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KF #33. Strategic Mindset Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

423: Becoming Free to Focus with Michael Hyatt

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Michael Hyatt says: "What I'm after is... the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I'm not willing to compromise either."

Michael Hyatt offers useful concepts to upgrade your productivity and focus, including the  freedom compass, the zones of desire and drudgery, and more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to do more of what you want with the “yes, no, yes” formula
  2. Three beliefs that prevent you from delegating your tasks effectively
  3. How to feel like you’re winning each day with the daily big three

About Michael

Michael Hyatt is the founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership coaching and development firm twice listed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing US companies. A longtime publishing executive, Michael is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, now part of HarperCollins. He is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Your Best Year Ever, Living Forward, and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.
Michael is the creator of the Full Focus Planner, which combines quarterly goal-tracking and daily productivity in a proven system for personal and professional achievement. His blog and weekly podcast, Lead to Win, are go-to resources for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, executives, and aspiring leaders. He has been featured by Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Fast Companyand Wall Street Journal. Michael and his wife of 40 years, Gail, have five daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. They live just outside of Nashville, Tenn.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Hyatt Interview Transcript

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

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate being on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. I think we’ll have a ton of fun. But first I want to hear about something fun in your life. You mention your dog, Winston, is exceptional in your About page and I want to know why.

Michael Hyatt
He’s the perfect dog. His temperament is fantastic. He’s just so easygoing. He always obeys. I don’t know. I feel like we won the lottery with him. He’s an amazing dog.

Pete Mockaitis
How did you get him?

Michael Hyatt
Well, we found out about a breeder in Indiana, who bred Australian Labradoodles. We got the dog from her. Then we sent him to a trainer in Indiana, a lady who actually is a Russian immigrant, who trains dogs for the federal government and for state agencies and therapy dogs and all that. She had him for about six weeks. I don’t know what she did, but some kind of Russian thing, but it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Michael, I just love that so much because it’s like you eat, sleep, breathe people, development, and now even dog development. We’re going to find the best trainer in the world. We’re going to spend some deep focus time immersed and come back a renewed dog.

Michael Hyatt
Dog hacks. What can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. You’re unveiling some more wisdom in your latest book, Free to Focus. What’s the main idea or thesis behind this one?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the main thesis behind this is you can actually achieve more by doing less if you have the right productivity system. The problem with most productivity systems today is that they’re designed to make you more productive. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Here’s the problem.

People start out working a 12-hour day, they get some productivity hacks, adopt a few apps, they reduce it to eight hours and then they fill it up with more work. They try to be productive so they can be more productive.

I say productivity is a means to an end. You’ve got to be very clear about what the end is otherwise you’re just going to fill your life with work, you’re going to be overwhelmed, you’re going to be burned out, and you’re not going to get the kind of work-life balance that makes life rich and meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about defining the end, can you give us a couple of examples of how that gets articulated?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, absolutely. In the first part of the book I talk about stopping and kind of taking stock. Get off that hamster wheel and ask, “Where’s this hamster wheel going? Why am I running this race? What’s it all about?” I say the end game needs to be about freedom. More productivity should lead to greater freedom and specifically freedom in four areas.

I talk about the freedom to focus. Focus is a super power today in our distraction economy. If you want to move the needle in your business and in your life, if you want your business to grow, if you want to get ahead in your career, you’ve got to be able to focus and do the deep work, the creative work that really creates the breakthroughs in your business and in your personal life. The freedom to focus.

You also need the freedom to be present so that when you’re at your son’s Little League game, you’re not on your phone thinking about work or you’re out for a day with your spouse or you’re significant other, you’re not thinking about work or when you’re at work, you’re not thinking about something that’s going off the rails at home. The freedom to be present.

Then third, the freedom to be spontaneous so that your life’s not so managed and not every last second is so planned that you just can’t stop and enjoy life, smell the roses so to speak.

Then finally, the freedom – and this is really underrated, but the freedom to do nothing at all. All the brain research says that we’re the most creative, we experience the biggest breakthroughs when our minds are the most relaxed. That means we’ve got to intentionally have that white space where we do nothing.

I learned this when I was in Italy a few years ago. They have a saying in fact. They talk about a dolce far niente, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. It’s true. You think about when you have the breakthrough ideas, the most creative ideas, often it’s in the shower or out for a walk or doing something that amounts to nothing. That’s what I’m after is freedom. I think productivity should lead to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lovely turn of a phrase, the sweetness of doing nothing. I’m reminded maybe when you said Italy, it brings about images. I’m just thinking about just sort of strolling, just walking with a good friend, catching up and chatting. It’s like I enjoy doing nothing in those moments so much. It’s like I don’t even want to be burdened with having to think about where we’re going and where the restaurant is, just having faith that a good eatery will appear if that’s kind of what we’re up to. It’s much more fun.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, and I don’t think they have bad food in Italy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, in Italy you’re covered. Sure.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Everything I ate there was phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. That’s the process in terms of the steps as we’re stopping. We’re taking stock. We’re pointing to greater freedom and a few kind of particular forms of freedom. What comes next?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, in that same section, under Stop, talk about formulate, so formulate a clear vision for what your productivity, you want to accomplish with it. Then secondly, evaluate. This means taking stock of our workflow, our work style. I talk about a concept there called the freedom compass, which I think is really a big paradigm shift and a way to think about your work that makes it possible for you to focus on your highest and greatest work because not all work is created equal.

I talk about kind of a two-by-two matrix, where you have passion intersecting with proficiency. There’s some tasks – and imagine this rotated 45 degrees and you’ve got a compass, where true north is where your passion and your proficiency come together, the things you love, the things that you are deeply satisfying, that you enjoy, plus proficiency, the things that you’re good at.

Not just proficiency in your subjective opinion, but in an objective reality, where people are willing to pay you to do this. That I call the desire zone. That’s where you want to focus the bulk of your time and the bulk of your energy.

Directly south, directly below that is what I call the drudgery zone, things that you hate, you don’t have any passion around it and you’re not very good at. It’s going to be different for everybody, but for me it’s things that look like administrative kinds of activities, like managing my email inbox, managing my calendar, booking travel, even finding the FedEx box, just running errands. All that’s in my drudgery zone. It’s kind of a grind when I have to do that.

Then there’s also the disinterest zone, where you don’t have any passion, but you might be pretty good at it. A lot of people get trapped in this because maybe they were good at something, they lost the passion and they keep doing it because it keeps making them money, keeps bringing home the bacon.

For me, when I started out as an entrepreneur this was accounting. I did it because I didn’t want to pay somebody else to do it and I was really good at it, but I didn’t have any passion and that leads to boredom.

Then on the opposite side of the freedom compass from there, due west, would be what I call the distraction zone, where you like doing it, but you’re not very good at it and you end up escaping there and then it wasted a lot of time.

Again, the key, and it leads to the next part of the book, but the key is to eliminate everything that’s not in your desire zone, the things that you’re passionate about and proficient at, because that’s where you’re going to see the biggest growth, the biggest progress, the most results. That’s the chapter on evaluation.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a nice two-by-two matrix and a clever rotation that makes it a compass. When you talk about doing more of the good stuff and less of the drudgery, what are some of the best ways that we can accomplish that? You have some things about saying no and some things about outsourcing. How do we systematically get our proportions more and more in the desire space?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. One of the things is I think to set ourselves up for success. That’s actually that third chapter in that first section before we get to the Cut section, which is about rejuvenation. This is one of those things that’s easy to overlook because we live in the hustle economy. We’re encouraged to burn the candle at both ends, to work evenings and weekends. Elon Musk said unless you’re working 80 to 100 hours a week, you’re not going to make the progress you need to.

One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself if you want to be more productive. Getting a good night’s sleep, something as simple as that, can make the difference between whether you’re focused or productive the next day. I talk about sleep, nutrition, exercise, relationships. Those have a lot to do with how productive we are. That’s all the rejuvenation chapter.

But then moving into that second section, the section called Cut. The first one’s Stop. The second part of the framework is Cut. How do we prune all that stuff that’s not in our desire zone? It really does start with elimination. We’ve got to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t need to be done and the best way to do that is to head it off at the beginning by getting better at saying no.

Warren Buffet once said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything,” but how do we do that without being a jerk? In the book, I talk about how to do that. I talk about how to give a graceful no. I talk about it using a formula called Yes No Yes. It’s the positive no that William Ury talks about in his book, The Power of a Positive No.

Let me illustrate. I spent most of my career in the book publishing industry. I still to this day get a lot of requests from aspiring authors, who would like me to review their book proposal before they send it to an agent or a publisher. Now, I don’t really have time to do that. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t have time to do that. I have an email template that I use. I respond with that formula, yes, no, yes.

Here’s what it looks like. First of all, I start with an affirmation. I start off not resenting the fact that they asked me to review this proposal. But I’ll say something like, “Hey, congratulations. You’ve done what 97% of most aspiring authors will never do and that is create a written book proposal. That is a phenomenal first step. It’s a foundational step and an important one. Way to go.”

Then I move from the yes to the no. Here I want to give a very firm, unambiguous no, so there’s no misunderstanding. I’ll say something like this, “Unfortunately, in order to be faithful to my prior commitments, I have to say no.” I’ve made it very clear that I’m a person of integrity in terms of trying to be faithful to my other commitments, but I give them a firm no.

I don’t say, “Check back with me in a month. I’m a little busy right now,” because in a month it’s going to be the same story, so I might as well cut it off right now.

Then I end with a positive with a yes so that I leave a good taste in their mouth. I’ll say something like, “Best of luck with your publishing product. Let me know when it comes out. Can’t wait to pick up a copy. All the best. Thanks for honoring me with your request,” something like that.

I’ve never gotten a negative response when I follow up with an email like that. For the most part, people are just glad that they heard back from me because so often we send a request like that and we don’t hear because the person is procrastinating because they don’t know how to respond. They want to say no, but they don’t know how. I make it very clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. I find that when you talk about we don’t know how to respond and we procrastinate, I find that I get a lot of requests, it’s sort of like someone’s presenting me with an opportunity, but I don’t think that they’ve given me nearly enough information to even evaluate if it’s worth talking for 15 minutes about the thing.

I’m trying to craft my TextExpander, generic response, which says, “I will need to know more before I can tell you whether or not I can talk to you about this,” which feels a little bit like, “Oh well, someone’s really busy,” but that’s really how I feel. It’s like “You know your product/service/offer better than I do. What you’re saying might be cool, but I really have no idea what this is supposed to be. Where’s the value here? Could you explain that so that I could tell you if we can find 15 minutes?”

Michael Hyatt
See, that’s a perfect example of what I talk about in the next chapter on automation, where you take something like TextExpander or you could use your email apps signature capability, but come up with a list of email templates so that you can respond to the most common kinds of requests so that you don’t have to create it from scratch every time.

I’ve tried to develop sort of this template mentality, where I ask myself if this task I’m about to do if I think I’m going to have to do it again in the future, why not take a few extra minutes now, do it right, save it as a template or a TextExpander snippet so that I can reuse it in the future and not have to reinvent the wheel every time.

For that example, a great way to deal with that using the Yes, No, Yes framework would be to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me for your podcast. I’m honored. I would be happy to consider it, but I need just a little bit more information.” Then you’d go through the information that you need and then let it go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. That is a nice sentence. “I’d be happy to consider it. I need some more information.” Tell me, what are some other top templates you find yourself using again and again?

Michael Hyatt
Well, here’s what I did, how I started this. This is probably about 15 years ago. I noticed that there was sort of a limited range of requests that I was getting. I would get requests from people who wanted me to consider a speaking engagement or wanted me to consider serving on a non-profit board or make a charitable contribution or just have coffee with me so they could pick my brain. There were about 40 or 50 of these as I catalogued them.

Then what I tried to do – I didn’t sit down and write all these templates at once – instead what I began to do is incrementally populate a template database. At the time I was using email signatures to do this. Now TextExpander makes it even cooler. But to write these one at a time until I had a library of templates.

Every time one of those requests comes in now, I look for the template where I can respond, very rare that I don’t have a template. Instead of taking 10 or 20 minutes, now it just takes a few seconds.

But it’s not just email. For example, I use Apple Keynote for creating slide decks. If I public speech that I’m going to give or a webinar that I have to give, I always start with a template, like with a webinar. I’ve got seven main parts to all my webinars. They always start the same way. They’ve got the same transitions and the same pivots and the same ending and all that.

It’s kind of like paint by numbers, but again, I’m starting with sort of that template mentality of if I’m going to do this again, how can I do it right the first time so I can reuse it, polish it, improve it, and get better at this and take less time as I do it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s so much good stuff here. I want to dig in in all kinds of places, but it would be too scattered. First, let’s chat a little bit in the realm of going back to stopping for a moment. You mentioned rejuvenation. I think that we’ve heard from a few sleep doctors, a lot of good tips there and I’m a huge advocate for that. It’s so important.

