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16 Middle Eastern CEOs Share The Productivity Hacks that Keep Them On Their Game

From applying the 20/80 rule to taking a morning shot of apple cider vinegar, these are 16 productivity hacks used by some of the Middle East's most inspirational leaders.

Getting things done feels amazing, doesn't it? Especially that buoyant mood you get when you cross off a task on your to-do list, or that feeling of self-accomplishment when you realize you haven't procrastinated all day. Productivity feels great and - admittedly or not - everyone has their own secret hack to get them through the day, whether it's a cup of coffee, a 20-minute morning run or an app to keep track of daily to-dos. We asked 16 Middle Eastern CEOs, from Emirati angel investor Elissa Freiha, to the Syrian juggler behind Techstars Ahmad Sufian Bayram, to Injaz Al Arab's power woman Dina El Mofty, for their productivity tips to create a more purposeful, balanced, and streamlined day. 

1. Karim ElSahy, CEO of Elves

“We're Mediterranean and love to talk," Karim ElSahy begins, explaining that while this may be okay in your personal life, at work "your point should be delivered as quickly and concisely as possible." In other words, "tell people exactly what you want, really listen to the point they are trying to make, and try to build the next point on top of it," says the founder of Elves, an AI-powered startup that uses chatbot to customize the user's shopping experience. "Too much of our conversation is scattered - solving for that is the way we try to raise productivity at Elves.”

Using artificial intelligence, Elves can handle anything and everything by being every user's personal little helper.  

2. Yasmine Helal, CEO of EducateMe

"I use a framework for a management system called Getting Things Done and have my entire life organised on an app called OmniFocus," Yasmine Helal admits. The entrepreneur, founder of one of Egypt's most impact-driven educational startups, defines herself as a productivity geek, adding that her husband, Mohamed, and his combat brainquil are the ones who introduced her to it, as he manages the franchisees of this product on the region. 

Redefining education in Egypt, EducateMe empowers children to self-actualise and purse their dreams.

3. Amir Allam, CEO of ElMenus

"Have a prioritized list of todos you want to focus on every day," Amir Allam says; but guess what the the first to-do on this list should be? "Prioritize this list". Allam, the founder of an online food platform that recently secured a 1.5 million investment, advises youth to not be "too much of a time nazi." He adds: "some of the best ideas you actually get are when you're wasting time, so don't neglect the importance of putting some time aside to waste on seemingly useless things," he says. "However, a prerequisite to this is to actually be efficient with the rest of your time."

 Having recently raised $1.5 million from Algebra VC, ElMenus is a growing food discovery platform. 

4. Amira Azzouz, CEO of Fustany.com

“Go for 20 percent of the work that will get you 80 percent of the results," Amira Azzouz asserts; the Egyptian entrepreneur at the helm of female platform Fustany confesses she read the tip somewhere before and has been implementing it ever since. "We all have a quite long and never-ending to-do list that grows day by day, so it’s important to tackle your work in a strategic way  based on results," she adds. "It’s also important not to get wrapped up only in day-to-day chores, but rather keep enough of your space and time for growth planning.”

Through her fashion and lifestyle portal Fustany, Amira Azzouz focuses on women empowerment.   

5. Elissa Freiha, Managing Director of WOMENA

"My tip? If you're feeling uninspired and unproductive, wake up earlier than usual, take a shot of apple cider vinegar, and start your day with one non-work thing you need to cross off your to-do list," says Elissa Freiha, angel investor and founder of the Middle East's first women-focused angel investment firm. The Emirati entrepreneur believes this hack makes you more motivated to do other things, which putting you on the path of productivity for the rest of the day. 

Educating and empowering women by being angel investors, Womena is reshaping the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the MENA region.  

6. Waleed Abdelrahman, CEO of Mumm

Complementing El Sahy, Waleed Abdelrahman focuses on the importance of listening by shedding light on the significance of "always asking your team and listening to them." The Egyptian entrepreneur adds that as a leader, "it saves so much time, as you’re able to work with the top talent of your team more effectively." He believes that this allows innovation to be executed with proficiency, as "visions are aligned due to better communication". Abdelrahman, the founder of a homemade food delivery platform that recently raised $200,000 from 500 Startups, wrapps up his productivity hack in one sentence: "listen to your team, your customers, your investors, and your network in order to cut time.”

