Tag

KF #38. Optimizes Work Processes

442: How to Spend Less Time Doing Email with Dianna Booher

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dianna Booher says: "If you can't write your message in a sentence, you can't say it in an hour."

Dianna Booher shares invaluable advice on how to minimize your email inbox and write more effective and efficient emails.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how much time you can save through email optimization
  2. How to reduce useless emails and optimize your inbox
  3. How to compose better emails in less time using the M-A-D-E structure

About Dianna

Dianna Booher’s lifework has centered around communication. As author of 48 books, translated into 60 foreign language editions, she has traveled the globe, talking with clients and organizations on six continents about communication challenges they face at work and at home.

Her firm works with organizations to help them communicate clearly. During her more than three decades at BooherResearch Institute and earlier at Booher Consultants, she and her team have provided communication training programs, coaching, and consulting to governmental agencies and more than one third of the Fortune 500 organizations.

The national media frequently interview Booher for opinions on communication issues, and she blogs regularly for Microsoft, Forbes, and The CEO Magazine.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dianna Booher Interview Transcript

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

Dianna Booher
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. I think we’re going to get into some really important stuff. Your book is just a bullseye, I think, and for many professionals that they need to hear. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about you. You say you’re afraid of heights, yet you have 4 million frequent flyer miles in American Airlines. What’s the story here?

Dianna Booher
I don’t know. I’m going to blame it on my mom. You know, we blame everything on our parents. She used to tell me, when I was growing up, I was going to catch my shoelaces in the escalator, you know, “Jump off quickly. Quickly.” And I guess that’s where it came from, I don’t know, but I had been known to even walk over and ask total strangers if I could hold onto their shoulder or their elbow going down an escalator. I just step…

Pete Mockaitis
What do they tell you?

Dianna Booher
“Yes, yes.” At a trade show, would you believe, it was a competitor. She was standing at the top of an escalator about to go down, and I humbled myself to go over and say, “I am totally afraid to get on an escalator. Could I hold onto your arm?” And she just burst out to a hysterical laughter, and said, “Of course.” And it broke the ice, actually, it improved the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Was this a training competitor?

Dianna Booher
Yes, it was, a competitor of my training company. But I’ve even tried to get over it by going on tours, or climbing a mountain, doing something to go to this big lookout, and probably every country that I’ve visited, about 60 of them, and I would start off with my husband, you know, and this group and we’re going to go, and I would get to the first or second little stop, and just cling to the side of the mountain till I came back down. I just can’t do it. I just freeze.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe someday.

Dianna Booher
Someday.

Pete Mockaitis
But, nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped you from flying, and building, and selling a training business, so congratulations on that as well. That’s cool. But you’re still in the game somewhat because you wrote a new book, Faster, Fewer, Better Emails. Very on topic, I think, for a lot of us. So, tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dianna Booher
Well, basically, it’s about productivity and, of course, the writing skill because you want to be on message. But it increases productivity three ways. It gives strategies to reduce the volume that’s about to engulf everyone, it helps you write the necessary emails better so you get the action you want, and, really, the third way it increases your productivity is it helps you write faster because you’re thinking more clearly, and you say the right thing the first time and not have to do it over and over and over.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, that sounds great.

Dianna Booher
So, basically, that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe let’s talk about the why for a second. So, I know I don’t like having a ton of emails hanging out of my inbox. It feels kind of uncomfortable, just a low-level anxiety exists in my psyche when I’ve got it. And I know, listeners, I owe you some messages but you’re not forgotten. It will happen. That’s like two babies.

Dianna Booher
I think most people feel stressed about their email, or at least that’s what a report, you know, when we did our major survey, which is sort of the basis of all the strategies that we give in the book. Well, we surveyed people for more than 30 different organizations across all industries. And we found people are really, really stressed out by their email and not only at work but when they go home, they’re logging back in afterhours and on the weekends to just keep up with it, to start off even again the next Monday.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, so could you maybe give us the lay of the land then? You got the survey, some research, some study. Can we get some numbers on kind of what sort of time are we talking about and what kind of time could be saved if we were doing it faster, fewer, better?

Dianna Booher
Well, two to three hours a day, and that’s conservative, according to the research, and we found that 42% of the respondents spend three or more hours a day doing email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dianna Booher
And that’s just astounding to me because for many people that’s not their core job. We’re not talking about people whose job it is to sit there like customer service agent maybe whose job it is all day to sit there and respond to email. But maybe their core job is doing an engineering project, or arriving a feasibility study, or doing an engineering report. But that’s just on top of their regular job.

In fact, a story that one CEO was talking about, he was talking to a reporter, actually this story was passed on to me, but the reporter was asking about the volume of email. And he said, “Well, I have a project here that would probably take me an hour and a half to finish, but because I get so much email in here, it’s probably going to take me the rest of the afternoon to do it.” And that was at 1:30 in the afternoon.

So, Pete, the idea is that people just can’t get to their real work because of keeping their email up, staying through the inbox, going through it all the time. And we just found out a lot of things with the email that I was really surprised to know, and that comment from that CEO. It reminds me 55% of our respondents said that they check their email at least every hour.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Dianna Booher
In other words, they just leave it open, and they’re continually checking their email rather than focusing on their core work, and checking it two or three times a day, which is what I recommend in the book. You check it when you come in the morning, maybe check it after lunch and before you go home so you can respond to things that people are waiting on. And it’s either waiting for them before they go home or the next morning. But some people just, as things pop into their box, they handle it so they’re continually disrupted and distracted from what they’re doing.

Another thing that was surprising to me, since you’re asking about surprising things, 31%, in other words, one out of three people said that they spent more than 20 minutes every day just searching for information because they’re disorganized. And so, when they need to send an email or type something, they don’t file documents, they don’t title them consistently so they’re looking for things. They just kind of haphazardly put this here, put that there. So, when somebody says, “Can you send me the numbers on this? Or, can you send me data for that?” they’re searching. And some people said they spend up to an hour a day just searching for things. That’s where the disorganization really cost them a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if I guess some would say, “Well, hey, email is sort of part of life.” Just how much savings of time are you seeing when you implement some of these best practices?

Dianna Booher
Well, we have not asked per se different organizations to give us savings. Now, we have on our writing programs. So, when we’re teaching writing programs, before I sold my training organization last year, we surveyed every three years, and we ask organizations to report how much time they saved in writing time. And the average participant, or in the average organization came back to us and said they saved upward of 35% on their writing time, and also, we had to measure reading time.

Now, this was self-report, and we would say, “All right,” when they started, before they went through our program, we would say, “How much time do you spend writing normally? And then how much time have you reduced it?” Not just the next day, well, they remembered all the techniques we gave them. But we would ask organizations, not us, but the organization, their HR department, their training department, go back and ask them three months later, “How much would you say you’ve estimated reducing your writing time?” And the average would be upward of 35%. So, that’s a tremendous savings in just their thinking process.

And then also in reading time, we asked them to do the same thing for their executives’ perspective, you know, all the documents that are coming to them, and basically their job is reading, you know, decide, approve, buy this, consider, have a meeting on that. But all of that is coming to them in written form before they take those actions. And if they can cut the length of documents going to them, then obviously, and particularly if they’re copying six people or 42 people, then they’re saving a lot of reading time. So, it’s another way to measure.

But we’ve also had a client who actually literally, literally measured paperwork, because a lot of people don’t want to keep their screen time so they’ll print out, believe it or not in this day and age, they’ll print out a lot of emails and take it with them on the airplane to read, or take it with them in a briefcase, take it with them on the road while somebody else is driving, if they have a lot of commute time on the train, etc.

And so, this one client literally measured paperwork, how much paperwork did they have before they started this program, and then how much six months later less trash. And that’s an engineering company as you can imagine that would do that. And so, that’s another metric, so reading time and just thinking time and preparation time. So, there’s a lot of ways to measure that we let organizations themselves measure the effect.

And, of course, the results and if their salespeople are measuring the closing rate. If they can’t close a proposal, but after they learned to write better and they have a better closing rate on their emails and proposals where they’re dealing with their clients, that’s a measure as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so much good stuff. All right. Well, I’m sold. Hey, 35% on two to three hours a day, one HR a day, that’s huge. What could you do with that? Wow. So, let’s get into each of it. So, when it comes to, say, first of all, I just got a boatload of emails. How do we tackle that?

Dianna Booher
Well, there are several strategies to cut paperwork and just to reduce the volume. Let me give you one of the pieces before you understand how these strategies play out. When we ask people, “What are the kinds of emails that you get that are just totally unnecessary?” They said, let me check here, “Thirty-two percent of the emails that we get are totally either redundant or irrelevant.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dianna Booher
And when they defined what they meant, it either doesn’t apply to them. In other words, they’re on somebody’s distribution list and it’s long outlived its usefulness, they don’t need to be on that list anymore. So, people, they put together a list for this project or this certain kind of monthly report, and then they no longer need to get it, but people, rather than cleaning their distribution list, they’re just still sending it over and over so that just clutters their box.

Or, they have no interest in it. They never were interested in getting this information. So, every morning when you come in, and you look at your email, a third of it you don’t need or it’s redundant. Six people have sent you the same thing. So, just cleaning your distribution list and deleting and unsubscribing, rather than just deleting. If for all eternity you don’t need this, then unsubscribe, don’t just delete it. Of course, it takes a little bit longer to take three steps to un-delete, and the safe unsubscribe always asks you, “Why do you want to un-delete? Is this the right email? Why do not want it? Did you not sign up, etc.?” That’ll take you three clicks rather than delete which takes you one click, but then you’re out of it for good. You don’t keep getting it every Tuesday morning, etc.

But here are the kind of strategies that I’m talking about in the book. In fact, the first chapter gives 12 of these. But, throughout, you’ll come up with about 30 or 40, throughout the whole book. But let me talk about some of those that are the most troublesome that clogs up your email. And that is using your email box for a to-do list.

A lot of people open up their email, and they think, “Oh, I need to do something, but I can’t do it right now. I need to finish so and so,” or, “I need to collect this information but I don’t have it.” And rather than schedule that task, pull that over, put it on a calendar, or make a physical note of it if they need to do that, they just leave it open in their email box, and then they open the next thing, “Oh, I need to call so and so. Well, I don’t want to forget that,” and they just leave it in their email box.

And so, pretty soon they’ve got 15 open emails and they keep having to read through those. Then the next day, they don’t remember, “What was that? What was that detail? When was that due?” And they have to read through those. Oh, every time they come across it, they have to keep reading through it and reading through it to remember. So, it clutters up their box, it creates re-reading. So, when they come across something like that, they need to act on it. They need to either move it, file it, make another note of when they’re going to do it, move it over on their calendar, and just get it out of the inbox. It is not your to-do list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if there’s a to-do item, it doesn’t belong in the inbox but it should be not forgotten and placed elsewhere. So, do you just have like a separate folder or a label called To-Do or what is it called?

Dianna Booher
Yes, yes, you can have it separate. There are several ways to handle it. If you’re using Microsoft Office 365, you literally could pull that email over on a date to handle it. Let’s say you’re waiting for information to go in that email. Before you can respond, you’re going to get some data next Wednesday on it, then you can literally pull it over to next Thursday because you’re getting the information on Wednesday, and now you can respond on Thursday. You just literally drag it over on that pane.

Or you can make a note. Let’s say you have a paper calendar where you have a list of to-dos. You just make a note, “Respond to Jack about so and so,” and then file that document with that client if it’s merged with your CRM system, your customer management system. Just file it. Or, if you want to, you can have a folder that says “To-Dos” and just pull it in that folder, and then check that folder every morning for what you’re going to do, or schedule it on a certain day. Any number of ways. The point is don’t leave it in your inbox because you just keep having to re-read it and think, “What was this supposed to do? What were the details of that? What was the deadline of that, etc.?”
Pete Mockaitis
I dig it.

Dianna Booher
Yeah. And another thing that clutters up and disrupts people and distracts them from their core work that I was talking about is what I call piling on or hanging on. And what I mean by piling on, let’s say a manager, or just anybody, is working on a project, and they’ve written a document, and they want some feedback, or they’re just sending it out for input. And they send it out, and say, “I’m getting ready to forward this up to chain to such and such. Is everybody okay with it? Or do you have anything to add?”

Well, if you read it, instead of everybody hitting Reply All, and saying, “It’s fine. It looks fine to me. Okay. I don’t have anything to add,” and cluttering up 27 boxes with meaningless comments that all say the same thing, don’t do that, don’t use that Reply All. And not only are you at fault if you’re doing that kind of reply, but also the person who sent that out is creating the clutter too. What you really should do is if you want input, you want feedback, is to say something like, “I’ve put together such and such report that I’m getting ready to mail to Joe Schmo on this date. After you review it, if you have any comments or changes, please reply to me individually. Otherwise, no actions taken. If you see no changes, please no action is necessary.”

And then that takes care of it. You don’t expect any reaction. You don’t need 27 people to hit your inbox with meaningless comments, basically, all saying, “It’s okay. I don’t have any changes.” So, you see how people, they create sometimes their own clutter. You should just ask for an exception, “If you have an exception, email me back. If you have a change, email me back. But if you’re fine with this, no action is necessary.” So, it’s not only the person who’s doing the cluttering by hitting Reply All, but it’s the person who’s asking for the feedback, they’re not asking sometimes in the best way possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. It’s nice and clear. So, you put that out there. Lovely. How else do we slim that inbox?

Dianna Booher
Well, I think what I call piling on is similar to that but a little different. And I think people do it for relationship building but after a while it’s just clutter. Somebody is out sick, say, for example, and they send an email, and say, “I’m not coming in today. I’ve got the flu,” and all of a sudden they get 14 emails back, “Oh, sorry, you’re sick. Sorry, you’re sick. See you tomorrow, buddy. Take it easy. No problem. We don’t want the germs,” you know. All of a sudden you got 17 emails again that interrupt everybody else’s work.

Occasionally, if some over-the-top odd, unusual circumstance, then, okay, that might be necessary. And, occasionally, you do that kind of thing to build camaraderie. But when you do that routinely with just meaningless responses, it’s distraction, distraction, distraction, distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And you could show your support with an individual reply, you know, without involving everybody.

Dianna Booher
Yes, right. Right. Another issue that’s a problem or a thing that people need to think about is just using email for things that email was never designed for. When we first got into big email in a big way back in the ‘90s, people used email for everything because basically that was our only communication connection system, and so we used it to schedule things, we used it to invite people places, we used it for project management, we used it to collaborate with teams. It was just the all-purpose tool.

But that’s not the case anymore. There are all kinds of more appropriate software packages for specific tools. For example, Pete, when you schedule interviews, you use, what is it? Calendly that you use.

Pete Mockaitis
Calendly, yeah.

Dianna Booher
If you’re doing project management, there’s Basecamp, there’s Asana, there’s Workzone, there’s Slack, there’s all kind of project management tools and communication tools so that all of your comments as a group working on a project can move over to that area and be together without cluttering up your email. Whatever tool that’s more appropriate, take it off your email so that it’s done efficiently.

If you’re using Microsoft 365, and you’re trying to setup a meeting with three people, I mean, you’ve seen people go back and forth on their email, like, “But we really need to get together to discuss this. Are you up at the end of the week?” And somebody else replies back, “I can’t do it at the end of the week. I’m going to be out for a couple of days. We’re closing our new house. How about early next week?” Of course, he emails back, “Well, I’m going to be traveling Tuesday. How about Wednesday after 4:00?” “No, I can’t.” And they get six emails going back and forth trying to set a time when, on Microsoft, they could just say, “Cortana, find an open place on our calendars and schedule the meeting,” and it’s done.

So, my principle here, use appropriate software to do tasks that email was never appropriate, it’s just not the appropriate tool now. Maybe in the ‘90s it was. It’s no longer the appropriate tool. So, email is used only for correspondence.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, so, now I want to dig into a little bit of the composition side of things. You’ve got a framework, which I want to hit in a moment. But, first, I’d love to get just, you mentioned that you saw some cool results with regard to sales folks having better close rates, or I imagine also opening things up with a cold email and starting a conversation. What are some of your tips for just, generally speaking, writing emails that get responses maybe when you’re reaching out to someone for the first time?

Dianna Booher
Well, several things here. You always want to be specific. The reason a lot of people don’t get action on their emails is they’re just not specific about the action. They write to inform but they don’t persuade. Now, I’m not talking about hard sales. I’m just talking about that need to ask for an action. It’s amazing how many people who are in sales who don’t really ask for the next step, “So, can we meet with you to give you a trial run through this? Can we setup a tour? Can we do such and such?” They have to be very specific about time and date, a task.

The greeting needs to be tailored. You get a lot of emails that you know have gone to the whirls, so to speak. They send it to their entire database because it doesn’t use your name and there’s nothing in there that is specific to you, and there’s no indication that they know anything about you or remember anything about you from a previous conversation. So, there needs to be some tie to what you said previously.

I think it’s also important, in the subject line, that that subject line is not mysterious. I know if you are writing ads on TV, if you’re doing something for the Super Bowl, okay, you’ve got to be clever and cute and whatever, but that’s not email. Email, I call them sublines, S-U-B, and that stands for they need to be specific, they need to be useful, and they need to be brief. So, if you can take the S-U-B, specific, useful, and brief because…

Pete Mockaitis
Otherwise, you’re an S-O-B. I couldn’t resist it. You probably heard that dozens of times.

Dianna Booher
No, no. Quit pranking there, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you bet.

Dianna Booher
But people prioritize by their subject lines. When they’re busy and they’re on their phone, and they’re sitting at the gym waiting on their…sitting at the soccer field waiting on their child to finish the sports workout or whatever, and they’re going through 42 emails, and they’re trying to decide, “Read now, read later, or wait till I get home. Wait till I get back to the office in the morning,” etc. They’ve got to decide and prioritize.

And so, you’ve got to tell them immediately, and some of them actually just read the subject line and decide to delete and make the decision whether, “I’m going to open or send it to somebody else.” So, they need to be able to tell exactly what it is and see what’s in it for them. So, if you could put the action that you want in the subject line, that’s much better.

A lot of times, people just use a topic in their subject line. And what’s far better is to use a headline. Can you imagine reading the newspaper tonight and seeing something like, “Congress. Veto. Terrorist Attack. Weather?” You don’t. You see something like, “Terrorist attack kills 52 people in Malaysia,” or Sri Lanka, or whatever. Or you see, “Trump vetoes X, Y, Z legislation.” Or, “Congress passes X, Y, Z bill.” You see a message, and that’s what you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
this weekend.

Dianna Booher
Yeah, your subject line needs to say something not just introduce a topic. And that’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
You can say this with slide headlines too as opposed to just like report, data, survey. It’s like, “Well, tell me what I’m supposed to take away from this survey, otherwise we might all just draw our own interpretations,” which, if that was what you were going for, that’s okay. But usually it’s not. Usually, you’re trying to tell a story.

Dianna Booher
Right. I was coaching, I coached six executives last week, I was coaching them on executive…they’re already executives but I was coaching them to polish their executive presence and when they actually do a presentation to the board of directors. And we went through the entire slide decks. And, by far, most of them just had a topic as their slide. And I was saying, “Well, what’s the walkaway here? You’re talking about your revenue. But what about your revenue? Are you talking about your goals or are you saying you’re not going to meet your goals, you are going to meet your goals, your goals are falling short of what your budget, or your revenue, or your profitability? Is it that you’re not going to meet your profitability goals for the next quarter? What is the point about that?”

And they, finally, got it. And then once they understood, “We’re going for a headline here, if they could just read this and didn’t see anything on that slide, or they didn’t read anything in that email, could they walk away with a point?” And then they got it. And that’s key in email.

Another thing, too, that keeps people from even seeing your email is the habit, and it’s kind of a recent trend, of putting favorite quotes in the signature block, and putting images in the signature block. It wasn’t a big deal until about five years ago, or maybe it was about eight or 10 years ago, people started putting an image for their signature. Instead of typing it, they started writing, actually doing cursive, so to speak, and scanned it in, and they scan in their like, “Joan Smith,” and then they put that image there, and they’ll put their favorite quote, or they might put a banner, or their company logo.

