Running Your Life Like A Startup
Blog Post by ELP Student Arjan Guglani (Computer Science | Class of 2023)
If you are anything like me, you have tried to reinvent yourself at least a few times during the pandemic. Whether it be a commitment to exercise, an unsustainable morning routine, or a new productivity hack, I have been using this unusual time to try and upstart change in my life. With so much out of my control due to the pandemic, I have been trying to focus on improving the components of my life that I can control.
As I started my product management internship this summer at Fernish (shoutout to the best place to work ever!), I was immersed in the throws of a fast moving, evolving, and metrics-obsessed startup. At work, I would balance priorities, budgets, initiatives, track KPIs, and move at the pace of a rapidly changing virtual environment. During the initial few weeks of my internship, I was picking up the ins and outs of a startup with the frameworks and “move fast, break things” mantras and all. When I would get off the clock, I would try to do things for myself and do some of that reinventing I mentioned earlier. However, I felt like I was going in circles, doing a little bit of this and a bit of that, while not really having a clear vision of what I wanted to change and how I would even do it.
Sometime in early June, I let my work creep into my latest push for personal improvement and something just clicked. I began running my life like I would my very own tech startup. I set goals, tracked KPIs, built a roadmap for myself, and used plenty of SaaS tools along the way. I would fill every day with initiatives, goal setting, “standup” meetings with friends turned accountability coaches, and putting work into myself. The work I put in day after day started to manifest in a better version of me. I can concretely say that I am a healthier and happier person than I was when this pandemic began. Read on for the framework I used to create meaningful change in my life by running it like a startup.
Daily, Monthly, and Quarterly Goals
I believe the first step in personal improvement is knowing what you want to improve. I approached this process by breaking up what I wanted to improve upon into quarters where a few line items would become focus areas of that quarter. In my first quarter, the pandemic summer, I decided to include physical fitness, my relationships with others, and my wardrobe as focus areas. At the start of every month within the quarter, I created a page in my new favorite notes app Notion, and listed out my quarterly focuses and three key activities I would take to push forward each of these focus areas. I wrote these bullets out in an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework, with an emphasis on measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). For example one of my OKRs for June under the fitness focus area was to drink more water, with the success criteria being drinking 80 or more ounces of water a day for a seven day streak.
These monthly OKRs trickled down into daily goals, which I would write out every morning in a checklist that I could tick off during the day. The quarterly focus areas gave me north stars, while the monthly OKRs gave me a way to measure myself, and finally the daily goals gave me a clear way to take action. This structure, adapted to how working groups were created at Fernish, gave me a clear idea of where I was going and forced me to clearly define how I was to get there.
Just like a startup, in a person’s life, time and money are often scarce resources. At Fernish, I learned that allocating resources toward high impact goals often created the highest return on investment. I also learned there is an important line to be walked around over allocating to push yourself to backfill and obtain resources without stretching beyond your means. For me this meant pushing myself to spend X hours on a certain goal without making myself burn out or overspending money.
To begin to apply disciplined resource management into my own life, I started by assessing how many free hours I had in a day outside of work and how many assets I had at the beginning of the summer. I then gave each of my quarterly focus areas a budget of dollars and cents and how many hours they would get from me based on some research and the KPIs I was trying to hit on a monthly basis. I documented this all in a spreadsheet and as I spent hours or money chasing down a particular goal, I was careful not to overextend the allocation I decided to ensure one goal was not getting achieved at the expense of others. By applying resource management, I felt like the hours and money I was spending were going to a greater good and I was staying within my means.
Optimizing for Growth
Growth and the pursuit of it is the lifeblood of startups. In my own life, I have always been attracted and perplexed about the idea of continuous growth. How can I take steps today to prepare for a future that is fairly uncertain? At Fernish, we kept and updated a 15 point plan of how we would improve and grow the business. Many of these points did not have a linear set of steps to completion, but rather employed the methodology of putting them down and trusting in the team to execute on these ideals through ingenuity, break through, and hard work. I made a multi-part growth plan of my own and wrote down areas of growth that I would be optimizing for regardless of the ebbs and flows of what I was actively pursuing. A few of these included the importance of relationships in my life, the desire to have a constantly helpful and genuine reputation, and presenting myself in the best possible light regardless of the circumstances. The act of writing down ideals completely separate to my career or what I am working on was cathartic and allowed me to drill into what I valued as a person. Just like it is key for a startup to find their purpose and how they want to grow, I found that it is important for individuals to do the same.