Ever wonder how CEOs manage their time and stay productive? This week, we’ve partnered with Project 925, our favorite LA-based workwear destination, to demystify CEO productivity.
We’re chatting with five rockstar female CEOs who are building their companies from the ground up. Read more on how Debbie Wei Mullen from Copper Cow Coffee, Jane Fisher and Jenna Kerner from Harper Wilde, Koh Kim from EVENPRIME, Quynh Onel from Project 925, and Sashee Chandran from Tea Drops spend their time and stay productive.
For context, what’s your company? What stage of growth is it in?
Debbie: Copper Cow Coffee brings Asian-inspired beverages to your home, office, and adventure using the best ingredients and innovative design. We are best known for our pour over Vietnamese coffee, now distributed in about 3,000 retailers. We closed our seed round of funding at the end of 2018, and the fastest growing area of our business is direct to consumer coffee subscriptions.
Jenna: Harper Wilde takes the B.S. out of Bra Shopping. We’re just over a year old.
Koh: EVENPRIME is a digitally native, clean skincare brand based in Los Angeles, designed in Korea. Our products were created to help make young men (and women!) feel handsome. Our team is inspired by brands like Helmut Lang, Theory, Maison Kitsuné, and by iconic ’90s video games like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid. We’re an early-stage company getting ready to launch our rebrand very soon.
Quynh: Project 925 is a workwear destination that’s glamourizing the weekday. We’re here to help women build a work wardrobe they’re excited about and celebrate the careers they're working so hard to build. Project 925 is in beta mode and accepting orders!
Sashee: At Tea Drops, we create loose leaf tea, without the tea bag -- in very fun, whimsical formats! We’re about 3.5 years old, available in about 2,500 retail stores including Neiman Marcus, Whole Foods, and Anthropologie, as well as online.
Where do you currently spend most of your time?
Debbie: Setting up the foundations for growth. Bootstrapping the business for the first two years meant that I was doing every job - design, operations, marketing, trashman, you name it. Now with our investment, we are building a team, systems, and customer experience meant for our ambitious plans for growth in 2019 and beyond.
Jenna: Early stage Co-CEO means doing everything from fundraising and setting high-level strategy, to figuring out how to keep our office plants alive. Thankfully, I’m better at the former than the latter. We’re growing the team and spending quite a bit of time thinking about what roles and skills are needed to get us to the next level.
Koh: Building the right team and culture. To be able to recruit the best people, we have to be able to articulate a vision worth pursuing and a role worth taking. The best people will stay because they’re learning and feel empowered. That comes from culture.
Quynh: As a solo Founder and only full-time team member – I’m spread across all activities. I’ll go from refining my vision for what I want Project 925’s impact to be, to building our financial model, to packaging boxes and everything in between. Given our early stage, most of my time is focused on growth initiatives.
Sashee: We are a small team of five people given our scope, so a lot of us wear many hats. Most of my time is spent supporting my team, as well as investor relations and overarching strategy (marketing, brand, team).
How do you start your week?
Debbie: Sunday evenings, I write a recap to my lead investor, and then Monday we kick off with a team meeting to: 1) highlight progress we’ve made from last week, 2) see what’s on our plate for the week, and 3) call out any issues or challenges we are currently struggling with. It’s a great way for everyone to sync, find synergies, and quickly problem solve as a team.
Jenna: Each Monday morning before our team All Hands meeting, I lay out the top three to five things I need to get done that week, in a running list with all of the priorities from weeks prior. It keeps me both focused and accountable.
Koh: On Sunday evenings, I write down my top three projects I have to get done for the upcoming week. Every morning, I meditate for five to 10 minutes before doing my workouts or light walk along the beach. This allows me to clear my head and set the one task I have to get done first thing when I walk into the office.
Quynh: I spend about one hour on Monday mornings doing two things: (1) review my high-level goals for the quarter – it’s a powerpoint with a heatmap representing progress towards each goal, (2) decide on the top two to three areas I should/can focus on and create smaller tasks on my Scrum board (fancy word for a prioritized list, documented in Trello). It’s never a perfect list, and higher priority things always get added mid-week, but it helps me stay focused.
Sashee: Mondays are reserved for team check-ins -- where I set one-on-ones with each team member to set priorities together for the week. This also helps clarify where I might have gaps or areas that I need to spend more time on. I’d like to say that I’m a task master and have two to three high level priorities, but the reality is that some weeks are more clear than others. Sometimes you truly are responding to fire drills, but other times you feel more in control when you are able to focus on the stuff that matters. The goal is to have more weeks where you feel in control :)
What’s your best productivity hack?
Debbie: Working out in the mornings. This was something that I struggled with in the early days of the company, but that I now am a stickler about, even in the most stressful of times. Not only does it give me twice as much energy for the day, it sets the tone of having started off my day with self-care, making me a much more generous and patient CEO for the day.
Jenna: I take 10-15 minutes to tag each item in my to-do list with how long I think it should take. This helps me evaluate how important something is, so that I don’t spend too much time on items that aren’t important in the long-run. Also, during times when I feel overwhelmed by a 20-item to-do list, this exercise helps a list seem much more achievable if I know it should only take 60-90 minutes to knock out.
Koh: Making my bed in the morning (J/K but actually). I use a productivity planner to help me better prioritize my time. Writing down tasks with time estimates by hand helps me mentally commit and get into execution mode.
Quynh: Batch processing my tasks (including checking email) and avoiding multitasking as much as possible. Multitasking and context switching can negatively impact productivity by as much as 40 percent (according to the American Psychological Association).
Sashee: Putting my phone in airplane mode when I have something that requires more intense concentration. I also like to break up tasks into more manageable chunks. For instance, I tell myself, “How many emails can I respond to in the next 10 minutes?” It focuses my time, and makes me respond quickly to the easy emails, and flag the others for when I have more dedicated time to focus on them.
How do you evaluate your productivity? How do you know you’re on track?
Debbie: I evaluate my productivity by how much I’ve supported the needs of my staff. I’m lucky to have made some great early hires, and I know my team is the key to taking my business to the next level. I view my job now as getting what my team needs to succeed in order to hit the productivity goals we’ve made together.
Koh: I spend at least one hour on Friday reflecting on the past week: wins, what didn’t get done, what I learned, and how I feel about the week. Since I track how much time I’ve spent on tasks in my productivity planner, it makes it really easy for me to see what’s working and not working. Also, it’s fun to look back six to 12 months from now on what we accomplished or learned.
Quynh: Outside of reviewing my goals powerpoint on Monday mornings, I keep a time log (in excel). I track my time in 15-minute increments and have categories that tie to business functions and personal activities. It sounds daunting, but it’s a habit that takes seconds and forces me to be more mindful of how I’m spending my time. I have a weekly summary that helps to: (1) confirm with data, not feeling, how much I’m working and what I’m actually doing; (2) inform me what activities are taking up too much of my time that I can potentially hire someone to help me with.
Sashee: On a broader scale, I do quarterly lookbacks where I dive deep into what was accomplished, what was missed, and what’s in progress from every aspect of the business. On a weekly basis, we have team meetings that really set forth our weekly and quarterly goals. Everyone has their own key performance indicators of what success is. Our weekly business review provides a good measure of if we are on track.
Quynh Onel is the founder & CEO of Project 925, a new destination for women's workwear.