5 Tips to Help You Maximize Productivity

One founder shares advice on how he makes the most of his days.

Written by Seamus Kelleher.

If you’ve worked in the stressful, fast-paced world of startups, you know just how crazy things can get. As entrepreneurs look to build their companies from the ground up, they’re faced with several challenges that could directly determine the success or failure of their venture. Founders are forced to ‘wear many hats,’ or take on a wide variety of responsibilities across the organization in the early stages before experiencing growth. More than anything, though, their time is spread thin—and with such a fine line separating successful and sad startup stories, it’s imperative that entrepreneurs squeeze the most out of their days and maximize their productivity.

We spoke with a founder who’s been working in the world of startups for over 15 years and developed great habits to boost his productivity. Ed Buchholz is the co-founder of ExpenseBot, the predictive, automated expense reporting platform supported by JumpStart, a northeast regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier.

Here are some things Ed advises others to try if they’re in need of a productivity boost:

Choose your environment carefully

Working for a startup often means working from a coffee shop, a home office, co-working space or something in between. Different environments offer different benefits and drawbacks, so consider what you need to get done before you plan your workspace.

For Buchholz, a quiet, empty room with a blank whiteboard and some markers works best for strategizing and planning projects. For social activities like responding to emails or taking phone calls, coffee shops and co-working spaces provide the right energizing environment to crush your workload.

He adds that while he’s done a lot of work from his home office over the years and across several different ventures, he does recognize the value of getting out the of house when you hit a wall. Removing yourself from the same place you sleep, eat and watch TV can help you avoid the comforts and distractions of home, and provide the spark you need to get back on track.

Make lists

Spelling out your daily tasks and deliverables in to-do list form is a great exercise to help you visualize what needs to get done, prioritize your goals and organize your thoughts. There are several great desktop and mobile apps built around list-making and intended to boost individual and group productivity. Buchholz suggests Trello as his preferred service because of its lightweight, user-friendly design, but has also used and enjoyed others like Basecamp, Atlassian, Wunderlist and the Reminders app built into all iPhones. He also doesn’t discount the fulfilling, even cathartic, experience of physically crossing off tasks from handwritten lists.

Whichever system suits your personal or organization’s needs best, Buchholz advocates you adopt it and use it religiously to stay organized, focused and supremely productive.

Invest in noise-cancelling headphones

Noise-cancelling technology is the real deal, and its value can’t be overstated according to Buchholz. In situations where you can’t control the noisiness of your surroundings, you can effectively block it out with a pair of good headphones. Whether you’re playing music through them or not (Buchholz offers advice on that below), throw on your headphones and block out distractions to help you focus on the task at hand.

Choose your music carefully

If you’re somebody who likes to work with music on, it’s important to choose carefully what will play through your noise-cancelling headphones!

Nothing stunts the workflow quite like having to change up your music selection once an album or playlist has finished, so Buchholz suggests music streaming services that play continuous tracks carefully curated to your tastes. For him, that’s been Pandora for almost 15 years. This extended loyalty has resulted in a music selection that he’s supremely familiar with, and the familiarity keeps him from focusing on anything but the work in front of him. For others, anything lyrical can be a distraction from the task at hand. If that’s the case, try choosing classical artists or instrumental versions of songs to provide the right background music.

Get a second monitor

A second monitor helps to visually break up and organize work, cuts down on the time wasted bouncing between programs, and helps reduce stress induced by running an overwhelming number of programs at once. If you’re already succeeding as a single-monitor-startup, think of how productive you could be once you consider that dual monitors have been proven to increase workplace productivity by 20-30 percent!

“The final advice I’d like to offer anybody working in startups is to consider carefully the relationship between perfection and good enough. Startup founders who are intent on succeeding are typically perfectionists on some level, but you need to find a balance or you’ll actually do yourself a huge disservice,” said Buchholz. “It can be easy to fall into the trap of redoing and redoing until something’s perfect, but in truth, sometimes you’ve just got to get it out the door. A huge part of productivity is valuing your time enough to know when you’ve reached that point in a project—when it’s at a level you can be proud of.”

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