Poetry and Raw Eggs: Productivity Secrets From a Biotech Entrepreneur

In 2012, Jessica Richman co-founded uBiome, a company that aims to better understand the human microbiome. Since then, she's raised $27 million from investors including Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz, and 8VC. Her name is on six issued patents. In 2016, she completed her doctorate in computational social science from the University of Oxford. And in November, uBiome released its second test, called SmartJane, which screens for sexually-transmitted infections, HPV, and the presence of 23 bacteria.

In other words: Richman's been busy. Here's how she stays productive, whether she's in the office, at a coffee shop, or traveling.

1. Eat a backup breakfast.

Richman travels a lot, so she says her morning routine isn't based on waking up at a particular time. Instead Richman, who used to be a bodybuilder, starts the day by eating two raw eggs. They're mostly protein and fat and easy to digest, she says. She generally eats a second breakfast at work. But if her day suddenly goes sideways and she doesn't get to do that, well, at least she's eaten something. And, she says, "You also kind of feel like a badass eating raw eggs."

2. Start with savers.

Richman says the best morning productivity concept she's found is S.A.V.E.R.S., an acronym that stands for six things--silence, affirmation, visualization, exercise, reading, and scribing. ("Scribing" is really journaling, she says. On some days, she might write down things she is grateful for, and on another, an angry rant that needs to get out of her head.)

Even better: There's no rule as to when S.A.V.E.R.S. begins and ends; it might take her just 10 minutes or even an hour. "You can do most of it on the subway if you have to," she says.

3. Find an office away from the office.

Richman spends a lot of her office time in meetings. But if she has to do some writing or  plan out what a new product should look like, she'll find a nice coffee shop or library to work from. "I think it's important to have time away from work to work," she says. 

4. Streamline the virtual office

Richman is as attentive to her virtual workspace as she is to her physical one. The desktop on her computer, she says, is mostly empty. You won't find sticky notes all over the place, and she doesn't allow any notifications to come through on her phone. "The technology should not be telling you what to think about," she says. She also unsubscribed from every newsletter that once came into her email box. "Just because someone wants to email you does not mean they get to," she says. "And if some random person emails you, you don't owe them a response."

5. Use poetry for productivity.

You might not think of poetry as a productivity tool, but Richman swears by it. "It's really underutilized, because it's not like reading the latest summary of a business book." She says she reads poetry--her favorites are Mary Oliver and Edna St. Vincent Millay--because it gets her thinking about things that are eternal. "It puts you in that right, solemn, frame of mind," she says. "A book of poetry can be a great companion."

How a True Road Warrior Gets It Done: 7 Productivity Tricks From Darktrace’s CEO

Nicole Eagan, CEO of Darktrace, an A.I. company for cyber defense, is on the road almost every day. She says she generally gets home two weekends a month--but in October, her husband said that she'd actually spent just 11 hours at home that month. Her response: To take him with her for 10 days of travel in November. "What better use for air miles?" she asks.

From packing for efficiency to travel apps we've never heard of before, here's how Eagan stays productive no matter what time zone she's in.

1. A perfect, coffee-free wakeup routine

Eagan starts every day the same way no matter where she is or when she shows up. On weekdays, she's up at 3:30 a.m. local time. On weekends, she sleeps in until 5:30 a.m. No caffeine, she says, because it makes her heart and brain race, and also contributes to jet lag. Instead, she prefers hot water with tons of lemon in it. Then she jumps rope for a quick shot of exercise no matter where she is. "It balances your body back up and you feel awake and motivated for the day," she says. Then she checks her email to see what happened overnight.

2. Make flight time productive

As a frequent traveler, Eagan says it's imperative to make travel time as productive as possible. Before each flight, she decides what work she'll get done on it, and blocks the time on her calendar just like she would any other appointment.

3. Abolish standing meetings

Eagan doesn't schedule any standing meetings--and she doesn't let anyone else rope her into them, either. "They are the absolute worst," she says. She gave them up six years ago, and "I'm so glad I did. Next thing you know you have standing meetings and calls filling up your days and they are not aligned with your priorities."

4. Let your assistant pack your schedule

When Eagan learns she has to be in a specific city--to speak at a conference, perhaps--she'll make the most out of her time there. Are there analysts she should meet with? What are the highest priority deals in that city, and what can she do while she's there to help them close? What customers should she meet with? "All of that takes time," Eagan says. Her assistant has to do the research and schedule everything to fit in. 

5. Pick a color theme

When Eagan packs, she sticks to just one color theme for the week, limiting the number of shoes she has to bring. One week she'll choose navy, the next grey, the next black. Doesn't sound exciting, but it works, she says, adding, "I feel sorry for men because there is nothing better for travel than a dress."