But I want to get your take on when it comes to nutrition and exercise, boy, there’s a lot of advice out there. What have you found ultimately really yields good quality rejuvenation, energy, and freedoms?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, disclaimer, I’m not a physiologist or a doctor or a fitness trainer or any of that. What I do know is what works for me and I have studied a little bit.

But with regard to nutrition, I found that one of the best things to do is to really take it easy on the carbs. A high-carbohydrate diet creates a lot of problems in terms of focus and productivity. It’s why when we eat lot-quality carbs and we eat a lot of these kind of carbs like at lunch, like I’m talking about white bread, pizza, mashed potatoes, pasta, that’s why we kind of go into that funk in the afternoon and get sleepy because that turns to sugar very quickly. It burns up fast and it just doesn’t keep our blood sugar level at a level where we could be really productive.

One of the things I’ve done, and this is – I may lose some of your listeners here – but one of the things I’ve done for several months now is I’ve been on the keto diet. That’s a high fat moderate diet, a moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet. One of the things I had no idea about was how much brain fog I had until I started doing this diet.

It was actually developed back in the 1930s to help epileptic children deal with seizures. There’s a cognitive relationship between this diet, high fat, and your cognitive function. That’s been helpful to me.

I’m very careful about taking supplements, about checking my blood a couple times a week with my physical – or a couple times a week, a couple times a year with my physician, just making sure that my markers are right so that can serve as an early warning sign to head off problems before they happen.

Then I work out five to six days a week usually about an hour, three days of cardio, three days of strength training. All that just keeps my energy level up. It’s important to move in some way like that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you do the cardio or the strength training, what kind of intensity are you shooting for?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I would say moderate intensity. I’m kind of an achiever, so I’m always trying to beat my personal best. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life that I’ve ever been in. I do work with a trainer, who prescribes a program for me. We get together once a month and reevaluate the program and see where I want to go from there.

I was training for a half marathon this spring, but I injured my foot, so I’m going to back that off till this fall. But typically what I’ll do on the cardio before I had the injury is that I’ll run about 30 minutes of interval training twice a week and then I’ll do a long run and a progressively longer run on Saturdays. Yeah, it depends on what I’m training for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Well, so now, talk about cutting again. You mentioned that there’s something that we should permanently remove from our to-do list, what is this?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, you should remove the drudgeries of stuff. That’s where you really start is with the drudgery zone activities. Those are not the best and highest use of you. They’re not going to create leverage in your business or your personal life. You’ve got to really focus on those desire zone activities.

Again, that begins with elimination and it goes to automation, and then that final chapter there is all about delegation, which one of the things I found with people that have businesses or leaders, until you can scale yourself, you can’t scale your business.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. All right, so when it comes to that delegation, any particular tips in terms of where to get started if you’re having trouble letting go of anything?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I think the first thing that we’ve got to do, Pete, is confront sort of the limiting beliefs or the way that we think about delegation. In my experience with coaching now hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs there’s usually three sentences that rattle around in their head. The first one is “If I want it done right, I have to do it,” what?

Pete Mockaitis
Myself.

Michael Hyatt
Right. Or here’s another sentence that they have. This would be a second sentence. “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself.” Or they say, “I can’t really afford additional help right now. I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.” As long as yourself is at the center of all this, you’re not going to be able to grow, you’re not going to develop additional capacity, you’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Let’s look at those one at a time. To the person who says “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself,” it’s true. It does take longer to explain it the first time, but once you explain it the first time and give people an opportunity to do it so that they can be trained, then you save yourself all the time because you never have to touch it again.

“In terms of if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” here’s the beauty of the freedom compass. What’s in your drudgery zone, might be in somebody else’s desire zone. If you hire right so that you have compatible people that offset what’s in your drudgery zone with what’s in their desire zone, then not only can they do it as well as you could do it, they can do it better than you could imagine doing it.

That’s basically how I’ve grown my entire business. I have 35 full-time people. Last year we grew 62%. I hire specifically for people that are doing their desire zone activities so that everybody’s functioning in their strengths and doing the things that they love and the things that they’re proficient at. That’s a real key.

Then the whole thing about affording, “I can’t afford somebody to do it,” you can take baby steps. I’m not advocating going out and hiring a big staff or even hiring somebody full time. You can start as a solopreneur or as a leader just with a part time virtual assistant. That’s how I started.

Back in 2011 when I left the big corporate world, where I was managing a large company where we were doing a quarter of a billion dollars a year and then I stepped into a solopreneur job, where I couldn’t even find a FedEx box. I had to start small. I hired a virtual executive assistant, who worked five hours a week. I did that for a couple of weeks. I saw the value of it. Then I upped their time to about 10 hours a week, then 15 hours, and 20 hours.

But here’s how the conversation often goes. I had a client by the name of Greg. Greg said, “Look, I’ve got a business where I have to have a web presence. I know just kind of enough about web design and web development to do it myself. It’s probably not the best use of my time, but I really don’t feel like I can afford somebody else to do it now.”

I said, “Well, let me ask you a question, Greg. How much do you bill for? What’s your hourly rate?” He said “150 dollars an hour.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “What would it cost you to get a WordPress developer, somebody that was really good that knew what they were doing? They could do a little bit of design work too.” He said, “Probably 50 dollars an hour.” I said, “Then why are you paying somebody 150 dollars an hour that you admit isn’t that good?”

The lights went on. He went, “Wow.” I said, “If you hired somebody at 50 dollars an hour, it would free you up to bill for that additional time and you’d come out ahead 100 dollars an hour.” That’s how we have to think about delegation. It requires an investment first, but boy, that’s when we begin to reap the rewards and that’s when we begin to clone ourselves in a sense because we’ve got other people that are helping us.

Pete Mockaitis
For folks who are professionals and not business owners, what are some key things you’d recommend they delegate?

Michael Hyatt
I think the same thing. Go back to the freedom compass. Start with the drudgery zone because your company is probably not paying you to do those things that you don’t love and those things that you’re not proficient at. If they are, you’re in the wrong job. Get rid of those things because it’s not the best and highest use of you.

Then go to the disinterest zone, then the distraction zone. Again, focus on those few things that really create the leverage, the things that your employer thinks the results you ought to be delivering. That’s where you’re going to see the advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. When it comes to cutting, how do you recommend we cut distractions?

Michael Hyatt
Well, you’ve got to have an offensive plan to begin with. I talk in the book about how to design your quarter, how to design your week and how to design your day. Once you have a good offensive plan, then you’ve got to come up with a defensive plan for the interruptions. I distinguish between interruptions and distractions, two different things.

Interruptions are the external things. It’s people dropping by to visit. It’s that text message you get. It’s people interrupting you. I often talk to leaders who say, “I can’t get my own work done because I’ve got so many people interrupting me to help them with their work.” I think one of the best strategies is to have an offense on those two.

First of all, schedule time to get your most important work done. Make it a commitment and put it on your calendar. What gets scheduled is what gets done.

Then, preempt those interruptions by going to the people who are most likely to interrupt you, and you know how they are, go to those people and say, “Hey, look, I’m about to do some really important, focused work. It’s important that I don’t get interrupted, but I want to be available to serve you, so are there any questions you have, anything I can help you with before I go into this session?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Hyatt
This is awesome because, now all of the sudden, you’ve put them on notice and you’ve also not been a jerk about it. You’ve communicated that you want to help them, but you kind of want to do it on your terms.

Then you’ve got distractions. Now distractions are all the stuff that look external, but are really a problem with ourselves with self-control. This could be jumping over to Facebook. The problem is we’ve got multi-billion dollar-social media companies, who are doing a tremendous amount of research and whose entire business model is built on high jacking our psychology and manipulating our dopamine.

They want us to spend as much time on those platforms as possible. Why? Because they’re repackaging our attention and they’re selling it to the highest bidder in the form of advertisers. We have to combat that. The best way to do it, I think, is to use technology to fight technology.

For example, my smartphone, it looks like a really cool device. It does a gazillion things. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max. It does a bazillion things, but it’s a very sophisticated distraction device if I’m not careful. On my phone, I’ve removed email. I’ve removed Slack, which is our internal communication program. And I’ve removed all social media with the exception of Instagram because I’m trying to build my Instagram following.

But even there I’ve used the technology to fight technology. I go into settings, screen time, and I limit my use of Instagram to 30 minutes a day. Even better, I gave my phone to my wife and I said “Set a passcode for that so that I can’t cheat and don’t tell me the passcode.” When my time is up on Instagram, my time is up.

There’s a great app for the desktop that works on Windows or Mac or any platform called Freedom. You can find it at Freedom.to. I don’t have any relationship with them except that I use this program and love it. But it allows you to selectively turn off apps and websites for a specific period of time, which allows you to stay focused when you do your most creative breakthrough kind of work.

The only way to defeat Freedom is to completely reboot your computer. That gives me just friction so that I can remember my intention that I’m trying to get focused work done. It enables me to avoid the distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. What do you think about mindfulness practice when it comes to building the capacity to resist distraction?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s really important. I meditate every morning for 15 minutes. It just gives me the opportunity to collect my thoughts, to kind of get centered, to get focused, to get re-connected with my most important priorities. Again, it kind of goes back to the freedom that I talked about before, the freedom to do nothing. It’s often underrated.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’d love to dig in for a moment now. When you say meditation, are you referring to more of a mind training exercise or more of a prayer exercise?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I actually do both. I do pray. I also do just straight up meditation. I use an app called 1 Giant Mind. Are you familiar with that?

Pete Mockaitis
I know a couple. I don’t know that one.

Michael Hyatt
It’s awesome. If you’re familiar with Headspace-

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Hyatt
It’s kind of similar to that, but I actually like it better and it’s free. But 1 Giant Mind. It has 12 initial lessons and then you can go into a 30-day challenge, but the instruction is fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed a little bit of all of them in terms of Calm, Simple Habit, Headspace. They all give me a little bit of a different perspective. I go, oh yeah, that’s a really good one. Thank you. Much appreciated. We’ll check out another one. Cool.

Michael Hyatt
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so we talked about stopping. We talked about cutting. Now what?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, so now we get to that third section of the book, which is called Act. It’s a little bit counterintuitive because you’d think that Act ought to come first, but I find that you’ve got to stop, kind of reflect where you want to go, then you need to cut or prune because anything that’s healthy has to be pruned from time to time, but now it’s time to act.

Now, hopefully, you’ve gotten rid of all the stuff that’s in your drudgery zone, a lot of the stuff in your disinterest and distractions zones and now we’re going to focus on how to get more done in your desire zone, the things that you love and the things that you’re good at. That begins with a chapter called consolidate. This is all about designing your ideal week.

The idea is that you want to design a week as if you were in 100% control of your time and resources. What would that look like? If you really wanted to give it some intelligent design and not just be reactive to what came over the transom and schedule those things, but actually we’re very proactive about it.

Here’s how mine works for example. First of all, I’m going to start with on Mondays is when I have my internal team meetings. I batch all these together for one simple reason. It’s the concept of context switching.

In other words, anytime I switch a context, for example, I go from a meeting to I go to some time where I’m working on a project to maybe I’m going to record some video, anytime I go to a different context, there’s a certain amount of ramp up time, a certain amount of time to kind of get into the groove, find my equilibrium and get into flow. Well, the less you can do that, the more momentum you can build.

When I get into that space in my head of meetings and I’m in meeting mode, then I just batch them altogether. Internal meetings are all on Monday.

Tuesday, is all about what I call backstage time. This is my time for preparation on the front stage. Everybody’s front stage is going to look different, but the front stage is what your employer or your clients are paying you, that’s what you’re delivering, but there’s always some backstage work that has to be done in order to do that.

If you’re a lawyer, for example, your front stage might be arguing a case before a court or negotiating a contract on behalf of a client, but there’s a lot of research in the backstage that has to go into that preparation. For me, Tuesday is all about that preparation.

Wednesday and Thursday for me are front stage activities. For example, when I record my podcast, I do that in a day and a half once a quarter and I record 13 episodes in a row. It takes me a day and a half, but then I don’t think about it for another quarter. I get into that headspace and I stay focused and knock it out.

Then on Friday is when I try to consolidate my external meetings. If anybody wants to meet with me, they come in from out of town or a vendor or a client or whatever, I try to move those to Friday. Why? Because I don’t want those meetings interrupting my progress on my front stage days or my back stage days.

Then, of course, I have – and a lot of people don’t know about this – but there’s actually an offstage. All of life doesn’t have to be work. On the weekends, on Saturday and Sunday for me, I’m not thinking about work. I don’t talk about work. I don’t read about work. I don’t do work. Why? Because I want to get back in on Monday morning totally rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running.

