I am often asked what is my routine to maintain high productivity and have been telling my CEO Coaching client this for two decades, but I never wrote it up. Well, here is a valuable gift to drive up your productivity. It may not work for everyone, but I believe it will for most.
A Founder and CEO on LinkedIn recently told me when I asked what his #1 challenge was for this year: “Stop getting sick. I am the worst for working long hours, but all my key personnel do the same. One even had a heart attack last year during a monthly tech meeting. It caused another key engineer a partial breakdown and two more resignations.”
My response to this is the basis for this article below. Hoping to save some lives here and help companies scale better.
My answer to his DM: Wow! That is terrible. Destroying your health with too much work is not productive, it is long-term, slow suicide. You need more balance. And want to give your team that too. Nothing is worth hurting your health and if you must work that hard something else is wrong. You need to up level your team and delegate better. Companies do not win long-term by working harder, but by working smarter.
When I was in my 20s and 30s, I would work 60-70 hours weeks a lot, but now I usually limit to ~50 max and 40 when I can. Yes, I usually get in four hours in on Saturday or Sunday for uninterrupted work but only when I feel like it after some rest first. No pressure.
I believe most people get diminishing returns after 40 hours and need to decompress, take walks, exercise, sleep well, etc. Just now I am reading a book about Jeff Bezo’s called Innovate and Wander, he says all the same things. Other than Elon Musk, I do not know anyone that thinks 80-hour weeks are good. But he is leading 5–6 companies with very senior teams due to his cash. And he is clearly an alien too. ;0)
It is not healthy or sustainable to push that hard, and it creates a false impression of more progress. The quality of decisions and thinking goes DOWN! Another Bezos observation is acknowledging that a manager’s job is to make a few quality decisions each day, not process more widgets. He gets to work at 10am after a morning routine. Actually, that is my formula too. And I knock off around 6pm but allow for evening thinking and relaxation too. Warren Buffett says his job is a few key decisions per year. Though he has a deep team like Bezos and Musk. I am not saying hard work is not necessary and appropriate at times. I am saying it is not healthy long term and is a symptom of bad management.
Focus and time management is key, many tricks I use for my routine cadence/tricks/process:
- Sunday night I list goals for the week on one page with 7–8 items max to accomplish in the week (focus) – that time is for thinking to prioritize without distraction. I may also block out chunks of 2-hours on my calendar to prevent that strategic priority from being replaced by something “urgent”, but less important and strategic. Sometimes this is a repeating block for 6 weeks for a big project to ensure it gets the attention it needs. Then clients, subordinates and distractions cannot derail that project.
- Every morning I look at that list and write a 3″ X 3″ card with the 3–4 things for that day, 2 is even better. We have a false belief we can switch tasks effectively, but science has now proven it takes 20 minutes to really gear up the brain for a task. Contrary to popular belief, we need 1–4-hour immersion to be productive on a task. Social media kills this for most. Smart and productive people turn this off, or do not do it at all during work hours. Personally, I hate Facebook with a passion and think it is the best productivity killer ever invented.
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- Monthly goal setting, both personally and as a company/team. MBO/OKR is supported by much research that says there is a 56% improvement in value creation using team goal setting. SMART/OKR/MBO at the same, really. Compound that annually, Ben Franklin versus 5% interest!
- Discipline around some exercise and mental breaks. I walk my dog 1-2 miles twice a day around noon and 6pm to physically stretch (5K to 10K steps per day is low stress and a mental break). I think and listen to audiobooks while walking. The constant learning discipline that is needed today that I have done since my 20s. I have now read over 1,000 books on business with this discipline. Bill Gates does this too, and it is the cheapest form of learning the wisdom of other people’s experiences there is, really. For a $10 audiobook, you could avoid a major mistake or come up with an idea to save or make hundreds of thousands of dollars, literally. I also try to watch a good movie or documentary every evening for relaxation.
Having this as part of a daily, weekly and monthly cadence will put you in the top 5% of people because most are candles in the wind and get distracted from the important to the urgent, resulting in constantly sliding goals.
I hope this helps. I have been giving this advice in my CEO Coaching for decades, but never wrote it up. So, thanks for the question. This is good stuff that can take decades for people to figure out for themselves, obviously some customization is needed for everyone, but sustainable work-life balance is key as building a company is a marathon, not a sprint.
Bob Norton is a long-time Serial Entrepreneur, CEO and investor who founded six companies with four exits that returned over $1 billion to investors for a 25X ROI. Two others are still in development. He has trained, consulted and advised thousands of Entrepreneurs, CEOs and boards since 2002. ™. Mr. Norton works with companies to 2X to 10X growth rates and valuation using AirTight Management™, the world’s most comprehensive Leadership Operating System™. He also helps companies raise capital to fund growth. He is also the Founder of The CEO Boot Camp™ and Entrepreneurship University for early-stage companies that have not reached product-market fit and $1M ARR.
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