Tag

Prioritization Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

682: How to Boost Your Results through Extreme Productivity with Robert Pozen

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Robert Pozen shares his key tips for effective prioritization and how you can make meetings easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The schedule hack for efficient prioritization
  2. The system to make your email work for you
  3. How to say “no” to a meeting 

About Robert

Robert C. Pozen teaches at MIT Sloan School of Management, where he offers courses to executives on personal productivity. He was president of Fidelity Investments and executive chair of MFS Investment Management, and served as a senior official in both federal and state government. His seven books include Extreme Productivity, a top-rated business title that has been translated into 10 languages. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, and was on the editorial board of the Yale Law Journal. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Care.comFind the perfect caregiver for your child, parents, and home.
  • TheZebra. Quickly save on home and auto insurance at TheZebra.com/awesome

Robert Pozen Interview Transcript

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

Robert Pozen
Glad to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. So, I understand you spent some time doing some sports hall of fame work. Any cool stories there?

Robert Pozen
Yeah. Well, I was a member of the board of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts where we helped raise money to put together a new Hall of Fame, which is really great, a lot of interactive features, and really great stuff that lots of kids really like. Probably the most interesting part of that is when I was in the induction ceremony.

We have an induction ceremony every year, and there was, my wife came to the first one, and she said, “Gee, I’m the smallest person by a long shot here,” because everyone was like 6’6”, 6’7”, 6’9” so that was a lot of fun. The other thing is when we sat as a board, we sat in alphabetical order, and I happen to sit next to Oscar Robertson in a lot of meetings, and he was really fantastic.

He was one of the few players to hit a triple double. So, he was really one of my idols. In fact, I wrote a little poem about Oscar Robertson, which tried to convey what it would feel like if you’re listening to a basketball game with the Cincinnati Royals where he was playing. And one of his teammates was Bockhorn. So, would you like to hear the poem?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Robert Pozen
“Robertson, Robertson, Robertson.
Robertson, Robertson, Robertson.
Robertson, Robertson, Robertson.
Bockhorn, Robertson.”

So, that’s the poem to convey the sense of how dominant he was in the game. So, it’s a lot of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
A poetic master at work. And you’ve also written some prose in the non-fiction world. I want to hear a little bit about Remote, Inc. and Extreme Productivity. Let’s start with Remote, Inc. Can you tell us, what would you say is one of your biggest surprise discoveries as you were researching and putting together these insights?

Robert Pozen
I think one of the biggest surprises was how much more work it takes for managers of remote teams to really manage effectively. A lot of people think, “Well, if you’re managing a remote team, there’s not as much to do because you’re not seeing these people as much,” but that’s just the opposite. You have to work a lot harder to manage your teams when they’re remote. You’ve got to work a lot harder to keep their spirits up, to give them guidance, and to give them regular feedback. So, that’s a very different result than I thought when I started to research the book.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there a couple best practices you’d point to that show folks doing that super well?

Robert Pozen
Yeah. So, one best practice is to have a weekly meeting of your team. Now, a lot of people have that but we want to see that meeting be forward-looking rather than backward-looking. And a lot of weekly meetings are just reporting on the activities that you’ve had so that doesn’t really get you that far. We want everybody to say what are they planning to do for the next week so members of the team can input their suggestions, can give them context, and really help them to be more effective for the coming weeks.

Now, the second practice is we’d like to see team managers have one-on-ones with every member of the team every week. Because when people are remote, they’re feeling somewhat isolated, they’re not that integrated into the team, they’re a little worried. Some of them might be suffering from loneliness or even depression. So, having the manager speak to them, if only for half an hour a week, makes a big difference.

The third thing is performance reviews. I’ve always been against the annual performance review where it’s a formal sit-down and there’s usually a document, which is formulated and then filed and never seen again. What we want to see is to have periodic feedback, not one big performance review. So, you want to have periodic feedback after every large project, and at least once a quarter. And that’s really important when people are working remotely. They really need that feedback, they need that guidance, and having it on a regular basis is really critical.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, how about some tips when you’re not in the position of team leader?

Bob Pozen
So when someone works remotely, they ought to have a different mindset. They ought not to think of themselves as an employee who takes instructions and detailed directions from their boss. They ought to think of themselves as a business of one. And by that we mean that they should think of themselves as if they’re a small business owner, which they own their own resources and time.

And that implies that the relationship with their boss is one of a client, and not an underling, so they ought to treat their boss as their client and agree with the boss on what their deliverables are, and the boss obviously has to set them. But then, once there’s an agreement on deliverables, it’s up to the employee when and where and how the work gets done. And so, that autonomy that really helps people be more productive and more satisfied.

And we try to operationalize this in what we call success metrics. That is when you have this discussion with your boss about what he or she wants you to do, you then try to operationalize it in success metrics, saying, “At the end of the week, or the month, or whatever the project is, how are we going to know whether we’re successful?” So, we want people to agree on those success metrics because if there’s an agreement on success metrics, three really good things happen.

First is there’s a clarification of what we mean by the objectives of the project. If you take a project, say, like improve customer service, people can have very different ideas about what that means. But when you have to take that general idea and make it into success metrics, then the team and the boss get tremendous clarity on what they mean and what they’re supposed to be doing.

Second of all, when you have success metrics, you can avoid having the boss micromanaging because the boss then has comfort that at the end of the period, there’s going to be these success metrics so we’re going to know whether they achieve something. Most bosses are a little uncomfortable with remote work because they’re worried about accountability, and success metrics provides that accountability.

And the third thing is that once you have success metrics, then you have the freedom to work when and where and how you want, because as long as you’re producing those success metrics, then you’re okay. And it’s that autonomy, as I’ve said before, that really produces, that helps people become much more productive and much more satisfied with their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. Well, then sort of zooming out beyond just the world of working remotely, you’ve done lots of work helping folks become more productive or even have extreme levels of productivity. Can you share with us, what are some of the most useful solutions that folks in your audiences come back again and again, and say, “Wow, this made all the difference”?

Robert Pozen
Well, one thing we ask people to do is to be very explicit about setting their priorities and then integrating them into their daily schedules. Now, people say, “How do I integrate them into…?” your daily schedule. So, we suggest a two-sided schedule. On the left-hand side, you have the typical schedule where people put their meetings, their phone appointments, their other things. But then, on the right side, we want them to put, “What do they hope to get out of this meeting? What do they hope to get out of this phone call?”

So, people have told me that this is really useful because it helps them focus on what they really should be getting out of all these appointments, otherwise they can go through a whole day, and they come home, and they say to their spouse or partner, “I’ve worked really hard but I don’t know whether I have accomplished anything.” What that really means is they’ve been passive, they’ve accepted other people’s meetings, other people’s emails, they’ve responded to them, and they really haven’t been pursuing their own priorities. So, that’s one big thing.

A second thing that people like a lot is what we call OHIO, only handle it once. We talk about how you handle messages, and we strongly urge that you filter out a large number of messages, and that you skip over a lot of messages by just looking at the subject matter and the person who sent it to you. But then we stress that if there’s an important message, one from an important person, like your boss or your spouse or the IRS, we stress that you need to answer it right then and there if you can.

And that turns out to be a very important practice because if you don’t answer an important email right then and there, you put it in sort of a holding pattern or a holding box, before you know it, you have a hundred of those. And then if you go back to find it, it may take you half an hour or even more to find the important message that you’ve sort of let slip, and worse, you’ll forget about the message altogether and you won’t answer it. So, by using OHIO, only handle it once, that forces you to answer those important messages right then and there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig a little deeper on each of these. So, when it comes to that two-sided agenda and, “What do you hope to gain from this meeting or phone call?” could you give us some example articulations of that? Because I imagine, it’d be quite possible to have some answers to that question that are a little bit soft or weak, and not quite as helpful, like, “Oh, we’ll just kind of see where we’re at. Touch base.”

