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.

446: Making Fear Your Friend with Judi Holler

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Judi Holler makes the case for exercising your bravery muscle and making fear your friend—one challenge at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small things we do each day that slow our long-term progress
  2. Why technology is a great servant but a terrible master
  3. How to deal with fear when it never goes away

About Judi

Judi Holler is a keynote speaker, author, and a professionally trained improviser and alumna of The Second City’s Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois. Judi is a past president of Meeting Professionals International, Chicago Area Chapter, and was named one of the 40 under 40 in the meetings industry by Connect magazine in 2015

Judi’s book on Fear, titled “Fear Is My Homeboy: How to Slay Doubt, Boss Up, and Succeed on Your Own Terms”, was recently endorsed by Mel Robbins calling it: “relatable, relevant and most importantly ACTIONABLE!” Fear Is My Homeboy came out last week.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Judi Holler Interview Transcript

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

Judi Holler
I am honored to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. Well, I am honored to have you here. And I think we’re going to have a lot of fun digging into some cool stuff. But I got a real kick out of your fun fact, which is you do some karaoke performances from time to time, and you’ve got a go-to “Caribbean Queen.” What’s the story here?

Judi Holler
Okay. So, Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” is always my go-to karaoke. I have a few. I have a bag of tricks. But, you know what, listen, I always loved karaoke. Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? Who doesn’t want to be Beyoncé for just a minute? And I can’t sing to save my life, so karaoke, it’s just a great way to sort of play rock star, crack people up, improvise, which we’ll talk about later, and improv background, and just be goofy.

And so, Billy Ocean really kind of became one of my favorite songs because nobody sees it coming. It’s super old school. I’ve got a thing for yacht rock and like old R&B, and my mom used to like clean the house to like Lionel Ritchie and Billy Ocean, and so I kind of grew up listening to that song and I know all the lyrics, so it’s just great because no one sees it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s really fun and what that reminded me of is that song, I remember when I was a kid, all the time there’d be this TV commercial for an ‘80s compilation CDs called “Totally ‘80s” or something like that.

Judi Holler
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, my buddy Ronnie and I like knew every word to this commercial because it was on so much. And our favorite part was when they show you one sample and move to the other, they didn’t really transition very well, so it was like, “Everybody wants to rule the…” “Caribbean Queen.” And I was like, “Do they want to rule the Caribbean Queen because that’s what it sounds like when you splice it together?” Oh, you brought me back, so thank you, yeah.

Judi Holler
That is amazing. Oh, yeah, Billy Ocean, it’s just old school, so there might a lot of people listening and they’d have to Google it up to find out who the heck he is. But that’s why I love it because no one sees it coming and, yeah, like ‘80s R&B.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m wondering if you’ve ever bumped into any Caribbean women, like, “I’m the Caribbean Queen”?

Judi Holler
Well, you know what, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, in the bar or so when you’re there.

Judi Holler
Totally funny caveat to that. My husband and I honeymooned in the Caribbean, and they had musical performances in our hotel lobby, and we got to know the band because they were there a couple nights in a row and I’m not a shy sort of person. And I said, “Hey, do you guys do any Billy Ocean? You got Caribbean Queen?” And they were like, “Well, yeah.” These were American performers. And so, I’m not kidding you, we have a video footage of me doing “Caribbean Queen” in the Caribbean, the Caribbean as they say it, and it was just epic, and it was just amazing and people were kind of clapping, also awkwardly wondering what was happening. It was just magic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely.

Judi Holler
So, there you have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds as though you have, indeed, lived out the title of your book, Fear Is My Homeboy because it seems like you have befriended those sensations that, “Oh, I don’t know if I wanted to go up there and do that, and everyone is going to be looking at me, I don’t know.” So, could you sort of share with us kind of what’s the main idea behind this book here?

Judi Holler
Yeah, so the big idea behind the book is this, if I could have one page in my book, literally, one page in my book, it would say, “It doesn’t get easier. Scary things don’t get less scary, but you will get stronger. Keep going.” The big idea is that when you choose courage over comfort on purpose, almost every day you will start fearing less, which is how you pick up momentum, which is how you get stuff done, and it’s how you start succeeding in and outside of work the way you really want to succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, yeah, that sounds great and I’d like to have some of that. So, maybe could you give us a little bit of a picture here when it comes to what are some of the ways that we frequently choose comfort and not courage to our detriment, particularly in a career context?

Judi Holler
Yes, so I really believe it’s all the small stuff we don’t do every day that ends up holding us back in the long run and really leads to regret. And I’m sort on a mission to remove the word “regret” from the dictionary because we’re too brave, we are too busy dancing with our fear. This means we’re getting stuff done.

And the main reason we’re not leveling up personally and professionally is because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to raise our hand in the sales meeting. We’re afraid to speak up in a meeting. We’re afraid to sit in the front row, or go for the promotion, or ask for the raise, or to promote ourselves, to talk about ourselves online, to toot our own horns.

So, I’m on a mission to stop that, and I think there’s a lot of unique things you could do to get uncomfortable every day to sort of mix up your routine to make sure that you’re staying in the driver’s seat of your life and not your fear.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s really interesting is that what this makes me think about is sort of all the little ways that we choose comfort instead of courage. And it’s like, in a way, I think I may have become, at least temporarily, a little bit less courageous than before only because I’m married now, you know. And my wife is awesome, and our kids are awesome. But there was a period of time in which I was, you know, meeting a lot of people and asking for a lot of dates, and I kind of got into a groove where I didn’t have that momentum such that I felt kind of bold and able to kind of ask for and do all kinds of things because I was in that regular habit.

Whereas, now, I’m kind of settled in and mostly working from home. And so, it seems like it does take me a little bit more of a push to think, “Okay, I’m going to send that email to ask for that opportunity. All right, we’re going to do it. Okay, I’ve put this off a couple of times, now is the time.” And it seems like that’s crept in a little bit more, which would follow your theory, that I’m kind of had fewer moments of choosing courage on a day-by-day basis and all kinds of other contexts.

Judi Holler
Well, think about it like this, Pete, like you just nailed it. Here’s the deal. If we don’t work that fear muscle, we will not work the fear muscle, just like when we go to the gym. We go to the gym and it’s hard at the beginning, right? But we keep going and we keep showing up and then we get stronger. And when we don’t go to the gym, we get weaker, right?

So, I look at it that way, like we have to be working that brave muscle. And so, when you’re not dating, and you’re in a relationship, right, you’re not out there doing that scary thing anymore but you, and I can bet my bottom dollar, doing all kinds of other uncomfortable things to move your life and your business forward, and that’s the real big idea.

We have to be doing something every day. Maybe it’s just something as simple as taking a different way home from work, right? Or, asking for a discount in a coffee shop, or just like taking a selfie of yourself in public to get better and not carrying what people think. But we have to work the brave muscle and, I tell you, this is how we fear less.

We shouldn’t be chasing the unrealistic goal of fearless. Because if you really think about it, if we were fearless, we would never pay our taxes, we would never go to a doctor, we’d walk down alleys at 4:00 in the morning by ourselves, at night, we would eat poisonous foods on purpose. Like, the goal shouldn’t be fearless because fearless could be dangerous in some situations.

So, the goal should always be brave. And how do we fear less? Well, the way you get to the other side, the way you fear less is by working that muscle, and you have to use it or you’ll lose it, so doing those small scary things every day. And sometimes, maybe some days, it’s a big scary thing. Maybe you’re leading a toxic relationship tomorrow, maybe you’re literally moving to a new city, maybe you decided to quit smoking. There are big things you could do for yourself as well, but it’s all those little small things that add up over time that really end up causing a lot of the problems, so we’ve got to work that fear muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it there, you provided a few examples in terms of little things you can do every day to work that muscle, from asking for a discount in the coffee shop. And that came up with Jordan Harbinger, and a little bit of Ruth Soukup as well in those conversations. So, loving the reinforcements.

Judi Holler
So cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what are some other key things you recommend as means of working the fear muscle? You call it, is it the fear muscle or is the brave muscle?

Judi Holler
I guess you can say it either way. There is no wrong way to work that courage muscle, or fear muscle, or bravery muscle, whatever that looks like for you. I could give you an example of someone, and this could apply to your audience if you’ve got someone who’s leading a team, or maybe there’s someone in your audience and they’re working for someone else. I bet you have a little bit of both.

I have a client, who lives and works in downtown Chicago. She’s leading a team of about three or four people. And so, remember, the idea is to get uncomfortable, to mix up our routine. And so, she found herself really overwhelmed, and really stressed out, and exhausted and crabby and irritable. She just wasn’t succeeding the way she wanted to succeed. She wasn’t leveling up.

So, she started a fear I proposed in my keynote. I work primarily as an author and a keynote speaker. And one of the things I proposed in my keynotes is this idea of fear experiments, doing something small and scary and brave every day to advance yourself and get stronger. And so, I told her about this idea, and she said, “Okay, I’m going to try something on my own. I really need to get in front of my schedule.”

And I talk a lot about focus. And this can feel scary because it requires us to do things we’d never done before in our schedule and in our work lives. Most of us sit down and we literally, the first we do, maybe sometimes before you even get out of bed is we open our iPhones and we look at our email. It’s what we do, right? Or we’d check out social media.

So, she says, “I’m going to do a fear experiment, and I’m going to take the first, I’m not going to look at email until 9:00 a.m. every day. No emails.” So, she’s getting up at 7:00, she’s not looking at that phone, she’s not looking at her email, but she’s taking the first 60 minutes of her work day from 8:00 to 9:00 to move one small thing forward for herself or for her work first, and she started small with that first 60 minutes, just that first hour for a day. And you can even go as small as 30 minutes.

And what happened for her is she immediately started triggering momentum in her life because she started actually moving things forward which made the dopamine in her brain happy and it gave her confidence to keep going. And so, she saw it, she said, “Oh, okay, if I can do this in 60 minutes, what could I do if I did 90 minutes, if I grew this?”

And she didn’t look at email for 60 minutes, she didn’t take a phone call, she didn’t sit in meetings, again, advancing a goal before she was fine to the rest of world. That 60 minutes grew to like, I said, an hour and a half to 120 minutes. And today, most days, because there’s no perfect world, no perfect day, she doesn’t look at her email until noon.

And let me tell you, she is working in corporate America, she has a boss, she has a team, but she started small, bird by bird, and it took guts because she did not ask for permission. She just took the action and monitored her results because, after all, you are the CEO of you. And let me just tell you, Pete, what she did in a year.

So, because she started with this hour, and then it grew to like a 120 minutes, I don’t think she got to noon until like the second year of doing this, but in her first year of just protecting that first 90 minutes of her day, she lost 50 pounds because she started going to the gym in the morning, she read 19 business books. She was reading zero books. She reduced her staff turnover by like one person left in an entire left. They had had a really bad problem with turnover.

She got the certification that she had been trying to get for a long time. She grew tradeshow revenues at that organization by 25%. She watched like over, I could get this number wrong, 45 or 50 TED Talks. And she found herself happy, healthy, and this really bled into her personal life, so she was leveling up at work, leveling up at home, she got herself a promotion, she was making more money. And watching all these talks and reading all these books gave her a lot of great information to be able to have cool conversations at work, with her leadership, at the dinner table, at the networking event, sending them an email, to clients.

So, again, she started small but that took courage. It took her getting uncomfortable, literally not looking at her email, to open up a whole new door. I mean, she got a promotion on a video.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that example, too, because when we talk about fear, I think sometimes it’s natural to think about big, dramatic, scary fears, like, “Oh, I’m terrified of public speaking,” or heights, or you can sort of fill in the blank there. As opposed to, I don’t imagine she was terrified of not checking her email but it was uncomfortable. It was a little bit uneasy, like, “Oh, what if there’s something really important, and someone is waiting for me, and they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s the deal? How come you didn’t get back to me?’” As well as it’s a habit, it’s a groove that you’re in, so it just feels kind of off when you sort of reject that and don’t engage in it the first few times.

Judi Holler
And here’s the kicker, and this is new data, we are spending 6.3 hours a day on email. A day on average. The average worker is spending 6.3 hours a day on email. And you wonder why we’re not getting anything done. And we wonder why we feel stuck and irritable, and overwhelmed, and I’m doing air quotes here, “crazy busy,” right?

So, if we want to get out of this cycle of suck, we have to have the courage to try something new, to break a pattern, to flip the bad habit, and the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you’re going to start seeing results which welcomes momentum into your life party, and that’s really where all the magic lives.

It’s some staggering stuff, 55% of us are checking email after 11:00 p.m., 81% of workers are checking email, work email, on the weekends, 59% of us keep up with our work email while on vacation, you know what I mean? So, we wonder why we’re overwhelmed, and irritable, and crabby. We’re not turning off the machine, right?

When you hit the pause button on human beings, we actually start. It’s the opposite. So, we’ve got to be getting in control of this, and it takes courage to break some of those habits that are important. We need to be engaged. We need to be connected, certainly. But how do we make sure that we’re the boss? Technology is an incredible servant but a terrible master.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, intriguing. So, all right, well, that’s quite a case study in terms of tremendous results possible when you just sort of unplug a little bit from the technology. Sort of reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer stops drinking.

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, geez, all these phenomenal things.

Judi Holler
That’s hysterical. Perfect analogy.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s good. All right. So, anyway, I think we talked about a few things to sort of challenge yourself and to grow the muscle. I’d love to hear a few more things. So, that’s a great idea, is maybe you start with a few minutes away from the technology and maybe in the morning, and it’s high leverage there. What are some others you’d recommend?

Judi Holler
So, I would say it’s looking for, you know, and I think you’ve got to think about it mentally, too, because you’ve got to, I believe, when you’re managing fear and working with fear, knowledge is power. So, understanding, this is a big thing for, I think, everyone to understand. If you want to get better at fearing less, you can make more bold courageous moves in and outside of the workplace, you have to understand all of the sneaky ways that fear shows up. Fear is a trickster. It hides on purpose to trick you with the number one goal of getting you to stop, right?

Because if you keep going, if you do these new things, you become a version of yourself your fear has never seen before, and so fear doesn’t know what to do with that. So, understanding, I think, for me it was really big. I have a background in the improv theater, and I started to realize all of the sneaky ways that fear showed up to get me in my head as an improv performer. So, self-doubt is fear. Self-sabotage is fear’s way of stopping you.

Let’s not forget about procrastination. Just understanding, when I understood that procrastination is a way that fear shows up to stop you and block you is a powerful thing to get. For example, I was trying to finish a really meaty chapter of my book, and I was putting it off because I was afraid to sit down and do the work. So, I found myself for, literally, about 60 minutes, 45 minutes, organizing all of the drawers in my desk. I was on a deadline. I needed to finish this chapter of my book. But, boy, my office was clean, right?

And then I realized what I was doing. I was procrastinating instead of sitting down to do the work. So, the reason I shared this is because understanding that procrastination is sort of one of fear’s best friends is really a good thing to know so that you can move through it, right, and say, “Oh, hello, fear. I see you. I appreciate you. Do you ever take a day off? I don’t know if you do, but right now I don’t need you because I’m in control. I’ve got work to do, so have a seat on the other side of my desk and come back when I’m done, right?”

So, that was an a-ha moment for me, understanding that that’s just one of the many sneaky ways fear shows up. Perfectionism. Excuses. If you have someone on your team, someone in your life, that is making excuses for why they can’t do the thing, instead of getting frustrated and upset and trying to control, ask them what they’re afraid of because nine times out of ten there’s a fear on the other side of that excuse, you know, blame, gossip, jealousy, all of those are fear-based behaviors. So, just a few ways that fear mentally shows up. And I share them because we’ve got to be aware. Awareness holds our power.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’d love to get your take then, when it comes to this procrastination story, so you were avoiding writing a chapter of your book, and instead organizing your desk. So, what exactly was the fear there?

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh, the fear of impostor syndrome creeping in, doubly fearing that, “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough.” It was a chapter that’s been, it was meaty. It was the chapter that is now chapters three and four. We actually ended up combining it into two chapters. But I was just afraid to start because I knew that if I sat down to do the work, I would have to sit down and do the work, and I would probably face a few things that I wasn’t comfortable with in building out and beating out that chapter. But a lot of it was impostor syndrome, worried that I wasn’t good enough.

And, by the way, once I finished the chapter, oh, my God, we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward, we’re putting a book out into the world. And so, there’s that. So, it was probably a combination of things mentally for me. And I think we all find our own internal demons, but there’s always usually something there. There’s always usually a reason. Anxiety. You know, you’re anxious and feeling fearful because maybe you feel that what you have isn’t good enough or whatever that may look like. But there’s usually always something living there.

If we’re procrastinating, okay, what are we afraid of? What is it? For me, it was about not being good enough, of not being smart enough, of not having a good chapter.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. So, now, but you were not aware that that was what was going on at the surface level, it sounds like, at first.

Judi Holler
At first, I wasn’t, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how did you get to that level of awareness?

Judi Holler
Well, in my research, and in really studying all the different things I was studying about fear, and then realizing that fear’s job is to stop you and to block you, and that self-doubt is a way it does that. Certainly, we self-sabotage, and procrastination is a form of self-sabotage. And that’s when it clicked, I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m sabotaging myself here. My office can get cleaned anytime, right? So, what am I doing here? It’s just busy work.”

And I, still to this day, do it. My husband always says, “You know when you’re stressed out,” because I’m either doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, mopping something, sweeping something. I do an activity, right, when my mind is filled with stress about something else. So, just understanding that stressors are triggers, right, to stop us from really sitting down and do the work.

So, I’ll give you a hack. If you’ve got someone listening that finds himself procrastinating, or not able to start something, what I did, and I write about this in my book, is I set a timer for 10 minutes because I believe so much in the magic of momentum. Because once we get a little juice, it helps us move forward.

