In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer a number of listener questions on topics including which signals matter, staying on task without external motivation, and how they manage their time.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Hey, Mike. Do you know what the Exeˈcutor is in Star Wars?
Mike: Yes. It’s one of the Star Destroyers but I don’t remember which one. I figure whether it’s the Super Star Destroyer or is it just one of the other ones?
Rob: I believe it’s Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer.
Mike: Yeah? Okay.
Rob: Exeˈcutor. What’s funny is I used to call it the Eˈxecutor when I was I kid because it’s spelled like that but I learned it’s called the Exeˈcutor. Here’s my question for the day. How many bounty hunters are on the Exeˈcutor when the rebels are hiding in the asteroid field?
Mike: Bounty hunters? Geeze.
Rob: This is The Empire Strikes Back.
Mike: Yup. They’re all standing around and he says like, “No disintegrations.”
Rob: Exactly and Robot Chicken has done a great parody of this. If anyone has not seen that, go type it. ‘Robot Chicken Star Wars Bounty Hunters.’ How many?
Mike: Oh gosh. How many exactly? There’s between four and six. If I had to guess, I’d go on the higher end. There’s probably six or seven, actually. I’ll go with seven.
Rob: Final answer?
Rob: It is six. Very close, sir. I was at five, but Boba Fett, Dengar, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Bossk, and IG-88.
In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss determining which signals matter, staying on task without extrinsic motivation, and more listener questions. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 443.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Where this week, sir?
What sucked even more is I created this 30-minute video and then I went to basically dump it unto YouTube, because of course you can’t submit it in any other way except by putting the video on YouTube, and I found out that there was no sound so I had to do it all over again. I had to re-record it. I was like, “This sucks,” and I tested the sound before like the first time, too. I tested it, it worked, then I did the video, and no sound. I was like, “Come on.”
Rob: That is no good. So, you basically just […] a bunch of times on something that really did not move you business forward.
Mike: Exactly. Of course, this whole thing does not really move my business forward, but I don’t know. I still have concerns about the whole thing because they say that depending on what you’re doing, you may need to go through a third party security review and I’m like, “Oh and that will cost anywhere from $15,000–$75,000,” and I’m like, “Uh, yeah. I don’t know about that.”
Rob: Interesting. They must have an exception, I’m guessing, for small companies? I mean, that seems like an odd thing to saddle you with.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t know.
Rob: It’s like it’s PCI has self-certification. There are often things like that where it’s a pain in the neck to do but there is some out. I guess it gets serious backlash. If there’s not, that’s not good because you’ve had this in place for a while and then they’ve changed policy?
Rob: Huh? Google changing something and hurting someone’s business? That’s news. Shocker.
Mike: The sad part about that is that I specifically built Bluetick using IMAPS so I wouldn’t rely on their API, so that if they decided to change things on me then I basically wouldn’t be affected. Guess how that is working out for me right now?
Rob: Yeah, sorry to hear that. It’s tough to rely on any third-party. I talked about when I had HitTail, how we were reliant on Google keywords, and then they did not provide it. Then we got into the Webmaster Tools and then they broke that. They break that every six months. It was really frustrating.
That was a big reason that when I wanted to start my next startup, I didn’t want to be reliant, and then you just wound up being reliant. You’re relying on somebody at some point. You’re relying on Amazon or Google for hosting and it’s hard to switch. Yes, there are options but it’s a tremendous amount of effort to switch.
Even just sending emails, as you and I know, getting in spam, inboxes, and on blacklists like that, you become reliant on them, and then you have to go build all this infrastructure to keep you from spamming people. This is another example. You do something, it makes sense, it makes it easier for your customers, and in this case it kind of get you into a bunch of extra work to just maintain this thing.
