Guest Post: Making The Most of Your Time

This guest post is contributed by Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

In this fast-paced world, it’s easy to fall behind. Beneath the surface of the water, our duckling feet are kicking as fast as we can, sometimes even to adverse effects. A study conducted at Missouri Western State University concluded that poor time management skills can cause stress that leads to greater and graver errors, not to mention poor memory so you can’t keep track of your to-dos. When stressed, your ability to focus drastically decreases and the bigger picture goes out the window. You make poor decisions on a whim and you live with the consequences later, with more on your plate than ever before.

Productivity is key in entrepreneurship, but such requires time management—a skill which takes time, experience, and discipline that some of us have trouble developing simply because we’re just starting out. Look for key signs, like eating, drinking, and talking too fast; feeling like you’ve always got to do something and be somewhere; always watching the clock; irritability; cutting people off while they’re talking; and the like. If you find yourself in need of some guidance, keep reading.

  • Begin with the end in mind. From day to day, week to week, month to month, and ultimately as an entrepreneur, what are your goals? Putting a puzzle together without the resultant picture is harder than with it. This will allow you to plan each day, week, etc. accordingly; write realistic tasks you can actually accomplish in your calendar to maintain your focus and minimize conflicts.
  • This will also allow you to prioritize. Think of each day or week as a box into which you must fit your tasks, which are characterized by rocks of varying sizes according to their importance. The business meeting that could win you more coverage is a big rock; checking up on your Facebook is a pebble. Trying to fit in all the pebbles first and then the big rocks is an exercise in futility. Know what’s important and think ahead of the consequences should you ignore that. Prioritize accordingly.
  • It’s okay to say no. Keep your priorities in order and if you’re swamped as it is, let others do the same.
  • To this end, delegate less important tasks to those with less on their plates.
  • Stop looking at the clock. It will only make you more nervous and waste your time.
  • Limit other distractions, like phones, social media, and the like. Close the door and let others know you’re busy. If you work from home, turn off whichever phone, your landline or cellular, isn’t used for business. Use two separate Internet browsers—one for leisure, the other for work.
  • Be realistic. Are things as dire as they seem? Before you answer the question in what will likely be a state of panic and urgency, think whether or not your plight will matter next year. If it does, take a breath and refocus. This time, instead of plowing through your to-do list like a stampede of panicked wildebeests, focus on content and the current task. Jump one chasm at a time rather than two or three and falling short. This only causes more stress.
  • Eat, talk, and walk slower. Your behavior can reinforce existing feelings of panic. Actively calming your breath and slowing your activity can change your mood.

What happened after the Summer?

I've developed a great appreciation of calendar management.
A few people who follow this blog have sometimes asked me, "What happened next? Did you hire the sales guy? Have you put the business on hold? What happened next?" My posts since the end of the 13 weeks of the Summer have done little to explain how things have been progressing with the business. At the start, this was because very little was actually happening. The momentum has, however, picked up.

Ultimately I did not hire for "the sales guy". This was because I was not certain that this would be the best use of the remaining money that I have. Instead, with school in session, in contrast to a summer spent working solely on the startup, the activity around the business this quarter has centered around the group project for one of my classes - MKTG450, "Research Methods in Marketing". MKTG450 is an interesting class, if only because I know of no other class that allows you to reach out to so many potential clients.

For MKTG450, teams have to conduct a marketing research project. Typically these project teams choose to conduct an internet survey. This survey, for example, could be asking peer students about food options at Kellogg (with Kellogg's catering facilities being the client). My project team choose to work on PreScouter, the business that I'm developing. As such, it quickly became clear that we could use this opportunity to approach company R&D labs. Why not conduct a survey of prospective clients? Instead of doing an internet survey, why not talk to them up over the phone and present the product to them?

Fortunately, both the professor for the class and my project team agreed to this approach. As a consequence, my project team has spent a gigantic amount of time arranging and conducting interviews. To think about it is scary. We first reached out to Kellogg alumni in relevant job functions and industries. We then identified a list of executives working in external research / open innovation roles and also approached them. We then scheduled phone interview with all those that responded to us.

So far we have completed 26 interviews. I'll leave it to your imagination to determine how many hours this has taken in email exchanges, phone conversations, write-ups and other activities. However, we only need a few more interviews to complete the survey and it's already been a great experience for me and fantastic for the business. In scheduling interviews alone, I've gained an appreciation of what a hard task that secretaries and PAs have in managing peoples' calendars. I've also learned how powerful it can be to have a great team. I'll expand on this, and share the results of the project, in the next week or two -- as we come to complete the project.

The Startup Visa

Where art thou, startup visa?
Over the years, business schools have helped develop great insights and theories into how markets work. However, there are times when these market theories don't work. Often the reason for this is because there are non-market forces at work, changing the dynamics of an industry. As an "international student" studying in the US and starting a company in the meanwhile, it is one of these non-market forces that is currently foremost on my mind. The issue is this: if the business I'm working on starts to gain traction, how am I going to get a visa to stay in the US, so that I can continue working on the business after my MBA?

Fortunately, someone seems to have anticipated my dilemma. A new bill is moving through the legislative process. For me, this bill provides the best opportunity to continue what I'm already working on. In essence, a new visa category will be created to support alien entrepreneurs able to raise $200k in investment to start a company. For the type of business that I'm working on, I think an amount slightly more than this - $300k - is a good amount of investment that can attain good returns for those who invest. Raising $300k is a realistic goal for me to target for by the end of the academic year. Having raised $25k before the Summer, and used it to reduce a lot of risk around the business, $300k seems achievable.

Without the Visa, my options seem to be as follows:
  • Rely on the current version of the "startup visa" - called the E5 visa. The E5 visa requires the entrepreneur to raise and invest $1M in a US business. This is a substantial amount, and in excess of what my business, PreScouter, requires.
  • Generate enough revenue with the business to support 3 or 4 people - under a so called Treaty Trader/Investor Visa. I estimate this requires generating revenues close to $0.5M a year, which I think is particularly aggressive for my business.
  • Convince someone to employ me, so that I can continue to work on the business. Perhaps there is a role of "entrepreneurial researcher" somewhere out there? Or perhaps a company might consider employing me for the purposes of making this business work, in return for an equity stake?
Neither of the first two options quite fit my needs. I just need a little bit of bridge funding to get the business to $0.5M a year of revenue and beyond -- something that is only provided for under the proposed Startup Visa act. The third option would be interesting, if it existed.

So the question for me is, "when will the Startup Visa Act become law?!". It seems like I'm not the only person wondering this, as this question has also been posted in on Quora. Fortunately, I was able to get five minutes with Brad Feld, one of the great proponents of the Startup Visa bill, at the TechCocktail Mixology conference that took place earlier this week. Brad seemed bullish that the act could become law by the time I graduate, in June 2011. Still, I don't think this will stop me tracking the progress of this bill with bated breath.