Running a software startup, an eCommerce site, finishing a PhD, and raising son: What I don’t do, to make it all work.

I’ve been balancing a number of things over the past few years, and continue to do so. Yet I’m reaching a point where it no longer feels overwhelming. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but recently I looked up from work and realized, “I’m on the right path. I got this.”

I’m finding my flow, and it’s been worth all the struggle to get to this point. I can work on Gingko, and make tangible progress, while not letting any balls drop. I can help my wife, part-time, with her skincare business (everything from logistics, to design, to IT). I can go for walks with my son, do laundry, groceries, read. Spend time with friends. Take time to think things through.

Some have said that I’m “doing it all”, but I want to state emphatically, that the idea of being able to “do it all” is damaging.

In fact, “doing it all” is the primary enemy of a balanced life.

The key lies in what I don’t do. Here are some of the highlights.

1. I don’t watch, or even own, a TV.

We bought a great projector for watching movies, though. For less than $200 we have a 2m screen that rolls up when not in use (which is pretty much always).

I can spend up to 20 minutes on Rotten Tomatoes choosing a movie, which can drive my wife crazy. But I figure if I’m going to spend around two hours from my finite life watching something, it’d better be good.

2. I don’t consume social media.

I occasionally post Gingko updates that I think might be interesting to users, and that’s it. Here’s the Cover photo on my personal facebook page (last post of mine? I have no idea, because I’m not going to scroll down to find it).


Does it bother people that I have a profile, but don’t even respond to Birthday well wishers? Maybe, but I honestly don’t care (see 4. below).

It’s astounding to me how much time people spend on Facebook. I looked at the “RescueTime” logs of someone I know, and we calculated that if they lived to 70, they would have spent 3 years or more on Facebook.

I’m not here to argue that it’s entirely useless. With my parents living across the planet, I appreciate that they can still see occasional updates (via my wife), of our growing boy. Social media can be a way to stay in touch with things you really care about. All I’m saying is that social media, like so many other things, is 95% a waste of time.

3. I don’t watch or follow any news.

The last time I checked Hacker News was the day we launched there, over a year ago.

I don’t follow any kind of news. Local, National, Global, or even news on Science and Technology.

While this, like all the other things I don’t do, saves me time, it also saves me from a massive amount of emotional drain. News is poisonous on various dimensions.

In a word, news is extremist. It feels like a mixture of apocalypse-porn and hero-worship. Even science news is mostly “flash in the pan” hyped-up & dumbed-down university press releases.

That’s not to say I don’t know what’s going on.

People around me are not as “out of touch” as I am, and I hear by osmosis what the big events are. I was aware of the recent Rosetta comet-landing mission (though I chose not to follow it live, as I had done with the Mars rover mission). I get emails from friends if there’s something they feel is relevant to me.

I want to make it clear that I’m not intentionally using the people around me as news filters… I’d be just as happy to not receive any news at all. I might miss out on a few inspiring tidbits here and there, but the gain is far greater.

4. I don’t waste time caring what other people think

It’s just a waste of energy. I’m a considerate and caring person, I treat people well, listen when we speak, try to follow through on promises, and to help people out.

But what I don’t try to do it figure out what they think of me, what they’re saying about me. Whether this or that thing they said could be taken as a slight. “He said that she said that I said this-and-that…” what a waste of time!

This goes for keeping tabs on the competition as well. I honestly don’t care. If I’m up against a particular problem, I see how I would solve it first. Only then do I go searching for inspiration elsewhere. That, after all, is how Gingko itself came about.

To finish things off:

  • I don’t own a car. Parking and repairs and fuel… what a headache!
  • We rent a very affordable two-bedroom apartment. It’s not in a trendy area of Montreal, but we get a lot of sunlight, it’s quiet, and directly in front of the Metro. Sure the laundry is coin-operated and 6 flights of stairs down, but that just means laundry is an adventure for me and my son. He loves it! And is a pretty good helper for being less than 2 years old.
  • Neither Gingko, nor my wife’s Stark Skincare, have any investors, and we used very little capital and no loans to get started.
  • We focus on selling directly to consumers, and forgo B2B. Selling to businesses might be more lucrative if done right, but it’s also more headaches.
  • I check my email once a day, process it using a great combo of tips and filters I’ve accumulated over time. And I uninstalled Gmail from my phone.
  • Of course, I have no push notifications at all. I do have some email filters & SMS triggers for things that are clearly emergencies (if the server goes down, I get a text message, for example).
  • As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do anything but thinking on Thursday mornings, and don’t work every 7th week.
  • I completely disconnect from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown (we call this “Digital Sabbath”).
  • I don’t smoke, and don’t drink alcohol, or even caffeine.
  • I don’t skimp on sleep.

