The world of personal finance is hard to navigate, but Alexa von Tobel is making it a lot easier. Her company, LearnVest, pairs users with financial planners who make custom plans for saving, getting out of debt and investing. LearnVest also offers a suite of online and mobile tools to help users stay organised. Now, Alexa is taking her expertise to print — her first book, Financially Fearless, came out last month. We caught up with the fearless Ms von Tobel to talk about time-saving tricks, sleep habits, workspaces and more.
Location: New York, NY Current gig: Founder/CEO of LearnVest and author of Financially Fearless Current computer: I finally got my hands on a MacBook Air! It's the ideal computer to tote around, as I'm hardly ever sitting in one place for too long. Current mobile device: iPhone 5 One word that best describes how you work: Passionately
What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
Instagram (@alexavontobel is where I share everything behind-the-scenes). Being an entrepreneur is a crazy journey, and I love to document it with pictures. I have so many on my phone I could barely update to the most recent iOS. I'm very visual and design-oriented, so Instagram plays into that passion — all while helping me stay up to date with friends and the updates in their lives. As opposed to other social media channels, I love the simplicity of Instagram.
It also goes without saying that I'm obsessed with the LearnVest app (both on iPhone and most recently, iPad). Whenever I have a few free minutes, you'll find me organising all of my recent credit card charges and foldering my transactions in our app — it's both addictive and relaxing.
What's your best time-saving trick?
I've learned that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get up early. Always. Wake up, work out, and get your day started on the right foot. This allows me to accomplish so much more than I would otherwise, and it motivates me to stay productive throughout the day.
I try to automate all tasks that truly do not require energy. For instance, I basically eat the same breakfast and lunch every day (dinner is my fun meal). Why waste time on figuring out what I want to pick up for lunch? I know what I like, and I stick to it. Small automations like this add up. I think it of as my personal operating system.
I also think of my time in 15-minute intervals, instead of half hour blocks. Every meeting doesn't need to be that long, and when there's so much going on, every minute helps!
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I know it's old-school, but I write down everything. I go through Moleskines far too quickly, but I love them as a way to collect my thoughts and various ideas. Richard Branson once told me to write everything down — I think of them as my work diaries, and they help me move forward day-to-day.
I also am in the habit of emailing myself notes, since I live in my inbox. On Sunday nights I sit down and make lists of everything that needs to happen the next week. I shoot myself an email so that I can sleep more easily (the to-dos are out of my head), and I can rest assured knowing that the list will be waiting for me in the AM.
This is the first year that I've blocked out my calendar far, far in advance, so I'm keeping all of 2014 organised with GCal.
What's your workspace like?
The LearnVest office is a huge open space like a trading floor — no one sits in a private office. This was an intentional move — I think it's really important to have an open and collaborative workspace. This has been top of mind lately, as LearnVest is expanding to a second floor. We're designing it the same way to make sure the high energy environment happens downstairs as well.
While it's not a proper office, I do occupy "the corner". My desk is a place for me to be inspired, and it needs to be calming. It's where I'm most focused and most productive, and in order to keep it that way, organisation is central. Everything has its place, from my myriad chargers (iPhone, FitBit, etc) to an orchid (which brightens my day) to inspiration boards (with favourite photos of family, cards from friends and my favourite quotes).
Pictured above: Alexa's workspace. Photo by Chester Higgins Jr for the New York Times.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
My FitBit. I'm a data-driven person, in work and in life. I love to be active, and it's reassuring to see my on-the-go work life add up in a positive way. (Also, it keeps me honest when I don't move…).
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I live for surprises (like the one-pound puppy my mum just received for Christmas)! I like to think of surprising people as my biggest secret weapon. I try to be as thoughtful as possible, and I am good at recognising what other people need and want, and then getting it to them without them being aware. I find pure joy in being able to delight others.
What do you listen to while you work?
At work, the buzz of the office. Working in an open space, there's an ebb and flow to the noise and that's all I need. At home, music is on constantly via Spotify.
What are you currently reading?
I rarely have time for novels unless I'm on a rare vacation, but I devour magazines in my spare time (favourites include Vanity Fair and New York Magazine).
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
If you've met me, you'd definitely say extrovert! I'm obsessed with the Myers-Briggs type personality tests, and I'm a 28 out of 30 for extroversion. I collect a great deal of energy from being around others.
What's your sleep routine like?
I run on little sleep and lots of coffee. I'm often up by 6am, when I either get cracking at my emails, or meet a friend to walk, or head to the gym. Either way, I get myself moving at an early hour. As a result, 2pm is usually my mid-day slump.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
As a personal finance expert, I've heard tons of money tips over the years. My favourite piece of advice came from an advisor who told me to never overspend on your home. It's often the biggest expense in people's budgets and if you get that wrong, it throws everything else out of whack. I feel so strongly about it that I included a whole section on it in my book.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
This month, with my debut book hitting stores, I'm kicking off a 20-city book tour: Financially Fearless America. I'm going cross-country to spread the LearnVest mission, helping people make progress on their money. So, with this crazy travel schedule ahead, everything above may quickly go out the window...
We've asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we'll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.