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561: The Ultimate Guide to Working Remotely with Lisette Sutherland

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Lisette Sutherland says: "When you're remote, you cannot be sloppy. You need these systems in place."

Lisette Sutherland shares expert tips and tricks for working from home masterfully.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The remote worker hierarchy of needs
  2. Smarter alternatives to online meetings
  3. Three tips for managing distractions while working remotely

About Lisette:

Lisette Sutherland is the director of Collaboration Superpowers, a company that helps people work together from anywhere through online and in-person workshops. She also produces a weekly podcast featuring interviews with remote working experts highlighting the challenges and successes of working with virtual teams. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Lisette Sutherland Interview Transcript

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

Lisette Sutherland
Thanks for having me. I’m really honored to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’re honored to have you. Remote work is a hot topic right about now, and you are quite the authority. I’ve been impressed at checking out all of your stuff, and you’ve got some cool stories about just what folks can achieve with remote work. And I’d love it if you could maybe open us up by sharing the tale about the hyperloop pod contest.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, I love that story. Yeah, it was random. My husband actually said, “You’ve got to check out what these guys are doing.” So, I invited them on the podcast, and it turns out that SpaceX started a competition for who could build a hyperloop or a hyper pod for the hyperloop, which is a superfast transportation system that can take a commute of 7 hours and squeeze it into 30 minutes. I mean, you’re basically getting shot through a gravity tube.

And I wouldn’t want to be the beta tester, right? That would be not the funnest. But, anyway, so it’s a superfast transportation system, and this one guy, Tom, put out on Reddit that he wanted to join the competition and asked if there was anybody else that would like to join him. And one year later, with a team of 400 remote volunteers from all over the world, they actually came in finalist in the competition, and they’re still doing stuff on it to this day. I mean, not the same people, of course, but the project continues, and they’re still working on the hyper pod.

So, it just showed to me that when people want to, at great distances and projects of great complexity, that we can do great things together if we just get the right people together, which is actually the origin of why I find remote work so exciting to begin with. It’s sort of this idea of like think of the things we could solve. I mean, with the current coronavirus, we’re right in the middle of it right now, with that, we’re going to need global solutions, global problem-solving, everybody working together on that, I think. So, for me, that’s what makes it so exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very cool. And so, yeah, 400 people just kind of random, like, “Yeah, I find this interesting. Let’s get after it.” And to be a finalist amongst, I imagine, I don’t know the economics of this whole project or contest, but I imagine, again, some pros who like this is their company and this is their business, and transportation is their thing, and they want to a piece of the action.

Lisette Sutherland
For sure. Like, universities have been competing, and, yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. That is cool. So, well, boy, you’ve been studying remote work for quite a long time, and were remote working before many of us knew that you could.

Lisette Sutherland
Before it was cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, well, maybe you could open us up by sharing, have there been a couple of sort of fascinating or surprising discoveries you’ve made that would be useful for us to know?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, for one, most people when they think of remote working, you get this image of somebody laying on the beach, right? You’re going to see it, like a beach with a laptop and an umbrella drink or with an umbrella over you. And I think that a lot of people are discovering that that is not what remote working is all about. And if anybody has ever tried working from the beach, you would know that that is a ridiculous idea because sun on the laptop, and sand on the laptop, I mean, it’s complete…it’s hot, like the laptop is hot on your lap, so it is totally not the right atmosphere for working, like doing any real serious work. So, I always laugh at those stock photos.

But what has been surprising for me is how reluctant people are to try new things. I mean, it goes for me too. I get stuck in my own rut so I’m not on a high horse here, that’s for sure. But how reluctant we all are to try new things, and how, you know, I’ve been telling people for years and years, not that everyone listens to me, but I’ve been saying for years and years, “Regardless of whether you’re allow people to go remote, you should have the processes in place in order to support that in case something happens.”

And in the past, that “in case,” so that something would’ve been sick kids at home, or transportation strike, or bad weather, or the plumber that comes between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., it never occurred  to me that it would be like a global pandemic virus, of course, so it was like an extreme situation. But it does surprise me now how much people are struggling with some of the basic things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a good opening. So, what are some of the basic things that we just got to get handled?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I would say the first thing is infrastructure. So, many people are not used to using video in the video conferencing, although that is changing quickly. And I always tell people, like, that is really important if you’re on a team where camaraderie and trust and team building is really important. There are some teams out there where that’s not super important, and so, in that case, video may not be useful. But for the majority of teams, if you’re not feeling connected, it’s usually because you can’t see each

So, there’s infrastructure, so video, a decent headset, it doesn’t have to be the beautiful QC35 Bose . That was a gift from my rich sister. So, thank you, sis. But a reasonable headset. And then, I would say, one thing that I’m telling people right now is, given that we’ve been at home for like a week or two now for most people that have been trying this, or maybe three, and I would say it’s time to get comfortable knowing that this is going to be happening for the next four to 12 weeks. We don’t know.

So, there’s a lot of makeshift offices right now. And I would say, actually, given that it’s going to be this long, invest in a decent chair, or a sit-stand desk, or whatever it is that you need in order to be productive. Maybe it’s an extra monitor. But I think that most people don’t have the basic infrastructure in place to be able to do this well. And, fair enough, they’ve never had to do it before. It’s all been provided for at the office in most

And then the other thing that I really would highlight is that we need to learn how to design and deliver great online meetings. And the thing that I’m noticing right now is that people are in online video calls all day long. Like, we’ve gone remote and, all of a sudden, we’re just like on the phone all day. And my suggestion to people is, it’s not healthy, number one. So, one, we need to shorten our meetings and take more physical breaks in between meetings, like this back-to-back video meeting thing is not healthy. And the other is we need to start to go more asynchronous with our communications. It can’t just be all online together. There’s got to be more that we can pull out

So, I would say for people that are just starting out, it’s time to think about infrastructure, and then how to design these meetings because you can’t do back-to-back. I mean, you can but it’s not great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we talk about this, you named these infrastructure things that my mind is like firing off tools left and right. So, maybe we’ll just go buck-wild for a minute or two because this is a rabbit hole you could just sort of, “Oh, here are 60 apps that I love.”

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But while we’re on the topic, let’s hit a couple. For chairs, I tell you what, I think, I’ve mentioned it before, but the Autonomous ErgoChair II from Autonomous.ai, and we’ll put these in the show notes. I’ve been impressed at how many things you can adjust at a price that’s lower than Herman Miller at a comfort that’s approaching that. So, in terms of value and performance I think that’s pretty cool.

For headsets, I love the Sennheiser SC60s for audio quality. And for sit-stand desk, there’s a lot of good ones. I got the UPLIFT Desk. And I think infrastructure, you also talked about just internet speed. Do you have any figures there, like, “These many megabits per second is probably okay and this much is not”? Because I think a lot of people say, “Oh, sorry. Oh, oh, sorry. I’m kind of cutting out. Oop, oop.” And I think they don’t actually know how much is enough. So, can you lay that down for us?

Lisette Sutherland
At a very minimum, if you’re going to do video conferencing, at a minimum, you’re going to want at least 10-20 Megabits per second. At a

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Upstream and downstream?

Lisette Sutherland
I don’t actually remember which one is which, but I think it’s upstream. Yeah, at home I have 200 Megabits per second, it’s like superfast and it does everything. But, yeah, you want at least 10-20 Megabits per second, if not faster. But it is the foundational layer of the remote worker’s hierarchy of needs. Like, I’m sure everybody has seen the cartoon with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and like Wi-Fi is the bottom layer. But with remote working, that is so true because you need a reasonable amount of bandwidth in order to run some of these tools that make remote working a joy

So, like video conferencing or virtual offices, if you want to go way far out, you can start getting into virtual reality or things like that. But bandwidth is going…that’s not where you want to save your money. You want to invest in as fast as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is Speedtest.net where you like to go to double-check your speeds?

Lisette Sutherland
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, I did all the tool-dropping. Sorry to steal the fun. Lisette, please, are there some of your faves that you want to mention while we’re going for it here?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, so there’s pros and cons to all tools, and I would say I’m a total tool junkie. So, speaking of rabbit holes, I could go down this one forever. However, it’s not about the tool. It’s about the behavior that the tool enables. That’s what we’re going for. So, when you’re thinking about what the tool that you want to use, you have to think about, “Okay, what are we trying to accomplish? What is our objective here?” But I do have some

I mean, Zoom is my favorite video conferencing tool. I know it has security flaws.

However, the features that Zoom has that I think are just exceptional, and nobody else has them as good as Zoom has them, is breakout room functionality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisette Sutherland
So, the video quality is excellent, you’re not dependent on each other’s bandwidth, which is very common with other tools like Skype for Business. The lowest bandwidth actually affects everybody else on the call.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really?

Lisette Sutherland
That’s why it’s so bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Now I know.

Lisette Sutherland
That’s one of the reasons why that’s so bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I always kind of wondered. Zoom just kind of works better. I don’t know. Well, that’s probably why. Thank you.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, that’s part why for many. I’m a Skype for Business hater, by the way, so we won’t go down that route. But breakout rooms, so if you’re trying to make online meetings more engaging, or workshops, or anything more engaging, breakout rooms are the way to go. We do it in in-person workshops, we do it in in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions, so why wouldn’t we do it online? So, that’s the feature that I think makes Zoom like awesome. Plus, they have polling and whiteboards and some other fun things in

But some other fun tools that people wouldn’t know about, which I think would be more applicable for this podcast, are things like virtual offices. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an office that you go to online, and you’re looking at a floor plan, and on that floor plan you see these individual boxes and avatars. So, if you’re in that office, you can only see and hear the people that are in the same office as you, but you can double-click on another office and just pop yourself in, just like walking down the hall in a normal office building. You could just double-click, pop in, say hi, and then go back to your own

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. Is there a software website or platform I go to to get me a virtual office?

Lisette Sutherland
There are many. There’s like 25 different ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Okay.

Lisette Sutherland
My very favorite one is Sococo. That’s my very favorite. But there’s also Remo, Workabout Workplace. I mean, for every tool, there’s a million competitors. But I think they’re awesome because it creates a new kind of presence. And for people, when we’re online, we have all these meetings because we need to talk to each other, but you don’t want to just call because you don’t want to interrupt somebody. With a virtual office, you can see where people are, and see if they’re interruptible, and then go just like virtually knock on their door. So, these kinds of things, I think, are really changing the playing field in terms of what’s possible now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is really intriguing. And I hope there’s a virtual foosball table because that’s a lot of fun. Walk over to that and go poom, poom, poom.

Lisette Sutherland
You know, video games are the virtual foosball tables of today, right? And I encourage companies to actually put video games in their offices because that’s the modern-day version of the ping-pong table or foosball.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve recently been connecting with my buddy, Connor, in the pandemic by playing Fortnite, and it was just, I thought like, “Isn’t this for 12-year old boys?” He’s like, “Maybe but it’s so fun.” And so, I kind of got bit by the bug there. It really is fun.

Lisette Sutherland
I just bought myself an Oculus Quest.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Lisette Sutherland
I am amazed at how good it is. I did the ISS, the space station. You get to take a tour at the space station.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, also to your point about being asynchronous, boy, I love Loom myself, which is, if you’re not familiar, listeners, it’s a means by which I can record a video, a screen capture, of what I’m doing, so perfect for like constructions and processes and documents, like, “Hey, team, here’s how we’re going to do this thing. Here’s how you apply for this. Or, here’s how you vet a guest and determine if they’re worthy of an in-depth investigation, kind of whatever.”

And what’s cool about Loom, use Loom.com, is that it’s practically instantaneous in terms of click, it’s recording my screen, click, done, and like within seconds, here’s my link. And I found that impressive. So, Lisette, any other asynchronous tools that can be a really nice means of reducing the number of synchronous meetings?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I’m also a Loom fan. I use it with my assistants all the time because, yeah, it’s so great to show a video rather than type out email instructions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Instead of sending long emails, I might just say, “Hey, I made you a video response with Loom,” which is awesome.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah. And, actually, I think that that is, speaking of other asynchronous tools, people should be thinking more about instead of sending text messages, sending video messages with your screen, or showing something. But I guess, to get back to your question, the biggest tip I can give is if you’re still using email as your primary source of communication, you should be thinking about some sort of a group chat system, like Slack or Teams. I mean, there’s a million of them out there but Slack is probably the most popular at the

But companies that don’t have that yet, you don’t know how much pain you’re in. And, to be fair, I don’t think that these group instant messages systems they solve everything, but in terms of transparent and fast communication, if you’re using email for that, you can evolve and should evolve from there into some sort of a transparent platform.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit from tools now because we took the plunge and I think both of us can succumb to this. Well, so I’m curious about Slack and email in particular. In the realm of distractions, talking about that kind of ball of wax there, I find personally, because I’ve been remote working with my business for at least a decade here. But lately, in the particulars of the coronavirus pandemic, I find that I’m – obsessed might be a strong word – but I’m checking news frequently, more frequently than I need to or should or is advantageous for me.

And I think that that’s one source of distraction, is the pseudo-work work, “I need to be informed” you know? And another form of distraction could be maybe just too frequently checking out the Slack or the email because, yeah, you’re tired and that’s easy and you’re sort of curious, you want a novel stimulus. So, how do we slay that dragon?

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, this is a tough one. I think this is the thing that most people struggle with, and that’s boundaries, boundaries on our time and our attention. That is one of the lovely things about working in an office is that there is a very clear boundary on when work starts and when it ends. It’s pretty clear. And there’s a transition period of commuting in and commuting out of the office, so that’s also very clear. But when we’re like this and everything is freeform, we have to be self-disciplined and put boundaries in place for ourselves. And that is not to be underestimated in terms of its

I’m sure everybody, especially right now, back in the old days, I can’t believe I’m saying that, you used to get your newspaper once a day and that’s where you got your news. But, now, it’s like every time something happens, everybody is on it, like the whole world. You know everything happening wherever you want, anytime. You just have to find the right news source, right? And so, it’s really addicting, and especially when there’s something like this going on. It’s just like all-consuming.

So, in terms of distractions and notifications, one is you have got to get your own notifications under control for yourself, so whatever those rules are. For me I turn everything off. And then you’ve got a time box where you’re going to place your attention. So, for example, I allow myself to look at the news three times a day, like when I wake up because I can’t help. I want a cup of coffee and the news, that’s just what I want. After lunch, just as I transition into the afternoon, and then after dinner, just as a way to relax. And I feel like three times a day, if I can accomplish that, that’s pretty

But these boundaries, it’s super hard. And to make it more visceral for people, I usually use the analogy of weight loss. Like, we all know what the formula is for weight loss, right? Super easy. We move more and eat less. But if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that it’s not as simple as that formula, right? Like it is and it isn’t. It’s super hard to do. So, it’s the same with boundaries. Like, really easy to put boundaries in place, really hard to maintain them over long periods of

So, this is one of the great challenges. I think when you master this, you hit the golden ticket. But I haven’t mastered it myself. I’m constantly struggling with this, and always working

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it’s reassuring to hear that this is the golden ticket because that tends to be my own experience as well, is in the days that I’m successful at sort of having a plan, “Hey, during these times, this is what happens,” then things go excellently. And then when it gets all loosey-goosey, then it’s like, “Oh, today was kind of disappointing. I wanted to do five big, amazing, cool things, and I did two. Hmm, bummer.” So, yeah, I think that’s great. Time-boxing your attention, like, “These are the times that I will do this.” And so, you use news, but we could also say, “Check Slack messages, check email,” in those same ways. Well, with your many guests in your podcast or your own experience, have you encountered some best practices for sticking with those boundaries to getting the job done?

Lisette Sutherland
One of my favorites is from an academic life coach that I interviewed, Gretchen Wagner, and she teaches college students how to do study techniques. And what she said is, “Visualize your time.” So, we all know what we need to get done during the day, then put it on your calendar and visualize how much time each thing might take. So, like, “Okay, I’ve got to do finances today. I’m kind of estimating one and a half hours for email.” Actually, put it in your calendar as an event of like one and a half hour just so that you can manage your own expectations in terms of, because sometimes I have a list, and I’m like, “Oh, I could totally do that all in one day.” And then you get halfway through and it’s like, “I’m on crack. There’s no way you can do these all in one day. Had I visualized my time I might know that.” So, that would be

Another guy does a retrospective of his office once a year, who was Michael Sliwinski who does Nozbe. He also runs Productive! Magazine, that was a good interview actually. And he does a retrospective on his home office once a year, and he just goes through what’s working, what’s not working, and he just rearranges. And I think he said he takes everything out and then puts it all back in a new way or something. So, I was like, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea,” because I look around, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a few piles that there’s a few things that could be cleaned

The most common one, people use Pomodoro time technique, you know, 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, 25 minutes on, and then 10 minutes off. That’s my favorite. That’s one that I use because I’m not a morning person so I really need a rhythm to get going in the morning, otherwise I could just like sit at my desk and look at things for way too long. So, yeah, those are

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes. Well, that’s helpful. Thank you. I appreciate that. Well, maybe let’s shift gears a bit to, let’s call it management accountability, taking care of business. So, I think that for some people, working from home is like a joke that goes into scare quotes, like, “Ho, ho, what that really means is I’m doing almost nothing, and I’m occasionally checking my email.” So, we’ve talked about some ways to make that not the case with the infrastructure, with the boundaries. And so, I’m wondering, if you’re managing someone or collaborating with someone, then you really need them to handle their business. How do we do that well? You’re managing remotely versus being in person is a different game.

