An on-the-go CEO may naturally feel that every moment in the day is a productive one, simply because of the constant barrage of activity, meetings and interactions. But just because someone is busy doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is being productive.

Here’s a look at how some CEOs manage to shift their thinking on their day-to-day structure in order to become more productive.


“Clear your mind” may sound like some yoga-zen idea — which, depending on your attitude toward such things, could be good or bad — but taking time to knock out some mental hurdles can be a helpful way to start the day. In a story for Fast Company, Grace Nasri writes how this can be a benefit, including comments by Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, on her two key steps to achieve this.
For Lea’s personal side: “… I take 15 minutes every morning for contemplation and to empty my mind. I take a bag full of thoughts I need cleared and each morning I pick one out, read it, and send it down the river near my house. Watching the thought float away really helps clear my mind, reorient things and increase my focus for the rest of the day.”

And her professional side: “… I send an email to my team each Monday morning with the top five things I will be focused on for the week. This really keeps me on track and gives me the focus I need. These two things set the pace for me every day, both in my personal and professional life.”

Enhanced organization

Having a planner or calendar nearby — or the electronic equivalent on a smartphone — can be a big help for anyone in business. Some take this to a higher level in an effort for time-management improvement. In a story for Entrepreneur, Ann Smarty uses Patrick Gelsinger, CEO of VMWare, as an example:

“[Gelsinger] faithfully codes his schedule by color. He marks meetings blue when they’re with partners or customers, red if they’re with investors or media, and yellow for strategy sessions. An intern adds up how his time use compares to contemporary studies on executive time management.”

Define focus

“Get focused” is a no-brainer concept. But defining that focus and then maintaining it can be a challenge. In Nasri’s story, DoubleClick and FindTheBest founder Kevin O’Connor describes how he narrows down his priority list.

“Most people tend to focus on the 100 things they should do, which can be overwhelming and result in the failure to actually accomplishing anything of importance,” O’Connor says. “I try to focus on the three to five things I absolutely have to do. I don’t get distracted by those ninety-seven other unimportant things that don’t ultimately contribute to my success or the success of my company.”

Take a break in the air

CEOs that keep on working while traveling on airplanes might find comfort in that they are taking advantage of every possible second. There can also be advantages in using that time to get away from work. Smarty’s roundup includes commentary by Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote:

“Like everyone else, I used to just work on airplanes,” Libin says in the story. “I’d use that as a time to catch up on things. And I stopped. I basically said when I’m on a plane, I won’t work. I’ll read, I’ll play video games, I’ll sleep, I’ll watch movies, but I don’t work. It makes me look forward to flying. I can get off a long flight, and actually be kind of relaxed.”

Fight distractions

There’s no getting around the fact that distractions will pop up everywhere for CEOs, from difficult employees to the neverending flow of email and texts. Bruna Martinuzzi writes about this for American Express’ OPEN Forum, including how CEOs can find distraction solutions through technology.

“Tennis legend Martina Navratilova says, ‘I concentrate on concentrating,’” Martinuzzi writes. “For those of us who don’t have the willpower to be self-accountable, there are several technology solutions for blocking out distractions. For example, Rescue Time is an application that runs in the background of your computer and measures how you spend your time so you can make better decisions. Get Concentrating is another useful tool that will help you focus on important tasks by temporarily blocking social media sites.”

Limit social media

So many of us are glued to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. And these social networks can have a productive side for work purposes. But the CEO who can’t stop checking for a new personal update, retweet or “like” should probably take a step back. Erin Schulte writes about this for Fast Company, and features social innovation strategist Ekaterina Walter of Intel describing how she limits her own social media time: “I am very active socially, which means daily interactions on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social networks. Couple that with keeping up with all the news around social business and the activity can take up a chunk of your daily routine. So I set a timer for those activities to ensure I am on track with everything else and don’t spend too much time on a specific task.”

Restrict meeting lengths

When CEOs are asked to attend a meeting, they should stop to consider the amount of time that is reserved for it. Is that amount really necessary? Will it clog up a busy day and limit productivity? Martinuzzi calls meetings “time vampires” in her story, and lists examples of CEOs who have taken action because of it.

“Gary E. McCullough, former U.S. army captain and now CEO of Career Education Corp., gives people half of the time they ask for a meeting or appointment,” she explains. “This forces them to be brief, clear and to the point. ‘By doing that, I am able to cram a number of things in the day and move people in and out more effectively and more efficiently,’ McCullough says.”

No-meeting day

Beyond keeping meetings brief and productive, there’s also value in taking a break from them. Long meetings can seem to suck the life out of employees, not to mention a huge chunk of time out of the day. So some business leaders set aside a day that no meetings can happen. Kevin Smith interviewed 13 CEOs for to find out their “top productivity hacks,” and one such tip is “No Meeting Wednesdays,” courtesy of Dustin Moskovitz, CEO of Asana and cofounder of Facebook. He tells Smith that the idea is “something he borrowed” from Facebook.

“With very few exceptions, everyone’s calendar is completely clear at least one day out of the week whether you are a maker or manager,” Moskovitz says. “ … This is an invaluable tool for ensuring you have some contiguous space to do project work. For me personally, it is often the one day each week I get to code.’”

Get rolling on Sunday night

Many business leaders struggle with work-life balance issues. So giving up the last part of the weekend might not register well with those looking to maximize their “unplugged” time. But there are those that see pockets of weekend time as a chance to get ahead, and to make the beginning of the work week easier. Smith’s story features Bharath Kumar, cofounder of, who says Sunday night is the right time to get the week started.

“The family is asleep,” Kumar says. “They think the weekend is over. Monday morning is yet to come. Work through Sunday night, or at least till 3 a.m. You get at least four hours of extremely productive, thoughtful, non-interrupted time with no expectations. When you get work done on a Sunday night, your Monday is awesome. You meet colleagues with confidence, and can do meetings to plan the next week — all armed by a productive night.”