“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn.” As I was reading out the Dr. Seuss lines to my little niece, I couldn’t help but relate. I remember those days — sitting in my cubicle for what consisted of most of my planetary existence, getting home and questioning whether I was as productive as I should have been. Then, I became an entrepreneur and the self-doubt entered a new dimension.
For the average business builder, mastering time management is nothing more than an elusive ideal. I sometimes get asked what skill I think entrepreneurs require most — I always respond “self-discipline.” Especially during the early stages, before the looming responsibility towards investors and a team, anyone planning to become an entrepreneur needs to realize something: you have no boss, there are no working hours and nobody is watching you but yourself.
[pullquote]Deny it all you want and claim you are not a morning person — I’m not a morning person — but learn to become one.[/pullquote]
While that feeling of freedom is initially thrilling (you can secretly watch 10 seasons of anything you want in your room) it soon turns into overwhelming anxiety. You begin wondering how your less daring corporate friends are progressing and whether you simply made a big mistake.
To move forward from the latter feeling towards feelings of elation from creating your own startup, a lot of hard work is involved. To get through this initial hurdle, you will need good time management skills. In my last two years, I’ve experienced many ups and downs, discarded techniques I deemed useless and retained eight that I believe work:
1. List less, observe more. Instead of going straight for the to-do list which doesn’t accomplish much more than scaring you straight into procrastination, try writing something else down. For an entire week, jot down everything you do on a daily basis. Analyze that paper and decide which tasks actually accomplished something and which were an epic waste of your precious time. The next week, make sure more than half your days are spent only on activities you consider productive.
2. Give the day a little structure. When you’re an entrepreneur, and until you’ve reached a more significant stage of development, friends and family tend to assume you’re a free agent. “What do you mean you can’t meet me? I thought you were you own boss.” Ignore these requests: from Monday to Friday, from this hour to this hour, you’re working.
3. Discover your worth. This is the most valuable piece of advice I have ever received. Determining my worth has helped me make all kinds of valuable decisions within seconds. If your time is worth $100 per hour and a task makes you only a fraction of that, don’t waste time doing it.
4. Learn how to say “no”. This is the tip I found the most difficult to apply because I genuinely enjoy helping others, and learn a lot from doing it. However, you can’t always say yes to everything. Find the balance between being firm and being kind.
5. Categorize. Other than the obvious tip of prioritization, you should categorize your tasks. An entrepreneur is an everything person. Until you can afford hires, you are the accountant, HR manager and marketing guru. As an article recently published by Entrepreneur stated: “There are only three ways to spend time: thoughts, conversations and actions.”
6. Rise with the sun. Deny it all you want and claim you are not a morning person — I’m not a morning person — but learn to become one. Your productivity levels will shoot upwards, you’ll discover time for exercise, and you’ll see more of the sun, which is never a bad thing.
7. Make your space beautiful. Don’t work in a messy environment and try to avoid your bedroom. Place some fresh flowers on your desk or re-organize your workspace. Make sure it’s inspiring.
8. Don’t be a superhero. Surprised that you planned to do 1,000 things and only did 10? We all want to conquer the world but remember to do so one step at a time with a sprinkle of realism. Take breaks. Whatever it is you’re working on will still be there after you’ve inhaled some fresh air and finished pondering why on earth you decided to become an entrepreneur in the first place.