Amanda Crowell shares practical wisdom on how to make time and space for the work that matters most to you.
- How to get clarity on the work that fulfills you most
- How to say no to the commitments eating up your time
- How to stop procrastination from sabotaging your goals
Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist, speaker, author, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda’s TEDx talk: Three Reasons You Aren’t Doing What You Say You Will Do has received 1.5 million views and has been featured on TED’s Ideas blog and TED Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.
Amanda lives in New Jersey with her husband, two adorable kids, and a remarkable Newfiepoo named Ruthie.
- Book: Great Work: Do What Matters Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else
- TEDx Talk: Three reasons you aren’t doing what you say you will do | Amanda Crowell | TEDxHarrisburg
- Podcast: Unleashing Your Great Work
- Website: AmandaCrowell.com
- Book: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss
- Book: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
- Book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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Amanda, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.
I’m excited as well. I really want to dig into your book Great Work, but, first, I need to hear about clown school in Spain. What’s the story here?
That’s funny. Well, I had finished my master’s degree, this was in between my master’s and my Ph.D., and I had had kind of a rough couple years, which I think probably everyone listening can relate to, and I felt like I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn’t talk to anyone and no one could really talk to me. So, I went to Spain, I went to an island off the coast of Spain. Tenerife, it’s actually off the coast of Africa but it’s a Spanish island, and I did language school for about, I don’t know, maybe it was three weeks of language school.
And then I planted myself in Santiago de Compostela, which is just a little part of Spain above Portugal, and was looking for things to do. So, I saw that one of the local theater companies was offering a clown school, and I thought that would be fun, not really realizing that my maybe minimal understanding of Spanish would sort of get in the way.
And I found that it both did and also didn’t because clowning is very…it can be very physical but there was one experience where I didn’t realize it but we were playing a game where the person who’s the focus of the game stands in front of the room, and everybody else in the class stands on the other side, and as long as you’re funny, they will stand still, but if you stop being funny, they will move forward, like rush you, like an army.
Like, somehow, my mind knew this because I started telling the story of Finding Nemo the movie, which had come out that summer. And they had this very perplexed look on their face the whole time, and then finally they got it together and started rushing me. And later, they told me in our conversational Spanish-English thing that we would do that I was repeating the same thing that the person who came before me had done but I had no idea he also told the Nemo story.
Oh, what are the odds?
Well, apparently my brain totally heard it, I was like, “Oh, we’re talking about Nemo, so I’ll just tell that story too,” which they did find funny for at least a little bit.
And so, did you have any clown performances afterwards?
We had a clown performance at the end of the two weeks of clown school, and then the person who was running it invited a friend of mine, and I had to go to a clowning performance, like on the coast, which is like 45 minutes, I guess, west of Santiago de Compostela so we got on a car and went there. and I didn’t perform but I was part of the troupe that was like sort of hanging around backstage and stuff, so that was fun.
All right. And do you put your clown skills to work in future times?
Well, as a mother, my clown skills are required every day, and as a professor, I think my students do find me to be engaging and funny, and I’m quick on my feet. And the main rule of clowning, much like improv, is that you have to just do what you are invited to do. If you’ve been invited to walk around on your hands then, to the best of your ability, you have to. In improv, they call that “Yes, and.” It’s basically the same in clowning. It just tends to be a little bit more physical. And being forced to do something just because you’ve been asked to do it, because that’s the rule, is very freeing. It creates a different kind of habit of participation that I found very useful in all of life.
Wow! Never would’ve guessed. Okay, clown takeaways. Powerful. All right.
Powerful clown takeaways, yes. I guess we’re done here.
Well, I’m curious to hear some powerful takeaways from your book Great Work: Do What Matters Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else. Can you start us off with any particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way as you put this together?
Well, I think that the cornerstone, like the piece of insight or the foundation of the book as a whole is a little bit in reaction to what I would call sort of high-performance productivity hacks, which I, like everyone sort of, love. Like, tell me exactly how Steve Jobs was able to do that. Tell me what Tim Ferriss does in his 4-Hour Workweek.
