Productivity isn’t just about crossing items off your to-do list at the office. That’s part of it, to be sure. But any truly productive, successful person also knows when to call it a day and chill, so that they don’t turn into a super-stressed, workaholic nightmare. Because, in the long run, that benefits neither you nor your family nor your boss. We asked six successful guys at the top of their game to share how they structure their lives and work to reach their goals while avoiding burnout. —Interviews by J.R. Sullivan
What is your typical morning routine?
Nick Foles (30; Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback; Super Bowl LII MVP): I wake up at 4:45 a.m. and make Bulletproof Coffee first thing. I like to get to our training facility early. I’ll do my Bible devotionals and journal. Then at 6 a.m., I do film study for two hours. By getting in early, I’m usually able to leave by 6 p.m., so I can see my family.
Andy Forch (34, co-founder of Outdoor Retailer Huckberry): I get up at 5:45. I’ve been intermittent fasting, so I’m not eating breakfast right now, but I drink a glass of water right away. Then I look at my calendar and visualize my day, thinking through what might be a tough conversation or a fun one. Most mornings, I ride my bike from my house in Marin County, California, to a ferry that I take into San Francisco, where the Huckberry offices are located. I use the time to reflect.
Malcolm Gladwell (56; host of The Revisionist History Podcast; author, most recently, of Talking to Strangers): I wake up at 8 a.m. and do most of my writing in the morning. People have actually studied this: An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon when it comes to creative work. I don’t have much of a breakfast: I just get up and go to a coffee shop, and, in that first few hours of the day, I do things of value. I never schedule anything for the morning, because I want to attack the day’s problems fresh. I save everything that’s not creative for the afternoon.
Tony Hawk (51, skateboard icon): My wife and I are usually up by 6:30 a.m., to get our kids off to school. After that, I bang out as many emails as I can and take care of business stuff. Sometimes I’ll need to post something on social media or edit a video. I usually skate around mid-day, since there are no kids around and my ramp is empty.
Nick Offerman (49; actor, comic, woodworker): I greatly enjoy when I can have a morning routine, but those periods in my life are very sporadic, given my polymathic lifestyle. All the same, before I go to bed, I look at what I have to do the next day, to make sure I give myself enough time to make breakfast. I usually wake up at around 5 a.m., then I get to it. I don’t subscribe to the modern laissez-faire notion that every day you should get up and say, “Well, let’s walk down to the coffee shop and see what cute flower the barista can make in my latte.”
Jake Tapper (50, host of CNN’s The Lead and State of the Union): I eat breakfast with my wife and my son and daughter; this morning I had two eggs, oatmeal, and a protein shake. I’m very cognizant to put my phone down as we eat together.
What is your biggest day-to-day challenge?
Foles: There are days when I feel like I can go a million miles an hour and accomplish everything. But I have to be aware of my body and my mind, so that I know when to slow down and get extra sleep, for my well-being and my family’s.
Forch: It takes effort to structure my day for success. I believe in batching blocks of time together, so I don’t have the cognitive dissonance of switching from, say, writing marketing copy to preparing for a financial meeting; that’s like my brain going through a brick wall. I also block off time on my calendar so that I can handle the day’s most important stuff first. Otherwise, I’ll wake up and find two meetings have been added to my schedule.
Gladwell: In my field, there are two keys to doing good work. The first is exposing yourself to enough new ideas, so you have good source material. And that takes effort. You have to talk with interesting people and read. But when you get busy, you have less time to do that. So the second key is to build unstructured time into your schedule to think and for idea generation. An upcoming episode of my podcast is about how the Israeli definition of chutzpah differs from the American one. That was something a friend said to me in passing, and only later, when I had downtime, did I think, Oh, that’s actually super interesting.
Tapper: The biggest challenge of my job, beyond the basic journalistic ones, is that the news environment is so high metabolism. Everybody in news has had to adapt and become more agile.
What’s a time suck you try to avoid?
Offerman: I try to stay off my phone. When I’m working, it’s easy to think, Oh, let me just see if anybody sent me an important email. But I’ve learned to put my phone on airplane mode when I’m writing, as I was recently for my tour, All Rise, or to leave it in the break room when I’m at my woodshop. I limit myself to a half hour of social media a day.
Tapper: I find meetings unbelievably unproductive, and I avoid them whenever possible.
How do you deal with the everyday grind of your work?
Foles: I don’t take any work home with me, at least not usually. I put in 12-hour days during the season, and my thinking has always been, If I can’t get it done in 12 hours, then what the heck am I doing?
Forch: We have a lunch run club at Huckberry. I give myself permission to socialize and run with them to break up my day. We also have a sabbatical program. Every four years, each employee gets a paid month off.
Gladwell: Whenever work feels like a grind or is daunting, you have to trust that you’ll hit your stride and make it through. I start each season of Revisionist History in January, and I’ve never had all 10 episodes figured out by then. I just have faith that more episodes will emerge as I expose myself to new ideas and meet people.
Hawk: I only feel burned out when I have to travel back-to-back. Whenever I get home from a trip, I’ll drop off the radar for a few days to catch my breath.
What’s a hurdle you’ve had to overcome recently?
