The N°1 Skill Most Founders Neglect

I am a musician, a painter, an artist as some would call it. I tend to have those very creative moments, and sometimes I have none at all. You want to produce, but you can't.

The art of being bored.

I face the same ebb and flow now, as a start-up founder dealing with a scaling business. If you want to be different - and make a change to the world - you feel inertia that pushes the creative part of your brain to shout great ideas. Sometimes this works, but as you might have noticed, these moments are rare when you are caught up in your work.

I don't want to use the word busy here, cause that is just a time management issue. I am talking about your head almost literally filled up with to-do's.

Now, in times where the team is counting on me to make the best decisions, I really want to use my creativity to approach each situation from another perspective.

What’s possible here? How can we differentiate?

What we don’t want to do is make quick decisions based on short-term cash. We go for the long-term, try to make an impact. For these decisions I know creativity is my go-to, my good-idea-pool. But how can I be more creative if I am in a constant battle with my to-do’s?

Most founders fear un-productivity.

By monitoring Instagram accounts and watching motivating YouTube videos, we hear we need to hustle 24/7. This type of information puts a lot of founders under great pressure, and leads to underperformance.

I believe in the Pareto principle, or the law of the vital few: 20% of your time for 80% of your results.

We are talking about being efficient here, but in lieu of staying on track, I’ll dedicate my perception of that topic to another article.

From day one, I believed being unproductive sometimes is an absolute must to decompress your brain. Over the past few months I have tried a few things. I started with going to the library for a week every two months. I read a (non-fiction) book a day and made some annotations along the way. After this week, I was full of great ideas and felt inspired by other stories, but I also noticed that my brain wasn’t decompressing. I was just filling it with more insights. (Disclaimer: I love books, and that hasn’t changed. I just used them in the wrong context here).

After some time, I changed my approach to the issue – I began taking one day off each week. This gave me an opportunity to plan quality-time with friends and my partner. Circling back, I found is that I used this time to ask for others’ opinions on my situation and the challenges our team faced.

Yes, this approach really opened up my mind to new ideas for the business, and also for future businesses (it never stops, right?). Taking a day ‘off’ is hard in the beginning. It feels like you are betraying your business because – in the moment – it feels like you aren’t doing a thing.

Take the weekend off.

What I understand with downtime is really doing nothing at all. I was a bit skeptical if that would leave me with a positive impact. If you have read my previous article you have noticed that I don't shy away from some scientific research.

So when I am in doubt I use my Scholar account and get into the literature. This lead me to reading the journal of experimental social psychology. The article of Karen Gasper and Brianna L. Middlewood tries to explain why elation and boredom promote associative thought more than distress and relaxation.

I won't explain the whole article but I want to point out some interesting assumptions. The most important one is that people's feelings influence their ability to make creative associations.

One day off a week.

I want to challenge you to discover this yourself. Try to take one day COMPLETELY off every week and let me know after 2 months (when you are all calmed down) what the effect was on your creative solutions for business issues. This really works for me, especially if I take a weekend off. Most research confirms this as well.

Boredom encourages the quest for meaning and exploration which could promote creative associations. You can be bored at all times. For example something you can do every day: if you are walking to a meeting or to a store or whatever, don't take out your phone.

Try to leave that thing in your pocket and take in the vibe of the city. After a while you'll start to notice things, you'll see things you never saw and hear things you neglect when you are staring to that evil screen.

My timing on an off-day.

10am: I like to sleep late on the weekends. I love sleeping, so that makes sense.
11am: I roll out of bed and stare out of my window to see what kind of day it is. I let the air come to me and let the clouds decide what my day might bring.
11.15am: Time for brunch. Just enjoy this.
Until 2pm: I tend to make time to read a magazine. I love going to the city to just grab free magazines from shops. It’s not that they are full of interesting things, but it has an effect on me.
After 2pm: Bike time! I have built my own custom fixie-bike, which I only use on the weekends. Every Saturday and/or Sunday, I ride my bike to the city-center and take the same route every time. On my way I just listen to the birds, people, and take in the vibe. After an hour I get to my favorite park. That’s where I relax a bit. When I’m ready to go back home I pass a large artisanal store and get my dinner for the evening.
6pm: Dinner time.
Evening: I’ll go back out to a bar, or just watch television until I go back to bed around 1m.

You don’t have to follow my timing. It’s just what worked for me.