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50 of The Best Work Productivity Hacks from Successful CEOs

James Parsons
Pomodore Technique

CEOs are some of the most powerful people in business, but to reach their level of success, they’ve had to put in a lot of work. As the old adage says, work smarter, not harder. That’s one secret most modern CEOs have; they have tips, tricks, techniques, and productivity hacks to keep them working efficiently, intelligently and effectively. Many of them have shared their tips throughout the last few years, and I’ve gone and compiled what I feel are the 50 best tips out there.

David Lai: Start Your Day Right

The CEO of Hello Design recommends getting up early and starting your day off with some exercise. He prefers a bike ride. It gets his body energized, clears his head, and gives his mind a chance to think over the day ahead.

David Lai: Keep a Tangible List

Another tip from David, this time about the daily workflow. He keeps a notepad, a physical paper pad, with items he needs to complete each day written down. When he accomplishes one, he crosses it off or rips out the page. The tangible list is both a reminder of how much you’ve accomplished in the day, and a focus for ongoing productivity.

Brian Halligan: Spend More Time Thinking

The CEO of Hubspot has seen a flaw in modern productivity ideals and thinks too many people spend too much time working and not enough time thinking things through. He tries to set aside plenty of time to draw back, think, and conceptualize. Work smarter not harder, right?

Roman Stanek: View the Forest Through the Trees

The CEO of GoodData recommends taking at least one day per month, if not two, and dedicating it to long-term strategic thinking and planning. It’s easy to lose sight of where a company is headed when you’re enveloped with day to day tasks from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave.

Tim Ferriss: Remember the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is the concept that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Ferriss recommends taking a day each month to analyze your daily actions to determine which 20% of what you’re doing is effective, and to cull or optimize your remaining energy. As he says, “Being busy is not necessarily productive.”

Sulaiman Sanni: Find an Industry Mentor

Unless you’re the CEO of Google, there’s someone out there with more experience, more power, and a broader perspective than you. Finding someone who can mentor you, regardless of your current experience level is a great path to growth and efficiency. It’s great to have someone who can look over your actions and tell you just how you’re wasting your time, based on their own experiences.

Daniel Barnett: Customize Your Environment

Founder of WORK[etc], Daniel suggests tailoring your environment to where you work best. He was never productive in an office environment, so found a place he could be productive. Not everyone can work from home, or in an office, or while traveling; find the ideal location for you, and figure out how to work from there.

Julia Smolyansky: Build a Supportive Family

CEO of Lifeway, Julia is keenly aware of the support she gets from her husband while raising two daughters as a business owner. Men and women both need supportive spouses and smooth home lives if they want their work lives to be as stress-free as possible.

Dustin Moskowitz: Take Personal Days

Dustin, CEO of Asana, brings his productivity hack form a Quora post: taking a free day every week. This free day isn’t necessarily a day off; rather, it’s a day you can use to further personal projects, pet projects, or long-term goals that don’t have a place in normal business operations. The free day is where new startups are born.

Phil Libin: Minimize Company Emails

The CEO of Evernote is not a fan of email, and he’s pushed that agenda on his employees. If a discussion can be made by getting up and walking to where the other employee sits, go do it. Don’t waste everyone’s time with a lengthy email thread that derails the productivity of a dozen workers.

Paul Klipp: Make a Mind Map

President of Lunar Logic’s branch in Poland, Paul uses a particular organizational style called a mind map. Essentially, it takes a day and divides it into overarching tasks that need to be accomplished. Within each task are sub-tasks, and each section is broken down until every detail, every question, is listed down and ready to be addressed. He uses Mindmeister, but the same thing can be created in a dozen different ways.

Paul Klipp: Try the Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro, named after a particular style of egg timer, is a time management technique popularized in the 80s. It’s a way of dividing your hours into productive sections, with 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of rest, and so on with longer breaks interspersed. The breaks give you times to refresh yourself, refocus, and return to your work with a fresh outlook.

Matt DeCelles: Don’t Fear Freelancers

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done for a startup, and the cofounder of William Painter recommends outsourcing a lot of it. Programming, design, blog writing, even personal assistance can be had for surprisingly cheap rates from sites like Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, Writer Access, or Fancy Hands.

Matt DeCelles: Create Daily Focus Points

Matt’s method is simple; write the three most important tasks you have to accomplish each day on post-it notes when you start your day. Keep them in sight as a reminder that, no matter what comes up, you need to get those three things done.