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, for sure. If you’re a micromanager, you’re going to hate remote working because you can’t, you simply can’t micromanage. There’s no way to do it. I’m sure you could put some sort of a monitoring system, keystroke, taking pictures of you in place, but I would never recommend that. I think it’s horrible. Nobody wants that. Think about yourself. Would you really want

What I would say. There’s three really important things. One is you want to set expectations so that everybody knows what success and failure look like. Remote working is results-oriented work. It’s not hours-based work. So, you want to set out what do you expect people to get accomplished and by when. And the more detailed you can be, the better it is,

Software, like agile software teams will use sprints of one or two weeks where they set out, they have a sprint-planning session, and they set out what they’re going to accomplish that week. And then at the end of the week, they have a demonstration of what they built, what they’ve done, and they do a retrospective over how it went, like what went well, what didn’t go well, how can they improve for the future. And then they set the next week’s sprint. So, that is a great way of doing results-based work and sort of taking small pieces as

So, really, setting expectations and what is the objective, and what are the results. And then get out of the way of your professionals as a leader. Like, you hired people because they’re supposed to have the ability to do a particular job. I think the role of the leader is to set the goal posts and then remove any impediment that might get in the way of that professional in getting to that goal post. So, that’s setting

Then number two would be creating a team agreement, so that is just outlining what are the best ways of working together. So, what kind of information do we need to share and where is it stored? Are there security protocols necessary to get to it? How are we going to communicate with each other? Which tools and what tools are you going to use for what? Are there expected response times, these kinds of things? And then collaboration, how do you know what each other are doing? And how are you giving each other

So, a standard team agreement, just setting out some basics. It doesn’t have to be a big rulebook but just setting out some basic guidelines and principles for how you’re going to work together so that you can avoid all the basic

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Lisette Sutherland
And then number three would be put feedback loops in place. These retrospectives that the agile software teams are awesome. I mean, it gives the team a chance to celebrate successes when they have them, it gives them a chance to blow steam when they need to blow steam, and it gives them also a chance to bring up little things that you might not bring up in the moment because it’s just too small, like talking about it might make it into a bigger thing than it is. But these retrospectives give you a space to just be like, “You know that thing you did last week? Like, totally annoying.” Sometimes you’ve got to just say that, you’ve got to just get it off your chest, otherwise it’ll explode in weird ways. So, I would say, as a manager, if you’ve got those things down, setting expectations, creating a team agreement, and putting feedback loops in place, you’re going to get

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so intriguing about that is that these practices would make all the difference for an in-person team as well.

Lisette Sutherland
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s easier for you to sort of lose track of what the heck is going on. And I think it just maybe, I thought to summarize, it’s just like the remote piece just makes it…it just sort of amplifies it all in terms of, like, you might notice that something is not working in person faster because you’re right there, as opposed to remotely, it’s like, you can maybe go weeks before you discover it’s not fine.

I also love that agile example. When you have to demonstrate the thing kind of publicly in a short timeframe, boy, there’s a boatload of accountability there in terms of so if you were goofing off and watching funny cat videos for the whole work day, you would either need to stay up late to get it done or embarrass yourself publicly, like, “Yeah, this doesn’t really work and I’m not done. Sorry, guys.” And then you’re like, “Note to self: Never do that again. That felt terrible.”

Lisette Sutherland
Right. Nobody wants to be in that position. So, yeah, you’re right. It amplifies the good and the bad. So, it’s going to amplify the George Costanzas on your team, you know, that are just always trying to get away with laziness, or it’s going to amplify, you know, if they’re rock stars, they’re going to be rock stars remote as well. But it’s going to amplify communication challenges. And I would say, when you’re in person, you can be sloppy about some of these things. And when you’re remote, you cannot be sloppy. You need these systems in place.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said. Then, at the same time though, remote does have really cool advantages. And I guess there’s a debate on whether you are more or less productive when remote. And you said your studies, your research reveals that most people would prefer, in their dreamworld, to have a combo of sometimes in the office with the colleagues and sometimes remote. So, I don’t want to use the word hacks, but what are the special opportunities that are possible when remote working that really boost productivity that we don’t have access to when we are obligated to go to an office?

For example, I was just chatting with some guys in my men’s group, and we said, “Hey, one thing that’s cool about remote work is that I can sort of rearrange my day how I want it. Like, I might take a shower at 10:00 a.m. after doing an hour, an hour and a half of work just because I’m having a sleepy lull time, and why not be under hot water because I’m not going to get much done at the computer, and then I’m rejuvenated from having had the shower to do another round of work.” So, I think that’s pretty cool. It’s not as easy to do in a workplace, “Hey, see you soon, boss. I’m going to take my 10:00 a.m. shower. Be right back.” Probably not as doable.

Lisette Sutherland
I mean, you could but nobody would do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lisette Sutherland
I think that’s the number one thing is, one, designing your lifestyle around, because I’m that person. I’m like I do my shower late, or I like to just get to work, and then a few hours later, I’m like, “Okay, I need a break.” And then I go running, and then take my shower, and then continue, so that’s totally me. But there’s also all kinds of things. Like, when I used to work in an office, it was always freezing cold in the office, like I was freezing. I had sweaters and all kinds of stuff. It’d be like superhot outside and I was in my sweater in the

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisette Sutherland
So, there’s temperature which is never good. There’s noise which you can’t control. I have a little candle that I burn on my desk, it’s like this cute little candle thing in here. And so, you couldn’t do that in an office. You’re not getting people burning candles at their desks. And, also, in between my virtual meetings, I like to do some jumping jacks, or squats, or just something that gets the blood

Pete Mockaitis
Or take a nap.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, I’m not a napper.

Pete Mockaitis
You dance.

Lisette Sutherland
I’ve never been a napper. Yeah, but you could dance. I’d dance for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
You could be ridiculous.

Lisette Sutherland
And I would never do it at the office. But, here, I just have to close the curtain so that the neighbor can’t see me, but I can just boogie down. And I think that that’s pretty great.

Pete Mockaitis
It is.

Lisette Sutherland
You can just design your productivity. So, yeah, if you have the right space.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s intriguing. Maybe the master key or theme there is like wherever there is a social norm that is preventing or compelling you to do something that’s not actually valuable, you can kind of just chuck it, it’s like, “I’m going to have a dance party. I’m going to work in my underwear. I’m going to take a nap. I’m going to take…” You can kind of be as weird as you need to be if it’s helpful and productive.

Lisette Sutherland
And I think if you are getting your results done, then I say, “Let your freak flag,” because, I mean, it’s great. We’re all diverse. I just think, “Great. If you’re getting your work done, have a really good time.” And it’s great that we can reward results instead of time because if two people are doing a marketing report, and one person, it takes them a whole week to do it, and the other person, it takes him four hours to do it, well, good for the person that took four hours. If they’re the same quality, great. We should be rewarding people getting things done, not how long they take. I can draw stuff out forever if you’re paying me on an

I remember being in an office thinking like, “What’s the rush? I can just work on this forever,” kind of thing. But now that I work for myself, it’s just like, “Okay, I’ve got like three deadlines. I got to get it done. I’m on the ball.” So, it’s just different motivations.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. That’s well-said. Well, I’d love it if you have any other random tips, tricks, tools, do’s, don’ts before we hear about some of your favorite things. I got to chime in one real quick because I’m at looking them. I love earplugs, I think, at an office or at home. My door blocks a lot of the noise but sometimes two-year old’s screams will still penetrate it and really catch my attention. And I guess primally that’s what they’re supposed to do. So, earplugs plus noise-cancelling headphones is just lose all track of everything else but the work. It’s pretty fun. So, what else do you want to make sure to mention before we hear some favorite things?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I would say use visual cues. When you’re using video, that’s one of the benefits because, for instance, you can use cards to

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, you’re on mute.” That’s so cool.

Lisette Sutherland
…”Hey, you’re on mute,” or, “Dang, it’s totally awesome. I really love that

Pete Mockaitis
Did you make those cards? Where do I get them?

Lisette Sutherland
Yes, they’re on the website. I could send you a pack. I’ll send you a pack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Lisette Sutherland
Or if you want just to express, like, “Oh, I love the idea. I love the

Pete Mockaitis
She’s holding the cards. We’re audio only. Just to make sure they don’t miss it, Lisette. She’s holding up cool cards that say things like, “Awesome,” or “Heart,” or “You’re on mute,” or, “Should we record?” And so, it enables you to convey a message without interrupting somebody, and just sort of make it interesting and visually dynamic. That’s brilliant.

Lisette Sutherland
And beautiful. And I would say one of the best cards, the most popular card out there after “You’re on mute” because that one everybody does, is this one, and it’s called “Elmo” and it stands for “Enough! Let’s move on.” And this is for that person in your meetings online or in-person that just goes on and on and on. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s probably you, right? But this is your visual indicator to let that person know because they’re going on and on because they don’t know that you’re ready to move on. So, if you can just show them, “Okay, got it. Let’s go on to the next point.” So, that takes your

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so handy about those cards, I’m not trying to be an ad for you but I am, that’s fine, is that different platforms will have emojis or whatever, but a lot of times, I think in Slack, like it’s sort of often the default is to be hidden, like in the chat box, and it’s like, “Oh, there’s a chat. Let me click it,” versus, if you’re going on and on, you will probably not stop to click it.

Lisette Sutherland
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And if multiple people are holding up the “Enough! Let’s move on” card, it’s like, “Okay, that’s very clear. A strong majority got the point.”

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, like one Elmo where it doesn’t have to change the conversation but if, all of a sudden, four or five, then you know, people are done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, Lisette, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lisette Sutherland
It’s a very simple one but I think it’s perfectly apt in this time, and it’s from Mr. Rogers, so I love it even more knowing that it’s from that. And I don’t know the exact quote, but he says something of, “Look for and be one of the helpers.” So, I really like that because it speaks to me on a number of levels. In these times where everybody is stressed, and everybody is going through something difficult, the whole world is at the moment, that we need to be looking for opportunities and ways to help each other just to take some of the bleakness out.

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

Lisette Sutherland
This one is a bit of a silly one so I won’t spend too much time on it. But there is a bit of research that shows that when one person has spoken once in a meeting, they’re more likely to speak again. So, this bit of research, I think, is my favorite because it gives you an opportunity, or makes the case for using icebreaker questions, or warmup questions, or check-ins before a meeting starts. I use them for all my meetings with teams that I know really well.

I just do a quick silly icebreaker question, like, favorite food, favorite vacation spot, or, “Take a picture of your shoes and show us what’s on your feet,” just something.
And there’s a lot of kickback against icebreakers, but i would say that it doesn’t have to be silly. You could also use things like, “What are you hoping to get out of this meeting today? Why did you come? Or what are you hoping to contribute to this meeting today?” So just getting people to state so it doesn’t have to be silly. But I think icebreakers, and the research that shows when people have spoken once, they’re more likely to speak again, I think that that’s encouraging for all my meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Lisette Sutherland
One book that I really, really love, and it’s going to be a professional one, I’ve got it right here because I’ve been using it a lot, is this book called Beyond Bullet Points.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I got that one.

Lisette Sutherland
It’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
I think mine was the first edition. Oh, that’s nice.

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, you see I’ve used it quite often. But I think people’s presentations are just terrible most of the time. I mean, talk about, you know, they’re always like tons of bullet points with eight-point font. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot read and listen at the same time. I just can’t do it. I can’t multitask maybe. So, this book Beyond Bullet Points if you’re giving a presentation, or you’re doing anything online, use this book because it tells you how to create a compelling story even if you’re not a good storyteller, and it tells you how to create compelling slides even if you’re not a designer. So, that’s my favorite book right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? You’ve mentioned a few.

Lisette Sutherland
Right now, the Oculus Quest is my favorite tool right now. Really, I’m blown away by the experience as you could have. I’ve been canoeing in the Artic, I’ve been at the International Space Station, and it feels…I’m learning Tai chi, like I’m doing all the calm stuff because it makes me really nauseated, but I’m really enjoying the experience. Virtual reality is so great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds like such a great way to get out when you can’t get out.

Lisette Sutherland
Totally. That’s why I bought it, I was like, “I want to be able to have some sort of outdoor experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Lisette Sutherland
At the moment, my favorite habit is intermittent fasting, and I’m really enjoying that. I do it so that I don’t eat between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. So, it’s not a severe fast or anything but I feel better when I like it. So, that’s the habit I’m going to keep.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that people really connect with and you’re known for?

Lisette Sutherland
The super cards, that’s definitely so. And beyond that, people know that I’m really crazy about telepresence robots, and I just think the potential for telepresence robots are great. So, if you don’t know what they are, they’re drivable robots where you beam in just like any video conferencing tool, and you drive them using the arrow keys on your keyboard. And what I like is that it simulates a human in the office. And so, if you’re one of the only remote people in an all in-person company, beaming in via robot can be an awesome way of giving yourself more presence in that office. It sounds really far out but these things are pretty inexpensive these days.

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

Lisette Sutherland
CollaborationSuperpowers.com. Everything is there. Everything.

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

Lisette Sutherland
For all the people that don’t like turning their videos on, just try it. Just try it on a couple of calls and see what the difference is. So, I know that’s a simple one but I think in these times, we need to learn how to connect and be closer in new ways, and video calls, I think, are the way to do it. It’s your one step into the new reality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lisette, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you lots of luck in all of your superpower collaborative adventures.

Lisette Sutherland
Thank you. I really appreciate it.

554: How Doing Less Results in Achieving More with Celeste Headlee

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Award-winning journalist and speaker Celeste Headlee shares how doing nothing can help you accomplish everything.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why idleness isn’t laziness
  2. What’s causing you burnout
  3. The productivity benefits of shorter work hours

About Celeste:

Celeste Headlee is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker and author of Heard Mentality and We Need To Talk: How To Have Conversations That Matter. In her 20-year career in public radio, she has been the Executive Producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as co-host of the national morning news show, The Takeaway, from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Celeste’s TEDx Talk 10 ways to have a better conversation has over 19 million total views to date.

Items Mentioned in the Show

Thank you, sponsors!

Celeste Headlee Interview Transcript

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

Celeste Headlee
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat again. And, first, I was very curious, as you filled out the form, you mentioned that your dog has a best friend whom your dog texts. Please explain.

Celeste Headlee
Well, I mean, obviously, I text on behalf of my dog.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Celeste Headlee
But they have a very close relationship, and my dog has a very expressive face, so I read the facial expressions and then I text it. My neighbor across the street has a dog named Choco, a lab mix, and they took her away for three months. They went on a road trip, and so Sam has missed Choco horribly, so the dogs would text back and forth to each other for the three months while Choco was away. Their reunion was lovely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is lovely. Well, that explains a lot. I mean, I was very intrigued, like, “How is this working in terms of texting? And is the best friend another dog or is it a…?” Now, that’s all good and clear. I’m curious how they got to be so tight to begin with. What forges a bond between the dogs?

Celeste Headlee
I really don’t know. My dog is pretty particular about which dogs she likes and which she just tolerates. The vast majority of canine kind belongs in the second category, she’s fine with them but she just tolerates them. But something about Choco, the very first day they met, she just fell in love. That was her puppy, and they have been bonded. They’ve been a bonded pair ever since.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so talking about pair bonding, the last time we discussed, we had a great conversation and listening and such, and that was a fun one. So, listeners, that is over at Episode 221 if you’d like to resurface that one. But now you’re onto some new territory, or maybe, I imagine, there’s some interrelationships there. You’re talking about doing nothing, well, your book title I love, “Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving.” Captivating and I think resonant for many. So, boy, there’s lots to say here, but maybe I’ll just put you on the spot. What’s maybe the most fascinating and surprising thing you discovered when you were researching and putting this book together?

Celeste Headlee
I think that number one is how long this has been going on, right? Because this sort of modern hustle culture that is making so many of us unhappy, I think we tend to associate it with technology and social media and some very recent developments. But when I started researching it, it dates back to 19th century Scotland.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s where hustling began?

Celeste Headlee
Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
The Scottish hustlers.

Celeste Headlee
The Scottish engineer. Funnily enough, one of the things I talk about is how we’re always trying to have the best, the ultimate, which is, in moderation, that’s a wonderful impulse, but that Scottish engineer, he wasn’t inventing the steam engine, he had a steam engine, he thought it was terrible so he was just trying to improve it. And that’s how the Industrial Revolution began. So, that was the biggest surprise for me that this has been going on for well over 250 years.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re saying that the start of hustle culture coincided with the start of the Industrial Revolution in that I guess there’s an optimizing mindset. Or are you also saying that individual workers are like, “Oh, wow, okay. I do more, I get more”?

