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439: How to Find Opportunities Hiding in Crappy Situations with David Greene

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David Greene shares how you can identify valuable opportunities in any situation you find yourself in–even the crappy ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How difficulties often indicate valuable opportunities
  2. Why analyzing your anxiety often yields valuable insight
  3. David’s salad story which reveals how to 8X your efficiency on certain tasks

About David

David Greene is the co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast, author of “Long Distance Real Estate Investing: How To Buy, Rehab, and Manage Out Of State Rental Property,” online blog contributor, Keller Williams Rookie of the Year, and a top producing real estate agent in Northern CA.

As a former police officer who started investing in real estate in 2009, David has built a portfolio of over 30 single family homes, as well as shares in large apartment complexes, mortgage notes, and note funds.

David teaches free monthly seminars on real estate investing and has been featured on numerous real estate related podcasts. He runs GreeneIncome.com, a blog where he teaches others to build wealth through real estate, as well as “The David Greene Team”—and is one of the top Keller Williams agents in the East Bay.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Greene Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

David Greene
My pleasure. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you too ever since I’ve listened to the BiggerPockets podcast many times. So, I’ve heard your voice, but then when I got to hear your story on the BiggerPockets Money podcast, which I’m excited to appear on, in some weeks from now, I really got a kick out of how time after time after time, you saw some opportunities that others didn’t. So, I’d love it if we could start your tale with back in the day when you were a waiter.

David Greene
That’s actually really fun to talk about that, BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I think it was maybe Episode 12, was the first time that I had ever talked about my story on a podcast, for sure, but maybe even in like the last 10 years. So, I had a lot of fun going back to remembering how I used to think and the doubts and the fears and the worries I had. And now seeing how it worked out. It’s kind of incredible. So, this should be fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, well, let’s take it away.

David Greene
Okay, where should we start?

Pete Mockaitis
Well so, there you are, you’re a waiter and you are starting to wonder how can I make some more money here?

David Greene
Yeah, so I was always a very driven guy, like I wanted to make as much money as I could, I knew it. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily greed that was driving that but like ambition might be a better word. I knew that I didn’t want my time to not count for anything.

So, I was very, very, like, motivated by if I was going to show up somewhere. And if I was going to put six hours of time, eight hours of time into somewhere, I might as well work hard when I’m there. It didn’t benefit me to show up and not work.

And that was one thing that I noticed that was different in me than other people, we both had to be stuck there for eight hours not doing the stuff we’d rather do, right. You can’t go snowboarding— for me playing basketball was what I loved to do, I can’t play basketball when I’m here at this restaurant.

So, I might as well work hard. And I noticed that a lot of other people were content to be there but not work. And I always looked at it like well, if you’re stuck here, you might as well get something out of it.

So as a waiter, the more tables you had and the better job you did at those tables would determine your income because it was like you know, 90% tips. That’s how you were getting paid. So, I noticed if I could wait more tables, I could make more money. And I knew at the end of my shift when I clocked out and I was going home, all that matter was how much money I had in my pocket. It didn’t matter if I sat around and did nothing or I worked super hard, that was over. And the money that I had was only thing I was taking with me.

So, I became determined to get as good as I could at waiting tables as well as I could and learning the skills that I would need to be able to do that to be able to make more money.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it starts with a different perspective like, “Okay more tables equals more money—”.

David Greene
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want to make the most of my time, so, giddy up, and let’s make that happen.” And so how did you do that?

David Greene
So, the first thing I did was I looked at who in the restaurant is already the best, who’s doing this at the highest level. So, there was two waitresses that were kind of like to go-tos when they got really busy. All the tables would go to them. When there was a big party coming in, they would get the big parties, right?

And, and I started so like ingratiate myself to those girls. It was “hey, what do you need? Can I fill up your tables’ waters? Can I get them some coffee? Can I help brush your tables? Can I bring your drinks from the bar to your tables?” I always be them a priority. When my tables were all done and there was nothing to do and everyone else was standing in the kitchen kind of BS-ing, I would then go help those girls.

And I noticed that they would start to say things to the owner like, “an, this David guy is incredible. We love him.” So, I kind of got a little, “Ooh, this is good. The owner likes me now she’s treating me a little better.” So, I would start doing what we call side work at the end of the night. This is like the cleaning up of the restaurant that they make the waitstaff do.

I would get mine done and then I would go to theirs two, right, because if I have to be here for this time, I might as well clean my stuff up fast and then go help them, more compliments my way. Now I noticed that the owner was kind of pulling me aside and giving me extra training or maybe testing that other waiters weren’t getting.

She’d pull me aside and say, “Hey, these are the eight different kinds of glasses that the bartender uses. We use this type for this cocktail, we use this type for this cocktail.” I being 19 years old or whatever I was, didn’t understand what this had to do with my job. But looking back now I realize she was looking to see, is he a flash in the pan or is this a kid who really wants to learn the industry?

And when I would memorize it, she was very happy and I would get more responsibility, right? And this was my first kind of like, foray into, “you can earn your way into a better position, you don’t have to just wait for someone to notice you and say let me give you a raise, let me give you a promotion.”

So, I went to the owner at a certain point and said, “Hey, I want to wait more tables, so, what do I need to do to be like Haley and Kelly?” Those were the top two waitresses. And she said, “I’m so glad you asked. This is what I look forward to see if you’re ready for the next level.” And she gave me a list of stuff. Now I had a literal blueprint for what I needed to do if I wanted to be successful at this job.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff there, that’s applicable just about anywhere in terms of, alright, attitude and making the most of the time, zeroing in on role models, on who’s the best here. Helping out, proactive favors, ingratiating to the best, asking the questions, “How do I be like that person?”

All that’s great stuff and I guess what’s interesting is, most people did not do that and you shared it in your story that’s a part of that equation could be that the owner was kind of demanding, had some high standards that rub some people the wrong way?

David Greene
Yeah, I guess I should mention that, she was a terror. I mean, people were terrified of this woman, right? When she would show up, everybody went to like, scurry like cockroaches to find somewhere to hide because they didn’t want to be seen by her right?

You hit it on the head, she had extremely high standards. Now, I was used to that in my life before this, I had been playing sports and coaches had really high standards. My parents had really high standards. Now that you mentioned it, so yeah, I’m learning something about that myself. That might be one of the reasons why I do better in life is because I have higher standards. I didn’t really think about that till right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Happy to help.

David Greene
Thank you for that. So rather than me running away from the person with the high standards, I ran towards the person and said, “How can I help you hit these standards?” And because everybody else was running away, I made me stand out.

So, I realized the reason she was always cranky and grumpy was because the standards were not being met. And I would have been part of the problem by running away. That’s why the standards weren’t being met. And by her increasing her expectations of me, it was actually a compliment, right? When everyone else was complaining, why did she care if the cracker wrapper gets left on my table or who cares if their water was empty for a minute.

I was looking at it differently like, if she’s paying this much attention to what goes on at my table, she’s noticing me, this is my opportunity to show her that she can trust me, because I was so motivated by getting more.

And what I found, Pete, is that like, the difference between taking it easy and getting three or four tables and working hard and getting eight or nine tables was literally double your income, right? So, like, if your average waiter was making 40 grand a year, and you worked harder and got eight tables, you could make $80,000 a year as like 18 or 19-year-old kid in 2000/2001, whenever this was happening. It’s a big amount of money for somebody in that position, right?

And that was what motivated me to get good at the job. So, once I got to where she was trusting me with more responsibilities, which meant getting more tables, now I had to learn how to keep the same level of service even though my workload had increased. And that was my first like, foray into being more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. There’s so much good stuff here. And at first I want to key in on that notion of you ran toward the person with the highest standard rather than running away and you being noticed is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it like “oh my gosh, get off my back.” That reminds me of a previous guest Eddie Davila, who said that, “Pressure is really a gift, you give pressure to someone you trust and that you’re expecting great things of as opposed to giving pressure to someone who you think is everything in them out too much or be able to accomplish much for you.”

David Greene
Yeah, that’s absolutely true and you see it with everything, you see it with professional athletes, you see it with the best performers. You see, I think even to a degree with like teachers and their students, that principle runs through everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then how in practice did you execute, doing more tables?

David Greene
When it came down to at this specific restaurant, it was not run very efficiently, the waiters had to do an insane amount of the actual work. And the busboys and the helpers, if there was any, didn’t do very much at all.

So, what it meant was like every dinner would come with a salad or soup and the waiter had to make the salad. And the salad had to be tossed in the dressing. And there was like nine different things you had to put in it, right. And then we had like 12 different kinds of salads. And then there was no food runner, so you had to run your own food, there were no computers, you had to handwrite all this on a ticket, right.

So, I started to notice just from listening to my own emotions, what would cause me stress or anxiety. So when I would get like a table of eight and I would take all their orders on a piece of paper, I would then go in the kitchen and I’d have to pull up a menu and look at the menu and write down the price of every item that I was going to give to the kitchen staff.

So, if they wanted a T-bone steak, I would have to write a T-bone, medium rare. I’d have to put whatever starch they wanted, a baked potato, rice or pasta, right. And then I’d have to put the price of whatever that thing cost on the ticket because that was also going to be the receipt that we gave to the customer at the end.

And all these waiters would be all like huddled around the area where the menu was trying to fight and see over the top of each other to write down all the prices and I’m like, I would get anxiety when I knew I had to go do that. It was going to slow me down and what if my food comes up, I have to run out to the tables while I’m doing this.

What if my drinks are up at the bar? So, I would memorize that menu. I took one home and I just memorized the price of everything. I made flashcards, then when I would go running, I would go in my head and I would say porterhouse $28, T-bone $26, filet mignon, oh, I can’t remember.

Then I would make a note, I need to go look up the price of filet mignon, right. And I would just run them over in my head over and over and over until I had the entire menu memorized. And that would save me the time of having to go look at that menu and write the price in as well as fighting with the other servers to be able to see it.

Now, some people said, “David, that saves you 30 seconds, big deal.” But 30 seconds in the middle of a crunch is huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and again and again and again repeatedly.

David Greene
Over and over and over, that’s exactly right. So, that was the first thing I did. Then the next thing I noticed was I would feel anxiety whenever I had to go like make all those salads, right. And there was a ton of steps that would have to go into each one.

So, one night when we closed, I went to the little salad station and I broke down every step I had to take to make a salad with my hands. So, we would—this may be a lot of detail but we had the salad kept above you at like eye level in this really big bin and we would take a scoop of it out and put it in a bowl, then we would scoop the dressing from the little container into the bowl, then we would grab a fork and we would toss it all around, then we would take us a chilled plate out of a fridge, pour the lettuce on to the plate.

So, we’re like four steps here, then I would take a handful of croutons and a handful of like cut up cabbage and stuff like that, put it on the top. So, we’re at six steps, then there was a tomato that you added that was step seven, then you would have to put that salad plate on a tray behind you and make the next one.

So, I went there and I would practice this like dance of my right hand goes to grab the lettuce, my left hand goes to grab the dressing. I’ve already put the bowl where I’m going to put them in place. How quickly can I get those two things done?

The minute that the left hand is pouring the dressing into the bowl, my right hand has nothing to do, it should already be going to grab the croutons, right. And I would practice how to grab the right amount of croutons fast, how to grab the right handful size of lettuce so that it almost became like second nature to me. And I got to where I could rip through these things in maybe 10 to 15% of the time that the other waitresses were taking because they just kind of went at a comfortable pace.

Pete Mockaitis
10 to 15%, in other words eight times as fast.

David Greene
Yes, I was like, I was a blur, right. And I made it a game like how quickly can I do this. And it almost became fun when you get into the zone and you’re concentrating that hard. So, I could make it eight times as fast. And again, maybe that saved me two and a half minutes. But that two and a half minutes was really big when you were in the middle of a crunch, two and a half minutes when a table wants to order food and you’re not there can be a big impact on your tip, right.

And so, what I would do is I would go through the process of all my responsibilities of a waiter. And I would notice at what point do I get all the anxiety? At what point are we like, “Oh, I hate this part?”—because we all have those thoughts. And then how can I be better or more efficient? How can I solve that problem? Because that was the same problem my competition was having, and they probably weren’t being as purposeful at solving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s really cool how the anxiety serves as an emotional indicator for what’s happening in sort of a business process flow logistics context as a bottleneck. It’s just like, this thing is slowing it down and you’re feeling the anxiety when you’re in the midst of the slow down.

And so, by really focusing with great, I guess precision on, alright, memorize the price, alright, salad dance, let’s just flash this in half and half again and again. That’s really cool and has applications to all kinds of jobs, like this process seems to be taking a stupid amount of time, let me really go after how I can accelerate it.

David Greene
That’s exactly right and I’ve used that same strategy or technique or whatever you want to call it in every job I’ve had. Like right now I’m a real estate agent. And there are steps to every single transaction that happen and some of those I do really well and some of those I don’t do well or I feel that same level of “oh, I hate this part.”

This is always where I mess it up, right. I’m gonna have to call the client and tell them this and they’re going to give me attitude and my natural response is to be cold and apathetic because I don’t like when I get attitude, right. I’m not going to do well here.

Most of us ignore that feeling of anxiety and we just say like, we either ignore the tasks that would require it or we have half-butt it to get through there because we don’t like it. What I did as a real estate agent was I said, “Okay, this is not my favorite part. How do I get somebody else and train them to do that for me, that does love doing it?”, right.

Now the anxiety is gone and I’m focusing on the parts I like and I’m doing better. I ended up working at a different restaurant after this when I had reconstructive ankle surgery from a basketball injury. And when I came back, I said, what could I do to make more money, I can only take so many tables at a certain point, there’s diminishing returns, you can’t take more.

And I realized I better go work in a more expensive restaurant. So, I found a more expensive restaurant that was much further away. But it was like twice or three times as expensive as the steakhouse I had been working at. And that was my first foray into seeing like, different businesses are structured and use different models. And you have to take these skills I’m talking about and apply them in new ways in different places that you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and that’s good stuff. Well, maybe when we get a couple more examples of you and noticing opportunities and how you’re making it happen. You pulled off a pretty neat stunt in terms of getting way, way, way cheaper rent in California. How did this come about?

David Greene
As far as where I was living?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

David Greene
Yeah, so what I did was I was— man, how did this start? I moved to the Bay Area in California to become a deputy sheriff and go to the police academy. And I was paying a fee to live in a house with a bunch of strangers from Craigslist. So, it was only like $650 a month, which is pretty good rent but I hated it. I mean I absolutely hated living with these mutants that I was having to spend my time with—

Pete Mockaitis
One of them is listening, these mutants.

David Greene
Yeah, I doubt they even know what a podcast is, Pete. These were people, who were very negative, very problematic, complained about everything. It was really rough. And I knew if I wanted to go get like an apartment, rent was around $2000/$2500 a month, and I could have paid it but I just didn’t want to.

So, I heard all the guys at work talking about one deputy who said that he had just bought a house. And they said, “Yeah, he got this big old huge house, it’s just him, his wife doesn’t even live with them right now, she’s overseas working. Why did he buy it?” And they were all kind of laughing at him. And they brought me into the conversation to mock him also because they knew I was like a real estate guy.

And I didn’t think I should mock him, I was like, “What’s he gonna do with all that space? Why did he buy it?” Right. So, I went to talk to Vaughn and I asked Vaughn like, why he did it. He’s like, “You know what, I just always wanted a big house man. I grew up in a small poor area.” He grew up in East LA, was very rough.

He said, “I’ve always wanted a big house. I knew it was bigger than I needed but I didn’t care. I feel great having it.” And I was like, “Well, do you want to make another $300 a month?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Let me move in.” He goes, “Okay”.

Pete Mockaitis
Here we go.

David Greene
We’ve got like five bedrooms, I’m not using.
And that’s what the number I threw out, right. Like, I could have said $200, he probably would have went with that. So, I didn’t say, “Hey, can I rent a room?” And he said, “Sure.” And then how much and now we’re negotiating the price. I structured that differently, right.

So, now I move in with this guy, I’m paying $300 a month, no utilities, no electricity, like nothing at all other than this $300 a month, and I have an entire like upstairs mansion completely to myself and a house that was about five years old.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that there. And I think there’s a cool lesson when it comes to wherever there is stupidity, there is often a mismatch of resources and thusly, an opportunity. They say, “Hey David, can you believe this guy?” and like, interesting.

David Greene
That’s exactly right, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s so much more productive and uplifting, I would say just for people being kind to each other, approach to go there as well as great way to phrase the question. In terms of free money you weren’t planning on having as opposed to “Oh, I have a resource called a room that’s empty. What should that go for?”

David Greene
Yes, and so he obviously wasn’t good with money. We knew that before we started the conversation, right. So, he didn’t value money, what he valued was like, “I want to feel like I’m a somebody.” So, he also got a little jolt out of knowing he was helping me, that made him feel like a good friend, a good person, he was providing for somebody.

So, I think a lot of us make the mistake of assuming everybody values money as much as we do when for him it meant nothing. I mean, I probably could have lived there for free if I could have sold him on how much it would have helped me or what it would have meant to me or if I did chores or something like that. But yeah, you’re right, like, he was very stupid when it came to money. And so there was opportunity that was within that kind of environment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s real nice. So well, nowadays, much of your opportunity identification comes about in real estate investing, and you’ve got a hot new book, The BRRRR Rental Property Investment Strategy Made Simple, which I’ve enjoyed reading. So, there’s a few things I’ll point to, but maybe you could just give us your quick take on what is this strategy? And how do you go about identifying opportunities in this particular context?

David Greene
So, the BRRRR strategy itself is, it’s a cool name first off, but is that really, the idea itself is still pretty simple. The problem with buying rental properties that you spend a lot of money on a down payment, then you spend a lot of money to fix the house up to get it ready.

Now you’ve got a property you can rent out to somebody else, but all your capital is sunk into the house. Okay, so you can’t use that capital to buy another house, that’s the inefficiency in buying rental properties, it takes you a long time to save up all the money that you’re going to dump into the property, right.

The BRRRR strategy involves buying it and fixing it up and once it’s been fixed up and it’s worth more, at that point you refinance it and take your money out as opposed to financing it in the very beginning when you buy it.

So, you can use your own money, borrow from your 401K, borrow from a retirement account, take a HELOC on your house, partner with a friend, however you find the money to buy the house, you go by the most undervalued asset that you can, and you’re looking for opportunity in homes other people don’t want.

You’re literally looking for the stinky, smelly, nasty house that most people look and say, “no, why would I ever want it”, right. Because you’re not going to be renting out that stinky, smelly thing, you’re going to be fixing it up to make it worth more.

It’s very similar to if you want to go buy a business, you don’t want to go buy a business that’s already be running incredibly efficient and would sell for top dollar. You want to step into a business that’s being mismanaged, their sales team is terrible, their operations team is off the hook, they’re spending way too much money, their profits are very thin.

So, you can buy it at a low margin, then use your skills to make that business run more efficiently and better. And then either enjoy the profit or go sell it at a margin, right. It’s the very same principle applied to real estate investing, but it’s so much easier to do it because all you got to look for is a crummy looking house.

So, you buy it, you fix it up, I often add square footage to it if it’s extra small house, I look to add square footage. If it only has two bedrooms, I look to take maybe the dining room and turn that into a bedroom to make it at least three because that’s what makes it worth more. Once that’s done, I pull the money out and I have all my capital back that I can then go use to buy the next house and I can increase the scale.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and that’s a great lesson right there when it comes to the opportunity, when something seems gross or crummy, there is an opportunity there, whether you’re buying a real estate property or a business. I’ve got a buddy who’s done this with websites.

He says, “Hmm, this is a website that has some decent traffic but could have way more if they just did a few things like A, B, C, D, I’m gonna go ahead and buy that website and crank up the traffic with these smart strategies”, and lo and behold, he’s got a really valuable source over there.

So, that’s cool and of itself is not to be disgusted by the grossness but to say, “ah, there’s something here.” And I think my favorite part of the book that I read was about— so you’ve got your five stages, your buy, your rehab, your refinance, your rent, and you repeat, so BRRRR, that’s four RRRRs, the BRRRR is where that it comes from.

And so when it comes to the rehabbing, I’ve got my property here. And it’s been a heck of a time with contractors and renovation professionals. But you had a really clever tactic when it comes to paying for bids, can you tell us about that?

David Greene
Paying a contract to do a bid for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Greene
Yeah, so if you’re getting a contractor that’s going to go out to the house, take his time, give you a bid of what it’s going to cost to fix it up, and then you’re not using them, you’re not going to get a very good contractor. At a certain point, they’re not going to want to give you anything for free.

So, you can get free bids from guys when you’ve worked with them in the past. But if you haven’t worked in the past or you don’t have a very strong, like future potential to give them a lot of business, they’re going to want you to pay. If you really don’t want to pay, you want to look for ways around that, like “how can I bring this person value, so he’s not going to have to necessarily charge me all the time for whatever this bid that I’m looking for is,” right.