That for me is my ideal week. This could be a game changer for people to begin to get some sense of control back. I would say, Pete, probably in any given week, I’ll probably approximate that about 80%. Things are going to happen. I don’t try to be legalistic about it. But boy, going into the week with a plan is a whole lot better than just reacting to what comes over the transom. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Yes. What do you think about in terms of total hours of work in a day and a week, energy levels and optimizing that?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I keep my work to 40 hours a week. I can tell you that the science and I quote it in the book, but once you get past about 55 hours a week, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time you work and the level of productivity you have. It actually goes backwards after you give 55 hours. There’s been a lot of study done on this.

But the average person is buying into what I call the hustle fallacy, where you’ve got to work 80 hours, you’ve got to work 100 hours. That’s a recipe for burnout. It’s also a recipe for screwing up your life, screwing up your health, screwing up your most important relationships.

What I’m after, personally, is what I call the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I’m not willing to compromise either for the sake of the other one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get your take, I don’t know if you would liken yourself to this, but I think of, hey, Michael Hyatt, Elon Musk, two titans, very different perspectives. I guess, when it comes to Elon Musk it’s like I cannot deny that is one successful dude, who has made a lot of things happen and he espouses very much the hustle mentality.

Michael Hyatt
He does.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we reconcile that?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think it depends on you define success. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He, by his own admission, doesn’t talk to his kids hardly. He’s sleeping at the factory so much so that his fans started a Kickstarter page to buy him a new couch, kind of as a joke, so he’d have something better to sleep on. He’s appeared in the media and said some crazy things, which have led even to fines from the SEC and other federal agencies.

I think it depends on how you define success. Look, I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue, but here’s the thing. Here’s what’s possible. Last year I took off 160 days, now that counts weekends, so 160 days including a one-month sabbatical, which I’ve done every year for the last eight years and my business grew 62%.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Michael Hyatt
I really think this idea of achieving more by doing less – the hustle fallacy, I want to keep my health. I’d like to live a long time. I’ve been married for 40 years, almost 41 years. I have 5 grown daughters, who I adore and who like me. This doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s not because I’m lucky, but I’ve tried to focus on those things.

Again, I’m not trying to hold myself up as the paragon of virtue, but I’m just saying that there’s a different model for success than the one that Elon Musk espouses. I’m not trying to judge him, but just look at the fruit, look at the results.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well done. Thank you. Well, tell me before we sort of shift gears and do your favorite things, any sort of key mistakes folks make when they’re trying to say, “Heck yes, I want to get free to focus and do these things.” What are some roadblocks or some fumbles folks make along the way as they’re trying to enact this stuff?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think the biggest tip I can give people is to get a plan for your day. This is where you’re going to get the biggest leap forward. I advocate something called the daily big three. Here’s how it goes for most people. They start the day – if they have a to-do list, and not everybody works with a to-do list, which is also a guarantee for being reactive, but let’s say you have a to-do list. The average person’s going to have somewhere between 20 and 25 items on that list.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Before they begin the day, they’re already feeling overwhelmed, like there’s no way that I can accomplish what’s on my list. They get to the end of the day and even if they’ve done half of it, where do they focus? On the half they didn’t get done. They go to bed defeated. This becomes a vicious cycle. It creates a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of frustration and ultimately leads to burnout.

But the problem is they’ve created a game, they’ve set themselves up to fail by creating a game that they can’t possibly win. What I suggest is instead of that, go ahead and identify the three highest leveraged tasks that you can do today. Not all tasks are created equal. We know from the Pareto principle that 20% of the effort drives 80% of the results.

Let’s just go ahead on the front end and say “What are the three most important things that I can do today?” Now all of the sudden that seems manageable. At the end of the day when I accomplish those three things, even if I didn’t do all the other trivial things, at least I got the most important things done.

You do three important tasks like that a day, you do it 250 days a year, which is the average number of workdays people have, that’s 750 important things per year. That, more than anything else, will give you a sense of control and give you a sense that you’re winning. When you feel like you’re winning, it builds your confidence and it builds your momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I like feeling like I’m winning. Well said.

Michael Hyatt
Me too. Me too.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. I think one of my most favorite quotes is one by Warren Buffet. He said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Michael Hyatt
I would say the research that I’ve done into sleep has been probably the most rewarding, especially into naps because I sort of knew intuitively that napping was a powerful way to rejuvenate and kind of reboot in the middle of the day. I’ve faithfully practiced it for about 30 years.

I took a nap today, so between interviews I laid down for 20 minutes, fell to sleep – I trained myself to fall to sleep quickly – I wake up and I’m a little bit groggy maybe for about ten minutes or so, drink a cup of coffee, and then it’s like I’m rebooted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to know, how do you train yourself to fall asleep quickly?

Michael Hyatt
It’s not unlike training yourself to meditate. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to fall asleep. What I do is kind of try to focus on my breathing and focus on relaxing. If you do that and do it routinely, you’ll find yourself falling asleep. If you don’t fall asleep, it’s still rejuvenating, even if you do nothing but put your feet up and relax.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Michael Hyatt
I’m one of those guys, I read a ton. I tend to focus on the books that I’ve read most recently. The book that I love that I just finished here about two weeks ago was Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Have you read that?

Pete Mockaitis
I have perused it. Can you tell me maybe a takeaway that was particularly valuable for you?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the biggest one was on the value of high-quality leisure, so really being intentional about your leisure time and how it correlates to our work, it makes us more productive at work. But that was really challenging and really exciting to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Michael Hyatt
Let me think here for a second. I would say the tool that I’m enjoying the most right now is a tool called Notion. Have you heard of it?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Michael Hyatt
Notion is kind of like a personal Wiki. It could be. A lot of people are using it as an Evernote replacement. I’m still using Evernote, but only as a digital junk drawer. Notion is where I put structured information, information I want to get back to. It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s an outstanding tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Michael Hyatt
A favorite habit without question is my morning routine, just going through my drill every morning, setting myself up for high performance. Again, I learned this from the world of athletics, where the world’s best athletes have a pre-game ritual. I think of my morning time as a pre-game ritual. That’s the time when I’m going to pray, the time I’m going to meditate, the time I’m going to exercise and get fueled for the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s that one about winning at work and succeeding at life. I think that with my clients, that’s just captivated their imagination and gets them really excited because I think most people have kind of fallen into this idea that you’ve got to give up one or the other. You can’t have both. I think when people are given a model, and that’s what I try to do in the book, Free to Focus, for how that can be done, it resonates with people.

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

Michael Hyatt
Well, in terms of the book, I would go to FreeToFocusBook.com. It has links to all the places where you can buy the book, but more importantly, it also has 500 dollars’ worth of free bonus material related to the book that you can get just by turning in your receipt. That’s all you’ve got to do. Turn in your receipt, claim the free bonuses. It has some amazing stuff including the audio version of the book for free. Then for all things related to me, just MichaelHyatt – Hyatt with a Y, not an I – MichaelHyatt.com.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I would say that in this kind of distraction economy where people are so sidetracked and there’s so much sideways energy and so much fake working going on, if you can learn to focus, that could become a super power.

I would just encourage people to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from their peers by being the person that really can deliver the highly creative, deeply important work that moves their business forward, that moves their personal work forward because so many people are sidetracked and distracted. You can differentiate yourself and make a real difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Michael, this has been a ton of fun. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it.

392: Getting Your Dream Job by Illustrating Your Value with Austin Belcak

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Austin Belcak says: "You should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want."

Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two common themes to successful job searches
  2. How to do cold outreach that gets responses
  3. Two ways to effectively illustrate your value

About Austin

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.

Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Austin Belcak Interview Transcript

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

Austin Belcak
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.

But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.

I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.

If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.

I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.

But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.

I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-

Austin Belcak
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.

This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.

The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?

Austin Belcak
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.

That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.

I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.

That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.

I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.

Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.

One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”

I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.

I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.

I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.

If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.

I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.

At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.

About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.

I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.

I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.

I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.

I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a decent ratio.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.

I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.

The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.

I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.

Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.

But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.

I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.

I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.

If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.

I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.

Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.

But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.

But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?

I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.

Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.

I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.

My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”

Austin Belcak
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.

But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely weird.

Austin Belcak
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.

One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.

If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.

But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.

Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.

If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.

When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.

Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.

Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.

But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”

That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.

But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.

Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.

Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.

I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.

But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.

Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.

Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.

I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.

Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”

But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.

That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.

Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?”  I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”

Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”

Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….

Austin Belcak
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.

You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.

Austin Belcak
Speaking of.

Pete Mockaitis
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.

You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.

Austin Belcak
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.

One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.

But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.

No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.

It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.

Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.

I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.

If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.

I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Austin Belcak
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.

Austin Belcak
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Austin Belcak
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.

On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.

I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.

If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.

Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.

If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.

That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.

I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.

There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.

We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”

She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.

Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.

That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.

For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.

Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.

Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.

What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.

That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.

Pete Mockaitis
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.

Austin Belcak
She did. She did. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Hooray.

Austin Belcak
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.

She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”

Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.

Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.

Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.

He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”

The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.

He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.

Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.

It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”

If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”

You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.

Austin Belcak
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.

But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.

You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.

Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Austin Belcak
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.

I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.

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

Austin Belcak
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.

But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.

When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.

[51:00]

For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.

You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.

That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.

Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.

But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.

Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.

Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.

But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Austin Belcak
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Austin Belcak
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really amazing ….

Austin Belcak
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.

[54:00]

A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.

You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.

But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.

I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.

Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Austin Belcak
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.

Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.

Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.

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

Austin Belcak
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.

[57:00]

Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.

Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.

Austin Belcak
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thanks.

Austin Belcak
No problem.

343: How to Be More Strategic in Six Steps with Stacey Boyle

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Stacey Boyle says: "Purpose dominates method."

Stacey Boyle shares the why and the how behind being more strategic at work.

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. What “be more strategic” really means
  2. Why to ALWAYS establish the purpose before the method
  3. The three building blocks of smart decisions

 

About Stacey

Stacey has led global consulting and research departments for over 20 years, during which she has built a reputation for groundbreaking work connecting investments in people to critical business outcomes. Today she runs two consulting firms that help some of the world’s best companies and non-profits answer their pressing business questions about investments in people. Stacey is President and Chief People Planner for Smarter People Planning, LLC, and Chief Assayer for Assay|Edu, LLC. Stacey has a Ph.D. in Applied Behavioral Research & Evaluation.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stacey Boyle Interview Transcript

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

Stacey Boyle
Thanks Pete, I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, me too, me too. First I wanted to start by hearing that you have recently, or maybe it’s been longstanding, developed something of an addiction to audio books. What is the backstory here and what are you listening to?

Stacey Boyle
Well, very interesting. I had a friend – sort of, I’m a competitive type person, so my friend told me he read or listened to 50 audio books in six months.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, did he?

Stacey Boyle
Oh yes – well, he claimed he did, whether he did or not, I don’t know. He claimed he did. Being competitive – having a competitive nature, I thought yeah, no, no, I’m going to do 51 at least. I didn’t quite make it, but I worked pretty hard and got there. I was listening to a lot of non-fiction books, business books. I’ve listened to a couple of fiction books, but primarily non-fiction.

We just kind of have a fun way of competing. We always compare “What are you reading? What are you reading?” He’ll read things that are little more headier than I do, but we just kind of have fun. I really – it’s become really bad. I wake up first thing in the morning, it’s like “Alexa play Audible.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stacey Boyle
Oh no, see now she heard me. Now she started to play Audible.

Pete Mockaitis
Audible playing. What will play now from Alexa? What’s queued up? I’ll put you on the spot.

Stacey Boyle
Yeah. Alexa stop. She just started playing when I said that, so I had to go stop her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. I don’t know if this counts as a secret advantage, but one of our sponsors is called Blinkist, which I’m a huge fan of. You can get summaries of non-fiction books either read, you can read them, or read to you, audio. I think that their voice talent is really strong in terms of I actually enjoy listening to the voice who’s reading.

You can sort of get the core ideas of a book in 10 to 15-ish minutes. I think it’s perfect for books you’re like, “I know I’m not going to read this whole thing, but oh cool, I can get the basics in a shorter period of time.” That’s Blinkist.

Stacey Boyle
That’s a great way for me to beat my friend too, to be like, “Hey, guess what? I did 100.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s right. He’s just like, “What?” And you’ll be able to speak knowingly and intelligently about them. Awesome. Cool.

I want to hear your scoop. One book that is near and dear to your heart that should probably be read and savored every word as opposed to summarized with a Blinkist, is your book, Be More Strategic in Business. What’s it all about?

