Successful CEOs Use These 5 Hacks to Always Stay Productive

You don't always have to feel behind. Here's what it takes to get out of the perpetual cycle of busyness and stay two steps ahead.

Staff Writer

It’s no secret that startups are hard. To be successful, it can require unending mental and physical energy, superhuman patience, and a massive demand on the most important resource of all: your time.

It’s no surprise, then, that I hear many professionals say that they are always too busy, continuously stressed, and living with the feeling of being behind.

Getting out of this cycle is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. For me, I’ve found a balance that has enabled me to lead my company Virta Health through a growth phase, be the father I want to be to my two little girls, train weekly for triathlons, read with purpose, and help other entrepreneurs as much as I can. I don’t feel too busy, and I’m even looking for more. Here’s how you can get there, too.

Adopt a no-limits mindset

Whenever I think something isn’t possible, I remind myself that there is someone who had 2 million employees, 300 million customers, and the world’s problems on his shoulders, yet still dedicated himself to being a good father to two teenage daughters, and even occasionally squeaked in a basketball or football game on ESPN. This is our previous president, of course. Similarly, how can someone like Elon Musk run two large, growth companies at the same time, and still find time to explore other ideas and interests?

This is a good reminder that there is no true limit to what can be done. This realization immediately gets you out of the “this is impossible and too much” place.

Spend more time planning

You, Elon Musk, our president and I each have the same amount of one currency: time. The counterintuitive secret to doing more is to actually “do” less and plan more. I spend a few hours each Sunday making my weekly plan, and when Monday comes I am in execution mode. Trust me, once you get into this habit, you’ll realize that a two hour investment pays infinite dividends for you during the week. You’ll be much better at eliminating the reactivity to calls, social media, emails and other distractions.

Create real boundaries and expectations

Most people, even company executives, feel that they are always just a few tasks behind, saying “If I only could get this done, I’d be in a better place.” How do you change this? Set hard boundaries for your time, the right expectations for your results, and communicate it clearly to everyone you work with. It’s not heroic to promise to get 10 things done and then only deliver on half, or to abandon the things that energize you outside of work. It may be easier said than done, but be real about what you can deliver on and what matters to you. You’ll be surprised at how good this feels and how effective it is.

Say no to 99% of things

I don’t watch TV, I rarely take “let’s catch up” meetings, and I don’t attend many cocktail parties. These things may matter to you, and that’s fine. Just find the other things that don’t enrich your life, be deliberate about acknowledging them, and say no. Think of saying no as a muscle that has to be constantly trained. It’s the only way to make sure your time is invested the way you want it, not the way others want it.

Hire for leverage, and delegate 100%

If you are in a position to hire people, the ultimate leverage is hiring and delegating 100% of something. That’s how organizations from companies to governments scale. The key is empowering someone to do a job fully. This is where most managers miss the mark. Giving people full ownership frees you up to work on other things, while creating growth opportunities for team members.

Even with good planning, the truth is, I get stressed. I get too busy. Unexpected things happen and despite my best efforts to manage my time, I need to drop everything else to address a crisis at home, at work or elsewhere. That’s ok, but with the above tricks, most of the time you can feel that you’re two steps ahead and have a 10% buffer. And that feels amazing.

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