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KF #25. Plans and Aligns Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

482: David Allen Returns with the 10 Moves to Stress-Free Productivity

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David Allen provides an approachable overview of his legendary Getting Things Done (GTD) system.

You’ll Learn:

  1. GTD in a nutshell
  2. The saving power of an external brain
  3. Two power questions for prioritizing

About David

David Allen is an international best-selling author who is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on personal and organizational productivity. He wrote the international best-seller Getting Things Done, which has been published in over 28 languages. TIME magazine heralded it as “the defining self-help business book of its time.” He and his wife Kathryn run the David Allen Company, which oversees the certification academy and quality standards for Global Partners offering Getting Things Done courses and coaching around the world.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Allen Interview Transcript

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

David Allen
Pete, thanks for inviting me again. Yay, glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I am too. And I’ll tell you, boy, it’s been quite a ride since we had you in Episode 15. That’s over three years ago. And so, I’d love to get a quick little update in terms of how is Amsterdam living and then what’s been sort of your new learnings over the last three years?

David Allen
Wow! Let’s see, you got a couple of years and I can fill you in but, look, I can probably tell you a freeze-dried version of all that. We loved Amsterdam from the beginning. We’ve been here a couple of times. We moved here five years ago. We didn’t know how long we’d stay but we kept falling in love with the city and haven’t fallen out of love with it and absolutely love the lifestyle here, love just lots of things about it. Kind of the perfect storm for us in terms of what matches our interests and our lifestyle and our age. So, we intend to stay. So, it’s wonderful, yay.

Pete Mockaitis
And you have a new puppy, Anouk? How is that going?

David Allen
Anouk is fabulous. She’s four months old and we found a good breeder. Catherine was sort of, “Well, we could rescue a dog, maybe,” but I so love the Cavalier King Charles kind of breed that was our last dog that we had to put down, and so I said, “I’ve got to get another one of those,” so we got another one.

She’s very shy. She grew up in the country. We found a good breeder but they were in Germany. But she had grown up for 14 weeks on a farm, sort of the noisiest, busiest thing was a goat farm next door, so we had to integrate her into the city. I mean, you don’t realize how many noises and things and moving things, and whatever there are in the city that a puppy has to deal with.

Anyway, long story short. But she’s great. She’s learning day by day, getting more comfortable with all kinds of stuff. So, we’re in the process of socializing. Today I sat out for half an hour on a bridge right on the canal that we live on, and sat there for half an hour, letting people greet her and treating her if she didn’t run away from them, and sort of helping socialize and train her. So, that’s a whole job in itself.

Anybody listening to this who’s ever been to the dog world, you know what’s involved in all that. So, that was a bit of my day today and other things. We’re cleaning up some old stuff. I kind of ran into an abrupt… Suddenly my life became very quiet. We did the GDT Global Summit about six weeks ago here in Amsterdam and that was like a two-year project and I’m still kind of decompressing from what a huge event and huge investment and huge interest and sort of engagement that I had with what that was about and why.

So, I had a couple of other gigs that I had to do after that but, otherwise, life just kind of quieted out for a while so it was nice. So, I’m in a bit of a decompression mode and I keep going back and cleaning up a whole lot of my old “someday maybe stuff” off my list and a bunch of things just kind of old. When things quiet down, it’s time to go back and clean the drawer and curate a bunch of old stuff that’s accumulated that you haven’t had time to do or interest in doing, so I’ve been doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And sometimes it’s just very cathartic in terms of, “At last, this drawer is getting handled.”

David Allen
It’s like cleaning the boot or the trunk of your car, it drives better once you do that. Or that weird electronics drawer we all have that’s just collected all the weird strange things that you couldn’t throw away that you might need at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
Like all those cords and adapters.

David Allen
Yeah, all the cords and chargers and all that stuff. Yeah, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, did anything sort of groundbreaking occur at the World Summit with regard to the future of GTD or announcements?

David Allen
Yeah. You know, Pete, I think the major ground thing, and the reason I did it–I didn’t plan to do another one, we did one 10 years ago in San Francisco, and really didn’t plan. That’s not the business I’m in, just doing those kinds of conferences. But 10 years on, and now we’re officially represented by licensees and master trainers in 70 countries around the world so we’ve kind of grown to that level but nobody’s really raised a flag yet to kind of, “Hey, guys, we’re all in this game together. The train has left the station. GDT is a global event, so whether I fall over tomorrow or not, this will keep going.”

And so, I think the milestone was making that kind of global statement and having the incredible raft of 45 presenters that we had on their own time and dime that came that are friends of mine and all champions of my stuff, people like Marshall Goldsmith and Charles Duhigg and just all kinds of folks that are serious heavyweights in their own fields and in their own right. So, I think that really helped give the world the idea that, “Come on, the train, as I say, has left the station. So, GDT and a world where there are no problems, only projects, that’s a consciousness and it’s a cognitive sort of algorithm, if you will, and is now onto the planet. At least, I feel like I’ve done my job in doing that. And so, this is sort of a capstone event. Come on, I’m 73 now, Pete, so I figure I’m not going to do another one, but this was a nice way to sort of just put the, I don’t know if it’s icing. I don’t know what the term is would be but kind of icing on the cake or to make sure that it’s solid in the ground now as a global movement.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s just got to be very rewarding to look back on sort of the imprint you’re leaving on the world. What’s that like?

David Allen
Bemusing, really. It’s like, “Really? Did I do that? Wow! Who would’ve thought?” It was not a big strategic plan. I just kept holding the course in terms of my own interest and what I wanted to do and just staying as authentic as I could about what it was I was uncovering and discovering, and then finding, “Can I find people who are interested in doing this and understanding what it is, and better ways to do that?” And then discovering at some point, 10 or 15 years ago, that it was possible to potentially to scale this as a best practice methodology for people around the world. And so, that’s been a lot of what our job has been, our work has been over the last 10 or 15 years, to figure out ways to do that. optimize

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you got back on my radar in terms of this interview for the upcoming GTD Workbook, and so I want to talk about that. But, first, I think maybe I need to zoom out for those listeners who didn’t catch Episode 15 over three years ago or haven’t heard of “Getting Things Done,” GTD. Could you provide the, somewhere between 20 second, 2-minute overview for, “This is what we’re talking about here”?

David Allen
Sure. Well, basically, it was I uncovered, discovered, recognized the best practices of how do you keep your head clear, so you can stay focused on whatever you want to stay focused on. That’s the most productive state to operate from, it’s when your head is clear and you’re not distracted. But where do your distractions come from? For the most part, it comes from commitments you’ve made that are not complete yet.

And so, most people are trying to use their head as their office to try to manage reminders and things they need to keep track of, and relationships between things and prioritize, and your head is a really crappy office. So, a whole lot of what GTD is about is being able to externalize all those things that have your attention, building an external brain system so that, much like your calendar, your head doesn’t have to keep remembering where you need to be two weeks from Wednesday at 2:00 o’clock. You trust you have a system that does that and has the right content. But if that works for your calendar, why shouldn’t it work for the rest of your life?

So, this was a way to sort of build, “What’s the formula? What are the best practices and the steps to build an appropriate external brain to keep all of your commitments, all of your would, could, should, etc. out of your head so that your head is freed up to do what it was designed to do, which is make good, intuitive, intelligent choices, offer options, not to try to remember what your options are.”

So, that’s a lot of what GTD is about as I uncovered over all these years, it was a way to be able to build a system, how to keep your head empty, even though you have unfinished stuff, they don’t have to be on your mind as long as you’re appropriately engaged with them. So, I discovered, essentially, an algorithm of, “How do I create appropriate engagements with all these things that have my attention, whether it’s cat food I need, or a life I need, or a vice president of marketing I need, or the next vacation we need to plan and organize?”

Whatever it is that you can’t finish the moment you think of it but you have attention on it, you need to do something about it. I just figured out the best, the most efficient, effective way to make sure that you manage those things appropriately.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got a great turn of a phrase, and I think it’s something like, “Your brain is for having ideas, not for remembering them.” Am I quoting you correctly?

David Allen
Yeah, it’s not for holding them.

Pete Mockaitis
For having, holding. Like marriage, to have and hold.

David Allen
Yeah. Well, come on, now, the cognitive sciences have validated the last 10 years what I uncovered 35 years ago, which is your head just does not do that very well. And they’ve now discovered if you’re trying to keep track of, just in your head, things you want to be reminded about, things you need to manage relationships between, and so forth, if it’s more than four, you’re going to sub-optimize your cognitive functions. You will not be able to function as well as if you have all that out of your head because your head is going to be distracted by it.

That part of your head that’s trying to hang on to that stuff seems to have no sense of past or future, so you’d wake up in the morning, at 3:00 o’clock in the morning by, “I need to buy cat food,” or, “I need an extended credit line,” and both of them take about the same space and show up at the weirdest random times when you can’t do anything about them. They just add stress to your life. So, just really, in a sense, it’s kind of a mechanical process. It’s pretty subtle but it’s just mechanical.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. When you talk about an external brain, that could be anything from a paper calendar and a set a list or some fancy technological stuff.

David Allen
Oh, Pete, it could be as simple as putting stuff in front of your door in the morning so you don’t forget it, taking it to the office.

Pete Mockaitis
Yep, sure. Absolutely. There it is. You can’t not see it, it’s in your path.

David Allen
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so I want to get your take on, so I believe “Getting Things Done” came out, originally, the book, in 2001. Is that true?

David Allen
Mm-hmm.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, 18 years have passed. Have you changed your mind on anything?

David Allen
A few things. I felt that the first edition was going to start to seem a little out of date for people given some of the notations I made, some of the references I did especially to technology, as well as over 18 years, I sort of got a little more subtle and understanding the power of what this methodology was and its implications and applications. Over the years, the legions of testimonials of how transformative this has been for so many of the smartest, brightest, sharpest people you could ever meet once they ran across this. Then it’s sort of understanding a more subtle level of how powerful it was and why. So, what probably changed most, Pete, was the range of audience.

