Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator, boiled down the attributes of a good startup founder to being relentlessly resourceful.
Relentlessness is a concept that most entrepreneurs can identify with since they make sacrifices and work long hours, but resourcefulness is less appreciated and perhaps more impactful. Resourceful entrepreneurs know how to use their existing resources in clever ways to quickly overcome difficulties and achieve success. While money is the most common resource that comes to mind, time is often the scarcest for a startup and its founders.
In this post, we will look at why time management is one of the top project management skills and five strategies for regaining control over your time to become relentlessly resourceful.
Why Time Management Matters
Imagine that you are a software engineer and quit your job at a major tech firm to start your own business.
You have spent countless hours talking with potential customers about their problems and have come up with a unique software-as-a-service solution that fits their needs. After a successful closed beta program, you’re ready to launch a commercial product.
At this point, you’re probably starting to feel a little stressed out.
It seems like you have a half-finished product with a long list of bugs to fix and features to develop. At the same time, you may have the responsibility of managing non-development items, such as marketing, business development, accounting, and human resources. Even if you’re putting in solid 12- or 14-hour days, there is only so much time in each day to address these issues, especially if you want to prevent burnout.
Successful entrepreneurs are excellent at time management. They know how to set the right goals and achieve them through intense focus and efficient delegation.Successful entrepreneurs are excellent at time management. Click To Tweet
5 Time Management Strategies
There are more than 70,000 different books available on Amazon covering time management and more than 53 million search results on Google alone.
While there are many commonly recommended strategies to maximize your time, we have focused on some lesser known strategies that offer the greatest benefit to startup founders and early employees.
1. Work on the Right Problems
There are a million time management blogs that detail the benefits of setting goals – and for a good reason.
Hundreds of correlational and experimental studies have shown that setting goals increases achievement. For example, college students in one study were led through a series of setting specific goals and defining detailed strategies to meet those goals.
After four months, students that successfully completed the goal-setting intervention had a 30 percent improvement in academic performance compared to the control group. The problem is that most startups set the wrong goals and/or don’t have specific strategies in place to measure and pursue the goals.
For example, Eric Ries pointed out in a 2009 blog post that revenue may not be the best goal for an early-stage startup.
Revenue of $1 million may be better than $30,000, assuming everything else is equal, but that’s rarely the case in business. A business generating $30,000 in revenue with strong traction in a niche market is in a lot better position than a company generating $1 million with razor-thin margins in a competitive broad market.
Eric Ries eventually developed the Lean Startup framework to help entrepreneurs focus on what matters through hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning. By investing time into iteratively building products and services to meet the needs of early customers, startups can avoid wasting time and financial resources on expensive product launches that fail because they do not resonate with customer needs.
Entrepreneurs may want to consider using frameworks like Lean Startup to ensure they’re maximizing their time.
2. (Almost) Always Say ‘No’
Research studies have shown that people will say ‘yes’ to a request simply because saying ‘no’ makes them even more uncomfortable.
With the average office worker receiving more than 120 emails per day, the cost of saying ‘yes’ can be extremely high for almost everyone, but the cost is even greater for startups. Successful entrepreneurs realize the importance of ignoring distractions to their goals and saying ‘no’ to almost everything that comes across their desk, but the principle of saying no extends far beyond turning down emails and meetings.
The biggest problem that many tech startups face is feature creep – or an inability to say ‘no’ to added scope.
Saying ‘yes’ to every new idea that pops into your head can lead to a product that never ends up launching.
Even worse, the sudden addition of new features without an extended timeline often introduces technical debt that can make the product increasingly expensive to maintain over time. Meanwhile, these features may make the product more difficult for customers to use or require additional training for sales or support personnel.
The best way to say ‘no’ to new features is to commit to a minimum viable product, or MVP, that contains the fewest number of features to meet a specific customer’s need. After the MVP is proven, each new feature should be vetted through experimentation rather than developed at the request of a handful of customers.
These practices – which are also a part of Lean Startup – can help you avoid creating bloated products and maximize the use of everyone’s time.
3. Delegate Early and Often
Most start-ups begin as small one- or two-person teams where everyone works long hours, which leads to what’s known as the self-enhancement bias.
The more self-involved you are in a product’s development, the more highly you evaluate it. It becomes difficult to delegate responsibilities when you feel that others care less than you do about the product. Recruiting the right people helps, but it can still be very difficult to let go of control, even for small things.
The best way to begin delegating is to select small things that have a minimal self-enhancement bias.
For example, your start-up may have a software-as-a-service application and choose to delegate server-related tasks using a service like EuroVPS. You can focus your efforts on the software product without spending as much time on devops. You also don’t experience the self-enhancement bias that you may feel towards the software product itself.
If you’re a founder, apart from using business management softwares, you may also consider delegating menial tasks, such as scheduling meetings, sorting email, or other things to a virtual assistant. These services are often relatively inexpensive and can free up a lot of time to focus on higher-value tasks, like product development.
That said, there are other tasks, like customer support, that can easily be outsourced, but if your business is built on customer service, you may want to take a more personal approach early on.
4. Avoid Interruptions At All Costs
It’s no secret that meetings are a colossal waste of time – especially for early-stage startups.
Atlassian found that the average employee attended over 60 meetings per month, which took up over 30 hours of productive time. Nearly half of the people in the study believed that meetings were the single biggest waste of time in the office. That caused nearly three-quarters of workers to do other work while about 90 percent daydreamed during their meetings. Needless to say that it negatively affects employee engagement.
These meetings can also be very draining from an executive resources standpoint. Startups should focus on short, frequent, and informal standup meetings, rather than long and formal meetings, to keep up-to-speed with a project.
For example, you may get your team together for a short 10-minute meeting in the morning where each member of the team updates everyone on what they worked on the day before and what’s on their plate for the current day, as well as any bottlenecks that they’re facing at the moment.
In addition to meetings, it’s important to let people – and especially developers – have large blocks of uninterrupted time. Most people know how to turn off their email or phone to avoid those interruptions, but a 2011 study published in the journal Organization Studies found that face-to-face interruptions account for one-third more intrusions than email or phone calls. Often times, noise cancelling headphones or technologies like FlowLight can help show colleagues that you’re in the zone and unavailable for conversion.
5. Box Your Time
California State University researchers observed nearly 300 students in their natural environments for 15 minutes in 2012.
After measuring each minute, the researchers found that the average student was only able to focus for three minutes at a time and nearly all of their distraction came from technology. The cognitive switching costs associated with distractions can make them extremely costly when it comes to time management. While we’ve already covered interruptions, time boxing is a strategy that can help avoid the temptation to switch tasks too frequently.
There are many different techniques for time boxing, but the Pomodoro technique is one of the most effective and time-tested. The technique consists of a 25-minute work interval separated by short five minute breaks, which is then repeated throughout the day with an longer break for lunch. There are many apps or physical desk instruments – such as hour glasses or online timers – that can help with the implementation of the technique. These strategies help you avoid cognitive switching costs and ultimately increase your work efficiency.
The Bottom Line
There are thousands of different time management techniques, but the five covered in this post are some research-supported techniques that are often missed in the thousands of different time management blog posts and books published.
If you run a software business, consider using EuroVPS to outsource your server management tasks and ensure that you don’t have any issues with downtime. Eligible start-ups can also apply for our start-up incubation program and receive a 50% discount on up to two years of our managed hosting services, on-one-on mentoring from our Chief Technology Officer, and find opportunities within our network of connections.