Three Productivity Lessons From HubSpot Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah

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Leslie Ye
Leslie Ye




Successful founders are productive. I'm not sure if they're successful because they’re productive or if they forced themselves to become productive because they wanted to be successful -- it's a chicken-or-egg question.

But the fact remains that even though successful founders only have 24 hours in a day, they can build quadricorns while the rest of us are doing … well, who knows what?

(I’m still mourning the loss of scheduled naptime.)

Dharmesh Shah is an example of one of those founders. Since he founded HubSpot almost 10 years ago, the business has grown from $0 to $181M in annual revenue. We employ 1,157 employees and serve 18,118 customers.

Not too shabby.

So last week, I asked him exactly how he approaches his work. Below are the three productivity tips he uses to get stuff done.

1) Sleep 30 minutes more a day.

Sleep expert Laura Vanderkam that people regularly report working more hours than they actually do. We’re used to glorifying professionals who work a lot. That’s why people say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” right?

If you subscribe to this school of thought, think again. The first thing Dharmesh told me was that an extra half-hour of sleep is the “highest ROI” that entrepreneurs and professionals will ever get -- period.

We all know from common sense and personal experience that when we’re tired, we can’t perform at our best. But science backs this tip up, too.

In a 1997 study, Drew Dawson and Kathryn Reid found that sleep deprivation has roughly the same effect on our performance as alcohol intoxication. If you’re sleeping fewer than 6 hours a night, you’ll experience the same effects as if you had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 -- the legal limit for driving.

You’ll never be at your best if you’re tired and distracted, so avoid overworking. It’ll pay off in the long run.

2) Work on one task at a time.

“Don’t kid yourself that you can multitask -- you can’t,” Dharmesh said. “Task switching is cognitively expensive.”

The human brain is only wired to focus on one thing at a time. So trying to complete multiple tasks simultaneously is not only ineffective, it’s actually bad for you. Stanford researchers actually found that when attempted to multitask lowered functional IQ to the average range you’d find in an 8-year-old child. 

Instead, focus on one thing at a time -- especially when it’s something you have to get right.

“Give yourself contiguous time to work on the important things,” Dharmesh suggests.

It can be tempting to jump back and forth between projects -- as you see new emails and notifications come in, your instinct is to respond immediately. But the more you’re switching between tasks, the longer it will take you to complete everything. Shut off channels you’re not using at the moment to minimize distraction.

3) Organize your calendar in blocks.

This one’s actually two tips in one: Organize your day in chunks of tasks, and plan your days ahead of time.

“I block out time on my calendar to do the things I need to do,” Dharmesh said. “Otherwise, my day gets fragmented. Fragmented days lead to fragmented weeks -- not good.”

Planning can only take you so far in sales; surprises and shifts are just part of the job. But if you can enter each day with a sense of your priorities, it’ll be easier for you to shift things around when last-minute changes do come up.

Since you’re guaranteed to face interruptions in your day, make sure the time you can plan for is structured strategically. It takes an average of 25 minutes to return to full productivity after a distraction, so minimize your mental load by knocking out similar types of tasks one after the other.

What are your best productivity tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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