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354: Establishing Evening Routines to Optimize the Day Ahead with Jarrod Warren

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Jarrod Warren says: "Eighty percent or more of an incredible day actually starts in the evening."

Success 101 podcaster Jarrod Warren details an evening routine that will grant you a deep, restful sleep—and a successful way to tackle your day.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to turn stress around with your perspective
  2. Eight tips for a solid evening routine and quality sleep
  3. Why to consider taping your mouth shut, literally

About Jarrod

Jarrod is the managing director of a financial planning practice and hosts the Success 101 podcast.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jarrod Warren Interview Transcript

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

Jarrod Warren
Pete, I’m so excited to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, I’m excited to have you too. I want to start with your story. It sounds pretty dramatic and interesting with regard to you. You have experienced some burnout and in a powerful way, and also bounced back in a powerful way. How does that work?

Jarrod Warren
Well, I’m just super excited that I bounced back in a powerful way because I find so many people don’t do that. They get into this burnout routine. I call it a routine because they sit there and they stay in it without even really understanding how to get out of it.

I would have told you probably back in 2015 when I started experiencing some of the burnout, the fatigue, the self-sabotage, that stuff had been going on long before I actually got into it, but it really came to a head I guess and really came to a point where I was like “Man, I can’t do this anymore.”

There was a lot of pride wrapped up in that. I’ll be transparent with you. There was a lot of people are not going to outwork me, people are not going to out sleep me. Sleep was a big thing that I had a lot of pride wrapped up in. My parents could operate on very little sleep, still do to this day.

I was one of those guys that I would tell people “I’m experiencing a lot of stress. I can’t get a lot of sleep.” Their first thought is, “Well, have you tried melatonin? Have you tried these sleeping pills?” I’m like, “No, no, no, make no mistake about it, I can sleep. If I close my eyes for just a couple of seconds, I’m out like a zombie.” I just don’t stay in bed very long.

I’m setting my alarm for super early in the morning. I’m getting up really early in the morning. I’m just not in bed very long.

In 2015, I really thought my brain was turning to cabbage. That’s the best way I can describe it. I couldn’t focus on things. I couldn’t concentrate on things. Of course, people say, “Oh yeah man, I have ADHD. I can’t concentrate either.” This was way different.

I was concerned about early onset dementia, things like that. I just couldn’t focus on anything. I couldn’t look people in the eyes and have straight conversations because my brain was sending signals to my body that things are not right. I didn’t know what to do with that because I had never experienced that before.

Some of your listeners out there hearing this might think, “Man, I’m going through some brain fog. I’m going through some fatigue. I keep fighting through that and things aren’t getting better. They’re only getting worse.”

The best way I can describe it, Pete, is I was walking – visualize this – I’m walking down this road and this giant wind, this hurricane-force wind just keeps blowing me off the road and I’ve got to get back up on the road and then it blows me off again or I wobble around. That’s what my thought was like during the day.

I’d always been a super hard charger. We may get into some of my career and what I’ve done and things like that, but I’ve always been a super hard charger. I was like man, this is not good. This is not right. I can’t do. I can’t run at the pace and the hustle and the grind and all this stuff people talk about. I can’t do it anymore because I’m so fatigued both mentally and physically and the mentally started taking over more than the physically or the physical.

I went to a neurologist, one of the leading neurologists here in Dallas. He got in there with his staff and for like two hours they just typed away on computers. He came back to me and said, “We’re going to run you through a bunch of tests. We’re going to run you through a lot of scenarios as far as testing out what this is because if there’s something there, we want to know what it is. But, my friend, I think you need to get some sleep.”

Of course, I’m like, “Okay, doctor.” I’m like okay, I kind of want there to be something. You never wish there to be something but it’s like “I want there to be something because that can’t be the answer.”

He comes back and says, “Like I said, we’ll run you through the tests, but you need to get some sleep. What I want you to do is I want you to track your ten day rolling average of time in bed, from the time you go to sleep – from the time you get in bed to the time you get out of bed. I want you to track your ten day rolling average.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ten day rolling average. That is a very specific statistical measure of your sleep.

Jarrod Warren
I get now why he said that because if you just track your every single night sleep, there’s going to be so many data points over the course of even a six month or a three month period that it’s not indicative of how your real sleep patterns are going. I understand why he did that now.

I said, “Okay, I’ll track my ten day rolling average.” On my first ten day rolling average, Pete, my time in bed was four hours and three minutes. That was just ten day rolling average.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just time in bed. That’s not even your sleep.

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, exactly, exactly. That’s time in bed.

Pete Mockaitis
Were you using just a standard notepad or app or how were you kind of getting the data?

Jarrod Warren
I use an app called Sleep Cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Jarrod Warren
It’s awesome. So many people in the bio-hacking community and neurological community, the sleep community, people that I follow nowadays and associate with, they follow this Sleep Cycle app. It’s so good.

What I would do is I would get in bed at night and I would set my alarm. I would start. Then when I’d wake up in the morning the first thing I’d do is turn that thing off and it would track my sleep time. It’s awesome. It’s an incredible – it’s just an incredible app.

Four hours and three minutes. I reported that to him and his team. He said, “Like I said, we’re going to run you through an MRI, a neurocognitive brain study, an eight-hour neurocognitive test,” which wore me out, by the way. I’ve never been so mentally fatigued after that eight hour test of just using my brain all day long. He said, “But I think you need sleep.”

It was pretty apparent what he was getting at at that point was how important sleep is. I hadn’t really gotten into this bio-hacking, this peak performance type state that I’m in now, which is why I run my podcast, Success 101 podcast, that’s where all of this came from, which is just understanding how important all of this is.

He said, “Look, we’ve got to get you to five. It’s still going to suck at five hours, but we’ve got to get you to five and then we’ve got to get you to six.” I’m proud to say that since the end of 2015 to right now when we’re recording this in 2018 and really for quite a while in 2018 now even since almost the beginning of the year, I’ve been right at seven hours of sleep per night.

You’ve got to give some things up. If you’re a hard charger out there, if you want to be awesome at your job quote/unquote, if you’re looking at our society today, especially the Western culture, they tell you to be awesome at your job, you’ve got to hustle and grind. You’ve got to muscle it through. You’ve got to run through the brick walls. Nobody wants to do that.

I think we’re going to get out a couple of generations from now and realize “Man, they had it all wrong.” This whole social media hustle grind. Who knows what’s going to be around at that point. But nobody wants to do that. Everybody wants to just show up and have money fall in their lap and have the business deals fall in their lap. But the problem is we’re going about it in such a wrong way.

That was my story. It was like I had done the hustle for so long. I’d muscled it through for so long. I’d worked hard for so long and then life happened. I had my third child. I was running an office, a financial planning advisory firm that I run, which is my main staple here, coaching advisors, working with my own clients. Everything just kind of hit.

My burnout, I remember it just like yesterday. I was walking through my bedroom – it wasn’t even a really tough day. It was just a mediocre day. I’m walking through my bedroom. All of the sudden, just imagine taking 2 200-pound sandbags and just putting them on each shoulder. For the first time in my life I felt this physical weight. It was all for my mind, but it was a physical weight.

I got in the fetal position in my bedroom, something a guy like me, being transparent was too prideful to do in the past. I probably looked at those type of people as weak people. When I heard about panic attacks, I’m like, “Okay, let’s just be tougher. Let’s just work harder. Let’s just-”

Pete Mockaitis
Suck it up. Walk it off.

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, right. Let’s go. I’ll compete with you in anything. I’m the most competitive person you may know. Here I am in the fetal position in my bedroom. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I’m going “Holy crap, what is this?”

I sat there for a couple of minutes. I gathered my thoughts. I recognized it. I was like this is a physical weight on me right now. I did some deep breathing exercises. I stood up and I sat on the edge of the bed. I remember it like yesterday.

It’s crazy. I don’t know why I’m getting emotional thinking about it right now. But I sat on the edge of the bed and I just thought literally what I just said. I was like, “What crap is that?” I got up slowly and I changed my clothes. I went and had dinner with my family.

About two months later to the date, something about half as bad happened. It wasn’t quite as bad. I just kind of stopped for a second and sat there and recognized it for what it was. I’m like no more, no more, no more, no more. Because what I realized was I was a shell of a person that I thought I was.

I was wrapped up, without even realizing it honestly, wrapped up in this pride of work harder than anybody, challenge anybody, competitiveness, that builds energy. I realized wow, I’m going about this the wrong way.

I remember the very next morning I woke up and thought something’s got to change. I’m going to be a horrible husband, a horrible father, a horrible mentor. I call myself a leader, what the heck am I doing. I didn’t know what leadership was. Leadership to me I realized was just a title.

I chastised people early on about that. So many people are chasing titles. They want to get in these positions and they don’t even know how to lead people then I found myself in that position. I was like, “Whoa, man. Holy cow, what a hypocrite I am.” I had to take a big step back.

Funny enough, I started listening to old school people, classic people like Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar. What they taught me was is that optimism, which I always thought was kind of pie in the sky, hocus pocus, just shoot for the moon and you’ll land in the stars, all those sort of things. I’m like what the heck does that even mean?

I started realizing man, these guys understand functional optimism, which is life really sucks. Life is bad around you. This is a pretty chaotic world that we’ve built for ourselves, but look at all the blessings that you have that you can really understand to sink your teeth into each day and focus on those things. I started really understanding that.

Then I started noticing. It’s like you buy the red car and everyone on the street’s driving a red car. I started noticing that I’m burnt out and everybody else is burnt out too. I started recognizing that.

Where the Success 101 podcast was born was really me understanding that and saying, “Man, I’ve got to help people.” I’ve got to help people understand that you can hustle, you can grind. You can compete. You can do all of this. But if you’re not doing it in a smart way, you’re only not going to be great at your job, but you’re going to be pretty horrible in life as well, as a father, a husband, a leader, a mentor, a fill in the blank, whatever.

That was my path to a complete 180 turnaround. I’m so fortunate. I’m so blessed I learned that at a young age because where I am today – I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have that turnaround. Where I am today, I’m just so thankful where I am now because I’ve gone through that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued then because we have a unique situation. Sleep has come up numerous times on the show as one of the top things you can do to boost your performance. In you, have we an intriguing case study in that you were hardcore doing very little sleeping. Now you’re doing normal, recommended amounts of sleeping. You experienced a huge relief/release, no longer this crushing weight and pressure, which is awesome.

I guess I want to also focus in kind of talking to your former self, who when we’re talking about hard charging, no time for sleep, let’s get her done, let’s make it happen, all that stuff. Tell me, how has your performance been enhanced or impacted by increased sleep?

Jarrod Warren
Oh, it’s been unbelievable, just in the way my brain works, the way my body works, the way I process things, even down to the level of forming sentences differently than what I did before.

Because remember, early on, I told you I thought my brain was turning to cabbage. People kind of laugh when they hear that. I’m like, “No, really.” That’s not just me fabricating an idea or thought. I really felt that something was super wrong. What it showed me was it showed me the true importance of sleep.

I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been blessed. I’ve accomplished some things in my business, my financial planning career with my clients and running the office that I’m running here in Dallas at a topnotch financial firm and being an entrepreneur where all the financial risk is on me and with three kids. Actually, Pete, what happened was, I started having more kids and getting less sleep and performing better than before I had kids.

The typical persona of what people go through is they start having more kids, they have less sleep, they have more stress. I was able to combat that before all of that happened and actually do the reverse of that even with three kids now and running a 50% office and my own financial planning practice. When I say I’ve had a complete 180 turnaround, it’s the real deal. I’m so fortunate I went through that.

Pete Mockaitis
You talked about less sleep, so you had a recovery period of normal sleep and then you had more kids and then less sleep or could you—

Jarrod Warren
No, no, no, I’m saying most people have more kids and go through less sleep. I had more kids and went through more sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you.

Jarrod Warren
Because I had learned my lessons early on. Again, that’s why I’m fortunate. I’ve got clients who are in their 40s or 50s that are talking about really hitting this – call it a midlife crisis. I don’t know if that phrase is used a whole lot anymore, but just call it this reality of man, I’ve really wasted a lot of life. I’ve done things the wrong way. I’m coming to this revelation that I haven’t done things the right way.

I’ll be honest with you man, this happened to me just out of nowhere, but at the same time I’m so glad that I went through this before I was in my 40s or 50s because I look at those people and go man, that would have been me. I would have been even worse off than them. How much time waste?

If people ask me what my biggest fear is, it is a wasted life. You can quantify that in many different ways for many different people, but for me it has to do with what are you doing to add impact to other people? As a financial advisor I feel like I have a huge responsibility to add impact to other people, but also my family, also my wife, also my friends.

Pete, you know, years ago I went to my wife’s graduation and George Bush Senior – not to be political here – but George Bush Senior was talking there, whatever you think about him. He comes out and says, “I’ve been all over the world. I’ve done this. I’ve done that. I’ve been the President. I’ve done this. I’ve done that.” He said, “And the most important thing in life is family and friends.”

The crowd kind of just erupts because when somebody says something like that after what’s he’s accomplished, you’re like, “Wow, if he can say that, what are we doing?” I realized for my family, my friends, my business, it’s like wow, what a blessing it is to learn this at such a young age so that I can be awesome at what I’m doing every day because hindsight is 20/20.

Pete Mockaitis
So then can you tell us when it comes to – what’s the trick to getting more sleep while having more kids at the same time? How does one accomplish this?

Jarrod Warren
Wow, where do we start? Right now we’ve been in a hotel for four weeks because my youngest daughter decided that one of my older daughter’s shorts should go down the toilet and flooded our entire house. They came in – yeah – they came in and moved everything out of our house. If you go in our house right now it looks like a war zone.

We’ve been in a hotel for four weeks, looks like we’ll be there for another four to six weeks. It just – it’s one of those things. It is what it is. But I’m looking at that going, “Man, how would I have handled that before? How would I have looked at that?”

If you’ll let me, Pete, I’ll kind of go down this path of what, like I said, the hustle, the grind, muscling it through, hard work versus working hard. I do think there’s a difference there, kind of doing the same things that got you there doesn’t work as you get older.

Your question of as you have more kids, getting more sleep, it’s like if you keep doing the same things you were doing when you were 25, I mean, I used to go work out at 10:30 PM when I was 25 and I looked at that as a stress relief. If I went and worked out at 10:30 right now, that would be a huge stressor in my life just with everything that I’ve got going on.

But I’m really big on – like you have to have a morning routine and an evening routine. I know those phrases – your listeners may hear that and go, “Oh man, I’ve heard that like 100,000 times on other podcasts.” It’s kind of that old dead horse that’s been kicked too many times, right? But I’m going to keep coming back to it. You have to have a proper morning and evening routine.

I’ve said many times before, 80% or more, probably more than that, but 80% or more of an incredible day actually starts in the PM, the night before. People try to start attacking the day from the time they wake up and really we’re not very good at that. We snooze too much. I snooze – for 14 years I snoozed for an hour, over an hour. I would set my alarm for an hour before I had to get up knowing I was going to snooze for an hour. How ridiculous is that?

But 80% or more of an incredible day is actually starts at the PM. As a society Pete, we’re incredibly sleep deprived, especially here in the West, where we’re getting less than six hours of sleep. It’s actually almost down to five and a half. You might as well round it down to five and a half now. A couple of generations ago they were sleeping over ten hours a night before the light bulb was invented.

How do you think that changes a society? How do you think that changes a mindset, like your daily mindset when you’re grinding it out? Why do you think nowadays there’s so many people on SSRIs and stimulants and Adderall and Ritalin?

Why do you think that the depression rates and people saying that they’re unfulfilled are at all-time highs even though we have more technology, more ability, more opportunities to do more in business and profitability today than ever before and people are making more in our society, especially here in the West, than ever before. But worldwide, why do you think that is?

It’s because people are ruining their minds, just as I was. Science backs this up. Like stress, if you look at stress, stress is not good or bad. It’s all depending on how you look at it because you can say stress is what got me to the point of life that I am because it really challenged me or you could say stress really got me depressed. It all depends on how you look at it.

But stress stimulates the brain and it creates a chemical called noradrenaline. That improves or I guess disconnects neural connectivity. That’s why so many of us perform better before deadlines. You’ve probably heard that before from your guests. It’s like if there’s a deadline, if there’s a stressor, if there’s something I’m going to perform better at that.

But it’s a difficult balance because if we let stress impact us the wrong way, then we’re going to be going down the path that I was going down for so long. If we’re pushed too far, our bodies actually react by producing a steroid called cortisol. Your listeners may be very familiar with that. That puts us in a hyper-alert state. It increases our heart rate. It impacts all the people around us.

That’s what I was doing. I’m like, “Man, I’m a really bad leader. I’m a terrible husband. I will eventually be a terrible father if I stay on this path.” I had really high levels of cortisol in the blood testing that I did along with very, very low levels of testosterone and DHEA. I was really destroying my adrenal glands.

In fast-paced workplaces today like we’re all in, we’ve got to look at this stress as good stress. We’ve got to learn how to turn stress into good stress or we’re going to have adrenal fatigue.

For any of your listeners listening out there, if you haven’t heard to haven’t experienced adrenal fatigue, go Google that. There’s probably 100 million articles out there about what your adrenals do and how they play a very crucial part of you guys being really good at your job every day and really good at life.

But as leaders, we’ve got to check in to make sure that our top performers aren’t going through high stress levels, that we’re turning stress into positive stress without having people really drift into distress, I would call it.

Pete Mockaitis
So then, let’s talk about it. First of all, evening routines. I’ve heard much more about morning routines and we’re having Hal Elrod on the show a bit later.

Jarrod Warren
Oh, I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I know he’s going to rock out on the morning routine, so let’s focus on the evening.

Jarrod Warren
His book – just to kind of go into that. When I was going through all of this, his book the morning – basically The Miracle Morning and The Miracle Morning for Sales People, which I read second, I mean genius.

Again, I said 80% or more of a great day starts actually in the evening. If any of your listeners are hearing this and they’re thinking “Man, I agree with Jarrod. I’m stressed. I’ve got a lot of stress going on. But wow, he’s talking about a lot of work, a lot of stuff I’ve got to do,” I really want you guys to maybe listen to this a couple of times through if you’re feeling that way and really dissect what I’m saying.

Because here’s the deal, and this is what I’ve learned, Pete, is that there’s a lot of things in life that if they constrain you, they can add more stress to your plate, let’s just face it. You’ve got these constraints, you’re bundled up.

But when you’re looking to eliminate stress, you’re looking for more of a positive mindset, you’re looking to turn a 180 from all the things I’ve described, having a structured lifestyle, especially a morning and evening routine, since that’s what we’re talking about here, can actually give you a ton of freedom.

I had Ed Mylett on my podcast recently. He and I both talked about how constrained lifestyles, if you’re doing it for the right reasons to reduce stress and get in a better state of structure, can actually give you more freedom rather than making you feel bound up.

What do I do in my evening routine? First of all I’m always testing. If you go to my tools and resources page, I think it’s Success101Podcast.com/Resources, you’re going to see all of the tools and testing that I always do. It’s my most updated page that I have on my site because I’m always testing new things.

But I would say number one, just at a base level, you guys have to be using a light blocker at night. When I say at night, again, 80% of a great morning starts the evening before, I would back that even up further until like before the time you get off work. I use a blue light blocker on my Apple devices all through the day and on my Windows devices at work all through the day. You’ll never—

Pete Mockaitis
So like f.lux?

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, I use f.lux.

Pete Mockaitis
So you’ve got f.lux going all day?

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, all day long.

Pete Mockaitis
F.lux, we can share what f.lux is for those who don’t have it yet. Explain what f.lux is.

Jarrod Warren
If you’ve got Night Shift on your phone, I’ll leave that on 24 hours a day. In fact, I’ve got mine set up from 2:59 AM to 3:00 AM, so there’s like a minute there when I’m sleeping that it goes back to the regular state because you can’t just keep it on all the time.

But if you ever pull up my – people pull up my phone all the time to look at a picture or look a document or whatever and they’re like “Why’s it so yellow?” I’m like, “Oh sorry, I’ve got a filter on that. Let me turn it off.”

But I use f.lux as well on my Window’s devices. You can do that on Mac also. But I’ve always got a filter on all of my devices. Now some people would say blue light is actually really good for you early in the mornings to get you awake. After what I went through, I don’t – I’m not trying to play that game at all. I’m like man, I’ll keep the filters on all day long. It doesn’t matter to me.

But if you’ve got those filters on your phone or on your computer, like f.lux or like Night Shift, that’s going to eliminate a ton of problematic blue light for you guys. If you just keep it on – like now if somebody gives me their phone and I have to watch a video for like a minute or two, like the blue light literally starts hurting my eyes. It’s kind of crazy how that works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve got to give a shout out to a recent sponsor, Phonetic Eyewear, who makes these glasses that reflect a portion of the blue light. I’m wearing them right now. They’re pretty cool.

I like it that it’s very subtle. It’s kind of hard to notice that the white difference unless you’re really looking closely and flipping them off and on, which is nice so that you’re getting some protection without feeling like the whole world looks weirdly yellow.

But so you’re – how yellow are we getting if I may ask with your f.lux? Is it like halfway on or 100% on?

Jarrod Warren
I’d say it’s halfway on because if you put it 100% on it would almost be red. It would be completely red. I have that as well. I will send you, Pete, if you want to link it up in show notes, I will send you how you can turn your iPhone completely red at night.

If I’m sitting, like right now we’re in a hotel, so it’s not ideal. We’ve got two bedrooms and a small, tiny kitchen that we’re – it’s just like oh my gosh. If you told me this five years ago we’d be living in this, I’d be freaking out. But we’re good. We’re totally good. My kids are all – I’ve got three daughters. They just all kind of climb into bed together.

But when I’m sitting in there with them because of course it’s kind of scary at night in a new place. They’re like, “We want you to sit in here,” so I’ll kind of get on my iPad at night, but I can triple tap my home screen and make my screen turn blood red at night.

That’s really cool because if you just have Night Shift on, even if you turn it all the way down to the lowest level at night – my recommendation to you guys would all be to be super disciplined and have a digital sunset. As soon as the sun goes down, you guys never look at a screen again.

But if you have to look at a screen to check a message or if you want to watch a movie with your wife in bed at night or whatever, I can send the notes to show you how to turn the color themes on your iPads/iPhones, whatever, I don’t know how to do it on Android, but turn it to blood red and you can turn it down really low. It’s really cool.

But during the day it’s about halfway on, so it’s more of like a yellow tint, like a washed out looking yellow tint. I’ve got that on 24 hours a day. I think there’s enough study out right now for people who are in older generations or when we get out to older generations that are showing that our eyesight is going to be gone from all this blue light.

The only time that I have blue light on my phone and I turn all of that off is first thing in the morning if I’m checking – I try not to check emails first thing when I wake up to start my day off in a reactive state, but if I want to do something fun, if I want to check social media whenever I wake up or I want to check ESPN on Saturday mornings for college football, I’ll actually turn blue light on in full effect, full effect because that will wake me up really fast.

