Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Francis Wade of 2TimeLabs.
If you are an employee in a steady job with dreams of starting your own business one day, be warned: your time management skills probably need an upgrade.
Ask people who have make the transition from being lifelong employees to intrepid entrepreneurs. Once the commitment becomes a serious one, their time becomes scarce. They find themselves working harder than ever before as the demands on their time grow exponentially. If they do leave to pursue the venture full-time they are often shocked to discover that they have much less free time than ever before.
To compensate, they steal time away from other commitments. Loved ones are often the first to notice: their time with the entrepreneur is among the first to be cut. Pings from an iPhone regularly interrupt family time. Exercise routines become relics of past times and meals turn into inconveniences slipped in between more important tasks. The former employee is now the CEO, Chairman, President, Janitor and every role in between.
Slowly but steadily, their lives swing out of balance.
The irony is that while they are working harder, and longer, they are actually stuck. Their time management skills haven’t improved a bit, and now they must manage a vast increase in time demands with the same system as before.
It’s a little like being in the gym, when all of a sudden there’s a need to lift twice as much weight in the same amount of time. You could manage it for a short while, perhaps, before failing.
The frantic pace that new entrepreneurs adopt in the early phases also fails – it’s not sustainable – as the negative consequences of an imbalanced life accumulate.
From personal experience I can confidently share that it’s easy to under-estimate the gap when you’re still an employee. When I worked at AT&T Bell Labs I thought I worked hard, but the truth was that once the weekend came my time was my own. It was inconceivable that I could think about work almost all the time, in every spare moment – a reality I discovered in the early phases of my own startup.
The good news is that a would-be entrepreneur can do more than just dream… they can prepare. Entrepreneurs can adopt the same techniques as marathon runners who must prepare themselves over long periods of time for the stresses of race day. While they are employees, they can ready themselves for a time when they’ll be forced to deal with many more time demands than they have ever dealt with.
If you want to upgrade your skills as a current or future entrepreneur, here are three steps you can take:
1. Diagnose Your Skills
In my book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure, the protagonist is startled to discover that each and every working professional already has a self-created, productivity system they use each day: a collection of habits, practices and rituals assembled in their late teens or early twenties.
In the past, most professionals created their system only once for their entire careers. However, as employee in the modern workplace the fact is that you are likely to have as many as 5-10 jobs in 20 years.
Also, you see more information in a day than your grandparents saw in a month. The explosion in information means that at present time human knowledge is doubling every 5 years. Starting your own company places you on the forefront of these changes.
The result? Unlike professionals in prior generations, you are forced to upgrade your system several times in the course of your career just to keep up.
The best place to start is not by chasing tips, tricks and shortcuts but by gaining a useful understanding of the invisible time management system that you have been using. What are its strengths? Its weaknesses? What’s missing? How does it compare against best-in-class performance? Where could you make simple improvements?
There are a number of methods you can use to start to gain this kind of in-depth understanding. On my website, I have a free diagnosis of a single skill (Capturing) that’s mentioned in Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure. This self-test leaves you with an idea of your skill level versus best practices. You can set up your own curriculum using the advice of the best productivity sages, create your own ladder of skills, and honestly score your own abilities.
2. Use Small Steps
After completing an honest assessment, most professionals are able to identify some very clear gaps. Oftentimes, there’s no need for a new gadget or a fancy shortcut: common-sense is enough. The danger comes from a belief that change should be easy, quick and painless.
Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. Habits, practices and rituals that have been repeated for several years won’t be replaced overnight. After being burned into our neuro-muscular memory they are difficult to dislodge, according to the most recent research on changing habits.
Instead of attempting a miraculous, all-at-once transformation, it’s better to plan for a series of baby steps. Focusing on a few small changes at a time is far more likely to succeed while building the confidence that so many lack when it comes to changing their habits.
3. Get Support
For a few days after we put together a plan to upgrade our systems, we’ll be at our motivational peak. We mistakenly believe that this peak will last forever, when in fact our willpower decays rapidly. When we hit our first bump in the road and revert to our old behaviors we become discouraged. For many, their plan is abandoned within the first 30 days.
The remedy is simple: assume the worst. Put in place supports that will keep you on track even though you may think you won’t need them. Hire a coach. Join a Master Mind. Take an online training program. These are just examples of the methods you’ll need to keep the momentum high as you go through the arduous task of changing habits.
The bottom line – prepare yourself for testing times ahead by building up a greater time management capacity than you need in the moment. Whether you are a would-be entrepreneur or already in your own business, your time is precious, and every minute carries with it a cost. Using time skillfully will not only give you a balanced life, but also move you forward to accomplishing your goals with far greater speed.
About Francis: Francis Wade is the author of Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure and the founder of 2Time Labs.