162: The Only 5 Ways to Get More Done with Chris Croft

By June 2, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Prolific trainer Chris Croft helps to figure out what you should do really well and what you should do well enough to get the most out of your work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to identify squeezable tasks
  2. A 4-step process to saying no and negotiating
  3. Optimal systems for organizing the stuff of work and life

About Chris

Chris Croft has an Engineering Degree from Cambridge and an MBA, worked as a senior manager in manufacturing for 10 years and then as a university lecturer for five years before starting his own training company in 1995. Since then he has trained over 80,000 people, and his free email tips are sent to 20,000 people (www.free-management-tips.co.uk). Chris runs training courses in Project Management, Time Management and similar subjects almost every day, mostly in the UK, and has also produced a range of books which are available on amazon kindle, a project management rap which can be found on youtube, and phone apps called JobsToDo, Management Cards, and “Daily Happiness Tips”.  He is featured on www.lynda.com and https://www.linkedin.com/learning where he presents courses on project management, assertiveness, negotiation, problem solving, and happiness. His Lynda.com Project Management course has had over a million views.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Chris Croft Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Chris Croft

It’s great to be here. It’s an honor and fun to be here. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m delighted to have you. And your voice really does sound excellent. Can you share with the wider audience what you told me about one of your favorite YouTube comments?

Chris Croft

Yes. I’m using this… It’s quite an expensive microphone. It’s $200 I invested to make myself sound as smooth as possible. And somebody at one of my YouTube videos sent me a comment saying, “Your voice is like butter.” So I didn’t really know what to say about that. I was just talking about project management or something. So I actually replied and said, “Do you mean cold and greasy?” and he or she never replied to that.
But I’m kind of glad about that. I’m not looking for a second wife right now. Yeah, exactly. But if your videos get viewed by thousands of people, you’re always going to get some pretty weird comments. And I have. But yeah, just have a look at the YouTube clips themselves and you’ll see some of the comments are quite strange, but so are the videos.

Pete Mockaitis

What’s fun is that you have such an array of videos and courses on Lynda. There’s about 14 of them. And so they span project management, time management, stress, happiness, productivity. So could you maybe orient us to what’s kind of your overall philosophy or perspective on that stuff that you know about and cover?

Chris Croft

That’s a big question. Yeah. I think two answers there. Firstly, I’m fascinated by project management because I don’t think anyone has really nailed it. It’s one of those subjects that everybody really makes complicated, and I think it can be made simple. So I’m fascinated by project management. I’ve even made a project management rap which is on YouTube. It’s five minutes. It does the whole subject.
But I’m also fascinated by happiness because I think that’s a really neglected area. It’s the most important thing. Why do anything if it’s not going to make you happy? So money, work, time. The only point really is to get as much happiness. And I’ve been trying to get my head around happiness. And the more you look at it, the more slippery it is, but the more important you realize it is. And again, I think there are some really deep philosophical books which don’t really nail it, and then there are some quite shallow things which just say, “Have a positive attitude.”
And so I’ve been looking into project management and happiness, which are two quite different things. But if I had to give you a life philosophy, I think it’s to enjoy and achieve at home and at work. If you had to have a sentence… And I think a lot of people are obsessed by achieving and they forget to enjoy themselves and be happy. And some people are really into happiness, but they don’t achieve enough. And then in the end, that makes them unhappy.
So I think you’ve got to enjoy the present and achieve in the future, both at home and at work. And I think some people’s plan is to enjoy themselves at home and then achieve at work. That’s probably most people’s plan. But I think you’ve got to enjoy your work as well somehow. There’s probably a podcast in that.

Pete Mockaitis

That sounds rich. Yeah.

Chris Croft

And then achieving outside. Yeah. So I think enjoying yourself at home and at work is really important. Five days a week at work. You’ve got to enjoy your work. And then achieving as much as you can, both at home and at work. And I think if you can do all four of those combinations, then you’ve cracked life. That’s a big thing. We’re on big stuff already. We’ve only just started.

Pete Mockaitis

So I’m thinking a little bit. Achieve at home, in that quadrant, because I already see the two by two consulting instincts.

Chris Croft

The two by two. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

What would be some examples of achieving at home? Like “I installed a dishwasher,” or what do you mean there?

Chris Croft

Yeah. Well, I think it’s whatever you want to do. You might have a hundred varieties of fuchsia in your greenhouse, or you might want to stand on top of all the mountains in Scotland with your pants on your head. I’m thinking English pants rather than American, by the way, there. Or you might want to write a children’s book or write a novel and publish it to Amazon.
I think it’s whatever you want to do, whatever gives you a sense of achievement. So for me, for example, it’s playing in a band and playing gigs and recording albums. I love playing live, but I also love recording. That gives me a feeling of achievement, to have those songs and there’s me playing on that. So I think whatever it is you like, but as well as just enjoying it is to have some feeling that you’ve achieved something, you’ve come out of your comfort zone a bit or done something that was a little bit difficult, took a bit of pain to get there, but was worth it.

Pete Mockaitis

Very good. Well, so now, talking a little bit about achieving, I’d love to hear your take on talking time management, productivity. I want to start by talking about prioritization, first and foremost, deciding, determining what’s worth doing and what’s not. How do you think about that?

