30 Successful Founders Share Their Top Productivity Tips
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
We all wish we had more hours in the day. We may feel unmoored by not being able to finish everything on our plates, but it’s important to remember that everyone experiences this, even the most successful entrepreneurs.
We caught up with 30 founders who told us their secrets to a productive work day, from exercise to taking copious notes to shutting off email and phones.The interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Take notes about everything.
With email I respond either instantly or never. If I’m sitting there I can respond right away, but if I walk away, I get buried by a hundred more emails that come in. I wouldn’t be able to function without it.
Read more about Zuckerberg: Why Everyone Can Use Randi Zuckerberg's Number One Focus Tip
Trust your employees to do their best work.
Name: Amber Venz
Productivity tip: Delegate. It has been something that has been so helpful to me. One of our investors actually told me that if there's something that someone can do even 80 percent better than you can, let them do that thing, and you go focus on the thing that only you can do at 100 percent.
Read more about Venz: This Founder Shares the Mindset That Helps Her Stay On Track
Make things easily shareable among your team.
Name: Julia Hartz
Productivity tip: For staying organized, Asana is great. You can build out projects and connect other users to task lists to contribute and collaborate. There’s also a Google integration, so that as tasks come in via email, you can add them to Asana with a few clicks. It’s all about having a central place to keep track of short-term and long-term goals. It is shareable with your team, so it encourages collaboration, which is key.
Read more about Hartz: The Day This Eventbrite Co-Founder Learned When to Speak Up
Cut email out of the equation.
Name: Tim Chen .
Productivity tip: I don't generally check my email. I know it’s a bit socially offensive at times, but I try to do it in batches every two to three days. I might be just terrible at multitasking, but if you’re coding, it takes 10, 20 minutes to get reoriented after a distraction.
Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got
Be active every day.
Name: Bastian Lehmann
Productivity tip: I go to the gym every morning. Channeling my energy into sports leaves just the right amount of energy and passion for work.
Read more about Lehmann: This Founder Shares the One Trait He Looks for in Every Hire
Early to bed, early to rise.
Name: David Bladow
Productivity tip: Go to bed and get up early. Don’t let people interrupt you when you’re in your zone. Just say no more often and get comfortable saying no. If you can do those three things you'll stay on a solid, productive path.
Read more about Bladow: This Founder Has 3 Simple Tips to Achieve Maximum Productivity
Switch off your devices.
Name: Daniella Yacobovsky
Productivity tip: Turn off your phone. That’s really important. I historically have been somebody who fell victim to always having my phone with me, always checking it, and often, it’s easy to do that to your own detriment. Folks know that after a certain hour I’m not going to respond to emails. It’s important that we are efficient earlier in the day, so we can all allow ourselves those moments to check out.
Read more about Yacobovsky: This Co-Founder of BaubleBar's Secret for Inspiration? Always 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled.'
Work without interruptions.
Name: Oliver Kharraz
Productivity tip: To work uninterrupted, block time on your calender, focus on doing one thing at a time and do it deliberately. Then move onto the next. And as a neurologist married to a medicine sleep doctor, I’d say get a good night sleep.
Turn your to do list into a game.
Name: Jack Groetzinger
Productivity tip: I keep a do-list of everything I want to do. In addition to sort of listing everything out, I also rank everything by importance and put next to it an estimated number of minutes that I think it will take to complete. I have a start and end time associated with each of those as well, so it sort of gamifies the process of working through your to-do list.
Read more about Groetzinger: The Simple Trick This CEO Uses to Prevent Burnout
Don’t put off what you can do right now.
Name: Melissa Ben-Ishay
Company: Baked By Melissa
Productivity tip: Just get it done. If something presents itself and I have a minute to do it, I’m going to do it. Then I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
I think we underestimate the challenges we have in self motivation, especially if you’re not passionate about what it is you have to get done. You don’t have to love everything about your job or every task, but you should care about the overall goal and purpose for what it is you’re doing.
Read more about Ben-Ishay: How Getting Fired Turned Into Sweet Success for This Entrepreneur
Use your time wisely.
Name: Luis von Ahn
Productivity tip: I like my exercise routine, because it’s time efficient. I just run like crazy for 15 or 16 minutes. I feel dead afterwards but at least it saves me time.
Read more about von Ahn: Why This Founder Says the Worst Advice He Ever Got Was to Listen to His Users
Do away with procrastination.
Name: Bea Fischel-Bock
Productivity tip: Don’t procrastinate. It can feel overwhelming when you have so many things to do, but the only thing to do is plow through them. Trying to push something aside for a better time just moves the problem along.
Read more about Fischel-Bock: This Founder Shares Why In Order To Learn Fast, You Need to Fail Fast
Don’t stay in one place.
Name: Angie Hicks
Company: Angie’s List
Productivity tip: At Angie’s List we tend to move around. We have a campus so we move seats as we grow and try to fit teams together. I learned a long time ago I had to not carry around every piece of work that I created. I use those moves to organize and get rid of things. Otherwise your work space takes over. I always joke, new space, new work, what are we going to do now? That’s one of my favorites.
Read more about Hicks: This Introvert Founder Swears by This Management Tip
Allow yourself to step away.
Name: Kara Goldin
Productivity tip: If you’re hitting a wall, allow yourself to take a break, whether it’s to take a walk around the block, grab a coffee or just chat with someone you work with. Sometimes just allowing yourself that moment to step away gives you the refresh you need to dive back into work.
Listen to your brain.
Name: Carrie Dorr
Company: Pure Barre
Productivity tip: I organize my day based on how my brain functions. I know what time of day my brain is most creative and during those hours I turn off the electronics and turn on the music. I know when my brain is most operative, and I’m good to handle operations work and answering emails. So I plan my day accordingly.