One of the ways that you do that is you send them other people who need the same work, you send them referrals, right. What business doesn’t want referrals, any sales person whose job is to find business, if you send them referrals, you’re helping them do their job, they’re going to like you, they’re going to give you something back, right.

Another one would be I would say, “Hey, if you get this job, I’ll put you on my social media, I’ll let everyone know you’re the one that did this, will take the best pictures, the best angles, it’s free promotion for your business.”

Contractors are usually not business minded people. They don’t understand bookkeeping, let alone marketing, sales and a CRM, right. So, when you’re providing this stuff, it’s immensely valuable to them because it’s like magic. Like “I’d never even thought of doing something like that,” right.

And I like to take that approach with all the people that I’m using is, “what can I bring?” Or what do I know that’s easy for me that I can use to help them that’s very difficult, much like doing the side work for like a woman who’s worked really hard and maybe has two kids, and she’s trying to raise them alone is the end of the day. She’s been up since six o’clock in the morning. She’s exhausted, she does not want to clean that coffee station. I probably slept until 10:30 that morning. I’m a 19-year-old dude, I’m in great shape. That is not a very big deal for me to go clean the coffee station, but it meant a lot to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Yeah, that’s excellent. And so, what I think is fun about your mindset that differs from any others would be like, “I’m not going to pay someone to come by and not do anything.” But you’re thinking, “No, no, no, I am paying someone for the bid in order to (1) get more bids and explore more people to see what they can do. And hey, maybe you’ll end up saving coming out ahead of a deal, and (2) to build up a relationship with the folks you find to ultimately be the rock stars.

David Greene
Yeah, when you think about the value that a good contractor can bring you versus the price of a bid, it’s not even worth comparing, right. A good contractor can make me tens of thousands of dollars just in the work that they’re doing. For me to give them 100 bucks for their time to go make a bid means a world to them but it’s nothing to me with what they’re going to bring me, right.

And that’s assuming that they’re not actually bringing you deals. I get deals from my contractors, like someone will say, “Hey, can you come look at my buddy’s house, it’s in bad shape,” and he has no one to do? And they’ll go look at it, and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s gonna cost you $50,000 to fix it,” and those people say, “We don’t have $50,000, what are we going to do? I guess we give it back to the bank.”

I want him coming to me and saying, “Hey David, there’s this opportunity over here, they’re going to give the house up to the bank,” where I can step in and buy it and then he gets his job, he gets his $50,000 job that he wanted and I get an incredibly good deal that’s worth a whole lot more to me. I mean, some of these deals, you’ll make $50,000 in equity on an average mediocre one, right. That’s not a bad return for the hundred dollars I was willing to pay that guy to give me a bid.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. I do the exact same thing with a lot of hiring for I guess, they’re contractors in terms of they are sort of contract workers in sort of the digital or information knowledge working space in terms of it’s like, “Hmm I want someone to write something or to design something, or to do transcripts,” or whatever it may be.

I will like to take a peek in terms of “Okay, well, what can you do? Let me pay you for a sample,” even though if I have no need to use that sample, just so I could see “Oh, wow, that looks way better than the other.” So, I’ve done this before is where I’ll pay 30 people for a sample piece of work, and then say, “Ah, these are the two who are really rocking it. I want to use you now hundreds of times over.”

David Greene
Yeah, and it’s a model that a lot of industries use often, like imagine a music producer trying to find the next big boy band or something, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m imagining that right now, with all the guys, high five again, “Hey, girl—”

David Greene
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right there with you, David.

David Greene
Exactly. Is there a better ROI than a boy band that blows up, makes billions of dollars to sing and dance, and you sell throw pillows and all kinds of other crazy stuff. They have to go through a whole lot of people that are underwhelming, right. And they’re going to have to spend a little bit of time and money taking people lots of dinner, flying around to get to know them. But when you find that one rock star, you don’t care how much money you spent, you’re earning so much more back in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t think we end up at boy bands but I’m glad we did.

David Greene
I don’t think that’s ever come up in one interview I’ve ever done. Good job Pete, you pulled something out of me no one else has.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, thank you. Well, tell you before we shift gears to hear about a few of your favorite things, do you have any kind of final tips that you’d share with others who were trying to notice hidden opportunities, in their own careers, in in real estate or send the course of living life?

David Greene
Yes, I’m a huge proponent of Warren Buffett’s advice that you should be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful. Now he gives that advice in the context of when you’re buying stocks or when you’re investing.

So, when everyone else is saying buy, buy, buy, you should be a little worried, pull back. When everyone else is saying you’re an idiot, don’t buy, the sky is falling and they’re running around like a bunch of chicken littles, that’s when you should actually have the courage to jump in and buy.

I’ve taken that reasoning or that principle, and I’ve applied it to almost everything else. So, when everyone at my job was like, “oh, she’s coming again, I don’t want to deal with her” and they ran away, I ran towards her, right.

When their emotions were saying, “oh, this anxiety, I hate it, I should quit” or “I don’t want to take more than three tables because I don’t like the feeling I get when I do,” I would say I don’t like that feeling either but what does that feeling signaling to me that I could be improving, right. And that’s what drove me to be better to memorize the menu to get faster and making salads and bunch of other things I did that made me much more efficient, right.

Like one thing I didn’t even mention is most waiters would go to the kitchen, get ketchup come back, drop it off, the person would say, “can I have some pepper”, go to the kitchen, get the pepper come back, drop it off, I would make around to my tables and talk to all six of them and have all of them see what they needed, go to the kitchen, get all six tables’ stuff and in one trip, come back and drop it all off.

You do that seven or eight times a night and you’re saving yourself like 30 minutes of time, right. Just that one thing. But that was because I noticed every time I was going back and forth between the kitchen, the table and anxiety, “oh, I’m falling behind”, right. Everybody else was, their answer was to quit, to pull back, to try less hard, to give less. And I went the other way and I busted through.

That’s the advice that I would give people. When you have that boss that just drives you crazy and you can’t stand them, right. There’s a reason they’re acting that way. Understand what’s in their head. Are they getting it from their boss? Are they getting this pressure coming downhill? Are they insecure and they don’t really know how to do their job very well. As a cop, I got that all the time by supervisors that knew the least about law enforcement were the hardest to work for, because they were constantly afraid that a mistake was going to be made and they didn’t know how to predict it.

Well, I knowing what should be done was their favorite because I would say I would do things for them basically. So, they didn’t have to have anxiety when they were just all over me about stupid details, rather than pushing back. I was like, “oh, this guy’s terrified that something’s gonna go wrong,” right.

So, I would step in and do a lot of this stuff for them to make sure nothing did go wrong. You become their favorite. They stop ragging on you. And if and if anything, they look for opportunities to help you, right.

That’s the advice I would give your listeners. If you have a problem with the boss and you don’t like the way it feels, ask yourself how you can run towards that problem instead of away from it. If they’re constantly hounding you about deadlines, do whatever it takes to be better at your job to get it done before the deadline, then go to your boss and say, “Hey, I’m done, what other problems you have stacking up I can help you with?”, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is so perfect and it’s so funny when you mentioned the Warren Buffett advice. I thought “Oh yeah, I read a really great article about that simplifies from Warren Buffett, guides me to deals no one else’s findings, like, “Oh, David wrote that—!” I read that years ago and it’s so good.

David Greene
That’s so funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if I may I’m going to embarrass you to read an excerpt, it says, “I have to target the people that others are overlooking. I want a lender able to actually return my calls. I want a property manager who doesn’t have a portfolio so large that they can’t even tell me when I have a vacancy because they’re too busy. And I want a handyman who can go immediately when something significant breaks as opposed to chasing the folks who have a ton of amazing reviews and are booked up for weeks and months to come.”

David Greene
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Well, David, let’s shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things now, can you share a favorite quote something you find inspiring?

David Greene
Well, the Warren Buffett one is pretty good. But I got another one, I got another one. It’s a Bruce Lee quote, which makes it cool right off the bat ‘cause Bruce Lee said it, right. He said, “I do not fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks, I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

That’s what I did with making salads or memorizing the menu. And I got way better at that one thing and that one thing was super important for whatever my goal was, which at the time was having more tables, right.

The reason I love the BRRRR strategy with rental property investing is that it allows me to spend a dollar, get a house, get that dollar back and buy another house with the same dollar. I can scale way, way, way faster than someone who has to earn $50,000 and put that into a house and then wait till they can earn another $50,000. By buying more houses, I’m practicing that kick more than other people. And I become better and more efficient at doing it than the people who buy maybe one house a year.

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

David Greene
I love the Stanford one. I’m sure a lot of your people probably talk about that, one where they brought little kids in and they said, “Hey, I’m going to leave this room, and here’s a marshmallow. If you eat this marshmallow, that’s okay. But if I come back and the marshmallow still here, I’ll give you another marshmallow.”

And the little kids that were able to wait for the second marshmallow before they ate the first, they tracked them all. And they found that they were much more successful in work. They had much higher happiness scores, they had much less like, problems like with law enforcement and mental disorders and alcoholism and substance abuse. And the implication from the study was that the better you are at delaying gratification, the happier and more successful you’ll be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

David Greene
Man, I got a couple but I really, really, really like the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s funny, we just interviewed him on our podcast yesterday. So, in a couple weeks, that one will be coming out. That’s an incredible book at just basically—a lot of the points I’m making right now, he was making similar ones, but he’s just sounds a lot smarter than me because he’s a Georgetown professor, of course. But I read it and I was like, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I’ve been doing!” And now there’s a person with a PhD who’s saying the same thing. So, people will actually believe me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d say different voices, different credentials, a PhD or a fat portfolio of properties, I think both adds credibility to it, yeah. How about a favorite tool that helps you be awesome at your job.

David Greene
Google Drive, believe it or not, is a huge, huge help for me. Part of part of the problem with me is I’m involved in a ton of different things all the time and it’s very hard to keep my thoughts organized. Google Drive works really good for taking a thought that I have, getting it out of my head, putting it on, I would say paper but it’s actually a computer screen that looks like a piece of paper.

And from there, I can kind of flesh out whatever that idea was, and assign it to someone else and say, “I need you to take this and I need you to make it a reality.” So, Google Drive is one of the tools that I really, really, really like and it’s simple but before I had it, I was immensely frustrated with just I don’t know how to turn this process into something someone else can do. And making checklist on Google Drive and giving it to people, making a video showing how I’m doing this like a screenshot and putting the link in Google Drive that I gave to someone really brought all that stuff to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is so huge. And for your video making, I don’t know if you’re already on to Loom as in www.useloom.com but it is so good.

David Greene
Yeah, shout out to my best friend and buyer’s agent Kyle Rankie, he told me about Loom and it’s been incredible. We were using Screencast-O-Matic before that. But it like limits you at 15 minutes, which I had to learn the hard way after making like an hour of video and then realizing it stopped recording at 15 minutes.

But Loom doesn’t do that. So yeah, we use that. Like as a real estate agent, I’m constantly training other agents on my team and I find myself saying the same thing a hundred times a week. So, now I use Loom to make these videos and say, “Just watch that.” And that should answer your question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s so good. I like to have Loom with, I’ve got my text instructions on the left-hand side, I’ve gotten the website or whatever I’m working with on the right, and so you can reference them both. And then you can read the text and so it’s like unmistakable, what I meant by any step along the way. So, so good stuff—

David Greene
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a key nugget, something you share often with your team or readers or listeners that really resonates with them and they repeat back to you often?

David Greene
I think “rock stars know rock stars” is a phrase I say a lot that sounds simple but it’s actually really deep. It’s just this concept that the best people at what they do hang out with other people that are the best at what they do. And that just this is a principle we see throughout life.

I’ve heard people say “eagles don’t fly with ducks”, “birds of a feather flock together”, like all these little sayings but when people ask me, “I need someone to do X, how would I find them?” The answer is always going to be “who do you already know that’s doing Y that would know somebody in the world of X?” That’s where I find my referrals from.

So, if you were to say, “David, I need to figure out how to solve this problem,” my mind would immediately go to who do I know that’s doing that at a high level? And if no one, who do I know this doing something similar to that at a high level? And who would they recommend?

I think most of us take way too much responsibility on ourselves to figure things out, like I’m going to go through Yelp and read 100 reviews. And I’m going to Google this for seven hours and then call all 20 people and interview each of them as if we actually have the credentials for like reading someone’s mind and knowing from an interview if they’ll be good, as opposed to talking to someone who’s already really good at it and saying who would you use?

“Oh, you know what, actually that guy, he’s great. My buddy uses him and he’s doing a high level. And that’s where I start”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. And David, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Greene
I have a personal blog, www.greeneincome.com where they can follow me there and read some of the articles that I write. I’m very involved at www.biggerpockets.com. This is the website where we teach people how to invest in real estate for free and the podcasts that I run, the books I publisher are through there.

And then I’m DavidGreen24 on all social media, Instagram is the when I check the most but I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, like all those sites, Greene is spelled with an E. So it’s DavidGreene24.

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

David Greene
Yeah, what I would say is most of the things that cause us to be frustrated with our lack of success can be identified as a barrier to entry in some way. There’s something making it hard for you to get from where you are to where you’re going, right. Learn to look at that like an incredibly good thing. Because that’s keeping all of your competition from raising up to go anymore. When you figure out what you need to do to get through that barrier to entry, there’s very little competition on the other side of it, and you rise very quickly.

So, for me in this example I gave the barrier to entry was memorizing menu prices. That was all that I had to do. Make some flashcards and memorize a frequent video. And the next thing that I know or memorize the menu, my boss was like, “Hey, David can handle tables, give them all to him.” And when they would get three, I would get eight or nine and then I would stay late to close and they were all going home, and when they were getting other four or five and I can triple or quadruple my income.

So, it’s the same way like being a real estate agent, it’s very hard to get started it because there’s no one that gives you business. It’s on yourself to get it and for most of us, we don’t know how to go find business on our own. That’s a big barrier to entry, keeps a lot of agents from doing well.

But if you can solve it, like all the business is yours because nobody else could figure it out. So, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually looked for only opportunities where it’s difficult to do because I know there’s not going to be as many people competing with me, and it will be easier to succeed once I figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, once again, you’re reframing for opportunity. David, this has been a huge pleasure. Thank you and good luck with your real estate investing and book writing and all you’re up to.

David Greene
Thanks Peter. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.

438: How to Earn Fierce Loyalty Through 3 Key Principles with Sandy Rogers

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Sandy Rogers shares the three core principles required to earn the devotion of both customer and colleague.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 3 core loyalty principles of responsibility, empathy, and generosity
  2. How indifference can destroy loyalty
  3. The importance of weekly team huddles for reinforcing new behaviors

About Sandy

Sandy Rogers is the leader of FranklinCovey’s Loyalty Practice. He was previously Senior Vice President at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. During his 14 years there, Sandy managed the turnaround of the London, England operation and led the teams that developed Enterprise’s marketing strategy and system for improving customer service across all branches. Before Enterprise, Sandy worked in marketing at Apple Computer and at P&G. He is a graduate of Duke and Harvard Business School.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sandy Rogers Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sandy, thank you so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Sandy Rogers
Thank you Pete, thrilled to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to chat with you. And you’ve got many claims to fame in your life, but the one I thought was most interesting off the top of my head was that you led the teams that came up with the legendary “pick Enterprise we’ll pick you up” slogan, what is the backstory here?

Sandy Rogers
Oh, my gosh, well, I have the great fortune of spending most of my career at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, actually left Apple Computer to go work with Jack Taylor at Enterprise. And one of my early Jobs was to lead the marketing part of a business, the idea of picking customers up came from one of our local general managers, and Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise, when he first heard it, thought, “That sounds crazy, I don’t know how you’re going to be able to pick people up.”

But sure enough, in true Enterprise fashion Jack empowered the local teams to go run experiments, try and figure it out, perfect it, the idea of pick up then spread across the organization. And so, when I came in as the marketing guy, we were looking for a way to share a message that would get people’s attention.

And there was a lot of push to talk about our friendly service and our great employees. But back then, other car rental companies were talking about their great service.

Pete Mockaitis
You got OJ Simpson, running through Airports

Sandy Rogers
Everyone was talking about we try harder and so I thought talking about service, the way to prove you have great service is actually to deliver great service, but not brag about it. And so instead, we did some research. And we looked for things that nobody was talking about.

So, you need something that’s unique, but we also wanted something that customers felt was really important. And in all the different things we tested, pick up jumped to the top of the list because nobody was talking about pick up in the car rental industry. And when consumers heard, “You’ll pick me up?”, it was a great message. And so we started with that, “Pick Enterprise we’ll pick you up,” we worked with a terrific ad agency in New York, and created that commercial with a brown paper wrapper car and it became a very memorable way to communicate this wonderful service Enterprise still provides today.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right and I’m curious, like, what proportion of customers end up actually requesting to be picked up?

Sandy Rogers
On my gosh, I’ve been out of the business for 12 years. So, I don’t have the latest—

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll grill you with hard data questions at the top of the interview, Sandy.

Sandy Rogers
But a lot of them do, a lot of people— Enterprise started in the home city car rental market. So, when people had an accident or they brought their car into the dealership or service, Enterprise was the only player in town who would pick you up and bring you back to the branch and get you into a car.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy, I’ve done it before.

Sandy Rogers
Oh, good. Well, I hope you had a good experience, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It was, it was very pleasant. Thank you. Cool. Alright, so that’s the history of Sandy Rogers. But let’s talk about some of the current stuff, you’ve got a book, Leading Loyalty. I want to hear, as you’re putting this together, what was maybe the most surprising and fascinating thing that you discovered, as you were executing this?

Sandy Rogers
We have worked with a wide range of organizations, I mean, small, big. And what really surprised me is these principles that we have uncovered through all the research we’ve done about empathy, responsibility, and generosity, that these principles are not only applicable in earning the loyalty of our customers—and everybody wants fierce customer loyalty—but they’re also the exact same principles we need to earn the loyalty of our coworkers, our colleagues, our family, our friends, our kids, our spouse.

And so, the deeper we got into this, and the more stories we heard, these principles are applicable to earning the fierce loyalty of every important person in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really good. We got the empathy, responsibility, and what?

Sandy Rogers
And generosity is the third one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And principles are like gravity. I mean, they’re irrefutable. They act on you whether you agree with them or not. And so, if you don’t obey these principles of loyalty, you’re not going to earn the loyalty of other people. I mean, there’s no shortcuts.

And sure, people talk about frequent flyer miles and discounts and point programs but Pete, we’re talking about the loyalty that’s fueled in the heart. It’s when you tell your friends “oh, I got to tell you the story about this thing. It was unbelievable.” It’s that heartfelt emotional connection that that we’re trying to fuel with this book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I dig that, well, could you share with us maybe a story? You got some heartfelt tales that you’ve collected, and you’re doing your research and talking to folks that maybe, so I can get a picture of you of a loyalty transformation. We had some lack of empathy, responsibility, generosity, and loyalty and then we saw things turn around.

Sandy Rogers
So, Pete, I was with the CEO of a large baby retail chain, and we were talking about empathy. And he stopped me, he said, “Sandy, I got to tell you a story. You may have heard it because it’s been all over the internet. This man comes into one of our stores, he’s carrying a load of unopened baby items, and he explains to our team that he and his wife had just experienced a miscarriage. And our team told him, ‘Sir, I’m so sorry about that but with a receipt you can’t return these items.’”

And the CEO just covered his face, he said, “Sandy, I don’t know how I could’ve possibly allowed a policy like needing a receipt get in the way of doing the obvious human thing for this poor man.” And you know what’s interesting about this story, Pete, two years later, this chain went bankrupt. They closed all of their stores. And they certainly had their financial challenges, I don’t know if it was from a lack of showing empathy, but I do know this, to earn the fierce loyalty of our customers, we have got to have empathy for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, yeah, that’s powerful. And, boy, that really is an illustration in terms of, “At what point are your policies ironclad?” Every policy needs to have a breaking point somewhere below this extreme, you know.

Sandy Rogers
So, let me tell you one where we had a policy at Enterprise that was ironclad, okay? Do you remember where you were on 9/11?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. I was in my senior AP Rhetoric class with Mrs. Judy Federmeier when we got the word. I was like, “What?” Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
It was one of those moments. I was at the headquarters at Enterprise in St. Louis. Can you imagine what it was like at an airport rental branch that day? All the planes were grounded. At the Dallas Airport branch, in Washington, D.C., our branch manager has a branch that is teeming with people desperate to get home. All of our competitor car rental companies at Dallas Airport had closed and their managers had gone home, you know, check on their family and everything.

But our manager decided to stay open, and he couldn’t reach anybody on the phone because all the phone lines were jammed. And we had a policy, a firm ironclad policy back then, no one way routes. If you rented a car at the Dallas Airport branch, you had to bring it back to that Enterprise branch. Pete, he couldn’t reach anybody. He gets on a chair and stands up in front of his huge crowd of people, and he said, “Everybody, could I please get your attention? This gentleman here is going to Atlanta. Is there anybody else here that needs to go towards Atlanta or in that direction? Can you all please take this car? I’ve open up the soda machine, help yourself to a soda and a snack. Take the car, get yourselves home safely. I’ll figure out how to get my car back.”

