In this episode, Scott and I will be talking about managing your time. We all know that time is our most precious resource. We only get a certain amount of time. We also all have the same amount of time each day to get something done. The purpose of this episode is going to be about how can you maximize your time. So how do you allocate and manage your time effectively to grow your business.
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Robert: In this episode Scott and I will be talking about managing your time. This is the Stretch Goals Podcast, where each week we’ll share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entrepreneurs. We’ll challenge you to create ambitious goals as you start and grow your business. I’m your host, Robert Dickerson.
Scott: I’m Scott Davis.
Robert: Scott, I think this is a very timely episode this week. Something that you had brought up is managing your time. We all know that time is our most precious resource. We only get a certain amount of time. We also all have the same amount of time each day to get something done. The purpose of this episode is going to be about how can you maximize your time. Really how you decide what to allocate yourself to, in terms of time, and also to your team as you’re growing your business.
Scott: All right.
Robert: I think one of the hardest parts about transitioning into entrepreneurship, especially if you’re coming from the corporate world, is deciding how to allocate your time. Because when you’re in a corporate job, you have a boss that’s telling you what you need to be doing, what the milestones are, what the deadlines are. When you become an entrepreneur and you’re running your own business, you get all this freedom. It’s great. It’s one of the best parts about being an entrepreneur is that you get to decide. It also comes with the greatest responsibility that you’re not playing video games, that you’re focused on growing your business.
I think that’s maybe a good part to start is about how you decide what to allocate your time to when you’re growing your business. You just got back from a conference. That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about too, is there’s a lot of great conferences out there. I love to network and meet people. How you decide whether a conference is worth at. Maybe talk a little bit about that, about the conference and how that affected your business.
Scott: Well, for this conference, this was a support conference. I was supporting one of my customers for an app that I did. It wasn’t a sales thing for me. Let me just touch on that really quick. Sometimes when I had success in the past with my business I sold, I went to a conference just to see if it would work. I ended up picking up 25-30 customers from it. The justification was there. I think once you are in a more competitive market or you have an established customer base, those things have a limit on their value.
For me, there’s that challenge of, “Okay, I got to go support this, but my other priorities have to keep moving forward. My team has to be focused. In some cases, I have to be focused.” I was going back to my room after a 16 hour day and working on code when I got back. They were long days for me. That’s the trade-off when you’re the boss. You’ve got all these different considerations to make. Do you go meet with this potential customer, because that’s an offset of time. If you got a two hour lunch with somebody that you’re hoping to bring on business, you’re taking that two hours away from someone who’s already paying you.
At least that how it works as freelancer or consultant. You’re constantly wearing and balancing these trade-offs. It’s particularly difficult when you’re just starting out with that. I don’t know, what did you do when you first started? How did you manage that shift to get into that mindset?
Robert: At first, it was a little bit hard for me to make that transition. Then I started thinking about what did I do in my corporate role because I managed people. I helped allocate other people’s time. For me, what works is putting together milestones, putting together a schedule of what I need to get done each day. Thinking about each day, I need to get these three items done. Really focusing on that. I also use a calendar really heavily, where I’ll schedule out meetings.
I try to allocate and mix and match sales meetings within my development time. If I set a certain number of sales meetings per week, then I know I’m meeting my sales goals that I’ve set for myself. I’m also getting things done within those other blocks of time. I hate going to a meeting, and meeting someone, and spending a bunch of time, then finding out it’s a dead end. It’s hard to avoid some of those, though in the sales process development, I feel it is a lot more regimented where I can spend time. I can really knock out things.
Scott: From a software perspective, you can’t always guarantee that you’re going to get done your task in a certain amount of time. That’s why for me, Pomodoro timers, if you’re familiar with it. You’ve got 25 minutes that you dedicate to a task, then you take a five minute break, 25 minutes. It doesn’t necessarily work well in software, but for other tasks it might.
Robert: I think in the software too, one of the things I’ve liked about being an entrepreneur is not having to spend my whole day banging my head against a wall on a problem. If I run into a problem, I can take a step back and take some time to really think about it. Whereas if you’re in a nine to five job, you might waste the whole rest of the afternoon, come back the next morning and fix the problem right in five minutes. That’s not really a great use of your time.
