Vice President of Twitter Bruce Daisley shares the key differences that make the difference between work delight and drudgery.
- Two hacks for restoring your personal equilibrium at work
- The benefits of connecting with your colleagues through laughter
- Why working more than 40 hours a week is a bad idea
As European Vice-President for Twitter and host of the UK’s number one business podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat he is in the centre of the debate about the way work and communication is evolving.
Daisley has been one of the Evening Standard’s 1,000 Most Influential Londoners for four years and is one of Debrett’s 500 Most Influential People in Britain. Campaign magazine asserted that Daisley is ‘one of the most talented people in media.’
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Bruce’s podcast: Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat
- Bruce’s book: The Joy of Work: 30 Ways to Fix Your Work Culture and Fall in Love with Your Job Again
- Research: Productive, Anxious, Lonely – 24 Hours Without Push Notifications
- Research: Synchrony and exertion during dance independently raise pain threshold and encourage social bonding.
- Research: Singing and social bonding: changes in connectivity and pain threshold as a function of group size
- Research: Rowers’ high: behavioural synchrony is correlated with elevated pain thresholds
- Research: Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships
- Research: Social Laughter Triggers Endogenous Opioid Release in Humans
- Research: Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function
- Book: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation by Robert Provine
- Book: Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter by Alex Pentland
- Tool: Audible
- Previous episode: 279: How to Feel More Alive at Work with Dan Cable
Bruce, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Well, I’m really flattered to be asked, so thank you so much for having me.
Oh, well, I’m excited to dig in. I believe Dan Cable introduced us and his was one of my favorite podcasts episodes, so there’s a big, big expectation Bruce, that you’re going to bring it.
Thank you. Well, let me try my best.
Certainly. Well, you have defined yourself as “work culture obsessive,” which is a good turn of a phrase. Your body of work seems to show it. On top of a pretty demanding job, you’ve put out a great podcast, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. You’ve got a book coming out. What do you mean by being work culture obsessive?
Yeah, I think the interesting thing for me, I work at Twitter. I’m fortunate enough that when guests used to come to the London Twitter office from all around the world, almost without exception they’d say, “Wow, this is just an incredible office. We love the culture here.”
I had heard that previously. I used to run the UK team for YouTube at Google and all the time people used to either wander past my team or interact with my team. They’d say, “Wow, what a special team.” Unfortunately, I was misdirected into believing that that was down to a magical skill that I had.
I think a couple of years ago I became aware that maybe people at my work weren’t as motivated or as happy as they once were. I became obsessed not with sort of drawing on my own hunches about how culture is created, but more thinking, “I wonder how I could arm myself with evidence.” I think that’s the critical thing I’ve done really. With the passion of trying to work out how to improve work culture, I’ve set about trying to get evidence of how to do it.
In the course of the last couple years on my own podcast I’ve really just pestered and tracked down some of the people who’ve written the most interesting books that I’ve found.
I’ve been fortunate enough I think that when you contact someone who’s written a magical piece of research, something that’s just really fascinating and compelling and they’re not in the promotional time for it, they’re often very willing to talk. I’m so lucky to have got people who have written just some of the most fascinating books and got them to talk to me.
I guess, I’ve got a fascination in how to improve work and being evidence led on how to do that.
Very cool. Very cool. I want to do dig into all sorts of fascinating bits of research. Maybe could you orient us right now? You are a vice president of Twitter for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. What does that mean or what does that entail in terms of your job and what are some of the practices that you’re seeing really make a big impact in terms of bringing about the joy of work?
Yeah. It’s a good question. I think when you do an original job like mine, it goes without saying that I’m fortunate that I’ve got very, very capable people in all of the markets we operate in. I’ve got a formidable person working in Spain. I’ve just got an incredibly talented person working in the UK. My job really is to try and provide sort of bursts of energy for those people.
