Recently, one of the innovation leaders going through our Innovation eXcelerator Coaching Program asked me “How do you get it all done? How do you find time to focus on innovation and creativity when you have all this other stuff going on?” As an innovation leader, you’ve probably asked yourself the same question. Unfortunately, innovation winds up taking a back seat to pressing meetings, fighting fires, and other low-impact activities. I’ve become relentless with some key productivity habits that have boosted my effectiveness as an innovation leader. Here are the innovation productivity hacks I use and recommend for innovation leaders.

  • Get clear on your mission. What are you trying to accomplish? What impact do you want to have? Write it down, making sure to focus on the outcomes and the impact you want to have on others. It may not seem like it, because sometimes innovation gets caught up with technology, but innovation is a people-centered practice. For example, one innovation leader we work with leads a nonprofit. Her innovation mission is to help people think differently about the impact they can have on her community. Your mission should be personal. Even if you initially define it as “I want to achieve 150% ROI for my company,” it’s important to translate this mission into what it means for you personally. .
  • Block your time. The author Nir Eyal shared this approach with me and some others in a program I went through last year. Now, blocking your time isn’t new. I’ve been trying to block my calendar for at least 10 years. But using Nir’s technique, I was finally able to start blocking big chunks of time to use in a meaningful way. Nir wrote a book, Indistractable, where he shares techniques to avoid distractions and get work done. His approach to blocking time is about developing a mindset to help minimize distraction. I recommend reading his blog post about blocking your calendar, which helped me so much. Now I have weeks and months at a time blocked out for whatever I need to get done. I even have time blocked for when I’m going to put my two-year-old daughter to bed. It may seem a bit anal, but you have to find what works for you. And at the beginning of next week, make sure to block your calendar so you have time for those things that are most important.
  • Separate needle-moving from non-needle-moving activities. It never dawned on me until I got this advice last year that I was lumping all my tasks into the same bucket. If you’ve read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or similar books, you may already know this. But I needed to hear it: separate needle-moving from non-needle-moving activities. Sometimes you build your task list just so you have everything in one place. But a lot of times you’re checking things off that are on other people’s agenda. That doesn’t mean those things aren’t important. But when you look back at the end of the year, will you have moved the needle on your mission? You have to be clear about what those needle-moving activities are. And you have to prioritize them. Now I have one list of tasks that connect back to my mission, and a second list of tasks that don’t but are still important.
  • Make time for “deep work”. Last year I came across this online service called Caveday. During their 2-3-hour cave sessions, you work in Zoom with 80 or 90 other creatives and innovators from around the world, on mute. For the entire session, you monotask. It takes a minute to get used to being in a Zoom call with so many people. And they have you put your phone away. Can you imagine that – three hours without your phone? Some people would have an anxiety attack. I know I did at first. But you should sign up for a few Caveday sessions and see if it works for you. Once I went through three or four sessions, I was hooked. I’d gotten so much work done in such a short period of time. To drive innovation, you need big blocks of time to get big things done. I recommend setting aside at least one day a week to do 3 or 4 hours of deep work sessions.
  • Use a daily/weekly planner. If you’re trying to get more time in your week to go deep and think creatively, make sure you have a daily/weekly planner. I personally use this high-performance planner. I love this planner because it has things like weekly layout and daily prompts. It’s great, particularly if you’re focused on needle-moving and staying connected to your innovation mission. It doesn’t matter which planner you use, but it’s crucial to take time every day and week to map out the big things you’re trying to get done.

I imagine that you’re scratching your head and thinking “This is too much to do!” My recommendation is to just start with one thing. For example, can you take some time this Sunday to block out your week? Or can you make a shortlist of your needle-moving activities? If you only choose to do two of the productivity hacks I shared, my recommendation is to write out your mission statement and start making time for deep work. Those two things alone will make you three times more effective as an innovation leader than you are today.

Good luck with accelerating!