The Founder’s Schedule

There has been a lot written about how to effectively manage your time as a leader when building a new company. Paul Graham has a famous essay where he divides the needs of the engineer from the needs of the manager through the Maker’s Schedule and Manager’s Schedule. More recently, Danielle Morrill of Mattermark wrote about the transition from the Maker’s Schedule to the Manager’s Schedule as her company grows.

I have found significantly less written about how to effectively manage your time in the very early days of founding a company. In those early days, you cannot have a Maker’s Schedule since you cannot be sure exactly what you should make. However, you cannot have a Manager’s Schedule since you have to work on making something or else you will never get started. Then, what is the ideal Founder’s Schedule?

For me, the ideal Founder’s Schedule makes time for both making and meeting, since one without the other means you are not effectively narrowing in on your business. At the same time, it needs to make sure that you don’t constantly switch from one to another as you would then run the risk of context switching cost slashing all of your productivity.

Now that I’m a founder again myself, I have settled on the following schedule which I think is a great template for a Founder’s Schedule:

While it seems like all of your time is blocked off, in reality it leaves a lot of flexibility on how you spend your time. All of your time is divided up by purpose:

  • Make: This is time when you are making. This does not mean always coding or building, it might mean writing, brainstorming or designing.
  • Meet: This is time when you meet with people who might help you. That includes potential customers, investors, advisors and friends.
  • Plan: This is when you plan what you’ll do tomorrow. Productivity studies show that you are more productive if you decide what you are going to do the night before, so we set that time aside at night. Likewise, we leave an hour or two on Friday to decide on the tasks for the following week.
  • Research: This is time when you work on crazy ideas. While it might seem like a waste of time, it is important to think outside of the box and make sure you don’t get into ruts of ideas. The easiest way to break out of that is working on something that sounds crazy.
  • Off: This is time when you aren’t working. You NEED this time to avoid burnout and keep the creative juices going. I guarantee you that you will be more productive all week if you take weekends to enjoy yourself. Bonus points if you exercise.

These purposes are then divided throughout the day to make the most of them.

  • Make in the morning. Studies have shown that your most productive hours are in the morning (usually from 10am-noon), and so these are the hours when you should focus on the hardest mental tasks of making. Ideally, you would not even check your email until this time is over, lest you find yourself wasting this precious time on communications. (See Going the Distance).
  • Meet in the afternoon. Lunch is an inherently social experience in our culture and you should take advantage of it, and the time after it, to meet and gather feedback. This will help you overcome the afternoon lull that would hit you sitting (or standing) at your desk trying to make.
  • Make in the evening. Everyone gets a second wind, and it’s a great time to get more things done. Hopefully, you were inspired by some of your meetings or were able to figure out a problem from the morning by stepping away and now you can make the most of that creative boost.

I know there will be many people who decry this as a bad schedule, since it does not fit the typical model of how founders should spend their time. When you imagine a founder building a new company, you likely envision them in a dark room all day working in front of a computer screen, or spending every waking hour on the road interviewing customers. Doing both at once seems, at first, like it is the worst of both worlds.

However, I can tell you from experience that it has made me more productive. I no longer spend time making things that customers do not want since I have reality checks everyday. At the same time, I never spend time waiting to work on a idea since that time is reserved everyday.

If you are a new founder working to get your company get started, I hope you give this a try. If you do, let me know how it goes. But only in the afternoon, in the morning I’ll be making.

27 thoughts on “The Founder’s Schedule

  1. brandon clarke

    Sean, I see the time management dilemma a lot when I mentor founders. I don’t believe there needs to be an ‘app for everything’ but have you given any thought to applying these principles to a product? Simple grid-like drag n drop time management with alerts to help you stay on task. I’d love to brainstorm it w/ you.

    Reply
    1. Tyler (Turf.ly)

      I have repeating events for each day of the week that block out a pretty similar schedule (also as a founder). Each Sunday evening or Monday morning I update it based on the week’s demands. Not sure one really needs yet another app for that. 😉

      Mine includes work on the weekend but enough time for running and yoga. Not sure how one can start a company with all that time blocked off for one’s personal life though!

      Reply
    2. Heidi Pungartnik (@aShocka18)

      I personally use a special google calendar named “to do list” with which I block out the time I expect certain tasks to take. I was looking for an app that would let me track time along the plan so that I could see how realistic I was being in my planning. However, no such thing exists as far as I know.
      I do know about Timely but it seemed too much like just a regular calendar for me to bother with starting to use it.

      Reply
      1. brandon clarke

        I’ve tried the separate google calendar too and liked it keeping the clutter out of my main calendar. And i use toggl pretty regularly just to see where i’m at. But we’re in agreement, there is not that ideal, all in one schedule manager and time tracker solution. I think entrepreneurs develop their own tactics over time, but a tool that helps create the habit for noobs would be super interesting.

    3. Heidi Pungartnik (@aShocka18)

      Ok, I’m not sure if anyone will see this but it may be useful for some so here goes.

      I’ve been fucking around with Zapier and found out that I can log Toggl time tracking entries directly into google calendar without any manual imports etc. This is helpful if you want to compare your scheduled tasks with what you’ve actually been doing (provided of course that you use Toggl religiously and track everything).

      Here’s how to set it up:
      1. Open a Zapier account, click “Make a zap!”. Then connect Toggl and Google Cal accounts.
      2. Set up the logging however you want, I won’t go into detail here.

      The TRICK is to set up Start time with “Start” tag from Toggl and then use a workaround to log end time (which is not available in Toggl’s API). You need “Start” tag, and using the “+” sign you add the tag “Duration minutes” and close with “min”. This way, Zapier calculates the end time for you.

      Here’s a screenshot:

      Hope this helps somebody. Cheers!

      Reply
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  7. Jon

    Reblogged this on a Little Light and commented:
    If you talk to any young professional today, the number one complaint will be a shortage of time. This template for young CEOs is also applicable for those seeking growth in their desired direction. I found the following points particularly interesting:

    1. Planning. At a day-to-day and week-to-week level, it is important to plan your goals for the next day with actionable items so you are focused in the morning. If the desired goal was not attained, figure out why, and how to correct.

    2. Make at night. Particularly for those in “execution” positions, it is important to learn and develop skills that benefit your current and future roles. It’s our responsibility to do this off the clock and keep growing.

    3. Off-time. While off time might sound like a break, its important to do something healthy for the body (gym), mind (journaling) or soul (meditation, prayer, etc) during this time during the week. Not all activities pay the same dividends.

    While this doesn’t add time to a day (one can wish), it certainly provides thought on adding structure to our schedule. Just as savings can be obtained by earning more or wasting less, we can budget our time to be even more productive and make our moments count.

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      I’m both a husband and a father of a young daughter and this schedule works for me. I drop by daughter off at daycare and picker her up a few days a week, eat dinner with my family every night and spend all weekend with them. What else would you do?

      Reply
  8. Shelly

    I believe there has to be time for “Recruitment” specially carved out in every early stage start up founder schedule. That is by far the hardest and the most time consuming activity.

    Reply
  9. meredith

    This is a great post. I’m a founder/mom with 2 kids. I recently made a schedule that looks a lot like this. Only difference is I don’t have planning but I have reading & meditation. Going to try and incorporate the planning element now. Thanks!

    Reply
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