Search for "productivity" at Amazon.com and you'll get over 84,000 results. From books like David Allen's best seller Getting Things Done (GTD) to more recent takes, such as author Chris Bailey's The Productivity Project, there's no shortage of advice and data on how to become a more productive worker.
Most of these tomes teach the what and how of productivity rather than the why. And that's usually a mistake, says Niket Desai, co-founder of Punchd, which Google acquired in 2011.
"There are some people who are proud of the fact that they keep their inbox at zero because they respond to every email. If that's what makes you happy, then amazing," Desai says. "But if you waste away your whole life to a slab of metal and glass and look back and say, is that really how I wanted to be productive in my life? I think most of us would probably say no."
So if systems such as Inbox Zero and GTD aren't the key to unlocking productive success as a startup founder, what is? Desai and others interviewed for this story point to two essential truths: purpose leads to productivity and batching creates efficiency.
Work With Purpose
While most productivity systems are aimed at helping adherents produce more in compressed timeframes, Desai says it's important to question what it is that you're producing.
"You can find a tremendous amount of productivity if you're just doing the things that you fundamentally find to be important," Desai says.
Richard Titus, a Samsung executive whose long list of entrepreneurial achievements include co-founding and selling interactive agency Schematic to WPP in 2007, says that having a purpose is most powerful when paired with a big challenge. Aiming to climb Everest is more motivating than aiming to climb the hill around the block.
Scaling a startup can feel like climbing Everest. To get to the summit, Titus advises breaking big goals into little ones that feel like a puzzle, and then break those into daily tasks. Each day he aims to solve an intricate puzzle that gets him closer to fulfilling his purpose at work.
"The dopamine you get from solving something is amazing," Titus says. "When you get up everyday, is there a puzzle to solve and do you feel rewarded at the end of the day if you solve it?" Because if you do, Titus says, you'll be motivated to keep achieving, and you'll naturally be more productive as a result.
Batch Tasks Often
If defining and focusing on what matters is the engine of productivity, batching is the accelerator that allows you to achieve more of what matters in a shorter period of time.
Put simply, batching is the antidote to multitasking. Instead of switching rapidly between tasks, batching smashes together a series of tasks into a bundle of time. Whether it's responding to email, creative writing, or coding, allowing your mind to focus on just one type of work can yield benefits.
Nick Tomarrello, co-founder of the fast-growing equity crowdfunding platform Wefunder, says he'll block off huge chunks of time just to code. Anything less than four hours of uninterrupted, undistracted time leads to bad results, he says.
"There are very high switching costs when it comes to solving a thorny problem, such as being interrupted with a phone call or a meeting. You can't do any really good work that way," Tommarello says.
Titus has a similar routine. Each week, he has his assistant book two four-hour chunks of time where he can't be disturbed. But he also sees the benefit of batching different types of tasks that are easy to combine. Exercise and meetings, for example. Think of it as a form of human parallel processing.
For our interview, Titus spoke to me on a mobile phone from the hills of San Francisco. He was on the way back from an early morning run from the city's Twin Peaks neighborhood to one of its lush parks.
"You really need to make sure that every second of every day is spent doing something important," Titus says. "All of my exercise time, all of my meals become time to invest in relationships."
Remember What Matters
No two founders are the same. Recognize that, identify what's important, and then find the routine that works best for you, organizing according to what it is you want to achieve. If it's to build a great startup, your choices are likely to be limited by the demands of startup life.
As Desai puts it: "When you're a founder, nothing matters except for your ability to build something that people use often and which dramatically improves their lives." Fail to do that, Desai says, and productivity in other areas of your life or business will amount to "multiplying by zero."
Have other ideas or strategies for staying productive and achieving startup success? Share them with your peers by leaving a comment below.