being-productive

Secrets to productivity from Silicon Valley Assistants

Kimberly Snodgrass

In June, I hosted a learning lunch for other Executive Assistants with the goal of gaining a better understanding of how other assistants in Silicon Valley manage so many moving pieces at once. Doing great things requires more than great vision and a great team. It requires prioritization of day-to-day tasks and tools to help you stay organized.  The EAs and I discussed our thoughts on staying organized.  Anikka Fragodt (former EA to Mark Zuckerberg), Angela Azem (EA to Matt Cohler at Benchmark Capital), Carrie Paton (team support at Dropbox), and Eve Lim (team support at Dropbox) all attended.

After a successful discussion about how we manage small and large (sometimes extra large) projects and tasks, we thought it’d be useful to share our takeaways. These takeaways are designed to help you optimize your working habits.

Tools we use to stay super productive and organized include:

  1. Asana, the ultimate team brain. Asana holds every task or note your team needs to remember in different projects with due dates and priority headings, which makes determining next steps easy. You can assign tasks to yourself or teammate and forward emails that require action to x@mail.asana.com to be added to your task list. With Asana, organizing your day is easy and emails are no longer interruptions throughout day. Asana also has integrations with two tools on the list, Google Drive and Dropbox, so using Asana with other tools is really simple.

  1. Followup.cc keeps your email inbox organized. You can forward messages to any day in the future you want (i.e. July17@followup.cc) and it will come back into your inbox that day to remind you! Talk about a life saver and memory keeper! We use this especially for remembering to follow up with someone if they say something like, “not now” or “maybe in two weeks.” I also personally use it to give me a to do in the future if it pertains to a specific email.

  1. Google Drive helps us store and share files and Google Docs. When working on large teams, using Google Drive is helpful for making real-time changes to planning lists, team documents, presentations, or spreadsheets. I also personally use Google Drive to store all of my critical documents so that I have them at any given time.

  1. Dropbox makes it easy to share and store large files, just like Google Drive. It’s a great product that enhances the way teams collaborate. We use Dropbox to store all of our company photos, our designs, our web projects, product or internal videos, and more.

  1. Inbox Pause helps you get to inbox zero! Review your non-timely items later with Inbox Pause (waiting until Friday at the latest) or use Keith Rarick’s system. You may like Inbox Pause if you have an assistant or dedicated email time in your schedule. Then he/she/you can place emails that only need your attention back in your inbox for you to review and action right away.

  1. X1 is an email search application for your desktop. It is a search engine for your emails, and it allows you to do advanced searches! This software supports most email applications too.

  1. Fantastical is a purely awesome calendar that is mobile and goes wherever you go! This is an application for your phone and desktop. You are able to see what’s next in your day or add new events within seconds! This is better than most other apps on your phone because it’s more fluid with day and week navigation, plus it’s wicked fast!

  1. Rapportive is one of the best used secrets to date for being in the know. Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts (social links, contact info, etc.) inside your inbox. This is an amazing tool when communicating with someone that you do not know.

  1. OneLogin is a cloud based tool that stores, generates, and secures all of your passwords in a central location. We use OneLogin to collaborate when we have shared staff accounts like WordPress, Bit.ly, or Twitter which makes it faster for us to work together. I also use it to store my personal passwords like GitHub. With one click, your into your favorite sites!

  1. Gmail (Email from Google), you all use it, but we’ve found some tricks
    • I’ve already mentioned forwarding emails to Asana, but you can also get emails into Asana using by the Asana Chrome Extension.
    • You can create a “to do” label in Gmail and file the email away to look at later.  Any files you create in Gmail should just stay organized in real time and you should aim to live in those labels (and label/file everything that comes in).
    • You can Bcc yourself when sending out emails for reminders of what you sent. Then you can label and file them away for future reference.

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Tools can be really helpful for increasing productivity, but you also need to have a system. Here are some more tips about how EAs organize their days. 

  1. Schedule time to get it done. Take time to flesh out your calendar. Add travel time to your schedule for meetings that are out of the office, schedule time to take breaks, stretch, or meditate, and also be sure to set a specific time to get a specific task done (like inbox zero). It also helps to color coordinate your calendar so when you get into the office in the morning, you can see how much time you will be spending on certain areas for the day. I use a color for recruiting time, a color for meetings, a color for leaving the office, etc. 

  1. Just do it! Follow Nike’s wisdom! If you have a quick task, just get it done right away.  You’ll feel better when the little things don’t pile up and block you from your larger projects.

  1. Listen to music. Sometimes just putting on headphones and cranking upbeat tunes with happy lyrics can make you very productive! Drowning out the noise around your desk and allowing yourself to find “flow” can be magical for your productivity.

  1. Reflect. Take time to think about how you can be more productive. This can be just 5 minutes to yourself every morning or at night with no one around to interrupt.

How about you? How do you stay super productive? Tell us in the comments.

  1. avatarElaina

    I’m not afraid to ask for help! I outsource my time-consuming tasks to TaskRabbit. I love it–you can find someone to take on almost any type of task or service. Pay a little cash, save a lot of time! :)

    1. avatarKimberly Snodgrass Asana Team Member

      Good point, Elaina. We also use TaskRabbit at Asana and give our employees TaskRabbit credit (one of many perks). We feel that it’s very useful to outsource personal tasks so that our team can focus on larger milestones at work.

