Jeremy Sauter

Who are you, and what do you do?

Mostly I help people figure out how to tell their stories. I do it for free with start-ups and non-profits I love. I would do for free at Paramount Pictures, but they don’t know that, so they pay me.

What is one habit of yours that helps you be productive?

This sounds counter-intuitive but it works: make non-work plans that you don’t want to miss. Schedule tennis, a concert, dinner with friends. Productivity comes very easy when you have a date and you need to finish your work first.

What is your morning routine and how does it help you get the most out of your day?

If there’s something important that I want to focus on, I write it down on a post-it and stick it to my phone before bed. That act of declaration gets my mind working while I sleep and removes any doubt about goals when I get up. I love waking up early and accomplishing something valuable before the day gets cluttered. That sets a positive tone for the whole day. Also, though you might not know it by looking at me, I go to the gym every morning after I get a couple hours of work done.

In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

If you want to have the bandwidth to say “yes” to what matters, you need to be saying “no” to a lot of the other stuff. I think everyone has a few of those long term projects they keep telling themselves they’ll get to some day. A motivated person can accomplish a tremendous amount – but it’s not infinite. Be protective of your time.

When you feel unfocused, what do you do?

This happens to me sometimes when I write copy for marketing projects. When everything feels flat or redundant or just totally lame – find a bigger context. Go back and think about the project in a larger way. Ask yourself what is the biggest, most macro context. How will it change the world? Essentially, the trick is to find focus by giving yourself something more compelling to focus on.

If that doesn’t work go walk your dog, get a cup of coffee or read a magazine outside in the sun. Resetting your surroundings resets your brain.

What is one piece of software or a web service that you get immense value out of? How do you use it?

This is ten year old advice. But maybe software you use every day for ten years is something you can feel confident recommending. I use Evernote to scan handwritten notes, type book chapters, store documents, clip web pages, capture visual inspiration, manage travel and log the names of books, movies and music I hear about.

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

If you ever have to stand in front of a room and make the case for something you care about, read Presentation Zen first. It’s about simplicity, brevity and clarity. (I probably should have just said it was about simplicity.) P.S. – someone “borrowed” my copy and hasn’t returned it, so apparently other people like this book too.

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

The ideal first boss is a cross between Steve Jobs and a drill sergeant. When you get out of college you want to be pushed as quickly as possible to discover just how much you’re capable of. Work for a badass if you want to figure out what you’re good at and where you still need to learn. Ideally, your first few jobs out of school will propel you forward at the fastest rate you’ll experience in your life. Avoid safety. Embrace challenge. You can do it.

As for advice to ignore, disregard everything except

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

Of all the hundreds of business clichés you see on mugs and inspirational posters, there’s one I love. “Life is short, do stuff that matters.” It’s OK to skip the mugs and posters though. I have this written on an old ratty post-it note. It’s bright green and stuck on the wall so that I notice it out of the corner of my eye a few times a day. Of course, it’s impossible to do stuff that matters 24 hours a day. But I promise you’ll be a lot happier if you find a way to do it as much as you can.