How Satya Nadella Finds Balance in the World of Big Tech

Black and white portrait of man wearing suit and glasses
Microsoft

Sitting at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella functions in a pressure cooker of high stakes. Here’s how he finds balance in the world of big tech. — by Charles Thorp

Find Your Drive (Again)

Physical fitness was very much a part of the way I grew up. I played a lot of cricket and was a cross-country runner. When I hit my 20s, work started to take over and training became less of a priority. It wasn’t until the arrival of my son, who was born with cerebral palsy, that I found a new motivation to get fit. Being healthy benefits my ability to get things done around the house. What started as an adjustment quickly became a habit. I start my day with 15 minutes of stretching and 30 minutes of cardio, whether that means getting on a bike or jogging, even if I’m jet-lagged after a late flight.

Flex Your Brain

I accumulate lots of books. At the moment, I have somewhere around 15 I’m in the process of reading. My wife likes to joke about whether I’ll ever finish one. I started Models of the Brain, which is very in line with my job, trying to understand the models behind artificial intelligence. Also in my pile is War and Peace, which I decided to reread when my daughter was assigned it in school. Our Surface Duo changed my life. Because it’s a dual-screen device, it allows me to have my Kindle and OneNote so I can take notes and scribble while I read. I turn off all notifications so I can have these moments of inspiration and relaxation.

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Build Boundaries With Tech

It’s important for us to disconnect from intermediating media when we can. It’s healthy to have relationships in the physical world. I get that from quality time—going on walks with my wife and our dogs, or sitting down with my children. Those moments help me be more present in everything else I do. I want to be engaged in conversations and do deep work, rather than overscheduling and adding more burden to feel like I’m productive. I strive to be as focused as possible in each interaction. That feels better at the end of the day. I’m not always great at it, but I’m definitely pushing every day to improve.

Find Gratitude in the Grind

For the past six years, I’ve started my day by sitting up in bed, placing my feet firmly on the ground, and thinking of one thing I’m grateful for and looking forward to. It’s a practice I learned from Michael Gervais, a mental-wellness coach who worked with the Seattle Seahawks. We brought him in to meet with our leadership team at Microsoft and the practice stuck with me. There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s helpful to acknowledge, “God, I get to do cool stuff one more day in my life.” That’s a real privilege.

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