I recently had the opportunity to go on a hike with my friend, Kyle Hosford.
Kyle is an engineer at Space Exploration Technologies (more commonly referred to as SpaceX). He also just finished his Master’s degree, and he really knows how to get stuff done.
I interviewed him while we hiked, and he shared some great insights. Below is the abridged version of our conversation. Enjoy!
Jeffrey: Hey everyone! I’m Jeffrey James, and I’m here with my friend Kyle Hosford. We’re going on a hike today, and we’ll be talking about some of the productivity things that keep him going. Do you want to tell us a little bit about where you work, and what you do?
Kyle: Sure – Hi, my name is Kyle Hosford, and I work at Space Exploration Technologies. I’m a Software Engineer there, working on the mission control software that’s used to monitor their spacecraft and rockets, and also to command it from the ground. I recently graduated from UC Irvine – got my Master’s in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Apart from work, I just enjoy being outdoors – hiking, climbing, playing sports… I’m also really into the martial arts, and I’m an avid poker player. So, I just like being challenged, staying active, and playing games.
J: As you can tell, this guy does a lot. He knows how to keep things organized and be productive. So that’s why we wanted to talk to him!
Do you want to tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like?
K: Yeah, sure. I generally wake up about 7 or 8 am – that may be a little bit later than you might expect for someone who is trying to stay busy. But I feel like at this age, and with all the activities going on, I really need that time to consolidate my memories and recover from the day’s activities. It kind of depends on whether I’m planning to work out in the morning or the evening. That will kind of dictate what time I get up. From there, I do the usual — shower, brush my teeth, get ready, go to work. On the way to work, I try to catch my news on the radio. Generally it’s a little bit busier traffic in the morning for me, so I try to use that time in the car wisely to kind of plan my day and listen to a podcast I want to catch up on –something like that.
When I get to work, lately my day has been starting with some low-toxin coffee with grass-fed butter and coconut oil. It’s this “bulletproof coffee” concept that was pioneered by an executive in Silicon Valley named Dave Asprey. It’s supposed to really give you that high fat dose in the morning, with that low-toxin coffee, which gives you many of the benefits of coffee without all of the baggage that’s associated with the headaches and withdrawals and things like that. And so I feel like I get a really intense mental focus from that, and generally that’s when I’m most productive, in the first few hours of being at work.
I’ll generally eat lunch at my desk or in a meeting. Sometimes I’ll take a traditional lunch, but that’s not often. And throughout the day I’ll try to stay as ergonomic as possible, even though it’s a desk job. Walk around, walk the factory, try to stretch at my desk, change the way I’m sitting, where my eyes are focused, things like that. If I have a chance to go talk to someone instead of shoot ‘em an email, I’ll do that. Little things like that…
J: It makes a big difference.
K: …break the monotony of sitting down.
J: And feel less sedentary.
K: Exactly. So that’s most of the middle part of the day. I guess I’m usually there until 7 or 8 at night, depending on what tests or launches we have coming up. So I’m working a good part of the day. And if I work that late, then I generally catch dinner at work also which is a nice convenience to have that there. And from that point it kind of just depends on whether it’s an exercise day or whether it’s an errand type of day… I’ll either go from work straight to the martial arts studio, to the gym… Sometimes I’m pretty tired, but if I just don’t think about it, and I just go do it, and that’s just what I’m used to, then afterwards I’ll feel much better and I won’t have to have that self-conflict about whether I want to do it.
J: Alright. I’ll probably ask you more about how you manage your schedule in a little bit. Anything else you want to add for your day?
K: Yeah, after that I usually go home and take care of personal emails and things like that. And then toward the end of the night, I use that last hour (or maybe two if I’m lucky) learning something I’ve been wanting to learn for a while. So if I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, I’d spend that hour before bed learning something, watching YouTube video, reading a book, whatever it is – that’s kind of my last time before I fall asleep, is generally my personal time.
J: Learning something, I like that.
K: I don’t watch a lot of TV, or get caught up in all that. I actually don’t even have a TV right now.
K: That’s generally my day.
J: That sounds good – in terms of being less sedentary, I say we start hiking.
K: Alright, that’s fair — let’s do it!
J: [Is there] anything you do personally to help you stay productive, at work or at home?
K: Yeah, well there’s quite a few things. I think it all starts with diet and exercise. I don’t like to be cliché in that way, and stuff. But ever since I– I haven’t always been the best about it, but ever since I started paying attention to what I was eating and how I was feeling and varying my exercise and things like that, it really kind of puts you into another gear.
And I think slowly, over time, bad meal after bad meal, bad day after bad day – people just kind of forget what it feels like to be really dialed in and alert and awake and that sort of thing. So getting that part of your life straightened out first (even though it might require some effort) will make all that other time that you have available way more productive and way more healthy.
J: I agree.
K: That’s one thing I do. The other thing that I really like to do is write things down. So even if it’s more of like—I kind of split it up into short term and long term goals. So if there’s something that I want to learn, maybe that I don’t have time for it right now, I’ll write it down in a different category. And so when I do stumble upon some free time, I’ll look at what I have written down and go “hey, I wanted to learn how to do this,” and I’ll just spend some time doing that since I stumbled upon the free time.
