At this point, you’ve probably been filled to the brim with life hacks for your personal life. Here’s how to fold a shirt so it doesn’t wrinkle when you travel. Here’s how to cut a watermelon into diagonal bite-size pieces faster. Here’s how to wash your clothes and get them cleaner with gasoline. Okay, I made that last one up, but it’s still probably true.
My goal here is to help you find creative ways to improve your daily work life. You may be living that startup grind or simply working in an office every day. Either way, this list is meant to help and inspire you to experiment and see what works for you. There may be some far-out supplement suggestions or dietary challenges in this list. Don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Research anything you need more information on. Be safe and remember that everything in moderation is a framework and you need to find what resonates with you.
Startup Life Hacks are ways to improve your productivity, increase cognitive power and focus, and overall make things easier for yourself while at the office. The following list is a combination of ideas I use or have tested and other suggestions I’ve gathered from my Silicon Valley friends.
First, let’s start with the core pillars of productive energy for the body.
I spent a decade trying to figure out how to optimize my personal energy and increase my focus throughout the day. What I found was that I continually came back to these three pillars. Without eating healthy, sleeping enough, and exercising daily, you may not even be able to utilize some of the other suggestions in this list because your mind or body will be too clouded before you even begin.
At a high level this is how I manage each of the three pillars:
- Diet — I eat a majority vegetarian diet where my aim is to eat unprocessed whole foods (personal favorites: spinach, bell peppers, cashews, olive oil) first and foremost. Some meats and fish are okay. No sugar. No bread. I aim to stop at 80% full and snack throughout the day with one major meal (dinner or lunch) since I do love going out to eat and trying funky dishes. I also try to replace coffee with black tea and cold showers and start drinking water as soon as I wake up.
- Sleep — using a sleep tracker and qualitative observations, I find my optimal sleep period is around 7–9 hours of time. I don’t have trouble getting to sleep, but I need to remind myself to allow time to transition from work and play to laying down, reading, turning off the lights, journaling, and anything else that helps me get to bed earlier if I want to wake up earlier. Generally, I sleep from 11 pm and wake sometime between 7–9 am. I like to let myself wake up naturally, but that can be difficult when you have morning meetings, so I’ll often use an alarm as a fallback solution.
- Exercise — right after I wake up I start my day with a short workout. It could be a run for 20 minutes or app workout for 7 minutes. It could be stretching, walking to work, or taking the stairs. It doesn’t matter as long as I do something. Doing “something” is scientifically proven to be better than doing “nothing.” It helps build habits and keeps your body warmed up and activated. I also like to have a 3pm wake up stretch in the office and try my best to reduce my sitting time over long periods of time.
So without further ado, here are the Startup Life Hacks:
- Use OneTab to remove the to-do list of tabs you are keeping in your browser while keeping the list. This is a must try.
Coffee with Coconut
- Once you try black coffee with coconut oil or MCT oil you won’t go back. For me, it elongates the caffeine effect while removing the jittery and crash parts. Also, a must try if you drink coffee.
- Often disregarded in this day and age, time spent silently without distraction can help reset your mind, invoke creative thoughts, and help you decompress from difficult situations. It can be meditative, but there’s no requirement to make this time sitting meditation. Find what works for you. Even if only for 10–15 minutes a day, take time to clear your mind, and simply focus on your breath.
- Apps to try: Breathe, Headspace, Calm, Simple Habit, Pacifica.
- Somewhere between Paleo and Keto, I have a healthy diet. After trying a variety of eating habits, I’m a believer in Majority Vegetarian diets that focus on eating whole foods. No bread. Fruit if you crave dessert. Plant-based diets like this allow for your digestion system to process high nutrient food with ease.
- I was struck by this quote I saw recently: “We are drowning ourselves in food.” I’ve found if I have light, healthy snacks whenever needed throughout the day, I only need one major meal each day. Usually lunch or dinner. Taking in less food helps my digestion system work less hard and thus doesn’t put me into a 3pm coma. My mind stays more focused and it’s directly related to what I eat.
Rotate Your Caffeine
- Don’t have the same stimulant every day. In one week it can be much more effective to try a mix of coffee, black tea, and yerba mate. That way you get more out of the stimulant without needed to increase your dose because you’ve built up a tolerance.
