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Secrets Of The Most Productive People

A senator, a chef, four CEOs, and DJ superstar Diplo reveal how, exactly, they get the most out of their days.

  • <p>"I'm most productive making music on the road, in hotels or in planes, because that's when I have no distractions. Not that my family is a distraction, but when I'm home I feel selfish if I'm not spending half the time with my son."</p>
  • <p>"I've learned over the course of my career that I'm far more productive and happy when I make time for some kind of ­physical activity. I try to schedule it in at least three times a week."</p>
  • <p>"Oftentimes, I'll have gone to bed with a question in my head--something I was working on, but couldn't figure out the answer. And when I wake up, I pick up a computer and start writing, to see if sleep helped me find an answer."</p>
  • <p>"I wander directly, my phone in hand, to two double espressos. I turn on CNBC and scan my email. l check text messages, Twitter, and a couple of news­papers. I often think, I should really do that five minutes of meditation or prayer or something. But no, same shit every day."</p>
  • <p>"I use the Notes app that comes with the iPhone for everything from my grocery list at home to people's birthdays to product ideas to people I meet. I'm also a huge fan of voice mail. To be able to call someone and say, 'Oh, my God, I have this amazing idea, and you may think this is totally crazy, but . . .'</p>
  • <p>"I probably write one or two emails a day--that's it. I don't talk on the phone a lot. I have been extremely ­selective, and some people even say that I am not ­social."</p>
  • <p>"I have a Google Doc for each recurring meeting, and I ask people to throw in ideas [throughout the week] of what they want to talk about. I'll go to that doc and prioritize everything that I think we should cover, and then ­during the meeting we just go down the agenda. If it's not on the agenda, we don't talk about it."</p>
  • <p>"I'm very visual, so I have to sketch things out, whether that's on a whiteboard or a place mat. I tend to use the same pens--I'm a little superstitious."</p>
  • <p>"I like quiet. My parents live in New York, and I can drive back and forth in the quiet--no music, no nothing, just me and my thoughts. Honestly, I find that those times I can really get a lot of things mentally in order."</p>
  • <p>"Whether I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner or starting a new menu at [his newest restaurant] Gato, I make lists. When I cross things off, it makes me feel accomplished. It's the only way I can get things done."</p>
  • 01 /10 | Diplo, DJ

    "I'm most productive making music on the road, in hotels or in planes, because that's when I have no distractions. Not that my family is a distraction, but when I'm home I feel selfish if I'm not spending half the time with my son."

  • 02 /10 | Kirsten Gillibrand,United States senator from New York

    "I've learned over the course of my career that I'm far more productive and happy when I make time for some kind of ­physical activity. I try to schedule it in at least three times a week."

  • 03 /10 | Glynn Washington, Host and cocreator, NPR's Snap Judgment

    "Oftentimes, I'll have gone to bed with a question in my head--something I was working on, but couldn't figure out the answer. And when I wake up, I pick up a computer and start writing, to see if sleep helped me find an answer."

  • 04 /10 | John Legere, President and CEO, T-Mobile

    "I wander directly, my phone in hand, to two double espressos. I turn on CNBC and scan my email. l check text messages, Twitter, and a couple of news­papers. I often think, I should really do that five minutes of meditation or prayer or something. But no, same shit every day."

  • 05 /10 | Bobbi Brown, Chief creative officer, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics

    "I use the Notes app that comes with the iPhone for everything from my grocery list at home to people's birthdays to product ideas to people I meet. I'm also a huge fan of voice mail. To be able to call someone and say, 'Oh, my God, I have this amazing idea, and you may think this is totally crazy, but . . .'

  • 06 /10 | Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO, Chobani

    "I probably write one or two emails a day--that's it. I don't talk on the phone a lot. I have been extremely ­selective, and some people even say that I am not ­social."

  • 07 /10 | Adora Cheung, CEO, Homejoy

    "I have a Google Doc for each recurring meeting, and I ask people to throw in ideas [throughout the week] of what they want to talk about. I'll go to that doc and prioritize everything that I think we should cover, and then ­during the meeting we just go down the agenda. If it's not on the agenda, we don't talk about it."

  • 08 /10 | Gary Friedman, Chairman and CEO, Restoration Hardware

    "I'm very visual, so I have to sketch things out, whether that's on a whiteboard or a place mat. I tend to use the same pens--I'm a little superstitious."

  • 09 /10 | Velma Scantlebury, MD, Associate chief of transplant surgery at Christiana Care Health System

    "I like quiet. My parents live in New York, and I can drive back and forth in the quiet--no music, no nothing, just me and my thoughts. Honestly, I find that those times I can really get a lot of things mentally in order."

