21 Productivity Hacks for Startup Founders and CEOs
I’m not fond of the word “hacks”, but productivity hacks have become quite popular in the business world, so I’ve decided to use it in this article. This is really a list of things that I have used over the years, and continue to use to make me the most effective and productive that I can be. I hope you enjoy the list.
Eat Breakfast. They call it the most important meal of the day for a reason. A healthy breakfast not only boosts your metabolism, but also boosts your physical energy and your mental stamina. All of these are critically important in business.
Workout at least four times a week, ideally in the morning, even if it is just for 30 minutes (always bring workout clothes when you travel). Working out is good for a couple of things from a business perspective. You need to be healthy and in shape to endure the grueling aspects of running a startup. Most businesses are global, and that requires travel. The CEO job entails working with a variety of external and internal stakeholders. That involves entertainment and meals. Building deep relationships means you need to “hang out” with people. That means doing things together like “breaking break” and other social activities.
Clear E-mails. Do this before going to bed and when you wake-up in the morning. Smart Phones make this easier. I recall before the advent of the Blackberry, I used to have to spend an hour or two before going to bed at night to clear emails. The Smart Phone allows you to play some defense on email during the day, even when traveling. Wi-Fi and a place to use your laptop are not always readily available. People that don’t clear their emails at least every 24 hours can either miss important things or have this pile of stuff hanging over their head, which drains energy and makes you anxious. Use tools like Flags and Folders to help keep your email organized. If you need to use an admin to help with this, by all means do that. Just keep in-mind that they may not have the same discernment and filter that you have, and they can usually on receive and not reply.
Sleep at least six hours a night. On intense travel days where there is a lot of customer entertainment, I could go with four hours of sleep per day for a couple days, but it isn’t the best. Some people say they get by on four hours a night, but I’m not sure if it is true or they also take naps. If you are an eight hours of sleep per night person, then get that amount. Working out helps with this. If you are rested, your brain works better and faster. I am an advocate of a 55-65 hour workweek, not including travel and checking emails at home. You need to have a burst capability of 80 hours per week.
Keep Healthy Snacks and Beverages on-hand and drink lots of water. Do this for two reasons: it is healthier for you and if you don’t you will eat and drink garbage from the vending machine. You cannot always plan perfectly prepared healthy meals, especially when traveling, so this is a good contingency plan so you don’t fall completely apart. I also suggest drinking alcohol in moderation and not drinking on the airplane.
Use Twitter and Google Alerts as Your Primary News Feeds – Check it in the Morning. You can still read the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, or the local newspaper. I just think online is so much more current.
Set Annual Goals and post them where you can see them every day, track your progress toward your goals at least every few weeks, let it help you set priorities when organizing your day, and make adjustments as required.
Get a Great Executive Assistant. There are tasks that should be delegated where you need someone that you can trust and that can handle confidential information in the most secure way. You also need someone to help you with travel, your calendar, and scheduling critical meetings. There is no substitute for a good assistant, and they pay for themselves. I suggest doing this even if you hire a freelance virtual assistant if you have a small operation.
Keep Emails to the Point. Use titles and intros that clearly describe the topic. If there is a Call To Action, then be clear about it. If you are listing action items, be clear about owners and due dates. If the email is simply “For Your Information”, say FYI. Only put people directly involved in actions on the “To” list, and put everyone else on the “CC” list. Don’t put a massive distribution list on your emails unless it is an important broad-based communication. Use the BCC very sparingly, if at all.
Take a Walk in the Afternoon: This will get your mind and body clicking again in the afternoon swoon. Sometimes walk alone to clarify your thoughts or just give your mind a rest. Maybe listen to some music. Sometimes take a walk with one other person, and have your One-on-One meeting with them in that way. Maybe even walk somewhere that you can grab a cup of coffee or a healthy afternoon snack. Also use the afternoon walk at least once a week for “Management by Walking Around”. Make it a point to stop and talk to people. Interact. Ask questions. You’ll be surprised what you see and hear.
Keep a Good Business Books on Your Nightstand and When You Travel. Productivity Books Include Ken Blanchard’s The One-Minute Manager and Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Take Good Notes at Meetings Including Action Items and Owners. You need to make sure people feel a sense of ownership and accountability. Publish these meeting minutes and make sure people are following-up on key action items. Publicly praise people and give critical individual feedback in private.
Have Objectives and a Structure for Any Scheduled Meetings. I cannot tell you the number of meeting that I have attended in my career when I’ve asked myself in my head: “What is this meeting about? Why are all of these people here? I wonder how much this meeting is costing in terms of the salaries of the people here? Is this meeting really necessary? Do we have an actions or outcomes of this meeting?” Don’t have others asking these questions at your meetings!
Track Key Dates. Make sure your staff knows that you know these key dates. They should know because you ask them about these dates. Not just, “Are you on schedule?” Ask “How’s it going?” and “Anything you need to keep things on track?” You don’t want to find-out you are missing a critical schedule that day it was supposed to be met or a few days beforehand. There can be opportunities to take preventative and corrective action if you have an “early warning system”.
Use an Organization System that Works for You and Your Style. Some people say, “You must use EverNote or Slack, or whatever. If you are working in a team on a project, then I do think it is important to have a collaboration tool that works well for the team. However, if we are talking just about your personal organization, pick something that works well for you. I know people that use engineering notebooks, yellow pads, the dictation feature on their phones, or some combination of the above, that are extremely effective. If one of the new online tools works awesome for you, then use it. Don’t be afraid to try new stuff. If something is critical, then make sure it is On Your Calendar, not just on your To-Do List. I have a blog that includes many Tools and Resources that can be valuable here.
Make Strategic Activities a Priority. Strategic activities include screening resumes, screening calls with candidates, interviewing, coaching your key employees, brainstorming, and thinking about long term strategic issues in an out of the box way. Set aside certain times during the day and during the week for this. Block that time on your calendar.
Learn to Effectively Use Downtime. I personally like to read on airplanes and trains, if they are not too crowded. I like to clear emails and check social media on airport layovers. I like to sleep a little on airplanes, even if it is an hour flight, I’ll take a 30-minute nap. If a sales person is driving us to a customer and I’m in a different time zone, I’ll take a power nap between customer meetings after we do the proper briefing.
Keep a Pen and a Post-It Pad on Your Bedside Table…Even When Traveling, and in Your Car. You never know when you will get a good idea. Capture it. Some will be stupid. But some can be brilliant, breakthrough and creative. Don’t write on pads and drive at the same time.
Hold Regular One-on-One and Staff Meetings. I am a proponent of one-on-one meetings with direct reports and near direct reports at least every other week. I make time for other critical employees at least once every six weeks. Make sure the person’s manager knows you are having these meetings. I like to be transparent versus sneaky. Make it know that one-on-one meetings are for your people to bring things to you that are not urgent or time critical. They know that they can approach you with something urgent or critical at any time. Hope people accountable to prepare for these meetings. Make the staff meeting for communication and things that involve a critical mass of the whole team. If something comes-up in a staff meeting that only involves a couple people, then have them take it “off-line” (outside the meeting).
Make the Smartphone a Productivity Tool Instead of a Time Sink. Don’t waste endless hours on social media or the web.
Outsource or Delegate Repeatable Tasks. Startups are a team sport. Hire the best people that you can find, and empower them to do the things that they are good at.