10 of the best productivity tips from Fortune’s 40 Under 40

September 14, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Pandemic life can be hard for just about anyone, including this year’s class of the Fortune 40 Under 40.

The past 18 months have been a never-ending spell of anxiety, COVID-19 cases, and horrid news cycles—making work that much more of a challenge. Yet the members of our latest 40 Under 40 have managed everything from creating a COVID-19 vaccine to winning a Pulitzer Prize to running a $39 billion company. So to understand how this year’s 40 Under 40 does it, we’ve asked members to share their best productivity tips. Here’s how they get it all done. 

Plan it out

Megan Quinn, 39, COO of Niantic

To the greatest extent possible, I theme my days. Mondays are devoted to internal leadership meetings as well as [one on ones] with my direct reports. These meetings shape the priorities for the week and ensure everyone is aligned. Tuesdays are largely for external meetings with partners, Wednesdays and Thursdays for internal reviews, and Fridays are for all-company meetings and longer-term planning. Every day is for recruiting as Niantic is in a period of hyper-scale. 

My calendar shapes my days, and I could find myself in meetings from sunup to sundown, so I’m careful to book slices of solo work throughout the week, and endeavor to keep Friday afternoons completely open for wrap-up work or last-minute urgent conversations. It all sounds very tactical, but theming my days gives the week some predictability and shape that has the downstream effect of ensuring I’m spending my time and energy effectively with as little context switching as possible.

Fidji Simo, 35, CEO of Instacart

I start each week by blocking an hour of my time to make sure that my goals for the week are clear and that my priorities are reflected in how I spend my time. I also maintain a “canonical week” that creates predictability for my team and [me] regarding the type of topics and meetings I’ll have each day. Most importantly, I block a chunk of time each week for learning, so that I can always stay ahead of what I need to know to make the best decisions for the company. 

Jessica Raasch, 38, senior design manager for Target

This is by no means innovative but: lists! I make lists for everything, it helps me organize my brain and my life. It also helps me prioritize what needs to get done first (and what can sit on the back burner for a bit). 

Define your goals

KeyAnna Schmiedl, 36, global head of culture and inclusion at Wayfair

Align with your team and key stakeholders on what the priorities are. If you spend enough time curating a list of priorities that have been refined by your team (directs, peers, etc.) as well as key stakeholders, it makes it that much easier to determine when or what may need to be pushed off or what will need to be adjusted. Once that list is established, prioritize deep relationships as it will help you to better calibrate outcomes the first time.

Hit the ground running

Ed Yong, 39, staff writer at The Atlantic

At the end of the day, park downhill. I like to stop bits of writing midway through so I can hit the ground running the next morning without having to face the horror of a blank screen. 

Cut out the noise

Hamilton Bennett, 36, senior director of vaccine access and partnerships at Moderna

Focus on the things that matter to you, that bring you energy. We can easily be distracted by small tasks that give the illusion of productivity, and while this may feel rewarding in the moment—who doesn’t like to check that box?—we ultimately sacrifice our goal-oriented productivity and with it, our potential. If your work is energizing, you will always find new ways to be productive.

Raj Kannappan, 30, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Young America’s Foundation

Eliminate the nonessentials. We encounter many choices over the course of the day that require us to determine how much time we spend on various projects, obligations, priorities, and so on. I have found it helpful to say no to many projects in order to prioritize the most important ones—the opportunities that can significantly increase the value my organization can contribute to people’s lives.

Set deadlines for yourself

Cody Hounanian, 30, program director of the Student Debt Crisis Center

There is something about setting a deadline that helps manifest the reality you hope to see. In the rapid-response advocacy work that we do, projects can be derailed by the news cycle or by policy changes. That means we have to be flexible enough to move our goalposts. Despite that, setting a deadline puts the fire under our feet to stay productive.

Take a step back

Arianna Simpson, 30, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz

There’s a time for grinding, and there’s a time for recognizing when you’re no longer being effective. 

Often a challenging problem feels a lot less insurmountable when you revisit it with fresh eyes the following morning. Recognize when it’s time to log off, give yourself time to think about something else, or just recharge and return to the work and the problem fresh. 

Benji Backer, 23, founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition

Take time for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. One of the biggest failures people make today is burning out from overworking. If you take time for yourself consistently, you’ll end up being more productive and 10 times happier. You deserve to get solid sleep, unplug from work, and invest in your relationships. 

If you don’t give yourself an opportunity to do those things, all of your professional success will be short-term, and your productivity will eventually decrease.

More must-read business news and analysis from Fortune:

Fortune‘s 2021 40 Under 40 list highlights the rising entrepreneurs, influencers, creators, and executives that have shaped the global pandemic experience—and are paving the way for what comes next.