Stacey Boyle
Well, thanks Pete. I want to give you a little bit of backstory. Our full title for the book because of course all good book we have to have a nice long subtitle because we try to be simple upfront. Our full title is Be More Strategic in Business: How to Win Through Stronger Leadership and Smarter Decisions.

I wrote this book with my business partner Diana Thomas. In the introduction we talk about our backstory. We have a pretty interesting backstory.

Diana started working at McDonalds in a restaurant in Maryland when she was 16 years old. She ended up working her way all the way up across the next 35 years to become the vice president of training and development for McDonalds U.S. and was the dean of Hamburger University.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Stacey Boyle
She has a longtime running career working for McDonalds corporate.

I started my career, I graduated with my doctorate at the age of 29 and then went out and worked for a big five consulting firm and then just went to a bunch of different companies. I worked for the top three e-learning companies. I worked for a predictive analytics company, a learning and development magazine.

I kind of got the breadth and Diana’s got the depth. Between the two of us, we’re both leaders now, but we’ve kind of gone at it sort of different ways. We’ve seen different things. I’ve seen many different industries just as Diana has.

We came together – we met, it’s kind of interesting. I sort of stalked her since 2005. She didn’t really know it, but I kind of did. I got into a-

Pete Mockaitis
Several years here.

Stacey Boyle
I did. Finally I told her this story, she’s like, “I didn’t know you were lurking in the background.” I said, “Well, I was.”

I went to a conference and I arrived late because my flight was late or something like that. I arrived late and I saw Diana presenting. She was a keynote on a stage. I thought, “Whoa, I really like this woman. I like her message. She’s strategic. I can learn so much from her. I love where she’s going.” She was presenting about the training programs and all the initiatives they had at McDonalds.

When I was watching her present I thought, “Wow, what’s she’s doing with data, she can really do a lot more. She could show a lot more of these results.” But what I had to offer in 2005 wasn’t really resonating with people because I was in the area of predictive analytics and that wasn’t a thing really in 2005. People didn’t understand it. It was a thing in my world, but it wasn’t in the rest of the world.

I really wasn’t sure how to approach Diana about it, so I just kind of stayed back, didn’t really talk to her too much. Fast-forward to 2010, I ended up working for a learning and development magazine. We designed learning awards. McDonalds applied and Diana kept wondering why she wasn’t ranking higher in the awards when they were announced.

I went out to McDonalds corporate and talked to her and I said, “Well, here’s the reason. Your measurement could be a lot stronger. You could have a lot more results focused and focus on outcomes a lot more.” She’s like, “Wow, what are you talking about?” I said, “This is what I identified in ’05 but I didn’t talk to you about it.” That was 2010.

When she retired a couple years ago – when she retired, we talked to each other and I said, “Hey, we’ve got such a great story what we’ve done together at McDonalds and what we’ve done with other clients, we should write a book about strategic leadership,” because we both are very different leaders.

Diana is naturally a strategic leader. She naturally is a big picture thinker and sees results immediately. Whereas I came out of academia and I was just very tactical, in the weeds person. I had to learn to kind of become strategic.

With the two of us, we were good partners because she would be big picture and I would be details tactical with the data and then I would talk to her about how to apply that strategically. That’s where sort of it worked – our relationship and our business partnership works really well, in that sense. We learned from each other and we leverage each other’s strengths.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Yeah. Intriguing and beautiful that partnership and how it all came together there. I do recall, I believe it was in 2007, we were trying to – predictive analytics really wasn’t much of a thing.

I remember we were consulting a call center and we needed to get some better prediction associated with forecasting of call volumes based upon the day of the week and where it was in the year based on historical data. It was really hard, like “Hasn’t someone already figured this out? Can’t we just buy a piece of software that does this for us?” The answer was kind of but not really at the time I remember.

Stacey Boyle
No, you couldn’t have. But we could have set up a regression model for you and have done that for you, but-

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we had to do it the hard way. Exactly. It was like, “Okay, day of the week, the month,” etcetera, “Is there a holiday? How did it go last year?” which was helpful because you want to have the right number of reps on the phone and not too few and not too many or you’re having crazy hold times that drive people nuts or you have people just sitting around and kind of spending more money than you need to.

Stacey Boyle
That’s right. What’s the right mix to deliver the right results? That’s what we needed to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Let’s talk about this word ‘strategic”. One, what do you mean by it and why is it valuable? What’s sort of the antithesis of being strategic?

Stacey Boyle
Okay, great question. Let me start this. When I first got out of college I had my doctorate and I got my first job at a big consulting firm. I had moved. I had just gotten married. I moved to the Chicago area and started my big job. I was really excited. I had my six-month probation performance review.

When I sat down with my manager he said, “You didn’t get a good review.” He started by telling me that and saying that “People did not like meeting with you. They don’t like talking to you. They think you’re too in the weeds. All you do is pull up a spreadsheet on the screen. You start talking line by line and telling people what you’ve done. People don’t care what you’ve done Stacey.”

I was in shock. I was thinking what – essentially he was telling me I was being too tactical. He said to me, “You need to be more strategic.” I didn’t know what that meant. He didn’t tell me what that meant and I asked him, “What does this mean?” Mind you, this is before the internet. I couldn’t go Google it and figure it out. He said, “This is a big consulting firm. You need to be more strategic.” Then I didn’t know what he meant.

Of course I’m a thoroughbred, so I’m going to dig in and try to figure this out here. Then I would watch the people around me get promoted and get promoted. I would work really hard. I tried to figure out and I’d ask people, “What does being more strategic mean? What does this mean? What does this mean?” I’d watch people and observe.

I got an idea. I started getting better because I realized people would come to me, start talking about results. They’re saying, “Well, we found 10% did this. We’ve got the majority of the learners doing this. We’re seeing this outcome over here. We’ve seen this change in sales.” I’m like, “But how? How? How?” I wasn’t realizing I don’t need to focus on the how; I need to focus on the results.

That did not come naturally to me. I had to gradually learn over time how to become strategic, what it meant. What that means is when you aren’t strategic, what it means is that people won’t include you in meetings because they think you’re longwinded.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. We’ll never finish on time if Stacey’s here.

Stacey Boyle
That’s right. We’re going to get there and who wants to sit here through this whole spreadsheet, right? You get passed over for promotions. Guess what? When it’s time for layoffs, guess who’s the first on the chopping block? Because you’re doing a lot of stuff, but is it the right stuff? That’s what you have to know. Are you moving the needle with what you’re doing? You need to know that. You need to plan accordingly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so we’ve seen very clearly the consequences of being not strategic versus being strategic. This word then, part of it’s focusing on the results and focusing on the right stuff that’s going to truly impact things. Any other kind of layers or facets of the definition of being strategic?

Stacey Boyle
Yeah, what we’ve done specifically is we came up with – Diana and I really like to use metaphors because we think metaphors resonate with people. If I explain this to you in a metaphor, you’re going to remember the metaphor and the story that I tell you versus just telling you, “Okay, we have a six-factor model,” You’re not going to remember these factors.

Pete Mockaitis
A great metaphor is like a string around your finger.

Stacey Boyle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
See what I did there. Couldn’t resist.

Stacey Boyle
And I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Stacey Boyle
A good metaphor on how to be more strategic in business is we’re – in our book we help you build a strategic ladder. The idea is that this is a ladder that you build that you can take with you to different companies, different organizations, different industries, whatever you need. But once you build this ladder, you’re always working on the rungs of the ladder.

The metaphor we use in the book is Diana had a conversation with Stephen Covey, you know the – Stephen Covey with Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He has a metaphor about building a ladder and having a ladder in a jungle.

The leader is the one who climbs the ladder and looks over all the treetops and says – and all the producers are down on the ground clearing the weeds, whacking with the machetes, knocking everything down.

The leader is the one that climbs the ladder and looks over the treetops and says, “Hey guys, we’re in the wrong jungle,” or “Guess what? Everybody else is across the river. We need to go across the river,” or “Hey guys, keep going. We’re doing the right thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s so great about that metaphor is if you’re the person who’s just sweating bullets with the machete chopping down stuff and you’re like, “Who’s this lazy jerk that gets to just chill out on a ladder?”

Stacey Boyle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“He’s not doing any real work like all of us over here.”

Stacey Boyle
Exactly. They’re down there doing stuff, but is it the right stuff? That leader up there above the treetops can see they are doing the right things to keep the job.

Then that leader will have that ladder and they can move to another jungle, they can move over to a construction site, then can take that ladder and become a firefighter, take their ladder with them. Once you kind of have these core skillsets of being strategic and seeing the big picture, then you can move around successfully and you can be really awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Let’s hear it. If someone is sort of a rank and file employee, not a vice president or director, but somewhere below that, what are some of the first steps to develop this mindset and this view and becoming more strategic?

Stacey Boyle
What we’ve come up with is this six-factor model. The first factor, so think of the first rung on your ladder, and that’s around developing your foundational skills. How do you do this?

This is what I didn’t understand back in the day when I was told I was too tactical. This is where you need to understand what’s going on inside your organization, inside your industry, outside your industry. You need the big picture of what’s going on around you. Sometimes you get that with your onboarding training, sometimes you don’t.

The bottom line is it’s up to you to understand what your organization is trying to accomplish and how you can help them accomplish that. If you don’t understand that, then you’re not going to have the big picture and have clear direction in your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. Any pro tips on first steps towards that?

Stacey Boyle
I think one look at – if you’re a new employee, what you get with your onboarding training. You can get a lot of information there. You should definitely know your company inside and out. We always say, “You need to be at least as well informed about your company as your customers are.” You need to know everything about your company and not just your silo.

If you’re just sitting in IT or you’re just sitting in marketing, you don’t need to know just that aspect. If you work for a retail company, you need to go out and shop that store. You need to know that store. If you work for a big consulting firm, you need to understand all the solutions that your organization offers that people can purchase and how do they use it. How do they make decisions with what you give, the services and products you offer?

Pete Mockaitis
But Stacey, that’s not my job.

Stacey Boyle
Yes, it is. … everything – you’re responsible for everything. Diana says this all the time. You’re responsible for everything in a 360 degree radius. If you don’t have to – as a leader, you don’t have to go do it, but if you hear of something that needs to get done and you have an ability to help someone, then you need to go do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s a great gauge right there, at least as much as your customers know. Sometimes – I’m thinking about one of my first internships, it was with Eaton Corporation and their electrical equipment.

My gosh, there’s a lot of electrical equipment out there and I didn’t really know much about electrical equipment I just sort of turned on the lights and then the lights turned on. But in terms of the transformers and the generators and the switches and all the stuff that’s necessary in order for electricity to flow and get going.

Their customers, it varied by segment, but my goodness, there was a lot to learn just in terms of “What the heck is this piece of equipment and what does it do? Why would you want to buy ours versus the other guy’s?” It took some learning to get there.

Stacey Boyle
Yeah, sure. That’s why we talk about this – we use the metaphor of a ladder because it takes you a while to get there. For a while, your bottom rung may be made of Jell-O. It may not be very stable. That’s okay. It will get solidified as you learn more and more and more and you research about your industry and your competitors. You can look at benchmark and look what’s going on in other industries.

But you need – so our first factor in our leadership model is to develop your foundational skills. The difference is developing them intentionally, really trying to do it and ensuring you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say skills, I guess, not to be Mr. Distinction annoyer guy tactical …, but when you say skills, a lot of this sort of kind of sounds like just sort of knowledge, like content knowledge, like these are the facts and the contexts and thusly what’s a big deal, what’s not a big deal and sort of having that foundational understanding. Is there sort of more that kind of is underneath the umbrella of the skills here?

Stacey Boyle
Yeah. What we’re thinking – what we’ve seen and what we know is you develop your foundational skills around the organization. You also have to build out your personal foundational skills. What is your vision? What is your ideas of where you want to be? Where do you want to go? How can you add value?

You have to intentionally think about what you want to do within – say if your organization and your industry is this box, to play within this box, what do you need to do to contribute to what’s going on in there? We want you thinking about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. What’s the second rung?

Stacey Boyle
It’s called – the second one is about establishing a vision. If you’re working – let’s say you’re working in a certain function. You’re in IT, sales, maybe you’re in learning and development. When you work in a function, the vision of your function needs to clearly be tied to the corporate structure, the corporate vision.

The way this comes down is the corporation has a vision. There’s a reason they’re doing what they’re doing. There’s a reason they’re in business. You want to know how what you do ties to that bigger reason. That’s where the strategy comes in, understanding what your corporation does down to what your department does, how you contribute to the strategy that drives the vision.

You need to understand how your functional vision ties to the bigger vision. If you’re leading that function or you may not be leading the function yet, you may be an aspirational leader and hope to lead that function someday. You want to be sure that your department’s vision is tied to the bigger vision.

