Stealing the productivity secrets of leaders isn't theft. What would be truly criminal would be to allow resistance (self-sabotage, procrastination, fear, arrogance, self-doubt) to steal your time and productivity. You owe it to the world to produce your best work, and if you can model the techniques of the most productive people, you too can achieve otherworldly results.
Truly productive people don't feel the need to create their own systems if they don't have to — they're more than happy to save time by modeling the behaviors of those they aspire to. And that makes a lot of sense, considering it's far more efficient to use a tool rather than build it yourself.
In this post we'll draw from the well of some of the most efficient creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs on Earth to provide practical strategies for you to achieve your optimal output.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Decide what's important
For many people who aspire to greater levels of productivity, the solution isn't to work harder. It's simply choosing the right task.
All the tasks that come your way are not created equal.
As commanding general in WWII and later 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was no stranger to making tough decisions. With no shortage of external requests pulling at his attention, he realized that how he spent his time and which tasks he chose to focus on had the biggest impact on his overall productivity.
He developed a simple system to run all requests through, to choose how (and if) he would handle the task. We now know the system as the Eisenhower Matrix:
The matrix is pretty self-explanatory, but let's consider an example from your inbox...
Urgent / Important
Your COO just sent an email to you saying she's considering another employment offer. This is important because it could alter the company trajectory. It is also urgent because if you do nothing, your ability to control the situation will disappear quickly.
Act on this task the same day.
Urgent / Not Important
A friend just forwarded you an email of a negative article about your company published in a noteworthy journal. It would be best for this issue to be addressed quickly, but you aren't the right person to deal with it.
Delegate this task to your communications team member.
Important / Not Urgent
A former colleague has emailed you inquiring about a merger with your organization. This is highly important to both you and the company, but a full response will require several hours of research on your end.
Respond to the email by scheduling a time to meet and discuss.
Not Important / Not Urgent
A software salesperson has emailed you for the third time asking to meet you for coffee. You aren't shopping for any software at the moment and your budget for the quarter is already set.
Decline the meeting and trash the email.
If you're ever unsure about what you should be spending your time on, use the Eisenhower Matrix to catalyze your next step — whether that’s to do the task, delegate it, schedule it, or eliminate it.
Sheila Johnson: Find your mission and invest in it
Every once in a while you come across one of those people and just think, "Wow, how does she get it all done!?!"
Sheila Johnson is one of those people.
Her Wikipedia page rattles off career accomplishments like being the co-founder of BET, CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, co-owner of three professional sports franchises, and many more.
But apart from being the first African-American female billionaire business tycoon, Johnson is also heavily involved in philanthropy, and this is part of her success. Her passion for her communities drives her to an elite level of productivity most could only dream about.
"I really believe if we are good to our communities, our communities will be good to our business," Johnson said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Her belief in a "double bottom line," that a business' success is measured by the good that it does in addition to its profit, drives her to incredible heights. When making business decisions, take a lesson from Johnson and consider not only how it will affect the company's P&L, but how it will make the world a better place. You'll find answering both those questions will lead to more purposeful, fulfilling work.
Aaron Fletcher: Map your actions to your goals
Pretty much everybody sets goals, but most of us make two common errors:
1. The goal is too small
A goal should be large enough that you can't accomplish it in a month. For a business, this might be an annual revenue target. For personal accomplishments, this might mean learning a new language.
Either way, your goal needs to be large enough that it will have a massive impact on your personal and/or professional life when you reach it. But when setting such a large objective, many people run into another problem…
2. Everyday actions are not mapped to your goals
When you set such a huge goal, something that might take you a few years to reach, where do you even start?
Aaron Fletcher, Founder of The Fletcher Method, is a digital marketing consultant, coach, speaker, and author who's helped 1,500 entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketers grow their businesses with his methods.
His goal-setting technique involves using four horizons for goals with separate metrics for tracking each goal.
By starting with an enormous three-year goal, you can filter down through one year, three-month, and this week's goals to ensure everything you do is mapping upwards to your ultimate goal.
In combination with the Eisenhower Matrix, this ensures what you're working on today will also pay off in the long term.
James Clear: Reinforce your goals with systems
"Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress." — James Clear, Atomic Habits
If you want to see results in your personal and professional life, at some point you're going to need to develop good habits and ditch bad ones. This is because you're unlikely to reach your large goals if you need motivation to accomplish everyday tasks.
Motivation comes and goes; it's temporary. Once you build a habit, it just happens almost automatically.
Bodybuilders don't need motivation to go to the gym four days a week — it's completely ingrained in their lifestyle to go to the gym every day. It's a habit, and perhaps even more than that because it's part of their identity. And when a habit becomes part of your identity, it's permanent. Make it a good one!
Looking for a good habit in a professional setting? Consider hitting Inbox Zero every day.
Sallie Krawcheck: Work while others sleep
Work smarter, not harder.
While it's not bad advice, perhaps it's time for an update for those who want to unlock elite productivity.
Work smarter and harder.
This is basically the mantra of Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of the financial platform Ellevest, who starts her day at 4AM. Think of it this way:
- Smarter: No interruptions or distractions from your big task.
- Harder: Putting in more hours than everybody else.
Or, put more eloquently from Krawcheck herself on LinkedIn:
"For me, the most precious commodity in business is time. And I find I am most productive when I balance time that I spend with others with blocks of time during which I can think, write and — my favorite — build earnings models. My mind is clear, not yet caught up in the multiple internal conversations that we all conduct with ourselves once we gear up for our first meeting of the day. And there's a peace that comes from knowing that my family is all in bed and safe upstairs while I work. It is at this time of day that I often have a rush of ideas (some of them are actually good)."
Bonus: Hit Inbox Zero
Does it ever feel like your inbox is standing in the way of your productivity and not helping you achieve it? It's a common feeling for founders, entrepreneurs, and over-achievers everywhere. Important people attract attention in the form of inbound email, and if not managed properly, their inboxes can take over their workday.
Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of the financial services company HighTower, offers an interesting take on email via LinkedIn.
"Email is unidirectional — anyone, at any time, can just go to your inbox without permission, invitation or consideration. Empowering the world to demand a thin slice of your attention is more than unfair — it's a recipe for constant distraction."
His solution? He hits Inbox Zero every night.
He follows three rules to help him empty his inbox:
- Unsubscribe from newsletters. This saves you time and decision-making bandwidth.
- Delete with a vengeance. "When in doubt, delete. If it's that important, someone will follow up with you." 😂
- No filing. Modern search functionality allows you to easily find archived email in seconds.
With Superhuman, you can blaze through these three rules with keyboard shortcuts and reach Inbox Zero even faster.