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574: How to Navigate Overwhelming Data and Choices to Make Optimal Decisions with Vikram Mansharamani

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Harvard lecturer Vikram Mansharamani discusses how to break free from blind thinking and make more impactful decisions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The danger of deferring to experts and technology 
  2. Two critical steps for smarter decision-making
  3. How to better predict the future with “prospective hindsight” 

About Vikram

Financial Bubbles Before They Burst and his latest, THINK FOR YOURSELF: Restoring Common Sense in an Age of Experts and Artificial Intelligence. He is a frequent commentator on issues driving disruption in the global business environment, and his ideas and writings have appeared in Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, Worth, and many other publications. LinkedIn listed him as the #1 Top Voice for Money, Finance, and Economics for both 2015 and 2016, and Worth magazine profiled him as one of the 100 most powerful people in global finance in 2017. In addition to teaching and writing, Mansharamani also advises several Fortune 500 CEOs on how to navigate uncertainty in today’s dynamic global business and regulatory environment. He holds a PhD and two master’s degrees from MIT as well as a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Vikram Mansharamani Interview Transcript

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

Vikram Mansharamani
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. We’re talking decision making. And I understand you’ve got a lot of decision making in a place many people say there’s no hope for good decisions, and that’s Las Vegas, and there are more than 50 times. What’s the story?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, that’s a fascinating place to start here, Pete. I mean, Vegas is one of my real soft spots in life. I love everything about that city. I love the gaming. I love the restaurants. I love the pools. I love the hotels. I love the shows. I love the spas. The whole experience is just fabulous. The story as to why I went there so frequently is it was actually the topic of my dissertation.

So, I studied the gaming industry for my doctoral work at MIT. And I did that for various reasons, but the biggest reason was I was about to quit the PhD program at MIT that I was enrolled, and one of my professors and advisor, who I really trusted, who had become a mentor, said, “Vikram, that’s a really bad idea. You should get this done. What are you excited about? What do you enjoy? What wouldn’t feel like work to you?”

And I think I’d just gotten back from a trip to Las Vegas, perhaps with some college buddies, and I said, “You know what’s really fun? Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas.” And he said, “Why don’t you study the gaming industry?” And then there you go. So, it was research that took me to Vegas many of those times, but not all.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, I’m curious, in your gaming, are you up, are you down?

Vikram Mansharamani
I’m pretty sure I’m down but I think most people that do any amount of gaming end up down, but for me it’s the cost of entertainment. Look, there’s different ways to spend money to be entertained, and if I can do it socially sitting at a craps table with a bunch of friends and folks that I know, and have a nice time, and people give you some adult beverages while you’re there, that’s really the cost of entertainment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, now I want to dig into your wisdom, and your latest is called Think for Yourself I want to hear, what’s one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made about us humans and how we go about decision-making?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, there’s a lot of surprises there but the fundamental truth is I think we tend not be rational in this strict model optimizing sense that some traditional economists think we are. And what does that mean? That means that we sometimes make decisions, as I’m sure you’re aware of through behavioral finance and behavioral economics thinking, based on emotions, or fairness, or some of these things that might not make sense from a strict economic perspective.

So, I think just the sort of seeming irrationality of the human being in decision-making context is in of itself kind of surprising where people do things that might not be in their obvious self-interest. And so, yeah, I think that’s probably one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m so intrigued by your title there Think for Yourself because I think a lot of people would say, “Hey, I think for myself, Vikram. Come on, buddy.” So, when we’re not thinking for ourselves, what are we doing?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, let me use a couple of examples, Pete. I think this will actually make it tangible, real, and I think the audience will appreciate this. Let’s say you get up in the morning, you’re getting into your car, you’re heading to a destination east of your current location. It happened to have snowed last night, the schools are closed, but since you’re not 100% sure where you’re heading, you put it into your GPS device or your Nav system in your car.

Now, the algorithm turns around and tells you, “Uh-oh, you’re going east to this location, but there’s an elementary school and it’s currently 8:30 in the morning. Yeah, we’re going to send you north to go around and then come down to the east.” Now, you pause and you think to yourself, “Huh, it’s probably because of the school there.” But the reason it’s suggesting to go around the school is because of the traffic at this time of the morning. You’ve done this before. You know that your system does that. You also know that the school is closed because of the bad weather on a snow day. Do you follow the device or not? There’s a simple question. I’ll give you one other example which may feel like it’s higher stakes.

You go to your cardiologist. Your cardiologist tells you, “You know what, Pete, I’m sensing a little bit of cholesterol levels creeping up on you here.” She happens to be younger than you, and she says, “You know what, I had the same problem. I’m starting to take this statin. I think you should take this statin. By the way, every other cardiologist here in the hospital complex, they’re taking a statin. My medical school peers, they’re all taking statins and I think you should take a statin.” Do you push back or do you take the statin?

And so, these are examples where we may not realize it but we’re not thinking for ourselves. We’re outsourcing our thinking to experts and technologies. And that may not always be bad but it’s something I think we should do mindfully rather than passively and sort of as a default setting.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, well, it’s funny, we’re talking about health issues, and as we speak, I am engaging the daunting process of shopping for health insurance since my wife is shifting to full-time mothering, and I am shifting onto adopting a tremendous financial burden in the United States. Wow!

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re right. It’s like experts say stuff and it’s just like, “Well, geez, I don’t know. This seems like there’s a lot of complexity and it’s intricate and hard to get to the bottom and become super-knowledgeable about all my options. Well, hey, this is golden. It’s Blue Cross and it’s PPO and you all say it’s good. I guess that’s what I’m going to get.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, think about that, and what you’re getting at, which is actually how I start off most of my book here, is we are facing an environment of overwhelming data. And with overwhelming data, comes overwhelming choice. All of us have become conditioned to believe that more choice is better, that more choice lets us find the exact, optimal, perfect combination of features that was what we need. And the reality is we get overwhelmed by that choice.

We are sort of given this illusive ideal of perfection, and it’s never really achievable, leaving us with this low-grade fever of something we call FOMO. We’re missing out on that perfect choice, “There should be a perfect choice.” And so, what do we do? We run headlong into the arms of experts and technologies that promise us salvation from this anxiety of being overwhelmed by choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, that sounds like a fair synopsis of where we are right now. I buy it.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, even just think about your medical insurance dilemma, right? I’m sure there’s an online choice aid that exists that says, “Well, how many dependents do you have? Do you think you want high deductible or low deductible? Do you like your doctor? Do you want to be in a network? Do you need referrals? Do you not want referrals? Do you just want to be able to go anywhere in a network?” All of these things create these permutations and combinations which overwhelm us. In fact, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t overwhelmed, which is why we then go to people who promise us the hope. And, in the process, we actually stop thinking for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in a way, that’s a bit of a pejorative context or phrase in terms of, “Hey, you’re not thinking for yourself.” It seems like something, at least the way I interpret it, the emotional valence I’m sticking on it, is that to think for one’s self is a good and noble worthy thing. And to not think for one’s self is something that foolish sheep do, and they need to step up.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, I’m going to get a little meta on you here. So, thinking for yourself, you may, in fact, think for yourself while outsourcing your thinking. But if you do it proactively, mindfully, then it’s okay, then you are, in fact, thinking for yourself when you’re letting someone else think for you if you proactively make that choice. It’s the default condition without thinking about how you’re making your choices that I have issues with. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t rely on experts or technologies. In fact, I’m suggesting the opposite. We should rely on experts and technologies but we should do so mindfully. We should keep them in their role where we are the lead actor. They can be supporting actors. And so, that’s really the objective.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you gave us a couple of examples which make it real with regard to the GPS and the doctors. And so, where are some danger zones, specifically for professionals and career people, that it’s like, “Hey, timeout. You may not be thinking for yourself about these sorts of things, and you could be falling for these kinds of traps. Warning! Think about this.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Well, one area, I think, for career-oriented folks who are thinking about doing well in their jobs, climbing the corporate ladder, etc., advancing, is that we’ve developed this core belief system, I think, that expertise, core competence, unique skills, if you will, put capitals on all of those words, are the ultimate destination and the keys to rising in one’s career advancing as well as increasing your income.

And I want to suggest for a moment that actually breadth of perspective may be equal, if not more important than depth of expertise. And part of this has to do with the siloization that’s occurred of knowledge and how people make decisions. We tend to think of the world as broken down in domains. There’s a heart doctor, cardiologists, “Okay, I got to go see someone different for a different part of my body.” But the system is a whole.

And so, what I’m suggesting is rather than hang our hat on developing unique skills and depth of knowledge, I want to suggest that you can actually benefit from being broad, being an integrator of disparate ideas, being a generalist, if you will.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, we had David Epstein on the show, and that was one of his key messages there.

Vikram Mansharamani
David is a good friend.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think I buy it. So, how do you suppose we fall for the default assumption that specialization is where it’s at?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, it has to do with the overwhelming amount of data, information, and complexity in our world, or how complicated it’s become. And so, the way most organizations deal with this is they silo people into working on parts of a problem. That’s how we try to do this. And so, as a result, we outsource our career trajectories often to the organizations within which we work. And a little pushback on that would be healthy.

And what it also means is reconceiving the concept of a career trajectory away from rising through a corporate ladder, perhaps thinking about it differently. Maybe it’s a corporate jungle gym and the best way to get to the top is not by going up on every step but by going laterally down to the left, to the right, down three steps, over, up. There may be a different way to get to the top.

