Getting to an Empty agenda
I started Funk-e , my first company, in 2009 in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) with my co-founder Joost Vissers.
We were both still in university and we saw an opportunity to start making animation videos that explained complex things on the internet.
13 years later it evolved into an internal communication agency with 20 people and hundreds of clients in the Netherlands and Europe.
Last year I handed over my task as general manager of my company to our previous sales manager. After 6 months of slowly letting go, it got to a point where I could truly step out of the daily operations.
So the 1st of January 2022 was the first day of the next 10 years as an entrepreneur, and my opportunity to make a new dent in the universe.
I registered the domain name MisterAwesome.nl and started all over with the goal of telling stories about entrepreneurship through podcasts, blogging and speaking.
I went through the traditional “goodbye” and “hey-look-at-the-new-thing-I-am-doing” post on Linkedin and found myself in the awkward yet luxurious position of having an empty agenda.
Why does an empty agenda feel so uneasy?
For a long time, especially during stressful times, I always kind of fantasised how nice it would be to have an empty canvas again and start all over.
I imagined how much more productive I could be, or how much better my output could be. However after the first few weeks of empty agenda I was confronted with a feeling of uneasiness.
Just so I can paint the right picture: Normally an understandable cause for stress in a new venture would be the need for money.
However I have saved enough to not immediately need to look for work or paying customers over the next months.
What I wanted to explore therefore was really what lies underneath this general need to be busy, and especially to do something productive.
An addiction to being busy
The past 13 years I have carefully built a routine under constant pressure of some kind.
Whether that was finding the right product market fit for animations in the beginning of my company, looking for new clients or keeping track of ongoing client projects.
Being busy was not necessarily a choice at the time but it was more a necessity that turned into an addiction.
As time progressed these necessities started transforming into habits that go with that level of stress, such as:
- Constantly checking my email (not wanting to miss an important deadline or follow up with a customer)
- Having meetings for everything (to prevent misunderstandings at all levels in the company)
- The need to plan everything in a calendar (to keep an overview of what is coming my way)
These are all well-proven coping mechanisms to deal with an increasingly large workload and managing to cram more and more work in less time.
The act of performing these “busy acts” also releases some dopamine because I correlate them to having done productive work.
Detoxing from a full agenda
When suddenly that mountain of workload is no longer there, I am pretty much left with non-urgent things.
These are generally the things that in high stress situations I would de-prioritise, such as:
- Weekly or monthly planning
- Strategy re-assessments based on deep reflections
- Spontaneous conversations or spontaneous networking
An empty agenda, has been an excellent opportunity to pick these last three things up again. I have taken meetings with people I haven’t spoken to in forever, without any specific urgent goals underlying them.
I am taking time to think about a topic at length, like setting up a support structure to keep improving my podcasts.
And most importantly I am using the time to spend time with my 1,5 year old kid which has been awesome.
Conclusion: An empty agenda helps gain perspective
I have honestly not been this relaxed in years. It feels weird to not have a problem to be chasing to fix or improve, but it also opened my eyes to how blinding it can be too busy.
Funnily enough having more time is helping me be more focused on less things.
Would I like an empty and spontaneous agenda forever?
Probably not, the structure still helps me stay on track and give me direction, but I figured, for the first 3 months it was OK
Now that I have “reset” my agenda, I believe there is value in filling it with things I choose to put in there, rather than what is constantly necessary.