The Productivity Giants Series with Celeste Headlee, Author & Journalist


Journalist Celeste Headlee has years of experience in the art of conversation – after all, she interviews people for a living. Since 1999, she’s worked in public radio as a reporter, host, and correspondent, and currently hosts a daily news/talk show called On Second Thought that airs on Georgia Public Broadcasting. She’s garnered a unique perspective on rapport and wrote an insightful book on the importance of engaging in meaningful communication called We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter.


In her recent TedTalk, 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation, Celeste outlines the ingredients of a productive and enjoyable conversation: honesty, clarity, brevity, and a decent amount of listening. Watch here:



We wanted to have our own conversation with Celeste to find out how she structures her days writing and working. Read on:


What does the first 90 minutes of your day look like?


I wake up at 4:30am and take care of the dog, get dressed in workout clothes, and eat breakfast within an hour of waking. Then, I go to the gym, shower, and get dressed for the day. I’ll do a quick meditation then and work on my planner to make sure I know what my day looks like. Then, I start writing and I’m off. If you take my driving time out of that, it’s about 90 minutes or so.


What’s your number one productivity/time-saving tip?


I’ve chosen two times per day to check social media. I check it in the morning and the evening. I’ll schedule tweets or posts then, so that my social media engagement stays consistent even though I’m not using the site. I also uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my smartphone. If I’m going to use social media, I’m sitting at my computer or using my tablet. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve reclaimed by breaking my addiction to refreshing the feed of my social media platforms.


Any favorite tools?


I really like the SaneBox archive. Knowing it’s there makes me feel comfortable clearing things out of my inbox. The emails are saved forever, if I need them, so I don’t have to see them in my inbox every day.


Do you have a pre-bed/nightly routine?


Quick meditation, a good face wash, and a wrap-up of the day in my planner – I use the BestSelfCo journal. Then I read a book for about 20 minutes before lights out. I stay off of screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.


How often do you check your inbox?


About once an hour.


#1 Email tip?


Stop using it so much. There are a few things that email does very well: sending attachments, sending agendas or summaries or lists, sending praise, communicating simple information that requires no debate or explication. For everything else, go see the other person face-to-face or call them on the phone.


Favorite SaneBox feature?


I like the digest. I can quickly skim through it and sort through emails without wasting time or stressing about them.


What’s the biggest hindrance to your productivity? How do you combat it?


Overscheduling. Sometimes, when what I need to do is write, I realize that I’ve packed my day with appointments. I’ve mostly solved that by hanging my full-year calendar on the wall. I had to buy a large one that allowed me to write multiple things in the days. That way, I can see how busy the days are and spread out my appointments and commitments.


When you lose focus, what do you do to regain it?


I take a walk. If I can get to a natural setting, that’s where I go. Otherwise, I’ll just walk wherever I can. And if I can do it in silence, not listening to podcasts or talking on the phone, all the better. I do my best work after my mind has had a chance to wander. That’s when the unexpected thoughts and ideas come to me.


What have you learned from your failures?


I’ve made too many mistakes to really count. If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not trying anything new.


What bad advice do you hear often?


Leave emotion out of it. That’s terrible advice because it’s not possible. Human beings are inherently social and emotional. Since that’s our nature, why would frustrate yourself by constantly trying to fight your own nature? It’s okay to learn to be aware of your emotions and channel them in a healthy way, but you can’t leave emotion out of it. Instead, learn to use your natural emotions to help you.


What book has changed your life and why?


Amy Poehler’s memoir was an empowering read for me. I think I dog-eared and highlighted every page. She has a strong mind and a kind heart. I loved that book, and I don’t usually enjoy memoirs.


The most worthwhile investment in time, money, or energy that you’ve made?


My fountain pen. It’s lovely and heavy in my hand. It also writes beautifully and forces me to slow down a bit.


What’s your definition of productivity?


Getting done what I need to, on time, so that I can get to the good part of my day: spending time with friends, family, and my dog, hiking, reading books, etcetera. I think of productivity as a tool, not an end goal in and of itself. Being productive is a means to an end, and that end is a happy, fulfilled life.


In the last 5 years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?


The most important habit I have is mindfulness meditation. It’s taught me to let thoughts pass out of my head without holding on to them or feeling that every interesting thought I have needs to be expressed. It’s a constant challenge. I can’t stop my mind from thinking; there’s no such thing as “emptying my mind.” That’s impossible. But I can create space in my head by allowing thoughts to come and go without holding onto them. Then I can return to listening and regain my focus.


What have you become better at saying no to?


Extra projects. If someone asked for my help on a project that I thought was worthwhile, I felt obligated to help. Now, I realize I just can’t take all of that on. I bought a full-year dry erase calendar and I can see how busy I am. I know what I can do and what I can’t. I say no to a lot of things now.




Follow Celeste on Twitter.