The importance of productivity for founders transcends the outdated time management principles of large corporations. With limited resources across our small teams, any inefficiency accumulates inevitable, insurmountable waste.
Entrepreneurs are different. One wasted startup hour may equal an entire wasted week for large corporations. Maybe we think we learned a few tricks about time management in corporate America, where time only matters when deadlines are due. Now, as founders, only our vision can limit our growth. Every minute counts. Caffeine no longer provides the necessary boost to reach our next goal, because action items grow relentlessly and we probably don’t have the right person to handle it.
Prioritize fewer tasks
At the start of every day, write down two to three tasks and shape your day around execution. 80% of results come from 20% of effort. The overall productivity of your day likely boils down to a few critical tasks; nearly everything else is noise or lower priority tasks. Focusing on your highest priorities not only increases your productivity, but reduces stress. Ask yourself, “If I only have time for one to two tasks, how can I make my day most effective?” Identify inputs that maximize output.
Next, determine your most challenging task. Start here and execute. A fresh mind at the beginning of the workday can more efficiently tackle complex tasks. Once the heavy-hitting times fall off your list, the rest of your day suddenly feels like a breeze.
Strategize your email inbox
Too many people check their email inboxes five, ten, twenty times a day, starting first thing in the morning to the last minute of the workday. Do you often find yourself dropping a priority task to respond to an email that feels suddenly urgent? How many tangents do you follow before returning to work hours later? We have a different approach. Optimize your energized hours with higher complexity or priority tasks.
Generally, the most productive working hours fall in the morning. We’re focused, energized, and highly creative. If you start your day filtering emails, you waste precious hours on email responses and deviate from higher priority action items.
Instead, set scheduled intervals to read and respond to emails. We recommend the first check around 12:00 PM at lunchtime. See how many you can knock out in 1-2 hours. Continue your workday and review your inbox around 4:00 PM to plan the next day accordingly.
Batch work to minimize transitions
Minimize waste to maximize output. Place time limits on each action item or section of your day, then limit dedication to that time frame. This allows you to table prolonged tasks and move onto other high priority items. Often, we are able to meet peak productivity if we return to that original task at a later time. Even more, placing time limits on tasks allows us to trick ourselves into higher productivity, knowing the level of effort expended on one activity can only last until our self-imposed deadline.
Once you time bound tasks, schedule related tasks together. Everytime we move from one task to the next, we lose an inevitable chunk of time making the mental transition, taking a short breather, and refocusing our energy. While the transition is inevitable, frequent and distinct transitions quickly accumulate waste throughout your day.
Reduce the level of effort for each transition to reduce time wasted. For example, schedule execution of deliverables in the morning and meetings in the afternoon. Batch sales related activities within two to three hours and knock out as much as you can. Structure blocks of time throughout your day and identify your priorities with confidence.
Cut waste out of team meetings
Output increases with effective teamwork. Effective teamwork occurs when people with specialized and diverse skills collaborate to produce actionable solutions. As such, delegate group tasks and set achievable but challenging deadlines.
Do not allocate unnecessary time for team tasks — this enables waste. Setting reasonable deadlines requires communication with team and a deep understanding of their abilities.
To gain your team’s buy-in, help them understand “the why” behind each action item and how it critically contributes to your startup’s vision. Team meetings provide essential communication about action items and allow you to build motivation as a group. However, identify the purpose behind each meeting minute and determine who and what is essential to its success. Jeff Bezos follows the "two-pizza rule”: only invite as many people who can be fed with two pizzas (Entrepreneur). Although, depending on the size of your startup, you may want to limit it to a slice.
Do you ever feel like you’re in so many meetings, you never get anything done? If you have the option, schedule one meeting-free day each week. For example, the CEO of Asana practices, "no-meetings Wednesday." Not only does this minimize the risk of ineffective meetings, it forces you to batch work more effectively throughout the week.