The CEO’s Guide to Time Management in Startups

When you're a startup CEO, your most precious resource is your time.

“You have the same number of hours in a day as Beyoncé,” is an expression that gets thrown around a lot. But if you look at it more closely, you’ll realize it simply isn’t fair.

Queen B has a flotilla of staff working round the clock to help her “be Beyoncé” — including nannies, meal planners, trainers, coaches, personal shoppers, hair and makeup artists, cleaners, PR managers, and more. 

As a startup founder, it’s unlikely you have access to the kind of support and resources Beyoncé enjoys. At best, you might have a small team when starting out. At worst, you may be completely on your own. 

Running a startup usually involves a lot of multitasking, context switching, and superior time management skills. You might feel like there’s never enough time to get everything done and the lines between work and personal life become blurred — it’s hardly surprising so many entrepreneurs suffer from burnout. 

If you’re a stressed-out CEO, fear not — help is at hand. In this time management guide, we’ll share our top time management tips for founders so you can spend less time doing busy work and more time getting things done that matter. 

The two types of time management techniques

Successful founders know that good time management at work starts well before you arrive at the office. In fact, how you manage your own time can set the tone for your whole team and even make or break the success of your business. 

Better time management starts with understanding the two main types of time management:

  • Time management at work — this involves managing your own hours and tasks as well as those of your team 
  • Personal time management — how you organize your day from start to finish

Time management at work is the obvious one — as a founder, you’re constantly juggling competing priorities while simultaneously making sure your team is optimized to get the most out of their working hours. 

You have to decide which meetings to attend and which ones to leave in the capable hands of your team. You also need to find a balance between crossing items off your task list and creating space for strategic thinking and long-term planning. 

But many people overlook the importance of personal time management — especially for CEOs. Being a leader requires a different set of time management skills than being an employee, solo entrepreneur, or freelancer. 

Paul-David Perry, CEO and co-founder of Literal Humans, says, “One of the most profound learnings I’ve had as a startup founder is allowing myself to grow into new skills, mindsets, and habits. For example, I now take my mental and physical health much more seriously as I know I need it to be at my best for my team and the business as a whole. Before, when I was a freelancer, I was ironically a bit more lax about this because, in part, the demands on me were less demanding and didn’t impact others as much.”

As a founder, a lot of people are depending on you to make things happen, and you need to be on top of your game pretty much 24/7. Hitting snooze several times before rolling out of bed and firing up your laptop at the last minute just isn’t going to cut it anymore — you need to be strategic about how you use your time. 

Founders should strive for constant growth and improvement in every aspect of their lives — and with the many demands on your time, managing your time outside of working hours is the only way to get that done effectively. 

The following sections will highlight some of our top time management tips for founders and CEOs.

4 tips for better time management at work 

Ready to start running your business like, well, a boss? Start with these four tried-and-tested time management strategies.

1. Get that syncing feeling

Digital calendars are a startup founder’s best friend — especially when you’re managing a remote team across time zones. They allow each team member to organize their work in the way that makes the most sense to them. For example, some people like to allocate blocks of time in their calendar for deep focus work, while others prefer to set aside a specific time for every task on their to-do list. 

Either way, someone in the team should be responsible for accessing and synchronizing everyone’s calendars. Fortunately, this is easy enough to do with an app such as Google Calendar, which has the option to share calendars and easily view your colleagues’ schedules. If you work across time zones, make sure everyone adds their time zone and working hours. This way, other team members can be mindful of them when booking a new meeting or task.

For instance, our team at Typed uses multiple calendars to book internal meetings, external meetings, and time blocks, and we all have access to each other’s calendars to minimize confusion. Using a time blocking method — such as the Pomodoro technique — can be particularly helpful when you need to work on long, difficult projects that need your entire attention. 

2. Take a tip from a former US President

We could all learn a thing or two about time management from former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In a 1954 speech, he credited an unnamed university president with saying: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

The idea of importance vs. urgency inspired Stephen Covey, author of the bestselling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” to create the importance-urgency quadrant — also known as the Eisenhower matrix. 

It’s a tool designed to help you cut through the noise and prioritize the most important tasks, and it looks like this:

Important tasks are necessary for advancing toward key goals — but unless they’re urgent, they’re likely to get bumped down the priority list. For example, building a strong and capable team is important, but it may not seem urgent if you can keep ad-libbing the work yourself. Similarly, strategy and goal-setting are important for the future of your business, but are rarely urgent.

