If you've just joined us, Oddpodz is a new online community for creative doers and problem solvers. Founder and branding expert Karen Post, who writes a regular column for fastcompany.com, brings you the play by play of a startup brand.
Peak performance from time-crunched days
Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel, running as fast as I can and not feeling any forward progress. Part of this frustration is my impatient personality. Another part is the fact that the world doesn’t move as fast as I want it to. And the last piece: I’m running a start-up with a small team, all with ever-growing, huge "to do" lists.
My day usually starts at 7AM and ends when I pass out on my computer around 2 AM. I have no social life and don’t commit to anything outside the Oddpodz world. I’m not complaining; I love what I’m doing and building, and I believe the sacrifices will all be worth it.
So how does one cram 12 follow-up calls, four phone conferences, 320 incoming emails, 47 outgoing emails, 3 creative problem-solving matters, managing vendors and staff, digesting the daily industry and business news, exercising, packing for a week on the road, updating due diligence packages with 200 new documents, and writing my Fast Company column into a 24-hour day?
Extreme production. It’s something I like to do. Fortunately, my business partner has the same work style. She came from Wall Street and slackers just don’t make the cut there.
When you’re an early stage start-up, there’s a lot of pressure and sometimes time is your enemy. It’s a foot race and it’s likely there are others in your space trying to get the most traction the fastest possible way, and they may have more money than you. You’ve got to be a peak performer every day, multitask well, and crank out the milestones that matter most.
A few big things I’ve learned and some proven practices for getting the most out of any time-crunched day include:
- Live for today, plan for tomorrow: Plan your day the night before. Yes, unexpected stuff pops up, but having a game plan and really prioritizing what’s most important makes a gigantic difference. Print out your calendar in addition to keeping it on your computer or PDA. You never know when one of those will disappear or have a meltdown.
- Don’t waste your time on stuff that doesn’t really matter: "No thanks, can’t do, cannot even dedicate one brain cell to your request" has to be part of your adamant reply to unimportant matters. I keep my three most important goals plastered everywhere: on the wall in front of me, on Post-it notes on mirrors and in my car, and even in my wallet. If time-eating activities don’t get me closer to my goals, I just say "No."
- Always have reading materials and a writing pad with you: Don’t waste precious time standing in any line or waiting for anybody without something to read and something to write on. I’ve had some of my best ideas in waiting rooms, at the car wash, and even in restaurants while waiting for a guest.
- Never attend or hold meetings without an agenda: If something is worthy of your time — a meeting in person or on the phone — it’s worthy of an agenda. An agenda forces you and the people you are meeting with to be prepared and gives you an instrument to journal commitments, and record more action and deliverables.
- Invest time in writing out your delegations: Ninety percent of my disappointments in people, employees, and vendors is the result of not clearly defining expectations in writing. The other ten percent is just incompetence.
- Exercise your body every day: It’s as important as breathing and eating. Even if it means marching in place and stretching every couple of hours, exercise will dramatically impact your stress management. And, as a bonus, researchers at Middlesex University found that participants scored significantly higher on creative tests after 25 minutes of aerobic exercise.
- Manage your adult medications: Most of us have some adult medication vices. Mine is good red wine. While the buzz is nice after the third glass, the next day is not so fabulous and can cut into your peak output. I try to balance my wine with water intake and schedule it as a treat… not every day.
- Work out your memory muscle or you’ll forget where you put it: Use it or lose it. Research shows that mice brains actually add neurons when they are kept in rich, active learning environments. The act of thinking, and particularly the multilevel kind we call creative, can actually increase your brain’s capacity. For me, it’s making associations and putting things in my path so I don’t forget them and I use all my senses. I say it out loud, read with my finger, write things down, and listen carefully.
- Focus on what you can control: Ralph Waldo Emerson said it so well: "Concentration is the secret of strength…" Without focus, life is extra difficult. As a creative thinker, I tend to have short attention spans, get bored easily, and need constant, new stimulation. Control the things you can. Schedule your calls in and out, say no when you need to, and don’t read your email every five minutes. Don’t work at Starbucks if you are easily distracted. Plan and stick to isolated think-and-solve sessions with yourself.
This last month has been great at Oddpodz. We hit big milestones. We’re having fun and not letting the occasional alligator in the water distract us. Whatever you’re doing, I hope it’s extreme production too.