How High-Octane Executives Stay Efficient Under Pressure

January 30, 2017


It’s a fast-paced world we live in. We often feel that, as Lewis Carroll wrote, “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”  Each of us vows some time during the year to become more efficient or manage our time better. 

Where to start? There are lessons to be learned from professionals who are even busier than we are. The go-to tips of some amazingly successful executives and productivity experts are gathered below. There’s one drawback, though. Not every tip is right for every person. Some people love to-do lists and others hate them. Try the ideas that sound right for you. There’s more: there may be tips here to pass on to your boss. It never hurts to share the wealth!

Marketing guru Seth Godin, has to a large extent eliminated meetings and TV from his daily routine in order to control his time.  He figures this saves hours each day. Godin also uses and advocates the Zig Ziglar Goal Planner as his secret weapon.  "I have never met anyone who has seriously written down their goals," he says, "and done it properly, who is stuck or is considered a failure. Not one person." 

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, will not spend more than 90 minutes in any meeting that is non-operational. 45 minutes is allowed for presentation of an issue and 45 minutes for discussion and decision-making.

Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, an expert on happiness and habits, says that if you are to reach a goal it is important to make your actions measurable and to track them, saying, “If you want to eat more healthily, keep a food journal. If you want to get more exercise, use a step counter. If you want to stick to a budget, track your spending.”

Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, forces himself to identify one critical task to accomplish each day. He begins each morning, when he is most focused and energetic, with that task…. before he even looks at his email.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, along with many other busy CEO’s, makes it a point to get up early and use her mornings to get more done. Experts suggest setting your clock incrementally -- about 20 minutes earlier for a week and then another 20 minutes earlier the next week until you have gained an extra hour a day.

Gary E. McCullough CEO of Career Education Corp. gives people who request meetings half of the time they ask for. He believes this not only saves him time but also goes a long way toward making meetings more effective.

Tom Rath, author of Are You Fully Charged?, gets more control over his time each day and gets more work done by blocking out time away from email, programming his phone to only ring for family and specific co-workers. He also avoids emails early in his day so he can accomplish more. And suggests that working harder and longer is not necessarily as productive as alternating 90 minutes of focused work with short breaks.

New York restaurateur Danny Meyer instructs his executive assistant to make a list of all questions that come up during a day so that he isn’t interrupted frequently during his day.

Highly productive people don't spend their time on tasks that others or apps can do; they automate and delegate. Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, uses an array of virtual assistants; automates grocery shopping and makes use of meal services. Look at your “to do” list and ask yourself which things could be automated or delegated.

Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, founders of Birchbox, require their employees to indicate in emails if they need a response and by when if it is time sensitive.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, opts for the old-fashioned method of writing things down. "I just make a to-do list every day in priority order from most important to least important," she says. Then, she monitors her time to be sure she is spending her time on what is important.  Some executives find focus by using apps like Rescue Time or Get Concentrating

Wharton professor and psychologist Adam Grant believes that there are times that NOT finishing something as quickly as possible can be more productive. Sometimes we wrestle too long with trying to find the right words or solution; if we leave things hanging and go away, we often find that things are much easier to complete when we return. Instead of trying to finish important tasks in one sitting, try leaving them incomplete. Likewise, we are likely to find solutions and new ideas when we remove ourselves from problem or situation. You’re probably familiar with the “it came to me in the shower” moment.

Another believer in stepping away from the job sometimes is Phil Libin, CEO of the note-taking software Evernote. He takes a break by not working while traveling anymore.  He used to spend his time on airplanes working, but he stopped. He finds that forced quiet time leaves him fresher and more creative.

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn carves out time to think, as opposed to reacting to problems every day. He told the Wall Street Journal: “Part of the key to time management is carving out time to think, as opposed to constantly reacting. And during that thinking time, you're not only thinking strategically, thinking proactively, thinking longer-term, but you're literally thinking about what is urgent versus important, and trying to strike that right balance."

Speaking at an event in 2012, Jack Dorsey, Square CEO and Twitter chairman, shared that he "themes" his week in order to stay focused on priorities. Each day of the week is spent on a specific type of work: Mondays are for management, Tuesdays are focused on product development, Wednesdays are for marketing and communication, etc.

Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson manages his connections by making notes in his address book. When he adds someone to his address book, he writes where he met the person and what they talked about, so that later he has instant recall.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, whogets more than a thousand emails every day, has created a system for himself called “Yesterbox.” Basically, his concept is that you only answer emails that you received the day before. Hsieh says it has saved him huge amounts of time and stress. Read more about it at

Looking for tips on using color-coding for efficiency? Click here!


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