If it’s not, this is where you get an opportunity to manage up maybe, to work with your manager and think about how you can tie your task, what you do, to the broader vision because sometimes it’s not as well thought out as you would hope it could or should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well could you give us a couple of examples in terms of hey, here’s a misfit or a poorly aligned situation with regard to a function and the overall vision versus a great one, so we can kind of make that a little clearer?

Stacey Boyle
Yeah. I can give you – specifically – so we’re from the learning and development, so workforce training is where our background is. Lots of times we’ll have programs, somebody will say, “Oh my gosh, we’re missing the sales mark. We’ve missed sales for the last two years. We have a big problem. Let’s go put two million dollars in sales training. Let’s go train the whole sales force.”

Maybe that’s not really the problem. Maybe there’s something else. Maybe you have a leadership problem. Maybe you have a product problem. Maybe you have an innovation problem. Maybe you have something else.

The alignment and the learning development is just being reactive and not really thinking through and aligning what you need to do and looking across the organization and looking at what really is the root cause of the problem, so you’re not really aligned to what you need to achieve your vision. You’re going out and you’re making all these investments and you’re not making an impact. You’re not moving the needle.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fantastic in terms of it’s a kneejerk response, “Ah, you do training. We are not getting the sales we want; therefore, the intersection that’s appropriate is for you to do training for our salespeople.”

But I guess if you have that context in terms of looking around and seeing what’s going on, you might very well learn and maybe have some conversations with some salespeople, “Whoa, it’s really hard to sell this product when there’s a competitor who has a product that works better and costs less.”

Stacey Boyle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Of course, anybody would choose the other guy over us, so go figure we’re having a hard time selling it.”

Then your role in terms of training might really be more so about “Oh well, how do we be closer to the customer, to learn what they really need and innovate or how can we sort of push improvements out faster instead of getting bogged down by bureaucracy or slow decision making or whatever is resulting in us falling behind in terms of having a great competitive offering that’s worth selling and buying.”

Stacey Boyle
Exactly. This is actually one of the sort of issues behind the curtain of learning development that we have is a lot of investments made in learning and development are what we call faith-based investments. That means we know investing in the workforce is important to do and so we just do that. We’re not going to really measure impact or kind of see because we just know that sales are going to go up because have to train the sales force.

But there’s no clear vision or strategy or plan around why we’re training or what we’re going to train, and what are the targets we expect to achieve, what are the outcomes we expect. All of that’s not thought through sometimes just because it’s we’re just going to throw this money at this problem that we think we have, but it’s really not clear yet.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I do training myself. That is a pet peeve. I’m really careful to sort of capture some figures in the before and after that really do point to a tremendous ROI with regard to, “Hey, look at all the hours saved from not – no longer participating in meetings that should not happen or tasks that should not be done or analyses that should not have been done or could have been done more efficiently and effectively.”

It’s like hey, what do you know? 1.4 hours per person, well multiply that out. That kind of really adds up pretty quick just recouping your training investment.

I’m a big believer in that because otherwise – faith-based, I think that’s a good way to say it. It’s like, “Well, we’re hoping that the money we put here is doing some good. Yeah, but it’s really hard to say. How can you measure that?” It may be tough to measure, but I think you’ve got to do a little something with regard to alignment and measuring of your training.

Stacey Boyle
Well, that’s exactly – you hit the nail on the head because that is rung number five when we jump up there.  We have a tool that we use called the Impact Blueprint, whereby we encourage people to think to lay out what is the impact you expect.

You think about what are the metrics that are the leading indicators, just like you talked about: hours saved, time saved, the return on investment. What you want to do is think about what are the leading indicators and what are the business impact metrics that we expect to show that we’ve impacted the strategy, the corporate strategy.

You want to set targets to do that. You want to have targets, so we know where our destination is, so we know if we reach our destination or we exceed our destination. That’s why it’s important to have the targets.

We like the Impact Blueprint framework because it’s – everything is on one sheet. It’s not – it can be simple to complete, but it can also be complex. The good thing about it is it’s a strategic thought-provoking process to go through. The listeners on the podcast can go to our website, BeMoreStrategicInBusiness and go to Resources and download an Impact Blueprint template that we have up there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. What’s the third rung?

Stacey Boyle
Is engage stakeholders. Be sure you have – again, it’s looking across your organization. Be sure you have supporters for yourself personally as you develop professionally and for your organization. Don’t do this in isolation and do not work in a silo because if people do not know who you are and other leaders do not know who you are and what you do, you will not survive. That’s clear. Then the fourth rung is-

Pete Mockaitis
Can we hear a little bit more about engaging stakeholders? You say one of the problems is that folks are just not even aware of who you do – who you are, what you do and how that matters. What are some of your top tips for that?

I’m thinking of this comes in terms of sort of like the interdepartmental or inter-functional stuff. Just sort of how do you make that known in terms – you probably don’t want to just get a bullhorn. But it’s important that many people have that awareness so they can know when to reach out and then to calibrate their own decision making based upon your group’s needs.

Stacey Boyle
Yeah, absolutely. The bottom line is smart networking. It’s networking internally. Diana tells a story about needing some IT solutions for the learning and development function and other organizations have gone to the executive team and asked for more funding for IT. We’re having a really hard time getting the funding through.

But Diana was really savvy and went around and got support from other functions. She demonstrated and she built the case for these other functions. When they got into the meeting, not only was she there making the ask, but there were other people supporting her ask because she demonstrated how this funding would support the other functions. There were multiple people going in asking for this funding for her department.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.

Stacey Boyle
Because she had networked and built the case outside.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Stacey Boyle
That’s another point. I just want to make one more point. That’s another point that we discuss is that I didn’t even realize this. I learned this from Diana many years ago is that decisions are not made in meetings. You think the decisions are made there, but lots of times decisions are made before you get to the meeting. The meeting is just a formality.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. I saw that in my work in strategy consulting. We called that pre-wiring, getting all the folks and all their concerns addressed before the meeting so then we all just sort of collectively ratify it together. As well as they say a lot of work in government or the United Nations in terms of yeah, what you see out on the floor of the assembly has kind of already been sort of sorted out in many ways.

Stacey Boyle
Yeah, that’s not the pre-show. That’s the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay, cool. Smart networking, any pro tips for doing that well?

Stacey Boyle
I would say definitely put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

If you’re an introvert and you need to go out and maybe you don’t know anything about IT or sales or some of the operation functions, go out under the auspices of learning more and exploring and get to know your coworkers. You can do that formally. You can do that informally. But it’s very important that you do that with whatever approach you’re comfortable with.

When we talk about engaging the stakeholders, you want to engage stakeholders not only from a business side, but from a professional side. You want to use these other stakeholders to help you develop yourself professionally.

We encourage you to not only include your fans when you ask for feedback and ask for support, you want to include people that can be your critics too, that are harshest on you because you’ll get a great perspective from them as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Let’s talk about the fourth rung here.

Stacey Boyle
Okay, so the fourth rung we have is about building your strategic plan. We think you need to have a plan to have direction, to know where you’re going. When people are tactical, they’ll tend to just focus on the how. “How am I going to do this?” They’ll just jump in.

Whenever I consult with peoples sometimes they’ll say, “Stacey are we going to do surveys? How are we going to do this? Are we going to do a regression? Are we going to do focus groups? How are we going to do this? How are we going to measure the impact of this?” I say, “Wait, wait, wait. It’s not how.” “But we just bought a big survey tool. We have to use it. How are we going to survey? We’ve got to do it.”

I’m like, “Wait, wait. Why? Why are we doing this? What are we trying to accomplish here? We have to have the plan.” Sometimes people that are not strategic don’t want to think about the plan. That’s one thing where you can help yourself is start laying out a plan.

That’s why I mentioned the Impact Blueprint. It kind of helps you think through and build out a plan and a strategy for yourself and your project and your investments to think through what the outcomes are.

One thing that we say is that we want you to be sure that, keep this in mind, is that purpose dominates method. The purpose of what you’re doing and why you’re trying to do this – take on an activity or a task or investment – is more important than how you do it, than the method.

If somebody comes and says, “Okay, let’s do predictive analytics.” That’s not the answer. It’s what are we trying to accomplish. I don’t know if that’s the right solution. I don’t know if that’s how we go about it. I want to know what we’re trying to accomplish first.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. That’s a nice succinct way to say that: purpose dominates method. Yes. Okay, so when building out the strategic plan, what are some of the most critical questions you want to make sure that you answer well to have a pretty solid robust thorough plan?

Stacey Boyle
One thing that we think is important in a plan is we have – to build out a strategic plan, we have it all the way from you start at the vision, the corporate vision. This is to ensure that you stay aligned strategically. Mentally, this blueprint helps you stay aligned mentally and it helps you physically and tactically stay aligned.

You think what’s the vision. Then what’s the corporate strategy. Then how does my function contribute to that corporate strategy. Because there may be ten components to the corporate strategy. There may be three components. Your function contributes to one, two, three or all three of them. You clearly align.

Everybody on your team needs to know where you align to the corporate strategy and then what your function strategy is this year or for the next four or five years, whatever your plan is, however long your plan is, and then how you contribute to that strategy.

Then what you can do from there is then what you do is think about what we do in this function and what are the business questions we need to ask and we need to answer this year. You can work with your stakeholders to figure out what are the business questions we need to answer to show that we are impacting the corporate strategy, which is influencing the mission.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Yes. All right, then we talked about the creation of the Impact Blueprint is showing up in the fifth rung of executing. Any other thoughts when it comes to the execution of the strategic plan?

Stacey Boyle
If the strategic plan is your blueprint, so if you have your blueprint, when you build your blueprint, you think through – we’re going to invest in all these activities, these initiatives, when you build your plan you think of what are our leading indicators and what are our impact measures that we want to track. You’ve thought through this and you have some targets that you want to achieve.

This is where you get into the how, how we’re going to do this. This is where we know if we’re doing surveys, if we’re doing predictive analysis, analytics, we’re doing correlations, whatever we’re doing we have a plan and we’re going to measure business impact. The reason this is strategic is because we’re showing the value of what we’re doing.

When there’s change going on all around you and everything is shifting and you feel like there’s an earthquake all the time, when you have a plan and you have a structure, you can – you have direction. You’re able to shift and move and pivot as you need to because you have a big picture of where you’re going and you’re staying aligned. If the corporate strategy changes, you can change your plan as well. You have to be flexible to change it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Then you’ve got it. You’re – I like those notions associated with the leading  indicators and the impact measures in terms of you can see real time if this thing is working out and then be prudent about shifting it as opposed to if you haven’t plan-fully, thoughtfully established those upfront, you’re probably never going to adjust. It’s like, “Well, we’re not done yet, so let’s keep going and see what happens.”

Stacey Boyle
It’s like, “Hey, we’re in the wrong jungle. It doesn’t matter. I’m still whacking away at the weeds. It doesn’t matter.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, then let’s talk about making the decisions from there.

Stacey Boyle
Really, what we’re saying is you can make smarter decisions because you will be making some data-driven decisions. Let me be clear. There are all kinds of data. There are quantitative. There are qualitative. There’s your gut feel. There’s your experience. All of that goes into decision making.

But we do need some data to make smart decisions. We’re not just making decisions like, “Let’s build a sales training. Sales is down. Let’s go build a training and go,” like we talked about. We’re making decisions based on evidence. We’re making evidence-based decisions.

We know this is what’s happening, so here are the decisions that we need to make. Yes, we need to train the sales force or we need to change this training program or we need to continue this marketing initiative or eliminate this sales program, whatever it may be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Then when it comes to this decision making, do you have any particular checklists, frameworks, considerations that you go to again and again to make wise decisions?

Stacey Boyle
One thing that we like is we’re ensuring that again, engaging your stakeholders. When we work with our stakeholders, we’ll say, “Hey, here’s what we’re finding out. Here’s what we’ve seen with what’s going on.” We will collaborate and make decisions.

When we have meetings with stakeholders, you don’t want – this doesn’t necessarily have to be a consensus. It can be a collaborative and consultative process with you. If you’re the strategic leader, you’re looking – you’re making decisions with your stakeholders and you’re consulting with them. It doesn’t mean everything they say you have to do or you have to change your function or your activity is based on what they say.

You can take their insight, but you want to get feedback from everybody and say “Here’s what we’re seeing.” Somebody else may say, “Hey, we’re seeing the same pattern,” or “No, you’re off base because of this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. Any others?

Stacey Boyle
I think that’s it. I think just having a plan and a picture and just being intentional is what’s important.

What we like about the ladder metaphor is that, like I said, factor five is the execute your strategic plan when people want to focus on the how, the people that don’t have – the tactical people don’t have the foundation, don’t have the bottom rungs. They just take a running jump and jump right on rung five and try to work their way up. But you don’t have a strong foundation, so you may not stay up there.

