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Caterina Fake: Great Entrepreneurs Are Like Sandwiches

Want to be more efficient and more creative? Serial entrepreneur Caterina Fake explains what you can learn from a PB&J.
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When Caterina Fake took the stage at the Inc. 500/5,000 conference Thursday, it was with an unexpected message to share:

"Today," she said, "I'm here to talk about sandwiches." Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to be precise.

Of course Fake, the serial entrepreneur behind Flickr, Hunch, and most recently Findery, a mobile website that allows users to leave virtual notes on a map of the world, wasn't really interested in discussing sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly were just Fake's slightly wacky metaphors for two often opposing forces in every entrepreneur's world: creativity and productivity.

The way Fake sees it, there are two types of people: the peanut butters and the jellies. Peanut butter people are spontaneous and creative. They work in short bursts of energy, but struggle when it comes to execution. Jellies are productive. They make endless to-do lists, finish tasks before deadline, but can become so caught up in operations, they never innovate.

"A company needs a balance of both," Fake says. "You need to be a sandwich."

The problem Fake says, is we live in a "jelly world" in which hyper-efficiency is valued over taking time out for ourselves, which, Fake says, is equally important. It was on a camping trip with her daughter in the California Redwoods, in fact, that Fake came up with the idea for Findery. She says she wanted a way to capture the memory of that place forever, and thus, came the idea of leaving virtual notes. "It was hard for me to go on that vacation," Fake says, because she was bogged down with the everyday tasks that keep entrepreneurs from taking a break. "It was the first vacation I'd taken in several years, but it was where the idea for the company originally came from."

The trick, Fake says, is to become so efficient, that there's more time in the day for creativity. How does one accomplish that seemingly impossible task? Fake, who we once named one of the most productive CEOs, says these four time management tips helped her and might help you, too:

Cut back on media intake: It's a tough task for the founder of several internet companies, but Fake says she only allows herself one hour on the internet in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. She sets her email to retrieve messages only at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and she cuts out TV. Once she began doing this, Fake says, "It was as if I'd cloned myself, there was that much time left over."

Do less: Entrepreneurs often shy away from delegating, afraid to give up too much control. So Fake suggests starting with the easy stuff. "Eliminate activities that require you to be around people you cannot stand," she says. "Don't do things for people who should be doing them themselves...and don't waste time chasing trophies."

Work when no one else is working: Fake sleeps in two shifts: from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. She sets aside the hours between 2 am and 4 am for creativity.

Don't make appointments: Instead of scheduling meetings at specific times, block off an afternoon for meetings and let people drop in during that time. According to Fake, it's a major stress reducer. "This is difficulty level nine," she says. "But if you can pull this off, it's awesome."

Last updated: Oct 5, 2012




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