When people visit the Startups.co office and see hockey sticks leaning against a wall, or members of our team wandering through the woods, they might wonder if we’re one of those Internet companies that plays too hard to really work hard enough.
We do love to have fun here at Startups. But the truth is we’re also militant about our productivity. There’s a reason we’re doing plenty of fun activities in any given week. We’re not just enjoying our lives, we’re optimizing for productivity.
Productivity in Waves
Like many people, we see our productivity peak and valley like a wave. It’s not linear – we don’t just wake up in the morning with constant peak productivity throughout the day.
Working through peak productivity is easy. It’s the valleys that we’re concerned about. And on top of that, I’ve noticed a similar crash throughout the week almost like clockwork.
It then builds up throughout the quarter, at which point I’m totally exhausted and need some serious downtime.
As the day, week, or quarter grinds on, and my valleys start to become more frequent, I’m not only less productive, I’m less happy. There’s got to be a fix for this.
What Are We Optimizing For?
Before we get into how to optimize the valleys, let’s first take a moment and talk about what we’re optimizing for in the first place.
At Startups, our jobs typically require creativity, presentation (usually to clients), flow (like when we’re coding, writing or designing and it’s just all flowing), and ultimately output.
We’re not a factory. We can’t just work longer hours and expect the same output. We have a limited window when we’re actually useful, which means the rest of that time is basically wasted.
If we know for sure that we only have a certain amount of creativity and flow, then it would stand to reason that when it runs out, we should make better use of that time so we don’t waste opportunities to recharge effectively.
Predicting the Valleys
Typically when you hit your valley while sitting at your desk, you goof off. You update your Facebook status, you watch funny YouTube videos, and you surf the Web mindlessly.
You aren’t goofing off because you aren’t a productive person. You’re goofing off because you’ve hit a valley and your mind is telling you it’s time for a break. So why not take one? Why not take lots of them?
The key here is to plan for valleys throughout the day. You plan for one at lunch time every day, and it’s generally accepted that you should take one. But what about the rest of the day? How do you optimize for those valleys?
Creating Value from Valleys
Instead of mindlessly wandering at our computers, how about just getting up and doing stuff we genuinely enjoy? At Startups when we’re burnt out after a few hours we get up and pass around a hockey ball. We play pool. We take a walk through the woods (our office is in the woods, so it’s not a long journey).
Instead of looking at stupid YouTube videos, we’re looking at trees and wildlife. We’re aligning our workdays with our Saturdays. We feel genuinely recharged and ultimately we’re happier.
Pacing for Life
What we’re doing in the short term is pacing our days. But longer term, in a matter of weeks and months we’re deliberately taking time to avoid burnout.
Years ago I ran a sprint triathlon (read: wimp triathlon). I found during training when I let my heart rate run to 170 bpm I would burn out quickly, while only increasing my lap time slightly. Yet when I ran or biked at a measured pace of 150 bpm I felt like I could run forever.
What we’re doing by scheduling breaks is optimizing for productivity. We want to be able to gain more peaks by recharging in the valleys. And we’re not just thinking about the daily benefits – we’re thinking about how it affects the rest of our lives.
Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.