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583: Dispelling the Motivation Myths of Passion and Willpower with Jeff Haden

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Jeff Haden says: "You can create all the motivation you need."

Jeff Haden discusses what we often get wrong about motivation—and what really works.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that makes any goal feel motivating 
  2. The subtle shift in phrasing that makes goals more motivating 
  3. A surprising way to boost your willpower

About Jeff

Jeff Haden is Inc.com’s most popular columnist and one of LinkedIn’s most widely-followed Influencers. His work has also appeared on TimeThe Huffington PostFast CompanyBusiness InsiderEntrepreneurYahoo! Small BusinessMSNBC, and CNBC.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jeff Haden Interview Transcript

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

Jeff Haden
Thanks, Pete. I am delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m delighted to be here as well. We’re going to be talking about motivation so I thought I might start with asking, Jeff, what motivates you?

Jeff Haden
Oh, great. That is a fun question since I talk about motivation a lot. Probably the biggest motivator for me is seeing some type of improvement no matter what it is that I do. I learned a long time ago that you can have even the silliest or least meaningful goal possible, but if you set it and then you’re making some amount of improvement towards it, it feels good, and you end up liking whatever it is that you were doing. So that whole idea that you have to find your passion first before you can set off to do something, I think it’s kind of…well, I think it’s helpful but I don’t think it’s necessary.

So, if I can tell a really quick story. I decided a few years ago when I was writing my book, I kind of took a page from the Tim Ferriss playbook and decided it would be good to have a couple of cute hooks for me for people to latch onto, so I decided I was going to do 100,000 pushups in a year. So, it works out to 347 a day. I rounded it up to 400 just in case I had a bad day.

The goal was meaningless. I didn’t care. There’s nothing from it. I wasn’t getting paid. It was just something I decided to do, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it at first, but within a month, I liked pushups, I thought of myself as the Pushup Guy. I had fun trying to be able to do more per set or get the whole thing done quicker or all that other kind of stuff. And I actually came to like it and it is because I got fairly good at it.

So, I think if you’re willing to put the effort in, you can find that you will enjoy doing things that you never thought you would as long as you improve and get better at it, and some day get to be good at it. So, I’m convinced that we like the things that we are good at, you just have to give yourself a chance and the time to get good at it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that completely resonates. I remember I was in high school when a speaker, he’s still rocking, Fran Kick is his name, he spoke to our marching band, and he made this little diagram about…he was in the context of practicing a musical instrument and talked about work, fun, good. As you work, you get good. And as you’re good, it’s more fun. And then you’re more likely to want to work. And I was like, “That makes so much sense.” I remember this diagram, wow, nearly 20 years later because it resonates as really true, whether it’s something silly like, I think, games do this on purpose in terms of like, “Ooh, hey, you’re getting better, Jack. Keep playing us. Keep tapping away.”

Jeff Haden
Yup. And I think that’s really important for people because, like, say, in your job. You get a new job, you find that it doesn’t turn out to be what you hoped it would be, which is almost always the case. There are parts of it that you don’t like, and so people automatically think, “Oh, man, I don’t really like this. I need to find something different.” But if you can put the effort into trying to get better at the things that you don’t like, you may find that you really like them and you enjoy them. And it may not be the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done in your life, but it always feels good to be good at something. And then when you are good at that, people ask you for advice, people ask you for help, people look up to you as a mentor. That feels good, too, so you get this really cool circle of fun from just having put in the time to get better at something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so your book is called The Motivation Myth. What exactly is the myth that we’re busting here?

Jeff Haden
Well, I think I’ve alluded to it already, so since it’s fun to drop names, I’ll drop a name or two. So, I was talking to Venus Williams, and I said, “You’re you so this must’ve been your passion your whole life long.” She said, “No, no.” “Really?” “Dad started us out playing tennis. I thought, ‘Man, it would be fun to get better at this.’ I just kept trying to get better. And as I got better, it felt good and I just kept trying to get better.”

And so, I kind of added that up with I’m lucky enough that I get to talk to lots of really successful people in a variety of fields, and I’ve never found one of them that had that lightning bolt of inspiration somewhere along the way that’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I found my passion and I’m set for life, and I’ve got all the motivation I ever need.” They all just found something they were interested in, decided to try it, and then put in the time and effort to get better and create this little feedback loop, like you described, of effort equals success, equals happiness, equals more effort.

So, I contrasted that with a lot of the people that write to me, saying, “Hey, I’m not achieving my goals. I’m not getting anywhere. Do you have any advice for me?” And every one of them was saying, “I haven’t found my passion.” And so, the myth to me is that you have to find your passion first. When, really, what it is, is you have to just decide, “Hey, I want to try this. I have a goal. I’m going to figure out a process to get me there,” and we can talk about that, “And I will get all the motivation I need from my effort as opposed to receiving this motivation from some external source or this lightning bolt,” that carries you along your way.

So, the big takeaway is that you can create all the motivation you need if you know how.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds exciting, and I want to definitely get into the process and how that’s done. Now, first, let’s talk a little bit more about what not to do. And I noticed a couple of your reviews, I stalk my guests, in your book on Amazon, some of the reviews and some of your sales copy has some jabs at Tony Robbins. So, a fun fact, when I was a teenager, Tony Robbins was my hero and I wanted to be just like him. I’ve since adopted new role models although I still have learned very valuable things from Tony Robbins.

Jeff Haden
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s your hot take here?

Jeff Haden
Well, first of all, I did take a few shots at Tony. Tony is aware of the shots I took at him. Tony doesn’t mind and, in fact, we’ve collaborated on a few things since then, so I would never consider him a friend. I would never be so presumptuous as to say he’s a friend. But I know him and we get along fine, and I like him, and we just had a difference of opinion.

So, my shot at Tony was one of the things that they at least used to do, I don’t know if they still do, but they had the firewalk.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m a firewalker, Jeff.

Jeff Haden
You did? Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve walked it.

Jeff Haden
All right, then this is perfect. So, you’ve got the hot coals, and somehow, like that scene from The Office.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff Haden
By walking across them, that shows you that you can do anything, and that sends you off on your way ready to conquer the world. There’s a little bit of truth to that, and I’m sure that that works. But the problem is that’s a very momentary thing and it’s not something you really put a lot of effort into. All you had to do was try to say, “Aargh,” you almost had to freeze your brain for a second and just go, which, that’s an important ability to have but that doesn’t help you when you’ve been working at something for six months or nine months or a year, and it’s hard, and you’re struggling, and you’re hitting roadblocks. How do you find the perseverance to work through that stuff? That’s a whole different kind of a play.

So, my shot at Tony was basically that if you want that momentary one-off, “Yes, I finally bungee jumped,” “Yes, I finally jumped out of a plane,” “Yeah, I walked across the hot coals,” not to downplay your experience. I’m sure it was awesome. But that’s not the thing that is going to get you a long-term dose of motivation that you need. It does prove to you that you can do things that you didn’t think you could do, and that is really important. But those are very kind of one-off momentary things. That’s not a long-term solution to a motivation problem.

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Jeff Haden
So, that was my shot at Tony.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jeff Haden
So, it’s really not that bad of a shot if you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. I mean, you could say worse about any of us. You know what’s funny, my firewalking wasn’t that much of a challenge because it was raining the day of, and my feet were actually pretty cold on the asphalt parking lot of the hotel, it’s like, “Dude, my feet are cold. I want to get on those coals just to warm them up a little bit.”

Jeff Haden
How hot was it?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know the precise temperature but…

Jeff Haden
No, I mean, how hot did it feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, my experience was it was like, “Ooh, that’s kind of toasty.” And, now, if I were starting from a normal foot temperature, I don’t know. But it was fine, it was fun, and I learned some things, and, yeah, I think. Every thought leader has things that are more or less applicable to everyone, and that’s why we get a lot of voices. So, Let’s hear now. So, how do we get it going? So, we’ve got that sort of virtuous cycle. If I want to have more motivation, what are my first steps?

Jeff Haden
The first thing is the easiest place to start is with something that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t. So, let’s just make something up. Let’s say your bucket list is not just to walk on hot coals from a tepid fire or parking lot, but you want to run a marathon. Let’s use that. So, you’ve always wanted to do so but you’re not even a runner. So, the first thing you do is you pick your goal, and then you say, “Okay, I’m going to forget the fact that…” if you harken back to the Monty Python movie Life of Brian, where the guy says, you know, “We’re all individuals,” and then one guy says, “I’m not.” Think that you’re not an individual and realize that there are perfectly good processes out there waiting for you to follow that are almost guaranteed for you to succeed if you put in the work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking of Hal Higdon’s program right there. Bam!

Jeff Haden
But what ends up happening is that people say, “Okay, I’m unique, I’m special, I need a bespoke process. There are things that I’m willing to do. There are things I’m not willing to do.” And by the time you’re done, you’ve boxed yourself into this thin little slice of effort and program that it’s not going to work for you. So, the first thing you do is say, “I’m willing to do what it takes to get there.” And if you’re not, then don’t even start because you’ve picked a hard goal. And the best way to find that process to work, that will work, is to forget about the idea of finding somebody to “coach” you. And I just used Dr. Evil air quotes. That instead of coaching you, the key is to find a pro. And by a pro, I mean someone who has done what it is you say you want to do.

So, if it’s a marathon, it’s a guy that you know or that you can connect with, and through social media you can connect with anybody you want at this point, and just say, “Hey, I admire you, I respect what you’ve done. I would like to run a marathon. Here’s where I’m starting from. If you were me, what would you do?” And what you’re going to get from someone like that, if they are truly someone who has done what you want to do, you’re going to get a hard process. You’re going to get the clear-eyed, cold, hard truth of, “Here’s what it takes to go and do that.”

And then, instead of whining about it, instead of saying, “Oh, but that’s not going to work for me, and I’m special and I’m unique,” or whatever. You say, “Okay, that is what I’m going to do,” and you give yourself two weeks, and you say, “For two weeks, I will follow this exactly. I’m not going to pop my head up and think about changing. I’m not going to worry about modifying. I’m not going to adapt. I’m going to do this.”

The reason for that is you don’t know enough about what it is you’re trying to do to be able to make smart revisions early on because you have no clue. And why would you? And if you revise, you’re probably going to revise to easier, which means you’re going to be less successful and make less progress. So, if you keep your head down for two weeks, invariably, you will pop up at the end of the two, and you will have gotten a little better, a little stronger, a little faster, a little smarter, whatever it is you’re trying to do. You will have seen improvement and you will realize that, “This works.” And by knowing that your effort paid off, we’re back to your band speech of, “Hey, I put in the effort, I’ve seen some success, that feels good, that makes me happy, that makes me get up tomorrow and do whatever it is I’m supposed to do tomorrow.”

And that’s the real key, is to forget about the distance between here, which is wherever you’re starting, and there, which is this long path that takes you to this goal that you want to achieve, and just focus on what you have to do today. And if you focus on today, and you do what’s on your list for today, you get to feel good about yourself at the end of the day because you’ve done what you set out to do, that’s motivating in itself, and that will keep you making progress. And then you get this endless source of motivation because every day you get to tap into it.

I know that was a long answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I love it.

Jeff Haden
But it’s a simple way to approach it, and you can do almost anything that you want to do if you’re willing to follow that kind of process.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it’s intriguing, like when you go through those steps of you talk to the pro, and then you follow it to a T for two weeks, and you observe some levels of improvement, you might say, “You know what, I actually am not that charged up about being able to run a little bit more now than I was before, about what’s happening to my body and my energy levels. As it turns out, running a marathon was cool in theory, but I don’t actually care about it and I can let go of it with peace.”

Jeff Haden
Yup. And that’s an awesome side effect because you do find out, “Is this really something I will enjoy doing?” Because the end result, you only get to enjoy that for a little bit. Actually, completing the marathon and getting your medal and having your picture taken, and all that other stuff, that’s a very small slice. If you don’t enjoy the day-to-day, then, to me, you’re kind of wasting your time because that’s a lot of effort to put into this momentary slice of, “Wow, I get to feel really good about myself.”

So, if you find at the end of two weeks that, “Yeah, this really isn’t for me, not because it’s too hard but because it really isn’t that fun and rewarding,” then you’ve done yourself a great service because you haven’t wasted six months kind of trying, kind of running, kind of feeling bad about yourself all the time whenever you don’t. And having that in the back of your mind, “Wow, that’s something I really want to accomplish,” saying no to your goals is as important as choosing the ones that you want to go after. It’s a cliché but it’s true. People have tons of goals but they don’t really know whether they want to do them or not, or they like the process. So, if you find ways to sift through that, then you’ll settle on the stuff that you really do like and you really do find enjoyable, and maybe you become a runner for the rest of your life or maybe you don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take on I think a lot of goals fit very neatly with that, and maybe I’m just a quantifiable kind of a guy. I like quantification and so I’m thinking, “Hey, running. Hey, I’ve ran farther than I did before. I feel great about that accomplishment.” I’m thinking maybe sales, “Hey, I’ve made these sales calls.” Maybe writing, “I’ve cranked out these blogposts or these pages or this word count.” And so, I’m wondering about what if things are a little fuzzy? Like, let’s say I want to learn a skill. I have a goal, let’s say, to be a great presenter. I want to be confident and dynamic and inspiring. I guess that’s a little fuzzier in terms of, “Oh, how do I measure my speaking quality?” I guess I’d get a panel of judges in recurring intervals. What do I do?

Jeff Haden
It’s a good question, but I think you can still quantify that to some degree because the outcome, first of all, your goal is a little fuzzy, which is why that seems to be hard. Maybe your goal is instead of it being, “I want to be a great confident speaker,” maybe your goal is, “I want to do a TEDx,” for instance. All right, that’s a little more quantifiable but it carries with it the same qualities that you’re looking for if you just want to be a better speaker.

So, maybe you shift your goal into something that is more quantifiable. But then the rest of it, you can make it kind of numbers-based. You can say, “Okay, I’m going to create five different presentations. I’m going to rehearse them X number of times.” And you build a process that makes you better, that helps you gain the confidence, or you say, “I’m going to work my way up through the ranks of any local organization that will have me,” to, “Hey, I finally got a paid gig,” or whatever. So, you have to find some kind of quantifiable measures of success.

That’s like people that say, “I want to get in better shape.” What does that mean? That’s an admirable goal but it doesn’t mean anything. How do you figure out when you’ve gotten there and what it means to you? And so, therefore, how do you create a process that gets you there when you don’t even know what it means. Or, “I’d like to lose a little weight.” Well, okay, “I’d like to lose 10 pounds” is a little easier to work at because you have a process that you can create to get there.

So, I’ve gone all the way around the barn with my answer but, first of all, your goal needs to be sharper and a little more quantifiable, and then you can create a process and have milestones that actually tell you whether you’re getting there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. And so, some of those milestones can just be a matter of output, like, “Hey, I did these things. I said these are the five books, and I read the five books. I did 12 reps of different speeches, videotaping and reviewing of them, and I did the videotape and the review of them.” So, someone is just like, “I did the work and I feel great about that.” Or maybe you could say, “Hey, boss, this is something I’m working on. Can we get some video of before and after? And I’d like for you to tell me this is night and day better for these five reasons,” and that’s success.

Jeff Haden
And here’s another example. Like, say your goal is to be a better leader. All right. Well, that’s a pretty fuzzy one, too, but you can quantify that in different ways. You can say, “Okay, I want to be the leader that gets the most people promoted out of everyone else at my level.” That means you’re a good developer, that you’re putting people in great spots, you’re showing that they succeed, you’re giving them praise and recognition, you’re doing all those things. Or it could be numbers-based in terms of productivity or quality or whatever else it might be. So, you can find anything that seems fuzzy and you could put some quantifiable stuff around it. And then that gives you a structure where you’re actually working at the things that will make you that better leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I dig that. And I guess I was being a little facetious earlier when I talked about, “Convene a panel of judges.” But I remember back when I was doing more keynotes on college campuses, I would have everyone fill out a little bit of an accountability form, like, “Hey, Pete, hold me accountable to doing this one thing.” So, I’d give them a follow-up email. And it’s like, “Hey, by the way, score me zero to five in how effective this was.” And I could actually see, hey, what percentage gave me the five. And then I’d also use similar language to, I guess I’m a little competitive, to what an organization that had many speakers to college students was using for their program evaluations, it’s like, “Oh, I could see what dozens of speakers got,” and I’m using the same question so I could compare against them, and then over time. And, sure enough, it was motivating.

Jeff Haden
I’ve done the same thing. Like, if I’m speaking at conferences, and I think this is a cute little tip that applies to just about anything. I can’t be the best speaker in the world, I don’t believe. But, going into a conference, I can try to be the best speaker that was there. I can be the one that people remember the most, or they got the most out of my presentation. Whatever it may be, I can try to “win” that event.

And so, if you approach it that way, now you have a goal. You can look at what other people are doing, you can decide how you’re going to stand out, you can make sure that you actually are speaking to what the audience needs and will benefit from. You could do all that kind of stuff. And you can apply that to your job. You can say, “All right. I’m not CEO yet but I can be the best supervisor in my department, and I can stand out there. And then when I get promoted, okay, now I’m going to be the best at this.” And it doesn’t make you competitive in a bad way. It just makes you evaluate yourself against other people and see where you fall short and see where you can do better. And that gives you something to tangibly do in order to improve your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re spending a lot of time here but it’s time well-spent because just the feeling…

Jeff Haden
I’m long-winded. I’m sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
No, no, I’m saying I feel the difference as I’m imagining these goals in their fuzzy form versus their precise form, like get in better shape, or run more, is a lot different than, “Complete 26.2 miles.” And, likewise, “I want to give a great speech” is different than, “I want to receive the highest evaluations at this event or the highest ever evaluations I personally received are higher than I did last year at the event,” like kind of whatever. Like, it gets real sharp and clear, it’s like, “Oh, shoot. Well, then if I want to pull that off, well, then I’d better get a really clear understanding of this audience and their needs. Just doing something off the shelf probably ain’t going to cut it.”

