Startups

The Real Reason Founders Struggle with Productivity and How to Fix It

Feel like you never have enough time as a startup founder? Learn where founders need to focus to be more effective.

7 min
February 13, 2023
Andrew Verboncouer
Partner & CEO

Do you experience any of these situations below?

  • You spend most of your day putting out fires
  • You feel busy, but don’t feel like your work has a high impact
  • You have clear long-term goals, but struggle to make progress on them
  • You have a hard time delegating and/or saying no

If you answered 'yes' to any of these, you’re not alone

As founders and creatives, we already know time is our greatest asset.

Between managing business goals, new sales, a team of people, and family and personal commitments - it’s easy to feel like you’re never doing enough.

Breaking the cycle

As a founder myself, I know that cycle all too well. But what if I told you it’s possible (and actually attainable) to ditch the cycle of overwhelm and that you can spend more time doing what you love while still making your biggest impact?

I’m breaking down what I believe many founders get wrong about productivity and the mindset shifts, tools, and shortcuts I’ve learned through my journey.

Keep reading or watch this video

If you’d prefer to listen instead, I cover everything on this page in the video below.

Productivity requires discipline, but it doesn’t have to be a burden

The hard truth is that most founders are doing productivity wrong. From focusing on quantity over quality to not taking enough breaks and trying to do too much, many founders are missing out on their full potential. 

To make sure you maximize your efficiency, it’s important to focus on developing processes and structures to guide your workflow, prioritize tasks, take regular breaks, set clear goals and objectives, and create systems to automate tasks.

So, what should you be doing?

Let’s look at a couple of frameworks to help you determine where you should focus your attention and time, and where you can delegate tasks to your team.

“The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.”

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Eisenhower Productivity Matrix

a visual example of the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix

One way to avoid the urgency trap is to implement the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix - a productivity, prioritization, and time-management framework.

It helps you prioritize your workload into four categories:

Urgent, and important 

These are the things that come up that only you can do, they are vital to the business and need to be done now. While ideally, we want to avoid having many tasks that fall into this category - things will always come up. 

When they do, especially if there’s a chance they’ll come up again, you have an opportunity to note which tasks could be addressed in a more proactive way with your team through a system or new process.

Important, but not urgent 

This is where the bulk of your work should be. Tasks that you can schedule, tied to long-term goals and projects. They could also be recurring tasks that can be scheduled on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.

Urgent, but not important 

Here’s where you have the opportunity to delegate to your team.

This is often a tough one for founders - letting go of parts of the business and projects that you enjoy or love to be involved in can be difficult (myself included), but it also can be a huge area for growth for yourself and your team to take on more responsibility.

Not urgent and not important

Lastly, these are tasks that you can delete from your workload.

They may be tasks that have been back burnered, that were important or time-sensitive at one time, or tasks tied to old goals, or outdated processes.

The five levels of delegation

visual example of 5 levels of delegation within the Eisenhower Matrix

When delegating there are five levels to help you communicate expectations and responsibilities with your team.

Access and report

Take a look at the project, and let me know what your initial thoughts are.

Share recommendations

Give me your recommendation for the next step.

Develop an action plan 

Choose a path forward and develop a plan to bring that to life.

Make the decision

I trust you to make a decision on what is best for this project or problem.

Full delegation 

Handing the project to your team or a specific team member fully


Four Tiers of Effectiveness

As your company grows, your ability to be involved in every aspect is limited. So where do you focus?

At Headway, we use the EOS model for our operations, and a large part of that is about focusing on your unique ability.

The Four Tiers of Effectiveness by Craig Groeschel offers another productivity tool to clearly see where you should spend your time.

This framework helps answer questions like:

  • What will sink the company if I don't do it?
  • What is your greatest contribution as a to the team?

Tier 1 = Mission critical

Without these activities taking place, the team or organization won't be able to succeed. 

Tier 2 = Very important and strategic

These are tasks that are important and exclusive to you. Maybe you’re hosting a podcast or creating video content that will all benefit your company, but it’s not mission critical.

Tier 3 = Meaningful but not vital

A good example of this is writing a blog post for your company. It’s not vital for you to write that blog post. You could create an outline, share your concepts and ideas, and then empower members of your team to ghostwrite the post. 

Tier 4 = Externally initiated and not vital

These are tasks that can be delegated or passed forward to a team member. 

Using this framework

To get started with this framework, I suggest listing everything you do during a typical workweek and then applying each task to one of the four tiers. 

By doing this, you’ll be able to see where your time may be hijacked by less important tasks, and where you can refocus your attention.

Free Notion productivity template for founders

Based on these four tiers, and the Eisenhower Matrix, I've created a tool to identify and tag tasks that I'm doing as a founder.

It helps me see what I should start delegating when it makes sense for me and my team.

You can access it here. No email required.

screenshot of free notion productivity template
Example of the Notion table in action

My favorite productivity hacks to support my focus

Time block your calendar

Now that you know where you should be focusing, it’s important that you schedule your priorities.

My best piece of advice as a startup founder is to block out specific times for different activities on your calendar. Everything from work and business goals to your personal and family commitments is accounted for. This will give you the clearest picture of your true availability, and help you avoid taking on too much.

Batch your time based on task types

Another great way to maximize your schedule is to batch your time. By grouping your meetings into a full or half day, you can free up space later in the week for deep work and focus time on other projects. This also is a great way to minimize distractions and remain present in the work at hand. 

See this in action

Create sources of truth 

It’s hard work efficiently across many tools. Having a source of truth for all of your tasks is important for staying organized and productive. These sources should include everything from long-term goals and system structures to daily tasks and to-do lists.

Birdseye is a tool that we’ve created here at Headway, and something I’ve been using to manage my tasks over the years we’ve been developing it. The way it works is that it will combine your tasks from multiple platforms (Asana, Trello, GitHub, etc.) and track your work in one dashboard.

Whether it’s a tool like Birdseye or something else, finding the right sources of truth that work for you and your team will save you time and potential confusion later on.

See this in action

Intentionally remove distractions

It can be easy for distractions to derail your productivity, so it's important to create and maintain an environment that helps you stay focused. This can include turning off notifications, finding a quiet place to work, or setting a timer for specific tasks.

See this in action

Supercharge Workflows

Creating and sticking to processes can help you optimize your workflow and become more efficient. This can include automating repetitive tasks, delegating certain tasks to others, or streamlining processes.

Text expanders

Text expanders can help you save time by automatically inputting frequently used phrases. These can include email signatures, contact information, or commonly used words or phrases.

Email filters and organization

Gmail can be a great tool for managing emails, staying organized, and increasing productivity. This can include setting up filters, creating labels, and organizing emails into different folders.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your email productivity, it’s important to create a system for managing emails. This can include setting up an “inbox zero” system, using folders to organize emails, and creating labels to categorize emails.

See this in action

Find the balance that works best for you

The truth is we all approach work differently, and that means our productivity will look differently too. With these frameworks and tools, you should have a place to start finding the right fit for your work/life needs.

But it’s important to remember that sometimes what works in one season, won’t always work in the next.

My advice? Find the approach that makes sense for you right now, but don’t get too attached, then continue to adjust from there. 

Actionable UX audit kit

  • Guide with Checklist
  • UX Audit Template for Figma
  • UX Audit Report Template for Figma
  • Walkthrough Video
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