Chris Croft

Well, we all know the thing about important and urgent. That’s another two by two there. And urgency is when you have to do things. And urgency is a fact. So buying Christmas presents, for example, gets more urgent as the year goes through. And it’s the same for all of us. It’s a fact, it’s the same for all of us, and it increases, whereas importance is a matter of opinion.
So to me, music might be important and you might not care about music. And to me, my mum is important and you may not care about your mum. I mean, I can’t believe you don’t, but you probably don’t. I don’t care about yours. So importance is much more of an opinion on how important is football and golf or something. So importance is completely different to urgency in that it’s a matter of opinion and it doesn’t change either. So as the Christmas presents get more and more urgent, they still remain either important or not, depending on how you feel about it.
So the first thing about importance is that it’s completely a matter of opinion. So then, where does it come from? And I think it comes from your goals. I think it comes from what you enjoy doing and what you want to achieve. If you’ve got clear goals of what you want to spend your time doing because you enjoy it, or you’ve got clear goals of what you want to achieve, then those are the things that are important.
And finally, the outcome of importance. We’ve already said the outcome of urgency is when you do something. The outcome of importance is not whether you should do it or not. It’s how long you spend on it. So the game is to maximize the time you spend on important things, and that means minimizing the time on everything else, everything that’s not important, everything that doesn’t contribute to your goals.
So let’s say hypothetically that visiting my in-laws is not one of my goals in life. I’d rather say hypothetically because my wife will be listening to this podcast. Let’s suppose that I didn’t enjoy going to see my in-laws and I didn’t really get any achievement either from it. That means it’s not one of my goals, so therefore, my objective is to minimize the time I spend on that because then I can get more time for one of my goals, which is, let’s say, recording an album of music or making videos for Lynda.com or something like that, or talking to you on this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. Thank you for making this time. That’s interesting. And I suppose in the in-law example, you are already taking into account, when you talk about achieving, it does not contribute to the goal of delighting your wife and making her feel loved and precious and important.

Chris Croft

Yeah, well, she is loved, precious, and important. And yes, I suppose… I’ve got to be careful what I say on air, haven’t I?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, this is all hypothetical. It’s like the hypothetical in-laws and the hypothetical son-in-law.

Chris Croft

Yeah, an example I quite often use is… because I have what I call an NCP, which is my no crap policy, which is I won’t do things I don’t want to do because my life is too precious. But it is negotiable. So for example, I mowed my lawn today and I didn’t really want to, but I wanted a mowed lawn. So sometimes you have to do some things you don’t want to get the result.
And in fact, I didn’t really want to have a mowed lawn, but my wife did, and I want to have a happy wife because overall that’s a plus.
But I think we go through life doing things that don’t make us happy, and we don’t say no to them. We don’t think, “Why am I doing this?” And even right up to big things like husbands and wives. But I think friends are probably a better example. Sometimes you move away from some friends or grow out of them or they don’t make you happy anymore. And really you should get rid of them. I don’t mean murder them, by the way. Just spend less time seeing them.
But I do think time management is all about working out what’s really important to you. And then the things that aren’t, you’ve got a way to squeeze them down and spend less time on them, like, say, the in-laws, or get rid of them completely, like maybe some friends who don’t make you happy anymore. And I think time management has these three things: things you want to spend more time on, things you want to spend less time on, and things you’re going to get rid of completely. And I think people miss that middle section, don’t they? It tends to be either do it or don’t do it. But there’s a whole load of squeezable stuff in the middle. That’s where the real game is.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that makes a lot of sense, that squeezable stuff. And so maybe could you share with us? Indeed, it is a bit of subjective opinion what matters to you, what’s important to you versus what’s not. But could you share with us, in your work with folks, some areas that often arise that can and should be squeezed out because they are frequently occurring and squeezable?

Chris Croft

That is actually a really good question and a really difficult question to answer because I think it’s personal. I mean, an example I use on training courses sometimes is buying food because everyone goes, “Well, that’s important. You have to do that.” And I’m saying, “Well, yeah, it’s important. But I think importance is do you want to spend as much time as you can doing it?” And the answer is no. If you could press a magic button and food would just appear, then you would press it.
Well, some people probably love browsing supermarkets and squidging samosas or whatever. But I think most of us, it’s not all we want to spend our life on. So therefore, buying food is not important and it’s something you could squeeze down. And I think most things actually are squeezable when you start thinking about them. Travel. If you could find a more efficient way to do it, to visit all three customers at the same time, you could do it. There’s loads of things you have to do that you could squeeze down.
I’ve got a couple of friends who I talk to every now and then. They’re very, very chatty on the phone. And I used to have a Bluetooth earpiece in my car to use the phone while driving. But now I’ve got speakers inside my car, so I don’t use that. And I’ve been using the Bluetooth earpiece in the house, so I can walk around and do other stuff while talking to my friends on the phone and I’ve got both hands free to sort of type things or play with the dog or whatever while I’m chatting. So I can have a half-hour conversation and it doesn’t waste time. It doesn’t stop me doing anything else.
So I think even a conversation with your friends could be squeezable if you think about how. And certainly, a lot of television watching. The hours can just slip by watching some rubbish film, and afterwards, you think, “Why did I get hooked on that?” So I think most of our lives is squeezable because very little of our life actually fits my definition of enjoy and achieve.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. That’s great. Thank you. So now, squeezing is one way to respond to a request or thing. You have a number of strategies associated with how to get more stuff done. You said there’s really, in fact, only five responses.

Chris Croft

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

And that is collectively exhaustive. Can you overview that for us?

Chris Croft

Oh, yeah. I’d like to overview it and then spend a bit of time on some of these. I’ve been thinking about this for ages because the number five worries me. As a two by two box person, I’m just thinking, “Why is it five? Shouldn’t it be eight or something? Is one a subset of another?” But anyway, I think if you think of your life as a box with stuff coming in, and it comes in by email, phone, face to face people, all these demands come in, and then you get a whole load done, which is great. And you’re probably just about keeping up with the rate it’s arriving. In fact, sometimes more comes in than we can deal with, and then it just gets longer, doesn’t it?
So I think there are five things. First of all, don’t let it in the box. That’s saying no. That’s the first option you’ve got is don’t let it in. And we talked briefly there about “Can I say no to the garden? No, I can’t really. Could I say no to seeing some friends? Maybe yes.” So we’ve got saying no. The other option is like a partial no, to let some of it in. And so my second option is negotiating. So you could say, “I’ll do some of it,” or “I’ll do it next week,” or “I’ll do it, but I’ve only got half an hour.”
A quick example of this is if somebody wants a meeting, you could say, “Well, I could do it, but could you come to me?” And maybe that would save you half an hour driving each way. It would save you an hour. And you may say, “Taking an hour is a bit petty.” But if you could save one hour a week by negotiating over a way you have your meetings, one hour a week would be 50 hours a year. Let’s call that a whole working week per year. It’s more than a working week, isn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis

Right.