Scott: I think when you’re starting out though, sometimes you hit roadblocks. You do spent most of your day trying to resolve a problem. If you’ve got a new product and you’ve got server issues, you’ve got to stop what you’re doing and address it. Yeah, every industry, every job, every product, the needs of a job are always different. Like you said, the playing field is even. We’ve all got 24 hours in a day. Can’t change that.
We can change how much we sleep, which obviously has negative effects on performance and cognitive abilities. There’s people out here who are taking supplements and doing things like soylent, so they don’t get up and go some food. They’re just drinking their meals. There’s other people who are polyphasic sleepers, who sleep two and a half hours a day. They work and play the rest of the day. They’ve got more hours than all of the rest of us. All of these things that you do to get more time, they all have negative offsets.
The question becomes what works best for you in your business? Probably something normal like time hacking and growth hacking your own body only makes so much sense. If you get down to it, what does that mean? That means if you need that extra time, you’re probably not managing your time efficiently. I guess those are just the point of this conversation.
Robert: One thing that helped me when I started out was to allocate longer periods of time to a specific task. For a specific customer, for a specific project, I would devote the whole day, or maybe even if I had to, a half a day. I wouldn’t try to do a half hour of work, switch to another task, really reducing that context switching between the different tasks I was trying to do. I could really sit down and focus on something for a couple hours and really think about it. I found that really helped me get in a zone on a project and really focus in on it.
Scott: If you try to do a task for one company, do a task for another company or customer, it’s just not efficient like you said. Dedicating larger batches of time, sometimes I’ll even do a full day for one customer, then another day for another customer. That doesn’t always work either. I think if you’re building a physical product, your needs are different. You’ve got one customer, that’s building the product. If you just invented a new pair of sunglasses or wearable sunglasses or something, you’ve got supply chain management, and all of these different things you have to worry about.
Your needs are different no matter what industry. It all comes down to how do you best craft that time to yourself? You just have to try different things. Like you said, maybe one task for someone now, then switching gears to another task. Maybe that works for you. If so, go with it. For me, half a day or a full day dedicated to specific customers is easier for me. I might get 10 things for him in that time. That may not work for you. Maybe you get bored. You just have to identify what works for you. Just try it out. Try it a couple days on this scenario. Try a couple days on that. See what really works best. Get in that groove and just go at it.
Robert: I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution. You really do have to try things and see what works. It all depends also on your phase in life, whether you have kids. That really me affected me now that I have two kids, the time that I can work. I can’t do all-nighters anymore. I really had to adjust my schedule and how I’d focused on different things based on where you are in life and your other priorities.
Why don’t you talk about your day a little bit. How do your prioritize things, especially when stuff comes up in the middle of the day, tasks that come up? Maybe an urgent task that pops up in the middle of the day from one customer. As you’re managing a team, they have questions for you. How do you keep your team moving forward, yourself moving forward as you go through the week?
Scott: You know this, in software things comes up that are high priority.
Scott: It’s a fire. You always have to expect that, even if you write great code, there’s things that happen. Which becomes your highest priority. I always had this general idea of how long things are going to take. If I know something’s going to take three days, I set the expectation that’s five days, just because that gives me the buffer I need for just various things. Always add that little fudge factor on top of setting your expectations. That being said, you can still run into an issue that takes you much longer. Maybe there’s a server outage. Maybe an employee quits. There’s things that happen that make you miss those goals. That’s always tough.
For me, I start my day when the kids wake up, or a little bit before the kids wake up, and get them settled. Grab a cup of tea, and basically go at it until lunch time. I spend lunch with my family. Then after that, I work straight through until dinner. Play with the kids, and maybe eight, nine o’clock, if I’ve got something that needs to be done that’s really quick, I’ll go do it. Otherwise, it’s spend time with the wife. If I’ve got additional work to do, or I’ve got something on my mind and know I’m not going to sleep, then when my wife goes to bed, I might come in and hack out a few lines of code or fix a problem. Then it’s just me time. It’s just like I’ll code until one, three in the morning sometimes. It’s just whatever I need to do, whatever I’m in the groove or feeling. That’s pretty much my routine.