He said, “Ma’am, where are you going? You’re going to St. Louis? Okay. Who else here needs to go west towards St. Louis? Please take this car, get yourselves home safely. I’ll figure out how to get my car back later.” This branch manager, Pete, scattered his cars to the winds. He sent them all over the country. He completely violated our policy about no one way routes.

And when we heard this story three days later, the founder, and the CEO, and the whole senior leadership team at Enterprise was never more proud, because although this team had completely violated our policies, they did exactly what our customer mission is all about. They showed incredible empathy for these customers. They took responsibility for the real job which was to get them home to their families. They were incredibly generous because imagine the cost of getting all these cars back, but we were never more proud.

And so, when I think about this story, are the people in your organization, whether you’re in a small two-person shop, or a large company, are you given the ability to be empathetic with your customers, to take responsibility for their real needs, to be generous? Because this is the secret, not just to customer loyalty, this is the way we earn fierce employee loyalty.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.

Sandy Rogers
We started measuring customer service at Enterprise around 1994. About the same time that we were doing the research on what to advertise with pick up. And because we knew that to grow the business faster, customers had to walk away with a feeling that “wow! I love this place”.

Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise said, “It’s simple. When people walk out of our branches, they’ve got to feel like this is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

So, in order to deliver great service, we decided we had to measure it. When we first started measuring service in 1994, Enterprise, we were pretty good overall, but there was huge variation across the chain.

And that’s often the challenge with organizations. I mean, you always have people, there’s pockets of greatness, but you see inconsistency from one location or one team to another. And so, we told everybody, this is the one of the most important things our mission is built on customer service, let’s get busy and improve it.

And over the next two years, we had zero percent improvement, everybody was focused on doing what they always did, which was running a great business and then Jack Taylor, the founder, inspired everybody and said, “No, I’m really serious about this.”

And so after this meeting we had in 1996, from that point forward, the decision was made not to promote anyone who’s customer service score was below the company average. And that, Pete, changed everything.

Over the next 10 years, all of a sudden, now everybody had skin in the game, we had a metric that clearly identified who needed to get better. And by not promoting the below average performers, over the next 10 years Enterprise went from delighting 67% of its customers to 80% of its customers. And that variation I talked about across the chain went from 28 points to less than 12 points.

Company sales in this 10-year period tripled from $2 to $7 billion. And Andy Taylor, the CEO at the time, this was the profound dedication and impact of improving our service across the whole chain. Fred Reichheld at Bain [& Company] created the Net Promoter Score based on this story that I just shared at Enterprise.

Pete Mockaitis
You know when I worked at Bain, I’ve done a case at Bain using the Net Promoter Score. I think I even read the book, The Ultimate Question.

Sandy Rogers
Yes.
Chapter Four in The Ultimate Question is this story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so well, fun fact. Cool beans. So, there we have it, we made a commitment, this was how it’s going to be, you can’t get promoted if you’re below average, and we saw tremendous results in terms of people more satisfied, revenues growing. So that’s really cool in terms of, you’ve got transformation, and then I’m imagining then, in terms of what constitutes a great customer service and great customer experience, there were some particular practices that invoked some more empathy, responsibility and generosity from the staff?

Sandy Rogers
No question. And so, by unleashing our teams to go out and be creative, and to figure out, “How are we going to make more of our customers happy? How are we going to make our operation more consistently excellent?” These wonderful ideas spread from the bottom up, and Enterprise had tremendous success.

But Pete, we’ve worked with a wide range of organizations over the last 15 years. And these principles hold true in every case. The customer has to feel like you have empathy for me, that you’ve taken the time to understand my hidden story, that you’ve taken responsibility for the real job I’m trying to get done, not just selling me your stuff, but you’ve taken the time to really understand what I’m actually trying to do or accomplish.

And three, they treat us with generosity in terms of the time it takes for us to do business with a firm, they respect us. And so those are the principles that we bring to life because we think they’re essential in every business, whether it’s a small bakery or it’s a large conglomerate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to now talk about some of the specific practices, then, for human beings, we’re working with each other, we’re trying to facilitate some more loyalty, whether that’s with an external customer, an internal customer, a colleague, a friend, a collaborator. What are some of the key ways that you go about doing empathy, doing responsibility, doing generosity?

Sandy Rogers
The first step is we’ve got to adopt a loyalty leader mindset. Our mindset affects our behavior. And so, we choose to be a leader. It’s not what’s on our name tag, you know you’re a leader if you look over your shoulder and you see people following you.

So, this idea that, well, no, this is something my boss has to do or the CEO has to sign off on, no, everybody in the organization from the bottom to the top, has to choose to be a loyalty leader and take personal responsibility for living these principles more often.

So, let’s trail down into empathy. So, the first one is empathy and empathy is our ability to identify with and understand other people’s situation or feelings, and we know what it means. Now everybody has empathy, you don’t have to teach it. If you see somebody poked with a needle, we flinch and say, “Ugh.”

So why don’t we see more of it in the workplace and our everyday interactions? Well, we’ve got to talk about it, and we got to get into the practices. So, the first practice in showing empathy is to make a genuine human connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And so often what we get from the companies we do business with, it’s not a genuine connection, it’s some kind of scripted thing that they’ve been taught to read to me on the phone after I’ve waited 15 minutes on hold, to simply tell the cable company that my internet is not working, and I’ve got an interview coming up and could you please fix it?

I don’t want to hear the script, I don’t want to hear the fake empathy. Because I know it’s a script they’re reading to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
And so we talk about making a genuine connection, even if you’re the third person in line, and I’m the host at a restaurant, and you just want to put your name down for a table, just with eye contact, I can let you know I see you, I care about you. I mean, I can give you the feeling that I’m going to take care of you. I’m so sorry you’re having to wait.

And once we make that connection, the next practice is I’ve got to listen to learn the story. We all have a hidden story. Sometimes, the hidden stories are obvious. If we’re driving down the road and we see a lady standing with her small children by a car with a hood open and steam coming out, and we get the story in a glance, right. We know what’s going on.

But so often, people will come into our workplace, whether they’re a customer or a coworker, and they’ve got a story that’s hidden from you. And for us to have empathy for that person, we’re going to have to genuinely connect so they know that this is not just a fake, “Hey, what’s up?” and when you know I don’t really want the answer. But no, “Really what’s going on? How are you?” And then I’ve gotta take the time to actually listen to their hidden story.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Sandy Rogers
And I’ve got to listen not just with my ears, I’ve got to listen with my eyes and with my heart, too. I love the Chinese character for listen, it contains the symbols for all three, ears, eyes, and heart.

The deepest need of the human hearts to be understood. I mean, how good is it feel when people really get you? So that’s the idea. You can’t have empathy if you don’t know my story and you’re not going to hear my story unless I believe you’re genuine and you actually are listening to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sandy, I’d love to get your take from the human experience of, all right, you’re busy, you got a lot of things going on, you want to be empathetic but you could just forget, in the hustle and bustle and the taking care of business and your metrics and KPIs and hustling to the next thing because there’s a fire to put out, but there’s humans in your midst.

How do you recommend folks kind of center, ground, reorient their brains and their ways of being to really empathize with folks in that moment?

Sandy Rogers
And that’s what’s so hard about this because what we’re talking about here is common sense. People say, “yeah, I’ve learned this stuff in kindergarten” and you did. And hopefully, it’s ingrained in your psyche, these principles that start with empathy. But just because it’s common sense, unfortunately, it’s not common practice.

And the reason it’s not, in so many of our interactions is we’re busy! We’ve got revenue targets, expense reduction goals, I got a list of stuff, I’ve got to get done by five o’clock today. And so, in the whirlwind of our busy daily lives, we lose sight of the power of the simple practices that we’re teaching in this book.

And so, we’re teaching people things that they already know but we’re asking them to talk about them for 15 minutes a week, in a little huddle, the team comes together. And in those huddles, the most important thing you do is you celebrate the people on the team that are doing what you talked about last week.

So last week, we talked about listening to learn the hidden story. I got to tell this quick story about Pete, and you know, it’s fun, and people laugh and we high five, and that’s amazing. And then we talk about the next principle or practice, and how do we actually apply that in the work we do here?

It’s easy to talk about this stuff in theory, but yeah, how am I supposed to be generous to these customers that are yelling at me all day, right? So, we talk about it. And then we each make a commitment to go apply this and come back next week. So, we can celebrate what worked and talk about what didn’t work. And we don’t have to have all the answers. We’re just going to create space in the whirlwind of our busy lives, to talk about the things that actually make a difference to how we’re feeling when we leave work every day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I’m sure that everyone’s context is a little bit different and by making that time, you’ll come up with the particulars that seem to be really effective in those realms. I’d love to hear when it comes to asking the questions, have you found that there are some particularly useful, valuable questions in building up the empathy?

Sandy Rogers
Well, sure, what brings you in today? What’s going on? Open ended questions, not yes/no questions. I mean, the classic yes/no question is that, the wait person who comes over, everything okay? It’s just like, you know, or how about you’re checking out of the grocery store, find everything, and the checker has their eyes on the work and doesn’t really listen to your answer about what have you found everything at the grocery store that day?

Now you kind of ask questions, and then leave space. And oftentimes, ask again. For example, one of the best ways that companies can improve their service: don’t wait for the survey to come, ask people walking out the door, “What, if anything, could we’ve done to better serve you today? I’m Sandy, I’m the manager, I’d love to know, no, really, I’m serious anything? Was there anything we could have done better?”

And when people understand that he’s sincere, that he actually wants to hear, then you get into a conversation, and you can learn their story. You can also learn about how to fix your business right now, if there’re any issues rather than hearing about it or reading about it in a bad Yelp post in a couple hours from now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, so we talked about empathy, how about responsibility?

Sandy Rogers
So once you’ve taken the time to understand my hidden story, you know how I’m feeling. Now we’ve got to take responsibility for helping people succeed to reach their goals. And with responsibility, there are two practices. As I mentioned earlier, first, we’ve got to discover the real job to be done. And what does that mean?

Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School writes that people hire products and services to do a specific job for them. People are hiring your podcast to do a specific job for them, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And I hope I’m nailing it.

Sandy Rogers
And I think you are! So, guy comes into a hardware store, “I’m looking for a wrench.” “Oh, they’re right over at aisle 14.” That’s not taking responsibility. No, instead, “Come with me. The wrenches are this way. What are you working on?” “Well, I got this old fence in my backyard and there’s these rusty nuts and bolts I gotta pull out so I can get rid of the fence.” “Well, will work any of these?”

“Yeah, they look like those hexagonal ones right over there.” “Oh, sure, to grip the rusty edges of those nuts so you can pull the bolts out and get rid of your fence, you’re going to need a set of box wrenches, they should do the trick.”

You see Pete, that’s taking responsibility for the real job. Getting rid of a fence. It’s not to sell the guy a wrench.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I find that that’s so handy. But I think that I I’ve often had that situation where maybe I’m just sort of thinking about novel things or outside-the-box sorts of things. It just seems like I’m often asking for something that’s not exactly what they people do like I want a CRM, but I don’t really want to sell anything to people using this software. I’m just looking to keep track of ABC and then, and folks are just sort of, I guess, perplexed, like, “oh, well, let me show you the cool features we have.”

Sandy Rogers
Of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Sort of like, “Okay, well, I guess, I could look at those but that’s not really what I’m most interested in.” And so, I guess I have those exchanges frequently, on sort of, like the customer side of things.

So, I dig it in terms of like, “What are you trying to accomplish?” I think that’s one of the best questions ever.

Sandy Rogers
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of, hey, as a as a consultant, if you’re trying to crack a case for a client, as a coach, if you’re trying to help someone, because they have one specific question, you take a step back and ask, “what are you trying to accomplish”? And then it opens up everything, or just, as a worker getting an assignment and getting better clarity about what we’re really going after? So that’s a great question in terms of being able to surface the responsibility and do it all the better. Any other favorite questions there?

Sandy Rogers

Well, and that’s such an important question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”, and then lead with a need. So, before we jump into, “Oh, my gosh, let me tell you about our CRM system, and all the bells and whistles,” lead with their need.

So, let’s take an example. You go into a store and you’re looking for a treadmill or something. If I’ve taken the time to really understand why you’re buying a treadmill, or why you’ve come for that, I can lead with a need.

So, “Pete they help you do well and the upcoming half marathon that you’re gonna be doing with your team, this elliptical machine, I think makes the most sense, given some knee trouble you’ve had or this comfortable pair of running shoes should fit the bill.”

But it’s, it takes discipline to not just sell our products, which of course we’re excited about, and sales are good, but if we want to earn the fierce loyalty of our customers, we’ll take the time to not only understand how they’re feeling so we can have some empathy but we can take responsibility for “What is this guy really trying to accomplish?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, so if someone is not too communicative like, “need a  treadmill”, he’s like, “okay, great, what makes you interested in a treadmill today?” I don’t know, any tips for those who are almost like a seek and destroy, get in get out mode, whether it’s a colleague or a customer. Any tips for slowing it down and getting the real stuff?

Sandy Rogers
It’s got to be conversational. It’s got to be natural. It can’t look like you know, some script or some spiel which you’re spilling out. It’s just “Hey, talk to me. I want to help you, I want to get you the treadmill, you’re looking for what’s going on? What brings you here? Why a treadmill now”?

And when people are trying to figure out, is this a genuine inquiry here? I mean, should I bother to spend time and actually tell this person my story?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
And if we’re sincere, though, they’ll actually tell you. One of the stories we heard is somebody comes into a store and “I’m looking for shoelaces.” “Why do you want shoelaces?” I mean it seems obvious to replace the laces in my shoes. But it turned out this person actually wanted shoelaces to tie the birdcage to the roof of their car.

I mean, it’s an odd admission, but just an understanding that, opportunity to teach this person about bungee cords and there are other solutions besides shoelaces to tie down bird cages.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that. That’s good certainly. Okay, well, so then let’s hear about the third key, the generosity.

Sandy Rogers
Well, and so at the end of responsibility, not only do we have to discover the job but then we got to follow up, how did that go? And if there’re problems, one of the most powerful ways we can earn loyalty is to take responsibility for any problems somebody has.

And we teach people what we call the five A’s. We got to assume that the person has good intent. So, imagine you’re dealing with an angry customer. If you’re going to turn that detractor into a promoter, you got to first assume that their intent is good, they’re not here to rip us off, we’ll get to align with our emotions, get on the same side of the table, we need to apologize with no defensiveness whatsoever. We got to ask, “what can I do to make this right for you” and assure them of what I’m going to do and do it?

And so, we practice these five A’s, we talk about it, but getting good at follow up is quarter responsibility in earning the loyalty everybody wants. Okay, so now we get empathy and responsibility. Sorry Pete, go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. So that’s sort of if they’re coming in to you, in terms of they’re saying, “Hey, this thing went wrong.”

Sandy Rogers
Well, and we don’t want to wait and find out. When I was running the London, England operation for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I would get some pushback from our branch managers that had low customer service scores and weren’t getting promoted. And they said, “Well, how am I supposed to know how to get better? I’m only getting 25 surveys a month.”

And I said, “Well, hold on, how many renters do you see every month in your branch?” “Oh, 700 to 1000.” “What would prevent you from asking as many as you want, what can we be doing to better serve you? How does your rental go? I’d love to know.” You could get 1000 surveys a month if you want them and rather than waiting for the results, you could fix whatever issue you’ve got today before it affects other customers.

And it’s not just the negative. Now, here’s the positive, you will find out in most cases that the rental was great. Susie did an amazing job. Imagine how it’s going to feel to Susie to be able to go back into the branch and say, “I just want to let you know, you blew those guys socks off. They just loved what you did for them.” “Susie, great job”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s also your opportunity to be like, “Thank you so much. If you could share that on the official survey. It would be great.”

Sandy Rogers
Oh yeah, that is it— Now, I tell you one thing at Enterprise, if you do that, you will get fired.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And I know that doesn’t always happen at the car dealers where they badger to give the high scores. But early on Andy Taylor and his leadership team made the decision that if you talk about the survey, or talk about top box and all that stuff, we’re going to treat it like taking cash out of the cash box. Because it completely undermines the customers confidence that we actually care about customer service.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely, because they are like, I think about the Uber driver, “Give me a five-star rating.” “No, I’ll give you the star rating that you deserve.” But I’m just  intrigued here, but it’s also inappropriate if someone says, “Hey, this was awesome.” And they say, “Hey, thank you. If you’d like to share on the survey, then we’d appreciate it.” That’s also forbidden?

Sandy Rogers
Yes, and you know what, just say thank you. That’s great. Tell your friends, leave it at that. But don’t mention the survey, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, I think that that’s a useful distinction because many are tempted or inclined to do exactly that.

Sandy Rogers
It will then it just tells the customer that, well, this guy really just cares about his survey results. Say “Hey, if you had a great experience Pete, please tell your friends and we’d love to serve them too.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool, gotcha. All right. So then, you were gonna say some more about generosity?

Sandy Rogers
Yeah. So, we’ve got empathy, responsibility and the third core principle for earning loyalty is generosity. Generosity is giving from our heart, more than is necessary or people expect, it’s kindness. And to be generous with other people there are two practices, we to share our insights openly, generously share our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, concerns, and we need to surprise people in unexpected ways.

And so we’ve a chapter on each of these things, on generosity and sharing insights, and then surprising with unexpected extras. Because those two things have to occur in order for me to feel like you’re being generous with me and my time.

Pete Mockaitis
So can you give some examples of insights?

Sandy Rogers
Sure, well, we share insights with our customers all the time. Imagine you go into a store, and you’re looking for a speaker for your TV so you can have better surround sound and you’re awed by the beautiful display and you find one, you take it to the register, and the woman working at the register says, “Well, does your TV support Bluetooth?” And you say, “Well, actually, I don’t know”.

Well, “What kind of TV do you have?” “Ah surf.” “For your TV, that speaker is not going to work, you’re going to need a little wireless transmitter, it doesn’t cost hardly anything, let me get it for you.”

See, that’s incredibly generous sharing insights, it’s reducing the effort that you’re going to go through to get surround sound to work with your TV. Now that cashier could have done that or not, it was incredibly generous that she chose to spend an extra 10 seconds and help you out.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s good.

Sandy Rogers
But we share insights with each other too. You and I may be coworkers in a business and you notice I have some opportunities to be more effective and how I’m working with our customers. But today we have a lot of confidence about sharing our feedback with our thumbs online. But we want to make sure that our millennials and Generation Z has the same confidence, providing feedback face to face.

And so, we talk a lot about that in the book too. And how to have a coaching conversation, how to recognize what people are doing well, how to declare intent, how to have people walk away and say, “Wow, I mean, that was incredibly generous, that Pete shared that with me,” right? But we’re going to practice it and because there’s a way to do it, that is natural, and shows that the feedback is loving feedback and not criticism.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And how about these sort of extra little tidbits? What are some of your favorite examples there?

Sandy Rogers
Well, surprising with unexpected extras, and Enterprise is the master at this, all these branches had to get better, right? And so, they ran a jillion experiment, a cold bottle of water on a hot day, going to the body shops and dealerships and bringing them ice cream, or donuts, or just little ways, little experiments.

And so one of the things you want to do in huddle 10, week 10, you get your team together, what is something that we could do for our customers that we’ve never done before that would delight them, something that we could do ourselves, we don’t even get permission from head office.

And then vote on the best ideas and then go do it.  Run a little experiment and see what happens. And it’s incredibly engaging for your team. And it’s wonderful with customers, hotel guests, housekeeper notices that they’re out of toothpaste, and leaves a little tube of toothpaste with a note, it looked like you were running out, so I left you this.

I mean, imagine what the guest feels like, that little extra didn’t cost anything for the hotel. And it not only made the guests feel great, the housekeeper felt great, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s cool. Could you share perhaps a couple examples of these principles coming to life in terms of colleague to colleague?

Sandy Rogers
Oh my gosh, well, to earn the loyalty of our coworkers, the same principles apply. And when organizations are—they want to engage their employees, one of the challenges that people like Gallup report is that the lower you go in the organization, the lower the employee engagement, the higher the turnover. And we know that the difference between a good and a great experience often comes down to how the people on the frontline are treating us.

Whether it’s face to face or on the phone or online. And so, recognizing that the frontline is the lowest paid, and oftentimes the least trained, and has lots of challenges with retention, it is vitally important that the leaders are living these principles.

