Decompression and blue days
It’s not uncommon for the founders of startup businesses to experience problems with motivation and problems with productivity as their business grows. I’m going to write about two issues I’ve run into over the years. They recur. You can’t stop them recurring. So the best thing to do is to understand them and accept them. They’re what I call decompression and blue days.
Decompression is the word I use to identify the following pattern. You complete a major software release to the public. Then you find yourself unable to commit to any “serious” work for a period of time. For me, it’s typically one day. For you it could be an afternoon, a day, a week, maybe more.
So what is happening with decompression? I think it’s the process of your mind unwinding all the many layers of logic, dependencies, commitments and anxiety of %^&(ing up the release (it does happen!). During this decompression period I’ve found I can work on things tangentially related to the business, but not directly related to the business. As such I can work on side projects, read technical books, non-technical books, go for a walk, play musical instruments, provide mentorship, whatever. I just can’t work on the software or on marketing for the software during this period.
I’ve also found that I can’t do anything about this. Decompression needs to happen. Once it’s done I can get back to work with no distractions about any of the issues related to that previous software release. If I try to force it, by trying to work during a decompression period I just end up doing nothing, but getting frustrated that I’m doing nothing. That isn’t healthy, so I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to accept that this happens and work with it. Do something else that is good for your mental health during one of these periods.
If you do this for yourself, cut your team some slack too. They’re probably going through their own version of the same thing.
Blue days are different. These don’t come after any specific event. They just appear at random. You could be having a troubling business time or you could be having a great time, building the product, or you’ve already built it and have revenue pouring in, but then one day you’re thinking “I’m wasting my time. Why are we doing this? This will never succeed. Should I stop and spend my energy on (shiny! shiny!).” Typically this is accompanied by a very bleak outlook on life. Often this can be triggered by slow sales (which might mean you get this at certain times of year).
This is like a mini-depression, a very, very short duration depression. Emotionally it’s horrible. But they go away. After you’ve had this happen to you repeatedly you realise this is just hidden emotions bubbling to the surface and needing to be released. Being aware of this then makes the next time more bearable. Depending on your disposition what you do on a blue day will vary. You may bury yourself in work, or may need to leave all that behind and head off up a hill. Do what’s best for you. Mental health first.
Decompression and blue days both affect productivity and motivation. You can’t do much about them. But you can learn to recognise them, accept them for what they are, and that they will pass, and take action to make them bearable while they happen.
Hopefully if you’re reading this you recognise these two states and are now thinking “Someone else experiences this too. It’s normal!” and that’s a relief 🙂
There is also a small chance you ended up here because you’re seeking out articles on depression. If that’s the case you may find this wonderful talk at Business of Software by Greg Baugues talk about depression some help.