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The Land of the Never Started Startups

Mar 17, 2023

Have you ever had this great startup idea and you never did anything about it? Are you one of those people that decided to tidy their room, sanitize the bathroom, and do the laundry when they need to study for the final exams in the university? Do you feel like you get work done only when the deadline is approaching at you with supersonic speed? It sounds like you are a procrastinator! And so is the majority of humankind in some shape and form according to multiple studies...

What Is Procrastination?

Wikipedia defines procrastination as “the action of unnecessarily and voluntarily delaying or postponing something despite knowing that there will be negative consequences for doing so”. If I could have one superpower that probably would be to defeat procrastination once and forever. Procrastination is deeply wired in our brains and is enforced by multiple factors:

  • the area in our brains related to pleasure overruling your planning and decision making center;
  • our tendency to fall into a dopamine powered self-reinforcing pleasure-seeking behavior - similar neural pathways are responsible for heavy addictions like alcohol, drugs, gambling;
  • the plethora of applications and devices nowadays seeking our attention and exploiting our quick-pleasure seeking nature

How Should We Think About Procrastination?

Over focusing on quick bursts of enjoyment is killing our ability to execute on long-term plans … on our dreams. If you haven’t watched or read about Tim Urban’s way of thinking about procrastination, I highly recommend that. Giving you a quick TL;DR here:

  • There is a place called The Dark Playground where all productivity goes away and we are sucked into vicious cycle of time wasting activities
  • There is another place called The Happy Playground where all the good stuff happens. You might have heard this as “Deep Work”, “The state of flow”, or some other terms that basically illustrate our ability to do meaningful intellectual work.
  • There is a instant-gratification seeking monkey that drags you into the Dark Playground
  • The panic monster comes to the rescue when being under pressure drags us into the Happy Playground.

How do these four concepts work together? Imagine your brain is a spaceship and you are the captain navigating it towards The Happy Playground in order to work on the latest startup idea that you got. On your way there, out of nowhere a space monkey jumps next to you and offers to take a quick break and watch a 10 minute long video on how “the string theory” works. You say, “Why not, this actually can help my final thesis in some way …” and you take the quick break. Just before finishing the video, the monkey throws another video at you. While being distracted the monkey takes the control of the spaceship from you and before you know it - you are in The Dark Playground. And that’s where startups die even before being born. Here you spend days and days in blissful existence until Chewbacca “the panic monster” jumps on you with a calendar in his hairy hands pointing at the date - you realize you are here for weeks and the time you planned working on your startup idea is gone forever. Have you been that captain? Do you see famous social and video platforms acting as the monkey for you?

We often talk about how less than 10% of startups succeed and that number is paralyzingly frightening. Now, think for a minute that these are only startups that were started. We don’t even know how many more were never started.

Why Procrastination Kills So Many Startups Before Being Even Started?

Human brains haven’t evolved for the purpose we want to use them for today - spending hours in a focused deep-thinking state, avoiding a constant stream of distractions, or achieving the goals we have set ourselves for today. Quite the contrary, our brains are optimized to help us survive, which in ancient times meant pattern recognition, preserving energy, and staying alive. One of the deeply engraved instincts that we inherited is the fight or flight response.

When we think about taking one idea and turning it into a working product we usually think this is hard, complex, unclear, risky, scary. Not knowing where to start from, not having all the skills needed, doubting your idea, fear of failure are good excuses to start tomorrow and spend the day on something else. So, no wonder in such situations our brains choose the flight response. We seek shelter in activities that make us feel good, e.g. videos of reviving old automatic hand watches (guilty as charged). This is the instant-gratification seeking monkey dragging us into The Dark Playground. Unfortunately, this is a trap for our mind and productivity - what used to help us survive in the ancient times is not making us successful in the 21st century. So, if flying away is not the answer, we are left with one other option - to fight.

How Do We Fight Procrastination?

  1. Have a specific plan - have at least the next 5 - 10 things you need to do clearly laid out. Not all the things need to be clear but you need clarity on things you can execute on. Having a plan helps us visualize where we will be in the next month, makes the objective observable and inspiring, and reduces at least part of the ambiguity and complexity from the big problem.
  2. Start small - don't try to boil the ocean. Create tasks that are quick, clean, and actionable. Find the smallest step that will take you a bit closer to your end goal. And then repeat it multiple times. Making consistent progress in small chunks will build much bigger momentum than pulling heroic allnighters once in a while. This will also build confidence in yourself and deliver the much needed dopamine boosts from working on something that is actually valuable.
  3. Commit, commit, commit! - the deadline is what makes the monkey shut up. When starting a company - often you don't have deadlines. Not until you create them for yourself. There is a whole science behind how commitments and promises can help us stick to a plan and persist towards a set goal. For some people, calendars are a great way to drive urgency and set deadlines for them. For others, making a promise to a partner and leveraging the peer pressure is a more effective way. Probably, you have your own as well.

In Summary

As the saying goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and when it comes to starting a new company, making the first step is often the hardest one. The second hardest thing is to keep making those steps and progressing towards the end goal.

In Icanpreneur we believe that providing the right environment for you to build out your ideas will significantly increase your chances to succeed. By providing a clear path towards building your product idea into a startup, a clear next step, and a deadline - we are eliminating most of the reasons for that nasty monkey to steal your time and we are opening the doors to the happy playground.