Mike: It is a double-edged sword, though, and it creates this hurdle that if anyone wants to come in after the fact and try to build that, it just makes it more difficult for them. Just by virtue of building your app and making it better over time, that does the same thing, certainly so. I don’t know. Still trying to work through it. I sent it off to them. I send the video to them and in less than an hour later, they got back to me and said, “Okay, now this other thing needs to be fixed.” I’m like, “All right.” I fixed that and burned another three or four hours fixing that because they’re like, “You can’t have non-production systems using the same client ID.” I’m like, “Dear God, it’s the same thing.” So, I’m like, “All right.” I don’t know. I have to switch everything over, modify my build server and everything else.
Rob: Anything else beside from technical and integration challenges going on with old Bluetick?
Mike: I’ve got my webinar that I’m doing which, by the time this episode comes out, it will have been yesterday. I’m doing that for hr.com and we’ll see how that goes. I got to get them the final PDFs to the slides so that they can post it in the website and then get the presentation on Monday. It ought to be good.
Rob: Sounds good. On my end, just opposite pushing forward with TinySeed and things are going well there. I’m having a great time and I’m very excited about the batch that’s coming together quickly. We have almost all of the startups you selected, made offers, sent paperwork and that kind of stuff.
There’s a bunch of stuff I think I’ve said on the podcast in the past, like legal is the bottleneck and had been now for a month of two. We’ve been selecting and making offers but without the final paperwork, which is […] third party who isn’t moving nearly as fast, isn’t moving with the same urgency that we are, put it that way, has been a little bit frustrating.
I’m looking forward to getting past this point because not only did we have to incorporate and set-up multiple, where now all I see is a limited partnership in all this stuff, which takes time. Then we have to have all these docs drawn up and we won’t next time. Batch number two will not have the same level of foundation-building and will have a lot more way. We’ll know more of what we’re getting into and have better systems to do it. But realistically, the systems are not what are holding us back at this point. It really is this reliance on a third party who is moving at a glacial pace compared to us. So, I look forward to being out from under that here pretty soon
Mike: It’s interesting that you say that because it reminds me of, don’t know the inside story on this but my guess is that, that’s probably the exact reason why Stripe came out with Atlas was to help founders get past all of that stuff, so that they just didn’t have to worry about the pace of getting all the legal stuff taken cared of. It just reminds me of that.
Rob: Totally. It’s friction and it’s something, specifically with Atlas, that every company that’s not a sole proprietorship has to do. They just want there to be more of those companies. They want to have that rising tide so they can remove that friction. I remember the first time with […] I was like, “Wow, they’re really going outside their core competency,” but now I get what their long-term vision is, is that they just want more businesses that are able to get online. Of course, that’s what Stripe Atlas allows you to do super easy.
I said it before. I wish there was Stripe Atlas for accelerators and for funds. There are some pre-made things for it. They’re ridiculously expensive to the point of being a non-starter. So, we get to do it from scratch. Good thing I’m used to doing that, huh? No one thinks from scratch.
In other news, we have a few more podcast reviews. I’ll just read one of them. From wking-io, he said, “I could listen all day. I do not own my own SaaS but I work for a small info product startup and this information is so valuable. I’m able to see this information in practice and know that I will have a head start whenever the moment strikes for my own app from all the info Rob and Mike shares.”
Thank you for that review. We love a five star rating or if you’d prefer spending more time writing review, either one is fine, in […], Apple podcast, wherever greater podcast are sold, we appreciate it. Mike, when is the last time that you got something useful from Twitter?
Mike: I connected last week when somebody had lunch with them and we connected over Twitter directly. So, we coordinated that […] as you could say.
Rob: That was a very long pause. The editor edited that out but to the listener, Mike was silent for about seven on eight seconds. Number two, did you have each other’s email or did you literally meet and connect? If Twitter had not existed, would you guys have been able to coordinate that?
Mike: We probably would have. It was somebody who joined the MicroConf Academy years ago and he’s been eyeing MicroConf. It’s Josh from […]. We did lunch maybe Tuesday. Monday or Tuesday. It was Monday this week. He was in town from Maryland and just wanted to say hi, so we got together and chatted for a while about our businesses and how things were going.