Someone contacted me today asking for some help with a contractual issue. Effectively, I guess, I’m someone that the leaders in those countries can call upon when they need additional support. I’m like a router really. I sort of direct energy and I direct resources when appropriate and try and stay out of the way when appropriate as well, so an interesting role.
I guess the principle thing I would say in terms of how I’ve learned about the joy of work from those countries, I think the thing that the UK is very similar to the US on is that increasingly more and more workers are sort of eating at our desks.
When you go and explain that to someone in France or someone in Spain, you say, “Guys, it’s really important we start trying to take lunch breaks,” they look at you very confused. They don’t really understand what on earth you’re talking about.
It’s because those cultures have really recognized, historically recognized, the importance of lunch breaks and the importance of the social magic that’s created in those interactions. Unfortunately, it’s the more Anglo-Saxon part of the world that’s economized on those things.
For me, it’s understanding work culture and understanding how to improve work culture as being a real excursion into understanding the different national cultures around the world and what we can learn from them.
I want to touch on that national piece there because the engagement data on workers in the UK is even worse by a pretty good margin than it is for workers in the US. Do you have a comment on what could be driving that there?
Yeah. To give those figures – I think the engagement figures for US workers I think – all of us, if we looked at these numbers cold we’d say – I think the US engagement is 20-something percent. I can’t remember top of my head. The figure for UK workers is 8%. 8% of British workers feel that they are actively engaged in their job.
The only solace that I can provide to the British is that the lowest in the world is actually the French. According to the Gallup survey, the Gallup workforce survey, 3% of French workers are actively engaged in their job.
Even with the lunch breaks?
I know. How bad. There’s certainly a global crisis of engagement. We seek so much of our own identity from our jobs. If you look at the evidence, people who do jobs are happier, they live longer, they feel more fulfilled in life, then those who don’t do jobs.
Jobs play a really important part in our self-esteem, but quite often they’re not set up correctly, they’re not focused on us achieving things in the way that we would most like, so we end up becoming slightly disengaged or sometimes very actively disengaged in the jobs that we do.
Right and I’m curious from your observations across countries, are there particular mindsets or policies? I wondered if it’s a little trickier – my understanding is in some European countries it’s trickier to say fire somebody. I think sometimes it’s trickier to find a job. Is that fair to say as compared to the US?
I wonder if that had a role with it with regard to finding fit. It’s a little bit of obstacles there. Do you think it’s a factor or what’s behind it?
Yeah, I think – I wouldn’t necessarily say that those things have a direct impact on how engaged people are in their jobs, so you see – you do see a variance across Europe and you do see – it’s not necessarily that when it’s hire-at-will and fire-at-will that workers are more engaged.
There’s definitely cultural factors that play a part. There’s definitely elements in the job that play a part. Some cultures historically have been more hierarchical. Some national cultures have been more hierarchical.
When you look at workers, one of the key factors in people being engaged in work is the ability to speak up to the boss. It’s sometimes called psychological safety. The ability to put your hand up and say, “I don’t think this is right,” when you see something that appears to me maybe slightly against our expectations. The willingness to speak up to the boss is one of the most powerful indicators of workplace culture.
There are definitely some cultures that are more hierarchical. Some cultures where speaking up to the boss is really frowned upon. Definitely that plays a part. There are significant cultural differences between different countries.
Intriguing. You unpack some of this in your book, The Joy of Work. What would you say is the main idea or thesis there?
I split it into three parts. The fundamental part for me was when I was setting out on my own process of discovery I was interested in finding evidence about how we could bring some of the work that’s being done by experts into the world of work.
There’s no shortage of psychologists, anthropologists, people who’ve studied neuroscience, who’ve given us indications of better ways to be working. The challenge for me was that a lot of that evidence wasn’t reaching the workplace.
I split the book into three parts. The first part is just to try and restore us to a position of a more balanced equilibrium. I think it’s fair to say that the stats suggest that half of all office workers report feeling burnt out, but that’s also common to nurses, that’s also common teachers. The state of feeling burnt out by our jobs, by feeling exhausted by the amount we’re working is becoming increasingly ubiquitous; half of all of us feel it at any point.
