Steve Glaveski reveals how to unlearn the four habits that make us time poor.
- Why we often feel like we get nothing done
- The simplest way to keep others from stealing your time
- Why we achieve more when we have less time
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 Journal, Forbes, the Australian Financial Review, Tech in Asia and numerous other outlets.
- Steve’s book: Time Rich: Do you best work, live your best life
- Steve’s website: SteveGlaveski.com
- Steve’s book site: TimeRichBook.com
- Steve’s article: “The Case for the 6-Hour Workday”
Resources mentioned in the show:
- App: Airtable
- App: BlockSite
- App: Freedom
- Book: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Book: “Principles: Life and Work” by Ray Dalio
- Company: IFTTT
- Company: Zapier
- Google Chrome Plugin: Quick Compose for Gmail
- Organization: Advanced Brain Monitoring
- Software: Formstack (formerly WebMerge)
- Tool: Online-Voice-Recorder.com
- Tribute Band: Ratt Poison
Thank you, sponsors!
Steve, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.
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.
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.
Now you said that this was an uncomfortable position, so you didn’t seek this out, it was thrust upon you?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Now that 23-minute stat, I think that sounds familiar, like the Microsoft study with email. Is that where that comes from there?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
All right. Well, so let’s hear what the I is in TIRE.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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?
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.
And so, what are some telltale signs that you are approaching or have hit or have passed this point of diminishing returns?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or an N, lowercase N.
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.”
Okay. So, we got the T, the Y, the R. And the E?
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.
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?
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.
Okay. And you mentioned automation and outsourcing. Do you have any favorite tools or services or tricks?
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.
All right. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
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.
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.
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.
All right. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
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.
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
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.
And how about a favorite book?
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.
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
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.
All right. And how about a favorite habit?
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.
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?
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.
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
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.
Okay. Steve, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in being time rich.
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been an absolute pleasure.