When you’re working long hours in an intense full-time job, it’s easy to imagine that quitting and having all the time you want to work on entrepreneurial projects could only be a positive change (career and financial considerations aside).
However, reality is not so straightforward. Entrepreneurship is ultimately a creative pursuit (to varying degrees of course). This means it is subject to the creative cycle: there are energising periods of creation (clarity on what you’re building, focus on execution), but also fallow periods of destruction (uncertainty about what direction to go next or what work to do).
Employee -> explorer
For many professionals who are used to non-stop go go go, it takes time to adjust to this new way of working.
It is particularly acute during the exploration phase (few external signs of progress, regular and repeated low periods without clear work to do): after several days of low intensity work it can really feel like you’re mad to have ever considered entrepreneurship, you’ve achieved nothing in the X months you’ve been searching and have been totally wasting your time. Then the very next day you get a flash of inspiration, are onto a new idea and are full of excitement again.
This is one of the reasons I write that one year seems to be a rough upper bound on how long people can spend searching for ideas - it’s emotionally draining work. It's different to the work most professionals are used to, in that there are short periods of intense work followed by longer periods of low intensity work where it can feel like you're going nowhere fast. These periods are necessary to the exploration process, but that doesn't make them any less difficult to endure.
As you become more experienced at exploring, you learn to manage your energy more effectively, structuring your work to avoid the emotional highs and lows.
Getting this balance right is really hard.
If you’re working full time on entrepreneurial activities, the solution I’ve found is to work on several projects at once. If you’re like me then this is painful in the moment: you’ll feel pulled in multiple directions and all you’ll want is clarity about which project has the best prospects so that you can focus 100% of your attention on that. But the benefits of testing multiple opportunities in parallel outweigh this discomfort: you are more immune to the emotional highs and lows of any one idea, there is always work to be done elsewhere if you hit a roadblock, energy gained from one idea’s progress can help you through another idea’s lack thereof, and of course, running multiple tests maximizes your chances of finding an exciting opportunity.
If you require an income, perhaps you’ll be freelancing for several days a week. The optimal balance I’ve found here is 2 days per week: this is enough work for you to feel productive without being too draining, and hopefully enough income to take the edge off your financial worries and cover the basics yet keep you hungry for more.
Going all in
At some point, it may make sense to start winding up other tests and projects and focus full-time on one idea. You need to make a gut call on this. Ask yourself, are you getting energy from this other work? Or is it taking your energy? Do you have enough work to justify spending your all your time on one idea? Are you prepared for the emotional highs and lows of going all in?
Energy management is still an issue at this point: there will still be periods of focused execution followed by fallow periods of observation and processing. You can’t escape the creative cycle. But managing your energy while building a tangible business is far easier than doing so empty handedly while exploring!
This is one of the biggest hidden benefits of going through the exploration process: it’s a baptism by fire. If you can survive this period, you emerge on the far side with an unshakable sense of confidence. No matter how badly things may be going with your businesses in future, you will always have the perspective: at least I have a business now! And you will always know that, even if a business fails, you have what it takes to find another.