The first part of the book is really just very simple ways to try and restore our equilibrium. I call that section in the book Recharge. Some of the sections there are often really small interventions. I’ll give you one example. One of the most effective things that anyone can do to feel less overwhelmed by their job is to turn notifications off on their phone.
Just like that.
This is a really strange one. Because when you tell people that this is one of your interventions, they often look at me thinking, “Okay, this book’s going to be really trivial.” But let me give you the evidence on that one.
Half of all people – this was done by someone working at a mobile phone company of all things. He’s working at Telefonica, a European cellphone company. He was trying to get people to turn their notifications off for a week. He couldn’t get enough people to do it. He said, “Okay, if not a week, will you turn your notifications off for a day.”
To just give you an indication of how powerful this is, two years after he did that intervention, half of all the people who made that decision to turn their notifications off, still had them turned off.
One day, two years. People when they try this they say, “You know what? I was just able to get a bit of calm back to my life. I was able to not keep checking that email icon that kept popping up. Black Friday offers or whatever it was that was drawing me back there. I was given a bit of head space.” Half of all people who did that still had it turned off.
Consequently, with that in mind, as soon as you realize you can improve work with lots of little hacks, with lots of little changes, then it becomes an exercise in finding what are the other hacks.
One of the other things that I found that was fascinating for creativity. When we look at creativity, there’s many different ways to categorize the brain, but one of the most common systems is that scientists talk about the salience network, the executive attention network and the third one, the one I’ll talk about, is the default network. These three networks sort of operate across the whole of your brain, but they do different functions.
The default network is this fabulous part of the brain which is – it tends to be where we dwell when we’re daydreaming. It’s all where thoughts organize themselves and bounce around, but often when you say to people, “When did that idea come to you?” it’s at a time when the default network is running our brains.
I’ll give you an illustration. Often people say, “Oh, had a good idea while I was in the shower,” “Had a good idea while I was going for a walk.” That’s not uncommon because that’s the time the default network is daydreaming and allowing little thoughts to interact with each other, to bounce off each other.
As soon as you know that, as soon as you know that creativity comes from the default network, you start thinking of what are the ways to activate that? One of the most powerful ways to activate the default network is to go for a walk.
If you’re trying to brainstorm, if you’re trying to get ideas down on a piece of paper, then often we find ourselves stranded in a lifeless sort of pretty dull meeting room often frowning into our laptops, or frowning onto a white board. Actually one of the most powerful things you can do is go for a walk. 81% of people saw an increase in ideas. Their ideas went up two-thirds when they did that. It’s a really powerful thing.
But the default network can be activated in so many different ways. My favorite example of the default network is the guy who wrote The West Wing TV show, he also wrote The Social Network film, a guy called Aaron Sorkin. He stumbled upon this. No one told him this, but he stumbled upon the idea that his best ideas came to him when he was in the shower. As a result of that, he had a shower installed in his office.
In a sort of fabulous interview – he was interviewed I think by Hollywood Reporter and he was asked about his habit for showers. He takes eight showers a day. He takes eight showers a day. He was asked about this. He said, “It’s not that I’m obsessively clean. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because the sense of freethinking, the sense of sort of free association I have in the shower just gets me past any road blocking, gets me past any sense that I’m stranded in my thinking.”
For me, as soon as you understand that, you start thinking, right, then when am I allowing my default network to play and to create? The answer quite often is pretty infrequently. We fill our day with meetings, with emails. We’re not giving ourselves time to think and dream.
Well, I love that example in that it’s sort of an extreme action. It’s like, “Hey, I’ve made this observation and it’s really working for me, so we’re going to go all in. Install the shower. Do it eight times a day.” That’s such a cool example.
