Whether you’re a founder or a team member (I don’t use the word employee), hustling in the startup environment can become quite counter-productive.
This post is a direct result of my experience with one such startup project and its entrepreneur. The people behind these projects are so passionate they work round the clock. Sometimes it’s the pressure of investors, too, as well as competition fear.
There’s a reason most entrepreneurs find it extremely difficult to reach their goals.
You might think working 10 hours a day is enough and bound to bring growth. That’s true to some extent. You need to put in the effort at the right place, and not just everywhere, hoping things would turn out the way you want them to be.
See, working 10 or 14 hours a day would not mean much if you did not focus on each task productively. At the end of the day, if you haven’t reached the daily goal you set initially, you haven’t achieved much, even if you worked for hours straight.
What you’re doing is tricking your mind into this false sense of “Work Mode.” Where you feel like you’re working, but the reality is you aren’t.
You’re wasting time on things that don’t bring results. Knowing or without knowing, you’re making these mistakes, so you are not productive enough to keep up with your project timelines and fail to get it done even after straining your eyes without sleep.
Here are 10 great Productivity Tips that can help you achieve more.
Try each tactic with the utmost dedication and see which one works for you. Once you find the right strategy, stick to it. Don’t try to fix what’s not broken.
1. Cut The Noise
There’s tons of noise when you start a company. It keeps on getting louder.
What’s the noise exactly?
Everything irrelevant. Everything that’s not related to your product’s growth and innovation is noise.
You don’t want to spend any time on ideas, plans, and investments that won’t take you one step closer to your goal.
However, you need to identify what’s your signal. It could be making your product better, developing new communication skills, better customer experience, or something else.
Start-up founders aren’t always the best salespeople or the best at marketing.
I once used a graphic design service where the sales director was the co-founder. The guy had no notion of how to talk with customers who asked too many questions. My editor Dave usually asks multiple questions when beginning to use a service for the first time.
This helps us make sure we won’t be wasting our time in reaching support afterward. The co-founder of this graphic design company, after a mere 7th question, said, “Our services might not be a good option for you.”
What was the question?
The question was: Is the turnaround time usually this late?
Since we hit the question on the weekend, the answer was simple. He could have said, “We don’t work on weekends.” Instead, he acted defensively and impatiently. He didn’t understand the customer.
Apart from this silly mistake, he makes countless others that he might not even know about.
This was just one of many incidents we have encountered when consulting for SMBs. Especially in the case of SaaS and Tech start-ups.
If you are a founder whose passion is building products, that’s your signal.
2. Don’t Worry About the Mess
I had this habit of wiping my desk every hour. I couldn’t concentrate on any task unless I made sure no spot was visible.
Same with my online workspace. If anything ticked me off, whether regarding design, team management, content writing, or the sales funnel, I will not work until I get it fixed or removed.
Think of it as something similar to OCD.
The sad thing is OCD is cherished and Esteemed by many. Many think it’s good to act like your life is on the line any time a mistake happens. Or when something goes south and doesn’t precisely turn out the way you want it to be.
This kind of OCD is not healthy for your business.
It forces you to procrastinate, and you don’t even notice it. What happens is every tiny mistake, puny error, and small imperfection gives you a reason to stall.
Your brain soon starts to find ways to identify such imperfections, as if it’s trying to keep you from getting anything done.
The part of the brain called the basal ganglia is mostly responsible for such laziness. Basal Ganglia isn’t too fond of focusing on solving complex tasks. Instead, it focuses on developing patterns in the desire to get rewards.
Basal Ganglia plays a significant role in creating habits and following them. This ultimately means it pushes you to do easy work and think you’ve done something—a state of euphoria where it tricks you into a false sense of winning. The dopamine trap!
So, don’t let puny imperfections waste your time in acting. Because once you start doing it, things get much harder to control later.
Your aim as an entrepreneur should be:
Working, okay. Let’s move on.
And don’t look back until it stops. As long as the marketing funnel, the pipeline, the product, the service, the design is working – don’t change it. Instead, keep working in the backend to innovate the product. Give your customers and the audience time to get familiar with your product and services on the surface.
Too many changes too quickly will only result in more complexity. People might think it’s too early, too much. Work on bugs, faults, and errors that are most critical and ignore tiny changes that add value.
Don’t hesitate to launch your product due to some. The biggest mistake you can make is prolonged thinking and failing to act due to your table’s mess. That’s an excuse, buddy, not a reason.
3. Control Your Fear of Missing Out
FOMO kills productivity.
There’s no way you can stay focused and work towards completing any task while your mind is constantly checking the Twitter Trending page.