Forch: My biggest struggle when I co-founded Huckberry was more personal than business-related. I left a job in finance and had no retail experience and very little money. When I told my parents the plan, it was the first time I’d ever seen in their eyes that they didn’t believe in me. I got similar looks at my wedding. And I was scared. But my business partner and I were all-in. We had no backup plan.
Hawk: Several years ago, I was dealing with some injuries and got used to painkillers to the point where I didn’t need them for pain anymore but kept using them. I was numbing myself. Finally, I thought, You’ve got to stop doing this. I was afraid to face my injury but also my state of mind. It took a lot of discipline to get through that.
Offerman: My big break was getting cast as Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation. Until then, it was easy to balance my relationship and work. But afterward, I was suddenly able to fill my calendar with really fun, lucrative stuff. A few years into it, though, my wife [actress Megan Mullally] and I realized it was all too much of a good thing, and I had to set new limits. It’s a crazy dilemma, to have to say no to incredible job offers. But you have to find the fortitude to say, “Gosh, thank you so much, but I need to go see my family.”
How do you recharge?
Foles: When you’re a young NFL player, people tell you, “Hey, be the first in and last out of the training facility each day.” But you’ll wear yourself out if you do that. I know that if I burn my candle at both ends, I’ll be tired on game day and won’t feel good, so I take rest seriously. On my day off, I enjoy the morning with my family and eat an extremely clean breakfast. We have a room in our home with recovery equipment and a hyperbaric chamber to help my body heal, so I’ll spend some time in there. But ultimately, I try to get away from football; I can’t do it seven days a week.
Forch: My wife and I have a backyard and a firepit now, and I love nothing more than to go outside and grill. I’ll light a cigar, much to my wife’s chagrin, and have wine or a beer.
Gladwell: My parents are both highly productive people, and they slept eight hours a night and never worked in the evening. In fact, my dad, a mathematician, never worked 40 hours a week. But when he did work, he worked with intense focus. So from a young age, he modeled for me quality work over quantity. I never work after dinner, even when I’m at my most hectic. I’ve discovered that if I do, I’m much less productive the next morning. This is a running principle, too. Runners are obsessed with rest, because it’s when you rest that you get better, not when you train.
Hawk: I try to finish my workday by 3 or 4 o’clock. I want to spend my downtime with my kids, and I structure my life around being available for them.
How do you stay healthy?
Gladwell: I run five days a week. I don’t have anything in my ears when I do. I get a good hour by myself, and I find that’s it’s an incredibly regenerative time.
Hawk: I’ve had to learn not to indulge. At my age, you can’t be up partying and drinking all night and snacking all day and expect to perform at a high level. But I’ve never made going to the gym or running part of my routine, because I never felt like that helped me with my skating.
Offerman: I usually run four miles a day. And now that I’m in my late 40s, I exploit this modern phenomenon of restaurants where you can order incredibly savory salads that still fill you up. Ron Swanson fans will be sorry to hear that I don’t eat cheeseburgers every day.
Tapper: I exercise five or six times a week. That, and a few years ago, I switched to a high-protein, low-sugar diet. At CNN, you could eat for free every day just by walking from office to office, because someone will always say something like, “Hey! It’s Frank’s birthday. Have some cake!” or “Sally’s been with the company for 10 years. Have some pizza!” It’s all delicious, but you’ll be in a carb or sugar coma by 2 o’clock if you eat it.
What personality trait helped get you to where you are today?
Foles: For my own sanity, I try to say no to things, especially when it comes to corporate endorsements. If you’re an NFL player, companies will throw money at you to put your name on stuff, and it can get crazy. My wife and I have been blessed, and giving is a big part of what we do. I don’t want to act fake to rep a product I don’t believe in. Being genuine is more important to me than trying to cash in on every opportunity.
Forch: I have great parents and friends, so I’m definitely a product of privilege in that regard. More to the point, when I started Huckberry, it took confidence just to launch the company and be like, If this doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to doing whatever I was doing before.
Hawk: The baseline of my success in skating was always progression. Even when I was performing well in competitions, I never stopped creating new tricks. In business and with my charity, I bring the same attitude of always wanting to innovate.
Offerman: If I had a superpower, it would be that I show up and work hard. I’ve learned that I’ll never be a visionary or showrunner who has this whole company of people manifesting my vision. I thrive working for that woman or man. I don’t want to be the general; I want to be the invaluable lieutenant. Those are my skills, and I love the role.
Tapper: I’ve always been curious. I remember in seventh or eighth grade, going to the school library and reading every magazine I could get my hands on, from The Nation to The National Review. That played a large role in my being where I am.
How do you wind down at the end of the day?
Foles: When I get home, I want to sit down and take what feels like my first breath of the day. But being the father to a baby girl is the most important thing in my life. So I put her to bed before I do anything else.
Forch: I like to read fiction before I go to bed. I just finished Peter Heller’s new novel, The River.
Hawk: I’ll have a glass of whiskey, and my wife and I will watch a show. Lately, we’ve been into I Am the Night.
Tapper: After the kids are in bed, my wife and I watch TV or Netflix. I’m also working on the sequel to a novel I published in 2018.
Offerman: My wife and I have a wonderful panoply of birds that come to our little birdbath. We love to watch them and play with our dogs. You can’t neglect your family. It doesn’t matter how much you earn at work if it’s not feeding the value of your relationships at home.
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