Productivity hacks


19th April, 2022

7 proven productivity hacks from real business leaders

Get the most out of your work day with these seven professional productivity hacks from international business leaders.

How do you measure your productivity at work? Do you use productivity apps like Hive and Todoist, or do you turn to blogs on the topic?

Whatever your process, sometimes we just hit a creative roadblock and struggle to get things done and keep moving forward.

If you find yourself struggling on occasion, just know you’re not an exception. According to research, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes in an eight-hour workday. That’s a bottom line with a lot of room for improvement.

Yet, there is no denying that the top business leaders across industries optimise their talent, time, productivity, and workload differently from the rest of us. Let’s listen to what some of these leaders say about raising productivity levels in daily life.

1. Get an early start

“One should undertake the most complex and important tasks when their energy levels are at their peak.” – Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse.

Your energy levels are at their peak just after you have woken up. Many business leaders swear by doing the most critical tasks soon after waking up as a helpful productivity hack. Your energy levels are high, and your mind is sharp. Hence, your creativity and problem-solving ability are also at their peak. It helps to look at issues from different perspectives to find the best solution.

For example, Ernest Hemingway was known for rising and writing his best work early in the morning. Addressing and resolving complex issues first thing in the morning gives you a sense of achievement and productivity that keeps you motivated for the rest of the day.

Unless your job is to answer emails for others, I suggest not doing routine tasks first thing in the morning. By all means, read your emails to keep abreast of developments, but don’t waste your creative energy on a routine task like clearing your inbox. Instead, create your to-do list for the day. That will allow you to use your creative energy to evaluate the issues that you need to tackle and find creative solutions to resolve them.

Early mornings are also a great time to work out and engage in physical activity. Getting an early start and getting some exercise in is a double productivity hack. It’s good for your health, and the exercise gets your adrenaline going, keeping your energy levels high for the rest of the day.

2. Set a schedule for tackling emails

“Read and flag your emails early and reply at set a time or schedule.” – Tilman J. Fertitta, CEO of Landry’s Inc.

Responding to emails can be a time-consuming task. Just trying to stay on top of emails can be draining. They are an essential part of running a business, as a primary touchpoint with your colleagues, clients, and suppliers, but  many business leaders only read their emails twice a day – in the morning and before ending their day.

Being disciplined with email helps business leaders free up time to achieve more productive tasks during the day. Schedule half an hour between the two ends of the day to send your replies. The time limit will force you to send short and to the point replies and, in the long run, teach you to think through issues effectively and concisely.

If there are meetings that could’ve been emails instead, the reverse is also true. Productivity gurus recommend limiting your email replies to five lines at the most. If there’s anything that requires more than five lines or sentences, you might need to call the sender or schedule a meeting so you can thresh out the details.

You may also automate your email responses. Let’s say you’re starting an online business where leads and orders come through emails. Look at integrating an auto-reply service in your workflow that sends automated replies to routine mails. You can also use the service to send out interim replies that tell the customer when you will personally respond to their emails. That will keep the sender updated and enable you to respond to all emails within 24 hours.

3. Model a healthy work-life balance

“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” – Hillary Clinton.

Change your perspective. Don’t look at work-life balance as an achievement. Instead, look at it as just another daily cycle.

There is resounding evidence that points to long working hours negatively impacting the employees and the company productivity. Yet, many professionals struggle to overcome this deeply-ingrained habit of working long hours.

Long and stressful working hours are the leading reasons for employee burnout, which directly impact the company’s overall productivity. What’s called for is a greater degree of reflexivity, or the ability to continually evaluate one’s judgment, beliefs, and practices to ensure we’re leading a balanced life. There are four basic steps for reflexivity and establishing your new normal.

  • Pause and denormalise – Step back and ask yourself what’s causing stress and unbalance in your life. How are these factors impacting the engagement and productivity of your job and your personal life? Reset the norm of your work-life compass.
  • Pay attention to your emotions – Once you’ve reset your norm, ask yourself how your current situation makes you feel. Do you feel energised, fulfilled, and satisfied? Or are you angry, frustrated, and sad? Top-of-mind awareness of your emotional state is a big motivator for changing long-held beliefs and habits.
  • Reset your priorities – Redefining how you think and staying in touch with your emotions empowers you to put things into perspective. It clarifies your priorities and the ones that need to be realigned. Ask yourself: “What am I willing to sacrifice to gain a better work-life balance?” Learn to differentiate between critical, important, and relevant priorities. Ask yourself what regrets you already carry and what will get added if things stay unchanged.
  • Consciously implement changes – Once you’ve reorganised your priorities and established the options that help change your thinking and behavior, it’s time to implement the changes consciously. The change could be public regarding your colleagues’ expectations or private, where you change your work patterns without changing expectations.

