7 Must-Know Productivity Tips from Startup CEOs

Creating a startup takes a unique combination of vision, creativity, risk-taking, determination and plain hard work. Few of us think about the amount of time and energy that goes into every app icon on our phones, let alone the number of projects and tasks the CEOs must have completed to get their app live.

So how do startup CEOs manage to squeeze the most value out of each day?

Here are the top productivity tips from serial startup founders explaining how they make the most of their time. After hearing from the experts, we will explain how to incorporate these awesome hacks into your day.

1. Do not multitask

Serial entrepreneur Auren Hoffman’s top tip for staying productive is to completely avoid multi-tasking.

“If you find yourself reading emails in a meeting, then you probably should not be in the meeting (or the meeting needs to be run better).”*

Multi-tasking is known to decrease your concentration by up to 40%, weakening your ability to focus on the task at hand to get work done. But how do you stay focused? First of all, you need to practice staying focused on one task at a time, ignoring distracting thoughts. Switching off notifications, alerts and blocking outside noise can also go a long way to helping you focus on one task at a time.

2. Ask yourself “What is my highest, best use?” constantly

Tim Westergren, Founder of Pandora, writes that his best productivity hack is to continuously ask himself “What is my highest, best use?”

He found that it’s easy to feel busy and productive the more senior you become in an organization, so it’s important for startup founders to constantly remind themselves to focus on the most important tasks, especially those that can’t be delegated.

Sometimes the best thing a founder can do is just sit and think, according to Westergren. How often do you allow yourself to do that?

Productivity Quote

3. The 5-task to-do list

Founder of startup, Steli Efti, reports that his productivity hack, the 5-task to do list method, allowed his team to increase their trial sign-ups and customers by 30%. The main reason startup founders become less productive as they get more successful is because they add too much stuff to their to-do lists.

To claim back your to-do list, refining is the key. Efti recommends these 3 steps to crafting your 5-task to-do list:

  1. Create a 25-task to-do list. Some people might find it hard to come up with that many tasks, but most of us will struggle to limit our list to only 25 tasks
  2. Circle the 5 most important tasks on the list. The tasks need to be either urgent or have very high ROI
  3. Create your 5 task to-do list and add a due date next to each task.

The catch is that you can’t add any more tasks to your list until you’ve completed EVERY one of your 5 tasks.

Now that will take discipline, but it’s worth it, says Efti.

“When my team and I followed this method, we had our best month ever in terms of trial sign-ups and customers. We did fewer things but we did them better.

4. Airplane Days

CleanTech entrepreneur Bryan Hassin, CEO of Smart OES, noticed how productive he was on long flights. Without internet access and confined to his seat, he churned through high-priority items, as well as creative tasks that had sat on his to-do list for a long time.

Instead of taking more long flights to get more of this extreme productivity, Hassin says:

“Now, at the beginning of each week, I carefully look at my schedule and declare one day (or two half days) to be Airplane Time. I block it out on my shared calendar and treat it as if I were in the air: working out of the office, disabling my phone, and shutting off network connections on my laptop. The rest of the days are for meetings, etc. but this blocked out time each week is my most productive by far.”

5. Focus on long-term value

“As a startup CEO, there will always be more things to do (and more things broken) than you could ever fit into a lifetime,” says Co-founder of NerdWallet, Jacob Gibson. He says that the solution lies in being laser focused on the small number of things that actually drive long-term value for your company, and say no to everything else.

This productivity tactic is much easier to say than actually do, as staying focused when your startup continues to grow means more demands on your time from your employees.

Gibson says that “Other than risking burnout when your company needs you most, the biggest risk you run by not hyper-focusing is losing sight of the big picture. You’ll inevitably spend too much time on short-term tactics (checking off your to-do list) and no time thinking about long-term strategy.”


6. Do not waste ‘on-desk’ time

Make the most of your time at your desk, says startup founder Gokul Nath Sridhar, CEO of the startup Tenreads. The idea behind this productivity hack is that your time at your desk is the most valuable type you have during your day, so getting small tasks out of the way while you’re not at your desk is a great way to maximise your productivity. Sridhar’s top tips include:

  • Check your emails while on the go. Do you have a morning commute? Make your commute more productive by getting through your emails while on the go, so you’re ready to work once you arrive at your desk.
  • Keep your phone on silent and turn off Facebook and Skype notifications while you work.
  • Use do-it-later services like Pocket so you can avoid the distractions of content.

7. Daily micro-review

A practical productivity hack from the CEO and co-founder of payment app Tilt, James Beshara, who suggests to ”keep a list of what you did that day (outside of the most important things you HAD to do), and then create the list of the things you have to do for tomorrow.”

Forming this simple habit each day helps Beshara feel good about what he accomplished each day, and also helps him focus when he wakes up the next day.

Not only does it keep him on track, Bershara says that “This exercise really helps my mind take a rest during the night.”

Productivity Quote

How to make these productivity tips work for you

Instead of reading this article and forgetting these tips, here’s how you can implement a productivity hack into the way your work this week.

Step 1:

Choose one of the productivity hacks above that sparks your interest.

Step 2:

Make a commitment to yourself to implement that one hack this week. And do it now – if you had 2 minutes to read this article, you should have 2 more minutes to figure out how the hack can be implemented right now.

Step 3:

At the end of this week, reflect and decide if the hack worked for you, and whether you should incorporate it into your daily routine. Set a reminder for the end of the week to ensure you assess whether the hack was a step in the right direction.

Let us know in the comments which hack you’ll be testing out this week!

*Productivity hacks originally posted on Quora