Do More By Doing Less More Deeply

I’m glad it’s 2014. Last year was a difficult one for me as I hit a wall of depression that completely surprised me. I was over it by mid year and, while the second half of the year was better, I still struggled with figuring a bunch of stuff out about what I cared about as I turned 48 years old.

I stopped doing a few things last year. I stopped traveling for business. I stopped working on Saturdays.

I discovered great relief, and happiness, from stopping doing these things.

As I start 2014, I’ve decided to continue to stop doing things that are neutral to negative utility to me, in an effort to spend more time on the things I want to do, and do them more deeply.

Some of the things I’m stopping are ones that down deep I know are unsatisfying to me. Interacting with government at any level – federal, state, or local – has been a huge negative emotional drain. I’ve put a lot of energy into two issues over the past seven years – startup visa/immigration reform and patent reform. There has been almost zero change in either of these and the experience has been deeply unsatisfying. I’ve been incredibly distressed and agitated by the NSA / Snowden revelations. The idea of municipalization in Boulder, and my interactions around it, bums me out. I’ve realized that it’s not a game I like at all and that whenever I spend time on it, I’m a less happy person. So I’m not going to engage in 2014 and see how that feels.

For the past 25 years, my week days have started at 5am. I started experimenting with that a few months ago and, even though I’ve had some stretches where I’ve gotten up at 5am, I realized the thing I didn’t like was the oppressive crush of scheduled stuff that started at 9am and didn’t end until 6pm. I’ve lived an adult life of “manager mode” with only a few stretches of true “maker mode” and I desperately need – and want – more maker mode. So I’m stopping doing anything scheduled before 11am. I’ll get up whenever I want and my mornings, until 11am MT, will be unscheduled for me to do whatever I want with them.

I’ve been deeply conflicted with alcohol in 2013. I grew up in a house with no alcohol – neither of my parents drank. I drank plenty in college, but limited myself to just booze – no drugs (my parents scared my brother and I straight at an early age.) Over the years, I’ve gone through dry phases – up to five years – where I didn’t drink. In other time periods, including around the Internet bubble and 2013, I found myself drinking more than I felt was ok as I used it to dull the edges of the stress and anxiety. In addition to the negative physical effects, I spent a lot of mental and emotional energy thinking about “am I drinking too much.” I’ve always struggled with abstaining vs. moderating, so 2014 will be a year of abstaining from alcohol.

Many of you out there provided great support, friendship, and advice in 2013. I treasure all of it, even when it’s hard to hear, something I disagree with, or when I am simply not in a head space to act on it. As 2014 begins, I look forward to another year that is an interesting one on this journey called life. And by doing less of the stuff I don’t want to do, I hope to have more time to go deep on the things I want to do.

Happy new year!

  • Some thoughts:

    – abstaining from alcohol… if you contemplate a need for this (for any reason) then do it. Stick with it. I’m 3+ years off alcohol now and I don’t miss any of the crap that came along with drinking, except for the occasional glass of good wine w/ dinner

    – wake up when you want… obv, this works if you have the flexibility to do it. During the week, I still get up at 4:45am every day. But on weekends, I’m sleeping til I wake up – no artificial get-up time.

    – abstaining from interacting w/ govt… couldn’t agree more. It’s been a net loss for me, too. Ignoring the noise + being a decent person seems to be the most impactful way I have to improve my little part of the planet.

    – you need to get your ass outta Boulder and down to the south end of town. Like soon.

    • Alcohol – yup – I agree.

      Wake up – I’m going to let myself wake up whenever. I’ve been doing this on the weekend, but I think it’s time to do everyday.

      We are moving into our new house on Saturday.

      • Nice. I wondered abt the date for the move. I’m assuming you’re covered for help; you know what to do if not.

        • Thx – we should have most of the things moved in / set up when we get there.

    • Tom Blue – Lead411

      John: What did you mean by getting outta Boulder? The wife and I are just about to move there and we are thinking about being right near downtown… mistake?

