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488: Finding The Productivity System That Works for You with Asian Efficiency’s Thanh Pham

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 Thanh Pham from Asian Efficiency shares his expert tips and favorite resources for optimal productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest productivity myth
  2. How to be more productive while doing less
  3. A simple productivity tip to exponentially improve your focus

About Thanh

Thanh is the Founder and Managing Director of Asian Efficiency. He is considered one of the top thought leaders in the productivity industry and he has been featured in Fast CompanyInc.com,ForbesHuffington Post, and The Globe & Mail. On a day-to-day basis, he is responsible for executing the company’s mission and helping people become more Asian Efficient.

When he’s not sharing his newest productivity wisdom, he likes to drink lots of green tea, eat eggs benedict at hotels, make video blogs, and read non-fiction books.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Thanh Pham Interview Transcript

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

Thanh Pham
Thank you, Pete, for having me. I’m excited to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s always fun to chat with a podcaster that I’ve listened to numerous times. So, it’s sort of like, “Hey, you sound just like you.” And I’m surprised each time somehow.

Thanh Pham
Well, thank you for listening to my productivity show and I’m excited to kind of share what I know about productivity and help people become more productive here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, I want to dig a touch into your backstory for a moment and then talk a lot about productivity. So, I understand that you never graduated high school. And I’m curious, is there sort of a productivity transformation story at the root of this or is it just like, “Yeah, I don’t like high school”?

Thanh Pham
It is a combination of both. So, I read this book called Rich Dad Poor Dad, which I’m sure a lot of people have heard of, and I was 13 at the time. So, I read this book and it really changed my life in the sense that it gave me this whole new perspective on what I need to do with my life. And I came from a first-generation immigrant family, and my whole belief was, “Hey, you need to go to school, get trained up, and then get a traditional job.” And I was like, “Okay, let’s do that.”

And then I read this book and I had a completely 180-look on life, and I started my first business when I was 14. So, I remember my mom had to sign off on some paperwork because obviously she had to be liable for anything that would go wrong, me being underage. So, I started a web design agency at that time and I taught myself how to program, how to build websites, and became really successful. I started hiring my high school friends, and they started working with me.

And so, the way the education system works in the Netherlands, where I grew up, if you don’t pass the last year of your high school, you basically don’t graduate and you’d have to do the last year all over again. So, I didn’t pass the test because I didn’t study. I was overly-confident because my business was flourishing, and so I didn’t study and failed the test, and that’s why I ended up dropping out of high school, and just continued to focus on my business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you were being productive in other domains as oppose to, “My life was a mess until I discovered these strategies.”

Thanh Pham
Exactly, yeah. So, I’ve always loved learning, I still love learning, whether it is reading on the side or I go to workshops and seminars. So, the learning aspect has actually never stopped, this is a lifelong thing for me but the formal education side of things just stopped when I was 18.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, understood. Thanks for sharing. And, well, you certainly landed on your feet in terms of making things happen in a big way. Your brand is rocking and with Asian Efficiency you’ve got the Productivity Show podcast. And it’s fun, at the beginning of your show, you ask about your guests’ or co-host’s top three productivity resources. I ask about a lot of favorite things at the end of the show, so we’ll do that too. But I’d love to treat you in kind, you’ve seen a lot of resources and mentioned a lot. If you had to pick three for sort of the Lifetime Achievement Awards for you, what would they be?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, that’s a tough question. I’ve seen so many recommendations, part of my job is always testing new things, reading new books, and trying all sorts of stuff, so if I had to just boil it down to three recommendations and three resources, I would say one book I would recommend is called 30 Lessons for Living. So, the basic premise of the book is the author interviewed people who were about to die, and he asked them, “What’s one life lesson you would like to pass on to the next generation?” And this got compiled into 30 lessons.

And so, it gives you kind of an insight of what you really should be doing with your life based on the experiences of people way ahead of you. This is a great book. It really changed my life so I highly recommend that. Another one is a pair of headphones by Bose called the Bose QC35. If you’ve ever flown a plane, you’ve probably seen these headphones.

Everybody tends to wear them nowadays for good reason because it’s the best noise-cancellation headphones on the market, in my opinion. And if you’re somebody who has trouble focusing, if you put on these headphones and play some productivity music, you’ll just be able to focus instantly and tune out all the noise. So, that’s something I personally use every day, also when I’m traveling.

And then the third one is an app called TextExpander. So, TextExpander, as you just said, it is one of my favorite apps. If you use Mac, Windows, it doesn’t matter, it’s also available on iOS, it basically allows you to type things really quickly and have templates that you can use with just a few keystrokes. So, think of it as like keyboard shortcuts on steroids. And once you’ve seen a demo of it, you’ll just go, “Okay, why have I not used this earlier? This is going to change everything for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
I sent you an email today using TextExpander.

Thanh Pham
I have a suspicion.

Pete Mockaitis
I used customized elements.

Thanh Pham
Yeah, we have to send the same scripts and emails out to people, and why type the same thing when you can just type in three or four keystrokes and get the same thing out there?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, cool. Well, that was fun so I wanted to see how that felt, you know, being in your shoes, hitting some three resources at the beginning. So, thank you for those. And I’m also wearing some Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Headphones right now as we speak. Sometimes I will put earplugs in first, then put on the noise-cancelling headphones, and then play a favorite white noise such as perhaps the engine idling-noise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I got that from my guest Rahaf Harfoush. But you mentioned productivity tunes, or music, or sounds. What were those that you’re listening to?

Thanh Pham
So, there’s lots of ways to go about this. There’s stuff like Brain.fm that you can use, which is kind of like a service that you can subscribe to and get music from. FocusAtWill is another one that I personally use too. But then if you have, for example, Spotify or Apple Music, you can listen to a lot of albums that don’t have any lyrics because if you start listening to music that have lyrics, it’s really easy to get distracted.

But if you have music that doesn’t have lyrics whatsoever, for example, soundtracks of movies are some of my favorite music to listen to and to work to. For example, The Social Network, the movie that was based on Facebook is one of my favorite soundtracks ever, not because, necessarily, I like the movie so much, which I thought was entertaining, but the soundtrack is just so good and so mellow. Once I put it on, I kind of get into this flow state immediately just because it’s so well-orchestrated. So, soundtrack is a great resource for productivity music, in my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. My buddy, Brad, likes listening to cinematic soundtracks because he says it feels like when you’re doing work at your laptop, you’re leading an army into battle.

Thanh Pham
That’s really what it feels like, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Well, cool. Well, we got really deep into the tactical tidbits. I want to zoom out a little bit. So, your website and brand is called Asian Efficiency, which is fun. What’s the story behind that name?

Thanh Pham
Now, obviously I can say that because…

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say I don’t know.

Thanh Pham
…I am Asian and I look Asian so I can kind of play the part. And having lived in the Western countries, there’s this positive stereotype about Asian people that they tend to be really productive. So, I remember a few years ago when me and my friends, we were vacationing in Florida, and we were committed to working during the daytime and then have dinner at night and just have a good time going out.

And then the next morning after a night out with our friends, I was up early. I was up early doing some work, being really focused, getting stuff done. And by the time it was noon, I was done with everything that I needed to do. And then my friends would come down and they would see me relaxing, doing absolutely nothing, just reading a book, and having a relaxing time, and they go, “Thanh, what is going on? Are you already done?” And I was like, “Yup, I’m already done. I did everything I needed to do. I’m just going to relax for the rest of the day.” And they go, “Wow! How did you do that? That is Asian efficiency right there.” And I said, “Oh, that’s a great catch name. I should register that domain name.”

And so, I registered the domain name and didn’t really think of it at that time of doing anything with it. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started just blogging about productivity and time management and efficiency that I said, “Hey, maybe I should just start blogging about this once a week and share some of the things that I’ve learned over the years with my friends and family.” And that just accidentally turned into a business one year later.

So, it really started off as a passion thing because I just wanted to share with my friends and family what I’ve learned from reading books about productivity and some of the workshops I’ve been to, and just putting it in one place. It was just something I was really passionate about at that time and I never thought it would be a business that it is today. So, it’s just super fortunate that I’m able to do something that I’m really passionate about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s cool. I think the first time I caught the name, I was like, “Is this about the Toyota LEAN manufacturing system?” I was like, “Oh, no, no, it’s about personal productivity. Okay, yeah, I’m with you.”

Thanh Pham
Yeah, that’s another thing I get quite often too. So, if somebody says that they’re already into productivity, because that’s usually one step further, and then I usually have the inclination just to start geeking out with that person right away because I’m very into that sort of thing as well, especially if you run a business or manage a big team, you’re always looking for interesting philosophies and different ways of doing things, whether it’s with your own self or with people that you work with. And so, there’s so many ways to be productive as a person and be productive as a team. And I love just geeking out about that sort of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to talk about the geeking out dimension first, if I could. So, I think I’ve seen this go a couple ways when it comes to talking about productivity efficiency stuff. You can get lost in sort of this realm of, “Hey, I’m just rearranging my file folders and trying out a new app,” and just kind of like you’re not actually achieving anything. You’re just sort of reshuffling your stuff around in different ways.

And I’ve also seen implementing certain systems and approaches and tools in which you just see sort of like lifechanging benefits. So, could you maybe make the case, if you could, for what are the kinds of gains or benefits we can achieve by implementing some of these efficiency productivity stuff or is it all just a way for nerds to play with new toys?

Thanh Pham
There’s definitely a case for all sorts of situations. And based on the last eight years of me teaching this through the blog, through the coaching programs and other programs that we have, I’ve noticed that there’s a couple things that people can get out of this. One is you tend to create more structure and routine in your life that might be missing. So, a lot of people oftentimes come to us because life is chaotic, there’s a lot of stuff going on, they can’t keep up. And having some sort of structure or routine in place allows people to be more creative, allows people to get more stuff done, and actually achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. So, there’s one big part of that.

Another big part is just having the freedom to choose how you want to spend your time. Oftentimes when we are bombarded with so many things to do or to-do lists, it’s like from here to Tokyo, it’s just endlessly long, and anytime you finish something off in your to-do list, something new pops up on there, and it kind of feels like a battle that you can’t really win.

And so, once we kind of get that under control, then we give ourselves the option to really choose how we want to spend our time. Do we want to do more things on our to-do list or do we want to spend more time doing things like spending time with our family, or starting new business on the side, or just having the option to choose how you want to spend your time and what you want to do with that? And most people would pick one of those two options I would say.

And then there’s this third camp, usually, of people that just love to nerd out, they just love to play with new toys and feel like they’re making progress in their life, and trying new different things. That’s definitely how I    started with everything. But I also had to learn that, you know, at some point there are diminishing returns. There’s only so many task managers that I can try to find the perfect one, or there’s only so many settings that I can change, or there’s so many workflows that I should use before I really start to just spend more time “being or trying to be productive” versus actually getting results, getting stuff done that needs to be done, and then having the time “luxury” to choose how I want to spend my time going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s well-said in terms of those benefits there in terms of we take a life in chaos and then by bringing some calm to it, you enhance your creativity, ability to focus and do the things, and boost your odds of success. And you also experience some freedom as oppose to enslavement to the urgent next thing that comes up. So, those sound like some cool benefits. Do you have any sense for, I don’t know, the magnitude, or quantifiable results, or a cool case study in terms of a life transformed that can really sort of paint a picture for what’s at stake here?

Thanh Pham
Yeah, so a recent example was a client that I worked with. Her name is Lisa and she is an executive at a Fortune 100 company. And so, her role was to report to 23 different executives and helping them make better decisions around payroll. That’s literally her job, is just enforcing certain guidelines, making sure that the executives get the right information that they need to make sound decisions around payroll in this huge company.

And so, on a day-to-day basis, she’s in her email client all day long because she felt like she had to respond to every single email that came in within five minutes. And when you’re reporting to 23 different executives and you have email open all day long, as you can probably imagine, you spend a lot of time doing research, replying to emails, multitasking, doing all these different things, and oftentimes getting lost in the shuffle.

And so, I said to Lisa, “Okay, you spend about seven to eight hours a day in your email inbox. Where do you find the time to actually do stuff?” And she said, “Well, I don’t so I have to take work home with me. I’m staying longer at the office. I don’t have any time for my husband, I don’t have any time to cook, I don’t have any time for myself to practice yoga or to do any form of reading. I basically get up really early, show up for work, stay really late, don’t see my kids and husband that much, and take home work with me, and then stay up late to get stuff done.”

And I said, “Well, do you want to live like this for the rest of your life?” And I’m guessing you probably already know the answer. And she said, “No, of course not. That’s why I came to you.” I said, “Okay, let’s change your approach to how we do things here. So, instead of trying to multitask and trying to do all these different things for all these 23 executives that you have to report to, what if we just do one task at a time and just one executive at a time? So, instead of trying to appease five executives at once with their email requests and the things that you have to do for them, let’s just focus on one executive at a time on certain days and just put some structure in place so you can focus doing just one thing at a time.”