My friend Shep Hyken, often says, “The customer experience rarely exceeds the employee experience.” So, we have to first earn the fierce loyalty of our teammates, of our employees, they’ve got to be excited about coming to work, they’ve got to say, “I’d recommend this place to work to all my friends,” and then that carries over to how the customers feel, which then drives the sales that we all want, and finally, the bottom-line profits—but it’s kind of happened in that order.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Sandy, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Sandy Rogers
What I would say is, this is basic stuff that you did learn in kindergarten, but you got to create space, you got to create 15 minutes a week, almost every mission statement I’ve ever seen mentions customers and how important they are. I mean, it’s hard to argue your customers aren’t important, right?

But if they’re so important, and they’re the cornerstone of the mission statement, then we ought to be able to carve out 15 minutes each week to celebrate the people who are living these things that are creating our customer promoters.

And to also talk about what these principles and practices mean, and how to apply them, what the challenges are, to be generous, to be more responsible, to have empathy, to follow up. All these things we’ve been talking about, that it sounds great, but let’s talk for a few minutes about how I can actually do that on this team.

We’re on the calls, we’re in a call center, we’re on the phone all day. And I’m being held to this two-minute timeline for the length of calls, how am I supposed to do this? And so, we want to create space to have these conversations to help organizations get better.

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

Sandy Rogers
One of my favorite quotes is “no risk-it no biscuit.” It’s a very simple, but I find that what gets in the way of us, all of us in doing these things that make sense is there’s a fear that, “oh, it may not work or it may not be received well.” We’ve got to make the choice to go out on a limb to try these things, to run these huddles.

We’ve had so many organizations, at first maybe have questions about, “Well, will our people really do this?” We had a chain of auto repair stores. And they said, now let me get this right, you’re expecting these guys that work under the hood of cars and trucks all day to get together and talk about empathy, and generosity, and responsibility?

And I said, “Well, let’s see if any of them are interested.” And a group of 20 said, “We want to go do this, let us go do this in our stores.” And over six months Pete, we were measuring their customer service scores while they were running these huddles, they increased their customer service scores by an average of 10 points. Three of these 20 stores increased their scores by 20 points.

And they said, “You know what, this is the most fun 15 minutes of our week. We were celebrating each other, and we were talking about how to bring this stuff to life.” The simple idea is put everyone into a position to enrich other people’s lives. These principles allow that to happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now, could you share with us a favorite study something that you found enlightening?

Sandy Rogers
Tell me what you mean by a favorite study?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, like an experiment or bit of research.

Sandy Rogers
Just sort of think, I think some of the research that’s really come to my mind are the things that we have learned, the link between customer service scores in growth and profitability in the business. We often get asked to quantify what on the surface, sounds obvious, if we get better customer service, of course, the business will grow faster and will make more money but CEOs often say, “yeah, prove it.”

I remember one chain that we were working with, they had 3500 stores, and we were measuring their employee engagement, and also their customer service. And the CEO said, “Well, I’ve done a little analysis of my own and I’m not seeing a strong correlation between the employee engagement scores you’re giving me and the customer service scores you’re giving me across our 3500 stores.”

And I thought, “Uh-oh, well let’s see what’s going on here.” And one of the guys on our team, said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s add another question to the employee engagement survey to find out if those store teams actually know their customer service scores.”

Because Pete, here’s the theory, people play harder when they’re keeping score. I mean, look at the kids on the playground, as soon as you start keeping score, the game gets a lot more fierce and interesting, right?

If the people in the store don’t even know their customer service score for the store, they’re not really playing the game of improving customer service, right. So, we found out that of all those stores, 40% of the store teams had a very clear idea of what their customer service score was, 60% had no idea what it was.

And guess what? The correlation between employee engagement and customer service was excellent in the stores that actually knew their customer service scores. But in the stores that were clueless about their customer service scores, of course, there was no correlation between employee engagement and customer service because they weren’t really playing. Yeah, you could love your job, but not be focused on customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sure. Like “This guy keeps getting in the way. We’re having some great jokes. This guy keeps interrupting, this customer over here.” Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Sandy Rogers
Oh, my gosh, I am rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you heard of that book?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very much.

Sandy Rogers
I remember reading it, like 1990 and, or whatever. And I am rereading it now because I find so many of those, habits, incredibly important in the effectiveness of our team.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? Sorry, re-wind.

Sandy Rogers
Like be proactive. I mean, I just think that’s, I know Stephen Covey starts with this idea of being proactive, and, carrying your own weather and not looking to blame other people for what’s going on in your domain. But it takes good reminding every day to go back to the Viktor Frankl insight from the Holocaust that the ultimate human freedom is that gap between stimulus and response, and you get to decide how you feel about how other people are treating you. And that’s a very powerful insight that’s worth revisiting. But you’re asking you about our favorite tool?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Sandy Rogers
Gosh, what tool, could I not live without, Google Maps. That’s how I find my way everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and how about a favorite habit?

Sandy Rogers
A favorite of the habits of Stephen’s habits?

Pete Mockaitis
That could be Stephen’s or yours.

Sandy Rogers
I think sharpening the saw, I think this idea of constantly learning outside of the domain that we spend most of our lives, to get other perspectives. And I love when Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots between what he— he said for example, we have these movable fonts, because of some class he dropped into, when he was just taking classes after he dropped out of college and just connecting the dots between different things. It just, it helps us to be more effective in the work we do every day, it also makes work everyday more interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your book or with clients that really seems to connect and resonate with them and they repeat it back to you?

Sandy Rogers
I think the gist that people come back to us with is this idea about putting people into position to enrich other lives. And it’s really around trusting them. Think about the organizations today that don’t trust their employees.

They say, “You know what, we’re going to give you a script, we’re going to put you on a time clock, you have to live in this tiny little box.” Rob Markey at Bain talks about giving your people freedom within a defined framework. I mean, that’s certainly what Enterprise did. But boundaries were well defined. But we gave them a lot of freedom within those boundaries. And I’ll give you some examples.

American Express completely changed how they managed their call centers, when they said, “We’re going to throw out the scripts, we’re going to throw out the time clock, your job is to create promoters.” And it not only made the card member happier and made the employees a lot happier! I mean, now this job is fun.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos totally has that insight. You think: make them happy! Okay, and he’s got the crazy story that somebody calls up and looking for a pair of shoes that Zappos doesn’t even sell but they fulfill the sale anyway.

Southwest Airlines, “Hey, look, these are the rules. You have to buy FAA guidelines, tell people about these things.” Now, if you choose to sing it, or do it as part of a comedy routine, hey, more power to you.

So, I think one of the real keys to earning that fierce employee loyalty and customer loyalty that everybody wants is we got to trust our people. We got to let them use their natural gifts and abilities within a broad framework. You got to have guidelines but within these guidelines, go for it and have fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And Sandy, if folks want to learn more, get in touch, where would you point them.

Sandy Rogers
They can certainly come to www.franklincovey.com, and they can come to my LinkedIn page.

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

Sandy Rogers
My final challenge is take a look at these principles. Try it. Say “I’m going to invest 10 or 15 minutes a week, I’m going to run this play. I’m going to run this for 11 weeks and see whether I feel differently about the work I do and whether coming to work every day is more fun, whether it has more meaning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well Sandy, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for taking this time and sharing the good word. I wish you much luck and loyalty and fun in all your ventures.

Sandy Rogers
Pete, thank you so much.

437: Building the Resources for Resilience with Dr. Michael Ungar

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Dr. Michael Ungar shares insights from his decades-long research into resilience to reveal that it’s not about your ruggedness, but rather your resources.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The true key to resilience
  2. A master checklist for upgrading your resilience
  3. How to change your mood by changing your environment

About Michael

Dr. Ungar is a Family Therapist and Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University where he holds a national Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience. Dr. Ungar has published over 180 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the subject of resilience and is the author of 15 books for mental health professionals, researchers, employers and parents. These include Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success, a book for adults experiencing stress at work and at home.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Michael Ungar Interview Transcript

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

Michael Ungar
My real pleasure, Pete. Nice to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I learned that you have built three houses and raised five children, but you said that building the houses was easier. Can you talk about that?

Michael Ungar
Yeah, for sure. Let’s just say that houses are kind of like children, they change your life, they improve the quality of your life, and your experience in the world, and they make you calmer, they make you happy, and all these kinds of other things. But they also stay put, right? They don’t sort of like change, or at least they’re not supposed to unless there’s a flood or something.

And kids are a little different. Having raised five, they don’t always sort of, for some reason, they aren’t always inspired by my advice. I can’t understand why that would be, but at least when you put a wall up and you actually hammer a nail in, or you get a stud wall up, it kind of stays there. And there is something pretty satisfying about building whatever, any kind of arts or craft or whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so when you built these three houses, that means like you did everything. That’s impressive because you’re also a mental health powerhouse, these are very different skills.

Michael Ungar
Yeah, the houses were different ones. Some of them were just like seriously 90% reno kind of things. One of them, literally, we chopped, we cut the wood down off of a wood lot that my father-in law had, and milled the wood, and literally skited it out of the forest, and built the house with it. And I had a master carpenter, I don’t have all the skills. But I hired a master carpenter, and was kind of funny. Some days I was his boss in terms of making decisions, and the next day I was just basically the laborer on the job site and he was literally telling me, “Nail that board, and lift that log, and do exactly as I tell you.” So, it was really fun. It’s great.

I always find, too, that the more I sort of vary my activities, even my writing, I write fiction, I’ve written a novel, I’ve written for different audiences, and I find it’s the variety that actually keeps me sort of shocks my mind, awake, if you will. There’s something really wonderful about these different experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And it seems like much of the research about creativity is just that. You’ve got deep expertise in one thing but you dabble in many things, and suddenly associations and ideas pop up, like, “Oh, this is a lot like nailing a board together.”

Michael Ungar
You do see patterns actually, and that’s what the richer your environment around you, the more people you sort of surround, even if you’re not an extrovert, there’s lots of ways sort of bringing those experiences to you if you’re just sitting on a park bench.

I travel the globe, and one of the most wonderful things I get a chance to do is actually just to walk around cities. I do take in some of the cultural events and all that, but often it’s just that sense of watching how architecture goes together or how people pattern their lives that remind you that there are so many different ways that people find pathways to success or put their lives together in ways that actually make sense.

And you begin to, like, if you’re in Japan. I mean, Japan looks a lot like where I live in North America, but the assumptions underlying those things are just so, so different, where leaving a tip at a restaurant can be an insult. Or when you get on a subway, taking your backpack off and putting it up on the tray sort of above the seat without any fear of it being stolen, it kind of shocks you into new ways of thinking about the world and many of your own sort of, well, certainly for me, things that I would just take for granted.

And I do find that, ultimately, especially when I write books, I think of ideas like resilience. I’m always sort of trying to sort of get my head out of standard thinking, and really see what really is happening. And that’s maybe the scientist in me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Well, so, could you orient us to a particular area of your expertise, which is resilience?

Michael Ungar
Yeah. Well, it’s been something, a big part of my research and my clinical work for the last, I’d say, two decades. It kind of has become just kind of boiling down to this idea that in the field of resilience, if you say to the typical person, “What do you think is resilience?” They tend to offer you that kind of idea of bouncing back, the personal transformation, that personal grit.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like Rocky.

Michael Ungar
Yeah, like Rocky, which I love the movie, but it’s actually not what the science is actually saying. And most of the scientists in the area, the real people really looking at this, are actually telling us now that it’s not just about being a rugged individual. It’s also about being a resource individual. And that, in fact, most of what changes us, most of what gets us through a crisis, is actually not inside of us at all. The missing piece here is that what mostly gets us through is the resources around us.

If you look at even like the great superstars. You look at like a Ronaldo, a soccer star, you look at whatever. If you can kind of get close to them, what you’ll often discover is less about just how they keep their mindset perfect. But there’s always those wonderful stories of people who believed in them. Like, I always say this, if I’m going to talk to someone like Ronaldo, I’m going to want to ask him who gave him his first soccer ball. Like, who saw in him the potential to keep growing? All these aspects of our lives, and yet somehow are this conversation we often have about resilience.

In a very strange way always puts it right back on our own shoulders, that somehow if we just think, you know, have the right thoughts, show enough grit, have the right mindset, that we will succeed. And I hate to burst the bubble, but actually, as I sort of talk about in this book Change Your World, I’m sorry, the evidence is against you on that one. That is actually not the whole story. And so, that’s kind of what I’ve been looking at, what resilience comes from and all the different places around the world, including in North America, but what are the factors that make us resilient on the job, in our family lives, etc. like that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s intriguing as you’re talking about it. It’s less about sort of what’s inside your brain and more about your resources and your support group. I don’t know why, I’ve got this silliest line is coming to my head. It’s from an Andy Samberg movie, which is basically spoofing, I think, Justin Bieber’s life. And so, he’s a rock star, and he has all these people around him doing all these things. And he says, “It takes a village to make me look dope.” And it sounds like, in crass, silly terms, that’s kind of what you say.

Michael Ungar
But what’s even more fascinating is that it’s not just the relationships, which I think sometimes, again, people will, “Yeah, relationships matter a lot.” But it’s what the relationships, in a sense, bring us and all the other things. Well, people sometimes, I find sometimes when I’m working clinically that people are doing research in this area. People will come back to that, “It’s always got to be people,” and then if they don’t have people, if you’re kind of isolated, right, socially isolated, and you think, “I can’t be resilient.”

But, actually, I’ll give you an example. I was working clinically with a young woman who was a paralegal, came to my office on her lunch hour dressed to the nines, just completely put together. And by way of a social worker, a family therapist, I’m not sitting in the office with a suit and tie sort of thing. So, she always impressed me that way. But she was in an abusive, this really abusive relationship, and I could never quite reconcile, how this very put together confident young woman, who came into my office with that energy, could go home and just so let herself, in a sense, not let herself, but, I mean, be put in a very abusive situation.

And I know the psychology of this. I’m in the field. I’ve worked for many years. But what would change that? And we tried to get her to change her mindset, to change her thinking about her relationships, etc., but she’s still sort of had that sense that, “No, no, no, I’d be worse off with leaving the guy.” Anyways, very small, little change.

I, one day, asked her to go home, and, instead of changing her clothes as she came in the house, which is what she used to do, putting on the track pants and looking kind of just frumpy and normal and calmed or whatever, and then letting herself be abused by this guy verbally, she just didn’t change her clothes. She stayed in this office power suit, and it gave her that cue and, in a sense, it had enveloped her in an environment that cued her to say, “You are worth more than this guy.” And it dramatically changed the work that we did together.

That really started her on a path to changing really things that she got rid of the apartment, she left the guy in the apartment, he’s kind of moved in on her. She found the support from her friends to get her stuff out of the apartment. She talked to the police about how to do this safely, etc. And I was really impressed by what I’ve learned from her, which was that we can create around us these external cues that remind us how to be rugged. In a sense, the resources trigger the ruggedness.

And, in fact, this is what the science of resilience teaches us, that it’s the external world that literally changes how we think, how we attribute cause, what we believe we can do, and whether or not we’re actually going to realize our talents, whether or not it’s in the work world or in our family at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating and a really inspiring story, and fun in terms of the implications that that can have in any number of context and lives. And we had Todd Herman on the show earlier talk about enclothed cognition, and sort of how indeed what you wear send signals and changes sort of your emotional state, and your capacity to even be effective in different contexts. So, what I’m digging about that is it’s just so darn actionable in terms of the clothes you choose to put on is a part of your environment that’s literally right on you.

Michael Ungar
Oh, absolutely. I mean, if it’s okay I can even take it a little bit further because people think, “Okay, I’ve got the clothing down.” But, of course, we know that, I mean, if you really want to know how to make yourself resilient, you’re also going to have to think even further afield. Like, housing, right? People often say, “Oh, you know, you need relationships. I want to be loved. I want to be mattered.” All these kinds of things.

And I get that, but then they put themselves into, say, small mini mansions, like very large houses where they might have a couple of kids, but the house is so large they can’t even find the kids much less call them for dinner.

It’s kind of interesting that our houses can actually change our mood, whether or not there’s green, green spaces outside that home, whether or not we connect to our neighbors, the way we lay out our streets, whether or not we push that big garage to the front of the yard and hide the house sort of back on the yard.

All of these decisions that we make that in and of themselves seem rather, well, mild, accumulate to stress us or tear apart the very patterns of relationships, the impromptu context that we have with our neighbors, the sense of community—coming back to me with Justin Bieber and the village. But when people begin to think about a whole list of things, and I do talk about that list. It is that how we setup our houses, how we have relationships. Whether or not people around us give us a powerful identity, whether or not the relationships that we want, we’ve actually setup environments to give those to us.

I’ll give a small example. I don’t know if you have a morning routine for a cup of coffee or whatever it is that you drink in the morning. But a lot of people often say to people, “If you’re feeling disconnected and alone, go back to the same coffee shop for three weeks at the same time, and you’ll suddenly get known.” A little bit like the chairs idea, right? You’ll walk in and you’ll be the double soy latte extra hot with foam sort of thing.

And bit by bit you’ll become connected into a pattern, a community. And, again, we can either tell you to go on a yoga retreat and get your mind together, or pay a high-priced guru, or something like that, but, in a sense, that’s not going to create a sustainable change, not unless you already have all these other relationships in place. And if you do, then you’re good. If you’re not, then the individual flipping the switch in your head is not going to be a sustainable change.

And that’s not just an opinion. That’s, unfortunately, what the research actually shows in terms of all those wonderful practices, where all that sort of self-help movement stuff that were preaching at people, it ain’t working.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, I’d love to hear, could you point to one or two or three of the most striking smoking gun studies that really support this paradigm?

Michael Ungar
Well, sure. Even if you just want to stick with Center for Disease Control sort of statistics, if you prefer, we know that overweight and obesity rates are rising in North America, both countries, in Canada and the United States, Mexico, etc. That’s the truth and then we’re going to actually see a decrease in people’s longevity as a consequence of that.

And that’s, at the same time, that we have this massive diet industry, and everyone has access to the internet to get good advice, and there’s more advertising, and more self-help movements, and more opportunities to sort of reflect and fix yourself. What about if, I don’t know, we can take different maybe medications for depression?

Again, you’d think with all the self-help out there that, in fact, depression rates would be going down and that medication use would be going down. And, in fact, it’s going in the opposite direction entirely. The same with anxiety disorders and who’s appearing at our emergency rooms, especially amongst our children.

All these statistics are pointing to the fact that despite this mammoth cornucopia, this smorgasbord of available self-help stuff, the problem is we’re so focused on the rugged individual that we’ve missed that, in fact, without understanding that we also have to be resource individuals, we are not going to get better. We are actually, potentially, going to make the situation worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that’s tricky, certainly if you have ample information at our disposals, so to do some of that self-help stuff. And so, obesity, overweight is way up now as compared to before, and depression, anxiety also way up. So, I guess, then, that would follow that our environments have also become worse in terms of supporting a healthy weight, or a calm, tranquil, happy mental state. Could you sort of speak to some of those environmental factors at work there?

Michael Ungar
Well, some of the big ones that we know about are relationship breakdown. The irony, by the way, one good stat, if you’d like, divorce rates are going down, but that’s only because fewer and fewer people are actually marrying. That’s right. So, I hate to tell you this but it’s a good news/bad news story there.

So, if you think about those kinds of statistics, etc., you’re not necessarily seeing a great deal of change. Loneliness, for instance, would probably be the other big problem that we’re seeing. A huge number, something like one-quarter of US households have people living alone in them. And we’re not actually designed for that kind of lifestyle.

Now, the other side of that is that people, our kids are staying at home with us. And, culturally, there are some cultures that are probably, “That’s a good thing,” right? You don’t move out until you go and get married or something like that, and that’s just the family norm. Thankfully, for my own five children, that is not the family norm. They’re launching, so I can say that.

But you begin to look at loneliness, an inability to launch, in some cases, living in isolation. These are sort of structural things going on around us which are breaking down and, I think, not just I think, are actually showing up in our emergency rooms in our hospitals and, indeed, in our doctors’ offices where you’re seeing a spike in medications.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, loneliness in and of itself is an indicator of a depleted environment or less resource now as it used to be. And what are some other ways that our environments are more bad?

Michael Ungar
Toxic?

Pete Mockaitis
Our environments are worse or toxic. They’re depleted more so now than before in the realms of supporting a healthy way, to a healthy emotional state.

Michael Ungar
Well, the thing is, of course, the evidence is now mounting about cellphone use, screen times, and the social isolation, and accumulative stress that that causes in our lives when we’re online and how we relate to other people when we’re online. We’re not in those relationships really are satisfying to us. In and of itself, using your cellphone, being online a bit is not going to be the problem. Having a rich Facebook community that you’re swapping photos with your neighbors and friends and family. This is not the problem.

The problem becomes when it’s just your only outlet or you’re really caught up in that sort of neurological ping of having more and more likes or that sort of social desirability that you’re looking for. It drives me nuts when I see people taking those selfies. You know, they’re sitting there in the coffee shop and they’re just kind of having a ho-hum day and their facial expression is kind of neutral. And then, suddenly, they want to pop a selfie, and they do this really weird little smirk off to the side, like somehow that social presentation has to be, “I can’t just be normal. I have to be upbeat.”

