My dad played a game with me when I was a little kid: If a genie gave me three wishes, what would I ask for? My parents had just gotten divorced, and this game, my dad later told me, was a way to gauge my state of mind. My three wishes, he recalled: to be brave, to be smart, and to be lucky. If you're reading this column, you are almost certainly among the luckiest people on the planet. The demographic of the Fast Company reader is affluent, young, educated, employed. We've had plenty of good breaks. Most of us have also worked damn hard to get here. Of course, these days, working hard isn't enough—and can even be a trap. There is so much information available, we can get sucked into the morass. It is more and more difficult to know which activity is meaningful. Working hard is one thing; working smart is something else.
This issue presents a guide to productive action: a 24-page ensemble of tips, apps, and frontline experiences shared by CEOs, entrepreneurs, politicians, chefs, authors, fashionistas, even entertainer Pharrell Williams—a range both broad and deep enough that we're confident you'll find someone whose experience connects with yours. My personal productivity regimen is based around one central tenet: trust. My wife teases me that for someone who calls himself a journalist, I don't always read the newspaper. Instead, I rely first on my colleagues and my network to bring to my attention the issues and items that are most important. There is so much news to consume, I can't possibly read it all. By taking half a step back from the tumult of the news cycle, I find it easier to identify larger trends.
I also try to exercise regularly (including a weekly basketball game), and I diligently set aside time to be with my family. For me, the trials and triumphs of a 10-year-old—teacher troubles! homework! social cliques!—force me to keep my own dramas in perspective. And there's nothing like a hug at the end of a day to help you recharge.
My dad passed away earlier this year. I really feel his absence, the loss of that personal resource. I was lucky to have him. He used to instruct me that it wasn't necessary for me to always succeed, as long as I tried my best. None of us can be our best all the time, but it's a worthy goal to shoot for. I'm still working on it.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2013 / January 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.