And even though she was doing the exact same work, just changing the practice of, “Hey, I’m just going to focus on this one executive, doing one task at a time, making sure that gets done, gets completely finished, sends it out. And then once that is ‘done’ then I can move onto the next executive.” By just changing that approach and then closing her email clients, because that was the biggest troublemaker in this whole process, is if you have email open all day long, it’s kind of like a to-do list that other people can write on.

And so, it makes it really easy for your to-do list to become endless and then sometimes for certain people very difficult to enforce certain boundaries. And so, she had to close her email client, just focus on one task at a time, one executive at a time, and just changing that approach allowed her to go from eight hours a day in her email inbox to just 45 minutes a day in her email inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Thanh Pham
Such a simple change but it made a huge difference in her life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! So, it’s just sort of like, “Okay, I’m going to check what’s in that email inbox and then I’m going to grab the stuff associated with what I have determined, like this project, this executive, and then go for it.” Well, that’s so striking. And I’m wondering, is the savings here due to just the notion that you’re just continuously interrupted and, thusly, it takes you way longer to get any given thing done because you sort of move your attention from that thing to the next email?

Thanh Pham
Yes, multitasking is I think the biggest myth in productivity because people think that multitasking is a good trait to have, it’s a good thing, that you’re more productive this way but tons of research studies have shown it’s actually the opposite. And when you think about it, anytime you get distracted or anytime you do multiple things at the same time, your brain is actually only able to focus on one thing at a time, and it’s literally designed that way.

So, when you’re, for example, checking email and talking to somebody on the phone, you can’t really do both things. And then imagine having an audiobook playing in the background, and trying to learn, and then having like a Google spreadsheet on another monitor, so if you do those four things at once, there’s just no way you can focus doing all these great and perfectly.

And people who multitask tend to also be slower because anytime you switch focus, we kind of have to just go on this on ramp. We have to kind of like warm up a little bit, kind of think about, “Okay, what was I thinking again? What did I need to do next?” Like, if you talk to your friend on the phone and then write an email at the same time, as soon as you hang up on the phone and you have to continue writing that email, you have to kind of imagine what you were thinking of, what you were doing, what you wanted to say, what you wanted to write next.

And imagine doing that a hundred times a day. So, those two, three minutes can lead to lots of hours of wasted time. And so, if you can just focus on just doing one thing at a time and avoid being distracted and interrupted this way, all these little time ramps of, “Okay, what was I doing? What did I need to do next?” can save you a lot of time over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, I think sometimes we fall for the myth of multitasking just because of what it’s doing in your brain chemistry. I think Chris Bailey, who we had on the show a couple of times, was talking about how when you switch tasks, there’s a little bit of – is it dopamine or a neurochemical reward of some sort – because like, “Oh, this is new.” And because it feels a little stimulating, it’s almost as though, “Therefore, I am crushing it.” But you’re really not.

Thanh Pham
Exactly. It feels “productive” but when you think about productivity, I mean, there are several definitions that people have. But I think one of the most useful ones is to think about, “Is this getting me closer to my goal? And if it’s not, then I should say no to that or I should just not pay attention to that right now and continue to stay focused on something that actually helps me get things done to accomplish my goal.”

So, if you’re at your job, and you’re part of a team and maybe you have a team goal, getting really clear on what that goal is and making sure that whatever you’re doing every single day is in alignment with that allows you to be really productive. And then it’s not really a matter of, “Okay, did I get five tasks done, or 10 tasks, or 15, or even just one?” If you get the most important things done that are in alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s your personal goal or team goal, then you’re really productive, right?

So, for example, if you want to write a book and publish a book, and your to-do list says you need to write a chapter, you need to review your finances, and you need to book a trip to Las Vegas. Now, all these things could be really important, and they seem really fun things to do for some people, but there’s only one task on that list that’s really the most important one, and that is writing because that is in alignment with your goal which is writing and publishing a book.

And so, once you get really clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, then it’s really easy to find the things that are on your to-do list that are in alignment with what you’re trying to do. And so, when people have trouble setting priorities or trying to figure out what to do first, it’s oftentimes a symptom of just not really having clarity about what they’re actually trying to accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I’m intrigued then. In that example you gave, we had sort of very different items, and I guess depending on your goals of all that might align to certain goals, depending on what’s happening in Las Vegas, and so I guess I don’t know if any human being can answer this for another one but I’m going to go for it. So, if you got, let’s say, I’m writing now sort of my 10 grand life goals. So, if I got these, then naturally certain tasks will bring me closer to certain goals and others to other goals. So, how does one know which one is most important? I suppose it’s a deeply personal process of introspection and values, etc. But how do you tackle this one?

Thanh Pham
I think we also have to look at timelines. So, for example, if you have a goal for getting in shape or being at a certain weight, you can achieve that maybe in 90 days or you can achieve that in 10 years, right? And the strategy is going to change based on what your timeline looks like because if you want to be at a certain weight within the next seven days, your strategy is going to be significantly different than somebody who has to achieve that same goal, let’s say, five years from now, right?

And so, what I think is really important for people to know is to understand where you are right now and what the timeline is for you to accomplish this goal. So, if you have to publish a book, as an example, if you have to do this in 90 days versus one year, your strategy is going to be different. Because if you have to do this in 90 days, then you probably want to change your schedule around, you probably want to limit the things that you do, you might have to sacrifice certain things in order to accomplish this goal. Whereas, if you say to yourself, “You know what, I have five years to do this,” maybe you can get away with writing for 30 minutes a day and just making sure that you do that consistently for the next five years in order for you to accomplish your goal.

And so, I think it’s important for people to realize, “Okay, once I know what my goal is, what is the timeline for this as well?” because that allows us to determine which strategy we should use and how that fits into our day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. So, you talk to a lot of different people and sort of putting all this together and your learnings. I’d love to hear, over the years, has there been anything particularly surprising and fascinating that you discovered about the most efficient productive people around?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, well, everybody is productive in their own way. I think if there’s one big takeaway I’ve learned over the years is that even though I have my own way of doing things, and I’m very stubborn in certain ways, I’ve also seen people who are completely opposite of me and achieve extraordinary things as well. And we oftentimes disagree on how we would do something and approach to do something.

So, for example, I have a friend, he has no sense of structure whatsoever in his life. He doesn’t use a calendar, he doesn’t use a task manager, all he has is just a really strong vision and a high desire to achieve something. And so, when he sets his goal to be X, Y, and Z, he will just really visualize what he’s going to do, and just make sure that he’s spending enough time and energy on this goal to get it done, and there’s no sense of like structure or theme, whatever. It’s just, “This is my goal. I’m going to go for it and I will figure out along the way as we go for it.”

And I’m like the completely opposite person. If I set a goal, and this is something I want to achieve, I like to create a plan, I like to figure out ways to get there, I like to know what kind of resources I have, I want to know what my timeline is, and I’m kind of like mapping out this whole “plan.” And once I have this plan, then I will start executing it.

And some people are in between. They like to act fast but also have a plan and mix stuff up as they go. And I’ve just learned over the years that there’s really no one way to be productive. And I think the sooner we can realize that there’s no one perfect way, that everybody is unique in their own way, the faster we can actually focus on, “Okay, let’s just do what I’m good at and make sure I spend most of my time doing that, and everything else can just go to the wayside or has a lower priority for the things that need to be done.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that there is no one best way. It seems like a generally agreeable assertion but I’m going to push you on that a little bit. So, I’m wondering, there are folks, I had David Allen again on recently, and so there are folks who would say, “Those who are not doing Getting Things Done, GTD, or externalizing all of their commitments outside their brain into a trusted system don’t even realize they have a low-level of anxiety that’s robbing them of some of the joy they could be having in life.” Is your take that they’re mistaken and some people can be rocking the polar opposite of Getting Things Done and be operating at their maximum effectiveness just fine?

Thanh Pham
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. And when I think about all the different people that, for example, I worked with as clients, people that I have in my company as employees, and how I need to motivate them and get the best out of them, just like when you have multiple kids, you have to treat everybody differently and see how they operate best and what you can do to get the best out of them.

And so, some people have to, for example, be handheld to get to the destination, some people you just have to give them a really vision and tell them, “Hey, this is what needs to be done, and let’s make sure we do this and get it done.” And some people need a plan, they kind of need a roadmap. And so, everybody is very different in that sense.

And while there are certain strategies that I think universally are good practices, like David Allen’s idea of getting everything out of your head, some people, even if they do that, they still wouldn’t stick to something like that because it’s just not how they think and operate. So, while I do think it’s a good practice, if that is something that you generally just don’t like to stick to because it’s not how you like to do things, then it’s kind of hard to actually get the results that you want because, ultimately, you want to follow something and do something that you know you can do consistently over time.

Because I think the key to productivity is, yes, there’s five million ways to get to Rome, but pick the route that works best for you. And just like if you ever take any personality test, you will see that there’s so many different variations and outcomes. And I have this strong suspicion that certain personality types work better with certain productivity workflows and productivity systems.

So, for example, if you’re somebody who’s really creative, a very strong visionary, you really don’t like lists. And so, a productivity system like GTD probably doesn’t really work well for you. Even though there are some elements of productivity systems like GTD that could be useful, but generally GTD is very list-based, whereas that doesn’t really work for people who really consider themselves like visionaries.

But then people like me who love making lists, who love making plans, they love lists, and a system like GTD then is really suitable for them. And so, fortunately, we all have options and there’s different productivity systems out there, and so once you kind of know what the rundown is of what every system is and what they offer, you can then make a really informed decision on what’s going to work best for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nicely-said. So, then let’s talk about you. What is your system? And I imagine we can have the multi-hour version of this, but just sort of what is being captured where and how do you go about sort of processing and reviewing your stuff?

Thanh Pham
So, my system has evolved over the years and it’s kind of a hodgepodge of different philosophies and different ideas. I’ve taken ideas from like GTD, from Agile results, from Scrum, from The 12 Week Year, and these are all things that I think are great systems, but I’ve kind of like created my own. And I think this is the destination that everybody will get to at some point. I think it’s a great starting point to follow something like GTD or The 12 Week Year. And then, over time, make it yourself, and that’s kind of what I’ve done.

And so, my system is very heavily-based on OmniFocus. OmniFocus is my favorite tool when it comes to managing tasks and projects. So, anytime I have an idea, or anytime I want to capture something, or remember, or I just want to store somewhere, it goes into my OmniFocus inbox whether I’m on my phone, on my computer, it goes on there first and foremost.

And then, I’m a big calendar user myself, so as someone who uses Mac and iOS for the most part, I’m a big fan of BusyCal. That is my favorite productivity tool.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we spell BusyCal and why is it better than the default iCal? I’m asking for a friend.

Thanh Pham
So, BusyCal is B-U-S-Y-C-A-L.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it makes sense. All right.

Thanh Pham
And I think it’s the power version of the typical calendar app that comes with Mac OS. One of my favorite features on there is you can actually change the number of days in your week view as an example. So, for most calendar apps, a week view looks like six or seven days ahead, but you can actually change that in BusyCal to be, let’s say, three days or even 10 days if you like, so you can kind of see ahead of time or based on what your preferences are. And it comes with a lot of power user features as well and it also integrates with your contact manager app called BusyContacts.

And so, I use this a lot for networking, stay in touch with people, and then I can actually see, based on certain contacts that I have and people that I’m meeting, what we did because it integrates with my calendar. So, if I’m talking to Billy, for example, tomorrow, I can just pull up his contact record and then see, “Oh, based on our calendar events, we had lunch two weeks ago, we had a phone call in this particular day, we did a podcast together on that day.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, like an auto-pull, like your texting and call history too?

Thanh Pham
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoa!

Thanh Pham
Yup. So, that’s one of the many reasons I like BusyCal. And if you integrate it with BusyContacts, then I think it’s a great combination, a one-two punch to have. So, that’s kind of like my bread and butter when it comes to just the foundation of the tools and the systems that are there. And when it comes to just syncing everything, I use the Google Sync service for that. So, Google Calendar is kind of like the backbone, but then I use BusyCal as the app on top of that to kind of like manage my calendar on top of that.

And then my other secret weapon, which I’m happy to admit, is my executive assistant. I don’t know how I would be able to run my business, live my life, if she wasn’t there. So, if that’s something that you’re in a position to have as well, I would highly recommend getting an executive assistant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, your executive assistant, did you sort of hire that person directly or through an agency or service?

Thanh Pham
I hired her through an agency called GreatAssistant.com. So, they specialize in finding high-level executive assistants based in North America based on your personality type and how you work. So, what’s really cool about their service is that you actually have to take this personality test, and then based on the results, they can find somebody who matches your personality type.

So, if you’re, for example, really high-energy or a strong visionary, you need somebody who’s super organized, they can find the right kind of match based on what your personality type is like. So, I really like their service, and I’m not affiliated with them whatsoever, but that’s the one I use.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, does your assistant do some of your email?

