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586: Insights on Working from Home’s Largest-Ever Experiment with Nicholas Bloom

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Nicholas Bloom says: "Working from home is going to be here for a long time... we're in the long haul."

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom shares insights from the largest study on working from home to show how to adjust to the new world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key findings from the largest study on working from home
  2. What the ideal work from home week looks like
  3. Why this isn’t the end of the office

 

About Nicholas

Nicholas (Nick) Bloom is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University, and a Co-Director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on management practices and uncertainty. He previously worked at the UK Treasury and McKinsey & Company. His work has been covered in a range of media including the New York TimesWall Street JournalBBCEconomist and Financial Times.

On the personal side he is English living with his Scottish Wife and American kids – a multi-lingual English household on Stanford campus.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicholas Bloom Interview Transcript

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

Nicholas Bloom
Very happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to get into your wisdom in the world of working from home. And I understand that when you’re working from home, one issue that presents itself frequently is the bagpipe playing in the house. What’s the story here?

Nicholas Bloom
Well, before this podcast started, it was delayed by about 5 or 10 minutes as, Pete, I did not know just from trying to ask my older son who was practicing the bagpipe next door. My wife is Scottish. In fact, my mother is Scottish too, so there’s quite a lot of bagpipe activity going on in our house, and it’s just unbelievably noisy. You may think it’s romantic when you hear it outside the tower of London or something or Edinburgh Castle, but when it’s in your house and it’s over and over again, the same song being played repeatedly with like a different mistake each time.

So, yeah. And I live out in California and it’s a wood-built house because of the earthquake risk but, unfortunately, it has no sound insulation so I think it’s not just me that’s tortured by the bagpipe, I think most of my neighbors in the street can hear the same thing. But, you know, it does highlight, I think we’ll come onto it, the challenges of working from home right now with our kids in the house.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, it’s funny, I think with the bagpipes, I’m thinking about an episode of Better Call Saul in which he was trying to get himself fired one of the things he did was play the bagpipes in the law office, and it contributed to getting him fired. So, that’s a little take-home message for being awesome at your job is be careful about playing the bagpipes in the office if that were an issue for anybody, that’s covered.

Well, we’re talking about working from home. You did quite the study on working from home. I’d like it if we started there and then we fast-forward to the current situation where there’s a lot of working from home going on. It’s a little bit different. So, could you tell us the tale of your Ctrip study?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes. And I should say, actually, for anyone listening that has an intransigent manager or maybe other partners in your business that are anti working from home, you should feel free to forward on the TEDx Talk that I gave, it’s on YouTube, that I received many emails from people that’s saying, “You know, my manager, she didn’t believe working from home, and so I sent her.” So, I’ll tell you the story, and it’s really, this is the summary of the video.

So, back in 2010, I teach in Stanford University, I’m the professor there, and I had someone in the back of my class who turned out quite amazingly to be the co-founder of a huge Chinese multinational, Ctrip. It’s listed on NASDAQ. It’s worth about $15 billion. The guy was called James Liang, and he basically founded this company, and he was worth almost a billion dollars at this point. He decided to kind of step back and become the chairman and take a Ph.D.

But Ctrip had this big challenge which is they’re in Shanghai, their headquarters, and they were growing very fast but they were struggling to keep up with office space, so as they grew they didn’t want to have to spend huge amounts of money on very expensive Shanghai office space. So, working with them, he set up what’s called a randomized control trial on working from home. So, quite explicitly, they asked a thousand people in the firm who wanted to work from home four out of five days a week, 500 of them signed up, it’s already indicative that 500 people did not want to work from home.

And so, sticking with the 500, they then formally randomized them home to office over the next nine months. So, James on TV, in front of a huge crowd, pulled a ping-pong ball out of an urn and it said, “Even,” and everyone with an even birthday, so if you’re born on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, etc., tenth of the month, worked from home for the next nine months. And if you’re odd, so like me, I’m the fifth of May, you stayed in the office. And it was a way to scientifically evaluate the impact of working from home on these employees.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, I mean, that’s pretty thorough as far as exploring this phenomenon goes. I mean, it’s better than an office of eight people, said, “Hey, let’s give this a shot for a few weeks and see how it goes.” No, no, we’ve got some randomization, we got a large sample size. Tell us, what happened?

Nicholas Bloom
So, yes, on thorough. I mean, as far as I’m aware, it’s still, to date, the only large-scale scientific evaluation of this. My father actually does drugs testing, so it’s very much modeled on the way you would test a drug before you roll it out formally. The Federal Drug Administration requires formal randomized control trials.

So, what did we find? We found four key things. The first was, quite amazingly, working from home significantly improved performance. So, performance of home-based workers went up by 13% which is huge. That’s like almost an extra day a week, completely against what Ctrip expected.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about, now, in Ctrip, this is a travel agency. And how are we measuring performance in that context?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. They’re not professionals in the sense that they’re not managers. They’re people that are making telephone calls, making bookings, so in that sense, it’s very easy to measure performance because you can look at the number of calls and bookings, they actually have quality metrics. The downside we’ll come on to later hopefully in the podcast is, of course, they’re not creating new content. And so, working from home is more challenging for that. In terms of executing, we had amazing performance data.

And so, in terms of basically total phone calls since the quality is unchanged and for the bookings, that was up 13% which is huge. And then you ask, “Where did this improvement come from?” Well, of the 13%, about a quarter, so 3.5%, came from the fact they were just more productive per minute. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups, the stories they would tell us is, “Look, it’s just quieter at home.” And the story that resonated with me in particular is this woman that said, “You know, in the office, in the cubicle next door to me, the woman, she, like, clips her toenails in the office and it’s disgusting.”

Pete Mockaitis
Every day? How much toenail have you got? Maybe weekly or bi-weekly.

Nicholas Bloom
And she has obviously very finely-clipped toenails. And the woman said, “She thinks I don’t notice but I tell you, I notice. I see her picking up that clipper and putting it below the desk,” or there’s a cake in the breakout, or a world cup sweepstakes. So, I’m sure, everyone listening has plenty of experience of why it’s noisy in the office. And, believe it or not, on average, people are actually focusing better at home.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a quarter of them just cranked out more work in the same per minute.

Nicholas Bloom
Yup, they were more efficient. So, that’s a quarter of that. And then you’re like, “Well, where did the other three got the uplift?” So, the majority is they’re actually working more minutes. So, I should be clear, for this group, it’s not that they used their commute time because they’re actually on shift work so they’re supposed to be 9:00 to 5:00 Mondays through Fridays. What you see is in the office, they don’t actually start work at 9:00, they often start working at 9:10 because the bus is late, or the motorcycle breaks down, or they take long lunch breaks, they take long tea breaks, they even take longer to get to the toilet. So, just quite practically at home, the toilet is in the room next door. In the office, you’ve got to walk a long distance.

And so, that explains about half of the uplift. So, they’re basically working more minutes per day, they’re working their full shifts. Then the remaining quarter is they’re working more days because they take less sick leave. And, again, when we interviewed people, they’d say, “You know, often, I wasn’t that sick when I took that day off. I just wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to come in and suddenly get worse, but when I was working from home, now, I actually just kept going.”

And sometimes they’d say, “By lunchtime, it got worse and so I’d stop, and other times I’d work the day.” Or, there were other stories we’ve heard about, they say things like, “I wasn’t sick at all but I needed to have the cable repair guy come, so I took a day off.” So, collectively, performance was just massively up 13%. It’s a huge increase. So, that was fact one.

Fact two, again, very positive was quit rates are halved. So, for Ctrip, quit rates and churn is a huge problem. They had 50% of their staff leave every year. So, for anyone that’s listening, ever recruited or trained somebody, you know how painful that process is, they then turn around and nine months later leave. So, their quit rate from 50% down to 25% from home-based workers. And the reason was, again, they just said, “We’re happier,” on average like working from home.

The third finding, which is the one negative piece, is promotion rates also dropped. They dropped to almost half, so that’s kind of worrying. And, in fact, we interviewed them and three different drivers came out. One was the most obvious, the most worrying, is that out of sight, out of mind, “I’m at home. My manager has forgotten about me. I’ve been passed over.”

A second version of that was we heard it more from managers actually, said, “Look, you kind of got to be in the office, to some extent, to pick up on the office culture, to know what’s going on, to know what your colleagues are doing, to understand the strategy.” And so, that time it may feel like wasted chatting and lunch and coffee, actually some of it is quite valuable and is an input into management.

And then the third possible story we heard a bit, the least of all, is occasionally people will tell us they actually turn down being promoted because they didn’t want to come back into the office, “I so enjoy working from home, I turned it down.”

Tips for people that are full-time working from home, or four out of five days a week, if the rest of the office is in the office, with COVID everyone is at home so we’re all on equal footing, but if you’re the only person full-time working from home, I think there is some risks of being passed over for promotion. And then, I should say the final finding, which again is very relevant to policy, was at the end of the nine-month experiment, Ctrip was incredibly happy. So, profits went up by $2,000 per person per year, so they were like, “This is great.” So, they rolled it out to the whole company but they also let everyone involved in the experiment to reoptimize.

So, all these people who have decided to work from home or not, they’ve been randomized. Basically, a year later, they said, “Well, look, it’s work, but you can change your mind every other day, but you can change your mind.” And as it turned out, around 60% of people actually changed their minds. There’s a huge number of people who previously wanted to work from home who’d told us, “Look, it gets very lonely, it gets very isolating,” or they fell victim to one of the three great enemies of working from home, which are the fridge, the bed, and the television. They came back into the office, and other people said, “Oh, I actually saw my colleagues work quite well at home and I’d like to instead come in and move home myself.”

So, there’s enormous churn. And what we saw in the data was when you let people choose, their performance uplift from working from home went up to over 20%. What’s going on is people that tried it out and it didn’t work that well, came back into the office, and people that tried it out and it really did work, they can deal with the loneliness and isolation and performed well, they stuck at home. So, the final lesson is choice really matters.

I’ll talk about it later, I’ve been running a lot of surveys currently on the COVID on people’s preferences in working from home, and there is a huge variation. So, younger people without kids tend to want to go in the office most days. Older people with kids tend to want to work from home most days. Very few people want to do all at home or all in the office, and people often change their minds. They just don’t know how they’re going to like it. So, choice is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, well, thanks for giving us the rundown, and that’s interesting. That expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill,” it’s like, “The grass is greener 60% of the time on the other side of the hill according to this study.” And that’s really striking in terms of, yes, we’re in a bit of a different context now. Not as many people looking to have the evidence to make the pitch to be allowed to work from home, but tuck this away for when the time comes and you want more of it, we’ve got those evidence points.

So, let’s fast-forward to here, now, today. Choice isn’t so much something that’s working to our advantage anymore. Many of us are in a place where it’s like that is the only option is you will be working from home in the midst of the pandemic. So, tell us, what’s the latest you’re finding with your surveys, and how we’re dealing, and how maybe we can deal better?

Nicholas Bloom
Sure. So, right now, it’s just the total change from before. So, working from home, I think, there’s really three phases, and we’re in the middle phase. So, there was before COVID, and before COVID, around 5% of working days were full-time at home, so that’s pretty rare. In fact, only 15% of Americans even ever worked from home, so most people didn’t get to even have a single day working from home. So, 15% of us did and, on average, we were spending one in three days at home. So, pretty unusual.

