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5 CEOs share their best productivity tips

Find out how these heads of growing companies get things done.

5 CEOs share their best productivity tips
[Photo: Agê Barros/Unsplash]

When you’re running a growing company, many issues compete for your attention. From human resources priorities to operational issues to growth plans, you’ve got to fit all the needs of your company into your day. So it’s not surprising that CEOs have developed some effective productivity practices and tips. Here, some successful company heads share their go-to methods for getting it all done.

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Keep your high-energy times open

Sallie Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest, a goal-based investing platform for women:

I have spent a lot of time figuring out how I work best and when I’m most productive. I organize my day around that. I am most creative first thing in the morning and, somehow bizarrely, after I turn out the light at night. I really try to leave time open in the morning because, many days, I wake up with a rush of ideas and I don’t want to lose them. The team here knows they’re going to get the 4 a.m. Slack from me. The rule is they don’t have to answer until they get in later.

Also, I can sit all night trying to think, but as I’m going to sleep, then the ideas come. I keep the iPhone next to the bed, and will often have five or six things come to mind. That way, I can just jot them down and not lose them.

Focus on the 5%

Bedros Keuilian, founder and CEO of Fit Body Boot Camp, a fast-growing group fitness training brand:

A few years ago, I was trying to do almost everything myself, like thinking up marketing campaigns, managing our team, handling customer support, doing bookkeeping, writing payroll checks, creating social media content, and more. I was running out of time, feeling stressed and quickly burning out.

Then it hit me: Only 5% of the things I do are tasks that actually move the money needle, and those were the critical things that I needed to focus on 100% of the time. Everything else can be delegated to team members or subcontractors who have the skill sets and abilities to perform the job. This has been a game-changer for my business as we continue to have massive growth year after year.

Be ruthless about eliminating interruptions

Dustin Moskovitz, CEO of Asana, a productivity and project management platform:

My biggest hurdle to productivity is interruptions. To accomplish something that requires deep thinking, I need to have at least an hour–ideally two to three–of contiguous free time on my calendar. This requires careful planning of group meetings that I do need to attend, and diligence to avoid unnecessary engagements.

We practice “No Meeting Wednesdays” to ensure that everyone at the company gets a large block of time to focus on heads-down work without having to fit it in between meetings. This may be our most valuable cultural practice, and I encourage every company to consider adopting it.

Additionally, we reflect frequently on whether our group activities are getting enough ROI to justify the interrupt and time expenditure. Recently, we decided to cut the number of all-hands meetings almost by half to give more time back to the team for focused work.

Define the goal

Andrew Lansing, president and CEO of Levy Restaurants, an innovative food service and hospitality brand:

I have found that these three steps can overcome any productivity hurdle: First, the entire team should identify what the true goal is for a project, and make sure everyone involved is focused on that goal. Second, we determine if there is a true finite ending, even if we can’t yet see what it is. Finally, we identify the various challenges standing in the way of achieving that ending and force ourselves to ignore anything that doesn’t help us overcome those challenges.

It’s easy to avoid the obvious distractions like unnecessary meetings, but it’s the innocuous distractions that can do real damage to productivity. They often seem small, and there can be an immediate satisfaction in dealing with them, but they inevitably turn into major time drains and take your focus away from where it needs to be.

Get ideas out of your head

Carl Dorvil, founder and CEO of GEX Management, a publicly traded professional employer organization:

I can sometimes get caught in my head. The challenge for me is that my head gets so crammed with stuff that I feel overwhelmed. I need to communicate and delegate. So I’ve identified someone whom I’ve worked with for a long time who knows me well. I regularly have brain drain sessions with her. Sometimes we use a dry erase board. Other times we just write on the office window. Not pretty, but effective. Writing out what we’re discussing creates a linear map we can follow. Once the thoughts inside me get to the outside, she then helps me identify who on our team can pull weight and in what direction. It’s helped me see that I’m not alone and that we have resources other than myself to execute tasks.

I also manage my business conversations. I’ve learned that not only do I have a short attention span, but some people just like to hear themselves talk. And others drag on with necessary detail. With only a few exceptions, I now limit meetings to one hour. I also set parameters before we launch and then remind those in the meeting periodically how much time we have remaining. It helps keep us on point and makes us more efficient.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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