If you haven’t already picked up Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, you should. When I started to read Ben’s book, I thought that I already knew many of the things he would share, and that the payoff of reading the book would be learning about his particular struggle and viewpoint on startups. I was wrong. Full stop. Reading this book made me realize that when you’re working on a hard thing there are no easy answers and that you have to do everything you can to solve them. I knew these problems are hard – I’ve worked in startups before – but this realization was different.
Doing everything to solve a problem also means you don’t have the ability to solve every problem all of the time. You don’t have the ability to spend all of your time at work. And you don’t have all of your time available to be with your family. And you certainly don’t have time to be alone in your head not thinking about the problem. What you do have is the ability to work on the most important thing possible and to keep asking yourself at different points in the day, “Am I working on what’s most important?” Ben’s point is that you have to be brutally honest with yourself to know what’s important.
The meaning of important will change throughout the hour, day, week, and month. And the insight I gained from Ben’s book is that the most important thing isn’t always evident – it’s a combination of what you feel in your gut and the data that you gather – and you need to try very hard to stay true to that instinct. You won’t always be right, and it’s in fact guaranteed that you will make some mistakes. So what should you do when you realize you’re working on something hard?
You need to keep your body and brain going. That means that you need to eat right, get at least some exercise, and figure out when you can get sleep. When you’re working on a hard problem you often need to put in extra hours. If you put in extra hours every night you’ll run out of gas before you solve the problem. I’m not sure what works for you, but it helps me if those aren’t consecutive late nights. And family time? Yes, that’s important too. Turn off your phone. Turn off your laptop. Try your darndest to make some of your time real family time (no, not multitasking time, but actual family time.)
There are only so many hours in a day. If you want to spend your time solving hard problems, you will have to give up some of those hours to solve the problems. Make the hours you spend count. You’ll only know how hard the the problem was when you look back and see how high you climbed.