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Secrets of 13 of the world’s most productive people

You’ve never been busier, and the demands on your time have never been greater. Here’s how some of 2018’s most driven people get the most out of every day, plus insider tips from experts in the field.

Secrets of 13 of the world’s most productive people

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1. Janelle Monáe

CEO, Wondaland

Ask Janelle Monáe how she gets everything done—the critically acclaimed albums, the world tours, the film roles, the activism—and she’ll answer with a single, slightly unexpected word. “Slack!” she says, with a cheerful laugh. “Email used to stress me out. Now I can organize every conversation, and I go into the channel when I need to—I don’t check it every hour. Like, when I get up, the first thing I do is not look at my phone. The first thing I do is I take at least 10 deep breaths.” She demonstrates, seemingly shifting her mind from the cacophonous, dimly lit restaurant, where she’s occupying a prime corner table, to a mellower internal place: “Inhale . . . exhale; inhale . . . exhale. That really calms you down.”

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2. Beth Ford

CEO, Land O’Lakes

“I work a lot through email and text. I say to my team: ‘Please don’t write me a novel, I won’t read it.’ I just don’t have the time.”

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3. Mellody Hobson

President, Ariel Investments

“I [travel with] what I call my utility bag—my pajamas, dopp kit, running shoes, and workout clothes. My suits are sent [via] FedEx to me in each city, in a white box, and then I just send them back. When I open that box, I have shoes, suits, all of those things for that city.”

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4. P.K. Subban

Defenseman, Nashville Predators, National Hockey League

“Sometimes you get out there and your body is feeling great, and you don’t have to push it. Sometimes you get out there and your legs feel like they’re 80 pounds apiece, and you gotta do a little extra.”

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5. Reese Witherspoon

Founder, Hello Sunshine

“I have a 6-year-old who likes to have milk at 6 o’clock every morning, so from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., he drinks milk, and my husband [CAA agent Jim Toth] and I drink coffee. We talk and catch up on the news—Jim likes to hear it, I like to read it. After that, I work out for an hour, then go to work.”

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6. April Ryan

Washington bureau chief, American Urban Radio Networks

“I’m on the phone quite a bit. I talk to congressional leaders and call people in different communities, formulating what I’m going to ask [during a White House press briefing], and how I’m going to ask it. It’s all about the information you obtain. The right questions can help put something on the table and change procedures and policy.”

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7. Jonathan Van Ness

Hairdresser, podcast host, and star of Netflix’s Queer Eye

“When I’m burning the candle at both ends, my internal critic comes out a bit. Recently, I was really fighting to stop myself from looking at negative comments on Instagram—you know, really Insta-stalking people. I said to myself, “Oh my God, girl. What are you going through?” So for the past two weeks in my morning meditations, I have been trying to think of the word gratitude as I inhale. And as I exhale, I think about stress leaving my body.”

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8. Yi Qin

VP of product management, Instant Brands

“Every family dinner is like I’m testing out my own products. Later, since we also have a team in China, we have night calls from 10 p.m. to after midnight quite a few times during the week.”

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9. Laura Vanderkam

Time management expert and author

“In order to liberate minutes, if not hours, from a tight daily schedule, I recommend establishing the 20/45 rule: Most 30- or 60-minute meetings can be trimmed to 20 or 45, with discipline. That wins you back precious time that you can use for exercise, networking, volunteering, reading, meditating, or any of the other priorities that keep getting bumped from your to-do list.”

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10. Jennifer De Haro

Managing attorney, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

“After I experience sadness over having lost a case or some awful new policy, like separating children from their parents, I try to find an outlet—either exercise or talking with coworkers. Humor helps.”

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11. Lee Child

Author

“I drink about 30 cups of coffee a day. I like to work before I eat. If I’m hungry, then I’m on the ball. I have two computers, at different ends of a room. One is connected to the internet, and one isn’t. When I want to go online, I have to walk across the room, which usually disincentivizes me.”

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12. Cal Henderson

Cofounder and CTO, Slack

“I’ve never exchanged an email with somebody else who works at Slack. I check my email maybe once a day. It’s quite peripheral to how I work . . . A lot of my productivity around using Slack is knowing to prioritize what information I need to see. That means [heavily] muting channels or not joining channels, and “starring” the ones that are really important to me.”

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13. Peter Shankman

Founder and CEO, The Geek Factory, Inc. 

Work backward to map out how you’ll prepare for an event or meeting. That can include getting enough sleep the night before and choosing an outfit. Since Peter Shankman wakes up at 3:45 a.m. to exercise, he simplifies his morning routine by sleeping in his workout clothes.

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For more productivity tips, check out season 1 of Fast Company’s Secrets of the Most Productive People podcast.

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