I want to dig into that notifications a bit. Not to get too nitty-gritty, but let’s talk it. Now the key thing about the notifications is simply the beeps and buzzes from our phone or is it everything. Don’t pop up on my phone screen visually. Don’t give me red badges. Is it sort of like all notifications or just the ones that can interrupt you from other stuff?
Yeah, it’s all of them, all of them. But what I will say, Pete, it gives you a real mental availability. My own experience at doing this of all the interventions, there’s 30 interventions in my book, which unfortunately it’s not being published in the US for another 12 months. But there’s 30 interventions in my book and I’ve tried all of them out.
But this one is you have to turn off all notifications. You turn off the number that sits on that email app. You turn off the thing that slides down on your screen. What happens is that I find myself in the morning and I go through that routine that we’ve all become accustomed to, which is you wake up, you check your message apps, you check your social apps.
Then it used to be that I always checked my email and increasingly now I forget to check email. I’ll find myself heading out on my journey to work and then an hour into my journey to work or just as I’m arriving at my office door, I think “Oh, I haven’t checked email.”
To me it’s incredibly liberating because often that sense when you’re checking email but before you get to the office, it either disrupts your morning commute and you find yourself trying to answer something badly at the kitchen table or it sort of creates a sense of sort of claustrophobia that you want to answer it but you don’t have time.
Of all the interventions, as I said, this is the most powerful one. It’s just an illustration I think that we can push back against the demands of work. We often feel helpless in the face of work, but this gives us scope to really push back and try and feel more refreshed, feel more recharged really.
That’s really cool. I like that term claustrophobia in terms of right now it’s sort of got a piece of you in term of your mental attention. It’s there. It’s like, “Oh I want to reply to that. I can’t right now. What will I say? Maybe this.” Now your brain is consumed with that and you’re sort of short changing your opportunity in the default system mode of transportation zoning out to get those creative ideas.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
You said 30 interventions, so I know we won’t have time to hit all 30, but if I may invoke perhaps the 80/20 rule. If 6 of them are yielding 80% of the value, can you give us what are the other half?
The first 12 are all these recharges. Then probably the bit of the book that I found most fascinating when I was researching and it was something that the more I researched it, the more I became addicted and compelled to the science of it was this idea of human sync, this idea of human synchronization. The science of this is remarkable.
If you put a group o as soon as you realize you can improve work with lots of little hacks, with lots of little changes, then it becomes an exercise in finding what are the other hacks. f people who are strangers singing together in a choir, you observe that their endurance, their fortitude goes up. I’ll explain to you how in a second. When you put rowers together and you get them to row in time with each other, their fortitude and their endurance goes up. They become more than the sum of their parts remarkably. It’s choirs, rowers. When you put people together who dance, you see the same.
When I mention the fortitude, that’s one thing that scientists have found. They find it very difficult to measure the endorphin levels in people, but they find it very easy to measure the consequence of those endorphins. What they often do – and it sounds a touch callous – but they inflict pain upon people.
Scientists, they tend to put these armbands around people’s arms, sort of things like what you might have worn or taught a child to swim in. But if you imagine you keep inflating those armbands until it starts creating a bit of pain on the arm of the subject.
What they found was that people who had rowed in time with each other could withstand twice the amount of pain of people who just rowed on their own. People who danced together, withstand more pain than people who’ve not danced together. People-
Now is this while they’re rowing and while they’re dancing or sort of at a resting state?
Yes. No, so immediately when they stop, they can withstand the pain. It creates this magical thing. It’s really interesting. When we’re thinking about teams, the choir is a perfect example. You put strangers together and you get them to sing together and actually when you look at the evidence afterwards, they often say, “I feel a connection to the person I sung with,” even when that person was a stranger ten minutes before.
It has this remarkable quality. As soon as you understand that there is something about us being in sync with others that seems to develop this sort of fortitude, it seems to develop this connection, then you start thinking okay, are there other ways that we can access this. There are.
