Episode 9 – John Trabelsi

John Trabelsi serves as Principal Visual Designer on the Innovation & Advanced Technology Group of Intuit: a Fintech company based in Silicon Valley, California. He previously worked as Creative Director at Evernote and Director of Brand and Design at Treasure Data. He is now an investor and brand advisor to the startup responsible for the coffee that’s served at the Facebook and Google Headquarters- Progeny Coffee. Let’s him more from him on this episode of Productivity Masterminds.



  • Think long-term and short-term. Being intentional with getting you to the next place while still being practical with where you are right now. Spend time in the present to keep your business running but also focus on some time for the future.
  • Split off your creative time from your meeting time. Protect the time that you are actually being productive and set separate times for things like meetings to protect your workflow.
  • Think ahead of time. Plan your day. Write down your to-dos on Friday for the next week. You’re able to just get started from the beginning of the day just executing and building momentum.
  • Have one VIP task every day.  Choose one important task every day that you have to get done, no matter what. And so if you do five tasks a week that are VIP, your business is going to move forward.


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Show notes

Juan: You’ve done some really awesome things in your career, John, from working with Evernote, working with Intuit and now you’re doing your own startup. So you know something about time that most of us don’t about prioritizing about using it. Can you walk us a little bit about how you think about time, how you prioritize your opportunities?

John Trabelsi: [01:43] Yes. So when I have right now, especially because I have full-time job at Intuit and the Progeny coffee company that’s picking up very, very fast. Um, I have one app that’s called fantastical to manage my calendars. I have an overlay of my two companies in my agenda and it’s pretty, pretty cool and it’s a great app and I recommend anyone to use it. It’s 50 bucks but totally worth it because in the Apple, so you have a task system and so we can combine task and meetings in the same calendar, and so that’s pretty powerful for me.

And so what I do is that I divide my days in doing and talking, brainstorming.

And so Mondays and Fridays I have no meetings no matter what happens. And so even if it’s someone important, I’ll never have these meetings those days. And so, I spend these days on the doing and usually the middle of my week, we got to spend the most time talking, [02:45] like Wednesdays I sometimes don’t even open my computer, I just talked with people. And so I see some people doing the opposite, doing meetings on Mondays, all the end of the week, but that’s the week where you’re going to be the most efficient at producing or the least efficient at talking about things because Monday morning you’re fresh and you want to use that energy to produce. And on Friday you’re the least fresh. And so if you spend these days on things that you don’t want to do, which is talking and, and responding and fighting around ideas, you’re not going to get things done. So, do the things you’re the most excited about at the end of the week. And so, one of the most important things, it is something I tell my wife and my co-founder, is that

Every day you have to have one task that’s VIP task.

And so, no matter what you have to make it done, even if it’s late or very early, you have to do it. And so if you do five tasks a week that are VIP, your business is going to move forward, no matter what.

Juan: [03:49] Wow, that’s, that’s amazing input. Oh my gosh, there’s so much for us to like, like down from the. It sounds like you basically, I’ve heard of this concept before, there’s that manager’s schedule and then the artist scheduled the creator schedule, right? If you, so for a lot of people, you know you have like meetings, even if they’re only 20 minutes, 30 minutes long, if you have them in the middle of your day, it’s actually going to totally break you out of your creative flow so you’re not going to be able to give your best work, even if you just have one meeting that day.

Most of us have 3, 30-minute meetings throughout the day, and if you do that Monday through Friday, well guess what, you’re never inflow for longer than two or three hours.

So what you’ve actually done is separated days where you just do the meetings and you have these like micro interruptions from the days where you just create for long periods of time and that gives you the ability to actually have full work days where it’s nothing but flow and nothing but creating and doing the things that you know how to do best, [04:45] right? Is that how you see it?

John Trabelsi: [04:48] Precisely. And so what happens is that usually Tuesdays and  Thursdays, are kind of like a mix up of like meetings and tasks, but you don’t always have tasks that last the full day. Sometimes you have small tasks and so that’s the day is where I usually spend the time on the smaller tasks, right? The quick deck modification or do quick emails that need like a little bit of attention and so that’s where I usually spend my time on. But Mondays and Fridays are where I spend the most time in creativity of deep learning because for me it’s constant learning. Like even right now I’m learning 3D, which is completely out of my mind because I’m running a very complex software and and even though I have a startup and a full-time job, I find a way to implement 3D into both of these areas, which is very interesting. Yeah, and it’s adding a lot of values and so those days are for that and that’s, I think that’s what helps me move forward on those.

Mondays and Fridays are the best day for productivity, for creativity.

Juan: [05:54] Right. And they build the momentum for you to even know what to fill up the other days with what the meetings and it’s not just meetings to meet, it’s meetings because it’s like a followup of things you’re creating or following into what you’re going to be creating on Friday. That’s a really good infrastructure. Walk us through a little bit about, you’re talking about one VIP task that you get done every single work day. How do you determine what that is?

John Trabelsi: [06:17] So like I said, I have fantastical, I have a list of tasks and right now it’s basically out because I finished everything I had to do so I need to read because we’re finished. We’re finishing a project right now so I’ll have to add more, more things there, but I have a huge backlog.

