Why People Who Schedule Fewer Tasks Get More Done
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Entrepreneur has in many cases become a synonym for martyr. Founders sleep as little as possible, promise everything they can and fill their schedules to the brim in a hopeless effort to do everything at once.
Predictably, this obsession with monumental to-do lists is harming, not helping, entrepreneurs’ productivity. Multitasking, which has repeatedly been proven ineffective, is inevitable when people try to do too much. Time reported last year that multitasking harms decision-making abilities. Harvard Business Review recently covered research debunking the myth that women are naturally gifted multitaskers. The facts are plain: multi-tasking doesn’t work.
Why, then, do modern entrepreneurs who pride themselves on efficiency and data reliance continue to pile too many projects and tasks on their plates? Working harder doesn’t add more hours to the day: it just makes the days feel longer. Rather than exhaust themselves via overpromising, business owners need to learn how to clear their schedules to get more done.
The science of doing less to accomplish more.
Earlier this year, Selin Malkoc and Gabriela Tonietto published a paper called Activity Versus Outcome Maximization in Time Management. The pair’s research focuses on how people balance how much they accomplish (activity) with the quality of their results (outcome).
According to this study, overscheduling leads to what the researchers call “time famine,” the impression that there aren’t enough hours to get everything done. Time famine carries a variety of consequences including decreased productivity and negative health effects.
Time famine is a persistent threat for entrepreneurs with a million demands on their schedules. With investors to reassure, deals to close and developments to complete, most business owners maintain tight control over their schedules to avoid missing anything important. However, the researchers argue that this desire for control has the opposite effect when put into practice.
Malkoc and Tonietto suggest an alternative they call “rough scheduling” to correct the imbalance. Using rough scheduling, people address tasks by priority, not by time. If something falls off the list, then it must not have been important enough to beat out anything else.
Rough scheduling requires founders to become experts at determining what’s important to their companies and what’s wasted effort. As frightening as it sounds, though, rough scheduling is far superior to the alternative. A founder who does three things well is much more valuable to the company than a founder who does eight things poorly.
Master the art of rough scheduling.
Doing more by doing less is not an easy concept to master. However, with a bit of mindset practice and an adjustment of priorities, any founder can overcome time famine.
Start by prioritizing the KPIs that matter most. Investors usually have plenty to say about what those KPIs should be, but the right answer depends on the company asking the question. Some focus more on customer acquisitions, others on profit margin and others on runway. The smartest companies, however, focus on the tasks that put money in the company’s coffers before anything else.
Next, learn to delegate tasks that don’t require the direct attention of the founder. Research in Harvard Business Review found that CEOs spend 25 percent of their time doing work that computers could do. The average founder's workweek is 64 hours long, which means founders could gain 16 hours per week (two standard working days) just by automating basic tasks. I've found that I personally have to do this on a calendar app for it to really work.
Send representatives to meetings that don’t absolutely require the presence of the owner. Trust developers and salespeople to do their jobs well. Abandon micromanagement and administrative work. Before long, weeks that used to be filled to the brim with appointments will become far less crowded -- perfect for founders who can use that time to grow their companies.
The best way to clear a schedule, though, is not to fill it up in the first place. Learn to say “no” as often as possible. If someone else can do the work, someone else should do the work. Business owners are responsible for everything, and those who aren’t careful end up working too much in the business and too little on it.
End the obsession with late nights and full plates. Learn to let go, not only for sanity’s sake but also for productivity’s. Practice rough scheduling, say “no” more often and take back all that wasted time.