Thanh Pham
Yes, she handles my email on a day-to-day basis now. This is something I used to do myself for about 45 minutes or 30 minutes a day, but now I got it down to roughly 5 to 7 minutes a day, thanks to her help. So, definitely a big timesaver as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Hey, while we’re at it, what are some of the other top tasks you recommend having an assistant tackle for you?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, so we have a weekly meeting for 30 minutes, and so she handles all of my travel. So, she books every single travel, whether it’s personal or business, so that’s a really big task. Another thing is she orders my groceries and food every single week. So, I actually have no idea, every single week, what I’m eating. She orders it for me, and it’s kind of a Christmas surprise every single week of what I’m getting and what I’ll be eating.

She books like routine errands that I have to run. So, for example, going to get a haircut, going to get a massage, going to a float tank, going to a fitness center, workouts with my personal trainer. She coordinates all that sort of stuff every single week for me so that I don’t have to do it, and I just literally look at my calendar and see, “Okay, I need to be at the gym today at this time. Tomorrow I need to be there at that time.” What else? Doctor appointments, or anything else that you have to do, or run errands around town, she handles all of that.

So, when I have my weekly meeting with her, I’ll just say, “Hey, I want to do this, I want to do that,” and oftentimes she’ll bring it up too, and say, “Hey, Thanh, it seems like you haven’t had a haircut in 12 days. Yeah, it’s probably time so I booked something already for you. You should go to the barber shop tomorrow at 4:00 o’clock.” I’m like, “Okay, yeah. Thank you for running my life that makes my life so much easier.”

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Fascinating sort of imagining that world. Tell me about a float tank. I’m just going to key in on that one, also known as sensory-deprivation chambers. Do you find those valuable?

Thanh Pham
I find them really valuable. I got into them maybe three years ago and I started going just once a month. And I remember the first time I went I didn’t really get much out of it. I was just laying there floating in water and not really knowing what to expect, and I kind of had a neutral experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, experience is one can have on this earth, I guess.

Thanh Pham
Right, because when you talk to people, some people go, “Oh, man, it’s amazing and it’s so powerful.” And I was really skeptical because I was already meditating every day for 10 minutes, and I thought, “Well, I’m already meditating for 10 minutes every day, how much better can it really be understanding diminishing returns?”

So, I go in, I have a neutral experience, I’m thinking, “Oh, maybe it’s not worth it.” But I just know so many people that I respect in my personal life and online that just rave about it. So, I continued to stick with it, and I said, “Okay, let’s just commit to doing three total and just then make a decision on whether this is actually useful or not.”

And then I went the second time, and then I kind of like zoned out for 90 minutes. And I just started to notice in the next two to three weeks that anytime there was something stressful in my life, instead of just responding to it right away, I can really just pause and reflect and think before I responded to something. And as if I saw that moment, I realized, “Wow, I’ve never had that until I started floating.” And that’s when I realized how powerful that was.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Thank you. That’s handy. Okay, so we get your system, that’s cool. Boy, there’s so much good stuff to say. So, it sounds like when we had Kevin Kruse on the show, and he mentioned that the most successful people operate from calendars as oppose to to-do lists, it sounds like your assistant is establishing your calendar. But how do you think about that world because you’ve also got OmniFocus and a huge list? So, how do we reconcile this?

Thanh Pham
I think you can marry both. I don’t think it’s one way or the other. If you just operate from your calendar, I think you’re really focused in just managing your time and that is, I think, a dangerous place to be because if somebody is dictating your schedule, it can feel like you can never have time to do the things you need to do.

Whereas if you only focus on tasks and your to-do list, then you can put a lot of things to the wayside and start sacrificing your personal health as an example because I’ve been in a situation before where I just want to work, I just want to focus on my business, and do all these different things for my career, and then I will just not worry about getting a haircut, or going to the gym, or spending time with friends and family. And I was just too much focused on just, “Okay, I need to finish this, I need to do that.” And it starts to come at a certain cost.

And so, I think you can actually combine both. In my system, that’s basically how that works. And the way I approach it on a day-to-day basis is if I can get three tasks done that are really important, I have a really productive day. And it doesn’t matter if it takes one hour, or it can take three hours, or even eight hours, if I can get three really important tasks done, then I had a real productive day. And, usually, I try to build my schedule around that philosophy.

So, the way I, for example, structure my day is I try to get all of my tasks done before noon because that’s when I have the most control in my day, it’s the most quiet, I can kind of dictate my schedule for the most part in the morning so I can really focus, do deep work, and try to get the three things done. And then from there, if I need to have meetings, or calls, or run errands, my schedule kind of then builds around that.

So, my executive assistant, for example, knows that she should never arrange a phone call with somebody between 8:00 a.m. and noon because that’s usually when I try to do deep work and be ultra-focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, that was one of my next questions is how do you have great focus and limit distractions? And part of it sounds like you’re sort of theming or batching different sections of the day, so that’s a cool approach. Anything else?

Thanh Pham
I think a lot of productivity advice out there addresses the symptom but they don’t really address the root cause of this. And this is something I’ve seen a lot of last few years when I started working with clients. And people are always amazed when I tell people, when I first start an engagement with them, that, “One of the first things we’re going to do is have you sleep more.” And people go, “Thanh, I want to be more productive. I actually want to get more things done. I need to get more things done. I’m behind on work. Sleeping is probably the last thing I need right now.”

And I always get this look, and I say, “Trust me. We’re going to get you to sleep more and it’s going to result into more energy, more focus, you’re going to get stuff done faster, and you’re going to have this super human feeling of, ‘Okay, I can do anything that is coming onto my plate.’” And when people start to sleep more, and actually not sacrifice their sleep anymore, you start to feel good, you start to have more energy, you start to have better focus.

Instead of focusing for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, you can now focus for 30 minutes, for 45 minutes, or even 60 minutes. And imagine what you can do in 60 minutes of just intense focus versus 6 minutes here, 5 minutes there, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes here, 3 minutes there. When you have uninterrupted time to focus, and you have the energy to focus as well, you can accomplish amazing things. And it really starts with a really good night of sleep.

And so, I recommend to everybody to have an evening routine and making sure that you sleep more than you’re currently sleeping. So, I always recommend that you probably want to add another hour or an hour and a half of sleep, which usually also means that you have to go to bed a little earlier too, oftentimes by an hour or an hour and a half.

And the best way to do that is by introducing, not a morning routine, but an evening routine, which is kind of the opposite of a morning routine, right? A morning routine, or a morning ritual as I like to call, is kind of getting you ready for the day and making sure you feel confident, you’re feeling energized and focused, and you’ve lots of clarity. The evening routine, or evening ritual as I like to say, is the opposite. It kind of allows you to wind down and get ready for a really good night of sleep.

And so, one of the things I always recommend people do is that they journal at the end of the day because it allows you to clear your thoughts. And the worst feeling in the world is when you go to bed and you’re having all these lingering thoughts in your head, “Oh, did I schedule this call with this person? Oh, I need to do that tomorrow. I want to make sure that I paid my credit card bill.” And when you have all these lingering thoughts in your head, it’s just so difficult to sleep and fall asleep, which is kind of the bedrock for productivity. So, one of the things that I think is just so underrated is addressing the root cause which, for most people, is just not enough sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. The root cause of distraction or the inability to resist distraction is you haven’t slept enough.

Thanh Pham
Yes. For a lot of people, and this sounds so counterintuitive, and I always get that reaction. But if you have more energy, it’s so much easier to kind of like address distractions if they come your way because now you have the energy to focus. And you don’t feel like you have to distract yourself from something that maybe looks a little bit more exciting because you can now focus on something that’s actually in front of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, I’m a huge believer in sleep as well. So, other than just making the time and following the basic sleep hygiene practices associated with winding down and dark and quiet and cool temperature, anything else you recommend to just the make the most of your sleep time?

Thanh Pham
If you want to take it up a notch, I would say it’s a safe practice to have magnesium as a supplement to add to your day-to-day supplement list if you have that. Magnesium is a natural relaxer for our body. It’s a natural compound mineral that we have in our foods that we can ingest. So, there’s a calm supplement out there that people really like.

I recently started using, myself, upgraded formulas which has a more effective dose of magnesium that you can intake. And if you just take like 5 mg of that before you go to bed, you’ll just sleep so much more soundly. So, that’s an easy way to do that. The other thing is no electronics, or no phone, no iPad, no TV about an hour, an hour and a half before you go to sleep.

The other thing I would recommend is blue-blocking glasses. You’ve probably seen them. If you have a friend who’s a biohacker, you’ve probably seen them. They sometimes look kind of funny and weird because they have orange tints. But if you just wear them at home for your own comfort, they’re really helpful. I oftentimes go to movies at night wearing them, and by the time I come home, I’m not wired at all. I feel really relaxed and then I can just go to bed right away. So, those are three things I would recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. I also want to get your quick take on email. Your one tip you shared previously was don’t be in your email client all day, it’ll distract you and sub-optimize your time. Any other thoughts on how do we manage that effectively?

Thanh Pham
One of my favorite tips for email is the two-minute rule. So, it’s kind of borrowed from the idea of GTD. When you have a task in front of you, you have to decide within two minutes what you’re going to do with that. And same thing with email. I find that if you applied the two-minute rule to every email that you process, you’ll go through email a lot quicker.

So, the basic question is, “Okay, can I address this in two minutes or less?” If the answer is yes, just reply to the email right away and deal with it. If not, it takes more than two minutes, then add it to your to-do list. And from there you can go through your inbox very quickly. And then also, because you’re building your to-do list based on your email that way, now you can prioritize which email or which tasks you want to address based on whatever priorities you have set for yourself and what your goals are.

Because if you start using email as your to-do list, it’s so easy to get lost, it’s so easy to get distracted, and that’s why I always tell people, like, “Hey, move that stuff over from your email inbox to a to-do list, and then close your email client because from there you can then prioritize what you need to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Thanh, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Thanh Pham
Oh, when it comes to email, there’s a couple of tools that I always recommend. One of the best things you can also do is learn keyboard shortcuts. So, for example, if you use Gmail, one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts is E, which is archiving. Another one, a really simple one is C which is composing an email. Then we have another one R, which is replying to an email. If you just learn these three keyboard shortcuts, you’ll just be able to navigate so much quicker through your inbox as well. If you use Outlook, learn the keyboard shortcuts for Outlook. And you just need to know two or three, and you’ll see how fast you can go through your inbox.

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

Thanh Pham
Ooh, I have a lot of favorite quotes. I tend to write a lot of them in my journal, but the one that has been most recent for me is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s, I believe, an African proverb. Especially when it comes to teamwork, I think this is really important because oftentimes, as individuals, yes, we can do things ourselves and do stuff, but if we actually want to accomplish big things in life, we often want to do that with other people, whether it’s your significant other, whether it’s a coworker, or within a team. Whenever you try to do things together, one plus one just becomes three in my experience. And so, that’s one quote that has really stood out to me recently.

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

Thanh Pham
I always tell people, “Do the hardest things first in the morning.” So, whenever you start your day, we call that eating your frog. It comes from the idea of whenever you eat a live frog in the morning, you can go on with the rest of your day knowing that that’s probably the worst thing that happened that day, right? So, it’s a Brian Tracy thing, and I want to give full credit to him for not only writing the book titled Eat Your Frog, or, Eat That Frog. But it’s just the idea of just, “Hey, if you have so many things to do, just do the hardest thing first thing in the morning because once you get that out of the way, you have a sense of confidence, you have this momentum on your side, and everything else on your to-do list is really not that scary. It’s actually relatively easy to do.”

So, most of us, when we start implementing this, we just get the sense of like, “Oh, man, I can do anything now.” And this is something that people just keep repeating back to me because I always talk about this strategy, and it’s just a way of living, and I love that you mentioned that as well for yourself because it’s just so effective.

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

Thanh Pham
Just go to AsianEfficiency.com, this is the blog. You can subscribe to our newsletter there. And we also have a podcast called The Productivity Show, so just find us in iTunes. And we have a weekly episode coming up where we just share productivity tips.

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

Thanh Pham
Just continue to listen to Pete and his guests. I think this is amazing podcast. And if you want more productivity tips, then you’ll know where to find us as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanh, thank you. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re rocking Asian Efficiency.

Thanh Pham
Thank you so much, Pete.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About David

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

David Allen Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Like all those cords and adapters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Allen
Right.

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

David Allen
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re inspired now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Allen
True.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Perry:

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

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • Blinkist: Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Perry Marshall Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like the kitchen.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s that powerful.

Perry Marshall
Well, it’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
Appreciate the eight people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perry Marshall
Which is true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Your resistance because you can be resisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perry Marshall
Yes. Yes.

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

Perry Marshall
Yes. Yes.

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

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

Perry Marshall
That’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

473: How to Increase Your Productivity by Crafting your Time with Mike Vardy

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Mike Vardy says: "The app isn't going to do the work for us. It's approach first, then the application."