In 2001, the first edition, was really targeted to the fast-track professional. They were the ones who were getting hit with a tsunami of email and sort of the flood of corporate changes and things like that going on, and that was the world I came from or came out of for 25 doing a whole lot of corporate training and executive coaching with this material, so it’s really targeted that audience. But I knew even back then that this works for students, it worked for the clergy, it worked for physicians, it worked for stay-at-home dads, it worked for anybody, anybody who had a busy life. This was just a cataloguing of what are those practices that they want to stay clear and more stress-free about that, what to do.

So, the new edition, I literally sat down and rewrote the whole book, and saying, “Is that the way I would say it now?” And probably 50%, 70% of it, yeah, I just retyped what the first edition was because I wouldn’t say anything. I said it as good as it could be said. But there was a few nuances and subtleties and kind of change of language that I used to express a bit more of the subtleties of what GTD is and was and so forth. And I also included some of the information and the cognitive science that validates all this and some other things.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then with the Workbook coming out, what was the impetus for that?

David Allen
I’m not a great trainer. I’m a pretty good presenter but I don’t have the patience to sit and hold people’s hand and actually walk them into how to do this. I gave them the model. Basically, I wrote “Getting Things Done” basically as a manual of 25 years of my 30 years of my work and my awareness that if you really wanted to have an absolutely clear head and stay that way for the rest of your life, here are the best practices about how to do that.

And that can get pretty subtle, it depends on how complex your life is, but I handled all of that and put all that in the manual. But for a whole lot of people that is just too daunting. They can pick it up and go, “Oh, my God, there’s too much to do.” And so, I can be a good presenter and people walk out and say, “Wow, that was really great,” but they don’t do much about it because I’m not really a good trainer or instructional designer about how to get people to — there’s a big difference between presenting and training. Training says, “Okay, how do I get people actually have a different behavior?” And then presenting is, “Ta-dah,” I just want to make people get it.

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re inspired now.”

David Allen
Yeah, and get that and they’re inspired, at least, see the model and they see there is a model out there but it doesn’t help them implement it. So, for the last 10 years, we’ve been working with a lot of instructional designers and I’ve had to kind of swallow hard and go, “Okay, they want to simplify this. I’ve got to simplify. I have to get it down to lower the barrier of entry for people to be able to get into this instead of having them sort of go out and get the whole thing and how do you start, how do you get going.” And I just don’t have the patience or awareness or education to be able to know how to do that.

So, what we’ve done is engage people in various forms to help us take our educational formats and make them much more easily available for people to actually play. So, the workbook was pretty much the model of many business books out there who have created a workbook after the fact for people to help them implement what they read, and so that’s why we did this.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then I’m intrigued, so it’s more approachable and a lower-barrier entry. You can sort of rock and roll. So, if a current “Getting Things Done” practitioner is looking through it, how do you think they’ll be enriched, or really just be like, “You already know all this”?

David Allen
Well, it depends on, when people say they’re GTDers, I can give you about 6,000 levels of that, that people are and say they are but they actually aren’t. So, it kind of depends on where they are in that level of game. But, generally speaking, I’d say if you’re a really practiced GTDer, you probably don’t need it but I just got interviewed by a guy who’s been a serious GTDer, who’s read all my books, he’s implemented my stuff for 10 or 15 years, and he said, “Oh, my God, this is so cool. I now have a way to coach my wife into this.”

So, at least there’s a manual. So, it’s not something that was going to replace anything. We’re just giving them perhaps another model especially if they’ve got people around them, whether that’s kids or spouse or staff or whatever, to help people kind of get started with this, in the process. Because many people who are big GTDers are wondering why nobody around them gets it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said because, in a way, I think it’s sort of like you just have to taste and see with regard to, “You know that sort of low-level anxiety that’s always around you in your head? That can be gone.” It’s like, “What?”

David Allen
Yeah, and most people don’t realize that they have that or even if they do, they don’t realize they could actually get rid of it, and so that’s kind of the marketing problem we have.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m curious then, you lay out 10 moves to stress-free productivity, what are those 10 moves?

David Allen
Well, they’re actually, you know, I talk about them in the book. If you really wanted to implement this, in part two of “Getting Things Done” it actually walks people through the very specific 101 coaching process that I spent thousands of hours working with senior executives actually walking through that process. So, this is just kind of a starting version of what we would do with that, so there’s nothing different here other than what the real implementation is.

But, for instance, the first move is just go, “Okay, make sure you have an entry, some place to do it. Look around your desk, in and around your desk and whatever is around you, if stuff doesn’t belong wherever it is apparently, throw it in your IN-basket. Post-Its, the papers sitting on your desk, the things that are hung up on the first flat surface inside your door in your house, any of that stuff, just gather it together.” So, that’s move one.

And then move two has to do with, “Well, wait a minute, a whole lot of other stuff is in your head so you better have some sort of tool to capture stuff that internally shows up, so you need to make sure you get your capture tool.” That’s move 2.

And then you do move 3, is to empty your head into those capture tools or into that capture tool, do a mind sweep, right?

Then once you’ve done all that, then you need start to get that stuff to empty. You don’t just pile it up and leave it there. You then need to move to the, “Okay, how do I clarify what are all the notes that I took, all the stuff I gathered around that’s sitting on my desk?” Making those decisions. And then how do you do that to your email, because email is the bugaboo for a lot of people out there. If there’s some stuff they’ve captured, it’s been captured for them but they haven’t clarified or organized it yet.

And then how do you create some list, once you make the decisions and clarification of what are the actions needed, what are the projects embedded in any of this, then you need to create some list.

Moves 6 and 7 and 8 are about, “How do I organize now all the results of that?”

And then move 9 and 10 are about, “Okay, how do I kind of keep this going and make sure this stays alive and well system?”

So, nothing new, it’s just we tried to reduce it or freeze-dry it, if you will, to the basic moves about how to get started. So, you don’t need a huge investment to do what I just said but you do need to do something with it and we need to walk you through the process of how to do that pretty easily.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I do want to touch on email for a moment here because, well, I guess, over the course of my life, I have emailed you on three separate occasions, and every time you’ve picked it up and ran with it and we made something happen, so you walk the talk. You are, in fact, getting things done.

David Allen
Believe me, I’m a fellow student. Trust me, I have to do this as well as anybody just to keep their head clear.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then I’m curious, like what is the — so we talked about the benefit, sort of the outcome. It’s like, okay, there’s a sense of peace, of maximum cognitive function, the stress and malaise of constantly remembering stuff is gone, and your mind like water, I believe is a phrase you like to use there. So, that’s a real good outcome when you’re on the wagon executing it. But could you share with us, what’s sort of the cost, if you will, in terms of the investment? What does it take for you to rock your email and more so well in terms of maybe, say, hours a day or hours a week of processing and reviewing time? How do you think about that?

David Allen
Pete, this is not extra work. I would have to do this no matter how I did it. You would too. Did you want to let it pile up until it explodes and then decide what to do with it?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

David Allen
People get mad at me for their list, and like, “Excuse me, dude, that’s not my list. That’s yours.” Right? I don’t tell people to do anything extra other than what they need to do themselves. They know that. They know they need to decide what to do about mom’s birthday. They know they need to decide what to do. They know that they need to do something about that. All I’m getting them to do is become conscious about it.

So, this is not extra work. How much time does it take to stay conscious in your life? Maybe that’s the best question.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. So, you’re saying you’re going to address that email at some point.

David Allen
Yes. Or you can do email bankruptcy, CTRL-A CTRL-X and pray.

Pete Mockaitis
It’ll all go away. You’re right. I think maybe what they don’t like is that you’re showing them reality. It’s like you’re putting a mirror right up to their faces.

David Allen
I know. I know. Come on, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
“This is what you’re committed to. How about that?”

David Allen
Right. What are you going to do about it? And what does it mean to you? Is that trash? Why are you keeping stuff you ought to throw away, dude? You know, come on. So, it’s really about just becoming conscious about things you’ve let come into your ecosystem that own a piece of your consciousness until you appropriately engage with them. And that’s really the secret of what I found out about how do you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think, as we talk about the aggravation reaction there, I think there’s some richness to that. It’s sort of like you shine a mirror, it’s like, “Okay, this is all the stuff that you’re committed to.” And then I think it’s almost like the reality becomes all the more clear that, “Oh, wait, no. I can’t do all of those things because my time, energy, attention, sanity would be maxed out and overwhelmed to do so.” So, then once you’re in a good spot of, “All right, I got the lay of the land. All the stuff is captured,” how do you think about prioritizing well with regard to, “I can let that go now knowing what I know about the whole lay of the land”?

David Allen
Well, how many things are you not doing right now, Pete, while you’re talking to me?

Pete Mockaitis
I suppose everything else in the universe other than talk.

David Allen
Well, if you haven’t looked at what you’re not doing, there’s a part of you that has a trouble staying present with me. So, I don’t have any trouble being present with you because not long ago I looked at every single thing else I might ought to do, and I said, “You’re it.” But you can only see what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing. So most people don’t have a clue.

So, a lot of what GTD is about, “Why don’t you get a clue about all the things you’ve committed to, and then look at them and go, ‘No,’ or, ‘Not right now,’ or ‘Whatever.’ And then renegotiate those agreements with yourself moment to moment so that some part of you can feel, ‘No, it’s not time to run my errands. The stores are closed.’ Or, ‘No, I can’t talk to my wife/partner right now because he or she is out on a seminar right now,’ ‘No, I can’t do XYZ because my server is down and so I can’t even get into the internet.’”

So, just looking around, and go, “What’s my environment? What are my possible options?” But if you’re trying to use your brain to try to remember what your options are given the complexity of those contexts, good luck.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Certainly. So, context alone makes it real easy in terms of, “Those are possible right now so no need to give that a further bit of thought.”

David Allen
True.

