He’s the chief executive of Tesla and the recent host of Saturday Night Live. How do successful people like Elon Musk manage to do it all? OnDeck, the global online small business lending company, recently analyzed the work habits of forty prominent business leaders to see how they achieve superhuman feats without burning out. Could looking at their routines help us juggle our own daily tasks?
Here are five work habits of the world’s most successful people that will change the way you approach your day.
Work habit #1: Strategically multitask
Whenever possible, Elon Musk combines several tasks in a productivity hack known as batching. While studies have suggested that multitasking is generally less efficient than single-tasking, there is another option. It involves dedicating blocks of time to similar tasks to decrease distraction and increase productivity. Every time we get interrupted, it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain focus. Batching minimizes the amount of distraction that’s placed on our increasingly connected lives. Some examples include processing all emails, phone calls and other communications at once or updating several worksheets simultaneously. To find items you can stack, write down all your general activities for the week and identify those you can batch together. Musk is quoted as saying, “But what I find is I’m able to be with [my kids] and still be on email. I can be with them and still be working at the same time… If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to get my job done.”
Work habit #2: Avoid meetings
According to billionaire investor Mark Cuban of Shark Tank fame, “Meetings are a waste of time unless you are closing a deal. There are so many ways to communicate in real time or asynchronously that any meeting you actually sit for should have a duration and set outcome before you agree to go.” For example, if you have a meeting where people give you progress reports, have them email you a daily summary instead. Make email your default communication mode. If someone wants to set up a meeting, ask them to email you with their questions instead. If that doesn’t work, talk on the phone about it. If a meeting must take place, ask for a copy of the agenda. Then complete whatever’s on the agenda before the meeting. That will eliminate the need for you to be at the meeting so you can work on another project instead.
Work habit #3: Develop a routine
How does Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour manage her busy schedule? She has impeccable work habits. Wintour shares, “I have a pretty consistent structure for my day that I follow that I find that works really well for me.” Anna Wintour’s daily routine starts early, typically between 4 am and 5:30 am, when she starts reading British and American news. After that, she usually plays tennis and makes a Starbucks run for coffee and breakfast. Wintour is also known for wearing similar outfits every day to reduce decision fatigue. Her afternoons are generally reserved for off-site meetings, lunches with designers, planning events, or external appearances. Then at 5 pm, she’ll head home with work to do for the evening. “It’s super important to me to get everything done at night so I can keep on top of the work and nobody is waiting for my feedback,” adds Wintour.
Work habit #4: Write it down
When asked about things he takes wherever he goes, Sir Richard Branson singled out one item as most important. “It may sound ridiculous, but my most important is to always carry a little notebook in your back pocket. I think the number one thing that I take with me when I’m traveling is the notebook… I could never have built the Virgin Group into the size it is without those few bits of paper.” Getting into a daily writing habit has multiple benefits. For one thing, putting your goals down in writing makes you more likely to achieve them. It also improves the clarity and focus of your ideas and declutters your mind so you can solve problems more effectively.
Work habit #5: Schedule creativity
It sounds counterintuitive, but creativity doesn’t happen by chance. You have to work diligently and methodically to make it happen. Take poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. She used to go to a hotel room to write—arriving at 6:30 am, writing until 2 pm, and then going home to do some editing. Daniel Ek, the co-founder and CEO of music streaming service Spotify, believes in scheduling creativity. “People think that creativity is this free spirit that has no boundaries,” says Ek. “No, actually the most creative people in the world schedule their creativity. That’s the irony. So, I try to do the same.” The schedule is the system that makes your goals a reality. If you don’t set a routine for yourself, your only option is to rely on motivation. Remember, you can’t always count on inspiration, but you can rely on consistent effort.
Effective work habits are essential for success. And this last year has taught us that time is precious. Make the most of it.