Productivity

I'm Jake Knapp, Design Partner At GV (Google Ventures), And This Is How I Work

I'm Jake Knapp, Design Partner at GV (Google Ventures), and This Is How I Work

If you don’t follow the daily workings of Silicon Valley you might not realise that Google doesn’t just acquire startups — they’re also deeply involved with venture capital investments. GV is the venture capital arm of Alphabet Inc., and they have put over $US2 billion into promising companies since their inception.

Photo by Graham Hancock.

Jake Knapp is a Design Partner at GV and is behind their “sprint” process — a method of taking an abstract idea to a testable phase in just five days. He’s worked with startups like Slack and Nest and has written a book (along with fellow partners Braden Kowitz and John Zeratsky) about their formula for success, aptly titled Sprint. So how does Jake and his team seemingly bite off more than they can chew without major missteps? We spoke with Jake to learn a little about how he works.


Location: San Francisco
Current Gig: Design Partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures). Author of Sprint.
One word that best describes how you work: Sprints!
Current mobile device: iPhone 6
Current computer: Whenever I’m going to be doing much I use a MacBook Pro 15, because I love the big screen. I also have a MacBook that I take whenever I need to carry the computer very far, because I’m a wimp.

What apps, software or tools can’t you live without? Why?

Unintimidating office supplies so I won’t get too precious:

  • Papermate Flair pens: The line weight is thin, but not too thin. They’re cheap. They look legit, but not fancy pants.
  • Plain white copy paper
  • Plain yellow sticky notes
  • Note pads from hotels: This is the least intimidating kind of paper. Nobody expects anything worthwhile to be written on a hotel note pad, so you’re playing with house money.
  • Whiteboards: As much surface area as possible.

What’s your workspace setup like?

At home, I do my writing in this low-ceilinged, poorly-lit workroom that’s connected to my garage. I can’t show you a photo of it — it’s super depressing.

But at the GV office, I do most of my work in this awesome sprint room. It’s basically a conference room with no table and with big whiteboards. I’m OK showing you that. It makes me appear much cooler.

I'm Jake Knapp, Design Partner at GV (Google Ventures), and This Is How I Work

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

On my iPhone, I’ve turned off email and Safari and uninstalled Facebook and Twitter and anything with an endless stream of interesting stuff. I’ve been doing this for a while, and while it doesn’t speak highly for my attention span or self control, it is highly effective.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

I use a system called “one big thing” created by my friend and co-author John Zeratsky. No matter what kind of to-do list I’ve got for the day (I alternate between paper and Apple’s nice and simple Reminders), I have to choose just one big thing for the whole day. It’s another trick to help me focus — and an extension of what we do in sprints, where we focus on just one project for an entire week.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

The Time Timer. This is a beautifully simple timer, originally designed for schoolchildren. In sprints, I use them to “timebox” our activities. When I’m writing, I use it for basically the same thing. It makes the abstract idea of time into something concrete and visible — it’s invaluable.

Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what’s next?

I have so many projects that I want to do. The next thing is always ready to rock — even before I’m finished with the current thing.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

This was a really disheartening question, because as I played through all the things I’m good at, I’m pretty sure I’m not the world’s best at any of them. Somewhere, there’s a guy who’s practising whiteboard diagrams right now, just waiting to school me.

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to music to break the ice and get started, then I turn it off. Every kind of work has its own soundtrack, and it’s got to be an album I’ve heard a bazillion times so I won’t pay too much attention. For writing Sprint, I listened to Tame Impala. For the illustrations, it was Built to Spill. For my embarrassing top secret fiction project, it’s M83. And in a sprint, when we’re sketching, it’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

What are you currently reading?

Now that you mention it, I guess I’m halfway through a lot of books. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, Deep Work by Cal Newport… I should really commit and finish something.

How do you recharge?

Playing trains with my little son, or walking to school with my big son.

What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?

The night time is a great work time for me. I love the quiet. My trick is a holiday timer, the kind you use to turn on a light in the evening so it looks like somebody’s home. I plug my router into one of those and set it to turn off the internet at 9:30pm. Then, instead of obsessively reading Seahawks news, I’ll get some writing done.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

J.K. Rowling. I mean, she knows how to get things done under pressure.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My dad said, “Find a way to enjoy your work, because you’ll spend most of your life doing it.” More importantly, he and my mum both did that — so they showed me it was possible.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?

I’m very tall (like, weirdly tall) and if you see me in real life and want to comment on how tall I am, you should feel free. I really don’t mind at all.


We’ve asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.


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