Celeste Headlee
Okay. So, human beings did things and lived a certain way for most of our 300,000 years on the planet. I’m talking about homo sapiens. And when the Industrial Revolution came along, it literally changed everything, and that’s another surprising thing for me, because when you’re in history class, AP US History or whatever, and you’re learning about the Industrial Revolution, I don’t think you really understand how much changed, and how not only our work changed but like almost every aspect of our lives and our personal relationships. But the biggest thing is that time became money.

Time did not equal money before the Industrial Revolution. In other words, your task, that what you made was what was worth something. It didn’t matter how long it took you.
another thing that shifted during the Industrial Revolution is, before that time, first of all, we didn’t work very much. Medieval serfs worked less than half a year. And it was because of this idea that, number one, most people were at some level entrepreneurs. Even serfs had a certain amount of land that they farm for themselves. They got done putting their two hours in for their lord, or whatever, and then they went home, and they took care of their stuff. You had all these women who had knitting businesses and quilting businesses, and they made textiles and all these other things. The Industrial Revolution just decimated the female business owner population.

[06:38]

But, also, it sort of disempowered a lot of workers. So, whereas, you would’ve had all these different workers with their own set of tools, when they moved into a factory, they no longer owned the tools, they no longer owned the product left. It became this very centralized industrial culture, and people, for the first time in like the early 20th century, more people lived in cities than they did in rural areas. Just like literally everything changed. And it happened so rapidly that people weren’t quite ready for how dramatic that change was.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s kind of where it began. So, it wasn’t the internet, it wasn’t the iPhone, it wasn’t Instagram. It was the Industrial Revolution. So, that’s handy to orient kind of what’s going on there. And so then, if your advice is…the title is “Do Nothing.” Is that what you suggest is the answer to our overwork, overdoing, underliving world? What do you mean by that and how is that an optimal answer kind of relative to our alternatives?

Celeste Headlee
Well, the point being that idleness is not laziness. In other words, a fisherman is busy while he’s idle. Same with most security guards, right? They’re working while they’re idle. Whereas, if you’re bike-riding, you’re actually quite active when you’re at leisure. Our ideas of these concepts of leisure, laziness, and idleness are really kind of screwed up, and partly because we have this sort of work addiction so we don’t really understand that idleness is required by the human body and the human mind.

The human mind just doesn’t persist. That’s not how it works. It pulses. It needs regular breaks, it needs rests, and in order to do its absolute best work, it needs short bursts of focused attention. And at this point, very few workers really get focused time when there’s no distractions. You walk through an office and you’ll see everybody with like 50 tabs open on their browser, and their email open, and their smartphone there, and their Fitbit, and their Slack going.

People don’t work without distraction, and yet that is the most fertile ground for the brain in terms of creative problem-solving and productivity. So, number one, we’re not as productive as we think we are. That’s a delusion. And, number two, you need downtime. That’s how you keep your brain working at its best.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I think I buy that in terms of that’s what would make for some great outcomes during the course of doing your work. And so then, when we talk about doing nothing, what does that look, sound, feel like in practice?

Celeste Headlee
First of all, I’d say try out boredom. Try to feel bored again. And in order to do that, you need to put away your smartphone. I am not the person that’s going to tell you to get rid of your technology. I think technology is fine. But I do think you have to put limits on how much you use it. So, every once in a while, put your smartphone away, go take a walk without your phone. Sit down on the couch and just sit there for a little while and see what comes to mind.

Every once in a while, I say, “Oh, my God, I have a porch,” or I remember my porch. Maybe I’ll go sit on it for a little while, and I just force myself to sit. And if you do that, frankly, you can’t do it for a really long period of time. Your brain just doesn’t like to be bored, and so things will come to you. You’ll start thinking about stuff. You’ll maybe remember that kit you bought to make your own, I don’t know, apple hard cider or whatever, “Oh, yeah, maybe I want to do that. Maybe I want to do work on playing the guitar,” or whatever it may be. But things will come to you, and you’ll remember things, and there’ll be new thoughts.

All the time that you’re idle or bored, your brain is still working. It’s working almost exactly as hard as it does when you’re trying to make it do productive work, right? So, when it’s idle though and not focused and directed, what it’s doing is like sifting through memory, sifting through information that you’ve taken in, thinking of things that you haven’t thought in quite some time, and it’s making new connections. It’s making surprising connections.

And so, you’re going to have, perhaps, thoughts you’ve never had before. That won’t happen if you’re always directing your mind to do something and produce something. You need to let it sort of sit back and kind of browse through the shelves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. So, you’re saying it’s key that we have some time for this idle stuff as opposed to being go, go, go, go, go sort of constantly, and that’s counterproductive to our ends. Could you share some of the most striking, I guess, studies or data points or numbers that reinforce this for the workaholics who need a little bit more encouragement?

Celeste Headlee
Well, we have a lot of different case studies that prove this point, and one of the ones that I revisit a couple times in the book is Sahlgrenska Hospital. And one of the reasons I think it’s so striking is because we think of the medical profession as just requiring punishing hours. They have cots in their break rooms for a reason. And so, Sahlgrenska Hospital was having a huge productivity problem. Their staff was working incredibly hard, and yet the wait to get a surgery done was months long, and they were just completely overwhelmed, and they decided to experiment with cutting hours.

So, in this one orthopedic unit, they cut everybody’s hours down so they never worked longer than six hours at a time. Six hours at a time. I mean, think about that in a hospital. And they had all these funds set aside prepared to hire on a bunch more people to cover the gaps. But what they found was they didn’t have to hire anybody. In fact, productivity went up, the wait for surgery went down to just a few weeks. You could get in within two or three weeks. And they actually found they were not only getting more done in less time but the morale went straight through the roof. Why? Because they were actually getting rest.

Surprisingly enough, when the brain is rested and the body is rested, you make way fewer errors. And errors is wasted time, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I see, yeah.

Celeste Headlee
You’ve done work that has to be corrected.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess that’s kind of a spooky thing if all the surgeons were making errors previously.

Celeste Headlee
I’m not trying to give you nightmares.

Pete Mockaitis
The United States error situation. Well, I buy that in terms of you make the errors which require fixing. Or even if it’s not an explicit, “Ooh, you did A when you should’ve done B,” I think about it sometimes like you just didn’t have the idea that would’ve been five times as fast as what you did instead. It’s like, “Oh, I could’ve done that.”

Celeste Headlee
Think about it this way, the way that we’re working right now where we’re either in burnout or on the edge of burnout. What’s happening neurologically is that you’re so stressed and overwhelmed that you’re in fight or flight. That means the part of your brain that is ruling your brain in making decisions is your amygdala. Now, your amygdala is the oldest evolutionary part of your brain. It is your monkey brain. And that is the one that you want if you’re being chased by a tiger. You want absolute pure instinct to take over. Like, you need that one to take the wheel when you’re in crisis, and then hand the wheel back because that is the toddler in the room.

Then you want the rest of your brain, especially your prefrontal cortex, which is right behind your forehead, that’s what you want generally making your decisions. That’s the part that thinks twice. That’s the part that considers. It’s mature. It’s your executive thinking capacity. But when you’re in burnout, it’s your amygdala all the time. You’re in fight or flight all the time, which, number one, means you’re stressed. Your cortisol levels are quite high. Your heart rate is usually elevated. And, again, you are making decisions based on fear. You’re not making decisions that are carefully considered. You’re making decisions instinctually, gut instinct, which means you’re making bad decisions.

You’re not just making bad decisions about what to do at any moment at a time, you’re making bad decisions about your priorities, you’re making bad decisions about what to eat, how much sleep you need. All the things that you need to do, you’re making bad decisions. And so, of course, it’s wasting your time, of course it’s not leading you to the kind of creativity and innovation most of us want. If we could just relax a little bit and create an environment in which your body and brain can do their best work, you will not lose productivity. In fact, you might find, just like the hospital did, your productivity will go up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, recently, we had Michael Hyatt on the show who told a similar story about free to focus and his executives, and they grew revenue, and they worked less, like 11 hours a week less. So, I mean, that’s a message that I love hearing because I would like to work less and achieve more, so it sounds very appealing. Do you have a sense for what is the sweet spot either on a weekly work-hour basis or a daily kind of on/off rest cycle basis? Like, what’s your hunch for productivity maximization? What’s the ballpark range of how much is too much versus not enough versus just about right?

Celeste Headlee
So, we do have a lot of these records. Some of the most productive people in history worked maybe four or five hours a day. They ran a study at the University of Illinois in which they followed…

Pete Mockaitis
I.L.L. That’s right.

Celeste Headlee
That’s right. Is it your alma mater?

Pete Mockaitis
It sure is.

Celeste Headlee
They followed, and this is a while ago, I want to say it was the 1970s. It could’ve been the ‘50s. In any case, they followed a whole bunch of scientists around for quite a length of time, and they found the least productive among them were the ones who worked more than 50 hours a week. The most productive were those who worked between 12 and 20 hours a week. Charles Darwin worked four hours a day. Charles Dickens worked four hours a day. Prionka Ray worked four hours a day. We happen to know, just based on anecdotal evidence, that the average person has maybe four hours of focused work in them on any given day.

Now, that said, obviously that’s an average. I had to figure it out for myself. And, anybody, I explain how to do that in the book, but you’re going to have to find out for yourself what is the amount of time that you can work before it starts becoming counterproductive. But if you think that it’s eight hours or, God forbid, 10 or 12, that’s wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s intriguing. I guess with the examples that you gave us, I think that makes a ton of sense in terms of like scientists. Like, those who need a breakthrough, or a great idea, or an innovation, then that totally adds up, “Hey, you need more idle time so your brain can do all those things you were describing that can lead you there.” And then, as opposed to when you’re in an Industrial Revolution type mode, it’s sort of like you don’t need to get a great idea, but you do need to, I don’t know, tighten a bolt or kind of whatever, stick this thing in that thing. Although, those jobs are fewer and fewer, and not ones that mostly is less some tasks.

Celeste Headlee
Fewer and fewer but also, remember this, Henry Ford didn’t shorten his work hours for his workers to eight hours because he wanted to be generous. He shortened those work hours because he found that if they started working more than that, they started making errors and screwing things up to the point where productivity went down. We have known, even going back to the 19th century, we have records of businesses that when they shortened work hours, actually saw productivity go up, and that’s partly because of accuracy, it’s partly because the brain and body just worked better and they’re more fluid, and they’re just better fit to get things done when they’re well-rested and they’ve had breaks. So, it’s not just the knowledge worker. It’s pretty much any worker, you need rest.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And so, with those four hours, are there some themes or patterns in that they are more so in the morning, recently after sleep, or are they kind of like all over the place based on people’s unique cycles and ways of working?

Celeste Headlee
Interesting enough, again, we’re talking about averages here. So, the average person is actually better first thing in the morning if it requires any kind of real thought, and that’s especially true of people who are not morning people. So, the more tired and groggy you are, actually the more innovative you are first thing in the morning, oddly enough. Again, these are averages. You have to figure this stuff out for yourself, which means you can’t read some article on the web that says, “Oh, successful people wake up at 4:30 a.m. and immediately do hot yoga,” or whatever it may be. You need to figure out for yourself what works best for you. On average, mornings are good.

But there’s wide variance in the end. Maybe you have the kind of home situation where your mornings are noisy and chaotic. That used to be my life, in which case mornings were very difficult for me, and I would do some of my best work in the afternoon. That’s not true anymore, and now I’m back to doing my best work in the mornings.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, when you mentioned chaotic mornings, I don’t know if you can hear the toddlers screaming.

Celeste Headlee
I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, ahh, that’s good feedback about the microphone selection.

Celeste Headlee
I remember.

Pete Mockaitis
The door blocks a lot but not everything. Anyway, okay, so that’s handy there. And so then, I want to get your take, when it comes to sort of the rest, the rejuvenation, you mentioned, hey, just being bored and trying that on for size is good and cool and helpful. What are some of the other perspectives or best practices in terms of really making the most of your rest time?

Celeste Headlee
So, I think the first thing is that you need to stop multitasking because the human brain can’t multitask. You need to stop trying to multitask. You need to start learning, and it is a learning process, learning to do one thing at a time. That is the way the brain works best. And when I say one thing at a time, let me be totally clear. That having your email inbox open all the time is distracting to your brain. Your brain sees that as you try to multitask, because even if you’re not actively looking at the email inbox, your brain is preparing for a notification to come in, it is devoting energy to that.

The same is true as if your smartphone is visible. Your brain is then trying to multitask, preparing for an alert to come in. It does not make a distinction between a notification coming on your phone and somebody knocking at the door. Same thing for your brain, so you have to put it out of sight. And if you really want to make the best use of what you have, your big, meaty, homo sapiens brain, give it its best environment, meaning that let it do one thing at a time. You will be shocked when you do that, how much you can get done. Close out your extra tabs and focus. Say, “Right now, this is what I’m working on,” and work on that.

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

Celeste Headlee
The last thing I would mention is that you may not actually have a great handle on how you’re spending your time. Time perception is generally low. Time perception is the accuracy with which you know how your time is spent and it’s, in general, fairly low. So, the first thing I had to do was track my time. I had to like spend a couple weeks, every couple of hours I would go back and say, “Okay, here’s what I did for a couple hours.” And I realized I was spending time on stuff that I really didn’t want to spend that much time on it. So, when you feel overwhelmed and overworked, it may just be that you’re not fully aware of where your time is going.

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

Celeste Headlee
I think it really relates in terms of becoming very focused on any one thing, and it’s a quote from Nietzsche, which says, I want to make sure I get this correct, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” So, I like that because sometimes we become so obsessed and focused on something, we sort of think the ends justify the means, and you can become a monster.

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

Celeste Headlee
So, I’ll tell you about one of my favorites which is this one in which they were testing stress responses. And they got this group of young girls together and they’d made them do a very stressful thing. They made them solve math problems in front of an audience. And, not surprisingly, the cortisol levels of all these girls went through the roof. They were very stressed out. Cortisol is your stress hormone. And they divided them into four groups.

One of the groups had no contact from their mother after this was over. One of the groups, their mother was waiting for them backstage. Another of the groups got a phone call from their mother, and the last group got a text from their mom, right? So, not surprisingly, the group that had no contact whatsoever, their cortisol level stayed completely elevated, there was almost no change. They were very stressed out. The girls whose moms were waiting backstage, they saw massive drop in their stress, they started to relax. Both of those were unsurprising, right?

But here’s the thing. The girls who got a phone call from their moms, saw their cortisol levels, their stress dropped at almost the same amount as those who had their mother waiting backstage. The girls who got a text, no change. That text did nothing to their stress levels. So, when we’re saving time and we think that we’re checking off the box by sending the text to someone, as far as your brain and your emotions are concerned, it doesn’t do it. We don’t recognize that as authentic social contact.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s so…man, this is really hitting home because, just yesterday, it was my buddy Brent’s birthday, he listens to the show. Hey, Brent.

Celeste Headlee
Happy Birthday, Brent.

Pete Mockaitis
And I thought, “Oh, I should give him a call. But I’m hearing a thing, hearing a thing, hearing a thing, I don’t know.” And so, I texted him and didn’t call him, and I’m like, “I really should’ve called him.”

Celeste Headlee
Yeah, you should’ve called him. Sorry, Brent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brent, know I was thinking about you, but it did nothing for your biochemistry when I sent you that text message, okay.

Celeste Headlee
Exactly. Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Celeste Headlee
Fascinating, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Humbled and corrected and learning. All right. How about a favorite book?

Celeste Headlee
A book I just finished reading not too long ago is called “The Paris Library,” and it’s a novel but it’s based on the true story of these librarians at the American library in Paris during the German occupation who hid away a lot of the books and made sure they were sending out books to all the soldiers. It’s just kind of like, I think the tagline is something like “Sometimes heroism comes from the quietest of places.” And it’s a war book in which there’s no violence, but there’s no lack of heroism because of that. I just really loved it.

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

Celeste Headlee
My favorite tool is my little GPS collar for my dog because when we’re walking in the woods and she’s not coming when I call her, I know exactly where she is, and I don’t have to worry.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it is handy. Thank you.

Celeste Headlee
It is.

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

Celeste Headlee
I make sure that I meditate every day. And I know it’s kind of like the gym, if you don’t go to the gym, you kind of feel icky. It’s the same thing for me for meditation, is that if I don’t do it, I can tell the difference, so I make sure that I do it usually in the morning.

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

Celeste Headlee
So, one of the things I’m always talking about is how human beings are a hive mind, and I write about this in this new book, that we do our best work in groups, not alone. And there’s tons of evidence that even the uneducated or ill-prepared group will outperform the most educated and experienced expert. So, one of the ways I explain this is I say, “There’s only two species that can take down a bison.” Have you ever seen a bison actually in person?

