According to CB Insights, 8% of startups fail because founders burnout. Burnout hit an inflection point last year with 85% of people HBR surveyed sharing that their well being had declined as time spent working increased. While exacerbated by the pandemic, burnout is an evergreen problem for founders who are juggling tons of responsibilities, endlessly context switching to get the flywheel moving.
Building momentum requires a long term commitment to showing up and trying again every damn day. When no one is keeping track of time and you're reminded of the cash runway daily, it can be hard to manage your energy to stay productive, positive and maintain some semblance of a work-life balance.
Alex Hilleary, Co-Founder of Gather (YC S20) and Venture for America alum knows this struggle well. Working remotely from Cleveland, he still feels the Bay Area hustle culture daily and knows how easy it is to overwork. Alex uses Flow Club to work in productive sprints to make the most of his time. "Before Flow Club, I had a problem getting stuff done. I was burnt out and had a lot of different things running in my mind at any given time. Flow Club has given me the space to say, ‘I've got an hour. I'm going to take out this project.’"
Flow state isn't found, it's created through planning
When your business is changing daily and you spend your days in execution mode, it's easy to lose track of priorities and areas of opportunity. Too many consecutive days in reaction mode can make you feel like your business is running you. It's hard to find flow on that treadmill. Alex is intentional about planning each Flow Club session to maximize productivity and flow state.
"I always try to have five minutes where I scope out a project specifically. So thinking, okay, this Flow Club's got 50 minutes in it. What is something that I think I can reasonably get done in 50 minutes? I try to focus on specific tasks. The last thing I want to do is like fly into a Flow Club and then have no idea what I'm doing. I think that takes away from the importance of the moment."
Alex acknowledges that it can be hard to take the 5 minutes before a sessions during a crazy day. He encourages people to join sessions a couple of minutes early to hit pause on distractions and figure out what the best use of the time is. If your days are insane and you can't take that time, build habits around planning at the beginning/end of each week/day.
"Usually I'm looking the night before and saying, what does my schedule look like tomorrow? What do I need to get done? Where are there gaps where I have opportunities to book Flow Club or where are gaps that might get booked up with other things. Sometimes it's hard to do even a day in advance. There are always problems popping up last minute."
Knowing the unpredictability of early stage startup life, Alex intentionally chooses to host early morning and evening sessions where he can be in control of his time, get into deep work mode, and hold space for others.
Do less to accomplish more
Working on multiple tasks in parallel reduces performance. Stanford University research found that multi-taskers get less done than those who focus on one thing at a time. While many people know this, when you have multiple high priority tasks on your ever-growing to do list, it can be hard to focus on one thing or to even get started.
If you join a session with Alex, you'll notice that he's often literally heads down, laser focused on the work in front of him. He tries to do one thing really well each session and recommends that others do the same. Flow Club is a space where he intentionally doesn't multi-task, he sprints towards one thing at a time.
In addition to hosting 3 Flow Clubs a week, Alex goes to ~5 sessions run by other hosts. Alex can better manage constant context switching and distractions throughout the day knowing that he has an upcoming Flow Club as an oasis for focus.
"I like having one afternoon session every single day. Can I turn what would typically be unproductive time into a really productive, focused hour and feel good about it?"
In any given session, you might find Alex writing, problem solving or working through email. While Alex appreciates the focused time, he makes a point of helping members who join his sessions work through blockers. He's experienced so many early stage startup obstacles at Gather, he is quick to recommend tools, resources or people to talk to get unblocked.
The obstacle is the way
People often get dragged into multi-tasking because of the cognitive load created by outstanding to-dos. Alex encourages people to bring the work that they need a little more motivation to do to unblock themselves from finding the focus needed for top priorities. Getting to inbox 0 or handling admin stuff may not be the most exciting or energizing work, but it frees you up to do better blue sky thinking. Alex builds blockers into his Flow Club planning.
"I think about what tasks am I mentally blocking myself around and how can I scope this in a way that fits that period and just like making sure I'm intentional about that. There's always like three or four things I can point to that shouldn't be dragging along as long as they are. There are always a couple of emails that are just like sitting in there and like, why are they sitting in there? Cause I'm mentally blocked on how to respond to them. Or maybe it's a specific project that I know I should have started a couple of days ago. It's usually pretty easy to identify those because I'm like, what do I already feel behind on? What do I not want to do? And those are the ones that I like to assign to Flow Club."
Flow Club gives Alex time back
Flow Club was founded with the belief that if we can help people maximize their time, they will have more time for life outside of work. Slack time allows you to shift out of focused thinking mode into diffuse thinking mode, that space where "you make imaginative connections between your ideas."
For the last 15 months, Alex has used Toggl time tracker to create more awareness with how he spends his time and to make sure that he creates time for himself.
"I ask every single day, where can I make space for myself? Running and walks are big for me. I love being outside. Movement is how I kind of get out of my head. Some of my best brainstorming happens in those spaces too, just to get out of my head a little bit."
Creating time is a big ask for a founder of a quickly growing startup who still supports Venture for America but something he's really intentional about trying to do. "I can't structure every day the way I want to, but I know that that's okay. Now I know when it's time to switch back into a little bit of life and personal mode too.
Flow Club is Peloton for your brain. Everyday, the world's top founders, builders and operators join Flow Club's facilitator-led, structured co-working sessions to get away from distractions and dive deeply into the work they get to do.
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