Productivity. Anyone could tell you it's about being organised, prioritising your work and pushing yourself to go that extra mile. But what really sets productive leaders and managers apart from the rest of the world? Not motivational memes. They pack more into every day because they've set up routine, achievable, measurable habits.
So here are nine things highly productive leaders do every single day – and they're all practical things you can start right now.
1. They prioritise ruthlessly
Stop trying to do too much. Take a leaf out of the book of Warren Buffett, and start using a 'two list system'. Write down your top 25 business goals (day to day, short term and long term), circle the most important five, and then split the list in two – five absolute priorities, and 20 other goals that are important, but can wait. Then focus on the five that matter.
2. They've done away with the to-do list, and moved on to time blocking their days instead
To-do lists can be overwhelming. According to the oft-cited Parkinson's Law, 'work expands to fill the time available for its completion.' When you give yourself a set time to do everything, you ensure everything actually gets done – and you finish work at a reasonable hour.
Put everything on your calendar. Not just meetings and phone calls, but also planning and key daily priorities. Then, add 15-20 per cent to the time you think each task will take.
We tend to walk around with an optimistic cognitive bias that makes us underestimate the time needed to complete a task. It's the culprit behind that knot in your stomach when you think you have too much to do. But when you can see all the tasks ahead of you, broken up into manageable chunks in your calendar, that knot melts away.
3. They start their workday with easy, high impact tasks
Getting a bunch of important emails fired off first thing in the morning builds momentum for the rest of the day. Look how much you've accomplished, and it's only 9.30am. You'll be on a roll by the time you move on to the bigger, more complex tasks.
4. They use a notebook
The secret to never forgetting anything is keeping a record of everything. Richard Branson carries a notebook with him everywhere he goes. Try it. You'll free your mind to do the more important work.
5. They set aside time for thinking
Sometimes you become so swept up in day-to-day management duties, you run out of time for important creative and strategic thinking. To see for yourself how this pans out, try tracking the time you spend on the business (strategising) versus the time you spend in the business (managing daily operations) for a week.
Your goal is to see more and more on time each week. Schedule it into your calendar, and make sure your team knows not to disturb you during those periods.
6. They've got the art of the meeting down to a tee
Say goodbye to unnecessary meetings. Establish clear objectives for every meeting and send them out to each attendee in advance – 24 hours is ideal. When you're in the room, steer the conversation so you're constantly working towards them.
Try creating margins in your schedule by booking meetings from 11.10 to 11.50, so you have time to get your head around the topic and physically get to the meeting space – and everyone else does too. You'll also have those extra minutes to mentally debrief before your next task. On that note, group similar meetings together when you can, so your brain has fewer hoops to jump through.
You could even try walking meetings. New environments get people thinking differently, and you'll squeeze in some extra incidental exercise too.
7. They involve their team in decision-making
Managers and employees have to work together to meet joint goals. So why not set them together too? You'll not only get more ideas faster, there's a good chance you'll come up with a whole range of more effective ways for you and your team to get things done. So set goals, milestones and deadlines as a team.
8. They delegate, recognise and give feedback
Being a productive leader is not just about getting more done yourself – it's helping your team work to their potential too.
Delegating frees up your time for your highest priority tasks, but sometimes we forget about what comes after. Recognising your employees' work and achievements is important, as is providing constructive feedback. Make a habit of holding regular small group meetings to provide continued reassurance and coaching.
Building positive relationships in this way will also keep employees around longer. According to a survey by Talent Trends, unsatisfactory leadership is the number two reason Australians leave their jobs.1 Onboarding new staff doesn't just cost you money, it also costs you precious time.
9. They prioritise sleep
The brigade of successful business leaders advocating more sleep includes Arianna Huffington and Jeff Bezos. Sleep deprivation impairs your cognitive skills, focus and memory2 – a sure-fire path to plummeting productivity. For Huffington, sleep is 'not negotiable'. Her advice is to put bedtime in your calendar, just as you would any other appointment – like a super important seven or eight hour meeting.
Sometimes pushing back sleep is the only way you'll meet a deadline, and that's okay once in a while. How do you know whether a task is more important than sleep? Here's a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn't wake up early to do it, don't stay up late to do it.
Paving the way to productivity
So there they are. Nine tried and tested, practical habits you can work into your working life to help you become the most efficient leader you can be, no matter what business you're in. Make mastering them a priority. Maybe you'll even come up with some of your own signature productivity moves along the way.