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An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Self Management

When I started working on my current startup, there were times when I would end the day, look back at what I accomplished and just feel disappointed in myself.  I spent the day busy, but the major things I needed to make progress on remained incomplete.

Raise your hand if you know what I am talking about.

I was quickly faced with the reality that without a boss to report to, peers to collaborate with or a team to manage, I was left in a quiet, lonely vacuum where my productivity mattered only to me.  Combine this with constant distraction from blogs, Facebook, Twitter and just about everything else in the Internet and I was performing at suboptimal levels.  Over time I developed better self management practices to help me focus, filter and be more accountable.  And while solo entrepreneurship makes self management essential, in this always-on, distracto-conomy, most of us can benefit from better methods for staying productive as our companies and teams grow.

Before I explain my approach, it is important to note the hard part about a personal productivity plan, isn’t the plan itself.  It is doing it.  Much like diets or workout routines, the plan is the easy part.  Doing it every day is the challenge.  Therefore, for a plan to work it must be very, very simple and lightweight.  After all, this is supposed to make you more productive, not give you more to do.  And secondly, it must fit your personal style.  It must feel as natural and easy as possible.

My personal recipe is not novel or new, but a mash up David Allen, Stephen Covey, Agile/Scrum practices with insights from great ideas and posts from those such as Marc Andreseen, Mark Suster and Merlin Mann.  Every morning I sit down and plan my day.  I often do it sitting in a cafe with a cup of coffee.  The less distraction the better.  The more space for reflection the better.  I currently use Things for the Mac for to do list management, but there are a million different task list apps out there.

UPDATE MY TASK INBOX

My task inbox is the waiting room for anything I want to accomplish.  Big tasks, small tasks, important tasks, future tasks, old tasks, new tasks, work tasks and personal tasks.  It is the big laundry list.  Everything goes in here.  Pay bills, send emails, interview candidates, work on strategy, make phone calls… everything.  It gets all that clutter out of my head and frees up cognitive space.  Every morning I start by updating the inbox and broadly capturing what stuff I need to get done.

CREATE MY LIST FOR THE DAY

I then look through the INBOX and identify all the things I want to get done for the day.  I then move them to my TODAY list.  These are the urgent & important items or the important & nonurgent items.  However, while anything can go in the INBOX, only discrete, finite tasks that require less than 8 hours to complete can go in the TODAY.  For instance “work on funding” can go in the INBOX, but not the TODAY list.  “Followup Larry at Acme Capital” or “Update 50 year financial plan” would be better discrete tasks for the  TODAY list.

It is important that the TODAY is realistic.  Less is more.  if I crank through it faster than expected, I can always go back to the inbox and add more.  A short, real list helps filter out distraction and helps you focus on important stuff.  This list is as much about what you are not doing, as what you are doing.

SEQUENCE

I then sequence my list.  Not just prioritize.  This is possibly the most important part of the process.  I actually put tasks in the sequential order of which I will complete them.  This is my roadmap for the day.  I believe inefficiency exists largely in the spaces between completing one task and starting another.  It is in this gap we get distracted, avoid doing dreaded tasks and generally screw around.  By sequencing tasks there is no ‘figuring out what to do next,’ I just move into the next thing.  For added efficiency, I often group my tasks by like activity.  For example, I will do all my email tasks at once.

DO IT

I then make a commitment to myself to accomplish this plan as best possible and then get to it, checking off items as I go.  And come next morning, I grab that coffee and start over again.

3 LESSONS LEARNED

  • I like mixing personal and professional stuff together.  There is only one me.  One focus of attention.  So having one list works better.  And after all… what entrepreneur has a personal life totally independent of their business anyhow?
  • I front load stuff I don’t like doing and reward myself with things I am excited to do at the end. This gives me extra motivation to knock the hard/less enjoyable stuff out of the way.
  • I try to close all the windows and apps that are irrelevant for the task at hand.  This helps reduce distractions.

Now stop wasting time reading blog posts and get back to work.  Don’t you have anything better to do right now?

This post was written by Tim Roberts, CEO & Founder of Infectious, a True Ventures Portfolio Company.

Comments

  • This post is perfect timing as I’m struggling right now to complete tasks today because of the constant flow of Twitter updates I receive. I’m making changes based on your advice.

    • by John

    • on August 16, 2010

  • Thanks for this! Simple… reminds me of what worked so well in the past (before twitter!). I’m on it!

    Alice

  • Hello dude,, this is also very useful for me. I currently do this on paper but in rushes I lose the little lists and have to start all over again. Unfortunately I don’t have a Mac. Do you recommend any tool that can help me get organized and making use of my time the best I can?

    I am an entrepreneur in Mexico, CEO to a Game Development studio called Alebrije Estudios. Follow me @mike_alebrije

    • by Miguel

    • on August 18, 2010

  • Great, practical and personal. I find there’s a huge gap between a plan and actual action in the absence of a repeatable, lightweight approach such as the one you just outlined.

    Ironically, I am making a note to try it myself — on a Post-It.

  • Good stuff.
    I’m currently struggling with managing myself AND managing an 8 year old – on summer break. I am realizing that trying to do both is way more than any sane person can handle.

    Be well.

    • by Scott

    • on August 20, 2010

  • thank you tim! i needed this kick in the a** right now. tomorrow i am reorganizing my list!

    • by kate

    • on August 30, 2010

  • Thanks for sharing, Tim. I find that breaking focused periods of work into 90 minute segments and taking breaks in between is really helpful.

    Did you find it is a process and some days it seems easier to stay on task than others?

    @Miguel- I use Producteev- web-based so works on any platform.

  • So I’m wasting sometime on TweetDeck when I come across Valentino Sanna’s Tweet about “accountable to no one” which is a BIG theme in my life right now My coach asked me: who do I serve? Came up with the answer “myself” which didn’t seem to hit the right note :)

    Got oodles of talent, excess of self-esteem, tons of bravado, lots of energy and not much output. Ouch!

    Thanks Tim. I’m likely going to download the organizer. At least I’ll have a list of what I’m putting off doing.

  • This process does not require a mac. Very similar features can be found in Microsoft Outlook’s task list. I personally use it the same way and find it to be very helpful. The other great feature is the sync with Microsoft’s Sharepoint in order to share tasks amongst teams. http://basecamphq.com and http://projectbubble.com/ The issue I am still running into at this point is the longer term projects and properly allocating timelines.

    • by Brian

    • on September 8, 2010

  • Problem is totally the same here, Tim, and solutions that you give, are a nice affirmation of what I’m working at myself. Doing it is indeed the hardest part of it :-)
    Extra to the sources you mention, I’d tell how good the sound advice of Leo Babauta’s “The power of less” resonated with me. Thans for your post, that came to me via Sprouter.

    • by Ton Bil

    • on September 9, 2010

  • Fantastic post. I do very similar things in that I plan out my day (The night before) but I have found that sequencing is the most important part. If you can arrange your to do list in the other that you’re going to do them in, you feel much more accomplished as you can go down the list and tick them off as completed.

    Of course, you actually have to do it. :) Thanks for the great post!

  • Very helpful post. I’ve been using a master task list but not a to do today list. I’m going to try that out.

    • by John

    • on September 10, 2010

  • nice, Tim. Gonna try out the sequencing f’sho.

  • [...] ~~An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Self-Management has great tips on knocking out those pesky tasks that haunt each day. [...]

  • [...] it harder to get back on track. (You can still read this post from True Ventures’ blog : http://www.trueventures.com/2010/08/12/an-entrepreneurs-guide-to-self-management/ if you need some help with that) – No frontier between your work place and your personal space = [...]

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