Jeff Haden
And it allows you to make the most important comparison of all which is not to other people but to yourself and what you were doing yesterday, and how you can be today and tomorrow, because it brings that focus back to, “What do I need to do in order to get to this place that I want to be?” as opposed to, “Well, I’m doing better than he is so I must be winning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I have so many things I wrote down so it might be a little bit jumpy.

Jeff Haden
That’s all right.

Pete Mockaitis
But here we’re going to go. You say there is a question that provides nearly every answer. What is this question, Jeff?

Jeff Haden
There can be one question that you ask yourself that will answer most of your questions, or that will help you make most decisions. It comes from Herb Kelleher, the passed-away CEO of Southwest Airlines. So, he framed every question that employees ask him because he’s thinking about the amount of decisions he had to make in a day. It was probably a zillion. So, he framed it with, “Will this make Southwest Airlines the lowest-cost provider?” If it would, great. It’s something worth exploring. If it wouldn’t, even if it was a seemingly great idea that might be fun, it would take them off in some other direction that didn’t drive towards whatever it is they were trying to achieve, and he could say no.

So, you can make your own one question for whatever it might be. If you want to be a better leader and you see an interpersonal issue between two of your employees, you ask yourself one question, “Would a great leader ignore this? Nah, you would probably step in.” So, you can frame everything you do as a boss through, “Would a great leader allow this? Would a great leader do this?” So, you can do that with anything. If you’re trying to lose weight, “Does a person trying to lose 10 pounds have two pieces of cake after dinner? Yeah, probably not.” “Does a person who wants to be better in band not put in the effort in order to play better?” That’s a dumb example but I was trying to harken back to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jeff Haden
But you can create your one question and it allows you to make a whole lot of decisions based on, “That’s my goal.” So, if you know your goal then you can allow that to inform the decisions you make, and then you don’t have to have this negotiation with yourself, like, “Oh, but I could have that piece of cake because tomorrow I’ll work out twice as long and I’ll burn the calories off.” Well, you never do. We never win those negotiations. But if you just say, “Hey, that’s not what I do, that’s not my goal, that’s not part of my thing,” it’s an easy decision to make. And in fact, it isn’t a choice at all, because it’s who you are, not what you have decided in that moment. If you can adapt to the identity, then everything is easy.

Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

Jeff Haden
Okay. Do you wake up every day and think, “Hmm, I really need to be a good parent today”? No, you don’t. That’s not a decision. You’re a good parent. You try to be a good parent. That is who you are. You don’t have to make that decision. I know sometimes it’s hard. I’ve got four kids, I understand. But that’s part of your identity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, that is intriguing is that I put forth plenty of effort towards that end, and I have never asked myself that question. I’ve had self-doubt, like, “Am I really a good dad?”

Jeff Haden
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“What do I need to do differently?”

Jeff Haden
And that’s a tough one so let’s use that differently. Let’s say that I know there’s a moment. We used the marathon example. For a while, if you’re training for a marathon and you haven’t run before, you see yourself as a person who has to go out and run. But, at some point, if you do it long enough and it becomes part of your daily routine and what you do, you see yourself as a runner. And when that’s part of your identity, no longer is it hard to go out for your run because that’s just what you do. It’s not hard for you to take care of your kids because that’s just what you do. It’s not a decision you have to make every time.

If you’ve worked at doing the right things as a leader, you don’t have to sit there and ask yourself a question about, “What is the right thing to do in this situation?” because you’re a leader, and you’re going to do what you need to do because that’s who you are. So, if you stick with something long enough, and it becomes part of your identity, it’s a really easy path to follow.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, while we talk about identity, I’m curious about where do you come out in the world of discipline, willpower, habits? What do you think about that stuff?

Jeff Haden
I think you can develop greater willpower. I think you can develop greater discipline. I think habits are easy to lose and really hard to create, and once you’ve fallen off of a habit wagon, it’s really hard to get back on. But I think the better approach is to find ways so that willpower is not required. So, like to start my day, I work from home and always have, or I have for about 20 years, so I get up, I brush my teeth. This is more information than you need. But I get up, I brush my teeth, I go downstairs, I sit down, I’ve already laid all my stuff for whatever the most important thing is I have to do that day. I did that last night. I have a bottle of water and a protein bar sitting there, and I start work. And I start work on whatever is the hardest or the most important thing.

That’s just what I do, and I’ve greased the skids, so to speak, so that it is easy as possible for me to sit down and get started, so I really don’t have to have any willpower because I’m not making any decisions. I’m just walking down, sitting down, opening up, eat while I go, it’s all good. If I eased into my day, checked some email, looked around some news, did a couple of goofy things, at some point I have to make that decision to flip the switch, and then I need some willpower in order to get going.

But if you do some kind of environmental architecture, so to speak, then you don’t need willpower. If you’re trying to drink less soda and more water, if you keep three or four bottles of water on your desk, and the soda is two rooms away, what are you going to drink? You don’t have to make a choice because the water is there and you reach for it. So, I think you can develop more willpower but it’s a lot easier if you find ways to make it so that the willpower isn’t required in the first place. And that is not as hard as it sounds like it should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Those simple environmental shifts will go a long way. Cool. I got you.

Jeff Haden
What’s that cheesy thing about if you eat on smaller plates, you’d think you’ve eaten more food? It does work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I think that some portion control…

Jeff Haden
There’s all kinds of stuff like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Like, if I’m drinking wine, talk about drinking, if I’m drinking wine directly out of the bottle…

Jeff Haden
Oh, yeah, you’re hammering.

Pete Mockaitis
It goes way faster than if I pour it into a glass first.

Jeff Haden
Yup. And if you do short pours every time, you’ll probably drink less. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

Jeff Haden
Yeah. That’s not really on topic, but still.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think, I mean, you can talk about your portion in any number of ways, whether it’s what’s on your to-do list or your food and drink, that’s either that you’re trying to eat more of or less of, that’s great.

Jeff Haden
But I do have one tip, if you don’t mind, about increasing your willpower. We all have these limits that we’ve created for ourselves, and it’s mostly out of habit where if you’re used to working eight hours, then into that ninth hour feels hard. So, an easy way to kind of reset your limits is not to try to go, “All right. Today, I’m going to do eight and a half.” But do something wildly past whatever your normal limit is, and it will allow you to reset.

So, I like to ride bikes, and so if I’m averaging 30-mile bike rides, if I, one day, just say, “You know what, I’m going to do a double. I’ll go 60,” then when you ride a 30 the next time, it seems really easy because, in your mind, you’ve done the 60 recently. So, a cool way to develop more willpower is to go way over the top of whatever it is you’re doing. You don’t want to do it every time because you’ll burn out pretty quickly. But that will reset what you think your internal limit is and it will take you a little farther. And maybe that’s doing something faster, not necessarily longer. It could be all kinds of shifts.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and that’s actually kind of exciting too when you’re in the midst of it. I remember one, there were a couple of times I did 10, 11 hours of coaching sessions in a day. That’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Jeff Haden
Ooh, that’s a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
And, sure enough, it made it seem easy when there’s a moderate four, five, six, seven hours of coaching in a day. And so, it’s been a while since I’ve done that, such that now it would seem very hard. But I remember, on those days it was exciting because it’s sort of like, “Oh, boy, we’re breaking a record.” It’s like, “Ooh, can I do it? Can I do it? Play the inspiring music. Do a little energizer dance.” It’s sort of like I had to dig deeper to just figure out how the heck to stay sane and focused and present and energized.

Jeff Haden
And the other funny thing about that was probably the first six or seven hours didn’t seem long at all because, in your mind, you knew you had a long way to go so you forgot about the whole, “Ooh, I’m already two-thirds away through my day. I can’t wait for the eight hours to be over,” or whatever it is. You’re just in it. You’ve settled in, you’ve found your Zen place kind of, and you’re just in it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a term, an extreme productivity day, EPD. Is this sort of what we’re talking about? Is that a different concept for you?

Jeff Haden
No, it’s kind of the same thing where you say, “All right. I’ve got this task and it’s going to take me longer than some block of time I would usually associate with it but I really want to get it done.” So, let’s say you think it will take you 12 hours, and you just say, “You know what, I’m going to give it everything towards that, and that is going to be my day, whatever day it is,” and you prep yourself for it, and you set some things in place, and you let people know you can’t be disturbed, and there’s a lot of tips that I have with that.

But, basically, what you’re doing is you’re saying, “For this one day, I am going to knock this thing out,” and you create little breaks for yourself, and you make sure you’re hydrated, and you make sure you get snacks along the way, and all those other things. But the idea is that every once in a while, you take something that has been kind of nagging at you, you haven’t been able to get done, and you just say, “For this day, that’s what I’m going to finish.” And it feels awesome when you’re done, and that also ratchets up your productivity expectations because you realize that if you put your mind to it, you can, which sound like a little Tony Robbins, yes, it will, but that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it just has all sorts of follow-on effects in terms of you feel great about just your self-confidence and ability to rock and roll. Well, awesome. Jeff, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about motivation before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jeff Haden
No, let’s go. Let’s do some quick ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear about your favorite quote.

Jeff Haden
So, my favorite is from Jimmy Spithill. He was America’s Cup-winning skipper some years ago, Team Oracle, I believe it was. And his quote is, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” And I like that because I’m not as smart as most people, I’m not as talented as most people, I’m not as connected, all those other things, but if I want a competitive advantage, I can always try to outwork you.

Pete Mockaitis
What I also like is that it’s rarely, it’s like occasionally in workaholic burnout situations that is the better move. But rarely.

Jeff Haden
Yup, exactly. So, that’s the quote I like.

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

Jeff Haden
One of my favorites is, it’s kind of hard to describe, but if I was going to sum it up, it’s that if you talk about your intention, let’s say you’ve decided you’re going to do something, and you talk about it to other people, you are significantly less likely to actually accomplish what it is you say that you are going to do. And I have a quote that I wrote down, it’s from this researcher, “When other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention,” it sounds like a researcher wrote it, “this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity.” So, if I say that I’m going to run a marathon, and you and I are talking about it…

Pete Mockaitis
Good for you, Jeff. You’re amazing. Wow.

Jeff Haden
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so great, Jeff.

Jeff Haden
Inside, I feel like I have already done it. And so, therefore, I’ve gotten some of the mental kick out of it, and I’m much less likely to do it. So, if you feel like you need some people to hold you accountable, like you need an accountability buddy, or you want the peer pressure to keep you on your task, don’t talk about the goal other than just very briefly. Talk about the process you’re going to follow and have them hold you to that. So, instead of, “Hey, how’s it going towards your marathon?” It should be, “Hey, you said you were going to run three times this week. Did you?” And hold me accountable to my process because process is going to get you there. Goal isn’t going to get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jeff Haden
I’m going to go with two. One is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s about probably six or eight years old but I really like it, and if, for no other reason, then it kind of helped inform some of the stuff that I wrote about where it’s all about process and identity and you can learn to find passions through doing things as opposed to having to discover them. And the other one is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Do you watch Billions, the Showtime show?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, not yet. It keeps coming up more and more. I’m going to have to take a peek.

Jeff Haden
You should. I don’t love this season as much but the first three especially are really good. But, anyway, one of the characters on there actually was reading that book last night, and I emailed Daniel, and said, “Hey, did you know that was coming?” And he said, “No, but it’s really cool.”

Pete Mockaitis
It reminds me, we had Kim Scott who wrote Radical Candor on the show, and then I was watching Silicon Valley, and they kept referencing it, it’s like, “Ah, what’s Kim have to say?” And so, I went on Twitter, so that’s a fun moment.

Jeff Haden
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
When us semi-famous people have moments of TV-style fame.

Jeff Haden
Yup, it is always fun to see. It is always fun to see people you know, or have talked to, or somehow have some sort of small relationship with, out there somewhere, and you go, “Oh, that’s really cool.” I don’t know. It’s like you lived through them a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Jeff Haden
I already talked about that. That’s to start my day with the most important thing that I need to do and prep for it the night before because all the decisions are gone. And the cool thing about that is when you get it done, instead of saying, “Wow, I’m finished,” and you’ve lost motivation. You’ve actually gained it because you knocked off that tough thing and it creates momentum that takes you into the rest of your stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote it back to you frequently?

Jeff Haden
Quoted back to me? No, but I have something that I just read recently that I really like. It’s called The Ben Franklin Effect. And so, the idea is that if you think someone doesn’t like you particularly well, and you’d like to kind of bridge that relationship or make it better, ask them to do you a favor. And, typically, they will find that they like you better, which sounds totally counterintuitive. Psychologists say it’s because there’s cognitive dissonance involved which means that you couldn’t have done me a favor if you didn’t like me, so somehow you reconciled that in your mind.

I think it’s because when you help someone, and they appreciate it, you feel better, and you like that. We always like to help people and be appreciated, and that makes us like people more. But either way, if you have somebody you don’t think you’re getting along with very well, oddly enough, ask them to do you a favor, then thank them profusely and they will probably end up liking you better.
So, that means if you ask me for a favor, then I’ll know that there’s a problem with our relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
No. Well, I feel like it’s a favor that you’re on the show, and maybe you feel like I’m doing you a favor because exposure and platform…

Jeff Haden
Maybe it’s mutually beneficial.

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, I write for Inc. Magazine, so if you go to Inc.com I’ve got several thousand articles there. Probably I’m a LinkedIn influencer, which is the only time I’ll ever be on a list with Richard Branson and Bill Gates and those folks. And so, I do accept connection requests. I wouldn’t appreciate it if you say you want to connect, and then the very next thing you say to me is, “Would you buy this from me?” then that’s not really my favorite thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I agree.

Jeff Haden
That’s not my favorite thing but, nonetheless, I do connect with people, and I will certainly talk to them there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, tell me, any final challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jeff Haden
I guess I would go back to what I said earlier where whatever you are doing, try to find some slice of that that you can be the best at. Say you’re going to a meeting, you don’t necessarily have to “win the meeting,” but maybe you can be the most prepared, or maybe you can be the one with the most research to your disposal, or maybe you can be the one that helps kind of keep the conversation on track or whatever it is. Find some way to be the best person at something at whatever it is you are doing and that habit will lead you to a lot of success.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And sometimes you can just be the person who seems the most engaged and listening in a meeting, like that gives a great energy in terms of you’re not checked out on your phone

Jeff Haden
It also makes you feel better about yourself. I ride bikes a lot and I have people that I’ll ride with sometimes that are professional cyclists, which means that I’m in a world of hurt for the whole time and sometimes can’t keep up, and so I know that I can’t do the most pulls from the front. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do, but I can be the guy who always has a couple of spare tubes, a couple of CO2 cartridges in case somebody has a flat. I’ve got a couple extra bottles of water, so I can be the little Sherpa of sorts on the group ride, and I can do that. And that makes me feel better about the fact I’m there. It gives me a little sense of belonging in that way and actually makes it a little bit more fun, so I get to be that guy. So, I’m winning that one small thing, but when you do that, you feel a little better about yourself. And ain’t that what we’re all looking for?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, absolutely, and it’s great for your own confidence. Once again, I’m going back to the college keynoting stuff. It’s like, maybe this event has a lot of topnotch speakers or super famous heads of state, whatever, speak at that school, and I think, “I might not be the greatest speaker that you see this year, the most famous or inspiring. But, by golly, I am the most equipped to resolve tech headaches. I got every adapter you could conceive of, and some cables, and some transmit…”

Jeff Haden
I’m going to be the AV guy’s best friend.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, the AV guys are like, “Do you have the adapter?” “I got every adapter.”

Jeff Haden
Yeah, and I look at that, sometimes I’ll be invited to things or…and I just say, “You know what, I’m going to be the lowest maintenance person they have ever worked with. I’m going to be the least needy, the least babysat, the least whatever, the most accommodating, that’s going to be me. And even if I’m not perfect at everything else, that I can do.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. So, it’s affirmative somewhere, gets you the confidence and the feel good and momentum. Love it.

Jeff Haden
Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jeff, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and motivation in all your adventures.

Jeff Haden
Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for doing it. Thanks for your prep. It was really fun.

562: How to Get More Done by Working Less with Alex Pang

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Alex Pang says: "It is possible to rethink and redesign everything about how we work."

Alex Pang discusses how to significantly boost your productivity while working fewer hours.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How working fewer hours greatly increases productivity
  2. Small productivity hacks that save a massive amount of time
  3. When you should and shouldn’t multitask

About Alex:

Alex Pang is the founder of Strategy and Rest, a consultancy devoted to helping companies and individuals harness the power of rest to shorten workdays, while staying focused and productive. He is the author of 4 books and have been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the New Yorker.

Pang is also an international speaker and has led workshops across the globe on the future of work and how deliberate rest makes creative careers more productive and sustainable. He received his B.A. and Ph.D in History of Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Pang Interview Transcript

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Oh, thanks very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about working less and shorter and resting effectively, and so I’ll mention right up front that I found it more difficult to rest when there’s all this chaotic pandemic news around me. How are you finding rest during this time?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
I think it’s a challenge for everybody. I do an awful lot of work from home and work remotely anyway, so for me the biggest disruption is not being able to travel, but someone who mainly writes books for a living, kind of shelters in place anyway. So, I am fortunate to be less disrupted than many people I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well and that’s working out. I want to hear about your latest book Shorter. You’ve written a few. So, tell me, what made you think that the world needed you to craft this one?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, Shorter is essentially a sequel to my previous book Rest which was about the hidden role of rest in the lives of really creative and prolific people. And when I was promoting that book, I got a lot of questions along the lines of, “Okay, this all sounds great in theory, but if you’re a single mom or a working professional, how do you make the case to your boss or your clients that you should rest more?”

