I’m not someone that can just work 16 hours a day and be happy, let alone productive. That does’t exist. What does exist is being ultra productive during the time I’m allotted with my team and my day.
This is how I stay as productive as possible as an executive of a growing, fast-moving company.
1. Go to Sleep
Getting a bad night’s sleep is going to ruin your productivity tomorrow. I pay a lot of attention to my sleep patterns and try to follow these guidelines as much as I can:
No eating right before bed
This one is a little bit easier for me as I follow a Keto diet and do intermittent fasting, so I stop eating around 8pm at the latest. The biggest reason I don’t eat right before bed is that you can confuse your pancreas to producing insulin at night, disrupting your sleep cycles.
Stay consistent with your sleep
Regardless of when I go to bed, I always wake by 4:15 and I try to get to bed by 10:00. Humans are creatures of habit, and disrupting your sleep is just going to disrupt your productivity and overall performance. Follow a sleep routine and stick to the schedule as much as you can – even on the weekends.
Stop drinking before bed
If you’re really looking for a simple fix. If you’re a late night snacker or can’t keep a consistent schedule, you should be able to at least stop drinking before bed. While booze can make you sleepy, it’s going to also alter your blood sugar and likely your sleep pattern about halfway through the night.
If you’re a night drinker, put the wine down 3 – 4 hours before bed for a week and see the results.
2. Exercise Early and Make no Exceptions
If there is one thing I hate in life, it’s running. So I commit and get it done the first thing in the morning. When I was at Factor 75, I accepted a 5k a day challenge and ever since then I’ve grown to enjoy my morning runs and have noticed a remarkable improvement in my productivity and clarity throughout the day.
Between 4:00 and 5:00, the world is asleep, leaving you to your thoughts and own reflection. A lot of executives and entrepreneurs meditate, but running has turned into my variety of meditation where I run in silence and am able to focus on myself, my goals, and how I’m going to win the day.
It doesn’t take much activity to get your blood and brain pumping in the morning, so get up and just get moving. I make it a personal goal get to the gym at least 6 days a week, and often that just doesn’t happen as the days can quickly fall apart. Bu my morning run is the piece of my day that no one can interrupt – it’s the only time that’s truly mine and I make it a point not to miss it.
3. Clear Your Inbox
Productivity comes from not being distracted and reactive. I have a fairly strict policy at work and I don’t check email very much throughout the day, rather, I work in my inbox in the morning and in the evening. In fact, checking email is the number one productivity killer you can muster up ( unless you’re in sales, of course ).
Depending on how my day gets structured ( meetings cancelled, 10 – 15 minutes between events, etc.. ), I’ll pop into my inbox and to check messages from the VIPs that make it in there, but I make it a point to not work in my email during the day.
I also choose not to answer many emails from my phone as I typically can not provide any constructive guidance or thought from my mobile device, so I tend to skim quickly the general inbox and and respond only to the emails where I need to give either a yes or a no, but nothing more.
So how do I achieve a healthy and productive inbox? It’s simple organization and discipline, but here are the three musts to achieving email sanity:
Get to inbox zero before bedtime.
As a CMO of a large and still growing company, I get a lot of email. I can’t, nor do I need to, respond to everything, but I do need to know what’s going on and email is obviously a crucial tool.
I work every night after the boys go to bed. It’s my quite time to sit and focus on tomorrow. This work is typically spent in my inbox and with two primary objectives – 1) catch up on anything I missed during the day and 2) prepare for tomorrow morning. The goal is to end the night without a single message waiting for me.
The next part of this is knowing that after my run tomorrow morning, I’ll shower, grab my coffee and then spend about an hour to hour and half working and prioritizing myself so that I can jump into deep work after my team’s morning standup.
Use the right tools
Cleaning my inbox is only doable using a genius tool called FollowUpThen. If something is not important or needing action / response right now, I use FollowUpThen and remind myself when it’s appropriate, and maybe that’s just tomorrow morning.
Going to bed knowing I have responded to everyone that I need to and have caught up with everything I need to know about helps me sleep without anxiety or worry that I may have missed something.
Keep email to the point
I don’t mean to say you need to keep email short, you just need to keep them succinct, to the point, and focused on action. This probably means you’re going to have to train those that send you email so that they start sending what you expect.