Those are the kind of things that spam filters catch and keep things from being delivered. So, in the last three or four years, people have learned that, and they stopped doing that. But it’s really the spam filters are getting much more savvy about stripping those out and saying, “This is spam.” Being careful to not send those through from the outside. So, be careful about doing that, and use fewer images that will get clogged or get screened out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s some handy stuff in terms of getting the response. And so, now, let’s talk about the process you utilize to craft emails quickly and effectively.

Dianna Booher
Okay. Well, the book which talks about writing faster, fewer and better, there’s two parts to that. I don’t mean faster in the sense that you’re really going to type faster, or that you’re going to zap it all faster, there’s a faster way to get your email through technologically. What I mean by that is faster thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dianna Booher
If you do it better, and you think better, you will do it in a more complete fashion from the very beginning, and that will result in getting the action done the first time. Instead of having to write seven emails to correct the problem or to handle a situation, you’ll write one email that takes care of the whole situation.

And so, that’s what I mean about, overall, faster. Overall, the whole situation will be taken care of faster. And so, the thinking process, really, is to analyze your audience right up front. Do you have one reader or do you have multiple readers? Who should you really copy? A lot of people, if you think about this, Pete, a lot of people, they have a situation that they need to communicate about, they write the email, and then they think, “Okay, who should get a copy here?” That’s a totally wrong approach, because your email should be tailored according to, just like that slideshow we were talking about a minute ago. The email should be tailored according to who you’re writing to.

So, the first step is, “Who am I writing to? And then, what is their bottom-line message of interest?” If they could just read one sentence, what would that one sentence be? And why do they want to know this? What’s their interest about this situation? And then you ask yourself, “How are they going to use this information? I mean, are they going to actually do the action or are they just going to approve something? Are they just going to forward this email to somebody else, and somebody else is actually going to implement it? And if so, then I need to copy so and so because they need to actually implement it. Or maybe I should put the bulk of this information in an attachment for a reference so somebody can just print it off because they’re the doer, but the person I’m writing to is just the decision-maker on it. They’re just going to approve it, and then they can forward it to somebody else to actually implement this a month later.”

So, you see all those questions matter even in the format of what you’re sending. And then you ask yourself, “Okay, what do they already know about it?” Don’t tell people what they already know. And think about this, Pete, how many times do you get an email that starts off, “As you already know,” or, “As we discussed a couple of weeks ago,” and they spend a paragraph telling you what you already know.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dianna Booher
Or, “As we discussed in the meeting last week, blah, blah, blah.” And you think, “Yeah, I was in the meeting. Why are you wasting my time rehashing what we decided last week?” That’s a waste of time. So, think about that and then think the last question, and maybe the most important, is you ask yourself, “Okay, how are they going to react when I tell them this? When I give this one sentence overview message, are they going to be skeptical?” If so, that means you’ve got to add the why details to build credibility. “Are they going to be angry? Is somebody going to lose face? Are you creating extra work for them? Is this going to cost a lot more than they thought?”

There’s some typical negative reactions they might have. And that thinking dictates the details you’re going to put in. if you think there’s no negative reactions here, you may not include some of those details. So, that thinking, the answer those questions right up front, immediately tells you what details to include, and what you should omit, what’s just going to clutter it up. And then once you do that thinking, you’re home free, basically. You just arrange it in the MADE format.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the MADE format is the message, the action, the details, and the evidence.

Dianna Booher
Yes. And that’s what I spend a whole chapter on because that is what will revolutionize 95% of what you write. Literally, I’ve been stuck for three decades, I’ve been teaching writing, so I’ve literally read thousands and thousands, and probably hundreds of thousands of emails so I can say it with confidence. In all different industries, all different types of documents, 95% of what we write in the business world can be structured that way. And that is an overview message of one or two sentences, maybe three if it’s a really long document.

And then, so what action next? Based on that message, what do you want the reader to do? It could be a recommendation, big picture recommendation, or it could be a follow-up action. You might be saying, “So, based on that message, here’s the action I’m taking, or here’s the action I want from you, the reader.” And once you get that message and action, then you circle back and then you elaborate on the details.

Now, if they’re just brief details, like a word or a phrase or who or when or what, those brief little details, it could be answered in a word or phrase, or probably already going to be part of your message and part of your action. But if you need to elaborate, that’s the key phrase. If you need to elaborate on the details, then that elaboration comes in this details section. Generally, it’s the how and they why. Most often you can make this, and elaborate, “And here’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. And here’s how to take the action.”

And then the E, evidence, if you have any kind of attachment you want to send along, like, “Here’s a copy of the spreadsheet that I’m referring to, where I’ve done a calculation,” or, “Here’s the copy of the contract that I’m saying I don’t agree with this clause that we’re going to dispute in court,” or whatever, or, “Here’s a map of the layout of this building that I’m saying we need to renovate this particular wing,” or something like that, then you attach it.

But if you use that structure, you just start thinking like that. And then emails are so easy to write when you just think, “Okay, what’s my message, what’s my action? Okay, now, what needs to be elaborated on?” And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you send out an email.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. And I think so often, it’s like I start writing an email, it’s like, “Wait a minute. What am I really going for here?” And then I like to rewrite it, and then maybe rewrite it again. Whereas, you could just sort of take a moment. So, it sounds like you might even sort of jot some notes on a tablet or some scratch pad somewhere as you’re doing this. Or how do you think about that?

Dianna Booher
Yeah, a lot of times people can. Once they start thinking like this, and they practice this, they can do the M-A-D-E in their head, you know, while they’re getting dressed in the morning, while they’re driving down the freeway, while they’re sitting on the subway, while they’re eating breakfast, and think, “Okay, in a sense, what’s my message? If I just picked up the phone and thought for a minute, and it’s about to cut off, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I got to get on the point of…’ It’s like turn off your cellphone, turn off your cellphone, I’ve got 30 seconds, what would I say?’” And you can figure out that part in your head.

If you’ve got a scratch pad, write it down. You don’t have to even write out complete sentences. Just say, “Here’s the phrase for the message. Action. I want them to setup a meeting. Detail. I need to explain why this fine is going to happen, how much it’s going to cost, and how to setup the three steps to do so and so.” And that’s a scratch sheet of paper, that’s your outline. And then when you get to the computer, you’re ready to just turn it into sentences, and it goes very, very quickly. But you can do that thinking anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, I’m wondering, so how do you think about the headline, the subject versus the message?

Dianna Booher
The subject is last. See, a lot of times people fill in the subject line first, but you can’t summarize if you don’t know what your message is. So, always write it first, and then go back and put in your subject line. Your subject line is like the Reader’s Digest condensed version of your message.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that is an even shorter version of the one- to three-sentence message.

Dianna Booher
Right. It’s a summary version of your message and your action.

Pete Mockaitis
House on fire. Insurance payment $5,000.

Dianna Booher
Yeah. Or, “Just hired new VPs; starts next Monday.” That becomes a summary of the longer message of your first sentence which would be, “Our executive senior vice president just hired a junior vice president Mr. So-and-so who’s coming to us from XYZ Corporation. He’ll be starting next Monday, and his key responsibilities will be blah, blah, blah.” That would be the full message, but your subject line might be, “Just hired a new executive vice president; starts next Monday.”

Pete Mockaitis
And the action is, “You need to invite him to the luau. Make the necessary welcome here and acquire a Hawaiian shirt.”

Dianna Booher
Right. And be sure to shake his hands and ask for a raise right up front.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Cool. Well, any other thoughts? So, you do your thinking up front, and then you put that out there with the MADE format, and then you do the subject last. Any thoughts for doing some of the editing in terms of, “Okay, I’ve written a bunch of words on my screen.”

Dianna Booher
Just do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Just do the editing.

Dianna Booher
Do the editing. A lot of people just, when they get through the thinking, they do the one draft and they hit “send”, and send it out, and that’s not a good idea because you’re going to have missing words, you’re going to have an awkward sentence, you’re going to have a grammatical error. So, take the minute to go back and re-read it.

It’s best, if it’s a really important email, to let it cool off, particularly if it happens to be bad news or a sensitive topic. Let it cool off overnight if you can. If you can’t, a couple of hours helps. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back just after a couple of hours, just go to lunch and come back and read it, and think, “Oh, no, I’m so glad I let that sit here. I see two missing words here.” You just can’t see things. You read what you think you wrote. The message is still in your mind. So, always let it cool off if at all possible.

Now, if it’s just a two-sentence email to the guy next door, and you don’t care about a missing word, or an awkward sentence, then, okay, sometimes you just have to do something immediately. But if it’s important, yes, cool off is really important. Now, if you can’t do that optimally, you could read it aloud if the tone is important. Read something aloud to yourself and you can catch errors. If you think, “People are going to think I’m crazy, I’m talking to myself,” pick up the phone and hold it like you’re talking to somebody, or you’ve got your Bluetooth plugged in and you’re just talking out loud, and people won’t think you’re crazy. They’ll think you’re talking to your spouse on the phone. And it’ll sound funny to your ear. If it sounds awkward, it’s stilted or something, your ear will catch it, and you can improve it.

If the sentence sounds too long when you start to read it, it will feel awkward to you, and you’ll think, “Whoa, I lost my breath. I couldn’t get to the end of the sentence.” It’ll help you go back and think, “I need to cut that sentence in two, it’s too long. I ran out of breath, ran out of steam, ran out of energy.” If that, still, you think, “Well, you know, I think I’ve got some hot words in here, and I’m not sure. It could be offensive. It could be a little blunt,” then have a colleague read it.

Don’t read it to them because you add the inflection, and you can change. It could be really blunt on page, but you’re softening it with your tone. So, just hand it to them and say, “Read that and tell me what you think about the tone.” And so, when they pick it up, they can be a more objective reader for you on sensitive matters.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. Thank you. Well, tell me, any sort of key software, plugins, add-on, services, tools that make this better, or help with the email struggle?

Dianna Booher
Well, I mentioned things for software to do other things other than email, like Calendly, Slack, Workzone, Smartsheets. Those are the kind of things that you want to look into, just think, “Do I have other things that are not correspondence-related?” Those are what’s helpful to you. ShortKeys. If you find yourself writing the same messages over and over, maybe like a bio, like when I respond to reporters frequently, they want your credentials or your bio, so you have that on ShortKeys, you can just hit two keys or a code, and the whole paragraph goes in.

If you have a certain product or a certain service that you provide, then you hit ShortKeys and the whole paragraph goes in. What you don’t want to do is to write those over and over, because even if you know with your brain what you’re saying, it’s too easy to incorporate an error, to leave out a word just because of familiarity to create a typo, so it’s good to make sure it’s error-free to begin with, and just plug it in with ShortKeys.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about email before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dianna Booher
I think that you just don’t want to create distractions for yourself. Many people create their own distractions with email because they keep it open and they use it for to-dos, and don’t ask things in the right way. And so, they write six or seven emails to accomplish what the first one should’ve accomplished.

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

Dianna Booher
I like the quote by Martin Luther who said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” Now, for me, of course, that’s been inspiring because I’ve been a writer all my life, but for others I think you’d do the same thing for your own reputation when you write a good email because that has staying power. It establishes your credibility on any subject.

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

Dianna Booher
I always like to read the major studies that IBM does, that McKinsey does, PricewaterhouseCoopers, all of the Gallup. I like surveys because I like to keep my finger on the pulse. And, of course, they’re very revealing, our study, with the University of Northern Colorado, their social research lab when we did this major study for Faster, Fewer, Better Emails. That was very revealing. So, whatever study that you put faith in, look at the trends from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, over time.

Dianna Booher
Pardon me?

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like over time.

Dianna Booher
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it came out this year, then next year, then the following year.

Dianna Booher
Yes, yes, and how they change.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dianna Booher
Traveling Mercies. I like Anne Lamott. Basically, anything she writes. I really like her. A lot of people haven’t discovered her writing, but she’s an excellent writer. She has a book called Bird by Bird which is on writing. But Traveling Mercies is more my favorite.

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

Dianna Booher
I like snipping tool. It’s just so easy, I keep it right at the bottom of my taskbar. I find I use that all of the time. It’s just so useful for adding something, screen capture, to send in an email, to show people exactly what you’re talking about. So simple and yet so useful for so many tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s called snipping?

Dianna Booher
It’s called snipping tool, that’s the name of it. Snipping tools. The icon is like a pair of scissors and, literally, you can cut anything on your screen, and then attach it to an email and send it. You can email it, you can paste it into an email, you can capture the screen and send it as an attachment. It’s like the simplest miracle you can imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite habit, something that you do that makes you awesome at your job?

Dianna Booher
This is weird, I know, because most people like to procrastinate. But I like to move all of my deadlines for any kind of task, I move them forward in case of emergency. Somebody tells me I have to have something done by May 31st. I will move it up at least two weeks because I don’t want to be caught in case of an emergency. If there’s a major illness, if there’s a death in the family, I just don’t want to be stressed out, and I don’t want to miss a deadline. So, whatever deadline somebody gives me, if it’s just a few hours or days or weeks, I’m going to move it forward. That’s just a habit I’ve had all my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with listeners and audience members?

Dianna Booher
Yes, this sentence. I have quoted and collected the most quote collections online more than any other. It’s been out there for a while, and people just keep repeating it and quoting it. It’s, “If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, Dianna, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you tons of luck with “Faster, Fewer, Better Emails,” and your other adventures. And just keep doing the good work.

Dianna Booher
Thank you, Pete. It’s been great to be with you.

436: How to hack your time and motivation wisely–and when not to–with Joseph Reagle

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Joseph Reagle says: "When people get too far down the line of optimizing, sometimes they're putting themselves at risk for a very marginal gain."

Joseph Reagle shares handy research insights on hacking life optimally and safely.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The question you need to ask when optimizing your life
  2. Why lifehacks should be taken in moderation
  3. How to use your own money  to hack your motivation

About Joseph

Joseph writes and teaches about digital communication and online communities. He’s an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. He’s also served as a fellow and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. His doctoral dissertation was on the history and collaborative culture of Wikipedia. Joseph has appeared in media including The Economist and The New York Times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joseph Reagle Interview Transcript

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

Joseph Reagle
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your stuff. And I’d love to start with you sharing a little bit of how you came to adapt a practice of Japanese techniques of T-shirt folding. What’s the scoop here?

Joseph Reagle
I came by it by way of YouTube. I’m a bit of a sponge. I watch a lot of YouTube channels, I read a lot of blogs and whatnot. And I saw that there’s this particular technique for folding T-shirts, and I can’t say it verbally. If your listeners want to check it out, you can Google Japanese T-shirt. It’s very nice. You just kind of pinch two parts of the shirt, and you do a little flick of the wrist, and then, bam, it’s folded.

And it’s a trivial sort of thing. It doesn’t really save me much time, but I think the thing I enjoy about it is I don’t really enjoy folding laundry. And so, this gives me a little practice, a little technique that I can improve upon, that I can hone as I’m folding my laundry, so that gives me something to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is nice and it sort of makes you feel like there’s some craftmanship involved. And I believe this Japanese T-shirt folding practice is different than what Marie Kondo is advocating as I looked at your reference videos. Is that fair to say?

Joseph Reagle
It is. She also has some great ideas. I don’t know if she calls it vertical folding. But, basically, if you have a lot of T-shirts, or maybe we use this with the hand towels in our kitchen. Instead of piling all the hand towels on top of one another, you arrange them side by side so you can see your whole gamut of things that you want to select from. And that’s a very handy tip as well, and we use that in our kitchen.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like, in particular, the ability to not have to make one hand into a levitating shelf to take the things that are up above it in the other hand to grab the thing that is now on the new top. And then things get a little bit disjointed along the way. So, I’m right with you. Well, it’s funny, we’re already talking about it. You’ve got a book, it’s called Hacking Life and I’m quite intrigued by your premises and your discoveries. So, maybe you can start us off by sharing what was one of the most striking and surprising discoveries you made when putting this together?

Joseph Reagle
Well, in the book, I’m looking at lifehackers and all the domains of life that they apply this hacking ethos to. So, it includes things like motivation, time management, productivity, health, material possessions. And when I got to relationships, I was looking at various types of people who use various tips and tricks for seduction, pickup artistry, for managing their marriage, the negotiation part of a relationship, as well as people just going online like OkCupid and trying to figure out how to get themselves to be able to be matched with people that they might like.

And there was a Wired article about this one hacker who hacked OkCupid and he created fake profiles, and he downloaded a bunch of information, and he kind of figured out the sort of women that he would be attracted to, and the sort of questions that they were interested in. And he ended up calling it a success, and he published a self-help book about how to hack OkCupid. And he went on 88 dates.

And when I talk about that with students, they’re like, “That doesn’t sound very successful,” but I teach in Communication Studies, and most of my students are women, and when they hack dating, they also add a filtration mechanism, interestingly enough, so they don’t have to go out with bozos and boneheads.

And then I came across someone else, another engineer who went on 150 dates in four months. And he spoke about—it was so tempting in this age, when we have all this technology and choice available to us, to try one more date, to get one more datapoint to figure out like who that perfect person would be. And that’s been leading me into some of the downsides, I think, in approaching life this way.

I’m very hackery myself. I think we can learn a lot. There’s a lot of handy tips and tricks, and they can even help us craft some meaning for our lives. But there are some excesses.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. However, I want to talk about some of your hackeriness, if that’s a word, as well as some of the pros and cons. But maybe just to make sure, from a language standpoint, we’re on the same page, what makes a lifehack a lifehack per se?

Joseph Reagle
Well, the term “hack” goes back, surprisingly, far amount of time. It emerged at MIT at their Tech Model Railroad Club. So, that was a very geeky    early electronics club at MIT in the late 1950s, and hacker culture emerged out of that. And they started accumulating a fair amount of jargon back then, and they put out a dictionary in 1959, and they said a hacker is the person who avoids the standard solution.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Joseph Reagle
More recently, the founder of LifeHacker.com, Gina Trapani, she wrote that as a computer engineer-type of person, she thinks about reprogramming the tasks of her life how she would a program. And her goal is to optimize them to make them a little faster and a little more efficient. So, the idea of lifehacking spans the mundane and include things like tying your shoelaces or folding your shirt, but it goes up to what I call meaning hacking, trying to find contentment in a life of uncertainty and loss. But all of these entail an appreciation of systems and employment of systems, maybe trying to figure out how to exploit those systems, to bend the rules so that you can be a little more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I mean, that sounds great to me. What are some of the downsides you’re unearthing here?

Joseph Reagle
Well, what I wanted to do in this book is not pillorize lifehacking. And people do sometimes, particularly cultural critics and academics. You know, they hold their nose when it comes to self-help, and I think lifehacking is a part of self-help. And there’s plenty of shade that people can throw at lifehacking as well.

But I didn’t want to do that because, as I just said, I’m geeky myself. But what I wanted to do was then draw some distinctions. So, let’s not throw lifehacking out altogether. Let’s figure out, are there ethical lifehacks and less ethical lifehacks? Are there different types of hacking? And I call them nominal and optimal hacking.

And I think, in this case, optimal hacking certainly has some excesses entailed. So, you might optimize a wrong thing. So, the example that I spoke of, of that hacker who went on 150 dates, I think he was optimizing for the wrong thing. He got fixated on the dates rather than the starting of a relationship. And when you approach life as a system that can be optimized, you do have the tendency to sometimes fall into this trap of what I call naïve optimization.

Pete Mockaitis
These are great distinctions I’m wrapping my brain around here. So, I got optimal hacking, where we’re seeking to optimize something. In that one case, he was optimizing such that he could get a bunch of dates. And what’s nominal hacking?

Joseph Reagle
Nominal hacking is an engineering term, and I could’ve used the word normal, but I didn’t for various reasons, because that’s loaded as well. But it’s the idea that you’re good enough. So, for example, I spoke to lots of folks in the quantified self-movement and lifehackers who might want to lose a little bit of weight, or who have migraines. And so, they’re not trying to like boost their brains like some lifehackers and biohackers take nootropics that supposedly make them smarter. That’s how Tim Ferriss actually got his start, selling a nootropic online.

