The Thrive Questionnaire with Mike Steib

The CEO and author shares his tips for leading a successful and meaningful life.

Photo credit: Preston-Schlebusch

Mike Steib is the CEO of XO Group [NYSE:XOXO], the parent company of, a board director for Ally Financial [NYSE: ALLY], and Co-chairman of Literacy Partners, a non-profit serving low-income and immigrant families in New York. We sat down with him and asked him about his routine, his relationship with technology, and how he handles stress.

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

I do the exact same thing every day. Each night before bed, I prep for the next morning. I assess the last 24-hours and what I learned, set my goals and plan for the next day, lay out my gym clothes, and pour a big glass of water.

The next morning, I wake up very early, stand up strong, give thanks, drink the water, commit to my goals for the day, brush, do some work, prepare breakfast for our kids, and head to the gym. Winning the morning is the most important habit I have formed in my adult life.

What gives you energy?

Going to sleep at a consistent time, waking up early, and working out to maximize my energy. Proper sleep boosts our mood, endurance, and ability to make smart decisions. Vigorous exercise lowers stress, clears your mind, and causes us to live significantly longer. Forcing myself to become a morning person was not initially easy, but has most positively changed my life.

What daily habit or practice helps you thrive?

Getting hugs from my wife and my kids.

Name a book that changed your life.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It radically changed my understanding of how the mind works and how to create the right behaviors and habits for a better life. Other books in the genre that are also really good are Willpower by Roy Baumeister and The Power of Habit by Paul Duhigg. If you just want a taste, there is a super-condensed chapter on the science and practice of forming success habits in my book, The Career Manifesto.

Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

Personally, I try to be very disciplined with how I use my phone. I do not look at it when I am with my family or my friends unless absolutely necessary. I have disabled all push notifications. I keep it in my pocket when I am walking around the city. My phone is not my hobby and it is not what I do when I am bored — if an app distracts me in this way, I just uninstall it. Instead, I use my phone as a tool for important communications, project management, and news.

Steve Jobs once said, “a computer is a bicycle for our minds.” I think that is a healthy way to think about technology. I would never bring my phone or a bicycle to bed with me.

How do you deal with email?

I batch process email with a modified David Allen Getting Things Done approach. I have a whole chapter in my book on this topic, which essentially says: (1) email is not your job, it is one tool for doing your job; (2) schedule a few set times in the day that you will check email with focus and speed; (3) deal with urgent emails immediately, tackle quick wins on the spot, and archive the rest while adding the action to your to-do list; (4) aggressively utilize tools (like filters and canned responses) to minimize wasted time.

You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

I walk the floor. I learn more about what is going on in the company by just asking how things are going and sometimes I can be immediately helpful by helping folks make faster decisions. I also get really energized talking to my teammates — the people at XO Group are amazing.

When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

It happens to all of us sometimes. For me, sleep and exercise help a lot. The aforementioned hugs from my wife and kids help the most.

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

If you set high expectations for yourself, you fail a lot. A mentor once told me: “Leadership is a series of ups and downs. You learn on the downs.” It is very true. You do your best, you learn, and you grind on.

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

We have a family motto: work hard, take care of other people, and be brave. Those are the virtues my wife and I have observed in the people we most admire and wanted to instill in our kids. The motto guides our children’s behavior through values, rather than nitpicking them with rules. For instance, if one of our kids is not nice to a friend or fails to help someone, everything stops and we talk very seriously about our family responsibility to take care of other people. It’s much better than constantly saying “do this, don’t do that” without the broader context. If our kids are living those values but want to read an age-inappropriate Captain Underpants book or try to eat a hot pepper… fine, go for it.

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