Mike Vardy discusses how to fine-tune your routine and make the most of your time through mode-based work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t obsess over productivity apps
  2. How to craft your time with the 5 categories of mode-based work
  3. How to keep yourself motivated and on-track through journaling

About Mike:

Mike Vardy is an author, speaker, and productivity and time management strategist (or ‘productivityist’) based in Victoria, BC, Canada. His company Productivityist helps people stop ‘doing’ productive and start ‘being’ productive through a variety of online and offline resources. He is the author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want, published by Diversion Books, and has self-published several eBooks, the most recent of which is ”The Productivityist Playbook.” He currently hosts The Productivityist Podcast, a podcast that features insights and conversations surrounding productivity and workflow.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Mike Vardy Interview Transcript

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

Mike Vardy
Thanks for having me. This is going to be a great one. I can feel it already.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think so too. We were just dorking out and I said, “Oh, I’m going to have to put a note in my OmniFocus about David Allen’s upcoming book.” It’s like here we are as nerdy as it gets with productivity.

Mike Vardy
Yeah, that’s kind of the way it goes. Once you get two of us productivity nerds in a room, it’s hard to get us not to stop talking about that kind of stuff. It’s just crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, although I want to know, we got two nerds in a room. We’re not going to be doing any professional wrestling because we’re, I guess, in the virtual room. That wouldn’t be very fun to watch. But I understand you have a passion for watching pro wrestling. What’s the story here? Why does it grab you?

Mike Vardy
It’s like the one place I can kind of go and be like, “Okay, I’m going to watch the Royal Rumble right now, and I won’t be thinking about time or productivity or anything.” And my daughter is into it too, like my daughter will watch it with me.

So, it’s another way for us to bond as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, fun times and it’s cool that your productivity skills have enabled such feat of reflexibility to enjoy these sorts of adventures as opposed to, “Oh, no, I’m swamped. I couldn’t possibly get away.” We’re talking earlier about you’ve got all your podcast episodes recorded through three plus months in advance, so that’s pretty cool.

So, let’s just get right into it. When it comes to productivity, you’re living happens as a productivity strategist, which is a real cool title. You don’t see that very much in LinkedIn, so kudos. So, boy, you’ve seen a lot of stuff. Could you tell us, just for beginning, what’s maybe the most surprising and/or fascinating discovery you’ve made as you have explored this big world of productivity?

Mike Vardy
I think the most fascinating, and it probably shouldn’t be surprising now that I think about it, but we were talking off the top, you said you’re putting it into OmniFocus. And when I first started my productivity journey, that’s kind of where I started was with the apps, was with the technology. I spoke at the OmniFocus 2 reveal, I was doing a lot of stuff with The Next Web and Lifehack, and all that stuff, really digging into the apps. I was a math guy, right, so I was really into that.

And so, I was more of a productivity, let’s say, enthusiast who became a specialist and was kind of teaching people how to use these apps and maybe using other methods. But when I became, I kind of evolved into a strategist, I realized that the apps are secondary. We’ve seen apps come and go over the years. I’ve seen plenty of them. And the problem that I’ve seen, the funny thing is that I think the really fascinating part is it hasn’t gone away. You’d think by now we’d be like, “Okay, yeah, right. It isn’t the app. The app isn’t going to do the work for us. It’s the approach first, then the application.”

And I think that’s the thing that I’m really trying to kind of rail against, is the idea that, “Oh, man, you have to get OmniFocus because OmniFocus is the best,” or, “You have to use Evernote,” or, “You have to have the latest and greatest so you leave OmniFocus to move to things, and then you move to this other one,” or, you have to have one that works. No, no, no, you have to have your foundation, your framework, this approach setup first, then the application.

But, because we live in such a tech-heavy world where we’ve got a to-do list in our pocket that can do so many things, we tend to focus on the wrong things, and what fascinates me is not only how long it took me necessarily to realize, “Hey, wait a minute. Hold on. This is the cart before the horse here,” but that it’s still such a huge issue today.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is well said. It’s so fun to talk to someone who’s been steeped into something for a long, long time, and then to kind of walk away, look back at yourself and say, “Huh, oh, how young and foolish I was.” I think Ray Dalio said if you look back at your decisions a year or two ago and you don’t think that you were a little dumb then, then you haven’t grown or learned much. So, that’s a fun little reframe on feeling embarrassed about your past.

And I think that’s dead on because it can get, I don’t know, it’s like shiny objects. It’s like, “Ooh, there’s a cool new thing. Let me try it out.” “Oh, no, no, that’s dumb because it doesn’t do this or that.” And then I guess I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, I think there’s some real beauty. Some tools are amazing and helpful and snazzy and it’s so great that they exist.

The sheer enjoyment associated with a fine pencil or pen or notecard or beautifully-designed piece of software can be extra-enjoyable and maybe bring you to use it. But, much like the person who gets the super fancy piece of exercise equipment for the home, no matter how fancy that thing is, you got to do the work if you want to enjoy the results.

Mike Vardy
Yeah, you have to kind of decide. Hey, like I’m a big, Baron Fig pen and papers. I love my really nice pens, my really nice books. But it takes the stuff that you’re doing with those things, that’s what matters, right? And a good example would be, actually this past weekend, my family and I, we were at a…they had like a car-free day in our downtown core. And we stopped to talk to one of my wife’s friends, and out of the corner of my eye, I didn’t even see it until my son mentioned it, and then my eye gravitated to it. He’s like, “Hey, dad, look. It’s that Big Green Egg that you want.” And it was The Big Green Egg barbecue.

And I went over there, and I’m like, “Oh, man, this is something that I want,” but I looked at the price, I’m like, “This is not something that my wife will necessarily let me get right now.” But that Egg will probably make, if used correctly, I think that’s the key thing, right, like no matter how great your tool is, if you’re terrible at using it, then you just got a really expensive tool that you’re not very good at using.

Pete Mockaitis
And then you feel like a tool.

Mike Vardy
Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Zing!

Mike Vardy
Boom!

Pete Mockaitis
Sorry, continue.

Mike Vardy
No, the thing is, “Do I need to have that barbecue to barbecue food?” No, I can find, you know. But do I need the cheapest one? Probably not. I could find something in the middle. So, I think it’s about finding, like I think we need to start looking at things from a reasoned approach instead of going like purely emotional or purely logical. And that means like OmniFocus is a great example for your listeners out there who know what OmniFocus is. It’s like it was one of the preeminent productivity apps that largely hung its hat on the getting-things-done methodology when it first came out. It’s now become so much more than that.

But if you stuck with that throughout, you’ve had a beautiful tool to use the whole way, but there’s other software companies that have come along, like Cultured Code’s neat Things, and Todoist, and Asana, and all these other ones. You got to look at what the outcome is you’re looking for. If your outcome is to use tools consistently, like switch tools, then that’s fine. That was my job. I had to do that.

But I think that a great craftsperson can get great results by using a tool that may not be the best tool. So you should be looking at that in getting better. And then, when you can get to the point where, “Hey, you know what, I have the bandwidth to try a new tool or to look at a new app.” You’re rarely forced into something like this. Then you say, “Okay, you know what, I can do that.”

But I think the other key is to make sure that you’ve got a framework that, like let’s say OmniFocus was to stop development tomorrow and shut down. Yeah, but the thing is you know, based on your use of it, because you’ve used it for so long, you’re like, “Okay, I need something that has this functionality,” that’s one way to look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Mike Vardy
But if you’ve never really used it, like, “Okay, I have a framework,” and that’s how I kind of look at creating TimeCrafting was this idea of, “How can there be a framework that can work in Microsoft Excel, on paper, and OmniFocus, in Things, in Asana, in Trello, wherever?” So, that way you can go, “Okay, well, OmniFocus is gone. I guess now I’m just going to move. I can find another app but the frameworks that I use is easily transferable.” And that’s the thing that I think people need to spend more time and attention to on as opposed to, “Oh, the app will tell me what to do because garbage in, garbage out,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk a bit about that bit. So, regardless of the tool, if we want to achieve – okay, I guess there’s a two-parter here. First, let’s establish the goal. What is it that we want to happen? If we aspire to be “productive,” what does that mean and how do we know if we’re winning?

Mike Vardy
Well, I think it’s often an understanding of what you need to do and what you want to do. I think that those are two things that we need to really get. I know we hear a lot of like, “I have to do this,” and then to have two turns to get to, that could be a big leap for some people to say, “Hey, I have to go to work because I have to pay the bills,” as opposed to, “I get to go to work and I get to pay my bills because of it,” because that’s a pretty big leap.

So, I like to go down, again, reasons, down the middle and say need to, “I need to go to work because,” or, “I need to do this task because this will offer another need.” If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m not going to go into that too deep, but that’s kind of where that comes from. I think that the key here is to understand, “Okay, all these things that are in my head, number one, are they in a place where I can evaluate it properly?” And this is nothing new. David Allen has talked about this, the idea of getting it out of your head so that you can assess it properly.

And then, instead of trying to measure your productivity by quantifiably how many things did you do, because a lot of the time we spent our energy and attention on things that we really don’t need to do or little or want to do, we just do that, and start to look at a balance between quantity of work and quality of work because we can’t just focus on quality of work necessarily either all the time because some things are going to come up, we got to bang some certain things out and urgency shows up, and there’s all these little things.

So, productivity is always going to be personal even in an organization. So, when you’re working in a large organization, you have to look at things from an objective point of view, right, like, “Our objective is to finish this project. Our objective is to make sure all these things are covered.” But then once you start to bring it down to the individual, it’s how they deal with it is very subjective.

One person may handle a task based on their energy levels. If they’re great in the morning, then they will tackle those high-energy tasks in the morning, and then maybe they’ll do their late lower-energy tasks later in the day. If they’re somebody that’s in lots of meetings, they may have to look at like the gaps of time that they have between the meetings and categorize their tasks, like, “Hey, these tasks will take me five minutes, these will take me 10, etc.”

And then other people might say, “Hey, you know what, I’ve got some block of time to do some really heavy qualitative work. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do some writing. Let me take a look at all the things that I’ve categorized as writing.” So, when it comes to being more productive, and not just doing productive, but being productive, it’s important to do like that front-end work first and say, “Okay, do I need to be doing all of these things, or am I just checking off boxes and saying, ‘Look, I checked off 43 boxes today. I must’ve been productive because look at how many boxes I checked off’?”

Versus setting themselves up in a way that they can say, “Okay, I’m approaching my to-do list now, and if I just look at it at face value, I’m going to be less productive because I’m not really assessing it and breaking it down to smaller components, so let me think about it. Oh, you know what, I am tired right now. Okay, so now this list of 43 things, I now need to start off with dealing with the 12 things that I can do when I’m tired, so let me start there.” So, it’s just about personalizing the experience. No matter whether you work for a big organization or just for yourself, and then trying to prioritizing in a way that suits your workflow as best as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I dig these universal principles here then. So, we’re starting with a really clear picture of what you need to do in order to meet another core need. And then what do you want to do, I guess, think of that in terms of what is rejuvenating and fun and meaningful to you. And you want to get this stuff out of your head so you’re not just continually re-remembering it and forgetting it and stressing about what you may have forgotten, but you’ve got it somewhere else in app or a notecard or a list on paper. Any other kind of just fundamental principles like, “Hey, whatever your tools, you’ve got to make sure this stuff is happening”?

Mike Vardy
I think that the biggest thing, no matter what tools you’re using, I think I like to look at my work through the lens of the modality that I need to be in as opposed to the project I need to be working on. So, you want to have two kind of lanes that you can travel down when you’re looking at a to-do list or you’re looking at a project management software piece because their design, in the name itself, project management, so you’re almost kind of directed to look at the project in its entirety.

And the problem there is that there could be bottlenecks from other people, there could be bottlenecks from yourself such as energy levels, there could be all of these things. So, what you want to do is have the ability to do that for sure. Sometimes you need to go like, “Okay, I’m putting my nose to the grindstone working on this very specific project and, yes, I’ll be jumping all over the place while doing it, but the common thread is this project.”

But you need to look at another way to work, and that’s like, hey, and I talk like I’ve got five categories of mode-based work. So, I want to look at my tasks by resource. So, where do I need to be to do them? I need to look at them. Energy is another one. Let me look at it. I’ll look at all my projects and see, “Okay, what are all the things that I can do when I’m sick? Because I’m home sick today and I can’t do all the stuff, so let me look at that.” “Let me look at all my tasks by the type of activity because that promotes flow, right?”

If you want to do a bunch of research, it’s almost better to do the research that you need to do all at once because you get to that mindset, right? And then the other thing is just to say, instead of jumping, I’ll use the meeting example again. What often happens when people come out of a meeting and they only have, say, a half hour between that and their next meeting is they won’t go to their to-do list, they’ll go to email because email will tell them what to do but it’s somebody else telling them what to do.

Instead, they could look at their to-do list and go, “Okay, I know I have a half hour, let me look at all the tasks that I’ve decided that are going to take me five minutes or less and try to crank out six of them, or six or less,” that kind of thing. So, I think it’s important, and I believe it’s important, I know this from the work I’ve done with clients, is that you can’t just look at your to-do list at face value. You need to dig into it a bit more.

You need to almost, in some instances, break your to-do list down because, in some cases, you’ve got a to-do list segment that says, “Work on report.” Well, that’s ambiguous and that’s really a project. You need to break that project down into its smallest particles, and then segment it so that your to-do list, which may have grown from 43 visible things, or invisible things partially, to like 116 totally visible things. Then you’re going to need to look at it and go, “Okay, how do I look at this in a way that allows me to at least feel like I’m moving the needle forward?”

