465: Scheduling Principles for Startup Founders
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about scheduling principles for startup founders.
Being a founder of a startup means you’re extremely busy most of the time. It also means that you’re being asked to certain things like speak at events, be a guest on a podcast and so on. When not managed properly, fitting all these into your busy schedule can get out of hand, especially if you schedule way in advance.
In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about a bad habit Steli picked up recently, One way to decide if you should schedule an event in advance and how Hiten schedules events much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:00 About today’s topic.
00:31 Why this topic was chosen.
01:58 Steli’s latest tip in sharing philosophy.
03:22 A bad habit Steli picked up recently.
05:32 One way to decide if you should schedule an event in advance.
06:49 How Warren Buffet schedules events.
08:01 How Hiten schedules events.
09:00 Why you shouldn’t say yes to everything.
09:34 Why you need to ask yourself how saying yes to something will benefit you.
3 Key Points:
- One bad habit that I’ve recently developed is scheduling things for many weeks in advance.
- If this is gonna happen next week would I do it?
- We are not Warren Buffet.
Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.
Hiten Shah: This is Hiten Shah.
Steli Efti: And today on The Startup Chat we’re going to talk about scheduling hacks or scheduling tips for founders. Here’s why I wanted to talk to you about this. I think we’ve, with the years, we’ve talked about how to manage your time in a couple of episodes and shared some of the kind of time management principles that we use to make sure that we get the most out of our time. But recently I made a pretty big shift, there was one … I’ve changed many things over the years in terms of how I handled my time and especially the requests for my time. But just recently I made one I feel final big change that I wanted to share, and then I thought it would be fun for us to just share a little bit of how we decide what to schedule, how to schedule things and all that good stuff. So, I’ll kick it off by sharing my latest change in scheduling philosophy, and then we can just go back and forth on some tips, tricks. I know that you are really principled and disciplined in the way that you give out your time, because of the demand and requests for your time is so high. So, for me the latest and greatest on this is that, I have stopped allowing anything to be scheduled in my calendar that is further out than four weeks. And here’s why. One bad habit that I’ve developed over the last two years, especially I feel like, is that I’ve been pretty good at pushing back on requests for my time if I know that you know, this month or the next couple of weeks it’s not really … It doesn’t really fit. But it might be something, it’s a nice to have. Yeah, “I’d like to talk to you one day,” or, “I’d like to maybe do your podcast one day but just this month it doesn’t really fit into my schedule.” And then one really bad habit that I picked up was that I would just tell people, “You know what, whatever, October, November are not really good months for me to be on your podcast. But maybe early next year.” And then they would send me an invite for some random time in January or February and I’d be like, “Sure.” If it was far enough out, it would be easier for me to say yes to it, because it just felt so far away. I’m like, “Do I know what I’m doing July, 2025? No. Ah, sure, I might do your whatever.” Podcast events, whatever it is. But then inevitably time passes and I look in my calendar and I go, “What the hell is this thing in my calendar?” Why am I doing this this Thursday if this doesn’t work at all with the rest of my day? And so I would have a lot of regrets for especially things that were scheduled many, many weeks in advance. And so I made a big change on saying, “Hey, if I’m not ready to schedule this in the next four weeks, if it doesn’t fit into my current schedule, then ping me again in a month and we can reevaluate.” But nothing is being put into my calendar two months, three months, four months out. Because inevitably I will regret what have I scheduled, it won’t fit into what my priorities are, what my week and month looks like. And so it’s just a really bad habit to develop and I definitely was suffering from that. And then I would have all these things that I didn’t want to do that week and that I felt committed to, so it would be in constant conflict. So the most recent change in the way I schedule things is that I don’t schedule anything that’s further out than four weeks. I think I told this to a friend a couple of days ago, and he told me that he read somewhere that Warren Buffet, you can’t even schedule something out 48 hours in advance, which is much better. Where apparently if it’s not within the next two days, he refuses to schedule anything. I’m not sure how true that is, but that’s what a friend of mine told me he read somewhere about Warren Buffet. So that’s my latest and greatest. Is this something that you’ve ever … Is this a pain you’ve ever experienced or were you too smart to make this mistake?
Hiten Shah: I don’t know if I was too smart for anything. I’ll say that I learned something new yesterday related to this so it’s ironic we decided to talk about it today.
Steli Efti: Yes.
