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Adjusting Productivity Expectations to Account for Air Quality

I spend half the year in Vail, Colorado, and the other half in Boulder. I consistently need a half-hour more sleep in Boulder. I have more energy and fewer aches and pains in Vail. After a month or so in Vail, I always drop my run and swim times. It's easier for me to focus and stay motivated. I've long attributed this to the difference in air quality. 

Last month, the air quality in Vail plummeted because of the forest fires. Sure enough, I felt some of the same effects that I normally feel in Boulder and then some. It was the worst air quality I’d experienced in my 21 years in Colorado. I spent most of the month of August in a bit of a lethargic fog. 

After a month of feeling sluggish, I started to really beat myself up. I was sleeping more than I have in years, but I just couldn’t get my motivation back. August is normally a time when I feel most motivated and proactive. I had a long list of projects that I was excited to tackle, but I only made about 50 percent of the progress I thought I would make. 

Two weeks ago, we had a few days of blue skies thanks to a welcomed snowstorm. It was like someone turned on my motivation switch. I woke up before my alarm. I felt great on my morning run. I broke through my writer’s block and ripped through my to-do list. 

As an entrepreneur, it’s hard for me to accept that I may not be in full control of my motivation. After my taste of post-snowstorm normalcy, I was optimistic that I could will myself to keep that pace when the smoke settled back in. I managed to force myself to sleep a little less and work a little harder for three smoky days, but I hit a wall by the fourth. We had a bit of rain that night and, low and behold, my motivation switch turned back on when I woke up to clear skies the next day. 

In conclusion, I’ve decided that I am going to take a different approach to smoky days. I am going to allow myself to sleep an extra half hour. Rather than trying to will myself to power through proactive projects that require a lot of brainpower, I’m going to use smoky days as an excuse to check off some of the mindless administrative tasks on my to-do list. I’m going to welcome more opportunities to spend time with friends and family. 

I’m hoping this approach will help me carve out more time for fully amped proactive projects when the smoke clears. I’m also hoping it will reduce my self-loathing and the vicious productivity cycle that creates. I’ve long been a believer in working with your natural energy levels to increase productivity. I guess I just need to remind myself of that and adjust my productivity expectations based on air quality. 

I wanted to share some of these thoughts in case they are of service to the millions of entrepreneurs, VCs, and other people affected by the fires. I know many of you have been far more affected than I have. My heart goes out to you. 

This experience has made me even more motivated to invest in climate change solutions. Are you pre-seed, seed, or Series A startup or venture capital fund addressing climate change that has at least one female leader? We'd love to hear from you.

Listen of the Week: The Daily Stoic - Guy Raz on Solving Our Big Problems. I especially like the point Guy makes about the ineffectiveness of shaming people to invoke change. Americans have responded to the call to make personal sacrifices for the greater good throughout history. Could this work for climate change and the pandemic? I hope so. 

I post my most interesting weekly thoughts, coupled with the best of my listening and reading list, and occasional MergeLane Portfolio news every (or nearly every) Tuesday. To follow Tuesday Takeaways and our occasional blog posts, you can subscribe to our blog or follow me on twitter.

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