And so, I started looking for organizations that had figured out how to do this, and fairly quickly stumbled on these companies that had moved to 4-day workweeks or 6-hour days that not only were recognizing the importance of rest for creative work, for doing good work, but also were changing how they worked, redesigning their work days in order to make it available to everybody without cutting salaries and without hurting their productivity or their profitability.

And so, the fact that I was seeing these companies all over the world in a variety of industries, often in industries where overwork is the norm, like software, advertising, call centers, restaurants, made me think these are actually doing something really significant that was worth sharing with the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. I’ll tell you I was a fan of all the line graphs in your book. I’m a sucker for real numbers. So, could you share with us a couple of the most striking pieces of research, whether it’s a case study or two, or more of a global kind of survey, that really makes a compelling case that, in fact, if you’re working a shorter amount of time, you can see the same or better results?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Well, in organizations that have done this, what I am seeing is that if they are thoughtful about how they redesign their work days, if they explain it well to clients, if they use technology well, they’re able, actually, to not just maintain the same levels of productivity or profitability, but often increase them. So, for example, there’s a call center in Glasgow, Scotland, and Glasgow turns out to be like the call center of Europe, there are lots of these companies up there called Pursuit Marketing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the Scottish accents or…

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Exactly, yeah. Oh, yeah. And a couple of years ago, they made the move to a 4-day workweek, and they found that, after they did this, their productivity went up something like 40%, dropped down a little bit, and then settled down at about 30% higher than normal. So, even though they were working 4-day weeks, they were doing more business, generating more revenue for their clients than they had been when they were working 5-day weeks.

And they, not surprisingly, were also more profitable as a result, and they saw absenteeism and turnover dropped really substantially. This is an industry where people do an awful lot of job-hopping, you’re constantly attracted to the next job by a new set of potential performance bonuses and other incentives, so people generally move quite a bit. But after they moved to a 4-day week, attrition dropped to single-digit percentages which is absolutely unheard of.

Pete Mockaitis
Annually.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, annually.

Pete Mockaitis
In call centers that is striking.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Which is unheard of in the industry. So, that’s one. And this is also an industry where you measure absolutely everything, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Average Handle Time, First-Call Resolution, da, da, da.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Precisely. And so, they had really good numbers that illustrated that even in an industry where having constant contact with prospective customers, being on the phone a lot, where those kinds of things really matter, where you would not think necessarily that shortening working hours could deliver results, even in those kinds of industries, this turns out to pay off.

And this is a story that I saw over and over again, right? Places that whether it is very topline numbers, like just revenues and profitability, or whether it is the results of weekly surveys either internally with employees or externally with clients, or in terms of things like industry prizes and awards given. When done well, basically, all of those numbers, over time, go up into the right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s striking. And so, I think you said if we started with a 40% productivity boost, then we hit a 30%. Now, let’s clarify a couple of these. I guess if you’re reducing hours by 20%, five to four days, and you’re getting a productivity boost of 30%, you’re actually producing more in four days than you are in five.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you see folks take like five 8-hour days and turn it into four 10-hour days, or is it just, no, four 8-hour days?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Sure. There certainly are companies that convert to four 10-hour days including some fairly big ones now offer that option, especially in Japan. So, 7-Eleven does this and a number of other large companies. But what I was particularly interested in were companies that were shortening the total number of hours that people were working.

Generally, this means going from 40 hours to 32 or 30. So, doing four 8-hour days or five 6-hours. In the restaurant industry, because people are often working 12- or 13-hour days, to go to a 4-day week means you’re going to 48 hours, but still, even there, you’re going from like 60 or 70 hours down to something substantially lower.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, really, what I was interested in for this book was absolute change in working hours as opposed to just taking 40 hours and moving them around differently on the calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
And this is intriguing. Well, I’ve got my own theories but I want to hear yours, you’re the expert. What’s your hot take there on the mechanisms by which less time yields greater results? Is it they’re more rejuvenated so they have more creative ideas to solve the customer caller’s problem? Is it fewer silly mistakes that cause…? Like, what are the sources of productivity gains from working less?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Very broadly speaking, having more time for recovery means that you have more energy on the job, and that matters whether you’re in a creative industry, or you’re a maître d’, or you’re working in a call center. The second thing is that, in knowledge work, in office work, there are estimates that through multitasking, poorly-run meetings, interruptions, we lose an average of about two hours a day of productive time.

And so, if you can eliminate that stuff and get that time back, you go a long way to being able to do five days’ worth of work in four days. And what the companies that I’ve seen do, essentially, is figure out ways to get those two hours back. So, the second part, the redesigning your work day to use your time more effectively, gives you the fundamental ability to fit five days’ worth of work into four. And then, I think, having the extra time to cultivate other hobbies, to rest and relax, to deal with life admin, that gives you an additional boost that accounts for that increase in productivity or creativity on top of the 20% that you need to make up for working fewer hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, I’d love to dig into some of the how-to here even for individuals or teams. Like, I’m running all these, we’ll have the ability to persuade the top decision-maker at the organization that this is what we want to do. But I’m sure there are some leeway to be done here and there, particularly when more people are working from home right now. So, how do we go make it happen?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, the first thing that almost everybody does is dramatically shorten meetings, eliminate the standing Monday morning hour-long meeting, take the traditional meetings and make them half as long or less. Our calendar programs kind of default to running meetings for an hour which means that people tend to drift in, things start a little bit late, you check your email, you chat a little bit, then you do some business, and then maybe you pad out the time at the end by talking about what you did on the weekend, etc. By making meetings much sharper, more pointed, often smaller, having agendas and decisions that need to be made, and then focusing on those and then getting out of there, you can save an organization an amazing amount of time.

The next thing is getting technology distractions under control. So, implementing norms where you have email checks at particular times a day, you’re more thoughtful about how you use tools like Slack and other messaging programs, can go a long way to eliminating the kind of everyday state of what Microsoft executive, Linda Stone, called continuous partial attention, that state where you’re kind of focused on one thing but you’ve also got an eye on your inbox and you kind of toggle between different activities or different things that capture your attention. That feels like a very productive way to work but every study indicates that, actually, it’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
I might just sort of linger there for a moment. I think that’s critical. It feels productive so we do it and it feels good to do it but, in fact, if you actually took a look at your output, your outcomes generated, it’s lower. And I think that’s fascinating stuff. Do you have some insight into, like, the biochemistry? I’ve heard that we get a little bit of a dopamine hit in terms of, “Hey, there was an email, and now it’s gone. That’s done. I’ve done something. It might be tiny but it’s done. Ooh, and I did a lot of tiny things, therefore, I did a lot, or I feel I did a lot,” but, really, it’s like, “Hey, those 20 inconsequential emails versus that one meaty piece of thought that will generate thousands of dollars, they’re not at all equal in terms of their value.”

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
No, they’re not. Definitely not. And it is certainly the case that, as creatures who often seek novelty, and especially those of us who are in creative industries, tend to…we are a little more likely to like new stuff, to like stimulation, than sometimes people who are happy in other kinds of businesses. We have something of a bias toward this. But it’s also the case that there’s a real difference between the kind, in productive terms, between the kind of sort of multitasking where you’re juggling several different things that all aim at the same endpoint.

So, when you’re giving a talk, for example, you’re managing your slides, you’ve got the points you’re trying to make, you’re reading the room, you’re interacting with people, there’s actually an awful lot of different cognitive strains that are happening at once. But because all of them go to making a good performance, helping an audience understand some new thing, helping them solve a problem, it doesn’t feel like the kind of cognitive overload that trying to simultaneously be on a conference call and look at a spreadsheet about an unrelated thing incurs.

The problem is that, through a combination of organizational habit, through the fact that for most of human history, we haven’t had a lot of opportunity to do that second sort of multitasking, to look at multiple screens at once, we’re not yet very well-tuned to recognizing the difference between that really  productive, engaging kind of multitasking that involves multiple channels that all build to the same goal, and this other kind that feels productive, but which is actually a lot harder for us to manage and gives us the feeling of engagement and the feeling of productivity without very much productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is just a heck of a distinction because I’m thinking about times in which I’ve sort of been in charge of an event, like I’m pulled in very many directions kind of all at once, like, “Oh, the food is here, the volunteers are there, and the attendees are there, and, ooh, here’s an unexpected issue.” And so, for me, it’s when I’m properly prepared, it’s exhilarating as opposed to anxiety-provoking. But it’s all geared toward making a great event, great experience for the people who are present, and that works.

Versus, it might give a similar sensation if I’m doing five completely different things but rapidly switching between them, but they don’t, actually, synergistically helping each other. It’s just sort of like, “Oh, I’m cleaning my Mac files in one place, and my emails in another place, and my voicemails in another place, and maybe I’m switching between all three because that can happen, but they’re not actually helping each other at all. I’m not learning one from one source. So, that’s a really powerful distinction, I think. Thank you.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
And, actually, companies that move to 4-day weeks are pretty explicit about recognizing that distinction. And one of the most important ways in which they express it is by redesigning their work day so that they carve and set aside times for what Cal Newport calls deep work, right? It’s a couple hours of the day, usually in the late morning, when you can be…you have permission to be a little antisocial, to not answer the phone, you’re expected not to ask people those one quick question that turns into a 10-minute conversation, but rather everyone has permission to focus on their most important or most challenging, tasks.

And so, by creating that time, and creating it for everybody, you make it easier for people to get into that state of concentration, that flow state, and to get substantial stuff done. So, I think that’s another really important thing that I see these companies doing. And then the fourth and final one is using technology to augment people’s abilities, right? You, essentially…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m a cyborg, if you will.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, you automate kind of ordinary stuff, or of less significant, less value-added tasks, but you use technology to augment people’s ability to do really significant creative tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
We have an example of that. So, I can think of all sorts of ways to automate. We had Wade Foster from Zapier on the show earlier, which is cool. I’m a big fan of outsourcing whether it’s through a personal assistant service or to some folks in developing countries where there are some…the dollar can go farther and provide a good living wage with fewer total dollars. But tell me about using technology to do the big hard stuff.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Sure. And there are plenty of these companies who do have relationships with virtual assistants in the Philippines or Malaysia or such, but a good example is an accounting company called Farnell Clarke based in the UK. Farnell Clarke does cloud-based accounting. An awful lot of the accounting industry is still working on pen and paper or on personal computers using software loaded up onto people’s machines.

What Farnell Clarke’s specialty for years had been using cloud-based services like, I think Xero is one of them, there are a couple others that own most of this market, and moving clients onto those systems to make basic things like quarterly reporting, tax filling, that sort of stuff easier. What they have also realized once they moved to a 4-day week was that automating all that stuff freed up a whole bunch of time for the accountants that they could now spend on stuff like financial consulting or providing financial services, keeping in touch with clients often through Skype, and Zoom, and other tools, with which we have all become intimately familiar in the last few weeks.

And between those two things and then also becoming familiar with other kinds of financial planning tools or research tools, making it possible for the company to go from just mainly doing tax preparation kinds of stuff, ordinary bookkeeping, to more labor-intensive or more creatively-intensive kinds of financial advisory work. And then there are other versions of this that you see with, let’s say, restaurants or garages where people are using fairly ordinary tools, sometimes in far more labor-intensive kinds of ways. But I think that the Farnell Clarke example is a nice illustration of how cloud-based tools can be used in this manner.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool to see sort of like the virtuous cycle effect there in terms of, “Hey, now that we’ve freed up some time, we could put some time into something that yields even more cool benefits.” So, that’s really cool. I’m curious, when folks are saying, “Alex, this is awesome. Yes, we’re going to go forth and do this,” what are some common mistakes or hiccups that folks run into that you can give a watch-out, a heads up, to?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Right. I think that the first thing is that I’ve never encountered a company that said, “We spent too much time planning this. We spent too much time thinking about what could go wrong,” or thinking through contingencies, doing scenarios. I think that the more you’re able to plan in advance the better, partly because you do actually come up with problems that you might not foresee, but also because giving everybody an opportunity to think this through is really important in building confidence that they can actually make it work.

I think another thing that has killed off experiments in a couple places was letting everybody choose their own day versus deciding, “Everybody is going to take these days off. So, the office is going to be closed on Fridays,” or, “Half the workforce is on from Monday to Thursday, the other half is Tuesday to Friday if the office needs to stay open five days a week.”

So, I think that recognizing that you have to design with your own culture in mind, and you want to make sure that you don’t disrupt that. And then, finally the other thing is that it’s really important to make the transition something that the employees themselves drive, right?

Every company has a leader at the top who, for various reasons, decides, “This is an experiment worth trying and a risk worth taking.” But the actual implementation is done by employees themselves. And they have to be able to conduct, to experiment with different ways of working, to try things out, to prototype, to rapidly iterate, and to also be sure that if this works out, that they’re going to keep the kind of benefits of the time saved by learning how to be more productive and how to use technology better.

The only other places where this experiment falls apart is where there’s a sense that, “We’re going to do all this stuff but, ultimately, and the company is going to get 20% more work out of us, but we’re going to go back to a traditional schedule.” So, I think that being very clear that everybody is going to benefit from these changes, is a really important thing to establish and to honor from the outset.

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, I think that the other critical thing is that everybody worries about how clients will react. And I was amazed to hear exactly one story of a prospective client who had objected to a company moving to a 4-day week. Clients, it turns out, are incredibly supportive of this partly because they have the same kinds of problems that companies moving into 4-day weeks do with work-life balance, with burnout, with recruitment and retention and sustainability.

So, I think that involving clients early on, making clear to them that this is what you’re trying to do, that you’re still available under emergencies, all of that is important, but you’ll also find kind of sometimes contrary to your initial expectations or worries that clients can be some of your biggest allies.

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
I often remember a line from Bertrand Russell from his essay about the uses of idleness, where he talks about how we could, by now, have a 4-hour work day. And he says that modern technology offers the prospect of convenience and ease for all, or a future that offers overwork for a few and idleness for many. And it feels to me like that he was really onto something there, that in a sense we have, for various reasons, chosen the second future, but it’s not too late to choose the first one.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Probably the book that has affected or changed my life more than any other in the last ten years has been Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, which is the classic study of flow states, what they are, why they’re important, and why they not only make us happy but are essential for living a good life. And I think that for those of us who really enjoy our work, who love nothing more than getting lost in an interesting problem, Csikszentmihalyi offers a great key for understanding what it is that is so rewarding about really interesting problems, about really good work, and a foundation for thinking about how we can build on that to make our lives better, not just to be more productive, not just to be more successful, but to become better people, and to have better, more sustainable lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. And I like that you pronounced his name perfectly.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Hey.

Pete Mockaitis
I had to look that up and practice it a few times because I name-drop his as well. It’s an excellent book. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Scrivener. It’s a kind of supercharged word processor that also has a bunch of organizational kind of outlining tools. I’ve written three books using Scrivener, and without it, I probably would’ve written like one and a half. It is for writers, what something like Lightroom is for photographers. It’s not simple and it’s got, definitely, a learning curve. But once you figure it out, you can’t live without it.

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, if you want to learn more, my company website is www.Strategy.rest. Rest is now a top-level domain, very happily for me. And then on Instagram, on Twitter, and pretty much everything else, I am @askpang. So, those are the best places to find me. And, of course, the books are available in fine bookstores, virtual and, one day, one hopes again, physical everywhere.

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
It is possible to rethink and redesign everything about how we work. And that even starting with small things, like changing how you run meetings, can have very big impacts over the long run. It can start teaching you how to improve things that you’ve kind of put up with for years, that everyone complains about but no one has figured out how to change. These things actually turn out to be changeable. They turn out to be fixable. And when we take a kind of more experimental, more skeptical approach to how we work, and we ask the question, “Why is it this way? Can it be different? And what can we do to figure out how to improve it?” it turns out you can do dramatic things that pay off both for your company and for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Alex, thank you. This has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways that you’re working shorter.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Oh, thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

561: The Ultimate Guide to Working Remotely with Lisette Sutherland

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Lisette Sutherland says: "When you're remote, you cannot be sloppy. You need these systems in place."

Lisette Sutherland shares expert tips and tricks for working from home masterfully.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The remote worker hierarchy of needs
  2. Smarter alternatives to online meetings
  3. Three tips for managing distractions while working remotely

About Lisette:

Lisette Sutherland is the director of Collaboration Superpowers, a company that helps people work together from anywhere through online and in-person workshops. She also produces a weekly podcast featuring interviews with remote working experts highlighting the challenges and successes of working with virtual teams. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Lisette Sutherland Interview Transcript

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

Lisette Sutherland
Thanks for having me. I’m really honored to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’re honored to have you. Remote work is a hot topic right about now, and you are quite the authority. I’ve been impressed at checking out all of your stuff, and you’ve got some cool stories about just what folks can achieve with remote work. And I’d love it if you could maybe open us up by sharing the tale about the hyperloop pod contest.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, I love that story. Yeah, it was random. My husband actually said, “You’ve got to check out what these guys are doing.” So, I invited them on the podcast, and it turns out that SpaceX started a competition for who could build a hyperloop or a hyper pod for the hyperloop, which is a superfast transportation system that can take a commute of 7 hours and squeeze it into 30 minutes. I mean, you’re basically getting shot through a gravity tube.

And I wouldn’t want to be the beta tester, right? That would be not the funnest. But, anyway, so it’s a superfast transportation system, and this one guy, Tom, put out on Reddit that he wanted to join the competition and asked if there was anybody else that would like to join him. And one year later, with a team of 400 remote volunteers from all over the world, they actually came in finalist in the competition, and they’re still doing stuff on it to this day. I mean, not the same people, of course, but the project continues, and they’re still working on the hyper pod.

