“Busy.” That’s how most people will describe me. It’s almost as if there isn’t enough time in the day.
As a CEO that runs multiple small businesses, I often find myself managing as many as 20 people at a time. You’d think that, being a CEO and all, I’m one of the very few people who struggle with productivity, but that’s not the case — the lack of productivity and efficiency is a very widespread issue, affecting practically everybody and costing the U.S. economy trillions every year.
As a CEO, I’ve found a few techniques to be very effective for boosting my personal and professional productivity. Regardless of what you do, these tips will help you, and I’ll be sharing them in this article.
Here are a few things that have significantly helped me as a person:
1. I started sleeping at least seven hours every night.
Of course, it must be a joke reading about the importance of sleep in a CEO’s article on how he is able to be more efficient and productive, right? With some of the most celebrated thinkers, inventors and businessmen barely sleeping at all — after all, Elon Musk and Thomas Edison are famed for sleeping for about four hours every night — lots of people have come to assume that productivity and efficiency are linked with not sleeping. Research disagrees and so does my experience. According to research from RAND, lack of sleep among the U.S. workforce costs the U.S. economy about $411 billion every year.
By far, one of the most effective things I do for personal efficiency is to sleep well. I find myself performing much better with 7 – 8 hours of nightly sleep — which is what is recommended for the average adult. Anything less, especially consistently for more than a few days, and I often find myself unable to focus.
2. I started waking up by 4 a.m.
Benjamin Franklin is renowned for popularizing the saying, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
I’ve experimented with waking up and working at different hours of the day; I’ve woken up before at 2 p.m. after a very busy night, and I’ve often started my work for the day by 5 p.m. By far, the time I’ve found most effective for my productivity is 4 a.m. in the morning. When I wake up before or by 4am, I’m able to get started on some of my most important tasks for the day by 5 a.m. The result is that I’m often done on most of my tasks for the day by 12 noon.
After experiencing extraordinary productivity whenever I start working before 5 a.m. in the morning, I decided to further research the reason for this and whether I’m alone. Apparently, I’m not alone. Research shows that the morning is the most productive time for most people, especially if they are able to utilize the first two hours of waking up.
3. I began to stay off of social media during work hours.
Now, this is difficult to pull off. Social media is easily one of the best things around today, but how do you know when it is too much? Research shows that social media distractions cost the U.S. economy a whopping $650 billion (yes, that’s a “B”!) in productivity every year.
I’ve enjoyed significant boosts in efficiency and productivity whenever I stay away from social media during work hours, to the extent that I installed an app (StayFocusd) on my computer to block social media sites during work hours. Using social media during work hours is like having a lot of friends around chatting with you when working. It sure will help your productivity a great deal — not!
Here are some of the things I’ve found to be particularly helpful for me as a CEO:
4. I started working on my delegation skills.
If as a CEO, you suck at delegation then you suck at being a CEO. It’s that simple.
In my early days as a CEO, I consistently struggled to get things done — this was because I felt I could do a lot of things better… at least to my satisfaction. Over time, though, I realized that this approach wasn’t helping; nothing was being done. Eventually, I started working on delegating practically everything — even things I wasn’t initially comfortable with (and that was almost everything, at least in the early stages, if I’m honest with myself). Eventually, this reduced my work to very simple tasks: managing the vision for my company, ensuring tasks are being properly executed, focusing on the welfare of my team and ensuring accountability on all fronts.
As soon as I realized that my task wasn’t to do things, but simply to make sure things were done, everything changed; I simply started focusing more on connecting with my team, knowing the true state of their welfare and getting them to work. Not only has this saved me a lot of time and stress, but the efficiency at my company is at an all time high.
5. I started working on my fitness and posture.
Now, what has fitness and posture got to do with productivity and efficiency — especially for a CEO? A lot!
Research not only shows that our posture and confidence levels influence how we are perceived as a person, but that we can also improve our confidence simply by working on our posture.
As a CEO, it is even more imperative that you maintain proper posture; this is because your team’s perception of you can influence their performance. If they see you as a strong, capable and confident leader, they’ll surely perform much better than if they see you as a weak, not-so-confident leader.
Two things I did specifically to appear more confident to my team was to work on my fitness — by incorporating a regular exercise schedule into my routine — as well as my posture. Psychologist Amy Cuddy recommends “power posing,” and her research has actually found that power posing can have a direct influence on people’s confidence levels.
6. I began to prepare an “Activity List” in advance.
Most successful CEOs are familiar with two phases in the course of managing their team. These two phases are:
- A phase when practically nothing seems to be getting done no matter how hard they try.
- A phase where everything just seems to get done effortlessly.
Now, it will be easy to just point to a simple reason why CEOs struggle with phase one, but that will be taking a simplistic approach to things. One of the major things I’ve found to result in phase one, however, is lack of clarity in tasks your team has to do; if you can’t clearly establish what every team member has to do, with as much specific detail as is necessary, no matter how hard you try, nothing will be done. The solution I’ve found to this, however, is to create an activity list for all my team members in advance. For this, I use a simple notebook.
My “activity list” includes three sections for each day:
- A section highlighting the goal for a particular day.
- A section highlighting how the team will be broken down to achieve this goal.
- A section highlighting who the supervisor (remember, delegating?) that will work with my team to ensure this goal is achieved will be.
Once this has been done, I can specify the goals of each team member in my meeting with them — my team is still small, so that is manageable. It will be most likely difficult for big teams. In that case, it might be best to set goals and have supervisors work with their own sub-teams to achieve these goals.
John Stevens is the CEO of Hosting Facts. He is a regular contributor to top publications including Business Insider, Adweek, Internet Retailer and Entrepreneur.