One of the most compelling bits of science about sync I’ve seen is scientists took about 4,000 unmarried couples who were living in a distant relationship. They were maybe sort of – one was in the West coast, one was in the East coast.
These are like romantic relationships?
So distance. Okay.
That’s right. They tried to understand which of these couples stayed together. What they found was the couples that stayed together over the period of time that they were being observed had one thing in common. It was the ones who phoned each other every day to talk about trivial things.
When we have this human sync, when we take time to get in sync with each other and that often is conversation, but clearly the most magical form is this physical interaction, but we can observe it. The couples who spoke together every day, their relationships were more enduring.
We see lots of examples of this. One of the other bits that you see in this … is that there’s a wonderful researcher who’s looked at a lot of this work, a guy called Robin Dunbar. Robin Dunbar, he looked at animals and he observed that one of the ways that animals get in sync with each other is they do mutual grooming. It’s no longer acceptable Pete, unfortunately for me to stop and pick fleas off of you.
Well, I’m just thinking I’ve got a great hairbrush, just come on over.
Maybe this is why we see teenage girls do this. We see the endorphin levels rocket through the roof when animals spend time in mutual grooming. However, he said they observed exactly the same behavior when humans laugh together, which is really interesting.
You’ve got this phenomenon of human sync. Chat activates it. Spending time around in synchronized activities with others activates it, but also laughing with others activates it. The consequence of sync is that it tends to make us more bonded with the people we’re working with. It tends to make us have a greater allegiance with the people we’re working with.
Anyone who’s thinking about how to make work better, thinking about how you can build some maybe sort of collective laughter into the working environment is a really important thing.
Of course, strangely a lot of us have stumbled upon that through our own experience. We’ve maybe been in companies where the company meeting at the end of the week, there was always a guy who stood up and made everyone laugh. That place seemed better than this place, but we couldn’t put our finger on why.
I think this for me is a good piece of science that says, as human beings we shouldn’t be ashamed of finding benefit in some of these things like laughter. We shouldn’t be ashamed in feeling more connected to our teammates when we spend time laughing with them.
That’s really cool. That just gets me thinking in terms of how to get that laughter going. I remember one time I was in an office and we had just a little fun event in which everyone – well, you might dig this, former YouTube – everyone was to bring one of their favorite YouTube videos. We just sort of hung out. That’s what we did. There was maybe 20 people. Each person brought a YouTube video they thought was great and we all just laughed together. It was a whole lot of fun.
Well, one of the best books on laughter is by a scientist called Robert Provine. Robert Provine said – it was a really interesting thing – he said even though I think there’s somewhere in the region of 70,000 scientific papers, so peered-reviewed papers into pain, there’s less than 100 scientific reviewed papers into laughter. Scientists often feel it’s a bit frivolous to investigate laughter.
He decided that he was going to do one of the biggest pieces of research into laughter. He pulled together all of everyone else’s research. Here’s what he found.
He found laughter quite often in an office – so I’ve talked there about optimizing an office for laughter – but he said often in an office, laughter is around things that aren’t necessarily the funniest things in the world. We often find ourselves laughing with colleagues at things that wouldn’t necessarily get on their own Netflix special.
But he said in many ways laughter, the way he describes it, is in many ways, laughter is like a human’s bird song. It’s like the sound we make to feel connected to each other.
Actually one of the things that laughter signals – there’s a wonderful bit of science that if you look at how animals play, one thing that dogs do is they often do a thing where they lean forward on their front two legs, sort of very similar to the yoga position, the downward dog.
Scientists who look at that say that that signals that no harm will pass here, that dogs know that if they lean forward on their front two legs, that even if they look like they’re about to bite each other, they know that it’s a signal that things are safe. One scientist said to me that laughter signals the same for humans. We laugh to signal we’re all friends here. This is just – we’re connected with each other.