Robert Pozen
Well, those would be good examples of almost non-goals or non-priorities. So, suppose you were a member of a team, and you’re working on a project, and you were a little up in the air as to how much budget you’re allowed to spend in the next month on this project. So, if you had a meeting with your project leader, you might write down in the two-sided schedule, “Nail down exactly how much budget we have for the next month.” So, that would be an example of something where you really were focusing on your priority.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I like about that is when you’ve determined, “This is my purpose. This is the goal. Nail down the budget,” like if that was sort of generally floating in your head, like, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably one of the things we should talk about,” one, you might not get to it, and, two, you might not be nearly aggressive enough to get it in terms of like, “Hey, so what’s our budget?” Like, “Oh, yeah. Well, we’re kind of figuring that out. We’re talking to the finance and accounting guys.”

And then if you said, “Well, no, this is the one thing I want from the meeting,” you’re more likely, I’d imagine, to ask those follow-ups, like, “Okay. So, when will you have that for me?” and/or, “Well, so I’m about to spend a hundred grand tomorrow, is that okay?” And then you’ve got something even if it’s not the entirety that you’re hoping for.

Robert Pozen
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And the other beauty of having to put down your priority, what you’re trying to accomplish in a meeting, is that you might say, “Well, now that I understand this meeting and what’s on the agenda, I shouldn’t go there because I don’t have any priority to achieve,” not, “There’s nothing important happening for me.” And that leads to a whole discussion about how you might go about treating meetings and dealing with them more productively.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I really want to talk about effective meetings shortly, but before we lose it, you mentioned filtering out messages in email. Is there a piece of software, or a tool you use, or a protocol? How do you do that filtering well?

Robert Pozen
Well, I use keywords, and unsubscribe is a good example of a keyword. So, if there’s an unsubscribe in the email, then that goes into my newsletter file because those are almost all newsletters. And another keyword is if somebody’s talking about a political contribution, so that goes into a separate file, and those files, I tend to empty and not really spend any time with.

So, you can use Google, you can use any of the typical software, but the key is to figure out the right keywords that will really focus the system and will help allocate the emails to the right folders.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I guess there’s like a split inbox or like an auto-labeling or moving thing going on.

Robert Pozen
Correct. Exactly. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nice. Okay. Cool. Well, so, yeah, we talked about priorities, I guess that’s a big question. So, how does one arrive at priorities? And I guess this is kind of like, “What’s the meaning of life?” But maybe in terms of like a daily, weekly, monthly basis, how do you recommend guiding the difficult thinking, decision-making process by which you determine, “Aha, yes, this is the priority and this is not so much a priority?”

Robert Pozen
Well, I like to ask people to just start by setting out their annual goals and then writing them into different segments. So, you want to talk about your professional goals, those for your own professional development, and those for your team or organization, and you also want to talk about your personal goals, and you want to write them down and deal with them systematically.

But then I think those goals set a framework and you have to bring them back to your week. So, what I’d like to do is to ask people, on a Sunday night, just sit down, or sometimes during the weekend, and try to think about, “What are going to be the things that I really want to accomplish this week?” and to put a list of must-dos together, and then have other lower priorities. So, that’s the sort of methodology that I think you need to use.

You got to start with the big picture, but then you got to bring it down to your week, and distinguish carefully between the must-dos and the nice-to-dos. And then, every night, I want people to sit down and revise that list in light of what they’ve been able to do, what’s come up new, and what they’ve learned so they might revise that for the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very nice. And how do you recommend, when you’re communicating no to someone, either for a meeting that you realized you don’t need to be there for, or for a request? Do you have any favorite ways of saying no?

Robert Pozen
Well, I think in terms of meetings, what I like to do is to ask people, “What’s your agenda for the meeting? Please send me the agenda before I decide whether I need to go.” So, some people will never send you an agenda so that suggests there is an easy way to get out of the meeting because they never sent you the agenda.

Then other people would send you an agenda, and there would be nothing really on the agenda that was really important for them, for you, so you would say to them, “Look, I’ve looked at your agenda, and I don’t think that these are going to really be critical to my priorities, so let me skip this and I’ll be glad to look at the notes of the meeting, and see where there’s anything that’s come up.”

A third possible thing is when people send you for a meeting, to say, “I’ll be glad to go to this meeting but in order for me to be effective, I really need to have a list, for instance, of contractors if we’re going to discuss contractors.” Or, “I really need to see some numbers about this product, or the product launch, before I go to the meeting.”

And so, that’s where you just sort out whether somebody’s really going to be serious about the meeting and help you have an effective meeting, or they’re just not going to respond to you, and then, again, you can sidestep the meeting because they haven’t provided what you’ve told them is really important information.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, Bob, when you use the language, “My priorities…” I’m imagining a response along the lines of being a team player, it’s like, “Well, Bob, this might not be in alignment with your priorities but, really, all of us are altogether trying to accomplish X, Y, Z.” How do you think about that dance and that balance in terms of…?

Robert Pozen
Well, that’s a fair question, and I think you could say, in response, is, “Okay, let’s discuss what the team’s priorities are and how this meeting is going to further them. And then if I can understand how this meeting really furthers the team’s priorities in a way that I can add value, I’d be glad to attend.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. And, let’s say, when we’re actually in the meeting, it is upon us, what are some of your top tips on having those meetings being engaging and meaningful?

Robert Pozen
Well, I think it’s important to distinguish between whether you’re leading the meeting or whether you’re just attending the meeting. If you’re leading the meeting, it’s incumbent upon you to realize that the key to meetings are discussion and debate, and not just droning on with lots of PowerPoint. So, you need to keep your initial remarks down to, say, 10 minutes, and use those 10 minutes to really key up, “These are the issues that we’re going to be focused on today, and this is what we hope to accomplish.” So, that’s how you begin the meeting.

Second is you ought to really promote discussion and debate by going around and asking people for their opinion. I usually suggest that people start with the more junior members at the table because if the most senior person talks, they might feel a little intimidated and not want to talk or disagree with them. So, that’s a second thing.

A third thing is that you got to have good closure in a meeting, and you’ve got to sort of say, “Well, this is what we’ve decided, and here are the next steps. Here are the people who are going to be responsible for the next steps and here are the timeframes.”

Now, if you’re attending a meeting and those things don’t happen, you could say, for instance, if somebody starts on 40 PowerPoints and they’re just taking up all the time for the meeting by going through PowerPoints, you might say politely at some point, “Well, that’s great. We’ve really learned a lot. But are there some issues that you would really like us to discuss, we have some input in?” So, that would be a way to stop somebody from going through 40 PowerPoints.

Similarly, at the end of the meeting, there are lots of meetings that end inconclusively. So, you could say toward the end of the meeting, “Well, this has been a great meeting. I think we’ve decided X, Y, Z but it seems like we still have to resolve A, B, C. Let’s talk about that. Let’s focus on that.” So, that’s how you, as a participant in a meeting, can really move it in the right direction.

Last thing that’s really important about meetings is that they not last too long. There’s a lot of evidence that people who go to back-to-back video meetings, as is true in a lot of people when they’re working remotely, they wind up with Zoom fatigue, they wind up not focusing, they become very unproductive. So, I’d like to see organizations say no video meetings will last more than 45 minutes so there’s at least a 15-minute break in there when people can get away from the screen, maybe have something to eat, go to the men’s room or ladies’ room if necessary, and really relax a little.

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

Robert Pozen
Okay. Well, I want to talk about how people are going back to work in a hybrid environment and what that means and how companies ought to deal with that because that’s really what a lot of them are going through now. So, I think that most people, when our survey say, they don’t want to go, in the future, to be all remote and they don’t want to be all in person. They want a form of a hybrid.