Pete Mockaitis
But then when you find yourself in a world where there are many things you could choose from, you mentioned, “Hey, what’s your energy level or how wasted are you?” is another useful prioritizing guideline. But what are some others? Have you found, working with clients, are there any sort of like power questions that sort of separate true top priorities from the rest?

David Allen
Well, sure. One version of that is, “Why are you on the planet, Pete? What are you here to do?” And so, which email do you think is most important for you to write first tonight? So, there’s the power question, “What’s your purpose?” Like, what’s really core to you in terms of who you’re about, what you’re about, why you’re here, any of that stuff.

On a more practical level in terms of how I manage that, it’s like, “What’s got most my attention right now? And so, therefore, what do I need to do to get back to clear again?” And the answer to, “What’s got my attention right now?” maybe, “What is my life purpose?” And I need to sit down or go offsite and spend two days in silence and figure that out. Or, what’s most got my attention right now is my dog, in which case I need to go handle that so that I’m free back up so when I cook spaghetti tonight, I’ve got a clear head.

Any one of those could be the priority. Well, how many different things do you think you’re doing tonight, Pete? How many different activities or things you put your attention on do you think you will have in a 24-hour period? Because every one of those is a priority decision at that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s good. And now I’m chewing on, say, what’s most got your attention. Is it awesome prioritizing bit because it’s like, “Oh, that might take 5, 10 minutes, dog is handled, and now you’re back and clear and ready to go.” I’m curious about what about some of those ruminating type things? Like, “What’s most got my attention?” “Well, it’s how am I going to, I don’t know, grow a business such that it is sufficiently profitable to provide for a growing family?”

David Allen
Well, as a coach, I’d give you a very simple question, “What’s your next action, Pete?”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

David Allen
“What would you need to do to get clear about that? Do you need to draft ideas? Do you need to surf the web? Do you need to set a meeting? What would you do to move forward on that as opposed to sit there and spin because you’re so bright and conscious and intelligent and sensitive, you just figure stuff out by all the things you think you might have to do in order to be able to do that, so you procrastinate?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, and I have found this, and that’s your experience with clients is that just by having identified the next action, there is a sense of peace there because it’s like, “Now there’s no wondering what’s the thing. It’s just there for you to pick up if you’re ready to pick it up.”

David Allen
Well, you finish your thinking. So, if there’s anything you’re committed to change or to do anything about that’s not done currently, or to have different in any way and you have any commitment about that, if you haven’t decided the next physical visible action, you haven’t finished your thinking and decision-making about it. So, that’s why it’s such a powerful thing to do is figure that. Is that a phone call? Is that a surf the web? Is that, “Talk to my wife/partner”? What’s the very next thing I need to do?

Once you made that decision, it may not be the right one, there may be a better decision, but at least you can move on that one, and you can change your mind. But at least your mind goes, “Oh, okay, I’m now appropriately engaged with it.” Assuming also that you’ve also captured the outcome you’re committed to about this, so outcome and action-thinking are the zeroes and ones of productivity. What are we trying to do and how do we allocate resources to make that happen? That’s why that’s such a key element of “Getting Things Done.”

Or, “Gee, that email, what’s the next action on it? By the way, will that one action finish whatever this commitment is that’s about that’s embedded in that?” “No, not yet.” “Okay, great. What’s your project?” “Oh, I guess I need to research whether we should hire a consultant for our financial yadda, yadda, yadda,” right?

So, outcome and action, once you decide the next step, well, great. Will that finish whatever this is about? And if not, you better keep track of whatever the outcome or the project is until it’s done. So, that’s part of the clarification step, where you’d say, “Okay, how do I get my inbox get empty?” And you do it by actually having to think. You actually have to use your mind and decide, “What the hell am I going to do about mom’s birthday?” or extend the credit line.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love it how you suggest that when you’re writing out these action lists, you don’t just write “Mom,” rather it’s a verb and it’s a clear view of sort of, “Hey, decide what to do for mom’s birthday, or call my brother to see what he’s making for mom’s birthday,” and reduces a lot of the friction and resistance there.

David Allen
Right. Well, there’s magic in the mundane. So, the kind of paradoxical thing is that I figured out, “How do you manage the mundane most elegantly and efficiently?” And in turns out that there’s a lot of elegance that happens to that and to yourself when you do that. It get you to think from a much more grounded place. It opens up a lot more of your creative thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m going to go back to the email for a bit here. So, there’s some prioritizing questions in terms of like your life’s purpose and then what’s the next action, what’s most got my attention now. And so, then when you’ve got those things clear and you’re cranking through an inbox, I mean, are you doing anything special or is that just it, you just sort of know what’s important and you just go to town with them?

David Allen
Yes. And, basically, I do, I just have a sense of what’s important, go to town with whatever I feel like doing at the moment. But the key to that is the weekly review. Once a week I step back and look across the horizon of all of these things. Because, see, Pete, you and I don’t have time to think. We need to have already thought.

So, when you get off this call with me, you don’t have time to think. You need to have already thought, meaning it’s going to come at you, you’re going to have emails that have been piling up on you while you and I have been talking. Me too. I don’t know what the dogs do and I’m going to have to figure out what the dog is doing right now.

So, I don’t have time to think. I just need to act and respond appropriately but I can only do that if I sort of hardwired my intuitive intelligence by doing some sort of a regular recursion of stepping back and looking across all my projects, all my actions, all my calendared stuff. And that’s the weekly review, and that’s what we’ve uncovered, as you probably know. That’s a whole lot of what one of the more profound habits and difficult habits to train yourself to do is once a week, take one to two hours, and pull up the rear guard, and sort of lift up and manage the forest instead of hugging the trees.

And that’s a challenging thing to do, but if you actually can do that, if you can build in that habit, and you’ve got a reasonably good system that has enough of the content for you to review and feel comfortable, you’ve seen the whole result or the whole inventory. Then that makes it much easier to then not have to think priorities on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis. You need to have already done that and then trust in your intuitive responses will be appropriate.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I find that the weekly review habit has been a tricky one in that sometimes I’m with it, sometimes I fall off, and then I’m back with it. What have you seen to be sort of the difference-makers with regard to those who consistently do their weekly review and those who do not?

David Allen
I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. It’s like, “Who knows?” But I think the people who really get how powerful it is, there are a few of them, have built it in very soon as just an invaluable habit where they just do not let anything get in the way of them doing that. I let it slip sometimes a week or two or three if I’m on a real roll. Yeah, I’d check in to make sure there are no burning barns that I’m going to miss.

So, it’s something to bring yourself back to because it’s one of those things you just never feel like you have the time to do. So, it’s one of those paradoxes, it’s kind of like when you feel like you don’t have time, that’s when you have to take the time to do that. It’s kind of like when you most feel like you don’t have time to plan is when you most need to sit down and plan. So, it’s one of those things where you have to sort of train yourself to say, “Wait a minute.”

A reference point inside of me, is, “When does my ambient anxiety out-pass my comfort zone?” And that’s when I need to sit down and do a weekly review.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, David, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear a couple of your favorite things?

David Allen
Oh, no, just that people who are more interested in any of this, and wherever you’re listening to this from around the world, we now have master trainers and coaches and folks that we’ve certified to deliver this methodology in training programs and coaching, 101 coaching programs around the world. So, you go to GettingThingsDone.com, our website, look under Training & Coaching, and you’ll see 70 countries. And kind of wherever you are, you’ll see public seminars, you can see whoever our folks are in those areas. So, that’s a way to get in touch with this. If you haven’t read “Getting Things Done,” the book, it is the manual, so I highlight recommend it.

And, again, I’m not sure when this is going to air, Pete, but September, Getting Things Done Workbook will be out and available, at least in the US and I think in the UK as well. And so, those are ways to kind of stay in touch and what to do. So, that’s what I’d let people know. If this rung their bell about anything, yay.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Allen
Oh, my God, a favorite quote. Dang it. I have 14,000 that I’ve collected in a quotes database.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

David Allen
How do I find a favorite one of those? I don’t know. Anything that Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain has said is favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

David Allen
I love Mark Twain’s, “My life has been full of all kinds of troubles, most of which never happened.” I guess that’s a pretty favorite one of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I can think about all the arguments I’ve had with only myself. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

David Allen
One I read recently I highly recommend, it’s called “The Antidote” by Oliver Burkeman. He’s a Brit. The subtitle is great, it’s “Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.” It’s a lot about, and actually the book is much more sophisticated than the subtitle may represent. He goes into a lot of what was the essence of the stoics and stoicism. The whole idea that, he’s kind of railing. He’s got a little bit of a rant against all the rah-rahs,
“Don’t have any negative thoughts, everything is going to be cool. Just think positive things. Whatever in life will be cool.” And yet those churches that are preaching that went bankrupt.
And so, a whole lot of it is about acceptance, kind of what you resist you’re stuck with. So, don’t try to pretend that you don’t have troubles and anxieties and stuff you got to deal with in your life. You need to accept them so you can actually move past them, move beyond them, because what you resist, you’re stuck with. So, in a way, it just validates why a lot of people resist “Getting Things Done” simply because, if we started this conversation about, a lot of it is about accepting all of your commitments and who you are, what you’ve committed to. And a lot of people don’t like that.

But, anyway, it’s a great book. It’s fun. My wife burst out laughing while she was reading. She does that very seldom with any book. And it’s well-written, fun, interesting stuff. So, Oliver Burkeman, “The Antidote.” Highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

David Allen
I’ve got a bunch. Favorite tool. I don’t know. There’s my labeler, there’s my iPad, there’s my iPhone, my Mac, my stapler, right? God, I’ve got all kinds of favorite tools around here.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I hear, is the stapler special? What makes it amazing?

David Allen
I could bang it. It’s one of those, it’s an ACE that has the little sort of where you can use your fist and bang down on it and staple it. I so much like that as oppose to those where you have to squeeze it to staple it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, gosh, yeah, I hear you.

David Allen
I love it. I love to bang and staple. That’s really cool. And my DYMO Plug and Play labeler is fabulous. I couldn’t live without it.

