Thursday, March 29, 2012

Too many windows open in my life


It’s a recurring scenario.

A friend was over at my house and I wanted to show him my desktop picture – except it took 5 minutes to close everything.

As my computer struggled to open an large Excel file, one of my colleagues pointed out it might be easier if I closed the other 10 Excel data files I had open.

Another colleague noticed it as she saw my Chrome window. So many tabs were open, you couldn’t read the headlines on any of the pages.

I have too many windows open. On my computer, and in my life.

I start doing something and I pause, but I don’t clean it up, close the picture, pick up the “sock weeds” growing around the house.

This isn’t purely a technical problem.

My wallet was, until recently, bulging with tons of old cards I never use anymore.
My pre-21 drivers’ license (yes I still have that, I didn’t destroy it like I was supposed to. My Stanford student ID. My health insurance card from my dad’s work.

A lot of these I hadn’t used in over eight months, some for two or three years. Yet they were still making my wallet thicker and harder to close.

Nor is it a purely physical problem.

These are the windows I currently have open in my life.

Just my obligations, not counting my social life:

• I have a 50-to-60 hour a week consulting job, plus 7.5 hours of weekly commuting. (day job)
• I’m the CFO of a startup my friends are running down in Sunnyvale. (night job, ~10-15 hours/week in the fall, but only 2-3 hours/week now)
• I’m the assistant executive secretary at church, which tacks another three or so hours onto regular 3-hour Sunday church meetings.

How did I get there?
- I took a management consulting class my senior year of college, and found the methodology of analyzing businesses utterly fascinating. I had an assignment to write a 15-page paper for the class. It turned out to be 29 pages, as I explained in great detail why newspapers making their content available for free online were stupidly cannibalizing their business model.

Ultimate decision: to get a job in the field.

I skipped class one Friday back in 2008 and attended a conference ~1 hour away on seasteading. In a nutshell: there are three ways to change government: win a war, an election, or a revolution. Solution: build ships on the ocean where people can leave their current government costlessly. It’s a brilliant idea, crazy, and radical, and I loved it.

Ultimate decision: to work for a related project, Blueseed, which is trying to create an international visa-free startup incubator off of Half-Moon Bay. As the CFO, I prepare financials, and occasionally accompany them to VC pitches.

As the assistant executive secretary, I prepare minutes and agendas for the two main regular leadership meetings in my local congregation.

Because these are the main regular meetings of the local leadership, being the one with control of the agenda is a unique position. When I was asked to fill the role, at the time I was a bit unsure generally about how much I wanted to attend and participate at church.

Ultimate decision: to accept the responsibility in large part because I thought it would be interesting. (I’ve since recommitted independent of this current assignment, fyi)

Okay, but really. Why did I choose to do all of these different activities?

You’ll notice a common thread running through all of these. Interestingness. I optimize for interestingness. When I find something interesting, I am drawn in.
So what’s the problem? That’s bad…why?

The things I find interesting are fairly limitless. But I only have twenty-four hours in a day.

Plus, I haven’t even counted social activities. Talking to family. Just chillaxing.
When you have lots of windows open on your computer, it slows down the processor. When you have lots of in-process projects in your room, it gets cluttered. And when I have too many windows open in my life, I get stressed out. I only have so much time, energy, and loyalty to go around.

Moreover, sometimes my system crashes.

For example:
• There were definitely times at my day job where I was tired and exhausted from my night job, or my social life, and I’ve blankly stared at my computer screen from 5 to 6:30pm.
• There was a girl over the summer who I was interested in and vice versa. However, it was time-intensive to see her and somewhat complicated. So when Blueseed ramped up, the time I might have spent with her I used on Blueseed -- effectively vanishing off the face of the earth. Later, I curtly cut things off. I regret my rudeness -- it was an unintended product of system overload. Call that the blue screen of death, or something.
• This has happened many times before.

For example, I had from a similar situation my sophomore year of college. I was trying to work 30-hour weeks in leadership positions of two different jobs, and take a difficult courseload, including an honors multivariable calculus class. As a result, I got my only C ever in that class. Oops.

I could go on. I won't.

Time to close a window!

The bottom line is: I needed to close a window.

I put in my two weeks’ notice at my management consulting firm.

When I wrote this, I didn’t think they would be able to pay me. So I thought I would stay in the spare bedroom of the apartment/office. I figured that I had enough money for a year, if I cook for myself. Two years, if I don’t have to pay rent. (My job gave me money. I saved ~35% of my salary. Management consulting pays well, and I’m a huge cheapskate.)

Now they can, which is even better. And I can get a place of my own in Palo Alto.

I’ll get stock, which is worth a lot on paper, at the current valuation our investors are giving us (though most startups fail, in which case my stock would be worthless).