They’re just trying to get back to a good enough sort of state. And I can appreciate that certainly because if people take some risks there, they’re doing it for a particular reason. But when people get too far down the line of optimizing, sometimes they’re putting themselves at risk for a very marginal gain. So, for example, one of the people I speak of is Seth Roberts, and he was very big in the Quantified Self movement when that started. And the Quantified Self movement is just like the number measurement fixated wing of lifehackers.

And he came up with, well, he discovered for himself that eating half a stick of butter everyday made him a little bit faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Faster, running? Thinking?

Joseph Reagle
Thinking. And so, he had a little program on his computer, and it would give him little math puzzles, and he would respond to them as quickly as he could, and he would chart and measure his response times and accuracy, and he would track that over the days so he could see when he was a little bit faster, or when he was a little bit slower.

And he, originally, had started eating a large amount of pig fat everyday to help with his sleep because he discovered that helped him by way of accident. But then eating pig fat everyday was difficult because you can’t really carry it around with you. But he discovered if you ate half a stick of butter, you can get butter even when you’re out at a restaurant. That helped with his sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Butter, please.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, and it improved his mathematical abilities. And when he would give talks about this, he was like, “This is really great. This really works for me. I prefer to manage my own health in this way.” He didn’t really trust the medical establishment. And he wasn’t a kook. He was a professor of psychology. He worked on rat psychology, but he was very much into his own quantification and experimentation. And a cardiologist, in one of his talks, suggest that he might give himself a heart attack.

And the big irony here was that he started a column at The New York Observer, where he would write about his lifehacking and experiments on a monthly basis, maybe it was weekly. And his first column was his last column. It was entitled “Butter Makes Me Smarter.” And a couple of days before, he had had a heart attack.

So, I can’t say that eating half a stick of butter gave him a heart attack. He’s just a single person. But I think it speaks to some of the risks. Like, why eat half a stick of butter so that you’re a couple milliseconds faster on this trivial arbitrary sort of little quiz you setup for yourself?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yes, so that’s very clear, optimizing for the wrong thing. So, you’re a little quicker but your health is suffering, and so that’s not a great trade certainly. So, given that, how has your thinking evolved in terms of establishing whether a particular practice seems like a good idea or a bad idea?

Joseph Reagle
I don’t know if I can say beforehand something is great or something is really a bad idea, but I have some heuristics. And so, again, if you’re to push yourself to that leading edge, I think you need to ask yourself, “Am I focusing on one thing beyond all others?”

So, there’s a fellow by the name of Nick Winter, and he wrote this really nice little self-published book that you can buy on Amazon called Motivation Hacker. And he read all the popular literature, the pop science literature on motivation, on habit formation, on curing procrastination. And he thought, “Well, what happens if I could amplify all this to be absurdly productive?” And he used all these psychological techniques, and apps and hacks that were available to him, and he was savvy about it.

He did end up working 120-hour work weeks as for fun almost, but he also had to create goals for himself, like to go on so many dates with his then girlfriend, now wife, go out to be social with his friends like 10 times a week, make sure he was still doing his pushups and pullups and health regime. So, that works for him. And you can go to a webpage, he dynamically, in live time, has a webpage where he charts his productivity and the hours he has spent coding. And he plots it against his running average over days, and months, and weeks. But at least he was cognizant of the fact that he had other things that he needed to keep his eye on, and he didn’t just focus on and fixate on productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s interesting is, as you talk about that life and that quantification and striving to sort of beat it and have it at the top, I mean, it’s interesting because I love spreadsheets for all sorts of things. And I have quantified a number of things in my day that most people don’t bother or would find excessive or over the top.

But, as I think about and imagine that scenario, it seems to me a real risk would be just a sense that your, I don’t know, meaning, or your value, or your purpose, or all that matters is that which is you are quantifying, charting, publishing, which can kind of suck you into some, I think maybe really, depressing places. Is that kind of what some patterns that you’re seeing in your research here?

Joseph Reagle
Oh, definitely. So, I have the chapters on hacking time, hacking motivation, material possessions, and you can almost see a progression of people looking for contentment. So, people think, “If I can be super-efficient, then I will be happy. I will be content.” And it turns out that’s not necessarily the case for a lot of people. They realize, “I still am not happy. I climbed to the top of my hierarchy at my work, I make a lot of money, and I bought a house. Now, I have all this stuff, and that’s making me anxious.”

So, then, you can look at the digital minimalist, another wing of lifehacking, and they decided, “Well, why don’t I do another experiment? Why don’t I get rid of everything except a hundred things?” So, there is the hundred things challenge, and some people did 99 things, and some people did 50 things. And that worked for some people for a time, and some people still lived that very minimalist life. But one of the people I spoke to, it’s a pseudonym, but I had been following her, and she, again, had had a breakdown, had a good job but very stressful, ended up on the floor in a pool of tears, that’s how she spoke about it. And quit the job, sold everything except what she could fit in a backpack and traveled the world writing about digital minimalism.

And, after a year or so, she quit it all. And I found that out because I was checking some of my sources for the book, and all her webpages were gone, and her e-book was gone, and her Twitter account was gone. But, fortunately, I still had contact information, and I said, “Now, what happened? Where did it all go?” And she said, “Well, everyone was doing the same thing, all shouting about how happy and content they were, and how awesome this was, but it just started to ring hollow,” and she got out of it.

And so, that’s the chapter on material possessions. And then there is a chapter on health and relationships, then ultimately meaning. Like, when you realize that none of those things will necessarily guarantee you happiness and contentment, when you realize that life, even perfectly optimized, is still likely to throw you some disappointments and loss. What do you do? And that’s the next to the last chapter when people start pulling from stoicism and mindfulness and Zen Buddhism in particular among lifehackers.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. So, yeah, I can see how that really makes sense in that, just like, “Okay, if I could just do a little more, a little more, a little more of efficiency, or productivity, or production of stuff, then I’ll arrive.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait a second. It can’t get any more optimal than this and you’re still not doing it.”

Joseph Reagle
So what do you do then?

Pete Mockaitis
Bummer! A realization. And so, well, I mean, that’s a big question. Now, what do you do?

Joseph Reagle
Well, one of the parallels I draw, I found this really interesting in the meaning hacking chapter, was that people do, are very fond of the Zen minimalist sort of aesthetic, and mindfulness is really big in Silicon Valley. There’s a conference every year called Wisdom 2.0 where they bring in Google and a bunch of tech companies and all the mindfulness gurus.

And people pick and choose in various aspects of religions, and it tends to be very individualistic, and we’ll hear people talking about how like Tim Ferriss will talk about mindfulness as an efficient operating system for the brain. There’s a fellow who started at Google, he wrote a book and he has a non-profit called Search Inside Yourself because he started at Google, so he’s playing on this search thing. And he wrote about how EQ is great for your engineers’ and your techies’ and your employees’ emotional intelligence.

And the employees know the more EQ they have, the more money they’ll make, and so they’ll be happier at the companies. And that just seems very crass. And so, people get frustrated with that. And, again, the ironic parallel is Siddhartha, the original Buddha, started out living a life of extreme luxury. His father was the king, his mother the queen, he was provided with everything a young man could be provided with: money, exotic foods, courtesans.

And he woke up one morning and he just said, “I am not happy. I am not content.” He became a minimalist. He went out, traveled around, taught and learned from a lot of yogis. He became very extreme. He tried to optimize his asceticism, nearly starved himself to death, passed out, was revived by a young girl who fed him some rice milk, and realized, “Huh, maybe what I need to do is pursue the middle way, the middle path, the path of moderation.”

And so, wow, that’s the insight. Maybe being super extreme about optimizing everything is not the solution. Maybe moderation is good in all things. And that’s the neat thing about lifehacking as a type of self-help. A lot of the genuine bits of wisdom and insight that people do come to have been around for centuries, if not millennia. But what self-help does is it wraps up those bits of wisdom, those bits of insight, into a vocabulary that people in a current moment, in a current culture can understand.

So, what lifehacking really is it’s a type of self-help, for what’s been called, you know, the geek class, the engineers, the techies, the creative class, the people who aren’t on someone else’s clock but they still have a lot to do. And they have to figure out, “Well, how in this world of increased demands and expectations on your intention, but also increased distractions, how can you possibly focus?”

And so, lifehacking, as a type of self-help, says, “Here are some lessons that have been around for a while, like the middle path, the middle way, making sure you connect with your family and friends, and you don’t forget about it, making sure that when you schedule your day, you give yourself time to do meaningful long-term stuff, that you give yourself time to maybe be spiritual, or spend time with your friends and relations, and it couches it in contemporary terms.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I appreciate, Joseph, you’ve also given me a prescription for a bestseller, just to go ahead and find some ancient wisdom and package it in modern terms, and that seems to be a winning formula.

Joseph Reagle
That’s what self-help is. It’s always being done actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, all right. Well, that gets me all the more motivated to finish off Plutarch’s Lives and any other books that are on my shelf that I haven’t built in meaningful time to tackle just yet. Well, that’s really cool. So, getting acquainted then, or having covered these kinds of cautionary bits, and getting a broader perspective on what we’re really going for, I do want to touch base on a little bit of tactical stuff. What have you discovered have been, for many practitioners, some pretty excellent habits, or approaches, or hacks when it comes to time?

Joseph Reagle
One of the insights I came to in doing this work, and again this has been around for a while. There is a theorist, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, Schelling, who came up with this idea of Egonomics. And decades ago, he said that there’s a lot of things that we would like to do, but that we don’t do. And the Greeks even spoke of this as “akrasia.” We do things that we shouldn’t do, and we don’t do the things we should do.

So, one of the things that I take advantage of is called the Pomodoro technique. And “pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato, and the guy who came up with it just happened to have a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato.

And the idea is that when you have a long-term task that you want to do or go on, like I want to write a chapter for a book, getting started writing a chapter of a book is daunting. It’s very hard to motivate yourself. So, what you can do is you can say, “I’m just going to set this timer for 40 minutes, and I’m going to sit down, and I’m just going to look at that page in front of me, I’m not going to allow myself to get distracted. But after the 40 minutes, I can take a short break.”

And that allows you to get over that hump of, “Oh, my gosh, I could never start this big project that I’ve been worrying about and thinking about.” And so, that’s one of the techniques I love. On the cover of my book, under the title, there is a little Pomodoro tomato timer. I don’t know how many people will get that, but that’s what it is. And I also glitched it up a little bit to show there might be a dark side or some excesses.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the Pomodoro, you are a fan there. And so that is, I believe, 25 minutes is the time there.

Joseph Reagle
I think that’s how it was started. I tend to do 45 to 50 minutes for writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, that you found to be good and workable and helpful in your world.

Joseph Reagle
I do. And, again, the interesting thing is it’s not so much a time management. It’s really a self-management tool. Because time really is what time is. You can’t do a lot with it. The real challenge is motivating ourselves. An economist from a couple of decades ago, who won a Nobel Prize, actually called this Egonomics. He proposed a new field of study for ways that we might understand the economics of our own self-regulation, the sort of economy of our desires and wants.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fascinating. Can you share perhaps an insight or takeaway or two from that study?

Joseph Reagle
Well, he didn’t do a study. He wrote an essay where he was proposing this sort of study. And some of the examples he used back then was, he says, “Well, people do things to keep themselves from smoking cigarettes, or biting their nails.” Like, people would paint some disgusting nail polish on their nails so they would taste it. Or, if you have poison ivy, you put gloves on your fingers. And so, he said, “Just as a real economics, you see these exchanges and tensions, we grapple with these within ourselves.”

And, interestingly, if we go back even further, the Greeks spoke about this. They had a term for it called akrasia. And that was that frustration related to doing things that you shouldn’t do, and not doing things that you should do. And the classic example for that is Ulysses. He wanted to hear the sirens when he and his sailors were sailing by, but he knew that if everyone heard the sirens, they would be pulled to their death on the rocks. So, what did he do? He had himself tied to the mast, and could listen to the sirens, had the men put wax in all their ears so they couldn’t hear the sirens, and he could enjoy it but he knew he wouldn’t go crazy.

And, in economics, they call those Ulysses pacts, or—Ulysses is another name for Odysseus. And what you do is you commit yourself to something that it’s not easy to back away from. So, earlier I mentioned Nick Winter and his book, The Motivation Hacker, and he’s really fond of this app called Beeminder. Now, this would never work for me, but the app, what it does is it asks you to commit a certain amount of money to a task. And if you don’t do that task you forfeit the money.

So, you might say, “I want to work for 50 minutes to get started on my chapter today,” you set your Pomodoro timer. But what’s going to keep you from getting distracted? Well, there are some tools like Freedom that can keep you from going to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. But you could also set a little goal on Beeminder that says you’re going to lose $10 if you fail to satisfy your Ulysses pact, your commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, I guess then you just have to be honest.

Joseph Reagle
You do.

Pete Mockaitis
You could go back in there and say I did or did not do that thing.

Joseph Reagle
That’s the question. Like, “Well, why would anyone not just lie and not lose the money?” But the thing that I encountered when I spoke to users of this application is that, one, they have this app very much integrated into their lives and their quantifications, so they really want good, accurate data for like how many words they wrote in a day, or how many Pomodoros they did, or whatever it is that they’re trying to do. And they don’t like to have their data distorted, and that’s helping them manage their data.

And then, two, they really appreciate the service. And so, they’re happy. Like, if you have a habit you really want to create, spending 10, and then if you fail, 20, it doubles. Spending that amount of money is worth it to you. And they very cleverly designed the app such that you end up paying the least money that’s still worth what that task is worth to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. How do you arrive at such a figure?

Joseph Reagle
They’ve done some research. The company is a joint effort of two folks, Bethany Soule, who has a graduate degree in Computer Science, and Danny Reeves who has a PhD in Economics and Incentive Systems. And they have applied that economic quantified approach to the whole of their lives. I talk about their marriage in the chapter on hacking relationships.

And they bid for things in their relationship, like who’s going to take out the trash tonight. The one person might say, “Well, I would give you $2,” and the other person will say, “Well, I’d give you $3.” And so, the person might, “Okay, I’ll take the $3.” And for them, from an economic point of view, it’s very efficient because the person who least wanted to do it didn’t have to do it, and the person who got the most value of it did it. So they have a very unusual but interesting approach to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess, again, you need to be honest, like, “Oh, boy, I’d give you $500.” It’s like getting you trump, trump, trump, trumping them each time with a huge sum. But I guess that’s part of the marriage game is being honest and forthright and not trying to game the system there.

Joseph Reagle
Yeah, and they do exchange the money, they do have a hack on top of that, so they don’t exchange every single interaction they have. They only record and exchange money every 10 of these interactions, but then they multiply that interaction by 10. So, if it was $3 to take out the trash, it’d be worth $30. And it’s very unusual and they received some criticisms out there on the web.

But unlike some of the other excesses and unsavory hacking, at least they’re trying to be fair, at least it’s very explicit. They call it, you know, they are respecting one another’s utility curves. They’re not being exploitative. And I think you can find that in some other instances of lifehacking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, respecting each other’s utility curves sure sounds romantic.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, that’s what some of the folks said, like, “This doesn’t sound like a real relationship.” And it’s definitely unusual, but it works for them. And when I tried to apply those distinctions of this, if it’s ethical or not, it seems above board.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I’m sort of being a little cheeky with the actual words that phonetically you don’t sound romantic, but the concept, I think, really is in terms of being thoughtful about each other’s needs, and also somehow balancing your own stuff. And it reminds me back in the day when I had three roommates, and then we had four rooms in the apartment that were all a little bit different in terms of their pros and cons, with their space, and they have their own bathroom, etc. And it’s like, “Well, okay, how are we going to divide up this rent?”

And that was the game we played. It’s like, “Okay, you’d like the big room. Gotcha. And just how much would you be willing to pay in rent for that big room?” And so, by iteratively going through this, it worked out just right. It turns out I was a bit more frugal and I had the small room with a small rent, and the lawyer and the doctor, you know, they were living larger, and it was good and fine that way.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, it can be efficient. Of course, there are some downsides and they’ve had to think about that in the context of their relationship. So, she’s the only one that could actually be pregnant and have the kids. So, what is the value? Let’s say, for example, one of them was in school while the other person was working. And so, they had to figure out, like, “What is the value of these things?“

Their first daughter’s name was Fair, and they actually bid between themselves when they name the kid, and Fair won. And it went for a couple of thousand dollars between them. And, again, it’s very unusual, but at least, for them, those things weren’t taken for granted. I think that’s preferable to a relationship where you just assume, “Oh, you’re going to get pregnant and you’re going to stay home with the kids, and I’ll be earning the money and have plenty of spending money.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Well said. Well, tell me, any final thoughts about lifehacking, great practices, how professionals might use some of this wisdom to accelerate their own ends?

Joseph Reagle
I would recommend people experiment with various things, but they need to ask themselves two questions, well, more than two questions, but let’s focus with two questions. When you go out and you buy a bit of self-help, whether about it’s productivity or minimizing and getting around the clutter, you’ll have to think about, “Well, compared to what? Is this technique going to be cost effective? Is it likely to be efficacious? And are there any side effects or harms?”

And I think if you’re attracted to something, and you can ask yourself those questions, and all that seems to bear out, I think it’s worthwhile trying while you’re also keeping yourself in check with respect to some of the excesses that fall from optimization.

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

Joseph Reagle
Sure. So, one of my favorite books on time management, and again that’s a bit of a misnomer because it’s really about managing ourselves, was Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And that was real popular back in the ‘80s, and even the ‘90s, but now other books like Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, I think more people are probably familiar with. But he had this great quote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

And that’s because, I think, someone was telling me like Elon Musk has a calendar where he schedules every five minutes of his day, and I think that would drive most people nuts. That would not be effective for most people. And what Covey is suggesting instead is if you do want to prioritize having time to think about the long term, the things that are of high value to you, things in your personal life that you want to make sure that there’s room for, schedule your priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said.

Joseph Reagle
Don’t fixate on your calendar and making sure that every five-minute chunk of your calendar is full.

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

Joseph Reagle
This might not be appropriate because I know you’re looking for probably a study that tells you how to be more effective. But there’s a study I really like in terms of critical thinking, and it’s a follow-up to the marshmallow study. Pete, have you ever heard of the marshmallow study?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, Walter Mischel. It’s a fave. Did he do this one or was someone else building off that work?

Joseph Reagle
The follow-up was in 2012.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Joseph Reagle
So, the original one has been made use of a lot by people who were into like grit, and motivation, and sticking to it. And this study from decades ago was done by placing a marshmallow in front of a child, and they’d say to the kid, “You could have this marshmallow now or, if you wait, and I go look for more marshmallows and I come back in 10 minutes and you haven’t eaten the marshmallow, you can have two marshmallows.”

And so, in the study, they looked at the kids who ate the marshmallows immediately, and they looked at the kids who could persevere and hold off and be patient and wait for that second marshmallow. And then the interesting things is they tracked some of the indicators of those peoples’ lives as they move through their lives. And so, how did they do in school? Like, what was their SAT scores? Did they get a good job? Did they end up buying a house? You know, all those sort of things. Did they end up in a good relationship? And they found a very strong correlation between the people who were able to persevere and be patient, and those outcomes from later on in life, the good outcomes.
And for many decades, people then thought, “Well, if you want to raise kids, or if you want to do well in your life, you really need to learn how to persevere.” And the slight downside was that sometimes it led to the implication that if you ended up in life in a place where you didn’t really want to be, or if people fared poorly in life, it was their own fault because they didn’t have enough grit, and we just need to teach kids to have more grit.

Well, the study from 2012 added a step before the marshmallow. And the proctors of the study would do something with crayons. Before the marshmallow step, they’d bring out some dumpy crayons, half-used crayons, not a lot of shades of color, and they tell the kids, “Here are some crayons if you’d like to color in this book here. But I have a better brand-new set of crayons available if you’re willing to wait.” And they did the same thing. They said, “Would you be willing to wait and I’ll bring you back a nicer set of crayons?”

