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Ask HN: Schedule of a solo founder?
113 points by p0d 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments
If you are a solo founder would you share what your week looks like e.g. spend an afternoon on x?

I have productive days and days when I feel like I am scratching around for scraps of leads and SEO. I am currently doing 1k ARR so money is tight and I want to make the best use of my time.

The most important thing I've learned is that you need to find a balance between discipline and spontaneity.

For example, it's good to maintain a few "anchor points" each day to break up your time and help you break out of negative cycles or unproductive moods. Things like going to the gym, maintaining a fixed wake up time or lunch time. This is the discipline side, which helps you to train yourself to stay focused on your goals.

But it's also important to listen to your own body and mind, and do things that make sense to you in the moment. E.g. if you're feeling too tired to work, accept it, go home and try again tomorrow. Avoid burnout. If you scheduled a certain task for 11am but when the time comes you're in the zone on something else, stay in the zone! This is the spontaneity part.

Discipline allows you to be spontaneous without guilt, because you know you'll eventually return to the basic system of moving towards your goal that you've established. Spontaneity allows you to adapt as you go to avoid unforeseen problems or take advantage of unexpected benefits.

That said, on a work day (M-F) my schedule looks roughly like this:

6.30am - wake up 7.30-8.30am - gym 9-9.30am - write down what i did yesterday, what i want to do today 9.30-11.45am - on task 11.45am-12.15pm - lunch 12.15-3pm - on task 3.30-4pm - take a break, make a snack, or go for a walk 4-5.30pm - on task. but if i'm tired go home early. 6-7pm - dinner 7-9pm - relax, read, play music, hang out with my spouse 9pm - wind down, start getting ready for bed

Your first sentence is spot on

Somewhat solo founder for many years: I don’t have a schedule, on purpose. The more schedule you maintain, the more you potentially lead yourself to burnout.

Each day I feel it out. I definitely load mornings more towards errands, communication, planning. Depending on contractors or employees I shift schedules to match them.

Motivation will come and go. If it goes, I’d advise to avoid resisting and just let it go. Focus instead on “everything else” for a while, relax, and think over why it may have left.

Just a few insights.

>"Motivation will come and go. If it goes, I’d advise to avoid resisting and just let it go. Focus instead on “everything else” for a while, relax, and think over why it may have left."

I don't know if your advice is correct or not but I do want to add to the discussion the fact that it is 180° opposed to advice I received to the contrary: don't wait for motivation (which comes and goes); discipline is more important, and that means just doing it, regardless of whether you're emotionally motivated at the time.

Again just putting this out there because your advice and this advice are opposites. No comment on which (or both) are correct.

I'm not sure if this advice applies to founders.

As a founder, I was always extremely motivated, to the point it was painful to take a break. I required heavy discipline to slow down. At the point many founders lose motivation, they have likely been working too hard.

Interesting. So as a founder there was nothing tedious that you weren't motivated for?

There were always tedious things, like refactoring, audits, dealing with investors (the ones who are tire kicking). But as a founder, the tedious stuff becomes a kind of high, something to look forward to. Think of it like grinding in a game or hobby, vs the kind of repetitive grinding you do at a job.

I think maybe one of the differences is that, as a founder, the more work you get in, the less work you have to do later. If you were too efficient at a job, you end up having to do more work at the same pay. Same goes for say, homework, if you're getting straight A's, you have to maintain that work rate.

But as a founder, if you get this thing done, that saves you work for the future and also means more money and less trouble in the long run.

For me at the start even the tedious items are fun because they were mine.

Conversely after a few years in even the important interesting parts became tedious.

I am extremely disciplined already so perhaps that is the context I didn’t provide. But there are limits and once I got myself to a certain level I noticed going any further was actually a negative.

This last point on motivation is spot on! If you're gonna schedule, make sure you schedule in some time for yourself. We all need time to recharge.

Solo since 2005. I don't really have much of a schedule. That is one of the attractions.

Usually I work 8:30ish to 5:30ish Monday to Friday, taking time off for errands and exercize. I also do customer support at the weekends. Sometime I do a couple of hours work late in the evening. Sometimes I take the day off. Depends on how motivated I am feeling.

