11 Productivity Strategies That Keep A Startup CoFounder (With A Toddler) Sane
This was originally posted to LinkedIn in January. I realized it needed a home on our blog...
I cofounded PowerToFly, now the fastest growing platform for women to find companies that create inclusive and gender-diverse environments, six weeks after having a baby. My baby is now a toddler who is “manageable” (she goes to school, she gets picked up by her wonderful nanny who I'd be lost without). So now building PowerToFly is what stresses me out on the time management front. With over 40 employees, a ton of enterprise sales meetings and all the other wonders and joys of building a lasting business, I find that one of the hardest challenges is to keep a focused and calm head. I use a couple tools and strategies to cope that I strongly recommend:
1. I Use "Headspace” To Meditate Each Morning
Headspace is an app I got for my iPhone. I love that the meditations are guided but that the whole process is somewhat gamified so I'm challenged to return. You need to unlock “packs” as you progress with your meditations. I force myself to find the 10 minutes needed per session even if I’m on the train, in a conference room or sometimes at home. If I don’t meditate then my brain is all over the place and I’m less productive.
2. I Have An App That Filters My Email
I love "Sanebox". It took me a while to train the app so important emails weren’t put in the “sanelater” box, but otherwise I’ve been happy. I save hours not reading emails that don’t matter. And to make me feel even more productive, I get a weekly report on the “hours I’ve saved” by not reading emails that don’t matter to me.
3. I Write In Two Journals Every Morning
One journal is called “The 5 Minute Journal”. I write my plans for the day in there as well as positive thoughts — what I’m happy about, what I can improve etc. You can buy the journal on Amazon. It’s basically the “paint by numbers” version of a journal, but wow it helps. My other journal is where I record thoughts, anxieties and basically whatever I know I need to work out on paper before it festers in my head. Putting pen to paper really helps me excise what I don’t want sitting over me all day.
4. I Use “Rescue Time” To Shame Me Off Of Twitter And Facebook
As a former journalist, I find it hard to not be on Twitter, sharing pointless information to my echo chamber about Trump’s latest crazy statement. Social is an addiction for me that just takes away time from work and then my family (because if I don’t do my work during the day then I’m doing it at night). "Rescue Time" let’s me know how much energy I’ve wasted on social sites. It’s like having a disciplinarian over your shoulder. Sometimes I ignore it, but knowing it’s there helps… and shames me.
5. I Review My Calendar The Night Before
Any non-essential meetings, I cut. Any essential meetings, I cut down the time on. I’m not good enough at this yet, but I’m going to get really draconian on this front in 2017. Big resolution for me.
6. I Schedule & Pay For My Gym Classes In Advance
If I don’t work out then I don’t sleep properly. I’m just too hyped up before bed. Of course that affects my performance the next day. I used to be terrible with exercise — I’d sit on an exercise bike and play with my phone. Now I pay for my spinning classes in advance (yes, I shell out a fortune to Soul Cycle). They’re painfully expensive, but I consider them therapy and a form of sleeping pill… so I write off the cost in multiple ways. I also run and get myself to do it consistently using the "Nike Training" app. Logging my miles makes me feel good.
7. I Use "The Pomodoro Method" During Long Stretches
One of our PowerToFly team members told me she uses Pomodoro to keep her productive so I checked it out. You set a 30 minute timer and when the time is up you go for a five minute walk. The idea is to break up your day in chunks so you remain productive and take breaks to clear your head.
8. I Use The “Wait Ten Minutes” Rule
Our Head of Talent Management, Rachel Valdez, taught me this one. If you receive an upsetting email or someone angers you, take a deep breathe and “wait ten minutes” before responding. It’s a miracle what a little time can do to diffuse a situation. And escalating situations that can be diffused just takes more time out of your day. So don't let things unnecessarily escalate. Breathe and wait instead.
9. I Practice A Zero Inbox Rule
Nothing is more distracting than a bolded email that I need to read. Every few hours I go into my gmail and select all the emails that I know I’m not going to read. Clearing my inbox gets me to clear my head. The next item tells you how I deal with emails I might have missed.
10. I Tell My Team To “Escalate The Medium + Not The Message”
One of the first things I make clear to new employees at PowerToFly is that if you can’t find me, or someone else on the team, don’t send me repeated emails in ALL CAPS. That’s a great way to raise my blood pressure. If I’m not responding over email, it’s because I’m in a meeting or maybe in transit. So Slack me, then Skype me, then text me. And If I don’t respond over text, then call me. Just escalate the medium… not the message!
11. I Work On Public Transportation
I’m lucky. I get someone else to take me to work everyday — the NYC subway. I live in Brooklyn and PowerToFly has offices in Mid-Town and Soho. The team is remote, but those of us in New York use the office, especially when we’re conducting interviews or meeting clients. I usually ride during off hours and get a seat. I whip open my laptop and write memos or work on a presentation offline. No one can email, call, text, or tweet at me and that’s huge. With the exception of someone screaming their head off in the subway car about the coming apocalypse (happened last week), I can focus really well. Everyone else is in their own world, listening to music or playing Candy Crush — so the train is one of the more isolated places to work in New York City. I work on planes too, but find I'm often distracted by the movie someone is watching next to me. I can't tell you how many movies I've "watched" with the sound off on someone else's screen. Another thing to nip in 2017.
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It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
I sat in front of my CEO to discuss several complaints of racism. I was new to my role as a Culture Director. I was nervous about his reaction to the complaints. But I also knew he strongly supported developing this new department; I knew that he would take the right steps. So I was shocked when I heard him say sheepishly, "I don't know, Noelle...all of this stuff about racism. I just don't see it. I don't even see color. I'm pretty much color blind."
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The world has changed in the past few weeks.
We're watching corporations and organizations across the world come out in support of Black lives in droves. Many of those organizations are doing so for the first time in their history.
Living in the midst of a pandemic has brought about a whole host of changes and challenges for workplaces and employees. One of the most notable? Virtual interviewing. With most on-site interviews on hold for the foreseeable future, it's important that you be prepared to make a great first impression—virtually.
Women Founders & CEOs Share Their Tips
If you're anxious about looking for a new job right now, you're not alone. We've talked before about how you can land a job in the midst of COVID-19, but today we wanted to share advice from some of the experts who spoke at our inaugural Diversity Reboot Summit.