Being a new entrepreneur is stressful, and that stress is compounded when you start realizing just how little time there is in a day. You’ll be managing more tasks and responsibilities than ever before, and because you’re enthusiastic about the project, you’ll end up working long hours and weekends — willingly — to get it all done.
But excited or not, trying to fit all those responsibilities in a day’s work as a new entrepreneur is stressful. If you’re going to be successful, you need to learn to manage your time properly, and that starts with addressing the main ways that new entrepreneurs waste time:
1. Improvisation. When you get to the office, do you know what you’re going to do and when, or do you just roll with the punches? New entrepreneurs are frequently pulled in multiple directions throughout the day, called in by partners, employees, vendors, and other contacts for various challenges that come up. Accordingly, they tend to avoid planning their days in advance. However, this makes it hard to accomplish — or even understand — your main priorities. It’s far better to take 15 minutes at the start of your day (or the night before) to sketch out what your biggest priorities are, how you’re going to do them, and how they’ll unfold throughout your day.
2. Email management. It’s easy to get caught up in communication, rather than actually accomplishing things, especially if you’re managing correspondence with multiple major sales prospects. If you have your email open all day, you’ll be pulled away from your tasks with every new message that comes in. Instead, keep all your communication consolidated in designated “communication hours” throughout your day, and don’t let yourself get continuously distracted.
3. Delegation. New entrepreneurs are excited about their work and about their ideas, and they tend to hate the idea of someone else taking over that work. Accordingly, they avoid delegating even minor tasks to their other team members. However, as you gain more experience, you’ll learn how important it is to spend your working hours doing what you do best — everything else can be handled by your other staff members. Hire people you can trust to accomplish the work without your strict control.
4. Unnecessary meetings. Meetings can be helpful, and are often necessary, but they’re also notorious for wasting time when they aren’t strictly necessary. For example, you might be invited to meetings that you don’t genuinely need to attend — especially if one of your staff members can go in your stead and report back with notes. You may also find that most lengthy meetings — more than an hour — can be easily consolidated to half an hour or even less. Be mindful of which meetings you attend and how you handle them.
5. Infrastructure and process changes. New startups aren’t well-oiled machines. Your original plans for how the startup will run probably won’t pan out the way you think — there will be hiccups, gaps in communication, and new, unforeseen developments that interfere with how things operate. Taking the time to analyze, scrutinize, and reshape those systems can take hours out of your day. Plus, while you’re working with unfinished infrastructure and process changes, you’ll be operating with naturally limited capacity; your productivity will have a hard cap. Do what you can to make clear, focused changes.
6. Ambiguity. Some of the infrastructure and processes your startup uses will be written down and planned, but it’s more likely in the first year or two of your operation that you’ll run into situations that you haven’t accounted for. No new entrepreneur takes the time to think of every variable, every role, and every responsibility that needs to be taken care of. That degree of ambiguity makes it difficult to determine what, exactly, needs to be handled, when, and by whom. To remedy this problem, attempt to document as many processes as you can.
7. New ideas. You started a business because you’re creative, inventive, and passionate — and those qualities aren’t going to disappear just because you’ve started a business. As you build your business, you’ll be distracted by and tempted with dozens of new directions that move you in new directions. Most of them will only waste your time, so resist the temptation to follow every instinct you have; instead, maintain your focus on what’s most interesting (or most profitable).
There’s no such thing as a perfect day of productivity, and no matter how much you control your own tasks and organization, you’ll probably have a rolling list of things that need still need to be done. Finding a way to deal with that stress, and accepting that you’ll never have “everything” done is just as important as weeding out your time-wasting habits and improving your overall productivity.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!