And that doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. But once you start doing that, then you can feel that you’re being actually productive because your mind and your direction is being kind of propelled forward based on simple questions like, “How do I feel right now? How much time do I have? What type of activity do I want to do right now? Oh, I’ve been told I need to get on the phone right now. Well, what other things can I do while I’m on the phone?”

So, you’re not thinking in terms of just going down the to-do list in sequential order, instead, you’re kind of looking at it from a vantage of, “What modality am I about to go into that I either need or want to go into? And then, how can I group these things together so that instead of me having these little periods of downtime as I switch from task to task, I can actually just keep moving the needle forward?” It’s kind of like that movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” right? You’ve seen that movie with Will Smith, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s been a while, where he’s selling those things.

Mike Vardy
Right. And he said, “I need to maximize my time.” One thing he doesn’t do, which I think is he didn’t do washroom breaks, so he didn’t go get up to drink water. I would not advocate for like dehydrating yourself while you’re working. But the one thing he does do, which I think is clever, is he never hangs up the phone. He just puts his finger on the – and this is, of course, back when people were definitely using more office phones as opposed to cellphones.

And so, what he did was he was putting the phone, you know, he just clicks on it, and that way he wouldn’t lose the three seconds or whatever it was, or two seconds, that it took for him to pick up the phone every single time. And then he went a step further and said, “You know what, this is also a waste of my time. I’m not going to start at the bottom of the list, instead I’m going to go right to the top.”

So, that allowed him to do that because he was thinking about his work instead of just going through the motions as they were given to him by his superiors who seemed to know better because that’s the way it was always done. You have to challenge those biases, and that’s when you can be truly productive, and that’s when you can start to see outcomes that you never expected because you’re challenging some of those biases that are either kind of thrust upon you or that live within you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about these five boats here. So, we get like the resources are available, may be the phone, may be the internet, may be a computer.

Mike Vardy
Or a person. A resource can be a person too, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Yeah. And then we got the energy, hey, we’re feeling sick, we’re feeling energized, we’re feeling creative, or we’re feeling lethargic. We got the type of activity in terms of, “Hey, is this research?” And then we’ve got the time available. What’s the fifth one?

Mike Vardy
The fifth one is actually what I teach clients, I call it theme-based. The way I structure my time is I give every day, and, again, not everyone does this when they start working with me. They give themselves one, a daily theme. So, when I wake up first thing in the morning, I don’t say, “What am I going to do today?” I ask myself, “What day is it?” And, today, as we’re recording this, it’s a Thursday, so I’m like, “Oh, it’s Thursday.” Well, Thursday, the theme is learning, “Okay, so what learning am I going to do today?”

So, I’ve already kind of whittled down my to-do list a little bit by saying, “Hey, today is learning day,” and then I can look at my much larger to-do list in a much more segmented way. So, basically, the acronym is TREAT, theme-based, resource-based, energy-based, activity-based, and time-based. So, when you work by modality, you are treating yourself and you’re working much better.

And the themes don’t have to be daily either. There are some people who they can’t do a daily theme at least at work. They certainly can at home. So, what they’ll do is they’ll do what I call a horizontal theme which is, “Oh, it’s 9:00 o’clock. And from 9:00 to 11:00, I focus on research, or I focus on communication, or I focus on administrative work. And horizontal themes are often used when I talk with clients for things that they can’t just like wait an entire week, or they need to do daily, so they block out, say, an hour or two of that time to focus on that kind of stuff.

The great thing about themes is they’re very personal. I have some clients that don’t do daily themes but they have, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., they have what’s called serving mode, so they tag their tasks as serving, and it’s the tasks that every else needs them to do. And then they go for lunch. They come back from lunch from 1:00 to 5:00, they go into self-serving mode, which is all the tasks that they need and want to do.

And because they do that, what happens is any of the tasks that end up being self-serving are often serving others anyway. So, they’ve got this flow and then, instead of looking at this massive responsibility list, they could say, “Okay, well, the mornings I’m going to take care of what other people really need and want from me, and then in the afternoon, I’m going to take care of what I know I need to be working on, which often is what other people might need as well.” So, it creates just less friction and more flow.

And so, when you work by modality, and theming is one of those great things that kind of adds to it, then you’re really crafting your time in a way that works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I think is really reassuring about that is, one, you’re sort of like, “Well, I work in an hour. I don’t know. I got 90 things I could choose from.” It’s like, “Okay.” Well, by segmenting it, it just gets sort of simpler in terms of less decision-making and I think you can feel more comfortable. This is how I feel at times, it’s sort of like if there’s not a designated place for some stuff that needs to happen, there’s almost like a low-level anxiety or panic in terms of, “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to do the things that I want to do. I’m a suffering servant and a martyr at the whim and mercy of all of these requests from all these people.”

In terms of like, “Well, no, this is the time that I do my stuff,” and I dig that. So, that’s a cool way to theme that. I think it can really be handy. And I also want to get your take, when you said there are sort of a different sort of brain space or mode, like research, when I kind of cluster a number of research-type activities together because then your brain is in a research mode. I know that there’s maybe an infinite number of kinds of mental states we can catalog. But do you think of, shall I call them sub-modalities, huh, sub-modalities for activity types that tend to, you’re like, “Yeah, this is like a cluster of related brain function, and here’s another one”?

Mike Vardy
So, let’s use this as an example. Today is my learning day, right? So, that’s also an activity, right? So, it’s not only my daily theme, but it’s an activity. So, I can say that today is my learning day, and then the activity mode I want to go into is researching. Now, they could be mutually exclusive, but learning doesn’t have to be necessarily super active. It can be, “I’m going to go just discover things and notice things.” Whereas, research is a bit more deliberate, “I’m going to dig into these things.”

So, what happens with—you can get very personal with these, like you can get as narrow as you want with them, but what a lot of people will do, especially in apps, like we were talking about earlier, is they’ll use two or three modes per task. They’ll say, “I need to read Ryan Holiday’s latest book,” so that’s researching mode and it’s learning mode and it’s also, let’s say, deep work which is a type of energy level, right?

So, then they can decide, it gives them a bit more options as to say, okay, for me—I’ll use me as an example—I could do it on a Thursday, I could do it whenever I want to research something, or I could do it, and Friday is my deep work day, I could do it on Friday. So, you can kind of use the different modalities with each other to kind of create this easier way to filter or give you multiple options to filter.

What I kind of liken this to is the Goldilocks factor. I call it the Goldilocks factor which is if your modalities are too wide, then you don’t filter your list enough. So, like home might not be the best modality if you work from home because it’s not just the home, it’s your home where you live, so that might be too wide. Whereas, if you were to say third drawer in dresser, that would be what I would call too narrow, like you’re going to run out of things to do, which means then your brain goes, “Well, now what?” And then it wants to go do the random things that the brain wants to do because it doesn’t want to do hard work, right?

So, you want to find that like just right factor. And for some people, like for you, you might say, “Hey, I need a very specific kind of thinking modality that’s very specific,” and you might have enough tasks in there to fill it which means that that’s going to work for you. But, for me, deep work is just right. If I have it too wide, if I was just to say qualitative work, oh, my goodness, that could be miles long. So, it’s about just figuring that out.

And when I work with clients, and when people follow my work, and they listen to – I have a daily podcast as well called Three Minutes of TimeCrafting. I kind of try to distill that down a bit because, again, this is something, when you start to adopt TimeCrafting, which is this methodology that I teach, it feels overwhelming at first, and people go, “Oh, that’s too rigid. It seems inflexible.” But you don’t have to adopt it all at once unlike other ones that I’ve tried.

And also, I would caution against it because one thing goes wrong, and you probably encountered this too, if one thing goes wrong, you’re like, “Well, this won’t work,” and you just throw the whole thing aside, right? So, that’s the way I look at it, is you can have very specific, as specific as you need, these modes to be, or you can have them as broad as you need them to be. And they can evolve over time too.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting there is that these aren’t just arbitrary, “Hey, this is a dorky fun thing we like to do is to add categories to stuff,” but rather it is useful in the sense of, it’s funny you mentioned that Friday is your deep work day. And my internal reaction was, “That is insane. I would never make Friday my deep work day because, Friday, I’m tired from two kids under two, and sleep deprivation, and four intense work days, and I want my deep work day to be Monday when I’ve rejuvenated from a Saturday and a Sunday, and I can like go and do like the hardest, trickiest thing the world has to offer.”

And so, there you go. It’s personal. It’s like neither one of us is right. I imagine you’ve got your reasons and your personal preferences and values and environmental contexts that make that a very sensible choice for you and it would be a poor choice for me.

Mike Vardy
And the great thing about that is my deep work day wasn’t always Friday because when my kids were younger, and I was home, the person who’s working from home, I was in the same boat as you. But now my kids are older, they’re normally out and about on Fridays. I try to take care of business Mondays through Thursdays, and then on Fridays, I’m like, “I don’t want any meetings. I just want to be from 9:00 until 2:00 or 3:00, I’m just focused on the deep work.”

And I also include some deep conversations with friends. So, again, my definition of it isn’t just like, “I’m going to focus on like just sitting in my office all day doing deep work.” Sometimes it’s, “I’m going to go have coffee with a friend. While having coffee with them, we’ll have some deep conversations.” So, again, it’s all how you personally define it.

The one thing that really made me buy into the idea of theming your days is when I wanted to move my deep work day which I think was on a Tuesday before. It wasn’t a Monday because Monday was like my admin day. All I had to do was take that deep work day and move it to Friday and the tasks migrated there naturally because they were tagged as such. So, I just knew to look at the deep work tag on Friday now instead of Tuesday. So, instead of like changing the due dates and all that stuff, it was just a natural migration for me.

And, again, I know clients that have creative days, and two of those days per week rather than just one, right? So, you can make it work for you the way you want. You could theme one day. You could theme seven. You could have all horizontal themes. You could say, “You know what, Mike, I love these five categories of modes, but I’m really into time.” Great, then just use time. You don’t have to use them all. You just have to figure out what works for you.

And then, when it comes to health and nutrition and fitness, if you keep doing the same exercise over and over and over again, your body will adapt to it and won’t be as tough to do it, and you also won’t see the results. The results will start to change, right? That’s why they shake up your exercise. That’s why when you’re on a food program, they start to do that as well. They’re like, “Oh,” in fact, I’m on one right now, and my nutritionist is like, “Guess what? We’re changing some of your nutritional stuff.” I said, “Why?” They said, “Because you’ve plateaued, like there’s nowhere for you, so we have to change things up to kind of shock the system a little bit.”

So, productivity is a lifestyle. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle, and that means that things are going to evolve. And you know what, when your kids are in school, you may say, “Monday, I need to leverage that for this, and Friday is going to be my family day.” My buddy Chris Docker does that, he takes Fridays off. He calls it family day. So, again, that theming can really help because it helps you, like you said, remove decision fatigue and it promotes flow over friction for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m just thinking about the shifting, it’s like I’m usually not very good in terms of like if I’ve been sort of deep into sort of a spreadsheet evaluating an opportunity and the implications and possibilities of an initiative, and I’m thinking hard about that for like 70 plus minutes straight, and then someone wants to chat about some emotional like stuff, it’s like I feel like I‘m really sorry I’m not effectively here for you because I’m still with the spreadsheet. But if you have a little bit of separation, you got less dramatic shifting of your whole kind of brain state whiplashing it back and forth.

Mike Vardy
And that’s the thing, if you were to say, “Hey, Mike, can you talk to me tomorrow?” which is Friday, I would say, “I’m sorry, no, I can’t,” like, immediately. Like, there’s no friction in my own head. It’s understood and the brain has created this pathway that knows that Fridays I don’t do meetings. And there have been exceptions to the rule, like that’s the thing, is that you have to be flexible enough to have exceptions to the rule, but you don’t want those exceptions to become the rule because then the theme starts to fall apart.

So, if I have a client, like let’s say I missed a meeting with a client the previous week, let’s say I’m sick, and they’re like, “Well, we can’t do any of the meeting except next day.” I’m going to do the meeting, right, because it’s not on them, it’s on me. That said, if they cancel the meeting, and they say, “Well, could we do next Friday?” they’re likely going to get a no because now I have to decide where that boundary lies, and that’s what all of this is. It’s all about creating boundaries that you are willing to live with, and then sticking to them, because if you don’t stick to your own boundaries, you can’t expect anybody else to.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I know the professionals listening here will say, “Well, that’s nice for Mike who has his own thing. I’ve got a boss and teammates to contend with.” But I think that you may have less kind of leeway to establish whichever boundaries you care to establish, but you still have some. And I think that people can often appreciate it, like, “Okay, cool, yeah. You know what, I like that you’re being so thoughtful about your day and your time and using it to maximize kind of what we’re up to. So, yeah, I understand your rationale. That works for me and thank you very much.” Now, you might also get some folks who are not as understanding, but I think it’s worth a shot especially when it’s powerful and meaningful and impactful.

