Productivity for Founders (or how productivity p*rn made me a robot)

productivity influencers

I was 10 when I bought my first productivity book. Titled “Piece of Mind”, a niche, Australian book about flow states and biohacking. I was fascinated by the idea of increasing the power of my brain. It had the added benefit of cartoons for enhanced learning.

This kicked off my love affair.

Over the years, I dove deep into productivity culture — books, podcasts, YouTube videos & online courses. I tested frameworks like GTD and Pomodoro. I experimented with nootropics and morning routines. I was seduced by the allure of limitless productivity and continuous self-improvement.

notion for productivity
my p*rn

Productivity hacking for startup founders- gone wrong

Productivity culture made me feel like I could control my inner turmoil and imposter syndrome through constant optimisation and life hacks.

I carried this mindset with me for over a decade. Messing with my friendships, as I was always trying to optimise my social life, analysing my conversations for self-improvement opportunities.

It affected my self-image, as I constantly felt behind on implementing the latest productivity trend or hack.

I became obsessed with my to-do list, berating myself when I slipped behind a self-imposed schedule. I felt a constant dissatisfaction like I was never doing enough or being productive enough. There was always some new system to try or app to download.

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my linkedin

I realised I was using productivity as a way to cope with deeper issues like anxiety and low self-worth. But it was easier to focus on tasks and systems than address those wounds.

I meticulously tracked my habits in my bullet journal, obsessing over my sleep data and task completion metrics. I customized Notion templates for journaling and goal-setting, spending hours perfecting my digital productivity system.

productivity for founders
from my Notion….

With notifications silenced and my interests solely self-involved. I became a bit of an a*rse…I scheduled everything in my calender, even quality time! with loved ones. I approached relationships like puzzles, not realizing how self-absorbed I had become.

I stopped being present with people. I fretted over “lost time” during conversations. I cut short interactions to stay on imaginary schedules.

I treated people like tasks to complete as fast as possible.

Turning off notifications and muting group chats was meant to minimise digital distractions. But it also minimised my connections to others. I used productivity tools selfishly for my own goals, not considering how my tunnel-vision focus isolated me.

The constant introspection made me lose perspective. The world became just fodder for my productivity experiments.

My zeal for optimisation made me oblivious to the present moment and the people right in front of me. I saw everything through the warped lens of productivity, even my most intimate relationships. Slowly but surely, I lost my humanity in the quest for peak performance.

Productivity culture enabled my avoidance and perfectionism.

Why productivity is important in a workplace

The turning point came gradually and then suddenly, and I started to question my relationship with making everything the very best™ I noticed the similarities between every Notion template master & documentation guru (with a Rode microphone and 4k camera).

And how dissimilar they were to me. This productivity for founders, for IC’s, for teams, productivity for indiehackers, solopreneurs.


Despite religiously following my systems and plans, I still felt like a ball of chaotic energy. I would never catch up to them, because we weren’t even in the same universe.

Chasing productivity metrics was not fulfilling me in the way I had hoped.

I never felt satisfied or like I had “made it.” There was always some new hack, some untapped potential.

After reflection, I saw that I needed to reset my relationship with productivity.

I pay more attention to my natural energy levels instead of pushing myself to some arbitrary standard of maximum output. I’ve stopped measuring and tracking obsessively, as it just leads to more anxiety. I’m conscious about limiting my input of productivity content, as consuming too much of it warped my self-perception.

The antidote to productivity madness?

Using linked knowledge management tools (Zettelkasten) has helped me recognise how much knowledge I’ve already accumulated over the years. I don’t need to constantly consume more productivity advice. I have enough tools and frameworks already within my own notes to tap into.

Zettelkasten for productivity
from my Zettlekasten on notion

Productivity culture creates an always-on, conditional relationship with yourself, where you’re only happy when achieving.

The antidote is boundaries, self-compassion, and balancing effort with rest. With this mindset shift, you can harness productivity in a healthy way — without losing yourself in the process.

Productivity culture gave me tunnel vision, focusing inward on myself and my own optimization while ignoring others. I viewed everything through the lens of how it could make me more productive and efficient.

My journey with productivity is still unfolding.

Like an alluring yet toxic ex, it can suck you back into a cycle. While I initially swung from obsession to rejection, I’m now integrating the lessons with more nuance.

I still get seduced by new frameworks and apps all the time.

My old reflex of tracking and optimising everything doesn’t disappear overnight. But I catch myself more quickly now. I try and ask what I’m feeding, before I let it consume me whole.

I try to adopt new systems thoughtfully, focusing on long-term sustenance over quick fixes. I listen to my mind/body wisdom before blindly following external advice. I make space for spontaneity outside of scheduled blocks.

I’m learning when to push and when to rest. It’s a goal to immerse myself fully in experiences. I keep my apps in their proper place instead of letting them dictate my lifestyle.

While parts of productivity culture feed my ego, I try to extract the wisdom while leaving the dogma behind. I have more compassion for myself when I struggle. I appreciate time as a gift, not just a resource to manage.

balancing productivity
made in Whimsical (by me)

My life today better balances effort and ease, discipline and spontaneity. I work focused but take breaks to truly recharge and play. I alternate goal-driven sprints with meandering explorations #raccoontime.

I still judge myself (alot) but I’m getting better at just being instead of constantly doing. Self-worth should come from within, not from arbitrary productivity metrics.

This is a lifelong journey of unlearning old habits and mindsets. I slip back sometimes, but overall continue progressing towards presence, balance, and self-compassion. By becoming whole, I become more sustainably productive.

In fairness, no one productivity guru or system inherently advocates the perfectionism I displayed. Tools themselves are ethically neutral — the problem arose in how I applied them with no boundaries. Through introspection and chatting to others, I’ve gained insight into how I used productivity as an avoidance coping mechanism for underlying self-worth issues.

By sharing lessons from my mistakes, I hope to spread awareness of potential pitfalls, not demonise productivity itself. The antidote lies in balanced effort and rest, goal setting aligned with your values, and learning to appreciate the process rather than fixating on arbitrary metrics.

Developing self-compassion allows you to sustainably try systems without losing self in the chase for illusory quick fixes.

How many hours should a founder work?

There’s no definitive answer, as founding a startup often requires long and irregular hours. However, burning out defeats the purpose. Most recommend 40-50 hours per week in a focused, strategic way is sustainable. Delegate or outsource where possible and don’t neglect self-care.

What tips do you have for improving productivity in your work as a founder?

Stick to a consistent morning routine, block out focused work time, ruthlessly prioritise important tasks, set limits around meetings and email, leverage productivity tools, take breaks to recharge, get enough sleep, eat well and exercise when possible. Work smart over working long hours.

What is the success rate of first time founders?

The odds are stacked against first time founders, with some research suggesting only around 10% of first time-led startups succeed long-term. However, taking a methodical approach, leveraging mentorship, and learning from failures can greatly improve one’s chances. Resilience and persistence are key.

How do startup founders stay motivated?

Connecting deeply with your why and purpose, focusing on users and customers, celebrating small wins, being part of a founder community for support, having outside interests and making time to recharge are all key for founder motivation. It’s a rollercoaster journey, so self-care and balance help sustain energy.

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