Matt DeCelles: Perform a Time Audit

Sometimes you may feel like you’re being product, never realizing how much time you waste in a given day. A program like RescueTime will track what you’re doing throughout the day or week, and will analyze your tasks and times for weak points. Block the holes of wasted time and streamline your productivity.

Matt DeCelles: Rock the Tunes

Music helps you focus, but different types of music are best suited for different people and different tasks. Matt prefers electronic and house music, for the upbeat tempo and pulse, not to mention the lack of distracting lyrics.

Christian Sutardi: Follow the Two Minute Rule

The two minute rule is a rule put forth in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, so you know it’s aimed at productivity. Christain, Cofounder of Lolabox, loves it. It’s simple, too; if a task will take you less than two minutes to do, do it immediately. If it takes more time, delay it until you have a chance to do it later.

Bryan Guido Hassin: Take Airplane Days

Similar to a couple other hacks on this list, Bryan’s Airplane Days draw from his productivity on long international flights. He sets his Internet access and phone to airplane mode and focuses on getting things down for the day.

Alok Bhardwaj: Front-Load the Worst Tasks

The found of Hidden Reflex, Alok recommends starting your day with the worst, least desirable tasks you can accomplish. You get the worst out of the way and the rest of your day has nowhere to go but up.

Daniel Tan Kh: Automate Everything

There are reasonable limits to what you can automate, but if you can automate a task successfully without a loss of quality, go for it. It might take an initial investment to set up, but the savings overall will be worth it. You can even automate email with the right type of app.

Ivan Staroversky: Recognize Ultradian Rhythms

The Ultradian Rhythm is an ebb and flow in energy and concentration you experience throughout the day. Your body tells you when it’s time to take a break, and doing so will help you minimize stress and illness. Once you recognize your rhythm, you can set your own custom pomodoro schedule.

Rob Rawson: Use Gmail’s Auto-Advance

Auto-Advance is a feature in Gmail Labs that automatically opens the next email in line when you archive or delete the current message. It might only save you a second here or there, but that time can really add up, particularly when it keeps you from scanning and mentally sorting a cluttered inbox.

Katia Beauchamp: Include Response Deadlines

The cofounder of Birchbox mandates that her employees include response deadlines in their emails. It eliminates everyone flagging their content as urgent, and helps organize and prioritize responses and schedules.

Chad Dickerson: Expand the Address Book

When most people collect contact information, that’s it; a name, some contact info, and memories. The CEO of Etsy goes one step further, and makes a note about the time, place, and context of the meeting with that person. It helps for more specific situations for relationships down the line.

Aaron Shapiro: Enter Email OHIO

Not quite Nirvana, the OHIO method for email means you Only Handle It Once. If you open an email and read it, you respond. There’s no delay, no delegation, no procrastination. You started the task, now finish it.

Kaihan Krippendorff: Make Every Motion Count

Kaihan’s method is used to great effect in many fields, most notably the food service business. If you’re going somewhere – like to the kitchen in a restaurant – make sure you have something to bring or do there. Don’t get up and go to the copier empty-handed when you can make a delivery or perform another task along the way.

Dayna Steele: Use the Cloud

Dropbox is Dayna’s method of choice for sharing files. No matter where she is, she can access and share files with anyone, be they clients, agents, planners, or partners.

Eric Schmidt: Do It Better

Head Google Honcho Eric maintains a laser focus. No matter what it is you do, recognize what that thing is. Do that one thing, do it hard, and do it better than anyone else in the world can. That’s the attitude that got Google where it is today.

Various: Early to Bed and Early to Rise

One of the most common productivity tips is to simply get up earlier in the day. If you’re used to sleeping in and you get up an hour or two earlier, you’ll be astonished how much more you can get done. When you finish your day’s work and see it’s only 1pm, that’s how you know it really works.

Danny Meyer: Cluster Interruptions

When you have the luxury of an assistant to screen your interactions, you can get them to compile a list of questions and interruptions for designated times. When you take a break, deal with the list, then get back to work.

Alexis Ohanian: No Really, Outsource

There’s a lot in your life you can outsource not related to business. Amazon lets you subscribe to grocery deliveries in some areas. Meal services drop ingredients ready to cook. You can outsource practically anything that’s not a bodily function.

Kevin O’Connor: Don’t Multitask

It’s been proven in neurological studies that multi-tasking is ineffective. It splits the brain to juggle jobs, but you’re doing none of them well. It’s like the adage that you only use 10% of your brain; with multitasking 10 tasks, you really are only using 10% for each. Focus on one thing at a time and get it done.

