Effective Productivity Hacks From 80 Startup Founders – Part One
We talk with 80 startup entrepreneurs who share their most effective productivity tips, tricks and hacks. In part one below we feature what 40 of them had to say (check out part two here).
Not sure if it counts as a hack, but establishing a morning routine has done more for my productivity than anything else. When I get up I immediately stretch, drink water, walk an hour while listening to Audible books, clean for 10 minutes, and then jump right into my first work session of the day.
My favorite “magic pill” productivity hack is my Seiki 39″ monitor, which gives you a ton of screen real estate for less than the price of most 24″ monitors. It’s great for web programming and doing research.
Bevan Barton, Founder, Bountify
Work on a meaningful project that aligns with your values. For AwesomeWeb, we’re a team of designers, developers, and Internet entrepreneurs who value freedom of time, location, and work. All five of us work when we want, where we want, and how we want.
As a freelance marketplace, our goal is to help freelancers find more and better clients. Likewise for entrepreneurs finding freelancers. We believe that our work will help more people enjoy the perks of being a freelancer or business owner.
I’ve been a freelancer for years and I’ve struggled with productivity when the project is just a project. When your work is meaningful, it’s a lot easier to get it done.
Use of data analysis software. This will cut the guess work out of marketing and will allow you to focus only on the platforms and strategies that generate results.
Misato, Co-Founder, Fitwirr
1. Keyboard Shortcuts – cut down on the time for drafting template emails and allow 100+ emails before 9AM each day of the week.
2. Browser Folder Organization – with the internet so cluttered and crowded with distractions I’ve found the best way to weed out the noise is to organize the essentials in limited folders on my browser window. My full team has adopted this method and it keeps you focused – even during downtime – to find additional work to be done within the necessary barriers.
3. Scheduled Social Media Postings – organizing in advance all of our social media has allowed us to rest assured that for the next 30+ days each social media platform will have engaged viewership and constant content.
I define bite size tasks and goals for the day. I find it daunting and more difficult for myself to make progress when I set large broad goals. Instead I’ve discovered that setting small goals allows me to focus more on what I can do right then, and achieve them faster.
For example, if I say today I must close one lead, or as a designer I say I must deliver the home page, I’m more likely to get discouraged and procrastinate. Alternatively, if I decide that I will simply contact five leads to open up communication, I know that’s attainable today. Then, if I decide to only design a clear call to action for the home page, I’ve set a concise goal that I can complete as well.
At the end of the day this gives me a sense of accomplishment that fuels me for the next.
My favorite productivity hack is being super fast in the command line and solving all the various tiny problems that I might have when working on a bigger problem.
Let’s say I’m working on a data analysis tool. To make sure the tool is correct, I’d need to prepare test data files. So I’d go to command line and use all the Unix text editing power tools, such as awk, sed, head, tail, sort, uniq, and others to produce the test files!
I spend a lot of time writing code, my favorite productivity hack is to leave my code in a broken state by typing out what the next bit of code that I’m going to write will do, in English, right in the part of the code where I’m going to pick up the next day.
That helps me tremendously, because the next day I just need to find the bit of broken code, and what I need to write is already outlined for me. It saves me a ton of time that I used to spend trying to figure out where to start each day.
For me, staying clutter free has actually made working on ClassStatus so much easier. This doesn’t just go for our offices but also on our computers. My laptop is pretty clutter free, the whole idea is to cut down on any distractions and keep the eye on the prize.
Also, short walks throughout the day.
Every morning I go to the same coffee house and
– answer all my emails
– read a variety of blog posts
– map out the 3 things that I absolutely have to do that day
Only after this is done do I go into the office.
My best productivity hack is simply my reminders app. I use this to not only create to-do lists for the daily running of the business but also to delegate tasks to my team. I also use a low tech whiteboard with the daily tasks. It simple helps us prioritise and get the daily tasks done.