  • 10 /10 | Bobby Flay, Chef, restaurateur, and star of Food Network's Beat Bobby Flay

    "Whether I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner or starting a new menu at [his newest restaurant] Gato, I make lists. When I cross things off, it makes me feel accomplished. It's the only way I can get things done."

1. "You gotta manage the time."

Photo: Paul Jung

Diplo
DJ

"I'm most productive making music on the road, in hotels, or in planes, because that's when I have no distractions. Not that my family is a distraction, but when I'm home I feel selfish if I'm not spending half the time with my son. But if I'm working on a project somewhere else, I can just focus. Next week I have the whole week with my son and then I won't see him for a while—I'll be gone for three weeks. So you gotta manage the time."

Time he wakes up:

"It depends."

First thing he does in the morning:

"Usually I'm rushing to go somewhere. If I have time, I go to the gym or exercise in my room—do some sit-ups and push-ups and stuff like that. Or go jog or to yoga or something."

Lunch routine:

"I don't really eat until about 1 o'clock, usually—I just don't get hungry. I just eat whatever I find. Lately I haven't been eating very well. But if we're out on tour I might eat really great food. We went to Greece for a show and it was one of the best meals I
ever had."

Daily breaks?

"No. Although last night I fell asleep in the studio for an hour."

Last thing he does at night:

"Maybe play The Simpsons: Tapped Out video game, buy some houses and stuff. I don't spend money in real life, but on The Simpsons I must've spent at least $300."

Time he goes to bed:

"The other night I didn't go to bed until 6 in the morning, and we had to catch a flight at 9. The next day, I went to bed at midnight."

- Benjamin Svetkey


2."I know what needs to be done."

Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: SartorialPhoto, Corbis

Kirsten Gillibrand
United States senator from New York and author of Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World

"I might want to do a hundred things in a given day, but I know I have to pick up my kids between 5 and 6. That is the most important thing. So I fit in everything else around that. I know what needs to be done, and then I know what I want to get done."

Time she wakes up:

Between 6:30 and 7 a.m.—"when my 6-year-old wakes up."

First thing she does in the morning:

"Make breakfast for my children. They eat it while they watch their cartoons. Then I get myself ready."

Most productive space:

"When I think about an issue I'm trying to solve—a legislative problem—then it's late at night when I am in bed. It's silent, and it's dark."

How she handles email:

"I tend to leave email and text for specific questions, like where I need to be at a specific moment. For example, it'll be my husband, asking, 'Who's picking up the kids?'  If my legislative staff asks me for a briefing, I ask for an oral one. I never want to be briefed on email. I'm never in front of a computer—that is a declarative never. I couldn't even tell you the password for my computer. I only use my iPhone."

Daily breaks?

"I've learned over the course of my career that I'm far more productive and happy when I make time for some kind of ­physical activity. I try to schedule it in at least three times a week. If I'm playing squash, I like to play for 45 minutes. I'll play with anyone I can find. There aren't many squash players in the Senate, but I've played with Al Franken [Democratic senator from Minnesota] many times. It's not very bipartisan. But ­softball—that is very bipartisan. Kelly Ayotte [­Republican senator from New Hampshire] is my cocaptain, and Shelley Moore Capito [Republican congresswoman from West Virginia] is my third baseman. In the spring, we practice twice a week at 7 a.m., but I try to go early so that I can practice my pitching."

Motivational object:

"One tool we use to stay motivated and focused is the phrase 'armor of God.' Any time I'm going to a ­difficult meeting, my chief of staff says it, because he knows I love that piece of Scripture. It has a lot of meaning to me. I don't think it has any meaning
to him."

Best habit:

"Staying positive. You ­imagine success, and you build from there."

Worst habit:

"Not going to the gym if I'm feeling depressed."

Last thing she does at night:

"Kiss my husband."

Time she goes to bed:

"Between 9 and 10 p.m. I need a lot of sleep."

—As told to Jeff Chu


3. "We fight a lot."

Photo: Mathew Scott

Glynn Washington
Host and cocreator, NPR's Snap Judgment

"A lot of times, a writer looking for feedback will pass something around to friends, but they don't really understand what the person is trying to do. I have Mark Ristich, the co–executive producer of my show, and he can say, 'This sucks, kill it.' We fight a lot. But I know he gets my overall thing, and that saves me from ­losing time listening to dozens of people. It's really hard to find that one person. I met Mark, like, 15 years ago at a party, and we didn't like each other. But over time, we've come to be like ­brothers . . . who fight a lot."

