This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

Each week, I grill thought-leaders and results-getters to discover specific, actionable insights that boost work performance.

714: How to Find Success and Purpose with Tanya Dalton

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Tanya Dalton says: "Living on purpose isn't about changing who you are. It's rising up and becoming the best version of you."

Productivity expert Tanya Dalton lays out the daily steps for a more successful and purposeful life and career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The life-changing habit we often shy away from 
  2. Why our brains hijack our motivation and willpower
  3. The simple trick to propelling yourself into action 

About Tanya

Tanya Dalton is a nationally recognized productivity expert, best-selling author and speaker. Tanya serves as a growth strategist for female leaders in the corporate and entrepreneurial sectors. 

In addition to having her book being named one of the Top 10 Business Books of 2019 by Fortune Magazine, Tanya’s podcast, Productivity Paradox is ranked among the top 50 on iTunes. She is also a regular contributor for Entrepreneur and has been featured in some of the world’s leading publications including Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, and Real Simple. She has been awarded the elite Enterprising Women Award and has been named the Female Entrepreneur to Watch for the state of North Carolina. 

Tanya is also the founder and CEO of inkWELL Press Productivity Co. a multi-million dollar company providing tools that work as a catalyst in helping women do less while achieving success. 

 

Resources Mentioned

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Tanya Dalton Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tanya, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Tanya Dalton
I’m so happy to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. We’re happy to have you back. And I’m curious to hear, any pretty noteworthy discoveries you’ve made over the last two years you think that might help people be awesome at their jobs? Let’s just get that right up front at the top.

Tanya Dalton
Yeah, let’s just go for it, shall we? Let’s just start it right away. Yeah, I’ve been on quite a journey for sure for the past couple of years. I had the Joy of Missing Out come out two years ago at this point, and have had a lot of things happen to my life, notwithstanding my name change. I changed my name. I have a new book coming out. I have a kid who went to college. Lots of things, lots of shifts in my life.

You and I were chatting before we went live here, and talked about, “Okay, you changed your name. It’s kind of a big thing. It’s kind of a big deal.” And it really is especially when you have a book come out with your other name. So, my name just changed the spelling, T-O-N-Y-A, to T-A-N-Y-A, still pronounced the same, but we were talking about it and it was really important to me to really signify that I’ve been on a journey, that I’ve changed who I am spiritually, emotionally, in a lot of ways have done a lot of deep work.

And I was mentioning to you, what’s good about changing my name is this is something that a lot of cultures do. It opens up the door for conversation to talk about things like this, “Oh, you went and you did some deep work mentally.” And, for me, it really was wanted to signify that to the whole world that I’ve changed who I am and I think I’ve changed for the better and I think, because of all that I went through, I was able to write an even better book, for this new book, that’s come out On Purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
And I know in the book, there are some themes there associated with taking a look at the past and such. So, it’s called On Purpose: The Busy Woman’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life of Meaning and Success. Now, Tanya, I presume men can also find value on having an extraordinary life of meaning and success.

Tanya Dalton
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good. Good.

Tanya Dalton
Men also need an extraordinary life as well. Most of my writing is really focused and narrowed in on women because, let’s be honest, Pete, for hundreds of years, books have been written for men. And we, as women, we’ve read those books and we make it work for us, and it’s the same thing here. This book is written for women but it absolutely applies to men.

Pete Mockaitis
Men will make it work there.

Tanya Dalton
You can read it too. I think that a lot of people can get a lot out of this book. I think it has the ability to allow everyone to see that they have an extraordinary life just waiting for them.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, would you say that’s the core thesis here, everybody has an extraordinary life just waiting for them or how would you articulate kind of the big idea?

Tanya Dalton
Oh, absolutely. I think that we think that extraordinary is this thing that we have to claw and scratch to fight to achieve, and an extraordinary life is just waiting for us. Living on purpose isn’t about changing who you are. It’s rising up and becoming the best version of you. It’s really about looking out beyond today and seeing a brighter tomorrow and then making strides each and every day to get to that tomorrow, to that vision we want for ourselves.

[03:22]

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that all sounds pretty cool. Could you make it all the more concrete for us with an inspiring story of someone who did just that?

Tanya Dalton
Yeah. Well, I love that question because, honestly, me, in my journey, is a perfect example of, really, shifting and changing who you are. In the book, we go through four different sections. We go through reflection, projection, action, and alteration. And what’s beautiful about this is they all weave together so intentionally, and I know they have in my life.

I think that reflection is such an important part of growth. It really is, that we have to look backwards in order to move forward, in that when we take the time to dive into who we were, to see how far we’ve come, we understand how far we can go, and we understand what’s possible. And I know, for me, in my own life, I’ve seen this manifest in numerous ways, in numerous times.

We talked about my name change. That was certainly one of those times. But when I closed my first business and made the decision to open up inkWELL Press Productivity Co., that was definitely me making a very intentional choice to shift and move into what I was really meant to do. I started my first business in 2008, and I started with $50, and it was just a little side business that I was doing, selling to friends, maybe friends of friends. And I had a moment where I was on a phone call with my husband.

He was doing marketing for Fortune 500 companies at the time, and he would buy a ticket called the Round the World ticket where, literally, he would leave our home in Dallas and he would fly all the way around the planet, come back to the other side, so he’d be gone for three or four weeks at a time. And we had a conversation where I was telling him all the things that the kids were doing, they were really small at the time. And he said, “I’m missing everything. I’m missing all the moments. I’m missing all the milestones. I’m missing everything.” And I said, “No, no, no, you’re not.” And he said, “No, I am.”

And I hang up the phone that night and I made a big decision in my kitchen that night, that this girl with a ponytail, with $50 that she started her business with, no business experience, was going to grow that business to the point where it could absorb my husband’s MBA income and he could come work alongside of me, so we could have that lifestyle freedom that would allow him to be a part of the kids’ life, more a part, which is what he was really wanting.

So, I sat down, I created some plans for myself, I sketched out some systems, and it was about a year I made that happen. So, he and I started working together in 2009. It was great.

Pete Mockaitis
One year. It’s pretty quick. From fifty bucks to two income size in one year. That’s well done.

Tanya Dalton
Thank you. Well, I think this is a thing, it really is about choosing and then I had that to work towards. That’s me looking bigger than today. That’s me looking at tomorrow, “Where is it I want to go?” I knew at the time I wanted him to come and work alongside me, or rather across the desk from me, which is where he still is, and have this life for ourselves.

So, that gave me the motivation I needed to dig in and figure out what it is I need to do next. And that’s what I really think is so important, is understanding where it is you want to go. So, it was great because then he and I started working together and we loved that. But then in 2013, I looked at him and said, “I love you. I love working with you, but I don’t love what we’re doing.” That big goal that I had of getting him to work alongside me, I was ready for something else. I was ready for something bigger.

I knew that I wanted to make a bigger impact, and what we were creating together with that business wasn’t it for me. It wasn’t hitting those buttons of what I was truly passionate about, what I really wanted to do in the world. I used to be a teacher and so I’m really big on influencing and impacting other people’s lives, teaching and helping others grow.

So, he said, “Okay, what do you want to do?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I have no idea.” So, I had to do a little reflection, I had to get my little Marty McFly time machine, go back in time and reflect back on, “What is it I want to do? What am I passionate about? How do I figure out what it is I want to do when I have no idea? How is this going to work?”

So, I did that, I did this process of reflection. I tried to find activities and exercises to dive into it myself but nobody seemed to have anything that would work for me. And out of that reflection process, which we can dive more into if you want to, but I found that there were really three things that I am truly passionate about.

I’m truly passionate about teaching. I have always been a teacher even when I was like eight years old. I was teaching and educating and I love watching lightbulbs light up in people’s eyes. I love empowering women and I love productivity. I love structuring things and systematizing things. That’s how I was able to grow that business, that first business, and able to really make that work for our family.

So, through that process of reflection, I realized, “Oh, this is what I want.” So, reflection tells us why, why we want what we want, “This is what I’m passionate about.” So, then we have projection, which is what, “What is it I want?” Well, I have these three things that seem very unrelated: empowering women, educating, and productivity. What can I create out of that? Well, that what became inkWELL Press Productivity Co., my company that I started and created.

So, I projected and figured out this is what I want to do, this is where I want to go with it. I started looking to the future of where could it go. And so, that’s when I stepped into that third step of action, creating action, “How am I going to get there? How am I going to create this for myself?” So, really, creating an action roadmap for myself of, “Okay, if this is where I’m starting out with closing down a business,” mind you, going without income, this is a family of four, both my husband and I are now getting income from my business I started, making that decision to close that up and open up something brand new, that was a big choice.

So, I needed to create an action plan to make sure that I had a map in front of me, that I knew where it was I wanted to go. So, I created that action plan for myself, scaled to seven figures in less than 18 months because, again, I love systems, I love productivity, so I was able to really make that work. And then along the way, there was a lot of shifting and changing that had to happen because life happens, life gets messy, things shift, we evolve and change and grow.

And that’s where alteration step comes in where we know where it is we want to go. We know that vision, that north star. You heard me talk about before our mission, our vision, our core values, I know where that is. I’m at A right here where I am today. The Z is where I want to go, that big vision I have for myself. The B to Y is how we get there, “All right. Now, let’s figure out how we’re going to get there.”

So, I started off by offering up physical products. We started off by selling physical planners, weekly planners, daily planners, all kinds of planners, productivity tools. And then that shifted and grew into having a podcast. And then that shifted and grew into having programs and courses. And then that continued to shift and grow into having publishers reach out to me and offering me book deals which is where I am today.

So, really, it’s all aligned with where it is I want to go. But you can see through every step of that, it’s really understanding that it’s not the actions of today. It’s the actions of today that build into tomorrow, into where I want to go. And I think that’s really when we achieve that extraordinary part of the life. It’s when we’re satisfied, it’s when we’re fulfilled, it’s when we feel successful at the end of our days that we go to bed at night and feel really good about what we did because we’re working towards something bigger than just checking something off our to-do list.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. So, there we have it. You are the case study, and we walked through those stages. So, let’s zoom into each of them then in terms of what are some of the best practices or questions to engage in each of these phases when we do want to understand where you want to go? How do you go about getting after that why to uncover that clarity?

Tanya Dalton
Yes. Well, that’s why I think it’s so important, I think reflection is one of those things that’s really important to do but it’s something we will avoid doing. We would rather clean the cat’s litterbox, we would rather start the vegan cleanse we’ve been putting off for six months, we’d rather do just about anything than reflect back because our past is often filled with lots of great moments but there’s also failure and trauma and frustration and things that we don’t like, and we want to push those underneath the bed. We want to just sweep them underneath the rug and pretend they’re not there, but, really, reflection is so important because that’s the fertile ground from which we grow.

I often tell people that it’s the regret that we can push against that gives us and builds up that resilience that we have. So, when we’re looking back, looking at the things that we have learned, the failures that we’ve had, the trauma, what have we gained from that? Because out of every one of those things, we gain lessons. We have a backpack that we all wear, it’s invisible, but we’re piling it full of these heavy lessons that we’re learning. And those backpacks help us in moving forward.

People will ask me, “How did you grow your business to seven figures in less than 18 months?” I had a backpack filled with experience. I had a backpack filled with knowledge and learning that I pull from teaching, from my first business I’d grown, from parenting, from all of those things. That’s what I used to allow me to grow and I think we tend to discount some of that.

And, really, it’s important to recognize that in a lot of those hurtful moments, those things that were hard, those things that feel like we don’t want to think about them, when we know what we don’t want, it’s so much easier to see what we do. We will move away from pain so much faster than we will towards pleasure.

We don’t go on the diet till our pants get too tight. We don’t stop working long hours till we recognized and realized we’ve missed dinner with the family again for the second week in a row. I know, for me, I had a period of time where I was working way too hard, and that’s a whole another story, where I was working every day, seven days a week, for 12-hour days minimum, and the kids were coming to the warehouse after school. They were coming and they were there on the weekends, and I ended that season of time and I reflected, “How do I feel about myself?” and I felt terrible. I felt like the world’s worst mom.

And it would be really easy to just say, “I’m the world’s worst mom,” and let that be the end of it, “I’m not going to think about this ever again. What a terrible mom I am.” But I realized out of that season, “If I feel like a terrible mom, how do I not feel like a terrible mom? What do I need to do to shift and change so I never feel this way again?”

So, because I had this oozy hurt that I didn’t want to think about being the world’s worst mom, how can I push against that to get to what I want? Well, I made the decision, “Okay, no more of these days where I’m working these insane hours. I’m leaving work every day at 3:00 o’clock. I own my own business so I can make that work. I’m going to leave every day at 3:00 o’clock.” That’s now a boundary for me.

And that’s been a boundary for me ever since, that’s years of me leaving work at 3:00 o’clock every day. I probably wouldn’t have believed it was possible, I probably never would’ve done that except for the fact that I didn’t want to go back to where I’d been. I didn’t want to feel like the world’s worst mom again. So, that’s what’s so beneficial and beautiful about reflection is the trophies we hold up, the beautiful things that have gone well. Those are amazing and they show us how amazing we are.

But the things that aren’t trophies, the things that feel like awful and terrible, those are amazing too because they also tell us how amazing we are, how strong we are, and how resilient we are. And we can build off of those things to get to that life we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really powerful in terms of it can very much be a temptation to not think about that at all and then move along.

Tanya Dalton
Yes, easily.

Pete Mockaitis
I think when you talked about working a lot and with the kids, I saw an episode of the Supernanny. I pull things from everywhere. And so, there was a couple, a mom and a dad, they were working a lot, and their strategy was to, well, I guess for the Supernanny to come over. I don’t know.

Tanya Dalton
That’s a strong strategy right there.

Pete Mockaitis
But before that it was just buying them a lot of stuff. And so, yeah, that’s a lot easier in terms of, “Oh, I feel kind of guilty because I’m working a lot and my kids are disappointed. And so, I’m going to buy them something because I can.”

Tanya Dalton
“Because I work so hard, I can afford it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I think that’s common in terms of whether it’s a like a little feel good, quick Band-Aid option that doesn’t get after the stuff. So, it may be like, “Well, I’m going to have a drink. I’m going to play some video games. I’m going to have a smoke. I’m going to…” I don’t know, fill in the blank, whether it’s a healthy or not so healthy means of making yourself feel better in the moment. What they all share is that they don’t experience that pain full on and allow that to be a force for powerful motivation.

Tanya Dalton
Yeah, we don’t want to pull back the bandage because it looks gross. When we pull back the bandages, that’s when it gets air, that’s when it heals, that’s when it feels like it’s better, it scars over. And scars are not ugly, scars are beautiful because they’re part of our journey, they’re part of our path. And I think that when we start to recognize and realize that we’re all so beautifully human, which means that we are imperfect in a thousand different ways.

When we can embrace that in ourselves to know that we’re not alone, the frustrations we feel with ourselves, the negative self-talk, the trauma that we’ve experienced, we’re not alone in that. That’s a collective human experience that we share together. It really is about the healing that we do with the moving forward. Having hard things in our past does not make any one of us unique but it does make us human, and it means that we’re able to grow and we’re able to heal. And I think that’s really important to understand and to acknowledge. It’s not easy. I’m not going to pretend for anytime here on this show that that’s an easy process.

I go into some of the deep dark trauma that I’ve experienced in my life in the book to kind of show how we can overcome it, how we can dig in and understand why it happened to us, and where we want to go in moving forward, because I think it’s really powerful to understand that we have that ability. And I think it’s just believing in yourself, choosing to believe that you can move forward, that tomorrow is a brighter day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. So, we have a powerful distinction and an action we could take that many people don’t, to take a hard look at that which you’re not liking in the reflection and trying motivation.

Tanya Dalton
I can give you an easier one if you’d like because that was a tough one.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we’ll take an easy one too.

Tanya Dalton
Okay, here’s an easy one for reflection. You can also look back at your past and think about what did you love when you were a kid before you started adulting. Because what happens is we lose sight of what we love in the pursuit of adulting. We got to pay the rent, we got to pay the mortgage, we got a car payment, we got all those things, and so we lose sight of what it was that used to fire us up, that used to light us up and get us excited.

So, really, going back and revisiting what were the things that you loved as a kid, what were the things that you got fired up about, not the piano lessons your mom dragged you to. That doesn’t count. The activities that you wanted to go to again and again? Maybe it was softball, maybe it was playing the violin. What was it? And then go a little bit deeper why did you love that.

If you loved softball as a kid, or a sport, was it being outside? Was it the camaraderie? Was it the competition? Was it the physicalness of it? Use that as a little bit of fodder to get you started because, oftentimes, our passions, even as adults, can be found in our childhood. We just lose sight of them because we’re so busy doing, we don’t stop and recognize and realize. And a lot of times, those things that we did as kids, we can build upon and grow that into what it is we want to do in moving forward. So, that one is a lighter one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Beautiful.

Tanya Dalton
A little less trauma, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s move onto the next step. We did a reflection. And then what comes, projection

Tanya Dalton
Projection, yes. So, reflection tells us why, why it is we want what we want. And projection answers that question of what, “Well, what is it that I want? What do I want in life?” And I think what’s really interesting is we have a hard time knowing what that is. I can guarantee you have some listeners right now who are thinking, “I have no idea what an extraordinary life looks like. I have no idea what it is I want. I have no idea what goals I should set.”

And so, what happens is we look left, we look right, we look over the fence, and we see where the grass is greener, and we go, “That’s what I should be doing.” And what we really want to do is understand what it is that you want and what you look like in the future. But here’s, really, what’s fascinating, I think, is that our brain has an extraordinarily hard time seeing ourselves in the future. Our brain is hardwired for today because that’s what’s kept us alive and allowed us to avoid the saber toothed tiger, it’s what allowed us to get to the next day.

And there’s this really fascinating study where they’ve used fMRI machines on people’s brains, and they would have them talk about themselves today, and certain areas of the brain start pinging and lighting up and really showing that they’re active. And then they would have the people talk about themselves in the future. Now, the future could be three weeks from now, it could be three years from now, it could be three hours from now. But when they talk about themselves in the future, it lit up a very different part of the brain, not the same part of the brain when they talked about themselves.

What’s most fascinating is when they had these same participants talk about Natalie Portman and Matt Damon, those same areas of their brain lit up as it did with when they were talking about themselves in the future. So, in other words, to our brain, you in the future is not you. It’s a stranger who looks like you, has the same name as you, is you but it doesn’t recognize you as being you. And this is why we often fail at our goals. This is why we splurge on the Paris shoes instead of investing in the 401(k) or why we eat the cookie instead of eating the carrot because the person in the future who has to pay for that, or has to deal with the outcome of that, isn’t you, and so our brain prioritizes today over the future.

