Controlled Burns and Firebreaks

As startupSQUARE closes in on it’s first friends and family release the work is piling up and I’m reminded of the need to develop firebreaks for the company. Those are the areas where a lack of vegetation, natural such as in the case of a river or man-made as in the case of a road, prevents a fire from spreading. In work context, a firebreak is any sort of barrier which prevents a mistake from starting a domino effect and becoming a catastrophe.

In my last company the exec team spoke frequently of running around putting out fires all day. This was almost a badge of honor. Theses were brief, flare up emergencies with customers, personnel, cash flows, etc. which would threaten our business. But our main problem wasn’t all these small fires, it was that the execs spent so much time dealing with the emergencies that there was no time left over to work on the underlying problems which were creating the fires: poor hiring practices, poor customer service, and a poor product not well fit to the market. Continue reading

Caffeine Killer (Productive Chaos: How to Hurry Without Rushing p. 2)

People really like their caffeine. I guess I should’ve realized that before, but I got a bit of  flack when I suggested that caffeine was not the most efficient way to get things done in my previous post. Ok…I get it…coffee tastes great. Fair ’nuff. But I’m sticking to my guns and I’ll say it again:

If you have a cup of coffee every day, you’re not actually more awake and aware than if you didn’t have any caffeine at all.

But aside from the basic biological facts of your body normalizing to the amount of caffeine after a while, there’s a philosophical issue. Caffeine is a crutch. A lovely lovely yummy crutch that I love in sugar coated form, but a crutch none the less. Continue reading

Merry Xmas!…now shut up and start coding.

Just about every entrepreneur I’ve met in Silicon Valley knows how to write more than a few lines of code. The ones that don’t are constantly looking for a partner to build their dream product. You know, the one that will make them a billion dollars. I’d guess you’d have to count me among them. But waiting around for a dream co-founder doesn’t cut it around here. That’s why this Christmas I’m writing code.

I haven’t written a line since high school when the two languages I knew were Pascal and MACOS. In case your wondering, MACOS wasn’t even a proper language, only worked on my Apple II series, and stood for More of A Crappy Operating System. I don’t even know what it was, but it sure wasn’t Mac OS X. I used it for my bulletin board system (BBS for those that remember pre-www). I never saw an instruction book, not sure there was one, but I was able to understand the basic syntax easily enough and hack code from different available sources into something vaguely resembling what I wanted. But that was over 16 years ago. I have no business writing code professionally, but sometimes business requires you to do something unprofessional. Continue reading

Productive Chaos: How to Hurry Without Rushing (p. 1)

As founders, we often tend to work ridiculous hours in the hopes that more hours = more revenue. This is often not the case. Instead, we cause a lot of motion and the dust is well stirred, but little is actually accomplished. I have found that most people get about 4 productive hours out of the day, no matter how many hours they actually put in. Especially since the average “I worked a twenty hour day” usually consists of several meal breaks, watercooler BS, daydreaming, IM, office politics, chain mail, the latest viral video, sexual innuendo, and other nonsense.

I’d rather work productively for 4 hours than unproductively for 20. So I retrained my work habits until I could get a normal days work done in four hours, and then I started increasing my hours from there. Nowadays I can get a genuinely productive 16 hour day if I need to, but generally settle somewhere between 7 and 9 with a healthy amount of time for non-goal oriented learning and creative thinking. Here’s a list of little tips that have helped me, many of which come from Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s worth a read if you’re not familiar with it. Sometime it’s a bit tedious and you’ll find that you already know 50-80% of it, but the parts you don’t know are extremely valuable. Continue reading