But if you’ve got that on all the time, there are so many studies showing how it’s going to really decrease our eyesight over time and there’s – let’s face it, there’s not enough studies on these iPhones yet. They just came out in 2008. There’s not enough studies yet to really determine how all of this blue light is really going to affect our – or impact our vision. I’m telling you there’s going to be a lot of people needing glasses earlier in life because of all the blue light that’s coming through their screens.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay, you’ve got f.lux. You’ve got a link coming to us. Thank you. I will put that up with the show notes with regard to getting the super red very quickly. Then that’s part of the game is keeping the blue light from messing with your sleep. Awesome. What else?

Jarrod Warren
I’ve got my good friend James Swanwick out in California, who I’m always promoting his glasses because he’s got these blue light blocking glasses called Swannies.

I’ll tell you my first – when I first started diving into this way back in the day, I bought these literally seven dollar welder’s glasses off of Amazon to wear at night. My kids thought I looked like Bono. They kind of laughed. It’s kind of funny. But you’re in the comfort of your own home, so who cares.

But we’d be watching TV at night or we’d be doing whatever before all these blue light blocking technologies. I’m like, well, hey, I’ve got these amber looking glasses on that look ridiculous, but man, they sure are helping me wind down. I’d put those on about 90 minutes before I go to bed.

Now, fortunately, several companies have come out including James Swanwick. My friend Dave Asprey over at Bulletproof, they’ve got these glasses that will really help you wind down a lot faster. You’ve got to use a blue light blocker on your screens. You’ve got to use the blue light blocking glasses if you’re watching TV though because most TVs nowadays don’t have blue light blocking technology.

I think in the future that’s going to be – I mean if company like Apple, a trillion dollar company, has realized the need to put blue light blocking technology on every single device they make, the TV, Samsung, all these other – LG, all these other TVs, they’re going to come out with that soon enough. But for now you’ve got to wear those glasses. Luckily they look pretty stylish. They’re pretty good.

That would be number one is use a blue light blocker, whether it’s glasses on a TV that doesn’t have a blue light blocker or use it on your mobile devices like Apple that does.

Second thing is you’ve got to have a caffeine curfew. Caffeine is powerful. Your listeners are going to know if you’re being good at your job and you’re being great at what you do, let’s face it, most people nowadays, they’re chasing after some caffeine. It’s a nervous system stimulant, but if your nervous system is lit up at night, you can forget about high-quality sleep. You can forget about a great morning the next day.

Guys, set really a hardline unbreakable curfew that your body can remove that. Pete, I don’t know if you’ve ever done any research on this, but caffeine has a half-life of about six hours for your average person. That’s average. There’s going to be some people it has a half-life of like eight hours. That means eight hours after you drink a cup of coffee, half of the stimulant response is still going to be present there in your body.

I’ve seen people drinking coffee after dinners at night. I’ve seen people drinking coffee at five PM just because they’re like, “Man, I’m slammed. I don’t want to go home feeling so groggy. I’m going to kick a little caffeine before I go home.” It’s like ah, don’t do that. For the average person it’s a six hour half-life, so three hours after you have that cup of caffeine, you’re still going to be wired.

If you have that after a dinner at night with friends or at a restaurant or whatever, and you’re sitting there at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock trying to go to sleep, you may have half of those caffeine remnants still in your body.

For me, I shut that thing off at 2 PM. I have no caffeine after 2 PM, none, whatsoever. I love coffee. I love the taste of coffee. Right now in Texas, it’s super hot, so I like iced coffee and nitro coffee and everything that’s cold. But after 2 PM, I’m not having any stimulants whatsoever. I’m trying to do things to wind down, which is more in the GABA supplements and things like that, which we can go into.

But just remember don’t have any – like have a caffeine curfew. Don’t have any caffeine after about 2 maybe 3 at the most PM and you’re going to get an awesome sleep.

Third thing is use high quality magnesium. Pete, especially for us as guys, we’re really deficient in magnesium. Just in our Western diet we don’t get it as much as we should. But magnesium – I had to do all this research because I didn’t know any of this – but it helps optimize circulation, blood pressure, balance of blood sugar. It helps relax your muscles if you get the right type.

It helps reduce pain if you work out and you’re a little sore from your morning workout or your evening workout. It’s going to help reduce all that. It’s going to calm down the nervous system, especially to keep your mind from just running crazy.

But magnesium is the number one mineral deficiency in our world today, especially in our Western culture as I keep coming back to. Getting your magnesium levels up, can almost instantly reduce your body’s stress load, improve the quality of sleep.

I use a product called Calm. You can go to my resources page as I mentioned earlier and Calm is on there. It’s not something you want to take a lot of because you’ll be on the toilet at night because magnesium makes your body flush out – again, it’s a muscle relaxer, so it makes your body flush out a lot of things. But it’s going to help you really get to sleep.

Then lastly, I want you guys to get your rooms blacked out. This is one that I was a little slow to come around on. If you read my friend Dave Asprey’s book called Head Strong. I had followed Dave Asprey for a long time, the creator of Bulletproof. He said he was coming out with a new book called Head Strong. I thought, “Man, okay, maybe I’ll get it.” I’m not really sure what else Dave can teach me. He blew my mind with all the things he came out with.

But one of the main things he talks about is mitochondrial function. Mitochondria is the powerhouse of your cells. It’s what energy comes from. It’s what good sleep comes from. It’s what really a good rested mind comes from. So many people are sleeping in very bright light situations.

Especially right now, I posted a picture just the other day on my Instagram page, Jarrod Warren Consulting, that showed one of those hangers that you hang pants on in a hotel room. I’ve got the hanger pinching the curtain rods because I’ve got the curtain rods all folded up just to where no light can get in whatsoever and I’ve got the hanger pinching those together. I think I said something like tips to a good night’s sleep or something. I listed those as one of them.

But having light sources of any type in your bedroom can seriously disrupt your sleep patterns. Again, I would have heard of that five years ago and gone, “Oh man, come on. Really? Just go to sleep.” But even using an eye mask. I use an eye mask every night. I use nose spacers now to get really good deep nostril air, which builds nitric oxide, which helps you sleep a lot deeper.

Here’s the big one. I may lose your listeners on this, but I learned this from my good friend Patrick McKeown, who wrote the book The Oxygen Advantage. I tape my mouth shut every single night with surgical paper tape. Every night. I’ve done this for almost two years.

Pete Mockaitis
I have heard Patrick McKeown recommend this before. He’s Irish, right?

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So if you go to my—

Yeah, if you go to my podcast, I’ve got two episodes with Patrick McKeown. I had to have him on because I started understanding how when you tape your mouth shut at night, most of us are mouth breathers even during the day, so you can imagine when you go to sleep at night.

Pete Mockaitis
Mouth breather.

Jarrod Warren
But you lose almost a pound of water at night just through dehydration, breathing through your mouth and through your skin, and sweat. You’ve probably heard those mattress commercials where they’re like, “Hey, every eight years you need to change your mattress because it’s got like such and such pounds of skin and sweat and all kinds of stuff in it.” It just grows, right? But we lose over a pound of water every single night just by breathing out of our mouths whenever we fall asleep.

If you tape your mouth shut with paper surgical tape, which I’ve done for almost two years now. I use nose spaces because I broke my nose twice early in life playing basketball. I’ve got a severely deviated septum. I probably need to go get some surgery done on it. Like if I breathe in really hard, one nostril that completely collapses.

If you have any listeners out there that are experiencing that, you may want to get some nose spacers. I’ll hook that up – I’ll let you know, Pete, in your show notes how to hook that up as well. I’ve got nose spacers. I’ve got an eye mask on to completely black things out. I’ve got the mouth tape on.

Pete Mockaitis
You must look terrifying. It’s like who is this monster.

Jarrod Warren
Yeah. No, my wife has a field day. She’s like, “Oh my God.” She doesn’t prescribe to any of this. But she’s tired a lot during the day. I’m like you’ve got your phone in your face. You’re not doing anything – I’m a champion of thinking eventually she’s going to come around, but who knows.

But I do this every night. Again, your listeners may hear this and go, “Man, I’m not getting great sleep. I’m already stressed out. That’s so much workload to my plate of everything that I have to do.” I’m telling you, if you will structure your life in this way, you will have such a better life.

I mean literally now it’s to the point that I put that tape on my mouth at night and my brain automatically starts winding down no matter what I’ve done because it just knows man, it is time for sleep. I’ve got the nose spacers in because of the deviated septum. If you don’t have a broken nose in two places, like I do, maybe you don’t need to deal with that. But I’ll send the link for your show notes. Then the eye mask. Then I even sleep with ear plugs in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jarrod Warren
Back when we had our first kid, I was running a brand new business here with a 50 person office and I was like – I told my wife I was like, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to get sleep.” She was such a champion to let me get sleep. But I put Hearos – they’re called Hearos ear plugs. I’ll send you the link for that as well. Hearos ear plugs, the highest decibel rated ear plugs.

I put those – literally if somebody broke into my house at night, I’d be in big trouble because I don’t know that I’d wake up at all. I put the Hearos ear plugs in, the night mask, the nose spacers and the tape over my mouth. I’m telling you man, I sleep like a rock. It’s awesome.

I get up. I’m so refreshed in the morning. Most days I don’t even need any caffeine. I don’t need anything to get me going. I splash a little water on my face and I’m ready to rock and roll with a very positive clear mindset. I’ve gone through all my sleep cycles and I am good to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Now I’m well convinced. We’ve had some previous sleep doctors on the show with regard to the sound blocking and the light blocking. I often end up with the ear plugs and sleep mask myself.

I want to dig into this mouth covering business. The advantage is that it kind of forces you to breathe through your nose and thusly you’ll lose less moisture. What’s this doing for me, this mouth taping?

Jarrod Warren
Well, again, you lose over a pound – the average person loses a pound of water every single night.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s why I like to weigh myself in the morning, Jarrod.

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, right. Make sure you urinate too.

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

Jarrod Warren
A lot of people weigh themselves before they urinate, that’s like two pounds there if you’re really trying to track your weight.

Basically, you can lose just through your mouth, and that’s not including your skin and your sweat, but you lose over a pound of water. Basically look at it like this, you’re dehydrated by less of a pound every single night just through your mouth.

If you tape that shut, first of all you’re going to retain that. Secondly, if you’re in a place with high allergies, which I never had allergies until we moved to Dallas about seven years ago. But it’s like – I don’t know. I feel like it’s the allergy capital of the world. Every year about three or four times a year, I was getting complete like absolute laryngitis. I couldn’t talk. I would have to cancel three or four days of my financial planning meetings.

I don’t have that anymore. Why? Because I don’t let all that cold air down in my throat. I’m retaining my hydration. I’m also making sure that I’m building more nitric oxide. If you look at nitric oxide and all the benefits that it has for your heart, for your lungs, for your brains.

Pete, I know you don’t promote this a lot, but if you’re looking at – as a guy, if you’re looking for more blood flow in the areas you really want blood flow as a guy, nitric oxide is going to do that, if you get what I’m saying there. There’s a lot of reasons to build nitric oxide.

Your nose builds that based on how we were created and how we were made. Your mouth doesn’t do that. Also, when you breathe through your mouth, you do deep chest breathing. If you’ve studied any breathing exercises from Wim Hof or my friend Mark Divine about filling your belly full of air, like there’s so much of a – gosh, where do we go with this.

80% of serotonin, which is the feel food chemical that your brain makes is actually produced in the gut.  A lot of that happens with you breathing into the gut, not breathing in through your mouth. When you breathe through your nose, you breathe through the gut. You fill up your belly, big deep belly breathe.

If you guys are trying to get relaxed out there, if you’re like “Man, I’m dealing with a super hard day,” just stop, sit back in your chair or I’ve got a standing desk here. Just lean back on a surface, just kind of relax for a second, sit down, breathe deeply through your nose. Science has shown that four deep breaths – four to six deep breaths for most people can significantly reduce blood pressure, stress, cortisol, all of those sort of things.

If you’re doing that all night long and you’re breathing through your nose and deep belly filling your air versus deep chest filling, which builds cortisol, just imagine how much more refreshed you’re going to wake up and be ready to take on the day and be awesome at your job.

Versus not doing that, waking up dehydrated, especially if you had a little bit to drink and you’ve even more dehydrated. You hadn’t drink enough water, which I was bad about for years. It’s just – the science, it’s just not arguable behind it as to how your body works and how you build nitric oxide, how you reduce dehydration and how you wake up more rested every day.

Tape your mouth shut at night guys. If you’ve got a deviated septum, like I do, use nose spacers. I’ll send you the link, Pete. And if you are in an area that has any light whatsoever, I’ll also send you the link to the best sleep blackout mask that I’ve ever tried in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, Jarrod, I would say link away. I’d love them all. I’d also love to the extent that you’ve got the journal articles and studies and research support, that’s great. Some of them I’m already convinced on, like yes, of course, it must be completely dark. I’m well on board. Others, it’s like – this mouth taping sounds a little weird, but I’m always down to try.

Jarrod Warren
It sounds nuts. It sounds nuts, man.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m always willing to experiment, Jarrod. I’m looking at the Amazon page right now for paper surgical tape. Am I looking at one inch wide? How wide do I want it?

Jarrod Warren
Yeah, one inch. 3M, 3M surgical paper tape.

Pete Mockaitis
Micropore.

Jarrod Warren
Micropore, yeah, that’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m looking at it. You’ve got it.

Jarrod Warren
You want surgical micropore hypoallergenic so that it doesn’t cause any – the worst thing that I have in the morning, and if you call it the worst thing, it’s like it’s a little stickiness on my lips from the glue. But it’s hypoallergenic. It’s microporous, so it breathes a little bit but not enough for you to open up your lips at night.

The surgical paper tape, that’s what top surgeons use whenever they tape up people. Your skin has to breathe. It has to be porous. It’s all just a perfect recipe for you to put on your lips at night.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s funny. I see it’s got some 743 reviews. I’m guessing a segment of them are people like you who are taping their mouths shut.

Jarrod Warren
Yeah. You hear that and you’re like 743 reviews, holy cow. How have I not been privy to this?

Pete Mockaitis
Well maybe there are probably like physicians like “This is great. After I draw blood I use this.” Then some are like, “I’ve been taping my mouth shut. My wife loves it.”

Jarrod Warren
It’s still weird to me. Two years in I’m literally – maybe I’m over two years now – two years in and I still put that on my mouth at night. I tell my wife – she’s talking to me at night and I’m like, “Okay, I’m putting my tape on.” She’s like, “Okay.” Two years in she’s used—

Pete Mockaitis
She’s like, “Finally. I wish you would have done that an hour ago, Jarrod.”

Jarrod Warren
Right. You should have put that on for the last three days. But it’s still weird. If you feel normal putting tape onto your mouth and putting ear plugs in and putting nose spacers in, if you feel normal doing that, like I’m more worried about you than not.

But that’s just – that’s the culture, the society that’s built for us today is that you hear that and you’re like, “Oh, that’s weird,” but do you want to be like the culture that we’ve built today? Do you want to be getting less than six hours of sleep at night when two generations ago before the light bulb was invented, we were getting over ten hours of sleep?

The depression, the SSRIs, the Adderall, the Ritalin, the caffeine. Just look at how our society operates today and say do you want to be like that or do you want to be a little off the beaten path and see what science has really come up with as far as what helps your body at night.

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

Jarrod Warren
I would encourage your listeners to shower at night instead of in the morning just because that’s going to help you get up faster without having to take the shower. I think so much of this is mental. If you feel like you have to get a shower in the morning like I did for so many years, then you’re going to feel like “I’m groggy. I’m walking into the shower. I’m wiping out my eyes in the shower. I’m going to stand there for a long time under the water.”

You just get a slow start to your day. Take the shower the night before and if you’re going to get in the water during the morning, take a cold shower. Turn the nozzle as cold as it can go. Your mitochondria in your body, your systems, everything wakes up.

The very first thing you guys want to do in the morning is to drink about 32 ounces of water to kick start your adrenals and kick start your system.

I would encourage you guys – Pete, I know we’re rushing through this kind of fast here at the end, but I would encourage you guys to do a little bit of sea salt, Himalayan pink sea salt and a little bit of lemon squeeze, like lemon juice is fine if you don’t have a natural lemon, but that’s going to help it to be more – it’s going to help wake up your adrenals in the morning to where you’ve got a little bit of salt, a little bit of lemon.

You’re crushing 32 ounces of water in the morning right when you wake up because you’re so dehydrated in the morning.

Then just make sure that you guys aren’t snoozing for 14 years like I did to where you start your day off so reactionary.

We haven’t even talked about alcohol, but I would say, I mentioned having a caffeine curfew in the evening, make sure you guys have an alcohol curfew for those of you who drink about three hours before you go to sleep because the REM sleep – and we don’t have time to get into this right no.

But the REM sleep and the deep sleep, the REM and the deep, as you’re cycling back and forth through those, you can’t cycle though those at night to get a super deep sleep if you’ve got alcohol in your system more than three hours before you go to sleep. That would be another – I guess, reverting back to the evening here – that would be another thing that I would tell you guys.

But just make sure you’re aware of what you eat and drink the night before including junk food, high carbs, alcohol, all of that before sleep, you’re going to – it’s going to be really hard for you to get in deep sleep if you’re doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
Great, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote?

Jarrod Warren
Oh man, I have so many. I think my favorite quote is by Abraham Lincoln. I’m a big historical – like in fact this weekend, we’re going out to our farmhouse. I can trace my fatherhood all the way back to the late 1600s. It’s like father, father, father, father, father, father, all the way down to me. I’ve got these three girls and I’m an only child. I’m like, “Holy cow, it’s all going to end. It’s all going to end right here.”

But the Presidential, like the American Revolution, all of that is really – I don’t know why, it just kind of gets me. It’s just so important to me.

But my favorite quote I would think is by Abraham Lincoln. It says – I hope I don’t butcher this – but it says “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that matter, but the life in your years.” He was even smart enough back then to realize man, it’s not how long you live, it’s how many years in every year you actually live. I think that’s what I’m striving for nowadays is am I really living every single day.

A lot of the stuff you’ve heard on this podcast, a lot of the stuff in my evening/morning routine, it’s so that I can freaking live every day and be so different than I was before when I was dying. I know a lot of your listeners are going to resonate with this where they feel like they are just dying every day, but they’re trying so hard to grind it out, that doesn’t work.

It’s not the years in your life that matter, but the life in your years. If you’re not doing a lot of the stuff we talked about today, you’re not going to have a lot of the life in your years.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Jarrod Warren
It would have to be With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham. If you guys haven’t read With Winning in Mind – Lanny Bassham is a mental strategy coach that coaches a lot of golf pros, a lot of Olympic athletes. If you think about the Olympics and you think about golf, what two sports really need more mental management than that? He runs a mental management clinic.

His book With Winning in Mind. He’s got a couple different books out actually. His son, Troy, has a book – Troy Bassham – has a book called Attainment. It’s like the 12 steps toward peak performance. Of course, that’s what my podcast is all about, so I’m all about that.

But With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham is one of my favorite books on the planet because it talks so much about how the brain deals with what we deal with every day and how you can really retrain that for being better at what you do each day.

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

Jarrod Warren
Man, the tool would be what I mentioned before. It’s going to be the sleep app. If you’re not tracking your sleep at night and if you don’t have a good morning and evening routine, then you guys are setting yourself up for failure every day.

Now, there may be some people, like I did for so many years, who could thrive without having that, but I would argue eventually you’re going to hit a brick wall. Eventually you’re going to be a shell of the person that you could have been. Don’t let that happen. Make sure you’re tracking your sleep.

Make sure you understand that 80% of an incredible day actually starts in the PM by getting all the blue light out of our face and using a sleep tracker at night. I actually use now the Oura ring. If your listeners are familiar with the O-U-R-A, the Oura ring.

It actually tracks my sleep in a little bit of a better way by not just tracking what time I went to bed and what time I got up, but actually tracking my sleep cycles because if you’re in a bed with a wife or a partner like I am, you can’t – the sleep cycle app, you can actually lay that on your mattress. If she’s moving around or if she’s doing something – it doesn’t know when I’m moving or not. With that device on your finger, it’s actually a lot better. That would be my tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. How about a favorite habit?

Jarrod Warren
Man, this is a tough one and this is one that if your listeners hear this, I would love some accountability on. It’s spending at least one hour a week in silence and deep thought while note taking.

I don’t know why – I have no idea with everything that I’ve learned why this has been so hard for me to get my mind around, but blocking off at least one hour – or not at least, but blocking off one hour on my calendar to where I sit in silence, I sit in deep thought and I journal. It’s been really hard – probably over the last six weeks I’ve been better at it then I have ever been in my life. I hope to continue that.

But if your listeners are like I am where they’re just kind of go, go, go and they can’t calm the mind and they’re busy all the time, this is probably one of the most important habits you guys can lock in.

Because what do people say? They say if you have a few minutes each week, you should meditate and spend time in silence and really calm the mind. If you feel like you don’t have time to mediate and calm the mind, if you feel like, “Man, I don’t have that time. I’ve got to be doing other things,” then you probably need two or three times that time for meditation because you’ve really got a real issue going on there.

But that would be one hour a week in silence and deep thought with note taking. I would really encourage your listeners to do that. That’s something I’m working on. I’ve gotten a lot better at, but for hard charging performers that want to be excellent at what they do each day, it’s really hard to just stop and be in silence, but I think it’s going to be the biggest game changer for people that really over time master that.

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

Jarrod Warren
It’s just to be present.

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

Jarrod Warren
Oh man, thanks so much. My website is Success101Podcast.com. The resources page I’ve mentioned a couple of times is Success101Podcast.com/Resources.

If you guys want my book, which I don’t put out on Amazon, I don’t put out anywhere because I thought originally I was just going to give it out to clients and advisors and things like that, but it’s become – it’s been a blessing. It’s become really popular. It’s called From Success to Significance. I’m giving away the e-version of that right now.

If you just go to Success101Podcast.com/Book and you select the e-version, the e-book version and put “freesuccess101”, you’ll get a code to download that for free or if you want the paperback version, just enter Success 101 and you will just pay the shipping cost in the US.

It’s kind of a workbook that I developed, where people could go through and really understand what creating a vision, creating goals, creating a more positive mindset looks like. I’ve gotten – I’ve been so fulfilled by that because I’ve gotten such good feedback. But that’s where people can find me.

On Instagram I’m under Jarrod Warren Consulting. I’m on Facebook under Jarrod Warren as well. I’m kind of out there where you can find me. But it’s all pointing back toward sharpening ourselves, being at better at what we do each day by eliminating stress, distractions and really all the stuff we talked about with morning and evening routines.

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

Jarrod Warren
Man, I think I’ve already said it. I think it’s the morning and evening routines. I know that sounds so boring and ho hum and whatever and I would have felt that years ago, like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll do that. But what’s the real secret.” I think that’s it.