Chris Croft

So a whole week per year. Imagine if you had a week where the phone didn’t ring, there were no emails, nothing. You didn’t see anybody. You just sat at your desk. I mean, that’s a long time, isn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly.

Chris Croft

I mean, I don’t know what you’d do. The first day, you’d probably sort out a few jobs and you’d tidy up your computer desktop or whatever. But I think after a couple of days, you’d be bored. So one hour a week is a lot. So you could say no to an hour a week and you could negotiate over another hour a week. You could say, “Could we do the meeting in one hour rather than two hours? I’ve only got an hour,” or whatever. So those are my two first things. And that would get you two weeks a year, let’s say.
My third option is if you have to say yes to something, you could say yes and let it in, but then you could delegate it out to someone else. So the third option is delegating. We could come back to this if you like, but I think delegating is huge. It’s my biggest regret from when I was a manager. Imagine if you’ve got 20 people and you gave them each one more hour a week. You could save 20 hours a week. You could save 20 weeks a year. I mean, it’s massive. And that is my biggest regret. When I was a manager, I should have delegated more. For various reasons, I’m a bit of a control freak. I always believe I can do it better than the other person. But I should have delegated more. So that’s the third option. Let it in and then give it to somebody else.
The fourth option and the fifth one actually are about just getting more out. So you’ve let these things in. You could get more done if you had more efficient systems. My fourth one is to have better systems. And I think we probably all lose an hour a week just by not being able to find things or doing things twice or not realizing that somebody else had done it or whatever. And most people think time management is about systems, and some of it is about systems. A fifth of it is about systems, and I think that’s one of the options.
And then the final one, the fifth one, is you could get more done by being a bit less fussy, not doing everything perfectly. You could probably save one hour a week by not being fussy about some unimportant things. So if buying Christmas presents is not important to you, just do it in the quickest way. Just get everyone a head torch because that’s what men want.

Pete Mockaitis

I really do like them.

Chris Croft

I love a good head torch. But yeah, I don’t know what women want, by the way. They’re too difficult to…

Pete Mockaitis

They don’t want head torches?

Chris Croft

Well, some women can be persuaded to enjoy a head torch, but mostly no.

Pete Mockaitis

When you say head torch, it’s so funny because UK. I mean, know you talk about like a head lamp, things you use for camping.

Chris Croft

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

But in my mind’s eye, I see someone’s head just ablaze. It’s on fire.

Chris Croft

Oh, I see.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s a silly picture.

Chris Croft

Yeah. I’m thinking of those things people use to go underground with caves and, yeah, camping. But anyway, to do things less well is the final option. To be less fussy about stuff. And some people are really fussy about everything they do. They say, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” And it is worth doing well enough, but it’s not worth doing perfectly because if you do everything perfectly, then you’ll end up doing very few things and you’ll end up doing lots of things not at all. So if I do my PowerPoint presentations really perfectly prepared, everything is centered and lovely, then I won’t have time to play with my kids or I won’t have time to talk to my wife or whatever. So you pay a price if you do everything perfectly.
So to sum up my five then, you’ve got saying no and negotiating to stop it coming in, you could let it in and delegate it to somebody else, or you could do it yourself faster and better by either having better systems or by doing some things less well. And I think it’s a combination of those five. You need all five. There isn’t one magic answer, and I don’t think there’s a sixth one. But if there is, please, could the viewers write in?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. I like this overview. And so then, if we could maybe step into each of them for a bit, could you share any of your favorite tips or tactics or scripts associated with each of them?

Chris Croft

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

So when it comes to saying no, one of the hang-ups people have is like “Oh, I feel guilty. I don’t want to disappoint. I don’t want to make them angry. Don’t I sort of owe that to them after all they’ve done for me?” There’s that internal psychological resistance.

Chris Croft

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

So can you maybe share a psychological antidote as well as maybe some choice words and phrases that are great for saying no?

Chris Croft

I love that question. If I was going to feed you some questions to ask me, that would have been one of them, but I haven’t.

Pete Mockaitis

No, you didn’t.

Chris Croft

No. It’s good you’ve asked that because I’m fascinated about the thing about saying no. I’m quite bad at saying no at work. If a customer wants a training course, I’ll do it, even if it’s too far away and the price is low. And I’m a fool. It’s like a sales thing. I can’t resist chasing after it. But in my private life, I’ve got better as I’ve got older at saying no because I’ve started to realize that it’s my life and other people are…they all want a little piece of it and they all steal away little bits for good reasons. And in the end, you think, “Hang on a minute. Where has my life gone? I want to do what I want to do.”
And I saw a graph of happiness against age. And it’s quite a well-known graph, actually, and it’s U-shaped, which is, in a way, quite surprising. So when you’re a child, you’re happy. Your low point is about 40-45. And then you get happier again after that. And why would that be? And it’s because you start saying no more. You start thinking, “Hang on a minute. I’m 55 and I haven’t got that many more years, and I want to do what I want to do.”
And you start to become perhaps a little bit selfish, if you define selfish as looking after yourself. And so you start to say no to things you don’t want to do, and it makes you happier. And I think a lot of people do things because they feel that other people want them to, and maybe the other person isn’t even that bothered. I’m going to give a couple of really quick examples.
One was I was invited to a wedding in Scotland. And Scotland is beautiful and romantic, but it’s a long way from where I live, at the bottom of England. And I just thought, “It’s going to take me seven hours of driving to get there. I won’t know most of the people. Do I really want to go?” And in the end, I said no to it. And part of me was thinking, “Am I doing a bad thing? Am I going to ruin their wedding?” But of course, they don’t care whether I go to their wedding. They’re only inviting me because I’m this distant relative, to be polite. They’re probably glad I’m not going because they can invite their friends or whatever instead.
And so it’s probably absolutely fine. All the sort of guilt and battle that’s going on in my head, and they’re probably not even bothered. But I do think if me not going to the wedding was going to make it significantly less successful, then I should go. And there’s a thing called utility theory of happiness, which is you should maximize the happiness of the system. So if I’m really unhappy about going, but they are going to not be bothered, be marginally happier, but I’m really unhappy, then I shouldn’t go because it makes the whole system unhappy, whereas if for me it’s a small hassle, but it’s a big fantastic deal for them, then I should do it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes.

