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When you’re pouring your heart out into every line of code like the future $1 billion valuation of your startup depended on it, it’s really hard, if not impossible, to ask yourself whether it’s the time to stop coding.
Sacrifice, in some form or another, is intertwined in the DNA of success, an inevitable nucleotide whose mutation you alone control. Look at self-made billionaires, some younger than you are now, and you’ll find sacrifice playing a role in their life stories. High school diplomas and university degrees, family, friends, free time, personal health, relationships, career paths, etc. can get sacrificed on the altar of your code.
You go online to Slashdot, Mashable, TechCrunch, Gawker, Wired, Digg (wait, no, I’m sorry about that!) or whatever source of tech news you prefer, and read about angel investments, about startups seizing new rounds of venture capital, about startup accelerators and incubators success stories, about billion dollar acquisitions. And that’s just like pouring fuel on the fire of code-like-there’s-no-tomorrow, making you feel there’s no sacrifice that you wouldn’t make. Startups can easily take big chunks of your life, entire years, can impact your family and the relationships with your friends and colleagues, can chew up your finances and savings, suck your body and spirit dry, and can swallow your dreams, without giving anything in return.
But would you sacrifice your own startup? In your blind programming race to innovate and revolutionize, would you risk self-sabotage, even if done at a subconscious level? How do you keep your raw passion from blindsiding you when you’re focused on nothing else but your startup? Inevitably, you’re going to know and push your limits, as a programmer, business person, manager, CEO, marketer, and other roles that you’ll need to fill, depending on the resources of your startup. And when you’re the main resource, the heart that powers your company, stretching yourself thin and running on fumes might just be an average Tuesday. How long do you think you’ll be able to keep up the pace? More importantly, how long will you be able to keep up the pace if your startup will start feeling like going nowhere fast because you can’t clone yourself?
The moment when you stop coding should be a conscious decision part of mundane activities and not an instinctual reaction because you reach survival mode and your body is breaking down. Could the answer be as simple as optimizing the way you work, your life, your time and all of your other critical resources?
Consider the following list of “hacks” some proven to work, some tangoing with the unorthodox.
No-meeting-Wednesdays – Meetings are a manager’s bread and butter. But as a programmer you’re probably dreading the moment appointments come between you and your code. Especially when you’re on a roll. Apparently ‘trademarked’ by Facebook, the no-meeting-Wednesdays strategy involves setting at least one day a week for a bit of ‘nothing but code’ bonanza.
Airplane mode – More and more airlines are offering inflight Internet connections, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t isolate yourself and just code. The world will still be there when you reconnect, well, just to be on the safe side, keep an emergency line open. Bryan Guido Hassin over on Quora claims that you should ignore inflight entertainment and handle your top priorities while benefiting from almost complete isolation.
”Scheduled appointments are the death of creativity”
No schedule – Nonconformist? Unorthodox? Unrealistic? Could you manage your day without a schedule? Before you print the idea on recycled paper and toss it in the nearest waste basket, you should know that one of the most successful startup creators worldwide is professing the merits of not keeping a schedule. You might have come across the name David Karp in the recent talk about Yahoo, Tumblr and a $1.1 billion transaction. He swears that scheduled appointments are the death of creativity, and he’s less of a fan of calendars or personal assistants.
Also worth considering:
The Pomodoro Technique – You Say ‘Tomato’, I say ‘Tomato’… It’s not really about our favorite fruit masquerading as a vegetable as it is about time management. A 25 minute chunk of productive burst is the equivalent or a Pomodoro. Now count how many Pomodoros you need to build a Facebook bot that likes and comments on your friends’ post showing that you really, really care, while you’re blissfully coding away.
The Eisenhower Matrix – If the One in “The Matrix” would have swallowed both the blue and red pills, would it have resulted in a productivity nightmare? Could have Neo freed humanity earlier from the Matrix if he used an Eisenhower Matrix to organize tasks in quadrants according to importance and urgency?
Think happy thoughts! Surround yourself with the right people – Sounds like advice that a sweet, glaucoma-sweet, grandma would give her obnoxious nephews along with brand new handmade sweater vests. But Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, apparently lives and breathes this rule.
The recipe for success is rather simple. Instead of hanging out with your burnout childhood BFF that’s on the fast track to becoming the night manager at McDonalds by the time he’s 45, gain some insight into the best strategies to structure a buyout or the intricacies of accessing investments from business/finance guys. Dropbox’s Drew Houston shares a similar view, noting that you’re the average of your circle of five friends. If I were you, I’d be very careful about who I invite to my next BBQ.
More importantly, you need to foster and care for the relationship with any other founders of your startup, if you’re not hammering at it alone. Do we really need another Facebook movie?