I think it’s really understanding that you’ve got to quiet your mind at the end of the day. You’ve got to make sure that you’re getting in bed on time. You’ve got to make sure that you understand in your mind that 80% or more of an incredible morning is only going to become – is only going to come whenever you focus on the PM and just making sure that you’re living a very essentialism or minimalistic type lifestyle, where we just get rid of all the noise.

I’ve always been such a big podcast fan and news fan and reading fan. Information is power. Information is power was such a common phrase years and years and years ago, like 30 – 40 – 50 years ago when there wasn’t a lot of information. Now we’ve got so much information that we almost have to say information can be noise and really just cutting out some of that is helpful.

I hope your listeners take a lot away from Success 101, which the Success 101 podcast is just how do we get back to the grassroots of success. It’s not making tons of money. It’s not being super influential. It’s how do we get back to all the stuff we talked about today toward the 101 of success. I think we’ve missed a lot of that in our society and I hope we get back to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jarrod, thank you so much for sharing the goods. This was a whole lot of fun and I wish you tons of luck and a wondrous sleep night after night.

Jarrod Warren
Pete, thanks so much for having me here. It’s such a blessing. I just want to affirm you for just helping people be better at what they do day in and day out through your podcast and all the guests that you have on and all the episodes that you’ve had. What an incredible time we live in today where you can tune in and listen to podcasts like yours and mine and get so much information. I just really hope your listeners take a lot away from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

353: Optimizing Your Mood and Productivity through “Sonic Vitamins” with Lyz Cooper

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Lyz Cooper says: "The way we're driven by music... it's an ancient, primal thing."

Founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy Lyz Cooper explains how different sounds—or sonic vitamins—can help you relax, get energized, and/or enter a flow state.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The types of music that energize and soothe
  2. Why it’s good to break up focused work with sound breaks
  3. How to manipulate sound to get into the zone

About Lyz

Award-winning entrepreneur and author Lyz Cooper has been working in the holistic health field for 33 years and with therapeutic sound since 1994. She has developed a range of techniques which have been shown to help improve health and well-being using therapeutic sound and music and is considered to be one of the thought leaders in the field of therapeutic sound today.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lyz Cooper Interview Transcript

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

Lyz Cooper
Well thank you very much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, one fun thing I learned about you is that you keep not only chickens, but a rare breed of fluffy chickens. What’s the story here?

Lyz Cooper
Well, yes. To be honest, I didn’t actually know this about them before I chose them. I just loved the look of them. I decided I wanted to keep some pets at home. They are really just pets. They’re not chickens that we keep for the eggs because we eat a lot of eggs, but it’s because I just wanted to have some companions.

I just fell in love with these fluffy chickens when I was – I went to the chicken breeder. Then I found out about them later and that they were apparently discovered by Marco Polo on his adventures in China. They have black bones and blue skin.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah. They’re fluffy. They don’t – obviously it’s feathers, but it looks like fluff. They’re called Silkies. They’re very sweet. They’re very good – they don’t lay very big eggs. They’re only little bantam chickens. But they’re very, very sweet natured. They’re very funny.

When they all strike up a chorus of clucking, which they do several times a day – they like to celebrate when one of them’s laid an egg – they all get together in this chorus of clucking, which always makes me laugh. If I’ve had a heavy day at work or I’m in the middle of a very heady project or something, they’ll always bring some sonic sunshine to my day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great fun. Thank you. It’s funny we’re about to talk about—you founded the British Academy of Sound Therapy. Who would have thought that the fluffy chickens would be a form of sound therapy for you? But there they are. What is this organization all about?

Lyz Cooper
Well, the British Academy of Sound Therapy was an organization that I founded back in the year 2000 actually, right on the millennium.  It was a combination of many years of looking into therapeutic sound. I got very ill in the early ‘90s. I was in a very sort of high-pressured job in advertising. I burnt out. I got very sick. I had chronic fatigue syndrome and so on.

I started listening to music and therapeutic sound. What I mean by that is tonal, sort of ancient music if you like, which focuses a lot on tone, which I’m sure we’ll get to talk about a bit later. Basically I couldn’t believe how much better I felt after I had listened to this music. I set about traveling the world and finding out how many indigenous people used sound of music for healing.

After many years of research, I then decided that I’d developed some techniques and I wanted to actually teach those to others, so the British Academy of Sound Therapy was formed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I do want to talk about tone and the impact music has on us in terms of health as an organism and particularly in the sort of mood or state and how it relates to productivity and being awesome at your job.

The way I discovered you was a variety of articles talking about the most relaxing song in the world. I thought whoa, that is fascinating. It wasn’t hype. There are actually studies in which they’ve pitted this song against others and it sort of came out on top, smoking Enya and then all the others that you might associate with supreme relaxation in a song with biochemical or maybe clinical I should say heart rate-type indicators.

I thought that was an amazing story. I won’t steal your thunder. Can you tell us how did the song Weightless by Marconi Union come about and what was your role in making it come to life?

Lyz Cooper
I was contacted by an advertising agency that was doing some work for Radox Spa. I don’t know that you have Radox there, but they’re a bath product company. They said that they were doing a campaign, which was all about creating the most relaxing environment in the home, so when you put your bubbles in your bath, you put on some lovely music and you can just drift away.

We had a very interesting meeting. They said that they would like to have a professional sound therapist consult and work in collaboration with Marconi Union, which we did.

I have something which I call my sonic vitamins, because of the way the brain has evolved over millions of years, we respond to different sounds in different ways. There’s a lot more research now that’s being done about this.

But basically that’s one of the things I do is compose music, which I call consciously designed music. It’s designed specifically to work on different areas of the mind, body, and emotions.

We worked, Marconi Union and I, worked together. I put the sonic vitamins into the piece and sort of – it’s a little bit like crafting clay in a way. If you imagine a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel, Marconi Union provided the music and then I shaped it into the Weightless, which was basically by saying, okay, well, we need to do this here and we need to put that in there. We need to have a heartbeat that slows down as we go throughout the piece.

It was tested, as you quite rightly said, against the other tracks and found to be a lot more relaxing. In fact, everybody was surprised at the results of the data.

Whenever I went – because the media got hold of it – and whenever I was invited to go on BBC radio or any international radio stations, they had to give a warning before they played it to say, “If you’re driving your car or operating heavy machinery, sort of pull over now or step away from what you’re doing.” I think to be honest, just for a minute’s clip, it wouldn’t have done anything, but certainly if you hear the whole piece, it will lull you into this lovely relaxed state.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just great for publicity and brand and impact. It’s like I’ve heard there have been some legendary copywriting pieces associated with this “Warning: this may not be safe because it’s so intensely effective,” which is like “Whoa, you got my attention. Now I’m really intrigued. What’s this all about?” That’s pretty cool. I think that probably contributed to the success of it.

These sonic vitamins, as you say, what are some of the elements or ingredients that we might think about when it comes to the music we select and the impact that it has? You mentioned tone, you mentioned a couple particular things that you wove into the song Weightless, what are kind of some of the “if this, then that” cause and effect sound and body mood reactions that we can count on?

Lyz Cooper
Well, I call it sonic caffeine and sonic hot chocolate. There’s two sort of very simple ways that you can energize or relax yourself using tone or pieces of music and those sonic vitamins.

For example, I mentioned earlier that the brain has evolved over millennia to respond to certain sounds in certain ways. A lot of these are based on nature sounds really. For example, an animal call, a high-itched animal alarm call or will—or a shriek, a human shriek—will actually stimulate the release of adrenaline in the system. That’s exactly why our alarms, the alarm that may get you up in the morning or a car alarm is going to be a very high-pitched, sudden sound.

But it’s based on the fact that we need it to survive, so we needed to be able to one, hear these signals, these sounds over long distances, and two, be able to react to them very quickly. Any piece of music which has a high pitch or even if it’s an ascending pitch, so a fast ascending pitch, will be stimulating.

My sonic caffeine is to put on any piece of music, which has fairly high pitches in it or one of the things that I’m often found doing just before a meeting if I need to use the grey matter, is to actually sing a tone in a high pitch for a minute or two just to get the brain cells going. If you’re about to go into a meeting or an exam, it’s really good. A few minutes, you’ll be buzzing.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say you sing the tone in a high pitch, is it just constant or could you give us a demonstration?

Lyz Cooper
Oh goodness. You got me now. Basically – actually, we could do this together, Pete. Are you up for it?

Pete Mockaitis
All right, let’s do it.

Lyz Cooper
If you pop your hand on your head right now and if you would just to say eee, like an e sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Eee.

Lyz Cooper
Okay, can you feel your hand buzzing?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I can.

Lyz Cooper
Okay, if you’ll go ahh. Can you feel the difference?

Pete Mockaitis
Ahh, huh, it’s different but I don’t know how to say it. They’re both vibrating, but they’re vibrating differently.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, the eee sound will vibrate your head more than the ahh sound. That’s because the way that the mouth and the tongue are placed when you sing – when you make that sound, actually literally stimulates that head.

That massage that you’re giving yourself coupled with the high sound actually helps to improve concentration. I’ll just do a demonstration. We didn’t use a very high-pitched note there. But so for example I will go eee. I’ll continue that for as long as I can in one breath. I’ll do that maybe for about a minute. That will really get you buzzing.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding. That’s cool. I’m thinking that’s pretty cool that I sort of put this money into renovating the enclosed porch that’s my office with the sound proofing, so that others can’t hear as well.

I guess it might be a little trickier – is there a particular volume that you need to be at in order to be effective because I’m thinking folks are saying, “I can’t do this in my office. That’s nuts.” Maybe there’s a little room sort of like phone booth style, mini conference rooms that can be traded into. But is there a minimum threshold of volume to make it count?

Lyz Cooper
Not really. I mean obviously it’s got to be fairly audible. You couldn’t really do a silent – you couldn’t really do it without the sound. But why not get everybody in the boardroom doing it? How much fun would that be?

Pete Mockaitis
You know of all the things that motivational speakers have made me do, this is not the weirdest and it’s got some science behind it, so I can see that working in certain contexts. Sure. Cool.

That eee, one approach is that you’re singing that. Then alternatively, you could be listening to that sort of thing, the high-pitched sudden sound or fast ascending pitches, are providing that kind of adrenaline stimulus. Could you maybe give us some examples of popular tracks or songs that include some of these features?

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, a really good – any sort of dance music that has that ascending pitch and tempo is really important as well. It’s not just the pitch of the sound, it’s also the beat. You want to be looking at around about 120 beats per minute, which is about twice the resting heart rate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so if it were like 180, that’s just like you can have too much of a good thing, but—

Lyz Cooper
Well you could – I think there’s always too much of a good thing, but I think that you can overdo it, but I don’t think – you’re not going to explode or anything. But, so it’s not dangerous.

But there’s a reason why modern dance music is so – really gets you going. It’s very hard not to sort of bob your head or tap or stamp your feet to a piece of rousing music. Anything that gets you going in terms of gets you moving, stimulates you, is a good track to use.

One of the tracks that I use when I’m training my students is Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars. I don’t know whether you know that particular track, but it’s a really – it has – it rises and falls, so it encourages something called expectation. It’s like a little kind of massage for the senses.

If you ever need to wake up or stimulate your brain, anything that is like that where there is a pitch that rises up and up and up and up and then it might fall down, the pitch might fall down again, is good. I would say any dance music really will certainly do the trick.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, as you mention that, I’m thinking now I was at a wedding recently, shout out to Lawrence and Katie Joy, congratulations guys. They – the playlist was superb in terms of they just picked things that got people going.

One song that kind of surprised me, because you don’t hear it on a lot of wedding playlists in my experience was by Celine Dion, I Drove All Night. I’m thinking, we’ve got that. We’ve got that up tempo and then even – I’m not going to sing it well, but “I drove all night,” right. She’s going high and kind of varying it a little bit there. Sure enough, even though this isn’t a super popular song these days as far as I’ve observed, it really did get the people going.

Lyz Cooper
Exactly. Exactly. That’s what – okay, it’s a different kind of thrill. Earlier when I used the example of car alarms and fire alarms to get the adrenaline going, it’s a different sort of thrill, but it’s still going to get – it’s going to arouse the system. It’s certainly not my sonic hot chocolate, which is completely the opposite, where we’re actually lulling the system into a more relaxed state.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to talk about that in a second. Any other sort of top recommendations? Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars is one of them that’s doing it well. Anything else that is just killer when it comes to the stimulation?

Lyz Cooper
Oh goodness, you’ve got me now. Let me think. Now, what would I use? I tend to use – what was that one guy. There’s one by Prodigy actually, which is not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s called Breathe.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you kidding me?

Lyz Cooper
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the odds – here’s a crazy story. I thought you might say that because I think it’s the only song I can identify. I actually know Prodigy because when I was in college I did a modern dance class, which was kind of random, but filling out the credit hours to keep my scholarship. That was the song that we did in our final performance.

It’s funny I couldn’t put my finger on it, but just something about that song just kind of made me feel something. I was like, yeah. What are the ingredients there? I can’t – I think of that as being more kind of like percussion/bass-y in terms of what’s distinct about that one.

Lyz Cooper
It is. Now that’s an interesting one because you’ve got the bass that comes in very strongly, so you’re feeling that in the body, but you’ve also got this very high, it almost sounds like a whip crack sound, that goes on throughout the piece. It’s like a little hook.

Whilst you’ve got the bass that drives the body, so it’s very physical, the beat is actually quite fast as well. Then you’ve got this high-pitched sort of whip cracking sound that goes throughout the piece that’s very exciting to the system. Yeah.

But the thing is one of the things that I find really fascinating is whilst there is a rule of thumb – we know in music psychology and so on that there are general rules of thumb, there’s always going to be people that find their own pieces of music that are quite different.

Because of the way we’re programmed, we will respond to high-pitched sounds in a very – be aroused by them. Somebody might have a particular track they like which is quite deep in tone, but because of the association that they have with that piece, then it has the effect of actually stimulating if you see what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like certain memories and such.

Lyz Cooper
That’s it. You can’t – this isn’t sort of something that is – it’s not mind-controlling or overriding if you know what I mean. It’s just based on the natural way our brains evolved. But you’ve also got to factor in your childhood you went to parties a lot and they played a particular track and everybody got up and danced around like mad things, but it wasn’t particularly high, it would probably still get you high as you liked.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’m wondering now – we had a previous guest, Dan McGinn, who wrote a book called Psyched Up. He was talking about sort of performance rituals and stuff or pre-performance rituals. He said when it comes to music, one of the most cited songs for the pump up is Eye of the Tiger from the Rocky theme.

Have you observed that in your research or do you think there’s anything sort of special about this tune that seems to do it or is it mostly just about associations, people love the Rocky movie and there it is?

Lyz Cooper
I think that’s a really good example. I haven’t used that particular piece in my research, but it’s still fairly high pitched—

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Possible.

Lyz Cooper
—for a man to sing. Exactly. And of course you’ve got that iconic scene in the Rocky movie, so anybody that’s seen that movie is immediately going to be there I think in their minds. So yeah, it’s fascinating, isn’t it, the sort of – the way we’re driven by music. It’s very – it’s an ancient primal thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Let’s talk about the hot chocolate here. If we’re, I guess, feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, what are some of the key ingredients and examples of things that are soothing?

Lyz Cooper
Sonic hot chocolate is perfect for, as you quite rightly said, just calming the system down. It’s – I always think about – when I think about sonic hot chocolate, Tibetan monks sitting somewhere on a mountain in a temple singing Om.

If you think about that, you very rarely ever hear them singing Om. You’re not going to hear a high pitch. You’re going to hear a beautiful, low Om, this beautiful kind of silky sound that sort of cuddles you. That is because low tones relax the system. If there’s low and slow, so fast and high to stimulate, low and slow to relax. If you’re thinking about um, nice, sort of slow tempo tracks, anything that’s more tonal rather than rhythmic is also good.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you define that tonal rather than rhythmic? With rhythmic I’m thinking beats, drums, percussion.

Lyz Cooper
That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Tonal you just mean not that.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, so more tonal than – when I – I think something that doesn’t have a driving rhythm. It’s a slightly more abstract rhythm-based or slightly more sort of swingy rather than boom, boom, boom. Your body is going to be driven by – you’re going to be held in a less relaxed state if you’re being driven by a very rhythmic piece.

So that’s where you’re sort of more Enya type pieces come in. They’re more drifty. They’re slightly more ethereal in nature. But it could even just be slow songs. Mrs. Jones, Me and Mrs. Jones, for example is that kind of thing if you want some nice gentle soul music.

Or even sound if you really want to – some people find sort of therapeutic sound tracks slightly boring to the ears, you know. So if you’re looking at just Himalayan bowls or monks chanting. I think it’s a lot more popular now than it certainly was when I started working in sound therapy. But some people find that difficult to listen to over periods of time.

Again, I would say just put a playlist together that really suits your palate, but bearing in mind … low, and long tonal sounds that don’t have a driving rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. For examples there we mentioned Enya. Now I’m thinking about – so monks chanting. I’ve got a couple monks chanting Latin tunes or – that’s fun. What else would you recommend in this category?

Lyz Cooper
Like I say, it depends on taste. If you were into sort of gentle Indian music, Asian music playing, maybe some gentle – something again, abstract and not too rhythmic in nature.

I’ve got a track actually, which you’re very welcome to tell your listeners about if they’re interested. It’s a brand new track that I’m working on right now, which is part of a consciously designed music program I’m working on called Life Sonics. I can give you the website if people want to download an example of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, thanks. Yeah.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah? It’s www.LifeSonics.com. When you get onto that page, you’ll be given the – you can just click on and download the track. It’s actually a part of the piece called Cosmic. It has been designed specifically for relaxation. It’s kind of taking Weightless a step further because obviously Weightless was a collaboration between myself and Marconi Union. This is my own composition. I’d love to hear what people think of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Thank you. That’s good. Well so now I’m thinking – all right, we’ve talked a bit about when you want to pump up the energy or bring down the energy. I’m wondering now just about being in a pleasant mood. If you’re just kind of in a funk, it’s not like I’m tired. It’s not like I’m stressed, but it’s just like “Eh, this all sucks.” Just a little grumpy funk. What’s sort of the musical prescription for that situation?

Lyz Cooper
Okay, there’s again, two ways of approaching this. One way, something that I would do is one, think about association because we spoke a little bit about Rocky and association, so first of all think about all the good times that you’ve had and what music that you might use that draws on those good times because psychologically it’s good to have those memories.

Now if I was working with a client and I didn’t actually have that experience to draw on, then I might prescribe a piece of music that is quite lyrical in nature. Something that rises and falls in a – for example, you couldn’t get much better than Happy by Pharrell. I mean that is just the perfect thing.

Even if you take the lyrics away, which are kind of telling you to be happy really, but just the way that music is. You’ve got a really nice happy, skippy, trippy beat. It’s fairly high, but not high that it’s too sort of shrieky. It’s light. Anything that’s light and lyrical sounding is perfect for uplifting.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say lyrical, you mean it has words or what exactly does lyrical mean here?

Lyz Cooper
Lyrical musically can be literally lyrics, so the lyrics that are uplifting, that have a meaning to you. But also lyrical in the musical sense is almost like – the actual sort of quintessential definition of lyrical music would be Irish music for example. You’ve got that kind of da, da, da, diddly dee, de, diddly, diddly, de, kind of skippy, I’m skipping through the tulips and my day is lovely and everything is wonderful kind of music.

But some people are going to find that – again, you’ve got to bring your taste into it. I’m not suggesting that everybody listens to Irish music, unless you love it. But find that lyrical nature, the skippy nature within the sort of genre of music that you like particularly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. Can you speak to maybe another example or two beyond Happy and some of these Irish pieces?

Lyz Cooper
Goodness, let me think. I’m trying to think about what I might use for skipping. I might need a bit more time on that one to be honest, Pete. I’d love to have got some playlists together for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Hey, if you come up with them after the fact, we will totally link them with eager delight, so that would be appreciated.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, is that okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very much. Thank you. Yeah, what a treat.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, well, I’ll put a couple together and think about it. I probably need a couple of minutes to reflect on the best more so contemporary pieces that people might know. But yeah, I’ll whiz you an email.

Pete Mockaitis
Great, thank you. Any thoughts when it comes to these assertions that hey, Mozart or whatever or classical music will make you smart? What’s that about and how can we use that to our advantage?

Lyz Cooper
Well, there has been a fair bit of research on the so-called Mozart effect. That research has actually been – maybe criticized is a strong word – I think all research is always up for scrutiny. But there is no evidence really, I think robust evidence, that classical music is necessarily going to make you smart. In fact, the best way to exercise your brain is actually to improvise.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like scooby doo, bop, bop, like jazz improve? Like what do you mean?

Lyz Cooper
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Lyz Cooper
Any kind of –

Pete Mockaitis
Because those people look dumb when they do it. No offense jazz musicians. We’re just teasing.

Lyz Cooper
When I studied music psychology, they actually drew – fairly often drew on jazz as an example because obviously jazz is the thing we think about when we think of improvisation.

But there’s been a fair amount of research where they’ve wired jazz musicians to EEG machines and it’s actually – you do, you use a lot of high complex processing in the brain, very wide processing in the brain when you improvise.

But it doesn’t have to be jazz. It can be – yeah, just scatting around your kitchen, shoo be doing everywhere. Or get together with a group of friends and if you play an instrument, get together and play. That will exercise more of your brain.

In fact, there’s a – talking of making you smarter – there are – Oliver Sacks actually was quoted saying that music is more widely distributed in the brain than any other activity we do.

A lot of research has been done with FMRI scans where they’ve put people, musicians and non-musicians into FMRI and asked them either to actually play an instrument or to visualize playing an instrument. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not actually playing the instrument, which is amazing, if you can just visualize playing.

They put keyboard players into the FMRI and there was very little difference in the areas of the brain that lit up when they were playing or just imagining that they were playing. But what they found is that there is so much of the brain that’s actually involved when somebody was playing an instrument that it was a really good workout for the brain.

It accounts for why people or explains why people who are even in the later stages of dementia, if they’ve played an instrument, they can still remember how to play it. That’s because there’s enough information stored in lots of little pockets of the brain to enable them to remember how to piece together how to play that instrument or perhaps remember a track from 50 years ago and yet not be able to remember the faces of their loved ones.

I would say improvise, play an instrument, imagine you’re playing an instrument and you’ll stay clever.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Speaking of staying clever, I would love to get your take on what’s some good music to listen to at work if you’re about to hunker down for a good hour/hour and a half focused crank out some smart work with your computer time. What would you recommend for the background musical ambiance in this context?

Lyz Cooper
Well, what I would recommend is actually a brain break. I noticed that there was an article that you sent me actually from a piece that was done by Jabra or on behalf of Jabra. I was in conversation with them a couple of years ago. We were looking at doing a piece based on productivity at work.

Basically the ideal cycle is about 90 minutes of productivity and about 10 to 20 minutes of brain break time. It’s almost like a screensaver for your brain. Rather than listening to music while you’re working, which of course you can do. A lot of people do, but I would have a timer set, if you’ve got a smart watch or whatever or a phone for 90 minutes.