Pete Mockaitis
I think from a distance, like I’m in a train, so not up close.

Celeste Headlee
Yeah. So, a bison is a freaking impressive animal, right? These are like 2200 pounds of solid muscle. They can run more than 40 miles an hour. With their horns, they can pick up a truck. Like, this is an amazing beast, and not stupid. There’s only two species that can really take them down. They are, of course, wolves and humans. And what do wolves and humans have in common? They’re pack animals.

And this is just sort of a way of explaining how human beings have been so successful. It’s because we have to take down this incredible beast so we sit there and we have these communication skills that allow us to find out who’s the best on horseback, who has the best aim with a spear, who thinks geometrically and can peel one of them off of the herd, who’s the best at butchering an animal, who’s the strongest and is going to be able to get this thing onto the sled to get it back to the village. That’s what we’re able to accomplish with our advanced communication skills. And no expert is going to help you with some of these tasks that have helped us survived.

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

Celeste Headlee
Go to CelesteHeadlee.com, it’s where I gather all the info in one convenient place.

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

Celeste Headlee
Yes. Find at least 20 minutes a day when you don’t have your smartphone with you. Twenty minutes. You can do it. You can survive. As of 2007, before 2007, there was no iPhone. Like, it’s been very recent that we were able to survive without them. So, find 15 or 20 minutes, and you walk away and leave your smartphone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Celeste, thanks for this, and good luck in all your adventures.

Celeste Headlee
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

533: How to Identify and Eliminate Friction with Roger Dooley

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Roger Dooley says: "Ask: 'How can I make your job easier?'"

Roger Dooley talks about how eliminating friction at work can lead to better productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The cardinal rule of friction
  2. How to reduce the friction of meetings
  3. How mistrust creates friction

About Roger:

Roger Dooley is an author and international keynote speaker. His books include Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage and Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. He is behind the popular blog, Neuromarketing, as well as a column at Forbes.com. 

He is the founder of Dooley Direct, a consultancy, and co-founded College Confidential, the leading college-bound website. He has an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee.  

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Freshbooks!

  • Freshbooks Cloud Accounting Software gets you paid twice as fast. Free trial (no credit card required) at freshbooks.com/awesome.

Roger Dooley Interview Transcript

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

Roger Dooley
Well, happy to be here, Pete. Thanks for the invite.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your stuff. And I understand that you currently operate as a behavioral scientist but that was not always your path. You started as a chemical engineer. Can you tell us how did you cross over and do you see some natural crossover ideas between the two?

Roger Dooley
Sure. And to clarify, I only play behavioral scientist on the internet. I am not actually a behavioral scientist. Although, I do write a lot about behavioral science and certainly try and convey some of the ideas from great scientists to business people in ways they can understand. But, yeah, I did start off life as an engineer, a chemical engineer, and only did that for a few years. But, Pete, I think that being an engineer and training as one kind of gives you a worldview, a way of looking at things, that serves you well regardless of your profession. You really sort of have to deal with reality.

Engineers can’t do stuff based on faith, or based on, “Well, this seems like a good idea,” or even sort of argue their way through it. If they’re going to build something, it’s got to stand up and not fall down. I was a chemical engineer and, if you’re designing plants or reactions or whatever, they simply have to work. So, if you can bring that same kind of thinking to the pursuit of business and other topics, I think it’s still valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. And so, one such concept is friction and we’re going to go all over the place with this. But why don’t we kick it off by sharing how do you define friction and why do you say it’s the enemy of business?

Roger Dooley
Well, the simple definition is any unnecessary effort to perform a task. And the reasons it’s the enemy of business is because it is everywhere, even where we don’t see it. If we saw it and recognize it, there’ll be a lot less of it, and it’s funny, because people think they see it.

A couple of years ago, I was getting ready to speak at a conference, there was a mastermind, a group of very smart people, and the organizer wanted me to record a promo, he said, “Okay, I want you to share your best idea in advance.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do friction.” He said, “No, no, no, everybody knows about friction. You got to do something else.” So, I humored them and I did something else, but there is that attitude that we know all about it, that, yes, okay, you have Silicon Valley trying to make things frictionless and so on, but the reality is, in our daily life and daily interactions with businesses, there is a lot of friction both as a customer and as an employee.

Think of all the bad processes you encounter on websites and mobile apps where you can’t figure out what to do, or you try and do something and it doesn’t work. And within companies, there is perhaps even more internal friction in the vast majority of companies, according to Gallup, something like 85% of employees are disengaged with their employer, they aren’t actively engaged, which means they’re not going to be loyal, they’re not really going to deliver that great customer experience, and a big reason is so much of their time and, more importantly, effort is wasted.

It’s wasted by meetings that don’t get anything done. It’s wasted by dealing with emails that they really don’t accomplish anything, bad processes internally that waste their time, rules, ways of getting things done that don’t make sense. It’s just amazing how much time is not really productive. And people realize that, and if the company is not working to cure that, then it’s no wonder employees become disengaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think you’ve done a fine job outlining some of the key examples of friction that we all encounter and what can be at stake with regard to engagement. Could you maybe make this come alive for us with a compelling story in which you saw the power of friction in great force?

Roger Dooley
Well, I think maybe the best examples are ones that our audience is familiar with, and I’ll give you two from business examples dealing with customer experience and friction and also with the invisibility of friction.

One is Uber. Nobody thought about all the friction there was in the taxi process. Taxis were pretty much unchanged for, I don’t know, 50 years or so, and people just accepted that they were the way they were and occasionally you might get aggravated if you couldn’t find a taxi at all on a rainy afternoon in Manhattan or something. But most of the time, we just figured, “Okay. Well, this is the process. This is the way it is. There’s not a better way.”

It wasn’t until Uber came along with such a smooth experience, even from hailing the ride in the first place, to paying them at the end where there is no payment process at all. That’s the easiest process when there is no process. You just get out and say goodbye. Suddenly, people’s eyes were opened, and they said, “Whoa, wow, those taxis really weren’t that great, were they?” And that accounts for Uber’s tremendous popularity and also of their somewhat smaller competitors. They just changed this where people had not even seen it to begin with.

And I think the other sort of mega example is Amazon where they have put so much effort into minimizing customer effort. There’s many reasons why they’re successful, but that is one of the biggest ones. When you ask people what drives loyalty, they may give you, say things like, “Well, boy, a really outstanding experience, having my expectations exceeded.” Research shows that what drives customer loyalty are low-friction experiences, minimum customer effort.

Gartner, the big research company, did some phenomenal research that showed when people had a high-effort customer service interaction versus a low-effort, the high-effort customers were 96% of customers who had a high-effort experience were likely to be disloyal compared to just about a tenth of that for low-effort customers. When it comes to repeat customers, 94% of low-effort customers were likely to repurchase compared to just 4% of high-effort customers.

And we can see that at Amazon. They have gone out of their way to minimize effort starting with one-click ordering. Way back in 1998, they patented one-click ordering that I know I thought at the time that’s kind of goofy. He can’t really patent that, can you? Well, it turned out they could. And when Barnes & Noble implemented it on their site, Amazon and Barnes & Noble got in a huge legal battle. Ultimately, Amazon prevailed after spending millions of dollars to defend that patent. And what did they accomplish with that time and trouble and expense? All they accomplished was forcing their competitors to add one tiny little click to their process.

Now, if you talk to the average IT person and say, “Well, gee, I have to click that, it’s only three keystrokes,” they’d say, “Oh, hey, three keystrokes, who cares? It’s nothing.” For Amazon, it was worth that huge legal battle to defend disadvantaging their competitors by a single click. And beyond Jeff Bezos and other smart guys, Steve Jobs saw that at the same time he was launching his music store, and he didn’t try and fight the patent, he didn’t try and come up with some kind of workaround. He went to Amazon and paid them a million dollars so that he could implement one-click ordering in iTunes. And we know how that worked out.

So, to me, Amazon does it in so many different ways. They came up years ago with frustration-free packaging. They saw that people were really frustrated by these plastic clamshells that you can’t open with your bare hands. They’re great for retail, I guess, because they’re sort of hard to steal and they show the product off. But when you get the thing home and you’ve got to use some kind of sharp instrument to get them open…

Pete Mockaitis
And their plastic is sharp. I cut myself with the plastic I’ve cut.

Roger Dooley
…and they’re terrible for the environment. Yeah, if you don’t stab yourself with the knife you’re using, you stab yourself with the plastic shard. And Amazon said, “Well, we don’t need that.” They came up with frustration-free packaging. Just simple cardboard packages that you can open with your bare hands, they’re better for the environment, very minimal risk of injury. And the amazing thing is this, not only did people liked the packaging better, Pete, but there was a 73% reduction in negative feedback on products that were packaged that way. So, people actually liked the products better that were packaged that way.

They have focused on this since day one. Way back in 1997, Bezos was talking about frictionless shopping, and one of my favorite quotes is from Jeff, he said, “When you reduce friction, when you make something easy, people do more of it.” And that is pretty much the theme of the book, and it’s a lesson that not everybody has learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I appreciate you sharing all these examples, and it really does resonate in terms of in many, many different implications and applications of when you reduce friction, you make it easier. Like, podcasts have been around for, I guess I should know this, but more than 15 years and, yet, it’s only the last few years that they’ve “exploded, taken off” like all these things. And, in many ways, that’s just because it’s become easier. Like, there’s a podcast app natively on iPhones.

There is plentiful bandwidth available from your cellular towers as opposed to Wi-Fi so that you can just listen anywhere, no problem, without really stressing so much like your data limits. It’s like a tiny fraction. You don’t need to worry about it. Whereas, several years ago, you might say, “Ooh, I’ve only got one or two Gigabytes a month.” Well, now more people are having more. So, it totally adds up that there’s less friction, the more people will do that thing.

So, let’s talk about, now zooming in on the workplace, how can we apply some of these principles so that we get more great stuff done, so that our teams are more effective? What do you see are some of the top sources of friction at work and the best solutions for lubricating it?

Roger Dooley
Well, I think, often, organizations that start off lean and mean and very effective where people are totally engaged and working really hard, they tend to grow if they’re successful, and the bigger companies get, often be more bound by rules and procedures and processes they become. And to some degree that’s necessary. If you’re going to have a large organization, often you do have to have some standardization and processes. You do have to have guidelines for new people and so on. It’s sort of goes with the territory, and that’s okay. But often people, managers in particular, don’t even know why they are doing things.

There was one, I’m thinking it was by Bain, but I’m not sure if they ask people about which rules they were following that were either pointless or wasted their time. And so, a bunch of employees said in this survey, they nominated various rules. And what they found was that half the things that people mentioned weren’t even rules at all. They were simply the way things had been done, and they’ve been done that way for so long that they had somehow become codified into a rule. And people didn’t think it was a good way to do it but they just kept on doing it because they thought that that was what the company wanted.
I think meetings are a horrendous waste of time. Fortunately, I’ve been an entrepreneur for probably, I don’t know, 35 years or something, and I had a brief stint of a few years where I’ve built a business and ended up joining a very large company that purchased that business as part of the deal, and, by and large, it was a pretty good experience. They’re good people and certainly not as dysfunctional as many businesses but they had some of the typical big-company problems, including meetings. And I had a person working for me who’s a product manager, and she was a smart person, but she was not really succeeding in innovating new ideas, and we talked about it, and she said, “I don’t have time.” I said, “Well, why?”

We looked at her schedule and she had as many as 32 hours of meetings in a typical week, which is insane because how much time after that do you have left for productive work or, as Cal Newport would say, deep work, which is what you have to do if you want to be creative. You’ve got to have that time set aside. And, instead, it was difficult to keep up just with the flow of paperwork and stuff, and email, and everything else, and the meetings. That is not an atypical situation. Stats vary on that but many, many people spend half, or two-thirds of their time, in meetings. And you simply can’t be doing deep work when that’s happening.

Now, meetings can be very useful. If you can bring a team of people together and discuss something quickly, reach a conclusion, establish a course of action, that’s really valuable. But so often, they become just sort of institutionalized and people come and they really don’t accomplish much. All the people that attend really don’t have to attend. They’re there because, well, something might come up that would affect them and so on. And you can even go down the list.

But, to me, the one question that can help people uncover where the sort of least-productive highest-friction aspects of a job are to ask a simple question of one’s people, and that is “How can I make your job easier?” Now, a lot of people have never heard that question or have never had a boss ask them that question because they’re basically used to a boss saying, “Well, how can you get more done? How can I help you work harder?” And that is what people expect but that is not really the question.

When you ask people that question, it does two things. First of all, it can help you identify bottlenecks or bad processes that are wasting time that you can’t see but your people can see. No manager can really understand what everybody that works for them is doing or having to cope with, at least in most cases, unless they’ve done that particular job. But when you ask the person who’s doing it, they know where the problems are. And not only that, when you ask them that, you are showing them that you are on their side. You are not the boss saying, “How can you work harder and get more done?” Instead, you’re asking how you can make their job and, by extension, their life easier.

So, to me, it’s a double win. You find those friction points and you also help increase the engagement of that employee because once they believe that the company cares about them and is trying to make their job easier, not just make them work harder or be more productive, then they can feel that bond and be more engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I dig that. And so, that’s a powerful question right there in terms of, “How can I make your job or your life easier?” And so, I think in the realm of meetings, what sorts of solutions have emerged when people approach that problem with that question?

Roger Dooley
I think that there are any number of approaches. First of all is to, I mean, there have been some sort of mechanical approaches, like saying, “Okay, no-meeting Mondays,” for example, or in one extreme case, “Meetings only on Wednesdays” where they really wanted to cut down on the number of meetings. And those things can work and they can help. I think that really expecting each leader to manage the meetings they are responsible for and to view them from a standpoint of having a big impact on the people that they invite.

Another sort of interesting little technique is to limit the number of people that can be invited to a meeting. Yet another one would be to show the cost, sort of have a cost factor for each person. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be down to their salary level, but show, “Okay, if you’re going to invite a senior engineer to the meeting, that is worth 123 bucks an hour or something,” so that people could see the cost of the meeting that they’re calling.

And scheduling software is great, things like Outlook and some of the other tools that are available that let you easily connect. If you recall the old days where if you wanted to set up a meeting, you, or somebody working for you, would have to call around and try and find a common time, and you get a couple people lined up, and another third person can’t do it then, so you have to kind of change the time. With a scheduling software, it makes that easy. The problem is it treats any time that you are not in a meeting already as available for scheduling, so blocking out time and that schedule for deep work, saying, “Okay, I’m not going to be available during these times.” Now, assuming that you have the ability to control your life that much, that’s another great technique for ensuring that you’ve got the bandwidth to do good work not just go to meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s great when it comes to meetings. Can you share what are some other common causes of friction at work and common solutions for them?

Roger Dooley
Well, okay, one thing to clarify, Pete, in my book, I do not deal with interpersonal friction. That’s sort of either a boss or the passive-aggressive coworker, that sort of thing. Those are real issues but those are not the kind of friction that I deal with. That would be a whole another book, and that book has been written too, I think. But the idea of finding rules that people are following, that they find unproductive, is a good one. Asking people, if they can eliminate one rule, what would that be, that’s wasting most of their time or is most annoying to them?

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. Again, this is with that big company that I worked for for a bit. They had an expense reporting process like every large company, and I would travel on business occasionally, and even though I was a VP-level person, as they brought me in, I had to report even the tiniest expense if I want it reimbursed. So, if I bought a $2 coffee at the airport, then if I want to be reimbursed for that, I would have to not only put that on my expense report, but I would have to furnish a receipt for that. And this is way beyond IRS guidelines. IRS guidelines do not require that. They set some limits on which expenses required documentation and which don’t.

This really was super annoying. It added a lot of time to the expense-submission process. I know I lost a bunch because either I just didn’t get a receipt, or I lost the receipt, or something, and I always wondered if anybody looked at that. And, one time, I found out that they did actually looked at that when I stapled a quarter-inch of little papers to my expense report, somebody did look at it because accounting came back and said, “Oh, hey, you do not have a receipt for this $3 item here.” I don’t know where it went. I had it when I was doing the report, but it got lost somewhere. So, not only was it wasting my time but it’s wasting somebody else’s time who was reviewing all those.

And then, to cap it off, they came up with a solution to make it more efficient, where there was an electronic process that you could scan these receipts, take photos of them, you could then attach these JPEGs or PDFs to your electronic document, and it would go into an electronic workflow, and it was all wonderful except that was very efficient for the accounting people because you were documenting it in a very clean electronic way, you were assigning account numbers that were really cryptic to the average person, like, “What kind of expense is this?” You’ve got all these accounts that have accounting names, and you can’t really figure out where it goes.