And if you do it once, that’s not a problem. But if that’s your whole lifestyle, you are going to be more stressed. It’s also not necessarily building the real substance of what we need, which is genuine, well, not just genuine relationships, but a sense of your culture, a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.

I think part of this that also worries me, because I study resilience so you’re looking for patterns, and this could be on the job site or elsewhere, but you want people to feel like they’re making a really genuine contribution, a real contribution to some product, or some end goal, or mission statement. We are driven by that, whether it’s in our families. And, certainly, when I’m working with people in business settings and stuff, and you often say, “Well, if you’re not getting that from your work world…” then often what you want to ask people, “…are you finding these connections, this sense of meaningful participation in your community outside of your work world?”

And, yes, an audience will raise their hands and I’m sure listeners, too. People would say, “Do you volunteer? Are you a member of a religious organization?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I do, yes.

Michael Ungar
But it’s not just the relationship that you’re going to enrich. You’re also going to get access to more advice, resources. I live in a part of the world, I’d like to joke, where I live, it’s a town of about 400,000 people and we’re casserole people, we’re Maritimers, we’re East Coasters. And if someone down the road breaks a hip, they get a casserole or two or three. And, obviously, if someone’s child is sick, they get a whole freezer-load of casseroles.

But that kind of stuff brings our communities together. And I’m going to argue that even if your job is not meaningful at work, if you’re coming home and cooking in casserole for the neighbor down the street, and your housing is setup, and you’ve been stable enough in your housing for long enough that you actually know that neighbor, then you’ve got a lot of advantages, a lot of environmental advantages that is actually going to carry you through.

Well, not only are you avoiding depression, which we know, but it’s also going to carry you through in terms of being safer, less opportunities to be exposed to violence, you might be even more active in a community like that. I even just saw, I recently read a study that said your mortgage rate might be lower as well because, of course, you’re swapping information with your neighbors, right? So, there’s massive financial, social, emotional advantages when we do things and feel connected to others. But also, in culturally meaningful ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I can tell you, having recently our family given birth to two kids, under two, we appreciate getting a casserole.

Michael Ungar
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the equation of the household chaos, but much appreciated. So, that’s cool. Well, let’s really get into some of the actionable tidbits with regard to elements of your environment, and how to upgrade and build up those resources. We talked about clothing, we talked about housing, we talked about relationships. Could you maybe kind of lay out the kind of the master checklist and some of the best practices for upgrading those resources so we’ll upgrade our resilience?

Michael Ungar
Yeah, for sure. And I kind of list out 12 in Change Your World but I’m not going to go through all 12 because some of them are hitting here. But, essentially, obviously you need some structure, you want routine in your life, it carries you through periods of crisis. You want accountability. Put yourself in situations where people rely on you even if you’re just accountable to your dog to take them out for a walk. It’s that routine, it’s that sense of purpose in life that’s given to us by our environments.

You’re going to want, of course, relationships. But I always say, you don’t have to be loved, even though it sounds odd, but you do have to matter to somebody, and that’s often the tipping point that you see in studies of resilience. You have to have a powerful identity. There’s got to be something special about you. And, by the way, identity, let’s face it, it’s given to us, it’s not just homegrown in front of the mirror. It’s something that’s reinforced and given to us by others who say, “You are special at this.”

Power and control experiences. You really need that sense of efficacy, that sense that you can make a difference and make decisions that count in your life. What about fair treatment? It’s another that we often overlook. You know, if you’re not being treated fairly, if you hit the glass ceiling, or you’re feeling racially pushed aside, or your ethnicity is being disparaged, all these things accumulate in people’s lives and make it much more difficult to succeed especially when times get tough.

You need your basic needs met, all those kinds of things. You need a sense of your belonging somewhere in your community or your extended family. And, of course, you need things like, finally, yes, you need positive thinking. It does carry you through a tough period as well, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when you see all the other elements of that. And just basic financial. You need enough money and enough physical health to do the things that, frankly, matter to you.

But could I make that a little more concrete? That’s a heck of a list for people to digest, but let me give an example. I was doing some work with one of the worker’s compensation boards, and they were hearing a great story of a fellow who had injured himself on an oil rig. He was right down at the well head, doing really heavy hard labor, you know, paid well, very proud of that identity, a real rough and tumble sort of individual.

And he injured himself and he can never go back into that kind of heavy work. And too often, what we do with workers like that is we direct them into IT jobs, or some sort of a sales job, or something like that. But, very wisely, his case worker got him a job back in the oil patch, but not down in the heavy lifting area. Where he was, he was at the front gate, checking in and out the trucks as the supply trucks and as people came in and out of the yard.

Now, if you think about it, the fellow, he’s changed his identity from the sort of rough and tumble guy at the well head, but he’s still in the same industry. And what’s more is he’s still wearing a hard hat, he has a vest on with the flashy colors and everything else, he’s holding a checklist so he’s in control of things, he’s able to direct people. And when he goes to lunch, he’s still with the same people that he was hanging around with before. And when he’s at the bar, or wherever he goes on Saturday nights, and someone turns and says, “What do you do?” He says, “I’m in the oil industry. I’m in the oil and gas industry,” right?

Now, like, for me, that was an interesting lesson learned, that when you create continuity and you give someone back access to their, in a sense, almost their culture, a sense of purpose, you give them the same uniform, coming back to what we talked about in terms of dress codes and that type of thing, giving him decision-making power, there’s a real sense of power in his job as well, that’s a perfect transition for someone.

And you know what? They’re not going to leave that. They’re not going to experience that injury and then fall into depression and, God forbid, suicide or other kinds of things that sometimes follow when you see people who have gone through these really traumatic injuries on the job. So, when you begin to have this kind of it’s almost like a checklist or a code book, on how to make people more resilient, and as you go through it, we begin to see it. The more of those that you check, as I just did with the sort of the fellow in this hard hat, the more you check, the more likely you are to have success, especially when you hit a really difficult, almost like a time in your life you’re going to stumble.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes some really good sense there with regard to keeping a lot of those things right there, identity is still there, relationship still there, a sense of belonging still there, and the relationships, they’re mattering, so accountability into some of the same kinds of folks, so the same structure routine, that’s pretty cool.

So, then, I’d love to get your take then, because that is a good size list, what’s your impression then, maybe specifically the context of professionals who hit some hard times maybe just because, “Oh, dear, I have to work 12 to 15 hours a week, for a few weeks in a row.” That’s exhausting. Or, “Oh, dear, now I’ve got the demands of job plus a sick child,” or, plus a sick parent. So, there’s some sort of plenty of work responsibility and then, suddenly, a whole lot more land. What are some of your top pro tips to get a really good bang for your buck in upgrading a key resource?

Michael Ungar
Well, that’s a great question. Indeed, you do see that problem of the sandwich generation, that’s probably a great example of that. So, if I learned anything from like literally interviewing hundreds of people, all the complex studies that we carry on, on these topics, I keep seeing a pattern of, well, maybe four simple steps that people go through in trying to figure out how to cope with a tough situation.

And, by the way, to be fair, it’s going to change depending on your risk exposure. So, that is probably the one kernel that we often forget. So, if you’ve got all of those supports, all the education, job stability, and a Visa card that’s not maxed out or a credit card that’s not maxed out, right? If you’ve got all that in place, then you can probably get through that situation you just described, right, because you’re going to have the resources, you can hire a nurse for your mother who’s ill, you can get your kid extra tutoring, you can hire a nanny to look after the house when you’re gone.

Like, you’ve got the infrastructure. So, the only thing you have to do, the first thing, I always encourage people, look at your risk exposure. Before you run to the next motivational guru, just ask yourself first, “How many real risks, how many real dangers, how many real threats am I experiencing in my life?” And then don’t expect that things are going to change if you’re under a lot of external stressors.

So, if you’re not under a lot of external stressors, then, frankly, change your mind, change your mindset, encourage more grit. I just listened to Brene Brown talk on her sort of being daring and courageous and these kinds of things. These are all great advice for us—when we have stability in our lives and that we also have some of, basically, we have healthcare, we have resources that allow us to be daring and all those kinds of other stuff.

So, one, get your mindset on. Change your heads. Absolutely, that’s your first strategy. Second strategy is, heck, if that’s still not quite enough, re-exploit the heck out of all the resources around you, right? Ask for help from your spouse, if that person is willing to step up. Demand that they step up. Ask your kids for a little bit of support, right, getting out of the house, or whatever, or helping with granny if she’s ill. Look to the professionals that you can tap in your community. Maybe tap into your savings if you have some. Do whatever you’re going to need. If you need timeout, pay for a vacation at that time. Do whatever it is that’s going to carry you through. Exploit the heck out of all those resources.

But I often find that the people I’m working with often are more stressed than that, that’s why they’re seeing a therapist often, or whatever. So, the third phase is, of course, you’ve got to create new resources, and that gets a little bit more tough. That means you go to work and maybe your boss is a real, whatever words you want to complete that with, that sentence.

Pete Mockaitis
Jerk face.

Michael Ungar
Jerk face, there you go. And maybe you’re going to need new resources. If that’s not a place you can have it, true enough, I often see people, “You don’t have to quit your job,” which I hate. Well, I actually hate when I hear people tell people to quit their job and start over. I hate that advice because I live in an economy that were often quite depressed, and people don’t quit jobs. You’ve got a good job, and you’ve got your mortgage covered, you do not quit that job.

What you do is, if you’re really stressed by your boss in a really toxic emotional environment, you make a lateral move. You say to them, “Is there a special project that I can get reassigned to? Is there a change of hours or shifts that I can do?” to get on to a different shift or a different boss. “Can I do an extra workshop or something to train up on a separate skill? It won’t increase my pay but at least it gets me into a different part of the office building, or something like that.”

So, often it’s about changing the resources around us. People often say, “I don’t have time to exercise.” I say, “Well, actually, change your parking spot. Park farther from your office door, right? Decide where you’re going to park. Take a parking spot, if you’re going to have to pay for a spot, pay for one that’s three blocks away instead of one block away.” Remarkably small efforts like those can actually exploit the environment around you much better.

Find a friend, find a new person, find a new activity that you’re interested in and exploit that activity to network with a new group of people. Each of these, is basically saying, “I can expand my resources.” So, one, change your head, try to get your head on straight, exploit the resources around you. The second strategy, or the third strategy is build more resources if at all possible.

And, unfortunately, the fourth strategy I see with people, and this has to be said, you know, sometimes we’re in such tough situations that we cannot find more resources. In that case, the only thing we can do is change our expectations. And maybe we don’t need suc   h a big house. Maybe we don’t need the second car. Maybe we aren’t going to go in that vacation that we’ve always dreamed of this year. And maybe our child is, frankly, still going to be sick tomorrow, and it’s still going to be a really, really crappy, burdensome life that we’re going to be living for the next foreseeable future. You don’t want to drive yourself crazy with high expectations.

And, in a sense, that brings you back to maybe changing your mindset, but that doesn’t mean that that’s the end of the story. What that often says is that time is often on our side, that new resources, just through the serendipity of life, just the randomness of where we are and where we could move to, and as our child develops, or our parent passes away, if that’s where you’re at in life, what I’ve seen people do is suddenly new doors open and there are, in a sense, new resources that they can, if they’re able to, to pull those resources to them. Because if you have those resources outside of you, Pete, they will change you. And as we are a better resourced, we actually become also, in a sense, more rugged as individuals as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, that’s so powerful to think through whatever your situation, and then to be able to go through each of those elements. And I’m thinking real-time about how even working with the challenge and have, you know, two kids that are two years old in the home all of a sudden, then we’re asking for some help for whether someone’s bringing in some food or grandparents are helping out, we’re spending some money, like someone is coming in from time to time to do a little bit of helping with the tidying and the food and the laundry, all the stuff, you know, the bottles upon bottles upon bottles.

And that really has made a cool difference, and then as well as changing the expectations. Like, “Hey, it’s not going to be tidy all the time. It’s a different game we’re in right now. And we’re okay with that.” So, but I’d love to hear, we’ve talked about changing your head. How in practice is that done?

Michael Ungar
Well, it’s often by putting ourselves in environments that compel the change. It’s funny, we often think right there it starts from inside, but actually it can actually start a lot from outside. I’ll give you a couple of funny little examples. A colleague of mine works on what’s called physical literacy, and he tries to get kids to move more, which is, “Oh, my gosh, we’re worried about that all the time as parents.” Two-year-olds move a lot. You’re not there yet, are you? But eventually they slow down, and then you want them to move more.

And this fellow, what he does is he went into an elementary school, and he put accelerometers on kids to see how much they’re moving and how fast they were moving. And then what he did was he went back on the weekend after he had his baseline measurements, and he painted hop scotches in the hallways of the elementary school.

Next week, he measured the kids again. Guess what? They were moving more and they were moving faster accumulatively. Now, it’s a silly little experiment perhaps, but if you see this as a pattern, we know that certain environments induce us or nudge us, if you like that word as well, towards different sets of behaviors to change. And they, in a sense, change our thinking about exercise, about movement. So, that’s why people get a dog. I mean, it’s a great external change. It not only makes us feel like we matter, it not only introduces structure and routine and accountability, it also involves us by compulsion. We must take the dog out for a walk. We’re literally outdoors more, hopefully, and in a sense moving.

So, these external elements can actually change our experience. And I have another sort of a funny example. Recently, we were in our neighborhood, we have a fairly good set of neighbors, but partly that’s because we’ve owned a house in the same space for a little while. And the other day, we were having a lot of family over for a turkey dinner, and the turkey didn’t de-thaw. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived this kind of weirdness, and it was just a too big a bird and it didn’t do what it was supposed to do in the fridge and it just wasn’t ready to be cooked when it was supposed to be ready to be cooked.

So, my partner goes scrambles all around the town and finds a couple of other turkeys that are fresh ones that we can cook up and feed everybody. But, meanwhile, we have this turkey that’s now half de-thawed that you can’t do anything with. So, what we do is we put our call out. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the story of the stone soup. You know, the guy shows up in a city, town, and says, “I can make a soup from a stone.” He just gets every single person in the town to contribute one little ingredient to the pot of water and, suddenly, he has a beautiful soup.

So, we put out a call to our neighbors, we said, “You know, we have a turkey but we don’t have a turkey dinner. And we need potatoes, we need vegetables, we need stuffing, we need gravy, we need this and that.” And, suddenly, basically, two days later we held a massive party, impromptu, in our kitchen that brought in 30 people, well, 30 of our neighbors.

And the reason I’m sort of saying that is there’s a part of me floating above that whole experience going, “You know, if you want to talk about combatting loneliness, if you want to talk about feeling connected and knowing that you have people in your corner, it’s not always about deep heart-to-heart thoughts, or great emotional moments.” It’s sometimes about simply saying, “Join me in a turkey dinner because I have a big bird that I can’t eat and, frankly, I need a little bit of help doing something like this.”

So, I’m always kind of amazed that we can change our emotional moods, we can change our physical behaviors through external environments. And I think we do this in the workplace all the time as well, right? I don’t know if you’ve ever met somebody like this but one of the best examples that I’ve ever encountered, and it’s so mundane it’s silly, but I’ve met people who don’t necessarily find much meaning in their workplace, but they’re the birthday person on the job.

And I’m not sure if you’ve ever worked in a place where there’s the birthday person. You know, the person who remembers everyone else’s birthday to make sure that there’s a cake, cakes and the cards and stuff? And if you actually sort of look at what’s going on, they have found an identity, a role, a way of building community, a sense of purpose and place. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they’re processing claims for whatever, right? It’s a completely, in a sense, an action that reminds them, that changes their mood. It’s a small act that, evidently, they have to be motivated to do, but it kind of reflects back to them and changes who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I really like the turkey story and it reminds me of a time when we had too much beer in the keg.

Michael Ungar
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like 23 years old, and it’s like, “What are you going to do with all this extra beer?” So, we like made little flyers and slipped them under everyone’s door in the apartment building, and we did. We had a bundle of random folk from across the apartment building finishing up the keg. And it was fun, we got to know these neighbors, like folks we never met before, like, “Well, I’ll show up for some free beer. Sure.”

Michael Ungar
I love it. And, yeah, the difference between being maybe 23 and 43, or maybe not. Somehow, I tried to play that actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Right in the middle now it’s like, “What was going to be my thing? Is it a turkey? Is it a keg?” I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but this is good food for thought saying podcaster pun. Well, tell me, Michael, any final thoughts about boosting resilience before we shift gears to talk about some of your favorite things?

Michael Ungar
Well, probably the best part of this is really, if I could, just the research is really clear, right? It’s the external things that make us a mess, that causes the trauma. It would make sense that it’s also the external things that are going to heal us. I just don’t understand why when we talk about the external things, there’s these wonderful studies out of the US called the Adverse Childhood Experience Studies where they’ve identified 10 things that are really going to mess you up as an adult. If you have those things happen as a kid, like abuse, and a parent goes to jail, and a parent with a mental illness or an addiction, or even a divorce or separation of parents, all these things have long-term health implications for you when you’re an adult. And that’s what the Adverse Childhood Experience Studies show.

But they’re all preventable, right? These are all preventable things through good social policy, through good healthcare, good access to resources. We can prevent families and children from experiencing these awful things, which kind of, if you flip the coin here, it would make sense that if you also gave children, well, beneficial childhood experiences, you would also decrease heart disease and depression in adulthood. You decrease all the illnesses that are now associated with those negative things as kids.

So, for me, as much as I’m both a clinician and a scientist and a father and a neighbor, there’s such a robust evidence that says to me, “Be resourced, not just rugged, and you’ll stop blaming yourself for these problems.”

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Michael, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael Ungar
Well, I would still say something along the lines of it’s easier to change the world around you than yourself. I mean, that’s sort of the mantra that I just keep going with over and over again. Or, maybe even better, Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” which is sort of a rift on the same idea, right? Once you have it, you don’t kind of acknowledge it, you don’t sort of see it, but, boy, once it’s gone, you know it.

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

Michael Ungar
Probably the Adverse Childhood Experience Studies which I just talked about, or there’s been some wonderful stuff, sort of the neighborhood studies out of Chicago that were done decades ago. Certainly, it showed up much the same, you know, people’s need for stable housing. Or, a recent study up in Alaska by Shauna BurnSilver. Her colleagues had showed, you know, people’s nutrition and health has very little to do with the food supply, and a whole lot to do with, say, she’s talking about like a hunting in a more sort of hunting societies.

A lot of it has to do with how bountiful the game is, and much more about how the communities share what they have, which kind of speaks again to we’re a lot stronger together and through cultural practices and how we see ourselves as contributing to the welfare of others.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Michael Ungar
That’s tough. I love fiction but I also like sort of the non-fiction realm. If readers haven’t come across Chris Hadfield’s Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth definitely a great read. He was the commander of the Space Station and the guy who did all the musical performances up there and some great photography as well. And he just kind of basically brings it home. He says there was a lot he learned as an astronaut, but there’s a lot of great lessons about how to cooperate in a team, and how to work together with others. And I think Chris definitely has a great perspective on life.

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

Michael Ungar
I’d have to say, I know it’s going to, maybe it’s funny, but actually the tool is part of my family. It’s actually what happens in the prep to get to the job. On the job site, it’s probably just finding a common mission. There’s something, a principle called collective impact. If people ever tripped to cross that idea of that you get people on the same agenda, you feel like you’re all collaborating.

I work a lot in international teams where we’re spending a lot of time communicating over the web. And I find that when you have a common mission statement, that’s really great, but it’s even better when your family is interested in what you’re doing, and it kind of reinforces it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Michael Ungar
Oh, definitely coffee shop hanging out watching people. Whenever I’m too burnt out or just tired and whatever, especially, I travel a great deal, I find it’s the coffee shop, it’s that hunt of a local, not a chain, but sort of a local kind of hip place to hang out and just watch people, and just that centering space of the routine, of doing the same thing, or having the same kind of drink anywhere in the world. It almost transports you home. It almost just reminds you sort of what life is about, I guess, for that particular moment.

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

Michael Ungar
Well, they can check out my website, it’s michaelungar.com. Of course, it has all the links, and the books, and stuff if you want to read a bit more. “Change Your World” is coming out. Hopefully, it’ll inspire some ideas as well. And if they’re really into more research side, the website is resilienceresearch.org and that’s our big research center that we run.

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

Michael Ungar
Oh, man. Just, yeah, focus a little bit less on blaming yourself and trying to be rugged, and just think about putting around yourself, enveloping yourself with the resources that are going to bring out your best. And just let it follow, just let your mindset be changed by the environment around you so that people will notice you. Situations will make you feel good about yourself. Your success will sort of elevate your identity and your sense of power and control. These things can all be done through the external cues to you as opposed to, you know, I know it’s so much work.