It was a good time but other than that, it’s been a while since I’ve ever gotten any real value from Twitter. You’re right. Evidently, there’s a huge pause because quite frankly, I don’t log into Twitter very often anymore because it’s a lot of noise. I guess that’s what Twitter is for is for noise.
Rob: Noise and arguments. I’m not a hater but I’m been trying to figure out how do I get myself off of it because I find it a bit more of a distraction than anything. With that said, I haven’t gotten anything valuable from Twitter in a for a very long time except for yesterday and today. I knew we were recording this episode. We didn’t have enough questions to fill out a full episode and with one tweet, got frankly enough for probably two episodes or more. So, I want to give a shout out to Twitter for bringing the thunder once every six months for me or whatever.
Anyway, enough of the Twitterating. Our first question was posed on Twitter. It wasn’t even directly to us. It was probably a few weeks ago when I emailed it to my Trello board and got it over here. Justin Jackson posted on Twitter and he said, “One challenge I’d had as a founder, tracking and trying to triangulate thousands of qualitative data points. Somehow, you have to decide which signals matter. But even then, plotting all those data points on a map and deciding on a direction is tough.” Then Alli Blum replied then and said, “Same. I think about this pretty much all day, everyday.”
I think we should discuss because I have thoughts on this. Basically, how do you do this? That’s the question here is how do you as a founder do that? Probably the best question is, you have a bunch of qualitative data, how do you decide on a direction when there are conflicting signals?
Mike: I don’t like this answer. I’ll tell you that before I give it.
Rob: It depends? No, just kidding.
Mike: No. Even worse than that. It’s like a lot of gut feel. You go with what feels important at the time because it’s hard to take some of that data and say, “This is justifiably more important than that,” really based on whatever rules you try to put in place. It’s hard to put rules down on paper that are immutable. There’s always things that are changing and there’s always stuff that’s going to factor in to those decisions.
For example, the video that I had to do for Google. It wasn’t really all that important and I pushed it off for a long time because it just wasn’t important. Then, there was a deadline where it’s like, “Okay, you got a week before we just outright reject your application.” It’s like, “Okay, I have to do this now.” It’s because the priority has bumped up, because there’s a hard line in the sand, and it has to get done by that time or there’s consequences.
I feel like a lot of my decision-making around priorities tends to be driven by negative consequences of not doing something, as opposed to there’s going to be positive outcome for X, Y, or Z. There’s so many things that are going on at any given time and you have to try and juggle them all at once. It’s hard to do that.
Rob: I actually think that’s a good answer. I think gut feel is the first thing that came to my mind. I think rules of thumb are something that, if you could possibly apply rules of thumb or expertise from other people who’ve gone down before it, then start there. If not, it’s a ton of gut feel.
Justin has identified the edges of where we can have a startup blueprint and where you’re drawing your own map, with a map ends in essence. I actually have a tattoo on my shoulder that is a map and there’s a hand drawing at the edges. It’s a metaphor for exactly this, of going off the beaten path. Originally, it was like, “Well, I’m not going to work 9–5, a salary job. I’m going to go be a contractor,” and people are like, “Woah. that’s risky,” and then, “I’m not going to do salaried work anymore. I’m going to build products.” “Wow. that’s really risky. You’re hard. Can you even do that?” Then while you’re building those products, there’s no map anymore or very little map.
Frankly 10–15 years ago there was almost no map. Things like this podcast, even lean startup, customer development, SaaStr, and MicroConf have enabled us to develop a mental model. There are books that come out on the topic as […]. It helps all of us have kind of a lose map or a lose blueprint, but there’s always an edge to that. This is the point where you have a bunch of data points to decide another action. There’s no map and this is where what separates the, I would say, a poor founder from a mediocre one, a mediocre from a good, a good from a great, is how well they’re able to make these decisions.