So, basically, what they did was created a process that was efficient for them, but for the employee made it even more onerous and inefficient. And the point is, there was not a reason for this. Ultimately, I ended up asking the financial guy after he had left the company and I had left the company, I said, “Why did you guys do that? That seems crazy.” “Well, they did not trust the employees not to cheat on their expenses or put stuff down that they didn’t actually spend.” And, Pete, that brings us to the issue of trust, which I find underlies a lot of friction inside companies.

Roger Dooley
Now, I know you’ve had Paul Zak on the show, and his book “Trust Factor” is really amazing. And, as you know, he found that high-performing organizations have high levels of trust. And the converse is true too, and obviously if you’re asking your employees to submit $2 expense receipts and then denying expense reports because they forgot a $2 receipt, there is not much of a trust factor there, and this is limiting the performance of these organizations.

So, looking for those things, there is a great story in my book from GE way back in the Jack Welch days before the turn of the last century, and they asked that question that I mentioned, “How can I make your job easier?” to a group of union workers in manufacturing, not the most cooperative folks in dealing with management. And one guy spoke up and said, “Yeah, I handle sharp metal all day at my machine and I wear out a pair of work gloves every week or so. To get a new pair, I’ve got to shut my machine down, leave the building, go to another building, go to the tool crib, fill out a requisition form, find a supervisor to sign the requisition form, take it back to the tool crib, where then they will issue me the gloves, and I go back to my building and my machine, and that can take an hour or two depending on how hard it is to find a supervisor where there’s a line at the tool crib.”

And it turned out that the reason they had this rule was because they were afraid that people were going to steal gloves. So, the solution was put a box of damn gloves by the guys’ machine. And it turned out, he did not steal all the gloves every day, and they saved hours of time per week, plus they established that, “Okay, we trust you. We’re not making you go through this horrible procedure because we don’t think you’re going to steal a $2 pair of gloves.” It’s crazy.

So, I think that when you look at those procedures and see how many are based on lack of trust, when you fix those, not only are you saving time, but you are indicating that you trust your people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s really resonating, that many rules come about from lack of trust. And so, underneath it all, if you have the trust in place, then you may not need those rules. That’s great. So, I love your question there on, “How can I make your life and job easier?” I’d love to get your view on what are some other ways that we can spot friction and common means of reducing it?

Roger Dooley
Well, I think that spotting it in the customer experience is both easy and potentially a trouble point. We have so many metrics now from our digital tools we can see where customers are slowing down, whether they are clicking on stuff that shouldn’t be clicked at because it can’t be clicked on.

Roger Dooley
If they are bailing out of a process, there are so many tools we can use that can give us some of this friction information. We can also ask them. But one thing that I’ve seen is even as we try and improve customer experience, and I call this the Heisenberg effect because Heisenberg says, “You can’t measure something without changing it.” He’s referring to subatomic particles, and I apologize in advance to any actual physicists who would say that’s an oversimplification of his Uncertainty Principle. But, basically, what I see happening is people try to measure their customer experience and end up affecting it.

Net Promoter Score is a decent metric, that’s where you ask if somebody is likely to recommend your company to someone else. And it’s, certainly, better than doing nothing, but sometimes the way people try and capture that is you go to a website with the intention of getting something done, you want to place an order, you want to get some information, what’s the first thing you see? A damn pop-up that is asking you if you want to do a survey when you’re done. Nobody clicks yes.

I’ve got that on slides that I do in my speeches, and I’ve shown that pop-up, or an example of that pop-up, to thousands and thousands of people, and I always ask, “Who actually clicks, ‘Yes, I’ll do the survey’?” And in all of those, I probably have like two or three people raise their hands and everybody else doesn’t. Nobody does that. So, you are annoying 100% of your customers to get a return of a fraction of a percent of them, and the fraction of a percent that answers is probably not representative.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, exactly.

Roger Dooley
They’re probably already pissed off at you for something and they’re looking for any opportunity to tell you that. And even worse, these things like hotels, or airlines, or cruise lines send you after your experience, I mean, normally I delete those things. I stay in hotels a lot when I’m traveling for speaking and such, and every time I get them, “A brief survey about your stay.” And I found these surveys are never brief, there’s always a million questions.

But I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express which enabled me to be on your show today. I’m significantly more intelligent because of that. And I found that the lighting in the hotel that I stayed in was kind of strange. It was cold lighting temperature, felt very industrial, and not warm and cozy, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to tell them about that. Maybe they don’t know that.” So, I actually opened the thing when they said, “Tell us about your stay,” and there were a few questions. Everything is on a scale of one to ten. Can you really rate whether your front-desk experience was a 7 versus an 8? You’re forcing people to really think about this, which is cognitive friction or cognitive effort that’s wasted with those fine gradations.

But, again, I get into it and I answered the first few questions. Then I get to this thing. It’s like a 10×10 matrix, asking me to rate all these different things and one big thing, again, from a scale of one to ten, and things like the pillows, the electrical outlets. And I didn’t even notice these things. I didn’t want to talk about them. I tried to skip over that so I could get to a form field that I could just type in my comment but it wouldn’t let me. I had to answer every single question to proceed with their stupid survey. And so, I just bailed out of the whole thing. It was just too much effort.

And when you make customers work like that, you are actually affecting their customer experience negatively when maybe they did want to tell you something but you just made it too difficult for them. United Airlines, I’ve been a 1K for five years and I have a special customer service line I like to dial into. It’s answered immediately every time, always with a competent US-based representative, so it’s a great service. But, amazingly, even though they recognize me when I call in, a little robot voice says, “Hello, Roger,” because they recognize my mobile phone.

And then before they connect me with a representative, I have to listen to a 15-second recording asking me if, at the conclusion of the conversation, I would like to answer a survey about the experience. And in order to say no, even though I’m on my mobile phone I’ve got up to my ear, I cannot use a voice command. Up to that point I could use voice commands to ask for a representative, but I have to take the phone away from my ear, open the dial pad, and click 2 to decline to do the survey.

And the crime in this is that these are their best customers, their most loyal customers, their highest-revenue customers, and they are slowing down every customer service interaction by about 15 seconds, at least, because of their desire to ask about the experience. I was tempted to say, “Yes, I’ll answer the experience,” and then say how annoying their little message was, but I suspect if I did that, that would not be an option. They would want me to rate the representative on whether he or she was helpful and so on. So, we see this just all the time, and companies are not aware that, even as they’re trying to make their service better, they’re making it worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s so much in there, and I appreciate sort of like the broad span of examples. It’s sort of like, “Who are you making things easy for? Are you making it easy for the employee who processes that data?” “Yeah, we sure are. They’re able to say, ‘Cool, I’ve got my 10×10 matrix, I could see that pillows are really our problem here so effortlessly because of how that survey was formatted so I can just get right to it.” But you’re making it very not easy for the end party.

And so, it’s sort of like if we were to flip it around, the easiest possible thing they could do would be to say, “Hey, what do we need to know about your experience at our hotel?” And you can say, “The lighting was ghostly weird and I didn’t like it.”

Roger Dooley
Yeah, you’re exactly right, Pete. What I advocate is maybe a very simple checkbox. If you’ve seen those things at airports or other kinds of facilities where…

Pete Mockaitis
The happy face?

Roger Dooley
…they have like three or four emojis ranging from happy to sad with neutral in the middle, “How’s your experience?” People can relate to that. They don’t have to think about it. They can choose the happy one or the neutral one almost on autopilot because they know what kind of experience they had. And then give them a big empty blank space where they can say whatever they want. The problem is this doesn’t fit neatly in spreadsheets. It’s hard to take those answers. It takes extra effort, so that’s why I think companies don’t do that. They like to have that granular information of, “Hey, our pillows are up 10% from last year.” But that isn’t really helping the customer.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And, in a way, I guess I always come back to it doesn’t really take that much financial investment to turn that into something more usable because, you know, a temporary employee, an intern, could go ahead and say, pull themes out of these data, and then tell you, “Hey, out of 200 responses, 14 of them were about the pillows, and 70 of them were about the lighting.” It’s like, “Okay. Noted.” That took you some effort but not a lot of costs for that time to get there. And, boy, I, too, love those emojis. I love them so much I took a photo. And so, that can give you your quantitative stuff real quick. And then you really do need to get out of the way to provide an opportunity for that feedback.

And you got me thinking right now, I ask people to email me, “What do you think about the show?” pete@awesomeatyourjob.com. It’s like, “Can I make it even faster and easier? Like, tap a button or a link in the show notes description in your app player, and then write two words.” You got my wheels turning, Roger.

Roger Dooley
Right. You said you took a photo, I did, too, and I posted it on Facebook and said, “This is what survey should be like,” because it was like a three-button, three-emoji set of buttons. And a bunch of people immediately replied and said, “Boy, I never touch those because they’re outside the restroom, and I see all the people don’t wash their hands.” But if it’s a digital thing, you probably don’t have to worry about contamination.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re really covering our bases here. I love the thoroughness. Well, you tell me, do you have any further tips on when it comes to identifying and eliminating friction? Any top suggestions you want to make sure to cover before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Roger Dooley
Well, sure. I think there is something. We talked about Net Promoter Score, and I don’t have a problem with Net Promoter Score. I don’t think it’s the sole answer to whether you’re doing a great job or not, but it’s better than doing nothing for sure. There’s also something called Customer Effort Score that is designed in the same way that NPS does, measure how customers perceive their effort. And it is the perception of effort that counts.

You can say, “Well, boy, we’ve got best-in-class processes for our digital customers. We’ve looked at the competition.” They are not measuring you against your competition. They’re measuring you against Amazon and Uber and others. So, if somebody thinks they had a high-effort experience, that’s what counts. Even if yours is best of your breed, it doesn’t matter. If they thought it was high-effort, it was high-effort. And that happens to be a product, like Net Promoter Score is a product. You don’t have to use that particular product. But measuring customer effort in some way, I think, is good, or customer perception. Google does that.

I had a support session, I need some help with Tag Manager, which I would say is a pretty high-friction product if you’re not highly technical. And after it, they did not ask me a lot of questions about the person that helped me. They asked me whether I found the experience to be effortful or not effortful. I don’t recall the exact terms they used. But I thought, “Wow, this is really brilliant.” I see so many companies, after you complete an experience, they’ll ask you about it. And they won’t ask the right questions because I don’t think they want the answers.

I had a really awful interaction with my internet service provider where I could not find online what speed I was paying for, and it turns out that that information is not available online. You have to get it from a representative, which is bizarre to begin with. But I went through this conversation. The representative was fine. She’s very helpful and it was just their bad process. I had to come up with a four-digit code from an invoice and all this ridiculous stuff just to get the information, the bandwidth I was paying for. It wasn’t like I was trying to hack into the account. I just want to know what my speed was because I wasn’t getting it. And it turned out I was not getting it.

But, at the end of the process, they say, “Would you like to comment on this?” I was ready to comment at that point, having wasted 20 minutest just to find out my internet speed. So, instead, they did not ask me about what I thought about their company, whether I’d recommend them or anything like that. They asked me about the rep, whether the rep was courteous and helpful. And then they gave me like a thousand characters to talk about the representative. This is not the problem. I think that they did not want the answers to the real questions. They don’t want to ask people would they recommend them because they know that, typically, not just my particular one, but, in general, internet service providers and cable TV companies are at the very bottom of customer satisfaction scores, and so they don’t want that data. They ask about the rep.

And if you’re mad and you ding the rep, “Well, hey, okay, that was the rep’s problem.” It’s crazy but I think that asking simple questions and honest questions is the way to go. And ask about effort, then give people a chance to explain why. If they thought it was high-effort, it doesn’t seem like it’s high-effort, give them a chance to explain. You may find out that there is a reason for that customer it did seem like a lot of effort.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Roger, that’s so much good stuff. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Roger Dooley
Well, I will go to Richard Thaler, our Nobel Prize winner in behavioral economics, and he sort of echoes Jeff Bezos, but he actually won a Nobel Prize for this. He said, “If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy.” And that, I think, is a very powerful quote. It is repeated by behavioral scientists in various ways, but he is the voice of authority on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, could you share with us a favorite book?

Roger Dooley
Yeah, there are so many. I would have to go with “Influence” by Robert Cialdini just because it’s the basis for so much. And if you read just that book, you will understand a lot about human behavior and, in particular, about how to change that behavior, about how to be persuasive and be influential.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share with us as well a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Roger Dooley
Probably a Pocket would be my number one. Pocket app, which is a reader app that when you see an interesting article someplace, you can save it to Pocket for later consumption. And this really increases your productivity in two ways. First of all, instead of being sidelined when you’re in the middle of something, and you see an interesting article, and pausing to click through and read it, which will interrupt your flow, you can just save it. So, you are staying in the moment, but not necessarily losing track of that article.

And then when you read it, Pocket strips out all of the unnecessary stuff, all the ads, the sidebar stuff, the links and everything else so you just see a very simple article. You can switch to a web view if you prefer, but they give it to you in a bare bones view as a standard. So, again, you aren’t distracted, you can consume it pretty quickly. And then you can consume it at your leisure. So, to me, that is a huge timesaver. And if somebody is looking to be a little bit less distracted in 2020, that would be a good place to start.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Roger Dooley
Well, building on the Pocket habit, every day after breakfast, I will sit with my dog on the couch and he will typically snuggle up. And I don’t know if you discussed that with Paul Zak, but when you snuggle with your pet, you both see a boost in oxytocin, so that’s one part of the good habit. And I read articles that I’ve dumped into Pocket over the last day and so I get some little productive time while I am snuggling with my dog. So, it’s a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Roger Dooley
Yeah, I think the theme of my book “FRICTION” can be expressed in a simple sentence, and that is, “Friction changes behavior.” And to build on that, even a little friction makes a difference. Going back to Jeff Bezos and one-click ordering, it was worth so much to protect that one tiny little bit of effort for Amazon, but people just don’t realize that. If you realize that by eliminating tiny, tiny bits of effort, you can be more successful. That’s really important.

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

Roger Dooley
The easiest place to start would be RogerDooley.com, and there I’ve got links to my other content, my blog at Forbes, my neuromarketing blog, my podcast is there, and my social profiles are linked, so a pretty good place to start.

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

Roger Dooley
Yeah, I would try and find at least one element of sort of pointless friction in what you’re doing, something that you can control or perhaps bring to the attention of somebody who can fix it. It can be something small. Maybe it’s a rule that doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s a process that you can see a way to improve, it’s just that nobody has improved it. And even if it is not in your own organization, maybe you’ve had a bad user experience or a customer experience someplace else, don’t be afraid to call it out.

If it’s not within your company, call somebody out on social media and say, “Hey, look at this on your website, or in your mobile app,” or whatever the problem was, and there’s some chance that it will get fixed eventually. I found that I’ve done that a lot, and oftentimes it does not happen very quickly, but a couple of months later, I go back and, hey, they’ve fixed that. Now, was it my input? I don’t know. But, to me, I think it’s always worth trying.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Roger, this has been so much fun. I wish you much joy and little friction in your years to come.

Roger Dooley
Well, thank you, Pete, and I wish you, too, the same. And I really appreciate you having me on the show. It’s been a blast.

532: Achieving More through Smart Energy Management with Molly Fletcher

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Molly Fletcher explains how to expertly manage your energy to accomplish your best work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key to better energy management
  2. Smart ways to beat burn out
  3. Why self-care shouldn’t make you feel guilty

About Molly:

Molly Fletcher is a trailblazer in every sense of the word—now a CEO, she shares unconventional techniques that made her one of the first female sports agents in the high stakes world of sports.

Too many leaders, teams, and organizations are stuck. Instead of achieving greatness, they remain stagnant, failing to reach their potential. That’s where Molly Fletcher comes in.

Items mentioned in the show

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Molly Fletcher Interview Transcript

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

Molly Fletcher
Well, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into so much of your wisdom associated with energy. But maybe, first, if we could go back in time, could you give us an exciting story from your adventures as one of the first female sports agents?

Molly Fletcher
Well, gosh, how much time do you have, man, because there are a ton?

Pete Mockaitis
I want a one-minute anecdote that will amuse and delight.

Molly Fletcher
Well, knowing your audience, I think probably some of them are moments when I found myself often as the only woman in the room, and whether it was the room being my office which was often the range at PGA Tour events or behind the plate at big league baseball games during batting practice, there were so many moments like that, that I found myself in walking practice rounds and I’d be mistaken as the wife, right?

I remember once, somebody looked at Matt Kuchar and said, “Are you kidding? I thought Sybi, his wife, I thought she had brown hair. Where’s Sybi?” thinking I was the wife, not the agent. So, there was lots of moments like that and I always try to tell people those were moments that I always try to reframe as gifts that were positive because I was different and I was being sort of noticed, if you will, as somebody that was a resource to my athletes in that way. And being different can be wonderful and it can be a gift, and so it was reframing those moments and also having great relationships.