Mike Vardy
And that’s why when someone says that, and believe me it’s not the first time I’ve heard that, again, don’t do all of it. You don’t have to theme every day. Start at home. I‘ve had people say to me, like, “There’s no way I could theme my days.” And I said, “Well, when do you do your grocery shopping?” “Well, Saturday or the weekend.” “Okay, when do you do your housework?” “Oh, normally on Saturday or the weekend.” “So, what about laundry?” “Well, yes, Sunday or Saturday.” I’m like, “So, what you’re saying is like Saturday or Sunday it’s kind of like the day you do household stuff?” “Like, yeah, mostly I would do it.” “So, household day would be like Sunday or Saturday?” And then, all of a sudden, it’s like, boom! They’re like, “Oh.”

Again, you’re already doing it in some instances. Just own it. Just define it. Because once you do that, then there’s no ambiguity and there’s no confusion. So, if you have a burnt out lightbulb in your home office, or you have to do something, and you’ve got this honey-do list, let’s say, if you want to call it that, you’re like, “Hey, you know what, I know this needs to get done, I’m going to get out of my head. Where do I put it? Oh, Saturday is household day. Great, I’ll put it on household day.”

So, you’ve got to get those biases out of your way because what most people will do, and I’m generalizing it, but I hear it a lot, “There’s no way I could theme my days.” I’m like, “Well, could you try with one? Could you try with a certain period of time?” Clearly, we’ve had theme times in our schooling. We know what a lunch hour is. That’s a theme to time block. It’s not like they don’t exist. It’s just you have to be able to say, “Okay, you know what, I’m willing to put a boundary here. Just here. Just in this one instance based on my situation and let’s see how it goes.” And then take it from there.

You can add more, evolve it, whatever you need to do, but don’t just dismiss it out of hand, like you said, without trying it because it’s worked not just for me, who works from home, but I’ve worked with executives who are the boss, as well as middle managers who are not the boss, and they’re managing up and down. So, it can work, it’s just you’ve got to figure out where your just right is.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, we’re having fun and we’re short on minutes, but I must ask. So, let’s talk about motivation for a moment.

Mike Vardy
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
What are your top suggestions for keeping the motivation going strong and minimizing the risks that you’re going to burn out?

Mike Vardy
Well, I think, again, when it comes to that, journaling is such a huge component. And, again, I don’t know that a lot of people talk about this. We’re hearing more about it. We’re hearing more about journaling but not when it comes to productivity as much as I’d like to see. I think that when you look at your to-do list and your calendar, it gives you kind of a broad strokes of what your day looked like but there’s no story behind it. You can look at your calendar, and say, “Oh, I had a meeting at this time,” but you’re not going to chronicle your feelings about it, or you’re not going to say, “Hey, what worked and what didn’t.” You’re generally just going to see it and then you’ll try to, again, remember what it was like.

So, I think that when you want to keep yourself motivated, and there’s two types of motivation that can happen here. Either the motivation of the negative components can motivate you or the positives, whatever. Again, there’s no right or wrong way to keep a journal or to chronicle or a daily log or whatever you want to call it.

But I think that taking five minutes at the end of your work day, or at the end of your day in total, is a good way for you to get perspective on what’s going on in your world and realizing, A, we have way more time than we think, and, B, every day is a scholar for the next day. I can’t remember who said that, a Roman scholar said that. But that’s what it is.

And the more you journal the less likely you’re going to have to do that big massive review like two weeks down the road or a week down the road because you’re kind of keeping yourself course-corrected as you go. And, again, like people have said, “Oh, well, how should I journal?” I don’t know, it’s the same reason I don’t know what app to use. Use an app, use paper. If you need prompts, there’s plenty of places to find prompts. Use your theme days as prompts, “Hey, today’s daily theme was learning. Okay, did I do learning today? Yes. Oh, great. What did I learn? No. Well, why not?”

There’s always something, the story you can tell. You don’t know what to write about? Look in your phone and see what photos you took, right? Scan through your email and see what email you responded to. There’s always something. But it’s that story that matters because it’s the story that’s going to motivate you to either make a change or keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Thank you. Well, now, Mike, tell me, a couple of your favorite things. How about a favorite book?

Mike Vardy
Oh, boy, there are so many good ones. Getting Things Done is the book that kind of got me into productivity in the first place, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that. I like Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I love Pressfield’s stuff. And I really like Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way. I like the stoicism introduction kind of was the reasoned approach to things that was. So, his book The Obstacle Is the Way, and Ego is the Enemy, as well, I’d say that those are kind of the ones that I return to quite regularly.

Pete Mockaitis
And I know that you have evolved beyond it’s all about the tools but, tell me, what are some of your top favorite tools that you personally have to be digging right now?

Mike Vardy
So, I’m really liking this app called Front because it’s kind of that bridge between email and task management that I’ve been looking for, for a long time. I can assign emails to my team members right within the app, I can comment on them, so I can kind of keep my communication silo external to my project management which is what we used Asana for, but I can integrate them if I want.

So, Frontapp.com is it, and it’s iOS and web-based. I’m really digging it right now and I’ve only really scratched the surface of what it can do, but it’s really kind of been the thing that’s allowed us to keep emails that we don’t necessarily need in our project management app, and yet keep moving the ball forward with certain things there. So, I’d say that’s probably the one that I’m digging into most right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your listeners, and readers, and clients?

Mike Vardy
Stop worrying about due dates and make every day a due date. So, theming helps with that, the idea that when you think about it, and I’ve got monthly themes, and I talk about that as well, but people tend to focus on the, like, “This is when this thing is due, so I will let that sit there and let it kind of linger and linger. And, oh, no, tomorrow it’s due,” And then they go and do it. As opposed to taking a little bit of time every single day and just doing it.

And so, I dropped that in my TEDx Talk and it was kind of one of those things where people are, “Oh,” it’s like a little bit of a hum for them. So, I’d say that that’s one. Think about your taxes, right? If you start working on your taxes at the beginning of January rather than the beginning of April, how much easier would your taxes be to do.

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

Mike Vardy
Yes. Look at your tasks or your to-do list and ask yourself, “Is this the smallest that this task can be? Is there a smaller level? Are there smaller particles to this thing?” Because when you do that, then it makes it easier for you to kind of categorize them and move the needle forward a little bit on each one, as opposed to the work on report that you leave on your to-do list and then leave it unchecked because you didn’t finish it. Whereas, if you were to write 100 words for the report, or do research for the report, or spend 30 minutes on research for the report, that’s something you could check off.

That’s the kind of thing that you can do to keep yourself moving forward because you need that encouragement, you need to see that you’re moving the needle forward daily because when you see that, then it makes the work rewarding, and it makes you feel like you’re actually being productive instead of just checking off boxes with the hope that what you’re doing is actually getting recognized and happening on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Mike, this has been a real treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun and keep on doing the good work.

Mike Vardy
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. I really do appreciate it. And I hope there was a lot of value in what I had to share today.

461: Tactics for Boosting Productivity and Banishing Distraction with Erik Fisher

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Erik Fisher says: "You can't get everything done; not all the time, not every moment."

Erik Fisher shares tips and tricks to optimize your productivity without driving yourself crazy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Tricks to reduce your smartphone dependency
  2. The small habits that create big results
  3. Why it’s okay to not get things done

About Erik 

Erik is a Productivity Author, Podcaster, Speaker, and Coach. He talks with real people who practically implement productivity strategies in their professional and personal lives. You’ll be refreshed and inspired after hearing how others fail and succeed at daily productivity and continue to lead successful and meaningful lives.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Erik Fisher Interview Transcript

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

Erik Fisher
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m super excited to dig back into the goods. And I want to hear, you know, it’s been a couple years. What have you learned about productivity in that time? Or is there anything new you’d picked up or anything you decided you’ve abandoned, like, “Hey, on second thought, I don’t like that idea anymore”?

Erik Fisher
Oh, my gosh. Things change and yet, at the same as things are changing, they stay the same. One of the key things for me is, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s a lot of people who’ve come out with, say, like, daily or weekly analog, meaning handwriting-type planners, you know, chucking the digital system, if you will. And, for the most part, I like that idea. I like working in analog. There’s something very satisfying to that.

A friend of mine, he’s like, “Hey, I have a digital planner and I use my Apple Pencil in it,” and I’m like, “Okay, cheater.” But, for the most part, I have still stayed digital in terms of my list and my projects and things like that. But I have gone to almost completely 100% paper books.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. So, no Kindles or e-books of any sort.

Erik Fisher
Now, I have the ability to do it and I will still look at articles. Like, I do have an iPad, the latest version, the 11-inch Pro, and I really like it. I use it for content consumption and I don’t turn it and use it like a laptop or anything like that. I like that it’s not a desktop or a laptop or a phone. And by leaning into using it that way as a tablet, a digital window interface, whatever, to all my documents and things like that, whether it’s work-related or consumption-related, reading articles. I lean heavily into that and then, by doing that, I feel like that ease of use, of using it as a multipurpose tool like that, I then don’t spend as much time on my phone. You know what I mean?

Because if we constantly have that thing on us with all that stuff with us at all times, we feel like we have to use it all the time. And I’ve been trying really hard to get my time spent on phone down because the majority of the time that I’m spending on it, I found, was very unintentional passive use that was just eating into my time.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that’s intriguing right there. So, you’ve made a conscientious effort to reduce time on phone and you’ve seen some positive results in doing so. Could you maybe quantify that a little bit for us in terms of where were you before, and where are you now, and did you do anything else that made a real big difference in helping with that initiative?

Erik Fisher
Yeah, so a friend of mine also was noticing this and not only that, but having read Cal Newport’s most recent book that he came out with, Digital Minimalism, and talking with him for my show, we both said, “Hey, you know what, what if we went for like…?” So, the period of Lent comes up and we decided to say, “Well, what if we just…? Like, we can’t quit our phone and not have it on us, but what if we quit using our phone for every little thing, and just see what we can get away with?”

So, we sat down together and we started cataloging all the different apps. It was kind of a challenge between the two of us to see how many we could offload or delete, and what was the bare minimum of installed and active apps we could have on our phone, and how far we could get with doing that. And it was amazing because, after having done that –

I have an iPhone. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the iPhone’s ability to offload an app. It means that you can remove an app, the app will stay there and your credentials, and you’d be logged in and all that, but you have to click the download button again, and it then fills in the hollow shell of an app that is sitting there with all the content again. So, effectively, you can’t use it without re-downloading the app, which is like a safeguard or a boundary from you using the app again.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it sort of keep all the info that you’ve stored about your login and your historical data, but it’s not kind of taking up any space, and it’s a little harder to get to because you’ve got to spend that time to re-download it.

Erik Fisher
That’s exactly right. So, effectively, yes, the shell of the app is there, the inside of the app is not there except for, again, it maintains all the logins and things like that. So, we went through that and we checked in with each other about three days in, and we said, “How much time are you using it?” I was like not even carrying my phone with me at that point. I have my Apple Watch on me, and I would respond to a text through that, and phone calls, I would still do those. Are people still doing phone calls? Yes, they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Or text me first.

Erik Fisher
Yeah, exactly. And I just noticed that suddenly I wasn’t reaching for it every 5 to 10 minutes to check something or look something up, etc. And that’s not to say I wasn’t allowed to look something up somewhere, like on a desktop, or even on my iPad, but I wasn’t allowed to do it on my phone. And by breaking the phone being on me and ever-present and always able to be dove into as this dark pool of information that I could always access—you just don’t understand!

Like, when you have that on you at all times and you can always jump in, then you constantly will. And because you constantly will, then you will even when you do or don’t want to. And so, it’s really about cutting way back to the point where, then, it’s almost like, think of it as a digital diet metaphor for a physical diet. It’s like you can enjoy the stuff that is bad for you on occasion as long as you’re not eating it constantly all day every day, which is what we are doing digitally.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. I like that. And what was so cool is you made it sort of like a challenge and you had some accountability there, a buddy, and you sort of reframed, I guess, what triggers your reward centers in your brain. It’s not like, “I am so powerful because I have so many apps, I can do anything.” But rather it’s like, “All right, let’s just see how disciplined I can be and how winning is now reducing apps instead of having more apps and feeling powerful as a result of having those apps.”

Erik Fisher
Yes, exactly. And then, of course, the time period was over when we could add apps back on. And, honestly, it was like, “Well, wait a second, I just never came back.” There were months later where I would suddenly be looking for an app on my phone, I’m like, “Wait. Didn’t I have that app?” And I realize I had never put it back on, and it had been months since I’d last used it, so why was it on there? “Oh, just in case.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And that slows you down too. Like, the actual, I don’t know a ton about how all this hardware devices worked. But it seems like in my experience, generally speaking, the more stuff you have installed, the slower things run. Is that fair to say for the phone as well, the number of apps?

Erik Fisher
Potentially. I think Apple would say, “No, no, there’s nothing different with it. Buy the biggest one and install as many apps as you want. There’s an app for everything.” I don’t know. I would say here’s the thing, that means you have subconsciously maybe a need to organize all those apps in different places so you’d know where they are and have the ability to use them quickly. So, in other words, it’s digital clutter on the phone that you then have to deal with, which is also taking up time, mental RAM.

