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621: How to Banish the Four Habits of Time Wasting with Steve Glaveski

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Steve Glaveski says: "Focus on what you can control, not what you can't control."

Steve Glaveski reveals how to unlearn the four habits that make us time poor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often feel like we get nothing done 
  2. The simplest way to keep others from stealing your time 
  3. Why we achieve more when we have less time 

About Steve

Steve Glaveski is an entrepreneur, author and podcast host whose mission is to unlock the latent potential of people so that they can create more impact for humanity and lead more fulfilling lives. 

Steve is CEO of Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne and Singapore, and founder of Lemonade Stand, a children’s entrepreneurship program and now, SaaS platform, that has been delivered to kids across Australia and Singapore. Steve is also the author of Employee to Entrepreneur: How To Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters, the children’s picture book Lemonade Stand: From Idea to Entrepreneur, and the newly released Time Rich. 

Steve hosts the Future Squared podcast. His work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street JournalForbes, the Australian Financial ReviewTech in Asia and numerous other outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Glaveski Interview Transcript

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

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, we need to hear about your relationship with heavy metal and performance in a tribute band.

Steve Glaveski
Wow, that’s a great question, a great place to start this. Well, I always say that you’ve got to cultivate a positive relationship with adversity, put yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable places, and then everything just becomes easier. So, one of those uncomfortable places for me was wearing zebra-print pants, a snakeskin cowboy hat, and makeup in an ‘80s metal tribute band called Ratt Poison, that’s R-A-T-T, paying homage to the band Ratt many, many years ago now. I think I was about 21 at the time, and, well, I’m still a big heavy metal fan, and that was a great experience. Although I do recall snapping a string at that particular performance and spending about 10 minutes trying to fix my guitar while the band played without me. So, trial by fire, but, yeah, that’s my heavy metal story, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you said that this was an uncomfortable position, so you didn’t seek this out, it was thrust upon you?

Steve Glaveski
No, look, I joke. I was looking for a good way to introduce that but, ultimately, I loved it. Like, it was a lot of fun. I mean, looking back now at those photos, they can be used to incriminate me or can be used against me, but I proudly have them up on my Facebook account. So, Pete, if people want to look for that photo, they can find it on my Facebook profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. It sounds like a rich use of time. How’s that for a segue? Your book is called Time Rich, which sounds like an awesome thing I’d like to be. Can you tell us, what does it mean to be time rich?

Steve Glaveski
It really means living life according to your values. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you wake up in the morning and you spend all day in your underwear watching Netflix. It really comes back to having the time to invest your hours, your very few hours, into things that give you a more rewarding experience of life. So, for some people that might be working longer hours, for some people it might be spending more time with family but, ultimately, I think it comes back to how you choose to spend those hours, and spending those hours in high-value activities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like the ideal. Can you tell us kind of what’s the state of affairs right now in terms of how much of us, how many of us really do that?

Steve Glaveski
Very few of us do that. I think a typical person now is spending about 12 hours a day staring at screens. That’s actually gone up since the pandemic just because we find ourselves watching more Netflix and YouTube and whatnot. But if you look at what we’re spending our time doing with those screens, particularly now when it comes to work, people’s way of work, we’re effectively taking what we did in the office, which was 50 to 60 interruptions a day, which was 40 to 50 notifications, push notifications popping up on our screen all day long, which was responding to emails within five minutes of them being received, checking email every six minutes, we’ve taken that and we just put it all online.

Like, instead of a one-hour face-to-face meeting, it’s a one hour Zoom call. Instead of taps on the shoulder, all day long it’s a Slack message. It’s actually worse now because we’ve got that Slack channel or the Microsoft Teams channel up all day long, and the red light is always going off, new notification, so we’re bouncing back into that all day long.

And what that does for us in terms of our focus, effectively we’re paying a cognitive switching penalty because every time we switch task, it can take us up to 23 minutes to get back in the zone. And when we’re in the zone, when we cultivate the ability to get into flow, we’re about five times more productive. When we’re totally immersed in one task, the rest of the world seems to fade away and the hours just fly by, we’re way more productive. But we’re in this state of hyper-responsiveness where nothing gets done, and we can be “busy, busy, busy” all day long but have very little to show for it come the end of the day.

And just to close the loop on your question, Gallup ran a study last year which found that 85% of people are either disengaged or not engaged by their works. So, any 15% of us are engaged by our work, which comes back to these organizational cultures where either we’re not aligned with the values of the organization or we’re just not given a sense of control to actually get stuff done because we’re spending all day long in meetings, we’re being interrupted all day long, and we’re glorifying things like inbox zero, which demonstrates that we’re really good at responding to other people’s demands on our time at the expense of our own priorities. So, my sense is that very, very few people are doing the utmost with what little time they’re given.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that 23-minute stat, I think that sounds familiar, like the Microsoft study with email. Is that where that comes from there?

Steve Glaveski
Oh, that actually comes from an organization called Advanced Brain Monitoring in the United States who ran a study on the flow state. It also echoes a study that McKinsey ran, a 10-year study around high executives where they found that when these executives are in a flow state, they are up to five times more productive.

There’s also another study that Advanced Brain Monitoring ran where they found that even micro tasks switches, so a notification pops up on your smartphone and you see it but you don’t tap on it, you just notice it. That one-tenth of a second micro task switch, over the course of a day, they found that that can add up to about a 40% productivity loss because even if you’re in flow, and you notice that, that’s enough to kind of take you out of flow and it’s going to take you time to get back in. Not only does it compromise our productivity but this constant sort of recalibrating our minds around a different thing, it can leave us exhausted as well.

So, we can find that by, say, 1:00 P.M. we’re feeling spent just because we’ve spent the first four, five hours of our day just shuffling between browser windows madly instead of just focusing on that one-high value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is quite fascinating because when you said 23 minutes, I thought, “Oh, that sounds like the 24 minutes associated with the Microsoft email study.” But it’s a completely different study which arrived at a very similar number, which I find intriguing and validating. So, can you share with us some details on what was going on in terms of how we tested that and got to that 23-minute figure?

Steve Glaveski
So they basically got a number of control groups and it required a little bit of objective feedback in terms of the interruption and how they got back to it. So, they would look at a performance of, say, marksmen who were able to get into flow in terms of how well they hit the bullseye. And what would happen was they would leave them be to just, say, extended stretches of time of, say, 30 to 60 minutes to just work on their craft, and they performed at a much higher level than when they’d been, say, interrupted or when someone came over and had a quick conversation with them.

And then they’d look at the first, say, 5 to 10 minutes thereafter, as opposed to, say, 20, 30, 40 minutes thereafter when they’d had more time to just really hone in and get in the zone, and it’s kind of the same as, say, you might find if you meditate. The first two or three minutes, there’s a lot of monkey mind going on, but then 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes in, a lot of that stuff kind of starts to fade away and you really get into your element.

So, they ran these studies across a number of different fields where they basically took someone’s performance shortly after an interruption and then compared it to their performance 20, 30 minutes in, and there was a vast difference in that. And then after they’d been interrupted, how long does it take them to get their performance up to that sort of optimal level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so there we have it. I mean, it seems like there’s plenty at stake here in terms of whether or not you’re engaged at work, whether or not you’re having fun, whether or not you’re doing well, you’re executing at a high level and just sort of ultimately getting more stuff done during the course of the day in terms of whether we are in flow and doing things well in a time-rich fashion versus kind of just jumping and being scared all over the place with notifications and emails and interruptions in a time-poor fashion.

So, tell me, what are the best interventions, super habits, practices, tips and tricks, for those of us who want to cut out the time-poor behavior and be all the more time rich?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So, a good visual mnemonic that will help your audience is TYRE. So, I say when it comes to our personal productivity, we’re carrying around spare tires which effectively slow us down. So, the T stands for task switching. So, the best thing you can do there, actionable step is you turn off your notifications; that’s a really easy one. But the second one is really cultivating the ability to focus on one thing for extended periods of time. So, using something like a Freedom app or BlockSite to block Twitter, to block these app sites you’re inclined to jump into, and then just, “Yeah, let me just quickly check my notifications.” And that can send you down the Twitter rabbit hole for half an hour. The other thing there is also the browser windows. Like, rather than having 20 browser windows open, just focus on one. So, these are like some actionable things you can do in terms of that environment.

And then the other thing I would do on task switching is it’s like cultivating any habit. Like, if you’re not used to going to the gym, it can take you a while to get into that. But cultivating the ability to sit still on one task for 30 to 60 minutes without switching, that also takes effort so you might want to start with, say, 15 minutes and work your way up.

Environment design is important too. If you want to build new habits, cultivate an environment where it’s easy to build that new habit, where it’s easier to break bad ones as well. So, I’ve touched on a couple of them there, but also if I have my phone right next to my desk, and I was going to reach for it but I don’t have it here, which speaks to what I’m trying to communicate, it’s much easier for me to just pick that phone and just check Instagram quickly and do things like that. So, whatever you can do to build a habit free of distraction, build an environment free of distraction, do that.

And then the second piece on building that…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, before jumping to the I of TIRE, so this 30, 60 minutes of not switching, you say that could be hard. We might just need to start with 15. I think maybe it might be beneficial to paint a picture in terms of when we say not switching, I have a feeling you have a higher standard of this than most of us. So, give us an example of when you say, “Hey, okay, for the next 15, 30, 60 minutes, I’m doing this and only this.” What can be some examples and then what are we not doing? We’re not looking at any notification or ding or beep or buzz whatsoever or visiting any place. Paint a picture for us.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, look, I’m a writer so I spend a hell of a lot of time staring at my Google Docs module, and if I am writing a thousand-word article, I am not checking my phone, I am not checking other websites, and there are no notifications popping up on my screen. I’m focusing purely on the task of writing. Now, there may be, while I’m writing, I might need, say, a reference of some kind to help me elaborate on things but I’m going to go through one round first.

So, if there is a reference that I’m looking for, I might just make a note of that in the article, and write, “Reference,” highlight it in yellow, and keep on going. Because if I stop every 50 words to seek out references, that can slow things down. I want to write it first and then go off and do those other things because it’s, in a world of four million blogposts being published every day, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in content rabbit holes. And, again, we need to be honest with ourselves because it can be easy to conflate doing stuff with being productive because, ultimately, we derive a lot of self-worth from our work, but we need to make sure that we’re deriving that self-worth from productive activities rather than just stuff that makes us feel busy.

So, that’s essentially my definition of not task switching which is really focusing on not just the one task but also, “What’s the task within the task?” because writing, it could writing, it could be researching, it could be fact-checking, there are different elements to that value chain of writing, but focusing on that one task within the value chain of writing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, I really like that about the task within a task. And then I guess that’s where things get tricky is when you need to get something else to do the thing you’re doing, whether it’s inside your email, or whether it’s inside a reference, or whether it’s inside your phone text message history. That’s what trips me up in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I need to get this thing in order to finish what I’m doing.” But then as I go to that other place, I’m besieged with all the other stuff, and I hate it. How do I fix it?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that’s a great, great question, and in some cases, you might get to a point where, “Look, it’s a dead end, and I need to jump into my email to get this widget, to get this attachment, whatever it is, to continue with my work.” So, of course, you need to do that. Now, I would say that in some cases there are tools that exist. So, for example, if I need to quickly write an email but I don’t want to be besieged by all of my new incoming emails, well, there’s widgets like…or plugins rather, like Google Chrome’s compose email plugin, which will just open the Compose email window so that way I spare myself seeing my inbox. Or, it might be that if I’m jumping into my inbox to get an attachment, well, in that case, I might see those other things coming in.

At the same time, I think it comes back to building that muscle and cultivating the ability to be like, “Hey, I see you. I see you, email, but right now I’m working on this other thing, and I’ll get back to you later.” So, that comes back to nothing new. I mean, people have talked about batching before, but really batching the checking of email to, say, three times a day, which is something I talk about in the book where a study showed that once people check email more than three times a day, their sort of emotional wellbeing starts to fall off with it. There was like an inverse correlation, the more times you check email throughout the day and how good you feel kind of tapers off.

So, batching that, whether it’s morning, mid-day, end of the day, and just having that time specifically for checking and responding to those emails is better than sporadically doing it throughout the day. Now there’s probably all sorts of reasons why people feel worse off when they do that. It might be just that they’re spending all day on shallow-level tasks, they’re not getting any high-value work done, and that could be part of it. It’s kind of like Netflix is all, well, and good, but if you spend four hours bingeing a TV series, you feel terrible at the end of it. Like, it’s just shallow-level work. You get into sort of a vegetative state and it can be that that would also happen with that email as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s hear what the I is in TIRE.

Steve Glaveski
So, I is actually Y, so we’re going with that definition, so it’s higher. But, basically, so the Roman philosopher Seneca once said that, “People are frugal when it comes to guarding their personal property but not so when it comes to their time,” which is the one thing which is right to be stingy with because time, unlike money, cannot be earned back once you spend it.

So, Y essentially stands for yes, saying yes to all sorts of demands on our time, oftentimes at the expense of our own thing. Because, as human beings, we have a tendency, well, not a tendency, we have a predisposition to wanting to be liked. So, if someone requests something of us, we say yes. If someone sends us a meeting request, in most organizations it’s expected that you will say yes, and that if you say no, well, that’s going to create a bit of a tension there between you and that person that invited you. But every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.

So, there is a lot of narrative, if you will, particularly in startup ecosystems where they say, “You know, if you say yes to everything, you create serendipity,” and that’s true but, at the same time, you’re saying yes to one thing and you’re saying no to everything else. So, being more diligent about what we say yes to, and making sure that that stuff really aligns with our goals, is going to help us get close to those goals.

But the one other thing that I would say on that is when it comes to meetings, for example, at Basecamp, if you want to book a meeting with someone else’s calendar, you just can’t do that. You need to sell the meeting to them. You need to, like, why is their contribution going to be valuable at this meeting. Whereas, in many organizations, there is just this tendency to just call every man, woman, and their dog to a meeting, and you have, like, 10 people sitting around a Zoom call nowadays, when, really, you might only need two or three people to be there.

One example I can talk of there is Dominic Price who is the resident work futurist at Atlassian. So, he uses this really useful visual of boomerang and stick. So, for so long, his calendar was basically back-to-back meetings all day long, all week long, and after a while, he said, “Look, I can’t keep working like this, I can’t work on my own goals, and I’m not just finding that my time is really optimized attending all of these meetings.” So, he started saying no, and two-thirds of those meetings didn’t come back so they were effectively sticks. He sent back the meeting rejection; they didn’t come back. One-third did and he called them boomerangs.

So, it might be that two-thirds of the meetings that you’re attending yourself, particularly if you work at a large organization, could be proverbial sticks, if you will. And just by saying no, you might save, as was the case with Dominic Price, 15 hours a week that you can reinvest into your own stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really inspiring because I think you said, perfectly earlier, like, yes, there’s this fear associated with, “If I say no to this meeting request, I’m going to create some friction, some tension,” and it sounds like that was not the case for Dominic in terms of he said, “No,” it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Well, I don’t know, maybe they were furious but it sounds like they were just fine with it, it’s like, “All right, that’s fine.” And then the one-third was like, “No, seriously, I really need you.” He’s like, “All right then.”

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s a pretty simple filter then right there. And do you have any pro tips on how we’d recommend saying that no?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, rather than just saying, “No, I will not attend your meeting. It’s not of value to me,” it comes back to human psychology, trying to empathize with that person, make sure that they understand your own position as well, and say, “Look, I’m currently working on XYZ. It’s a high priority for me. I need to get it done by then. I don’t think that my presence at this meeting will be of value but if there’s anything I can share that you think is valuable, I’m happy to email that along. If you think, for whatever reason that I absolutely have to be at this meeting, let me know why and I’ll come along.”

So, it’s just about, I suppose, taking the edges off somewhat and just being human with your rejection. It’s the same as anything. Even last week, I had organized for someone to appear on my podcast, and in line with this philosophy of not saying yes to everything, I had them come back and say, “Oh, you know, our AV guy wants to set up a 30-minute or 15-minute test call.”

And we’re a small team with only so many resources, and I don’t do test calls with anyone, so I went back to them and said, “Look, I appreciate that. I’ve never had any issues with AV. We’ve got a good setup. I’ve published 400 podcasts episodes. I have a small team and we’re very diligent about what we say yes to because if we say yes to one thing, we might find ourselves saying yes to everything, and I won’t have any time to focus on our goals. I hope you understand.” And they were completely fine with that, they responded and said, “Yep, totally understand,” and just about doing it that way rather than just saying no off the bat.

But, ultimately, what’s better than that is just getting to a point where your organization has a culture where you’re not expected to say yes to things and the onus is with the people requesting the meeting to say why you need to be there to spare you from having to say no in a very sort of diligent way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And if there are superior solutions, like I think, I don’t know what it was called, it’s like Online-Voice-Recorder.com or something like that, is something I’ve sent people to in that very context in terms of it’s like, “You see if it’s recognizing your microphone, and if you record it, if it sounds good. And then if it does, then that’s really the hard part. So, we’ll be all set by the time we’re meeting up here.” So, that’s great. And then it’s probably for them, too, in terms of they don’t feel embarrassed, like, “Oh, I’m sorry, Steve. Let me try to unplug it and then refresh, and sorry.” Okay, you can be there on your own with no self-consciousness, so everyone is better off.

Okay, so we got the T, we got the Y. What’s the R?

Steve Glaveski
Residual work. So, many of your audience will be familiar with Forrest Gump, and there’s this classic scene in Forrest Gump where he’s playing college football, and he was running towards the end zone, he gets there, he’s got the touchdown, he just keeps on running right into the change room, he takes out one of the band members on his way there. And this is essentially how we tend to approach a lot of our work where we don’t stop at the point of diminishing returns. We just keep on going. And so, we might spend, say, four hours putting together a sales presentation, but then we might spend another four hours tweaking it, working with the formatting, making it absolutely “perfect,” at the expense of just saying, “Okay, we’ve created most of the value. Let’s stop. Let’s move onto something else.”

And so, high performers tend to have a good relationship with that point of diminishing returns, and this is something that I find myself doing sometimes as well, and often it comes back to doing something that’s familiar, that’s comfortable, and that gives us that sense of being busy, again, at the expense of starting something new. Because when it comes to switching and starting a task afresh, something that’s perhaps somewhat challenging, our brain needs to recalibrate around that, it’s like staring at a blank page, you can get writer’s block or coder’s block or whatever block is associated with your work.

And the way around that, again, comes back to just breaking that up to its smallest possible unit, and getting started on that, and getting those wheels rolling because that comes back to Isaac Newton and his first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion,” which effectively means that once that ball is rolling, the amount of energy you need to apply to keep it rolling is much less than what’s required to get it started in the first place.

So, when you do find that you are at that point of diminishing returns, stop, maybe go for a 20-minute walk because that helps us release some BDNF, brain drive neurotrophic factor, which is like our cavemen brain sensing movement as a fight or flight moments, and that helps us focus. So, taking that walk, coming back, and starting on that fresh task, breaking it down to its smallest residual part, getting that ball in motion, and once it’s in motion, it’s so much easier to do that.

And the benefit of this is we’re not talking about this over one day, but if you do that over, say, a hundred days, you’ve saved yourself countless hours just kind of tweaking stuff, inconsequential activities that you do on a task long after it’s been done, and you’ve actually spent a lot more time working on high-value activities. So, the compounding interest benefit, if you will, over long periods of time is significant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are some telltale signs that you are approaching or have hit or have passed this point of diminishing returns?

Steve Glaveski
You’ve got to be objective based on your own work, so it’s hard to answer that without knowing the kind of work that people are working on. Like, I know myself that if I am getting into that state of just doing stuff because it’s comfortable, because it’s easier than moving onto something else, I have a pretty good relationship with that. Like, yes, there is value in, say, writing an article and then going over and making sure it’s spellchecked and it sounds good and everything else.