My guys were often, probably 85% of my athletes were men, and I always try to ensure that my relationships with them were so strong that they always had my back. And I remember once being at a minor league ballpark, and about three or four of my athletes had run over during batting practice and we were talking about business stuff and all kinds of different things, and all of a sudden the manager started yelling at one of the guys, “What are you guys doing? Let’s go, man. Let’s quit hitting on that lady behind the plate, right?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Quit hitting on that lady.”

Molly Fletcher
Yeah, actually, I think the guys said, “That chick.” And my guys always had my back and I’m super grateful for that, they said, “Look, no, man, that’s my agent. We’re talking about stuff.” But there’s a ton of stories, Pete. I’d probably bore your listeners with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I think that’s just enough to set the stage, so thank you. And we’re going to dig into some insights associated with energy management, which I think is so, so important. I feel it every day. But maybe to kick us off, could you share with us a story that really shows why this stuff matters and can make a world of difference?

Molly Fletcher
Well, I wrote a book called The Energy Clock, which you’re referring to, and it’s just released January 1, 2020, and I wrote it because when I was an agent for almost 20 years, I watched athletes and coaches, the best of the best, do what they did. And what the best did was they were really intentional about the way they managed their energy because their level of sort of energy, their level of energy was integral to their ability to perform, and those two things went hand-in-hand, and the best athletes recognize that. They recognize that those two were tightly knit together.

And I remember I had a minor league ballplayer who was a first-round pick, he came out a complete stud, and early in his career he comes out and there’s a lot of opportunities for appearances, autograph signings, endorsements, commercials, all kinds of stuff. And I remember that he was young, and he was sort of beyond his years, in my opinion, and he looked at me, and he said, “I know this, right? If I go out and do what I know I can do as an athlete this season, everything else will work out. Everything else will work out. Like, if I go out and hit and do what I need to do in the field, and I stay healthy physically and mentally, and I’m rested, then everything else, all these opportunities will exist and maybe tenfold in a couple of years, so I’m going to lock in on doing what I need to do to perform at my best.” And he did.

And I think when I got into the business world, more specifically now, we run negotiation trainings, and I speak and write and we consult with businesses, what I saw was there’s such a connection between the way that I saw the best athletes and coaches perform and the way in which they managed their energy, and the way we, as business people, can be equally as intentional about the way we manage our energy so we, too, can perform in the work that we do at the highest level for us as individuals.

And so, that’s the premise of the book and the reason that I think it’s incredibly important for all of us so that we can show up and lead, we can serve our customers and our clients better, we can solve problems better, but we can’t do any of those things if we’re fried.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, completely agree, and I love that story because it shows right there and there, “Hey, I’ve made a decision, there’s a lot of opportunities,” and you might call them distractions, “a lot of places I could put my attention. But if I put the attention toward the thing that truly matters, being energized, alive, uninjured, performing well on the field, then that sort of unlocks everything.” So, I’m big into the 80/20 principle here, and definitely energy management falls neatly into the vital few vastly important 20% of things.

So, let’s dig into it. You’ve got your own experience working with athletes and folks. Can you tell us, as you’re doing your research and putting this material together, did you make any surprising or striking discoveries along the path?

Molly Fletcher
Well, I think the biggest one would be we see people that wake up every day and they’re busy, they’re going and going and going, but it’s like, a friend of mine told me the other day, velocity without a target means nothing, right? And so, I have seen, over and over again, people get to maybe the end of their lives where they have maybe chased the wrong stuff, and they’ve been busy, and they’ve been doing what they do but maybe they’re not fulfilled. And, to me, there’s a really big difference between achievement and fulfillment. And what I hope this book does is it helps people find fulfillment, which to me is what many of us are really after. We’re not really after external things.

And so, the intent of the book is to try to help people get really clear on the things that give them energy, and then how to be intentional about being systematic and intentional about walking those things and the way that you live your life every day so that you can show up and perform as your best because there’s nothing that breaks my heart more than folks that wake up and they’re not delivering the kind of value to the people that matter most in their lives. And part of it bubbled up in lots of conversations with friends and after keynotes from the stage or businesses that we work with.

And I remember distinctly, I was with a client and we were up at her, I guess, sort of her cottage, and we were sitting there. We were out on a boat and we’re having a great time, and she sort of started to share, and a little bit break down, that she was just exhausted, she said, “Look, my relationship with my daughter isn’t where it needs to be. My husband, we’re not as connected as we typically have been.” And she’s like, “And this new boss I have is just difficult, and I’m working all the time, and I’m travelling too much,” and she’s just venting, right?

And I’m listening, and I said, “Well, gosh, man, tell me this, what are you chasing?” And she looks at me and goes, “What are you talking about?” And I go, like, “What is this all for? Like, what are you chasing?” She goes, “What do you mean?” And I go, “Is it a promotion? Is it money? Is it another opportunity? Like, is it a car? I mean, what is this all for?” And she kind of got tears in her eyes, and she said, “I have no idea. I don’t know. I’m just going.”

And that was when I said, “Gosh.” And so, I sort of invented this energy audit thing that’s in the book, and it helps people get really clear on, “What are the things that give you energy? What are the things that are neutral? What are the things that drain your energy? And then, how can you be intentional about ensuring that the things that give you energy are a part of your daily life?” Because I believe if we aren’t intentional about giving ourselves the opportunity to live in a space that allows us to do the things that lift us up, then we can’t really serve the people that we lead and our customers, etc.

So, there’s lots of moments like that that caused me to want to take this thinking and what I saw worked with great athletes and coaches, and bottle it up in a way that connected to business people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful and I’m just going. I mean, that’s, whew, that is a powerful sentiment, and I think I caught myself in there certainly from time to time.

Molly Fletcher
We all have. We sure all have, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s really great to say. And velocity without the direction is just you’re just going, as opposed to hitting a particular target. So, that seems like that’s one huge takeaway right there, is to have some clarity there on what are you, in fact, chasing and why does that matter to you.

Molly Fletcher
Absolutely. To me, having a really clear purpose that you filter things through is important, and there was a lot of moments in my life. Part of it for me is my parents really were my energy clock. They always helped me keep it set, and for that I’m so grateful, and my husband too. And so, what I hope this book helps people do is set their clock in a way that is sustainable, that it drives performance for them, whatever that might look like for them. It’s different for everybody, and that’s okay. I’m certainly not suggesting that I know how people can show up as their best selves.

But when we can create a system that’s sustainable, we hopefully get to our 90th birthday party, and we turn around in the room and everybody is there that we’ve nurtured in our lives. What always breaks my heart is people that go hard and they’re not quite clear on what they’re chasing, and then they get to the end of the days even, or the weeks, and they don’t have the energy for the people that matter most in their lives, and then potentially those sort of things unravel. And that’s that gap between achievement and fulfillment that I think is important to delineate that I think this book helps people solve for.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s talk about when you say clock. Is there sort of an overarching metaphor or framework you’d like to orient us to here?

Molly Fletcher
Well, there’s things in all of our lives that give us energy. They are the things that when we’re doing them, time sort of stands still, or that after we feel better about who we are and how we feel, how we show up. And whatever those things are for people is different, but what I think is incredibly important is to be intentional about protecting that time. And that’s the correlation. I think there’s a really tight correlation between energy and time, but time is finite, right?

We have so many hours and minutes in a day, and I think if we’re not intentional, and what I’ve seen so much about protecting the things that give us energy, then we find ourselves, we don’t do them. And, over time, that leads to burnout, it leads to chasing the wrong stuff, it leads to disheveled, you know, folks that maybe aren’t their best selves. And so, what the book helps people do is get intentional and clear about the things that lift them up, and then protect that time in their calendars, and they color code those in green.

And then the things that are neutral in your life, and we take people through, it’s called the audit, and then the things that are neutral in their life, they’re not the things that necessarily lift you up but they don’t necessarily drain you either, right? But they’re a necessary part of the way that we show up and live our lives. And so, those things that are neutral, those are orange.

And then there’s the things that drain us, that are really exhausting, and those things are red. And I believe leaders, great leaders, will find that most, 80% of their calendar, we want to make sure is green. And leaders often have a little bit more control of their calendar and so they can be a little bit more intentional about protecting that time traditionally, because if we don’t protect it, if we don’t identify where we want to put our time, trust me, somebody else will.

It’s a little bit of what Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, and some of the best coaches the book talks about, which is control the controllables, right? Control what you can control. And controlling our energy, to me, is something that we, if we’re intentional and disciplined about, we can control it, and it helps us show up as our best.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there you have it in terms of thinking about the activities in your calendar. Is it filling you with energy? Green. Is it neutral? Orange. Is it a drain? Red. And shooting for 80% plus, green. So, now, let’s zero in on you mentioned something that fills you with energy. You said that time stands still and there’s an audit. I guess, so what are sort of the key guiding questions or indicators you look to in categorizing these things? Because I imagine that for some people it’s just obvious, like, “Oh, my gosh, when I go for a morning run with the dog, it just fills me with energy and it’s a delight.” But I think that there are also probably some surprises, like, “You know what, that meeting really sucks every time.” So, how do you kind of raise this more into your consciousness and get the clarity on the categorization there?

Molly Fletcher
Well, I would tell people, like, if you’re sort of listening to this, and you’re thinking, “I wonder how this applies to me,” I guess I would tell people, who maybe their energy clock isn’t set, to me, they don’t  have the time for the things that matter most in their lives. So, that would be a question I would ask them, “Do you have the time for the things that matter most?” And that’s obviously incredibly important because this thing called life is not a dress rehearsal, right?

And people who maybe don’t have their energy clock set, they feel distracted maybe, they’re disconnected, they’re probably exhausted, they find themselves maybe reacting and blaming and behaving defensively. So, I would say that, at a high level, if somebody that’s listening feels that way, what setting your energy clock allows you to do is to have the energy for the things that matter most, to feel energized and fulfilled and focused and connected, to anticipate more, to be curious, and to be comfortable being accountable in your own life.

So, I would say to anybody that’s listening that says, “Hi, I want to feel more like…” what I just said, then you ask yourself, “What are the things that give you energy? What are the things that lift you up?” And so, we could do it, Pete, with you right now. So, what are the things that give you energy? What are the things that lift you up in your life?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing.

Molly Fletcher
Are you open to that? I don’t want to put you on the spot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Well, family time, good connecting with my wife and kids, prayer, spiritual time is swell. I’d say discovering stuff. I think that will often get really lit up in work in terms of it’s like I’ve discovered an opportunity, and I am excited about the implications of it, I’ve got several creative ideas for how to make it happen, and I’m just exploring and running after it. And I find that’s just…it gets me fired up. I’ve got some friends who tease me, like when I’m explaining one of these things to them, my hands are…

Molly Fletcher
Going?

Pete Mockaitis
…jumping, and they say, “I’ve got some things up here and I’m going to put them down here,” is what my hands are doing. Yeah, those are some of things.

Molly Fletcher
Okay, cool. And so, like family time, get me inside of that. What does that look like?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, so we’ve got a two-year old, and almost a one-year old, their current ages.

Molly Fletcher
Wow, you’re busy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah. It can be really anything. I mean, reading stories is fun. I think it’s fun when all four of us are kind of on the same bed at the same time.

Molly Fletcher
Yeah, totally. Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s nice. I don’t have to move too much, to sort of chase, “No, no, don’t put that in your mouth.” You’re more relaxed.

Molly Fletcher
Right, sure. What about discovering new stuff, like curiosity? So, that means you’ve got to make the space to have time to read and to have the head space to do that. That takes time.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. And as we talk about it, I really do. I think if I look at my day and I see it’s full of meetings, and I guess I would not count a podcast interview. In a podcast interview we’re discovering things so that kind of fits the difference. It’s meetings in terms of kind of administrative matters. It’s like, “We’re going to cover this, we’re going to ensure we’re all…the status of that.” I’d say when I look at a calendar and it’s full of that, I go, “Aargh, where do I get to play and explore and discover? I don’t see that time on this day.”

Molly Fletcher
Right. So, prayer, family time, discovering new stuff. And then what are the things that are kind of neutral for you, right? They don’t necessarily get you excited but they don’t really drain you either. I mean, they’re just sort of there, they just exist.

Pete Mockaitis
The first thing that comes to mind is sort of tidying my desk and email. They don’t fire me up but it really does feel good when they’re done. It’s like, “Oh, I’ve got a clear space. Oh, I’ve got a clear inbox.” I don’t have to worry that I’m leaving someone hanging somewhere.

Molly Fletcher
Sure. Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess those are neutral.

Molly Fletcher
Got it. And what about what are the things that really drain you, that are just exhausting? Like, you just talked about, just to clear stuff on your calendar, it sounds like that might be something that’s in the red, that’s a drainer for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that when it comes to things that resemble, I don’t know, this whole world of, like, this resemble accounting, bookkeeping, compliance, regulatory, insurance, those things. I understand these are necessary for the law and for taxes and for fairness.

Molly Fletcher
Sure. Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But, boy, just sometimes it feels like the opposite of the new, creative, discovery, innovation. It’s just like making sure you’re not breaking any laws.

Molly Fletcher
Right. Right. And so, accounting book, operational kind of things is what I’m hearing you say, right? Some of those ops tight things that you have to do when you run a business.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, but at the same time I really do get a kick out of sort of identifying a great process and clearly documenting and explaining and training and disseminating that in terms of, it’s like, “Okay, now this is handled by somebody else forever.” That feels great. And, “Oh, that feels good that I have gotten to the bottom of this kind of puzzle.” So, when it comes to operations in like a process formulation and training sense, I kind of can get into it, but in terms of the, “Oh, let’s read the ins and outs of the exclusions on this insurance policy to make sure this is the right thing that I’m buying,” I go, “Ugh.”

Molly Fletcher
Yeah. And what you just said is awesome, and that’s what’s important is to say, “How can I maybe create a system to make this more efficient, these drainers? How can I create a process? Or, maybe, is there a way maybe in which I could delegate that to someone else, that that’s something that gets them excited, that that’s a gift for them? And that’s maybe something that I can hand to them.”

And so, inside of that audit, we identify, “How do we make sure that for Pete, that every day he’s got some prayer in his life, that every day he’s ensured that he’s got enough family time that fills him up, or every week?” Some days, I’m sure, you travel and you’re out, and there may be days when you’re not getting that time with the one- and two-year old, right? But how do you get that back so that maybe by the end of the week you feel whole that you got those things that lift you up in your life? And then what are those things, that discovering stuff, that curiosity, that lifts you up?

And so, what I think is important is to say, “How do you ensure that you take the prayer and the family time and the discovering stuff, and you’re intentional about blocking those off on your calendar in green, and you really protect that time so that it doesn’t get taken with an advent scheduling, a podcast interview with somebody over maybe a moment in which you needed some time to discover stuff?” Or there’s always time that you find yourself works well after the kids wake up from a nap if you can have that little 15 minutes of those things that lift you up with the kids.

So, it’s saying, “Well, how can you be intentional about putting those in your calendar in green, the desk and the email?” You know, one of the things that we know is that we can go from things that are neutral to things that lift us up, and we can go right to things that drain us. This is a fluid system in our lives. We can go right from a red, things that drain us, to a green immediately. We can shift right from one to another. So, what I try to encourage people to do is, “If we know that we’ve got things in our lives that we need to do that are in the red zone, how can we bake a green in front of it so that when we do drain ourselves a smidge when we’re sitting inside of that red zone, that we haven’t taken ourselves to an E where we’re empty, or maybe just half-full because we’ve given ourselves, we’ve lifted ourselves up a little bit in advance of those moments?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. When you talk about empty and filling, it kind of is crystallizing it a bit more for me in my brain in that it’s a little bit more than just, “Hey, try to have more things that fill you up and fewer things that drain you.” But, also, kind of strategically considering the timing, the sequencing, the balancing over a day and a week. And so, do you have any pointers there with regard to, I think that was a nice one, in terms of, “Don’t go red, red, red, red, red or you will enter E”? You got me going now, Molly. Just paint a picture, what is E look, sound, feel like for people when you hit empty just so we can trigger some recognition, like, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably what’s going on here.”

Molly Fletcher
You know, I think you’re feeling really drained, you’re maybe really scattered, you’re disconnected, and just, generally, you’re frustrated. Those are the feelings that often go with when we find ourselves in that red space. And in the book, I have a sample calendar, and what I recommend people do is they literally, part of this comes down into anticipating the controllables in your life, and saying, “How can I go out…?” If you look at my calendar, I go way out, 30 days out, and I protect those things that give me energy. So, I would protect, if I was you, that prayer time, that family time, that discovering stuff time, I would actually block that out so that nobody can grab that from me.

And then I’m going to look really hard at the reds, and say, “Can I give these away to somebody else? Or can I be more efficient with them?” And then I’m going to look at the oranges too, and say, “How can I potentially be more efficient in this, in these areas of my life so that I can move through them more efficiently, more quickly, to get myself to a green?” But it’s about being intentional, and it’s about anticipating, and then looking back at the end of a month or the end of a week, and say, “How did I do?” Really evaluating, “How did I do? How do I feel at the end of the week? And how well did I execute against showing up with more green in my life?”

