Ramblings On Time Management

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for many months. Ironically, I’ve haven’t had the time for *this specific* post until now, today. I’m writing while all my three toddlers are napping and my wife went to work to get organized. I’ll likely finish this tonight after putting the kids to sleep.

This is a post about time — and various attempts at time management. I’ll write a bit about how I manage my time, but most of this post will be about how time has changed for me and my wife over the years.

Right now, Saturday afternoon, the house is quiet, I’m in my home office listening to Ted Wang’s Discover Weekly on Spotify. I am transported over a decade ago, living in San Francisco, dating a girl who is now my wife, and we had nothing to do most of the time. We’d sleep in, go to brunch, I’d sometimes take a nap, we’d often switch up staying up late while the other often crashed early. We could travel on the weekend, by car or plane. Those were truly carefree days, lazy afternoons, listening to Pinback. We were not accountable to anyone, not responsible for anything which couldn’t be handled with a few clicks in a web browser. Social networks were not much of a thing, email was about work, telco’s charged for texting and we had feature phones which were definitely not computers.

The marine layer of fog that draped Dolores Park shielded us from the world.

Fast forward to 2013 — we became parents, I started investing, and life as we knew it changed. In a five year period, I created four (small) investment vehicles (these “entities” also contain different LLCs, which all need to manage and got quite complex), was lucky to be a venture partner at three different great firms, we have three little kids (twins arrived after our eldest daughter).

In a five-year flash, the daydreaming of yesteryear was quickly replaced with 24/7 responsibilities, less sleep, more interactions with little people (and their caregivers), and so much more. Escaping for a weekend or night required real planning. As my work life ramped up and became more complex, so too did life at home. When we first became parents, I had some time to adjust my routine. I started doing a different type of work on the weekends when I had the time and space to think, to write.

When our twins arrived, I felt so pinched for time and space between caring for them at home, working during the day, being in the car between SF and the Valley, raising new funds, helping out founders, meeting new founders that I devised a new routine along with little escape plan (thanks the support from my wife). The routine was as follows: Every Sunday I got up early and went to the office. That Sunday, I would get as much work done as possible (mind you, both work-work and personal stuff to attend to), and try to play offense for the week ahead. Mondays were for my Venture Partner role on Sand Hill Road; from Tuesday – Thursday, I was out meeting new founders, helping existing companies, meeting friends in the ecosystem. Fridays, I tried to keep free from meetings. I’d end up taking a few calls.

Now for the escape part — Once a month, I try to leave town (usually by car) on a Mon-Wed or Tue-Thur for two nights just to be by myself and work in isolation; once a quarter, I try to go away for a bit longer and just work alone. I found that I didn’t need an escape from work — work is an escape I love — but I needed a break from meetings, interactions, and events that would disrupt my flow state.

In those five years, too, my career slowly changed. Before investing, I was always on top of my to-do list, on top of my email inbox. That feeling of being organized in life and in work began to slip slowly away as work and life became more complex. As I look back on those five years, I was forced to make changes to how I manage time in order to keep up. What I found is there’s a solution to nearly everything — except for interacting with people. I could always outsource a task, say “no” more to invitations, invest in the business to bring on resources, reconfigure schedules with my wife so that I could use some weekend time to get ready for Monday.

But with people, there isn’t a good solution. Time gets squeezed, and the time you can spend with others gets squeezed.

I found this very hard to come to terms with. I still do. I still harbor all kinds of feelings of guilt and lettings others down because, over these last five years, my time has been squeezed from every angle. Five years ago, I didn’t think I would be a venture partner at a VC firm, or that I’d be managing a handful of seed funds (and their corresponding entities), or that I’d be responsible for three other little people. With all the reporting, compliance, duties, obligations, and parental responsibilities, sprinkle in all the meetings, the travel time between meetings, the follow-ups, driving around the Bay Area, and so forth… time can just evaporate.

The changes in routines I’ve outlined were a piece of the puzzle. I talked about this specifically with Jerry Colonna on this Reboot podcast. Jerry has an incredible way of teasing out the truth and putting things in perspective. If you’ve struggled with time management in this way, you may find listening to Jerry dissect my issue here enlightening. [listen here]

I know many folks probably clicked on this looking for a bullet-point list of specific tactics that they can adapt to their own life. I purposefully did not want to do that because everyone’s situation is different. There are plenty of other blogs you can find that list all the email tools, to-do apps, and other things folks weave into their daily lives. I trust you can do that for yourself.

What I found out, though, is there isn’t an app for getting the time back, and as those minutes get squeezed, many of our relationships become innocent victims of this reality. The math makes sense on paper, but what I failed to initially recognize is how quickly these dynamics change. For me, it was the combination of an acceleration in work plus all of a sudden having 3 kids. For others, it could be a sickness in the family, or a company responsibility that takes every ounce of energy, or anything that puts pressure on what little remaining time we have to ourselves — the drivers could be negative or positive, we just don’t get to choose. Ferris warned us “life moves pretty fast” — and that was before he had a career and kids!

This post is a bit longer than the posts I usually write, but I wanted to write this in a more stream-of-conscious way so that I don’t lose any insights which are flowing through my fingertips this evening. I’ll end by specifically highlighting how this struggle with time and people can get further warped in the Bay Area, in the land of tech startups, investing, and reporting. I see the Bay Area as a specific type of social network, often defined by the free collision of ideas that lead to new things emerging. (Yes, I know it’s not perfect and under strain, but that’s for another post.) The Bay Area looks manageable on a map, but get on the ground, and I’ve found one go many months, or even years, without crossing paths with an old coworker or friend.

I don’t know if I have any poignant message to sign off with, actually — I don’t have any key insight you can take away with you. I am still processing the changes myself, truth be told. I’m just going to stop writing now because I think it’s all I have for this evening. Thanks for reading, and it would be cool to hear/read any reactions from you if care to share them.