They went off and then the proctors came back and did one of two things. They said, “Oh, I forgot the really nice crayons. I’m so sorry,” or they gave them the good crayons. And so, the proctors were unreliable or reliable. Then they did the marshmallow study. And it turns out that when the kids had been exposed to an unreliable proctor, they did not get the nice new crayons, they ate that marshmallow right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that liar is not going to come back with two marshmallows.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, exactly right. And so, this is really nice evidence that it wasn’t necessarily the kids’ grit and perseverance, maybe these kids had a lot of siblings. And if you have a lot of brothers and sisters, you know you can’t leave that marshmallow sitting there. Or maybe they grew up in an impoverished family. And maybe those with the things that correlated with later-in-life outcomes, rather than in any essentialist kind of notion of grit and internal stick-it-to-it-ness.

Pete Mockaitis
That is clever.

Joseph Reagle
Yeah, so I really like that study because I think, again, it’s great for critical thinking. I use it with my students a lot. And it also is a bit of a caution with respect to some of the self-help advice we get, which is very individualistic, pull yourself up by your boot straps kind of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Joseph Reagle
I should’ve mentioned this earlier but there’s a great book on stoicism when you’re asking about that by William Irvine, called A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. And it really is, as you suggested, an up-to-date version of the ancient stoic philosophy. And so, he talks about how it emerged, and some of the differences between the Greek and the Roman. But the important thing is he says this is practical philosophy which isn’t taught in universities anymore. Now, it’s very formal, kind of a lot of history and theory.

But philosophy was supposed to be practical. It was supposed to give you some suggestions to provide guidance on how to live a good life. And I find Irvine’s book “A Guide to the Good Life” is full of really wonderful insights that are very applicable to the current day, to our immediate lives.

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

Joseph Reagle
Well, one of the things that’s just built into my personality, though I think it can also be developed, is I document everything. I’ve been blogging forever, microblogging forever. I have a mind map called Freeplane that I really like to use, so all my reading that’s going to Freeplane. I’m really fond of this application called Zim Wiki. It’s a personal Wiki, so you can just easily create pages, and tasks, and to dates. Maybe if people are familiar with Evernote, it’s kind of like that, but I like Zim Wiki a lot more.

So, I don’t have a very good memory, so whenever I need to remind myself or something or think about. Last time, I had to submit my expenses because we use this awful software in my work. Well, with the steps that I went through to make it work, and I have it all documented there, so I really love those sort of tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Joseph Reagle
A favorite habit? I ask myself, “Would I be happier person in the future if I did the thing that I’m waffling about doing?” So, maybe it’s brushing my teeth, or going to meditation, or whatever it might be, I try to think about my future self and whether he would be content and proud of the present self.

Pete Mockaitis
That is excellent. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers or listeners?

Joseph Reagle
This idea that self-optimizing can be suboptimal. I wrote a piece for The Guardian. That number, like a colleague just emailed me earlier today, saying, oh, she really loved that piece, and she wants to use it in her course.

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

Joseph Reagle
You can go to my website reagale.org, and I’m also jmreagale on Twitter.

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

Joseph Reagle
That’s a little bit difficult because then I would be setting myself up as a sort of self-help guru, which I’m being a little bit critical of. But I think people should be mindful of not only what they’re doing but why they’re doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joseph, thank you so much. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your lifehacking and optimally optimizing and falling into suboptimality. It’s been a lot of fun.

Joseph Reagle
Thank you, Pete.

434: Building People and Killing Policies with Guy Pierce Bell

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Guy Bell says: "Every business has one thing in common when it fails. And that's too many policies to correct behaviors."

Turnaround artist Guy Bell shares hard-won wisdom on why and how to establish the right number of rules for teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How modern businesses value processes over people
  2. The problem with budgets
  3. Guy’s process for people building

About Guy

Guy Bell is an executive with decades of experience turning around struggling businesses. He’s also started up new businesses, acquired and on-boarded companies and led green field growth. He has held leadership roles in a wide variety of organizations, including equity-backed investments, public-traded companies and family-owned businesses.

In each of these situations, Guy challenged himself with one simple question: “How can I empower my team to meet their full potential?”

Guy is the author of Unlearning Leadership, which was named one of 10 leadership books that should be on your radar in 2019 by Inc Magazine.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Guy Bell Interview Transcript

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

Guy Bell  
Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your good stuff. But first, I want to dig into your background. You were previously a singer-songwriter. What’s the story here?

Guy Bell  
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and my big dream, as a kiddo, was to get on stages and sing around the world. But ultimately, at that time, it was Minneapolis. And that was the world I was living in. And I had a real fun experience getting a chance to sing and record out at Paisley Park, Prince’s Studio, and you know, playing his bars in town or his bar at the time and other places, and really enjoyed that early experience. And it really has been oddly foundational for my business experience.

So that was a definitely an early kind of love that I figured at 18 years old. What do we know, right? But I knew then I was going to be a singer for the rest of my life. And here we are.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I’m intrigued. And in what way was that foundational for the rest of your business?

Guy Bell  
You know, I kind of started off writing about this when I was getting into management. And I just look at the business world through the lessons of jazz, like there are no such thing as mistakes. You just play off of whatever kind of note you’re bending, if it’s not quite as you thought your finger was. And you learn to unlearn.

So in jazz, and when people become the best at their craft, they no longer play scales; they play the feeling, the mood, they know what a key they’re in, they understand the games, the rules of the game, and then they let go of that, knowing if that makes any sense. So that applies to business beautifully, in my experience.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, so now, what I love about this, is you’re sharing some things that might feel a little softer, there. But your credentials are pretty smashing when it comes to your work as a turnaround artist. Can you tell us, what do you do there? And what are some of the coolest results you’ve generated there?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, it is. It is strange, and it does feel soft. In fact, when I first got into managing, that’s usually the feedback I got: it was too soft, and I cared too much. And I needed to learn to toughen up and all these silly things that didn’t make any sense. Because over the years now, as you said, I’ve run publicly traded, privately held, equity-backed companies. And I’ve done it from taking these businesses that were run by people with the school of thought that said, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

And I came in at that one, though, it’s wildly personal. And it’s not just business, right? And so, you know, most of my turnarounds really, in this concept of the premise of who’s going to turn this around, but the people doing the work, and what are the common threads of what businesses miss, because they overmanage, they over-process out of fear

and out of a desire to manage risk, kind of overcontroling behaviors, and actions and they create policies to correct behaviors, and all these things that feel normal, because we have a good hundred years of doing this silly overreach for good reason.

Because people do make mistakes. People do take risks that are unwarranted. But what I’ve learned, I guess, Pete, and to kind of put it into a few bite-sized chunks, is I’ve learned something called Four Rules of Flight. And if you look at it from a business perspective, there are a certain number of rules that would relate to if you were flying a plane. So as an example, the four rules in flight are weight, lift, thrust, and drag.

If you take off, and you don’t have four rules, but you put together three rules, you have a car that looks like a plane. And if you’re there, and you add a rule—a fifth rule—you will crash. So when you look at business on a micro, and then on an individual level, and you understand that process matters, that there needs to be enough structure, enough of everything, but no more. What happens when we decelerate or we lose control of our business is, we don’t have enough rules.

And then conversely, which I found to be true in almost every turnaround, is people were over managing out of fear. When we start failing, we start judging. We start judging, we start applying more rules and regulations and structure, and we lose that ability to say when people are unleashed to reach their full potential, to give outstanding service, to come back and authentically say, “This process stinks. It’s not good, it’s not effective. Can we do it this way?” We don’t have those conversations anymore.

So that was one of those signature lessons that are pretty much universal. Another one quickly, and I’ll use what I’ve found to be one of the more controversial companies in America today, and for me, it’s a great lesson, and you could be controversial and still do it, right? And that is Amazon , “Day 1, Day 2”. He said 20+ years ago, if we don’t run this business every day like it counts, “Day 1” thinking, we will eventually become a “Day 2” company, which means at some point, it may take longer for a large company — and shorter for a small company — but we won’t exist because we’ll be managing out of fear. We’ll be keeping people from people.

And those kinds of philosophies have governed for better or worse, depending on how you perceive their culture, but it’s one thing above all else. And that is authentic. He knew that then, and he’s applied that year after year after year in his growth, and it’s a signature to his success.

I’ve found the same things to be true in every business that I work in, where we get caught up in belief systems that are unproductive, but they keep us from undue risk. And therefore we keep trusting that process more than we do the people, and that equation doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis  
Wow, Guy, this is riveting stuff. And it really feels like you’ve got your finger on something quite real and important and sensible in terms of just the reactionary with, you know, failures and mistakes leads to judgment, into fear, and to rules and processes and policies.

And so could you maybe share with us a story of a turnaround you went to, in terms of where were they, kind of in terms of financially, and the lay of the land? What did you do? And then what did they end up with financially in terms of results afterwards? Just because I think there’s some listeners who think this sounds almost too good to be true. Yeah, so add a dollar sign to this, please.

Guy Bell  
Yeah, so if you don’t mind, I’ll give you a bite of a couple of different situations. So one of the turnarounds—I was brought in was equity-backed investment. They were losing money and didn’t know to what extent. I was brought in to help them grow the company. And as it turned out, within a month or two, they weren’t ready to grow; they were actually ready to fold. And so for the first six months in that business, what we did is we got our arms around, “Do we have the right people in the right seats? Are we working on the right marketing strategies?” and you just go through the nuts and bolts of the business.

And we made adjustments to include the CFO, who was unwilling or incapable — probably a bit of both — to give us timely penals. And we were missing, you know, elementary parts of the business. So it’s really very tactical in that way, where you just kind of look through all the systems processes, you ask the question of, “What are we missing?” What are you missing that you need to get from us as an investment to improve or as support to get the right information at the right time, accurate, complete, decision making-ready?

So we did that. We turned it around that time. I won’t name the equity firm, but they were managing $3 billion, we were a small investment, they were ready to leave it and walk away because it was frustrating. It was losing money. As I mentioned, we turned it around and sold it for $64 million within two years. And so the keys of that, you know, turn around, our signature. And I’ll give a couple of examples that play out the same way.

I was asked to turn around a nonprofit university, 150-year old university based out of San Francisco. And when I came in, at first, it was a nonprofit looking to sell or exit out of being a nonprofit, because it was not having success. And for whatever reason, they believed that somehow selling would magically make it successful, as opposed to getting the right management team.

So I came in to that organization, after several interviews, and same thing, we couldn’t make payroll. We were a $75 million company, couldn’t make payroll. And so I went to the board and just said, “Look, nothing personal. And it’s not my ego saying this; it’s really just true. I need to have control of your marketing right now.” And at that time, I was hired to help turn around the company, but it was a role as a vice president or Senior Vice President of Operations.

Anyway, fast forward, we got the front end fixed, which is usually one of the problems, getting the marketing right-sized and getting the sales process in place. That was required to improve results. And in both cases, we got a better cost per successful acquisition. And we improved performance broadly over the 10 businesses, and specifically by individual, because we just looked at the darn data, right? And we didn’t go after chasing numbers.

We actually built into every person, which is a real shift in in most businesses, is they start managing to a number which is by itself stupid. They’re nice people and smart, but they’re making a stupid decision. As I learned over time, there’s some of the smartest people I’ve worked with that use a budget to kind of “drive performance”, as opposed to understanding the input, what is happening by individual salesperson to be effective. And how do we, as professionals, help each other, in that case, individual, improve their performance?

If there’s five kind of points of workflow, do all five work for that person? Are they effective at all five? And that is the work. And so we have to look at that accurate data every single day — sometimes, throughout the day, to ensure that we’re coaching, developing, understanding our business at the incremental level.

So fast forward, all of that to include kind of rebuilding into the talented people that were at that particular model. And actually, this is true, in almost everyone: the people that were kept from being effective leaders, whatever the work could be, just above an individual contributor, all the way up to running a business unit, what usually kept them from their potential was threats.

People were afraid at the executive level, of the critical feedback or whatever that caused this disruption, this ease of relationships. And so you just went back out and met everyone and re-engaged on a human level, rebuilt some trust pretty quickly, and unleashed them, you know, just said, “Look, I trust that you’re going to get this done the right way, let’s just do it transparently. And together. And there’s no judgment.”

And you know, 18 months later, we sold it. 18 months after selling it, they sold it again, for $275 million, I believe. And when I started it, it could have gone bankrupt in the next three months. So, really good outcome there, in both fronts, and in terms of the first sale and the second sale.

And I guess I could go on for a few more. But ultimately, I could even tell you a story where it didn’t work, if you like, but when it does work, the basic elements are, you know, pretty common.

So it is very detail-oriented, it is very kind of, what is in the weeds of every individual. I use a concept called “Every person counts, every day counts”. And when they don’t count, you have one too many people. Or you have the wrong person. So don’t hire one too many people. I don’t care how successful you are. Everyone wants to count. So therefore, for crying out loud, why not set the scene to make damn sure they do? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis  
Yes, that’s good. That’s good. All right. So that is well-established in terms of reporting to some true results here, from these perspectives and philosophies. And so then, I want to hear a little bit about that perspective of not managing to a number, but instead of building into a person. Can you unpack that concept for us a bit more?

Guy Bell  
Absolutely. I mean, one of the crimes was—I was working in a publicly traded company. And there was — and this is common, but I’ll just use this example. So there was a board budget that had cushion. And then there was a top upper management executive plan that had a little less cushion. And then there was an operating budget that had no cushy. And in some cases, if we wanted to drive, “the result”, we made it really difficult to achieve their goals, which by itself, is one of the fundamental flaws of why budgets are nothing other than predictive ways of understanding the cash flow for investment.

But having said that, that kind of mindset of doing that makes it virtually impossible and demoralizing to an operator, often not always. But when it does, that, by itself is a really silly model to use as a performance model. So I say just all that crap away, and work on every individual, every single day, on whatever those process, key elements of success are, whatever the sales process is, and stay with them. You will get the outcome that you earn by the activities that you produce. You will come to those activities you produce with a kind of on-fire, more excited approach, when you’re coached on getting past the routine of memorizing a script, or doing what I tell you to do.

But instead, taking what we talked about, that is important because we know what works and making it yours. And that just takes more investment. It takes a little more time, it takes really good listening and studying that person to say, “Gosh, they stink at the memorized script in their voice. Their approach isn’t going to work the way I want it to work.” So let’s figure out another way to approach this part of that sales funnel communications to ensure that they’re authentic, coupled with they’re getting the right result for them.
And then ultimately, I’ve learned, I show people the budget, I talk about our goals, and then I teach them how to throw them away in a sense of what the baseline is. Now go after every single person, every single one…that we were off 20% over our budgets or routine basis, when they were decently laid out. And I would fight hard in those situations where I wasn’t the one making the decision, to ensure that it was rational, so that we could actually overachieve when we do what they don’t see, because that’s not how they think about budgets and performance. But we do. And we would outperform them routinely.

When it was my decision, I didn’t purposely give a lay down in the budget. I just said, “Here’s what we need to accomplish, we need to see some growth in these areas, and then we train into the fact that we want you to be successful. We want you to exceed what we need to invest, to reinvest what we want to see out of our growth this year based on macro data.”

So I hope that’s helpful. But budgets have a whole host of problems that we need to kind of unlearn and relearn the real value so that we can incrementally build into talent, into the business process, into authentic engagements. And I found that to be difficult to do when people feel like, “Dang, I gotta hit my number, I’m getting on a call every day or every Monday and getting beaten up, because my people are not performing the way that they should.” And it’s all driven around hitting a number versus kind of building the individual up.

Pete Mockaitis  
I see. And so then it sounds like if you’re focused mostly on the number, that’s not really helpful in terms of having a person improve. So I guess if it’s like, “Hey, I need you to have, I don’t know, 40 new customers.” “Yeah, got 31.” “Get better!” That isn’t quite as handy.

“Okay, so here’s the five activities you need to undertake in order to acquire these customers. Well, let’s take a look at each one of them and see how it’s going.” So could you maybe give us an example of how it’s done in practice? Maybe it’s with sales, or maybe it’s with another type of contributor, but I think I get a taste for a breakdown and the process of doing some people-building in that way.

Guy Bell  
Absolutely. So I’ll give you a couple of examples. And I’ll stay with sales for now. One is I took over a company that was losing money. We ended up selling for six times EBITDA, which was a nice exit for a group.
They were losing money, we turned it around pretty quickly, we did it on the back of this exact idea. So we were converting an inquiry to revenue, basically help it be agnostic. So any model can apply their own kind of metrics. But we’ve converted, we’re converting at about 5.3 or 5.4%. And in this business model, there are five numbers, and you can play games with them all day long.

But ultimately, you can’t play games with as you spent this much money, and you have this outcome. And so what, with this money…

Pete Mockaitis
This outcome we’re talking about, like a marketing investment, correct?

Guy Bell
Correct. Yes, this investment of $20 million earns 9,525 new customers. So there is an equation there, and then ultimately, in this case, it turns out to be about a 5.4%-ish conversion rate. So that wasn’t great. Maybe even, you know, weak. Then there’s another factor where we’re buying, you know, eyes and ears and interest. But we also want to earn it through relationships, right? So we built a model quickly, and we trained on it, to talk about the keys to making kind of this process work better.

And we budgeted to say if we don’t get any better at that equation, meaning the conversion from a cost of acquisition, to meeting a customer, new customer and marketing, to a revenue, we made the decision to say, “Well, let’s keep it at the 5.4.” We may have put in two tenths of a percent, whatever we did, but something small when getting the 7.6%, purely on not focusing on 7.6%, or hitting a number.

What we did is we shifted the entire process. We weren’t using the data, right? So we put the exact data in, we understood it on an individual basis. Throughout the day, throughout the week, every call we had, we reviewed it, we’ve talked about the building blocks. We didn’t talk about… we had them learn to, say, if your funnel of five key metrics are working the way you want, or aren’t, what are you doing about them? And what are you doing them about them by individual?

And it’s just that process of learning to talk about that engagement at a deep level. And as you do that, people are kind of learning new muscles, learning to practice in a little bit more concrete way, versus, as you jokingly said, Pete, but it’s the truth. I’ve seen it, unfortunately, too many times where people are like, “If you don’t hit your number, we’re going to have to let you go.”

And so what kind of training have you been doing? And most people insist, “Well, I’ve done a ton of training,” and they said, “Well, let me sit on the next one.” And they think it’s trading, right? But they’re not really getting into the weeds of sitting down and listening to that part of the process. So let’s say it’s a phone call converting to an in-person, converting to a “I’m in” and they sign a piece of paper saying I want to do this.

And then it converting into, you know, revenue, which is there. They’ve stayed for five days in our business, and they’re excited to be with us, right? So in that business process, we get caught up in in too many things that are trying to get to that number, because I’ve got to make sure that 8 out of 10 of them show up, and that they stay for whatever number of days are for the requirements to hit their number.

So getting out of that mindset to, say, when you set the right stage, you do it the right way. You sit with people individually, and you understand how this works, and you get them excited about doing it right. And when they do, — and I know — the results improve. They may not improve the same for everyone. Of course, they never do almost. They improve for that person because you’re helping them get better. And once that success happens, which in most sales cycles, if you’re unlucky that your sales cycle is a year, then it’s pretty difficult.

But if your sale cycle is daily, weekly, in a month, you can really see shift in the thinking quickly, just by the evidence alone. But usually, people at first resist a little bit, because they’re the smart person and they want to do it their way or they feel like they’re a little vulnerable, because they’ve never really gotten into the weeds and sat down with an individual and had to shift their thinking of what should be done because they were good at it before. “You should be doing what I tell you to do, not with naturally you’re coming to,” right?

So it’s just going to help them do that over and over again, you know, measuring how they do it, saying, “Hey, it looks like you haven’t really made any improvements here. Let’s talk about it,” and you kind of go through it again. And then when they have a success, then you give them the praise. And you tell them, you know, they deserve to be here. And that is it’s working.

So stay the course and they get a couple wins. And now they’re heroes. A few cases. One case in particular, there’s a guy in Ohio that was mathematically successful, and yet, just under his number, because he was managing two numbers. So he wasn’t my direct employee. But I brought a team out to sit down with them. And we walked through each of his team members and their performance.

And we talked about, you know, what’s working and not working. And he felt threatened at first, because he felt like, “Well, gosh, I can see what the company does. Why are you coming here and talking to me?” And so after we get done, he had his numbers for the next six months. So it wasn’t about hitting the numbers. It was about, don’t stare at the number, because you just miss it all the time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, yeah. But what’s so intriguing here is that… but this doesn’t sound like revolutionarily brilliant. It’s not. Like this is sort of what we’ve always should have been doing. But soon enough… it really is cool. This brings me back to one of my favorite cases when I was consulting at Bain and Company.

