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Secrets Of The Most Productive People: 2016

Ten top performers reveal how they squeeze the most out of every day.

Secrets Of The Most Productive People: 2016

1. Kevin Hart

Actor, Comedian, and Entrepreneur

[Photo: Williams + Hirakawa; Stylist: Ashley North; Groomer: John Clausell]

On staying busy: "Once you’ve accomplished a goal, you’re all done. And I don’t ever want to be all done." On collaborating: "I don’t walk into a meeting with a ‘me, me, me’ attitude. I walk in and say, ‘How do I become your partner?’ " Read more.

Time he wakes up: Between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m.
First thing he does in the morning: "Get up, go to the gym. I’m probably in there for an hour to an hour and a half."
Productivity tool: "Kevmoji. Kevmoji puts a constant smile on my face and helps me take text messaging to the next level."
Most productive space: "I go onstage to figure things out. I’ll have a premise, a couple of beats, and I’ll go onstage and talk about the thoughts. That’s how I write."
Time he goes to bed: "Depends on the day. Tonight, probably 11:30 or midnight." —As told to Benjamin Svetkey

2. Melinda Gates

Cochair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[Photo: Chloe Aftel]

"When I worked at Microsoft for nine years and didn’t have kids, I would often stay late, polishing some presentation for the next day. My best friend had two kids at the time, and she had to go home for dinner—she didn’t have a choice. If you have to be home, you squeeze a lot into the last hour. Being a parent taught me to task-shift very quickly. But it also taught me to take pauses." Read more.

Time she wakes up: "6:30. My morning starts with a little bit of yoga and meditation. And then right after that, I get the kids up."
What she does while commuting: "I have been listening to the Hamilton sound-track pretty much nonstop."
Email strategy: "I split my personal and my office emails into two different folders, and I’m very disciplined about only going into business ones at certain times of the day."
Last thing she does at night: "I think of one thing I’m grateful for. It’s a nice way to settle your mind before you go to sleep."
Time she goes to bed: Between 9:30 and 10 p.m. —As told to Missy Schwartz

3. Marco Bizzari

President and CEO, Gucci

"In fashion, you cannot make a decision with 100% of the information. You can collect all the data and conduct all the focus groups, but that is a picture of the past. You have to [make decisions] based on demand, feelings, rationality, and emotions. Why do you go into the shop to buy something? Because you are emotionally driven. Nobody needs any more bags and suits. Sometimes you see shows for luxury companies and you say, ‘My God, that is so boring. Why did you need to do a show for this?’ If you don’t take risks, you’re going to lose. . . .We are not a consumer-goods company, we are a luxury company. We have to create demand even if the people aren’t ready, because in 18 months, they will be.

"If [someone] makes a decision and they make a mistake, at least it keeps things moving. Everyone knows that I am always accessible. [I think of] my iPhone as an extension of my hand. The conversations I have [during the day] last between one and five minutes, never more than that, so that everyone knows they can always get an answer from me."

Time he wakes up: "Around 7 a.m. But I have a problem with sleeping when I travel. I just came back from Japan and I think [I slept] five hours in five days. At a certain point, I collapse."
Mantra: " ‘No’ is not attractive. If someone has a new idea, I expect people to be open-minded."
Worst habit: "I’m impatient. When my leg starts moving up and down, that is a signal that people need to speed up or change subjects. It’s kind of a joke at the company at this point: ‘Don’t move the leg, please don’t move the leg.’ "
Most productive time: "When I run. My mind is free. I try to run for an hour three or four times a week."
Time he goes to bed: "Around midnight." —As told to J.J. McCorvey

4. Shonda Rhimes

Showrunner, author, CEO of television production company ShondaLand

[Photo: Robert Trachtenberg/Trunk Archive]

"A giant part of my job is running the business, but I need most of my time for creative work. A lot of that involves shutting off everybody else. I have a rule that you’re not allowed to come into my office unless you have a solution—not a problem." Read more.

