Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.
Starting a business takes time – a lot of time. So, too, does running a successful business. Whether you’re starting a business from scratch, working to launch a business in your spare time, or currently running multiple businesses, the one thing that everyone wants is more time. How do other entrepreneurs eke out the minutes required to accomplish everything on their varied agendas?
To begin with, not every business owner is going to utilize the same time-saving techniques. The most important factor, as you investigate how best to invest your time, is to select techniques and tips that will work well with your personality and character. Plan to conduct some thorough reflection and self-analysis – including an examination of the ways in which you work best – prior to making those selections.
To-Do Lists vs. Scheduling
Are you a Post-it master? Is your monitor bedecked with to-do lists and reminders? Do you have a large “At a Glance” calendar on your desk marked with your meetings or are you scheduling everything through Siri?
Making lists is practically a pastime for some people. They have lists for what they need to accomplish, how they need to accomplish it, and even lists of their lists.
But is making lists truly an effective organization tool?
Take a look at your to-do lists. Are their line items being accomplished in a timely manner? Are you progressing through them consistently or do you have some lingering projects that aren’t receiving attention?
You may have noticed that incomplete tasks from your to-do list tend to crowd your thoughts and can make you feel as though you didn’t accomplish enough. That’s called the Zeigarnik effect. One way to avoid that dispiriting feeling is to skip the generic to-do list and, instead, schedule yourself to perform a specific task at a particular time.
For example, rather than writing down “answer emails” on your to-do list, schedule yourself to answer emails for a block of time on your daily schedule. How long that block should be will depend on your business, but it’s generally advisable that we think of time in terms of 15-minute blocks in order to optimize our effectiveness. Fill in the rest of your schedule accordingly and delete any unnecessary tasks. Scheduling forces you to focus on important tasks and to prioritize for the sake of efficiency.
How do you approach the task of trimming the fat from your workload? If you’re ready to begin scheduling tasks, you’ve probably realized that your to-do list isn’t going to translate directly into a formal schedule. There are likely too many odds-and-ends, as well as some fairly broad entries such as “new marketing campaign.”
To arrive at the most efficient use of your time, you’ll need to know when to delegate, when to handle items yourself, which items to prioritize, and which to ruthlessly excise from your task list.
For a new startup, there’s a significant likelihood that you don’t have anyone to whom you can delegate. Consequently, you have a great deal on your plate and you need to prioritize and commit to addressing specific tasks to ensure that they’re completed.
Before beginning, consider your goals. What’s your most important, big-picture goal and which small goals, taken in sequence, will get you there? On which of those goals are you primarily focused this week?
Next, consider your list and identify those items that will move you closer to achieving your goals. Those are your priorities. Amongst your priorities, you’ll naturally find that some are “more equal than others”; it’s a little meta, but you should take a moment to order your priorities. Is there one task that you need to address daily? Put it on the schedule. Consider how much time you can commit to that task and then move on to the next lower priority item. Repeat until you’ve gone through the entire list.
That accomplished, before taking a permanent marker to your schedule, read through this complete article. Some of the following productivity tips can aid you in better determining which items to schedule and which to drop, as well as when during the day they should be scheduled.
Working In vs. Working On
Think about the tasks you completed today. How many involved meetings, emails, sales, or other chores associated with working in your business? How many involved working on your business and creating growth and value?
Working in your business – serving customers, pressing shirts, walking dogs, creating websites, etc. – while obviously essential, doesn’t generally help with long-term growth.
Make sure that you’re devoting time to tasks that’ll help your business be ever more successful, such as marketing and strategic planning.
When just starting out, you’ll likely have to perform both of these task types, however, as your company grows, you should plan to delegate more of the “working in” tasks to employees while retaining the “working on” tasks for yourself.
Multitasking vs. Focus
We’ve all been lead to believe that multitasking is, by nature, productive – that the more we can do at any given time, the better.
Unfortunately, it’s not true.
Studies have shown that multitasking is actually ineffective. Rather than attempting to achieve multiple ends simultaneously, it’s more efficient to provide dedicated attention to each in turn. Successful entrepreneurs agree: Focus is necessary for getting things done. Larry Kim explains more in his article, Multitasking is Killing Your Brain.
To avoid useless multitasking, try scheduling particular tasks such as checking your email. Leave your phone across the room from your desk so you aren’t tempted to mindlessly scroll through a social media app as you work on other tasks. Commit to completing one task at a time and do your best to avoid unnecessary distractions.
“I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.” – Major Charles Winchester (M*A*S*H)
Letting Go vs. Holding On
Running a business means making hard decisions. You’ll be faced with struggling projects that are having trouble finding their legs. Do you continue to work on them (perhaps throwing the good after the bad, so to speak) or do you cut your losses and let them go?
It’s a difficult question and there’s no one right answer. There are times when perseverance is essential and times when one should move on.
To determine which course of action applies to a given situation, consider the amount of time and effort you’re investing and whether the rewards are truly worth that investment. If they’re not, then it’s time to let go of the things that are holding you back and/or draining your time. Strive to be as dispassionate as possible and cut the deadwood from your business life.
On the other hand, is it time to double down and commit to continuing? If a project feels as though it will help to achieve your goals, then consider retaining it. Seek other solutions and ensure that the project continues to be the best way forward. If it is, then persevere.
Theming Your Day
In his article about Jack Dorsey, CEO of both Twitter and Square, Kevin Kruse notes that part of Dorsey’s time management technique involves theming days. By grouping certain activities and maintaining a consistent schedule, entrepreneurs who theme their days have found that they are able to increase their productivity.
How can you get started? Think about your work and those tasks that need to be accomplished weekly. Mondays might be an optimal day for meetings (to set the tone for the week), while Tuesdays might be ideal for product development, etc.
Dorsey on his schedule:
The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.
While you don’t need to replicate his schedule to be productive or successful, it provides a useful starting point in contemplating changes that might work for you and your company.
Taking Care of Yourself
If you’re running yourself ragged trying to get your business going, there won’t be much of you left for your customers and clients. Plus, it could have a negative impact on your home life.
Always remember that you are your most valuable resource. It’s your passion and energy that have impelled you to start a business. Be sure to take care of yourself so that you’re able to continue the endeavor. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat well, and find time for some exercise. Not only will it keep you feeling good, it can help to provide you with more energy to get things done.
Don’t forget to make time for your favorite activities, too, whether that involves taking your kids to the playground, walking your dog, or having a private dinner with your spouse. Taking that time to yourself can help you to be a more productive and effective entrepreneur.
You’ll find that there are plenty of other productivity tips sprinkled throughout the internet. Ultimately, though, the very best tips are the ones that you can successfully incorporate into your life. Take what works for you and strive to be more productive on an hourly and daily basis. Hold yourself accountable and commit to improving.
It can be’s a difficult process but oneyou’ll find that it’s most certainly worth the effort.
About the Author
Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).
Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.
Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.