Frankly, it’s exhausting, exhausting to try and get the world, to try and just change ourselves and then go, day after day, back into a toxic environment. And I think that is such a formula for depression and other diseases or mental health problems, versus just shifting ourselves a little bit into environments that reward us. And, frankly, if work ain’t cutting it, then find that elsewhere. Volunteer. There’s a jazz festival that comes to where I live every summer. I see people volunteering at that. I also see people volunteering as coaches in the little league. You know, there’s endless opportunities to give back and feel like, frankly, you have meaning to others. And, frankly, that’s what resilience is all about. I see it over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michael, thanks for sharing the good word, and good luck with your book “Change Your World” and all your adventures.

Michael Ungar
Well, thanks. And all the best to you and your young family. What an adventure that is.

436: How to hack your time and motivation wisely–and when not to–with Joseph Reagle

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Joseph Reagle shares handy research insights on hacking life optimally and safely.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The question you need to ask when optimizing your life
  2. Why lifehacks should be taken in moderation
  3. How to use your own money  to hack your motivation

About Joseph

Joseph writes and teaches about digital communication and online communities. He’s an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. He’s also served as a fellow and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. His doctoral dissertation was on the history and collaborative culture of Wikipedia. Joseph has appeared in media including The Economist and The New York Times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joseph Reagle Interview Transcript

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

Joseph Reagle
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your stuff. And I’d love to start with you sharing a little bit of how you came to adapt a practice of Japanese techniques of T-shirt folding. What’s the scoop here?

Joseph Reagle
I came by it by way of YouTube. I’m a bit of a sponge. I watch a lot of YouTube channels, I read a lot of blogs and whatnot. And I saw that there’s this particular technique for folding T-shirts, and I can’t say it verbally. If your listeners want to check it out, you can Google Japanese T-shirt. It’s very nice. You just kind of pinch two parts of the shirt, and you do a little flick of the wrist, and then, bam, it’s folded.

And it’s a trivial sort of thing. It doesn’t really save me much time, but I think the thing I enjoy about it is I don’t really enjoy folding laundry. And so, this gives me a little practice, a little technique that I can improve upon, that I can hone as I’m folding my laundry, so that gives me something to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is nice and it sort of makes you feel like there’s some craftmanship involved. And I believe this Japanese T-shirt folding practice is different than what Marie Kondo is advocating as I looked at your reference videos. Is that fair to say?

Joseph Reagle
It is. She also has some great ideas. I don’t know if she calls it vertical folding. But, basically, if you have a lot of T-shirts, or maybe we use this with the hand towels in our kitchen. Instead of piling all the hand towels on top of one another, you arrange them side by side so you can see your whole gamut of things that you want to select from. And that’s a very handy tip as well, and we use that in our kitchen.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like, in particular, the ability to not have to make one hand into a levitating shelf to take the things that are up above it in the other hand to grab the thing that is now on the new top. And then things get a little bit disjointed along the way. So, I’m right with you. Well, it’s funny, we’re already talking about it. You’ve got a book, it’s called Hacking Life and I’m quite intrigued by your premises and your discoveries. So, maybe you can start us off by sharing what was one of the most striking and surprising discoveries you made when putting this together?

Joseph Reagle
Well, in the book, I’m looking at lifehackers and all the domains of life that they apply this hacking ethos to. So, it includes things like motivation, time management, productivity, health, material possessions. And when I got to relationships, I was looking at various types of people who use various tips and tricks for seduction, pickup artistry, for managing their marriage, the negotiation part of a relationship, as well as people just going online like OkCupid and trying to figure out how to get themselves to be able to be matched with people that they might like.

And there was a Wired article about this one hacker who hacked OkCupid and he created fake profiles, and he downloaded a bunch of information, and he kind of figured out the sort of women that he would be attracted to, and the sort of questions that they were interested in. And he ended up calling it a success, and he published a self-help book about how to hack OkCupid. And he went on 88 dates.

And when I talk about that with students, they’re like, “That doesn’t sound very successful,” but I teach in Communication Studies, and most of my students are women, and when they hack dating, they also add a filtration mechanism, interestingly enough, so they don’t have to go out with bozos and boneheads.

And then I came across someone else, another engineer who went on 150 dates in four months. And he spoke about—it was so tempting in this age, when we have all this technology and choice available to us, to try one more date, to get one more datapoint to figure out like who that perfect person would be. And that’s been leading me into some of the downsides, I think, in approaching life this way.

I’m very hackery myself. I think we can learn a lot. There’s a lot of handy tips and tricks, and they can even help us craft some meaning for our lives. But there are some excesses.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. However, I want to talk about some of your hackeriness, if that’s a word, as well as some of the pros and cons. But maybe just to make sure, from a language standpoint, we’re on the same page, what makes a lifehack a lifehack per se?

Joseph Reagle
Well, the term “hack” goes back, surprisingly, far amount of time. It emerged at MIT at their Tech Model Railroad Club. So, that was a very geeky    early electronics club at MIT in the late 1950s, and hacker culture emerged out of that. And they started accumulating a fair amount of jargon back then, and they put out a dictionary in 1959, and they said a hacker is the person who avoids the standard solution.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Joseph Reagle
More recently, the founder of LifeHacker.com, Gina Trapani, she wrote that as a computer engineer-type of person, she thinks about reprogramming the tasks of her life how she would a program. And her goal is to optimize them to make them a little faster and a little more efficient. So, the idea of lifehacking spans the mundane and include things like tying your shoelaces or folding your shirt, but it goes up to what I call meaning hacking, trying to find contentment in a life of uncertainty and loss. But all of these entail an appreciation of systems and employment of systems, maybe trying to figure out how to exploit those systems, to bend the rules so that you can be a little more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I mean, that sounds great to me. What are some of the downsides you’re unearthing here?

Joseph Reagle
Well, what I wanted to do in this book is not pillorize lifehacking. And people do sometimes, particularly cultural critics and academics. You know, they hold their nose when it comes to self-help, and I think lifehacking is a part of self-help. And there’s plenty of shade that people can throw at lifehacking as well.

But I didn’t want to do that because, as I just said, I’m geeky myself. But what I wanted to do was then draw some distinctions. So, let’s not throw lifehacking out altogether. Let’s figure out, are there ethical lifehacks and less ethical lifehacks? Are there different types of hacking? And I call them nominal and optimal hacking.

And I think, in this case, optimal hacking certainly has some excesses entailed. So, you might optimize a wrong thing. So, the example that I spoke of, of that hacker who went on 150 dates, I think he was optimizing for the wrong thing. He got fixated on the dates rather than the starting of a relationship. And when you approach life as a system that can be optimized, you do have the tendency to sometimes fall into this trap of what I call naïve optimization.

Pete Mockaitis
These are great distinctions I’m wrapping my brain around here. So, I got optimal hacking, where we’re seeking to optimize something. In that one case, he was optimizing such that he could get a bunch of dates. And what’s nominal hacking?

Joseph Reagle
Nominal hacking is an engineering term, and I could’ve used the word normal, but I didn’t for various reasons, because that’s loaded as well. But it’s the idea that you’re good enough. So, for example, I spoke to lots of folks in the quantified self-movement and lifehackers who might want to lose a little bit of weight, or who have migraines. And so, they’re not trying to like boost their brains like some lifehackers and biohackers take nootropics that supposedly make them smarter. That’s how Tim Ferriss actually got his start, selling a nootropic online.

They’re just trying to get back to a good enough sort of state. And I can appreciate that certainly because if people take some risks there, they’re doing it for a particular reason. But when people get too far down the line of optimizing, sometimes they’re putting themselves at risk for a very marginal gain. So, for example, one of the people I speak of is Seth Roberts, and he was very big in the Quantified Self movement when that started. And the Quantified Self movement is just like the number measurement fixated wing of lifehackers.

And he came up with, well, he discovered for himself that eating half a stick of butter everyday made him a little bit faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Faster, running? Thinking?

Joseph Reagle
Thinking. And so, he had a little program on his computer, and it would give him little math puzzles, and he would respond to them as quickly as he could, and he would chart and measure his response times and accuracy, and he would track that over the days so he could see when he was a little bit faster, or when he was a little bit slower.

And he, originally, had started eating a large amount of pig fat everyday to help with his sleep because he discovered that helped him by way of accident. But then eating pig fat everyday was difficult because you can’t really carry it around with you. But he discovered if you ate half a stick of butter, you can get butter even when you’re out at a restaurant. That helped with his sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Butter, please.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, and it improved his mathematical abilities. And when he would give talks about this, he was like, “This is really great. This really works for me. I prefer to manage my own health in this way.” He didn’t really trust the medical establishment. And he wasn’t a kook. He was a professor of psychology. He worked on rat psychology, but he was very much into his own quantification and experimentation. And a cardiologist, in one of his talks, suggest that he might give himself a heart attack.

And the big irony here was that he started a column at The New York Observer, where he would write about his lifehacking and experiments on a monthly basis, maybe it was weekly. And his first column was his last column. It was entitled “Butter Makes Me Smarter.” And a couple of days before, he had had a heart attack.

So, I can’t say that eating half a stick of butter gave him a heart attack. He’s just a single person. But I think it speaks to some of the risks. Like, why eat half a stick of butter so that you’re a couple milliseconds faster on this trivial arbitrary sort of little quiz you setup for yourself?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yes, so that’s very clear, optimizing for the wrong thing. So, you’re a little quicker but your health is suffering, and so that’s not a great trade certainly. So, given that, how has your thinking evolved in terms of establishing whether a particular practice seems like a good idea or a bad idea?

Joseph Reagle
I don’t know if I can say beforehand something is great or something is really a bad idea, but I have some heuristics. And so, again, if you’re to push yourself to that leading edge, I think you need to ask yourself, “Am I focusing on one thing beyond all others?”

So, there’s a fellow by the name of Nick Winter, and he wrote this really nice little self-published book that you can buy on Amazon called Motivation Hacker. And he read all the popular literature, the pop science literature on motivation, on habit formation, on curing procrastination. And he thought, “Well, what happens if I could amplify all this to be absurdly productive?” And he used all these psychological techniques, and apps and hacks that were available to him, and he was savvy about it.

He did end up working 120-hour work weeks as for fun almost, but he also had to create goals for himself, like to go on so many dates with his then girlfriend, now wife, go out to be social with his friends like 10 times a week, make sure he was still doing his pushups and pullups and health regime. So, that works for him. And you can go to a webpage, he dynamically, in live time, has a webpage where he charts his productivity and the hours he has spent coding. And he plots it against his running average over days, and months, and weeks. But at least he was cognizant of the fact that he had other things that he needed to keep his eye on, and he didn’t just focus on and fixate on productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s interesting is, as you talk about that life and that quantification and striving to sort of beat it and have it at the top, I mean, it’s interesting because I love spreadsheets for all sorts of things. And I have quantified a number of things in my day that most people don’t bother or would find excessive or over the top.

But, as I think about and imagine that scenario, it seems to me a real risk would be just a sense that your, I don’t know, meaning, or your value, or your purpose, or all that matters is that which is you are quantifying, charting, publishing, which can kind of suck you into some, I think maybe really, depressing places. Is that kind of what some patterns that you’re seeing in your research here?

Joseph Reagle
Oh, definitely. So, I have the chapters on hacking time, hacking motivation, material possessions, and you can almost see a progression of people looking for contentment. So, people think, “If I can be super-efficient, then I will be happy. I will be content.” And it turns out that’s not necessarily the case for a lot of people. They realize, “I still am not happy. I climbed to the top of my hierarchy at my work, I make a lot of money, and I bought a house. Now, I have all this stuff, and that’s making me anxious.”

So, then, you can look at the digital minimalist, another wing of lifehacking, and they decided, “Well, why don’t I do another experiment? Why don’t I get rid of everything except a hundred things?” So, there is the hundred things challenge, and some people did 99 things, and some people did 50 things. And that worked for some people for a time, and some people still lived that very minimalist life. But one of the people I spoke to, it’s a pseudonym, but I had been following her, and she, again, had had a breakdown, had a good job but very stressful, ended up on the floor in a pool of tears, that’s how she spoke about it. And quit the job, sold everything except what she could fit in a backpack and traveled the world writing about digital minimalism.

And, after a year or so, she quit it all. And I found that out because I was checking some of my sources for the book, and all her webpages were gone, and her e-book was gone, and her Twitter account was gone. But, fortunately, I still had contact information, and I said, “Now, what happened? Where did it all go?” And she said, “Well, everyone was doing the same thing, all shouting about how happy and content they were, and how awesome this was, but it just started to ring hollow,” and she got out of it.

And so, that’s the chapter on material possessions. And then there is a chapter on health and relationships, then ultimately meaning. Like, when you realize that none of those things will necessarily guarantee you happiness and contentment, when you realize that life, even perfectly optimized, is still likely to throw you some disappointments and loss. What do you do? And that’s the next to the last chapter when people start pulling from stoicism and mindfulness and Zen Buddhism in particular among lifehackers.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. So, yeah, I can see how that really makes sense in that, just like, “Okay, if I could just do a little more, a little more, a little more of efficiency, or productivity, or production of stuff, then I’ll arrive.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait a second. It can’t get any more optimal than this and you’re still not doing it.”

Joseph Reagle
So what do you do then?

Pete Mockaitis
Bummer! A realization. And so, well, I mean, that’s a big question. Now, what do you do?

Joseph Reagle
Well, one of the parallels I draw, I found this really interesting in the meaning hacking chapter, was that people do, are very fond of the Zen minimalist sort of aesthetic, and mindfulness is really big in Silicon Valley. There’s a conference every year called Wisdom 2.0 where they bring in Google and a bunch of tech companies and all the mindfulness gurus.

And people pick and choose in various aspects of religions, and it tends to be very individualistic, and we’ll hear people talking about how like Tim Ferriss will talk about mindfulness as an efficient operating system for the brain. There’s a fellow who started at Google, he wrote a book and he has a non-profit called Search Inside Yourself because he started at Google, so he’s playing on this search thing. And he wrote about how EQ is great for your engineers’ and your techies’ and your employees’ emotional intelligence.

And the employees know the more EQ they have, the more money they’ll make, and so they’ll be happier at the companies. And that just seems very crass. And so, people get frustrated with that. And, again, the ironic parallel is Siddhartha, the original Buddha, started out living a life of extreme luxury. His father was the king, his mother the queen, he was provided with everything a young man could be provided with: money, exotic foods, courtesans.

And he woke up one morning and he just said, “I am not happy. I am not content.” He became a minimalist. He went out, traveled around, taught and learned from a lot of yogis. He became very extreme. He tried to optimize his asceticism, nearly starved himself to death, passed out, was revived by a young girl who fed him some rice milk, and realized, “Huh, maybe what I need to do is pursue the middle way, the middle path, the path of moderation.”

And so, wow, that’s the insight. Maybe being super extreme about optimizing everything is not the solution. Maybe moderation is good in all things. And that’s the neat thing about lifehacking as a type of self-help. A lot of the genuine bits of wisdom and insight that people do come to have been around for centuries, if not millennia. But what self-help does is it wraps up those bits of wisdom, those bits of insight, into a vocabulary that people in a current moment, in a current culture can understand.

So, what lifehacking really is it’s a type of self-help, for what’s been called, you know, the geek class, the engineers, the techies, the creative class, the people who aren’t on someone else’s clock but they still have a lot to do. And they have to figure out, “Well, how in this world of increased demands and expectations on your intention, but also increased distractions, how can you possibly focus?”

And so, lifehacking, as a type of self-help, says, “Here are some lessons that have been around for a while, like the middle path, the middle way, making sure you connect with your family and friends, and you don’t forget about it, making sure that when you schedule your day, you give yourself time to do meaningful long-term stuff, that you give yourself time to maybe be spiritual, or spend time with your friends and relations, and it couches it in contemporary terms.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I appreciate, Joseph, you’ve also given me a prescription for a bestseller, just to go ahead and find some ancient wisdom and package it in modern terms, and that seems to be a winning formula.

Joseph Reagle
That’s what self-help is. It’s always being done actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, all right. Well, that gets me all the more motivated to finish off Plutarch’s Lives and any other books that are on my shelf that I haven’t built in meaningful time to tackle just yet. Well, that’s really cool. So, getting acquainted then, or having covered these kinds of cautionary bits, and getting a broader perspective on what we’re really going for, I do want to touch base on a little bit of tactical stuff. What have you discovered have been, for many practitioners, some pretty excellent habits, or approaches, or hacks when it comes to time?

Joseph Reagle
One of the insights I came to in doing this work, and again this has been around for a while. There is a theorist, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, Schelling, who came up with this idea of Egonomics. And decades ago, he said that there’s a lot of things that we would like to do, but that we don’t do. And the Greeks even spoke of this as “akrasia.” We do things that we shouldn’t do, and we don’t do the things we should do.

So, one of the things that I take advantage of is called the Pomodoro technique. And “pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato, and the guy who came up with it just happened to have a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato.

And the idea is that when you have a long-term task that you want to do or go on, like I want to write a chapter for a book, getting started writing a chapter of a book is daunting. It’s very hard to motivate yourself. So, what you can do is you can say, “I’m just going to set this timer for 40 minutes, and I’m going to sit down, and I’m just going to look at that page in front of me, I’m not going to allow myself to get distracted. But after the 40 minutes, I can take a short break.”

And that allows you to get over that hump of, “Oh, my gosh, I could never start this big project that I’ve been worrying about and thinking about.” And so, that’s one of the techniques I love. On the cover of my book, under the title, there is a little Pomodoro tomato timer. I don’t know how many people will get that, but that’s what it is. And I also glitched it up a little bit to show there might be a dark side or some excesses.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the Pomodoro, you are a fan there. And so that is, I believe, 25 minutes is the time there.

Joseph Reagle
I think that’s how it was started. I tend to do 45 to 50 minutes for writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, that you found to be good and workable and helpful in your world.

Joseph Reagle
I do. And, again, the interesting thing is it’s not so much a time management. It’s really a self-management tool. Because time really is what time is. You can’t do a lot with it. The real challenge is motivating ourselves. An economist from a couple of decades ago, who won a Nobel Prize, actually called this Egonomics. He proposed a new field of study for ways that we might understand the economics of our own self-regulation, the sort of economy of our desires and wants.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fascinating. Can you share perhaps an insight or takeaway or two from that study?

Joseph Reagle
Well, he didn’t do a study. He wrote an essay where he was proposing this sort of study. And some of the examples he used back then was, he says, “Well, people do things to keep themselves from smoking cigarettes, or biting their nails.” Like, people would paint some disgusting nail polish on their nails so they would taste it. Or, if you have poison ivy, you put gloves on your fingers. And so, he said, “Just as a real economics, you see these exchanges and tensions, we grapple with these within ourselves.”

And, interestingly, if we go back even further, the Greeks spoke about this. They had a term for it called akrasia. And that was that frustration related to doing things that you shouldn’t do, and not doing things that you should do. And the classic example for that is Ulysses. He wanted to hear the sirens when he and his sailors were sailing by, but he knew that if everyone heard the sirens, they would be pulled to their death on the rocks. So, what did he do? He had himself tied to the mast, and could listen to the sirens, had the men put wax in all their ears so they couldn’t hear the sirens, and he could enjoy it but he knew he wouldn’t go crazy.

And, in economics, they call those Ulysses pacts, or—Ulysses is another name for Odysseus. And what you do is you commit yourself to something that it’s not easy to back away from. So, earlier I mentioned Nick Winter and his book, The Motivation Hacker, and he’s really fond of this app called Beeminder. Now, this would never work for me, but the app, what it does is it asks you to commit a certain amount of money to a task. And if you don’t do that task you forfeit the money.

So, you might say, “I want to work for 50 minutes to get started on my chapter today,” you set your Pomodoro timer. But what’s going to keep you from getting distracted? Well, there are some tools like Freedom that can keep you from going to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. But you could also set a little goal on Beeminder that says you’re going to lose $10 if you fail to satisfy your Ulysses pact, your commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, I guess then you just have to be honest.

Joseph Reagle
You do.

Pete Mockaitis
You could go back in there and say I did or did not do that thing.

Joseph Reagle
That’s the question. Like, “Well, why would anyone not just lie and not lose the money?” But the thing that I encountered when I spoke to users of this application is that, one, they have this app very much integrated into their lives and their quantifications, so they really want good, accurate data for like how many words they wrote in a day, or how many Pomodoros they did, or whatever it is that they’re trying to do. And they don’t like to have their data distorted, and that’s helping them manage their data.

And then, two, they really appreciate the service. And so, they’re happy. Like, if you have a habit you really want to create, spending 10, and then if you fail, 20, it doubles. Spending that amount of money is worth it to you. And they very cleverly designed the app such that you end up paying the least money that’s still worth what that task is worth to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. How do you arrive at such a figure?

Joseph Reagle
They’ve done some research. The company is a joint effort of two folks, Bethany Soule, who has a graduate degree in Computer Science, and Danny Reeves who has a PhD in Economics and Incentive Systems. And they have applied that economic quantified approach to the whole of their lives. I talk about their marriage in the chapter on hacking relationships.

