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?
Chris Bailey: I read a book for half an hour or so. On other less energetic mornings or ones with errands I’ll put on an audiobook instead. I love starting the day by connecting information.
TG: What gives you energy?
CB: Reading, exercise, and meditation. I do all three every day, even if only for a few minutes. This helps me stay sane and energetic, regardless of a busy schedule. Drinking alcohol and overeating are two habits that drain my energy, and I avoid them when possible. I see drinking alcohol as a way of borrowing energy and happiness from the next day—sometimes it’s worth it, but you always have to consume thoughtfully. Overeating is terrible in almost every way.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
CB: Oh man, I have so many. Here’s my favorite: each morning, I choose the three main things I want to accomplish by day’s end.That small investment of time in the morning helps me work with greater intention, focus on what’s actually important, and consider how much I’ll be able to accomplish that day (taking into account meetings and other commitments).
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
CB: That’s easy: How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger. The book boosted my energy levels by outlining which foods could help me live longer. This may seem like a weird recommendation from a productivity author, but who doesn’t want more time?
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
CB: It wakes me up in the morning, but is on airplane mode from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. each day. This ritual came more from a place of necessity rather than discipline: I was wasting time on my phone right after waking up and as I wound down for the day. So I cut myself off. I do the same throughout the day when working on important tasks.
TG: How do you deal with email?
CB: As little as possible, ideally. I have two email accounts—one public facing, and another I give only to people I work closely with. I check the public account once a day, at 3 p.m. EST, and clear my entire inbox at that time. I check the other account throughout the day, but it receives significantly less email.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
CB: I quickly reflect on the most productive or meaningful way to spend that time. And then make a concerted effort to enjoy it!
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
CB: A few months ago I had nearly a solid month of travel, and was giving a talk almost every day. I’m an introvert, and need time to recharge after events. By the end of the month, my energy was toast—mostly because I didn’t cultivate it along the way through exercise, meditation, or reading.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
CB: It was a few years back when I first started my year-long productivity project. To take on the project, I declined multiple, lucrative, full-time job offers. For that year, I did anything and everything to become as productive as possible: I interviewed experts, conducted weird experiments, and pored through as much research as possible. I thought it was a cool idea—but nearly no one visited the website for the first six months. I felt like a total idiot who declined amazing job offers to explore a bizarre curiosity. But I kept writing, doing my best to share what I learned. The more I was discouraged, the more I wrote. Eventually, more and more people found the site helpful, and its reach grew. By the end of the year, hundreds of thousands of people were reading each month. Whew.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
CB: Here’s one of my favorites: “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means a waste of time.”— John Lubbock, from The Use of Life
Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and the international bestselling author of The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, which has been published in ten languages. He writes about productivity at A Life of Productivity, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process