Now, what does that practically mean? I mean, it’s a fun analogy to talk about a corporate jungle gym. But it may mean, all right, if you’re rising through the finance function of an organization, maybe it makes sense to stop and do a tour of duty in the marketing department. Possibly, take a demotion rather than a promotion and go into operations. Go run a factory. Possibly, come back and go involve with technologies or call centers or what have you. Develop a portfolio of skills through multi-functional, multi-geographic experiences that could possibly have you leapfrog the trajectories of those who stay within a silo. I guess that’s really what I’m getting at.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ll tell you, in terms of a universal skill, which we’re all about here, that is handy across each of these functional and industry domains is just this, some of that decision-making smart thinking for yourself skills. So, I’d love to get your take then on some of the top do’s and don’ts in terms of, “Okay, if I have decided that I’m going to go about making some decisions, and I’m going to have the experts on tap, not on top…” one of your turns of phrase which I like, “…I’m going to receive input from them but I’m not going to let them just blindly call the shots,” how do you recommend we go out doing research, generating options, selecting the best option for us?

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Well, one of the things that I think is absolutely critical, Pete, is people should spend more time paying attention to the context. Far too often, we focus on what’s in front of us and where we’ve shone the spotlight and not on the related contextually developments that may impact even our decision choices, even the possible selections we can make. So, I think paying attention to the context matters.

Now, again, that sounds very abstract. Let’s make it real. Let’s say you’re in the world of retailing. Do you pay attention to US-China relations? “Maybe. It seems kind of like general knowledge. Is it going to impact me? Is it not going to impact me? I don’t know. I’m in a retail sector. I’m local.” If you’re paying attention to political developments. Obviously, we know there’s an election in the United States, but do we know what’s happening in the political dynamics of our largest trading partners or what have you? Maybe that’s going to potentially come home to impact us. So, advice piece number one is pay attention to context.

Number two, I always encourage people making tough decisions to make sure you get some disagreement in the advice you get. Don’t go out and seek the same advice that you know is confirming your already pre-existing inclinations. Seek disagreement. That’s something that far too few people do this.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s a great perspective but, boy, it’s a frustrating one. I’m thinking back to I had to get a new roof for my home, and I don’t know about roofing, but I had a heck of a hard time just getting anyone to show up and do something it seems in the realm of home renovation. So, I thought, “Well, I better just call 20 roofers so that I can get three quotes.” But I got like nine to show up and weigh in on the matter.

And then it was, huh, boy, it was complex and overwhelming because it’s sort of like, okay, well, this guy costs twice as much as that guy. But why? Is he doing more? Is he better? Is it higher quality? This person says I absolutely have to have it torn off and redone, and that one says, “No, no, no, you don’t need to do that. You can just put another layer.” And this one says, “You don’t even need a layer.” I can just get a sealing and a coating.

And so, it’s like, “Why am I, the person who does not know about roofing, charged with the task of determining who is correct and who is incorrect?” I found myself some disagreement and, I mean, it was tough to sort to the bottom of it.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, let me ask you this. Do you feel you were more informed about roofing now that you did that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m vastly informed about roofing, and I wish I weren’t.

Vikram Mansharamani
Far more than you want to be. Exactly. Well, so then the question becomes, “Do you think you could make a better decision having had those conversations or not?”

Pete Mockaitis
You mean going forward or looking backward?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. So, ultimately, before you replaced your roof, you presumably had to make a choice, and you, I think, made an informed choice. It might’ve had some costs with developing the options, and seeking the disagreement, and getting a lay of the land, but that mere process, I think, informed you on an area that you would’ve otherwise made a decision blindly in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it did inform me, and I suppose what I’m really getting at is once I’ve gotten some disagreements, how do I make a call?

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Sure. Well, that’s ultimately where you need to think for yourself, right? What are the variables that matter to you? Do you want a 40-year life roof or do you care if it’s a 20-year life roof? Do you want to have the guarantee in case there’s a leak and a hurricane comes through, or do you not worry about the guarantee because you think you may sell the house the next year? So, I think there’s some tradeoffs that one needs to think about themselves.

But part of the reason I encourage the disagreement is there’s a quote, a very famous quote, that Alfred Sloan used it says, “If we’re all in agreement on this decision, then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.” Disagreement helps to understand. So, that’s part of the reason I focus on generating a little bit of disagreement.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s certainly true. That helps generate understanding and, partially, just because it’s psychologically, internally, there’s this tension. It’s like, “Well, what’s right? Aargh.” Because I’m sort of frustrated, I really want to hunker down and get deep into the wisdom because there’s this tension I want resolved and what’s correct.

So, what are some of your pro tips in terms of, I guess, one, you’re getting clear on what you want in your own criteria in rubrics there? But, I guess, part of what I figured out was I had to sort of make some rules of thumb for, “Who am I going to believe and who am I not, and why?” And part of it was I am more inclined to believe people who tell me something that works against their self-interest, where like, “Hey, I can’t do anything for you right now because you got to take care of that masonry first.” It’s like, “So, you’re just going to walk away from the money I want to give you.” I’m inclined to think that that’s a true thing he said about the masonry because it goes against his self-interest.

Or if someone gives me a why, a reason, because underneath what they’re saying, then I’d buy it more than the guy who did not. Like, “You’re going to have to tear off this roof because you can tell from this thickness right here that there’s already three layers, which is already more than the building code allows for. And if you observe this, you’ll see some sagging in the rafters,” versus the guy who’s like, “Nah, we can just put another layer on it.” It’s like, “You didn’t tell me why we could put another layer on it. Like, you didn’t say, ‘Hey, I can tell from this thickness that we have.’” He just said, “Nah.”

So, if you give me a reason versus not a reason, I want to go with the person who gave me a reason. So, those are just a couple of the rubrics I ended up inventing on the spot to make sense of my roof. But what else would you point us to in terms of sorting things out?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, I mean, look, ultimately, we need to think about just satisficing, if you will. Pete, we’ve so often, because of these overwhelming sets of options and the overwhelming data deluge that we’re suffering, we think there’s an ideal so we never settle on “good enough.” I mean, I can imagine, and I don’t know you that well, but you might’ve been a person who got so analytical you could imagine a spreadsheet on which roofing contractor to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s absolutely multiples.

Vikram Mansharamani
Right? At some point, we just need to decide. You can overanalyze these things. And so, when I tell people to focus on decision-making, I say, “Look, you can satisfice, that’s from Herb Simon, a Nobel prize winner, who suggested that actually maximization logic or optimization logic sometimes can mislead us, just the pursuit of it even, into expending more costs on trying to optimize than we get value from the incremental optimization.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, agreed. Time, I mean.

Vikram Mansharamani
So, I’ll give you an example from the book, which is a fun personal example, and it has to do with selecting a movie to watch. Every now and then, when the kids, my kids are asleep, my wife and I will jump on the couch and try to get a movie and just watch a movie in the comfort of our home, more so these days since we don’t go out during this lockdown. But, inevitably, what happens is one of us gets to the couch first and sees a preview or two, and then the second one arrives, and I got to be on the same informational footing, “I got to see the same previews you watched. There’s no way I’m making a choice without you…you have an informational edge here. I need to get involved here.”

And so, we’ll watch a couple. Both of us are in different moods, possibly realizing that, “My goodness, Xfinity has 10,000 movies available, we got the Apple TV, which has another 50,000, we got Netflix which can give it to us all of those 100,000 movies in seven different languages, and we got to be able to find the perfect movie.”

And so, an example I use in the book is my wife, eventually, is like, “Fine. It sounds like you really want to watch it. Let’s just watch that movie.” Except it’s taken us an hour to choose the movie. I fall asleep halfway through the movie, go to sleep, and she turns around and says, “I chose this movie because you wanted to watch this movie.” She’s upset. I fell asleep. I go to sleep. She then wakes up next morning. She watched half of the movie she didn’t want to watch, and half of the movie she did want to watch, and is frustrated by the whole evening.

That’s what happens with too much choice and not satisficing, and we’re all subject to it. Sometimes it’s fine to just make a choice. There’ll be more choices in the future. No reason to stress out about things. Some things shouldn’t be stressed about.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny that you and I are having this conversation. My company is called Optimality, LLC. That is my business name. I love things being optimal. And I think I’m the weird one compared to my friends and family in terms of others are more fine with satisficing. But I think that’s really a great point in terms of, again, thinking for yourself, in terms of, “What are we looking to do here? Do we need to optimize the crap out of this?” And some things you really do. It’s like, “This will make a tremendous impact if it’s 2% better, so we’re going to get there.”

And other things it doesn’t in terms of if you found the best possible movie ever that was, from thence forth, all of your favorite movies, one, that’s highly improbable, wildly occur, because how can you top Life is Beautiful. Wow! What a film. But the payoff isn’t that extraordinarily huge and the quest could take forever. So, I think that’s really great point right there. It’s just we got to decide, “What do we got to do here? Do I get a perfect optimization, a rough optimization, or just a quick good enough?”

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, and I think it has to do obviously with the stakes. When the stakes are low, our default is we tend not in our decision processes to factor in the stakes of the outcome. This is a trivial thing. We’re watching a movie. Why stress about optimizing? Just go with one. It’s good. We’ll have another choice next week. We’ll have lots. This is a repeated choice and the stakes are so low. So, yeah, I think incorporating how big a decision and how high the stakes are should come into that decision of optimize versus satisfice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, it’s so funny, as we talk about it, it’s like, “Well, boy, if you really want to optimize the bejesus out of movies selection, you just got to go to IMDB or Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, go top to bottom.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, Pete, you’re hinting at a great point where we outsource our thinking. How many of us go to the recommended, “People who watched this movie will also enjoy this movie”? And don’t we just naturally go there and explore those? When you’ve purchased a book online from your favorite large retailer, do you go down and say, “Well, people who bought this also bought this. You may also enjoy this”? Or do you get an email from someone? Are they channeling our focus in a way that prevents us from scanning? And so, we end up becoming exploiters, i.e. narrow and deep, rather than explorers, wide and broad. So, I think we’re outsourcing some of our thinking even unknowingly in times like those.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, if you think about just that notion of exploiting versus exploring, you would probably have a very different approach and mindset toward exploring if it wasn’t in the heat of battle, if you will, like, “We’re going to pick a movie to watch now” versus, “Why don’t I just get a list of candidates ready for the future moment in which we’re going to watch a movie.” You’ll probably be a little bit more open-ended in terms of, “Huh, what’s that about?”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, it’s interesting. I mean, I think actually some of these large tech companies giving us media have thought about this decision problem, and that’s why I think, I don’t know for a fact, but I think that’s why we have the Wishlist, or the My List, or I think every streaming service has their own one where you put down what your future potential movies to watch are. So, even there I think they’re trying to overcome that problem. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Vikram, tell me, before we shift gears, any other top do’s and don’ts for wise thinking, decision-making, we should lock in?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. So, one of the things that I think is critical that very few people spend enough time thinking about is the future. Of course, all of us think about the future, singular, but I think we need to think about futures, plural. And thinking about multiple futures is a different way to think. It’s thinking probabilistically of how things can transpire.