You want to be a part of the latest investment trend. That new CRM just came out, and you want to try it first. That new social media study came out – Instagram is generating higher conversions. Now you want to be a part of the boom.
There are just so many FOMOs. You can relate as well.
Just because your competitors are hiring doesn’t mean you should too.
Oh, they are raising more capital! I should too.
No, you don’t unless you really need to.
Understand that you can’t beat your competition by copying or following in their footsteps.
FOMO is the worst of any psychological factor that affects our whole life. At every stage, FOMO makes us make bad decisions and forces us to procrastinate.
Constantly putting loads of information in your brain doesn’t help. It makes things worse. Our brain can only handle so much on a given day. If we keep FOMO from getting the better of us, we’ll never overcome mediocrity.
FOMO keeps our minds busy by constantly filling our limited brain memory with useless stuff. You can’t keep checking those email notifications, every Instagram like, Facebook message, Twitter mention, or Youtube, and stay productive.
All of those things are important, agreed. But you need to create a routine and follow it. Unless you’re directly benefiting from social media, and your brand relies on it, turn off push notifications. Hire competent social media marketers to do the job for you.
Too early to hire someone? Use automation tools like Missinglettr and Brand24 to manage your social media profiles smartly and monitor your brand as well.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t follow the trend. But you shouldn’t follow everyone. If something really relates to you or your brand, do it. But don’t deviate from your actual schedule and include something new in your pipeline blindly following the trend.
Look at your calendar, and figure out what’s more important. The FOMO, or the task at hand. Once you figure out your priorities, by all means, please do it.
4. Push Your Limits, But Check for Burnouts
Your brain defines your limits. The brain protects you from going overboard, a capacity defined by identifying your mental and physical limits.
The good thing is you can push your limits and make your brain accustomed to it.
By constantly doing both physical and mental hard work at the right pace, you can push your limits and get more done in less time.
You can go from 7 hours of sleep to 5 hours. Turn 5 reps to 10 and 8 hours of writing code to 14 hours.
It’s all achievable. And most of the SaaS founders do it pretty easily. It’s not hard to push when a sense of success drives you.
You feel like you need to go the extra mile. You blame your lack of discipline. You push because that’s what winners do. Losers take breaks.
It’s all good until you start to realize you are on the edge of burnout. And when you fall into a state of burnout, it’s tough to get out.
Burnout is a form of exhaustion, both physical, and mental. As a direct result of constant stress and anxiety issues, many c-level entrepreneurs suffer. With the high unpredictability of a start-up and constant capital challenges, roadblocks, and setbacks, it’s hard to fight stress and relax.
For some, it takes years before they can get back to their normal self.
It is real, and it affects pretty much every CEO and founder at once. If left unchecked, burnout can make you miserable. There’s no other way to put it. You won’t enjoy your work, life, or even money.
Most entrepreneurs and c-level executives think burnout is never going to happen to them.
But make no mistake about it, it will happen if you let it.
Here’s how to check and avoid burnout:
- Sleep right. The biggest driver of burnout is lateness and irregular sleep patterns.
- Find a hobby you love and do it every day. Take some time off your workload and find something that you enjoy outside of work.
- Have an optimistic mindset. Please don’t force yourself to take stress by constantly thinking about the worse to prepare for it.
- Talk to someone. Discuss your problems and issues with your closest friends and family.
- Enjoy your work and celebrate small victories by rewarding yourself and your team. Make the workspace a pleasant atmosphere where everyone can share their feelings and help each other to avoid stress.
5. Follow a Pattern – Trick Your Brain
Tricking your brain is easy. All you have to do is follow a pattern, and that’s it. Every time that pattern is executed, you will be far more productive than before.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Identify a task.
First, find a task you need to complete daily. It could be writing a blog post, finishing test runs, writing code for the developmental stage, adding new tasks to the workspace, or anything that requires you to associate yourself with something physical or digital.
You must choose only such tasks that require you to associate or use anything physical, such as a laptop, or digitally such as writing software.
Step 2: Create a Pattern
Assuming you work from home, this pattern is associated with a laptop.
When you get up in the morning, finish your chores and stand at your workplace door.
Take a deep breath, and open the door. Once you open that door, look nowhere else. Keep your vision straight on your workstation. Take a seat on your chair, open the laptop, and start working on the most important task on your schedule.
Use your willpower to resist the temptation to do anything else but work on the task when you open that laptop. Nothing else, but giving your absolute best to complete the task. For as long as you are working on that laptop.
When you want to watch a video, read a book, play a game, read an article, close the laptop. Use something else but not that laptop.
See, you are associating full focus, hard work, and no distractions with the laptop.
You have to be strict and honest with yourself. One slip, and you will have to wait a day to start again.