      • He meant that he knew I was moving to the other end of town – just near Longmont (Northeast of Boulder). My office is in the middle of Boulder. You will love Boulder.

      • not at all. It was a jab at Brad to come visit – I live south of Boulder by abt an hour and the drive time keeps me down here more than I like.

      • I’d vouch for that, Boulder is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to, you’ll love it.

  • mcknightmarketing

    Thanks for sharing this. I appreciate the honesty as I consider many of the same issues. The New Year is always a fun time for me as I think back on the past and take at least one day to reflect on what to change going forward. I love the idea of not taking appointments before a certain time and might give that a try as well.

    • Love to hear about how the “no appointments before a certain time” work for you.

      • I’ve done the same thing this quarter and I can say it works really well. I don’t keep any meetings – even if Jeff Bezos wanted a video – before 11:30am.

  • osmanparvez

    Hi Brad,
    I went through a divorce last year and took three months off alcohol beginning in January. It was one of the most clarifying periods I can remember. This year, I’m taking off one month just to revisit that clarity. I strongly support your decision.

    In Boulder, a lot of socializing seems built around alcohol. We may have more happy hours per capita than anywhere else on the planet. It turns out that nobody glances twice if you order a club soda and lime. I didn’t cut my social life last year, nor do I intend to do it this year. The best part was waking up clear – no hangovers.

    Good luck with your endeavor and thanks for taking us along for the ride. I look forward to reading about it from the sidelines. -O

  • Tom Blue – Lead411

    great share.

    -I have ocd and have since I was 20. I was sober for 8 years which helped tremendously. It didn’t make it go away by any means, but it definitely helped. booze screws with your serotonin. I drink now, but I rarely have over 1 drink.

    -Do you take “real” work breaks? If you don’t, that is really unhealthy. Especially if you are working from 5 am 6 pm, 6 days a week. My days are toggled between work “flow” and calm work breaks. I meditate too which gets me sort of relaxed(equalized) before I start working again. Trying to get in the “flow” state 10 hours straight makes me frazzled… I don’t work productively nor do I see the “forest”. The book Power of Now is good to help with this.

    • I’ve got OCD also and yes – the drinking messes with it. I’ve always known that – there’s a counterbalance between the dulling of anxiety and the amping up of the OCD. But I’m in a much better place when I don’t drink.

  • love the honesty and transparency – sets the bar exactly where it should be. thanks for it!

  • Kelly Peeler

    Really liked this post! Always great to be self-reflective and very honest. Much appreciated on a day of reflection for the new year!

    • Thx Kelly. Here’s to a great 2014 for you!

  • Michael Bannen

    Nice post Brad.

  • Niel Robertson

    A few years ago i went to no booze during the week. Turns out rarely do i feel like it on the weekend. A nice balance for that doesn’t seem like a big give or stretch.

    • I simply can’t moderate – it’s almost always all or nothing for me.

  • I wish the phrase weren’t so hackneyed because I mean it when I say, thank you for sharing. Being open is both brave and generous in ways you’ll never know as you help others by letting them know they are not alone. Thanks, Brad, and here’s to a good 2014.

    • Thanks Jeff. I’m ok with the hackneyed phrase – it makes me smile! I hope our paths cross in 2014 – it’s been a long time since we were in the same room.

  • Thanks for sharing Brad. I think that going deeper on fewer things that matter more vs. doing more things less well is a universal challenge, particularly in today’s world. It’s also a driver behind a new generation of internet products and product philosophies to solve this problem, including the concept of curation.

    Also, here’s a good post by John Donahoe at eBay on how he approaches this topic — some similarities to your approach:

  • kermit64113

    Terrific post. Investing in those we love rarely results in losses. I found during a particularly stressful time in my life that a short meditation (30 seconds) several times in the workday can really change one’s perspective. Jim P

    • Jim thanks for the reminder. I committed to re-engage this year with the community where I learned some centering practices 13 years ago. A deep breath always helps.

