N 2006, AFTER I’D WRITTEN an article about
outsourcing R&D, I received a reader email
seeking sources for a book on mobile life-
styles. My correspondent, a guest lecturer
at Princeton, wanted to know whether I was
aware of any “employees who have ‘out-
sourced’ themselves to create more time in
their lives? In other words,” he wrote, “have
you heard of any employees who have paid
a freelancer to perform their job function
unbeknownst to the boss?” I
A CEO’s role
big-picture responsibilities not easily
crossed of a to-do
list. Some ways to
think about productivity in the top job:
View delegation in
terms of employee
The most important
is delegating. But
don’t just shove
things of your plate;
rather, consider how
new challenges helps
their career paths.
Be the master of no
Be choosier in
and requests to
participate in projects. Require inviters to explain why
your presence will
make a diference.
customer satisfaction surveys
terms of what you
should be doing to
get the best possible responses from
your most important constituents.
If they are happy,
then you are likely
with the long term
Sure, today matters.
But you should be
just as focused on
what your company
needs to do this
year—and how you
will get it there.
Push down decision
making, or limit
attendees. Host an
occasional brown-bag lunch to discuss
tools and tactics.
I had not, and I wasn’t able to help this
unknown person. Some guy named Tim Ferriss.
A year later, of course, Ferriss shot to fame
with The 4-Hour Workweek, his have-your-cake-and-eat-it-ideally-on-a-beach-in-Aruba best-seller about upending the relationship between
time and work. The book resonated powerfully
with entrepreneurs, famously made twitchy by
the word delegate.
Back then, startup entrepreneurs typically had
no one to delegate to. Today, founding teams are
no bigger: In fact, a growing number of companies
have no employees. But now there exists a slew of
devices, services, and platforms eager to unburden
the core competency that is you. Productivity tools
organize you, facilitate tasks, or—thanks to the gig
economy—lift whole responsibilities of your plate.
The dividend they pay is time.
In Ferriss’s philosophy, freed time should be
used for living: ideally buf and large. But for many
The earlier, blocking-and-tackling stage
of entrepreneurship lends itself to traditional
productivity measures. Many tasks required
to launch a company typically fall under what
Reb Rebele, a professor of people analytics and
applied positive psychology at the University of
Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, calls “decompos-
able problems.” Such problems “are best solved by
breaking them down into constituent parts and
tackling those parts one by one,” says Rebele.
“A lot of productivity tools are built around that.”
By contrast, the high-level work of CEOs is
less decomposable. Does that mean leaders
pursuing the big picture must think diferently
about productivity? Yes and no, say the experts.