And so, most organizations are struggling now with how to design that for a hybrid. And in the book, Remote, Inc. we suggest a variety of factors that you need to look at, and we have a little acronym called FLOCS, to sort of summarize those factors. So, one, probably the most important is the function. What’s the nature of work that you’re doing? How much of it is collaborative? How much of it involves brainstorming? Those would suggest that you ought to do more in person in the office. Versus, “How much of the work involves extended periods of concentration?” So, that would suggest that you should spend more time at home.

A second factor is location, the obvious thing. Some companies have most of their people around one metropolitan area so it’s a lot easier for them to come back in person. But more and more companies are scattered throughout the United States, so it doesn’t really make sense to come to the office if there’s nobody else there. So, you might have satellite offices or you might have things where people come in just a few days.

A third thing is organizational structure. So, some organizations are built more on individual work and others are built more on teams. If they’re built more on teams, that suggests they ought to be in the office. A fourth factor is culture. So, a lot of the senior executives I’ve talked to are very worried that if people don’t come back in the office enough, they’ll lose their company culture, and I think that’s correct.

And that’s why I think even companies that are spread around the country ought to have several weeks in the year where people come together. And I think it’s especially important for onboarding new people because that’s the way that they learn what the culture is. They can’t just read a mission statement. Every company has a nice-sounding mission statement but they really need to figure out what’s the actual culture.

And a fifth factor is S, scheduling, making sure that the team comes in on the same days. If you have a team, you want them to come in all on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You don’t want some people coming on different days.

So, the other question that people ask me a lot in terms of designing a hybrid is, “Should the individual’s wishes be paramount or it should be organization’s issues be paramount?” And my answer is straightforward, the team is the critical variable.
So, if you look through these five factors, you might come up with a very different answer for each of the teams. So, we should try to recognize individual wants as much as we can but, ultimately, the team’s needs should predominate.

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

Robert Pozen
One of the favorite quotes that I have is, “Let’s make a new mistake.” And by that, I mean it’s okay to make a mistake, it’s okay to, in good faith, to have something go wrong. But the key is, when that happens, to set things up so that they don’t happen again, to take preventative action. So, that’s what I say, “Let’s make a new mistake,” meaning let’s not make the same mistake over and over again.

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

Robert Pozen
Well, one of my favorite books is by an economist named Amartya Sen who wrote about famines in the third world. And what he showed was that a lot of famines didn’t come about because there wasn’t enough food. They came about because of the political, social structure which didn’t allow for the best distribution. So, I found it really revealing that these terrible famines, many of them could’ve been avoided, if we had better political and social economic structure. It wasn’t just a question of not having enough food.

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

Robert Pozen
Well, one of the things that I do is I take a nap every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too.

Robert Pozen
I take a short nap, a power nap. And so, I really believe in those power naps. So, some time in the afternoon, when my body temperature goes down, I take a nap. And I find that just by, I carry a blindfold when I travel, so I just put my feet up, put my blindfold on, and before I know it, I take a 20- or 25-minute nap, and it re-energizes me for the rest of the day. So, I’m a strong believer in naps.

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

Robert Pozen
There are two websites. One is BobPozen.com that has all my articles and books. And then we have a new website for the Remote book, which is RemoteIncBook.com. So, that’s another place that they can do that.

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

Robert Pozen
Yeah, I think the real challenge for people is to stay focused on what’s most important to them. And I think a lot of people haven’t really sorted that out. They haven’t really figured out what are the biggest priorities that they have, what are the highest priorities that they have. And then, second of all, to stay focused during the day and during the week on those top priorities.

A lot of people engage in various types of behaviors that, say, procrastination is a good example where they avoid what is really important to them and so they don’t get it accomplished. And I’d say, more generally, people need to think carefully before they start to do things, and spend the time up front in really thinking through why they’re doing it and what they’re doing.

For instance, I teach a course at MIT on personal productivity, and we give people a reading, a diagnostic test, and there’s huge difference. Some people read this article in three or four minutes. Other people take 14 or 15 minutes. And it turns out, the difference is the people who read faster and effectively have thought clearly about what they’re trying to get out of this reading, and then they read for that. They don’t try to read every word. What they’re trying to do is read for their purpose whatever their purpose is.

And, similarly, I’m a speedwriter. I was asked from time to time to write an article for the Harvard Business Review. And when I wrote an article and submitted it, the editor-in-chief said to me, “You’re the only person we have who hands in his or her articles on time and within the word limit, and it seems like you have two jobs. You’re working in the investment industry and you’re teaching a full load. So, we’d like to know what your secret sauce is.”

Bob Pozen
The key is to use outlines so you can think clearly, what’s the logic of your argument. A lot of people try to write without outlines but it’s a big mistake because writing is two different processes, thinking and then translating. And outline is the way in which you think through the logic in your argument. And once you get that down, then you can translate a lot better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool. Well, now I’m curious. If you’re a huge advocate for outlining, and you are best in class at delivering the goods in terms of on-time and within the word limit and being a hit, any extra detail you’d like to share associated with how you think about an outline really well?

Robert Pozen
Well, if we want to think about writing in an outline, the first thing you got to do is let yourself put down on a piece of paper all the ideas that you have for the article or the memo, whatever you’re going to write, and let yourself just put them all down. A lot of people get stuck because they’re not willing to put those articles, those ideas down. They get some sort of block. So, if you just put them down and you’re not worried about any particular order, that helps.

The second thing you do is you group the ideas into the natural groupings. And so, that helps you in the third thing, which is you order them logically. You take the groups and put them in a logical order. And then the fourth thing is you always want to write for good readers. So, you want to start with an introduction that tells the reader, “Why you’re going to be interested in reading this,” and then gives the reader what I call a roadmap that says what the structure of the article or the memo is going to be. And then you want to write a good conclusion.

So, that’s the key to writing outlines is start with just lots of ideas; group them, number two; put them in a logical order, three; and then, four, put them in a format that’s good for the readers.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you do an outline, kind of what kind of depth are you shooting for in terms of is it simply, “Hey, I’ve got five top-level things and then like three sort of second-level things under each of them”? Or, how do you know when you’re like, “Yup, this outline is sufficient”?

Robert Pozen
Well, it depends on what you’re writing. If you’re writing a two- or three-page memo, which is what most people write in business, then usually if you can just have five points, that will be enough to guide you through. If you’re writing a more academic piece, then you might have to have the same five points but lots of subheads so that you’ll know how to develop it.

But I actually try to write most outlines on one page because you want the line of argument to be really clear, and so you want to have it in a very succinct form on one page. So, that’s sort of the way I’d strongly urge the people do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Bob, this has been a treat. Thank you. And I wish you all the best in your extreme productivity and your remote adventures.

Robert Pozen
It’s great meeting you, Pete.

638: How to Build Unhackable Focus with Kary Oberbrunner

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Kary Oberbrunner says: "The victor, the one that is unhackable, says, 'I happen to the world.'"

Kary Oberbrunner shares expert strategies for bringing your attention back to what matters most.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The wrong and right ways of dealing with task overload 
  2. The three components of deliberate magnetic focus 
  3. The two triggers of flow state

About Kary

Kary Oberbrunner is CEO of Igniting Souls. Through his writing, speaking, and coaching, he helps individuals and organizations clarify who they are, why they’re here, and where they should invest their time and energy.  

Kary struggled to find his own distinct voice and passion. As a young man, he suffered from severe stuttering, depression, and self-injury. Today a transformed man, Kary equips people to experience Unhackability in work and life and share their message with the world. He believes the most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. His vision is to ignite 100 million souls by 2030. 

Kary lives in Ohio with his wife, Kelly, and three children: Keegan, Isabel, and Addison. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Kary Oberbrunner Interview Transcript

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

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I‘m excited to dig into so much of what you’ve got to say. First of all, though, I want to hear about your connection to the Shawshank Redemption movie.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes, that is a fun tip. So, I was in a day job for a long time and it felt like a prison, and I remember watching Shawshank one evening, thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I relate to that.” So, quick story, basically, I was writing on the side and I finally did get out of that day job, and I said, “You know what, lots of people are asking me, “How?” so I’m going to write a book called Day Job to Dream Job. And the Shawshank prison is the day job. Zihuatanejo, where eventually, Andy goes at the end of the movie is the dream job, and I’m going to write the book.

