Time Management for Entrepreneurs
Being in the startup space can often mean having erratic work schedules, unpredictable firefighting and a constant feeling of experiencing a ‘time crunch’. As a result, entrepreneurs may end up neglecting their health, personal life, passions, and hobbies. The consequence? A loss of balance in general, and stress that keeps building up. The big question, then, is – is there a secret to time management for entrepreneurs?
We may have found the answer for you! The Startup League caught up with Laura Vanderkam, the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her work has appeared in publications including Fast Company, Fortune, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children, and blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.
In this interview, Laura tells us how just about anyone, including entrepreneurs, can have more control on their time!
How did you embark on the journey of being a leading influencer in the space of time management and productivity?
People often ask me how I came to the topic of time management. Unfortunately, it is not because I was always on time! I came across some data years ago on how people spent their time now, and in the past, and I saw that the numbers pointed in different directions than the usual narrative (we’re all so busy; we’re increasingly overworked, we’re sleep deprived, parents spend no time with their kids, etc.). I’m a natural skeptic, and I love topics where I believe the conventional wisdom is wrong. So, I began studying time more, and studying people’s schedules, and found I really enjoyed the topic.
What inspired you to write your first book, 168 Hours – You Have More Time Than You Think?
We often think of our lives in days (24 hours) but we really live our lives in weeks (168 hours). Viewing time more holistically helps us see how much time we truly have. If you work full time — 40 hours a week — and sleep 8 hours per night — 56 hours per week — that leaves 72 hours for other things. Even if you worked a lot more — like 60 hours/week — that would still leave 52 hours for other things. This is a lot of time!
Share some of the most interesting stories of women you interacted with for your book, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.
One of my favorite stories is of a woman who’s a partner at a major consulting firm. You could view her schedule one of two ways. If you only saw Monday-Wednesday, you’d think she was always on the road, and never saw her family. However, if you looked at Thursday-Sunday, you’d see that wasn’t true at all. She managed to get together with friends, exercise, go skiing with her family, have a family game night, go on a coffee date with her husband, visit her daughters’ school, even bake a cake. When we want to lament the “hard choices” between work and life, we’d look at Monday through Wednesday. In reality, focusing only on one-half the week misses the other half of the week, which is just as true.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to time management at work?
Just because you call something “work” doesn’t make it important. Not every meeting needs to happen. Not every email must be read (or sent). Not every project is worth your time. Be very cognizant of the value of your time; time spent on one thing is time not spent on another, and you want to make sure this limited, valuable resource is spent on the things that you do best (and others can’t do nearly as well).
What would be your time management tips to entrepreneurs, given that they have unpredictable work schedules on most days?
Figure out what your non-negotiable non-work activities are — the things that make you feel like life is sustainable. Maybe it’s sleeping 7 hours a night, exercising for at least 20 minutes each day, and seeing your family for dinner three times per week. Make sure those happen. Everything else can go, but if you keep the non-negotiables, even an intense schedule can be doable.
What are some daily rituals entrepreneurs can easily integrate into their lives to clear up blocks of time?
This is a weekly ritual, but it can be replicated daily, too. On Friday afternoon, look at what’s on your calendar for the next week. Ask yourself a few questions about it. First, what do you not want to do? Does it have to happen? Maybe — but maybe not too. If you’re going to kill something (say, a meeting), better to do it ahead of time so everyone can make other plans. Second, what can take less time? Maybe a 60-minute meeting could be a 5- minute chat in the hallway. Maybe you’re meeting with the same people Tuesday and Thursday, and if you’re disciplined, you can get through both agendas on Tuesday. Finally, what can you delegate? Maybe you’ve been doing something for ages and it’s time to train someone else.
I know it’s hard for entrepreneurs to let go of things, but you simply cannot grow if you do everything yourself. There are only 168 hours in a week, and you cannot work for all of them!
How can entrepreneurs/managers inculcate a culture of efficient time management across teams?
The best thing to do is to model it yourself. A model that you view time as valuable, and that you recognize that people work better when they get time off from work. Plan work ahead of time so people don’t have to work late hours before deadlines. Be clear in communication so work doesn’t have to be redone. And please, please, do not ask to be cc’d on every email. That’s how people wind up feeling like they have no time at all!
So, choose to use your time wisely! Track how much time you are spending on actual ‘work’ and how much of your time is going towards ‘unproductive’ activities that may ‘seem’ like work. Also, find out the non-negotiables in your personal life and ensure you invest time in those even when you have an otherwise chaotic work schedule.