But once you’ve done that once or twice, you might just yourself scrolling up and down, and just looking at it ad infinitum, and that’s perhaps the point where you want to move on and go to something else because it really depends on the individual task at hand. I can’t think of a perfect way that we would say, “Okay, here’s a telltale sign around when you have hit that point of diminishing returns.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that’s…I’m picking up what you’re putting down there with regard to you kind of know it when you see it and feel it with regard to, “Has anything useful happened here in a while?” Like, for me, I find it often occurs like maybe I was in a good groove for like 90 minutes plus, and I’m still working but it’s more of a coasting at that point than a creating new stuff, and it’s like my brain is tired but I haven’t yet acknowledged that my brain is tired.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, you might find yourself, like if you work in social media, you might spend a bit of time putting together some content, and then you go off and you publish it, and then you might just find that you’re spending too much time refreshing the screen and seeing what kind of engagement you’re getting. Now that’s past the point of diminishing returns. People might say, people who work in social media will say, “Well, that’s part of my job.”

But, like the email, you can batch that. You don’t need to be doing that refreshing the page every five minutes, and then while you’re there, checking out some of the other things that have been posted, going into analytics and doing all these little inconsequential things that perhaps you should be batching once a day, and then moving onto another activity.

So, again, that comes back to that sort of the value chain of work, “What is the nature of your work? What’s the value chain within a task?” And batching that stuff rather than finding yourself kind of just in this hamster-on-a-wheel sort of mode. And the value in that case was creating the content, publishing it, and that’s it. But refreshing the page ad infinitum? That obviously isn’t a high-value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think you’re really nailing something there with regard to when there’s real-time stuff happening. It’s funny, we’re recording this on Election Day in the U.S., you’re in Australia, and so there’s a lot of refreshing I think going on in a lot of places to see, “What’s the news? What are the numbers? And how are things potentially unfolding?” But I found that that is a temptation, like when I’ve done my listener surveys, I’d refresh, “Ooh, we got two more. We got two more. What do they say? What do they say? Ooh, they love the show. Great!” It’s like, “Ooh, we have three more.” So, there’s that real-time temptation, I think maybe people who if they’re doing trading in the financial markets as well.

And so then, as I’m thinking about this real-time, it kind of gets back to, “Hey, what am I trying to accomplish in this moment?” And there may be a great reason to say, “Okay, hey, I just launched a survey, and I want to see the first 5, 10 results right away to see if maybe I had a really unclear question, and folks are not actually giving me answers that are what I’m after, or they’re confused, or skipping it. So, yeah, I do want to check, maybe repeatedly, in the early moments to do a quick correction and make sure I don’t let it run for five days and get 200 responses that are not what I wanted because I was unclear with my question.”

So, in a way, I think that that’s super helpful to do that refreshing, it’s not a diminishing return. It’s a great return. But other times, it’s just like, yeah, it’s almost like you go into a state of, “Duh, refresh anymore.” It’s like there’s less life and juice and drive and goal domination going on in terms of how it feels in my psyche.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, which comes back to what I was saying earlier, like you know it when you see it, essentially, when it comes to that point of diminishing returns. And what you’re talking about there is so valid as well. I’m not a big fan of absolutes and all-or-nothing type of advice or guidance on anything. I feel like most things in life exist on like an inverted U, like stress as well. Like, “No, stress is not a really good space.” I mean, some stress actually helps us get to that point of optimal performance. So, that inverted U, you want to look for that space at the very top of the inverted U, or the bell curve essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
Or an N, lowercase N.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, whatever the case it is, lowercase N, but then you’ve got two like peaks, so. But, essentially, finding that space. So, yes, maybe check it for a little bit, get the feedback you need. It’s the same with running an ad. You want to run an ad and you want to see that it’s performing in the early stages, and if not, you want to tweak the ad and make sure that you’re getting a better click-rate, for example, that you’re reaching the right people, whatever the case is. But if you’re sitting there, refreshing the ad all day long, “Oh, our cost per click has gone down a little bit. Oh, we’ve got a few more clicks now,” like that is obviously the point where you’re like, “Okay, let’s move onto something else.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the T, the Y, the R. And the E?

Steve Glaveski
So, the E, essentially, I suppose dovetails off something we touched on, which was the path of least effort. So, human beings, biologically, we’re predisposed to taking the path of least effort. I mean, that comes back to evolutionary wiring whereby tens of thousands of years ago, when we were naked running around the African savannah, we didn’t know where our food would come from, and so we needed to conserve energy for extended periods of time in case we needed to hunt out some prey or evade some predators.

This now shows up in our work when we sit down to our desks and we take that path of least effort, checking Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. And we already touched on some of the ways to circumvent that by breaking things down to their residual parts, environment design, and cultivating the ability to get stuck on the most difficult task perhaps first thing in the morning or first thing in the afternoon, whenever it is you tend to do your best work, which is something we touched on in the book as well, which is that about 50% of people are actually night owls, which means they do their best work 10 hours after waking. Otherwise, if you try and get a night owl to work an hour after waking, they actually suffer from a form of social jetlag, which can also predispose them to developing anxiety and depression over the longer term.

So, this whole idea of getting people to the office at, say, 9:00 A.M., getting them out of bed at 7:00, particularly if they’re night owls, it’s really detrimental to their health, but not only their health but their ability to perform at a high level. So, when you think about the fact that about 50% of the population are night owls, like they have these preferred sleeping patterns but they’re forced to get to work early, and I think it’s encouraging to see that now with the move to remote work at scale, hopefully more organizations stay that way.

It does create the conditions to move to more asynchronous communication where we’re not expecting real-time responses, where we’re not conflating presence with productivity, and people aren’t expected to be on Slack all day long and expected to all be on these back-to-back Zoom calls. It does give people the ability to design days as it best suits them, as it best suits their biological predisposition, the realities of their lives, their families and everything else, and they can get work when it best suits them.

And, ultimately, that benefits everyone. It also benefits the organizations because if you can create those types of cultures, it also is a compelling recruit tool because people want to work at places where they can create their own days as it best suits them but also work in organizations where they can actually get stuff done and not be bogged down by bucketloads of process and policy that just gives them no sense of control or agency over their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well-said. Well, so I also know you’ve got a take on the eight-hour workday. Lay it on us, are shorter workdays better and why?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So. Shorter workdays, there is no yes or no answer. Ultimately, a six-hour workday experiment was something we ran two and a half years ago and I wrote an article about this for Harvard Business Review and called “The Case for the Six-hour Workday.” And what you find is when you have a shorter workday, if you’re an organization that has a lot of bloat, that isn’t intentional about how it goes about creating value, a shorter work day forces you to focus on high-value activities. It’s a forcing function.

So, one, it will force you to, say, automate and outsource rudimentary process-oriented lower-risk activities so that your people aren’t doing that. Two, it will force you to focus on, say, high-value tasks. So, applying the Pareto principle, focusing in on those 20% of tasks that create the majority of the value rather than just focusing on those low-value tasks that feel good, that you’ve done because you’ve always done them before but don’t really move the needle forward. It forces people to cultivate the flow state, to get better at getting into that deep-work state, do away with those notifications, those distractions, and those meetings that inhibit our ability to do our best work. So, a shorter workday will help you in that regard. So, if you do have a lot of bloat, and you’re working at eight-hour workdays, and you come back to six, you will find more productivity.

Now, over the past couple of years, there’s been a trend as well to four-day work weeks. We saw Microsoft Japan run a four-day work week, and they suggested that their productivity improved by 40%. Now, me, personally, I would argue that five shorter work days is better than, say, four longer ones because if you have created this environment and culture where people can get into flow and people can do that for, say, the max amount of time, which is about four hours a day, maybe five, then if you’re keeping them there for, say, eight hours for four days a week, that suggests that maybe there’s two, three hours of waste there rather than running, say, five days at four or five hours a day, which I think is more beneficial if people are spending that time in flow.

Now, again, there’s something to be said about not all hours will be in flow. Like, for example, you may have to have some meetings. There is collaboration that’s required at organizations, there are things that need to get done where you’re just not working in isolation, so that’s why adding maybe a couple of hours to that workday, so it’s six hours rather than just four, I think makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you mentioned automation and outsourcing. Do you have any favorite tools or services or tricks?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, look. I think Zapier, for me, is probably one of the most powerful ones. So, Zapier, or IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. So, these tools will basically help different tools speak to each other. So, recently, during the pandemic, I spun off a media company called NoFilter, and one thing we found was taking up a lot of time was getting people that we had paid to take Google Docs that our writers had developed, take them, copy them, paste them into our CMS and publish that.

So, we created a very simple automation between, say, a web HTML form and our CMS so that our writers will just plug the content right into the HTML form, and that would get picked up by Zapier and come into our CMS, so then us, as editors, we just jump into that CMS and we just need to publish it, or we might need to just make some changes if we feel like the content is not good enough, or just delete it if it’s crap, right? But that saves us a lot of time copying and pasting, but it also meant that we could operate at scale because, then, we could reach out to a lot of different writers, and say, “Hey, if you want to write for us, here’s the online form. You can republish some of your old blogposts too and we’ll link back to that, and we’ll give you an article links and whatnot.” And that just helps us make the process a lot more seamless. So, that’s one.

Another example is tools like repurpose which help you effectively repurpose content for different platforms. So, you can think about something like recording a Facebook Live video and then using a combination of tools like Zapier, Repurpose, record posts, for example, where that Facebook Live video could get turned into a transcribed blogpost, an audiogram, a YouTube video, and social media post with a click of a button essentially.

Now, again, inverted U, sometimes there is an element of personalization that can get missed with that but these tools are slowly getting better and better, but just by recording that Facebook Live video, you can have all these other forms of content basically at the click of a button, and that just means that we’re creating a lot more content, we can reach larger audiences, and it saves us a hell of a lot of time in trying to manually create different versions of that content ourselves.

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

Steve Glaveski
There are a couple. Another couple of tools people might want to look out for: WebMerge and Airtable. So, I mentioned earlier our sales presentations, we use Airtable to automate our sales proposal generation, right? So, rather than having to manually seek out, “Hey, where’s that proposal we prepared for that client about six months ago?” getting that PowerPoint or keynote, and then manually putting that together, we’ve created this tool where all we do is plug in the prospect’s name, their logo, and choose the color scheme, and also just choose what products they’re actually interested in, and this will spit out a presentation that we might spend 5 to 10 minutes customizing. And, over the course of the year, that also saves us a bunch of time when it comes to just automating these rudimentary process-oriented tasks.

So, I would challenge people that whatever task you’re all currently working on, like whether it’s customer service, sales, marketing, testing, administrative tasks, like so many things can be automated, and the cost of doing so is not high, but a lot of people will say things like, “Yeah, but I haven’t got time or money to do that,” but it’s kind of ironic because over the long term you actually end up spending a hell of a lot more time and money trying to do it yourself rather than just spending that time upfront which will pay itself back in orders of magnitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s what I found. It’s like it’s not so much that you don’t have time, it’s just that it’s kind of hard and tiring to figure it out and execute it and set it up, but once you do, yeah, I’ve had many instances of setup a system and a process with a combination of training someone to do something, and software doing something, and bring them together, and I spend two hours and it saves me 40 hours. There’s not a lot of 20-to-1 returns to be had in your investments, but when it comes to time and automation outsourcing, there’s many, many to be done.

Steve Glaveski
Many, many. One quick one there, just on that 20-to-1, if you look at things like a five-minute task done five times a day, like if you just outsource that task or automate it, that saves people something like 15 days over the course of the year, like if you extrapolate that five minutes out. And that’s just that five minutes, like we’re not even accounting for the fact that you need to stop what you’re doing to do that task and then come back to what you were doing, so the task switching as well.

So, it doesn’t need to be a big task to save a lot of time, but it’s the small task that you’re doing often, like even five-minute tasks, think about outsourcing that as well.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’m a big fan of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation, And one of the quotes in his book was, “When you have power over your mind, not external events, realize this and you will find strength.”

So, essentially, I think that navigating life in that way where things will happen to you that perhaps aren’t pleasant, things won’t go your way. You might pursue business and perhaps it doesn’t work out, but you have control over your mind and how you choose to interpret and respond to these things. Just by having that sort of mindset, it just opens you up to trying things where you might fail and you might not be good because so many of us suffer from a sense of paralysis when we’re scared that things will not work out our way.

I’ve tried to cultivate that adversity in my life just by doing things that scare me. Like, last year, I hit the standup comedy open-mic circuit here in Melbourne, and I did five shows. Now, I’ve done keynotes and things of that persuasion in front of hundreds of people but getting up in front of a crowd of ten in a smokey back-alley bar somewhere and trying to make them laugh, man, that’s scary. Doing these things just, I find, optimized not only your life but just predisposes you to taking that path of more effort rather than the path of least effort. And, oftentimes, even if you fail, you end up in a much better place.

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

Steve Glaveski
One that I pulled out during my research for the book Time Rich was around some group of scientists that…so there was three control groups: so one was working 20 hours a week, one was working 35 hours a week, and the third was working 60 hours a week. And what they found was that the group that was working 20 hours a week was twice as productive as the 35-hour a week group, and the 60-hour a week group was the least productive of all, which they found came back to the fact that the more hours these groups had, one, they’d spent it on non-consequential tasks, but, two, they also had less time to rest and rejuvenate and come back as the best version of themselves. So, that’s why the 60-hour a week group were just the least productive of all.

So, that comes back to something I talk about in the book, which is burnout. Burnout essentially, where that comes from is the fact that us, as human beings, we might be present on a Zoom call or in the office, but if we’re burnt out, we’re only physically present. On the inside, we’re a shadow of our former selves, and that’s kind of like a house that’s been ravaged by a house fire. It might still be standing but if you go inside, everything has just been burnt out to a crisp. So, that’s an interesting study that I think validates some of these thinking around shorter work days and focusing on high-value activities rather than just conflating hours with output as we might, say, on the factory room floors of the industrial revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Glaveski
For now I’m going to say Ray Dalio’s Principles just because he is someone who’s been in the trenches for a number of decades in the funds-management space. His initial business failed, he effectively came up with ways to codify decision-making based on what’s worked in the past but also adaptive decision-making in a way where he will update his worldview based on new evidence that comes to light which is a core of the scientific method, but just lots of principles in there which I think help us navigate not just business and life.

For example, multi-order thinking, so not just thinking about, “What’s the benefit of making this decision but what are the consequences? What are the second, third, fourth order consequences of this?” So, it’s just a chock-full of these principles that effectively help us better navigate life essentially.

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

Steve Glaveski
It’s really about a quadrant that I drop on a whiteboard once every quarter. So, not a fancy like tech tool or anything like that, but I just draw up this quadrant and I just write in each corner start, stop, more, less. And so, I’ll do this with my business, I’ll look at, “What should we start doing, stop doing, do more, do less?” And I’ll apply this to sales techniques, marketing channels, products we’re selling, customers, geographies, real targeting, all that sort of stuff, so that every period of time we’re always optimizing, we’re cutting away wastes, and we’re doing more of what works, we’re introducing new things that we perhaps haven’t tried. We’re always experimenting.

But it’s also a valuable tool that you can apply to your own life in a sense that, “Hey, here’s what I should start doing, stop doing. Hey, here’s what’s not really working for me. Perhaps I need to stop doing this, and perhaps I need to be more of a friend to these people,” whatever the case is. But being objective with that and just taking the time out to stop and reflect, as Mark Twain urged us to do, and actually act on those reflections, I think, just helps us get to a place where we’re just living more contended lives.

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

Steve Glaveski
Just getting started to the most difficult thing first thing in the morning, whatever it is. It might be a gym workout. It might be writing a 1500-word article. It could be anything, but I find that if I start my day achieving something, then that kind of permeates the rest of my day in a way. And not only that, but there is something to be said about dopamine release that comes with accomplishment, that comes with achieving something, that puts you in a better state of mind as well, which then, in turn, impacts how you show up with the people around you, and impacts the energy that you bring to the rest of your work. So, for me, that all just starts with making my bed first thing in the morning and then going from there.

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

Steve Glaveski
Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control. I think that’s a big one. So often, people don’t delineate between the two and find themselves getting wrapped up with what they can’t control, and that’s really putting yourself in a place of victimhood narrative. There’s nothing you can do about that other than make yourself feel like crap. So, really delineate between the two and focus on influencing what you can control and the stuff that you can’t control, well, there’s no point working yourself up over it because it’s essentially outside your locus of control.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’d point them to SteveGlaveski.com. They can find all of my links to businesses, social media, books, all that sort of stuff over there. And if they want to learn more about Time Rich, they can do so at TimeRichBook.com. They can download the first chapter for free as well as a 30-page document of Time Rich tools over at TimeRichBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Steve, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in being time rich.

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

620: Reframing Your Mindset for Greater Resilience and Positivity with Anne Grady

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Anne Grady says: "Resilience is a practice, it's a muscle, something you have to work at."

Anne Grady discusses how to bring more positivity into your life by building your resilience muscle.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when negativity hijacks your brain
  2. The simple trick to making each day more enjoyable 
  3. The foundational skills of resilient people

About Anne

Anne Grady is an internationally recognized speaker and author who shares humor, humility, refreshing honesty, and practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. 

Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. 

With a master’s degree in organizational communication and more than 20 years of experience working side-by-side with industry gurus, political and educational leaders, and CEOs, Anne addresses audiences worldwide on topics including change management, resilience, leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Anne Grady Interview Transcript

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

Anne Grady
Hey, Pete, thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. And I think you’ve got some very critical wisdom to share, talking resilience. Tell us, what are you doing to stay resilient these days?

Anne Grady
Oh, my gosh. Well, I have been tested. I think we have all been tested. And so, I’ve been putting into practice all these great strategies I teach. And, just like all of us, I’m human, so some days work better than others, and it’s just putting one foot in front of the other. Resilience is a practice, it’s a muscle, something you have to work at. It’s not one of those things you’re either resilient or not. So, I can’t wait to share with you some of the strategies I’ve been using and the things I talk about in my new book and ways that you can just kind of navigate this difficult time a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And even when, at last, the pandemic is behind us, we’ll still need these for the next challenge. So, maybe you could open us up. So, your book is called Mind Over Moment. What’s behind that title?

Anne Grady
So, our life is this collection of moments, that’s really all it is, and we’re so caught up. We’re busy being busy, and I feel like the Girl Scouts are going to start handing out a busy badge at some point. We’ve just gotten really busy, and we’re reacting through life, and we kind of just instead of living a life that we intentionally want, or simply trying to survive the one that we have, and there are ways that we can change that, that we can get out of reactivity.

But it’s using this idea of mindfulness to be deliberate about where you’re investing your time, your energy, your attention from a mindset perspective, from a skillset perspective, and then being able to reset to really take back control of your life. Otherwise, each day just becomes the same day and we kind of just end up on this hamster wheel and land somewhere and draw bullseye around our self, and go, “Oh, well, I guess this is where I was supposed to be,” instead of really crafting the life that we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, boy, there’s so much to dig in there.

Anne Grady
Dig away.

Pete Mockaitis
And a great distinction in terms of enduring the life that we are in as opposed to really kind of designing and going after that. So, yeah, let’s talk about some mindset things. How would you orient us in terms of what is the optimal mindset to be resilient AF, as your T-shirt says, which keeps cracking me up?

Anne Grady
I have these made. We’re actually going to start selling these at some point.

But your mindset is, literally, the story you tell yourself. It’s the story you tell yourself about what’s going on in your life, it impacts how you see yourself, how you view the world. And so, I guess where I would start with mindset is understanding your brain. And without going too deep into neurology, our brain is this amazing three-pound cauliflower-like blob sitting on top of our shoulders but it’s actually working against us.

And so, if we are left to our own devices, if we just let our brain operate as it is, we’re really focused on looking for everything that’s wrong instead of figuring out what’s right. We have a negativity bias. And this served us well as we’ve evolved as a species because our brain’s job is not to make us happy or keep us content. Our brain’s only job is to keep us safe. And in order to do that, it is really keen on the negative around us because the positive stuff is not going to kill us. So, your brain just easily kind of lets go of all these positive moments that you have in your life, and it really hones in on the negative experiences.