And so, I started Googling where the heck was Shawshank prison. And I’m not from Ohio originally but it was The Ohio State Reformatory, and I said, “Man, I’m driving 90 minutes up to nowhere.” I found it and, basically, told the workers what I was doing and that I wanted to write a book in Andy’s prison cell on Day Job to Dream Job, and they’re like, “Sweet! Here’s the wi-fi password.”

And so, I ended up writing a good amount of the book in Shawshank prison. And then, a year later when we launched it, they heard about the story, the celebrities came back, and, sure enough, the warden, Bob Gunton, we launched Day Job to Dream Job at Shawshank prison together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Well, so…

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, I want to work out of a prison cell,” and they’re like, “Yeah, you got it.” So, there’s no fees or protocols. It’s just like, “Yeah, sure thing,” but…

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Well, it’s no longer like a functioning prison. It’s more of a museum now but, evidently, they trusted me. And now I actually train their board of directors once a year on leadership, so it’s a crazy full circle.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. Well, I’m excited to talk about one of your latest works, Unhackable. Great title. What would you say is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made about us, humans, and how we pay attention these days when putting together the book?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I wrote a fiction book called the Elixir Project in 2016 about a future society where people’s brains get hacked, and that was my first stab at fiction. And when the book came out, people said, “Man, this is not just a fiction book. Like, this is happening.”

And so, they kind of said, “Turn this into a nonfiction book for people in the workforce, in business.” And so, basically, I did a ton of research and found out that a hack is basically when someone or something gains unauthorized access to a system or a computer. And think back to biology class, and sure enough, we were made up of pulmonary, circulatory, respiratory system so our bodies are like systems and our brains are like supercomputers. So, in a real way, humans are getting hacked anytime we get distracted from our ultimate destiny, our dream. And the distractions are crazy big these days, and I’m sure we’ll get into it. It’s a pretty fun topic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, unauthorized access, that’s sticking with me here.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that almost implies a hacker or a…Actually, I love the podcast the Darknet Diaries, it’s all about hackers.

Kary Oberbrunner
Sweet.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what do they call it, a threat actor, I think is the term they use a lot, whether that’s a nation or a company or an individual, kid in the basement. A threat actor is kind of getting unauthorized access into our heads, but sometimes it’s us.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s a universe of threat actors that are kind of the big culprits of hacking our systems?

Kary Oberbrunner
It can be a lot of things. Unsexy hacks are just laziness or Netflix or these types of things, but, in a real way, the human species is now wired to crave distractions. We know from all the psychology that distractions produce a break from stress, and we know that smartphones create dopamine and addictions. So, I’m all for technology; I love technology.

However, human knowledge, once doubled every thousand years, so think about that. It took, essentially, from the years zero to 1500 to double human knowledge. And then the next time was 250 years, and it kept going and going. And, now, we live in a world today where every 12 hours human knowledge is doubling, and so we can no longer keep up.

Our ancestors made a handful of decisions a day back not too long ago. Today, we make 35,000 decisions. And so, we literally wake up with this limited attention, and throughout the day we dip into that and we create what’s called decision fatigue so that, at the end of the day, we’re saying things like, “I’m burnt out. I’m running on fumes. I’m on empty.” And, in a real way, we can no longer keep up with the amount of stress and distractions that are in front of us today.

Pete Mockaitis
When we talk about human knowledge doubling, is that kind of like the printing press or like unique content published? Is that what you mean by knowledge?

Kary Oberbrunner
Everyone has become a publisher. Everyone has become a content creator. We used to have gatekeepers where you would try to get a record out, you would try to get your thoughts out and be printed in the paper. We now have YouTube. We all are our own TV station, press release system, newspaper. We’re literally producing mountains and mountains of information not to mention computing, AI, I mean, you name it. It’s just an exponential curve.

And our brains haven’t upgraded. So, technology has upgraded but our brains have not. And not only that, Pete, but we now have new terms. Digiphrenia. So, schizophrenia was multiple personalities, this type of thing. Well, digiphrenia is a legit term that basically means that we exist in multiple places at once in the digital space.

So, most people have a Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, and so now, not only am I existing right now, Pete, but online I have a persona that’s existing that may be getting tweets and maybe getting comments. Not only that but you have the stress of trying to be consistent on all platforms at once. And so, there’s a tearing of the mind that happens. It’s literally a stress.

And not only that, the average person touch, clicks, taps, swipes their smartphone 2600 times a day according to dscout. We now have five hours a day but this is on screens, but it’s in 30-second bursts, so, not to mention COVID and kids now doing online school. Again, technology is not the enemy, but I’m saying technology used to be a tool that we used. Now, we’re the tool that technology is using.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s heavy stuff.

Kary Oberbrunner
It is heavy. It’s kind of like The Matrix, only real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned psychological research. Could you share some striking stories or studies or evidence, bits, that kind of lay out – well, you dropped the numbers already, which is intriguing – in terms of like the state of play right now? And then what’s really possible if we take on some practices to become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. So, right now, we have so many things going at us that a lot of us have adapted the lie of multitasking. And people get confused about multitasking, they say, “Surely, I can mow the lawn and listen to an audiobook. See, that’s multitasking.” Multitasking, we’re actually talking about doing two cognitive things at the same time. And so, therefore, it’d be like me trying to do a podcast with you right now and checking email and check my Instagram. When we do that, it’s not multitasking; it’s switch-tasking, our IQ drops 40 points, so it’s literally like being stoned.

And so, most of us, throughout the day, let’s be honest, we walk through the day stoned. And we do what’s called attention residue where part of my brain is still on the Instagram, part of my brain is on the email, part of my brain is with you. And not only is that productivity destruction but it’s relationship destruction. There’s a new term now called fobbing, not snobbing, where you’re trying to talk to me and I’m blowing you off or whatever, you’re blowing me off.

Now, when we’re talking with people, we’re looking at our smartphones. And this presence of relationship is now a thing of the past, and you can tell. I’ve got to do business on Zoom. You can tell when someone is watching or you can tell when someone is checking something else and something else, and it’s literally redefining the way we do relationships.

Kary Oberbrunner
But there is good news. There is good news.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us then, sort of, ultimately, how do we become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
How do we become unhackable? I love it. So, here’s the thing, in the book, I break down unhackability into three things. I’ll give you the three easy-to-remember words and then we’ll bump it out a little bit. But it’s literally idea, focus, and flow. That’s what unhackability is: idea, focus, and flow. Notice it’s knowing, being, and doing.

So, to stress that a little bit more, it’s flawless idea anatomy, so we talk about, “How do you create flawless ideas?” and there’s four components. Then we go into deliberate magnetic focus, and there’s three focus filters. We’ll get into that. And then optimal human performance – flow. And so, certainly people will have read books or heard books on just flow, like Steven Kotler is kind of the grandfather of flow; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist. There’s been books on flow, there’s been books on focus, and then there’s been books on ideas, but, truly, an unhackable person is one who leverages all three.

And I’ll tell you why this is so important, because, as kids, we grow up saying a weird word; we said, “Abracadabra” anytime we wanted something magical to happen. We didn’t know what the word meant but we said it. The word actually means “I create as I speak.” I create as I speak. People who have faith, very interesting, it even gets crazier. It’s made up of three Hebrew words. Abba, which is father, and so it’s Father-Son-Spirit, Abracadabra. Really crazy interesting stuff.

In the faith tradition, it says that “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” In other words, Abracadabra. I believe that we’ve been created to dream and do, ideate and implement, and that is our divine destiny. And when we’re doing that, we’re actually living out our calling. But, unfortunately, most of us dream, then we get hacked. We ideate, and then we get hacked; we don’t implement.