The list goes on, but the underlying principles are clear. And with my recent reading of the book “Essentialism“, I finally have a word for what I’ve been doing all along. (“Minimalism” never felt right).

I try to do less, but better.

And clearly, (as you can see by the length and rambling nature of this post), I don’t always achieve the “less but better” ideal.

There are still some essentials that I haven’t been able to include yet:

  • Regular exercise (now that my flag-football season is over).
  • Regular time to Skype with my parents, who live in Kuwait.
  • Regular meditation (time I have, but quiet uninterruptable time is scarce, and used entirely for Gingko).
  • Meet with friends more regularly.
  • Play games, especially tabletop RPGs with a group of friends (I miss it!).

It’s hard to hold the world at bay while figuring out what’s important to me. There has been a great deal of agonizing while figuring those things out. And once done, it’s not always easy to stop doing everything else. There is pushback. Relationships can suffer or break outright. Habits of a lifetime have to be abandoned.

But the mindset is there, and following through is just a question of time and persistence. That, and my natural Stoic tendencies (which tie in nicely with Essentialism), is what has allowed me complete a PhD in physics, raise a son, and start two profitable businesses…

In short, it’s what has allowed me to lead a balanced and happy life while still delivering value through my work. And after all, that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?

6 thoughts on “Running a software startup, an eCommerce site, finishing a PhD, and raising son: What I don’t do, to make it all work.

  1. This is a post I’d like to refer to more than once. Saving it to Pocket and clipping it to Evernote.

    The book, “Essentialism” was a fantastic game-changer.

    I don’t watch much TV… but it’s hard not to cycle through those old Star Trek episodes on Netflix.

    Thanks for your perspective, Adriano!

    1. Glad to have contributed something.

      but it’s hard not to cycle through those old Star Trek episodes on Netflix

      “No TV” isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. As long as it’s actually important to you, if it’s actually something you love, binge away on Star Trek!

      I personally try to keep two things in mind:
      1) Will I have regretted this time I spent?
      2) Is there a diminishing returns effect? Watching an episode twice might give you a thrill, you might pick up a few nuances that you missed the first time. But is watching it a fourth time really giving me any real lasting value, or am I just “killing time”?

      Later, Frank!

  2. Hi. Frank is the one who turned me onto your product. You’ll be pleased to know he gave you some great free PR at the Evernote forum where I know him from.

    I’ve just signed up for the free version and will have to play with it for a few months to see if it suits my needs, before considering becoming a paying customer. (Sorry, but money is really tight in my world.)

    But, that said, I think your product looks great and love the fact that you’re a fellow Canadian! (I’m a long time married woman living on the West Coast.)

    Anyway, congrats on such a great start. I hope you grow to be super successfull!


    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for the encouragement.
      And I hope that Gingko can help you out in some way.

      All the best!

      PS: Yes, Frank did give me some great word of mouth at Evernote. Thanks Frank!

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article! Keep up the good work 🙂

    3. I don’t watch or follow any news.

    Me neither, but there are some very well-written blogs out there (not particularly news pages or tech-blogs, but consider your blog as example). I put all RSS feeds of worthy resources in Feedreader and once in two weeks I take an hour of time to skim through the unread articles. Most of the time this is a good and compressed inspirational hour, but I then will also not get distracted by checking and reading the blogs every now and then.

    1. Yes, being selective about what you consume is the key, for me.

      I want to clarify, once again, that I’m not saying “news/tv/social media is a waste of time”.
      All I’m saying is that given my interests, it’s not essential to me.

      Other things that some would consider a waste of time, aren’t to me.
      Tabletop RPGs can last for many many hours. I also love getting absorbed in a well-designed game universe, though it’s been a while since I’ve played any PC games.

      The key is sticking to what really matters to you, and dropping everything that’s “OK” or just “nice to have” but not “great”.

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