Eat! Code! Love! – If your other body is a temple but you’re using a decrepit and resource depleted shell to build your startup, perhaps you’re up for a wakeup call. Everything from diet to exercise, from religion to spiritual journeys and meditation, from friends to family can help keep you healthy and in top shape to focus on your startup. Exercise in the morning, before you start work: nothing too intense, but enough to get the heart pumping and some adrenaline in your blood. Supplement your diet with vitamins, and don’t be shy to try natural boosts such as Ginkgo biloba, Lecithin, and Omega 3 fish oils. No! Your mother did not contribute to this article!
Nighty night! – Sleep. Even startup founders need to recharge their batteries. Sleep depraved work you might find, is counter-productive. The best approach would be for you to figure out your body’s productivity highs and lows, and not to force nature. Explore and understand the peculiarities of your circadian rhythm (the 24 hour cycle consisting of alternating periods when you’re awake and sleeping). Every 90 to 120 minutes your body experiences the effects of the recurrent ultradian rhythm, characterized by an oscillation from a high in energy to drowsiness. Use it to your advantage, code when you’re full of energy and able to focus, and take breaks or even naps when you feel tired.
”If you feel like you’re up to it, you can swap the good old monophasic sleep for biphasic or even polyphasic sleep.”
Speaking of which, Thomas Edison notoriously prided himself with sleeping only three to four hours per night. His ubiquitous invention, the incandescing electric lamp was designed to help humany get out of the dark and evolve beyond the savagery of sleep. In hindsight, back in Edison’s day, people living without electrical power could appear rather primitive. Still, it appears that the great inventor’s battle with sleep was more of a tango, and that Edison didn’t miss the opportunity to power nap whenever he fancied.
Fact of the matter is that if you feel like you’re up to it, you can swap the good old monophasic sleep for biphasic or even polyphasic sleep. You just need to make sure that you’re not punishing your body unnecessarily and that a different sleep schedule has a productive impact on productivity.
”Legal amphetamine-based stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, but also other drugs have known to be abused to hack the brain and boost productivity.”
Come to the dark side, they have cookies amphetamine – Considering going to the dark side? Second door on the left, please! But if you’ve somehow reached the point where an amphetamine boost starts to look appetizing, it’s definitely time to stop coding. Hacking your body with stimulants is probably something that you’re vastly experienced with. Caffeine, Taurine, Guarana, etc. are abundantly available and used with impunity. Legal amphetamine-based stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Vyvanse, and Ritalin, but also other drugs used to treat ADHD have known to be abused to hack the brain and boost productivity. Bitter cautionary tales, cringing side effects and severe addiction repercussions should be enough to deter usage.
Startups by the pure of heart – If you’re going to build your own startup, do it for the right reasons. What’s a good reason? Changing the world, always works. Solving a problem that people have learned to live with is another catalyst to consider. World peace, yes, definitely this one. Phil Libin, top dog of the $2 billion startup that set up to help you develop a second brain Evernote, is bashing reasons such as money, power and flex time. Somebody get the phone book so we can call all those serial startup founders and investors and tell them about this!
Manage the ‘No’ – Unless you have been handed silver platters and everything else on a silver platter all your life, you might have also been hit with a few ‘No’ answers. Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann reveals that he had his fair share of ‘No’ but the way to manage refusals was to learn from them, grow and adapt. The founder of a startup valued at over $2.5 billion says that managing the ‘No’ will get you the right ‘Yeses’ in no time. So what if it sounds like dating advice? Don’t act like you don’t need it.
Ready, set… ready, set… – Just go already! Don’t treat your startup like a puzzle game and expect to have all the pieces in their place before launching. Dropbox CEO and cofounder Drew Houston is a big advocate of anti-procrastination. You can sink and drown into planning and strategizing better than into quicksand. Drew is the kind of CEO who was taking screenshots of his bank account statement after receiving $1.2 million in funding, so it’s easy to believe him when he says that he was never ready, but he went ahead anyway. That’s $1,200,000, a number with two commas in it. Dropbox is now estimated to worth some $4 billion. I wonder when did Drew stop taking screenshots? Must have been around the time I signed up for some free GBs.
Products that only a startup programmer could love – I hear that crying yourself to sleep is probably the best panacea for failure. On the other hand, I’m not a successful startup creator, so you might not want to listen to me.
But there’s the always mythical ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ solution. Rovio did just that. After authoring some 51 duds, they created a little game you might have heard of, called Angry Birds. Now they’re saying ‘thank you, but no thank you’ to $2 billion acquisition offers.
Remember the immense success of Traf-O-Data? Go ahead, I’ll wait while you google it. Bill Gates’ first company had something to do with traffic. And not even the good kind of traffic. Remember Steve Jobs’s first venture in the world of hardware, outside of Atari? It involved a ‘blue box’ designed to hack the phone network. I get 10 points if you googled Traf-O-Data on your iPhone. 20 if you used Bing.
You shouldn’t be afraid to fail, because, in some way or another, you’re going to. But failure can be an important teacher, all it takes is to not stop coding and get a comfortable 9 to 5 job, but pick yourself up and move to your next dream. Also, don’t get too comfortable if your startup is a moderate success, think of stagnation as a nuance of failure.