The lives of all CEOs, business owners, managers and entrepreneurs are getting increasingly busy. On one hand, it’s a good thing - increased revenue and marketplace visibility are always pluses. However, with that kind of growth comes a much longer daily to-do list – one that you must manage proficiently.
Discover my keys to using your time efficiently as a CEO:
When you occupy a leadership position at your organization, your time becomes a valuable and increasingly sought-after resource. The stakes are high too, since time marches on regardless of your schedule, work habits or management style. In other words, it’s the only resource you can’t replenish over time.
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying: “There aren’t enough hours in a day.” You only get so many of them every day, from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep at night. You must make every minute count.
For me, that’s the real key to productivity. It’s not necessarily about “finding the time” for something in your schedule – it’s about making the most of the time you already have at your disposal. Prioritizing, delegating, trusting, unplugging and learning are all aspects of how exceptional business leaders are some of the most productive human beings on the planet.
Today, I’d like to share some simple tricks that I’ve learned over the years to help me streamline my day-to-day and maximize my efficiency. Through diligence and tweaking to suit your needs, I believe that anyone can use this insight to transform an overwhelming workload into a manageable slate of daily tasks.
Prioritize Your Daily Tasks with Lists
As a CEO, I can say one thing with absolute certainty: the more successful you are, the more bloated your daily or weekly to-do lists will become.
It’s not just top-level management who feel this either. Recent statistics show that the average office worker gets over 100 emails daily. It stands to reason that, no matter what your level of responsibility is at an organization, a lack of prioritization means your tasks will start piling up.
As a CEO, business owner or executive, even if you have a dedicated team around you that help get some of that work done, there will always be another email to answer, problem to solve or innovation to contemplate. You need to decide which queries get answered, which ideas get pursued, and in what order that happens.
So how do you prevent that continuous influx of duties from taking over your life? Here are some prioritization hacks that help me better manage my daily tasks:
- Choose a group of 5-10 items on your to-do list and focus on getting those things done before you end your day. The exact number will depend on how much time is needed to accomplish each individual task;
- All other outstanding requests, barring emergencies, should be relegated to the on-deck circle. That doesn’t mean they won’t get done at all, just not today; and
- Don’t try and take on everything at once. The quality of your work will diminish and prevent you from being a productive asset for your team and organization.
Learn How to Say “No”
With an increased commitment to efficiency and prioritization comes the tough task of saying no to people.
I’m not going to lie to you – saying no is very difficult, especially when the person on the receiving end is one of your staff members or fellow managers. Just remember: You won’t always be able to please everyone, so trying to do so is foolish. Learning how to graciously turn down or delay responding to certain requests will benefit everyone involved.
Saying no should also come with kindness and respect. Communicating that message in a standoffish, abrupt or rude manner won’t reflect well on you or your organization and can hurt your organization’s revenue opportunities down the road.
If you need to turn someone or something down, keep these tips in mind:
- Frame rejections in a positive light, such as: “My company is taking off right now and I need to devote more of my time to help my team realize our ambitious goals. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to connect right now;”
- Always leave the door open for future connections – any initial “no” shouldn’t be permanent either; and
- Keep your word if you say you’re going to follow up at a later date. No one likes being ghosted, so be sure to reconnect at your earliest convenience.
Pick Your Meetings Wisely
Using your time efficiently as a CEO, owner or manager can be as simple as attending fewer meetings.
That doesn’t mean you’re not involved with decision-making but establishing ground rules when it comes to your attendance will go a long way to decluttering your schedule. Essentially, you need to pick your meetings wisely.
Let’s face it: You don’t really need to be involved in every stage or of a given project nor do you necessarily need to sign off on every decision. Doing so would put you right on that fine line that separates a leader from a micromanager, the latter being a title I prefer to avoid.
What does into strong meeting selection and attendance policy? Try some of these tactics out:
- Attend meetings at the beginning and end of project timelines. This allows you to participate in conceptual elements as well as the rollout of the final product;
- Ask yourself if you really need to be there. Seriously – if you’re there with no purpose, no one will benefit from your presence; and
- Determine if someone else should lead the discussion or even be the one who attends the meeting instead of you.
Listen & Support During Meetings
I want to get back to meetings for a few minutes. When I attend any meetings with employees, partners, investors or anyone else, my job is simple: to listen.
Of course, I’ll give feedback and express my opinion when it’s needed but, for the most part, I’m not the focal point of meetings I attend. I’m not the person driving the knowledge transfer – I prefer to take a step back and participate only if necessary.
