Marc Andreessen has been an influential thinker and VC for twice as long as Peter Thiel. In this interview with Sriram Krishnan, he focuses on how he manages his time. Based on this interview, we discern five specific strands in Mr Andreessen’s time management philosophy:
- Have a well-structured routine from Mon-Fri and follow that routine religiously: “The day of the week determines a lot. Monday and Friday have very specific schedules because we run in the rhythm of a venture capital firm. There’s an all day sort-of marathon on Monday which is when most of the actual teamwork happens. We also use Friday for that.Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are much more open ended. Those tend to be a lot more outwards-facing and have lots of board meetings, entrepreneur counsels and so on. Running Monday through Friday in this kind of regimented schedule, I do now finally understand why people have the concept of a weekend. I’m trying my best to preserve Saturday and Sunday for at least a little bit of downtime.”
- Schedule everything – including sleep, free time and reading time – into your calendar: “The big thing is basically *everything* is on the calendar. Sleep is on the calendar, going to bed is in there and so is free time. Free time is critical because that’s the release valve. You can work full tilt for a long time as long as you know you have actual time for yourself coming up. I find if you don’t schedule enough free time, you get resentful of your own calendar. When I was younger, I didn’t really have the concept of turning off. But there comes a time, a little bit with age, when your body rebels. And obviously, if you have a family, that’s not great with a system where you’re just always working.”
- Don’t schedule your diary to the nth degree; have some free time left in your diary: “…we’ve both worked with executives where they were scheduled to the ‘nth’ degree. The three things you tend to notice with executives like that. One, they just never have any time to actually think. And that turns out to be a fairly important thing. Two, they have a hard time adjusting to changes in circumstances. In our business of venture capital, you get a lot of problems that come up. There is a lot of firefighting. It’s like those classic movie scenes when there’s a huge crisis and somebody calls out to their secretary “Cancel my schedule!”. Well, maybe you wouldn’t need to do that if you had some flexibility in your calendar. Then the other thing you’ve probably seen is the managers who are regimented to that degree end up being micro managers. You’ve probably seen examples of this where some of these folks end up in the weeds on everything. The good news is they’ve got the pulse of everything happening in the organization. The bad news is they’ve become the bottleneck.”
- Review your time management every six months and ask yourself if you are focusing on the right things: “One, about every six months or so I feel overwhelmed. It all starts to kind of get away from me. And so typically about every six months, I’ll basically sit down and do a come-to-Jesus with myself. Which is ‘Okay, you’ve got this great system, but it’s becoming overloaded’. And ‘you’re saying yes to too many things and are involved in too many things’. You really have to uplevel and figure out what’s important. I usually take a good hour to look at what I’ve been doing. It’s basically figuring out the threshold for ‘yes’ versus ‘no’. I try to revise that about once a year. Also about once a year, I rewrite my personal plan. I just write from scratch what I’m actually trying to do and my goals and then line up the activities that are below that. I would say a couple things about time allocation….I do try to have some sort of intuitive sense of what’s going on and how to rebalance. The firm is built to accomplish what I want to accomplish. And then my role here is to accomplish that within the context of the firm. And so the short answer is always the same – how do we optimize for the success of the firm? For the projects the firm is involved in, how do I optimize my contribution to that?”
- Focus on the process, not the outcome: “…we’re basically all about inputs. It’s basically process versus outcome…Venture capital is too elongated an activity. We don’t really know whether something is going to work or not work in the first five years of its life after we passed. And so it’s – okay, what do I learn? Like, what, what do I learn in the first three years when it’s not working? Because sometimes these companies really struggle for a while and then they really succeed. Sometimes it’s the opposite – they really succeed fast and then they have serious issues later.
It’s really hard to get good metaphors but it’s poker, right? It’s really, really, really hard to be a good poker player. And if you’re kicking yourself every time you have a bad hand, the bad habits just simply happen. You just need to be able to have a system that lets you think through the process… Michael Mauboussin has written extensively in his books about this as a profession. The craft of investing as a process of separating process and outcome. We are almost entirely a world of trying to optimize the process. The outcomes come when they come 5,6,8 or 10 years out. At that point, I’m a skeptic when it comes to games where you try to look back and describe the causal relationship between the things that you did and the outcomes. It’s always uncertain and kind of sketchy.”
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