Productivity Giants Series with Derek Flanzraich, Founder of Greatist

Are you caught up on our #ProductivityGiants series so far? If not, be sure to check out our interviews with Camille Ricketts, Head of Content at First Round Capital, Brad Feld, Partner at Foundry Group, Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, Eric Paley, Partner at Founder Collective, Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot and James Clear, Author & Entrepreneur.



Deciding to make healthier habits and life changes is easy. Actually following through on them though? Not so much. Greatist knows this fact well, which is why it’s their mission to help people find out how they can make healthy choices that they love – because it’s easier to stick with things if you love them. We love their “healthy-ish” attitude because it comes across as attainable, positive, and encouraging.



Greatist is a health and wellness publisher that produces content on healthy recipes, workouts, mental health journeys – basically everything that has to do with living a healthy life. Founder Derek Flanzraich and his team have been working on how to better help people stick to and succeed at their health goals for 6 years, and have since built an audience of 215 million people every month(!).


Derek started Greatist after struggling with weight loss, and now considers himself the company’s #1 fan. He believes the site encourages him to improve and celebrates his journey towards optimal health and happiness, which he says is all he really wanted growing up.


We sat down with Derek to discuss how he motivates his team, his favorite apps, and why meditation is an essential part of his morning routine.


What does the first 90 minutes of your day look like?


I’m pretty obsessive about most aspects of my day – the morning in particular. I wake up every morning at 5:30am, but it took a long time to get there. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work out soon after waking up. The rest of the week, I meditate first and then I get to work.


I tend to do my biggest task first, which is always deep work, not just shooting emails off. By the time I have breakfast and show up at the office I’ve effectively done a day’s worth of work before I even walk through the door. Then, I’m in meetings all day and I regroup afterward.


But the first 90 minutes of my day always includes waking up early, meditating for 10 minutes, taking advantage of the fact that that’s where I’m at my best.


What’s your number 1 productivity time-saving tip?


Do the best work you can, however you work best. Don’t be afraid to challenge what people tell you works, and then find out what works for you.


Also, don’t be afraid to change things. I actually change up my entire schedule every 2-3 months. I time block almost every single moment of my calendar, and then shift and change according to how I’m feeling, what trends I’m seeing, or something that I thought would be worth trying. I think tweaking and constantly improving your routine is crucial.


More specifically speaking, I would recommend meditating. I used to be sort of turned off and intimidated by it when I first heard about it 5 years ago, but then I finally gave in. Now that I’ve seen a huge difference that it’s made, I’m a big believer. I’m all about meditation, and I do it for 10 minutes every single day – I just breathe, there’s really no wrong way to do it. Once I learned that, it really clicked, and I just tend to be more focused, calm, thoughtful, and effective because of it.


Do you have any favorite tools?


I always encourage people to take a look at Headspace, 10% Happier, or Calm for their meditation practice. Each of them are different and great in their own ways.


I started there and now I don’t use an app. I enjoy the quiet, but I have this meditation timer that I use. I love it. I call it my gong because it makes that specific noise. It confuses people when I saw that I love my gong (laughs), but it makes the meditation chime and wakes me up. My number 1 piece of advice is to use a gong.


This year I’ve started using Evernote after years of fighting it. Now I use it because I like the ability to tag stuff and then search factor it. I integrate it with Captio and it literally sends it directly to my action pending, to-do Evernote notebook. And so it literally pops into my to-dos. Again, I’m very obsessive about all this.


Every day, I write an agenda for every single meeting that’s coming up the day before it happens. I write details, copious historical notes, and I keep everything tagged and based on the specific person I’m meeting. So I have all the notes I’ve had with them previously right in front of me. After my meeting, I write down every single thing that happened that I can remember.


I have a pretty bad memory so I’ve come up with all these hacks to make sure that everything is down on paper and that I can review it. I like being the most prepared person in every room and that’s probably a control thing that I should work on. But I admit that I’m dealing with that by embracing the fact that it gives me calm to be able to be uber-prepared for everything. That’s sort of my style.


Any other Evernote hacks?


I really do like that I have these people cards. So when I meet with a person I’ll take them out of my agenda and create a card on them. That way every person has a history. It effectively becomes a CRM. I use it that way.


What are your emails habits?


I try to keep my emails to very distinct periods of time. I’ll try to check my email 3 times a day and not 4 because I find that bulk processing makes a huge difference for me. I’m able to do a lot more if I can do the same type of task in the same window of time. I actually do that inside of my inbox time. So I group different types of emails that I’m going to type or work on.


It’s okay to be imperfect and to mess up.


Do you have any pre-bed/nightly routines?

Before bed, I try not to check my email. In a dream world, I leave work around 7 or 7:30, I get home, and I don’t do any work. And then I go to bed early because I wake up early. When I get home, what I really want to do is spend time, eat, relax, and read. I don’t normally end up doing that. That would be my dream.


