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10 efficient time management tips for startup founders

Being a founder is not an easy task. You need to keep many things in mind simultaneously and do them quickly for your product to win on the market. Here's a handy guide from Irina Demidova 👇

Founders are by default dedicated folks — but that doesn't mean they want to dedicate their lives to business only, they also want to live to their fullest potential.

Clever time management helps you navigate both business and personal matters. Let’s see how to make your daily routine more productive — and successful.

1. Harness your reactive and rational mind

There are many books written about time management practices, but actually, all of them can be narrowed to one particular idea — our consciousness consisting of two parts:

  • Reactive and fast one handles clear small tasks and provides simple results.
  • Rational and slow part is responsible for complex tasks and works with long term memory.

The reactive and fast part doesn’t consume a lot of energy however is not capable of difficult tasks. If there are no clear tasks in your to-do list, this part of brain will find itself scrolling the news or browsing in social networks.

The trick is that you shouldn’t reject this part of yourself but you need to learn how to work with it. It is impossible to work only with rational part since it consumes a lot of energy.

2. Save your energy

It’s common for founders and busy people, in general, to come home and lay down thinking about work instead of relaxing and sleeping. The next day after so much worrying, people feel even more tired and the pile of tasks just keeps growing.

Instead of worrying it’s wiser to restore your energy overnight by working more effectively during the day.

  • Write down your ideas in order to minimize repetitive thoughts. Otherwise, you may forget them and use twice as much energy to remember them again.
  • Connect two types of consciousness to work in synergy.
    • Create to-do list with simple, small tasks for your reactive part
    • Use your rational part to think over your ideas and create your to-do list
  • Don’t scare your reactive part by how you describe your tasks. This type of consciousness loves simple tasks. Don’t try to sound magnificent, describe real-life problems.

    Instead of creating an annual presentation for investors you can, for example, write down something like “update the table on the last slide of the annual presentation with recent numbers”.

    The task is the same but has more details and sounds easier to do.
  • Keep the details of each task or informational note. Don’t just write: “Help Anna”, it’s better to include some necessary details like “Gather information on X product metrics for Anna’s presentation”.  

    Remember, you must love your future self. By writing down clear tasks you’ll give the future you the upper hand.
  • Work on the product in chunks, or your reactive part won’t be able to focus on the tasks fearing the general complexity of the product.
  • Trust your to-do list. Be sure that it consists of only the important and relevant tasks. To do so, clear your inbox regularly and look through your processes.
  • Minimize harmful triggers like notifications and countless alarms. If you switch your attention constantly, you won’t perform great.
  • Don’t forget about rest. Try not to live in constant stress, or you’ll burn out. On the other hand, it’s better not to stay in your comfort zone forever, or you won’t be able to evolve.

    Keep your life balanced. Run, swim, go to the mountains, spend time with your family — these are just as important for your success as your work.
  • Remove distractions. For instance, delete the apps that use too much of your time or try to leave your phone somewhere you won’t be able to access each second.

    By eliminating seduction, you save some energy for things that need to be done instead of just, for example, browsing through twitter.
  • Clear your head. When some annoying thoughts are circling in your mind and distracting you from your current activities, write them down to classify and analyze them later.

3. Don’t suffer from solution paralysis

When you think about all the possible outcomes of your actions and can’t choose any of them you’re stuck with solution paralysis. Such blocks can prevent founders from taking actions crucial for product development.

To fight the paralysis, start with clear and simple tasks for our subconsciousness not be afraid of the complexity of the project ahead. Go towards it like preparing for the marathon.

You can’t start your preparation by running 42km but 1 km seems to be feasible. When you do it several times, it will become a routine and you can proceed with more complex things like running 5km.

4. Don’t make your memory leak

Our memory has limited capacity. Generally, it’s hard to keep in mind more than seven things simultaneously. Urgent tasks popping up can replace these things.

