“Productivity is the holy grail for entrepreneurs”

Kevin Rose, a serial entrepreneur who formerly started Digg and was founder at Google Ventures recently shared on Snapchat that he sets two goals every morning: one personal, one professional. He says that it doesn’t have to be anything crazy, just two simple goals. For example, Rose wanted to get to the gym that day. Kevin stated that he felt it was important to make this decision while still in bed because it sets the tone for the day.

Productivity is the holy grail for entrepreneurs. There are only so many hours in the day and much more work to be done. Therefore, it’s imperative for entrepreneurs to use their time wisely. Like Kevin Rose, everyone has their own method to get maximum productivity from the day.

So how do you piece together your best? The best way is to learn from others who have been exactly where you are now.

To that end, I spoke with half a dozen CEOs from various Y Combinator batches, to get tips on how to be more productive. Since Y Combinator is such an elite tech accelerator that moves at lightening speed, these CEOs have learned a thing or two about getting stuff done efficiently. Here’s what these CEOs had to say when it comes to being more productive throughout their day


Break Things Down

Wade Foster is the CEO of Zapier, which automates your business apps. His company’s focus is to make you more productive.

Foster says, “My biggest “hack” for productivity is to break a task into the small piece that’s actionable. That way I can get started. As soon as I do that you start to realize big tasks don’t feel quite so big.

From there I try and take everything out of my head so I don’t have to remember things to do. And automate the pieces that I can. For example, I’ll label Gmail emails that I have to take action on and create to-dos in Wunderlist from that. I’ll also create recurring tasks in Wunderlist for repetitive tasks I need to do each week.”

Don’t overwhelm yourself with a seemingly infinite to-do list. It could cause you decision paralysis. Like Foster suggests, break tasks down into actionable bits.

Understand the Difference Between Productivity and Busy

Neema Moraveji is the co-founder of Spire.io and his biggest productivity hack has been to rely on external feedback. He uses this feedback to help him get into a flow state.

Moravej stated, “ I don’t try to always get Focus streaks in Spire but when I get them, it helps me gauge when I’m being “productive in a healthy way” rather than just “working”.  It always helps me segment my day into silent focus and general productivity (the former being where I can get Focus streaks, which are fun).”

No matter how you determine whether or not you’re productive versus busy, it’s an important to understand the difference. Getting caught up with “busy work” will make you feel productive, when the reality is you’re not.


Set Goals and Timelines

According to Vu Tran, CEO of SlideMail App, if no finite timeline is defined, you probably won’t finish it [the task] at all. Therefore, it’s important for his productivity that he sets definitive timelines.

When it comes to setting goals, Tran said, “If you don’t know what you’re shooting for, you probably won’t get it done and people often misattribute lack of motivation with lack of clarity. Productivity is just a measure of the efficiency of production so if you don’t know what you’re producing, you won’t be able to optimize.”

In addition to goals, Tran said that it’s also important to set a finite timeframe for every goal.  

“There was a study out there that says something about how it’s our tendency to use up all available time, no matter if it’s a short or long duration. If you give yourself the goal of sending out x emails over y weeks, you will most likely use all the allocated time to finish the task (often times waiting to the last minute). If instead, you set a shorter timeline of 2 days, you’ll probably finish it in 2 days instead.”

Without goals and timelines, it’s easy to push back tasks. One day turns into two, and before you know it, a week’s gone by. Set goals and timelines to keep you on task.


“Wasting your time is a quick way to killing your company prematurely.”

Exercise Daily

If you’ve ever watched Justin Kan’s Snapchat stories (partner at Y Combinator), he likes to say, “Fitness is the first step to greatness.” Two other CEOs I spoke with echoed similar sentiments.

James Tamplin of Firebase said that he likes to start his day by going for a 30 minute run every morning. Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover stated, “Increasingly I’ve escaped the office mid-day to go to the gym. It helps reset my brain and keeps me energized into the night.”

These three cases are  anecdotal proof that by taking a break and being active away from your desk, you’re actually helping yourself to be more productive.

Wasting your time is a quick way to killing your company prematurely. You have to be focused and you have to be using your time wisely. Use these productivity hacks from Y Combinator CEOs to help you be more efficient and get more out of your day.

It’s That Simple
Take care of your mind. Prioritize your future. Always take steps forward. With this perspective, ‘productivity’ seems much less distant, doesn’t it?