Ahead of Gadi Schwartz’s reporting for NBC News’ week-long series, “Kids Under Pressure,” he answered questions about some of his tips that help him stay focused during the busy news cycle.
NBC News’ “Kids Under Pressure” kicks off this week and will explore the toll the pandemic is taking on high school students. The reporting will air across the network’s flagship programs and platforms: TODAY, NBC Nightly News, NBCNews.com, NBC News NOW, MSNBC and Stay Tuned.
1. What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? Do you have a time saving trick for the morning?
I wish I had a more inspiring answer but unfortunately, I check Twitter. It’s the fastest way for me to get a pulse of what’s going on and there’s usually something I’ll see that will jolt me wide awake and get me started with the day. I tend to shy away from set routines but at some point I’ll open my Notes app on my phone and start making a to do list.
2. What gives you energy?
Being outside. Exploring a new place, trying new things, hearing a good story. My wife Kimi! I’m always blown away by how much energy she has and her ability to do so many things at once! She’s a force of nature and inspires me to keep up!
3. What’s your secret life hack?
Welp, again wish it were more exciting but probably my Notes app on my phone. I use it kind of like my working memory. I keep all my lists on it, scripts, articles I think are interesting, random thoughts, half-baked ideas, people I need to email back and more. I think my secret hack is that I use it to complete tasks in a very non-linear way. I’ll work on something in there furiously for a bit, leave it to do something else and then come back when something pertinent pops back into my head. Actually, I’m writing this in Notes right now and technically while this is question number 3 , I’ve already answered questions, 1,4,6 through 11, plus a couple others in between doing all kinds of other things throughout the day. It’s now 8:51pm. So yeah, sometimes Notes can help you travel through time!
4. Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
It does… and it’s not ideal. I have “do not disturb” on it from midnight to 3am but because you never know when a breaking news wakeup call will happen, I have to keep it close by.
5. How do you deal with email?
With difficulty! At this point, every project I work on seems to have a different method of communication, either email, Slack, Teams or something we call iNews, so it can get confusing. Not to mention Snapchat where we have a daily news show and I try to regularly answer messages from viewers. I do my best to scan all of them throughout the day but text messages are always best.
6. When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
I feel pretty burned out after too much time on social media. Sometimes it can be a wonderful tool to keep in touch with loved ones, but I don’t think we humans are wired to see so much constant conflict, agitation and posturing between total strangers. So I try to remember to disconnect as often as possible.
7. When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
We launched a new show called “The Overview” right in the middle of the pandemic and for a while all the shooting limitations and the remote editing made it feel like we’d never be able to pull it off, but we did! And it’s been incredible to see the entire team rise above those limitations with so much creativity!
8. Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
Carl Sagan’s “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
It makes life feel precious, interconnected and bigger than I can fathom.
9. How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
As weird as it sounds, sometimes I feel most myself when overwhelmed by a chaotic situation because it forces me slip into a state of hyper-focus. When that happens, my first priority will usually be to tackle whatever I’m most passionate about.
10. What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?
Forget what they told you about needing 8 hours of sleep. Everyone is different. Get as much sleep as you can and let your body count the hours it needs. Constantly worrying if you got enough sleep is more anxiety than it’s worth.
11. What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?
A headache. It usually means I’ve forgotten to eat and drink water. Drives my wife crazy. Sometimes she’ll randomly force me to drink a full glass of water in front of her!
12. With so many distractions and interruptions coming at us throughout the day. What are your tips to stay focused?
There’s this quote that says, “pay attention to where you pay attention” that’s really reframed the way I hone my focus. I try to observe my attention like it’s own separate entity. If something draws me in, there must be a reason, so I’ll try to take a moment to figure out if it’s the subject or the presentation. If it’s the subject, then I’ll try to find a way to cover it for work. (Perks of being a journalist!) If it’s the presentation, I’ll try to figure out why it feels so captivating and it’s usually because the content has been gamified in some way.
Now I’ll use some of those same strategies to tackle the things I need to get done. I’ll look at the clock and challenge myself to finish something in 7 minutes and 30 seconds or I’ll try to cross off everything on my to do list for the next 2 days in one hour. I’ll work out and return all my emails in between sets. Anything to kick-start a state of hyper-focus.
13. When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
Hug my wife.
14. What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
Sometimes I’ll go in my backyard, lay under this tree and listen for as many sounds as possible.
I’ll start with the natural ones, birds chirping, dogs barking, squirrels trying to steal my grapefruits. Then I’ll meander over to the more unsettling – the 101 freeway, planes flying overhead, leaf-blowers. Once I feel like I’ve heard all of them individually, I’ll try to bring them all in together and hold it all as long as I can. (It’s usually like 5-10 seconds, harder than it sounds) After that, it’s much easier to take things one at a time.
15. How do you reframe negative thinking?
Well, first you gotta determine if it’s internal and naturally occurring or from some artificial, external source. A lot of times it seems like negative thoughts can seep in from things like social media, algorithms or something specifically designed to make you feel like you need something you don’t have. When that’s the case, I feel empowered for figuring it out and sit there feeling pretty clever! If it’s something deeper, I’ll try to trace it back to the trigger and usually find it’s rooted in some secret fear.
Then I’ll go find my wife and talk to her about it.
16. What brings you optimism?
Usually a quick overview of almost any situation that considers the past, the present and a possible future.
These days we obsess over details without a lot of context and it’s easy to think a single bad incident defines everything about an issue. Climate change, racism, disparity of poverty and wealth… but the very fact that those issues have become so prominent in our social discourse makes me feel like we are awake and might be collectively learning from our past. People often say history repeats itself… but history can also show us how much progress is being made.
17. Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
Every night I build a wall of pillows straight down the middle of our bed because, and I’m not going to name names, but one of us turns into a blast furnace of scorching heat as soon as they fall asleep. With the exception of the occasional smoldering foot intrusion, we have slept peacefully ever since.
18. Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
On the healthy side… I’m a big believer in love languages and fortunately my wife and I seem to value the same way of communicating. Physical touch, quality time and words of affirmation are huge to us… so taking walks AND holding hands is a total trifecta and has done wonders for our marriage.
(On the less healthy side, because of the pandemic and the fact that most of my family still lives in New Mexico, I’ve recently been playing way too many video games with my also grown adult brothers and we love it! Merking zombies is much more bonding than Zoom!)
19. Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
This is tough because as you might have gleaned, I have difficulty with routines. For me, the novelty of a new routine might make it effective for a week or two at most but then it quickly loses its power. It’s taken years for me to realize that instead of trying and failing to stick to a strategy or routine that no longer works and wasting energy being frustrated with myself… it’s better to be in a constant state of searching for small, simple ways to optimize my focus and not overthink it.
So my routine is being in a state of constant flux. This week I’ve designated my kitchen table as the place I write my scripts. The week before that, I was trying to focus by only editing in a chair in my room. I rowed in the mornings for a stretch. Every so often I’ll go for a run. It also helps to have something around to fidget with that ISNT a phone.
20. What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?
There is one routine that I love but it’s not mine, it’s my wife’s!
She makes sleepy time tea, puts “The Office” on an iPad, and we usually end up giggling ourselves to sleep.