15 minute meeting everyday covering “what we did yesterday, what are we doing today, and is there anything blocking us from getting anything done”
Scheduling meetings as early as possible. Anytime I have a chance to schedule a meeting before 8am I do, it forces me to get up early which always ends up in a more productive day.
Create a Productivity Soundtrack – I like to listen to music when I work, but I’m pretty particular.
For tasks I don’t want to do (or simple repetitive tasks):
I listen to a playlist full of songs I know really well. Studies show that your confidence and mood improves when listening to familiar songs. I like the volume up to boost energy.
For tasks requiring focus for extended time:
I’ll listen to music without lyrics that I don’t know but in a style that I like. The volume should be low so it falls to the background. I like to work in 90 minute stretches, then take a short break to refresh.
When learning something new:
Silence. This is the one exception. I find that music is distracting when I’m trying to retain a new concept or skill.
Organize and collaborate quickly. Simplify your process and stay on top of your priorities daily.
My time, just like every founder’s time is valuable down to the minute. Working lean means you don’t have a person for every task and you and your team are doubled and occasionally tripled up. I currently own, run and act as Creative and Operations Director for our type foundry Avondale Type Co. as well as the design agency Bright Bright Great and conference series The Secret Handshake. All consume time. There are only so many hours in the day.
Work smarter, not longer.
I continuously iterate our process. If a new product comes out, we’ll try it. If anyone on our team has an idea how to achieve something smoother and with increased efficiency and intelligence, I’m open to the suggestion. Million dollar ideas can come from anyone.
That doesn’t limit things to managers, or owners. That means, friends, family, community, field and anyone involved in your space. Always be on the lookout for those ideas.
Have A Strict “In-Person Meeting” Policy.
Our time and mental energy is precious, so unless you’re making a big sale, such as closing a deal or other important partnership, its better to take care of something digitally, like through email or Skype. There’s the commute time, parking, and then mental energy you expend just show up. Don’t let yourself be lured to in person meetings unless you feel confidant you can execute a payday for your company.
Don’t be a 9-5er. Inspiration flows when it is not forced and often occurs after 2am for me. Getting tasks completed happens during the workday, but being productive with developing the ultimate vision of your company will likely come outside the standard hours.
Make quick decisions on things that don’t make a difference. I can’t believe how much time people waiste, myself included, on decisions as simple as “Where should we go to lunch?” or “What font should I use?”
Next time someone asks you where to go to lunch say the first thing that comes to mind and roll with it. Then start doing that with 90% of the decisions that come across your desk and save the brain power for the decisions that actually effect the bottom line.
Writing everything down. After years and years of assuming that I can rely on my memory, I finally realized I was wrong about that. Even if I can remember something, the task of my brain holding onto that little piece of information is taking time and energy away from whatever task it is that I’m working on in the moment. I’ve cobbled together a handful of products/services to achieve what has become a pretty efficient way to keep track of everything.
I have a text file on Dropbox for every month and as I go through my day, I use that text file as a running list of notes, to-dos, email drafts etc. I can access it from my phone or my computer. Each note has a timestamp, a title, and hashtags to ensure I can find something when I’m looking for it.
Zoho.com is a great free email solution that can, in turn, allow you to use Google Apps for your business at no cost. I’m a big fan of Google Apps, but a lean startup might not want to spend $10/month/user.
If you route your email server to Soho, and host all your email accounts there ( free ). Then sync your personal gmail accounts with those accounts, allowing for outgoing mail. Do this with all team members and everyone can send and receive company mail from their personal gmail account. Then share a folder on google drive via your personal accounts, and do the same with calendar and hangouts, and you have all the benefits of google apps for your startup without the cost.
Brett Clanton, Founder, GravityApp
Embrace your personal uptime: Many of us are conditioned to work ‘normal’ hours from our previous jobs. What this means is, we sometimes feel guilty if we stay in bed until 11AM on a Monday morning or knock off a bit early on a Friday.
At GoEnglish, we’ve found that we are far more productive if we work with our natural body clocks rather than fighting them. Sometimes I will get a burst of energy at 1 o’clock in the morning and will get some of my best work done. As far as we’re concerned, when starting a business, that’s just fine. Just make sure you have lots of coffee in the pot!
