You’ve heard the old saying, “Time is money.” But what does it really mean?
On galactic scales, your experience of time depends on where you are and where you’re going. That’s sort of true on Earth too. Time might move at the same rate for every Earthling, but not everyone places the same value on their time.
Whether you’re starting a small business from scratch or running a fast-growing startup with big plans and limited resources, your days, hours, minutes—even seconds—are immeasurably valuable. You need to do everything you can to protect that time.
These suggested tactics won’t work for every business owner, but many successful founders and executives swear by them—and they’re not that hard to implement. You’re probably already doing some of these things, at least some of the time. Maybe it’s time to be more intentional.
How to Live by the Saying “Time Is Money”
1. Segment Your To-Do List
To-do list segmentation is a surprisingly touchy topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how busy people should go about categorizing, dividing, and prioritizing their workloads. And that’s understandable because everyone is different.
At the granular level, precisely how you divide up your workload to meet your deadlines is up to you. However, at the highest level of organization, the same segmentation strategy that works for thousands of high-performing founders and executives can probably work for you, too.
The strategy is deceptively simple. Create three workload silos, each devoted to a discrete, broad time-frame: long-term, medium-term, and short-term. You can call these silos whatever you like—”strategic”, “milestone”, and “projects” or “tasks” work well, respectively, for long, medium, and short terms. You can then organize them as follows:
• Your strategic work consists of long-term or even vision-level goals. For example, where you want to be in the next year or two years from now, and how will you measure that. You’ll need to go through several milestone iterations and numerous project iterations—many of which will happen simultaneously—to reach your strategic goals.
• Your milestone work consists of nearer-term goals that may or may not grow out of discrete, in-process projects or campaigns. These might involve entering a specific new market, launching a new outreach or marketing effort, or hiring a key employee who will be tasked with owning a vision-level goal or priority.
• Your project or task work consists of short-term objectives that can be broken into (or already are) manageable tasks. This silo is your (and your team’s) proverbial to-do list—action items that can be executed today, tomorrow, or this week.
2. Break Large Projects Into Small, Discrete Tasks
Many short-term projects remain too large or diffuse for a single individual to complete them on deadline—especially when other pressing matters compete for their attention. You may find it easier to keep larger projects straight when you break them into smaller, more manageable tasks and work on each individually, in chronological order. For efficiency, batch similar or connected tasks (for example, generating multiple email templates) together and complete the entire batch in a single go.
And when you don’t have enough time to tackle all the tasks that need to be done, follow this third piece of advice.
3. Delegate Sensibly
Early on, you don’t have the luxury of delegating to direct subordinates—you don’t have any subordinates yet. As your company (hopefully) grows, that picture changes, and you’ll find more freedom to assign projects and tasks to junior employees.
Of course, if you’re bootstrapping your startup or trying to keep a more mature business lean, you may well lack the personnel and human bandwidth necessary to handle all the work you need to get done. In that case, you’ll need to find, vet, and onboard qualified freelancers and temporary employees capable of producing quality work and picking up the slack for your full-time staff.
No matter how you delegate, do so intentionally and thoughtfully. Whenever possible, assign tasks to the best available people for the job. Reserve the tasks that you’re best qualified to handle for yourself. Resist the urge to tackle everything yourself, and commit yourself to not micromanage delegated work.
If you repeatedly experience quality or timeliness issues with a particular subordinate or contractor, you can treat that as a threat to your company and deal with it appropriately; however, it’s counterproductive to get too involved between milestones—doing so might actually interrupt your helpers’ momentum or inject doubt into what would otherwise have been a confident workflow. Save the second-guessing for milestone check-ins or post-project debriefs.
4. Always Prioritize and Batch Tasks by Urgency
Whether you’re handling a project entirely on your own or delegating to an army of colleagues, subordinates, and outside contractors, always prioritize tasks by urgency, regardless of a time-and-date deadline. When a task is absolutely mission-critical, it needs to be tackled as quickly as possible, with the full measure of the resources available to devote to it. That way, inadequate or incomplete work can be addressed prior to the actual drop-dead date.
5. Automate Recurring, Time-Consuming Tasks
There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to devote your full attention to recurring, time-consuming processes like conducting new-client onboarding calls, sending out prospecting emails, and creating analytic reports.
But that doesn’t mean those processes aren’t absolutely critical to your company’s success. They are. When you use solutions like ours to automate those processes, you reclaim valuable minutes (or hours) for higher-value work. That’s true even if you’re not directly responsible for those processes—the less you have to coach the junior staffers or outside contractors taking point on them, the more time and attention you’ll have to devote to matters that really require your expertise. That said, we offer a range of automation and efficiency solutions for startups and small businesses.
6. Streamline Your Social Media Activities
Social media falls under the “recurring, time-consuming task” rubric, but it’s worth calling out on its own for its sheer importance and sensitivity. Sourcing, creating, and scheduling social media posts can be a slog, particularly if you’re a prolific user of multiple media. (And you probably are. At a minimum, most startups and their founders use LinkedIn and Twitter, and the majority use Facebook as well.)