You may be leaning against a tree, but it may not be the right tree too. You don’t know. We think it’s important to – even though we don’t really so much like this linear process, we think this strong foundation is really important to have to make a stable ladder so that you can stay where you need to and you can continue to see over the treetops.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Could you maybe share an example of all of this coming together, each of the rungs and sort of a smashing success emerging as a result?

Stacey Boyle
Well, I think one I might be a smashing success.

Pete Mockaitis
There we go.

Stacey Boyle
…. Like I said, when I started the consulting firm, I jumped right to factor five. I came out of college and I was like, “Oh, I know how to do all of this stuff. I’m just going to start analyzing some data, getting some stuff, getting some programs, start analyzing it.” I had no idea what the business did. I didn’t really know what we sold. I was just doing a bunch of stuff and doing some spreadsheets.

Until I learned what I needed to do, until I needed to understand what be more strategic meant and how to act upon that and get those skills – I learned that through working with a bunch of different types of leaders, different types of organizations and moving from company to company, working with different companies as a consultant, working with different organizations and learning and observing other leaders, that really helped me to become more strategic.

Now when I work with my clients, I have to – it’s not natural for me, but I can work with intention and be strategic. I can get in the weeds too. I like doing that, but I realize that I have a better impact when I communicate strategically.

Some of the tips that we give about communicating strategically is that one you want to know yourself. You want to know what kind of person you are. Once – again, my feedback, I kind of knew that I can be longwinded and I can talk about details. I know how to sort of temper that now, well, not sort of, but I can temper that now, now that I know.

You want to know your audience, know who you’re speaking with. We give an example of if someone asked you “How was your weekend?” you’re going to give a different answer if it’s your mom or your doctor or your partner. You’re going to give a different answer to that. You have to know your audience.

And that you want to communicate with intention. I think one of the best examples of that is say you run into your CEO in the elevator and they say, “So, how are you doing Pete? What’s going on?”

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m good.”

Stacey Boyle
“I’m really tired man. I stayed up all night working on this project. Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go get a Starbucks as fast as possible.” That’s not what you want to say. You want to focus on results. You want to say, “Hey, remember that customer retention project you green lighted last month. We’re almost finished with it and we’re about to roll it out. We’re starting phase two next week. I’m really excited about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s much better.

Stacey Boyle
That’s what you want to say. That’s when the CEO will say, “Pete, why don’t you come to my office and tell me how that goes in a week. Check in with me.” That’s what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.

Stacey Boyle
Another step that we found in communicating is around giving headlines. This is one thing that I learned pretty early on too is when you want to summarize information and you want to give the headline. You don’t want to give the details.

I used to think that I liked the storytelling part of the building up to the aha moment, but that’s not what people want to hear. People want the aha. They want the headline. Give them the headline and then if they want to know how you did it and the details and they want you to pull out that big 1,000 line spreadsheet with data and all filtered up, then you can do that. But that’s not what people want.

They want to know the answer to their business question. You do that upfront and that’s being strategic.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah. It’s not quite like a Netflix drama. We enjoy being teased and the bits and pieces falling into place. It’s a different animal entirely.

Stacey Boyle
Yeah. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, well tell me Stacey, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Stacey Boyle
I think this is great. We’re excited. Like I said, we have some resources on the website. Not only do we have the Impact Blueprint template, but we also have a self-assessment, so many self-assessment type checklists for the six factors that you can go to our website and download.

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

Stacey Boyle
I have two quotes. I have a personal quote and then I’ll give you sort of a strategic business quote. My personal quote is from the movie Auntie Mame from 1958, my favorite movie. Auntie Mame says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

I love that quote because it teaches me to take risks and to live, live, live life and to stick your neck out and be vulnerable and courageous in my personal life and professional life.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you.

Stacey Boyle
That’s my personal quote. Then I have so many professional quotes, but one that I really like – I think a good strategic one is – comes from my favorite blogger. My favorite blogger right now is Avinash Kaushik. He’s the marketing evangelist for Google.

He says, “It’s not he ink; it’s the think.” When you think about that, it’s exactly what we were talking about. It’s not the details. It’s not how big the report is. It’s not how many slides you have in the PowerPoint. It’s the thought you put into it. What’s the headline?

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Stacey Boyle
Well, I have so many. My background is in research. But one that I just love that I go back professionally and personally is from Brene Brown. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her. Her first TED talk went viral in 2010. She was one in 2013. But she has one The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame and Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count.

Her research in vulnerability and courage, I listen to all the time when I’m in different points of my life personally and professionally. I can always pick up a little nugget and find something to apply. When you’re trying to climb your ladder, listen to Brene Brown because she will help you think about how you get up there and stay up there.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Stacey Boyle
I would say hands down my favorite book is Freakonomics. It’s always been. Then really anything by Marshall Goldsmith. I love his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is exactly an alignment with what we’re talking about. All the skills and everything you have that got you to this place in your career, may not get you where you want to go.

I recommend Marshall Goldsmith book and the classics are the Covey books, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I love The 4 Disciplines of Execution and Speed of Trust. I finished those. They’re excellent. There are lots of tips and things you can apply immediately.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Stacey Boyle
I would say that – I have a couple things. One, as I just mentioned, Avinash Kaushik, the digital marketing evangelist with Google, he has a blog called Occam’s Razor. I absolutely love it. He is fantastic. I’d highly recommend looking up Occam’s Razor blog.

Something that – I don’t know. Pete, have you ever seen The Profit on CNBC with Marcus Lemonis.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, Marcus Lemonis. Yeah, it’s fun. I like to watch it with my wife some times.

Stacey Boyle
Oh my gosh, I love that show. He’s so strategic. He gets in there – I just love it. I highly recommend that show on CNBC.

Pete Mockaitis
What I like about him is that he seems like he really just gets it through and through in terms of how people are people and they have emotions and things and yet they also need to be taking the right actions. He manages to deal with both sides I think quite effectively.

Stacey Boyle
Yeah, I agree. I saw one just last week. He was helping this company. He was helping them kind of – they make all personal investments and he was helping get them on the straight path to success.

He was telling the guy building the website; he’s like, “Okay, go build a website.” They guy’s like, “What do I do?” He said, “I don’t care. Make it great.” That’s strategic. That guy was like, “How do I make it great?” “You figure that out, but make it great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. How about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Stacey Boyle
100% it’s working out. I go to the gym Monday through Friday every morning. It’s a habit. I have to do it. It’s not only physical; it’s emotional stability for me so that’s critical for me. And sort of my addiction of listening to my books. I kind of have to do too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you?

Stacey Boyle
I would say I really think that “It’s not the ink; it’s the think,” that I share with people all the time seems to resonate with people. Again, that’s not mine. I got that from him. Then the quote from Auntie Mame seems to get a lot of laughs from people.

But I think really when I talk about, personally, when I talk about measuring the impact of business investments, when I talk about the leading indicators and the business metrics and that it’s really important to not just show vanity metrics, which are all the metrics that say, “Hey, look how good we are. Look how many people we’ve trained. Look how many website clicks we got.” Don’t just show your vanity metrics. You want to show where you made an impact.

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

Stacey Boyle
To our website, which is BeMoreStrategicInBusiness.com. You can find more information out about myself and Diana Thomas and the resources for the book.

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

Stacey Boyle
Yes, my final challenge is to be and stay strategic to be awesome at your job and have an awesome career.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Stacey, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you and keep on being strategic and helping others do the same. This has been a whole lot of fun.

Stacey Boyle
Thank you Pete. I appreciate it. Yes, this was great.

337: Choosing the Important Over the Urgent with Matt Perman

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Matt

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Matt Perman Interview Transcript

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

Matt Perman
Hey, thanks so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Perman
Yeah, you bet.

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

Matt Perman
Great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Give us some examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Perman
Whoa, big word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Perman
All right.

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

Matt Perman
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Perman
Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Perman
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Perman
Hey, thanks so much for having me.

251: Taking the Leap Into your Dream…the Smart Way with Mike Lewis

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Mike Lewis says: "People... want to help way more than you realize, but you have to tell them what they can help with."

Mike Lewis shares his journey from professional private equity to professional squash and provides perspective on how/when/why to jump into what you really want to do.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When it’s time to jump
  2. The right mindset for taking your jump
  3. Actionable ways to tune into your internal voice and deepest desires

About Mike 

Mike Lewis is the Founder and CEO of When to Jump, a global curated community featuring the individuals, stories, and ideas relating to leaving something comfortable in order to pursue a passion. Launched in 2016, the platform has attracted millions of impressions through digital and print media, in-person experiences, and collaborations with leading brands including Airbnb and Lululemon. In January 2018, his book, When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want (Henry Holt Macmillan) releases worldwide. The book features over forty case studies with insights, frameworks and guidance around when to pursue a passion.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mike Lewis Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Mike, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Mike Lewis

Great to be here, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’d love it if we could start… It’s fun that this is not only a fun fact but a key part of the story behind your wisdom. But could you tell us the tale behind you becoming the 112th best squash player in the world?

Mike Lewis

Sure, absolutely. And thanks again for having me, it’s a real treat to be on. I grew up in Southern California, my dad was a squash player. For those who don’t know squash, you’re in the majority. It is a sport like racquetball or even like tennis indoors, but west of New York City there really aren’t many players who compete at the high levels, particularly as a junior, as a kid.
When I was 14 years old and discovering the sport, my dad had obviously played it before. Like I said, he had played on the East Coast as a naval surgeon, and our family moved. I was born in the city, but moved to the South and then to Santa Barbara. And when I was 14, came across the sport on my own actually, ironically, at the one gym that had four courts or five courts within 100 miles from our town, and it just happened to be down the road.
So, I fell in love with it and I think I loved the idea of the adventure behind it. The idea that I could really create my own story from playing the sport, and really go my own path with it. So, at that point I thought, “I’m going to do this someday”, I just didn’t know exactly how that would happen. There was probably five of us, like I said, west of New York City, who were competing as kids. And first I had to get better to play in college and at some point I’d say, “Well, if I could do that, maybe I could get even better.”
And shortly after I started playing, there was a traveling pro who was coming through town for a tournament we hosted at our local club. And I remember I was around 14; he was I think just 5-6 years older, but described this adventure of playing a sport we both adored and using it as a way to see the world – playing on mountains in Brazil and cities in Asia and towns that dotted the Pacific. And I just knew at some point I would do that.
So, like I said, I found a way to get to play in college, I got to play for four years, I was the captain of the team my senior year, and then while I was in the working world for several years going forward after graduation I just kept it up. And I said to myself, “If I can just keep going and find a way to get better and eventually get sponsors and maybe even compete part-time, I’ll be able to maybe someday be able to do this full-time for a bit.” So, long story short, which we can get into, but I was able to do it and get as high as… And my goal was to rank 200 in the world, and I got to 112.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. It’s so funny – as you relate the story, it’s like I want to play squash and travel the world. It sounds awesome.

Mike Lewis

It really was awesome.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, now I’m just so curious. What fascinates me when it comes to professional anything, and sports I think is interesting in that world, particularly because I think if you’re like the 122th best basketball player or American football player, there are huge financial rewards. Can you enlighten us what sort of compensation does a 112th best squash player in the world see?

Mike Lewis

Well, the short answer is, not a lot. The pro squash tour is like the pro tennis tour, but the ugly stepsister, almost. So, you’ve got your Wimbledons of the world, but because we are a lot less popular, invisible and don’t have the marketing dollars and the brand sponsorships or the TV deals, there just isn’t that much money.
So, Wimbledon has several million bucks for the men’s and women’s champion; the Wimbledon in our world, the champion might bring home 50K at most. There is money in endorsements and camps and other stuff, but largely there’s just not much money. And then where I play, 112th in the world at my peak… You have to remember I started I think at 380 or something. You really are getting off the bottom in what was akin to the AAA Satellite tour – our version of Bull Durham and the minor leagues. And it’s nothing against those tournaments, but those were 16, 32 guys in a draw splitting $5,000.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, okay.

Mike Lewis

And yeah, you just wouldn’t bring much back from that. So, largely what the opportunity provided was exposure. You could get better, you could get yourself off the ground and get up the ladder a bit, but also it was the experience. A lot of these tournaments offer to pair you with host families, just like how we hosted that gentleman coming through town when I was a kid. That’s how I spent nearly every night of my 200,000-mile, 50-something country, nearly 2-year adventure. I was with other people along the way.

Pete Mockaitis

I don’t know why the first question that comes to mind when you mention all these different host families is, what have you settled in on as optimal mattresses and pillows, since you’ve tried them all?

