High achievement can't happen without stellar productivity. So we reached out to dozens of high achievers—people who founded companies before they turned 30—to learn their productivity secrets.

When Are You At Your Most Productive?

Most young company founders are most productive in the morning. A smaller group work best late at night. In both cases, the reason is the same—that's when they have the fewest distractions.

I get up about 4:30 in the morning and take care of my most important tasks by 7 am. The peacefulness of the morning allows me to do things in own rhythm.

Neil Napier, Founder & CEO, JobRack

I am in the zone from 5 am to 2 pm, then I crash. That is my most productive time and it's scheduled like that.

I fast, so I don't eat my breakfast until 2 pm. This makes you more aware and more focused on the thing you’re doing—plus you're not slowing down by stopping to eat.

Daniel Nyiri, Founder & CEO, 4U Fitness

I'm most creative in the morning, so I'll dedicate the first part of my day to things like storyboarding, presentations and answering tricky emails.

I save more administrative tasks for the afternoon, with my last cup of coffee for the day in-hand and headphones on.

Lauren Katzberg, Co-Founder, Stylisted

I feel most productive early in the morning where I'm not distracted by other people or emails. I can focus effectively on one thing at a time and do my best strategic thinking around conceptually difficult problems.

Jordan Wan, Founder & CEO, CloserIQ

My mornings seem to fly by. In the afternoon I usually have more time to get strategic work done.

Greg Cruikshank, Founder & CEO, LabRoots

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I'm usually at my most productive late at night, once the emails and calls have stopped, and there are no "urgent" issues that keep distracting me.

Andreas Johansson, Founder, Berkovitz Development Group & Dennis Rodman's Bad Ass Vodka

I'm most productive between 10 pm and 3 am. There are not many distractions and my energy and creativity is at its highest.

Kean Graham, Founder & CEO, MonetizeMore

How Do You Get In "The Zone"?

There's a feeling you get when you sustain peak performance. Some people call it "the zone." If you don't know what it is, here are some tips on how to get there.

Knowing that you won’t be interrupted is a big part of getting into the zone. It’s almost impossible to if you are constantly on edge that you might be.

Jodie Cook, Founder & Social Media Specialist, JC Social Media

The place I’ve found I have the most focus is at home at my kitchen table. I find a great Spotify channel, put on imaginary blinders and buckle down for hours on end.

Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO, Cheekd

I am a big fan of clearly separating tasks and knocking them out one at a time.

I even go so far as to physically separate myself from one task to the other —I'll work on one thing at my desk, move to the big couch in our office for a new task, and then to our conference table for something completely different.

Lauren Katzberg, Co-Founder, Stylisted

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I'll go somewhere outside of the office—the library or another quiet place and only set my timer for 20 minutes. I can churn out content and e-mails way faster than in my office with distractions.

Maresa Friedman, Founder & CEO, The Executive Cat Herder

Music gives me energy, blocks distracting sounds and just helps me write.

At work it probably looks awkward—headphones on blasting metal or other weird music, silently screaming unrecognizable lyrics while being mesmerized by the screen and unintentionally unresponsive to basic human interaction.

Mikael Lauharanta, Co-Founder & COO, Smarp

I love the team atmosphere. It fuels me. The SkySlope office here in Sacramento is really high energy. When you enter the office, you come down a hallway—it has awesome artwork and the music is bumping.

Everyone here is moving at light speed. There’s a real sense of urgency and that pumps me up and motivates me.

Tyler Smith, Founder & CEO, SkySlope

When there's a buzz in the room because everyone is on the phones, busy, and excited to be there I feel at my most productive.

The white noise that develops from everyone talking at once and upbeat music playing in the background helps me be my most productive.

Katy Imhoff, Founder & CEO, Camden Kelly Corporation

I feel most productive when I have a really clear sense of what I’m either trying to get done or need to get done.

It usually takes me a few minutes to ‘warm up’ but after a few moments I’m usually able to work myself into a state of flow as long as I have that kind of clarity.

Matt Fiedler, Founder, Vinyl Me, Please

What Are Your Biggest Distractions, And How Do You Avoid Them?

Email, social media, and other people top the list of distractions that get young company founders off-task. Unfortunately these are all practically unavoidable. Here's how they keep distraction to a minimum.
Email is the death. I’m suffocating when I get emails. It slows down my momentum. I’m making decisions and solving problems and then I get an email and everything stops. It’s the worst.

I have a new method for email. I’m dealing with all my emails before I get into the office. I’m going to be at inbox zero and I’m not going to check it again until 4:00 pm.

Tyler Smith, Founder & CEO, SkySlope

I'm always going to prioritize a client or a partner's email over any of my own projects.  If I absolutely need an hour or two of solitude to work on something, I'll ask team members to cover for me (as if I'm out of the office).

Julia Carmona, Co-Founder, Stylisted

Anything shiny—no just kidding! I am often distracted from a task when I get an email and have to respond right away breaking my flow of the task I was working on.