I would also say that this is, at least for me, gotten easier over time. I feel like I’ve gotten better at it because here’s what it is. It’s making decisions without sufficient data. You don’t have all the necessary data to actually make the decisions, so you have to fill the rest in in your head. I believe there’s almost never a right answer to these things. There’s always multiple right, multiple tough, wrong answers.
I also believe that most decisions are reversible; almost all decisions. There are very few that are not. To some, you may think are not reversible. They may come with a monetary cost. They may come with a relationship cost. They may come with agony, pain, time, whatever, but almost every decision is reversible. The ones that are truly not are the ones that I now agonize over and everything else. I tend to make a pretty quick gut feel decision, realizing that if we need to change course later, you can.
Mike: I’ve looked at all these different data points and see them as signals that point at a certain direction. But some of them are more important than others, and based on the situation or timeline or things that you’re dealing with, some of them are going to come out on top. If you have rules on paper, it’s very hard to create a set of rules that say exactly what to do or how to track those things and to determine what matters.
As you said, I think that that’s a really good point about the fact that there are these guidelines and rules of thumb that you can follow. But at the same time, they’re just signals. That’s all it means. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, unless you’re looking at it in retrospect. In retrospect, there is always a right answer, or a best answer, or an optimal answer. But because you probably are working with only about 30%–40% of the complete picture at any given time, I call it guessing a little bit. It’s more like educated model recognition of what’s going on.
That’s why MicroConf is just so important and these conferences and communities where other people have seen those types of things. They can recognize it essentially on your behalf, if you have not been there before and you are not able to directly recognize it. That’s why mentors help. that’s why accelerator programs work. Like Paul Graham, I would imagine who walk into just about any startup and give pretty solid feedback about why it will or won’t work, and probably be very reasonably accurate on it, just by virtue of having talked to 1500 to 2000 or 3000 startup founders, and helping them through all those different situations.
Rob: There’s a book called Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s about how to make decisions. I believe Ruben Gomez from […] turn me onto that. I listened to it a couple of years ago and something they say in that book is, just because the outcome turns out bad doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Those two things are not linked. You make the best decision you can, with the data you have, and with the information, the gut feeling or whatever else, the intuition, whatever you want to call it, and then you do the best you can. You reverse it if you need to or you correct-course as you move forward.
Mike: I think that’s actually a problem for a lot of people, myself included. A large extent is trying to figure out, “Can I just make a decision and move on?” or even just recognizing that you’re a reasonably smart person, you’re going to make the best decision with the information you have at the time, and it may turn out to have been a sub-optimal answer or solution to whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
Waiting is not necessarily going to help you very much. You’re basically just wasting time at that point when you could have been trying to move something forward in one direction or the other. Maybe it was the wrong direction but, as you said, those types of things tend to be reversible. It could take some pain but if you wait around for enough information, you have wasted so much time and then you still have to do it. So, moving is better than not moving.
Rob: Yeah. Opportunity cost of postponing, or agonizing, or waiting, procrastinating, whatever word you want to look for of a decision. It’s hard and that’s why most people don’t do this, don’t start companies because it’s too uncharted, it scary, it takes a while to get used to, and it’s uncomfortable. I think that that’s when you know that you probably want to doing things right, but you know that when you’re in a zone of personal growth, is when you’re doing things that are making you feel not comfortable. That’s when you’re going to get better. So, cool. Glad that Justin threw that out on Twitter.
Our next question is about how to stay on task with no extrinsic motivation, no external motivation. It’s from Mike Manfrin. He’s @manfrin on Twitter. He says, “How the hell do you stay on task when you have no extrinsic motivation? I’ve been letting myself spiral out second- and third-guessing design decisions and getting absolutely paralyzed with choice and scope, that I end up doing no work towards my startup.” Ken Wallace chimed in, “Think about having a mastermind because those folks can guide you,” and I actually think that’s a good thing we should throw out. I mean, that’s often with the bigger decisions. That’s where I rely on is someone in a mastermind. What other thoughts do you have here for Mr. Manfrin?
