66: Dealing with too many options
A not-do list, time-boxing decisions and a guide to DeSci
The last few weeks have been intense and I've felt a bit overwhelmed.
It started with good news: our company was accepted into three accelerators / communities simultaneously. (Only one of these involves dilutive funding - not finding a new boss just yet).
With each, we're suddenly part of a huge community of talented people and invited to interesting events.
It feels a bit like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Every time I see an event in my calendar, or have someone reach out to chat, I'll make a decision - which is often yes.
As a result, I started to feel worn out; I was doing a lot, but it didn't feel like I was making a lot of tangible progress.
In a bid to preserve my sanity, I did an exercise that ended up being very effective.
🚫 Making a not-do list
I wrote out all the activities, talks and conversations that were happening as part of each accelerator (and building the company more broadly).
I know that I need periods of deep work to make progress, and I roughly need 10 undisrupted spaces of >2 hours in the week.
So I prioritised the list of activities by importance, looked at my calendar and found the cut-off point that enables the deep work sessions I need.
I ended up with a final list of things I will attend, and a much longer list of things I won't attend. (For a couple, I defined conditions - e.g. "if business focus shifts more customer-centric, will consider attending customer-facing strategy sessions.")
I decided once - and now I don't need to decide again for the next 8 weeks. Every time I see an event in my calendar, I know whether I'll go or not.
Once you decide something, never change your mind. It’s so much easier to decide just once. - Derek Sivers in How to Live
In the couple of days since doing so, I've found myself remarkably less stressed - with more space to think and less decision fatigue.
👣 Saying no to bigger things
I think the principle of defining what not to do applies in loads of other situations.
It's a risk when building a company. As Rob Fitzpatrick puts it:
They say that startups don’t starve, they drown. You never have too few options, too few leads, or too few ideas. You have too many. You get overwhelmed. You do a little bit of everything. - The Mom Test
When building a company at the intersection of health, web3 and data science, there is so much potential and so many directions you can get pulled in. My most productive decisions have often been about what we're not going to do as a company.
It applies to careers too. It's easy to dabble in the different career paths you could follow - and never really make enough progress to seriously pursue an alternative to your current main job.
Before I transitioned from being a doctor to a data scientist, I seriously considered management consulting and public health. I view the periods that led me to decide against each as highly productive.
⏳ Time-box it so it's not a big deal
It can feel like a really big deal to say no to something you really want to do. It can feel very final.
My approach to this is to time-box it - and re-assess later. For example, I won't do another shift as a doctor until September 2022. I won't train in psychotherapy until I'm 35. I won't record another YouTube video until my company has closed its seed funding round.
I ‘ve found that this makes the decision less of a big deal.
I'll end with a section from the latter:
I used to have too many pets.
My house was overflowing. But it didn’t feel that way at the time. In each moment, I was giving just one pet my full attention. My life was full of so many loves.
My pet project to start a business. My plan to travel everywhere. My dream to learn Chinese. My goal to plant a forest. My wish to build a house.
I sadly realized this was unfair. The situation was hurting them. No pet was thriving. No pet was getting the attention it deserved.
So, I started releasing them back into the wild. One at a time, reluctantly, I’d set one free.
Although each goodbye was sad, it opened up more space. I enjoyed the freedom and feeling unconflicted.
I let my last pet go, came home, and cleaned the house. There’s so much room for focus now.
Surprising end to this story: One pet kept coming back, no matter how many times I set her free. She refused to stay away. So now it’s just me and her, and I’m giving her all my time.
What I’m reading
Putting Ideas into Words, by Paul Graham. A thoughtful essay on the value of writing.
What I’m thinking about
A Guide to DeSci, the Latest Web3 Movement, by Sarah Hamburg (a16z). A helpful outline and exciting rallying call for getting involved in ‘DeSci’ - broadly, the merger of decentralisation (via blockchain) and alternative methods of science publishing (from the science community in general). (Always happy to talk about this subject - so let me know you’re thoughts!)
What I’m hoping can help my company
19 traction channels blog. Apparently there are 19 traction channels for acquiring new customers - I’m hoping this can be a useful checklist for the future.
Have a great week,
👋 Hi, I'm Chris Lovejoy.
I'm a medical doctor 🩺 -> machine learning engineer 👨💻 -> start-up founder 💡
I'm on a mission to improve how we manage our health - and share my learnings and experiences here and on YouTube.
I also throw in my favourite things from the internet, and the occasional joke (humour is work-in-progress).