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Top 5: Optimizing Time Management

Top Ways to Operationalize Your Time

This month’s article takes a look at some operational best practices to create more space and less of a feeling of running out of time day-to-day.

Read Time: 10-12 minutes

By: Heather Wentler – StartingBlock Madison Entrepreneur in Residence

My articles for Q2 have had a recurring theme of operationalizing personal wellbeing while running a startup. While many people ask me How do I make running a startup a 9-5 job? There is no silver bullet to make this work. There are no actual “Top 5 ways to have work-life balance” while running a startup or being an entrepreneur, but, there are ways to help manage it. This month’s article takes a look at some operational best practices to create more space and less of a feeling of running out of time day-to-day.

1. Calendar Management

Too often entrepreneurs tell me they go through entire weeks without having any time to actually get work done during their days because it’s dominated by meetings and networking opportunities. Because of this, they work all hours of the day to get the actual work within the venture done and it usually isn’t their best work because they’re doing it to just get done instead of being strategic or thoughtful about it.

Creating a weekly calendar that has the following time slots creates opportunities to think strategically and prioritize where you spend your time

  1. Meeting time availability to meet with others (40-50% of the week)

  2. “Focus Time” where you turn off all notifications and dedicate time to getting things done (25-30% of the week)

  3. Events Time or Professional Development opportunities (10-20% of the week)

  4. Time to Eat

  5. Personal Life activities and commitments

Here is an example of my weekly calendar schedule. As you can see I color code the different areas too. For time slots that people are able to schedule meetings with me I also have those marked as “free” within the event creation and turn off notifications on those slots so I’m not being distracted besides the actual meetings that will be scheduled.

Sometimes things come up and I need to take meetings outside of what I designated as “Available for Meeting” times. If I have to take from one section, I make up that time in another section. I treat my calendar as fluid and changeable, but also make it manageable so I know I have time to get necessary day-to-day work done, work that comes from meetings, and event follow-ups.

2. Meeting Management

Going along with meeting availability, consider the amount of time each meeting should take. When someone reaches out requesting a meeting, you can ask what the purpose of the meeting is and designate how much time is given towards it.

The same goes for when you’re reaching out to someone requesting a meeting. Having a set agenda as to what you want to discuss and outlining that and giving a time frame helps the receiver of the meeting request is a polite way of saying you also recognize their time is valuable and you’re being considerate of your and their calendars.

Having a calendar scheduling system (ie: Google calendar time slots or Calendly) is worth it and makes the difference! There is nothing worse than someone reaching out requesting a meeting and either not giving date options or providing a link to the schedule on their calendars. We’re all busy, going back and forth to try and find a time feels like an incredible waste of time when there are many solutions out there to solve this.

I never give a full hour for a meeting any longer. I look at this the same way if you’re scheduling time with your doctors or professional service providers. The maximum time allotment on any of my scheduling links is 45-50 minutes. I also have it set up so no one can schedule for the 10 minutes after a meeting ends and all meetings should start on the hour or half-hour (ie: hh:00 or hh:30). That extra ten minutes at the end of the meeting is for writing up notes and tasks that came out of the conversation so I know what steps to take next and what should be added to my task list with deadlines.

When creating various calendar scheduling options, you can have them run at the same times but just be for different time allotments. They’re kind of like brick and mortar Open signs, designating when people can come in.

Examples of Meeting Scheduling Slots. Ranked from least amount of time allotment to most:

  1. Phone Call

  2. Virtual

  3. In-person

  4. Group/Team Meetings (either virtual or in-person)

In-person meetings always deserve more time than the other types of meetings. Pre-2020 virtual meetings were my favorite. I used to treat them in place of a phone call meeting, meaning they could be done in 20-30 minutes. Now I designate the same amount of time for virtual and in-person, and I also budget travel time when in-person meetings are scheduled so I’m not rushed or overbooked.

Meeting agendas written into calendar invites or sent prior to the meeting also support keeping the meeting on schedule and attendees knowing exactly what is expected of them to talk to during the time together.

