Small Business Design

Working on Un-time management Often small business design is pursued while we still have a full time job. On top of the demands placed on us by our employers, there’s family, school, recreation and a myriad of other tasks that compete for our time. This can be daunting and overwhelming. I want to spend a little time reflecting on how I’ve managed my time in the last 16 months. To lend a little credibility to myself, I want to talk about the time-line and then about the techniques that I’ve used to combat the stress that mental overload can cause. My Timeline – Yeah, I’ve been there In the past 18 months, I’ve: Sold a business, started another business, returned to graduate school, got married and landed a job. School and job changes would be enough for most but the background pressure that the other stuff creates is enough to put you over the edge.

What I’ve learned through this is that you have to concentrate not so much on time management, getting more things done in a finite amount of time but rather the elimination of unnecessary and wasteful activity. Timothy Ferris, author of the “Four Hour Work Week” teaches us that ‘E’ is for elimination. Gone are the days where I have the luxury of spinning in my chair while watching and endless brain-numbing stream of “YouTube” videos of monkeys dressed as little humans. There’s just too much to do. There’s too many critical deadlines. You really have to look at your day and ask “What absolutely NEEDS to get done today?”. The answer, if expressed honestly, may surprise you. What’s worse, the grass growing another 1/2? between now and the end of the week or missing an exam deadline? If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Pick the 2 or 3 MUST DO items on your list and execute them! No procrastinating, no excuses, no YouTube, no checking email for the 400th time today, just kick it out and move on to the next item. Do the two tasks and take a 30 minute break for a guilty pleasure. Now you can watch the “YouTube” monkeys.

Time-box Yourself – Tightly! How many times have you heard this: “Projects expand to fill the time allotted.”? Darden Business School allows for take-home exams. We enjoy this privilege because of a respected and tight honor policy. Take-home exams are timed which is the interesting part. A timed take-home exam? We generally get no more than 5 hours to complete an exam. Exams are typically comprehensive and in a word, complex. I HATED the timed policy! I could never figure out why the school wanted to limit the time we spent on exams. I RESENTED the fact that we only had 5 or so hours to digest the exam, do any research on the problem (open book is permitted). It was nerve-wracking, constricting and I really felt that there was just not enough time to adequately respond to the case, do the research, formulate a solution and finally articulate a concise and well-constructed answer. Then I thought about it a bit and realized two things.

First, this is life, especially in the context of an executive or business owner. We don’t have all the time in the world ponder, construct spreadsheets, consult experts (not allowed on the exam!) and so forth.

Second, the professors wanted us to zoom in on the important details and throw out the noise. Also very important for the small business owner. How many times do we endlessly ponder and never act? This is commonly referred to as analysis paralysis. So I offer this: in your life’s tasks, as with my exams, give yourself an absolute, tightly constrained, almost RIDICULOUS deadline in which to get something done, and just be done with it!! Takeaways If you are about to embark on a small business design, that is you are contemplating starting your own small business, congratulations! The takeaway here is that you have to be vigilant as you begin this journey. Many demands will be placed you you, some important others not so much. You have to develop a keen eye to determine which is valuable and which is not. I can’t help you on the specifics, but I caution you to be on the lookout. You won’t get the priority right 100% of the time, but I will promise you better results with focused elimination and tightly bounded time lines..

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