The average CEO works 58 hours a week, putting in 10 to 11 hours per day, plus an extra six hours on the weekend, according to Time. That’s 11 hours more than the average full-time worker. More time means the potential to get more done, but many enlist powerful productivity hacks to give them an edge.
Here are nine secrets top CEOs use to accomplish more during those long workweeks:
1. Streamline Decisions
As CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos makes a lot of decisions every day. Since this can be time-consuming, he’s developed a four-step process for navigating his business more quickly.
First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. “Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors,” he writes in his 2017 letter to shareholders. “Those decisions can use a light-weight process.”
Second, make the decision when you have about 70% of the information you wish you had. “If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow,” he writes.
Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” “This phrase will save a lot of time,” he writes. “If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?’ By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.”
And fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. “Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views,” he writes. “They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion.”
2. Find Your Rhythm
As CEO of Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey works 16-hour days. In an interview at Techonomy, he said being disciplined and practiced are vital. To handle workflow, he assigns themes to each day.
“On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company,” he said in the interview. “Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. And Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the rest of the week.”
While he admits there are frequent interruptions, he quickly deals with them and gets back to focusing on the theme of the day. Themes also set a good cadence for the rest of the company. “We’re always delivering, we’re always showing where we were last week, and where we’re going to be the following week,” he says.
3. Get To Work Before Everyone Else
If you want to get work done, start before most of the world is awake. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of the digital financial platform Ellevest starts work at 4 a.m.
“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,” writes Krawcheck on LinkedIn.
She tried to reduce her schedule on Fridays, but incoming emails took away her focus. So now she works when others sleep.
“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,” she writes. “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).”
4. Protect Your Time
Instead of letting the day fill up with urgent tasks, Keller Williams Realty founder Gary Keller blocks out the first four hours to work on his most important task for the year—his “one thing.”
Each year, he chooses the one thing that, when tackled, will make everything else he has to do easier or unnecessary. Then he protects the first four hours of his workday to do only that one thing. Keller has used the technique to write books as well as grow his company to the largest real estate franchise, and believes that until his top priority is done, anything else is a distraction.
“The key is time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time,” he writes in his book The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.
5. Close Virtual Doors
Open work environments may be a modern approach, but they can also hinder productivity by fostering interruptions and unnecessary distractions. Michael Pryor, former CEO and head of product for the project management software platform Trello, encourages workers to close virtual doors by turning off Slack and email, and by putting a Post-It note on their desk that says “heads down.”
Interruptions not only take time away from important projects; they take a while to recover from. “Every time you switch contexts, there’s this huge cost associated with that,” Pryor said in an interview with Time. “Our time is limited, essentially. Your trick is to be able to ration that resource for all the things you need to do, and that’s the hardest part of being productive.”
6. Separate Work And Personal Life
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki makes being home for dinner with her five children most nights a priority. Leaving the office at a reasonable time helps her organize her work and get it done more quickly. When she’s home, her attention is not divided.
“We try to have the rule to not check email between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., because if you are on your phone then it’s hard to disconnect,” Wojcicki said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Unplugging not only helps facilitate family time; it helps Wojcicki be more creative and productive. “[Success] is not based on the number of hours that you’ve worked,” Wojcicki says. “If you are working 24/7, you’re not going to have any interesting ideas.”
7. Strive For Inbox Zero
Email can be a big time suck, but Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of the financial services company HighTower Advisors, has a trick for taming his inbox. He empties it every night.
“Email is unidirectional—anyone, at any time, can just go to your inbox without permission, invitation or consideration,” he writes in a post on LinkedIn. “Empowering the world to demand a thin slice of your attention is more than unfair—it’s a recipe for constant distraction.”
He uses three rules to take back control and get to zero emails each day.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters. It takes more time upfront than simply deleting, but it saves hours every year.
- Delete with a vengeance. “When in doubt, delete. If it’s that important, someone will follow up with you,” he writes. Then respond to what you can and move the rest to recycling.
- Don’t bother filing. A good search tool can scan your folders and find whatever it is you need instantly.
“If you do nothing else but these three things, your inbox will be a lot leaner,” he writes. “Whatever messages are left become a to-do list of the items that actually need your care and attention. Keep this list short, between two and five items, or what you can actually hope to achieve on any given day. Get those items done and you’ve just reached Inbox Zero.”
8. Do The Easy Things First
While “eating the frog” and doing the hard things first make the rest of your day feel easier, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes the opposite approach.
“I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress,” he was quoted as saying in the book Mark Zuckerberg: 10 Lessons In Leadership by Michael Essany.
Checking off easy things creates a snowball effect that helps you gain momentum. That forward motion helps build energy and stamina for the larger, harder things.
9. Put Your Phone On Silent
As a CEO, there are several external demands on your time. For Ivan Mazour, CEO and founder of the marketing platform Ometria, the best productivity hack is to always be in control of how he allocates his time.
“Calls, text messages, notifications–all these things take away that control,” he writes on Quora. “If someone calls you and you pick up, it means you are speaking with them when it’s convenient for them, not when it’s convenient for you.”
Once your phone is on silent, however, you’re in your control. “You check your missed calls, texts, emails at specific times–times when you have chosen to allocate attention to doing so,” he writes. “The rest of the time you are fully focused on whatever you are doing–on that important meeting, on that important document, or on being with your family. As long as you check the communication regularly enough, every few hours for example, you will never miss out on anything.”