03/27/13 | OOO

3 Productivity Secrets for Startups to Work Smart

A huge part of running a startup business involves developing relationships with customers, collaboration partners and friends. These tools can help you stay organized and reach out.

By Janet Choi (Chief Creative Officer, iDoneThis)

The thrill and thrum of startup life doesn’t mean the continuous battle against the many-tentacled beast of responsibilities and tasks is any lesser. Longer hours won’t effectively defeat those tentacles. Instead, to emerge victorious in this modern-day quest, the trick is to work smart. No matter your position in the startup, you’ll need some magical productivity weapons and strategies at your disposal.

Here are three things you can do:

Productivity Secret #1 – Conjure up some email magic

A startup CEO friend of mine often refers to herself as Chief Email Officer. No matter your role, whether it’s technical or customer support, you probably also feel like a chief email officer. Voluminous inboxes inhibit getting stuff done. Luckily, there are a few tricks you can put up your electronic sleeves.

Boomerang allows you to schedule sending emails at a later time, removes messages from your inbox until you need them, and reminds you to follow up without your having to keep track. (Boomerang works with Gmail and Google Apps. There’s also a version for Outlook.)

Similarly, Follow-up.cc will remind you when to follow up with people, letting you archive emails which will reappear in your inbox at the time you specify. Not having to juggle reminders in your calendar works particularly well for sales and networking. (Follow-up.cc integrates with Salesforce, and works with any email interface.)

Gmail’s Canned Responses feature is perfect for anyone who needs template-based responses. Instead of typing out yet another formulaic email, or dealing with the mess of cutting and pasting, you can insert a canned response with a click and go from there. You can also set up an auto-response to messages for which you’ve set up a filter. (This feature is available in Gmail Labs. Outlook users also can set up a similar process.)

Productivity Secret #2 – Learn the Craft of Web-Weaving

A huge part of running a startup business involves developing relationships with customers, collaboration partners and friends. These tools can help you stay organized and reach out.

Keep track of your contacts with a tool like Rapportive, a smart address book that works alongside your inbox to show you information about contacts, such as recent tweets and job information. This is helpful for people whose tasks require a lot of networking or contact with customers, such as those in founder, marketing, social media, and customer happiness positions. For example, if you get a bug ticket from someone who is an engineer, you can tailor your response. (Rapportive currently only works within Gmail. Xobni is a similar tool that works in Outlook.)

Social media is a must these days to help spread the word about your business as well as provide an important communication channel for existing and potential customers. Use tools like Buffer to schedule your updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in batches instead of drip-by-drip posting. It’s more efficient!

Don’t forget about the power of meeting people in person. Get out there and meet up with other startups and businesses in your area. Offer to share what you’ve learned in conferences and classes such as Skillshare. Most importantly, take part in meaningful communities, whether you build your own or plug into existing ones like Women 2.0. Your startup is not an island, and we all benefit in building toward something great together.

Productivity Secret #3 – Become a Time Charmer

You work at your best when you get enough sleep and take breaks. It’s that simple. Managing and balancing your energy level is the key to actual productivity, rather than spending precious time spinning your wheels. Plus meaningful breaks, travel, and relaxation open the door to new insights and improved creativity.

In order to manage your energy so that you get the most out of both focused work and rest, become more aware about how you’re spending your time. Use RescueTime or a time log to find out how you’re spending your energy.

Create more time for yourself by delegating. That might mean looking within your startup peers to lend a hand or looking outward to hiring virtual assistants and independent contractors. Founders, especially, can have a tough time letting go enough to delegate effectively, but remember that you simply can’t do everything well yourself. Delegate tasks to automation services, such as IFTTT and Zapier, which integrate popular tools and sync information and actions.

All over the world, time and money fly out of windows due to ineffective meetings, and lots of them. Use more asynchronous communication tools like iDoneThis to lower the number of distracting, unproductive meetings, keep track of team progress and a finger on everyone’s work pulse, and make the meetings you do have super efficient.

Stress and challenges are part of the journey, but your happiness is intertwined with your success. Your startup isn’t a fairy tale or a game with the end goal of happily ever after.

So, slow down to enjoy the process and take time for self-examination and introspection.

Women 2.0 readers: What is your secret productivity hack?

About the guest blogger: Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest team performance and progress management tool around. Janet writes about productivity, growth, fulfillment, and the way people work. In the past, she was an editor at Opera News and, as the third attorney to join the ranks of iDoneThis, has worked in community and economic development, food policy and public interest law. Janet holds a B.A. from Duke University and a J.D. from American University. Follow her on Twitter at @lethargarian.


Anne-Gail Moreland

Anne-Gail Moreland

Anne-Gail Moreland, an intern with Women 2.0, was on the StartupBus. She studies neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College, where she is trying to merge a passion for tech and the brain into a new wave of cognition-based technology

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