If you work at a startup, you work a lot. It's exciting, there are lots of new things to learn and you don't mind working 80 hours a week even though your friends at Google "only" put in 50. Then one day, you start to notice that work keeps multiplying while the goals are still distant. To eliminate "busywork" and focus on what matters, apply the following Rule of Three.
Growth is hard and uncertain. That's why you should focus your effort on experiments that can bring an order of magnitude improvement to key metrics. Doesn't sound ambitious enough? 100x gains are often a result of two parallel 10x improvements, so bear with me. Here are some examples: shipping a new product, simplifying new user experience or pursuing a key channel partnership. When our team launched Mobify.js, a client-side adaptation library, we entered the emerging mobile e-Commerce market and captured an order of magnitude gain to company growth.
Focusing on 10x growth can be difficult because tantalizing 2x and 3x opportunities often come up left and right, competing for time and resources. These should be handled by hiring people and products - see #3.
Two: Address Critical Risks
As you pursue that big growth goal, something is probably not going right. "When everything goes wrong, that's when adventure starts" says Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and he's correct! Perhaps you need to close a round of financing or fix a scalability bottleneck. If it's a threat to the very existence of your company, let your team handle growth and deal with the problem head-on.
Early on in a startup, it might seem like most issues are critical - part of the entrepreneurial learning curve is being able to quickly assess them and only worry about actual problems.
Three: Hire People and Products
Every founder knows hiring is important, yet few make it a core habit. It's a missed opportunity - every time a great team member comes onboard, your chances of success go way up. Learn from Stripe's experience setting up a recruiting funnel and read Rands' take on making the first 90 days successful. When hiring someone better than you, 2x and 3x gains will quickly follow. It's amazing to witness the positive impact of assembling a top team in companies at all stages.
Hiring applies to products just like it does to people. You can hire a milkshake for entertainment, a bike to commute to work or NewRelic to track app performance. Hire more open source projects so you don't have to spend time reinventing the wheel. Companies - and people - that don't master hiring can't scale, so spend at least a quarter of your time on it.
Are you spending too much time on something that's not covered by the Rule of Three? Don't - few other areas warrant a share of your working hours. Good luck!