10 Leaders and the Surprising Ways They Stay Productive
Arianna Huffington: Drop Everything and Go to SleepLarry Page: Fire Your Assistant Stephen King: Above All Else, Be Consistent Richard Branson: Work Out! Jana Eggers: Train for an Ironman (or Pick Up a Challenging Hobby)Ram Shriram: Keep a Diary Gary E. McCullough: Give People Exactly Half the Time They Ask for Stephen Gillett: Play World of Warcraft Carol Smith: Trade Time on Monday for Sunday Penn Jillette: Forget Contracts
This Internet publishing pioneer knows how to multi-task. As president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, she helms a web universe that attracts 250 million unique visitors each month, and has been busy poaching big-name talent from the likes of The New York Times. While many high-powered folks claim to get by on very little sleep, Huffington advocates the opposite. She told Slate.com in 2009: “My single most effective trick for getting things done is to stop doing what I'm doing and get some sleep."
One of the Google cofounder’s goals as reinstated CEO is to restore a start-up sensibility to the search giant. That means flattening bureaucratic structures and maximizing opportunities for face time. To that end, Page is encouraging employees to trade offices for open floor desks and ditch intermediaries. Page told Wired in a 2011 profile that he and Brin abruptly decided to get rid of their assistants after they found themselves scheduled in too many undesired meetings. “Most people aren’t willing to ask me if they want to meet with me,” he says. “They’re happy to ask an assistant.” Anyone who wants his attention, now has to approach him.
In his 2000 autobiography, On Writing the legendary author offers straightforward advice to aspiring scribes: Write every day. Ideally, strive for 1,000 words, but however many you can manage will suffice so long as you do it each day. King himself writes at least ten pages every day—weekends, and holidays included. While King is not your typical entrepreneur, he is a paragon of productivity. He has published 49 novels that have sold over 350 million copies.
As head and tireless spokesman of the Virgin Group and its 200 or so affiliated companies, this ebullient entrepreneur is an expert on multitasking. His number one tip for maximizing productivity: exercise. In Tim Ferriss' 2010 book The 4-Hour Body, Ferriss recounts a visit to Branson's Necker Island, where he quizzed the mogul on how to become more productive: "Branson leaned back and thought for a second…then he broke the silence. 'Work out.' He was serious and elaborated: working out gave him at least four additional hours of productive time each day."
While Eggers, co-founder of SureCruise.com, former Intuit exec, and now SVP at Blackbaud, acknowledges that grueling triathlons aren't for everyone, she advocates any activity that kicks your butt. "Forcers," as she calls them, require smart time management. "I recommend anything that requires focus and discipline…they are good skills to reinforce." A fulfilling hobby, says Eggers, can also be a healthy distraction from the day-to-day grind. And it need not be physically grueling. "It can be cooking, gardening, singing…just something that you can focus on and master. The important thing is…pick something big and be dedicated to it."
The angel investor and founding Google board member says the best way to improve personal performance is to track it in a daily diary. In a 2005 comment to Business 2.0, he explained that the point is not to beat yourself up for mistakes—a counter-productive exercise if there ever was one—but to create a kind of manual for what has worked and what hasn't in your business. "Documenting it ensures we'll always remember it."
A former captain in the U.S. Army, McCullough grasps efficiency—and the value of being brief, clear, and to the point. Now as the CEO of Career Education Corp., he asks others to respect it as well. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, McCullough offered this tip: “When people ask me for time, they generally don't need the time that they ask for. So my assistant asks people, 'How much time do you need?' If they say an hour, we cut it in half. If they say 30 minutes, we cut it to 15, because it forces people to be clearer and more concise. By doing that, I'm able to cram a number of things into the day and move people in and out more effectively and more efficiently.”
Scientists, game theorists, and other researchers say multiplayer virtual games can teach players leadership and problem-solving skills and encourage innovation. For Gillett, EVP of Digital Ventures at Starbucks and a top guild master—one of the highest ranks attainable in the Warcraft hierarchy—the game has been a lesson in effective decision-making. As he told Wired in a 2006 interview, "I used to worry about not having what I needed to get a job done. Now I think of it like a quest; by being willing to improvise I can usually find the people and resources I need to accomplish the task."
Unpalatable as it may sound, the chief revenue officer at Harper's Bazaar says dedicating a few hours on Sunday to catch up on email and tend to work matters could wind up saving you time at the office come Monday. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, the so-called branding powerhouse explains: “I come to work almost every Sunday for at least four hours to go through my e-mail. I did it when it was a real inbox…and now I do it with email. I'm glad I come in on Sunday. It's the quiet time. I get things out of the way...so when I come in on Monday, it's like my vacation day."
According to the iconoclastic, tiger-taming showman, contracts should be made with people, not paper. To him, a magician and entertainer, all the fine print and legalese that a meticulous contract entails is a waste of time—leading to endless negotiations and piles of paperwork as lawyers debate minutiae. As he told Business 2.0 in 2008: "The more experience I got in show business, the less I read contracts. Now I don’t bother. If I can't make the deal in a phone call, and have them understand it, then it's not a worthwhile deal. You're making a deal with the people, not with the contract."—Devon Pendleton