Time management isn’t just about making sure you don’t miss a deadline. Better time management helps you to choose which priorities to focus on; it helps you to be more effective; and it helps you to remain motivated.
Many time management techniques were developed for the corporate environment. The underlying assumption is that you have a clearly defined role and goals, and that there are people around you to whom you can delegate. The challenges that entrepreneurs face are different, and startups require a different set of tools and techniques as a result. Here are the top five time management priorities that entrepreneurs need to focus on:
1) Know the difference between “busy” and “productive”
It sounds trite, but there is a difference between working hard and getting things done. Have a clear view of your goals for the short, medium, and long term and keep these visible and updated. Hang them on your office wall or make them the background image on your tablet or laptop. You should know your priorities like the back of your hand.
Once you know your priorities, you can focus your efforts on those tasks that have the highest impact. If you find yourself investing a lot of time and effort in something that isn’t one of your most important goals, stop doing it and switch to something else that makes a real difference. Of course, context switching isn’t helpful either, so if you find yourself switching a lot, maybe list your priorities somewhere where they can’t escape your attention.
There’s a very natural tendency to mistake “urgent” for “important” too. You have probably heard this distinction, but it pays to take a careful look at it to make sure you’re applying it consciously. We’re surrounded by things that demand our attention without being important: phone calls, emails, demands for our time. These things can pull focus from your most important goal as an entrepreneur: growing your business. Use a simple technique like the Urgent/Important Matrix (above, modelled after Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) to determine whether you’re working on something that truly matters to the future of your startup. Things that are urgent but not important are interruptions and should be ignored.
2) Know the value of your time
As an entrepreneur, you’re responsible for a lot of things. In a startup in particular, where you might be called on to play multiple roles, there’s a danger of using your time in ways that aren’t cost effective. Consider your core skill set: what is it that you bring to the business that has the highest value?
Every hour you’re not using your core expertise is an expensive redeployment of your skills. If you’re a fantastic software engineer, but not so great at PR, stick to developing the product and hire someone else to get the word out. Europe has a thriving freelance market, and online freelance marketplaces like oDesk and People Per Hour make it easy to source the expertise you need, leaving you free to focus on the most productive use of your time.
3) Organise your contacts and calendar
Staying organised is a simple but necessary chore for every entrepreneur. Find tools that suit the way you work. Try out a few task-list organisers like TheDeadline (a HackFwd alumnus). Familiarise yourself with the power-user features of Google Calendar or iCal. Set up mail filters that help you to prioritise your responses. Anything that takes some of the organisational load from your shoulders frees you up to spend your time more productively.
4) Recognise your rhythms
Nobody is equally productive at all hours of the day and night. There will be certain times of day when you find that creative thinking is easier and others where you’re fit only for simple decision making and administration. Organise your day around these rhythms. If you have a particularly challenging task to accomplish, carve out some time in your most productive period of the day, remove yourself from distractions, switch the phone to voicemail and really focus. Save your administrative tasks for the time of day when you’re feeling least creative and least energetic.
5) Scheduled maintenance
You’re irreplaceable to your startup – taking time away from the business probably feels like a dereliction of duty, but consider what would happen if you had to take a prolonged leave-of-absence due to ill-health. Taking an hour a day to de-stress and to focus on your physical and mental well-being is essential maintenance. Take some exercise, connect with friends, explore something new. Make time to take care of your most valuable asset.