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Gina McCarthy explains why office chit-chat is vital to an organization’s success

“Those side conversations are not a waste of time,” says McCarthy, who is currently the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Gina McCarthy explains why office chit-chat is vital to an organization’s success
[Illustration: Tim McDonagh]

When we first got started in this [pandemic], there was almost no separation between work and home. . . . We lost those separations where you just stop, sit down, and have dinner. The one habit that I’ve always had is that I don’t talk about work when I’m at home, period. Through eight years [as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency] in the Obama administration, I just didn’t. I don’t think my husband knew what I was doing for a living until I was in the Obama administration, because then he could read some things in the news, and it’d be like, “Oh, you’re doing this?” I had three kids in three years. My job was to be home when I’m home. And when I’m working, I’m working. At dinner, we don’t talk about work. And I give myself an hour or two after that to do nothing and hang around. Bisecting home and work is one of the most important things you can do.

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Not having people [at work] to chat with and laugh with, off the agenda, is hard. That’s how you motivate staff—they get to know you and realize you care about both the institution and its mission. When you’re in the nonprofit world, people need to know what your motivation is. Those side conversations are not a waste of time.

Time she gets up

Between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

First thing she does in the morning

“Make coffee. It’s either the first thing I do in the morning or the last thing I do at night. If I made it the night before, the first thing I do is drink it.”

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Productivity tools

“I write my ‘things to do’ list: what has to happen that day, that week, and longer term. I’m constantly redoing the list so that I can stay focused, and I spend a lot of time making sure I keep my calendar as tightly related to the list as possible, as opposed to letting the calendar dictate the list.”

How she keeps in contact with colleagues in other time zones

“My biggest strategy is don’t be a pain. I try not to send emails really late for fear that people will be paying attention. Not everybody runs the organization. It’s my problem to work when I need to; it’s not theirs to respond to my work when I want them to. So I try not to do those late emails.”

Last thing she does at night

“Read. Even if I go to bed at 3, I have my book out. I always read mystery books, because they never involve anything that has to do with work. And they’re fun. They don’t leave you dwelling about things.”

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Time she goes to bed

“I almost never go to bed before midnight, and I often stay up till 2 or 2:30. I’ve never needed
a lot of sleep.”

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