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

David Allen
Yeah, your head is for having ideas not for holding them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, thank you. This has been lots of fun. Keep on doing the great things you’re doing.

David Allen
Thanks, Pete. Been fun. Yeah, indeed.

431: Leadership Practices You Should Stop with Sara Canaday

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Sara Canaday says: "What is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?"

Sara Canaday highlights key places where conventional leadership wisdom needs to be replaced.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A common leadership practice you should replace
  2. Why we should value soft intelligence as much as we value hard data
  3. How the bias for action can get in the way of progress

About Sara

Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author.  She works with leaders and high-potential professionals from organizations around the world to expand their capacity to innovate, influence, engage, and perform. Her new book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, is now available on Amazon. For more information, please visit SaraCanaday.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sara Canaday Interview Transcript

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

Sara Canaday
Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have a chat and I recall last time you mentioned that one of your dreams was to be a backup dancer in a hip-hop video. And I understand that dream is still alive. I’d like to know how that’s evolved and if there’s any particular music right now that gets that dream going for you.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, it is still alive. And I think it’s alive because it’s one way to stay loose and to not take myself so seriously. So, I think it’s important for me to keep that dream alive, actually. I think, probably, my kids, my husband and others are glad that there’s that part of me that tries to let loose a little bit and not be so serious.

So, it’s—that dream has served me well. Now, I wish I could say that it’s found me on the stage as a backup dancer not, yet but I can still hold out. And I think the last time we talked, we talked about artists like 50 Cent and Beyonce.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
I should say that with a 14-year old and a 17-year old, I’m now listening to pretty heavy, rapid RnB sometimes and knowing that you might ask me this question, it was kind of a shame that I had to look and comb through an artist that I listened to that did not have an explicit song.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep the dream alive, keep it loose. That’s good.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, you’ve got a new development in terms of a book Leadership Unchained. I’d love to hear first and foremost, what did you find particularly surprising, striking, fascinating as you’re researching and putting together this one?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, I don’t know if it was confirmation bias at work here but it seemed that even after I wrote the book or while I was in the process of writing the book, I would finish a chapter, I would finish the research, put it aside. And lo and behold, I kept seeing examples of either companies or leaders, who were doing a semblance of some sort of what I just finished talking about in terms of zigging while everybody else is zagging and how it paid off for them.

And so again, it could be that I was uber open to it on a subconscious level, but I felt that I kept finding reassurances and examples for exactly what I was talking about. And that was surprising and it was exciting at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, I’d love to hear an example there in terms of, what’s a zag or sort of common leadership work practice that you think is best replaced with a zig?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the ones that comes for me last year because it’s not anything I had to research, it’s something that literally popped up. After I already wrote my chapter on this idea of having everything earn its rightful place to be on your to-do list, right. And the chapter is not only look at literally what makes your to do list every day, but what kind of projects, initiatives—what is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?

Are you doing it because it makes somebody else comfortable? Are you doing it because it’s always been done but nobody would question whether that report ever got produced? Is it moving you or your team forward? And again, in the chapter, I talked about a company that years ago looked at the number of products it was selling.

And so again, it wasn’t just a to-do list of items every day, it was on a larger scale. And in order to be profitable, they made a decision that was very, very difficult but to reduce that profit or those products from 13 down to two.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
And so they had to ask themselves some really hard questions. Long story short, it ended up really working to their advantage. But what popped up several months after writing that chapter was Ford Motor, making their announcement that in North America they were going to stop making Sedans.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
Which is stunning, that’s a stunning announcement, but for various reasons—but some of which meant that they sat down and they really thought about what do they need to stop doing in order to grow. And that was just a prime example to me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are they not manufacturing Sedans in North America or they’re not selling them in North America?

Sara Canaday
They are not manufacturing them—

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sara Canaday
Which means they no longer will sell them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I will not be able to acquire like a Ford Taurus in a few years?

Sara Canaday
No, they are stopping production of it.

Pete Mockaitis
This is news to me.

Sara Canaday
Yep.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus learning this.

Sara Canaday
Done, over.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Sara Canaday
And we don’t know, right. It’s too soon to tell, we don’t know if that’s going to be the right decision if they indeed will benefit from that decision. We’ll need a crystal ball for that. But I think it’s very telling that they’re making those kinds of moves.

And that leaders and companies, and anybody should be thinking about that. I shared with somebody the other day that two years ago, I put together my kind of business planning meeting and I invited some people that helped me with my work.

And at the time, I was friends with a colleague who was really good at facilitating strategic planning meetings and business planning meetings. And he said, “you know Sara, would it help you if I came and facilitated so that you could actually be part of the meeting and not have to do both facilitation and brainstorming or what have you?” And I said, “sure.”

Well, this man was brilliant because soon after I talked about what I was looking for the next year, what areas of my business did I want to grow? We drew a big pie circle on the whiteboard, and we put percentages of the areas I wanted my company to grow. And I was ready to talk about, “okay, what do I need to do in order to grow?” And he stopped me in my tracks. He said, “No, let’s first talk about what you need to stop doing in order to grow in these other arms of your business.” And that was the best thing he could have asked me.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Cool.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a wise tidbit there, with regard to making sure everything earns its place on the to-do list and doesn’t just sort of get there.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Just because for another person’s expectations or a habit or an old kind of a relic of previous times, which is maybe not as relevant to do now. And that there’s power in identifying what to stop doing. So, that’s well. So, that’s one example but what’s the overall message or thesis of the book Leadership Unchained?

Sara Canaday
So, the overall message is to try to keep pace with this always on, push harder, do more world by taking some counter intuitive approaches. Because what I’ve seen in working with the leaders over the years, whether that’s workshops or speaking to groups of leaders or even coaching them, is that the conventional methods—the things that we were taught to be true, whether from bosses or from reading books—that approach to work, and to leadership is not working anymore.

And that these leaders are not necessarily getting the traction that they used to get by doing more, by following these conventional practices. So, this book is really about the need to change and disrupt the way we work, think, and lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you perhaps share some of your favorite  evidence of studies or whatnot that shows that a particular conventional method or two, ain’t cutting the mustard the way it used to?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, sure. One of my favorites is this idea of big data, right? And that’s because it’s so relevant today. And so many people think it’s just such a sexy thing, right? Big Data. And I think what’s happened is, while it’s helped us tremendously and helped with medications, new medications or new protocols, I think there are ways that we have almost let data rule our decisions.

And we are driven by the data as opposed to just valuing it and putting it in its proper place. And my favorite study, or at least evidence of how this happens is a story that I read about and then I subsequently listened to a TED Talk by a woman who was a cultural ethnographer. And her name is Tricia Wang.
[11:55]

She told a fascinating story about how she was hired in 2009 by Nokia. And they hired her to find out about a particular consumer group and at this point, that was the Chinese population, and in particular, Chinese immigrants. And to study what their preferences were in terms of smartphones.

And like, what a cultural ethnographer does, she immersed herself in their culture. She spent, I think, up to a year working in the rice paddies, she went to the local internet cafes, and observed and talked to people within that culture.

And what she found was very stunning and that was that the need or the want more importantly for an iPhone and the desire to own an iPhone was so prevalent that these Chinese immigrants were willing to spend half of what they earned in a month just to have one.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s quite the discovery.

Sara Canaday
It was a huge discovery for her. And I’m summarizing this study but—

Pete Mockaitis
For quadruple the price, you could get away with it guys, take away all their worth.

Sara Canaday
Well, what’s interesting is at the time Nokia was building high-end, multifaceted smartphones, and what she wanted them to know and what she casme back to share with the executives about her study was that they should put some of their efforts behind building a lower-end smartphone. That that’s where the market was, and that they would benefit from doing so.

Now, sadly, her small data set was compared to an extremely large data set that was more hard data, right. And they really didn’t move in that direction because they thought that her data wasn’t sufficient enough, and that it wasn’t “hard enough”.

And they did not go in that route. And we all know what happened to Nokia. Right, so, that is one example and what she submits in her TED Talk, and in her research, is that we need to value the immeasurable or what I like to call soft intelligence as much as we do the hard data.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool story. I guess I’m not quite following how her big discovery was that their desire for iPhone is so powerful that they’d spend half their income and therefore the recommendation was “make lower-end phones”. I think I’m missing a connecting piece there.

Sara Canaday
Yes, well, I mean, so, she—

Pete Mockaitis
… spend big money, but they don’t try to get that money, I’m not following exactly.

Sara Canaday
They would do so, right. But she knew that if they would change their strategy to make lower-end phones that even more people would buy phones.

But she was not in any way saying that they should keep building the higher-end smartphones. Because remember, these people worked in rice paddy, so even half of what they earned wasn’t necessarily enough for the product that Nokia was building at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there we go, right, that’s the missing link.

Sara Canaday
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought they were immigrants into the U.S.

Sara Canaday
No, and I should have correct that, they weren’t—I think I used the word immigrants. Migrants.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay, gotcha, gotcha.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, it’s sort of like, “hey, they’re willing to spend half their income but half their income isn’t cutting it—

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, if you have something at this price point—

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
… great shape because folks will spend half their income and get a great phone that has a lot of cool features but maybe not everything, and the kitchen sink, which would dwarf what they can do?

Sara Canaday
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s a discovery that you can make when you’re going deep into immersing yourself in a culture and an environment. But that you may very well miss if you’re just looking at sort of billions of scans of retail consumer electronic transactions and what those are telling you.

Sara Canaday
Right, right. And a lot of times what I see happen is that we love to survey our customers, for example. And when we survey our customers, we rarely do so by asking open ended questions. It’s usually some sort of a Likert scale, rank us as a company on a scale of one to 10.

And we take away from that how the customer evaluates us or our products or services. But what we miss is the nuances, we don’t know why they’re rating us the way their rating us. We may not know exactly how they interpreted the question. But we’re willing to come out and make decisions based on these numeric conclusions.