Remember, the more new or urgent tasks coming in, the more old tasks are lost. It’s the same as waiting for an email to be answered: if you didn’t get a response in an hour, you probably won’t get any at all.

If you’re not writing down your tasks, even such small ones as answering an email, it will be impossible to remember them all, even the most important ones. So always write it down.

5. Make short time blocks work for you

There are actually a small number of people who can work for short periods of time. What do you do in the 15 minutes you have between two calls?

If you have broken down your tasks with clear, concise descriptions — you can start working on them right away without waiting for a long time slot in the schedule.

6. Organize your schedule and take notes

Meetings, calls and all activities with specified timeline should be stored separately in the calendar. For instance, Google Calendar is a great tool to keep track of all your calls, but don’t just make the schedule. Write details of each meeting to achieve better results quicker.

It’s also nice to have lists of questions for your colleagues or partners to discuss in the future. So you won’t need to hurry right before the meeting or a call to remember what you need to discuss.

This information will already be there written down for you to use. Of course, this advice suits only the questions that don’t need to be discussed immediately and can wait some time.

7. Store useful information

Store additional information you’ve stumbled upon and may need in the future. For example, for your current project, you need to learn how to release the app into the App Store and make subscriptions for Apple.

Write down all the necessary links and templates — so the next time you need them, you won’t start searching for the information from scratch.

This works great with everything you may need later, even if it’s just a note from someone suggesting a book to read. If you keep a note of the book and the person who suggested it, you'll quickly remember why this book was worth your time.

8. Decompose your projects

If you’re working on complex projects, always review them before starting to work on them. Divide the complex tasks into chunks, but don’t decompose the whole project instantly. If you, for example, want to set a task to “Complete the time management course”, you can start with the task “to find a suitable course”.

If you’ll try to decompose the whole project at once, the list of tasks may be too long and complex and will make you suffer from additional procrastination. Also, keep in mind that the plan can change in the process and you need to be flexible to work it out smoothly.

9. Leave time for ad hoc activities

You can’t plan your whole day because there are urgent things that always pop up. If you don’t have some free slots to do them, you’ll be expanding your working day or leaving other tasks untouched.

10. Try to standardize your activities to save time

Are you going camping once a month? Keep a list of things you need to pack with you to save time each month.

Are you releasing products regularly? Use checklists to keep track of all pre-launch activities. It will help you to automate some tasks and make your routine easier.

What can go wrong?

It’s important to remember that all things which we keep in our heads seem more important to us, but in reality, it may be different. Don’t start working on the task right away. Return back to it in 1 hour and reconsider the priority.

There is also a common thought that you can solve all the problems first and then you'll relax and go for things that you didn’t have time for before. Well, the cruel life lesson is that you won’t have that time in the future. There will always be some urgent things to carry out and you need to start managing your time and balance it now to live to its fullest. Don’t rely on the future.

Don’t think too much about which instrument to use for keeping track of your tasks. Stick to the comfortable one that you’re using a lot. There is no perfect tool for everybody. Otherwise, you can just stuck with finding the perfect tool and never start planning.

If you don’t perform your task reviews, with time you’ll stop trusting your to-do lists. Plan daily, revise your to-do backlog weekly to make sure the tasks are up-to-date and are all important. It’s good to remember that you need to do the important things, not all the tasks.

When keeping your personal and working lists and tasks in the same place someone can eventually become confused. Personal matters can distract you from your working mood. At the same time, if you keep the lists separated, you can forget that there are some important things outside the working routine too. Find the way to manage your life that suits you best for you.

You can use the Eisenhower decision matrix to manage your tasks and find the ideal way to work with them and balance your life.

Wrapping up: 1 thing to remember

If you need to remember just one thing from this article, it should be “Write everything down”. Just don’t waste your energy trying to remember everything as it is impossible to win in this war.

However, by keeping track of your tasks, ideas and calendar, you will have time and energy to create wonderful products.

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