Notes on Managing Yourself
Q&A for entrepreneurs, Part III.
Like other business owners, I learned along the way and grew into my role as CEO. Possibly the biggest lesson has been the importance of rigorously, even ruthlessly, managing my time and energy. In this third essay on entrepreneurship, I talk to the importance of managing your time.
Why is time management important?
My Dad taught me that “you show what’s important by how you spend your time.” He said it a thousand times before I started to fully digest and embrace this idea, which has two distinct parts.
First, decide what’s important. Know your priorities. Every morning, each of us receives the same ration of time. Then the world does its best to distract us. With clear priorities, we can quickly and clearly say “yes” and “no” to requests and opportunities.
Second, have a strategy for managing your time and energy. As Jim Rohn said years ago, “either you run the day, or the day runs you.” As leaders, how we invest our time, attention and energy impacts every person on our teams. And as individuals, our use of time determines whether or not we make progress against our priorities.
How do you manage your time? How do you plan your week?
Like most people, my approach to managing time is a work in progress. That said, I follow several strategies to organize my thinking and schedule priorities.
First, every Sunday, I conduct a weekly review, something I learned from Getting Things Done by David Allen. That means I take 15 to 60 minutes to review my active projects, family obligations and to do list to make sure I’ve got a sense for the week and scheduled my priorities on the calendar.
Second, I use block scheduling, a strategy learned from Cal Newport and his book Deep Work. I assign certain tasks to certain days or times of day. For example, I dedicate Mondays to “administration”, which includes management meetings, contracts, bills, etc. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for business development and client support. I schedule workouts and time to write early each morning. Block scheduling helps me focus by topic and leverage my natural energy levels, and my team knows this.
What approaches help you stay productive day-to-day?
Being productive requires focus and a “distractionless” workspace. That’s why I do my best writing early in the morning or late at night. Day-to-day, I have other strategies.
First, I do my best to check email at set times. I write and workout in the morning before processing my email. Then, I check email mid-morning, mid-afternoon and in the evening.
Second, I organize my “to do” list by context. This is another strategy learned from Getting Things Done. For example, my list has items under “@home” (things I can do at the house) or “@office” (requires being at work) or “@phone” (includes calls I need to make) or “@errand” (things I can to do while driving around town). That way, no matter my location or state of mind, I can work a part of the list.
Third, I prioritize sleep and exercise. I do something active every day. There is a cycle of energy at work and at home; understand this. There is a Sabbath for a reason.
What do you wish you had learned or understood earlier?
The myth of multi-tasking. We can only do one thing at a time. If you make one or two important decisions each day, or get one meaningful task done, you will move forward and succeed. As Lao Tzu wrote, “Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished.”
The reality is that we tend towards self-indulgence and do the things we like to do, or want to do in the moment, rather than those things that help us achieve our goals. Having clear priorities and a sensible approach to managing time has helped me tremendously.
My thanks to Steve Mendell for his suggestions and feedback on an earlier draft of this essay.