So, I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I do this sometimes with working out as well when I don’t necessarily feel like it. I set a timer for 10 minutes, I say, “Okay, let me just do 10 minutes of the thing. And if I hit that 10 minutes and I don’t feel like it anymore, then I am not in the right mental space, the energy, the vibe isn’t right, and I stop the work. But if I have caught a vibe, and I feel good,” and nine times out of ten you will because you just welcomed momentum into the party, you just keep going, and then you keep going.

So, I find just even it’s the starting, that’s the problem. And sometimes 10 minutes can get you out of a funk. Just sit down to do the work for 10 minutes. Go sit on the bike. Go for a walk anywhere. If you’re not feeling it after 10 minutes, stop. And if you are, which most times you are, keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I want to dig a little bit into your mindset and your title Fear Is My Homeboy. So, how do you think about fear in terms of befriending it as oppose to dominating and destroying it and you’re subjecting it to your fiery will of superiority? So, it sounds like that’s a different kind of a feel in terms of fear is your friend versus fear is something you were to punish and minimize. So, how do you think about that?

Judi Holler
Certainly. And here’s the deal, we have to work. I dance with my fear. I work with my fear because I realize that in my community, we call ourselves fear bosses because I’m the boss of my fear not you. Fear is never going to go away. Fear isn’t going to go anywhere. But I choose to dance with my fear. I choose to work with my fear. And in our community, we’re called fear bosses. This means we’re the boss, not our fear. So, I call the shots. And fear isn’t going anywhere.

So, fear, well, they’re very different for you at the age of 20, they will for you at the age of 50, what you fear, the things you fear, what keeps you up at night. And men and women, we internalize and externalize fears very differently. So, I got really awake to this idea that we’re never going to be able to get rid of our fears. This idea, this notion of fearless that everybody is telling us we need to be. I go back to that because it’s unrealistic.

So, why am I wasting my energy, my precious energy, trying to outrun something I’ll never be able to get rid of? Let’s work together. And, yes, I may feel fear. I may be afraid about whatever it is that I need to go to do, whether it’s going to a doctor’s appointment, or it’s making a phone call, but I know, yes, I’ll feel afraid, and I’ll never not feel afraid of things I feel afraid about, but I know because I know that fear is my homeboy. That if I keep going, if I keep doing small scary brave things every day, I will get stronger, and those scary things won’t be as bad. I’m now actually start fearing less, that’s the big idea, right? We’ve got to work with it. We dance together. We dance with our fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then. So, you just sort of given up the idea that fear will ever be completely absent.

Judi Holler
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in a way, yeah, it seems like fear is both your friend and your slave or colleague, I don’t know, if you’re the boss of it how you see that.

Judi Holler
What do they say? Keep your friends close but your enemies closer, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there you go.

Judi Holler
So, there you go, right? It’s this idea like, yeah, fear is not the best thing to have around. It can really destroy so many beautiful things that can happen for you. Yet, keeping that enemy close is a powerful way to get to know it and dance with it a little bit. So, that’s an analogy that may help people sort of mindset to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so now, we’ve covered a lot of different potential things to do when it comes to fear. But I’d love to hear what do you think is just the most reliably outstanding, efficient, effective means of advancing when you are experiencing fear? Like, what is the thing you think is just the best?

Judi Holler
The thing. Action. Starting action. Action. Making the decision to go, and to do something, and to stop overthinking, and to stop self-doubting, and to stop overtalking. Just go do it. There are so many ideas and dreams and goals living inside of people all over the world and they’re waiting. They’re waiting for the right time, they’re waiting for, “Someday when the kids are grown. And someday I’ll have our money, and someday when I’m older. Oh, if I was only younger,” any excuses we make. So, starting is the hack, right? If you want a hack, that’s the hack.

So, momentum, again, I’m going back to that 10-minute timer. Just doing it, right, and propelling yourself into action. Mel Robbins has a great book The 5 Second Rule, right? That’s what the book is all about. It’s action. It’s starting. It’s momentum, right?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And so, what would you say, on the counterpoint to that, is sort of like the most frequently arising mistake? Folks, they’re trying to do the stuff you’re saying, but they are kind of flubbing it. What is sort of the obstacle that’s popping up for them?

Judi Holler
Yes, I have one. It’s probably the number one question I get asked, this idea of, “Listen, I want to be more brave. I want to put myself out there. I want to promote myself and take more risks, and all of those things. But I don’t want to look like I’m bragging. I don’t want to look like I love myself. I don’t want people to judge me or make fun of me or not like me.” We get so worried about what other people are going to think. We’re so worried about publicly failing, or embarrassing ourselves, or people not liking us.

And here’s the hard, real truth, and this is a massive a-ha moment for me, and this will help you manage fear, and I hate to break it to you, but people already don’t like you. People are already judging you. And people are already making fun of you. So, the question is, “Who are you living your life for? Who are you running your business for? Who are you living for? You or everybody else?” So, the number one mistake people make is worrying way too much about what other people think. They’re already talking, you might as well give them something to talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s really interesting perspective. I thought you were going to say, “Hey, for the most part, people are just aren’t paying much attention to you and they don’t really care because they’re wrapped up in their own lives.”

Judi Holler
It’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
But then you took it in the direction of, “They’re already making fun of you.”

Judi Holler
Right. I mean, I’m not saying everybody is making fun of you every day, but people are already talking about you, right? Look, we can’t control that or stop that. And people don’t care about you as much as we think they do, but we’re already being judged, right? It’s already happening, so live your life. That’s the point, right? Live your life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I really appreciate that when it comes to I think I’ve had an a-ha moment recently because we had a previous guest, Mindy Jensen from the Bigger Pockets money podcast. We talked about sort of money things. And she was just making a point how she just doesn’t care at all about what other people think with regard to her money decisions or if they think she’s a total cheapskate or whatever in these certain ways. And what I found interesting is that folks are going to judge you no matter what you choose in terms of like, so, it’s funny. We have two kids and we don’t own a car yet, right? So, hey, you’re in Chicago, so you know it. It’s not so essential especially when we’re really close by a Brown Line stop.

Judi Holler
Love it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s on the list. We’re going to get to it pretty soon.

Judi Holler
So good. So good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I sort of thought people judge me or imagine me to be foolish or, I don’t know, a bad dad, or broke, like, “Oh, Pete’s business must not be doing very well. He can’t even scrap together to get a used minivan or something.” So, whatever. And so then, I sort of just imagine that to be the case, I was like, “You know what, I’m fine. We’re going to wait till the time is right, till we get just the right vehicle.” And then I mentioned this to someone, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to get a car pretty soon, that’s long overdue.” And then that person said, “Why do you need a car for? The train lands right there.” That’s like, “Wow, you just judged me in the opposite way. I assumed everyone else is judging me.” Therefore, my assertion is that people will judge you good or bad whatever you choose.

Judi Holler
It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, that’s not a useful or valid or helpful decision-making criterion, they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

Judi Holler
Correct. It’s a waste of time or energy. We can’t control people, places, or things. So, all we could do is control ourselves. So, when we take action, the courage to take action, and just to trust ourselves, I mean, that’s what the improv theater is all about, just really trusting ourselves. So, I love that your guest said that, like, “I don’t care what people think.” I learned that so big and clear in the improv theater at The Second City because there is so much power in looking silly and not caring, and just doing you. And it’ll inspire other people to want to do that as well.

And that’s what need more of in the world, to get a little woo-woo here. We need more people being themselves and doing things that light them up, right? So, yeah, it’s like a brave movement. We love watching people do brave things and be themselves because it makes us want to do more of that ourselves.

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

Judi Holler
No, I think that’s it. Like I said, if I could have one page in my book, it doesn’t get easier. Scary things don’t get less scary but you will get stronger. I think a big consequential mistake people make is they do one brave thing and then they stop, and they think that, “Okay, now I’ve done it. Now, I’ve got that brave thing going.” That’s how we miss opportunities and end up with a mediocre life. We’ve got keep going and it’s just consistent action little by little every day. We don’t need to do big scary things. We can start small and just still be very effective. So, that’s it in a nutshell.

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

Judi Holler
Yes. I would say I love the Steve Martin quote, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Love that.

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

Judi Holler
I would say, ooh, this is a good one. I recently read a study that showed, it was on happiness and laughter, that babies laugh about 400 times a day, and adults, we laugh, about 4 times a day. And that just certainly made me sad but it inspired me to bring more joy and laughter into my life. And I think joy and laughter is coming back into the workplace. And if we’re not having fun, what’s the point? We’ve got to sit at that fun table because we’re not laughing. We’re not a baby anymore, I get it. But laughter, for 400 to 4, how do we increase that laugh factor every day? And I loved that study.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, that is intriguing and I have thought that to myself, it’s like, “I would like to have some more laughs.” And, from time to time, I make a discovery, like, “Oh, my gosh, the TV show A.P. Bio is hysterical.”

Judi Holler
So good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I binge all of those, it’s like, “Okay, now what do I do?” So, what do you do to bring in more laughs every day? I mean, you got your whole improv posse but outside that, yeah.

Judi Holler
You know what I do? I tell you this is brand new and I love this idea. I actually need to put it in my newsletter because it’s such a fun little hack. Because of this study, I have started watching on Netflix Stand-Up Comedy Specials, and I’ve been watching a lot of like “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld, and those were like 15-20 minutes long. And I’m telling you, I watch about five of those “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” the other night while I was eating and making dinner because it’s all kind of in the same room. And I didn’t look at my phone once. I even forgot about my email. I forgot about the book launch. It was just so lovely to just sit there and laugh.

And so, that’s an easy thing someone could do. Just start like watching comedy specials and just let yourself laugh at the world because there is a lot of serious stuff going on, but if we’re not having fun, what’s the point? So, that’s a way to start laughing more.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is fun and I’ve turned on the Spotify Comedy originals in there as I’m like taking a walk or whatever. And that’s great, yeah, because you don’t really need to look at it, you know. You can mostly listen to the Netflix Comedy Special, maybe you pop on some Bluetooth headphones.

Judi Holler
Correct. In your car, yup. Or, your, not car, your iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you just mix your ingredients.

Judi Holler
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. So, how about a favorite book?

Judi Holler
Favorite book, oh, my gosh. That’s a hard question. I have so many, but what I would say for this audience, I think what shifted me in a professional way, from a professional perspective, which really just changed the way I work, it’s a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we interviewed Greg.

Judi Holler
Oh, God, that book changed the way—you know that client I was telling you about, the first 60 minutes of her day, those ideas inspired a lot of those changes that she made and I made, and we just really all started working together to get in front of it and living like essentialists. So, that book is a game-changer. If you haven’t read it, go get you some.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about favorite habits.

Judi Holler
That’s definitely it, but I would say I use a goal-focused planner. I use a planner called the Volt Planner by a company called Ink and Volt. It is the number one tool in my business from a productivity standpoint that helps me living work like an essentialist, so I couldn’t live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Judi Holler
Yeah, I think my book comes out May 28, but there are a lot of folks that have had advanced copies, and one of the retailers are shipping early, and I think the quote that’s kind of getting tweeted a lot, and shared a lot, and have come up a lot even on podcasts is this one, “You can be a victim or you can be a badass. The choice is yours.”

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

Judi Holler
I would point them to, first and foremost, my website which is JudiHoller.com from a social media perspective. I am most active on Instagram, so @judiholler on Instagram, certainly on Facebook. And then I think those are the best ways to get in touch with me. And we’re doing a little freebie. I’ve got a little gift for your listeners. Do you want to share it or do you want me to share it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yup, tell us.

Judi Holler
Okay. So, if you want to get to know a little bit more about me and kind of test drive my book without buying the book, we’re going to give you chapter one, in the beginning of the entire book, for free. And I’ve also included a couple of downloadable freebies. Most importantly, most specifically, my secret weapon which is my morning planner page.

And the way you get it is you text the word BRAVE to the number 474747, and you’ll get texted a little link, you click it, and then all of the downloadable freebies will be sent to your email once you enter your email.

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

Judi Holler
Just trust yourself. Trust yourself. What you have is good enough. And in the improv theater, we’re not trying to find the best thing, but we are always looking for the next thing. So, it’s all about momentum and moving the scenes forward on stage, you’ve got to do that for yourself. It’s about doing small things every day that are going to move your life forward. This is how you achieve results, fear less, and, of course, make fear your homeboy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Judi, thanks for this. Good luck with the book and all your adventures.

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh, thanks for listening.

445: How to Make Your Charts Awesome with Stephanie Evergreen

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Stephanie Evergreen discusses the importance of effective data visualization and shares tips and tricks for creating charts that best communicate data findings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How charts can transform culture
  2. How to make use of tools you already have to make great visuals
  3. How to determine the most appropriate chart for your data

About Stephanie

Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is an internationally-recognized data visualization and design expert. She has trained future data nerds worldwide through keynote presentations and workshops, for clients including Mastercard, Adobe, Verizon, Head Start, American Institutes for Research, Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institute, and the United Nations. She writes a popular blog on data presentation at StephanieEvergreen.com. Her two books on designing high-impact graphs, slideshows, and reports both hit #1 on Amazon bestseller lists weeks before they were even released. This Spring Dr. Evergreen is publishing the second edition of one of those bestsellers and a brand new sketchbook with templates for making infographics and dashboards.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stephanie Evergreen Interview Transcript

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

Stephanie Evergreen
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. I think we’re going to get real dorky with this one, with the charts, and the graphs, and data. But I want to go back in time first to your first job, which I understand is at McDonald’s, and you were actually a vegetarian at the same time. How did that go?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. Well, you know, as teenagers do, I think you just get whatever job you can because you’re desperate for money. So, McDonald’s was close by my house and it seemed like a good idea. But, yeah, I was vegetarian and I thought I would be running the cash register or something, but they put me in the kitchen, I think, because they could sense I could handle a lot of pressure. That’s my guess.

But it was just the worst place to be. You know, cooking burgers all day. So, I will say I ate a lot of french fries because that was vegetarian, so that counted. But, yeah, I think a lot of us are there. We’re in jobs, and we just kind of do what we’re told even if it doesn’t totally line up with our ideal situation. So, I guess that’s why people come listen to you and your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thank you. Well, I think that is one of the reasons, and I think that’s kind of the name of the game in terms of early career isn’t quite ideal, and then you learn and acquire skills, and tools, and you’re able to get better and better fits which are more rewarding as time goes by. Hopefully, that’s the trajectory.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, indeed. You know, it’s so funny, because when I think back to that time, I couldn’t even conceptualize that the thing I’m doing now was even a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Is something wrong with that?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, this was like, we’re talking 1995, and PowerPoint back then was, I think, when I went to college, even after that time when I was doing presentations, was transparencies. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
So, I didn’t even think about data, or graphs, or that I could make a whole career teaching people how to do this better. It’s just the technology wasn’t even there for us to dream of it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny when you talked about the transparencies. I remember at Bain we would hear the war stories from the partners, it’s like, “Back in my day, when I was a consultant, we had to spend our time measuring transparencies with a ruler, or cutting them out with an X-ACTO knife, and then putting them all together.” We’re like, “Wow, that is wild.” I just figured you’d use fewer slides but, no, you just spend forever making them.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it was little rough and tumbles. Technology has helped us but, in some ways, I think we’re still probably putting in just as much labor to get our stuff looking great, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. Well, so let’s hear about your book here, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data. What’s the scoop here?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, yeah, so the big idea is that we can tell better, more useful data stories if we just learn a little bit about the chart choices that are out there today, and when to use them, and that’s it’s totally doable to make those awesome charts right inside Excel. And it’s really focused on that because I think that people need to know how to be the masters of the tools they already own, and that great visuals don’t necessarily require a graphic designer or someone who knows how to code.

Most of my readers, most of my clients, especially in that Fortune 500 arena, are working at their tight deadlines where they’ve got to turn on slide decks really fast for these decision-making meetings, and they need to know how to just use the tools that they’ve already got in front of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re making them in Excel, not PowerPoint.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, all of Excel is baked right into PowerPoint so it’s kind of the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear you there. So, then, maybe we won’t dork out on PowerPoint versus Keynote versus Prezi versus think-cell versus Mekko Graphics versus Illustrator. But if you have a one-minute commentary we can obtain.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I do work a lot in slide show arenas as well, and I’m not even familiar with all those. I think you know more about those topics than I do. But the biggest strength of whatever software you choose is that you have to be able to collaborate with other people on it. So, that means they also need to own it, first of all, and that poses some limitations because not all these softwares are distributed as widely as like maybe PowerPoint is. And people need to be able to edit things in it like charts.

That’s always been one of my frustrations with Illustrator. It’s that it’s a picture file. So, you put in a slide, and if anybody needs to like adjust one number or a decimal point to do something, you have to go back and ask somebody to remake it. So, not all software can be editable and widely-distributed, so that’s why I tend to favor the Microsoft stuff because people have it, and we just need to know what to do with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, now, this book is your second edition. Can you tell us, did you learn any kind of hard lessons as you were interacting with the marketplace about what’s tricky, confusing, missing, that kind of showed up in the second edition?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I’ll say three things. So, first of all, the first one was printed in two colors. So, like a spot color of blue, and then black and white. And even though you’d be looking at the same screenshot in PowerPoint that you’d be seeing in front of you on your screen, it’s just harder to see it if it isn’t in color. So, this time around, everything is in full color. That’s a huge difference.

People were asking more questions about interactivity, so there’s a whole chapter in there on how to build interactive dashboards in Excel. Dashboards are, I think, one of the bigger trends that’s been coming out in the business world lately. Everybody wants their sexy dashboards, so we put together some tools on that. And I’m including a couple of new graph types that I think, since the first edition, people have been more exposed to them and so they understand them better, and they’re getting more popular.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, which are these?

