Slowing down and bringing presence and awareness into our everyday lives. With our constant habits of checking our devices and staring at screens, it’s even more of a necessity.
Sarah Peck is the director of communications at One Month and a longtime writer, speaker, and athlete. One Month is an online school for accelerated education that teaches people business and coding skills in as little as 30 minutes a day.
Based in Brooklyn, Sarah is an intuitive relationship builder, philosopher, and deep lover of mind-body integration. She’s a 20-time NCAA All-American swimmer who escaped from Alcatraz nine consecutive times, a yoga instructor, and a beginning dancer. She believes communication is about finding the roots of our power and owning our deeper narratives and stories.
With more than a decade of graphic design, marketing, and writing experience, her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Fast Company, 99U, Psychology Today, Lifehacker, and Thought Catalog. She has also spoken at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the University of Virginia, Alive in Berlin, Westchester Day School, and more. When she’s not teaching, writing, or creating, you’ll find Sarah teaching yoga, doing open-water ocean swims, practicing handstands, or hosting themed dinner parties.
What motivated you to work with One Month?
The world is changing quickly, and I want to learn everything I can about how it works — and how to work with it. Learning to code and build digital tools has been a goal of mine for a while, and when One Month approached me about joining the team, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I get to write, teach, collaborate, and learn for a living. What more could you ask for?
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
Our office is located in NoHo, Manhattan, where I work three or four days a week. Our team works mostly from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with flexibility on days when we don’t have team meetings.
We have enough structure to keep us in sync with one another but still work in a way that maximizes our personal productivity. Mattan Griffel, our CEO, is one of the most organized and productive people I know. Our team geeks out on productivity tools and habits. We love learning and figuring out how to do better work more efficiently, and we’re always testing ourselves (and our assumptions) about what makes a great work environment.
I’m an early riser, so I tend to wake up and do a mix of yoga, writing, and deep work before I head into the city. During the day, I’m interacting with our team, teachers, and writers — reviewing content, editing, attending pitch meetings, brainstorming content and video ideas, and more. Around 4 or 5 p.m., I usually go do a yoga class or take a walk to reset my mind. Some evenings, I’ll meet other entrepreneurs, friends, and colleagues in the city to catch up; cook dinner, unwind, and play the piano; or finish a project before tucking into bed early.
One Month is a new startup, so life is reliably intense — meditation, yoga, walking, journaling, and getting good sleep keep me productive in the long term. Without self-care, I couldn’t keep up with everything we want to accomplish.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing anything to life takes patience and impatience. On one hand, my impatience gets me into a lot of trouble because I’ll jump in and start new projects as quickly as I can, and once I’m in over my head, I find a way to pull it off. I think it’s OK to follow your desires and be a bit whimsical — you have to want to make things happen right now and not wait to get started.
At the same time, it can often seem like things are moving slowly, and you need to have confidence in the process. Not much changes in a single day, but a lot can change in a matter of days. If you stick to something, you can really surprise yourself in a month. You can write a book, finish a class, learn a new habit, or pick up a new skill in just a few days. Ray Bradbury wrote a draft of “Fahrenheit 451” in just nine days.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Slowing down and bringing presence and awareness into our everyday lives. With our constant habits of checking our devices and staring at screens, it’s even more of a necessity. More headlines are talking about the importance of meditation, mindfulness, and exercise for crafting a healthy life and tapping into our deeper knowledge. It seems like such an obvious idea — don’t sit still all day! Take a break to let your brain do what it does better! But execution is very hard.
These aren’t new ideas, but we’re starting to remember why pausing, thinking, reflecting, and moving are so critical for innovation and growth. It won’t be long before people realize this isn’t optional; the best and brightest CEOs, innovators, and creators are also skilled at taking care of their bodies and minds.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?
Scheduling “no meeting” time or “no meeting” days. I’ve always held one day of the week as sacred for myself to completely reset. On these variable days, I’ll actively reorganize what’s first. If it’s essential to check email four days a week, stay in touch, talk with all of my team members, and answer things rapidly, my single day — usually Wednesday or Thursday — starts with completely different priorities.
This is the day to put a long, easy workout onto the calendar first — not last — or meditate and write as long as I want to. Everyone can wait 24 hours. I’m reachable if there’s an emergency, but for the most part, 24 hours is such a short amount of time and a great chance to reset.
This also makes the next few days easier, faster, and more productive. Whenever I skip these days to answer the cry of urgency, my body starts to wear down. I might catch a cold, stare mindlessly at the computer without answering any emails, or just forget what’s most important.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
The worst jobs are ones that don’t recognize that humans are designed to grow and learn. When you have a boss who says, “Don’t worry about this,” or doesn’t explain the bigger picture of what you’re working on and why it’s important for the company, it’s hard to be motivated to contribute your best work.