And I think when we understand that, it’s incredibly powerful to understand, “Oh, this is why I’ve struggled in the past, and, again, I am not alone in this. This is how my brain works.” So, it’s really understanding, “Now, if I can start to picture myself in the future and I can start really projecting forward into what I want in the future, then I can see myself, and then I can connect to my actions from today to what I want to do in the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating in terms of that fMRI study.

Tanya Dalton
Isn’t it? I found that so interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, that would seem extraordinarily powerful is that if we can view “future self” as sort of just as real and valid and important as “current self.” And so, it seems like you’re hinting at a pathway that’s very different other than just, “Buckle down and get to the gym.” It’s sort of like…

Tanya Dalton
Yes, that’s not what it is at all.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s more about know what you really need to see and adopt and embrace the future self as yourself. And so, how do we do that?

Tanya Dalton
Yeah, that’s the big question, right? Because it is, it’s a mental game. It is. And we love to blame willpower on why we haven’t gotten things done, “Oh, I don’t have the willpower,” or, “I’m not disciplined enough.” And it’s not discipline that you need. In fact, if we know that our brain is prioritizing wins for today over wins for tomorrow, it’s our brain that’s hijacking this, that’s causing us to do that.

So, what we can do is we can really look forward into the future and create a map for ourselves. I call this wayfinding in the book where it’s really looking forward into the future to what is your potential. Okay, what is your potential? “Like, ten years in the future, what could I possibly have in my life? Like, what could that possibly look like?” What is your potential? So, figuring that out, and then we back it up a little bit. So, that’s your potential, you want to back it up to what is possible, “Okay, if that’s the potential in ten years, what’s possible in the next three to five years on that map to get to that?” what I’d call your cathedral. What’s possible?

Then if we back that up even more, “Okay, if that’s possible in three to five years, what’s practical? What would be practical for me to accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months?” So, here, we’re talking now about long-term goals, a year to 18 months. Well, let’s back that up a little bit more on our little map. And in the book, I literally make it like a little map of, like, “You are here and there’s a roadmap.”

If we back that up any more, we can figure out, “What do I need to prioritize in the next three months, the next six months, the next nine months?” That’s how we decide what our goals are because then those goals are on that path to get to that potential that we’re dreaming of. And there’s lots of things that we can do to really help solidify that in our brain. As I just said, we have a hard time seeing ourselves in the future so we can do things.

There are all kinds of amazing technology now. You can do these things on Snapchat even and Instagram where you can use a filter to age yourself and put yourself. Let’s say that your potential is that you want to be on the cover of Forbes magazine. All right, you can create a picture of yourself in the future on the cover of Forbes magazine. Put that someplace where you can see it and then start solidifying it in your brain. Start mapping that out and seeing who you want to be in the future.

When we back that up, that’s when we begin to see, “Oh, this is the action I need to take right now. This is the goal I need to set for myself right now. If that’s where I want to go, here’s where I need to be in a month, here’s where I need to be at the end of this week, here’s where I need to be today.” And that’s when we start to make motions and take action towards that big potential out there, that big extraordinary life when we’re making those connections, when we create that map for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think make connections is the phrase because with that pathway in place, with all the dots connected, it really does feel real as opposed to, “Sure enough, I did this thing and I saw some improvement. And, thusly, I can see that if I do all of the things, they will lead me into that place, and, thusly, the future-aged person on Forbes magazine is not Natalie Portman but it is me.”

Tanya Dalton
“But it’s me,” yeah. I think it’s really incredibly powerful when you start to recognize that and you realize that. I think this is why we set goals and we’re never quite satisfied. We build into that someday syndrome, “Someday, when I accomplished this goal,” or, “Someday when I cross the finish line,” but that finish line keeps moving back, doesn’t it? Like, we never really get it crossed.

And even when we do, we have this fleeting moment of satisfaction and excitement. It’s called the goal-setting paradox, where you get a fleeting high when you accomplish a goal, and it’s followed immediately by a question of, “Now what?” “Okay, I finished the marathon, now what do I do?” “All right, I just climbed…”

I actually spoke to someone who’s climbed Mt. Everest who’s blind, Erik Weinmeyer, and he said after he summited Everest and he went on his way down, someone said to him, “Okay, now what?” He’s like, “I just summited Everest. Isn’t that enough?” But this is what we go through in our life. We accomplish a goal, and then we’re like, “Now what?” But if that goal is to connect to something bigger, to a brighter future, it becomes just a stepping stone to get us to the next one, so we get that satisfaction and we’re ready to go to the next step. And that’s how we continue on the daily basis to feel happier, more satisfied. And isn’t that really what our goals are all about?

I would argue that every goal, every dream, and every aspiration is steeped in happiness. You want to cross the finish line in a marathon? Why? So you can feel that pride and joy, that happiness of crossing the finish line. You want to lose 15 pounds? Why? Because you want to feel happy when you put your pants on. You want to get that promotion at work? Why? Because you’ll be happier when you have more money and when you have a team underneath you.

All of those things are tied to happiness. Let’s stop waiting for happiness to happen to us. Let’s make happiness happen on a regular daily basis. That’s absolutely achievable. That’s what makes life extraordinary.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well said. All right. Well, this is so much good stuff. Can you give us maybe the quick greatest hits in terms of action and alteration? What should we be doing to do those masterfully?

Tanya Dalton
They go hand-in-hand because alteration is really woven throughout. Alteration really is about building in that flexibility and that grace to allow life to happen because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all know life is messy. And the best-laid plans allow for detours and re-routing and all of those things to happen because life demands flexibility.

So, as we’re creating action, action answers the question how, “How are we going to do this? How are we going to accomplish this?” it’s really about breaking it down into bite-sized milestones. So, you have this big thing off in the distance. It seems really far away in our future self because we know we’re not connected to it. It feels like it’s not us. So, how do we back that up even more to create little milestones we’re working towards, little stepping stones to get us closer to that life we want.

We do that by creating an action roadmap for ourselves. You’ve heard me say before here on the show, I’m sure, overwhelm isn’t having too much to do. It’s not knowing where to start. When we know where to start and we know what actions we want to take, it’s incredibly empowering and it’s incredibly confidence-building. And so, that’s really powerful for us to do.

But really, it’s about creating a plan for ourselves so we feel confident to step over our fears and create time in order to allow these things to happen in our lives, to allow ourselves to get closer to those big goals and dreams and aspirations.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. All right. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Tanya Dalton
Yeah. Well, I would say we kind of touched on that whole idea of discipline earlier, here’s what I would say. When we people talk to me about needing discipline, I really want to encourage more people to let discipline go, to stop worrying about needing more willpower, or feeling like they have to force things to make it happen. Discipline is really just a series of small actions.

So, when you recognize that and realize that, that it’s really just small actions, little tiny steps on a regular basis that build up, that begin to look like discipline, it’s just habits that we build over and over again over time. When we start to do that, that’s when we start to get that momentum we need. So, just focus on the next small action you can do. That is honestly the way you get on that path to that extraordinary life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tanya Dalton
Oh, a favorite quote. I would say probably one of my favorite quotes is actually from Harry Potter, and it’s when Albus Dumbledore tells Harry that, “It’s our choices that show us what we are far more than our abilities.” I think, really, when we understand our choices, it’s incredibly powerful.

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

Tanya Dalton
Oh, I have a study I just stumbled upon not that long ago that I love, where they took these men out of a retirement community and they separated them into two groups. One group went to another retirement community, and the other group, they fashioned everything in the place where they were so it looked 20 years earlier, and they encouraged them to talk about things that had happened 20 years earlier, all the appliances were 20 years earlier. And so, they encouraged them to really think about who they were 20 years ago.

After less than a week, they took the control group who’d gone to the retirement community, they were still in the same place, still have the same aches and pains and all of that. They took that group who had just kind of time traveled 20 years mentally, and they found that within those seven days, they had built more muscle mass, they had gotten rid of a lot of their arthritis. Not only did they feel better, but their bodies have physically reacted.

I think a lot of times we think that mind over matter thing is just a bunch of woo-woo, but, truly, our bodies are able to change and shift when we get our minds set right, when we really think about what it is we want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Tanya Dalton
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. That’s a great book because it really is, again, really how strong your brain is and how it can really get you where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Tanya Dalton
Well, I use inkWELL Press products but that’s kind of a no-brainer there, isn’t it? I have to be honest with you though, so I do a lot of my planning obviously using inkWELL Press but we use a lot of Google Docs and we found some ways to kind of hack them so they work for us. I felt like I was using far too many different tools to do all the different things. So, we’ve kind of created a little hub in our own system within Google Drive and Google Docs so that we can make that work to get rid of a lot of our project-planning tools and all those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m intrigued. Can you share a particular Google Doc hack that maybe many people might benefit from?

Tanya Dalton
I don’t know if I can give it really quickly, but we have a whole system that we use and we use, it’s kind of funny, because we use like emojis to kind of signify the different steps we’re in in a project. And what I love is that all the conversation happens within the Google Docs because we were getting things from Asana, and we were getting things from Slack, and we were getting things from email, and I felt like we were going far too many places.

So, we started using this icon system where if something was in process, we give it a thumbs up. And if it’s something that’s completed, we give it a check mark, if we’ve shared it. So, there’s a whole system of using these little symbols, and it’s made it, it’s so insanely simple that I think sometimes we overcomplicate things. So, that’s what we’ve done is just using all these different symbols within Google Docs.

I create a table of contents for every project that we do, and that’s our main Google Doc. Everything is, that’s become the hub. So, everything that we create off of that, other documents, other spreadsheets, other things, that table of contents becomes almost like our little bible where we click on it and it sends us exactly where we need to go, so everything is succinct and together inside Google Docs.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Well, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Tanya Dalton
I would tell them to go to TanyaDalton.com. You can find links to my podcast, The Intentional Advantage, there. You can also find information about both my books The Joy of Missing Out and my newest book On Purpose. TanyaDalton.com is probably the best place to find me.

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

Tanya Dalton
Yeah, I would say that extraordinary life is there. And I know where you are right now, it might seem like that’s impossible. But what I would challenge you to do right now is just take a moment and start with that reflection step that we talked about. Go the easy route. Let’s not worry about the hard things or the difficult things or the things you don’t want to think about. Let’s start with the easy things.

Let’s start by thinking about who you were before you started being an adult, like before the age of 16, we’ll say, and just make a list of the things that you loved. And then ask yourself, “Why did I love that? What was it about that that I loved? I don’t want that stuff there.” Ask why again, and then maybe ask it one more time. Get to the heart of why you loved what you did and start to rediscover your passion. Because when you start to remember and recognize that passion has been there all along, it’s so much easier to build that fire.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tanya, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun and purpose.

Tanya Dalton
Thank you so much. This is great, Pete. We always have a good time together.

713: Accomplishing More with Fewer Hours: Insights on Productivity, Rest, and the 40-Hour Work Week with Joe Sanok

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Joe Sanok shares compelling research on how we can achieve more by working fewer hours.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What Iceland learned from a four-day work week
  2. The 1-minute trick for dramatically improving productivity
  3. Quick focus hacks for achieving flow faster

About Joe

Joe Sanok is the author of Thursday is the New Friday: How to work fewer hours, make more money, and spend time doing what you want. It examines how the four-day workweek boosts creativity and productivity. Joe has been featured in Forbes, GOOD Magazine, and the Smart Passive Income Podcast. He is the host of the popular The Practice of the Practice Podcast, which is recognized as one of the Top 50 Podcasts worldwide with over 100,000 downloads each month. Bestselling authors, experts, scholars, and business leaders and innovators are featured and interviewed in the 550 plus podcasts he has done over the last six years.

Resources Mentioned

 

Thank you Sponsors!

  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow

Joe Sanok Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joe, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Joe Sanok
Oh, Pete, I am so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s been over four years and 500 episodes since we last recorded our conversation. So, I’m just going to put you on the spot, Joe, and say, what’s the most exciting thing you’ve discovered in that time that can help folks be awesome at their jobs?

Joe Sanok
The most exciting and awesome at their jobs, I would say that our biggest creativity comes when we slow down. I took my daughters on a nine-month road trip.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Joe Sanok
And did that during COVID. And through that process, I think it made me awesome at my job because I had so much creativity while working on the road and being remote, that it just was this epic trip that also lit me up in a very positive way that actually helped my job be better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that message, and you share some of those themes in your latest book Thursday is the New Friday: How to Work Fewer Hours, Make More Money, and Spend Time Doing What You Want. What is the main message here?

Joe Sanok
Yeah, I would say the main message of Thursday is the New Friday is that the four-day workweek is better for society, creativity, and productivity, and that the research and case studies we’re seeing emerge actually show that large- and medium-sized companies that switched to the four-day workweek actually are doing better and having their profits go up rather than go down like most few people would expect.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, and before listeners tune out and say, “Yeah, that’s great, Joe, but I have no power to make that happen,” can you share with us what do we have to learn from these principles if we are in a five-day workweek and there’s nothing we can do about it?

Joe Sanok
Yeah. So, for me, whenever I think about when I’m going to approach, “Let’s reconstruct something. Let’s tear down the old way,” I always go to, “Historically, how much of what we believe right now is actually the truth and how much of it might just be things that we think are solid and unmovable?” Because if the way that we work right now is maybe not as solid as we think, then it actually gives us some hope that we can recreate things.

And so, to do that, I think we have to go back a little bit to about 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians, they made up the seven-day week. They looked up, they saw the sun, and the moon, the Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter, and said, “Let’s have a seven-day week.” Egyptians had an eight-day week, and the Romans had a 10-day week. So, even the week is completely made up. There’s nothing in nature that points to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, geez, I think that’s worth a pause right there because, wow, you know, because the Earth really does take 365 days for the Earth to go around the sun. That’s a real thing. And a day, from like a sunrise to the next-day sunrise really is approximately 24 hours. That really is a thing. But the week, huh, we just made that up.

Joe Sanok
Totally made up. We could just as easily have had a five-day week and had 73 of them in a year. And so, it’s completely arbitrary. And so, if we fast-forward to the late 1800s and early 1900s, the average person was working 10 to 14 hours a day, six to seven days a week, so they had a farmer’s schedule but they weren’t all farmers. They were just working all the time.

And so, if we understand that historically context, where, in 1926, Henry Ford switched over to the 40-hour workweek, specifically with the goal of selling more cars to his own employees. His belief was that people weren’t going to buy a car to just get to work faster, but if they had a weekend to go see friends and family, to go recreate, that they would buy a car from the company they worked for. And it worked. And things started to take off.

And so, we see that this thing, that to us, this 40-hour workweek, we got to work five days, that’s less than a hundred years old. And so, well, this thing that we thought was so solid is actually kind of shaky. And then we entered the pandemic of 2020 and 2021, and, globally, we have an experiment to see if we have to keep working the way we’ve been working.

And that’s why right now we’re seeing this great resignation where people are recognizing, “I work for these industrialists who the thing they care the most about is a 40-hour week of me sitting in a chair, and that’s just not what I want out of life anymore.” And so, we see all these people resigning, but the best companies are the ones that are adapting and changing.

So, I would actually argue that, as a post-pandemic generation right now, that we have a window of opportunity to say, “How are we going to reshape society in the way that we think is healthier and can approach the challenges of this century with more creativity?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s intriguing just in terms of expanding our thinking associated with both a five-day 40-hour workweek and kind of everything, like, “Hi, is this sort of built into nature or is this something we made up and when?” That’s just a good little frame to put on all kinds of critical thinking issues in life and work, so thanks for that.

Okay, so then lay it on us some of the research whether folks, indeed, make a shift to a four-day workweek or they just take some nuggets associated with rest and strategic use of hours and some of the other takeaways. Well, either way, I think everyone can be enriched by what we’re saying here. So, let’s hear it, some of the research in terms of companies that made the shift, what happened?

Joe Sanok
Yes. So, the Iceland study that actually just came out a couple of months ago is one of the largest studies of the four-day workweek. And what it did is they had 2500 people that worked a 32-hour week. So, it wasn’t 40 crammed into four, it was an actual 32-hour workweek.
So, the really interesting thing about the Iceland study was that even though it was 32 hours, not 40 hours, we saw a boost in productivity, a boost in creativity, better health outcomes, better happiness. And so, if we think about that and just step back and say, “Okay, at 40 hours, we’re less productive, that means those last eight hours with this study, actually, are detrimental to productivity, meaning that they’re going against productivity, that it peaked at 32 hours.”

And so, we also see, in other ways, the idea of going where we have the macro of the three-day weekend, to then going to the neuroscience around the micro of how we actually do breaks within our regular workday. And so, we start with the internal because so many of the productivity books start with, “Here’s the actual steps you take,” which is very industrialist-minded. That’s the way that the industrialists wanted. They want it to be, “Here’s the blueprint, here’s the exact formula,” but, instead, the new way of writing is giving a menu to help people grow and try things and have their own experiments.

So, we start internally, then we move into slowing down, and then we move into absolutely killing it. So, the problem, typically, that we see is that most people work stressed out and maxed out throughout the week, and then the weekend is a reaction to that stress. So, they overdrink, they oversleep, they aren’t productive, or they’re stressed out even more with their kids. But the researchers point to that when we flip that and actually slow down first and optimize the brain, then we can do better work within our jobs on the other side of that.

And so, for example, there’s a study out of the University of Illinois.

Pete Mockaitis
ILL.

Joe Sanok
ILL, whoo-whoo, there we go.
So, University of Illinois did this study on vigilance decrement. So, vigilance, how well we pay attention to something; decrement, meaning that it goes down over time. And so, the leading idea at the time of this study was that we have a certain amount of energy in a day, and we pour it out, and over time, we just are out of energy and we can’t focus anymore, and the test after that, we just have to pause and not come back to.

Well, they wanted to see if that was actually true. And so, they had this study where they brought in college students, they gave them a random four-digit number, say, it was four-three-one-two. So, the student has four-three-one-two. Over an hour, this four-digit number is going to pop up on the screen, and whenever your four-digit number pops up, you hit a button. There’s going to be loads of other numbers that come up that you have to ignore. Super boring task for this period of time.

They saw that there was vigilance decrement at the end of the study. So, the amount they paid attention at the end was worse than how they had at the beginning. Totally what we would expect. But then, with the second group, at the one-third mark, what they did is they gave them just a one-minute break. They said something like, “We put you on the wrong computer. Just hang out in the lobby.” These students didn’t have their phone, and they just had a one-minute break. Came back, had another third of the study, had one more one-minute break, and then finished up the study.

They found that there was no vigilance decrement at the end of the study, meaning they paid attention just as well at the end as they had at the beginning. And so, evolution in our brain has not caught up to the technology we have, where when we take that one-minute break, it moves us out of our environment, and then it retriggers us to re-engage, and our brains are fearful. It’s paying attention. It’s able to then engage in a way that’s different than if we just work, work, work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. So, powerful breaks, that’s huge. Tell us more about the internal inclination.

