Last week was a particularly tiring one for many of us in North America. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, we lost an entire hour. This got us thinking: How should entrepreneurs structure their daily routine to be the most productive?
Losing an hour might not seem like much, but when you’re starting a business, juggling competing priorities and keeping up with self-inflicted deadlines, entrepreneurs are under constant pressure to make the most out of their days.
How to be more productive is something Jane and I discuss often here at the Stockroom. Whether it’s debating the advantages of waking up early to hit the gym, or considering the consequences of working until the wee hours of the morning, we go back and forth a lot on how we should structure our day.
This week seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a deep dive into all things productivity. I wanted to understand how the ultra-productive celebrity entrepreneurs spend their days, compared with what science says about how and when our bodies and brains function best. Finally, there are some free and inexpensive tools I came across during my research, designed to help you hack your way to a more productive day.
Daily Routines of Famous Entrepreneurs
How do the creators of billion dollar empires prioritize their daily tasks? I’ve always been curious as to how celebrities spend their days, especially CEOs and famous founders. The common denominator seems to be that they work a lot and sleep very little, at least at the height of their success.
If you follow Oprah on Instagram you’ll likely end up feeling very jealous. She hangs around in her pajamas on Sundays, tends to her garden and eats a lot of freshly baked bread. Oprah has partially established her fame off of being an expert on how to spend your time and “live your best life”. She believes in balance, self-care and apparently spends at least 20 minutes a day in complete silence to decompress.
Oprah in her garden.
However, a new podcast, Making Oprah from WBEZ, that documents Oprah’s rise on the Oprah Winfrey show, tells another story: One of long hours, sleepless nights and the relentless hard work that went into producing a talk show, 5 nights a week for 25 years.
While Entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss have marketed themselves as champions of shortening their work week, Elon Musk has gone in the exact opposite direction. There are rumors that he spends close to 100 hours a week working at SpaceX and travels between San Francisco and LA 3 times per-week, managing his two companies in tandem. Musk even credits multitasking— a commonly frowned upon tactic argued to kill productivity— with his success. He claims to be able to spend time with his family while still on email.
Elon Musk eating lunch while in a meeting at Tesla via Business Insider.
Working 9-5 or 8-10 is one thing, but famous YouTuber Casey Neistat completely obliterated the boundaries between “on” and “off” time when he decided to vlog everyday for 18 months. Not only did he release a video of his life for 534 days straight, each video is a miniature film, usually with a topic and narrative, expertly edited to music and full of original stop motion animations. His superhuman ability to produce so much quality content left his 6 million subscribers on YouTube wondering how he gets so much done it one day. This promoted Neistat to make a video about his daily routine, which revealed just how much time he is spends working on his product:
Arianna Huffington likes to talk about sleep. She gets 8 solid hours a night 95% of the time, and doesn’t even need an alarm clock most mornings because of it. Huffington spoke with My Morning Routine about the distress of alarm clocks and how they can really set you off on the wrong foot in the morning:
“I love waking up without an alarm. Just think about the definition of the word “alarm”: “a sudden fear or distressing suspense caused by an awareness of danger; apprehension; fright,” or “any sound, outcry, or information intended to warn of approaching danger.” So an alarm, in most situations, is a signal that something is not right.”
Arianna Huffington definitely falls into the mindful/zen entrepreneur category. She meditates every morning, practices yoga and strongly believes in silencing any form of self-judgement or negativity that comes into her head.
Of course, being the driven entrepreneur she is, Huffington has turned her lifestyle into a business opportunity. This year she left Huffington Post to launch a wellness startup Thrive Global, that sells pillows, candles, Fitbits, as well as corporate training for big businesses where she shares her secrets to success.
Productivity Life Hacks for Daily Routines
Write it Down
While reading about the daily routines of successful entrepreneurs, I noticed a few similarities. To some degree, most of these people write down a list of goals or tasks each day, and reflect on them each evening to track their progress.
Steve Jobs famously asked himself each morning “If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to to today?”, which prompted him to define his long-term goals and work backwards towards achieving them.
