8 Habits That Will Save You Hours Each Week — and They Only Take Minutes

Over the course of my career, I’ve started six businesses from scratch–and three simultaneously.

Today, I am the founder of a private real estate lender called LendingOne, running the company as its CEO. In addition, through my private equity firm called Crestar Partners, I’ve invested in three companies in the past 100 days–and am on the board of two of them. I also have two more in the pipeline to potentially close in the next 60-90 days.

Needless to say, my schedule is packed. And none of this includes the fact that I’m on the foundation board of directors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I’m in Young Presidents Organization, and of course, I have all the responsibilities that come with having a family (not to mention my commitment to personal health and exercise, competing in triathlons, and my passion for wine collection).

For any entrepreneur that’s been building businesses as long as I have, work-life balance becomes a huge challenge. I try hard not to get overwhelmed with everything on my plate, and quality time with my family and friends is something that’s critical in my life. And the truth is, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish a fraction of the things I’ve shared above without practicing the art of time management.

Here are the eight key habits I use to make the most of each and every day:

1. Plan each and every day and week.

I was speaking with one of my mentees who is early in his first startup last Sunday. 

I said, “What’s on the plan for tomorrow?” He said, “Not sure. I’m going to figure it out when I get to the office.”

This, I told him, was mistake number one.

As I talk about in my book, All In, I love what’s called MBWA management: “management by walking around.” It’s a great way to remain engaged in the day to day of what’s happening within your business–except for the fact that it’s a terrible strategy for being productive. I’ve worked alongside managers that wander around the office looking for impromptu meetings or informational conversations, and they end up spending all their time trying to “look” like the boss opposed to having a plan and getting things done.

2. Create deadlines–even if they’re self-imposed.

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is saying to themselves, “It’ll get done.”

But that’s not specific enough. When? When will it get done? Today? Tomorrow? A week from now? Setting an end goal, even if it’s self-imposed, is what forces progress. And without it, you give yourself the option of not accomplishing the thing at all.

Personally, I always like to set deadlines for sooner rather than later. I aim to be early because, well, things happen.

3. Learn to say “No.”

Every single entrepreneur struggles with this one.

As a founder or CEO, it’s so easy to want to do everything yourself. After all, you’re the one steering the ship. Unfortunately, that’s not a great strategy when you only have so many hours in the day. 

Part of time management is knowing what’s worth your time in the first place. Ask yourself whether the activities you’re saying Yes to are moving you closer toward your actual goal, or getting in the way. And remember: saying No isn’t a bad thing. It just means you have clarity around where it is you truly want to go.

4. Set a time allotment for each activity–and stick to it.

Here’s a rule you should follow: never set meetings for anything beyond 30 minutes unless absolutely necessary.

Meetings, phone calls, coffee chats, all of these things have the potential to be either incredibly productive or a massive time sink. Meetings with no ending point can run forever. Phone calls with no clear end point can drag on. Coffee meetings with no hard stop can take up your entire afternoon.

Part of getting a ton done each day means knowing where each hour starts and stops, how and why.

5. Prioritize your business, but also prioritize your personal life.

Every entrepreneur has two full-time jobs: work, and still trying to have a life outside of work.

In both these cases, they are full-time jobs competing for number one priority. Which means it’s your job to do your very best to tend to both, by making time for both. It’s not sustainable to sacrifice your entire personal life purely for work. But it’s also not realistic to just “hope” your business (and all its challenges) works itself out. 

So, add things into your schedule that cater to both.

6. Delegate as much as possible.

Like I said, there are only so many hours in the day. So, if you want to take on more, then be prepared to let go of more in the process.

This means passing along responsibilities and putting the right people in certain roles. This means letting go of control. This means empowering others make their own decisions. This means trusting that things will get done without you having to do them–and all of this takes time, practice, and most of all, patience.

But, it’s essential. Entrepreneurs that never learn to delegate stay stuck where they are. 

7. Leave time in your schedule to handle unscheduled activities.

The irony with time management is that you have to leave some room for the unexpected.

If you plan every single minute of every single day, down to the wire, you’ll most likely set yourself up for failure. Life doesn’t work like a supply chain–and as much as we all try to be on time, things happen. Other people show up late. Calls run over. Emergencies pop up. Priorities get shifted around in the middle of the day. Life is full of ambiguity, so you have to simultaneously prepare for the unexpected.

So, build your schedule with this in mind, and leave a bit of time in each day as a margin for error.

8. Create short, medium, and long-term goals.

And finally, you can’t improve what you aren’t measuring.

If the whole point of time management is to get more done, or move yourself closer toward accomplishing some goal, then it’s important to find a way to measure when you’ve become “successful.” What are you working toward? How will you know once you’ve gotten there? And most of all, how do your short and medium-term goals ladder up to your long-term vision?

I’m a big believer in regularly checking in on personal progress. And for every young entrepreneur I mentor, I encourage them to do the same.

This article originally appeared on Inc.com 12/18/18