Chris Croft

So selfishness, I think, is when you put yourself ahead of them and you say, “Well, even though it’s only a small price to pay, but it would make them very happy, I’m still not doing it,” that would be selfish. But I think just looking after, number one, when most people aren’t too bothered, I don’t think that is selfish. I think that’s sensible.
And the other example, it’s a really quick one I had, is a guy who, I was doing a training course and I said, “What do you want to get from this time management course?” and this bloke said, “I’m hoping you could help me to get out of darts.” He said, “I’m a really good darts player. I play for three teams. We play twice a week. I play six times a week, and I’ve got bored with it. I went really bored with darts. How could that happen?” I don’t really get darts myself.
And he said, “What should I do?” and I said, “Well, pick on one of the teams and just tell them you can’t play anymore. Maybe give them a notice period and quit.” And he said, “Oh, no.” He said, “They need me. Without me… I do the accounts. I look after the diary. I’m the best player.” And I just said to him, “Well, tough. They’ll have to cope without you. They’ll be fine without you.”
And I was thinking most of the battle is in his own head. They probably wouldn’t be too bothered if he quit. But even if they are saying to him, “No, no, no. Don’t quit. We need you,” is he being selfish saying no to the darts team? And I think, in a way, they are being selfish making him play when he doesn’t want to. It will be like the Scottish wedding guy making me go to the wedding when I didn’t want to. Not that he was.
So I think selfishness is… I don’t think selfish is a very useful word. In the end, I think it’s all about what’s the benefit to you and what’s the benefit to them, and will they be that bothered? And I’m sure the darts team wouldn’t have been too bothered. But even if they were, it’s his life. He should use it for what he wants to spend his life on, shouldn’t he? And they’re being selfish, making him play if he doesn’t want to.

Pete Mockaitis

You know what I love about the darts example is I think maybe partially because darts is more prevalent in the UK than the US…

Chris Croft

It’s so funny because it’s played by usually very fat guys because they drink a lot while they play, but yet they could still throw the dart really accurately. I mean, how do they do that? It is awesome if you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis

I heard a legendary tale. Is there a famous darts player called Jocky Jones?

Chris Croft

Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

And so there was a sports announcer who said… He was kind of relaying what was happening in the darts game. He said, “Triple 20. Triple 20. Triple 20. Jocky Jones, what an athlete!” And I’m like, “Athlete?” They’re like fat folks, slugging a beer in one hand and a dart in the other. It cracks me up.

Chris Croft

But golf, you could argue that golf is skill rather than fitness and strength, couldn’t you? Well, I mean, I think Tiger Woods is pretty strong. But yeah, a lot of it is in the skill. But anyway, I’m not going to advertise darts. I don’t really get it, mainly because I’m bad at it. I tried it once or twice, and I just thought, “This is much harder than it looks.”

Pete Mockaitis

But what I love about the darts example is it’s easy for me to say, “Oh, darts, that’s silly. Just get out of there. It’s easy.” Right? But to the person enmeshed in the dart teams, it doesn’t feel so
simple and easy.

Chris Croft

No.

Pete Mockaitis

So it’s almost like if you take an outside looking in approach, like “Okay, do I have some darts team commitments going on in my life that is not actually important to me?”

Chris Croft

Yeah. Well, maybe a couple of tools, actually. One is looking back, when you look back in 20 years’ time, will you think, “I spent too much time on darts,” or will you think, “Actually, I’m really glad I did that darts.”? And if you’re pretty sure you’re going to look back and think, “What was I doing?” then you should quit now.
But the other way is you can look forward and you can think, “I’m being invited to a wedding in Scotland in November,” or whatever. And it’s easy to say yes because it’s not until November, but if it was this weekend, how would you feel about going? Would you be thinking, “Oh, God, this weekend I’ve got to drive all the way down to Scotland.”? And if that’s how you feel, don’t go.
So imagine bringing it forward to now, and that would give you the strength because, of course, that time will come and you will get to the point where you think, “I should never have said yes to this.” It’s really easy to say yes to stuff that’s a long way in the future. So imagine bringing it forward, and that might give you the strength to say no.

Pete Mockaitis

Perfect. And when it comes to the strength to say no, any tips on how to actually deliver the messaging?

Chris Croft

Well, yeah, I’ve got for both saying no and negotiating, actually. There’s a four-step process which I love, which I stole from somewhere years ago. And the four steps are “I understand. I feel. I want. Is that okay?” So you’d say, “Look, I totally understand that you want me to come to your wedding, and we’ve known each other for years, and your wife is much happier when I’m in the room, or whatever. But I feel really under pressure at work at the moment, and I’m pretty tired, and it’s difficult for me to come.”
And so what I want to do… So step three, in this case, is I want to say no. And if it’s a saying no situation, you’ve got to actually use the word “no.” So you would say, “I’m afraid the answer has to be no. I’m afraid I can’t make it to your wedding.” And then “Is that okay? Is that all right? Can you see it from my point of view?”
And you can use this for anything. So let’s say you’ve got somebody who is not doing their share of the work in your team. You can say, “I totally understand you’ve got all these other pressures on you, and you’re involved in three other projects or whatever. But I feel I’m getting anxious about the progress on this job and I feel that you haven’t done your share, and it’s kind of upsetting me a bit, I’ve got to say. So what I want is for you to commit to definitely doing this part of it by Friday, or to tell me how much you can do and then definitely do it. Could you do that for me?” which is step four.
So it’s quite a clever little system because the tough bit is two and three. “I’m not happy and I want you to change,” or “I’m too busy and I don’t want to come to your wedding,” or whatever. But it’s got a soft exterior of “I do understand.” And then you say, “But I’m not happy. I don’t want to come.” And then you say, “Is that all right?” So that four-step process, you can fall back on that for almost any difficult situation.