  • Simply saying thanks .. for this, for many others and for being a source of support lo these many years. Much luck on the move and the settling in part … which is the thing that can take awhile …

  • [email protected]

    Brad, Happy New Year and thank you for the post. Your sincere, selfless honesty is why I enjoy reading your blog and your books. Wishing you guys all the best for 2014.

    • Thx Glenn. Best to you in 2014!

  • NickN

    Happy New Year! I’ve always had a combination of envy and shock about your ability to maintain your schedule while actually being productive. This past year was the closest I’ve ever come to it… I’ve always been more of a night owl than a morning person, which paired well with having team members in Bangalore (10.5 hours ahead so my late night is their morning). However, last January my wife went back to work, which meant I needed to start taking my eldest to school each morning. Having to be out of the door by 7:15am does not mesh well with a 2am bedtime! I’m still productive, but I’ve really struggled with good maker time. Creative projects that normally would have taken a few of days have taken a week or more.

    Personally, I am at my most (makerly) productive when my schedule is completely flexible. When I can, I try very hard not to use an alarm clock. This is a lousy fit with a “proper” job, but not too bad in a startup. For me, the often stated ideal of up at 6am, burning through the day with every minute organized and crashing hard at 10pm (or whatever) just simply doesn’t work.

    I’ll be curious to hear how the year evolves for you and the differences you see in both your business and personal life.

    p.s. Sorry to hear you won’t continue the political fights as I do think you added some real value, but I completely understand your position and wouldn’t have the patience for it either!

    • Thx on the PS. I have no idea if I’ve really had any impact, but I certainly haven’t had a good return on invested time.

  • Brad A

    Thanks for continuing to be an inspiration on multiple levels! 2014 can’t help but be better with an attitude like this.

    And just a word specifically on your frustrations with the System- I am sorry to hear this, for this burnout and ineffectiveness is exactly what is set up, and I too worry about the same situations as you. I see a trend over the last 10 or 15 years, accelerating, and I try in my own little way to advocate for open and transparent society as well. Unfortunately, not all operate on the same frequency. I believe it’s about the triple bottom line- People, Planet, Profit (to sustain the other 2).

    That’s why, inspired by yourself, some others, and this:
    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” -RB Fuller,
    I am fulfilling the only option They have left us: to start a company, and incorporate some of these open and community models into the DNA structure or the organization, and to contribute to changing the system from the inside.

    So Thank You, and here’s to a more balanced 2014.

    • Brad – You echo some of my thoughts, particularly that political disengagement is exactly what certain parties want. At the same time I like that Brad said the disengagement is an experiment for the year and he’ll see how it goes.

      Good to see Bucky quoted too!

  • Happy new year, As they say in

  • Happy new year, Brad!

    As they say on flights, we should only begin helping others once we’ve taken care of ourselves.

    Glad to hear the many changes. Hope you have a nice year!

  • Yeah. you can’t beat the government by playing it’s own game. The rules are just simply not in your favor.

    Best of luck with your abstinence and 2014. I hope ma nature brings less turbulence to your area this year.

  • John M. Mueller

    happy new year brad!!! make sure you have fun AND learn while you are in maker mode. the “and” is important in the “have fun and learn” mantra. having fun without learning leaves one with an empty sense of accomplishment. learning without having fun leads to sub-optimal learning.

  • You’re a smart man. We’re the same age and I’ve come to a number of the same conclusions.

  • Your public openness with personal issues is a great service to a lot of people. Let’s hope you don’t ditch that in 2014!

    • Well said, Brandon. I agree.

  • Love to hear more what “Maker Mode” means to you.