So, it just showed to me that when people want to, at great distances and projects of great complexity, that we can do great things together if we just get the right people together, which is actually the origin of why I find remote work so exciting to begin with. It’s sort of this idea of like think of the things we could solve. I mean, with the current coronavirus, we’re right in the middle of it right now, with that, we’re going to need global solutions, global problem-solving, everybody working together on that, I think. So, for me, that’s what makes it so exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very cool. And so, yeah, 400 people just kind of random, like, “Yeah, I find this interesting. Let’s get after it.” And to be a finalist amongst, I imagine, I don’t know the economics of this whole project or contest, but I imagine, again, some pros who like this is their company and this is their business, and transportation is their thing, and they want to a piece of the action.

Lisette Sutherland
For sure. Like, universities have been competing, and, yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. That is cool. So, well, boy, you’ve been studying remote work for quite a long time, and were remote working before many of us knew that you could.

Lisette Sutherland
Before it was cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, well, maybe you could open us up by sharing, have there been a couple of sort of fascinating or surprising discoveries you’ve made that would be useful for us to know?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, for one, most people when they think of remote working, you get this image of somebody laying on the beach, right? You’re going to see it, like a beach with a laptop and an umbrella drink or with an umbrella over you. And I think that a lot of people are discovering that that is not what remote working is all about. And if anybody has ever tried working from the beach, you would know that that is a ridiculous idea because sun on the laptop, and sand on the laptop, I mean, it’s complete…it’s hot, like the laptop is hot on your lap, so it is totally not the right atmosphere for working, like doing any real serious work. So, I always laugh at those stock photos.

But what has been surprising for me is how reluctant people are to try new things. I mean, it goes for me too. I get stuck in my own rut so I’m not on a high horse here, that’s for sure. But how reluctant we all are to try new things, and how, you know, I’ve been telling people for years and years, not that everyone listens to me, but I’ve been saying for years and years, “Regardless of whether you’re allow people to go remote, you should have the processes in place in order to support that in case something happens.”

And in the past, that “in case,” so that something would’ve been sick kids at home, or transportation strike, or bad weather, or the plumber that comes between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., it never occurred  to me that it would be like a global pandemic virus, of course, so it was like an extreme situation. But it does surprise me now how much people are struggling with some of the basic things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a good opening. So, what are some of the basic things that we just got to get handled?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I would say the first thing is infrastructure. So, many people are not used to using video in the video conferencing, although that is changing quickly. And I always tell people, like, that is really important if you’re on a team where camaraderie and trust and team building is really important. There are some teams out there where that’s not super important, and so, in that case, video may not be useful. But for the majority of teams, if you’re not feeling connected, it’s usually because you can’t see each

So, there’s infrastructure, so video, a decent headset, it doesn’t have to be the beautiful QC35 Bose . That was a gift from my rich sister. So, thank you, sis. But a reasonable headset. And then, I would say, one thing that I’m telling people right now is, given that we’ve been at home for like a week or two now for most people that have been trying this, or maybe three, and I would say it’s time to get comfortable knowing that this is going to be happening for the next four to 12 weeks. We don’t know.

So, there’s a lot of makeshift offices right now. And I would say, actually, given that it’s going to be this long, invest in a decent chair, or a sit-stand desk, or whatever it is that you need in order to be productive. Maybe it’s an extra monitor. But I think that most people don’t have the basic infrastructure in place to be able to do this well. And, fair enough, they’ve never had to do it before. It’s all been provided for at the office in most

And then the other thing that I really would highlight is that we need to learn how to design and deliver great online meetings. And the thing that I’m noticing right now is that people are in online video calls all day long. Like, we’ve gone remote and, all of a sudden, we’re just like on the phone all day. And my suggestion to people is, it’s not healthy, number one. So, one, we need to shorten our meetings and take more physical breaks in between meetings, like this back-to-back video meeting thing is not healthy. And the other is we need to start to go more asynchronous with our communications. It can’t just be all online together. There’s got to be more that we can pull out

So, I would say for people that are just starting out, it’s time to think about infrastructure, and then how to design these meetings because you can’t do back-to-back. I mean, you can but it’s not great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we talk about this, you named these infrastructure things that my mind is like firing off tools left and right. So, maybe we’ll just go buck-wild for a minute or two because this is a rabbit hole you could just sort of, “Oh, here are 60 apps that I love.”

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But while we’re on the topic, let’s hit a couple. For chairs, I tell you what, I think, I’ve mentioned it before, but the Autonomous ErgoChair II from Autonomous.ai, and we’ll put these in the show notes. I’ve been impressed at how many things you can adjust at a price that’s lower than Herman Miller at a comfort that’s approaching that. So, in terms of value and performance I think that’s pretty cool.

For headsets, I love the Sennheiser SC60s for audio quality. And for sit-stand desk, there’s a lot of good ones. I got the UPLIFT Desk. And I think infrastructure, you also talked about just internet speed. Do you have any figures there, like, “These many megabits per second is probably okay and this much is not”? Because I think a lot of people say, “Oh, sorry. Oh, oh, sorry. I’m kind of cutting out. Oop, oop.” And I think they don’t actually know how much is enough. So, can you lay that down for us?

Lisette Sutherland
At a very minimum, if you’re going to do video conferencing, at a minimum, you’re going to want at least 10-20 Megabits per second. At a

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Upstream and downstream?

Lisette Sutherland
I don’t actually remember which one is which, but I think it’s upstream. Yeah, at home I have 200 Megabits per second, it’s like superfast and it does everything. But, yeah, you want at least 10-20 Megabits per second, if not faster. But it is the foundational layer of the remote worker’s hierarchy of needs. Like, I’m sure everybody has seen the cartoon with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and like Wi-Fi is the bottom layer. But with remote working, that is so true because you need a reasonable amount of bandwidth in order to run some of these tools that make remote working a joy

So, like video conferencing or virtual offices, if you want to go way far out, you can start getting into virtual reality or things like that. But bandwidth is going…that’s not where you want to save your money. You want to invest in as fast as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is Speedtest.net where you like to go to double-check your speeds?

Lisette Sutherland
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, I did all the tool-dropping. Sorry to steal the fun. Lisette, please, are there some of your faves that you want to mention while we’re going for it here?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, so there’s pros and cons to all tools, and I would say I’m a total tool junkie. So, speaking of rabbit holes, I could go down this one forever. However, it’s not about the tool. It’s about the behavior that the tool enables. That’s what we’re going for. So, when you’re thinking about what the tool that you want to use, you have to think about, “Okay, what are we trying to accomplish? What is our objective here?” But I do have some

I mean, Zoom is my favorite video conferencing tool. I know it has security flaws.

However, the features that Zoom has that I think are just exceptional, and nobody else has them as good as Zoom has them, is breakout room functionality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisette Sutherland
So, the video quality is excellent, you’re not dependent on each other’s bandwidth, which is very common with other tools like Skype for Business. The lowest bandwidth actually affects everybody else on the call.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really?

Lisette Sutherland
That’s why it’s so bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Now I know.

Lisette Sutherland
That’s one of the reasons why that’s so bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I always kind of wondered. Zoom just kind of works better. I don’t know. Well, that’s probably why. Thank you.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, that’s part why for many. I’m a Skype for Business hater, by the way, so we won’t go down that route. But breakout rooms, so if you’re trying to make online meetings more engaging, or workshops, or anything more engaging, breakout rooms are the way to go. We do it in in-person workshops, we do it in in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions, so why wouldn’t we do it online? So, that’s the feature that I think makes Zoom like awesome. Plus, they have polling and whiteboards and some other fun things in

But some other fun tools that people wouldn’t know about, which I think would be more applicable for this podcast, are things like virtual offices. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an office that you go to online, and you’re looking at a floor plan, and on that floor plan you see these individual boxes and avatars. So, if you’re in that office, you can only see and hear the people that are in the same office as you, but you can double-click on another office and just pop yourself in, just like walking down the hall in a normal office building. You could just double-click, pop in, say hi, and then go back to your own

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. Is there a software website or platform I go to to get me a virtual office?

Lisette Sutherland
There are many. There’s like 25 different ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Okay.

Lisette Sutherland
My very favorite one is Sococo. That’s my very favorite. But there’s also Remo, Workabout Workplace. I mean, for every tool, there’s a million competitors. But I think they’re awesome because it creates a new kind of presence. And for people, when we’re online, we have all these meetings because we need to talk to each other, but you don’t want to just call because you don’t want to interrupt somebody. With a virtual office, you can see where people are, and see if they’re interruptible, and then go just like virtually knock on their door. So, these kinds of things, I think, are really changing the playing field in terms of what’s possible now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is really intriguing. And I hope there’s a virtual foosball table because that’s a lot of fun. Walk over to that and go poom, poom, poom.

Lisette Sutherland
You know, video games are the virtual foosball tables of today, right? And I encourage companies to actually put video games in their offices because that’s the modern-day version of the ping-pong table or foosball.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve recently been connecting with my buddy, Connor, in the pandemic by playing Fortnite, and it was just, I thought like, “Isn’t this for 12-year old boys?” He’s like, “Maybe but it’s so fun.” And so, I kind of got bit by the bug there. It really is fun.

Lisette Sutherland
I just bought myself an Oculus Quest.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Lisette Sutherland
I am amazed at how good it is. I did the ISS, the space station. You get to take a tour at the space station.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, also to your point about being asynchronous, boy, I love Loom myself, which is, if you’re not familiar, listeners, it’s a means by which I can record a video, a screen capture, of what I’m doing, so perfect for like constructions and processes and documents, like, “Hey, team, here’s how we’re going to do this thing. Here’s how you apply for this. Or, here’s how you vet a guest and determine if they’re worthy of an in-depth investigation, kind of whatever.”

And what’s cool about Loom, use Loom.com, is that it’s practically instantaneous in terms of click, it’s recording my screen, click, done, and like within seconds, here’s my link. And I found that impressive. So, Lisette, any other asynchronous tools that can be a really nice means of reducing the number of synchronous meetings?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I’m also a Loom fan. I use it with my assistants all the time because, yeah, it’s so great to show a video rather than type out email instructions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Instead of sending long emails, I might just say, “Hey, I made you a video response with Loom,” which is awesome.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah. And, actually, I think that that is, speaking of other asynchronous tools, people should be thinking more about instead of sending text messages, sending video messages with your screen, or showing something. But I guess, to get back to your question, the biggest tip I can give is if you’re still using email as your primary source of communication, you should be thinking about some sort of a group chat system, like Slack or Teams. I mean, there’s a million of them out there but Slack is probably the most popular at the

But companies that don’t have that yet, you don’t know how much pain you’re in. And, to be fair, I don’t think that these group instant messages systems they solve everything, but in terms of transparent and fast communication, if you’re using email for that, you can evolve and should evolve from there into some sort of a transparent platform.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit from tools now because we took the plunge and I think both of us can succumb to this. Well, so I’m curious about Slack and email in particular. In the realm of distractions, talking about that kind of ball of wax there, I find personally, because I’ve been remote working with my business for at least a decade here. But lately, in the particulars of the coronavirus pandemic, I find that I’m – obsessed might be a strong word – but I’m checking news frequently, more frequently than I need to or should or is advantageous for me.

And I think that that’s one source of distraction, is the pseudo-work work, “I need to be informed” you know? And another form of distraction could be maybe just too frequently checking out the Slack or the email because, yeah, you’re tired and that’s easy and you’re sort of curious, you want a novel stimulus. So, how do we slay that dragon?

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, this is a tough one. I think this is the thing that most people struggle with, and that’s boundaries, boundaries on our time and our attention. That is one of the lovely things about working in an office is that there is a very clear boundary on when work starts and when it ends. It’s pretty clear. And there’s a transition period of commuting in and commuting out of the office, so that’s also very clear. But when we’re like this and everything is freeform, we have to be self-disciplined and put boundaries in place for ourselves. And that is not to be underestimated in terms of its

I’m sure everybody, especially right now, back in the old days, I can’t believe I’m saying that, you used to get your newspaper once a day and that’s where you got your news. But, now, it’s like every time something happens, everybody is on it, like the whole world. You know everything happening wherever you want, anytime. You just have to find the right news source, right? And so, it’s really addicting, and especially when there’s something like this going on. It’s just like all-consuming.

So, in terms of distractions and notifications, one is you have got to get your own notifications under control for yourself, so whatever those rules are. For me I turn everything off. And then you’ve got a time box where you’re going to place your attention. So, for example, I allow myself to look at the news three times a day, like when I wake up because I can’t help. I want a cup of coffee and the news, that’s just what I want. After lunch, just as I transition into the afternoon, and then after dinner, just as a way to relax. And I feel like three times a day, if I can accomplish that, that’s pretty

But these boundaries, it’s super hard. And to make it more visceral for people, I usually use the analogy of weight loss. Like, we all know what the formula is for weight loss, right? Super easy. We move more and eat less. But if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that it’s not as simple as that formula, right? Like it is and it isn’t. It’s super hard to do. So, it’s the same with boundaries. Like, really easy to put boundaries in place, really hard to maintain them over long periods of

So, this is one of the great challenges. I think when you master this, you hit the golden ticket. But I haven’t mastered it myself. I’m constantly struggling with this, and always working

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it’s reassuring to hear that this is the golden ticket because that tends to be my own experience as well, is in the days that I’m successful at sort of having a plan, “Hey, during these times, this is what happens,” then things go excellently. And then when it gets all loosey-goosey, then it’s like, “Oh, today was kind of disappointing. I wanted to do five big, amazing, cool things, and I did two. Hmm, bummer.” So, yeah, I think that’s great. Time-boxing your attention, like, “These are the times that I will do this.” And so, you use news, but we could also say, “Check Slack messages, check email,” in those same ways. Well, with your many guests in your podcast or your own experience, have you encountered some best practices for sticking with those boundaries to getting the job done?

Lisette Sutherland
One of my favorites is from an academic life coach that I interviewed, Gretchen Wagner, and she teaches college students how to do study techniques. And what she said is, “Visualize your time.” So, we all know what we need to get done during the day, then put it on your calendar and visualize how much time each thing might take. So, like, “Okay, I’ve got to do finances today. I’m kind of estimating one and a half hours for email.” Actually, put it in your calendar as an event of like one and a half hour just so that you can manage your own expectations in terms of, because sometimes I have a list, and I’m like, “Oh, I could totally do that all in one day.” And then you get halfway through and it’s like, “I’m on crack. There’s no way you can do these all in one day. Had I visualized my time I might know that.” So, that would be

Another guy does a retrospective of his office once a year, who was Michael Sliwinski who does Nozbe. He also runs Productive! Magazine, that was a good interview actually. And he does a retrospective on his home office once a year, and he just goes through what’s working, what’s not working, and he just rearranges. And I think he said he takes everything out and then puts it all back in a new way or something. So, I was like, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea,” because I look around, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a few piles that there’s a few things that could be cleaned

The most common one, people use Pomodoro time technique, you know, 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, 25 minutes on, and then 10 minutes off. That’s my favorite. That’s one that I use because I’m not a morning person so I really need a rhythm to get going in the morning, otherwise I could just like sit at my desk and look at things for way too long. So, yeah, those are

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes. Well, that’s helpful. Thank you. I appreciate that. Well, maybe let’s shift gears a bit to, let’s call it management accountability, taking care of business. So, I think that for some people, working from home is like a joke that goes into scare quotes, like, “Ho, ho, what that really means is I’m doing almost nothing, and I’m occasionally checking my email.” So, we’ve talked about some ways to make that not the case with the infrastructure, with the boundaries. And so, I’m wondering, if you’re managing someone or collaborating with someone, then you really need them to handle their business. How do we do that well? You’re managing remotely versus being in person is a different game.

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, for sure. If you’re a micromanager, you’re going to hate remote working because you can’t, you simply can’t micromanage. There’s no way to do it. I’m sure you could put some sort of a monitoring system, keystroke, taking pictures of you in place, but I would never recommend that. I think it’s horrible. Nobody wants that. Think about yourself. Would you really want

What I would say. There’s three really important things. One is you want to set expectations so that everybody knows what success and failure look like. Remote working is results-oriented work. It’s not hours-based work. So, you want to set out what do you expect people to get accomplished and by when. And the more detailed you can be, the better it is,

Software, like agile software teams will use sprints of one or two weeks where they set out, they have a sprint-planning session, and they set out what they’re going to accomplish that week. And then at the end of the week, they have a demonstration of what they built, what they’ve done, and they do a retrospective over how it went, like what went well, what didn’t go well, how can they improve for the future. And then they set the next week’s sprint. So, that is a great way of doing results-based work and sort of taking small pieces as

So, really, setting expectations and what is the objective, and what are the results. And then get out of the way of your professionals as a leader. Like, you hired people because they’re supposed to have the ability to do a particular job. I think the role of the leader is to set the goal posts and then remove any impediment that might get in the way of that professional in getting to that goal post. So, that’s setting

Then number two would be creating a team agreement, so that is just outlining what are the best ways of working together. So, what kind of information do we need to share and where is it stored? Are there security protocols necessary to get to it? How are we going to communicate with each other? Which tools and what tools are you going to use for what? Are there expected response times, these kinds of things? And then collaboration, how do you know what each other are doing? And how are you giving each other

So, a standard team agreement, just setting out some basics. It doesn’t have to be a big rulebook but just setting out some basic guidelines and principles for how you’re going to work together so that you can avoid all the basic

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Lisette Sutherland
And then number three would be put feedback loops in place. These retrospectives that the agile software teams are awesome. I mean, it gives the team a chance to celebrate successes when they have them, it gives them a chance to blow steam when they need to blow steam, and it gives them also a chance to bring up little things that you might not bring up in the moment because it’s just too small, like talking about it might make it into a bigger thing than it is. But these retrospectives give you a space to just be like, “You know that thing you did last week? Like, totally annoying.” Sometimes you’ve got to just say that, you’ve got to just get it off your chest, otherwise it’ll explode in weird ways. So, I would say, as a manager, if you’ve got those things down, setting expectations, creating a team agreement, and putting feedback loops in place, you’re going to get

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so intriguing about that is that these practices would make all the difference for an in-person team as well.

