There will be time

I truly struggle with this time of year during winter holidays when external business activities slow down a bit. As a startup founder, I worry about not moving swiftly enough and making the most of our scarcest resource, time. This year though, instead of battling it, I capitulated and accepted a friend’s generous invitation to spend a few days floating around the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Last year, I was “too busy” fundraising so I decided that this year I wouldn’t miss the boat.

So, I left the laptop (but took the phone and external battery pack) and set sail. In between momentous decisions like whether to swim in the turquoise blue water today and how I wanted my fish grilled, I was afforded ample time ponder time itself. A few lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock about the topic splashed about my head. Here are some of my realizations about time this year, framed within those lines.

“and indeed there will be time…”

Time. There isn’t enough of it as we want but enough for what we need

There are two timescales: micro and macro. I measure the passage of micro time by the items checked off my to do list. They are rarely checked off in any predetermined order. Often, it’s hard to derive any satisfaction from the progress because 20 things inject themselves on the list as 5 are done. To be a founder is to have an increasingly open and pliable relationship with the concept of “done.”

Yet, on a macro time scale, you look back on the major accomplishments such as users and customers delighted, geographies or markets activated, major engineering puzzles solved, team members growing into roles of greater responsibility and impact and you think “well gosh that was time well spent.”

“time for you and time for me”

It’s always a balancing act deciding how to allocate your time between personal development and taking care of others. If you get the balance wrong, you miss vital opportunities for learning that can feel like a tidal wave. You begin to realize that scarcest resource in startups isn’t really capital or even time, it’s great talent. The only way to harness great talent is by investing in it. Among my greatest regrets this year were some of the one on ones with team members I pushed to tend to external stakeholders or some operational need.

However, to most effectively collaborate with, inspire and mentor others, you first have to take some time for yourself

You are actually on parallel journeys; toward a place that you have dreamed of and also on a journey within

Sometimes those journeys intersect but often they don’t. It’s OK to have different timescales, patience and perseverance for each.

“and time yet for a hundred indecisions”

Not acting or reacting feels like indecision on some level. However…

Sometimes you move forward by standing still

Deciding to not take action can actually be the best decision to make. As founders, we have a high bias towards action so this feels uncomfortable but some of the best decisions we made this year involved not taking action. Many things that seemed like scary impediments to progress just evaporated. We waited, surveyed the path forward and tacked around the wreckages of others who powered forward hastily into the white caps.

“and for a hundred visions and revisions”

The big vision remains a lighthouse on shore but the path towards it can be murky, choppy and require a lot of course correction. It sounds corny and cliche but the journey itself presents the greatest reward. They say that ships in harbors are safe but that’s not the point of ships. Often there are wonderful discoveries to delight you along the way. We often have to look at something our user community is doing that we never dreamed they would do and say “hmm what’s this amazingness?!”

The best way to work towards a big milestone is to celebrate little victories, many unexpected

These little victories can help fill in bits of the vision that were missing or help to revise your original thinking. Sometimes you look at your data and realize you’re winning at something you didn’t have a plan for. Alternatively, you may realize it time for a major re-think on something you believed was true — a good and necessary process.

With that, I wish everyone in the startup community and beyond a happy, healthy, kind, purposeful and fun 2016. May you enjoy every second of it! Don’t worry, there will be enough time to get the important things done.