And so, that’s a big-picture topic but I think it has to do with the context. As I said earlier, the context is critical to how you make decisions, the environment in which you’re making the decisions, the stakes of the decision you’re making, but also related to that is some version or vision of the future. And I rather you not have one vision of the future or one version of the future, but rather multiple futures that you’re envisioning or foreseeing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I might sort of imagine what’s the future that I’m delighted with, what’s the future that I’m furious about, how do these come about.

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. I mean, look, one of the decision tactics I use in some of my advisory work is I use, from the academic literature, something called prospective hindsight. Now, what does that mean in plain English? In plain English that means it’s called a pre-mortem analysis. What does that mean in real plain English? Imagine failure in the future for a decision you made today, and then paint a story of why that decision failed.

So, you decided to go with one roofer. A hurricane came through and, you know what, you shouldn’t have done the multiple layers because it ripped off. That’s horrible. One possibility of failure in that decision is you went with a choice that optimized for the short term, not thinking about some of these bigger risks.

Alternatively, you failed because you went with the high-price guy who was going to do it perfectly, strip the roof, rebuild the masonry, do it all, and charge you an arm and leg. Well, now, how does that fail? Yeah, the failure there may be that, “Well, I spent too much money. I never really got the value of it,” or what have you, or there’s other versions that you can think about.

And so, you can think in terms of possible regrets for decisions made, trying to project yourself into the future and looking back to say, “Why did that decision go wrong?” And that oftentimes helps for some interesting thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote? You gave us one. Do you have another?

Vikram Mansharamani
I do. Peter Drucker, fabulous management theorist, and it’s related, again, in the domain of decisions, I think it’s the fabulous one, he says, “A decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw.” I figure I’d bring that in given the Vegas connection too. But, yes, the key is it’s not a choice. It’s not a decision if you only have one alternative you come up with. And this has to do with also that disagreement logic. So, that’s a fun quote.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Vikram Mansharamani
There’s a lot of them out there that I find fascinating. Obviously, Kahneman and Thaler. Kahneman and Tversky have done a lot, but Thaler has done a lot in behavioral decision-making, and I find almost all of their work fascinating. Some of their earlier work where they decided to actually go and try these sorts of studies on people.

One of my favorite ones, it’s referenced very slightly, but I think it says so much about us humans, was when they stepped in front of an audience and spun one of those wheels of fortune that resulted in a number, I think, between a zero and a hundred, and then they asked the audience, “What percentage of African nations were members of the United Nations?” And they got a number. They did these many times. Other groups spun the wheel of fortune, got a a random number. Everyone saw it was a random number. And then they asked the question, “What percentage of African nations are members of the United Nations?”

And the numbers that the groups came up with for percentage of African nations that were members of the United Nations were influenced by the random number. And the anchoring effect is so visceral at that point. Like, we know this number is random and yet that’s in our head. We can’t get it out of our head. And we approach the answer to the question closer to that than we otherwise should. I find that fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I saw one where judges, there’s a study with judges, who had an address on the stationery of the document that influenced how much of a monetary award they thought a plaintiff deserved, which was wild. These are judges.

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, you’d think it wouldn’t be that way but, unfortunately, it is. The other study that I’ll just highlight, is Philip Tetlock wrote a book called Expert Political Judgment. And in that book, he talks about experts’ forecasting and the long-range forecasts of many experts. And what he found was experts were less accurate in their area of expertise than non-experts were, vis-à-vis the predictions made over a long term and with lots of predictions. Then I think he had 80,000 predictions over lots of years and lots of forecasters, and sort of came back to the logic that sometimes it’s better to be broad rather than narrow.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Vikram Mansharamani
You know, one of the books that I really do love is The Four Agreements which is a bit of philosophy. It’s a book that’s not quite spiritual in the sense but it’s a sort of Toltec wisdom guide to self-freedom or something like that. I forget the subtitle of it. But, really, it’s a book that forces you to step back and put things in context personally, professionally, etc. I find it a really empowering book. It’s a book that I sometimes leave in my suitcase back when I was traveling more, and would happily pick up and read through and re-read. It’s a book that I think is quite powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Vikram Mansharamani
I actually think sometimes just disconnecting from the stuff I’m working on. And if that’s go out for a run or, and I talk about this also as a tool to inspire creativity, literally, just get lost in a movie in the middle of the day. So, sometimes if I’m writing and in a rut, I will go turn on a movie in the middle of the day, watch it, watch half of it. Of course, obviously, I don’t think this is unusual advice, but working out and sort of breaking the rhythm. But those are some of the tools I use to really break up the rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re really known for, it’s quoted back to you often?

Vikram Mansharamani
I think the phrase that you’ve already quoted that I do like to use and a lot of people associate with me is sometimes keep experts on tap not on top. That’s one of the things there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn or get in touch, where would you point them?

Vikram Mansharamani
I think my website is probably the best place, which is just my last name dot com, www.Mansharamani.com or my Twitter account which is @mansharamani.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Vikram Mansharamani
You know, I think it’s really, really important to try to take a step back and think about these multiple futures. And I know lots of people that are professional and focus on their careers are devout readers of non-fiction. But I want you to take some time to read fiction, to watch movies. I think the creativity that it inspires helps you to think about multiple futures. I teach this class at Harvard called Humanity and Its Challenges. It’s a systems-thinking class taught at the engineering school. And I use novels in this class.

Now, this throws engineering students off because their first inclination is, “Wait. What? That’s not real though, Vikram. That’s not real. That’s fake. That’s a fiction story.” And I was like, “Yes, read it. You’ll understand.” Or watching movies, they’re like, “But that’s not real. We’ll watch a documentary, not a movie.” But the point is some of these narratives of future scenarios can really help you navigate through uncertainty as it comes. It helps you get a lay of the land of what may be in front of you.

Five years ago, when I started teaching this class during the year 2016-2017 academic year, one of the cases, and we’ve used it since then, is the risk of a global pandemic. We had students watch the movie Contagion. We had the students watch other movies for other cases. And they dismissed it back then as Hollywood-esque drama, “This isn’t real. This is fake.”

Today, a handful of those students that gave me that feedback back then, are turning around and saying, “Wow, I’m glad you made us watch some of those things. It gave us a version of how the future could unfold that even though we didn’t fully appreciate at the time, we now do.” So, that’s a little tidbit, sort of think in terms of futures.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Vikram, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best of luck in the ways you’re thinking for yourself.

Vikram Mansharamani
Great. Thanks very much, Pete.

573: How to Leverage Your Time by 6000% through Effective Delegation with Bill Truby

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Bill Truby shares the simple trick to getting better results when delegating tasks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest mistake leaders make when delegating
  2. The most crucial thing you need to delegate
  3. The only four reasons why people fail to follow through

About Bill

Bill brings the background of common-sense learning (being raised on a cattle ranch), a B.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Psychology, the experience of a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), and nearly 30 years of business practice to the table.

These multiple perspectives and backgrounds synergize to bring amazingly simple, yet powerful tools to leaders and managers – tools that have been proven over and over for nearly four decades.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Bill Truby Interview Transcript

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

Bill Truby
Well, my pleasure, Pete. I’m thankful to be able to talk with you, and I guess it’s been a while since we’ve began to connect, and now we’re really voice to voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am thankful too because I remember I’ve discovered you in my very first batch of guest recruitment. It was in the For Your Improvement book by the Korn Ferry folks. It had a nice bibliography of folks and books and resources associated with each skill I thought I might focus in on. Yours is one. I looked, I liked it, didn’t work out. But four years later, well, here we are. I’m glad that we both stuck with it.

Bill Truby
Well, I embarrassingly apologize, Pete. There was a lot going on in life back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And I didn’t really follow up much. it was like every, I don’t know, year, “Hey, Bill. I still want you.

Bill Truby
Well, I am thankful too. And, yeah, it’s the way things are meant to be, I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve got a lot of fun to get into when it comes to delegation. But I want to hear just a smidge about… you grew up in a cattle ranch in Texas. And my experience with ranches is limited to the Nickelodeon program “Hey Dude” I watched as a child.

Bill Truby
Oh, you poor soul you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell us about this.

Bill Truby
Well, I tell you what, I attribute most of who I am and how I am to my cowboy background. And I didn’t grow up in Texas but I have roots in Texas. If you look at a map of Texas, about two hours north of Abilene, you’ll see a little town called Truby, Texas. And there’s a little book written by the Arizona Historical Society about the Trubys and the Coxes. The Trubys were the cattle ranchers, the Coxes were the sheepherders. And if you know about American history, they were at war, when guns ruled the land.

I mean, it was late 1800s and the Trubys and the Coxes were both bull-headed and they were shooting at each other, and the local sheriff finally rounded up the most offending Trubys and the most offending Coxes and put them in jail. And in those days, you couldn’t convict them till the circuit-riding judge came around, which he finally did.

