We hope you’re enjoying our Productivity Giants Series so far. In case you need to catch up, last week we profiled Brad Feld, an entrepreneur, investor, partner at Foundry Group, and a co-founder of Techstars.
We’re continuing our Productivity Giants Series with Camille Ricketts – Head of Content and Marketing for First Round Capital, a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies. She’s best known for pioneering First Round Review, which showcases advice for building startups from some of the best known technology founders and operators in the world. In addition to that, she’s helped turn First Round Capital into the premiere destination for any entrepreneur seeking early-stage funding. You can follow Camille on Twitter and First Round Capital on Twitter.
What does the first 90 minutes of your day look like?
I’ll generally get to work, brew a huge thermos of tea and sit down in front of my email. I do my best to relegate email to only 3 times a day – morning, lunch and evening – so that I’m not continually distracted. In the morning, I will only reply if taking action on a message will take 2 minutes or less. The rest I snooze for appropriate times or leave unanswered. Then I try to dig into some writing while I still have my first-wind creative energy.
What’s your number one productivity tip?
I’m a big fan of productivity software that allows me to only deal with tasks or messages when it’s necessary or important. So I use Wunderlist to not only record tasks, but also schedule them for future times so that I’m only focused on the most important things to get done today every single day. I use Fantastical to schedule meetings, which allows me to quickly add something new to my calendar using natural language processing.
Any favorite tools?
Superhuman is currently blowing my mind and changing my life. It helps me process my email at least 30% faster every single day. It also gives me visibility into the best times to write to certain people, ensures that tasks or correspondence don’t drop off my radar by reminding me about messages that have yet to receive a reply, and much more. I’m a huge fan, and anyone who is plagued by email and how much time it eats up should look into it.
“I feel like there’s an odd fascination or almost obsession in Silicon Valley with how people are optimizing their lives to be the most healthy, the most productive, the most shiny and amazing and enviable.”
Do you have a pre-bed/nightly routine?
I definitely try to power down by removing myself from electronics at least an hour before my estimated bedtime. I try to do everything the same in terms of order and timing. Apparently, consistency is really key and you can almost trick your brain into being sleepy if you follow a procedure to the letter, ideally around the same time every day (very hard to do on weekends, of course). So I’ll brush my teeth and wash my face, and drink some sleepy time tea, and either do the New York Times Crossword puzzle (I still love the print version!) or read whatever historical nonfiction has currently captured my interest. I find that these hours are perfect for devoting mindshare to something that requires limited and only very specific brain function so you can start calming down all the other parts of your brain. Honestly, I’ve gotten into a bit of an unhealthy habit listening to favorite podcasts in order to drop off to sleep. It’s helpful to have something all of my brain is focused on instead of any of the many to-dos and anxieties that the day might have yielded.
How often do you check your inbox?
It’s tough and I’m not always perfect at it, but I do try to keep it to three times a day — once in the morning, around noon, and in the evening. By far, email is the biggest time suck for me and I know that’s the case for many others. It will always get in the way of accomplishing larger, more involved or more strategic tasks. I really love the analogy of the boulders and the sand. If your big tasks are boulders, then email and administrative duties are all sand. If you fill your bucket up with sand all day every day, there will be no room for the boulders. If you focus on the boulders and only pour sand in at the end or incrementally, it will fill in around the boulders. That’s how I try to approach email.
What’s your #1 email tip?
If a note requires you to take action or to reply in a way that would take less than 2 minutes, just do it immediately. Whatever it is. Scan in that form and send it. Look up that piece of information and get back to that person. So many of us will continually open and then delay and circle back to emails that just sit there and mentally torture us. We can feel the person on the other end of the line getting more frustrated and angry, and then we’re even more dissuaded to reply. Don’t let this happen to you. Make it a point of pride and even a bit of a game to crush as many easy and undemanding emails as possible right when you receive them.
What’s your favorite SaneBox feature?
