I lived a cozy life as an embedded design engineer at an MNC in Bangalore. Life was easy. My manager would assign tasks to every team member and give us ample time to build, test and deliver the code. It was a linear task plan:

Manager assigns tasks → I read up requirements → I design the function on Matlab → I generate code → I test it → I deliver the code → I chill till I get the next task

Then one day for no specific reason what so ever I quit my job and all hell broke loose. From being a puny soldier in a massive MNC, I became the captain of my own ship — A captain who had no clue where to steer the ship! For some time I wandered around, blogged a bit and then when the right idea came along, I started my company.

Within the first few months of starting up, I realized how massive a task I had undertaken. There were so many things to do and so little time to do them that I was always worried about not doing things properly and forgetting to do important things. My previous job had made me great at implementing tasks only if I knew what had to be done. But now, not only I did I have to get things done but also figure our what is it that had to be done! And this was driving me crazy. I would wake up in the middle of night with nightmares of incomplete tasks.

How I Stopped Worrying and Started Executing

I had to find better ways of figuring out what needs to be done before I venture into doing them. So below is what I did and it has since then helped me 1) figure out what I should do in a particular day and 2) plan to do them.

Step 1: First 30 days — Embrace the chaos

For the first 30 days I didn’t change anything except for one – I started writing down all the tasks that I was doing. I didn’t get too tech on this and just noted them down on a google spread sheet. My spread sheet had two simple columns: Date and Tasks

Step 2: Categorize

After the end of 30 days, I opened the spread sheet along with a can of beer and started categorizing my work. below are some of the tasks and the category in which I put them into.

  1. Met Ravi — Sales
  2. Met Srikrishna — Mentor
  3. Worked on algorithm for challenge prediction — Product
  4. Worked on the color elements of UI — Product
  5. Worked on user sign up flow — Product
  6. Sent cold email to 5 people — Sales
  7. Set up facebook page for zoojoo.be — Marketing
  8. Wrote a blog — Marketing
  9. Showcased the prototype to Sri — Mentor/User Feedback
  10. Applied for startup festival Bangalore — Launch prep/Marketing

Categories are just ways to broadly divide the tasks that I was doing. Finally at the end of exercise I had around 7 broad categories in which I was doing my work in early days: Learning from mentors, Initial sales activities, Product, Marketing etc.

Step 3 — Choose, Think, Do

After I had a broad sense of where most of my efforts were going, I decided to pick and choose two to three most important categories I will work on each week and then do tasks only for them. So for example I would choose product and sales as the only two categories of tasks that I will do for next 7 days.

Once I had chosen the categories for the week I started each morning by spending 15 minutes for just thinking and listing the tasks that I can do in those specific categories.

The important differentiation here is that now I was not just doing tasks as they came along but I was consciously thinking so as to what I can do to further the sales or product development (or the work category of the week). This helped me to come up with new ideas to do in each categories and not just sway from tasks to tasks as I was previously doing. It also gave me a sense of control and progress.

Over the last 15 months my most focused work categories have changed every quarter. As the team and customers have grown new categories like team management, support activities and customer engagement were added but I have been able to keep myself sane navigating through categories and not tasks.

I hope this could be of some help to anyone out there.

Also posted on Medium.

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