Amazon's Kyle Walker on Burnout, Email and the Myth of Multi-Tasking

How minimizing distractions and noise makes all the difference in your day.

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? 

Kyle Walker: I stretch and then try to fight off my phone long enough to get ready for work without having to glance at it. I then try to get my boys to school while solely focusing my attention on making each trip an experience. Often my boys will ask me to act as if our car is an airplane, so I will make announcements during the drive as if I’m a pilot. I try to ensure that on the 15 minute drive to school there is nothing that can distract me from making each trip a memorable and fun experience for the boys, where they know their enjoyment is my sole focus.

TG:    What gives you energy? 

KW: Silence…but not in the most traditional sense, I want to have only sounds that I am allowing in. Most of my day is filled with meetings and requests and when I get home, I want my family to make those requests. So in the hour or two before bed, I try to minimize the amount of ambient noise around me. I try to avoid phone calls, checking phones, and actually disconnect. You may then find me reading a book or news articles about my interests (business, sports), or listening to music or tv that I can ignore. I recharge from having a slowdown from the craziness that is a normal day.

TG:    What's your secret life hack? 

KW: Recently it has become our habit to spend every weekend we can, at the beach about an hour from our house. My wife and I joke that it is an hour and a world away from our lives. We generally cook meals in a crock pot or smoker so we can just set it and forget it. We often just sit and watch the waves, while our boys run around enjoying the outside. This has become a critical part of both of us recharging for the next week ahead and it is noticeable when commitments prevent us from the recharge.

TG:    Name a book that changed your life. 

KW: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The way the story unfolded with multiple round characters and the story is a great example of how people can perceive the same event in dramatically different ways based on their experience and challenges. I also enjoyed reading “Lone Survivor”. It puts daily struggles in perspective when you see what people can be capable of when truly put to the test.

TG:    Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 

KW: No but it sleeps near me, as it serves as my alarm clock. The phone goes on the floor below my bed and is always put away before I can really focus on relaxing and ultimately falling asleep.

TG:    How do you deal with email? 

KW: I am simple and have to minimalize and declutter my email inbox. I cannot relax knowing that those tasks sit out there unresolved. So I file things away during hours I am away from my phone into a To-Do folder. I route every email to keep my inbox clean and clutter free. Seems like a small thing but it helps me quickly prioritize to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I get comments at work that my inbox is always noticeably clear. I feel like I have to do this so that I can focus on the right things at the right time and feel like I am running my email inbox, vs my email inbox running my life.

TG:    You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it? 

KW: I love to play golf and with 15 minutes I would go to the driving range and hit a few golf balls. Golf is hard to perfect and when you are doing it, that is the only thing on your mind. Therefore, it is my sole focus and lets me escape. I am the same way with cooking. I like to cook, especially more elaborate, multi-step cooking. There can be no other things to do while you are cooking and I enjoy the escape of throwing myself into activities that cannot be interrupted or prevent multitasking (or the illusion of it). I do not believe multi-tasking as people define it, can exist. What we often do is just focus on several things intermittently, which creates stress from not feeling like anything is accomplished or accomplished well in the process.

TG:    When was the last time you felt burned out and why? 

KW: The beginning of this month. The prior two months involved more travel in 60 days than I typically do in 4 years. When I returned, there were many tasks around the house and at work that required attention. I needed to decompress but lacked the ability to keep up if I did so. I tried to find some time to relax and start checking off easier tasks that didn’t take long to complete, so that I could feel like I was making progress. Over the course of the first few days back, I was able to recharge by keeping things simple and then I was able to start working on more time consuming and complicated tasks.

TG:    When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

KW: I can tend to be very critical of myself daily. I played baseball in college and that is helpful for overcoming failure. It is a game where if you fail 70% of the time, you are in the Hall of Fame because you hit .300. So what I have always tried to do since college is focus on the things I can control (forgetting outcomes and focusing on inputs). So my process every night when I go to bed is to try to think of every day as a learning opportunity. I recall the events of the day, log the things I can learn from and be better at tomorrow. This helps me improve daily and also forget failures from the day. They aren’t failures if you learn to be better every day, they were just learning experiences that make me smarter and wiser every day. Baseball is a good analogy for that. As a hitter, you can't ever hit .300 in one at bat. You have to go in with the right mindset daily and control your inputs one at bat at a time. I think that has been a helpful analogy for my life. If I am trying to improve every day, it lowers the focus on a set destination and allows me to be on a journey with expectations built in the short term.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 

KW: “They sicken of the calm, who know the storm.” I do not remember where I read this but the quote has always stuck with me. It always reminds me that some people enjoy making sense of chaos and that gives them purpose. I interpret this for my life to mean that I enjoy making calm out of the storm. Once I’ve recharged from that chaos, I will get bored if I do not have something else to take interest in. I enjoy adapting to change and think I thrive in it. Does not mean it is not stressful at times so I always try to focus on how I can feel progress and have perspective during the journey. Sometimes it takes someone to still refresh perspective for you. I recall my wife in my latest work project asking how my day went. I relayed that it was a foundational day, not much tangible progress but would be important to future progress. She had to remind me that my project was still moving at warp speed and at her employer it would have taken years to do what I was trying to pull off in months. I needed that reminder and it helped frame the work I was doing. 

Thrive Questionnaire

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