Guest post by Process Street CEO Vinay Patankar
Tech entrepreneurs are known to put in outrageous hours just to get their businesses off the ground. Justin Zhu, cofounder of Iterable, works 12 hour days split into two shifts: 11am-5pm, and then 9pm-3am. Len Gauger, founder of Message Blocks works 14.5 hour days, and sometimes on the weekend during his daughter’s nap times.
Twelve-hour days are usually the bare minimum, and many company founders barely sleep at all. Since regular employees have trouble staying productive during a 40 hour week, we decided to interview top SaaS entrepreneurs to find out their secret to staying productive for a 70+ hour week.
In an analysis of these interviews, we found significant commonalities in how these entrepreneurs spend their mornings, kickstarting their jam-packed work day to set themselves up for productivity.
Stay off the grid
While it may seem like a good idea to start your work day the moment you wake up, many of the CEOs we interviewed intentionally spend their mornings off the grid. They wait until they get into the office to check email and social media.
Colin Nederkoorn, founder of the email-marketing platform Customer.io, makes his schedule for the day in the morning. At this time, he purposely doesn’t check his email so that he can plan according to his own needs before trying to accommodate others.
Patrick Campbell, founder of Price Intelligently and ProfitWell, endorses this strategy. He told us that you should stay off the grid so that you can “start your day with your own thoughts.” He found that avoiding social media first thing in the morning “helps [him] have more clarity.” Most of his day is spent being pulled in different directions and being involved in various projects, so this is the only time he has to think about his higher-level goals for the day.
LIMIT ONLINE CONNECTIVITY
Colin and Patrick’s early morning incognito mode is endorsed by many social scientists. Behavioral science expert James Clear, for one, strongly urges busy people to avoid social tools like email, Facebook, and Instagram, when they first wake up. He says that you can’t possibly accomplish your goals if you’re worrying about other people’s agendas.
New York Times bestseller — and a favorite of Oprah — Julie Morgenstern agrees and even wrote a book about it: Never Check Email in the Morning. She warns against the dangers of multitasking and pushes for limiting distractions in the morning, the time of the day she has found to be the most productive.
Takeaway: Designate the first part of your morning to tuning out.
Exercise helps you keep weight off, it increases your metabolism, and it even helps you live longer. And while most of us have heard about the physical benefits of exercise, few of us are willing to give up an extra hour of sleep to make sure we get to the gym in the morning.
Many of our SaaS interviewees, however, viewed exercise as an essential start to the work day. StatusPage co-founder Steve Klein exercises on most days because he knows that “the benefits of exercise are well documented.”
Cofounder of the video-hosting platform Wistia, Chris Savage is dedicated to self-improvement, inside and outside the workplace. He goes to the gym four days a week, every week. He told us that “moving first thing helps to focus me and feel accomplished before I actually make it to the office.”
START THE DAY AT THE GYM
There’s a scientific explanation for Chris’ and Steve’s thinking. In addition to physical fitness, exercising in the morning has huge mental health benefits. It gets the blood and oxygen flowing to all corners of your body—most importantly to your brain, actually getting you to think better.
And exercise has plenty of preventive benefits as well. Since human bodies are made for movement, inactivity causes your body to freak out and misfire your stress hormones. Any unused energy you might have built up contributes directly to your anxiety.
It’s no wonder these SaaS entrepreneurs are able to tackle such immensely difficult work days, day in and day out. By exercising every morning, they are able to burn off nervous energy and keep their hormones in order, so that they can feel relaxed as they start their day.
Takeaway: Plan an exercise schedule for the morning.
In order to avoid feeling burned out by the end of each long week, many successful entrepreneurs make an effort to get into a positive mindset every morning.
Appcues founder Jonathan Kim does this by beginning each morning with a song that pumps him up to take on yet another challenging day. And it’s not all in his head! Well, actually, it is all in his head, but research has shown that listening to music triggers dopamine release in your brain and makes you happier.
Steli Efti, the founder of sales communication platform Close.io, has a different strategy. He finds that motivational quotes and sayings from inspirational people help amp him up in the mornings. And he even practices what he preaches. He so strongly believes in the power of motivational speaking, that he sends 60-second videos to inspire his own subscribers.
DO SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
According to Laura Vanderkam, the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, most successful people spend their morning time doing things that they love to do. This puts them in a positive mindset to accomplish all the less enjoyable tasks that they have to face throughout the day.
But not only do these mood-boosting activities motivate these entrepreneurs to get their day going and face hurdles, but research has shown that happier people are more productive people. One study showed that happier individuals were about 12% more productive than their peers. That’s like adding almost three hours to your work day, just by doing stuff you like!
Takeaway: Read, listen, or watch something that puts you in a good mood.
Because the morning is the time when CEOs find that they have the most peace and quiet, many of them use it as an opportunity to plan out their day.
The first thing that Jimmy Jacobson, cofounder of the polling tool Wedgies, does every morning is set up his goals for the day. He then fills his schedule with activities that will help him realize those goals.
Patrick of Price Intelligently picks just the single, most important thing that he needs to get done that day. To keep track of the task, he wears a wristband that has a green checkmark on one side and the words “flip me” on the other. After he comes up with his task, he wears it on the “flip me side,” and once he gets it done, he flips his wristband to remind himself that he’s achieved his most difficult task of the day.
PICK ONE VALUABLE THING
According to Kahneman and Tversky’s planning fallacy, people tend to plan much more for their day than they are capable of accomplishing. This was proved in a study conducted among university students. Only 30% of students completed their thesis in the amount of time they anticipated.
This is likely due to the optimism bias. People naturally assume they’ll always be working at the height of their own potential, without taking any distractions or hurdles into consideration.
But not reaching your goals can have a detrimental effect. Unreached or unfulfilled goals are constant reminders of your failures. Your brain will actively resist concentrating on anything that is associated with pain and discomfort, making your failed goals even less likely to get accomplished in the long term. This is why focusing on a very limited number of achievable goals for the day is the most productive and motivating tactic.
Takeaway: Make a note of the most important task for the day.
Make it routine
Even though many of the SaaS entrepreneurs we interviewed had different ways of starting their day, they all had one thing in common: they stuck to a routine. If you’re anywhere near as busy as these SaaS entrepreneurs, it probably seems incredibly difficult to motivate yourself to get anything done in the morning when you have a full schedule looming over your head.
But if you turn these morning productivity-propellers into morning rituals, like these tech entrepreneurs have, your morning tasks won’t feel like chores, they’ll just feel like part of the day.
Instead of just waking up, showering, and grabbing a poor excuse for a breakfast, optimize your morning so that you can start work feeling relaxed, focused, and better prepared for any challenges the work day will inevitably bring your way.