I was reading this blog post by Noah Kagan of AppSumo, Mint, and Facebook fame, about how Founders should not waste their time doing trivial tasks, and thought, while it served as a good briefing, there is much more to it than that.
It’s not only that Founders and Entrepreneurs should not waste their time on trivial tasks. They should not be wasting their time, period. Noah talks about outsourcing as one way to relieve the burden of busy work and other menial tasks. I want to talk about not wasting time, and how to value it.
At the core of every entrepreneur are a million and one, possibly more, business ideas. Each and every one of those ideas will take resources to build. Even the simplest of wire-frames on a legal pad require you to concentrate long enough to put pen to paper. If you are serious about exploring the possibilities of your idea (and that is a serious question you should ask yourself), then you should devote all your time and energy to only the tasks absolutely necessary to exploring those possibilities. Even if you are working for a startup, where multi-tasking is a way of life, it is still important to not waste time. As Noah mentioned in his blog, you should avoid the frivolities. But it’s about more than just avoiding the frivolities, you have to work on the most valuable stuff, first, foremost, and always. tl;dr: All idea exploration takes resources, which takes time.
Figuring out how valuable each task is to the project takes work, but gets easier each successive time. First, think about all the items you are going to need to accomplish to complete the project. Write that shit down! Make sure you have an app on your phone to record stuff, because when you are shopping at Target for black beans for Taco Tuesday, and you think of something else you need to do and don’t have a pen or paper, you are going to whip out your phone and record a memo. Of course this list will never really end, but once you have everything that could possibly be considered “Stage 1”, figure out what is most valuable and do it. Move down the list in order of how valuable it is. What do you think your users are going to find more valuable, your product, or the awesome font you are tweaking until it’s just right? If you are like me, and many other Founders and Entrepreneurs, and suffer from an inability to let go, don’t worry, it just takes practice, and some patience, to get over it. Trust the process. tl;dr: Organize and complete your tasks by how valuable they are to your project.
When working on a new project, I often try to think about how much I would pay someone else to do a given job before I decide to embark on it. If it can be done for minimum wage or less, it can wait until after-hours, or not at all. Think about all the websites you use and everything that probably has to happen in order for what you are looking at to be there. Now think about what you find valuable about the site. When you visit Amazon, is it the speed of the site and their selection, or the graphics and photo galleries, that make you shop there? Is AirBnB awesome because they offer a great service, or because their website is super slick? Ok, on that last one, their website does help their cause, but it wouldn’t mean anything without the service behind it. Those graphics, photo galleries, and web slickness were put together by people at the company less valuable than the CEO or Founder, I assure you. While your brand and design, and how everything looks and comes together is extraordinarily valuable, if you do not provide the service or product you purport to, no amount of brand recognition will help. tl;dr: Concentrate only on what is valuable. Determine value by how much you’d pay someone else to do it (at least at the start).
One last way Founders and Entrepreneurs tend to waste time is doing things outside the scope of their capabilities. As a rule, Founders and Entrepreneurs have to do everything. But not everyone is good at everything, so eventually you are going to need some help. You will inevitably spend 4 hours trying to figure out why your website is down, only to discover that it isn’t, but you should avoid the big things when possible. The secret is to look at the list of valuable tasks you need to accomplish and figure out which tasks are going to take you too long than is reasonable, and which ones you cannot do at all. Circle or underline those tasks and hire someone to do those. This is where being a Hustler becomes necessary. If funds are tight, as is the case with most early stage startups, you are going to have to convince someone to do it for less than their typical rate, or *gasp* for free! It’s not easy, so get on that! tl;dr: Asses which valuable tasks you cannot accomplish quickly or at all, and find someone to do those. Hustle.
Here’s two sites for those Founders looking to get their idea online, but don’t have funds:
Weebly: They offer a free website building tool with free hosting available (weebly.com/yoursite). If you have a server, you just need to adjust nameservers. Their service is extremely valuable, it’s ridiculous that they give anything away for free.
What are some ways you avoid wasting time? How do you determine the value of your time?