Become more productive at work – lessons from successful CEOs
A little bit of research reveals some very creative ways to become more productive at work. Inspired by some of the most successful CEOs, here are a few suggestions of what they do, along with a few of our own.
Drink water and eat pizza!
Caterina Fake, co-founder of the photo-sharing site Flickr, believes that interaction should be constant and not crammed into meetings once a week. “You just turn around in your chair and bounce an idea off one of the other 10 people in your office. Keep the floor plan open so people can talk to each other. As the company gets bigger, keep dividing it into smaller and smaller groups.” (Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, has a two-pizza rule: project teams should be small enough to feed with two pizzas.)
When Caterina used to have meetings this is how they’d run: an agenda would be distributed before the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, everyone would drink 16oz of water and during the meeting they would all stand. Everything on the agenda would then be discussed and all decisions made. The meeting would be over when the first person had to go to the bathroom!
Organize your daily interruptions
Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns 13 New York City restaurants, has a great way to organize his daily interruptions.
His Executive Assistant, emails a daily memo, which he reads at home every night. It consists of four parts:
- The first is his next day’s schedule
- Next is a list of questions that cropped up during the day, to which he responds right away (for example, maybe someone needs his feedback on a logo)
- By aggregating them together, he avoids being interrupted throughout the day
- He gives the example of his mother calling to make a reservation for her neighbor next week at one of his restaurants, or a change in his schedule
He says, “I care about the details. This way, I don’t worry that I’m missing anything.”
Invest in human resources
Kevin P. Ryan sold his ad-serving giant for $1.1 billion, and now has a variety pack of internet start-ups in New York City. He believes the best way to be productive is to have a great team.
“I spend more time than most CEOs on human resources. I carry a little notebook with the names of 35 or 40 people in the company, and every week I look at it to make sure I’m in touch with everyone. The top eight or 10 people I’m going to see automatically. But there are always 20 or 30 people who are up-and-comers or one or two levels down, and I want them to know I’m paying attention. Once a quarter, I go through my list of contacts—a couple of thousand of them—to see if there’s anyone I should be reaching out to about a job. Intensive as all of this is, I ultimately save time, because I can delegate with confidence.”
Rank your to-do list
Barbara Corcoran, panelist on the ABC program Shark Tank, makes the next day’s to-do list before she leaves the office, and ranks everything based on its importance. Everything gets a letter: A, B, or C. Those with the rank of “A” are worked on first the next day.
She also puts advance thought into an agenda before a meeting and never leaves one without writing a follow-up list and assigning each item to a person.
Finally, she likes to go outside. “All the big ideas are on the outside. You’ll never have a creative idea at your desk.”
Krissi Barr, author of Plugged – How To Dig Out and Get The Right Things Done, is a big believer in shrinking your deadlines to work faster and with greater focus. “If I think something is going to take me an hour, I give myself 40 minutes.”
She also schedules time every week on her calendar for quiet, concentrated “PowerTime” where she only works on her most important activities.
“A ‘Stop Doing’ list is as important as a ‘To Do’ list. A ‘To Do’ list is easy, you just keep adding to it and the more you have on it, the more important you may feel. But ‘Stop Doing’ is more difficult because you have to give up some things.”
Mike Cassidy, Director at Google, says, “With the exception of one or two days a year, I work out every single day. Fitting a workout into the work day reduces stress, keeps you healthy, and is great for getting “alone time” to work out business and personal problems. When someone asks for a non-work-related meeting, see if they are up for doing the meeting while running or biking together. Work out at lunchtime and then eat at your desk.”
Avoid multi-tasking to maximise brain power
Douglas Merrill, author of “Getting Organized in the Google Era” and former CIO of Google, doesn’t believe in efficient multi-tasking.
“Multi-tasking is something we all do these days. The problem is our brains just aren’t cut out for it. When you multi-task, you’re interfering with your brain’s ability to perform at max capacity. Yes, you can walk and chew gum at the same time. You can fold laundry while talking to a friend on the phone. Clowns can ride a unicycle while juggling brightly coloured balls. These are role tasks that don’t demand a lot of brain power. But in most cases, multi-tasking=less-tasking. When you make those shifts from one context to another, you risk dropping things from your short-term memory. Do one thing at a time, minimize context shifts, maximize brain power!”
Review your productivity at the end of the day
Bob Compton, CEO of Vontoo, believes the most difficult aspect of being a CEO is you driving your day, and not letting the day drive you.
“By looking through tasks each morning and resolving to allocate the time to concentrate on the CEO priorities, the actions only the CEO can take to move the company forward, you can keep your eye on moving the company forward. At the end of the day, I always checked whether I had taken action on my top three priorities. If the answer was “no,” I stayed in the office until I made progress on them.”
If you’re not quite ready to hold meetings standing up or riding a bike, there are small things you can do to help stay productive.
- Eliminate distractions – turn off your phone, don’t even peek at your email and go to a quiet area to focus on completing a task.
- Schedule email – check email just two or three times a day. Checking it constantly creates lots of noise and kills productivity.
- Work in 60-90 minute intervals – your brain uses glucose but will have depleted most of your reserves after 60-90 minutes of concentration. So take a break. Get up, go for a walk, have a snack, do something completely different to recharge.
- Organize and prioritize – de-clutter your desk, organize your files and keep everything labelled. Create shortcuts and favorites on your computer to help locate items quickly and easily.
- Write agendas and stick to them – inefficient meetings cause a major loss in productivity.
How do you stay productive – in life or at work?