Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Karen Behnke is CEO of Juice Beauty, a San Rafael, California, organic beauty products firm that projects sales of more than $10 million this year. "Our top line is doubling, our EBITDA is doubling," says Behnke, 49. "We're doing very well."
But like the rest of us, Behnke has days when life gets in the way. She recalls one chaotic workday when her husband, Howard Luria, an interventional cardiologist, was away and she needed to make an hour-long drive to Napa where her dad, who is battling a brain tumor, had gotten worse.
To add to the stress, Behnke was between babysitters and didn't have anyone to watch her son and daughter, ages 9 and 7, until she got back. She made hasty child-care arrangements with another mom and began making her way over the winding roads to Napa with her phone ringing nonstop. One minute, her 83-year-old mother was calling; the next minute, she was taking a scheduled client call or speaking with one of Juice Beauty's 30 employees. Then there was the emotion involved in checking her dad into the hospital.
It was 9 p.m. when Behnke finally got home and put the kids to bed, but it wasn't lights out for her yet: She opened her laptop to find 120
e-mails waiting for her. "Those are the days that you think, 'Oh, my God. How am I going to do this?'" she says. "When something lands on top of [my schedule], that's when it just kind of falls apart."
As an entrepreneur, you'll have days when you feel like you're falling apart at the seams, too. Juggling everything--from watching your kid's soccer match to managing customers and suppliers and replying to e-mail--can leave any business owner in a reactionary mode. Things are getting worse as the pace of work speeds up and we're less willing to wait, says Peter Turla, founder of the National Management Institute, a Dallas consulting firm that helps companies with time management issues. Prioritizing tasks, meeting tight deadlines and handling interruptions are his three most popular subject areas. Turla says one question he often hears is, "What do you do when everything is top priority?"
Time for Change
E-mail is just one time management pitfall for businesspeople: Turla estimates that 65 percent of the participants in his time management seminars compulsively check their e-mail. "Psychologically, I think it's like opening a little surprise package," he says.
Jacob Guedalia, co-founder and CEO of iSkoot, a 39-employee Boston mobile VoIP firm that makes "buddy lists" for cell phones, isn't coy about the love he has for his BlackBerry. "It's the first thing I say hello to in the morning and the last thing I say goodnight to at night," says Guedalia, who gets 60 or more messages delivered to his BlackBerry during a typical morning and will reply to three-fourths of them within five minutes. Guedalia, 40, even uses his BlackBerry while he sits at the computer.
There are disadvantages to being a fanatical BlackBerry user--"You're never disconnected," says Guedalia--but he feels remote e-mail helps him close deals in shorter time frames. He can instantly contact iSkoot's R&D people in Israel and its partners on the West Coast. He also likes the freedom it gives him. "There are opportunities I've had to spend time with my kids or my wife that otherwise I wouldn't have had," he says. "I don't think of [BlackBerry use] as a disease. I think of it as a vitamin."
Vitamins can be dangerous in large quantities, however. The typical person spends between two and four hours a day answering e-mail when the majority of these messages can wait at least six to eight hours for a reply, says Paaige Turner, an associate professor of communication at Saint Louis University in St. Louis.
The problem with e-mail is that we haven't decided whether to treat it as a form of written communication where a delayed response is expected or as face-to-face communication that requires an immediate response. BlackBerrys only drive the perception of e-mail as a synchronous form of communication. "For most people, it's very confusing," Turner says. "They feel like they're obligated to respond immediately." Here are some tips for better e-mail management.
- Delegate less important e-mail to employees.
- Set up different e-mail accounts--one for vendors, one for clients and one for employees--so you can organize and prioritize.
- If it works for you, set up an automatic reply that says you check e-mail at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., for example, and advise people with urgent requests to call instead.
- Prioritize your e-mails in terms of urgency, so every e-mail doesn't require a quick reply.
- Set aside 15 to 30 minutes in the evening to reply to detail-oriented e-mails. This will give you time to craft a good response instead of typing on the fly during the day.
Navigating global time zones is another challenge that comes up in all Turla's corporate training classes: "With outsourcing, a lot of their colleagues are halfway around the world."
Brian Handly, CEO of Accipiter Solutions, a 10-year-old online advertising management company that generated sales of more than $8 million in 2006, remembers three or four years ago when the wee hours were prime time for speaking with foreign customers. "There were a lot of calls in the middle of the night," he says.
Today, the Raleigh, North Carolina, company has 63 employees worldwide, and 45 percent of its client base is international, with customers in Asia, Australia and Europe. Handly, 41, has delegated most foreign calls to Accipiter employees based in other countries, but he still finds himself in the office at strange hours. He spent one Friday night in October negotiating a contract with an international customer until 2 a.m. He's also participated in multiparty international conference calls at all hours, and he's made early morning calls to European customers just before he had to give a presentation at a conference on the West Coast. How does he do it all? "Little sleep," Handly says. "That's just part of it. You make sacrifices for the business."
