Why Your Done List is Just as Important as Your To-Do List
Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
In 2005, Christene Barberich and her co-founders Philippe von Borries, Justin Stefano and Piera Gelardi launched Refinery 29 in a kitchen in Brooklyn. The team wanted the site to be a guide to New York with an emphasis on fashion. They wanted to help likeminded users find the most unique independent boutiques around the city.
Twelve years later, Barberich is the global editor-in-chief of a platform that continues to grow to great heights with a consistent focus on women and their stories.
Today, it has an audience footprint of 550 million across all platforms and the company now has more than 600 employees in New York, Los Angeles, London and Berlin. It has also expanded beyond fashion, covering health, culture, work and money.
We caught up with Barberich to ask her 20 Questions to find out what makes her tick.
This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.
1. How do you start your day?
Writing in my journal has been incredibly helpful. Sometimes it isn’t some elaborate, thoughtful diary entry but rather a list of things to do for the day. My journals really are this incredible evidence of what's happening in my life and what seems to be important in terms of what I document.
I also make the bed. Apparently there are studies that show people who make their bed tend to be happier in life and in their jobs.
2. How do you end your day?
I usually go to bed before my husband, and I like to read at least five or so pages of my book. For some reason, reading a regular book [not on an e-reader] before bed is like melatonin for me. It completely knocks me out.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott. She touched on the importance of employing forgiveness and grace, especially during times of resistance, which is obviously very relevant right now with what's happening in the world. It was kind of a revelatory point to make especially with all of us being in this sort of major period of anger and rage. I think it was helpful to think about that and try to integrate it into my feelings about what's happening in the news.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Better Than Sane: Tales from a Dangling Girl by Alison C. Rose. She drew some really important points that were very new to me about how single women move through the world and interact with coupled people. I found the way that she built those into her essays -- about what it felt like for her to be single at different stages of her life -- and how she felt like married people reacted to her or involved her in their lives. I found it incredibly insightful and very sensitive to the experiences of women that are single by choice.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
Getting enough sleep is really important, especially as you get older. I think sleep is critical in terms of feeling good, having energy and a clear head. But also having clear communication with the people and partners around me, whether it's in my personal life or in my professional life.
If I feel overwhelmed, it is important that I communicate what my priorities. I always sort them into one of two piles: Do I need support or do I need space? Do I need support to actually get things done? Or do I need space because I really have a creative problem I want to solve? And sometimes you do need both. It's just important to be able to clarify which is more important and when.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer and an editor. It never changed.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
Not to be passive aggressive or manipulative. They're just really terrible qualities to have in a workplace. It's important to be direct about your needs and your aspirations and also to be as decisive as you can be.
If you don't know what your needs are, be clear about that, too. It's okay to say that you don't have the answer or you're not exactly sure what direction you want to go in.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
Rebecca Ynocencio who was my managing editor of Gourmet magazine. She was one of the first people who I ever observed that took such aesthetic care of her things. When she arrived in her office in the morning she made sure it was the right environment for her to work.
Also, our chief content officer, Amy Emmerich. I love that she's generous with her knowledge and her experience. She loves to learn, and you get that sense when you're in a meeting with her. She really listens. She also has this kind of openness, which is so inspiring in a leader who has so much scope and responsibility.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
There's something I think that's so life giving about driving cross-country with your best friend. And I've done this twice with the same friend. There's something about that particular kind of trip that makes you feel so free. You don't make any plans, and I think when you have that kind of openness to your schedule you're really observant of your surroundings and towns you stop in.
10. What inspires you?
Witnessing random acts of kindness. Finding beauty and meaning in silly and simple things. Rewatching films that I love to see and learning more about why I love them so much. As a storyteller, I'm always really curious about why something captivates me or why something moves me in a certain way.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
Like most entrepreneurs, I think creating business opportunities that solve problems and make people's lives better...there is nothing more thrilling than that.
The silliest [business idea I had but didn't pursue] was creating a sustainable fast-food chain called the Five and Dine. Where everything on the menu is $5. I know it's just ridiculous.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
One of my earliest jobs was working in a local greenhouse on Long Island. My job was potting plants for seedlings. I loved the work so much, because everybody worked in silence. There's something about that repetitive nature of doing a task quietly; it created a mindfulness in to me that I try to be conscious of today.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
To be decisive. Don't push something off because you don't have the energy to find or give the answer. You need to really focus and do whatever is needed to make the call. It's a very tough discipline, and I can't always make make those hard calls in the moment, but I try. I have to give myself a very good reason to put something off or add it to my to-do list.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
To wear shorter skirts.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
If there's a particularly gnarly task I'm dreading doing -- and usually the reason why I'm dreading is because I have fear about confronting it -- I try to determine a fun reward that will help motivate me through it.
Also, at the end of the week I go through my calendar and make a list of all of the things that I accomplished. Instead of just looking back at my list of what I crossed off, I make a new list of everything I accomplished in that week before. When you see just the breadth of the things you made happen, it's so rewarding. It’s great for building confidence. It’s not a to-do list, it’s the done list.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
Mint has been a savior. I wouldn't say that managing my finances is my strong suit, but it's helped me to have a clearer picture of everything in one snapshot. And I think that's incredibly valuable.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I don’t mind working long hours, especially if I feel the work is feeding me in return. I think what most people crave is having that feeling that their work is adding to their lives, not just taking from them. When a job distances you from these fundamental beliefs you have in life, that's where the imbalance comes from. It's hard for a lot of people to find work that is always creatively or professionally stimulating, but I think you have to be able to find aspects of the work that really do provide that kind of support and satisfaction. If there really isn't anything, it's an unhealthy situation to be in.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Definitely prioritizing rest, or if not rest, just quiet time at home. Scheduling time that is scheduled for me is so helpful and important for unwinding your brain.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Driving a car or walking for long distances. If I’m really feeling blocked in my writing, Annie Lamott recommends writing a bad first draft that is just for you, that is just a stream of consciousness. It helps me personally to unlock a lot of things that I'm working over in my head, or that haven't come to the surface.
20. What are you learning now?
I'm always practicing and trying to get better at patience. Most of the best and most influential things that have happened in my life have taken a longer time to cultivate than I ever thought they would.
I think ambitious people have a warped sense of time; we expect everything to happen much sooner than it actually does.