One of the most valuable commodities in any startup is time. In biotech startups, time plays a particularly interesting role because some biological processes simply cannot be sped up. It becomes even more essential, then, for early stage biotech founders to figure out how to pick up the pace anywhere possible to counterbalance the constraints of experimental science.
So, when you’re working at warp speed, how do you make sure you’re spending time on the right things? How do you make sure your day is busy with the most valuable stuff? It’s a healthy CEO habit to look at your calendar and constantly optimize.
Here are 3 ways to think about time:
1. The strategic approach:
One way I like to check myself on time management is to do backwards design planning. I start first with the big picture and then work my way down to the weeds, like this:
Vision: What would it look like if we were wildly successful in the next 5-10 years?
Mission: Your company’s thesis of change to produce the desired outcome.
Annual goals: What we need to do this year to head towards our longer term vision.
Quarterly goals/OKR’s: What needs to get done this quarter to stay on track?
Weekly goals/OKR’s: What needs to get done this week to hit our quarterly goals?
Daily tasks + goals: What do I need to do today to hit my weekly goals?
As I go down each layer of detail, I'm referring back to the bigger goals regularly to make sure I'm spending my time on high valuable activities that will help us meet our goals.
2. The proportional approach
Another way to think about time management is to create a bottom-up framework. How much of your week or month should be spent doing which activities? For a founder, it might look something like this:
Investors relations: 20%
Leading/managing the senior leadership team: 20%
Product/market fit - customer discovery 20%
Overseeing hiring: 10%
Networking + external relationship: 5%
Administration (email etc) 5%
I use these quantifications to look at my week and month and make sure my time allocation is right. What needs more time and attention? What needs less? I find it helpful to take a big picture look once a week on how this breakdown of activities is going.
3. The functional approach:
I also like to think about time in relation to my basic human needs. I need to protect my time to be my best self which includes:
Getting exercise daily [30 min]
Getting showered + ready [30 min]
Doing quiet work by myself daily [1 hour minimum]
Eating lunch [30 min]
Planning my day + email [30 min]
Wrapping up my day [30 min]
Putting it all together:
Once I think about how to use my time through all three dimensions - strategic, proportional, and functional - I then map out my week in google calendar. Wherever I can create recurring time slots, I do. I block my own time very deliberately to maintain control of my day, while still allowing me to use Calendly to speed up one-off meeting scheduling (which is the bane of my existence).
At the start and end of each week, I’m constantly looking ahead to look out for double-bookings and make sure I’ve added in travel time, buffer time before high-stakes meetings, and prep time for any meetings that require me creating materials like slide decks and agendas.
Here's a sample block calendar:
Finally : great plans + discipline = success
These time management strategies only work well, however, when you are disciplined. You have to actually stick to your plan. You may need to set alarms and alerts - whatever nudges you need to stay on task. And, if you notice that something isn't working, change it. Time management is a constantly moving target to help you focus on needle-moving activities and bring your best self to your company.