Lisette Sutherland
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s easier for you to sort of lose track of what the heck is going on. And I think it just maybe, I thought to summarize, it’s just like the remote piece just makes it…it just sort of amplifies it all in terms of, like, you might notice that something is not working in person faster because you’re right there, as opposed to remotely, it’s like, you can maybe go weeks before you discover it’s not fine.

I also love that agile example. When you have to demonstrate the thing kind of publicly in a short timeframe, boy, there’s a boatload of accountability there in terms of so if you were goofing off and watching funny cat videos for the whole work day, you would either need to stay up late to get it done or embarrass yourself publicly, like, “Yeah, this doesn’t really work and I’m not done. Sorry, guys.” And then you’re like, “Note to self: Never do that again. That felt terrible.”

Lisette Sutherland
Right. Nobody wants to be in that position. So, yeah, you’re right. It amplifies the good and the bad. So, it’s going to amplify the George Costanzas on your team, you know, that are just always trying to get away with laziness, or it’s going to amplify, you know, if they’re rock stars, they’re going to be rock stars remote as well. But it’s going to amplify communication challenges. And I would say, when you’re in person, you can be sloppy about some of these things. And when you’re remote, you cannot be sloppy. You need these systems in place.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said. Then, at the same time though, remote does have really cool advantages. And I guess there’s a debate on whether you are more or less productive when remote. And you said your studies, your research reveals that most people would prefer, in their dreamworld, to have a combo of sometimes in the office with the colleagues and sometimes remote. So, I don’t want to use the word hacks, but what are the special opportunities that are possible when remote working that really boost productivity that we don’t have access to when we are obligated to go to an office?

For example, I was just chatting with some guys in my men’s group, and we said, “Hey, one thing that’s cool about remote work is that I can sort of rearrange my day how I want it. Like, I might take a shower at 10:00 a.m. after doing an hour, an hour and a half of work just because I’m having a sleepy lull time, and why not be under hot water because I’m not going to get much done at the computer, and then I’m rejuvenated from having had the shower to do another round of work.” So, I think that’s pretty cool. It’s not as easy to do in a workplace, “Hey, see you soon, boss. I’m going to take my 10:00 a.m. shower. Be right back.” Probably not as doable.

Lisette Sutherland
I mean, you could but nobody would do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lisette Sutherland
I think that’s the number one thing is, one, designing your lifestyle around, because I’m that person. I’m like I do my shower late, or I like to just get to work, and then a few hours later, I’m like, “Okay, I need a break.” And then I go running, and then take my shower, and then continue, so that’s totally me. But there’s also all kinds of things. Like, when I used to work in an office, it was always freezing cold in the office, like I was freezing. I had sweaters and all kinds of stuff. It’d be like superhot outside and I was in my sweater in the

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisette Sutherland
So, there’s temperature which is never good. There’s noise which you can’t control. I have a little candle that I burn on my desk, it’s like this cute little candle thing in here. And so, you couldn’t do that in an office. You’re not getting people burning candles at their desks. And, also, in between my virtual meetings, I like to do some jumping jacks, or squats, or just something that gets the blood

Pete Mockaitis
Or take a nap.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, I’m not a napper.

Pete Mockaitis
You dance.

Lisette Sutherland
I’ve never been a napper. Yeah, but you could dance. I’d dance for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
You could be ridiculous.

Lisette Sutherland
And I would never do it at the office. But, here, I just have to close the curtain so that the neighbor can’t see me, but I can just boogie down. And I think that that’s pretty great.

Pete Mockaitis
It is.

Lisette Sutherland
You can just design your productivity. So, yeah, if you have the right space.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s intriguing. Maybe the master key or theme there is like wherever there is a social norm that is preventing or compelling you to do something that’s not actually valuable, you can kind of just chuck it, it’s like, “I’m going to have a dance party. I’m going to work in my underwear. I’m going to take a nap. I’m going to take…” You can kind of be as weird as you need to be if it’s helpful and productive.

Lisette Sutherland
And I think if you are getting your results done, then I say, “Let your freak flag,” because, I mean, it’s great. We’re all diverse. I just think, “Great. If you’re getting your work done, have a really good time.” And it’s great that we can reward results instead of time because if two people are doing a marketing report, and one person, it takes them a whole week to do it, and the other person, it takes him four hours to do it, well, good for the person that took four hours. If they’re the same quality, great. We should be rewarding people getting things done, not how long they take. I can draw stuff out forever if you’re paying me on an

I remember being in an office thinking like, “What’s the rush? I can just work on this forever,” kind of thing. But now that I work for myself, it’s just like, “Okay, I’ve got like three deadlines. I got to get it done. I’m on the ball.” So, it’s just different motivations.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. That’s well-said. Well, I’d love it if you have any other random tips, tricks, tools, do’s, don’ts before we hear about some of your favorite things. I got to chime in one real quick because I’m at looking them. I love earplugs, I think, at an office or at home. My door blocks a lot of the noise but sometimes two-year old’s screams will still penetrate it and really catch my attention. And I guess primally that’s what they’re supposed to do. So, earplugs plus noise-cancelling headphones is just lose all track of everything else but the work. It’s pretty fun. So, what else do you want to make sure to mention before we hear some favorite things?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I would say use visual cues. When you’re using video, that’s one of the benefits because, for instance, you can use cards to

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, you’re on mute.” That’s so cool.

Lisette Sutherland
…”Hey, you’re on mute,” or, “Dang, it’s totally awesome. I really love that

Pete Mockaitis
Did you make those cards? Where do I get them?

Lisette Sutherland
Yes, they’re on the website. I could send you a pack. I’ll send you a pack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Lisette Sutherland
Or if you want just to express, like, “Oh, I love the idea. I love the

Pete Mockaitis
She’s holding the cards. We’re audio only. Just to make sure they don’t miss it, Lisette. She’s holding up cool cards that say things like, “Awesome,” or “Heart,” or “You’re on mute,” or, “Should we record?” And so, it enables you to convey a message without interrupting somebody, and just sort of make it interesting and visually dynamic. That’s brilliant.

Lisette Sutherland
And beautiful. And I would say one of the best cards, the most popular card out there after “You’re on mute” because that one everybody does, is this one, and it’s called “Elmo” and it stands for “Enough! Let’s move on.” And this is for that person in your meetings online or in-person that just goes on and on and on. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s probably you, right? But this is your visual indicator to let that person know because they’re going on and on because they don’t know that you’re ready to move on. So, if you can just show them, “Okay, got it. Let’s go on to the next point.” So, that takes your

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so handy about those cards, I’m not trying to be an ad for you but I am, that’s fine, is that different platforms will have emojis or whatever, but a lot of times, I think in Slack, like it’s sort of often the default is to be hidden, like in the chat box, and it’s like, “Oh, there’s a chat. Let me click it,” versus, if you’re going on and on, you will probably not stop to click it.

Lisette Sutherland
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And if multiple people are holding up the “Enough! Let’s move on” card, it’s like, “Okay, that’s very clear. A strong majority got the point.”

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, like one Elmo where it doesn’t have to change the conversation but if, all of a sudden, four or five, then you know, people are done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, Lisette, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lisette Sutherland
It’s a very simple one but I think it’s perfectly apt in this time, and it’s from Mr. Rogers, so I love it even more knowing that it’s from that. And I don’t know the exact quote, but he says something of, “Look for and be one of the helpers.” So, I really like that because it speaks to me on a number of levels. In these times where everybody is stressed, and everybody is going through something difficult, the whole world is at the moment, that we need to be looking for opportunities and ways to help each other just to take some of the bleakness out.

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

Lisette Sutherland
This one is a bit of a silly one so I won’t spend too much time on it. But there is a bit of research that shows that when one person has spoken once in a meeting, they’re more likely to speak again. So, this bit of research, I think, is my favorite because it gives you an opportunity, or makes the case for using icebreaker questions, or warmup questions, or check-ins before a meeting starts. I use them for all my meetings with teams that I know really well.

I just do a quick silly icebreaker question, like, favorite food, favorite vacation spot, or, “Take a picture of your shoes and show us what’s on your feet,” just something.
And there’s a lot of kickback against icebreakers, but i would say that it doesn’t have to be silly. You could also use things like, “What are you hoping to get out of this meeting today? Why did you come? Or what are you hoping to contribute to this meeting today?” So just getting people to state so it doesn’t have to be silly. But I think icebreakers, and the research that shows when people have spoken once, they’re more likely to speak again, I think that that’s encouraging for all my meetings.

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

Lisette Sutherland
One book that I really, really love, and it’s going to be a professional one, I’ve got it right here because I’ve been using it a lot, is this book called Beyond Bullet Points.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I got that one.

Lisette Sutherland
It’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
I think mine was the first edition. Oh, that’s nice.

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, you see I’ve used it quite often. But I think people’s presentations are just terrible most of the time. I mean, talk about, you know, they’re always like tons of bullet points with eight-point font. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot read and listen at the same time. I just can’t do it. I can’t multitask maybe. So, this book Beyond Bullet Points if you’re giving a presentation, or you’re doing anything online, use this book because it tells you how to create a compelling story even if you’re not a good storyteller, and it tells you how to create compelling slides even if you’re not a designer. So, that’s my favorite book right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? You’ve mentioned a few.

Lisette Sutherland
Right now, the Oculus Quest is my favorite tool right now. Really, I’m blown away by the experience as you could have. I’ve been canoeing in the Artic, I’ve been at the International Space Station, and it feels…I’m learning Tai chi, like I’m doing all the calm stuff because it makes me really nauseated, but I’m really enjoying the experience. Virtual reality is so great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds like such a great way to get out when you can’t get out.

Lisette Sutherland
Totally. That’s why I bought it, I was like, “I want to be able to have some sort of outdoor experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Lisette Sutherland
At the moment, my favorite habit is intermittent fasting, and I’m really enjoying that. I do it so that I don’t eat between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. So, it’s not a severe fast or anything but I feel better when I like it. So, that’s the habit I’m going to keep.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that people really connect with and you’re known for?

Lisette Sutherland
The super cards, that’s definitely so. And beyond that, people know that I’m really crazy about telepresence robots, and I just think the potential for telepresence robots are great. So, if you don’t know what they are, they’re drivable robots where you beam in just like any video conferencing tool, and you drive them using the arrow keys on your keyboard. And what I like is that it simulates a human in the office. And so, if you’re one of the only remote people in an all in-person company, beaming in via robot can be an awesome way of giving yourself more presence in that office. It sounds really far out but these things are pretty inexpensive these days.

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

Lisette Sutherland
CollaborationSuperpowers.com. Everything is there. Everything.

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

Lisette Sutherland
For all the people that don’t like turning their videos on, just try it. Just try it on a couple of calls and see what the difference is. So, I know that’s a simple one but I think in these times, we need to learn how to connect and be closer in new ways, and video calls, I think, are the way to do it. It’s your one step into the new reality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lisette, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you lots of luck in all of your superpower collaborative adventures.

Lisette Sutherland
Thank you. I really appreciate it.

530: How to Organize Your Time and Your Life with Julie Morgenstern

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Julie Morgenstern says: "You get organized to achieve a greater goal."

Organizing guru Julie Morgenstern discusses how to manage your time for greater productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A foolproof approach to managing your time
  2. Two powerful questions to get a grip on your time
  3. How to keep your inbox from taking over your day

About Julie:

Julie is a New York Times best-selling author, and everyone’s favorite organizing guru. USA Today recently called Julie “The Queen of Putting Life in Order.” She’s been featured in publications such as ForbesHarvard Business Reviewthe New York TimesWall Street JournalTimeO, The Oprah Magazine, and Redbook, and makes frequent appearances on national television and radio programs, including the Today Show, Rachel Ray, and NPR’s Fresh Air.

Her company Julie Morgenstern Enterprises provides corporate speaking, training, coaching and books to help individuals, and companies, to tame the chaos so they can make their unique contribution. Julie’s non-judgmental, inside-out approach to problems offers smart, practical and insightful solutions that transform the way people and companies function.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Julie Morgenstern Interview Transcript

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

Julie Morgenstern
I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear, so if you’ve got over 30 years of experience as a professional organizer, for folks who’ve got some clutter in their lives, do you have any pro tips or tricks that you use over and over and over again that the rest of us lay people should know?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I think when it comes to organizing, maybe, I was going to say physical organizing any space, any information, anything physical, I model every single physical organizing system on the model of a kindergarten classroom without exception.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Julie Morgenstern
Yup. So, you just picture a kindergarten classroom, it is the perfect model of organization. The room, imagine it, this is a room where you can have like 25 five-year-olds that the within the first two weeks of school, no matter how messy that room gets, at the ring of a bell everything is back in its home by five-year-olds, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Julie Morgenstern
So, how is that room organized? It is organized into activity zones. There’s a reading area, a dress-up area, a building blocks area, a music zone, and everything is stored at its point of use. So, if you’re in the music zone, everything that is related to music is in there. There’s nothing on the other side of the room. If you’re in the arts and craft zone, and you’re painting a picture, and you want to add glitter and glue, it’s right there in the arts and craft zone. Even if there’s an empty shelf in the reading corner, no teacher would ever put arts and crafts in the reading zone.

So, it’s storing items at their point of use as related to an activity, and then everything stored in a container that is perfect for what you’re storing, right? So, like puzzles are in those little slotted trays and they’re very organized. The building blocks area, there’s one cubby for the columns and another one for the rectangles and another one for the arches, and everything has a home that’s a perfect fit for what you’re putting away.

And the whole room becomes kind of a visual menu of everything that’s important to the people who use that space. So, like a kindergarten can just come in and look around, and say, “What is there to do? Oh, I’m going to go over and build something,” and run over to that area. And that’s really how our homes, and our offices, and our filing systems, digital or in paper, should reflect who we are and what we want and where we’re going. They should reflect our activities and reflect our life back to us. It’s a very visual and very powerful and very effective way of organizing everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for that metaphor. That’s already kind of sparking some things for me over here. And so, I want to dig primarily into the organizing of time and tasks things. But, first, maybe could we sort of paint the why for us. Kind of what difference does it make having great organization? Some might say, “Are we just shuffling papers, and to-dos, and calendar appointments from one spot to the other?” Can you make the case, what’s the benefit to be gained from this effort?

Julie Morgenstern
So, being organized, that’s a great question because why bother getting organized. You get organized to achieve a greater goal. Never get organized just for organizing sake. Never get organized just to make things look good or appear good to other people. Organizing systems are really vehicles to get you to your bigger goals. So, you shouldn’t organize anything without saying, “Why?”

And the very common reasons to people, when they hire us to organize them, or lead an organizing, or time management book, or get coaching, people don’t invest that kind of time or money to design a system for their lives unless there is something they are trying to achieve. Very commonly, people want to organize their time and their schedules to create space for quality time with their families and quality time for themselves. That is a very common goal.

If your schedule is more organized, if your space is more organized, you would free up time to be present with your friends, with your family, with your kids, with your spouse, and with yourself. That’s probably one of the most common motivations.

Another, in our work lives, is so that we can, “I want to get organized, manage my time so that I can achieve my greatest, fulfill my greatest potential.” If you’re bogged down with procrastination or you’re always late, and then you feel really guilty so you’re not really confident, which means you don’t really show up and really throw in at meetings or with clients, but you kind of hold back because you feel incompetent, or you feel embarrassed, or you feel like behind the eight ball, then you’re missing opportunities. So, it’s usually to really seize the maximum opportunities at work. Whether you work for yourself or you work for a small company, or a nonprofit, or government, or a big company, it’s really to maximize your opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m sold. And so, let’s talk about you’ve got a particular approach called the inside out, I guess, method, or approach, or style, or flavor. So, can you walk us through what is that and how do we do that?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. So, organizing from the inside out is really about designing systems that reflect your unique personality style and goals so that it’s very natural and easy to maintain. And too often we try to organize from the outside in. What does that look like? You just ask somebody else, I go, “Which app do you use for your to-dos or your calendar?” Or, “How many to-dos do you put in your list for the day?” Or, “How do you organize your closet?”

Well, we buy containers and we buy tools, and we think those tools are going to organize us. They don’t. You have to design your system the unique way you think and your natural habits so that you don’t have to change who you are to be organized, but it actually enhances and unleashes your full potential, and it works and it lasts, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds awesome.

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give us an example maybe of, “Hey, given your context or your style or approach, you might want to choose A over B”?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. Okay, so I’ll give you one or two examples. So, one is people are like, “Where do I keep track of my to-dos?” It’s one of the universal questions of today’s era because there are so many options, and our to-dos come at us from so many different directions. And if you don’t have your to-dos all in one place, you lose a lot of time to transferring information or working on something but you’re kind of worried that, “What am I missing?” so you’re not really focused on what you’re doing because you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a big problem.

So, people are, like, digital or paper. That’s the big first cut. So, usually, I will ask people to sort of identify, “Are you a visual tactile person or are you kind of a digital linear person?” And a visual tactile person will remember where on a page they wrote something, they’re like, “Oh, that was like three pages back in the upper-right corner in green ink.” Like, they have a visual tactile memory of where information is.

