Author and entrepreneur Arianna Huffington is a recovering workaholic. She is best known as the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the massive news website The Huffington Post.
Since its launch in 2005, Huffington fostered the site's growth with its thousands of contributor-made blogs, covering subjects ranging from entertainment to progressive social topics like LGBT, women and race issues. The site, which was sold to AOL for $300 million, also won a Pulizer Prize for its reporting on the lives of wounded veterans. She left the publication in 2016, but that didn't slow anything in her life down.
Huffington is the author of more than a dozen books about politics, history and self-help. She also sits on several boards, including Uber and the Center for Public Integrity. And then she started another company.
These days she is writing and working on her new venture, Thrive Global. Her focus, and that of her organization, is to promote well-being, reduce stress and balance work and life. In fact, her company recently launched an app called THRIVE, designed to help people take a break from their phones. It limits notifications, calls and texts from everyone except a small VIP list, and it lets others know you're away from your phone.
We recently caught up with her to glean her insights on work, productivity and achieving better well-being by disconnecting.
Q. Do you feel like you're sometimes too connected to technology, and did that impact your decision to get involved in THRIVE?
A. I think everyone in our culture feels like they are sometimes too connected to technology, and I am no exception. For me the question is what to do about it. The THRIVE App is an important step in helping us take back control of our time, making technology work for us and ensuring that we value recharging and focusing as much as we value staying updated and informed.
Q. In your experience, how have you been able to stay productive and focused on your work, especially being in the media industry?
A. I haven't always been able to do it, actually. In 2007 I collapsed from burnout and exhaustion, breaking my cheekbone. After that I learned a lot more about the connection between well-being and productivity, and that I'd be more effective by prioritizing, instead of ignoring, my own well-being. I started taking my sleep more seriously, I began meditating, and I began to be much more deliberate about building in time to unplug and recharge. Since then, I've more productive and more effective -- and, I should mention, much happier.
Q. Would you consider yourself a workaholic? How do you balance your own work and personal life?
A. Not anymore. After my collapse, I made a lot of changes in my life. It's not about working longer or working harder. It's about working smarter, and that's what I'm doing now.
Q. What are the signs people should look for to help them determine they're picking up their phone too much?
A. It's not about a raw number of times you pick up your phone; it's about why you're doing it. Are you doing it because you really need to, or are you doing it because you're bored or craving a quick hit of stimulation that you could get by actually connecting with someone else or with yourself? A lot of it is about recognizing the opportunity costs of the time you spend on your phone – what are you missing out on with all that time spent looking at your screen? For a lot of us, the answer is: a lot.
Q. What are your own phone habits like?
A. In addition to not charging it in the bedroom overnight, and not reaching for it first thing in the morning, I try to put my phone away when I'm with my daughters or out with friends. At Thrive Global, we also hold device-free meetings, which enables us to get twice as much done in half the time because everyone is fully present rather than distracted.
Q. Do you think the overall boom in social media and online interactivity has degraded how we interact in our offline lives, both at work and home?
A. Absolutely. In one study, 89 percent of phone owners said they'd used their phones in their last social gathering, but 82 percent felt that when they did this it damaged the interaction. In another study, 70 percent of those in romantic relationships said that cell phones interfered with their interactions with their partners. And in yet another, 98 percent of parents said that unplugging from devices during meals is important to maintaining their family bond, but 42 percent couldn't even remember the last time their family had eaten a meal with no devices present. None of that is surprising – it only puts numbers to something we all feel.
Q. As a business leader yourself, what other advice can you offer to help small business owners and their companies remain productive and stay focused on their goals?
A. They have to realize that taking care of their human capital is just as important as whatever product or service their business provides. Leading a sustainable life, and making sure their employees do, too, is the best way for a small business owner to make sure their business will be sustainable. It's like what they say on airplanes – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
To read more on Arianna Huffington's latest venture and her app to help you reduce your time with your smartphone, check out her interview on our sister site Business.com.