Pete Mockaitis

And that question at the end, “Is that all right?” it’s interesting. I’m thinking about it on the receiving end of that, and part of me is thinking, “Is it all right? Well, I don’t like it. What you’ve told me, I’m not a fan of. But is it all right?” I mean, it’s like “Who am I to say ‘It’s not all right’? It’s your life.”

Chris Croft

I know.

Pete Mockaitis

And it kind of puts it into perspective.

Chris Croft

That’s right. I mean, you can word it. You can say, “Can you see it from my point of view?” And if you sort of say “Well, no,” then you’re sounding really unreasonable. And because I’ve said in step two how I feel, if when I say “What do you think? Is that okay?” if you say “Well, no. I’m not happy with that,” you’re saying effectively, “I don’t care how you feel,” which is quite an aggressive thing to say and you’re unlikely to say it.
But what can only happen, if you think about what’s clever about that last thing, is it’s the way you get the person to commit. So if you say, “Could you do that for me? I want you to do more work in the team or whatever. Could you do that for me?” they either say yes, in which case they’ve got to, because then if they don’t, you can say, “Do you remember we’ve talked about it and you said you’d do it? And you haven’t, so what’s going on?” If they say, “Well, no. I just can’t. I’m just too busy,” you can go around again and say, “Well, I totally understand how busy you are, but I’m really worried about this job.” So you can go around again and jack the words up a bit if you need to.
So that fourth step is actually…you’re right. It’s quite clever. And actually, the first step is clever than you realize as well. When it says, “I do understand,” what it does is it makes you look reasonable, but it also takes away their excuses. If you say, “I know you’re busy, but I need this,” they can’t say, “But I’m busy.”

Pete Mockaitis

You’ve already covered that. Right.

Chris Croft

Yeah. And if I have to, for example, complain about something, I always start with “I know it’s not your fault,” because usually I’m at the airport, I’m at the desk, they’ve lost my luggage or whatever it is. It’s not their fault, is it? So if you start by saying “Look, I know it’s not your fault, and you’ve probably had 20 people already going on about this, but I’m really upset because I’ve lost my luggage. Can you help me?” it’s just a great start because then you’re reasonable and they’re really pleased that you understand. So you’re more likely to get what you want if you start with “I understand” as your first step.

Pete Mockaitis

And essentially, I’m thinking again on the receiving end of “Is that okay?” I think like 90+% of the time, I’m like, “Yes, yes, of course, that’s okay,” and then the remaining 10%, that could really be instructive. I’d say, “Well, Chris, I hear where you’re coming from, but I think this is one of those times where it’s going to kind of be necessary for you to make this sacrifice for the higher purpose, the team, our friendship, the team that needs you to train them so desperately.”

Chris Croft

Yeah. “We really do need you.” Well, just sticking with the rather bizarre wedding example we’ve got, if you said, “Well, actually, Chris, I really do want you to come to this wedding. I mean, you don’t realize, but I’m depending on you. You’re the life and soul of this thing, and I’ve got to have you.” And I then go, “Oh, well, okay. I didn’t realize that.”
So in a way, it’s just a model for communication because I’m saying how I feel and what I want, but I’m also trying to understand you and I’m also asking you, “What do you think? Do you think that’s a reasonable position for me to have?” and I am giving you the chance to say, “Well, I kind of see your position, but actually, I feel really strongly about it. You may not realize, but I do.” And then I could say, “Oh, well, okay then.”
So all it is really is a model for good communication. I wouldn’t say all. I mean, we’re so bad at communicating, aren’t we, people generally? A friend of mine, I probably shouldn’t tell you about this on air, but his wife left him. She ran off with his best friend.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, dear.

Chris Croft

Because he never cooked her a meal. He actually rang her up and said, “Why have you left?” and she said, “Well, you never cooked for me. If you loved me, you would have cooked for me.” I think there may have been more to it than that, but that was one of the things. And he said, “But you never told me.” And she said, “Well, you should have known.” And I think, quite often, when people get divorced, it all comes out of “And another thing, I hate the way you cut your toenails in bed,” and you say, “Well, you never told me that.” And so it all comes out.
And I think if people were better at saying, “I know you don’t like cooking, but I feel a bit neglected. It would make me happy if you could cook for me every now and then. Could you do that for me?” Just that little process could have saved his marriage. Who knows? Although he’s got somebody much better now, by the way, so don’t feel… He’s okay. That’s a true story, by the way. That is totally true.

Pete Mockaitis

And it’s powerful, it’s emotional, and it’s illustrative, so thank you. All right, so we talked about a couple of strategies here on saying no and negotiating. When it comes to delegating, I think that there are a couple of hang-ups. One is you just don’t trust your teammates to do the job as well as you. And another is you don’t have the authority to ask anyone else to do that. So how do you maybe navigate those two issues there?