Urgent tasks are the things that need to get done right now (or ideally, yesterday) but won’t necessarily make or break your business — like finishing a presentation ahead of a client meeting. 

Of course, some tasks are both important and urgent, and others are neither. 

Use the Eisenhower matrix to categorize your tasks by urgency and importance, then schedule the amount of time you need for each specific task into your calendar. 

Start by working through the tasks that are both urgent and important before moving on to the important but not urgent ones. 

If you have tasks that are urgent but not important, see if you can delegate them to a team member. 

Finally, if you identify tasks that are neither important nor urgent, try eliminating them altogether.

3. Harness the power of tech

Startups thrive on tech-enabled everything, from project and workflow management to document and time management tools. 

But it can be easy to get overly comfortable with your tech stack, even when it’s not really serving its purpose anymore. Software is constantly evolving, and it’s always worthwhile to see if your company can benefit from a handy system upgrade (hint — it almost always will).

For example, did you know that 54% of knowledge workers report wasting time looking for files and information in cluttered online storage systems? If that situation sounds familiar, it might be time to spruce up your file management system. 

Side note — this is exactly why we created Typed. We call it “your second brain” because it cleans up your Google Drive so you’ll never again waste time looking through folders and subfolders.

4. Focus on your strengths

Richard Branson certainly knows a thing or two about running a successful business. His advice to founders? Focus almost all your energy on the things you love and are good at — this will help keep your head in the right space and extract maximum gains from your key strengths.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to do it all yourself. Instead, find ways to automate repetitive functions, delegate priority tasks to capable team members, or outsource your admin work. 

3 ways to improve your personal time management

What do Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, and Elon Musk have in common? They’ve all mastered the art of effective time management. 

It should come as no surprise that the world’s most successful CEOs and startup founders share certain strategies that help them organize their personal time before tackling professional goals. 

After all, when you have a team of people and a portfolio of clients depending on you for leadership, you’ve got to be on top form at all times. Here are three of the most essential personal time management techniques for CEOs and founders. 

1. Become the proverbial early bird

We know you’ve heard this one before, and it can be rather annoying, especially if you’re a night owl. But some cliches exist because they really work, and waking up earlier than everyone else definitely has practical advantages. 

For starters, it gives you a jump-start on the day, allowing you to get the most important and urgent tasks out of the way by lunchtime. 

Plus, your mornings can set the tone for your whole day. Waking up at the same time every day and following a set morning routine can boost energy levels, confidence, creativity, and productivity. Some research even suggests that waking up early can improve your mood and protect your mental health.

Plus, being an early riser sets a great example for your team to follow and become happier, healthier versions of themselves — creating a stronger and more resilient team.

2. Strap on your walking boots

Casey Zeman, founder of EasyWebinar, swears by the power of walking, explaining that “walking is, hands down, the best way for me to get clear on objectives.” And research seems to agree — walking meetings have been found to boost creativity and divergent thinking (aka, problem-solving) by 80-100%. 

Consultant Nilofer Merchant elaborates further on this point. She says walking fosters mental clarity, organizes the thoughts flying around an average CEO’s brain, and helps establish clear next steps toward objectives. 

Incorporating an extra habit into your routine might sound like the opposite of time management, but trust us on this one — it has the potential to shave an entire hour off your workday. 

3. Balance short-terms wins with long-term planning

A CEO’s weekly schedule should strike a balance between small projects and mammoth tasks (ones that take longer than a week). 

It’s tempting to keep checking off the small tasks just to experience the dopamine rush associated with completing them. This is known as the “completion bias” — the human tendency to only value a task once it’s completed. 

As a CEO, you must avoid falling into that trap. Despite your best efforts, there will be tasks that are just too big to tackle in one go. When that happens, break them up into smaller, achievable goals so that you have something to check off your to-do list. 

When setting goals for the week, avoid slotting only quick wins into your schedule, and instead, populate it with both short-term goals that you can complete in one go and long-term objectives that you can make progress on.

Save time with Typed

We can’t all be Beyoncé with her army of helpers. But fortunately for startup CEOs, a plethora of tech solutions is available to help even the most stressed-out founders manage their time better. 

One of those tools is Typed, a software solution that integrates with Google Docs to improve your entire team’s document editing and knowledge management capabilities.

Sign up for free today and discover how Typed can save you time — and money.