But there’s a way that that kind of high-performance productivity stuff keeps you always racing against the clock. You could be more productive, more productive, more productive. And that’s how I lived my life and had a couple of sort of full-body rebellions and sort of mental health concerns, feeling anxious. I wasn’t feeling satisfied.
And it wasn’t really until I realized that there’s another way to be powerfully productive that I took on. And then what surprised me, this is the big surprise, is that doing it that other way, that not high-powered doing more like really striving to be busy, striving for more accomplishments, that when you let that go and you do it this other way, then you actually gain access to what you want the most, which is your great work, which is the work you’re being called to do, the work that requires your full capacity in order to break through the human condition and put that work out there – the art, the scientific discoveries, the businesses you want to build. There’s a way to do those things much more quickly, much more powerfully, much more successfully for most people.
Okay. Well, what is that way?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, that way is what’s outlined in the book. So, it’s got the different pieces of it. On the one hand, it’s about doing much, much less. The sort of high-performance productivity idea is you can do so much more and you won’t be super-stressed, sort of like the promise of it. And, actually, the number one step of this other way is to do tons less, to back out, say no, protect your time so that you are creating space for resilience, because you have to protect your resilience, which is your number one resource, and create a vacuum of space into which your great work can build, and bloom, and like take up space in your life.
People, I find, try to squeeze their great work into the margins of their life, but it’s their most important work. It’s the work that they want to be known for, it’s the work they want to create their legacy, and yet they’re like, “Well, I’m trying to do it on Saturday mornings, and if I had an hour after work, I’d try to do a little of it then,” and that’s very backwards. That’s prioritizing the expectations of others and not being strategic about your time so that you create actual time and actual resilience in yourself to do that work.
And then there’s just figuring out where your great work is, which is a certain amount of visioning, and believing what you hear, and trying to understand the voices in your head and differentiating them from each other. And, honestly, I already said it but I’m going to say it again, like really believing what you hear.
I find that a lot of very creative, innovative people will tell you that the thing they want the most is just not possible for them, “I’ve already got a family so I really can’t be an entrepreneur,” or, “I’m a lawyer, I can’t be an artist, I can’t write a book,” or whatever. And really learning to believe the voice that’s calling you from the inside is a big part of figuring out where your great work is. Often, people know what it is. They just refuse to believe it. They refuse to give it any credence.
Once you know where your great work is, then it’s the steps to turning it into reality. And that piece of it is about understanding the relationship of the ideas, like you feel like, “I want to change the face of medicine,” and you have an hour. How do you change the face of medicine in an hour? And so, there’s filling the space between those two so that you understand what a vision is, and then there’s other levels. Accessible aspiration that you can do in a year, what you can do in 90 days, what you can do this week, and what you can do today.
And then you know that your efforts are accumulating towards your great work, so there’s that practical kind of time management piece of it. And then the last piece is really developing self-expertise, which is also about allowing the productivity advice that you hear to be relevant or not, and putting together your own elixir of what really works for you. And that’s where a lot of the mindset stuff comes in as well.
Alrighty. Well, starting with zeroing in on what is the great work and the calling and the vision and stuff, how do we arrive at that and get real clarity on, “This is the thing, and this is not the thing”?
Yeah. And there will be multiple things. So, sometimes it’s like, “Well, I love all of these things,” and it’s not a matter of denying parts of yourself. It’s a matter of prioritizing and choosing, and giving one of those things enough time to actually grow into something. So, I think I mentioned, like, sometimes people don’t know what their great work is, and they are really uncertain that they have great work inside of them, “Some people have great work but I’m just not one of them. I’m all over the place, and I’m kind of lazy, this isn’t resonating with me.”
But I have found that in every conversation, truly with people who want to talk it through and figure it out, that great work is in all of us. So, sometimes it’s a matter of doing some sort of searching. So, you can do sort of auditing of your prior experiences, “What’s always true?” One really key indicator that something is part of your great work is when other people do it, you feel really jealous.
So, I remember there is this story of, this is really resonating with the whole clown thing, one of my bosses in the past was Little Mikey on Sesame Street. So, you know how they have kids on Sesame Street who talk to Kermit the Frog. So, my boss was Little Mikey talking about what is love with Kermit the Frog in the ‘70s, which means that the puppeteer doing Kermit the Frog was Jim Henson himself. And I literally could not handle that that had happened to him.