- Mate is becoming more popular in San Francisco from its home roots in Argentina because of the ability to sip it all day long without getting jitters or a comedown.
- Take time off of your phone and laptop. It’s important to recharge and start stronger the next day or week. It seems counterintuitive for many startup people, but taking less time online can help you get more done. Use something like Screen Time on iPhone to get a gauge of how much time you spend online. Other apps that track or manage your online time: RescueTime, SelfControl, Toggl.
- Want to do more in less time? Try time blocking your work periods. Give yourself 15, 30, 60 minutes, or whatever you think it should take for a task. Then start working on it and stop at the end of the time period. Often this pure time block approach helps you get things done quicker, focus stronger, and complete more tasks in one day.
Communication is Key
- Perfecting your communication to your team and coworkers is an essential and often overlooked tool. Managers may think, “Everyone should adapt to my style of communication,” but good managers are leaders and they take time to customize their approach to their direct reports by coaching and giving feedback in their work style.
Lead by Example
- Want to see a change in your workspace? Want to show how some of these productivity tips help you and could positively impact your team? Lead by showing. Get people curious. Share tactics and how you do what you do when people ask. Be the change you want to see in the office.
Actually Take Vacation
- Stepping out of the office environment is hard to do, especially in startups. I’m guilty of it. I didn’t take a vacation during my first three years working on my last VC-backed startup. The point of this time is to reset and reopen your brain to new types of problem solving and creative thinking. Short breaks are essential throughout the day in order to refuel, eat, sleep, etc. Think of vacations and weekends as the same thing whether that’s refueling sleep debt, having family quality time, practicing communication tactics, or reading. It all helps you be more effective at your job when you return to the office.
- Nootropics are experimental brain-enhancing drugs often called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers. They aren’t always pharmaceutical grade but can be supplements and other substances that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. Everything from Caffeine to the startups HVMN and TruBrain qualify. Here’s a list from Healthline reviewing some of the options.
Mushrooms (Not Psychedelic)
- Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps are two often consumed mushrooms that support brain activity. Lion’s Mane is supposed to help you focus, while Cordyceps is more about energy. I’ve tried both and can attest there is something there. Try FourSigmatic to start.
- You know that afternoon drop that 5 Hour Energy tries to sell you on? Try standing up, stretching, doing yoga, jumping, and getting your body active again. If you are sitting for long stretches, then your body may settle in and start to relax to a point you are ready for a nap. Instead, take some advice from House of Pain and Jump Around.
- If your body is telling you that sleep is needed, try a 15-minute nap. It’s not always PC in the office outside of Asia and California, but if you can show your renewed productivity consistently you may change some people’s opinions. Thousands of years ago naps were more normal for humans and the modern work week is still a fairly new thing that has come about in the last 200 years.
Embrace Cold Water
- Another tactic I like to use instead of caffeine is taking cold Wim Hof-style showers or swimming. It wakes your body up, energizes it, and puts you in a state similar to caffeine. The colder the water the better.
- There are countless ways to get to inbox zero and optimize your emailing life. Here are some of my favorites:
- Respond to emails offline in order to process in batches.
- Use Superhuman or Sanebox for email management. I personally run everything through the Gmail app on iPhone and Chrome.
- Use your Inbox as a to-do list and filter your messages (i.e. filter out messages that mention ‘unsubscribing’ or ‘snooze’ for messages you need time to think on).
- There are always different perspectives to things (Mentor Whiplash, we call it) and one of the differing opinions I heard recently was to not focus on inbox zero at all but to completely disregard it. The thought is that emails you receive in your inbox are other people’s tasks for you, not your own tasks, so it’s better to align with your own priorities first.
Pack Your Bag
- Always have your bag or backpack packed with anything you need during the week. I often buy an extra charger for my iPhone and MacBook just for this reason. Other things you may want to pack: your favorite instant coffee or nootropic, a Tide stick for clothing stains, breath mints for that next important meeting, your favorite healthy snack, an AUX cable, and portable speaker, and anything else you may need daily.
- Find your favorite health tracking app and use it daily to monitor your steps, food intake (Lifesum), heart rate and biometrics (Apple Health), fasting (Zero), keto, mental health, or any other daily health aspect you care about.
