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What You Gain When You Stop Using Email

Top entrepreneurs share their productivity tips, from going for a walk to abandoning email altogether.

Email is supposed to make us more productive, but for Bert Jacobs, walking away from it was the most productive thing he’s ever done. 

The co-founder and “chief executive optimist” of T-shirt company Life Is Good calls email “a prison” and says that disconnecting from it was one of the best business decisions he’s made.

“I have never been more productive and efficient,” Jacobs told me last month, on the sidelines of Inc.’s GrowCo conference in Nashville. “People spend way too much time on the back-and-forth.”

And Jacobs practices what he preaches. “If anyone in my company says, ‘I’m off email,’ that’s fine, as long as you get your work done,” he said.

So how does he get business done now that nobody can get in touch with him electronically? “People can always find you if they really want to,” whether by phone or in person, Jacobs says.

Abandoning electronic communication might make more sense for Jacobs, whose company has more than a little hippie aesthetic. (He gave a keynote presentation at GrowCo in his regular uniform of T-shirt and shorts–and no shoes.) But other speakers at the conference also shared their advice for entrepreneurs looking to increase their productivity by reducing their reliance on technology.

Here are their answers to our questionnaire:

Naveen Jain, co-founder, Immunity Project: “The nontech tool that makes me more productive is taking a walk. Getting away for a bit helps make me more productive and focused.”

Brittany Hodak, co-founder, Zinepak: “I’ve started working from home one day a week and telling my staff that I’m only going to be in critical meetings. One thing that we’ve found is that once you have employees, you have to spend a lot more of your time being a manager and being involved in the day to day, which makes it harder to focus on big-picture and strategic things. So pulling myself away one day a week gives me time to think about big-picture business.”

Kim Kaupe, co-founder, Zinepak: “When I have a clean, pretty space to work in–a nice notebook and a nice pen and a clean desk. If work is an alluring place to come to, I’m more productive.”

Julia Hartz, co-founder and president, Eventbrite: “Post-it notes.”

Jordan Goldman, founder, Unigo: “Quirky’s office products–for example, for keeping papers organized.”

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank: “My contacts. My heated toilet seat.”

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