Too many get sucked into other peoples’ requests and forget why they got into business in the first place. As an entrepreneur, you need to know what your own agenda is and prioritise it accordingly – put yourself first.
There have been thousands of books written on this topic and plenty of techniques that people adopt – but my view of time management is really quite simple; overcomplicating it just wastes more time. All I do is ask myself ‘will this activity make me personally wealthier’, and if it doesn’t – I’m not going to do it. This is what I mean by ‘wealth creation time management’. It’s a very primary approach to managing my time that helps me to delegate a lot of what comes to my desk. You may come across as selfish but – in my opinion – that’s the extreme level of focus an entrepreneur needs to be successful and thus provide the most value to everyone else in the business.
It sounds so easy – but in my experience – getting the founders of a fledgling business to think this way is a challenge. Because founders get used to doing everything themselves (every phone call, every sales pitch, even solving IT issues) at the early stage of a business, it can be hard to extract them from these remedial tasks. There’s this fallacy that no one else can do it better than them. As an entrepreneur, you need to take a step back, break down everything that you do, and ask yourself ‘am I the best person to be doing this’ and ‘is this going to make me wealthier’. My approach, I admit, is binary and a bit ruthless, but it helps me to focus my time solely on those things that are commercial priorities and helps me to build businesses.
The internet, and the office environment, for that matter are full of distractions. How many times have you walked into your office only to find documents landing on your desk and people tapping on your shoulder – and suddenly you’re not in control anymore? What’s important to me is that I’m always in control of my own time. I’m not going to let the company take control of me. And I constantly revise and improve the way I manage my time. It’s not good enough to start the year with a New Year’s resolution to manage your time more efficiently, you need to be constantly monitoring it and asking yourself ‘how did I do this week’ and ‘what can I do better’.
Personally, I make sure that I get a couple of hours of thinking time every day. Often, I just disappear and no one knows where I am, and I don’t want them to know either. I’ll be sitting at a nice little coffee shop somewhere doing what I want to do. As an entrepreneur you will naturally think about your business whatever it is you’re doing, so why not put yourself in a more creative environment. I come up with my best ideas in coffee shops, not at my desk. A lot of people think that they need to be at their desks to be seen as performing or to set an example to others – but I think that’s just an insecurity that people need to get rid of.
Often, founders tell me that they don’t have time for thinking time. It’s a classic sign of losing control of your time and your priorities, and a rescue mission is required. As a starting point, you need to get your PA on your side; they need to understand how important thinking time is to you. And when they’re on your side, you can systematically build thinking time into your week. It should be considered high-priority strategic time.
Everything you do affects your mood and your ability to think creatively. I’ve seen so many founders that have started a business with so much enthusiasm and great ideas – only to be distracted from implementing those ideas. If I were to take a look at my board meetings with founders, when I list the key commercial points, time management is right at the top.
Founders are the real ‘rainmakers’ of the business but so often they are preoccupied with low value activities. I recently realised with one of my companies that the founders were deep down in the trenches and weren’t able to think strategically about the business. They had lost connection with what the original business plan was because they were too busy with day-to-day tasks. At a board meeting, we made a strategic decision to hire people below them to relieve some of the pressure. Since then, they have proposed three new business building initiatives including new offices in Kuala Lumpur and the U.S. If you’re too busy, you’re not going to think ‘big’ in that way.
Some of you may have watched the film Big over the holidays. Tom Hanks, a child in an adult’s body, gets a job at a big corporation that makes toys. By sitting in a room playing with all of the toys he is able to think more logically and creatively than the corporate ‘number crunchers’. One of the ‘number crunchers’ uses his stats on buying trends to justify why they should launch a new line of toy buildings that transform into robots. Unimpressed, Hanks’ character states the obvious by saying: “what’s fun about that.” Sometimes you just need to sit back and play with things to think creatively about what your business actually offers its customers by putting yourself in their shoes.
Proof that this approach can work in real life can be seen with Apple under Steve Jobs. Jobs used to spend a lot of time in Apple’s design lab with the designers, playing around with the products like ‘kids with toys’, and that’s how a lot of the best ideas came about. Using this “tactile” approach with products such as the iPhone, Jobs’ playtime in the lab actually turned out to be productive time. And I don’t think you need to be in a business that has a physical product to break away from the day-to-day and think creatively.
It is easy for me to talk about ‘wealth creation time management’ because it’s something that I naturally think about as a venture capitalist. We shouldn’t expect everyone to grasp the concept, what it means, and how to go about it. Entrepreneurs need to be coached on the concept of wealth creation, and only when they fully embrace it as a key priority, can they use it to influence how they spend their time. Often, what you need to do strategically as a business is staring you in the face – but if you’re too busy being distracted – you may never see it.