  2. avatarGenoveva Cortes

    This advice is so practical. And it introduced me to new applications that can streamline my work. Thank you Kim!!!

  3. avatarYuri

    Thanks for the article! But are you sure, that Inbox Pause is really cool?.. I’m not. Tried to install today. But didn’t pause, just installed. So for a half of the day all my emails missed my Inbox. Had to revoke the app access to my gmail.

    1. avatarKimberly Snodgrass Asana Team Member

      Hi Yuri, you have to turn on Inbox Pause after your install it. It’s a button on the upper left corner of your inbox that you have to click. When you want it to start pausing your email, it will then prompt you with an auto responder to inform people that your inbox is paused. You can turn that on or off. I usually turn the responder off, but keep the pause on all day with a dedicated folder to look at twice a day, noon and 4pm. Best of luck to you!

  4. avatarMichael

    Thanks for the tips guys, I do wonder if it’s doesn’t make you a bit an easy to use service as followup.cc in terms of privacy?

    1. avatarMolly

      I had the same thought as Michael about followup.cc. I think I’d only use it with a subject line for reminders (or things that don’t contain any sensitive subject matter, ruling out many of my work emails).

    2. avatarKimberly Snodgrass Asana Team Member

      Hi Michael, for items with privacy concerns, we do not send it to followup.cc. This tool is used to follow up when trying to get back to someone or to finalize a meeting with someone when they need more time on their end.

  5. avatarKuldeep Thakre

    Hi Kimberly,
    First of all, Thank you so much for sharing the amazing insights on increasing the productivity. I follow a offline and online approach to get my things done. Making to do list and getting things done as per priority helps a lot. Also I use the icloud reminder feature and store my task online so that its easy to manage.We will try to incorporate the thoughts that you have shared in the article. Keep sharing such amazing thoughts. All the best.
    Best,
    Kuldeep

  6. avatarjwjb

    Super awesome post Kimberly! Definitely a fanatical fan of everything Asana and Google, but your post is pushing me to really look at using my inbox much differently than I do now as I can see I am wasting a lot of time in not only working through and replying to a lot of emails that I should just archive, but also in using my time more wisely in thinking about how to free up even more time using some of the other great tools and services called out in your post. Thanks!

    1. avatarKimberly Snodgrass Asana Team Member

      You’re welcome. You will see how re-thinking about the process of checking email can change your life. I encourage people to only check their email at noon and 4pm (with the pause on with a hidden label so that you don’t check it). I also encourage using Doodle if you are trying to schedule something and don’t want to have 10 emails back and fourth to get to a date and time to meet.

      1. avatarjwjb

        Thanks for your comments where I have just added Doodle to our list of productivity apps as well as Inbox Pause (from the makers of Boomerang for Gmail which we also love) and Rapportive and are continuing to look through the other apps in your article. Just using Inbox Pause from this morning on has really given us respite and peace of mind from all the emails and pressures to answer them freeing us to just decompress and get some work done. We also found Rapportive to be cool and found ourselves looking at old emails to see what additional contact information would come up in our inbox right side panel from the sender for each of those emails. In many cases, nothing additional came up which was probably due to the sender using a different email address from the one associated with their social media and other accounts, but in some cases there was a wealth of information displayed. It goes without saying Doodle would have been a lifesaver in my past life as an IT Project Manager where I would waste countless hours trying to set-up meetings with all of a project’s stakeholders using Outlook where it always seemed there was one or two people that would decline the meeting invite forcing me to reschedule the meeting and send out a whole new round of meeting invites, over and over again until everyone accepted. Thanks again for sharing your expertise, it is much appreciated!

        1. avatarKimberly Snodgrass Asana Team Member

          You’re very welcome. We are happy to hear that our tips are also helping others. If you continue to keep your inbox paused and check your email only twice a day, you should see your productivity go way up! You will feel less distracted and feel less pressure to reply to everyone at once. Regarding Rapportive, you are correct. You can only see the information that people have listed publicly on their profiles.

  7. avatarDasha Barannik

    Great write-up, Kimberly! Cleaning and organizing my inbox and deleting duplicate emails (since Outlook isn’t great at threads) is key to my productivity, as is re-confirming meetings if there’s any doubt about attendance. Would love to join another learning lunch if you have one!

  8. avatarRussell Jennings

    First thank you for the write up, I am currently not in the same boat as I am trying to organize just myself not someone else also :). Many of the tools listed sound great for those lucky enough to work and live more in a web based world. I am wondering if you have any pointers for those of us stuck with separate, unresponsive, unworkable tools, such as Lotus notes, M$ office/project, etc. Where I am struggling is on the personal and team organization side of trying to multi task my team and multiple projects with asana. I feel we do descent at maintaining individual tasks within a project, however, I feel the current status of the projects my team and even I am working on gets lost …… and fairly quickly I might add. I know one of the secrets to productivity is not allowing the overwhelmed feeling to creep in as that squashes all signs of true productivity and trying to work with so many separate tools does not help at all.

  9. avatarSam

    Hey Kimberly! Thank you thank you for all of those suggestions. I can not wait to implement them. One thing I am having trouble with is managing all of my email accounts. I have 8 different email addresses for my company and they are all currently on Mac Mail server. Would you suggest something else so that Inbox Pause can be more useful! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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