I prefer a constant routine. I don’t like when things change. If I’ve got to have someone come over and work on the house, that messes up my groove. Doesn’t work well for me when that gets messed up. I get stressed. I know that, so I try to mitigate those types of things. Like this podcast … No, I’m just kidding. This podcast is interrupting my flow.
Robert: Actually, that’s what I was going to ask you, too. How do you identify opportunities? I know when we first talking about this podcast, we went back and forth for a couple weeks talking about it. It’s a problem that I run into as well. How do you identify those opportunities that really-
Scott: That are worth it.
Robert: Yeah, they’re worth it. Should you invest your time in this opportunity?
Scott: For this, this is an easy one because this is something we’re both interested in. There’s that reward there. The reward is personally fulfilling. It’s not necessarily monetary. It’s not necessarily company growth. Sometimes those things come organically because you’ve put yourself out there. That’s a great benefit should it come. For me, it was something I’ve been interested in. I’ve got someone who’s on the same page. It’s worth the time to go out and do it. Check that off my list. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do.
We did say when we were talking to this, it was like, “Hey, let’s time box this thing to about a half an hour. That way our daily schedule isn’t changed too much.” Obviously, there’s things that happen outside of it. That’s a known thing. Okay, it’s going to take half an hour, maybe 45 minutes. I can block that out. During the rest of the day, I make it up in other ways. Is it the same way for you?
Robert: Yeah, that is important to really quantity … for me, as well, I really like a structured day. When I can quantity things to a certain time period, it’s easier for me to fit those into my routine or the other thing, shift things around to make it work.
Scott: I hate meetings that come up that aren’t known meetings. This happened to me yesterday. “Hey, Scott. Will you hop on a phone call?” I’m like, “No, we can’t.” Because I didn’t have that planned for, in my own mindset that’s really going to really mess with the rest of my day because I have it planned out. I know what I’m doing. When you throw me a curve ball like that, it’s not ideal.
Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the game. I like to have my meetings ahead of time. If you ask for a meeting today, I’m going to tell you it needs to be tomorrow just because I can plan that. That’s just how I work. I think some people go with the flow. I hate meetings for meeting’s sake, because it’s a waste of time. I would much rather do than pontificate about ideas. I’d rather get in the trenches and get things done.
Robert: I think meeting times can be such a time waste and such a-
Scott: Well, think about it.
Robert: A lot of people that they feel like they’re being productive by being in a meeting.
Scott: Right, yeah, there’s habitual meeting people. Everybody knows that guy who’s like, “Let’s have a meeting.” He gets in there and he just talks, then he talks about his weekend for 15 minutes. You’re like, “Can we just get on top of here. We got work to do.” If you think about this, in the corporate world. Think about a Fortune 1000 company. You’ve got a meeting with 10-15 people in it. That’s 10 or 15 salaries that you are paying for this meeting where they could be actually doing work. Sometimes the meeting is work and you’re planning. A lot of times you’re just meeting for the sake of meetings. Having a recurring meeting on your schedule that doesn’t even need to be had, cancel it. Do something different, or don’t just sit there and take up the whole block of time. End it when the meeting’s over.
Robert: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. That leads into managing your team as well. As you become a leader, as you become a manager of employees, of contractors, you have to keep these people going forward and moving forward all the time. I found that it really is important to touch base with them. We use Slack a lot at Mapout. I found that’s a great way to document processes, document action items and milestones. People don’t have to keep coming in asking me what’s next. They can just proactively do things.
I also still have usually a weekly meeting with everyone. Most of the time it’s within small groups though. It’s either individually I’ll meet with someone, or it’s in a small team that’s working on a task. It’s not a whole company meeting. I found that’s really productive because you can quickly hash out things that might be hard to do over email, over Slack. Talk about some ways that you found work well with your team.
Scott: Are you doing daily stand-ups and things like that too, on top of it like some agile process or no?
