Jim Brady on Doing Things Differently

The CEO and founder of Spirited Media on the importance of breaking routine.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Jim Brady:
Check e-mail on my phone and then play with my old beagles for a bit.

TG: What gives you energy? 
JB:
Problems that are hard to solve. Knocking out simple tasks is fine, but it’s hard to derive energy from the routine.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
JB:
Try to break huge tasks into small parts spanning over days rather than trying to get it all done at once.

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 
JB:
All the President’s Men. It was the book that made me decide I wanted to work in journalism. I saw the movie first, but then read the book and the increased detail about the reporting process fascinated me.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? JB: Sort of. It’s always on the bedside table next to me. Rarely am I unsure where it is; it may as well be surgically attached.

TG: How do you deal with email?
JB:
I need to keep my inbox clean, or else everything else feels out of control. I rarely go to bed with more than 30 items in my inbox, and use Boomerang to keep things out of it that don’t require immediate attention.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it? 
JB: Probably work a crossword puzzle or pull a long read out of my Instapaper feed.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why? 
JB:
Oh, it comes and goes all the time. It usually happens when 100 small things are piling up, and it feels impossible to get caught up. Key is just to take a deep breath, and just start knocking things off your to-do list one at a time to relieve the pressure. That usually works.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 
JB: When the Thunderdome team I built in New York for Digital First Media was shut down. Not sure you totally ever overcome having your team shut down, but the best method is to not feel sorry for yourself and to focus on helping those who are much more directly impacted by decisions like that than you are as a senior manager. If your team is laid off, the last person you can afford to worry about is yourself.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 
JB: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson. It just reminds me that doing things differently isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.

Jim Brady is the founder and CEO of Spirited Media, which operates Billy Penn in Philadelphia and The Incline in Pittsburgh. He also currently serves as public editor of ESPN.