So, to your point, let’s talk about focus filters. Yeah, focus filters is one component of how to become unhackable. I, basically, break down focus filters into three of them: urgency, agency, and energy. So, most people, your great listeners, they probably have a dream, they probably have a desire, but, unfortunately, we always get hacked until we apply those focus filters: urgency, agency, and energy.

So, just to give you an example, it’s a beach example. If I go out to the beach, I got a bald head, I can burn in about three hours, or I can burn in about three minutes. What’s the difference? A magnifying glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, sunscreen.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah, that’s right. A magnifying glass. So, same sun, same skin, but a magnifying glass, or what I call a focus filter, it amplifies the energy. So, it takes all that energy from the sun and puts it into a laser beam where you burn a whole into your skin. Or, in the metaphor we’re using, you burn a whole into your dream. You take that dream that you have where you keep getting hacked, and you, essentially, narrow your focus.
Urgency is that focus filter. So, what I mean by that is we need a deadline. Every dream needs a deadline. And think back to school days, Pete, remember when the professor assigned something on day one? When did most people actually do the assignment?

Pete Mockaitis
The night before.

Kary Oberbrunner
The night, Pete, you nailed it. A deadline amplified the energy. In other words, it said, “We’re going to get so focused. We’re going to get laser-focused.” Why? Because there’s a cost. If you don’t complete the assignment you get a bad grade. Well, what I’ve realized is that urgency is one of these amazing things, just like physical healthcare, what makes it super important? You put the word urgent in front of it. Urgent care. Now, all of a sudden, you get rushed, you get seen fast. Why? Because there’s a cost. Most of us do not have a cost attached to our dream, or a deadline. Those two components – deadlines and costs – make urgency work for us and become unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued then, I think of deadlines, they are often associated with other people in terms of it’s like closing a house or whatever. It’s sort of like the lawyers, the realtor, the somebody said, “This is when this has to be in.” And so, when you think about our own dreams, how do we effectively harness a deadline so that there does seem like there’s a real cost? Like, if I do some work on a project tomorrow, I could do it the next day or the day after. How do I get urgency to be real and the cost to be real?

Kary Oberbrunner
Just to give you some client examples, I had one client who kept blowing off his weight dream, like, “I want to get down to a certain weight. I want to get down to a certain weight,” and he just struggled and struggled and struggled. Finally, he said, “Okay, I’m going to put a real cost behind this.” And I won’t tell you which political party he hates but he hates a certain political party so much that he said, “I will write out a check right now for $1,000 to the political party that I hate. I will put it in an envelope, I will put a stamp on it, and it will sit on my desk, and if I do not lose…” and this guy was a pretty big dude, “…if I did not lose 50 pounds by this day, that check is in the mail.”

I’ll tell you what, first time in his life he ever did it. He lost the weight because it, suddenly, was a real cost, which not just was a $1,000 but a “$1,000 to a political system that I do not like,” it was big enough. And I don’t know what people’s cost is but it needs to hurt. In other words, Pete, it needs to hurt so much that doing the dream is easier than paying the cost.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. There’s an episode of Nathan For You, it’s a comedy show, it’s kind of ridiculous that kind of explored this concept. You might enjoy that episode if you haven’t seen it.

Kary Oberbrunner
I might. I might, after you quote that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s intriguing. And I wonder if people are like, “Oh, I wouldn’t trust myself to actually do it.” I mean, you could sort of entrust that with a friend who happens to have the opposite political party affiliation.

Kary Oberbrunner
He did. He did. He told me.

Pete Mockaitis
And they’ll be eager to give it to that side. But then, also, they’re your friend so they’re not going to just sort of make a $1,000 of yours disappear without your consent.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Exactly. But that’s one example. But here’s another thing, Pete, it really becomes a mindset change. Unhackable people are victors, and hacked people are victims. And this is not my own but I love it, it’s a great illustration. Victims say, “The world happens to me.” Now, I’m not talking about victims of trauma or this type of thing, but I’m saying a victim mindset. So, a victim says, “The world happens to me.” And what happens is they often lie in bed – blame, excuses, and denial.

The victor, the one who’s unhackable, says, “I happen to the world.” These are people that put their quote “Oar in the water,” O-A-R, ownership, accountability, and responsibility. So, they literally take accountability for their lives. They literally are responsible. They take ownership. It’s not just a nice acronym. This is the difference between Capt. Sully on the flight. He didn’t ask the Canada geese to hit the propeller, but when Jeff, his copilot, was flying the plane, Sully said the magic words, “My plane.” And Jeff said, “Your plane.”

In other words, he took ownership, accountability, and responsibility. He took over that bird strike because he was unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that’s one way to make a deadline real. Let’s hit the agency and the energy. How do we crank that up?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. Agency, I’ll give you an example. When I get my oil changed at the dealer, I suddenly walk into their agency. Let me explain.

Chairs, magazines, Donahue is on the TV, or something crazy. In other words, I walk into their space and it’s their agency. Many people have that reality. In other words, no judgment, but when I fly on an airplane and look to the person next to me, they’re bored as heck, they’re flipping through the magazine, they’re busting out their phone.

Listen, if you got a dream, you’re not chilling like that. And I’m not saying you always got to be working, but I’m saying that, in the book we talk about what’s called your boon. Your boon is your deepest desire, your greatest ache, your truest longing. It comes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Luke Skywalker, Neo, Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games, Star Wars, you name it, Matrix. The hero’s journey is all about leaving the ordinary world, meeting a mentor, refusing the call, going into this special world, facing the giant, we think it’s external, it’s really ourselves or the ones who hack ourselves most of the time. But then, after we defeat the giant, we essentially get the boon. The boon is the holy grail. The boon is the elixir.

Let me say this, Pete. We don’t care if we get hacked until we know our boon. So, in other words, when I don’t know my boon, I’m like, “Hey, come on, Netflix, come on, XBOX, come on, all distractions in the world. What’s going on, on TV?” In other words, I actually purposely try to distract myself because it gives me this pseudo-purpose. But a someone who knows their boon, man, they are fighting for that. And that’s what really kicks us into unhackability, is knowing our boon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so how do you recommend we get some clarity and specificity on our boon, our deepest desire and calling and such?

Kary Oberbrunner
Well, I do have a free download, no email opt-in required. It’s at UnhackableBook.com, and if they click Resources, there’s 83 questions that gets you started, and these questions are fun. One question is, “What’s one thing you would regret not doing before you die?” It’s deep questions. It’s questions that you don’t just address every single day, but these are deep questions.

And what we begin to see is this melody line. It often doesn’t come just in one lightning bolt. It often comes with, I say, dream recovery, not dream discovery. In other words, your show is great and it probably talks about how we need to recover our dream. In other words, if you ask most kids, I’ve never met a young kid who said, when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you get older?” “Oh, I don’t know. I have no clue.”

I think we are born with this innate sense, maybe not exactly, but in the ballpark. Like, some people just say, “I know I was born to be on the stage.” Now, they might’ve thought the stage was one thing. Or, “I was born to always care for animals.” We lose sight of who we are along the way because we start listening to the voices of others. In other words, other people’s advice hacks us, “Pete, you won’t make money out of that,” or, “That’s not a well-paying job,” or, “That’s not a respectable job.” And, suddenly, we start listening, and that’s another way that we allow other people to gain unauthorized access to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, 83 questions, we can do some exploration, reflection, rediscovery there. And then how about energy?

Kary Oberbrunner
I think clarity…

Pete Mockaitis
What was that?

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah, yeah. I was just going to say clarity comes with action. I think that we don’t just sit in a room and wait for the clarity to come. A lot of times we have to work it out, we have to try, we have to experiment. But back to your phrase about energy. Energy is that last focus filter. And energy is super cool, super exciting.

Are you familiar with Twenty One Pilots? Have you ever heard of them? A band?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know.

