THE BLOG
09/19/2013 11:21 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

How to Maximize Your Time and Efficiency as an Entrepreneur

There really are only "so many hours in a day," and complaining won't buy you any more. This is one of those stubborn truths that, since starting my company over a decade ago, I've had to deal with on a daily basis. For an entrepreneur, time-management is probably the most valuable skill. Which is why I start every day by asking, "What is my personal bandwidth and how can I make the most of it?" It's the most important question an entrepreneur can ask himself or herself. But before you can answer it, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses.

I'll give you an example. I'm most creative in the afternoon and in the late evening. So for me, it's important to keep that time clear for special tasks. So I use the morning to answer email over a nice cup of coffee (very important). As many of you know, answering emails can often be a brainless, tedious task, so I don't waste my best hours on it. I make sure to highlight the emails that actually demand serious thought so that I can get to them after lunch, unless, of course, they are time-sensitive.

I also try to schedule meetings in the late morning or right after lunch. That is a good time for me to absorb and process information. Not sure why, but it is. If I have to write or design, I do it at night, at home, maybe even with a drink in hand (being a working entrepreneur doesn't mean I can't pay homage to Hemingway -- as long as I keep my distance from Bukowski).

Knowing your own limits isn't just about scheduling. It has to do with understanding how your mind and body functions. I'm pretty rational and mathematical for an artist and pretty artistic for such a straightforward thinker. I realize this, and make allowances for these strengths and limits when deciding on strategies, choosing artwork, or considering other people's views. Most of all, this kind of self-knowledge helps me know when something can be delegated and when it needs to be done by me - which is essential to using my time effectively.

Even if you know how to maximize your own productivity, entrepreneurs are often at a loss when it comes to deciding how to prioritize tasks. This still happens to me, and when it does, I think about a parable I first heard from Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho about three men working in a quarry. It's a hot day and they're all in the sun, tools in hand, doing their work. A stranger comes along and asks them each what they're doing. The first person states the obvious: he is breaking rocks. The second guy says he's working to earn money for his family; he clocks in and clocks out. The third, who is working passionately at the same task, exclaims that he is building a cathedral. (A more eloquent version - complete with Brazilian accent -- can be found here).

Whether they're answering emails, making copies, or negotiating with a high-level client, entrepreneurs should always feel like they're building a cathedral. And if you keep your eyes on that big picture, it becomes far easier to understand which tasks need your attention today, which can wait until next week, and which should be passed off to someone else.

Finally, you can't base your own work habits on those of others. We're all different. Years ago I had a chance meeting with Tim Ferris, who you may know as the author of "The 4 Hour Workweek." It was in Pasadena at a bodybuilding convention, years before he came out with his book. He approached me about HeadBlade and mentioned that he was a fan of the product even though he didn't shave. I was impressed with his energy.

When his book came out and he was quickly anointed as a business guru, I remembered our fateful meeting. Yes, maybe he does have the key to a four-hour workweek, I thought. Or maybe it's built around doing 100 hours a week for few years before taking it easy, or maybe it's just another name for retirement, or maybe it's the business-book equivalent to four-minute abs. Whatever it is, it worked for him and now that you're buying his books he might soon have a three-hour work week.

I would love to be an overnight success, too. But we all know that overnight success usually takes a lifetime. There is a famous court case involving the painter James McNeil Whistler. The details of the case aren't important, but at some point during the proceedings he took the stand was asked whether the amount of time he spent painting one of his works was worth the amount of money the patron paid for it. Whistler, defiant, stated that, sure, the painting didn't take long at all, but that's only because he had devoted his entire life to painting for years before completing that piece.

You're not Tim Ferris. And I'm not Whistler. I'm especially not Bukowski. The key is finding out what works for you. Know your personal bandwidth. Know when you are most effective at certain tasks and when you need to cruise. Learn your breaking point. Be able to prioritize and tackle work the way that good journalists write; top down. Hit the most critical and timely matters first.

Most important, keep the cathedral in view at all times. It'll almost certainly take more than few hours a week to finish it. But if it were easy, everyone would do it.

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