Joe Sanok
Yes. So, the internal inclinations are the three inclinations that top performers have based on the research. So, if you want to be amazing at your job, one might say awesome at your job, then you want to really focus on where you’re at with these three internal inclinations. So, the first one is curiosity. The second one is an outsider perspective. And the third one is an ability to move on it.

So, the first one, curiosity. When I was writing this chapter, I was like, “What comes to mind if I was just to start with a blank slate here?” And the idea of curiosity killed the cat, like that’s a terrible thing that we say in our society. “If you’re curious, you’re going to die”? That’s terrible. Where did that come from? There’s actually a cat that got stuck in a chimney in the early 1900s. It was national news for five days. It was like a ridiculous news week. And so, this cat, the world is like following this cat. And then, at the end of the week, there was a frontpage headline in The Washington Post that said, “Curiosity killed the cat.”

And so, this has become something that we think, that when you’re an adult, you stop being curious. But effective leaders maintain that curiosity, so when they enter into something, whether it’s a pass or a fail, they see it as data. And so, if they do a big Facebook ads campaign, or they do a marketing campaign, or whatever it is, even when it “fails” they view it as data about their clients, about their money, about “We’ve learned something here.” So, we want to retain that.

The second thing in the internal inclinations is an outsider perspective. So, there was a research study that looked at this small group of six to eight people at a time. They would show them the color blue or the color green, and say, “Is this blue or is this green?” There were colors that were very blue and very green, and there were ones that were sort of in the middle. For the most part, the group agreed.

Now, in the second version of the study, two of the participants were actually working with the researchers, and there were particular colors that were very blue that they would say it was green, or green that was blue. And they were able to statistically sway the group towards their color that was incorrect. And over and over, we’ve seen studies show that an outsider actually has more perspective and sway over a group than an insider.

Anytime you’ve had a new job and you’re doing the onboarding, and you see things, you have that outsider’s perspective, and oftentimes, you have more sway than you should. So, I remember when I joined a community college, this was in like 2010, so computers were around but they were still handwriting their progress notes for counselling. They were filing them by day in a binder rather than by a person’s last name.

And so, if I wanted to know if somebody came in for counselling before, they had to go back to a calendar, look through it, find it. Outsiders, when you come into a new job, have these eyes to say, “That’s crazy. Why do you do it that way?” And so, effective leaders actually retain that as they move up to have that outsider perspective.

And then the third one is an ability to move on it. And so, we typically have a spectrum where on one side we have speed, and on the other side we have accuracy. And there are tons of times within your job or other things that you want accuracy. So, if I go under the knife, if I have surgery, I want my doctor, I want her to do as good a job as she can, be as accurate as she can. I don’t need speed when I’m in a hospital setting.

But most of business and life and jobs, speed is going to trump accuracy almost every time. And you know when we have jobs and we have supportive supervisors that understand this, that makes it a lot easier because you get more done and you’re able to get that feedback loop quicker as you move forward. But ineffective leaders are the ones that get paralyzed by perfection, they get worried about messing up, getting worried about getting fired over just little mistakes, so then they overthink it, and they’re accurate but they’re slow.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, ability to move then isn’t just about power but speed. And I’ve heard, I don’t remember if it was Korn Ferry or one of our guests talked about a key variable for people being successful in their careers is their decision-making. And by decision-making, they didn’t mean perfect decisions. They meant fast decisions, which I find intriguing. And I think it’s Ramit Sethi, I think he says it very well, something like, “We spend way too much time on most decisions, and way too little time on a couple really critical ones.” And so, most of our decisions, we can just crank and rock and roll, and there’s no need to sweat it, and there’s really just a few that you truly need to nail and take your time on.

Joe Sanok
Yeah, that idea of how much we spend time on making decisions, when you think about rising leaders, they’re usually people that make decisions, they can back up those decisions, they can think on-the-fly oftentimes, and practice thinking on-the-fly. So, these are skills that it’s not pass/fail with the internal inclinations. It’s more we just want to know, “Where are you at with these three?”

If you aren’t boosting your curiosity on a regular basis, or putting yourself in situations where you can build an outsider perspective, or feel uncomfortable, or have the ability to just move on it, you need to be putting yourself in those situations to build that muscle over time so it becomes more natural for you to think critically, outside of the box, as we often hear, or to be able to move on things, or to be more curious.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so I’m all for the breaks and those principles. That’s awesome. I want to hear, so for the skeptics in the crowd, so 32 hours versus 40 hours. I’m thinking there’s probably some distinctions here. Like, if someone is truly in a crank widget factory situation, I think less time is going to yield less output. Is that fair?

Joe Sanok
That’s definitely fair. And I think there are certain industries that are going to shift differently. This isn’t going to be in the same way that the industrialists just gave us a one-size-fits-all 40 hours. That’s why going through some experiments that I talk through in the book, and we can walk through it here as well, are important for teams to say, “How do we apply these principles specifically to our team?”

So, imagine an IT team that helps with passwords in a bank, you can’t just say to your banking clients, “Sorry, you’re locked out. There’s nobody here to help you. It’s Friday. Peace out.” You’re going to have to have somebody that’s on call. So, that’s going to look different for that team versus other teams. But there’s a lot of traditional industries that have an enacted this.

So, I love the story of Kalamazoo Valley Community College in southwest Michigan. This guy Ted Forester was an HVAC instructor. So, he’s a professor of HVAC, teaching about big-building heating and cooling, so a regular blue-collar guy.

Pete Mockaitis
This is like John Goodman in the Community TV show, who is awesome. He nailed that role so good.

Joe Sanok
I know. Right. That’s Ted Forester except Ted Forester is thinner and better-looking. So, Ted, he realizes on Fridays in the summer, there’s like no students on campus. So, he goes up to the roof, and every Friday, takes a picture of the parking lot, just Friday after Friday taking pictures. And then he does it in the fall to show how many people are there.

He then presents to the board of the directors, this HVAC guy goes to the board, and says, “This is what our Fridays look like in the summertime. This is how much we’re spending on air-conditioning costs to cool empty buildings in the summer. This is how much savings that we would have just from turning off the air-conditioning on a Thursday night and turning it on a few hours before Monday morning classes.”

So, they end up switching, five years ago, to a four-day workweek in the summertime, and they did save the millions of dollars in air-conditioning, but, on top of it, their staff satisfaction has gone up, their staff retention has gone up. So, you just think about how long it takes when someone leaves to replace that person in that role, to get them back up to the same productivity of the prior person. Their health outcomes are better and also the student success has gone up because students then can come in earlier in the day, Monday through Thursday, or later in the day, because people are flexing their schedules in really unique ways.

And so, they’re working 36-hour weeks and HR “donates” four hours. And so, they’re working a little bit longer days, but then there’s flexible scheduling where they can work through their lunch, they can come in early, they can keep the office open later. And so, Michigan is winter, like, nine months of the year, and so for people to have a summer where they have a four-day workweek, they’re going to stay in that job longer and be happier in it because of that. And then they’re still saving them millions of dollars in AC costs.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay. Well, so tell us, I’d love to hear, are there any other pro tips for in a world, I guess, fundamentally, whether organizations switch full-scale to a four-day workweek, or we just switch internally to a four-day workweek because we have that own flexibility, or we just decide, “Hey, I’m going to give you more output in less time, and then just kind of chill out a little bit that you won’t notice”? Either way…

Joe Sanok
And I think that’s already happening. I think when we look at Friday productivity, it’s not exactly through the roof, or like a Monday morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, fundamentally, what are the key practices that let us generate more output in less time? So, we talked about one-minute breaks making a world of difference for not having that vigilance decrement. That’s cool. What are some other magical things we can do so that we do more with less?

Joe Sanok
Yeah. So, one thing that we want to do is we really want to think about the environment in which you’re working, and to give different environments to different tasks. And this can be harder or easier depending on how much control you have over your office space. But even, as I was writing the book, I was using the very principles I was learning to write the book faster than what I thought I could.

And so, even being able to on the day of writing, to protect my brain in the morning. So, I wasn’t checking texts, I wasn’t checking email, I was blocking out the time to work on an important task. And even when I had a full-time job, I would do this. I would say to my boss, “Hey, I’m going to be batching and working through all of these items. I’m going to be in my office if you need me, but I’m going to try to just have my head down for three hours and just go crazy.” And she would respect that, and she would know ahead of time. And then I got so much output done, it was like, “When Joe is in monk mode, just like don’t even pay attention to him.”

And so, what I would do is I would then get together the food that I needed, so I had my green smoothie, I had my coffee, I had my green tea, so all the drinks I need for the morning, and then I set up my environment in a way based on the task. So, this is one of those quick hacks you can do in your office environment to have different lighting and different things for particular tasks.

So, I changed the lighting in my office while I was writing. I moved the chair that I was working at to a different part of the office. I had specific headphones that I only used for when I was writing, with a playlist I only listened to while I was writing. So, that then dropped me into flow state significantly faster than if I had just looked at a white screen, and said, “What am I going to write today?” I came in prepped. I had prepped my brain. I had thought through, “What is this chapter going to look like?” And so, in a typical work world, we can enact these environmental changes to drop into flow state faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I imagine with that environment, those beverages part of it was being set up right next to a bathroom.

Joe Sanok
Yes. Yes. And understanding when are you most productive. For me, from about 9:30 to 11:30 is like my peak performance time for a day. Like, the food, the caffeine, the wakefulness, all has me in a point that that’s when I get my best work done. And so, that’s what we want to do, the work that’s most important is when our bodies feel most amped up and most ready to go.

The other thing that I would recommend is for people to really understand their sprint type. And so, a sprint type is similar to a personality type. When we think about sprinting or batching parts of our job, oftentimes we think, “Well, that didn’t really work for me,” and it’s because we don’t know our sprint type. So, some people, their brains are naturally wired to be able to have breaks every 20 minutes while you’re working on the same task. So, spending one to three hours just working on the same task over and over and over.

And so, you break it into 20-minute sprints, you’re just going crazy on that one task. Whereas, other people, what we call task-switchers, are people that they need to have variety. And so, they sketch out what their sprints are going to be, but they’re going to change every single sprint. The other side of it is knowing, “Am I the type of sprinter that needs to have this automated, so an automated sprinter, so every Thursday, in the morning, I’m going to be working on a particular task? Or, am I an intensive sprinter that needs to take time away from the office to really dive deep into particular tasks?”

And so, some people will rent an Airbnb to just dive deep, to get out of the office, they’ll schedule with their boss to work from home or to go away so that they can dive deep into a particular task. And so, when we understand our sprint type, we actually get more done during that period of time than if we just were kind of going along with our regular schedule.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what I really like about this…maybe a theme that’s coming to mind in terms of the things that you’re putting together here is that we’re serious here. There’s a time on the calendar and there’s an environment. There’s a set of conditions: food, beverage, peak energy. There’s a mission, and it’s like, effectively, you’ve turned not messing around into a series of practices that has a date and time and mission and supportive elements around it, and then some rituals, like, “These are the headphones, this is the music, this is the beverage,” that then get associated over time. So, all that’s really cool.

And part of me, I don’t know, my hunch is, and I want to pore over all this research that you’re sharing, with that 40 hours versus 32 hours, I guess part of me thinks that we’ve got over 20% of our workweeks that we’re just sort of frittering away by not being serious.

Joe Sanok
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I guess my question is, if someone is already a kick-butt high-performer, would they still see those gains even though the “average” knowledge workplace, it seems like has no problem?

Joe Sanok
So, I would actually ask the question of this high-performer, “Do they think they are trying new things? Are they stressed out and maxed out? Or, do they have time and space for creativity and daydreaming?” Because, if we are stressed out and maxed out, the research shows that we are not going to try new things. We are going to go with what we know. And for a period of time, that can work, to just go with what you know.

But if you’re really looking to get to the next level in your career, you have to be innovative, you have to be creative, you have to make connections outside of the lane that you’re in. And that almost always comes when we slow down, when we’re taking a shower, or going for a hike, or on a long drive. We start to make these neural connections that we wouldn’t have made if we’re just stressed out and maxed out. So, for the high-performers, I would actually say that they’re going to do even better and more creative work to help themselves stand out within their careers if they slow down.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Joe, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Joe Sanok
Yeah. So, the final thing I would leave you with, because sometimes we hear this four-day workweek, or three-day weekend, and it’s just, “Where do I even start?” And I would actually start looking forward to this future weekend, even if it’s just two days, and I want you to add something and remove something. So, what do I mean?

So, I want you to add something that you know is going to help you rejuvenate in a way that is just expansive beyond what you’ve done. So, it might be that there’s a book on your nightstand that you’ve been meaning to read, and if you gave yourself two hours of permission to read that book, you know it would light you up. Or maybe it’s connecting with a friend that every time you see them, you say, “We should get together sometime,” and you just keep putting it off. Find that thing that’s going to add something to your weekend.

And then I would say remove something. So, you may have coffee scheduled with a friend on Saturday morning, and every time you leave that meeting, you feel like trash, “That person is toxic.” Like, I give you permission to cancel that. Maybe you’re sick of working on your lawn and you want to pay the neighbor kid for one weekend to work on it. Or, maybe you’re sick of going and getting groceries, waiting in line, bringing them home, and losing half a day of your weekend. Maybe this weekend, you give yourself permission to take that off of your plate.

And when you do this over time, where you add something and remove something, you learn what’s best for you. It may be that the grocery thing doesn’t really like amp you up as much as you thought it would. It may be that the lawn care actually does. And so, over time, you’re adding one thing and removing something for you to best know how to optimize your brain for the next week, whether or not if you’ve jumped into a three-day workweek or not, or three-day weekend or not.

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

Joe Sanok
Yeah, the quote that I, for a long time, have tried to live and heard so early in my career is “When you say no to one thing, you say yes to all sorts of other things.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Joe Sanok
To me, the one I go back to is the vigilance decrement one because it just shows how just that small little bit can make such a difference. And I’m sure there are so many other things like that, that research, that has yet to uncover.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Joe Sanok
I would say there’s two. I’m going to cheat here. The ONE Thing is, by far, my favorite book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Joe Sanok
In regards to just business and focus, but The Untethered Soul, to me, is equal in regards to just allowing myself to realize that at my deepest core, I’m awareness, I’m not my emotions, past feelings, my physical body, and to allow those heavy feelings to just move through my body, has just been a game changer for me.

Pete Mockaitis
You tell me a book can do that for me, huh?

Joe Sanok
It’s a good one. Michael Singer rocks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Just to have total enlightenment over emotion. Okay, that’s worth a read. Thank you.

Joe Sanok
Yeah, little things that I like to pay attention to, like, global enlightenment.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Joe Sanok
I would say that I still…I probably said this last time. Trello, to me, I use so frequently with my teams and my personal life to just stay organized overall.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Joe Sanok
I would say my favorite habit is slowing down, that to genuinely turn my brain off and to go have fun with people, to me, that makes life worth living.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key thing you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Joe Sanok
I would say that they’re shocked at how slowing down really was the thing that helped them completely kill it and grow their businesses. Most people, when they try that, are just absolutely shocked at how well it works.

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

Joe Sanok
Yeah. So, wherever they want to buy Thursday is the New Friday, it’s available wherever you buy your books. I‘m sure your local bookstore would appreciate that. We’re also doing a mastermind group starting the first Thursday in November. And so, when you buy 10 copies of Thursday is the New Friday, you get access to that by just submitting your receipt over at ThursdayIsTheNewFriday.com.

We’re going to be having some top-level podcasters in there. We’re going to be talking about how do you actually implement the book, doing some hotseats. But, most importantly, you’re going to be able to meet new people that are thinking in the same way so that we can have a genuine community of friends that are enacting this together.

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

Joe Sanok
I would say that we are the post-pandemic generation, and we have a short window of time here before people try to go back to what was “normal” before the pandemic. Now is the time when you have the most power to push back. And, especially, with the great resignation, there are so many employers that are looking for creative ways to attract new talent. And if you can be one of those leaders around the four-day workweek, I know it’s going to help you continue to level up in your career. Be a leader, and to live a life that’s more in line with what maybe nature intended.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joe, thank you. this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in your four-day workweek adventures.

Joe Sanok
Thank you so much, Pete.

712: How to Turn Pressure into Power with Dane Jensen

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Dane Jensen says: "Pressure is energy. It actually can help."

Dane Jensen shares powerful tactics for staying calm and confident in the face of pressure.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The equation that explains why we feel pressure 
  2. Why time management won’t solve your workload problems
  3. The questions that make us “good at pressure” 

 

About Dane

Dane Jensen is the CEO of Third Factor, an acclaimed speaker, an instructor at Queen’s University and the University of North Carolina, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and the author of The Power of Pressure. 

Dane oversees Third Factor’s delivery of leadership development programs to leading firms across North America including SAP, RBC, Uber, Twitter, the USGA, and others. He teaches in the Full-Time and Executive MBAs at Queen’s Smith School of Business in Canada and is Affiliate Faculty with UNC Executive Development at the Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill. 

In addition to his corporate work, Dane works extensively with athletes, coaches, leaders and Boards across Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic sport system to enhance National competitiveness. He has worked as an advisor to Senior Executives in 23 countries on 5 continents. 

Resources Mentioned

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Dane Jensen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dane, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dane Jensen
Hey, thanks so much, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, we’re talking about pressure, so I’m going to put some pressure on you right from the get-go, if I may, and say, Dane, I’d love for you to kick us off with a riveting and instructional story that tees up some of the concepts of your book The Power of Pressure: Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution.

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think one of the beautiful things about how I wrote this book is it was all story-driven. I asked as many interesting people as I could find one question, which is, “What’s the most pressure you’ve ever been under?” And I found out that this question is kind of like a magic portal. Like, on the other side of this question, no matter who you asked this question of, there is a really, really interesting story.

And so, I’ll tell you a story about a woman named Jen, who is a manager at a government agency. And when I asked her about the most pressure she’d ever been under, she flashed back to this period of her career, where she was responsible for planning the communication of an organizational restructuring. And so, two agencies had been merged, everybody kind of knew they were going to be layoffs, there was going to be a restructuring, it had been a couple of months at this time, so nervous anticipation was building. And then, finally, the day arrived, this incredibly well-orchestrated day that Jen and her team had been working on for a couple of months.

And so, Jen’s morning was spent having four one-on-one conversations with people who are being let go, so a pretty tough morning. And then she raced across town to the conference center where they were about to kick off six simultaneous regional meetings where they were going to announce the strategy and the restructuring that was happening.

And so, she parks herself in the biggest region. About half the people are there in person, half of them are joining remotely through Zoom or by phone, and it is one minute to 1:00 p.m. when the meeting is going to kick off, and the AV fails completely. Nobody can dial in, nobody can hear, nobody can see. The regional president looks at Jen, because she’s the person who planned this. She looks around for an AV team, there was no AV team in the room.