And if you relate to that then you are probably best on a paper to-do system because the act of writing pen to paper emblazons it on your memory, helps you process and group similar kinds of tasks, and just writing it helps you process what you’re doing. And if you try to do it digitally, it’s not sticky. So, that’s like one cut. And then if it’s paper, then you just have to sort of search through the various products that are out there. That’s one example.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s intriguing and very descriptive. I think some people will say, “Yes, that’s me.” It’ll kind of resonate right away. And so, what would be the “Yes, that’s me” equivalent for those who are in the digital linear zone?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I think people who are sort of digital linear thinkers, very often they’re kind of chronologic in their thinking. Like, you could throw out a date, like September 13, and they’ll be, “Oh, that was a Thursday this year. It’s between my sister’s birthday and when I had that proposal due.” Like, they think numerically, chronologically. They’re just great at interfacing with thinking straight into a keyboard or straight into a type pad and they can find things. They can figure out, like, they can setup a database or a contact manager. They think that way. They think digitally.

They rely heavily on search and are never afraid losing anything because all they have to do is have a trigger word and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I could find that.” So, they’re very comfortable and agile and think in a sort of interconnected words and associations kind of thing, rely on the search function. They really adapt quickly to technology, super quickly. They get it.

And they love, because they’re so good at it, they love traveling light, they don’t feel like any attachment to paper. They’re like, “I can find that in the cloud.” They can travel anywhere and find that information and they engage with it. They don’t find it overwhelming, right? They don’t glaze over in front of a screen. They’re using it as a tool. They get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Thank you. So, very handy there in terms of all the options out there. There’s a quick way to get to the heart of which half of the options are more suited to your brain, so very cool. And then, so you mentioned there’s three steps for organizing anything, the analyze, the strategize, the attack. So, could you kind of walk us through how we might approach that in organizing time or task things for professionals?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. So, I just was coaching somebody yesterday who is a very overwhelmed executive, incredibly accomplished man, in a very senior position in a big mid-sized company, very well-established, and he’s working like 15 hours a day, seven days a week, he’s getting everything done, but the cost is so high. He’s exhausted. He can’t get to the proactive stuff. He’s just doing the reactive stuff, and he’s not really present for his family or himself. He’s spread so thin that it’s sort of catching up with him.

And so, he’s like, “How do I fix this?” So, I can’t just come in and say, “Hey, let’s get you a to-do list as a starter.” That’d be an outside-in approach, right? That’s sort of an attack-first-ask-questions-later approach. So, analyze, strategize, attack is a three-step process to finding the system that will work for that person.

Analyze is you, first, have to ask a series of questions to really zero in on what needs to be fixed and what doesn’t. So, I always ask questions like, “Tell me what is working. What’s working about your system right now? What are the things that always get done? What are the things that…?” In his case, I could try to come up with his examples but, in his case, everything was getting done. That was working. What wasn’t working was the number of hours that it was taking. So, that starts to lead to narrowing in on the problem to be solved.

And, “What is it that you’re trying to juggle your time between?” That’s part of the analyze, which is, “What do you need to fit in time for to be truly balanced?” And all of us have to decide that when it comes to our time, “What am I really trying to balance my time between? What are the core, like, the big buckets?” It could be, like, I don’t know, in your field, you do a podcast, it’s researching guests, it could be writing, there’s research, there’s writing, there’s production, and then there’s administrative follow-up. That would be like the four buckets maybe.

So, we all have that. And analyzing is to really understand, “What is it that I need to balance my time between? And then where is my time currently going?” And I always do that and encourage people, like, “You have to think of your time. It’s like a closet. It’s a limited amount of time that’s only going to fit so much. So, how much do we have to work with? Are you working 10 hours a day, 8 hours a day, 12 hours a day? What’s the size of the container for your work? And then what has to fit inside? And how are you organizing it right now? What order do you tackle things in? How do you handle your mornings? When do you do your administrative stuff? Is there any order at all or is every day different?” So, that’s the analyze, “Where are we right now?”

Then, strategize is, “Where are we trying to get to?” so, what would your schedule look like if it was in that shape, size container and it fit everything you really needed to do? We kind of really do a graph to figure it out, “Here’s your ideal schedule.” And then attack is, “How do we get you from where you are to that ideal schedule?” And that’s all the time management skills, “What do you add to your schedule? What do you take out of your schedule? What, in your schedule, needs to be done more efficiently?” And then you just tool it. And so, you get the person into that ideal state. It’s very concrete and, actually, very practical and doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could perhaps share, is there a power question or two that you find tends to yield loads of insight as you are moving through these three steps?

Julie Morgenstern
Well, I would say, especially for listeners, there’s really two questions if you want to start to get a grip on your time. And you just ask yourself, “What am I spending too much time on? And what am I not spending enough time on?” And then you’d go about making adjustments to get those things in the right order.

So, if I’m spending too much time on email, on writing, on administrivia, “What am I spending too much time on?” Then you look at that and you say, “How do I eliminate that? How do I streamline that?” I have this thing called the 4Ds which is, “Can I delete it? Can I just get rid of doing this thing altogether? Like, it’s really not enough value for the time invested. Can I delay it? Which is at this month, this quarter, or this part of the year, this period of the business, I’m going to just put this off because right now we’re in, I don’t know, end-of-year financial wrap-up so I can’t also do that strategic marketing plan, whatever. That’s a delay. Can I diminish it? Which is, is there a shorter, quicker, more efficient way to do this?” And there very often it, right?

Like, we just need to find an efficiency and operationalize a repeat task so that it takes a quarter of the time it does because it’s more efficient. Or, “Can I delegate it? Can I give this to somebody else to do because that’s no longer the highest and best use of my time but it’s still really essential for the company, for the business, for living?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. So, there’s a number of tactics for when you’re spending too much time on something.

Julie Morgenstern
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about the equivalent for when you’re not spending enough time on something?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah. So, you identify, “What am I not spending enough time on?” And, like, the classic, universal, frequent answers are, “I’m not spending enough time on the strategic planning,” or the creative work, the innovative work, that’s in our workday, or developing people. Like, “Not really thinking through my team and how to develop them.”

Pete Mockaitis
That makes sense. These things are important but not urgent. Like, it’s got to happen but it’s not on fire.

Julie Morgenstern
Right. But if you don’t make the time for them, you stay in that hamster wheel of always putting out fires because you haven’t spent time developing your people, you haven’t looked ahead down the road to figure out setting up things to prevent these fires. So, it’s so critical and, also, it’s really where we make our unique contribution.

We do not make our unique contribution in constantly fighting fires and all the little stuff. It’s in the big thinking where each of us make our unique contribution, and everybody knows that whether they articulate it in their brains or not. It’s like, “This is where the meaningful work is. This is where I can solve problems and make a contribution but I need time to think.” So, that’s a common one. Not enough time to do those things.

So, “What are you not spending enough time on?” And then you just ask yourself. The goal is now to create the time for it. And you ask yourself, “What is the ideal block of time to work on this?” which I highly recommend you think about as a daily, not like once a month, but what’s a daily strategic planning, daily thinking time, daily research time, quiet time. And what’s the unit of time? “Do I need an hour at a time? Do I need two hours at a time? What’s the unit of time? And what is the optimal time of the day for me to do that?” And then you claim it. You just claim it.

A lot of people it’s the first thing in the morning, right, that that’s when their head is clearest, and they can protect it the most because they have the rest of the day to catch up to any of the urgencies of the day. You grab and block off the first hour of your workday every day or the first 90 minutes of every workday. Or, if the first hour is not going to work, maybe it’s between 12:00 and 2:00 every day when people feel permission to, like, disconnect because they might be at a business lunch, so know that they’ve got a two-hour block with their deep-thinking time.

So, you claim that time and you make it a regular daily appointment in your schedule. And then you let all the other stuff work around that. And there you go. You’ve reduced the thing that’s monopolizing your time and you have created the space for the most important thing you’re neglecting right now. And life changes very quickly. Your sense of control and meaning and impact changes just on those two questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. Thank you. And when it comes to think about the time of day for things, you’ve been so bold as to write a whole book called Never Check Email in the Morning. Can you tell us, why don’t we do that and when should we do it?

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I mean, email is a delivery mechanism for messages, requests, and reminders, and junk mail, and solicitations, and all kinds of things, but all in all it’s a reactive device, right? Everybody wakes up in the morning and has something they really want to get done that day personally, professionally. If before you get to what you know you want to do, your proactive tasks or activity, you check email first, you are starting your day out, you postpone the proactive and you probably never get to it, then you’re off to the races. You’re going down rabbit holes, you’re getting aggravated, you’re pulled in and you cannot get out.

And I think if you postpone checking email, that reactive device, by anywhere from the first hour, your first waking hour, I actually think it should be your first, all the way through your first working hour, should not be on email. And you start your day proactive, getting your biggest task done before you roll your shades up for business. You’ll get so much more done in much less time, and you start out you in control of technology, not it in control of you. And if you can start your day in control of technology, any other time of the day that you want to put your device away, you’ll be able to. But if you can’t do it for the first hour, there is not another hour in the day you’re going to be able to put it down.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on this. I buy that and I try to practice that. And then, sometimes, that really important thing that I’m doing, I need to get something out of the email to do that. And then as I open it up, I see all the other stuff, and it’s like, “Man, how do I do this?” I’ve even tried to like put a piece of paper up to hide some parts of the screen. What do you do?

Julie Morgenstern
I know it’s really tough. So, I actually think, for your most important thing in the morning that you’re going to work on, if you pull everything you need by the end of the day before, then you will sort of avoid that situation at least eight out of ten times. You’re going to reduce the need to go in because you pulled it the day before, you’re like, “I’m going to work on that proposal. I’m going to work on that document. I’m going to pull the research.” You pull everything together so you are set by the end of the day before for your mornings’ task. You don’t come in and get setup. You set it up the day before. That’s one thing.

If your first to-do requires you to be on your computer, it requires a lot of discipline and hacks to stay focused. One thing could be that before you go in, you set your alarm on your cellphone to say, “All I have to do is go in, find that email with the attachment and download it, and then shut down my email. That’s all I need to do.” You know where it’s going to be, you know what to look up by search, that is a five-minute task. You set your alarm for five minutes, you go in, you get the thing before that alarm goes off, and then shut it down.

It’s, like, think about going into a supermarket, right? Like, how often do you go in a supermarket without a list? You thought, you went in for three things, you come out with six bags of groceries. But if you go in with a list and a short time limit, it can help keep you focused. But it takes a lot of consciousness to do that, which is what we have to do in our screen-dominated lives. We have to stay conscious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s helpful. And I like it when you say pull it in advanced. I mean, there’s all sorts of ways we could pull it. You could print it. You could save it. I’m thinking about just making in Gmail just like a super query in terms of, “I only want to see messages from these five people.”

Julie Morgenstern
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And then that’s sort of what’s there waiting for me on the email screen, and it’s like, “All right. Well, that’s what I have and I’m not going to kind of delete that search query. I’m just going to keep that filter up,” so I dig that. Julie, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Julie Morgenstern
Just that when it comes to organizing your time, I think to recognize that you can stay as practical as possible. Try to only solve one or two problems at a time. Don’t feel that you have to overhaul everything at the same time. It’s impossible. Just focus on make a short punch list of things that need to be tooled or retooled, and do them one at a time. And you will see that any aspect of your time management that you address, and you adjust, and you tame or conquer, will pay off in all of your other 168 hours of the day, a week, I mean.

We have this 168-hours of a week to work with. You make a change in any one area and it’s all interconnected, and everything else lifts. So, don’t try to do everything at once. Just solve one problem at a time and you’ll see big impact.

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

Julie Morgenstern
One of my favorites is a Winston Churchill quote, which says, “When going through hell, keep going.”

Pete Mockaitis
Love it. Thank you. And a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Julie Morgenstern
There was a study done by the University of British Columbia sometime in the last five years that studied the impact of batch-processing email versus continuously processing email. And it was a very extensive, very well-conducted study.

And they found that, and they tested two test groups, and each one, one week they had people just check email all day long continuously, and then the following week, they had them batch-process their email, which means designate specific times you’re going to go into your email, give it your undivided attention for 20, 30, or 40 minutes, whatever it takes to clean it out, then shut it down, and come back at the next designated moment, which might be two hours later.

And they found, to a person, that when people batch-process email rather than continuously-process, they got through the same number of emails in less time. So, we, a lot of times, do it because we think that’s a way to stay on top of things is to keep checking. Actually, you’ll get through as many, you’ll get through all your emails if you batch-process and it’ll take you less time, less real time, which means you’re going to get time back in your pocket by doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. And how about a favorite book?

Julie Morgenstern
My most recent book is a book on time management for the parenting years, which are the most time-stretched years of a human’s life. And I did research for this book on what kids need, how much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure, because I couldn’t advise parents on how to divide their time until I’ve got the answer to that question, and I did about eight years of research.

But my favorite from that is a book called What Children Need by a woman named Jane Waldfogel and it was brilliant, and it is really like the essence of the answers in that book. And any parent who’s wondering, “How do I divvy up my time here, and fuel my career, and my marriage, and still be there for my kids?” What Children Need is the best resource I found.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m totally going to read this. Thank you. We got two under two right now. And, roughly, what is that amount of time?

Julie Morgenstern
Okay. So, I put all this together in my book Time to Parent. So, basically, what children thrive on is short bursts of truly undivided attention delivered consistently rather than big blocks of time delivered occasionally. And when I say short bursts, we are talking about 5 to 15 minutes, 20 minutes tops, at a time.

Children have short attention spans, that’s the key. And many experts say they calculate about a minute for each age of life of attention span, give or take, of course there are some variation. But you think like a five-year old has about a five-minute attention span before they dash off to the next activity, and a 15-year old, a 15-minute conversation and they are like, “Okay, I’ve had enough,” or a game.

And consistency is the key. And that’s what you’ll read a lot about in Jane’s book, which is kids need to be able to rely on when they first wake up in the morning that mom or dad is like, “Hey, how did you sleep?” It might only take three minutes but it’s like first connections, they can count on that. When you get home at the end of the day, don’t walk through the door still on your phone, doing one last email, or one last call, or one last thing. Make a mindful transition before you cross that threshold, and, “What is my intention on the other side of that door? I want to let that kid know, my wife know, my husband know, I am so excited to see them and I want to hear about their day.”

And if you do these short bursts, you build them into the fabric and the rhythm of the basic transitions of the day, that is what makes kids feel loved and secure. And if you can occasionally do these big blocks of time, quality time outings to the park or museum, or whatever, those are great, they’re fine, they can make memories, but what they really thrive on is those short bursts delivered reliably. It’s very frame.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Julie Morgenstern
You’re welcome.

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

Julie Morgenstern
I would say come to my website JulieMorgenstern.com and you can poke around there, you can read about the books, you can read about Time to Parent, the Never Check Email in the Morning, my other books, we have a couple newsletters you could sign up for, we have a Contact Julie tab where I welcome comments, questions, queries, and we will absolutely get back to you. And you can find me online, Instagram, just Julie Morgenstern everywhere, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah, I would say the call to action is to define, so clearly, what is your unique contribution. What is it that you bring to the table that you know your company hired you for? And you should start 2020 by claiming time for making that unique contribution. Tie it to your schedule, reliable time, every single day. You do that and you will start to really feel not only a great sense of satisfaction but a great sense of control and contribution, and you will start to see real results for it in every other aspect of your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Julie, this has been lots of fun. I wish you all the best in your organizing adventures.

Julie Morgenstern
Thank you so much. Great to talk to you, Pete.

520: How to Start Finishing Projects with Charlie Gilkey

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Charlie Gilkey says: "If it's worth doing well, it's worth doing badly in the beginning."

Charlie Gilkey discusses how to deal with the obstacles that derail your important projects

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic number for projects
  2. Signs that a project truly matters to you
  3. When and how to say no to your family, friends, and bosses

About Charlie

Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Charlie Gilkey Interview Transcript

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

Charlie Gilkey
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I’m pumped to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to talk about starting and finishing and getting to done. Let’s start with starting, actually. I understand you don’t choose to start your year in January. How does that work and what’s the backstory here?

Charlie Gilkey
Well, there are several things going on. And thanks for that question. That’s a deep cut. Two things going on. One is the business cycle for the business that I’m in or the year cycle starts actually in August for the back-to-school, you know, back-to-work sort of thing. That’s when everyone comes back online, it’s like, “Hey, we got to get after it.” And so, that’s a really important point for my business.

And I’ve also learned that actually doing your yearly planning, if you’re going to do it on the personal side in February, is a way better time to do it because it kind of lets you shake off the high of New Year’s resolutions and all the things that go along there, and I think we’re way too optimistic during that period of the year. And then if you pay too close attention to the goals you set in, it can be a really good way to feel bad about yourself. But if you kind of wait until February, kind of around Groundhog’s Day and give yourself a redo, what I’ve learned is that we end up making way better sort of annual goals and resolutions during that period.

So, I have kind of two periods in which I do annual planning, but that’s kind of par for the course for me, and then I’m always recalibrating plans and working in it

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Groundhog Day, redo, and I’m thinking Bill Murray right now. Part of that was shot near me in Woodstock, Illinois. Fun fact. So, yeah, that’s a good way to think about it in terms of like the day and where you’re going to choose to start and why. So, thank you for that. Let’s talk about the book Start Finishing. What’s the big idea here?

Charlie Gilkey
The big idea is that finished projects bridge the gap between your current reality and that life you want to live and that work you want to do. And so, a lot of us have, you know, we have really big dreams and visions for ourselves. We have that idea of our best work or our best life, and a lot of times we could feel stuck and we don’t quite know what to do. And it turns out that, again, it’s those finished projects that bridge the gap.

