Tracy Chou is an entrepreneur and software engineer, known for her work advocating for diversity and inclusion in tech. She is currently the Founder and CEO of Block Party, which aims to fight abuse and harassment online. She co-founded Project Include, which consults tech startups on diversity and inclusion, and the social movement #MovingForward, which works with venture capital firms to establish and publish anti-harassment policies. In 2013, her Medium article “Where are the Numbers?” helped jumpstart the practice of tech companies disclosing their data on diversity. Tracy has worked as a software engineer and tech lead at Pinterest, a software engineer at Quora, and a technical consultant for the U.S. Digital Service in the executive branch of the federal government during the Obama administration. This year, she’s doing a personal reading challenge called “The Year of Reading Female.”
In this productivity profile, Tracy walks us through her typical workday as a start-up founder leading a distributed team. She shares strategies for beating jet lag, her penchant for Chinese pop music while working, and imposing a “no screens” rule after 10 pm.
Staying consistent across continents
I am a startup founder whose team is fully distributed, spanning San Francisco to Belgrade, so my typical day can vary quite a bit depending on the current state of startup chaos and what timezone I’m in. I like to stick to a very regular schedule, even if I technically don’t have to, because it helps me to get into a good rhythm of working.
I like to stick to a very regular schedule, even if I technically don’t have to, because it helps me to get into a good rhythm of working.
When I’m working in Pacific Time, my day usually starts around 6 am. I sometimes set an alarm, but I almost always wake up before it goes off and am out of bed in seconds. I check my phone (email, Slack, Twitter) as I’m brushing my teeth and then go straight for my beloved cold brew coffee and perhaps a breakfast croissant. I like to go for a quick walk and then I’m back at my computer by 7:30 or 8, which is already a bit “late,” as my European teammates are 8 or 9 hours ahead of me and reaching the latter half of their workday.
When I’m working in Europe, my typical activities are similar but rearranged. Mornings are more relaxed as I have timezone advantage. The first thing is still coffee and pastry, and then I like to go for a morning workout around 8 am, usually spin or HIIT, and am showered and ready for work around 10.
Team collaboration in different time zones
We typically do team calls during the 9 to 11 am time block on the West Coast. Then it’s a bit more variable for the rest of the day, as my time goes to more meetings and calls, technical or product work, or whatever else is most urgent in startup land.
For lunch, I cook something quick or throw together a salad. My kitchen is right by the dining table, where I’ve set up my work station, so I can continue checking Slack as I’m prepping food and eating.
In Europe, I do my personal work until about 4 or 5 pm, when we approach the team’s synchronous work hours block and the time that internal and external calls are scheduled. I listen to music while I work, usually Chinese pop music, but sometimes American Top 40 type of music as well.
Winding down for the day
In the evening on the West Coast, my fitness studio has its last classes around 5 or 6 pm, so I head out for my daily workout around then, stacking a double workout if I have the luxury of time. Then it’s back home to shower, cook dinner, and finish off more work before my self-imposed end of screen time at 10 pm.
In Europe, I’m usually free by 8 pm or so, then have time to wander out for dinner. In both time zones, I try to be back home and ready for bed by 10 or 10:30 pm, and I’ll read for a bit in bed until I fall asleep.
After I get ready for bed and snuggle into my covers, I pick up one of the dead-tree books stacked on my nightstand and read until I fall asleep, usually by 11 pm.
I just finished Chasing the Sun, by Linda Geddes, and it was a fascinating read about the role of sunlight and light generally in our health. It reminded me a bit of Why We Sleep, which I also really enjoyed and have heard many people say changed their life with respect to their perspective on sleep.
I’m also currently reading Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, by Afua Hirsch, which is excellent commentary on precisely the subtitle of the book; This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein, which is quite elucidating on the systemic, economic, and political drivers of our current trajectory towards climate demise; and Invested, by Danielle and Phil Town, on learning to achieve financial freedom, with particular inspiration from the Buffett/Munger philosophy of value investing.
As you can tell, I like to read many books simultaneously, and I am really enjoying this entire stack of books at the moment!
Beating jetlag from constant travel
So far, what’s worked best for me when traveling a long distance east — to a timezone where I’d have a harder time falling asleep at a normal bedtime — I do a redeye to arrive in the morning, stay up all day, and then I’m tired enough that I can sleep really well that night. Going west, it’s a bit easier to stay up until bedtime.
Either direction, I take melatonin about half an hour or an hour before bedtime to accentuate the hint to my body that it’s time to sleep. I also try to work out every day, even if I’m traveling. I factor that into my schedule when I’m booking flights, to ensure that I can still fit in a workout before flying or after reaching my destination. And Chasing the Sun has some good tips! I haven’t yet put them in practice.
Finding work/life balance
I’m still working on the work/life balance thing. I love distributed team and remote work, but with such a wide timezone span, work does have a tendency to interrupt at all hours. Then again, I am working on a very early stage startup, and my expectation was that I would be working most of the time anyways, so all of this feels about right!