“How can I manage my time better?” That’s a question that all startup founders will have to ask at some point. The questions need to be asked especially true when you’re struggling to complete one item off your to-do-list while other entrepreneurs have completed one week of work in one day. They don’t have superpowers — they know how to manage their time correctly. Here are twelve time management tips the most efficient startup founders use.
1. Wake-up early and have a morning routine.
What do startup founders like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and yours truly have in common? We all wake up early and have consistent morning routines.
Although everyone has their own specific routines, having a morning routine that works for you set the tone for the day. When you think about it, this makes sense.
If you oversleep, you rush out the door to make sure you’re at work on time. That can throw off your entire day. Instead of returning emails or reviewing your schedule and to-do-lists, you do that as soon as you arrive at work. That’s going to eat into the time you were supposed to be working on more critical tasks.
Instead of scrambling every morning, here’s how my morning routine looks:
- 5:15 – Wake-up.
- 5:30 – Exercise.
- 6:00 – Shower and get dressed.
- 6:30 – Write and reflect.
- 7:00 – Respond to emails and set goals for the day.
As you can see, I’ve already had a productive day. Also, since I completed less complicated, shallow tasks, I feel more relaxed, focused, and prepared. Being comfortable and confident ensures that the rest of my day will be just as productive.
2. Do the most important thing first.
James Clear states that this is the only productivity tip you’ll ever need. And, it’s difficult to argue with him.
For starters, a majority of us are most productive in the mornings. Morning productivity has a lot to do with circadian rhythms, so this varies from person to person. But, as John Meyer of Lemon.ly perfectly explains, “Our focus is like a gas tank that we have to fill up each night. All the things in our life use up that focus fuel, and by the end of the day, it’s tough to be productive.”
Clear adds, “Disorder and chaos tend to increase as your day goes on. At the same time, the decisions and choices that you make throughout the day tend to drain your willpower.” As a result, you’ll be “less likely to make a good decision at the end of the day than you are at the beginning.”
As if that weren’t enough, research has found that 2:55 pm is the least productive time of day because we’ve hit our post-lunch lull.
So, wake-up early, stick to your morning routine and then eat that frog.
3. Chunk up your week.
“I like to chunk up my workweek into similar tasks on the same day because it makes me much more productive,” says Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran.
“As past behavior is usually the best predictor of future behavior, I find it helpful to sit down each year with my previous year’s calendar in hand. I try to identify repetitive work patterns to help me anticipate work and chunk up my tasks more effectively.”
For example, if most of your meetings or speeches fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday last year, then you’ll know not to schedule much on those days going forward. If a majority of calls were with customers, vendors, or mentors on Thursdays, then you block out time in your schedule for those calls.
Corcoran also uses Mondays to focus on her “A-list long-term projects, delegating portions of them and following up before the week kicks into high gear.” It’s easier for her to finish these tasks on a Monday because “it sets the tone for the week.”
“Chunking up my time into similar tasks gets me more bang for my buck and makes me far more productive.”
4. Focus on what you love and do best.
Richard Branson is a big advocate of this. He believes that entrepreneurs should only focus on the activities that they enjoy and excel at. Everything else? Delegate, outsource and automate.
However, when you do hand-off tasks to others, make sure that you’re hands-off.
“As much as you need a strong personality to build a business from scratch, you also must understand the art of delegation,” says Branson. “I have to be good at helping people run their businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me.”
5. Establish new habits and strategies.
Here’s a secret: you can read as much as time management advice as possible. You can use the latest apps and tools. But, if you want to take control of your time, then you’re going to have to make a change within.
These may not be the easiest thing to do, but it’s possible if you try any of these approaches:
- The Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique was named after the tomato-shaped timer utilized by the system’s founder. The jest of this technique is that you take micro-breaks. Start with a 25-minute sprint and then rest for 5-minutes. Repeat this cycle 4-times and then take a longer that’s around 15-30 minutes. Research has found that attention span and concentration levels increase in cyclical schedules.
- Mind Mapping.
As an entrepreneur, I’m sure that you have a million thoughts flying around in your head. With mind mapping, you can take these thoughts and convert them into visual aids. Now you have an easy-to-comprehend, visual overview of conceptual goals, along with the steps you need to achieve them.
- Be aware of “Completion Bias.”
According to Lifehacker, this “is when your brain specifically seeks the pleasure of completing a task brings.” Completion bias tricks your brain into “focusing on only small tasks because you’ll want to experience that positive feelings more.” As a result, you spend your days on tasks like answering emails. To prevent this, “mix up your to-dos, so you’re not just taking on the small stuff.” Cross-off a small task, for example, and then use that momentum to tackle something more challenging.
6. Take advantage of “just-in-time-learning.”
I read a lot. And, while that’s beneficial for entrepreneurs, consuming content that isn’t related can be a problem. The reason? It diverts your attention from the task-at-hand.
To resolve this problem, Pat Flynn suggests that you take advantage of “just-in-time-learning.”
Pay says that this “changed everything” for him. He only consumes “content related directly to the next task I have in the current project I’m working on. Blog posts, podcast episodes, videos—they must help me with completing that next task on my priority list, or else it doesn’t deserve my attention — at this moment.”