And I think there’s things that are inevitable. Like, if I’ve got to fly home. So, for example, one of the examples I actually used in the book is that my daughter was in a play early in the morning one morning and I really wanted to be there. To me, I want to be that parent that when my child looks out, I’m there. That’s really important to us. And so, I had to take a red-eye home from Vegas to get to the 8:30 a.m. play.

So, I’m in a red to get to a green to be able to be there in a moment that I wanted to be connected to my daughter. But that was a very intentional decision to say, “I’m going to wear it. I’m in a little red here but I’m going to be really intentional about when I’m in Vegas I’m going to get a massage, I’m going to get my workout, I’m going to minimize the number of calls that my team schedules for me during that window so that I can fill myself up so when I land, I’m not an E for this play, that I’m maybe at half-full but, still, I’m there, I’m present, I’m locked in, and I’m excited certainly, and feeling fulfilled to be able to show up in that way.”

So, it’s all about the way we prepare for these red moments so that when we shift, and maybe we’re at that play, we’re not on E but we’re still in a green zone, and we’re half-full, not on E. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yes. And, Molly, as you sort of kind of let us into your mental process, it’s very helpful. Thank you. I’m wondering if you catch some resistance from folks as you’re teaching this in terms of, “Oh, well, you know, you got to sacrifice and it can’t all just be about me and what feels good.” I’m curious, like if you catch some resistance, what does it sound like, and how do you respond?

Molly Fletcher
Yeah. And it’s interesting that you say that, Pete, because I actually felt that myself. I always felt like, “You know what, to fill your cup, your own cup up, is super selfish, and that isn’t right. It’s not right for me to go take an hour and get a workout in even though that takes me, and is a green for me.” But what I found is that if I can take that time, and I think we’ve all got to be respectful and careful and intentional about…I’m certainly not suggesting that a green is seven days a week, 24/7, if you want to have friends and family.

But what I realized is that if you don’t give yourself the things that give you energy, you can’t give it to anybody else in your life that matters most. So, I’ll give you a real example. I speak about 60 days a year on performance, and I had gone, I had like eight keynotes or something. It was a lot inside of a short window of time. I can’t remember the number, but let’s say it was like eight keynotes inside of like 13 days, which is sort of a lot. And it was Philly to Vegas to California, back to Miami, to Detroit. I mean, it was just a mess of kind of all over the country.

And I’d flown my mom in because our girls, we have three girls, and they were young at the time, and so I had flown her in to kind of help my husband with the girls. And I was sort of like five or six end of the eight, and I was exhausted. I mean, I was just exhausted. And I miss the girls, and I miss my husband, and I felt disconnected, and I felt drained and scattered and disconnected and frustrated and all those things that I referenced. I was in the red. But, yet, I’m paid to show up and be green because that’s my thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No one wants a tired keynoter.

Molly Fletcher
Right. So, I remember so vividly calling my mom, and I looked at my calendar, and I realized, “You know what, there could be a way that I could get home and I could get a little bit of family time and still honor every obligation that I had. If I had a board meeting, and if I left that board meeting just 12 hours or something earlier, I could get home, I could have a little bit of time with my girls. I could feel reconnected a little bit, get back on the plane and go do what I needed to do.

And it was a little bit of fire drill to make that adjustment but I thought, “I need to do this. I need to do this because I need to feel connected to my family in order for me to keep going.” But it was a window, when I came back, so I did. I came home and I pulled my kids out of school and we went and got a picnic, and we got ice cream, we had lunch. I showed up at their lunchroom and they looked at me, and they’re like, “Mommy, what are you doing here?” And I said, “Hey, I talked to your teachers. We’re good to go. We’re going to take the afternoon.” And they were in like third or fourth grade so I could do that, right? They weren’t going to fall significantly behind.

And we did, and then I got on the plane, and I went to the next keynote, crushed the next three, came home, and that’s when I looked at my mom, and I said, “I’ve got to create a system so that that doesn’t happen again.” And so, that was the beginning of a lot of this stuff, and I literally took my keynote calendar and we took weeks, we blocked them out, and we put red lines on the weeks with my team, and now I typically do two, at most three, inside of a five-day window. I’m really careful if I have a week with three that the next week, I only have one. And so, part of that is having the discipline to say no, which is really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, money that does not enter your bank because of your discipline. It is hard.

Molly Fletcher
Right, but the messaging, I think, is when I’m saying no to something, I’m saying yes to the things that matter most. And so, with the clarity around the things that lift you up, it gives you the confidence, the courage, and the discipline, at the end of the day, in order to have the courage to say no to something because you know, “I’ve gotten really clear on this at a time when I wasn’t feeling pressure to make a decision. I’ve gotten clear on what matters most. Now I’m going to have the discipline and the courage to say no inside of these moments.”

And this showed up for me a little bit when I was a sports agent. I had a team of nine agents, I had 300 athletes and coaches, and my strategy then was to try to fill their cups up so much when I could so that between 6:00 and 9:00, when I was home, and my girls were needing me, whether it was homework, or prepping for bed, or a tough conversation that they wanted to have, or stuff going on with their friends, or you name it, I could let those calls go to voicemail because athletes will call you 24/7. But I had gotten clear on, “I’m going to fill their cups up so much when I can so that when I need to honor my kids and my husband, I can do that and I can do it with confidence because I’ve filled them up so much in the other moments that they respect that window of time that I’m honoring my family.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is super handy. And so, I’d love to hear, as you’ve taught this to many folks and they implement it, can you share some of the recurring discoveries in terms of, “Wow, I overlooked this,” or, “It turns out this little thing makes a world of difference for energizing me”?

Molly Fletcher
Yeah. And that’s why I do this work, right? It’s the emails, it’s the notes from LinkedIn, it’s the stuff that people send on Instagram and Twitter, I mean, that is why I do this. It’s so fulfilling. I had somebody the other day that said, “I just did this energy audit with my husband. Both of our calendars are color-coded now. I am so excited to lean in 2020 sort of in this new way.”

And what I think people find is the clarity in itself is incredibly powerful. Even just when we did this with you, the clarity around, “Here’s the things that really, really lift me up. And if I had all those things in my life, one to two, maybe all three of them every day, imagine, would I be a better husband, would I be a better father, would I be a better leader, would I be a better community?” All those things, what we hear from people is, “Yes, here’s the things that…”

I take a gentleman that I’ve renamed in the book, his name is Frank in the book, but it was a real person. But when we took Frank through this, it was incredibly powerful because now he’s clear on the things that lifts him up, he’s been disciplined and intentional about protecting it on his calendar, and now the byproduct of that, inside of usually 20, 21, 30 days, is a person who’s showing up better at work, showing up fulfilled at home, showing up more connected to the people that matter most, more energized for the clients that they serve, the customers, for the team members that they work with. So, those are the stories that we hear.

And what’s really powerful is when people get really clear on the things that drain them, the things that, for you, the ops kind of stuff that you don’t love, my hope and dream and prayer and wish is that you hang up from this podcast, and you go back and you go, “You know what, I’m going to try to find a way to either delegate this or create some better systems so that this shows up a little bit less in my life.” And maybe there’s still a role for it in your life as a business owner, right, we need to be aware of those things, “But how can I maybe dial that back a little bit and then obviously my week looks a little bit better?”

So, I think this is something that works for the whole person not just a business person, and certainly it can work for somebody that works out of the home, as a caregiver in the home. I mean, this is a powerful thing too. And I think it’s incredibly important for men and women that are at home caring for their family are super intentional about that or resentment kicks in in a big way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, so then I’d love to get your notion. So, we talked about some doing the audit and getting particular about your own unique things. Can we hear about a couple common discoveries in terms of, hey, a lot of people seem to have discovered that, I don’t know, it’s a nap, or meditation, or eating apples with peanut butter. Is there any little something that makes a big impact that shows up for a lot of people?

Molly Fletcher
Yeah, that’s an awesome question. One is to create an opportunity with somebody that you trust and that wants nothing from you but for you to be your best self, for them to hold you accountable, for them to have access to your calendar, to have access to being able to connect with you about how this is going. So, somebody that you’re willing, we hear from people that they have shared this with, told them that this is something that’s important to them, that they’re leaning into and that they’re trying to do, and that every 30 days, “Would you ask me how am I doing as it relates to setting my energy clock and keeping my clock set? How am I doing?”

And we have, by the way, if you go to the EnergyClock.com, there’s all kinds of resources for folks when they buy the book both as individuals, as teams, and as leaders, that they can access, that helps them sustain their energy clock, so accountability. And then having monthly check-ins with their accountability partner at least every month where they can check in and assess how they’re tracking on keeping their clocks set, because that’s the most important thing, right? It’s not they read a book and they feel great for a week. We want to change behavior over the long haul. And so, we find that when people have accountability and then a system with that accountability partner that works best for them, that the sustainability is just better.

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

Molly Fletcher
No, it’s just I’m super passionate about this. It’s fun to talk about, so most importantly I hope this conversation helps people.

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

Molly Fletcher
One that comes up for me right now because I just saw it on the wall of an office for a company that I’m speaking to, is, “Treat every customer like they’re your only customer,” is I think kind of a cool quote. That one comes to mind.

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

Molly Fletcher
I just interviewed Shawn Achor on my podcast, and he anchors a lot of the work that he does, and he wrote The Happiness Advantage with a lot of research. And I love that conversation because he talks about gratitude and joy. And the research that he’s done over 55 countries on it, which is incredibly powerful, and how I thought this was staggering, Shawn said, “Molly, in the 55 countries and all the work that I’ve done, I found that if people do at least one of these three or four things, the gratitude journal, identifying the things that bring them joy…” if people do one of the three or four things that he mentions, they find themselves happier, and he measures that.

So, I’m super intrigued with the work he does. I’m a big fan of all of the research that Brene Brown does, Adam Grant. I read all of their stuff, everything that they do, and I’m grateful to call them friends. So, they are probably a whole lot smarter than me, right? They’re working inside of a lot of institutions. I’m not a researcher at all so I lean on other people for that, so I’m grateful for their work that I can lean on.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Molly Fletcher
The Alchemist is one of my favorite books. I just think it is so cool the way that it’s just a powerful read. I’ve read it several times. That book is one of my favorites. Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism I’m a huge fan of, The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr, I love. Those are a couple that come to mind. And, of course, all the work from whether it’s Adam Grant to Shawn Achor to Susan Cain. I’m a big fan of anything they put out, I grab and read.

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

Molly Fletcher
Just because it’s on my mind, obviously some of the stuff that we’ve talked about really helps me show up in the work, that I do better when my clock is set. I feel like I’m a better leader. So, that is a tool that I certainly do use myself personally, that my team uses, that we all use it, that I think helps us certainly. I’m grabbing my phone right now. I would say, probably, another one would be Slack. My team and I use Slack, and that’s a tool that we use, and I find it drives some efficiency which is powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Molly Fletcher
A favorite habit would be the gratitude journal or the five-minute journal. I do that whether if I’m travelling, I use my app. If I’m home, I try to write into my book. I like writing it better. But that, to me, is a pretty powerful tool. I love the five-minute journal.

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

Molly Fletcher
One would be, “When you ask for the business, you get advice. And when you ask for advice, you get the business.” That one is a big one. People love that one. And I also reframe it for young people that are listening, “When you ask for a job, you get advice. When you ask for advice, you get a job.” That one is powerful too. That would be one that people really connect with. When you ask for the business, you get advice. When you ask for advice, you get the business.

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

Molly Fletcher
MollyFletcher.com, there’s all kinds of stuff that leads into the book stuff. Of course, our workshop business, our negotiation training programs, all of that comes out of MollyFletcher.com.

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

Molly Fletcher
I would challenge them to set their clock, to get really energy clock, to get really clear on the things that lift them up, the neutrals, how to be more efficient, and the drainers, or delegate those, and set it. Find somebody to help hold them accountable every 30 days. And my hope and my prayer, and what we’re seeing with the people that we work with now is somebody that shows up more fulfilled and more connected to the things that matter most. So, that would be my challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Molly, this has been lots of fun. I wish you much energy in the weeks ahead.

Molly Fletcher
All right. You, too, Pete. Thanks for having me on and thanks for the work that you do.

530: How to Organize Your Time and Your Life with Julie Morgenstern

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Julie Morgenstern says: "You get organized to achieve a greater goal."

Organizing guru Julie Morgenstern discusses how to manage your time for greater productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A foolproof approach to managing your time
  2. Two powerful questions to get a grip on your time
  3. How to keep your inbox from taking over your day

About Julie:

Julie is a New York Times best-selling author, and everyone’s favorite organizing guru. USA Today recently called Julie “The Queen of Putting Life in Order.” She’s been featured in publications such as ForbesHarvard Business Reviewthe New York TimesWall Street JournalTimeO, The Oprah Magazine, and Redbook, and makes frequent appearances on national television and radio programs, including the Today Show, Rachel Ray, and NPR’s Fresh Air.

Her company Julie Morgenstern Enterprises provides corporate speaking, training, coaching and books to help individuals, and companies, to tame the chaos so they can make their unique contribution. Julie’s non-judgmental, inside-out approach to problems offers smart, practical and insightful solutions that transform the way people and companies function.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Julie Morgenstern Interview Transcript

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

Julie Morgenstern
I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear, so if you’ve got over 30 years of experience as a professional organizer, for folks who’ve got some clutter in their lives, do you have any pro tips or tricks that you use over and over and over again that the rest of us lay people should know?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I think when it comes to organizing, maybe, I was going to say physical organizing any space, any information, anything physical, I model every single physical organizing system on the model of a kindergarten classroom without exception.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Julie Morgenstern
Yup. So, you just picture a kindergarten classroom, it is the perfect model of organization. The room, imagine it, this is a room where you can have like 25 five-year-olds that the within the first two weeks of school, no matter how messy that room gets, at the ring of a bell everything is back in its home by five-year-olds, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Julie Morgenstern
So, how is that room organized? It is organized into activity zones. There’s a reading area, a dress-up area, a building blocks area, a music zone, and everything is stored at its point of use. So, if you’re in the music zone, everything that is related to music is in there. There’s nothing on the other side of the room. If you’re in the arts and craft zone, and you’re painting a picture, and you want to add glitter and glue, it’s right there in the arts and craft zone. Even if there’s an empty shelf in the reading corner, no teacher would ever put arts and crafts in the reading zone.

So, it’s storing items at their point of use as related to an activity, and then everything stored in a container that is perfect for what you’re storing, right? So, like puzzles are in those little slotted trays and they’re very organized. The building blocks area, there’s one cubby for the columns and another one for the rectangles and another one for the arches, and everything has a home that’s a perfect fit for what you’re putting away.

And the whole room becomes kind of a visual menu of everything that’s important to the people who use that space. So, like a kindergarten can just come in and look around, and say, “What is there to do? Oh, I’m going to go over and build something,” and run over to that area. And that’s really how our homes, and our offices, and our filing systems, digital or in paper, should reflect who we are and what we want and where we’re going. They should reflect our activities and reflect our life back to us. It’s a very visual and very powerful and very effective way of organizing everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for that metaphor. That’s already kind of sparking some things for me over here. And so, I want to dig primarily into the organizing of time and tasks things. But, first, maybe could we sort of paint the why for us. Kind of what difference does it make having great organization? Some might say, “Are we just shuffling papers, and to-dos, and calendar appointments from one spot to the other?” Can you make the case, what’s the benefit to be gained from this effort?

Julie Morgenstern
So, being organized, that’s a great question because why bother getting organized. You get organized to achieve a greater goal. Never get organized just for organizing sake. Never get organized just to make things look good or appear good to other people. Organizing systems are really vehicles to get you to your bigger goals. So, you shouldn’t organize anything without saying, “Why?”

And the very common reasons to people, when they hire us to organize them, or lead an organizing, or time management book, or get coaching, people don’t invest that kind of time or money to design a system for their lives unless there is something they are trying to achieve. Very commonly, people want to organize their time and their schedules to create space for quality time with their families and quality time for themselves. That is a very common goal.

If your schedule is more organized, if your space is more organized, you would free up time to be present with your friends, with your family, with your kids, with your spouse, and with yourself. That’s probably one of the most common motivations.

Another, in our work lives, is so that we can, “I want to get organized, manage my time so that I can achieve my greatest, fulfill my greatest potential.” If you’re bogged down with procrastination or you’re always late, and then you feel really guilty so you’re not really confident, which means you don’t really show up and really throw in at meetings or with clients, but you kind of hold back because you feel incompetent, or you feel embarrassed, or you feel like behind the eight ball, then you’re missing opportunities. So, it’s usually to really seize the maximum opportunities at work. Whether you work for yourself or you work for a small company, or a nonprofit, or government, or a big company, it’s really to maximize your opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m sold. And so, let’s talk about you’ve got a particular approach called the inside out, I guess, method, or approach, or style, or flavor. So, can you walk us through what is that and how do we do that?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. So, organizing from the inside out is really about designing systems that reflect your unique personality style and goals so that it’s very natural and easy to maintain. And too often we try to organize from the outside in. What does that look like? You just ask somebody else, I go, “Which app do you use for your to-dos or your calendar?” Or, “How many to-dos do you put in your list for the day?” Or, “How do you organize your closet?”