 Last month, Mumm secured a $200 thousand investment from Silicon Valley's 500 Startups. 

 7. Abdelhameed Sharara, CEO of RiseUp

Abdelhameed Sharara learnt the value of taking care of your overall wellbeing. "It has a lot to do with what you eat, the frequency of exercise that you introduce to your life - whether it's walking or doing really hard, intense exercise, whatever suits the person - spirituality, mindfulness, or social life," says the entrepreneur, co-founder of the largest entrepreneurial event in the Middle East, Riseup Summit. Sharara believes you can never really reach the balance or equilibrium in such activities, but "you always have to put at least a book for them." The entrepreneur points out that he books these activities on his calendar, just as much as he books meetings. "In my calendar, I have my walks, for example, booked." "I have four to five spots of exercise during these hours in my week, but you have to be agile," Sharara asserts, adding that he also sets defined goals - whether it is a set amount of KMs of walking or minutes of exercising. "I treat my wellbeing the same way I treat my business, as much as I can," he explains, guided by the belief that this creates "qualitative work, gets you up in the morning better, enhances sleep mode, and it gets you self esteem." In a nutshell, he explains that productivity "is not a secret way of doing business, it’s about protecting the asset."

Known for its leading entrepreneurship event in the MENA region, RiseUp connects entrepreneurs with relevant resources all over the world.   

8. Mohamed El Dib, CEO of Monkeys in Tuxedos

"Growing up, I was always told: if you want to get something done well, give it to a busy person, but that's if they'll actually do it," says Mohamed el Dib. That's why his number one productivity hack is to "do more things, so you don't have time to slack," he says with a smile. "When you have a solid to-do list that you check off every day, this makes you run through the day and do one thing after the other until the day ends, and you've done all (or most) things on your to-do list," El Dib says. On his busiest days, the entrepreneur, who runs Cairo's wicked marketing agency Monkeys in Tuxedos and is also a Global Shaper, even has things like "have breakfast" on his to-do list. El Dib feels relieved when he checks things off that sometimes he even writes points on his checklist after he's done it, just to get the satisfaction of having done something. "I use an application called Clear. I like it because it's very simple - you can just drag items up or down the list and you swipe left to clear an item, and right if you want to delete it," he states. To avoid distraction, El Dib may even switch off his phone all day or go to the office super early and finish work before anyone arrives. 

A prominent speaker and a Global Shaper, El Dib runs Egyptian creative startup Monkeys in Tuxedos.

9. Nevine El Tahri, Managing Director of Delta Shield for Investments & Delta Inspire

“Definitely time management and prioritizing are the most important productivity tips," Nevine El Tahri asserted. To the prominent businesswoman, whose incubator Delta Shield for Investments provides seed investment for startups, "prioritizing means you know how to best meet deadlines," adding that "speed is key in any business but also making sure you provide quality." Since she is highly involved with startups and SMEs in Egypt, El Tahri sheds light on the importance of bootstrapping, which means "making the most out of the little money you have access to", and " do not be extravagant early on.”


Inspired by the young entrepreneurial talent post the revolution, Nevine El Tahri focuses on providing seed capital and space to incubate startups.  

10. Mahdi El Olabi, CEO of R2S Logistics

Mahdi EL Olabi starts off by explaining how he uses his mornings for productivity, by waking up no later than 6 am, planning the day for the next two to three hours and responding to all emails, messages, and whatsapps, as well as ensuring his calendar is going to be full and productive. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of people around us who like to dwell on negativity - intentionally and unintentionally - and there are challenges that can be overwhelming, so you need to be healthy mentally and physically," he asserts. "It will help with your overall positive attitude," he says, as he explains that as an entrepreneur, you have to be positive even in the darkest of days; "you need to reach deep down and pull some positivity out of there," he adds. El Olabi stresses that "when leading a team, if they see you miserable and depressed, you can kiss your business good bye," while asserting that not only will your own productivity be affected but the productivity of your team as well. "I had a boss in Canada, and whenever we had a challenge at work, he would say: hey buddy, you gotta make chicken soup out of chicken shit sometimes," says El Olabi, laughing. "Basically, you need to jump over that hurdle."

