Deep work: finding your startup mojo
I love startup life. It has been my passion for many years now. In 2007, I launched my first company, Skimlinks from my apartment living room in Sydney. It grew to become a $50m-a-year revenue business, headquartered in London with offices in San Francisco and New York.
I’ve since been involved in several other business ventures, taken part in lots of entrepreneurial initiatives and regularly mentor young people looking to pursue a career in technology.
So when I say that startup life is the thing that puts a spring to my step, I really do mean it.
But two years ago, I needed a break from startup life. It was killing my passion. It was 2018 and I had decided to step down as CEO of Skimlinks. After 11 years at the helm of this international business, I needed to step away in order to birth my next creative project.
I was motivated to get back to the drawing board and plan my next business venture, and I couldn’t wait to have the headspace to fully dedicate to new pursuits and I expected to have plenty of time to think, reflect and ideate.
However, after a few weeks, it became clear that it just wasn’t happening. I found that working in shared spaces was too distracting; cafes and restaurants weren’t ergonomic and working from home was getting pretty repetitive. I couldn’t think, let alone create.
I needed a change of scenery, so I packed my bags, hopped in my car (with my puppy) and started travelling around France and Spain. I became a digital nomad, wandering from beautiful place to beautiful place, trying to find inspiring places from which to work. But the same problems seemed to follow me - from dodgy WiFi and uncomfortable chairs, to lacklustre cafes and lots of lonely days. I couldn’t find the right space - mentally or physically - to be creative and productive.
Luckily, it was around the same time that I discovered a book that would send me on an entirely new journey and ultimately lead to the creation of my next venture, Flown.
Cal Newport’s Deep Work is all about the importance of creating working environments that are conducive to uninterrupted, distraction-free thinking. He talks extensively about how work that is performed in this state of focused concentration is not only the source of significant human innovation and creativity, but it is also the source of fulfilment and joy.
He explains how we are constantly facing a barrage of online and offline distractions that are eroding our ability to focus. In order to get into this ‘deep work’ state, we need to retreat from our normal environment, perhaps somewhere closer to nature, and intersperse our periods of focused concentration with exploration, play and learning.
Newport’s concept resonated with me enormously. As well as being relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in my experiences, I suddenly became inspired to dedicate my life to helping people think and work more creatively and productively. Before I knew it, the concept for Flown was born.
Flown is a new online platform that aims to help knowledge workers - people who think for a living - achieve deep work. The platform provides mental and physical spaces that allow individuals or entire teams to get away from their day-to-day working environments and focus on their most productive and creative work.
Flown is split into two key offerings. Flown Away is a highly curated list of homes, hotels and retreat spaces that are fully equipped for distraction-free, ergonomic and productive remote working. And Flown Here is a treasure trove of resources and interactive tools to help workers establish more effective ‘deep work’ rituals - from virtual accountability groups to perception-shifting creative challenges.
Officially launching in early 2021, the platform will offer ‘deep work’ spaces in both the UK and Portugal, where I am currently nomading, and we’ll continue adding new locations as frequently as possible.
At a time when so many people and companies are adjusting to life with the pandemic, working away from one’s normal office environment is now the new norm. However, while it has its merits, it has plenty of challenges too - from too many family distractions to too few inspirations,, and as such, are seeking new ways to shake up their working patterns and find interesting ways to motivate themselves.
With that in mind, now is the time to try something new and consider how we can push ourselves into different ways of thinking. If there is one thing I have learnt this year, it is that creativity doesn’t always just happen on its own, it has to be cultivated, inspired, nurtured - and you can’t do that starting at the same blank wall day in day out.