How we stay productive in an unstructured start-up

A day in the life of Oneiric

I’ve been reading productivity blogs and books for years and have implemented several principles (after lots of trial and error) into my life to help me stay productive in my start-up, Oneiric Hockey. At the end of the day it’s not how much you get done or cross off your to do list, it’s the tasks you choose to focus on and how much progress you make on those really important things each day. Progress towards big, meaningful goals. My Co-Founder Kayla and I often write out our weekly goals then break them down on a daily basis. We both take pride in being organized, productive and most importantly, getting shit done🤘🏼. Our approaches, however, differ quite a bit.

We’ve compiled a day in the life and each of our major productivity tips.

Kayla’s Routine

I’ve trained myself to wake up naturally before 8:00am, no longer needing an alarm. I put the kettle on, grind my coffee, and drink a big glass of water before pouring my first cup and turning on my computer. I open my agenda to review my goal list for the week and decide what I will be working on for the day. I like breaking the days work into several tasks, writing them down in my workbook in a list that I can cross off with satisfaction.

I group my daily tasks into these categories:

· Design / Marketing

· Retail Support

· Smaller Tasks

· Accounts Receivable

I enjoy finishing my smaller tasks and retail support calls first in the morning so I can move onto larger, more creative tasks for the remainder of the day. After my calls and finishing a small breakfast, I head to the gym for my daily workout. Post exercise, I’m feeling pumped to be creative.

Harnessing my Creativity

My role as Creative Director is to come up with innovative design concepts and marketing content for Oneiric. I feel most creative in the evening and often enjoy working on my design projects late into the night. The later it is, the more creative I get.

Getting into a creative space can be challenging after spending the day focused on other administrative aspects of the business. Before attempting to use the left side of my brain, I spend a little time immersing myself in various sources to develop and nourish my creative side.

Whether it’s researching new fonts, skimming some of my favorite design blogs or listening to an interesting Podcast. Recently, I was inspired after watching the newly released design series ‘Abstract’ on Netflix. Inspiration can come from anywhere and it’s important to be open to it.

Once I’m feeling inspired creatively, the work can get started and the ideas flow.

Kayla’s creative whiteboard session

Emily’s Routine

I usually wake up between 5:30–6:00am. My nighttime routine sets the tone of the next day — I make sure I lay out my gym clothes on my dresser before bed, clean my workspace and kitchen, grind the coffee, and write out my daily goals in my notebook. That way, when I wake up, all I have to do is get dressed, feed my dog breakfast, make some coffee, and dive into work.

Mornings have always been a sacred time for me. I harness those key hours to get my most important tasks done first. To get my brain juices flowing, I use StumbleUpon in the Entrepreneurship, Self Development, or Marketing categories, and read posts for 20–30 minutes. I then jump right into work — usually a writing task (ie. blog post) then tackle my business to-dos that are prioritized by the most important tasks first then descending to lower priority items. I’ve stopped checking email first thing — it can easily distract me from completing important work and before I know it, I’ve spent 2 hours answering meaningless emails. It’s scary how much email can throw me off track and suck up my time. To do my most important activities in the day I usually designate 3 full hours before taking a break big break. From around 6:00am — 9:00am, I get in my state of “Flow” described in Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive. In this state of flow, my intrinsic motivation is highest and I can complete more in those few precious hours than in an entire day.

Time Blocks

Another key tool I use to remain productive is blocking out chunks of time to get work done. That way, I only give myself a window of time to complete important pieces of work before moving on to my next task. This helps me stay focused and get more done then I regularly would. Here’s an example of typical day and how I break down my activities.

· Reading and writing take up my first hour of the day

· Tackling my to-dos (major projects broken into smaller tasks) and finally checking email once I feel that I’ve gotten all my non-email related tasks out of the way.

· After about 3 hours of work I take a 1.5 hour break and workout/take my dog out for a walk or run.

· When I get back, I have lunch then start my sales activities that includes cold calls, sales follow-ups and other meetings that I’ve scheduled for the day. My workday usually ends at about 4:30–5:00pm and can sometimes fit in a few more hours in the evening if I have the energy.

Emily’s daily to-do list

Relaxation and Downtime

I try to shut-off after 5:00pm and let myself enjoy my evenings — relax, recharge, play a sport, meet with a friend, have a beer, watch a movie, clean my condo, etc. then go to bed at around 9:30–10:00pm. I’ve found that doing so allows me to get the rest I need to have another productive day. Sometimes when we attend tournaments, I find it difficult to squeeze in a day off and now know that working 7 days per week is a recipe for quick burnout. I keep my Sundays as a day of no work — instead I do my planning for next week, write out my goals, go grocery shopping, clean, and do activities that I enjoy. I’ve found that I approach my week with much more enthusiasm and motivation when I wake up Monday morning. If I don’t take a day for myself, I feel a bit ripped off and am not able to get as much done the next week.

Conclusion

As Co-Founders, the separation of roles has made a tremendous impact on our productivity. Assigning responsibilities and delegation of tasks keeps each of us accountable for results in moving the business forward. We’ve both experimented with insurmountable amounts of productivity tips, but find that there isn’t one formula. Everyone is different and needs to come up with their own strategies that match their work styles. Emily’s most productive time is in the morning where Kayla’s is in the evenings. We both have our own rituals to inspire creativity, find the motivation to work hard, and have fun. For a great book with some amazing productivity tips, both of our favorite is Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy. Where he compiles his findings from a year of productivity experiments.