Chris Croft

So many hang-ups, yeah. I think to do with the second one first. If you’ve got no one to delegate to, then you could just say this is not an option. There are actually only four options rather than five. But if a boss says to me, “I’m too busy. I’m not coping,” I would definitely look at delegation first. I think it’s the biggest if you’re a manager. Some people are not managers, and for them, delegating is difficult, although you can delegate sideways sometimes or even upwards to your boss if you can get away with it. But it’s a difficult option, I think.
In your personal life, you can delegate. I’ve started paying a guy $50 to cut my hedge. There’s a hedge in front of my house. It takes me all day to cut it if I do it. And $50 is quite a lot and I’m quite mean, but I’ve started paying this guy to do it. And I think it’s really good use of $50 because do you think a day of my life is worth $50? I mean, I think it is. So paying people to do stuff in your personal life, I think that counts as delegating.
But I would totally accept that if you’re not a manager, I think it’s a smaller one. Well, there’s a number of barriers, aren’t there? There’s feeling guilty about asking people to do stuff. I think the biggest one actually is quality. It’s fear that they won’t do it well enough or that they’ll completely mess it up. And I think there’s two things I would say about that, two kind of little ideas I use.
And one of them is, to get around the fear of them messing it up, remember you can monitor. You can say to them, “Have a go at this job, and let’s meet every day, see how you’re getting on,” or “Do this job, but I just want to see it before you send it.” So actually, if you monitor correctly, delegating is not risky at all. And I think people have this belief that there’s a risk involved, but there’s not if you monitor. So that’s the first thing: monitoring.
But the other thing is something I heard. In fact, it’s one of my favorite little tips, I think, is if they can do it 80% as well as you, then give it to them because if you wait for them to do it 100% as well as you, you’ll wait forever. You’ll never find somebody who can do it as well as you in your mind. And that last 20% is probably in your mind. You give them the job and you’re watching them, thinking, “Well, I wouldn’t do it like that. It’s pretty good, but it’s just not as well as I will do.”
And I think that’s really liberating. Clearly, if they’re down at 20%, they’re not ready yet. They need training and coaching before you can delegate.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. Okay, so now let’s talk a little bit about the systems. And I think this is where a lot of productivity enthusiasts will say, “Oh, yeah, I use my OmniFocus and my TextExpander,” which is great. Thank you, TextExpander, for sponsoring this show. And so those tools are great. So I don’t know if you have any favorite tips, tools, or how you think about systems?

Chris Croft

Funny enough, I think systems are the most difficult thing to generalize on because everybody’s lives are different. But I think the starting point is everything that repeats should have a system. Everything that repeats is a waste of you really. So if every day something happens… I mean, for example, most days, my wife can’t find her car keys and she’s going, “Where are my keys? They might have been in the bag.”  And she spends maybe five minutes a day looking for her keys.
If you spend an hour a week looking for your keys, that’s a week of your life gone just looking for your keys. So you need a system. You need to have a hook where you always hang them or have two sets, one by the front door and the back door, so you can always find them, or whatever. So anything that repeats, you need a system.
So an example of a system I’ve got, I travel around a lot doing training courses and I used to go around my house thinking, “Right. I need an iPhone charger and I need another pair of socks. I need a comb. I might have a headache. Headache pills.” And I would go around the whole house gathering stuff up. And then I thought, “Why don’t I just…” Well, first of all, I had a checklist. I used to have a little laminated… I’ve got a laminator. I write a checklist. And systems are interesting because they’re both sensible and sad, aren’t they, at the same time?

Pete Mockaitis

The laminator is what I’m fixated on right now.

Chris Croft

Yeah. I mean, the best $30 I ever spent. But anyway, I moved on from my laminated checklist to a travel bag, and I just bought a second one of everything. And I probably spent $100 actually on another iPhone charger, another comb, another toothbrush, and all these things that I might need. And I’ve just got this bag that I take. And that has probably saved me 20 minutes a week packing, which adds up.
But it also saves me a certain amount of stress because I know I’ve got everything. I just take the bag and I go. I’ve actually got it divided into little compartments as well, so I can get straight to what I want, which is possible going too far. But it’s just nice to have everything. I can turn up at a hotel, open my bag. There is everything just laid out.
So that was a repeating task that I thought, “I don’t want to keep spending time every week on this.” But I think everyone has got different repeating tasks in their lives. And the key is to think, “What is it that I’m doing the same every time?” either a repeating problem or a repeating routine task, and find a better way to do it.

Pete Mockaitis

And on the packing thing, just as I’m imagining this, what happens with the dress shirt, the undershirt, the underwear, the socks? They can’t just stay there. How does this work in this system?

Chris Croft

Well, I just wear the same ones every day.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Chris Croft

No. The bag, if I’m going away for three days, I just put in three pairs of socks and three pairs of underpants. I just bung them in the end thing before I go. So that is something I do have to remember. But actually, I do have a spare pair of each just in the boot of my car because very occasionally, you go away and you think, “Oh, I didn’t pack any.” And I’ve kind of learned.
So another of my systems is, in the back of my car, I’ve got a little box of just total emergency things that just lives there. So in there, I’ve got things like a can of Coke if I’m just stuck somewhere and really thirsty. I’ve got some marker pens because every training course I bring pens, but occasionally, I forget my pens or whatever. And on my key ring, I’ve got a little memory stick with all of the notes that I give out on every subject.
So occasionally, I turn up to a customer and I go, “Right. Time management,” and they all go, “No. We’re doing project management today,” and I go, “Are we?” And I find some email that never reached me. They changed the subject. But I can just put the memory stick into anybody’s computer and just print out all the notes. So I got caught once on that and I thought, “Right. I need a system so that will never repeat.” So I’ve got it on my memory stick. It’s on my car keys so that I always have it with me. And by the way, have you ever left a memory stick in somebody’s computer, when you leave the building and the stick is still in there?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I used to. But now it’s on my keys, so I’m right with you.