Stephanie Evergreen
One of them would be the waterfall chart. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay, yes. So, it was pioneered, at least legend goes, that it was invented at McKinsey, and they were using it with all of their consulting groups to show where the change over time actually broke down. Like, where increases and decreases occurred. And I think for people who were not looking at it in a business context, they don’t easily wrap their brains around what they’re seeing.

But we’ve been seeing them more and more commonly, like in the newspaper. I saw one that was trying to explain Brexit. So, the more that we see them and the more that we’re exposed to them, I think people outside of very specific corporate financial settings are able to understand them. So, I included that sort of thing this time around.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s really funny. I’m thinking back to my Bain days. We’re talking about charts here. I remember I thought the Rolls Royce of charts, at least as far as we were concerned, and like the grand daddy of them, was the Marimekko. And most don’t even know what that is. It’s like a rectangular sort of like a pie chart, except you’re describing proportions on two dimensions. So, we might see the proportion of the engine market for aircraft versus motorcycles versus cars versus trucks, and then, within each of those, the proportion that each competitor has.

I remember at one point there was a client who just refused to many parts of those. And there was a big debate in our team, like one of them said, “It’s the best way to show it. But they hate it. We can’t do it.” So, yeah, emotions can run high.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and people they really feel strongly about the things that they’ve been used to seeing for a long time. So, there is a fine line between where do we push what’s actually best practice versus respect where people are at. And it is, it can be hard to know. You kind of got to feel it out a little bit. And that’s why I think we have to have lots of choices so that we don’t just always think that there is one option.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. So, you’ve also got a “Data Visualization Sketchbook” that’s accompanying this. And what do we see in a sketchbook?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, it’s kind of the opposite of making graphs in Excel. It’s encouraging us to turn off our computers. So, the sketchbook is full of templates so that you can use pencil in the sketchbook and actually draw stuff out. And the purpose here is actually to let us think. Because I think what happens a lot of the times is that we just go straight to PowerPoint, or we go straight to whatever software we’re using, it doesn’t even really matter, and we just start clicking buttons. Like, “Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart. Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart.”

And we’re just heading straight to the button, clicking before we’ve even really thought about what we need to do, or show, or the big picture of the whole presentation. So, what we see when we look at the research around sketching is that when we take out all the distracting like menus and buttons and fun things that we can click, and we just let ourselves have some empty space, that’s when our working memory actually does processing, and it lets us think.

So, the sketchbook is like your excuse to get out of the office and go draw for a while. You’re going to come back with so many better ideas than you would have if you would’ve just stared at your computer screen.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. And I remember we used to sort of sketch them out roughly on Post-it Notes and then re-arrange the Post-it Notes, they’re nice like big rectangular ones, and say, “Oh, no, I don’t want this type or with that type.” And it was fun. It made you feel a little bit like an artist, you know, who’s designing something, as opposed to a computer cog.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I always say you don’t have to be a good artist. You just have to know what that little blob represents later when you’re back at your computer. So, the sketchbook has templates, it’s got graph paper in it and dot grid paper, which is just fun. There are dashboard templates in like several varieties. There are varieties of handout templates, we’ve got a slide guide in there, and a report structure in case you’re doing like those big long report pages.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, so we’re to get into the ins and outs of all kinds of stuff here but maybe you could frame up the why for us. So, yeah, beyond you and I just being dorks for cool charts. What’s really the value or the impact on an organization when it comes to having the right chart for the right data versus maybe a suboptimal chart for the given data? What does that result in?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I know it seems so minor. Like, let’s learn how to push this button inside PowerPoint. But the thing we get out of those minor little details is culture change, and the way that organizations operate, and how people inside those organizations talk to each other, and all of that affects bottom line.

Like, I’m sure that you’ve experienced this many times, probably your listeners as well. I was just on the phone with a client this week who told me that the CEO of his company was getting frustrated by the bad presentations that they saw because he knew that they were missing opportunities to move good ideas forward. Like, it was getting lost in all the noise that was happening in these bad slides and the cluttery graphs. They’re making the point kind of hard to see.

The CEO said that they were in meetings that were taking like five times too long. They never evhad time to get to the gist because they didn’t even make it that far down the agenda. It’s such a waste of the precious time we get with people to confuse them and to head them off in the wrong direction when we could just be making the decisions that we need to make in getting to market faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. That’s good. Well, so then I was just going to ask, you know, when can visualization be harmful or counterproductive? And it sounds like that’s it right there. It’s like, “You’ve made a big, freaking complex and intricate and confusing chart that we’re all just sort of squinting, and leaning forward, and scratching our heads in a meeting, and our time is getting consumed by it.” But are there other times you’d recommend, “Hey, don’t even start making a chart. Just be chartless and you’ll be better off”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes. Oh, my gosh, there are so many times I think we’ll just be better off. First of all, if there’s not an obvious point to be made, don’t make a chart because people are going to look at the chart, that’s how our brains are built, we’re built to look at pictures. So, if we show people a bunch of pictures that don’t have any kind of obvious point, that’s how we get to the confusion, right? So, unless there’s actually a story, like a headline, a takeaway idea that you’re presenting, that that chart supports, just don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I’m with you. Very good. All right. So, that’s your first point, is to have a point.

Stephanie Evergreen
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got something that we’re trying to say here as opposed to, “Hey, what the heck? I can just push this button and it has more colors than the other way.” So, very good. Well, then tell us what makes the difference between a good and a bad chart? What are sorts of like the top mistakes you see over and over again that need to be stopped?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I think that the biggest mistake people have is they jump straight to what’s the best chart type. And this happens to me all the time. I see it every single day because people will try to pick my brain all the time. It’s kind of like asking for some free consulting, right? So, people will approach me, and be like, “So, Stephanie, can I pick your brain?” And I’m like, “Oh, this is like I could bill for this, but go ahead.” And they’ll say something totally random, like, “My boss wants me to show our four different income revenues over the last eight quarters across our six departments. What’s the best chart type?” And I’m like, “Pfft, I don’t know.”

And everybody wants to, they want to run to what’s the best chart type. And when we ask people to fix graphs, they focus on chart type, when what we have to do first is understand our point. And that’s hard because it means you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. And people don’t always know it that well, or they are afraid to say their point.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, because they’re going to offend somebody. If I say, “This division has been shrinking while all the others have been growing.” And the guy who runs that division is in the room, and I single that out, it’s like, “You’re a jerk. He’s got it in for him. And now he’s my sworn nemesis.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it’s true. So, back to when can data visualization be harmful, well, this is definitely one of those times when you’re telling people truths that they really don’t want to hear. It’s hard. So, I think we’ve got to wordsmith our points really carefully because I know that it can be political. I’ve got plenty of people who tell me, “We just cannot say things that straightforward around here. We kind of dance around it a little bit.” So, yeah. But I’ve also seen people who have intentionally, perhaps, shown stuff that looked cluttery or confusing so that they were hiding the points that they should’ve been showing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I have a flashback all of a sudden, you triggered something. I remember we were working for a client who built exhibits for like tradeshows, so big, hunk, and cool-looking things that you pass by like at the consumer electronic show or something. And so, they were not doing super well. And one of their people made a slide that graphed the growth rate of the industry over time, and then graph-pointed downward, so it’s like, “As you can see, this is a bad industry right now.”

But that was very misleading because the numbers were all positive. It’s still growing. It’s just growing more slowly now than it was, so you should also be growing. And then we sort of had to counter that point. And, sure enough, it resulted in some poor decisions because of like, “Hey, what can we do? It’s bad economy, bad market. Our hands are tied,” as opposed to, “No, step it up and get after it because there’s opportunity that we’re not snagging here.”

Stephanie Evergreen
You said so many interesting things in here. So, first of all, in that last piece that you just said, it’s really in how we frame the takeaway. The takeaway could be, “Things are really dropping.” Or the takeaway could be, “We have an opportunity here.” So, it’s really in how you frame it. And I think we if don’t take that opportunity to frame the story and to frame the takeaway, people will run off in all kinds of different directions. And that’s the last thing we want them to do.

The other thing that was interesting about what you brought up is that what we see in the research is that people, especially if they’re not like the total nerds on the data topic, well, they just see big picture. So, they would just see this line going down, and they’re like, “Oh, dear,” and they wouldn’t be thinking as carefully about it as you were, where you’re like, “Well, you know, like it’s just the rate of change here, really, this is what we should be talking about.” And they don’t look at things like the scale that was used and stuff like that. So, I do think that it’s easy for people to manipulate data and have it cast a certain story just by small formatting tweaks that most people are likely to miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I’ve got a flashback here. I remember once we were in a meeting and someone had, talk about the formatting and the axes, it’s like someone had done the little thing where we jumped from zero to like 300 on the Y-axis. And then in mid-meeting the partner stopped the guy who was presenting on our team, and he said, “What is this? What is this Business Week-style garbage doing here?” He’s like, “I don’t ever want to see that again.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s like, “That is misleading and I’ll have no part of it.” It was so intense.

Stephanie Evergreen
And I love that he threw Business Week under the bus in that one. That’s hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t actually know if Business Week does that a lot.

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know either. That’s funny. And we just saw like this is making the rounds very recently on Twitter, a climate scientist who posted a picture, you know there’s a pretty famous climate change graph called the hockey stick graph, Al Gore showed it in his famous Inconvenient Truth and it’s basically how global temperatures have stayed pretty flat, but in the past few years it’s like it just skyrocketed. And there was a climate scientist, really recently, who just redid the graph so that the Y-axis starts at zero. And when you do that, it’s a flat line, you don’t see any change whatsoever. And he’s like, “See, climate change is a hoax.”

So, it’s incredibly common and incredibly easy to manipulate the data to have it say whatever you want. So, I think that with all of this discussion, there is also this moral and ethical obligation that we have to the truth. And it’s difficult because everybody interprets the truth however it’s truthful to them. But that’s always going to be really tricky.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I don’t remember who said it, but I think they said, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Now, that’s well-said, and that’s true.

Stephanie Evergreen
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
The numbers are accurately saying what they’re saying but you’ve chosen those ones, you chose to present them in that way for a particular agenda which could be helpful or hurtful. So, okay, so enough reminiscing and ranting.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, we see that in the research that people are convinced by charts. So, there is a study that was published, I’ll have to remember exactly what it was, where it was published, but it presented the exact same data to study subjects, it’s just that one had a chart. And the chart didn’t add any new information. It was just a visual of the stuff that was already in the narrative anyway. So, it was just the exact same narrative, just one had an additional repetitive picture. And people voted the one that had the picture as more trustworthy and believable, because we just were wired to like believe data.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s striking. Well, okay, so then let’s get back into making good charts. So, the first point is to have a point. Don’t jump to the, “Hey, what chart type do I need?” but rather, “What’s the story? What’s the point? What is the main thing I’m trying to convey here?” And then once you’re clear on that, what’s the next step?

Stephanie Evergreen
I think it’s to know your audience. And sometimes your point changes depending on the audience you’re talking to, to be honest with you, but I think you got to know what their prior level of knowledge is. Like, are they’d big old nerds with me, and I can just talk about my P values? Or is it going to be somebody who is like data smart but not necessarily a nerd? Or am I talking to the public who tends to be folks who are data-scared?

The way that we show our data to them and even the words we use in our point is going to change depending on which group we’re talking to. And I think also, partly, one of the questions there is, “How willing are they to even engage with me?” Like, am I fighting a hard battle here to get people to even look at me, or are they begging for me to show up and give them this data?

All those things are going to factor into the chart that you eventually choose. So, I think once you know your audience pretty well and the point that you need to make to them, then you can start thinking about the right chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, let’s say we’ve done that, we’ve got the point, we’ve got the audience, now how do we go about choosing the chart?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so I think that part of our determination there, and this is the way that the book is setup, is you have to know a little bit about the nature of your data, right? So, are you talking about survey responses here? Are we talking about parts of a whole? Are we trying to talk about how the trends over time? Once we know that sort of thing, then we can look at the chart choices that are available.

Even within some of those, once you think about maybe trends over time. There are lots of choices in there, and some are going to highlight certain angles of your story better than others do. So, we make our determinations there based on the point and the audience, and how much they’re able to read those graphs in the first place. Sometimes it’s a matter of how many datapoints we have to show that helps us determine what our graph type is going to be.

And then from there, the last step of the process, at least the way that I go about making graphs, is to sharpen up your point of it. And that usually requires having to strip out some of the clutter and some of noise that’s baked into our chart defaults. I’m talking about stuff like taking out check marks. And then really, really making your point obvious by using some color on the parts of the data that are matching your headline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, so that’s great. And when it comes to these defaults, can you save new defaults?

Stephanie Evergreen
You can, yeah, at least in Excel. I’m not so sure about other graphing software that’s out there. But, yeah, you can. You can go through the process of making one amazing chart, and then make that your new default chart so that you don’t have to go through all of that elbow grease every single time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And at Bain we used to use Mekko Graphics which I like because the default was just clean and sharp as opposed to a lot of times in Excel, PowerPoint, it’s like I’ve got all of these background lines engraved with things that just don’t need to go there. And because I was using it more than other software programs more often, it took me a while to figure out how make those go away. And I think I walked away thinking, “Excel sucks for making charts.” But you’re here to set me straight.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And we walk in the book through how to go about making those new templates so that you don’t have to go do all that cleanup work every single time. Because everybody is in this place where like, “My graphs have to be done tonight because my presentation is tomorrow.” And you just don’t have time to mess around with all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly.

Stephanie Evergreen
And that’s why, that is exactly why people would go to things like a specialty software like Mekko graphics. Is that what you said it was called?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because they might have some cleaner defaults. But the thing I like about Excel, I never really have understood if this is because Microsoft is so smart or so stupid, but you can hack Excel. It’s got some bad things built into the defaults but you can hack it and make it do things that it does not naturally do. Like, there are graph types that we introduced in the book that most people have probably never seen before that are so high-impact and powerful, but it’s just that we had to hack it from some existing graph types in Excel. And some of these other softwares that are out there for graphing won’t let you hack. It’s so user-friendly that you can’t get more out of it that you might want to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very intriguing. Can you give us an example of a super high-impact chart type? It’s almost like the secret in and out menu or something about the graph there. So, things like high-impact chart and how do I secretly access it?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. So, I’m going to say that in 2019 the Rolls Royce of graph types is going to be a dumbbell dot plot, and I’ll tell you what this means. It looks like a tiny little Popeye dumbbell where it’s like two circles connected by a line. And the reason it’s so powerful is because we interpret dots so well. We’ve seen plenty of research on how human brains interpret different graph types, and position is the easiest graph type for human brains to read.

Meaning, like we’re really good at seeing a dot’s position on an axis, even better than we are reading a bar chart which would be length. We’re really good at noticing position. We just don’t have a lot of position built into our default graphs. So, dumbbell dot plots are even better because it’s two dots showing position, and then a stick between the two. And the stick emphasizes the distance between these two datapoints.

And so, if you’ve got stories that are about like the gap that occurred between these two things, or the disparity we’re seeing between these two things, or how much growth occurred between these two datapoints, the dumbbell dot plot is the Rolls Royce of graph types to show that. And I think everybody has those stories about gap, or growth, or disparity.

So, this graph type is so amazing, and I ended up having to recommend it to everybody I ever consult with. And you are like, “How would I make this in Excel?” But it’s really just a hack of a line graph with markers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. A line graph with markers, and you just sort of erase some things so that all that remains is your dumbbell.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you have to erase some things, you have to add some things. It’s remarkably easy that we’re talking like under two minutes of formatting to make your first one, and then that could be a template too.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephanie, are you aware that, at least on my computer when I do a Google image search for dumbbell dot plot, the top three results are StephanieEvergreen.com?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, I am a fan.

Pete Mockaitis
You are the dumbbell dot plot’s ambassador.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, that’s great. I think I just came up with my next tattoo.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have tattoos?

Stephanie Evergreen
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Are they charts?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, one was a bit data-driven actually. I counted some things in my life for a while, and then I had that tattooed. So, yeah, you know, I am a nerd.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. So, let’s see here. There’s so much good stuff. So, we talked through a little bit of what makes the difference, what’s the process. Would you say that there’s maybe like a quality control checklist you might recommend in terms of, “All right, after you’re done making your chart, here are the things you want to make sure you have done or not done”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I wrote a checklist. I think it has like 52 points on it. So, it’s not like just count them on our hand, but we broke out. I mean, I did my dissertation on this stuff so I was really down in the weeds of like what the research says about how charts can work best. And so, I broke that research out into 52 checkpoints, and it really is exactly what you’re saying.

Once your graph is finished, run it through these checkpoints, and make sure you’re hitting all the marks. And part of the checklist is about things like making sure you got the right chart type. Parts of it are about making sure you have a headline. But it also goes into stuff about like color, and the font sizes we should be using, and the order that we show the data and the graph, and how many decimal places we have to report to, and that sort of thing. So, we actually had a grad student who did her dissertation on this checklist.

Pete Mockaitis
On your checklist?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
And it worked out so well in her data that we have it turned it into an interactive website. I’ll send out the link. So, you just go the website, you upload an image of your graph, and it’ll walk you through all the checkpoints. Any place where you didn’t quite meet it, it will you a resource that shows you how to fix it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. And so, if you’ve got 52, I’ve got apply a little bit of 80/20 Rule magic here. Could you share, are there a couple of them that you see all the time that are very destructive? So, perhaps the most critical boxes to be checked in this checklist.

Stephanie Evergreen
I think the one I see, in addition to not having a good point, I think the one that I see that’s the most harmful is probably not tuning into color blindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Not turning into color blindness.

Stephanie Evergreen
Tuning into, like paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because color blindness is part of meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it sounds like so like technical but it is. We are required to make sure our stuff is accessible to people. And color blindness is one of those disabilities that is sort of invisible so that you don’t really know if anybody in your audience is color blind.