Here are some tips on how to better use email and train others, especially your team if you manage one, to interact with you:
Tell your recipient exactly what you want and avoid any needless back and forth. When I want to know the numbers behind a campaign we’re running, I’m very clear and ensure that my question gets answered as simply as possible.
What were the results of Campaign X? Please provide a table with open rates, click rates, revenue generated, and our costs. Let me know your thoughts on how the results were and if you think we should run this again
Use bold, bullets and the equal sign
Anyone that gets email from me knows my language. I use bold to directly speak to someone if multiple people are on a chain, as well as to break up longer pieces into sections so that the recipient can speed read if necessary. I use bullet points to summarize key results, thoughts, or general next steps, and I use the = symbol to break up sections for brevity, allowing the recipient to jump to what’s relevant.
Some of this is because I write almost everything in Markdown and this language flows through nicely without needing to know markdown at all.
New Product Launch Results
Team, the results are great, so let’s double down and see if we can improve this further. I specifically want to:
- Improve the conversion rate on landing pages ( Eric )
- Invest more heavily in the conquest campaign ( Jackie )
- Create an infographic around sustainability (Dan)
Jackie, please let me know how much more we should invest in paid and if we need to look at other channels.
New Customer Service Pilot
This is where I would lay out anything to do with Customer Service Pilot
If there are multiple people on this email and if it gets quite lengthy, anyone reading it can jump to what’s relevant and keep themselves organized within the content. I also start to receive emails from my team that are structured the same – that’s winning!
4. Print Everything Important
With digital, it’s too easy to just set it and forget it. In real life, you can’t forget things, especially if a team and a company rely on you to remember that conversation you had 8 days ago in a four minute meeting on the way to the bathroom.
The first thing I do when I get to my office in the morning is print today’s agenda. Sure, it’s going to change, but I start the day with the expectation of knowing what’s going to happen and I iterate as the day goes on.
If someone sends me a report, our daily metrics, important article or pdf to read, they get printed, stapled or bound, and organized. This way I am not reacting to some digital distraction and I can focus on the piece later in the day or that evening, take notes, and really absorb the work. When things are on the screen, I have a tendency to just skim through it to what’s interesting.
I also allocate 30 uninterrupted minutes every day to write in my journal.
Once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. For the rest of the day, the journal doesn’t leave my side as it captures my notes from meetings, thoughts, adhoc todos and important documents I need to reference later.
My tool of choice is the the Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcover notebook. I go through one of these every 4 – 6 weeks and staple important documents directly to the page I’m working on. This is great reference for my end of week reviews and especially important for my monthly and quarterly reviews.
The science behind handwriting your notes is clear, and yes you could use Evernote or some fancy app to keep your notes, writing things down like people did a thousand years ago is still more effective in your daily work.
5. Deep Work and Pomodoro Technique
Deep Work is where you focus, distraction free, on mentally challenging work for a set amount of time. I do this for 50 minutes ( two Pomodoros ) every day and the time is non-negotiable. There are no meetings, no interruptions, no email nor internet. It’s just 50 minutes of solid work that I defined the previous night when laying out my day’s most important tasks.
There is great book on Deep Work if you want to read more about it, but the idea is that we master skills and production when deeply focused in a specified period of time. I you read nothing else, get Cal Newport’s book.
The Pomodoro Technique
This is a relatively new to me that the founder and CEO of Factor 75 introduced to me. It’s a simple time management model introduced in the ‘80s by Francesco Cirillo that has transformed how I work and how I produce structure my days.
The idea is that you break down your work into 25 minute intervals, followed by a short break. The intervals themselves are called pomodoros, which is basically a tomato shaped timer this guy used when he was a student.
There’s nothing complicated about it. You work for 25 minutes, you take a break. Rinse and repeat. However, the results are extraordinary. I use a couple of tools to manage my time well, regardless of where I’m at.
First, the Productivity Planner from Intelligent Change has Pomodoros built right in. Second, if I don’t have the notebook ( or just got lazy… ), then I have the Tomato Timer extension for Chrome to stay on track.
Regardless, I structure my work and my focus in increments that I can manage, be successful with, and move my team forward.
We all get the same 24 hours to work with and each of us get to choose how to allocate our time. If you increase the amount of spare time by being more productive during your work time, you’ll start to realize how much time you waste doing meaningless tasks and open up more time for fun – which is why you work so hard, right?
Focus on being productive, the rest will follow.