Hiten Shah: Just yesterday I learned that, somebody learned that this really works for her. And she was talking to me about it and she was a founder, and what she said is, “If someone invites me to do something or email me and wants my time or whatever, and it’s far out …” Let’s say a speaking thing or a meeting or a podcast, like you said. Even if it’s further out, the way she thinks about it is, “If this is going to happen next week, would I do it?”
Steli Efti: I like that.
Hiten Shah: And she bases it on that. Because usually we think about it, “Oh, this is going to happen three months from now, wouldn’t we do it?” Right?
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: Are we going to do it? Should we do it? And if you’re not going to schedule four weeks in advance or next four weeks or whatever, then you’re obviously not going to do it. So she said this has been really helpful to her, which is basically like, “Would I do it next week if it was happening next week?” And then she uses that as a criteria or main criteria to decide whether she does a thing or not.
Steli Efti: I love that. Yeah, that’s really smart.
Hiten Shah: I found that one to be really good. Yeah, I found that one to be really good. So, it’s kind of interesting thing. I think we all have different domains, and I find all the Warren Buffett analogies and tips around the way he lived his life and stuff, very interesting because we are not Warren Buffet.
Steli Efti: No shit.
Hiten Shah: We all apparently might want to be, and maybe we don’t want to be, I don’t know. I don’t want to be, I’m good. [crosstalk 00:06:05].
Steli Efti: I don’t want to be Warren Buffett.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, I want to be me. I have the utmost respect for everything Warren Buffett though, obviously just like many folks do. I haven’t heard many negatives, or except maybe he drinks a lot of Coca-Cola or something, but apparently so does Bill Gates, so whatever.
Steli Efti: Diet Coke. Apparently the both drink-
Hiten Shah: So, the only thing I can think about is that I guess.
Steli Efti: Metric tons of Diet Coke apperently, both of them. It’s great.
Hiten Shah: So, when it comes to how he schedules you don’t think about it, like this person … Actually, from what I understand, and again, I don’t know much, I don’t think he’s an operator. I don’t think he has to manage people.
Steli Efti: No, no.
Hiten Shah: Right. Most of the people listening on this show either are managing themselves, not like Warren Buffet, or they are managers managing other people. And so the demands on your time are oriented around that. They’re not oriented around finding great investments to make, or thinking about where the world’s going next so you can make great investments. That’s a different life, that’s not most people’s lives. And that’s why when I hear this stuff, I’m like, okay, that’s cool that apparently Warren Buffet has this rule. And it’s also cool that he’s someone that has been known to say, “I keep my schedule very open.” Or free, or whatever.
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: At the same time, the way I think about it is today, especially after a lot of ups and downs on scheduling and all that, is like, there are things I’m required to do. Those things that I’m required to do I try to put on my schedule on a regular basis, and make sure that those things are there. So that could be one-on-ones with people on the team. It could be a weekly check in with my co-founder, it could be the leadership team meeting that we have. It’s things like that. They’re on my schedule, they’re happening weekly and they’re very static, they’re there. And I do my best to make sure that they happen or they get rescheduled within the same week that they’re in if I have to, and I hate rescheduling those things. So that’s very important to me. Then there’s things are ad hoc. An example of something somewhat ad hoc is, you and I try to do this every week.
Steli Efti: Right.
Hiten Shah: And we used to have a weekly schedule and then we decided we don’t need a weekly schedule, we’ll just do it when we can. And it’s a priority when it does show up and you and I schedule it, so it’s probably in the second bucket, which is things that get scheduled that needs to happen that are a priority. So they happen.
Steli Efti: Right.
Hiten Shah: And I’m prioritizing them. And then there’s the thing that everybody talks about, which is that third bucket, which is just stuff that’s coming in that you have to decide on. And truthfully, stuff that’s coming in that you have to decide on, you can just say no to all of it. You can just say no to all of it. Literally you could say no to all of it. You get invited to a conference, is that conference really going to help you? You figure it out. But if you’re really into conferences and your company benefits from them, your company should be doing them, literally. Not necessarily you. And that’s some, that’s a big different between how most people that I know that go to conferences think about it. And sure, if you need to go along and speak, all good. But shouldn’t that just be a system that people are taking care of in the company, marketing for example?Especially if those conferences benefit you, then there’s a system. Even if it’s you being scheduled to go, I would almost put that buffer and say, “Hey, someone needs to figure out how this is beneficial to our business, and it needs to be systematic and measured, and so it shouldn’t be my problem.” That’s the way I think of that as a founder now. And I also have this other lens that I put on things. It’s, how’s it going to benefit me? Just period. Like how’s it going to benefit me? Is there a tangible benefit I can get from doing this thing that’s in this third bucket of just random things. Not ad hoc, because ad hoc is more things I know I prioritize, I want to schedule them. Obviously I just spoke of weekly scheduled stuff or monthly scheduled stuff. This bucket is the one I think everyone wastes a lot of time on, whether it’s getting on a podcast or anything like that. For me it’s how’s it going to benefit me, how’s it going to benefit my business? If it’s not going to, I actually probably am not going to do it. Or I’m going to make it such low time and effort for me that I don’t get sucked up in it, it doesn’t take up much of my time. That’s basically the way I think about it. And so things either get systematic and they fall in the first one or two bucket, one or bucket two. Or I’m just trying to either not do them [inaudible] as little time as possible, and I’m really thinking about what’s the benefit for me.