But the red-green color blindness is the most common form, and one in 10 white men in the U.S. are red-green color blind, one in six Japanese men are red-green color blind. So, when we show people red and green who are color blind, they see those as two shades of brown. And I think the red-yellow-green stuff like color system is so prevalent in so many organizations, and it is absolutely not compliant. It is absolutely not color blind-friendly, and it doesn’t work on black and white, and it doesn’t work for so many reasons but it’s so baked into our culture. That’s got to be the number one thing I see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is striking. It seems like there’s a compelling headline for blog posters or something here, “How your charts are violating the law and you don’t even know it.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you know what, it’s so true. Like, I have clients who come to me because they’ve been sued because the stuff that was on their website was not compliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Stephanie Evergreen
And we are seeing that like more and more. There is a grocery store chain, was it Piggly Wiggly, or one of those down South, was sued. I think even Beyoncé was sued recently because her website wasn’t compliant. So, if it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to any of us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good truism for life.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, this is the kind of only area where if it can happen to Beyoncé it can happen to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, so a few more things I want to make sure we tick through.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to slide headlines, it sounds like we’re on the same page with this, but I’ll let you say it. What should we do with slide headlines?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it just helps you with your point.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, instead of saying, “Sales over time,” it should say what about the sales over time?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sales are going up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
“Sales are going down over time.” “Sales has stayed the same over time.” “Sales have stayed the same and we need to do something that.” So, it can get a bit heavy-handed if you want it to. It doesn’t have to. It can simply be descriptive. It just needs to be an insight so that people know why the heck we’re looking at this thing, and what you want them to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And pie charts, why are they bad?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, they don’t have to be bad. I’ve seen some pretty good ones, but I think the issue is when we try to cram a hundred datapoints, a hundred little slices into the pie. People can’t really read angle very well. Like I how I said earlier, position is great, length is okay, angle is bad. We’re not good at reading angles. If you only got a couple of slices in the pie, it’s going to be fine. But if you try to put a bunch more in there then we’re in some trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’d recommend a stack bar chart instead?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sure, or simply a bar. I think pie charts, people like them because it shows that we’re talking about a 100% of the data, that the data totaled to 100. I’m not sure the fact that data totaled to a hundred is actually the lead story we really need to be trotting out. So, I’m okay with just turning it into a bar chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. And when it comes to, hey, you’ve got a boatload of texts, how do we visualize that? I guess you got a word cloud, but any tips for that or can we do any better?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so that’s one of the biggest changes in the second edition of the book. We had the beginnings of a quality in the chapter in the first edition and we scrapped it almost entirely, and rewrote it. There were like 15, 16 chart types in there for showing qualitative data. Word clouds are like at the bottom of the list. there are so many better ways to do it. Word cloud are a step up from just, “Let me give you a bunch of quotes,” because nobody can really read a bunch of quotes like that.

But there are so many cool options that are out there now, especially like some that keep things more purely qualitative and some that lately quantify and turn it into some numbers. There’s just a huge spectrum of choices. In fact, this book is the biggest compendium of qualitative visualization options that we’ve ever seen. So, we’re really excited to get this out into people’s hands.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by “we” you mean mankind as a whole.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, humankind. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Even more in this. Well, very cool. All right. So, Stephanie, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stephanie Evergreen
I feel like I should say something here because you give me the opportunity to. So, I will say this, okay, one final thought on understanding your audience. This is my secret. Figure out what their burning questions are. Figure out what keeps this group up at night. Like, what are they worried about? Because then you come into your presentation with the answers to the things that keep them up at night. That’s how you get a promotion. Yeah, so this is how you have to structure everything that you do is to just answer your audience’s burning questions.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know that I have a quote as much as I have is some inspiration. So, is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay. When I was doing the research for my sketchbook, I was looking at the old artists, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, and they all drew. They sketched. Because when you sketch, you work out issues you don’t want to have to work out on expensive canvas with expensive paint. So, you get your space to breathe, and think, and to study your subject really, really well, and play around with ideas so that when you do have time in front of the canvass or in front of your dashboard software, your presentation software, it’s so efficient and fast and easy because you already have a plan in mind. So, yeah, that’s my inspiration. Let’s just do what Van Gogh did, except the not the cutting off the ear part.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
One of my favorite researchers is Richard Meyer. He’s got a book out, I believe, but also several published studies. He does a lot of like multimedia presentation study stuff, and all of his stuff has this little glimmer of humor to it that just makes me laugh. So, I’ll tell you about one. He had this study where he showed the audience like the typical death by bullet point. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And at the end of the presentation, they gave the study subjects a survey on just like feelings, attitudes, stuff like that. And the audience was reporting mild to high levels of general annoyance with the speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and they couldn’t put their finger on why because they’re like, “We’re design students,” so they weren’t like, “Oh, it’s ‘cause slides are so terrible.” They just left feeling like mild to high annoyance. And I feel like that’s the last thing we need to do. It’s already hard enough to get people to pay attention to us without annoying them, so let’s not add to it with bad slides.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. It explains maybe a real force behind annoyance, it would. And how about a favorite book?

Stephanie Evergreen
My current favorite book. I just finished one, it’s totally, well, probably unrelated to all the rest of this. But it was written by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism and it’s about so related to this sketching stuff because it’s about how technology is interrupting our ability to think big. And he blames social media in particular because the whole thing was just a very fascinating read about how our minds are so filled with constant check-ins and updates from our aunts and second cousins that we lost our ability to think.

And it struck me because I think he’s got a lot of things he’s saying correct that are right in the book, but it struck me because I realized that everybody says their best ideas happen when they’re in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Because that’s the one place you can’t take your phone. I was like, “Yeah, that’s when we think,” right, when we aren’t staring at something. So, anyway.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I’m going to say a tape measure. Believe it or not, I have to bust out my tape measure and measure things on my screen all the time. I want to make sure like everything is proportionate and accurate, and I will sometimes actually just get out my tape measure and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You know, there is a super genius at Nintendo who’s behind a lot of their hits like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. I don’t remember his name. But that was one of his things because he would carry a tape measure with him everywhere he went, and ask people, “Hey, how long do you think this is?” which is like as he came, that’s what he did, and like, that’s pretty weird! But I think that’s connected to his genius so I’m going to give you that same credit there.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool. I’ll take it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite habit?

Stephanie Evergreen
A favorite habit. I think my favorite habit will be going to the gym in the morning when I want to start my day, because I think all that fresh air and oxygen and endorphins just sets your brain up for smart thinking. Now, it doesn’t always help your hairstyle because then you’d have to shower and then go straight from there to like your work life. So, there are tradeoffs here, but I do think that the oxygen is helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and clients?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, I think the thing that resonates with people the most is when someone complains that it seems like this slide is going to take a lot of work, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s your job.” Yeah, it’s going to take you a minute to put a good slide together, but also that’s what you’re paid to do. So, yeah, I’ll share lots of efficiency tips, but at the core, getting people to use our data for decisions is what we were hired to do.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
My website is going to be a great place, StephanieEvergreen.com.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I would say find one baby step you can take at your office. It might be like, “All I can do is make a great title.” It might be, “I’m going to take that pie chart and recast it as something else.” It might be, “I’m going to go learn how to make a dumbbell dot plot.” And I do have instructions for that on my website. But I think that’s going to be my challenge. Go change one thing, and then like in another month change another. And then in like two years, you’ll have a whole revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Stephanie, this has been lots of fun, and I wish lots of luck with the books “Effective Data Visualization” and the sketchbook, and all your adventures.

Stephanie Evergreen
Thank you so much for having me.

444: How to Upgrade Your Work Conversations with Stacey Engle

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Stacey Engle offers pro-tips for engaging in more meaningful conversations at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why pointless conversations are at the root of many business problems
  2. How to have more efficient team meetings
  3. How to handle strong emotions when communicating

About Stacey

As President of Fierce Inc., a global leadership development and training company, Stacey Engle is obsessed with helping Fierce clients stay ahead of the curve. A strong innovator, she’s always connected—to clients, emerging trends and new opportunities. Stacey’s forward-thinking approach to sales and marketing reflects Fierce’s commitment to enriching lives and creating community, one conversation at a time. She relishes her role in bringing people together to have the conversations they most need to have.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stacey Engle Interview Transcript

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

Stacey Engle
Well, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into this conversation. And I understand you’re excited about showtunes and musicals. What’s the story here?

Stacey Engle
Well, music does move me. There’s a joke in my friend group that if I could have a soundtrack of my life, I would definitely have one. I love music and, yes, I’ve been a part of that board and other boards and efforts with music and theater.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there any particular shows that are really near and dear to your heart, that you sing the songs often?

Stacey Engle
Well, I guess from, just being somewhat stereotypical in the community, when “Hamilton” came out, I was definitely singing full for the music there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. You know, I have yet to see it and I really want to. And I just somehow think I’m somehow going to get a free ticket from someone somewhere but it hasn’t happened yet.

Stacey Engle
You know, I’m all for manifesting in this universe, so maybe one of your listeners can help you out there.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have received unsolicited gifts from listeners which is appreciated—not that I’m soliciting right now for the record! —but it’s happened before, and I appreciate it each time. So, good stuff there. Well, now, I want to hear about your company Fierce. What’s the main gist of what you’re all about here?

Stacey Engle
Yeah, so we believe that the root cause of most business problems is pointless conversations. So, we are a company, a global training and learning company that helps people really have those conversations that lead to results.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued by the phrase “pointless conversations” right there because I recently had a guest who talked about, in building relationships, it’s great to, as he said, have a thousand conversations about nothing. But they’re not really about nothing. They serve to build the relationships. So, what do you mean by pointless conversations?

Stacey Engle
Well, what we mean is conversations oftentimes people do not realize they’re the most accessible tool that you have going through your day. So, as humans, we’re really navigating our lives one conversation at a time. So, when you aren’t thinking about the intent and the content of your conversations, and also your intention, you’re really missing the mark. And I think we’ve all had the experience of sitting through a meeting that we all knew that we weren’t talking about the real issue, or being with someone and not really feeling like you could share.

Stacey Engle
So, a pointless conversation is one that does not have intention and structure and a goal involved. So, when we think about pointless conversations, think about the team meetings that aren’t really discussing what really needs to be talked about, or the coaching conversation where you’re talking all around the issue. Those are pointless conversations. So, our goal is really to help people talk about what matters in a way that’s skillful, and in a way that’s intentional.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds very important, so I’m excited to have this conversation. And so, your company is called Fierce, and fierce conversations is a phrase you use frequently. In fact, there’s a book associated with it. What do you mean by a fierce conversation?

Stacey Engle
So, the definition is a conversation which you come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.

Pete Mockaitis
Come out of myself.

Stacey Engle
Yes, so coming out from the masks you wear, coming out from all the reasons why you don’t think you can say what needs to be said. Come out from those and make the conversation real. So, there are four objectives of a fierce conversation. One is that you’re interrogating reality. So, this idea of you’re getting curious about what’s going on. Two, you’re provoking learning. So, not just provoking someone else’s learning, you actually want to learn. You’re tackling to have challenges which means not putting off what really needs to be talked about. And then the fourth is enriching relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so, is it your philosophy that a business conversation should always do one or more of these things?

Stacey Engle
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that.

Stacey Engle
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re upping the standard here. I’m just imagining a lot of conversations right now and thinking about the extent to which these things occurred. What’s your hunch in terms of the proportion of business conversations that are checking at least one of these boxes?

Stacey Engle
Well, let me back up. So, the goal is that a fierce conversation is really achieving all four of those, so we’re going to learn something new. So, interrogating reality, provoking learning, we’re going to tackle a tough challenge and, what’s most important, is we’re going to enrich the relationship when we’re doing it.

So, that’s kind of the foundation of what is fierce, and that feels very theoretical, but the idea is let’s think of an example of just you’re going into a meeting with an idea. If you want that meeting to be a fierce meeting, you are going to walk in with the intention to get it right for your company, for your team, versus being right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that. Getting it right for people, stakeholders, as opposed to being right, like, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” or, “I’m validating the idea I had is great and, therefore, I feel smart as a result.”

Stacey Engle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had some previous folks associated with the Landmark education draw a distinction between, “Are you more concerned with being right or with things working?” And I found that helpful. And this is even more punchy, I would say, an articulation, being right or doing right for these people, or getting it right for people.

Stacey Engle
Right. Getting it right versus being right. So, that’s a mindset piece. And then there are really skills to make sure that you are really hearing from others, getting curious, because you only have one perspective. And your perspective is one, and it’s not the truth, so your goal in that meeting should be to hear everyone else’s perspectives, and to really provoke learning on everyone’s side, and tackle what we need to tackle. And then, in the end, enrich the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds like a lot more fun to be than your average business conversation. So, maybe, could you—I want to dig into the how in a moment— but could you perhaps paint a picture in terms of a case study of how a client organization of yours did some stuff, and they saw the conversations become more fierce more frequently and what sort of performance gains they saw as a result?

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. So, one of our near and dear clients, we love them, CHRISTUS Health, they’re a healthcare system comprised of about 230 hospitals and clinics, and they employ over 45,000 people. And, as you know, healthcare is very complex. They found themselves falling into the trap that many organizations face, which is becoming a culture of nice. And associates had really mistaken the value of compassion and the value of service with avoiding difficult conversations.

So, many leaders weren’t giving feedback because they didn’t feel it was compassionate    and they were scared to give that feedback, and nobody was really sharing those insights. And what was at stake there were many associates were not growing at the level that they needed to. So, through discovery, it was determined that a lot of these conversations were missing, and we needed to build this skillset.

So, Fierce was brought in at the leadership level, and we really helped them work proactively on feedback, on coaching, on confrontation, and really building a common language where these tools were accessible, and helping arise potential issues before they formed. So, CHRISTUS Health was able to achieve a 50% reduction in executive turnover.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stacey Engle
Yeah, we like that. A 36% internal promotion increase, so those associates were really developing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, all right. So, the results are there. That’s really cool. Let’s talk about how to do it. So, what are some of sort of the top things that we should start doing or stop doing to see some of these results?

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. Well, so we know six conversations that are often not as powerful as they could be in the workplace. I always like to start with three. One is that team conversation I was referencing. So, this idea of, “How do you have a more compelling team meeting? And is this actually answering more tactics?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there are six kinds of conversations, and so let’s have them.

Stacey Engle
Yes, so there are six kinds of conversations, and the three that I always love to share with our audiences, because we can really, really all relate to these. One is the team conversation, so the idea of, “How do I run a team meeting where people are really engaged and they are laying out reality without pointing blame? And sharing from their perspectives, how can we move forward on this particular opportunity or issue?”

The second is a confrontation conversation. So, this is when you and I know something needs to change. How do we best approach that topic in a way that does those four objectives? So, interrogating reality, provoking learning, tackling a tough challenge. And we actually feel like our relationship is enriched by having that conversation.

And then the third is feedback. So, feedback is a tool that we constantly need to use in our every day. And one of the pitfalls with feedback is many times people write the script of what, of the meaning of the actions. So, for instance, if I see someone talk over someone, I may think to myself, “This person is being rude or doesn’t really respect X person.”

And our feedback conversation is very much about not writing that script, so you stop at behavior, and you would have that conversation with someone, asking them, “What was going on?” versus putting the meaning, and then also what’s at stake attached to those actions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a really handy tip right there when it comes to the feedback, is to not interpret it for them what that means, and then assume and cause all kinds of problems. So, that’s great there. So, then when it comes to those team conversations and confrontation conversations, what are some key ways to have those go all the better?

Stacey Engle
So, confrontation is all about preparation. We have a 60-second opening statement. So, this idea that you really need to frame the issue or challenge in 60 seconds because the other person, when they’re hearing this, will most likely have a fight or flight reaction, so you want to lay this issue or challenge out in front of the person, and ask and invite the conversation. So, it’s all preparation and confrontation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stacey Engle
So, succinctly, being able to share. And one thing that often gets in our way is we wait, and wait, and wait until it becomes too much. And then we have so many examples of why X needs to change. And the reality is, in an effective confrontation conversation, you’re only using one or two examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great.

Stacey Engle
So, you can’t bring in all of your emotional baggage.

Pete Mockaitis
“And another thing…”

Stacey Engle
Exactly. I mean, we call it the dump truck, you know, like, “I’m just going to back up and unleash more and more reasons why this is true,” and it really can curtail that conversation. So, we want to stay succinct, we want to be thoughtful and prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, could you maybe give us an example of a 60-second opening statement?

Stacey Engle
That is a great question. Yes, I can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
And you must prepare for these conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Taken.

Stacey Engle
So, an example would be, “Pete, I want to talk with you about the affect your leadership style is having on the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Stacey Engle
“And I want to share two examples. One, I saw, when you were in that meeting, you rushed out of the room, and you ripped the flipchart off of the paper, and crumpled it up. And you seemed pretty upset. So, that’s one example. Another example is some of your team members have expressed concerns about cancelling your one-on-ones and canceling some of those conversations. So, this is very important, this, your leadership style to the success of the company, and a lot is at stake for both us. The contribution I have to the problem is I might not have brought this up as soon as I should have, and I really want to resolve it and support you. Tell me, from your standpoint, what’s going on?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I like it. So, we got those ingredients there in terms of, “This is what we’re talking about. Here’s a couple examples. This is why it matters. And I’m in the mix as well, it’s not all you, you, you. I’m in there.” And so, then it’s kind of open-ended with your final question. And what was that again? You said, “Tell me what’s going on.”

Stacey Engle
Yeah, “From where you sit, what’s going on for you? Because I want to resolve how your leadership style is affecting the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so, “What’s going on for you?” is nice and broad, and it’s not as accusative as, “What’s your problem? Why can’t you get it together?” It’s, “What’s going on for you?” and that could go anywhere from, “Hey, you know what, I’m going through a really rough time with I’ve got two kids, and I’m sleep-deprived, and I get kind of edgy in that kind of situation,” to, “Oh, I had no idea. I guess when I was an investment banker that was fine in that culture.”

