One of the best complements I’ve ever received was as I was walking out the door of my last startup. Someone said to me,“Thanks for not double-dipping.”

I had no idea what they meant. They proceeded to thank me for making that company my primary focus and not having a side business that would distract me from my responsibilities there .

Still, I was pretty confused.

To me, it was obvious. If you’re working at a startup, part of your responsibility is to apply all your thoughts, ideas, and energy to figuring out how to make it work — and how to put your skills, talents, abilities, and interests to best use.

You’re either on the team, or you’re not.

Some of my friends say it’s because I’m a Libra. Others say it’s because I’m loyal (sometimes too loyal). But in my mind, it’s just how things should be.

There’s a lot of talk about the value of side projects right now — likely fueled by Google’s 20% time initiative.I definitely see the value in exploring new ideas, thinking about things outside your everyday tasks, and simply letting your mind wander.

There’s something healthy about stepping outside your given industry and seeing beyond the tunnel vision that so often happens when you’re focused on one single company. I myself have a side project blog on which I infrequently write called Personal Metrics. But I only work on it when I have free time outside of my main responsibilities.

The difference is that a side project is something that you do to expand your mind, stay curious, and learn. Most important, it doesn’t distract from or interrupt you from responsibilities at your “day job.”

Of course, some side projects become actual businesses or products. But when they started out, that was not the goal.

On the other hand, double-dipping is when you knowingly* let your responsibilities suffer because choose not to apply yourself to the company that you signed up for.

* Edit: In the paragraph above I wrote, “double-dipping is when you knowing let your responsibilities suffer …” I’d like to expand on that. After some good feedback from people and further thought, it’s more likely that it is not done knowingly, but instead it’s unknowingly.
It’s a result of the slow process of disengagement that happens as people’s interests and thinking shifts from one focus to a new one. But, this process is so slow that it’s hard to identify.
It’s very similar to a slow weight gain. You don’t easily notice it until one day, it hits you. But, once you do notice it, that’s when you have the responsibility to take action and choose what you want to focus on. Otherwise, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and others.

When you really think about it, the difference is all about intent.

If you’re really that unsatisfied, unchallenged, or unfulfilled, then either change your intention or just walk away.

Double dipping only spreads the disease of your discontent to everyone else.

So if you are at a startup, do yourself and your colleagues a favor. Don’t double-dip. Just stop it. It’s disrespectful to yourself and your colleagues.

Think about it: How would you like it if you caught someone double- dipping at your party? Not cool!

So to all of you who set an intent to stay focused and dedicate yourselves to coming up with innovative ideas, developing yourselves, and making your companies better, thank you for not double-dipping.