If you look at who was doing it, it’s pretty varied by gender and age. They tended to be graduates, basically, managers, professionals, graduates. Now, under COVID, as everyone can appreciate, it’s very different now, 40% of working days are at home, so there’s an eightfold increase. In fact, if you look at the other 60% of the labor force, they’re roughly equally split between people working on business premises and those that are not working. So, actually, more than half of people that are currently working are actually working from home. The U.S. economy is like a working from home economy. But it’s very, very challenging. It’s not a great scenario.

So, the four big challenges right now, there’s kids. I have four kids myself and, as we discussed earlier, they’re playing instruments. My youngest, she’s four, she keeps bursting into the room. That’s really hard. Facilities, I’m actually in a spare room so I’m kind of lucky. I’m in the minority of Americans that have their own private room that isn’t a bedroom, but in survey data, 51% of people are basically sharing rooms or in a bedroom. Or another two-thirds of people have great internet. The remaining third have problems with internet, so facilities are a big issue.

The third issue right now is choice. So, basically, anyone working from home, they didn’t get the choice, “The office just closed and we’re going to send you home.” And it turns out, that’s a big issue because a lot of people really don’t like working from home. And then the final challenge right now is we’re doing it full-time, which, before COVID, it was really rare, so only 2% of people ever work from home full-time. Now, it’s 40%. It’s very isolating.

Interestingly enough, in China, in the Ctrip experience, the period we’re in now, which is about three months in, was actually the best period. It’s when people are the happiest. It’s like the euphoric honeymoon period. So, I’ve been talking to dozens of firms and individuals over the last two-three months because I basically spend about most of my time working on working from home. Firms are generally very positive, but I fear it’s going to wane a little bit as we roll on. So, that’s now very widespread, but it’s not great.

The sweet spot is looking ahead. So, right now, it’s funny you mentioned the evidence away of working from home. Right now, I’ve seen a number of companies that are thinking quite seriously about the long term. So, now, three months in, there’s major decisions. And you probably noticed, like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon have all made public statements about their long-run plans. And what’s by far the most common thing, which actually looks fantastic, is most firms have said, “Working from home is really great. We’ve very happy with it, and we’re going to extend it out even beyond the pandemic, and we are likely to let people do it part-time.”

So, the typical person, they get to work in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday, be at home Tuesday, Thursday, which, for many people, is the best of both worlds. You save a couple of days on commute, a bit less hassle, you got peace and quiet, but you see your colleagues throughout five days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of my sense. I’ve been working from home for about a decade in my running my business here, and I do get lonely at times, and would like colleagues at times, and have been tempted to pay for co-working space just to see people. But then what it really comes down to, it’s like, “Oh, man, but then I’ve got to commute out there and they don’t have a napping space right there.”

So, anyway. But I’d love to get your view, well, you mentioned it. I guess choice matters and people have different perspectives. Is there an optimal with regard to the days, one day, two days, consecutive, non-consecutive?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. So, I’ll give you three broad tips, and then I’d drill into the one that you want to hear most about. So, the three broad tips I’ve been telling firms, repeating, I think it’s becoming like a consensus. Every firm I talk to kind of affirms the same view. So, the first is part-time. I have lots of survey data, I won’t go through in details, but basically most people want to work from home something like one to three days a week. Only 20% of people want to work from home full-time, only 25% of people want to be in the office full-time. So, the vast majority of us want a mix. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

So, the first thing is part-time. The second thing is make it optional. So, I would strongly advise against forcing anything on anyone. You’re probably going to have to have some mandatory days in the office, so I wouldn’t probably let, in the long run, anyone be at home five days a week, but you may say, “Look, you can do anything from two to five days a week in the office, and how you split it is your choice.” And then, finally, I think it’s a perk, not an entitlement, which means if people goof off, you give them a warning. And if they goof again, you haul them back into the office. So, those are the three key tips.

On the first, coming back to the number of days, there are broad advices, something like Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, Tuesday, Thursday at home, and the whole team does it. So, the reasons for that are, firstly, the whole team is in Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so if you’re going to have a client meeting, or a lunch, or a presentation, or some kind of training event, you know everyone is going to be there. And if you’re taking that Tuesday and Thursday off at home, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. So, I think it’s important to coordinate.

Also, to your question, “Which days?” I would avoid having the whole team at home on Monday or Friday. It tends to generate the extended weekend and, in fact, I’d also try to avoid them being consecutive days. So, Tuesday, Thursday is kind of the best two days because you’re in the office every other day, so if something comes up, you can easily say, “Hey, let’s talk about it in person tomorrow. Let’s have a meeting tomorrow.” So, that’s probably the most likely scenario I see firms gravitating towards Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, everyone does that Tuesdays, Thursdays. It’s really a personal choice. And I guess maybe Wednesdays, potentially, but I would avoid actually what was common before the pandemic, having Friday the working from home day. It’s not really ideal.

Before COVID, the big challenge working from home is the stigma, the whole thing of working from home, shirking from home, that’s basically gone. But, even so, working from home on Fridays is not kind of the best message. If you’re going to take one day off, take a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you think that there’s a higher probability of the shirking actually happening when it’s on a Friday or Monday?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes, and also the perception isn’t as good. So, if you’re a manager, it’s hard. Perception is reality, they kind of merge one into another. But I really want to encourage working from home in an adult way. I mean, very few jobs are basically…there are two ways to evaluate some sort of performance. There’s what’s called inputs and outputs. Mature, graduate types of jobs, I assume pretty much all your listeners are based on you want to be evaluated in outputs, what you do, but you don’t want to be evaluated in inputs, “I’m assessed on the fact that I sit on my desk and look at computer screen all day.” That’s not really great. I want to be treated as an adult and left to kind of get on with stuff and plan my own work.

And, as part of that, I have to build trust. And one of the things is trying to avoid things that maybe look a bit suspicious. So, I would work from home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There’s no real…it’s very hard to argue for a Friday except for the fact it’s next to the weekend, and it makes it easier to go away for long weekends, and that’s just not a good signal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I’d love to get your take on when we are in this environment where, like it or not, working from home is what you’re doing, what are your top do’s and don’ts for helping us do some great output as well as be recognized and promoted and all those good things?

Nicholas Bloom
I came to the realization about three-four weeks ago, this is going to be the long haul. So, just to explain, Stanford University, my employer, has just announced that, effectively, all online teaching, and it looks like all conferences and seminars, so all teachings and conferences and seminars are going to be online probably till next summer. It’s not certain but I see us, we’re going to be in this for another year or so. And, for me, at that point, it became clear it was worth thinking about logistics of working from home, and so I went out and spent $150 on a better microphone,

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, when you booked this, you didn’t have that, and now you do.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I mean, we’re spending hours every day and our laptops are not designed for this. I actually dropped my main laptop. I’m on my old spare one.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean just ergonomically, like your hands and your neck and where you’re looking, is that what you mean?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, exactly. It’s like the working from home version of a nice suit, except it’s cheaper. I mean, $300 is cheaper than a nice suit and a pair of shoes so I would totally buy a webcam and microphone. I would also do a trial run on how you look on the camera. I was doing a TV interview and the woman on the…the reporter said, “You know, your glasses are reflecting a lot.” And it’s turned out I didn’t realize that. And I’d been fiddling around with this. It turned out, having a light source, you’re always told to look out the window so the light is shining onto your face rather than you’re like some dark shadowy silhouette. But there’s a second thing. So, that’s number one. Always, you want to have the light behind the camera so it lights you up.

But the second thing is trying to avoid it literally being directly behind the camera because then it reflects into your glasses back into the camera. You can’t see because I’m on a podcast, but I’m actually looking out a window but I put a cardboard screen that blocks light right behind the laptop, and I put lights on either side. So, I probably spent four or five hours a day on video. And in some sense, again, it’s creating positive touch. You want people to see your eyes, so if you’re wearing glasses, I don’t want to wear contact glasses. Pete has just taken off his glasses. He’s giving me very romantic looks over our video connection.

But I actually got a couple of lamps. Another thing I did is I tried, I put up a couple of pictures behind me. You know, there’s two ways to go I’ve noticed on video calls. One is to have a reasonably-looking background, in which case you have…you know, I had a messy room before, and this is a spare room, there’s a pile of junk in the background. So, I put up some pictures and tidied it up.

The alternative is to have a plain, like a white wall, or you can buy it. Just before the call, I was looking online on Amazon, and I think you can buy what’s called a green screen, just hang it up. That actually works much better for having one of those image backgrounds, say, on Zoom because Zoom finds it hard to tell it’s you versus a picture of you against a cluttered background. So, that’s another key thing.

There’s a bunch of other more minor tips for teams which is one of the downsides that comes up a lot on working from home is the lack of casual conversations. So, in particular, walking in and out of meetings, you know, I personally used to notice, I miss the lunches and coffees, also even just the meetings, the first couple of minutes I turn to colleagues and watercooler discussions. It’s hard to perfectly recreate that but the people have done this best, I’ve been trying to do this in my own research group, is to setup a time each week to talk to each member of my research. I do it for like 20 minutes. It’s a very deliberate one-on-one time. I’ve heard other managers, one manager I was talking to, said, “Look, I speak to every member of my team for five minutes at the beginning of each day just to check in on them. And if I need more time, I spend more time.”

And the upside about doing this online is it’s very easy to just have a scheduling talk, like Google Sheets, and you just say, “Write your name, and you sign the names up,” and they fill up, because it’s online, it’s easy to be punctual. And then in meetings, actually, I actually have my weekly meetings. Rather than have an hour discussion on work, we basically have 45 minutes. And the first 15 minutes, we go around the group of 12 of us. Each person talks briefly about something non-work-wise. Like, Cody, he’s been telling about his garden, and Anika has been telling me about he’s been doing puzzles, and B has been telling me about Netflix shows she’s been watching. It kind of brings it to life. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I think we need to be more deliberate about fostering some sort of discussion casually.

The final thing I’ve heard about is it’s important just to be more scheduled and organized. So, particularly with kids at home right now, you have to think about it’s not just you but also many people in your teams are having struggles with spouses and schedules whoever looks after the kids, so it’s useful to have regular schedules. So, you have someone in your team, their husband and they have two young kids, it’s much better for her if she knows that she’s going to be working 9:00 till 12:00, and she can be more relaxed in the afternoon. So, actually being more organized because there are more conflicts for our time for those who have young kids is a final tip, and I’ve heard that discussed a lot.

And, in fact, being particular, avoiding sprawls of meetings and emails that can easily extend out. The fact they’re at home doesn’t mean we can easily, “We’ll happy to have a meeting at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.” We should try and stick to the working day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s an excellent lineup. I’d love to hear, is there anything that we…I guess I asked for do’s and don’ts. I heard a lot of great do’s. Are there some don’ts in terms of like you’re seeing a mistake appear again and again and again, or there’s sort of a hidden risk or peril or danger that folks don’t know that they are overlooking? For example, you mentioned, I think it’s a great example there with that sort of the watercooler type talk, those informal bits of conversation. Like, they can just disappear if you’re not sort of mindful and thoughtful and planful to get them in there. Is there anything else that you think people are overlooking?

Nicholas Bloom
I mean, a bigger thing is don’t get rid of the office. So, I’ve had so many senior managers say, “Hey, this is the end of the office,” or, “We’re going to shrink our office down just to go through the economics of this.” I’ve written it down. If anyone in particular fears that their boss is thinking of closing the office, the points to think about is, one, right now, we’re really in the euphoric phase. As I mentioned, three months is exactly the wrong time to be deciding office closes. It’s like planning your life after the first date. You’re incredibly happy but you haven’t seen the bad stuff, so I would wait.