That’s so good. This is bringing me back to my days at consulting at Bain and one of their best – the best lines in their recruiting materials – I think they’re still using it is “We laugh a lot,” which was true.
Then one of my favorite sort of events we had, they called it the Bain Band in which people would change the lyrics of popular songs to reflect sort of the dorky nuances of the consulting experience, so
Time After Time would be Slide After Slide. It wasn’t super hilarious, but it was your colleagues that you recognized up there being kind of silly on stage. You just sort of laugh a little bit like, “Oh yeah, that’s our life, slide after slide, ha, ha, ha.”
It had such a powerful bonding effect. I remember we would all rush to get with our favorite colleagues and have chairs next to each other. If someone was going to the bar for a drink, nobody wanted to leave their seats, “Oh get me one,” “Oh get me one,” “Oh get me one,” someone’s coming back with seven drinks in their hand somehow. Yeah.
Isn’t it interesting though that so often and especially when times are difficult, so let’s imagine the last few years have been difficult for a lot of businesses, that one of the things that you know there from your own subjective experience backed up by the science that I’ve done is that laughter made you feel connected and made you probably in truth, want to work harder for the people around you.
But when times are hard, we find ourselves saying, “Now is not the time for laughter. Don’t let the bosses see you laughing in the office.” We often have this idea that somehow laughter is frivolous, somehow unnecessary. It’s a distraction from the job rather than it’s forging a link with us and the colleagues we work with that’s going to make us do our best work.
That’s good. That is good. Boy, just keep them coming Bruce. Laughter, any other big ones you want to share?
Yeah. For me that was so fascinating because the idea of laughter. But I think probably the one that’s been most talked about in the last few years is the idea of psychological safety. This is the idea, I think I mentioned earlier that the willingness to speak up to the boss. I was really interested.
I met a member of the equivalent of the Navy SEALS, a member of the special forces in the United Kingdom. He told me about their tactic of reaching this. Psychologically safety is this immensely difficult thing to achieve.
When teams feel willingness to speak up to the boss, what you tend to find is it produces a fluidity of discourse. It ensures that you don’t end up in a situation where the whole of the company knows that something’s bad but the bosses are asking them to do it.
If you look back at some of the recent memorable corporate failures, Nokia was famous for it had a culture where people were instructed if they couldn’t be positive, don’t do anything. As a result of that, when they were faced with the iPhone arriving and people starting to question whether their smartphone was good enough, the people who had dissenting voices and maybe wanted to speak up were really clearly told don’t speak up. This is not the time – there’s no value in speaking up.
I think what we’ve learned is the businesses where they can encourage this psychological safety are incredibly powerful. This is when the conversation I had with a member of the elite military came in.
He told me a really simple thing, which was they have a daily debrief. They have a – at the end of every interaction when they’re out in the field, this is the combat field – maybe they’ve just been on a deployment in Afghanistan or in some sort of war-torn part of Iraq or wherever. He said at the end of every day they have a quick standup. They all gather around. He said it should take no more than 10 – 15 minutes. It’s while we’re still in our combat clothes.
He said the way it works is that he describes what happens that day and then he will say what he did wrong or what he felt he could have done better. Then he invites everyone else to discuss what happened that day. The very act of a leader saying, “Here’s what I did wrong,” and demonstrating that they aren’t infallible, that they have got vulnerabilities is an incredibly powerful access point to everyone else doing the same.
Psychological safety is this really elusive quality. You see businesses talk about it increasingly. But I loved his simple access point for that because so often we come out of big meetings and we come out of interactions with – we come of big meetings or client interaction or we come out of a review and firstly we often gather the feedback a week later or we’re send an email round everyone saying, “That went well. Any thoughts?”
Of course you lose specificity in that because you lose the sense of people know that that one answer that one person gave that wasn’t right, you lose specificity. But by taking time afterwards and the leader being the first to step forward and say, “Here’s what I did wrong,” seems to give a really powerful access point to people feeling that they can share the same.