Chris Croft

Yeah, exactly. Same here. I’ve got it on my keys. I can’t drive away. I’m thinking, “Where are my keys? Oh, yeah. They’re still in that guy’s computer.” So I’ve tried to foolproof everything so that the mistakes won’t happen twice. And it’s all about, every time it happens, just take a bit of time to think, “How can I make that so it will never happen again?”
Running out of colored toner for your printer. It just always happens when you really need it. So I’ve got a spare cartridge of each one bought in advance and they’re on a shelf. And then when I fit that, I order a new one. And I’ve got the URL of the place where I order them just stuck on the shelf there on a Post-it note. So I don’t even have to think when I reorder. I just go, “Oh, yeah. There’s the website for reordering.”
So I’ve tried to streamline everything so that I spend a minimum time on anything that’s boring, anything that repeats. But systems are unique to the person. So you might spend ages washing your hair or something, in which case, you need a better system for that, or cleaning out the rabbit hutch in the garden. Whatever it is, you need a good system for it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about being less fussy. I think that achievers who like being awesome at their jobs enjoy excellence, and you’re saying, “No. Go ahead and lower your standard.” Is that blasphemy?

Chris Croft

Yeah. That’s a difficult one. I don’t know if you’ve heard of there are things called personality drivers. There are three main ones that affect your time, which are: Please others, which we’ve talked about a bit already, actually. You’re trying to make everybody else in the world happy, which means you don’t say no. There’s hurry up, where you just try to fit in as much as you can. And then there’s be perfect, which is the one we’re going to look at now.
And all three of these drivers, they’ll get bigger the more you feed them. It’s like if you feed a stray dog in the hope that it will then go away, it won’t, will it? It will think, “Well, I’ll have more of that,” and it will follow you around everywhere. So the more you try to make things perfect, the more obsessed you get by spotting tiny little things that aren’t quite right. And similarly, the faster you try to go, the more obsessed you get by going faster and faster, and you’ll never finish everything. Somebody told me once, “When you die, you will still have a jobs-to-do list.”

Pete Mockaitis

Right.

Chris Croft

How crazy is that? And similarly, with please others, the more you try to please other people, the more it becomes a mental monster. The more you worry about it. You’ll never get to the point where you go, “Yep, everybody is happy.” So it will start to control you, and these so-called personality drivers will take you over.
And by the way, I’ve got two out of three, which is pretty bad because I’ve got the hurry up and the be perfect, so I’m always trying to do everything… Even this podcast, I want to get everything into this podcast. And quite possibly, it would be better if I did less but did it more thoroughly. But my hurry up is going like, “Cram everything in,” and my be perfect is like, “But tell him every detail.”
But what I’ve discovered is that feeding them will not make them go away. They will get worse. So what you need to do is push back against them and to say, “I’m not going to hurry up. I’m going to chill. I’m going to walk instead of taking the car. I’m going to sit and look at that view. I’m going to sit for 10 minutes and just look at the sunset,” instead of thinking, “I’ll check my emails while the sun is going down. Take a photo for Instagram and hurry on to the next thing.”
So I think the first point about trying to do things perfectly is it will drive you mad because you’ll never finish everything. The key is to do everything well enough. So if the customer has paid for a Rolls-Royce or a Ferrari, then great. The most customers who probably paid for, let’s say, a perfectly good car like a Ford or something, they’re probably hoping for a BMW. But if you give them Ferrari, they’re just going to think, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Now, sometimes, I think you should delight your customers. And I think some things have to be perfect, like for example, spelling people’s names right. I was looking at your name, Pete. I bet you get every spelling of that. But it should be right, shouldn’t it? You’ve got to really be careful. If someone has got a name that’s a little bit unusual, you’ve got to spell it right.
But I think there are other things like centering the text in a document, or if your document goes on to a second page and you spend ages fiddling with the margins and the font just to fit it onto the one page, does that matter? Is that the best use of your time? Because there isn’t enough time in life to do everything perfectly. So I think the things that matter have to be spot on, but everything else has to be good enough.
I’ve got one great example actually I could quickly give you, which is I know a company. They make ponds and lakes. So what they do is they dig the hole, waterproof it, put a wall at one end or whatever, and they’ve got a guy who does the estimating. And so when you ring up and say, “How much will it cost for this?” he will work it out. But he’s really fussy. He will work out exactly what it’s going to cost. And because he’s a bit slow, there’s a queue that’s built up, and the queue is currently six weeks long. So if you want a quote from him, if you email him for a quote, you won’t get an answer for six weeks. And do you think they’re losing business because of that?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah.

Chris Croft

Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what proportion. I think they might be losing 50% of their possible business. This one guy is strangling the company because he’s so fussy. And it’s only a quote. I mean, just give them a rough price, or you could have a spreadsheet that will approximately work it out. So this one guy, because he’s fussy, he’s just strangling the company. It drives me mad to even think about it. And I was talking to the boss. “Can’t you put some pressure on him?” “No, that’s just how he is,” the boss was saying.
So even something that you might think is important, like quoting people prices, maybe an approximate price would be fine. And they’ll probably win some and lose some if the price is only just a rough estimate, but it will be near enough and they’ll get twice as much work. So they could put the price up a little bit to cover the uncertainty, couldn’t they, and they’d be…? So I think even something like estimating, the key is to do it well enough, but that doesn’t mean excessively fussy.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Thank you. Well, Chris, tell me, is there any final piece you want to make sure that you mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Chris Croft

Yeah. There is a sixth option, which is one that I wouldn’t recommend, which is saying yes and not doing it, because if you don’t say no or negotiate and you let it in, and if you then don’t delegate it or have good systems or do it less well, then it will just sit there. It has come in and you haven’t done it. So the default choice if you don’t do my five is number six, which is saying yes and not doing it. And I just think that is a really bad idea.
Sometimes, you get bullied into saying yes by a scary customer and you think, “Well, he probably won’t notice.” You say to him, “Yeah, I’ll have a look at that.” But he will notice, or at least maybe one time in ten, he will notice. And that’s enough for him to think, “Well, I don’t trust that guy anymore.” So I think you’ve got to have a rule which says if you say you’ll do something, you must do it. And that rule forces you to say no more.
So I live in a simple black and world where I do everything I say I’ll do, but that means I do have to say no. If I say I’m going to go to the wedding in Scotland, I’ve got to go. I can’t cancel the day before or something, which would be awful. I’ve got to go. And that rule makes me think, “Well, in that case, I’m going to say no.” So I think you should absolutely have a rule that says, “If I say yes, I’ll do it.” And you should enforce that rule on everybody else. If somebody says they’ll do something and doesn’t, you should be right on them saying, “Look, you said you’d do it. Why haven’t you done it? I can’t live with it.”
And if they work for you, you should say, “This is totally unacceptable. From now on, you must do what you say,” because if you have to spend, say, an hour a week checking on somebody because they kind of say they’ll do things and then they don’t, you’re wasting an hour a week. You’re wasting a week per year on that person. They’ve stolen a week of your life from you every year. So I think you should say to them, “Look, I can’t live with that. If you’re going to work for me, you’ve got to keep your promises. That’s all I ask.” It’s always the only rule. So I wanted to have a little bit of a rant about that. That’s the sixth one which you mustn’t do.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Thank you. Well, so now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Croft

