In 2013, when Chieh Huang and his co-founders, Christopher Cheung, Jared Yaman, and William Fong launched bulk grocery e-commerce startup Boxed from his parents' garage in Edison, New Jersey, he says he had no boundaries or strategies in getting things done.

"I was doing everything at all times of day--emailing constantly, trying to juggle my job, my life," says Huang, who is now married with two children. "But now I compartmentalize my time. As I got older, I finally understood how time is a finite resource and I need to focus on what I'm doing."

Here's how Huang finally nailed down a routine that helped him manage his time and successfully run a company:

1. Even if you're already successful, accept that your current routine could be improved.

Huang, who raised $132 million to grow Boxed.com from the garage into a national company with 400 employees, says he realized he had to make a change on a Saturday afternoon while at the playground with his daughter and juggling business calls.

"I was in the zone of getting work done and I noticed a bench full of parents staring at me," he says. "I realized they were right. From then on, I started being present. I stopped taking calls when I'm with my kids. It's either work time, or family time."

Now, Huang carves out specific times for specific tasks. 

2. Cut down email time.

Huang spends time between 7 A.M. to 8:30 A.M. getting ready and eating breakfast with his kids. He uses commuting time to read emails. By 9:30 A.M., 30 minutes after he's arrived to the office, Huang puts a hard stop on responding to emails.

"Email knocks me off my game. It's just for the morning commute and end of the day," he says. "Some might think I'm slow to respond, but those who need to reach me know to send me a text during those hours."

A quick scroll through his last 10 text messages reveals that the most recent one received was from an investor, then a potential partner, followed by one from a board member. Lastly, a batch of texts in a group chat with his three co-founders.

3. Reduce each task to a binary distinction.

Being productive requires critical thinking, Huang says. With each task, he suggests asking: Is this urgent, or is it important? 

"The best advice I ever received is that there is a difference between urgency and importance: Urgent tasks seem important, but they're not," Huang says. "Important things need to get done."

To decipher the difference, Huang asks himself three questions: 

  1. Is there someone else who can help solve this problem besides me?
    He says he has hundreds of employees, so he thinks about who can handle it.
  2. What are the realistic repercussions of this going south?
    This helps you measure the weight of a task and think realistically about what is likely to happen if you decide to delegate. Is this something that only you can do? 
  3. Will not responding right away cause a divorce?
    He says you need to be focused while at work, but your family's needs are unquestionably important. "Whenever my wife calls, I pick up," he says.

4. Spend time with family in the evening, and then get back to work...

When Huang finally gets home, he doesn't take calls or emails until 10 P.M. After having dinner with his family and putting the kids to bed, he spends two hours working.

"Between 10 P.M. and midnight is when I clean out my inbox and interview job candidates," says Huang.

Published on: Jan 9, 2018