Requesting an agenda from someone requesting a meeting with you is a fair ask. Agendas can have time allotments as well to support keeping conversations on topic and less time for side or conversations that take away from the topic at hand. It’s so easy to go on tangents or personal stories, agendas and timing of agenda topics remove these opportunities and also set the tone of the meeting.

3. Professional Development & Coaching

You could spend 40 hours a week just attending networking events or attending conferences. These opportunities are just as important as any other scheduled time on your calendar and should be prioritized into your week/month, but there should be a strategy around why you’re attending.

When adding these events to your calendar ask yourself What am hoping to achieve by attending this? Sometimes attending networking events are solely for seeing your peers or colleagues outside of a formal meeting settings. I highly recommend this because it’s important to have those networks and connections for your personal wellbeing and to break down the feeling of no one else understanding what you go through on a daily basis as an entrepreneur.

Attending networking events can also be anxiety-inducing for some entrepreneurs (raising my own hand on this one). Having a clear expectation of why you’re attending an event helps take away some of this feeling. Asking your network who else is attending or inviting them to attend with you may also help. The feeling of knowing you’ll know at least one other person at the event can make sure you at least will have someone you can talk to when you’re uncomfortable walking up to another stranger and introducing yourself.

Professional development opportunities should be a budget line within your venture. No one knows everything about their industry or work they’re expected to do. Opportunities for growth create better teams and work production. Many times ventures look at professional development as a “fluff” or “if we have extra funds” expense. I cannot emphasize enough that professional development funding is equally important for venture success as having an accounting or legal services budget line.

I am a professional coach for entrepreneurs and I have a coach as well. When you play sports, the coach is leading the direction of work, growth, and success of the team. They’re watching from the sidelines as to where there are gaps or potential pitfalls within the plays and moves that are happening on the field.

Having a coach supports your accountability to yourself, your team, and the overall success of your venture. It also is a safe space to be vulnerable, identify where you need to grow as a leader, provide organizational outlines and templates for you to implement within your venture, and what talents are needed on your team (both staff and service providers/contractors) for reaching strategic goals.

4. Task Lists and Strategic Goals

Even if your calendar is well managed, you have set boundaries as to where your priorities need to be, you can still go through the day feeling as if there are too many decisions that need to be made or experience paralysis of what you should be doing.

I’ve had multiple conversations over the past month with entrepreneurs about the feeling of there being so much to do or things that need attention that they physically shut down and/or find themselves staring at a screen or wall and avoiding everything together because it all feels so overwhelming.

Strategic goals and task lists support putting everything in place as to where and what you should be focusing on. Every fall I create the strategic goals for the next year for Doyenne. The goals always align with the budget and overall mission & vision of the organization. It then lays out the main focuses for each quarter and month for the next year. The strategic goals then create planning periods and promotion schedules. This can also be a workflow process.

Having these strategic goals leads to everyone on the team knowing what their goals and tasks are because we all know what our work is moving us towards. It makes it easier to say yes or no to potential opportunities that may be pitched to us during the year as to how they would fit within our goals, and also if we have time to allocate towards them.

It also keeps the team focused on what their weekly tasks and goals are and how they all need to work together to achieve these small goals. Which leads to small and large wins within the organization. When there are moments of “I don’t know what to do” we always go back to the overall goals and check-in with where we’re at with those and what work needs to be done or new ideas for how to achieve the goal.

5. Flexibility

Sh*t happens! Some weeks you’ll have everything together and feel that the entire system is running smoothly and wins are occurring. The next week it could feel like everything has fallen apart and the walls are caving in.

Being flexible and realizing there is fluidity amongst all of your operational systems will serve as a reminder that everything will be ok. Some weeks and months are going to feel crazier than others. The longer your venture is in business the more you’ll notice trends as to when things are busier than others, use this for your strategic planning or how much time you allot new conversations. And remember, you’re never alone in this journey and people are willing to help if you ask. Want to talk more about organizational management? Or to talk about anything else related to running and working for a startup venture? Schedule an Office Hour with me.

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