My role in meetings is comprised of the following:
- Supporting my team during the decision-making process;
- Offering suggestions/improvements for ideas or products in development; and
- Giving staff members approval and/or tools that they need to accomplish their tasks.
If there are problems you see coming that others might be unaware of in the moment, you also need to speak up, since telling your staff that you foresaw setbacks after they happen won’t help anybody.
Trust Your Team and Delegate Work
Successful businesses who grow and evolve over time all have one thing in common: great leaders who trust those they work with.
If you can’t give your staff members the space they need to get their work done, then why exactly did you hire them in the first place? Trust is a fundamental building block for any CEO, owner or manager, and you won’t get far if you don’t use it properly.
With that trust comes the ability to delegate tasks efficiently. You may ask: “But what if someone makes a mistake? What if that mistake (gasp!) ends up wasting time, money or other resources?” That is the short-term price of sustainable long-term growth, for better or worse.
Good delegation comes from a leader’s belief in their staff and tolerance for them to not only make those mistakes but learn from them as well. If you try and do their jobs for them, you’ll bright back where you started with an unmanageable workload.
Learn the Power of Unplugging
When I have a big project or an urgent task focus on, it’s normal for me to unplug completely. Turning off my notifications and silencing any other external distractions that will break my concentration significantly boosts my productivity because I commit fully to this process.
I don’t leave my team hanging either. I’ll be open about when I need to sit in my office or in one of our common areas to work. That way, delegating tasks is easier and my staff knows if they need to adjust their own workflows to optimize their days.
Other important unplugging tips include:
- Make it a regular occurrence. Set aside multiple time blocks per week for solo work and treat it like a meeting;
- Unplug when it’s best for you. If you’re naturally more productive during certain times of day, mold your schedule and unplugging sessions to reflect this.
- Unplug completely when you have time off. Don’t be that person who’s constantly checking emails, Slack or social media when you’re not at the office and embrace unplugging to its fullest.
Set Up an Efficient Email Workflow
I mentioned it earlier, but one key element of every CEO’s day is dealing with emails.
I get a lot of them every day and, without a consistent, efficient structure, unanswered messages would pile up quickly. Prioritization is important here, but so is structure. How you set yourself up for success when it comes to emails can mean the difference between having a productive day or not.
Here are some easy email hacks that have helped me manage my inbox with ease:
- Set up different subfolders in your inbox for specific projects, verticals, clients and so on;
- Flag or color-code message threads to keep track of conversations and quickly find the information you’re looking for; and
- Treat your inbox as a checklist of sorts. This may not work for everyone, but letting your incoming messages dictate what gets done when can help cut down on inefficiency.
Since email apps and how people communicate through this medium is constantly evolving, don’t be afraid to tweak your inbox system to suit those evolving variables. Continual optimization is something everyone should strive for.
Make Exercise & Healthy Living a Priority
With hectic schedules and a laundry list of obligations, it can be difficult for anyone in a leadership position to take the time necessary to focus on one of the most important things in life – your health.
Regular exercise and an emphasis on healthy living isn’t just a priority for me and many of the business professionals I work with – it also represents a commitment to your own individual productivity. A healthy body sets the table for a healthy mind, which in turn allows you to maximize your productivity.
Exercising early in the morning or during my lunch hour can help me relax, sweat out any bad vibes and re-energize. That way, I can tackle each new project with a fresh mindset and a clear-eyed perspective.
Eating healthy, especially if your duties include being on the road a lot, is crucial as well. Making smart choices on the road will go a long way to keeping you focused and avoid fatigue during your day.
Learn in Your Downtime
Finally, there’s using your downtime productively. I’m not talking about working on weekends or using 1-2 hours of alone time at home to squeeze in more email responses. Instead, use breaks in your day to make the most of your learning or inspiration opportunities.
For instance, I love diving into a thought-provoking book or an inspirational autobiography when I’m not working. It allows me to digest some potentially great ideas outside of the office setting and apply some of that knowledge to my day-to-day. Remember: Knowledge is power
When I’m able to, I also look forward to casual networking opportunities with passionate business professionals. The setting doesn’t really matter to me – coffee, drinks or something else entirely. I’m always enthusiastic about exchanging thoughts with others and picking their brains about topics I’m passionate about. You never know what you’ll learn in the process.
These are just some of the tricks I use daily that have helped me grow and improve my leadership skill set over time. As a CEO, you can’t run a successful business on your own; it takes a team of dedicated people who will be looking to you to set a good example of how to work efficiently. Through prioritization, organization, consistency and healthy habits, you can ensure that your organization achieves great things.
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