Derek Handley On Spending Half of the Week Disconnected From Email

The Chief Innovation Officer at Human Ventures and the founder of Aera shares the first thing he does when he gets out of bed and the quote that gives him strength.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Derek Handley: I try to get up early, before the family, I get a cup of tea and then I write for an hour or so.

TG: What gives you energy?
DH: Reading. Reading about the lives, wisdom and courage of extraordinary people in history. The sense of perspective I get from it gives me energy.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
DH: I would never think of it as a hack, but to be the most impactful I can be with the time I have, I have found it important to remove myself to solitude and reflection, in an ‘analogue’ setting as much as possible. It’s so tempting to get lost in the constant doing. I’ve learned I feel more satisfied in my work, and I am actually more productive, if I put the time upfront into thinking about creative approaches to moving forward. Instinctively, the busier I feel I am, the less of a difference I feel I’m making.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
DH: Only because I use a specific type of alarm clock that uses the accelerometer on my phone to know when I am in my lightest sleep phase to wake me up. I’m working on designing a new type of alarm clock!

TG: How do you deal with email?
DH: I find it really helpful to spend as much time offline as possible — my goal for 2017 is to work up to spending half the week disconnected from email. As useful as it can be for certain types of work I think instant communication is a modern form of addiction, and an affliction on contemporary lifestyles. Constant digital connection can hold back creativity, independent thinking, peace of mind and presence in the real world. I try to allocate time to email (say 5 hours a week, in one chunk) where I can process my inbox in a more thoughtful way. I think of it a bit like the old days when the mailman came and dropped off your mail, and then you handed him back your batch of replies from last week. 

I use zero folders or rules. I never use the inbox as a storehouse for to-do’s. I transfer action items to a list I write down. I transfer attachments to print out to read, to a reader app or store in a folder if I need to keep them for reference.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
DH: Whenever I feel burned out it is always because I have not protected enough time to step right back and look at everything that is going on, so that I can order, prepare, prioritise or delegate it. Which often includes delegating it to the not-to-do pile.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
DH: “Life, if you know how to use it, is long.” – Seneca

Derek is a New York-based New Zealander and social entrepreneur. He is Chief Innovation Officer at company builder Human Ventures and the founder of Aera, a charitable trust investing in causes and companies addressing social issues in imaginative ways.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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