Jump off the problem solving treadmill

The life of a startup founder is unglamorous.

My day is mostly filled with the fixing of issues. Cool stuff like discussing strategy, closing major deals, & designing products are a pretty low percentage of actual time expended.

Issues that fill days include:

  • Tracking down pieces of paper the government requires of me
  • Getting customers to actually pay invoices
  • Taking out trash cans and cleaning dishes at office
  • Editing documents and emails for typos
  • Negotiating with vendors
  • Polishing minor product minutia
  • ‘Setting up a time to connect on a call next week…’

You get the idea.

It’s not always fun, but these are the basics needed to create anything real in the physical universe.

Sure when your company grows up you’ll have other people to do a lot of the little stuff. But when you’re small everyone chips in on whatever is needed.

This issue solving treadmill is especially pervasive for people managers. As a manager one of your most important functions is to solve issues standing in the way of others. I envision this process a bit like being one of those sweepers in curling.

You’re out in front making it easier for your people to do great work

You want to evaporate the nonsense in the way of your colleagues so they can be maximally effective. This often means you’re running on many problem solving treadmills in parallel as a founder.

But issue fixing is not even just for managers. Everyone and everything in a company is built around solving issues.

You’re fixing issues for your team. Your team is solving issues with your product. Your product is solving issues for customers. If you’re B2B your customers are solving issues for their customers…

But here’s the thing:

Life is just not an endless problem solving treadmill.

News flash: there are worthwhile things in life outside of work (even passionate work). Spending time with good people, experiencing culture, and expressing new forms of creativity all come to mind.

In fact the whole point of most products is to make those other things easier to do or at least to free up time in other areas so those things can be done more often.

So the time you invest in work carries very high opportunity costs.

Thus, you better be solving issues for a meaningful purpose. I’m fortunate to have found what that means for me.

The subtle practicality of purpose

Beyond the squishy philosophy of purpose there is a simple practical reason to have one for your team.

It is really damn hard to get people excited about boring things.

Anything important is going to be rife with issues that need solving. Especially if that thing is new. To solve issues you need problem solvers. Just like you, the time they spend with you comes at high opportunity cost.

If the vision you have for them is not exciting, it is not particularly logical for them to cancel weekend plans and work longer hours to stay on the issue solving treadmill.

I turned 25 today.

Birthdays are reminders of how precious time is. This one in particular is a bit frightening because I find it absurd 2007 was actually ten years ago.

Obviously we all just slipped into a wormhole right after Graduationdropped. Or ok fine, maybe I’m just getting a bit older like everyone else.

Either way, I’m not spending the next 25 years solving issues for the sake of solving issues.

I’m learning that harmony between passionate work, enriching experiences, and time with good people is a beautiful life. A much better reality than living exclusively on the issue solving treadmill.

The ask here for you is a simple one: look up from time to time my fellow problem solver. Ask yourself why you are on that treadmill today.

It could be time to hop off for a while and find tranquility and meaning elsewhere.


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