How to Tame the Chaos of Starting a Business While at Work

Ignoring my friends’ warnings of my impending insanity, I decided to start a startup while in a startup. I had just finished grad school in New York late last year and had wrapped up my first successful company. I decided to move to California because I wanted to learn how to become a tech entrepreneur (and what better place than the Silicon Valley?), and subsequently joined a semiconductor startup.

Although it was an exciting, entrepreneurial experience for me, I still considered it a job and it wasn’t my own creation. I wanted to work on creating something that was mine and added massive value in the world, so I decided to work on my own venture in addition to my day job.

starting a business while working fulltimeMy schedule went like this: Wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get across the bay from San Francisco in time so that we had our normally “shared” lab space to ourselves for product development projects.

Then I would figure out what my job for the day would be (at a startup, you could be an R&D scientist, IT specialist, salesman, HR person, or secretary depending on the day) after the CTO would get to the whiteboard (8:30), work all day until about  4, go to the gym and be done by 6:30, go shopping for groceries in Noe Valley and be back home by 8:00, cook dinner and prepare tomorrow’s lunch by 9:00, and call family, friend or girlfriend (pick 1 of 3) for half an hour, and have only 2 hours to split between working on my business or having “me time” before going to bed so that I could start the new cycle over again in less than 6 hours.

Although I generally maintain an upbeat attitude, the whole situation began to seem unfair—I just didn’t have enough time! I wanted to do a fantastic job at my startup and learn more about being an entrepreneur, I wanted to successfully start up my own business without it taking so much time, and I wanted to have social life and live an exciting lifestyle.

On top of that there were all the little things—I wanted to leave genuine email messages for people rather than cursory, template 30 second responses. I wanted to have time to read the news and keep up with the world. I wanted time to just space out on my balcony. I wanted everything but I only had 24 hours in a day.

That said, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Tim Ferriss, all only have 24 hours in a day as well, and yet have achieved so much and live amazing lives. There must be something that they’re able to do to accomplish so much despite having the same number of hours in the day that I do, and it can’t simply be having loads of money.

I picked up every resource I could find on time management and maximizing results in life, and I approached really successful entrepreneurs and asked how they did it. After much reading and conversations, I noticed a pattern in the strategies they practiced to make the best use of their time.

1. Learn to think in units of results and not time. I can’t tell you how many times I was worried about looking lazy in front of a boss or my peers so I wasted time just to be present in front of them and project a good image. Society likes to reward people for putting in a “good effort,” but as an entrepreneur, you need to leverage your efforts to produce the greatest results, not the most hours on the clock for your pay or to impress your superiors. Lastly, focus on the 1 or 2 tasks that offer the most leverage in reaching your results and do them first. Enormous amounts of time can be freed up by focusing on results.

2. Go for depth, not breadth. This should be funny coming from yours truly, someone who is easily distracted by shiny, fast objects and new business ideas. However, you need to think of each time you change your focus as a consumption of your will power as you adapt to a new setting or way of doing things. As you adapt, it takes time.

3. Get clear and clean “up there.” In your head, of course. When you get clear on your intention, and wipe out your own objections to what you want, you free a lot of the friction that works against your momentum toward your goals. Identifying your intentions and your goals also allows you to recognize opportunities that will get you to where you want to be faster.

4. Look for synergies. Pick more things that align with your core goals. For example, I’m interested in both business and self-empowerment, and I like to surround myself with really fun, fascinating, motivated friends. Having all of these three requires work and time investment, but I combine them together to save time. The people I mastermind with for my business are motivated, sharp, accomplished people who have every aspect of their life together, and they are also outgoing, fun, genuine people that I can call my friends.

5. Clone yourself. There is a certain virtue of being self-reliant that is well-knit into our society, however you will never be able to get up to the next level by working alone.  Figure out what tasks in your life don’t require your immediate presence and can be done by others and let them do it (read The Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss for more information on this).

I hope you’ve seen that the traditional principle of “time management” is a misnomer and getting all that you want in those finite 24 hours is a matter of leveraging your infinite resources. You can start a business while at your job AND live a fun lifestyle while you’re at it. Which of the five strategies can you use right now?

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