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. And I would argue that it’s never really fine. So, yes, once you do the 60-second opening statement, your job is to really inquire about your partner’s views, to ask questions and get curious, and really dig in for more understanding. And then, what’s very potent, and when I talked about conversations need to drive results, there needs to be a resolution. So, we need to talk about, “What have we both learned? How are we both going to move forward and make an agreement, and then hold each other accountable to it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent And so, then how long might that whole conversation take?

Stacey Engle
It can vary and the goal is that you could have this conversation in 30, 45 minutes, even less, if you’re prepared. And it’s really, really powerful once you have this tool, and it is a common language in organizations because, I don’t know, de-stigmatizing confrontation is very important. The reality is we’re going to have challenges, things are not going to go as we wish, and confrontation is actually less needed once you have more of these other conversations like feedback, coaching, team.

So, confrontation is when feedback hasn’t worked. So, it’s not like you should be having confrontation conversations every single day, and there’s not a perfect equation depending on what situations you find yourself in.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. But that’s useful to know that it could be 30 or 45 minutes or less because I think some people fear, it’s like, “Oh, man, we’re going to be getting into it for a half day trouble.”

Stacey Engle
It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And, you know, it’s often pretty quick.

Stacey Engle
Well, and what I think is something I really like to challenge others is those missing conversations, the ones that you keep saying, “Well, this time it’s distraction, and the music is playing just right, and I have this much time on my schedule,” you keep justifying those missing conversations. Those are the most costly in organizations. They really are, because the reality is everyone understands that people are busy and time-constrained, so you need to be clear about your intention, also your timeframe. So, it’s okay if you only have 45 minutes, and if there needs to be a follow-up conversation, then that’s okay. But the goal is that you begin. Because there’s a lot of justification to not start, and that’s really ineffective.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, that’s pretty handy. Thank you for those. And how about on the team conversation point with regard to being more engaged?

Stacey Engle
So, we have a strong position that you should not have team meetings with so many people that not everyone can participate. So, a team conversation is all about addressing challenges, opportunities, together as a team. So, if this is true, we need every brain cell and every viewpoint necessary to make the best possible decision. So, for team meetings, we are not big proponents of having people who won’t participate be in the meeting. So, we want to hear from every single person. And if you don’t want to hear from that person, then they shouldn’t be invited to the meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I imagine then do some numbers pop up with regard to, “Hey, at this point, you’re at risk for having some non-participators,” if you cross the threshold of, I don’t know, six people who’s there.: Do you have a guideline there?

Stacey Engle
Yeah, so typically say six to 10 would be max. And this isn’t taking into account company-wide meetings and all-hands and communication meetings. We highly endorse those. But this particular team conversation is when we have an opportunity, we have a challenge, and we really, really need to solve something together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s one key tip then is to ensure that it’s not too big, it’s a manageable size, everyone can participate, have a piece of it. Any other tips for how to have great team conversations?

Stacey Engle
So, another tip for a team conversation is preparation as well. So, we make an analogy with a beach ball, so this idea that everyone sits on a different stripe in the beach ball. So, Pete, if you were in marketing and I was in finance, you may be on the red stripe, we don’t like finance being in the red, but let’s pretend. You may be on the red stripe and I may be on the purple stripe, and we may view an issue very, very differently.

And it’s very important that we have facts and preparation beforehand because the team leader needs to come in, and the goal is the team leader has prepped every single person with what the issue is and relevant background information so that that leader can really gain all stripes, like all perspectives. So, that preparation is important, and I just wanted to give that tip around the beach ball because it’s that visual metaphor of really thinking through everyone has a different perspective. And if you are going to walk into a meeting to get it right, not flaunt what you think we should do, you must gain each perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Oh, go ahead.

Stacey Engle
The one other tip is, at the end of the beach ball meeting, the piece that’s super powerful is each participant basically absorbs all the information that has been discussed. And then the task is for each person to say, “If I was the meeting leader, here’s what I would do.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
So, it really is so insightful to gain other people’s insights, not just from their particular perspectives, but also how they have interpreted and how they’ve assimilated all of the perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. And I’m liking what you’re saying with regard to just not assuming you’ve got the answers, and be curious in making sure we get all those perspectives there. I’m also curious when it comes to conversations where you do have an intention to persuade, and maybe this is a little bit of external-facing stuff, maybe it’s about sales or something. How do you think about those conversations?

Stacey Engle
Okay. So, our coaching conversation is a great sales tool. It’s all about mining for clarity and helping a coachee or someone you’re wanting to really help surface what the true issues are. And when you want to persuade or you want to connect with people, because I think a lot of persuasion or influence is really connection with a greater purpose or a different path. So, that coaching tool, you know, mining for greater clarity, and being able to surface what’s really going on, is amazing for persuasion and influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, because you got the connection and you understand what’s really going on and so you’re able to sort of make the connection all the more clearly associated with this service, or whatever will address this.
Now, you mentioned clarifying, which is something I want to cover because I saw that pop up a number of times on the Fierce website. What are some best practices in terms of asking great clarifying questions and getting to clarity in your conversations?

Stacey Engle
So, we make an analogy in the coaching conversation that questions are really the drill bits when you’re mining for water, and you’ll experience different layers. And the idea is that you want to have a whole cadre of questions that you use in different circumstances. So, when you’re asking, “What’s going on for you?” or something that’s very broad, our tip is to ask, “What else?” three times.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
So, the idea is most of the time when someone is sharing the issue. So, if you open a conversation and say, “What’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” the first thing they share, it’s often not the real issue. So, you want to help someone clarify for themselves, so asking more questions, asking, “What else? What else? What else?” is a discipline. Because it can be so tempting to give advice and to jump in or ask leading questions, like, “Well, have you ever thought of…?” So, clarifying is really about being intentional and having a practice to say, “What else? What else? What else?”

And then another tip for clarification is just repeating back, which many of us I feel were taught when listening. But the reality is many of us are not great listeners, and having reminders or cues, so if this is an issue for you that you like to jump in or you don’t ask as many questions, it’s great especially if you’re on a video call or a phone call to have a visual cue, to even write on a Post-It note, “What else? What else? What else?” just to remind yourself to really dig deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, we talked about the drill bits analogy, and reminding, and “What else?” I guess I’m imagining “What else?” can often shift us laterally or to the side, but you’re saying, “What else?” can also get you deeper into the given matter.

Stacey Engle
Both.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, “What else?” is one great one. And what else would you recommend in terms of great clarifying questions?

Stacey Engle
Well, sometimes when you ask someone, this happens a lot in meetings, if you ask someone, “Well, what do you think?” sometimes people will say, “I don’t know.” And we really encourage you to say, in not a snarky tone, “What would it be if you did know?” or, “Go there with me for a moment. I really want your input.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that because “I don’t know” usually means “I haven’t thought about it,” or, “I’m not yet comfortable telling you what I really think about it.”

Stacey Engle
Exactly. So, that’s a great practice to clarify and also to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Any other great clarifying questions?

Stacey Engle
I think when you’re helping someone work through an issue, it’s very important to have emotional attachment. And people will really have different reactions and emotions to talking about emotions in the workplace, so questions regarding, “What do you feel about this?”

So, for instance, “When you consider all of these outcomes that are occurring, what do you feel?” That’s so important to ask because we are emotional. We make decisions emotionally and then rationally. Like, we rationalize our emotions. So, asking, “What do you feel?” in situations really can help move an individual and move a situation forward.

And the big clarification there is not saying, “How does this make you feel?” which is a very victimizing spin to that question. You really want to ask, “What do you feel?” because you want to keep accountability for all of the emotions that a person experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. As opposed to the thing is making you feel this way, so it’s just, “What do you feel?”

Stacey Engle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
The response, okay.

Stacey Engle
“What do you feel?” versus, “How does this make you feel?” We always want to put people in positions of power and not victimhood around situations they’re in. So, that phrasing, “How does this make you feel?” is more of a victim statement instead of owning the answer to, “What do you feel?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I like the distinction. It’s very helpful. And I want to talk about emotions here. So, a lot of what makes these conversations tough in the first place are those emotions, you know, you’re scared, you’re angry, you’re confused. These things are there. And so, how do you recommend to sort of, internally with your own personhood and brain and feelings, do what you need to do to have those conversations?

Stacey Engle
Well, the conversation itself is key. Preparation, the idea that you really sit back and frame, “What do I want to accomplish here? What am I trying to say?” and writing it down, or speaking out loud, however you need to work through those emotions or anger or resentment, you need to figure that out. And having tools, like a framework, whether it’s fierce conversations framework or other conversations framework, those tools really help you work through those emotions and give you confidence that all of us need to have these conversations. This is the human experience, and no one is going to die.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Stacey Engle
So, although, we may, because of emotions, our bodies may go there, it may feel like someone may die. But the reality is there are so many marriages that have been saved by having the conversations that need to happen, so many lives and companies, their trajectories completely changed because they had that conversation that really mattered.

And sometimes we can’t even predict what those conversations when they will happen, what those conversations will exactly entail, so that’s why it’s so important to just, if you have emotions around a situation, that’s a good thing. That means you care. That means there’s something at stake. And being able step back and reflect on that, that’s key.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig that a lot. So, no one is going to die, we have some comfort there. And, indeed, the conversation can be saving. And we had Kim Scott talk about radical candor earlier on the show, and that’s kind of her story. It’s like, “Oh, boy, if I had this conversation earlier, I wouldn’t have to be firing this person right now.” There’s a lightbulb there associated with the benefit of going there.

So, let’s say, okay, you’ve done your work, you’ve kind of taken some time to think through your goals and maybe a framework, and then you’re just about to step into it. Any sort of pro tips for the presence or the emotional management so that you deliver it well in terms of you’re not kind of angry or timid or kind of anxious and putting out vibes that impede the effect of this conversation?

Stacey Engle
Well, one tip is absolutely to prepare it. That preparation should mean that you’re grounded at least going into the conversation. That’s square one. I think being transparent with the person that this conversation is a hard one for you is important. Oftentimes, we like to just, I don’t know, what’s the phrase, fake it until you make it. There’s a certain level of necessity, I understand, for those scenarios. And when it comes to conversations that are super important and central to your success or central to your happiness, being able to step in, say, “My intention here is to explore this with you. It is not easy for me.”

And when you learn our frameworks, we often encourage leaders. So, for the listeners out there, when you’re trying a new framework, or you’re trying something new, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I’m trying this.” And just that humanity, I think, really can help squash the nerves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And are there any other kind of magical phrases that you find yourself saying often or you recommend often? We’ve covered a few, like, “What else?” What are some other things that you find can be said frequently and sure are helpful when you say them?

Stacey Engle
Well, from a leadership perspective and even a peer perspective in your career, there can often be times we’re taught as coaches to have checklists and check in with our team members, so, “Are we getting these things done? Have we followed up on these items? Are we investigating something new?” whatever is on your checklist.

Checklists are great. And, in today’s labor market and in today’s current state, it’s very important to not rely only on a checklist. So, one question that we really love is to ask, “Given every single thing that’s on your plate, what is the most important thing you and I should be talking about today?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Any others?

Stacey Engle
Well, oftentimes, there’s a slant to action, which I love. If you do StrengthsFinders, I’m an Activor which means I do like starting things. And one question, instead of saying, “What are next steps?” you can ask, “What is the most potent step you should take?”

So, that sounds very similar, but this idea of helping someone sequence, and say, “Okay, given what we just talked about, what is the first potent step that you need to take or we need to take as a team? And then, what’s next?” So, just helping break down the sequence of that can really be effective. That’s just a tip.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, as we wrap up, I’d love to hear, are there some things you recommend not saying, or conversations that ought not to be had?

Stacey Engle
Well, we’d like you to delete “but” from your vocabulary.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stacey Engle
We want to say “and.” So, when you think about the team conversation, or multiple perspectives, the idea is we want to say, “This is true, and this is true, and this is true.” When you use the word “but” it often discredits. So, “I like your idea, but we already looked into that.” Or, “Oh, that’s a great way to think about it, but Stephanie is already doing this.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Stacey Engle
It’s a mental shift. So, really deleting the “but” and replacing it with the “and” is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that works frequently as I think about that, “Hey, thanks so much for mentioning that, and Stephanie has already started looking into it.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m encouraged.”

Stacey Engle
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “All right.” And the same point is made, you know, associated with, “All right. So, I don’t have to do anything else because Stephanie is running with it, and I’m feeling better about the exchange.” That’s cool. Well, Stacey, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stacey Engle
Well, I think oftentimes people will say that they don’t want to have the conversation because it will take too long, or, “We don’t have enough time to have the conversations you’re talking about.” And I just really want to make the case for the quality of conversations versus the quantity. So, this idea that we can be intentional and know that there should be a beginning, and a middle, and an end to a conversation. And that it’s a tool that can get us to the next level in our career. It can shift something for us. That idea, it’s very important to pay attention and engage.

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

Stacey Engle
So, I love Anais Nin’s quote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

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

Stacey Engle
So, I tend to refer more frequently to questions than studies. So, one of my favorite questions is, “Given everything on your plate at this very moment, what’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” And through that I hear a lot of studies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Stacey Engle
A goodie and always a favorite Tribes by Seth Godin.

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

Stacey Engle
So, Headspace. By meditation, having the right mindset is key, and that’s been a challenge for me, so it’s great to have a tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Stacey Engle
Working out every single morning, even if it’s for 15 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with clients and listeners?

Stacey Engle
You get what you tolerate.

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

Stacey Engle
So, our website is FierceInc.com and my handle is @staceyengle.

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

Stacey Engle
I do. My call to action is to write down three people in your life who are central to your success or your happiness and decide what conversation you need to have with them, and by when.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stacey, thanks so much. I wish you and Fierce all kinds of luck and many meaningful conversations.

Stacey Engle
Thank you, Pete.

443: Beating Procrastination with Petr Ludwig

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Petr Ludwig shares his research-based strategies and tactics for overcoming procrastination.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Petr’s recipe for finding willpower in the moment
  2. How to find your ongoing motivation
  3. Why you should rest before you get tired

About Petr

Petr Ludwig is a science popularizer, entrepreneur, and consultant for Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of the bestselling book The End of Procrastination, a book dedicated to overcoming the habit of putting off tasks and responsibilities. His book has been translated into more than 10 languages and sold hundreds of thousands of copies globally.

Petr is the founder and CEO of the company Procrastination.com, which applies the latest scientific findings in neuroscience and behavioral economics to help individuals and companies in their sustainable growth. His core fields of interests are a purpose at work, value-based leadership, and critical thinking.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Petr Ludwig Interview Transcript

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

Petr Ludwig
Hi, Pete. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to chat with you, and I’m so fascinated by your story. You have studied a whole host of scientific social psychological things, and you decided to pour a lot of your energies into the study of procrastination. Why this topic and is it coming from experience here?

Petr Ludwig
Yeah. For me, to think of procrastination is one of the most important these days because we live in a world full of distractions, social media, and it’s quite challenging to find a way how to stay focused on what is important. So, for me, to pick procrastination is getting more and more important these days. And there’s a lot of good data and a lot of scientific studies about how to really decrease our procrastination. So, my life mission is to just transform what science knows into what people do in their normal lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s an awesome mission and so helpful because there’s so much great knowledge out there and it’s great to make sure that folks actually see it instead of the researcher and the researcher’s mom in the academic journey.

Petr Ludwig
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to know, Petr, what are some things that you procrastinate on?

Petr Ludwig
Oh, I still have some things that I procrastinate. For example, if I have to sign an important contract, for example, I have a lot of contracts for translations of my books, so I have to sign them. I have a good lawyer but, still, I want to read them before. So, those are things I procrastinate, things that are important but quite challenging and difficult to me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, as you’ve done your research associated with procrastination and your book in particular, The End of Procrastination, which is now available in English. Thank you, translators and lawyer and contract all coming together. What’s maybe the most surprising or fascinating thing that you discovered in digging into some of the research and studies behind this?

Petr Ludwig
Right. There’s a huge meta-analysis about all the research on procrastination, and the outcome is…

Yeah, that’s a good beginning where to start when you do any kind of research to read meta-analysis because someone did a good job before. So, for example, if you want to know some research about longevity, you can use Google Scholar and just try to find longevity and meta-analysis and you will find very good sources. So, that’s my hack, to start to read a meta-analysis.

And the biggest meta-analysis about procrastination shows us that the main cause of procrastination is a lack of self-regulation. Self-regulation means that you have your emotional part and then you have your rational part. And if you are unable to resist temptation, your emotional part is going to win. And it means that you go to check your Facebook. You want to, I don’t know, overeat. You want to watch Netflix and so on.

But if you have good willpower and your rational brain is stronger, your willpower is stronger, then you can self-regulate, even if you have a temptation to do something, you are able to resist. So, that’s the core of procrastination, to really train your willpower part of the brain.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that sounds sensible. How do we go about doing that?

Petr Ludwig
Well, there are a lot of techniques for that. My favorite one is when you do a daily habit. For example, if you do 20 pushups daily, not even your muscles grow, but even your part of the brain that is called prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is for willpower, it grows too. So, that’s very good news that procrastination is not something that is inborn but you can really train your willpower as a muscle. So, by doing 20 pushups daily, you really can train your willpower.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. And so, then I’m curious, is it pushups, is it sort of strict training in particular that boost the willpower, or we can maybe do the same thing?

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, all exercises do the same, but what is important is to do something daily. You can have your favorite, like five-minute routine of, I don’t know, that doesn’t need to be pushups. But five minutes daily can really boost your willpower. And we have one willpower for all domains, so you can train your willpower by exercise, and then you have stronger willpower even in your work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. So, exercise is the key way to increase your ability to have willpower. What are some of the other means of increasing it?

