What are the best productivity hacks of startup CEOs?

Being a productive CEO is not about putting in the time, rather it’s about putting the right time in the right places.

Your level of productivity is one of the best ways you can push your startup toward success. Startups are defined by growth. And growth is measured by a metric over time. If you can manipulate time you create an opportunity to build a successful startup. By managing your time well, you may fit in that extra product experiment that unlocks more revenue. You may get a few more days to think of that marketing strategy that gets you significant exposure.

As a CEO, you have your hand in everything from sales to marketing to product to hiring to fundraising. There’s way too much going on for you to put your attention everywhere at once. You have a limited number of decision-making points in a day. This is why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same shirt every day.

“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” Zuckerberg said.

Deciding what to wear is a waste of time compared to deciding how Facebook will impact the billions of people who use it. Great CEOs like Zuckerberg focus on what will have the biggest impact. And remove everything else.

Maintaining good physical and mental health is also part of it. If you’re in pain, you can’t focus on being your best. If you have a back injury, for example, that will probably make you less productive because you’ll be thinking about that pain rather than your work. Here’s the list of things I do now. Hopefully, there are some ideas here that might be useful for you.


1. Remove the noise.

  • Turn off your phone/computer notifications. Though many things seem urgent, they hardly ever are. Most things can wait a couple of hours. Notifications are poison for your attention. Turning off notifications allows you to focus. We can’t multitask. You might feel like you can but what’s really happening is your brain is switching between tasks. Shutting down and restarting every time. Switching is inefficient.
  • Write everything down. Keep my brain as empty as possible. Don’t try to remember anything. It’s harder to focus on one thing when you have thoughts, ideas, or tasks swirling in your head. Whenever you have an idea, drop it the Notes app on your phone and forget about it.
  • Automate anything you repeat. If you think you need to repeat something, write it down. We use the project management app Trelloto document everything. We create step-by-step processes to automate tasks like setting up passwords to booking flights to marketing a new feature. Don’t waste brain power repeating things. Write it down once. Forget it forever.
  • Use fewer tools. Figuring out a new tool or switching tools takes time. You don’t need ten tools. Pick a few good tools that could be used for many things. Pick flexible tools that we expect to stick around. If you bet on a ‘hot’ tool just because it’s hot and you have to switch later, that’ll cost you. 90% of my day happens in 4 places: Google Chrome, TextEdit, Trello, Google Docs.


2. Focus.

  • Chunk your tasks. As a CEO you need to do and give input on a lot of things. To reduce the inefficiency of constantly switching between tasks, set aside blocks of time to do similar tasks. Create repeating events in your calendar and block out the time between 1–3 hours depending on the task. For example, check team messaging app Slack twice a day and then the rest of the day quit Slack.
  • Do focused work. Not all hours are created equal. Just because you work more hours, doesn’t mean you’re doing more (or better) work. When we try to multitask, we might feel like we’re getting more done but as research shows, we actually do less and make more mistakes. One hour of focused work with no distractions is more valuable than three hours of interrupted work. When you’re working on one thing, close your browser tabs and turn your phone on Airplane Mode. Put everything away except the one thing you’re focused on.
  • Remove the chance for the interruption. It is hard to start working with extreme focus, to put headphones on and ignore people if they speak. Taking the time to tell people how you’re working is much better than snapping or ignoring people if they ask you for something while you’re in focus mode. If you have kids and it’s hard to remove interruptions, try adding a work session when they’re asleep early in the morning or late at night.
  • Start your day with quick wins. Sometimes you wake up and don’t want to work. That first task on your list looks hard or you feel tired. One way to overcome this is to start your day with a couple easier tasks to get your momentum going. By simply opening my computer and doing something easy like cleaning off screenshots from my desktop switches my brain into work mode.
  • Win your morning. Our biological clock makes most of us feel most alert in the morning. Even if you don’t wake up early, it feels good to start the day with the most important task. To find your most important task, think about yourself at the end of the day. If you only got one thing done, what task would make you feel most accomplished at the end of the day? Start your day with that.
  • Constrain the time you work. When researchers at Florida State University looked at elite performers, they found the best performers practiced in uninterrupted, 90-minute sessions and rarely worked more than four and a half hours in a day. Constraining the time you work helps you stay focused. If you feel like you have lots of time to do something, you’ll find ways to fill that time. Often by doing easier, less important things. By shortening the time frame, you’re forced to focus.


3. Maintain good health.

  • You don’t have to work out every day. Just move. Though our bodies crave movement, you don’t need a huge workout to get the level of exercise you need to be healthy. National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner studied areas of the world where people are living the longest. One thing he consistently found was the impact of constant, low-intensity exercise, either from walking, standing up and sitting down, or tending to a garden. Staying in any one position for too long causes our blood circulation to drop. Moving gives you a moment to refresh. Whether it’s walking to your office, taking the time to stretch while you’re microwaving your lunch, or playing a sport, any type of blood flow acts as a release. It’s an opportunity to refresh your brain.
  • Hang out with someone who makes you happy every day. People who make us happy make us feel good. If we feel good, we do better work. No matter how much I have going on, prioritize family.
  • Make it easy to eat healthily. Eating well can help you work more efficiently. The challenge is preparing and eating well can take up 2–3 hours a day. That’s a big chunk of time. The trick is to figure out how to eat well without all the prep. Most meals I make take less than 15 minutes to make. The feel-good oxytocin release can be a good break to fuel your work later. But if you don’t have time, make it easy to eat well.
  • Use music to boost energy. Spotify conducted research on the benefits of certain types of music. Researchers found that musical tempo in the range of 50–80 beats per minute can help induce the alpha state in your brain, where your mind becomes calm, alert, and concentration is heightened. If you’re about to do a repetitive task, like answering email, listen to your favorite songs to get your energy up. If there’s a complex task that requires focus, listen to songs without lyrics to help get and stay in a state of flow. Music can have a significant impact on your mood and thus, impact your work efficiency.

In the end: Remove the unnecessary. Automate decisions. Maintain good health.