Robert: I used to do that in a corporate world, but I don’t as much anymore because I’ve found that a lot of times, there aren’t things that come up every day. I do it more on a needs basis where we have to have something done, so I need to reach out and talk to this person. A lot of those day-to-day things, I just do in Slack. Because I feel like a daily meeting breaks up everyone’s day. They might be doing something productive and then suddenly they’re not because we want to have a 15 minute meeting about me telling you what’s going on with the company.
Scott: With me, at least how I do my team, I like to have our meetings earlier in the day. Get them over with and then you have time to work on them. A meeting at the end of the day, a lot of times you know how it is. People expect things to be done like right when we have the meeting or the thought. For me, it’s like, “Let’s talk about this now, so we can on with the rest of our day.” Which may be impacted by this decision. Afternoon meetings, I hate, internally. Obviously with the customers, it’s different.
Yeah, I have daily stand-ups for some projects that are more detailed just because sometimes you need to communicate it. We’re really pushing all that to Slack now. I just wrote a little Slack bot that messages everybody at the same time every day. “What did you do yesterday? What did you today? Are you blocked?” You just answer it. It does into a channel. You know what I mean? Why waste the actual 15 minutes when you can just do that? Everyone gets it. You’re expected to read it. If you don’t, well then you miss something. It’s on everybody to do that. It removes that meeting that you wouldn’t otherwise have that time.
Robert: I think that communication is still important between the team. You just need to find ways that work best for you, whether that’s a daily meeting, whether that’s through Slack, whether that’s a weekly meeting, whether that’s putting together a status report every week. I’ve done all those things at different phases. It really depends on the project. It depends on the team as well, as to how much hand holding they need, or can I document some of this stuff. Then they can just go through it. It’s well documented enough that they can execute on it. They don’t need to ask me a bunch of questions. I really try to remove myself. I hate being the blocker. I do not want to be the blocker.
Scott: It takes practice to not be the blocker, especially if you’re a doer like both of us are. You got to get out and work.
Robert: Yeah, a lot of times I’ll want to take something. I say, “I can’t do that. I have to remove myself and let you run with it.” That’s really, as a leader, as a manager, that’s really a mantra that I’ve really taken to is, “Remove roadblocks from other people. Then get yourself out of the way. Just let people execute. Don’t micromanage them. Give them the context they need to execute and don’t control them. Give them what they need to know to execute, then let them come back to you for feedback as they go along.”
Scott: Right, that’s all great points. What about this? All this sounds great in a friction-less world. In the real world, we got lots of projects we’re working on, many customers, these unexpected things come up. Let’s say you thought you were going to have X amount of hours today, but then that customer calls you, “Hey, I need some changes.” Or, “Hey, there’s a bug that we need fixed, like right now.” Now your time, which you thought you had planned out, is not planned out. You’re constantly on this thin line of being over-committed and under-committed or committed just right. It changes every single day.
Then at the same time to grow your business, you need to commit to more, so you can bring in more. You find yourself just completely buried in work. I see it a lot in startups. I see it a lot everywhere. I’ve been a part of it myself. That’s the hardest thing in terms of managing your time. How do you do that? I constantly ask myself that question. Sometimes when your customer aren’t paying you, you’ve got that stress, but the biggest stress for me is how I’m going to get all these things done I need to get done in the time that I have.
Robert: That’s the biggest stress for me as well. I over-commit myself a lot of times because I want to hedge my bets that I have enough work coming in that if one customer falls down a little bit. It always seems to be that everyone wants something at the same time. You start getting stretched thin. That’s why I try to create a team that’s scalable, that I can bring on more people as I get more work. I’ve really been focusing on that things aren’t tied to me personally doing the work, that’s it my company doing the work. It’s someone else that I can bring on to do the work, and putting the processes in place that then they can execute. That way I can scale better than just me losing sleep to get something done.
Scott: That actually sounds like an idea for a future podcast, which is how do you disconnect yourself and learn to offload this stuff onto your team and trust them because that’s a hard thing to do.
Robert: It is hard.
