Gonzalo Sanchez

Mentor | The Brandery

Startups, by definition, usually have very limited resources – time is scarce, there is not enough people and definitely, not enough money. However, they still need to beat multimillion dollar companies or better funded competitors in the race for market share.

When your competitors out fund you, the only way to beat them is by being world-class executors. This means that productivity and efficiency are two extremely important qualities founders must have if they want to perform on a high level.

At Piktochart, we believe in working smart, and on managing time and resources carefully in order to be mentally able to execute, foster creativity, and use time effectively.

Let’s see.

Going Remote

Personally, I believe that every startup should consider, at least at some point, a remote team. By having every team member spread around the world, everyone is working from the place that makes them the happiest, and most productive. Research shows there is a strong causal correlation between between human well-being (or happiness) and human performance. In other words, there is no better productivity hack than actually being happy about what we do.

If we also throw in the fact that the average american spends 50.8 minutes commuting per day, then remote teams are a no-brainer.

No meetings

95% of meetings are uncalled for and can be solved with a quick email. There is an amazing essay by Paul Graham called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule that explains why programmers (or makers) dislike meetings so much: ‘they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more… A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in’. At startups, the product gets done my makers, so if you allocate 1 hour to a meeting, you might be killing a half-day’s productivity. At Piktochart we have implemented no meeting Tuesdays during which each of us gets “wired” and tries to dedicate fully to his own tasks.

Cutting email

A study commissioned by Hewlett Packard in 2005 states that email hurts IQ more than pot. It’s also the primary method of external interruption. What seems like a harmless email, often has a high cost for your productivity. It takes, on average, 23 minutes and 51 seconds to get back to full flow after being interrupted.

The easiest way of doing this is by using Slack, a software that allows teams to communicate seamlessly, share files and more. By using Slack, your email load will decrease considerably, and your workflow will certainly improve.

In addition, I personally never start my day by checking email. I make sure that I get my 2-3 most important tasks of the day before exposing myself to the email whirlwind.

Get off work at 5.30pm

Common logic and basic economic theory says that as you increase working hours, your output increases as well: if you produce 10 of y in 1 hour, then if you work 10 hours, you must product 100 y. Well, take a look at this graph:

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(Source: The Economist)

Although that graph is only a correlation, which may not be enough, several papers show that reducing working hours and actually having a life outside your startup considerably improves productivity.

A design studio in the Netherlands called Heldergroen has found a ridiculously creative way to encourage its employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance — at 6 p.m. their desks simply disappear. In the evenings and on weekends, everyone’s desks are lifted up into the ceiling on steel cables.

Captura de pantalla 2015-05-14 a las 18.59.02

Wake up early

Starting your day earlier than usual makes a huge difference. “After spending time in Sydney, Australia, I was amazed how everyone I’ve met gets out of bed as early as 5:30-6AM. People go jogging at the beach or catch an early swim and they are at their desks by 8AM. This really motivated me to do the same and it is truly refreshing. For both: body and mind.” says Marta, our head of marketing. By the time you reach your working space, you feel energized and ready to start your day. “I always try to get an early start and clear some things out of the way before I reach the office” she adds.

Focus, do not multitask

We already talked about the cost of task switching. This means we should strive to do tasks in series, not parallel. Auren Hoffman, the CEO of LiveRamp, who started and sold 5 different companies, advises against multitasking: “Be totally focused on the thing you are doing while you are doing it.  Do not multitask. If you find yourself reading emails in a meeting (or reading Quora), then you probably should not be in the meeting (or the meeting needs to be run better).”

If you are working on a task, mentally allocate time to only devote to that task (like 20 minutes).  During that block, do not do anything else.  If you finish early, you can reward yourself with doing something else but only if you finish early. Many of us at Piktochart use the Pomodoro technique on daily basis. We set the timer on 15-20 minutes, focus to finish the task and then take a 5-minute break. It really works!

Do fewer things – say “no” to almost everything

As humans, we often fall into the trap of of saying “yes” to most things. That’s a huge threat to our productivity. Instead, you should ruthlessly decide whether you should do that task, read that proposal or attend a meeting you were invited to.

Ashli Norton is part of the Autosend team, and advises against saying yes to everything: “I can spend my time on EVERYTHING. Or I can sort my list by most high-value things to do and do those things only.” By saying ‘no’, you’ll be able to focus on the important tasks: “When I do that – I’m more effective. It also helps me identify what to outsource and what to do myself.”

Auren Hoffman agrees: “The biggest mistake most CEOs make is that they try to do too much.  The real winners are the ones that do fewer things … but do them great.  Of course, this is not just true for CEOs — it is true for everyone.”

Use the right software

As Marc Andreessen says, software is eating the world. People build software to automate tasks, improve workflows and multiply output with limited resources, so as a tech startup you must take advantage of that. Use Slack to communicate, Basecamp or Asana to manage your projects, Dropbox to share documents and photos, Trello to keep lists and flows in one place, Writeroom for distraction-free writing. The list is endless, but the point is that you should try to leverage as many external resources as possible to maximize your team’s efficiency.

If you’re looking for more tips, here we compiled a presentation about 23 lifehacks for productivity which we revisit often! We have also released a new infographic template featured below on “How Startups Deal with Productivity” which provides a summary for this blog article and which you can use for multiple content marketing needs.

Do you have any productivity hacks you find amazingly useful? Please, feel free to share it in the comments. We’d love to hear about it!