Well, we buy containers and we buy tools, and we think those tools are going to organize us. They don’t. You have to design your system the unique way you think and your natural habits so that you don’t have to change who you are to be organized, but it actually enhances and unleashes your full potential, and it works and it lasts, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds awesome.

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give us an example maybe of, “Hey, given your context or your style or approach, you might want to choose A over B”?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. Okay, so I’ll give you one or two examples. So, one is people are like, “Where do I keep track of my to-dos?” It’s one of the universal questions of today’s era because there are so many options, and our to-dos come at us from so many different directions. And if you don’t have your to-dos all in one place, you lose a lot of time to transferring information or working on something but you’re kind of worried that, “What am I missing?” so you’re not really focused on what you’re doing because you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a big problem.

So, people are, like, digital or paper. That’s the big first cut. So, usually, I will ask people to sort of identify, “Are you a visual tactile person or are you kind of a digital linear person?” And a visual tactile person will remember where on a page they wrote something, they’re like, “Oh, that was like three pages back in the upper-right corner in green ink.” Like, they have a visual tactile memory of where information is.

And if you relate to that then you are probably best on a paper to-do system because the act of writing pen to paper emblazons it on your memory, helps you process and group similar kinds of tasks, and just writing it helps you process what you’re doing. And if you try to do it digitally, it’s not sticky. So, that’s like one cut. And then if it’s paper, then you just have to sort of search through the various products that are out there. That’s one example.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s intriguing and very descriptive. I think some people will say, “Yes, that’s me.” It’ll kind of resonate right away. And so, what would be the “Yes, that’s me” equivalent for those who are in the digital linear zone?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I think people who are sort of digital linear thinkers, very often they’re kind of chronologic in their thinking. Like, you could throw out a date, like September 13, and they’ll be, “Oh, that was a Thursday this year. It’s between my sister’s birthday and when I had that proposal due.” Like, they think numerically, chronologically. They’re just great at interfacing with thinking straight into a keyboard or straight into a type pad and they can find things. They can figure out, like, they can setup a database or a contact manager. They think that way. They think digitally.

They rely heavily on search and are never afraid losing anything because all they have to do is have a trigger word and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I could find that.” So, they’re very comfortable and agile and think in a sort of interconnected words and associations kind of thing, rely on the search function. They really adapt quickly to technology, super quickly. They get it.

And they love, because they’re so good at it, they love traveling light, they don’t feel like any attachment to paper. They’re like, “I can find that in the cloud.” They can travel anywhere and find that information and they engage with it. They don’t find it overwhelming, right? They don’t glaze over in front of a screen. They’re using it as a tool. They get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Thank you. So, very handy there in terms of all the options out there. There’s a quick way to get to the heart of which half of the options are more suited to your brain, so very cool. And then, so you mentioned there’s three steps for organizing anything, the analyze, the strategize, the attack. So, could you kind of walk us through how we might approach that in organizing time or task things for professionals?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. So, I just was coaching somebody yesterday who is a very overwhelmed executive, incredibly accomplished man, in a very senior position in a big mid-sized company, very well-established, and he’s working like 15 hours a day, seven days a week, he’s getting everything done, but the cost is so high. He’s exhausted. He can’t get to the proactive stuff. He’s just doing the reactive stuff, and he’s not really present for his family or himself. He’s spread so thin that it’s sort of catching up with him.

And so, he’s like, “How do I fix this?” So, I can’t just come in and say, “Hey, let’s get you a to-do list as a starter.” That’d be an outside-in approach, right? That’s sort of an attack-first-ask-questions-later approach. So, analyze, strategize, attack is a three-step process to finding the system that will work for that person.

Analyze is you, first, have to ask a series of questions to really zero in on what needs to be fixed and what doesn’t. So, I always ask questions like, “Tell me what is working. What’s working about your system right now? What are the things that always get done? What are the things that…?” In his case, I could try to come up with his examples but, in his case, everything was getting done. That was working. What wasn’t working was the number of hours that it was taking. So, that starts to lead to narrowing in on the problem to be solved.

And, “What is it that you’re trying to juggle your time between?” That’s part of the analyze, which is, “What do you need to fit in time for to be truly balanced?” And all of us have to decide that when it comes to our time, “What am I really trying to balance my time between? What are the core, like, the big buckets?” It could be, like, I don’t know, in your field, you do a podcast, it’s researching guests, it could be writing, there’s research, there’s writing, there’s production, and then there’s administrative follow-up. That would be like the four buckets maybe.

So, we all have that. And analyzing is to really understand, “What is it that I need to balance my time between? And then where is my time currently going?” And I always do that and encourage people, like, “You have to think of your time. It’s like a closet. It’s a limited amount of time that’s only going to fit so much. So, how much do we have to work with? Are you working 10 hours a day, 8 hours a day, 12 hours a day? What’s the size of the container for your work? And then what has to fit inside? And how are you organizing it right now? What order do you tackle things in? How do you handle your mornings? When do you do your administrative stuff? Is there any order at all or is every day different?” So, that’s the analyze, “Where are we right now?”

Then, strategize is, “Where are we trying to get to?” so, what would your schedule look like if it was in that shape, size container and it fit everything you really needed to do? We kind of really do a graph to figure it out, “Here’s your ideal schedule.” And then attack is, “How do we get you from where you are to that ideal schedule?” And that’s all the time management skills, “What do you add to your schedule? What do you take out of your schedule? What, in your schedule, needs to be done more efficiently?” And then you just tool it. And so, you get the person into that ideal state. It’s very concrete and, actually, very practical and doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could perhaps share, is there a power question or two that you find tends to yield loads of insight as you are moving through these three steps?

Julie Morgenstern
Well, I would say, especially for listeners, there’s really two questions if you want to start to get a grip on your time. And you just ask yourself, “What am I spending too much time on? And what am I not spending enough time on?” And then you’d go about making adjustments to get those things in the right order.

So, if I’m spending too much time on email, on writing, on administrivia, “What am I spending too much time on?” Then you look at that and you say, “How do I eliminate that? How do I streamline that?” I have this thing called the 4Ds which is, “Can I delete it? Can I just get rid of doing this thing altogether? Like, it’s really not enough value for the time invested. Can I delay it? Which is at this month, this quarter, or this part of the year, this period of the business, I’m going to just put this off because right now we’re in, I don’t know, end-of-year financial wrap-up so I can’t also do that strategic marketing plan, whatever. That’s a delay. Can I diminish it? Which is, is there a shorter, quicker, more efficient way to do this?” And there very often it, right?

Like, we just need to find an efficiency and operationalize a repeat task so that it takes a quarter of the time it does because it’s more efficient. Or, “Can I delegate it? Can I give this to somebody else to do because that’s no longer the highest and best use of my time but it’s still really essential for the company, for the business, for living?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. So, there’s a number of tactics for when you’re spending too much time on something.

Julie Morgenstern
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about the equivalent for when you’re not spending enough time on something?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. So, you identify, “What am I not spending enough time on?” And, like, the classic, universal, frequent answers are, “I’m not spending enough time on the strategic planning,” or the creative work, the innovative work, that’s in our workday, or developing people. Like, “Not really thinking through my team and how to develop them.”

Pete Mockaitis
That makes sense. These things are important but not urgent. Like, it’s got to happen but it’s not on fire.

Julie Morgenstern
Right. But if you don’t make the time for them, you stay in that hamster wheel of always putting out fires because you haven’t spent time developing your people, you haven’t looked ahead down the road to figure out setting up things to prevent these fires. So, it’s so critical and, also, it’s really where we make our unique contribution.

We do not make our unique contribution in constantly fighting fires and all the little stuff. It’s in the big thinking where each of us make our unique contribution, and everybody knows that whether they articulate it in their brains or not. It’s like, “This is where the meaningful work is. This is where I can solve problems and make a contribution but I need time to think.” So, that’s a common one. Not enough time to do those things.

So, “What are you not spending enough time on?” And then you just ask yourself. The goal is now to create the time for it. And you ask yourself, “What is the ideal block of time to work on this?” which I highly recommend you think about as a daily, not like once a month, but what’s a daily strategic planning, daily thinking time, daily research time, quiet time. And what’s the unit of time? “Do I need an hour at a time? Do I need two hours at a time? What’s the unit of time? And what is the optimal time of the day for me to do that?” And then you claim it. You just claim it.

A lot of people it’s the first thing in the morning, right, that that’s when their head is clearest, and they can protect it the most because they have the rest of the day to catch up to any of the urgencies of the day. You grab and block off the first hour of your workday every day or the first 90 minutes of every workday. Or, if the first hour is not going to work, maybe it’s between 12:00 and 2:00 every day when people feel permission to, like, disconnect because they might be at a business lunch, so know that they’ve got a two-hour block with their deep-thinking time.

So, you claim that time and you make it a regular daily appointment in your schedule. And then you let all the other stuff work around that. And there you go. You’ve reduced the thing that’s monopolizing your time and you have created the space for the most important thing you’re neglecting right now. And life changes very quickly. Your sense of control and meaning and impact changes just on those two questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. Thank you. And when it comes to think about the time of day for things, you’ve been so bold as to write a whole book called Never Check Email in the Morning. Can you tell us, why don’t we do that and when should we do it?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I mean, email is a delivery mechanism for messages, requests, and reminders, and junk mail, and solicitations, and all kinds of things, but all in all it’s a reactive device, right? Everybody wakes up in the morning and has something they really want to get done that day personally, professionally. If before you get to what you know you want to do, your proactive tasks or activity, you check email first, you are starting your day out, you postpone the proactive and you probably never get to it, then you’re off to the races. You’re going down rabbit holes, you’re getting aggravated, you’re pulled in and you cannot get out.

And I think if you postpone checking email, that reactive device, by anywhere from the first hour, your first waking hour, I actually think it should be your first, all the way through your first working hour, should not be on email. And you start your day proactive, getting your biggest task done before you roll your shades up for business. You’ll get so much more done in much less time, and you start out you in control of technology, not it in control of you. And if you can start your day in control of technology, any other time of the day that you want to put your device away, you’ll be able to. But if you can’t do it for the first hour, there is not another hour in the day you’re going to be able to put it down.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on this. I buy that and I try to practice that. And then, sometimes, that really important thing that I’m doing, I need to get something out of the email to do that. And then as I open it up, I see all the other stuff, and it’s like, “Man, how do I do this?” I’ve even tried to like put a piece of paper up to hide some parts of the screen. What do you do?

Julie Morgenstern
I know it’s really tough. So, I actually think, for your most important thing in the morning that you’re going to work on, if you pull everything you need by the end of the day before, then you will sort of avoid that situation at least eight out of ten times. You’re going to reduce the need to go in because you pulled it the day before, you’re like, “I’m going to work on that proposal. I’m going to work on that document. I’m going to pull the research.” You pull everything together so you are set by the end of the day before for your mornings’ task. You don’t come in and get setup. You set it up the day before. That’s one thing.

If your first to-do requires you to be on your computer, it requires a lot of discipline and hacks to stay focused. One thing could be that before you go in, you set your alarm on your cellphone to say, “All I have to do is go in, find that email with the attachment and download it, and then shut down my email. That’s all I need to do.” You know where it’s going to be, you know what to look up by search, that is a five-minute task. You set your alarm for five minutes, you go in, you get the thing before that alarm goes off, and then shut it down.

It’s, like, think about going into a supermarket, right? Like, how often do you go in a supermarket without a list? You thought, you went in for three things, you come out with six bags of groceries. But if you go in with a list and a short time limit, it can help keep you focused. But it takes a lot of consciousness to do that, which is what we have to do in our screen-dominated lives. We have to stay conscious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s helpful. And I like it when you say pull it in advanced. I mean, there’s all sorts of ways we could pull it. You could print it. You could save it. I’m thinking about just making in Gmail just like a super query in terms of, “I only want to see messages from these five people.”

Julie Morgenstern
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And then that’s sort of what’s there waiting for me on the email screen, and it’s like, “All right. Well, that’s what I have and I’m not going to kind of delete that search query. I’m just going to keep that filter up,” so I dig that. Julie, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Julie Morgenstern
Just that when it comes to organizing your time, I think to recognize that you can stay as practical as possible. Try to only solve one or two problems at a time. Don’t feel that you have to overhaul everything at the same time. It’s impossible. Just focus on make a short punch list of things that need to be tooled or retooled, and do them one at a time. And you will see that any aspect of your time management that you address, and you adjust, and you tame or conquer, will pay off in all of your other 168 hours of the day, a week, I mean.

We have this 168-hours of a week to work with. You make a change in any one area and it’s all interconnected, and everything else lifts. So, don’t try to do everything at once. Just solve one problem at a time and you’ll see big impact.

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

Julie Morgenstern
One of my favorites is a Winston Churchill quote, which says, “When going through hell, keep going.”

Pete Mockaitis
Love it. Thank you. And a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Julie Morgenstern
There was a study done by the University of British Columbia sometime in the last five years that studied the impact of batch-processing email versus continuously processing email. And it was a very extensive, very well-conducted study.

And they found that, and they tested two test groups, and each one, one week they had people just check email all day long continuously, and then the following week, they had them batch-process their email, which means designate specific times you’re going to go into your email, give it your undivided attention for 20, 30, or 40 minutes, whatever it takes to clean it out, then shut it down, and come back at the next designated moment, which might be two hours later.

And they found, to a person, that when people batch-process email rather than continuously-process, they got through the same number of emails in less time. So, we, a lot of times, do it because we think that’s a way to stay on top of things is to keep checking. Actually, you’ll get through as many, you’ll get through all your emails if you batch-process and it’ll take you less time, less real time, which means you’re going to get time back in your pocket by doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. And how about a favorite book?

Julie Morgenstern
My most recent book is a book on time management for the parenting years, which are the most time-stretched years of a human’s life. And I did research for this book on what kids need, how much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure, because I couldn’t advise parents on how to divide their time until I’ve got the answer to that question, and I did about eight years of research.

But my favorite from that is a book called What Children Need by a woman named Jane Waldfogel and it was brilliant, and it is really like the essence of the answers in that book. And any parent who’s wondering, “How do I divvy up my time here, and fuel my career, and my marriage, and still be there for my kids?” What Children Need is the best resource I found.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m totally going to read this. Thank you. We got two under two right now. And, roughly, what is that amount of time?

Julie Morgenstern
Okay. So, I put all this together in my book Time to Parent. So, basically, what children thrive on is short bursts of truly undivided attention delivered consistently rather than big blocks of time delivered occasionally. And when I say short bursts, we are talking about 5 to 15 minutes, 20 minutes tops, at a time.

Children have short attention spans, that’s the key. And many experts say they calculate about a minute for each age of life of attention span, give or take, of course there are some variation. But you think like a five-year old has about a five-minute attention span before they dash off to the next activity, and a 15-year old, a 15-minute conversation and they are like, “Okay, I’ve had enough,” or a game.

And consistency is the key. And that’s what you’ll read a lot about in Jane’s book, which is kids need to be able to rely on when they first wake up in the morning that mom or dad is like, “Hey, how did you sleep?” It might only take three minutes but it’s like first connections, they can count on that. When you get home at the end of the day, don’t walk through the door still on your phone, doing one last email, or one last call, or one last thing. Make a mindful transition before you cross that threshold, and, “What is my intention on the other side of that door? I want to let that kid know, my wife know, my husband know, I am so excited to see them and I want to hear about their day.”

And if you do these short bursts, you build them into the fabric and the rhythm of the basic transitions of the day, that is what makes kids feel loved and secure. And if you can occasionally do these big blocks of time, quality time outings to the park or museum, or whatever, those are great, they’re fine, they can make memories, but what they really thrive on is those short bursts delivered reliably. It’s very frame.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Julie Morgenstern
You’re welcome.

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

Julie Morgenstern
I would say come to my website JulieMorgenstern.com and you can poke around there, you can read about the books, you can read about Time to Parent, the Never Check Email in the Morning, my other books, we have a couple newsletters you could sign up for, we have a Contact Julie tab where I welcome comments, questions, queries, and we will absolutely get back to you. And you can find me online, Instagram, just Julie Morgenstern everywhere, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I would say the call to action is to define, so clearly, what is your unique contribution. What is it that you bring to the table that you know your company hired you for? And you should start 2020 by claiming time for making that unique contribution. Tie it to your schedule, reliable time, every single day. You do that and you will start to really feel not only a great sense of satisfaction but a great sense of control and contribution, and you will start to see real results for it in every other aspect of your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Julie, this has been lots of fun. I wish you all the best in your organizing adventures.

Julie Morgenstern
Thank you so much. Great to talk to you, Pete.