In China, in Ctrip, we saw three months was literally the peak, so it’s literally the worst time to be evaluating long-run. And, in fact, from talking to firms, there are some major upsides about in-person meetings. The first is creativity. It actually turns out, it’s much harder to be creative remotely. The second is inspiration. You know, it’s hard to remain motivated and inspired sitting in our bedroom. And, finally, there’s an issue of loyalty, I think, if you’re at home month in, month out, you feel a weaker connection to your firm. So, I really think we do want to be in the office two or three days a week.

Now, you might think, “Well, we can shrink the office now. We’re only in it three days a week. Even if we’re on the same days, maybe we need less space per person.” But you have to remember, social distancing has actually dramatically increased the square footage per person. So, the firms I’ve been talking to are talking about two to three times space per person. So, I’ve just finished a survey around a thousand firms in the U.S. The forecasts are actually for a slight increase in demand in square footage of office space. So, sure, we’re going to spend less days per week in the office, probably something like 15% less days, I estimate, but we maybe need something like 50% more space per person. So, I think getting rid of the office would be a huge mistake right now. It really would limit your firm’s ability to, obviously, go back to part-time. In person, it would cause problems of loyalty. It causes all kinds of issues.

The other mistake, or the other piece of advice, I guess, is to location is going to remain as it is. There’s huge evidence to show we are shifting pretty radically out of skyscrapers into industrial parks. So, skyscrapers have a huge issue, which is, one, mass transit. How do you get to the front door? And the second is elevators. How do you get from the front door up to your desk? So, we think about a normal high-rise, it takes something like two-three square feet of space to put one person. In a crushed elevator, you basically, if you think of a person, they’re about a foot by two-foot. If we need six feet distance between us and the next person, that’s a circle of radius 6 foot. That’s about 100 square feet. So, that makes elevators just completely unfeasible.

So, from firms I’ve been talking to, there’s an enormous charge to think, “You know, we need all this space. What are we going to do? We’re going to think about moving out into industrial parks, maybe take over old leases of shops that have gone bankrupt, maybe gyms that have closed down, etc.” So, if you’re involved in that side of the office, the mistake would be to shutter the office. The advice is to think about actually where you want to be when you return to work six to nine months from now. And I think it could well be an industrial park where you can drive to or walk up a couple of stairs to get to your desk.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. Thanks. Well, now, can you share with us a few of your favorite things? Let’s start with a favorite quote. What’s something you find inspiring?

Nicholas Bloom
I heard a great quote the other day from Satya Nadella who’s the CEO of Microsoft. I had exactly the same thought, I was thinking, which is, he said, “You know, the thing I really miss in the office is those two minutes at the beginning and the two minutes at the end of every meeting when I get to turn to the person next to me, chat to them and say, ‘How are you doing?’” I feel the same thing. It’s not the meeting itself, it’s the before and after I miss, the personal interaction.

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

Nicholas Bloom
It’s hard to think of an individual one. Sticking to the topic of working from home. Upwork had a great survey came out recently showing how 90% of firms are actually very surprised that they’re very positive about working from home.

As I mentioned, I just caution about swinging from one extreme to the other. It feels a bit like if you have kids, you know how kids just they go so extreme, they’re like, particularly young kids. My four-year old goes from like unbelievably happy to minutes later in tears and floods. It feels like that’s a bit like the journey of working from home. So, now, we’re loving it. I think that’s great. There’s lots of evidence on that. I would caution on loving it too much.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Nicholas Bloom
I saw this in preparation for the podcast. I have to say, embarrassingly, I don’t really read books that much. So, I devour the media. I read a lot. If you talk about media, I talk about the BBC, I read the New York Times. Such a devotion, I love the BBC. You can hear from my accent I’m a Brit, but it feels a bit more impartial to me and it has my…it keeps track of my sports, my Tottenham Hotspur, my UK football team. So, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really read books anymore, I’m afraid. I know that is not the correct answer to give but I guess it’s the only…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I mean, you shared the favorite things you read, and we’ll take it. And how about a favorite tool?

Nicholas Bloom
Right now, I’m really excited, as nerdy lame as it seems, by my new webcam.

Pete Mockaitis
It looks good.

Nicholas Bloom
My old laptop is kind of this grainy, crabby picture, and it got damaged. It wasn’t quite as bad. I have a hall of shame, which is just kind of a running joke with my colleagues and grad students. There’s a guy that has a webcam so bad he looks like some kind of ghost from Harry Potter. Isn’t quite there though. I was so excited just to finally get a clean crisp image. I always wondered how other people did it. I thought they just looked clean and crisp, but maybe that’s part of the story. I think they also have better technology.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we got to know, do you know the make, the model?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, it’s Logi…and if I look…oh, geez, it’s about $180. I know it is now sold out. Something like a CD920 maybe. What is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Logitech CD920-ish.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I think it was the CD920 high definition. And, also, the microphone is the Blue Yeti.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Nicholas Bloom
That’s about $140. Both of them I searched around online, and there was a bunch of reviews. The Blue Yeti was reviewed by someone in the Wall Street Journal as the best mic. That was it. They interviewed a sound guy that did the voices for the new Avengers stuff and various other movies, and he said, “Look, this is the best cheap serious microphone out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
I agree that the Blue Yeti is excellent so long as it’s not an empty echo-y room, and yours is working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Nicholas Bloom
I picked up a lockdown habit which is juggling a soccer ball, a football as I call it. So, my 11-year old daughter plays in a soccer team, and she’s been told by her coach, because they’re not playing anymore because of the lockdown, to try and juggle, like kick it up easy, keep the ball kicking in the air. So, I couldn’t do that at all, I have to say, until about four months ago, but I can do like a hundred which is very therapeutic because you’re entirely concentrating on it. There’s no email, no phones, no kids actually, because everyone knows to avoid dad where he’s obsessively juggling the soccer ball, but I quite like it.

I wouldn’t say it’s high exercise but after 20 minutes of it, I feel refreshed and energized. So, if I have too many Zoom meetings in a row, and I have a half-hour break, I may go out into the garden. There’s a bit of fresh air. I may go out and try and juggle a soccer ball one. It’s something like that, something kind of absorbing. But I used to find mowing the lawn was similar like that, I’ve a very good lawn. But no one would come near me because you’ve got this large heavy piece of equipment making huge amounts of noise, so there was no phone, no email, no children. But, yeah, that’s my favorite hobby right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, it resonates with people, and they quote it back to you a lot?

Nicholas Bloom
You know, I have become the working from home guy just because the TEDx Talk, coming back to the beginning of the podcast, is very pro working from home. And so, it’s useful if you have a manager that’s skeptical, or an owner that says, “Oh, as soon as the pandemic is over, we’re going back to full-time in the office.” And because of that, I’m kind of known for being pro working from home.

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

Nicholas Bloom
To my website. The easiest thing to do is just to type Nicholas Bloom into Google and it should come up as the top hit. I’m at Stanford University. So, if you type Nick Bloom Stanford, it will come up.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Nicholas Bloom
I think just stick with it in the sense that I think working from home is going to be here for a long time. So, just the realization we’re in the long haul, and investing in equipment, investing in setting things up, and your schedule. We can make this work as society is actually part of the fight against COVID. One of the most effective and important things is we can work from home because the economy can keep going while we socially isolate. And it does need everyone, I guess, to give it their best shot and help other people in your firm do the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nick, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Nicholas Bloom
Hey, Pete, thanks very much for having me on the show.

533: How to Identify and Eliminate Friction with Roger Dooley

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Roger:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Freshbooks!

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

Roger Dooley Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
The happy face?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

483: How to Take Control of Your Attention with Nir Eyal

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Nir Eyal says: "It's not good enough to know what we should do... It's also about knowing what we should not do."

Nir Eyal identifies the surprising reason why we get distracted and how you can overcome it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why mainstream productivity advice doesn’t work
  2. The four steps to becoming indistractable
  3. The real motivation for all human behavior

About Nir

Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review dubbed Nir, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.” Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. He is the author of the bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming ProductsIn addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business ReviewTechCrunch, and Psychology TodayNir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include: Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), EventbriteAnchor.fm, and many others. Nir attended The Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nir Eyal Interview Transcript

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

Nir Eyal
It is so good to be back. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’ll have a lot of fun talking here. It’s funny, your book wasn’t even close to out but we were already talking about it last time. So, I’m excited to dig into greater detail here.

Nir Eyal
Yeah, me, too. Well, what can I tell you? We got a lot to talk about since last time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we do. But, first, I need to at least touch upon your habit of running barefoot in New York City. What is this? Isn’t that gross and dangerous?

Nir Eyal
Oh, yeah. This is weird, right? Let’s see, so a few years ago. First of all, I want you to know, I have, for almost my entire life, hated physical activity of any sort, shape, or form.

And then I read this book called Born to Run which is this book that explores or has this hypothesis that. The way we actually kill the animals wasn’t by arrows and spears at first. It was that we evolved the ability to run after our prey. And, in fact, our people in Africa still, to this day, who do what’s called subsistence hunting, they run down animals, and that’s their dinner.

A long way of saying, I just thought that was super cool, and I thought, “Well, if that’s how we were born to run, right, to borrow from the title of this book, well, maybe I’ll give it a shot.” And part of the reason I always hated running was that I constantly had knee pain and joint pain and shin splints, and I decided to, first, use minimalist shoes, very, very soft, very, very small-soled shoes. And then I actually moved to barefoot-barefoot, like nothing on my feet, and this is the first time that I have run without pain. I still get winded, right? I run for a long time, or I run fast, but I don’t have anymore muscular pain or joint pain.

And so, I’ve been doing it for about four years now. And I moved to New York City a few years ago, and I kept it up around here, believe it not. I get a lot of funny stares and funny looks but, thankfully, haven’t had any injuries.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. I guess I’m just imagining, no offense to New York, coming from Chicago, like a broken 40 bottles on the sidewalk, and “Argh.”

Nir Eyal
You know, what we’ve done here. You know, Indistractable, my new book, has so many pearls of wisdom. Now that people have heard this crazy thing I just told you, they’re not going to listen to anything else I say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, credibility shot.

Nir Eyal
Exactly. This is not what the book is about at all. But I think if there’s one thread that does run through a lot of different things I do, is that I love to challenge convention, right? I love to overturn apple carts. And in an age where, you know, the entire time I’ve grown up, I’ve always been told that we need lots of cushion beneath our feet in order to protect us and help us run faster. And Airs and Reeboks, they all tell us that that’s what’s needed.

And so, I just really love this way that actually turns out that these thick-soled shoes may actually be part of the problem for a lot of runners, not for everyone, right? If you like to run and you like a lot of cushion and you’re not having any pain or discomfort, well, then good on you. Keep doing it. But, for me, it wasn’t working and I tried something else. And, in my case, it was running shoeless.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Nir Eyal
And, by the way, I don’t run everywhere in New York. Like, there are paths that you can run on where it’s relatively clean and relatively safe.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you’ve never had a nasty shard of anything get wedged into your foot and cause it to bleed?

Nir Eyal
Don’t jinx me, bro. But so far so good. No, I’ve never had anything. Because what’s interesting about the way we run is that if you run correctly, you should land very softly on the ground.

