How to Kill Start-up Distractions

Start-ups are hard, but there are a few things that you can do to make your life simpler and give your start-up a better chance of success.

These are lessons I’ve picked up along the way and now live by to simplify my life and optimize the amount of time I have to work on my company.

Side Start-ups are Poison

If you are a start-up founder, you should not have any other companies you work on. Do not start hacking on a new start-up idea. Do not get involved with anyone else’s companies. Do not even start thinking about other ideas unless you are ready to permanently throw in the towel on your current start-up.

Start-ups take a tremendous amount of energy and time to succeed, and by splitting your resources between multiple start-ups, you’re guaranteed to have a lot of of unsuccessful and half baked companies.

This doesn’t just happen to “bad” entrepreneurs. Lack of focus happens to almost every founder.

“After my first company died, I did an inventory of the projects I had worked on in the last year. There were something like 30 projects that I had started on and not finished. My total weakness was focusing on things.”
- Ev Williams, cofounder – Twitter

If you are tempted to start something new, here’s a good test. Keep track of where your mind is drifting to on weekends, in the shower, and when you sleep. If you are not thinking about your current start-up constantly, then it’s time to move on. Most start-up founders do not suffer from a lack of amazing ideas, they suffer from a lack of focus. If you stay focused, you’ll be unstoppable.

Also, I used the term side start-up above deliberately and I am totally fine with founders having side projects. In my opinion, a side project is something you work on in your spare time to hone your skills, learn and have fun. You should have no responsibilities to customers, employees, or investors on a side project, which is what makes it different from a side start-up.

Usually side projects help you learn something new that you can incorporate back into your start-up.This blog is a side project of mine that I use to improve my writing skills, help others, and archive my ideas. If I decided to close down shop tomorrow because it was making me stressed, I wouldn’t be letting anyone down.

Hell Yeah, or No

It took me too long to realize that my time is my most valuable asset. My start-up is all consuming, so when I agree to do things for other people on top of my already busy lifestyle, that is taking away from my leisure time. When I do not have leisure time, I do not think clearly and make poor decisions, thus hurting my company.

Derek Sivers introduced me to the concept of “Hell Yeah, or No” in his book Anything you Want (highly recommended). The basic idea is that if you aren’t thinking, “Hell yeah I want to have a meeting with you!”, then you shouldn’t take the meeting with the person who asks.

This rule has not steered me wrong yet, and has gotten me out of countless meetings and distractions that I would have regretted doing later on.

Let Your Customers Captain the Ship

There’s no better way to stay focused than to talk to your customers. Talking to your customers is never a waste of time. Your job as a start-up founder is to build an amazing product and sell it. By talking to your customers, your biggest issues and main priorities will automatically bubble to the surface, keeping you focused and on track.

Respect the Headphones

As a start-up founder, you have the opportunity to set the culture of your company. Building a respectful workplace free of avoidable interruptions is very important. Teach your employees that when someone has headphones on, you should avoid interrupting him at all costs. Being in a state of flow is when you are most productive (and scientifically proven to be happiest).

This concept was referenced in the Social Network as being “wired in,” and I 100% agree with it. Even if it’s inconvenient at first and kind of socially awkward, just try it out and you’ll quickly see gains in productivity across your entire company.

Use Chat

My cofounder and I communicate through chat during the workday whenever possible. When we had interns this summer, we asked them all to use chat and not interrupt us and each other. Compare the two scenarios below:



Bill: Hey
Ted: (ignores because headphones are on)
Bill: (wheels over, hits on arm)
Ted: What?
Bill: Do you think the sign up button should be green or red?
Ted: Red because…(2 minute explanation)
Bill: Ok – thanks (wheels back)

Bill: What color do you think I should make the sign up button?
Ted: red –

The talking scenario could take a total of 10-15 minutes for Bill to focus back on his work. The chat scenario takes 30 seconds total to finish, and because the interruption was shorter, getting focused again will not take as long.

Work Odd Hours

If all else fails, you can always try working early in the morning or late at night. These are times when the Internets are slowed down and there will be less tweets and post on HackerNews to read and be distracted. You’ll also be free of phone calls, text messages, and people wanting to bother you.

Start-ups are about moving as fast as possible. If you avoid distractions that slow you done,
you’ll greatly increase your chances of survival.

Do you have any tips or stories about how you killed distractions from your life? Share in the comments below.

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