What’s one thing we all have in common with today’s industry leaders? We all have twenty-four hours in a day. No matter your career path, job role, or pay grade, every member of the workforce has just twenty-four hours to check off all the items on their daily to-do lists. So, why does it seem like CEOs and business leaders can accomplish so much more than the average person? The difference between your life or Mark Zuckerberg’s is defined by what you choose to do with the hours you’re allotted.
There are many smart time management strategies out there to make your work more productive. If you’re in need of a little inspiration, here are a few productivity tips from today’s leading CEOs.
#1 Establish a Morning Routine
A productive day starts as soon as you wake up, and although it’s not necessary for the alarm to go off at the crack of dawn, there’s something to be said for being ready to start your day by 7 a.m. Because your morning routine sets the tone for the rest of your day, these precious first hours count for a whole lot.
One way to be more productive is to choose one activity that will start your day on a positive note. It incentivizes you to get out of bed, get moving, and start your day with a healthier outlook.
Whether it be taking your dog for a walk around the block, meditating for a few minutes, or even making a full breakfast, the most important aspect of any morning routine is that it’s made up of actions you can commit to doing everyday. Like many of us, Mark Hurd, CEO at Oracle, is known for grabbing a coffee every morning at Starbucks. Although there are a ton of ways you can choose to start your day, be sure to make the most of every morning.
#2 Take Advantage of Your Commute Time
One of the best ways to stay productive all day long is to make the most of your free time. Although your morning and afternoon commutes might seem like blocks of lost time, you can actually use them to your benefit. The average commute time in the US is 30 minutes, which means your time to and from the office each day likely offers almost an hour of time you might not have utilized before. Preparing for a meeting, listening to business-related podcasts, taking a call with a hands-free device, or simply reading and responding to emails (for those who use public transit) are just some of the ways to be productive during your commute.
In fact, many find their commute to be a great way to stimulate thinking and planning, whether it be while driving, walking, or riding the train. Sara Blakely, CEO at Spanx, says she does her best thinking in the car. Although Blakely lives just a few short minutes from her Atlanta office, she actually wakes up an hour early to to go on a “fake commute” in which she drives around Atlanta “aimlessly” to give herself time to think. Any work-related activity completed during your commute can free up time for other projects or allow you to tie up any loose ends from your day’s work.
#3 Tackle Your Most Difficult Tasks First
Procrastination is probably one of the biggest detriments to our productivity. We often leave our most difficult tasks until the end of the day, but this can kill your productivity levels.
Ginni Rometty, CEO at IBM, advises, “As you prioritize your work, always do the hardest things first”. Research has proven the first few hours after waking is the time when your brain is at its sharpest and the time you’re most likely to stay on task.
Why waste that time on meetings or reading emails? Challenge yourself to complete your most challenging tasks, or the things that must get done by the end of the day, before lunch time. Not only does this open up your afternoon to complete any last-minute or additional tasks, but it also gives you a great sense of momentum to complete your day.
Think about how great it feels to check off a task on your to-do list; it’s an even better feeling when that task is the hardest one you have. The rest of your day will feel like a breeze, and you’re not spending the day in dread. It’s much easier to be productive when you’re in a good mood.
If you’re constantly busy, you might argue that there’s no time for exercise in your daily schedule. However, many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders credit their fitness routine as a critical component of their success. Their thinking is totally accurate; there are many scientific studies that support the impact of exercise on productivity.
One study from Bristol University found that exercise improves concentration, motivation, and speed to completing a project. Getting into the habit of regular exercise can supercharge your energy levels when working. It can also help to establish a morning routine, as discussed earlier.
For example, Brian Chesky, CEO at Airbnb, is a former professional bodybuilder and still lifts weights daily. If that sounds daunting, there are a ton of low-intensity workouts you can incorporate into your day. Even a brisk walk on your lunch hour can help you clear your mind and focus throughout the rest of the day.
The ability to collaborate should be part of your entrepreneurial DNA. If there’s one skill that many business-minded individuals have a tough time learning, it’s asking for help. Whether you want to seem like you can “do it all,” are apprehensive to impose, or your ego just has a tough time thinking someone else can do it better, failing to collaborate with others can have an adverse effect on productivity.
Not asking for help forces you to spend more time on low-priority tasks, instead of things that actually move you and your business forward. Mary Dillon, CEO at Ulta Beauty, puts this concept into practice at her organization stating, “I am convinced that we run a better, more productive business when we are collaborating across all functions.” Divvying up the work makes a difficult task more manageable and easier to accomplish, all in a shorter amount of time.
#6 Set Daily Goals
You can improve productivity through better goal management. You need to set daily goals, short-term goals as well as long-term ones. But, by setting up daily goals (and by making the most to achieve them), you will start getting momentum, which is the secret hack to success. When you’re hoping to accomplish a certain set of tasks, it’s often best to plan your day the night before. This way, you’re less likely to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of a hectic morning or sidetracked by new tasks that might arise throughout the day. Planning ahead centers your focus on what needs to get done between the hours of 9 and 5.
Kenneth Chenault, former CEO at American Express, uses his evening time to reflect and write down three things he wants to accomplish the next day. Carve out a few minutes right before you leave the office or as soon as you get home note a few things you’re hoping to complete the following day. Not only will this give you an idea of what lies ahead, but it allows you to decide what tasks need to be a first priority while the work day is still fresh in your memory.
This also serves as a “bookend” activity that signals the end of the work day. Like the importance of starting your day off on a positive note, it’s important to also end your day positively. A bookend activity can offer a mental cue that the work day is over and it’s time to recharge for the next day.
#7 Take Time to Refuel
As an entrepreneur, you're stressed, this is part of who you are, in other words, part of your 'anatomy'. But, you need to know how to take time to refuel.
In the same way that your Monday through Friday is dedicated to the daily grind, your weekend should be set aside to relax and refuel for the week ahead. This is how Jack Dorsey, CEO at Twitter, plans his weekends. “Saturday I take off. I hike. And then Sunday is reflections, feedback, strategy and getting ready for the rest of the week.”
It’s important to reward your week of productivity with your favorite hobbies, spending time with friends and family, or just taking some well-needed R&R. In fact, choosing a regular rest time each week has been scientifically proven to support physical and mental wellbeing, as well as boost immunity and reduce stress. If anything, use your Saturday to be unproductive. Then, utilize your Sunday to plan out your week or accomplish any smaller tasks that allow you to be more productive throughout the work week.
This can be anything from setting a weekly agenda, meal-prepping your lunches for the week, or simply laying out your outfit for the next morning. However you choose to spend your weekends, make sure it leaves you ready to kick it into high-gear Monday morning.
How to implement these CEOs' productivity lessons?
If you are looking to make more of the twenty-four hours in your day, think about how you can incorporate some of these ideas into your personal workflow. Structuring your day to achieve maximum productivity isn’t just about what you do between the hours of 9 and 5. Even the smallest adjustments to your daily routine can help you become more productive. You might be surprised to learn just how much you can do in a day.
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