And so, we have to offset Mother Nature. And the thing that’s happening right now is that our brain views uncertainty as a threat. Our brain doesn’t like an outcome it doesn’t know. It actually would rather have an outcome it hates than one it doesn’t know. And so, because of this negativity bias, we keep going to worst-case scenarios, and we tell ourselves these stories in our head. And that actually shapes our neuro chemistries.

So, when we say things, even if they’re true, like, “I’m so stressed. I’m so tired. This is crazy. This is nuts. What are we going to do? This is horrible,” your brain actually responds to protect you, and it starts pumping you with cortisol and adrenaline and noradrenaline and norepinephrine. And all those chemicals are there to help you fight, freeze, or run away but they’re not doing anything to help you live purposefully or to help you find peace. We got to protect our peace. It’s one of those things where…My son is severely mentally ill and autistic. We’ve talked before and I think I told you about he tried to kill me when he was three years old with a pair of scissors.

And by four, he was on his first anti-psychotic. By seven, he was hospitalized and had his first in-patient psychiatry. When he was 10, he was hospitalized again, and I got diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland that left me with facial paralysis, and that resulted in a scratched cornea which required eye surgery before I started six weeks or radiation, but not before I fell down a flight of stairs, breaking my foot in four places. So, I didn’t learn this stuff, I mean, I say I didn’t learn it in a textbook. I had to live it first and then I wanted to understand how it worked. And I learned that there were things that I was doing along the way that were supporting my resilience but there were things that were sabotaging it.

And if you are focused on deliberately cultivating the right thoughts, the right belief systems, the right mindset, you change your entire life. Our thoughts are not facts. We take them as facts but they’re not.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig in. So, we got this negativity bias going on, and you’ve figured out how to overcome that with a host of challenges. Again, wow! So, glad you’re here and well.

Anne Grady
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we go about overcoming, reprogramming, dealing with that?

Anne Grady
Well, it starts with the story you’re telling yourself, right? So, I found myself, people would say, “How are you?” And I’d be like, “Oh, my God, I’m so busy. I don’t have time. I’m overwhelmed. I’m stressed.” And while those things may have been true, my neurochemistry was flooding me with all of these neurochemicals to help protect me but it actually was increasing inflammation and making it difficult to sleep, and impacting my mood and my ability to make decisions and solve problems.

And so, you really start by being deliberate about the story you tell yourself, which is, stuff is not ideal but there are still good things happening if you look for them, and that’s really the key. People who are resilient, who practice resilience, proactively cultivate positive emotions, they use their brain to search for the good to help offset the bad. And that doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad stuff.

“Pretend that everything is peachy keen?” And that’s not what I’m advocating. In fact, while it seems counterintuitive, you actually have to feel the yucky stuff. When we try to push it away or get rid of those uncomfortable emotions, and we suppress them or numb them, we actually increase the intensity and the duration of them. So, it’s not to say that you should ignore the uncomfortable negative emotions, but you have to proactively search for the positive ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, well, let’s hear those two parts then in terms of, okay, so pushing away, ignoring, suppressing, repressing the unpleasant stuff is the wrong move. What is the right response for, you know, “I’m anxious,” “I’m angry,” “I’m depressed,” “This thing ticked me off”?

Anne Grady
Yeah. Well, it’s to acknowledge it and give yourself grace. We’re human. And I think we’ve grown up in this. The last decade has been this positive psychology cyclone, and what we don’t realize is we’re not supposed to be happy all the time. Those moments happen in little blips but our brain has developed a negativity bias for a reason. It’s meant to protect us from everything that’s going on. And so, if we’re going to overcome it, well, first of all, we can’t overcome it. It just is what it is.

And so, when you’re feeling anxious, it’s going, “Crap! I feel anxious right now,” and identifying where you feel it, “So, my stomach feels tight. My shoulders feel tense. My palms are sweaty. My heart is racing.” What that does, simply by naming it and identifying where you feel it, it’s called tracking, it actually resets your nervous system and gets you out of the sympathetic fight or flight, and back into the parasympathetic rest and digest.

So, simply acknowledging the emotion, and, “Yeah, I feel crappy right now. And this is what I’m experiencing and it’s okay to feel that way,” because feelings are fleeting. It will shift and change, but when we fight it or try to numb it with unhealthy vices, we just serve to aggravate it and bring it to the forefront even more.

It’s like me telling you, like, “Don’t think of pizza or chocolate cake when you’re going on a diet.” We pay attention to what’s top of mind. It’s called selective attention. It’s like if I said, “Think of an animal but whatever you think of, don’t think of pink elephants.” Well, that’s what you’re going to think of. So, we have to start acknowledging the stuff that doesn’t feel so great, but then you have to be deliberate about what you’re searching for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we talk about the unpleasant emotions and how to work with that. And so then, to be conscientious about what you’re searching for, how do we amp up to find more and, I guess, linger or dwell more into the pleasant experiences?

Anne Grady
You know, I used to think this was so touchy, fluffy, feely. When I thought of resilience, I thought of like finding your Zen, and eating tofu, and sitting in a full lotus, and drinking green tea. And it seemed very fruppy and fluffy demand ‘til I dug into the research. Over 11,000 studies have proven that gratitude is the most direct path to wellbeing and happiness. And I know when I was going through my facial paralysis and stuff with my son, my natural inclination was, “What do I have to be grateful for right now?”

But there are always things to be grateful for. And the simple act of looking, you don’t even have to find anything, the simple act of looking releases serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurochemicals and antidepressants. The simple act of looking for something to be grateful for decreases the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. And because we tend to scan the environment and find what we look for, whether it’s looking for, like yesterday, I had a crappy day. It was one of those days where every light turned red, things were not going well, and I have a sign on my bathroom mirror that says, “What do you want to find today? What do you want to see today?” I mean, it’s not like a fancy sign. It’s written in blue Sharpie marker. But I wanted to find reasons to be grateful.

And so, I drove to the grocery store, and a car was leaving one of the spots right up front as I was going away. And what most of us do is we just go, “Okay, that’s cool.” But in order to rewire our brain, there’s something called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. And, basically, what it means is the more you think and behave a certain way, the easier it is to think and behave that way. So, the more often you’re anxious and cranky, the easier it is to stay there.

And so, if you think of like a computer, you download a program but you have to install it. And so, having the experience is downloading it, but to install it, you have to actually sit in it. It’s called savoring. And it means you have to step outside of the experience and observe it and appreciate it for 15 to 20 seconds, and you can literally rewire the neural structure and function of your brain when you get in the habit of doing that.

And so, what ends up happening, like, when was the last time you laid in bed at night and you’re ruminating about your day, and you’re thinking about the good things that happened? We default to the negative. You get a performance review. You’re told you do nine things exceptionally well. You have one opportunity for growth, and you’re lying in bed at night marinating and stewing in that conversation. You’re not thinking of the nine things you did exceptionally well. You’re stewing over that one negative thing.

And so, it’s not to say you ignore that. Is there truth in it? Can you learn from it? Is there something you can do something productively with that feedback? But then it’s sitting in those nine things that we typically dismiss and rush past, or that compliment that you get that you just brush off instead of really sitting in that and feeling it physically because that is what changes your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about how that zooming right into it, doing some savoring. So, you mentioned savoring the last time. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, so let’s dig in some more. So, you get that great parking spot, and instead of just saying, “Oh, that’s cool,” walk us through the depths of savoring in depth. What’s happening in your brain? How are you savoring that well?

Anne Grady
So, what I did when I pulled into the parking spot is I just took three deep breaths, and most of us don’t breathe correctly. I can get into breathing more a little bit later as we talk about other things. But I took three really deep diaphragmatic breaths. And what that does is it allows enough oxygen to get into your brain and it resets your nervous system. And I just took a second and said, “I’m really excited I found this cool spot up front. It’s rock star parking. This is going to be a good trip to the store. I’m going to find other good stuff.”

And it was so funny because I did. I went to the store looking for good experiences. And a grocery store at 5:00 p.m., even in a global pandemic, is crazy. It’s like full-contact sport, right? But I was standing in one of the aisles and I could not find the spice I was looking for, and there was a mom and a daughter walking by, and I’m like, “Hey, can I borrow you guys for a second?” And they looked at me like I was a crazy person, which I probably am. But I said, “My eyes, I’ve been staring at this spice aisle for five minutes and I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’ll give you a bonus point, if you can find this.”

And so, they were like, “Ooh, a bonus point.” Well, I’m giving them nothing, right? But they both found what I was looking for in a split second, and then we all had a really good laugh. And that single moment could be easily dismissed but, instead, as I was walking down the rest of the aisle, I thought, “That felt really good, you know. They had a laugh. I had a laugh. I found what I was looking for. It didn’t cost us any money. They weren’t annoyed by it. It was a good interaction.” And I actually left the store feeling better than when I got there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And people could be starved for those interactions in a pandemic in terms of like, well, one, they might’ve just fled from you, “Aah, too close. Danger. Toxin.”

Anne Grady
“Ahh, crazy.” I had a mask on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good. Good. So, there’s that. They could be particularly starved for that experience there.

Anne Grady
But it’s funny you mentioned that, and I’m sorry to interrupt you. But it’s funny you mentioned that because I teach resilience. And so, I was doing a session today for a group of leaders at a high-tech company, and I shared that experience. And one of the guys said, “You know, it’s interesting you say that because yesterday I was at the grocery store, and the exact same thing happened. I couldn’t find something, and this woman was standing there, and I asked her to help me, and she found it.” And this is the gentleman talking, he said, “And I told her, ‘You’re awesome,’ and she started to cry. And she said, ‘That’s the first time anyone has told me I’m awesome all year long. You just made my day.’” And I do think we’re starved.

And I don’t have any data to support this but I think the mask thing is a big deal because we’re missing out on so much human connection, and social distance, really, is physical distance. We still need social connection but we’re starved for positive moments right now. And the single most momentary increase in positive emotions comes from doing something nice for someone else. And if somebody else witnesses that, they’re more likely to do something nice for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very beautiful to think about, I don’t know, that ripple effect and the good vibes to put forth in the world there. So, finding the gratitude, expressing the gratitude, and that’s big in terms of for the parking space, then how you ended up discovering more cool moments along the way there. So, those are sort of the mindset part. Talk to us about the skillset. What are the top skills that folks need to adopt to become more resilient, and how do we get them?

Anne Grady
Well, I think of the mindset as the toolbox, it’s the foundation but you’ve got to fill it, and so the skills are your tools. And what we just talked about is a big one. Proactively cultivating positive emotions, whether it’s humor, a smile, one that involves the muscles around your eyes actually calms your nervous system, cools your heart, slows respiration. True genuine laughter increases pain tolerance, lowers blood pressure, stimulates dopamine and serotonin production, even makes you appear more attractive. So, anything that you can do to proactively cultivate good emotions.

So, for example, I have watched every Netflix standup comedian that I could find. Like, I think I have exhausted them all and I’m watching them all again. And it’s because your brain doesn’t know the difference between…like, they’ve done studies with Botox where they forced a smile and your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real smile or a forced smile. It just recognizes the facial movement, and so that literally shifts your brain. When you experience laughter, it is not only good for your brain, it’s physiologically good for your body. So, that’s a huge one.

Self-care. This morning, I was teaching a session, and I said, “Think of the dirtiest word you can imagine. Like, think of the dirtiest word you can imagine.” And then I asked, “How many of you thought of self-care?” We think of it as this selfish luxury but it’s really a skill. Self-care is nothing more than a skill, and it doesn’t have to be taking-a-spa day. It can be sipping that first cup of coffee and just really appreciating it. It can be lighting a candle while you do your taxes. It can be stepping outside and just taking a five-minute walk or snuggling your pets.

Social connection is another one. And so, many of us have heard of this chemical called oxytocin. It’s the bonding agent so I guess you could call it. It’s called the cuddle hormone and it’s, basically, what bonds parents and children, mother and child as soon as the child is born, but it’s actually a stress hormone. And so, when we are feeling stressed, our body produces oxytocin because it’s craving connection. We are tribal by nature. We’re social creatures. We survive together better than we do individually.

And in a time when we have been so focused on socially distancing ourselves, with that has come social disconnection, and it’s huge. Loneliness kills more people every year than smoking, obesity, and high-blood pressure. And you can be in a room full of people and still be lonely, right? So, you could be in the middle of Times Square, back when it used to be filled up, and be lonely. So, social connection is huge. Self-care, gratitude, positive emotions, all of those seem like they’re so easy that, I mean, they’re so simple that it’s easy to dismiss them. And you don’t have to tackle all of them at once.

So, for example, look, I’m not Ms. Rose-Colored Glasses. My husband will tell you I’m the most pessimistic motivational speaker he’s ever met. Like, I am not out high-fiving sunbeams, there are not doves released when I walk into a room. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 19. So, my natural optimism bias is very, very low. I have to really work hard at it. For some people, it comes more naturally. For me, I have to really, really work hard at it.

And exercise, for me, is not something I look forward to, it’s not something I necessarily enjoy, but it rivals anti-depressants. And, no judgement, I’m on everything but roller skates. But exercise, literally, changes the structure and function of your brain. It repairs neurons damaged by stress. It increases the density of grey matter, and that’s the part of your brain that’s responsible for attention and emotional regulation.

So, if you’ve noticed, since this pandemic started, that you’ve had a harder time focusing, or you’re more irritable, or easily agitated, there are specific things like sleep and exercise. And yoga is great because it combines meditation, breathing, and exercise. There are things you can do to repair your brain, but sometimes we just default to what’s easiest. And it’s easier to binge on Tiger King for six hours than it is to focus on taking a walk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a nice lineup there. And so then, all these are skills, in so far as it’s not a matter of them coming naturally or exerting some effort, you’re working on them and they become more natural over time, and so, excellent. And then how about the reset part of things?

Anne Grady
So, the reset is kind of two-fold. One, it is resetting your priorities, so resetting your priorities and your perspective. I think what’s been most fascinating, as I’ve been working with a lot of my corporate clients is that working from home is no longer working from home. It’s living at work, and we are constantly connected. And because people know we’re not anywhere else, when we don’t respond for a couple of hours, it creates a sense of urgency.

And your eulogy and your resume shouldn’t be the same document. As someone who is very goal-oriented, achievement-driven, I own my own business, I’ve had to really work hard at remembering that it’s not just about prioritizing your schedule. It’s about scheduling your priorities. If you were to track your time for a week, is it reflective of what you say is most important to you? Or, are you just getting carried away being busy?

So, I told you swimming, for me, is my exercise. It’s my self-care. And I swim in a pool, and there’s this line painted on the bottom of the pool so I go straight. But if you’ve ever tried to swim in an ocean, then you know swimming in a straight line is like impossible. You’re carried away by the tide. You’re carried away by the current. So, you’re taught, if you’re an open-water swimmer, aim for an immovable object, like a buoy, or a dock, or a lighthouse.

And so, this idea of your lighthouse. What is your lighthouse? Because I feel like life is kind of like the ocean. There are times when the seas are calm and it’s beautiful, and the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining. And then there are times that we’re in right now, like a global pandemic, and it’s a torrential storm, and we’re getting sucked under. And if, when we rise back up to take a breath, we don’t have something to look toward, we just kind of swim aimlessly.

So, one of the things to reset is really get clear on what your most important priorities are, and is that reflected in your calendar. The other thing is, “What are you swimming toward?” And you can have big lighthouses. Like, my biggest lighthouse is mental health advocacy but I have little lighthouses like pizza night. So, I’m doing sober October, I have a lighthouse on November 1st, I get to enjoy a cocktail. Part of the challenge, I think, with the pandemic is that we don’t have a lot to look forward to because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Like, my husband and I, for the longest time, our lighthouse has been getting an RV. And I’m not a camper, I’m a glamper, so we wanted to get a travel trailer. And we’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and waiting till the kids graduate, and waiting till the right time, and we finally said, “You know what, there’s never going to be a time when every duck is in a row, when everything is in alignment.” We just did it. We bought a travel trailer. And, my God, it’s been so fun just to start having these little lighthouse adventures along the way. So, that’s that part of it.

The other part is resetting your nervous system because we can, like consciously, physically get out of fight or flight and that cortisol-induced stress state, and we can, literally, put ourselves back into a relaxed place where we’re able to reengage the logical part of our brain and think creatively. It’s a skill but it’s doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Woo, so much good stuff here. Well, Anne, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Anne Grady
Well, I think, for me, the resetting your nervous system is something that we take for granted that we can do. And I just love that there are a few techniques you can use. One of them is breathing. And it sounds so simple, right? But most of you are probably thinking, “Okay, Anne, I can breathe. Like, I’m sitting here. What’s the magic with this?” But we breathe shallowly.

So, if you put one hand on your chest, and one hand on your stomach, and you just breathe normally, there’s a high likelihood that your chest is moving more than your stomach. Like, take a second and do it for you. What’s moving more, your chest or your stomach?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I kind of knew what you were going to go for so I’ve taken a few.

Anne Grady
Darn it, Pete. You’re messing this up for me. No, when we’re stressed, we take shallow breaths. So, if you’re an elite athlete, or an opera singer, of which I am neither, you’re trained in a technique called diaphragmatic breathing. And it’s kind of counter to what you would think. When you inhale, you imagine that there’s a balloon in your stomach, and you fill it with air. So, on the inhale, you create this giant Buddha belly. The exhale is actually the part of the breath that puts you into the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that calms your brain. So, the exhale should be a little bit longer. So, you view the inhale as filling up your belly with air, but the exhale, imagine there’s a weight on the end of it that just kind of takes your exhale even lower.

And so, three deep diaphragmatic breaths resets your nervous system. A deeply relaxed person takes seven breaths a minute. And so, people talk about meditation and, again, for me, it was like playing Whack-A-Mole with my thoughts. I would sit there and try to breathe, and go, “Oh, crap, I forgot to call my mom,” or, “Oh, what am I going to make for dinner?” until I learned it’s working. So, meditation is focusing on your breath, but the goal is not peace or Zen. The goal is catching your mind wandering and bringing it back to your breath. You’re training your brain to direct your attention where you want it to go so that you’re less likely to hit the panic button. You’re learning to observe your thoughts and your emotions without getting carried away by them.

So, breathing is something that is super understated. It’s very, very important. And even three of those deep breaths. I started wearing my daughter’s Apple Watch because it has a reminder to breathe, and just take some time out once an hour to take a few deep breaths. It’s really, really powerful.

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

Anne Grady
My first was from my grandmother, it’s actually a Yiddish proverb, and she always used to say, “Annie, if enough people tell you you’re tired, it’s time to lay down,” like, if enough people are giving you the same advice. But my favorite was when she used to say, “Annie, if you act like an ass, don’t be surprised if people try to ride you.” That’s probably my all-time favorite quote.

But I guess the second closest to that would be Ray Wylie Hubbard. He’s a Texas singer-songwriter, and he’s got a lyric in one of his songs, and he says, “And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, well, I have really good days.” And so, what I have found is that when we’re unhappy, it’s usually because our expectations are out of alignment with reality. And you can’t always control what’s in reality but you can control your expectations.

So, the more time you spend being grateful and the less time you spend being resentful, or disappointed, the easier it is to find the good stuff.

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

Anne Grady
So, one that I just came across that I really liked was this study done by the University of London. So, they took these participants and divided them into two groups, and they basically said to one group, “It’s a computer program, and every time you click on a rock, and a snake is under it, you’re going to get a mild electrical shock.” They tell the other group, “You’re going to get a mild electrical shock but it’s not every time the snake is under the rock. It’s just going to be intermittent.”

And what was phenomenal is that the group that knew that they were going to get shocked every time there was a snake under the rock had less anxiety than the people who knew it would be intermittent because our brain is so against uncertainty. It hates it. So, it constantly goes to the default worst-case scenario. There are so many studies.

Another one that I find fascinating, and Kelly McGonigal writes about this in her book The Upside of Stress, and she’s got a great TED Talk called “Make Stress Your Friend.” And they tracked 30,000 Americans over the course of eight years, and they start by asking them these two questions. The first is, “What level of stress have you had in the past 12 months? Low, medium, or high?” And the second question is, “Do you think stress is bad for you?” So, they asked 30,000 people these questions, they tracked them over eight years, they used death records and mortality rates as a way to track progress.