Then after that 90 minutes is actually plug in something like the LifeSonic’s track or a relaxation track that’s designed to take you into a brain cycle mode. Weightless, for example, was written for that purpose. That is going to enable your brain to go into a kind of – almost like a refreshing mode. That will prevent burnout and it will prevent brain fatigue.

That’s more essential than actually playing – then trying to push through it if you like, by playing music that’s going to keep you going.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Using that music for relaxation for the brain break is a great move. I guess I’m thinking not so much about pushing through it or going longer, but it’s like if we are going to do 60 or 90 minutes of continuous work and you’d like something to help you, is there any kind of music that will help facilitate that flow state in terms of “All right, I’m in the groove. I’m just moving along. I’m not going to get caught up in email or a distraction or whatever.” Is there any kind of musical ingredients that can aid in making that happen?

Lyz Cooper
Do you mean sort of focused concentration or what – is it more about not being distracted from something else or what’s—?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking focused concentration like in my dream world, and maybe I’m asking too much, but it’s like those moments in which you sit down to do some work and wow, it just poured out of your mind and fingertips into the keyboard and you are so impressed with how effortlessly you were able to produce this writing or document or PowerPoint deck or creative output from – because you were just in a real nice groove of kind of flow and making it happen.

I guess part of it has to do with not getting distracted by other things. It’s also I think kind of being in that place where you’re neither over stimulated and worried and anxious and freaking out about it and also neither under stimulated in terms of “I’m kind of sleepy, groggy, and bored.”

Lyz Cooper
This is interesting, isn’t it, because I think that there’s a couple of things here which I think is really important also coming to mind is the importance for silence. One of the things I’m often saying to my students is that silence is also really important. It’s something we very rarely allow ourselves the luxury of real silence. Some people find actually certain types of music quite distracting.

You can get noise cancelling headphones, for example, which if you find music distracting or music takes you away from flow, is you might want to try some silence.

Now, however, some people find that certain music helps with their concentration and gets them into a flow state. There is actually something called flow theory, which is where, as you quite rightly said, the brain just goes – you go into this almost no time zone. You’re just kind of off and the creativity is flowing. This is something that we work with at the British Academy of Sound Therapy. We also incorporate silence into it as well. It’s sound and silence.

What we do is we use the tonal sounds or if people don’t like tonal sounds, very ambient music. Again, it’s just in the background, but you’ll need to play with the volume so that it’s not too invasive. It will start to, after a while, it starts to put you into – it’s almost an altered state of consciousness, but it’s different from zoning out completely. You’re in a very – in that flow state.

But we also stop for a while when we’re playing. We’ll stop at the end of maybe a five- or a ten-minute sequence and it will just fade into silence and then the music comes back up gently out of that silence. It’s not pervading, it’s not invading your consciousness, but just allowing you to stay in that flow.

That might be something that people want to actually try is having some very sort of ambient background music and just to then feel when it’s at the right volume for them and just allow it to play almost in the background, almost imperceptibly. But also to try silence.

Pete Mockaitis
How can we access this ambient or tonal stuff that strategically comes in and out? Where do we find that?

Lyz Cooper
I can actually give you a sound bath recording if that would help.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, thank you.

Lyz Cooper
That is actually something that we’ve got at the Academy. I can – do I email that over to you as an mp3 or-?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, yes, or we can link it on the show notes and that will be great. Thank you.

Lyz Cooper
No, you’ve very welcome. Again, I’d love to hear what people think of it. It’s going to be – it’s pure sound therapy. There’s not much music in this particular example. But it will give people a feel for that actual process of going into that flow state.

I think that some people can go fairly deep with that. It’s a little bit like Weightless. Some people have said to me that they go very deep almost into a deep meditation with it. Again, it’s one of those things that if you are – I wouldn’t particularly listen to it while you were driving or something like that. It really is for when you’re grounded and not out and about.

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

Lyz Cooper
Goodness, what else? Obviously people will be directed to the website. I’ve got a book called What is Sound Healing, which talks a little bit more about the science behind therapeutic sound. There’s lots of sort of little tips and things and things that people can try at home as well to bring some sound into their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right, well now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lyz Cooper
My favorite quote is, “The universe is cosmic music resonating throughout hyperspace.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Lyz Cooper
It’s actually by a quantum physicist called Michio Kaku. It was relating to string theory, but it was the opening quote for his book and it really inspired me, the thought of these strings of energy that are sort of almost like cosmic music, just stretching through space.

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

Lyz Cooper
My favorite bit of research or study, goodness. I’m going to give myself a bit of a pat on the back there.

My favorite bit of research at the moment is one that I’m very excited about that’s looking at sound induced altered states of consciousness. It is basically a piece that we’ve been doing in conjunction with the University of Roehampton. It’s using a specific therapeutic sound program to help to take people into a very deep meditative state.

I remember, I actually went to my local university, University of Portsmouth, when I was crunching the data. We were putting the algorithms into the computer. I needed help with doing it. Out the first sort of result came. It sort of spat it out and said – the number was statistically significant. I thought okay, right. The next one statistically significant and so on and so on.

We actually got to the point where we thought perhaps we’d put the wrong algorithm into the computer, but we checked and it was – we had so much statistical significance with it. Not being a great statistician – there’s a word that’s difficult to say half past eight at night – that I said to the doctor who was helping me, I said, “What does this mean?” He said, “Go home and crack open a bottle of champagne.” I was completely blown away.

That particular piece has taken me to international conferences around the world talking about my work. It has sort of far-reaching implications when it comes to taking therapeutic sound into the mainstream, so using it in hospitals and sort of mainstream healthcare settings. Yeah, that’s the first – that was just an amazing moment for me really. I hope I’m allowed to give myself a pat on the back.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. What is the title of the article? We’ll link to the full text journal citation.

Lyz Cooper
It is called Sound Affects.

Pete Mockaitis
Clever.

Lyz Cooper
I can give you the link actually. I’ll email you that. People can have a look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Lyz Cooper
My favorite book, one I’m reading at the moment is called Maps of Meaning. It is how – it’s basically how the strength of human belief throughout the years and how belief has literally led us well, through times of enlightenment, but also times of great difficulty. One of the sort of the elements of the work that I do is also to help people to reframe life-limiting beliefs in a more positive way through music.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Lyz Cooper
A favorite tool? Goodness, do you mean like a hammer or a chisel?

Pete Mockaitis
Could be, if that’s one of your favorites. It could be an intellectual tool as well.

Lyz Cooper
Okay. Goodness. Let me think. At the moment I’m having both challenge and – a positive challenge as well as a frustrating challenge with a new little mixing disk that I’ve got. I’m getting very geeky with my – with that at the moment and diving into all the different effects and things that it can do. At this moment that’s both my favorite and my most frustrating tool.

But if I was to absolutely pick a favorite, I would say that at the moment my iPad, if that’s allowed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. How about a favorite habit?

Lyz Cooper
I think my favorite habit is, catching myself out and listening to my inner voice when I have negative dialogue with myself, when I hear myself and catching myself out is something I like to do.

If I can make myself laugh by catching myself out and say, “Oh, there you go again. There you go again in giving yourself a hard time about something,” and trying to laugh through it. Because I think if you can just take some of your dark thoughts and look at them through a humorous lens, then you can get over anything in life.

That’s coming from the very dark times that I spoke about at the top of this interview. That’s been something that I’ve learnt to the point at which some of my friends say to me, “Are you sure you’re not mad at that? You should be. Shouldn’t you get mad at that?” I think to myself goodness, in life there’s a lot worse happening out there that I think if you can turn things around in your head and make that a habit, then that’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, a particular thing that you say or share that seems to be quoted to you frequently, something you’re known for saying?

Lyz Cooper
Something I’m known for saying, “That’s interesting.” That’s exactly what people will say to me. I’ve got a habit of saying “That’s interesting.”

When one of my students says to me, “Lyz, I’m never going to be able to do this,” so if they’re struggling with playing an instrument or something and they’ll say, “Lyz, I’m never going to be able to do this,” is I’ll look at them and I’ll say, “That’s interesting,” because to me there’s a negative belief there. That’s interesting.

And the other thing is “Is that true?” Some of our beliefs, most of them actually that are negative and hold us back in life just are not true. Often people will say to me, “Oh, I’m useless.” “Is that true? Really? You’re really useless? What are you good at? You must be good at something.” “Well, yeah, well I can ride a bike.” “Well, there you go. You’re not useless, are you?” “I can bake a cake.” “Well, that’s two things that you’re not useless at.”

I think if we sometimes put ourselves in the dark in a way and make a case for ourselves, almost defend ourselves against ourselves, our negative beliefs, then you can change your life. You can really transform yourself. I hope that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where should they go?

Lyz Cooper
Well, they can go to TheBritishAcademyOfSoundTherapy.com. That has more information about sound therapy and some of the research that we’re doing. They’re welcome to go to LifeSonics.com for the track. If you want to email me directly, you can email at info@LyzCooper.com. It’s Lyz with a Y.

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

Lyz Cooper
I would say stay in the moment. That sounds a bit cliché, I know, but everything is okay in the moment. If you’re racing ahead, it’s so easy to be in the future, so thinking about all of the things I should be doing, all the things I shouldn’t be doing, all the things that may happen to me. Being in the future makes us anxious because we cannot know what’s in the future, so you’re going to be in an anxious state.

If you’re in the past, you’re worrying about all of the things that have happened to you, all the things you’ve said or you’ve done or didn’t say or didn’t do. That sets up depression and anger and grief. When we’re in the moment and we’re really reaching inside for that still point, then we are at peace.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Lyz, this has been so much fun. Thanks so much for taking the time and sharing the goods and sharing all of the bonus, the tracks and music and goodies that we get to access. It’s been a whole lot of fun.

Lyz Cooper
Oh, I’m so glad, Pete. Thank you so much for having me on your show. It’s been amazing. I’ve had a lot of fun too.

350: Productivity Principles to Make Time for What’s Important with Jake Knapp

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Jake Knapp says: "I see every day as an experiment rather than a judgment on my character."

Jake Knapp shares how to deliberately design your day around what’s important to you, and how to give yourself more energy in the process.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A fresh definition for what makes a day successful
  2. Why and how to set the highlight of your day before it starts
  3. Approaches to clear out distractions for laser focus

About Jake

Jake spent 10 years at Google and Google Ventures, where he created the Design Sprint. He has since coached teams like Slack, Uber, 23andMe, LEGO, and The New York Times on the method. Previously, Jake helped build products like Gmail, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Encarta. He is currently among the world’s tallest designers.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jake Knapp Interview Transcript

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

Jake Knapp
Pete, thank you so much for having me, really excited about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have you as well. I want to start where perhaps many of your interviews have started, your lack of a spleen. Tell us the whole story behind this.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I don’t have a spleen. I lost it while playing basketball. Not like it fell out or anything. But I was in high school and playing basketball. I took a really weird hard fall, where I actually sort of got caught up with my legs caught up on somebody’s shoulder and fell down really hard.

I lived – I grew up on this remote island, not super remote, but you have to get there by ferry boat up in Washington State. In order to get sort of medical care, you have to be helicoptered off the island if it’s an emergency. They did that. By the time they got me to the hospital, I had almost bled to death internally.

I had about – as it turns out they just had to sort of cut me open, see what was going on, and they had to take the spleen out because there wasn’t time to fix it, so I have no spleen and that’s the backstory.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. It sounds like you play basketball hard. Maybe that is a good thing for people to learn about like, “This guy is a badass.”

Jake Knapp
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Your latest book, it’s called Make Time. What’s sort of the big idea behind this one?

Jake Knapp
Well, to try to tie it into the spleen, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh please do.

Jake Knapp
Let’s see if we can. That was a near-death experience for me at the tender age of, I guess I was 16 at the time. I suppose that a lot of the idea in Make Time is about making good use of time. It’s about the idea that we have limited time in our days and in our years and in our lives and every day matters.

I think a lot of times it’s easy for the important things to get pushed off to someday, important work projects, important people in our lives, important hobbies or things that we hope to do or dig into or invest in. This is a book of sort of practical techniques for making time every day for whatever is important and making attention for it so that you can really pay attention and enjoy every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. It sounds super worthwhile. I’d like to maybe get a picture in terms of the difference this research and material and insight has made for you or your co-author or some readers. Could you give us maybe a little before/after or transformation story/case study of kind of what it’s doing for folks?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, it’s probably best to tell my story, my experience with it. I’m a designer by trade, a software designer. That’s what I have done for about 20 years. In my life I was building products. I worked at Microsoft. I worked on something called Microsoft Encarta, which most people probably don’t remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I do remember that.

Jake Knapp
Oh, okay, cool.

Pete Mockaitis
The encyclopedia on CD ROMS?

Jake Knapp
Exactly, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That brings me back.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, that was great except – it was great the first couple years I worked there. In the early 2000s when I was there it was kind of when Wikipedia was just taking off. It was also – I learned a lot of lessons. I learned a lot of lessons about the business of software. About 15 years ago I was really like, “Gosh, really every day is important. I need to make the most of it.”

But I think that this crucial moment, it’s something I describe in the book happened in I suppose around 2012, where I’m with my two sons. One of them is a baby at this point and the other one is maybe eight years old. I’m playing with them in the living room in the evening. It’s this great moment. It’s this great family moment.

I’m on my iPhone. I’m on my iPhone and I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m just unconsciously pulling it out and looking at my email or looking at Facebook or whatever. My older son was like, “Oh, dad, what are you looking at on your phone?” not like trying to call me out.

Pete Mockaitis
Excuse you.

Jake Knapp
Just like, oh, like he was curious, like it must be something interesting if you’re not going to playing trains with us here. I was like, “Oh man, I don’t even have an answer for that. I don’t know why I’m looking at my phone. I have no good answer.”

I just – that kind of thing has happened to me a number of times, but at that one finally it was like something kind of clicked where I was like, man, I have been working for many years to try to figure out how to as effective and as efficient as I can at work, as productive as possible.

Yet here I am rushing to process as many emails as possible and go through as many meetings and get as much done as I can so that I can be home early and spend time with my kids and yet I’m not even mentally present. I’m just kind of checked out.

At that moment I was like, screw this. I deleted Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube and I shut – there’s a way to turn Safari off on your iPhone. I figured out how to do that. Just kind of in this kind of craze. I even deleted Gmail and I worked with the Gmail team at that time. I was like I can’t even handle this. Just took everything off of the phone.

The weird thing was that that was – that actually ended up feeling amazing. I kept the phone. The phone had still a lot of great stuff on it.

Pete Mockaitis
You can make calls. You can get and receive text messages.

Jake Knapp
Right. But you’ve got maps. You’ve got Uber. It’s got a great camera. They’re actually still – even though smartphone if you take away all that stuff, there’s still a lot of great things it can do.

That was – that is kind of like this moment where at that shift, all of the sudden I was like wait a second. I have just been accepting whatever kind of came at me from new products that came out or the expectations at work. I’ve just been kind of saying, “Yeah, I’ll meet this req. I’ll do this. They’re all good.”

I started to realize that the default settings were not necessarily beneficial for me and taking on everything was not necessarily – and this is kind of an obvious realization, but for me what happened from there till now was that I started to kind of question the way my days were spent, the way my time was spent.

My co-author and colleague at the time, John Zeratsky, and I were working on this process at work, where we were helping teams. In one week, we did this thing called a design sprint, where we would totally structure the whole week and have the team focusing on one project for the whole week. We were optimizing how they spent their time and we started to just do the same optimizations with our own time.

For me, it went from like I had this long-time dream of writing a book, but I had never even written so much as a kind of a blog post. All of the sudden as I started to make these shifts, the kind using the tactics from the book, I started to create time and space to write, basically by shutting down other things, saying no to other things, redesigning my calendar.

It’s kind of changed my life. Since then I’ve written three books. One of which is not published yet, but just coming out. Then another one, which is just finished. It feels more whole. It feels more like the way I want to spend my time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. You said it feels more whole, could you give us maybe a little bit more of a picture if you could paint in terms of the before and the after, how does it feel? Because I think some folks might need an extra push or oomph of motivation.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re thinking, “There’s no way I could do that.”

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I guess actually that’s kind of the – I would have said the same thing if I heard this because I’ve read every productivity and time management book and often felt like they were – there’s a lot of really smart systems out there and philosophies, but for me at least, when I applied those, I usually just ended up feeling guilty. I was like I’m not doing that thing and I’m still just as overwhelmed by everything that’s going on.

The simple before and after I guess would be that before I used to judge my success at – let’s just talk about work, my success at work based on how productive I was, so how well was I kind of getting done all the things that I needed to get done.

I would every day – like working at Google, the amount of email that you receive is just astonishing, like come into work – actually maybe it’s not so astonishing. I don’t know. But at least when I first went there, I couldn’t believe how much stuff happened on email.

I’d come to work in the morning and have hundreds of emails to deal with. I felt like if I processed all of that email by the end of the day and got back to zero, that was like I’m on top of my email. If everybody who puts a calendar request on my calendar – if I can go to those meetings and help everybody with what they have going on, then I’m helping everyone on the team and that’s really good.

If I’m kind of processing through all of the to-do list, all the items on my to-do list and I’m on top of my to-do list, if I’m doing all those things, then I’m being productive. That’s kind of the before.

The after is I still have to deal with emails. I still have to meet with people. Those things don’t go away. You can’t zero those out. But the after is to start with what is most important to me each day before I do anything else, to figure out what is the one thing that at the end of the day when I look back on today, I want to say is the highlight of my day.

Sometimes it might be spending time with my kids. Sometimes it might be – there’s this big, sizeable chunk of this project that I want to do today. But I’m going to start with that thing and I’m basically just going to put me first on the schedule. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to clear that out.

If it means that I’m not checking my email until after that work is done, then I do that. If it means I’m going to have to push some meetings around or say no or cancel something, that’s what’s going to have to get done. But that thing always comes first. It means that the chances of it getting done are – they’re like 95%. They’re not 100%, things happen, things come up.

But that’s really the shift for me has been from trying to be productive and trying to get as much checked off as possible to trying to be really purposeful and to look for a way to do larger things, not just tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. You’re saying now how you determine whether or not you had a success that day is whether you did the key thing that you identified as opposed to whether you did everything?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, absolutely. Kind of I guess we’re pulled in two directions in the modern world. If you have an office job especially, but I think it’s very hard to escape because technology and email and messaging is so much a part of all of our lives.

We talk about this in the book, about being pulled between on the one hand what we call the busy bandwagon, which is like this expectation of instant response, this expectation of speed, this sort of cultural norm that we have in the United States of fill your calendar as close to full as possible. If somebody asks-

Pete Mockaitis
I loved your graphic in the book. It made me chuckle.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, yeah. It’s just like busy. It’s just like every single moment is busy. Sometimes it’s like three things at the same time overlapping. I feel like that is actually quite widespread, this notion of being packed. If somebody asks me at work or in my personal life, “How are you?” this expectation that if I say busy, that’s a good thing. I’m like, “Oh man, it’s crazy, crazy busy,” that people will say, “Oh, yeah, yeah good.” It’s sort of insane.

On one hand you’ve got that pull of okay, just a fire hose of stuff coming at you. You respond to it as fast as you can, go to everything you can, work as much as you can. On the other hand, you get exhausted from that.

Then on the other hand, we’re pulled by what we call the infinity pools, which is all of this entertainment or distraction which is available at our fingertips at all times and is incredibly compelling. There’s always something new on my phone or on my laptop or whatever, the non-stop breaking news, the social feeds, the updates from my friends, all these cool things. There could always be something new.

My personal email is like this. There always could be something new on there. These things are sort of pulling back and forth. Netflix. All these things are just kind of pulling you in the other direction. Once you’re too exhausted from the busy bandwagon, the infinity pools pull you back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s a great point. It’s like, “I’m so exhausted, but I want to sort of be entertained and rejuvenated, but I don’t want to go hiking because that’s too hard, so maybe something fun will be on the news or Netflix.”

Jake Knapp
Yeah, totally, totally. It’s just – it’s not our fault that we don’t have the time for the things that matter the most to us. We’re stuck in the middle between two really powerful forces.

The fundamental idea that we have is – and this thing that we observed, especially from getting the chance to work with a lot of different teams. We worked with probably 150 different companies. We would have the chance to say what they were doing all day at work for a week and to experiment with it.

It turns out you change a few of those defaults, the default settings, the default work cultural settings, and you start to open up time and attention. Because things are so crazy right now, you actually don’t have to make the largest changes to have a really significant impact.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a nice optimistic view. It’s like it is so screwed up-

Jake Knapp
It’s so bad now.

Pete Mockaitis
If you do just a little bit, you’re going to see huge gains.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. For example, one of the things that we talk about in the book is the importance of building energy and this is just a simple observation. If you want to focus on something every day, if you want to have 60 to 90 minutes of time where you really focusing on something, you’re in the zone, you’re going to need energy, physical energy, mental energy. You’ve got to have a full battery to do that.

We’re all sort of basically the same kind of creature we were 200,000 years ago. We’re in this modern world. Everything is totally different. It’s not – we don’t live in caves anymore. We don’t live in the wild. We’re in homes and we’ve got screens everywhere. Things are really out of whack.

But if you want more energy, a simple change you can do is start dimming the lights and dimming your screens in the evening time and to not look at screens after say 8 PM. You can start actually turning down the lights in the house to make it more like if you’re not living in a house, which is the sun sets. Maybe there’s a fire. This is kind of the environment we grew up in. Sorry, not grew up in, but evolved in, which I guess is the same as growing up.

Pete Mockaitis
As a species. Yeah.

Jake Knapp
Yeah. But otherwise, the default is there’s blue light or bright white light shining on us until we’re so exhausted we’re lying in bed with our head spinning trying to fall asleep. You make that little shift and that makes a huge difference. Those opportunities are everywhere. Those little things where stuff is so out of whack and you make a little shift, it can make a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that a lot.

I love the way your book is organized. You just gave us one great tactic when it comes to the energizing. Because you’ve got sort of four steps and then underneath them what you might call clusters. Then underneath those, 80 tactics. It was really kind of fun so you can sort of just jump into whatever catches your attention or go deep into “Oh yeah, I need to know everything about this.”

Could you maybe give us kind of the overview picture of what are the four steps and the maybe your sort of super top favorite tactic that you have in each of them? I know you’ve got 80 to choose from, but if you could start with four and then maybe we’ll go a little more.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I’ll try. I’ll do my best. Yeah. It all starts off with that idea of setting a highlight. Again, it’s starting off in the morning or perhaps some people they do it the night before. My co-author, John, does it the night before. But it’s looking at the day ahead and saying, “Okay, when this day is over –“ let’s say somebody says, “Oh hey, Jake, what was the highlight of your day today?” I should design that. I should in advance figure that out so that I make it happen. I make it as good as possible.

I find that actually it’s pretty easy for people to get into the zone where they can just make a gut decision about what this highlight is, but at first it’s kind of assessing, “Okay, is there something that’s really important to me?” Maybe it’s not urgent. Maybe there’s nobody begging for it, but it’s this project at work. Perhaps it’s really – I know it’s important and I know it can easily get pushed aside.

