When my son arrived, I had three entrepreneurial irons in the fire: A budding speaking career from my book tours; an upcoming release of my first app, So Quotable; and my already-established writing work that put food on the table. I also knew I wanted to be with my son every day as much as possible, hence me getting up at 3 am to work so I could spend sunrise to sundown taking care of him. My years of working at odd hours and [insert chuckle here] "waiting to be inspired" to create were replaced by a stable, disciplined regiment. In an instant, my 60-hour-work week was sliced down to 15 hours a week. I viewed myself as a marathon runner doing a daily, three-hour leg.

My first year as a parent became one of the most productive years of my life.

Have you ever found yourself more productive when you have less time? It reminds me of an old programming adage: Programmers always manage to get things done with just the amount of memory they are given. It's the same reason why we always seem to spend through the money we have, or feel like we complete things just before the deadline is about to strike. We automatically take as much space as we are given.

When we are aware of how much little time we have, though, we begin compressing. As Brain Pickings' Maria Popova shared in a recent post, our relative view of time slows down when we feel threatened. In this case, the threat could be not getting the last sentence down in an idea or not sending out that client email before you run out of time. You realize how many minutes you spend checking social media, fixing a snack or gazing out of the window. Those moments of disengagement can become the quiet time killers that keep you from being more efficient.

I learned this rather recently. In my compressed work year, I did my first TED talk, gave a keynote speech at American University, programmed and designed my first app, made TV appearances on Al Jazeera America and other outlets, and joined multiple startup advisory boards-all while being my son's primary caretaker and keeping my writing career going. Not only was I driven by passion for both my family and my work, but also by my acute awareness that time was limited. My proverbial alarm clock was going to wake up around 6 am, which, from 3 am, gave me about 180 minutes each day to get my passion projects done.

Time, not money, is an entrepreneur's most precious resource. A life change taught me this lesson, but you shouldn't wait for that to happen. Here are some thoughts on how to maximize your time:

  • Monotasking: As I discuss in Our Virtual Shadow, scientific studies now prove multitasking doesn't really exist. What we view as multitasking is just picking up one task, dropping it quickly for another task, and then repeating the same process over and over again until they are both done. Instead, concentrate on getting one thing done well. The completion will boost your energy-and focus-for the next item on your list.
  • Return on Investment: Forget the money ROI-what is your time ROI? We lose the most time by wasting it on items that shouldn't be high on our priority list. For all the great opportunities I fulfilled during my compressed year, I said "No" to even more opportunities than I accepted. I still do.
  • Slice and dice: In her book Six-Figure Freelancing, Kelly James Enger talks about breaking the day up into 15-minute segments. The former lawyer gets things done by, essentially, giving herself a time limit for her work. It brings focus. It's also worth checking out the Pomodoro method.

Are you productive when you have less time to get things done? How do you harness that focus?

Published on: Jul 30, 2015