How To Be Productive As Startup Founder

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.

As CEO of your startup, you're a busy person. Maybe it's time for a productivity bump?

So how do you reconcile these two facts and, you know, be productive? Especially when you're the CEO, which often means you're simultaneously the default CIO, CFO, and COO. It's going to come down to having a system. Not much of a surprise there, we admit. What may be surprising is how easily and quickly 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 your day-to-day operations to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In any case, we'd like to think these productivity tips and tricks may be even handier.

Our recommendations may not, at first glance, seem all that business-like. The simple fact that the CEO has to lead by example is often overlooked. That means you must have your 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 platform from which your explorations into time management, productivity systems, and leadership can launch.

Know Yourself

At the risk of sounding like a therapist, the first key foundational piece of the productivity puzzle is a solid understanding of yourself. To those end, 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 will lead you to startup CEO success must 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 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 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'll 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 8:00 am, 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 often overlooked is sharing these goals with your inner circle. This external accountability will help keep you on course and provide the backup 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. Here are 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 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. However, the key part comes later when you stick to that time budget.

  • Are you more analog or digital? This will determine if you will thrive with a paper calendar or one on your computer/phone. Or maybe you're somewhere between and can set alarms to back up your handwritten calendar.

Here's where our comments in the intro come into play. We won't be discussing 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 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 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 collecting all of your presence into one dashboard to simplify responding to ongoing conversations.

Productivity is a gigantic topic 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. To get productivity under control, you will need to invest some time in the beginning. 

New systems are always being developed, and there are always ways to tweak existing ones to make them work better for your unique situation. We want you to take away from this article that this is time well spent. Developing your 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.

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Jesse hails from Seattle, WA. When he's not creating great content or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he's probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.

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