Time he wakes up:

6 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning:

"Oftentimes, I'll have gone to bed with a question in my head—something I was working on, but couldn't figure out the answer. And when I wake up, I pick up a computer and start writing, to see if sleep helped me find an answer."

Apps and other assists:

"Audiobooks. I listen to upward of 50 a year, whenever I have menial work to do—accounting, looking at spreadsheets, things like that. They help me stay on task. Without them, I'd lose interest and wander off."

Philosophy:

"Go somewhere. Do something. If you don't have a life, how are you going to tell a story about one?"

Lunch routine:

"Half the time, I don't eat lunch. It's stupid. I don't advise it."

Daily breaks?

"That's what I should be doing. If the president of the United States can play basketball four to five times a week, I should be able to manage it as well."

Motivational object:

"I've got these supercool, retro, wood-trim headphones called Accidentally Extraordinary. I put on Bose noise-canceling earphones, and then I put these headphones over them, so I've got my own little space. I call it my own little virtual office. When writing, I need something approaching silence."

Last thing he does at night:

"Something to get me in a different mind space. I love painting—digitally, using Corel Painter—while I'm listening to an audiobook."

Time he goes to bed:

1:30 a.m.

—As told to Jason Feifer


4. "In the last few hours, I did 300 or 400 emails."

Photo: Jose Mandojana

John Legere
President and CEO, T-Mobile

"I'm talking to people ­every minute of every day. It's a commitment. Just this morning, in the last few hours, I did 300 or 400 emails. I've given my email address to all 3,000 T-Mobile stores. Serious customer escalations come directly to me. I also go to my Twitter following for ­information. Customers get a kick out of me ­responding to them, and the employees do, too."

Time he wakes up:

6 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning:

"I wander directly, my phone in hand, to two double espressos. I turn on CNBC and scan my email. l check text messages, Twitter, and a couple of news­papers. I often think, I should really do that five minutes of meditation or prayer or something. But no, same shit every day."

Apps and other assists:

"Twitter, Instagram, and Outlook. I also use a Jawbone Up. I think it's fascinating because, strangely, if that damn thing on my wrist tells me I didn't sleep enough, I'm tired."

Philosophy:

"Listen to customers, listen to employees, and shut up and do what they tell you. It's really not that complicated."

Lunch routine:

"Ninety-nine out of 100 days I have the same thing: soup with chicken and vegetables from a Chinese restaurant, with a spicy sauce." daily breaks? "I try to get out and go for a run, especially if I land in a new city."

What he does with 15 minutes of free time:

"I call my daughters, who are 25 and 29. It's pretty much my only real social time."

Last thing he does at night:

"Listen to customer calls. Many nights I will call a customer to clean up [ a situation ] before heading to bed."

Time he goes to bed:

Between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.

—As told to J.J. McCorvey


5. "I carve out time for myself."

Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Shaun Mader, Patrick McMullan, AP Images

Bobbi Brown
Chief creative officer, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, and editor-in-chief, Yahoo Beauty

"My day is always insane—and the 'typical' day doesn't exist. Out of the five days of the week, one day I'm at Yahoo, two or three days I'm at Bobbi, and one day I work remotely—that could be anywhere. This is really a secret of my success: I carve out personal time for myself. It's exercise. It's going to the grocery store so I can choose my own food for my family. It's travel. Those are very helpful for me to recharge myself and rethink everything: How can I do things ­better? One of the things I'm trying to do is not be a multitasker. But last night, I took a hot bath to relax, and I got in there, and I realized I didn't have anything to read. I didn't know what to do."

Time she wakes up:

6 a.m. "I have two dogs that are my alarm clock."

First thing she does in the morning:

"Drink two glasses of water and a double espresso."

Apps and other assists:

"I use the Notes app that comes with the iPhone for everything from my grocery list at home to people's birthdays to product ideas to people I meet. I'm also a huge fan of voice mail. To be able to call someone and say, 'Oh, my God, I have this amazing idea, and you may think this is totally crazy, but . . .' I want to blurt it out and clear my head. It may be a good idea or it may not be, but otherwise I'll forget it."

Philosophy:

"Passion, health, team."

How she handles email:

"People who know me know that I can't spell and I also can't type. I used to feel bad about it. Now, sometimes, I just say, 'OMG!' or 'Awesome!' or 'Not a chance.' or 'Call me.' I try to answer right away."

What she does with 15 minutes of free time:

"One of my frustrations when I'm busy is that I have to ask people to get me things, so if I have free time, I do a little shopping. I don't have a stylist for events—I dress myself, which I guess is obvious. It gives me a bit of freedom."

