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Aaron Levie
CEO, Box

What's On The Paper List That Keeps Aaron Levie So Productive

The CEO of Box offers a peek at the one analog key to staying focused in his digital life.

Aaron Levie

CEO, Box

"A lot of being productive personally is determined by how you organize your entire business. You can't separate those two things. We brought in a COO specifically to solve this balance-and-cadence issue. He thinks about day-to-day operations, while my focus is on new things that will help us—the new marketing plan, new products, new partnerships, new platform capabilities. For the first 20% of a new initiative, there are a million ways it could go. After that, as these things get on a path of success, I back off a bit.

I'm a little ADD, so I have one sheet of paper called '50 Things.' It's a list of all the important initiatives, tasks, and projects at the company. Once every day or two, I run through it and make sure that every one of those things is on track. I used to do this in PowerPoint, but it was hundreds of pages and wasn't concise enough to look at every day. So now it's just a piece of paper. It sounds very 1980s, but it folds nicely; you can put it in any kind of pocket! Ninety-nine percent of my life is digital, but this is my low-tech way of staying focused."


Time he gets up:

10 a.m.

First thing he does each morning:

"I know this is not a best practice, but I read email. I'm in bed for 30 minutes swiping, replying, and deleting. I try to make sure I have no unread messages by the time I get into the office."

Apps and other assists:

"Box Notes is where I spend most of my time. It's like Evernote and Google Docs had a baby." Also: "Coffee, three to four cups a day. I don't discriminate on brands."

Philosophy:

"I don't use many apps. I use naps."

Last thing he does each night:

Read. "I like business nonfiction."

Time he goes to bed:

3 a.m.

[Photo by Adam Fedderly]

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14 Comments

  • Waqas

    I love reading that a tech CEO uses a non tech solution for some of this tasks.

  • Kash

    Ah, finally someone who keeps my timings - up at 9am-ish and to bed at 2am-ish.

  • Suz

    Paper can be the perfect choice. Above all... do what works for you! Putting pen to paper helps me process and organize what is on my plate better than any electronic method I've ever tired. And sure I have an electronic calendar but a nice paper one is perfect for seeing the big picture. I love reading that a tech CEO uses a non tech solution for some of this tasks.

  • Jim Preston

    Wow, paper is a poor method to stay organized for an entrepreneur or CEO. OneNote or Evernote on a separate Mac desktop works great! When I used to use Windows I had a separate monitor.

    I use Evernote so my main notes are easily available on my MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone. Most notes don't need to be on the mobile devices so they aren't synced.

    I have a note called Priority Tasks and Projects. It is a brief summary in outline form of my projects and their major issues. Unlike Mr. Levie's archaic method, I can not only organize with a flexible outline and cut and paste but I increase or decrease the size of the fonts for each bullet point as it increases or decreases in importance during the day.

    A bold 24pt line item really calls out for attention. 12pts without bold is on the back burner for now. If necessary I can use color but I haven't needed it.

    He has none of that flexibility, he wastes attention with a big list that quickly becomes disorganized, and it is no more convenient than using a mobile device or another desktop / monitor.

  • Andy Whyte ☁

    I'm sure he wishes he could be as smart as you with this stuff.. Then he'd be successful.. Oh wait..

  • Jim Preston

    I've built an industry leading company, and work processes that you probably use every day...

    I fired every employee who used his method and refused to change.

  • Andy Whyte ☁

    Perhaps one of those people you fired could have been as exceptional as Aaron. And if you hadn't of fired them Fast Company may be interviewing you and I'd have heard of you and your company. Instead of being a know it all in the comments section ;)

  • Jim Preston

    Nope, the ones I know of were not successful. However, I've mentored some who went on to positions far higher than they imagined because they took my ideas and re-engineered work processes.

    Just because someone is successful at one or two things doesn't mean you should be defending their poor habits. If he is a smoker and heavy drinker by your logic that is justified by his success in one narrow type of business.

    We have a couple of friends with 60 companies including oilfield machinery, a large regional bank, hotels, commercial real estate, several contraction companies, etc. They hold 100% of the stock, no VC's, etc. Victor uses pre-computer work processes for himself and his wife, second in command, and they are not enjoying their work. It is sad to see how much extra work he has to do and the huge attention cost this has on his companies.

    Paper lists, spreadsheets, whatever have a high hidden cost on the person and enterprise.

    By the way, years ago Victor wanted me to help modernize his early operations but my wife and I didn't want to live with body guards.