She tears out of the room, down the hallway, and she decides to take a shortcut through a stairwell. She gets into the stairwell, the door closes behind her, and she hears a click. She runs over to the door, grabs it, locked. Looks down on her phone, she has no cell service because of the concrete walls. She is locked inside of a fire escape with no cell service and 600 people on the other side who were wondering if they still have jobs.

And I use this as a microcosm of when you ask people what’s the most pressure they’ve ever been under, you get an unbelievable range of life experiences. And so, the first insight for me from this is when you talk to Jen about what the moment was like of peak pressure, when she realized that the meeting was falling apart and she tore out of the room and was running towards the stairwell, she talks about how, and these are her words, “My focus narrowed to the point where I could not see what to do next. It was like my mind was racing but it wasn’t computing anything.”

And I think this, to me, is a wonderful kind of tee up for the problems of pressure. We’re going to talk about why pressure can be the solution but the real problem of pressure is when it gets incredibly intense, it actually shrinks our world dramatically. Our attention starts to tunnel. We can access less of our expertise. We can take in less information from the external environment. And so, this example, for me, really tees up what are we trying to solve for when it comes to pressure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful. And so, let’s talk about that problem and what it does to us. And you’ve got an interesting equation in terms of importance, uncertainty, and volume are components. How does this work in terms of…? Because I was thinking about your equation as you told that story, it’s like, “Okay, we got some importance. Okay, we got some uncertainty. Okay, we got a lot.” So, what is sort of that perfect storm, it’s like, “Yup, this is what pressure feels like and where it comes from”?

Dane Jensen
And this was the first mission in writing the book, was as I asked more and more people this question, I got totality of life itself back. We had lots of people talking about kind of, I guess, standard pressure moments – so, big presentations, a critical sales meeting, an entrance exam, a job interview – so that kind of stuff definitely came up.

But then we also had stories of people, a guy who went for a swim and, all of a sudden, realized he was too far from shore and the tide was going out, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back, people who were carrying demanding jobs while dealing with dying parents. So, one of my first tasks was to kind of look at this incredible range of human experience, and start to go, “Okay, what is similar across these very different experiences?” And I think that’s where the equation came from. It’s to say, “Okay, as different as these things are, when we talk about pressure, all high-pressure situations are characterized by some combination of three things.”

So, the first thing that has to be there for us to feel pressure, as humans, is importance. If what I’m doing doesn’t matter to me, if it’s not important, if the outcome doesn’t matter to me in some way, I’m not going to feel pressure. But importance alone doesn’t create pressure. We also need uncertainty because no matter how much something matters to me, if it’s certain, if the outcome is clear, it’s not really going to create that much pressure.

And so, we really, as human beings, where we start to feel the experience of pressure, which is really an internal experience, it’s a response to an external circumstance, we feel it at that intersection of, “Hey, this really matters to me, and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” And then volume really is the multiplier. So, it’s like, as human beings, yeah, we’ve had to exist in important and uncertain situations since the dawn of time. In the modern world, I think what creates the grind of pressure is just the sheer volume of tasks and decisions and distractions that kind of surround our important uncertain moments.

And so, these three things can combine in very different ways, Pete. So, Jen’s situation, for me, is a perfect example of what we talked about as peak pressure moments, which are like violent collisions of importance and uncertainty. Like, acutely important, “I’ve been working on this for months, the regional president is looking right at me, this is falling apart,” and tons of uncertainty.

There are other situations, when we talk about the long haul of pressure, or the grind, those tend to be less about like hugely important, highly uncertain, and more just about grinding volume, “I’m just carrying a ton of uncertainty through a long period of time, and it gets really heavy.” And a lot of the stories and experiences I heard from COVID, they tend to fall a little bit more onto that pattern of just constant uncertainty and just grinding volume. But those three things are what kind of combine to create pressure for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, that’s good to know right there. When I think about importance for a while, there are sometimes I feel pressure and it’s because of something is really important to me, and I realize there are many other people for whom this would not be a big deal and would not be important to them but it’s important to me. And it’s almost like I wish I cared less so there’d be less importance and I’d feel less pressure.

And so, Dane, I don’t know, I have a feeling it’s not the solutions you’re going to be putting forward. But I’ve been there, it’s like, “Ah, could I care about this a little bit less so I could feel less pressure?”

Dane Jensen
Yeah. Well, listen, man, I think you’re onto something there. Like, I think what I learned is that everyone of these parts of the equation – importance, uncertainty, and volume – they are all kind of double agents. Pressure itself is kind of a double agent, right? Where do more world records get set than anywhere else in sports? The Olympics, right, because there’s pressure. Pressure is energy. It actually can help and we know that pressure can also be dangerous if it’s left unchecked. It can lead to burnout and stress and all that stuff that we see in the growing conversation of workplace mental health.

So, I think all of these things, what’s interesting about them is it’s a little bit of a matter of dosage. So, importance, just to build off of what you’re talking about, we’ve heard for years, you got to start with why. You got to get really clear on why something matters to you, the purpose behind what you’re doing. And, actually, that is a really important part of the long haul of pressure. If I’m going through the grind of 12 really tough months, or raising a child, like I got to really have a line of sight to, “Why does this matter to me? How is this helping me grow? How is what I’m doing contributing? How is this bringing me closer to people that I care about?” the big stuff.

And, to your point, when we kind of cross from the long haul of pressure into these acute peak pressure moments, actually the issue typically isn’t that, “I don’t have a line of sight to my why. It’s like the why is crushing me. Like, I am just overwhelmed by how important this present…” So, one of the tools that I introduce in the book is this ability to kind of pivot a little bit.

So, if you take a very simple example that, hopefully, some of your listeners can relate to, if I’m prepping for a big presentation, let’s say it’s a sales presentation that I’ve got to give, I actually want to, during the preparation phase, consciously focus on importance. The fact that there’s a commission cheque at stake here, that this could be an input to an early promotion, that this is a good test of my abilities, that I can contribute revenue to the bonus, whatever it is that makes this matter to me.

When I’m about to step into the room and actually deliver that presentation, I have to consciously switch my attentional focus using one question, which is, “What is not at stake for me here? What are the important things in my life that will not change regardless of the outcome of this presentation? I want to focus on the fact that I’m still going to have a job, I’m still going to have the love of my friends and family, my colleagues will still respect me.”

Because those are the things, those unchanging things, that’s what frees me up to perform. If I carry the commission cheque and the early promotion, if I carry all that into the presentation, it’s going to be a disaster. So, you’re absolutely right, there are situations where the real question I want to be focused on is, “What makes this a little less important?” because often we get fixated and we expand the stakes mentally as we’re heading into those moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s beautiful so much there in terms of the distinction between preparation and performance, like play the game a little bit differently. And then we have the choice to dial it up or down in terms of onboard and I don’t feel like preparing well. This commission cheque is at stake. We increase the importance and the pressure, versus, “I’m freaking out a little bit. It’s the big moment.” It’s like we can decrease the importance and pressure, like, “Hey, you know what, my wife and kids aren’t going to leave me. They’ll still be here even if I just scream obscenities at everybody in the room and botch it as badly as one could possibly botch it. My wife and kids will still be there as well my friends.” And so, that is good.

Dane Jensen
And even simple anchors, Pete. I have a vivid memory of a day that I spent in my consulting career, and this is going to sound like a very first-world problem. I was consulting to a company in northern Italy, and I had parked my car outside of the hotel the morning before I had to go give a critical presentation to the senior leadership at this organization. And I woke up the next morning and the entire square outside of my hotel had been converted to a farmer’s market, and every car that had been in the square that night before had been towed.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through the wonderful experience of trying to navigate the Italian auto impound system as somebody who doesn’t speak Italian, but this was not the way I wanted to start my day before a critical presentation to a big client. And the thing that really got me through it was in that moment going, “You know what, one way or another, at 6:00 o’clock tonight, I’m going to be sitting down, eating dinner, and having a cold beer. And nothing that happens in the next three hours is going to change that. It’s going to be 6:00 o’clock, we’re going to eat our meal, we’re going to have a drink, and we’re going to go on with the day.”

And so, I do think, because our attention can run away from us and get so…it’s like a spotlight. What we focus our attention on, it comes right into the foreground and everything else recedes into the background. A lot of this is about consciously directing that spotlight to, “Okay, what are the things that I need to focus on right now that maybe are getting lost in the glare of where my attention is kind of gravitationally getting pulled?”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, Dane, so much excellence here in terms of what’s not stake in consulting. And that brings me back to some stories where I was new in consulting and making some errors, which was embarrassing for me and the team. And I had an awesome manager who was sharing some perspectives in terms of like, “Hey, well, it’s just work and nobody’s dying. But, yeah, you’ve made some mistakes that kind of hurt our credibility there and so we got to get a plan.”

And so, I appreciated that perspective, like that’s what happened. I was new, I made some mistakes, but no one was dead, which is not true of some professions. You make mistakes, people may die. But I make mistakes in my spreadsheet and it’s just a little annoying and embarrassing.

Dane Jensen
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, we talked about when you feel the pressure, your mind can run away from you, you can narrow your focus. And some tools there, we talked about dialing up or down the importance via thinking about what’s at stake, what’s not at stake. Any tips on how we move the levers of uncertainty and volume?

Dane Jensen
Yeah. And I think your tee up here, which is, “Hey, it’s just PowerPoint. There are some situations where the stakes are life and death.” And that’s often a question that I get when I talk about importance kind of as a standalone topic, it’s like, “Well, what if it really is a life-and-death situation? Is it really going to work to think about what’s not at stake here?” And the answer is, “Not really.”

I think of the equation kind of like a bag of golf clubs or a set of chef’s knives. If you are truly in a high-pressure situation where lives are at stake, you’re probably going to want to focus less on importance and more on uncertainty. Because uncertainty, as human beings, we experience uncertainty in a very similar fashion to physical pain. And Olivia Fox Cabane wrote about this in her great book, The Charisma Myth, that the brain, actually, similar parts of the brain light up under uncertainty as they do under physical pain.

And so, if you look at kind of the evolutionary biology of all of this, the human beings who craved uncertainty, who heard the kind of rustle in the bushes, and were like, “Huh, wonder what that is?” And, yeah, they didn’t tend to do too well. So, most of us are not particularly comfortable with uncertainty. And so, when we are in these peak pressure moments, similar to importance, in peak pressure, the goal with uncertainty is quite straightforward. It’s we want to redirect our attention from what we can’t control to what we can control, and begin to act as soon as humanly possible. Because the second we start to act on uncertainty, the second we start to make progress, that’s when the pressure from uncertainty begins to abate.

And this really got landed for me. I heard a wonderful metaphor from a guy named Martin Reader, who’s an Olympic beach volleyball player. He represented Canada in the 2016 Rio Games. And he talked about how when you’re playing beach volleyball, there is so much that is out of your control. The opponents are out of your control, the officials are out of your control, the crowd is out of your control, the weather is out of your control. You’re literally standing on shifting sands, which is kind of a metaphor for uncertainty, but also a literal thing.

And he said, “The one thing that you can control in volleyball is the serve. When you are standing behind the service line and you have the ball, that’s the one time that you’re in control.” And so, he tells a story about when they had to qualify for the 2016 games, they knew they were going to have to go into Mexico and beat the Mexican team in order to qualify.

And he said, “We knew this was going to be really tough because the Mexican team was a good team. It was going to be a really hostile crowd, which sometimes influences the officiating.” And so, he said, “For six months, my partner and I, we practiced this very non-traditional serve.” And he said, “At a critical moment in the third game, I moved to this complete other spot on the service line, and I served the ball they had no idea was coming for an ace, and that really punched our ticket to Rio, to the Olympics.”

And so, he said, “Since that moment, whenever I find myself in a situation where things are really out of my control, I ask myself, ‘What’s your serve? What is your serve in this situation?’” And, again, I talked about the spotlight and redirecting attention, this, to me, is another one of those great attentional anchors, to go, “Hey, with everything else that’s out of my control, what is my serve in this situation?” And I think one of the things we want to recognize is no matter what the situation is, you might ask yourself that question, go, “I got no serve. This whole thing is out of my control.” There are a couple of things that we always have control over, that are permanent serves for us as human beings.

So, one of them is breathing. No matter what situation you’re in, breathing is a serve. When I start to get my physiology under control, when I move my breathing down into my diaphragm, when I slow it down to five to six breaths a minute, that’s a way that I can start to access certainty and control. You can’t have a racing mind with a calm body. If you can get your body under control, it’s very hard to have a racing mind.

The second thing that we always have control over, that can always be a serve, is perspective. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, he talked about having, through his time in the Nazi concentration camps, the Nazis could take pretty much everything. They could take food. They could take clothing. They could take shelter. He said, “The one thing they couldn’t take was my ability to choose to see what I was going through as a meaningful experience.” And he talked about that as the last human freedom. That ability to choose how we are going to look at what we’re going through, that’s another serve that we always have. That’s always within our control. That’s always something that we can act on.

And so, routine is another one. You look at people in sports, before a tennis player serves the ball, what do they do? They have a constant routine that allows them to exert control. So, I do think, when it comes to uncertainty, A, the question, “What’s my serve?” but then, B, having a couple of kind of go-to serves, so to speak, where you go, “These are the things that I’m going to do that are going to serve as beachheads of control under peak pressure,” that can really pay dividends when you’re walking into high-stake situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Dane, that is powerful stuff in terms of, that question, “What is my serve?” I think when you really visualize that in terms of, “Literally, what is the equivalent of a ball in my hand that I have the choice of what to do with right now?” that’s huge. And so, your choices in terms of how you interpret and view things, how you breathe, that’s excellent. So, let’s hear about volume then.

Dane Jensen
Yeah. So, volume is an interesting one because it’s easy to react in a way that seems like it’s going to help that actually ends up hurting – and that’s time management. I think when volume is the dominant thing creating pressure, and I think, frankly, for many of us, volume is the dominant thing creating pressure. When I talk to people in organizations, I do a lot of workshops on this stuff, and one of the questions we’ll ask is, “Okay, what are the things right now that are taking away the fun, keeping you rushing, causing you anxiety?” And, inevitably, the answer is some version of “Not enough time,” or, “Too many priorities,” which are kind of just flipsides of the same thing.

And so, I think when volume is creating pressure, it kind of makes intuitive sense to turn to time management, it’s like, “Okay, the issue is I’ve got too much stuff to do. The solution is I need to become more efficient and get it done. That’s how I’m going to make progress. That’s how I’m going to start to exert control and tamp down uncertainty.” The challenge with time management is that time management is a trap. If you think about people who get really good at time management, what do they get? Do get more volume or less volume? They get more volume.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, because they’re entrusted with, “Hey, great job, Dane. You really crushed that. Here are some more stuff for you.”

Dane Jensen
Most of us are working in organizations where if you do a really good job, it’s like, “You know what, we’re going to be so efficient that we can shrink our meetings from an hour and a half to an hour. That’s going to open up 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on my calendar.” The second 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. opens up on your calendar, what happens? Someone is like, boom, calendar invite, like, “I noticed you have a free hour from 1:00 to 2:00. It’d be great if you could join this project kickoff.” It’s like putting up a signal flare that’s like, “Hey, I have some free time.”

And so, the example I always use is there’s this wonderful Dilbert cartoon where Catbert, the consultant, is talking to the manager, the boss, and he says, “Hey, how do you guys reward your high-performers around here?” And the boss says, “Oh, we load them up with work until they become average performers.” And, to me, that’s time management. It’s like digging a hole in the beach. The bigger the hole you dig, the more water is going to rush in there to fill it.

And this is not to crap on time management. Time management is a really important productivity tool but it’s not a solution to pressure, and those are two different things. Time management absolutely helps with productivity, but it doesn’t alleviate pressure because it just allows you to get more done. It actually allows you to increase the volume that you’re kind of faced with.

And so, when we talk about volume, there’s really two imperatives that I kind of start to dig into. The first is, listen, if we are going to choose a high-pressure life, which I suspect most people listening, if you’ve taken the time to opt into a podcast like this one, you are choosing a high-performing life, and that’s going to be accompanied by volume. And so, we have to take care of the physical platform that allows us to handle a high-volume life: that’s sleep, that’s nutrition, that’s movement. So, that stuff has to be there so that we’re not just exhausted all the time.

But the flipside to that is, instead of just managing our time to try to accommodate everything, we have to get ruthless at how we are using that capacity. And that means really hitting the root causes of volume, which are, “What are the tasks that we permit? What are the decisions that we are making on a routine or regular basis? And what are the distractions that are taking us away from the volume that we really should be focused on?”

And so, when I think about productive strategies that actually get at the root causes of volume, they are strategies to hold the line on tasks, “What am I saying yes and no to?”; there are strategies that eliminate decisions, “How do I create rules, principles, that eliminate the number of decisions, or minimize the number of decisions that I have to make on a daily basis?”; and, “How do I put structure in place that is going to allow me to avoid distractions?”

So, those are kind of the core three, and we can dig into any one of those three that you want, but those, to me, are kind of the root of, “How do we actually manage volume as opposed to just accommodate it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that that is a nice set of tools that seem to sort of cover the gamut pretty nicely. Boy, we could have a whole episode on them. But maybe give me your favorite tactic amongst those three, like, “This is game-changing and pretty easy for people.”

Dane Jensen
let’s talk about tasks. And, listen, there’s two reasons that we overwhelm ourselves with tasks, and it really kind of depends on your span of control in the organization. We can overwhelm ourselves with tasks because of tasks we take on ourselves. So, we’re just over-optimistic about what we can accomplish, and so we kind of opt in or we kind of seek out more than we can handle, and that starts to create pressure. We can also accumulate too many tasks because they’re imposed upon us, we get assigned them by our managers or our bosses.

And so, for each of those two streams, and it’s not a binary thing. Usually, it’s some combination of those two. There’s a tactic that I think is worth exploring and trying. So, the first is if you are the kind of person that is just over-optimistic and opts into too many things, I am a huge believer in calendar blocking. And I just think, the fact that we have, all of us, simultaneously a calendar and a to-do list, creates a lot of the challenges that get people to take on too much. Because we look at our calendars, and we go, “Oh, yeah, I have space from 1:00 to 2:00 tomorrow.” But the issue is that our calendars really only show the commitments that we’ve made that involve other people.

The to-do list is basically a parallel calendar, it is a parallel set of commitments to our time, they just happen to not involve other people. It’s work that we need to process independently. And so, I think if you fall into that camp of constantly opting into stuff, and then going, “Oh, crap. Like, I got to get this done on a weekend,” you want to merge your calendar and your to-do list. Like, find time on your calendar for every item on your to-do list, and actually block it so that you have a real representation of all of the things that have a claim on your time before you start making decisions around what else you can take on because, otherwise, you’re just deluding yourselves. And I think that’s where the kind of over-optimism comes from.

