Michele Romanow is used to getting things done.
As the youngest venture capitalist on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, Ms. Romanow is constantly urging entrepreneur contestants to seize opportunities rather than wait for them to fall into their laps.
She certainly practices what she preaches. At just 32, she is already on to her fifth business venture, a financial services company called Clearbanc (Clear Finance Technology Corp.), which caters to North America’s 50 million freelancers and self-employed professionals.
When Ms. Romanow is not filming or running Clearbanc, she also finds time to sit on the board of directors for Canadian restaurant group Freshii, as well as Vail Resorts Management Co., which controls several ski resorts, including B.C.’s Whistler Blackcomb.
But she is constrained by the same 24 hours in a day that affect all of us. As a result, she has developed a number of habits to ensure she gains maximum productivity, and shares them here.
Begin with a bang
While some people advocate for doing quick and easy tasks first, Ms. Romanow takes an entirely different approach.
“I start with the hardest things first,” she says. “I think that’s always a good way to start your day.”
While Ms. Romanow enjoys starting out with a home run, she doesn’t rule out completing simple requests as they crop up. Though she doesn’t look at her phone a lot while getting through her to-do list – it’s a “giant distraction device,” she says – she’s not against knocking off quick hits.
“If there are requests that take me two minutes or less to respond to, so a quick yes/no in an e-mail,” she says, “I try to do those as soon as I see them so I don’t let those linger in the back of my mind.”
Back to basics
Though she has built technology-based companies, such as Buytopia and Clearbanc, Ms. Romanow goes low-tech with her to-do lists and note-taking and commits them to paper.
“I find I can just be so much more present in a meeting, whether I’m interviewing someone or whether I’m talking,” she says, adding that she isn’t a big proponent of keeping everything on a smartphone.
Divide and conquer
Ms. Romanow is a believer in the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management strategy developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. The method involves dividing a day into timed 25-minute segments, taking a quick break after each segment and a longer one after four segments, or pomodoros.
By dividing complex tasks up like this, the Canadian entrepreneur says “it doesn’t seem unattainable to try and really get focused work done.”
She adds that if the work is really detailed or she is likely to become distracted, such as on the weekend, she will put her phone on airplane mode to improve her focus.
Make hasty decisions
Getting into “the zone” of intense concentration at work is difficult. Ms. Romanow says that the average working person is interrupted 100 times a day by having to make 70 small decisions, so she came up with a rule to deal with that.
If the decision is reversible she makes it quickly and if it is irreversible, she takes her time over it. At the end of the day, there are very few irreversible decisions, she says.
“I think that was super helpful in getting me to be more productive, because I was spending less time thinking about the decisions and instead just making the decisions, which gave my team a ton more clarity,” she says.
Stand up for clarity
In Ms. Romanow’s opinion, e-mail should be used exclusively to communicate outside a company and is an inefficient tool for internal communication. She much prefers a team messaging app such as Slack for that purpose.
Even then, she says there is generally far too much internal messaging, which does nothing but distract employees from their more important tasks. So at Clearbanc, her team has a stand-up meeting at 10 o’clock each morning instead.
“The sole purpose of this is to align everyone and eliminate e-mails all day,” she says.
Build a ‘fun list’
As someone who travels regularly to San Francisco and New York City monthly for work, Ms. Romanow spends a lot of time in airports, where the ability to do focused work is diminished. Or she is in the back of a car on her way to a meeting.
Rather than waste this time scrolling through social media, she updates a continuing fun list of tasks that she can do at this time, such as buying things online for work or giving a colleague a call of congratulations for something.
“It doesn’t matter if I accidentally get interrupted,” she says. “I can keep getting through what I call the fun tasks when I have wasted-time gaps.”