How to stay in the flow as a founder

Rock climbing and its relentless metaphors.
Jeremy Clarke
August 10, 2023

Every couple days I go to the climbing gym. I like the solo nature of the sport. I like that I can just walk in and head straight for the wall. And at this point, I’ve gotten very clear about which routes I can do easily and the ones I need to work at. While there’s some critical thinking involved, most days I can just zone out and hop into a sort of flow state. That was until last Tuesday.

I went in like any other day, except it seemed like every single route I normally found to be a cakewalk, this time was such a struggle. I couldn’t get my feet in the right position. My hands were weak, and I couldn’t hold on as long. I got gassed more quickly. My entire rhythm was thrown.

Then two days later, it was like a switch went off, and I was back to my normal speed, my normal flow. The first try of the day — I climbed to the top with no problem. I wasn’t injured. I was sleeping well. Physically, even mentally, everything seemed the same.

While this is just one day at a rock climbing gym (aka low stakes, who cares), this sort of unpredictable nature is baked into every founder’s experience, including my own. One day you may feel like you’re able to grind like you always do, and then conceivably out of nowhere, the tank runs dry and you’re aching just to get to lunch.

It’s easy to get sucked in to these moments and over-analyze what was different. To spiral a bit about why one day wasn’t as strong as the next. Or to make some sort of deeper conclusion about your ability to do the work at all. But in the case of the rock wall, instead of quitting — or honestly worst, feeling defeated — I just pivoted. I went upstairs and worked on the training area to strengthen my hands. I did some cardio. I worked on small fundamental things that kept me in the flow.

Staying in the Flow

Me and my team at PSV are constantly talking about ways we can can stay in that flow. With all of us being in different cities, it’s much harder to find a rhythm together, but It’s one of our core tenants for a reason. Finding our flow keeps us in lockstep with each other and enables us to do great work together. It keeps us aligned and clear about the rhythm of our business and what we are building so that everyone is free to run at warp speed when they can, and pivot to those “training exercises” when they need to. And not everyone is going to be at the same level every day, so you have to make sure you have strategies that account for that.

This could look like co-working on a Zoom call together. It can look like splitting up a bigger project, or stripping it down to the nuts and bolts of what’s required. It can look like taking an evening off to rock climb and starting fresh early the next morning. Sometimes it’s about pivoting to a new task and other times it requires a complete reboot. As our team has gotten to know each other better, we’ve also learned who needs what and when. And we’ve seen the results of what it means to give someone permission to simplify or let go of the thing entirely.

My point is, staying in the flow successfully requires the clarity of mind to know when to redirect that river of work and when to shut it down. This is more of an intuitive call, so while I can’t tell you how to do that, I can share some things to keep in mind that help.

Here’s how to stay in the flow:

  1. Split up your work into categories of tasks that range from tasks that don’t involve much thinking (but likely are more tedious) and tasks that require a bit more mental dexterity. Always have a list of things you can do in either and when one isn’t working, switch over to the other.
  2. Pay attention to the nuances of your energy and your team’s. Not everyone is going to operate at full speed at the same times of day. Find when you work best and optimize for that. It may mean a bit of choreography to get things done as a team, but we’ve learned not everyone is going to have the same energy time blocks.
  3. Somewhat related to #2 — create blocks of time in your day when you can 100% focus on getting things done. Close down the Slack notifications, don’t respond to emails. Just get things done.
  4. Just start somewhere. If there is a bulky task that you keep putting off, find something in it that you can do in less than 30 minutes. Once you get the ball rolling, you’ll find the rest is much easier to tackle.

Staying in the flow is not always going to be easy. But having those training exercises you can fall back on is going to mean the difference between getting through and going home.

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy Clarke

Jeremy Clarke is CEO and Head of Product at Plain Sight Ventures. In his free time, you can find Jeremy behind the wheel of a race car on one of his favorite tracks around the world or pushing the limits in some other extreme sport.

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