I didn’t think it would be a fun case, but it really was quite fun. There were call centers, and they had a problem with attrition. The call center representatives were quitting way too fast. Now, attrition is high in that industry, because that’s not a really fun job for most people. But it was way higher for our clients and even sort of the industry norms and standards.

And so we found a lot of the same steps in terms of, first, we had to clean up the data. Like we didn’t have reliable attrition data. It was it. So no one believed it or trusted it or regarded it. So it could always be sort of just put to the side, like, “Oh, you can’t trust those numbers.” It’s like, “Well, let’s make it so we can trust them.” And so that was kind of my roles. Like we were just getting down to these details. “Alright, day by day, every day, someone is going to tell me, ‘I need these six call centers; how many people quit?’ ‘Month by month, this is what the attrition numbers look like.’”

And then all of a sudden, it’s like, “Hey, you had a great month, what did you do?” “Oh, well, we tried this incentive thing.” It’s like, you know, what, we realized was that we had some supervisors who were just real nasty, and quit way faster than the other supervisors. So we noticed, and we replaced them. And yeah, it was just sort of like, there wasn’t like one magical silver bullet we discovered in terms of, “Oh my gosh, people love candy Fridays.”

But there’s just lots of little things, like, “Hey, what are you doing? Oh, that’s a good idea. Maybe we should do some of that. It’s a great job.” Those numbers are really moving somewhere. And they trusted it. And they had visibility, because more and more people, it was kind of fun that they kept asking to get added to my list. It’s like, “Oh, sure, thank you. I am the keeper of the attrition numbers,” which is funny because we’re an outside consultant. Like, they didn’t have their own attrition numbers they could trust.

And so, it’s amazing how I hear you. I guess the resistance is, one, it’s a little bit more time, it’s a little bit more detail that you’re getting, maybe an executive doesn’t feel that he or she should have to get into this level of weeds or whatever. But you’re saying, “Yes, in fact, you do.” That’s how it’s done?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, you have to. And what everyone has in common, even the smartest of the companies with PhD analysts and people that you used to work with, and probably are just fantastic at gathering data. But are we getting the right data in the right way? Are we testing? Are all the other links broken? Are they not broken? And can we not do it? Does that person know where to go when someone’s watching, to say, “We’re pulling data from 15 sources, inevitably, and every 90 days, if you don’t test it, something breaks, and all of a sudden, you have to visually catch it,” versus having some way of making sure that your data is your life?

And when it’s accurate, it does change radically. So it’s not a very soft thing. But it is the beginning. You have to make sure you’re looking at the right information exactly to your point. And you said something that is just absolutely the truth. And what I find to be kind of fascinating is we over engineer, we overthink so many things to the point where, “Well, we got to figure out a way to save on costs and get a better process. And let’s go analyze,” we brought in, you know, companies like your old company, and we spent 10 million bucks.

And we learned the same thing: some of us already knew not to say that it wasn’t smart. It was smart, but you can’t decentralize a few things. But you can on the numbers, meaning, if it’s a high-touch business component, the business process, you’ve got to know the difference on some level, you got to make a bet on something. And I would say that’s where we lose traction.

Often in business, around efficiency is when we overthink the power of the human potential, the power the human being. And we try to find a kind of a Tayloristic Ford Model back 100 plus years ago that, now, is agile workflow. And all the amazing feats we have now is just outstanding process analysis and distribution of this great wisdom. But it only goes so far, if that makes sense.

And at some point, you have to be human again, to kind of really understand the power of that detail showing up in a conversation, in a kind of a lengthy understanding, of you know who we are and this and that, then it’s very easy to discern. Do you fire someone? Do you say goodbye? Do you move them somewhere else? Or do you stay the course?

Pete Mockaitis  
And to that story with that 5.3% go into the 7.6%. So were there was it kind of the same kind of a concept? Like there wasn’t one or two silver bullets? Like, “Aha,! We just have to do this.” But rather, maybe dozens of tiny discoveries associated with when you follow up. Don’t say this, but you say that it wasn’t like that?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, you know, I replaced a few people, as you know, often happens. But in this case, one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever worked with, because he could do all the coding, he could study all the data, he could go in and write code, he could get into the back end of the website. All these things that were important, but I couldn’t do it myself, I don’t have all those skills. But he did. He would trust the data at the cost of the people.

And then I had a salesperson that would trust the people at the data. So yes, it was a dance, and we all learned, in a very fun way, when we kind of respected each other’s gifts and talents. We learned that this dance of it all matters. If you take any one of these things out, it does hurt the business. And you know, in some cases, I know how they perform after I leave. And I know a little bit, not always, but often, about what happens once they move on.

We stay the course of getting better and better at that. There’s been multiple exits since I’ve left some companies, and that’s exciting. But often, what happens is they go back to the behavior that is all data, or all hitting a number, or all kind of one-dimensional, because what should be this way? “There it is there. Therefore it should be here.” And they oversimplify, and then God only knows why they come to those conclusions. But it’s wrong. It does take a whole host of different subtle elements, and the data will point. But it will not do as you know. But you gotta get good data points, because it does help with time.

Pete Mockaitis  
All right, well, so given this thorough backdrop, What are the four rules of flight?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, weight, lift, thrust, and drag. Yeah, that’s the flight in business. If you look at it at a micro and macro level, every business has one thing in common when it fails. And that’s too many policies to correct behaviors. Free people up. And the only way you can do it, there’s only one way, is you have to trust that people are going to make mistakes, and that the mistake isn’t going to kill the business. That therefore it can be one less, until it’s that business killer. Again, back to there’s no one solution; every industry will have different rules. But if someone doesn’t pay attention to that, it is the beginning of the end.

So I would argue, one of the most important positions possibly in business is not someone that’s an executive, or a manager, or even an individual contributor. They’re all important. But maybe the most important thing to learn about four rules of flight is someone needs to say, “I give a shit—” excuse my language, “—about four rules of flight, and our business model, of whether it be oil and gas or education or retail, and it’s digital and ground.”

Some of them ensure that we’re staying true to the fact that we want to make the biggest decisions possible at the closest point to a customer that we can. And if we stay true to that someone, better yet, say, we’re going to tell the lawyers that are saying, “No, no, no, we had that risk. And it cost us X number of dollars because we had three lawsuits based on that behavior. Therefore we’re creating a rule, and then we kill the potential of making a mistake,” for sure.

But we also kill the potential of changing a customer situation, for sure. So to me, we measure the wrong things. It gets ridiculously complex, when you try to measure all of this additional kind of wonder state of what happens when you don’t know the unintended consequence. You may take your 55 lawsuits, which is usually what I walk into, and bring them down to zero, but at what cost? And 55 lawsuits came from, in their minds, too few rules. Not always the case, but often, there are too few rules, or they’re not the right rules. And perhaps they’re just simply bad training.

Perhaps you’re not setting the right stage to say when you have the freedom to make that decision, individual contributor working on a customer engagement, and they say, “As a customer, I’m not satisfied with this experience.” And you say, “Well, let me help you resolve it.” When you have that power, do you really know how to resolve it? And the answer is often no, but don’t give up on it; get better at resolving it, so that the customer gets a just-in-time answer.

The employee gets to expand their talents and contribute at a higher level, and therefore feel really good about solving something. This day and age, we often say, “My manager needs to talk to you,” and then no managers there. You know, all the goofiness that takes away their power? That’s just crazy.

Pete Mockaitis  
I hear you there. All right, so the four rules of flight then is not rather, “Hey, here are four key principles,” but rather the concepts that are in flight, they’re exactly four rules. And obviously in your operation, you should have exactly the right number of rules, correct? Not too many, not too few. Okay, most have too many. So we talked about budget troubles, what are some other rules or policies or traditional practices that you often see, just need to go?

Guy Bell  
Don’t create a culture; there’s no such thing. There are people that have PhDs in some form, and they consider themselves to be culture experts. What I’ve sadly learned, because I’ve made that mistake more than once, is a culture is a reflection of us leaders. And this is ultimately, even on a macro scale, a reflection of all of us. So we co-create culture. Culture is primarily driven in companies by behaviors at the top. And the irony of those four rules, kind of lessons, the four rules of flight, it would be, you know, one, too many policies. Two, your thoughts need to match your words, need to match your actions.

And when they’re misaligned, your business will fail. It may not fail tomorrow, it may not fail obviously, but you need to be aligned. And most companies choose to have a boardroom mentality, meaning what we think, and in the boardroom, most executives are less than kind. But you know, the kind around results that are positive, but not always. But they get down fire about, hitting our numbers, hitting our quarterly results, whatever these things are. And then we go sell the customer on the other side, a story of our business that…tries to make everyone feel good.

And then we go tell our employees a story that an HR department or an OD group comes in and says, “You know, well, they’re not too happy. Let’s go create a happiness poster.” That’s not the way it works. And it may be, you know, a good selling point for a minute or two years or five years or 10 years. But ultimately, either don’t have any of that crap and, you know, walk your walk, meaning if you’re an owner of a company, get a stable top management. It starts with them. They need to be able to say, “You know, what do we believe firmly?

“What are we communicating to our team? And so they can believe in it with us. And it’ll inform our execution, if we do that beautifully, elegantly. Regardless of if we’re kind of driven and we’re dehumanizing or not, the greatest people in the world, then damn it, stay the course.” Be who you are, as a company, as an individual group of owners, leaders, whatever that structure is the top. And then I would say, conversely, another really big mistake is not empowering everyone to become an expression of what that is, once you have a clear definition of, you know, by practice of how you look at your customers, how you’re kind of looking at one another and interesting in the conversation and empowering or not, right?

So whatever those variables are, that is the culture. And then from that place, really, how do we get into the individual contributor, a way that they can relate to it, however they are, wherever they sit, whatever they do? They matter, they have to matter. As I mentioned, if it’s one too many people, then don’t have them there. But if they’re there, they matter. So the culture is their expression in that exact same way with a different impact, but an impact all the same. So that’s one of those rules where I routinely… I’ll use an example.

I write about this, you know, you look at a company that everyone would have bet that 20 years later, Whole Foods would have been the most lovely place to work and the most beautiful culture because of how it began. It was the first of its kind, too unskilled to do what they did. And then you look at Amazon, who purchased them, was not known for being the most interesting guy to work with in terms of, you know, happy culture, and you know, feeling good about ourselves, but he’s executed at a very high level. And for better or worse, to my knowledge, they’re pretty well-aligned.

And so, two years ago, when I was watching this acquisition go through, and I kept thinking, because I know a lot of Whole Foods folks and I’m a consumer of both products. I quit consuming from Whole Foods, because it just became an experience that I felt, as a customer, was out of alignment. And I consumed more, frankly, from Amazon, who I felt like, you know, I read the articles, and I knew some of the backstory about what it was like to work there and stuff.

But it was authentic. No one walked in wondering what the experience was going to be like. And I remember reading an article that the founder and owner at the time of Whole Foods, said he met with Jeff Bezos, and we’re excited to come aboard. And he said, “Really, the difference I learned from Jeff and his company, was that I cared too much about people.” And I thought, “Dude, you have it totally wrong. You just you had it on a bunch of posters that you cared about people; you didn’t actually care about people.” And I’ll give you one more example of that exact lesson, I was running a publicly traded company.

And the CEO was an executive. The CEO came up in front of everyone in the management team and said, “You know, guys, we’ve got to get this turned around. We need to get people to feel like we care about them.” And I said, “Then just care about them.” And he said, “Well, what’s the point? What point do you want to you make?” And I said, “You said you want them to feel like we care about them, then don’t say that you don’t care about them. But if you really want to care about them, just care about them.” And he looked at me like, “Who are you?”

And we got to know each other well after that, but what’s happening is, I want you to feel like you have a voice. Do you want to have a voice? Do you really want respect? Either way, you don’t get to choose it. So that kind of thought process crops up, and then all of a sudden, it becomes you know, Whole Foods failing miserably. Because the thousandth time you say you care, but you don’t care, people trust their limbic resonance. Their body screams, “Man, this dude is not here for me. He’s not the person that created this company. I’m sure he’s a fantastic guy on a personal level, but he got caught up in something that was a concept not embedded into the fabric of that company in a way that everyone learns over time to trust the truth beyond our words,” right?

So aligning our thoughts, our words and our actions are critically important, too. Everyone counts; not some people, everyone. If you leave that, you’re in trouble. And then another one, it always starts with you. Always, not sometimes, not most of the time. So that means every janitor, every kind of entry level employee, everybody counts. And starts with you. You can change a company, you can change an experience, you can change a process. You’ve developed ways, but ultimately, you have to come in and say, “I’m not going to blame anybody. If I do that, I’m going to leave. But if I’m going to be here, I’m going to invest fully in what I have control and power over. And then I’m going to try to influence what I can see, feel and experience. And I’m going to do it in the most positive, affirming way. But I’m going to do it.”

If we can get to those four points, you know, four rules apply to many policies. Our thoughts, words and actions match. And then two, everyone counts in. One, it starts with me. That’s probably the closest version I can get to using that four concepts to simplify it.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. Thank you. So when it comes to the caring, I’d love to get your take on it fundamentally, what is your top tip or suggestion when it comes to caring?

Guy Bell  
Wow, I love that. I would say the worst thing we can do is create the candy days in the lunches, where we go take a bunch of pictures and post them and make everyone feel happy, and that concept.

I think show up as you, and invite other people to show up as them, and let the messiness of life play its role. People are messy; we have bad days, and we don’t have separate lives, whether we like it or not, we’re not a husband, a wife, you know, a spiritual person, and you know, in this bucket, and then a dad in that bucket, it doesn’t work that way. And so what does it mean to truly invite other people into their fullness? To include you know, some of the mess and in that you earn some trust and that people start to kind of live into their fullness in a way that does matter and does get results. But ultimately you’re doing it to humanize the experience. You’re doing it because you care. And when you give a damn, and you authentically give a damn—or if you don’t—practice caring, practice listening, practice hearing everything, and then shift it if you want to go to business and say, well, let’s talk about a business process. I saw What’s going on? What do you think? And you’re four levels above them walking around the office? And they say, Well, I don’t know until Oh, yeah, I really do want to know, let’s talk about a little bit and never said they tell you their thought. And once in a while, you just get totally blown away by something that’s not in their backyard and you earn some trust, because you care enough to say I’ll bet you have an opinion. I’ll bet you see this from a different angle than I do. And then ask and let goofiness and silliness and stuff get in the way. But ultimately, you’re freeing people up to be everything to include transformative to include

You know, passionate, caring person toward the customers towards each other for the good of the company and the good of the community.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. Guy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some your favorite things?

Guy Bell
Boy, I don’t have a list. So no, I’m good. This is fun. Thank you.
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Guy Bell  
Geez, I like Buckminster Fuller’s quote, and I am not going to get it exact. But it’s something to the extent that to really change how something is working, you have to start over. You can’t just add on. And so I use it a lot at the end of my speeches. Of course, I didn’t memorize it. I think Buckminster Fuller, pretty much everything he kind of has come to and shared, that we’re now aware of his lexicon of ideas, is helpful.

I don’t tend to use too many quotes, though. Having said that, because I do like the idea of more expanding into kind of what is the complexity beyond the quote’s point, but I like the rich complexity to that end. I wish I had a better ones to share with you, but I do find the ones where it’s teaching us to free up our thoughts. You know, there’s all kinds of wonderful thinkers that have, over the years, over the centuries, talked about what does it mean to be a free thinker. So I enjoy any one in the field of philosophy and or economics that talk about free markets and free thought.

Pete Mockaitis  
Cool. And how about a favorite book?

Guy Bell  
A couple of them, I recently I read The Innovation Blind Spot. And it’s really a fantastic read. I also read a book, Utopia for Realists, which is from a fascinating young guy from Europe, who is looking at sociological history and kind of challenging modern thought through data. Very smart guy. And then I’ve read a couple books, one called Sapiens and Homo Deus, they’re are all fascinating reads.

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome a job?

Guy Bell
I go to bed, ensuring that I free myself of the day. I used to stay awake all night, when I had challenges at work, or whatever the case would be, and it became a practice of letting go and playing in that field. And then waking up in my first hour, half an hour of every day is a practice of, you know, quieting and reflecting on the on the joy of the day, and I walk into it, then converting that into kind of more mantras and thoughts throughout the day that support the kind of day I want to have.

Pete Mockaitis  
And was there a particular nugget you share with clients or readers or audience members that really seems to connect and resonate with them? And they repeat it back to you often?

Guy Bell  
Oh, you know, I think the message of learning to let go of what you know is such a rich and complex story.

But when I get into the details of let go and know, people began to resonate. And yeah, so I get feedback on that message. Another is, very specifically, when people ask for concrete approaches, I talk about policies from the lens of if it’s a rule, make sure everybody knows it’s non-negotiable. If it’s a policy, make sure you’re writing it towards something you want to accomplish, not away from something you don’t want to see happen. And if it’s a best practice, put it out there and don’t make it a point until you need to. And I’ve had lots of groups that are HR-centric, like how simple that is.

So that one’s red, meaning if you want to call it color coded, so that you know those are non-negotiable, they’re laws by governing bodies, whatever it may be. Yellow is our policies; they’re meant to be broken, you need to learn how to break them no more than, you know, whatever your rule is, 5% of the time. And if you do have a conversation, and three, we put out great ideas that your peers have used over the years. And we keep refreshing that it’s a nice, simple way to kind of put some meat on the bones of how to simplify the business without dumbing it down.

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

Guy Bell  
guypbell.com. It’s my website, and you can reach me at my email at guypiercebell1@gmail.com.

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

Guy Bell  
When you get people right, you get business right. It is really the critical reminder: we are in a time of the fourth industrial revolution; let’s do everything we can to make that work for us. And I’ve seen it both ways where it’s been transformative around working for the company and for the people. And I’ve seen it actually used improperly. So, you know, look at the people, even through the lens of these outstanding AI solutions and deep learning, and we’ll get the best both worlds.

Pete Mockaitis  
Guy, this has been a treat. Thank you so much for taking this time, and good luck with the turnarounds you’re doing and the adventures you’re having in the future you’re touching. This has been a real good time.

Guy Bell  
It’s been a pleasure, Pete. Thank you. I appreciate it.

364: Overcoming Overwhelm with Tonya Dalton

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Tonya Dalton says: "When we try to do everything, we end up doing nothing."

inkWELL Press Founder & CEO Tonya Dalton gives her take on being more productive daily by figuring out and focusing on your passions instead of on other people’s fires.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Where overwhelm truly comes from
  2. How to craft the three components of your personal North Star
  3. Approaches for doing a brain dump that boosts productivity

About Tonya

Tonya Dalton is a highly sought-after productivity expert and successful entrepreneur. Tonya started her current business, inkWELL Press, in 2014 and quickly built it into a seven-figure company providing organizational tools & education to thousands of people around the globe. Her goal is to help you use the power of productivity to achieve your dreams and find fulfillment in all aspects of your life. She’s also the host of   Productivity Paradox.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tonya Dalton Interview Transcript

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

Tonya Dalton
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited to dig into this good stuff. I understand you have a fondness for building things yourself. What’s the backstory here?

Tonya Dalton
I do. It’s one of those things where I love power tools. It’s something that not many people necessarily know about me because it’s not something I talk about a lot professionally, but for me there’s something about building something with your hands.

And I find that when I’m at my most stressed, if I have a lot of things going on at work, it helps me to really tackle a big project. I might gut a bathroom. I might tear apart a deck and rebuild it. It’s just something that I really enjoy because I like working with my hands, I like the creative aspect of it. But there’s a lot of that analytical, that logical part to it with the measuring and everything else.

Every year for my birthday, one of the things that I gift for myself is I make a trip to the hardware store, I buy hardware and I build a different piece of furniture every year for my birthday.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s excellent.

Tonya Dalton
I know, it’s such a random thing, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I wish, I wish I were that good at things. I’m getting better. This has been my year of being a homeowner and landlord in our little three-flat here.

