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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

15 productivity hacks that keep business leaders on track

Implement these workflow strategies when deadlines are quickly approaching.

15 productivity hacks that keep business leaders on track
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

When you are stretched thin with plenty on your to-do list, believe it or not, the best thing you can do is to relax (mentally and physically) periodically throughout the workday. By doing so, you’ll refuel your energy level, be more focused and productive as you push past the finish line to reach your short- and long-term goals.

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Below, experts from Fast Company Executive Board describe their most effective productivity hacks during crunch time and how useful they are when you are trying to get the most done.

1. ALWAYS HAVING A BACK-UP PLAN IN PLACE

When an eleventh-hour health scare pushes an event online or top-tier talent decides to perform from home instead of in person, success relies on decisions you made months before. At VIVA, we have satellite planning teams in place who are directed to work on scenarios B and C, even while plan A is moving ahead full steam.  In that way, the quality of what we do remains high despite the time squeeze. – Lorne Greene, VIVA Creative

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2. PAIRING UP WITH A FOCUS BUDDY

I use focusmate.com which offers distraction-free productivity time blocks. It basically pairs you with someone for an hour-long virtual co-working session where you both focus on getting things done. – Brian Weinberg, Foundation for Regeneration

3. ELIMINATING NON-URGENT DISTRACTIONS

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Turn off the WiFi. Seriously. By temporarily eliminating the endless stream of emails and instant messages, you can truly focus on the priority tasks at hand, likely completing them more quickly and at a higher quality than would be possible with interruptions. Block this focus time clearly on your calendar, and give 1-2 trusted employees an alternate channel to reach you, such as via text. – Shani Harmon, Stop Meeting Like This

4. TAKING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL BREAKS

It may sound counterintuitive, but the busier you are, the more you should take short exercise or meditation breaks throughout the day. This will not only keep you energized and relaxed, but you’ll be much more productive, with your mind functioning at a significantly higher level than in a non-stop slog. If you’re in business-to-business meetings, plan to end each one five minutes early to build this in. It works! – Marc Inzelstein, Indiggo – Return on Leadership

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5. FOLLOWING THE ‘QUALITY OVER QUANTITY’ RULE

People overcrowd to-do lists, which ultimately creates chaos. An effective method is to follow the “quality over quantity” rule. Instead of trying to accomplish ten tasks, choose three to four of the most imperative and stick to those only. With too many to-dos, our minds can get sidetracked and lost in anxiety overload. This way, you can be focused on a handful of items and do them really well. – Josh Perlstein, Response Media

6. CUTTING BACK ON UNNECESSARY MEETINGS

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Be stingy with your time! Challenge if the meetings on your calendar are absolutely for you as a participant or to be informed. If FYI, an email update should be sufficient. For key meetings, instead of defaulting to an hour, challenge if 30 minutes or 15 minutes is sufficient. For those key meetings, require the organizer to have a clear agenda with objectives. Your focus and time are precious. – Ed Beltran, Fierce, Inc.

7. SETTING UP AUTOMATED TASKS

First, don’t wait until crunch time to implement productivity hacks. Implement before the crunch. Next, identify everything you do on a regular basis, including any recurring purchases or tasks on your list. Finally, you should utilize automation. For example, set up auto-pay on recurring bills and pre-schedule regular purchases. Anything you can put on autopilot will help you better deal with the next crunch. – Camille Preston, AIM Leadership, LLC

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8. CHOOSING AN OPTIMAL OR COLLABORATIVE WORKING ENVIRONMENT

If the crunch time situation requires collaboration, assemble the right people around you in a physical or virtual room. If it requires extreme individual focus and attention to detail, choose the right place and gather the right tools or information you’ll need to dedicate the quiet and brainpower required to meet the deadline. – Steve Dion, Dion Leadership

9. FOCUSING ON THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS.

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Give your team guidance on the three most important things to focus on. Prioritize and dedicate focused time to those activities that move the needle on what’s most important. Cancel all meetings not directly related to those things for all involved. Freedom and focus will accelerate results that matter. – Matt Domo, FifthVantage

10. STAYING ACTIVE OUTSIDE

A productivity hack for me is some form of exercise. It could be going for a walk rain or shine, a couple laps of cross country skiing or taking our dog for a run. The energy and endorphins then feed back into the work as I get back to the desk. Throw in a hug from my husband and one of his “world-famous” (well at least in my world) chai lattes and I feel like I can conquer anything! – Leigh Burgess, Bold Industries Group, Inc.

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11. GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S REST

Ensure a full good night’s rest (at least eight to nine hours) and exercise daily for 30 minutes. Both are often overlooked and truly fuel you for optimal performance. – Britton Bloch, Navy Federal

12. CHANGING YOUR SCENERY

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Let the sunshine in! During stressful times, working outside, near open space or in a room full of greenery can create a sense of ease that will in turn increase your productivity. A change of scenery can be the perfect jolt during times when productivity is crucial. – Brandon Pena, BrandON Media Group

13. SILENCING YOUR NOTIFICATIONS

The real key to productivity, and making a simple checkbox of the to-do list method work, is defending your own time. In crunch times, the best thing you can do for yourself is to silence your notifications, decline any nonurgent meetings and settle in a space optimized for what you need to be able to focus on. – Bilal Aijazi, Polly

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14. MASTERING YOUR WORKFLOW FOR 90 MINUTES

Mastering flow is key to maximizing productivity and creativity. In an optimal state of flow of 90 minutes, we could achieve as much as we would in a couple of hours of work. There are several triggers to activate flow, among which having a clear objective that is motivating, having zero distractions, engaging in an activity that leverages our strengths, and ensuring that we are well rested beforehand. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5

15. STREAMLINING YOUR EMAIL PROCESS

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A mentor once shared some very tactical and practical productivity advice.  He said, “Only look at an email once and either respond to it, delete it, or move it to another folder.  If you are not ready to take action, do not look at it because you are wasting time.” – Paola Doebel, Ensono

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