Entrepreneurs always struggle with having too much to do within a very limited time. There are only so many hours in a day. This has been my struggle as a lawyer and entrepreneur building a new law firm that is still in its startup phase. Time management is an important skill every entrepreneur needs to master. Time is more valuable than money. You can always get more money but cannot get more time. Time invested wisely is more valuable than anything else. We all have the same 24 hours. Its what we do with them that determines everything.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ time management skill that can I can recommend. As an entrepreneur, you have to know what works for you and iterate as you move along. Once you understand your strengths and weaknesses you will be able to come up with a time management system that suits you. Here are some strategies I have learned and used over the years. I have not perfected everything and I am still learning new tricks.
I know it sounds ridiculous to stretch time but hear me out. Do you know that you can achieve more by extending your typical day by a few hours. For example you can wake up earlier than usual and get more done. Waking up early gives you a head start on the day by tackling tasks before everyone else wakes up. There are less distractions in the morning which allows you to work efficiently and think creatively. There are numerous successful people who are known to wake up early. For example, Tim Cook, Apple CEO, is known to wake up at 3.45 am every morning to do emails and head to the gym. Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, is known to be in the office by 6 am after a morning work out and bike ride with his wife. Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson wakes up with the sun at around 5.45 am. Richard leaves his curtains drawn so that the sun gets him up. I sometimes, depending on the season, sleep with my curtains drawn to wake up with the sunlight and it has worked for me.
You can also stretch time by extending your bed time. This does not mean you starve your body of sleep. All you need to do is create a pattern that gives your body sufficient sleep and rest. Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX CEO, is known to sleep for about 6 hours a day. This is slightly less than the recommended 7 or 8 hours of sleep an average person needs. Its been reported that Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, needs 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night. She is known to have worked for extra long hours of up to 130 hours a week while she was at Google. Bob Marley is reported to have believed that ‘sleep is for fools’ according to Chris Salewicz, author of Bob Marley: The Untold Story.
I am yet to create a consistent pattern but once in a while I get about 4 or 5 hours of sleep to get things done without getting a burn out. To achieve this, there are things I do to give me the energy. First I work out in the evenings after work by going for a 20 or 30 minutes run. I watch less or no TV. I found out that I do more work in the evening and sleep better when I do not watch TV. Finally, I avoid heavy meals late in the evening. I am still working to create a consistent pattern. Sometime it is hard to stick to a routine especially when you have to spend time with family.
I have for the longest time, since my campus and internships days, worked with lists. The first few years of my legal practice career saw me work in a small firm but with a huge workload. To manage my files, I would prepare a to-do list for the next day every evening before leaving the office. This prepared me for the task ahead. Over the years I made mistakes with my lists at times having many items than I could handle. Then I discovered the Ivy Lee Method.
Ivy Lee was a leading efficiency expert who was consulted by Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Around 1918, Schwab was one of the richest men in the world and Bethlehem Steel Corporation was the largest shipbuilder and second largest steel producer in America. Schwab wanted to increase the efficiency of his team and called upon Lee to assist. Lee told Schwab that he could increase his efficiency and sales if Schwab allowed him to spend 15 minutes with each of his executives. Schwab was concerned about how much Lee’s services would cost. Lee told him it would cost nothing unless it worked and that in three months Schwab would send him a cheque for what he thought was worth his services. Schwab agreed.
So Ivy Lee spent 15 minutes with each of the company’s executives during which he explained his method of achieving productivity which goes as follows.
- At the end of every day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. DO NOT WRITE MORE THAN SIX TASKS!
- Prioritise those six things in their order of importance.
- Each morning, concentrate on the first item on the list. Work on that item until it is completed before moving on to the second task.
- Work your way down those six items on the list. At the end of the day if you do not get something finished, move it to the next day’s list.
- Repeat this process every day.
At the end of the three month trial, efficiency and sales had increased tremendously that Schwab send Lee a cheque for $25,000. This might sound like a lot of cash for such a small amount of work but in today’s value that is about $440,000!
The essence of having a to-do list is that it forces you to decide which tasks are most important. Do not be overzealous and list fifteen things that must be done. Keep it short and sweet. Most importantly, to succeed with this method, you have to go through the physical motions of writing them down on paper. It is easy to ignore or postpone things you wish to avoid when you have the list in your head. Just write it down!
Learn to Say No
As an entrepreneur you need to learn to say no. This helps you avoid distractions that divert attention from your work and achieving your goals. Entrepreneurs are constantly bombarded with lots of opportunities, ideas, ways to growing their businesses and many other things. Saying yes is an important element to achieving success but so is saying no. If you want to be successful, you need to learn to say no to things that do not create an income for you or things that do not add value to you or your business. Most of our time is occupied by things that do not add value or generate income. We find ourselves overstretched by committing to too many things and people, including friends. One of the commitments I have made to myself, and you can too, is to commit yourself to focus on income producing activities.
Put a Higher Value to Your Time
Recently, I found myself in coffee shop waiting to meet a good friend to discuss some business matters. We had agreed to meet at 5 pm. I got there on time but my friend ran late by about 20 minutes, with apologies of course. A few years ago I would have gotten mad and left but that has since changed. I usually walk around with a book, a notebook and a tablet or laptop which keep me busy as I wait. The more time I spend waiting on people has made me realise that many people do not value their own time let alone those of others.
One of the things that helps me value and manage my time better is placing a value to it. As a corporate commercial lawyer, my rates start from $200 an hour. Whenever an opportunity to waste time presents itself, I think of how much money I would earning if I was to do something constructive. That puts me on the track to being more productive. Consider putting a value to your time by researching the hourly rate charged by professionals in your industry then use that as a benchmark to price your time. You will be shocked at how much time you will save by saying no to things that do not generate income for you. Also remember to respect people’s time. It costs nothing to be on time.
Delegate. Delegate. Delegate!!!
Most of us waste precious time doing tasks that we should not even be touching. Perfectionists find it hard to let go some tasks. For many years I struggled letting go some tasks including household chores until I discovered that these tasks were taking up a lot of my time. I am still struggling to delegate some duties when I comes to my legal practice as I want everything to be perfect. I guess it is a journey I am taking step by step.
It has been said that smart people think nobody can do their job better than them. I fell into this category until I discovered that successful entrepreneurs and millionaires are smart about how they spend their time. They therefore delegate and get all the help they need to scale up their businesses. The challenge most entrepreneurs face is identifying the right things to delegate. Besides identifying what to delegate, another important element is delegating to the right person. To succeed at maximising you time by delegating you need to have the right person who understands why you are delegating to them and are committed to achieving your goals.
These are just some of the strategies I employ to maximise my time. Like any skill, the process of mastering these takes time. Some of these might work for you and others will not. What is important is identifying what works for you and mastering it.
What other strategies do you use to maximise your time? Let me know in the comments section below. If you find this post useful please comment and share with a friend or entrepreneur who might benefit from it.
By Bryan Yusuf
Bryan is the Managing Partner at Bryan Yusuf & Associates Advocates. He is an experienced corporate commercial lawyer with expertise in general commercial and corporate matters, banking and finance, real estate and intellectual property. Bryan is passionate about startups and small businesses and provides them with consultancy and legal services. If you are looking for legal advice or services for your startup or business, just get in touch.