Read more about Dorr: This Founder Shares How to Tailor Your Schedule to Fit Your Brain
Block out no-meeting zones.
Name: John Zimmer
Productivity tip: I schedule proactive time every day. The goal is to do three hours a day of proactive time with no meetings. There is nothing scheduled, so I can be thoughtful, prioritize and be as productive as possible.
Read more about Zimmer: Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer: 'You Should Never Veer Off the Path of Your Own Values'
Have meetings and breaks on the go.
Name: Jen Rubio
Productivity tip: Walking breaks or doing calls while I'm walking. I can't sit for a lot of hours. When I'm in the office and doing check-ins with the team, we do them outside or walk around the block. It just helps so much to get moving and clear your head.
Read more about Rubio: Use This Founder's Top Tip To Make Your Meetings Work For You
Take a beat.
Name: Jordana Kier
Productivity tip: Take five to 10 minutes to scope something out before you diving in. I’m trying to work on taking those extra few minutes in the beginning to think about all the different levers and stakeholders before getting started, even if it’s just five minutes to clear my mind and think about an issue from a high level.
Automate low-hanging fruit tasks.
Name: Alexa von Tobel
Productivity tip: I automate everything from my Amazon Prime subscription to my food subscriptions to even what I wear.
The more tasks that are low excitement, like ordering paper towels, that can be taken off my plate and fully automated, the better. I then have the energy and the brain power for things that are real decisions I need to make.
Read more about Tobel: This Entrepreneur Shares Her Surprising Secret to Fighting Decision Fatigue
Find a tech system and stick with it across devices.
Name: Bruce Poon Tip
Company: G Adventures
Productivity tip: It’s going to sound nerdy, but not mixing technology. When you have that seamless integration -- between phone, laptop and all the software in between -- it’s such an efficient existence. If you break the chain at any point, you can still do what you do but the seamlessness and efficiency is lost.
Get to inbox zero.
Name: Chieh Huang
Productivity tip: I try to do inbox zero. I get pretty close most nights. That allows me in the morning to not have to get to emails and know that nothing really pressing is waiting. In the morning I’m sharpest. I can use that time to think about how to make things better for the company, instead of focusing on email.
Read more about Huang: The Surprising Reason Why This Founder Says Not to Be Afraid of the Competition
Shut off your email.
Name: Jeff Chapin
Productivity tip: I ignore a lot of emails. For better or worse, it helps with my productivity, so I can focus on the task at hand.
Constantly reassess priorities.
Name: Tracy DiNunzio
Productivity tip: Relentless list-making. I tend to re-prioritize my list about three times a day. So I'll take 10 minutes and ask myself With what I know now, what's the most important thing on this list? What's the most urgent thing on this list? As you grow as an entrepreneur and there are more moving pieces, in order to remain productive and not just busy, you absolutely have to pause to prioritize with more frequency.
Don’t leave things undone.
Name: Steve Madden
Company: Steve Madden
Productivity tip: Try to finish an idea. See if you can finish it and not leave it open. That sort of helps [going into the next day]. I've heard John Lennon talk about that, actually. He always tried to finish a song and that always resonated with me.
Read more about Madden: Steve Madden on The Question You Must Ask Yourself to Build a Company of Value
Name: Vicki Fulop
Productivity tip: I use Asana. Aside from personal prioritized task lists and calendars, which I use every day, Asana enables you to create shared projects for your team, and anyone within the project can assign tasks, share comments and relevant documents, and more. The platform also lets you set up boards, as a way of organizing tasks. I love this feature for design projects, and the boards help my team visually move projects through request and approval stages. We also use Asana to collaborate on launches, keeping all work streams in one place. It’s amazing for helping me and my team stay productive and organized.
Read more about Fulop: This Founder Shares Why In Order To Learn Fast, You Need to Fail Fast
Give yourself a grade.
Name: Nirav Tolia
Productivity tip: Make a list on Monday before you go in. Think about the things you want to accomplish that week. Put in priority order, and then assume that you have a 100 percentage points of time.
Assign the percentage points to those things on your list. For example, I have a board meeting next week. So this week a big priority is to prepare for the board meeting. That may take us 25 to 30 percent of my time.
The second part is at the end of the week look at your calendar; it's a living record of where you spent time. Add up all the time you spent on different things and then compare that to the list you made on Monday. You'll know if you're aligned. Grade yourself at the end of the week. I think it requires tremendous discipline to say no to things, but it's an important skill.
Don’t try to do everything.
Name: Jennifer Hyman
Company: Rent the Runway
Productivity tip: Don’t spend your day managing to inbox zero. Pick one to two problems every day that are important for you to dig into strategically and allot real time to them by cutting off your access to email, texts and social media notifications that seduce all of us out of the zone.
Read more about Hyman: Rent the Runway's Jennifer Hyman Shares Her Worst Advice Ever: 'Shut Up and Act Sweet'
Make a ‘done’ list.
Name: Christene Barberich
Productivity tip: 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.
Read more about Barberich: Why Your Done List is Just as Important as Your To-Do List
Utilize the rule of three.
Name: Tom Gonser
Productivity tip: Think and communicate in 3’s. I find that setting goals, strategic plans or metrics should be distilled into no more than three items. People can hear and recall three items easily, but even four creates a focus problem. Framing things with no more than three elements creates "actionable communications" -- things people can accomplish without more instruction.
Read more about Gonser: To Find Billion-Dollar Success, This Founder Learned to Think in 3s
Monitor your progress, no matter how small.
Name: Sarah Kauss
Productivity tip: I keep a daily journal, and I try to write a few sentences a day. It helps show me the progress that I'm making every day, even if I don’t feel like I'm making progress at the time.