My approach to time management – Not To Do list

My approach to time management is simple – eliminate tasks which don’t absolutely require my involvement and focus on a few important tasks where only I can add value.

I learned time management while preparing for the dreaded college entrance exams – SAT. I quickly realized the power of elimination while trying to guess answers to those esoteric vocabulary questions on SAT. It worked, so I started applying them to life in general.

Life is too short to waste on doing things which you don’t love to do, tasks where you don’t have an expertise, and things which won’t help you grow and move forward on the critical path to success towards achieving your goals. Entities around us have a tendency to inundate us with things which fall in each of those categories.

I’ve also realized that at any given time, my mind cannot really focus on more than a few tasks (and those tasks are obvious.) Regardless of their interestingness, some tasks need to get done. The highest order bit is to identify the tasks which absolutely require my involvement (coincidentally these are also the tasks, which I enjoy). Then delegate those remaining tasks to someone who is competent, who would enjoy and who would be willing to do the tasks, which don’t require my involvement.

The easiest way to do so is to hire a personal assistant (or even a virtual assistant.) Ideally the best folks suited for such tasks tend to be college students (they’re smart, educated, affordable and fun to work with).

When I refer to the tasks, which absolutely don’t require my involvement, I don’t mean mundane redundant tasks which can be automated. For instance, buying groceries, making bill payments, etc. Most such tasks can be and should be automated. There is a class of tasks which may be boring for me, but really interesting and challenging for some folks. For instance, doing preliminary market research, organizing events, prioritizing reading lists, filling in expense reports, etc.

Here’s how I manage my time.

  • Make a list of all tasks which I need to do.
  • Divide the list into two: To Do and Not To Do
  • Delegate the tasks from the Not To Do list to folks best suited for those tasks. Follow up diligently until the task is done.
  • Focus all my mindshare on the To Do list, which doesn’t contain more than five tasks at any given time. In fact I don’t even need to look at the list to remember which those five items, as they’re often obvious.

I try to make sure that the tasks are delegated to a person who would enjoy doing the delegated task and I’m genuinely express my gratitude as well as appreciation to that person for agreeing to finish those tasks.

My Not To Do list contains:

  • Get the car repaired.
  • Organize an event for a non-profit organization.
  • Research about three industry trends.
  • Submit four expense reports
  • ..and a few other..

What’s on your Not To Do list?

Kintan

Photo used under Creative Commons from flickr.com. Photo taken by Patrick Hocker.

The f words – fight, flee or flow

Fight, flee or flow – are the three obvious approaches to any challenge.  When faced with a challenging, one can either fight it (read "change" it) or can flee away (read "give up") or flow (abandon your judgement and accept things).

While I've known myself choosing "fight" in more situations, "flee" could proven to be an equally effective approach in certain situations. My intention is not to "preach" here, but share a quick summary of my approaches to address challenging situations.

Fight:

Fight is synonymous to persistence. It is the most common trait in everyone whom I admire. It defines entrepreneurs. In fact, it gives birth to entrepreneurs. Most successful products/ideas have been born, when someone fought the status quo and created a company/organization to manifest that fight. Think "Dyson" vacuum cleaners, think "Apple" computers, think "facebook", think "Kindle" and thousands of other entrepreneurial stories. Most people get this, so I'm not saying anything new here.

Flee:

Fleeing means accepting that fighting may not be the most optimal approach for you, so giving up the fight (and hopefully start a new fight). It is considered a taboo to give up, especially in the entrepreneurial circles. Quitting is often not an option. "Finish what you started" is often the advice young entrepreneurs receive. Most importantly, the spirit of "fighting" is so strong, that even a thought of "fleeing" away from the situation is traumatic for the entrepreneur.

Yesterday I caught up with Peter (an old friend and the co-founder of my first startup – Securamed) over dinner. It was one of those classic "catching up" meetings and the obvious topic of discussion was – "where we were in our entrepreneurial quests." After gobling loads of fried tofu at Thai Tom in the U-district of Seattle, we asked to ourselves – "What would we have done differently at Securamed, if we were starting it today?" We discussed the interns we had hired, tens of conferences we had attended, business plan pitches we had made and hundreds of rejected sales calls, we had experienced as student entrepreneurs.

The over-arching theme of the discussion was – "We should have accepted that our product was not fit for the market conditions at the time and should have started working on another idea sooner. We could have realized the opportunity cost of pursuing the idea further at that point to pick up another fight sooner."

To set the context, we were trying to create a reverse-auction-based marketplace for health insurance by converging health insurance and personal health management. We eventually realized that despite winning five student business plan competitions and a brilliantly designed product, the market was not just ready for it. In some ways the market isn't ready yet for some of the advances in the "business of healthcare". It is apparent from the not-so-successful attempts in the healthcare realm by effective companies like Google and Microsoft. We eventually realized the opportunity cost, reduced the scope of the product and continued a very small portion of the product offering.

The highest order bit is to realize when to fight and when to flee. I'm not a huge fan of putting "stop loss" orders on my investments, but as entrepreneurs the opportunity cost of not doing so could be high.

Let's flee a dud and start a new fight.

Kintan

ps: Don't just flow. It is immoral to abandon your own judgement, so either fight or flee, but don't flow.