Be a lazy startup founder.

Here’s a full disclosure: I’m one of the laziest persons I know. A multiple world champion in procrastination. If I don’t have a degree in it, it’s only because I can’t get around to buying one.

When I started working on my latest startup, Criticue.com, I had been working full time in a rather intense environment that I had gradually grown tired of. At some point I decided to start a side project and hopefully make it into something.

So every day I’d come back from my day job and spend an hour or two on Criticue. It had taken me over 4 months to create a minimal working version I could launch in December last year! Since then I incorporated, got some seed funding and along with my team I’ve been constantly pushing out incremental improvements to the service.

Now, you  know I’m lazy. I’m not a particularly patient man either, so what made me persist? Lacking an inborn talent for persistence, I focus on technique instead.

1. I set humble goals.

My very first version of the site was a mere landing page asking people to join the beta program. A post on reddit, however, attracted over a hundred beta testers in two days. It gave me a push to keep working.

Then I created a very, very basic MVP and gathered feedback, which was nearly all positive. This gave me even more of a push.

Even now, we try to push updates to production as often as possible, not only to get feedback from users but to keep ourselves motivated. Seeing the tangible results of our efforts is a wonderful reward.

2. I ask for support.

A dozen or so people have been involved since very early stages and I have been staying in touch without overloading them with information. I also listened to their ideas and discussed them thoroughly using the constructive elements to drive change.

Backing of my support group proves invaluable whenever I start having doubts about the project and start losing motivation and focus.

3. I avoid greener pastures.

More often than not, my mind behaves a bit like a stubborn mule. If I force it too much, it digs in its hooves and refuses to do anything at all. If I let it roam free, it goes places it likes rather than focusing on the task at hand.

A mixture of pleasure and pain is the way. I don’t want to lose track of my progress so I set daily goals in the form of a TODO list. I stick to the list as much as possible without being too bureaucratic.

There’s a nice trick I use to avoid getting distracted with new ideas. Whenever my mind comes up with something like “I got a better idea, do it now, do it, do it”, I write the idea down on my TODO list and go back to the task at hand. My mind thinks “Ok, I see, we’ll do it later” and calms down. Very gullible, I know, but this is the way minds often work. :)

Also, I do allow myself to work on useful tasks that are fun (such as coding!) to take a break from non-fun, more urgent ones (pr & marketing!). This alleviates the tension but you need to be careful and avoid being overindulgent.

4. I clean my plate.

Thinking *too much* is counter-productive. Just having a task in front of your nose and focusing on it is how you get things done. This is easier than it sounds.  

Think too much, do not. Do you must. Yesssss.
Minch Yoda

One good trick is using the pomodoro technique. If you haven’t come across this, you might find you truly love it. It’s simple and it really works for many people. 

When faced with an apparently insurmountable task I no longer commit myself to finishing it on the spot. I say: “OK, let’s spend just 25 minutes working on the nightmarish bug and then we’ll see…” This gives a sense of freedom. So my silly mind is like “OK, I can take 25 minutes of this but no longer” and I’m like “Yeah, sure, just 25 minutes, we have a deal”. 

Then I start working and what usually happens is this: I get so immersed in the work that my mind doesn’t mind. Then after a while it starts whining again and I pat it on its proverbial back and let do its bidding for a while.

When I notice it relax, I go back to: “OK, how about just 25 minutes of bug fixing, just 25 minutes, promise?” and the story repeats itself.

A typical mind can be easily fooled like this. 

5. I breed useful habits.

This is probably the most important bit. I make sure to create repeatable conditions and associate them with productive work. Things such as the place I work at, how it is arranged, how I start my working day (or working evening) and  how I finish it, are all important.

Since I quit my day job, my daily routine has looked like this: I wake up at 6am for a jog, shower, eat breakfast, play with my daughter for a few minutes and arrive at our office at or slightly after 8:30. I make myself coffee (a crucial part of my routine!) and after a few minutes discussing things that need to be done I immediately start my first pomodoro. No email, no reddit. I start working on the first task there is to work on. 

Days that start with this automatic routine are usually very productive. On the rare occasions I have to skip any of the steps, for example if I have to skip the morning jog, I find myself slightly confused and have to think harder than usual what to do next. And once you start thinking, the animal of your mind kicks in with its various ploys. 

There’s a great book about the psychology of habits ‘The Power of Habits’, I highly recommend it.

How do you deal with procrastination? Please share your thoughts with our readers. 

Martin Bilski

9 thoughts on “Be a lazy startup founder.

  1. A great post, thanks for introducing me to Pomodoro, I might try that when I start projects for University and when working on Startups! :D and as for that morning routine, I have a very similar one in mind, I might start doing the same to keep my days productive. Thanks for the post and thanks for the help/suggestions even if they weren’t intentional!

    Yours Sincerely,
    An 18 year old who wants to create startups/stay productive! :)

    • Hi Gregory,

      Thank you so much.

      Staying with the morning routine is surprisingly easy after I finally grasped that carrot is better than stick. :)

      I wish you the best of luck! :)

      All the best,
      Martin

  2. Cool, I had never heard of that!

    I’ve struggled with motivation for years. One day I started researching it on google and over several months I spent around 50 hours reading everything on every blog I could find – trying to find that magic switch that turns motivation on and off.

    Sadly, my only discovery was that there is no magic trick. Motivation comes from two things:

    1. Seeing progress towards your goal
    2. Blind faith that what you’re doing is taking you in the right direction.

    To support number 1, I do what you do – break the project into little tasks and conquer them one by one to force myself to get working and to see little bits of progress.

    To support number 2, I constantly remind myself that no matter what I do, it’s heading in the right direction. To help remind myself, I bought a label printer and printed some quotes on the shelf of my computer desk, right above my monitor right now. They are:

    “Focus on doing one thing great”
    “If you wait until you feel like doing something, you’ll never end up doing it”
    “Stay focused.”
    “Rough seas make great sailors”
    “The road to someday leads to a town called no where”
    “Man who chases two rabbits catches none”
    “Is this the best use of my time right now”
    “Have I got my priorities straight”
    “The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself”
    “Some things have to be believed to be seen”

    There’s another one I love that isn’t as relevant for startups, but is useful for life:

    “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”.

    I’m not successful yet, but I’m definitely more motivated today than I was a year ago!

    • Hi,

      Cool insight, esp. the two things you so casually ;) mentioned: a sense of progress and faith. These two are very powerful and instrumental in getting anywhere.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Martin

  3. This is a great post and I’m glad I’m not the only lazy person when it comes to working on a start up. I spend about 2 hours a day developing my site mainly due to getting home late from the day job. I also didn’t think about using Reddit to find beta users, thanks for the insight and inspiration. :-)

  4. Pingback: So we decided to start | PulzAir

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