What should you be doing that you aren't?

I recently learned the word akrasia. It means acting against your better judgment due to weakness of will… when you know what you should be doing, but you aren't doing it.

It struck me as the perfect word to describe what many of us do as founders, especially solo founders.

When we no longer have bosses, coworkers, or concrete deadlines that other people are depending on, the only thing to keep us honest and responsible is sheer willpower. And human willpower isn't really that strong in most situations.

So it's easy to put off things that seem boring, hard, uncomfortable, or scary, even if we know that some of those things are exactly what we most need to be doing. Because when the time comes to do those things, our willpower fails and we choose to do other things instead.

If you know you should be doing X, but you're not doing X, that's akrasia. If you know you should be spending 50% of your time on marketing, but you're only scheduling 10% of your time on marketing, you're acting akratically.

Yes, startups are hard, but often the hardest part is simply overcoming our own akrasia. It's overcoming the part of ourselves that knows what to do, but day after day chooses not to do it.

Some tips I've come across for beating akrasia:

  • Get other people on onboard: cofounders, partners, coaches, investors, something. It's hard to be in denial about what should be done when someone else is a part of planning what should be done. It's harder to shirk the responsibilities you decided on when someone else is counting on you. Social obligation is often stronger than willpower.
  • Avoid having to fight against your willpower in the first place. It's a stupidly hard fight to win. I started IH in part because I know that I'm liable to spend way too much time coding, so I picked an idea that required very little code (IH was just a blog in the early days) in order to avoid fighting a battle that I'm almost guaranteed to lose.
  • Find a way to implement hard deadlines. For me, that was quitting my job and burning through my savings. Knowing that I wasted months of savings doing stupid stuff and that I only had 6 more months to go forced me to make better decisions: to cut my losses and abandon hopeless projects, to focus, to ship faster (by shipping less instead of working more), to spend more time on growth activities.
  • etc.

What, if anything, are you being akratic about with your business?

  1. 5

    Sometimes I notice a behavioural pattern in myself. Sometimes I tell people what they cannot do when I should actually try to tell them what they can do instead.

    1. 6

      Are you a perfectionist? From personal experience, I find that perfectionists tend to focus on correcting mistakes, removing blemishes, etc. Rather than focusing on the positive, the possibilities, and doubling down on strengths.

      1. 1

        Uncertain how I could qualify for such a label. I guess I have certain tendencies. It is good to be aware of that. I try to notice when it happens and then induce a certain mindset shift. If somebody has ideas about getting better at it I am happy to know more about it.

    2. 1

      This happens a lot to me with my partner IRL. I get angry/upset on them for not doing something, but upon further reflection, I always do know internally that I am just angry on myself for not doing that exact same thing (but applied to my task).

  2. 4

    I'm over here reading posts instead of sitting down and thinking of getting to work. Thanks for sharing this with us and reminding me that I got to get back to work.

  3. 3

    I am to naive. ain't gonna lie... I should start chargin for some things I do...

  4. 2

    I should hire freelancers to do work that I think of as my core skill (in my case programming)

    there's nothing technologically sophisticated about my project, literally any django / rails person could build it, but I think of software as 'my piece' of the puzzle and so I do it myself

  5. 2

    @csallen I just want to comment on your post.

    While akrasia is definitely a thing, evidence of just the existance of willpower is tenuous, at least in psychological literature.

    Studies on willpower have incredible difficulty replicating results. The one thing that seems to stand out is that people who rely on willpower to power throughj temptation almost always fail. It's the people with coping mechanisms aimed at reducing temptations that persistently overcome temptation.

    The true trick is what you've already written; find ways avoid being tempted in the first place, never rely on willpower.

    Willpower isn't anything like a muscle. While that was the theory for a very long time, I think it's safe to say that it's a myth that has been thouroughly debunked, even if it keeps living on in the public conscious.

    1. 2

      Great point, and a big reason I don't think someone should ever "fight" against their willpower directly. Doesn't seem like a battle you can win. Better to do what you're saying and avoid the fight altogether with various coping mechanisms to dodge or reduce temptation.

      My favorite thing on this subject is the marshmallow test. Some kids can sit in a room for longer without eating the marshmallow in front of them, and apparently they go on to live more successful lives. But from what I've read, when they actually observed the kids, they didn't simply have more "willpower," but they were better at doing things like closing their eyes, looking away from the marshmallow, distracting themselves, etc.

  6. 2

    Marketing. Trying to get better at this by building in the open.

  7. 2

    When a deadline is not met, I stopped being hard at myself and it brought changes to how I worked.

    Missing deadlines/goals are frustrating but it is something natural that makes us more human! I started accepting it. By accepting it's okay I was able to focus more on the missed deadline than being stressed about it.

  8. 1

    +1 for hiring a coach, it helps a LOT. It's like hiring a boss for yourself, and investing in your future self.
    Having a person helping you work on improving yourself, being more consistent and honest about your shortcomings is super helpful.

  9. 1

    Akrasia is our deadliest disease as founders.

    Get other people on onboard: cofounders, partners, coaches, investors, something.

    Absolutely. I used to struggle a lot with akrasia/procrastination until I followed this advice.

    This later became my motivation to start CheckWise: to give solo founders the opportunity to beat akrasia by staying accountable to a real person.

    You'd be surprised at how we change when we add a bit of social pressure on ourselves. We're social creatures after all!

  10. 1

    so I picked an idea that required very little code (IH was just a blog in the early days) in order to avoid fighting a battle that I'm almost guaranteed to lose.

    I sincerely appreciate this kind of honesty, it greatly helps to know that successful people are not radically different.. they face the same issues but they handle the them in a different way.

  11. 1

    I need to be better at just making something.

    I have loads of ideas, but I fear starting on them, because they are "too big". What I should do is to just quickly identify the core idea and make an MVP.

    Also, I suck at business models. I should probably read up on that.

  12. 1

    Finding/Talking to potential customers :\ Let me start it.

  13. 1

    Akrasia just sounds like a super fancy way of saying procrastination to me, lol

    1. 5

      Akrasia is like eating candy even though you are on a diet. You know you shouldn't, but you do it anyway.

      Procrastination is akrasia, but akrasia is more than just procrastination.

  14. 1

    Writing more content 😭 I have a million and 1 things to write I simply don't know where to start and a single piece of content takes me sooooo long. In turn, everything else suffers because it's hard to schedule social media to promote new content when there IS NO content. 🙄

    Debating on outsourcing but since I haven't started making income it's a scary gamble. On the other hand, if I'm not going to outsource I need to figure out how to create more content faster.

  15. 1

    Making myself useful to people who need me. Writing, doing.

  16. 1

    I love learning about words and definitions! https://wor.do/acrasia

    A long time ago I had a company, it was great but it also burned me out a lot. This took a big toll on my mental health. Ever since, I just follow my intuition, wherever it leads me!

  17. 1

    Spending more time with friends and family, tbh

  18. 1

    This comment was deleted 10 months ago.

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