5 Tips for Entrepreneurs: in praise of train schedules

There is a myth that has developed over the years about entrepreneurs and their legendary 20 hour days. Everyone knows that we eat all of our meals at the office, sleep under our desks, never see our families, and forgo friends and social lives. Well there is a certain truth to that, but the entrepreneurial life (along with mobile devices, ubiquitous internet connections, and collaboration tools) can, I argue, allow some semblance of normality in our existence.

The truth is that we make our own schedules, set our own priorities, and determine our own agendas. This allows a great deal of leeway in how we organize our time, where we choose to do our work, when we wish to take a break, and how we conduct our personal relationships. These are some simple ways  maintain control over our own lives; a great quality of life is not a right that we sign away when we start a company. Here are 5 things you can do to find more time for everything that life has to offer (everything outside of work, that is)

1. Time yourself.
Although every day of an entrepreneur’s existence is unlike the previous days, there are probably certain tasks you perform every singe day you go to work. Look for ways to do these more efficiently and more effectively. The first step in reducing the amount of time you spend on these chores is to make yourself aware of how long a task takes. Payroll this week? Time yourself to see how long it takes and then ask yourself why. Blog post? How can you cut down the time to draft, edit, and post? Do this with all of your ongoing work and I guarantee you will find a spare hour or two to devote to more important things.

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2. Stick to a schedule.
The more regular you can be in your approach to your work, the more the time benefits will accrue. For instance, try to schedule regular meetings at a fixed time – this will get everyone involved in the habit of starting (and finishing) on time. Do your emails at a specified time during the day; I tend to do mine early morning when I first wake up, again around 1030 and then again at 330 or 4. This habit keeps me from constantly checking in on email, which in itself is a notorious time drain. Ask yourself what are your most productive hours of the day and schedule the heavy-lifting for those times.

3. Know your priorities.
I make it a point to have dinner with my family every night of the week, although, I admit, this doesn’t always work out. But this is a priority for me to be home with them for that hour, so I arrange my day to accommodate this personal priority. Of course, I go back to the laptop after the dishes are put away, but I am able to spend that precious time with them and stay in touch with their lives. Ask yourself what are your most important considerations and than arrange your days to help you achieve those.

4. Don’t waste time.
Focus. Always. It is critical that when working you find ways to stay focused on what you are doing at any given time. The greater your focus, the more efficient you will be in allocating your time, making things happen, managing your employees, and just plain getting stuff done. Try to identify and remove distractions, find rituals which allow you to do things better, and help train your team to be equally efficient with their own efforts.

5. Take the train.
Taking public transportation forces you to stick to a schedule and helps you to pare away distractions which can keep you at your desk hours longer than you really need to be. I try to take the 6:33 home every night and this forces me to be wrapping it up around 6 – having those last conversations, sending that final email, returning that one more call before I get out the door. When I used to drive to work every day, I would just let the time flow and always find something else to do before I left; since I started taking the train (a New Years resolution, BTW) I find that I can make the work fit to the time allotted, leaving me more time to do the things that are most important to me. Like writing the next blog post!

What do you do to buy yourself more time and gain efficiency in your own work?

Photo: Ben Kreunen

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