When you run without shoes, you actually can’t run incorrectly. It hurts. You feel it immediately. You get this feedback right away. And so, I don’t land very hard on the ground. It’s amazing how our feet have evolved to prevent injury.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m satisfied.

Nir Eyal
Take my word for it. You don’t have to do it. It’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so you’ve been putting a lot of time in research into this notion of becoming indistractable. Can you share with us kind of why did this become a passion point for you and you’ve chosen to invest your energies here?

Nir Eyal
Yeah, so I wrote Hooked about five years ago, this book which was subtitled “How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” And that book is really about this question that I had at the time of, “How do we get people to use our products and services?” So many products and services out there are wonderful, they’re great, they improve people’s lives, if they would only use them.

And so, I wanted to understand the psychology behind how some of the world’s most habit-forming products do what they do, right? How do companies like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and WhatsApp and Snapchat and Slack, how are they designed to get us to keep coming back? And wouldn’t it be great if we could take that same secret sauce and apply it to all sorts of products and services, right, to build healthy habits?

And so, that’s what Hooked was all about. I’ve looked for this book, I couldn’t find it, so I decided to write it myself. I taught for many years at Stanford at the Graduate School of Business, and at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and that was the subject of my first book.

Now, shortly after that book was written, about a year and a half, two years after that book was written, I found that my behavior was changing in ways I didn’t always like, to be honest with you. I remember this one occasion, I was sitting with my daughter, and we had this afternoon together. And we had this book of activities that daddies and daughters could do together. And one of the activities was to ask each other this question, and I’ll never forget the question. The question was, “If you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want?”

And I remember the question but I don’t remember her answer because when she was telling me the answer to this question, I was busy on my phone. I was checking some bit of internet nonsense. And so, that’s when I realized, “Wait a minute, I wrote the book on how to build habit-forming technology, I understand the guts of how these companies do what they do, I teach companies how to build healthy habits, and yet, here I am, getting unhealthfully hooked myself.”

And so, I thought, “Wow, if I’m struggling with this, then I bet a lot of other people are struggling with this as well.” And this was several years ago. But, now, we definitely see that. At the time when I wrote Hooked I had to convince people that Facebook and Slack and WhatsApp and Instagram and all these products didn’t just get lucky, that, in fact, they were designed with consumer psychology in mind, that consumer psychology really matters, that these people understand what makes you click and what makes you tick better than you understand yourself.

Today, I don’t have to sell that anymore. People know this is true and, if anything, the problem is we overuse these technologies. So, that’s when I decided, as I do in the case of every time I have an idea for a book, I read everything I could possibly find on the topic of distraction, of psychology, of addiction. And what every other book said, the conventional wisdom, what we all hear today is that technology is the problem, that these companies are addicting us, that it’s melting our brain, that it’s hijacking us.

And the more I dove into that psychology, I realized it wasn’t actually true. Not only that, not only was it not true, it didn’t work, right? They all basically say the same thing. They say, like, basically the problem is technology, right? Cut it out of your life, do a digital detox, go on a 30-day whatever retreat, just get it out of your life, and that’ll solve the problem.

So, I did that. I followed the advice. I did what they told me, I went on a digital detox, I bought a feature phone that didn’t have any apps on it, I bought a word processor on eBay from the 1990s, they don’t even make them anymore, but has no internet connection, and that’s what I used to do my writing, and it didn’t work because I still got distracted.

I would start to write, and writing is really hard for me, it doesn’t come naturally, and I would say, “Ah, this is really hard. Maybe I’ll just read this book on the bookcase for a few minutes because that’s kind of related to my work,” or, “My desk needs organizing,” or, “I should probably take out the trash.” And I found myself constantly getting distracted, and that’s a big problem because, the fact is, if you want to do creative, in my field it’s writing, but no matter what creative endeavor you want to do, without focus, without doing what it is you decide you’re going to do, nothing gets done, right? All of your amazing genius ideas stays stuck in your head. You have to produce.

And this idea that the technology was the problem, one, it didn’t work, two, it’s super impractical because my audience and I live online, right? I need these tools to reach people who might be interested and who could be helped by the work I’m doing. So, all in all, I just was really disappointed with the current solutions so I started diving to the psychology of, “Why do we get distracted in the first place?’ I mean, to me, that’s such a fascinating question.

Aristotle and Socrates had this question 2500 years ago, this question of akrasia, they called it, this tendency to do things against our better interest. So, the question is, “Why is it that despite the fact that we know what to do, we don’t do the right thing?” We all know there’s tons of self-help books in the nutrition space, and they all basically say the same thing, right? Like, we know how to get healthy. Workplace productivity, we know how to be productive, just do the work, right? We know how to have better relationships. Be fully present with those you love. Why don’t we do it?

And so, that’s really the question I seek to answer in Indistractable, “Why don’t we do we say we’re going to do? And what would life be like if we were indistractable?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s really juicy there. So, this is an ancient problem, the human being becoming distracted and pursuing things that are not in our best interest. So, the devices, I guess, Nir, you’re somewhat off the hook for addicting us all the more and destroying our lives. They are not 100% to blame and you’re sharing that is also, I guess, reduced as well. So, let’s hear it. What can be done with regard to this human tendency to defeat distractions, be they digital or otherwise?

Nir Eyal
Yeah. Well, I will tell you that in this day and age the technologies have gotten so good and so pervasive, as they have become more persuasive, that the world, if you don’t know these techniques, if you don’t become indistractable, they’ll get you. Not only that, they’ll get your work colleagues, they’ll get your kids. Like, the cost of living in an age where there is so many good things to explore, whether it’s online, whether it’s in social media, on YouTube, there’s so many interesting things to explore.

I don’t think it’s necessarily bad per se. it’s just that if you don’t have these techniques, it is easier than ever to succumb to distractions. So, it’s not your fault that these things exist. But here’s the sad reality. It is our responsibility. This stuff is not going away. And if you wait for legislators to do something about it, if you hold your breath waiting for the geniuses in Washington to fix the problem, you’re going to suffocate.

So, what I learned in this process is actually a very empowering and hopeful message, that we have more power than we know. That, in fact, by calling these things addictive, by thinking that they’re hijacking our brain, we are actually, ironically, making it so. It’s called learned helplessness. That when we say, “Oh, those algorithms are hijacking my brain and it’s addictive.” Especially when people talk about their kids, by the way, it’s fascinating, right? They’re absolutely convinced that there’s nothing they can do about it, that these kids are just addicted to these video games.

And, in fact, there’s been many studies done on people who are actually pathologically addicted to various substances like alcohol, like the various drugs, and it turns out, the number one determinant of whether someone recovers after rehab is not the level of physical dependency, it’s actually their belief in their own power to change.

And so, that’s really the message. If there’s one message of this book, it’s to look at the root causes of distraction and then do something about those root causes, not the proximate causes, starting with, and this is kind of, I’ll just name the four parts of the indistractable model, then we can dive deeper into the parts that interest you.

So, the indistractable model has these four parts. So, I want you to kind of picture in your mind here a number line, right? So, it extends left to right, it extends out from and into infinity, let’s say, so you have this horizontal line on one side, and on the right side, we have traction. Traction is any action that you take that draws you towards what you want in life, okay? The word traction actually comes from the Latin trahere which means to draw towards. So, things that you do, actions you take that move you towards what you want in life.

What’s the opposite of traction? Distraction. Right, the opposite of traction is distraction. Distraction is anything you do that moves you away from what you want in life, right? So, it’s anything you do unintentionally. So, the idea here is I’m not going to be the moral police and tell you video games are bad, but watching a sports match is somehow good, right? If it’s something that you want to do, whether it’s check YouTube, look at Reddit, watch sports games on TV, whatever it is you want to do, if you plan to do that activity, that quote “the time you plan to waste is not wasted time.” As long as you plan to do that, it’s traction.

If it takes you off track, right, if you’re with your daughter like I was, and I plan to spend time with her, and then I get distracted with my phone, well, that took me off track, it made me do something I didn’t want to do, so that’s distraction. Okay, so that’s traction and distraction.

Now, you’ve got this horizontal number line. Now, imagine two arrows pointing to the center of that number line, and these two arrows represent the things that either lead us to traction or distraction. They are two types of triggers. We have external triggers and we have internal triggers. External triggers are the things that prompt us to action in our environment that move us towards traction or distraction. So, the pings, the dings, the rings, anything that moves you to traction or distraction.

What also moves us to traction or distraction is the internal triggers which aren’t around us, they’re not in our environment. These are cues to action that start from within us. And what’s probably the biggest revelation that I had writing this book in the past five years was that distraction starts from within because all human behavior, everything we do is not motivated for the reason most people think. Most people think that motivation is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. This is called Freud’s Pleasure Principle. Not true. It turns out we are not motivated by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Neurologically speaking, it’s pain all the way down.

All human motivation is prompted by a desire to escape discomfort. It’s called the homeostatic response. So, physically, if you think about, okay, you feel cold, you put on a jacket. If you’re hot again, you go indoors, you feel hot, you take it off. If you’re hungry, you feel hunger pangs, you eat. When you’re stuffed, okay, that doesn’t feel good, you stop eating. So, those are physiological sensations, this is called the homeostatic response.

The same is true to psychological sensations, right? So, when you feel lonely, what do you do? You check Facebook or maybe Tinder. If you feel uncertain about something, before you scan your brain, what do you do? You check Google. If you are bored, what do you do? You check Reddit or news or YouTube or all these different products to satiate that uncomfortable emotional state. Even the pursuit of pleasure, in fact. Desire is uncomfortable, right? There’s a reason we say love hurts, right, because even wanting something is psychologically uncomfortable.

So, this means, if we believe that all behaviors is prompted by the desire to escape discomfort, that means that time management is pain management. And if we want to do the things we say we’re going to do, in business, in life, in our creative endeavors, we have to understand how to master these internal triggers. So, that’s the first step. Master the internal triggers. The second step is make time for traction. The third step is to hack back the external triggers. And the fourth step is to prevent distraction with pacts. So, that’s basically the outline of this book. Lots of tactics, that’s the overall strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m fascinated by this principle here that it’s all pain avoidance and, I guess, you’re putting desire in the category of pain because I’m thinking, “Well, we certainly do things just for the fun of it.” Like, going on a honeymoon, I’m thinking.

When I went to Hawaii with my wife, it’s like there wasn’t something we were trying to escape. I mean, yeah, it was cold in Chicago but we were primarily thinking, “Oh, Hawaii. It’s going to be sunny and fun and enjoyable, and we’ll just get to be together.” So, I guess I’m just wrapping my brain around this notion that it is, in fact, all pain avoidance as opposed to pleasure seeking.

Nir Eyal
Yeah, so it’s a perfect example. So, why does the brain make us feel good, right? If the idea is that we have this pleasure response, we definitely have this response to pleasure. But, in fact, it turns out that we don’t do things because they feel good, we do things because they felt good in the past. We have a memory, an association that creates a desire, a longing, an uncomfortable itch that we seek to scratch because we have this memory of how it felt in the past. And that’s the driver. Even the pursuit of pleasure is itself an escape from discomfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing because I’ve had previous experiences of going on vacation or taking a break from responsibility and just hanging out with people and enjoy. Because I’m recalling that, I’m experiencing a desire, a form of discomfort, it’s like that is the thing I want, and I’m trying to escape that desire by doing it.

