Sofya Polyakov is CEO and co-founder of Noun Project, a Los Angeles-based company that is creating, sharing, and celebrating the world’s visual language. The Noun Project's product line includes a library of over 500,000 icons made by contributors from around the world; a cloud-connected visual asset manager for teams called Lingo; and Nounji, an iOS sticker app featuring one of the biggest collections of stickers available.
What’s one practice, goal, or purpose that helps get you out of bed each day?
I’m a working mom, so I try to maximize any time I have to spend with my son. He wakes up between 5AM and 6PM, and I love spending mornings playing with him before going to the office. The earlier I get up, the more playtime we have, so that’s a big incentive to get out of bed.
Do you have a system?
Planning and also having systems helps me feel calm and in control. I even had a month-by-month schedule planned of everything that needed to be done before my son came. At work, I use a Moleskine notebook to write down tasks and prioritize them. In it, I block out times in my calendar in advance to work on the bigger projects. In terms of my actual days, my mornings are reserved for the most difficult tasks that require strategic thinking, so I try to schedule most meetings in the afternoons. I use the time when I’m pumping to catch up on reading (my son is still breastfeeding). I save articles to an app called Pocket, which allows me to access them anywhere, even without WiFi, and lets me tag them so I can quickly reference them later. As for email, I try not to check email throughout the day--instead I scan through them in the morning to see if anything is urgent, and then respond in late afternoons or evenings. I also use Boomerang, which is a Gmail app that brings back emails at a certain time. It reminds me if I haven’t heard back from someone, or if I need to reply to a message.
Whose advice have you taken recently? What was it?
I believe in taking every piece of advice with a grain of salt. There is seldom just one perfect solution. Ultimately, you’re the only one that will know all the details of your particular situation and be able to make the right call. I find that applies in both work and my personal life.
What do you do to feel centered?
The only time I have to myself these days is when I take a shower. Having that corner of the day to be quiet and think in the white noise of the water is so restorative. It’s also very important to me to find time to see my girlfriends, whether it’s to get lunch or do a quick walk around the neighborhood after the baby is asleep.
When you really need to feel good, are there specific foods you eat? Any healthy food trends you stick with?
I start every morning with a bowl of oatmeal loaded up with apples and berries and nuts. Day-to-day, that’s my comfort food, and I love the habit of it. I did make a new discovery after my son was born: It was around Thanksgiving, and there was this company, Munchery, that decided to deliver free Thanksgiving dinners with fresh, healthy ingredients to parents who’d just given birth at our hospital. It was the most amazing thing at that time when so much is changing, to have that taken care of.
- Bob Mills gluten-free oats
- Half & half
- Dried cranberries
- Find a wonderful husband who believes in sharing responsibilities.
- Encourage husband to cook delicious recipes.
- Say thank you.
How do you work out as a new mom?
Frankly, it’s really hard to get workouts in, especially when you’re lacking sleep. When I can, I use an app called Daily Workout. All you need are a pair of dumbbells and a yoga mat, and you just use your body weight for the rest. You can choose from categories—abs, arms, cardio, butt, legs, and yoga—and then curate your time limit for whichever you select. I like the simplicity of that. I also use ClassPass to take 8 PM Pilates classes after my son is asleep. For cardio I try to do weekend hikes with my husband and son.
How has parenthood affected how you approach other parts of your life?
I’m trying to prioritize more, and not pay attention to the small things that don’t matter. Also, to preserve some parts of my adult life. One of my tools for that is to keep my friendships going, and to make sure I have alone time with my girlfriends. Another is finding ways to keep our living area free of baby clutter at night, so my husband and I can move into the adult world for a little while. Before having a child, I remember hearing people talk about how it changes everything--but I don’t find that to be the case. Things certainly take a bit more planning, but I don’t think that overall it has changed who I am or my approach to things.
Is there a product or life hack that’s saving your sanity right now?
UCLA has a mindful meditation practice that they lead on Thursdays. It’s free to attend, but they also have podcasts. I spent two months in the hospital when I was pregnant, and went into early labor multiple times. During that time, I needed something to help me keep my calm, and the podcast was amazing. The people featured are experts and scientists who are actively researching the benefits of mindfulness.
What do you think will be your focus for the remainder of 2016?
My company launched two new products within six months. It’s exciting to be growing, as an entrepreneur that’s what drives us. Growth also creates new challenges and opportunities, so work-wise that keeps me busy. This is my first year learning to be both a great mom and a successful CEO. It’s a constant balancing act, and my standard for “success” is when most days I feel content and focused while at work, but also super excited to get home to see my little one.