Again, these aren’t – I don’t think these are – they’re not going to be revolutions that are going to be patented by someone. They’re not going to be – on their own, they won’t transform a business. But the thing that was fascinating for me was following the evidence of what other people have done as an access point to improving the jobs that we do.
That’s fantastic. Particularly when you think about military in which rank is just so clear and you think that you need to be strong and to be a tough leader who’s being entrusted with people’s lives. If they can do it, anyone can do it.
Right. He told me a fascinating thing. He said to me the biggest mistake that anyone makes about the military is thinking that we give orders all day long. He said the decision making is often far more consensual than you think because if we found ourselves just giving instructions that were unwelcome, it would be a failure of leadership.
That was a real revelation to me. We’ve got this idea that soldiers are just given marching orders and told where to go. He said, “No, far from it.” They very much regard themselves as people who are studying and learning from the world of work and wanting to improve upon it. For me it was just a revelation to speak with someone who had that experience.
Fantastic. Tell me Bruce, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
Yeah, look, probably the one thing I will say is that the overwhelming debate right now in the world of work is the amount we work. There’s been certainly a contribution to this discussion this year by Elon Musk. I think he doesn’t make the best poster child for the 120-hour work week.
But Elon Musk has a couple of times this year said he works 120 hours a week and that he feels that nothing good can be accomplished at less than 80 – well, he said 40 hours is not enough to work and he feels that you need to work 80 hours a week to achieve anything.
I think the wonderful thing about that is that there’s no evidence for it at all. In fact, when you actually invite people to make evidence and to gather evidence on these things, you see that either we’re lying to ourselves, that we’re not working 80 hours, we’re – but we’re working 40 hours distributed across a week.
I was chatting to an investment banker today. She was telling me that she used to leave the office at 10 PM every night, maybe 11, sometimes 12. I said to her, “Wow, was it relentless all day?” She said, “No, no, no, no. It was the culture though that you didn’t leave till 10. There were times when we weren’t working especially hard.” She said, “There was a lot of time for downtime and laughter, but the culture was you didn’t work – you didn’t leave till 10 PM.”
Sometimes work is the lie we tell ourselves. We’re not being honest with ourselves. The wonderful thing is the more you look at the evidence – there was some fabulous evidence that I found – that really the most that the human brain can really work and what most of us work with our brains is around 55 hours a week. After that the marginal gains for each hour actually are negative. When we work 70 hours a week, we actually achieve significantly less than when we work 40 hours a week.
As soon as you identify that science, as soon as you realize that that’s the case, you start thinking, “Okay, well, maybe my objective should be to work 40 good hours a week to be energized, but to value my rest as much as my work.” For me that’s the path to enlightenment here.
If we can start thinking rather than doing 70 exhausted hours a week, let’s do 40 good hours a week and that’s a good week’s work. Or less. If people want to work less, then by all means. But I think the more that we can get balanced, it’s going to help us achieve greater creativity.
I’m right with you there. All right, so now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Yeah. This is a quotation that’s from – they often say, certainly in the UK, they often say that all quotes ultimately are attributed to Winston Churchill. If you say something, people will say, “Yeah, originally that was a Churchill quote.” This similarly, albeit that this is the mantra of the UK team, the cycling team. One of the most – I often don’t use sporting metaphors, but it’s one of the most accomplished transformations over the last 30 years, the medals that the UK cycling team has won.
But their mantra is this, their mantra is “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” What they mean by that is effectively, preserve your energy because energy is finite. Use your energy when you’re ready for your most important action. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste it on trivial moments.
For me, as soon as you think about that – there’s a similar quotation about our brains. It was in a book by a guy called Daniel Levitin a couple of years ago, about three years ago. I can almost remember this quote verbatim. He said, “Our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions every day. Once we each that number, we’re unable to make any more irrespective of how important they are.” Right.