Mike Lewis

You know what? It depends on the country and the continent. Some places I was just lucky to have… I remember my first place I stayed was right before I left Bain Capital, where I was working, I ran into a woman right nearby. I was going back to work after going to the gym, and she had told me, “Oh, you’ve got to play in the South Pacific.”
And I Googled when I went back to my office “squash in Fiji”, and a squash tournament in Tahiti popped up. And like two weeks later I was staying with the organizer of the tournament under a mosquito net in his daughter’s former childhood bedroom. It was decorated with princesses and glow-in-the-dark stars. And that, I can tell you, is not the Ritz-Carlton, but it was what I was hoping for. We picked the daughters up from school, we went to family outings, there was a birthday party at their neighbors’ that I went to, I sang karaoke. It was so much more than just the squash.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so cool. Okay, alright. So then, for everyone salivating, wanting to have their own sort of adventure in their own kind of a way, why don’t you lay out for us what’s When to Jump all about and can we hear who it’s for and why it’s important now?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, absolutely. So, When to Jump really came out of my own personal struggle to figure out when I was supposed to chase this dream. Like I said, it had been years, a decade since I first had this little voice in my head. And I was going about my job every day and I’m sure folks listening to this show can relate – you start to get a sense of circularity to your life. I knew what I had to do at work, it was fine. There was nothing too treacherous I could mess up. I kind of knew the playbook like the back of my hand. And on the other side there was this thing I really wanted to do.
So, I first Googled “when to chase dreams”, because I was like, “When do you do it?” And what I found was stuff that’s either too prescriptive, too self-helpy, or too inspirational where it’s almost just lost in the fluff of what you’re actually supposed to apply to your own life. And so, where I came out on it was, “What if I just talk to people who left something comfortable to go do what they cared about?” And I collected their stories and those stories could become proof that it wasn’t totally insane for me to do this.
And that’s what I did – I just started reaching out to people – first friends of friends, then colleagues, then passengers on the bus next to me, then a bartender down the street. And then all of a sudden as you start to peel back the layers, more and more stories became available.
And what was fascinating was that I wasn’t getting just that sexy, glossed-over photo, scoop or snapshot of the update from LinkedIn that only talks about the good stuff. This was the nitty-gritty, unsexy steps that come with chasing your dream. And people were giving highly vulnerable, real honest versions of what that looks like. And so, to me that’s what I wanted, that’s what made it feel realistic. They talked about the middle of that journey.
And so I remember speaking to a woman who was a Wall Street banker turned cyclist, and she had left Wall Street to try being a cyclist. And had largely failed for a while, but ended up making, after years and years, the Olympic team, and competed in London and then in Rio. And the conversation I thought would go something like this: “How was it to be a cyclist?”, “It was amazing, I made the Olympics.” And that would kind of be it. And instead it was: “How was it to be a cyclist?” And she was saying, “Well, here’s the hardest conversation I had with myself. Here’s what I was most scared of. Here’s what failure tasted like. Here’s why I kept going anyway.”
And when I hung up – this was January 2013 – I sketched a cover page to what I would call When to Jump. And I wanted to make a book of these stories with ideas and insights, but also to be able to create a space and a community where people could come together, have good drinks and snacks and food, and share ideas and stories with people in real life in a non-awkward, weird way, and come together.
And so, that was the idea. I told a buddy of mine I would make this someday. I put it on the back burner, I collected… I think I had one story from the US Senator from Maine Angus King – that was the one I had in the can, and then I kind of put it on the back burner, like I said.
And a year and a half later I had collected these stories totally really to give myself permission to jump. I had trained nights and weekends, I’d collected sponsors, I’d played anywhere I could, whenever I could, took sick days and holidays and half days. I had collected some sponsors using some material I’d put together at work on our own slideshow deck presentation templates, and all these different things, where all of a sudden the jump became more real.
And so, I left; I moved to New Zealand. Like I said, six months turned into nearly two years, and sadly while I was gone, my buddy, who was next to me at work, who I’d confided in around this idea of When to Jump, passed away in an accident. And at that point I said, “I need to finish this project.” And fortunately had the support of his brother and sister, and we talked and I was able to dedicate the project to him.
And over time, more people came forward with stories, from Michael Lewis, the finance author who wrote Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, The Undoing Project, to the second baseman for the Cubs who left the Cubs to go to college, all the way to the first female bishop in the Anglican church, who left PR to go into the Church.
So I had all of these interesting stories and slowly I was able to create a framework from the themes that I saw that kept coming back up again and again. And I came back in the end of 2015 and was approached by book folks, signed a book deal of this book that’s now coming out January 9: When to Jump: if the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want. And it’s 44 of my favorite stories with a framework that I call “the jump curve”. And it follows you through the different phases of taking a jump.
And what I found is that jumping can be for anybody. Some of us think that jumping is about changing jobs and moving to Bali and starting a company and doing drastic things. But what I found is that a jump is really having agency over your life. It’s about saying, “Okay, I want to change something, whether it’s the way that I commute to work, whether it’s a hobby that I want to develop or a new language I want to learn, or moving cities with my job, going for an internal promotion.”
But I think there’s this idea that you can do it; it just might not be pretty. And When to Jump exposes that through our community. And so when I signed the book deal, I ended up using the money to bootstrap a platform, and the platform has a bunch of different facets. We have a festival every year called Jump Club, which is part music festival, part beers with friends, part speaker series. Sheryl Sandberg keynoted our first Jump Club last year. She wrote the foreword to the book. Our festival grew nearly double to a weekend this year in New York, and I think we’ll be in London next year in October of 2018.
We started working with brands and we started to curate stories and we launched a podcast that’s now a top 10 business podcast on iTunes, all around these conversations. And so, what I found most, I think compelling, is that there isn’t one way to jump; everyone’s got their own jumps to make. But it really helps to know that you’re not alone, and that everyone goes through these hardships when they decide to make that step into the unknown. And often times the unknown is what will deliver the best parts of your jump.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, this is juicy stuff. And I want to go in deep on the jump curve. But I want to maybe first say, I’m thinking maybe this is Step 0, if you will, but the decision that a jump is worth doing in the first place – not so much how, but whether to jump. And so I’d like to start by getting your take on, how do you go about framing up and thinking through that very initial part of the equation?

Mike Lewis

Well, the first piece of the jump curve talks about, listen to the little voice. And I think like you said, Step 0 would be to just acknowledge what you’re thinking about and what your feelings are that keep coming back, because our body doesn’t lie, as former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall told me when I interviewed him about his jump from football into writing.
When you find yourself going to certain interests or ideas or spending your time in certain ways, those are usually telltale signs that there’s something boiling up within you. So, I don’t think there’s a perfect way to jump; I just believe that there are things you can do that will make sure it’s a positive, worthwhile experience. Because you really don’t know how it’s going to end, but you know how it can begin, and that I think takes planning and being thoughtful and following this jump curve.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. Now when it comes to listening to the voice, can you elaborate a little bit, in terms of, what are some telltale ways that the voice or your body speaking tends to materialize? The symptoms, if you will.

Mike Lewis

Yeah, so it’s actually listen to the little voice because it’s that little voice that you hear when you go to sleep at night or wake up in the morning, thinking about. It’s something that’s kind of nagging at you, but you’ve always ignored. And I think for me, I knew that that fear of not listening to it would ultimately be more scary of having to deal with it, just echoing and echoing and sitting there for years and years. Then if I tried it – if I planned and proceeded forward with my jump – even if it didn’t work out, if I did it the right way, if I took the right steps, it would be close enough to saying, “Hey, I tried. It didn’t work, but I did it.”
And I think that often times that little voice is right, and we do a lot to drown it out, whether it’s through staying super busy, through working late unnecessarily, through making our calendar super jam packed – there are a lot of things we do to try to drown out that noise. And so if you can just find some silence in your day – I know that sounds really cheesy – I am in San Francisco, we have to be pretty crunchy out here. But I would say if you can wake up and say, “Okay, for five minutes today I’m just going to sit and be bored.”
There is a reason that we come up with our best ideas in places like the shower, where we can just sit and have nothing to do but let ourselves think and unwind. Our brains aren’t programmed to be stimulated to the extent that social media and smart phones and notifications demand of us. So if you overwork them, they don’t have the chance to start to loosen and let different juices flow. And I think that’s where you get that little voice. That’s where you can really start, is to say, “Okay, let’s try to take out some of these noisy distractions, let’s lower some of the other voices and let’s listen to what this little one has to say.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s awesome. Alright, so then what’s the next step?

Mike Lewis

The next step is to make a plan. So we go from the aspirational to more the pragmatic. And within that step there are three pieces. One is financial planning – obviously you want to make sure that you’re jumping with some sort of cushion to really give this a go, and you don’t want to jump before that’s prudent.
The second piece is pre-jump practice, and that means really understanding what your jump is before you go. So, if you want to go start a furniture shop and selling furniture, you’ve got to learn about how to open a business. Maybe you should talk to small business owners. You’ve got to probably shadow or learn from a master handyman or a furniture maker. Maybe you start by watching YouTube videos. There’s a lot of things you can do just to start preparing for that step well before you have to jump. And that’s the pre-jump practice.
And then the third piece is safety net sewing. So I worked at Bain Capital for many years before I left to play squash, because I knew that if that jump didn’t work, and even if this jump doesn’t work, I would have a foundation. I had good reputation I think, decent enough; I worked on good projects and interesting deals; I got along with my superiors and others. And so, doing that type of legwork is actually really important, because I think for me at least, I’m not courageous enough to just drop everything and jump. I really need to feel like I’m supported, and Bain was very supportive when I ultimately decided to go. So those are the things that at a high level go into making a plan.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I really dig that. And so I’d like to get into a bit of detail with some of these here. Now when it comes to the financial plan, different people prescribe different sort of metrics or X month savings. What’s your take on what is financially cushioned enough?

Mike Lewis

Well, it’s funny. I think that it really is interesting when you peel back all the layers of what you actually need to live. You’ve got electricity, you’ve got water, probably let’s say that you need to have the Internet, you’ve got grocery bills, you’ve got your rent or your mortgage. You’ve got to have some sort of miscellaneous for external spending purposes, but what is that – five categories? Those are not 30 categories, those are not, “I want to dress in this certain way or drive this certain car or get this certain latte after work.”
And so, people think that financial planning is actually tough. What it is is really just being disciplined; it’s actually just cutting stuff rather than trying to say, “I need to go extreme and not spend a dollar.” You have finite fixed, hard costs – that’s not what we’re saying to change. It’s more like, on the margin, what can you start to tuck away? I’ll give you an example: If you cannot get a latte every day, you save $4-$5 each day for a year – that’s nearly $2,000 in your pocket. That’s a pretty good cushion to start your jump on.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool, thank you. And when it comes to safety net sewing, I’d love to hear your take on, I guess the opposite point of view, which is, I don’t know – who was the famous general – the “burn the boats” guy. It’s like, that’s what made the soldiers fight oh so fiercely, is they had no option of retreat. And you’re proposing just the opposite – don’t burn those boats. Nay, craft an excellent boat. How do you think through these two sets of ideas on that?

Mike Lewis

Well, it’s funny because when we get going a little bit, it will actually be a little bit of both, and I’ll explain that to you when we talk again soon on the next steps. But the “burn the boats” piece is actually right to some degree. And like I said, there’s a part of that that’s true. But first you should make that boat really, really nice, and I’ll tell you why – because there are going to be people from your old life and your old jump that will come in again and again – references to you as you go for a new job, potential investors in your company or idea, customers of your new products.
And so, it just behooves you to not say, “Well, screw it. Guns blazing, middle fingers up, I’m out of here”, because the world is small, especially if you’re going to, let’s say, leave a cafe or a restaurant to start your own restaurant – you might want to hire someone from there eventually, you might want to get reviews from that person who runs the restaurant that you’re leaving, you might want to get tips on suppliers to buy from. So, there’s just a lot to do in terms of really maintaining a great relationship.
And I’m not saying that you will cross paths with those people and I think we’ll get to why it’s important to only look forward when you jump and not be half-in, half-out, but I think it will give you a piece of mind to feel like, “Maybe I’ll never run into these people again, but they all know why I’m leaving. If they were called by someone at some point needed to show a reference for me, they would say, ‘You know what? Mike’s a good guy. He’s not all over the place. He didn’t just show up one day, give us the finger and quit. He told us what he wanted to do.’”
When I started to play squash tournaments on the side, I told everybody because they got bought into it. And so later when the squash tour became a real possibility, they knew that I was looking towards doing that, they knew it was something I cared about. It would have been a lot harder to massage that story if I just brought it up on everyone one day. And sure, I could have done that, but now I look forward and the people that I let really understand my journey are folks that are still trying to be a productive piece to this next jump. And so I think that’s why you want to be able to sew the safety net.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Alright, so have the Step 0 and Step 1, and what comes next?