And I think it provides a bit of a different take on productivity, and getting things done, and sort of personal development, which either can be far too granular and focused on tasks, or it can be far too lofty and focused on sort of vision and sort of the big view of your life. And the mess of life and the beauty of life is in this middle world of projects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, okay. Indeed, the finished projects bridge the gap. And one thing I think I’m coming to learn is that almost finished projects don’t. And I’m thinking about all these instances in which it’s like the vast majority of the hard work is done but it’s not all the way finished and, thus, it doesn’t turn into something.

So, I remember once, we’ve got a multifamily home here and we were trying to rent out one of the units and things were almost completely renovated, cleaned, whatever but there’s like a bunch of cardboard boxes in the corner. And I think that prospective tenants can know that those won’t be there when they move in but, nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that every showing we did where the boxes were there did not result in an application, and those that we did with the boxes absent, totally cleaned up, did.

And so, it’s sort of like almost done doesn’t pull it off for you. But it’s kind of encouraging in that it means that there’s very little left to get to finished project status. So, those are my own musings on the finished project piece. Give me your take on that.

Charlie Gilkey
Well, I love that. You know, I talk a lot in the book about displacement which is the idea that anything you do displaces a practical infinity of things you could do, or you can’t do one thing, or you can’t do multiple things at the same time, right? Barring simple things like doing the laundry while listening to a podcast. But when it comes to this significant work that we need to do, what I call best work and what I call those things that really light us up and are part of the matrix of meaning-making that we’re in, we tend to only be able to do one thing at a time.

And the frustrating thing about those half-finished projects is that they suck up all of the time that could’ve been going to something else, but they’re not bridging that gap. They’re not doing the work that they’re supposed to do to power your life. And it would be like investing a hundred bucks a month, for however long you want to do it. Let’s just say it’s 12 months, and you don’t get the return on it until the 13th month, and then you decide on the 12th month to just stop, and then everything disappeared, right? It’s like you’ve already sunk in all of that money, you’ve already sunk in all of that time but you don’t get the reward for it just because you decided to jump to something else. So, absolutely.

And one of the things that I really stress in the book is that we should really be focusing on throughput and not load. And by that, I mean I think we commit too quickly to ideas and end up carrying too many projects around with us and too many things that we’re not going to be able to finish. And so, if you make that commitment to where this week you’re going to, like, “I’m going to do these 17 projects,” and you only do three, well, you’ve carried the additional 14. And I think, unfortunately, what we do is we’ll say, “Well, this week, I overestimated this week so I’m going to do 12,” and then we do three projects.

Well, it turns out that if we just focus on the three that matter most and we get through them faster, not only is it just about efficiency but it’s about that momentum that you can build with these finished projects. And so, depending on where you want to take this, Pete, a lot of times when I tell people I like to focus on three to five projects, the first thing that they’ll do is, like, “I can’t. I got all the things.” But let’s do a reality check here, are you actually finishing those things or is it just a continual state of juggling and a continual state of sort of commenting about the status of a project but not actually moving that project forward? Or is that continual story that you’re going to get to but you don’t?

And I get to say, you know, over the decade I’ve been doing this work with people. There’s momentum, there’s more pride, there’s more joy, and there’s more results just from coming from focusing on fewer things, getting them done, and moving to the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, boy, that’s well-said with regard to load because you could feel that, and the word itself, it’s like, “I am shouldering a burden, a load, like a camel or an ox. Like, there’s a lot of things on my plate, on my back here.” And so, you identify these are the things that we’re actually going to sail right through here, we’re good to go.

And it’s intriguing that when you mentioned three to five, you’re getting pushback because, I guess I’m thinking about Jay Papasan who we had on the show with the One Thing, it’s like, “Oh, man, you’re being lenient. You’re giving them three to five instead of just one.” So, let’s talk about that for a moment. Why do you think that’s perhaps the magic number there, three to five projects?

Charlie Gilkey
It’s partially because enough studies both with my own clients and work, and external study showed that that’s about the limit of which we can do. Now, I want to pause here. I love Jay’s work and I find that most people can’t just commit to one thing because when you commit to one thing, I think you often forget. Well, there’s different ways of understanding his book and the message, so that’s one thing to talk about.

I want to make room for projects that are not just economic projects. So, for me, anything that takes time, energy, and attention is a project. And so, finding a place for those cardboard boxes you’ve mentioned, that very well could be a project, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s why it wasn’t done.

Charlie Gilkey
That’s why it wasn’t done.

Pete Mockaitis
It took multiple steps. There’s too many to just shove in the alley so I had to take another…do something else there.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, you got to find out where they are, and you got to sort, and you got to figure out which other closet you’re going to put them in, and then you open that closet and realized, “Oh, crap, there’s something in there. This got to go somewhere else.” It’s kind of like a shell game and stuff sometimes, right? But, also, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, moving across the United States, getting a new job, like all of those things are projects.

And, unfortunately, we tend to prioritize economic projects, or creative projects, or work projects, or however you want to say that, and we try to squeeze the work over our lives and the leftover, the time leftover from the economic projects, and we’re just not getting to it. And so, again, not to go overly critical of the One Thing, but it’s like we are not just work-related people. Like, our thing in life, our thing at work is one of the many things that we might want to attend to. We might also need to attend to our aging parents that we need to help transition into elder care, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that in the conversation, Jay mentioned, “Hey, what’s the one thing within like a context or a domain?” “The one thing in my marriage, the one thing in my business, etc.”

Charlie Gilkey
Etcetera. And so, I think people misunderstand his message in that way, and so I just wanted to say, like, we’re actually super aligned in that way, but that’s where we start saying the five projects, or three to five projects. Yeah, you have to look across the domains of your life and not just pick the one thing, and not just pick like one domain, and say, “I’m going to go all in on that.”

And so, for instance, right now, I’m in the middle of launching this book and doing the PR too for this book, and it’s a major project. I’m also in the middle of reintegrating back into my business after working on the book for so long, so that’s another project. And I’m also getting back into the gym and working with a personal trainer. That’s a project, so that gets me through it.

But, anyway, you asked why three to five. I think that many lets you invest in the buckets of your life that matter without spreading yourself too thin. Two, I think it’s when we look at sort of the cognitive load that we humans can bear, we sort of heard the five plus or minus two, I think, is now four plus or minus two, like, the things we can remember. Well, when you have a fewer number of projects and you can always rattle off what you’re working on, it turns out you don’t need a super complicated productivity system or an app to help you with that. You can always just sort of have those things front of mind.

And the last thing is every one of the projects, another way of thinking through this, every one of the projects that you carry, they need fuel. And I talk in the book about focused blocks which are 90 to 120 blocks of time where you can sit down and make substantial progress on things. So, if it’s a creative project, it might be that time where, let’s say it’s writing, where you actually are able to sit down and get some good words in, lean into the project, get out of the project rut. But it doesn’t have to be creative work, it can be, again, going back to that garage.

A lot of times we don’t end up cleaning the garage because we look at it, it’s like, “Oh, I think I can just move it around,” but you know that it’s going to take you three to four focused blocks because you got to figure out where everything goes and do the organizing. And because we don’t schedule that time, we know we won’t be able to make any meaningful progress, so we don’t actually start.

And so, when we look at the sort of the three to five projects, it’s like, how many of these focused blocks do you have in your life, and in a week, that you can allocate towards these things?” And no focused blocks equals no momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’m seeing how the pieces are coming together. So, I’ve got my three to five projects, I’ve got focused blocks for 90 to 120-ish minutes, and then I’m allocating particular focused blocks towards particular projects in order to get momentum. So, I understand you’ve got a full-blown nine-step method, so I think we’re already getting into a couple of them. How about we sort of get the full view here?

Charlie Gilkey
Yes. So, the full nine-step method would be, well, there are different ways we can say this. But where people often will fall down is that they go immediately from idea to working on it, and that’s really not a great way to do it because we don’t do ideas, we do projects, and so we have to do some work to convert that idea. But before we can get there, in chapter two, well, one of the steps is really getting clear about the obstacles that are in the way from you doing this life-changing work that we’re talking about. And if you don’t start with looking at that, the first thing that you’ll do is choose an idea, start working with it, and then see, all of a sudden, that you’re upside down with it and you can’t go forward with it and sort working backwards. So, it’s a root-cause approach.

So, the first step is getting in touch with some of those root causes that keep that gap between our current reality and the life we want to live. So, second sort of step is to pick an idea that really matters to you. And that seems like obvious except for what matters to us is oftentimes not the first things that we’ll pick because of fear, because of the seeming difficulty, and we end up choosing low-hanging fruits, or we end up choosing other people’s priorities.

And then when we get into the messy middle, or towards the end of the project, we don’t get anywhere. And that’s largely because, at the end of the day, that idea did not matter enough to us, it didn’t supply the amount of meaning and sort of commitment juice that we needed it to, and so there’s just a certain point in sort of imagine this lever of, like, at past a certain point of difficulty and grit, if you don’t have the amount of internal emotional buy-in and sort of spirit in that project, the difficulty of it is going to win, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, you have to pick an idea that matters enough for you to invest a life force that is going to take to push through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And I think that’s well-said with regard to just because you’re doing it doesn’t mean that it matters to you. You very well could’ve chosen it because you passed up the bigger things out of fear, or, “Ooh, that just sounds hard.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, it just sounds hard. And I want to pause here because, over the last few decades, I think we’ve lost a lot of grit and we just sort of baked into some sort of talent myth, like if it’s hard it’s not for you because if we look at all the prodigies and the people that seemed to do things super easily, it’s like, “Oh, they got that talent. And the people that have the talent, they should go do those things. And if you don’t have that talent, maybe you go find something else that’s easier for you to do.” Right?

And what that ends up doing for a lot of us is that when we start something and it gets difficult, we sort of encode that maybe that’s a sign that we’re doing the wrong thing, maybe it’s a sign that there’s something else that I should be doing because it shouldn’t be this hard. And my whole point is, first off, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning. Bottom line, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning.

And, second off, in almost all these cases, these effortless talent displays that we see, it’s a lot of hard work and cultivation of those people behind the scenes, so they have a certain amount of budding seed time that we don’t have. And so, I want people to orient themselves so that when they see something that’s difficult, or when they see…well, let me say it this way.

I talk in the book about thrashing. And thrashing is sort of the meta work and emotional flailing and “research” that you’ll do to push an idea forward but it doesn’t actually push an idea forward, right? It’s just thrashing and flailing. And the thing about it is we don’t thrash about things that don’t matter to us. Like, no one has a mini-existential crisis about doing the laundry or taking the trash out. There’s no “Why am I the right person to do it? Is now the right time? What if I’m not good enough?” It’s like you do it or you don’t do it, right?

But when it comes to time to some of these best-work projects, which is what I call these life-changing projects that really only you can do and that change the world in really phenomenal ways, those are the ones where we’ll have all those sort of mini crises, and those are the ones where we’ll start wondering if we got what it takes, and so on and so forth.

And so, it turns out that the more it matters to you, the more you’ll thrash. And so, it’s a really good sign when you’re feeling that feeling of, like, “Wow, this is…” not just that it’s daunting, because you can take on a project that doesn’t matter and could be daunting, but you’re thinking like, “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes. I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” those are actually really good signs that the project matters to you, because if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is one worth sitting with it and remembering because you want it to come to mind when that feeling occurs again. Indeed, wow, yeah, so many implications when you’re experiencing, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if I have what it takes.” It’s indicative of that’s something you care about a lot or that thought would not have occurred to you at all, the, “I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to…” And it’s not just about how challenging it is, because you might say, “But I don’t know if I have what it takes to take out the trash every day.” The take-out-the-trash challenge, you know. It’s, like, that’s probably not go do it. It just sort of says, “That’s dumb. I don’t feel like bothering.” So, yeah.

And I’ve often had this thought. I’ve said to my wife numerous times, like, when I’m feeling frustrated by something, I think, “Well, you know what, it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t care so much.” It’s like, “If I didn’t care, if my clients were getting great results in ROI from our trainings, then I’d just be like whatever.” But I do and, thusly, I get a little bit worked up associated with if folks are doing the exercises and understanding and connecting with the stuff.

Charlie Gilkey
Absolutely. It’s kind of like envy as a compass. And by that, I mean we’re not envious of other people when they don’t have something that we want. We’re only envious when someone has something that we actually care about. And, unfortunately, we try to wash out the envy, we try to wash it out, but, for me, I’m like, “Oh, maybe let’s pause a little bit and say, ‘What is it in this moment, in that sort of feeling that you have that’s telling you that something matters? And what are you going to do about it?’” as opposed to just pretending like you shouldn’t feel it.

Like, you like what you like, and you value what you value, and that’s one of those learning to center those fundamental truths and that it’s perfectly fine to like what you like and to value what you value, and you have permission to do that, then let you say, “You know what, that man with the shoes on over there, those shoes are really kicking, man. I love those shoes. I wish I had them.” So, what is it about that and what do you want to do to address that?

Maybe you decide later on, “No, maybe I was just being materialistic,” or maybe, just maybe, you like the shoes, and that’s enough for you to say, “You know what, I’m going to do something about that, meaning I’m either going to buy it, or if I can’t afford it, it’s worth it to me to do the work that I need to do to exchange my labor for money I need to get those things.” And that is a choice that I don’t think we allow ourselves to really sink into a lot of times unless they are socially-approved values and likes, in which case it’s kind of a given that we get those.

Like, many people, I know this is kind of straying in the personal finance land, but many people don’t question the value of owning a home because it’s one of those given, it’s like that’s just what you do. You go to school, you get a job, you get a partner, you buy a house, right? And so, deciding not to buy a house and deciding to be a renter for the rest of your life because you realize that 3% to 5% of you the cost of your home is going to be spent in maintenance, and those type of things in general. Like, that becomes important but a lot of people don’t give themselves permission to say, “You know what, this whole home-buying thing, not something I care so much about. I care more about freedom. I care more about that.”

And, again, I’m not trying to make a strong case for that particular economic choice. I’m just trying to say there’s a lot of decisions like that, that we default to the socially-approved cues and, unfortunately, end up living our lives doing work that we would rather not do to get stuff that we really don’t want, and then miss out on this one precious life that we have in front of us and that way we could have lived it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s adding up and resonating there in each of those components in terms of this is just what you do versus you’ve given some real thought to it. And when it comes to envy, I think it’s also intriguing to look and see if there are some finer distinctions because you got my wheels turning in terms of I saw this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates and I had some envy, but I don’t at all have envy for Elon Musk, right? And so, here are these two super rich people who are innovating but there’s a distinction and that is sort of rich fodder for potential insight. So, it’s like, where do you have envy and where is there a similar situation where you don’t? And then we’re really homing in on something.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, what does that envy tell you about your values? That would be the question, right? And where is the lack of envy in other places, not do the same things? So, again, these are really good tools. And the thing about it is, especially productivity but I’ll say the broader sort of personal development, we approach it from a headspace in like a thinking space. But when it comes down to actually doing the work that changes lives, changes our lives, changes other people’s lives, and having the courage and being able to set up the boundaries, it’s always going to come back to your heart space. It’s always going to come back to stuff that really matters.

And so, I encourage people to actually steer with that as opposed to getting caught into all the things sort of in that headspace of what you should do. And, just while I’m on that, just about any time you’re telling yourself you should do something, pause. Because, usually, what you’re telling yourself is that there’s some external standard that is a guideline for what you ought to be doing. And where I want you to pause is say, “But is that really true for me? Is it really true that that’s the right thing for me to do?”

And sometimes when you should, in the case of given who I am and what I care about, this is the thing that I need to do, but I’ve learned so oftentimes, so many times we only use the word should when it’s an external rule, an external guide. And when it’s our own sort of compass, we say, “I get to…” or, “This matters to me,” or, “I want to…” or, “This is meaningful.” Like, we use all sorts of words that are different than the should word. Does it make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I have been thinking about should a lot lately in terms of, I guess, when I see or hear should, I get very curious as well in terms of “What do you really mean by that?” And I find, often, that should, all that really means is, “If one were to invest additional time, energy, money, resource in this domain, there would be some kind of a benefit.” But, like you said with regard to opportunity cost, well, is that really worthwhile?

And I’m really intrigued when I hear it with regard to people talking about TV or Netflix, like, “Oh, have you seen the latest season of this?” And I say, “Oh, no, I should really watch that.” And I’m thinking, “Man, really, should you? I think you got the right idea and I’m the one who should watch less Netflix.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, stop shooting on yourself is a long way of saying it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Charlie Gilkey
Like, if you wanted to do it, you would have watched the show already. If it really mattered to you, it just turns out that, I talk a lot about cage matches, whether it’s a priority cage match or a project cage match, and that’s just a homage to my upbringing in the ‘80s of professional wrestling, where the basic idea, if you’ve never seen this, it’s like a bunch of competitors get into the ring, and the strongest one, some way or the other, ends up throwing everybody else out or beating them into submission. So, I know, terrible metaphor for this particular context.

But there are certain priorities and certain things that they’re always going to win that cage match. If you are a parent and something comes up about your kids, you’re going to displace almost everything else to make sure that their needs are attended to. And so, what I want more of us to do is to look at all the OPP, the other people’s priorities, not the Naughty by Nature O.P.P. song, but that’s also a great song, right? I want to look at everyone else’s priorities and say, “You know what, why and how are those more important than my own?” Because you could be that person that runs around trying to fill everybody else’s priorities and end up exhausted and depleted and frustrated, and still not be able to appease everyone and fill their buckets.

