17 extremely useful productivity tips from this year’s 40 Under 40

Launching a groundbreaking news organization. Building a better quantum computer. Running for Congress and winning in an upset. Founding a company and taking it public. The honorees on Fortune’s 2020 40 Under 40 certainly know how to get things done, so we asked them to tell us more about how they set and exceed their ambitious goals. We discovered that, for this year’s 40 Under 40, being more productive often means planning ahead and churning through tasks as quickly as possible—but also sometimes just shutting everything off and taking a break.

Schedule time to think…

Diana Avila, 34, global head of banking and expansion at TransferWise

I do not have meetings on Mondays. Instead, I use Monday for “deep work”—anything that requires a lot of focus and time. This allows me to take on more meetings as the week develops and dedicate my time to others because I’ve already accomplished any necessary work.

Margaret Anadu, 38, head of the urban investment group at Goldman Sachs

I try to go for an hour-long walk each morning completely free of any inputs (no music, podcasts, emails, etc.). It’s my time to center myself and to think through what is happening with my family, with my team, and with the partners we work with in underserved communities. This is when I think through some of the most complex challenges facing me in the days and weeks ahead. This intentional, early morning quiet time, while often hard to carve out with two young kids at home, sets the tone for the day and makes me a better wife, mom, leader, and investor. 

Henry Schuck, 37, cofounder and CEO of ZoomInfo

Spend time outlining what’s important to you over the next three, six, and 12 months, and then regularly check to make sure you’re spending your time on those priorities.

Charlotte Clymer, 33, writer, LGBTQ advocate, and consultant

Keep a good calendar. Everything goes down in the calendar, regardless of whether it’s drinks with friends or a media interview. It doesn’t mean you have to follow it exactly, but keeping a steady calendar has a way of sharpening discipline. I can’t recommend it enough.

…and to give back

Keia Cole, 39, head of digital experience at MassMutual

I set aside time on Friday mornings for mentoring and networking conversations. I love having the opportunity to connect with people across the organization. I found that creating time and space on Friday mornings makes me more present in those discussions, rather than squeezing people in during the rush of the week. And I am usually more relaxed and joyful because it’s Friday!

‘Just say no’

Suneera Madhani, 32, founder and CEO of Fattmerchant

Just say no. It has not only helped me in my professional life; it also helped personally as I juggle between mom life and work life. Understanding that it is okay to not say yes to everything that comes your way allows you to focus on things that help you move the needle toward your goals.

Build—and rely on—a good team

Matthew A. Cherry, 38, writer, director and producer at Cherry Lane Productions

Surround yourself with good people, and learn how to delegate.

Racquel Bracken, 37, partner at Venrock

Batch email. Nothing is that urgent, and if it is, your team will call or text you. You can waste so much time needlessly checking emails, when really what’s better is to triage them at the beginning and end of every day. 

Don’t wait for the deadline

Emily Ramshaw, 39, cofounder and CEO of The 19th*

I’m a pre-crastinator by nature. I do everything immediately; as a result, I’m almost always overbusy, but I’m almost never stressed and crashing on deadline. Pick your poison?

Taylor Lorenz, 35, technology reporter at the New York Times

Set deadlines early so if (or when) you miss them you still have time left before the actual deadline.

‘Turn off the Internet’

Marissa Giustina, 30, senior research scientist and quantum electronics engineer at Google Research

When you really want to get something done, close your email. (Small tip; big impact.)

Ambar Bhattacharyya, 37, managing director at Maverick Ventures

When I need to be really productive, I disconnect from the Internet. I turn off the Wi-Fi on my computer so that I can focus on things like reading through an important document, working on detailed analysis, or writing a thoughtful response back to someone. For me, the No. 1 thing that takes away from productivity is all of the pop-ups, texts, alerts, and email notifications I am constantly receiving on all my devices. They are really hard to get away from unless everything is off and away. 

Jose Antonio Vargas, 39, founder of Define American

Turn off the Internet. When I’m thinking, brainstorming, and writing, I turn the Wi-Fi off to limit the distraction and force me to focus.

Rep. Conor Lamb, 36, U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District

Put your phone in airplane mode.

Erica Anderson, 36, executive producer at New York magazine and Vox Media

I social distance from my phone! It’s never in the bedroom (helps to get restful sleep), and I leave it alone during meetings to stay present. While I definitely multitask, recognizing that the phone can lessen my productivity is an important part of my personal work culture.

Be kind to yourself

Will Ahmed, 30, founder and CEO of WHOOP

Get more sleep. Being well rested makes everything else easier, especially work.

Kate Rosenbluth, 38, founder and chief scientific officer of Cala Health

Forgive yourself for your failures. It’s so easy to waste energy worrying unproductively about our failures, when you could be redirecting that energy to making meaningful positive impact. You’re probably the only one keeping score of your wins and losses, so drop the self-judgment and instead see your failures as building muscle for your next attempt.

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