Maybe it’s something from work. Or maybe it’s something that’s going to bring me joy, like I want to spend time with somebody I really care about. Or maybe it’s going to be something really satisfying, like making progress on a hobby. Whatever it is, it’s picking that thing that’s going to be probably 60 to 90 minutes long.

It’s not a task. It’s like more than a task. It’s not a whole big giant goal, but it’s in between. It’s figuring what that thing is and writing it down. Today, this is going to be my highlight. Highlight, that’s step one. Step two is-

Pete Mockaitis
If I may-

Jake Knapp
Yeah, excuse me.

Pete Mockaitis
… dig it up for a smidge. I like how you distinguish that. It’s not a task. It’s not a goal. It’s in between. It’s 60 to 90-ish minutes, something that can be done within a chunk of attention or one sitting or standing. I think we’re both on standing desks right now.

Jake Knapp
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So kudos. It makes me feel cool if the productivity guru thinks it’s a smart move. I love my mat too, the Topo.

Jake Knapp
The mat is huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh me too. Is it the Topo by Ergo?

Jake Knapp
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the odds? I did not see your mat earlier. Well, look at us, a couple of dorks.

Jake Knapp

Yeah, yeah, Dork City here, but yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s fun. You can kind of – it seems like I’m playing a little bit with – someone said it’s like a playground for your feet. I think so.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So highlight was where we were discussing.

Jake Knapp
Highlight.

Pete Mockaitis
But when it comes to highlight, so it’s more than task. It’s less than a goal. It’s 60 to 90 minutes. I want to get your view on – boy, there’s many, many ways that you might land upon what to highlight. What are some of your favorite provocative questions or criteria or guideline to say ah, of the thousands of things that you might choose, here are some indicators that it might really be worth a highlight?

Jake Knapp
I think that one of the best ones – and if you’re starting off trying out this make time framework, this is a really good one because it yields immediate results. It’s usually pretty easy to answer. It’s like what would be the thing that if at the end of the day I didn’t do it, I would be so pissed off at myself? I think this is all-

Pete Mockaitis
Pain avoidance. Yes.

Jake Knapp
I know I experience this a lot. I feel like a lot of people experience it. I hear people talk about this a lot. It’s like “I can’t believe that – like I knew this was the thing that I really needed to work on and yet I was just reacting to other stuff all day long. How did that happen? I’m kicking myself now.”

That’s really – that’s like probably the easiest one – the easiest way to find the highlight is like what will you – is regret avoidance. There’s a lot more positive ways to do it, but yeah, it’s that. It’s sort of like, “What would I – what would be such a bummer if I didn’t actually do it?”

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much. Often I sort of feel that the pain of that sort of the next day or week, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in this crazy rush. I’m so unprepared. I feel real dumb. Why didn’t I handle this yesterday or whenever I should have?” Yeah, sometimes the regret comes at the end of the day like, “Oh bummer of a day,” and other times it comes later when you’re reaping what you’ve sown.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Then the flip side, the flip question is what might create a really nice memory for the day. If I can imagine the memory – I think for people who keep a gratitude journal or have ever done that, I think it’s hard to keep any kind of a journal consistently, at least that’s my experience.

But if you’ve ever done that and you ever think about writing down at the end of the day something that you’re grateful for, it often – it has this nice effect of evoking these little snapshots. It’s like, “That was really lovely when I took a walk in the park,” or, “when I was focused quietly and I was practicing music,” or whatever – well, I guess it wouldn’t be quiet if you were practicing music but, “I was focused and I was practicing music.”

I think those snapshots – like what would be a really lovely snapshot for my day. That’s another kind of provocative question that can help and often helps me.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Okay, so we talked about highlight. What’s laser?

Jake Knapp
Okay, laser is about clearing out distraction, creating some space so you can focus on that thing. I think that this is maybe where the way we think about accomplishing these highlights, accomplishing these things you really care about each day is different from a lot of systems or a lot of the way people talk about this problem with distraction today.

Because we – I feel like it’s very rare nowadays we talk to someone and say, “Oh, how do you feel about your iPhone, your Android, whatever, your smartphone?” Very rarely will people say, “Oh yeah, everything’s great about it.” People have mixed feelings about their phones. They feel like they’re on their phone too much.

I feel like there’s a tremendous amount of guilt about phones. Even Apple and Google are like – they’re releasing software to help you – or at least to measure how much you’re on your phone so you can presumably in the future feel even more guilty about it.

But our sort of take on this is yes, those things, those paths of least resistance will distract you and they will keep you – they’ll get in the way of doing that thing that really matters to you, that highlight, but when you know what the highlight is, like half the battle is won when you actually have this thing that you’re excited about doing, when you know – when you start to identify “This is my priority. I’m putting me first.”

Then like, “If I cannot be distracted for an hour, an hour and a half, there’s a great reward.” That’s part of the thing that I think is different.

The other thing is we’ll say we have a lot of concrete tactics for shutting things off. The whole deal with laser is you’re going to shut off distraction, you’re going to be completely offline. You’re not going to be using anything that isn’t mission critical to your highlight. By shutting that stuff down, this is another place where things are so out of whack, you can create time. This is a place where you can actually make time.

If I’m not constantly bouncing around between email and Slack and a million other things, but I’m just doing one thing, it’s like there’s more hours in the day all of the sudden. If I’m not constantly checking my Facebook feed or responding to things in that way, again, I’m kind of creating time because I’m not sort of Swiss cheese-ing my attention. It actually sort of creates time out of nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Then is there a particular kind of time that you just snag on the calendar, like this is the window and do you aim for a particular window or vary it or what’s the best way to play that game?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, as I mentioned I’ve been – I’ll just tell you personally what I do. I think everybody has to – we talked about this idea of designing your day. Everybody has to design their day with what makes sense for them. We have some different patterns, different things that we do.

Like I said, for the last couple years or last year and a half I’ve been self-employed, but before that I worked for Google for ten years, before that I was working at Microsoft for years and years. I was very used to this idea of being at work all day.

Sometimes in many jobs you don’t really control your time when you’re at work. I had this goal of writing books. I figured out many years ago while working at Google that if I want to make time for that, what I needed to do was really reclaim some time at the end of the day.

After my kids went to bed, after everybody went to bed, I realized there’s this window of time, because I’m kind of a night owl, when I’m actually usually awake, but I’m not getting anything out of that time because I’m just – my battery is drained and I’m just distractible. I’m just watching TV or whatever. I’m just kind of winding down.

Not that there’s anything horribly wrong with that, but I realized there’s a goldmine of time that I can sort of reclaim. For me at that time, it was at the end of the day. That was highlight time. For my co-author, John, he created that time at the beginning of the day. For him, it was first thing. I’m going to do that before I do anything else.

Often at work, the highlight time might be – it’s always easier earlier in the day before there are other commitments that have come up, before emails have come in. I think as soon as you open up your inbox, all of the sudden you’re in reaction mode. It’s very hard to keep that sort of nice clear focus that we often have when we wake up.

The morning time tends to be better usually before other things happen. But a lot of times it’s a matter of what we call bulldozing the calendar and actually pushing some things out of the way to make it whenever you can.

Our sort of hypothesis is that you can do this at some point in your day every day. It might be before anything starts. It might be after everything’s over. But a lot of the times you can clear it in the middle.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. We did the highlighting. We did the lasering. You mentioned energizing. Let’s hear a little more about that.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, the energize it’s like, okay, you’ve got the target, which is your highlight. You know where you want to head today. You know what you want to happen. What I do with laser is you’ve – we’ve got a lot of tactics for shutting down distraction so that you can be – your mind can be clear and you can be ready to focus, kind of getting into the zone.

Energize is all about having the physical and mental energy to do the thing, to really bring your best attention to your work. I think there is so much out there in the world about ways to be more physically active, ways to eat better, ways to sleep better.

I think this new, certainly in the last few years, a lot of stuff feels like it’s so intense. It’s like – a lot of like really – like these supplements you should be taking or just like a lot of – it feels really stressful. It’s like really – in sort of the last few years as we were – as John and I were really into this topic and researching it a lot, you read this stuff and I just feel so bad about myself because I’m like, “God, I’m not doing anything.”

Our kind of principle is like look, if you just do a little, you get a huge amount of reward. Just do a little, that’s fine. If your goal for getting more physical activity is that you want to improve your cardiovascular health, or you want to live a few years longer, all those are wonderful things, but they’re very abstract. They’re very far away.

If I want to get more physical activity because I want to look better, like look like somebody in a magazine, realistically I’m not going to get there. I think a lot of those things are really disheartening.

Our whole point is if you will just build the energy so that you get an immediate reward today of you had more focus. The thing that you really cared about, that you were really excited about, you got more out of it because you had more energy, you get an immediate reward for doing it.

In my experience, that transformed the way I looked at exercise, the way I looked at eating, the way I looked at sleep, and even the way I looked at talking with people. Actually talking with people face-to-face instead of over texts or emails or whatever, is actually a way to boost energy. We’re social creatures and we get an energy boost from talking to people.

A lot of those things, if you have this immediate reward and you realize that you don’t have to do something heroic, you don’t have to be training for a marathon or anything, if you just get a little emotion, if you just change a few small things about the way – maybe you have coffee, for example. Most people drink coffee. There’s little tweak you can make to that to boost your energy.

Then when you have this immediate reward loop, it’s a game changer.

Pete Mockaitis
What I’m hearing is the key to really getting this energy thing flowing is not so much doing a long-term program of supplementation that will mold your biochemistry into something else over the course of three months, but rather finding the things that give you more energy that very day?

Jake Knapp
Yeah. I mean I don’t want to say that – there’s a lot of folks who are experts in the body and experts in what you can do with it and the kinds of things we all ought to be doing. I’m just not that person. All I can say is if you really care about your time and you really care about the quality of your day and the quality of your experience in the moment, energy matters.

The kinds of things you need to do to have high-quality energy today, they’re not crazy. You don’t have to start some new boot camp with a trainer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You don’t have to do crazy things. Small little things, these kind of tactics we talk about in the book, that can make a big difference.

For example, I take the bus to work for years and years, if you can find a way to get off the bus a couple stops early and walk a little further, it actually creates more energy throughout the day. That’s not – that doesn’t sound like I’m really exercising a lot, but just that little bit of extra walking will give me more energy throughout the day. A small thing like that.

There’s a lot of little tactics and ideas about just tweaking the knobs on things to get a boost.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I resonate with that walking piece because my Fitbit tells me my step count. It’s tricky working from home. Sometimes that step count is tiny. It’s like … crack the four digits. It’s like 920 steps. Oh wow, that’s really a bummer.

Sure enough, I really do notice kind of the difference in terms of feeling zesty, alive, energized and rearing to go if there are days of tiny amounts of movement versus even moderate amounts of movement.

It’s funny because I think I used to have a little bit of this ‘go big or go home’ hardcore, being like, “That’s not a workout if there’s not a weight bench involved,” or “That’s not a big enough dumbbell to mean anything.” It really doesn’t seem to be the way our body’s work.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, right. We evolved for constant motion. That’s part of being a hunter/gatherer, you’re moving around a lot looking for food. We thrive, our brains perform better when we’re moving.

But this idea of ‘go big or go home’ you’re exactly right. That just totally mirrors my experience. We were talking about basketball earlier. I mentioned this in the book. I was really into basketball, really, really into basketball. I’m six foot eight. There’s really no avoiding it. You’ve got to-

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, freakishly tall.

Pete Mockaitis
Could not tell from the video.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, yeah, video takes off a few inches. Yeah, I loved playing basketball. As I started my career I would – I’m playing in these gyms and leagues and things. I loved playing basketball. When I’m playing I can’t – it’s hard for me to stop, so I’ll play to the point of exhaustion and then would come back to work. I might be playing at lunch just wiped, just wiped out.

Every time at basketball, you’re almost inevitably going to get some kind of little injury, whether it’s somebody cuts you with their nails, which is gross, but totally happens, or it’s a twisted ankle or an elbow to the face, whatever it might be. I’m just kind of a bit broken and worn out. I can’t do anything the rest of the day, so I’m actually kind of sapping my energy.

I can’t – I have to recover, so it becomes this irregular workout. Then all of the sudden I might not do it for months because it takes – the threshold to get in there and play basketball is pretty high and then I’m overdoing it. This whole cycle was really busted. But for me I was always like, well, that is exercise. It doesn’t count unless I’m doing – it was like this whole ego thing for me.

At some point I realized after doing that I – I had taken my son for a jog and he’s a baby in the stroller the day before. I get back to work exhausted from basketball. I’m like, “God, I’m worked. I can’t do anything.” Then I realized that the day before I did this jog, which didn’t even count to me, I was just getting my son some fresh air, and I felt way better the whole day at work.

That for me made the connection that I needed to do something small every day. I started to just try – okay, I’m going to change my parameters. The small everyday thing is great. It’s fine. We don’t have to be ultra-marathoners. We don’t have to be – do anything heroic. We don’t have to have eight-pack abs. It’s all right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. I wonder any kind of guidance or threshold when it comes to the amount of motion that’s just right, like not so trivial that it makes minimal difference and not so big that you’re just wiped out from having done it. Any sense for what’s just about right?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen a lot of – looked at a lot of studies, read a lot of books about all kinds of studies about the health effects of exercise.

I think one of – there’s a book that does a really nice summarization of the effect of lots of things on the brain. It’s a book called Brain Rules. This was really – this was also the thing that finally when I saw it happening for myself and I had read this book, I believed it. Those two things together made it happen for me.

He says, you look across all the research, it’s like 20 – 30 minutes gives you kind of the optimal – it’s going to give you a mental boost. It’s going to give you most of the benefit that you’ll get. Even if you work out longer, you’re going to get most of the benefit. In my mind it’s like if I can get 20 to 30 minutes a day, that’s great. I try to work it into the structure of my day.

For example, a typical day for me now is take my younger son to school on the bus and run home. That run happens to be about 25 minutes and it’s just perfect. That’s built into my day now and I’m never going to be running a marathon with that level of everyday exercise, but I have more energy and I feel sharper mentally every day with that amount of exercise.

But the other part of it is to not be down on yourself if you can’t get to 20 for some reason. You’re feeling a little under the weather, there’s just not quite enough time. If I can get five or ten minutes in, if I can just take a walk. Anything helps.

A lot of times not having this super harsh threshold for yourself, will mean that I get out the door and maybe 10 minutes turns into 20 minutes. Maybe once I’ve broken the ice, it actually goes longer. But 20 to 30 is I think a really nice guideline if you can build it in.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Finally, the reflect stuff is in there.

Jake Knapp
Yeah. This idea of reflect comes from I think from being steeped in building technology products for so long. We talked so much about having hypothesis about what might happen when we build a product and then launching it and trying to measure what happens.

This idea of measuring and running experiments is really built into the culture at Google. I think both in the way that we built products and in the way teams worked and the way individuals worked, this idea that we’re going to run an experiment and we’ll measure. It’s basic scientific method stuff.

But the challenge I think with a lot of these systems people talk about, people like me talk about for doing things, a lot of the studies that we hear about, a lot of the science that we hear about is that it’s – it might be credible when I read about a scientific study, but I’m not going to really, really, really believe it until I know it’s true for me.

Knowing what’s true for me and my life is the most powerful thing. Having that experience of what happens in my life when I do this thing.

The idea with reflect is that I’m going to – at the end of every day I’m just going to take note of what I did during the day and see what worked and what didn’t and kind of take note on that and just start to frame this idea of what I choose to focus on, so the highlight part and this idea of distraction as a thing that I can experiment on and this idea of building energy as a thing that I can experiment on.

Once those things are framed as experiments, it also makes me be a lot gentler on myself. I’m not going to be as self-critical. I’m going to realize that if I falter today, if I made a mistake, well, what can I try differently tomorrow that might make it work?

This is not something that you have to do for your whole life. You don’t have to constantly at the end of every day be filling out a form, but we think that if you start off doing this process in the first—maybe week or two—you’re answering a few questions and just taking a moment to reflect back on the day, that you can pretty quickly tailor a system that makes sense for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good.
Well, one exercise that you did Jake, which I find really intriguing because I’ve done a little bit of this is tracking your energy. First of all, how do you quantify that and how do you record it and how do you input it? I want to hear that side of things. Then I want to know, what are some of the insights that emerged for you? Was it worth doing?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, it was worth doing. It was an extremely dorky activity. I have to – this is before the era of Fitbits. Nowadays you can measure your sleep with an app and tuck your phone under the pillow. There’s a lot of smart watches. There’s so many things you can do. This was – I suppose it was 2008 I want to say, maybe 2009. I just thought I don’t feel like I have a handle on my energy. I don’t feel like I know where it’s going.

What I did was I kind of hacked together this system of things using a Google spreadsheet and a form that I could answer a few questions on the form and it would put the answers into the spreadsheet and a calendar notification that would come up at a time when I knew I would typically be at my desk at work and would prompt me to fill out what I call the Jake pop quiz.

I would answer the questions and then it would go into this spreadsheet. Then over time I could go back and kind of look at that spreadsheet and see what was what.

I didn’t have a – there wasn’t really a way that I could think of to accurately quantify my energy, so I just said okay, I’ll accept that it’s going to be unscientific. I’m just going to score it on a scale of I think one to ten. I’ll make notes of the things that I did.

I started as I did this first it was just kind of what’s my energy level then maybe some open comments I would fill out for myself. Then over time I started to realize – I thought that I had an idea about what some of the things were, the patterns that were giving me energy or taking energy away, so I started to ask some specific questions about exercise and what I ate and how I slept.

I have to say that the conclusions, the sort of findings from this, they were exceedingly impactful for me, but – and I’ll tell you what they were – but I’ll tell you, they’re going to sound obvious and stupid, but they were very powerful.

One of them was if I exercise in the morning, I have a lot of energy throughout the day, I have more energy throughout the day as long as I don’t overdo it, so a small amount of exercise in the morning makes me feel better all day long and more energized. Obvious, right? This is not groundbreaking New York Times front page news, but this was a big deal for me.

Pete Mockaitis
When you know – like you know, know, know it’s true for you having seen it in your own log-

Jake Knapp
Exactly. Yes, exactly, right.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re now absolutely convicted as opposed to “Oh, well studies suggested,” like you said earlier, “Oh studies suggested that this is good.” Okay, yeah, well maybe I’ll give that a shot. It’s a very different level of oomph internally.

Jake Knapp
Yes, totally. My usual experience of reading a study about health is to be like, “Interesting,” and then also feel bad about myself. That’s the mental path – I mean I guess this is neurotic, but I’ll read about it and be like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and then like, “Oh man, I should really do that.” But ‘I should really do that’ it just doesn’t happen. It just makes – I just don’t feel good.

This was like, oh yeah, when I do that thing, when this happens – it was just a much more concrete way to introduce that idea into my head. It was something I knew already, but I started to believe it.

Another thing was don’t eat a really sugary dessert after lunch. That kind of craters my energy. I have a sugar crash. Pretty obvious. I don’t think anybody would be like, “Wow, I can’t imagine that having a sugary dessert after lunch would make you not feel good,” but lo and behold that was really useful for me to hone in on.

It was insights like that, the things that are really obvious. But what I started to I guess dawn on me is that it’s like a little tiny shift, as I shift these things just a little bit and I see every day as an experiment rather than a judgment on my character, it’s a whole new ballgame. It’s a whole new ballgame.

Focusing in on my energy and on the things that I could do with my energy – because when you have energy, I’m happy and I can kind of work on the things I want to work on. I can be more present with the people that I’m with. All these good things flow from that.

Again, it makes this instant positive feedback loop. I’m getting good results right away. I don’t have to wait months and years for this health habit to pay off.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, we could talk at length about 80-ish tactics, so maybe I’ll just hit the one you mentioned earlier. What’s the thing you can do with your coffee or caffeine for better energy productivity?

Jake Knapp
The number one thing that you can do is to figure out what your cutoff time is. This is – I know that this is true and I know that it does not sound very thrillingly new and fresh.

But if you talk to doctors – if you know a doctor and you talk to a general health doctor and say like, “What’s the number one thing people come to you for?” A lot of doctors will tell you – I have a friend, a couple friends who are doctors who will say, “Yeah, the number one thing people often struggle with is sleeping.” They have a hard time falling asleep. A lot of people come to the doctor for that.

“Okay, what happens when somebody comes to you because they’re having a hard time sleeping?” “I’ll ask them when’s the last caffeine that you have during the day?” The answer is often either that they don’t actually know when it is or they know when it is, but they say “But it’s not that. It’s not caffeine.”

Pete Mockaitis
“It doesn’t affect me that way. I know.”

Jake Knapp
Yeah, “It’s fine.” The truth is that caffeine affects everyone differently. It does affect everyone differently, so it might not be that, but there’s a good chance it is because caffeine stays in the bloodstream a lot longer than we think. Well, doctors and scientists know how long it stays in it, but I don’t know. I don’t consciously think about how long it stays in the bloodstream.

Like four hours – the way you metabolize it, it varies by person, but typically even like four hours after you’ve had the caffeine or the half-life is really long. Often you might have coffee at four and then be going to bed and you still have a lot of caffeine in the bloodstream.

The caffeine is blocking the thing that makes us groggy, so there’s this little molecule that’s supposed to bind to the receptors to tell us that it’s time to go to sleep and if the caffeine is still there, it’s going to mess with your sleep. Then this creates obviously this compounding effect. You have a hard time sleeping one night. You have lower energy the next night. You need more caffeine. It’s problematic.

That’s a big one. But really I guess the bigger thing is just if you identify caffeine as – because most of us consume caffeine in one form or another if you – which means we’re addicted to it. Most of us are addicted to caffeine.

You don’t have to stop drinking caffeine, but if you’re aware that this has this really powerful effect on your energy, this drug that we’re taking into our system has this really powerful effect on your energy – I’m a coffee drinker myself, but if you know what it’s doing and how it works and then you can design the way you use it so that you have your peak energy when you want it.

You’re not drinking caffeine when you’re not going to be getting a benefit from it or actually harming your energy level. It makes a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there maybe a starter rule of thumb you might try out?

Jake Knapp
Yeah, starter pack, yeah. The starter pack for it is to wait in the morning until like maybe 9:30 to have your first cup of coffee because when we wake up we have cortisol that kind of will naturally – it’s a stress hormone, which is naturally higher in the morning. It’s going to kind of arouse your body up and wake you up. It’s kind of how our body naturally wakes up.

If you have caffeine then while the cortisol is ramping up, it’s kind of wasted. You’re getting this – the lift from the caffeine, you were going to get it anyway from your body.

But what happens is if you have coffee first thing in the morning, your body comes to be accustomed to that and it’s going to produce more of the drowsy-causing molecules so that you’re going to feel drowsy, you’re going to feel groggy or you’re going to have more sort of withdrawal symptoms in the morning and you’re going to need the coffee just to fight the withdrawal symptoms. It’s kind of wasted.

Basically I think of that first coffee in the morning as being really wasted. Unless if you really enjoy – if you get some satisfaction out of it as a ritual, that’s fine, but you should know you’re kind of causing yourself trouble maybe for nothing. 9:30 AM is the range of the first cup of coffee.

