Time management is a complex subject with no shortage of strong opinions, including Pomodoro timers, pen-and-paper todo lists, Getting Things Done (GTD), and countless other methodologies and strategies. At the core, these systems are trying to hack human behavior to become more productive.
Let’s take a look at some time management strategies specific to technical founders, who struggle with unique challenges.
Define your role
Startup founders wear many hats. Technical co-founders may be responsible for software development, human resources, marketing, and office management. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these competing demands, especially if you’re working with multiple founders or stakeholders.
Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People recommends that entrepreneurs break down their responsibilities into well-defined roles and actionable steps. That way, there’s clear idea of what’s ahead and how to reach long-term goals rather than just struggling to stay alive.
Start by creating a list of job descriptions for your various roles in the business. For example, you may write descriptions for a senior developer, head of human resources, marketing consultant, and office manager. They should include a list of all of the tasks required for the position.
Next, try to determine what roles you enjoy and where you provide the greatest value. The roles that aren’t on that list should be candidates for employees or contractors. By paring down your roles, you can focus on the efforts that make the greatest impact and maximize your happiness.
Timebox your todos
Todo lists are a great way to organize tasks, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed with too many choices. You may also be drawn to easier tasks and put off important tasks that aren’t urgent. If you need proof, look at your current todo list and see how many items have been there for days or weeks.
Most technical founders are familiar with agile project management, which involves adding difficulty or time estimates to development tasks. The same approach can be very useful when managing todo lists—estimate how much time each task will take and then put them in a calendar.
In addition to eliminating the drawbacks of todo lists, timeboxing helps you commit to actually getting tasks done on time, estimate when they will be completed, and even tell you when you should say ‘yes’ to a new project. You suddenly have a lot more visibility into your days and weeks.
Filtered’s study on the 100 most useful productivity tips found that timeboxing was the single best way to improve productivity, since it addresses multiple aspects of behavior, including single-tasking, prioritization, feelings of accomplishment, and being transparent.
Outsource when possible
Outsourcing is a great way to free up time and make sure critical tasks are accomplished—especially for tedious tasks that the in-house developers tend to avoid. Recruiting and hiring new developers is challenging enough without assigning them monotonous tasks!
Some good areas to look at outsourcing include:
- Refactoring: Many startups move quickly to build products, which means that refactoring is often necessary. But it’s hard to budget time to refactoring when new features are both in-demand and more exciting to develop. Outsourcing refactoring tasks can ensure these critical tasks are finished to reduce long-term technical debt.
- Testing Suites: Test-driven development is becoming increasingly common, but many startups don’t have as much test coverage as they would like. Writing tests can be just as tedious as refactoring, but they are necessary to have confidence in future changes. Outsourcing can bring testing suites back up to par.
- Maintenance & Support: Maintenance and support tasks can be tedious, but unmaintained software can expose a startup to significant security risks. Siftware specializes in this kind of outsourcing for PHP applications by auditing the codebase, making it portable, and ensuring that it’s updated and secure over time.
When outsourcing these tasks, it’s important to work with a reputable long-term partner. Many freelance developers eventually find full-time work, which could leave your company empty-handed at a critical time. Specialized agencies can provide 24/7 availability and scalable resources.
Measure & improve
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. As a technical cofounder, it’s your job to come up with key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure your team’s productivity and the company’s long-term trajectory. These KPIs can show you what’s working and what needs to be improved over time.
There are many different ways to measure productivity:
- Features and Stories: How many user stories, features, or other development tasks were shipped? How many fell behind schedule and were delayed?
- Error and Bug Rates: How many new bugs were introduced per 1,000 lines of code? Does fixing these bugs take away too much time from your core development?
- Happiness & Retention: What’s your turnover rate for developers? Are your developers happy? Are you happy?
Agile development tools are a great way to measure progress. For example, you can measure your development team’s velocity by plotting points against iterations. These burndown charts provide instant insights into productivity and bug/error rates in a single chart that can be referenced anytime.
By measuring productivity, you can easily identify areas that need improvement and set more realistic project deadlines. This helps you better manage everyone’s time and ensure that everyone is working optimally.
The bottom line
There are many different strategies to better manage time and improve productivity, but most share the same core concepts. Technical founders should define their roles, outsource roles that aren’t a good fit, timebox todo lists, and measure their team’s progress to constantly improve.