You have to keep a balance between the many little tasks that need doing (e.g. renew the office insurance, check adwords is running ok) and the fewer big tasks that make the difference log term (e.g. program a major new feature). I have a visual to do list that tracks tasks in my own software ( https://www.hyperplan.com ) so I don't forget anything.

That feeling of not knowing what is the most important thing t0 work on next (new feature, improve website, create an explainer video, improve the documentation, tweak your PPC)? Get used to it. It isn't going to go away.

Sure, I've been a solo founder for about 3 years now and found myself most productive with this schedule:

8:00: wake up without an alarm

8:00-8:30: easy customer support emails

8:30-9:30: go for a run

9:00-10:00: get changed, coffee, difficult support emails, planning what to work on

10:00-11:30: work on project X

11:30-12:30: lunch

12:30-14:00: work on project X

14:00-14:30: circadian rhythm is at lowest point - break, snack, HN, read the news

14:30-17:00: work on project X

Project X alternates pretty evenly every few months/weeks between product development, updating websites, marketing (email updates/brainstorming about lead generation, etc). I try to focus on one project at a time. The key to wearing multiple hats at once is to wear one at a time for a while.

I am not sure what business or field you are in but your schedule seems very very laid back. Too laid back if you ask me. You are a solo founder and you work less hours than a person who works a regular job. Is your venture profitable?

I counted ~5.5 hours per day working on Project X. That’s about the amount of time someone would spend on a 9-5 when you take away lunch and any downtime at work.

I think people decide how much time they want to spend on work. Work will expand to occupy the available space. And with appropriately timed breaks, even when you’re not working, your mind continues to work on solving the problem you’re currently tackling.

I’ve woken up with some killer solutions to road blocks after taking a power nap. Breaks could serve the same function.

You are assuming they do not do the same stuff other humans do in the 5.5 hours.

So in total, you work 38.5 hours a week (Assuming that you work on the weekends). That is surprisingly low considering all the hardships of being a solo founder. Kudos!

I work the occasional weekend and about 2-3 hours hours in the evening twice a week as well. I might also keep up on some support for 10 mins here and there whenever I have some downtime.

The only rule my partner and I have is to keep electronics out of the bedroom. Also, for context, we don't have kids.

You mention marketing and lead generation. Where is the hard sales and follow-up with those efforts. I would expect that to take half the day.

Brilliant, thanks. I especially like idea of focussing on projects. Rather than saying I will do X every day or week forever.

Honestly quite surprised how much work it turns out to be. Would not wish this on my worst enemy territory. You have to like that it is 24/7/366. You need to enjoy wearing different hats on an hourly basis.

Action trumps thought. Let that be your mantra. What you feel needs to be done in the moment. Let that be the thing you intensely focus on 110%.

Because trying to maintain the Ben Franklin schedule of discipline. Isn't going to happen in the mobile connected world. And 5pm video chats with Silicon Valley.

Here it is 10am. 16 degrees outside. Configuring a "hybrid cloud" in my bedroom. Not exactly 99% of people's idea of a blissful heavenly morning ;)

I really disagree with action trumping thought. When I started my business I took that approach too, but after initial success followed by 3 years of flat revenue growth I’ve realized that action is too easily pointless thrashing. It’s like someone who doesn’t know how to swim will drown while spending every ounce of their energy and someone who knows how to swim can easily float or move using just a small amount of their energy. There is only really one thing that grows my business at this point, so I just focus on that. After a few years of practice I’ve learned the basics (bookkeeping, mostly) so that is easy enough I don’t have to spend any more time then necessary.

If you are working 24/7/"366" either you are creating something so valuable we will know about you sooner than later, or you are doing some things terribly wrong, or you are lying. Which one is it?

I think parent commenter really means that it's a kind of responsibility. You can't just stop and take a break; breaks become stressful. There are no paid or sick days.

You can delegate all this stuff to employees, but there's a lot nobody can delegate. That's also why a lot of founders don't just hire CEOs and live off the passive income.

I think the advice people needs varies quite a bit by personality and background.

The bias for action thing is absolutely true for people who are coming out of a structured environment like education or a big companies.

On the other hand, a lot of the people who want to be solo founders do so because they don't want to be told what to focus on, and this may lead to a willful blindness and taking a lot of low-impact action because they haven't fully thought things through.

