Most Effective Productivity Hacks for Startup CEOs

What are the key features of any startup? High development speed, productivity, efficiency and extreme focus. All these characteristics are essential to build a strong and stable company that constantly develops and is able to compete with the market leaders on their own game.

Running a startup is a hard job. CEO has to embody the same high speed and efficiency, to get involved in all processes: marketing, sales, hiring, investment, strategy, brand development, partnership, public relations, etc.

While startup can grow quite fast and the company may go from 1 to 100 employees and from 10 to 10 million users in less than a year, CEO still has the same 24 hours a day to manage the company. That is why many CEOs that have to face dozens of complex tasks are forced to develop techniques that maximize their productivity.

To help you increase your productivity and be able to do more in less time, we will show you the main CEO hacks from Mikael Cho, Founder & CEO at Crew and Unsplash that has recently shared his thoughts on the topic in a post on Quora. Here is a summary of the most useful and relevant techniques you can apply yourself.

As a CEO of two startups, Mikael has to work on these fast-growing companies, at the same time enjoying other parts of my life. Therefore, he had no choice but to figure out how to be as productive as possible.

Two main thoughts for the start:

To push your startup towards success, you have to constantly increase your productivity level. Startups are defined by growth. Good time manipulating skills create an opportunity to build a successful startup. Manage your time well, and you may fit in that extra product experiment that unlocks more revenue.

However, there is never too much free time for the person that has that much work to do and that amount of tasks to manage. So when trying to maximize your time manipulating skills, you have to be as creative as possible.


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.

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 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. I aim to keep my brain as empty as possible. I 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 I have an idea, I drop it the Notes app on my 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 Trello to 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. Our company picks flexible tools 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

  • 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.

  • Remove the chance for interruption. It was hard when I first started working with extreme focus. I’d put my headphones on and ignore people if they spoke to me. I felt like I was being rude. Because I was thinking about my rudeness, my mind didn’t focus on my work. I realized one of the mistakes I made was not telling people how I was working. 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. Both of these only lead to more stress which ultimately hurts your focus. 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. Here’s an example of what I send my wife before I go into a focused work session:

  • 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, I set aside blocks of time to do similar tasks. I create repeating events in my calendar and block out time between 1–3 hours depending on the task. For example, I check our team messaging app Slack twice a day. The rest of the day I quit Slack. I also bulk all my meetings together in the afternoons. Chunking tasks together helps keep your brain focused so you you can do better work in less time.
  • 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. Sometimes I even work from my phone because it forces me to only see one screen at a time.
    • Constrain the time you work. I work in 1–1.5 hours sessions with untimed breaks in between. 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. I can feel my energy level and focus dip as I get to the end of an hour of focused work. 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

    • 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.

    • You don’t have to workout 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, I prioritize my family. It makes me happy. When I get back to work, I feel fresher.
    • Make it easy to eat healthy. 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. I order the same things from the grocery store so I don’t think about what I should cook. If you enjoy taking the time to cook, go for it. I do it sometimes. 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 I’m about to do a repetitive task, like answering email, I listen to my favorite songs to get my energy up. If I need to do a complex task that requires focus, I listen to songs without lyrics to help me get and stay in a state of flow. Music can have a significant impact on your mood and thus, impact your work efficiency.

    All of the aforementioned tips are useful as they do increase your productivity and save your time. At the same time, Cho mentions that the strict and highly determined character of all hacks might create the general image of the robot-like person that lack humane feelings and emotions. But in fact this list is representing only the framework of your personal development, so you are free to personalize it.

    Keeping your workflow optimized and your productivity constantly improving is a real life challenge that might look boring from the first glance, but in the end it is the ultimate productivity hack that will bring you to the top.

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