Nir Eyal
Right. Exactly. So, that longing, that wanting, that craving, is, in fact, what’s driving your behavior, driving your action.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued now, I’ve heard in the realm of marketing, for example, that it seems like it’s almost always a better pathway in terms of effectiveness to deal in pain as opposed to pleasure. So, I’ve read that before, I don’t know. You do a lot of research. Can you lay it on me some studies that point to this truth?

Nir Eyal
Yes, so it’s not that we create pain, that’s sadistic, right? We would never want to create pain in our customers. It’s that the role of all products and services is to scratch some kind of itch, right? If the customer doesn’t have any kind of discomfort, there’s nothing for us to do. They don’t need anything. So, if you’re cool, if you’re chill, you don’t need anything.

So, for example, I was on a flight, this is a terrific example of the point. I was on a transcon flight and there was a guy in the aisle seat across from me, and he was clearly passed out, he had the pillow under his neck, he had a blanket on, he was sound asleep. And the flight attendant comes by, and she says to him, “Sir?” He’s sleeping, he can’t hear, so she says it again, she says it a little louder, she says, “Sir?” He doesn’t wake up. Finally, she says it even louder, she said, “Sir!” He wakes up, he’s like, “Whoa, whoa, what is it?” She says, “What would you like to drink, sir?”

And this is a perfect example of, “Would he want a drink?” “Yes, when he’s thirsty, not when he’s asleep.” And so, this is a terrific example of how, yes, we want things, right, he would want that water but only if he felt the internal trigger, only if he had that thirst, and that drove his desire to ask for the drink. When he’s sleeping, he didn’t feel the internal trigger. He didn’t feel that pain point, and so he didn’t need anything to help him out in that circumstance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I’d love to talk about some of these internal triggers and pain management things on the inside because I think the external stuff, you’re right, I think we’ve hard a lot about, like put the technology away, avoid the temptations or distractions, lock it in another room or leave it in your bag or your car or whatnot. And I think I’m noticing more and more in my own life, it’s sort of like, “You know, if there is a bowl of chips in the kitchen, I will probably eat a chip. If there’s a bowl of grapes in the kitchen, I’ll probably eat a grape.”

And there you have it. It’s just that simple. It’s sort of like the environment itself is extending an invitation, “Would you care for a grape? Would you care for a chip?” It’s like, “Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I would. Thank you.”

Nir Eyal
If it’s right there, absolutely. So, this is called Lewin’s Equation, and we’ve known this for decades and decades now that our behavior is shaped by the person and their environment. So, the easier something is to do, the more likely people are to do it. So, if the external trigger is right there in front of you, it’s more likely that you will do that behavior. It doesn’t mean you’re powerless. And so, this is a super, super important point.

It is true that the world today is more potentially distracting than ever, and, by the way, it’s only going to get worse. If you think things are distracting now, wait a few years until we have virtual reality and God knows what else technologies we’re going to have. However, the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought.

So, as powerful as these technologies are, as powerful as these algorithms and these things that we’re carrying around with us everyday in our pockets, these minicomputers, as powerful as they are, we are more powerful if we plan ahead. If we don’t plan ahead, they’re going to get you, right? Just like that bowl of M&Ms, it’s going to be sitting there waiting for you. But we can plan ahead. We can take actions today that prevent us from getting distracted in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what are some of these most highly-leveraged actions we can take today to help ourselves in the future?

Nir Eyal
Yeah, so the first step has to be mastering these internal triggers that we talked about, that very first step. There’s only two ways to do that. We either fix the problem, we fix the source of the discomfort, or we learn methods to cope with the discomfort.
I give people lots of techniques that they can use that actually come from acceptance and commitment therapy, that come from a few other techniques. It really comes down to three things to master these internal triggers, to cope with these uncomfortable emotional states. It’s either reimagining the internal trigger, reimagining the task, or reimagining our temperament. And there’s all kinds of tools and techniques that we can use to do those three things.

One of the things we need to do, one of my favorite things that we need to remember, is not to believe these myths around our temperament. This is probably one of the most common self-defeating behaviors we see. You might’ve heard of this concept of ego depletion, this idea that your willpower is depleted, it’s kind of like a gas tank. This got me all the time. I used to come home from work, I’ve had a long day, I deserve to relax, so I switched on Netflix, and I’ve got no more willpower left, it’s been depleted so I’ll open up that pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

And it turns out, this idea that willpower is a depletable resource got a lot of credibility at some point, that there was some studies done a while ago now, more than a decade ago, but it turns out it’s not true, that these studies did not replicate. This idea of ego depletion is simply not true except in one case. That one case is when you believe it is true. So, if you were the kind of person who believe that they were spent, that their willpower is a limited resource, you behaved accordingly.

So, one of these lessons around reimagining your temperament is to stop believing these myths that you have an addictive personality, or you have a short attention span, or that your willpower is depleted, unless of course you actually do have a pathology, which is the case for some people but of course not the majority of people. But these traits, these beliefs that we have, that our temperament is somehow making us do these things are really self-defeating. We have to reimagine our temperament. That’s just one technique among many, many, many others in the book around mastering these internal triggers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you give me, perhaps, the most compelling study or evidence bit about willpower being depletable is a myth and, in fact, you can go on and on and on?

Nir Eyal
Right. So, the right way to look at it, so this is an idea that was proposed around it. If that’s the case, if willpower is not a depletable resource, then what is it? It turns out that willpower, and this was proposed by Michael Inzlicht. He said that willpower is simply an emotion. We wouldn’t say, “Oh, I was having a great time until I ran out of happy,” right? That’s ridiculous. So, we don’t run out of an emotion.

And so, similarly, that the antidote then is to not to give ourselves this excuse that we deserve a break, that we’ve run out of willpower, but rather that this is a passing feeling. And so, I give techniques in the book around how we can deal with these uncomfortable emotional states. Just like any internal trigger, we can use these techniques from acceptance and commitment therapy such as the 10-minute rule, which I use probably every single day.

The 10-minute rule says that when you’re about to give into something, right before whether it’s that piece of chocolate cake, or, “I’m just going to check out something on YouTube, or look at my email even though I’ve planned something else to do,” we give ourselves 10 minutes. Ten minutes to let ourselves feel that uncomfortable emotional state, try and get to the bottom of what’s creating that emotional state, boredom, loneliness, fatigue, uncertainty, whatever it might be. And then, in 10 minutes, if we still want that thing, we can give into it. So, that’s just one tactic among many.

In fact, I have people kind of track their distractions throughout the day so that they can figure out the three categories of, “Is it an external trigger that caused the distraction, an internal trigger that caused the distraction, or was it a planning problem?” The planning problems are the things that we didn’t properly plan for on our day. That’s probably one of the most common problems that I see these days, is that, in this day and age, if you don’t plan your time, someone else will.

And so, you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from, right? Think about that for a minute. How can we call something a distraction if we didn’t plan something else to do with that time, if we didn’t plan the traction in our day? So, I actually have an online tool that I built specially for this, anybody can access it, it’s free, where you can go and actually plan a template for your ideal week.

Now, it doesn’t mean you’re going to follow it rigidly, and if you go off track, you’re going to beat yourself up. No, no, no, that’s not the answer. The idea is that you have a template that you can look at and say, “Okay, what did I plan to do with my time, even if it is going on YouTube or Reddit or whatever, what did I plan to do with my time? And if I did anything that’s not that, that’s a distraction.” But you can’t do that unless you make time for traction, unless you do what I call turning your values into time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the reimagining there with the willpower consideration. And how do we do the reimagining of trigger attacks?

Nir Eyal
Right. So, reimagining the trigger is all about changing our perception of that uncomfortable emotional state. And this comes back to self-talk. A lot of people, when they feel these uncomfortable emotional states, they’ve been conditioned, because of many of these distractions all around us, to impulsively jump to it. And the idea, instead, is to reimagine how we think about those internal triggers so that when we feel the uncomfortable state, we tell ourselves a different narrative. And people tend to fit into two different kinds of narratives. I call it the blamers or the shamers.

The blamers say, “Ah, it’s the distraction doing it to me. It’s the technology’s fault. It’s doing it to me.” The shamers say, “Oh, there’s something wrong with me. There’s something wrong about my temperament,” as we talked about earlier. And the answer is neither of those things. The answer is that it’s not about blaming or shaming. These are actions that we take and our actions can take, or can change, that is.

So, if we respond differently to these internal triggers, if we see them as, “Okay, this is difficult, this is boring, this is hard. I’m stressed right now, but that’s how we get better.” That’s my path to improving this skill, for example. It’s a much healthier way to look at it. And then reimagining the task, I draw from the work of Ian Bogost who’s done this amazing research around how we can make anything fun. And he actually hates, you know, we probably remember as a kid, the Mary Poppin’s method of putting a spoonful of sugar on stuff, and he says, “That’s actually terrible advice,” that we don’t want to layer…

Pete Mockaitis
Sugar is unhealthy.

Nir Eyal
Sugar is terrible enough. Right. Exactly. And it’s a purely extrinsic reward. And we know the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. When something is extrinsically pleasurable, we don’t stick with it for that long. We do it just for the reward. That’s the only reason we do it. So, when you pay people, for example, to draw a picture, if you pay them, they actually draw less creative art than if you say, “Hey, just do your best at drawing something creative,” because if they’re doing it for the extrinsic reward as opposed to the pleasure of doing something creative.

So, what Bogost suggests is to focus more intently on the task, add constraints to the task, so that is, in fact, the element of fun. And fun, ironically enough, doesn’t have to be enjoyable. Now that sounds weird, right? Isn’t fun supposed to be enjoyable? Well, not necessarily. We can use this idea of fun, focusing more intently on something, looking for the variability, what changes in the task. We can look for those elements to help us focus. And if we can focus on something, we can stick with it longer, we become better at it, and we do our best work.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us an example of how you would add some constraints or find the variability to make it more enjoyable?

Nir Eyal
Sure. So, for example, in my work, so as a writer, writing is really, really hard. I constantly feel this internal trigger of boredom, of stress, “Is what I’m doing good enough?” And so, the idea here is that I want to focus on the task more intently. So, what I do, whenever I feel myself feeling stressed about my work, I, instead, look for the variability. And this comes straight out of the techniques that many of these tech companies are using to keep us engaged, right? It’s called the variable reward. What makes a slot machine engaging, what makes television something that we can’t stop watching, is the variability, the uncertainty.

So, in my work, for example, when I find myself getting bored or stressed about the work I’m doing, I try and reassess, “What is the mystery here?” I try and look for the uncertainty, and I add in my own variable reward, my own intermittent reinforcement. So, what drives me to do my writing, in my case, but, of course, it can be different for anyone’s case, is the uncertainty, the mystery. So, you have to add some kind of challenge that you can put into the experience that makes it variable. The variability is what keeps us engaged.

Actually, this is interesting. It comes back full circle to where we started the conversation around my crazy barefoot running habit. So, it turns out that our brains are built to look for these variable rewards. If you can imagine, what kept our primal ancestors hunting, what kept them running and running and seeking was, in fact, the variability, right? Where was the animal going to go? How fast was it moving? That was all these variable elements that are core to our DNA that keeps us hunting, that keeps us searching. So, we can harness that primal instinct by looking for the variability where it may not, on the surface, exist.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, your running example, when you’re trying to add variable rewards for yourself, what are you choosing? You’re just looking for the mystery and so what else are you doing?