And they find that for people who had high levels of stress in the previous 12 months, there’s a 43% increased risk of dying prematurely, but it was only for the people who thought stress was bad for them. The people who thought stress is just nothing more than just your body’s physiological response. “Increased heartbeat? Well, that’s just your brain needing more oxygen. Tension in your shoulders or your stomach? That’s just your body putting on armor to protect you from what’s ahead.”

The people who did not believe stress was bad for them, but had high levels of stress, had a zero percent increased risk of dying prematurely. It was the lowest rate of anyone in the study. So, they basically found, they looked at these cardiac monitors, and they hooked people up to them, and they find that for people who are experiencing high levels of stress and think it’s bad for them, their arteries constrict, so they tighten up, they limit blood flow to the heart and to the brain. But people who have stress and believe it’s just your body, which is you stress, is just activation of your sympathetic nervous system, nothing more, nothing less, they had zero constriction. They had the same cardiac profile as people who experienced joy and courage.

And then they took it a step further. They looked at housekeeping staff at hotels, and they asked these housekeepers, “Do you exercise?” So, they take a group of housekeepers that don’t exercise, and they divide them into two groups. One group, they don’t tell them anything. The other group, they say, “Did you know that every time you change a sheet, you burn this many calories? Every time you clean a window, you burn this many calories. Every time you flip a mattress, you burn this many calories. Every time you vacuum…”

So, the people that they didn’t say anything to, the housekeepers that just kept business as normal, didn’t lose any weight. The people who were told that what they were doing as part of their job was exercise, even though they changed no other habits, lost weight. Like, our belief system is so powerful that it drives our neurochemistry. And the beauty of this is that beliefs can be changed.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. That’s great. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Anne Grady
Well, you can always go to AnneGradyGroup.com. Anne with an E. You can certainly text the word “strength” to the number 22454, I’m sure you’ll probably post that on your show notes, but it’s 22454, text the word “strength” and you can get some free resources, a resilience self-assessment, a self-care sheet, a poem that I wrote a couple years ago that could not be more fitting than it is right now. But we also have a weekly resilience reset tip, tool, or strategy that kind of help you just reset.

And so, you can go to my website to sign up for that. You can also learn more about my books on the website. And, like I said, a portion of all my book proceeds go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness here in Central Texas. I live in Austin.

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

Anne Grady
So, we think that we separate work and life, like, “I want this balance.” And I would say that there’s no balance. Right now, it is about taking care of you so that you can be the best version of yourself to perform well at work, and you cannot do that if you’re not well. So, it would be a self-care challenge. Every day, schedule 10 minutes on your calendar to do something kind for yourself. It could be just doodling on a piece of paper or drawing. It could be snuggling your pet or your kids. It could be doing a puzzle. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it brings you joy.

And most of us are constantly thinking about, “How do I alleviate stress?” And I would challenge you to reframe it. Instead of, “How do I stop stress?” it’s, “How do I find joy? What are some things I can do throughout my day? What can I insert throughout my day to create joy?” because that is what will change your brain and build your resilience muscle. And it is just that, it’s a muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Anne, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your moments.

Anne Grady
Thank you. Yeah, life is made up of moments. It’s just a collection, and so we got to make those moments count.

618: Finding Greater Clarity Amid Uncertainty with Jodi Hume

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Jodi Hume says: "Just be... stupidly curious."

Jodi Hume shares decision-making strategies for finding greater clarity whenever you’re stuck.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when every decision seems overwhelming
  2. Two best practices for sorting through tough decisions
  3. Powerful questions to surface hidden roadblocks

 

About Jodi

After a 15-year career as COO of a growing architecture firm, Jodi Hume shifted gears and has made a name for herself over the last decade providing on-call decision support and facilitated leadership conversations for startup founders, corporations, entrepreneurs and executives. Each week, she also hosts So, Here’s My Story… a business podcast of real stories with poignant take-aways and plenty of humor. She’s the lead singer for The Wafflers – and if you ask nicely, she might tell you about the time she won 1st place in a Truck Pull.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Jodi Hume Interview Transcript

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

Jodi Hume
Great. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about decision-making. But I think, first, we have to hear about your truck pull champion performance. What’s the story there?

Jodi Hume
You want to jump right into the truck pull?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jodi Hume
Well, actually, that probably would be a great decision-making story because it involves a lot of not making decisions. It was just sort of one of those things where a thing happens, and then you do the next thing, and then you do the next thing, and then, all of a sudden, you’re doing a truck pull. But to make a very long story short, because I’m 47, I’ve never been an athlete, I was a theater kid, that was just not my thing in the world.

I was going to a gym where we were doing like deadlifts but we were using the dumb bells, and I was frustrated because I knew I could lift more than I was but my grip strength was not great. And the guy mentioned that if you took the actual barbell class, how to learn how to really do it properly, that you could use the Olympic barbell kind of thing, and then you could lift a lot more. And that led into, apparently, they ended that with this mock lift meet which I was, “I am not doing a mock weightlifting thing. That is not happening.” But I did it.

And from there, I got talked into doing this fundraiser Strong Woman competition which I don’t know if you are familiar with, like the Strongman/Strongwoman competitions, but they are a hoot because all of the things that you compete in are all so awkward, like none of the things are like the normal things. You’re like throwing a tire, or you’re doing these overhead presses with these circus dumbbells they call them, so you have to tilt your head really far to the right, and it’s all very awkward and weird. So, you really have to separate yourself from all concern about looking like an idiot and just do the thing.

And a couple of the things you really couldn’t even train for, like we didn’t have a truck we could practice pull. We did other things but there’s this whole training thing beforehand. And who knew it, but I somehow ended up winning first place in a truck pull, pulling a seven-ton bread truck.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! So, I don’t know why in my brain, when I read truck pull, I was thinking about a tractor pull.

Jodi Hume
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But this is actually very different. You are physically, with your own strength, pulling a truck.

Jodi Hume
Pulling a truck, yeah. So, I will tell you, interestingly, there were events that were way harder, because that’s one really just about getting it moving. There’s a fantastic business metaphor here, by the way, because it’s a seven-ton truck. And if it wasn’t on wheels, and you actually had to pull a seven-ton truck, that is not an event that I’ll be participating in. That doesn’t happen. The trick to the truck pull is simply to just get it rolling. once you overcome that very initial inertia, which was particularly tricky because it was on cobblestones in a part of Baltimore here where it is, then it’s just about keeping it going, and it becomes super, super, super fast.

So, the real backstory here is, the reason I won first place, part of the reason, is a lot of people just couldn’t get it moving. They just couldn’t. So, again, the number of people who actually got it moving, then it came down to how fast you did it, but it was just, “Could you get it going in the first place?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, is there a trick to that, or you just…?

Jodi Hume
Actually, the trick was the way you hold the rope because your grip strength, again, is a real limiter in a lot of things, and you were allowed to wrap it around your wrist so that you could really use your whole body, but, for some reason, people weren’t doing that but I did.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good.

Jodi Hume
See, I grew up where manual labor was, quite often, a part of our childhood so I know how to push and pull big things, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is handy.

Jodi Hume
Not a thing on my resume but who knew.

Pete Mockaitis
Pushing/pulling big things. Well, hey, sometimes decisions really do feel like big things that need to be pushed or pulled because they’re stuck, and maybe stuck for a long, long time.

Jodi Hume
Especially, in 2020, man.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s what I find most intriguing in your bio. So, providing on-call decision support. That just sounds like a lot of fun.

Jodi Hume
Doesn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, what does that mean?

Jodi Hume
Well, that’s a great question because there’s no easy word for what I do. I have been a coach, I have been a consultant, I’m a facilitator, I have other business background experience and whatnot, but, really, what it is now is this on-call decision support. And just recently, and I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before, but some of my earliest memories were doing this for my mom. My mom was an entrepreneur, both her parents were entrepreneurs, they didn’t hide any of those things from us. And I think, looking back, I certainly didn’t have this realization at the time.

But while the obvious things that I learned from all these conversations were the pieces of wisdom, or knowledge, or whatever you’re learning about how businesses worked, what I really, really came away with is how uniquely lonely business owners and leaders and people trying to guide anything can feel because they don’t always have someone to talk to. And it’s not even, when I say that, I don’t always mean like a therapy conversation. Just even to mentally process it, to get other feedback, there’s such pressure to feel like you’re supposed to know everything already and have all the answers.

And so, I was just really aware of these questions that my mom would get all snarled up in. And, as she would talk, I would just be asking all these questions to kind of untangle and separate facts from fictions or fears. And I don’t know if that’s just my version of “I see dead people,” but it’s kind of triaging down to, “What’s the real issue here? And which things are like stories you’re making up that’s making it more complicated? Or are you actually trying to decide, like, eight steps down when it’s really like an issue here?”

And, over time, I realized that that was really at the core of what most people in business need, is not some big, heavy coaching arrangement, or even a therapist, or a consultant. Most of the time they just need somebody else to bounce a thing off of and ask them some really good questions, validate the parts that make sense, challenge the parts that maybe don’t or should be questioned, and sometimes telling them to go take a nap, which happens more than you might realize, especially this year.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jodi Hume
And it’s fun. It was the part I like the most.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so much fascinating good stuff in there, and that really rings true in terms of that is often what’s needed, and, you’re right, it doesn’t quite fit tidily into a lot of sort of preexisting categories we have for support, coaching, consulting, therapy-ish.

Jodi Hume
Yeah, because all those things feel like a big deal, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jodi Hume
Like, somebody talks about, “I’m going to hire a coach,” and it’s like, “I have to find the right one, and it’s going to be expensive. And if it’s not working, I have to break up with them or same with therapists and whatnot.” It’s got like all this heavy weight to it and I don’t think it needs to be that. Seth Godin has this fantastic quote that says, “If you have a problem you can’t talk about, now you have two problems.” So, I like to have people not have two problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, maybe could you give us a cool story to make this come to life, in terms of, you know we could keep the confidentiality going but…

Jodi Hume
Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Someone, they were stuck, and how they managed to get unstuck?

Jodi Hume
Yeah. I will make a comment about the nap thing first and then I’ll tell you an actual story. But a great portion of time, because I feel this one is really usable, like as a self-evaluation thing that won’t get too hung up, and, “Is that story like mine? Is that story not like mine?” There is a great number of times that when somebody calls me to run a thing by me, I can just immediately tell by the tone of their voice, the way like there’s a heaviness in both of the things that they imagine are their two choices, there’s just a lot of different clues about it because sometimes you can tell that they’re dragging their feet because, down deep, they know something is a really bad idea.

And sometimes they’re dragging their feet because, down deep, they know something is a really good idea but it’s just really scary. That sounds completely different than the other way does. There is a specific kind of where just everything sounds heavy and nothing feels good or light or exciting where I really do think that if I offer…they’re so exhausted, that if we were trying to decide between a hamburger or a cheeseburger, they wouldn’t be able to decide. And that is when I say, “You have to find some way, whether it’s a nap, or whether it’s taking a day off, or just take an evening off, or whatever it is, whatever sliver of renewal time you can find. There’s really no point in us talking about this until you get some rest.” And there’s all sorts of neuroscience behind this. This is not a luxury thing.

Your brain cannot, when it gets that depleted, it cannot even access that part of your brain that can get to the real nuanced important thinking part, and so you are kind of at half-mast. So, I always sort of say to people, if I have one piece of advice, like, “Check in if you need a nap, or if you need a break, if you need to go walk around the forest for a little bit, or something, and just see if that makes your problem easier because a lot of times just sort of magically there’s an easy decision on the other side.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. And I think it’s interesting in that I think most of us are at some level of tired.

Jodi Hume
Oh, it’s chronic right now. There are so many, first of all, and I promise I will get back to my story. Never, at least in our history, I mean, certainly way, way, way back when, but in the time any of us have been alive, it doesn’t feel like every single decision is potentially a life-and-death decision. It’s a little bit less so now, but for months, going to the grocery store felt like this huge weighty thing, my kids saying, “Can I see a friend?” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. That’s a lot of so many things to consider.”

We’re not used to and we are not built for that level of constant threat of considering that many things where there’s so much uncertainty, so little guidance on what the right thing to do is, changing variables, not to mention the emotional weight of isolation and not getting to do the things that we look forward to. That’s a huge one. I don’t think anyone really understood the value and importance and nutrition we get out of having things to look forward to. There’s not a lot you can even bank on to look forward to right now because it might get cancelled. And so, there’s just all these things that we never really realized were important that fed us, and things that are more heavy, and so, yeah, exhaustion is a chronic, chronic thing right now, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess that all rings true. And to that end, I’m curious, so they’re so exhausted they couldn’t choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger, and I imagine sometimes it’s exaggeration, sometimes it’s not, because I’ve been there before. Then is there sort of an acid test, a rule of thumb, or guideline you use for too tired, inadequately rested, try again later?

Jodi Hume
Yeah. So, I thought about drawing this out almost like a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but how to know if you are just, “Stick a fork and be done.” Like, anytime you’re spinning your wheels on a thing where you’re just turning and turning and turning, it’s good to check in, like, “Do I need a nap?” If everything starts to feel heavy and not fun, that’s another time where if you sort of, I think in metaphor a lot. If you do a 360 spin around everything in your life and nothing is like, “Oh, that’s a place where that feels good,” that’s a really good sign you just need to get out.

And I want to be super clear about something. I preach this talk, I stand on this soapbox all the time, and I am just as bad about this. We went on a vacation in August sort of, I mean, it wasn’t even a real vacation. That’s kind of the point. And we could only get this little cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s from Monday to Friday, and that felt like a vacation. I knew we needed to get out of here because we’ve been in here for weeks, and months and months, and that felt like a long time, and I didn’t really through the fact that you check into the cabin on Monday at like 4:00, and you check out like 10:00 on Friday, so, really, it was only like three days so it didn’t really quite scratch my reset itch.

And I came back over the weekend, and I did some work on Monday, and I really needed that renewal and I wasn’t feeling it. But on Tuesday, a friend of mine called me to see if I wanted to go for a hike. And, of course, what’s my immediate thought? “I can’t take the morning off. I was just gone for a week. I got to get back to work.” But it was the only day that week that was going to be nice, and so I went. And here’s why I’m telling you this story because I feel like it provided me quantitative evidence of what happens neurologically speaking when you are, basically, your brain is like a watered-up piece of paper.

Because I love to take pictures, I love taking pictures, and when I got home from this hike, this three and a half-hour hike, the first half of my camera roll, the first half of the hike on my camera roll is two pictures, and they’re the most boring, obligatory, like if somebody said, “Jodi, you have to take pictures of the trees and pictures of the sky,” and that’s it. There’s nothing of interest. And then, by halfway through, I start taking like a few pictures. Last, like half hour, or 40 minutes of the hike, I take like 70 pictures, and they are some of the coolest, most interesting, like, really, I love these photos.

And for the next three days, I was like on fire. I got more done, decisions were easy, everything seemed simpler, and it’s like that camera roll. I just watched my brain unfold back to its normal shape, and I felt it. Like, I felt more relaxed. So, the other thing, too, is I would just say you don’t have to…you don’t necessarily need validity that you need a break. It’s not going to hurt you to get like an extra break, so just take a break and see if it helps, and use that as evidence to give yourself permission to take the next break.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I think that’s great advice for a lot of people.

Jodi Hume
It’s so hard to take though. It’s so hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess what I was just driving at is so there’s one place that’s like just clear, it’s like, “Nothing seems fun or interesting. Okay, check. Definitely, I need some refreshment.” I’m having a hard time making even the most basic of decisions, like, “What do I feel like eating?” All right. Another great indicator. Rest is urgently needed. Anything else that leaps to mind for you there?

Jodi Hume
Just staying a little bit more attuned to your energy level before it gets that depleted because it takes more at that point. So, I think of it, in business we talk a lot about financial capital, and I think a lot about energetic and emotional capital, and just paying attention. It sounds kind of corny but I check in, I won’t say into it every day. I’m just not that routine about things. But every couple of days I kind of check in on, “What is giving me energy and what is taking energy?” And it’s just a math formula, “Are there more things giving me energy than taking energy?”

And not every day is going to be like that. You’re going to have days where there’s more taking than getting. It happens. But the sum total has to be that you, for it to be sustainable, is that you’re at least neutral if not positive. And I use that to judge the mix of clients I have at any given time, or the type of work that I’m doing, or even in parenting. Like, my husband and I both have…I sing in a band, my husband plays in a pool league. We do those things because we’re better parents if we’re happy humans. So, just making sure that you don’t get depleted along the way so that you don’t actually need a litmus test because you’re just making sure. It’s just nutrition really, making sure the good things are going in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s give an example then. So, when stuck, and then we disentangle, and it’s all clear.

Jodi Hume
Yeah, just like that. That’s all there is to it. Just like that. No, so, here’s one of my favorite stories actually. So, a few years ago, I had a client call, because it hits on some of the reasons why this work feels so important to me. A client called me, I’d known him for quite a while, but we hadn’t worked together in a little while, and he said, “I want to run this by you because everyone in my life says this thing is a really good idea. And on paper, I know it’s a really good idea, and I’m dragging my feet, and I don’t know why.” I was like, “All right. Let’s dig into it. Tell me what’s going on.”

And so, the deal was that he had an opportunity to, I forget whether it was a merger or an acquisition, kind of doesn’t matter, to like merge with this other company. And on paper, almost no one in the world would say it was a bad idea. Like, on paper it looked like a really good opportunity financially speaking, growth of the business, all these kinds of things. If you sort of flip over to the personal side of his life, because of those things, his wife was super excited about it even, she’s like, “This is great. This is the growth you’ve been looking for, and blah, blah, blah.” So, he’s getting support from there. His business friends, he was in a peer group, were all saying like, “How could you say no to this? This is a fantastic idea.”

And he said, “I lie in bed awake at night,” which is where a lot of the stories that come to me start. I often hear, like, “This is what I’m worrying about at night.” “So, I’m lying in bed awake at night, and I just get sick to my stomach when I talk about doing this thing.” So, I do what I do. I poke around, because it’s not like…I’m no oracle. It’s not like I know all the answers.

So, I kept asking him questions, I kept kind of poking around, looking under this rock, looking under that rock, sort of pulling on one thread, that didn’t untangle anything, pulling on this one. And then, all of a sudden, it hit me, and I said, “Hold on a second. How old is your son right now?” And he was going into his senior year. And I said, “What is your next year going to look like if you go ahead with this deal?” And he was like, “Oh, I’m going to be gone. I have to travel here. I have to travel there. I’m going to be in Phoenix for this amount of time and whatnot.” And I was like, “Huh,” and he was like, “Why?” I was like, “Didn’t you say at one point that it was really important for you to be around these last couple of years of high school?” And there was this long pause, and he was like, “That’s it.” That was the thing that was like stuck in the back that this personal detail, which doesn’t show up on sort of the business conversations.

And this is one of the most important things for me is that there are things that have to do with this specific company that are all really, really important. Then there’s a list of questions and curiosities that have to do with the business in general, or the sort of family circumstances, and then there’s the person themselves and their weird quirks and strange things they care about. And if you’re really curious about all of them, you kind of dig down to a thing that, all of a sudden, zings on it.

And he didn’t want to miss that last time, and so, basically, that was sort of sticking this oar in the water. And the minute I mentioned his son, he got it. He’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t want to miss this time.” I’m like, “Right.” And the cool thing about this is that didn’t mean he didn’t do the deal, because it was still a really great thing, but with that knowledge and that awareness he was able to do it in a way that didn’t completely ruin that entire year. He was able to stay here more. That meant it not being as great a deal because he had to make some concessions but that was okay because this really mattered to him.

And so, what it is, what I think is important here for decision, in decision support, is any way that you can make the invisible more visible, to bring those things into light so that then you can use them to decide better.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. It’s like we know things in our body, in our emotions, in our subconscious, in our intuition, that we can’t yet articulate. But there’s something there that’s real, and so that’s kind of magical.