The idea of doing nothing but working on a task when you first open your laptop is what I call The Pattern Association System.
I created this system after I remembered a scene from a video I saw as a child.
It’s hard to remember, but as far as I remember; In the video, a man tricked a woman into talking only when he tapped his fingers on the table three times. And then he tricked her into stopping as well, using 1 tap.
He associated the pattern of tapping his finger with his silence/her talking and vice versa.
This made me realize I installed a pattern of associations like that in my life too.
Here’s what I did:
When I’m using my MacBook in the morning, I do nothing but write. In the afternoon, I do the research, and in the night, I manage the business backend and front ends.
When I’m using my iPad in the morning, I look at the market, read a couple of magazines, and write a morning journal. I don’t use it in the afternoons, but in the evenings, I look at my finances, check the ledger and write an end-of-the-day journal.
When I use my iPhone in the morning, I check my daily schedule, morning emails, and important messages. In the afternoon, I check my Twitter feed. In the evening, I do whatever I like since most of my tasks are finished. I do communicate with my international team as well.
I follow a strict routine, with no slips. It was tough initially, but I faced burnout, which practically forced me to trick my brain into enjoying the task at hand smartly.
Because I don’t give my brain anything else to do at a certain moment, it’s either do “this” or stay put.
Slowly, it has become a habit I don’t even notice. It’s happening on its own, saving my willpower as I don’t force my willpower to clash with resistance.
It took me about 2 months to make this work and instill this as a non-forced part of my life.
6. Use Pomodoro – It Still Works
Contrary to what many believe, the Pomodoro technique isn’t getting ineffective. The Pomodoro technique is a productivity booster skill where you work on a task for 30 minutes with full focus, resisting any temptation to deviate.
Then, you take a short break of 5 minutes every 30 minutes.
I’ve been using Pomodoro in my daily writing. It helps me stay focused and light-feet because of those short breaks and how it helps you get into the “Flow” state.
Flow State is a psychological feeling or a state of mind when you are deeply immersed in performing a single task. When in a flow state of mind, you’re fully focused like a hawk locking on its prey.
You don’t feel any lack of energy or confidence, and you’re able to perform at your best. It’s like an adrenaline boost. Your brain is pushing your mental and physical limits because you’re so focused on what you’re doing.
However, you can only enter a flow state if you love what you do. If you truly enjoy your work and have a passion for it. It’s hard to look at the computer screen, let alone work if you hate or do what you do because you have to.
You can only get into the flow state when your passion meets the right challenge. Break down the hard tasks into somewhat not-so-challenging parts. This is where you can use the Pomodoro technique. Every 30 minutes focus on finishing the small parts of the challenge.
By doing so, you won’t put so much pressure on your brain and feel much more stress-free. And you will get most of the tasks done without any strain since you take 5 minutes of break every 30 minutes.
Here are three of my favorite apps to help you with executing the Pomodoro technique:
7. Get into the Deep Work State of Mind
Give Cal Newport’s Deep Work a quick read. In his book, he’s trying to say something quite similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book called Flow. By the way, these two are a must-read for any entrepreneur.
But there’s a subtle difference. While the Flow state is achieved without force or any persuasion, the Deep Work state of mind requires hard work and perseverance.
Push yourself to cut out all distractions, achieve deep work, fix a routine, get disciplined, and perform at your peak best. Much like Pomodoro, it pushes you to work in batches of either 60 or 90 minutes.
You don’t have to overdo it, or else you’ll burn out your cognitive energy and willpower, which is limited and needs a recharge.
Turn off all notifications and outdoor interactions. Quit social media and create a strict routine of the time you start and stop working. You will have to follow this routine, regardless of what your schedule may be.
The time you spend on Deep Work is extremely productive and deeply enhances your cognitive skills. Without letting anything disturb your focus using your willpower, you are making yourself stronger. Most people don’t have enough willpower to stick to a timetable and work on a task to completion.
How to get into Deep Work State?
- Get up early, make your bed, and exercise. This is important. Doing these tiny morning chores will activate your brain and muscles.
- Quit using social media. You don’t have to quit every social network. Uninstall the Apps and use the web version. Instagram and Facebook need to be quit completely since they are highly addictive.
- Create a routine of start time and deadline for everyday work. This will be the start and end of your deep work state.
- Shallow work needs to be ignored. Checking your emails, notifications, casual calls, working out of scheduled time, browsing articles, and reading magazines – are examples of shallow work.
- Start to finish. Every time you begin a task, your intent should be to finish it. 8/10 times you’ll get most of the job done. Even if you don’t, you’ll feel amazing since you will accomplish so much more in much lesser time.