Tonya Dalton
That definitely changes that, those things.

Pete Mockaitis
It does.

Tonya Dalton
That’s when you really become better at power tools, when you have to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so funny just because I guess – sometimes it has the opposite effect on me because it’s like I have a very clear picture of what I want done and why is it not already done.

Tonya Dalton
You’re like, “We’ll just order this online.”

Pete Mockaitis
Then the instructions, it’s sort of like, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense.” Then four steps later like, “Oh, I see why I should have done that thing now. Oops, let’s backtrack.”

Tonya Dalton
See, I think for me, I really like how I can customize a piece so it fits exactly where I want it to fit. So if I have a little alcove and I want to put a desk in there, I want to make it exactly the right size that I want it. I want to configure it so it fits what I want, which kind of fits into how I talk about productivity. It’s really about customizing.

That’s what I love about building things yourself is that ,I’ll sit down with a piece of paper and I’ll sketch it out and then I’ll kind of dream. It’s kind of like setting a goal. I’ll set a dream for myself of what I want to build and then I get started with the logistics of how I’m going to build it, what I need to cut, how many pieces of wood do I need and all of that.

I think it kind of fits into what I do professionally, but it’s a really creative outlet for me. I just love looking at something and saying, “You know what? I built that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, yes that is satisfying. I only have a few things that I can point to, but it does feel good. I even feel proud of – I have a treadmill desk quote/unquote, which is really just-

Tonya Dalton
Oh yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
A piece of plywood that has been sawed just perfectly for the dimensions, but it makes the difference. I can now do some things while walking on the treadmill.

Tonya Dalton
You know what? It works. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It just has to work.

Pete Mockaitis
I made that in the sense that I told the guy at Home Depot how many inches it should be and then he did it. It works great.

Tonya Dalton
… using the guy cutting the wood at Home Depot to take care of that for you. That’s called delegating, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Right.

Tonya Dalton
It’s outsourcing and that’s a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I could have purchased a fancy thing on Amazon for five times the price, so I did feel sort of clever. Anyway, that’s building things. Let’s talk about the company you built and what you do. inkWELL Press, where’s the name come from and what is it all about?

Tonya Dalton
Well, it’s a good question because I’ll be honest, when we were sitting down and thinking about starting inkWELL Press, I think it was like a 20-page document of names. We’re just brainstorming and thinking through names.

The whole process really of starting the business was very, very intentional. I had had a previous business and I made the decision to close that first business that I grew. I started that first business starting with $50 and I grew it to the point where my husband could come work with me.

I found that even though I loved the life that I had – it had allowed. It had allowed us to work together. It allowed us to move where we wanted to move, which is Ashville, North Carolina. I didn’t really love what I was putting out into the world. I didn’t love the impact that I was making.

I made this decision to close that business even though that was our sole income for our family. It paid our mortgage and paid for things like building furniture and fed my kids. But I wasn’t passionate about it. I made the decision that I was going to close that business.

When I decided I wanted to open up inkWELL Press, it was a really, really intentional process. It was me sitting down, really thinking about what I’m most passionate about and creating a business around my true purpose. Through that process I began to uncover what I really wanted to do.

I wanted the name to really fit with what I was doing. The name inkWELL Press has ink is in lower case and then WELL is in all caps, because it’s really about having a life that’s well lived. It’s really about living well. All of our products have that well aspect to it. Our planners are called the liveWELL planners. Our meal planner is the eatWELL planner.

To me, it’s really about at the heart of what I talk about to people and what I produce and offer to people, it really is about living their best life. I wanted the name to reflect that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. I would love to dig into this. You have a lot of perspective when it comes to living well, particularly in the realm of productivity. You’ve got the podcast, The Productivity Paradox, and a course and more. So I would just love to dig all around this area and maybe we can start with when folks are feeling overwhelmed, there’s too much, they’re panicked, it’s just – it’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming.

Tonya Dalton
It’s overwhelming. It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you do with that?

Tonya Dalton
Well, what’s funny is that I talk to a lot of people in all different walks of life, people who work for corporations, people who are entrepreneurs, people who are students, women, men, all kinds of people of all different ages. I’ll say to them when I meet them, “How do you feel about work? How do you feel about your business? How do you feel about your tasks at home?”

The word I hear again and again is overwhelmed. They’re overwhelmed by the amount of things that they have to do.

I have this belief that – I believe that far too many people feel overwhelmed by everything they have to do each day, so they push aside their goals and their dreams because of that overwhelm. I really think that the purpose behind what I talk about and what I create is to help alleviate that overwhelm.

I often tell people that overwhelm isn’t having too much to do; it’s not knowing where to start. That’s what I like to talk to people about. Where do you start? How do you prioritize? How do you figure out what it is you want to do first? What do you want to do next? Then really creating a life that’s around that because at its heart, productivity is not about getting things done. It’s about doing what is most important. That is really what helps us feel really satisfied and really happy with our days.

You know, too often, I feel like people run around busy all day long. When they slip into bed at night and their head hits the pillow, they feel really unsatisfied. They feel unsuccessful. “I should have done more. Why didn’t I get more done?” even though they were busy all day long. That’s because they’re living in this state of overwhelm. Instead of really working on the tasks that will move them forward towards the life they want, towards their goals, they’re putting out all these fires.

That’s really what I like to talk to people about is getting over that feeling of overwhelm, cutting through the noise and the clutter and getting to what is most important to you. That’s really the heart of it too is that ‘to you’ part. It has to be customized to you.

Too often these productivity systems that people teach and talk about, they’re designed so that the productivity system is in the center and you’re supposed to work your life around it. I teach the opposite. I believe your life and your priorities are at the center and then we create a system together to work around that. That way your priorities are always front and center in your life. That’s what helps alleviate a lot of that overwhelm is really knowing where you want to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really astute and intriguing as I’m pondering this. I think there are times in which we feel overwhelmed sort of temporarily in terms of oh, this month. It’s almost sort of like maybe too many commitments have appeared at the same time.

Tonya Dalton
They do tend to align like that, don’t they? Like the planets all align and everything is coming at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess that’s my experience of overwhelm most often is I don’t feel overwhelmed for like a whole year, but I feel overwhelmed oh this month and that month and maybe that month, so maybe a quarter of the year I’m overwhelmed, which is a quarter of the year too much for me.

Tonya Dalton
Right. Agreed.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you think about some of those dimensions in terms of it’s just a confluence of stuff like, “Well, here we are with family and work and all the other-“

Tonya Dalton
And volunteering.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. All at once.

Tonya Dalton
And projects and we have people pulling on us. A lot of times that convergence of everything hitting at the same time, sometimes that is out of your control, but a lot of times, it really is in your control. It comes down to the choices you’re making. Productivity at its heart is about making a series of choices every day of what you’re going to focus on, what you’re going to work on.

Often I tell people that, if you’re finding that you’re in this state where you feel like everything is aligning at the same time and your weeks are so jammed packed you feel like you can barely breathe, it’s because you’re saying yes too much. I think we feel obligated oftentimes to say yes. It feels good in the moment and then five seconds later you think, “Why did I do that?” Or we feel guilty, like we’re supposed to say yes.

But I like to remind people that every time you say yes, you’re saying no to something else. We don’t realize that we’re saying no every single time we’re saying yes. Oftentimes the things that we are saying no to are the things that are our priorities—our family, our passion projects, our goals, time for ourselves, those things that are really important to us. We’ll push those aside and say no to them in order to say yes to somebody else’s passion project or whatever it is.

Often I like people to really look at what are these opportunities that are showing up for you and do you have to say yes to every single one of them? We have this belief that opportunity only knocks once. Sometimes that’s true, but just because it knocks once, doesn’t mean you have to open the door every single time.

We really need to filter and figure out what is it that you want to say yes to. What are your yes’s because oftentimes when we’re saying yes to everything, we’re really at our heart saying no to the things that are going to make us happy in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us when it comes to establishing these matters that are deeply important and worth saying yes to, how do you think through those to identify that really well and clearly?

Tonya Dalton
People get caught up in this idea that everything should be treated equally. They want to treat all tasks as equal, when really we need to stop and prioritize. We think that by doing all the things, we’re really moving forward, but when we try to do everything, we end up doing nothing. We’re kind of spinning in circles. We’re not really moving forward in that direction we want to go.

I really think it’s important for you to stop and prioritize. Really what I tell people is use your North Star as your filter. When I talk about your North Star, it’s really your mission statement, so not just what you do, but why you do it. That’s your mission statement. Using your mission statement, using your vision statement. Where are you dreaming that you want to go? Then your core values, which is what’s defining your actions.

Your mission statement, your vision statement, and your core values work together to create what I call your North Star. That’s what helps guide you.

When opportunities show up to us, what we should do is we should ask ourselves, “Does this fulfill what it is I want to do? Does this fulfill my mission or does it fulfill my vision, where I want to go? Does it fulfill one of my core values, something that is truly important to me that I want to define my life?”

When we use that as our filter, that really can help us understand what we want to say yes to and what we want to say no to. A lot of people get confused when we’re talking about tasks and they feel like well, tasks that are important and tasks that are urgent are basically the same. They think that urgent and important are two of the exact same things. They’re really not.

Important tasks are tasks that drive you forward. They move you towards that North Star of where it is you want to go, while urgent tasks are simply tied to time. They are not necessarily important. They’re just a fire that feels like it needs to be put out. It’s the pings on your phone and the phone calls and all those different things.

They feel important because they’re so urgent. But many times we take care of those urgent items before we take care of what’s really important even if those urgent items aren’t really important to us. I think that really helps us to prioritize if we filter and we figure out what it is we really want to do using that North Star and then asking ourselves, “Is this truly important to me? Is this going to move me towards the life I really want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And working with your clients, I’d love it if you could share some examples of mission statements, visions and operating values. What is the articulation sound like in words?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah. One of the things that I feel people get caught up in with mission statements and vision statements and core values is it feels so heavy. It seems like this really big thing. I think for a lot of people, that’s a big road block. That becomes something that feels so heavy and important, that they just think, “I can’t even deal with it.” It feels too big.

I like to remind people that just like you grow and evolve, your mission and your vision statement and your core values, they grow and evolve with you. The person you are today is not the same person you were five years ago or ten years ago or twenty years ago or beyond. You have changed and so has your North Star.

One of the things I find that most people get really caught up in, especially when we’re talking about mission statements, is they think about all the different things they do. They want a mission statement that ties in all the different tasks: work, and home, and volunteer stuff, and maybe homeschooling their kids, and maybe what they’re doing for their promotion. It becomes this big mishmash, this really long mission statement.

What I really try to get people to do is to list those items, list those things that they really do enjoy and what they do and then I ask them to figure out why is it you do that. The why is really the heart of your mission statement. Your mission statement doesn’t have to say exactly what it is you do, but it speaks to why you choose to do it.

“I do this because it helps others to live a better life.” “I do this because this fulfills my need to educate other people.” “I do this because I love helping the elderly.” I do what I do. That’s really what we want to do is we want to distill it down to what do these tasks that you really enjoy doing, what do they have in common? What is the common why that you experience there? That is the heart of your mission statement.

So I usually tell people that your mission statement starts with ‘to,’ because it tells you what you do. Then it’s really short, to the point. It’s easy to remember. It’s easy to talk to and it’s easy to use as your filter. You don’t want to make it so complicated and so convoluted that it’s muddling everything up. It’s supposed to help clarify.

Then when we think about the vision statement, that at its heart is not about goal setting. It’s really about dreaming big. It’s about dreaming about where you want to go.

For me, I want to be the global solution to help women uncover their priorities all while keeping my own in focus. You can see it’s big. I’m saying global there, but I also say it in a way that makes it sound like it’s absolute. It’s absolutely going to happen. I don’t say, “Well I’d like to-,” or “Boy, it would be nice to-“ You say it as an absolute.

Where is it I really want to go if I can dream as big as possible? That’s the beauty of vision statements is it really allows you to stretch yourself.

Then the core values, which is the other part of that North Star, those are the things that define your actions. What are the things that really define what’s important to you on this path towards that vision, that connects you from your mission to your vision? Really, it’s taking those together and then using that as your filter.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the vision then – you say that’s not like ten life goals, but it’s rather sort of a big unifying dream.

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, it’s a bold statement. It’s a bold statement about where it is you are going to go.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like the vision you provided is in a professional sense, but you also included sort of your own thing in there as a—

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, because it’s important to me that I don’t just talk about productivity, I don’t just talk about living an intentional life, it’s really important to me that I live that life. If I’m going to talk to people about being intentional, being mindful, I really need to make sure that I’m doing that for myself at the same time, so keeping my own priorities really in focus all along.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to the values, can we hear some example articulations of those?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah. For me, intentionality is really important, adventure, learning, all of those things tie in to what it is I want to do. Learning fits into that because I love learning. I love reading about studies.

I love learning and figuring out how your brain works so that when I am talking to people on the podcast or on episodes of Tonya TV or wherever, I’m able to really give them evidence, like, “This is how our brain works, so-“ It helps people understand like, “Oh, I’m not alone in this. This is normal,” or, “This is okay.”

For me, that core value of learning is really important because that’s part of not just what makes me happy as an individual, as a person, it also really helps me professionally.

One of my other core values is adventure. So I’m an entrepreneur. You can’t be an entrepreneur without loving some adventure because there is no stability in entrepreneurship.

That really ties in there as well, really pushing the boundaries of what I know and allowing me to stretch beyond my comfort zone, which is another thing that I talk a lot about, really getting out of where we feel most comfortable, like those comfortable sweatpants that we wear, and stretching ourselves to try new things.

I started a podcast almost 100 episodes ago, which seems crazy, but that was an opportunity for me for adventure, of stretching myself and tying in that core value of learning because I didn’t know anything about podcasting before I got started.

Having these core values allows you to really look and say, “What is it I want to do? What actions do I want to do to move me towards that vision?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, really cool. I know a lot of folks when they’re thinking about productivity or balance and stuff, this work/life balance or work/life integration concept is tricky and fraught with guilt. They feel like we’re letting down family or letting down colleagues. How do you think about this?

Tonya Dalton
Well, I’m a big believer that balance is bogus, that there is no balance. I think balance is what I like to call a rainbow problem. It sounds really good, but it doesn’t really exist. You can’t really get there because if we’re balanced, it means that all the areas of our life are equal. By definition, if all areas are equal, we’re not really leaning into one area or the other, we’re standing still. We’re really stagnant. What we really need is harmony.

By that I mean we need to lean into the different areas of our lives. I talk about these three areas of our life of work, personal, and home. When you really want to move forward in one of those areas, let’s say you really want to work towards a work goal, you have to lean into that area. You have to spend a little more time, a little more energy, a little more attention at work. And so we can’t spend as much time maybe on our home goals or our personal goals.

The trick here though is this, we can’t learn into work and stay leaned over. It’s kind of like riding a bike. If you want to ride a bike, you can go straight all day long and stay perfectly balanced, but if you want to go in any direction, like you want to turn right, you have to shift your balance over. We can’t stay leaned over so far; we have to eventually shift back up so we’re upright, otherwise we’d fall down. It’s the same way in life.

We can lean into these areas, let’s say we’re leaning into work because we’re working on getting a promotion. After a quarter, then we need to shift back and maybe then we need to lean a little bit more into our personal life or lean more into our home life and figure out what those goals are. That way we’re not staying too shifted in one area, but we’re continually moving that balance back and forth. I think counterbalance is so important.

I often talk to people about balance doesn’t really exist because we don’t want all things to be even. We really want to look at the harmony of the whole. Looking at the harmony of a year or looking at the harmony of a week.

Balance seems to fit in this tight constraint of 24 hours and we think, “Gosh, I have to get all of my priorities taken care of in this 24-hour period.” Well, if you look a little bit wider and you zoom out, and you look at the 168 hours we have in a week, it’s much easier to see where you’re leaning in and counterbalancing and then leaning into a different area and counterbalancing.

Yeah, maybe you didn’t make it home for dinner on Monday night, but you made it home for dinner four nights that week. If we just look at the balance of the 24, we get to Monday evening and we feel like we failed. “Gosh, you know what, I never make it home. I never spend time with the family. I’m so busy working. I’m so disappointed in myself.” Right? This is the talk that we have with ourselves.

But if you really zoom back and you look at the harmony of the 168 and you see, “Okay, I didn’t make it home on Monday, but I made it home on Tuesday. I made it home on Thursday. I made it home on Friday. I did pretty good. I made it home the majority of the days.” That’s really where our happiness lies. It’s okay that we’re not taking care of all of our priorities every single day as long as they’re getting taken care of, overall.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Thank you. I also want to get your take on when it comes to sort of the key habits, practices, routines that sort of make all the difference for keeping things flowing and operating well week after week.

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, well, I love habits because I think sometimes people think about habits and they think about biting your nails or smoking. Habits can sometimes have this bad connotation, but habits are really an amazing thing. There was actually a Duke University study that showed that about 40 to 45% of our daily actions are actually habits.

We’re already using habits to a degree. I mean, think about it. When we get dressed in the morning, we don’t have to think about each and every step of putting on our pants or brushing our teeth, we do these things, without thinking about it. They become habits.

I love taking habits and really making them intentional, really making them so that they push us towards spending time on our priorities, that they push us towards that life that we really want to live, and they take a lot of that thinking out of it.

Some of the habits that I really like: I get up in the morning. I have a morning routine, which is essentially just a series of habits that go one after the other. Each one triggering and acting as a springboard for the next. I like to get up early in the morning before everybody else in the house is up because I find that that’s a great time to get my work done and really focus.

And so I get up in the morning and I start with a little bit of meditation, a little bit of prayer. Then I go and I get a glass of water. This was a habit that I actively worked to cultivate because First of all, I’m not a morning person. I tell people I get up early and they’re like, “Well, you must be a morning person, so it’s easy.” I’m not a morning person at all.

So I discovered that one of the things that you can do to really help yourself in the morning is to have a glass of water because your body is dehydrated after not having any water all evening long while you were sleeping and that really gives you a boost. So that’s one of the first things I do. I have a glass of water. Then I brush my teeth. Then I go out into the living room. I do some stretches and I start working.

Then I go through the routine of waking up my kids when it’s time to do that. Making lunches, that whole fun routine.

But then one of the things that I really think has made the biggest difference, which is part of that morning routine or this morning habit is when I get to my office space, I start with ten minutes of focused planning. That  for me is the habit that has really changed the way I feel about my day. It really gives me this ownership over my time.

So I sit down before I’ve checked email. At this point, I have not checked in with email. I’ve not let anybody else’s fires become my fires. I sit down and I plan out what I want to accomplish for the day. I sit down. I don’t make a to-do list because I do not believe in to-do lists. I make a priority list. I create a priority list. I start at the top and I work my way down for the whole day.

Then after my ten minutes of planning, then I worry about checking in with email and then they can come in and they fit into my day wherever they fit because at that point I’ve put in my important tasks into my day. I really feel like that’s one of the best habits that I’ve created for myself is this ten minutes of planning.

And then at the end of my workday, I do this habit I call it the five minute to peak productivity, where I spend a minute writing down my wins for the day. I write down for one minute how I felt about my day, what was my stress like, did I put too much on my plate? Then I spend a minute writing down the things I’m grateful for, for that day.

Then I write down for the next minute, minute four, I write down how have I worked towards a goal, because I believe you should work towards at least one goal every single day. And then the last minute, I write down what are the things I would like to focus on for tomorrow? That allows me to get those items out of my head and onto the paper, so that when I go home I’m not thinking about work anymore.

And what I do with that sheet of paper, that five minutes to peak productivity, I leave it on my desk so that way when I come in the next day for my ten minutes of planning, I have a little springboard right there ready, to help me with my ten minutes of planning. I look through, I can see my wins from the day before. I see what I said the day before that I wanted to focus on, and I use that to build my momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I liked the way you said it the ten minutes of planning creates the ownership in terms of “All right, this is the game plan,” and then you’ve done it prior to email. I’ve been getting more into that myself in terms of that making all the difference there. It’s sort of – oh, go ahead.