6. Take advantage of travel apps

While Eagan calls TSA Pre-Check a "lifesaver" for most trips, she says Global Entry doesn't help for international trips. Instead, she prefers Mobile Passport, a free app that generates a bar code to expedite the entry process. After landing, she'll simply skip the long lines and scan. Done.

Even though she's a lifetime Starwood platinum member, Eagan often uses a hotel app called Tablet Hotels to find a place to stay. The people who use Tablet, she says, are experienced business travelers and very active in rating the hotels. "The accuracy of their ratings and the descriptions are impeccable."

7. Book your own itinerary

"It would take me longer to have my assistant do all the planning, because meetings change, priorities change," she says. "I'd rather know all of it." Eagan has 3 million miles on United, which keeps her from having to choose between airlines. She'll get on a plane and then book her next flight.

8. Recharge

During those few weekends that Eagan is home, she'll catch up with family and friends. She also uses her air miles to fly her husband and sons with her whenever possible. Her husband has his own company, so he often has the flexibility to travel with her. "I love that the kids can come with me and enjoy London or New York, especially because we live at the beach," she says.

Why These 2 Mom Entrepreneurs Say Being Productive Is More Than Checking Off a To-Do List

Everyone knows how demanding life can be when running a business, but it's a whole new playing field when you're an entrepreneur and a parent.

Kirsten Saez Tobey and Kristin Groos Richmond are the dedicated mothers and co-founders of Revolution Foods, a company that provides schools with chef-crafted, affordable, and heathy (no fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners) meals. Since launching in 2016, they've worked with 1,500 schools across the country to serve more than 2 million meals each week. In 2013, Revolution Foods Meal Kits was launched, bringing a line of branded kits into more than 4,000 stores (including Target, Whole Foods, and Amazon).

Revolution Foods says it plans on being an over $150 million company by the end of 2018, and there's no doubt that productivity skills at work will be essential to making that happen. But both Saez Tobey and Groos Richmond agree that, as parents, spending quality time is equally important. 

Elementary students in the lunchroom with their Revolution Foods meals.

CREDIT: Courtesy Revolution Foods

There's a time and place for everything

"Productivity means more than checking things off of a to-do list," says Groos Richmond. "For the most part, it means having a focus on the company's strategic goals in a primary sense on a day-to-day basis, and then knowing when to turn that off."

But keeping a schedule and prioritizing important tasks--whether it's exercising or working on long-term projects--in advance are still key ingredients to a successful day. "I look at my calendar a week or two ahead of time and say, 'I'm going to block off these two hours and to work on that project'--and really do it," says Saez Tobey.

Putting the brakes on business

Groos Richmond, who maximizes her time so much that she does work on her commute home, has a rule to stop working once she crosses the bridge--10 minutes from her house. That's when she wraps up a call, closes her computer, and sometimes meditates.

"When I get home, I want to be extraordinarily present for my family," she says. "You have to create a little space between when you're coming off from a very fast-paced mindset and into a space where you need to be present and thoughtful."

Healthy matters

Groos Richmond starts her mornings at 5 A.M., and spends an hour (from 6 to 7 A.M.) working out. Her current obsession is spinning. "When I'm off my [exercise] routine, I can tell I'm off my game," she says. "It actually makes me feel good to be more self-nurturing in that way."

It makes sense for Groos Richmond to prioritize healthy habits. After all, her entrepreneurial mission is to promote smart eating habits among kids--and that's just that sort of mindset that fuels the company. 

The Brilliant 3-Step Hack That Helps This Successful Co-Founder Make Quick Decisions (and Get Things Done)

In 2013, when Chieh Huang and his co-founders, Christopher Cheung, Jared Yaman, and William Fong launched bulk grocery e-commerce startup Boxed from his parents' garage in Edison, New Jersey, he says he had no boundaries or strategies in getting things done.

"I was doing everything at all times of day--emailing constantly, trying to juggle my job, my life," says Huang, who is now married with two children. "But now I compartmentalize my time. As I got older, I finally understood how time is a finite resource and I need to focus on what I'm doing."

Here's how Huang finally nailed down a routine that helped him manage his time and successfully run a company:

1. Even if you're already successful, accept that your current routine could be improved.

Huang, who raised $132 million to grow Boxed.com from the garage into a national company with 400 employees, says he realized he had to make a change on a Saturday afternoon while at the playground with his daughter and juggling business calls.

"I was in the zone of getting work done and I noticed a bench full of parents staring at me," he says. "I realized they were right. From then on, I started being present. I stopped taking calls when I'm with my kids. It's either work time, or family time."

Now, Huang carves out specific times for specific tasks. 

2. Cut down email time.

Huang spends time between 7 A.M. to 8:30 A.M. getting ready and eating breakfast with his kids. He uses commuting time to read emails. By 9:30 A.M., 30 minutes after he's arrived to the office, Huang puts a hard stop on responding to emails.