Kary Oberbrunner
Okay. So, it’s a band, and there’s tons of bands out there so I don’t expect you to know, but the Twenty One Pilots are a band, and I’m just going to use…I like to tell stories to make a point. They come from my hometown Columbus, and they won a Grammy. But, well before they won a Grammy, nobody knew about them. And what’s interesting is you can actually go on YouTube and you can find one of their very first concerts, and it’s pitiful. There’s 12 people and it’s in a basement.

And the craziest thing in the world is that the lead singer is so enthusiastic. Oh, my gosh, like the guy is on fire, and you’re kind of like, “What the heck, man? There’s 12 people in the basement.” He had what’s called an enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the word entheos, God within. This is part of becoming unhackable.

What gets you on a bigger stage is enthusiasm. Most people say to the universe, they say, “Once I’m on a bigger stage…” “Once I have a big platform…” “Once I have a big show…” “Once I have a big business, then I’ll be enthusiastic.” No, no, no, you have enthusiasm, and that’s what gets you on the bigger stage. So, just like you, Pete, just like me, I mean, you’re successful, I’m successful. Why? Because we treated those first five listeners like rock stars. We didn’t say, “Hey, I’m going to overlook those first five listeners. And, some day, when I have a big tribe, a big showing…” No, no, no, this is what unhackable takes. It takes that energy where energy is E-motion. Energy in motion.

Like passion. I love the word passion. I’m into words. I’m a word nerd. But the word passion, very interesting. The ancients define passion not by how much love you had, but by how much you’re willing to suffer. So, that’s why I never understood, “Why was it called ‘The Passion of the Christ’? and there was talk about a cross? What the heck?” It’s because He was willing to suffer for it.

And so, I just want to challenge your listeners. Your boon is something you’re willing to suffer for. I mean, you look at any great person, they had to suffer for their dream and it had a cost. And so, energy is that focus filter where that’s what really helps us become unhackable when we focus urgency, energy, and agency.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the energy is comparable to passion and the willingness to suffer? Is that the key there? And then, I suppose, we get that by successfully tapping into the boon.

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. It comes with clarity. Like, Rosa Parks, she was unhackable, man. Like, you look at her, she says, “I’m not getting up off this seat. Like, I’m not going to,” and she suffered for it. There’s people all throughout history that suffered for their dream. And being unhackable, let’s face it, choosing not to binge on Netflix every day when it’s in front of you, that takes some suffering. Whatever your dream is, we can go through the list, but whether it’s physical, spiritual, mental, relational, this type of unhackability does require a suffering.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so in your book you talk about a 30-day elixir. And so, we’ve talked about a number of things that are important along the way. So, can you maybe share what are some particular real practices or interventions that help us get to, let’s say, the superhuman focus?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. So, here’s an example for Day 17. So, right now, there’s a lot of open loops inside your brain and mine. These could be open loops, like, right now, mine is, “Call the plumber because we got a leak upstairs.” It could be, “Mulch the yard.” It could be, “Mail the letter.” It could be, “Buy the birthday gift.” In other words, most of us have this subconscious program that’s running all the time in the background.

Now, we don’t think about it but just like your computer has multiple tabs on it, the more programs, the more browsers, the more tabs, the more time and energy sucked, the RAM goes down. Actually, the available RAM goes down because the RAM you’re using, it goes up. And what I’m saying is that any open loop, any indecision that you and I have, is grinding on our productivity.

So, one of the exercises I have people do, my clients, I say, “Grab a stack of Post-it notes and, literally, write down one per, one task, one open loop, per Post-it note.” And so, what people do is they begin to lay out all these Post-it notes on their desk everything that we just talked about, all the open loops, all the undecided things, because it’s literally leaking their lifeforce, it’s leaking their energy. They’re getting hacked by it.

These are the things we get up in the middle of the night and say, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot to get the dog immunized,” or whatever. Then what we do is we write on a piece of paper, “Do, delegate, and dump.” So, I encourage people to do this, like, literally in their house – do, delegate, and dump. You don’t put delay. Delay is what we always think about, “Ah, I’ll just delay it. I’ll just delay it.” Do means you’re going to do it, delegate means someone else is going to do it, and dump means no one is going to do it.

And what we do is we do this on purpose, this exercise, because what it does is it clears the mind. It literally frees up your RAM. In the book, we talk about the unhackable impact equation. And, sure enough, when you go through this exercise, you begin to free up your brain, and you allow it to have more usefulness for what you’re boon is rather than chewing up all these open loops. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it’s the act of categorizing these that unleashes it or do we actually have to get them all done?

Kary Oberbrunner
First of all, by seeing them written down automatically takes them from being internal to external. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed and I don’t even know why I feel overwhelmed. I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot to do.” And if you actually slow down and say, “Well, what are those things to do?” this is the exercise. We stop, we slow down, and we allow ourselves to unload this, first of all. It goes from internal to external. Now, I’m looking at it.

The moment something is external, now I can make a decision. The word decide is a Latin word caedere. It has the same suffix as suicide, pesticide, insecticide, genocide, homicide. Decide means to cut off and kill. And so, what does a gardener do to a tree that’s unhealthy with sap going into all of its branches? He cuts them off. He prunes them. In other words, that’s what we’re doing. We’re deciding that, “I’m going to do it.” Or, we’re deciding that someone else is going to do it, delegation. Or, we’re deciding that no one is going to do it, dumping. And you, literally, open up your subconscious mind to focus on your boon. It’s a very cleansing process.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is nice and I’ve done variants of it and it sure does feel great. Let’s hear a piece about flow.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you recommend or what are the sort of your top perspectives on how to get more flow flowing?

Kary Oberbrunner
Flow is amazing. Flow is the optimal state of human performance. It’s the place we all must be in to win a gold medal, but not only that. For those of us who aren’t athletes, it’s where productivity skyrockets up to 500%. It’s where we begin to see pattern recognition. It’s called lateral thinking. So, how do we get into flow? There are flow triggers.

One of the flow triggers, believe it or not, is a deadline. Another flow trigger is novelty. Interesting, novelty. So, what that means is that when we are stuck in a rut, we go through the same route every single day, with the same menu, and the same restaurant, and we sit in the same table. What happens is we begin to go on autopilot. And when we’re on autopilot, the brain is an energy hog and it wants to essentially map out everything through our day so it can conserve energy.

When you are on autopilot, you don’t experience flow. So, how do you interrupt the autopilot? By novelty, by doing things, by going places, by having experiences that you’ve never had before, because the brain has to engage, because there’s an element of surprise, there’s an element of unpredictability. And so, many times people feel in flow when they go travel somewhere.

And so, Pete, to get really philosophical here, we’re in a pandemic. There’s a lot of people that haven’t been able to travel. They’re not experiencing novelty. What’s the result? They’re getting hacked. And then what else is happening? Not to be a downer, but mental health. And in Japan, a few months ago, more people died of suicide than all of COVID the whole year in one month. Why? Because all of this relates.

In other words, unhackable people are people who have flawless idea anatomy, deliberate magnetic focus, optimal human performance. And one of the byproducts is that we get neurochemicals. And so, the neurochemicals are endorphins and norepinephrine and anandamide. All these neurochemicals that are supposed to be happening in our brain don’t happen when we’re not in flow, and that’s why depression is on the rise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, noted and, yet, there are some simple thing that we can do to fix that.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exercise, yeah, all kinds of good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t you give us the quick bulleted list here? Exercise. What else?

