Some days ago, I stumbled upon a post from Mikael Cho, CEO and Founder of Unsplash. Something he said struck home with me – “to be productive as a startup founder, choices matter”.
Since it was minutes before a team conference call, I mentioned it in the call and it led to a long discussion on the topic. Post the call, in a milli-second, I could tie down a plethora of seemingly disparate things with a neat chord.
As startup founders, our decisions make us who we are at that point, but our choices define what we become.
It’s always about the choices we make – not just as a founder but as leaders. It’s what differentiates our highs from our lows and our stumbles from the sprints.
We have 24 hours in a day! and as a founder you owe it to yourself and the team to maximize your day by investing your time in the right places.
To maximize your day you need to be making the right choices. What’s brilliant here is that this doesn’t just apply to founders alone but to anybody in a senior leadership role who wants to succeed.
Every single day there are hundreds of choices we make and face – The founder’s dilemmas!! Some are obvious like what prospects to demo to, which one to chase, who to meet today etc. but there are plenty of hidden ones – The invisible choices which I feel matter more in shaping your day and week.
At the cost of sounding a geek, I’ll share something interesting I read on this. Nobel Peace Prize Winning Economist, Herbert Simon classified people into two kinds of decision makers – Satisfiers and the Maximisers.
Satisfiers – They’re the people who go to buy potatoes. They go to the nearest market, check if they like the potatoes, they’re fresh and then just buy a kilo or two.
Maximisers – These are the people who will first check if there are any deals going on at nearby markets, who is selling cheap, will probably even market hop to find the best deal and buy only 650 grams as per what was needed in the recipe.
Now imagine who of the two would face decision fatigue and feel stressed.
For us to feel productive, we need to understand that we can’t be maximisers all the time. You may argue that these are the super -diligent lot but honestly, over-diligence is toxic.
As a startup founder, time is the most valuable asset you have – not the team, not the VC funding but time. With your time spent on the right decisions and tasks you can move from zero to hero in months. an essential step in this direction is making choices that help remove the cognitive overload which is basically getting confused when presented with multiple choices.
It starts with something basic – your sleeping hours. I have noticed that in general having standardized sleeping hours and time gives you a head start into productive day. Eg. I sleep at 12 and wake up around 4 AM on weekdays. It helps me create an early morning routine that I can use to create a plan for the day, prioritize, work on tasks that need undivided attention etc. On the contrary days when I’m sleeping later and waking up at 6 AM-7 AM, that routine gets into an imbalance. The invisible choice I make here was picking the time of those hours.
Even your choice of wardrobe can play a part. I work on the principle of elimination here. I have about 20 black-round-neck tees and 7-8 denims that I wear to work every day. You might think “Oh he’s copying Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs” and its quasi-true. Them doing this was a validation of the idea being right. I wasn’t trying to copy them but learning the greater meaning and value in it that very few care to see. 56% of us take anything between 11 -30 minutes to decide what to wear and get ready in the morning ( Source: YouGov) . That’s a scarily sizable chunk in the day of a founder. If you already knew what to wear youre saving time and could utilize it to do other stuff. eg I cook breakfast for my wife or do some running while hearing a podcast because I always get ready in less than 5 minutes!
Of course, its crazy as per the fashion police but then its just one decision less I’m making and I prefer it that way. ( and I’m not gonna write about how my wife isn’t a fan of my wardrobe 😉 )
Next when stepping out for work – even taking an Uber or driving my own car can make a difference. I find myself more irritable and drained on days that I drive (and more so if I encounter traffic).
These are just minor personal examples of how life is when you first identify the invisible choices you’re making subconsciously and then turn that into a positive conscious choice.
There is this concept of learned helplessness that many of us face:
It stems from us being passive, procrastination and decreased problem-solving ability which leads to irritation and may in extreme cases lead to depression.
What I wanted to talk on in a little detail was the choices we make at work:
1. The Choice to be nice even when that’s not right
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow founders not feeling right about taking a call and choose to fire an under-performing or mis-aligned employee. In fact, in many cultures firing or being fired is seen as a shameful and negative. It shouldn’t be, and it isn’t the case. Its just two people figuring out they are misaligned and meant for different things. Hiring an employee is not marrying them to take care of them at their worst but most of us choose to delay this decision in the hope things will change. Truth is if things haven’t changed in 100 days, they probably never will.
