Optimise your time by adopting 5 simple habits
Published on September 01, 2020
Every entrepreneur will tell you that their scarcest, most valuable resource is time. Managing it properly is a very powerful skill that can set your business apart. To launch, grow, and scale a startup, founders are always working against the clock and usually move from one fire to the next. They need to cover all business areas end-to end and it is very easy for them to lose control of their schedule. In this chaotic context, clairvoyance coupled with a rock-solid discipline are required to priotitise critical activities, i.e. the tasks that will bring most value to the company. In this article, I will go through some of the techniques and tools we have been using at No Big Deal to optimise our time and I will illustrate with hands-on examples.
1. Focus on specific daily objectives
Jumping from one boat to another entails the risk of missing both and ending up soaking wet. This analogy illustrates how humans are bad at multi-tasking and how much it negatively impacts our productivity every day. According to Harvard Business Review, switching back and forth between tasks leads up to a 40% productivity loss as our brain needs to constantly readapt to a different context – not ideal. This bad habit is often linked to the facts that people want to do everything at once and are tempted to respond to immediate stimuli although they are not worth the trouble in a majority of cases.
At No Big Deal, we put some mechanisms in place to drive our focus on a limited number of critical objectives on a daily basis. Every morning at 8 am, we collaboratively decide what the most pressing tasks are for that specific day and we split them among ourselves based on interest, skillset, and overall ownership split. Each activity needs to be completely finalised before moving to the next to ensure it gets our full attention. Do not get me wrong, this requires some proper strategic planning upfront to make sure the tasks we picked aim to fulfill our strategic objectives. Therefore, we started our journey by shaping our strategic roadmap with clear milestones to reach that we then split up into specific tasks that we move to our backlog. We revisit this roadmap on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the latest insights we got from interacting with our customers and to reflect the external environment changes.
Our backlog management is facilitated by Asana, an intuitive, easy to use team-based work management platform. This tool provides full visibility of each team member’s workload, it helps us track progress, and it drives focus on our strategic goals. Additionally, it can be integrated with Slack which happens to be our main internal communication tool, easing our lives even more.
2. Start your day by closing off passive tasks
Each and every entrepreneur’s daily workload is characterized by two types of tasks:
- Independent tasks which can be progressed straight away and that does not require anything else but hard work to get it done.
- Dependent tasks whose completion is highly dependent on somebody else’s output or even that cannot be started until critical information is provided.
The daily routine should always trigger dependent tasks. They need to be put out the way so that you can maximise your chance to access all required information asap thus, avoiding getting stuck. At No Big Deal, we always start the day by sending emails as they will be working for us in the background while we focus on our respective independent tasks. Additionally, early emails have a higher chance to pop-up at the top of the recipient’s inbox, increasing the likelihood to get an answer on time.
3. Done is better than perfect
Perfection is sometimes the enemy of progress. In our past corporate lives, we all have spent an enormous amount of time tweaking slides and wording, ending up in an over-tweaking cycle that was of low value. Overdoing it can significantly jeopardise entrepreneurs’ productivity and make the organisation inefficient in the long run. Follow the 80-20 rule and push your deliverables across the line once they meet your quality standards.
However, “Done” does not mean “half-baked”. Any business owner should always strive to the highest level of quality in any delivery but without overdoing it. Be proud of getting the product through the door but if you’re not a bit embarrassed by the first version, then you launched too late.
4. Automate recurring manual activities
According to a 2018 survey from FormStack, managers reported to spend at least 8 hours weekly on manual tasks representing 1/5 of their working week. These tasks can be lead follow-up emails, contact list update based on information received from the various corporate channels, report creation, and so on. These mundane, recurring activities that are executed the same way every time present high potential for automation. Doing so will unlock time for value-added activities that strongly participates to business growth. Additionally, automation prevents manual errors providing a consistent experience to your clients and employees and leading to higher satisfaction rate. Automation also gives you additional insights into the employee or customer journey. Every step is tracked and counted as they are performed providing deep understanding into your business processes’ performance.
At No Big Deal, we have been trying to optimise the time spent on manual tasks from day 1 using multiple (usually free) tools:
- Mailjet is used to create our communication campaigns. Using pre-built template and basic variables, this free service enables us to send personalised emails in a matter of minutes while providing us with statistics and insights which are highly valuable to measure the campaign success.
- Lano is a German startup which provides a very intuitive, easy to use invoicing tool. It allows us to send invoices using our pre-built template and tracks their status while running automated plausibility checks to reduce manual errors.
- We also set up some PHP scripts to automatically populate our contact list with new inquiries coming from our website.
- AWS code build and code pipeline are two services that we use to conduct automatic testing when releasing new features of our application in a reliable and repeatable manner.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As No Big Deal grows, we will aim to automate all back-office, low value-added tasks to free up time to focus the team on value-adding, more complex activities. Using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), repetitive processes can be automated very easily and without any coding experience required.
5. Optimise your meeting
According to Bain & Company, executives spend on average 16 hours per week in meetings (not including any preparation time). As time is a very constrained resource, any entrepreneur needs to make sure it is worth it. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is not… In our past corporate lives, we have all attended meetings where after two hours of talking, no concrete decisions had been made and the initial goal of the meeting (if it ever existed) had been forgotten by all attendees.
At No Big Deal, we have a simple rule: we do not attend meetings / calls we do not need to. Before accepting any invite, each of us ask himself this question: “Would this meeting need to be rescheduled if I was not attending it?” If the answer is no, then we decline while making sure the right stakeholders are still attending off course. Before accepting, we also make sure that the agenda has clear objectives and we ensure these are met at the end of the meeting.
Additionally, we try to limit the meeting duration. To do that, we use the free version of Zoom where any meeting is limited to 40’ – a good method to drive focus and cut Nigel’s crap.
I also try to optimise the time I spend in daily commute by scheduling call while I am on the move. This enables me to be entirely dedicated to the call and not be distracted by anything else (emails, texts, …).
Time management is a critical factor in the success of any entrepreneur and startup. By embracing the simple methods exposed in this blog article, our daily routine has been strongly improved. We hope this will help you achieve the same goal. Also, if you have any great tips on how you optimise your time, do not hesitate to share your thoughts with us!
Quentin Delforge is a former Technology & Business Strategy Consultant for corporates and startups at Accenture. He has a proven track record in technology transformation, software delivery, operating model design and implementation as well as in project management. He holds a master’s degree in Intrapreneurship and Management of Innovation Projects from HEC Liège and the University of Tongji in Shanghai.SUBSRIBE AND FOLLOW