By Michael Whitehouse
As we tell our founders at 1000 Angels, the private investor network that connects startups with investors, time management is an important component of any business, but when it comes to launching a startup it is even more critical. Excitement and passion alone won't fuel your project – you need structure to determine how and when to achieve a goal. Without that, your startup is a rudderless ship from the outset. When time is of the essence for a new initiative to establish itself, a flawed or absent approach to time management can prove to be fatal.
Manage Your Time, Solve Your Problems
Time management isn't just about being “on time”; it's about directing yourself and your employees towards solving issues for your business in a systematic and organized way. If your startup is still a one-person show, your time management skills are going to be focused on what you alone can achieve, what problems need to be addressed, and how long it will take you to do so. If you have employees or are part of a team, then you will be incorporating time management techniques into delegating tasks and charting a course for your business. For some, you'll be doing both.
There are many different approaches to time management, but we're going to focus on a six-step plan to get your startup on track. It could be that you are naturally well organized and that your business already runs efficiently, but there are always improvements to be made. Stagnancy and complacency are precursors to failure, especially at this early stage. Alternatively, you could be big on passion and ideas but lack appreciation of time as a valuable resource. In this case, time management is even more critical to you.
Whatever your situation, the six steps explored below are sure to increase your business’ or project's efficiency, help you meet your goals quicker, and contribute to maintaining healthy growth throughout your organization. Most importantly, they'll help you launch your product or service as quickly and effectively as possible.
Step 1: Be Honest
Throughout this entire process you will need to be honest. This involves being completely clear about three things:
What your habits are and what you are capable of.
What your team’s strengths are.
What is achievable in a given time-frame.
By knowing what your habits are you can work within them to increase your efficiency. Perhaps you work better at night, or your schedule dictates a need for getting the most important tasks out of the way in the first few hours of the morning – you can use this awareness to maximize your time, focusing on when you are most productive. There is one caveat here: if you perceive a habit as a genuinely negative trait, like being easily distracted from work, then that is something of which you must be mindful and remove from your routine. Also, be honest about your capabilities. If it will benefit the business to delegate or outsource a task to someone else, then do not be afraid to do so. Learning new skills and pushing yourself is a positive pursuit, but when time is of the essence, know where your own capabilities are best employed.
What are your team’s strengths? There is little point in delegating a task to a staff member whose talents are better suited elsewhere within your startup – in fact, it’s counterproductive. Try to assess the individual strengths of each team member, and then delegate those tasks to them. This will speed things up markedly.
The last point here is an essential one: what can be achieved in a given time-frame? Unreasonable targets for you or your staff are a sure way to undermine your startup. Miscalculating this or being overly optimistic can seriously impede your schedule when things start running substantially over. Optimism and ambition is important in driving performance and persistence, but be honest and realistic with yourself about how long a task will take and you can better prepare and schedule other goals around it.
Step 2: Weekly Agenda
Your startup should already have a business plan outlining major commercial objectives, but what it also needs is a weekly battle-plan to supplement it. An agenda which is revised every seven days mapping out the short term issues faced by your company, how they will be tackled, and a reasonable time-frame for doing so is valuable. A great approach is to set aside 30 minutes to an hour every Friday or weekend to go over what needs to be achieved within the next seven days.
It is important to keep in mind that these shorter, 7 day plans take you and your startup closer to the big picture – your end goal. Whether it is to establish your product in a specific market, engage with a new demographic, or just launch your product or service; your weekly agenda should always be set with the bigger picture in mind. Break this larger goal into smaller ones so it seems more manageable, and you can more effectively navigate the process. This brings us to prioritizing your agenda.
Step 3: Prioritize
There is no point in having a haphazard approach to your weekly agenda. This can result in slower progress from a lack of focus. Even worse, it could mean that you complete a task out of order without taking into consideration how each task might benefit the one which succeeds it. Take your agenda and rank the items from least important to most important. Then order this list in terms of which tasks would be better solved first to make way for subsequent ones. Perhaps it's more important to have a business logo designed before progressing with funding drives, for example. This should give your agenda a great balance between importance and practicality, allowing you to work through the problems in a systematic, effective way.
Step 4: Find Your Time Vampires
Time management isn't just about organization, it's also about identification – figuring out the elements of your business which are hindering progress. This could be something as simple as a scheduling conflict, or something more serious like a manufacturing issue. In many instances it will be how tasks are undertaken, and how much time is given to administration.
How long do you spend answering emails or engaging on social media with potential customers and investors? Could this be streamlined? Are members of your staff unable to complete tasks quickly because of the software they are using? In some extreme circumstances you might find entire aspects of your startup's workday which need outright removal. No matter what facet of your business is taking time away from your agenda, there will always be a way to increase efficiency.
Be wary of organizational processes which are unimportant and take up too much time. In order to identify the time vampires in your routine or organizational setup, keep a log of activities for a week and see how long tasks are taking. If a task seems to be taking unreasonably long, then it probably is. You might also identify tasks or habits which take up too much time and are entirely unnecessary.
Step 5: Innovate
We mentioned software issues in the last step, and it's a salient point here – always innovate. This doesn't mean you need to constantly upgrade software or implement the next organizational tool like Trello if your startup doesn't need it; but you should always be on the lookout for new ways of doing things. Perhaps an upgraded software package will allow you or your staff to complete tasks faster, or implementing cloud technology into your projects could help team members work more closely. Maybe you will find a new time management technique which doubles productivity on a given task – whatever the innovation, always be aware that innovation is the lifeblood of sustainability. Furthermore, your competitors could be making use of something you have never even heard of, so it is important to try and stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive.
Step 6: Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is one of many time management approaches out there. When used it can exponentially increase productivity by keeping you and your staff alert, while allowing you to break larger tasks into smaller ones. Named after an Italian kitchen timer, the Pomodoro Technique simply involves working for a set period, usually 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat 4 times then take a 20 minute break. This approach is used by freelancers and businesspeople around the world to get the most out of their working time. First of all, the Pomodoro Technique makes larger tasks seem less daunting by allowing you and your staff to tackle them one 25-minute session at a time. Secondly, you are never far away from a break, even if it is just 5 minutes, and is enough to seriously energize you while keeping the task from becoming stale.
There are plenty of free pomodoro timers available for PC, MAC, iOS, and Android. This is a time management technique which has been used throughout the world since the 1980s, and it has endured for one simple reason – it works.
Time Management is Essential
Time management is a skill in of itself, and one which needs constant amendment and dedication. What's certain is that implementing the steps mentioned above, along with other time management approaches, can significantly increase what you, your team, and your startup can achieve in a short space of time.
Combine your passion and business acumen with time management, and your company will have a much better chance of success.