Have you ever finished a long day only to find that your to-do list has remained the same? Even for the most organized among us, it’s easy to get sidetracked and pulled off course by the constant requests and distractions that come our way.
So, how do the world’s top CEOs manage to keep their corporations on track while balancing a healthy personal life? We’ve analyzed the work habits of successful executives and identified three productivity tricks they use that can help you knock out every item on your list.
1. Organize Your Day to Minimize Multitasking
It’s easy to get distracted in the workplace with emails, phone calls, and instant messaging competing for our attention.
Attempting to juggle multiple tasks at a time may make us feel like we’re accomplishing more. In reality, multitasking can decrease productivity by up to 40%. It can also affect the quality of your work, having a more disastrous impact on your IQ than working without sleep.
CEOs structure their day to define specific times for each task on their agenda. This includes dedicated windows for answering emails and returning phone calls. Elon Musk is famous for following this method, scheduling his time in increments as small as 5 minute periods.
To mimic this process in your own life, move your to-do list into your calendar. Instead of having one long list of items hanging above your head, setting up formal times to manage each task, and honoring that schedule, makes each goal more manageable.
2. Get The Most Out of Meetings
We’ve all been in meetings that could have been an email. The world’s top CEOs are meticulous in choosing their meetings wisely. Instead of accepting every appointment that comes their way, they attend only those where their input is critical.
Top leaders have no time to waste. So meetings without clear agendas are often tossed to the side.
In each meeting, participants are responsible for doing their homework and making decisions within the scheduled period. This “touch it once” mentality ensures that they never find themselves in an ongoing series of meetings crippled by indecisiveness.
To ensure you get the most out of your meetings, follow this model by inviting only a limited number of critical participants. Define the optimal number of attendees in a meeting.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos came up with the “Two-Pizza Team Rule.” It states that if you can’t feed the people in your meeting with two pizzas or less, there are too many participants. With fewer members, there are clear responsibilities for each. Everyone has time to contribute, and debates are less likely to spiral out of control.
Make sure you set clear expectations with a defined agenda outlining the topic and expectations for each participant. Hold your partners (and yourself) accountable for coming prepared to make decisions and send meeting minutes to recap the session.
3. Make Time for Your Mind and Body
Although it may sound counterintuitive, working longer hours doesn’t lead to heightened productivity. Studies show that after working more than 50 hours in a week, productivity drops off sharply. Instead of slaving around the clock, top CEOs make sure they dedicate time each day to exercise and spend with family and friends.
Exercise has been shown to benefit your physical health and productivity by increasing blood flow to the brain, improving concentration and mental stamina. Engaging in physical activity during the day also helps you sleep better, resulting in higher energy levels and better moods.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, is well-known for his vigorous fitness routine. As he stated in an interview with CNBC in 2019, “I love to look after the body. If I feel great, I can achieve anything.”
Many business leaders also integrate small breaks into their day to refresh their minds, operating more like sprinters than long-distance runners. Brian Halligan, CEO of the $8 billion company HubSpot, for instance, dedicates half an hour of his day to taking a lunchtime nap.
While napping may not be feasible for most of us, psychologists suggest that taking up to an 8-minute break every so often increases productivity when you return to a task. However, they caution that not all breaks are made equal. To get the most out of your breaks, focus on positive, calming activities.
A great way to adopt this method is by applying the Pomodoro technique. This strategy incorporates 25-minute intervals of productive sprints followed by a 5-minute break to refresh your mind for the next task. You can do this with a kitchen timer or one of many phone apps.
Practice Makes Perfect
Building any new skill takes time and practice. It can take days or even months before a new habit feels automatic. Don’t be discouraged by hiccups in your progress. Even executives need to get back on track every now and then.