These days, Handly will lose three hours of sleep in the middle of the night about once a quarter in order to negotiate with a foreign customer. "But there are much smaller sacrifices, half an hour here or there, that happen at least once a month," he says. He uses an outline to stay on track during late-night calls. Unfortunately, there's no easy solution to extreme time zone differences, but here are a few ways to make things easier.
- Include as few participants as possible on conference calls. (The rest can stay plugged in via instant messaging and e-mail.)
- Timeanddate.com has a world clock, a time zone converter and other tools that will speed up scheduling.
- Look for situations where e-mail can work in lieu of a conference call.
- If you're calling a distant time zone regularly, it may be time to hire a regional representative on the other side of the globe.
When it comes to 21st century child rearing, neither parent has it easy.
A 2006 CareerBuilder survey of more than 225 working dads found that 58 percent had missed at least one of their children's special events in the past year because of work, and 28 percent said their job is hurting their relationship with their children. Meanwhile, women who work while raising a family can expect their workload to average 71 hours a week, including nonpaid work.
Add running a business to the mix, and it's easy to feel overloaded and distracted. "For entrepreneurs, this happens when we are trying to make mac and cheese and answer e-mails at the same time," says Maria Bailey, founder and CEO of BSM Media, a Pompano Beach, Florida, firm that studies motherhood and work-life trends. "Our brains overload and we don't give 100 percent to either task."
Behnke and her husband have developed a routine. They get up at around 6 a.m. to work out for an hour, and they trade off taking the kids to school. Behnke usually gets to work between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. and runs at a fast work pace until 3 p.m., when she switches from CEO to mom for the next five hours. Three nights a week, she breaks out her laptop after the kids go to bed at 8:30 and works until midnight.
Behnke outsources her housekeeping and yard work, and she schedules her occasional out-of-town trips for the seven consecutive days every month that Luria is at home. It's a routine that she says works 85 percent of the time. Her advice? Outsource the things that fall in your no-guilt zone, and exercise regularly. "On the days I don't work out, I'm much more anxious," she says. Here are other tips for balancing work and home life.
- Keep a list of backup babysitters for emergencies.
- Compartmentalize your life. Bailey says, "If you give yourself permission not to observe your boundaries, others will do the same."
- Write a short personal mission statement that reminds you why you do it all.
- Have a few undisturbed rituals. This might mean having a quick but quiet breakfast or dinner or taking a 30-minute break. Short, periodic breaks divvy up your day, clear your head and revitalize you.
- Don't push yourself when you're tired. You've already worked a 12-hour day and you've got a lot left to do, but take an evening to rest. Solutions are often obvious with fresh eyes, and you're less likely to make mistakes.
Is Behnke's life crazy? Absolutely. Would she have it any other way? Absolutely not. She says, "When I see an opportunity, I have to go after it."
In His Shoes
Here's a day in the life of Alain Mayer, 43, co-founder and CTO of RedSeal Systems, a security software company in San Mateo, California, with more than 30 employees.
6:30 A.M. Mayer wakes up, checks his e-mail and hits the shower.
7 A.M. Running behind, Mayer wakes up his wife, Julie, kindergarten-aged daughter, Aliza, and preschool-aged son, Joshua. Julie gets Josh ready and takes him to preschool. Mayer gets Aliza dressed. He says her school uniform "saves 15 minutes deciding what to wear."
7:30 A.M. Mayer and Aliza have breakfast. He packs Aliza's lunch and waits for her to tie her shoes. Says Mayer, "I am no longer allowed to help."
8 A.M. Mayer drives Aliza to kindergarten on the other side of San Francisco. By 8:20, he's driving back across the city to RedSeal Systems' office in San Mateo. He makes calls en route. "If it is rainy and [there are] accidents," he says, "I won't make the first meeting, so I have to call in while I drive."
9 A.M. He gets to the office for progress meetings with the company's engineers. He might conduct a few job interviews, he says, "even if I had no time to read the resumes ahead of time."
Noon Mayer grabs lunch at Whole Foods.
1 P.M. He heads into product management meetings, product bug reviews and next-release discussions. He deals with customer issues and makes calls.
6 P.M. Mayer drives back to San Francisco and hits the gym, heading home afterward to see the kids before they go to bed.
8 P.M. The kids go to bed. Mayer says, "It's finally time to work in quietness [and] delve into product issues that need to be resolved the next day."
11 P.M. Mayer watches The Daily Show on TiVo and goes to bed. He wakes up and repeats the cycle. "My time at the office and at home is equally important to me," he says. "I can be productive at work, but I can also take care of things at 10 P.M., when the children are asleep."
Chris Penttila is a freelance journalist in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, area.