While effective, a simple social media scheduling tool probably isn’t sufficient to handle the increasingly onerous and complex demands of proper social media use. You need to be quick to engage with your fans (or adversaries) and even quicker to spot a potential gaffe or inaccuracy that threatens your reputation. You also need to have a reliable means of collecting and analyzing the reams of engagement data produced by your social media activities. We offer a suite of social media solutions that can help you approve accounts, filter content, handle reported posts, and more—music to any social media manager’s ears.
7. Avoid Personal Multitasking
Don’t confuse this point. On an organizational level, “you” should always be multitasking. When you automate time-consuming tasks and delegate or outsource lower-value or non-core work, you (through your organization) are multitasking.
That said, there’s a big difference between organizational multitasking and personal multitasking. Organizations aren’t sentient, so they don’t get distracted when they do many different things at the same time.
By contrast, human brains can really only focus on one thing at a time. According to Harvard Business Review, participants in a study who got distracted by incoming phone calls and emails (e.g., multitasking) lost 10 points off their IQ scores. For reference, that’s equivalent to losing a full night’s sleep, and twice the effect of smoking marijuana. Needless to say, if you want to be on your “A” game, don’t multitask.
And remember to get a full night’s sleep too.
8. Save Low-Value Tasks for Last
After all the automating, delegating, and streamlining, you’re still going to have low-value tasks to which you need to attend personally—whether because you’re the best person to handle them, because you don’t trust anyone else to do them, or because there’s simply no one else available to take them on.
Save these tasks for last—literally. Without compromising much-deserved time with your family or your own thoughts, block out time at the end of (or after) your workday for managing your email, scheduling personal social media engagement, reviewing your schedule and project deadlines for the coming day or week, and attending to other clerical or organizational tasks not handled by your colleagues, assistant (if you’re so lucky), or subordinates.
9. Disconnect for Crunch Time
When you need to fire on all cylinders, eliminate anything that can get in your way. That means completely disconnecting from the outside world.
Make it clear to your colleagues and subordinates that you’re not to be disturbed—absent a major emergency—turn off your mobile device, and put your electronic devices on airplane mode so that you’re not able to access your email or let your mind wander on the Web. (If you need to use the Internet for whatever you’re doing, well, it’s on you to maintain your focus.) You’ll be amazed at how much faster your work goes—and how much better the end product turns out—when you work in a distraction-free environment.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Disappoint
Some people have trouble saying no, especially when “yes” leads to a new and potentially lucrative relationship. But sometimes “no” is the right response, even if it leads to short-term pain or lays bare an opportunity cost. Ultimately, your time and reputation are more important than your near-term cash flow. When saying “yes” means doing less than your best, or directing resources away from more deserving projects, it’s probably best to say “no.”
11. Limit Out-of-Office Travel During the Workday
Thanks to your mobile device, you remain connected when you’re on the go, but you’re still not as productive in transit as in the office. Scheduling nonessential midday meetings outside the office is a sure way to waste time. Whether you work at a home office, in a coworking space, or in a traditional commercial suite, you’ll be more effective and productive if you stay put once you arrive for the day.
Obviously, this advice doesn’t apply to mission-critical outside meetings such as investor pitches. However, when you control your movements for less important powwows, you’ll feel less stressed about taking time away from the grind on special occasions. And if you have any control at all over your nonnegotiable outside meetings, try to schedule them outside core business hours—for instance, meet with your advisory board over an early breakfast.
12. Set Time Limits for Everything
Set strict time limits for everything you do—and adhere to them. Remember the old adage: “If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.” Running over time is a surefire way to inject frenzy into your day, raising the risk that you’ll make rushed decisions that you will later come to regret.
Carlos Ghosn, then-CEO of automakers Renault and Nissan, told CNN back in 2006 that he’s maniacal about time limits: “The maximum is one hour 30 minutes [for meetings on a single topic]…50% of the time is for the presentation, 50% is for discussion,” he said. At the time, Ghosn was regarded as perhaps the top auto executive in the world, so his approach is worth noting.
13. Learn From Productivity Pros
Not sure how to be more efficient with your time? If you don’t have one already, find a business coach or mentor to help you make sense of your responsibilities and focus your energies. Alternatively, seek out a productivity coach who specializes in efficient workflows, and take their recommendations seriously.
If you don’t have the resources to invest in a high-paid professional, absorb bits of wisdom from people who seem to know how to order their professional lives—people like Carlos Ghosn, for example. Publicly available advice can’t replace professional wisdom, but it can help you reach conclusions that might otherwise remain obscure.
Some of the most effective ways to save time and boost productivity aren’t glaringly obvious. For instance, Forbes reports that stressed employees are less productive (no surprise there) and that companies that make their offices or working environments more pleasant can significantly improve overall productivity—even if it means embracing activities that some bosses might consider distracting, such as weekly employee outings or in-office happy hours.
Ultimately, making the most of your time isn’t about doing what’s comfortable or what’s worked a million times before. It’s about doing what’s right for you, your team, and your vision for the future.
What’s your top time-saving tactic?
Allen Mitchell is an efficiency and accountability coach for business owners and freelancers. After devoting ten years to running several businesses that have had varying amounts of success, he’s become focused on consulting and coaching other leaders of various industries.