Then I think for most people it’s smart to maybe start with 2 to 2:30 PM as the last cup. Then see what happens. Some people can go a little later than that. But I usually think of that as the coffee window.

I think one of the key things is having coffee before you crash, so before you get tired. Once you’re already tired – this is a really big deal.

I have a friend who’s way into coffee. He’s basically read every study. He’s started a couple coffee companies. He’s bought beans in Central America. This guy is just way, way into coffee. He sort of informed me about all this stuff.

He’s like, “The biggest deal is, you’ve got to know that if you’re already tired, it’s kind of too late for the coffee to do its thing.” By the time you’re already tired, all of those receptors have already – the groggy thing has already bound to the receptor thing and the coffee, which the – caffeine, which would normally get in there and kind of block it from binding, it doesn’t have a place to go.

That’s another kind of big key. Caffeinate before you crash, and start a little later than you think, and end a little sooner.

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

Jake Knapp
Yeah, I think that the biggest thing kind of in summary to consider—if you were to consider taking a look at my book, I think the biggest idea is a small shift can make a big difference. And our time is really important. It’s all we have. All we have is our time and all we have is our attention. That is what our life is made up of: time and attention.

If a day goes by where we’re constantly distracted, we sort of lose that day.

If you’re willing to try a few experiments, I think that you can get more out of each day. It doesn’t have to be a huge, dramatic life shift. It’s really small things that can change the balance of the way those moments are experienced.

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

Jake Knapp
“There’s more to life than increasing its speed.” It’s a quote from Gandhi.

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

Jake Knapp
There’s this study from Berkeley. I can’t remember the author’s name at the moment. But it’s basically like when you interrupt someone, it takes them on average 23 minutes to get back to the task that they were working on, which is just astounding, 23 minutes. That’s so long. That’s a significant part of the day to take 23 minutes to get back to the thing. I think it’s actually it’s like this wonderful number that seems both astonishing and also extremely true at the same time. I love that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Jake Knapp
My favorite book, one that really sort of changed my view on things is this book called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

But the one that I think I would really recommend is this newer book by the same author, these brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, called The Power of Moments.
Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Jake Knapp
One of my favorite tools is something called the Time Timer. It’s like an alarm – a timer basically with a big face, but it’s got a dial. You can turn the clock dial and you see this big red disk come out that shows you how much time there is. Then once you let go, the red disk starts to disappear. At the end it beeps.

It’s very simple actually, but it is brilliant because it makes time – the passage of time visible in a way that no other thing I’ve seen can accomplish. It’s a physical object. It’s not something on screen. There’s something about a physical object sitting on my desk, how powerful that is, or sitting on a conference table in a meeting room, just incredibly powerful tool for making the passage of time visible. It creates I think a wonderfully positive sense of urgency.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, whoa, I pulled up a picture, so it’s kind of like a pie chart that’s shrinking.

Jake Knapp
Yeah, a pie chart is a great word. Yeah, pie chart, that’s an excellent descriptor. Yeah, so it’s shrinking. It’s just constantly shrinking.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Jake Knapp
I think that probably the one that’s been the most powerful for me is exercising in the morning before I do anything else.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers in particular?

Jake Knapp
I think that the idea of deleting everything, all the apps on your phone, but keeping the smartphone is something that has been surprisingly sticky and powerful idea.

I think that we’re so used to the idea that we should get as much as we can, really get our money’s worth out of new technology that the idea that you would really selectively cut off a lot of the potential functionality of an amazing device like a smartphone and that if you just have half of what it can do or a third of what it can do, it’s not only just as good, it’s actually better to make it distraction free.

I highly recommend experimenting with deleting the thing that you think is the most distracting on your phone and if possible everything that has infinite content. Taking email off of your phone is unbelievably life-changing for me.

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

Jake Knapp
You can check out JakeKnapp.com just if you want to find out more about me. But if you want to skip me and get straight to the book, it’s on MakeTimeBook.com.

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

Jake Knapp
Yeah. I would say if you can make a – identify what the most important project to you at work is right now and think about what’s something that’s going to take 60 to 90 minutes on that most important project. Not a task because sometimes a task is so small that it’s just not meaningful and it’s easier to push aside, but dig a little bit deeper and find that larger chunk of time that’s going to be 60 to 90 minutes.

Then put it on the calendar and make an agreement with yourself that during that 60 to 90 minutes, you’re going to turn off your Wi-Fi, you’re going to put your phone on airplane mode, you’re going to go totally offline and just do that thing for 60 to 90 minutes and see how it feels. I predict that you’re going to feel more awesome afterwards.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Getting more awesome, that’s what we do here. Thank you Jake. This has been a lot of fun and so is your book, Make Time. I wish you and the book all the luck and success. I hope that you are transforming lots and lots of people’s experience of time and work and life goodness.

Jake Knapp
Thanks so much Pete. Really appreciate you having me on.

330: Becoming Indistractable with Nir Eyal

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Nir Eyal says: "Time management is pain management"

Nir Eyal shares how habits keep users coming back and how to become indistractable in the midst of such forces.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How habit-forming products win over higher quality products
  2. Four steps to becoming indistractable
  3. How to turn a distraction into traction

 

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 Products. In addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today. Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include: Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), Eventbrite, Product Hunt, Marco Polo, Presence Learning, 7 Cups, Pana, Kahoot!, Byte Foods, Anchor.fm, and Symphony Commerce. Nir attended The Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Nir Eyal Interview Transcript

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

Nir Eyal
My pleasure. So good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I really enjoyed learning about you and reading your blog and listening to the podcast, Nir and Far. Could you maybe give us a little back story for sort of your background and how you acquired the nickname of ‘The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology’?

Nir Eyal
Sure thing. Let’s see. I started two tech companies. The last one was at the intersection of gaming and advertising. In those two industries I learned a heck of a lot about how companies change consumer behavior.

I was at the forefront of apps back when apps didn’t mean iPhone apps because the Apple app store didn’t exist. I was very early in the game back when apps meant Facebook apps and people were doing all kinds of stupid stuff like throwing sheep at each other and things like that and Farmville, if you remember that back in the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, my buddy Luke was a part of the Farmville team.

Nir Eyal
There you go. I kind of had this front row seat. They were – companies like that were our clients. I had this front row seat to see all of these experiments come and go. I learned a lot about how companies change our behavior. I became fascinated by the psychology of designing for habits. I had this hypothesis that the companies that would be able to make it in the future must figure out how to build habits.

I invested a lot of time into learning about habits and then I kind of came up to a wall when I looked for a … to try and explain to me how to build habit-forming products. I didn’t find it, so I decided to write the book I couldn’t find. That’s why I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. I wrote the book after interviewing academics and practitioners, a lot of the people who helped build Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and WhatsApp and Slack.

I wrote the book not for them obviously. They already know these techniques. I wrote the book for everybody else. I wrote the book for people out there who are building the kind of products and services that can really help people live better lives if they would only use the product.

That’s why I wrote the book because I know there’s so many people out there like I was that struggled … how to build a habit-forming product that can help people build healthy habits in their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a whole lot of good stuff there. We had BJ Fogg on the show not too long ago. It’s just a fascinating topic to dig into, habits and how they get formed and the influences associated with them.

Maybe could you just sort of dig into some of the components here in terms of when it comes to your book Hooked and the Hook model? What are some of the building blocks that we can use in forming habits, both in the stuff we’re making as well as just our lives and how we’re influencing our fellow colleagues at work?

Nir Eyal
Yeah, absolutely. My first book is called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It was really tailored to people – to business people, to people who are building products and services.

My next book actually that’s coming out early 2019 is called Indistractable. It’s about how to manage these distractions. How to make sure we do what we say we’re going to do? Why is it that we get so distracted when we say we’re going to do one thing and then invariably we end up doing something else?

You sit down at your desk. You’ve got a big deadline looming and instead of working on that project for some reason you’re checking email 30 minutes later for no good reason. My study and research into habits has kind of taken me to both sides of the equation.

But let’s start with Hooked because I think it sounds like most of your listeners are professionals looking to find ways to keep customers engaged. We know that it’s much more cost efficient, much higher ROI to keep an existing customer engaged versus having to spend all of that money to acquire a new customer.

That’s really where my sweet spot is. When customers ask me – I’m sorry, when clients ask me how do I keep people coming back, the answer is you have to build a hook.

That if you look at every habit-forming technology out there, whether that product – the best in the business, the people who keep us checking our phones, companies like Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and WhatsApp, and Slack, and Snapchat, every single one of them has what’s called a hook.

The hook is the basis of my book. It’s this four-step experience that users pass through when they interact with a product. I can walk you through those four steps here in a 30,000 foot view of it at least. There’s a lot more detail in the book, but I’ll give you kind of the overview.

Hook has four basic steps. Every hook starts with a trigger to an action to a reward and finally an investment. I know many of your listeners have heard of BJ Fogg or Charles Duhigg. There’s lots of perspectives there, but … is really designed not for personal habits. This is for product habits. When it comes to a product, you have to have these four basic steps. I’ll walk through them very quickly.

The first thing that you have to do is that you have to define your internal trigger. That’s the first step of the hook. Now an internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state. I know for many of your listeners, they say, “Whoa, whoa, wait. This is supposed to be about product design and building great customer experience. What does it have to do with emotions and icky sticky stuff like that?”

The fact is people buy and do everything they do for one reason only. That one reason is to modulate their mood. If you don’t understand that basic psychological fact, then you’re missing something.

Everything you do – it’s called the homeostatic response. When you feel too cold, you put on a jacket. When you feel hot, you take it off. When you feel hunger pangs, you eat. When you feel stuffed, you stop eating. Those are all physiological sensations that make us do something.

The same exact formula exists when it comes to psychological discomfort. When we’re feeling lonely, we check Facebook. When we’re feeling uncertain, we Google. When we’re feeling bored, we check YouTube or the news or sports scores.

You have got to identify, whether your product is something that needs … a habit or not, your first step is to figure out what’s the psychological itch that you are going to satiate for your customers. That’s the internal trigger. You have to know what that is if you want people to do anything.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. This itch, it could be big or small in terms of “I’m worried that I’ll be alone the rest of my life and I’ll never find someone,” or “I’m kind of bored right now.”

Nir Eyal
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Then that whole spectrum. I’m curious do have any sort of insights or research when it comes to which of the – what are kind of the categories of itches and are some kind of way more potent as human motivators than others?

Nir Eyal
There’s a lot of techniques that we can use to find that internal trigger. The criteria here is if you’re building the kind of product that requires repeat use – and we should probably talk just for a second about why should I even care about habits. Why do habits affect my bottom line?

Some of the biggest reasons that habits are so important is that they are a huge competitive barrier that it’s very hard for the competition to swoop in and take your customer away once your user, once your customer has formed a habit with your product.

If you think about people who don’t need a habit, let’s take insurance. Insurance will never be a habit-forming product. It just doesn’t occur with sufficient frequency to ever form a habit. The problem with a product like that – there’s nothing with a business model that doesn’t require a habit, it’s just that your competition can come in very easily and undercut you based on price or some feature.

For example, Geico comes around and says, “15 minutes saves you 15% on car insurance.” Well what happens when somebody else says, “Oh you know what? 12 minutes saves you … percent on car insurance.” Just the next feature or the next discount and boom, your customers have abandoned you.

If you don’t form this habit, if you don’t pass customers through that hook, you are at the mercy of these other factors.

If you think about that compared to Google, for example. If I polled your listeners right now, I’m guessing probably 90 to 99% have searched with Google in the past 24 hours and maybe a couple percent have searched with Bing, the number two search engine. Is that because Bing is worse? No.

It actually turns out … studies, when people can’t tell the branding, when they strip out the branding, people can’t tell the difference between the search results. But the fact is we don’t stop and ask ourselves, “Hm, I wonder which the best search engine would be?” No, we just Google it with little or no conscious thought, purely out of habit. That’s all it is. It’s just a habit.

That’s what’s so amazing about these habits is that it turns out once you have a habit, it’s not the best product that wins. Do you hear me right? I’m telling you it’s not the best product. It’s the product that can create the monopoly of the mind, the thing that we turn to with little or no conscious thought.

We wouldn’t even know if Bing was any better because we don’t even give them a chance because we have formed a habit with some other solution. That’s why habits are so, so powerful.

Back to the topic at hand here around these internal triggers, around figuring out what those internal triggers are. The key word here is frequency. When we’re trying to figure out what are our customers internal triggers, we want to figure out what sparks this itch, what’s this need to modulate some kind of mood that occurs with sufficient frequency.

It turns out the research tells us that if we don’t get the user to do the key habit within a week’s time or less, it’s almost impossible to change their habit. There are some exceptions, but the behavior really has to occur within a week’s time or less.

We can talk about what happens if your product isn’t used with sufficient frequency, for example, what if you are selling insurance, how can you build a customer habit. We can talk about that, some ways that you can actually bolt on a frequently occurring habit onto a product that’s not bought frequently.

But what I tend to see, specifically with companies out there that are selling something, like a one-time solution or … product, we are so focused on getting people to check out that we totally neglect finding ways to get them to check in. That’s a big mistake.

This is the future of commerce is finding ways to keep people engaged with us as opposed to relying on these one … transactions that cost us a fortune to acquire these companies and then we lose them to the completion next time.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, thank you. So now, let’s talk about the action.

Nir Eyal
Sure, the action phase is defined as the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward, so the simplest thing that I can do to get relief from the psychological itch.

For example, let’s take Facebook, a lot people think that Facebook is a very habit forming-product. If you are using Facebook because you’re feeling lonely or seeking connection, that would be the internal trigger. The app is simply open the app and scroll a feed.

As soon as you’re scrolling that feed, what happens to your boredom, what happens to your seeking connection? … a little bit. You’ve got that satiation … emotional discomfort occurring just through that simple action.

If you can be the kind of company that figures out even what seems to be trivial little actions, too much thinking, too many steps, too much confusion, any little step that you can remove from the process is going to make the likelihood of the behavior more likely.

I call it the intoxicated test, that you want to build the kind of product and service that is so easy to use that your customer or your user could use it even if they were drunk. That’s how simple your product needs to be, particularly when it comes to digital products.

We want to make sure that’s as easy as possible to get relief from that psychological itch.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Thank you. Then next up, reward.

Nir Eyal
The next step of the hook is the variable reward. The variable reward phase comes from the work of BF Skinner who was the father of operant conditioning back in the 1940’s and 50’s. He did these very famous experiments, where he … pigeons, put them in a little box … a disk …. Every time the pigeon pecked at the disk he would give them a little reward, a little food pellet.

What Skinner observed was that he could train the pigeons to peck at the disk as long as they were hungry, as long as they had the internal trigger, they would peck at the desk whenever they had this internal …. Great, called operant conditioning.

But then Skinner started to run out of these food pellets. He literally didn’t have enough of them. He couldn’t afford to … a food pellet every time; he started to give them just once in a while. Sometimes the pigeon would peck at the disk and they wouldn’t receive a reward. The next time they would … at the disk, they would get a reward.

What Skinner observed was that the rate of response, the number of times these pigeons pecked at the disk increased when the reward was given on a variable schedule of reinforcement. We see the exact same psychology at work on all sorts of …, wherever there is mystery, wherever there is uncertainty, wherever there’s a bit of the unknown, we find this to be incredibly engaging and incredibly habit forming.

Best examples online if you think about scrolling the feed on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, everything has a feed these days, that’s a form of variable reward. If you think about looking at a deck for some kind of enterprise software and seeking your sales numbers go up or go down, that’s a variable reward that keeps you coming back.

If you think about in the media a story is interesting when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Everybody wants today’s news, not yesterday’s news. What makes for a good book, a good movie, any of these experiences have to have this variability, this bit of uncertainty. We have to build that into the product. It has to scratch the users’ itch. It has to give them what they came for.

This isn’t just cheesy gamification. This is actually addressing customer’s needs, but leaving this bit of uncertainty, a bit of mystery around what they might find the … time they engage with their product or service.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, so you’re actually better off instead of delivering just tremendous delight every time, kind of at least checking the box to scratch the itch but sometimes just doing it in spades, like with Facebook newsfeed, “Oh my gosh, that person is engaged now. Wow!” whereas, “Okay Trump did something else,” in terms of how satisfying I find that reading of the newsfeed that day.

Nir Eyal
Right. We want to make sure that it’s actually rewarding, it actually gives people what they want.

What we’re finding now with Facebook for example, is that when the algorithm got out of whack, when people started saying, “Oh, this is a bunch of crap I’m not interested in,” they stopped using it because it wasn’t addressing the users’ itch. But they moved somewhere else. They didn’t just stop. They just changed their habits. Some people did, not everybody. But they’re changing their habits.

Now we’re seeing the tremendous rise of Instagram. Facebook bought Instagram for a billion dollars. There was a Wall Street bank that just tried to assess what the value of Instagram would be today if it wasn’t part of Facebook, it would be worth over 100 billion dollars. Even though everybody laughed at Zuckerberg when he bought Instagram, this stupid little app.

Zuckerberg really gets habit. He knows that if he doesn’t own his customer habit, somebody else is going to capture that habit. It’s very important that he keeps it. People are starting to migrate over to Instagram because it’s giving them more of what they want.

The internal trigger for using Facebook used to be connecting with friends, loneliness. Then Instagram turns out to be a better solution to solve that problem, but it uses the same exact hook.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Nir Eyal
Which brings us by the way to the fourth step. It’s probably the most overlooked. What’s very different I think from my model from other models is this investment phase. The investment phase is something that the user does … some kind of future reward, some kind of future benefit. It’s not about immediate gratification. It’s an act that the user does for a future benefit.

For example, every time a user gives a company data or content or follows people or accrues a reputation, all of these things make the product better with use. Now why is this so revolutionary?

You think about the history of manufacturing, it used to be that customizing a product was very difficult and very expensive. Henry Ford is quoted as saying that you can get the Model T in any color as long as it’s black. The reason he said that is because it’s hard to customize stuff, especially physical stuff.

But if you think about it, what’s so amazing about these products, specifically things that are connected via the internet, and today everything is connected in some form, is that we can actually improve the product with use.

Everything in the physical world, everything we have made out of atoms, your clothing, your furniture, everything that you use, loses value, it depreciates with wear and tear. But these habit forming technologies, if you think about it, what’s so amazing about them is that they appreciate with use. They get better and better the more we interact with them.

They do that because of this investment phase. If you are not improving the product every time the user interacts with it, you are missing a huge opportunity.

Now, the way this all fits together into this infinite loop is that every time I invest in the product, what I’m doing is also loading the next trigger.

We’ll stick with Facebook just because we’ve been talking about this example. Every time I like something, comment, post, friend, I’m loading the next trigger. I’m giving the company the opportunity to have a reason to send me an external trigger once again prompting me through the hook once again, so a notification, a ping, a ding, a ring, something that tells me, “Hey, come back. Something that you did has some kind of follow up action to it. You should come back and see.”

You post a photo. There’s an external trigger that sends you a notification that says “Come check out what your friend said about your photo.” The action is to open. The variable reward is the uncertainty of what they said. The investment now is you write back, you like, you comment, continuing the hook again, and again, and again until we’re all habituated.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. That’s sort of how it all works together. I’d like to look at the opposing side of this. How does one become indistractable in the midst of these brilliant people with huge budgets creating this super hooking stuff?

Nir Eyal
Yeah. Sometimes when people hear this it sounds icky. It sounds unethical. It sounds manipulative. It can be used for manipulation. Anytime that we are using these techniques to get people to do things that we want them to do for our commercial interest, sorry, that’s a form of manipulation.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Manipulation has a negative connotation, but it doesn’t necessarily have to because there’s two types of manipulation. There’s persuasion and there’s coercion. Persuasion is helping people do things they want to do. Coercion is getting them to do things they don’t want to do. Not only is coercion unethical, it’s bad for business.

If we get people to do something they don’t want to do, they complain about it. They regret it. They tell their friends. It’s a terrible business plan. We don’t want to use these techniques for coercion. …. People exercise more, to save money, to get more sales, to use software that helps them use better lives, to use our service that would help them if they would the product.

That’s the disclaimer here as a product maker is to use these techniques to help people do things that they want to do but for lack of good product design, don’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued a little. I think some folks would say, “I wish I could be on Facebook less and yet I find myself going there again and again.”

Nir Eyal
Perfect. That’s a perfect lead in to my next book called Indistractable, which will be available on Audible starting in Spring of 2019. When it comes to answering this question of how do I use Facebook less, the answer is not to wait for Facebook to make a product that you don’t want to use. Okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Nir Eyal
So many people today, the tide’s turned against technology. I’m not saying that these guys are not innocent. There’s lots of things these companies do that I don’t like. If you think about monopoly status, if you think about their use of data, lots of things I’m not happy with these tech companies.

However, this one particular question around how do I use the product less, why are they making products that I want to use all the time, don’t hold your breath. If you hold your breath and you wait for them to make a product that is less good, you’re going to suffocate. That doesn’t make any sense, right? They’re not going to make a product that is worse, that you don’t want to use as much.

In fact, if you think social media is habit forming, just wait until we all start using virtual reality and all the other stuff that’s going to come down the pipe in the next few years. This is going to look like nothing.  We’ve got to build the skill of becoming indistractable. We haven’t been taught how to cope with all of this distraction, all of these things – the cost of living in a world with so many good things.

Right now we are talking thousands of miles apart from each other on a free service that technology has made possible. If you would have told me as a kid that this would be possible, I would say “Nah, that’s science fiction. No way are we going to have all this stuff,” video calling and classes for free, and the word’s information at your fingertips. It’s amazing.

But the cost is that we have to learn these skills to cope with managing our attention. How do we become indistractable? Well, it’s a great question. It intrigued me for five years. Since I published Hooked this is all I’ve been thinking about. I tried all kinds of techniques. What I ended up with was another four-part model. I have a thing for four-part models.

The first thing to realize is that distraction starts from within, that time management is pain management. We talked about earlier when it comes to building habit-forming products about how important it is to attach your product or service to an internal trigger.

On the flip side, as a user, this means if you are doing something that you don’t want to do – if that’s the definition of distraction is something I didn’t intend to do and I did anyway – you have got to understand that distraction starts from within.

The icky sticky uncomfortable truth that a lot of us don’t want to face because it’s so much easier to blame Facebook or the sugar industry and the baker who makes the cookies and Coca Cola for making sweet beverages and all of our problems we can blame on somebody else, the icky sticky truth is that we don’t like to face is that these internal triggers start from within.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I’m bored, and that’s why I went to Facebook.

Nir Eyal
That’s right. If you can’t stand hanging around your kids because they’re driving you crazy and so you’re checking Facebook to escape from them, that ain’t Facebook’s fault. If you sit down at your desk and you check email/Slack because you can’t stand to work on that really hard boring project right now, that’s not Slack’s fault. We have got to figure out what’s going on inside us and fix the problem or learn to cope.