8. Use Productivity Apps
Struggling to implement productivity strategies in your life?
Try using these apps:
- Habitify – to manage and track your daily habits across your devices.
- RescueTime – find where you’re spending most of your time and track your progress.
- Any.do – to organize your tasks, set reminders, and sync across multiple devices.
- Bear App – powerful app for note-taking and article writing. Best note app for iOS and Mac users.
- Just Focus – helps you remove distractions by restricting various deviations from your daily browsing.
- Stoic – an amazing app that reminds you to take time and focus on yourself. It consists of various interactive activities to help you understand the “voice within” and become a better person. It is my personal favorite journal app, and I’ve used this one since it was a beta app.
You’ll dramatically become more attentive to following your productivity routine and habits by using apps like Any.do and Habitify. RescueTime will give you a productivity score for every day.
If distractions like Instagram and YouTube are hurting your workflow, the StayFocusd Chrome extension will block them.
Don’t just stop with my 6 suggestions. There are hundreds of more fun and effective productivity apps out there. Find the best one and use it – no excuses.
9. Outsource Tasks That You Don’t Enjoy Doing
We’ve already talked about how doing something you don’t love won’t only not get you anywhere, but also results in burnout.
Realize you’ll never become an expert on everything.
Stop trying to do everything by yourself.
It’s time to invest in outsourcing most of the tasks. Such as:
- Graphic Designing
- Content marketing
- Video editing
- Podcast Editing
- Email marketing
- Social media
- Outreach campaign
- Web development
- Landing pages
Outsourcing not only helps you save time, but it allows you to focus on tasks you love to do without any anxieties.
Some of the platforms you can use to outsource talents:
- Penji (for graphic designing)
10. Don’t Rely on Motivation – It Doesn’t Work
I’ve never hated anything as much as a motivation. Because it never works.
Do you think 5 minutes of a life-changing speech from Tony Robbins can change you?
Oh, it did. Tony Robbins is amazing. C’mon!.
How long did it last?
See, motivation is like the adrenaline rush. When adrenaline is there, you don’t feel pain, stress, or a sense of tiredness. Usually, it lasts for as long as 1 hour. I’m a huge UFC fan, and if you watch fighters get hurt but not feel anything until they slow down a little even when they break a bone or two, it’s because of the adrenaline.
However, when it goes off, its after-effects kick in. Which is when you start feeling all the pain and tiredness accumulated.
Adrenaline keeps you at your peak at the moment and forces you to run an extra mile.
Motivation doesn’t. It puts you in a state of euphoria. You think you’re going to do something, make a change. But, it’s all in your head.
Motivation is for fools. A fuel that helps you get distracted from reality and constantly look for pictures with flashy quotes and videos of so-called motivational speakers to make you feel good.
Forget about motivation. Work on your willpower. Willpower is what helps you follow that routine, live a modest life, resist that temptation, and work like a maniac.
Not motivation. It’s borrowed courage.
Focus on training your mind to connect and obey your prefrontal cortex by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, sleep well, and stay disciplined.
Recommended Productivity Tools for Startup Founders
Below are some of my favorite tools to maximize your work output and become super productive.
- TeamWork – the best task & team management tool for anyone.
- Missinglettr – spend less time on social media with automated publishing and more.
- IFTTT – to automate many of your daily tasks. Once you start using it, you’ll wonder, why you didn’t start before.
- HubStaff – simple productivity and time tracking tool – highly useful for startups.
- Spike – manage all your email accounts in one place. Task through emails like you do in a chat. You can check the delivery and view time as well.
- Camtasia – Quickly record your screen and share it with anyone with a screencast.
- CloudApp– One of the best tools to capture screenshots & GIFs allows you to annotate.
- Calendar – scheduling appointments and meetings is much easier with this tool.
- Unbounce – build landing pages, sales and squeeze pages plus get conversion optimization tools for your website—the most powerful landing page builder for online marketers.
- Zapier – allows you to integrate thousands of apps with powerful logical automation.
- Keap – to make your CRM and email marketing efforts return better ROI.
- Drift – one platform to generate more sales with basically zero ongoing effort. Yes, it’s an A.I. tool.
- MarketMuse – My #1 recommended content writing and editing tool. MarketMuse allows you to create & analyze marketing content with ease to scale your business.
Each tool has its own use. Try using a few of them, and you’ll notice the difference right away.
The next step is what an entrepreneur should do – work, smart, and hustle hard.
Don’t forget as long as you’re working in a discipline, productivity will follow. It’s not at all complex. There are a million strategies for this and that, but discipline is scarce in most people. Which is something no strategy can help with.
You need a strong motive, a goal that keeps your willpower strong. Everyday.