Time is often called the great equalizer. You can’t buy, sell it, or trade it. Everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. The only thing you can do with time is manage it. As a youth, I was often reminded of this by elders, but it didn’t resonate with me. It wasn’t until I was a founder that I learned how managing time effectively can change your trajectory.
When I was asked recently for my views on this topic, I shared a few habits and tricks I’ve adopted over the years. Here they are:
- Mortality – I use this Chrome extension to remind me how much time I have left to live. It’s a (yes, somewhat morbid) subtle daily reminder to not waste time.
- Weekly reflection – I reflect on the past week in blog posts, numbering these weekly posts so I can keep track of the weeks. I started doing this early in the pandemic to track how many weeks I’d been working from home, and it morphed into a broader reflection. Here’s a recent post.
- Schedule – I try to think about what types of activities I want to work on each workday. I’ve blocked out time for certain things and I use this technique as a guideline and reminder about what I should be focusing on.
- No – I say not to a lot of things to protect my time.
- Time vs. money – When I have the option of paying (a reasonable amount) for something that saves me time, I normally decide to pay. I figure I’m going to pay in time or in money. I can make more money, but not more time. I understand that I’m fortunate to be able to make this choice and that not everyone is. I appreciate my good fortune and don’t take it for granted.
These are some things I’ve learned and adopted over the years. I understand that they won’t work for everyone, and I’d love to hear how others manage their precious time.
Learn by Extending a Helping Hand
I’ve been listening to a friend talk about a deal he was considering. It was a big real estate deal, something I’m not experienced in. I didn’t have a stake in it, but I decided to help in a way that leveraged my strengths. I’m a numbers guy, so I built a crude financial model to help clarify the worst-case scenario. We talked it over and he shared his insights on what the model was saying and things it didn’t account for.
Today, I learned that the deal fell apart. Not the outcome we were hoping for, but I realized that supporting my friend had been a great experience. First, it always feels good to contribute to someone else’s success. My assistance wasn’t material (in my opinion), but every little bit helps when you’re trying to do the impossible. Second, helping my friend, who’s experienced in a space that I consider a future area of interest, was a terrific opportunity for me. I learned a lot, fast, from the combination of his wisdom and my own research.
If you’d like to learn about an area or gain some experience in it, try to find a way to offer your skills, free of charge, to someone knowledgeable. Give back by helping a friend or colleague . . . learn about something that interests you . . . it’s a win–win!
Done Is Better Than Perfect
I’ve been working on a project for a few weeks. My vision was to use the most advanced tech to make it a success. I wrote down what I was trying to accomplish and began researching. Ideas for solutions came from others along the way. But my vision slowly deflated. To my surprise, my dream technology doesn’t exist. When I talked to people who live the problems I was working on, I learned they’re using manual workarounds or legacy tech. The more I dug, the more frustrated I felt.
I was forced to accept that the perfect solution I envisioned isn’t possible. So, taking a step back, I reviewed my goals for this project. This reset my perspective. I was reminded that I was looking for the solution that best checks certain boxes—it doesn’t have to be perfect. In the end, a legacy technology was the best option. It’s not slick (in fact, it’s clunky) or cutting edge. But it efficiently does what I need done. I embraced it and wrapped up that part of the project.
I was reminded of a common start-up mantra: done is better than perfect. Sometimes the best solution isn’t glamorous. It just works.
Great Questions Can Lead to Great Outcomes
Decision-making and quick learning are keys to success. If you can learn quickly and apply your new knowledge to improve your decision-making, you’re more likely to achieve your goals. As I thought more about how I’ve observed others learn, another pattern emerged: great questions.
Whenever I meet with successful people, they ask me great questions. I often leave meetings thinking about things that had never before occurred to me. They usually don’t tell me what to do, but nevertheless they have a huge impact on my decision-making.
Great questions don’t always have to come from other people. In difficult situations, I’ve had some tough conversations with myself. I’m capable of asking myself tough questions! Where am I failing? Why am I doing this? What’s my biggest fear for this project? Answering such questions honestly has clarified things and helped me make better decisions and push through.
Great questions can lead to great outcomes. If there’s something great you want to accomplish, consider putting yourself in position to be asked great questions.
It’s OK to Change Your Mind as You Learn
Decision-making is one of the main responsibilities of leaders (all leaders, not just entrepreneurs). When you lead a team, others look to you for guidance. Making decisions that affect only you is one thing. Knowing that you’re affecting other people’s lives is quite another—and it makes decision-making more difficult.
I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with great entrepreneurs, and I’m always curious about how they approach decision-making. From what I’ve seen, everyone’s style is different and there’s no wrong way to go about it. However, I’ve noticed one pattern: they’re not afraid to change their mind. I didn’t know what to make of this at first. Was it indecisiveness? Lack of focus? Eventually, I figured it out: none of the above. They were learning. They allowed their thinking to evolve based on new information. They were unafraid to admit they’d been wrong and change their mind.
Some people struggle with making decisions that affect other people. And rightly so. There have been times I’ve worried about making the wrong decision, and I still struggle with it from time to time. Over the years, though, making decisions has become easier. I remind myself that they usually aren’t set in stone, and it’s OK for me to change my mind. It’s even OK to admit that I was wrong!
