The Psychology of Why You Suck at Managing Time (and What You Can Do About It)

When you’re working on a startup, there are endless things to do. Fixing bugs, customer support emails, marketing, working on product features, sales calls, and the list goes on. It’s easy to get pulled in too many directions. Prioritizing becomes super important. You always need to be working on tasks that are critical to your survival.

This is an article in response to the Startup Edition prompt, “How do you prioritize?”

prioritize

According to Forbes we, as entrepreneurs, are people that do too much. It’s in our nature to keep on pushing. When you stop, the business also stops. That is why we psychologically have to endure all that pain, and as a result suck at  managing time.

Do everything all the time in order to get ahead. You’ll eventually learn where your limits are, and sometimes the hard way. By committing to too many projects, the quality of your work can suffer, which might be the same as not doing it at all. Prioritize – and do any analytics you can – to decide what tasks and commitments are the best and most profitable use of your time. – Forbes

Time management is an art that I completely failed at. In the traditional sense anyway. I tried having calendars, to-do lists, and using different frameworks like GTD. You see I’m the person in my family that is always late. I have no concept of time. I’m always doing something right up until the point I need to be somewhere.

To experiment, I started evaluating how well having no time management would work. The results by far has made this technique the most productive for actually getting shit done. Why? The most important things always bubble up to the top. Instead of focusing on individual tasks I focused on achieving results.

So what can you do to manage your time better?

Pick a Weekly Growth Rate

For me, I wanted to achieve a 10% weekly growth rate. That seemed simple enough right? If I had 10 users I only needed to get 1 more user that week. So what tasks should I work on first? The one that will get me to hit that growth rate the fastest. PG has also written about using your growth rate to guide how you spend your time.

We usually advise startups to pick a growth rate they think they can hit, and then just try to hit it every week. The key word here is “just.” If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they’re successful for that week. There’s nothing more they need to do. But if they don’t hit it, they’ve failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed.  - Paul Graham

As a result, I end up spending my time on three simple things only: marketing, talking to users, and writing code. I repeat every week.

Do Marketing

To make sure I hit the 10% weekly growth rate, I spend time marketing. Since we’re talking about startup marketing, this means I spend a lot of time reaching out to people, one by one, and try to provide them some value. That doesn’t mean trying to shove my product down their throat. That gets old quickly.

All I’m trying to do is be helpful to other people in some way. It could be through writing a blog post, having conversations on Twitter, joining LinkedIn group discussions, or commenting on Hacker news. I work on building high quality human-to-human relationships.

That marketing process works. It’s just time consuming. To my surprise I’ve been able to sustain a 51% weekly growth rate in “free trial activations.” There are definitely ways to scale this kind of value creation by writing guest blog posts or creating videos.

Talk to Your Users

When I hit the growth rate I want, I immediately start talking to users. These are both the new users that just signed up this week and existing users to make sure they’re happy with the service. I probably spend about 5 hours a day talking to users in one form or another. Emails, phone calls, coffee meetings, Skype, pretty much anything I can get.

Conversations with users are super insightful. They tell you their concerns, the problems they’re having, and what it will take for them to put money in your hands. That kind of stuff is gold.

Write Code

This is where I take all the feedback I got from talking to users and see what kind of themes appear over and over. If 10 users tell me how confusing the dashboard is or request a certain feature, then it’s a no brainer on what to do. This makes writing code the easy part of doing a startup.

Do you see why this simple process works? It boils down exactly what you need to do in order for your startup to survive in one simple metric: your growth rate. At this stage, there’s no need to plan out all your tasks. Do the most important thing that will help you hit your growth rate.

What is your secret sauce in making you suck less at time management? Please share in the comments!

3 comments

  1. Nice post Sherman! Can you go into a little more detail about your strategy for Linkedin group discussions? Do you go wide – small participation in many groups, or deep – pick 1-2 groups and focus your efforts there. (or another way?). What’s working for you?

    1. Thanks David. I usually participate in discussions in a few different groups I’m part of. This is only if I can contribute significant value.

      I’m experimenting with “going deep” and just created a new group called “Startups, marketing, and how to be a badass coder.”

      Want to join in this experiment? :)

      http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=6544865

      1. Signed up. See ya there.

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