"There's a limited amount of time in the day, and if you love what you're doing, you're trying to squeeze in as much as you can. I literally try to spend every second of my day doing something. So if I'm in the subway, I'm reading articles, or pounding out as many emails as I can. I have work commitments that I've clearly made to different people that I have responsibilities to, but I also have two kids and a wife that I like to spend as much time with as I can. [What helps me do that] is putting everything on a calendar.
I have no to-do list at all. For me, it's a good way to make sure I'm not overbooked on everything. It's one thing to have a long laundry list of things to do; it's another to know that this call is going to take 15 minutes or that this is a 25-minute project. Or, responding to this email is actually going to take an hour, because there's a memo involved. If I have to write or research something, I have it blocked — it'll say 'Write Colin Powell' or 'Prepare Colin Squawk Box.' I'm actually on my way to the airport right now, and the calendar says 'Car to airport' and it also has this call with you.
The calendar is also sort of a way for me to create artificial deadlines. Sometimes I'll use the timer on my computer or phone. I'll say to myself, "Sixty minutes, go." I'm involved lots of different projects, but it's not multitasking—I'm compartmentalizing. When I'm doing that one thing, I'm really focused on that thing. When I was writing Too Big To Fail, I would spend three or four hours doing that, then I'd switch gears to writing daily stories or columns [for the New York Times] related to the financial crisis. I would have to force myself not to think about it again, because you can become totally consumed with each character. Saying 'no' nicely and quickly is also critical. Oftentimes people will ask you for something, and it can take a lot mindshare if you let it hang over you; you get into this whole anxiety of possibly having to write lengthy note about why you're unable to do whatever it is.
The bad part about being so scheduled and regimented is that there's part of me that worries about the serendipity of certain things. Maybe I have FOMO. When I come home, I'm often watching different shows with my wife, and to her chagrin I'll have the laptop out. You know this Anthony Weiner documentary? My wife was watching it last night but I was working. So I downloaded it to my iPad so I can watch it on the plane.
Can I call you back? I just gotta get through security. You're seeing, by the way, the downside of being so scheduled.
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A version of this article appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.