What’s your number 1 email tip?


Bulk processing. Once, I went on vacation for a week and didn’t deal with email at all. When I came back I had around 1,500 emails in my inbox. When I sat down the next morning after I returned, I answered all of them within a 3 hour period. I couldn’t believe that I can either sit down and answer emails for an hour and a half or an hour and get everything done, 2 or 3 times a day, or I can sit in my email inbox all day and get the same amount done. I don’t know how that is or why email warps your mind.


But that fact has definitely been a game changer for me. I love email, and I’m very intent on keeping that attitude. I think it’s important to have a positive attitude. And I think email is amazing so I don’t let it control me, I control it and allot these chunks of time for it in my day. It doesn’t always work out that way, but the majority of the time I actually really do stick to that.


What’s your favorite SaneBox feature?


I use SaneBox in a relatively light way. I tend to just use it to filter out any emails that I don’t need to see immediately. I tend to use the labels and unread emails in labels as a way for me to basically have close to 0 emails in my inbox at most times.


I created a label called @Scheduling. So like @SaneLater, it’ll be @Scheduling. Anytime I get emails during the day that is tied to scheduling, I’ll actually mark them as unread and stick them in that label. I find that scheduling takes up a large chunk of my time unless I bulk process it again. So I tend to only do that once a day, and I like to move everything there. @SaneLater does some of that for me with my other emails, too. This is surprisingly great and tends to be a sneaky way of my maintaining the timeliness and quality of my inbox.


What’s the biggest hindrance to productivity and how do you combat that?


Probably when I eat poorly or don’t get enough sleep. I find I’m the least productive and the least efficient when I haven’t slept enough and I’ve eaten like shit.


I’m as obsessive as everyone else with all these different apps and tools I use. I have a whole app to get pinged back if someone is responding to me called Boomerang. I use tons of different integrations. At the end of the day, the real hacks are the ones that affect your life.


When you lose focus, how do you gain it?


Take a nap. No, just kidding. I tend to be a pretty focused person, but I try not to try to beat myself up too much about it when I’m not. It’s okay to be imperfect and to mess up.


Sometimes I think I do my best work when I’m distracted, looking through my notes, or thinking about something else that I shouldn’t be thinking about. Then, there are times where I started being more locked in. It’s important to I just start, starting is everything.


What have you learned from your failures?


That’s a great question. How else would you learn? It’s very hard for me to learn anything unless I’m making the mistakes myself first. A big part of my job is to try and make as many mistakes as possible. As many new mistakes as possible, that is.


What bad advice do you hear often?


I always hear the worst interpretation of what being productive is – which is people who obsess over working. Burning the midnight oil, or working late hours. I think the burnout quality of work obviously suffers. People who talk a lot about that a lot tend to be the least impressive or the least impactful entrepreneurs.


It’s not a point of pride that you work the longest hours. It should be a point of pride that you work the best during the hours that you do work. I work a lot of hours, but it’s not the hours in the work, it’s the work in the hours.


Don’t be afraid to challenge what people tell you works, and then find out what works for you.


What book has changed your life, and why?


The honest answer would be “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling, because I grew up struggling with weight issues and having no friends at one point. Harry Potter helped introduce me to my first friend and love of the world. I’m grateful for it.


In terms of the business world, a book I love is actually “Building a Company.” It’s a biography of Roy Disney, who is Walt Disney’s older brother. There are some really great biographies about Walt Disney, that I find very inspiring. He’s an interesting character, and there’s a lot of misunderstandings and perceptions about him. He’s definitely an entrepreneur who fails so many times, and then had a vision and worked obsessively to accomplish it. And his brother was the one who was able to make it happen. That’s the book that I turn to most often because it’s all about how to make a vision become reality. I have a younger brother so I relate to it.


What’s the most worthwhile investment in time, money, or energy that you’ve made?


I think a lot about in terms of everything is a time cost. A simple example is doing laundry. There’s a laundromat on every corner, and in this case, it’s really easy to get somebody to do it for you. I tend to find that that’s a good investment.


How do you help keep your team productive at work?


We’re obsessed with building the healthiest company to work for on the planet, which is no easy feat, but we’re working towards it. One of the new employee onboardings that we do is actually giving people an email and education tutorial where we talk about how to make Slack work for you. I think Slack is a really awesome piece of software that is terribly abused. It’s just as dangerous as email in terms of being able to suck up your time. So we teach people how to customize it so it’s not distracting.


We actually train the people on our team as well, because we think it’s very important. We think arming our whole team with essential company information is important, and we don’t keep it secret.



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Our Productivity Giants series highlights tech leaders shaking up things in their industries. If you enjoyed Derek’s feature, check out others in this series:

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