John Tesh’s Trick That Will Help You Stay on Task

The musician and author shares his tools to prioritize and focus — making an “I did” list.

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Getty Images

John Tesh has worn many hats throughout his career. He hosted Entertainment Tonight, composed a famous theme song for NBC Sports basketball, created the “John Tesh Radio Show,” and has now written a new memoir, Relentless: Unleashing a Life of Purpose, Grit, and Faith

In the book, for the first time, he opened up about the obstacles that shaped him — including being suspended from college, being homeless for months, and facing a deadly disease. In 2015, he fought and received treatment for a stage-three cancer diagnosis, and when the cancer returned, he turned to his faith to help him find strength.  

He speaks to Thrive about how he alleviates stress, his tips to stay focused, and how he stays connected with those most important to him.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? 

John Tesh: I set my phone alarm to vibrate so it doesn’t wake anyone in the house. It goes off at 4 each morning. I have laid out all of my workout clothes in the bathroom — in a place where I will trip over them. There is a full bottle of water next to them. I throw on the clothes, drink the bottle, and jam my AirPods into my ears to listen to inspirational YouTube videos. After a 15-minute drive, I’m at the gym.

TG: You overcame a terminal cancer diagnosis — what are some of the small things you did during that time to help with the stress?  

JT: Actually, there were no small things. They all seemed huge during the surgery and chemotherapy. I tried, as best I could, to maintain my radio show recording schedule and concert touring commitments even while I was horribly chemo-sick. I knew that if I acted with faith that I’d be sending the message to my brain and my body that it was healed. 

TG: In your memoir, you talk about your secrets to overcoming many pivotal challenges you’ve faced. Can you share one that stands out?  

JT: While writing, I was forced to look back over my life and connect the dots on successes and failures over the last 67 years. It quickly became apparent that I was (when the result was success) working a very consistent process. I learned that process from my band teacher in elementary school, Dr. Thomas Wagner: deliberate, focused practice and risk. 

TG: What’s your secret life hack?  

JT: A timer that dings every 23 minutes. It’s known as the Pomodoro method. It’s designed for people like me who find everything way too interesting. It reminds me to stay on task, even during creative endeavors.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

JT: In the middle of my cancer treatments, I was horrible to my wife and family. I went on a torturous 92-mile bike ride in the California heat. I returned with my mind renewed, beaten down, and remorseful. I begged forgiveness.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?  

JT: Getting started super early in the morning is the only thing that works for me. I need to have momentum. 

TG: With so many distractions and interruptions coming at us throughout the day, what are your tips to stay focused?  

JT: Don’t get distracted. Don’t watch the news — read it instead. And don’t make a to-do list. Make an “I did” list every time you finish a task. 

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course-correct? 

JT: Water. I go where there are large bodies of water. When I was in the middle of my four rounds of chemo, the only thing that would ameliorate the nausea was a trip to the beach to watch the waves. I’ve always lived near the water. It’s instinctual. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. 

JT: I  don’t do it as much as I should, but I’m working on sending written messages of gratitude to the people who, knowingly or not, loved me into who I am. The process of writing this book gave me the revelation that I needed to reconnect with many people.

TG:  What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?  

JT: I go to bed early. I shoot for 8 or 8:30 p.m. I have a mattress pad that’s connected to a cooling device that keeps my side of the bed at about 65 degrees. The drop in temperature encourages my body to release more melatonin, the sleep hormone. I then put in custom-made ear pieces that cut all of the noise below 100 Hz. I can still hear a siren or a scream, but not much else. 

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