5 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Your Productivity in 2021

Despite all of the challenges of 2020, 93% of executives are optimistic about having a successful future. To better understand what’s fueling that confidence, we asked 500 executives about how they have sustained their productivity and continued to drive their businesses forward.

We learned that most executives retained their optimism by making changes and investments that allowed them to tackle challenges faster and more effectively than they had been able to before the pandemic. As a result, they’ve been able to pivot their businesses and create paths forward, even if they’re not hitting the goals that they originally intended.

While most of the changes leaders made were in direct response to the external challenges they were facing at the time, many of the shifts are worth retaining in the new year.

Here are five key takeaways that will amplify your productivity in 2021.

1 Use a Productivity Management System

In our survey, 18% of respondents had adopted a new productivity system since COVID-19 struck, bringing the total percentage of executives using one to 75%.

For many busy leaders, the decision to adopt a new time management system was spurred by the need to find a way to become more agile while still achieving predictable goals. 32% said that learning to pivot quickly was the biggest factor in maximizing their productivity in a chaotic environment.

However, as you go into 2021, hold onto and adapt the system you developed. Not only will it help you efficiently navigate shifts in your business, but it will also help you retain the ability to be present in your personal life.

If you haven’t adopted a productivity management system, now is a great time to start.

  1. Agile Results. 28% of executives in our survey used this system. Not only is it effective in rapidly changing times, but it’s also straightforward to adopt. Learn more about it here.
  2. GTD. 21% of executives favored GTD, a classic productivity system that’s highly customizable to meet the needs of different kinds of schedules and priorities. Check out this article to learn how to make it work for you.
  3. Time blocking. 21% used time blocking. This simple system is a great option if your primary goal is to stop procrastinating or multitasking and focus on your highest priorities. Learn how a virtual assistant can help you adopt it.

Regardless of if you adopt a formal system or develop your own, taking a structured approach to maximizing your productivity can give you a strong foundation to rely on even when your personal and/or work life is unsteady.

2 Adopt a Contact Management System

In the absence of shared spaces like offices and social venues, professional relationships take a lot of effort to maintain. Yet, it’s in this dynamic environment that a robust social network is more critical than ever.

50% of executives say they’ve sought more help with strategic projects than before the pandemic. This includes getting feedback on potential solutions, seeking recommendations on new tools and hires, and overall leveraging their network’s and team’s insights to make better decisions.

To maximize the knowledge-sharing benefits from your network, create a contact management system that makes staying in-touch become inevitable. Here’s how it works:

  • Organize all of your contacts in a CRM or a similar system. Their records include all of their key information, such as contact information and job role, plus a tag that describes what type of relationship you have with them.
  • Every time you have a conversation with someone, you log a note about your interaction and add a date that you’d like to follow-up with them next. If you discussed time-sensitive topics, set a date to check-in at the next milestone, otherwise make a reminder to reach out next quarter or so.
  • Every week you receive reminders to check-in with a few of your connections. This helps you keep your relationships strong and opens the door for more mutually beneficial opportunities than if you only reach out on an as-needed basis.

Once every contact has a follow-up attached to them, it’s easy to stay in touch, even when life is busy. Check out this article to learn more: 

How to Strengthen Your Network with a Contact Management System

3 Hire a Virtual Assistant

Success in 2021 will require a laser-focus on your strategic priorities, so you can continue to pivot as necessary. To do this, 49% of executives are seeking more help with administrative tasks and staying organized than in years prior.

As you delegate more tasks, consider offloading them to a virtual assistant company instead of your team. Here’s why:

  • Like you, your team needs to focus on their strategic priorities to keep pushing your business forward. Delegating tedious tasks to them can slow down progress.
  • There’s a strong chance that your sales and administrative processes are inefficient. A managed virtual assistant company can offer best practices to improve your systems so that your VA can finish tasks faster than if you were to do them yourself.
  • Outsourcing tedious tasks lets you focus on your goals without worrying about things like data integrity, scheduling meetings, following up with contacts, etc.

A virtual assistant can also help you implement the other four takeaways in this article so that you can make 2021 your most productive year yet. To learn more about how a virtual assistant can amplify your team’s productivity, download our guide.



4 Streamline Your Tech Stack

89% of executives have adopted new tools since the pandemic began. This includes software to aid remote work, such as chat and task management apps and business investments, including CRMs and prospect research tools.

While tools can help business functions run more efficiently, having too many and/or the wrong ones can significantly slow you down.

To maximize your productivity going into 2021, evaluate your tech stack and streamline where possible. Ask yourself:

  • Is each of my tools delivering their intended value, and how often are they used?
  • Do any of them have overlapping functionality?
  • Do I need all of each tool’s features, or can I downgrade to a simpler alternative?

Use your answers to those questions to guide which tools you retain in the new year and which ones you can eliminate or replace.

5 Maintain Your Work-Life Balance

In our 2019 Executive Productivity survey, we asked respondents to tell us what habit had the biggest impact on their productivity, and the most popular response was maintaining work-life balance.

At the time, achieving work-life balance felt like an accomplishment to many people and, those who had it appreciated the mental and emotional benefits it offered.

However, with the absence of commutes and work-related events, 57% of executives reported an improvement since the pandemic began.

While 2021 will likely bring back commutes and some of the after-hours work events that limited personal time, reengage with them slowly, if possible. Take the time to consider which ones are truly a net add to your personal and professional fulfillment. This will allow you to methodically commit to new activities so you still have the time and energy to be present in your personal life.

However, if you’re one of the 21% of people whose work-life balance has decreased this year, take steps to improve 2021.

Balance may not be possible, but integration is. Work-life integration is a time management philosophy that involves prioritizing professional and personal activities based on their impact and urgency rather than trying to divide your day between work and non-work time. This means you may resolve personal issues that arise midday and, in exchange, finish work projects late in the evenings or on weekends.

The goal is to reduce stress and procrastination by tackling key activities as needed. Check out this article to learn what this looks like in practice:

How Executives Can Achieve Work-Life Integration