Jodi Hume
You do not step over it. That’s the thing. It’s like if you step over that, if you step over whatever it is that’s making you drag your feet, there’s a cost to it. And the interesting thing is sometimes what’s hanging you up is just a fear or a story you’re making up. That whole threat of things comes up a lot where when somebody’s telling you what’s going on, to me it kind of feels like a peanut M&M, it’s a terrible metaphor because, in this case, chocolate is bad, or not bad but just not useful and so I struggle with that here.

But when somebody’s telling me a situation that they’re trying to figure out, there’s always this, you know, the peanut is like the nugget of truth. There’s always this truth that is really real that’s in there if you listen. But then they often, and by “they,” I mean also me sometimes, you wrap it up in suppositions about other people and assigning intent on, “This happened, and, clearly, she said because X, Y, Z,” and then they tell you this elaborate story, that you’re like, “Wow, I couldn’t have made that connection if I tried. Like, those two things are not synonymous.” And then they’d layer on all these things, and then they create this like swirls of stuff that makes it really hard to decide, but only some of that is factual, and some of it is story. And the story might be right but when you conflate them altogether it makes it really hard to decide.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m sold. So, Jodi, go ahead.

Jodi Hume
Well, I was just going to say, doing this work is simply like watching someone else parallel park a car. And the cool thing is almost anyone can do it for you with just a tiny bit of structure. And so, the one thing that I will tell people to do, because, like I say, I mean, you can try it for yourself, and sometimes I can do it for myself. It’s really hard. But it’s just simply for the first, I don’t know, five, 10 minutes, just a little bit a time. They’re only allowed to ask you questions, and that also means you can’t say a suggestion by just like raising your voice at the end so it sounds like a question, like, “Have you considered dah, dah, dah, dah?” That’s not a question.

Just be what I think of as like stupidly curious. Because, a lot of times, when people are talking to us, we want to sound really smart, like we want to be helpful and give great insights and whatnot. And I’m a big fan of asking questions that you think you might know the answer to, like being brave enough to ask, “Well, how does that feel?” when something is like you think you’re supposed to know how it feels. Because doesn’t everybody feel happy or sad when that thing happens? Well, guess what? Maybe not.

And being brave enough to just ask questions and be super curious and dig into a thing, you will often…because the other magic trick is that there’s a great portion of time where somebody is actually working on the wrong problem. Like, they want to work on this problem because they’re trying to avoid a different one. And so, if you listen for that, and get down to that one, a lot of times the decision is easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, already, we’re getting some takeaways here. One, find a partner. It doesn’t sound like they need to be a genius or have any special credentials or training beyond your pro tips right now. All right. So, find a partner. And then, let’s say, maybe we want to be that partner for somebody or we want to give instructions for, “Hey, partner, here’s what I need you to do for me,” lay it on us, what do we tell them in terms of how that’s done?

Jodi Hume
Biggest thing is start off asking questions and just be really curious. The second one is a little bit, it can be a little bit harder for some people, although I actually think a lot of people are much better at this than they imagine, which is paying attention to your intuition, which is when I say that I mean the actual physical experience. Like, if when somebody is talking, you feel a little bit sick to your stomach, it doesn’t mean that they’re nauseating you. It just means that something is amiss there. Like, they might be skipping over something, or, I don’t know, there’s something going on there that’s worth being a little more curious about and asking some other questions. Or even saying like, “Hey, that felt weird.”

The same goes for if something doesn’t make sense. Trust that you are smart enough to follow along and that you do not need to understand every single little intricacy of their business to really hear what’s happening. And it’s kind of like listening. You know, those visual puzzles where if you relaxed your eyes, the image comes out?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, the stereograms?

Jodi Hume
Oh, good job. I would’ve never come up with that in a million years. But let’s call it that. Yeah, where you relax your eyes and then a horse comes out or something. It’s like listening like that. You don’t have to listen like you are solving a puzzle. You listen with like all of you and just notice what happens. Because here’s the most important thing, there may come a point in the conversation where throwing out your adviser experience might be helpful, but do not assume that the same will apply.

I worked with lots of companies who have been there, done that millions of times. You might have the same kind of company but because X worked over here, it does not mean X will work over here. And so, just resist the urge to sort of leap in as Galahad with the answer, feeling like that’s what scores the points. What scores the point is getting down to what really matters to this person in this situation, and helping them just see the landscape a little more clearly, and then they can find their own way out. That’s really what matters, is helping them see more clearly because they have all the answers. They just can’t see them at the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And with some of these questions, what are some of your favorite go-to’s?

Jodi Hume
That’s a really great question. Some of them sound really lame. I said one before, like, “What’s that like? Or how do you feel about that?” Sound like really cheesy therapy questions or something, but you’ll be shocked at what comes out. The other thing that I often ask about is when if you listen in a story, if somebody feels like they jumped from point A to point Z, and it feels like they’re being super ADD and just like pinballing around, notice that and ask them. Like, “How are those things related?” because they jumped. They made that jump because there is a correlation there. And it might seem like, “Oh, I’m bouncing all around.” Like, “No, no, no, you were laying out breadcrumbs on a path of what you are worried about or concerned about.” And so, asking about those leaps is another really good one.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is great because there is a connection there or, else, they wouldn’t have made the leap, and that could be powerful to identify.

Jodi Hume
And probably the most important thing though is to remember that if you are trying to play this role for someone, or if you’re telling someone how to play this role for you, but I’ll stay in the context of if you are trying to play this role for someone, this is not about having the answers for people. That is not what’s happening here. You are just providing the space, and the permission, and the curiosity for them to figure out their own thing because, otherwise, you’re a consultant. That’s the distinction. Like, you’re not there as the oracle that they’re coming to for advice. You’re just creating the space.

And it always reminds me of this story for when I was like probably seven or eight years old, and we went to a vacation Bible school for the summer. And I came home with one of these little white stars on cups where some sort of plant planted in. I don’t remember what the lesson was, but my sister and I both have one. And it was six weeks later, her little plant was like six inches tall, mine nothing. Like, not even a little loop of a thing coming out of the dirt, and I was, of course, devastated. I don’t know why, but I was. I remember being really sad, looking at it on the window, and hers was growing. I was probably competitive but, whatever, it doesn’t matter.

And I remember my mom coming in, and now that I’m a mom, I’m sure she was just crushed for me because I was clearly sad. And she looks over, and she goes, “Hmm,” and she reaches over. And with just like her pointy finger, she flicks this little clump of dirt, like just this little tiny clump, whatever that is, of dirt, and, boing, up comes my plant, which was nowhere as big as my sister’s. But it was growing, it was doing everything it needed to do. It just had this little clump of dirt that was a little bit heavier than it had the strength to be. And when she just flicked it out of the way, it got about the business of continuing to grow and it didn’t even need our help.

And that so often feels like the work of being someone’s decision support or like watching them parallel park a car, you’re just kind of pointing out the things, but they are doing the work. It is not your job to be like the rescuer here or the answer provider. You’re just facilitating their answer for themselves really.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you, Jodi. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about energy, or decision-making, or supporting other’s decision-making, before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jodi Hume
Just that the thing that I would really watch out for that ties all these things together for me is there’s that stupid phrase that came up somewhere in leadership where it’s like lonely at the top. And I think in business, it’s stupid for it to ever feel lonely. I don’t know how we made it so taboo to have any conversation in business that doesn’t look like, “Everything is great. We know all the answers and we’re killing it.” It’s a huge disservice to the growth of the company and to the growth of the people who are trying to grow the company. And so, finding these places where you can have these conversations that don’t have anywhere else to go, is I just think is powerfully important for the individual people but also for the company’s as well.

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

Jodi Hume
Yeah. So, definitely, my favorite quote is that Seth Godin’s quote, that, “If you have a problem you can’t talk about, now you have two problems.”

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

Jodi Hume
That one would definitely go to the neuroscience of sleep and how being, I’m going to make this very short, but being…just switching to like six hours of sleep at night not only has just as bad of effective as being awake for three days, but in comparative studies to those two groups, the people who switched to six hours of sleep, not only did they lose 15 points in IQ testing on the cognitive testing, like the before and after, but the really scary thing was the people who had been awake for three days were very aware of their impair ability and felt like, “I shouldn’t drive and I don’t feel so good.” The people who had just switched to six hours were equally impaired but reported zero awareness of that impairment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very fascinating. Now that impairment, so 15 points decline in IQ test scores, I got to believe, in some ways, those who were sleep-deprived for three days were more impaired on some dimensions.

Jodi Hume
You would think so. You would think so. It’s been quite a number of years since I read the actual study but I know that they had comparative…now, what they may have had is differences in the areas of impairment. That may have been zero, that may have been the case. But they had equivalent overall degradation in cognitive ability from the umbrella standpoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Jodi Hume
And scary that they weren’t aware of it. I think that’s the part that I really honed in on, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, and they didn’t even know it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite book?

Jodi Hume
My favorite book, if it’s not one of the how not to have hard conversation books that I love, would probably be this little book that somehow ended up in my mailbox one day called Winning with Accountability. It’s by Henry Evans, I believe. And what I love about it, I can tell you in one fell swoop, which is the whole book is about using accountability not as an after-the-fact punitive measure of like what you do to people after they screw up, but, instead, how to frontload accountability as a culture in an organization so that you don’t get off the rails in the first place, which I just find so much more valuable than, “Well, how do we hold people accountable?” I’m like, “You mean to whack them with a stick? They’re grownups. I don’t think that’s very helpful.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, sticks are not the tool.

Jodi Hume
Sticks are not the tool.

Pete Mockaitis
But is there a favorite tool that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jodi Hume
My favorite tools were whiteboards and sticky notes and helping people visualize and see what was previously fuzzy. And so, that is all gone the way of the dodo this year in 2020. So, there’s a couple of online tools, both Miro and Mural that I have been using that are pretty cool. I’m actually almost liking them more than my by-hand facilitation tools to help people kind of see things that are bouncing around in there, but it’s such a blur because it’s just bouncing all over each other. So, you kind of lay it out for them, they’re like, “Oh, okay. Now I get it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit, something you do to be awesome at your job?

Jodi Hume
I like to call it strategic hooky. Kind of goes back to the conversation we were having about when I just feel like beating my head against a wall, or I’m slogging, and I’m not even joking. I think it’s a strategic habit to know when to play hooky, and go play guitar for the day, or go for a hike, or do something to get my head back in its normal shape. And I have never once regretted that, and I end up getting…The excuse is, “I always have too much to do to do that.” That’s always the excuse. But I get 10 times done a thousand times faster if I, on the regular, take some sort of hooky break.

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

Jodi Hume
There are probably two things that get quoted back to me the most frequently. One is that progress usually looks like a new set of problems, which sounds kind of depressing but it’s really not. It’s the recognition that as you grow a thing, that you will encounter newer and different problems. And those really aren’t usually as frustrating and as like drag you down-ish as it is to just be hitting the same problems over and over again.

And so, I will often joke with my clients, and then they will joke, they will email me, I will get little messages from old, old clients sometimes, they’re like, “Yay, we have even new problems.” But if you can’t enjoy the new problems then growth of any kind is going to be a double-edged sword for you. So, the faster you can kind of embrace that, that every solution comes with its own new set of problems, and just enjoy it, the better.

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

Jodi Hume
The easiest place is at LeadingClarity.com, and you can read about the work that I do, you can subscribe to my podcast that I have each week. But the other thing that I offer, just to listeners of these interviews that I do, is a 20-minute time with me that they can schedule. And I want to be super clear about something. That is, not only is it not a sales call but I, literally, will not discuss with you on that call working with me. If that’s something that interests you, we have to do that on another call. I want it to be that clean. It’s just I’m beta-testing.

I’m doing it for two reasons. One, if people feel like they don’t have a place for conversations to go, I want them to at least get a little bit of a taste of what that can feel like, and maybe even brainstorm where they can get that in their lives. And, two, it’s also helping me out a little bit because I am beta-testing how to do that availability at more of a scale. And I just want to see, like, “What’s the tiniest little bit of having space for that that is even helpful?” And so, I’ve had quite a few of them so far, and I’m absolutely loving them. They’re a lot of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, how do we get one of those?

Jodi Hume
It’s right on the page. Like I said, it’s not a public page that you have to know the link to get there. And so, anyone can schedule the 20 minutes.

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

Jodi Hume
I don’t want to beat the dead horse about like, “Go talk to someone.” But I probably am because, right now, this year in particular, not only is it a hard year, but the thing that I think affects people the most is when all of their issues blur together because then you don’t have as much clarity on what to do about them, and it’s almost like everything in life conflated in on itself.

So, if you weren’t absolutely in love with your house, you’re super feeling it right now. If there’s any crack in your relationship, you’re super feeling it right now. You’re spending tons of time with your kids, you’re also being their teachers, the economy is unstable. I mean, there’s so much that as much as self-care or getting what you need, all those kind of conversations have sometimes gotten kind of where you’re side-eyed from some people, it is even more important right now that you do whatever it is that you need to like fill back up.

So, whether that’s spending time playing with your guitar, or going outside, or running, or whatever it is, you have to find time for that. It’s not sustainable without it.

Pete Mockaitis
Jodi, this has been powerful. Thank you so much for spending the time. And I wish you lots of luck and great decisions.

Jodi Hume
Thanks, Pete.

617: Enhancing Your Productivity by Managing Your Mental Energy with David Kadavy

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David Kadavy explains how to harness your mental energy to improve your productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How our obsession with time management hurts us 
  2. Three questions to ask to get more work done
  3. How to easily shift to the optimal mental state for work 

 

About David

David Kadavy is a bestselling author, blogger, podcaster, and speaker. Through his blogging at kadavy.net and his podcast, Love Your Work, he helps people find satisfaction through following their crafts, even if it takes them down unconventional paths. David’s writing has appeared in QuartzObserverInc.comThe Huffington PostMcSweeny‘s Internet Tendency, and Upworthy. He has spoken in eight countries, including appearances at SXSW at TEDx. He lives in Medellín, Colombia. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Kadavy Interview Transcript

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

David Kadavy
Pete, it is good to be here. And I have to say, I’m so much more comfortable this time than I was last time that we spoke.

Pete Mockaitis
That was wild. That moment is etched in my memory for several reasons. One, it was one of my last hurrahs in my apartment of 10 years that I called the Strat because I got married just a few weeks later. Two, it was insanely hot.

David Kadavy
Insanely hot for the record.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I was sweating because it was hot and I was sweating because I hadn’t done very many podcasts, like, live in person. Most of them were over the internet but you were in my apartment, and it’s like, “Oh, I think I clicked multi-track.” And I remember here’s how committed you are to the craft, David. I don’t know if you remember this. I think of you all the time because I offered you a LaCroix, and you said, “After the show because I don’t want to be belchy when we’re recording.” And I was like, “Now, there’s a man. It’s a hot day. Turning down a delicious cold LaCroix so he won’t burp on the show, that’s commitment.”

David Kadavy
Well, but, seriously, could you drink a LaCroix while recording? I know I can’t.

Pete Mockaitis
I did it before. I just go off to the side for a burp off mic.

David Kadavy
I had the same thing happen with another podcast host who was like, “Hey, let’s order some Indian food. We can eat it right before the show.” I’m like, “What? Are you serious? You think you can eat food, like Indian food, and then immediately record?” Maybe he can. He’s a great podcaster. But maybe he’s got an amazing digestive system or something, but I couldn’t record after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. Hey, why risk it? Well, speaking of risk, one thing you did which was pretty adventurous and exciting was straight up moving to Colombia, and that’s where you live now. From Chicago to Colombia. How is that going?

David Kadavy
It’s going great. I had some problems. They kicked me out a couple times. But I’m back. I was having trouble with the visa that I had. I had just like a freak incident and had to leave because of it. So, now I’ve been here for five years. And one of the main things that really attracted me to being down here is this project that I’m working on right now, this book that I have coming out. And so, now is kind of the end of the experiment, but now I have a life here, so I’m not leaving.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. So, Mind Management, Not Time Management: Productivity When Creativity Matters. It’s fun. Like, when we spoke last time, it seemed like you were just sort of in the middle of formulating and honing these ideas. And now, we’ve got a polished gem of a finished something. Lay it on us, what’s sort of the main idea behind this book?

David Kadavy
Yeah, thank you. And middle is about right because I’ve been working on this thing for about 10 years when we talked roughly five years ago, something like that. And it really all started when I got my first book deal about 10 years ago, almost to the day, and I sort of found that, first of all, I wasn’t a writer. I hated writing as a kid. I didn’t think of myself as a writer, and, all of a sudden, I get this book deal after doing a little bit of writing, and I decide to go ahead and accept that, to take it on, take on the challenge.

Only, it was way more difficult than I had expected. I just found that everything that I had learned about productivity totally did not prepare me for writing a book. One of those things would be time management. So, to write this book, I just cleared away as much time as I possibly could. I cleared away my schedule, I started to outsource things like my grocery shopping and my meal preparation and having my house cleaned, and doing certain errands and all these things. Cleared away as much time as I could and sat down to write. And I couldn’t do it. I was just like banging my head against the wall all day.

And, eventually, I did realize that I could have this sort of 15-minute bursts where, all of a sudden, the writing would come really easily. And I did some experimentation, I sort of came up with a grab bag of rituals that I could go to, to get this writing done. And when that book was finally done, I sort of looked back on the experience, and thought, like, “Wow, what happened?” And I started to look into the behavioral science research, I started to look into the neuroscience of creativity, and I started to realize that there were a lot of different things that supported the patterns that I had come up with in terms of trying to make this creative work happen.

And we already have quite a bit of knowledge about how creative work happens, but the pieces haven’t really been put together, and a lot of us are still working on this kind of old paradigm of time management in trying to get things done. And so, that’s what I’m talking about in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, beautiful. Let’s dig in then. So, what makes the difference in those moments of 15 minutes, “Whoa, words are flowing easily,” versus, “I’m banging my head against the wall. Nothing is happening”? What’s kind of the core differentiator there?

David Kadavy
Yeah. So, I think it helps to first understand what we’re going for when we’re going for creativity. Sort of the building block of creativity is the moment of insight and there’s a couple of neuroscientists, one is actually in the Chicago area, Mark Beeman and then John Kounios, who was at Drexel University, and they have examined in people’s brains the moment of insight.

You know, when you had these kind of aha moments where you’re like working on a problem and you’re really struggling? And then, all of a sudden, you kind of have an aha moment. It’s like you feel lit. It’s like a jolt. They found out that that is actually a neurologically distinct moment in time. They made an image of the brain as that happens. There’s this moment where the brain goes quiet, and then there’s just bursts of activity, and that is the moment of insight. And what happens, and what people report during these moments of insight, is they just go from not having the answer to the problem to, all of a sudden, having the answer to the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it.

David Kadavy
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
More please.

David Kadavy
And what happens is there’s just these different regions of the brain that are all kind of communicating with each other at once, connecting these concepts that are very disparate. If you think about your brain like a racquetball court, and there’s just all these balls bouncing around in the racquetball court, and every once in a while, a couple of those balls, or a few of the those balls collide, and that’s like a moment of insight.

So, what you’re going for when you’re going through those moments is actually the opposite of what a person would expect. We normally think that if you’re going to do some work that you want to be alert. You want to really be on your toes, etc. Well, it turns out, when you want to be creative, actually the thing that makes those moments of insight happen is a brain state that’s completely different from that. That’s more like you want more of a relaxed state.

And one of the ways to describe that is that your prefrontal cortex, the front part of your brain, is less active in these moments. And so, your prefrontal cortex, that’s what helps you plan, it helps you suppress urges, it’s the thing that’s like, “We’re just going to cook at home because we’re saving for this trip to Hawaii,” or, “I’m not going to have that extra donut. I’m trying to lose weight.” Like, that’s your prefrontal cortex at work helping you with all that planning, prioritizing, etc.

Think of your prefrontal cortex as being in that racquetball court, and your prefrontal cortex is obsessed with the rules of the game. It’s seeing all the balls bouncing around, and it’s like, “Oh, no, I have to make sure that all these balls hit the front wall before they hit the floor,” it’s the rules of racquetball basically. And so, the intention of the prefrontal cortex is to follow the rules, but the result is fewer collisions, fewer insights.