And so I’m just saying, we need to balance that by getting up behind our desk. And whether it’s with customers or with employees, we need to do our own field research, right? We need to maybe observe our employees or customers in their natural habitat, using our products or services or working in our environment.

We need to maybe solicit stories from those that are impacted by our services, by our products, by the way we operate as a company. We need to make sure that we’re including like I said earlier, the soft intelligence, the human factor.

We need to be asking, what might we be missing in this data? What conversations perhaps are we not having because we’re relying solely on this data? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s the one you used for your profile and so that really gets me. I’m right with you there when it comes to, we drive these big old decisions from these Likert scales, these numerical things when in fact, maybe, whatever, just make up numbers, 90% of folks chose a six on your seven-point Likert scale. But those people didn’t quite know what you meant by this thing and they assumed meant that thing, and therefore the six, it means nothing.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they weren’t even on the same page that you had thought and hoped and assumed that they were on. So, I’m right with you. So, tell me, what are some of the pro tips for having the best of both worlds in your decision making and research?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the things you can do is if you’re going to collect data, make sure that maybe you have a way to do both quantitative and qualitative gathering, right. So, if you’re going to do a customer survey, maybe you also bring in a customer subset to then talk to you about why they rated you in certain ways, or have a focus group around some of those same types of data sets, so that you can pick up all the nuances behind the ratings. I think those are really important.

Some companies will interview potential customers at the point of purchase, so they haven’t really purchased your products or somebody else’s. But you can maybe understand what they’re using in terms of comparisons, how they’re making their decisions between you and perhaps your competitors.

If we’re looking at employees, I know that an example that was used for years is this idea of exit interviews, right? And understanding why people are leaving your company to get better informed. But how about asking people what really drove you to make the decision to come with our company? What was it about that the way we engaged you with us through this process, helped you decide to come work for us? Those are the kinds of things where we’re asking things at a much more qualitative level and not just quantitative.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s right on. Okay, so, there we go. That’s one piece of conventional practice, like the numerical, quantitative big data rule all that can lead you astray.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
If you kind of overlook the other parts to the picture. Are there some other pieces of conventional leadership wisdom practice that can be potentially problematic, and that you would amend just as we’ve done here?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the very first chapter I talk about one everybody can resonate with is this bias for action. And it’s something I prided myself on through my years in corporate, right. That I was the person that could get things done. It was somewhat …, but something I also trained myself to be very much about productivity and taking action.

And this is still a work in progress for me, but what I’ve seen is that that actual bias for action, that tendency to be always moving forward can actually get in the way, it can get in the way of innovation, it can get in the way of figuring out how to keep up with this just overwhelm of information, of being able to make good decisions in this instant response world.

So bringing this down to the individual, my discovery and my suggestion to leaders who are trying to keep pace, and for anybody who’s trying to keep pace, is that they consider making an unbreakable appointment with themselves, whether it’s daily or weekly.

And this is an appointment not—this isn’t mindfulness, this isn’t meditation, although I believe in those things. This is about just stepping back and looking at everything you’ve consumed that week, in meetings, what you’ve read, data reports, and letting that percolate.

So that you can really make meaning of what it is, you can separate the wheat from the chaff. And you can make connections where there seemingly may have not been connections before.

That is the sort of counterintuitive practice or zigging while everyone else is zagging. And in fact, what I always say is the willingness to sit still, while everyone else is in motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha, cool. Well, tell me Sara, any other key things you’d like to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think that the only other one that’s a again a work in progress for me, is this idea that I brought up right at the beginning, which is making sure that you put as much emphasis into what you’re not going to do, what you’re going to stop doing as much as what you’re going to start doing.

I think that’s an easy thing to do and I always encourage and challenge people that I’m working with or speaking with is to start your day tomorrow and instead of looking at your to do list, try and stop doing list. Just try it on for size, see how it feels.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it and as you in your own life and work with clients, what are some of the things that tend to appear most frequently on stop doing lists?

Sara Canaday
One of the first things that I see a lot is that I’m going to stop endlessly checking my emails, that always bubbles up, people admit that they don’t put their emails on— they don’t close out their emails. And that that’s an incessant checking of their phone, of their social media, that they’re literally going to close off and not be tethered to those things.

The other is they’re no longer going to value themselves based on somebody else’s expectations. They’re not going to let somebody else’s expectations or I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for but they’re going to start to sort of take charge of their own calendar, if you will.

And I know that that seems hard to do, right. We’ve got people who are relying on us and that have expectations but I think there are some things we can do to drive our own calendars instead of letting somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Well, now if you will share with us a favorite quote that you find inspiring

Sara Canaday
Well, I think it’s fitting with the topic today and it’s one that was shared by Warren Buffett in one of his speeches several years ago, and it’s quite brilliant, “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”. That is one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I believe he is correct. It’s really thought provoking.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It is like oh—

Sara Canaday
And he can’t take full credit for that. Apparently, he took part of a very similar quote from a gentleman named Samuel Johnson. He had read something very similar years ago, but he made it his own. Those are his words. Those are Warren Buffett’s words.

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

Sara Canaday
Well, again favorite study is one that is that I uncovered while writing this book. And it was from the Journal of Economic Psychology and it’s interesting. The researchers studied videotapes of goalkeepers and these were top Soccer League goalkeepers. And they analyzed 286 penalty kicks to determine the probability distribution of kick direction and then the responses they elicited.

In other words, what they discovered was that the optimal strategy for goalkeepers was to remain in the center of the net during a penalty kick, not moving to the left, not moving to the right. And by doing so, they had a 33% chance of blocking the ball.

But what they discovered is that these top goalkeepers only stayed in the center six percent of the time. And this study was exactly about our bias for action. And that is what was propelling them to move either to the right or to the left, the idea of doing nothing and standing still, even if they knew that it was going to increase their chances of blocking the goal didn’t work. Again, that bias took over.

Pete Mockaitis
That study is so fascinating because the notion is that you look like a moron.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like if the goal goes in, and you stayed in the middle and moved nowhere, then like the crowd is just like eats you alive, like, “look ….”.

Sara Canaday
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
… do your job”.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It doesn’t quite work to your back,  “it’s statistically optimal for me to stay …”. It’s hard to argue with screaming crowd but thank you.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Sara Canaday
This is so hard. There’re so many books that I like, I think one of the best books, it’s been years, but it’s The Big Leap. It’s by Guy Hendricks and it’s probably one that’s a cross between a business book and a personal growth book. And I think that’s why I liked it so much because I’ll either read business books or I’ll read for sure, pleasure and this one kind of had a mix of both. So, I really liked it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And how about a favorite tool so that it helps you to be awesome at your job?

Sara Canaday
I got to say that this sounds so trite but LinkedIn. I think about what I do with that tool, like, every meeting I have, phone or in person, I can go in and I can read about that person, I can find things that we may have in common to talk about. I can appear more prepared, or in the know just by looking at some of their history or what it is they do, what their role is. So, it’s just a fascinating tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a huge fan myself. I got the premium and I use it.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And … go reach out to Sara and myself on LinkedIn, listeners.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
For me the secret password is either a boy band lyric or, “hey Pete, I like the podcast”, just to help differentiate you from the inbound sales funnel lead …

Sara Canaday
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That I’ve been getting more and more of lately.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, …

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure LinkedIn is gonna find out how to crack down because they’re brilliant over there.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Anyway, yes LinkedIn is good. We are agreed on that point. And how about a favorite habit? Something that you do that helps you to be awesome?

Sara Canaday
Oh, you’re gonna laugh, when I read this favorite habit, I didn’t look at that it helps me to be awesome. Although I guess I could find a way to argue it. This is so silly but my favorite habit is that I make my bed right when I get up every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
May be a Navy SEAL guy, he’s all about that.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the reason I like that habit is because I love getting into a completely freshly made bed. There’s nothing worse than getting into an unmade bed. And so, I refuse to do it. And so, I guess I could argue that it helps me get awesome sleep, which means I could be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks they quoted back to you?

Sara Canaday
When it comes to mine is when I tell people to be a renegade in their ideas and their approaches, but not in their behavior.

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

Sara Canaday
I would point them to my website, Sara Canaday, or as you said, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook.

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

Sara Canaday
I’m a circle back to what I said earlier. Get out a piece of paper or your phone and jot down one thing starting tomorrow that you’re going to stop doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Sara, thanks for taking the time. This was a lot of fun.

Sara Canaday
Excellent. Glad to be here.

337: Choosing the Important Over the Urgent with Matt Perman

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Matt Perman says: "Make a habit of doing outcome visioning and it will have a huge impact on your success at work."

Matt Perman explains how to tell the difference between important tasks and urgent tasks, and how to make room for what’s important in your life and work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you should plan your day with your time, not your tasks
  2. Four tips for effective personal management
  3. Two ways to prioritize like a pro

About Matt

Matt is co-founder of What’s Best Next, which he started to help people excel in doing good for the world through productive work and God-centered living. Prior to that, he served at Desiring God for 13 years in several different leadership roles, including director of strategy and director of internet ministries, and at Made to Flourish as director of marketing.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Matt Perman Interview Transcript

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

Matt Perman
Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’d love to hear from your perspective. You have a blog that covers leadership, work, as well as theology, and I just want to hear from your experiences. Do you find there’s some controversy there when you’re mixing religion and productivity on both sides, in terms of the religious folks saying, “Hey, what are you doing? Faith alone should work,” and then the non-religious side like, “Don’t force this on me.” Tell us about the world you live in.

Matt Perman
Yeah, well, so interesting. There is some controversy in certain ways, but there isn’t as much as controversy as I would have expected, which is interesting.

Where I found most of the controversy is actually where I wasn’t expecting it. It was from Christians who would come and say, “Hey, is this spiritual,” or “Why are you reading all these business books? Why aren’t you-“ sometimes even like “You need to quote more Bible verses,” and stuff.

I sought to really listen to what they had to say and that helped me see the importance of part of my task is, at least when I’m speaking with Christians, to show how all of this fits in a faith-based framework and how the Bible does affirm productivity and teaches about the importance of it. I did really take that lesson to heart.

