The best productivity tips from startup CEOs and entrepreneurs
I certainly am not one to buy into productivity hacking. The very combination of these two words turns me off as, in my experience, the only way to be more productive is to try different approaches for yourself. “Hacking” implies a lean-back approach whereas, in reality, to figure out how to get more done in less time, the only true way to do this is to try for yourself.
I have wrestled with the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day and as much as I advocate for the addition of 2-4 more hours (that’s all I’m asking for!), it’s not going to happen. I have tried various practices to be more productive – from inbox zero, to different prioritization methods, to outsourcing, to walking meetings, to intermittent napping… you name it. Some have worked, others have not (I’m looking at you intermittent napping). However, the only way I found this out was by trial and error. There was no “hacking” to be found.
The biggest change in my productivity happened when I stopped listening to online gurus who run productivity blogs and dish our productivity tips and instead started listening to other guys and girls like me who are actively doing things.
No hate… that’s just my observation. These types of suggestions are based on theory. Folks who are running their own companies, wrestling with enormous workloads and detail demand, yet are finding the means to be happy with their work and driven with their lifestyle.
After all, if you’re too busy building a business and you can’t enjoy your life, what’s the point?
Here are 10 productivity tips from myself and several top startup CEOs to help you design your lifestyle.
1. No meetings Wednesday.
Borrowing this from Facebook, Dustin Moskowtiz has implemented this practice at Asana. The idea is simple… at least one day a week, have a completely free calendar. The idea is to use this time to catch-up, work on a passion project or simply refresh your to-do list.
I would LOVE to see this implemented at more companies – big and small alike. We are ruled by our calendars, meetings, statuses and the pressure to be streamlined and scheduled. To truly do great work, we need to be in our creative element.
Try to apply this to your daily life. If you work at a company that would not be in favor of this policy, do it off the record and simply make an effort to minimally schedule meetings on a certain day of the week. Use that time as you see fit to help further your ability to execute in your role.
2. Say No
When it comes to getting sh*t done, don’t be a “yes man.”
Auren Hoffman (former CEO of Liveramp) swears by the shortest word in his vocabulary – “no.” He says that
“When you are a CEO, you often have lots of interesting opportunities. As you become more successful, the opportunities become more and more interesting. Do not fall into the trap of of saying “yes” to most things. Ruthlessly decide whether you should attend a meeting you were invited to. Same with parties, conferences, speaking engagements, internal presentations, and more.”
As I have become more involved across all my endeavors, the same is true. The opportunities, collaboration, networking events, coffees, projects all start to add up. You have to be ruthlessly mean and lean.
This is not so much a hack as it is a self-control mindset. Most people think that to be successful you have to take advantage of every opportunity that passes your way. This is simply not true as not all opportunities are created equal. Realize this and learn to say no to ones that do not progress you personally or move you closer to a business goal.
3. Have someone else do it
Call it delegation or call it hiring someone else… whatever it is, learn to realize a couple of things.
Realize where your strong suits are and where you are and can be most effective. Know this and stay there. Delegate the rest.
The same goes when you are deciding how to accomplish certain business objectives. Sometimes it makes more sense to hire someone to do a job that would waste your time and money.
Pandora founder Tim Westergren phrases this the best when he says:
My favorite productivity hack is to continuously ask myself what is my highest best use?
By asking yourself where you can be most effective, you can then place yourself in that position and have others perform the rest according to their skill sets.
4. VIP email
Here is one that I have developed and have found it to really help me prioritize.
We are addicted to our email and we spend an absurd amount of time checking, rechecking and prioritizing our emails. Use the VIP folder in your email and only check that during your priority times.
In this folder I have assigned certain contacts VIP status – my CMO, by business partners, people I am waiting on responses from and high priority clients.
Doing this has allowed me free up my schedule and effectively prioritize my days.
5. Stop multitasking
Here’s an interesting one.
This one is tough but I have found it to particularly effective. When you have a large to-do list or you start working on a project and then begin to get emails that demand your attention, choose what is important and work on it and it alone. Don’t jump from one task to another. Running parallel paths and executing them at the same time is not as effective as focusing on each task at hand and getting it done. This has been proven.
It it faster to focus on the entire process for one assignment than it is to break it down into individual parts and perform them piecemeal.
For example. If you were assigned to stuff, stamp and seal 100 envelopes with 100 pieces of paper, it is faster to perform this process for one envelope and one piece of paper at a time than it is to fold 100 pieces of paper then stuff the 100 envelopes then stamp the 100 envelopes and then seal them. It is faster to perform the whole process than it is to jump from part to part.
The same goes for the creative process, in your role at work, for your startup, etc. Focus on finishing tasks as much as you can before jumping to others.
6. 90 minute breaks
Borrowing this one from Tony Schwartz (Energy Project). The thinking is simple… work in 90-minute intervals throughout the day. Doing so mimics the natural energy cycle that our body operates on.
I tend to do one hour on, 20 minutes off but the thinking is still the same. Commit yourself to no distractions for set amounts of time and start accomplishing tasks. Doing this in small to medium spurts of time allows you to stay focused and avoid distractions.
7. Get off email
We are addicted to our email. Plain and simple. Take after Thomas Knoll who banned email at work as a result of the horrific “email cultures” he observed at various companies.
He has a good point. We use email for things that can be accomplished much more efficiently by using different mediums and methods. I am not advocating getting rid of email, but rather only using it for tasks that it is appropriate for.
Thomas advocates NOT using email for asking people questions, sharing information (use Hackpad instead), passing around files (use Dropbox instead), asking for feedback (use Hackpad instead), to-do lists (use Trello instead). What it should be used for are things that need to be brought to your attention – notifications and private communications.
Sticking to the above would be an enormous workplace and culture shift but I like the thinking behind it. Stop using email as a crutch to check things off your to-do lists.
8. Write it down now!
One of the greatest wastes of time is going back over your day and trying to remember your ideas, thoughts, reminders, etc. I used to spend a lot of time recapping my thoughts throughout the day because I didn’t take the time to write them down in the first place.
Major bonehead move.
I have since moved to acting immediately on a thought by simply taking 10 seconds and writing it down using something like Evernote.
9. Find the right place
I really like Marissa Mayer’s stance that you shouldn’t work from home
Her reasoning is pretty simple:
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
While this certainly applies for those who might work from home rather than the office or a designated creative/work space, I think this mindset has more far reaching impact. For me, environment has a lot to do with productivity. Sure, removing yourself from distraction (the TV in my living room, for example) will help increase your productivity. More than that though, you have to place yourself physically in a space that offers growth opportunities. Whether that is networking or collaborating or simply a creative space that helps you focus and create, do that. Know yourself and how you work.
I’d love to know what your favorite productivity practices are. Email me… firstname.lastname@example.org.