Five Ways To Reclaim More Time as a Startup CEO

In the name of getting more done here are my hacks for making more of that all important element - time.

Mark McDermott
Feb 18, 2020
Future of Work

The world — and my inboxes — are full of productivity tips and hacks to help you do more, faster. I’m sure I’m not the only CEO working in a startup like ScreenCloud (where time is precious) who finds most of these meaningless.

A large part of leadership is to keep all of the plates spinning or balls in the air. But this is a big ask and one that many CEOs find difficult.

I’ve found that the most important way to combat this is not to try and do more, but to do less. To find ways of reclaiming the most important real estate of all — your time.

Here are five things I’ve implemented that have helped me reclaim more of my time as a startup CEO.

Make sign-off a collective process

One thing that became clear in my early CEO days was that signing-off the work of others was not only taking up a large proportion of my time, but that I was also becoming the bottleneck for other people getting stuff done. Blog posts, product updates, app descriptions — the final nod came under my remit. To overcome this I implemented a slack channel called #signoff. The rules were simple — anything that needs to be signed off gets dropped into the room. Anyone out of myself, the Product Manager, and other co-founders can approve what’s being put in. If no-one approves it within 24 hours (in the working week), then our team can go ahead and publish the post or release the update anyway.

Say no, often

This feels hideous to begin with but saying no is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. As a leader you often need and want to be involved in everything. But as time goes on, it’s almost impossible to maintain. This is when you need to revert focus. Being completely present to one or two tasks isn’t a luxury or laziness: it maximizes the limited time you have for the benefit of the company.

That means saying no and more importantly ‘I can’t be involved in that’ often.

Luckily, the more you say no, the easier it gets and the more your team are able to have confidence in their own ability to answer questions and go with their gut.

Hire skillsets that fill gaps

This may seem like a no-brainer but a mistake I’ve seen companies make time and time again is to hire repeats of their current team members — more developers, or more marketers to replicate what already works. In order to reclaim time as a leader you need to hire the people that can fill the gaps of what you can’t do, or can’t do very well. For me that was a CFO for finance and an administrator for company processes and customer support. While these roles aren’t the most obvious for product growth, they are the ones that will free up more of my time.

Use technology as an enabler

Many of our team work remotely, so we’re not a company where you have to be at your desk to be seen as being productive. Rather than seeing email, messaging apps and so on as a ball-and-chain, I use them to enable me to work from anywhere and with anything. Sending Slack messages while I’m on the train and accessing Google Docs on my mobile. I find the time constraint of completing a task by the time my train stops vastly increases my focus and productivity.

I take this one step further by scheduling first interviews, planning to partners or catching up with team members while out walking Canto, my Jack Russell Terrier. A 30-minute phone call can often achieve more than a two-hour round trip face-to-face meeting when used productively and because I am not at my desk I am fully focussed on the call.

Handy tip: buy some really good in-ear headphones and microphone if you are going to take calls on the move. I like the Bose SoundTrue range… and remember where the signal black spots are in your local park!

Gather small information, often

As CEO you don’t need to know everything, but you do need to have a good idea of what’s going across the company. One way to achieve this is by gathering small pieces of information, but often. I do this in four ways:

  • Pulse slack channel — we have a Slack room dedicated to the ‘pulse’ of the company. At the start of each day, you post what you’re going to do. At the end of each day, you post what you did or what you have up your sleeve for the next day.
  • KPI dashboard — we have built our own data dashboard that focuses on just the important numbers for our business. It is updated automatically each day and generates graphs automatically which track our progress against our forecasts.
  • End of week reporting — at the end of each week we all jot down a few points about what was achieved and what we’re planning for the week ahead. This is circulated to all team members to give full visibility and takes just minutes to put together.
  • End of month investor round up — like many startups, we believe in running an open business. Every month, we send out an investor update. These are compiled by each department and then go on to fuel blog posts and other public content throughout the month.

Collecting small pieces of data often saves hour-long meetings and lengthy processes while retaining visibility over your team and company. Leading to a more productive team and more time for the things that matter.

What do you do to reclaim more time? Would love to hear about it on Twitter at@mr_mcd.

Mark McDermott

Co-founder of Digital Products Studio, Codegent & CEO of ScreenCloud. I write about the goings on of life & work.