I’ve spent the past 2 years building Power 20 as a sole founder, and as I write this I’m still working on my own. The process has many benefits – decisions are made faster, I work only when I’m at my cognitive best, and I don’t have to compromise on my vision. But freedom comes at a cost. Below I share some of the challenges and my hacks to overcome them.
No one tells you what to do (and that’s bad!).
The biggest challenge is deciding what to work on each day and how to allocate each hour. I usually default to working on the stuff that’s easy rather than what’s most vital to the business. My fixes are as follows:
- Set realistic daily goals. Accomplish one big thing and two small things each day.
- Have a clear and simple overarching goal. For Power 20, I want more downloads and more visits to my site. I always ask whether the task at hand is getting me either.
- Prioritize administrative tasks by doing work that’s important but not urgent first. This way I avoid emergencies later on. There’s more on this in the book Getting Things Done and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
- Time box the day. I use my calendar like a task list. If I miss something, I move it forward so it doesn’t get lost. Learn more about time-boxing.
- Hunt for Flow. I can get into a flow with administrative and creative tasks when I’ve got music turned up and a block of uninterrupted time to get the thing done. Music is key to my flow – figure out what yours is.
It’s hard to stay focused.
I get carried away by new, big ideas all the time. With no one to bounce these ideas off of, bad-idea kernels sprout into massive, expensive and possibly disastrous changes to my business. Here’s my advice for staying grounded:
- Sleep on it. Discuss your plan with no one for at least 3 days. Quietly marinate on the ideas until they lose their luster on their own.
- Talk to skeptical friends. Skeptical friends who are kind of mean but truly honest with their criticisms are almost as valuable as the enemies we who mercilessly (and totally honestly) insult us.
- Review your progress. Look at what you’ve achieved thus far on your current trajectory. Seeing meaningful progress will refocus you on the original plan.
It’s easy to get stuck in your ways.
Working alone means doing things my own, often inefficient, way. For example, I spent many months early on at Power 20 translating my workout routines from excel files to JSON files by hand. It was only much later that I learned from a developer friend that this task could be automated.
- Automate everything. Support emails to Power 20 are automated because 90% of the issues involve the same question. Doing so saved me hours of work every week.
- Ask for help. Have constant access to smarter people; shared workspaces are ideal for this.
- Outsource what you cannot automate. You should be doing the work that only you can do.
It takes effort to stay optimistic.
At a startup, one week you’re confident you’ll be a billionaire, and the next you’re listening to WFIO (We’re F’d, It’s Over). Staying positive is hard, so try these techniques:
- Exercise every day.
- Have an active social life that includes romance, love and laughter.
- Make new friends. New people bring new energy, and draw out your best self.
- Go outside in the sun. Boost your mood naturally and quickly by stepping away from your computer and getting some sun.