During a recent review meeting, I asked the startup CEO the status of certain action items agreed to in the previous meeting. He smiled sheepishly and said that he would need more time as his days were packed and that he would need another 10 days to complete the pending items. This was after 2 weeks had elapsed! Upon digging deeper and on further questioning, it transpired that it wouldn’t have taken more than 4 hours to accomplish the tasks. Yet the CEO was asking for more time and he was indeed very busy!
“Call me tomorrow afternoon”, said another startup CEO. I was trying to set up a phone call with this person to discuss a possible partnership with a startup I’m involved with. Upon calling the next day in the “afternoon”, I was told that the CEO was in another meeting and that he would call back. I asked for a time when I could expect a call – that wasn’t forthcoming. I also couldn’t get a convenient time for me to call back at. I received a call late in the evening that day from the executive apologizing profusely and that his day had been very busy. It took a while to schedule a meeting thereafter.
The two examples are symptomatic of a larger malaise in our society. The near absence of time management, task prioritization, planning and scheduling. Of course, a visit to a government office or indeed any interaction with a government department showcases these issues in all their starkness! Speed of movement and its obverse namely, time management, is a source of enormous competitive advantage in a startup and by not taking advantage of this resource, a startup loses. Unfortunately, startups in our country aren’t immune to these problems.
So what are some of the things that a startup founder can do?
- Start by taking notes in any meeting. Capture the key points, the actions expected, timelines for completion and note the person responsible for those actions. Send out the meeting minutes to all. Subsequent meetings should start with a review of the actions decided on in the previous meetings. Our oral traditions seem to have permeated into our DNA and therefore the creation, assimilation and dispersion of information and knowledge isn’t our strong suit.
- Delegation. Learn to trust key team members with responsibility. Give them the freedom to execute. Provide resources to the extent possible. Review performance based on deliverables, quality and time commitments. Let the concerned individual or leader take decisions. You should not be the bottle neck for decision making. Don’t penalize failure but penalize lack of learning from failure! This will enable the team around you to learn and grow, thereby enhancing organizational capacity. Don’t micro-manage and second guess.
- Plan your day. Schedule review meetings. Schedule external meetings. Attempt to reduce interrupts to the minimum. Have a daily (whatever else works) morning briefing session with the team on what’s expected, make sure everyone understands what needs to be done, understand the challenges ahead and try and get the team’s inputs on dealing with these challenges. Every phone call doesn’t need to be responded to eg when in a meeting, don’t take a call unless it is from a customer! Respond to missed calls after the meeting.
- Don’t waste time on chat / SMS when in a meeting. Multi-tasking isn’t quite technically multi-tasking – it is actually a deployment of sub-optimal attention to any one task. Research has shown that multi-taskers, while looking impressive and important, aren’t quite as productive.
- Prioritize! Customer meetings and interactions always trump every other interaction. All meetings or tasks aren’t equally important, they just seem that way. Learn to distinguish between the important, the urgent, and the “can-wait-and-the-sky-won’t-fall”.
It is said that the busiest man has the most time. The next time you think you are busy, think of this statement and the points above.
What do you think?
Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are his own.