Running a startup is a lot of hard work, but does it have to be so stressful? If we can somehow achieve more in the time we have, we can gain some balance back and reduce stress. Ultimately this will prevent burnout and give us the energy to keep going further. In this article, we cover some basic ways you can ramp up your productivity and your wellbeing:
Manage your precious time
Are you exhausted, out of balance, and having trouble concentrating? Do you work long hours just to get the minimum done? Feel like you’re running around putting out fires instead of getting ahead? Getting more control over how you manage your time can make a huge difference to both your productivity and your stress levels. It’s easier said than done for a lot of people, not least when you have these common time suckers working against you:
- Answering emails: A lot of people have the tendency to look at their email and respond to it the second it arrives. This is a huge concentration killer! But is that question from your colleague (or your mum) really so urgent that you can’t finish the report you’re writing first? Do yourself a favour and turn off those email notifications. Check your email at set times during the day and encourage people to call you if it’s urgent (remember how to do that?). You can also organise your inbox using rules to push emails on certain topics straight to a specific folder.
- Surfing the Internet: It happens to the best of us: one minute you’re googling that inspiring speaker you met at a conference, the next you’ve found yourself down a three-hour wormhole that ends with reading about whatever happened to the actors from The Goonies. It’s really cool to have all that knowledge at our fingertips, but it can be a huge drain on your time. The goal is to limit surfing to the internet to the essential and save the fun stuff for when you’re relaxing after work.
- Social media: The same counts for social media, which can be full of time-wasting traps (must sign that petition! must tell off high school classmate for his offensive political views!). Of course social media is also an important tool for business: it’s where we follow the conversation on our product and our industry. Just make sure that you have something to show for the time you spend on it. If this isn’t the case, there are plenty of apps like Freedom, Leechblock and RescueTime to help you block out the noise and stay focused.
Remember, it’s not just about being productive, it’s about being effective. Productive means you’re getting stuff done. Effective means you are getting the right things done to achieve the results you need. That’s what good time management is all about.
Take a step back to define your priorities
To make sure we’re being both productive and effective, we need to know what our priorities are. Research has proven that it isn’t work that causes us the most stress, rather it’s not knowing or focusing on what’s important. Pro tip: doing everything at once by multitasking isn’t the answer. It just costs too much of your brain’s bandwidth. So how do we get down to the essentials?
Try this exercise by Donald Roos, author of “Don’t Read This Book: Time Management for Creative People”: list all the things you need to do. Now pick out the three most important. This is your To Do List. All the others? They are going to land on your To Don’t List. And they are going to stay there until the important things get done. As Roos explains, you are betting off doing fewer things well then getting every little thing done. Knowing what is front and centre and what’s on the back burner helps us focus and gives us peace of mind.
So now that we know what’s important, how are we going to get cracking? Now it’s time for action management. Take those three priorities and break them down into small steps that will get you closer to your goal. Decide how many of them you can realistically get done in a week. Now here is the clincher: schedule them in. Things that don’t get scheduled into a specific time slot tend not to get done. This means you also have to think about how long that task will realistically take, and cut that amount of time out of your schedule for it. This way you’ll avoid doing it at midnight after having spent three hours in the afternoon looking up child actors from the 80s.
Scheduling is the art and science that is the key to prioritising your time. Start by scheduling in the task, then guarding your time as you would an appointment with your top client. That means not answering your phone, looking at your email or even answering questions from colleagues. That time is sacred! That being said, don’t schedule up all your time, because not everything in life can be pre-planned. So leave some white space in your diary for emergencies, important last-minute requests, things taking longer than expected, and of course some down time to regenerate our focus and creativity.
The secret to scheduling effectively isn’t just about planning in the time, but about planning things at the right time. Everybody has a certain time of day that their brain performs the best. For some it’s bright and early in the morning, for others it’s that quiet time in the evening. Whatever the time is that your brain is most focused and sharp, that’s when you want to schedule in all your most creative, challenging, high-concentration tasks, like brainstorming or writing. Schedule in straightforward meetings, administration and other less creative activities in the remaining time.
The next step is sticking to the plan. Check in with your priorities at the beginning of the week and make sure your schedule aligns with you reaching your most urgent and important goals. Then go over your schedule and make sure you’re staying on track every day. If your plans keep falling through or getting sabotaged, investigate what’s going on. What’s getting in the way? Is your time frame unrealistic? Does something have to go on the To Don’t list? Are you wasting too much time reliving the 80s? Good time management means being honest with yourself.
Finally, communicate about what your priorities are to the rest of the team. If you’re a founder, that also means delegating some things on your list. Remember, trying to do everything is not a recipe for success. So although releasing control can be hard, it’s what you need to do to keep moving forward.
And now … time to be mindful!
Some entrepreneurs have a tendency to treat themselves like robots. But studies show that for us humans, the brain loses steam after a certain period of concentrated activity. Pushing through like a machine will only lead to diminishing returns: the longer you go on, the less you get done. The solution? Taking regular short breaks every 45 minutes or so, followed by a burst of activity. Followers of the Pomodoro Technique would even recommend keeping these bursts to 25 minutes! Working this way means that the time you spend working is highly concentrated and productive.
So what should you do during your break? Stay away from screens, and switch your mind off: a little bit of stretching, a walk around the block, a healthy snack or glass of water will refresh you and give you back your focus. Unplugging can be extremely restorative, especially for those of us who live and breathe tech. Create quiet moments where your screens are turned off and your mind can slow down. Just walk, breathe or try some guided meditation using apps like Headspace or breathing exercises with our very own Moonbird. Just five minutes can do wonders!
Still need some help finding more balance in your life? Check out our well-being page!