Living in Yellow
There are about a million and one “productivity hacks” out there for your reading pleasure today, so far-be-it from me to deny you yet another. I’m not sure this even qualifies, but it may be helpful in some way.
Here’s the 150th way to optimize your life, your work, your relationships, or none of it. This strategy is working well for our partnership at Techstars Ventures, and its working at home too (when we get to do it!).
First, a nod and thanks to Jerry Colonna and Reboot.io, an amazing CEO/Founder/Investor coaching organization for the fundamental framework that this stems from.
Here’s how it works… We do regular check-ins with each other and ask if we are Red, Yellow, or Green at work and at home. The color coding should be obvious cues to the state of things and I won’t spend a ton of time here going deep on that here. If you want to learn more, call Jerry.
I was doing office hours at one of our programs not long ago and I asked a founder how they were doing. What transpired was a pretty convoluted conversation about workload, stress, progress, excitement, etc that became hard for me to parse. Thus, I asked if they were red, yellow or green at a high level w.r.t work and personal life, and the entrepreneur chuckled and said “I pretty much live in yellow”. On its face this isn’t earth shattering, but stay with me for a minute here.
A short while before this encounter, I was in a conversation with my partners as we talked about our “stoplight status” and we had discussed the idea that hanging out in yellow wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I was an entrepreneur myself, I would have identified that way often. Something struck me about all of this and it just resonated. I realized there was something to this and spent more time thinking about the why.
We, as humans (and endless optimizers?), often feel a basic and primal need to always make things better or improve (as least most of us Type-A, high strung folks). The knee-jerk reaction to being in a slightly uncomfortable state (yellow) would be to work on fixing the things that prevented you from being green (everything is great, or as good as I want/need it to be) and get back to that state. For some, that’s the desired state. I’m realizing that for me, living in yellow is actually working and I’m more focused, productive, and satisfied here. When I heard this from another entrepreneur it brought back memories from when I was running a business and I realized I’d maybe always been operating out in a yellowish zone. As an investor I’m still wired that way, it turns out. The discomfort is motivating!
This is not about being “busy” to the point of burning out, or having such a packed calendar you can’t get any actual work done. It’s not about high stress levels and feeling like you are drowning either. There is a lot of data out there about the importance of taking care of yourself, exercise, and mental space. We often work better when we disengage for a minute! The yellow state is that you don’t feel quite at ease and feel some amount of stress/pressure/workload, but you aren’t sitting in a dumpster fire where things are in constant chaos either.
What if you just hung out in yellow? Could you accept a latent amount of stress, anxiousness or discomfort and made it work for you? In working through this, I have realized that different personality types will react to this state differently, and that it may not work for many people. Could it work for you? Are you already there? I’d love to hear about it…
One observation about myself is that I get a little complacent if I’m truly Green/Green. I might have a high level of contentment in that space, but I’m not doing my best work and I’m more easily distracted. I like a little forward tension, it turns out.
So, I’m going to accept that “Living in Yellow” is a thing for me and that its ok if I’m there. I’ll have episodes of other shades in both directions for sure depending on workload, travel, family life, etc but if I’m like other entrepreneurial types out there, yellow means GO!