Mike: It’s interesting that this question comes out because I just talked about it. It’s very easy to run into that situation where you are not sure what to do, so you wait and you second-guess yourself. You don’t do the work because you’re second- and third-guessing your design decisions, thinking that if you look at the problem more or you try to gather more data is going to help you in some way shape or form, and it usually doesn’t. I think that’s a very different problem than not having motivation, whether it’s intrinsic or extrinsic. That’s a different problem than being in a situation where you second-guess yourself and you’re not sure what to do, so you try and gather more information. I think those are two completely different problems.
Rob: I agree. He says, “How do you stay on task when you have no external motivation?” I definitely had time especially when I start to burn out, or when I’m feeling depressed, or when I don’t get enough sleep, there are seasonal times when it’s dark outside and cold and stuff, where I am unmotivated to do things, and I really struggle just to stay on task. Those are the times where I strategically break out caffeine, I turn on bright lights, I turn on loud music. I use all the sensory options that I have to try to get myself into a zone. I try to get into a routine where when I hear this playlist start or when I hear this single song and listening looping start, that I force myself to get in and do things. Now, the nice part is it’s probably been a year or more since I felt that way, but I’ve gone through months and months of stretches of that. That’s how I do it.
He’s also then asking, he’s spiraling out second-guessing design decisions, getting paralyzed with choice and scope. This does tie into that first question or first proclamation that Justin made of how do you make these decisions and not get paralyzed with choice. That’s where we said this is hard, it’s gut feel, you can undo things later. I think a lot of us as developers don’t want to make the wrong choice because we feel like we’ll have to rewrite all this code. Refactoring’s a pain in the butt and if we make this decision decision in the database, then we’ll never live it down, never be able to correct it.
While it will be painful to correct, these things are reversible. That’s where I tell myself actively if I find myself being hung up and for the first thing is to identify that you’re doing this, and being like, “I’m not being productive right now because of this, because of this decision, or this item in my Trello board, or this email. Why am I not doing that? Am I stressed about it? I just don’t want to face it, am I scared that I’m going to make the wrong decision?”
There’s a bunch of things that I will try to identify and then I’ll say, “Okay, if I’m stressed about it, then why? And then why? And then why? Keep asking the whys to get to the true source of it, to figure out if I’m actually stressed, or if it’s a design decision then I will either think to myself like, “Well, I’m going to call up XYZ person, who I know has a great design and usability sense, and I’m going to ask for 15 minute of their time and say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ so that I have some sense of calm about the decision.” Or maybe I just make a gut feel, I go forward, and hope it’s the right decision.
These are tactics that I would use trying to get other people involved. I do think Ken Wallace’s suggestion of having a mastermind so that you can bring these things to people on a regular basis, is a good one. Can of course run MastermindJam, which matches people up in the startup space into a mastermind.
Mike: But I think that those are also with two different pieces. One was recognizing it and then two actually addressing the problem. I think the recognition of it is something that tends to take much longer than it probably should for most people. I found that myself. I mentally know that I’m not making progress on something, but I don’t necessarily allocate time to analyze my productivity at noon, for example. I don’t have 15 minutes of this to decide and say, “Am I making progress today? Am I doing what I expected to do? Am I procrastinating doing stuff or just not doing things because I don’t want to or I’m afraid to make mistakes?”
I think the identification pieces, the part that creeps up on us, and it last fast longer than it should if we aren’t on the lookout for it at all times. What I do, for example, I do a lot of journaling. I have an app that sends me an email and says like, “Hey, write into this little thing here and you can explain what your day is supposed to be like,” for example. I do that on a fairly regular basis. I’d say probably at least three or four, if not five days a week. Then I will notice the following day if I’m not making progress on something because I’ll be a little annoyed, usually my sleep will be suffering, and I’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t get a good night sleep last night because I was thinking about this,” and it makes me think about that stuff.
