To make startups profitable, entrepreneurs have to become time management ninjas. After all, they’re where most activity originates. They plan the business’s trajectory and oversee its daily operations. If the startup isn’t flush with venture capital or soaring on profits, they perform roles that multiple employees would in a larger firm. They’re where the buck stops when the organization faces obstacles or opportunities.
The challenge, as leadership speakers often describe it, isn’t getting these entrepreneurs to work more; it’s getting them to work smarter. To do that, startup leaders need to prioritize their efforts.
The first step to managing your time better is to evaluate how you’re prioritizing your work. Follow this guide to streamline your schedule and channel your energies in more efficient directions.
1. Categorize your activities.
Start by defining your priorities. Allowing for variation, most tasks fall into three categories: critical, necessary, and desirable.
Critical appointments are the nonnegotiable functions that guarantee your business’s survival. Neglect these operations, and you invite catastrophe. By definition, there aren’t many activities that fall into this category. When these situations present themselves, however, they demand your attention.
You have a larger number of necessary activities. While these don’t qualify as do-or-die tasks, they’re needed to keep your company operating at full capacity. For most entrepreneurs, these represent most of the top priorities on daily agendas.
Finally, a number of desirable items cover the rest of your to-do list. These opportunities aren’t mission-critical; you can neglect them with only minor consequences to your bottom line.
If you can accurately classify your duties, you’re on the road to getting your priorities right.
2. Schedule your priorities rather than prioritize your schedule.
While it may be easier to simply keep adding items to your calendar until it’s full, that method may not line up with your most important priorities. Instead, start by prioritizing. Then, put together agendas based on those rankings. This gives pride of place to the most important tasks before filling the remainder of your calendar with less pressing matters.
If you’re focused on growth, you should subordinate calendar appointments to business strategy. Let your priorities dictate your schedule, not the other way around.
3. Use task management software to align your behavior with your priorities.
Project management software and task-tracking apps offer great insight into your actual work habits. Once you’ve found a platform that suits your needs, use it to log your daily workflow. Be honest and comprehensive in your reporting. You’ll get a truer picture of how you operate.
Take some time to analyze your activities. Are you spending most of your time on critical and necessary efforts? Are you wasting time on desirable tasks that aren’t really contributing to your bottom line? Figuring out how big a gulf separates your theoretical priorities from your operative values is the first step to streamlining your schedule.
You can’t do it all. No one has the bandwidth to run every aspect of a startup. Even if someone somehow could, that leader probably shouldn’t. Precious few people possess the skills to do everything well.
It’s helpful to keep in mind the Pareto Principle. Also known as the 80/20 Rule, this law stipulates that 80% of your outcomes result from 20% of your input. That still leaves a lot of work on the table — the high-intensity, low-impact tasks. You can’t do it all, and it’s probably not worth your time, anyway.
So what do you do? Delegate that work to others. Assign lower-priority tasks to those best suited to take care of them. If you don’t have staffers, outsource these tasks to third-party vendors or contractors.
You know those pesky, time-intensive things you do every day? Sending emails out. Managing documents. Publishing posts to your separate social media channels. They’re the bread and butter of your operations, but they eat up too much time. In most cases, these tedious tasks can be partially or completely automated.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “There must be a way to do all this with a program,” you’re probably not the first person to think that. Start with your existing software. See if it features automation of some activities. If you don’t already have these capacities, chances are high that you’ll find a vendor who’s created apps for just this purpose.
Startups face numerous challenges getting off the ground. All involve time and energy to address. Where you invest your time will determine whether you succeed or fail. Figure out what your priorities are, then schedule your life with those activities in mind. Outsource and automate what you can’t get to.
There’s no way to make running a startup easy. But with some careful prioritizing, you can schedule your way to a more successful future.