"Email knocks me off my game. It's just for the morning commute and end of the day," he says. "Some might think I'm slow to respond, but those who need to reach me know to send me a text during those hours."

A quick scroll through his last 10 text messages reveals that the most recent one received was from an investor, then a potential partner, followed by one from a board member. Lastly, a batch of texts in a group chat with his three co-founders.

3. Reduce each task to a binary distinction.

Being productive requires critical thinking, Huang says. With each task, he suggests asking: Is this urgent, or is it important? 

"The best advice I ever received is that there is a difference between urgency and importance: Urgent tasks seem important, but they're not," Huang says. "Important things need to get done."

To decipher the difference, Huang asks himself three questions: 

  1. Is there someone else who can help solve this problem besides me?
    He says he has hundreds of employees, so he thinks about who can handle it.
  2. What are the realistic repercussions of this going south?
    This helps you measure the weight of a task and think realistically about what is likely to happen if you decide to delegate. Is this something that only you can do? 
  3. Will not responding right away cause a divorce?
    He says you need to be focused while at work, but your family's needs are unquestionably important. "Whenever my wife calls, I pick up," he says.

4. Spend time with family in the evening, and then get back to work...

When Huang finally gets home, he doesn't take calls or emails until 10 P.M. After having dinner with his family and putting the kids to bed, he spends two hours working.

"Between 10 P.M. and midnight is when I clean out my inbox and interview job candidates," says Huang.

Why These Casper Co-Founders Swear by Their Morning Routine (Hint: It’s Not Just Sleep)

Neil Parikh and Luke Sherwin have shared an entrepreneurial journey since the beginning.

They're two of the five co-founders of Casper, the online mattress retailer that launched in 2014 and broke $200 million in sales last year. Prior to that, they co-founded an e-commerce startup called Consigned. And before that, they were friends at Brown University.

That said, it's not surprising that they've developed similar productivity habits--and face similar productivity challenges. Here are the tips and tricks that have helped Parikh, 29, and Sherwin, 28--Casper's chief operating officer and chief creative officer, respectively--optimize their time and fight obstacles along the way.

1. Find the perfect morning routine.

Sherwin's version of a "perfect day" involves waking up, making his fiancee coffee, taking a 20-minute bike ride around Brooklyn's Prospect Park, showering, and then heading to the office. On the way, he'll either eat breakfast or catch up on email, the latter of which is also how he closes the day.

Parikh's morning routine is similar: Work out, eat breakfast (a healthy one, rather than "eating anything"), meditate, and arrive in the office by 9 A.M. "I'm much more focused and attentive and present when I wind up to the day," he explains.

2. Live by your rules of sleep.

Interestingly, neither Sherwin nor Parikh has a nightly routine, save that both men preach the importance of sleep--hardly surprising given the nature of their company. Parikh builds his entire daily schedule around sleep: If he has an 8 A.M. meeting the next day, he'll subtract nine hours--eight for sleeping and one for getting ready in the morning--to determine an 11 P.M. bedtime.

Sherwin says he won't view screens for a full hour before he hits the sack. It helps him get his eight hours, including time spent hitting the snooze button--something he does despite knowing it's "against the rules."

3. Create work-life balance (sort of...).

Both endorse having a life outside the office--even though they sometimes work outside the office.

Parikh often schedules breakfast and dinner meetings. Sherwin says he starts on Casper-related projects around 8 A.M. on weekdays, but doesn't actually get to the office until 8:40. He leaves the office around 7 P.M., but doesn't stop working until 7:30. Occasionally, he'll tackle longer projects on weekends at home, when he has more time to ruminate on them. It's due, he explains, to a guilt he feels when he's not working--a holdover from Casper's early days when all five co-founders were workaholics.

Parikh describes those days as brutal: 80 to 100 hours per week, not exercising, not eating healthily. "Year Two, I would have said, Casper, Casper, Casper," Sherwin agrees. "Now, it's like, bicycle, coffee, Casper, Casper, read, eat, sleep."

4. Maintain health for the mind and body.

Their "health" habits, of course, aren't identical.

Sherwin preaches hydration--"I consume really nice sparkling water at Casper," he laughs--and has recently been using it as an excuse to cut down on coffee.

Parikh keeps a journal and started learning transcendental meditation earlier this year, a practice he calls "super helpful" for focus and productivity. He meditates every morning and tries to meditate in the afternoons for a late-day boost.

They also disagree on one key point: smartphones. Parikh says he's trying to disengage more from his phone, while Sherwin says it's the tool that most enables him to be more productive.

They agree, however, on one of the most important factors to their productivity: consistency. Sherwin ascribes efficiency to repetition--the more you practice something, the better at it you get. Parikh calls consistency the biggest obstacle to his productivity, simply because it's so difficult to achieve. "The more consistent I am, the more productive I am," he says. "I'm trying to develop a habit so it's more natural."