And that feeling of just waves of whatever you want to call it, envy or jealousy or just, “Why didn’t it happen to me?” or like yearning is a real indication that there’s something in that that you really want for yourself. So, looking at the things that you’ve been envious about over time, childhood dreams, like re-invigorating, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” or, “I’ve always wanted to be a musician,” or, “I’ve always wanted to cure cancer,” or, “I’ve just always wanted to be a businessman,” like the Warren Buffett of the future.
Those give you the clues. And sometimes you can’t nail it down before you get into action. It’s often the case that taking steps in the direction of what you think you might want quickly clarifies, “I do not want this,” or, “Wow, this is amazing. I light right up. I start to feel satisfied again. I feel excited. I want to find the time to do it. I’m not watching as much Netflix or playing as many video games because I’m called, I’m drawn to do this other thing.”
Once you know what it is, then you have to protect that time, and that’s where saying no and doing less starts to become the game because if you’re good at what you do, people want you to do it for them, and you should. There are lots of opportunities. If it’s a great opportunity that takes you in the direction that you want to go in, I’m all for it, but there’s lots of sort of random one-offs.
In the book, we talk about how to evaluate whether an idea is a good one, whether it moves you towards your great work. And it really just comes down to, like, “Can you see the connection between what you’re doing and your great work, like as you’ve defined it?” And the example we use is, like, building a pergola in your backyard, because this actually happened to us.
We just decided we wanted a pergola in our backyard, which is actually something you can buy off the internet and they send you all the wood, and they say, “Oh, you can do it in a weekend,” but, of course, that’s not true. It’s going to be many weekends of trying to put up this wooden grape arbor thing in your backyard.
And it’s like, whether or not building a pergola in your backyard is your great work depends on how it fits into this larger system of the things you spend your time doing. So, if you’re in the middle of flipping your house and you want to get big return on investment, you feel like you’re going to get more money for your house, then building a pergola is a great use of your time because you can see the connection.
But if it just feels interesting but, really, you don’t spend that much time in the backyard and you only thought it was cool once, then no matter how compelling it is in that moment, you can step in and say, “I need to protect my time so that I have the time to do what I’m really here to do.” It’s a skill. It’s a skill that’s developed over time.
Okay. Well, could you share an example of a client or someone who found themselves overwhelmed with all the stuff and then trimmed it down and pursued great work to cool results?
Yeah, so many. And I’d say that that’s one of the strengths of the book is that it’s just filled with case studies. So, people find themselves in all kinds of situations. Like, we come to our great work when, like today, it’s always just today, and every day is filled with things. So, sometimes people find themselves really stretched very thin around expectations that people have, like they’ve got children. I’m not saying expectations as though those things don’t matter, because they do. You do have to take care of your children.
If you’re in the sandwich generation, where you have both children and parents who need care, that’s a real thing. It takes a lot of time to do that. If you also have a business, and your husband has a business and he wants your help with it, so that’s the example that’s in the introduction of the book, actually. It’s a woman who was in that exact situation. She had heard me speak, and she stayed on the Zoom length until people had left, and then was just like, “I’m hearing everything you’re saying, and you’re absolutely right, but I can’t.”
I think she wanted me to convince her that she could but she was maxed out. She was taking care of her mom. She was helping her husband because he wasn’t very good with the books of his business. She had a coaching business of her own, and that’s what she wasn’t getting to. She wasn’t writing the books she wanted to write and she wasn’t creating the program that she wanted to create, which is like, “I just can’t get to it.” And I’m like, “Of course, you can’t get to it because you’re doing all of these things.”
So, she is an example of somebody who knew what they wanted but couldn’t get to it. That’s very common. And so, that, over the course of a couple of years, talking to her and encouraging her to piecemeal, bit by bit, release herself from all this overcommitment, so, like, she found someone at her church to take her mother a couple of days a week and that released her from it.
