Follow these C-suite best practices to get more done every day.
Reaching the coveted C-suite rarely happens overnight. It’s more often the result of smart daily choices in determining the best way to direct your energy to get the right things done in each job on the way to the top.
In a series of interviews with four C-level executives across a range of industries, top corporate players shared their strategic insights about what, from a productivity perspective, they believe made them stand out and rise up in their fields. Here are some highlights from these leaders on how they increased their personal and professional productivity, as well as their recommendations for others who aspire to leadership roles:
Begin with clarity. When it comes to leadership, productivity starts by being clear about expectations, according to Jay Gould, CEO of Interface. Gould relies on a three-pillared leadership model to which he holds himself and the leaders around him accountable: 1. See what needs to be done. 2. Get it done. 3. Get it done the right way. This model breaks tasks down into their essence: having the vision to recognize the most important tasks to help you reach your goals and then tackling them, as well as understanding that the methods you choose for doing so will influence your results. “Essentially this model is about strategic acumen, executional rigor and cultural sensitivity,” explains Gould. “I believe that ultimately the key to great productivity is great communication.”
Consider where you work. In addition to communicating clearly, Gould explained that the physical spaces in which people work affect collaboration, innovation and ultimately productivity. “Previously, our offices around the world were highly traditional with offices and cubical work stations,” says Gould. “We’re moving toward open-office concepts with multiple environments, and our spaces are designed to new building standards that focus on employee well-being.” The lesson here for aspiring employees is that if you feel that you aren’t as focused or productive as you’d like, it might help to explore possibilities with your manager of changing up your work environment to facilitate your best thinking.
Build your well-being muscles. As chief people officer at employee engagement company Limeade and an organizational psychologist, Laura Hamill also cares about well-being. In fact, she has spent years researching the connection between employee well-being, engagement and performance – and has concluded that the link between this trio is undeniable. Therefore, to stay productive herself and set a good example for her team, Hamill begins by prioritizing her own well-being. “Resilience, optimism, positivity, gratitude, positive self-talk and reframing are all tools that I use on a daily basis to help me through challenging times,” says Hamill. “Believing in my own abilities also helps me to remain confident during times of tension or conflict.”
Carve out focus time. Hamill adds that the work she loves the most requires deep thinking and focus – important components of any leadership role that can be particularly hard for busy professionals in any industry to access. “This is the work that falls to the wayside or gets rushed between business travel and back-to-back meetings,” explains Hamill. “To mitigate this, I block out two- to three-hour chunks of time every two weeks and find a quiet place away from my desk to work. This is where I get my best ideas and produce the work I’m most proud of.”
Practice “GSD.” Chelsea Hardaway, chief marketing officer at Noodle.ai, believes productivity is all about what she calls GSD: getting stuff done. “It’s easy inside a company to get pulled in a million directions or seek too much consensus,” says Hardaway. “Although you should ask for input, you’re the leader. Everybody has an opinion and is pleased to talk about it forever. So pretty early on, cut short the conversation and just write the draft, take a stab at the first design or prototype of that concept. Then you have something concrete for everyone to react to. You’ll get much better feedback and input – and you’ll be known as someone who produces and gets stuff done.”
Quit social media and invest in professional “media.” While noting that this advice won’t work for every role, Sophia Cui, chief technology officer of Jobscan, has found that not using Facebook or Instagram – and instead taking that extra time to invest in communities or online content that matters to your career – is a “long-term strategy in productivity. “Pocket is a great tool for curated articles professionally relevant to you; try to read at least a couple a week,” suggests Cui. “LinkedIn groups and r/HackerNews are much better ‘social’ communities for workers to invest in.”
Limit meetings and messaging. Hardaway pointed to the two “m’s” as areas to watch for time-suck: meetings and messaging. “Be more selective about how much of your time you allow to get eaten by both,” says Hardaway. “Time is the only non-renewable resource we have. I am very selective which meetings I attend and try very hard to give myself at least a 30-minute cushion between them – no back-to-back-to-back.” As for messaging, Hardaway focuses on email and Slack in the morning and end-of-day only: “Block off big chunks of the day, making appointments with yourself, to write or design and get the deep work done.”
Evaluate your impact. Cui notes that most people are good at what they do professionally, but they’re only truly productive if they’re doing the right things. “Lots of people are content with their 9-to-5 role and being told what to do, but doing as told isn’t always productive,” says Cui. “Ask yourself some questions regarding your impact. Is what you’re doing automatable? Is it helping the company or your team improve their goals and bottom lines? Does it actually have any significant impact on your users? Could you be doing anything extra or different to make more of an impact?”
Buffer yourself against burnout. Hamill identified burnout – which she describes as giving your all to your work for long period of time without taking care of your personal well-being – as the top area in which most professionals could improve to become more productive. “As an executive who cares deeply about the health of a company, it’s easy to fall into this trap,” says Hamill. “Burnout is also contagious, which can create a ripple effect across the organization.” When she personally feels on the verge of burnout, Hamill builds in active recovery time: “I look for support from my network and make sure I’m still feeling a deep connection and sense of purpose.”