SaneBox has totally changed my life in terms of keeping unimportant junk out of my email. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without it. I would constantly be unsubscribing from stuff that I get signed up for without me knowing. When I look in my SaneLater folder, there’s so much crap in there and it gives me such peace of mind to know SaneBox is so accurate and smart about what it filters out. I have total trust and it’s never been violated. I also love making use of SaneBlackhole. It’s something I need to do a lot, and that also supplies its own peace of mind. (Try SaneBox for free for 14 days!)
What’s the biggest hindrance to your productivity? How do you combat it?
Distractions on the internet. Twitter is the chief culprit for me right now. I could read peoples opinions on everything from the news to Game of Thones all day every day. I end up reading so much crap that I don’t even care about tweeted by people I don’t even know. In order to focus, particularly on writing, I’ve needed to lean on apps that will block out the rest of the internet for me so I can only do one thing. For example, I use OmmWriter for writing Review pieces because it takes over my entire screen with a very simple blank document. That way, everything else kind of fades away.
When you lose focus, what do you do to regain it?
I have to get up physically. I feel like movement, or changing the position of your body in some way, is always the best way to do it. If you just try to bend your mind back to the task at hand, that’s always a fail — at least for me. If I feel myself getting antsy or fed up with my procrastination or lack of focus, I’ll actually clap my hands and stand up right away. Walking around the block or even going downstairs at First Round for some tea gives me a physical and mental reset so I can come back and try to focus again.
“By far, email is the biggest time suck for me and I know that’s the case for many others. It will always get in the way of accomplishing larger, more involved or more strategic tasks.”
What have you learned from your failures?
That there’s no point in beating yourself up. That only takes more time and mental energy. I have fallen into the trap in the past of berating myself for not doing something during the time I had allocated, or squandering the gaps between meetings in my schedule to speak to co-workers or to run personal errands. This is not helping anyone. It’s only cut into my resiliency and sapped my morale. So if you find yourself wasting time or procrastinating, don’t double down on those feelings. Pull your fangs out of yourself, and get back to what’s important.
What bad advice do you hear often?
This is a great question. I hear a lot of unrealistic advice often, and that makes it the worst. I feel like there’s an odd fascination or almost obsession in Silicon Valley with how people are optimizing their lives to be the most healthy, the most productive, the most shiny and amazing and enviable. So you get people talking about morning routines that include a full breakfast, a run, meditation, journaling, etc. etc. Who are these people? That’s impossible. I allocate 90 minutes in the morning between opening my eyes and getting out the door. And that’s just about enough to do one or two of those things and shower and look like a presentable human. Whenever anyone gives me advice that groups all these activities together as if that’s possible in modern life barring enormous personal wealth or the most flexible job of all time, I disregard it. What’s worse is that I think dispensing this advice actually hurts people who can’t follow such a rigorous regimen because they wonder why they can’t do it too.
What book has changed your life and why?
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari changed my life. Yes, it is mostly a historical survey of humanity and how we’ve evolved over time and since. But it did go into a ton of fascinating detail about where a lot of our present day instincts come from and how much of our wants, needs and personalities are rooted in the concerns, fears and calculations needed in the ancient world. So, for example, why are we struck with such abject terror, nerves, anxiety around social situations in our personal lives and careers? A lot of that is attached to the fact that we used to depend entirely on tribal acceptance for our survival. Even knowing these facts and being able to trace what occasionally feel like irrationalities back to instincts has given me a leg up and helped me conquer incidental social anxiety where it might have otherwise held me back. (Tim Urban at WaitButWhy actually has an even more comical and easily grokked version of this argument that I highly recommend.)
What’s the most worthwhile investment in time, money, or energy that you’ve made?
I love systems and constantly iterating on them to get even better. I’ve invested significant time and also money in productivity tools that give me a ton of leverage once they are calibrated and set up to meet my particular needs. I’ve created my own personal life CRM using a spreadsheet that alerts me when I need to get back in touch with important contacts who I haven’t talked to or emailed in a while. At First Round, we’re Quip devotees, so we have a ton of systems around tracking our companies, keeping our website updated, etc. And finally, my entire brain as it relates to First Round Review is on Trello where every single story gets a card that I can then attach photos, notes, due dates, and contacts to so everyone is up to date as the story progresses toward its publish date.
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