Startup CEOs not only have to manage a team of employees, they have to build a company from the ground up. So, of course, this requires a hands-on approach and a typically massive workload.
To deal with all of these responsibilities, the best entrepreneurs figure out tricks that help them manage their time and maximise their efficiency.
In a recent Quora thread, startup execs responded to the question: “As a startup CEO, what is your favourite productivity hack?” We’ve highlighted some of the best apps, techniques, and habits below.
1. Have “No Meetings Wednesdays.”
Dustin Moskovitz, cofounder of Facebook and cofounder and CEO of Asana, clears his schedule every Wednesday. It’s “an invaluable tool for ensuring you have some contiguous space to do project work,” he says.
2. Use “mind maps.”
British pop psychologist Tony Buzan coined the term “mind map” in the ’70s for a specific kind of organizational technique that is like a web of to-do lists. Paul Klipp, president of Lunar Logic’s Polish branch, uses the website mindmeister.com to build his. He spent about an hour making his first one and now spends 15 minutes every Monday morning updating it for the week. Here’s an idea of what a portion of one could look like:
3. Try the Pomodoro Technique.
Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato,” and it refers to the tomato-shaped cooking timer Francesco Cirillo used as a college student. His technique, popularised in the late ’80s, consists of breaking work down into 25-minute bursts of intense work followed by a five-minute break, in which you can relax by kicking back or giving in to a distraction like Twitter.
“You might think that a person could do 16 of these cycles in a day,” Klipp says. “I’m lucky to get more than two in a day without interruptions. But in those 50 minutes I get more done than I do in the other seven hours of my work day, at least in terms of advancing the most important aspects of my most important projects.”
4. Arrange your tasks on a Kanban board.
A Kanban board is a simple way to visualise your work progress. It consists of columns that represent the stages a project, with individual tasks listed on a note that is moved from one column to the next. Klipp calls his columns: Backlog, This week, Today, Current Pomodoro, Delegated, and Done.
You can use a whiteboard and Post-It notes as some teams do, or you can organise your individual board on a site like kanbanflow.com. Here’s an example of what one looks like, followed by a closeup:
5. Outsource small, time-consuming projects.
Startup CEOs usually have a lot on their plates and don’t always have the manpower to help, but there are plenty of online resources that offer workers you can hire to take on small tasks. Matt DeCelles, cofounder and partner of William Painter, recommends sites like Elance and Fiverr for cheap freelance work for anything from programming to design. There’s also Fancy Hands, which provides you with an assistant for $US10 an hour.
6. Put the day’s three most important tasks on a Post-It note.
After you’ve arranged your work for the day, DeCelles recommends writing the three most important tasks on a Post-It note that you keep readily in sight as an extra bit of motivation. Know that you must get these three tasks done no matter what comes up.
7. Restrict access to distractions on your phone and computer.
DeCelles likes to put his iPhone on Do Not Disturb mode when working intensely so that no call or text can tempt him to pick up his phone and begin a conversation. He also uses SelfControl to temporarily block access to the Internet for a set period of time, so that he can’t check Facebook even if he wanted to. (Freedom is a similar service that works for both Mac and Windows.)
8. Use RescueTime to see exactly how you spend your time.
DeCelles also recommends you install RescueTime on your computer, which tracks how much time you spend on certain websites, apps, and work. You can check your progress daily, and each week you’ll get a report breaking down this data in charts. You’ll also get a productivity score that you can work on improving. Here’s an example of a daily breakdown with added explanation:
9. Show up to the office earlier than anyone else.
Remco Van Mook, cofounder of Virtu, recommends getting to the office an hour and a half before everyone else. “You’ll hate it, but you get done more in that hour and a half than the rest of the day — you’ll be running from distraction to distraction afterwards,” he says.
10. Use Pocket to set aside interesting things to read and watch later.
Gokul Nath Sridhar, founder and CEO of Likewyss, is a big fan of the app Pocket. It lets you indulge your desire to be distracted but continue working by letting you store articles and videos that catch your interest throughout your day. Pocket downloads them onto your wireless device so that you can spend time with the content even if you don’t have access to the Internet, like during your subway commute home.
11. Use the Two-Minute Rule.
In his popular book “Getting Things Done,” David Allen outlines this technique, which is simply this: When a task arises that you know you can complete in two minutes or less, do it immediately. “I love it,” said Christian Sutardi, cofounder of Lolabox, “because it’s not a groundbreaking rule. It’s no fancy app or software. It doesn’t even require learning or dedication, and you can start doing it today.”
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