Finally, these four steps are not a one-time, fill and forget activity. Instead, it’s a cycle of ongoing re-evaluation and improvement.

4. Clarity and conciseness

“It is proven that short, clear, and direct emails are more effective than long ones.” – Auren Hoffman, Investor and CEO at Safegraph.

Hoffman should know. As a startup founder looking to grow his business, he frequently sent short, four-to-five line emails to Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer. He usually got replies within a couple of hours. It’s important to note that clarity of thought and conciseness go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.

Mental clarity brings greater certainty to our life. That clarity requires focus. You won’t achieve this clarity if you’re multitasking all the time.

Clarity helps you find direction, making it easier to get things done. Have you ever started a project with enthusiasm only to give up halfway through? Chances are, you probably lacked clarity on why you were doing the project in the first place. Clarity brings ownership.

Clarity of thought and concise communication is a habit you need to develop even in face-to-face interactions. When we’re communicating with others, our focus is often on what we want to say. But, effective communication is more about listening than speaking.

Engaged listening means we understand both the words being spoken and the emotions behind those words.

When you respond, you address both the issue and the person’s emotions. That enables better communication and helps develop a stronger bond and trust. Developing clarity and conciseness is another productivity hack that makes you more productive.

5. Optimise your communication tools

“You can find better alternatives to simply passing messages back and forth in an ad hoc manner throughout the day.” – Cal Newport, Writer, Author, and Podcast Host.

Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University who has written best-selling books on the intersection of technology and human productivity and runs a successful podcast. He believes that emails are not the optimal method of communication in the modern workplace. His productivity hack is to network and communicate internally and externally via productivity platforms that enable effective communication and efficient time management.

Successful businesses need to stay active on social media because that’s where their customers are. Automation tools like Sprout Social or Hootsuite to manage your social media interactions keep you in touch with your audience while freeing up your time to address more productive issues.

Collaboration tools like Slack and Asana enable users to collaborate with a team to assign tasks to follow up on projects while monitoring deadlines. They also work as a great to-do list and a calendar for strategic planning. These platforms offer instant messaging, file transfers, and powerful message search. That makes them a much more efficient way of communicating with your teams on specific topics than writing emails.

6. Delegate judiciously

“There is no universal approach to delegation. It depends on the specific tasks and the level at which you are delegating.” – Jared Hecht, co-founder and CEO of Fundera.

Another productivity hack is the ability to delegate tasks. Many business owners think they need to do things themselves to get them right, but this mindset leads to overtime and a lack of work-life balance.

But delegating tasks is one of the best ways to make your time more productive. Task delegation is not something you can just do randomly. You need to consider your workforce and its capabilities.

If you are delegating a task to a newcomer or someone with limited work experience, you must create detailed process documents and make a work schedule if the task is time-sensitive. If, however, you’re delegating to a senior-level person, you may just want to define the objectives and leave the process to them. Delegating a task also means you need to follow up on its progress.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when delegating tasks:

  • Choose the right person: As a good leader, you need to understand each team member’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. If you’re delegating a task that requires extensive collaboration, avoid delegating it to someone who prefers working alone.
  • Explain what and why you’re delegating: Provide context to the person you’re delegating to. Once you’ve selected the person to delegate to, explain why you chose them and how you hope they see it as an opportunity that helps them grow by taking on additional responsibility and learning new skills.
  • Provide resources: Delegating a task without giving the person the required resources to complete the task is doomed to failure. The resources could be monetary, or the time their peers must devote to the task. Delegation without empowering doesn’t work.

Proper delegation frees up your time and helps build trust and motivation with your team.

7. Make yourself uninterruptible when required

“Create a cone of silence.” – Andrew Marsh, CEO of Fifth Column Games.

How many times have you been laser-focused on a project until your Facebook friends start messaging you or your phone beeps with incoming mails? Then a colleague comes in looking for a casual chat. Your focus is now disrupted, and you’re losing productive time.

These distractions don’t need your attention right away, but they have a terrible habit of occurring right in the moment of intense focus, and they seriously disrupt it. The short answer is learning to disconnect from everything and make time just for yourself, just like you make “me” time at home. Likewise, you need to do it when you’re working as well. Switch off your phone, hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door, and focus on what you’re doing.

Small changes can have big impacts

These productivity hacks will help you take your productivity to the next level. However, just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, you’ll need to consciously follow these hacks until they become a part of your personality and behavior. Remember that changing deeply ingrained behavior is not easy and won’t come overnight.

You’ll find yourself slipping back into old behavior patterns under stress. The key to changing behavior is always to be conscious of it. That will keep you moving in the right direction.

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