The Health Diaries

Why Strava’s CEO Tries Not to Work Evenings or Weekends

‘When I’m at work, I want to be fully focused on work. And when I’m home, I don’t let my work bleed over.’

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

TThe first thing James Quarles wants you to know is that he’s both a CEO and a family man. Quarles has been at San Francisco-based Strava, the social networking website for athletes, since May 2017. He leads 175 employees, who work in offices around the world to help turn Strava into a community-focused tool for bringing people together. According to recent data from Strava, the app adds 1 million new users every 30 days.

Quarles loves his work, but he’s also deeply committed to his other job: being a dad to three kids. His wife also works a busy job that involves a lot of travel, and Quarles says they’ve committed to sharing the parenting load 50–50, which means he’s become obsessed with life hacks and efficiency tricks for parents.

Quarles shares with Elemental his varied schedule, his love of avocados, and the reasons why he doesn’t work on evenings or weekends.

My alarm is set for 6 a.m. but I tend to wake up around 5:45 a.m. most mornings. Then I lace up my shoes, grab a headlamp, and head out for a run. I do a 5-mile run around my neighborhood several times per week, with headphones in because I listen to podcasts. If I don’t run, I’ll hop in the shower and get myself ready right away. On the weekends, I still run every morning — but the only difference is that my runs are longer. And this is a great life hack: I take my two boys on my weekend runs and they pace-set me on their bikes.

On weekdays, my kids wake up at 6:30 a.m. I help them get dressed, I make breakfast, and I help with any homework that didn’t get done the night before. I have three kids ages 9, 7, and 4 (boy, boy, girl), and my wife and I have careers, both of which involve travel. There’s quite a bit of circus on the home front that’s shared between my wife and me in a strong partnership.

Breakfast is something nutritious and healthy, usually an avocado-banana-peanut butter variation on a smoothie. I add flax, maca, and chia in my smoothies. We try to avoid sugar and keep processed foods out of our diet, so our family breakfasts are often egg and avocado-based meals, like omelettes, breakfast burritos, or avocado on English muffins. We get the kids to eat as many avocados as we can stuff in them.

By 7:30 a.m., I’m on my way to work. I jump on my bike, ride it to the train station, then put my bike onto the train and ride it into the city. My bike commute is one of the most important habits I have: I ride even when it’s raining (I have great rain pants) and I like breathing in the fresh air. Plus, by the time everybody has their backpacks on and they’re out the door, I’m racing for my train, so it gets my heart rate up. Then I’m at work by 8:30 a.m. and I’d say, on most days, I’m scheduled out until 5:30 p.m. It’s usually a combination of meetings, interviews, and talking with board members.

The really nice exception to this schedule rule is Wednesdays, when I have a block of time midday held for the Strava workout of the week. Around 30 to 40 employees meet and we do interval runs together. Yesterday we did 11 minute-long sprints at the pace we’d run if we were completing a 5-kilometer race. Then we grab showers and go back to work. I’ve only missed this workout once since I started at Strava.

For lunch, there’s a great place around the corner from my office that makes salads with protein and greens. I usually get salmon, ahi tuna, or chicken on top of a mixed greens salad. For dinner, we found a company in Oakland that does food delivery and we get meals with veggies and protein. Often, the kids like the food so much that they’ll eat it all before we get home! We also have a nanny and she cooks sometimes, too. That gets us through the week. On weekends, I love to cook and it’s usually fish or meat with vegetables from the market.

After work, I catch a 5:58 p.m. train every day and I’m home by about 6:30 p.m. My evenings are everything you’d expect: story time, homework, reading, and trying to get everybody in bed. It’s just changing jobs from my day job to my night job.

I’m usually in bed by 10 p.m. and probably reading before that. Reading physical paper matters to me. I also take decompression time to talk if there are things on my mind. My wife and I are pretty good about not bringing our phones to bed (we plug them in downstairs) so we can try to be present with the kids and each other.

My whole world functions around the quality of my sleep. I wear a rather large smartwatch and I only take it off to recharge it. I use it to track my sleep and look at the quality of it, both the hours and how much deep sleep I’m getting. I also pay attention to sleep hygiene: We have a dark room with no distracting lights and no screens, and I drink lots of water. Those are big priorities for me. And I find ways to clear out what might keep me up mentally by using breathing techniques.

I believe people who have a lot to juggle tend to be really focused and intentional about every part of their lives. When I’m at work, I want to be fully focused on work. And when I’m home, I don’t let my work bleed over; I want to be intentional about chatting with my kids. Balance is one of Strava’s core values and I really live by it.

For me, living a healthy life is about balance, energy, and awareness. By balance, I mean moderation and making sure different aspects of your life don’t disproportionately affect others. Energy involves thinking about what gives me more capacity, like working out, boot camps, running, biking, stretching, and strength training. Energy is also about nutrition. For example, I only drink decaffeinated coffee. I can’t have caffeine; I’m already animated! And if I have caffeine at 10 a.m., it’ll impact my sleep that night.

Strava is about digitizing what motivates people: You declare your goal and you tell people you’re doing something you care about. That declaration matters. So does healthy competition. I also think it’s great to be recognized when I wake up at 5 a.m. and got my run in before the sun was up. On Strava, people say, “I see you.” That builds a community of people who are with you the whole way.

In a study we did, 69% of people said using Strava made them happier. In a world where technology and screens have a negative impact on our overall health and wellness, we see a huge power in this tool, which encourages people to get out and be active together.

I write essays, test products & produce content marketing for brands. I’m also a career coach for freelancers and the co-host of The Writers’ Co-op podcast.

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