Kathleen Kelley Reardon on How to Tell the Difference Between a Creative Day and a Productive Day

"Some writers put words on paper every day. I’m not one of those. "

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.

TG: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
KR: I quietly make my bed even if not perfectly.  It’s a way of organizing my life before launching into the day. I tend to be thinking about whether I’ll be working on a novel, website, exercising, painting, meeting with someone or easing into the morning, which is my preference before doing any of the others.

TG: What gives you energy?
KR: Having had breast cancer at thirty just as my career as a professor and author was getting underway, I realized that the energy propelling me forward each day couldn’t be taken for granted. Life presents most of us with unanticipated sharp curves.  My oncologist thought I was doing too much, treating cancer as a research project rather than as something I actually had.  She insisted I go see Bernie Siegel who was a surgeon at Yale New Haven Hospital at the time.  He was teaching cancer patients to use guided meditation. He’d learned that if his surgery patients listen to music they love, their recovery is improved.  

To this day, I listen to Bernie’s Morning and Evening meditation.  Just the first few bars of music relax my body.  After these meditations, I find myself invigorated, ready to write, paint or take a walk.  For someone who resisted meditation at first, I’m a big believer in its value.  It has made an extraordinary difference in my life and the lives of people with whom I’ve shared what we see as Bernie’s magic.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
KR: My life hack is knowing if the day is a creative one or a good time to get minor things accomplished.  Just because it would be nice to write a book chapter in my case, doesn’t mean the day is right for it.  Some writers put words on paper every day.  I’m not one of those.  Some days are best suited to getting chores done, taking a walk and letting the mind enjoy nature, spending more time with family and friends, or trying something new.  Other days are conducive to productivity.  On those days, activities requiring concentration and commitment can be more easily accomplished.  Even if the demands of work don’t allow defining the day ahead, this life hack can be applied when we arrive home. Is tonight good for paying bills or do my mind and body crave a good movie – maybe with popcorn?

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

KR: This is a hard one.  Books have been such a huge part of my life.  Really good ones tend to stick with me for days if not weeks.  And as a child, I wasn’t much of a reader.  So, I guess you never know when reading will take hold.  I’m an avid reader of crime mysteries and memoirs.  I remember loving Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  If it changed my life, it wasn’t because of a lesson within but rather an appreciation for a story well told.  I studied philosophy as a graduate student and the writings of philosophers did change my life, not just Aristotle’s Rhetoric but the writing of modern thinkers like Margaret Mead and Irving Goffman.  And I can still from memory recite Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” which did indeed influence my thinking about life’s many choices.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
KR: I turn my phone to airport mode when sleeping and also have it set up to not accept calls or texts between 10pm and 10am.  My adult children can still reach me as can other relatives and close friends.  It is on the table next to me because I listen to audio books at night as I fall asleep.  

TG: How do you deal with email?
KR: I check email a few times a day rather than receive a notification on my phone. That seems to work best and avoids interruptions when I’m busy.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
KR: I used to fill it with work.  Now I take a walk, check the world news, video chat with my three-year-old grandson who loves to show me how his toys work.  He’s full of energy and smiles.  When my daughter or I tell him, “It’s time for us to say good-bye to nana,” he says, “Don’t go nana.”  So, a few more minutes makes him happy.  When I say, “I love you” before ending the chat, he says, “I love you more.”  It melts me.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
KR: The last time I felt that way was after going through a week of insomnia. My father used to refer to sleep as the “nectar of the gods.”  It truly is.  Most challenges look less imposing after a good night’s sleep.  I treasure sleep. 

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
KR: I felt it recently when our cat got out at night and we could not find her.  She always came right back if she got out, but this night something must have happened to her.  It’s been a month and we still look for her and hope. But for a while I wondered what I could have done differently that night.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

KR: Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” 

Click here to purchase Kathleen’s book, Damned If She Does
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