Well, the judge finally said, because cowboys are loyal, and apparently sheep herders are too, and people were lying for their family of support and their family of choice. So, finally, the judge said, “There’s no getting the truth here. You’re free to shoot it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Bill Truby
Yup. So, everybody left the courthouse. The book talks about it. And Trubys, apparently, were smarter than they looked because they left, and they went to New Mexico, and that’s where my dad was born, and he was raised on a little ranch there and a sod house. And then he moved to northern California where I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Humboldt County. And I end this little story by telling you that the Texas Historical Society allows you to adopt a small town. So, I adopted Truby, Texas. I have a town.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Bill Truby
But, apparently, Trubys weren’t worth much because it only cost me 25 bucks to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what are your responsibilities if you’ve adopted a town, you’re the father? Like, do you have to pay for things?

Bill Truby
Yeah, I have a certificate. That’s it. That’s it. And there’s 24 people that lived there so they had to split that last dollar, Pete. So, that’s the beginning of my heritage, and a lot of things I learned though, Pete. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity. My word is better than a contract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, let’s hear your good word when it comes to effective delegation. it’s a universal skill. We need some more, great wisdom, on how to do it well. you’re one of the guys. So, your book has a compelling bullet that says “Effective delegation can leverage our time by 6,000%.” That’s quite a figure. It’s kind of specific. Where do we get it?

Bill Truby
Well, that book, first of all, was written long ago. And one of our claims to fame long ago was the ability to teach people how to delegate effectively, and always get follow through, or if you didn’t, you were able to fix it with one or two times, and it’s powerful. So, our co-author at the time, I’ve written some other books, but I did a co-author at the time, and he did some research on some of our folks that used the tool and multiplied their time that they used to take to fix delegations that just didn’t work well, and did the old math. I don’t know how he did it, but it was a pretty impressive number, but I know intuitively, and I know empirically that over 40 years of doing this is it just proves this tool. It works. It always works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I imagine, you know, 6,000%, 60X, I mean, if you’ve got 60 people and you’re delegating well, then that would do it and work out there. So, I want to really dig into a whole lot of the particulars, for what’s the system and how we can utilize it. First off, I think maybe could you frame it up for us? Like, I think we probably all know delegating is handy as opposed to trying to do everything yourself, and yet it seems hard. So, can you share what makes it hard? What’s holding us back? What are some of the mental blocks? Like, why don’t we just do this?

Bill Truby
That is an excellent question, and it’s excellent because it sets the premise. If we don’t delegate, then we have to do it ourselves. The only way that a leader, the only way that a father can leverage his or her effectiveness is by working with people and through people. So, it’s absolutely imperative that we delegate in order to be successful. We are self-limiting by self-doing. If we try to do everything ourselves then we are limited by the capacity that our energy and that our time extends to. That’s it.

So, the only way that you can play a beautiful orchestra is by not playing one instrument but leading and directing the delegation of a variety of instruments who all play the same song.

But your question, “Why don’t we do it?” Well, that’s a multifaceted answer. Some people are just too controlling. They will not let go. Other people are trying to make it perfect and they don’t think anybody else can so it’s a self-esteem issue. There’s a variety of issues, Pete, that cause people to not delegate. But the number one consistent theme that I’ve seen throughout all my years of teaching people to delegate is simply they don’t know how.

They’ll try to duplicate themselves. They’ll try to get people to do things exactly the way they would do it. They try to micromanage. They try to just give them a little, few pieces of information and tell them to go, and they don’t give them all the information. So, our tool has been built to cover every eventuality of delegation, and, thereby, make it successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Exciting. Well, so then you got a lot of reps of experience, a lot of clients and students who’ve picked up on this. Could you share with us maybe an inspiring case study of someone who was having some trouble delegating, but then they saw some really cool things happen on the other side just so we can get a taste and feel some inspiration for it?

Bill Truby
Sure. There’s a man named Mike Solano who owns a $14 million hardware billing supply enterprise. He has a rental center, two billing supplies, two hardware stores, etc.

Now, this man worked six to seven days a week, every day spending eight to ten hours a day. He was overwhelmed because he wanted everything to go well, and he was successful. But he was overwhelmed, tired, weary. He was not going to be able to keep up this pace. Now I want to say something right now, Pete, about delegation, and that is delegation is a tool. What you delegate is also very important because you just don’t delegate tasks. You delegate roles. You delegate departments. You delegate businesses.

So, Mike learned this tool. He used it at the core of all of our other processes and teachings and tools that we use to run a business, and this was the core, and now Mike works two to three days a week if he wants to. His delegation process has empowered people. People have a sense of ownership. People have a sense of accomplishment and achievement and they enjoy going to work doing their role, their job, and reaping their results. And he’s allowed them to feel that kind of ownership.

We teach people, we teach leaders, we teach managers that you need to lead accountable people and not hold people accountable. That’s a core concept that we teach always. If you hold people accountable, you’re the one holding the accountability. If you lead accountable people, then they’re the ones holding the accountability. And that’s a whole other subject.

But Mike’s people have learned to be accountable and he doesn’t have to hold them accountable, and this tool is the core of how this process works.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. Well, so then lay it on us. What is this tool, this process? How do we go do it?

Bill Truby
Well, when your listeners go to the delegation flowchart link and download it, they’re going to see what I’m talking about, but it truly is a flowchart, Pete. It starts at the top with what you do and then it flows down the page, and it teaches you what to do at each stage of the delegation process.

And at the very top, there is the point that you need to delegate. Accountability. Notice you’re delegating accountability. You’re not delegating just a task. You’re delegating accountability and you’re including responsibility and authority. Now that’s an important point. Sometimes people try to delegate by giving people a task to do but they don’t give them the authority that’s associated with the responsibility.

And here’s one of the first points. Sometimes the person doesn’t have literal authority. For example, there’s a safety officer in a big company. The safety officer doesn’t hire and fire, but the safety officer is charged with going through the facility and making sure people are doing safe practices and following safe protocols.

So, what happens if Mr. and Mrs. Safety Person says to John or Jane Doe manager, “Hey, you need to stop doing that”? If safety officer doesn’t have authority, that person doesn’t have any teeth in their words. So, how do you give the safety officer authority? You give it to him or her as vicarious authority, no different than air traffic control.

I’m sure you’ve flown a whole lot, Pete. When I listened to the pilots, air traffic control says, “United 73, descend and maintain 10,000.” I have never once heard a pilot say, “You’re not my boss.” And, obviously, they follow the instructions of air traffic control because of two reasons. One, there’s benefit. They’re not going to run into another plane. And, number two, FAA and the United Airline, or Delta Airlines, or whatever company you’re looking at, have given the air traffic controller vicarious authority to give orders to the pilots.

So, what that looks like is John or Jane Doe’s CEO says to the company, “People, Martha or John, this is my safety officer. When he or she is asking you to do something, it’s as if I’m asking you to do it.” So, that’s the first mindset that needs to be delivered in the context of delegation. We’re delegating responsibility and authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, responsibility, authority, accountability, and so it’s sort of like the whole enchilada. It’s like, “You own it. It’s yours.” And that’s really handy in terms of there’s not a lot of excuses that emerge in that, that’s like, “Well, I just did this because that was what was on the process sheet I was supposed to follow,” as opposed to, “Well, no, you own this sort of domain so, yeah, you’re going to follow the process but you’re also going to kind of exercise some judgment to do what clearly needs to be done to make it work out well.”

Bill Truby
You’re right, Pete. And that’s a very insightful way of putting it. The person who it’s been delegated to feels ownership of that enchilada. But the most important point is that other people know that he or she has that enchilada. If they don’t know, then that person is limited in their ability to carry out the task or the project. So, that’s the first mindset.

Many things that we teach, Pete, have to do with mind shifts. It’s sort of like leading accountable people rather than holding people accountable. That mind shift alone changes a ton of behaviors and beliefs and attitudes. So, that’s the top of the flowchart, delegate accountability, including responsibility and authority.

And at that point, you create what we call a contract of expectations. There’s never an assumption. The person being delegated to never walks away with a question. It’s a two-way communication, and this is where our communication tools come in, but you must create a clear contract of expectations. The core of a contract of expectations, or CoE as we call it, is a, “What? By whom? By When?”

Pete Mockaitis
Who will do what by when?

Bill Truby
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
Included in that is the purpose and context. Because if I just asked you, Pete, “Go do this,” and you say, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and you have no purpose or context, then you cannot be creative in the obstacles that may come your way. If you know the reason, the why, the purpose and the context where it fits in, then you can be a little bit more creative in your work as you encounter the unknown, which is always the case.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so valuable and really worth, I think, underscoring because a lot of times we don’t know the why behind the request, and we just sort of kind of do it. But I think I’ve been on both sides of things in terms of being the doer of the task and not really knowing, it’s like, “Well, I could go either way but I don’t know. Is this in my thing? So, my instructions are I’m just going to make a note and kind of keep on rolling.”

And then, as a leader, when I have been so wise as to share the purpose and context, to be surprised and delighted with people that I’m managing, say, “Hey, I bumped into this and so I did that.” And I think, “Well, that is perfect. Thank you.” It just feels so good, like I don’t have to say anything, and it came back even better than I had imagined it could have from my just process instructions, so this is really cool.

Bill Truby
Purpose and context has many psychological benefits. It increases ownership. It shows respect. It feels like you belong, that you’re included. But, more importantly, if the percussionist in an orchestra doesn’t know the song, all he can do is play the music. And if you don’t play the music in the context of the song, you might play too loud, you might play too soft. Same with a violin, same with a piccolo, same with a French horn. We must understand the purpose and context of the notes that we’re playing in order to make it effective in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Bill Truby
So, this is the first thing that happens in the delegation process, it’s preventative. So, there’s this clarity of what, by whom, by when. There’s a purpose and context. If it’s a long project, then you clarify when you want reports, and you always ask the person to do it. You don’t tell. This is about leading accountable people.

