Lessons from the Accelerator: Take Advantage of Less Time


Conventional wisdom tells us that more time is better than less, and that we benefit from taking our time instead of rushing into something (think of Aesops’ fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”). While this is true in many areas of life, for an early-stage business or product development I believe the opposite is true: Less time is actually better than more time.

As unlikely as it sounds, my recent experiences with SparkLabKC have upheld this notion. There’s a reason they call it an “accelerator” program – companies build remarkable momentum through a focused experience of mentorship, collaboration, and hard work. And there’s a reason that most accelerator programs have a short duration of three months. The compressed time frame, combined with access to lots of resources, creates an incredibly fertile ground for growth and development.

The 90-Day Sprint

You may think that having more time to launch your product is better, but that’s not always the case. For startup companies as well as new products in development, time is at a premium, and using it wisely can be the difference between success and failure.

Productivity specialist Frances Booth a contributor to Forbes recently wrote, “If you want to be more productive and focused, an easy solution is to have more deadlines.” Giving yourself a deadline to get your startup or product idea off the ground motivates you to get more accomplished in a shorter period of time.

The intense focus that occurs when a deadline turns the pressure up is a great asset when developing a product or a business. There is no time to sit back and second-guess yourself; you have to push forward relentlessly. It’s not a marathon, but rather a sprint to the finish line to develop the best product or business you’re capable of producing in the allotted time frame.

The 90-Day Sprint is also an effective tool for weeding out bad ideas and false starts. If something stops making sense or you “run into a wall” in development, odds are good that you’ve revealed a deadly flaw in your strategy. Instead of taking another month to examine the issue from all sides (or worse, find a way to rationalize the flaw), the compressed time frame forces you to make a pivot and either take a new tactic, or redirect your energy in a more promising direction.

Managing time effectively is crucial at the early stages of both product development and startup creation. I’ve found that working quickly and efficiently in sprint fashion creates a more productive environment during the “fuzzy front end” of the creative process.

The Power of the Deadline

Sometimes being productive is easier said than done. Even when we set goals for ourselves, staying disciplined each day to achieve them can be a daunting task. Despite having a strong work ethic and the willpower to succeed, we often get sidetracked when we are unsure of the next step. This can lead to procrastination and unproductivetime spent wondering, “Am I even on the right track?”

The productive answer is found not when we spend time second-guessing ourselves, but when we make the leap from “thinking” to “doing.” Getting our hands dirty is a much quicker way to discover the innate value of an idea. Does it work in practice, not just in theory? The challenge of working quickly helps us refine and focus our ideas, eliminating the redundancies and peripheral baggage that weigh us down.

This process leads us to what is called the “minimal viable product,” the uncomplicated core value that we can offer to others. Identifying this core value is one of the most important steps in creating a viable new product or business. The sooner you find it, the better the chances are that your idea will survive and thrive.

It’s a Sprint, Not a Marathon

Tony Shwartz, one of the world’s top thought leaders on workplace productivity  and contributor to the New York Times says,

“Think of it as a sprint, rather than a marathon. You can push yourself to your limits for short periods of time, so long as you have a clear stopping point. And after a rest, you can sprint again.”

It is of course important to pace ourselves. Even the greatest ideas can crash and burn if the process is all work and no play. Choosing the right moments to step back, take a breath, and evaluate your work is essential. But don’t give yourself too much time to linger or the momentum that you’ve built can start to falter.

My apologies to Mr. Aesop, but in today’s fast-paced innovation economy, I’m not so sure that “slow and steady wins the race.” The next time you find yourself idling in uncertainty, don’t give in! Set a deadline for yourself and commit to crossing that finish line before the clock runs out. What you’ll find is that you’re leaner, more focused, and ready for success.

Tell us what you do to get your engine started and how you use deadlines to keep your team productive.  We’d love to hear from you.

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