Petr Ludwig
Another one is mindfulness. Like, to do a simple 5- to 10-minute meditations. There’s a great app for that. You probably heard about Headspace or there’s another app that is called Simple Habit. Headspace is for 10 minutes. Simple Habit, they have five-minute meditations. And those 5 to 10 minutes of really focusing on doing nothing, that is mindfulness, focusing on your breath or counting something, that can really increase your willpower too.

So, my advice is to do, I don’t know, 5-minute exercise in the morning, and then to do mindfulness meditation in the afternoon, and all those exercises together, they took only a few minutes but can really improve your everyday willpower and productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, since you’re a science popularizer and lover, I might be able to get into some of the depth with you because sometimes I’m fascinated too by research studies and I pull up academic journals. And sometimes the thing that gets me is, like, okay, you’ve shown us sure enough that there’s this statistically significant difference with intervention. So, nice job researchers. That’s something.

But I also want to know, how big is this difference? Like, am I going to be 1% better at willpower if I do my pushups and my mindfulness? Or is it like double, triple? Like, do you have a sense for how much quantitatively of an improvement we’d see with these interventions?

Petr Ludwig
Well, that’s the great question. My experience is that I have only some anecdotal evidences of my clients because it’s very difficult too if you read those meta-analyses to see how big was the difference at the end, so that’s a very good question. But with my clients, I can see the huge difference. Like, if they really started training their willpower, let’s say in three, four weeks, they are much, much better in their productivity. So, it’s quite difficult to measure it but if I ask them what is their improvement, they feel significant improvement. They are telling me that they can do like, I don’t know, two times more tasks daily, or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Two times more tasks daily sounds enticing. All right. So, there’s a measure of doing some physical exercise as well as some mindfulness. So, any other key ways to go about building willpower?

Petr Ludwig
There is a beautiful study that our willpower is also dependent on simple sugars in our blood. So, eat fruits and vegetables daily can really boost your willpower too. So, to drink, for example, a glass of fresh juice, or to eat, I don’t know, two, three apples can really boost your willpower too. Another example is to go for a walk, because if you are sitting the whole day then your brain is stuck and you need to boost your cardiovascular system. So, five minutes or 10 minutes of walk can really improve the willpower too.

So, my advice is to do a simple short exercise in the morning, then to eat fruits and vegetables during the day, then to have walks. Regular work for two hours, then have a walk and then work another two hours and then have another walk. And then do simple meditation in the evening and you can really double your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s really cool. So these are great things to do on an ongoing basis to keep your willpower strong and in great shape. What are some of your pro tips for when you’re in the heat of battle, if you will, and there’s this thing, you know you should do it but you sure don’t want to do it. You’re right there, right now. How do you find the power?

Petr Ludwig
Oh, right. For me, I go somewhere without internet connection. For example, I have my favorite tea room that I was writing my book, and they simply don’t have internet connection there so it helped me to really start something. And what is really good is to set a proper time for starting. For example, if you are postponing to send, I don’t know, an important email, you should set an appropriate time, like, “Okay, I will start at 8:00 a.m.” And you can use apps that can block your internet connection for Apple, the name is Freedom, so you can really block your internet connection. And for Windows, it is called Cold Turkey. And those apps can help you a lot if you block your internet connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s handy. So, you set a time, you block the internet connection. You’ve got a tool called the heroism tool in your book.

Petr Ludwig
Oh, right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s this about?

Petr Ludwig
This tool is from Professor Philip Zimbardo, who’s famous about his Stanford Prison Experiment, still slightly a controversial one. And when I met Zimbardo for the first time, I asked him what is his personal tip for fighting procrastination. And he did something that was quite strange to me. He took my black marker and he put a big black dot on his forehead, and I was like, “What?” And Zimbardo told me that if you put a black big dot on your forehead and you go, for example, shopping, or you go by bus somewhere, you start to get used to strange feelings that you have that you are different. And you are then able to overcome your social comfort zone. And he really described to me that we have two kinds of comfort zones. First is physical one, it’s much more obvious. It’s, for example, the bath in the morning is a physical comfort zone. Or the situation when you are, for example, sitting in your car.

But then we have a social comfort zone, and that means that you are part of the crowd, you are in a herd. And to overcome that is very important even for fighting procrastination because often we are unable to act in the right moment. So, Zimbardo told me that if you do this, a little training with the black dot on your forehead, then you are capable of overcoming the comfort zone even in different scenarios. For example, if you go next to accident, you are then much more able to stop and help. Or you are able to say your opinion if someone else is quiet and so on.

Zimbardo calls this little heroism, those little heroic acts can really boost your ability to be the one who really do something when the situation is important. So, for me, this tool is one of the cores of my book. And Japanese samurais, they had a rule that if you are in a situation that you really need to act, you probably heard about that, it’s the rule of three heartbeats. You really have to act in three heartbeats, like, three, two, one, and then act.

Because, for example, if you are driving and you see an accident, you really have, in those three seconds, to stop and help there. If you don’t do that, you probably just go and it’s much easier to find excuses to not to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I think I heard about this except it was on a reality TV show about pickup artists, the three-second rule in terms of, in this context, it was guys who are going to approach a lady and like, talking to them.

Petr Ludwig
Okay. I think this concept of stopping next to an accident is maybe a little bit more important.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely, yes. But it gets to the same notion that the hesitation, fear, sort of overthinking it.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, overthinking is a real problem. Like, we have a data that the more you overthink the more you procrastinate. So, fighting overthinking, and we have a beautiful data that the more you are intelligent and the more you are creative, then you procrastinate even more.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s my problem, Petr.

Petr Ludwig
Because you are capable of coming up with very good excuses, and excuses in front of yourself, so you use your creativity and your intelligence against yourself. And that’s the problem, like, overthinking is very, very, like the usual problem of intelligent people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. So, I’m curious then, if we can talk about maybe some of the fear elements, and it’s sometimes like a very quick short time that you can respond to something, and other times, it’s maybe not so urgent, but you’re maybe… I think about salespeople right now, it’s like, “Oh, you know what, I’ve got make some calls but I’m resistant because I think they’re going to be angry at me and that’s not pleasant.” It’s not like you’re terrified of it, but it’s not fun and so there’s maybe some anxiety or fear or trepidation associated with it. So, I guess, not overthinking it and just jumping in is good strategy.

Petr Ludwig
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there any other things you’d recommend in these contexts?

Petr Ludwig
I do trainings for salespeople, and what works very well for them are daily routines. Like, for example, if you have to do some cold calls, you should set a very low bar, for example, to do three calls but do them daily. And if you set up a routine and you do those three calls daily, then it’s much easier to do more. So, science calls this micro-habit. What is important is not the quantity but what is important is that you really stick to the habit daily. And if you do that and you repeat it like five to 10 times, then it’s much easier to start.

So, my advice to salespeople is to set a proper time, for example, as I said, like 8:00 a.m., “I will start calls. I do three calls.” And then what is very good, we have a tool that is called Habit List. You have a table and you fill them each day, the table, and you see that you really pass the goal. So, set the bar to the lowest and repeat it, and after you have that habit, you can increase the quantity. And at the end you can do, I don’t know, 15 calls daily.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, with this Habit List table, I guess the rows would be habits and then the columns would be sort of days.

Petr Ludwig
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And you want to fill it up kind of bit style, to say, “Hey, keep the chain going day after day after day.”

Petr Ludwig
Yup, this tool is one of my favorite ones. I use it every day. And, for example, I have a row that is called cold shower, another row is, I don’t know, to do those morning exercise, another row can be, I don’t know, read or write a few pages and so on. But the core of this tool is that if you visualize the outcomes, like you put a green dot if you passed it, and a red dot if you don’t, you see the visual thing about it.

So, you have a table, and at the end you see how good you are in those habits. And if you see that you are failing, you have many days red in a row, it means that your bar is too high, or you don’t have intrinsic motivation to do those things. So, those are only two situations, like you have lack of motivation, or the bar is too high. So, you can fix both. Like, you can ask why you want to do that habit, and you can increase your motivation, or you can decrease the bar. For example, if you are unable to write five pages daily as an author, then you should start with two paragraphs. There’s always a lower bar.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny that app is kind of inspiring even though you’re talking about lowering the bar, there’s always a lower bar is kind of inspiring to me.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, I did it. When I was writing the book The End of Procrastination it’s funny because I was procrastinating writing the book about procrastination. And the final solution was really to write two paragraphs daily. And everyone can write two paragraphs daily. And if you do that, then you are able to write even more paragraphs. And to really start with a lower bar is the key of fighting procrastination to me.

Pete Mockaitis
I really appreciated that perspective. And we had Dr. BJ Fogg on the show earlier talking about tiny habits and motivation and making it small is huge. Making it small is very helpful in terms of making that happen. So, let’s talk about the motivation piece for a moment. How do we get more of that?

Petr Ludwig
The first part of the book is about motivation because I think that if you have the right motivation then you don’t need willpower at all. So, it’s much more important to find the right motivation than to boost willpower.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, just right there.

Petr Ludwig
For example, yeah, I don’t need to push myself to do talks because I really love to do talks, so it’s much, much more important to me to do things that I don’t need to push myself to. And the core of motivation that I’m trying to cover in my book is that basically we have three kinds of motivation. The first one is extrinsic motivation. And there’s another huge meta-analysis about motivation. It seems that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work at all. It worked for manual activities but it doesn’t work for activities that you need your brain. So, it’s doesn’t work for creative and cognitive tasks.

Then we have intrinsic motivation. But I cover two kinds of intrinsic motivation. One is focusing on goals, like intrinsic motivation by goals. And that’s the thing that people are setting goals in their private life. And this can really backfire because I had a client, and he had that kind of goal board, and he had there his car he wants to buy, the ideal flat he wants to have. And he got depressed because he didn’t have any of that.

So, the problem with goals is that if you are focusing on something in the future, you are less happy in the present because you are still missing the goal. And the second backfire moment is if you reach the goal, the happiness is very short term. Psychology calls this hedonic adaptation. So, even if you reached the highest goal, like you win a Nobel Prize, or you win an Olympic Gold Medal, you are happy just a few days, maybe one week, not more. So, focusing on goals can make you addictive because we call those people goal junkies. Those are people that they are setting higher and higher goals, but they are not happy in the present moment. And if they reached the goal, they experience only short-term happiness, but then they need another goal.

It’s quite similar these days on social media. Like, for example, if you have 10,000 followers, you feel, “Okay, I need 100,000.” Then you have 100,000 followers, well, then you need one million followers and so on. So, the more you have, the more you want. And it leads not to happiness but to addiction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s a bummer. So, what’s the superior alternative?

Petr Ludwig
Okay. We call it journey-based intrinsic motivation, and it’s based on very old but very important saying that “the path is the destination.” So, what is much more important than to focus in on goals is to focus in on activities that are enjoyable for you and you see purpose of them. And how to find those activities, I have a simple tool for that, and it’s based on a Japanese concept of Ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese word from the island of Okinawa, it’s my favorite island. And Okinawa is famous for the fact that they have the longest lifespan around the globe. So, they really live to their hundred.

And they made a long-term study, what is the reason of longevity in Okinawa? And the outcome was really the concept of Ikigai. And it can be translated as “a strong sense of purpose.” And the Japanese, they describe Ikigai as a connection between four parts.

The first part is to do things that you are good at. So, strengths are very important. Second part of Ikigai is doing things that you really enjoy. So, positive emotions are very important. Psychology calls this state of flow. You do something, and time stops for you, and you are in the present moment. And the third part of Ikigai is the most important to me, and it’s doing something that is greater than you, doing something that helps the society, helps the others. So, selfless acts are important too, not to be just selfish. And the fourth part is to do things that you can get paid for. So, money is important but not that much. What is much more important is to use your strengths daily and to focus on meaning and purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the premise was that they’re living so long because a large proportion of their activities check one or more of these four boxes?

Petr Ludwig
Right. And if you find something that is interconnected like, for example, for me, if I do a talk, it’s very important to me in terms of, it has purpose because it can help a lot of people, then I really enjoy doing that. I can improve it so I can improve my skills, so the better I am with my presentation skills, the happier I am with the process. And, of course, I can get paid for that.

So, if you find something that is interconnected, you have less stress hormone cortisol that is killing us slowly. So, that’s maybe one of the reasons why people, if they have more purpose, they live much longer. And the data shows us that people with more purpose, they have less risk of cardiovascular diseases, less risk of strokes, and so on. So, it can really prolong your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I want to make sure we also cover, when it comes to just sort of the organization of tasks and time in the day in, day out, I understand you’ve got some perspectives on how we can do that better so we can achieve more before we get tired.

Petr Ludwig
Right. The key for the activity is to have regular rests. So, for example, workaholics are procrastinators too but they are procrastinators of having a rest. So, it means that if you are working like 12 hours in a row without rest, the quality of your work is very low. But if you work one hour and then you have a rest, and then you work another hour, your productivity is much, much higher.

So, regular rest is important, and to have a rest even before you are tired is very important. Because if you are tired, you don’t have willpower to go for a walk. So, you should go for a walk before you are tired, and you should drink that fresh juice before you are exhausted and so on. So, it’s like a preventive matter to have a rest, preventive matter is important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s good thought. You rest before you’re tired so that you can rest more proactively or productively. And so, I guess it varies person by person, but you use the time roughly as an example of an hour and then a rest. Is that the right recipe?

Petr Ludwig
Well, it really depends on what you want. For me, one hour is just enough. It can be 45 minutes, it can be 30 minutes, it can be two hours. It really depends. So, for me, one hour is just enough to focus on something and then to have a rest.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to resting, you mentioned taking a walk or some of these other things. Are there any other key means of recuperating that are highly effective and efficient?

Petr Ludwig
I love those walks, yeah. Walks are very, very good because it really can boost your cardiovascular system. So, walks, then naps, of course. You can have like 15 to 20 naps. And naps are also very good in terms of productivity. It seems crazy that napping can boost your productivity, but it’s true. There’s a lot of scientific data about the fact that if you do one or two naps daily, your productivity is much higher than if you just do work for 12 hours in a row.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m a big believer in napping, Petr. The weirdo. When I worked in an office, I did, in fact, take naps and I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got scientific data on my side. This is enabling me to work better for you. You should be thanking me.” Cool. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Petr Ludwig
For me, the core was to really find purpose of what you do. I want to write another book about purpose at work because like 80% of my clients I do one-on-one consulting, and 80% of my clients, they have struggles of finding purpose of what they do. Sometimes I call this corporate depression because it’s a problem of people that are working in big corporations, but they don’t see purpose of what they do. So, find purpose at work. It’s very important, and it’s a very important part of leadership to help people in your team to see purpose of what do they do. So, purpose, to me, is the key topics. Find purpose for yourself and to ask yourself what is meaningful to you, how you can improve the world a bit, and so on. Those are key questions.

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

Petr Ludwig
Well, I really love the quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” So, I love simplicity. I love minimalism. I loved it even before it was cool. And to really explain things simply, it’s my favorite, favorite thing because we live in a very chaotic and very complex world, and simplicity is very good for decreasing our stress and stress hormone cortisol too.

So, that’s why I love Japan. I go to Japan every year for one month. And, for me, when I’m sitting in temples in Kyoto that are very simple, it makes me much more relaxed and without stress. So, simplicity is very good, too, how to fight stress in this complex world.

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

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, it’s maybe the one about self-forgiveness. It’s quite a new study that it shows that if you can forgive yourself, then you procrastinate less. Because, people, if they can’t forgive themselves, they have more regrets, and they have much more negative feelings, and it can backfire again. So, self-forgiveness is very good. For example, if you fail at something, just forgive yourself and start again, and don’t blame yourself that much.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, I love the book from Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a great book, and it was a very good source even for my book. But the problem is that the book is very complex and sometimes difficult to read, but the quality of the book is amazing. I saw Daniel Kahneman, I don’t know, one month ago here in New York, and he’s an incredible person. He’s the founder of the modern decision-making science. So, I love his book.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Petr Ludwig
My favorite tool, it’s a great question too. I think that it’s the Habit List, the one that I covered in the discussion with you, because I use this tool for maybe, now, five, six years, and it really changed my life. It really changed my life because, now, I’m able to really change my habits, and I have a tool that I believe in, and it’s really worked for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, I’m going to ask about a favorite habit, but maybe since you’ve got a whole list of habits, can you give us the rundown of what all is in your Habit List right now?

Petr Ludwig
I can open my Habit List and I can read it to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you’ve got it digitally.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, I have a digital one in my Excel table. And the first is cold shower, the second is exercise. Then I have one that is about overcoming my bad habit, and it’s drinking tea, because I don’t drink coffee, I only drink tea, so my limit is only one tea daily. And I used to drink like three, four teas, and there’s a lot of caffeine there. So, I want to get rid of this bad habit so my limit is one green tea daily. And then I have alcohol. My limit is less than a half liter of wine.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re from Czech Republic, right?

Petr Ludwig
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
We don’t have Praha Drinking Team, Petr. When I visited it, I saw tons of merch that said Praha Drinking Team. And I thought that was great.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, in Prague, people usually drink a lot of beers. I like beer too but, for me, the wine is the issue. So, my limit is two glasses of wine daily. So, then I have gym. It’s a special column because the exercise column was the short morning exercise, and the gym is the longer one, one hour in the gym or to go running. And then I have a low carb diet, it means not to eat pizza. And the last column is to fill in my gratitude journal, to fill in three things that I’m grateful for daily. That’s also very cool habits to have.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now, all of these are daily habits?

Petr Ludwig
Yup. Oh, no, no, no, the gym is not a daily habit. All my habits are daily habits except gym. I want to go gym three times weekly.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I was going to ask, does the game change at all when both in terms of the Habit List and how you’re tracking it, with the red or the green, and the contiguous walks, and in terms of behaviorally? Like, what do you do to install a habit that’s not every day?

