5 tried-and-true strategies to help founders crush time management

Image credit: Morgan Housel

This Symbl for Startups content series separates facts about the founder journey from fiction — with a little help from program mentors and startup experts. For additional information about how early stage businesses can benefit from the Symbl for Startups program, reach out to kira.hunter@symbl.ai.

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” — Miles Davis

Finding balance is one of the most important things for founders to focus on as they build their businesses from the ground up. Burnout can take between 1 and 3 years to recover from, according to some experts, and the acceleration of remote work has made it significantly more difficult for teams to delineate work-life boundaries. Additionally, employees of early stage companies often find themselves wearing many hats, which means conscious prioritization is key for success.

In this article we’ll delve into a few helpful methods today’s entrepreneurs can implement to manage their workflows, keep exhaustion at bay and optimize productivity.

Make a daily game plan

There are many powerful benefits that arise from writing down your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals, but the most important of these is the daily to-do list. Invest in a planner with ample room for notes and diagrams and commit to spending the first 30 minutes of each day going over everything you hope to accomplish — experts widely agree that writing by hand has a leg up over typing in terms of information retention.

Getting started on less-than-exciting tasks is easier when you have a tangible goal to move toward, and you’ll fuel a sense of accomplishment by ticking off each box as you complete them.

First things first

An important aspect of creating your daily game plan involves prioritizing tasks from most important to least important. One way to do this is through the ABCDE method, which Time Hack Hero attributes to time management expert Alan Lakein. Basically, the most important tasks (aim for three or less) are assigned “A” level, less critical obligations that are still important or have a time constraint are assigned “B” level, “C”-level tasks are nice to get done but don’t have a time constraint, tasks assigned to “D” level can be delegated and everything else falls under “E.”

Ideally, you would complete all “A” tasks prior to starting on any “B” tasks, and so forth. This method prevents you from wasting time tackling the easiest tasks first and brushing off the ones that will actually have an impact on your business. If you’re having trouble prioritizing tasks, feel free to reach out to the Symbl for Startups team to ask about mentorship opportunities and a personalized plan for your business.

Put unstructured rest time on your schedule

This is arguably the most crucial item on the list. Humans simply cannot function without adequate resting periods interspersed throughout the day, and if you are a founder who puts your own needs last (so, all of you) then you’re at an even higher risk of burnout. If your team operates using shared calendars, make sure you pad yours with at least 17 minutes of rest for every 52 minutes of nose-to-the-grindstone concentration. This ratio comes from a study done by The Draugiem Group that tracked the number and cadence of breaks an organization’s top-performing employees took.

Something else to note is that your rest periods aren’t for non-work related tasks (grocery lists, etc.). They are meant to be unplugged, creative in nature and above all relaxing. Get up and remind yourself you have a physical body to move and take care of. Remember that you are a human being before you are a human “doing,” and your body and mind will be better off down the road if given adequate space and time to just be.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

Now we get to the “D” in the ABCDE method — delegation! Today’s founders have a jack-of-all-trades mentality with impressive skills to match, but you’ll never get anywhere by micromanaging your team or taking on assignments that deep down you know someone else has the bandwidth and ability to complete.

Delegating tasks can be truly scary for founders that wish to keep all aspects of their business close to the chest, but this is excellent practice for when your company scales and suddenly all of the production-related tasks are placed in the capable hands of your employees.

So what should be kept on your plate as the founder of a company? Top-level strategy, communication with investors, ensuring the company culture is healthy and refining your overall sales pitch are some aspects of the business you should still expect to work on day to day as your team grows.

Be realistic and respectful

Delegation is awesome, but everyone deserves to clock out at the end of the day regardless of how much work he or she has completed. Common sense can give you an idea of how much productivity to expect out of your employees and yourself initially, but you can and should rework these expectations based on the fulfillment of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Never assume that your employees will work overtime or on the weekends to hit your top-level goals — and they shouldn’t have to. Company culture can quickly sour when employees regularly feel overworked, especially if their compensation doesn’t make up for those extra hours.

When it comes down to the wire, impeccable time management practices can make or break your business. Luckily, these skills can be learned with just a little effort and guidance.

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