Choose your business over choosing to bet its success on stumbling new employees.
2. The Choice to not delay
Procrastination should be termed an epidemic. I’m serious!
There are just sooooooooo many of us who defer things thinking “Hey today looks heavily booked for me, let me push this to next week” or “Let me do it when I have time.”. Business doesn’t run that way and surely not an early stage one.
Recently we were interviewing Scott Sambucci, CEO and Founder of SalesQualia and a total genius of his trade. Mid-conversation he said, “Show me your calendar and I’ll show you your cashflows”.
His one sentence really rattled me into thinking of how I’m guilty of doing this and guilty of seeing others do it and yet not alter that. Make a conscious effort to identify when you’re procrastinating. Pick out days which you will dedicate to tasks eg . 2 hours every day dedicated to something specific. Mondays – strategy and planning, Tuesday- prospecting, Friday – Hiring etc. Once you make this, stick to it and you will see
3. Not choosing specificity
This is something we all know theoretically and yet in the real life we just loose control over. We start with making a bulletproof plan on what your business would be in Week 0 , week 10 , week 30 where you will focus specifically on persona a, persona b and persona a and C respectively but when you really get going you fail to get specific about who to target.
Not understanding who your target audience is well enough and going for an almost “spray and pray approach” The important thing to note is that you are the master of your time!!
4. Choosing to understand that Less is more
Today there are a million tools available to ease your life. e.g. if you want to do social media scheduling you have the likes of Buffer, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, tweet Deck etc. If it was just one tool available, then it would be easy but when there are many there is an almost analysis paralysis. You’re so confused which one to go for and what features you may need in the future. Fear of Missing out (FOMO) takes over as well.
Now listen and hear me right on this – Choosing means saying one yes and a hundred Nos.
A simple thing would be to trust your gut and go for availing one solution only. e.g. when my colleague Deepika who heads marketing wanted to use Hootsuite and Buffer both I asked her to use one and not both to cut away the need to be hopping between tools. It helped us focus more on the right stuff.
5. Choosing technology to aid you and not lead you
Okay this might sound a bit arrogant but the I am of technology is to aid us getting productive but define the direction. I’m talking of it in the terms of not falling victim to technology leading you astray. Okay, answer this truthfully, how many times have you felt drawn towards checking your email every few minutes or had the urge to check your phone every time it pings. I’m not saying go incognito but limit this behaviour. For e.g. you can check your email once every hour. make sure your phone is silent when you’re concentrating on something with only emergency contacts allowed to ring (yes, almost all smart phones let you do that! )
Also use technology that a majority of your customers use. Eg in B2B we all know that LinkedIn is an amazing platform, however for us at Alore CRM we felt Facebook helped us connect better with our customers and prospects through various groups and features. Since people tend to have their guard marginally down on Facebook and are more vocal there, we created our support forum in the form of a Facebook group community – Uservoice. We also started a community IdeasThatScale to share sales and growth hacks and connect with the ecosystem interested in sales and growth in IdeasThatScale
This helped us harness technology and the right platform to create immersive experience for our users. I’d suggest, take a step back and see what technology can help you save time and get you away from the fluff and cough. It will not just help you save time but also save you mental exhaustion from hopping between ten tools and channels.
To conclude I’d like to say that the founder’s dilemmas will always exist. Every step of the way you will feel you have a choice to make – spend time on X or do Y but eventually which step takes you towards the bigger goals is key to your growth. You will some days work 18-20 hours in the day and some not. All through your focus needs to be on if every day you’re adding value. Taking a break is not bad but if you can take a break and still benefit, then why not eg. you watch Netflix or you read Phil Knight’s autobiography Shoe Dog, go for drinks with friends every week or go to attend networking drinks at the co-working space nearby. The choice is yours. make it right, make it count !
I’d like to just quote John C Maxwell to close- “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make, makes you !! “