Pete, if I said, “Pete, go do this or that,” then you’re just a puppet, you’re just a person that’s doing a job. If I say, “Will you do it?” and you say, “Yes,” now we have a contract and you own it. So, when you don’t do it, if you don’t, I don’t say, “Didn’t I tell you?” I keep the accountability where it belongs. I say, “Pete, didn’t we agree?” And where does that put the accountability? Right on you. Okay, so that’s the first step.

So, we build all of this, it takes a few minutes. Obviously, it could take hours depending on if it’s a large project but there’s clarity, there’s absolute clarity, no assumptions ever. Clarity, clarity. Pristine, clear communication and an agreement. Now, when you do that, one of two things happen. If the person follows through, and if you look at the delegation flowchart, you’ll see on the right side of the page there’s a box that says, “Follow through.” And when a person follows through, then the arrow goes down to what we call a continuous improvement celebration.

Obviously, the type of celebration depends on the extent of the delegation. If I asked you to go get lunch for the team, that’s different than solving world hunger. So, the celebration is congruent with the task. And I don’t know if we want to get into all the details of a celebration at this point but just to earmark the four parts, there’s the party factor because everybody wants to have fun. There’s the recognition and appreciation, people need to be recognized and appreciated. There’s the learning what went well, what didn’t go well. What didn’t go well so you can fix it. What did go well so you can repeat it.

Because if something went well and you don’t know why it happened, you’re not good, you’re lucky. And then you transfer that knowledge to other people in the company, or other friends, somebody else who could benefit. So, that’s the right side of the flowchart, follow through, and then the last thing you do is to have some kind of a celebration, which gives closure and recognition and that motivation to want to be delegated to again.

Now, the left side, is when somebody may not follow through. This delegation process always works but what happens when somebody who doesn’t follow through is that you follow this chart and you’ll fix it typically one time. There’s a circle that goes on. So, if there’s no or limited follow through, there are four reasons. You know, Pete, I’ve never heard anybody talk about this, I’ve never heard anybody write about it, I’ve never heard anybody speak about these four concepts. But there’s only four reasons why someone won’t follow through, only four.

And I’m talking about anybody. Your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your kid, your employee, your employer. Human beings have four reasons why they won’t follow through. A wise delegator will search for the reason in the order that I’ll give them to you right now. The first is, and they all start with lack of. The first is lack of awareness. They weren’t aware.

Now, typically, we’re communicating when we’re delegating, and humans aren’t the greatest at communicating. And so, if it’s lack of awareness, it’s often some glitch that occurred in the communication process, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant that.” We could use the same word success and you could think of different criteria for success than I do. So, the first is lack of awareness. And you never demand, you always ask questions, “So, what was your understanding of the task?” to see if there was awareness.

If there was awareness, the second reason a person won’t follow through, or can’t follow through, is lack of training. They thought they knew how but they didn’t, “So, did you know how to do this?” The third reason is lack of resources. They didn’t have enough time. They didn’t have enough equipment. They didn’t have enough staff. They didn’t have enough money. Something was lacking that wasn’t prevalent or wasn’t known at the beginning of the delegation process. And the only other reason a person won’t follow through is lack of accountability.

So, lack of awareness, number one; lack of training, number two; lack of resources, number three; and lack of accountability, they’re just not doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s define accountability there in this context. So, is it they don’t feel like or what do you mean specifically by accountability here?

Bill Truby
They just didn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
It’s just the outcome wasn’t there, “You didn’t bring lunch.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess, well, call me a stickler as a former strategy consultant about when you lay out, hey, there’s four reasons, I get really excited about a mutually-exclusive collectively-exhaustive categorization set because I’m a dork that way. So, lack of accountability, they just didn’t do it. That almost feels like an everything-else bucket, I guess, in a way, you can maybe subdivide that. Like, there are multiple reasons why they just didn’t do it. They didn’t feel like it. They weren’t motivated, and they don’t care. Yeah, can you unpack the lack of accountability a little more?

Bill Truby
Sure, and I love all those big words you used to identify this set. That was awesome.

Bill Truby
Okay. Remember what we delegated at the beginning of time, at the beginning of this delegation process. We delegated accountability. Well, there’s an obvious finishing of that sentence. The accountability to do blank. So, you and I are climbing a mountain, and I delegate you the holding of the rope to belay me as I climb.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
If you do not adhere to that accountability, you just don’t hold the rope, I don’t really care why because at this point, we’re not talking about the why. We’re simply talking about the outcome. Period. So, if you don’t hold the rope, there’s danger. If your hands hurt, if you’re sad, if you sneeze, if you don’t feel like it, those are all beside the point. When you’re out on the football field, and the ball is thrown to you, it doesn’t matter how you feel, your job is to catch the ball. And if you don’t go up to catch the ball, then you have not been accountable to what you’ve agreed to be accountable about.

So, it’s really not a catchall. It’s specifically focused on the task that was delegated. In some ways, I suppose the four reasons are the why, but they’re all about behavior and resources to do the behavior. They’re not diving into the emotional or psychological or relational reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m driving is, what I love about the first thing is lack of awareness, “Oh, okay. well, we’re going to have a clarifying conversation, we’re going to have some more detail, and we’re, okay, good, good, good. We’re all on the same page. Solved.”

Lack of training. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Well, here’s an instructional, a tutorial, a class, a course, whatever. Okay, now you know. Okay, good to go.” Lack of resources, “Oh, shucks, you’re right. We’ve got to free up some things from your plate or get some more people or budget under your purview, so that’s solved.” But how does one solve a lack of accountability?

Bill Truby
This, again, insightful, Pete. That’s fantastic, because if you’ll look at the chart, you’ll notice that the first three items, awareness, training, and resources, are typically one-time things. Once you find that that’s the case, then you provide the fulfillment of what was missing, awareness, training, or resources. And then you re-negotiate the contract, it goes up, you re-negotiate the contract by saying, “Okay, let’s look at the contract of expectations again, and re-enter your delegating process, your process of doing what I’ve delegated you to, given your new resources, or your new training, or your new awareness.” So, that one is a one-time loop. One-time loop.

Now, the lack of accountability, that one is fixed by using a separate tool. Now, first of all, I want to make sure that we understand that lack of accountability is binary, they either did it or they didn’t. And if they didn’t, they agreed to, so the first thing we do is to ask the question, “Didn’t we agree?” Right now, we’re working with a $440 million 2500-person nonprofit dialysis company. That entire company is using this particular process to fix people who are not performing effectively, who are not being accountable.

And, HR, if you call HR, the first thing HR will say is, “Have you asked them if they agreed to the contract of expectations?” So, we keep the accountability where it belongs. And, quite frankly, that’s respectful. If I take your accountability away, and say, “All right. Now I’m just going to demand this, and I’m going to make you do what I’m wanting you to do,” then you’re a slave, you’re not a fellow human being.

So, how you fix a lack of accountability is through this process. Number one, “Didn’t we agree?” and the person says, “Yes.” Then, secondly, “Then what happened?” We don’t ask why, “Then what happened?” We give a chance for a person to give their reasons. Then, third, “Then let’s re-negotiate the process here. Will you do A, B, and C by X, Y, and Z with J, L, and K outcome?” So, you’re basically revisiting the contract as well, but this time the person is simply agreeing again.

Now, let me get a little more practical. Let’s say that you asked somebody to do something, they didn’t do it, they weren’t accountable, so you ask these questions. Then they don’t do it the second time. Now, it’s your wisdom that has to determine how many times you loop. If it’s very, very important, it may be one or two times. If you’re trying to grow something, somebody, maybe it’s 12 times. But you will never ever, you can never ever, and this is the beauty of this tool, you can never ever, ever say, “Oh, well, that’s Johnny.” Because if we do that, everybody around us knows that we broke the contract and we perpetuated Johnny’s behavior, we’ve allowed it to happen to other people, we destroy our own ability to delegate if we break the contract ourselves.

So, whatever your wisdom says, one time, two times, 12 times, there comes a time when you say, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, what happened?” “Well, A, B, and C.” “Well, let’s agree this time that if you don’t do it, that…” and then you have to default to your discipline process, “…that you’re going to be getting your first verbal warning.” Let’s say it’s a verbal written writ and termination. So, the person says, “Okay.” So, if the person doesn’t follow through, they know before you do, that they’re not following through so they’re managing their own discipline process. So, they come back, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, then you remember, too, I’m giving you a verbal warning. Let’s agree that if it doesn’t happen again, you’ll be getting your first written warning.”

So, people either step up or step out. And here’s the good news, Pete. Most people step up. We don’t lose good people. They step up. They just needed boundaries, they needed clarifications, kids need boundaries, our employees need boundaries, friends need boundaries. And when we put a boundary in this tool, a person steps up or steps out. And so, that’s what you do when there’s no or limited follow through, you find the reason, fix it one time with the first three, use wisdom to fix it for the fourth reason, the lack of accountability, and then one or two things happens. The person follows through, which happens most of the time, or the person doesn’t, and they’re terminated from the team, they’re demoted, they’re not allowed to be on the team anymore.

And so, the delegating of the task always works. The person who is in the process of being delegated to sometimes might change if they’re not willing to step up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is really stretching my brain in some great ways, so thank you. I guess I’m wondering if, let’s say, they do the work but the results are not as grand as you’d hope. I don’t know, maybe in terms of like the quality, like, “Oh, I asked you to write up this document, and the writing is lackluster.” Or maybe it’s a higher-end result, like, “Hey, you were supposed to run this business division and generate $10 million in gross profit this quarter, and you got 8.” So, I guess, in a way, they do the work but they don’t get the results. How do we play that game?