My favorite quote, if I had to pick something, I think will be “No battle plan withstands contact with the enemy.”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah.

Chris Croft

It was a German general, quite obscure guy, came up with that. And I really like that because a lot of people say there’s no point in project management because something will change, or there’s no point in trying to plan my day in terms of time management because it will change. But the point is you still have to have a battle plan and you put bits of contingency in because you don’t know what the enemy will do. The enemy is everyone in the world in a way, in terms of time management trying to mess your day up. But you still must have a plan which you then modify as you go along. So I think that. I love that.
The other quote that I think is fascinating is it says that “The reasonable person adapts themselves to the world.” Have you heard this quote?
“And the unreasonable person tries to adapt the world to them. But therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable person.” So that’s the other quote that I love.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Chris Croft

Yeah. It’s been so hard to narrow it down. I love “The Road Less Traveled.” I love “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” I love a strange book called “The Goal” by Eli Goldratt.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah.

Chris Croft

Isn’t that awesome, that book? But my number one book, I think, is “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge. And bits of it are a bit hard to read, but bits of it are fascinating. And he basically says in there that it’s all about the systems that underpin things. And you think in a job that you’re making decisions, but actually you’re just doing what everybody else would do in that situation if they were any good. So you’re just a victim of the system.
And the only way you can really change anything is not by making decisions and doing stuff, but it’s to work out what the underlying structure… He calls them system archetypes. If you can work out what’s going on, you can then break the loop.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And would you say there’s a particular nugget or piece that you share in your trainings or your offerings that really seems to resonate, getting people nodding their heads and taking notes?

Chris Croft

Yeah. Some people don’t thank me for telling them this one, but I’m going to do it, which is that when you reach the age of 55, you’ve only got 800 weekends left. And people always say, “Oh my god.” And by the way, if you’re 20 and you’re thinking, “Yeah, well, I’m going to live forever. I’m not bothered,” you’ve only got 800 months left approximately on average. People will go away now and do the sums and they go, “I think I’ve got 803.” But of course, we don’t know, do we?
But on average, you’ve only got 800 months when you’re 20, and you’ve only got 800 weekends with your kids from the age of 0 to 15 or so. It works out roughly. So 800 is just that number. But 55, 800 weekends left. I’m going to really make sure that I have fun every weekend and I use them to the maximum. Just don’t waste a weekend. Just don’t do anything you don’t want to do because you’ve only got 800. So I think that message really, the more you think about it, the more it haunts you. But I’ve done you a favor by telling you that.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely.

Chris Croft

Get more out of this. Suck the juice out of every weekend is what I would say.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris Croft

Well, my website really, which is chriscroft.co.uk. has just got loads of stuff. I’ve got a crazy blog where I put things all the time. I have got a load of books on Amazon. My “Big Book of Happiness” is very cheap, and that’s on Amazon Kindle.
But there’s somewhere else I wanted to point people, which is why not get my free email tips? I send out a little email tip every month free forever, and it never repeats, and it could cover anything. All the stuff we’ve talked about today, all that kind of thing is always on them. And if you just go to free-management-tips.co.uk and put in your email address, they will arrive free forever. So I think the management tips are fun. You can look at videos on YouTube. I’ve got a hundred videos on YouTube. And if you’re a Lynda subscriber, then definitely have a look at my stuff on Lynda.com.
And finally, I’ve got some apps which are free. There’s a jobs to do app, which is just called Jobs To Do. I couldn’t believe nobody had already got that title. So Jobs To Do List app, which is quite a clever little thing which is free. But I’ve also got Daily Happiness Tips. That’s another app I’ve had made. So every day, you can find out what you can do, something practical you can do every day to get a bit more happiness into your life. So Daily Happiness Tips. Why wouldn’t you download that to your iPhone or your Android?
And I’ve got a third app called Management Cards. When I do a training course, I give out a little white card that’s got sort of the best of that subject on it, and I’ve put all of my cards as a free app for iPhone and Android. It’s just called Management Cards. So download that and then you’ll know everything about everything just by flicking on your phone.

Pete Mockaitis
A big promise. Thank you.

Chris Croft
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Chris, do you have a final challenge or a call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Chris Croft
Yeah. I think the thing that’s changed my life most and I would urge everyone to do is write down your goals for your life. What do you want your life to be like in 5, 10, 15 years? And it should be enjoy and achieve at home and at work. So write down that little two by two box. “What do I like doing at home that I want to do more of? What do I like doing at work that I want to do more of? What do I want to achieve at work, and what do I want to achieve outside work?”
And write some things in all four of those boxes, and you’ll find it’s amazing because it will happen, because it will influence your thinking. It sets kind of a mental GPS to take you in that direction. It will make you more assertive, more focused. There’s all sorts of reasons why it works. But that’s what I would do. Write your goals down right now, and that will change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Fantastic. Oh, Chris, this has been so much fun. Please keep on rocking and go to the wedding that you want to.

Chris Croft
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s been really great talking to you, Pete. I can’t wait to see which bits you edit out and which bits you keep in. It’s been really fun. It’s great. Let’s do another one.

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