Sançar Sahin, Co-Founder, GoEnglish
I’ll give you three: 1. Get a Co-Founder. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of decisions you have to make when starting a business; having someone to debate them with is invaluable. 2. Balance. You will undoubtedly find yourself having to put in more hours than a standard 9 to 5, but you have to know when to stop and allow time for the other aspects of your life. 3. Exercise (This one is obvious). We all know the many physical and mental benefits that exercise can bring, so just do it.
Andrew Cox, Co-Founder, GoEnglish
Do the most important thing first, while ignoring everything else. Never multi-task. Item #2 on your list is irrelevant until item #1 has been completed, at which point item #2 becomes item #1.
Understanding how your personal energy levels fluctuate throughout the day is really useful because you can match your task to your current energy level and be more efficient with your time.
So if you’re at your best first thing in the morning, use that time to work on strategy or creative tasks instead of slogging through email. Save that for the afternoon when your energy is lower.
Similarly, if you know your best work is done late at night, adjust your schedule accordingly. And when you catch yourself losing focus, switch to a different task or take a break.
Adapting to your personal energy levels helps you push the ball further each day. And that is your ultimate job as a founder.
My number one productivity hack would have to be making lists.
With so much going on in a start-up, and few people to do it, you are forced to wear lots of hats. At times it can be quite overwhelming and things can fall through the cracks if you are not careful.
Waking up early in the morning, and with a fresh cup of coffee, writing a list of the most important things that need to be accomplished to move the company forward, is the best thing to do to keep things organized. You may not get to do any of the things on the list that day (as there are always fires to be put out), but at least you can refer to the list at any point in time if you become lost.
Working from home. When I really need to get stuff done, I sometimes prefer to work at home. I can avoid getting pulled into some impromptu meeting that lasts for 2 hours or being recruited to work on another project. I can just put on the blinders and focus on what I need to get done.
My favorite hack is being proactive rather than reactive. It’s so easy to handle things as they come because they’re always coming. Being proactive helps you free up time and energy by riding waves of momentum instead of getting pummeled by busyness. To stay proactive, I like to focus on two processes for handling work.
One is prioritizing my “to do” list into three categories: Now, Next and Soon. Now usually means that day. Next is reserved for things needing to be done that week or in the current sprint. And Soon is assigned to things I know need to be done but no real date is set yet.
The second is using themed days to batch activities. As a founder, you’re going to wear a lot of hats, from product development and marketing, to meetings and bookkeeping. These activities require different kinds of mental energy. I’ve found it exhausting to jump back and forth so I like to batch the work and allocate a day for each.
The key to being proactive is making sure you spend as much time working “on the business” as you do working “in the business.”
Getting out of email quickly. We use slack in the team so we don’t get bogged down and distracted in email. I can usually get through my emails in about an hour (100 or so) and then check it again twice throughout the day.
1. Task Lists – Create and print a task list with check-boxes, at the start of each day. Ensure some of the tasks are tasks that you can actually achieve, this will mean that progress is visible right from the start. Progress highlights success and success encourages progress.
2. Project Overview Charts. We created a series of awesome graphic charts in Photoshop that visually communicate every project on several pin-up A3 sheets. Each projects has 10 circles in a line representing various milestones, these are either red of green dependent on whether they have been completed. This allows for all of us to quickly track the progress of various projects. After a week, the sheets become a permanent visual anchor, allowing people to switch between projects on different tasks quickly and without delay.
3. Utilize downtime. We work long hours, often we have hours of admin in the working day, we are traveling to meet clients, opening remote offices, waiting for different time zones to hit 9am so we can start conference calls, the list goes on. We have trained ourselves to do the easy stuff when we are out: re-checking emails, replying to minor requests and non-urgent emails, interoperability checks, downloading backups onto cloud servers from our phones, cleaning up our inbox for the day and various other admin related tasks. Essentially if we are not able to create, we ensure we are getting the minutiae completed, so we can concentrate on the real work when the resources are available.
