Blog What’s keeping you from being more productive?

What’s keeping you from being more productive?

Aug 29, 2023

8 min read

Why is it that sometimes you are not just productive but absolutely own your to-do list and other days, it feels like you barely did anything? Slowing down is a luxury that startup executives cannot afford. That’s why we went through hours of customer call recordings and identified the top 4 productivity issues that get in the way of C Suite execs like you. In fact, you may be familiar with some of these yourself, so keep on reading if you’re interested in the solutions.

Table of contents

  1. Context switching
  2. Excessive meetings
  3. Taking on too many tasks
  4. Procrastination

Overcome these 4 challenges to be more productive

Every job description comes with its own set of specific goals to achieve and roadblocks to overcome, but when you reach a VP or C-suite position, there are four new challenges you share with professionals on the same level. The fact that you’re now in charge of a whole department and have to lead an entire team plays a big role in your everyday responsibilities.

As a leader, you now have to worry not only about meeting your own goals but also about making sure every member of your team delivers on time and exceeds expectations. That may mean you have to push team members to meet revenue targets or make sure prospects are moving through the funnel. In order to support your team to do their best, you’ll find yourself attending numerous meetings that will take most of your time, changing context frequently so you don’t leave anybody hanging for too long, and taking on way too many tasks in an attempt to keep everything under control. You may end up procrastinating when you’re out of brain power. 

How can you make sure that doesn’t happen anymore?

We can help you figure out the answer to this and the other challenges to your productivity. Keep reading so you can identify the four main productivity busters for C-suite execs… and more importantly, get ready to implement some solutions.  

Challenge 1: Context switching

In a recent study conducted by Cornell University and QatalogAI, researchers interviewed 1,000 participants in an attempt to understand the culture, mindset, and productivity of the modern working era. One of their findings points directly to context switching as a major productivity inhibitor.

Context switching happens when we take our minds off the project we’re working on and move on to an unrelated task. The switch can be as dramatic as going from strategy brainstorming to OKR tracking, or it can be as simple as going from checking your email to reviewing the last slide of a deck or reading a document someone just shared with you. 

How much time is context switching costing you?

The effects are the same no matter how big the switch is. The time you spend switching your context seems minor, but as the study suggests, people spend 36 minutes every day switching between tasks. What’s worse, it takes them 9.5 minutes to regain focus and get into a state of deep work.

So, let’s say your morning goes like this: You go from checking your email to sending some Slack messages, laying out your priorities, and making sure your calendar reflects them. Then you jump into your first meeting, work on an important project, and get on a Zoom call with one of your mentors. Just letting your brain adjust to those activities takes more than an hour of your day.

How are startup executives dealing with context switching?

One priority became evident during the onboarding of one of our customers, the VP of revenue at a Series A startup based in Pittsburgh: He needed to keep his priorities in check because he had been using open browser tabs as his own to-do list. This practice was highly stress-inducing because he kept toggling back and forth between unfinished tasks, never focusing on and finishing each one in order of priority. 

The solution? Compartmentalize your calendar

The VP’s new executive assistant proposed an immediate plan: compartmentalize his calendar by establishing the cadence and duration of recurring meetings, allocating fixed times for deep work, and distributing his priorities throughout the week.

This had a major impact on the VP’s productivity and peace of mind. That’s why his EA keeps on auditing his calendar to spot double bookings and avoid duplicate meetings and long hours. This way, the calendar remains as organized as it was on the first day.

Calendar compartmentalization is a color-coded, highly visual, and practical way to divide your workload. And when you have an executive assistant to maintain your calendar, you also have a business partner to hold you accountable on a consistent basis. 


“I just run through my tabs and call out things that I have [as action items]. Getting [my] EA to put them) into a sheet  […] is helpful. I can’t quantify how much time that’s saving me but it’s helping with sanity.”

Challenge 2: Excessive meetings

One of the first asks we make of new customers is for them to provide us with a screenshot of their current calendar. By taking a sneak peek at their workload, we can measure where their time is going so we can develop a productivity plan for them. If you’re a startup executive yourself, it won’t surprise you to see that meetings are what keep executives the busiest. 

One of our customers once told us her screen wasn’t big enough to fit her entire calendar given the fact she was the Chief People Officer at a Series C startup and had team members scattered across four time zones. Some meetings are truly important, but according to Zippia, employees spend around 15% of their time in meetings, and 71% of those meetings bear limited results. Those stats suggest that executives are wasting valuable time by attending meetings they shouldn’t have been invited to in the first place. 

How to avoid excessive meetings? Group and delegate

When we first met the SVP of sales at a Series C startup based in San Francisco, she told us one of her biggest struggles was saying no. As a result, she accepted and attended more meetings than she could take, so at some point, she decided to keep on meeting with her direct reports once a week and group similar-natured meetings to make the best of the time she had with her team. 