So, it’s kind of a forcing function. That’s something that people can think about. I won’t say journal your way out of it. I don’t look at it as full-fledged journaling. I might write a couple of sentences or maybe a paragraph or two. It’s usually the stuff that bothers me and that just brings it to my attention. Maybe if I start writing a lot, I know that I need to pay attention to it, maybe take a step back, but otherwise I could easily go a couple of weeks or a month or two without really noticing, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh I’ve burned two months and I’ve got nothing done.”
Rob: That’s a good point. The faster you get basically knowing yourself at noticing that you’re having negative thought patterns, or negative behaviors, or behaviors that are causing you to procrastinate, or go in circles or whatever, the faster you’re able to do that and identify it, the faster you’re then able to actively attack it, get through it, and make progress. I think this is something that all of us struggle with in one form or another and I think this is something that you get better at over time if you focus on it.
This is so much of what my wife, Sherry, does on the ZenFounder podcast and in her writings and such, is looking at how these thought patterns come about, how to identify them, how to get through them. I’ve been saying for quite a while that I think 60%–70% of entrepreneurship is mental. I think more than half of entrepreneurship is purely just dealing with your own psychology, your own things, that self-sabotaging behavior, procrastination, whatever it is that you struggle with, if you can learn to overcome that, you will have such an easier time and make so much more progress so much faster.
I’m saying this from personal experience, that getting into you own psychology, whether that’s with a spouse, or a mastermind, or trained professional who is either a therapist or business coach or whatever, I think it’s invaluable. Thanks for the question. I hope that was helpful.
Our next question is from @GregDigneo on Twitter. He says, “My question revolves how you and Mike manage your time. Rob you’ve built and exited a company. You guys are both parents, you run a conference, you have the podcast, you write books. My loose question is, what is your day/week look like?” He’s asking in a couple of different ways. It’s like, how do you manage your time and what is a typical day/week look like? I think he’s probably looking for the days or the weeks where we’re more productive, not the ones where I stare at my computer for three hours, don’t get anything done, and then just wander off to go for a walk because I realize I’m not actually focused.
Mike: I tend to look at it on a weekly basis. My week’s, for the most part, are pretty similar. I work from home and the weeks that I tend to get screwed up is when the kids are home from school. Let’s see here. If I’m starting on Monday, Monday is usually my heavy work day, so I have it blocked off from my calendar. Even if somebody wants to schedule time with me using Calendly, they simply can’t. I have a hidden calendar that I can send them a link if I really needed to talk to somebody on a Monday, but typically I don’t hand that out to people and it’s usually on a case-by-case basis.
Tuesdays is not blocked off but I tend to get a fair amount of work done on Tuesdays as well Monday. I usually will work late, so seven or eight o’clock at night just because I tend not to have anything else going on. Tuesdays is a little bit lighter. In the evenings on Tuesday night, I have a D&D game that I play every week and then Seeker Wednesdays, I probably do less work. On Thursday, I do less work. Fridays, I try to get things done and set up for the following week. Saturdays, do a bunch of stuff around the house and take the kids to whatever they have, music lessons, or soccer, or what have you. Saturday night I have another online D&D game that I play and then Sunday is usually do whatever, usually cleaning up around the house and stuff like that. My week is pretty straightforward for the most part. How about you? Do you do it on a daily basis or a weekly basis?
Rob: I tend to think about things on a daily basis. Most of my days are different from one another. Sherry and I collaboratively home school one of our kids. He’s older, he’s almost 13, so it’s not like we’re sitting there teaching him stuff. He’s online taking courses, making progress on his own, and then we just have to monitor and poke in.
Some of my days I’m on and I know I can schedule fewer calls that day because I don’t want to be interrupted, and then other days I’m just completely focused on work. I look at it at a day-by-day basis. What I’ve noticed about myself is that I used to code. When I was writing code, I could sit and write it for 12 hours straight. I used to do that. That was actually my optimal way of functioning is to sit down, get momentum, break very briefly to eat or use the bathroom, and then get back. I would do 12-, 14-hour code days and get two or three days worth of progress done in that amount of time.