But also I found that there are some Christians at least where it’s important for them to know that there is a place for productivity for faith-based people and that the Bible actually affirms that. I’ve actually had good experience having lots of conversations in that regard.

Where I haven’t found controversy is just with the general market. I found a lot of people actually being very affirming of the faith-based perspective on productivity even if they are not people of faith themselves. In general, they’re very respectful and like to hear what I have to say.

A couple times even Jewish people have said to me, “Hey, I like what you did. You’ve shown a Christian perspective on productivity. I’m interested in developing a Jewish perspective on productivity.” I thought, “Hey, that sounds very interesting. Let me know what you do.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is interesting. I’m thinking about one of my, I don’t know if it’s favorite, but it makes me chuckle a little bit, looking through the iTunes reviews. I’ve got one negative one that said that my podcast was “Religion masquerading as career advice.” I was like, I don’t think I see that.
But I think you’ve got great ideas and that’s what we’re talking about is being awesome at your job.

Matt Perman
Yeah, you bet.

Pete Mockaitis
Whether the listeners are coming from a Christian or a non-Christian perspective, I think we’ve got some good stuff to dig into.

Matt Perman
Great.

Pete Mockaitis
Your book is called How to Get Unstuck, so what’s the main idea behind this?

Matt Perman
Yeah, absolutely. The main idea behind this is most of us want to do great work, and we want to do important things, and get things done. That might be just everyday tasks, … to do what’s in front of you well and then some of us are interested in large-scale endeavors. Whatever your goal is, you want to be able to get it done effectively and smoothly.

The thing is most of us also encounter obstacles when we’re trying to get things done. In fact, if you’re trying to do something significant, you are almost certain to encounter obstacles and potentially get stuck.

The main idea of the book is we need to recognize that as a real possibility and we need to be ready for it. We need to know how to get unstuck if we are going to get things done in this world and get things done consistently and well. We don’t just want to be one-hit wonders. Part of getting unstuck is knowing how to create excellent results over and over again, not just once and then you go off the map.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you paint a picture of here when you talk about being stuck and unstuck, like what does it look and feel like to be stuck versus unstuck and maybe share a story of someone successfully making the journey?

Matt Perman
Yeah, I talk about there’s three main ways we tend to get stuck. First is we might not know where we want to go in the first place. That’s stuck from lack of vision. That’s frustrating. If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, you’re not going to be able to accomplish it. That’s almost like being lost, but it’s a real form of stuck. You’re not able to move, to create momentum.

The second way we get stuck a lot of times is we have a great vision for what we want to accomplish and where we want to go, but we don’t know how to get there. We don’t know what path to take. That’s the planning side of things or what I call personal management.

The third way we get stuck is we might know how we’re going to accomplish things and how we’re going to move towards our vision, but unexpected obstacles keep coming up and getting in the way. Imagine a mountain climber and the weather is continually bad or there’s rockslides or people on the team get sick or things like that. Things keep getting in the way and causing problems.

That’s what it looks like. That’s how we get stuck and what it can look like. It doesn’t feel good. Stuck is – you feel like, “Oh, I want to accomplish this, but I can’t.” You get frustrated a lot of times and discouraged. Sometimes if you’re stuck for too long, you can actually lose motivation. That’s not good. That’s not good at all.

I want people to be motivated, be doing exciting work, finding fulfillment in what they’re doing. I want to help people get unstuck so they can have that motivation.

When we are unstuck, what it looks like is you’re getting important things done through obstacles. It doesn’t mean there’s no challenges, no obstacles. It means that you’re able to get important work done through the obstacles. That’s what everyone needs to know how to do.

I’ve had a couple people in the last couple months say to me – it was in relation to my first book, but it’s a good example of people getting unstuck. I had two people say to me – one was a lawyer, maybe both of them were lawyers. I forget for sure what the second person was doing – but they both said to me, “If it wasn’t for your book, I probably would have lost my job,” because they were having a challenge getting organized, focusing on the top priorities.

They took some of the principles I outlined, applied it to their work and their productivity went up and their peace of mind went up and they were able to accomplish the results they needed in their work. Prior to that, they were on the road to either leaving their job because they were so frustrated or potentially even getting fired. I’ve seen a lot of people move from the state of being stuck to getting unstuck, but it can be hard to do.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued. There’s three different flavors of being unstuck and root causes or being stuck and root causes to them. I’m curious does the frustration sensation, is it the same regardless of which root cause is most at play for you or do the flavors feel uniquely different? Like, no vision feels like this kind of a yuck, whereas no personal management is that other kind of yuck.

Matt Perman
Yeah. I do think there is a difference. That is a great question.

I think actually the worst feeling is from lack of vision because you can feed disoriented. Imagine when you’re a kid of if you get on a merry-go-round or you just spin around and you start to get dizzy and then you don’t know which way is which. It’s not a very good feeling or experience. Alternatively it can feel like getting lost. I think that’s probably my least favorite way to be stuck, although I don’t like any of the ways.

When you have the vision, but the path is not clear, a lot of times that’s not as frustrating because vision really provides motivation to us. A lot of times when the path isn’t clear, that gets made up for by the passion and motivation you have from your vision. As some people have said, if a person has a why, they are able to endure almost any ….

The biggest I find is lack of vision, but what can happen when the path is not clear, even though you have motivation from your vision, eventually you can get frustrated because it’s taking so long to get momentum and you can start to lose heart.

What a lot of ways that feels then is you’re discouraged. You’re becoming demotivated. You’re disheartened. You’re fearful. Fear is a big thing that can come in and actually keep us stuck, creating a type of self-fulfilling downward spiral. That is not a good place to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then if you find yourself in one of these spots, what are the key steps or best most leveraged practices for getting out of there quickly?

Matt Perman
Definitely depends on the type of stuck that you have. If you’re stuck from not knowing where you really need to go, first you need to realize that’s the cause of being stuck. That’s the type of stuck that you have. You need to know how to set a vision.

All of us would benefit from learning how to set a vision for our future or for the big project we’re working on or for the next year for our job. The big way to do that is just say to yourself, “Where do I want to be ten years from now in my life or one year from now for my job,” and describe it. You can have a statement of goal. “I want to-“ it might be as simple as “I want to increase revenues for my department by 10%,” or whatever.

Then a picture, a word picture of what that looks like. The word picture is especially what taps into our emotional side and provides the motivation. Statement of goal and vivid description of what it will look like to accomplish the goal. Those are huge.

Second, and this is crazy, sometimes we just have to do what we know. I have a project management professional certification. I’ve learned the whole process for managing projects well and still sometimes I don’t do it. I sit down. I’ve got a big project and I might outline the path a … but I don’t do things like estimating time on the tasks and making sure that I have enough time to accomplish the tasks I’ve outlined.

When I skip that I find that my projects go a lot worse. They’re bumpier. I struggle with work/life balance. But instead if I just sit down and do the simple task of estimating how long each task is going to take, I am setting myself up for better success. Just doing what we know and doing some simple tactical things like estimating the time and laying out the steps, go a long way to getting us unstuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. To go back to the goal and word picture, the word picture is of the activities that you are undertaking to get there or is it a painting of the reality that will exist once you’re there?

Matt Perman
Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s a painting of the reality of the end result, what it will look like to have accomplished these things.

Pete Mockaitis
Give us some examples.

Matt Perman
Yeah, well I mean something as simple as let’s say you’re installing a pool in your backyard, instead of just starting with the steps, “Well, here we’ve got to find the company that’s going to install it. We’ve got to decide what size,” all that stuff. Instead of starting there, start with a picture of the future.

Envision, let’s say you have kids, envision “Hey, we are able to go out on a Saturday afternoon and sit in lounge chairs by the pool in the shade. We’re able to get in the pool and enjoy splashing around. The water cools us off. We’re able to have neighbors and friends over for pool parties,” things like that. Paint a picture of the accomplished reality and the benefits you’ll have.

Not only will that provide motivation, it also will provide direction. You might realize, “Oh, well if that’s the final picture you have in mind, that means we can’t forget about this and this.” It will have implications on how big of a pool you decide to have, is it a heated pool or not, what type of chairs do we want to have around. It really leads you to think things through in more detail so that you’re less likely to overlook things.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Can you give us another example?

Matt Perman
A vacation. Oh man, these are small vacations. Actually, I’m not using vacation as an example. Let’s use your life.

Let’s say you are 22 and you’re planning to go into the workforce think ahead let’s say five years. Where do you see yourself in your career five years from then? What industry are you in? What type of role do you have? How are you performing in that role? What are your work relationships like? Flesh that out. Envision what it will look like to be performing at your best five years out.

This is something that Olympic athletes do I understand in terms of the activities they’re going to have to do. They picture themselves doing them as well as actually practicing. A lot of times the envisioning that they do can have just as big of an impact when done in conjunction with the practicing as the practicing itself.

Do that for your own career. Do that for your work. Do it for the big project you’re working on. Do it for the department you’re creating. Just make a habit of doing outcome visioning and it will have a huge impact on your success at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any pro tips for if the outcomes feel a little maybe less tangible, like increase the sales of the department by 10%? How do you turn that into kind of a vision that has imagery and power?

Matt Perman
Yeah, absolutely. That can be very challenging. That is one of the hardest things to do. What I recommend is for any large goal using a three-fold framework. It’s called the what, why, how framework.

In this case the what is we’ll say increase revenues 10%. That’s the what. Then you’ve got to ask the why. Why does that matter? That’s where you really tap into the deeper reasons that become motivating.

Simon Sinek is obviously famous for his book Start With Why. He points out companies that start with what are less effective than companies that start with why.

Apple is an example of a company that starts with why. Instead of “Hey, we sell computers,” they say, “Hey, do you want to be empowered to challenge the status quo? Do you want to be able to create cool videos and presentations,” that’s the why. Then that leads to the what. “Hey, we’ve got these great computers that help you do it and they make it really easy.” Whereas other companies, they start with what, “Hey, we sell computers.”