Now some of this problem comes from the workplace. I was giving a talk and I asked this question to kind of prove this point. I said, “Look, here’s how we know it’s not the technology’s fault because if you won the lottery tomorrow, you have 40 million dollars in your bank account. You never have to work for money another day in your life. Do you still check your work email account? Do you still check those Slack panels at 11 o’clock at night?”

This one woman stood up in the front row one time and she said, “Yeah, I’m going to use my email one more time to send everybody a message that says ‘Screw you suckers!’” I think that’s about right. It’s not the technology. It’s if anything our addiction to work.

So many of these internal triggers come from the workplace. And in large part, and I talk about this a lot in the book, they come from sick work cultures, cultures that cultivate and create these negative emotional states that we seek to escape with our devices.

The first step, we can go a lot into the culture and how we change the culture of a company, but the first step, big picture, is to find those internal triggers, learn to cope with them, and to help our organizations become healthier environments that don’t create so many of these internal triggers that we seek to escape. That’s the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, let’s get the overview, then maybe I’ll dig in.

Nir Eyal
Okay, I’ll do the overview real quick. The first step is to manage our internal triggers. The next step is to make time for traction.

The idea here is that so many people complain about distraction, but when I ask them what did the news or Facebook or your boss or your kids distract you from? What were you so distracted from today? They take out their calendars and I look at the calendars of most people and they’re blank. There’s nothing on their calendar.

The fact is you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from, which means we need to get into the practice of scheduling out every minute of our day. It’s okay to schedule time to do nothing. I want you to schedule time to do nothing. I want you to schedule time to think.

But if you don’t schedule your day, somebody else will, your kids, your boss, your significant other, Facebook, Donald Trump, somebody’s going to eat up that time unless you decide what you’re going to do with it. That’s making more traction.

The third step is to eliminate, to hack back those external triggers. We know that two thirds of people who own a smart phone never adjust their notification settings.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh, wow.

Nir Eyal
Right? Crazy. How can we start to complain that technology is addictive and it’s hijacking our brains and it’s irresistible if we haven’t taken ten minutes to turn off these goddamn external triggers … don’t serve us?

To be clear, they’re not all bad. If an external trigger helps you wake up in the morning or reminds you to go exercise, that’s great. It’s leaning towards traction. But if it’s not, if it’s making you do something you … want to do, it’s leading towards distraction. We have to turn it off.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I am just – that is a shocking statistic to me because whenever I get a new app, I get a notification from that app. I’m like, “No, no, no OfferUp.”

Nir Eyal
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I wanted you to notify me if someone wanted to buy the thing I put up. I did not want you to notify me if one of my random friends is now using OfferUp. I don’t care. This needs to go.”

Nir Eyal
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m pretty merciless on that. I’m stunned to hear that two-thirds are like, “Okay, whatever. Sure you can interrupt me in any way at any time about anything.”

Nir Eyal
Yeah. Crazy, right? I don’t think we have a right to complain about technology being too addictive until we start to take these simple steps. That’s why I’m not worried. I love teaching people how to hook others to form healthy habits. I also think it’s on us to make sure that we don’t get unhealthily hooked. That it’s our job as consumers to take these very simple steps to put technology in its place.

Frankly, I should say actually, I misspoke there, all distraction. Because look, if you haven’t dealt with those internal triggers, it’s not going to be just Facebook, it’s going to be the television set. If it’s not that, it’s going to be radio or it’s going to be magazines or it’s going to be trashy novels. It’s always going to be something unless if we figure out how to deal with distraction at large.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it.

Nir Eyal
Oh, and there’s one more step I forgot to tell you about. The last step, you know how we talked about traction is actions you take that you want to do, distraction is the opposite. The opposite of traction is distraction. Distractions are all the things that we do that we don’t want to do.

The last of the four steps that we can take is to help us make traction – sorry, distraction less likely. We do that through pacts, all kinds of ways.

This comes from Ulysses in the Odyssey. Ulysses is sailing his ship past the island of the sirens. They sing this magical song that any man who hears wants to crash his ship onto the island of the sirens and dies there, so Ulysses comes up with this idea.

He says, “I want you to tie me to the mast of the ship and no matter what I do and what I say, don’t let me go,” because he knows he doesn’t want to get distracted. He doesn’t want to do something that he knows he doesn’t want to do. It works and he sails his ship right past this … and he didn’t become distracted.

We can use the exact same techniques ourselves. It turns out that there are literally thousands of free apps and Chrome extensions and tools that we can use to build these pacts in our life.

For example, whenever I want to do focused work, I use this little app. It’s free. It’s called Forest. I type in how much time I want to do focused work for and in that period of time if I pick up my phone and do anything with it, there’s this little virtual tree … die.

Pete Mockaitis
It dies.

Nir Eyal
Okay, stupid little virtual tree. Who cares about this virtual tree, right? But it’s enough of a reminder, “Oh, you took a pact with yourself not to look at your phone.”

Another thing I like to do is I find a focus friend. Many times when I do writing and writing is really hard work, it doesn’t come naturally for me, I’m very frequently tempted to get distracted, Google something or check email. I write with a buddy. I have somebody, a focus friend, who I get together with and we write together. You can do this in the office too. Find a colleague.

Then the final thing I’ll mention, and by the way, in the book I mention literally dozens of different things you can do. Another thing I do, I use this website that I liked so much I actually became an investor in it. It’s called FocusMate.com. FocusMate.com, all it does is you pick a time when you want to do focused work and then you’re connected with somebody else, somewhere in the world for that period of time.

In that time you log in, you see them on your – it’s a video feed. They see you. You say, “Hello. How are you doing? Go.” Then you start working. It’s amazing how just seeing that person holds us accountable. It’s a pact that we make with that other person to only do focused work during that period of time.

In short, these four techniques of managing internal triggers, making traction more likely, hacking external triggers and then finally, making distraction less likely, if you do these four things, you will manage distraction. You will become indisractable.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful and so cool. I’ve heard of a number of these tools, but Focusmate, wow, that’s another one. How does the person know if you’re looking at your email?

Nir Eyal
They don’t. By the way this is one of dozens and dozens and dozens of different things we can do. The idea isn’t oh, this is the solution for everyone. The idea is to use these techniques, to try them on for size. Some work for a while, then you have to find a different solution. Some work for some people and don’t work for others. The idea is it’s a process.

Becoming indistractable is like personal growth, you’re never done. There will always be potential distractions, but by identifying where your problem is, “Oh, it’s the internal triggers,” or “Oh man, it’s these external triggers,” or “I haven’t made time for traction,” or “I need to make distraction more difficult”—By understanding where the problem is we can do something about it.

… I think every other book I’ve ever read on this topic is like this ten things you can do. It’s not organized. It’s not clear in people’s brains where these different techniques fall into place. Then of course it becomes very difficult to utilize them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now I want to go deep into the root of things at the start when it comes to just acknowledging your internal itches there. I think that one fundamental one is I’m just actually not okay with being bored for more than one minute.

Nir Eyal
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s pretty common because it’s sort of like – I’m thinking about the train right now in Chicago, the L. Often 100% of people in a train car will be on their phones I’m looking at. Maybe they’re doing fantastically wonderful things, that it’s rewarding and fulfilling and satisfying for them, but my hunch is it’s not. That some of them are just killing the time and they could be putting their mental energies into something that serves them better.

How do you grapple with that one? I’m not comfortable being bored anymore because I’m used to being constantly entertained.

Nir Eyal
Yeah, well the first step is to ask if it’s really a problem. If you take the train every day and during that time – there’s this myth that people can’t multitask. I know you’ve heard that a lot, right? That we can’t multitask, we can’t multitask. That’s not really true. We can multitask.

… what we can do is utilize different channels. We can’t utilize the same channels. I can’t ask you to solve two math problems at the same time. I can’t ask you to watch two television shows at the same time. I can’t ask you to watch – to listen to a podcast in each ear. But we can certainly multitask different channels.

Actually, this utilizes a technique we call temptation bundling, where we can take something we enjoy, something we like as a reward and use it to help us build a habit, to incentivize a behavior that we may not really enjoy.

For example, … I never liked working out. I just didn’t like going to the gym. What I used was this technique that has been well researched now. I actually listened to my podcast as my reward for going to the gym. That’s the only time I listen to podcasts.

I’m using different channels. I’m exercising with the physical channel and I’m listening with auditory channel. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.

If part of your commute to work involves enriching yourself with listening to an audiobook or a great podcast, that’s fantastic as long as it is intentional. If you’ve planned ahead – for example, for me, every night from 7:30 to 9:30, that’s my social media time. That’s time I literally have on my schedule for checking Facebook, and Reddit, and YouTube, and all the stuff that I want to check online, but it’s only for that time.

I’ve taken what otherwise would be a distraction at any other time of the day and I’ve turned it into traction because it’s done with intent. I’ve planned ahead and it’s on my calendar that that’s when I’ll do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. If folks do find they’re in a place where it’s like “I’m going on Facebook,” “I’m going on YouTube instead of paying attention to my child or talking with my friend who’s in front of me at a restaurant or something.” Once you notice “Hey, I got this itch that I seem to have this need to scratch compulsively and I wish I didn’t.” What do you do?

Nir Eyal
What do you do? Let me give you a few techniques, okay? The first thing that we try and do is to actually fix the problem. If the problem is something that we can solve, if it’s a deeper issue, if it’s caused by a difficult life situation, a toxic work culture, these are things that we need to actually fix in our lives or they’re going to just keep coming up again and again and again.

It’s finding the things that we can fix and then learning to cope with the things that we cannot fix. I’m not naïve enough to say that everyone can just leave their job or fix everything in life. There are pains in life. Life involves some degree of suffering.

The problem is that we expect our technology or a pill or a bottle to make everything pain free, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we become dependent when we haven’t learned how to cope with pain. Time management is pain management. We have to learn that. Here are a few quick techniques that we can use. Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

One technique that we can use that psychologists tell us is incredibly effective is to name the internal trigger.

If we can name the source of the discomfort and look at it as an outsider would, meaning you’re working on a big project, it starts to get kind of boring and you start reaching for your phone, you literally start saying to yourself, “Oh, there my hand goes reaching for my phone because I’m feeling what? This project is difficult. It’s hard.” We start literally talking to ourselves like a third party will talk to us, like a good friend might talk to us.

Then what we want to do is to use a technique called surfing the urge, kind of like a surfer on a surfboard, where we allow some time for this negative – this uncomfortable sensation to wash over us.

I use a technique called the ten minute rule, where I will just give myself ten minutes when I catch myself about to get distracted or even in the middle of the distraction I say, “Okay, what am I feeling right now? I am going to give into this temptation. I am going to do this distraction, but in ten minutes.” I literally set a timer. I tell myself “It’s fine. I can give into that distraction. No problem. In ten minutes.”

Then all I have to do is in that ten minutes just do this exercise, just surf the urge, get curious about that sensation, be with that discomfort. Don’t do what I used to do which is tell myself, “Oh, there’s something wrong with me. I must be a loser.” I beat myself up. I was so mean to myself. Instead, it’s normal. It’s something that happens to every person. It’s happened for every human being that ever lived.

This is how we get stronger is that when our body tells us oh, this is something difficult that you’re trying to grow into … totally normal response to have these negative emotional states. To just stick with it for ten minutes and almost always what you’ll find is that sensation subsides. That’s how we develop our ability to manage pain, which is how we manage our ability to manage time.

This is why every other technique out there hasn’t worked for people because we have all these productivity tips, but fundamentally even if you use these productivity tips, if you sit down at your desk, and we’ve all felt this – you have a to-do, you know what to do exactly, but then it’s hard and I don’t want to right now and it feels bad. If we don’t cope with that, if we don’t learn these techniques to overcome that discomfort, we’re never going to be our best.

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

Nir Eyal
No, that’s – we covered a lot. You asked some fantastic questions. If anybody wants more information, my website is NirAndFar.com. That’s N-I-R, spelled like my first name, Nir and Far. Not near like the real word, but like my name, NirAndFar.com. Yeah, I hope you come to the website. I’ve got some resources there. Again, the book will be out early 2019.

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

Nir Eyal
Yeah, so one of my favorite quotes, it’s actually a part of the mantras that I repeat to myself every day. It’s a quote from William James, the father of modern psychology. He said “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” I think that’s a really important life lesson that the art of being wise the art of knowing what to overlook.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. How about a favorite book?

Nir Eyal
There’s a lot. This is always such a tough question for me because so many of my friends are authors. I always get in trouble.

I’ll say one of my latest favorite books is a book actually about addiction, which I think is the best book I’ve read about what addiction really is. I think most people don’t understand what addiction really is about. They call everything addiction. But there’s a book by Stanton Peele called Recover. Recover and Peele is spelled P-E-E-L-E, Stanton Peele. I really, really enjoyed that book. I thought it was fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Nir Eyal
A favorite tool. I mentioned a few of them. One of the tools I don’t think I mentioned, maybe I did, it’s called Time Guard. Did I mention Time Guard?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think so.

Nir Eyal
Okay, so Time Guard is a terrific tool. It’s not my favorite app. It’s free. Here’s how Time Guard works. Remember we talked about pacts and how you can see these pacts with yourself, kind of like Ulysses did? The way Time Guard works is it will block out certain apps and websites on your phone when you don’t want access to them.

Remember how I told you how I allowed myself social media time between 7:30 and 9:30 and I turned a distraction into traction? Well, Time Guard, if I slip up and I accidently open up Instagram, Time Guard doesn’t let me use it. It turns off the connection to that specific app or YouTube or whatever you want it to whenever I try and use it during the off hours.

It was really great at breaking that bad habit. Now it doesn’t happen as often because I’ve learned that it doesn’t work during those times, but Time Guard is a great tool for breaking that habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Of all these habits you’ve formed and broken, what’s one of your favorite habits?

Nir Eyal
Wow, there’s so many habits. It’s hard to decide. I think one of the habits that’s really served me well – and a lot of people don’t know that there’s a slight nuance between a routine and a habit, so it might be worth clarifying.

A habit is behavior done with little or no conscious thought. A routine is just a behavior frequently repeated. When people say reading is a habit or running is a habit or working out is a habit, it’s not really a habit unless you do it with little or no conscious thought. I can’t call any of those things, even though they’re helpful things, habits. I would call them routines.

But I think one of the healthiest habits I have is changing my food habits. We know that health and fitness is not made in the gym, it’s really made in the kitchen. Over years and years of changing my diet, I’ve started to create this habit of preferring healthier food. I think that’s really – I hope … we’ll see how long I live. I hope I don’t jinx it by saying this. But hopefully it will become a habit that serves me well in years to come.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Is there a particular nugget you share that seems to be frequently cited and quoted back to you?

Nir Eyal
I think – I don’t know if I can make this a nugget size, but I’ll try my best. The message I really want to leave folks with is that we can do this, that when people think about distraction that the current narrative is that it’s someone else’s fault. It’s the big tech companies that are hijacking our brains. That’s just not true.

In fact, believing it is dangerous because what this does – we know that – there’s been several studies now that show that the number one determinant of whether someone can reach their long-term goals is their belief in their own power to do that goal. This is incredibly important.

If you believe that your brain is being hijacked, if you believe that you’re powerless, you make it so. That’s the message I really want to leave folks with is that we have the power to manage distractions. We have the power to become indistractable.

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

Nir Eyal
Sure. This has to do I think with the workplace because so many of our internal triggers come from toxic work cultures. My challenge – and I know this isn’t easy and it’s not something that everybody can do and that’s why it fell into this challenge category.

I want you to observe your workplace culture around responsiveness to technology. I want you to see if you might be able to at least spark a conversation around why your company is as responsive as it is. If you have a great tech culture, that’s terrific.

The reason I think this is such an important challenge is what we find is when companies start looking at this problem of tech overuse, what we find time after time is that tech overuse in the workplace is a symptom of a larger dysfunction, that if your company can’t talk about this problem of tech overuse, there’s all kinds of other skeletons in the closet you can’t talk about.

What companies are finding is is that when they open the dialogue, when they create a work environment with psychological safety where people feel safe talking about this problem, which by the way, nobody likes. Even hard charging bosses don’t like checking their email at 11 o’clock at night. Nobody likes this problem.

The idea, the challenge here is see if you can spark a conversation with a colleague about the responsiveness through technology in your work environment and if there’s some things you can start doing to potentially change that culture. I’ve got some resources on my website as well that can help you with that and reach out if there’s any questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Nir, thank you so much for this. This was a real treat. I wish you tons of luck with the upcoming book and all you’re up to.

Nir Eyal
Thank you so much. This was really fun.

326: Making LinkedIn Work for You with Brenda Bernstein

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Brenda Bernstein says: "You actually get to inform how people experience you... based on what you write in your LinkedIn profile."

Brenda Bernstein enumerates the top mistakes people make when crafting their LinkedIn profiles and what you should do instead.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two keys to crafting an eye-grabbing LinkedIn profile
  2. How to grow your LinkedIn network past 500 people quickly and easily
  3. The case for making recommendations

About Brenda

Brenda Bernstein, Founder and Senior Editor at The Essay Expert LLC, is the author of How to Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile, a book that held the #1 bestseller spot in Amazon’s business writing skills list for over two years. A sought-after speaker and award-winning businesswoman and resume writer, Brenda is a dedicated student of leadership and a trained life coach. Armed with a B.A. in English with honors from Yale and a J.D. with honors from NYU Law School, she has been partnering with job seekers and college applicants for over 15 years to create effective written application documents. Brenda practiced law for 10 years in New York City and spent a year as a J.D. Career Advisor with the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Office of Career Services. She currently works part-time as a Law School Admissions Consultant for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brenda Bernstein Interview Transcript

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

Brenda Bernstein
Thank you Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to start at the beginning in terms of maybe your early childhood not to enter therapy, but you were in Sesame Street when you were a child. What is the story here?

Brenda Bernstein
Yes, and I really need therapy after that. Well, the story is my sister grew up in New York City. My mom just thought, “Hey, I’ll take them to interview.” We passed whatever test and the next thing you knew they were calling us in to be on Sesame Street. We did a few shows. I learned – I met Big Bird and Oscar. Not everyone knows this, but it’s the same actor in Big Bird and Oscar.

Pete Mockaitis
How about that?

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah. I remember seeing Snuffleupagus like hanging from the ceiling. I always loved Snuffleupagus. Sat in Big Bird’s nest.

One of the episodes I was on I was doing tongue twisters with Bob. We were sitting on the stoop and saying, “Rubber baby buggy bumpers,” and I said “Rubber baby buggy bumpers, rubber baby buggy bumpers,” many, many, many times. That was the beginning of my speaking career right there.

Pete Mockaitis
An auspicious beginning.

Brenda Bernstein
Yes. Give me any tongue twister.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, they must have liked you because if you kept coming back, that’s great.

Brenda Bernstein
I kept coming back. The last time that they invited me, they asked me to do a voice over. They show the animals and you’re supposed to say what the animals were doing and I completely failed on that. It was not a good match for me. I just hadn’t – I didn’t even know what to say. That was my last time on Sesame Street.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you had to create the script. It wasn’t just read it. It’s like what is this animal thinking, feeling, trying to convey right now.

Brenda Bernstein
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s challenging for anybody.

Brenda Bernstein
Well, for some kids it’s like they naturally do that. I did not. Maybe I was too old and jaded already. I couldn’t be like, “Look, he’s eating.” It just wasn’t me.

Pete Mockaitis
Jaded at an early age.

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to talk to you all about LinkedIn profiles. You wrote the book, How to Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile. I love a direct title that’s very clear, like How to Be Awesome at Your Job, How to Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile. I’ll let you kick it off. There’s probably many ways we could approach this question, but how does one write a killer LinkedIn profile?

Brenda Bernstein
I thought you were going to say, “How does one write such a great book about writing killer LinkedIn profiles?” but how does one write a killer LinkedIn profile.

Well, there are quite a few aspects to it. Part of it is how you write it and what words you put down into the profile and then part of it is how you use it once you’ve got it.

My book goes over 18 common mistakes that people make in writing their LinkedIn profiles. It tells you how to avoid them and also has some bonus tips at the end. Really it ends up being 25 – at least 25 tips with many sub-tips in between. It takes a lot to write a killer LinkedIn profile if you’re really going to get the results that are possible out of LinkedIn. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Let’s orient there to results and the why behind this thing maybe before going into as much of the how.

It’s funny I had a listener who mentioned that she – I said, “Oh hey, could I use your image and quote just from your LinkedIn profile as a testimonial since you like this stuff?” She’s like, “Oh yeah, I don’t have a LinkedIn profile. I know I should.”

But if there’s listeners in that boat, who’s like, “Oh yeah, I probably should,” could you unpack what’s behind the should and the results and the benefits associated with putting in this investment of effort?

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah, in one sense it does depend. Everything depends. I don’t have too many hard and fast rules that I would tell every person on the planet that they need to have a LinkedIn profile. Do you happen to know what that person’s career – what industry she was in, what kind of job she did?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. She was working in sort of pharmaceuticals/medical devices, that space.

Brenda Bernstein
Oh, then she definitely needs to have a LinkedIn profile. I was going to say if she were a social worker, an elementary school teacher, some people like that it’s really not that important to have a LinkedIn profile other than for networking.

But if you’re in pharmaceutical/medical device the recruiters are out there looking for you. They’re on LinkedIn. Not to be on LinkedIn is a big mistake if you’re in a field like that, like any of those professional fields.

If you’re in IT, if you’re in any type of big level manager, if you’re in – if you’re like consumer packaged goods, any of those types of industries and type – if you’re a project manager of any kind, any kind of technology, IT, the recruiters are on LinkedIn. They’re looking for you.

The jobs are being posted on LinkedIn, so it’s a really good place to look for a job and hopefully you’ll always have a little bit of an eye out for what might be the next best thing for yourself.

If you don’t care about meeting other professionals in your industry, and you don’t care about being recruited for a bigger and better job, and you just want to stay exactly where you are and maybe not have your customers be able to find out anything about you, then don’t have a LinkedIn profile.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay. There you have it. It’s like, “I am completely content where I am and I would like an extra measure of privacy,” that would be the segment of person or people that ought not to have a LinkedIn profile or would not really benefit I guess in the sense of recruiters and jobs are living on LinkedIn and you’re missing out. That might not matter so much.

But for the healthy majority, it sure sounds like yes, you want. I hear it said well. It might have been Mac Prichard who said – or maybe it was you – I don’t know where this came from but I thought it was a great turn of a phrase, it was, “Oh, you’re not on LinkedIn, you must be retired.”

Brenda Bernstein
Uh huh.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like, oh boy, that really puts a point on it.

Brenda Bernstein
Plenty of retired people are on LinkedIn as well because you get to be in groups and keep learning and growing. There’s usefulness even when you are retired to be on LinkedIn. Or to be a mentor for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Right or sort of nonprofit, volunteering, board recruitment and membership, certainly. Okay, we’re not here to put any guilt or shame on anybody if you happen to not yet have a LinkedIn profile or if it’s embarrassingly old or out of date. No judgment. We’re just looking to make the most of this asset should you choose to take advantage of it.