I don't feel like "action trumping thought" is a universal rule for early founders, but it could be true in some contexts. I visited your company's website (okaq.com) and I see a static placeholder image of a digipet. I'm curious, what's the "nano games at peta scale" vision? I think that would help contextualize what you wrote here. Whatever it is it seems like a lot of work, so kudos on that.

Constantly doing the action thing, means you have not planned ahead.

And I think the chance is big that you are getting burned out.

The reason they are using schedules is that they otherwise could work for 24 hours and the day after, not that much will have changed.

There are the Elon Musks of course, but that's not 99% off the founders :)

In any sort of solo-founder situation that I'd like to eventually scale and delegate, I've used a quadrant-based time management worksheet to make sure the balance of sales,marketing,development,ops are all getting attention.

Not necessarily daily or equal attention, but the "key organs to the body" are getting their minimum viable attention.

A simple spreadsheet works for starters. Put "must do" activities in each quadrant and review progress periodically.

Solo since 2017. Working from home has a negative impact on my productivity. Family members and friends assume you're available for smalltalk and other stuff just because you're at home and not at work. I like working from home. It's warm and comfy. Food and drinks are a minute away. I consider myself very productive nonetheless, because I adjusted my daily routine to my environment and don't try to force it the other way around.

So about a year ago I started waking up at 5 o'clock. It's awesome after getting used to it. It's quiet, sometimes still dark outside and nobody can distract you. I can put on my headphones and just hack away. I usually start by taking a piece of paper and write down a couple of things/features/bugs I want to take care of that day. The items on the list were usually spread out across Github issues and projects Kanban boards, but I bring them together one more time. The goal is to realistically summarise the ideal day on a single sheet. I then prioritise and guess the time effort of each task. I start with the most important + least time. I want to look at the list at the end of the day with 8/10 items ticked off. Helps stay motivated and not get burned out. It's very likely I'll get distracted or just throw the towel after 5-6 hours of work. It's much easier to do that if you've already finished a good amount of work. I mostly optimize towards self-happiness. It's not a war you win on a single day. I know a lot of people that are unhappy with themselves and their progress on side projects because they often start with tasks that are too large and they have nothing to push to prod at the end of the day. In between of work I eat with my dad and girlfriend, sometimes have smalltalk for half an hour, but that's about it. I stop working at 8pm and play a round of monopoly against my girlfriend or watch a movie with her. Good time to talk about how your day was like and so on. I sometimes struggle with it, but it's important to dedicate time to your loved ones, even if you think that every minute you don't work on your project is lost money. They're usually the ones that support you the most.

I consider solo founding a 24/7/365 job. It's hard and a lot of pressure, but its one of the few things I enjoy most in life, because each day and every single item you tick off your todo list fully benefits you and not your employer.

(Sorry, the comment turned out a bit chaotic.)

Solo since 2010, 35K EUR MRR.

Mornings are for focused work on things I look forward to doing, so that usually means development work and really moving the needle. If I force myself to start my day answering support emails or writing a blog post, I usually procrastinate and end up with less done in total for that day.

Directly after lunch is when I answer support emails, so that I still have plenty of time for it and not end the day totally stressed out with a non-empty inbox. Depending on how I feel after that, I finish my day doing low-effort obligational work or I go back to fun work again.

I have enough MRR to cover about 50% of living costs. But I had once put enough of a financial buffer and I thought I could just work full-time on my projects for a few months and make it grow fast enough, so I can fully live off of them. It didn't work out as I planned, the growth wasn't fast enough. Some things just take time. Branding takes time. SEO takes time.

So now I work as a freelancer 3-4 days a week and I work on my own projects the other 1-2 days (and sometimes in the evenings).

I have 2 students who handle 95% of customer support and research and data entry, so I can focus on developing features.

My freelance projects give me financial stability and also a daily routine, plus I often get to learn new stuff and also just some time distance from my own project, so sometimes that gives you a clearer perspective. If I'm constantly working on my project, I lose focus and sometimes build unnecessary features.

I think founder is straightforward. I target 5%-10% higher income next week, or roughly 30% more next month if sales cycles are not weekly (mine was highly dependent on government paydays). Most people might want to target revenue instead, or even active users.

What's keeping you from hitting that target? Just focus on that. Would marketing/sales give you more income? Flying to that conference and making a talk? Do you need to handle customers better? Should the tech team ease the burden from the rest of the team? Add another feature? Improve existing ones? Do you need to spend more time hiring? Do you need to raise money to hire those people?