And so, one of the things that is really helpful when trying to make creative work happen is to kind of pick some time of day to work on your creative problems when your prefrontal cortex is sort of out to lunch or still sleeping. For a lot of people, that’s like first thing in the morning. A lot of people, wake up, you’re groggy, people reach for the coffee immediately. That grogginess is a gift. It’s a good time to start trying to think creatively.

Now, the process of being creative doesn’t stop there, but I’ll stop there because I’ve said a lot already.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. We had Michael Breus on the show, a sleep doctor, and he used the term groggy greatness, which I loved in terms of, yeah…

David Kadavy
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
…a lot of times ideas, insights, show up right there, and I want to be able to capture them in the moment. So, that’s beautiful. So then, the thesis here is, and it might not only be creative work but there are sorts of different brain states in different types of work, and you’re looking for a match. Can you sort of lay out the whole framework for us here when it comes to we want to do great work, be it creative or another flavor, and lots of it, how do we do that?

David Kadavy
I think we can start with let’s pull apart this title Mind Management, Not Time Management. There’s a specific reason why I put the “Not Time Management” part in it. It’s because we’re obsessed with time management as a culture. A lot of us don’t even realize it. It’s sort of like the water that we, the fish, are swimming in. This is something that I realized now, living in Colombia, which has a completely different conception of time.

And it was interesting when I looked at this, like, “How long has time management been around? How long have we been thinking about time?” We take it for granted. We don’t realize that people didn’t know what time it was, most people, until 150 years ago where there might be a clock tower in the middle of the village, or something, and there weren’t time zones until we had to deal with all the trains that were crossing through time zones, and trying to get time tables that looked right.

And basically, the birth of time management is the moment when scientific management was created. This guy, Frederick Taylor, basically, standing with a stopwatch next to a worker, watching the worker stack bricks for example, and saying, “Oh, well, grab the brick this way, turn it this way, bend over in this way, etc. and then put the brick there. Okay, now, here’s the prescribed movements for stacking bricks. We’re even going to build a scaffolding so that you don’t have to bend over to pick up the bricks, etc. And now we have made the process of stacking bricks as efficient as possible. We have put the maximum amount of work in the time available, and now we’re just going to be so much more productive because of that.”

And so, this is a relic that is still with us today, is that we are watching our time all the time. We have, what I call, time worship as a culture. Time is so pervasive in our culture we hardly even realize it. Notice the way that we negotiate with time quite often. I know I used to… might be coding in my cubicle years ago when I worked in a cubicle, and I’m just like ears deep in it, I’m just totally in it, it’s taken me all day to get to this moment, and, boom, somebody taps me on the shoulder. What do they say? “Hey, Dave,” “Got a minute?” “A minute? Is a minute what we’re looking for here? I mean, because I’m focused. It took me all day to get to this point. I’ve got momentum going. I’m in this mental state, and now you want me to show you how to change the paper on the printer. And now, because I go do that, and it only takes me a minute, but, hey, now I’ve just lost the entire afternoon because I can’t get back into that state.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

David Kadavy
And that’s what we’re looking for is not to treat time as a commodity. Time is not like bushels of corn. It’s not like blocks of frozen orange juice concentrate that you can just line up one after another as if they’re the same thing. If you spend an hour a day writing, at the end of a year you’ll probably have a book. But if you sat down and say, “Well, I’m going to write for 365 hours straight,” you’re not going to get the same result. You’d probably be dead.

So, it’s different. Time isn’t this fungible thing that you can just trade out one after another, and this is one of the things that really frustrates me when I hear people say, “Oh, there’s only 24 hours in the day. Time is the most precious commodity that we have.” No, there’s not 24 hours in the day. There’s like two, maybe four hours in the day. And, by the way, if there’s only 24 hours in the day, that tells you that, at some point, you’re squeezing blood from a stone. Like, yeah, you can manage your time up to a point but, eventually, you’re not going to have gains anymore from managing your time more.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Yeah, that totally makes sense in terms of if that’s the finite thing, you’re going to have a hard time getting big gains out of slicing that up a little bit differently.

David Kadavy
Well, actually, think about it like this way. I don’t know how many of your listeners are golfers, or if you’re a golfer, Pete, I don’t know if you’ve done much golfing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve done it a couple times and it goes super well.

David Kadavy
Have you ever heard the expression, “Drive for show, putt for dough”?

Pete Mockaitis
I haven’t but I kind of get what you’re driving at, what you’re trying to convey, that the driving makes a huge long movement of that ball, that’s like, “Wow, that’s impressive. We all think you’re cool.” But it may well be those, the finer putts that make you a professional who gets a low score and earns money.

David Kadavy
Right. Well, this was the opinion for like 200 years in golf, was that, “Oh, putting is the most important part of the game.” Why? Because in like a standard round of golf, putts make up half of all the strokes in golf. But there was a guy out of Columbia University his name is Mark Broadie, and he really did a lot of statistical analyses in the game of golf, and has completely changed statistics in the game of golf.

And what he found was that putt for dough is not true. That when you really break it down, that is not the thing that separates amateurs from pros, it’s not the thing that separates the pros from the rest of the field necessarily when they win. That even though putts make up half of the game, they only make up 15% of the difference between, say, pros and amateurs. And so, this is what I call a raised floor. It’s this area where it looks like there’s a lot of room for progress because there’s a lot to work with there. And you get to a certain point, and you think you can keep making progress there but your efforts are better spent somewhere else.

Another example would be like with money. How much money can you save, really? Like, you’ve got to live your life, like spending a minute in the aisle trying to figure out whether this soup is worth five cents more than this other soup is not worth it at a certain level. And so, instead of trying to lower this raised floor, you try to raise the ceiling. And so, instead of how much time can you really save, instead of trying to do that, well, make better use of your time by finding your best energy and making the best possible use of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. I’m down. So, you lay out some three key questions for mind management along the lines of, “Hey, what kind of work do I need to do right now? What kind of mental state am I in? And then, how could I get into the right mental state?” which I think is just very tactically dead-on in terms of, “Here I am.” And so, maybe can you orient us, I guess, to the menu or to the categories of kinds of work? So, stacking bricks is different than writing a book. So, how would you go about categorizing these different flavors of work?

David Kadavy
Yeah, this goes pretty deep, but I do want to just add on at this point about those questions because that is really the best way to get the taste of it because we do go deep in the book, and there’s a lot to cover. But, really, just asking yourself this question next time that you’re about to work on something, “What is the mental state that I’m in right now?” And then ask yourself, “Well, what do I need to do that fits that mental state?”

And if you happen to be in a situation where you really need to do a certain thing, then you can ask yourself, “Well, what is the mental state I would like to be in to be able to do that thing?” And you can kind of reverse-engineer it. A good way to do that is to say, “Well, when was the last time I felt that way?” And then you can start to look at the conditions, “Where was I sitting? What time of day was it? What day of the week was it? Was there something that I ate? Was there something that I drank? Did I drink a LaCroix right before?” Things like that.

Now, that’s a good start, by the way. That’s a good start to ask yourself that question, be aware of this idea that the time that you’re most creative is not necessarily the time that you’re most alert. It’s probably not the time that you’re most alert. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve got it broken down to seven different mental states of creative work.

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it.

David Kadavy
Okay. It’s an acronym. I’ve got a little acronym for it, makes it easier to remember. PERG PAR. Now, we’ve got two main words here we’re thinking about if we want to remember this acronym. PER and PAR. Talking about golf again, the G stands for the game of golf, PER golf PAR, so PERG PAR. And those stand for prioritize, explore, research, generate, polish, administrate, and recharge.

I don’t know if you’ve got time for all those, but some of my favorites there, I think, the distinction between generate and explore is a very interesting one. Generate is, as a writer myself, when I’m in the generate state, I plan to get some writing done, some writing that I can actually use, use to a point.

There’s the famous quote, supposedly from Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober.” That’s what the polish is the edit part. So, I’m not worried too much about, “Is this fact exactly right? Am I spelling this correctly?” I’m just trying to get some sentences together that I can later go back when I’m in a different mental state, when I’m more alert. And if I ran across something where I’m just kind of stuck, I just make some brackets, type it in there. So, I’m staying in state. I’m not switching state all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cool story about…that’s inspiring AF.” Moving on.

David Kadavy
Yeah, right. Exactly. That’s actually a great example. You have a situation in that where you want to illustrate something, and you’re like, “Yeah, cool story that’s inspiring AF,” right? And then, later, you go sit down in your recliner that evening with a brandy, and think, “What are some cool stories that I know,” and you do that part separately.

Now, if you’re somebody who already has a grab bag of stories, you’re a writer like me and you collect these things, you might already have something ready to go and you write it. But if you get stuck, you’ve got that. You’re trying to stay in state because it’s a waste of mental energy to be switching these mental states all the time.

Think about a car that’s switching gears. Gears are coupled with one another, that’s moving the car forward, and then as you’re switching gears, well, for a moment, those gears aren’t coupled anymore, and so there are some energy that’s going to waste that way. And so, it’s much better to just stay in state. So, that’s generate.

Now, I did mention I promised that I was going to talk a little bit about explore because there are some fuzzy borders in between these categories where there might be some things where it feels like it’s a generate activity but it’s actually an explore activity. And this happens with me when I write, quite often. So, I actually have a habit that’s very weird that I do every single morning. With my eyes still closed, I have a little portable word processor that I keep in my nightstand drawer. With my eyes still closed, it’s basically a keyboard with like an old-school LCD screen that you might see on a calculator, it’s called an AlphaSmart. You can DuckDuckGo it and see what I’m talking about. They cost 20 bucks, 30 bucks, and they’re really just for writing. I have it in my nightstand.

So, I’ll just grab it out of my nightstand with my eyes still closed, turn it on, and I just write a hundred words. At least a hundred words. I sometimes write more, sometimes a thousand, sometimes just 2,000, but it’s at least a hundred words. I make sure to do that every single morning. Just make a really simple goal for myself.

Now, I’m writing but it’s not generate. It’s explore, because when I’m done with that activity, what I do is I delete it. Now, why would I write, why would I bother writing in the morning and I’m just going to delete it? What do you think about that, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have a number of ideas in terms of it can…I think you delete but I imagine you read it before you delete it.

David Kadavy
Actually, I don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Kadavy
Here’s the thing, all right, and this is where I think a lot of people get stuck on creative work, and trying to write my first book, this is where I got stuck because I thought, “Well, I’ll just put 250 words a day on my calendar,” and I was banging out my 250 words a day. Well, it doesn’t work that way. There are stages to creativity. There are stages to creative work.

Before you reach that moment of insight, before you make those connections from various parts of your brain, you have to have the source material in your brain first. And this is where a lot of the struggle with writing, is we sit down and we think, “All right, I’m going to write this press release. And, okay, where do I even begin?” You expect that you’re going to have this wonderful polished prose that comes out, and there’s all these different facts you need to look up, and you’re like, “Well, wait. Let me go talk to the CEO really quick and see what the CEO has to say so I can collect that quote,” etc. but there’s always things that you need to collect first.

And our brain power is very limited. Our working memory, or our short-term memory, not exactly the same thing but they can be used interchangeably for our purposes, is limited. We can remember two, four, seven things, this is why phone numbers are broken up into groups of four, credit card numbers, etc. so we can remember them. That’s what we’re doing when we’re trying to take in information and solve a problem at the same time is we’re trying to use our working memory for all of that. Well, it doesn’t work that way. You need to get the information into your long-term memory first. And then, later, when your working memory is clear, then you can start to dig into that long-term memory and start trying to make those different connections.

So, when I do my morning writing sessions, which I call an explore session, I’m really just exploring whatever is in my brain. It’s exercising those thoughts in my mind. And those kind of seep in, and it’s one of these things where not everything is going to be useful. Most of it is not going to be useful, but it’s going to help me exercise some different connections. And then, later on, next time that I’m actually sitting down and writing, maybe I’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I had that interesting thing I was writing about the other day,” and it’ll come out.

Now, if I do need to capture something that’s just really great and I just don’t want to miss it, then I have ways of capturing it and transferring it to my computer, but most of the time I just delete everything because it’s a different state. It’s a state of exploration, as the name implies, where that’s one activity that can be explored. But another activity that can be explored is like if I’m reading something.

When I’m writing my book about design and learning about the history of typography, I might be in a situation where I am actually not reading about typography. I’m reading about some other possibly, maybe related subject, like the Protestant Revolution, that might lead me to something, but I actually have no idea.

And so, that’s why I make the distinction between, say, that exploration and generate. And that’s also why I make the distinction between explore and research because if I’m researching, that implies that I’m searching again. That implies that I’m searching for something that I already have, some kind of idea what I’m looking for, and I’m a little bit more focused on trying to find it.

So, you can start to see this is an introduction for a few of those categories, the ways that we’re starting to break up these things that seem like they are things that we just sit down and do all at once. We’re starting to break them up into different situations where we’re doing different things, we’re using different energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I get you. And I’d love it if you could maybe just give me sort of like the one sentence-ish definition of each of these things, “So, prioritizing is this, explore is this, research is this.” Because I think I’ve got my perception of what these words mean, but as you’ve just done some distinguishing, there could be some insight there. So, lay it on us, rapid fire, put you on the spot, what’s prioritizing?

David Kadavy
Okay. Prioritizing is you’re planning. This is something I do every week. I look at my calendar and I make a bullet point list, and I rewrite everything on my calendar, and I just make sure that if I’m going to the airport, I know what time I’m going to go to the airport, depending on traffic, how long it’s going to take for me to get to the airport, when I’m going to leave, when I’m going to eat lunch, all that stuff, instead of just waking up that morning and just trying to figure it out and getting to a different state. That’s what prioritize is. It’s very energy-hungry. Your prefrontal cortex does that prioritization, something you want to do separately.

Explore is that you’re collecting information. Collecting information might be going through ideas or brainstorming. You’re collecting information but not necessarily specific information, right? You kind of have a vague idea of what you’re looking for and you are allowing yourself to be in an open-minded state of looking for that. Starting to click?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s chill. Versus research, which we’re going to next, it’s kind of like, “I want my answer. Give me the answer.”

David Kadavy
Exactly. Research is, “What year was Snoop Dog born? I need to know that for this article that I’m writing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Facts first.

David Kadavy
Yeah, like if you want to know the fact, or you want to know, like, “I want to know exactly how confirmation bias works, and who discovered it, etc.” I need to look that up before I can fill out the brackets in this thing that I wrote when I was in the generate state, which is our next one, right?

Generate. We are trying to produce something that we can turn into usable, shippable work. And next is polish. We’re putting the finishing touches on it. Dotting the Is, crossing the Ts, putting the finishing touches. Refining it. Getting it ready to ship. Now, administrate. This is the stuff that you’ve got to do it. It’s hard to delegate but you got to do it. Maybe like you’re filling out your expense report, going through your email inbox and getting rid of this stuff is kind of low priority. For me, it’s always looking at financial statements.

And then, finally, recharge. And that’s the giving yourself a chance to get that energy back, giving yourself the evening, the weekend, taking a nap even in the afternoon to replenish that energy. And it also helps solve a lot of the problems that you’ve been working on while you’re not even actively thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess with administrate, so we’re talking about creative work, I’m also thinking about like people-y stuff. Like, much of this sort of benefits from the quiet, the silence, the non-interruptedness. And then I’m thinking there’s another vibe, I think like maker versus manager. Like, when you’re in the manager vibe, it’s almost like, well, heck, we almost can make a whole list separate list for like people activities because there’s like connect, there’s delegate, there’s coach, there’s challenge, there’s respond to be of service with quick answers to everybody who needs a slice and a quick bit of info to continue doing what they’re doing.

How do you think about that, the people-y stuff?

David Kadavy
Well, it’s funny because I’m an ambivert, more on the side of introvert so I do think about the people-y stuff about, “Am I going to be in the mood to talk to somebody at this particular time?” But, actually, the people-y stuff and my administrate stuff kind of I put them next to each other even though I’ve never actually thought about them as being related. So, like this conversation that we’re having right now, I consider this to be explore mental state. But I have these conversations later in the day because that’s when I’m just a little more alert, and I can think more on my feet, and have a conversation like that.

Now, as it happens, I have these conversations later in the week so I’ve got a rule, no meetings on Mondays or Tuesdays, because I want to be completely immersed in whatever it is that I’m working on. A lot of the things I’ve been working on have incubated over the weekend. I want to make the best possible use of that on Monday and Tuesday.

Now, towards the end of the week, my creative energy has started to wane. I’ve gone down a lot of different dead ends that maybe aren’t working out, yet I have produced some things but then I’ve got those dead ends. And so, it’s nice to have a conversation where I can start to explore and play with some of the things that I’ve been thinking about. But, also, that makes it a good time to work on administrative stuff, which is why Fridays, especially Friday afternoons, is when I spend time in the administrate state.

If I get an email from my accountant on a Monday, and it says, “Hey, review these financial statements,” I use a plugin called Boomerang, and I send it out of my inbox, and then it comes back into my inbox on Friday afternoon. I don’t even know that exists during that time. So, Friday afternoon, I’ve tapped out my creative energy, and I can do some stuff. Like, it’s not hard for me to look at financial statements, really. It’s not something that I want to spend my best creative energy on.

And so, I don’t necessarily think about the people part as being part of administrate necessarily. But I also do think about, if I’m going to be interacting with people, when is a good time for me to do that, and when are times that I don’t want to be doing that?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so I think that just having some of these language, and I think some folks might even really make it their own in terms of, like, “I like to call it task annihilation,” in terms of like how that energy feels in terms of, “I got a big list of quick things that I’m just going to go dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,” whatever.

David Kadavy
One of the most powerful things you can do, I think, to be productive is the moment that you know that a task needs to be done that you’re able to stop and think, and say to yourself, “Okay, this doesn’t need to be done now. When is the right time for me to do this? And what’s the state that I need to be in to do that?” And for a lot of people’s work, it’s going to be different. When they do have those chunks of time, when there’s a certain type of activity that they’re doing and there’s a certain energy they’re going for, and they can save everything for those times.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s great when you can do that, and sometimes you can’t, and it’s sort of like it’d be ideal if you could slot the task in where the state just naturally are, and other times you need to do the thing. So, how does one change their state?

David Kadavy
Yes. Well, first of all, fortunately, I think a lot of people are noticing with the quarantine, a lot of people are suddenly in more control of their time so they are actually grappling with this for the first time, where it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I actually have control over this. There’s something other than the clock dictating what I’m going to do so I need to figure out how to manage my energy in a way.” But sometimes you still have certain deadlines, you’ve got stuff that needs to get done. And, like I said, before, a good way to do that is to sort of think about a time when you were in that mental state.

There’s a great story from the chess champion Josh Waitzkin from his book The Art of Learning, where he talks about this executive who has a lot of trouble concentrating in meetings. And so, what Josh did with this executive was asked him, “Well, when’s the time when you feel in flow?” And the guy said, “Well, when I’m playing catch with my son, that’s when I really just feel in the moment. I wish I could feel that way when I’m in a meeting.” Well, it’s a little hard for him to play catch with his son while he’s in the meetings. Maybe you could do that today with Zoom.

But what Josh did was set up this sort of series of triggers that the executive could use. He said, “All right, before you play catch with your son, do these stretches, eat this snack, listen to this Bob Dylan song, then play catch with your son, and keep doing that.” And what he did was basically classically conditioned himself to have these different triggers that could get him into that state. And so, what he did was then he gradually removed certain things where he couldn’t play catch with his son, but before going to a meeting, he would do the stretches, eat the snack, listen to the Bob Dylan song. And, just through time, was eventually able to get to the point where he could just think of the Bob Dylan song and he would be in that state, and he could go into that meeting in that state.

Now, this isn’t something that you’re going to necessarily do with every little thing in your schedule, but maybe your key most important things, the most important states that you’re trying to get into, that maybe you’re in situations sometimes where you don’t have control over being able to get into that sate, then you have certain triggers setup.

