establishing a healthy routine in early startups

I’d like to begin with a disclaimer. This article is in no way, shape or form a declaration of success or an indication that I’ve found the perfect routine. These are just a few tid-bits that I’ve learned over the year since I’ve been working for myself.

This is a set of thoughts that primarily applies to very early stage startups, but specifically, solo-founders who are toiling away at the beginning. This article refers to the pre-PMF, pre-raising, and pre-hiring days of a startup, where you’re by yourself working 50-100 hours a week.

The most challenging part of this phase is managing your psychology. Sitting in your own thoughts for most of the day can often feel something like this:

This brings me to my biggest point. Everything matters for your psychology, even if it’s as insignificant as the amount of sunlight in your workspace. I’ve found a couple of very specific nuances that affect my long term mood as soon as I wake up.

  1. This might sound insignificant, but clean your surroundings. I thought I was someone who wasn’t affected by it until I did it. Trust me, it makes a difference.

  2. Grab a cup of coffee, and drink it OUTSIDE. There’s something about the way sunlight affects your circadian rhythms that’s pretty magical.

  3. Write/Read something. This might seem like a waste of time when you’re working 80 hour weeks but even 10 minutes can change your flow for the whole day.

Great, now you’re up. Now it’s time to focus. But, how? There’s this idealistic vision of how focus should work — keep your phone at a distance, use the Pomodoro technique, etc. These are great, but atleast for me, they only work in theory. When it comes to my day to day productivity, it’s hard for me to consistently follow a productivity workflow. It changes based on my mood, based on the tasks I have, and based on how much I sleep I got. Thus, it’s hard for me to formulate a vision of how this should work for everyone. I guess just try it all out, do what works for you. Personally, I’ve been frequenting coffee shops and libraries, which has been a pretty great focusing mechanic for me.

I’ll touch on this quickly because it’s obvious, but exercise. It’ll change your mood, the way you think, and the way you feel — all three of which are crucial.

Lastly, make sure you’re still working on something that you’re motivated about. My opinion on this is a bit different from everyone else. There’s this longstanding notion in startups that if you’re not crazy about everything that you’re working on, then you’re bound to fail. This might not be true all the time.

There might be things you have to do that you’re not a huge fan of. A client might ask for a piece of software that you don’t want to spend developing. You have to make a decision when something like this arises, but remember, your passionate doesn’t always have to come from every specific item you work on. Sometimes, it might be in the process of nurturing and growing a startup — from zero to IPO.

While keeping this in mind, if you find yourself venturing entirely away from what you love, make sure you find ways to direct it back towards to why you started. Your journey in the startup space (assuming software related) probably started through some interest that you pursued in your free time. Just because you’re running a startup doesn’t mean you can’t, once again, give yourself that free time. Take it, and realign yourself with your passion.