How do you do everything at once and get it all done on time without neglecting family, work or your newly founded addiction to hand gliding? Even with the feast of theories and solutions on how to be more productive, time management is still one of the top challenges for most entrepreneurs. I’m looking at you!
Just as a one-stop shop for startups doesn’t exist, neither does the magical key to ‘the best way you manage your workload’ treasure box. We all do things at a different pace and feel comfortable managing our time in different ways. That’s not to say that some of the options on the market such as the 5 hour work week or the 3 second day don’t work for certain people. These methods are geared towards making us more productive although I can’t comprehend why all of them focus on putting in as little hours as possible, I mean how much work can you really get done in 3 seconds? Again, it comes down to finding the right balance and what works for you, somewhere in between the work rate of Elon Musk (works 23.99 hours/day) & Sheryl Sandberg (supposedly goes home at 17h every day…).
1. Know Thy Rhythm
Some of us are early risers; born in the rising sun, full of oomph from the minute we roll out of bed whereas others bloom into in hyperactive ghouls in the shadows of the night. Know when you are most effective and use this to your advantage. If you are cranked up on morning juice then set your meetings (investors, team sessions, sales meetings) for the morning. If you hit that energy cliff at 4pm then leave that time of the day for more menial tasks that don’t require as much of your brainpower. If you are one of these extraordinary people who never gets tired then congratulations (although you’re most likely one of mendacious behavior). Find what works for you and set daily schedules based around your natural rhythm.
2. Manage Distractions
We would all love our own tranquil office where we could hide from constant distractions (people barking in your ear while you’re in “the zone”, that weird noise your coworker makes while eating or even just that buzz that is inherent in startup ground zero). Sharing a room with a bunch of other folk is more often than not, the scenario in most startups, so it’s essential to lay down the rules in regards to office politics. Losing focus is one of the biggest productivity killers and 99% of the time it comes from distractions, whether it be humans or machines. Research has shown that being interrupted from “the zone” can severely interrupt workflow, hence productivity. This is especially crucial for developers who if disturbed can take over 15 minutes to get back to writing code (sorry, “hacking” as these post-era ninjas like to call it nowadays). I’m all for open communication but you have to set rules on your idea of ‘open’ or you will find it nigh on possible to get anything done. Whether it’s turning off all IM’s and telling colleagues to leave you in peace during specific time frames (unless it’s urgent) or hiding in the cupboard for hours on end, you need to manage your distractions. I’m personally one for the Brazilian Rodízio method. You get a paddle with one green side and one red side. If it’s green side up then either bring me more meat or talk to me all you want (as long as it’s what I want to hear) and if it’s red side up then I’m full and want to be left alone to focus until I go green again. Whatever method you use, carve out chunks of your day where you are 100% focused on the task at hand.
Unfortunately there isn’t any miraculous solution to get everything done at the same time. You need to work out what is the burning issue and get that done first. It may seem simple to take the easiest tasks and complete them first while leaving the most tackling issues pending, but the most difficult and time consuming issues are usually the most important and the ones that affect your bottom line. Putting off preparing the financials for the investors? Get it done. Leave restocking the staples until later. The more the issue affects the future of your business, the higher it should be on the priority list. Don’t let your to-do lists get out of control, if you can do something in the moment then do it.
4. Embrace Technology
You have a thousand tech tools at your disposal designed to make you more productive so use them! With so many cloud-based platforms designed to synchronize your data so you don’t have to introduce it on multiple devices, you should already be as streamlined as an Apple production line. With options such as Dropbox, Bitbucket and Asana, you can easily manage your teams’ workflow and speedup the decision-making processes. It’s easy to succumb to the “I need to download every new app/product and try it” fever but don’t get too carried away. Funnily enough, that’s actually counterproductive to your productivity. Do a little pic and mix, try what works for you and your team and then get busy. Money shouldn’t be an excuse as most of these options are Freemium with the basic version offering enough to get started. Ensure that the technology makes your life easier, not more complicated.
5. Cut The Meeting Fat
Your time is precious. Emails about meetings and meetings about emails and emails about the what happened in the meeting. The majority of meetings waste time and can be avoided by doing things over the phone or by using the software we previously discussed. If a meeting is really necessary then keep it within the allotted time frame, have a structured schedule and make sure the objective of the meeting is achieved. How many meetings have you attended that have gone way over the time scheduled and returned 0 results? “Mucho mucho!”.
6. Delegation Is King
It’s sometimes very difficult to give up responsibilities to other people, especially at the early stages when you are low on resources and skilled help. In the end, it’s your baby and you want the job done the right way. As we have learnt, doing everything on your own isn’t going to fly. Offloading certain tasks to the right people will help take some of that workload off your plate. The idea is that you have more time to focus on more important tasks so don’t waste your time trying to micromanage every single thing your employees do. You employ them for a reason; because they are good, so let them do their job.
7. Find The Right Balance
Elon Musk is insanely successful and the idol of many entrepreneurs. He puts in major hours and gets results. If that works for you (i.e. you can be effective during that time) and you don’t have any personal issues (i.e. a family/hobbies) that can impede these long working sessions then by all means work as long as you feel comfortable. However, most of us have something waiting on the other side of the office door, whether it’s your wife with a list of man chores, your unused gym membership or a bottle of Makers Mark, finding the right balance of work/play is essential for keeping sane. Being passionate about what you are building is great but you also need to be passionate about living your life. It has become so easy to work remotely that we forget it’s just that; work. Remember, checking your iPhone to remove the red dot on email during home hours is still considered working. Yes, even sneaking off to the toilet to check your emails is still working. It’s pretty much certain that the recipient of the email isn’t going to jump off the nearest skyscraper if you don’t respond within 30 milliseconds of receiving the email.
What productivity “hacks” work for your team?
Photo ‘Distraction Zone’: by imageegami/Shutterstock.