Tonya Dalton
I was going to say email can be such a rabbit hole. We get in it and we’re digging through and it never seems like we’re at the bottom of it. And it generally is filled with a lot of things that other people need from us. I think it’s so important to have that ownership over our time and to feel like we are choosing how we spend our time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I’m curious to know, with that ten minutes sort of you’re referencing your yesterday thoughts that you wrote down in one of those five minutes, are there any other kind of key, sources that you’re looking to during this ten minute window. Is it your calendar? Is it your vision? What are some of the – does it come right out of your head or are you kind of referencing back some documented pieces in generating the plan of the day?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, I love that question because we don’t want things floating around in our head because then they’re just taking up room. It takes up space and it takes up a lot of the calories that our brain is burning. We want to get them out of there.

What I do is I do a brain dump. I call it a purge. I do a brain dump on Sunday, I do it for my family. On Monday morning I do it for work. I very intentionally keep those separated. I don’t want to think about work necessarily until Monday morning so that my Sunday is really focused on family.

What I do during that time is I write out what are the things I want to accomplish this week. I pull things from my calendar. I’m writing down and just getting the things out of my head so that when I’m sitting down for that ten minutes of focused planning each day, I take that weekly kick start, that’s what I call it, I take that weekly kick start and I’m pulling from that in order to put in what I want to accomplish.

The nice thing about that purge, that brain dump is that that’s allowing me to do that zooming out that we talked about, looking at my week as a whole, getting a bird’s eye view of where I am and where I want to go for that week. And so from that, I’m pulling each day. I’m not just pulling it out of thin air or having to do a lot of thinking. It’s really automatic and on autopilot because most of my ideas and thoughts, I’ve already gotten down onto paper.

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

Tonya Dalton
Well, let’s see. There’s so many things. I love talking about productivity. I think the thing is that I think people get caught up in when we’re talking about, how we want to run our day and how we want to live our lives is we get caught up in this idea of doing so much and feeling good about checking a lot of items off our list.

And I just want to remind people that life is about quality rather than quantity. It’s not about checking a lot of items off our list. It really is creating that life we really love and that life that we want. When we really intentionally build these habits into our day so that what is important to us sits front and center, that really allows us to feel so much more successful at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, my favorite quote is from Oprah. She says, “Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Tonya Dalton
I think that’s really important, especially when you are trying to take ownership and focus on living life with your priorities. There might be some people who are disappointed that you’re not going to say yes to everything they ask you to do, but it doesn’t work that way. Oprah’s pretty smart.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned you liked learning the studies, is there a favorite study or experiment or bit of research that really resonates with you?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, well, I mentioned that Duke University study, which is one of my favorites. But I have another study from the University of London that I really love. It was on multitasking. What I love about it is so many people are so proud of how they multitask. They think that multitasking is really helping them be more productive.

What this study found is that, when you multitask, not only does it really take you longer to do the work, but the quality of your work suffers significantly. As a matter of fact, when people multitask, they do the same work that’s equivalent to someone who has missed an entire night of sleep or someone who has smoked marijuana.

People are usually surprised by that because they think that they’re being so productive, but really, when we’re trying to multitask and do too much, our work really suffers. But the most, astounding thing I think from that study was this, they found that the better someone believed they were at multitasking, the worse they were.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.

Tonya Dalton
I think that’s fascinating because we think that we’re really good at it, but we’re really not so good.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Tonya Dalton
My favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre because I just love classic novels. It’s just a genre that I love. That is my favorite fiction book that I go back and read every year or so.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Tonya Dalton
Well, my inkWELL Press products of course. For that routine that I was telling you about, I have a notepad that helps you with your brain dump. Then I sit down with my daily planner and that has a priority list built into it, so you can really just plug in your items and categorize them by priority. I think that really helps.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Tonya Dalton
My favorite habit is probably my ten minutes of focused planning that I do every day. I really feel like that sets me in the right path for every single day. And I think one of the mistakes a lot of people make is they try to plan out their whole week let’s say on Sunday, but then it’s really easy to get behind and feel like you’re under water the whole rest of the week, so, really taking that ten minutes to plan that day and to make the plans for that day achievable makes a world of difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and then people quote it back to you?

Tonya Dalton
The one that resonates with a lot of people I think is that overwhelm isn’t having too much to do; it’s not knowing where to start. I think that resonates because once we figure out together where it is you want to start and what you want to do next, that feeling of overwhelm really does go away. And it really feels a lot better to be more in charge of your day.

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

Tonya Dalton
I would probably send them to my website, InkwellPress.com because I have links to my podcast there. I have links to my courses, my episodes of Tonya TV are there and of course my products are there as well.

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

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, well this is what I would say is a lot of times we hear advice or we hear tips and thoughts and ideas and we get excited about it and we want to try to implement everything all at once. What I would say is, start small.

Take one piece of advice, maybe something that I talked about today, maybe it’s taking and doing the ten minutes of focused planning and focus on just doing that one thing for the next month. Build that in as a habit and then use that as a springboard to start building in other habits that really help you live intentionally. Starting small and feeling some success and getting some wins under your belt really can go far in helping us not feel that overwhelm.

Pete Mockaitis
Well Tonya, thanks so much for taking this time. It’s been a whole lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck with the podcast, Productivity Paradox, and the company, inkWELL Press, and all that you’re up to.

Tonya Dalton
Well, thank you so much. This was great being on here. I really enjoyed being on your show.

357: The Six Morning Habits of High Performers with Hal Elrod

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Hal Elrod says: "Be at peace with where you are and take steps every day to get where you want to go."

Miracle Morning author Hal Elrod condensed the six habits of the most successful people in history into the SAVERS acronym and describes how they changed his life—and how they can change yours, too.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Approaches for silence that generate new ideas
  2. How NOT to do affirmations
  3. The impact of tiny amounts of exercise

About Hal

He is one of the highest rated keynote speakers in America, creator of one of the fastest growing and most engaged online communities in existence and author of one of the highest rated, best-selling books in the world, The Miracle Morning—which has been translated into 27 languages, has over 2,000 five-star Amazon reviews and is practiced daily by over 500,000 people in 70+ countries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hal Elrod Interview Transcript

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

Hal Elrod
Pete, I’m feeling awesome at my job of being a podcast guest right now, so ….

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, well you’re off to a great start with the enthusiasm.

Hal Elrod
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
I also hear that you’re enthusiastic about UFC. What’s the story here?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, it’s kind of funny because I’m the most non-violent UFC fan I think that there is. For those that don’t know, UFC is Ultimate Fighting Championship. If I would have ever turned on the TV and saw two guys fighting, I don’t think I ever would have gotten pulled in.

In 2004 I think it was, I just turned on the TV on Spike TV and the reality show The Ultimate Fighter, which for those of you who don’t know, this is actually how the UFC turned – they were a failing company and they turned themselves around by putting fighters in a reality show.

It was like the Real World meets UFC fighting, where fighters lived in a house together for six weeks and they competed in a tournament, where they’re fighting each other and they’re sharing rooms with each other. I got really connected to the storyline of the fighters. Then I actually cared about what they were going to do. Then fast forward, I’ve been a fan now for gosh, 13 years or so.

Now it’s just two people that are – the people that compete in the UFC, they have to master seven or eight different fighting disciplines. There’s no other sport – in basketball, you just master basketball. In UFC, it’s you’ve got to be proficient, not proficient, you’ve got to be excellent in wrestling, and excellent in jiu-jitsu, and excellent at karate, and excellent at boxing, and excellent at all these different styles.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a full hour of UFC programming before. I’m impressed by what these athletes do. They are fit – in great shape. I just hurt watching it, so I think I turn away. It’s like, “Ow,” then I find something else.

These athletes – you literally at the top level, in the UFC essentially, you’ve got to be as good as Michael Jordan at basketball and while you’re as good as Jordan at basketball, you have to as good as Tiger Woods at golf and – these guys train, they’ll train – they’re basically train 12 hours a day, 6 to 12 hours a day. They’re training – Monday they do wrestling for 3 hours, then they do boxing for 3 hours. Then Tuesday – it’s just crazy to have to train not just one sport, but 7 or 8.

Pete Mockaitis
That is why their physiques are striking. It’s like that person is among the fittest that I’ve beheld.

Hal Elrod
And their cardio, to compete at that level and do that.

Yeah, the funny part is I’m non-violent. A lot of times in a match it will get too violent for me. I love the sport. I love the storyline. I appreciate the athletes, but yeah, when it gets bloody and stuff, which it does sometimes, I’m like, “Ah, ….” It’s funny, I’m a huge fan, but I don’t like when they hurt each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. It’s funny, that’s sort of like – that’s kind of one of your things is you are such a positive guy and talking about sort of potential and possibility and how to unlock that largely in terms of getting the momentum going through morning routines. I’d love it if you could give us maybe the short version of your incredible story about how you got into morning routines to become such a believer. What happened in your life that sparked this?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, I usually frame the story by saying I’ve had a few rock bottoms in my life. Those kind of, each one was the catalyst for a different component of my life’s work today.

Let me start by just saying to define a rock bottom, it’s something that we’ve all had. In fact many of them will have more of them. I define a rock bottom as simply a moment in time, moment in your life, a moment in adversity that is beyond what you’ve experienced before.

I don’t compare one person’s rock bottom to another and say, “Well, mine’s worse than yours or yours is worse than hers.” It’s relative to who you are at any given moment in time.

When I was in elementary school and my girlfriend broke up with me, we had been going out for two weeks that was a rock bottom for me. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine going to school any more, like life was over relative to who I was at the time.

The major rock bottoms I had when I was 19 years old I was one of the top sales reps for Cutco Cutlery. I never considered myself a salesperson but a buddy got me into – “Give this a chance.” I’m like, “Eh, I’ll try it just to get you off my back.” Ten days into the career I broke the company record. That sent me on a path of oh, maybe I’m not this mediocre person I’ve been my whole life. Maybe I can do something extraordinary. I went on to break all these records.

A year and a half into the company that I was working with then, I was giving a speech at one of their events. After my speech driving home in a brand new Ford Mustang – I had bought my first new car a few weeks prior – I was hit head-on by a drunk driver at 70 to 80 miles per hour. Then my car spun off the drunk driver, another car hit me from the side, directly in my door at 70 miles an hour and instantaneously broke 11 of my bones.

My femur broke in half. My pelvis broke three separate times. My humerus bone behind my bicep broke in half. My elbow was shattered. My eye socket was shattered. Ruptured lung, punctured lung, ruptured spleen, so on and so forth. I actually, clinically, I was dead. I clinically was found dead at the scene. I died for six minutes, was in a coma for six days and was told my doctors that I would never walk again.

Came out of the coma and three weeks later took my first step and went on to fully recover and walk again. That was really – the turning point for me there was – or I decided maybe I’m meant to do more than just stay in sales because I was going to stay with the company forever. I loved the company. I decided I had to do more.

I had always wanted to be a professional keynote speaker, Pete, because I had been speaking at all these conferences for my company. I thought man, I would love to do this for a living. There are these people like Tony Robbins and you see all these – this is what they do. I would love that. It would be like a dream come true.

I had this kind of – I don’t know if you’d call it an epiphany or just a realization – I thought maybe that’s why I’m going through this experience. They say everything happens for a reason, but I’m a firm believer that it’s our responsibility to choose the reasons. It’s not predetermined. It’s not fate. It’s not out of our control.

Something bad could happen, you can say “This happened because life’s unfair and there is no God.” You can find all sorts of reasons why everything happens or you can say what I did, I went, “Maybe I’m supposed to learn from this and grow from this and take this head on so that I can learn how to teach other people to take their adversity head on.” That’s what I did and I launched that into a speaking career.

Then fast forward and kind of bringing it to what led into more morning rituals, in 2008 when the US economy crashed, I crashed with it. I lost over half my coaching clients, I was a coach at the time, half my income in 2008, couldn’t pay my mortgage, I lost my house, I cancelled my gym membership, my body fat percentage tripled in six months. It was just this real six month downward spiral.

A sequence of events led me to go on a run and listen to an audio from Jim Rohn.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Jim Rohn. The musical—

Hal Elrod
The great Jim Rohn.

Pete Mockaitis
I love the music in his voice.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, absolutely. Jim Rohn, this is the quote that he said on that run. This quote came to my life faster than I ever thought possible and it really is the catalyst for the Miracle Morning. He said “Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development because success is something you attract by the person you become.”

In that moment I went, I’m not dedicating time every day to my personal development, therefore, I’m not becoming the person that I need to be to create the success that I want in my life. I had this epiphany that I’ve got to go figure out what the world – I’m going to run home and figure out what the world’s most successful people do for their personal development.

I’m going to find the best personal development practice in history of humanity or best known to man and I’m going to do that. And I didn’t know what it was going to be. I ran home and I Googled best personal development practices of millionaires, billionaires, CEOs, Olympians, you name it.

And I had a list of six different practices. They were all timeless. They had all been practiced for centuries. I almost went well, none of these are new. I think we’re really conditioned in our society to look for the new, the new app, the new movie, the new season on Netflix. We want new, new, new. We’re all new.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got to update the app like every month.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, exactly. I almost dismissed these. I was like, ah, these are timeless. It’s almost really silly. When you really translate it you can say these are the practices that the world’s most successful people have been doing for centuries. I want something new. It makes no sense.

The epiphany I finally went, wait a minute. This is what successful people do. I don’t do these. Then the real epiphany was which one of these am I going to do and then I went wait, what if I did all of these.

What if I woke up tomorrow morning an hour earlier, because that was the only time I could figure out in the schedule to add an hour. I was working all day trying to not lose my house, which didn’t work. I lost my house. But I was just trying to stay alive, stay afloat. I didn’t feel like I had any extra time.

Even though I wasn’t a morning person I thought if I want my life to improve, I’ve got to improve. I’ve got to wake up an hour earlier and I’ve got to do one of these six practices. The epiphany was what if I did all of them, what if I woke up tomorrow morning an hour earlier and I did the six most timeless, proven, personal development practices in the history of humanity.

I woke up the next day, I did them. I sucked at all of them. We can talk about what the practices are, but I didn’t know how to do – one is meditation. I didn’t know how to meditate. I didn’t know how to do any of these things really well. I was really terrible at all of them.

But one hour into it my very first day, my very first hour of what is now called the Miracle morning, it didn’t have a name back then, I felt incredible. I felt confident for the first time in six months. I felt energized. I felt motivated. I felt like I had clarity.

The realization is if I start every day like this, where I become a better version of the person I was that went to bed the night before, and I do this consistently day after day after day after day, it is only a matter of time before I become the person that I need to be that can create the success that I want, any level that I want in any and every area of my life.

I thought it would 6 to 12 months; it was less than 2 months that I more than doubled my income. I went from being in the worst shape of my life physically to committing to running a 52-mile ultra-marathon. I had never run more than a mile before. My depression went away within a couple of days. Because my life changed so dramatically and so quickly, I started calling it my Miracle Morning. The rest is history.

Years later I wrote the book and now it’s this worldwide movement with about a half million people from what we can track every day do their miracle morning and the results are really amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an awesome story. It makes sense in terms of having engaged some of these practices. I love the gumption, okay, I’m going to do all of them. You put this together into a snazzy acronym, SAVERS, standing for these six steps of silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and scribing, which means writing. I understand you’ve got to make the acronym work, no shame there.

Hal Elrod
It was my wife’s idea for an acronym. I was writing the book one day and I was frustrated. I go “Sweetie, Stephen Covey’s got the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Robert Kiyosaki’s got the Cashflow Quadrant. These gurus always create this memorable system.” I said, “I’ve got these six hodgepodge practices and I didn’t invent any of them.”

She goes, “Sweetheart, why don’t you get a – calm down first of all,” because I was all stressed, she goes, “Why don’t you get a thesaurus and see if you can find other words with the same meaning and make an acronym?” The acronym is a huge part of it. She gets all the credit for that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I guess along with that then, I’d love to dig into each of these practices and just hear a little bit in terms of what it means then the best practice or a pitfall associated with doing it or an optimal dosage or amount of time to do each of these.

I imagine in many ways the answer is it doesn’t really matter, just do something like that and you’re all good. But if there’s some finer points to maximizing, well, hey, you’re the expert. I want to hear them. Let’s dig into silence and then the rest.

Hal Elrod
Here’s what I’ll preface all of this with. I am a very results-oriented person. A lot of these six practices are taught in a way that’s kind of woo-woo, that makes somebody feel good while they do it, but they don’t necessarily see measurable improvements in their life.

And for me that was unacceptable. It was unacceptable in my own practice, but then especially when I wrote the book I thought, I need to make these really practical and actionable and not just fluffy and airy-fairy and woo-woo. I’ll give a tip on each of these in terms of how do you make it kind of practical and results oriented.

The first S in SAVERS stands for silence. I’m actually really – it was originally meditation. I’m really glad that it became silence because some people, their silence is prayer. They might not want to meditate. Or for me it’s actually a combination of both. But meditation is really the crux. It’s the majority of my time in silence.

If you think about it, most of us, we don’t have a lot of time in silence. It’s usually we’re – it’s kind of chaos from the time we get up, then we’re in the car listening to podcasts or the radio, music, something like that. Then we’re at work with people and on phone calls. There’s usually not a lot of time for kind of peaceful, purposeful silence.

Yet that’s when – when we quiet our mind, that’s when our best ideas come. We tap into our inner wisdom. We tap into the wisdom of – if you want to get woo-woo for a second – the universe or higher intelligence, whatever you want to call it, God.

But meditation, the way it’s been taught, people often – they’re taught to clear your mind. Most people, they can’t do that or it’s very challenging and it takes somebody years to get where they can actually do that. Well, for me, I want results. I will use my meditation as a way to set the mindset for the day.

I’ll look at my schedule and I’ll go “Okay, what do I need to accomplish today?” It depends on what’s on the agenda. I just finished writing a new book. When I was working on that book, every day, every morning, I’d meditate before I’d write and I would go, “Man, I need ideas.” I need some content for today. I would set my intention for the meditation.

My intention would often be “Okay, what am I working on? What chapter am I working on today? I need ideas for this chapter.” I would just set that as an intention. Then I would meditate. I would always have my notes app on my phone in front of me with my timer going for ten minutes usually is what I meditate for.

I don’t think there was a single day where I wasn’t flooded six ideas, where I would pause the meditation timer, I’d open up the note tab and I would write an idea. Then I would go back to mediate and then I would just sit there.

Here’s the difference, I wasn’t trying to think. When you force thought, you don’t usually get your best thought. It’s in those moments – that’s why when we’re in the shower, not even thinking about something, we have our best ideas. When we’re falling asleep, not even thinking about something, we have our best ideas.

This is a way to engineer that space for you’re tapping into your genius every single morning so that you bring those ideas and that clarity into your day. That’s one way to meditate.

Another way to do it is sometimes I might have a speech for that day and I go “I need to feel confident. I’m speaking.” I will literally just affirm things while I’m in my meditation. I’ll just affirm things like what did I do today – I chose three statements.

I’ve been having some cognitive challenges because I just went through – I just finished cancer. I beat cancer, but I still have chemotherapy ongoing for maintenance and it really – the effects to your cognitive ability are really damaging. They call it chemo brain. They kind of laugh it off, but it really – it’s a very real thing what it does to your brain. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my memory and this and that.

This morning I just meditated on saying “I am brilliant. My brain is brilliant. My memory is excellent.” I forgot what the third one was. Anyway, the point is use meditation not to remove thought. You can. Sometimes I’ll meditate in that way where I just try to get a state of being really loving and peaceful.

But ultimately I typically will have a specific result that I want to generate internally, either mentally or emotionally, and I will set that intention going into the meditation. I will use the meditation actively to do that. I will think something over and over and over while I deeply feel it in a way that will serve me for the rest of the day. Any questions? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Can you give us a sample of your internal dialogue of going over and over and over again?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, that was the one today. Here, I’ll bring it up real quick.

This morning I went “My brain is brilliant. My memory is excellent. My heart is pure.” I just affirmed that. What’s interesting is we’re about to get into the A of SAVERS, which is affirmations. But I often will combine the SAVERS.

For example, when I get to the E in SAVERS is exercise, while I’m exercising, I’ll often do the V, which is visualization. I’m then making that mind-body connection and leveraging the power of both simultaneously. I’m also being efficient with time.

