Achieving Focus with Red, Blue & Black Time

This guest post is written by Ivan Soto-Wright, Co-Founder & CEO of Oinky, a personal savings companion. This blog post was inspired by feedback Ivan provided to a fellow founder during a Seedcamp Academy session.

 The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Dr. Seuss

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Dr. Seuss

As an early stage founder, you will likely find yourself wearing many different hats. These hats come in all shapes and sizes and might be called things like admin, HR, operations, product development, marketing, sales, finance, or partnerships. Without context, wearing all these different hats can become overwhelming and make it difficult for you to achieve focus.

Colour is a powerful way to help contextualise your time. A handy technique that I picked up from working with a business coach at Shirlaws Group is to map weekly activities to Red, Blue, and Black (RBB):

Red = “Admin” activities that support the infrastructure and are non-revenue generating. Red activities are the back-office functions that must be done, but can distract you from the core drivers of your business. They include stuff like organising meetings, drafting employee contracts and updating cap tables.

Blue = “Revenue-generating” activities that deliver value in the form of products or services to the end customer. Blue activities include anything to do with marketing, selling and servicing whatever your customers buy from you. If the business is pre-revenue, most of this time can be classified as product development.

Black = “Strategic” activities that add long-term future value to the business. Black activities include things like developing market positioning, evaluating partnerships and formulating a fundraising strategy. This time can also be used to reflect and improve upon the business’ operational effectiveness (i.e. limiting Red time and increasing Blue time).

After completing the exercise, your iCal, Google, or Outlook Calendar should look something like this:

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Unfortunately, there is no golden formula as to what percentage of time you should be spending on Red vs. Blue vs. Black, as it depends on the stage of the business. But here are three helpful tips for founders:

1. Do everything in your power to get Red time under control. If your calendar is unbalanced towards Red, you are sacrificing short-term revenue (Blue) and future revenue (Black). Delegate or consider outsourcing the Red if possible.

2. Schedule regular Black time. This will allow you to pause and reflect on the current state of the business. Are there areas where your team could be working more effectively?

3. Commit to monitoring RBB time. This will help you calibrate realistic targets for Red vs. Blue vs. Black. As the business grows, as a founder/CEO more of your time should be spent in Black.

Do this often and I find you will begin to adopt “RBB thinking”. In my case, it has helped justify decision-making around using a food delivery service for lunch:

Red: Preparing a healthy lunch Blue: Doing focused work at my desk Black: Outsourcing food delivery to Pronto when I need a productivity boost…

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Aside from helping you achieve focus, I hope that adopting Red, Blue, Black time will lead you to similar moments of clarity.

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