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4 foolproof productivity hacks for leaders


Business leaders are in a constant tug-of-war with time. Your calendar fills up with endless meetings and your email inbox seems to regularly exceed capacity. Because many decisions start and end with you, you risk being the workflow bottleneck. Here are four productivity hacks to keep things moving forward.

Hack #1: Take charge of meetings.

This is your chance to master the art of saying no. Or, at least, not right now.

When you get a last-minute meeting request, you don’t have to always say yes. Consider this: “Let me revisit my calendar and see what I have available.” Then, suggest a different time that’s better for you.

And, when someone asks for 30 minutes of your time, make sure they know they get 30 minutes — not 45. Be gracious, but firm: “Let’s get to it, I have something right after this.” That “something” may not be another meeting, but there is always something.

Some meetings aren’t scheduled. You get caught in the hallway for a quick huddle, or a colleague just stops by for a chat. Being accessible is great. But being constantly thrown off task can be bad for productivity. Let others know your availability for those brief, catch-up moments. For example, set aside time specifically for check-ins, say every day at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Or just once a day — whatever your team requires while still letting you get other work done.

If you are on the receiving end of a drive-by meeting that comes at a bad time, you have two responsibilities:

  1. Find out if it’s urgent. If it is — take care of it.
  2. If it’s not urgent, explain you’re busy and offer to check in later in the day.

Hack #2: Strike a balance with emails.

Emails can be a time killer. They pop up and you can’t help but check to see whether you have to take care of it right away. There will always be exceptions and emergencies, but you can minimize distractions from email.

Start with an email bounce-back message when you’re busy. Usually people just want to know that you received their message. So, try something like, “I received your email. I will respond to you by X-day (or X-time).” This lets you continue what you’re doing, and gives you time to consider the email request. Some people have a “sundown rule” ‒ meaning they give themselves until sundown to reply to requests. Both your employees and customers should be made aware of your response promise. For example, you might assure your customers they’ll receive a response within 24 hours.

You could also let it be known that you review emails at certain times of the day. It could be at the start of your day, midway through, or at the end (or all three). By doing so, you manage others’ expectations. If it’s something that can’t wait, you’ll no doubt receive a phone call or text that escalates the issue.

Hack #3: Manage priorities.

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Mark Twain certainly had a way with words, but the point is: Do the hardest thing first and the rest of the day will seem easy.

To manage your priorities, you need a plan. It could be an annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily plan ‒ or any combination. But, the key is to stick to it. The more order you have in your day, the more successful you’ll be.

When an emergency arises and puts a dent in your plan, get back to it as soon as possible. It may take tweaking, depending on how much time is lost. Still, try to tackle tasks in order of most important to least important. But, if that big frog is still staring you in the face at the end of the day, it might be necessary to move on to the smaller frogs, just to get something accomplished. The big frog gets a reprieve, but only for a day.

While many decisions rely on you, you don’t have to be responsible for everything. When you’re stretched thin, it’s time to speak up: “I am willing to do this, but I have these team members who can do these other things.” If you don’t have employees who can take on those tasks, look into outsourcing, temporary help or hiring. The worst thing you can do is burn out. Remember, tomorrow is another day.

Hack #4: Schedule “me” time.

It’s tempting to work round-the-clock, and it may seem indulgent when your focus is purely on business success to think about yourself. But, to maximize your own productivity, you need down time.

Don’t just hope for it. Schedule it.

Your down time should not include work, phone, emails, etc. Those things should be scheduled in your workday.

Whether it’s basketball at lunchtime, yoga in the morning, reading a good book, getting a manicure or doing a crossword puzzle, find time every day to disconnect. And, you should expect the same from your employees.

Need more helpful productivity hacks and tips on how to get the best from yourself and your team? Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.