10 Productivity Tips I’ve Learned Working at a Startup

by | Aug 3, 2016 | HR and Culture

At a startup, there are always a huge list of potential tasks you can work on. It seems endless and can be overwhelming at times. You always want to focus on tasks that will move the needle at work the most so you can get the biggest bang for your buck. Today, I want to share a few tips that work for us and a few tools that have helped us push our productivity levels to new heights.


Set Actionable GoalsStudies have shown that you’ll accomplish the majority of your goals (76% versus 43%) if you do three things:

  1. Write your goals down
  2. Break down your goals into actionable tasks
  3. Create accountability by sharing them with others

Internally, we additionally use a management technique called “PPP” that stands for progress, plans, and problems, which enables us to understand each other’s goals for the week. It helps us put a little pressure on those around us to make sure we’re all accomplishing our goals and we all stay on the same page. We use Weekdone.com to help us monitor ourselves.


Don’t Fear Stress – A little stress is healthy and helps keep you productive. People work better under deadlines, so make some up for all your tasks even if something isn’t due on a specific date. In the book, “The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper,” Professor Ian Robertson explains that the right amount of stress can actually increase productivity. “There’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, ‘the goldilocks zone’ of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner,” said Robertson. He went on to say, “As long as it’s not too stressful, we can build stronger brain function.”


Delegate – Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s OK to admit you aren’t good at something and delegate that task to other people. Being a good delegator is actually an important skill. It helps companies, reports, and managers. A study on time management found that almost half of the companies surveyed were worried about their employees’ delegation skills. People want you to delegate. It’s how businesses are run and how you can unlock your productivity. Don’t try to do everything yourself.

Work in Bursts – Your brain is only able to focus on specific tasks for a limited amount of time. You should always work for specific amounts of time and plan timed breaks. You can use methods like the Pomodoro Technique, where you work for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 stretches of Pomodoros, you take a longer 30-minute break to refresh your mind. If the weather is nice, I find a brisk walk pretty refreshing. There are timing tools for every platform. You can even try a free online Pomodoro tool at http://www.marinaratimer.com/.


Work Out in the Morning – If you’re not a morning person, I know this is the worst advice to hear, but a morning workout can make you more productive throughout the day. You’ll feel more energized and ready to conquer the world. The good news is that you don’t have to do a massive workout to reap the benefits. Even something as simple as walking or bike riding to work gets the blood flowing and wakes up your brain without caffeine. At the office, we have treadmill desks. It’s a great way to get the blood flowing and stay productive at the same time. I’ve actually written part of this article on one.

Get Some Sleep – I know you think that every startup employee gets by drinking Red Bull and working 14-16 hours a day, and honestly, you are partly right. Sometimes deadlines come up or an emergency hits and we all need to “crush it.” It might be OK for a limited amount of time, but long-term, you need to sleep.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Getting less than seven hours of sleep per day can lead to an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and more. A Harvard Medical School study estimated that US companies lost over $63 billion last year in productivity due to people showing up at work but functioning like zombies. So, turn off the TV early and get to bed. At a minimum, try to get 7 hours of sleep per day, but 8 is preferred. I personally sleep with a sound machine running on my iPhone via a program called Ambiance (also available for Android). I’ve also replaced the bulbs in my bedroom with GE Align bulbs that have reduced blue light. The bulbs have been shown to increase melatonin production.


Keep a Routine – I’m all for new experiences in life, but sometimes a little routine helps eliminate distraction. Without a daily routine, it’s easy to let the little things leach away your day, 5-10 minutes at a time. What do you wear? Where do you eat? What do you do? It’s death by hundreds of little decisions. When you establish a routine, you already have a game plan. Maybe right when you get to work, before you get distracted, you check your analytics and some reports. You might update your to-do list every day before you go home so you know what to tackle in the morning. Some people, like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, have taken this to extremes, wearing or eating the same thing every day. I actually wear polos to work every day—different types, but this removes a key decision from my mornings. A bunch of little wins  can really add up over the course of a year.

Learn to Say “No” – If you’re a “people pleaser,” saying “no” can be really hard, but if you want to stay focused and be more productive, you need to learn to do it. In a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Dr. Bohns studied people’s reluctance to say “no.” In one trial, 50% of the participants were willing to deface a book rather than decline the request. “One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong,” said Dr. Bohns. “Saying ‘no’ feels threatening to our relationships and that feeling of connectedness.” Saying “no” might be hard, but getting stuck doing something you don’t want to do is a productivity killer both personally and professionally.

Devote Your Entire Focus to the Task at Hand – We love our technology here at HealthJoy, but sometimes the notifications and pop-ups can be a distraction. If you really want to finish something in record time, focus on one task at a time. Don’t check your emails, don’t pick up the phone, don’t immediately answer a Slack message. FOCUS! I’ll put on headphones and get into the zone. I’ll ignore everything else. One trick I love on my Mac is pausing Notification Center by holding down the Option key while clicking the Notification Center icon in the menu bar. This will pause notifications until midnight or until I click it again.

Forget the Unimportant Details – If you are focused on a task, you can easily fall into the trap of perfecting every small detail right away. This can lead to task creep. Sometimes it’s better to just hurry up and get the bulk of the work done. Afterward, you can worry about the details. When I’m writing, this happens to me a lot. I’ll do research or fix grammar issues before I’m done with an article. Most of the time, it’s better just to batch these types of things at the end.
Maintaining productivity is sometimes tough, but if you follow these tips, your productivity will skyrocket.



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