So, that, to me, is one very practical way to start to get a more real view of, “What are the tasks that I actually have room to accommodate?” If the tasks are being imposed on you, if it’s more a case of just somebody else, like, “I need this. And I need it by Monday,” I think it’s really uncomfortable for most people, in particular, folks that are a little more junior in organizations, to just say, “Listen, I can’t do that. Like, I don’t have enough time to do that.” That’s often something seen as career-limiting. It’s a little bit of an uncomfortable conversation.

And so, my recommendation on that one is take that out of the binary world of like, “I can do this,” or, “I can’t do it,” and start to use those as jumping off points to have prioritization conversations, “Okay, so you need me to pull this deck together for Monday. All right. Here are the other two things that are on my plate for Monday. Where do you want me to rank this one? Is this the most important of those three? Is this in the middle?”

And we’re not having a kind of like “Me versus you” conversation, where like, “You’re asking me to do something and I’m saying, ‘No, I can’t do it.’” Now, we’re having a conversation together around, “What’s the order that I should be thinking about these things in? What are the ones that are more important or less important?” So, those are kind of two separate roads, I guess, of kind of the same outcome but a little bit different context.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t want to roleplay this for too long, Dane, but if you’ll indulge me just a smidge. So, if you have that conversation with a manager, director, VP, whomever, someone more senior, and they give you an unsatisfying response of, “Well, hey, they’re all important. They all need to get done,” what do you do then?

Dane Jensen
And I think this is where we want to be polite, be persistent, it’s like, “Totally agree. Okay, so which one should I do first?” or, “Where do you want me to start?” And I think the ability to continue to have the discussion, “Listen, I have to pick one to do first, and I have to pick one to do last,” that’s where we want to keep driving the nail in.

And, actually, this has come up a few times where people are like, “Well, my manager just won’t have those conversations.” Like, I keep getting responses, like, “Everything is important.” And this is where I think a big part of managing pressure is my ability to come face to face with my own personal power, my ability to connect with self-efficacy, that I have the ability to choose what I am going to tolerate, what I am not going to tolerate.

I think if you have a manager who repeatedly, over time, just says, “Everything is important, and you need to get it all done,” that, to me, is a signal that if you have a good relationship with that person, now is the time for some upward feedback, which is, “Let’s have a conversation around what I really need from you as a manager in order to perform at a high level.” And if that continues, like, to me, who on earth wants to work for someone who refuses to have a productive conversation with them about what’s most important around here?

So, I really do think that the end of that conversation, for me, is like, over time, I have a boss who refuses to help me prioritize my work, get out of dodge. Like, find a better place to work. Find a better manager. That sounds flippant, but I genuinely think that that should be a very basic expectation of a leader, that they can do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And you’re right, and I think like there may be rare moments where it’s true, everything is important and everything is urgent at the same time. And I think a great manager would be like, “Dane, I’m sorry. This is a terrible week and, unfortunately, it seems like what’s going to be necessary is that you work until midnight several days in a row. It’s unfortunate that we’re here now but we are, and I’d like to figure out how to get you some time off in the next week to make up for it. But, darn it, this is what the reality is on this particular week.” I think that both things can be true, that everything must be done, and your manager could be cool and humane about the implications of that.

Dane Jensen
Listen, I think that’s a great point, Pete. There are busy periods in every job. If it’s tax season, and you’re an accountant, like, legally, everything has to get done by a certain date. It’s not like there’s a lot of wiggle room there. We got to do everybody’s taxes by the time they need to file them. So, I totally agree with you, and I think the main thing for me is it becomes a conversation.

So, what I liked about you just laid out there is, “I’m having a discussion as a manager to paint a really clear picture here of this is a period in time in which we’re going to be asking a lot of you. Here are the commitments that I’m making around that, that this is going to be time-bound, that I’m going to work with you productively to find some time to recover, and that I see and appreciate the extra effort that you’re putting in here. It actually matters.”

That, to me, is very different than a leader who simply says, like, “Everything is important. Get it all done on Monday and have it on my desk.” So, I totally agree that those things can co-exist, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so while we’re talking still on the managing pressure, if it’s, I guess, maybe the problem side of things, if you will. You have a very compelling teaser bullet for your book, “We can reduce tension, sleep better, and have more energy so that you can meet challenges head-on.” It sounds like we’ve figured out a few levers for some of that. But, tell me, any other pro tips on the sleeping better and enhancing energy side of things?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think the…and this comes from the subtitle of the book, which is, “Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution.” I think the thing that we want to recognize about pressure is that, really, pressure is just a word that we use to label a ball of energy. Pressure is energy. When you look at, physiologically, what happens to our body under pressure – it’s adrenaline, it’s cortisol, it’s muscle tension, it’s faster blood flow, more oxygen. Like, it’s just energy.

And I think that energy can be productive if it’s channeled appropriately. Certainly, many of us who have had kids, what is it that allows you to be an empathetic and patient human being on no sleep when you feel like you’re screwing everything up? It’s the energy that accompanies the pressure that you feel. And so, I think pressure can be a source of energy if it is channeled appropriately.

And so, if we look at a lot of the tactics that we’ve been talking about, it’s like, “Okay, how do I take this kind of raw seething energy and actually use it in a direction that is a little bit more productive?” And I’ll tell you, when it comes to the sleep part, so sleep better, I do think because pressure is energy, if we are carrying a ton of that around, it does make the sleep thing a little bit more difficult. And so, our ability to pulse to kind of channel and allow the energy from pressure to help us perform, but then to be able to get into a state where the energy dissipates, I think that’s really important.

And this, to me, goes to the flipside of what we were talking about with uncertainty. So, we talked a lot in uncertainty around, “How do I take direct action to eliminate uncertainty?” That’s the whole notion of finding your serve. I actually think one of the failure modes that high-performers get into is because direct action can be so effective in peak pressure moments, it becomes the default mode of action. We try to just take action on everything. And one of the certainties of life is that we cannot eliminate all uncertainty. We are all on our way to both triumphs and tragedies and everything in between that we cannot foresee, we cannot predict, we cannot prevent.

And so, a big part of the sleep better at night for me is we got to recognize, when it comes to uncertainty, that, yes, we need to act to tame uncertainty where we can, we also have to be able to get to a place where we can embrace the uncertainty that we can’t tame. And for that, that’s really a bit of a mindset thing. And it’s a mindset, as I talk to people that are really good at this, who just seem to be able to come to peace with the fact that there is uncertainty, it’s really about cultivating two things.

The first is, “I have to get to a place where I accept that the future is both unknown and unknowable. I have to get to a place where I can accept that I cannot control the future no matter how hard I try.” And, actually, a lot of the stories that I heard from high-performers were like about bitter battles that eventually reconcile with them, realize that they couldn’t control everything.

But paired with that belief is it almost feels like a bit of a paradox but we have to pair that belief that the future is uncertain and unknowable with the belief that everything will work out as it should in the end. And that belief is really about having a patient faith in the future. And I think it’s that one in particular that, A, is harder to get to in a period like COVID, and, B, is the one that actually allows you, if you go right back to the question, that’s what allows me to get to sleep at night, is I can get genuinely to a place where I go, “At the end of the day, things will work out.”

And I think that the critical distinction here, for me, on this one, and I get pushed a lot on this one, both by people who read early drafts of the book and people whose opinion I really trust, who said, “Listen, things don’t always work out.” And that’s true. There are lots of situations where we don’t get the Hollywood redemptive ending, we don’t get the outcome that we wanted, and, yet, I talked to hundreds of people about the most pressure they’ve ever been under, and without fail, they talk about how the situations worked out.

They talked about the fact that they learned something about themselves that was really useful later on. They built confidence that they never had before. It forced them to make a tough decision that they’ve been delaying. It brought them closer to other people. It uncovered an inner strength that they weren’t aware of. Like, they inevitably talk about how, even if it didn’t go the way they expected, it worked out.

And so, I think the really important part for me here is we have to get to a place where we don’t lose faith that things will work out in the end, while being open to being surprised by how they work out. Like, opening ourselves up to the fact that they might work out a little bit differently. And so, I think that that’s what makes uncertainty so challenging, Pete, is it’s this double-edged sword of, “I got to find my serve and act aggressively where I can to limit uncertainty, and I’ve got to get to this place where I go, ‘I can’t control everything and that’s okay because it’s going to work out the way it should in the end.’” That’s where the ability to kind of sleep a little better at night comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s powerful stuff. And, now, I would like to hear, when it comes to pressure being the solution, you mentioned more records are broken at the Olympics than anywhere else and you said it’s because of the pressure. You actually worked with Olympians so you would know. I guess, my first thought was, “Was it because of the pressure or was it because they’ve precisely timed their training to peak at this moment when the gold is on the line?” And so, I guess there’s probably both are drivers. But, tell us, how can we, in a pressure-filled moment, do extraordinary exceptional things above and beyond what we’re capable of during normal circumstances?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think you kind of got there. It is a bit of an and. I think when you’re trying to be the absolute best in history at something, it has to be a combination of both, “I have trained in a way that I am going to be at my peak when it matters most, and I have to be able to take advantage of the energy that is going to accompany performing on the Olympic stage. It is just a different thing than other stages. There is a different level of scrutiny. There’s a different level of importance. There is a different level of volume.”

So, when you talk to elite athletes, they will talk about the pressure that accompanies an Olympic performance. And I think this is one of the misconceptions that some people have about pressure, which is that getting “good at pressure” is about eliminating that feeling of profound discomfort that accompanies pressure. That’s not the case. You talk to anybody, I don’t care who they are, they will tell you that this stuff is unbelievably uncomfortable.

Wayne Halliwell, who’s a great sport psych up in Canada here, he talks about this notion that it’s not about getting rid of the butterflies. It’s about getting them to fly in formation. Pressure is uncomfortable. When we are in peak pressure moments, it is not a place that is particularly enjoyable. So many Olympians I talked to will talk about the 10 minutes, the 30 minutes before they’re going, “Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this?” Like, they’re fantasizing about just escaping from the pool.

It’s an uncomfortable experience and the energy that makes it so uncomfortable, “If I can get control over how am I framing this from an important perspective? Am I able to both see that this matters to me and recognize that this isn’t a referendum on my life? Like, this doesn’t determine whether I’m a failure as a person or not. Can I take direct action? Do I feel like I’ve done everything I can to control what I can control? And have I got myself to a place where I can accept that there is uncertainty that I can’t tame, that I might fall, that a competitor might just happen to peak that day?”

“And if I ruthlessly control the volume that could distract me from my performance, have I cleared out all the distractions that could take me away from…? When I’ve done those three things, that’s what gets me in a position where the butterflies can fly in formation. I still feel that way but I go in with confidence as opposed to overwhelm,” and that’s when things kind of click when we listen to people describe those experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And so then, if we’re not getting on an Olympic stage, but we’re feeling the pressure, are there any particular actions or practices or reframes that are super effective in terms of accessing the superpowers?

Dane Jensen
So, I said a little earlier, the attention is like a spotlight. I think the best way to think about getting good at pressure is to think about attentional control, which is, at the end of the day, my ability to direct that spotlight, to not have the spotlight just direct me, like I’m just kind of beholden to whatever kind of catches my attention, and I can’t act on it, when we train that ability to direct the spotlight of our attention, that’s when we start getting good at pressure.

And, as we discussed, sometimes that is about I got to put the spotlight on, “Why does this really matter to me?” Other times I got to direct the spotlight to, “What’s actually not important about this to me?” Sometimes I got to direct the spotlight to, “What can I control? What’s my serve?” Other times, I got to direct the spotlight to, “What is the uncertainty that I can’t tame, and the fact that, at the end of the day, this is going to work out?”

So, that attentional control is really at the heart of this for me. And the best way to redirect the spotlight is questions. Questions are attentional anchors. So, peppered throughout the book are just, “What are the questions that I’ve heard from people that really work for me but also work for others?” So, those are questions like, “What’s not at stake? What’s my serve in this situation? What’s my average? What can I count on here?”

We want to have our own bank of, “What are the little attentional cues that work for me personally to direct that spotlight in a way that’s productive, to get me anchored on something that’s going to actually help under pressure, as oppose to lead me down the garden path?” And so, my most kind of practical advice for listeners is to start to know, use the ones that I’ve kind of just said as a starter list, but gather the questions as you go that help you when you’re moving into your peak pressure moments, because those questions are like little nuggets of gold. The little attentional anchors that put you at your best, those are the things that you want to carry and start to embed in your routines as you’re heading into high-pressure situations.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. I love those questions and the notion of training the ability to direct the spotlight of your attention, and questions are huge for that. Some of my other favorites are, “What’s great about this? And what’s one thing I can do to make this better?” We had Dr. Ellen Reed talk about relentless solution focus with that kind of question, and it’s beautiful.
And, also, the phrase training the ability to direct the spotlight of your attention. That sounds like what mindfulness meditation practices do. Any thoughts on those?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, 100%. I think mindfulness meditation is like going to the gym. Every time your attention wanders and you bring it back to center, you’re practicing attentional control. So yeah, absolutely. That is a very related practice and it’s one that can 100% enhance your ability to do this under pressure.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff. Thank you Dane.

711: Speaking with Calm and Confidence with Patricia Stark

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Patricia Stark says: "I'm making up what I'm telling myself about the situation anyway, so why not make up something positive?"

Patricia Stark shares key strategies for developing the calm and confidence to shine under any spotlight.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical mindset shift that brings both calm and confidence
  2. The simple rule for looking and sounding like an expert
  3. Just how long you should maintain eye contact 

About Patricia

Patricia Stark is owner of Patricia Stark Communications and Calmfidence® Workshops, providing training in personal and professional development. She works with celebrities, corporate executives, authors, news anchors, social media influencers, and others whose careers rely on their ability to communicate confidently. She lives in New York. For more, see patriciastark.com. 

Resources Mentioned

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Patricia Stark Interview Transcript

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

Patricia Stark
Pete, it’s so great to be here with you. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Calmfidence, and it’s spelled C-A-L-M-F-I-D-E-N-C-E. First of all, what does that mean?

Patricia Stark
Well, thank you for kind of spelling out that first word, because if you say it quickly, everybody’s ear hears confidence, which we all hear, but it’s Calmfidence. So, basically, I’ve been coaching and training people for many years, and I realized that all of my clients and students had two things in common. They wanted to be confident speaking in public, or being on stage, or in the media, or asking for a raise, or giving a presentation, or they were also feeling that they needed to find their calm.

So, a lot of people can be confident but they still get stressed out and anxious. So, they were really looking for those two things. And I found that’s really a very powerful and magical combination when you can both have calm and confidence simultaneously. So, thus, the term calmfidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. And could you share with us a story of just what’s possible in terms of a transformation with regard to starting out neither calm nor confident, and ending a super calmfident?

Patricia Stark
Sure. Well, I’ll give you a personal story where, really, I noticed it in myself for one of the first times. So, I was invited to be on a PBS program in New Jersey for one of the PBS networks here in our area, and it was the first time that I was going to be shown as a “communications expert.” So, I was thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness, what if the so-called communications expert makes a mistake?”

Now, for years leading up to that, I had been the interviewer, I had been the reporter, the anchor, the host doing the interview, and now here I was as the guest expert, and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness, like this is really a disaster if I can’t communicate well in this situation.” And I started to get myself a little worked up, as most of us do when we’re out of our comfort zone, and doing something for the first time where we’re expanding and we’re doing something new.

And, all of a sudden, it hit me that I was confident because I had helped a lot of people, and I knew that my exercises and strategies had really benefited people. And then, suddenly, I got this sense of calm over me where I realized, “You know what, this isn’t about me at all. This is about the viewers that are listening that really need some help, and that really need to have some strategies to work through this on their own. And I was there to be of service and to give value.”
And once I had that mind-shift change, it really gave me a very different perspective and sense of calm and confidence and control over the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s even come up a few times in terms of feeling calm and confident in a speaking situation, it’s the realization, “Hey, it’s not about you. Get over yourself. Be of service. Focus in on the listeners, what they need and want, and how you can deliver that.” So, it sounds like, hey, there’s a huge nugget right there in terms of being calm and confident.

So, tell us, how do you think we get there if we’re sort in our head and self-conscious and thinking about ourselves, and, “What if I screw up?” How do we make that leap?

Patricia Stark
Yeah. Well, you just said a really key phrase, “What if I screw up?” and that’s what I was doing myself in the example that I gave you, is that I was picturing what could go wrong. And we’re so good at that, and it’s really a defense mechanism to help us protect ourselves, to think worse-case scenario, to think, “Okay, what if the absolute most horrible thing happens right now? How am I going to defend myself or get out of the situation?” So, that tends to be our default.

So, first and foremost, we need to really realize that the most important thing that we are hearing is, initially, our internal communication before we have external communication. So, we have to do a check-in on, “How am I speaking to myself, first and foremost, about this situation? And what is the story that I’m telling myself? And am I envisioning the way that I want it to go and how I can help others and really visualize and see this going the way that I want it to go? Or, am I going to that primitive default place where I’m in this protective mode of just hoping that I am going to survive this?”

So, I think that, really just by changing your focus and saying, “No, I’m going to have a plan, and I’m going to visualize how I’m going to work that plan in the positive way that I want it to go, and even seeing the outcome that I want to see.” And that may be someone coming up to you and saying, “Hey, wow, that speech really helped me, or that really inspired me,” or a boss coming up to you and saying, “Wow, you really did your homework for that presentation, and it was a great job. We really appreciate all the work you put in that.”

And doing that ahead of time, which is called pre-paving, really then helps our subconscious kick in and follow our positive plan, rather than worrying about all of those horrible images that we’ve created, that our autopilot is saying, “Well, I thought this is what you wanted me to do because this is the last thing you were thinking before you sent me out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, in your book, you’ve got a whole chapter on calmfidence boosters. It sounds like we’ve already maybe hit a couple of them. Can you share what are some of the other most powerful practices that really help people here?

Patricia Stark
Yeah. Well, I know that people have heard this time and time again, but it really works, and it’s really true. And that is having gratitude, being grateful for why you’re there, for the opportunity to be there. And it can be small gratitude, it can be large gratitude. So, if someone is asking you to be in a leadership role, or to be the expert on the topic of the moment, that doesn’t mean that you’re the be-all-end-all best expert there’s ever been, but you’re going to be the expert at that moment.

So, having gratitude for saying, “Wow, it’s really great that someone thinks that I have something to offer or that they’ve invited me to be here.” Instead of, “I have to do this,” no, “I get to do this. And how lucky and blessed am I that I’m even in this position to have a platform where I can, hopefully, help others and inspire others.”

So, gratitude is really one of the things that study show can completely cancel out anxiety. You literally can’t be grateful and anxious simultaneously because you can’t be thinking of things that you’re grateful for and also have that sense of anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. How about another calmfidence booster?