And then there was a really big conversation with her husband where she said, “You have to find someone else to do your books because I can’t get to what I need to get to,” and he was very disappointed and felt kind of betrayed, but that was her reality, that she was never going to get to what mattered to her until she was able to put some of his own burden back on him because she had accepted it all, and now she needed to give some of it back. And so, in bits and pieces like that.
A lot of what I do is very, like, as long as you’re doing something today that aligns to what you wanted to do this week, which aligns to what you wanted to do in 90 days, you’re doing it. Because the other thing that I think, for her in particular was really powerful, was knowing she was done because she never ever felt done, just this endless to-do list. And it was the feeling of, like just, “What am I striving for? Like, I’m exhausted. I never exercise. I don’t eat well.”
And so, once you’ve done the things aligned to your great work, and you’ve met the expectations that you’ve drastically pared back, your life changes even before you’re doing the great work. You feel so much better. And I talked a little bit about resilience being your number one resource, this is where that kicks in.
When you start feeling better, the things that are hard – innovation and creativity, problem-solving, collaboration – all the things that are the skills of the 21st century economy, you’re better able to do them when you’re not exhausted, hungry, in pain, and just maxed out and brain dead. So, for her, doing all of those things made it possible to start actually making progress, and she has gotten very far, I would say, in the time since we worked together.
Okay. And do you have any pro tips on how one goes about exiting burdens, and reducing the load, and saying no and these sorts of things?
I do, yes. Some of it is making a list of the things you’ve agreed to do, the projects, is what David Allen would call them in Getting Things Done, like anything that requires more than one step is a project. So, what projects do you have ongoing? And if you’re, walking your sister’s dog, and you’re planning the school party for your kids, and you’re the person who does birthdays at work, and you sing in the choir, those are all commitments.
And then looking at that list of commitments, some of them will be the obvious elephants in the room, like, “I don’t want to do it. It doesn’t make me happy to do it. I’m just doing it out of obligation. And the person that I’m feeling obligated to is not that really important, it’s not my mother. It’s the woman at church who handed it off to me and refuses to take it back every time I try to give it to her.” Those are the sort of topline things that can create instant relief and make you feel tons better right away.
So, in that case, it’s about having the difficult conversations. And sometimes if you have a coach, going through that, and a roleplaying thing can be really helpful, but, really, it’s about the rubber hits the road. You open your mouth, and say, “I’m really sorry. I know I said I would do it but I can’t.” And what’s interesting about those kinds of conversations is that they cause a lot of edge ahead of time. But the minute they’re done, the relief and the joy and the happiness that you don’t have to do it anymore is so awesome, it sort of drives you forward into the other things. So, that’s one. That’s like literally saying no to things that you’ve committed to, backing out of them.
That’s the hardest and so that’s where we always start. But there are other things that don’t require so much overt acknowledging of what you’re doing. I like to call it doing B-minus work, which is where…like, I was in consulting for a number of years before I started back as a professor at a university, which is what I do now in addition to the coaching and consulting and speaking stuff that I do. But when I was in consulting, which is a very billable hours kind of environment, it was very overwhelming the number of tasks that you had to do, and you felt you had to do all of them really well.
And I noticed that there were a lot of those tasks that, if you look at them in smaller pieces, there were parts of them that you could do just good enough. Now, those particulars are very particular for the job. Every job has them. This is what I’ve learned in coaching all these people over all these years, is, for example, hospice nurses.
They travel around, they get out of their car, they go into the house, they meet with their client, they come back out, they have to write up notes in between…they’re supposed to do it in between the clients but they all do it at night at home because they need to get off to the next client. They’re probably driving their car.
So, the typical advice given to them is to, “Do your notes before you leave the house,” but if you go into that and think, “Which exact pieces of the notes do I need to do, because when I try to think of it later, I’d forgotten a lot of it?” you can figure out that, “There’s just three fields that I should fill in. And then when I come back to do it at night, it’s much faster.”
So, things like that, where you don’t have to do it in this full-trotted, full-throated way, “I’m going to do all my notes as fast as I can, and somehow be this superhuman.” “I’m just going to do just these three because those strategically are the ones that matter.” Every job has little pockets where these things matter and these things matter less.