  • Elizabeth Kraus

    Thanks for sharing! This is great motivation for us all to do less. My resolutions for 2014 are to do less and have more fun, and this a result of similar experiences with overtaxing myself and my colleague Sheila’s suggestion to re-review our Pairin assessments. Have you taken one? It might also help you in your quest for a healthier 2014. It’s a Denver-based startup and you can take a free 5-minute assessment by comparing yourself to a startup CEO here:

    It identifies areas needed for improvement or that are overdeveloped as compared to a gold standard, and it gives suggestions on questions to ask an applicant (or yourself) when assessing their competence. Here is one thing from mine that you might relate to.

    Turns out I am “persistent” to a fault and the questions it suggested were great for personal reflection:

    Hiring Insights: Motivated by a sense of duty and will finish what is started. Hardship and adversity
    do not dissuade from goal accomplishment. Will maintain focus and can be depended on to deliver
    on commitments.

    Recommended Questions:
    • Give me an example of a time when your task was interrupted by unforeseen circumstances. How
    did you handle it?
    • How do you distinguish persistency from obstinacy?
    • Tell about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.
    • How do you determine when it is time to “let go” or “give up” on something?

    P.S.: I will never be offended if you decide replying to my comments is something that you can’t get to before your workday ends. Happy New Year!

  • Here’s to an awesome 2014 Brad. Agree completely on the government involvement and the ROI on time and energy, I think this stuff is best for career politicians not startup folks. However I’d agree with the comment that your involvement helps all these causes, if not directly at least by encouraging other in the industry to get more involved.

    Cutting Alcohol consumption will definitely help you, specially as you exercise more it’s going to invigorate your energy. I am also cutting down significantly on coffee although I love the aroma but I’ll be smelling it more this year. (replacing it with something called Pau d’Arco)

    Last but not least I hope you continue the help startup founders to the level that it’s healthy for you. It is of such value and importance to so many people it’s not measurable.

  • Here’s to a great 2014. I think you’re on the right track. Greatness is a lot of little things done well. If you’re doing to many things, it becomes harder to do them well. Do what makes you happy, and do it well. You’ve earned it.

  • Mike Chan

    Happy New Year and great stuff as usual, Brad. Since becoming an entrepreneur 1.5 years ago, I’ve struggled with spreading myself too thin across activities that don’t necessarily help me achieve my objectives. And while I won’t totally abstain from alcohol this year, I’m going to definitely be more responsible with my consumption this year! Good luck!

  • Brad – Your openness about the depression has been a huge help to me. Last year was tough for me around the same time you were wrestling with the Black Dog, and since about June I’ve been mostly doing great and very busy with deeply fulfilling work.

    Fwiw I find total abstinence really simple and clarifying for me. I had lots of the same thoughts and feelings about my drinking before, and I find it so easy to just say “no thanks, I don’t drink.”

    I hope you’ll keep the kimono open as 2014 unfolds for you and Amy, and that our paths will cross if/when my travel slows down.

  • It’s really unfortunate that hardly progress is made after all the efforts on Startup Visa/Immigration Reform and Patent Reform. By starting a dialogue I am sure that you made a dent on this issue that could lead to something positive in the future. Because of your passion, there will be others that will carry the baton and continue to fight for change.

  • JLM

    In 33 years of CEOing and starting, building, operating and monetizing companies — the outcomes would all have been the same if I had gone fishing or painted other people’s houses every Friday for that entire third of a century. Not one bit of difference.

    The only real equality in life is time. Regardless of one’s net worth or skin color — we all get 24 hours. The only real equality.

    Do what works for you because when they bury you, you’re going to be in that cold wet ground all by yourself except for your memories. Go make the memories that will comfort you and only you.

    Don’t beat yourself up about the drinking. Think of it as a complement to food and never, ever let it impact your behavior. A beer, a glass of wine, a drink is good for you. It is only the one’s after the first one that can be your enemy.

    Never try to buy political outcomes, rent them. Back good men and women if you can find one.

    It’s going to be OK. I promise.


  • Marie Willson

    Great, now you will be a “freedomaire.” Enjoy 2014!