Patricia Stark
Another calmfidence booster would be trusting yourself and liking yourself. So often we worry about what others think, “How do I look? How do I sound?” But getting to the point where you’ve prepared enough to where it’s good enough, and you’re not trying so hard for perfection, but just good enough. And I think that sometimes we get so in our way because we think that everything has to be just right, everything has to just be perfect, but when we realize that good enough is good enough, now we have room to be human, we have room to be approachable and endearing.

And other studies that I’ve read also show that we don’t like perfect people anyway. We like people that seem like us, that are vulnerable, that mess up, that say, “Whoops, sorry,” and keep going on and let it roll off their back. So, that’s definitely another booster is cutting yourself some slack and liking yourself and allowing yourself to be human, and letting that be good enough and not aiming for such perfection because perfection really is a roadblock.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got some particular perspectives on dealing with the inner critic. Can you share a few of those with us?

Patricia Stark
Yeah, the inner critic goes back to what I was saying earlier about that defense mechanism and that primitive place where we’re protecting ourselves. Everybody talks about the inner critic and it sounds like this big monster that has fangs, that is chasing us down in the back of our minds. But what that inner critic really is is it’s just you or I like a scared little kid that still lives with us, and we can’t ever completely make the inner critic go away.

But we can stop taking direction from it, and we can say, “Oh, you know what? I know why you’re here. You’re scared or you’re worried or something like this is baggage that you’ve been carrying on that maybe happened to you when you were a kid. Maybe you got laughed at. Maybe you got turned down for a job or for a date or for whatever, fill in the blank, and now that scared little part of us that we still all have like a squatter in the back of our mind, kind of shows its ugly head to warn us and to try to protect us.”

And that’s when I like to say, “No, we all have an inner critic but we also all have an inner coach.” And it’s almost like that angel-devil scene that we’ve all seen in movies or commercials, and we’re like, “Okay. Well, who am I going to listen to?” And it really takes practice and a conscious effort to say, “You know what, I’m not going to listen to the inner critic. I’m going to listen to the inner coach.”

“And I’m going to talk to myself the way that teachers, or mentors, or people that I’ve admired, or people that really helped me at certain parts of my life, a dear friend, or a confidante. How did they talk to me? Or how would I talk to a dear friend or someone that I care about if they were struggling with something or having stress or anxiety? And deciding that I’m going to talk to myself as my inner coach and then I can’t listen to the inner critic.”

Because if you’re not talking to yourself, that inner critic voice is going to be really loud. But if you’re talking to yourself, then you can’t hear that inner critic talking to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And, by contrast, what are some of the calmfidence killers?

Patricia Stark
Definitely, defining yourself externally. We all worry about what others think and, “What is this person going to think?” Or, I remember my mom always telling me when she grew up with her father, he had emigrated to this country, and he was always, “What will people think?” And, finally, she said to him as she got a little older, she’s like, “Who are these people that you’ve been talking about?”

So, I think that it is defining yourself from externally. I think that all happiness, all calmfidence, all calm and confidence, all starts from within. So, working on things, whatever you can, and knowing that, again, we’ve all got baggage, we’ve all got all kinds of things that have influenced us negatively going through our lives, whether it was family, friends, coaches, tough people that we work with. We’ve all got that. We’re all struggling with something.

But realizing that true calm and that confidence and trust in ourselves and belief in ourselves can never come from external sources. It can only come from the inside and doing that inner work. And that might look different for different people. It could be meditation. It could be preparation. It could be their faith. It could be, again, going into that inner coach mode. But knowing that we’ve got to go internal, and from within, and that’s where everything, that’s the foundation of everything, not coming from the outside.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you mentioned that can look differently for different people in terms of what is the inner work by which one arrives at, having an internal, I guess, self-worth, self-confidence, self-identity, that is, ideally, kind of unshakeable in terms of someone thinks you’re dumb or whatever. And it’s funny, in my own life experience, I’ve had times where I’ve had criticism, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you’re mistaken. I don’t care,” and just like has zero impact. And other times, it’s like, “Oh, no,” and it really hits hard. So, I’d love it if you could dig into some of those different views of inner work that gets us to that place of unshakeable self-confidence?

Patricia Stark
Sure. Well, I can’t get in in other people’s heads but when I’ve had the conversation with clients and students, and even family and friends, and even when I’ve been discussing when I was writing my book, it’s really like, “What’s that personal ritual or that thing that you do that makes you feel like, ‘You know what, I’ve got this. I’ve got my act together. I feel solid. I feel like I’m ready to go’?” And those rituals are different for all of us.

Some people like to work on their outside and feel like everything looks just a certain way and then, hopefully, then they let that go and they can forget about themselves because they’ve taken care of whatever they needed to externally get their act together, and now, “Okay, I’m in that uniform, I’m in that mode so I can go out into the world and, hopefully, forget about myself.” It could be, again, someone that meditates in the morning, or maybe somebody that really does their homework, that really covers all the bases above and beyond so that they can perform to a certain degree and have a little bit extra if they need to whip something out of their hands that they weren’t expecting.

It could be someone thinking about, “What’s my why? Why am I showing up today? Is it because I feel that I have something that will help people? Is it that I want to do a great job so that I feel like I have something that I’m proud of or that my family will be proud of me? Is it my faith in myself or a faith in a higher power?” It’s something that all of us tap into that, again, is an individual thing that makes us each feel, like, “I know I’ve got this. And even if things don’t work out exactly the way I want to, or go south and are not okay, I know I’ll, at least, be okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And I’m curious, when it comes to, kind of shifting gears like into the actual presentation/communication zone, you mentioned rituals and preparation. I’m thinking about the actual preparation of your content or presentation. What do you recommend? Is there a particular amount or approach that really works wonders and making us feel confident and ready to go and deliver?

Patricia Stark
Yeah, over the years when I would work with a different content and copy, whether I was on stage or in front of the camera for a client, I remember someone many, many years ago, it might’ve been a director or a producer that we were having this conversation. And they made this comment where they said, “You know, it’s not about memorization. It’s about internalization.” So, it’s one thing to memorize things, and that’s fine and that’s good, and some people have better memories than others.

But when you’re really invested to the point where you’ve internalized this stuff, where you just really know your stuff, you eat, sleep, and drink it, you know it like the back of your hand, that’s when the magic can happen because you can be so much more free, and flexible, and not worry about, “Oh, I was supposed to say it just this way.”

Just like, I’m sure, when you drive to your home from work or wherever you’re going, to the food store, whatever it is. There’s probably five different ways or routes that you could take to your house, but all of them are going to get you to the place where you need to be, depending on what mood you’re in or traffic or detours. So, as long as you know your content inside and out, the best that you can.

And I know sometimes people spring presentations on us and things we don’t have as much time to prepare as we would like. However, if you’re someone who should know that content, and it is something that you live with and that you work with, and that maybe, and hopefully, is a passion of yours, to be able to have it more something that is just part of you and internalized, again, to where not just memorizing talking points, that’s such a beautiful place to be, because then you can have real organic things happen, you can really be in the moment, people can ask you questions and you’re not going to get thrown because you can think for a moment and you can be like, “Well, here’s my point of view on that.”

And, again, we want to be prepared obviously, so the best people will make it look like they’re winging it but they still have a skeletal structure. So, a lot of times I’ll tell clients, “Okay, if you’re not going to go from a verbatim script, have chronological bullet points where you’re going to kind of have a skeletal structure in your mind’s eye so you’ll see that structure of content points or concept points, and then with a more casual conversation, hopefully a little bit more organic, then you could put the flesh and the fat on it in a conversational manner, but you’re still following this beautiful skeletal structure so you know where you’re starting and where you’re ending up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And so, that sounds like a great kind of place to end, like, oh, you have that flexibility, you can rock and roll in that way. And I’m curious, and I’m sure it’ll vary based on the nature of the communication and the person, but sometimes I think we have it but we don’t really have it. In terms of, like, “Okay, yeah, I know what I’m talking about. Uh-uh, sure.” So, I guess, how do we really know? How do you really know that you know? Is there sort of an amount of practice or a key acid test that you run folks through?

Patricia Stark
It is different for everyone. I used to have a terrible fear of public speaking when I was in high school and in college, and I would overprepare and that would make me more nervous. Now that I’ve gotten over that, and I’m just at a place where I just love communicating with people, and I love talking about all kind of topics, including the ones that are my passion, I tend to just be more relaxed about it, I have a plan, but it’s more of a simplified plan, again, that I can kind of let happen organically.

But for people who can’t do that and they don’t speak enough, and that’s usually the problem, when we don’t speak all the time and we’re not constantly in great shape of organizing our content and presenting our content, what I will tell to people is I’ll say, “Let’s do it in like a rule of three.” So, I had a client recently that she’s an expert in her field, and she was going to be interviewed on a morning show about what she did, and it was three minutes.

And we went through it because she’s done that before, and we had her content, and the three main takeaways that she wanted to do. And then she came to me the next week and she said, “Oh, my goodness, someone just asked me to do a half an hour of content that they want to have as like a webinar or something that was going to live somewhere on somebody’s website.” And she said, “How the heck am I going to fill a half an hour?”

So, then I said to her, “All right. Well, what about those three main modules, or those three main takeaways that you normally talk about?” And we flushed that out again. And then I said, “Okay, so 30 minutes is really you’ve got, what, maybe about a minute, a minute and a half open, and then a minute, a minute and a half close, so now you’ve got like 27 minutes left, so that’s nine, nine, and nine, which makes 27.”

“So, let’s take three blocks of nine minutes and have that be one of each of your three talking points. And then, under that, let’s have a subset of three things under each of those umbrellas that go a little bit deeper, a deeper dive into the topic. So, then that was three minutes, three minutes, three minutes under each of those nine headings.”

So, all of a sudden, she’s working this all out, and she says to herself, “Wow, if I can include all of this stuff, I hope that I can give all the information I want to give. I hope a half an hour is enough time.” So, suddenly, she realized she had more than enough content. She just needed to chunk it down. So, I think that if we can chunk things down, think about what really are the main takeaways that the audience or the viewers, the listeners, really need and simplify that, and then go back and reverse-engineer and dive a little bit deeper into each of them, we’ll usually find that we have more content than we need.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. And you also got some particular perspectives on healthy, engaged eye contact. Lay it on us.

Patricia Stark
Yes. So, a lot of people don’t really feel comfortable with eye contact, and it’s particularly odd these days because we’re out of practice. We haven’t been in person with each other the best that we can and we’ve all been all over the place with our eye contact on some of these virtual platforms because it’s like, “Well, I want to look down at the boxes and see the people that I’m talking to as I’m used to looking at human beings, but I really need to look at that little dot in front of me so that they feel like I’m looking at them, and even feel like I’m listening to them,” because when we’re looking in other places, we look disengaged.

So, I know, in person, that a lot of people feel like either someone’s boring a hole through their head or looking into their skull if they make eye contact for too long. So, a couple of tips on comfortable, confident eye contact, the sweet spot seems to be between like two and five seconds. So, if we look away too fast before that two seconds, it looks like we’re nervous and we don’t want to make that eye contact or we’re hiding something. And if we stay, overstay our welcome a little bit longer than that five seconds, it looks like we’re way too interested or we’ve got that stalker stare.

So, to kind of think to yourself, “All right, just go for that two- to five-second sweet spot, and then look at the other nonverbal communication.” We should be looking at lips. We should be looking at eyebrows. We should be looking at facial expressions. And kind of looking up to think about our content, or looking down to ponder what we’re thinking about or how we’re digesting the information. So, we actually give each other breaks in those moments so that we’re not just completely engaged in eye contact all the time to where everybody becomes uncomfortable and awkward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great perspective in two to five seconds that sounds and feels about right, and often that might be just about a short sentence or a phrase, and then we can look to the next person with the following sentence. And then when we start a new one, we’re looking at the next person. So, that just sort of has a nice flow or groove to it.

When you mentioned that we’re out of practice and scared, I’m curious, do you have any exercises you recommend? Sometimes I found, like in an airport, or I like to look at people’s eyes, and it’s funny, I see it in myself in terms like sometimes I’m just like ready. I’m ready to look at them for two seconds and nod, just like, “Hey.” And other times, I’m like, “Ooh, you caught me. Ahh.”

Patricia Stark
Oh, I know. Yeah, that’s like, “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t looking at you. I swear.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, are there exercises you think we can conduct safely to get more comfortable with this?

Patricia Stark
Yes. Well, I’ll tell you a quick little funny story. When COVID first happened and we were all in that really first intense quarantine, and I hadn’t been used to seeing faces up close other than my immediate family members, I opened the refrigerator one day and there was this huge image of someone’s face on the container of milk and it startled me. I was like, “Oh, that feels really weird and really close and a stranger.” So, I like felt that effect. And when I was doing a little bit of research on this, I found out that there are actually apps and websites where you can practice and you can go on and you can stare into eyes of people that are looking directly at you on your phone or your computer. So, that’s kind of an interesting little trick.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating.

Patricia Stark
Yeah, or you could watch a video.

One little thing that I want to mention when it comes to uncomfortable or prolonged eye contact is that it’s also a very effective strategy in holding your ground. If you really want someone to know you mean business, or you’re really waiting for an answer, or you are expecting something, you can just really just maintain that eye contact, and look at them and hold your ground, and it really makes people respond or get uncomfortable. And not that we want to make people uncomfortable, but it’s very effective in letting people know that you are standing your ground and you’re not doing anything until they make the next move.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it really is. And I remember when I did a lot of keynotes on college campuses, sometimes there’d be some chatterboxes talking to each other in the audience, and I didn’t really like that. But it was almost like a magical superpower in terms of, sure enough, when I look right at them, it’s like, they say, “Ooh,” they kind of like tone it down and got quiet until I looked elsewhere and then they’d start up again, and you look again, and they tone it down.

Patricia Stark
Yeah, yeah. And we also…you reminded me of something about judging a book by its cover, and I’d mentioned earlier about the eye contact with the other nonverbal facial expressions which have also been tough with us with masks on, so we really rely on the eyes and, hopefully, seeing the crow’s feet so we could tell someone is smiling or looking in between their brow to see if they’re sad or angry or mad or whatever, but it’s really the whole picture.

So, it’s not just the eye contact. It’s, “What other messages am I receiving? And what are some of those micro expressions, little moments where we think we saw something but then it went away because someone tried to hide it.” So, hopefully, it makes us ask more powerful questions and engage verbally with people. But there was one instance where I was giving a seminar or it was a big workshop, I think it was, and there was somebody in front of the room that was staring at me, and she really had this terrible picklepuss kind of poker face look on her face, and I thought she was extremely unhappy every time I had kind of catch eyes with her.

And, lo and behold, at the break, who’s the first person that runs up with a big smile on their face telling me how much they’re enjoying the session? And I was looking, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “You looked like you wanted to beat me up.” And she goes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve been told I get this look on my face when I’m really into something and really intensely listening and paying attention.” I was like, “You’ve been told this. I think you need to work on that.”

But really, it was a good lesson for me to…remember how we talked about that self-talk? That was a story I was telling myself, “Oh, she must be unhappy. Why did I go there first?” So, now, if I see those picklepusses and poker faces, I think, “Oh, they think this is the best thing since sliced bread.” I’m making up what I’m telling myself about the situation anyway, so why not make up something positive?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. And it’s true, I think that there are times where my eyes, they might just seem like I’m sort of glazed over, like maybe zombie-sque, but what’s really happening is, I’m like, “Whoa, Patricia, what you just said is huge. And so, if that’s true, then all these other implications and possibilities might work out. And maybe I should try this over here.” And so, it might look like I’m totally zoned out but, in fact, I’m engaging pretty deeply and my mind is really racing with ideas and possibilities associated with the thing that you’ve spoken about.

Patricia Stark
Yes, so we shouldn’t make assumptions. And if we’re going to, let’s keep them positive because we’re making it up anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, tell me, do you have a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Patricia Stark
I was thinking that a really great one, especially in business and in the way that we put ourselves out there, or not, in the world is, “God gives birds their food, all birds their food, but He doesn’t throw it into their nest.”

And I particularly like this quote because I am a bird person. I have a bird feeder out in the back of my yard, and I’m always going out there, and I get a lot of joy feeding the cardinals and the different birds, and even the squirrels, they don’t bother me because I think, “You know what, they’re coming out when I’m throwing this out there.” But they have to come out of their nests to come and get that food.

And when I see them with that motivation and they give me happiness because I see that they’re going out there to come and get what I’m giving to them, I want to give them more. I even have one squirrel that will come up to the backdoor and take a big piece of bread out of my hand like it’s a drive-thru window. And I love this squirrel because the squirrel is going the extra mile. It’s figured out that if it comes out and comes out of its comfort zone, out of its safe space, that I’m here to give it something.

And I think that this is a really great analogy for whether it’s a goal or going the extra mile at your job. When people see that you’re willing to leave the nest to take a chance to put yourself out there and show some initiative and go out there and get it and be a go-getter, people really respond to that and they want to help you even more. And I think that that is just a great thing to keep in mind, again, for any goal or anything that you’re doing in the workplace, that people want to help people who are out there trying to go above and beyond.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Patricia Stark
I think that anything to do with Positive Psychology, I’m all about that because, for so long, psychology really only focused on dysfunctional things and what was going wrong, and, “How can we help fix those things?” And then, lo and behold, Positive Psychology studies came around and it was all about, “What can be right and what can be done positively from a place of something is not broken or needs to be fixed? But how can we think better and think differently that will help us advance?” So, anything to do with Positive Psychology or emotional intelligence, I really love.

And there was also a body language study done by a woman named Amy Cuddy I have found it to be pretty true to where, when you use your space and you stand up straight and tall, and you feel more powerful, almost like a Superman or Superwoman pose that you might do before you go out to give that presentation or go in front of the camera, it changes your physiology, and your stress hormone, cortisol, drops, and your testosterone can rise.

And in her study, she showed this can literally happen in the way that we use our body in just two minutes. And I’ve used this with clients and students, and even myself, and I see the difference. For imploding, looking down at our cellphone, or looking at that resume and not getting up and using our body to feel open and more powerful, and using our space. There is definitely an effect on how we show up.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Patricia Stark
Well, I have so many but one that I just finished recently was called Rise and Grind by Daymond John from Shark Tank.

But I also love Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I’ve referred to that many times over the years when I’ve been looking for a goal, whether it was to achieve goals at work, or write my book, or whatever it may be. Blink by Malcom Gladwell. I can go on because I am very big student of personal and professional development books, so I could probably rattle off more than a few for you right now but I won’t take your time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about is there a key nugget you share that people seem to connect and retweet and frequently quote you, a Patricia original?