But what I do basically is that usually by the end of the day Friday, I set up the next week and so I don’t have to think about that.

And I think that’s one of the mistakes people usually do is they arrive in the morning and then they stay set themselves for the day. And so, this is the time where you just got your first cup of coffee, if you’re like me a coffee junkie, this is the time where you just woke up, you just rested, this is the time that you should be producing, not thinking about what to do. And so at night I do a quick checkup every day for the next day and pick my VIP task, but on Friday night I set the week. And so, that really helped me move forward and not think about what should I do. And so, some things come sometimes where it breaks to flow and that you can’t, you can’t avoid it. Like there is no, there is nothing you can do, especially when you work for a full time company, or you have your own startup, that’s going to happen. But what’s very important is that you have this list of tasks and if something takes over one of the VIP tasks, it’s okay, do that. Just find what to replace it with, but have one VIP task a day, that’s what I would recommend, because then you get overwhelmed and you’re like, ‘oh my gosh, I have all of these to do.’ And I was like, I never think about that. I like, I know I have that task today. I had to finalize a deck, it’s done and then I could really focus on the other task if I had time. And so that’s what I did.

Juan: [07:55] Do you have a framework for understanding whether or not a task is important enough to become a VIP task?

John Trabelsi: [08:01] So there are these frameworks of value. I think it’s a balance of long-term and short-term for me, because long-term you don’t know how much value you’re going to have until they do. Right. And so, especially in a startup world when like I’m going to invest spending time in designing this, like for example, we just did this weekend and I’m going to talk about a project a little bit, I’m so sorry, but we had this weekend a virtual tour of the farm, and we had like a booth at the mountain view. Like a street fair, my Friday was supposed to be spent on something else, but I changed everything because we had this idea and so we made and we partnered with a company and we made that VR tour of the farm with the accudose go. And so we went budget crews go and I have to figure out how to put it on because it was a new system for me, and so I spent my whole day doing that. But it was a bad right? in. So my VIP task of Friday completely changed with that new VIP task because we had the idea on Thursday and so it wasn’t bad but it’s all about short-term and long-term.

You have to balance this out because if you only focus on short-term, you’re not building a muscle for your company.

Right? And so the short-term is going to be like taking risks, doing very important fixing your app, if you have application bugs and do long-term sometimes long bets along the idea or a long-term type of thinking you have to place there.

Juan: [09:37] Do you have a pulse or a suggestion on what that split looks like? Is it 50/50? 80/20.

John Trabelsi: [09:45] The problem is that sometimes long-term task takes longer, so it’s broken into multiple pieces. But I will say that it can be a 50/50, because at the end of the day, the day is very important. I will say it’s more of a 70/30, 70 short-term, 30 long-term. But, if you have a very important, like something that could really change the path of where your company is going, maybe invert for a little bit, you know, focus on the long-term first. Like something that I’ve seen many, many times, I’ve been working for so many startups right now, like maybe 12 in the past 10 years, like it’s crazy. But there’s something that I’m seeing is that some startups focus on hiring salespeople, but they don’t focus on their brand, and so as they grow, they hire more salespeople and so it costs them more money.

And I keep telling them like ‘if you invest in your brand, which is a long-term thing, you’re going to build a muscle that’s gonna overdo the need of hiring more salespeople, right?’

And so in the future. And so they put in their energy in the sales but not in the brand, so it’s the same way for tasks, it’s like if you’re focused on the present 100 percent, you’re always going to have to focus on the present to get your business moving forward. So, just spend some time in the future also, whatever that means for you.

Juan: [11:17] Wow. There you have it. John just shared with us a framework for thinking long-term and short-term, being intentional with getting you to the next place while still being practical with where you are right now, especially if you’re running a business, you have to just think practical in terms of the short-term, but even there we have a framework for splitting off our creative time from our meeting time, making sure that we are guarding and protecting the time that we’re actually in flow and thinking ahead of time so that we’re not caught by surprise on the day-to-day by what it is that we have to do. We’re able to just get started from the beginning of the day just executing and building momentum. John, thank you so much for sharing all this with us.

John Trabelsi: You’re welcome.

Juan: For those of us, we were listening into this, we want to keep up with your career, everything that you’re up to. Where’s the best place for people to do that?

John Trabelsi:[12:01] So LinkedIn is a great place. John Trabelsi, you can just add me, I accept pretty much everybody because you never know who’s going to be a good person to be in touch with and who is going to become a friend sometimes you know, like I will certainly build a relationship with you and with you. I think we can become friends and so LinkedIn is a great place. If you want to follow, buy some great Colombian coffee, you can go on our website, progenycoffee.com. And, and that’s it, I think that’s the best place for me today. Feel free to send me a note if you have any questions or if I can help you with anything, I’d love to help always. I know how it’s hard to be in a startup world today.

Juan: [12:42] That is amazing. John Trabelsi from progeny and Intuit, thank you so much for coming on the show.

John Trabelsi: Thank you so much for welcoming me here.