Carl Honoré is a bestselling author, broadcaster, and the global voice of the Slow Movement. He travels the world to deliver powerful keynotes that put time and tempo in a whole new light. Published in 35 languages, his books have landed on bestseller lists in many countries.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in western Canada. My childhood was stable and happy. It was the late seventies and early eighties so I had tons of freedom. It was a proper free-range childhood where adults mainly existed on the fringes. My happiest and most vivid memories are of playing with my friends with no grown-ups around.
My parents are both obsessed with language, so words and grammar were common topics of discussion around the family dinner table. And that set the tone for the rest of my life. I love words – the way they sit together on the page and the music they make when spoken aloud. I love how the right words have the power to change the world.
What is something you wish you had realized earlier in your life?
That failure isn’t the end of the world. On the contrary, it’s often a springboard to something better. It’s also the best way to learn about yourself.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
People often urge freelancers to say yes to every offer of work – and then figure out later how to get it done. To me, that’s a recipe for burnout and bad work.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I was 22, I worked with street children in Brazil. At first, the horror of their lives left me feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and paralysed. But over time I noticed that my small contribution was making a real difference to the children. Sometimes even a big difference. I learned that you can’t solve every problem, but you can always do something to help. The secret is to keep moving forward with an open heart and an open mind.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
My natural instinct is always to see the funny side of things. Laughter is the best way to open minds and bring people with you. I always find that a little humour goes a long way.
What is your morning routine?
Now that my children have left home I don’t have to set my alarm anymore! But I still wake up around 7 am every day. I listen to the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 for 45 minutes. I get up and do a few stretches. Then I go downstairs and make a green smoothie for breakfast. I drink it sitting at the kitchen table, chatting with my wife and perusing recipe books. I don’t look at my phone or laptop till 9 am, which is when the workday starts.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Playing sports and working out. Nothing clears my mind, lifts my mood, or supercharges my body like physical activity.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
- I subject every demand on my time to a ruthless triage. Asking myself: Is this genuinely important? Will I regret not doing it six months from now? Only things that get a resounding Yes to both questions find a place in my schedule. Everything else is dispatched with a polite but firm “No, thank you.”
- I mute my smartphone most of the time and keep notifications turned off all the time. My two favourite words are “airplane mode”! That means I only check messages and catch up on social media when it suits me.
- I take regular breaks, downing tools to go for a walk, look at some art at the museum near my office, or have a chat with someone.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Reading The Quiet American by Graham Greene helped set my life course in my early 20s. It’s a novel about love and loss in the Vietnam War but also a meditation on the rights and wrongs of intervening in the affairs of others in pursuit of the greater good. The main character is a journalist and reading the novel convinced me that my future lay in trying to make the world a better place by writing about it. I’ve been trying to save the world through words ever since!
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.” – Mae West