Bill Gates swears by it and packs his full. Warren Buffet leaves his essentially blank. Richard Branson concurs with Warren and also leaves his open to “schedule time just to dream.” The “it” being referred to is a calendar, such as an online assistant that Google offers or perhaps even an old school ink-printed-have-to-flip-the-month one that tacks on the wall or resides on your computer desk beside a sci-fi action figure and a Furby doll with dead batteries. Regardless of the weapon of choice, using calendars for scheduling and agenda planning, to at least some degree, is essential for keeping business dealings and operations on track.
First of all, perception is everything in business. The appearance of demand is desirable, to appear busy is tolerable, unreliability is not. So time management can be paramount to a business’s success or failure, particularly, many claim, for startups. But how much scheduling is too much? Is micro managing every minute the key to success? Is it necessary? Is it even possible?
“Never let anyone own your schedule.” Lou Gerstner
Let’s dig into this further with a look at some startup time management techniques.
- Create & stick to a routine - use time blocks to catalog and prioritize key business events and adhere to them (eg. Every Monday from 7-9 am is team meeting).
- Rigid, yet flexible call lengths - anticipate the length of a call and try to stick to it. For example, a customer follow-up might average 10 minutes whilst a new reachout may require 30 minutes. Try to keep to these allotments, but obviously cater to the caller. If it runs long, that’s okay; if it cuts short, even better!
- Try not to run meetings back-to-back - tightly packing your schedule leads to the 3 P’s: problems, panic, pulling-out-your-hair. Give yourself time to breath between.
- Use any appointment slot features on your online calendar - this will create a link to send out to the applicable contacts and save the time of hopping on board the email train.
- Schedule in email time - speaking of the email train, it is imperative to schedule in a daily block of time to check and respond to emails and stick to it. Opportunities can so easily be missed when there’s days old emails in an inbox 200 deep.
- Family matters - ensure there’s “me” time slotted in. Other than a business emergency, nothing should supercede this.
“As a serial entrepreneur, I have my own thoughts on calendar use.”
In many ways a full calendar is a good thing. For example, if a salesperson is booked full up this usually means they have many leads in the pipeline, ergo many opportunities to further boost sales. Ideally and in theory, the calendar should be full in this case. But at the same time clients will be calling up every now and then (say for quick answers to questions), so if you’re back-to-back on calls all day long you might not get a chance to return that client’s call.
Another scenario: You might have an event booked a month from now, but who knows where the company will be positioned in a month? So make sure to have a clear value/agenda assigned to each meeting booked in advance - even if it’s just relationship building; there’s still value there. Attaching value to time is important.
This means always leave a time gap in between calls for catch-ups, debriefings, etc. Of course, that’s assuming one person=one role. When you’ve got someone like myself who wears multiple hats (doing engineering, team management, event speaking, et. al.) it’s very difficult to plan ahead, because you need to drop what you’re doing on a moment’s notice to jump into something else.
“This is my set time, this is what I’m going to follow.”
If anything, scheduling in advance can make it harder on a startup, as no one can anticipate what might come up and now you’ve backed yourself into a time corner with no flexibility. This advance scheduling approach is more for companies in growth/development mode as opposed to startup mode. If there’s more people in a company, where roles are diminished and are more properly defined, a more structured approach would be the agenda. Because now you can optimize; boring, but effective.
However, the one inflexible element of calendar scheduling, for any stage of a business, is the social media launch. Product release, ad campaigns, client reception, etc. must all be planned ahead and synced up. The customer needs to know that they can get the product and when and where they can get it.
So who’s right: Warren Buffet or Bill Gates? Both and neither. They’re at different points in their careers/lives/agendas and have found the balance of calendar reliance that works for them.
The bottom line is to adapt until you are getting shit done. That is the only metric that matters. Use whatever approach is best for you and experiment until you find the right mix. There is no right or wrong, no one-size-fits-all, no magic elixir. Look at company size, how busy you are, what you’re trying to achieve both immediately and further down the line, etc.
Maybe then your Frankenstein can be taught to dance. And remember, time is the most precious commodity - it’s the one you can’t get back.
If you’re trying to decide which online calendar might work best for you, here’s a great link:
5 Best Calendar Apps for Startups to Grow Their Business