The secret productivity hack of Fortune 500 CEOs, world champion athletes and self-made billionaires | Inquirer Business

The secret productivity hack of Fortune 500 CEOs, world champion athletes and self-made billionaires

/ 02:01 AM August 01, 2022
illustration by rachel revilla

Illustration by Rachel Revilla

If you master it, then you can be certain that you will maximize your chances to reach your full potential as a business leader—in whatever area, profession or industry. And if you own or lead a business, you will be sure to optimize your positive impact on your business as well.

If you don’t, then you can work as hard as you want, but a lot of the time and energy you invest may be wasted. Improvements in your productivity will only happen by accident, not by design. Even worse, you may find yourself in a situation where everything you do feels like an uphill battle. On top of it, your lack of productivity will negatively influence your teams, your people and the productivity of your business.


In my work as the “mentor of the giants” (Fortune), advisor to the presidents of some of the world’s largest companies, coach and consultant to top Fortune 500 CEOs, and even world champion athletes, there is one thing that they all do habitually, every single day: they have routines, rituals and checklists they consistently improve to optimize their performance.

What gets measured, gets done

Every pilot has a checklist for take off, even if he may have flown airplanes for over 25 years. As a business leader, you need to have a checklist for anything and everything that is important to you, that you want to optimize and that you do more than once. Examples are: team meetings, board meetings, negotiations with clients, planning meetings (even the weekly ones), presentations, speeches and so on.


In my work as a consultant of some of the world’s most famous brands and largest companies, I have seen again and again how much time is wasted because there are no clear processes, no clear checklists and no clear routines in place for the activities that the owners and top executives do every day. They may have clearly defined guidelines for yearly planning and budget meetings, but these only happen once a year in most companies.

You need a checklist and routine for everything and anything that is important to your business so you can optimize it. That is true for your business and for yourself.

Let me use myself as an example. I have routines and checklists for every client meeting, every call, every keynote I give, every negotiation, every client project, every team meeting, every CEO or business owner I coach and consult for. In my consulting business, we have high-performance checklists and routines for every project. Even though every client is unique, every business is unique, and therefore, every one of the solutions we create for our clients is unique, my team and I could not deliver the kind of extraordinary results we consistently produce for our clients if we did not have clearly defined processes on how to solve our clients’ complex challenges and how to empower them to reach their goals.


When I was coaching a world-famous athlete before his attempt at a new world record, I went over his routines, rituals and processes that he applied before every competition. Then we optimized them together. The new world record he set afterwards is still undefeated.

Most of us are familiar with the Japanese term “kaizen,” which stands for continuous improvement. However, for most companies, this is just an empty word. They do not really know how to implement it practically. The solution: checklists and routines.

True satisfaction comes from continuous improvement. This feeling that you get when you expand your boundaries, when you push the limits of what you thought possible, both for yourself and for your business, that process never ends.

Your two most important routines of the day

These are your evening routine and your morning routine. While they do not have anything directly to do with your business or professional life, they are the foundation for your optimum performance during the day.


Every single high achiever I have ever had the pleasure of working with, coaching and advising uses their own individual morning and evening routines to make sure they will perform at their best when they are most under pressure.

Start by putting anything down that you think would be useful to close the current day and prime yourself for the next day (the evening routine), and to jumpstart your day with the right mindset and energy (your morning routine).

I encourage you, however, to surf the web and see how some other high achievers are using their morning and evening routines to give you some inspiration. But beware: your routines must be unique for them to work best. You can copy and imitate in the beginning to try the routines of others, but then it’s up to you to put together your own so they fit you like a glove.

Take me, for example. I review my goals every evening and morning. I also review my ideal vision of what I want my life to be like in 10 to 15 years, in all of its aspects (I talk about that at length in my book “Nothing is impossible”). In the evening, I review some of my biggest successes, the learnings of the day and my top three priorities for the next day. In the morning, I do some yoga breathing exercises and take a cold shower or a quick swim to prime my body for the day.Teach this secret to others

I encourage you to teach your top team members, employees, board, etc. this secret of putting routines and checklists together for where they need to be at their best so that it becomes ingrained in your company’s culture. You will be surprised at how productivity and happiness will soar. If you have children, teach them the “checklist” habit as early as possible.

3 simple steps to get you started

1. Take 3 minutes to identify an area or activity that you want to improve that is vital to your business success.

2. Take 5 minutes to remember your top three best performances in that area. For example, if you selected “board meetings,” then select the three meetings where you were at your best.

3. Now, take 15 minutes to analyze these performances as if you were your own coach. What do they have in common? What are some of the common denominators in all of these? What did you do that enabled you to be at your best? Write these elements down. Even if you find only two things, that’s a great start.

Next time you have another board meeting coming up, review your checklist before and make sure that you apply what you have learned. Then, and this is the most crucial step, analyze your performance afterwards. What did you miss? What could you have done better? What went surprisingly well? Add these new elements to your checklist so you can continuously improve your performance.

When does that process stop? Never! Even some of the most accomplished musicians, best selling authors, world-famous entertainers, philanthropists, CEOs and self-made billionaire entrepreneurs I know never ever stop improving their lists. And neither should you. INQ

Tom Oliver, a “global management guru” (Bloomberg), is the chair of The Tom Oliver Group, the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world’s most influential family businesses, medium-sized enterprises, market leaders and global conglomerates. For more information and inquiries: or email

[email protected]

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