As posted on How leaders of 9 billion-dollar companies stay productive
For many of us, productivity is a mystery. We’re surrounded by a constant stream of all things “busy.” And while we start each day with the best of intentions, it’s painful to look back and have to ask, “So what exactly did I get done?”
Naturally, productivity tips abound, from “life hacks” to workflows to apps. Ironically, this flood of information – especially if you try to drink it all in – often makes us more overloaded and less productive.
So what if you could peak inside the productivity habits of leaders responsible for guiding billion-dollar companies? What would you find?
From planning and scheduling to managing emails right down to disconnecting, here’re nine tips proven to put productivity at a premium.
1. Give each day a theme
During a Techonomy conference in 2012, the CEO of Square, Jack Dorsey (also chairman at Twitter) revealed how he stayed on top of all his tasks while managing two companies. One of the ideas he shared was giving each day its own theme. Sadly, none of his suggestions included “dress like a pirate” day.
Instead, each day was batched by interrelated tasks: Monday for administration and management, Tuesday for products, marketing on Wednesdays, etc. This approach dramatically reduces “task switching costs,” the cognitive strain that occurs when we move between different types of work. More themes. More results.
2. Get technology out of the way
Not surprisingly, Mary McDowell — a former executive at Nokia and now CEO of Polycom, Inc. — is a fan of high-tech gadgets. Her love, however, extends far beyond smartphones, scheduling apps, and digital to-do lists. “You can’t automate human interaction (nor would you want to),” McDowell told me, “but you can come pretty close to automating the communication experience.”
Video meetings that start with a push of a button and cameras that automagically focus on the active speaker are just a couple of hacks she depends on. After all, as soon as you notice the tech you’re using, its productivity plummets.
3. Make room for curiosity
When AOL founder Steve Case was asked by Foundr Magazine, which reaches one million monthly readers across their platform, “What sets you apart from others?” his response was surprising: “I think the word curious was part of it. I’ve always been curious about what’s happening, paying attention to the periphery, and trying to lean into the future.” In a world dominated by the “tyranny of the urgent,” carving out time to just explore and discover is tough. And yet curiosity lies at the heart of innovation, and innovation at the heart of productivity.
4. Put email on delay
Sometimes slacking off pays off. On this front, Tony Hsieh — CEO of Zappos — takes a unique approach to managing his email, which he calls “Yesterbox.” Since he gets around 2,000 emails per day, he just lets them slide: “If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it’s a simple one-word reply.” This way, he tackles yesterday’s emails today, and today’s emails will be dealt with tomorrow.
5. Plan your day a year in advance
Most of us plan out our schedules a week or month in advance. If you really want to be productive, try outlining your schedule a year ahead of time. If this sounds like odd advice, that’s exactly what Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn does.
To stay on top of three companies — Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi Motors — Ghosn explains: “I know exactly where I’m going to be, what I’m going to be doing for the next 15 months. It’s not only for me, it’s mainly for the people working for me. They know when I’m going to be in Tokyo, when I’m going to be in Paris, when I’m going to be in New York, so they can organize themselves.”
6. Limit your time at the desk
One counter-intuitive way to stay productive is to give yourself more time away from the place you work most. Considering that average person in an office job spends 9.3 hours sitting each day, this isn’t just a matter productivity, but health.
Google CEO Larry Page limits his exposure to the PC as much as possible, choosing instead to work from his mobile device. Moreover, he also encourages his team to do the same. In an interview with Fortune, he said that spending at least one day per week working only on mobile devices is part of Google’s effort to maintain the focus on mobile and to keep pushing his team ahead.
7. Shut it down
Similar to Larry Page’s advice on getting away during work, it’s even more important to disconnect afterhours. In fact, one of the keys to staying productive is knowing when to put the work away.
Current AOL CEO Tim Armstrong regularly gets home from the office late in the evening. But when he does, he calls it quits … completely. After 8pm, he’s ruthlessly devoted to family time. His favorite “shut it down” activity? Reading to his daughters each and every night.
8. Mix color and science
Leaders live by data because real numbers are the only way to ensure productivity in a host of business critical areas. The trouble is: raw numbers are hard to bring to life. VMWare CEO Patrick Gelsinger has a colorful solution. He color-codes every time block in his daily schedule.
For example, meetings with partners are purple, strategy meetings are yellow. He then works with interns to tally his schedule and evaluate how his personalized, productivity rainbow stacks up against studies on time management.
9. Automate everything you can
Automating everything may not be 100% possible, but Shrad Rao, CEO of Wagepoint, recommends that business owners maximize their productivity by automating as much as possible.
Rao built his payroll automation service, which aims to make processing payroll as simple as possible for small businesses, around this philosophy. “Focus and time are rare commodities,” Rao argues. “Automating everything you can frees up your energy to be spent on the deep work that only you can do.” Whether through bots or outsourcing daily task, if you don’t need to be the one to do it … don’t.