Mike Lewis

So, the piece after that, which is really the hardest part, is to say, “Okay, you’ve planned as much as you can. Now you just have to take a jump and let yourself be lucky.” So that’s Step 3. And that’s a quote that Michael Lewis, the finance author, gave, which is, “If you look for luck you’ll actually find it.” It’s like when he described looking for money on the ground. Grown-ups leave it everywhere. You can find it, you just have to be open to it.
And the same goes for making a jump. If you look for those opportunities, if you make the plans, if you put down the pieces to what I call “let yourself collide with other people and things” – your odds are you’re going to find that luck. You just don’t know it until you jump. And obviously that’s just tough, because we as humans I think are rational to some degree, and when you leave a job you know what you’re giving up in salary, benefits, comforts, etcetera, but if you don’t know everything you’re getting in return on the next thing – that’s super hard.

Pete Mockaitis

I hear you. So you’re leaving a very clearly known, quantifiable piece for a quite unknown, unquantifiable upfront piece. So, could you give us some examples with regard to finding money lying around or colliding with people and opportunities? How does that appear in practice?

Mike Lewis

In what it looks like?

Pete Mockaitis

Right.

Mike Lewis

I think that what it is is, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, it’s really putting out a voice to it. It’s kind of going back to that little voice – you’ve now turned the voice up a lot. And so you’re saying, in my example, “I’m leaving, I’m moving to New Zealand. Everyone knows I love squash. Would love anyone’s thoughts”, etcetera. And the classic thing is, what happened?
Someone said, “Well, you should stay when you’re in Australia with my good friend who used to belong to my gym and he just moved with his family down there.” And then when I got down there, I met up with this gentleman and stayed with his family and they said, “Well, we have an extra apartment; we just moved. It was a corporate housing thing. Do you want to stay there?”
So all of a sudden I’m staying at no extra cost to stay with this gentleman and his family, and then he says, “Well, you should meet a friend of mine, who’s got a great podcast.” And it was Rob Bell. And I go on Rob Bell’s podcast last year as I was developing When to Jump, and through that podcast I received stories that are now in the book that’s coming out January 9 from people that were listening, and received amazing help from friends of mine who I would never have met, except for that they were listeners to Rob Bell’s podcast. And Rob Bell once surfed with a guy that I stayed with because our mutual friend heard my story in the gym locker room in Boston two months before I left.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that.

Mike Lewis

That could go on forever too.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah. And it feels like an adventure. You think about the great sort of fantasy novels or movies of our time – that’s what happens. You go forth and then something happens, which leads to something else, which leads to something else, and it’s kind of unpredictable and cool and exciting. So, I dig it.
So, all you really did was say to the whole world, “This is what is happening, this is what I’m doing. Would love your input.” And then away it goes. And so, I think it’s pretty cool. It seems like there’s value in doing that, both in the broad and general “Hey everybody” Facebook, LinkedIn world – “This is what I’m doing”, as well as in the particular, like, “Hey, you lived in New Zealand for a little while. What do you know?” And so, kind of going in both directions there.

Mike Lewis

Absolutely. I remember having a spreadsheet where I’d just fill in anyone who had an idea for me once I said I was leaving. I think the thing that people really miss in a lot of this is telling other people about what you want to do, because people want to help. And they want to help way more than you realize, but you have to tell them what they can help with.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Okay, next step.

Mike Lewis

So the last one is, and this is the fourth and final step – don’t look back. And so that is the “burning the boats” one, is you don’t just kind of say, “Well, if this doesn’t work, I’ll always go back, or maybe I’ll do this three days a week, then two days here, and I’ll do this nights and weekends.” Because at some point you’ve just got to be all in.
And that’s what “don’t look back” means, is once you say you’re in, don’t look around and say, “I wonder if this is really what I should be doing. I wonder what my friends would think. What if this doesn’t work?” You just have to be all in. And I know it’s really hard, but when you jump you can only look straight ahead.
And we’ve got in the book cases of failures and jumps that didn’t work out, and I think that’s what makes it real and understandable to say, “It might not be what I thought it would be, but it’s still going to be productive because I’m doing along the lines of what I enjoy.” And I think that’s super important, is when you jump to say, “This is going to work and I’m not going to second-guess myself twice.”

Pete Mockaitis

Now it’s interesting, as I’m thinking about my own jump, leaving Bain Consulting this time, not Capital, which you were talking about how everyone confuses them. But when I left and said I want to do training stuff, speaker stuff; learning and development is what fires me up the most… So I guess talking about “don’t look back” – I had a spreadsheet talking about the financial planning piece, and I suppose I had some standard in which I say I will quit at this point.
And I guess my standard might be somewhat extreme or aggressive – it’s like, “I will stop this if I have $0. I will not go into sort of insolvency or a negative net worth, but I am going to spend every dollar I have.” And so, I guess in terms of “all in”, you can call that 100% but not 120%, in terms of my “all in” this. And so, I’d love to get your perspective on that. Are there any sort of parameters or rules or tripwire covenants? I can think of “all in”, even though it sounds absolutist, still, on a bit of a spectrum.

Mike Lewis

Yeah. There’s a great line that Ethan Eyler, who invented the Lyft mustache, if you remember that. He was a videogame marketer before he invented this mustache that could go on cars. And he says when you’re taking a jump – he’s actually featured in the book too – he says there is this “van down by the river” fear. I think that’s in a book called Cubicle Nation that talks about it, where you think that you’re just going to be a failure living in a van down by the river.
And that never really happens. It does in some cases, but that’s pretty rare, and it’s mostly in our mind of like the biggest failure possible. So, I think what you described is the right one, which is, “I’ve made a plan-ish. I’m as sure as I can be, and now I’m going to go for it.” And I think that’s the way you’ve got to be; otherwise then why jump?

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, I’m with you. And I love it; I think that you’re right with the van down by the river. I remember I was thinking, “What happens if I spend my very last dollar?” And I thought, “Well, it’s not like I’m going to be homeless on the streets. It’s just I’ll have to pick a job that I might not find so interesting.” I always told myself that I would be doing cheese strategy, like some job at a giant corporate consumer packaged goods company like Kraft, doing cheese or something. I’m not passionate about, but I’m sure probably is interesting in its own ways. It just says optimization is intrinsically interesting for me and working with smart people, but it doesn’t light me up at the core. That’s really what is it stake, is, “Either we’re doing this or we’re doing cheese strategy. You’re not dying in the gutter.”

Mike Lewis

Right, exactly. You’re not going to die in the gutter.

Pete Mockaitis

Quote it! That’s the big quote for you: “You’re not going to die in the gutter.” Cool. And so then, a lot of these jumps have been in the career context. I’d love to get your perspective – you mentioned that sometimes when you’re referring to jumps it’s about hobbies or learning something new. How should we think about jumps in those contexts, where you can totally just keep doing the same job, but you’re still experiencing that adventure and that jump commitment action?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I call it “internal jumping” and I think there’s three ways you can mix things up through the city you’re in, the office location, especially if you’re with a beer company. If you’re at the cheese company, you could do cheese marketing in Wisconsin or in France. You can change products – you can go from cheese to detergents if it’s a consumer packaged goods company, or maybe you could go from selling cheese and marketing it to the product and engineering of it. And so, that’s kind of like a role and type of jump switch.
And so, I think those three things or any combination of them would really lead to something that would be stimulating, because it changes that circularity. I interviewed on our podcast – I think it comes out in a few weeks – former CEO of eBay John Donahoe, who’s actually the former CEO of Bain as well. And he talks about this product or this concept, and I’m not going to remember the guy’s name, but he calls it “repotting”, which is this idea that every 10 years or 7 years or so you want to repot – take yourself out of one pot, put into another and let roots grow again.
And John actually, if you look at what he did at eBay, they would regularly switch cubicles of folks so that people can mix up and meet other people. And I think there are just things like that. Even going to work a different way or talking to the person on the bus next to you – that type of thing can mix things up and it’s a super incremental micro jump.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. So, Mike, tell us – what do you think would be the very first step if someone is having a little bit of that little voice going on? And is it just a matter of making time for the silence and the boredom, or what would be the very first thing you do?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I would say, absolutely. The thing that’s no-stress, low-touch, light-weight, easy to do would be – and I do this every day – take five minutes in the morning before you look at technology, write in a journal, or maybe just make a Google doc or Evernote or whatever it is, and write down the things that you thought you did well yesterday. Get yourself into a mindset to be thinking of the positives.
And then if you want, start with one thing a day you’re going to get done, like a 24-hour goal. That stuff’s really easy. The CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? told me about that – Brian Scudamore. And you can be as bite-size as, “Okay, I’m going to research things I’m interested in today” or, “I’m going to talk to a musician.” Something that just makes you curious. And I think if you give that 5, 10 minutes to yourself each morning, you’re going to get a little bit closer to that thing and that’ll get you on that curve. It’ll get your voice to kind of grow a bit. It’ll tune it up rather than tune it out.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, cool. Well, Mike, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I would just say if you want to learn more, our website’s WhenToJump.com. Our podcast is also called When to Jump, and you can find it on our website, also on iTunes and all that good stuff. We have a newsletter where we keep our community up-to-date once a month. Actually we just sent out our monthly one this morning. And then of course the book comes out January 9. So, I spent the better part of several years putting what I hope will be together the resources, the tools, the ideas and the people that give people a sense of permission. And I hope people enjoy the book, and obviously I would love to hear from you if you end up reading it.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Alright, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mike Lewis

I would say I’d have to quote my cousin Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote the foreword to the book, and to paraphrase her it would be – a question that I go back to, that she goes back to again and again is what she would do if she wasn’t afraid? And I think that’s the most important question we can ask ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mike Lewis

I thought that Manoush Zomorodi, who wrote the book Bored and Brilliant basically found a way to see if we could lower the interactions we have on our cell phones and social media and all that, and see what kind of result that would produce. And it turns out that it makes us happier.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, perfect. And do you have a quick tip, a bit from there, in terms of if we wanted to get a little piece of that value, what should we do?

Mike Lewis

Yeah. One thing that you can do that’s super easy, which was amazing is, when you commute to work, try not to have your phone on you. So not even in your pockets – put it in your backpack or purse. It does wonders. I actually now leave it when I go to the gym. And it’s little things like that to disassociate; it really will rewire your mind and let you be bored.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool. And how about a favorite book?

Mike Lewis

Memoir-wise I would say Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and his story of starting Nike – the ultimate jump start in many ways. And then in a more serious and kind of meaningful tone would be Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and an absolutely extraordinary man. I think everyone should read that book.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And how about a favorite tool?

Mike Lewis

I really like the microphone I use when I travel for podcasts. I know I don’t know what this one is I’m using now, but when I travel I have an H1 microphone and recording set. And it’s just awesome; it’s really simple and small and you can actually have a lot of fun with it. You can record yourself and notes to yourself, you can record conversations, podcasts, interviews. It’s very cool.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Mike Lewis

It’s funny you ask that. Last night I actually for the first time looked back at how many mornings I’ve written in my journal to start the day. And I just write. I don’t really read it again, I just write down yesterday’s synopsis – kind of what I said earlier. And I knew I started January of 2015, I’m wrapping up my third year, and this year and last year I’ve written 140,000 words each, which is pretty surreal to me.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, are you saying that you’ve got pretty nice consistency, in terms of every single day rocking out there?

Mike Lewis

Every single day. It doesn’t even occur to me not to do it now. So it’s just habits.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. And is there a particular nugget or piece that you share that seems to really resonate with your audience and community, and it gets them kind of retweeting and quoting it back to you?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I think that it’s, “Think of when you’re 80 years old and you look back on your life. What are you going to be most proud of? What stories will you make for yourself?” And I think that’s what drives people to jump.

Pete Mockaitis

And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, you say WhenToJump.com is where it’s at?

Mike Lewis

WhenToJump.com – it’s the home base for us. Our newsletter sign-up is on there, podcast, you can pre-order the book. And starting in February of 2018 we will have a Jump Ambassador program, which will be a 10-week intensive online course for people who want to meet 19 other RAD applicants that have been selected from around the world, and get closer to their jump. So all that can be found on the site, WhenToJump.com.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, RAD makes me think of Silicon Valley.

Mike Lewis

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, boy. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mike Lewis

Well, I would just say, write down what your goal is. It’s a perfect time to say, at the end of 2018, what does your job look like? What are you doing? How are you crushing it, to say it in Silicon Valley terms?

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Well, Mike, thanks so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. I wish you and all of your jumpers lots of luck in their adventures!

Mike Lewis
Thank you for having me. It’s pleasure to be on. I hope this was helpful.