How to hack your time as an entrepreneur
Do you constantly feel busy? Like you never have enough time to do all the necessary tasks? But how come others can have multiple jobs, hobbies, they’re volunteering to help their favorite causes, and they still have time for family and they never feel busy?
I often hear someone say “I don’t have time for X, Y or Z” or “I’m too busy for that”. I feel like that’s a lousy excuse because the fact is that time is constant. It’s the same for everyone. No other human has any more or fewer hours in their day.
Let me elaborate. By saying you don’t have time to do something means giving up the control and let an external factor decide what you can and cannot do instead of choosing to improve your time usage.
It is always a matter of prioritizing what you want to do with your time, rather than someone else having more or less time.
Unlike in a normal job, as an entrepreneur, no one can tell you how you should spend your time. You are only responsible to yourself. Others may and will try to affect your time usage but only you can determine how your time is spent the best.
When I moved to a new town in 2015 I made the conscious decision not to say no whenever I was asked to be part of something. This resulted in me being a founder in 2 companies and being in 4 other board positions at the age of 26.
I had to go through a lot of trial and error to figure out how to spend my time effectively.
“Do you have time?”
From my experience, you should rather say yes and then figure out how to manage your time rather than saying no. Time management is a skill, just like anything else.
It’s not a thing you are born with or something you can switch on and off. It takes time to learn and understand. But by not challenging yourself, you can never learn.
As with anything else, you need to push your limit to see where your capability really is. Only then can you learn and improve yourself.
This might sound like some kind of self-help bullshit, but stopping the use of words like “hurry” or “rush” can really have a big impact on how well your time is spent.
Being busy is just a feeling. It is the feeling of having too much to do. That happens when you feel like you’re not in control of all the tasks you need to do. But if you commit to your calendar and task lists, you stop feeling like you’re busy. I found it to relieve stress when I don’t need to think about the tasks outside of the scheduled time.
Of course, you shouldn’t spend your time on things you do not believe in or don’t want to do. If you would rather spend your evenings playing video games, you should just admit it to yourself, but don’t use the lack of time as an excuse for not doing something. Remember, the way you spend your time is always a personal choice.
Accepting “good enough”
Are you often late for meetings and deadlines? Do you feel like you constantly have tasks you need to finish in a hurry before attending the next meeting? So rather than finishing them in time, you just decide to do them later?
Stop doing that.
Just choose to commit to the deadlines you’re given or ones you have chosen yourself. Again, this will take time as you need to change and unlearn your old habits.
“Perfection is the enemy of progress”
According to a study made in 2012 (link to study) intuitive decision making is better when you have enough expertise in what you’re doing.
Have you ever spent 2 hours writing an email that’s really important? I have.
But why do we do that? It’s illogical, as most studies seem to actually prove that intuitive decisionmaking is better. For some reason, we tend to think more time spent = better end result.
But more often than not this is not the case and you unnecessarily spend more time than is required to do the task. So just write the mail and press send. It’s usually good enough to get the job done and leaves you more time to spend elsewhere.
One easy way to choose where to spend your time is by writing down your values and mission statement. This makes it easier to prioritize your tasks.
When I was running my first company. I had my own values and mission statement written down in my to-do list. So every time I took a look at my tasks I was reminded what’s important to me.
Many times in the moment you forget the things that are the most important as you’re pressured by outside factors.
By choosing beforehand what is important to you and your company, you allow yourself to use your time according to your own values instead of being constantly affected by outside pressure.
When you run a company, you will constantly get calls and messages from various sources. You need to attend different events and interviews. You need to represent your company.
Then again, you need to handle your finances, lead projects and tend to your employees’ needs.
You need to recognize what kind of leader you want to be for your company and act accordingly. I’m not talking about prioritizing your tasks now. I’m talking about the core values of yourself and your business that will make the foundation of your decision making and also form the basis of your task prioritizing.
Your values can consist of whatever you deem important. You might strive to spend more time with your family, or you want to spend more time learning or volunteering.
In the book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, writer Stephen Covey talks about the difference between urgent and important tasks.
This is something you can easily utilize to understand the difference between what you think is important and what is not.
We often tend to think about urgent things as important. If someone sends you a message and is expecting an answer doesn’t necessarily make it important to you or your company.
Many times we mix these two and we feel pressure to attend urgent tasks before the important ones.
Using this method in combination with your written values makes your task prioritizing much easier. Your own values determine which kind of tasks are important and what are not.
And once the tasks are prioritized it’s easy to follow the order. If there are tasks to be done with bigger priority and it is possible to do them, you do them first and leave the least important to last.
Also, when you have your own values listed. You can choose what situations require your attention immediately instead of adding them to your to-do list and doing later.
For example, I’ve always prioritized employees before everything else. So every time someone would come to me for a chat, I always have time and everything else will be put to the to-do list and dealt after.
To-Do lists and calendar
The biggest thing about using calendar and to-do lists are committing to using them. You should put everything that does not require immediate attention to a calendar or some kind of to-do list.
This helps you make it a habit. You can use something you already do daily to condition yourself to use a calendar even if you would do the task daily without it.
For example, put a 15-minute slot to your calendar every morning to check your email. Do not check the email outside of the set time window if you have other tasks with higher priority waiting to be done. By writing the task down somewhere you allow your brain to use the capacity to something else rather than trying to remember what you needed to do.
Try making a list of all the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, etc. tasks. Then write them down in your calendar. You should spend some time making the list so you can be sure you have all the necessary tasks listed before adding them to your calendar.
Your list could include the following things for example:
Social media post
Daily team meeting
Weekly starting end ending meet
Sen calendar invites for next week’s meetings
Prepare monthly marketing campaign
Checking last month’s budget
If you have a life outside of your company, you can use different colored calendars for different companies, hobbies, etc.
If you have low priority tasks that you have a problem getting done, try adding them to your calendar so you always have a reserved time slot for doing them.
Efficiency vs effectiveness
Usually when we talk about time usage in working related things we tend to talk about efficiency. I prefer measuring the things I do in terms of effectiveness.
Efficiency means how many emails you got done. Effectiveness means what you achieved with the said emails.
We all know the 80–20 rule. Which means 80% of the results come from 20% of your actions. No matter what the ratio is, but more often than not a lot of the things we do yield no results.
That’s why it’s important to choose beforehand the things that are important to you so you can choose how you want to spend your time. By focusing your time on the right things, you can be much more effective towards the goals you want to reach.