Why we do what we do each day contributes to our overall sense of meaning and purpose. In “Turn the Ship Around!” by L. David Marquet, he talks about how a leader-follower model takes away your creative ability to think, execute, plan, decide, and grow as an individual. Instead, letting people fail, take responsibility, and grow within their roles contributes to a better overall team and company.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I went to a three-year graduate program in design, and I didn’t love it. It was wonderful to learn about city systems and designing for human environments, but the cost of higher education and the disconnect between teaching programs and professional careers made the first few years out of school quite difficult. I don’t have any regrets because what I learned has enabled me to become who I am today — and I learned that it wasn’t the right fit for me, which I’m grateful for.
What is the one thing in business you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I take a day offline every week and move my body.
What is one strategy that has helped One Month grow?
Being real in our classes and not trying to be too stuffy or perfect. We make tons of mistakes, and we listen and learn from everything. Learning (and growth) isn’t about being perfect the first time; it’s about continuing to experiment and refine what you’re doing so you’re improving over time.
Great companies are rarely shot puts right out of the gate — they focus on getting really good at something and continue to iterate a la the Lean Startup Method until they have a product that solves a problem really well for a core group of people.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve struggled with clarifying my ideas. Communicating well is so important and often very hard to do. As a result, I became obsessed with communication and learning how to articulate my ideas. Strangely enough, this obsession turned into a career!
While working in architecture and design, we’d give presentations on our design ideas and concepts. I realized that designers are mainly responsible for selling people on a vision: They have to effectively communicate their ideas for a new landscape or building and get buy-in from key stakeholders. Drawings, diagrams, research, words — these are tools for sharing ideas and getting others to back you, support you, or buy from you. If you can’t communicate, how will you grow?
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
No single person owns one idea — if you see someone doing something really well, you can do it, too! Want to know some of the bestselling ideas out there? Sell water or coffee. Everyone needs water and coffee. If you can find a way to differentiate yourself or improve the process along the way, you’ll do great.
People think the education market is saturated and there’s no space for more classes and tools. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re only getting started, and everyone has a different personality, idea, or way of teaching. There’s tons of room in online education and a huge opportunity to keep delivering content to help people change their lives. The more you focus on your key value add and differentiator, the better you’ll do.
My advice is to start teaching online classes or upgrade and copy anything you see working really well.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
We just flew to Berlin for a company work trip, and I spent 40 euros on an unlimited pass to yoga at Jivamukti in the center of the city. Staying connected to my body and unwinding my mental chaos each day is incredibly important for my efficiency, sanity, and happiness. If it relates to exercise or health, I’ll spend more money than I would on other areas of my life. Also, this is roughly $50, and for unlimited yoga for three weeks, I think I got a huge bargain!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I love everything related to better email efficiency. I use Boomerang, Canned Responses, Yesware, and other tools to help me keep a sane inbox and not go crazy trying to keep up with messaging.
I also love tools that help people dialogue asynchronously, connect more easily, and explore ideas slowly, such as Slack, BlogIn, and company wikis. Keeping an internal record of how things change within your company through updates, essays, or blog posts is so important. It lets you remember how much you’ve grown and changed, helps you stay in touch with your team as it grows, and lets you onboard new team members faster because they can review what’s already been done and not rely on extracting tacit knowledge from the team verbally.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Getting lost in a good book is one of life’s best pleasures. Reading fiction is a great way to unwind at the end of the day; I could recommend a hundred business books, but if those are making your brain tired, relax for a bit.
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an incredible book about culture, context, and being a foreigner — even in a place you used to call home. I keep a list of my favorite books by category if you’re interested.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I’m such a fan of so many people’s work across design, tech, education, spirituality, psychology, and more. Here are a few:
- Mark Suster
- Andrew Chen
- Jessica Lawrence
- Paul Jarvis
- Chris Oliver
- Susan Kish
- Tara Gentile
- Nathalie Lussier
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, and his work on mindfulness, attention, and wellness.
- Tara Glazier, and her work on fearlessness and spirituality; she’s my yoga teacher in NYC.
- Suzannah Scully, and her executive mindset and leadership in understanding the relationship between physics, the cosmos, and personal success.
- Liz DiAlto, who speaks on the wild soul and who willfully speaks up when she disagrees!
- Carol Dweck and her book and writings on mindsets.
- Susan Cain and her work on introversion, quiet, and character.
- Tim Leberecht and his ideas about rethinking business, marketing, and connecting.
- Alexa Clay and her work on showcasing the power of misfits in our society
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This interview was first published on January 10, 2012 and re-published on June 22, 2015.