When you start a business, you feel like there’s never enough time in the day. Between running the day-to-day, getting new business, and maintaining client relationships, the startup life can become overwhelming. Keeping up with your personal health and relationships on top of that is no small feat.
After struggling for years with trying to carve out enough time to make everything work, I’ve developed a visualization technique that helps me to manage my time and my opportunities at work more effectively.
I view every opportunity — every client, every new lead, every project — as a train that can only travel as quickly as I can lay the track. The track, for the purposes of this metaphor, represents the tasks that I need to complete to keep my opportunities moving along. The train is entirely dependent on the track, and if I wait too long to lay the next piece, it will stop altogether.
This famous scene from Wallace & Gromit is a pretty good representation of this idea (though it’s certainly not always this frantic!)
Each train and each piece of track requires different materials, skill sets, and levels of collaboration. Some pieces of the track might be big, others small, some heavy, some require more than one person, and others still may not be possible for me to successfully place in the right position.
Opportunities are like this: they require precise alignment, but do not necessarily demand your immediate attention. If I’ve just send out a big deliverable for a client, like a live, redesigned website, that’s a huge piece of track! Now it’s up to them to lay the next piece before I need to allocate further mental energy to it.
Viewing my opportunities as happening in parallel — like multiple trains running on a network of rail — helps me to prioritize what I need to do next. Every now and again, I’ll see a tunnel coming up on the track in front of me — a point where every train has to be on the same track to keep moving forward; a point where my resources won’t be able to extend to multiple trains and I have to prioritize one over the others. The only way to keep all the trains going is to find a way to get them onto the same track. In other words, to keep all my clients happy, I need to find a way to use my limited resources to cover all of their needs at once.
My digital agency Checkmate started working with Humble Impact a few months ago. humble ventures is a different sort of VC; they use their investments to support underserved areas and to help fund great businesses run by minorities, women, and veterans. I would talk to them weekly, always getting exciting updates as they were about to launch their accelerator called BOOST. At the same time, my work with Movi Interactive was starting to grow. Mike Kauffman was aggressively proving his theories on the gamification of health and making huge strides with his company. My time, being divided between these two equally valuable opportunities, reached a breaking point as their demand for my time rose. Instead of picking one and saying ‘goodbye’ to the other, I got them on the same track — I introduced them to each other.
This wasn’t just a random decision; Movi and Humble aligned in ideology, personality, and personal mission. The result was two fold; Humble made advancements for Mike in ways that I couldn’t provide alone, and in return, they met a solid entrepreneur to add into the first cohort of the Humble BOOST program. I helped to advance both of them without having to expend any additional resources on my part.
What I’ve learned in my time as a founder is that the hardest part of managing a packed schedule isn’t the sheer work of getting things done, but correctly sequencing them to extract the most value out of your day. Getting my trains on the right track is more important than shoveling coal into the engine all day.