Nir Eyal
So, I’m looking for the mystery and focusing more intently on the task. So, it becomes about, “How can I answer this question? Where will this lead me?” You can also add various constraints. Bogost calls this a sandbox, so to speak, that, in fact, the worst thing a writer can look at, the worst thing an artist can see is a blank canvass, or a blank page. And so, what you want to do is to try and add constraints, a time constraint, for example, some kind of constraint around how you’re working to add that sandbox element to reimagine the task.

Pete Mockaitis
So, time is one. What would be some other constraints?

Nir Eyal
Yes, so output can be a constraint as well that you add, “How quickly can I do this task based on how much output is created?” All sorts of ways. So, Bogost talks about how cutting his grass is a great example that I talked to him about. Cutting your grass is not something that you would expect to be very entertaining, right? That’s something that typically people find it a chore. Well, he got super into cutting his grass. He learned about which type of seed grows best in his particular climate, and the different mechanisms of cutting the grass. It seems totally ridiculous at first, until you realize that people can focus intently on all kinds of crazy stuff. Right?

Think about that car buff that can’t stop obsessing and thinking about his cars, right? They’re totally into it, right, because they focus more intently on it. Think about the barista who’s crazy about coffee, and he wants to know every little detail. Think about the person who’s a knitter and loves and is totally engaged with all the variability and the intricacies of creating something. Now, for most of us, these specific tasks are work, but for these people, they’ve harnessed the power of reimagining the task so that it becomes play, it becomes fun.

Now, by the way, everything I’ve just told you is only one of four parts. We didn’t get to how to make time for traction, how to hack back the external triggers, and how to prevent distraction with pacts. So, there’s lots more in this book, there’s a lot that we didn’t get to yet.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s intriguing to think that you can become fascinated by something that you previously were not fascinated by, and I guess you do so by focusing more intently and finding the mystery.

Nir Eyal
And it’s such a superpower. I mean, think about it, right? What if you could do that? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Like, what if you could make all sorts of tasks that are currently drudgery to you into something that actually holds your attention? To me, that’s just such a superpower as is becoming indistractable itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess it might help if you could maybe do a little bit of modeling of other people in terms of why is it you’re fascinated by knitting, and then they point out some things that you never noticed or thought of, and you go, “Oh, okay.” So, almost like you get a head start if you’re just really clueless about where to get going there.

Well, in our final minutes, I think there’s a couple things I need to cover. One, did you ever get the answer on your daughter’s preferred superpower?

Nir Eyal
Yeah. So, interestingly enough, I went back to her, as I was writing the book, and I actually was giving my first talk. The book wasn’t finished yet but I was asked to give a talk on what I’m working on these days so I decided to share some of the early findings from Indistractable. And I know my answer, my answer was, of course, I would want the superpower to become indistractable. I would want the power to always do what I say I’m going to do, to strive to have personal integrity. It doesn’t mean I’ll never get distracted. Being indistractable does not mean you never get distracted. It means you strive to do what you say you’re going to do.

But then I asked her, I sat down with her, and I said, “You know, I’m really sorry. I didn’t listen to what you said last time. I apologize. Can you tell me what your superpower would be because I’m going to give this talk and I’m really curious to hear what your answer would be?” And, honest to God, this is what she said, she said she would want the power to always be kind. That’s what she said. And, of course, I wiped my eyes, and I gave her a big hug because I was expecting her to say fly or be invisible, I don’t know, but she said to always be kind.

And I just thought that was so perfect because the fact is that being kind is not really a superpower, right? We all can be kind, can’t we, right? You don’t need to be born on some alien planet to have this power. Anybody can be kind. And the same goes for being indistractable. And that’s the message I really want people to hear with this book, is that when you understand the root causes of distraction, and you understand the techniques and strategies to manage distraction, anyone can have this superpower, anyone can become indistractable.

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

Nir Eyal
Here’s one of my favorite quotes, by William James, it’s, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” And I think that’s a really fantastic quote because what I found in my years of researching the psychology of distraction is that understanding distraction is an underutilized trait, it’s an underutilized skill because it’s not good enough to just know what we should do, right? That’s not good enough, is to know what to do. It’s also about knowing what we should not do.

How do we keep ourselves from getting distracted? Because, at the end of the day, we all know, big picture, what we should do in our day, how to get fit, how to have a better relationship. Big picture, we know the answers. And, yet, we don’t do them. Why don’t we do these things? So, I think this is a great quote, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook,” what we shouldn’t do, what we should not get distracted from.

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

Nir Eyal
Yes, so I think the challenge that I would ask people to consider is, “What is taking you off track?” Maybe I can actually give your listeners a tool, a distraction tracker, that I would challenge them to simply keep track, without judging, without beating yourself up, with being kind to yourself the way you would be kind to a friend. What is it that is taking you off track in your day? When you plan to do one thing, what are those things that distract you?

And just keeping that log, just keeping that record, and understanding that there are only three types of things that can take you off track, either it was an external trigger, an internal trigger, or a planning problem can help you start to categorize, and then effectively manage these distractions in your life so that you can make sure that you can use these technologies to empower you as opposed to being a slave to them, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nir, thank you. This is fun and I wish you all the luck in the world as you pursue your superpower here of perfect integrity.

Nir Eyal
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About David

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

David Allen Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Like all those cords and adapters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Allen
Right.

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

David Allen
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re inspired now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Allen
True.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

475: Achieving 50% More with 1% Effort Using the 80/20 Rule with Perry Marshall

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Perry Marshall says "In every career... there are these tiny little levers... tiny little hinges that swing big, big doors."

Perry Marshall explains how the 80/20 rule can help you exponentially leverage your time to achieve massive results.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What the 80/20 rule is—and how it’s misunderstood
  2. How you can achieve way more in just 5 minutes
  3. Why “procrastination demons” reveal your priorities

About Perry:

Perry Marshall is endorsed in FORBES and INC Magazine and is one of the most expensive business consultants in the world.

His reinvention of the Pareto Principle is published in Harvard Business Review. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs at the California Institute of Technology uses his 80/20 Curve as a productivity tool. 80/20 Sales & Marketing is mandatory in many growing companies.

Marketing maverick Dan Kennedy says, “If you don’t know who Perry Marshall is — unforgivable. Perry’s an honest man in a field rife with charlatans.”

He’s consulted in over 300 industries and served as an expert witness for marketing and Google AdWords litigation. Perry has a degree in Electrical Engineering and lives in Chicago.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

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Perry Marshall Interview Transcript

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

Perry Marshall
Peter, thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here. We’re going to have a fun conversation. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I definitely think we will. The 80/20 Rule is a point of passion for me. And I also discovered a point of passion for you. What’s the story behind your Evolution 2.0 prize? You put millions of your own dollars on the line here?

Perry Marshall
Well, I put a million of my dollars on the line and $9 million of other people’s money on the line is what I did. But I have a prize called the Evolution 2.0 prize. It’s one of the biggest technology prizes in the world, and it’s a $10 million prize. It asks a very specific question but it’s also a general question. The specific question is, “Where did the genetic code come from?” which sounds like, “Well, okay, I supposed that’s probably important but what does it have to do with me now?”

Well, if we figured this out, it will completely revolutionize all AI and technology and medicine because nobody really knows what is the spark that makes life life, right? We all know the difference between a live puppy dog and a dead puppy dog, right, but nobody really knows what makes those cells tick.

And so, I came to the conclusion that this is one of the most fundamental questions in science that can be precisely defined and so I went and raised money for it. And, in fact, a month and a half ago, we doubled the prize from 5 million to 10 million and made the announcement at the Royal Society of Great Britain. And the story was published in the Financial Times two days later and the video, by the time people get this podcast, the video will be out on the Voices from Oxford website which is a spinoff of Oxford University. So, yeah, I felt like this is so important, and if we solve it, if it solvable, it’s worth billions of dollars.

If somebody wants to understand that project, which is totally different than 80/20, you can go to Evo2.org and you can find out all about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s cool, it’s exciting, and I’m intrigued to see, yeah, what happens there. Yeah, that’s all I have to say about that. Good luck.

Perry Marshall
Yeah, I’m glad you asked. It’s a very exciting, interesting rabbit hole and I’m sure there’s a few people that’ll be very geeked out about it. so, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, let’s talk about the 80/20 Rule now. So, you mentioned in one of your videos about your book that other, I don’t know, books or speakers or experts, haven’t quite explained the 80/20 Rule properly. Could you offer for us your explanation and tell us where are the people falling short here?

Perry Marshall
Well, in fact, I think most of the world has gotten it quite wrong. So, the 80/20 principle says that 20% of what you do produces 80% of what you get, and the other 80% of what you do only produces 20% of what you get. So, it could be how you invest money, how you invest time, how you use people. It could be the volunteers at a church. It could be the production of salespeople in the sales department. It’s almost always 80/20.

And people have been writing about this for a century but almost all of them have missed something really important. So, first, let me just say, a lot of people have heard of it, and maybe they’ve heard the story of the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who figured out that in all the different countries he studied that 20% of the people had 80% of the wealth, and that’s true.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s true in sales, it’s true in business, it’s true if you’re advertising, 20% of your advertising money gets you 80% of the responses. And it’s true in like 20% of the carpet in your house gets 80% of the dirt and wear. And 20% of the rooms in your house is where people spend 80% of their time.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like the kitchen.

Perry Marshall
That’s right. And then there’s the refrigerator, so the refrigerator is the 20% of the 20%. So, this is the part that almost everybody missed, which is inside every 80/20 is another 80/20, and then there’s another one, and then there’s another one, and there’s another one. So, let’s say you got a church and it’s got a thousand members. Eighty percent of the volunteer work gets done by 20% of them which is 200, okay?

But then we can break it down again and it’s still true that 80% of the 80% is from 20% of the 20%. So, what that means is 64% of what gets done, gets done by 40 people, which is 20% of 200. But then it’s true again that 80% of the 80% of the 80% gets done by 20 of the 20 of the 20. Well, that means that half of everything that gets done in a church of a thousand people gets done by eight people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s that powerful.

Perry Marshall
Well, it’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
Appreciate the eight people.

Perry Marshall
It’s also true of the giving, okay? Eight people give half the money. So, it’s true of salespeople. If you hire 10 salespeople, two of them will outproduce the other eight, and you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just the law of nature. And so, it’s the clothes that you wear in your closet, and it’s the traffic on the roads in your town, and it’s the size of cheques that you write, and the size of charges on your credit card statement, and it’s income sources in your family or in your, let’s say you got a bunch of customers. It’s true almost everywhere.

It’s like gravity. And it’s probably the most useful generalization about life that I know. It’s incredibly powerful. Most people have never heard it explained the way that I’m explaining it.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of powers or the squaring or the cubing effect?

Perry Marshall
Right. So, okay, not only is it 80/20 but it’s also true that 4% produces 64%, 1% produces 50%. And so, in every career, in every budget, in every organization, there are these tiny little levers, there are these tiny little hinges that swing big, big doors.

Pete Mockaitis
And we’re not talking about big doors on tiny houses. We’re talking about full-blown door, tiny hinge. Yeah, I’m with you.

Perry Marshall
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And so, it’s government, and taxes, and healthcare, and social problems, and politics. It applies to all of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Whew! Boy, I’m just taking it all in and that’s a whole lot. Maybe just to clarify a little bit. So, these numbers, they’re approximations, right? They’re not exactly 80% of sales come from exactly 20% of salespeople.