Steli Efti: I love that. So I think there’s a couple of things there that I want to comment on. I think number one, on the third bucket, I think the most difficult thing for people is the fear of missing out. It’s like, “I’m not sure if this is going to be worth my time on not.” When it’s clearly a waste of your time I think most people have an easy time saying no, but most things aren’t a hundred percent clearly a waste of someone’s time. So I think that that’s when people struggle with just saying no, because they’re like,”What if this meeting would lead to something good? What if this podcast interview lead to some customers? What if this is some good exposure, some good opportunity?” And so they lean towards saying yes to too many things versus being okay with missing out on some opportunities in order to focus and make sure that the things that they are prioritize right now in their life and in their business, that they get enough time, energy and attention. So really having the courage to say no and you’re growing past that fear of missing out I think, is a big one. I think the other thing that I would highlight to people is, in general, and I think we’ve talked about this before. But in general, the amount of time that we either say yes to or request from other people is way too much. Most meetings are 60 minutes and it’s not because 60 minutes is some magical, perfect number for anything to discuss and to do. It’s just because people are lazy and it’s the easiest time block that we think. And so we just try to request and ask for 60 minute blocks on anything and everything, and then we will fill them. If you have 60 minutes on the calendar, you will find a way to fill that time in some mindless way. So, just pushing back on that, asking yourself, most things that you need 60 minutes for can be accomplished in 15, or in extreme cases in 30 minutes. I find it very rare that you need a full 60 minutes to discuss something, decide something or get something done with somebody else. And so just being more careful in accepting any kind of 60 minute requests for your time, in general accepting requests for time. I think, today we’re pretty in sync in the way that we handle a lot of this where a lot of people want to talk to me and then when I ask them to tell me exactly what they need, oftentimes I could just send them a podcast episode, a blog post and a talk. And I’m like, “I addressed this concern in these places. Please take a look and then let me know if you have a followup question, or if you try this and it doesn’t work and you want to share the results with me, I’m super happy to talk with you. But next four weeks I’m traveling so much, I have so many meetings, so many commitments. I can’t schedule a 30 minute call to answer something to you on a one-on-one level that I’ve already answered in 20 other places that I’m happy to share with you.” And so, that helps a lot, just answering things in email and pointing to all the content that we create to try to help founders and help people out there. But then even just being very mindful when you ask for other people’s time. Do I really need 60 minutes? Do I even really need 30 minutes? How much time do we really need for a focus [inaudible] prepared? Oftentimes there’s a lot that can be accomplished then. And I’d say this, one of the worst things that … One of the biggest signals that things are really not going well for you is when there’s a ton of reshuffling, rescheduling and cancellations or no-showing happening in your calendar. That means that you don’t have really a good system in place yet in the way that you manage your schedule. Because if you feel the pressure to move things around and reschedule, you probably over-committed. If people don’t show up to your calls or meetings, or last minute always asks you to move things around, maybe you’re asking too many people for things or you’re not selling them enough on what you’re doing is a really valuable use of their time. But that would always be a signal that I would give people advice on paying attention to. Do you feel like you’re in control of your time? Do you feel like your weeks are focused, or do you feel super overwhelmed, and do you constantly see that calendar events have to be moved around almost on a daily basis? That’s usually a good sign for, you might want to take a couple of steps back and come up with better habits in the way you do scheduling.
Hiten Shah: Yeah. Couldn’t agree more and more. The more you manage it, the more [inaudible] and more time you’re going to have for what’s important for you.
Steli Efti: There you go, and is that not what we all truly want and need in life? All right.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, make time for what’s important. Yeah, please.
Steli Efti: There you go. I think that’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very, very soon.
Hiten Shah: See you.