It’s those that start with why that really capture people’s emotions and interest. You need to do the same with your own projects and this what, why, how format helps you do that. Don’t skip the why.

Don’t think because your manager said “Increase revenues 10%,” that the outcome is fully defined. It’s not. Ask why. Even ask why a couple times so you really get down to the depths. Then once you have that why clear, then you’re going to be ready to create the word picture, really envision wild success and what that looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, could you give us some examples of some potential why’s associated with increase revenue 10% example and then the word picture of this wildly successful place?

Matt Perman
Yeah, great question. Okay, let’s say your manager’s told you you’ve got to increase revenues 10%. Okay, one of the things you want to do is consider your context. What’s going on? Maybe your company is in an industry that is having challenges at that time. Maybe some people’s jobs are going to be at risk if you can’t increase revenue 10%.

Now you see the why becomes very personal. We need to strengthen the company so we can continue to be a good employer and so that people don’t lose jobs and the quality of our team doesn’t decrease because we can’t keep excellent talent on board. Now you have why that goes much deeper than money. It taps into purpose and meaning and the importance of relationships and company culture.

Other things you might envision are, “Hey, we’re going to feel a great sense of accomplishment if we can increase revenues 10%,” or “Hey, if we increase revenues 10%, we can maybe add to the department. Maybe we can start venturing into new arenas, coming up with new products. We can implement more creative ideas.”

Then as you flesh that out then you’re able to develop word pictures of “Hey, the office feels a strong sense of morale. People are working together effectively and they enjoy working together. People find a sense of momentum in their work. People feel like they have a future at this company.” That’s an example of fleshing out the word picture once you’ve tapped into the deeper reasons beyond making money.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. That’s the vision side of things when we talk about personal management here, what are some of the top dysfunctions that people have recurringly when it comes to personal management?

Matt Perman
Man, absolutely. One of the biggest ones is that people are dominated by the urgent instead of the important. Here’s the difference.

Important things are things that carry forward our long-term goals and do so in a way that is balanced and integrates the four fundamental human needs: social; physical, which is income, earning money; intellect, using talent; and purpose in connecting to meaning. Those are things that are important. They accomplish our goals in a balanced way.

Things that are urgent are the things that press upon us, the things that create a sense of immediacy, “I have to get this done now or something bad is going to happen,” things that press upon us like a person stopping by. They want to spend ten minutes talking about this or that. It’s not necessarily important, but it’s convenient. Text messages, those are classic urgency.

It’s not that there’s no place for urgency, but the issue is that urgency tends to crowd out the important. A lot of times the more urgency we have, the less importance we have. The reason important things are so hard to do is that they don’t press upon us, like the urgent things do. Urgent things press upon us. It’s hard to forget about them. You feel the tug.

The important things, since they’re not pressing upon you, you have to remember about them and you have to take initiative and protect that time. That’s difficult. That’s what brings time management into the realm of character and things like courage and consistency. Those are qualities that are crucial for time management because of the fight that it takes to stay focused on the important in spite of the urgent. That is one of the biggest challenges we all have on the personal management side of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s nicely said there in terms of it’s a matter of character because – sort of like our base-level desires, like it would be a lot of fun to do a lot of drugs and alcohol and sex and computer gaming and sugar, whatever, like base-level immediate gratification things. It’s like there is a – I’ve got the theological term – concupiscence comes to mind.

Matt Perman
Whoa, big word.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But more so there’s a pull to some of these things just because they’re an immediate sort of dopamine hit of fun. Similarly, urgency has a pull to it. Just as sort of subjugating us over our base desires when it’s not appropriate to indulge them is a show of character, so too is subjugating the pull of the urgent toward that of the important. That’s a big idea. That’s fun to chew on a little bit there.

Matt Perman
Yeah, I agree. It’s a cool idea. It’s a big idea. I started thinking about it because of Peter Drucker. He makes the point that courage and virtue are behind these time management qualities we need to have and that therefore self-development in our work is really the development of the person and the development of character.

Then of course, Stephen Covey, who is maybe one of the best know time management folks of the last 30 years or so, really emphasized character in his approach to time management. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that’s all about character and the character ethics. There’s really amazing stuff there to explore.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s one sort of common shortcoming when it comes to personal management is being a slave to the urgent. Your kind of prescription there is I guess one getting really clued on what’s important and two I guess just fighting the good fight. But maybe any pro tips on how that’s done well and effectively?

Matt Perman
I find actually one of the most helpful things for me, I know it’s not for everyone, people who don’t share a faith-based perspective might not do this, but I find time in prayer and scriptures really important, especially in the mornings. It brings some peace and quiet to my mind, allows me to focus on what’s most important. I find that helps prepare me for the whole day.

For people who maybe aren’t faith based in their approach to life, I’ve heard a lot of good things about meditation and just spending time reading great literature. I know it’s like, “Wow, well, how does that relate to productivity?” Well, it relates to productivity because it affects your mindset, your focus, your peace of mind and therefore your character and your decision making ability.

Another thing that I find is – I approach clients a lot and it’s so important for me to not just give them information, but to see them doing the things they need to do. What I tell people is be aware that some things you’re maybe not going to enjoy doing it at first, but you just have to do it and keep doing it and then it will become a habit. It will become routine and automatic to you. You’ve just got to get through the barrier of the initial week or two.

But if you just start doing something and keep doing it, a lot of times it will become second nature in spite of it being an unpleasant task.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. Thank you. I also want to get your take on it when it comes to personal management, when it comes to just sort of like the task management tools and approaches and methodologies. We had David Allen of Getting Things Done … on episode 15.

Matt Perman
All right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so I think it’s cool. But I don’t want to bias you. What’s your take on GTD, Getting Things Done, that system, and you might orient our listeners to that for a bit?

Matt Perman
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how do you think about that world of just all this stuff comes in and how do we deal with collecting it and processing it and dealing with it?

Matt Perman
Yeah. GTD has really influenced me a lot. I’m a big fan of GTD. Briefly, the central idea is the reason we feel stress usually is because we haven’t defined and captured the things we have to do. Our brain is continually trying to remember what it needs to do and our brain is not designed for that. Our internal RAM is busting at the seams.

Instead, if we can capture all the things that we have to do into a trusted system that we review regularly, it gets it out of our mind and our mind is able to rest instead of continually letting these things bat around in it. You experience what David Allen calls mind like water.

Now, I found that so helpful. You can get into different ways of organizing your list and things like that. But I found it really helpful to start capturing things outside of my mind. That also came with challenges though. I found, and I don’t know if GTD itself is to blame for this, but the system itself does seem to incline people in this way. I found I started capturing way too much, so I was just overloaded with the amount of things I had to do. That created its own new stress.

Another thing that I find people doing with GTD is they’re always fiddling with how to organize their lists, how to organize their project list and their action list. A lot of times it just doesn’t feel natural to people. One of the things GTD does is it has you separate your actions from your projects. A lot of people find that challenging, not natural to the way they think. I found that same challenge.

Actually, I – so that put me on a quest for many years to figure out how to solve that issue with GTD. I got a chance to meet David Allen at one of his seminars several years ago. I asked him about the issue. He didn’t really have a good answer.

Some apps have come out like OmniFocus that allow you to connect your actions to projects. I find that can end up being cumbersome. I might have ten new actions, they come to mind right now and boy, I don’t like going in and finding each specific project and put the action underneath. I just maybe want to do the actions right away.

I’ve actually found it helpful just to revert to Microsoft Word documents to keep my lists. David Allen would actually affirm that. He says, “Don’t worry – you don’t got to worry much about the technology. All you really need are lists. You can just keep them in Word if you need.” I’m finding that liberating.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. That’s interesting there when it comes to that notion that a lot of – in a way there’s sort of a de facto prioritization scheme happening in your productivity life because you’re just forgetting things, so once you capture them all and look at them all, it’s like, “Ah, that’s a lot of things there.” It’s sort of spooky.

I guess what I find helpful – I do love OmniFocus. I’ve got it all the time. I have it on my phone. I can quickly just capture things. My favorite way to prioritize the actions to projects personally is by dragging and dropping them during a low focus times, like “Oh, I am on a phone call and on hold and there’s a conference call and maybe it doesn’t require more than 40% of my attention.” Okay, boom. Perfect time. It’s kind of fun.

It’s like this reminds me of a creative thought that I had and then I bring it into projects. I guess I have no illusions – I’m certain that I will die and these 2,494 actions that are there right now I see – many will remain undone, but I enjoy having them captured such that I can then prioritize and say, “All right, I’m comfortable only doing say the top 4% of these things because my brain just generates way more ideas than I could possibly execute.”

I’m right with you there. For me the collecting is the easy part. Then there’s all this stuff that comes after it. But either way, whether you collect 100% of the things that pop up and whether you do so in Word or OmniFocus or paper-based lists, you are experiencing the relief associated with not having your RAM mentally burst because you’ve got it out of your brain and onto something.

Matt Perman
That’s right. Yeah. That is such a big relief. One of the very funny side effects of this too though is sometimes I might have something on one of my lists for about four years. Without GTD, there is that kind of natural pruning, where you would just forget about that, but with GTD where you’re capturing everything, I’ll see things and I’m like, “Wow, I still have that on my list. It’s been four years.”

Sometimes it’s still relevant. Sometimes it’s not. But I still end up wanting to do it just because it’s on my list. That’s me letting what feels urgent dominate rather than importance. Here, of course, that’s a unique use of the term urgent because well, if it’s been on my list four years, how is it urgent, but what I find is sometimes a drive just to do something because it’s on the list and I want to get it checked off.

I need to be aware of that potential mindset in myself and let myself make decisions based on the impact that the task will have, not the sense of peace I will get by finally having it out of the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s funny, I just deliberate enjoy taking things over into the postponed section. It’s like I have no psychic pull of I should complete these. Like, no, no this is a menu of options to choose from. The ones that I should complete are marked with flags and due dates or whatever.

