When people hear about all the fun activities we're doing at Fundable, they start to ask if we're yet another Internet company that's just screwing around. We do love to have fun, but the truth is we're also militant about our productivity. There's a reason we're doing all of those activities in any given week. We're not just enjoying our lives, we're optimizing for productivity.
Sounds Like BS
On the surface, it would. So let me explain our cultural philosophy behind productivity. It started with an experiment I did years ago after sitting on a beach (burnt out from work, not the sun) reading Tim Ferris' Four Hour Work Week.
Tim suggested you could optimize your time to fit all of your productive hours into just four hours a week. It was a sensationalist title and basically improbable, but Tim was onto something. After reading it, I turned to my wife and said "I wonder how many productive hours I actually have in a week?"
So when I got back I created a log of every 15 minutes of my time. As it turns out, I only have about 4 productive hours in my 12 hour day. I became fascinated not with the 4 hours of productivity, but the 8 hours of non-productivity.
Productivity in Waves
Like many people, we see our productivity peak and valley like a wave. It not linear – we don't just wake up in the morning with constant peak productivity throughout the day.
Working through peak productivity is easy. It's the valleys that we're concerned about. If I could map out my productivity waves throughout the day it would look something like this:
And on top of that, I've noticed a similar crash throughout the week almost like clockwork.
It then builds up throughout the quarter, at which point I'm totally exhausted and need some serious downtime.
As the day, week, or quarter grinds on, and my valleys start to become more frequent, I'm not only less productive, I'm less happy. There's got to be a fix for this.
What are we Optimizing For?
Before we get into how to optimize the valleys, let's take a moment and talk about what we're optimizing for in the first place.
At Fundable, our jobs typically require creativity, presentation (usually to clients), flow (like when we're coding or designing and it's just all flowing) and ultimately output.
We're not a factory. We can't just work longer hours and expect the same output. We have a limited window when we're actually useful, which means the rest of that time is basically wasted.
If we know for sure that we only have a certain amount of "turbo" with which to extract all of that creativity and flow, then it would stand to reason that when it runs out, we should make better use of that time so we don't waste opportunities to recharge effectively.
Predicting the Valleys
Right now when we hit our valleys, and we're sitting at our desks, we screw around. We update our Facebook status, we watch funny Youtube videos, and we surf the Web mindlessly. It's the Internet company equivalent of just screwing around.
We're not screwing around because we're not productive. We're screwing around because we've hit a valley and our minds are telling us it's time for a break. So why not take one? Why not take lots of them?
The key here is to plan for valleys throughout the day. You plan for one at lunch time every day, and it's generally accepted that you should take one. But what about the rest of the day? How do you optimize for those valleys?
Creating Value from Valleys
Instead of mindless wandering at our computers, how about just getting up and doing stuff we genuinely enjoy? Now at Fundable when we're burnt out after a few hours we get up and shoot some hockey. We play pool. We take a walk through the woods (our office is in the woods, so it's not a long journey).
Instead of looking at stupid YouTube videos, we're looking at trees and wildlife. We're aligning our workdays with our Saturdays. We feel genuinely recharged and ultimately we're happier.
Pacing for Life
What we're doing in the short term is pacing our days. But longer term, in a matter of weeks and months we're deliberately taking time to avoid burnout.
Years ago I ran a sprint triathlon (read: wimp triathlon). I found during training when I let my heart rate run to 170 bpm I would burn out quickly, while only increasing my lap time slightly. Yet when I ran or biked at a measured pace of 150 bpm I felt like I could run forever.
What we're doing by scheduling breaks is optimizing for productivity. We want to be able to gain more peaks by recharging in the valleys. And we're not just thinking about the daily benefits – we're thinking about how it affects the rest of our lives.
Wil Schroter @wilschroter is the co-founder and CEO of Fundable.com. Wil has founded 9 companies including Virtucon Ventures, Fundable.com, Blue Diesel, Unsubscribe.com, Affordit.com, GotCast.com, Startups.co, and Bizplan.com.