What about the fear of missing out on the latest piece of content? Pat suggests you put aside for later by using a tool like Evernote.
“Walking. Walking, hands down, is the best way for me to get clear on objectives,” says Casey Zeman, founder of EasyWebinar.
“As an entrepreneur, I often realize that if I don’t plan projects or take time for creative/critical thinking, things can take a lot longer to get done.”
Casey, for example, walks his dog three to four times a day helps when he needs to break up his day, reset, and create notes on his phone. These notes include to-do lists and content ideas. Casey even creates content when running errands by “creating a Periscope broadcast, Snapchat story, or Facebook Live broadcast.”
Most importantly, exercising is essential for entrepreneurs. Movement of the body is necessary because it boosts your energy, improves your mood, helps you sleep better, creates networking opportunities, and develops discipline.
8. Take “airplane days.”
I wish I’d come up with this idea. It’s a genius. But, the credit goes to Bryan Hassin.
Bryan noticed while on an international flight that he got some of his best work done. “No Internet access, no distractions, just churning through high priority to-do items.” At the end of the flight, Bryan not only emptied his inbox, but he had also “completed some ‘creative’ tasks. Bryan Hassin stated that he had “long lingered on my list due to lack of contiguous time to complete them: drafting new presentations/documents or deep quantitative analysis of some data/spreadsheet, for example.”
Obviously, you can’t go on frequent international flights. But, you can follow in Bryan’s footsteps by taking “airplane days.”
Here’s how it’s done. At the beginning of each week, review your calendar and “declare one day (or two half days) to be Airplane Time.” Block out this time on your shared calendar and pretend that you’re traveling by putting your devices on airplane mode and even shutting off your network connections.
Remember, fewer interruptions and distractions mean that you can focus on getting stuff done.
9. Realize that distraction comes in a million forms.
“Distraction comes in a million forms. If it isn’t going to add to your growth, it’s a distraction,” says Lyal Avery PullRequest on the Y Combinator blog.
Avery says that content is an example of this, “I’ve heard from numerous investors that a CEO that has time to blog — but doesn’t have time to do the rest of their job is a problem. Yet the companies with strong profiles often have tremendous amounts of content. When in doubt, though, it’s a distraction.”
Be aware of the “things that feel like a lot of activity but (usually) aren’t without a well thought out plan.” These “busy activities” include “conferences, seeking press, forum participation, coffee with folks that aren’t your core customers, fundraising, micromanaging.”
It’s not always easy to determine the wasteful things that distract us. You can start by eliminating the tasks that aren’t contributing to the growth of your startup.
For example, don’t attend a conference to “network.” You need to have a goal in mind, like obtaining ten leads. If not, then what was the point of attending the conference? You could have spent that time on something more productive.
10. Do not multitask.
You’re juggling multiple tasks, and as a result, you end-up multitasking to save time. The truth is, multitasking doesn’t work.
We’re wired to be mono-takers. And, science has found that if you’re doing too much at once, you’re hurting your mental health.
Serial entrepreneur Auren Hoffman agrees. He suggests that you focus entirely “on the thing you are doing while you are doing it. Do not multitask. If you find yourself reading emails in a meeting (or reading Quora), then you probably should not be in the meeting (or the meeting needs to be run better).”
Hoffman recommends that when you’re working on a task, you “mentally allocate time to only devote to that task (like 20 minutes).” During this block, don’t shift your focus. And, if you get done early, reward yourself by doing something else.
11. Make good use of your social time.
“Just because you’re not working doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be productive,” writes Ajay Yadav, Founder, and CEO of Roomi. “Use work events and lunch breaks, for example, to get to know your coworkers and discuss your work from a broader perspective.”
Yadav has great advice considering that office workers only spend 45 percent of their time on tasks related to their primary duties. Furthermore, on average, we spend 16 percent of our time in meetings.
In other words, when you want to spend the time to create a company culture and build relationships with your team, use down or social time. When you are building, you’re not consuming anyone’s workday by interrupting them or holding wasteful meetings.
One final note. Encourage your team to do the same. You may have an open-door policy, but you don’t want to be disturbed when you’re focusing. Ask employees to save the small talk for social time.
12. Keep it simple.
When it comes to time management and productivity tools, there is no shortage of options. Here’s the thing; relying on too many tools ends-up making things more complicated.
Brano Pajer, Founder of InfoSoft NI, tells Upwork that simplicity is critical. He only uses one tool for scheduling; Google Calendar. “It sits on my phone, tablet, and laptop and is interlinked, so no matter where I create an appointment from, it will be recorded in my master schedule.”
Craig Jarrow of Time Management Ninja agrees. “Avoid complicated tools that don’t deliver value. Don’t confuse complexity with effectiveness…try to minimize the number of tools in your time management system.”
Notice that even though technology has advanced, calendars have not been able to meet our modern needs. Unlike other tools, Calendar uses machine learning so that you can schedule everything from meetings to your ideal workday. It’s a pretty handy tool to manage your everyday life, and Calendar will hold up to a 10-year plan for you.