We don’t have a strong grasp of how we spend our time, so managing it is hard. I’d say that most people know that they don’t spend 8 hours each working day on productive work — they know in their heart of hearts that the ‘9 to 5’ is dead. To add fuel to the fire, they don’t sleep enough, they’re overly stressed, and addicted to caffeine. Many of us do many ‘extra-curricular’ activities tangential to our jobs, work is increasingly uneven, the communte is unnecessary for the most of us, and we’re in the middle of a productivity crisis. So the question is, do we have a better workflow for 21st century work?
Borrowing from engineering principles and through weekly iteration over the past 3 years, I’ve found that my work in VC has come in 6 main categories: Dealflow Management, Writing, Data Analysis, Learning, Administration, Meetings, Calls & Events (both internal and external). At the junior level, most of this work is administrative in nature. Only about 15% of your time is spent on ‘deep work’ learning new things e.g. reading industry reports, articles, and papers, ideally without distraction.
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In the VC space, ‘dealflow management’ could include the assessment of pitches that come through the website and CRM management. This category broadly represents high-volume, low-value work that is necessary but no one else in the firm wants to do. Moving up just a bit, the work is similar but typically higher value — advisory and volunteering work begins to creep in, as does the number of meetings and calls you have to attend, but the deals become better. You have a lot of ideas in your head that you need to commit to paper, which also helps you to build your brand. To make sure that I spent enough time on each type of task, I would block off time for it in my calendar.
Now we know the categories to break our work out into, we need to know how to spend our time and energy. This is best served by the ‘ultradian rhythm’. The basic idea is that people can focus on a task for 90–120 minutes and a 20–30-minute break should follow before completing the next task. This way, we’ll work more productively throughout the day. Specifically, I would break each category out into 90-minute slots, with 4 slots per category per week, with 20-minute breaks between each of them, with no two blocks of the same type taking place on the same day. ‘Administration’ would be 1 hour per working day, which includes all email and social media.
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To make this process easier to understand, let’s walk through my own breakdown. The main areas I work on are Dealflow Management (20%), Learning (20%), Writing (20%), Administration (20%), and ‘Meetings, Calls & Events’ (20% internal, 25% external). Although Data Analysis is an important part of my role, I do not have to dedicate a specific portion of my time to it, it is now implicit to ‘Dealflow Management’. I block off four 90-minute slots per week each for Dealflow Management, Learning, and Writing, and block out specific time for Administration for 1 hour after a 50-minute lunch.
If you can minimise the number of meetings, calls, and events you attend, the 4-day work week could easily be a reality. My own breakdown calls for a 7-hour workday 4 days per week, 9-hour workday for a more junior employee, and a 5-hour workday for a more senior one — for 4-days per week, and then the meetings, calls, and events on top of that broadly entail how busy your week is. This brings into question what qualifies as ‘work’. My personal belief is that neither meetings, calls, events, administration, data analysis, nor deal-flow management (or the equivalent in your own field) constitutes work — they can either be automated or can be significantly reduced as per the Pareto Rule.
In my view, deep work is the only true work. This boils down to Learning and Writing, and I see that this is what more senior people focus on when not inundated with meetings. At this level, the ideal is to always either internalise (learning — 20%), rationalise (writing — 20%) or communicate (meetings, calls, and events — 45%) information alongside some light administration (20%) to enable it all. I believe that bringing ‘real’ work up to 40% is a very achievable aim.
Ultimately, jobs in tech are hard, no matter what side of the funding table you’re on. In fact, I believe that the roles are a lifestyle choice rather than a job. In many ways, being an investor, a founder, or a community manager is more of a calling. We are fortunate that our passions are our careers, but this makes managing time extremely difficult. I’ve found that time, stress, and sleep management are intrinsically connected in that if you manage your time well, you are less stressed and are able to sleep much better. This works so well for me now that I don’t need an alarm clock, I don’t drink tea or coffee, and I get to work from home!