boulder to give a keynote at the 2011 Boulder Economic Summit) I kept thinking to myself “deep breath.” If you do yoga you know exactly what I’m talking about – it’s part of Amy’s mantra for each of us to relax, slow down, and concentrate.
I’m in a particularly intense work phase that I expect will run through the end of June based on a few things that are going on that will happen between now and then. On top of it, I’m trying to run two marathons in May (Cincinnati, which I did already – and it sucked, and Madison, which is coming up at the end of the month.) Between all the work and travel, I’d probably already be pretty tired, but layer the running and the marathons on top of it and I’m physically exhausted.
While I contemplated punting on the second marathon, there are a few things driving me to do it, including really understanding my own recovery dynamics. I have a hypothesis about how I recover from a marathon (quickly) but I haven’t tested it. By adding a second marathon on top of everything else within 30 days, I’m suddenly learning some new stuff about rest, sleep, and weight. I’m also experiencing an interesting emotional spectrum that I haven’t experienced in a while (some good, some not good) that is clearly a function of the intersection of my physical activity and my work activity.
What popped out this morning is the need for more “deep breaths.” With my normal work / life rhythm, I get these on the weekend and then once a quarter when I go off the grid for a week. But given the daily work intensity combined with the physical fatigue, it’s become very obvious that I need something different during the week to sustain things at this level. Last night I blew off a dinner with a friend to just go home and lie on the couch with Amy all evening. That helped, although I spent almost all of it with an iPad in my lap sort of watching The Hangover, sort of catching up on email, and working on a few things that I knew I couldn’t jam into today.
Tonight, Amy and I have dinner alone. I’m going to shut off completely for a few hours and reflect on what I’m going through and learning about recovery. Fortunately I have a partner who puts up with this and lets me use myself as my own laboratory for these experiments.