Closing The Gap

Lyft, Google and Facebook executives share their best tips for staying productive in the new year


Staying focused and productive at work is far from easy, especially with distractions all day, from emails to phone calls and meetings.

In fact, according to software company Adobe, office workers in the U.S. spend approximately five hours per day checking emails. And, according to consulting firm Korn Ferry, professionals spend an excessive amount of time distracted by meetings as well.

In its survey of more than 1,900 professionals, Korn Ferry found that the majority of workers feel they are being forced into useless meetings, with 67% saying that too much time in a meeting distracts them from doing their best work.

"Too often, the answer to any work issue is 'Let's meet,'" Korn Ferry senior client partner Cathi Rittelmann told CNBC Make It in November. "While collaboration is absolutely what drives innovation and success in today's global marketplace, it's time to get creative with how we use our time together."

Below, CNBC Make It spoke to three tech executives about how they best manage their schedules so that they're able to stay as productive as possible, despite workplace distractions.

Lyft's general counsel Kristin Sverchek:

Lyft's general counsel Kristin Sverchek.
Photo credit: Lyft

Her tip: Schedule productive work time in at least 90-minute increments

"I really am vigilant about trying to schedule some proactive [work] time because if I don't seriously protect my calendar, my day would be back-to-back meetings with no work time in between," she says. "So, I would say I am fairly aggressive with turning meetings down, prioritizing, rescheduling and making sure that I have that proactive time."

During this time, Sverchek says, "I really try to group all of my email traffic [together]. I'm one of these people who is fairly responsive to email, but I will be checking it only at certain times so I can dash off a bunch of responses at once, rather than letting emails sidetrack my day."

She adds, "I'm also vigilant about making sure that when I have that proactive time blocked off, I try not to do it in little 30-minute increments here and there. I try to do it for at least an hour and a half, but even ideally longer than that, because that's when I'm really able to switch my brain from meeting with people mode to actually deep thinking mode. And, I think the only way you can do that is with a little bit of free time ahead of you so that you're not just trying to turn things around and move on to the next thing."

Google's head of product inclusion Annie Jean-Baptiste:

Google's head of product inclusion Annie Jean-Baptiste.
Photo credit: Google

Her tip: Schedule time to think about big picture ideas

"I like to block off time for wellness, especially in the mornings. So, I sometimes use a code name for that session," she says.

"I think it's just really important to block time off if you can for just thinking. I feel that a lot of times we can get bogged down with meetings and things like that, but you need to give your brain space to innovate and to think through and to kind of process everything that you're learning and doing."

Jean-Baptiste adds, "I block off up to two hours every morning, and I try to find chunks of time each week where I can not have meetings so that I can think through kind of like strategic and big ideas, or just brainstorm and write things down that would be cool to think about. So, I think it's not only important to have physical exercise, but mental [exercise] as well."

Facebook's vice president of product design Julie Zhuo:

Facebook's VP of Product Julie Zhuo
Photo credit: Julie Zhuo

Her tip: Plan ahead for the week and set goals

"I'm the kind of person who really likes to reflect and introspect and be very intentional about how I spend my time," she says. "So, one of the things that helps me the most is sitting down Monday morning and thinking about the week."

Zhou says she thinks about the Friday afternoon ahead, and what she will want to have checked off her to-do list, to help her feel accomplished.

She makes those goals visual: "It helps for me to just write three [goals] down on a sticky note and put it front and center next to me on my desk or on top of my computer, so that it's something that I look at every day throughout the week," she says.

Zhuo adds that she also tries to break her weekly goals down into smaller increments so that she can assess what needs to be accomplished each day. "I do a calendar scan and I look at everything that's going on that day and I try and set goals," she says.

Plus, she takes time to reflect on her week. "The other thing that I think is also equally important is being able to look back and figure out, 'Hey is there anything I could have done better? Is there any lesson to take away from that last time period?' So at the end of every week, I do a Friday afternoon sit down, and I look at the three goals and I say, 'OK, how did I do?' And, if I didn't do well it's important to ask, 'Well why not? What happened? What expectation did I have that was maybe off, or what thing came up that I was unprepared for and that maybe I could do a better job incorporating into my planning in the future?' And, that's really helpful for me."

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