Do Today What Will Give You More Time Tomorrow

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, so why is it that some people manage to get more done than others? Chalk it up to motivation, dedication, or conviction, but it ultimately boils down to this: people who get things done know how to manage their time efficiently.

One of the truths of entrepreneurship is that a busy life goes hand-in-hand with success. That’s why we invited Jenny He — a time-management maven whose efficiency skills stood out even among her McKinsey peers, now a startup founder and CEO who runs her life on those same principles — to speak to our portfolio companies about effective time management techniques she uses with her team use every day.

Protect Your Time

Have you ever heard the saying, “you can be your own best friend or your worst enemy?” You have to protect your focused time, and sometimes that means protecting it from yourself. When you set out to accomplish a task, no matter the size, take the necessary precautions to ensure you won’t be interrupted or distracted.

Protecting your time in order to get things done isn’t a selfish move, either, since others benefit from the outcome. So log out of your social media accounts, snooze email and Slack notifications, put your phone on Do Not Disturb — whatever it takes to keep you focused and in the zone. Most things can be delayed for 1–2 hours, which is just enough time to have a productive sprint that leaves you feeling accomplished at the end.

Speaking of sprints, Jenny suggests making the most of your calendar by blocking off specific times for focused work. For example, if you know you’re a morning person and have the most energy between 8–11 am, block off that time on your calendar to get stuff done.

If you don’t protect your time, no one is going to do it for you.

Start Small

Some people feel like they have to tackle big tasks first, but that’s not always the best route.

If an item can be completed in a couple of minutes, you should do it without ever adding it to your to-do list. Make the introduction, order the item on Amazon, immediately — so you never get out of that context before going on to the next item.

Having a to-do list that’s overflowing with lots of little tasks can cause perpetual and underlying stress, which can affect your ability to do the big things. Keeping that in mind, a good rule to live by is: if you can do it in under five minutes, do it right away. When you don’t have a ton of small things accumulating, you have more time (and brain power) to focus on bigger projects.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Another critical component of successful time management is learning how to delegate. Sure, you could write that piece of content yourself, but chances are your skills are better used elsewhere, like developing a strategy or coming up with new ideas. By doing all of the work yourself, you aren’t making the best use of your time.

There’s no shame in asking for assistance, and although it may be hard to let go of specific tasks or projects, you’re doing your colleagues a favor by letting them take on something new. If the thought of delegation makes your stomach churn, just make sure you have a good check-in system in place before you hand off any tasks.

Lean on Technology

We’re lucky to live in a time where there’s an abundance of tools available to help us manage our time efficiently. Use these to your advantage! AI is here to make our lives easier, not harder, and the tool is rarely the bottleneck.

Besides staying organized via her calendar (like blocking 2–4 hour chunks for focused work vs meetings), Jenny suggests using Trello — web-based project management that helps you organize and prioritize projects — for motivation and accountability. Because everyone on your team has shared access to boards and lists, they can see whether others are ahead or behind on specific tasks. Undone work is rarely about not knowing how to do something, and more that we’re not motivated to do it.

Of course, there’s a component tools can’t solve. Once you create your focused time blocks, for example, it’s important to stick to them. If you start running behind, you’ll be behind all day.

Make Each Task More Efficient

When we think about cognitive load (aka the effort being used in the working memory), it’s less about mental capacity and primarily around how much it wears on self-control.

Generally speaking, we have a limited amount of self control to use throughout the day. If we’re doing something we hate, it’s going to take a lot of self-control to actually make it happen. Unfortunately, we can’t only work on easy or enjoyable tasks, but there are ways to make the essential yet less-enjoyable tasks more fun and efficient. Some ideas:

  1. Combine something fun with something that needs to get done (e.g. walking meetings)
  2. Speed up the thing you don’t like doing (think: a 7-minute HIIT workout if you hate working out)
  3. End meetings on time (setting “fast” meetings that leave 5–10 minutes to recap one and prep for the next can help here)
  4. Make dead time productive (make calls while commuting, rearrange your calendar while waiting for your doctor’s appointment)
  5. Manage your energy level to maintain high productivity (grab a snack, an outdoor break, or a few minutes of meditation)

Remember, time management is an investment in yourself. And as an entrepreneur or a CEO, it’s also an investment in your ideas and your company’s success. So do things today that will give you more time tomorrow.