10 Things Successful Managers Do to Stay Productive

Judging by the enormous amount of books and blog posts on the topic of productivity, you can easily realize just how hard it is for anyone to actually reach this goal of ultimate productivity. Managers, C-level executives, and entrepreneurs are facing an even bigger challenge because they are usually involved in many projects, have a lot of responsibilities, and the pressure to succeed is incredibly high. Being productive is even more compelling.

That’s why I decided to put up a list of what I found to be the productivity hacks that are both highly effective and easy to implement in no time.

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1. Have No-Meeting Day every week

I chose this one as the first hack because it’s so easy to get it done right away and it can have a tremendous impact on staying productive.

Many companies have found a trick to completely eliminate at least some of the useless meetings by creating the No-Meeting-Day-of-the-Week. The idea behind it is to give everybody at least one day a week when they can just stay focused on building products.

Managers need uninterrupted blocks of time to deal with important projects, so why not book an entire day for that? Think how much you can do by having one day free of meetings: you can focus on execution for one single project, learn something new, clean your inbox by answering all of your important emails, unsubscribe from blogs you don’t really read etc.

For the rest of the week, make sure to attend only the highly important meetings that really need your presence. You can do that by creating a system that allows you to foresee unproductive meetings before they actually happen. For example, refuse any session that doesn’t have a well-documented agenda. You’ll easily get the hang of it 😉

2. Do fewer things & single-task

This may seem counterproductive at first, but if you think about it, one of the biggest problems today is that we try to do too many things at once.

In a Harvard Business Review article called The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, author Tony Schwartz explains why 25 to 50% of people feel burnt out at work. His theory revolves around the fact that people juggle too many things at the same time, without actually focusing on the one single task that needs to be done. If they would switch from multi to single-tasking, a lot more things would go into the “done” bucket everyday, and you’ll become so much more productive.

Going further with his theory, Schwartz explains that people are unable to deeply focus on a single task because they are surrounded by a lot of noise: “urgent” emails, social media updates, phone calls etc.

Which brings me to my next hack.

3. Remove the noise

Social media is one of the biggest noise-inducing instruments we have on our hands these days. While more and more professionals have started to realize how spending too much time on social media can harm productivity, there is a widely spread belief that social networks help us stay connected. For managers, connection with partners, peers, and the target audience is absolutely essential.

At this point, I believe that social media ends up affecting our productivity because we look at it the wrong way. We don’t see social media platforms for what they really are, and that is entertainment.

Scientist and book author Dr. Cal Newport has never had a social media account in his life, and his career was never affected by that. In fact, he feels like this has helped him be more productive, more focused, and happier. In his, I dare to say courageous, TEDTalk he suggests a radical move to reduce the noise in our lives: quit social media!

Dr. Cal Newport makes a good point by saying social media is mostly entertainment, but if you want to use it for work, then treat it accordingly. As a manager or CEO you probably don’t have to quit social media to be more productive, but you can schedule your time on Twitter or Reddit just like you do with any other task. Look at it as work, and it will stop being a burden on your productivity 😉

4. “No” stands for being productive

Billionaire Warren Buffett once said:

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

It’s so easy for working professionals today to fall into the trap of of saying “yes” to most things, and fill their schedule with activities that don’t matter on the long run.

So if you find yourself in the situation described above, there’s only one way to approach it: ruthlessly say “no” to things that aren’t highly important. Think twice before you decide whether you should attend a conference you were invited to or not. Same goes for meetings, speaking engagements, internal presentations, new features for your products, and more.

Think about it this way: you saying “no” to unimportant projects means that you say “hell, YEAH!” to the things that really matter to you and your business. Remember Steve Jobs 🙂

5. Use your brain for processing, not storage

The more you do, the more things need to be done, but it doesn’t mean you have to remember everything. This is actually one of the key takeaways from David Allen’s famous book Getting Things Done (also known as the GTD method).

Clear up your mind by implementing a system. It can be the GTD or any other system that works for you, but just don’t try to store everything in your head.

6. Prioritize first things first

One way to get things out of your mind and on paper (or in a productivity app, for that matter) is to prioritize correctly.

Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrant method, described in the book First Things First, is a task and time management method that suggests to organize your tasks into four categories: tasks that are important and need to be done immediately, important but not due soon, due soon but not important, and neither important or urgent.

Stephen Covey's Four Quadrant

The key here is to distinguish between important and urgent (Due soon) tasks:

  • Important are the activities that help achieving your goals.
  • Urgent are the activities that demand immediate action, and are often associated with achieving someone else’s goal.

Inevitably, most people have the tendency to focus on things that are due immediately, instead of the important things. It also happens that the urgent things are also important.

To live a less stressful life we have to focus on solving the (1) and (2) categories, before we turn our attention to the unimportant tasks. Stephen Covey’s approach is designed to take your mind off the urgent, but not important tasks (3). These are the ones that take a lot of your time, without freeing you of the stress of the important tasks.

7. Delegate

Micro-management can literally drive a manager insane. Ultra-successful leaders masterminded the art of delegation. This is how they manage to stay productive.

In his talk on Time Management, professor Randy Pausch mentions delegation as one of the most important tools one can use to achieve great results in life.

You can watch the entire presentation on YouTube or read our article on the 8 Rules of Successful Delegation which summarize Pausch’s advice.

8. Use tools to automate processes

There are tools designed for almost anything you can think of. That’s why managers have the difficult job of choosing the right tools and sticking to them. The best way to do it is to identify the main areas you could optimize and chose the tools accordingly. Potential areas could be:

  • Meetings
  • Team communication and collaboration
  • Project management
  • Sales
  • Customer support

9. Exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep

We all need energy and motivation to get through all the challenges we face, and this comes from a good work-life balance.

In his best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey mentions a healthy lifestyle as an essential habit for becoming productive. He argues that one’s most important resource is their own physical energy.

It might sound like a platitude, but if you’re lacking sleep or you’re too stuffed after lunch, it’s impossible to focus, no matter how hard you try. So sharpen the saw if you want to keep sawing.

10. Make it home for dinner

Highly-productive managers make it home for dinner every night. Successful leaders don’t just work long hours everyday trying to tick more items off their to-do list. Instead, they think through their priorities, schedule time for each, and then it’s time to go home.

Andy Grove, Intel’s former CEO used to arrive at work by eight in the morning, but never left later than six, and he never brought work home with him. Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, leaves work at half past five every day so she can have dinner with her kids at six. And they are not the only ones who manage to have a highly successful career without sacrificing one of the most valuable things in life: family.

Some people fall into the trap of thinking that “Crazy busy” is a badge of honor. They are burnt out and overwhelmed by the tasks on their overfull plate, but at the same time they know there must be a better way.

The good news is that change doesn’t have to be BIG. A smaller step, such as saying “no” more often to so-called opportunities, can bring tremendous improvement.

Skeptical on how much improvement can a small action do? Then I’ll leave you with one last reading recommendation: How 1% Improvement Can Make a Ton of Difference.

Let me know in a comment below what you chose to implement right away. I’m looking forward to find out which hack turned out to be the most effective for you.

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