  • Nikki Braziel

    In 2003, there was a wall-sized television in the ballroom of the 19th century all-girls dormitory in which I lived, and it played constant looping footage from embedded journalists in Iraq. I remember going out of the evening, in New Orleans, in a city decimated by alcohol and poverty and poor education, negotiating the social land mines of a majority-Greek campus and coming home, tired and inebriated, and walking by those endless onscreen explosions. I’d spent high school consumed by competitive policy debate. I’d gone to college hell-bent on becoming the first female president. But my perspective was becoming less optimistic. There was piece of “evidence” often read in debate, titled “Seven Scenarios for Global Nuclear War,” and it was written by the guy who eventually became U.S. Ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq! I was watching half those scenarios play out on television. I was an international relations major and, for finals, we had to write a thirty-page peace proposal that met seven pages of negotiating requirements for the United Nations, the Arab League, the U.S., Russia, China, and Israel. It was impossible. It was my first D. And I changed my major from international relations to English. Not because I’d failed, but because I seemed guaranteed to continue failing. Even if I succeeded in my political goals, even if I’d gotten in the door of the big office, there seemed to many structural barriers to peace and progress, and I couldn’t handle the anxiety–the extremely physical experience of that anxiety in my body. I decided I’d rather spend the rest of my life reading books.

    I’ve experienced some guilt and self-judgement since then, as if an educated person has a moral burden to stay involved in politics. But I’ve avoided politics on all levels for the last decade, and I am much happier! Books are awesome.

    Now, how I went from reading books to starting a business (which is way, way more stressful), that’s another chapter…

    Happy new year!

    • Awesome story – thanks for sharing. I remember being repulsed by political science in college. MIT had a political science department and a close friend double majored in it. I never could understand the point. But then I got sucked in seven years ago. And seven years later I once again don’t understand the point! I strongly agree with you – reading books is much better.

      **** My new book, Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors, is shipping. You can get it at ** *

  • panterosa,

    Craving maker mode too! It is a creative fertile space of possibilities. Now to hire the manager who helps give that idea real legs!

    I admire your efforts, and others, at political change. I have no idea how anyone has the patience or energy for it frankly, even though it is badly needed.

  • Angelique Espinoza

    I, too, struggle with depression, but the very special kind of crazy I call my own is a love of politics. Is it chaotic? yes. Frustrating? Hell to the yes. Uplifting? Well, for me it actually helps me get up every morning and embrace a new day.

    We all have different talents and passions to offer the world, and when we embrace them they give back to us. Don’t spend another minute on politics if it drains you. Know that your contributions have made a difference, and that there are those of us in the world who love that work, and are fed by it (vs. fed up). I will keep fighting the long game on all the issues you mentioned, and others besides, at all levels of government.

    They say if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. I’ll keep the seat warm – just shoot me a line if you ever want to add something to the conversation without sinking a lot of personal energy into it.

    Boundless happiness in 2014!

    Angelique Espinoza
    Public Affairs Director
    Boulder Chamber

    • Thanks for keeping my seat warm!

  • DaveJ

    Cool, can I have your leftover scotch? Or are you saving it for 2015? 😉


    What I think your doing is working smart… not hard. Of course when you’re in the entrepreneur game you work hard at working smart.
    A few things:
    1. Gov 🙂
    2. Get rid of the before 11am suff but rethink changing your schedule. There’s too much great stuff at 5am that you just aren’t aware of yet.
    3. I stopped drinking alcohol 5 years ago. Best thing I’ve done in decades. Keep in mind if you reach 80 years old. You might need a shot in your coffee every morning just to dull your joint pain enough to start your day.
    4. Just ask yourself if you’re not wanting to do something because of lazyness or because it’s not a *good* thing to spend time on.

  • dbriere

    Great post Brad. Funny that I ended up largely in the same place in the 4th Q last year. I too jettisoned working with Government, and came away after 2.5 years of intense work here on all sorts of items with so little to show for it. So depressing how those with the power do everything to keep the power rather than using the power for real change. I’m surprised our nation has lasted this long. I have cut back on my do-gooder stuff — likewise frustrating because I found that there are many volunteers but too few doers. Being one of the few doers means I do a lot, too much. So I just started pulling back and saying, “No.”