So, all in all, I came out the other end and I started using my phone a whole lot less. And, even to this day, I use it more but I think I cut way back. Again, I need to do a revisit, not maybe as drastic or strategic. But, again, one of the things that I was doing was there were certain apps, like the weather app, where I realized, “You know what, I can offload it on my phone but I can literally lift my wrist on my Watch and the weather is right there.”

And so, it’s different. It’s a different feeling. In other words, it’s a different – what’s the best way to put it? It’s a different meeting of a need. In other words, that’s the thing, I think, I’m trying to get at here, is you have to be careful about how you’re meeting certain needs because, then, you start to rationalize everything as a need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it feels that was a big lesson that could be applied to a lot of things.

Erik Fisher
Yeah. So, you can rationalize doing your email on your phone. And some people were like, “Wait, what’s wrong with that?” And I’m like, “Dude, you have no idea how doing email on your phone can become this thing where you’re always doing email on your phone and then switching over to, “Oh you’re texting, switching over to listening to a podcast, switching over to…” Do you see what I’m saying? Like, switching over, switching over. Like, you are sitting there, hunched over with a horrible posture, and/or walking and talking, and doing something. You are basically tricking yourself with that phone into thinking you can multitask. And, again, you can. You’re just task-switching and you’re bifurcating and fragmenting your attention.

And, actually, that was the biggest thing right there was just this calm sense of, “I don’t have to reach for anything on that phone because there’s nothing there I am missing out on at this moment,” unless a rant, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful in terms of describing that feeling and transformation and how that unfolds, so that’s cool. Well, hey, that’s what you’ve learned recently, and I appreciate you sharing it. Last time, we talked a lot about energy management being key to productivity, and so I want to cover some other pieces of productivity goodies from you this time.

I did a big listener survey, and a lot of folks were bringing up distractions, whether that’s internally from you’re tempted to go do email, or check your phone, or whatever, or externally, in terms of folks dropping by your desk, saying, “Hey, Erik, you got a minute?” or whatever. So, I’d love to get your take in terms of what have you found, in your own experience and from interviewing so many people, are really the best practices for maintaining clarity and focus?

Erik Fisher
So, I’ll refer you back to what we just talked as being a huge factor in that, first and foremost.

Pete Mockaitis
Just managing that phone, yeah.

Erik Fisher
Managing the phone and as well as what the phone is doing to you. Because if you feel like you need to reach for your phone when you’re sitting at your desk constantly, then you are effectively training yourself that it is okay to pick it up over and over and over and interrupt yourself, let alone weaken your ability to deal with any of the other stuff that are thrown at you from external.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. So, you’re actually harming yourself, you’re weakening your capacity to resist distraction because you are continually giving in.

Erik Fisher
That’s exactly right. Like, if at any moment you ever feel slightly bored—like my kids are saying—or hungry, or whatever, and you decide to go do something mindless, or go walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator, it’s like opening the refrigerator door. Like, if you train yourself that that’s okay versus having something prepared that you know is your “snack for the day,” then there you go, then you’re going to go pull out, I don’t know, fill in blank here, of what you should not be having as a snack, you know?

So, the more you train yourself to go the opposite direction or the way you should go in terms of your habits, you just find it easy to get distracted. So, first and foremost, that’s number one, with the phone, because it’s tied in to that. Then, number two, in terms of distractions, gosh, there’s a couple of different things that I have found that really, really helped. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the system, the audio system that I use, last time, that helps with eliminating distractions.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it Focus At Will?

Erik Fisher
It is Focus At Will. Well, I have changed.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. There we go.

Erik Fisher
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a lifetime membership to Focus At Will but I’m not using it. I found one that I like better and it’s because it does multiple things. It’s not just focusing yourself. It has to do with brainwaves and the sound of the “music” or the—

Pete Mockaitis
You quote music. Strong praise, right?

Erik Fisher
Well, that’s the thing. Yeah, because technically it’s not music. It’s a—

Pete Mockaitis
Sound.

Erik Fisher
–Composition. Right. And so that’s the thing. But, that said, it’s still you don’t get into it like, “Oh, man, I love this song,” kind of moment because of listening to it. And if you did, then it wouldn’t be working because it would be distracting you because you’d be like, “Oh, man, I love this song.” It’s called Brain.fm.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Erik Fisher
It can do all of those stuff we talked about the Focus At Will can do. It eliminates the blinders, sorry, it puts up the blinders so your flight and fight mechanism kind of gets lulled into sleep. Essentially, it’s backed by science. It gets you to a place where your brainwaves are in position to hold focus stronger and longer when you’re doing work. And not only that though, it can also be used for meditation, or calming yourself down, or even sleep, so you can listen to it, take a nap and get a better sleep/nap by using it.

And by having that extra stuff and having it, again, I’m not talking bad about Focus At Will, but Brain.fm, which is leaps and bounds ahead of them when I found them almost a year ago, that I signed up immediately. And, in fact, they gave me like codes, not a code but a link, to let people get like 20% off for their whole first year, and people have been loving jumping on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you allowed to, are you able to share this in a public forum?

Erik Fisher
Yes, I can.

Pete Mockaitis
You can’t do this to us, Erik.

Erik Fisher
I gave it a pretty link so that it would be easier for people. So, it’s BeyondTheToDoList.com/brainfm.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s intriguing. I mean, I love…well.

Erik Fisher
And you’ve used Focus At Will before.

Pete Mockaitis
I have used it and I appreciated what they had, but I also had kind of found a focus playlist I created, and I thought, you know, in a way it was almost because my focus playlist had gotten so many kind of repetitions of, “Oh, hey, it’s time to focus.” I listen to the focus music and I focus, that it’s kind of like ritualized and accelerated the process of having sound focus me. So, that’s kind of why, in my particular instance, the Focus At Will almost had enough hill battle against an incumbent. But what you’re saying here is, “Hey, Brain.fm does more than just that.”

Well, if we’re talking about me for a second with rituals and focus, like I enjoy, because I’ve got two kids under two, and I’ve got a home office in an enclosed porch, so I upgraded it to get a real nice sound-blocking door, but sometimes it doesn’t block enough sound. So, I’d like to put in earplugs, plus Bose noise-cancelling headphone, plus either the focus playlist, or we had a previous guest who talked about, she listens to Star Trek: The Next Generation engine idling noise as white noise.

Erik Fisher
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I found that and I use that sometimes. And so, that’s been the groove so far. But I’m intrigued by Brain.fm for that context as well as, hey, the power napping and more.

Erik Fisher
Yeah. So, I can tell you, one thing about the napping, as well as even the overnight sleep, which that’s a little bit tricky to do but I figured that out. Basically, you put it on as an app, and then it allows you to download an evening of Brain.fm sleep alpha wave patterns. Oh, I know where I was going. I was like, “Where was I going with this?”

When I talked to the guy that’s the head of it on my show, I told him, “I go to sleep listening to music, always have, since about junior high.” And I said, “It helps me fall asleep faster. Now why is this different?” And he says, “Well, number one, you listening to music as you go to sleep is a ritual, so it’s triggering your brain as you lay down in bed that it’s time to go to bed. And so, you’re still going to find that this has that power to it because you’re still going kind of through the ritual.”

However, the difference between Brain.fm and listening to regular music is that this is going to get your brainwaves into where you want them to go, which is deeper sleep, faster, and then keep them there because of the way that, again, I’ll use the word music, the way that it plays and it works and it keeps you calm and all that.

Now, the other thing that I have found is me, putting on my Bose noise-cancelling headphones, even if no one’s home, and turning it to the meditation or the calming setting, and doing 15 minutes of even if I’m just sitting in my desk, at my desk, in my desk chair, closed eyes or not, and just kind of breathing, “it gets you there faster” in terms of calming down and taking a break, and being able to then jump back from that more refreshed.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Erik Fisher
So, there you go. So, yeah, again, that link is BeyondTheToDoList.com/brainfm. They gave me that link and said, “Hey, if your listeners ever want to listen, try it out, they can try it out for free.” And if they sign up, which it’s not expensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I thought it would be more but I clicked pricing, I always make a guess before I actually click pricing, and it was well below my guess.

Erik Fisher
Brain.fm is cheaper than the one that I was using that I have for lifetime anyway, which is Focus At Will. Brain.fm is cheaper, and I was just like, “Oh, gosh, this is a no-brainer.” But you can get 20% a year with them, which is great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, very cool. All right. Boy, you’re delivering the goods. So, we’re going to talk about specific means by which you are maintaining clarity and focus. We talked about the breaking of habits with the phone and the reduction of apps and such. We got the Brain.fm. Any other biggies?

Erik Fisher
Let’s see here. So, I have one other one that’s a secret weapon.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like if you disclose.

Erik Fisher
I will. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked with Jaime Masters before.

Pete Mockaitis
I know the name and the face but we’ve never talked.

Erik Fisher
So, she was on my show again recently. She and I did not plan on talking about this, but she shared this with me. She was doing these group mastermind things where she’d get people to come to like a big, a giant Airbnb somewhere, all these different leadership people and whatever. And they’d do these surveys afterwards, and people would ask them, she would ask the people, sorry, “What were the things that stood to you the most?” And she, embarrassingly, shared with me that the thing they were talking to her about was they would say, “Jaime’s drugs.” And she was like, “What? What are you talking about?” And she says, well, because she would bring something called nootropics with her.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Erik Fisher
So, have you heard what this word is?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard of nootropics. I’ve been a little spooked to ingest them myself.

Erik Fisher
Yes. So, here’s the deal, she had no idea that I had already tried one, yeah. And what I did was, basically, it’s called Alpha BRAIN. And she was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s one of the best ones.” And she said, “Here’s the thing, on Amazon you can go to the reviews, and it’s either, ‘This was amazing. It worked amazing for me,’ or, ‘This did nothing for me,’ and it’s really based upon who you are and your brain chemistry and all that kind of stuff.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, they got even three stars out of over a thousand reviews. Lovers and haters.

Erik Fisher
Yeah. And so, she said, “Here’s the thing, the issue with that one is that it works great for some people and does nothing for others, and it’s not inexpensive to get a hold of it, to start with, and try out and everything.” I said, “Well, hold up. They actually sent me some for free to try.” And then when it worked, because it did, and I’ll explain what it felt like in a second. She said, “Oh, that’s awesome.” And I said, “Yeah, I even wrote the guy back and said, ‘Hey, could I have a little bit more?’” in true drug, you know, the first one is free, so, “Could I have some more?”

And, anyways, what it came down to they had actually realized that if they could get it in the hands of the people to try out cheap, then people would actually notice that it worked or not for them and then order more. And so, basically, I have a deal on this one too where people can get it. They can get a bottle of it with like 14 pills of it, and even just taking one a day, or even two a day, is enough to see if it’s going to affect you at all, and you pay like five bucks for the shipping and that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. And I guess what’s kind of kept me out of this is like, “Is it addictive? Is it dangerous? Is it, you know?” And it’s like, well.

Erik Fisher
No and no.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Erik Fisher
Here’s how I’ll explain it. So, I was concerned with it. Let me first say this, before they ever approached me, and before Jaime and I ever had talked about it, months ago I saw in an Instagram story Michael Hyatt holding the bottle and saying he was taking it and loving it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s something about Michael Hyatt, he’s such a standup guy. It’s like, “If Michael Hyatt takes this, it must not be dirty.”

Erik Fisher
Exactly my take too. And I love him and so I took a screenshot of it and just forgot about it. And then months later, it kind of bubbled back up into my head, and I was like, “Yeah, I should probably check that out.” I think it was only a matter of a few weeks later, somehow. I assumed maybe they found out by searching through the photos on my phone that I had looked at it or something, I don’t know. That’s when they sent it to me.

So, my predisposition to it was Michael Hyatt, and he kind of clears the path for me on a lot of things, to be honest. And so, I took two of them. There was like 14 of them in the small bottle and I took two of them on a Thursday, or it was a Tuesday. And so, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of a very tough week, I was taking two of them in the morning, honestly, just without even thinking about it. And then I just never gave it any thought.

But then I realized come Thursday later afternoon, and then even Friday morning again, it occurred to me, “Do you realize you haven’t felt like you needed to like crash and take a nap, or have two or three extra cups of coffee these past few days? But you also don’t feel like you are wired and jittery and whatever like you would’ve had if you’d taken those cups of coffee, and it’s just not as much of an effort to like, focus?” And so, to myself, I said, “Yes, you’re right, I have seen that. I have noticed that.”

And that’s exactly what it was. It wasn’t some kind of, “Oh, my gosh, I drank five energy Red Bulls or something.” It was like—oh, this is the best way to put it. You know how if you’ve ever lost any significant amount of weight, you don’t suddenly feel, but over time, you feel like you have so much more energy. It’s kind of the equivalency of that with your brain, but after having lost like 10 or 20 pounds, your brain just feels like it’s not weighed down as much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing.

Erik Fisher
That’s what it felt like. That’s what it feels like. And so, once they said, “Hey, here’s this code in case anybody is interested. They can grab a bottle for free. They just pay shipping,” I told two of my friends right away. I said, “Hey, not kidding you, I’ve tried this. Check out this page. If you’re interested, there you go.”

