There are two things that plague founders: an untraditional schedule and the pressure to always be on and available. And both of these have a huge impact on our time and our sanity.
No one can create more time in the day and, as a founder, you don’t want to fall into the trap of never stopping and overworking. But don’t worry, there’s still hope. You can analyze, organize, and better manage the time you do have to be more effective.
Analyze Your Time
If you haven’t already done a calendar audit, it’s a process that can tell you a lot about how well you’re spending your time and identify if there’s a better way to use it.
Start by taking a look at a recent section of your calendar that more or less reflects what your average schedule is. A good place to start is to pick a month that feels “regular” to you. Then work through the entries and catalog how many hours you’re spending on what.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- Am I spending a lot of time, perhaps too much, on one particular thing?
- Is the time organized or random?
- Do I have enough non-meeting time?
- Are there meetings that could be on someone else’s calendar?
These insights will help you not only be conscious about what’s really happening with your time, but will also allow you to take control of how you use it.
Organize Your Time
Now you have a clearer sense of what’s happening with your schedule. Consider this your opportunity to put structure around it and open up efficiency triggers.
These are tactics you can use to create said structure:
- Clarify and Bucket: From the list of calendar entries you cataloged, organize them into core activities. This will depend on how your work is structured and could include things like key projects, client management, or sales. For instance, I look at internal meetings, external meetings, community programming, business development, speaking, fund activities, and, when we aren’t in 2020, travel.
- Time Block: Deeper and more efficient work comes when you’re able to work on one task for a longer period of time. Too often, we let work get cut up and spread out across our calendar based on convenience or open time slots. If you can be intentional about time blocking — assigning uninterrupted time for one thing — you’ll be able to focus and better achieve strategic work and, ultimately, execute value.
My approach is to start with meeting time and non-meeting time. I have two to three days a week set aside for meeting time, both internal and external. For internal meetings, I work toward a regular schedule that allows for shifting on a per-meeting basis. I also can’t go a full day of back-to-back meetings, so I put in at least two 30- to 60-minute breaks. My non-meeting days are broken into hourly blocks, each assigned to specific buckets. I shut down email, put my phone away, and only open up browsers associated with that item.
Manage Your Time
You’re organized and now you need to make sure you can stay on track. Here are some ways to start:
- Protect Your White Space: This involves assigning time blocks for uninterrupted space. This white space is your time for strategizing and action, both of which you can’t do if you have a full plate of meetings and small breaks. For me, it’s two days of almost no meetings, literally empty on my calendar. I’m adamant about keeping this as free as I can — while being flexible for truly urgent issues that might pop up.
- Control Where You Can Control: You can control a lot more of your calendar than you might think. If someone requests a meeting with you, does it need to happen this week or can you schedule it in three weeks? Does it have to be 60 minutes or can it be 30 minutes (or just 15)? Can it be accomplished in an email chain or on Slack instead?
- Pay Attention to Emails: Emails are often the precipitators of requests or meetings that will take your time. It’s a natural reaction to have a great response time to emails, but what if you responded to a certain set of emails at the end of the week? Consider filtering emails based on top priority, medium priority, and low priority. For me, top priority gets responded to in one to 48 hours, medium at the end of the week in one fell swoop, and low might take a little bit longer. This lets you set the email pace to some extent.
- Get a Handle on Internal Meetings: A recurring problem I hear from founders is the number of internal meetings that pile up. When you’re at the top of an organization, you have a lot to do to begin with and it can also lead to the feeling that you need to be in a lot of processes. Several often-cited issues (and possible solutions) are too many meetings on the same topic (identify overlaps and trim), long meetings (they can be shortened with a good agenda and discipline), meetings without an end goal (assign goals or action items to every single agenda item), and 1:1 schedules (think about the length and frequency of those meetings or whether you can pass some off).
- Delegate and Say No: Seems obvious, but a huge reliever of time crunches is simply getting things off your plate by delegating or saying no.
One final and important note before you dive in: This isn’t a perfect process and that’s OK. I get off this program, sometimes even for a few weeks at a time. I use it as a structure to start from and to fall back on. Once you use some or all of these tactics more regularly, they’ll start to naturally drive some of your decisions around time management and you’ll start reaping the benefits of better time usage.