Bill Truby
Well, two things. One, we must look at the delegator first, because you’ve got to be sure and have a clear contract of expectations at the beginning. So, lackluster of a writing material is a bit fuzzy. So, it’s up to the delegator to be clear and precise in communicating what needs to be done. The $10 million is rather clear and precise. So, the first thing, we’ve got to look at the delegator to make sure that the delegator is clear in his or her communication about the contract of expectations.

And then, secondly, part of the contract of expectations at the beginning, I mentioned just briefly in passing, if it’s a longer timeline, you want to get reports. And so, the $8 million at the end of this stretch of time should not be a surprise. The first benchmark, the first waymark, if the person was not on track, there’s a communication that goes on with the delegator and the delegate as to what’s going on. And one of two things happen. Either the goal begins to be adjusted or it is strengthened by some other resources to allow that goal to be reached.

So, the delegator in both cases, the lackluster in the writing or the diminished return on the 8 million versus 10 million, is involved in the process of guiding and helping along the way. But the key thing is the delegator is not doing it. The delegator is leveraging him or herself by delegating to the person who’s trying to play the violin, “Oh, you’re not playing that note quite right. Here are some techniques that you could use. Go practice those and then come back.”

I will tell you this, that through the delegation process, we do find that some people just are not bad people, nor are they unwilling people, but they don’t have the capacity. It’s up to the leader and manager to understand this over time. I didn’t mention this earlier but I have a master’s degree in psychology, and I was a marriage and family therapist in the early ‘80s for a couple years. And I’ve always needed to know the intent of a person not the behavior of the person.

In fact, my dad taught me that on the farm, he said, “Billy, always know why people are doing things. Don’t just look at what they’re doing.” So, I look at the why when a person isn’t following through, and it could be those four reasons, like I said. But we’ve entered into another little dimension here. If a person doesn’t have willingness or capacity, they won’t do it. In fact, they can’t do it. Even relationships. Relationships can only be successful if both parties have willingness and capacity. And I’m not talking just about a married couple. I’m talking about business and customers. Both sides of the equation, both people, have to have willingness and capacity.

So, in our process of delegating, everything might be going well but then we realize, “This person, no matter how great they are, no matter how talented they are, no matter how willing they are, they just don’t have the capacity,” and that’s where we have to adjust who we’re delegating to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Bill, thank you. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Bill Truby
The core concept of everything we teach is to be other-centered. I want to just highlight that. That’s embedded in this. It’s clearly seen in leading accountable people. It’s clearly seen in asking the person to agree. It’s clearly seen even in the disciplining process if a person has lack of accountability. But I believe that the most successful businesses, the most successful leader, the most successful delegator will do so in the context of where the other person is coming from, how to communicate to them.

We’ll communicate to a 12-year old differently than we will a 48-year old. We’ll communicate to a person with a different skillset differently than a person who has a limited skillset. So, the delegation process is a tool. It’s like a shovel but you dig differently in sand than you do in clay. So, we exercise our interaction with the other person using the same tool, we exercise it a little differently based on that other person’s needs and wants. And that’s how we make them successful is that we’re always other-centered in our application of this tool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bill Truby
I suppose my favorite quote in all of my life has come from my dad, and I’ve illuminated it earlier. He always said two things, “Billy, always understand why the person is doing what they’re doing. And that understanding breeds empathy, acceptance, and the ability to lead them.” Then he also said, “Billy, if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

And what that meant, I grew to learn over time, is that I deal with what I can do and I don’t take your stuff. And that gives respect. And that particular quote has caused boundaries that are freeing. It enables me to not have to run to the rescue. It’s like, if it’s not mine, I’ll care but I won’t carry. I’ll love but I won’t take it back from you. So, that’s a roundabout way of saying my dad gave me those two quotes that I live by, and they are very, very meaningful. They’re very deep in my soul.

He said, “Always know the why, and then you’ll understand the person. And if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Bill Truby
I love the book Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman wrote it, and it tells you what goes on in your brain, very fast when you encounter something, and then what happens after you think about it. And that research has literally changed my life on how I teach, on how I think, on how I do what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and people quote back to you often?

Bill Truby
Well, there isn’t necessarily one, but I will tell you this little story. There was a man in one of the large companies, 8500-person company, that had this Christmas party, and this man went as Bill Truby, though nobody knew he was Bill Truby.

And he was dressed in a tie and shirt and overcoat. And people said, “So, who are you?” This was a dress-up affair masquerade-type thing. He said, “I’m Bill Truby.” And they would say, “What do you mean?” And he’d open up his coat, and in there were 3×5 cards that he called Trubyisms. So, apparently, I say things all the time that people remember and, yeah, I don’t think there’s one, Pete. I think that there’s things.

I make them up. I go to a company and I’ll “efficiefy” them, and then people start using that word, “Okay, we’re going to get efficiefied.” “And I’m here to bring you to a state of efficiefication,” so I don’t think I’m stuck on one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Bill Truby
TrubyAchievements.com. And this delegation flowchart can be found there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the good word, and good luck in all you delegate.

Bill Truby
Thank you, Pete. I really appreciate you hanging in there for four years so we can meet each other. I do appreciate what you’re doing and I’m glad that I could help support it.

572: How Morning Practices Like Savoring and Investing in Calm Boost Productivity with Chris Bailey

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Productivity THOUGHT LEADER(!) Chris Bailey shares how investing in your calm can boost your productivity and how savoring the little things every day can help you start your day right.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How calm provides the greatest return on productivity
  2. Why you shouldn’t feel guilty over being less productive now
  3. How and why to savor

About Chris

Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and the international bestselling author of Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project—which have been published in seventeen languages. Chris writes about productivity at Alifeofproductivity.com, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process. To date, he has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity, and has garnered coverage in media as diverse as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, The Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review, GQ, TED, Fortune, Fast Company, and Lifehacker. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Chris Bailey Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Chris Bailey
You have me back.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. It’s number three. That’s pretty rare. Far too rare.

Chris Bailey
Wow, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Did you forget one already?

Chris Bailey
Huh, I think I was asleep through one of them and intoxicated. No, I’m kidding. It’s good to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s good to have you back. And, boy, in the meantime, from my stalking of you because I wasn’t invited, you know, not a problem, I see you got married. Hey, congratulations.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, you can see the ring in the video.

Pete Mockaitis
That too.

Chris Bailey
Thank you for the congrats. It’s fun. It’s been fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I just imagined that your wedding was a star-studded event full of productivity giants which is why it was odd that my invitation didn’t come through the mail.

Chris Bailey
You know, my wife and I, we’re pretty cheap. Frugal. Cheap has negative connotations. We’re frugal so we just had like a dinner party.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, because we thought, “Man, we should put this money towards a house or something rather than a wedding.” And so that’s what we did. It’s hard to keep wedding costs down because you order the same service. The first time you tell them you’re having a wedding. The second time, you don’t. The wedding quote is twice as much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I noticed that. I was tempted to see, “How can I not lie?” It’s like, “We’re having a family gathering. Families are gathering.”

Chris Bailey
Two families, specifically, gathering and combining. We’ll pay a third of the price for that photographer and that photo booth, it turns out.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that’s wild because they know they can get you. And so, well, you’re married and I want to get your quick take. So, you’re a productivity thought leader.

Chris Bailey
Oh, no, please don’t say that.

Pete Mockaitis
You lead thoughts. What has been like sort of the marital adjustment in terms of how does it feel different?

Chris Bailey
Well, you know, Pete, life as a thought leader is challenging during the best of times, let alone when you’re trying to introduce thought leadership into a new…oh, man, I feel like such a douche right now. But I don’t know, it’s fun. In a way, nothing has changed but, I guess, legally, pretty much everything has changed. We’re both pretty productive. I think the biggest thing that’s changed lately is how our routines are integrated into one another.

I think pretty much everybody on the planet has the same situation that they’re facing where maybe they work with their loved ones, maybe they’re not newly-weds and so their work situation is becoming more challenging perhaps. And we’re all trying to find a new normal right now amidst the virus shakeup, the great shutdown, the hibernation, whatever you want to call it. We’re all trying to find new routines.

So, we settled into a nice routine of working from home around one another. I have my office which makes things a bit easier for me, but she has her own system of doing focused work in her desk area. So, I don’t know, we’re having fun, we’re dealing with the challenges, and we’re just having a good time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, so I caught your name in the Washington Post, nice job, thought leader. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, let’s get Chris again,” because, yeah, we’re in a new world for awhile here. And we’ve had a couple people with sort of episodes kind of really particular COVID-focused and then just a smattering of COVID tidbits and some others. But I want to get your take on, alright, so we’re in this environment where there’s a virus raging, there’s some restrictions and limitations. Some folks are really gung-ho, like, “This is going to be my moment to do this stuff,” and other people are saying, “No way. There’s such a mental load. I’m going to do almost nothing.” How do you think about this?

Chris Bailey
I think everybody is different, and that’s a terrible answer that nobody wants to hear, but the fact of the matter is everybody’s situation is different during a time like this. And productivity is so often a process of understanding the constraints inside of which we live and work. And in a situation like this, everybody’s constraints are changing overnight, and we all had different ones to begin with. So, what we’re seeing right now, it’s a word that isn’t mentioned enough, but privilege. Those of us who have cushier jobs where we’re able to work from home, we’re not experiencing the economic brunt of the crisis that’s going on.

Something else is kids. Our lives are structured, we don’t have kids at the time, but our lives are structured around families and daycares and schools, and those kids existing in a system that isn’t our home during the day when we’re trying to work from home. And so, I think a question like this, you know, there are a lot of posts flying around right now, “Oh, make the best of your quarantine time. Don’t gain the quarantine 15. Lose the quarantine…How to stay productive, how to write the great American novel whilst in quarantine.”

