Secrets to productivity from Silicon Valley Assistants

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 executive assistant 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 the takeaways from our discussion. These takeaways are designed to help you optimize your working habits.

Executive assistant tools we use to stay productive and organized

  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 to be added to your task list. With Asana, organizing your day is easy and emails are no longer interruptions throughout the 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. keeps your email inbox organized. You can forward messages to any day in the future you want (i.e. 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,, 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.


Productivity tips for executive assistants

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.

Learn more about using Asana as a tool for executive assistants.

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