4. Reward hard work. When an employee does 30 hours of overtime, reward them appropriately. If there is give from one side, the other side must give too, this is a mistake too many workplaces make. Someone giving you their time is the greatest gift, too few people recognize this.
5. Predetermined path. Set out clear, concise and achievable goals at the start of each day, otherwise people will only see fog and vague goals, putting up a barrier and disabling a clear line of attack. Coordination is key; a team needs to pull in one direction together, when they do, they will achieve incredible results.
6. Hire the right people. Hire the wrong people and you will plod. Hire the right people and you will become a bullet train firing on all cylinders.
One of my favourite productivity hacks is a internal Jabber server, I have always had people in several countries, even when I was a small startup, we would have developers in Ukraine, sales associates in US and other people in Europe, with an internal Jabber you have a clutter free system that lists everybody online and per department, when quick questions and answers are required, it’s great to just poke the relevant person and get an instant response.
Why do I prefer it over tools like Skype ? simple – simplicity, safe and organised, with your own jabber server you create your own teams and can keep it separate and secure, instead of mixing it up with your own social network and sharing information on unsecured servers.
Take thirty minutes every day to think. Close your inbox, stop working on current projects, and consider the bigger picture about your project, strategy, and future ideas. It’ll help you constantly re-assess what the most important thing is that you should focus on.
I got to say I love Fiverr, although I do a lot of the work myself, when I need voice actors, media artists or statistical help, it is a really good shortcut. Time management apps help a lot, (I use a custom build one) and the google calendar that can sync between all my devices keep me on the ball. And I got to mention services like evernote, that keep my ideas sync via computer, tablet or phone, love it.
Plan (and do) one thing per day and do it before lunch.
I try to plan ahead of time my daily “one thing” for the next 3 weeks. This helps me be strategic about the things I work on, and keeps me moving closer to larger goals. When I don’t do this, I work on random things in the wrong sequence and my goals fall apart.
I aim to get my “one thing” done during my morning work session. That’s when I have the most creative energy. Everything else (calls, email, random other to-dos) get pushed to after lunch.
My favorite productivity hack is asana. It helps us work as a group. A company is an organic thing that grows. People come and leave. With Asana, we are able to organise our projects and tasks. So when we have a new team member join, they are able very quickly to see everything that has happened, and is going on.
I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique. Plan out you tasks to get done for the day, then work in 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks in between. Then award yourself with a slightly longer break after every 4 pomodoros.
The things you can get done in that period of time still amazes me, this is especially helpful when going between multiple projects and clients.
For sales calls, I use zapier to automatically create additional “prep” and “debrief” meetings for every sales call, biz dev, or other networking event I create.
Each prep and debrief meeting has checklists such as “review previous meeting notes” and “what is the goal for this meeting?” This forces me to show up prepared for each meeting, understand the goals, and achieve measurable outcomes.
Before I started doing that, I was killing myself with meetings each week with no discernible progress.
In my todo list of feature requests and things to work on, I rate each item with an importance level of 1-7. After writing down all items and rating them, I immediately work through Level 1 (most important) items, then only sometimes take on Level 2.
All other items can wait, and if they are actually important they will receive a higher ranking later. It feels good to check off the most important tasks and it becomes a game to see how fast I can get through each item.
I removed social media apps from my smart phone and that has enabled me to reduce interruptions from notifications, my constant need to check my phone and also makes my battery last longer.
I now socialize on my networks mainly on my Macbook Air either in the morning or at the end of the day.
Get yourself an amazing Executive Assistant – so much time can be wasted scheduling meetings; fixing meeting rooms and other administrative tasks – time which could be saved working on your business. Initially I thought EA’s were pretentious but hiring one has been one of the the best decisions I’ve made to boost my productivity.
Written by SaaSicorn
Ranking SaaS Websites like it's our job (because hey, it is our job).
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