Her firm’s bio describes her as a human sparkplug – one part economist, one part futurist, and one part humorist. I can’t think of a better way to describe Rebecca Ryan.

After hearing her speak over two years ago, I knew I’d met a true thought leader and made sure to follow her work. (It didn’t hurt that she’d also been a pro basketball player.) Recently, her Kickstarter project to finish funding her second book raised 170% of it’s goal. She calls it an “open letter about America, its future, and how we can make it work better for more people.” With that, I knew I had to profile Rebecca to show you exactly how she works to change our world. I think you’ll enjoy the raw honesty about her journey and the detailed systems she uses to keep herself on track.

Rebecca, thanks so much for sharing with us today. To start us off, how do you define success?

My purpose is to leave the world a better place for future generations. My success will be determined by my great grandchildren and theirs. If their life is better, I hope I had a little to do with that. (Disclosure: I don’t have kids, so when I say “great grandchildren,” I’m talking universally.)

Was there a time when you had a different definition? What changed that?

I have had a lot of definitions!

Many of them were tied to my own financial success. At one point, I had “Half Mill Hill” written on a post it on my bathroom mirror, meaning that success was earning a half million dollars a year, and that post it was a reminder that I was climbing “Half Mill Hill!”

I’ve been all over the place with defining success.

I arrived at the purpose statement I just mentioned when I was struggling during the recession. Our company was struggling financially. I had to lay off my partner and my sister in law…and others! And I was suffering mentally; I was depressed. I felt like an idiot for not seeing the recession coming. And the worst part was having time on my hands and realizing that what I’d been doing was not what I wanted to do. We had been successful in financial terms before the recession, but even then, it left me feeling a bit hollow.

There was a point where I was laying in an empty bathtub. I took a lot of baths during the recession. And I just laid there after all the water drained out and cried. And cried. I felt useless. But then I started journaling, really writing from my gut, and I realized that I needed to commit myself to the next generation, to work for their well-being.

That was the turning point.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?


Weekdays, I am an early riser. I am usually up around 4 am. I make my first-and-only cup of coffee and do some reading and daydreaming. By 6:30, I’m up and going. I play basketball Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with a group of guys at a local gym at 7 am. (I played professional ball in Budapest in 1992.)

I try to keep my mornings clear of meetings, because it’s a very precious time for me to do my best thinking, my best work.

I start every day with no more than five things that drop-dead have to get done that day. No more than five. And I work through them one at a time.

I like to have lunch out…eating meals with friends or colleagues is a great way to get me off my butt (sitting = death!), catch up with a pal, and get inspired for the afternoon. Then, afternoons are usually meetings.

On weekends, I sleep in until 6 or so, and take a nap in the afternoon. 🙂

Note: that is my IDEAL typical day. There is a large deviation on any given day.

Do you have any particular habits or systems that you feel are essential to your success?

Yup! I’m a freak about systems and efficiency.

I use “Things” to track all of my To Dos for the day and forever.  No more than five MUST DO TASKS each day. These have to be the kind of things that I’m willing to work until midnight to get done.

Each week, I define what success looks like for that week, in 3-4 statements, and line up no more than 20 things I want to get done that week. The list of twenty things changes all week as priorities get juggled, but it keeps my head clear. (Both of those are hacks from the One Minute To Do List and Master Your Workday Now books.)

I use the “Weekly Review” from David Allen’s Getting Things Done process to get everything out of my head and onto paper. Anything that can be done in two minutes gets done.

People spend too much time making decisions on things that don’t really matter. So…I wear the same outfits over and over, so I don’t have to stand in my closet and decide each day, “What will I wear today?” (President Obama does the same thing; he doesn’t want to waste his decision making juju on dressing himself.  Steve Jobs also felt a uniform was more efficient than not having one…hence those endless black mock turtlenecks.)

I use Evernote as the external hard drive for every thing I think is cool or noteworthy. It stores files of every kind. It is like my second brain. I love that app.

We spend almost 61 hours each year looking for stuff!  To cut down on this, when I create a new To Do for myself in Things, I take into account all the things I’ll need to complete that, and make a note to myself of where those things are and other tips on how to complete the task successfully. Here’s an example. The To Do is: “Due May 8: Madison Magazine Article.” In the notes it says, “700 words due to Katie. Look in the “Drafts” folder on your hard drive and look for the file called, “Dairy Business Innovation Center.”

When I schedule a meeting, I include the followup time needed after the meeting. So I might schedule a 45 minute meeting with a client, and budget for an extra 15 minutes to process the meeting, get stuff into my To Do list, or complete items that will take less than two minutes.

Working out and being competitive (basketball year round and tennis in the summer) is KEY to me being balanced and happy. If I don’t have that outlet, I get a little nutty.

Are there any habits you’re working to develop next?

I’ve written two books, but I still don’t feel that I have a “writing habit.” So that’s next.


Rebecca Ryan founded Next Generation Consulting in 1998. As a market research firm committed to engaging the next generation, they study trends – demographic, environmental, economic, technology, political, social and lifestyle trends. Their claim to fame is helping cities and companies attract and keep next-gen workers by becoming places they love.

You can follow her second book project, ReGeneration: A Manifesto for America’s Next Leaders on Facebook. Or, you can connect with Rebecca on Twitter.