Startup culture and productivity have a long-standing love/hate relationship. On the one hand, there’s a lot to get done. On the other hand, there’s never enough time and something always seems to get lost in the crunch.
So how do you reconcile these two facts and actually, you know, be productive? Especially when you’re the CEO, which often means you’re also the default CIO, CFO, and COO simultaneously. It’s going to come down to having a system. Not much of a surprise there, we admit. What may be surprising is just how easy and quick you can set up a system that works for you and your team. We hope you can apply these ideas to your current situation in April 2020. Perhaps you're working from home, or you've changed what your day-to-day operations look like to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In any case, we'd like to think that these productivity tips and tricks may come in even more handy.
Our recommendations may not, at first glance, seem all that business-like. See, what is often overlooked in articles like this is the simple fact that the CEO has to lead by example. That means that you have to have your own time-management skills firmly in hand before you can expect your team to follow suit and find systems that work for them. This is especially true under extenuating circumstances.
These suggestions are meant to be thought-provoking rather than a “how-to.” We want you to build your own platform from which your explorations into time management, productivity systems, and leadership can launch.
At the risk of sounding like a therapist, the first key foundational piece of the productivity puzzle is to have a solid understanding of yourself. To those ends, ask yourself some questions and make note of the answers:
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- How do you stay organized?
- How are you at setting limits?
- How about sticking to them once set?
Use these as a jumping-off point, then see where your answers lead you. The idea behind starting here is that the productivity system that’s going to lead you to startup CEO success will have to be tailored to your specific situation, needs, and way of doing things. See how your answers overlap, where they diverge, and what conclusions you can draw.
Know Your People
Once you’ve uncovered some good insights into your own working style, it’s time to turn the spotlight toward your team. It’s small, so this won’t be too time-consuming. Since chances are good you hired each of them, you may already know all you need to for this step. Add your notes to those you took in the last section.
Does anyone surprise you with how much they seem to get done on an average day? Sit down with them (in this climate, video chat them!), ask open questions, and absorb their knowledge. You could learn more than just about their productivity system, so be sure you’re practicing active listening.
You’re going to have to delegate some stuff, that’s a simple fact of being CEO. It’s also a fact that many in your position have a very hard time doing this. So the second reason for this deep dive into your team is to learn who you should be turning to and what tasks they would excel at when that time comes.
Set Your Goals
You’ve heard of SMART goals by now, right? If not here’s a quick primer:
- Specific—Don’t say “be on time,” say “arrive by 8:30 every weekday morning.”
- Measurable—Track progress so you can quantify and validate success.
- Attainable—If you’re a night owl who never gets up before 8:00am, don’t say you’ll get in at 8:30.
- Relevant—if nobody else arrives before 10:00...
- Time-bound—No open-ended goals here, everything needs to be quantifiable so give it a hard end date.
The key that often gets overlooked is to share these goals with your inner circle. It’s this external accountability that will help keep you on course and provide the back-up you need.
Build Your System
You’ve got a handle on yourself and your team, and you’ve set your goals. It’s time to set about building a productivity system that will work. For you. A couple of further items to note at this point:
- Multitasking has been scientifically proven to be a bad idea. Well, not so much a bad idea as not something humans can actually do. It turns out that the amount of time it takes to change course multiple times through the day means that you’d do better to stick with one task through to completion, then move on.
- Budget your time. The key part comes later, however, when you actually stick to that time budget.
- Are you more analog, or digital? This will determine if you’re going to thrive with a paper calendar or one on your computer/phone. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between and can set alarms to backup your handwritten calendar.
Here’s where our comments in the intro come into play. We’re not going to be going into detail of this system or that productivity suite. We don’t know you. We don’t know your team. We don’t know your startup’s product/service.
By this point, you know all of those things and are positioned to find a system that works. For you.
Use Your Tools
Have you settled on a combination of digital and analog tools? Cool, it’s time to start using them by integrating them into your daily routine. There are so many possibilities here, it would take a book or interactive guide to even scratch the surface.
Project management software has come a long way in recent years, to the point where there are often free versions that can work wonders for keeping you and your team on track.
Automation solutions have matured quite a bit as well. Many are now built right into other tools. Gmail auto-responders have advanced settings you can fine-tune to suit your needs. And tools like Hootsuite and Buffer let you set a schedule for your social media posting while also collecting all of your presence into one dashboard to simplify responding to ongoing conversations.
Productivity is a gigantic topic, one with myriad facets we don’t have the time or space to dive into here. At the same time, there are also myriad facets to you as CEO of your startup. In order to get productivity under control, you’re going to need to invest some time in the beginning.
There are always new systems being developed, and there are always ways to tweak existing ones to make them work better for your unique situation. What we want you to take away from this article is that this is time well spent. Developing your own startup CEO productivity system will pay off in the long run so put some time and energy into it now. You won’t be sorry.