And one of them was like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m now taking one in the morning and one in the afternoon.” And he then said—and he loves coffee, by the way so he’s still having it—but he found that he was able to get so much more done over the course of the week than he was previously up to that point. So, for him it worked. For the other one, it actually didn’t. It didn’t really do much. So, that was actually interesting to me to find out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m encouraged to hear that it hasn’t produced any dangers and it hasn’t produced any addiction.

Erik Fisher
No, because there are days I don’t take it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s nifty. Well, hey, everyone be safe and do your research, but I’m taking a gander at it. I don’t see anything terrifying on the Amazon page. So, yeah, what is this link?

Erik Fisher
Oh, yes. Sorry, I didn’t even think to give you that. so, again, I made it easy, it’s BeyondTheToDoList.com/alphabrain.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Erik Fisher
So, there you go. Yeah, you can get it or not, and it’s cheap. You just pay like five bucks. Basically, think of it this way, one cup of coffee at a Starbucks and you might get, cost-wise, and you can see if this works for you. And if it does, again, you can kind of low-key take it, try it, whatever. And if it does something, great. For me and for some other people out there, it does a lot of good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. So, we got the nootropics, and we got the phone discipline, we got Brain.fm. Any other things that have been really key for you when it comes to keeping the clarity and focus on track?

Erik Fisher
So, this is the other big thing, and this is actually huge for me. And, again, this is another thing that I kind of was a believer in, but not a stickler about to a certain extent until I talked with Michael Hyatt about it, and it’s sleep and napping.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a firm advocate of that and I think we got that point covered. We’ll just kind of add one more check mark of support from Erik Fisher on this one.

Erik Fisher
I think you’re there. And, actually, I track it. Like, I wear my Apple Watch at night to track my sleep, and I just know weeks and months where I’m in a better sleep groove, I am struggling less throughout the day. And, again, to do back to the Brain.fm thing, like I, literally, was able to see like, funny, night and day difference when it came to getting more rest in my day because it tracks even those naps, my app does. So, the more sleep I was getting, the more awake I was during the day, the better off I was. So, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. That’s great. Well, I guess I think sleeping and napping is huge and important. It takes time but it’s time well-spent. Are there any like tiny things that just have huge leverage in terms of, “Hey, this takes less than five minutes a day, but when I do it, it’s game-changing versus when I don’t”?

Erik Fisher
Yeah, I would say, I call it passing the baton to my future self. So, I’m near the end of my day today, and instead of, when you and I are done recording, jumping off and saying, “Okay, what’s for dinner?” and walking out the door, like actually sitting and cleaning up my desk and arranging my list of stuff. Now, again, I’ve already gone over what the list of stuff is for tomorrow on a weekly checklist kind of a basis, on a weekly review kind of thing.

But doing a closing, or a shutdown, or again passing the baton to my future self tomorrow morning, that shutdown, that ritual, is what’s going to make tomorrow morning, even if I feel maybe out of sorts or say something happens and I don’t get enough sleep and I’m struggling, I don’t have to struggle as hard or as much.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds like a nice visual metaphor in that your future self appreciates that, you’ve taken some time to hook up future Erik with a nice environment to flourish, so that’s awesome. Any other quick yet high-leverage things?

Erik Fisher
Cutting stuff off the list.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. No, absolutely, it’s the fastest way to shrink your to-do list is to decide not to do it.

Erik Fisher
Or, better yet, better said, is decide not to do it now.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is the now mean you’re going to do it later or you’ve decided now that you’re not going to do it ever?

Erik Fisher
It can be both but I was referring more to, “When is the right time to do it so that you’re not trying to overpack your days and your weeks?”

Pete Mockaitis
I dig.

Erik Fisher
So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, maybe we’ll zoom out a little bit. So, we kind of talked about some really super precise like tools or tactical things to do. But I’d love to hear kind of big picture. Boy, you’ve been running Beyond the To-Do List for, is it seven years now?

Erik Fisher
Yeah, we’re basically at the seven-year mark.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so amazing. Well, congratulations. And you’re an inspiration for my podcast when I was thinking, “Does anybody want to listen to this kind of stuff? Let’s take a look around. Oh, hey, a good many of them do and Erik Fisher and Beyond the To-Do List is one good example.” So, thank you. Who knows if I hadn’t found a couple of inspiring examples, where would we be? So, thank you.

Erik Fisher
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, what are some themes that have come up again and again and again in terms of when people, they’re trying to be focused and productive and then take care of what’s really meaningful in their work and lives? What are kind of those foundational principles that pop up repeatedly?

Erik Fisher
Well, I kind of alluded to it a little bit just a moment ago with taking things off the list as well as kind of paring back and simplifying again the use of the phone, and I don’t want to go back into those things per se. But it’s just this idea that I think we have the wrong perspective when it comes to productivity. We think that, and I even had a conversation with, oh, I’m blanking on his name, Mike Sturm, that’s it, a couple of months ago, the idea between, “What’s the difference between the word efficiency and productivity?” And there was even another word, I forget what it was, but anyways.

Pete Mockaitis
Effectiveness?

Erik Fisher
That is it. I feel like you’ve listened to that episode.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m spying on you everywhere.

Erik Fisher
Nice. So, it was this kind of, and it was a real productivity whatever geek-out moment for me to have that conversation with him because there are different meanings to each of those three words and they’re all good in themselves and they all kind of fold in on each other. It kind of made me, I mean, it really made me think, I shouldn’t say, not kind of made me think. It really made me think. And it was just like, “You know what, in the end, it’s, ‘What are you trying to do? How much of it are you trying to get done? How much is enough even? And what’s overkill? Like, burn out and all that.’”

Again, when you go back to the whole sleep thing and whatever, but we don’t need to go there. It’s this idea that, Parkinson’s Law where work will expand to fill the time allotted. And so, if we can figure out how to more efficiently, or more fast-ly—which is not a word—get the work done to where we’re kind of breaking that law, we’re saying, “Hey, I’m going to get this work done faster than I allow for it to be done,” then suddenly you’ve freed up this time.

Then you have this question which, recently I was talking with the Get It Done guys, Stever Robbins, in one of my most recent episodes.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s so good.

Erik Fisher
And he was like, “Look, you’re sitting in a cubicle and you’re really good at getting your work done, and then they noticed you’re really good at getting your work done, and then they suddenly say, ‘Well, wait a second, we either haven’t been giving him enough work to do, or we have been underpaying him.’ They’re not going to give you the raise. Let’s put it there. They’re not going to go and give you a raise. What they’re going to do instead is say, “We aren’t giving you enough work to do because you’ve got it all done all day.”

And I’ve been in that position, by the way. I’ve been the person who hacked his cubicle and figured out how to get everything that I needed to get done, and then some, and run rings around my co-workers, and yet get paid no more than them, and have all this free time to play video games in my cubicle. More than a decade to 15 years ago now.

I’m kind of half ecstatic about how I figured out how to do that and half ashamed. But, that said, you see where I’m going with this, if you are working for yourself, you then suddenly have this quandary where if you’re getting things done faster, and you’re getting them all done, you can either start to wander into, “What else can I be doing, and add onto that, and fill my day even more?” which, again, it’s attractive to a lot of people, it’s like, “How much more stuff can I get done because I got this stuff that I was already used to getting done already done but faster?” You start to wander, though, into this place of unintentional burnout or unintentional status quo, kind of like with the phone as I was talking about earlier.

You use it originally for a few good things, and then it becomes the thing you use for all the things. And then you have booked yourself solid to where, you know, you’ve got a meeting, you’ve got five meetings a day, and 12 podcasts to record, and 29 blogposts to write, and/or videos to record, not to mention all the different Instagram stories and social media things you could be doing. It’s like, “Hold up. Which of the things that are the most…?” What was the third word? It wasn’t productivity and it wasn’t…

Pete Mockaitis
Effectiveness?

Erik Fisher
Effective. So, it’s then towards what effectiveness are you headed towards? What intentionality are you trying to get to end of the day, end of the week, end of the quarter? Actually, this is one of the biggest things since we talked, is I’ve been in a mastermind, and we’d go by the 12-week year. And, essentially, what that means is instead of 12 months in a year, there’s 12 weeks in a quarter, and we just kind of compress a year, and we say, “Okay, for this next sprint of three months, what is it that we want to accomplish? Like, for example, working on a book or something like that. And how far can we get?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and what I like about that is you call it a 12-week sprint, and there’s four 12-week periods, yields, 48 weeks, leaving four weeks for you to kind of relax a little bit between these sprints.

Erik Fisher
Yes, exactly, there’s actually more weeks in a year than the 12 times 4, so you get a little bit of breathing room in there to recalibrate, etc. But, yeah, that has been kind of the, I don’t know, the analyze everything, the, “Hold up, don’t add something new in.” There’s a lot of people out there, who’s like, “You’ve got to quit something to then start something.” That’s great and all. But also, what if we just quit something to quit something? What if we just eliminated things on the to-do list? What if we just said, “This is great to do but it’s not yielding a lot, so let’s just stop doing it altogether and not replace it with something else”?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

Erik Fisher
That’s where my head’s been.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate it. And, I guess, my final question was going to be, you know, what have been some of the most transformational guests and ideas you’ve come across? And it sounds like you’ve already shared a few. But if anything is missing, now is your chance, let her rip.

Erik Fisher
All right. So, let’s see, so let me see if I can think back through. So, I mentioned Cal Newport, that’s in regards to the phone. My most recent episode with Michael Hyatt, we talked about killing distractions and his approach to how he did was I did with his phone, and that’s a really interesting one. Let’s see, I recently talked with Mike Sturm, and we talked about all that productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. That’s a good one. Who else did I mention? Do you remember who else I mentioned? I can’t remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Cal Newport, Michael Hyatt.

Erik Fisher
Yes. Oh, Jaime Masters, that was the one about the nootropics. And we talked about time tracking. And, oh, we talked about absolute yes in that one as well. So, how everybody is like, “You know, you’ve got to learn how to say no so you don’t fill up your calendar and things like that.” She goes at it from the opposite perspective, where she’s like, “I’d love to say yes to everything but only the things that I’m willing to say, ‘Absolutely, yes,’ am I going to say yes to.” So, that’s actually another great kind of reframing of how to say no to things and has to do with opportunity costs. So, Jaime Masters, that’s another one that was very recent.

And then, James Clear, the habits, the Atomic Habits, I should say his “Atomic Habits” book that came out late last year. I talked to him about that. And that, essentially, has to do with filling in the gaps and looking at, in a new light, the old adage of, basically, habitualizing things so that you don’t have to lean in as much on like discipline or willpower because you’ve created that activity, that pattern, that consistency, that groove, of making the right choices, or enabling yourself to make the right choices easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Erik, this has been a real nice lineup. I’d like to hear about some of your favorite things now, if you could first give us a favorite quote.

Erik Fisher
I don’t know if I told you this one last time. Did you ask for quotes last time? I don’t remember.

Pete Mockaitis
I did. And I think it’s kind of fun if you reinforced, that’s cool. If you have a new one, that’s cool too.

Erik Fisher
Right. This is so self-centered of me to say this. My favorite quote is my own quote, it’s, “Good ideas come from many ideas.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like it. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Erik Fisher
Oh, gosh. So, actually, I’ll point back to the study, the stuff that came out of, what’s his name, James Clear, the habit book. There’s a lot of science in the book that reinforces the different ways of habitualizing, so I’m going to have to claim that because he doesn’t come at it as a book writer or a business book writer. He comes at it as, “Hey, I have all this research. How do I formulate this into something that people can get something out of it because they need to know this?” So, it is really is a study in book form.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And how about a favorite tool?

Erik Fisher
So, I probably mentioned some of those but, again, one of my favorites is to go back to Brain.fm. One of the other ones is, actually, this one is called Otter.ai.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the transcription.

Erik Fisher
The transcription, yeah. I love, love, love that. So, being able to upload audio files into there and they can transcribe it, or just being able to like turn it on again on my iPad or my phone and I have it recorded and then send it to the cloud and it’ll start transcribing for me is also pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them say it back to you often?

Erik Fisher
Oh, that’s interesting. I think it comes down to me giving them permission to not get everything done.

Pete Mockaitis
They need an authority figure like yourself too.

Erik Fisher
Hey, you know, you can get it done, move it tomorrow. It’s fine. As long as you’re not dropping the ball or dropping balls. Like, it’s fine. It’s a matter of which one. Again, you can’t get everything done, not all the time, not at every moment. Like, right now, I’m talking to you. I’m not doing other things but I’m, hopefully, executing well on the thing I’m doing and choosing to do right now.

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

Erik Fisher
Yeah, perfect. It’d be BeyondTheToDoList.com.

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

Erik Fisher
I’m going to point people back to where we started and just say, “How much time can you go without your phone?” That’s my challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Erik, this has been a treat. Thanks for sharing the good word. I wish you lots of luck with your show Beyond the To-Do List, and your many other adventures.

Erik Fisher
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.