That’s a game changer for me because – the science behind that if anyone wants to look into it is called ego depletion. But as soon as you realize, okay, so me running around and working from seven in the morning and doing all these things and reading all these papers and doing this then going to this meeting, then answering all these emails, it’s zero sum. You reach a stage in the day where you brain can no longer do any more.
As soon as you realize that then that cycling team mantra becomes really important. “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” If we’re going to achieve the most we can achieve in work, it’s not by working longer and harder, it’s by using that finite gunpowder we’re got in our brain for the most important uses of it.
Perfect. Thank you. How about a favorite book?
Yeah, it changes for me all of the time. I loved – there’s a wonderful book by a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Sandy Pentland. He’s called Sandy Pentland. The book is called Social Physics.
He took some badges, sort of like the name badges we might wear around our necks to get into most offices and he turned them into sort of microcomputers. Then he used those badges to start tracking the interactions that happened in offices. I have to tell you, when I read this book, I was blown away by it because it starts telling you the truth about what goes on in offices. Honestly, I sat there like this is like magic.
What he found was emails contribute about 2% of the output to offices. Meetings account for about the same. Most important thing that contributes to what goes on in offices is face-to-face chat, is face-to-face discussion accounts for two-fifths of everything that’s achieved in an office.
Probably, Pete, you’ve witnessed that there’s less chat going on in offices these days. People are busier than ever before. They often put on headphones as a way to cope with an office, an open plan office. People are doing – they’re finding less time for chat. I think for me seeing evidence and he built up the biggest amount of data of face-to-face interactions in offices ever. He was able to track this. It became just – it was eye opening for me what we were able to learn from it.
That’s cool. Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?
Yeah. That’s a very good question. It’s certainly not – I love Twitter. I work at Twitter, obviously I love it. First and foremost, I used it. Probably the thing that I find has transformed the world of learning more than anything else though is my Audible app. I love Audible. I’m a keen runner. For me listening – sometimes I’m listening to a novel at the moment, which is such a wonderful palette cleanser, but listening to the latest book, for me it’s just a revelation.
And a favorite habit?
I think probably the most important habit that any of us can have is to try and get as much sleep as possible and I try to get seven and a half hours of sleep a night. Normally with good success, but I’m not 100% sure that the sleep is always the highest quality, but that’s what I try to do.
Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they retweet often?
Yeah, the thing for me is that some of the things that I’ve mentioned here to some extent this day in modern work is that we all feel guilty about work. We go home with 40 emails in our inbox. We didn’t get back to that person. We didn’t do this.
For me, the biggest learning that I’ve had this year is that all of the science suggests that creativity is destroyed by stress. As creativity is going to increasingly be the most important asset in our toolbox for managing the world of work, then we need to recognize that stress kills creativity. Focusing on that all the time will help us achieve more in our jobs.
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
Yeah, they can – I always welcome people hitting me up on LinkedIn. I’m very willing for people to connect with me there. I’ve also got social media, so you can find me on Twitter at BruceDaisley or you can search for the podcast which is Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat.
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?
Yeah, I would say – the best thing I would say is take another look at the way that you’re working. I found that quite often I felt that I was the exception. We all think we’re the exception. You hear that the most that humans can work is 55 hours and your first response is “Not me. I can work longer than that.” I found when confronted with all this data, I did exactly what everyone else did. I argued with it.
Then I found myself on a Monday night sitting at the kitchen table, emailing at half past nine. I thought to myself, “What have you actually emailed in the last hour?” I hadn’t emailed. I’d reread one email four times. I’d gone and got myself another cup of tea. I changed the music three times. I hadn’t done an hour of work. However, what I’d done is I’d deprived myself of an hour’s rest. I think be honest with yourself about work. Work is the lie we tell ourselves quite often.
That’s awesome. Bruce, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff. It’s a shame that us Yankees have to wait an extra year for your book, but thanks for teasing so much goodies here. I’m really excited to put them into practice.
Pleasure to talk to you Pete. Thank you so much.