When possible I try to not look at my emails until I have a good chunk of time to respond.

Parker Krex, Founder, Brick Loot

The biggest distractions are people actually. In a small team environment with open layout, you're constantly getting pinged.

I block it out by moving myself to a phone booth or WFH one morning every week.

Jordan Wan, Founder & CEO, CloserIQ

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I gave my team members in the office, a sign with a start and stop—that way if someone is focused on a particular task—they have a time when they will be free again. It works really well.

Maresa Friedman, Founder & CEO, The Executive Cat Herder

I love the “Do not disturb” feature on my Mac/iPhone. It’s the definition of out of sight, out of mind.

If I don’t see notifications coming in, I can’t get distracted by them.

Matt Fiedler, Founder, Vinyl Me, Please

One of my favorite productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called StayFocusd. It lets you set specific time restrictions on websites like Facebook and Twitter.

Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.

Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO, Cheekd

It's really easy to get distracted by the concept of needing things perfect and organized. Having a neat desktop or getting files organized can be scheduled out rather than eating into real work time.

Dustin Olenslager, Chief Navigator, LeadHarbor

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Friends, they always call to hangout and get food or drinks. This is a major distraction because they peer pressure you and say that you can do it later.

I have combatted this by telling them my goals and dreams for the company to get them on my side. Once they realized the passion I had, they now support me.

Matt Jones, Founder, The Montecito Group

Stress can be my biggest distraction.

Instead of trying to block it out completely, I try to isolate it instead. I'll leave the office and go for a walk to let myself stew on whatever is bothering me, and try to identify the "to-do" that will alleviate my stress most.

Lauren Katzberg, Co-Founder, Stylisted

What's Your Task List Look Like?

Just because they're young, doesn't mean they're 100% digital. You'll be surprised how many super-productive young company founders keep their task lists on good old pen and paper. Of course many use apps as well.

And a few have created their own unique systems.

Analog Task Listers

I like to use a notebook right in front of me with a task list for the day and week. I write down every morning what I am going to do in order and then execute.

Matt Jones, Founder, The Montecito Group

I'm constantly updating my task list, which lives primarily in a legal pad. I find pen and paper hardest to ignore!

Lauren Katzberg, Co-Founder, Stylisted

I practice something called 6 x 6, which is 6 big things I want to accomplish in the next 6 weeks.

From there, I set a daily to-do list each morning (I write in a journal). As things get finished, I’ll mark them off.

Matt Fiedler, Founder, Vinyl Me, Please

I do my task list every single day and finish it up at night with three positive things that happened to me that day, plus one thing that I learned today that was the most important to me.

I have a big personal journal notebook I carry with me everywhere and make notes all day.

Daniel Nyiri, Founder & CEO, 4U Fitness

I have my daily scheduler and my notebook. My scheduler has my daily tasks where my notebook holds my bigger tasks. I bring both of them with me everywhere.

Adelia Carrillo, CEO, Direct Cannabis Network

I have a written task list I write in the morning before I have opened my e-mail. I revise it and then add it to my task list on my phone that syncs across all my devices.

Not having a plan for the day gets you caught up in other people's agendas—and then as the boss you are suddenly off-track and the bottleneck.

Maresa Friedman, Founder & CEO, The Executive Cat Herder

My task list lives on the hour-by-hour sheet I use to plan out my day.

Planning out the timing of my day in the morning or the day before helps me concentrate on what I need to be doing at any given moment because I've already allotted a specific task for each period of time.

Katy Imhoff, Founder & CEO, Camden Kelly Corporation

I separate low-priority and urgent task items by putting them in different channels.

Tasks I'm working on are mapped on a Kanban board that creates a breakdown of larger assignments I intend to process.

I can visualize and prioritize all my initiatives so that they are accessible to other members of my team. In other words, there is no unnecessary back and forth about who is working on what because it is visible to everyone.

Dimitar Karaivanov, Co-Founder & CEO, Kanbanize

Digital Task Listers

I update my "long term" list once a month, where I keep track of the bigger picture such as progress of our bigger projects, finances etc.

My day-to-day list is in my phone, updated constantly, and has the most important items that I can't forget.

Andreas Johansson, Founder, Berkovitz Development Group & Dennis Rodman's Bad Ass Vodka

Evoke utilizes an app called Trello, allowing for company wide lists dedicated to each individual client, that can be accessed by all the employees, allowing for everyone to stay on the same page.

Kelly Ehlers, Founder & President, Ideas That Evoke

My task list lives on Teamwork, the project management system my agency uses. I update it whenever something needs adding to it.

Jodie Cook, Founder & Social Media Specialist, JC Social Media

I update my task list multiple times per day. If I cannot get something done immediately, it goes right onto the task list. It lives on a tool called PureKM.com.

Kean Graham, Founder & CEO, MonetizeMore

I keep a simple task list in a spreadsheet. Each line has a task, category, due date, and completion status (yes/no).