Perry Marshall
No, no, so it can be 70/30, it can be 90/10, it can 95/5. But the interesting thing is there’s always the symmetry, okay? So, if it’s 90/10, which especially with things online. On the internet, almost any of the numbers tend to even be more extreme. So, if 10% of your webpages get 90% of the traffic, therefore, 90% of your webpages get 10% of the traffic. And that’s almost guaranteed to be true.

And so, there’s this symmetrical disproportion between cause and effect and it’s everywhere. And when you become aware of it, you suddenly realize, “Oh, okay. Well, before I even start, I can expect this to happen.” So, if you start a business next week, and a year later you’re hiring 10 salespeople, you already know a year in advance how those 10 salespeople are going to turn out.

And it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the world, this is the IS version of the world as opposed to the SHOULD BE version of the world. If you thought they were all going to be equal, you are living in the SHOULD BE version of the world, which is wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s lay it out there. So, let’s say, okay, you got it, 80/20 is real, it’s all over the place. As a professional, what should we do differently?

Perry Marshall
So, let’s start with your time. I wrote a book called 80/20 Sales and Marketing. But if I may be so bold, I got an Amazon review where a guy said, “Basically, this book for anybody who works.” And let me remind you that all of us, in some sense, all of us sell, and all of us market, and all of us persuade.

So, there’s a chapter in the book about time management. So, what 80/20 says is that if you have eight hours in a day, which is 480 minutes, you can be sure that 20% of those minutes produce 80% of the value, and 1% of those minutes produce half the value. All right. So, let’s say that you work eight hours a day, you get paid $25 an hour, right, which is, so that’s $200 a day. Well, you actually earned half of that money in five minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, assuming that you’re being paid proportionate to the value that you’re creating.

Perry Marshall
Well, what I’m seeing is even if you get paid hourly, the value that your employer got from you, half of what you did that was good yesterday, you did it in five minutes, okay? Now, most people, they’re not used to thinking about it. All the people listening, I want you to actually stop and think about what you did yesterday. What did you do yesterday? I’ll guarantee there was a phone call that was three minutes long or one minute long.” It got more accomplished than two hours of you banging around on a Word document, or running a bunch of errands, or sitting in a meeting somewhere.

But once you become aware of it, you start to see some patterns. You’re like, “Wow! I just realized that if I spent five minutes a week talking to my 10 biggest clients, I get more done than all the other committee meetings and getting on airplanes combined.” Or, let’s say you’re a manager and you have 10 people working for you, it’s almost certain that you could fire seven of them and the company could actually survive on the other three, if you picked the right three to keep.

And that’s really important to know. If you suddenly had a recession or a customer cancels all their orders and you’re suddenly in big trouble, well, this is how you keep the company alive. It’s also almost certain that your very best people are not getting paid what they’re worth and everybody else is getting paid more than what they’re worth. That’s also true. And so, this will affect every corner of your life if you completely understand it.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, you talked about sort of the cubing or the squaring effects with like 4% of inputs impacting 64% of outcomes. It’s kind of like even if you’re hiring like really, really, really well, like you maybe already have like the top 20% in like the, whatever, global workforce. But within that, you’ll still see that the super-superstars are delivering more than the other folks even within that population. So, that makes sense to me that it would just keep going up and up and up or else you wouldn’t see that. It’s like, “We’ve already hired the best 20%, so nothing to see here.”

Perry Marshall
Well, Steve Jobs said if you compare the very best taxi driver to an average taxi driver, at best, maybe the best taxi driver is three times better than the average.

But if you’re hiring software developers, the best ones are a thousand times better. They’re a hundred to a thousand times better. In other words, they’ll write code that is more easily used and problem-free if you think in terms of how popular and easy to use the software is.

Like, if you’re trying to start the next Instagram or the next Snapchat or something like that, you take an average software team compared to a really good one, how much better is the product in terms of how many people download it, how many people use it, how much the company gets sold for when it gets bought by Facebook, or something like that. It’s huge multiples.

So, when you go to time, for example, if you go, “Well, I make $200, $8.25 an hour. But I actually made half of the money in five minutes.” Okay, so you made a $100 in five minutes. That’s $1200 an hour. And I’m completely serious when I say this. So, there’s $10 an hour work, there’s $100 an hour work, and there’s $1000 an hour. And if you’re in a highly-responsible position, there absolutely is $10,000 an hour work.

So, notice that the $25 an hour receptionist, or day laborer, or plumber is actually worth $1200 an hour for five minutes a day, so what about a CEO? Or what about a principal of a school? Or what about any other person? Well, there are routine parts of their day where one or two or three minutes is worth $10,000 an hour. A key decision got made, a key negotiation happened, a disaster was averted. You crashed your car you do $10,000 of damage in 0.3 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. And I guess you can argue a little bit, like, “Well, the decision or the negotiation was a culmination of the many hours in preparation, duh, duh, duh, so it can be really…”

Perry Marshall
Which is true.

Pete Mockaitis
“…attributed to all of the value that moment.” It’s kind of like speaking. I love it when speakers say, “Find out how I make $10,000 an hour.” It’s like, “Okay, maybe you got $10,000 for a one-hour keynote.”

Perry Marshall
But you got on a plane, and you built a reputation, yeah, yeah, right. Well, so we have to notice, well, so there’s sowing and there’s harvesting, but even the sowing has these pivot points, it has these levers. So, he’s been building his reputation for years, but actually half of the value of his reputation comes from one keynote speech he made, or one article that showed up in the New York Times, or one podcast or radio program that he got on, right?

Like, I had a client years ago who, she had an ad on Google that crushed every other ad she ever wrote, and the ad was as seen on Oprah, okay? And what had happened was their product had been featured on the Oprah.com website. And that one thing made their entire company. And I can track it down to dollars and cents because we ran ad campaigns and we tried all these other ads, and the one that said Oprah was at least twice as good. So, every single customer they acquired with the Oprah ad costs half as much as all the other kinds of ads that they wrote. So, you could pin this huge amount of value just to the fact that their product was on Oprah’s site, and they could brag about it. And this is how the world works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m thinking about that in terms of once you start talking about sort of thresholds in terms of, “Hey, there’s a threshold amount you can afford to spend to acquire a customer given the value of what that customer purchases.” And so, if the difference between a profitable advertising investment and an unprofitable one falls within that chasm between half the price and full price for a customer acquired, well, then, it takes on this tremendous momentum, as like, “Well, boom, we’re going to reinvest,” and boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s like we have the ability to either kind of create an avalanche of gathering momentum downhill or we don’t, based upon whether we cross the threshold.

Perry Marshall
That’s right. And, usually, the success of your company is that sensitive. Usually, these things are much more sensitive than people realize. And the difference between success and failure isn’t orders of magnitude. It’s small percentages. And so, you really need to pay attention to the tiny hinges that swing the big doors.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s talk about these tiny hinges then. It seems like, in retrospect, you can see, “Hey, getting on Oprah.com was amazing for us,” or, “That one keynote speech did the trick,” or, “Hey, you know what, that five minutes I spent writing that email really opened up a huge door.” So, it seems like a lot of this is kind of looking backwards. But how do we get proactive in the driver seat to identify what could those five-minute things be and pack our day with more and more of them?

Perry Marshall
Well, so it starts with saying, “Okay, so if it’s really true,” it’s almost like you have to have faith, like, “Just trust me that 1% of your time produce 50% of the value. And so, now what we’re going to do is we’re going to go look for that pattern and we’re going to validate that until you can clearly recognize, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s really true.’”

So, that means, for example, that if you’re a sales guy who works on commission, half of your income came from something you did in three days last year. So, what did you do in the space of three days? Well, it was almost inevitably some really important client meeting that you were at where a major decision was made, and then they decided to cut you a purchase order.

Now, you may have invested hundreds of hours in that, but then you break down, and you go, “Okay, but 20% of the people in that meeting made 80% of that decision. Who was it?” Well, there were five people in that meeting, and the one person in the meeting who made the final decision was the engineering manager. It really came down to him. How many other companies have I sold to where, yeah, there was a software guy, and, yeah, there was a purchasing person, and, yeah, there was a contracts person, but it actually did come down to the engineering manager, or it did come down to the president of the company?”

So, like a lot of times we go make our case, whether we’re salespeople or even any other kind of people for any other reason, we make our case to people who can say no but they can’t say yes. Like, we go talk to the secretary or the receptionist or the junior purchasing person, but if they could stop us and they could tell us, “No, we’re not interested,” and then we have nowhere to go, but they can’t actually improve the purchase of anything, so many times you might as well start with the person who actually can say yes.

Now, I have found that, at some gut level, I usually know who the person is because it’s the person I don’t want to go talk to.

Pete Mockaitis
Your resistance because you can be resisted.

Perry Marshall
Yes, my procrastination demons kick in. Well, I’ll give you an example from the Evolution Prize, one of the people on my list for a long time to talk to about being a judge. I’m an electrical engineer who’s a business consultant and I’m trying to put together a very hardcore science and technology prize. How am I going to get the scientists to take me seriously? Well, my attorney suggested that I should get judges, and they would also serve the purpose of, well, when there is a discovery, they can adjudicate if there’s any controversy about whether they passed of failed.

And so, for a couple of years I had this name on my list, George Church from Harvard. He’s a leading geneticist at Harvard and he’s a rock star, and everybody in genetics know who he is. And he was on my list for two years, and I was intimidated. It’s like, “Well, why would this guy talk to me?” Well, when I emailed him, I got an email back from him like 30 minutes later, “Yeah, I’m really interested.” And I thought, “I could’ve gone and talk to this guy two years ago.”

And anybody who has ever gone and tried to get investment money, or had any kind of major decision, has been intimidated by this. Or, here’s another example. When my daughter went to college, we told her, “You know, we’re only paying for like a third of this, okay? We don’t believe in paying for all of college. We think you need to have some skin in the game.” She’s like, “What?” Like, “Yeah.”

And so, as a result of this, at the end of her senior year, she drives up to Appleton, Wisconsin, which is where the school was, and she marches up to the president of this university at some seniors and high school gathering thing that they were having, right? And she walks up to this guy, and she says, “Hey, I applied for scholarship and you didn’t give me one, and I think you guys made a mistake.” And he’s like, “Oh, well, here. So, here’s what you need to do.” And he gave her some, “Well, here, email me or email my secretary,” or something like that. She got $12,000, okay? And it’s just for having the chutzpah to tell the president of the university that his faculty made a mistake when they were doling out the scholarship money.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I did that once in college when I did not get an interview, and I really believed it. It was with Walgreens. They rejected me after the interview. But, still, I thought, “I deserve this interview. You gave it to these guys and no me? Come on, man.”

Perry Marshall
Yeah, yeah. And we have the ability to do stuff like this. All of these people are human beings. And I actually think that the resistance to doing this actually tells us where the opportunities are. If my procrastination demon suddenly starts going into overdrive, I go, “Hey, them guys are telling me something.” Like, the fact that they don’t want me to do this, means it’s exactly what I should do. I find it to be a fairly reliable beacon.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And what’s interesting is I think sometimes that procrastination comes from, I don’t know, embarrassment in terms of, “Oh, who am I to go up to that person? I’m so lowly and they’re so majestic.” And I think other times it comes from, “Boy, this is just a hard piece of work,” and it’s like, “I got to figure out how to systematize and outsource and automate this thing. Boy, if I did, it would save me just tons of time, but that’s hard to do because I’ve got to take all this knowledge I have and turn it into a repeatable system and train other folks to do it. But, boy, once I do it, I can slash multiple hours out of every work week.”