Tony Robbins suggests making a to-do list every morning and grouping them into “clumps”. By sorting and categorizing your task, it is believed that you can save time in not having to constantly pivot your focus.
Some of these sentiments and theories influenced the creation of 10x: The Entrepreneurs Journal. This journal was specifically designed to help entrepreneurs have more productive days by prompting them to define their goals each morning and outline what needs to be done in order to achieve them.
Eliminate Digital Noise
If using pen and paper to write down your priorities every morning and evening is a time-saver, technology and it’s many disruptions is regarded as one of the biggest time sucks. Ironically enough, there are many tech products designed to save you from other tech products eating away at your precious hours.
Save Time on Email
Email is regarded as both a procrastination tool and distraction from actually getting shit done. Aside from responding to actual emails, we spend quite a lot of time deleting and sorting our inbox. Sanebox is a tool that analyzes your inbox and activity, learning what emails are important to you and which are junk so it can automatically sort them for you.
Another popular tool, Unroll.Me will pull a list of all your email subscriptions, so you can finally mass unsubscribe from those weekly newsletters you spend time deleting from your inbox.
Automate the Mundane
In Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Work Week, he attributes his ability to save time with outsourcing repetitive tasks. If you haven’t already discovered the magic of Fiverr, you should read about all the miraculous things an ecommerce entrepreneur can outsource through Fiverr’s community of freelancers.
What other tasks do you begrudgingly spend time on each day? Many complain about the nuisance of running errands or having to cook for oneself. Personally, I look forward to time in the kitchen or at the grocery store, but for those who see it as a time-waster, there are solutions for you.
Subscribe and Save on Amazon lets you sign up for regular deliveries of household items like tylenol and toothpaste, and save on recurring orders. Companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh will deliver your weekly groceries and provide you with easy to follow recipes that save you the hassle of figuring out what to make for dinner.
Quit Trying to Remember
One little time-saving gadget I’ve had for a while is Tile. Before I had TIle on my keychain I’d spend many mornings pulling apart my couch, looking for my keys or wallet. With Tile, I can hit a button on my smartphone and locate my valuable items in seconds.
But what if you can’t find your phone? Well, you can use Find my iPhone to do the exact same thing. I was recently surprised to learn a lot of people don’t know about this. Find my iPhone (or iMac, iPad etc.) can be accessed through iCloud to locate all your apple devices.
I only use a handful of different passwords, which is probably a mistake (hi hackers!). If you’re a more responsible person you likely have different passwords for all of your important accounts. The headache of this is that you can end up spending precious time trying to recall them all. LastPass is a simple and free password manager that will remember all your passwords for you.
The Science Behind Productivity
Aside from all the productivity hacks different entrepreneurs rave about, there are studies that prove certain hours of the day are best for working. For instance, research shows that the first 2.5-4 hours after waking up are when your brain is at it’s best.
Since your brain is typically functioning at its peak during morning hours, it is suggested you conquer tasks that need the highest mental effort during this time. As you begin to wind down in the afternoon, these later hours can be used to handle tasks that require less mental energy, like answering emails or attending meetings.
Even if you cram in 8-12 hours at the office, you will nevertheless experience varying degrees of focus, thanks to our natural circadian rhythm, which causes your alertness and memory to fluctuate throughout the day.
Graph representing Circadian Rhythm
Just like the rest of your body parts, your brain can become exhausted after periods of exertion. Research has proven that strategic renewal— basically, taking a break when you need it— can increase productivity and job performance.
After investigating the topic, I found that there are countless theories and proven ways to increase your productivity. Whether it’s following in the footsteps of your favourite celebrity Entrepreneur, or downloading a new app to save time checking email, trying to get more done in a single day is kind of like choose your own adventure.
The best way to be productive is to find what daily routine and activities works best for you. We suggest experimenting with different tactics and keeping track of how you’re doing by writing it down in a Journal each night. At the end of a few weeks, you can look back and reflect on your routine each day and examine which days were your best, and uncover what you did that day to produce such productive results.