Either way, it sounds like we’re in agreement that having something that gets it out of your brain is going to be potentially game changing for you.

Matt Perman
Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. We talked a bit about vision and about personal management. What about these unexpected obstacles? What can be done about them?

Matt Perman
Man, well, I find one of the most important things is preparation. I’ve got a chapter in the book on preparation. Preparation is the most impactful way I know to be able to handle unanticipated obstacles because if you’re prepared, you’ve got options and alternatives in mind so you can respond on the fly as needed. You’ve got the knowledge base there.

If you’re not prepared, you’re not going to be ready with different options to respond to the obstacles that come up. I’ve got a whole chapter on how to prepare and why it works.

Another thing is to be aware of what some of the most common obstacles are and those include distractions, interruptions and actually low energy. That’s not something that we talk so much about, but a quick word on that.

I found when I was in my 20s, I didn’t need to worry much about sleep. I could stay up late. I could get up early the next day and it was amazing what it did for my productivity. But as I’ve gotten a little older I’ve found that level of energy is not there. I need more sleep, need to get to bed earlier. I can’t stay up until two and then get up at seven the next morning anymore.

I wonder if I actually would have allowed myself to rest more in my 20s, if that actually would have had a better impact for me today if I would actually have more energy today if I hadn’t pushed myself so hard in my 20s.

Allowing yourself to have rest and actually eating well and exercise, those affect your energy levels and you’re going to be more prepared to handle things and resist things like distractions and interruptions. It’s just amazing what it does for you.

A lot of times you don’t know you need the rest. Sometimes you get to a weekend and if you’re like me, you might want to do a bunch of work because you’re motivated, excited, you’ve got a lot to do. You might not feel tired. You might not feel that you need to rest, but what I found on those times is if I rest anyway, I’m surprised at the end at what an impact it had even though I didn’t think I needed it at first. You sometimes see the value of it after you’ve done it. You might not actually feel the need beforehand.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got you. Thank you. Okay, well, I also want to get your take here, you say, “Start with your time, not with your tasks,” what does that mean?

Matt Perman
This is one of the key time management principles. Most of us do it the opposite way. We start with our tasks rather than our time. We sit down and we say, “What do I have to do today?” We might make a to-do list or we do that on a project. We list all the tasks the project was going to involve and then we start working and we only get half the list done in our day and we’re frustrated. The next day we might not get any of those things done and those tasks just hang around and become annoying.

The reason that happens and we get so frustrated is because we’re actually doing things the opposite of the way we should. Instead you start with your time, not with your task, which means you don’t first say, “What do I have to do?” instead you first say, “How much time do I have?” Then you say, “Okay, now what’s going to fit in this time that I have available?”

The reason we need to do that is because as Peter Drucker said, you have to start with the most limited resource. That’s time. Your tasks can potentially be infinite. There’s always more tasks to do. If you start with your tasks, you’re setting yourself up for failure because there’s always more to do.

If you start with your time, you’re recognizing the constraints that you’re operating within and then you’re able to customize your task to the time that you have and you’re much more likely than to get those tasks done and cut out unnecessary tasks that don’t add value. It’s amazing what it does for your efficiency and peace of mind if you start with your time, not with your tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. That does sound pleasant in the sense of you’re not sort of setting yourself up to repeatedly fail so that’s sure nice. Well, I guess nonetheless, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that the time I have is inadequate for all of the things I would like to do have done.

Matt Perman
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But I guess you won’t feel so terrible bad about it once you see it. Any pro tips on prioritization, how to pick what’s most critical versus not so much?

Matt Perman
Yes, so prioritization is key simply because we do not have unlimited time, so we have no choice but to prioritize. If we don’t, then it’s just chance and accident, which really determines what gets done and that’s not helpful.

In order to prioritize, the first thing we need to do is know what our job responsibilities are. I know that can sound obvious and basic, but it’s actually one of the most overlooked things, especially today in the knowledge work era, where jobs are constantly changing and they’re very ambiguous because we have to define our work as well as doing our work. That’s challenging.

I would encourage everyone if they haven’t already done this or done it in the last three months, to sit down and list what are the top five to seven areas of responsibility that I have in my job. Write those out. Those are your priorities. Those are the things you need to be doing every day or every week depending on the need. You need to have a clear idea of what you’re there to accomplish and what you’re getting paid to do.

Make sure that those priorities align with what your manager wants, why they have you on the payroll, on the team, otherwise, you can inadvertently be working at cross-purposes, which is no good and not productive for you.

List the key responsibility areas of your job and then as you’re going about your day, you need to make sure that each task fits into one of those categories. If it doesn’t, you’ve probably got to delete it or delay it to a future date. Just having this grid in your mind of here are the seven key things I’m doing in my job will allow us to prioritize and make decisions.

The other thing you need to do is – and Stephen Covey talks about this – a lot of times people they write down the things they feel they need to do and then they sequence those items in the order in which they’re going to do them from most important to least important and they think that they are prioritizing. But Covey points out, that’s not prioritizing at all. All you’ve done is prioritize the urgent.

That’s not what we mean by priorities in team management. What we mean is instead of looking at the stuff that’s pulling on us, the urgent stuff, and putting it in a sequence, what we mean is getting out of that urgency paradigm altogether into the importance paradigm and saying to ourselves, “What do I need to do that’s not pressing on me? What tasks do my goals require that I do that no one else is bugging me about and no one is texting me about, but they need to get done anyway.”

We need to write those things down and make sure that those are on your list. Then you can put them in priority order. It’s a big mindset shift from the way we think about our tasks altogether to get to the urgency mindset to the importance mindset. That is the biggest thing I would recommend for the sake of setting priorities.

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

Matt Perman
That’s huge. Then I would say here’s one way to sum everything up in one principle: do less, then obsess. There’s a new book out called Great at Work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had Morten Hansen on the show. Yeah.

Matt Perman
You’re kidding.
Oh man, that is a great book. I just – I can’t say enough good about it. It’s got great advice and it’s based on research. It’s trustworthy.

That’s his first principle and that’s kind of the core principle everything else comes from. What’s unique about it is a lot of people just say do less, and he points out that’s not enough. That’s only half the equation. After pruning and deciding what less you’re going to do, then you have to be fanatical about doing those things with excellence. Those are the people who are really productive and succeed. I say that nails it. That’s what it all comes down to.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you.  Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Matt Perman
That’s great. Man, so many good quotes. One of my favorite is by Peter Drucker. He just simply says, “Effective executives do first things first and one thing at a time.”

I like that quote because it’s classic Drucker. It sounds like him. It’s worded in an interesting way. It’s something I can go back to when I feel like I’m kind of getting out of step with my priorities. “Effective executives do first things first and one thing at a time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite book?

Matt Perman
Boy, this might sound like religion masquerading as career advice, but my favorite book is actually the Bible. I’ve been reading it for 30 years now. It captures my interest. It’s amazing the connections between the Bible stories and teachings and doctrines.

There’s always more to learn and right now I’m through it in the ESV Study Bible, so I read the study notes and that calls more things to mind. I just really enjoy it. It’s something I enjoy. I don’t do it just out of duty. I really enjoy it. It really is my favorite book.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Matt Perman
Oh yeah, man. Well, I got it from Stephen Covey. This is the big nugget: don’t prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities. Don’t prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities. In other words, don’t look at what’s in front of you and put that in your plan for the day. Instead say “What should I be doing?” and put that on your plan for the day.

There might be simple things you’re overlooking like maybe playing catch with your son or daughter because it’s not urgent, it’s not pressing on you, but wow, what a great opportunity for building your relationship. It’s never pressing upon you, so you always forget to do it. Instead you need to put it into your plan for the day on your own. Take the intuitive to do that. Schedule your priorities instead of letting the day come at you on its own.

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

Matt Perman
WhatsBestNext.com, that’s my website. I’ve been blogging there for 10 or 11 years, got lots of articles as well. We offer coaching and workshops and things like that for people that want to go deeper.

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

Matt Perman
Man, my final call to action is stick with it. I applaud your desire to be awesome at your job. It’s exciting. It serves people. It makes society better off, so keep learning how to be better every day and that adds up. It accumulates. Even if you get better at your job by 1% every month, that’s about 12% a year, that makes a huge difference. Never stop getting better.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Matt, thanks so much for taking this time and good luck in all that you’re up to here.

Matt Perman
Hey, thanks so much for having me.

095: Looking Ahead with Eliot Wagonheim

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Eliot Wagonheim says: "Rule #1: Make it easy for someone to do what you want them to do."

Eliot Wagonheim deconstructs how to achieve goals and offers a useful mindset to adopt in order advance in the right direction.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you should switch to the Fire, Aim… Ready mindset
  2. Why you should rethink doing your yearly evaluation
  3. An innovative way for sketching out expectations

About Eliot
Eliot Wagonheim is a speaker, strategist, author, educator and business lawyer with thirty years experience helping clients embrace, rather than inhibit, innovation. Through his Outlawyer platform, Eliot serves as a confidante, mentor, strategist and sounding board for guiding entrepreneurs and organizational leaders for companies of every size across diverse industries, and brings humor, real world experience and an entrepreneurial spirit to everything he does.

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090: Shocking Ways to Hack Your Habits with Maneesh Sethi

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Maneesh Sethi says: "If there's some kind of task you're having trouble doing, make a bet with someone next to you... And it will get done, and you won't lose."

Maneesh Sethi proves that a little shock goes a long way and shares other hacks for forming great habits.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Helpful things to do everyday to make your day go smoother
  2. Fundamental questions to ask to realign yourself with your goals
  3. How to hack your emotions

About Maneesh
Maneesh Singh Sethi is an American author and internet entrepreneur. He authored Game Programming for Teens when he was sixteen years old. He is best known as the founder of the behavior modification wristband Pavlok, launched in 2013. Sethi is the chairman and chief executive officer of Behavioral Technology Group, Inc.

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