Leigh Gallagher On Why She Schedules Meeting-Free Days

The Assistant Managing Editor at Fortune and author of the new book The Airbnb Story shares her secret life hacks and the book that changed her life.

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?
Leigh Gallagher: I check my phone. (I know. I should know better.) Then I start the rituals: feeding our new kittens (there must be a study somewhere that shows the positive impact this little moment of cuteness does to your early-morning brain); turning on the news; pouring coffee; and commencing the process of “getting ready.”

TG: What gives you energy?
LG: A great night’s sleep. I don’t have trouble sleeping generally, but every now and then when the conditions are right I get an A-plus, five-star sleep, the kind where you almost jump out of bed, and I’ve found that nothing quite compares to that natural energy.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
LG: One is a system of fences I try to put around my schedule: I try hard to not schedule anything before noon; to block a full day every few weeks that is meeting-free for what the kids are now calling “deep work;” to “batch” or cluster meetings as much as possible, especially those out of the office; and to contain as many meetings as I can to between the hours of 4pm and 6pm. The point of all of this is to try to preserve as many long blocks of time as possible. To actually, you know, work. Another hack I couldn’t live without is the white noise playlists on Spotify. To say I’m noise sensitive is a very big understatement, and with these you can block out any external noise — and even replace it with calming sounds of waterfalls and ocean waves, wherever you go. I turn them up pretty loud. I’m probably damaging my ears but I try not to think about that.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
LG: I took a great deal away from Lean In when it came out. Not from the material around juggling career and kids, since I don’t have children, but the research-backed, illuminating observations about the way women behave in the workplace that can hold them back hit home for me in a kind of forehead-smacking way. A related book I had read a few years prior called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office impacted me in a similar way. It’s a much more down-and-dirty guide to 101 mistakes women make in the workplace, everything from working nonstop without a break to putting a bowl of candy on your desk. (“Unless you’re Betty Crocker,” Lois Frankel writes, don’t do it).

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
LG: The relationship could be better. We’re working on it. It sleeps across the room in my bedroom, and I keep saying I’m going to move it to another room. One of my best friends, who lives in Los Angeles, programmed my phone the last time I visited her to be on “night shift” from 10pm to 6am. So now every night at 10pm it shifts to a warm, sepia-toned glow that has a calming effect – and it also reminds me of her every time I notice it. I live with someone who is a phone stoic, so when I come home at night I don’t check it that often, though I’m not above sneaking into a corner for a quick check or a speedy reply.

TG: How do you deal with email?
LG: It’s my biggest struggle. I don’t do inbox zero—if I strived for that, I would spend all day hitting the delete key. Instead, I have an embarrassingly archaic system whereby I keep a pen and paper list going on a series of Post-It notes of all emails requiring a reply. If I don’t note the email somewhere outside the inbox, it will get shoved down and out of view by newer emails, and once it disappears from view, it’s gone. So if it doesn’t go on the Post-It, it won’t get answered. Then I cross them off as I reply, so at the end of the day the Post-Its are a mess and need redoing for the following day. I’m sure it’s unbelievably inefficient but it works for me. I also have an aversion to emailing from my phone, so I try to save replies that are more than a few words for when I’m back at a desktop or laptop. I try to adhere to the two-minute rule—any email that can be answered in less than two minutes should be answered immediately—but then I end up answering obsessively fast sometimes, and then people come to expect that. I feel like I need an e-mail coach.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day—what do you do with it?
LG: If I’m in the office, I’ll probably try to, yes, catch up on a few emails. If I’m out of the office, I’ll usually read something. Or, I just sort of zone out and gaze at the surroundings. I wouldn’t call it meditating—it’s more like mindless observing.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
LG: I feel like I fail every time I spend a few hours on email or on “catch up” tasks, which is a lot.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
LG: “When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” – Walt Disney

Leigh Gallagher is Assistant Managing Editor at Fortune and author of the new book The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions…and Created Plenty of Controversy. 

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