We all know that setting up and running a startup is hard. Long hours, little or no pay and lack of sleep are challenges all startup founders must deal with.
The difference between ‘motion’ versus ‘action’, as my Zendesk colleague Mike Mortimer referenced at a General Assembly ‘Work smart, live more’ event I moderated recently, can be the difference between the teams that survive to battle another day, and the ones that don’t.
Here are some tips that will help you improve your productivity and focus the few resources you have, on the right things.
Hailed as the productivity tool back in the 1990’s, many businesses, including startups rely on email to get work done. The problem is that your day can be dictated by your inbox and that’s not good. Ensure you write down what you need to get done that day and stick to it. Just because an email is in your inbox doesn’t mean you need to respond straight away. Turn off notifications. Establish set times of the day to check email or rules when you don’t check it, perhaps before 8am and after 6pm. Follow the ‘inbox zero for life’ practices and watch your productivity soar.
2. Technology tools
There is a whole host of productivity tools out there for startups – many providing functionality that previously only the big guys could access. But today, thanks to being hosted in the cloud, these tools are available at a fraction of the price.
If you need to collaborate with your team, try Google Apps, Slack, Inbox or Trello. If you need to provide customer service, try Zendesk. Are there any tasks you can automate? Social media can be a time sucker, but Hootsuite and Sprout Social are both tools that can be used to run several social accounts and schedule posts. Similarly Zapier can handle the mundane tasks for you and Taco App can help you keep your attention on those tasks you need to complete. Try a few and stick to those that really work for your business.
3. Personal productivity
We’re all different. For some, we’re at our most focused late at night. For others, it’s 6am before the working day starts. Find out when you work best and plan your day around that. So, if you work better in the morning and think clearly then, that’s the time to focus on your strategy work, brainstorming ideas or getting those hard tasks that require ‘thinking time’ off your desk. The afternoon can be left for smaller tasks, those calls you need to make or that administrative work you need to get through.
To be your most productive you need to work as a team. There really is no point in each of you working 15 hour days on your own.
Improving collaboration boosts productivity without becoming robotic. It also stops the chances of duplicating effort and working on the same things. Again, technology tools can help here, but teamwork is so important, especially if there is little financial reward in the beginning. You need to have a team working together to achieve the same goal.
There are only 24 hours in a day and what startups often lack in cash, they have in time. But that doesn’t mean you should still be doing everything. You need to focus on the areas that add the most value to the business and outsource the rest.
Try to reduce the amount of time you spend on admin or accounts and get yourself a good bookkeeper and accountant. They will save you much needed time and money. Use accounting software like Xero and Receipt Bank to process your receipts and keep an eye on your cashflow. Upwork or Freelancer can help you outsource projects such as website design and use templates from companies such as Envato to enable you to start selling your product or service.
Don’t be precious. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just need to start delegating some of that ‘to do’ list.
One of the most underrated productivity tips is sleep. Running or working in a startup doesn’t have to mean sleep deprivation. Having founded and run four startups of my own in the past, I learned the hard way that one of the best things you can do to improve your productivity is sleep. When we sleep well, we think more clearly, we make better decisions, we take less time to make decisions. Nobody can keep putting in 15 hour days. Remember, running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint.
Focus on the things that really make a difference to your startup and forget the rest.
Brett Adam is VP of engineering and managing director at Zendesk, Australia and New Zealand.