Boy, you said there’s 18 or 25 mistakes folks make, could you unpack a little bit in terms of what are some of the most dangerous and most widespread of these mistakes that we should rectify right away?

Brenda Bernstein
Sure. Well, I’ll talk about a few of them. One, and it’s the thing that happens before anyone finds you on LinkedIn at all is to not be found. If you have a LinkedIn profile and no one finds you, it has – there’s still a little benefit because if you give people your LinkedIn profile address, then they can still look at your profile. But it’s important to be locatable on LinkedIn.

Really to do that you need to have keywords in the right places. You also need to have a very robust network, at a minimum 500 connections on LinkedIn. The combination of that keyword placement and keyword density, I think people generally know what that … of, but … just be the words that people are going to be using when they put them into the search box. You want to come up for those words.

The more times those words show up in the key places, which are your headline and your job titles and then after that some other places in your profile, the more likely you are to come up in people’s searches. That’s really important to be findable, locatable on LinkedIn.

Then you want to look good once people find you. One of the first things that people see when they look at your LinkedIn profile is of course your photo. A big mistake the people make on LinkedIn, not having a photo at all, having a photo on there with their dog or their cat. Let’s get serious here. We’re not talking about Facebook.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Got you.

Brenda Bernstein
This is LinkedIn. This is your professional presence. You want to have a professional headshot on LinkedIn. You want to have a light background usually works a lot better on LinkedIn and just have it be you, your head and your shoulders, maybe up to your shoulders. That’s mostly what people want to see.

Now, if you’re in real estate and you want to have a sign or a house along with you, there’s certain professions where it’s okay to have something else in the background, but for most of us, it’s going to be – I want to be just me and the background. That makes a difference.

We are human beings and we are attracted by something that looks professional. A recruiter who looks at a profile, one of them has a picture and another one doesn’t have a picture, they’re going to be more interested in talking to the person with the picture.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, got you.

Brenda Bernstein
Then the other part of likeability I would say on LinkedIn – and you’re starting to get a little hint at my formula. We have locatability, likeability. I’m getting the L’s going here.

Likeability, in addition to the photo, you might want to have a nice background to your photo. That’s where you can get a little bit creative. Again, you want to keep it professional and don’t have any – … too many words in there because depending on what interface it’s showing on, that photo will be located in different places on the background and you don’t want it to cover up something important and just not look right.

You also want to use an image that it’s okay if your photo is in different places along that spectrum. LinkedIn has a default, sort of a constellation that they have back there. That’s boring. If you do have a background that shows anyone who looks that you’ve taken an extra care and creativity to put into your profile, says something about you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you mean background, not the background in your photo, but a separate feature in LinkedIn, which is the background image.

Brenda Bernstein
Yes, the background image.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. All right.

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah, thanks for that clarification. Then we have the headline. In the headline you want to make sure you say who you are. One big mistake is people let their job title automatically populate the headline.

You have control over that. You can override it and you can say your job title, but then follow it up with some other things. You want to use keywords in there to go back to the locatability and maybe even have a little bit of your unique selling proposition if you can fit it in and not – I wouldn’t … at the expense of keywords, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little bit of a tagline up there as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a few examples there of sort of headlines that are missing an opportunity versus oh yeah, just perfect?

Now I can give you the example of my own, which when I first wrote my headline it said ‘Founder and senior editor at the Essay Expert.’ Now that doesn’t help anyone find a resume writer. It doesn’t help anyone find a LinkedIn expert. That’s just one example.

Now once I myself learned about headlines and keywords, my headline now says, ‘Resume and LinkedIn profile writer, author, speaker, executive resumes, C-level resumes, executive LinkedIn profiles, college essays, law school admission essays, MBA admission essays.’ You see the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
You put all that in the headline, so then I’m thinking about as you see the search results of person’s name and then headline, will you get to read all of that or will it get clipped off in search results or as folks are browsing?

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah, you won’t be able to see all of it necessarily, but on desktop version if someone looks they’ll be able to see that whole thing once they look at your profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so then your emphasis there was really all about the keywords such that when people are searching that, they find just that and that’s sorts of the main thing as opposed to like a branding thing of ‘A data-driven professional passionate about the future of the automotive industry.’

Brenda Bernstein
Right, those words aren’t going to get you a lot of mileage in your headline. Here’s another example, someone who wrote, ‘Quality assurance analyst,’ in their headline.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Brenda Bernstein
So that’s okay because if someone is looking for a quality assurance analyst, that’s going to help them out, but if you have quality assurance analyst and then you have a little divider, say, ‘… development, client communication, automation engineer,’ then you give yourself more chances to be found.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay. I’m with you there. You want to be findable with a good headline and you can override from just your position to what’s there. You want to look good with a good photo, light background and then using the LinkedIn background extra feature there. What else?

Brenda Bernstein
The next thing really is your summary. That’s your opportunity. You’ve got 2,000 characters. A lot of people – a big mistake that people make is to take their resume summary, which isn’t always the greatest in the first place, and then they copy and paste it.

It’s this paragraph that says, ‘Results oriented, proven track record,’ in my words, blah, blah, blah, and they just copy and paste it into their LinkedIn profile. They’re not taking advantage of the entire 2,000 characters that are available, not that you have to use all the 2,000, but you have some room here to get creative.

You actually have an opportunity to show a little bit of your personality, so maybe some of your accomplishments, all in your LinkedIn summary.

I have an example of a marketing person who wrote in her LinkedIn summary all about how she wanted to be a football player when she grew up. Actually she says when she was little she boldly claimed to anyone who would listen, “I wanted to drive a garbage truck.” Then she moved to Wisconsin and declared she’d be the next Green Bay Packers quarterback after Brett Favre retired.

She really is bringing herself to this LinkedIn summary. It’s kind of fun. It grabs some attention. Now the one thing to keep in mind with the LinkedIn summary is that this is one where you don’t see the whole thing when you first look at it. You’ve got to click on ‘Show more.’

Think about maybe the first three or four lines to make sure that you’re communicating who you are in those first few lines or grabbing some attention enough to make people want to click on ‘Show more.’ When I write LinkedIn profiles for people, I definitely use those first few lines to hit them with the most important things and make no mistake about who I am or what I offer. Then you can talk more.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s interesting there because it seems like there’s maybe multiple approaches with that summary because with that fun ”I want to be a garbage truck driver,” I guess if you think about the person on the other side of that, it might kind of catch their attention like, “Hm, okay, that’s a little different. What’s her story? I want to learn more.” It might intrigue them or they be like, “I don’t care.” It’s sort of a turn off.
How do you think about what style or tone is best for what context?

Brenda Bernstein
Well, there’s a way you could do both I would say for one is that maybe you start out really telling them who you are and then you can tell a little bit of your story and show your personality. That would be one.

Then the other is who are you and what is your personality. If your personality is to talk about how you wanted to drive a garbage truck when you grew up, then maybe you start that way. If your personality is a lot more straightforward, business oriented, then you’re going to start that way.

The other good news is that you can always change your LinkedIn profile anytime you want. You can save what you had there before. You can try something else. You can’t have two LinkedIn profiles. You can get in trouble for that. But you can try different things at different times.

Make sure you save anything that you decide to change. Save the old one. If you don’t like how something is performing, you can always do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then what are some other key components and how should we make sure we’re not making mistakes there?

Brenda Bernstein
Well, you do want to make sure to have, as I said, a robust network. I didn’t talk – go into much detail about that, but 500 connections is really a minimum. If you don’t have that number of connections, you probably are going to have a hard time finding people when you search because the search results come up based on how a close connection you are to them.

You want to be close to a lot of people so that when you search for automation engineer in Chicago, you’re really going to get good results because you’re connected with a lot of people.

In order to build that network – a lot of people are like, “Oh my God, 500, that seems like such a big number.” It’s probably not as big as you think it is. Once you start to look and there are ways that you can look at your alumni from any schools that you’ve gone to and start connecting with alumni.

Other people are like, “Oh 500, well, I only want quality connections.” Well, don’t you think that a lot of the people you went to school with, especially if it’s a top-level college or any kind of graduate school, are going to be high quality connections? I would hope so. Even if you don’t know them personally, most people who went to a school with you are going to be open to connecting.

If you joined groups, then you also have a really great source of connections. You were going to say something?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I found that LinkedIn is just very, almost creepily wise when it comes to suggesting people I may know. It’s like how do you even know that I know that person? I can’t even see what you’re seeing about knowledge. I’m sure they’re in deep with some big data things that make it super smart.

But that’s kind of what I found when I was trying to – way back in the day when I was below 500, I’d say, “Oh, I do know a lot of those people,” so I’d connect, connect, connect, connect, connect the ones they suggested. Then sure enough, a week later, many of those people had already accepted and so LinkedIn had new wisdom from which to draw and suggest even more people that I might know. I’d say, “Oh, sure,” connect, connect, connect.

In a way it did it for me. I just had to sit down with a little bit of space in between and review the people they thought I knew.

Brenda Bernstein
Yup, yeah. Most people know a lot more people than they realize or are interested in knowing more people than they realize.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Are there some sort of slick moves to get all of your Facebook connections to become LinkedIn connections? Is that possible?

Brenda Bernstein
I don’t know of anything like that. There could be some interface app somewhere that does that, but I don’t know. There is a way to get anyone in your address book, but I wouldn’t do that because sometimes your address book has a bunch of junk in it and you don’t want to just blindly, blithely send out connection request to everyone in your email address book because you’ll get rejections and it will be kind of messy.

If you get too many people saying they don’t know you, then they can stop you from sending out more requests, so I wouldn’t go that route. I wouldn’t do anything actually automated in terms of building your network. I’d reach out to people one-on-one.

Especially if you do anything automated, then the best that any program could do would be to send out a generic message. I’m really a proponent of customizing every invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that a lot. I want to go there in a second. With the address book stuff though, it is possible right, to sort of deselect all and then get choosy like, “Okay, LinkedIn you can take a look at my Gmail, but from there I’m going to be – I’m going to pick and choose who I’m actually requesting to connect with.”

Brenda Bernstein
I think you can, but so many people – it’s very tricky and not intuitive. A lot of people send out invitations to their entire address book by accident when they’re maybe trying to do that, so I just don’t recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, so risk.

Brenda Bernstein
In addition to the issue of it’s just going to be the generic invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s talk about inviting people well and customizing each.

Lately, it’s funny, way back, not too far back, I had an episode with Steve Sims and he mentioned he liked to do events with a password. It’s like if you said the password at the door, then it meant that you knew whatever the right people to be invited and it showed that you were up for some fun because the password was silly like, “Name the Teletubbies.”

I asked some time ago and I’ve gotten a lot of these requests, so send some more please, listeners, I’d say, “Hey, go ahead and ask me to connect on LinkedIn and the password is a lyric from a boy band song.” I would get in all of these fun connection requests like, “Pete, it’s tearing up my heart when I …” It makes it a lot of fun to go to LinkedIn and connect with listeners and such.

But then it kind of became clear how I was also getting so many poor messages. Some have no message or ‘I’d like to add you as a connection on LinkedIn.’

I think the worst I’ve seen – I won’t say his name – but it said something like, “Hi Pete, in an effort to build my financial services connections I am reaching out to you.” It’s like, well, that’s sort of all about you and not all about sort of what we have in common or others would say, “It appears that we have similar interests.” It’s like, I think you say that to everybody.

On my own experience, I’m looking for a touch of personalization, customization, there’s something that connects us. “I listen to your podcast.” “Awesome, that’s great. Cool, thank you.” Anyway, that’s been my experience, but let’s get your expert take. What makes a bad versus a good invitation request messaging?

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah, I agree with everything you said, Pete. Anything that’s generic is not the best. There are people – I really love your little game that you played with send me some boy band lyrics. That’s really great. I know someone who will always require a new connection to have a conversation with him on the phone before he’ll accept the invitation. That’s a strategy people have used.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, so he just sends an email back like, “Hey, thanks for reaching out. We can schedule a time to chat if you want to be connected.”

Brenda Bernstein
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Then there you go. Okay.

Brenda Bernstein
Exactly. Of course, there’s some people I’m sure he just rejects, but if it’s someone who looks like that he would be interested in connecting, then he’ll have that conversation.

One way to do it let’s say you’re – if you’re reaching out to alumni, it might be enough just to say, “Hey, we’re both alumni of this school. I’d love to connect with you. How’s life after Kalamazoo University,” whatever it is.

When you’re connecting with people in groups, you generally have some common interest I should hope. Maybe it’s someone who posted something in a group, so you can refer to what they posted and say that you found it interesting.

You might connect with someone who posted an article in LinkedIn Publisher and you read the article and you liked it. You can tell them how much you enjoyed their article, “and especially this part.” Prove to them that you read it.

I have been reaching out to coaches. I reach out to a lot of people on the Forbes Coaches Council. I’ve written to people saying, “Hi, I see you’re a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. I’m an executive resume writer. I think we could be valuable connections for each other. I look forward to having you in my network.” Just that. It’s very simple, but pretty much everyone accepts my invitation when I write stuff like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. There you go. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or detailed. It’s just sort of like, “Oh, okay.” It just sort of is even almost like a surface or summary answer, like, “Who are you and why should we connect?” “Oh, okay. That’s you and that makes sense.” Okay, that’s it. Done.

Brenda Bernstein
Exactly. Yes. Just for the record, no I do not recommend connecting with every single person from Pakistan and India who says they want connect with you. I think it’s fine to reject some connections, which basically means just don’t respond to them and then the person doesn’t get – they don’t get something that says you rejected them. They just never get connected with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I click ignore, are they told that I clicked ignore?

Brenda Bernstein
No.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I didn’t think so because no one’s told me, “You have been ignored.”

Brenda Bernstein
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve never seen that. My thing is I accept most, even if it’s sort of light on the details because I sort of assume with thousands of listeners, oh, you’re probably a podcast listener. You heard the episode about the password, so it’s all good.

But maybe – I don’t know fair or unfair, folks who are doing sort of investment/advisory things and marketing sounding things, I usually say no because it’s often the beginning of a sales funnel. If any listeners try to connect with me and you happen to be in those industries, I probably ignored you and it’s not personal. But you can – I think you can try again. Is that true, Brenda? Is that possible?

Brenda Bernstein
You can. You might need to-

Pete Mockaitis
Get a message.

Brenda Bernstein
To withdraw your request and then reinstate it. There is a way to do that.

You can actually like if you send one of those generic messages by accident, which sometimes happens, because it’s not necessarily easy to send a customized message. If you click on ‘Connect’ from a list, from a search that came up, that automatic message is going out and you can’t stop it.

If you connect from your phone, if you hit ‘Connect,’ it’s going to send a generic message. On your phone what you need to do, and a lot of people don’t realize this, but you can send a customized message. But you need to click on – I think they just changed it. It says ‘More.’ When you hit on ‘More’ then you get a personalize invite option in the dropdown. But most people don’t know that.

If you do get a generic message, maybe someone just connected with you from their phone and they didn’t even know. I wouldn’t be offended either, but if you’re a really savvy LinkedIn user, you’re going to know how to send a customized message from anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well that’s helpful to know right there. It’s like, oops, you might accidently do that. But you can withdraw it and then do it with more customization if you accidently hit that.

Brenda Bernstein
Exactly. As long as they haven’t accepted it yet, you can actually go into your LinkedIn interface and find all the connection requests that you made and you can manage those requests and you can undo one of them if you want to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this is really useful stuff. Brenda tell me, any other sort of top do’s and don’ts that you want to make sure we get out there when it comes to LinkedIn?

Brenda Bernstein
Those are really my top, top ones. I would say the other things to consider are giving and getting recommendations. It’s always a really good thing to do. If you haven’t given a recommendation in four years on LinkedIn, think about whether it might be time to do that. If you haven’t given any, maybe it’s time to start requesting those because those are really great to have to show off who you are on your LinkedIn profile.

You get to show off by getting them and by giving them. If there are any recruiters out there who might be looking for you, they do look at recommendations that you’ve given, so keep that in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that just to evaluate, “Hey, is this a generous person who knows LinkedIn or can they write well,” or kind of what are they looking at when they – to see about the recommendations you’re giving?

Brenda Bernstein
I think it’s mostly to say, “Oh, this is a person who supports their colleagues, who cares to take the time to do something nice for another person.”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And it is so nice in terms of you can just surprise and delight someone by pulling up their profile, writing them a recommendation. Maybe you worked with them years ago. Then – and they love it. It’s a fun moment like, “Hey Pete, how are you doing? That was so nice. Thank you.” It just puts everyone in a good mood. Who doesn’t love to get a compliment or a thank you?

Brenda Bernstein
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
In a public way that helps them out too.

Brenda Bernstein
Absolutely. Then the final thing, which probably one of the biggest mistakes that anyone makes on LinkedIn is they write their LinkedIn profile and it’s like the gym membership. You buy the gym membership and then you never got to the gym. It’s a similar principle with LinkedIn.

You can have a great LinkedIn profile and then if you just sit there and you don’t check your LinkedIn messages or you do, but you only ever have conversations on LinkedIn about anything and you never actually have a call, phone call with anyone, and you never actually go out and meet for coffee with someone that you met on LinkedIn, you’re not going to get results from your LinkedIn profile.

It actually does require being active, going back, updating things when it’s ready to update them, reaching out to people and having conversations. That’s how to really get value out of LinkedIn.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Brenda Bernstein
I think that’s good. We can move on. Yeah.

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

Brenda Bernstein
Wow, it’s like my favorite quote changes on a daily basis. Yesterday I saw this video talking about bamboo trees and how bamboo trees take five years to grow but the majority of that time, they’re under the soil and they have to be tended to and watered. Then all of the sudden within five weeks, the bamboo tree grows to 90 feet.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Brenda Bernstein
That’s amazing, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Brenda Bernstein
It was such a great metaphor for so many things in life, how you really need to put time in and you might not see the results. People might be telling you, “I don’t see any results. It’s not working.”

[36:00]

But if you have that confidence and you’re nurturing and watering something, then when it’s ready to bust out of the ground, it’s going to do that. It can move really fast. I think there’s something about trusting the process and keeping on keeping on and nurturing your dream.

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

Brenda Bernstein
Here is a bit of research that I think is really cool.

This is one where a bunch of students were told before they were going to go into a lecture they were told – half the students were told that the lecturer was very warm and the other half of the students were told, “Oh, this lecturer is kind of cold. He’s kind of a cold person.”

Then all of the students went into to see the lecture and what do you know? It was the same lecture. Everyone saw the same thing. But the ones who had been told that the professor was warm, came out talking about how warm the professor was. The ones who went in being told the professor was kind of cold, came out saying, “Well, yeah, that was a good lecture, but the professor was kind of cold.”

What strikes me about this for LinkedIn is that how we write our LinkedIn profile informs how people expect us to be when we meet them. If you write something on LinkedIn that’s very business focused, people are going to expect you, if they meet you in person, for you to be business focused. If you write something that’s a little more creative and playful, they’re going to expect you to be more creative and playful.

You actually get to inform how people experience you in real life or in an interview based on what you write in your LinkedIn profile. I think that’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Brenda Bernstein
Besides How to Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Brenda Bernstein
That’s a hard one. One – I read this such a long time ago, but it’s the first one that just popped into my head. It’s called The Time Traveler’s Wife. I know they made a movie of it. The movie wasn’t very good, but the book was so good.

Pete Mockaitis
What spoke to you about The Time Traveler’s Wife?

Brenda Bernstein
Well, it was – it’s clearly about time travel, of course. I think it’s – there’s something about loyalty, like this person keeps coming back to the same – it’s a man who kind of comes in and out of time travel and keeps coming back to the same person over and over again as she grows. It’s just a beautiful story of loyalty and connection and longing.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Brenda Bernstein
Does a kitchen appliance count?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Brenda Bernstein
All right, yeah. My blender is definitely my favorite. That’s my favorite tool of all time. I use it every day. I make smoothies in it. I make salad dressing in it. I make blended soups in it. I make pesto in it. I don’t know how I’d live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it a Vitamix, Blendtec or just sort of commonplace?

Brenda Bernstein
It’s a Blendtec.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Brenda Bernstein
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
High end.

Brenda Bernstein
Oh yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Brenda Bernstein
My favorite habit, well, making smoothies. That’s probably one of my favorite books too is Zero Belly Smoothies. I swear I’ve gotten the best smoothie recipes. They’re so delicious from that book. I often when I’m like, “Oh, what am I going to do with all this stuff in my house,” and I go to that book and I discover a smoothie. That’s probably my favorite book right now.

My favorite other habit, oh, I’m a devoted yoga practitioner. I love yoga. I love going upside down. What I didn’t talk about is one of my childhood successes was I was a New Jersey state champion in one of the lower levels of competition in gymnastics. That was when I was 12. I actually won the New Jersey state championship.

Pete Mockaitis
Congratulations.

Brenda Bernstein
That was pretty cool. I love being upside down. I can’t do all of the things that I could when I was 12 by any means, but I’m – I love going into yoga and going into a handstand and just de-stressing and breathing and sometimes dancing. I go to yoga class at least four times a week. It’s – yeah, it’s just part of my life. It’s never going to go away that I can tell.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks as you’re teaching them your wisdom?

Brenda Bernstein
I don’t know if this is a nugget, but I think something people notice about me is how much I go for – well, okay, here’s how it can be a nugget. I tend to – when I decide that I’m going to go for something and achieve something, I tend to be pretty tenacious and pretty persistent. I like to say – and overcome some struggles and hardships and pain sometimes to get to where I want to go.

I like to say that, “There’s one guaranteed way to achieve any goal and that is to keep taking action toward the goal and never stop.” Maybe that’s it. If you just keep going for it, that’s the guaranteed way to get it until you’re dead. Either you meet your goal or you’re dead.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah.

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

Brenda Bernstein
I would point them to my website, which is – it’s a little hard to hear spoken, but I’ll do my best here. It’s www.TheEssayExpert.com, so that’s spelled T-H-E-E-S-S-A-Y-E-X-P-E-R-T – TheEssayExpert.com.

You can also find my book, How to Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile, on Amazon. I also have How to Write a Winning Resume and How to Write a Stellar Executive Resume, so all those are available on Amazon. If you do come to my website, you’ll have an opportunity to sign up for my blog.

You can also find me on LinkedIn. I’m Brenda Bernstein on LinkedIn, so please feel free to connect with me there and write me a nice customized message and I will respond back and send you links to all those goodies that you might want. I’d love to have you reading my weekly blog. I post things about life and leadership and LinkedIn and resumes and all kinds of things that probably of interest to you.

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

Brenda Bernstein
Yeah, I would say on your LinkedIn profile, say something great about your job because your employers will like to see that and the recruiters will like to see that. Talk about some really positive aspect of what you’re doing in your job right now and that will look good for your company and it will look good for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank out. Well, Brenda, this has been so helpful. Thank you for setting the record straight on LinkedIn. I wish you lots of luck in all you’re up to.

Brenda Bernstein
Thank you so much. Likewise Pete.