Time she wakes up: 5 a.m., to spend time alone before her kids wake up.
What she lets slide: "Right now, I don’t feel guilty that I’m not working out. I’ll feel guilty about it at another time."
Worst habit: "Too much caffeine. I haven’t tried to curb it in any way."
Most productive space: "Any place I can wear headphones. [The music] has to be something I can sing to. Last year, it was just Aretha Franklin. The year before it was Marvin Gaye. This year it’s only Hamilton."
Time she goes to bed: 10 p.m. —As told to J.J. McCorvey

5. Sundar Pichai

CEO, Google

[Photo: Mark Mahaney]

"Nothing makes me happier than a product review in which I can sit with the team and they’re showing me something they’re building. Being able to react to it and think through, ‘When users get this, what will their feedback be?’ I’m always on a quest to do that better and do more of it." Read more.

Time he wakes up: "6:45 to 7:30, depending on how late I stayed up."
First thing he does in the morning: "Check my email, brush my teeth. Sometimes at the same time."
Most productive space: "Anywhere that’s quiet and has large windows."
Lunch routine: "I actually have two lunches: the first one at around noon, and then a sandwich at around 3 p.m."
Motivational object: "The first Chromebook we ever made. It reminds me of the journey we’ve been on to make computing accessible for everyone."
Daily breaks: "If I’m at work, I’ll take a walk. If I’m at home, I try to sit down and have a chat with my kids—I always learn something new."
What he lets slide: "Personal emails. Sorry, Brian, I promise I’ll respond soon."
Best habit: "Listen first, and ask why. Also, I’ve been told that I’m a voracious reader."
Worst habit: "Eating sugary things when I’m stressed."
Time he goes to bed: "Later than I should." —As told to Harry McCracken

6. Andrew Zimmern

Creator and host, Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods series; chef; CEO, Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen and Intuitive Content

[Photo: TJ Proechel; Groomer: Debi Kilde]

"Restaurants have informed everything I do. The kitchens that I grew up [working] in were serious food environments. That kind of teamwork, where different people are working on different aspects of the same thing and it’s all meeting at a certain place, is how I run all of my businesses. A lot of it is cadence. We have a rhythm in our company that I think has been the saving grace. We have weekly management meetings that take place whether I’m in town or not. Waiting for the guy at the top who’s overextended can sink a lot of businesses. I employ people whose job it is to keep me from procrastinating. I’m very transparent about my need to get help. A lot of people think talking about the problems they have is a sign of weakness, but I think it’s a sign of strength. If you’re a successful business leader and you have problems with procrastination, everyone in your office knows it. Everyone!

"No is the most powerful word in the English language. Saying no to something means you’re able to say yes to something else that may be more important. I’ve had to do a lot of self-coaching to learn to say, ‘Let me think about it and get back to you.’ That helps me put space between my thought, which is: Do it, and my action."

Time he wakes up: 7 a.m. "I have a little prayer and spirituality moment for 90, 120 seconds in the morning."
How he handles stress: A deep-breathing exercise he learned from his Pilates teacher.
Mantra: "Don’t be the best, be the only."
Lunch routine: "The first thing my assistant asks me in the morning: ‘What do you want for lunch?’ I don’t like to waste meals. [What I eat is] the exact opposite of the sad desk lunch."
Most productive space: "My son’s room when he’s asleep. Being in his room is a calming influence on me."
Time he goes to bed: "Between 12:30 and 1 a.m." —As told to Rob Brunner

7. Whitney Wolfe

Founder and CEO, Bumble

[Photo: Adam Amengual]

"I literally work from the moment I open my eyes. Bumble has gone from zero to over 8 million registrations in less than two years. We have to be as fast as our users are. It’s not abnormal that I’ll wake up to urgent emails and spend three hours in my bedroom working through them before I leave [for the office]. I’m the type of person who loves ‘inbox zero,’ but I prioritize. I have a severe phone addiction, and to curb it, I set microgoals: You don’t need to look at your phone right this second. Leave it in your bag five more minutes. I try to cook something every single night, and that forces me to put it down because I only have two hands. I’ve [learned] that nothing really is the end of the world; it can all be solved at some point. But walking your dog and paying attention to the people you love, that cannot always wait."