Last thing she does at night:

"Turn off my television!"

Time she goes to bed:

10:30 p.m.

—As told to Jeff Chu


6. "The walk I take in the evenings is like prayer."

Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hamdi Ulukaya
Founder and CEO, Chobani

"I probably write one or two emails a day—that's it. I don't talk on the phone a lot. I have been extremely ­selective, and some people even say that I am not ­social. When I started Chobani, nobody knew me, and I was very free and in touch with what I was doing. But as the business grows, you get more attention, and then you realize that the whole world is trying to get time from you. Which is amazing. But every time you give it to the world, you give less to what you're doing. And for me, the joy goes away. Most of my weekends are spent upstate [in New York]. The walk I take in the ­evenings is like prayer. In the city, my escape is to walk. Sometimes I go to this bookstore on Prince Street, pick a book, and just lie down on the floor."

Time he wakes up:

Between 7 and 8 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning:

"I stay in the bed, turn upside down, turn this way and that way—it probably will take me about 30 to 45 minutes before I'm out of there. I'll usually have a blueberry Chobani, but if I have time, I'll make the most beautiful Turkish breakfast with eggs, feta cheese, and this cured Turkish meat called pastirma."

Philosophy:

"Never stop being an ordinary person. I still drive myself and do my own shopping. It affects who you are, who you hire, and where you get your ideas."

Lunch routine:

"If I am upstate, I just drive back home. But [in the city] I do a lot of lunches with people that I work with. We eat together. Talking around food is powerful, magical. It's also a very Turkish and Mediterranean way."

Daily breaks?

"If you are ever at Spring and Crosby and there's this crazy guy with his headphones walking up and down the street, that's me talking business with somebody. If I'm not talking, I'm listening to music."

Best habit:

"My best habit is when I walk. I love nature, and that comes from growing up in a mountainous, rural part of Turkey."

Worst habit:

"I smoke, and I am trying to quit. These are my last three months. I hate it and I'm almost out of it."

Last thing he does at night:

"If I am upstate, before I walk into the house, I look up at the stars. It reminds you that you are just a tiny drop in this whole universe. Or, I watch a new series on Apple TV or my laptop. Right now it's Mad Men."

Time he goes to bed:

Between 12:30 and 1 a.m.

—As told to JM


7. "If it's not on the agenda, we don't talk about it."

Photo: Mathew Scott

Adora Cheung
CEO, Homejoy

"At other companies I used to work for, meetings would just go forever. Everyone would bring up topics they thought of in the past 24 hours. At Homejoy, I have a Google Doc for each recurring meeting, and I ask people to throw in ideas [throughout the week] of what they want to talk about. I'll go to that doc and prioritize everything that I think we should cover, and then ­during the meeting we just go down the agenda. If it's not on the agenda, we don't talk about it."

Time she wakes up:

7 a.m.

First thing she does in the morning:

"Map out what I want to accomplish. I don't go to sleep until I finish everything I set out to do."

Apps and other assists:

SaneBox ("for sorting email"), Post-its ("for notes during meetings"), Evernote ("for random thoughts"), Google Calendar on desktop, Sunrise on mobile.

How she handles email:

"LIFO: Last in, first out."

Motivational object:

"The uniform shirt of the cleaning company I used to work for, so no matter how successful Homejoy becomes, I remember where I started."

Best habit:

"I use coding to de-stress. It's a very focused activity, and I'm always building something that I know is going to be useful for something. Every other weekend I'll spend a day just coding. It's a Zen thing for me."

Worst habit:

"Waking up in the middle of the night and checking email or opening up a Google Doc on my phone. It's just instinctive. If it's after 5 a.m., I'll look at metrics, because that's when they're updated. I've started making an effort to leave my phone away from the bedroom, but I'll still get up to go get it."

Last thing she does at night:

"Check my email."

Time she goes to bed:

3 a.m.

—As told to Jillian Goodman


8. "Get rid of the unimportant."

Photo: Mathew Scott

Gary Friedman
Chairman and CEO, Restoration Hardware

"One of the things I learned [while starting out] at the Gap is that Mickey Drexler [then CEO of Gap Inc., and now CEO of J.Crew] is a great ­listener who asks great questions: What are we doing smart? And what are we doing dumb? The things that will make a difference are on the margins: things that are really, really important and things that are really, really unimportant. You want to focus on the important things and get rid of the unimportant. What are the dumbest things we're doing? We have to stop doing those things. Great organizations are able to edit."

Time he wakes up:

Between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning:

"Look at the numbers from yesterday on my iPad, which is right next to my bed."

