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As a business owner, if you don’t keep a short leash on your time, the day quickly slips away. You have to make the most out of every hour to succeed, Hello Design CEO and Creative Director David Lai says.
“When I was growing up my father would always tell me, ‘We all only have 24 hours a day. It’s what we choose to do with that time that defines us,'” Lai says. “It’s the one thing you can never get back.”
That advice led him to start Hello Design at 23, because “the worst thing that would happen is that I’d have to go find a job.”
It was the right choice. Fifteen years later, he’s running an award-winning creative agency in Culver City, Calif., that helps build and execute digital strategies. Clients have included Sony, Nike, and Toyota.
We asked Lai for a few of his best tips on how he keeps himself and his business organised.
For him, the key is combining paper and pen with digital tools, deciding what not to do, and learning to rely on other people.
Business Insider: What do you do to protect your time and stay productive?
David Lai: How you begin the day is really important. I try to get up early, which is hard for me, as I’m not really a morning person. The first thing I’ll do is go for a bike ride, and that really helps me clear my head, relieve some stress, and think about challenges I’m currently facing. It’s important to start each day fresh and energized with the right frame of mind if you’re going to be productive.
Then when I get to work, I’ll write down on a small memo pad urgent items I have to get done today. I always keep it next to my keyboard, and I rip the pages off as I complete them. I find that writing things down in a list and crossing them off helps me prioritise so I don’t lose focus. There’s a nice feeling knowing you’re getting stuff done, and that momentum helps me stay productive throughout the day.
I still use digital tools like Google tasks and the GoTasks app on my iPhone to stay in sync when I’m away from my office. Google tasks is really great for things I need to get done, but not right away. I’ll put work items at the bottom of the list and personal items at the top. This allows me to separate tasks on one list. It’s always up on my screen next to my Google calendar, so I never lose sight of it when I’m working.
BI: How have these techniques contributed to your success as an entrepreneur?
DL: Part of being successful means you have to decide what not to do. There are so many things I want to do, and I really have a mentality of do it right or not at all. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I feel that if you do something halfway, it’s a waste of time because you’ll probably have to do it again.
My way of working helps me look at the big picture before I begin each day without getting sucked into the details too soon. Having a short-term goal of accomplishing tasks by end of day keeps me moving by breaking down longer term goals. The little things add up quickly and realising that even if I set my goal high, it’s not the end of the world if I can’t get everything done in one day — there’s always tomorrow.
BI: What’s changed as your business has gotten bigger?
DL: As our business has grown, I’ve realised that I can’t do everything by myself. I think it’s important to know what you do really well versus what you should be delegating or trusting to others. I see a measure of success in being able to now have a talented team to work with, where I can leverage their strengths to do things I’m not as good or efficient at. As my dad always used to say, “Use the right tool for the right job.”
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