In consulting, one of the things I noticed was these emails that we would send, we would have these big group meetings, and we would send agendas ahead of time, and we would send notes afterwards. The agendas mattered a lot. People came, we had better meetings when the agendas were good and they got them on time.
Nobody, not a single person, ever opened the notes documents that came afterwards. And so, I started writing those as B-minus work, where it was a description of who was there, because you need that for contract work, and how long it was, the location, and then three bullet points of the topics that were covered, and not a single person noticed it didn’t impact the workflow, “My boss didn’t care.”
And so, instead of 30 minutes, it was 5 minutes, and 25 minutes of my time is back. So, there’s bits and pieces of your workflow, when you look at it in smaller pieces, that can release you from this overwhelming feeling without actually changing anything, or nobody even notices that you’re doing something differently but you experience it really differently, and it can be very helpful.
Very cool. All right. Well, you have a fun turn of a phrase, you mentioned three horsemen of the goalpocalypse. What’s the story here?
Yeah. So, I think at one point in this interview, I said something about overcoming the human condition to do your great work. That’s really what I was talking about. We have these things that, when we get tired, we get exhausted, when we get nervous or fearful, they kick in and they’re protective. So, procrastination is one of those horsemen, like, “I want to do it but I don’t want to do it,” “I want to do it, I totally forgot I wanted to do it.”
Perfectionism is one of those, “I’m going to do it perfectly and I’m going to take forever, and I’m never really going to get it out the door because it’s never good enough.” And then overworking is one of those. So, overworking, procrastination, and perfectionism, so like, “I’m going to work myself until I’m a little nub of a person, a little pile of ashes,” and that keeps you from doing your great work, too, because, “I’m so busy. Now is not the time. I have to wait until all these things line up.” These are like sort of things we do to self-sabotage our goals. That’s why they’re the three horsemen of the goalpocalypse.
Okay. And so then, is the thought then if we have trimmed out the other stuff and we have a good vacuum to work with, those just disappear? Or, are there particular prescriptions for them?
A lot of it is mindset work, like reframing your thoughts about things. The ability to do that mindset work is much more possible when you’re not maxed out and totally out of resilience, and burned out, or overworking, that kind. So, for example, procrastination, I have this TED Talk, you can put a link to it in your show notes or whatever, and it’s very popular. It has like, I don’t know, maybe close to 2 million views now.
And I think the reason that it’s so powerful, it’s about procrastination, really, and it talks about what the source of procrastination is, which is this thing called defensive failure. And defensive failure is the idea of how, as humans, we defend ourselves against real failure by failing ahead of time, by procrastinating. So, like, why do we procrastinate? Is it just a strategy? It’s a defense mechanism, but what’s underneath it?
And that’s what the TED Talk is about, and it’s the three mindsets that stop you from doing what you say you will do. So, one is, “I don’t believe I can. Like, other people are athletic but I’m not, so no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to be a runner,” for example. And so, you set these exercise goals, you don’t do anything about them because in your own heart and mind, you think you cannot, that there was something granted at birth, you didn’t get it, and all you’re ever going to do is fail at this, and you’re just not up for that. So, that’s one, “I can’t. I cannot. Like, I literally cannot.”
Then there’s, “People like me don’t do things like this,” which is the belonging one, which is like, “If I do this thing, what does it mean about me? And if it’s in conflict with my identity in some way…” My favorite example of this one was when I was learning how to sell my coaching, I was like, “I’m a heart-centered helper type. I’m never going to be pushy.”
So, the thing I wanted to do and how I saw myself clashed. And when that happens, it triggers defensive failure because we never want to be in conflict with ourselves. Our brain really does not allow for it, so you need to resolve that, you need to say, “Oh, there’s room in my identity to be a heart-centered salesperson,” for example.
The solution for the first reason we procrastinate, “I think I can’t,” is to learn all about the brain and understand that everything through effort, over time, with help, anything is possible. Immediately people are like, “You can’t be Einstein.” Fine. Anything normal is possible with effort, over time, with help. Those are the three things. If you’re willing to do those three things, you’re good. So, that’s the resolution to the first.
