The Fast Track is a column focused on leadership and healthy living by Strauss Zelnick, the co-founder of ZMC, a leading media-focused investment firm; and the chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software, one of the world’s largest video game companies. Zelnick is also an avid participant in #TheProgram, a New York-based fitness group. If you have any questions for him, Tweet them at @BestLifeOnline—or send us a message on Facebook—using the hashtag #AskStrauss.
Most of us are looking for ways to be more productive. The self-help industry is booming as a result—according to Marketdata, it’s worth almost $10 billion a year. Sometimes it seems to me that life has become a never-ending quest to do more—to be faster, better, more efficient. And most of the advice I’ve read isn’t super helpful. It’s either too facile and overpromises or too complicated and under-delivers.
I look at the world of self-improvement through a different lens—what is it you want? If things are good the way they are, how about leaving things alone, enjoying life and moving on? But if you feel that you need help getting a day’s work done in a day, there are a few small adjustments that can yield big results.
If you want to get stuff done, you need to know in advance what you want to get done in the first place. I keep my personal and business calendar on Outlook and I schedule meetings, meals, and workouts well in advance. And I scan it regularly to ensure that what I’m planning reflects what I want to achieve.
Here’s a step-by-step action plan. And for more advice, here’s my top tip for multitasking.
I used to get up at the last possible moment and rush to get to the gym or the office for a meeting. I’d sometimes show up a few minutes late. And, in any case, I’d feel stressed as I started my day. I realized that it made more sense to get 15 or 20 minutes less sleep and get up early enough to come to life a bit more gently, have a cup of coffee, check my upcoming schedule and even answer a few overnight emails. I arrive to my first appointment a few minutes early and I’m relaxed when I do. For me, it’s simply a much better way to start the day.
I use transit time to catch up on email. When I’m in the office, I prefer to spend time talking to people either in person or on the phone. Being in a car or on a bus or subway car—when you’re literally a prisoner to someone else’s schedule—is a great time to catch up on written work and free you for face-to-face interactions later on. My advice is to pick two important emails and write them during your commute (unless you’re driving; in that case, put away your device and keep your eyes on the road). And as you’re eyeing your commute, here’s more advice for making it the best part of your day.
A fascinating podcast recently by the folks at Longform.org featured The New York Times East Africa correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, a terrific writer who has done more than any other journalist to shed light on one of the most complex areas of the world. During the conversation, however, Gettleman unwittingly became a self-help guru—however briefly. “Choice is the very definition of stress,” he said (I’m paraphrasing and taking his comment out of context).
But it’s true: The daily burden of choosing among the many things demanded of you can be incredibly burdensome. Trying to be all things to all people all of the time isn’t just stressful—it’s impossible. So when you get to the office and you’re faced with an array of potential tasks, ask yourself these questions: Will I add or learn something? Will I create value? Will I be of service? Will I enjoy this? If there isn’t at least one “yes” buried in there, I don’t do it.
You’ve got to step away and clear your mind. Personally, I like to eat with friends and colleagues and business associates.
Also, I’m definitely not afraid to cold-call someone I want to meet and ask them for lunch. I’ve learned to have a very thick skin. By reaching out and asking, I’ve met really interesting people and developed some great relationships. And when I’m inevitably turned down now and then, I don’t take it personally.
And in any case it’s a much better way of spending your lunch hour than staring at Facebook or reading about today’s political mayhem. And speaking of lunch, here are the best restaurants for a power lunch in every state.
I think that the Pomodoro Method, a time-management work technique that suggest you work for 25 minutes and then take breaks, is just about right. The truth is that no one can work endlessly and intensely for hours and hours non-stop. Breaking up your day into chunks that last no more than 90 minutes and then stepping away—to eat or drink something, to exercise, to talk to colleagues or friends—is a great way to refresh and recharge.
And if you’re finding yourself feeling sluggish in the afternoon, simply leave the office. Walk around the block, climb your stairs, do some people watching—anything to clear your mind before you go right back in. Finally, If that doesn’t appeal to you, here’s my secret weapon: espresso.
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