Me, before I do a podcast interview, I actually have a whole set of warmups that I do. I took voice lessons when I was living in Chicago, and I’ve got the audio files for the warmups for that, I’ve got different tongue twisters I say, I got sort of a process that I use to take myself from that, I’ve been in my head writing all morning state, to this I’m going to be talking to Pete state. So, this is something you want to do with those important things that maybe you don’t always have the most control over.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot. Like, music in particular, it’s sort of like there’s so many varieties of music. They could just naturally say, “Oh, yeah, this is the mood, and it’s like the soundtrack for that.” So, I think that’s a very versatile and helpful one to have.

David Kadavy
And not even just soundtrack. I want to also talk about if you have control of your environment as well, especially with the quarantine, a lot more people working from home. If you have control over your environment, you can start to change certain things. I’ve got a standing-sitting desk that’s different for different mental states. I’ve got a hammock that I sometimes sit back and brainstorm in. I have a recliner with an overbed table that goes over the recliner. I sort of lay back and write in that recliner. So, you can change certain things.

When I first started on my own, I had a tiny bedroom in San Francisco, and that was where I worked, and that’s where I slept. I worked in cafes during the day but I was still working at night. And so, I didn’t want to confuse working with sleeping, and so I had a little shoji screen, a little room divider, that I would set up around my desk, and I would clip a lamp on there and bounced light in a certain way and a certain album I would listen to, I’d put a certain aromatherapy scent on, and that would trigger me to be ready to work.

Now, when it was time to sleep, I would go immediately from working to sleeping, I had a whole different set of things I did. I hid the desk behind the screen, I’d maybe put on a different scent, maybe put on a different music, and change my environment so that I could change my mental state.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. And so then, a good bit of this is that self-reflection in terms of last time you were in this groove, what was going on, what was the setup.

David Kadavy
And you could have a journal that you keep for this stuff too, and just kind of, at the end of the day, like observe, “When was the time that I felt really in congruence between what I was doing and the way that I felt? And when was the time when I didn’t?” And you’ll eventually start to find those patterns.

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

David Kadavy
No, I think that we’ve covered a lot of cool stuff. I mean, I obviously have an entire book, it’s very dense. I’ve worked 10 years on this thing, so there’s a lot to tackle, way more than we could talk about in this conversation.

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

David Kadavy
Oh, I like this one from the investor, Naval Ravikant, who was an early investor in Uber and other different companies, and is a great philosopher sort of to follow on Twitter, “Earn with your mind, not with your time.”

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

David Kadavy
I saw an interesting sort of meta-analysis recently in the neuroscience publication called Neuron, and it was about beliefs. And it was basically saying that we form beliefs not just to reduce uncertainty in our world, which is very important for moving through the world, to be able to quickly assess things. This is where biases come from. But that having a belief in itself is a reward. And so, they’ve noticed this through a number of different experiments that being able to hold a belief and confirm a belief actually looks like a reward in the brain. And so, this is sort of the idea of confirmation bias, the neural correlates of confirmation bias.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “See, I’m right.” Like, that feels good?

David Kadavy
Yeah. And it is critical to our sort of echo chamber world that we live in, but it’s also important to doing creative work, I think, it’s very relevant. So, if I’m somebody who’s like, “I believe, one day, I’m going to become a famous comedian,” that belief feels good. And they’ve even noticed that if you’re looking for a certain belief, your brain will change what it looks for to confirm that belief.

And so, if you believe you’re going to be a famous comedian someday, then you’re going to seek out information that’s going to confirm that belief, and you’re going to avoid information that would challenge that belief. So, information that might confirm that belief would be, “I’m going to go take another comedy class.” Information that would challenge that belief would be, “I’m going to get on stage and tell some jokes in front of people,” because, likely, you’re not going to get the laughs that you expect.

And so, this is a way that we kind of have what I call aspiration procrastination, which is what my previous book The Heart to Start was about, which is the situations where having this belief that this thing, you’re going to do this someday is such an enjoyable feeling that we put off doing anything that would challenge that belief. So, it’s really interesting to see the actual neuroscience behind that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

David Kadavy
I really enjoy the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan I think is a fantastic book.

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

David Kadavy
Todoist. Great to-do app.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Kadavy
My 100 words on my AlphaSmart in the morning.

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

David Kadavy
Well, the idea of mind management, not time management is something that people tend to respond to.

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

David Kadavy
Twitter. I’m really active on Twitter. I know all the kids love Instagram these days, I know all the old people love Facebook these days, but Twitter is where I’m at @kadavy.

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

David Kadavy
Yeah, final challenge is the next time that you have something to do, ask yourself, “What would be the ideal mental state for me to do this?” That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, this has been a treat. Keep on rocking and we’ll see each other maybe in five years.

David Kadavy
I hope sooner than that but, yeah, Pete, it’s an honor. Your show is wonderful, so thank you.

607: How to Make Any Work Energizing and Motivating with Todd Henry

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Todd Henry says: "It's about what you bring to your work, not about the work that you do specifically."

Todd Henry explains how to tap into your personal motivation code to bring more energy and excitement to your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What it really takes to create lasting motivation
  2. How our motivations distract us—and how to curb that
  3. The 27 flavors of motivation

 

About Todd

Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. He is the author of five books, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and the longtime host of The Accidental Creative podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Todd Henry Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I want to understand, you’ve got a secret music album project you’ve been working on. What’s the story here?

Todd Henry
I’m really curious how you even know about that because I’ve only mentioned it very briefly, like a couple of times but, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
We have a prompt on the form when you booked the interview that says, “Tell us something nobody knows about you.” I stole that from Lisa Cummings, her Strengths podcast. It’s like I’m so thrilled.

Todd Henry
I guess I told you then I guess that’s how it happened. I don’t even remember that. Okay, yeah. So, I think maybe we talked about this the last time I was on the show, but I have a background in the music business. I spent a handful of years after college playing music and traveling and all that, and then, frankly, kind of put that on the shelf for a number of years.

And then, for whatever reason, about seven months ago, right before COVID, I picked up my guitar and I just started writing songs again. So, it’s been a really fun, what I call unnecessary creating project, that’s what I call that discipline, is having something in your life you’re creating that’s not your work, something that’s not about you, it’s not about your clients.

So, for the last handful of months, I’ve been putting together a music project, which is just kind of fun, which, by the way, is for my ears only, and maybe like family and select friends so it won’t be coming to a Spotify app near you anytime soon. But it’s just been fun to really explore that side of my creativity again after 20 years. And, to be frank, I’m like really blown away at how different it is recording now versus 20 years ago. What I can do now in my home office is the equivalent of what I would’ve spent 20 grand on in a studio 20 years ago just because of what’s available, app-wise. So, it’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is wild. I love playing that stuff, like the iZotope RX7, 8 is out now, just a few days ago in terms of…well, we can dork out. But I think it sets the stage well, like, hey, your expertise is creativity but your latest book is called The Motivation Code. Kind of what’s the connection or how did you scooch on over into the realm of motivation?

Todd Henry
Yeah, this was a very unexpected book for me to write, not just in terms of people who read my work but for me, it was very unexpected. About four years, a friend of mine, Rod Penner, who was a veteran of a management consulting firm, he had left the firm several years before but I didn’t know what he was working on, and he just reached out to me, he said, “Hey, I want you to take this motivation assessment I’ve been working on.” That was in 2016.

And I don’t know about you, Pete, but I’m sort of one of those guys who kind of roll my eyes whenever I hear, “Oh, here’s an assessment you should take,” because I always think like those quizzes in magazines are something like, “Which Harry Potter house are you a part of?” Like, that’s what I always kind of think, I’m like, “Okay, whatever.” And he’s like, “No, no, no, this is different. You need to take this.”

And so, I did. And, frankly, what I discovered completely blew my mind. I mean, it just really, really amazed me how accurately this assessment described things like why I make the same mistakes over and over again in my life, why some tasks are unbelievably energizing for me, and other tasks are complete drudgery. Like, I would stay up four nights in a row until 1:00 in the morning to do some things, but then you ask me to file some paperwork, and it’s like it’ll take me three minutes but I’ll put it off for a week and a half.

I mean, just all of these patterns why I succeed in some leadership roles and I fail in other leadership roles, all of these patterns were just laid out before me. And this assessment was called The Motivation Code Assessment. And so, I thought, “I’ve got to figure out a way to get this into the world, to get this into other people’s hands,” because it really transformed so much about the way I see my day-to-day work, and I wanted to do that for other people as well.

The only problem was I was in the middle of writing a book at the time called Herding Tigers that came out in 2018. So, I’ve been working on this book in the background for about four years. And over the course of that four years, as I dove into the research, realized that this motivation code assessment is based on over 50 years or research, started in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the outcropping of that work has been developed into this assessment by a team of PhDs and researchers over the course of the last several years, and then I became involved in 2016, and we started working on putting together a book to try to bring this to market, and now the book is available.

So, it’s been a long time coming and an expected twist but it’s kind of one of those things, I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you, where when you come across something that is so unbelievably transformative, you just want to tell everybody about it. And that’s exactly what happened to me with this research.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is exciting in terms of, aha, the scales have fallen from your eyes, and you see and recognize patterns and explanations for what’s going on there. And, indeed, I suppose why you can accomplish some things quickly and go late into the night and other things if they’re really in a short of amount of time, you’re dragging your feet. Boy, I’ve had that same experience. And I imagine, when it comes to creativity, that’s huge with regard to, “Are you motivated to put in that time to do that in excellence? Or are you just sort of like, ‘Yeah, well, you know what, I guess this is a job and I’m contractually obligated to crank it out, so I guess I’ll do that now.’” And it shows up in both how rewarding you feel and meaningful as well as just how much you put in, and, ultimately, the quality of the work product.

Todd Henry
Right. Exactly. And we tend to think of motivation as being a binary thing, “Either I’m motivated or I’m not,” right? But what we’ve discovered is it’s actually where you get your motivational energy, that there are different flavors of motivation, or as we call them, there are 27 different themes of motivation, 27 different ways you can get your motivational energy. And when you’re consistently operating within your top motivational themes, or what we call your motivation code, you are more engaged, you are more creative, you will put more discretionary energy into the work because the work itself is giving you energy. You’re engaging in work that’s not draining you of energy. Instead, it’s giving you energy, it’s feeding you energy, which is a very different way, by the way, of thinking about motivation.

This is not the traditional way that we think about being motivated. We just need to get motivated. You just need to psych yourself up. You just need to go out there and make it happen. Well, the reality is often we’re working against the way that we’re wired when we try to amp ourselves up, we try to motivate ourselves. But if we understand those themes, if we understand what it is that really drives us, we can structure our lives and our work in such a way that we’re approaching it according to where we get our motivational energy, and that completely changes the calculation.

And the other thing we’ve discovered is that when you are operating, to your point about creativity, Pete, when you’re operating within your motivation code, you’re more likely to experience this phenomenon that we call flow, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed and made popular. And flow is that state where you kind of get lost in your work, where the work is challenging enough to kind of keep you engaged but not so challenging that you lose your interest in it. And we’ve all had those moments where we just get lost in the work, where we forget time and we’re just complete.

Well, what we discovered is that there’s a pretty high degree of correlation between operating in your core motivations, those top three motivations, and experiencing flow in your day-to-day life, which is when you kind of have that sense of getting lost in your work. And, of course, that’s going to lead to better work when you experience that phenomenon.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, so that all adds up conceptually. Could you maybe share a specific story of someone who they came to a new discovery via the motivation code, and then, wow, suddenly things were different? They tapped into something big that made a real impact in their work and life.

Todd Henry
Yeah, I’ll give you the example that I’ve been sharing pretty liberally because the example is me, and I’ll tell you how discovering this affected me. So, my top three motivations, my motivation code, are make an impact, meet the challenge, and influence behavior. Meet the challenge is pretty significant. So, make an impact, my number one, is related to the fact that I need to see the direct impact of my work. I have to be able to see that what I’m doing is leaving a mark on the world around me in some capacity.

Number two is meet the challenge. That’s a pretty close second to make an impact. So, here’s an example of how this helped me understand something that was going on in my life. So, in my entire adult life, Pete, I have probably played a grand total of maybe five hours of video games, since I was like 22 years old. So, I’m now 47.

And then about a year and a half a year ago, maybe two years ago, my son introduced me to a game called Fortnite. Are you familiar with Fortnite?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’ve played Fortnite. I played some Fortnite today, Todd.

Todd Henry
Okay, there we go. All right. So, for those who are not initiated, like Pete and I, Fortnite is a game where basically you’re dropped onto an island. You have to basically discover resources and find weapons, and then you have to eliminate other players. And the goal is to be the last person standing or, as they call it, to achieve Victory Royale. So, you want to be the last person standing on the island.

So, what’s great about Fortnite is that it’s challenging, it’s really difficult because you’ve got a hundred other players all of different skill levels. It’s predictable in that there are some pretty clear parameters, but it’s also random because what you do depends on what other people do within the game. And it’s pretty easy to just jump right back in if you get eliminated, so it’s easy access. And then it’s also finite. Like, each game, maybe if you play the entire game, it lasts about maybe 20 minutes, 18 to 20 minutes. So, it’s a really short defined thing.

Well, for somebody who’s wired to meet the challenge, Fortnite is like a narcotic. And let me explain why. So, my son introduced me to this game, he’s like, “I think you might like it. You should try it.” So, I loaded it up on my iPad, and I dive onto the island, and I land, and I think I lasted, like, I took two steps and, boom, I was gone. I was eliminated immediately, right? I was like, “That’s stupid. Play again.” So, I immediately go back into the game. This time I think I lasted maybe like 10 or 15 seconds. By the end of the night, I’d made it like maybe into the top 75.

So, I keep playing this game, and I’m getting better, and I’m getting better, and I’m getting better. And, finally, about a month and a half later, I’m sitting on the couch, my wife is beside me doing something completely ridiculous, like unproductive, like reading a book or something while I’m sitting here playing Fortnite, and so I let out a little whoop. I just achieved my first Victory Royale, Pete. I let out a little whoop, and my wife said, “What happened?” And I explained to her, and her exact response was, “Way to beat that 7-year old, honey. Way to go. Good job.” I’ve never felt so small in my life.

But for somebody wired to meet the challenge, here’s why Fortnite is really dangerous. When I am doing a long-arc project, like let’s say writing a book, that might seem like a challenge to somebody who’s never written a book before, but for me that just looks like a big long-arc project. Something that’s due in a year does not feel challenging to me. It doesn’t feel like an imminent challenge that I need to tackle. So, it’s really easy for me, when I’m working on something like a book project, or something else with a long timeline, it’s easy for me to say, “I’m going to go find something right now I can do that’s  going to feel like a challenge for me.” Fortnite feels like a challenge for me. That’s a distraction that I could easily jump into but there are any number of other things. There are little projects, little things I could be doing that feel like challenges to me right now but are a distraction from the longer-arch work I need to be doing.

So, do you know what I’ve had to do, Pete, is I’ve had to say, “All right. Writing a book is a long-arc project. That takes like a year and a half, two years, from the time you agreed to write the book to the time it hits the market. I need to find ways of establishing little challenges in my work on a day-to-day basis to make sure that my work feels challenging to me.” So, for me, it’s, “I’m going to write 500 words before 9:00 a.m.,” or, “I’m going to write 500 words between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. today. I’m going to write 500 words. That’s my challenge today.” I have to find ways of instilling challenge in my work because if I don’t, I will get distracted by things that are maybe completely frivolous, maybe a waste of my time, but that are satisfying, they’re scratching that meet the challenge itch.

Another one that’s really interesting and unique is, and I hope it’s okay that I say this because we actually share this motivation, as I’ve seen your motivation code report, is make an impact as a podcaster because our podcasts are downloaded a million times a year, and I know yours is as well because I know what your stats are, right? So, as a podcaster, you put lots of stuff into the world but you don’t often get a lot of feedback about the things you’re putting into the world. So, one of the challenges for me, being wired to make an impact, meaning I need to see the impact of the work I’m making in the world, one of the challenges I experienced is that I put things into the world that people don’t respond to. And when people aren’t responding to what I’m doing, I start wondering, “Am I doing the right kind of work? Is my work any good? Should I maybe just sell everything and go move into a Trappist monastery or something? Does any of this make any sense anymore?” Because my motivation of make an impact isn’t being scratched.

And so, sometimes I will do things to achieve an impact just to see that I’m making an impact. I’ll do things that may or may not be helpful to other people just so I can make an impact, or just so I can get some kind of a response from people, because that’s one of my core motivations, that’s one of the shadow sides because you can sometimes try to create an impact where it’s not welcome, because that’s what you’re wired to do.

So, once I began to understand these things and how they play out in my life, and one of my other motivations, my number four is actually overcome. That means I like to work against an enemy. But that means, sometimes, Pete, that I invent enemies where they don’t exist or I invent obstacles to overcome where they don’t exist, and sometimes that can be a waste of energy or a waste of focus. So, once I began to understand how these motivations play out in my life, I began to structure my days, my life, my schedule in a way that was more meaningful. And it actually allowed me to scratch that motivational itch or to get my energy in the right place every day so that my work wasn’t draining to me as much as it was energizing to me.

Now, every motivation is positive but every motivation also has a shadow side. So, once I began to understand some of those shadow side tendencies I just described, I could notice, “Oh, wait a minute, you know what? I’m in a little bit of a funk right now. Does my work feel challenging to me? If not, how could I create a challenge right now? You know what, I’m in a little bit of a funk right now. Am I making an impact and seeing the impact in my work? If not, then maybe I need to find a way to get some feedback about what I’m doing right now.”

Or, for example, I started a folder of feedback letters that people would send me, or emails people would send me, that I can go back and review where people have written to me about what my work means to them. Because in those moments where I’m not getting, I’m not scratching that motivational itch, it helps me to see, “Oh, my work is having impact. I’m still having an impact on people. I just need to remind myself of that.” So, it’s allowed me to structure my life and my days and my work in a way that is more consistent with how I’m wired to get my energy, and this really made all the difference in the world in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Yes, I was just going to ask, and I’m glad you shared it. So, if you’re not feeling that make an impact with your invisible podcast audience, how are you getting there? And so, you check out the folders. And it’s true, like I have times where, well, I just naturally think it’s fun to chat with people like you and learn stuff. But sometimes I don’t think it’s so much fun to like hunker down, like, “Okay, what are the teasers? What’s in the opener? What’s in the closer?” Like, to actually take a conversation and get it across the finish line to, and this is an episode that stands alone and is consumable, digestible and friendly to pop up and listen to. Like, that is not as much fun for me than chatting with folks like you and learning stuff I like.

So, then my motivation can fall a bit short. And it’s so true, when I just think about the impact that I make. One of my favorite comments from a listener was, “I wake up every morning early so I can listen to it twice.” Like, for me to think about…because there’s some content I love, too. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved anything that much. Breaking Bad was so awesome for me but I never woke up early to watch it twice.

So, that’s so cool. And then I had even a little printout in terms of, “Boy, hey, what does it mean to have like 20,000 folks, like demographically in terms of male versus female?” So, I just sort of had images, little icons, that would represent 20,000 people, and sort of look at it. And, sure enough, it helped, and then it got torn up by my toddler, so I should make another one.

Todd Henry
But, yeah, see that’s a classic behavior of somebody driven to by that motivation, make an impact, is you want to see a visible representation of the people that you’re impacting because you can’t see them, right? Even right now, people don’t know this because we’re not recording the video, but we’re actually looking at each other. So, typically, I don’t experience that when I’m recording an audio podcast, but I have no doubt that one of the reasons why you want that feedback is partly related to the way that you get your motivational energy, right, because of wanting to connect with the person on the other side in some capacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. And it seems like folks just…they can feel more that I’m on their side because I think I’m hopefully giving you some smiles here and there. Because sometimes I think it can sound like a grilling or an interrogation, like, “Give me your best wisdom now. Give me another example. Give me the data behind it. Have you really thought through that?” So, like if I’m coming across that way, I want to be able to reassure them, “Oh, no, hey, Todd, it’s just Pete here, and I’m really interested in your stuff so that’s why I’m asking these questions.” That’s what I’m going for.

Well, so then you mentioned a number of these themes in terms, and, boy, we could spend, I’m sure, multiple hours just laying those out. So, maybe why don’t we just do the list because they’ll tee up my next couple of questions? Could you take two or three seconds now to just name them all? And maybe they come into some clusters.

