- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- We gathered the best productivity insights from leaders like the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the CEO of a fast-growing restaurant conglomerate, and a venture capitalist opening doors for overlooked entrepreneurs.
- We named them some of our 100 People Transforming Business earlier this year for the ways they are setting the pace for their industries.
- The Productivity Project collects the techniques some of our “transformers” use to be efficient and successful, and this is a roundup of all our responses.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If you’re a regular user of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, you’re likely faced with a barrage of people talking about their success and the grind of making it in business – often recommending dubious productivity hacks like sleeping just a few hours a night. It’s so ubiquitous that entrepreneur and investor Alexis Ohanian derisively refers to it as “hustle porn.”
The bottom line is that there’s no one-size-fits-all for success, and that extreme or unusual habits might work for some people, but they also might just be a grab for attention. That’s why when Business Insider set out to build out a “Productivity Project,” we wanted to get real-world insights from successful people without presenting them as miracle cures.
We reached out to nine of our “100 People Transforming Business” leaders shaking up their industries, and asked them for the habits they use each day to be effective and productive. These are simple techniques you can consider for your own life, and if you want to learn more, you can click the link in each slide.
Read on for the full collection, and see if you find an exercise or habit that registers with you.
Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario meditates at the beginning and end of each day.
- Mandel Ngan/Getty Images
In 2006, Rose Marcario left her job and went on a journey to India and Nepal to learn the art of meditation from the world’s masters. She says it brought fulfillment back to her life. Not long after she returned to the US, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard approached her to become the COO and CFO of his outdoor apparel company.
Since becoming CEO in 2013, Marcario has reportedly more than quadrupled Patagonia’s revenue while building its commitment to environmental activism and establishing the company as an industry leader in sustainable business practices. Through it all, she has meditated for at least 10 minutes every morning and night.
Marcario has practiced Buddhism for more than 20 years, and she uses Buddhist mindfulness meditation as it’s taught by the Shambhala organization. She told us she takes inspiration from the Tibetan Buddhist nun and writer Pema Chödrön.
“It keeps me free of getting too twisted up in irritations because there is this very strong current of goodness and strength that is always available to tap into – like watching the current of a strong river,” she said. She told us meditation allows her to approach her job as “a happy warrior,” unafraid to tackle challenges while in control of her emotions.
Harry’s co-CEO Jeff Raider uses his morning walk as a way to slow his pace and get big-picture thinking done.
- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Before Jeff Raider dedicated himself to the billion-dollar men’s grooming company Harry’s, he essentially had three full-time jobs. While out with friends in 2012, he collapsed from exhaustion.
He realized he had to set his priorities and maintain both his energy and focus, and it’s been at the front of his mind ever since. As his responsibilities accumulate once again, Raider is using techniques to prevent burnout. His favorite is his walk to work in the morning. That may not sound like an actual productivity hack if you also walk to your office, but Raider takes it seriously.
“My daily walk is time that I hold sacred, and I find that it’s really energizing and helps get me in the zone,” he told us, noting that “the routine of it all helps keep me balanced.” His daily walk has the benefits of allowing him to process big picture thoughts on his own, as well as blocking off part of his morning to ease into his day.
“I’m someone who needs to spend some time each day reflecting on what went well the day before, what I could have done better, and getting my thoughts straight for the day ahead,” he said.
New York Stock Exchange president Stacey Cunningham uses a single index card to keep her day running smoothly.
- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Running the country’s largest exchange can get chaotic, Stacey Cunningham told us.
She became the first female head of the 227-year-old exchange in 2018, and has made it her mission to make the New York Stock Exchange more efficient with cutting-edge technology.
Cunningham said she’s constantly juggling unexpected market swings and visits from CEOs and foreign dignitaries. Due to the volatility of her job, Cunningham said she needs to be ready to adapt her schedule to the most pressing issues that arise.
“It can sometimes be a challenge to balance competing priorities and still maintain focus on less time-sensitive – but equally important – initiatives,” she said.
A single index card keeps Cunningham on track. On the card, Cunningham jots down the day’s responsibilities alongside how much time she can spend on each task, a rough guide to how she should be spending her day. She’s periodically checking her card to see how well she’s sticking to her plan.
“It’s easy to become reactive and focus on tasks that are actively demanding my attention,” Cunningham said. “The card serves as a touchstone to confirm I haven’t strayed too far off track.”
Revolution partner Anna Mason immediately categorizes emails she receives.
- Courtesy of Revolution
Anna Mason refers to herself as the “human social network” because she’s constantly traveling across the 60 cities in Rise of the Rest’s network.
The Rise of Rest is an initiative from AOL cofounder Steve Case’s venture capital firm Revolution that is dedicated to growing startup communities across America that are outside of Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston. Mason is a partner on the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and is the lead planner for their annual bus tours.
She told us that because she meets with 400 to 500 people in each city, organizing the emails she gets as quickly as possible allows her to maintain her connections. She immediately categorizes them into three categories – city, industry, project – and each has further subsections. It’s a habit she’s had for almost four years.
“Because we work with organizations, other investors, and startups across nearly 60 cities, this email hack has been core to the way I process, retrieve, and reference daily workflows,” Mason said.
Inspire Brands CEO Paul Brown takes on challenges through active listening.