Being a founder in tech is incredible - you get to work on only the most important problems, unlike a job where you do the same thing over and over and force yourself through plateaus. It's like you have an extra dimension to maneuver around in.

I'd have weeks where I drive around the city pitching to investors. I'd have weeks where I'm driving off to another state to meet suppliers. I'd have weeks where I'm on the floor dealing with excess customers, writing up customer service scripts for someone else to do later. Weeks where I'm promoting the company at a career fair, and interview people on the spot or within a day. One week, I got sick of the app color scheme, looked up designers, got a logo budget approved, worked close with the designer and got a perfect new logo in 2 days, and then redesigned the whole app scheme around the logo. One campaign, we had an overwhelming amount of orders (3000 people signed up in a day), so I hacked in an order/delivery management system overnight.

If you need motivation, I recommend the rock star approach of hanging out with your fans. Or rather, just look at who is giving you their hard earned money. We get lots of feedback, reviews, in app, chat, customer messages. Take some time to write a personal thank you to some customers. Handle some existing customers yourself, not just the new ones. Thank your suppliers/partners or have a chat with them. Handle complaints personally; don't expect staff to do most of them... it's not fun for them as they're powerless, and they don't pass the valuable data.

I'm also in college, so its pretty rough. In any given day I work anywhere from 10 to 14 hours, about 8 to 12 of which is for my startup. I'm sinking a lot of my time into the backend right now (integration testing, stress testing, decreasing latency, etc). I haven't launched anything yet, but I should be at some point before the end of the month. Recently I've been doing more work on marketing and getting some initial users, which I should have done a lot sooner.

Unless performance is a key component to your service, I would focus on launching and marketing. Being an engineer, I've often fallen into the trap that a product has to be technically perfect before launching. Being a freelancer and indie developer, I've gotten to meet other freelancers and founders, and got to work for agencies and startups.

There's so many products that are technically crap, but they provide value to some people. Thus people are willing to pay for it.

There was one startup guy, who outsourced development to this one guy in Asia. I thought "this product will not last long, if that's the way development is done". He went on to get funding from an investment arm of a big company within the sector. I thought, "ok, this will be as big as it gets". A year later he's got a deal with a major national retailer.

This is one of the reasons I focus on providing value, not a technically perfect product.

I'm not concerned about performance nearly as much as regressions and breakages post-release. Not sure if this is for better or worse, but I'm the only one actively working on this, so I'm trying to streamline the develop-test-publish so I focus more of my time on delivering value when this company properly starts.

It will often be about a balance of speed of development vs stability. And it will be impossible to create something bug free.

I focus more on backups and monitoring. So I might not prevent all bugs from happening, but in case they do - a) I find out very early (error monitoring + uptime monitoring) and/or b) I can roll back very quickly to a very recent version.

I'd rather deliver 6 imperfect features quickly and getting feedback from users early (feedback can mean tracking which features are being used most) and iterating early, than investing a lot of time into 3 technically great features, then finding out 2 of them people aren't really using.

I know it's scary, because it's sort of like going out onto the field without enough training. But focus on the added value you can deliver and listen to your customers, and it will be fine.

Although this is a great question and the answers will be broadly useful for lots of folks reading, I'd like to suggest a reframe for yourself:

It's impossible to know what the right schedule is without knowing where you time needs to be spent, and there's not really enough context in the post for us to help with that.

At $1k ARR you've passed the hurdle of getting someone to pay something, which is great, but you still have a ways to go to sustain yourself which means you should take a hard look at your runway and product.

Is the product adequate to grow or is it still somehow short of MVP? Is the biggest problem lead gen, conversion or retention? Who is the target audience and what's the thin end of the wedge?

Overall at this stage I'd be spending a ton of time talking directly to customers (or prospective customers) and trying to uncover the flaws or opportunities for your product that will validate whether it can be successful. Good luck!

You make a good point. My main challenge at the moment is lead gen. Part of my frustration is spending time on things like marketing that have no quick feeback loop.

I do what I want and where I get progress done. It won't help me to focus on writing some code if my mind decides to be in an optimize something else mode. I tryed force, but it is a waste of time and reducing fun.

Money was always tight in the beginning, but after a while it grew to something that does not affect me or my decision anymore.

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