I have some simple automatic color-coding to help me prioritize: green = complete, yellow = due today, red = overdue.

Andrew Haller, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, AirDev

I’ve tried many PM tools but chose Asana in the end, so there’s where all the tasks live actually. I update it every week and every day. Also, each day I set list of tasks that are urgent and need to be done next day.

Neil Napier, Founder & CEO, JobRack

A System Of Their Own

Schedule everything. Put even the smallest of tasks on your calendar and if you don’t complete it, keep rescheduling it until you can mark it as completed.  

It can sometimes make your schedule appear overwhelming, but once you start knocking things off the list, it feels pretty productive.

Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO, Cheekd

My to-do list is my email inbox! The subject line is the task.

People who work with me know they can send a subject line only email as a reminder or task I need to do. Having my inbox at zero is truly nirvana for me.

Ted Chan, Founder & CEO, CareDash

Honestly, I don’t use a task list. Maybe that sounds crazy but my assistant handles my calendar and that functions as a task list.

Tyler Smith, Founder & CEO, SkySlope

What Do You Do Outside Of Work To Stay Productive?

Stress management, decompressing, re-energizing—whatever you want to call it, young company founders think it's essential.

Exercise

Religiously hitting the gym every single day became a priority to me. I've never been in better shape in my life.  I've always joked that if my startup fails, at least I'll be mad fit.

Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO, Cheekd

Definitely playing basketball. I love the competitive nature and think that definitely gives me some juice in the workplace as well.

Paul Burke, Founder & CEO, RentHoop

I’ve noticed I’m at my best when I’m working out regularly. When I’m not, I'm distracted more easily, a little more sluggish and less organized.

Matt Fiedler, Founder, Vinyl Me, Please

I'll spin or do a barre class in the early evening, cook dinner, and then hop back online to finish up the day.  Given the nature of our business, we work fairly often on the weekends, but if I'm 'off duty' I really try and disconnect and stay off my phone.

Julia Carmona, Co-Founder, Stylisted

I run, I lift, I do yoga. I love being pushed to the limits of what I thought was impossible and then I want to zen out.

Tyler Smith, Founder & CEO, SkySlope

I am a competitive powerlifter, currently ranked #16 in the UK. The focus and dedication the sport requires definitely carries over to my professional world.

Jodie Cook, Founder & Social Media Specialist, JC Social Media

My favorite hobby is surfing. While riding a wave, being one with nature, you actually remove yourself from your head and just do.

It is a refreshing feeling and I feel more motivated than ever to get work done because I am satisfied with my day now.

Matt Jones, Founder, The Montecito Group

I compete with my horse in the discipline dressage. It makes me more productive because I learn from my teacher how to communicate better and learn from my horse how to be specific, quick, and clear with my aids so my horse knows exactly what I expect. Dressage teaches you to be your best at the push of a button, anytime of the day, no matter what.

Christina Baldassarre, Founder & Managing Partner, Zebra Advertisement

Meditation/Mindfulness

A little over a year ago I began meditating for 10 minutes a day using the headspace meditation app.

This 10 minutes has been some of the highest leverage time that I spend in my life because it allows me to focus better and execute better on my tasks throughout the day by achieving a state of mindfulness.

Bryan Clayton, CEO, GreenPal

Practicing Transcendental Meditation helps alleviate stress, improve focus and my general self awareness.

Regardless of whether you believe that meditation provides health benefits, I think it's a great way to block out time and reflect on the quality of your interactions with your colleagues and employees.

Jordan Wan, Founder & CEO, CloserIQ

Morning, mid-day or evening, I have found meditating and doing yoga poses leaves me clear headed and centered to tackle my day or destress after a long day.

Adelia Carrillo, CEO, Direct Cannabis Network

I walk my dog twice each day, usually without any music/podcasts. It's a great routine in mindfulness, helps me decompress and think about bigger picture items rather than getting lost in the minute-to-minute.

Andrew Haller, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, AirDev

Other

I take a 20 minute nap instead of a long lunch. I call it a disco nap—but it's just 20 minutes of no technology that allows me to shut down. I find it refreshing and it's a great reboot.

Maresa Friedman, Founder & CEO, The Executive Cat Herder

I have a keyboard in my office. If I feel that I am getting a little sluggish, I’ll just jump on it and play a little music.

Gene Caballerol, Co-Founder, GreenPal

I made a promise to do more volunteering this year. It helps others and also gives you some additional sense of purpose and a fresh perspective to life.

Mikael Lauharanta, Co-Founder & COO, Smarp

There's no formula for peak productivity. Young company founders have as many ideas about staying productive as they do for breakthrough products. But you'll have noticed that they're almost all facing the same problems—finding distraction-free time to work, dealing with distractions they can't avoid, keeping track of their tasks, and refreshing their minds when they have downtime.

Not every solution will be right for you—but one of the tips you've read may unlock the key to a much more productive life.