J: And the nice thing about that too is that it’s not all piling in your head. Trying to remember everything at once and then you forget some of them, and you’re frustrated. So that offloading – let the paper remember.
K: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s how it works for me. Some other things are separating places where I am spending personal time and playing, and where I’m actually working. I feel like I’m much more productive when those environments are separate. So if I need to get something done, going in to work and doing it, instead of trying to do it from home, or going to a library, or going somewhere where I’m not used to relaxing is a really important thing for me.
J: Having a work context, separate from a relaxed context.
K: Yeah. Your body can feel that you’re in a different state.
J: Alright, anything else that you can think of right now?
K: I think we should continue up and I may think of a few things as we go.
J: Sounds good.
J: So it sounds like you get a lot of stuff done, Kyle. If you’re working all the time, though, how do you keep from burning out?
K: You know, I think it’s fair and appropriate to take breaks, and to recover, and to really evaluate what you’re doing. Because when you’re doing a lot all the time, I feel like it’s very easy to get stuck in the same patterns and to be kind of working towards old goals and passions that maybe you didn’t have time to reevaluate. So I do take time, vacation, rest, things like that – to think about things.
There’s also this story I ran across on the web, somewhere in cyberspace a while ago. I don’t remember exactly how it goes, but you can probably look it up. And the general idea was a professor pulled out a mayonnaise jar and filled it with rocks, decent sized rocks, and asked the class if the jar was full. And they said yes. And then, he pulls out some smaller pebbles and kind of fills in the jar, the rest of the space that was there (interstitial space). And then says “is it full?” And they say okay yes. And then he pulls out sand (or some really small thing) and fills in the rest of the space, and he goes “how about now?” And now they’re really convinced that it’s full, and then he pulls out, like, some liquid and fills in the rest. And I think it was like the big rocks are the super important things in your life: work, family, things like that. If you fill up the jar with all the small stuff first, those big rocks don’t go in. But if you kinda plan around the big rocks, you can still fit in some of the smaller things. I think that’s a unique way of thinking about how to take breaks, and plan, and also at the same time, recover.
J: So, priorities.
K: Yeah, exactly.
J: Awesome. I like that story.
K: Yeah, I don’t remember exactly where I got that. I know I read it a while ago, and I was like, “that’s pretty neat”. That may not be exactly how it went, but that was my interpretation of it.
J: Alright, so you’re working at SpaceX now, you just got your Master’s degree – what are some goals for the next few years?
K: I want to get my pilot’s license in the next few years. I want to make a significant impact at SpaceX while I’m there, of course. I’ll probably be trying to travel to the different continents in the few years. I’d like to go to Europe, I haven’t actually been to Europe yet. I have some family and friends that I’ve acquired throughout college over there that I’d really like to visit, and also explore. So travelling, getting my pilot’s license (which maybe would enable the traveling a little bit), and making a significant impact on space flight.
J: Alright, that sounds cool. Then maybe you can fly through this canyon here.
K: Yeah, I’ll definitely take you up when I get the chance.
J: That would be awesome. Alright, let’s keep moving.
J: So, obviously you’ve accomplished a lot. Is there anything you’re proud of accomplishing?
K: In particular, there’s nothing that really I’m extremely proud of. I feel like, when I set out to accomplish something, I just have a habit of doing it. So almost before I finish, I know that it’s going to happen. So you kinda get that gratification spread out over time; you don’t have that culmination of excitement at the end. My family is really proud that I finished my Master’s degree, and all that, but—I’m maybe even less proud of that than they are, if that makes sense.
J: I think not all people have that level of confidence in themselves. Obviously, you’ve been productive for a long time, so you’ve built up that self-confidence (which I think is a healthy self-confidence). But what would you say to the people that maybe are hesitant to take on big tasks, because they’re not sure if they can complete them?
K: I think, maybe starting with something smaller that you know you can accomplish, and that you’re still going to feel good about getting done. Getting something like that out of the way first will let you have that momentum to help you build up to something bigger.
J: Yeah, I think that as you complete the smaller things, each one lets you know “okay, I can do that”, “Okay, I can do that.” So you are taking steps to bigger things until you are able to accomplish them.
J: We’ve made some good progress on our hike – I think we’re about done with our questions, though. Is there anything else you want to leave us with? General thoughts on productivity, time management, advice, anything like that?
K: I think it’s important to stay organized. I think having your environment organized, and people organized in your life, that sort of thing, really helps you to find what you need quickly and stay on task. And then I think just getting started is probably the hardest part and probably the thing that, if you just start into something, you will be pestered by your mind to get back to it and finish it. And I think just getting past that initial breaking point and getting working is one of the best tips that I have.
J: That sounds good, I agree. You’ve just gotta get out there and do it (like Nike says). But thanks for coming out here Kyle, I appreciate it.
K: Thanks Jeff, for having me.
J: It’s been fun.
K: Yeah, absolutely.
Thanks for reading this interview! Hopefully you enjoyed it and learned a little bit from Kyle about what it takes to have a mindset of productivity.
I’ll be doing more interviews like this with different professionals in different fields to try and glean as much information from them as I can. These are people that are already living their lives in charge, so let’s learn their tricks and apply them to our own lives!
Let me know if you liked it — leave a comment, and let me know what topics to cover next time!