And they bid for things in their relationship, like who’s going to take out the trash tonight. The one person might say, “Well, I would give you $2,” and the other person will say, “Well, I’d give you $3.” And so, the person might, “Okay, I’ll take the $3.” And for them, from an economic point of view, it’s very efficient because the person who least wanted to do it didn’t have to do it, and the person who got the most value of it did it. So they have a very unusual but interesting approach to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess, again, you need to be honest, like, “Oh, boy, I’d give you $500.” It’s like getting you trump, trump, trump, trumping them each time with a huge sum. But I guess that’s part of the marriage game is being honest and forthright and not trying to game the system there.

Joseph Reagle
Yeah, and they do exchange the money, they do have a hack on top of that, so they don’t exchange every single interaction they have. They only record and exchange money every 10 of these interactions, but then they multiply that interaction by 10. So, if it was $3 to take out the trash, it’d be worth $30. And it’s very unusual and they received some criticisms out there on the web.

But unlike some of the other excesses and unsavory hacking, at least they’re trying to be fair, at least it’s very explicit. They call it, you know, they are respecting one another’s utility curves. They’re not being exploitative. And I think you can find that in some other instances of lifehacking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, respecting each other’s utility curves sure sounds romantic.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, that’s what some of the folks said, like, “This doesn’t sound like a real relationship.” And it’s definitely unusual, but it works for them. And when I tried to apply those distinctions of this, if it’s ethical or not, it seems above board.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I’m sort of being a little cheeky with the actual words that phonetically you don’t sound romantic, but the concept, I think, really is in terms of being thoughtful about each other’s needs, and also somehow balancing your own stuff. And it reminds me back in the day when I had three roommates, and then we had four rooms in the apartment that were all a little bit different in terms of their pros and cons, with their space, and they have their own bathroom, etc. And it’s like, “Well, okay, how are we going to divide up this rent?”

And that was the game we played. It’s like, “Okay, you’d like the big room. Gotcha. And just how much would you be willing to pay in rent for that big room?” And so, by iteratively going through this, it worked out just right. It turns out I was a bit more frugal and I had the small room with a small rent, and the lawyer and the doctor, you know, they were living larger, and it was good and fine that way.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, it can be efficient. Of course, there are some downsides and they’ve had to think about that in the context of their relationship. So, she’s the only one that could actually be pregnant and have the kids. So, what is the value? Let’s say, for example, one of them was in school while the other person was working. And so, they had to figure out, like, “What is the value of these things?“

Their first daughter’s name was Fair, and they actually bid between themselves when they name the kid, and Fair won. And it went for a couple of thousand dollars between them. And, again, it’s very unusual, but at least, for them, those things weren’t taken for granted. I think that’s preferable to a relationship where you just assume, “Oh, you’re going to get pregnant and you’re going to stay home with the kids, and I’ll be earning the money and have plenty of spending money.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Well said. Well, tell me, any final thoughts about lifehacking, great practices, how professionals might use some of this wisdom to accelerate their own ends?

Joseph Reagle
I would recommend people experiment with various things, but they need to ask themselves two questions, well, more than two questions, but let’s focus with two questions. When you go out and you buy a bit of self-help, whether about it’s productivity or minimizing and getting around the clutter, you’ll have to think about, “Well, compared to what? Is this technique going to be cost effective? Is it likely to be efficacious? And are there any side effects or harms?”

And I think if you’re attracted to something, and you can ask yourself those questions, and all that seems to bear out, I think it’s worthwhile trying while you’re also keeping yourself in check with respect to some of the excesses that fall from optimization.

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

Joseph Reagle
Sure. So, one of my favorite books on time management, and again that’s a bit of a misnomer because it’s really about managing ourselves, was Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And that was real popular back in the ‘80s, and even the ‘90s, but now other books like Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, I think more people are probably familiar with. But he had this great quote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

And that’s because, I think, someone was telling me like Elon Musk has a calendar where he schedules every five minutes of his day, and I think that would drive most people nuts. That would not be effective for most people. And what Covey is suggesting instead is if you do want to prioritize having time to think about the long term, the things that are of high value to you, things in your personal life that you want to make sure that there’s room for, schedule your priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said.

Joseph Reagle
Don’t fixate on your calendar and making sure that every five-minute chunk of your calendar is full.

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

Joseph Reagle
This might not be appropriate because I know you’re looking for probably a study that tells you how to be more effective. But there’s a study I really like in terms of critical thinking, and it’s a follow-up to the marshmallow study. Pete, have you ever heard of the marshmallow study?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, Walter Mischel. It’s a fave. Did he do this one or was someone else building off that work?

Joseph Reagle
The follow-up was in 2012.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Joseph Reagle
So, the original one has been made use of a lot by people who were into like grit, and motivation, and sticking to it. And this study from decades ago was done by placing a marshmallow in front of a child, and they’d say to the kid, “You could have this marshmallow now or, if you wait, and I go look for more marshmallows and I come back in 10 minutes and you haven’t eaten the marshmallow, you can have two marshmallows.”

And so, in the study, they looked at the kids who ate the marshmallows immediately, and they looked at the kids who could persevere and hold off and be patient and wait for that second marshmallow. And then the interesting things is they tracked some of the indicators of those peoples’ lives as they move through their lives. And so, how did they do in school? Like, what was their SAT scores? Did they get a good job? Did they end up buying a house? You know, all those sort of things. Did they end up in a good relationship? And they found a very strong correlation between the people who were able to persevere and be patient, and those outcomes from later on in life, the good outcomes.
And for many decades, people then thought, “Well, if you want to raise kids, or if you want to do well in your life, you really need to learn how to persevere.” And the slight downside was that sometimes it led to the implication that if you ended up in life in a place where you didn’t really want to be, or if people fared poorly in life, it was their own fault because they didn’t have enough grit, and we just need to teach kids to have more grit.

Well, the study from 2012 added a step before the marshmallow. And the proctors of the study would do something with crayons. Before the marshmallow step, they’d bring out some dumpy crayons, half-used crayons, not a lot of shades of color, and they tell the kids, “Here are some crayons if you’d like to color in this book here. But I have a better brand-new set of crayons available if you’re willing to wait.” And they did the same thing. They said, “Would you be willing to wait and I’ll bring you back a nicer set of crayons?”

They went off and then the proctors came back and did one of two things. They said, “Oh, I forgot the really nice crayons. I’m so sorry,” or they gave them the good crayons. And so, the proctors were unreliable or reliable. Then they did the marshmallow study. And it turns out that when the kids had been exposed to an unreliable proctor, they did not get the nice new crayons, they ate that marshmallow right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that liar is not going to come back with two marshmallows.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, exactly right. And so, this is really nice evidence that it wasn’t necessarily the kids’ grit and perseverance, maybe these kids had a lot of siblings. And if you have a lot of brothers and sisters, you know you can’t leave that marshmallow sitting there. Or maybe they grew up in an impoverished family. And maybe those with the things that correlated with later-in-life outcomes, rather than in any essentialist kind of notion of grit and internal stick-it-to-it-ness.

Pete Mockaitis
That is clever.

Joseph Reagle
Yeah, so I really like that study because I think, again, it’s great for critical thinking. I use it with my students a lot. And it also is a bit of a caution with respect to some of the self-help advice we get, which is very individualistic, pull yourself up by your boot straps kind of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Joseph Reagle
I should’ve mentioned this earlier but there’s a great book on stoicism when you’re asking about that by William Irvine, called A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. And it really is, as you suggested, an up-to-date version of the ancient stoic philosophy. And so, he talks about how it emerged, and some of the differences between the Greek and the Roman. But the important thing is he says this is practical philosophy which isn’t taught in universities anymore. Now, it’s very formal, kind of a lot of history and theory.

But philosophy was supposed to be practical. It was supposed to give you some suggestions to provide guidance on how to live a good life. And I find Irvine’s book “A Guide to the Good Life” is full of really wonderful insights that are very applicable to the current day, to our immediate lives.

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

Joseph Reagle
Well, one of the things that’s just built into my personality, though I think it can also be developed, is I document everything. I’ve been blogging forever, microblogging forever. I have a mind map called Freeplane that I really like to use, so all my reading that’s going to Freeplane. I’m really fond of this application called Zim Wiki. It’s a personal Wiki, so you can just easily create pages, and tasks, and to dates. Maybe if people are familiar with Evernote, it’s kind of like that, but I like Zim Wiki a lot more.

So, I don’t have a very good memory, so whenever I need to remind myself or something or think about. Last time, I had to submit my expenses because we use this awful software in my work. Well, with the steps that I went through to make it work, and I have it all documented there, so I really love those sort of tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Joseph Reagle
A favorite habit? I ask myself, “Would I be happier person in the future if I did the thing that I’m waffling about doing?” So, maybe it’s brushing my teeth, or going to meditation, or whatever it might be, I try to think about my future self and whether he would be content and proud of the present self.

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

Joseph Reagle
This idea that self-optimizing can be suboptimal. I wrote a piece for The Guardian. That number, like a colleague just emailed me earlier today, saying, oh, she really loved that piece, and she wants to use it in her course.

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

Joseph Reagle
You can go to my website reagale.org, and I’m also jmreagale on Twitter.

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

Joseph Reagle
That’s a little bit difficult because then I would be setting myself up as a sort of self-help guru, which I’m being a little bit critical of. But I think people should be mindful of not only what they’re doing but why they’re doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joseph, thank you so much. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your lifehacking and optimally optimizing and falling into suboptimality. It’s been a lot of fun.

Joseph Reagle
Thank you, Pete.

423: Becoming Free to Focus with Michael Hyatt

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Michael Hyatt offers useful concepts to upgrade your productivity and focus, including the  freedom compass, the zones of desire and drudgery, and more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to do more of what you want with the “yes, no, yes” formula
  2. Three beliefs that prevent you from delegating your tasks effectively
  3. How to feel like you’re winning each day with the daily big three

About Michael

Michael Hyatt is the founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership coaching and development firm twice listed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing US companies. A longtime publishing executive, Michael is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, now part of HarperCollins. He is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Your Best Year Ever, Living Forward, and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.
Michael is the creator of the Full Focus Planner, which combines quarterly goal-tracking and daily productivity in a proven system for personal and professional achievement. His blog and weekly podcast, Lead to Win, are go-to resources for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, executives, and aspiring leaders. He has been featured by Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Fast Companyand Wall Street Journal. Michael and his wife of 40 years, Gail, have five daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. They live just outside of Nashville, Tenn.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Hyatt Interview Transcript

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

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate being on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. I think we’ll have a ton of fun. But first I want to hear about something fun in your life. You mention your dog, Winston, is exceptional in your About page and I want to know why.

Michael Hyatt
He’s the perfect dog. His temperament is fantastic. He’s just so easygoing. He always obeys. I don’t know. I feel like we won the lottery with him. He’s an amazing dog.

Pete Mockaitis
How did you get him?

Michael Hyatt
Well, we found out about a breeder in Indiana, who bred Australian Labradoodles. We got the dog from her. Then we sent him to a trainer in Indiana, a lady who actually is a Russian immigrant, who trains dogs for the federal government and for state agencies and therapy dogs and all that. She had him for about six weeks. I don’t know what she did, but some kind of Russian thing, but it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Michael, I just love that so much because it’s like you eat, sleep, breathe people, development, and now even dog development. We’re going to find the best trainer in the world. We’re going to spend some deep focus time immersed and come back a renewed dog.

Michael Hyatt
Dog hacks. What can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. You’re unveiling some more wisdom in your latest book, Free to Focus. What’s the main idea or thesis behind this one?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the main thesis behind this is you can actually achieve more by doing less if you have the right productivity system. The problem with most productivity systems today is that they’re designed to make you more productive. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Here’s the problem.

People start out working a 12-hour day, they get some productivity hacks, adopt a few apps, they reduce it to eight hours and then they fill it up with more work. They try to be productive so they can be more productive.

I say productivity is a means to an end. You’ve got to be very clear about what the end is otherwise you’re just going to fill your life with work, you’re going to be overwhelmed, you’re going to be burned out, and you’re not going to get the kind of work-life balance that makes life rich and meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about defining the end, can you give us a couple of examples of how that gets articulated?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, absolutely. In the first part of the book I talk about stopping and kind of taking stock. Get off that hamster wheel and ask, “Where’s this hamster wheel going? Why am I running this race? What’s it all about?” I say the end game needs to be about freedom. More productivity should lead to greater freedom and specifically freedom in four areas.

I talk about the freedom to focus. Focus is a super power today in our distraction economy. If you want to move the needle in your business and in your life, if you want your business to grow, if you want to get ahead in your career, you’ve got to be able to focus and do the deep work, the creative work that really creates the breakthroughs in your business and in your personal life. The freedom to focus.

You also need the freedom to be present so that when you’re at your son’s Little League game, you’re not on your phone thinking about work or you’re out for a day with your spouse or you’re significant other, you’re not thinking about work or when you’re at work, you’re not thinking about something that’s going off the rails at home. The freedom to be present.

Then third, the freedom to be spontaneous so that your life’s not so managed and not every last second is so planned that you just can’t stop and enjoy life, smell the roses so to speak.

Then finally, the freedom – and this is really underrated, but the freedom to do nothing at all. All the brain research says that we’re the most creative, we experience the biggest breakthroughs when our minds are the most relaxed. That means we’ve got to intentionally have that white space where we do nothing.

I learned this when I was in Italy a few years ago. They have a saying in fact. They talk about a dolce far niente, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. It’s true. You think about when you have the breakthrough ideas, the most creative ideas, often it’s in the shower or out for a walk or doing something that amounts to nothing. That’s what I’m after is freedom. I think productivity should lead to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lovely turn of a phrase, the sweetness of doing nothing. I’m reminded maybe when you said Italy, it brings about images. I’m just thinking about just sort of strolling, just walking with a good friend, catching up and chatting. It’s like I enjoy doing nothing in those moments so much. It’s like I don’t even want to be burdened with having to think about where we’re going and where the restaurant is, just having faith that a good eatery will appear if that’s kind of what we’re up to. It’s much more fun.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, and I don’t think they have bad food in Italy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, in Italy you’re covered. Sure.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Everything I ate there was phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. That’s the process in terms of the steps as we’re stopping. We’re taking stock. We’re pointing to greater freedom and a few kind of particular forms of freedom. What comes next?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, in that same section, under Stop, talk about formulate, so formulate a clear vision for what your productivity, you want to accomplish with it. Then secondly, evaluate. This means taking stock of our workflow, our work style. I talk about a concept there called the freedom compass, which I think is really a big paradigm shift and a way to think about your work that makes it possible for you to focus on your highest and greatest work because not all work is created equal.

I talk about kind of a two-by-two matrix, where you have passion intersecting with proficiency. There’s some tasks – and imagine this rotated 45 degrees and you’ve got a compass, where true north is where your passion and your proficiency come together, the things you love, the things that you are deeply satisfying, that you enjoy, plus proficiency, the things that you’re good at.

Not just proficiency in your subjective opinion, but in an objective reality, where people are willing to pay you to do this. That I call the desire zone. That’s where you want to focus the bulk of your time and the bulk of your energy.

Directly south, directly below that is what I call the drudgery zone, things that you hate, you don’t have any passion around it and you’re not very good at. It’s going to be different for everybody, but for me it’s things that look like administrative kinds of activities, like managing my email inbox, managing my calendar, booking travel, even finding the FedEx box, just running errands. All that’s in my drudgery zone. It’s kind of a grind when I have to do that.

Then there’s also the disinterest zone, where you don’t have any passion, but you might be pretty good at it. A lot of people get trapped in this because maybe they were good at something, they lost the passion and they keep doing it because it keeps making them money, keeps bringing home the bacon.

For me, when I started out as an entrepreneur this was accounting. I did it because I didn’t want to pay somebody else to do it and I was really good at it, but I didn’t have any passion and that leads to boredom.

Then on the opposite side of the freedom compass from there, due west, would be what I call the distraction zone, where you like doing it, but you’re not very good at it and you end up escaping there and then it wasted a lot of time.

Again, the key, and it leads to the next part of the book, but the key is to eliminate everything that’s not in your desire zone, the things that you’re passionate about and proficient at, because that’s where you’re going to see the biggest growth, the biggest progress, the most results. That’s the chapter on evaluation.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a nice two-by-two matrix and a clever rotation that makes it a compass. When you talk about doing more of the good stuff and less of the drudgery, what are some of the best ways that we can accomplish that? You have some things about saying no and some things about outsourcing. How do we systematically get our proportions more and more in the desire space?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. One of the things is I think to set ourselves up for success. That’s actually that third chapter in that first section before we get to the Cut section, which is about rejuvenation. This is one of those things that’s easy to overlook because we live in the hustle economy. We’re encouraged to burn the candle at both ends, to work evenings and weekends. Elon Musk said unless you’re working 80 to 100 hours a week, you’re not going to make the progress you need to.

One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself if you want to be more productive. Getting a good night’s sleep, something as simple as that, can make the difference between whether you’re focused or productive the next day. I talk about sleep, nutrition, exercise, relationships. Those have a lot to do with how productive we are. That’s all the rejuvenation chapter.

But then moving into that second section, the section called Cut. The first one’s Stop. The second part of the framework is Cut. How do we prune all that stuff that’s not in our desire zone? It really does start with elimination. We’ve got to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t need to be done and the best way to do that is to head it off at the beginning by getting better at saying no.

Warren Buffet once said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything,” but how do we do that without being a jerk? In the book, I talk about how to do that. I talk about how to give a graceful no. I talk about it using a formula called Yes No Yes. It’s the positive no that William Ury talks about in his book, The Power of a Positive No.

Let me illustrate. I spent most of my career in the book publishing industry. I still to this day get a lot of requests from aspiring authors, who would like me to review their book proposal before they send it to an agent or a publisher. Now, I don’t really have time to do that. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t have time to do that. I have an email template that I use. I respond with that formula, yes, no, yes.

Here’s what it looks like. First of all, I start with an affirmation. I start off not resenting the fact that they asked me to review this proposal. But I’ll say something like, “Hey, congratulations. You’ve done what 97% of most aspiring authors will never do and that is create a written book proposal. That is a phenomenal first step. It’s a foundational step and an important one. Way to go.”

Then I move from the yes to the no. Here I want to give a very firm, unambiguous no, so there’s no misunderstanding. I’ll say something like this, “Unfortunately, in order to be faithful to my prior commitments, I have to say no.” I’ve made it very clear that I’m a person of integrity in terms of trying to be faithful to my other commitments, but I give them a firm no.

I don’t say, “Check back with me in a month. I’m a little busy right now,” because in a month it’s going to be the same story, so I might as well cut it off right now.

Then I end with a positive with a yes so that I leave a good taste in their mouth. I’ll say something like, “Best of luck with your publishing product. Let me know when it comes out. Can’t wait to pick up a copy. All the best. Thanks for honoring me with your request,” something like that.

I’ve never gotten a negative response when I follow up with an email like that. For the most part, people are just glad that they heard back from me because so often we send a request like that and we don’t hear because the person is procrastinating because they don’t know how to respond. They want to say no, but they don’t know how. I make it very clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. I find that when you talk about we don’t know how to respond and we procrastinate, I find that I get a lot of requests, it’s sort of like someone’s presenting me with an opportunity, but I don’t think that they’ve given me nearly enough information to even evaluate if it’s worth talking for 15 minutes about the thing.

I’m trying to craft my TextExpander, generic response, which says, “I will need to know more before I can tell you whether or not I can talk to you about this,” which feels a little bit like, “Oh well, someone’s really busy,” but that’s really how I feel. It’s like “You know your product/service/offer better than I do. What you’re saying might be cool, but I really have no idea what this is supposed to be. Where’s the value here? Could you explain that so that I could tell you if we can find 15 minutes?”

Michael Hyatt
See, that’s a perfect example of what I talk about in the next chapter on automation, where you take something like TextExpander or you could use your email apps signature capability, but come up with a list of email templates so that you can respond to the most common kinds of requests so that you don’t have to create it from scratch every time.

I’ve tried to develop sort of this template mentality, where I ask myself if this task I’m about to do if I think I’m going to have to do it again in the future, why not take a few extra minutes now, do it right, save it as a template or a TextExpander snippet so that I can reuse it in the future and not have to reinvent the wheel every time.

For that example, a great way to deal with that using the Yes, No, Yes framework would be to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me for your podcast. I’m honored. I would be happy to consider it, but I need just a little bit more information.” Then you’d go through the information that you need and then let it go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. That is a nice sentence. “I’d be happy to consider it. I need some more information.” Tell me, what are some other top templates you find yourself using again and again?

Michael Hyatt
Well, here’s what I did, how I started this. This is probably about 15 years ago. I noticed that there was sort of a limited range of requests that I was getting. I would get requests from people who wanted me to consider a speaking engagement or wanted me to consider serving on a non-profit board or make a charitable contribution or just have coffee with me so they could pick my brain. There were about 40 or 50 of these as I catalogued them.