Petr Ludwig
Well, then, you really can mark those days that you don’t have to do that, for example, with a blue dot. So, if you, I don’t know, want to do gym three times weekly, you put a green if you do that. If you don’t have to, you put a blue one. And if you don’t do it in a row for one week, then you put the red one.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Petr Ludwig
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re actually doing a habit that’s not every day, it seems like those can be harder to build and to take.

Petr Ludwig
Exactly. Exactly. That’s why I teach my clients to have daily habits. But sometimes, of course, you are unable to do it daily. For example, I play squash, and I have my friend that is playing the squash with me, and we do squash only once a week. So, with this habit it’s very good to find a partner. Like, it’s much easier to you to do that because you don’t want to cancel it in advance. So, if you have your buddy for sports, for exercise, it can really increase the chance that you really do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. I guess I’m just wondering, so if you know that you don’t intend to go to the gym every day, but you want to make sure that that is a habit, how do you behaviorally lock that in?

Petr Ludwig
Well, yeah, I love those apps that you really book the gym, and if you want to cancel that you pay some money for that, so it’s also good motivation. So, I use an app ClassPass, and if you don’t go for a class, I think you pay, I don’t know, 20 bucks or something. It means that it can really force you to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your readers and listeners?

Petr Ludwig
Okay. What I really like is those random small acts of kindness, and it really resonates with my clients. Because if you do one or two or three small random acts of kindness daily, it makes you much happier than if you buy a new iPhone or things like that. Because we have data that we have a specific part of the brain that is activated when you do something for the others. So, doing something selflessly, in terms of happiness, can be much long term than if you do something just selfish.

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

Petr Ludwig
Okay. Well, part of my book is about this, and another good book is a book from Adam Grant that is called Give and Take. It’s a great book even for leadership. And Adam made a lot of research on the fact that in these days, if you are not a taker but the giver, you can be much more successful.

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

Petr Ludwig
Okay. I think the final advice will be, again, about finding the purpose. Ask yourself what is important to you and how you can really help more your client, how you can really help more your colleagues, or what you can do to really be proud of yourself during the work day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Petr, this has been lots of fun. I wish you and the book The End of Procrastination tons of luck, and keep doing the good work.

Petr Ludwig
Thank you, Pete. It was a great discussion and you had great questions. Thank you very much.

442: How to Spend Less Time Doing Email with Dianna Booher

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dianna Booher shares invaluable advice on how to minimize your email inbox and write more effective and efficient emails.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how much time you can save through email optimization
  2. How to reduce useless emails and optimize your inbox
  3. How to compose better emails in less time using the M-A-D-E structure

About Dianna

Dianna Booher’s lifework has centered around communication. As author of 48 books, translated into 60 foreign language editions, she has traveled the globe, talking with clients and organizations on six continents about communication challenges they face at work and at home.

Her firm works with organizations to help them communicate clearly. During her more than three decades at BooherResearch Institute and earlier at Booher Consultants, she and her team have provided communication training programs, coaching, and consulting to governmental agencies and more than one third of the Fortune 500 organizations.

The national media frequently interview Booher for opinions on communication issues, and she blogs regularly for Microsoft, Forbes, and The CEO Magazine.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dianna Booher Interview Transcript

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

Dianna Booher
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. I think we’re going to get into some really important stuff. Your book is just a bullseye, I think, and for many professionals that they need to hear. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about you. You say you’re afraid of heights, yet you have 4 million frequent flyer miles in American Airlines. What’s the story here?

Dianna Booher
I don’t know. I’m going to blame it on my mom. You know, we blame everything on our parents. She used to tell me, when I was growing up, I was going to catch my shoelaces in the escalator, you know, “Jump off quickly. Quickly.” And I guess that’s where it came from, I don’t know, but I had been known to even walk over and ask total strangers if I could hold onto their shoulder or their elbow going down an escalator. I just step…

Pete Mockaitis
What do they tell you?

Dianna Booher
“Yes, yes.” At a trade show, would you believe, it was a competitor. She was standing at the top of an escalator about to go down, and I humbled myself to go over and say, “I am totally afraid to get on an escalator. Could I hold onto your arm?” And she just burst out to a hysterical laughter, and said, “Of course.” And it broke the ice, actually, it improved the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Was this a training competitor?

Dianna Booher
Yes, it was, a competitor of my training company. But I’ve even tried to get over it by going on tours, or climbing a mountain, doing something to go to this big lookout, and probably every country that I’ve visited, about 60 of them, and I would start off with my husband, you know, and this group and we’re going to go, and I would get to the first or second little stop, and just cling to the side of the mountain till I came back down. I just can’t do it. I just freeze.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe someday.

Dianna Booher
Someday.

Pete Mockaitis
But, nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped you from flying, and building, and selling a training business, so congratulations on that as well. That’s cool. But you’re still in the game somewhat because you wrote a new book, Faster, Fewer, Better Emails. Very on topic, I think, for a lot of us. So, tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dianna Booher
Well, basically, it’s about productivity and, of course, the writing skill because you want to be on message. But it increases productivity three ways. It gives strategies to reduce the volume that’s about to engulf everyone, it helps you write the necessary emails better so you get the action you want, and, really, the third way it increases your productivity is it helps you write faster because you’re thinking more clearly, and you say the right thing the first time and not have to do it over and over and over.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, that sounds great.

Dianna Booher
So, basically, that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe let’s talk about the why for a second. So, I know I don’t like having a ton of emails hanging out of my inbox. It feels kind of uncomfortable, just a low-level anxiety exists in my psyche when I’ve got it. And I know, listeners, I owe you some messages but you’re not forgotten. It will happen. That’s like two babies.

Dianna Booher
I think most people feel stressed about their email, or at least that’s what a report, you know, when we did our major survey, which is sort of the basis of all the strategies that we give in the book. Well, we surveyed people for more than 30 different organizations across all industries. And we found people are really, really stressed out by their email and not only at work but when they go home, they’re logging back in afterhours and on the weekends to just keep up with it, to start off even again the next Monday.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, so could you maybe give us the lay of the land then? You got the survey, some research, some study. Can we get some numbers on kind of what sort of time are we talking about and what kind of time could be saved if we were doing it faster, fewer, better?

Dianna Booher
Well, two to three hours a day, and that’s conservative, according to the research, and we found that 42% of the respondents spend three or more hours a day doing email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dianna Booher
And that’s just astounding to me because for many people that’s not their core job. We’re not talking about people whose job it is to sit there like customer service agent maybe whose job it is all day to sit there and respond to email. But maybe their core job is doing an engineering project, or arriving a feasibility study, or doing an engineering report. But that’s just on top of their regular job.

In fact, a story that one CEO was talking about, he was talking to a reporter, actually this story was passed on to me, but the reporter was asking about the volume of email. And he said, “Well, I have a project here that would probably take me an hour and a half to finish, but because I get so much email in here, it’s probably going to take me the rest of the afternoon to do it.” And that was at 1:30 in the afternoon.

So, Pete, the idea is that people just can’t get to their real work because of keeping their email up, staying through the inbox, going through it all the time. And we just found out a lot of things with the email that I was really surprised to know, and that comment from that CEO. It reminds me 55% of our respondents said that they check their email at least every hour.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Dianna Booher
In other words, they just leave it open, and they’re continually checking their email rather than focusing on their core work, and checking it two or three times a day, which is what I recommend in the book. You check it when you come in the morning, maybe check it after lunch and before you go home so you can respond to things that people are waiting on. And it’s either waiting for them before they go home or the next morning. But some people just, as things pop into their box, they handle it so they’re continually disrupted and distracted from what they’re doing.

Another thing that was surprising to me, since you’re asking about surprising things, 31%, in other words, one out of three people said that they spent more than 20 minutes every day just searching for information because they’re disorganized. And so, when they need to send an email or type something, they don’t file documents, they don’t title them consistently so they’re looking for things. They just kind of haphazardly put this here, put that there. So, when somebody says, “Can you send me the numbers on this? Or, can you send me data for that?” they’re searching. And some people said they spend up to an hour a day just searching for things. That’s where the disorganization really cost them a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if I guess some would say, “Well, hey, email is sort of part of life.” Just how much savings of time are you seeing when you implement some of these best practices?

Dianna Booher
Well, we have not asked per se different organizations to give us savings. Now, we have on our writing programs. So, when we’re teaching writing programs, before I sold my training organization last year, we surveyed every three years, and we ask organizations to report how much time they saved in writing time. And the average participant, or in the average organization came back to us and said they saved upward of 35% on their writing time, and also, we had to measure reading time.

Now, this was self-report, and we would say, “All right,” when they started, before they went through our program, we would say, “How much time do you spend writing normally? And then how much time have you reduced it?” Not just the next day, well, they remembered all the techniques we gave them. But we would ask organizations, not us, but the organization, their HR department, their training department, go back and ask them three months later, “How much would you say you’ve estimated reducing your writing time?” And the average would be upward of 35%. So, that’s a tremendous savings in just their thinking process.

And then also in reading time, we asked them to do the same thing for their executives’ perspective, you know, all the documents that are coming to them, and basically their job is reading, you know, decide, approve, buy this, consider, have a meeting on that. But all of that is coming to them in written form before they take those actions. And if they can cut the length of documents going to them, then obviously, and particularly if they’re copying six people or 42 people, then they’re saving a lot of reading time. So, it’s another way to measure.

But we’ve also had a client who actually literally, literally measured paperwork, because a lot of people don’t want to keep their screen time so they’ll print out, believe it or not in this day and age, they’ll print out a lot of emails and take it with them on the airplane to read, or take it with them in a briefcase, take it with them on the road while somebody else is driving, if they have a lot of commute time on the train, etc.

And so, this one client literally measured paperwork, how much paperwork did they have before they started this program, and then how much six months later less trash. And that’s an engineering company as you can imagine that would do that. And so, that’s another metric, so reading time and just thinking time and preparation time. So, there’s a lot of ways to measure that we let organizations themselves measure the effect.

And, of course, the results and if their salespeople are measuring the closing rate. If they can’t close a proposal, but after they learned to write better and they have a better closing rate on their emails and proposals where they’re dealing with their clients, that’s a measure as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so much good stuff. All right. Well, I’m sold. Hey, 35% on two to three hours a day, one HR a day, that’s huge. What could you do with that? Wow. So, let’s get into each of it. So, when it comes to, say, first of all, I just got a boatload of emails. How do we tackle that?

Dianna Booher
Well, there are several strategies to cut paperwork and just to reduce the volume. Let me give you one of the pieces before you understand how these strategies play out. When we ask people, “What are the kinds of emails that you get that are just totally unnecessary?” They said, let me check here, “Thirty-two percent of the emails that we get are totally either redundant or irrelevant.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dianna Booher
And when they defined what they meant, it either doesn’t apply to them. In other words, they’re on somebody’s distribution list and it’s long outlived its usefulness, they don’t need to be on that list anymore. So, people, they put together a list for this project or this certain kind of monthly report, and then they no longer need to get it, but people, rather than cleaning their distribution list, they’re just still sending it over and over so that just clutters their box.

Or, they have no interest in it. They never were interested in getting this information. So, every morning when you come in, and you look at your email, a third of it you don’t need or it’s redundant. Six people have sent you the same thing. So, just cleaning your distribution list and deleting and unsubscribing, rather than just deleting. If for all eternity you don’t need this, then unsubscribe, don’t just delete it. Of course, it takes a little bit longer to take three steps to un-delete, and the safe unsubscribe always asks you, “Why do you want to un-delete? Is this the right email? Why do not want it? Did you not sign up, etc.?” That’ll take you three clicks rather than delete which takes you one click, but then you’re out of it for good. You don’t keep getting it every Tuesday morning, etc.

But here are the kind of strategies that I’m talking about in the book. In fact, the first chapter gives 12 of these. But, throughout, you’ll come up with about 30 or 40, throughout the whole book. But let me talk about some of those that are the most troublesome that clogs up your email. And that is using your email box for a to-do list.

A lot of people open up their email, and they think, “Oh, I need to do something, but I can’t do it right now. I need to finish so and so,” or, “I need to collect this information but I don’t have it.” And rather than schedule that task, pull that over, put it on a calendar, or make a physical note of it if they need to do that, they just leave it open in their email box, and then they open the next thing, “Oh, I need to call so and so. Well, I don’t want to forget that,” and they just leave it in their email box.

And so, pretty soon they’ve got 15 open emails and they keep having to read through those. Then the next day, they don’t remember, “What was that? What was that detail? When was that due?” And they have to read through those. Oh, every time they come across it, they have to keep reading through it and reading through it to remember. So, it clutters up their box, it creates re-reading. So, when they come across something like that, they need to act on it. They need to either move it, file it, make another note of when they’re going to do it, move it over on their calendar, and just get it out of the inbox. It is not your to-do list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if there’s a to-do item, it doesn’t belong in the inbox but it should be not forgotten and placed elsewhere. So, do you just have like a separate folder or a label called To-Do or what is it called?

Dianna Booher
Yes, yes, you can have it separate. There are several ways to handle it. If you’re using Microsoft Office 365, you literally could pull that email over on a date to handle it. Let’s say you’re waiting for information to go in that email. Before you can respond, you’re going to get some data next Wednesday on it, then you can literally pull it over to next Thursday because you’re getting the information on Wednesday, and now you can respond on Thursday. You just literally drag it over on that pane.

Or you can make a note. Let’s say you have a paper calendar where you have a list of to-dos. You just make a note, “Respond to Jack about so and so,” and then file that document with that client if it’s merged with your CRM system, your customer management system. Just file it. Or, if you want to, you can have a folder that says “To-Dos” and just pull it in that folder, and then check that folder every morning for what you’re going to do, or schedule it on a certain day. Any number of ways. The point is don’t leave it in your inbox because you just keep having to re-read it and think, “What was this supposed to do? What were the details of that? What was the deadline of that, etc.?”
Pete Mockaitis
I dig it.

Dianna Booher
Yeah. And another thing that clutters up and disrupts people and distracts them from their core work that I was talking about is what I call piling on or hanging on. And what I mean by piling on, let’s say a manager, or just anybody, is working on a project, and they’ve written a document, and they want some feedback, or they’re just sending it out for input. And they send it out, and say, “I’m getting ready to forward this up to chain to such and such. Is everybody okay with it? Or do you have anything to add?”

Well, if you read it, instead of everybody hitting Reply All, and saying, “It’s fine. It looks fine to me. Okay. I don’t have anything to add,” and cluttering up 27 boxes with meaningless comments that all say the same thing, don’t do that, don’t use that Reply All. And not only are you at fault if you’re doing that kind of reply, but also the person who sent that out is creating the clutter too. What you really should do is if you want input, you want feedback, is to say something like, “I’ve put together such and such report that I’m getting ready to mail to Joe Schmo on this date. After you review it, if you have any comments or changes, please reply to me individually. Otherwise, no actions taken. If you see no changes, please no action is necessary.”

And then that takes care of it. You don’t expect any reaction. You don’t need 27 people to hit your inbox with meaningless comments, basically, all saying, “It’s okay. I don’t have any changes.” So, you see how people, they create sometimes their own clutter. You should just ask for an exception, “If you have an exception, email me back. If you have a change, email me back. But if you’re fine with this, no action is necessary.” So, it’s not only the person who’s doing the cluttering by hitting Reply All, but it’s the person who’s asking for the feedback, they’re not asking sometimes in the best way possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. It’s nice and clear. So, you put that out there. Lovely. How else do we slim that inbox?

Dianna Booher
Well, I think what I call piling on is similar to that but a little different. And I think people do it for relationship building but after a while it’s just clutter. Somebody is out sick, say, for example, and they send an email, and say, “I’m not coming in today. I’ve got the flu,” and all of a sudden they get 14 emails back, “Oh, sorry, you’re sick. Sorry, you’re sick. See you tomorrow, buddy. Take it easy. No problem. We don’t want the germs,” you know. All of a sudden you got 17 emails again that interrupt everybody else’s work.

Occasionally, if some over-the-top odd, unusual circumstance, then, okay, that might be necessary. And, occasionally, you do that kind of thing to build camaraderie. But when you do that routinely with just meaningless responses, it’s distraction, distraction, distraction, distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And you could show your support with an individual reply, you know, without involving everybody.

Dianna Booher
Yes, right. Right. Another issue that’s a problem or a thing that people need to think about is just using email for things that email was never designed for. When we first got into big email in a big way back in the ‘90s, people used email for everything because basically that was our only communication connection system, and so we used it to schedule things, we used it to invite people places, we used it for project management, we used it to collaborate with teams. It was just the all-purpose tool.

But that’s not the case anymore. There are all kinds of more appropriate software packages for specific tools. For example, Pete, when you schedule interviews, you use, what is it? Calendly that you use.

Pete Mockaitis
Calendly, yeah.

Dianna Booher
If you’re doing project management, there’s Basecamp, there’s Asana, there’s Workzone, there’s Slack, there’s all kind of project management tools and communication tools so that all of your comments as a group working on a project can move over to that area and be together without cluttering up your email. Whatever tool that’s more appropriate, take it off your email so that it’s done efficiently.

If you’re using Microsoft 365, and you’re trying to setup a meeting with three people, I mean, you’ve seen people go back and forth on their email, like, “But we really need to get together to discuss this. Are you up at the end of the week?” And somebody else replies back, “I can’t do it at the end of the week. I’m going to be out for a couple of days. We’re closing our new house. How about early next week?” Of course, he emails back, “Well, I’m going to be traveling Tuesday. How about Wednesday after 4:00?” “No, I can’t.” And they get six emails going back and forth trying to set a time when, on Microsoft, they could just say, “Cortana, find an open place on our calendars and schedule the meeting,” and it’s done.