I don’t know if it has since I’ve gotten older or if it’s that I don’t code anymore because the coding was a very logical left brain. There’s some creative in it, but compared to what I’m doing now where I’m actually actively producing content, having to think things through, and these higher-level decisions, they’re a lot more taxing on my good glucose, so to speak. There’s only so much good brain functioning that you can have.
Writers who write books, Stephen King, these highly productive writers, they don’t write for 10 hours a day. They tend to get up, write in the morning between three and four hours tops, and then they spend the rest of the day doing other things because there’s only so much good focus you have.
Now, what I’ve found is that I’m highly productive in short bursts of, say, one to two hours. I try to have a forcing function that forces me to stop, because if I don’t, I will tend to just work two, three, four hours straight, and I feel my productivity just descend over the subsequent last one or two hours that I’m working. I have different forcing functions. Oftentimes, it is a child getting home from school or I take two of the kids to Jiu-jitsu. It’s only about an hour that we’re sitting there and I get so much done in that hour. And it’s the worst working conditions. It is terrible. I’m hunched, I have no plug, I have no chair. I’m literally hunched against the wall like I’m in junior high gym or something. I’m sitting almost like Indian style with my back to the wall, terrible posture, I have a laptop there, and I get more email done in that 45–60 minutes than I do two hours sitting at my house. I have no external monitors, I have nothing. It’s loud but there’s something about that space and the fact that I know my time is so compressed that I just hammer through to-dos and I hammer through emails.
That’s just one example but I have a bunch of times like that during the week that I’m finding there’s kids’ music lessons, there’s other things where I find that if I force myself to only have this much time, that I get the work done faster. That’s kind of a personal hack that I’ve been doing lately.
I think another thing is these are low-level how to get things done quicker on a higher level. I say ‘no’ to everything except for what’s on my goal list for the year. If you look at running a conference, you and I just do that. That’s on the to-do list. I feel like I’m pretty efficient about it, I feel like I focus on it when I need to, and then I make it a priority. The podcast is something that we’ve essentially automated almost all of it. You and I show up for two hours every other week and that’s two episodes. We walk away and the next two episodes go live. We don’t do anything else. We’ve automated, we paid for years. Since 10 episodes in, we paid for an editor who post the episode, who writes the show notes, who does all that stuff.
Writing the books. When I’m going to write a book I will make that a priority and I will work on it everyday. If I was writing or revising my book right now, I would probably do at least an hour of that once a day and then I would continue to do my other stuff. I wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to a bunch of things. I say no to some interviews. I say no to a lot of opportunities to jump on a call with someone to explore this or that. I say no to speaking at some conferences. Not all, but if I don’t think it’s a valid use of my time, I save the two travel days and the time to write the talk and all that. I push that towards things that I feel like are my highest priorities, that are in my goals, and things that hopefully will bring the most value to me, but also most valuable to this community that we’ve built and more value to more people.
That’s something else that I had to tone down is I don’t do as nearly as many as one-on-one things because I find that I can be more valuable by writing a book, or recording a podcast, or writing a conference talk that is going to be distributed to thousands or tens of thousands of people. I also don’t like things that are ephemeral, things that don’t stick around. To me, a blog post is better than a tweet because a tweet’s gone. A book is better than a blog post because a book sticks around for a long term. This is a lesson I that I’ve learned over the years is to focus on those things that help more people, that stick around longer, that have deeper meaning, and that bring more value to both yourself and people that will be consuming it.
That was a longer answer than I thought. It was more than I had thought to say on that topic but I think that was a good question. I think at a higher level it’s about priorities and saying no to everything else, number one, and then number two it’s about staying motivated over the long term, showing up every day, and getting […] done. Relentless execution is this phrase that I’ve used. It’s a personal moniker that I have adopted. Relentless execution.
