The Entrepreneur’s dilemna and the Klein Bottle

This post is dedicated to @VioletaNedkova who was kind enough to invite me in her Accountability group on Facebook and encourages everyone to write, write and write. It is also Dedicated to @Cass Lee with whom I chat within this group on Mathematic. First time I came across someone loving mathematics on Social Media. While we have occasional nerd talks on the group I came under this idea of sharing with everyone an example of how Math could be applied to respond to one of our more pressing question: Time Management. Who knows we couldn’t end up sharing our nerd talk with a larger group. Let’s be clear this purely poetic license, even if the Math ground is OK. Nevertheless it’s part of my Professional blog because it relates really to our work life and how to deal with it. It’s the story behind @Kneaver revealed here.

It’s a common complaint among Entrepreneurs, Startup Founders or freelancers that they struggle to keep a balance between their personal time and the time they devote to their work. If they don’t, it’s their partner who sing that song. As an employee things are clear and easily discernible like water inside a bottle and air outside. Water for around 40 hours a week, then air, freedom, lightness, personal life all around the week.

For those of us with a rich student life, it was also difficult to build fences between studies and personal life but it last only a few years. All the time you spend is for your own benefits and translates directly into them. It’s also a moment where we build the relationships that will last all our lives and become very personal. So let’s keep studies outside of the topic as the counter-example.

Let’s see how this confusion and lack of balance builds and how Math let us understand better the phenomena. For me, Math is not a science but a pure intellectual construction made by humans to scaffold their imagination and gain a better to understand complex things. It leds to Model but it’s better then models because we can change them continuously. Models are the still pictures of Math. Math is applied to science, not inspired or influenced by necessity and discoveries. For me again, Math is the total freedom to think. No limitations, no rules, no contingencies. It’s a gratuitous activities refreshing our brains and sometimes the most absurb creation ends up describing realities down the road. It’s more part of Philosophy than of STEM.

Introducing the Klein Bottle

The Klein bottle, introduced in 1882 (, is perfect to let us apprehend the dilemna of the modern entrepreneur 130 years after.

Here is the beast:

Credit: From Wikipedia, Picture made by Maksim from an actual bottle from

Work life and Personal Life starts well separated

Imagine you fill the bottle with vaporous liquid like liquid nitrogen: let’s call it Work.
When you pour it in, it will fill the bottom of the bottle like in any bottle. All is clear. The bottom is large and can accommodate plenty of work. You are productive, you start you work day with a clear mind, well rested from a long night, a great todo list and you start building up. Notice the elegant chimney starting from the bottom and passing through the bottle. It reflects outside light nicely. We often find this fancy design in wine bottles from Spain or Italy, nothing strange.

It’s because you have a few demands or you want to prepare stuff, ebooks, documents and suddenly work keeps coming in and the bottle expands a bit to accommodate it in its belly. Good enough there is still penty of place around for free time with your friends, reading, walking around, taking holidays.

More work pours into your inbox. Being ruthless on your priorities can’t prevent your time to be eaten up. When the clock shows 6PM you are not even half way from what you planned to do (see it’s 18:11 now and I’m not done with post, 8 PM I start editing). So like a good barman, you top up generously until the bottle fills a bit more.

You are now just below the handle. You suspect things are going awry and you start making rules. You won’t check emails after __ (fill the blanks), you won’t take calls after ___ and will take distance with X, Y and Z who keeps asking services and advices for exposure of course.

It worked! (pun intended) See the neck of bottle is much narrower. Things are now under control. You adopted the GTD methodology, you make plans, you bought at timer for Pomodoro rushes, use a personal assistant service for calls after 8PM, a tool to check your time online and so on. You are on your way to win. Celebrate it!

Look how the neck of the bottle is now bending down. It’s a win, you are master of your time.

True, what’s wrong is that the plans are taking more time to unfold. What you win in the balance you lost in reactivity, you keep thinking of your work and worst of all anxiety grows. You work, the white hazy liquid is now betting past the neck toward this kind of handle.

If anything now it’s beautiful. The shape is harmonious: The work fills the neck and its fumes wander down. You are in the flow, your agenda is full, you work, work and your anxiety is gone. Being in the flow is the Entrepreneur nirvana. We are super efficient and super active. A moment where we release our control on our time, we let go and just do it.

Look the shape more closely: The neck became the handle, merge into the inside of the bottle and becomes the chimney. Just there is a minor detail, an anomaly I would say: The work, the nitrogen is now back inside the chimney and the bottom of the bottle is now totally filled with white gaz and liquid.

That’s the time your near friends start considering you are excessively bossy, busy. They gave up calling you for joining cheerful evenings, outdoors plans.

Oups! Look! the white liquid is now leaking below the bottle. It’s outside!

Wait! It was inside, it’s a bottle, well contained and all! Yes, it is still inside but it’s also outside. Did it spill over? no, never. You mean it’s both outside and inside: yes.

You mitigate. Personal time starts carving space inside the bottle. White patches start filling the bottle where there was only work before. You planned this Yoga hour during the lunch break, old friends joined your team and working with them is chatty as would be an evening at the pub. You make new friends who happen to be work relations: suppliers, customers. Although it appears optimal, it has a side effect: your start time and end time expand: you start earlier, leave later. So there is no net win, just work starts invading all the space.

We are now at a situation where work occupies the “outside”: The place before dedicated to leisures, social life and free time is now contained inside. You take an hour off after 8PM, you disconnect two hours after lunch on Sundays, that’all.

It’s time to react. On a morning, you place a clean sheet of white paper in front of you, draw a week timetable, colors on permitted zones. Hangup it on the wall.

It all starts again: You managed to place back the work in the bottle and have clear mind outside. yet it’s still a Klein bottle and it will leak again. For all of us “Learn is Work” and “Working is learning” but for the Entrepreneur “life is working” and “working allows living”. You can’t create limits any more, best to accept it and start living your work as a normal pleasurable part of life while taking this extra benefit of allowing personal life to coexist and interrupt professional life.

Balance of an Entrepreneur life is different from an employee life. It can’t be copied and adapted, it must be reinvented from its particularities. It’s a Klein bottle. Locally it looks like any bottle with glass separating inside and outside but as a whole it’s not dividing anything, just an illusion of bottle. So any rules, guidelines is like a local fix, it doesn’t fit it all.

Studying the Klein bottle could trigger other questionings on the life of the Entrepreneur:

What is the gender of the Klein bottle? Could it help us understand what is the gender of this entrepreneurial passion.

How can a Klein bottle be modified to restore an inside and an outside compartment? Is there a way to fix this balance between personal life and work life and could it inspire this way.

How could we unfold it and where is it optimum to cut?

I let the Math lovers come out with more questions and continuations 🙂

That was my Sunday lifehack post 🙂