Think Lazy, Watch Reality TV, and Other Odd Productivity Tips From CEOs of America’s Fastest-Growing Businesses

Ever need a simple solution to a thorny problem? Try thinking lazy.

That’s the counterintuitive advice of Bryan Cowan, CEO of Irving, Texas-based Acuity Surgical, the No. 2,954 company on the 2021 Inc. 5000 list. “Lazy people know how to get things done quickly,” he says–an attitude that helped his company get through the early days of the pandemic. 

From watching HGTV while running the shop to not taking phone calls, many other leaders of America’s fastest-growing companies also have interesting, offbeat, and most importantly, useful tips for boosting productivity and making strategic decisions. Here’s a sampling of them from the annual Inc. 5000 CEO survey.

Think lazy 

As the pandemic hit, elective spine surgeries were shut down, which is the segment we serve. As a self-described lazy person, it became easy to know what to do. My partner and I decided that we only had so much head space to worry. And we knew that allowing our employees to worry through this pandemic would be counterproductive, devastating to our great culture–and be a lot more work for us. So we decided we would have zero layoffs, furloughs, or pay decreases. 

Our only expectation in return was for employees to stop stressing about their job security and instead focus on making us stronger as a company and team. The laziness decision has paid dividends already. We are launching eight new products this year. 
–Bryan Cowan, Acuity Surgical, No. 2,954  

Get things done in your sleep

Very often in the early morning, my mind awakes while I’m sleeping and begins to process through difficulties from the previous few days. Frequently I will wake up with a good solution. 

A few years ago, when we were less sophisticated with our marketing programs, I had a customer who was pressuring me for a significant and untenable price discount. Then, I had a dream about allocating a large amount of marketing dollars to this customer in a tiered model based upon performance. Although this is not uncommon today, back then when we were much smaller we didn’t have any such programs. We were able to save the pressure on a 20 percent discount by allocation of a temporary 10 percent marketing budget that also drove sales significantly. 
–Cameron Clarke, Sunderstorm, No. 319 

Imagine the worst 

I imagine the absolute worst possible outcome for any decision that I am about to make. No matter what I come up with, I am generally able to still think of solutions. This takes most anxiety away from difficult decisions and allows me to get after it with less inhibition. 

I started putting this into play back in 2015 when I was deciding if I should purchase Howard Medical from my father (I did). It is difficult to put a dollar value on how much this decision-making framework has saved me, but I’m guessing I would not be running a company that made the Inc. 5000 without it.
-Mark Litton, Howard Medical Company, No. 1,124

Do pull-ups 

We have a pull-up bar in our Miami office and whenever we feel like things are not “flowing,” we do pull-ups. It works. One day during the 2019 Mother’s Day season we had approximately 7,000 orders come in with the date in the wrong field. Our team had to change all 7,000 orders manually. 

We were all exhausted, so we took turns fixing the orders while the other team members did rounds of pull-ups, which worked out to be every 15-30 minutes or so, then we’d switch. It kept us energized and moving. Had we not changed the shipping field, we would have spent an additional $45,000-$50,000 more on shipping for these orders.
–Juan Palacio, BloomsyBox.com, No. 704

Watch more reality TV

When I lack motivation, I work from bed while watching reality TV–usually a lot of HGTV. I feel more relaxed because I am horizontal but still surprisingly productive. It helps me push through to being productive on days I otherwise didn’t think I had it in me to do. 

Internally, I’m pretty honest about it. My team knows when I’m working from bed and I think it makes them feel like they can take it easy as well when they need to. Covid-19 has been incredibly hard on people. You need to give yourself permission to be kind to your body and mind. 
–Milana Lewis, Stem, No. 611

Don’t do phone calls 

I think conference calls and other phone calls are huge time bandits. I can answer 50 client or vendor emails in the time I can take just one phone call, so I’m very particular about the calls I take. These days I answer 100-150+ emails per day between staff, clients, and vendors, and to be frank I don’t even mind it. I’d like to see someone have 100-150+ phone calls per day.
–Mark Olson, Adwire Media, No. 4,317

Have fun–and walk your dog

Anytime I find myself compelled to “grind and get it done” I step away and take Mr. Peabody, my French bulldog, outside. 

Just before Covid hit in 2020, I had made a strategic decision to recalibrate in several areas of our company. The timing was disastrous. By Q2, our sales were down 30 percent, our ad spend was up 150 percent, and our team was experiencing rapid turnover. So one day I just leashed my dog and walked to our local green space. I sat under a tree while Mr. Peabody explored, and realized there was one strategy to save the company we had not tried. I decided from this day out our team would have fun. And if the work we were doing was not fun, we would decline it. 

That afternoon, I announced to our skeleton crew our new strategic imperative: have fun no matter what. If a meeting wasn’t fun, cancel it. If they didn’t enjoy their work, shut down for the day. And to make it easy for all of us, I reduced our monthly sales target by 50 percent–just enough for us to do what we needed to do. 

The results? We tripled our sales volume. Total revenue increased by 69 percent, and our profit doubled. This catapulted us into a new level of operating which allowed us to hire additional high-caliber talent and make it to the Inc. 5000 list. If you had told me in Q2 2020 that we would make the list, I would have laughed out loud.
–Kathleen Bryars, Goodlife Institute, No.488 


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