11. Ahmad Sufian Bayram, CEO of ArabShare and Regional Manager of TechStars

"As a founder, you will most likely spend a big chunk of your time in your email inbox," says Ahmad Bayram, who manages one of the world's most impactful startup incubators, Techstars. However, he highlights that "stress is NOT caused by the sheer volume of emails you have, but it is due to the chaotic way that we typically process them." To advise people, Bayram believes it is very critical to set up email rules to maintain sanity and stay proactive. "Don't leave any emails with a reply in mind - even though you don't have time to write it down and send it - label and categorize every email and don't forget to pause your inbox to focus on other tasks."

 Through his startup, Syrian entrepreneur Ahmed Buryam, supports Syrian nationals to gain access to entrepreneurship and build a supportive environment.

 12. Fadi Antaki, CEO of A15

Consistency, consistency, consistency; that's what Fadi Antaki holds on to for higher productivity. To Antaki, being productive is "to be consistent in everything you do, whether the follow up, the working hours, the follow through, the deliverables," says the CEO of Egyptian VC A15, who has been recently heavily investing in new startups, from online therapy platform Shezlong, to educational Tutorama, to homemade food delivery platform Mumm. He adds that "everything you do as a professional, if you are not consistent doing them, you will never be highly productive.“

13. Dina Mofty, CEO of Injaz Egypt

Dina Mofty, one of the powerplayers in the Egyptian startup ecosystem, has to constantly juggle between her personal schedule, her work schedule, and each of her three kids' schedules. The entrepreneur, who manages one of the Middle East's most powerful incubators and youth organisations, Injaz Egypt, productivity "is all about to-do lists that are synced to my calendar, linked with reminder alerts. It's a great feeling when you check off a whole bunch of things off your to do list," says Mofty, while sharing her favorite application to keeps her productive and organized: "informant HD."

 Empowering thousands of young individuals through INJAZ, Dina Mofty's organisation incubates, mentors, and educates entrepreneurs.

14. Emile Sawaya, CEO of ReAble

“Find out the time of the day when you can focus and get most done and shape your bizarre around it - no matter how bizarre," Lebanese CEO Emile Sawaya claims. He explains that people work best during different time slots, while relating his “turbo mode” to his cofounders'; however, "with team members in three time zones it also ensures everyone is in sync and technically the work never stops." He continued to say that there is a time of the day that no matter where each member is, they communicate on Skype, "so everyone is on the same page and tasks and allocations are agreed upon." For higher productivity amongst his team members, they use programs like Asana or Pivotal Tracker so that they can collect analytics and then make improvements accordingly. Sawaya explains that since "the method is flexible, we can quickly adapt to sudden situations," adding that through trial and error "we've managed to triple our productivity within the first month trying this.” "Oh, and swallow that ego and allow any employee at any level to criticize leadership."

Cofounded by Lebanese Emile Sawaya, ReAble helps people with cognitive difficulties to manage financial transactions and management processes.  

 15. Kunal Kapoor, CEO of The Luxury Closet

"My number one productivity tip is PRIORITIZATION!" says the businessman, CEO of Dubai e-commerce giant The Luxury Closet. "It may sound simple, however, I think it's the one principle that can make or break a company," he adds, as he suggests to building a Scrum board, or doing it on Trello, or through a to-do list. "But make sure you let some fires burn while you tackle what is critical," he warns. 

Featuring top luxury brands from all over the world, Dubai-based The Luxury Closet aims to disrupt the online business strategy model. 

16. Faisel Bashir, CEO of FittPass

Even Faisel Bashir, CEO of the UAE-based startup FittPass, believes in the power of productivity in the morning. Bashir explains that "mornings will give you the opportunity to set a positive tone for the day. Wake up earlier than everybody else, do your workout and set you goals for the day. This will keep you extremely energetic throughout the day and focused on what needs to be achieved,” he advises.

With more than 15,000 subscribers, FittPass aims to be the most flexible and affordable way to fitness.


Main photo collage by @MO4Network’s #MO4Productions.


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