Scott: Over-committing to me, I see it all the time. It ultimately affects the quality of your work. It affects the relationships with your customers, with your team. You could end up in a scenario where you’re asking your guys to work overtime because things aren’t done. Ultimately, it comes down to you just have to plan. You just have to try things that work. Find the things that when they’re oiled up just right, don’t squeak at all. That’s what you want. You have to be willing to try things. The one thing is, if you’re in a situation and things aren’t working, you know you’ve got to make a change. If you sit there and do nothing, then guess what? It’s never going to get any better. I recommend you just constantly make tweaks. Find what works. Be adaptable. You’ll get there.
Robert: Everyone thinks that their problem is the most important as well. You have to push back against the customers as well to figure out what really is a priority versus what can wait a couple days to get done. If you just take everything as top priority, it’s going to be really hard because everyday you’re just going to get new things coming in. It’s okay sometimes to push back against customers. It’s important to find the right customers that are willing to be a little bit flexible with at times.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. There was a point in my career where I used to do free maintenance to an extent every month, just as a gesture of kindness. You got a quick fix, I’ll take care of it for you. Man, that stuff adds up. They’ll take advantage of you. Next thing you know, you’re doing things that aren’t paying the bills. I got smarter with my maintenance pricing, or my ongoing pricing, or retainers, or things like that. Because that stuff really eats way at your overtime. Even though it’s a gesture of good faith and you can still do it very now and then, don’t do it on a regular basis because it just does not work.
Robert: Another thing that I do is I treat all my time as a billable hour.
Scott: So do I.
Robert: If you think about your day, or whatever time that is, and you have an opportunity come up, whatever it is, I evaluate it against is that worth me spending two hours on. Could I better spend myself somewhere else to get a better ROI? I know that might be bad. Some things you can’t do that with your family and things like that. For things related to your business, I really try to take that approach where what is the ROI I’m going to get out of this? Is it worth my time?
Scott: I do that on absolutely everything. Taking my car to get an oil change, my lawn care service. I have cleaners and a lawn care service for two reasons. It takes me more than two hours to cut my lawn. They’re going to do it in 30 minutes or less. It costs me less to pay them than it would cost me an hourly rate being thrown out the window because that two hours is now gone. I gladly pay for it. Does that make me a snob? Probably, but I gladly pay for it because I need those hours to make money. I pay for a cleaning service for the same reason. I don’t have time to sit and clean my house every week. It doesn’t make sense. I weigh everything against that. I’ll pay a little bit extra on a flight if it gets me there an hour quicker. Why? Because that’s an hour that I can be billing somebody.
Robert: Your time is worth more. As I’ve gotten older, that has become way more apparent to me. I grew up as wanting to do everything myself. My parents taught me be self sufficient, doing things yourself. That’s a great habit to have, but as you start growing your business, you start realizing that your time is more valuable. Should I go be cleaning this toilet or should I be spending time growing my business? That’s really what it comes down to.
Scott: Instead of cleaning the toilet you’re growing a bacterial colony in your toilet.
Robert: My toilet’s red right now … Don’t tell my wife that.
In this episode we talked about managing your time, some strategies that we used. To really focus on the time as your most precious resource. How do you maximize it to grow your business, and to grow your team, and to help your team use their time wisely as well. It boils down to is trying to find things, strategies that work for you. Hopefully you can take some things away from the stuff that we’ve talked about and apply it to yourself. It’s really important like you said, Scott, just to try different things. See what works. Don’t over-commit yourself, right?
Scott: Right. Just be adaptable. If you start feeling that stress with time creeping in, maybe you need to expand your team a little bit. Maybe you need to readjust your own priorities. Maybe you need to drop some unnecessary meetings, or maybe you need to set you expectations with your customers a little bit differently. All those things plus many, many more, they’re all pieces of a puzzle. Rearrange them. Get them fitting just right, and then go with what works best for you.
Robert: Thanks for dedicating a half hour to listen to us. Hope it was productive for you. Come back next week, right?
Scott: That’s right. We’ll waste another 30 minutes together.
Robert: See ya.
Scott: Thanks for listening to episode of the Stretch Goals podcast. You can access the show notes for this episode and listen to other episodes by heading over to Stetchgoals.fm.
Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.
Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.