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How managers are killing the productivity of their employees

Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of OktaTodd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta
Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?” is by Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched as my company evolved from an early-stage, scrappy startup to an established tech company. As Okta has transitioned, so has my role. I’ve gone from being extremely hands-on and getting most of the work done myself, to charting the course and navigating the industry. Nowadays, my role is to collect information from customers, employees, and industry leaders and get out of everyone else’s way.

In other words, it’s my job to not have work to do. I think of it as constantly working myself out of a job — any time I’m a bottleneck, or someone is reliant on me for something, I’m making the entire company less productive. Just like some of my co-workers want to end the day with “Inbox zero” my goal is to reach “Work zero.” My company’s productivity is my ultimate priority, and anytime I take away from that productivity, I’m taking away from Okta’s success.

That means I have to make smart decisions quickly or route the decision immediately to someone else who has the expertise to make the decision. I constantly ask myself “Do I need to do this or can someone else?” When I do spend serious time on work, it’s on actions with a quick turnaround, or decisions that have the potential for huge business impact and require information that only I have. So my advice for executives is to view your job as getting out of everyone else’s way – don’t limit the potential of others or the potential of your business by micromanaging. Here are a few ways managers can be more productive:

Create a strict schedule
If the value of a meeting isn’t clear, I won’t take it. I always ask the “why” for all appointments I’m asked to attend – even 15-minute meetings or lunch invitations. Only once I have all the facts will I RSVP “yes” or “no.” I’ve also found this philosophy encourages team members to think hard about whether or not they need me in meetings – and often times, they realize they don’t. And to make the most of our joint time, my co-founder Frederic Kerrest and I will often take separate meetings. We like to say, “If there isn’t an agenda, there shouldn’t be a meeting.”

Get to “work zero”
Complete the tasks that are urgent as soon as possible. It adds mental fatigue and unneeded stress when you procrastinate an item you don’t feel like doing. Learning to complete even unpleasant tasks efficiently is a big step toward achieving “work zero” and frees up time to focus on what really matters.

Stop writing long emails
Brevity is best. I rarely write emails that are more than a few sentences. If it takes much more than that, an in-person conversation with a customer or colleague, or a quick text to someone outside the office, is likely a better use of my time.

Be transparent about your communication policy
For me, emails rarely merit an immediate response. I’ve always been clear with my colleagues: I’ll respond to an email by the end of the day; you should text me with an alert if something’s a need-to-know-now; calls are for anything urgent (and my family). Communicate with your teams and clearly explain how to best get something in front of you – that way you can focus on what’s actually important and not on the blinking notification begging for your attention.

Train for the marathon, not the sprint
You have to take care of yourself or you’ll break down. You can only handle 18-hour workdays for so long. Finding balance is important to long-term success. For me, exercise is a form of stress relief. I find that I get most stressed in the morning, so I started working out in the mornings to get the day off on the right foot.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?

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