5 Tips on Getting Things Done in a Startup

A New Year 2010.

New Challenges, New Goals and a Fresh start. Every one dreams of wiping all the imperfect years off the slate and starting of new.

One of the things everyone wants to do is draw up a bunch of things that they want to get done and want it out of their way. It is easier said than done. Even with the best of intentions, the list becomes harder and harder to get accomplished, until finally it is abandoned altogether.

So here’s my take on getting things accomplished. After running a startup the last 2 years, I have some ideas (and opinions) on what works and what doesn’t. So if you are planning on executing for your next hypercool startup or just want to get stuff done some of this will be helpful.

1. Identify your Top Level Goal

You need to figure out what exactly you want. And you need to reason this out at the 50,000 foot, 100,000 foot or even better from outer space level. Although this sounds easy, this IS the hardest thing to do. Often times, figuring out what you want is impossible especially when you are operating a startup and you have no clue what you are doing(better not tell anyone). And notice, I said Goal not Goals. To execute, you need to be focused, if you try to do too many things, you will utterly fail. For example, your goal this month could be getting a major functional piece done and released.

2. Figure out the small tasks that make up your Top Level Goal

Every goal needs to be split into smaller digestible pieces, which don’t take more than a day to execute. Say if you are working on a new Website for your product, you can make the tasks be

  1. Figure out the outline
  2. Flesh out individual pages
  3. Add interactive scripts/analytics
  4. Talk to Graphics Designer and send site content
  5. Implement new site provided by designer

3. Keep the Goal Horizon Small

What I mean is that every single goal should be achievable within a month or less. More than that and you are setting yourself up for failure. If you have a goal that takes more than a few months, you are not really working on a startup; You are working for an established company. You don’t have that kind of luxury in a startup.

4. Sprint Every Single Day

Once you have a blue print, execution becomes straightforward. You just need to get those small tasks done and when you do, your Goal is complete as well. Every morning I write what I hope to get done in the day as a list in whiteboard. I write that down in BIG BOLD LETTERS and I start work on them. Keeping the tasks in my face makes me focused on the task at hand instead of reading the latest Gamespot reviews.

5. Keep things Organized and written down

You absolutely need a way to keep everything written down so you can look it up later or take actions on it. Never ever, trust your tasks to memory.

I have three “InBoxes”. My Email Inbox, Wiki and Whiteboard.

My Email Inbox is where I get stuff to do from the outside world.  Once I reply to an email and if there is no other action to be done I move it out of my inbox. Other times, it stays there till what I need to get done is complete. In a sense it is a reminder for me.

I keep all my high level goals, and tasks in the Wiki. At any time, the Wiki stores all my ideas as well. This way everything is captured.

Finally the Whiteboard stores all my day-to-day tasks. The contents driven by the goals in the wiki or emails in my inbox. Getting the whiteboard list done and complete everyday gives immense satisfaction and a feeling of measurable progress.

After fashioning my own system, I stumbled upon David Allen’s Getting Things Done book a couple of months ago and I found he gave a clear and insightful way of getting things done which I am sure will also be quite useful. Highly Recommended Reading.

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