Carlos Ghosn: Limit or Eliminate Meetings

Carlos limits meetings to 90 minutes max, barring operational meetings. Half the time is presentation, the other half is discussion, and when the timer is up the meeting is over, no matter what.

Maria Sebregondi: Invest in New Technology

Take the time every six months or so to look around and investigate new apps, technologies, and gadgets that can make life easier. You never know how much time you’re wasting using outdated methods and programs you’re just used to using.

Beth Doane: Ignore the Phone

Beth lets every call that’s not scheduled go to voicemail. If the caller really needs to get in touch, her assistant’s number is in the message, and that assistant can decide if the call is important enough to go through.

Eric Casaburi: Multi-Task Properly

As mentioned above, multi-tasking can be hugely detrimental, but not if you do it properly. Eric’s method is to combine a brainless task, like exercise on a treadmill, with a mental task like a conference call. It’s not divisive multi-tasking unless you need to think just to walk, in which case you’re probably no a CEO.

Jamie Wong: Value Personal Activities

Jamie’s tip is to schedule several personal activities each week that are inviolable. She categorizes them as something to Create, something to Love, and something to Grow. For example, learning guitar is creating music, having a night for friends is for love, and taking boxing lessons is personal growth. Nothing, no matter what, can interfere with these activities.

Robert Kirkman: Be Unrelentingly Self-Punishing

Robert’s strategy is one of crushing failure and defeat, which inspires him to do better. If he needs to write five pages of content, he’ll set a goal of 12. When he “only” writes 6 or 7, he was more productive than necessary, but the artificial sense of failure drives him to get better and better. Warning: This tip won’t work for everyone.

Joe Silverman: Reward Yourself for Success

A tried and true method of improving your productivity is to reward yourself for completed tasks. Joe, founder of New York Computer Help, uses snacks and candies as incentives. As long as he sticks with it, he gets rewarded for his success.

Steve Jobs: Adapt Customer Suggestions

Jobs would compile a list of customer suggestions and, each year, pare that list down to 10 through much debate and discussion. Once that top 10 list was finalized, he would cross out the bottom 7 and focus on the top 3 ideas for the next year.

Auren Hoffman: Do Less

Doing less may seem like the opposite of a productivity hack, and it sort of is. The idea is to avoid splitting your energy and attention, and instead focus on doing anything you do to the best of your abilities.

Auren Hoffman: Learn to Say No

The prevailing attitude that the customer is always right is a good thing when it comes to customer service, but not as an attitude for the CEO. When you’re in charge, you need to know how valuable your time is, and how valuable it is to say no to the opportunities presented to you.

Gokul Nath Sridhar: Procrastinate Procrastination

Apps like Pocket allow you to store interesting items that you want to read or watch later, from YouTube videos to blog posts to anything else. Rather than wasting time with the distraction when you find it, save it for later, during leisure time.

Gadi Shamia: Make Use of Visuals

Humans learn and absorb data in graphical format a lot easier than in text, which is why infographics are so popular. Gadi suggests presenting data, conclusions and specs in visual form whenever possible.

Tim Westergren: Recognize Your Importance

As CEO, your time and attention are valuable, and you need to recognize that. Always ask yourself where you can bring the most benefit and most productivity to a situation, and be efficient with your energy.

Ivan Mazour: Prioritize Interruptions

Ivan’s go-to technique is to put his phone on silent so all communications are asynchronous and totally within his control. However, he recognizes that he needs to be available in emergencies, so he uses Tasker to set some priority contacts and give them the ability to ring through.

Evan Appleby: Forget Foot in the Door: Crawl in the Window

Evan hates the idea of messaging a generic contact email and working his way through the chain to the person he really wants to reach. Instead, he uses Rapportive to guess the email address of his desired contact and messages them directly.

Nada Aldahleh: Arrange the Perfect Environment

Different people work in different ways. Some are inspired by clutter, while others need absolute pristine desktops to work effectively. If you prefer clutter, try to arrange aesthetic clutter while keeping your actual important work in organized folders.

Nada Aldahleh: Eliminate Unhealthy Choices

A lot of us find ourselves trapped behind desks, and that can be quite unhealthy. Try to incorporate exercise and healthy choices with work, or at least replace unhealthy out-of-work activities with healthy alternatives. Better health means more energy, which means more focus and more productivity.

Himanshu Choksi: Read Correctly

A lot of the content you need to read as a CEO isn’t meant to be read in detail, it’s meant to be skimmed and the key points absorbed. Some content, though, required deep reading and attention. Learn to recognize what content falls into which category, and treat it accordingly.

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