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Want to Be More Productive? Here's How Google Executives Structure Their Schedules These five tactics from inside Google will help you focus and protect your time.

By Jason Feifer

When a Google executive is feeling unproductive, they have a secret weapon: They can call the company's in-house productivity expert for help.

Her name is Laura Mae Martin. She started in sales at Google, and was so efficient that she eventually moved into the office of the CEO, where she coaches senior executives on how to manage their time. She starts by asking executives identify their top three priorities — and then puts them to work.

"After I ask an executive I'm coaching what their top three priorities are," Martin writes in her new book, Uptime, "I pull out their printed calendar from the last few weeks. I give them a highlighter and ask them to circle every meeting, task, or individual work time that relates to those three priorities. It quickly starts to become clear whether or not time spent is lining up with priorities."

If your days often feel out of control, or if you're adding more items than you're checking off from your to-do list, you might want to run an exercise like this too.

And that's just the start.

I spoke to Martin for my podcast, Problem Solvers, where we discussed how to say identify your priorities, how to say no to things that don't match them, and how to create a "list funnel" to keep yourself on track.

You can listen to our conversation in the player above. Or read below, where I share five brief tips from her book Uptime that I found especially eye-opening.

1. How to clean up your to-do list

If your to-do list has gotten too large, Martin suggests creating a list with literally everything you believe you can or should be doing. Then, she writes:

I identify roughly a third of the things on the list that are lowest priority. Those are usually the things that have been in my brain to do for a while and keep getting carried over without getting done from list to list. Then for each of those bottom-third items I ask myself:

What is the worst thing that would happen if I never do this? Is there any other way for this to get done without my doing it? Is there any way for me to half-do this and move on from it?

These questions can get you thinking about how to delegate, how to streamline what you're working on, and how to cut corners where possible.

Those questions, she says, will help you decide what tasks are worth handing off to someone else, simplifying, or maybe even skipping entirely.

2. How to plan for urgent tasks

Here's a familiar problem: Your day is packed with wall-to-wall meetings, and then something urgent comes up. When are you supposed to do this urgent thing? You have two choices: You can either cancel one of your meetings, or work later into the night.

There's a better way: Put an "urgent time block" on your calendar every day. Martin explains how this works for Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian:

He sets it for the same time every day. This way, if urgent things come up, there is always time to fit them in without affecting the rest of his calendar. Also, his team knows that this block of time is the same every day so anyone who needs to urgently speak with him can plan their time accordingly. If nothing urgent comes up, this becomes his work time or a chance to check email. This is similar to office hours held by college professors. It's always available and always at the same time, but if no one comes to chat, it becomes work time.

Martin says that another Google executive does this — but with one notable difference. The exec doesn't tell her team when the urgent block is. That way, if nobody needs it, she can use that time for herself.

3. How to focus on bigger things

If you have something important to do, block time for it on your calendar. But sometimes, Martin writes, you should block an entire day for nothing in particular:

Don't underestimate the value of the occasional entirely unplanned day. If you have the ability to do a "no meeting" day on your schedule, take it! A day with no meetings or commitments at all is so different than a day with even one thirty-minute meeting at 2:00 p.m. For some reason, having even a single commitment feels more than thirty minutes' worth because your entire day still has to flow around it.

This, Martin writes, helps you feel "in total control of what you need to do and when you want to do it, and gets you back in touch with your natural productivity patterns."

4. How to tackle huge projects

Have a big project that can't be finished in one sitting? It's often hard to start projects like this, because they seem so daunting — and it's even harder to keep working on them day after day.

Try this, Martin writes: Stop in the middle.

When you are working on a larger, ongoing task that cannot be completed in one sitting, it usually feels right to find a natural stopping point—like the end of an email or the end of a project section. You step away at that point, and let it go until the next time you work on it, when you will start at the beginning of a new section. Ironically, that makes yet another starting point that your brain has to get over. It's as if you're starting a large task all over again. Alternatively, stopping in the middle of something makes it easier to slide back into what you were doing and start again because you already knew what you were about to do next.

Martin says she did this with her book. Instead of stopping a day's work at the end of a chapter, she'd stop in the middle of a chapter — which made it easier to pick up the next day. "If you're working on large multistep projects," she advises, "try to stop at a point when your brain already knows the next thing to do."

5. How to make your meetings more efficient

Meetings can drag on — but they don't have to! Martin suggests creating shorter meeting times, like 15-minute check-ins, which forces everyone to be more succinct and focused. "Scarcity breeds innovation," she writes.

She offers Google's "Lightening Talks" as an example:

One of my favorite activities that's common at Google is Lightning Talks, where presenters have one slide and three minutes to teach the audience something, get buy-in for their idea, practice a sales pitch, or give an update on a project. The presentations are automatically timed so that after three minutes, the next slide appears, and you're "kicked off" the stage. The audience is instructed to clap loudly when they see the next slide so presenters know it's time for them to go.

It's amazing how much is communicated when the presenter knows ahead of time that they have only three minutes to make an impact. They "trim the fat" from their presentations; they make their one slide visually stimulating and compact, including only the most important elements. They have one chance to make an impact, and they make the most of it. Not to mention the audience is highly engaged because the information is succinct and they aren't being asked to listen to anything extraneous.

Now everyone's engaged, everyone's moving fast, and a lot is accomplished in a short amount of time — which you can't say for most meetings!

Jason Feifer

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief

Jason Feifer is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine and host of the podcast Problem Solvers. Outside of Entrepreneur, he is the author of the book Build For Tomorrow, which helps readers find new opportunities in times of change, and co-hosts the podcast Help Wanted, where he helps solve listeners' work problems. He also writes a newsletter called One Thing Better, which each week gives you one better way to build a career or company you love.

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