5 Ways to Stay Productive and Focused All Day, Every Day - From Inc.

Published in Inc.

I'm pretty busy these days.

My holding company owns four businesses: Tusk Strategies runs multi-jurisdictional campaigns for big companies and institutions, Tusk Ventures works with pre-IPO startupsin regulated industries in return for equity, Ivory Gaming manages casinos, and Kronos Archives builds high-end, bespoke digital archives.

We also have a family foundation, Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies, that runs and funds campaigns to pass anti-hunger legislation and invests in startups combating hunger.

So how do we actually make the trains run on time? A lot of people keep asking me that, so here's an outline of how we do it. Hopefully some of these tips will work for you, too:

1. The morning routine

I believe a strict morning routine is critical to having a productive day. Here's mine:

  • I wake up at 5 a.m. You think better in the morning.
  • I read four newspapers (The New York TimesWall Street JournalNew York Post, and New York Daily News).
  • I meditate (badly, but it does stimulate my subconscious and help me come up with ideas).
  • I pray (I'm not sure it matters if you have a religion or even believe in God; praying is a good way to think about the people you love).
  • I write in a gratitude journal.
  • I make a smoothie (for me, it's ginger kombucha, apple cider vinegar, Greek yogurt, spinach, blueberries, turmeric, cinnamon, coconut oil, protein powder, oats, and flaxseed).
  • I take vitamins and supplements (multi, D, B, omega).
  • I plank, stretch, and foam roll.
  • I work out (weights three times a week with a trainer, step mill twice on my own).
  • And then I get dressed (working in tech usually exempts me from having to shave or put on a suit, so that helps).

2. Tracking

Nothing happens unless you make it happen, and that only gets done if you vigilantly know what's going on at all times. We have three particular ways of doing this:

  • The 7 a.m. email. Every client and every portfolio company of ours receives an email every morning at 7 a.m. listing exactly what's on tap for the day for their campaign, what we're doing, what they're supposed to be doing, and anything else they need to know. It sets the agenda for the day.
  • To-do lists. I keep my to-do list for each day on an app called Wunderlist and I check off each item as it occurs (meetings, calls, and anything else I need to do). I am religious about this.
  • Health and fitness. The more I know, the healthier I am. So I enter everything I eat and drink, all exercise, any mental activities (meditation, gratitude) into an app (My Fitness Pal). It tracks my steps and all of my intake. I use it to modify my behavior (eating, drinking) and set goals for my health. I am religious about this, too.

3. Know thyself

I founded every business that I own, and each one is directly tailored to maximize and monetize skills, experience, and expertise I've developed over the course of my career.

By definition, this keeps work interesting to me, because it's always up my alley. And that makes it a lot easier to stay focused and on task.

When you're excited about your work, you work harder and do it better. For me, coming up with new ideas and turning them into productive activities (new companies, new campaigns, new things to write about) is exciting, and so it's hard for me to ever be bored.

When you're bored, you make mistakes. And you're not productive. So by making change a constant, productivity and effectiveness both stay high.

4. Mental breaks

Everyone needs some time to refresh. But that doesn't mean you have to just watch TV and learn nothing.

  • I volunteer most weeks at a soup kitchen across from my kids' school. I like the cause (which is why it's also the mission of our family foundation) but even more, I like the anonymity and the rote nature of the work. I clean. I chop. I cook. I can be totally quiet the whole time if I want. I don't need to be in charge, be creative, have opinions. And that's really refreshing.
  • I read like crazy. And I read (mainly) fiction because it gives me a mental break, and yet I'm still thinking about whatever the characters are going through. It's a way to stay sharp and relax at the same time.
  • Podcasts are similar for me. Sometimes they're more on-point for what I do (like Kara Swisher or Tim Ferris) but sometimes it's just hearing smart people (like Bill Simmons) talk about sports. I learn and I decompress.

5. The day ends

My end of the day routine is not as work-focused (mainly because my priority is hanging out with my kids and putting them to bed) but there are a few rules I stick to.

  • I go to bed early. I'm usually asleep by 10, sometimes earlier. I used to think I could get by on four or five hours, but now I know that my happiness and productivity require a real night's sleep. So I make a point of it.
  • I do not end the day until all emails are responded to, all calls are returned, and the next day's to-do list is written. I believe strongly in being responsive and being prepared, and ending the day without ensuring both is a mistake.

To be clear, everything above is what suits me best, and is the result of a lot of honing over the years. Much of it may not make sense for everyone.

But discipline, responsiveness, focus, learning, and creating are all goals worth pursuing--not just because achieving them gets you what you want, but because the process along the way helps make you the kind of person you want to be.

Bradley Tusk