For startup CEOs the pressure to grow and lead a company can be immense. Having overall responsibility while trying to complete a huge volume of tasks with limited resources and limited time can push the boundaries of even the most organized and energetic of people. But seeing how much you can pack into one day, and living without adequate amounts of sleep, will only result in burnout and fatigue, and soon a startup CEO won’t be of any use to anyone.
Below is a list of simple suggestions that can help everyone take control of their productivity and ultimately achieve more in a working day.

1. What is your schedule? Manager or maker?

What is your schedule? Are you a manager or a maker? As Paul Graham discusses in Maker’s schedule, Manager’s schedule’, we need to be aware of what type of schedule we have. Manager’s days are full of hourly meetings, and they only have to look for an open slot to schedule in another appointment.
Makers, on the other hand (e.g.programmers, writers, graphic designers) operate on an entirely different schedule where a single task can last half a day, or even the whole day. Which group do you fall into? If you collaborate with someone from the ‘other side’ be aware of their schedule and their limitations and work accordingly.

2. Track your time

If I asked you to quantify exactly how much time you spent yesterday (in hours and minutes)  reading and sending emails, in meetings, browsing Twitter, LinkedIn, and on calls, would you know how much time these tasks took up? Probably not.
If you don’t know how you spend your time each day then you’ll never know what to cut out to be more productive. As an experiment, for one working day track your time. Not only will you be amazed at how easily you let time slip through your hands, but you’ll immediately see how you can improve your time management.
Teamwork.com Projects have a free desktop timer app that allows our customers to track time for each task or sub-task. Just sign up for a free 30-day trial of Teamwork Projects here and download the app.

3. What is important and not important? The Eisenhower Box

Looking at your to-do list, how easily can you figure out what is urgent and important versus what you should delegate? At Teamwork.com we love using The Eisenhower Box. It’s one of our favorite techniques that helps us sort out the fake ‘this is so important’ tasks from the real ‘this really is urgent’ tasks.
It’s a box split into 4 quadrants: Important, Not Important, Urgent, Not Urgent. The general rule is:

  • Important & Urgent = Do it now.
  • Important & Not Urgent  = Resist the urge to ignore. The deadline might not be for a while yet, but schedule a time to do it.
  • Urgent & not important = Delegate it. Who can do this for you?
  • Not urgent & not important = Delete it from your schedule.

Download our Eisenhower Box hereLook at your current ‘to-do list’ and as an experiment see where each of your current priorities fits within this box. Let the Do and Decide boxes structure tomorrow’s working day. If you find that you have a long list of tasks in Delete, this is a clear reflection of how many distractions there are in your working day, and is hard evidence of what you need to begin cutting out.

4. Post-it note to-do list  

To-do lists with over 100 tasks are not practical and will only lead to anxiety. Simplify your list. If you could achieve three things today, what would they be? Right now write a short to-do list (maximum three items) on a post-it note. Focus your time and attention on these tasks for the rest of the day. If this works for you try writing a short list of tasks each evening before you go home. Not only will it be there waiting for you each morning to focus your day, but it will also eliminate those unimportant, noisy tasks that circle around in your brain each day.

5. White boards

If you are a visual person, try keeping a whiteboard as a doodle space. Write up new ideas as they pop into your head, cross off ideas that made it to your post-it note and were completed, and use the whiteboard to track any key metrics. If you find yourself getting distracted, look at your key metrics and remind yourself that your tasks will drive that metric forward.

6. Stop letting social media steal your time

In any business social media is a key tool for driving brand awareness, but it has a time and a place, and that is controlled by you. However, if you are letting social media browsing steal time away from your daily tasks, try using a ‘self-control’ app to block access to websites. For example, Freedom is an app that you can install on all devices and it blocks specific social media and websites. You decide what platforms and sites you want to block and for how long.

7. Have something to write?

Writing a submission or a proposal is a task that demands our full concentration. Even with social media blocking apps like Freedom, the sight of a white page staring back at you can either inspire a burst of creation, or can lead to a bout of writer’s block.
If you need some help to write without distraction try this free tool called The Most Dangerous Writing App. Choose your session length (5, 10, 20, 30, 45 or 60 minutes) but, be warned: if you stop writing for 5 seconds your work is gone. Deleted forever. Perhaps play it safe and work in 5 minute sessions until you get more comfortable writing non-stop for longer periods of time. Remember, the first draft of anything is never the final version, so just go for it and get some words down on the page. Worry about the final version later.

8. Say ‘No’ a lot

The overwhelming advice for startup CEOs seems to be to say ‘no’ a lot. As your company grows and becomes more well known, there will be more emails, LinkedIn requests, media requests, invitations to speak at events, invitations to go for coffee and many more. Bill Trenchard, partner at First Round Capital, advocates creating a series of email templates that say ‘thanks, but no’ in a nice way. Writing these emails in advance will take some time, but once you have your stockpile built up, it will allow you to reply more efficiently.

9. Email

The great time stealer. We all know that we spend too much time every day on email, and yet we still let it take our time. A recent study by Adobe found that US workers spend 6.3 hours every day checking emails, and 87% of recipients said that they look at work emails outside of working hours. Bill Trenchard, says: “Think about postal mail for a second. Do you pick your letters up, look at each one and then put them back down, only to pick them up and put them down again and again? This is the definition of insanity. Yet that’s exactly what most of us do with our email.”
Consider checking email two to four times a day and sending all of your replies only at these times. This is a proven method and it works. Or how about taking it one step further and drastically reducing email altogether? Using an online task collaboration tool such as Teamwork.com Projects can almost eliminate email as collaboration and communication are done through tasks and not via email.

10. Pomodoro Technique

If you find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time consider using the Pomodoro Technique, (pomodoro means tomato in Italian). The technique was created by Francesco Cirillo and teaches people how to work with time instead of against it, and also incorporates elements of mindfulness (living in the present moment and reducing the noise created by distractions). By working in 25 minute sprints, and then taking a five minute break, this technique focuses the mind for a short space of time and then rewards us with a break.
To read more about this technique check out “Schedule your day with the Pomodoro Technique

Takeaway

Startup CEOs have an incredibly demanding role, but there are ways to manage time and to get more done in a day with less stress and anxiety. To see what you spend your time on, you have to track it first. Next, try out the various ways for prioritizing tasks and then try the techniques for increased concentration. See what works for you. Get more done in your working hours, and have more free time to do the things that you love.