These things totally miss the mark. They don’t get the fact that, “Okay, maybe my situation is different from yours, which is different from the situation of a single working mother with three kids, which is different from the situation of a retiree, somebody who lives in an old-age home, whatever.” Everybody’s situation is different.

And so, I think we have to, A, realize that we’re all operating under different constraints, and, B, not feel guilty about how we’re spending our time right now, because the simple truth and the fact of the matter is some of us are struggling, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you find it hard to be productive right now. It’s okay if you find it hard to focus. It’s okay if caffeine is no longer working for you for some reason. It’s okay if you feel a bit anxious. These feelings are universal and we do need coping strategies for these, but we do need to take care of ourselves at the same time.

People talk of the importance of self-care in the normal-est of times because it’s just a topic that we need to hear and practice, but it’s so much more important right now. And so, in a way, I think I’m a bit fed up with people giving too much productivity advice right now, saying that we should make the best of this time while they don’t recognize the fact that everybody is going through something different right now, and maybe that works for them but maybe not for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, rant over.

Pete Mockaitis
No, that resonates. It’s absolutely true. We’ve all got a different situation and sometimes it’s a more dramatic change for some than others. I’m still working from home in my home office, which is what I was doing before the pandemic, although there’s different things going on in the family and kid situation. And so, I think that’s a great word right there in terms of it’s okay and it’s normal to be experiencing those sorts of things. So, I’d like to know, that’s one mistake is beating yourself up. Another mistake is providing one-size-fits-all prescriptive advice. What are some of the other don’ts or mistakes you recommend we avoid as we’re trying to stay productive during this time?

Chris Bailey
I think trying to push yourself too hard. It’s something that I’m quickly realizing during a time like this because I’m feeling anxious just like most other people. I have parents who are getting a bit older. I’m connected. My wife has asthma so she’s definitely one of the more vulnerable people in a situation like this.

I think something we need to realize right now is that the path to greater productivity during a time like this is through calm, right? By investing in our calm, we’re able to invest in our sense of productivity at the same time. And the reason for this is our minds are so anxious, they’re so revved up, mine is anxious just like everybody else is. In a time like this, when there’s so much chaos flying around us in our mental and our physical environments, it’s often a settled mind that we need more than almost anything else.

So, the path of productivity is through the lens of calm. And so, if there’s another mistake that we’re making, A, we’re not being kind enough to ourselves, B, we’re trying too hard to be productive, but, C, we’re not investing enough in calm, and there are multiple ways of doing this. One of my favorites that I’ve started to do each and every morning is investing in the analog world. When we’re spending our days inside, we tend to gravitate towards screens. We tend to gravitate to what’s latest and loudest at the expense of slowing down a little bit, and maybe disconnecting a little bit, and being kind to ourselves, and being patient with ourselves, and doing something slow with our time.

So, that’s something that I think is worth getting across. In addition to self-kindness, in addition to taking it easy with your productivity a little bit, invest in calm more than you think you ought to because that’s often…that’s one of the greatest returns on our productivity. And here’s the ruler stick against which we should be measuring our productivity advice today, is, “For every minute we spend on a piece of productivity advice, how much time does that allow us to make back?”

And so, some things, watching Netflix, for every minute you spend watching Netflix, you probably lose about a minute of productivity because that’s the opportunity cost of watching that. Maybe you’re a bit less motivated after the fact and so, you actually lose more time than you spend. But other strategies like planning out our day is a really good example of this. For every minute you spend planning out your day, you make back 5-10 minutes of productivity because of how much more focused you’re able to work.

In an environment as chaotic as the one in which we’re finding ourselves today, calm actually produces a remarkably high return on our time because trying to work with an anxious mind, it’s a struggle to focus, it’s a struggle to pay attention, it’s a struggle to think deeply, and do deep work, and hyper-focus on what’s important each and every day. But it’s calm that provides us with the greatest return. So, maybe that trifecta of ideas might help people out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to investing in calm, I’d love to hear, I guess there’s many ways you can do that. Let’s rattle them off. So, you’re doing some analog stuff, you’re doing some non-screen stuff, what are these things?

Chris Bailey
I think the analog world is key to spend more time in. And here’s the thing, a lot of people think calm is a passive thing, like, “Oh, I have a few minutes to spare. Let me go on Twitter. Let me check the New York Times. Let me hop on the Washington Post and see what thought leaders are saying about this current pandemic crisis.” But this is our impulse because we gravitate again to what’s latest and loudest, but it’s not necessarily right. And, by the way, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over that. It’s our natural impulse to gravitate to what’s latest and loudest. But maybe a good way of phrasing this is that we deserve better than we’re giving ourselves.

We deserve like genuine, true relaxation. We don’t deserve Twitter. We deserve more than Twitter. We deserve more than the news. We deserve more than Facebook right now. And so, a good place to start is realizing that calm, acquiring calm, is often an active process. It doesn’t just waff over us. We have to go and seek it out and invest a little bit in it.

And so, I’m kind of an antisocial person. In the best of times, I’m always trying to find excuses not to hang out with people, “Oh, I’d love to grab a drink tonight, Pete, but I have to go to bed early and wake up early the first thing in the morning.” But the truth is, after I spend time with people, I realize, “Oh, there was nothing to be anxious about. And, oh, it took a little bit of energy to get started with a tactic like that, but I was all the more calm for it.” And I think this is something we need to keep in mind right now, is it’s often through actively investing in relaxation strategies that we get the most calm.

And so, anything that allows us to reconnect with the fact that we’re human is a wonderful wellspring of calm. So, meditation, just focusing on our breath, it’s a simple reminder that we’re human, but it’s a beautiful one. Exercise, something we’re probably not getting enough of if we’re in a situation where we can step back a little bit from the current situation and invest in that. Eating good food, proper food that our bodies evolved to thrive in, not processed stuff, that actually elevates our cortisol levels, which is the hormone that our body produces in response to stressful situations. So, simple things like that. Finding something to savor each and every day.

So, I’m drinking a protein shake right now, as you can see, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re savoring it.

Chris Bailey
Savoring the hell out of this thing because it’s this delicious concoction – Vega Protein Shake. Not only are they vegan, if you’re into that, but they also have only one gram of sugar yet they’re chocolate-flavored. They contain a lot of cocoa so I like to savor that. But find one thing to savor each and every day. It’s an active process, and you think, “Man, why don’t I just savor stuff? Why do I have to make a task, a job out of it?” But the truth is you’ll get so much more out of what you’re savoring when you make a deliberate effort to do so.

No cheeseburger will be as delicious as the one you focus on with 100% of your attention because you’re trying to savor the heck out of it. No protein shake will be as delicious and energizing. No conversation will be as engrossing as the one you’re in completely. And so, this is something that we need to find. Engagement is a salve for anxiety, and so when we find things to be engaged with, not only do we become more productive, we also find calm, we also are able to settle down a little bit, become a bit happier, and enjoy the process of doing things.

One other thing that I’ll mention, at the risk of going too long on this answer but I think it’ll be helpful for people, is we walk around so often with a productivity mindset. And so, what I mean by this is we’re always looking to tick boxes, we’re always looking to get things done, and we never really let up with this mindset. So, when we find ourselves with a bit of time during which we can relax, instead of doing something that is genuinely relaxing, we realize, “Oh, we have just a few minutes of time. Let’s vege out.” When, really, intentional relaxation is what we need during which we set aside this productivity mindset when we’re trying to accomplish things.

And when we deliberately set aside this mindset, it abolishes the guilt that we would normally feel that comes along with active relaxation. So, we have this guilt of relaxation that often arises when we do something that allows us to invest in our calm, which is kind of ironic because when calm allows us to become more productive, we shouldn’t feel guilty about how we’re spending our time, and yet we do. And so, do minus productivity mindset. And the savor list, and the things that I was just mentioning, they do help combat this certain mindset because instead of trying to tick a box, we try to enjoy and experience a moment that we’re having.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, there’s a lot of good stuff there. You’re a real thought leader.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, that’s like a loaded suitcase that you now have to unpack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I dig it. Well, so then let’s talk about, alright, the process of savoring. So, you could savor a conversation, you could savor a glass of wine or a chocolate protein shake, a song, music, a sensation, a massage.

Chris Bailey
What song are you savoring right now?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a fine question. You know, I’ve actually been saving just some select nostalgic silly songs that remind me of happy times and laughter and friendship. So, it might be like Death Cab For Cutie “The Sound of Settling” for example.

Chris Bailey
Oh, that’s a classic tune.

Pete Mockaitis
It brings me back to college and my roommate and just like being silly, and it’s like, “Oh, those are fun times.”

Chris Bailey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one savor?

Chris Bailey
Well, what’s something in your life that you enjoy?

Pete Mockaitis
I enjoy hanging out with my kids.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. So, how do you savor something like that? You bring your full attention to it. That’s it. We savor things automatically when we bring our full attention to them. And, also, when we notice what’s good about the things that we’re paying attention to. And so, this might sound like the corniest thing in the world, but it actually does work. Savoring things in gratitude trains our mind into looking for more opportunities that surround us.

So, I like savoring my morning cup of tea. I have a whole tea process. I’m a fan of Oolong tea and so I have a fancy kettle where I can make the perfect temperature for Oolong. It’s kind of like a green tea. By the way, the reason people don’t like green tea is not that green tea tastes bad. Everybody is like, “Oh, green tea tastes so bitter.” The reason green tea tastes bitter is you’re burning it. Green tea is meant to be steeped at around, I think it’s 80 degrees Celsius boiling water, around 100.