And then the second is, like, make room in your identity, like resolve it, go meet people, talk to people, read the magazines. Like, learn more about the thing that feels so counter to who you are and find a place for yourself in it, and then procrastination, it does give way. And the final one is, “I don’t want to do it. I just think I should want to do it.”
And this is where everyone tells you, “Oh, you should just…” The world tells you, “You should want to lose weight,” but, actually, you’re like fine with how you look, so you make these goals, “I’m going to go keto,” but you don’t actually care about it. You don’t really want to do it. It just feels like you have to say it because the world says you have to. That’s never going to work because actual real change is very difficult, and if you really don’t want to do it, you’re not going to do it.
So, a lot of that is letting go, like, if you’re happy with how you look, like, let it go. Until the doctor tells you that you are not going to live if you don’t change your behavior, it’s like, follow your own body, whatever. But if you do want to do it but you don’t want to do it, but you do want to do it, like, if you’re stuck in that whole thing, then it’s about building intrinsic interest for it. Find something that interests you. Connect it to your long-term hopes and dreams. Find a way to have actual interests, curiosity, connection, build it up intentionally. Like, go do that work, and that will help the procrastination to go away.
So, those three things are why we procrastinate, so that’s like the resolution, depending on which one it is, for that horseman of the goalpocalypse. And there are similar thoughts and stuff all outlined in the book for the others as well.
Now, how does one intentionally build interest and curiosity? I think some folks think, “Hey, you got it or you don’t. Either this thing is interesting to you or it’s not.” If you want more interest and curiosity, how do you build that up?
Yeah. Well, I think, as humans, we can kind of be interested in anything. Think about this. When was the last time you watched a movie that was totally outside of your interest but the story was so good and the characters were so real? And I’m experiencing that right now with the book Ready Player One which is about virtual reality video games, and I’m the last person to play a virtual reality video game. But the story is so compelling that I’m like, “Okay, teach me about this so that I can follow this story.”
When you find an angle on something, you can get excited about it. So, the TED Talk is all built around the fact that I was never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to exercise, and then I had these two kids and my body was all messed up, and so I decided I better put all my money where my mouth is and figure out how to exercise. And then I did, and I did triathlon and half marathon. That’s like the structure of the TED Talk.
And I remember having the exact same question that you just posed, which is like, “If I don’t like exercise, I just don’t like it.” But I found that thinking about exercise through a scientific lens was an angle in on it for me. And I found out by reading Runners Magazine, and seeing what kinds of interesting things do these people talk about, and I was like, “Oh, well, that’s interesting.”
I learned all kinds of things about the blood vessels in your fingers, like way out in your extremities, the only way to get them to grow is to do intense cardiovascular fitness stuff, and my fingers were always cold, so I was like, “Well, okay, let’s do a six-mile run. Because if that actually grows blood vessels out into the tips of my fingers, like, okay, I’m interested. Tell me more.”
So, it doesn’t always have to be the big doorway people walk through to be interested in something. I don’t have to watch sports, thank God, because I don’t like them. I didn’t have to watch sports, I didn’t have to be competitive, which I’m not, but, like, all the main things that sort of describe athletic people didn’t work for me. But the science of fitness, the physiology of it, the communities that build up around the little group of people I rode my bike with and the little group of people I learned swimming from, like those things, the sort of tangential parts really worked for me, and I developed quite a lot of interest in exercise.
And the same thing happened with nutrition. When I had an autoimmune flareup thing and I needed to discover how to manage my inflammation naturally, and I suddenly had tons of interests and curiosity and talking to people. So, I think believing that you can find something interesting is sort of step one, and then go talk to the people, read the magazines, see what they’re talking about. Something will catch your eye. If it doesn’t, you always have in your back pocket the connection to your long-term hopes and dreams.
So, my favorite example of this is taxes. There are very few people who are going to be super interested in the tax code, and all of them have already become CPAs. The rest of us are not going to be, like, “Ooh, tell me about this particular deduction and the changes between 2020 and 2021.” None of us feel that way. But we can draw a really clear kind of bright line, “Like, a bright line between doing my taxes and keeping my expenses updated and whatever to my long-term hopes and dreams.”