- Business Insider / Hollis Johnson
Paul Brown has developed a reputation for successfully turning around brands over the past six years, and he told us there’s a deceptively simple technique key to his approach.
“As simple as it may sound, I try to make a habit of listening more and talking less,” he said. “No matter what stage of growth a brand is in – whether it’s in need of a transformation or sustaining its success – listening helps you identify initial pain points as well as opportunities.”
The private equity firm Roark Capital recruited Brown from Hilton Worldwide to run the sandwich fast food chain Arby’s in 2013. He had experience in hospitality, but wanted to learn the industry and brand from all perspectives. Instead of coming up with a list of mandates on day one, he went on a three-month listening tour across the country, meeting with what he said were 1,000 employees and store owners. His go-to question was, “What would you do differently if you ran this company?”
Within three years, Arby’s was putting up its best numbers ever, and in 2018, Roark built Inspire Brands around him. Today, Brown oversees Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic, Jimmy John’s, and Rusty Taco. When dealing with a challenge in each, he still starts with questions, not demands.
Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton’s productivity hack isn’t more sleep or a cleaner inbox — it’s forgiving others.
- Tiffany Angeles and Backstage Capital
Arlan Hamilton told us that as one of the few black queer women in venture capital, she felt unfairly judged during her career.
When Hamilton initially raised funds for her VC Backstage Capital, she stood out from other investors in Silicon Valley by not having a college degree or personal fortune, and she was one of the just 3% of venture capitalists who are black.
All of these factors were, not surprisingly, additional challenges to overcome, and she faced constant biases. She soon realized she was spending more time thinking about other peoples’ actions than getting her job done, she told us. But now, as she builds a fund shaking up her industry by investing solely in underrepresented entrepreneurs, she instead focuses on forgiving others for transgressions, and keeping her mind off negative thoughts so that she can move on and be successful.
“It’s really important to understand that a part of valuing yourself is knowing when and if you’re being treated poorly, but that you can also repurpose that by internally forgiving people of certain things,” Hamilton said. “This allows you to let go of that time that you would have spent letting it consume you and you can now use it for more productive things.”
B Lab cofounder Jay Coen Gilbert reminds himself to slow down both when making decisions and building relationships.
- Courtesy of Jay Coen Gilbert
Jay Coen Gilbert’s B Lab certifies companies, like Patagonia and Danone North America, that are adding exceptional value not only to shareholders, but employees, customers, communities, and the environment. B Lab also spearheaded the push for “benefit corporation” legislation in the US and other countries, and today there are more than 2,800 B Corps and 8,000 benefit corporations around the world.
Coen Gilbert and his team are working harder than ever to grow the movement they launched in 2006, but he is also striving to move at “a human pace.” It’s a habit he built out of necessity.
In late 2016, his doctor diagnosed him with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, and he had to slow down more than he ever had in his life. After he got an “all clear” following six months of chemotherapy and a few more months of recovery, he became more cognizant of how a normalized frantic pace while working would hamper his decision-making and relationship-building with his employees and clients.
“While there are clearly instances in which action is required or preferable, even with incomplete information and suboptimal inclusiveness, I have been amazed at the power of slowing down to enrich my life and enhance my effectiveness,” he said.
Glitch CEO Anil Dash has used a simple writing habit to work more efficiently and become a better communicator.
- Elizabeth Viggiano for Business Insider
There’s a chance that even if you’re not in tech, you’ve come across Anil Dash at some point, whether through his blog or on social media. The guy loves to write. Surprisingly, he told us the habit has made him more productive in his role as the CEO of the coding platform Glitch.
“Spending time to regularly write, at length and in detail, about one’s key thoughts is a huge boost to being effective in our work, and in our lives overall,” he said.
As head of Glitch, Dash has established a community of millions of users working at companies like Google and Microsoft, along with enterprise clients like Spotify, Slack, and Trello. His leadership style is based on inclusion and clear communication, and he said that the blogging habit he’s had for 20 years has helped him with both.
“One of the key things that’s happened over the course of writing millions of words over the last two decades is that it has helped me clarify my thoughts, strengthen my arguments, sharpen my opinions, question my assumptions, and share my ideas,” he said. “It’s permanently upgraded my ability to communicate, even through the spoken word or in other contexts.
JetBlue Technology Ventures president Bonny Simi dedicates half of the day to completing her most pressing task.
Bonny Simi has always been a jack of all trades. She’s been a pilot, luger in three Winter Olympics, head of talent, and venture capitalist. These varied interests and ability to adapt, however, have also posed a challenge at times.
Before transitioning to JetBlue Technology Ventures, Simi still had work to do as vice president of talent, and she said she sometimes found herself unable to fully unplug from the old job.
Simi learned to become fully productive; she had to fully devote half her day on just one task. That meant turning off email notifications that weren’t pertinent for the work she needed to get done at the time, and not engaging in any distractions.
She told Business Insider that she encourages others to stay focused on accomplishing one task at a time, instead of spreading energy too thin.
“It’s like, all right, during these hours, while I’m at work, I’m going to focus on my current job,” she said, adding that she devotes after-work hours to side projects or other responsibilities. “It’s dedicating that time to focus. Otherwise, you’re not productive.”