Patricia Stark
I’ve told people, and especially, students and younger people when I go to speak at schools or at some of these Zooms, that I love to remind them that we all have our own personal fingerprint that no one has the same fingerprint that any of us do. So, it doesn’t matter if someone is doing something or has done something before. If it’s something that’s in your heart, and that’s a calling for you that you want to do in this world, just focus on putting your own personal fingerprint on it because that means no one has ever touched it just the way that you have or will from your perspective and your personal lifeforce.

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

Patricia Stark
Well, you can certainly link with me on LinkedIn, just Patricia Stark; on Facebook, Patricia Stark Communications; Twitter @clickpatricia, like you’re clicking Patricia. And then Instagram, patriciastarkcommunications. And then on the web, PatriciaStark.com or CalmfidenceBook.com.

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

Patricia Stark
Just know that when you have the plus factor, when you’re not just going through the motions, when you’re not just following the job description, everyone truly is really self-employed because it’s up to you to decide how good you want to be at something, how much effort you want to put forth, how much of a plus factor you want to have, and that’s the thing that will make you stand out from the crowd and be different.

And even if it doesn’t happen right away, people take notice when we go above and beyond, because, unfortunately, not a lot of people necessarily do that. And when you do that, and you are willing to go the extra mile, people will want to go the extra mile for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Patricia, this has been fun. I wish you much luck with your book and other adventures.

Patricia Stark
Pete, well, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed speaking with you today.

710: How to Regain Control of Your Time, Energy, and Priorities with Carey Nieuwhof

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Carey Nieuwhof says: "Start focusing your best work in your best hours."

Author and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof talks about how we’re all living at an unsustainable pace and how to combat burnout through better energy management.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to tell if you’re experiencing low-grade burnout
  2. The best hours to do your best work
  3. The key to saying no well

About Carey

Carey Nieuwhof is a bestselling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, and former attorney. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts. His podcast, blog and online content are accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times each month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. Carey and his wife, Toni, live north of Toronto. 

Resources Mentioned

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Carey Nieuwhof Interview Transcript

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Well, it is great to be with you, Pete. Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I’m excited to talk about your book, At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor. Can you tell us, as you’ve kind of thought through this, talked to people, worked with people, researched, what’s one of the most surprising and maybe counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about people and trying to be at your best?

Carey Nieuwhof
We’re all in the same boat, we can start there. Almost everybody I know, including myself for a long season, felt overwhelmed over work and overcommitted. It just seems to be almost an endemic in our culture these days, so I think that’s a big surprise. The other thing that really led to the writing of the book, for me, Pete, and really the reorganization of my life, and helping thousands of other people do the same, was everybody talks about time management. But the problem with time management is you’re managing a fixed commodity. Like, nobody is giving you a 25th hour in the day. Nobody’s floating you an 8th day a week.

So, I was pretty good at time management, and I burned out. So, the big surprise for me on the other side of burnout 15 years ago, as I reconstructed my life, was I started to focus on energy management, not just time management, and that’s where I started to find exponential returns is when I thought about how my energy level, and it’s a human condition, everybody’s energy level goes up and down over the course of the day. And when I started to manage that, that’s when I started to see exponential returns in productivity, and started to regain a lot of margin in my life. So, I think that’s probably the most surprising thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I definitely want to talk about energy management. So, maybe could you give us, first, a broad picture perspective on what’s sort of like the big idea or core thesis behind the book At Your Best?

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah. So, most of us are living in an unsustainable pace, and the big idea of the book is to learn, and I’ve got a system that we can unpack in as much detail as you want. I developed a system to help you live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow. And for my first decade of leadership, I was in law then I moved to church world. I’m a person of faith.

I was leading a rapidly growing church, and after a decade in leadership, I burned out, and it was real struggle for me. And I was living in a way most days that made me struggle tomorrow, made me barely survive tomorrow. And if you talked to most people today, whether they’re stay-at-home parents, whether they’re working part-time, whether they’re full-time, whether they’re in the C suite, or whether they’re entry level, almost everybody goes home feeling overwhelmed, overworked, overcommitted, and I was just exhausted. I would get home. I’d flop onto the couch.

So, on the other side of burnout, I started to ask the question, “What does it take to not do that anymore, like, when you’re not feeling well?” And I spent the summer of 2006 really probably clinically depressed because of burnout, and now, 70% of people every year identify with symptoms of burnout, going, “Yeah, I’m kind of burned out or I’m very burned out,” so it’s a real problem. But when I was in that space, I thought, “I don’t want to go back to normal. I want my life out of burnout,” but, like, normal got me burned out. So, how do I create a new normal?

And that’s when I started to really think, “Okay, I want to live in a way today that will help me thrive tomorrow.” And it comes around how to manage your three principal assets. So, if you think about every single person, whether you’re retired, or in preschool, or in a C-suite level job, you have you’re managing time, you’re managing your energy every day, because we all know there are certain parts of the day where we’re kind of dragging and other parts where we feel better, and you’re managing priorities.

And technology has really made it complicated because, suddenly, it’s super easy for everyone else to get their priorities onto your agenda. So, I started to rethink how I approached those three assets. So, when you’re in what I call the stress bio, when you’re overwhelmed, overworked, overcommitted, basically, your time is unfocused, you’re not thinking about how to use your time, your energy goes unleveraged, you treat every hour as though it was exactly the same, you don’t really think about your energy levels, and you will allow other people to hijack your priorities.

And so, it took me about three to five years but I built something that I now call the thrive cycle. And on the other side of burnout, I started to think, “Okay, what if I focused my time, what if I started leveraging my energy, and what do I need to do to realize my priorities?” And when I started doing that, that’s when I saw 10X returns in terms of my productivity at work, my level of joy in life, and also the amount of margin I had, like just the free space, the freedom to do what I really felt called to do.

Case in point, in my 30s, everyone said, “Carey, you should write a book. You should write a book.” And I always wanted to write a book but, before I burned out, I just always said I didn’t have the time. So, that was 15 years ago. In the last decade, I’ve written five books. This is book number five. Actually, I wrote six because one I never published. I found it the other day, I’m like, “Oh, I forgot about that one.” It might see daylight some other time. But I’ve written five books, and it greatly expanded my capacity.

So, that’s the overview, that’s the nutshell, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s inspiring. So, there’s a beautiful sort of after state in terms of five books and joy and margin and freedom. Can we visit briefly the before state in terms of burnt out, didn’t want to get off the couch? What was life like just before you’re like, “Whoa, I’m burnt out” and in the midst of the burnout?

Carey Nieuwhof
Well, it was strange, and I don’t want to paint an idyllic picture. I still have days where I’m stressed. I still have days where it’s like, “Whoa, that was too much.” Last week, I had a really busy week. But I think the key that a lot of people lacked is the ability to recalibrate quickly. Going to bed on time, getting up the next morning, you’re like, “Oh, battery back up to 100%.” And so, that’s what I’ve been able to navigate for over a decade now on the other side of burnout.

Prior to burnout, it was getting to the point where I had a terrible formula. So, I started our church, and I’ll use that as the case study because that’s what I was doing full time, started with a half dozen people. Well, I started with three little churches, three little baby churches. Half dozen attended one of the churches, the average attendance was 14 at the second, and the mega church had 23 people.

Pete Mockaitis
Mega. All right.

Carey Nieuwhof
So, very manageable. It’s like running opening day on a business, you have five customers. It’s like, okay, you can handle that. It wasn’t that bad. I remember getting bored the first week I went to work. By Wednesday, I had my sermon written and I thought, because I trained as a lawyer, I’m like, “I don’t even know what you’re supposed to do.” So, I called the chair of our elder board, and he goes, “Well, go visit people.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I got lots of time.

But then, almost instantly, the churches started to grow, and at first it was sustainable. Till we got up to about 200, I just put 200 people. I put my pedal to the floor, and I’m a pretty energetic Enneagram 8, if you follow that stuff. Like, I got a lot of energy and it was fine. But the problem with that is it doesn’t scale. And so, I started to get more and more tired, and my bad broken formula was more growth equals more hours. Well, that just doesn’t scale.

So, our church grows from a handful of people to a hundred people, to 200 people, to 500 people, to 750 people, 800 people. At this point, I can’t remember people’s names, I’m up five nights a week, but I think, in my 30s, “I’m superhuman. I can handle this. I can do this.” On the inside, I should’ve seen the warning signs. I didn’t. People kept telling me, “Carey, you’re going to burn out,” and I thought, “Burnout is for weaklings. I’m not weak. The rules don’t apply to me.” So, there was that, and that’s definitely looking back on it. That was arrogance on my part.

I also ignored warning signs like I was starting to feel numb. Life is emotional. People go through good times and bad times. And when someone said they were getting married or having a baby, which should be really joyful, I had a lot of muscle memory, and I could kind of like smile and nod.

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s great.”

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, “That’s great.” But on the inside, I’m like, “I don’t feel a thing.” And, conversely, if somebody came up to me on the weekend, even someone I knew, unless they were really close, and said, “I got a terrible diagnosis this week. I have cancer,” I knew what to say but I couldn’t feel it anymore. And that was really, really alarming to me, but I hadn’t been in that state, and I’m like, “Well, someday this will work out.”

So, ironically, you asked what was it like before I burned out. To some extent, I was on top of the world. Church was the largest it had ever been, I had started speaking outside of the church because we’re growing quickly, and people would ask me questions. So, I remember I flew down to Atlanta, and I spoke in front of 2500 people gathered from around the world at a conference, worked really hard for months on that talk, it was the biggest audience of my life to date. And by all accounts of everyone in the room, I crushed it, like knocked it out of the park. I’m, like, amazing. My wife and my boys were with me. And when I flew back to Toronto from Atlanta, when I got off the plane, it’s like I fell off a cliff and it’s like my body went on strike.

So, that numbness that had been building for a couple of years, the turmoil in our marriage, we were fine on the outside but there was struggle on the inside, the lack of sleep, all of that caught up with me, and it’s like my body said, “Well, that’s it. We sent you all kinds of warning signs, but now we’re strike.” The body was on strike. And I didn’t declare a finish line so my body did. And I went into what probably, had I gone for a diagnosis, and I went to a counselor, I didn’t see my doctor about it, I should have, he probably would’ve said, “Carey, you’re depressed.” And I lost all my passion. And I’m a very passionate person. I became very cynical. I kind of thought life was over, and it was painful.

And I got up most days, you hear these stories of the guy who can’t get out of bed. I got up pretty much every day, maybe a little bit later, and I’d go to work and go through the motions, but there was nothing on the inside. And you can get away with that for four months but you can’t do that for four years. And by the grace of God, the first flickers of passion started to return in the fall of that year. That happened in May of 2006, where my energy just tanked.

By the fall, I felt the first flicker of hope, and it’s like my heart beat for a millisecond again, and I’m like, “Oh, emotion. This is good.” And then it was gradually, but it took years, like three to five years to really find my new footing to say, “Okay, I think this is the new normal,” and for my heart to fully function again. And I’m so grateful it did, but, man, anybody who’s ever burned out, like it is awful.

And now, I read a Deloitte study, summer of 2021, if I get this right, it was in the 80s. I think it was 82% of senior executives leave work every day emotionally exhausted and physically drained. And according to a study done before the pandemic in 2019, 70% of adults in their 20s and 30s say that they experienced some of the symptoms of burnout in the last year. So, I think we’re just living at this pace where it’s kind of like, “I was feeling like me 15 years ago.” Now, it’s like, “Whoa, there’s a lot of people, like millions of people are in that state every day.”

The other thing I would say is I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’ve created this category I call low-grade burnout, having taught thousands of people about this. And low-grade burnout, the working definitions are the functions of life continue but the joy of life is gone. In other words, yeah, you’re getting up, you’re shipping podcast episodes, you’re taking the kids to soccer, to dance, you’re socializing with friends, you’re going to work every day, maybe you’re even setting records, but there’s no joy in it. You’ve built a life you want to escape from. And I think that’s a kind of burnout that’s just in the water supply these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Well, thank you for sharing. That’s powerful stuff and a wakeup call for many in terms of like numbness or joy, whether it’s all the way gone or like halfway gone. It’s like, hmm, to note that as an indicator, like, “Something is amiss here. Adjustments need to be made.”

Carey Nieuwhof
Pete, it’s almost a human condition now but my point is it doesn’t have to be. Like a lot of us, you get into your late 20s or 30s and you grow a little bit cynical, and you think, “Oh, I guess this is life.” There’s that old movie with Jack Nicholson, I think it’s Helen Hunt, this is, “As Good as It Gets.” And a lot of us to that point, and that’s the whole point, right? We’ve built these lives and we’re like, on the outside, I had it all. Like, I had a beautiful wife, great sons. We were the church everybody would travel to, to see, because it’s where it was going on. But on the inside, I was dying.

And I think there are so many people now who are in that place where it’s like, “Got the house, got the car, got the job, got the family, got the girlfriend,” whatever your life situation is, “…but how come I’m so flat on the inside?” Now, I think, as a person of faith, some of that is spiritual. And you’re not even going to be able to figure out what that is until you get a level playing field, and you can say, “Okay, let’s get time, energy, and priorities working for me, and then I can actually see, ‘Is this the right job for me? Is this the right relationship for me? Is this the right life circumstance for me?’” Because if you can’t feel anything, you can’t assess anything, but that is now what passes for life for so many people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, all right. So, joy, that’s a huge a motivator, a huge why to try out some of your goods, Carey. And if that wasn’t enough, your approach also liberated for you a thousand productive hours a year. Can you share with us sort of that math and how it results in such a staggering result?

Carey Nieuwhof
It’s a little crazy, and when I wrote it down, I remember the first time I quantified it, I thought, “I feel like that infomercial guy.” But it’s actually what happened to me, and it’s got a bit of street cred because, before I wrote the book, I taught this to leaders around the world and also offered a course that we ran, I think, 3500 leaders through. And the results are three hours a day to three hours a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Somewhere in that ballpark you’d expected that level of result.

Carey Nieuwhof
Somewhere in that ballpark. So, three hours a week, it’s like, yeah, I became somewhat more productive and I freed up three hours a week. You know what that boils down to? That’s about 160 hours a year, which you think, “Well, that’s not that much.” That’s like getting a month of vacation, like your next four weeks are free because you’ve eliminated so much of the clutter in your life. If it did for me, and it’s done this for hundreds of other people, maybe thousands now, three hours a day, it is not hard to waste three hours a day. It’s the same with your time as well. Like, it doesn’t take that long.

And the biggest section of the book is on priorities. The first part tells you, “Here are some tips on how to use your time. Here’s how to leverage your energy,” which seems to be the big gamechanger. But the bulk of the book is actually on priorities because, otherwise, you have a good theory. And what happens every day is you start in reactive mode. First thing you do is you look at your phone, then you dig around in your inbox, then you’re on social media. And, suddenly, what you’ve allowed is other people’s priorities to determine how you spend your day.

And then you’ve got that really important thing to do at work, the project you’ve got to turn out, the report you’ve got to give in to your boss, the client you’ve got to meet with, the deal you’ve got to land, but you didn’t get to it. And the reason you didn’t get to it is because, “This guy called and then I got called into a surprise meeting, and then I’ve got 17 texts I haven’t responded to yet. And, oh my gosh, I looked at my inbox, it’s a disaster. It’s on fire.” And then you got pulled into another meeting, and someone knocked on your door, and said, “Hey, can I just have five minutes of your time?” but it wasn’t five minutes.

Or, you’re in a cubicle and everyone is distracting you every three minutes. The next thing you know, it’s 4:30 in the afternoon. In my law days, you’re still not ready for court tomorrow, you’re still not ready for whatever that big project is, and now what do you do? You take that home with you. And so, what the “At Your Best” system does, the thrive cycle does, is it makes sure that you get your most important stuff done. And then, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh, okay, I am now in a place where I got the big stuff done. Yeah, there were some flashfires and, yes, I had that impromptu meeting at 2:00 o’clock.”

But you can walk out of the office at 4:00 or 6:00, or close your laptop if you’re working from home, at whatever your normal signoff time is, and you’re like, “I’m done. I’m going to go for a bike ride. I’m going to go out for dinner with friends,” and you’re not thinking all the time about that giant project you have to get done. So, that’s what really where the claim comes from. And if you do that, if you reclaim three peak productive hours in a day, that’s 1,095 hours in a year.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. So, then three hours that have been frittered away in a meeting that didn’t need to happen, or an email checking, or social media frittering that didn’t need to occur, by liberating three a day, we get over a thousand a year. Understood. Well, so then, let’s get into it. What are some of the like top practices that are so transformative for folks?

Carey Nieuwhof
There’s a million time-management books out there, a lot of which I’m huge fans of, and some of the authors of whom endorsed this book, like Greg McKeown, Cal Newport, David Allen, I’ve interviewed him for my podcast. Probably the breakthrough for a lot of people when you’re looking at “At Your Best,” is I call my own language out. And the language I hear a lot of people use, it’s simply this idea that, “I don’t have enough time.” The whole idea of time famine.

So, when it comes to managing your time, it’s pretty easy to say to yourself, like I did all through my 30s, “Pete, I don’t have time to write a book. You don’t understand how busy I am. These things grow like crazy. Like, I haven’t got time to write a book.” And then, one day, I had this realization, and I don’t know why, everybody knows this, but it just hit me like a ton of bricks one day, it’s like, “Carey, you have the same amount of time as any other human being on the planet. If you’re running a Fortune 50 company, nobody gives you a 25th hour in the day. Like, it just doesn’t happen. You have the same amount of time as everyone else.”

And then I started to think about how productive some of my heroes were, and made me go, “What gives?” And so, what I made myself do, and this is what I would encourage every listener to do, is start admitting, or stop saying, I should say, stop saying you don’t have the time. Start admitting you didn’t make it. So, just stop saying you don’t have the time. You actually have the time. What do you want to do? And I’ve asked lots of leaders about that, like, “What do you want to do?” and people are like, “I want to launch my own podcast,” “I want to write a book.”

Or, I remember one person said, “You know what I want? I want a weed-free garden. Like, my garden used to give me so much joy, and I just never have time to weed it.” I’m like, “Well, you actually have the time, and you can do that.” Other people want to paint, and they want to do different things with their life, “I want to learn how to cook,” “I want to learn how to ski,” or whatever it is. You actually have the time, “I want to crush out the next quarter’s goals before midnight on the day before they’re due.” Okay, great. Well, you can do that. And so, stop saying you don’t have the time, start admitting you didn’t make it. So, that’s time.

And then energy. So, you have 24 equal hours in a day, but, as you know, not all hours feel equal. People like Daniel Pink and Cal Newport have identified, using brain research and science, that most people seem to have about three to five peak productive hours in a day. If you really think about it as a writer, having written books, all my author friends would tell you they cannot write for 17 hours a day. It’s just not true. Well, you could but by hour seven, you’re spewing garbage at that point.