And really building that out can be enough to help with interest and curiosity, like, “I want to have a stable-enough financial system in place for my business, that if I grow quickly, it won’t overwhelm me, or I won’t find myself in a pickle, or I won’t get audited and freak out. Like, those kinds of bright lines, “Now, I’m going to sit down and do this even without the usual interest and curiosity,” because you can’t build it intrinsically.
Okay. Well, Amanda, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
Only that there’s a journal, the Great Work Journals, there’s three of them. One is like The Great Work Journal, and sort of life-based, and then there’s one for entrepreneurs, and there’s one for students. And it can be a really good way to kind of coach yourself through the process of getting started, staying at it, not procrastinating, helps you build a good gratitude practice.
And those are really, I think, great ways to start once you’ve read the book, and you’re like, “How do I do this?” Get the journal and try to follow it because the people who love it, report that it can be very transformational. So, I just want to make sure I mention that.
All right. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
I like the quote, and I’m not entirely sure who said it, maybe Albert Einstein, that’s like in my brain somewhere, but it’s “Ninety percent of success is showing up.”
It’s like do find that if you just show up and then show up again, you don’t get nowhere. You get somewhere. And then that somewhere can hit the hockey puck or the hockey stick, I guess they call, the exponential curve, and there is no way to hit that if you’re not showing up. And I think it takes the drama out of like, “I need to show up and do big things.” No. Just show up.
All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
Yeah. So, the one I talk about the most that I think had the biggest impact on me, and my clients and the schools that I worked with when I was a consultant, is the notion of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. It’s so fundamental and it gets oversimplified, I think, in the media, into this like, “If you think you can, you can.” And it’s really not about that.
It’s really much more the opposite of that, is much truer, which is if you think you can’t, you won’t. Like, your literal brain will shut you down. If you’re like, “I’m never going to get this math homework done,” your brain is going to reduce all the activation. All the problem-solving centers are going to shut down, like, like you’re not going to do it.
But if you believe that you can, then you get into all the stuff we know about cognitive neuroscience. Like, what does it actually take to learn? What are the skills and strategies? And if you are willing to put in effort, over time, and get help, new strategies, new ideas, new ways, different ways to engage with it, you can learn almost anything.
And it’s incredibly freeing. It takes us all out of this prison of our own making, of like, “I need to do what I’m already good at,” and instead places us in a place of possibility that feels uniquely human, and I think helps us heed the call of our great work.
All right. And a favorite book?
Well, this has nothing to do with cognitive neuroscience, my favorite book is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
Yeah, what I really like is the DONE app.
Oh, yeah, that’s a good one.
It is a good one. I like it and it’s pretty and I feel like looking at it, and I’m so happy to see streaks. I love it.
And a favorite habit?
I like time blocking but not in a super intense way, just like blocking the mornings for creative work, and then blocking time around meetings to return to the ideas. Like, that’s very helpful for me. I use my calendar, like I’m dogmatic about it. I can’t imagine not having a very seriously organized calendar for time blocking.
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?
Well, I think that the idea that there is another way. Like, you don’t have to hustle and grind to do great work. That’s what people seem to come back and say, “Okay, I need to know how to do that. I’ve tried the other way. It didn’t work for me.”
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
I would point them to AmandaCrowell.com. I have a podcast called Unleashing Your Great Work, and you can find a link to that on the website, and also all the buy links to the book. I really think the book is probably the best place to start to really get a sense of who I am, and then listen to the podcast to hear other people talking about their great work so that you can build the courage to actually pursue your own, which is really what it’s all about.
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
I would say it’s, believe what you’re hearing on the inside. If there’s a piece of your job that you’re sort of want to do more of, listen to that and ask for the opportunity to do more of it. if there’s a part of your job that is not really hitting on all cylinders for you, begin the conversation about offboarding that part of it or replacing it with something that’s more your jam, because the more closely aligned you are with your jam, or your great work, the better the work you’ll do and the more valuable you’ll be to the company as well.
All right. Amanda, thank you. I’ve enjoyed this chat and wish you much luck with all your great work.
Thank you so much.