Every startup founder feels the pressure of the thousands of things that need to get done, all seemingly at the same time. There is just not enough time! The real solution is better time management to put you back in control of your life.
We all know someone who always professes to be stressed out and “so busy” that they never have time for anything – yet they never seem to get things done. The real reason is that these people don’t manage their time well. They waste too much on low-priority busywork, procrastinating on higher priority but tougher tasks, resulting in last minute crises, and failure to complete the critical work that people are really expecting of them.
A good book on this subject is one by Dr. Jan Yager, called “Creative Time Management for the New Millennium.” She preaches that “Managing your time well means managing your life well. People who handle their time well do it creatively.They practice creative time management by taking control of their time and therefore their life.” Here are ten of her key principles and mine:
- Set goals. In business, this means create a business plan before you start. I’m still amazed by the number of entrepreneurs I meet who have no business plan, or who haven’t updated their plan for years. If you have no goals and milestones, you can’t measure progress.
- Be proactive, not just reactive. Doing things before the deadline is looming reduces stress and gives you a sense of being ahead of the game. For a startup, this means starting your networking before you need money, or building the website before the business is ready to open.
- Prioritize actions. The secret is to identify what really needs to be done in each day. If you look closely at how you spend your days you will probably find that there are many things that aren’t really that important, but take a lot of time. Skip those.
- Keep your focus. Everyday interruptions in your new business can be a key barrier to managing your time effectively and, ultimately, a barrier to your success. Close the door to your home office, or turn off the phone when you have work which needs to get done.
- Create realistic deadlines. A realistic schedule takes several things into account. You need to spend time working, eating, sleeping, doing chores, running errands, and spending time with family. Unrealistic deadlines create stress, rework, and unhappiness.
- Plan and delegate. Strive to understand the relevant capabilities of team members, and then deliberately schedule tasks, delegating to the right people to get tasks done within deadlines. Even an entrepreneur can’t do everything personally.
- Don’t procrastinate. Some entrepreneurs actually sabotage themselves by putting obstacles in their own path that take more of their precious time. They often choose paths that hurt their performance. This represents a profound problem of self-regulation.
- Be a pragmatist, not a perfectionist. A proven path to success in business is to get something out, and iteratively improve it. A new product or service will never be perfect in a rapidly changing world, so don’t delay.
- Balance your life. When life is busy, or all your energy is focused on a special project, it is all too easy to find yourself “off balance,” not paying enough attention to important areas of your life. This causes inefficiency and stress, and your work is not fun.
- Do it now. In my opinion, this is the most important element of time management. Too many people procrastinate, worry, and defer, rather than just do it. Divide and conquer what you have to do. Now, not tomorrow.
Take back control of your time and your life. We are not all endowed with brilliance, good looks, or lots of money, but we each get the same number of hours every day. Use them effectively to get your startup going, and have some fun in your life. Start with item #10.