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Building two startups and consulting for various others has been an amazingly rewarding experience for me. Growing a company (and helping others grow theirs) teaches you a lot, especially about how to be more productive.

It also teaches you that most people want to be more productive, but often don’t know how to get there. When it comes to working at a startup, what many don’t realize is that the secret to being more productive is based on knowing the key distinction between systems and goals.

How to be more productive

I’ve learned a ton about increasing productivity at work as a founder and consultant, and I want to share a few key lessons I’ve learned. These will help you create the systems needed to reach your goals.

How to Be More Productive at a Startup

1. Build the Systems That Empower You

Having worked a corporate career for many years, I’m no stranger to the annual practice of extensive goal-setting. But what gets us to those goals is an effective system, of course. Large corporations enjoy the benefit of having built-in systems that support your workflow, which is precisely what startups lack. It’s easy to forget while dreaming, planning, and going for goals that you have to focus on building that foundation, too.

It’s likely that you’ll need to design systems from the ground up. For example, that might be as simple as well-designed work methods, or as involved as actual pieces of technology. In my own world, I apply this concept mostly to my personal behavior and habits.

The beauty is there are no rules to what you build or how you do it. You should feel free to design the way you work unique to you and your company.

2. See the Systems That Already Exist

Realize that you have a system for things whether you’re aware of them or not. So become aware of them. Make an assessment: Which of them are hurting or helping? Should some be abandoned? Can some be improved? Are entirely new systems needed?

Quickly put attention into what activities, habits, and elements need to change in order to reach your goals. Very quickly you will see signs that those activities are either supporting the design for your business or not. Sometimes those activities will open up new opportunities and your goals will expand. It may even shift them completely (another good reason that goals should be flexible).

3. Write Down Your Goals

Drawing on insights from Tom Corley’s famous book “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals,” Business Insider reports that 67 percent of the wealthy write down their goals. Additionally, many read more than 30 minutes per day, network five or more hours per month, and listen to audio books during their commute.

Not surprisingly, many of the wealthy see success as a matter of cultivating the right habits. Therefore, they nurture these habits by creating systems. In this case, they’re the personal workflows that business leaders are sure to practice on a consistent basis. From there flows the achievement of their huge goals. Do you want to develop your own system? Sweet, because we can get started, right now.

Write down two goals you want to achieve. Keep them simple.

Create a list under each of the key activities you think are required to get there. Share in a deep moment of honesty with me, and focus on what you know you need to get better at. If you need to, do a simple Google search (like this) to get you started.

4. Chart Your Roadmap to Productivity

Now time for some self-reflection:

  • Why do you think these activities will get you there?
  • What are you doing now, not doing, or could do more of to facilitate that?
  • Narrow it down and create a list of tasks that you will act on weekly, daily, monthly

Voila! You actually have a roadmap to a new system. The ‘system’ part will arrive on its own and become clear with consistent practice. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to make changes, fine-tune, and add to those new structures as your goals (and you) expand. Doing so will sometimes uncover these beautiful, indirect ways in which your activities get you to your goals.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the most badass business guru’s of the century, Herb Kelleher, who sums things up nicely with:

“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”

Now focus, be consistent, and GO!

For more information on being more productive, read about the power of saying no and productivity hacks from nine young entrepreneurs.

Editor’s note: This an updated version of the original blog published January 23, 2014.

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