Productivity tips from successful CEOs

By David Nield
Productivity tips

The refrain "there just aren't enough hours in the day" will be uttered across many desks and offices during the course of today — managing time and productivity levels in our busy, always-on culture is getting more and more of a challenge. With this in mind, we've pulled together some of the best tips, hacks and tricks from CEOs across the world: find out how these business people stay on top of their game.

1. Focus on a few tasks

Kevin O'Connor is an established entrepreneur and is currently the CEO of the FindTheBest comparison website. His advice is to forget the bigger picture and instead focus on the 3-5 most important tasks of the day. "Most people tend to focus on the 100 things they should do, which can be overwhelming and result in the failure to actually accomplish anything of importance... I don't get distracted by those other unimportant things that don't ultimately contribute to my success of the success of my company," he told FastCompany.

Your brain will thank you if you keep focused on one task at a time rather than several: neuroscientists have proved that multi-tasking effectively splits the brain up into smaller and smaller chunks, which means you have fewer gray cells to tackle the work at hand. You might feel better if you're juggling multiple jobs at once, but in fact you're getting through them at a slower rate.

2. Limit your meetings

There aren't many activities that suck up more time for fewer results than meetings. Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has the solution: be strict about the length and number of the meetings that you hold. "For meetings on a single topic that aren't regular operational meetings, I'm very strict," he said when speaking to Fortune. "The maximum is one hour and 30 minutes. Fifty percent of the time is for the presentation, 50 percent is for discussion."

"A meeting is a gathering where people speak up, say nothing and then all disagree," wrote Thomas Kayser in his book Mining Group Gold. If it's not absolutely necessary, don't hold a meeting at all. If you must have them, make sure they are focused, punctual and effective.

3. Wake up earlier

There are many CEOs and successful business executives who preach about the benefits of getting out of bed as soon as you can, including Virgin chief Richard Branson. In an interview with Business Insider, Branson revealed that he gets up with the sunrise at 5.45am every day. He manages to eat breakfast and run through an exercise routine while many of us are still dreaming. Other CEOs who get up in the early hours include PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi and General Electric's Jeff Immelt.

It's still important to make sure you get enough sleep, and good quality sleep at that: with that in mind, resist the temptation to rely on your snooze button every morning. Each time you try and nod off again, your sleep cycle resets itself, so it's likely that you'll feel even worse the next time you wake up.

4. Utilize apps and technology

You may not feel that you have the time to find the right apps and gadgets to steer your way through the working day, but once you have a system that works it can transform your productivity levels. Moleskine co-founder Maria Sebregondi told Lifehacker that she uses her company's own physical notebooks together with the digital storage of Evernote to keep her life in sync. For collaborating on projects without having to leave your inbox for a separate application, you can try our own Hiver.

Of course, the arrival of lifelogging tools and fitness trackers — from the Jawbone Up to the Narrative clip — means that you can keep an eye on your productivity from one day to the next and make adjustments accordingly. There are also apps such as RescueTime which can help you monitor just how much of your day you're spending on non-essential tasks.

5. Leave space to think

With so much to do and take care of, long-term thinking and contemplation often gets pushed by the wayside, but this kind of prolonged reflection can be incredibly refreshing and beneficial. HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan, in an interview with Business Insider: "I try to think a lot and try to increase the amount of time I spend thinking about things versus on the phone or in a meeting... I see people working a lot, and I say what's your time spent thinking versus working?"

Your thinking time could involve a walk around the park, a set period of deep meditation or anything in between, but there are multiple benefits for your health, happiness, social life, self-control, brain and productivity, as neatly collected by Psychology Today. As with any other part of your body, resting the brain is as important as exercising it.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for improving productivity — we each have our own setup and ways of working — but hopefully some of the ideas mentioned above can help bring more sense and order to your professional life. Do you have any productivity tricks of your own?

About the author

David is a freelance journalist who writes about technology and the Web.

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