As a student, not only are you responsible for doing well in school, you are also expected to balance school with extracurricular activities, whether that takes the form of a business, community service, volunteering, or another activity. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring to be one, time is an essential resource to master.
At The Spike Lab, our students are all entrepreneurs in their own right. As teen entrepreneurs, they are responsible for their business in every regard. How well their business runs depends on how well they manage their (and their team’s) time and what they do with that time.
In this blog post, we will introduce different ways you can manage time and use it productively. While our tips are shared with entrepreneurial teens in mind, they can be useful for all students so feel free to read on! Note that these methods won’t perfectly align with every person’s lifestyle. Make sure you choose the ones that work for you or design your own!
How to Manage Your Time
One of the first things you should do is evaluate how you spend your time throughout the day. Carry a notebook with you and write down what you do or use an app like Life Cycle to track your daily activities. (Tip: RescueTime is also fantastic for tracking time spent across devices!) After a few days of collecting this data, assess how you spend your time and take note of the common ways you waste your time. How much time do you actually spend mindlessly scrolling through your social media feed? Many of us are guilty of it, but with this knowledge, you can now start planning your time management system.
Effective time management begins with building a routine to give yourself structure and organization. Routines help you maintain a sense of control, reduce stress, and streamline your day-to-day life. Habits make up to 45% of your daily behavior and they also reduce the cost of time and energy that goes into active decision making.
How to Prioritize
Before you decide what you are scheduling and how to schedule these things, you should first identify your available time. Block out time for school, eating, and sleeping as these are non-negotiable. To figure out what tasks you need to do and what you should schedule, take a look at these methods for figuring out what your priorities should be:
According to Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, 80% of the consequences are caused by 20% of the total work. Typically used in business and economics, this method can also help you prioritize. Ask yourself: Which 20% of my work will return the most results? Prioritize those tasks before the rest of your work. Keep in mind that while the Pareto Principle is effective, the remaining 80% of your work may be important tasks that do not yield as much of an impact. Make sure you reserve time to get to these!
Ivy Lee Method
Ivy Lee, the founder of modern public relations, developed this method designed to help you simplify your workload. At the end of each day, write six tasks on a card in descending priority order. The next day, complete these tasks from top to bottom. Move unfinished tasks to the next card. This method sounds simple, but it helps you narrow down the most essential tasks. If you’re someone who creates overwhelmingly long to-do lists, the Ivy Lee method can help you set realistic expectations on how much you can do in a single day. We’re only human after all.
Inspired by Eisenhower’s 1954 speech: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.” Stephen Covey later repackaged this quote into the Eisenhower Matrix in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The matrix is seen as below:
- Do it: the task has immediate consequences if left incomplete
- Schedule it: the task does not have a close deadline, often achieves long term goals
- Delegate it: the task is not as important to you as it is to others
- Eliminate it: a distraction disguised as work
This matrix helps you identify your priorities and evaluate your work. If you spend most of your time on ‘do it’ tasks, you should schedule tasks to proactively prevent problems resulting in urgent tasks. The ‘schedule it’ category typically helps long term development of your business and can be the most rewarding aspect. If the bulk of your work is urgent but not important, batch and go through everything in one go, say no, or delegate to other people. Spending excessive time on unimportant and non-urgent tasks probably means that you’re procrastinating, so don’t fall into that hole.
Marc Andreessen’s Lists
Marc Andreessen is an entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer with extremely radical methods: don’t keep a schedule, don’t answer the phone, strategic incompetence. But he has less radical ideas too! He uses three (plus one) lists: to-do, watch, and later. The to-do list is for all the tasks you must do and is subcategorized with time/deadlines. The watch list is for things you need to wait for and follow up on, remember, or remind yourself of. The later list is for everything you want to do or will do when you have time. The ‘plus one’ list is the anti-to-do list where you write down things you have accomplished but did not plan. This way, you can look back and affirm all that you have done instead of anticipating all that you have left to do.
Tips for scheduling:
Make sure you leave unstructured time for learning, exploring, thinking, and resting. This time is essential because it helps you pause and think about the future and develop your ideas. It gives your brain time to unload and recalibrate your cognitive abilities. Set up preventative measures for yourself: don’t hyper-schedule and overwhelm yourself with a mountain of mini tasks. If you don’t want to schedule your events and meetings yourself, you can hire an AI scheduling assistant such as Kono, x.ai, and Julie Desk.
How to Be More Productive
Completing tasks uniformly will help you reduce the friction that results from constantly switching between methods and different tasks. Below, we’ll introduce a few ways for you to logistically do your work.
One of the most common ways to schedule and do tasks. Instead of planning every single piece of work or keeping a never-ending to-do list, schedule blocks of time dedicated to different groups of tasks.
Set a certain amount of time for a task and work on it. After the time has passed, assess your progress and decide whether you will continue with the task or switch gears.
Another popular time management method. The Pomodoro technique uses four 25-minute timeboxes with 5-minute breaks between each and a longer break after a cycle is completed.
Just-in-time learning & working
Lifted from Toyota’s just-in-time inventory management, just-in-time learning is essentially how we access information now: wherever, whenever. It’s perfect for those who love learning through application. Learn what you need to right before the task that needs the knowledge. Do the task. Do other tasks. Repeat. Save interesting resources for later using software like Evernote and Pocket. (Disclaimer: this method likely does not work for studying for exams.)
Automating tasks helps save time. Instead of spending a few hours slowly working through a task, automate it and get it done in half the time. Here are some services that do this:
- Hello Bonsai for document templates
- IFTTT and Zapier to integrate different apps and services and streamline your workflow
- Grammarly and Hemingway Editor help you proofread and edit your writing
- Google News, Flipboard, and Feedly help you curate your daily newsfeed
- Sort through your emails with smart labels (Gmail) and rules (Outlook)
For most people, starting is the most difficult part of a task, even more so if you’re a procrastinator. The 2-minute rule helps you get started. If something is difficult to start, just do it for two minutes. You’ll find out that continuing is easier than the prospect of starting again after stopping.
Structured procrastination is a productivity method where you don’t fight the urge to procrastinate but use other tasks to achieve the intended procrastination. This method isn’t sustainable in the long term, especially if you have many deadlines but it occasionally works well (when you’re in a slump).
Balancing school work with the demands of entrepreneurship is difficult. Don’t overwork yourself and always listen to your body and mind. If you’re low on energy, take a break (power naps can help your brain process information). Entrepreneurship is a high-stress occupation. Remember to exercise and eat well—the quality of your work will reflect your health. Take the time to reflect on your work and team. Evaluate what works and what doesn’t.
All of these tips and methods are here for you to experiment with. You’ll probably find that some methods here don’t work for your lifestyle and that’s completely fine. The key to effective time management is designing a system that works for you and your situation and adapting existing frameworks for your own needs. For example, you can keep separate to-do lists for school work and your entrepreneurial tasks instead of strictly sticking to Marc Andreessen’s three lists. Reflection is fundamental to learning so intentionally take moments to reflect on your time management system and then improve upon it. The most important thing is to start somewhere. Good luck!
If you’re a teen entrepreneur (or aspiring to be), and you’re interested in learning how our Spike Coaching program can help you, schedule a consultation here.