Apps and other assists:

"I'm very visual, so I have to sketch things out, whether that's on a whiteboard or a place mat. I tend to use the same pens—I'm a little superstitious. It's an architect's felt pen, a Pentel Sign. I also use WhatsApp and Viber."

Philosophy:

"Inside our company, we like to say, 'Think until it hurts, so you can see what others can't see and do what others can't do.' "

Most productive space:

"I'm most productive when I'm around a lot of people, where ideas, discussions, and debates are happening—and then I need to go sit all alone for a couple of hours. Often, it's at a little place called New Morning Cafe, down the hill from my [Marin County] house, where I usually eat breakfast."

Motivational object:

"It's really the things I wear around my wrist: four bracelets. One says 'Believe.' The second has a piece of metal with an engraved loop, symbolizing infinite possibilities, infinite ways to solve the problem, infinite choices. Another is engraved 'Live and let live.' When you're judgmental, you pull down the window shade and don't let light and information in. The last has what we call our Resto Rules, our core beliefs: 'Vision is everything. Love us or leave us. No school for cool. This is personal. Fast is as slow as we go.' These bracelets keep me in check."

Best habit:

"Saying, 'What else?' "

Worst habit:

"I can run late."

Last thing he does at night:

"Scan emails, information, the numbers."

Time he goes to bed:

2 a.m.

—As told to Jeff Chu


9. "I do my Zumba exercises during the case."

Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Velma Scantlebury, MD
Associate chief of transplant surgery at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Delaware (She has performed more than 1,000 kidney transplants in her career.)

"It gets pretty monotonous listening to the beep, beep, beep of a heart rate. Normally we'll have conversations, and people have their favorite ­radio stations. Sometimes I have large patients—over 250 pounds—who are very big and deep, so I use a step stool to put me in a higher position so I can reach into their body to do the operation. And there are heavy lights overhead to move around. So I get my workout ­moving the lights and stepping up and down on my step stool. I can do my Zumba step exercises during the case."

Time she wakes up:

"It depends on what time I go to bed. I'm on call 50% of the time. It's hard to say what time you wake up when you've been on the phone or on the computer five or six times between midnight and 6 o'clock."

First thing she does in the morning:

"Meditate, if I'm not waking up with a donor kidney on the way."

Most productive space:

"I like quiet. My parents live in New York, and I can drive back and forth in the quiet—no music, no nothing, just me and my thoughts. Honestly, I find that those times I can really get a lot of things mentally in order."

Daily breaks?

"Our clinic is maybe a third of a mile from the hospital floor where we receive patients, so we're constantly running back and forth. Not a lot of need to take breaks."

Motivational object:

"A prayer that parents sent to me about a patient we had transplanted. It keeps me focused because sometimes I think that I've had enough of this, and it just reminds me that we all have a purpose in life."

Best habit:

"Listening. I like to listen."

Last thing she does at night:

"Pray."

Time she goes to bed:

After midnight.

—As told to Jillian Goodman


10. "I make lists."

Photo: Edwin Tse

Bobby Flay
Chef, restaurateur, and star of Food Network's Beat Bobby Flay

"Whether I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner or starting a new menu at [his newest restaurant] Gato, I make lists. When I cross things off, it makes me feel accomplished. It's the only way I can get things done. It wasn't something I learned in school—I dropped out of high school, so anything I did then wasn't successful. I learned it later."

Time he wakes up:

6 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning:

"Read The New York Times. In print. I like hearing the crumpling of the paper."

Apps and other assists:

"A yellow legal pad. It's what I use if I need to write a speech or make a list of ingredients or dishes."

How he handles email:

"If I don't answer them right away on my phone, I can miss them. So I look at them again on my laptop at the end of the day for checks and ­balances."

Motivational object:

"A good bottle of bourbon—Woodford Reserve. Every once in a while, if it's been a long day, we'll have a little bourbon."

Best habit:

"Completing things."

Worst habit:

"Taking on too many things. I don't like saying no."

Last thing he does at night:

"Take a shower."

Time he goes to bed:

Midnight.

—As told to Jeff Chu

A version of this article appeared in the December 2014 / January 2015 issue of Fast Company magazine.

Slideshow Credits: 01 / Photo: Paul Jung; 02 / Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Sartorial Photo, Corbis; 03 / Photo: Mathew Scott; 04 / Photo: Jose Mandojana; 05 / Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Shaun Mader, Patrick McMullan, AP Images; 06 / Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg via Getty Images; 07 / Photo: Mathew Scott; 08 / Photo: Mathew Scott; 09 / Illustration: HelloVon, Base Photo: Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg via Getty Images; 10 / Photo: Edwin Tse;

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