Automate Your Work
- Whether you use a virtual assistant, social media automation tech tools like Evergreen or Quuu, management tools like 15Five or Simple OKR, or workflow tools like Asana and Trello, find ways to speed up and automate your daily workflows.
- As with emails, the only other thing you may experience just as much while working is meeting. Here are some thoughts on how to improve your meeting performance.
- Remove all chairs from the meeting room. Makes people get right to the point of the meeting and saves a ton of wasted time.
- Start team meetings with a 10-minute guided meditation. Ten working minutes fly by like nothing, but ten meditative minutes opens our eyes to more creative solutions, other perspectives, and makes us active listeners for each other.
- Don’t attend a meeting unless there is an agenda, a moderator, and it’s valuable to you.
- Meetings should have action items assigned to point people.
- Use only the time needed. Think 20 or 45 minutes instead of default times like 60 minutes.
- Hold all-hands meetings weekly or monthly depending on team size.
- Listen to a podcast about a person before you meet them whenever possible.
- When you choose to do tasks greatly impacts the outcome. Everyone goes through a peak, a trough, and a recovery during each day. You’re most creative, analytical, and sharpest in the morning, a bit slower and foggier in the afternoon, and you recover for a bit in the early evening.
- Schedule pitch meetings in the morning whenever you can, so your audience is at its sharpest.
- Don’t schedule team meetings in the morning in order to allow your team to produce work in their optimal productive time.
iPhone on Do Not Disturb
- I’ve had my phone on do not disturb for years. I look at my phone when I need to do something. Not when an app or a person wants my attention, but when I choose to give attention to something. I’ve heard from many entrepreneurs how life-changing this is to remove surprise distractions and unwanted interruptions.
- For many entrepreneurs, there are silent partners who are hidden behind the scenes. For me, that’s Danyelle my life partner. For others, it may be close friends or family. Keep these people close and show them your love, because when things get tough they will be there for you. That’s why Gary Vaynerchuk puts “Family First” on his Twitter profile for all to see.
- Whether it is eating lunch together (not at your desk), holding a tea time every other Friday for people across company functions to build relationships, or doing company retreats or team activities after work, find ways to build rapport between team members in order to increase your daily flow together in the office.
- Next time you think of something you should do, do it. Do it within 24 hours. Better yet, do it within 12 hours or 6 hours. It could be for your personal life, work life, or something in between, but acting on these creative impulses in a timely manner will improve your Inspiration Reaction as well as your productivity.
- At the beginning of every day write down your top three tasks to complete by the end of the day. Do the easiest and quickest tasks first. That opens up your mind to focus harder on bigger tasks.
Calendar for Everything
- Schedule time in your calendar for everything so you make time for what’s important. Working out, naps, work sessions, blogging. Put a block of time in there for all of it.
- App: Google Calendar.
- One of the common ways for startups to die is for there to be a co-founder disagreement or breakup. That’s why it is so important to have open, transparent conversation with your co-founder and team. Here are five good tips on how to do that.
- Listen to music while you work that is optimized for productivity. Look at the Focus channel on Spotify or read this blog post on the 5 Types of Music That Increase Your Productivity, According to Science for tips.
- We placed plants throughout our office of varying types and created loose roles for maintenance to reinforce that health and success cannot be achieved through one spurt of effort in the short term but rather conscious, ongoing nourishment. Watering plants also make for great for simultaneous conference call activity.
- Use Expensify for personal and professional expense tracking. (Bonus: watch Expensify This)
Your Commute is the New Library
- Use your daily commute to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, meditative music, or even try meditative walking and engaging your senses. It will never be wasted time again.
I hope these hacks help your startup life be a little less of a roller coaster or Richter scale. It’s an organic list, so please share your tips and tricks in the comments and I’ll continue building the list and re-publish it again and again.
Thanks to everyone who sent me ideas for this article, including Chris Neuman, Krish Jayaram, Tash Jefferies, Brice Pollock, Jacob Dale, Greg Kubin, Niki Nikatos, Robert Neivert, Taylor Smith, Arjun Arora, Pedro Sorrentino, Danny Leonard, Patrick Sampson, Dominic Coryell, and to you for leaving your best hacks in the comments.