9 productivity hacks of a tech leader

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There are two components of productivity—doing the right things and doing those things efficiently. If you want to maximize your productivity, start with analyzing how you're spending your time.

Whether it’s at work or at home, or on the weekend, you need an accurate assessment of what you’re spending your time on before you can improve it. You can’t plan without data. Next, write down the things you wish to accomplish, both personally and professionally. Follow that up with tangible tasks for accomplishing these goals, then schedule the time you need to make the tasks a priority. 

Here are the nine things I do to manage my time, work, and personal life.

9 productivity hacks of a tech leader

Sunday planning for the week

I block a few minutes every Sunday to lay out what I want to accomplish in the upcoming week. My goals for the week always map back to the major goals I want to accomplish for the year. It doesn’t take a long time to do this – often just 15 minutes. But that little bit of pre-planning drives much of how I spend my time during the week. It helps me make sure I’m focused on the important things that help drive our business. It helps me be thoughtful with my time.

Exercise early

I exercise most days. It gives me much more energy, clears my mind, and allows for quality thinking and reflection. I typically start my day at 5:45am with a run or some sort of cardio training. I start early so that I’m done and ready to go when my kids come down for breakfast.

Down time is not wasted time

When I’m not traveling, I take the kids to school. I’ve learned to use commute time as efficiently as possible. So, after dropping off the kids, I use my 30 minute commute to take/make calls (don’t worry, I use a hands-free set in my car). If you think about it, time spent commuting – whether driving to the office or waiting in lines at the airport – is often time wasted. I try diligently to preplan those times to make the most use of them. In fact, I spend time in the security lines at airports reading articles I’ve saved using Pocket – a great browser plug-in/app to save web content to read later.

To do lists

I like to use Toodledo. It’s a great web-based task management system with a great mobile app. (I use the premium edition).

30 minute meetings

For some reason, the "standard" meeting is scheduled for an hour. Let’s be honest, most topics, unless really complex, can be handled in a half hour. Plus, a shorter timeframe encourages people to get to the meat and skip non-essential topics. I also schedule breakfast meetings instead of dinner meetings. Getting together over food can be a good way to chat in a more casual environment, but dinners can take several hours. So, I find that breakfast meetings to be just as good and much more efficient because people have places to go afterwards.

Brown bag lunch

I almost always bring my lunch to work. I find that it’s more efficient for me to bring lunch and eat at my desk. I typically clean out emails or make calls while I’m eating (I’m not sure I should admit that!). I would rather have a half hour meeting with someone (rather than going to lunch), and then have a quick bite at my desk.


I'm working on it. People who know me will laugh, but I am more productive when I don’t multi-task. It’s difficult, and I have to admit that I still slip - it’s just so easy to discretely clean out a few emails during a meeting. But, I also know that I am not as productive in the meeting, and the emails I send aren’t as thoughtful as they should be.

Horizontal by ten (HBT)

I try to leave the office by 5:30 p.m. (and I usually schedule a call while driving home). Once I’m at home, I help my wife with dinner and the kids with their homework. We're generally done by 7 p.m. After that, I like to relax in the evening as much as anyone else. My wife and I like to either read or watch one TV show. I also usually can get an hour or so worth of email answered too, but I'm always HBT (horizontal by 10:00 p.m.).

Weekend time is family time

I reserve most of my time on the weekend for my family—whether that’s going to soccer games, chess matches, or just hanging around the house together. I may take a few hours on Saturday and Sunday to catch up on emails and a work project, but that's it. While my work is a top priority, my family is my first priority. By managing my time well during the workday and week, I’m able to spend time with my kids now, while they’re young and at home.


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Jim Whitehurst is President and Chief Executive Officer of Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of open source enterprise IT products and services. With a background in business development, finance, and global operations, Whitehurst has proven expertise in helping companies flourish—even in the most challenging economic and business environments.


Nice to see priorities in human order

This is great... I appreciate the time Mr. Whitehurst took to document this. Thank you!

This is certainly sensible, but even sensible has a point of view.
A couple of points I would make:

Studies suggest that even hands-free telephone calling while driving is distracting. I worry about people who feel that the time while driving is so precious they have to add another task to make it worthwhile.

I get the sense that you may be driven by being "on task" as much as possible. An alternative reaction to this negativity about dinner meetings is that you want things to be "on topic" and not containing any free-form and unscripted content. A potential source of unexpected information about people is that, in contrast to a breakfast meeting, you have time to get past the more or less obligatory chatter about your family, about your progress with your cardio workouts, and have time for the free form talk about your interest in Egyptian archaeology, or origami, or what dark matter really represents. You can't control or script this.

30 minute meetings? Because you are a CEO and everything is delegated. Geez. Please. You have orders of magnitude more time than the vast majority of the folks in the company (this is not specific to RH) making 1 percent of your inflated compensation. Ask the folks working 80+ hours a week how they manage their time. Not the dude that can pull 20 to 30 hour weeks and no one would notice.

It's not about time spent on work, it's about getting things done. The job of a CEO is to take good decisions.
I can imagine a CEO requiring to spend half the week fishing to help him making good decisions, but I can't imagine a support engineer doing that.

I disagree!

I'm a senior QA at Red Hat, responsible for a major product and also try to keep meetings to a minimum. It's not about how much of your work is delegated or not.

In fact previously I've attended product planning meetings which can go up to 3hrs. At present I barely visit them and communicate everything important via email. This change didn't have any effect on my work it only freed up my time.

I agree with this. Some people cannot seem to let go of either face-to-face or mouth-to-ear (telephone) communication.
There is insufficient use asynchronous communication - information I can read on my own, and respond to on my own. I don't think any face-to-face meeting should take place without preliminary asynchronous discussions so that the in-person meeting can have optimal efficiency, and in many cases you may not need the collective meeting at all.

Good write up. Very sensible schedule. I tend to add email while exercising and half time weekends plus probably 1-2 hours nightly post kids bed time. Works out to 12-13 hours a day M-F and then add maybe one day of work in the weekend for 60-75 hours a week.

The CEO job can be a lonely one. I have to remind myself that quality is everything. Our basic job is to make tough decisions. And that requires clarity of thought. So burn out can be toxic for job performance.

Yup, you keep that family time on the weakend clear -- except for the "few hours" spent clearing out e-mail. Get off the work treadmill, life is too short. Unfortunately a brisk wake-up slap is in order; got mine two years ago. You are only one mis-folded protein away from dying -- never forget it.

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