“My brain is brilliant. My memory is excellent. My heart is pure.” That is an affirmation, but I will meditate on that affirmation and then kind of get the benefits of both.

Sometimes I will – I have pictures – I’m in the room where I do my Miracle Morning right now. I have pictures of my children, my family, my wife up along the wall. Sometimes I will just look at those pictures and just maybe look at one. I’ll look at my picture of my daughter like I am right now and I’ll just internalize the gratitude and the love that I feel for her. Then I’ll close my eyes and I’ll just meditate on that for a minute or two. Then I’ll go to my son.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say meditate on that, you’re just sort of experiencing that.

Hal Elrod
I’m just feeling it.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to letting your mind chatter in any direction.

Hal Elrod
I’m just deeply feeling it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, I’m just deeply felling that emotion. Yeah, that experience.

I’ll use meditation a lot. I’m big on gratitude. I’ll often use meditation – I’ll simply take the emotion of gratitude or the experience of gratitude, most people when they experience gratitude, it’s usually at the intellectual level. If you say “What are you grateful for?” they can list things off. They feel it in their head, but there’s a big difference between intellectual gratitude and deep, heart-felt soulful gratitude at the level where it puts you in tears.

I’ll use meditation to try to get there, to try to get to feel that much of an emotion that serves me. Again, the emotion – gratitude is one, it could be confidence, it could be love, it could be whatever.

I do pray. I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. That’s a whole other conversation, but prayer on even the scientific level as well as the spiritual level. A lot of times I’ll use my silence as prayer and I’ll just – for me, it’s very fluid. There is no right or wrong and that’s probably the biggest – here’s the biggest key.

Let me, whether we close with this for this portion, but when it comes to silence, if you’re at all overwhelmed by meditation or anything like that, set a timer on your phone for ten minutes and be in silence for ten minutes, that’s it.

The only way you can fail is if you judge yourself for any part of your experience. If you go, “Oh, I shouldn’t be having these thoughts. Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking. Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling this way. Oh, I shouldn’t have thought of that.” That’s the only way you can fail at silence is to judge your experience. If you just sit there in silence, you cannot help but get value.

Number one, it lowers your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the fear and the stress chemical in your body, the hormone that causes fear, that causes stress. When you sit in silence, it’s scientifically proven – there are over 1,400 scientific studies that prove the benefits of meditation. It’s scientifically proven that when you sit in silence, it lowers your cortisol.

Now, granted, if you are intentionally thinking stressful thoughts, I don’t know that that would achieve that objective. That’s where judging yourself is a stressful thought. But yeah, if you sit in silence, you will lower your stress, you will gain clarity, new insights will come into your mind and you’ll get better with practice.

Your first day in silence is your worst day in silence. Every day that you do it, you’ll stumble upon new levels of consciousness, new ways of feeling, thinking, being that once you grab them, you can then get there quicker, easier, stay there longer. The benefits of spending time in silence will simply be amplified and deepened over time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Then with silence, what makes it silence is just that you’re not actively reading something, listening to something, tapping away on your phone, you are – or in motion, so you are seated and you may have your eyes closed and you’re just sort of letting your own internal self be the focus.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, exactly. I like to sit up straight. I bought a meditation pillow on Amazon a few months back. That’s been big. There’s something about just having a – it was like 29.99 or something – having a spot that I specifically go to meditate. Because before I got lazy in my meditation where I was doing it on the couch kind of slouched over.

If there’s any wrong way to meditate, really the big one is judging yourself for the experience, thinking that you’re doing it wrong. You’re not. As long as you’re in silence, you’re not doing it wrong. If you have a negative thought, just let it pass and focus on something positive.

But if there’s a wrong way to mediate beyond judging yourself, it is your posture. When you sit slouched over, laying down, your breath slows, you’re not – you want to find the balance between relaxation and alertness, attentiveness. Sitting up straight, sitting tall, breathing deeply, being really alert and aware, but very calm and relaxed, that’s the ideal state for that silence.

Like you said, it just means that there’s no stimuli. There’s no stimuli, where you’re not focused on something. That’s why closing your eyes is good. Now there are ways of meditating where you can have your eyes open. Sometimes I will open my eyes and so I’ll look at the pictures of my family or I’ll look at a beautiful picture of a sunset/sunrise that puts me in a really nice state.

But yeah, everything that you said is correct, just doing – by the way, setting a timer is the other piece I was going to mention. You don’t have to think “How long am I doing it? Am I doing it long enough? Should I do it longer?” Don’t be checking the clock, just have your timer set.

That way you know, “I’m free for ten minutes to not think about anything,” or think about, whatever, “I’m free for ten minutes just to sit here in silence. I’m not going to lose track of time because that timer is going to go off when it’s time for me to get up and do my affirmations or whatever’s next in your Miracle Morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Cool. Yeah, let’s talk about the affirmations next in the Miracle Morning. What do you mean by that and what do you not mean by that?

Hal Elrod
I’m biased in that I’m often asked do you have a favorite of the SAVERS and the politically correct answer would be no, they’re all equally important. But the answer is affirmations are my favorite by far.

Affirmations are – first let me just say, I believe they’ve been taught incorrectly or ineffectively I should say by self-help gurus, if you will, for, I don’t know, decades. I don’t know how long. But let me define what an affirmation is then I’ll talk about why they’ve been taught wrong and what I find is the most effective way to do them.

An affirmation is simply a written statement that directs your focus towards something of value. Now, you could write affirmations that were negative, that were not of value. Obviously that’s not an objective of yours. We have written statements that directly focus towards something of value.

The way affirmations have been taught, there are two problems with the way they’ve been taught for decades, I don’t know, centuries, I don’t know how long.

Number one is a form of affirmation that’s essentially lying to yourself, trying to trick yourself into believing something that is not true or is not yet true. For example, let’s say you want to be a millionaire, well, a lot of self-help pioneers have taught, just put the words “I am” in front of whatever you want to be and say that to yourself until you believe it.

You say, “I am a millionaire. I am a millionaire. I am a millionaire.” But we all know the truth. We know our truth. We’re not a millionaire. We want to be millionaire. We say, “I’m a millionaire,” our subconscious or even our conscious mind is going to go “No, you’re not. You’re lying.” Then you’re fighting with reality, which is never ideal. The truth will always prevail.

You go “I am a millionaire,” and your brain goes, “No you’re not. You’re not even close.” You’re like, “Shut up. I’m doing my affirmations.” Number one problem with affirmations the way they’ve been taught is lying to yourself is not optimal.

The second problem with affirmations the way they’ve been taught is that self-help pioneers have taught you to use flowery passive language. We’ll still on the topic of finances. You may have heard this affirmation; it’s very popular, or some variation of this. “I am a money magnet. Money flows to me effortlessly and in abundance.”

A lot of people say that affirmation and they really like it. I believe they like it because it makes them feel good in the moment. They go, “Man, I checked my bank balance this morning and it was negative, so I need some affirmations to make me feel better. I’m a money magnet. Oh, that feels good. Money is flowing to me effortlessly. All of my financial problems will be taken care of by the universe,” or whatever.

It’s like no, that’s not how money works. It’s not effortless. That’s very rare. Go buy a lotto ticket, hope. That’s not going to happen most likely. The way that money is created is by you adding value to the world or to the marketplace and then you’re compensated for that value.

I’ll give you an example of how to use affirmations in a way that is not based in lying to yourself or in this passive language that makes you feel good at the moment, but takes your responsibility away from creating the results that you want. There’s four steps to create affirmations that produce results.

Number one is, affirm what you’re committed to. Don’t say, “I’m a millionaire,” or not even “I want to be a millionaire,” say “I’m committed to becoming a millionaire,” maybe even add a when, “By the time I’m 40 or 50,” or whatever or in the next 12 months or 24 months, or whatever.

Start with number one what am I committed to. It’s a very different when you affirm something you’re committed to versus something that you think you are or want to be that you know you’re not.

The second thing is why is that deeply meaningful. After you affirm what you’re committed to, reinforce, remind yourself, why is that deeply meaningful to you. If you want to become a millionaire, why? Is it because you want to … financial freedom for your family, because you want to buy fancy cars.

Depending on how meaningful it really is, that’s going to determine how much leverage you have over yourself to actually do the things necessary to get you there. That’s number three is affirm what specifically you’re committed to doing that will ensure your success. What are the activities you’re committed to that will ensure your success?

I’m committed to increasing my income to $100,000 a year and saving 50% or whatever. Get very specific on the activities that you’re going to do. When I was in sales I would affirm how many phone calls I was going to be making every day because I knew if I made that number of phone calls, my success was inevitable. I couldn’t fail. The average … would work themselves out if I made my phone calls every day.

Then the fourth part of the affirmation formula is when specifically are you committed to implementing those activities. When are you going to make your phone calls? When are you going to run every day to lose that weight? When are you going to take your significant other out on a date or tell them you love them or write? What and when are you going to – what are the activities and when are you going to do them?

Those four steps: what are you committed to, why is it deeply meaningful to you, what activities are you committed to doing that will ensure your success, then when, specifically, are you committed to doing those activities. Those are the four steps create what I call Miracle Morning affirmations.

Miracle Morning affirmations are practical and they’re result-oriented and they reinforce the commitments that you need to stick to ensure that you achieve the results that you want to achieve in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig. It. Well, we’re having fun here, but I could get perhaps the one-minute version of the visualization, the exercise, the reading and the scribing?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, I’m long-winded, so thank you for setting me up. I appreciate that.

Visualization, here’s what I’ll say two things on it. Number one is the world’s best athletes, almost all of them use visualization including UFC fighters. There’s a reason for that. It’s they visualize themselves performing optimally and achieving their goals so that they go there mentally and emotionally before they ever step on the court or before they ever open the book or before they ever write.

They’ve already gone there in their mind, so when it’s real time, when it’s game time, when it’s practice time, it’s that much easier to go there.

The other thing I’ll say on visualization is don’t just visualize the end result, visualize – in fact, more important, visualize the activity. See yourself getting on the phone to make those calls. See yourself opening your computer to write those words that’s going to make that into a book. See yourself going to the gym or lacing up your running shoes and heading out your front door, especially if you don’t feel like it or you don’t like doing those things.

See yourself doing it with a smile on your face in a way that’s appealing. When I was training for my ultra-marathon, I hated running. Every morning I visualized myself enjoying running. Because I did it in the morning in my living room, when it was time to run, I actually had already created this anticipation that I would want to do it. Then I actually felt that when it was time to go for a run. That’s the power in visualization.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Now when you say visualize yourself, I’m thinking almost like dreams. Sometimes they’re first person, sometimes they’re third person. Do you visualize, like you’re seeing yourself from a third-person vantage point putting on the shoes?

Hal Elrod
You can do both, but I usually do yeah, first person and then – or no, third person, where I see myself from the outside. I see myself like I’m watching a movie of myself. Part of that movie will involve me looking in the mirror usually. That’s part of it almost always.

Pete Mockaitis
The dramatic montage music.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Yeah, feel free to play the music. Literally play that music on your phone while you’re doing the visualization. A lot of people do that.

The E is for exercise. Here’s what I’ll say is that if you like to – if you don’t exercise at all, this applies to you. If you exercise – if you already go, “Dude, I go to the gym after work or on my lunch break or I like to run in the evenings. It’s my-“ this still applies to you and here’s why.

I’m not telling you that you need to switch your gym time to the morning, what I’m telling you is that the benefits of exercising in the morning even for 60 seconds, if you’re sitting on the couch going, “I know I should – I don’t have any energy. I’m so tired,” stand up and do 60 seconds of jumping jacks.

I promise you at the end of the 60 seconds, you’ll be breathing hard. Your blood will be flowing throughout your lymph system. Your brain – the oxygen, your cells will be oxygenated. You’ll feel ten times more awake than you did before you did those 60 seconds of jumping jacks.

I in the morning usually do stretching followed by a seven minute workout. That’s an app on the phone. It’s also on YouTube. It’s totally free. I highly recommend it. It’s a full body workout in seven minutes. It’s fast-paced, so you get cardio as well as strength training, as well as stretching and flexibility. That’s what I recommend in the morning, just a little bit of exercise and –

Pete Mockaitis
What’s the video or app called? The seven-minute thing?

Hal Elrod
7 Minute Workout, number 7 Minute Workout.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s just called 7 Minute Workout. Okay, that’s easy.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, it’s phenomenal. There’s a few different apps. I use the free version. Then the – actually although I subscribe to the monthly version to open up all the different exercises and different workouts and this and that.

But the R is for reading. I don’t need to say much on this is that we’re all, every single one of us is one book away, whatever topic we want to improve in our life, we’re one book away from learning everything that we need to learn to improve that area of our life.

You want to be happy? There’s a book on that. In fact, there’s hundreds. What to have an amazing marriage? There’s a book on that. In fact, there’s hundreds. Do you want to be a millionaire or be wealthy and financially free? There’s hundreds of books on that.

In fact, so I just made a documentary called The Miracle Morning. It reveals the morning rituals of some of the world’s most successful people. In that is world-class entrepreneur Joe Polish.

He said that, he goes, “When I meet someone and I say ‘What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?’ and they go, ‘Well, I don’t read. I haven’t read a book.’” He said, “It blows my mind that in places where people have access to books and they know how to read and therefore they have access to everything they need to know to transform anything in their life to be at the most extraordinary level they could be,” he says, “It blows my mind that people aren’t reading every single day.”

Why aren’t you reading every day? It could be five or ten minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be a long time. Think about it, if you read 10 pages a day, that’s 300 pages a month. No, no, let’s say 5 pages a day, that’s 150 pages a month. That’s one self-help book a month, 12 a year. You’re a different person.

You’re separating yourself from 95% of our society and you’re joining the top 5% that reads those books because you’re learning everything you need to transform any area of your life. Any questions on reading and then we can dive into the last one?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. No.

Hal Elrod
Okay. The final S is the word scribing. That’s a pretentious word for writing, but I needed an S for the final part of the SAVERS to round out the acronym.

For me, journaling is – this is where goal setting is involved in scribing. That’s under that umbrella. Journaling is what I would – that would be my scribing. I use an app called Five Minute Journal. They also make a hardcover version if you prefer to write by hand. You can also just write freehand on a piece of paper.

The Five Minute Journal, I like it because it’s scientifically researched and it’s very simple and takes five minutes. It’s simply pre-prompted statements or questions. There’s just a few.

In the morning it’s three things I’m grateful for and the three most important things that I need to do today to make today a great day. I don’t know if it’s worded that exact words, but that’s paraphrasing. Of all things on my to-do list, what are the three that will make the biggest difference in my life, my business, etcetera.

Every morning I start by focusing on three things I’m grateful for, which remind me that my life is already amazing. It doesn’t matter what’s going on outside of me if I focus on internally what I have to be grateful for, everything is – there’s always things to feel amazing about. There’s always things to complain about. What we focus on becomes our reality.

I start with gratitude, then I look at my to-do list, I look at my goals, like okay, of the infinite things I could work on today and out of the 20 things that are on my goal and to-do list, what are the three that will make the biggest impact for me right now and move me forward toward my most important goals?

If you think about it, most people we don’t take the time to just get that level of clarity. It only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s a game changer.

Because here’s the problem, most of us are busy. Every day we’re busy. Being busy tricks our brain into thinking we’re being productive. But productive isn’t busy. Productive is busy doing the things that move us toward our biggest goals, our greatest dreams, the life that we truly want to live and the impact we truly want to make.

That simple act of scribing every morning, forcing your brain to clarify it in writing, what are those top three priorities, that is – for me, that’s been a game changer. It’s allowed me to make massive progress on these goals that once were just fantasies that I never even thought – really believed I could accomplish.

Like making a documentary, that was a fantasy. I didn’t know how to do that. Now we just debuted at a film festival. That will come out probably later this year.

A lot of that is because of – it’s all because of the SAVERS. It’s all because of this process reinforcing the beliefs through meditation, through silence, and affirmations, and visualization, and all of these practices all combine to really create optimal physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual kind of capacity every day that will allow you to become the level ten person that you need to be, if you will, on a scale of one to ten, to create the level ten life that you want, that I believe that all of us really deserve.

Pete Mockaitis
That is beautiful. Thank you. Well, Hal, tell me, anything else you want to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Hal Elrod
The point is that the SAVERS, any one of them will change your life, but if you implement – try them all for a month. I would say do the 30-day challenge, the Miracle Morning 30-day challenge, do them all for a month, either 5 minutes each for a half an hour total routine or 10 minutes each for an hour routine.

Then you’ll have real experience to go, “Okay, do I want to keep doing all 6 of these?” Maybe only 4 of them really resonated with you. You only want to do 4. Maybe 4. It could be 5. I don’t know. But try them all and see what happens. It’s pretty life changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now could you share with us a favorite book?

Hal Elrod
Favorite book is – well, it’s this book – one of my favorite books is called Vision to Reality. In fact, let me give you two. They’re by the same author. I just got her new book. Vision to Reality is her first – I think it was her first book. Oh no, it’s her second book by Honoree Corder.

Her new book is called Stop Trying so F*cking Hard Live Authentically, Design a Life you Love, and Be Happy. It’s in my hand right now. I’m reading. I’m about halfway through. I am loving this book. She’s a great author. She’s written like 25 books. Her original Vision to Reality has been my favorite for a long time, but I think the new one might surpass that. It’s called Stop Trying so F*cking Hard.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Hal Elrod
Favorite tool would be that app I mentioned earlier, the Five Minute Journal app. That’s one of my favorite. I put one picture every day and it allows me to capture my life every day for the past few years that I’ve used it. Reflecting on that is really meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Hal Elrod
The biggest thing is we all usually have this monkey on our back of urgency, like, “Man, I want to be where that guy is or where she is.” “Man, I have all these goals and dreams; I want to be there now.” It creates this feeling of scarcity, where we’re not where we want to be.

What I found, not only in my own life, but studying other people is that any time you find yourself wishing or wanting that you were further along than you are, just realize that when you finally get to the point that you’ve been working so hard for so long, you almost never wish it would have happened any sooner.

Instead, you look back and you see the timing and the journey were perfect. All of the adversity, all of the challenges, it all played a part in you becoming the person that you needed to be to get where you want to go. If you can take that hindsight and bring it into your life now, use that to be at peace.

No matter where you are right now, no matter what’s going on, no matter difficult or whatever is going on, be at peace with where you are, every day, along that journey while you simultaneously maintain a healthy sense of urgency to take action every day to get where you want to go. But don’t get there out of a feeling of stress, and anxiety, and I’m not where I want to be, just embrace where you are.

If you’re alive, you’re perfect. No matter what’s going on around you, all that matters is what’s going on inside you. Be at peace with where you are and take steps every day to get where you want to go.

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

Hal Elrod
Go to MiracleMorning.com. That’s probably the best place. There’s a bunch of resources there. You can put in your name and email and get the first few chapters of the book for free. You can get – it comes also with an audio training for free on the Miracle Morning, a video training for free. Of course, the book on Amazon you can get the audio book, the paperback, the Kindle. That’s probably the best place to buy it.

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

Hal Elrod
Yeah, here’s the thing, to be awesome at your job, I think to be awesome at anything, it’s really about who you are as a person. There’s so many components to that. There’s your knowledge, your emotional intelligence, your physical energy, the enthusiasm that you bring. There’s many components to who you are.

To me that’s what the Miracle Morning is. It’s dedicating time every day to become better. Not that there’s anything wrong with you, but we all have unlimited potential as a human being, if you want to get better at your job, become a better version of you, dedicate time to your personal development.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be in the morning. You can do a miracle evening if you wanted. Just dedicate that time so that every day you become better than you were the day before. You become more knowledgeable, you lower your stress, you increase your belief in yourself, your confidence. All of the things the Miracle Morning does for you, you do that every day and you can’t help but bring a better version of you to work every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Hal, this has been a real treat. Thanks for unpacking this and giving some finer distinctions. I wish you and the Miracle Morning and documentary and all your up to tons of luck.

Hal Elrod
Pete, man, I appreciate you. Thank you so much for having me on. For those of you listening, I love you. I appreciate you. Thank you for tuning in and please leave a review for Pete on iTunes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.