OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s Top Productivity Tips

A year before raising $1 billion, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman swore by these productivity tips that helped him be nearly twice as productive as the average person.
Matthew Ritchie
July 27, 2023
8 minute read

Before last December, you’d be forgiven for not knowing who Sam Altman was.

Unless you were an early user of Loopt, a regular listener of the Ezra Klein Show, or kept a close eye on the world of startups, the OpenAI CEO probably flew under the radar.

Then, ChatGPT was released. And, seemingly overnight, the whole world changed.

Since then, the former Y Combinator president—who first made his fortune advising and investing in companies ranging from Reddit to Airbnb—has become a household name, praised for his business acumen, leadership skills (YC co-founder Paul Graham once compared him to a young Bill Gates), and shrewd foresight into the potentials (and possible pitfalls) of generative AI.

It’s estimated that OpenAI's chatbot reached 100 million monthly active users a month after launching, making it the fastest-growing application in history (until Threads came along, that is—way to spoil the fun, Mark).

And that got people wondering (along with how to engineer prompts and which prompts are actually useful): what are the secrets to his success?

“People sometimes ask me for productivity tips,” Altman writes in a blog post on productivity that was published a year before the then 32-year-old (😯) raised $1 billion (😲) for OpenAI. “So I decided to just write them all down in one place.”

Related: Download Bloks—the free AI note-taking app

Of course, Altman quickly points out that there aren’t many shortcuts in life: “If you’re going to do something really important,” he writes, “you are very likely going to work both smart and hard.”

But, along with natural light, a low dose of cannabis before bed, weight-lifting three times a week, and fasting 15 hours a day, these are the routines, practices, productivity hacks, and strategies once used by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to be more productive than the average person.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's Top Productivity Tips

According to Altman, his productivity system has three key pillars: “Make sure to get the important sh*t done,” “Make a lot of lists,” and “Don’t waste time on stupid shit.”

1. Getting the Important Sh*t Done

A successful day starts with your workspace and how you organize your schedule.

For Altman, “natural light, quiet, [and] knowing that I won’t be interrupted if I don’t want to be” are key. 

“I try to prioritize in a way that generates momentum,” Altman writes. “The more I get done, the better I feel, and then the more I get done.”

For Altman, that means blocking off the first few hours for uninterrupted work and using the afternoons primarily for meetings (although he tries to avoid them when possible).

“I find the time cost to be huge,” Altman writes, saying he tries to keep meetings to 15-20 minutes or two hours if there’s more to discuss (“the default of 1 hour is usually wrong, and leads to a lot of wasted time”).

Related: Tired of Taking Notes? Try These AI Meeting Assistants

Despite his distaste for meetings, Altman echoes the sentiment of other CEOs by suggesting that it’s good to keep your schedule at least a little open “for chance encounters and exposure to new people and ideas.”

“90% of the random meetings I take are a waste of time,” he writes.”[But] the other 10% really make up for it.”

He takes a break or switches tasks when his attention starts to fade. But for the most part, Altman says he likes to “start and end each day with something I can really make progress on”—even if it’s outside his comfort zone.

“I think it’s good to overcommit a little bit,” Altman writes. “I find that I generally get done what I take on, and if I have a little bit too much to do, it makes me more efficient at everything, which is a way to train to avoid distractions (a great habit to build!).”

That said, Altman cautions not to go overboard (“overcommitting a lot is disastrous”).

2. Making a Lot of Lists

At Bloks, we’re a fan of to-do lists.

So, it was encouraging to know that one of the world’s most prominent tech leaders is a fan of them, too.

“I highly recommend using lists,” Altman writes. “Lists are very focusing, and they help me with multitasking because I don’t have to keep as much in my head.”

Related: This Simple To-Do List Hack Could Make You Happier at Work

For his to-do lists, Altman thinks about the big picture and writes down what he wants to get done each day, month, and year. 

He doesn’t bother with categorization or scoring (“the most I do is put a star next to really important items”). 

But he does alter them frequently, re-transcribing to-do lists to help him think through priorities and adding and removing task items where necessary to ensure he’s focusing on the right things.

“If I’m not in the mood for some particular task, I can always find something else I’m excited to do,” he writes.

3. Not Wasting Time on Stupid Sh*t

Ultimately, what you do is more important than how you do it.

“Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter how fast you move if it’s in a worthless direction.”

But recognizing that requires a level of introspection most people try and avoid.

In his blog post, Altman talks about the idea of falling into the “productivity porn” trap, endlessly optimizing a system to help you get more done without questioning if what you’re doing is even worth all the effort.

“Chasing productivity for its own sake isn’t helpful,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter what system you use or if you squeeze out every second if you’re working on the wrong thing.”

To make sure he’s working on the right things, Altman likes to leave room in his calendar to think about what to work on.

“The best ways for me to do this are reading books, hanging out with interesting people, and spending time in nature,” he writes.

Related: Cal Newport’s Shutdown Ritual Could Help You Stress Less After Work

For Altman, people play a big role in his productivity and mental health.

“I love being around people who push me and inspire me to be better,” he writes. “To the degree you [are] able to, avoid the opposite kind of people.”

But you still have to care about what you’re working on to get the most out of it.

“Stuff that you don’t like is a painful drag on morale and momentum,” he writes.

If you’re in a position where you can manage people and what you work on, Altman says to delegate your tasks to someone else who’d enjoy them.

“Remember that everyone else is also most productive when they’re doing what they like,” he writes. “Try to figure out who likes (and is good at) doing what, and delegate that way.”  

But, if you find yourself feeling consistently unmotivated, Altman suggests it may be time for a big change.

“If you find yourself not liking what you’re doing for a long period of time, seriously consider a major job change,” he writes. “Short-term burnout happens, but if it isn’t resolved with some time off, maybe it’s time to do something you’re more interested in.”

Related: Here’s How to Get the Coverage You Need for a Stress-Free Vacation

Hacking Sustainable Growth

Sam Altman didn’t get to where he is without considerable effort.

Like all great success stories, it consisted of years of trial and error—marginal gains that grew over time.

“Compound growth gets discussed as a financial concept, but it works in careers as well, and it is magic,” Altman writes. “A small productivity gain, compounded over 50 years, is worth a lot… If you get 10% more done and 1% better every day compared to someone else, the compounded difference is massive.”

But you have to be focused on the right things.

“Productivity in the wrong direction isn’t worth anything at all,” he reiterates. “Think more about what to work on.”

Looking to free up more of your time to focus on what matters? Get Bloks—the AI-powered productivity assistant—for free.

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.