Time she wakes up: 6 a.m.
Most productive space: "Outdoors. You can’t stay cooped up all day."
Productivity tool: "Facebook Messenger. Everyone is supercomfortable with it because they’ve been using it personally. I don’t like to introduce things at work that [employees] don’t feel like they’d want to use in their personal life."
Best habit: "Refreshing my email every 10 seconds is probably my worst and my best. While I don’t miss anything professionally, I might miss the stop-and-smell-the-roses moments."
Nightly routine: "I’m trying to change it because currently it consists of some sort of red wine."
Time she goes to bed: 10:30 or 11. —As told to Missy Schwartz

8. Andrew Ross Sorkin

Journalist, screenwriter, producer, and coanchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box

[Photo: Andy Ryan]

"When I’m doing one thing, I’m really focused on that one thing. I have no to-do list. I put everything on a calendar, [which helps me] know that this call is going to take 15 minutes or that this is a 25-minute project. The calendar also helps me create artificial deadlines. When I was writing Too Big to Fail, I would spend three or four hours doing that, and then I’d switch gears to writing daily stories or columns [for The New York Times] related to the financial crisis, and I would have to force myself not to think about [the book]." Read more.

Time he wakes up: Between 3:55 and 4:25 a.m.
Productivity philosophy: "I don’t think anybody can be particularly successful or productive on their own."
Email hack: "SaneBox does a pretty good job of prioritizing email and eliminating stuff that I don’t really need to look at."
Go-to motivator: "On my desk at home, I have tacked [up] this quote: Aren’t you worried? And the next sentence says, would it help? It comes from the movie Bridge of Spies. If it wouldn’t help to worry about it, [I’m] not going to worry about it right now."
Best habit: "I’ve never been a big drinker, but I don’t drink on weekdays. I don’t get as much sleep as I want anyway, so it [would be] just another thing slowing me down."
Time he goes to bed: "9:30 or 10 p.m. Later if I’m being bad." —As told to J.J. McCorvey

9. Cathy Engelbert

CEO, Deloitte

"I was a Division I college athlete, and I grew up with five brothers and two sisters. I’ve always been a competitor. [But] I’ve learned that productivity should not be a competitive sport. You’re never going to win.

"I am responsible for almost 80,000 people. I prioritize people over tasks. One Note allows me to put different tasks [involving] each of my executive-team members in a tab. That way when I talk to them, I can be more effective, because the five things I wanted to talk to them about [are right there].

"If I looked at email and Twitter and texts [during the day], I don’t think I would ever give my full attention to anything. You cannot be insightful if you’re deluged with information. We’re all drowning in data. We all need moments of recovery. For me, that includes not going right to my phone when I wake up in the morning. I got on a plane about six months ago, and I forgot my phone. For two days, I didn’t have my phone, and nobody died."

Time she wakes up: Between 6 and 7:30 a.m.
Worst habit: Late-night emailing.
Mantra: "Technology should help you do your job, not control your job."
Nightly routine: "Watch Seinfeld or Friends on TV."
Time she goes to bed: 11:30 p.m. —As told to Ruth Reader

10. Elizabeth O’Neill

Master taster, Woodford Reserve

"I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid and needed to take Ritalin. But as an adult, I’ve figured out how to make it work for me. My mind wanders when it’s quiet, so I listen to music to help me focus. I’m involved with the boots-on-the-ground distillery work, making sure instruments are calibrated and doing quality control. I also work on the more artistic side of production, creating new flavor profiles for Woodford Reserve. [It’s helpful that] my job requires me to bounce between a lot of different functions, because I can’t stay on one task for very long.

"I travel a lot as master taster to educate people on how to explore different flavors, so I spend a lot of time in the car brainstorming simple cocktail recipes. To capture my wine- and-champagne-loving friends, [I came up with mixing] Woodford Reserve and LaCroix orange-flavored soda water, with orange bitters to make the flavor pop. I find myself daydreaming about grain bills and barrel finishes."

Time she wakes up: 5 a.m., to visit her horse before work. "I don’t have enough time to ride, I just groom him. It’s very therapeutic."
Email strategy: "I’m so ‘on’ at work that the moment I get home, I don’t check my email again. Everyone has my phone number if they need me."
Audible assists: "For creative work, it’s James Taylor, Tom Petty, George Strait. For a repetitive task, it’s something more energetic, like ’80s pop, Beyoncé."
Productivity philosophy: "Say ‘yes’ first, figure it out second."
Nightly routine: "Whiskey on the rocks and TV."
Time she goes to bed: 9:30 p.m. —As told to Elizabeth Segran

Click here to read more stories in Productivity Week.

Related Video: Productivity tips from the world's busiest people

A version of this article appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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