So, I find that procrastination demons can be an indicator of, one, because these 80/20 types of activities often involve putting yourself out there to a big decision-maker that you’re scared of being rejected by. And, two, the procrastination tends to come when you’re just like, “Ugh, that sounds hard and exhausting and like a whole lot right now.”

Perry Marshall
Yeah, there’s another side to this coin, which is the temptation to go bleed off some of your energy doing something really trivial. So, when I am working on a project that is going to move the needle, so, here’s an example. One time, a long time ago, I had a friend come up to me in a seminar, and he goes, “Perry, I have a million-dollar idea for you.” And he goes, “I’m completely serious. I am so serious about this that if you sell a million dollars from doing this, I want you to give $10,000 to my favorite charity, which is an inner-city school in Philadelphia.” And I’m like, “You’re serious?” And he goes, “Dead serious.” And I go, “Okay.”

And he sits down and he mouths off this whole thing, he goes, “Hey, I think you could do this program, and I think this is the sort of people that would want to buy it.” I knew he was right, and I put it together, okay? Well, the most important part of putting that together was I had to sit down and write a sales pitch for thing. And every time I would sit down and start, like I was putting it off and putting it off.

And one afternoon, I sit down, I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to do this.” And I get this extremely loud voice in my head said, “Perry, you need to go get a haircut.” And I was like, “A haircut? I don’t even like getting haircuts. I don’t like chatty barbers. Why do I want to get a haircut?” “Because this is so important. If you do this, it’s going to change your career. And your lizard brain knows this and so the procrastination demons are going crazy.” And I said, “Okay, that means this is going to work.” And I did it, and it did.

Now, it wasn’t immediate. It was probably two or three years later, there was this whole part of my business that I started that hadn’t existed before, and it did accumulate a million dollars revenue, and I wrote the $10,000 cheque to his inner-city school. And so, I really believe in the power of the procrastination demons to tell you what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. And if you’re overwhelmingly tempted to go on Twitter right now, it’s probably because you’ve got important work to do that you’re avoiding.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, this reminded me of the book by Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

Perry Marshall
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
In which he talks a lot about resistance, in very like aggressive militaristic terms, it’s like, “Man, this guy is intense.”

Perry Marshall
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But, yeah, I think that was the idea I captured from that in a nutshell, and you just articulated that all the more succinctly. He’s very poetic about it. He’s a great writer. Well, that’s awesome. So, we look for resistance, we look kind of historically at what do see happening there. And I think I find that it’s almost like these things, they’re almost kind of like, “No, duh.” In a way, for me, they’re boring. It’s like, “This is not like a super exciting innovative thing.” It’s just like, “Duh, do this.”

For example, I don’t know for how long, someone has got a great podcast and we could overlap, and said, “Oh, hey, Pete, just let me know when you want to be on my show.” I was like, “Okay, cool. Thanks.” And so, he’s already said yes, that’s the hard part. The invitation is extended. And then I’ve been sort of dragging my feet because it’s like, “Well, I don’t know. I want to find a really good time.” And it’s like, “But when? When is there a better time? The podcast could shut down. A lot of them do. If you wait a year or two, the person might not even be there anymore.”

Perry Marshall
That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s just kind of like that’s not a really innovative idea, like say, “Hey, guy, I want to go ahead and do that thing now.” And, yet, there are many kinds of the things that fall into that zone, and I’ve just sort of even, in my task management system, I use OmniFocus, have a little tag called “Duh” like it’s just blindingly obvious that this is so worth doing and is highly-leveraged. And sometimes I avoid it just because it’s not cool and innovative and new and hip and fresh and fun. It’s just kind of boring, like, “Oh, I guess I got to sit down and write this email.” But I was like, “We already knew that was coming and so it’s not a dopamine hit to execute it.”

Perry Marshall
So, yeah, and a lot of times these levers, you have to drill down into them and you have to build some kind of a structure that wasn’t there before. So, if you look back and you figure out that, “Oh, yeah, the deciding factor on all these projects has been the architect. And if we could get spec’d in by the architect for all these building jobs, then everything else is easier.”

Well, then why is that? It’s because you would have these huge projects and these huge meetings and hours and hours of all this stuff, but then a 10-minute conversation with an architect was what sealed the deal. Well, now that means that you have to go proactively go find the architects, which means you have to get a list of them, and you have to maybe you have to go and contact them, and maybe there’s certain information that you have to have ready to go. And it’s probably this whole other project that wasn’t even on your radar except it saves you 500 hours of labor next year, of whatever it was you normally are going to do.

And it also usually means that you’re getting rid of stuff that used to be sacrosanct, Maybe an entire department was created for the purpose of doing something that turns out to not be necessary if you can just get these architects on board. And so, now somebody is defending their turf and they don’t want to change. These are the kind of things that keep us from living 80/20.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a good thing to highlight there, is the resistance from all sorts of things, like your own kind of subconsciousness, your own laziness, or sort of externally in terms of there are forces that have something to gain by keeping it as it is. So, that’s good to flag that, to expect it, and to be prepared for it. Perry, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Perry Marshall
Well, I want you to take this really seriously, 80/20 is everywhere. So, I’m looking at my tree in my front yard, and 20% of the branches carry 80% of the sap. And 20% of the roads carry 80% of the traffic, and 1% of the roads carry 50% of the traffic. And so, these levers are everywhere, like it is not possible to even look at a window and 80/20 not to be right in front of your face. And so, maybe the last thing I would say is most people think in terms of averages, and people should be thinking exponentially.
So, here’s an example. So, a whole bunch of kids take a history test in school and the average is 77. Well, to the teacher who’s trying to please everybody, the 77 is an important number. But the 77 doesn’t matter to almost anybody else in the whole entire world. And if you’re hiring teachers, or you’re hiring historians, there’s one kid in the class who will do more history stuff in his life than all the other 29 kids in the class combined. And that’s the one you care about, and that’s the one you want to hire.

And so, even with your talents and skills, most of your value is in two or three or four core talent areas and almost everything else is trivial, and whether you learned social studies, or whether you did P.E. class right, or whether you did all these other things, probably doesn’t matter at all, and there’s a few things that matter a lot. And so, if you can make the shift, you’ll never see the world the same way again. Once you see it, you won’t be able to un-see it.

Pete Mockaitis
Powerful. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Perry Marshall
Okay. So, there’s a guy named Jacque Ellul and he was a theologian in the 1960’s, and he said one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a long time. He said, “Societies used to contain technologies. Now, technologies contain entire societies.”

Now, he said this in the ‘60s. Can you just stop and think how true this is now? How many communities of people exists almost entirely on the internet or almost entirely on a Facebook group? I see this because the big internet platforms are starting to censor, they’re starting to ban people. For years and years and years, they’ve been killing businesses for various reasons.

And so, free speech is incredibly, incredibly important especially now. And all of this, there’s people we would like for them to go away and we cannot succumb to the temptation.

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

Perry Marshall
Well, this would be one from the Evolution 2.0 project. One of my favorite scientists is Barbara McClintock, and she figured out in the 1940s that corn plants could rearrange their own genetics. And this was a far more important experiment than most people realize because, so, she went to a symposium in 1951 and she presented seven years of very, very careful research, and half of them laughed at her, and the other half were angry. They were like, “Woman, genetics create plants. Plants do not recreate genetics.” And she was basically driven underground for the next 20 years, but she won the Nobel Prize in 1983.

Well, now, why is this relevant now? I’ll tell you, here’s why. It’s because there’s a technology now called CRISPR where we can edit genes as easily as a blogpost. You can buy $169 gene-editing kit on Amazon with free shipping. And there’s people all over the world that are editing genes willy-nilly and they think we’re smarter than the cells are. We’re not. The cells are smarter than us. And Barbara McClintock proved this in 1944.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Perry Marshall
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Well, why on earth would I bring up this book? It was written in 1835 and it describes Americans better than any other book that I’ve ever seen, and it’s still true now. And the book is really a book about the march of the idea of equality in civilization. And when you read this book, TV didn’t exist, radio didn’t exist, international travel didn’t exist, unless you got on a steamship for three months. I guess maybe that was international travel, but you know.

Like, most of the things that create equality, like the internet didn’t exist when he wrote that book. Nevertheless, he still got all these writing. And so, if you read Democracy in America and then you take all of these predictions and insights and you just fast forward another hundred years, you can really predict the future. So, probably not a book that very many people on a podcast like this would bother to mention, but I’ve actually read it three or four times. It’s absolutely brilliant.

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

Perry Marshall
Well, it’s a little self-serving but it’s one of the most useful tools that I’ve ever used in my profession. It’s the Marketing DNA Test. It’s at MarketingDNATest.com. And what it does is, whether you’re in sales or marketing or not, it tells you how you persuade. Some people persuade with stories. Some people persuade with numbers and graphs. Some people persuade by proving to you how reliable and approved and, well, standardized something is. Other people sell to you by showing you how new and innovative and flashy and incredible something is.

Some people persuade by just being completely in the moment. Some people persuade by meticulously crafting a letter for three weeks. And if you know how you persuade, then you know how you’re going to persuade better next time and you’re going to know what situations you should avoid because they don’t play to your strengths.

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

Perry Marshall
Best habit I’ve ever cultivated is an hour of journaling every morning before I do anything else, and I’m literally religious about it. And I think most people have way too much stimulation, way too much energy, and you cannot think your own thoughts and the thoughts of somebody else at the same time. And you need to figure out what your thoughts are before you engage with the media, and the texting, and the social media, and all of your friends, and your email boxes stacked up to the ceiling. You need time to listen, time to reflect, time to intuit, time to prioritize. That is the best habit that I’ve ever cultivated.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your books or speaking or working with clients that really seems to connect and resonate with them and they repeat it back to you often?

Perry Marshall
Nobody who bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole. So, instead of selling drills, you should sell information about making holes.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say information about making holes, give me an example.

Perry Marshall
Well, so I want to drill a hole. Well, maybe if you make drills, you know more about making holes than 99% of all the people in the world. So, there’s how to drill holes in plaster, how to drill holes in metal, how to drill holes in rock, how to drill holes in concrete, how to drill holes in plastic, how to drill holes in wood.

In an information-driven society, the way to develop credibility is by demonstrating your expertise. And you demonstrate your expertise by showing people how to solve very, very, very, very specific problems. And that actually engenders a lot more trust and credibility than just waving your carbon-, graphite-, diamond-tipped drill bits in the air and telling everybody how awesome they are and all of the ISO9000 quality control systems that they pass through, because people are interested in their hole, not your drill.

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

Perry Marshall
I’d go to PerryMarshall.com, and I would suggest that you click on the link that says 80/20 and buy 80/20 Sales and Marketing for a penny plus shipping. It’ll cost you $7 in the U.S. and $14 outside the U.S. And if you read that book, even if you’re not in sales or in marketing, that book will change your life.

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

Perry Marshall
In your life, 1% of what you do will determine 50% of what you get, so you don’t have to get most of it right. You need to get 1% of it right. If you nail 1%, you will be successful, and it’s not as hard as you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Perry, this has been lots of fun. I wish you tons of luck in nailing your 1% opportunities and keep up the good work.

Perry Marshall
Hey, it was great talking to you, Pete. And it’s an honor to be on your show and look forward to seeing you again.