Many startups seem to be powered solely by excitement over the new business (occasionally mixed with some Red Bull and Starbucks). Startup founders typically devote every waking moment to their companies, and probably even dream about it too. But while pure passion can propel entrepreneurs 24/7 for a while, eventually even the most committed startup teams need to learn to manage their time.
Burnout is one obvious danger of poor time management. But even more important is the risk that something important will fall through the cracks. If you fail to respond to a potential partner or prospect in a timely fashion because there’s too much on your plate, you could be blowing a make-or-break opportunity.
Time management is one of the top challenges for every entrepreneur I know. After years of experience working with entrepreneurs and business owners, I have learned a few tricks for getting more done in the 24 hours we all have.
1. Know thyself. Everyone has a natural rhythm - some of us are morning people and some don’t become fully awake until after noon. Pinpoint your “up” times and use them for the most crucial business tasks - like meetings with investors, brainstorming sessions or putting together proposals. Feel your energy flagging? Use that time for tasks that don’t require as much brainpower, like checking email, updating your calendar or organizing your files.
2. Prioritize. The first step is to recognize you can’t do everything you want to do. Then you need to figure out what’s most important and work on that first. What’s most important is likely to vary from day to day, but in general, focus on the activities that generate the most money or have the potential to do so. That may mean concentrating on developing game-changing features or product improvements instead of day-to-day tasks. It may also mean responding to leads from bigger prospects or proposals from larger investors before smaller ones - or completing projects for bigger or more established clients before slower-paying or newer ones.
3. Harness technology. Make sure the tech tools in your life work together to simplify and streamline time management. Use cloud solutions to store your data and synchronize files and calendars so you’re not entering appointments in multiple devices or finding yourself without crucial files. Use online project management tools to keep you on top of what your team is doing at a glance. Regularly weed out apps you aren’t using or tools that aren’t working - sometimes, we get so enamored by what technology can do for us that we stop recognizing when it’s getting in our way.
4. Identify time-wasters and find solutions. Keep a log of your activity for a week or so. You may be surprised how much time you’re using inefficiently. Are you typing the same response to emails over and over? Create a template or shortcut to save time. Maybe you spend hours sorting receipts for accounting. Try an app that lets you quickly scan them and trash the paper.
5. Delegate. It’s hard to let go of your “baby,” and even if you’re willing to, at this stage you probably don’t have enough staff to delegate a lot. But if you’re lucky enough to have some employees, independent contractors, or even friends and family who will donate some of their time, sit down and assess what you could possibly offload to others. You’d be surprised how getting some grunt work off your plate can free up your creativity and energy to truly grow your business.
6. Get offline. I’m not advocating abandoning your email or leaving your smartphone at home, but even tech entrepreneurs recognize that the onslaught of input has to be shut off every now and then. Set aside blocks of time to focus on important projects. You’ll be surprised what an hour or two a day can do for your business.
What time management tactics work for your startup?
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