Her thought process was simple: “Which one-on-ones can I get rid of and solve in a group meeting?” 

This was a very effective way of optimizing her meeting time. But if you want to take her productive approach one giant leap forward, don’t just group-related meetings. Instead, delegate meeting attendance to somebody else, like your executive assistant. They can take notes and capture action items that are directly related to you, and filter out the information that isn’t relevant to you and would otherwise occupy your valuable time.

Challenge 3: Taking on too many tasks

Startups tend to move much faster than established enterprises because there’s a never-ending need for constant growth. This means that you may have to wear many different hats, especially if you’re in an early-stage startup. 

This is exactly the case of one of our customers: the CEO of a Series A startup in New Jersey. When we were in the process of helping him identify his priorities, he listed everything he was in charge of: from onboarding new hires to establishing new processes,  and, of course, leading the company. We realized he was the de facto CEO, CFO, and CHRO. Where to start when there is so much on your plate?  

The solution: ruthlessly prioritize

Every post-PMF founder should have three top priorities: hiring top talent, developing and retaining A players, and talking to customers. Everything else that falls out of that scope can likely be done by somebody else. If you haven’t hired any C-level executives yet, look to your management team for support. They may not know the ropes of every process you’ve taken over so far, but coaching them will get them there sooner rather than later. 

If you still have enough bandwidth to take on yet another project after you tackle these top three priorities, choose the one that will have the biggest impact on your company and your role. How can you do that? By using the Viva funnel: 

The Viva productivity funnel

Whether you’ve heard of it by name or not, you may have already made this a part of your thought process without even knowing it. This tool helps you see the importance of a task versus the urgency of it. It is as simple as creating a funnel with four sections: urgent, not urgent, important, and not important.

This is how some of our customers have used this approach: 

  1. Schedule weekly leadership meeting prep. By doing this, the EA ensures her executive is well-prepped before entering any meeting.
  2. Delegate the onboarding process. One of our EAs identified a need in her executive’s role and when she brought it up, her exec delegated the creation of the entire onboarding process to her.
  3. Prioritize external meetings. When one of our EAs realized her executive was not spending enough time meeting with customers, she proposed a calendar overhaul and prioritized external meetings.
  4. Eliminate knee-jerk reactions. Checking email or Slack multiple times a day is a productivity killer. One of our EAs assigned two time slots every day for her executive to check his notifications.

Use this tool to place tasks and projects in whichever section you see fit.

It will help you see what needs to be done as soon as possible, what can wait, what can be delegated, and what can be erased.

Challenge 4: Procrastination

Procrastination takes many forms. It can be as obvious as scrolling mindlessly through LinkedIn while you should be working on a deck. Or it may be a bit harder to spot, like planning an executive offsite while you should be getting ready to present at a board meeting. You are, indeed, getting work done, but your focus is not in the right place, and there is a name for that: proactive procrastination. Doing something just for the sake of being busy is another way of procrastinating. If you’re postponing what you should actually be doing, you’re procrastinating.  

The solution to procrastinating? Pause, reset, and allocate focus time

The world is designed to distract you whether you work at an office, from a coworking space, or at home. Close email and Slack, put your phone in silent mode and make a placeholder in your calendar for as long as you can afford to focus on one thing only. This may be half an hour or two hours, but make sure that you are solely devoted to one task during the time you designated for it. 

Procrastination can also be combated with accountability, a core value of our customers. One of our customers once told us that among the expectations he had from his executive assistant was to be held accountable: “I thrive on accountability,” he said. If this resonates with you, it may be time for you to look for a business partner who can hold you accountable.

The ultimate productivity solution? Get an Executive Assistant

All those things mentioned above are smart areas where executives can get more time back, but it’s disruptive to think about, so if you’ve got someone whose main job is to boost your productivity, then you can really focus on pushing your business goals ahead in less time. It’s like making your efforts count more, helping you do what you enjoy and be a better leader, all in less time. An EA takes all the solutions proposed above and takes them to the next level.

“One of the reasons I decided to go with Viva is because I take mentoring, training, and learning very, very seriously but my capacity is so strained, I can’t do [these] by myself, especially for an operational’s role. [With my EA,] it is almost like we can double team it — maybe more than double team — because I know you have a bigger team behind you.”

How can an EA help you boost your productivity? 

  • An EA not only gives you a to-do list. They understand your priorities, and schedule and order your tasks accordingly.
  • An EA won’t only attend meetings on your behalf; they’ll act as a defense barrier to avoid unnecessary meetings.
  • An EA doesn’t only find time in your calendar; they spot upcoming needs and bring structure into your life.
  • An EA doesn’t just send reminders; they hold you accountable and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

If you’re ready for the ultimate productivity solution, chat with our team to see what an EA can do for you.

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