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Apr
19
2017

Productivity tips to steal from the CEO of the fastest growing Latvian startup

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As the CEO of Printful, the ecommerce drop-shipping and fulfillment service, Davis has his work cut out for himself. From managing three offices over two continents, leading a startup that's been doubling in growth every year, Davis has to be very particular about how he spends his time to make sure all bases are covered. Here's how Davis works.

Davis' productivity toolbelt:

Optimum amount of hours sleeping: 8
Most relied-upon piece of tech: Macbook Pro w/ TouchBar + iPhone 7 Plus
Average wakeup time: 8:30am
Favourite productivity app: Things + Later app
Exercise: Gym + cycling, usually at night

 Those who know Davis know that he's on top of his productivity game - he automates as much as possible, never forgets a thing, and is on top of getting shit done. We sat down with him to understand how he manages his day. One of his key philosophies is to keep his mental “RAM” clear by writing things down to minimize mental exertion.

Tips on how to deal with email:

Email tends to be the achilles heel for many people in the digital space, yet is a necessary evil. Davis' approach limits email to take up as little mental space as possible. He also uses the Inbox Zero approach, meaning that he tries to reduce his inbox to 0 by the end of the day. “I rarely get there, but that's the goal. At the beginning of day I have 100-150, by the end I reduce it to about 30.”

Here's a breakdown of how Davis deals with email:

  • Uses Inbox Pause to limit incoming email - this is a gmail tool which is made by the same people who made Boomerang. It keeps new emails from arriving into your inbox until you let them. Davis limits email income to 3x per day, 8:30am, 1pm, 5pm. “I use it when I'm really busy and overwhelmed with the volume of email. You don't see incoming emails to distract you, which helps you reach Inbox Zero.”
  • Archive as they're dealt with - Davis will archive an email as soon as it has been taken care of. This is a key feature of reaching Inbox Zero.
  • Uses email filters - This is particularly relevant for office chains. Davis filters them out so that chain emails don't even reach his inbox. Yes, he misses out on some things, but he maintains that it's worth it.
  • Uses Inbox by Google to snooze incoming email - Davis uses the mobile Inbox app to snooze email that isn't immediately actionable. He says that often you have to wait until you can do something with it, for example a colleague has to add their input first. By snoozing it, it doesn't show up in your inbox and doesn't unnecessarily burden your mental capacity.

To minimize inter-departmental emails, the Printful team uses Slack. Not only does it free up your inbox, it also alleviates cross-continental communication.

How to stay focused throughout the day:

Davis' methods have a lot to do with minimizing mental distractions.

“I've been following David Allen's Getting Things Done philosophy for 8 years now, since my senior year of high school. I use Things to manage incoming tasks and priorities. But it has to be available at all times, wherever you are - it even integrates with Apple reminders. That way you don't have to keep things in your mind, so that you can clear your physical RAM. Tens of times per day I check Things and complete those tasks. ”

Here are some tricks Davis uses to stave away everything that's vying for his attention:

  • Go into full-page view mode when you feel overwhelmed. You won't be distracted by notification symbols on Facebook, Slack, Email, etc.
  • Write things down immediately - digitally, of course. Davis uses the Things desktop app (currently $49.99 in the app store) for Mac and iPhone to write in all of his to-dos, and Later app for iPhone to set timed reminders. Fun fact: Davis created this app himself with his team out of necessity for it. It's currently available for free in the app store.
  • Use password vaults to remember passwords: rather than having to rely on keeping space in your memory for all the different passwords you use, Davis, and all of Printful, use 1Password ($2.99/month) to store passwords and never have to waste time with password recovery. A free alternative is Last Pass.
  • Avoid your social media feeds - Use the Kill news feed” browser extension to block your Facebook feed.  “I totally believe it's distracting. Before we had a marketing team, I managed Facebook ads myself. I'd go to Facebook with the intention to check the ads, but would get distracted and start scrolling instead. And then you realize, what am I doing? This is a waste of time.”

Davis makes sure to get some exercise in at the end of a day to unwind and to reduce stress and anxiety. He maintains that prolonged aerobic exercise, like riding a bike, is a perfect time for generating ideas, which he immediately writes down on his phone. Another mandatory post-gym stop, which is ritualistic for many Latvians, is the sauna. This is an idea that's shared with Tim Ferriss who has also written about the many benefits of going to the sauna before going to bed, such as it being akin to a performance enhancing drug. What can we say? Latvians know where it's at.

Books and podcasts Davis suggests:

Davis is known for passing around books at the office. Here are some of his favourites, which he suggest to all new employees and generally anyone looking to up their productivity.

To truly keep up spirits and to have the energy to implement all of these productivity systems, it requires an immense source of motivation. Here's what Davis says:

“What motivates me is seeing the results of the work we do at Printful. Over the last 4 years we've become the largest Latvian-owned company in the US. I've always been passionate about that market, and it's great to have achieved something in a market like the US.”

Note: Printful is hiring, both in the US and Latvia. Take a look at their vacancies.