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How Startup Founders Should Spend Their Time
Balancing impact, leverage, and strengths
Like any executive, a startup founder's primary task is to concentrate their energy where it will be most impactful. Easier said than done, of course, but the following trifecta can serve as your guiding star:
What your team, customers, and company need
The big bets and most critical areas, in other words, high-leverage work
Where your personal strengths lie
Where these three factors overlap, that's most likely to be your sweet spot—the perfect work to invest your time in.
Maker or Manager?
Once you've identified your sweet spot, your schedule will likely fall into either a maker's or manager's rhythm, as explained by Paul Graham.
If you're in 'maker' mode, focusing on creation, building, or strategic planning, you'll require uninterrupted blocks of focus time, ideally during your peak energy hours. For example, you may want to dedicate your mornings until lunch (or gym!) time to this. Even better, try to set aside whole days for your top priority, using only short afternoon slots for asynchronous communication and meetings unrelated to your key focus.
Conversely, if you're in 'manager' mode, your goal is to stay disciplined and concentrate on your most crucial work for the majority of the day, despite other tasks vying for your attention. And remember, it's crucial to carve out some quiet time for reflection every day.
The Peril of Wearing Too Many Hats
I'll share a personal insight: the most hair-pulling times in my career were when I tried to juggle both maker and manager modes, bouncing between different business areas within a single day.
At one point I even kept a detailed spreadsheet of my daily activities, categorized by work area, type, and purpose. Yet, I was the least productive person in the company. I was always wrestling too much unfinished business, and results suffered.
Forge Your Own Path
For hired execs, the 'what' to focus on is pretty much set in their job description. But for founders, it's a whole other story—it varies big time depending on where the company's at.
In the early days, you might be immersed in building the product, getting the word out, or fundraising. Later, your focus could shift towards hiring or setting up processes. This variability is why you'll get a different answer each time you ask a CEO how they spend their time. It doesn't make much sense to try and mimic the daily routines of famous founders or CEOs, as there's no one-size-fits-all answer here.
The takeaway? There's no silver bullet. Instead, use the trifecta we talked about to reason from first principles and figure out where to put your energy. It's your journey, after all. Forge your own path.