Calendars, to-do lists, hectic working, networking and the multitude of hats you need to wear in a startup – all connive to keep you in ‘run mode’ pretty much all the time. Nobody said it would be easy, and “be prepared to work hard with no rewards for a long time” is a common piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Yet, its worth remembering that entrepreneurship is a long-haul game, and one of the most common causes of failure is giving up because of plain fatigue. Burnout is a serious threat, and there’s always enough work and stress to catalyze it. To keep your sanity, to last the journey and enjoy it, its critical you keep your batteries charged and pace yourself.
Its also important to keep the creative, thinking parts of the job alive. As one entrepreneur put it
“Feeding the everyday demons can become so much a part of schedule that you altogether stop thinking strategically. You can get caught up in local highs and bothered about local lows and lose a sense of where you’re headed – and you’re not going to take the important, critical and brave decisions in this mode.”
And one of the most amazing ways to solve a lot of these problems – disconnect.
Disconnect: From what?
For starters – from the internet! And that mobile too – especially the uber-connected smartphone!
Vishy Kuruganti quit his job and started blogging about social enterprises. It was very fuzzy to start with, and he needs to regularly network with lots of people. What has worked for him? “18 months of ‘smartphone free’ living. It’s really possible. Nokia N75 of 2007 vintage anyone?” He also tried 1 month Facebook & Twitter detox a year ago and that gave him a burst of confidence. He now allocates a fixed time, as well as the number of times in day for FB & Twitter sessions.
“I also think it’s easier for people to dial-down their social media engagement if they *aren’t* bloggers – I don’t have that luxury :)”
For some its not a problem at all. “I can disconnect when I need to and often go days without the Internet: On vacation, sometimes during days of “loads” at work”, says Mukund Mohan – a focused entrepreneur whom we know to be extremely productive and efficient. For most of us, though, the multiple interrupts of social media, customer ‘priorities’ and the pressure from the inevitable not-done lists gets to be too much, and we freeze.
A fascinating article (pdf) says “Multi-tasking by design creates stress”. On the other hand, the plethora of tools and communication technologies constantly call out to you to pay attention to this, that and everything else. You cannot live without them either.
“Procrastination feeds on distractions. Most people find it uncomfortable just to sit and do nothing; you avoid work by doing something else.” – Paul Graham, says in a 2008 essay.
The team at Pluggd.in itself has seen the benefits of staying away from their usual online life. Every morning, a ‘pen, paper and coffee meetup’ at a location away from office helps focus on planning things ahead for the days ahead. And it shows up in better content, the relaxed approach to creating it. We tried a couple of Skype calls in between, and immediately switched back to the much more refreshing morning meeting.
‘Without great solitude no serious work is possible.’ ~Pablo Picasso
That’s indeed true. Disconnecting from the familiar helps as well. It could be time spent at a coffee shop, or on a vacation. It could be time spent reading a book you’re immersed in. It takes your mind off the problems that occupy it all the time otherwise, and often the subconscious throws a fresh thought that would not have occurred were you going around in circles as usual.
Sridhar Turaga, a serial entrepreneur, once gave most of his team a week long break so he didn’t have to get caught up in the usual tasks like everyday. It just created space for a lot of new thoughts to come in!
He quotes Meher Baba
“A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine.” He adds, “Creation is a divine process. So a good entrepreneur is essentially trying to play GOD. It’s important to find ways to slow down and be still.”
Travel, family and children can help slow you down as well. A few days off at a place that’s slower, serene and without the usual plans and distractions not only clears up the head, but also helps connect with your friends, or family – ties that are important to maintain and relationships you can count on when the going gets tough.
Prayer, meditation and exercise (we talked about cycling earlier ) necessarily take you away from most distractions for a bit and make your mind still for a while. They’re all amazing ways to focus on one thing alone, and the whole healthy-body-healthy-mind connect is really true.
Entrepreneurship is a practice in delayed gratification and ability to balance impatience with status quo with patience required to get the timing right. Constant checking of Google Analytics or reading white papers on size of your target domain or endless chatter only destroys that mental process and makes you do something all the time when you should just step back to watch. There is something to reading a well thought out editorial rather than following impulse reactions on Twitter to make sense of news. Every event, every update, every call often does seem like it could be useful, but you get lesser and lesser time to control your life and soon start merely drifting and being more reactive than proactive.
Start practicing disconnecting today, if only a few minutes at a time. From anything that creates anxiety. Take a different vacation or two – and do leave the smartphone and the laptop behind (preferably go to a place with no or limited connectivity – many do exist). Spend some time playing something, meditating, reading a book. Success is often a function of perseverance, and you might just conserve enough juice and create enough energy to last all the way!
What are your thoughts?