Or, you can say, “You know what, I can’t be everything for everyone. I’m choosing for the smaller set of priorities to be who I am and to live in the way, live and work and allocate my time in a way that really accentuates those values.” And that does mean that there are a lot of people who might be mad at you, there might be a lot of people who decide not to be friends with you, or there might be a lot of other, like there might be some social fallout for that. But, again, look forward into a decade, would you rather have done the things that really are going to power the type of life you want to live or just continue to maintain other people’s projects and priorities?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And while we’re here, as I’m rolling with it, what are your pro tips on saying no?

Charlie Gilkey
Pro tips on saying no. It depends on where it’s coming from, so I got to start with that. Obviously, if your boss walks into the door, walks into the office, and is like, “Hey, I’ve got a new project and priority for you,” be careful about saying no to that because you may not get to say yes to the job tomorrow, right? And so, there’s a context there. And even with bosses, and I’ve had to do this in the military, back when I was in the Army, where it’s like you get handed this project, or you get handed this mission, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I can do this but it may displace some of these other priorities that you have for me and that we’ve already talked about. So, do you want me to do this instead of that? Or like what’s the priority conversation here?”

And that I think always returning to, especially the work environment, to priorities is a good way to talk about it, because you’re not saying, “Screw you. I don’t care.” You’re saying, “I’m here to do a certain job, or I’m here to make sure that I’m providing the best value to this team that I can. We’ve already discussed these other ways in which I could provide that value. Now, there’s this new thing. Is this better than that?” And that’s a good conversation that a lot of teams can have even that a lot of people can have with their boss.

I think when it’s with your friends and family, first off, my observation is that we spend too little time talking to friends and family about what actually matters to us, and so we end up negotiating a bunch of trivial things. We get invited to go to the club, or you get invited to go to watch the football game on Saturday, or you get invited to all these sorts of things, or you get expected to, like, “Hey, can you watch my kid today?” or, “Can you come over?” and there’s never been that talk of, like, “Actually, Saturday is the day that I spend in community service, and that’s why I’m down to soup kitchen every Saturday because that’s super important to me.” We haven’t established our priorities first and so we’re always negotiating what matters on the backside of things.

So, step one is to have more intentional conversations with your friends and family about things that matter to you, the projects you’re working on and how they fit into this life that you want to live, in that way when you do get asked to do something or requested to do something, there’s a preexisting conversation about some things that matter. It changes it, it changes the conversations because the people around you understand that it’s not like you’re sitting at home on that Saturday evening just looking for something to do, right? You have these other plans for yourself and other things that truly matter, so it does help with that conversation.

The second way that I would look in on this one would be to, where it’s a resonant request, meaning it’s from someone who can legitimately make that request, and it’s something that, in general, like you’re open to doing it but perhaps can’t do it right now, is always provide that alternative. It’s like, “You know, I’m sorry that I can’t do that that day because I have some preexisting commitments. Is there a way that I can do that Wednesday or Friday or this other period of time? Because what you’re requesting from me, I actually do care about and I care about the relationship that we’re in here. That particular time is not the best time.”

And the last thing that I would say is, and this goes back to talking about things that matter and being honest with your friends and family, is if there are certain things that you’re being requested to do and they don’t resonate, and they aren’t something you’re ever going to do, don’t BS people and be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to it,” or, “Yeah, it sounds great,” or, “We’ll have coffee in three months.” If you know that you don’t want to have coffee in three months, avoid that. Avoid setting that sort of precedent. And I know that seems perhaps obvious, and maybe it seems hard, but I think too many people are not honest with the people around them for fear of rejection, or for fear of becoming a social pariah, or whatever that is, and we end up negotiating a lot of things that, if we were just being forthright with folks, we wouldn’t have to be negotiating.

Pete Mockaitis
Charlie, I have no interest in drinking coffee with you.

Charlie Gilkey
Hey, I got it. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not true, Charlie. I think it’d be a lot of fun.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one say that?

Charlie Gilkey
How does one say, “I’m not interested in having coffee”?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ever.

Charlie Gilkey
Ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think that’s kind of what you’re saying. They’re saying, “Hey, in a few months when things quiet down,” it’s like that’s kind of what you mean is that’s just fundamentally is not worth doing to you.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, that’s a tricky one, right? Well, here’s what I’ll say. Very rarely do I have someone out of the blue who doesn’t know just ask me to go for coffee, right? So, typically, it’s in the context where they know I got a lot of stuff going on, and so I can say, “Ooh, I’m going to have a hard time.” Or, what I will normally say is, “Hey,” especially if I don’t know them and I really don’t want to have coffee, like, “What’s your thought there? What are you thinking?” And this may just be peculiar to my line of work because I am a coach and things like that.

If it comes up with doing all these things, like, “I’d love to have coffee because I want to pick your brain about something,” then I can say, “Hey, Pete, I’d love to have that conversation. I am a professional coach, and the best way for us to have that conversation would be under this sort of structure. Are you open for that conversation?” And, basically, what that’s saying in some way, without being a butthole about it, is, one…

Pete Mockaitis
It ain’t free.

Charlie Gilkey
It ain’t free. And, two, if it matters to you, like if it matters for you enough to do it, then let’s have that conversation. But, for me to show up and do that for free, like, again, that’s displaced other people who pay me to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
And, on that note, I have a certain amount of time that I just think of as service to the world and community service and things like that. And so, there are some people who are like, “You know what, that’d totally be something that I would pay…” like someone would pay me to do. But, in this circumstance, I just feel called that this is a conversation that I want to be in and so I’ll do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Charlie Gilkey
But, again, I don’t get a lot of that. I know women actually get a lot more requests for coffee, and it’s kind of one of those things. Are they requesting you to coffee to pick your brain? Which is basically that conversation we were just having, Pete. Or are they wanting to establish a friendship? And so, I think, largely speaking, the best way to say no sometimes is to say, “Let’s determine what we’re actually trying to do.”

If you want to avoid that tendency to say yes too quickly, and this does seem to contradict what I was saying a little bit earlier, your go-to is always, “Let me check my schedule and see what projects I have, and see how I can make that work.” And then say, “Let me get back to you in a day or so.” And then that at least gives you enough time to not overcommit yourself, but also think about how you’re going to disengage from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. Well, Charlie, we got a lot of good stuff here. I had a big list going in. You’ve distinguished three different ways projects get stuck, and I think that’s worth mentioning. So, can you give us, what are these three categories and how do we deal with those?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, can I get a three and a half here?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 3.5, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
Three-point-five because I kind of want to talk about the red zone on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Charlie Gilkey
Because the red zone is a metaphor, I’m appealing to American football, where as you get in that last 20 yards of the drive, a lot of teams will fumble it, or a lot of teams will screw up in that last 20 yards, and then end up in a field goal situation, or a turnover situation. And the reason you end up in a red zone is because they’re such tight space that everything working against you doesn’t have to spread itself so thin.

And so, projects can get stuck in that red zone where you’re in that last sort of 3% that seems to take as long as the full 97% before, and a lot of that is just about, again, that’s when your perfectionism is going to come up, that’s when your procrastination is going to come up, that’s when all of the implications of the scope and goal will creep, start coming up. And so, just understand that that’s a normal part of the process.

And in the book, I do give some ways to work through the red zone, but part of it is doubling down at the end and not thinking that you’re just going to be able to slide it home. I’m being super quick there because I’m conscious of time.

The other three sort of ways projects get stuck, so there are cascades, there are logjams, and there are tar pits. Cascades are when you have a series of projects that you got to do step A before you do step B before you do step C, and step A gets behind, so step B gets behind, so step C gets behind, and you might have a whole cascade of those. And at a certain point, I think we’ve all been in that where you start spending more time trying to keep your projects up to date and communicating with people about those projects than just getting those projects done in the first place, and it just keeps slipping on you.

And so, the trick of solving the cascade is you actually have to clip both ends of the cascade. You have to stop new projects coming in and, in a lot of times, you have to look at those projects that are backed up and start deferring them, start dropping them, and start focusing on getting the ones that you can through so that you get it going again. So, you can’t just focus on the new projects.

So, there are times, Pete, where people will come to me and they’ll tell me what they’re doing, it’s like, “All right. So, first thing is we’re on a new project diet, right? You don’t get to take on any new projects until we get these ones done because we don’t have any space to add anything anyways. It’s just going to be a frustrating conversation for both of us three weeks later because you’re going to tell me, ‘I didn’t make any progress on anything.’ And I’ll ask you why, because you didn’t have time, so on and so forth, so let’s not do that.” New project diet.

So, you got to sort of clip both ends. Once you get enough of those projects going, then maybe start accepting new projects back into the pipeline. And how that might work in a work context is, again, talking to your boss and being like, “Look, here’s what’s happening. I’m not able to get any of these projects done because of the rate this is coming. I need two weeks or I need a week where I can just focus on getting these things caught up. Here’s my plan for that. Is that all right with you?”

And a lot of times, when faced between you not getting something done, and you getting something done, bosses and teammates would much rather you get something done. And so, it’s not as hard of a conversation as people make it. You just have to admit that the amount of inputs that are coming in exceed your ability to put them in the output mode. And that’s a hard conversation for a lot of us to have, but having that conversation after four months of struggling, doesn’t do you any favors. If you see that, you might as well get ahead of it.

You know, a lot of what we’ve been talking about today is about taking the hard parts or maybe the pain parts of getting stuff done and putting them on the frontside of things, because the idea is that at some point, if you’re going to be falling behind and overcommitting and your projects are going to be stacking up on you, there’s a certain amount of pain that that’s going to cause. We know that. And so, it’s not necessarily avoiding the pain. It’s, can you put some of the pain at the beginning of it so that you don’t have to face so much of it later on? So, cascade, that’s how you handle cascades.

Logjams are when you have too many projects competing for the same amount of time. This is the classic case where you have five deadlines on Friday, and you start looking at all the work it would take to do those deadlines. There’s just no way you can do them all at the same time. So, it’s different than the cascade, because cascade, you can kind of think of like projects stacked back to back. A logjam is like projects stacked on top of each other, and there’s just a certain amount that’s kind of like trying to push the golf ball through the garden hose. It doesn’t work, right?

So, with the logjam, some of it is similar in the sense of like a no-new-project diet will help but you really have to get real about, like, “Which of those projects that are trying to compete for the same amount of time have to be done?” Like, if you don’t do them, you’ll get fired, or it will cause a lot of pain, and which ones are nice to do? And those nice to do ones, or would be good to get done, or the ones that get deprioritized so you can focus on getting those ones that will get you in hot water done, and then you can sort of reestablish the flow of your projects again.

And the last one is a tarpit. And I’ve learned this for a lot of creative projects, but a tarpit is when that project is like you sort of touch it a little bit, and then the second you let it go, it starts sinking in a tarpit, in like one of those Jurassic tarpits, it gets stickier and deeper and deeper. And not only do you have to work to pick it up, you have to work to pull it out of it all over again. So, if you’re ever stuck with one of those projects and the mental or spiritual or literal closet, you know what I’m talking about. It’s so hard to resurrect those things. And then once you do, the second you let it go, it starts sinking back in there.

And so, the thing about tarpits is a lot of times it’s some layer of fear that keeps that thing hiding in the background, or there are some deep sort of emotion around it, and you’ve got to get clear about what that is before you get back into that project, because if you don’t address it, the same pattern of it sinking deeper and deeper is going to keep happening.

And then the other thing about tarpits, projects in a tarpit, is you want to make sure to give it enough time, enough of those focused blocks that I’ve talked about, that you can go ahead and clear all of the muck and get some significant progress on it, because, I’ll tell you what, there are a few things better than seeing one of those tarpit projects and figuring out, it actually does still matter to you, you’ve just been daunted or overwhelmed or steered by it, and then it’s knuckling down for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, getting it done. It’d be like, “You know what, it’s done. It’s out of my soul. It’s out my emotions, out of my brain, and I can move onto the next thing, feeling so much more buoyant, and not just weighed down by that project that’s just sort of haunting me from the closet.”

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us some examples of projects that often fall into the tarpit category?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, creative projects and creative, broadly speaking, so if you want to write a book, yeah, that can be a tarpit project. If you’re a musician, you’ve been meaning to write an album, those fall into the tarpit pretty quickly because it can be challenging to bare your soul in the ways that it takes to do that type of creative work.

A common tarpit project that I’ve seen from people, I haven’t had this problem yet because of the age of my parents, but it’s when you end up with heirlooms and sentimental items that you inherit from your parents when they pass. They end up in garages and closets where you just can’t get in there, and you can’t figure out what to do with your mom’s baby shoes that she gifted to you for some reason.

And so, those types of projects, and anything around clearing out the material belongings or material items that exists from relationships, so it could be that you have that box. I know of a few of my female friends that have boxes of letters and cards from boyfriends they had in high school, right? And I’m like, “Well, okay. So, what’s that about?” But just getting in there and figuring out what to do with it and things like that can be a total tarpit.

For a lot folks, financial stuff, getting your taxes in order, figuring out where all your money has gone, is going, might go, anything around money can be one of those tarpit projects which is like, “You know, I want to get in it, I get in there, I poke around a little bit, but I don’t actually make the investment. I don’t actually buy the insurance. I don’t actually do the thing that I need to do.” Those tend to be classic sources of tarpits.

And what else? I think those are three pretty good cases of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s lovely. Thank you. Well, tell me, Charlie, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Charlie Gilkey
I know we’re wrapping things up, but I wanted to talk briefly about success packs because it’s a game-changer for people. And success packs are just a group of people that you put around yourself and your project that really help you figure out how to go. I would normally talk a little bit more about this, but the thing about success packs is they help you convert “how” problems into “who” solutions.

And when you use them, it takes a lot of that overload that we can feel, that overwhelm that we can feel about having to have it all figure out ourselves, and all the work that we might do, and feeling alone, and just realizing that we have a team of people that we can reach out to for different reasons. And so, whenever you’re wanting to do work that matters for you, before you start making heavy plans, before you start jumping headlong in there, think about the group of people that you would want to put around you that will be your advisors, that will be your helpers, that will be the people who benefit from the projects, and that will be your guides so that, again, you’re not stuck doing this type of work alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. So, now, tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Charlie Gilkey
This one is from Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching and it goes, I’ll give this version of it, “Because the master is aware of her faults, she is faultless.” And the idea there goes that because she’s honest about her limitations and constraints and who she is, those limitations, constraints and character quirks don’t end up tripping her up and making her life harder than it needs to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, I love that because I think a lot of times we don’t want to talk about those constraints and limitations and challenges. It’s kind of like when people are like, “Well, we don’t want to talk about the hard things because it makes them real.” But if you arm is broken, like you talking about your arm being broken doesn’t break it. It’s already broken. So, what are you going to do about it? And so, I love that one because whenever I’m, one, it allows a lot of room for humility but it also allows a lot of room for hope at the same time.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I’ve been really geeking out on the marshmallow test, and especially that they got it wrong.

It turns out that that was largely, when they did the research on the data and they tried to run it again, what they found out was actually a determination of someone’s social status was actually what was determining their ability to hold out or not. And the reason I’m super pumped about that finding is, one, having grown up as a poor kid, and just seeing how different realities manifest because of just where you grew up on the opportunity divide, gave me a lot of hope there. But it also reminds me that we need to be super careful about the judgments we make on people, and that we need to dig deeper when we’re starting to see some of these types of trends.

And so, again, it’s one of those big things that’s largely grit determined what you would be able to do in life, and it turns out that where you start in life determined how much grit you may have. And that means, in some ways, grit is a muscle that we can all work on, and our future is not necessarily predicated by where we grew up, even though that has a super strong influence on it.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Well, since I got the quote from that, I probably should say the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Charlie Gilkey
The tool that’s popping up to me is the AlphaSmart Neo2 which is a late ‘90s word processor. It’s, basically, a keyboard with an LCD screen on it. And it’s really helpful for writing when you’ve been super distracted, or when you got a lot going on. It’s actually what I wrote about 95% of Start Finishing on. And when it comes to quality words and volume of words, I have yet to find a better solution than the AlphaSmart Neo.

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

Charlie Gilkey
That would have to be my morning routine. And so, I drink tea and meditate for at least 25 minutes in the morning, and that 25 minutes setup the rest of the day. And there’s a marked difference when I don’t have that 25 minutes than when I do, or when I don’t prioritize it. So, that is the habit that keeps all the other habits going.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Charlie Gilkey
I don’t have a really good one but what resonates is a quote but something that a lot of readers have said about this book, is really commenting that the part about them not being uniquely defective really stands out. So, I can say it in a quote form. So, in the book, I talk about, in chapter one, I just remind people that we’re not uniquely defective. We’re not fated to being able to get our stuff together. And we’re not fated to always be in struggles with that. And I think that’s such an important point because a lot of times we approach really important stuff from a frame of like there’s something uniquely defective about us that’s going to keep us from being successful.

And when you let go of that belief, when you let go of that way of orienting yourself to the world, and you see that, to quote Marie Forleo of like everything is figure-outable, and you are fundamentally able to change if you will yourself to do it, it opens up the world of possibilities. And so, yeah, that’s the one I would put down as you’re not uniquely defective.

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

Charlie Gilkey
So, if you’re interested in the book, go to StartFinishingBook.com, that’s all one word. If you’re interested in the broader body of work that I’ve got, you can find it at ProductiveFlourishing.com.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. In the next full week that you have, reach into that closet of your soul where you put one of those projects that really matter, one of those ideas that really matter, that will make your work better, that will make your colleagues work better, that will make your workplace better, and start thinking about, “How can I spend at least two hours this week bringing that idea to life and turning it into a project?” Start with that two hours and if that’s all you’ve got is two hours a week, better to work on that and make work awesome than to leave it in there waiting for a better time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Charlie, this has been so much. Thank you and good luck in all of your finishing projects.

Charlie Gilkey
Thanks so much for having me, Pete.