Todd Henry
They do, yeah. So, again, this research has been conducted over the course of 50 years. We’ve had over a million achievement stories shared. And the language that comprises The Motivation Code Assessment actually was parsed from those million achievement stories. That’s where we discovered the patterns of where people described what it is that was motivating to them about their achievements.

And so, they break down, generally, into six families, six families of motivations. What we say is while they are in a family because they share some DNA, they’re also very different in terms of how they play out in your life. So, even though they’re in a family, that doesn’t mean that they all behave the same. Just, for example, if you have siblings, you share DNA but you probably look different and you probably have different personalities and different things you’re interested in, and that’s kind of the same way that these motivational themes exist with one another but are very different.

So, the first family is what we call the visionary family. And, generally, the visionary family is focused on the future. They’re focused on what’s next. Sometimes they struggle to be present because they’re always thinking about what’s coming up. Actually, one of your top themes is a visionary family theme, which is experience the ideal. Another one is make an impact, which also is one of your motivational themes. And then achieve potential is the third motivational theme that falls in the visionary family.

And then we have the team player family. And, as you can imagine, team player family, themes are all about being with other people, being a part of something great. They really get their energy from the collective effort. That’s really where they get their motivational drive. By the way, these themes tend to be pretty low on my motivations. Generally speaking, I tend to be somebody who’s motivated to work by myself and to work alone, and I like that. It’s great. With the exception of our first theme, which is influence behavior which actually is pretty high on my list. So, influence behavior, serve, collaborate, and make the grade are the four themes that fall under team player.

The next family is called the optimizer family. People who are motivated in this way, tend to be people who are good at taking something and making it great. So, taking something that might be operating okay and making it great, perfecting it, tweaking it. They tend to love working with systems and trying to squeeze maximum efficiency out of systems. So, you have the themes improve, organize, develop, make it work, establish, and make it right.

And then we have the achiever family. The achiever family is driven about moving forward, about persevering, about accomplishing things. And the themes in the achiever family are bring to completion, meet the challenge, advance, and overcome. And then the final two themes, or two families, I should say, are the key contributor family. Key contributor family, these are the people who like to be at the center of the action. They like to be the people making stuff happen. So, you’ve got excel, bring control, be central, gain ownership, be unique, and evoke recognition.

And then the final family is the learner family, and these are people who love to explore, they’re people who love to ask questions. These are the people who often get into conflict with the achiever family when they’re working on a project together because they’re asking, “Why are we doing this? Let’s try seven other ways before we settle on one.” And the achiever family people are like, “Let’s just get it done.” But the themes that fall under the learner family are explore, master, demonstrate new learning, and comprehend and express. So, that is all 27 themes in a nutshell, and all of the six families along with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess where that leads me next is, so that’s a nice rundown, and we can see that, yes, those are different. And so, with mine, I’ve got them scored from the top ten: experience the ideal, and then make an impact 9.6, and then on mine on the bottom, evoke recognition 5.2, and make it right 5.1, which is true, I don’t really care about things the right away. In fact, I kind of like it if we’re breaking new innovative territory, and it’s like, “That’s not how it’s done.” It’s like, “Yeah, I know and I love it.” So, it doesn’t really motivate me when it comes to like accounting stuff, like I’m not going to commit fraud or anything, but that doesn’t fire me up, like, “Oh, man, we just really stated those financials perfectly in accordance with Gap.” Like, “Oh, I don’t care. As long as I’m obeying the law and not being a taker or a whatever, I’m all good.”

So, I guess my question is, well, I think it’s a mark of a good assessment is I read the top results, and I say, “Yes, but of course…” and, “Aren’t we all this way?”

Todd Henry
Right, of course. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to get your vibe in terms of is it fairly evenly distributed across the population? Or are there some folks who make it right is their number one, and there are just as many of them as there are of me?

Todd Henry
Oh, absolutely. No question. And not only that, but there are people…I mean, we’ve given this assessment now to tens of thousands of people. What we’ve discovered is there are people with every one of these motivational themes as their top theme in almost any role you can imagine, right? Because it’s not like, “Oh, if your number one is experience the ideal, then you should be a podcaster.” It’s about what you bring to your work, not about the work that you do specifically.

Now, let’s say that you are an accountant, as you just mentioned, and let’s say that your top theme is collaborate, which we have certainly had accountants who are high on collaborate. And let’s say during tax season, you’re stuck in a cubicle doing work, you’re cranking out tax returns in a cubicle by yourself for eight hours a day, you’re probably going to go into a funk and maybe not even know why. You might think you hate your job. You don’t hate your job. What you hate about your job right now is the fact that you have no human interaction for eight hours a day, and you’re fundamentally to get your energy from collaborating with other people.

So, where this is very helpful is in parsing the difference between, “I hate my job,” or, “I hate my tasks,” and, “I hate the way I’m approaching my job,” or, “I hate that I’m approaching my tasks.” Those are fundamentally different things. So, if that is your job, and, for example, you’re wired to collaborate, so you’re going to be in a cube cranking through tax returns all day for eight hours a day, you need to be disciplined about saying, “You know what, I’m either going to, A, find a way to maybe find another teammate that I can do these tax returns with, or in proximity with, or, B, I’m going to structure a social lunch every day. I’m going to take a break in the middle of my day, and I’m going to have social lunch where I get to interact with people, talk about things, we get to collaborate on what’s working, what’s not working, so that I, at least, have some motivational reprieve from these tasks that are going to drain me by the very nature of the tasks because of the way I’m wired.”

Now, somebody else, to your point, who’s wired, say, for establish or to make it right, they might love just being in a cubicle all day just getting it right. That’s all they care about, “If the number is balanced, I’m experiencing nirvana,” because that’s how they’re wired. It doesn’t matter if anybody is around them. They just want to experience getting it right or making things the way they’re supposed to be. So, this is where the difference is between motivational themes and how you score on the motivational assessment. This is how it makes a difference in terms of how you approach your work. It’s not so much about the task you do.

We spend so much time looking for the perfect job, Pete, and that is like chasing vapor. There is no perfect job. Any job you do is going to have tasks you don’t enjoy. But if you learn what drives you, what motivates you, you can begin to structure how you approach your job in a more meaningful way, in a way that will allow you to activate those core motivations more intentionally, more purposefully, and more consistently. And when you begin to approach your work that way, suddenly, you’re going to find, “I’m enjoying my job. I’ve always hated my job but, suddenly, I find that I’m enjoying my tasks more.” Well, it’s because you’re thinking about how to more strategically approach your work according to your motivational types instead of waiting for your job to scratch your motivational itch, which it’s probably not going to do with a few exceptions.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it really is pretty eye-opening there in terms of what I’m drawn to and then what I’m not. And sometimes it’s sort of like, in running a business, it’s like for the goal of running a profitable business, I know that using the metric of expected profit generated per hour demanded of me is the optimizing metric to utilize to get the most of that result.

Todd Henry
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes that is quite motivating in terms of I say, “Oh, look, there’s a really big opportunity to make a big impact. Go after it.” And sometimes it’s just sort of like, “Yeah, I know there’s profit there, but I just don’t really care.” And so, it’s actually hard for me to find the discipline to do the thing that I “should” be doing when there’s not a lot of motivational code alignment embedded within them.

Todd Henry
As I’m just looking right now, because you gave me permission, I’m looking at your top motivations, that’s not what’s going to drive you. If you were driven to gain ownership, for example, or if you were driven by any number of the achiever family themes, you would be somebody who’s like, “I don’t care how many podcast downloads I have as long as I have more than that person over there.” Like, that would be what drives you, “I don’t care how many downloads I have as long as it’s 20% more than what I had last year.” That’s how you would be wired, but that’s not what your motivational themes tell me about what matters to you. Those aren’t the things that you’re measuring.

The challenge is the things that are motivating you are a little more difficult to measure. I have a feeling that you’re never 100% satisfied with any episode that you put out in some capacity. Is that true or is that false?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s absolutely true. Sometimes I don’t like to listen to them too closely because then I’ll start…

Todd Henry
Because you’re judging yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
…critiquing the bejesus out of them.

Todd Henry
Yeah. And part of that is the experience of the ideal motivation which is your top motivation, meaning that you are still chasing the perfect podcast episode, which is why your listeners love you, by the way, that’s why you have raving fans, it’s why you have amazing swag for your show, it’s why all of these things, is because you’re trying to create a best possible version of what a podcast could be, which is fantastic. The problem is that you can’t really ever get there because that’s sort of an idealized understanding of what podcast is. And so, as you’re chasing that, the goalpost just kind of keeps moving. But that also energize, I assume that really energizes you as well. The idea of chasing after the ideal version of a podcast is probably something that really energizes you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. And so, experience the ideal, I guess this is maybe more for me, so that’s both about experiencing, making real my ideals, my values, and such, as well as experiencing the ideal – am I using this philosophy term right, the platonic form, huh, maybe – of podcast to make the ideal podcast that is part of the game, in addition to the fact that making this podcast speaks to the values that I hold dear.

Todd Henry
Yes, absolutely. So, what gives you joy is the process of creating the thing that was in your head and putting it into the world, and then obviously making an impact, that’s your number two, but seeing the impact of the thing that you’re putting into the world. But it’s the process of doing that that really gives you joy of chasing after those ideals, of chasing after the vision that you have in your head, right? That’s what really gives you joy.

And so, some of the traditional metrics that we use to determine success or failure, or on podcasting or any business, quite frankly, are not the things that give you joy. Whereas, somebody else, quite frankly, they don’t care what they’re putting out. Their numbers are going up. They’re great with it. Or if they have 20% more than they had last year, “Great, that’s all that matters. That’s what gives me all the energy I need.”

And so, when you ask the question, “Well, aren’t we all kind of like this?” Well, we’re all motivated by a blend of themes, and all the themes modify one another, but we each have sort of a unique code that really describes where we are when we’re operating in our sweet spot, right? And so, when we begin to understand that, and understand how these top three to five themes really play together in our life, it begins to explain some of these patterns, some of the things, the tendencies that we have, some of the ways that we maybe get ourselves into trouble sometimes, but also those moments when we feel really, really alive.

It explains, for me, why I cry every time I see The Pursuit of Happiness or Rudy or some of these movies, right? It’s because, well, overcome is one of my top themes. Of course, I’m going to be motivated and moved by some story of somebody overcoming the odds. Of course, I am. Whereas, somebody else thinks, “That’s really cheesy.” “What do you mean? What are you talking about?” But, like, yeah, that really…it doesn’t just move me. It moves me to my core, and I never had terminology to explain that before. But now, suddenly, I realize that’s because that’s how I’m motivated. That’s where I get my energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, when you talk about like movies and strong emotions, like, well, hey, I’m a big advocate for, “Hey, man, do some introspection or reflection on that stuff. It’s telling you something.” And it’s funny, so my favorite movie is Life Is Beautiful. And if you think about, oh, geez, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. If you think about the ideal of a father, wow, I mean, what that guy does for his kid, it’s hard to imagine a more challenging circumstance and an ideal response to it for a child. Wow, there you have it. I’m going to have some water, Todd.

Todd Henry
I have no reaction to that. See, that’s what’s interesting. You’re tearing up thinking about it, whereas I’m tearing up thinking about Rudy and all these overcomer movies because that’s such a core part of my motivation, right? And so, in many ways, these motivational themes help us define things that we’ve always sensed but never had language for, which is what makes it so powerful and also so practical, because then not only do we understand but we actually have some stuff we can do about it to make sure that we’re experiencing them more consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, so Todd, let’s see, so if folks who want their motivation code, they get the book, or what’s the easiest cost or most cost-effective way to get as many of the goodies as they can get?

Todd Henry
Yeah. So, there is a version of the assessment in the book, it’s a free version of the assessment that basically gives you your top three themes, tells you what your top three themes are when you take the assessment. So, if you go to MotivationCode.com or just anywhere you can get books, you can buy the book. In there, there’s a link to take you to the free version of the assessment to give you your top themes.

We also have, like you took, Pete, we have a full version of the assessment that you can take as well, but as a good starting point, I think the free version of the assessment will you your top three themes, and really begin the journey of understanding more of what it is that moves you to action.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it sounds like, to summarize, the general parameter here is you get that understanding of what are your top motivational themes, and then you start looking for ways you can align more of your work and life with that, and it may involve trying to do different tasks, or may just be change the way you’re doing your existing tasks.

Todd Henry
Unquestionably. And there’s an entire chapter in the book that’s based on, “So, now what?” Again, we’ve all taken assessments, and then we sort of attach some letters to our name, like, “Hi, I’m an INTP. You?” That’s fine. Not always very practical. Not always very useful. So, really, what we wanted to do was make sure that the book explains to people, “Okay, what can you do about this?” And one of the things we know for certain is that we learn and we grow best in community.

And so, one of the things we recommend is talking to somebody else about what you’re discovering, “Hey, Pete, I just discovered that my top motivation is make an impact, and I’ve noticed that I’m in kind of a funk lately because I’m not seeing a lot of the impact in my work, and I just want to talk about that with you.” Or, “Hey, this thing came up and it didn’t really seem to make sense for me.” I mean, we do have that happen from time to time where people…I was a given a workshop a handful of months ago, and somebody was kind of arguing with me, like, the specific theme was be unique. And they said, “Yeah, but I don’t have a drive to be unique. Like, I don’t wear weird clothes and I don’t have like spiked pink hair. I don’t really have that drive to be unique.”

And this person happened to be a pastor, and I said, “Well, tell me about what you do.” He said, “I’m a pastor, and I give talks.” I say, “Okay, tell me this, if I told you I’m going to write a sermon for you, and I want you just to kind of go out and read that sermon, or deliver that sermon, you’re going to deliver it however you want, but you’re going to use the words that I give you, and you’re going to use the terminology I give you. Would that be satisfying to you?” He’s like, “No, because what I say has to be a unique expression of how I see the world and who I am.” And I said, “You just used the phrase in describing back to me.” It’s like, “You’re arguing to be unique isn’t your motivation but you’re using that exact phrase to describe back to me what it is that drives you.”

And so, sometimes people, when they first discover what their motivational themes are, they don’t necessarily understand what it means to them, and then in the course of talking with others about it, they suddenly realize, “Oh, this does make sense,” because people can reflect back to them what they see in their life in a way that helps them contextualize what these motivations actually mean in terms of how they’re playing out in their day-to-day life. So, that’s one of the things that is really important.

And, listen, we learn and grow in the context of community in any way. I need you, Pete, you need me in order to really fully see ourselves. Like, we do because we all have blind spots. And so, that’s one of the main things I want to make sure people take away from this, is don’t just go do this and then say, “Okay, that was interesting,” and then walk away from it. But, instead, talk about it with someone else and invite them to speak into your life as well, and say, “Hey, where do you see this playing out in my life? How do you see these things playing out? And what do you think I can do to better position myself to experience these motivational themes more consistently?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Todd, any final thoughts before we shift gears to hear about some of your favorite things?

Todd Henry
I think the main thing is just recognize that, especially if you manage people or if you’re somebody in a role where you have organizational responsibility, I think traditionally we have relied on blunt force methods to motivate people, whether that be pay raises, words of encouragement, flexibility, things like that, and the reality is those things work for a season and then everybody reverts to the mean. They don’t last because they’re blunt force.

If you want to engage your team, and if you want to engage the people around you, the absolute way to do that is they understand the specific code that unlocks their motivation, and you owe it to them. If you’re a manager of people, you owe it to your team to understand what it is that uniquely drives them and brings their best work out on a day-to-day basis.

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

Todd Henry
Yeah. So, my favorite quote in the world is actually from Thomas Merton. I don’t have it in front of me so I might get it wrong, but it’s, “There can be an intense egoism in following everyone else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success, and they’re in such a hurry to get it, they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them, they justify their haste as a species of integrity.”

So, what’s interesting about that is they want quick success and they’re in such a hurry to get it, they cannot take time to be true to themselves. I think we have so many people around us who are in a hurry to become successful to the point that they forget who it is they are and what they value, and, in the end, they may achieve what they were going for and realize it’s hollow because they abandoned everything that they value in order to accomplish it.

And so, I’m a firm believer that who you’re becoming is much more important than whatever it is you’re accomplishing in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Todd Henry
In the book, I talk about the work of Deci and Ryan and some of the work that they did in exploring motivation, and kind of how motivation plays out in our day-to-day life. And they were some of the first people to discover that any kind of extrinsic motivation imposed upon someone, extrinsic motivation meaning something that you sort of do to prompt motivation, so it could be a pay raise, or words of encouragement, things of that nature, is short-lived. Very short-lived and doesn’t last for very long. In fact, even words of encouragement, over time, eventually lose their impact on people because people grow used to them.

And so, if you’re going to use that, if you’re going to use either pay raises or words of encouragement, you better be prepared to continue doling out more and more raises, more and more words of encouragement over time because, eventually, they will lose their impact because that’s just the way that we’re wired as human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Todd Henry
So, right now I’m reading a book called Why Information Grows, which is blowing my mind, but it’s about why information, specifically on earth, why information grows here but it doesn’t grow on other places in the universe. And it all has to do with, I won’t go into the specifics, but it all has to do with the fact that information is encoded much more readily in solids than it is in gases, and our planet is, the conditions are just right for the right kinds of solids to exist to allow us to encode information. So, it’s a really fascinating book. It’s a little technical but a really fascinating book.

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

Todd Henry
The Techo Planner by Hobonichi is my favorite little tool. I use it for journaling, I use it for tracking my dailies. It’s really like the perfect little notebook, a little paper planner to sort of carry around and use to help organize my life and my work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do?

Todd Henry
So, I may have mentioned this in the last episode, but about 17 years ago, I began a habit of every day study in the morning. It’s the first I do in the morning. I get up and I read and I spend some time thinking and writing in the morning, and it has fundamentally transformed my life. If you want to learn how to think systemically, if you want to learn how to see bigger patterns, if you want to advance in your career, if you want to have better relationships, the absolute best thing you can do is make an investment in your intellectual self. And that begins by having a regimen of regular study in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Todd Henry
Yeah. So, it’s funny, the one thing that was like an off-the-cuff article I wrote like five years ago, the title was “Don’t Let Your Rituals Become Ruts,” and that is the most quoted thing on the internet for some reason, I think, because the Get.Momentum app on Chrome uses it as one of their screensavers, but I see it tweeted more than anything else.

But I think the thing probably that I’m seeing resonate most often is our early book called Die Empty, which is really about making sure that you’re not taking your best work to the grave with you. And I’m seeing that growing in momentum around the world. Actually, it’s fun. I’m seeing it, it’s been translated into, I forget how many languages now, but it’s really cool to see people talking about, like, “I’m not going to take my best work to the grave with me. I’m not going to take my best work to the grave with me.” And that’s been kind of a fun thing to see growing as a movement around the world.

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

Todd Henry
Yeah, if you want to know more about motivation code, just go to MotivationCode.com is the best place to learn all about the assessment and the book itself and the company. And you can find me at ToddHenry.com, and also my podcast, The Accidental Creative, where we list the podcast.

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

Todd Henry
Yeah. Listen, the work that you do, the things that you produce, that really, really important project you’re working on right now, I mean, no offense, but nobody is probably going to remember that in a hundred years. I’m sorry, but they’re not. I’m sorry, Pete, nobody is going to probably remember your podcast, or my podcast, or any of my books, or any of that stuff in a hundred years. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to say that.

But, listen, the impact that you have on the people around you will resonate for generations to come. You don’t have a responsibility to change the world but you do have a responsibility to change the world around you. So, be the kind of person who makes echoes in the lives of others. And if you make echoes in the lives of others, those echoes are going to resound for generations to come.

And generations has a great quote, it says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees and whose shade they will never sit.” As you create echoes in the lives of other people, generations down the line, people are going to be sitting under a tree that you planted, that you had no idea was even planted, right? So, just be the kind of person and be the kind of leader who makes echoes.

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, this has been awesome. I wish you all the best in your adventures.

Todd Henry
Thanks so much, Pete. And thanks again for having me on the show.