So, my principle here, use appropriate software to do tasks that email was never appropriate, it’s just not the appropriate tool now. Maybe in the ‘90s it was. It’s no longer the appropriate tool. So, email is used only for correspondence.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, so, now I want to dig into a little bit of the composition side of things. You’ve got a framework, which I want to hit in a moment. But, first, I’d love to get just, you mentioned that you saw some cool results with regard to sales folks having better close rates, or I imagine also opening things up with a cold email and starting a conversation. What are some of your tips for just, generally speaking, writing emails that get responses maybe when you’re reaching out to someone for the first time?

Dianna Booher
Well, several things here. You always want to be specific. The reason a lot of people don’t get action on their emails is they’re just not specific about the action. They write to inform but they don’t persuade. Now, I’m not talking about hard sales. I’m just talking about that need to ask for an action. It’s amazing how many people who are in sales who don’t really ask for the next step, “So, can we meet with you to give you a trial run through this? Can we setup a tour? Can we do such and such?” They have to be very specific about time and date, a task.

The greeting needs to be tailored. You get a lot of emails that you know have gone to the whirls, so to speak. They send it to their entire database because it doesn’t use your name and there’s nothing in there that is specific to you, and there’s no indication that they know anything about you or remember anything about you from a previous conversation. So, there needs to be some tie to what you said previously.

I think it’s also important, in the subject line, that that subject line is not mysterious. I know if you are writing ads on TV, if you’re doing something for the Super Bowl, okay, you’ve got to be clever and cute and whatever, but that’s not email. Email, I call them sublines, S-U-B, and that stands for they need to be specific, they need to be useful, and they need to be brief. So, if you can take the S-U-B, specific, useful, and brief because…

Pete Mockaitis
Otherwise, you’re an S-O-B. I couldn’t resist it. You probably heard that dozens of times.

Dianna Booher
No, no. Quit pranking there, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you bet.

Dianna Booher
But people prioritize by their subject lines. When they’re busy and they’re on their phone, and they’re sitting at the gym waiting on their…sitting at the soccer field waiting on their child to finish the sports workout or whatever, and they’re going through 42 emails, and they’re trying to decide, “Read now, read later, or wait till I get home. Wait till I get back to the office in the morning,” etc. They’ve got to decide and prioritize.

And so, you’ve got to tell them immediately, and some of them actually just read the subject line and decide to delete and make the decision whether, “I’m going to open or send it to somebody else.” So, they need to be able to tell exactly what it is and see what’s in it for them. So, if you could put the action that you want in the subject line, that’s much better.

A lot of times, people just use a topic in their subject line. And what’s far better is to use a headline. Can you imagine reading the newspaper tonight and seeing something like, “Congress. Veto. Terrorist Attack. Weather?” You don’t. You see something like, “Terrorist attack kills 52 people in Malaysia,” or Sri Lanka, or whatever. Or you see, “Trump vetoes X, Y, Z legislation.” Or, “Congress passes X, Y, Z bill.” You see a message, and that’s what you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
this weekend.

Dianna Booher
Yeah, your subject line needs to say something not just introduce a topic. And that’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
You can say this with slide headlines too as opposed to just like report, data, survey. It’s like, “Well, tell me what I’m supposed to take away from this survey, otherwise we might all just draw our own interpretations,” which, if that was what you were going for, that’s okay. But usually it’s not. Usually, you’re trying to tell a story.

Dianna Booher
Right. I was coaching, I coached six executives last week, I was coaching them on executive…they’re already executives but I was coaching them to polish their executive presence and when they actually do a presentation to the board of directors. And we went through the entire slide decks. And, by far, most of them just had a topic as their slide. And I was saying, “Well, what’s the walkaway here? You’re talking about your revenue. But what about your revenue? Are you talking about your goals or are you saying you’re not going to meet your goals, you are going to meet your goals, your goals are falling short of what your budget, or your revenue, or your profitability? Is it that you’re not going to meet your profitability goals for the next quarter? What is the point about that?”

And they, finally, got it. And then once they understood, “We’re going for a headline here, if they could just read this and didn’t see anything on that slide, or they didn’t read anything in that email, could they walk away with a point?” And then they got it. And that’s key in email.

Another thing, too, that keeps people from even seeing your email is the habit, and it’s kind of a recent trend, of putting favorite quotes in the signature block, and putting images in the signature block. It wasn’t a big deal until about five years ago, or maybe it was about eight or 10 years ago, people started putting an image for their signature. Instead of typing it, they started writing, actually doing cursive, so to speak, and scanned it in, and they scan in their like, “Joan Smith,” and then they put that image there, and they’ll put their favorite quote, or they might put a banner, or their company logo.

Those are the kind of things that spam filters catch and keep things from being delivered. So, in the last three or four years, people have learned that, and they stopped doing that. But it’s really the spam filters are getting much more savvy about stripping those out and saying, “This is spam.” Being careful to not send those through from the outside. So, be careful about doing that, and use fewer images that will get clogged or get screened out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s some handy stuff in terms of getting the response. And so, now, let’s talk about the process you utilize to craft emails quickly and effectively.

Dianna Booher
Okay. Well, the book which talks about writing faster, fewer and better, there’s two parts to that. I don’t mean faster in the sense that you’re really going to type faster, or that you’re going to zap it all faster, there’s a faster way to get your email through technologically. What I mean by that is faster thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dianna Booher
If you do it better, and you think better, you will do it in a more complete fashion from the very beginning, and that will result in getting the action done the first time. Instead of having to write seven emails to correct the problem or to handle a situation, you’ll write one email that takes care of the whole situation.

And so, that’s what I mean about, overall, faster. Overall, the whole situation will be taken care of faster. And so, the thinking process, really, is to analyze your audience right up front. Do you have one reader or do you have multiple readers? Who should you really copy? A lot of people, if you think about this, Pete, a lot of people, they have a situation that they need to communicate about, they write the email, and then they think, “Okay, who should get a copy here?” That’s a totally wrong approach, because your email should be tailored according to, just like that slideshow we were talking about a minute ago. The email should be tailored according to who you’re writing to.

So, the first step is, “Who am I writing to? And then, what is their bottom-line message of interest?” If they could just read one sentence, what would that one sentence be? And why do they want to know this? What’s their interest about this situation? And then you ask yourself, “How are they going to use this information? I mean, are they going to actually do the action or are they just going to approve something? Are they just going to forward this email to somebody else, and somebody else is actually going to implement it? And if so, then I need to copy so and so because they need to actually implement it. Or maybe I should put the bulk of this information in an attachment for a reference so somebody can just print it off because they’re the doer, but the person I’m writing to is just the decision-maker on it. They’re just going to approve it, and then they can forward it to somebody else to actually implement this a month later.”

So, you see all those questions matter even in the format of what you’re sending. And then you ask yourself, “Okay, what do they already know about it?” Don’t tell people what they already know. And think about this, Pete, how many times do you get an email that starts off, “As you already know,” or, “As we discussed a couple of weeks ago,” and they spend a paragraph telling you what you already know.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dianna Booher
Or, “As we discussed in the meeting last week, blah, blah, blah.” And you think, “Yeah, I was in the meeting. Why are you wasting my time rehashing what we decided last week?” That’s a waste of time. So, think about that and then think the last question, and maybe the most important, is you ask yourself, “Okay, how are they going to react when I tell them this? When I give this one sentence overview message, are they going to be skeptical?” If so, that means you’ve got to add the why details to build credibility. “Are they going to be angry? Is somebody going to lose face? Are you creating extra work for them? Is this going to cost a lot more than they thought?”

There’s some typical negative reactions they might have. And that thinking dictates the details you’re going to put in. if you think there’s no negative reactions here, you may not include some of those details. So, that thinking, the answer those questions right up front, immediately tells you what details to include, and what you should omit, what’s just going to clutter it up. And then once you do that thinking, you’re home free, basically. You just arrange it in the MADE format.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the MADE format is the message, the action, the details, and the evidence.

Dianna Booher
Yes. And that’s what I spend a whole chapter on because that is what will revolutionize 95% of what you write. Literally, I’ve been stuck for three decades, I’ve been teaching writing, so I’ve literally read thousands and thousands, and probably hundreds of thousands of emails so I can say it with confidence. In all different industries, all different types of documents, 95% of what we write in the business world can be structured that way. And that is an overview message of one or two sentences, maybe three if it’s a really long document.

And then, so what action next? Based on that message, what do you want the reader to do? It could be a recommendation, big picture recommendation, or it could be a follow-up action. You might be saying, “So, based on that message, here’s the action I’m taking, or here’s the action I want from you, the reader.” And once you get that message and action, then you circle back and then you elaborate on the details.

Now, if they’re just brief details, like a word or a phrase or who or when or what, those brief little details, it could be answered in a word or phrase, or probably already going to be part of your message and part of your action. But if you need to elaborate, that’s the key phrase. If you need to elaborate on the details, then that elaboration comes in this details section. Generally, it’s the how and they why. Most often you can make this, and elaborate, “And here’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. And here’s how to take the action.”

And then the E, evidence, if you have any kind of attachment you want to send along, like, “Here’s a copy of the spreadsheet that I’m referring to, where I’ve done a calculation,” or, “Here’s the copy of the contract that I’m saying I don’t agree with this clause that we’re going to dispute in court,” or whatever, or, “Here’s a map of the layout of this building that I’m saying we need to renovate this particular wing,” or something like that, then you attach it.

But if you use that structure, you just start thinking like that. And then emails are so easy to write when you just think, “Okay, what’s my message, what’s my action? Okay, now, what needs to be elaborated on?” And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you send out an email.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. And I think so often, it’s like I start writing an email, it’s like, “Wait a minute. What am I really going for here?” And then I like to rewrite it, and then maybe rewrite it again. Whereas, you could just sort of take a moment. So, it sounds like you might even sort of jot some notes on a tablet or some scratch pad somewhere as you’re doing this. Or how do you think about that?

Dianna Booher
Yeah, a lot of times people can. Once they start thinking like this, and they practice this, they can do the M-A-D-E in their head, you know, while they’re getting dressed in the morning, while they’re driving down the freeway, while they’re sitting on the subway, while they’re eating breakfast, and think, “Okay, in a sense, what’s my message? If I just picked up the phone and thought for a minute, and it’s about to cut off, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I got to get on the point of…’ It’s like turn off your cellphone, turn off your cellphone, I’ve got 30 seconds, what would I say?’” And you can figure out that part in your head.

If you’ve got a scratch pad, write it down. You don’t have to even write out complete sentences. Just say, “Here’s the phrase for the message. Action. I want them to setup a meeting. Detail. I need to explain why this fine is going to happen, how much it’s going to cost, and how to setup the three steps to do so and so.” And that’s a scratch sheet of paper, that’s your outline. And then when you get to the computer, you’re ready to just turn it into sentences, and it goes very, very quickly. But you can do that thinking anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, I’m wondering, so how do you think about the headline, the subject versus the message?

Dianna Booher
The subject is last. See, a lot of times people fill in the subject line first, but you can’t summarize if you don’t know what your message is. So, always write it first, and then go back and put in your subject line. Your subject line is like the Reader’s Digest condensed version of your message.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that is an even shorter version of the one- to three-sentence message.

Dianna Booher
Right. It’s a summary version of your message and your action.

Pete Mockaitis
House on fire. Insurance payment $5,000.

Dianna Booher
Yeah. Or, “Just hired new VPs; starts next Monday.” That becomes a summary of the longer message of your first sentence which would be, “Our executive senior vice president just hired a junior vice president Mr. So-and-so who’s coming to us from XYZ Corporation. He’ll be starting next Monday, and his key responsibilities will be blah, blah, blah.” That would be the full message, but your subject line might be, “Just hired a new executive vice president; starts next Monday.”

Pete Mockaitis
And the action is, “You need to invite him to the luau. Make the necessary welcome here and acquire a Hawaiian shirt.”

Dianna Booher
Right. And be sure to shake his hands and ask for a raise right up front.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Cool. Well, any other thoughts? So, you do your thinking up front, and then you put that out there with the MADE format, and then you do the subject last. Any thoughts for doing some of the editing in terms of, “Okay, I’ve written a bunch of words on my screen.”

Dianna Booher
Just do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Just do the editing.

Dianna Booher
Do the editing. A lot of people just, when they get through the thinking, they do the one draft and they hit “send”, and send it out, and that’s not a good idea because you’re going to have missing words, you’re going to have an awkward sentence, you’re going to have a grammatical error. So, take the minute to go back and re-read it.

It’s best, if it’s a really important email, to let it cool off, particularly if it happens to be bad news or a sensitive topic. Let it cool off overnight if you can. If you can’t, a couple of hours helps. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back just after a couple of hours, just go to lunch and come back and read it, and think, “Oh, no, I’m so glad I let that sit here. I see two missing words here.” You just can’t see things. You read what you think you wrote. The message is still in your mind. So, always let it cool off if at all possible.

Now, if it’s just a two-sentence email to the guy next door, and you don’t care about a missing word, or an awkward sentence, then, okay, sometimes you just have to do something immediately. But if it’s important, yes, cool off is really important. Now, if you can’t do that optimally, you could read it aloud if the tone is important. Read something aloud to yourself and you can catch errors. If you think, “People are going to think I’m crazy, I’m talking to myself,” pick up the phone and hold it like you’re talking to somebody, or you’ve got your Bluetooth plugged in and you’re just talking out loud, and people won’t think you’re crazy. They’ll think you’re talking to your spouse on the phone. And it’ll sound funny to your ear. If it sounds awkward, it’s stilted or something, your ear will catch it, and you can improve it.

If the sentence sounds too long when you start to read it, it will feel awkward to you, and you’ll think, “Whoa, I lost my breath. I couldn’t get to the end of the sentence.” It’ll help you go back and think, “I need to cut that sentence in two, it’s too long. I ran out of breath, ran out of steam, ran out of energy.” If that, still, you think, “Well, you know, I think I’ve got some hot words in here, and I’m not sure. It could be offensive. It could be a little blunt,” then have a colleague read it.

Don’t read it to them because you add the inflection, and you can change. It could be really blunt on page, but you’re softening it with your tone. So, just hand it to them and say, “Read that and tell me what you think about the tone.” And so, when they pick it up, they can be a more objective reader for you on sensitive matters.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. Thank you. Well, tell me, any sort of key software, plugins, add-on, services, tools that make this better, or help with the email struggle?

Dianna Booher
Well, I mentioned things for software to do other things other than email, like Calendly, Slack, Workzone, Smartsheets. Those are the kind of things that you want to look into, just think, “Do I have other things that are not correspondence-related?” Those are what’s helpful to you. ShortKeys. If you find yourself writing the same messages over and over, maybe like a bio, like when I respond to reporters frequently, they want your credentials or your bio, so you have that on ShortKeys, you can just hit two keys or a code, and the whole paragraph goes in.

If you have a certain product or a certain service that you provide, then you hit ShortKeys and the whole paragraph goes in. What you don’t want to do is to write those over and over, because even if you know with your brain what you’re saying, it’s too easy to incorporate an error, to leave out a word just because of familiarity to create a typo, so it’s good to make sure it’s error-free to begin with, and just plug it in with ShortKeys.

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

Dianna Booher
I think that you just don’t want to create distractions for yourself. Many people create their own distractions with email because they keep it open and they use it for to-dos, and don’t ask things in the right way. And so, they write six or seven emails to accomplish what the first one should’ve accomplished.

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

Dianna Booher
I like the quote by Martin Luther who said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” Now, for me, of course, that’s been inspiring because I’ve been a writer all my life, but for others I think you’d do the same thing for your own reputation when you write a good email because that has staying power. It establishes your credibility on any subject.

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

Dianna Booher
I always like to read the major studies that IBM does, that McKinsey does, PricewaterhouseCoopers, all of the Gallup. I like surveys because I like to keep my finger on the pulse. And, of course, they’re very revealing, our study, with the University of Northern Colorado, their social research lab when we did this major study for Faster, Fewer, Better Emails. That was very revealing. So, whatever study that you put faith in, look at the trends from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, over time.

Dianna Booher
Pardon me?

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like over time.

Dianna Booher
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it came out this year, then next year, then the following year.

Dianna Booher
Yes, yes, and how they change.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dianna Booher
Traveling Mercies. I like Anne Lamott. Basically, anything she writes. I really like her. A lot of people haven’t discovered her writing, but she’s an excellent writer. She has a book called Bird by Bird which is on writing. But Traveling Mercies is more my favorite.

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

Dianna Booher
I like snipping tool. It’s just so easy, I keep it right at the bottom of my taskbar. I find I use that all of the time. It’s just so useful for adding something, screen capture, to send in an email, to show people exactly what you’re talking about. So simple and yet so useful for so many tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s called snipping?

Dianna Booher
It’s called snipping tool, that’s the name of it. Snipping tools. The icon is like a pair of scissors and, literally, you can cut anything on your screen, and then attach it to an email and send it. You can email it, you can paste it into an email, you can capture the screen and send it as an attachment. It’s like the simplest miracle you can imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite habit, something that you do that makes you awesome at your job?

Dianna Booher
This is weird, I know, because most people like to procrastinate. But I like to move all of my deadlines for any kind of task, I move them forward in case of emergency. Somebody tells me I have to have something done by May 31st. I will move it up at least two weeks because I don’t want to be caught in case of an emergency. If there’s a major illness, if there’s a death in the family, I just don’t want to be stressed out, and I don’t want to miss a deadline. So, whatever deadline somebody gives me, if it’s just a few hours or days or weeks, I’m going to move it forward. That’s just a habit I’ve had all my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with listeners and audience members?

Dianna Booher
Yes, this sentence. I have quoted and collected the most quote collections online more than any other. It’s been out there for a while, and people just keep repeating it and quoting it. It’s, “If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, Dianna, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you tons of luck with “Faster, Fewer, Better Emails,” and your other adventures. And just keep doing the good work.

Dianna Booher
Thank you, Pete. It’s been great to be with you.