    What I *DID* do is make a commitment to only work on fun stuff or challenging things. Hence, we’re planning a space mission to Mars, a worldwide invention convention for kids, and some other fun stuff. 2014 for me is going to be a fun year, and if it’s not fun, it’s not likely to make the list.

    Don’t think I can make the commitment to not travel for business though. That’s a toughie with what I have in the works.

    Best of luck, look forward to talking again soon.

  • sgraf

    Now I’m depressed. Working with the govt. sucks – hardly anyone likes it (thanks Jared and Angelique) but if we don’t – nothing will change. If the start up community gives up their involvement, I hate to think of what kind of government we get…

    • I’m sure plenty of other people in tech / startups will keep spending time with the government. I’m just done – at least for now in 2014.

  • Josh

    Wow, you’re views on alcohol are the same as mine. I’m close to making the “abstain” decision myself – the cognitive dissonance I have when I’m having a drink(s) burns too many mental cycles. I look forward to reading about your journey in 2014 in this department.

  • Brad,

    Have you tried yoga, meditation or mindfulness practices? I’ve been a dedicated yogi for years but only more recently have gone deeper. We are in a hectic, always on industry. Taking time to connect to your inner self really helps a lot. Your friend Jerry would likely have a lot to say on this topic.

    Finally, you may not have achieved everything you wanted on startup VISA but without you, George Favvas from Rewardli (a good friend and portfolio CEO) would have never made it into the US for his demo day.

    All the best in 2014.


  • whiting


    Sounds like a great plan that is likely to create a better year!

    On the topic of alcohol, years ago a lawyer-turned-psychologist friend told me that many people experience a noticeable increase in anxiety a day or two after consuming alcohol. For some people, even as little as one glass of wine will cause a delayed but noticeable increase in anxiety…. and of course, depression.

    In 2013, I started avoiding scheduling meetings before 11AM whenever I can, and it definitely was an improvement.

    Happy new year!

    • Interesting comment on alcohol. When I stop drinking completely, I’m definitely in a better / clearer place.

  • Many of us are always trying to add things, when it seems what we really should be doing is removing things. Thanks for the motivation and always great thoughts. Best of luck for 2014 Brad, hope this year is your best year yet.

    • Thx. Sending you good karma for 2014 also.

  • Happy New Year as well Brad!

    My father, of blessed memory, was of that WWII generation, raised on a ranch in the back country of the Powder River north of Casper. His cohort worked hard, played hard, smoked, drank — and alcohol was dad’s medication after the war to deaden the PTSD (what it’s called now) incurred in a B17 Flying Fortress over Germany. He never touched anything stiffer than a beer as far as I knew.

    I asked him, after he’d stopped drinking completely, well into his 50’s, “How’d — why’d you quit?” He was a horse whisperer from his childhood, growing up just south of the Crow Indian reservation (Sheridan, Wyoming area). He said “It was selfish. My best thinking about how to train the horses (he raised and launched thoroughbreds for racing) happened in my sleep. My subconscious likes solving problems, and alcohol at night puts it to sleep or something.”

    Since I have half his DNA, I understood what he was getting at. My most sparkling ideas (raw and untested) come when I’m on the edge of waking up in the morning. Sort of what the Kabbalists call “Chochmah” — that buck-naked Divine Spark of creative inspiration that screams at you to put some clothes — words on her. To cover her up and make her presentable. To ‘know’ her.

    Alcohol snuffs out Divine sparks in my experience. I won’t touch it alone, without it being part of a meal and only in moderation.

    As for writing — read a lot of Elmore Gantry, too.

    • Elmore Gantry? What? Meant Elmore Leonard, who just passed away last year. The great western and crime novelist.