That doesn’t mean you go crazy and work 20-hour days. I haven’t work more than 40 hours a week during the decade. There may have been these short stints like when I was revamping HitTail. I worked 60-hour weeks for about six weeks and then I pair back. To me, a 35- to 40-hour a week schedule is ideal, sometimes 30 depending on the season of the year, but I find that I get more done when I actually have shorter weeks and I’m forced to make quick decisions and get stuff done.
Mike: I do as well. You know at the back of your mind that you have as much time to work on something as you want, when you can just take as much time as you need, then it will take forever. I think it’s, what is it? Taylor’s Law that the amount of work will expand to fill the available time. I find the same thing. I will hold off on making decisions because I know that I have time to ruminate on it, or I will take longer to do something just because I have the time available. That’s actually what makes my Mondays a little bit tough is that, because I get myself a lot more time on that day, sometimes I’m not necessarily as productive. Then I find that sometimes on Tuesdays I will be more productive even though I have less time available to me to do work.
Rob: I can totally see that. To come back to Greg’s question, he says, “What is your day or week look like?” I feel like everyday for me tends to be different. I do like hitting things hard Monday morning by getting up and I ask myself the question, what has to get done today or what has to get done this week? What will move the business forward the most?
When it was Drip it was like, “Well, it’s getting everyone on the whole team on the same page and getting this decision made about what feature to build or this big deal we’re trying to close.” Now with TinySeed, it’s choosing the batch and it’s getting that forward. Those go right to the top of the list even if I get in my email box and it has 50 things, the things that are on the topic of what I have to get done that day, I skim through it. I take care of all that stuff first and everything else is on the side.
I would say that my days probably don’t look like you think they do. I start work a bit later than you probably think and I end it earlier that you think. I didn’t used to do that. Again, I think that’s where we’re coming back to is forcing yourself to get stuff done on a shorter time frame. It comes back to the cult of the Silicon Valley startup hours where they’re like, “I’m working 80-hour weeks or 90-hour weeks,” or whatever.
Your productivity plummets. There been a bunch of studies that have shown that it plummets after 40, 50, 60 hours a week. They’ve done it in construction, with construction workers when they go to 610s and 710s. When you were estimating those jobs, you have this major markdown factor. There’s books published by the electrical contractors who say, “These are guidelines and it will drop 30% over 50 hours and it drops 40% over 60 hours. It’s not just for those last 20 hours. It starts to fatigue and then your entire 70 hours that you’re working become 60% as effective.
It’s this crazy thing and that’s where the Silicon Valley startups who say or the founders who say, “Oh, I’m just working all these hours.” I’m always thinking, “What are you doing? What are you actually accomplishing during that time?” I find that I’ve been able to get quite a bit done in my career and my life. I don’t do that, really never have, even when I was coding. When I talk about coding, there’s 12- or 14-hour days. It was my early 20s, we had no kids, and what I would do as a contractor-consultant I would code that long day and I take the next day off.
It wasn’t that I was working long weeks. It was that I prefer to batch my work into a single stint, so to speak. I felt like it was more productive once I’ve got everything loaded up into my head—the mental model—I hated stopping and losing all of that, and had to regain that the next time that I sat down.
Mike: I would agree with that. I do wonder about some of the studies and stuff where they say, “Oh if you’re working more hours, then it’s not as good. You’re not nearly as productive.” I do find that there are times when you just get into a rhythm and you’re in the zone. If you break out of it, take breaks and shorter days or something like that, it’s kind of hard to load your brain up with all the stuff and all the little details that need to be there in order for you to get certain types of work done. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s broadly applicable, but there are times especially when it’s coding, taking a break is extremely disruptive. It’s so much easier to just down there and bang that stuff for four or six hours or eight hours, and if you’re still being productive then there’s not a great reason to stop except for those forcing functions.
Rob: Thanks for the question, Greg. I hope that one was helpful. If you want to connect with Mike or I on Twitter, I am @robwalling and he is @SingleFounder. I feel like that probably wraps this up for the week, Mike.
Mike: I think it does. If you have a question for us, you can call into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for ‘startups’ and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript to each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.