So, that’s step zero, get the tea at the right temperature. But in the morning, I just sit. I have a hanging chair in my living room that I got from Wayfair, and it kind of swings back and forth. And I’ve usually just woken up, so I wake up, I walk over to the kettle, I steep myself a nice cup of tea, and then I bring it over to the hanging chair, and I just simply try to enjoy the taste of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t spill on yourself in the hanging chair.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, try not to sway too much or bump into something in my tired stupor. But a bit of sway never hurt anybody, as the old saying goes, and so I just kind of sway a little bit and enjoy that cup of tea, noticing the flavor. I think another key to savoring is to notice as much as you can, because when something is a desirable experience, the more you notice, the more you’re able to savor. So, notice as much as you can, bring your full attention to something, look for the things that are worth savoring embedded within an experience.

I don’t think there is anything in the world that cannot be savored. And that might sound like an odd statement because there’s a lot of negative things in the world, but savoring is all about a mindset. By God, Pete, there are these twisted people that derive pleasure from pain. If we can derive pleasure from pain, we can learn to savor pretty much anything. That’s not to say that there aren’t genuine challenges. That’s not to say that we should be placing rose-colored glasses over our entire life, neglecting reality, but this is to say that no matter the time, no matter the circumstance, we can always find something to enjoy deeply even.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I buy it. I was just thinking earlier about finding joy, and that I’m going to be proactively seeking it out, and noting it, and celebrating it, and express some gratitude for it, so that aligns much of what I’m thinking.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. And something that people can do right away. Make a list of everything you savor. And you don’t need to think into the future. Look into your past. What experiences have you had that have enveloped you completely that you found just really enjoyable? Was it a conversation with a certain friend that always seems to draw you in? Was it a cup of tea? Was it a favorite sushi meal from a place that you frequent?

Make a list of everything that you savor. Every day pick one. Treat yourself. And by savoring things deliberately, it’s a nice way of finding calm. You don’t even need to do anything hard with this strategy. You don’t need to focus on your breath for half an hour on a meditation cushion, for God’s sake. You just have to do something you enjoy and bring your full attention to it completely. Do it a bit slower so it goes on for longer. It’s nice. It’s just a nice thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so think that’s a great practice to do daily and always. I’d love to hear, if you were to zoom in to the moment in which, all right, some stuff needs to get done pretty soon, and we’re not feeling it. We are not in that groove but we kind of got to get into that groove kind of fast, savoring is a good kind of long-term strategy. What do you recommend for, in the here and now, we got to shake off the funk, how do you do it?

Chris Bailey
Patience is how you do it. We can become engaged with pretty much anything. That’s kind of the point of meditation. You learn to be able to focus on your breath because the idea is the breath is so boring. It’s more boring than watching paint dry, and our mind actively wanders away from it. And so, if we can focus on our breath and become engaged with our breath, we can become engaged with pretty much anything. But we do need to be patient with ourselves as we settle into certain tasks.

So, if you’re working up to something, a big task, say, you’re writing a report that your mind is finding really aversive, warm up to it. Maybe set a timer for 10 minutes and give yourself the choice, either work on that thing or do nothing. Your mind will settle down naturally and you will be able to warm up to something. So, start with that ugly task if you want, but you can also start with smaller tasks ahead of doing that so you don’t need to do that report right away. But maybe just answer a few emails first, maybe start with something that doesn’t require your full attention, and warm up to doing that thing.

Also, pay attention because anxiety, these days, is not consistent. Usually, it ebbs and flows over the course of the day, and there will be times of your day, for me it’s the morning, although I’ve gotten better, kind of managing things as the pandemic has worn on. For me, it’s the morning though, or at least it was at the beginning, where that was my calmest time of the day, and the anxiety would come later on in the day when I would tune in to the press conferences du jour here in Canada.

And so, I would take advantage of that morning calm by doing the focus work, the hyperfocus work, the deep work, that there was a struggle much of the rest of the time. And so, align the difficulty and complexity of the work you’re doing on top of how you’re feeling throughout the day, and that’s one of the biggest piece of advice that I can give, not only it lets become kinder to yourself, but it lets you warm up to more productive tasks, and also it lets you get more productive tasks done as you become more patient with yourself. You’ll probably need a bit of time for certain tasks but do take it.

Also, know how you start the morning. It matters more than almost anything else. So, distraction begets distraction, stimulation begets stimulation, so the more stimulated and distracted we become, the more we want to continue with that level of stimulation. So, what this means though is if you start the morning on a slow note, if you do something that calms you, if you find something to savor, hey, call back to the previous tactic. Find something to savor first thing in the morning. Play with your kids for half an hour, set a timer, whatever you need to do.

If you find something to savor first thing instead of just checking the news, you’ll find that you’ll become calmer automatically, and that it’ll be easier to focus when you delay the time of first check, because once you get caught into the rabbit hole, you want to just keep going. But if you start the day on a calm note, your mind won’t want to escalate how you’re feeling and it’ll be easier to find calm in a situation like that.

So, when you start calm, you stay calm, but do give yourself a bit of time to warm up to certain tasks, overlay the complexity of work to how you’re feeling if you find that how you’re feeling fluctuates quite a bit still.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chris, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Chris Bailey
You deserve better than to distract yourself right now. And this is a lesson that it’s easy advice to give but it’s something that I’m continually re-learning. We need to reflect on how our behaviors these days, more than almost any other day, what emotions they lead us to feel. So, we tend to gravitate to apps like Instagram and other distractions when we’re resisting how we’re feeling in the present moment, almost like an escape hatch in a way.

Mind the escape hatches of your day and pay attention especially to how you feel after you indulge in them because it’s sometimes with a bit of extra work that we find tasks that are slightly more challenging. For me, practicing the piano is more challenging than going on Instagram, but the feeling that I have after a session of playing the piano, after a session of knitting, after taking a bath, the feeling after these strategies, when I compare them to Instagram, or Twitter, or email, or YouTube even, they’re not even close. They produce more calm. They produce more relaxation. They produce less anxiety. They produce more happiness.

Pay attention to how you feel after indulging in the activities that are habits, have always been habits, to these days more than any. And, now, these days, habits aren’t the same as they were before. If you check up on the news first thing in the morning, usually you weren’t depressed the rest of the day, but if you find that you stumble upon a couple of, frankly, depressing stories each morning, it might be a bad way to start the day.

There was one study that was connected, I believe, by Shawn Achor, he’s an author and a happiness researcher, where he exposed participants to just, I think, three or four minutes of negative news the very thing in the morning after people woke up. And when he measured participants’ levels of happiness six to eight hours later, he found that the group that experienced that negative news was 27% less likely to rate themselves as being happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Bailey
Wow, what a reminder that the information we consume matters, and that we need to mind the quality of it these days more than almost any other.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Bailey
Well, I don’t know where this quote came from. I don’t think I stumbled upon it myself, just something, a thought of mine, but my favorite quote that I think about a lot is “Why do anything if you’re not going to do it right?” I love that, and it speaks to pride of what we do, of our actions, of our work, of what we say, of how we act towards others, and make others feel throughout the day too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Chris Bailey
Oh, I’d find it funny if I did this. This is the third interview and I’ve mentioned three different favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we want that. Well, actually, keep it coming.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, let’s do “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. I probably haven’t mentioned this before but it’s one that I’m re-reading. It’s one that I think is worth re-reading every few years. And it’s about the foods that we need to eat in order to live the longest, that are all validated by science. And here’s, again, the golden measurement for any productivity tactic, how much time do you get back. By God, this book might save you 10 or 20 years of your life by extending it by that much, so I can’t think of a better productivity book than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Chris Bailey
Well, we just bought a drill…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good choice.

Chris Bailey
…for home reno projects. But this clicky keyboard, this mechanical keyboard I would recommend…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen those.

Chris Bailey
…to almost anyone. This is the… I don’t remember the exact model. Oh, it’s on the bottom here. The Keychron K2 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard. And it’s these beautiful cherry brown switches that are like chocolate to write on, and it’s beautiful. It’s rich. It’s just a wonderful writing experience. I would equate, if you do a lot of writing throughout the day. Have you ever played a piano, Pete, in your life?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. You know, those like really crappy keyboard pianos where you press down and there’s no weight, and you think, “Oh, I’m just flipping a digital switch somewhere in the system, and it’s playing a sound through the speakers.” That’s what a regular keyboard feels like to me after enjoying the experience of a mechanical keyboard. It’s like upgrading from one of those crappy keyboards with no weight behind it to a grand piano. It’s all about the feeling. What you write matters more when you write it on a mechanical keyboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite nugget?

Chris Bailey
Oh, man, probably productivity is the product of our time, attention, and energy. That’s one of them. And, also, the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. Those are probably the top two. There’s probably others. I have to look that up. I’m curious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, right on.

Chris Bailey
Hey.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris Bailey
Well, there are a few places. My books are called “Hyperfocus” and “The Productivity Project.” I have a podcast now that I do with my wife called Becoming Better which we have a blast doing. And my website is called A Life of Productivity. There’s no ads, no sponsorships, just hopefully helpful productivity advice and one annoying newsletter popup.

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

Chris Bailey
Notice how different apps make you feel, the ones that you spend time on throughout the day. So, sometimes we’re on Instagram or Snapchat and we kind of scroll over to the wrong side of the app, and we see the selfie camera fire up, we usually don’t have like a huge gleeful expression on our face, like, “Oh, I’m on Instagram. What a wonderful time in my day and in my life.” We usually have kind of a dull stimulated look on our face because we’re not tuned in to how we feel when we’re using technology and when we’re engaged in certain activities.

I would say mind how you feel when you engage in your digital world this week, today even, to start after listening to this podcast. How do you feel after checking Twitter? How do you feel after checking the New York Times or the Washington Post? Mind that and change your behavior based on that. It’s one of the biggest and best weeks that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best in your life of productivity.

Chris Bailey
Thank you. You, too.