And if you’re up against a deadline, “Yeah, sure. Okay, I can work till midnight if I have to because I have to get this chapter in,” but you’re not producing your best work. Most writers would say success is a thousand good words a day, which doesn’t sound like much but that may take you three to five hours. So, you’ve got three to five hours in a day where, I’d argue, you’re at your best. So, we usually think about this as like morning people, night owls, or people who hit their peak midday. What would you say, Pete, I’m curious, are you a morning person, a night owl? I call that your green zone, your best. What are your best hours in the day typically?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, it’s funny, and, I don’t know, I don’t think this is always the case, but over the last, I don’t know, six years, it really seemed like it is the morning…and we had a couple sleep doctors on. And so, in the earliest of mornings, we’ve got what one called groggy greatness in terms of, “I might not be super alert, but, wow, I’m getting a lot of good ideas. I don’t know if they’re good yet, but I’m getting a lot of ideas which I’m parking to later evaluate to see if they’re good.” And then maybe an hour into the day, it’s like, “Okay, let’s get after some stuff.”

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah. Could you put it on a clock? When people think about this, they usually find they can. So, is it like 5:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m. for you, 8:00 a.m.? When does your green zone start?

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, if I wake up at 6:30, I feel really raring to go at 7:30.

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, great, 7:30. And then when do you start to fade? A little bit mental clarity, a little bit of brain fog, like when does that hit?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in some ways, after maybe around 90 minutes of doing something, it sure is time for a break, but then it’s not over. I would say, well, I’ll put it this way. At 1:30 p.m., I sure don’t want to schedule something important. It’s, like, I am sleepy and I will be, hopefully, lying down for a power nap, if possible, around then.

Carey Nieuwhof
Thanks for being so honest about that because I think, in the ‘90s, when I came into the workplace in law, there was this idea that we were robots, we were superhuman, and sleepy was for wimpy people. And what you just admitted, along with every single person listening to this podcast, that you’re human, and that’s the way humans operate. So, my hours are 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. That seems, these days, to be my best. If I’m lucky, after a power nap at lunch, I’ll get another incredible hour, and that would be my green zone.

Cal Newport says we have four of those hours a day where you can really do deep work. Daniel Pink would agree that it’s a very limited window. And even if you’re a night owl, I was talking to my wife, she was talking to someone who says her best hours are between 8:00 and midnight. It’s like, “Wow, more power to you.” But at that point, if I’m on a sofa, I’m probably falling asleep in the next 20 minutes. Like, that’s just me.

So, you have green zones, those are your best hours. And I’d encourage you, even if you can’t say exactly where they are, like pick a zone. Is it morning, afternoon, evening for you as a person listening to this show? Then you also have, on the other side, red zones. It sounds like 1:30 in the afternoon could be a red zone for you. 4:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon is getting into my red zone.

So, we’re having this interview later in the afternoon, so I had a little quick nap at lunch, and then I went for a 30-minute bike ride before I jumped on because I wanted to be mentally clear, kind put some paddles on the heart to get me going and make sure that I was going to deliver for you and your audience. But, normally, 4:00 to 6:00, it’s either I need a nap or I need to get my body moving.

And then everything in between is just yellow. You’re not at your best, you’re not at your worst. And the way to think about it, and this is the Archimedes lever for almost everybody who’s tried this system, if you’ve got your best hours, start focusing your best work in your best hours of all the things in your job description. Let’s say your job description has ten things in it. Even if you’re a founder, you know this. It’s like you still have parts of your job that you’re not very good at and that aren’t that important. That’s like every single job, there is no dream job where it’s all 100% everything you want to do and you’re still good at it all the time.

I know for myself, right now, I write books and speak and run a digital communication company. If I write well, that’s number one, that’s what I’m best at, that’s what I’m gifted at, I’m a communicator. If I have a clear and compelling vision, if my staff are aligned, and if we have the money to do what we’re called to do, then everything is going to be okay. If I start writing poorly, if the vision is fuzzy, if my team starts to fight or bicker or gossip, or if we run out of cash, we have problems.

So, what I do in my green zone is I try to focus on the things that move the needle in those four areas. Write killer content. If I’ve got an issue with the staff or I’ve got to clarify vision or the future, I’m going to do that in my best hours in the morning, and I’m going to protect those hours. I used to be the king of breakfast meetings, and I’d go to a breakfast meeting, and you know how those worked.

You get up at 5:00, 6:00, whatever, make it to the restaurant for 7:00, you’re supposed to be done at 8:00 but it went long, it’s now 8:30. Then you stop by the coffee shop, grab a coffee to go into the office, you get into the office, five people stop to talk to you, and then you get in, and you look at your phone, you got like five texts, you’ve got a whole bunch of unread emails. Next thing you know, it’s 11:30, it’s time for lunch.

Well, if that’s my life, I’ve got like a chapter to write, or when I was a preacher, a sermon to write, or I’ve got a vision document I’m working on, now my best hours are gone. I just burned that fuel. It’s gone and it’s not coming back. And then if the afternoon is a whole bunch of like reactions and meetings and all that stuff, by 4:30 in the afternoon, I haven’t moved the needle. I’ve spent the entire day doing not what I’m best at. What is probably inconsequential and not that important, I now go home and I’m like, “I got to write that chapter.” And then I see my wife and she’s like, “What are you doing tonight?” It’s like, “Sorry, I got to work again.” When my kids were young, it’s like, “Got to work.”

So, that’s time and energy, and we can talk about priorities separately because that’s a big thing. But those are the big ideas. And so, what you do is you protect those peak three to five hours whenever they are from outside distractions, and you do what your best at when you’re at your best. That’ll move the needle.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And what I’m thinking about is like then there are some things that, I don’t know if there’s a word for this, Carey, but I think there needs to be. Maybe there’s another language. But it’s almost like fertile-ness, or like fertility. It’s sort of like there are some activities, like writing a chapter for a book, that’s perfect. Thank you. If you do that with great energy, you get a better result versus there are other activities that it doesn’t matter what energy you bring to them, like you still check the box, regardless. Like, maybe it’s a mandatory training that…hey, you and I like training. We do training. But there are some trainings or like…

Carey Nieuwhof
Your fire drill training.

Pete Mockaitis
I think there are some sort of like compliance-y things, like you have to check the box in order for it to be checked. And it is checked, and, thusly, you can proceed. But it doesn’t need to be like masterfully checked. Like, you don’t get a better result if you bring more brilliant time, energy, attention to it, to a certain task. And other tasks, it makes all the difference in the world. Like, “Hey, I’m going to make some decisions about my priorities, and my vision, and what projects I’m going to pursue versus not pursue.” Boy, that matters a ton, if you’re doing that sort of like attentively and brilliantly, or half in the bag. Like, that’s huge, versus other things don’t.

So, is there a word, Carey, for like the condition in which something yields more the better you attend to it versus the opposite, like, “It doesn’t matter as long you get that box checked”?

Carey Nieuwhof
No, that is a really good point. I’ll bet you the Germans and the Japanese have a word for that because they always have great words. I speak neither Japanese nor German, but I would call it, you used the phrase, I think, inconsequential. There are things. So, for example, I’m not my executive assistant. I have an EA. Her job, because we get hundreds of emails a day into the inbox, her job is to do a really good job responding to all of the emails that need a response. That needs to be her green zone.

Email, for me, tends to be transactional. Pete saying, “Hey, do you want to be on my podcast?” it’s like, “Yes, I would like to be on your podcast.” I want to be polite. I want to be nice, but that is not the highest value-added work. Me showing up prepared for this interview, to have a good conversation, that’s actually important.

So, what I would say the word that I would use, there’s inconsequential things. Email is relatively inconsequential. I can do that in my yellow or red zone when my energy isn’t at its peak because I’m just saying yes or no or being kind to people, and I can do that on autopilot. Writing a chapter for a new book, that has impact. So, the word I would choose is impact. And the thing to think about, I’ve got a Venn diagram in “At Your Best,” and if you buy the book, you get all these downloads for free with it off the website. But imagine three circles, so: gifting, passion, impact.

So, gifting can be your skillset. I’m, by nature, a communicator. When I was a kid, I was like in public speaking contests. When I was in law, loved being in court. I was in court almost every day. I was only in it for a year but, man, I loved being in court. When I was a preacher, guess the part of the job I like the most? Growing a church and preaching. I loved the communication part. Guess what I’m doing now? Podcasting, writing books, writing articles, connecting with leaders. Communication is a gift for me that I think I was given, and it’s also something I really enjoy doing most days. Most days I really enjoy it.

It also happens to have the greatest impact, that when I communicate well, everything goes better. When I communicated well in law, my clients won. And when I was preaching, the church grew, when I was preaching well. When I’m writing well, I wrote a post yesterday, it’s funny you mentioned you get ideas at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for a while, and I woke up at 5:10, and I said to my wife, “The post was fully formed in my head. I went downstairs, wrote it down really quickly.”

Like, that kind of rest and margin allows your brain to be free. And, sure enough, this one did connect with leaders and tens of thousands of leaders read it in the first 24 hours. I’m like, “Awesome.” That’s a good example. So, there you have impact. So, ask yourself, “What is the biggest impact of that work?” Like, when your boss says, “Well done,” was it because you filed your expense report on time? Well, maybe, if you’re in accounting, yes. But it’s really probably for those things that move the bottom line of the company forward. What is it in your job?

If you’re a receptionist, super important to do customer service well. And, by the way, the bar is so low on that these days. All you have to do is be a kind human. If you’re a kind human on those phone calls, if you’re a kind human, and when somebody comes in, and says, “Hey, would you like a glass of water, or a cup of coffee, or that kind of thing?” man, that goes a long way. I say to our customer service people, like, “Just be kind to people. Just give them a timely response. Like, that has such an impact.”

We do online courses, and we offer a 30-day money back guarantee. The industry standard on refunds for online products is 10-30%, depending on your field. We get a lower than 1% return rate. Why? Well, first of all, we give it to anybody who wants it. No questions asked, so they know it’s there. Secondly, we try to over deliver on value. That has a super high impact. That’s important. That deserves your green zone.

So, think about, “Where is my biggest impact? Where is my gifting? Where is my passion?” You get those three things going together, that’s how you use your green zone. That’s how you use those peak three to five hours a day. And then, finally, for personal application, Saturday and Sunday maybe you’re not in the office, but I used to give my wife the leftovers. I’d mow the lawn in the morning or I’d wash the car in the morning. Well, if that’s my green zone, maybe we should go for a breakfast date, and then I can wash the car later. I can mow the lawn when it’s like, “Hmm, should I have a nap or should I mow the lawn?” You see?

So, you start to rethink that because my wife is more important than my lawn, as much as I’m like a lawn guy. Definitely more important than the lawn. So, you can start rejigging your priorities, in that way you start showing up more for the things that really matter in life.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay. So, right there, green, yellow, red, have those three to five peak productive hours on super high impact stuff that where the things align there. So, then let’s talk about priorities. How do we think through and establish what is top and what is middle and what is low?

Carey Nieuwhof
So, priorities can run in two directions. One is to think about, “What is of greatest impact?” so definitely do that exercise: passion, gifting, impact. And that could lead into a promotion or a new job for you one day. But, again, if you can determine that, you know your priorities. The priority section of the book is really designed to help you get this from theory to reality. Because if all you do is implement what we’ve talked to today, and you’re like, “Good. I’m starting that tomorrow,” you’ve heard it already, you know what to do, I promise you it’s going to blow up in your face.

And the reason it’s going to blow up in your face is everybody else is going to ask you to do something else. You’d probably say, “I’ve got two meetings in my green zone five days a week. What do I do with that?” We can talk about that. Or, even if you don’t have meetings, you’re like a morning person, you’re like, “Yeah, my first meeting is at 11:00 a.m. that’s ideal,” you will distract yourself. We have devices now that just buzz and chirp and distract us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including in our green zone, and then you’re sitting down, maybe you’ve turned off all notifications on your phone, but you’re sitting down, someone knocks at the door, “Hey, Carey, can I have five minutes of your time?” It’s like your green zone goes up in flames.

So, priorities is really as much about, “How do you stop the world from hijacking that green zone?” Because if you use it well, and you get those three to five hours in, some days it’ll be three, some days it’ll be five, but you get those in and you start using them consistently, you’re going to start feeling like you could go home by lunch because you’re like, “I got the report in,” “I’ve solved the problem,” “I created the new pivot table that’s going to change accounting.” Whatever you’re doing, you got it done and you’re like, “Oh, it’s just a meeting this afternoon. It’s just an inbox this afternoon,” like everything else feels easy.

But the world will conspire against you to hijack your green zone. So, first thing I would recommend is stop distracting yourself. Even when you get into that green zone, you get into a comfortable environment, a quiet environment, if you’re in a cubicle, put headphones on. Headphones are the universal, “Don’t bug me” symptom.

Nir Eyal, who also endorsed the book, he writes in his book Indistractable, you can talk about in your office, put like a little traffic cone on your desk, a mini one, and when the traffic cone is there, it’s like, “Hey, I’m in my zone. Please don’t bother me until after.” So, you’ve got to set up some signals to stop distracting yourself. So, I would suggest turn off all notifications on your phone.

By the way, if you’re wondering how to do that, and you’re listening to this in real time, iOS 15 just released some amazing features where you can now set different levels of privacy for different times in the day. Just released days ago as we record this, but I’m excited to try out these ideas with red, yellow, and green zone because a lot of people are afraid to totally protect their green zones, turn off their phones, shut off all notifications because they’re like, “Well, what if my kids need me or what if my boss needs me?”

We used to have to set up favorites to do that. Now, you could set up a green zone feature on your iPhone, if you have an iPhone, and you could say, “These three people are allowed to reach me during my green zone. That’s it.” So, if it’s your boss, your spouse, a child, that’s fine. And they’re probably not going to call you very often, but block the rest of the world out. It’ll be there later in the day.

So, you want to stop distracting yourself, and then you’ve got to stop…you’ve got to learn how to say no so you don’t overcrowd your calendar. Happy to talk about that if you want to go there and talk about mastering the art of saying no.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you, Carey. That was absolutely on my list. So, how do you say no well?

Carey Nieuwhof
Well, it’s hard. One way is to determine, Pete, what you need to say yes to and what you need to say no to. And Greg McKeown talks about this in Essentialism, I’m paraphrasing him, but imagine all the requests that come your way as being somewhere between a zero, “Definitely don’t want to do that,” and a ten, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t wait. I want to do this so bad and it’s the right thing to do.” So, zero is like “No way,” ten is “Fantastic!”

Most of us are smart enough intuitively to get rid of the zeroes to fives, it’s like, “Yeah, I don’t really want to do that,” “No, that’s not a really good use of my time,” “No, thank you so much, but I’m okay.” Our lives get filled up with sixes, sevens, and eights. And what Greg McKeown says is if it’s not a nine, it’s a zero. And that was really hard for me. Even as I was developing this material, I have so many opportunities and I want to say yes, but that filter of, “If it’s not a nine, it’s a zero,” is a really, really powerful filter.

So, what I would say is start using a new filter in your decision-making. And another way to look at it, I think Seth Godin came up with this, but ask yourself the question, because six months from now, someone is asking you to do something in February, you look at your calendar, and, by the way, if you implement this system, your calendar will not be blank six months down the road. But most people’s calendar is blank, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I have time in February.” But then February comes and it’s all filled up and you don’t have any bandwidth for it.

Seth Godin says, “Would you put it on your calendar tomorrow?” If the answer is yes, then it’s probably a nine. If the answer is no, then it’s probably not a nine. It’s probably six, or seven, or eight. So, a lot of us get somewhat moderately excited about an idea, it’s a six out of ten, and we say, “Yeah, I’ll do that in January,” and then January comes around, and it’s like, “Oh, why did I let that on my calendar?” And I think there are a lot of people who are like, “Why did I let that on my calendar?” create a new filter. And then what you do is you master. Now you know what to allow on your calendar.

And then the second thing is, “How do you say no?” Well, we say no every day just because it’s the size of the audience. And I think what you say, if you can say this honestly and with a clear conscience, say, “You know, I’d love to do that. Pete, I’d love to help you with that project. Unfortunately, in light of my current commitments, I’m unable to do so. But thank you so much for asking me. I really appreciate it. I wish you well. Carey.” That’s short. Simple. It’s clear. It’s not like, “Check with me in two weeks,” because then they come in two weeks, you’re like, “Yeah, I still can’t really do it.” It’s just clear.

And Steve Jobs famously said what was best about Apple’s innovation was not what they said yes to, but what they said no to. And by having that undistracted time, by having a focus that was pretty legendary, he and the team at Apple were able to come up with products that nobody else could come up with. And that was the singular focus on saying no so that he could say yes to a phone that changed the world, or to a device that played a thousand songs in your pocket.

And if you get that kind of margin in your calendar, if you get very good at saying no, you have to overcome FOMO in everything, you will find that you probably can start to realize things in your life and at your work that will astound you and surprise you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carey, this is awesome. Anything else you want to make sure to say before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Carey Nieuwhof
No, I would just say ask yourself this question, “Are you able to run at this pace forever?” And most of us would say, “I’m not able to run at my current pace forever, maybe not even another month, maybe not another week.” And the problem there is if your life, if you’re saying to yourself, “Well, Carey, it’s just a busy season,” seasons have beginnings and endings, and if your season doesn’t have an ending, it’s not a season. It’s your life. And do you really want to live that way? And if you don’t, I’d love to help.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Carey Nieuwhof
Okay. Winston Churchill, “Success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

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

Carey Nieuwhof
I love what Daniel Pink did in his book When, when he analyzed surgeons and discovered that even they struggled with what we’ve been talking about today. Did you know that if you have your surgery at 8:00 a.m. you are far less likely to have complications? And if your surgeon operates on you at 4:00 p.m., there’s a 400% spike in challenges with surgery in the afternoon over the morning because we’re all humans.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good study.

Carey Nieuwhof
Yes, a very good study.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Carey Nieuwhof
Favorite book? I love Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times. Fantastic book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Carey Nieuwhof
Oh, I use Evernote a lot. I have just thousands of notes in Evernote. Been around for a long, long time but it’s a go-to.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Carey Nieuwhof
Habit would be going to bed early. My wife says she married an 85-year-old man. But I love sleeping in on the frontside. I think it makes me better in the next day, so I try to get to sleep by 10:00 every night.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah. You know, the one that keeps coming back is “Time off won’t heal you if the problem is how you spend your time on.”

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, you can go to AtYourBestToday.com, that’s the gateway into the book. And we’ve got some special offers there for people, so just AtYourBestToday. Don’t forget the today part. And then you can find me at CareyNieuwhof.com. A very hard name to spell, but if you butcher it, Google will probably get you there.

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, I would say you can do this. Find those peak three to five hours, protect them, and you will see results starting pretty much overnight.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carey, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun and adventures at your best.

Carey Nieuwhof
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a joy to be with you today.