2 easy ways to stay productive when you travel a lot

For Ariel Investments president Mellody Hobson, standing phone calls and a FedEx account are essential.

[Illustration: Denny Rahayu]

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our feature, “Secrets of 13 of the most productive people.” See the complete 2018 list here.


People overvalue money and undervalue time. I have been willing to spend money to make sure I am fully staffed so that I can leverage my time better. I have a house assistant in Chicago [where Ariel is headquartered. Hobson also has a home in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, George Lucas, and their daughter]. One of the main [duties] is packing and getting things to me when I’m in other cities. I [travel with] what I call my utility bag–my pajamas, dopp kit, running shoes, and workout clothes. My suits are sent [via] FedEx to me in each city, in a white box, and then I just send them back. When I open that box, I have shoes, suits, all of those things for that city.

I arrange standing [phone] calls because I travel a lot. For the marketing team, I have a standing call at 7:15 Chicago time every Friday morning. When I’m in San Francisco, on Sundays I do a whole list of calls. My first is with [Ariel chairman, CEO, and chief investment officer] John Rogers, both of our chiefs of staff, and a couple of assistants, and we walk through the week that we just had and the week that is coming up. I’ve basically talked to John Rogers every day for 28 years, but Sunday is a very organized call, running through things that need follow-up. It could be as seemingly minor as a thank-you note to someone super-significant, or [maybe] he’s meeting someone and needs a briefing document. I’m running point and making sure we get it done. Sunday mornings feel more leisurely–we’re not under siege and pressure. We can actually think [things] through. Everyone’s in their own environment and a little more relaxed. Even if we go out to breakfast, I’ll do my call at the restaurant. We go to the same restaurant, so it’s not a big deal. I stand outside.

Time she gets up

Between 4 and 4:30 a.m.

First thing she does in the morning

“Look at my phone. I’m [typically] in a gym, working out, by 4:30 a.m.”

Lunch routine

“If I’m in Chicago and don’t have a lunch, I eat pretzels at my desk. Or maybe my assistant might grab me some vegetable soup.”

Email strategy

“I have not cracked the code on email. Email is like a tsunami every day. My relationships have been very direct and very authentic, and [having] someone screen [emails] and tell me what to reply to is something I haven’t been willing to do.”


Last thing she does at night

“Look at my phone.”

Time she goes to bed

“Early. When my 5-year-old goes to bed. When I’m on the road, the times vary greatly.”