Kary Oberbrunner
So, exercise, sleep, okay? When we starve our brains of sleep, I mean, I get it, but we’re actually not allowing, just like back in the day, all day, I’m older than you, a long time ago, but defragging your computer. Literally, the brain repairs itself in sleep. Margin, where you’re not just blowing out your adrenal glands and cortisol. Eating the right way. Think about it. We call it carb crashes, sugar rushes, caffeine fixes. All of these are essentially altering the chemistry to create a certain type of feeling. Well, we can do that naturally. Community. Having good discussions where time seems to go by like that. Why? Because you’re in flow. And when you’re in flow, there is a time dilation that occurs where it either slows down or speeds up.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I mean, I think people’s eyes are open now. More and more my clients are saying, “Man, I got hacked last weekend.” And people who don’t know the vocab, they’re like, “What? What do you mean you got hacked?” They’re now aware of it. So, awareness is really the first step. Just, for all the listeners to realize, like, “When did you get hacked? When did you just blow through five hours and you don’t even remember what you did? But you scrolled, these types of things.” And we do have an unhackability assessment. Again, all my stuff to help is free in this area because I just have a passion. I believe that when we are living our calling, when we’re fully alive, that’s our greatest contribution.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kary Oberbrunner
Carl Jung said, “What’s the most damaging thing in the life of a child? it’s the unlived life of the parent.” And that’s a negative, but I view that as a very inspirational quote because it makes me want to live the lived life not the unlived life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kary Oberbrunner
The current one that I’m digging is, believe it or not, The Psychology of Money. I just finished that. I like it. It reframes the way we think of money.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
Audiobooks, man. I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Kary Oberbrunner
My Peloton.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate and folks quote back to you frequently?

Kary Oberbrunner
“Show up filled up.” It basically means that you are doing the work internally before you ever step foot into the world every single day, and you attract people, you get clients. Why? Because they’re like, “Something is different about this person.” You show up filled up.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
I would say go to UnhackableBook.com.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
I’d say, look, even if you’re not in the right job, your ultimate calling, don’t waste the time. Back to our original thing with Shawshank and Andy, that dude didn’t just sit in prison. He was very resourceful, digging a hole on the side of the prison. So, I just want to encourage people, like, whether you’re in the right job or the wrong job, be all there because it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kary, thanks for sharing the good word. I wish you many, many fun unhackable adventures.

Kary Oberbrunner
Thanks for the amazing interview, Pete.

616: How to Handle Work in a World Where Everything’s Urgent with Brandon Smith

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Brandon Smith says: "Don't let everything be urgent all the time. Everything can't be equal priority."

Brandon Smith shares how to cut through non-stop urgency and work on what’s truly important.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How urgency is just like hot sauce
  2. What your boss really means when they say everything’s urgent
  3. How to expertly say no to extra work

 

About Brandon

Brandon went from not being able to order a pizza due to a debilitating stutter to becoming a master communicator. 

He went on to teach communication in two leading business schools and has won 12 teaching awards for his work in the classroom. 

Through his work with businesses, Brandon has helped countless employees go from being on the verge of getting fired to becoming some of the company’s top performers. 

Brandon learnt the secret of urgency, what he calls ‘Hot Sauce’ and how different people react differently to it. Today he is the author of The Hot Sauce Principle. 

Used in the right amount, hot sauce can be the very thing that turns a bland or stressful workplace into a place of flavorful productivity. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome 
  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome 

Brandon Smith Interview Transcript

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

Brandon Smith
Pete, really excited to be on the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I was just telling you off the recording that your subtitle is so good. Your book is called The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time.

Brandon Smith
Everything is urgent all of the time, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re speaking to my experience and the exhaustion associated with that. But I want to sort of go back in time a little bit. So, you were not always a master communicator. There was a time, I’m told, that you had quite the stutter and were nervous about ordering pizza. What’s the story of the transformation here?

Brandon Smith
Yeah. So, let me tell you a little bit of the story. I don’t know if I can answer the transformation part as well but I can at least tell you part of the story. So, I was the youngest of three boys, I had two older brothers, both were adopted, and my oldest brother was always in and out of trouble, so creating a lot of drama and dysfunction in my house, throwing up.

Well, when I was 10, he took his own life. And during that time, it was a really kind of transformative period for myself and my family. It was a hard time. And I ended up, I don’t know why, but I ended up coming down with a stutter about six months after he died, and I couldn’t shake it, and that was going into middle school, which I do not recommend.

So, every day, before middle school, I would have to go and see my speech therapist early in the morning and we’d work on the letters that always tripped me up, which were the Bs and the Ps and the Ts, so then I would work on those and then go on to the school day. And so, yeah, during my entire middle school career, if you were to call it that, things that involved those letters were really tricky for me. I would find any way to avoid that.

But when you’re ordering a pepperoni pizza, there’s just no escaping. You can’t say, “Can you put those little things on there? What are they called again?” so, then, ordering the pepperoni pizza, that would never really end. I would just get caught in that stutter. And I just decided that people were just kind of messy and dysfunctional, because growing up with my brother, and then the way kids with stutters were treated in school, I thought, “Man, people are messed so I’m just going to keep distance from them.”

And that was kind of my high school years. Really kind of made myself kind of a wallflower, an introvert, and then went off to college, didn’t really know what I wanted to major in, ended up majoring in communications, ironically enough. And then, at some point along the way, my stutter kind of shook free, I suppose. However, I can tell you, when I get really, really tired, or really, really stressed out and tired, it comes back a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, what a story, and I’m sorry to hear about that difficult moment but it’s reassuring to hear that you, ultimately, triumphed and, here we are, benefitting from your wisdom.

Brandon Smith
I’m working on it, Pete. I wouldn’t say triumphed. So, I’m working on it. I’m working on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you sound great, and you’ve got something important to say, and I’m excited to hear about it. So, first, The Hot Sauce Principle, why don’t you just define that? What’s the big idea there? And where does this term come from?

Brandon Smith
Yeah, you know, the big idea, what I was finding, so I wear lots of hats in the world. One of my hats is I’m an executive coach. Another hat, I teach at universities and business schools. And I was just finding that a lot of the people I was interacting with in the workplace, didn’t matter what kind of job they had, didn’t matter whether they were nonprofit, for profit, big, small, work in the United States, work internationally, two things were true. Time was everyone’s precious resource. Not money, it was time. And everything was urgent all the time.

And that urgency was like hot sauce. One day it just kind of hit me. It’s like just being hot sauce just poured on everything. And while I love that concept of hot sauce for urgency for lots of reasons, one, I like it because a little bit of hot sauce is actually kind of a good thing. I like hot sauce. It adds focus, it adds flavor, makes things a priority. But you put that stuff on everything, if you’re like me, you’re just going to be drenched in sweat, curled up in a ball, and not really able to function. And some people can tolerate a lot of this stuff, and some people can’t tolerate much at all.

So, it’s a nice, simple way of thinking about how we deal with urgency, and that sometimes it’s a good thing. But too much of anything, particularly urgency, is like hot sauce. It just overwhelms us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you mentioned some people can handle a little, and some people can handle a lot. That reminds me of there is this like local comedian who was making a joke about how some people who are really into their hot sauce will sort of demean others, it’s just like, “Oh, you probably can’t handle this.” It’s like, “You’re belittling me for having a tongue that works properly.” Like, where else has this happened with regard to, “Oh, man, you probably don’t need glasses, but I need huge glasses”?

So, we’re going to dig into that, I’m sure, in terms of just how much you can handle and how much is optimal. And so then, tell us then, what would you say is sort of the most surprising or fascinating discovery that came about when you were putting together this research associated with urgency and what we do about it?

Brandon Smith
I think there’s probably a couple things that really are big highlights that are important for us to think about. First, urgency is a good thing. So, if we kind of flip into another part of the workplace world, all the experts in change management, one of the more famous ones is a guy by the name of John Kotter who teaches at Harvard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had him on the show.

Brandon Smith
Oh, you had him on the show?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Brandon Smith
Okay. Well, then you know John well. Well, John is famous for change management. And when you look at a lot of the concepts he brings, in his frameworks, he says, “You know what, if you want to turn out a change, the first place you got to start is urgency. There has to be a high-enough sense of urgency.” So, urgency is really important when we’re trying to change.

