In startups, it’s incredibly easy to let your day be driven by fires and your weekends be overrun by rumination on work. Here’s a weekly ritual that might help.

The Background:

I spend a lot of time with startup CEOs. One common refrain I hear from the CEOs I meet is they don’t feel like they are getting the most important stuff done. Their weeks don’t feel like their own. Every day feels overrun by whatever is on fire at the moment. Meetings pop up and disappear from the calendar. Friday appears unimaginably fast. Stress feels high and progress feels low.

Sound familiar?

When I hear these themes, I try to get curious about the individual’s habits:

  • How do you start your mornings?
  • How do you decide what to work on when you have focus time?
  • How much focus time do you have in a given day?

Do you goal set for yourself personally, in your role, for the year, quarter, month, or week?

I’m amazed that some of the most tenured leaders I meet don’t have a weekly practice of clear goal setting.

The opportunity for greater performance and greater peace of mind is tremendous.

The method:

Here’s a weekly practice I suggest for increasing performance and peace of mind:

  1. Block 15 minutes at the end of the work day each Friday. (If this is your first week doing this practice, skip to step 4.)
  2. Review your top 3 goals for the week. Which did you complete? Which are still unaddressed?
  3. Note what blocked you from completing any unaddressed goals. Is there a way to remove similar blockers for the following week? If so, make a note of it and make it happen.
  4. Refresh your memory on your and the team’s quarterly goals (if you don’t have any, time to start setting them).
  5. Set 3 key goals for the next week. (Prompt: ‘If I can only get 3 things done next week and nothing else, what 3 things must I get done.’)
  6. Write down 3 things that you’re really proud of for the week.
  7. Write 1 wish for yourself for the weekend.
  8. Take the weekend off.

The rationale:

You don’t want to goal set daily. You’re too close to the firefight, and you’ll end up with goals that are very in the weeds. Weekly allows you to pick your head up, survey the landscape, and think big picture about what really matters for the next week.

Hopefully you are also setting quarterly goals for yourself, and checking in weekly before setting your weekly goals allows you to keep alignment week over week to what really matters for the quarter.

It’s great to do this on Friday for two reasons:

  1. Your mind is ‘in the flow’ for the week on what’s mattering. You may also be facing some regret over what didn’t get done, which can actually be reframed as awareness of what really matters and can inform your plans for the following week. Your mind will naturally be zooming out on the work as you approach the weekend, so it’s a great time to set the big goals for the next week.
  2. Goal setting on Fridays allows your brain to begin to transition to the weekend and a time of rest. Hemingway used to famously write the first few sentences of the next day’s work before finishing for the day. If he completed a book at the end of a day, he’d write the first few sentences of the next book. That way, he never sat down to a blank page, and he always set the intention for the future work while he was in the flow. If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for us. This practice also gave Hemingway peace of mind because he could take the rest of the day off knowing the next day’s work was underway and ready to go. He didn’t have to ruminate through the evening on what to do next. You can experience the same benefit.

Reviewing your last week’s goals allows you learn over time what is blocking you and modify your work environment as needed to remove blockers. This isn’t about guilting yourself about what you didn’t get done, it’s about learning what you need to be happiest and most effective. This is about changing the environment and the practices, not changing you.

You are working and trying hard enough and you are wonderful just the way you are.

Noting 3 things you’re proud of reminds you that you are wonderful. That you are doing your best with the abilities, information and tools you have at hand. If you are anything like me, you are your own worst critic and harshest boss.

I realized at some point as a CEO that the only person in the company with an overbearing asshole boss was me.

I learned to be patient and supportive with my executive team, but giving this grace to myself is always much harder. A practice of writing down each week 3 things I’m proud of, about my own effort, has really helped me be more present and patient with myself. Doing it as a part of a Friday practice can really help the transition into the weekend.

Identifying one wish for the weekend is a great way to set an intention for your own recovery.

Athletes take recovery very seriously. Being intentional about your rest, recovery, and play time can offer the same benefit to you.

We work to support our lives. Even if you care most about performance and your company working, you will find great dividends in intentional rest. Setting an intention for the weekend, or for any block of time off, will help you transition to that time and use it in the way that is most helpful to you.

Take your weekends off. There is a mountain of data that working 80 hours a week is not more useful than working 50. I don’t care how many hours you work, but you need a big chunk of time to recover. Whether it’s one day or three, take a weekend. Take a break. Startups fail for lack of problem solving and focus not lack of lines of code written. They fail when the leaders burn out or fail to see the pivots that must be made, when the opportunity in the market slightly adjacent to the current plan is missed. You can’t see any of that if you are bleary eyed, sleeping too little and working 7 days a week. Don’t do it. It doesn’t help. Take a break.

Written with great empathy for the journey. Startups are fucking hard. You aren’t alone.

Matt