People constantly ask me how I manage to fit a full-time life at a VC-backed startup pioneering the new science of extracting personalized human-sounding narrative from big data, a 1000+ strong network of entrepreneurs and investors complete with daily content and monthly events, and — oh yeah — a family of five, which includes twin girls and full-on little league schedule for the boy, who is a left-handed switch hitter.
I have a list of stock brush-off answers:
The truth is, I’ve learned how to maximize my time.
This isn’t about brushing my teeth while helping a daughter with her homework while texting with Robbie while writing this article. I mean, I did that, but when I say time management, I’m talking about using time in the most efficient manner possible.
It’s not multi-tasking, it’s brain-shifting.
For example, I write most of my columns and articles in about 15 minutes. I sit down in front of my laptop and I pretend I’m writing an email just to you. Yes you. I’m stalking you. I’m lucky that this is the style that has found me. I could give a shit about making my stuff sound like all the other stuff.
When that’s done, I go over it to take out most of the self-aggrandizing bullshit (most), anything that doesn’t belong, anything that doesn’t make sense, the really angry stuff that I don’t have the balls to put in print, and 99% of the swears (I left two this time).
This takes another 5 minutes.
Then I walk away. And I do something completely different. I brush my teeth, I help my daughter with her homework, I text Robbie.
Then I come back and take another five minutes and somehow, this works every time, I turn a steaming pile of prose into a less steaming pile of prose, something I’m not totally ashamed to put my name on.
For the record, like any good writer or entrepreneur, I totally hate everything I produce one week to six weeks (if I’m lucky) after I finish it.
I used to, especially when faced with my first medium-to-big bylines years and years ago, sweat and groan and freak out over writing a column — my opinion (I’m nothing like a journalist) for the world to see, no footnotes from more reputable sources to back me up. It would take hours.
Now, I don’t. I throw my passion at the keyboard (and I use the bloated and misguided term “passion” just because I can’t think of any other reason why a techie entrepreneur would take so much time writing about startups that aren’t his or her own) and then I put my brain on something else for a while.
I come back and, like magic, I can fix all the holes I left, and no one knows the difference.
The same thing is true for the entrepreneurial grind. We like to wear a lot of hats anyway, so in any given day we spend a little time designing, coding, marketing, strategizing, dealing with administrative crap, selling, and (the lucky among us) support.
I recently helmed the quarterly meeting at Automated Insights (the startup), and the line everyone told me they took away was: “Not every day at AI is going to be your favorite day. Do something about it.”
Some days, I quickly get to a point where the data isn’t structuring, the robots have gone all stupid, and the narratives sound like they were written by six-year-olds. So I get up and I play ping-pong. I never played ping-pong before I started working at startups. Now I play 2-3 times a day most days.
Because every time I sit back down, I may not see the solution that had escaped me ten minutes earlier but, at the very least, I suddenly have options. Something clicks.
And that’s what I learned at the May Startup Social on Monday. For the third time, we held a Startup Standoff ping pong tournament, and sometime during the Final Four (AutoMicroFarm, Smashing Boxes, MintMarket, and eventual winner NeuConcepts), it dawned on me.
The Social, on a macro level, is the quick ping pong game for everyone who shows up. It’s a couple hours out of the month, and it’s not too far from the desk, and even though more “work” actually gets done there than I’m willing to admit, it’s mostly just a quick brain shift.
Sometimes I hate startups. I hate talking about them, I hate thinking about them, I hate the buzzwords and the faux and the wantre, but every single time we wrap up the Social and I help load the empty kegs back into the Mystery Machine (I just made that up), I see options.