The next time you have to make a decision that affects others, make the best decision you can with the information available to you. That’s all anyone can expect of you. And remember: it’s OK to change your mind as you learn.
Weekly Reflection: Week Forty-Two
Today marks the end of my forty-second week of working from home (mostly). Here are my takeaways from week forty-two:
- Schedule – I thought about my schedule in 2020. There were some things I liked about my schedule but others I didn’t. I’ve adjusted it a bit and am blocking off bigger chunks of time. I’ll see how this works and finalize something at the end of the month.
- Community – I’ve been thinking about community and talking to people about it more. It’s top of mind for people personally and professionally. It’s a real problem—that is, lack of community in this pandemic age is a problem—that people are actively trying to solve in a safe way.
- Founders – I enjoyed my conversations with founders this week. Their energy and passion was refreshing.
Week forty-two was a steady week. Looking forward to celebrating (virtually) the MLK holiday on Monday.
Timing: A Big Factor In Success
Today I spoke separately with an investor and a founder who both mentioned how timing beyond their control had an big impact on them.
The investor has been at it for many years. When he started raising his first fund, it was tough because his thesis didn’t resonate with many people. Today that same thesis is popular and has allowed him to raise his latest fund quickly.
The founder has been solving a painful problem for years. When he began, his target customers weren’t open to a digital solution (yes, industries like this still exist). The pandemic has forced them to adapt, and they’re readily using his digital solution.
These two people haven’t changed what they’re doing. They’ve stuck to the same script. The difference is that the timing is right—the market now values what they’re doing.
Make no mistake. Timing is a big factor in success. It may not determine success, but it heavily influences it. Unfortunately, people are usually at its mercy. Everything can be right except the timing, and there’s not much you can do about it. We can’t control timing, but we can be aware of it and act accordingly. I’ve seen founders know they were on to something big but also aware enough to know the timing wasn’t right. Some of them chose to spend their time and energy on something else. Others worked on perfecting their solution until the timing was right. I’ve seen both approaches lead to success. The key was awareness, which allowed them to make proactive decisions that factored in timing.
The next time you’re trying to do something, ask yourself, “Is the timing right?”
Great Entrepreneurs Are Fast Learners
The journey of an entrepreneur is one of constant experimentation. Some experiments will succeed and some will fail. Regardless of the outcome, entrepreneurs will have many learning opportunities along the way. When I think about it, what propelled my founder friends to success was learning. Not the ability to learn, but the speed at which they learned from experiments and applied those learnings going forward.
A close friend had a marketing business focused on small businesses in a particular niche. He worked closely with his clients to learn their challenges in acquiring customers. Soon, he realized that one of their specific problems was shared by tons of other small and medium-sized businesses. He experimented with solutions until he found one his customers valued. The rest is history. Today that company is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Everyone can learn, but great founders learn quickly and apply their new knowledge quickly. The next time you wrap up a project (whether the outcome was good or bad), make it a point to look for takeaways and think about how you can apply them in the future. If you do this regularly, you’ll learn rapidly and increase your chances of success.
Mindset Matters to Outsize Success
In my post yesterday, I shared my thoughts about success requiring not only luck (preparation + opportunity) but also the ability to recognize an opportunity and the willingness to act on it despite the risks inherent in doing so.
Today I had a chat with a close friend about people’s mindsets. We talked about how important mindset is to outsize success. Your mindset can prevent you from taking action when you get a lucky break—even when it’s staring you in the face.
I’ve noticed a pattern in the mindsets of people who’ve achieved big successes. They realize they could fail. The time and energy—not to mention money—they put into something could be all for nothing. Yet they don’t dwell on that. They accept it and focus on the upside potential. If everything goes right, how big could this be? They look for opportunities that have massive upside.
The next time you get a lucky break or evaluate an opportunity, be aware of your mindset. (In other words, think about how you’re thinking . . . something, it’s believed, humans are uniquely able to do.) Take a second to ask yourself: if everything goes right, how big could the upside on this opportunity be? The change in mindset could lead you to outsize success!
Outsize Success Takes More Than Luck
Someone made a point in a debate I listened to today that gave me pause. He said luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. The Roman philosopher Seneca said that first, and I agree with him. The debater took this one step further, though. He said you have to be willing to take risks to capitalize on luck. He gave the example of a backup quarterback who practices hard and is ready when the starting QB is hurt. The backup gets a lucky (for him) break to show what he can do on the field. But playing involves risks that he must accept to take advantage of his luck. He could fail by performing poorly (this trips a lot of people up) or being injured.
I spent more time thinking about this and I generally agree with what was said today, but think they missed something. In speaking with entrepreneurs (not just techies) and investors who’ve had outsize success, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern. They all have the ability to recognize when they’re in a lucky situation and take action—rapidly, if they’re among the best. (Most lucky situations aren’t as obvious as the backup QB’s was.) Sure, things can go wrong, but they mentally set that possibility to the side, focus on the upside, and accept the risk.
When I think about what it takes to succeed, I view it as a two-step process:
· Preparation + Opportunity = Luck
· Luck + Recognition + Action (i.e., accepting risk) = Success
Following this two-step process doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be successful. But being aware of it will make success more likely.
If an athlete practices hard and finally gets the chance to play, that’s not enough. He has to jump at the opportunity, play his best, and risk failing or being injured. Otherwise, his luck isn’t going to lead to success.