Founders, Use These Tips to Get More Done (and Prevent Burnout)

Startup founders are often obsessed with productivity. Considering what a typical workday looks like for us (and the fact that workdays and days off can tend to blend into one very long day), can you really be surprised?

A startup in its early stages is a fragile thing, and many believe that you need to put in a ridiculous amount of hours to nurture it to stage two. While this is true to a certain extent, how you invest your time is often more important than how much of that time there is in total.

Stick with me as I share some of the lessons I’ve learned through all of the ups and downs, wins and losses of being an early-stage startup founder.

Focus on your health first

Since May 2019, burnout has been considered an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization. Four years before that,Business Insider published a finding that as much as 30% of founders had suffered from depression, and 50% of them had also gotten to the point of burnout.

And while burnout can be caused by many different factors, forgetting or forgoing to mind your health first is a major contributing factor to the condition. In a world where getting the work done (whatever that work may be at that particular moment) seems to be of the highest importance, forgetting to sleep, eat and socialize can quickly come back and bite you on the behind.

You might not only actually forget to take care of yourself, but there are probably points in the week where you crave sleep, but choose to sacrifice it anyway. This habit is one of the top productivity killers.


image source: savvysleeper.com

  • Make sure you’re eating a proper and well-rounded diet. This means real food, filled with all the macros and micronutrients your body needs to stay healthy and focused.
  • If you aren’t exercising already, start adopting that habit, too. Exercise is often considered one of the things most successful startup founders have in common, and it’s definitely not by chance.
  • While some of your friends will certainly be your business partners, fellow entrepreneurs and other people you’ve met professionally, you also need to maintain relationships that go beyond business. Even if you spend an incredible amount of time with the people you share work with, don’t always talk about business outside business hours. You need to turn off and recharge sometimes—and if you keep talking about work, that will never happen.
  • I also recommend biohacking as a way to optimize your health and performance even further. While it’s still certainly on the cutting edge of research, it can help you fine-tune your body, improve focus and enable you to use the time you spend at work more wisely.

Be uber-diligent with your time

When you do start working, optimize your input and output carefully. It can be really easy to get sucked into a task you don’t need to be doing then and there, or that can even easily be delegated to someone else.

Here are my top suggestions for making the most of your time:

  • Alternate periods of focused work with periods of rest. The Pomodoro technique is a great wayto start optimizing your time, as it will help prevent procrastination. It will also allow you to rest during the day, which is something you might not remember to do otherwise.

  • Start your day with the most important tasks on your list. That way, you can ensure they get done even if your day is interrupted or simply doesn’t go according to plan. It can be incredibly tempting to start doing what you like and tell yourself you’ll work your way up to the important and more complex stuff later. Do your best to resist that temptation and work your way through the day based on importance, not enjoyment.
  • Delegate everything you’re not good at or don’t like doing. These tasks will just take up a lot of your time and drain you of your energy, focus and creativity. Meanwhile, there’s a perfectly viable way of getting them done that does not involve you at all. When you do delegate, prevent yourself from micromanaging and hovering. There’s no point in having someone else do it if you’re going to keep breathing down their neck anyway.

Surrounding yourself with people you can delegate to without fear is super important here. Start with an assistant whom you can trust and whom you click with, and who will be there to take on what you don’t want to be doing, from things like booking tickets and ordering food, to actual business-related tasks.

  • Use a calendar to block off time for all of your tasks—including your time off, sleep and exercise. If you don’t add the time off part into the calendar, you might just stay at the office to do some extra work. And if you don’t block off time for your different tasks, some of them might slip your mind. Make sure you have access to your calendar from all devices, at all times.
  • The key to staying organized is to establish processes and systems for every possible situation. You will only be able to think or predict half of them at the outset, so every time something new happens (that is likely to happen again), set up a process for it. For example, if a client demands an urgent meeting while you’re out of the country and currently sleeping in a different time zone, should your assistant wake you up or explain to the client that you are unavailable?
  • Writing these systems and processes out will also help—especially if you can’t actually remember what you said you wanted to be done the last time something similar had happened. Keep them on the cloud, so that everyone who needs them can access them easily.

Stay up to date on the cutting edge

Staying on top of the things and events that are happening in your industry and your neck of the woods can help you spot potential trends, collaborations, dangers and growth opportunities on time. It will also help keep your mind and ideas sharp, and help you develop a wider outlook on the world and business around you.

  • Feed your mind with fresh ideas constantly. Start by reading books—a lot of books. You can teach yourself how to read faster, or you can go for audiobooks and listen to them while you also exercise, walk, eat or travel. Which books to read is a question no one can comfortably answer for you. You can start from this list of popularly suggested reads, or you can hunt down recommendations from fellow founders and entrepreneurs, or look for them online.
  • Try to read things that are not necessarily connected to the work you do and the company you run. Make some time for fiction, as well as books that are out of your comfort zone. Introducing new ideas to your thinking will only help you look at situations differently and help you develop the ability to come up with more varied solutions.
  • Get yourself on the list for a curated email newsletter that will save you the time to look for valuable and interesting content online yourself. This way, you can get introduced to all the major news and interesting opinions on a certain topic, without having to think about going out to pursue it.
  • Make sure you also declutter your inbox of the newsletters that don’t actually provide value—all they’ll do is demand your attention, and the fewer distractions your mind has, the easier it’ll be to focus.

Don’t take other people’s advice as gospel

Unsolicited advice will come your way more often than you can imagine. You will also likely seek out the opinions of others and want to hear about their experiences and thoughts about an issue or idea. While gathering insight can often help you make a more educated decision, don’t take anyone’s word as gospel.

“No matter how terrifying it sounds, you are the master of your own destiny—and your startup.”

Even if a specific tactic has worked brilliantly for someone, there is no way to tell if it will work for you. Even if someone swears by a certain tool, it might not be what you need. Even if someone has worked with a certain someone and loved the collaboration, you may have a different experience.

No matter how terrifying it sounds, you are the master of your own destiny—and your startup. Trust your own instincts and your own gut

Of course, that does not mean you shouldn’t take anyone’s advice and that you should only do what you feel is right—listening to different opinions and different viewpoints is welcome. Just remember to always consider each point objectively and dispassionately, and use your own judgment to make a decision. Sometimes, you’ll be right even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong.

To sum it all up

As a startup founder, you’ll always want to be more productive, get more done, take things to the next level. However, don’t let it slip your mind that everything comes with a certain cost, including your added productivity. If you sacrifice your own wellbeing or other aspects of your life to attain it, it will be shorter-lived than it could have been.

The key to productivity is often balance. I hope my insight will help you attain at least a bit of it, and help you balance with a bit more ease the countless balls you’re juggling.

More leadership advice

Travis Jamison
Travis Jamison
Founding Director
Smash.vc

Travis Jamison has founded a dozen or so online companies, primarily in SaaS, e-commerce and services. As founding director of Smash.vc, he serves as an investment and strategic growth founder for bootstrapped founders of online businesses. Smash.vc
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