Then what I tried to do – I didn’t sit down and write all these templates at once – instead what I began to do is incrementally populate a template database. At the time I was using email signatures to do this. Now TextExpander makes it even cooler. But to write these one at a time until I had a library of templates.

Every time one of those requests comes in now, I look for the template where I can respond, very rare that I don’t have a template. Instead of taking 10 or 20 minutes, now it just takes a few seconds.

But it’s not just email. For example, I use Apple Keynote for creating slide decks. If I public speech that I’m going to give or a webinar that I have to give, I always start with a template, like with a webinar. I’ve got seven main parts to all my webinars. They always start the same way. They’ve got the same transitions and the same pivots and the same ending and all that.

It’s kind of like paint by numbers, but again, I’m starting with sort of that template mentality of if I’m going to do this again, how can I do it right the first time so I can reuse it, polish it, improve it, and get better at this and take less time as I do it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s so much good stuff here. I want to dig in in all kinds of places, but it would be too scattered. First, let’s chat a little bit in the realm of going back to stopping for a moment. You mentioned rejuvenation. I think that we’ve heard from a few sleep doctors, a lot of good tips there and I’m a huge advocate for that. It’s so important.

But I want to get your take on when it comes to nutrition and exercise, boy, there’s a lot of advice out there. What have you found ultimately really yields good quality rejuvenation, energy, and freedoms?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, disclaimer, I’m not a physiologist or a doctor or a fitness trainer or any of that. What I do know is what works for me and I have studied a little bit.

But with regard to nutrition, I found that one of the best things to do is to really take it easy on the carbs. A high-carbohydrate diet creates a lot of problems in terms of focus and productivity. It’s why when we eat lot-quality carbs and we eat a lot of these kind of carbs like at lunch, like I’m talking about white bread, pizza, mashed potatoes, pasta, that’s why we kind of go into that funk in the afternoon and get sleepy because that turns to sugar very quickly. It burns up fast and it just doesn’t keep our blood sugar level at a level where we could be really productive.

One of the things I’ve done, and this is – I may lose some of your listeners here – but one of the things I’ve done for several months now is I’ve been on the keto diet. That’s a high fat moderate diet, a moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet. One of the things I had no idea about was how much brain fog I had until I started doing this diet.

It was actually developed back in the 1930s to help epileptic children deal with seizures. There’s a cognitive relationship between this diet, high fat, and your cognitive function. That’s been helpful to me.

I’m very careful about taking supplements, about checking my blood a couple times a week with my physical – or a couple times a week, a couple times a year with my physician, just making sure that my markers are right so that can serve as an early warning sign to head off problems before they happen.

Then I work out five to six days a week usually about an hour, three days of cardio, three days of strength training. All that just keeps my energy level up. It’s important to move in some way like that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you do the cardio or the strength training, what kind of intensity are you shooting for?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I would say moderate intensity. I’m kind of an achiever, so I’m always trying to beat my personal best. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life that I’ve ever been in. I do work with a trainer, who prescribes a program for me. We get together once a month and reevaluate the program and see where I want to go from there.

I was training for a half marathon this spring, but I injured my foot, so I’m going to back that off till this fall. But typically what I’ll do on the cardio before I had the injury is that I’ll run about 30 minutes of interval training twice a week and then I’ll do a long run and a progressively longer run on Saturdays. Yeah, it depends on what I’m training for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Well, so now, talk about cutting again. You mentioned that there’s something that we should permanently remove from our to-do list, what is this?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, you should remove the drudgeries of stuff. That’s where you really start is with the drudgery zone activities. Those are not the best and highest use of you. They’re not going to create leverage in your business or your personal life. You’ve got to really focus on those desire zone activities.

Again, that begins with elimination and it goes to automation, and then that final chapter there is all about delegation, which one of the things I found with people that have businesses or leaders, until you can scale yourself, you can’t scale your business.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. All right, so when it comes to that delegation, any particular tips in terms of where to get started if you’re having trouble letting go of anything?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I think the first thing that we’ve got to do, Pete, is confront sort of the limiting beliefs or the way that we think about delegation. In my experience with coaching now hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs there’s usually three sentences that rattle around in their head. The first one is “If I want it done right, I have to do it,” what?

Pete Mockaitis
Myself.

Michael Hyatt
Right. Or here’s another sentence that they have. This would be a second sentence. “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself.” Or they say, “I can’t really afford additional help right now. I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.” As long as yourself is at the center of all this, you’re not going to be able to grow, you’re not going to develop additional capacity, you’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Let’s look at those one at a time. To the person who says “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself,” it’s true. It does take longer to explain it the first time, but once you explain it the first time and give people an opportunity to do it so that they can be trained, then you save yourself all the time because you never have to touch it again.

“In terms of if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” here’s the beauty of the freedom compass. What’s in your drudgery zone, might be in somebody else’s desire zone. If you hire right so that you have compatible people that offset what’s in your drudgery zone with what’s in their desire zone, then not only can they do it as well as you could do it, they can do it better than you could imagine doing it.

That’s basically how I’ve grown my entire business. I have 35 full-time people. Last year we grew 62%. I hire specifically for people that are doing their desire zone activities so that everybody’s functioning in their strengths and doing the things that they love and the things that they’re proficient at. That’s a real key.

Then the whole thing about affording, “I can’t afford somebody to do it,” you can take baby steps. I’m not advocating going out and hiring a big staff or even hiring somebody full time. You can start as a solopreneur or as a leader just with a part time virtual assistant. That’s how I started.

Back in 2011 when I left the big corporate world, where I was managing a large company where we were doing a quarter of a billion dollars a year and then I stepped into a solopreneur job, where I couldn’t even find a FedEx box. I had to start small. I hired a virtual executive assistant, who worked five hours a week. I did that for a couple of weeks. I saw the value of it. Then I upped their time to about 10 hours a week, then 15 hours, and 20 hours.

But here’s how the conversation often goes. I had a client by the name of Greg. Greg said, “Look, I’ve got a business where I have to have a web presence. I know just kind of enough about web design and web development to do it myself. It’s probably not the best use of my time, but I really don’t feel like I can afford somebody else to do it now.”

I said, “Well, let me ask you a question, Greg. How much do you bill for? What’s your hourly rate?” He said “150 dollars an hour.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “What would it cost you to get a WordPress developer, somebody that was really good that knew what they were doing? They could do a little bit of design work too.” He said, “Probably 50 dollars an hour.” I said, “Then why are you paying somebody 150 dollars an hour that you admit isn’t that good?”

The lights went on. He went, “Wow.” I said, “If you hired somebody at 50 dollars an hour, it would free you up to bill for that additional time and you’d come out ahead 100 dollars an hour.” That’s how we have to think about delegation. It requires an investment first, but boy, that’s when we begin to reap the rewards and that’s when we begin to clone ourselves in a sense because we’ve got other people that are helping us.

Pete Mockaitis
For folks who are professionals and not business owners, what are some key things you’d recommend they delegate?

Michael Hyatt
I think the same thing. Go back to the freedom compass. Start with the drudgery zone because your company is probably not paying you to do those things that you don’t love and those things that you’re not proficient at. If they are, you’re in the wrong job. Get rid of those things because it’s not the best and highest use of you.

Then go to the disinterest zone, then the distraction zone. Again, focus on those few things that really create the leverage, the things that your employer thinks the results you ought to be delivering. That’s where you’re going to see the advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. When it comes to cutting, how do you recommend we cut distractions?

Michael Hyatt
Well, you’ve got to have an offensive plan to begin with. I talk in the book about how to design your quarter, how to design your week and how to design your day. Once you have a good offensive plan, then you’ve got to come up with a defensive plan for the interruptions. I distinguish between interruptions and distractions, two different things.

Interruptions are the external things. It’s people dropping by to visit. It’s that text message you get. It’s people interrupting you. I often talk to leaders who say, “I can’t get my own work done because I’ve got so many people interrupting me to help them with their work.” I think one of the best strategies is to have an offense on those two.

First of all, schedule time to get your most important work done. Make it a commitment and put it on your calendar. What gets scheduled is what gets done.

Then, preempt those interruptions by going to the people who are most likely to interrupt you, and you know how they are, go to those people and say, “Hey, look, I’m about to do some really important, focused work. It’s important that I don’t get interrupted, but I want to be available to serve you, so are there any questions you have, anything I can help you with before I go into this session?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Hyatt
This is awesome because, now all of the sudden, you’ve put them on notice and you’ve also not been a jerk about it. You’ve communicated that you want to help them, but you kind of want to do it on your terms.

Then you’ve got distractions. Now distractions are all the stuff that look external, but are really a problem with ourselves with self-control. This could be jumping over to Facebook. The problem is we’ve got multi-billion dollar-social media companies, who are doing a tremendous amount of research and whose entire business model is built on high jacking our psychology and manipulating our dopamine.

They want us to spend as much time on those platforms as possible. Why? Because they’re repackaging our attention and they’re selling it to the highest bidder in the form of advertisers. We have to combat that. The best way to do it, I think, is to use technology to fight technology.

For example, my smartphone, it looks like a really cool device. It does a gazillion things. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max. It does a bazillion things, but it’s a very sophisticated distraction device if I’m not careful. On my phone, I’ve removed email. I’ve removed Slack, which is our internal communication program. And I’ve removed all social media with the exception of Instagram because I’m trying to build my Instagram following.

But even there I’ve used the technology to fight technology. I go into settings, screen time, and I limit my use of Instagram to 30 minutes a day. Even better, I gave my phone to my wife and I said “Set a passcode for that so that I can’t cheat and don’t tell me the passcode.” When my time is up on Instagram, my time is up.

There’s a great app for the desktop that works on Windows or Mac or any platform called Freedom. You can find it at Freedom.to. I don’t have any relationship with them except that I use this program and love it. But it allows you to selectively turn off apps and websites for a specific period of time, which allows you to stay focused when you do your most creative breakthrough kind of work.

The only way to defeat Freedom is to completely reboot your computer. That gives me just friction so that I can remember my intention that I’m trying to get focused work done. It enables me to avoid the distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. What do you think about mindfulness practice when it comes to building the capacity to resist distraction?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s really important. I meditate every morning for 15 minutes. It just gives me the opportunity to collect my thoughts, to kind of get centered, to get focused, to get re-connected with my most important priorities. Again, it kind of goes back to the freedom that I talked about before, the freedom to do nothing. It’s often underrated.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’d love to dig in for a moment now. When you say meditation, are you referring to more of a mind training exercise or more of a prayer exercise?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I actually do both. I do pray. I also do just straight up meditation. I use an app called 1 Giant Mind. Are you familiar with that?

Pete Mockaitis
I know a couple. I don’t know that one.

Michael Hyatt
It’s awesome. If you’re familiar with Headspace-

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Hyatt
It’s kind of similar to that, but I actually like it better and it’s free. But 1 Giant Mind. It has 12 initial lessons and then you can go into a 30-day challenge, but the instruction is fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed a little bit of all of them in terms of Calm, Simple Habit, Headspace. They all give me a little bit of a different perspective. I go, oh yeah, that’s a really good one. Thank you. Much appreciated. We’ll check out another one. Cool.

Michael Hyatt
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so we talked about stopping. We talked about cutting. Now what?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, so now we get to that third section of the book, which is called Act. It’s a little bit counterintuitive because you’d think that Act ought to come first, but I find that you’ve got to stop, kind of reflect where you want to go, then you need to cut or prune because anything that’s healthy has to be pruned from time to time, but now it’s time to act.

Now, hopefully, you’ve gotten rid of all the stuff that’s in your drudgery zone, a lot of the stuff in your disinterest and distractions zones and now we’re going to focus on how to get more done in your desire zone, the things that you love and the things that you’re good at. That begins with a chapter called consolidate. This is all about designing your ideal week.

The idea is that you want to design a week as if you were in 100% control of your time and resources. What would that look like? If you really wanted to give it some intelligent design and not just be reactive to what came over the transom and schedule those things, but actually we’re very proactive about it.

Here’s how mine works for example. First of all, I’m going to start with on Mondays is when I have my internal team meetings. I batch all these together for one simple reason. It’s the concept of context switching.

In other words, anytime I switch a context, for example, I go from a meeting to I go to some time where I’m working on a project to maybe I’m going to record some video, anytime I go to a different context, there’s a certain amount of ramp up time, a certain amount of time to kind of get into the groove, find my equilibrium and get into flow. Well, the less you can do that, the more momentum you can build.

When I get into that space in my head of meetings and I’m in meeting mode, then I just batch them altogether. Internal meetings are all on Monday.

Tuesday, is all about what I call backstage time. This is my time for preparation on the front stage. Everybody’s front stage is going to look different, but the front stage is what your employer or your clients are paying you, that’s what you’re delivering, but there’s always some backstage work that has to be done in order to do that.

If you’re a lawyer, for example, your front stage might be arguing a case before a court or negotiating a contract on behalf of a client, but there’s a lot of research in the backstage that has to go into that preparation. For me, Tuesday is all about that preparation.

Wednesday and Thursday for me are front stage activities. For example, when I record my podcast, I do that in a day and a half once a quarter and I record 13 episodes in a row. It takes me a day and a half, but then I don’t think about it for another quarter. I get into that headspace and I stay focused and knock it out.

Then on Friday is when I try to consolidate my external meetings. If anybody wants to meet with me, they come in from out of town or a vendor or a client or whatever, I try to move those to Friday. Why? Because I don’t want those meetings interrupting my progress on my front stage days or my back stage days.

Then, of course, I have – and a lot of people don’t know about this – but there’s actually an offstage. All of life doesn’t have to be work. On the weekends, on Saturday and Sunday for me, I’m not thinking about work. I don’t talk about work. I don’t read about work. I don’t do work. Why? Because I want to get back in on Monday morning totally rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running.

That for me is my ideal week. This could be a game changer for people to begin to get some sense of control back. I would say, Pete, probably in any given week, I’ll probably approximate that about 80%. Things are going to happen. I don’t try to be legalistic about it. But boy, going into the week with a plan is a whole lot better than just reacting to what comes over the transom. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Yes. What do you think about in terms of total hours of work in a day and a week, energy levels and optimizing that?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I keep my work to 40 hours a week. I can tell you that the science and I quote it in the book, but once you get past about 55 hours a week, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time you work and the level of productivity you have. It actually goes backwards after you give 55 hours. There’s been a lot of study done on this.

But the average person is buying into what I call the hustle fallacy, where you’ve got to work 80 hours, you’ve got to work 100 hours. That’s a recipe for burnout. It’s also a recipe for screwing up your life, screwing up your health, screwing up your most important relationships.

What I’m after, personally, is what I call the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I’m not willing to compromise either for the sake of the other one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get your take, I don’t know if you would liken yourself to this, but I think of, hey, Michael Hyatt, Elon Musk, two titans, very different perspectives. I guess, when it comes to Elon Musk it’s like I cannot deny that is one successful dude, who has made a lot of things happen and he espouses very much the hustle mentality.

Michael Hyatt
He does.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we reconcile that?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think it depends on you define success. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He, by his own admission, doesn’t talk to his kids hardly. He’s sleeping at the factory so much so that his fans started a Kickstarter page to buy him a new couch, kind of as a joke, so he’d have something better to sleep on. He’s appeared in the media and said some crazy things, which have led even to fines from the SEC and other federal agencies.

I think it depends on how you define success. Look, I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue, but here’s the thing. Here’s what’s possible. Last year I took off 160 days, now that counts weekends, so 160 days including a one-month sabbatical, which I’ve done every year for the last eight years and my business grew 62%.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Michael Hyatt
I really think this idea of achieving more by doing less – the hustle fallacy, I want to keep my health. I’d like to live a long time. I’ve been married for 40 years, almost 41 years. I have 5 grown daughters, who I adore and who like me. This doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s not because I’m lucky, but I’ve tried to focus on those things.

Again, I’m not trying to hold myself up as the paragon of virtue, but I’m just saying that there’s a different model for success than the one that Elon Musk espouses. I’m not trying to judge him, but just look at the fruit, look at the results.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well done. Thank you. Well, tell me before we sort of shift gears and do your favorite things, any sort of key mistakes folks make when they’re trying to say, “Heck yes, I want to get free to focus and do these things.” What are some roadblocks or some fumbles folks make along the way as they’re trying to enact this stuff?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think the biggest tip I can give people is to get a plan for your day. This is where you’re going to get the biggest leap forward. I advocate something called the daily big three. Here’s how it goes for most people. They start the day – if they have a to-do list, and not everybody works with a to-do list, which is also a guarantee for being reactive, but let’s say you have a to-do list. The average person’s going to have somewhere between 20 and 25 items on that list.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Before they begin the day, they’re already feeling overwhelmed, like there’s no way that I can accomplish what’s on my list. They get to the end of the day and even if they’ve done half of it, where do they focus? On the half they didn’t get done. They go to bed defeated. This becomes a vicious cycle. It creates a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of frustration and ultimately leads to burnout.

But the problem is they’ve created a game, they’ve set themselves up to fail by creating a game that they can’t possibly win. What I suggest is instead of that, go ahead and identify the three highest leveraged tasks that you can do today. Not all tasks are created equal. We know from the Pareto principle that 20% of the effort drives 80% of the results.

Let’s just go ahead on the front end and say “What are the three most important things that I can do today?” Now all of the sudden that seems manageable. At the end of the day when I accomplish those three things, even if I didn’t do all the other trivial things, at least I got the most important things done.

You do three important tasks like that a day, you do it 250 days a year, which is the average number of workdays people have, that’s 750 important things per year. That, more than anything else, will give you a sense of control and give you a sense that you’re winning. When you feel like you’re winning, it builds your confidence and it builds your momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I like feeling like I’m winning. Well said.

Michael Hyatt
Me too. Me too.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. I think one of my most favorite quotes is one by Warren Buffet. He said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Michael Hyatt
I would say the research that I’ve done into sleep has been probably the most rewarding, especially into naps because I sort of knew intuitively that napping was a powerful way to rejuvenate and kind of reboot in the middle of the day. I’ve faithfully practiced it for about 30 years.

I took a nap today, so between interviews I laid down for 20 minutes, fell to sleep – I trained myself to fall to sleep quickly – I wake up and I’m a little bit groggy maybe for about ten minutes or so, drink a cup of coffee, and then it’s like I’m rebooted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to know, how do you train yourself to fall asleep quickly?

Michael Hyatt
It’s not unlike training yourself to meditate. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to fall asleep. What I do is kind of try to focus on my breathing and focus on relaxing. If you do that and do it routinely, you’ll find yourself falling asleep. If you don’t fall asleep, it’s still rejuvenating, even if you do nothing but put your feet up and relax.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Michael Hyatt
I’m one of those guys, I read a ton. I tend to focus on the books that I’ve read most recently. The book that I love that I just finished here about two weeks ago was Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Have you read that?

Pete Mockaitis
I have perused it. Can you tell me maybe a takeaway that was particularly valuable for you?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the biggest one was on the value of high-quality leisure, so really being intentional about your leisure time and how it correlates to our work, it makes us more productive at work. But that was really challenging and really exciting to think about.

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

Michael Hyatt
Let me think here for a second. I would say the tool that I’m enjoying the most right now is a tool called Notion. Have you heard of it?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Michael Hyatt
Notion is kind of like a personal Wiki. It could be. A lot of people are using it as an Evernote replacement. I’m still using Evernote, but only as a digital junk drawer. Notion is where I put structured information, information I want to get back to. It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s an outstanding tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Michael Hyatt
A favorite habit without question is my morning routine, just going through my drill every morning, setting myself up for high performance. Again, I learned this from the world of athletics, where the world’s best athletes have a pre-game ritual. I think of my morning time as a pre-game ritual. That’s the time when I’m going to pray, the time I’m going to meditate, the time I’m going to exercise and get fueled for the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s that one about winning at work and succeeding at life. I think that with my clients, that’s just captivated their imagination and gets them really excited because I think most people have kind of fallen into this idea that you’ve got to give up one or the other. You can’t have both. I think when people are given a model, and that’s what I try to do in the book, Free to Focus, for how that can be done, it resonates with people.

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

Michael Hyatt
Well, in terms of the book, I would go to FreeToFocusBook.com. It has links to all the places where you can buy the book, but more importantly, it also has 500 dollars’ worth of free bonus material related to the book that you can get just by turning in your receipt. That’s all you’ve got to do. Turn in your receipt, claim the free bonuses. It has some amazing stuff including the audio version of the book for free. Then for all things related to me, just MichaelHyatt – Hyatt with a Y, not an I – MichaelHyatt.com.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I would say that in this kind of distraction economy where people are so sidetracked and there’s so much sideways energy and so much fake working going on, if you can learn to focus, that could become a super power.

I would just encourage people to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from their peers by being the person that really can deliver the highly creative, deeply important work that moves their business forward, that moves their personal work forward because so many people are sidetracked and distracted. You can differentiate yourself and make a real difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Michael, this has been a ton of fun. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it.