My kids always joke with me because every year, about a month out, six weeks out to a month out from my annual physical, I will start really doubling down on exercise and health. And they’re like, “Oh, here comes dad’s physical again.” But it’s that urgency. I want to show up really good for the physical. It creates urgency. It gets us to change.

So, I think one big takeaway is that urgency is a really good thing. It’s a healthy thing. We need it. As one client told me many years ago, she said, “I know I need to light a fire in my people, but sometimes I need to light a fire under them too.” So, we don’t want to cut out hot sauce, but the problem is when we, as leaders, just think everything is urgent and we make our emotions, our anxiety, other people’s problems. It’s kind of like kick the dog syndrome.

There’s a whole new set of research studying emotions in the workplace, they’re called emotional contagion. And one of the big takeaways in that research is that anxiety is one of the more contagious forms of emotions. It’s super contagious. So, we want to make sure that we’re not making other people feel that pain. That’s a really, really bad thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Brandon, you know, that rings true in my experience in terms of anxiety. I just pick up on it. It’s just like, “Aargh.”

Brandon Smith
And you think of the year we’re in, it’s really easy for a leader to be really anxious about a lot of things. Anxious about uncertainty, about where the business is going, anxious about their family or the health, so are all our employees. They’re all anxious too. So, sometimes we actually need to be the calm in the storm. We’ve got to say, “Okay, I’m going to show calm today, or peaceful today, so I don’t freak everybody else out and they can focus and do their job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m with you. So, urgency, it’s not bad, we need some of it, especially in order to make a change. If you don’t got it, it’s probably not going to happen. And so, at the same time though, hey, we’re in a global worldwide disease pandemic at the moment with COVID-19, as we speak. Hopefully, people will be listening to this, years from now, and say, “Oh, I remember that. That was a difficult time. I’m so glad it’s such a distant memory now.” But, in addition to that, you say that professionals these days are in an urgency epidemic. What do you mean by that? And what are the consequences of it?

Brandon Smith
So, the urgency epidemic is when other people put their urgency on us, on you. They make their problems your problem. Notorious for this would be like large publicly-traded companies. So, shareholders and everyone else putting so much pressure on them, so what most C-level leaders do in this company, I hate to say, is they just tell all their direct reports, “All this stuff is urgent. We have to change it all right now. All of it now.”

And I was actually sitting in a meeting a few years ago with a senior leader who said this to the room, and one of his direct reports raised their hand and said, “Well, I totally get that, boss. I totally understand that but help us to prioritize. So, what’s the priority? What’s the order here?” And he looked at him and he said, “All of them are urgent right now equally.” And you can feel the room just deflate.

So, the real epidemic is everything being urgent all the time and having that pressure being pushed down on us. So, it’s kind of like rather than running a marathon where you say, “Okay, I’m going to be done at 26.2 miles,” it’s like run until you drop. Because we can sprint, we can do urgency for a little while, but the school of thought is it needs to be more like interval training. Like, you sprint, you get a little rest, you sprint, you get a little rest. Not just run until you drop.

And so, that’s what the real urgency epidemic costs us. It costs us exhaustion, burnout, and performance, and lots of other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, this is very much ringing true. Oh, there’s so much I want to dig into there. First, okay, maybe this is a quick one, with intervals, there’s all sorts of different interval timers. I’ve got so many apps on my phone and different recommendations for four minutes on, one minute off. Do you have a sense for what is “optimal interval”? If we really want to make some stuff happen, and we also want to not burn out, what’s kind of the range of, hey, sprinting versus chilling ratio?

Brandon Smith
Oh, man, yeah. Pete, this is tough. I hate to give that, like, classic business school answer, “It depends,” but it really totally does depend. So, for example, let’s say we were a software company, and we did a product release. Well, the natural time to do interval for rest would be right after the launch of a new product. So, if you’re in that kind of a world where you have a beginning, middle, and end of something, then you want to take the break at the end.

There was a company out in Silicon Valley a couple of years ago that tested this idea. And they would launch a new product every quarter, and at the end of every quarter, they’d shut down their business for a full week so everybody could rest, so nobody worked that week. So, at the end of the year, they were actually only working 11 months out of the 12 months because of one week off every quarter. That first year they did it, they had a higher productivity and higher performance and higher revenue than the year before.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. So, working fewer total days.

Brandon Smith
Yeah, fewer total days. If you look at another example of that, you might say like in the quick-service restaurant world, Chick-fil-A is number one in revenue per store, and they are only open six days a week, and they don’t have the late-night hours, like McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any of the other players might have. So, that’s an example of interval training. They found a way to make that work in their rhythm. They did one day off a week.

So, I think it really depends upon the business but the notion is really important. So, I think almost a better way to think about it is if you’re a leader or a manager, how can you give your folks a break between sprints so they get a moment to catch their breaths? And what are some creative ways you can do it that kind of work for your world?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, can you give us one or two or three creative ways right off the top of your head?

Brandon Smith
So, one would naturally be trying to find an extra day off a week, or working from home. So, there are many uncomfortable things and not pleasant things that came from 2020, but there are some positives. One positive is a lot of employers realized people can work from home. And then, as a huge not only morale boost and perk, but it impacts motivation if used in the right doses in a positive way.

So, allowing people the opportunity to work from home is probably going to be more like our new normal. My guess is, if we look out in the crystal ball, we’re going to see people coming into the office one, two, maybe three days a week, and then working from home the other days of the week. So, that’s an example of interval training, giving people a little more space to get things done.

Another example would be thinking about times and opportunities where you can close and turn off the whole business. So, what makes this tricky is if you’re going to give someone a break, you got to make sure people aren’t pinging them during the break. Like, I could tell you, “Pete, take this day off.” But if customers are still calling you and they didn’t get the memo, it’s not really a day off. So, boundary is really important.

Part of my background is I’m a trained clinical therapist, and any therapist, one of their passion areas is boundaries, and to really do this thing well, interval training and intervals, and protecting ourselves from urgency, we’ve got to know how to set boundaries, know how to communicate that and say no when necessary.

So, I’ll give you one more, a quick one. This is a personal tip that you could use. Everyone listening to this can use this. I started doing it this year. Really easy. I stopped emailing people on the weekends. Period. Now, it didn’t mean I didn’t do work. So, Microsoft Outlook is the tool I use. They have a function, like a lot of emailing software tools, where you can schedule emails.

So, what I did was I would still do my work but I would schedule all my emails to go out on Monday morning when people were actually supposed to be at work or working. And what I found. when I did that, was I wasn’t getting any emails on the weekend. Because, before when I would send an email, there would always be that super hardworking ambitious person at the other end that would kick the email back with a response. And then I would respond, and then they would respond, and now we’re playing an email tennis match on Saturday afternoon.

Well, I’m not playing email tennis matches anymore, and so it allowed me to really get ahead of the week and not feel that kind of pace and urgency. So, that’s a simple kind of interval training that we can all put into our lives. And if you’re a manager, I would encourage you to tell your team that you’re doing that so they don’t send you emails on the weekend either.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay, cool. Well, so already so many great takeaways there in terms of we’ve got to have some rest, and you could think about creative ways to do that. Shut down the whole business, or the whole team, or have particular days off, and so there’s a rhythmic groove that you’re in, and establishing a boundary, showing it to others so that they follow up. So much good stuff here.

I guess I also want to get your take on it is really frustrating when someone says, “All of these are urgent. Right now. And equally so.” Now, in my opinion, I want to get your take on this, one, I think when someone communicates that, it’s really just laziness and that they haven’t actually done the work to determine what is, in fact, the most urgent and/or important yet. That’s my hot take. What are your thoughts? Does that jive with what you believe as well? Or, how do you see what’s behind that message?

Brandon Smith
Yeah. Well, I agree with you completely. I would say when we live in a world where times are our most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time, it will default us to become firefighters. We’re not leaders. It doesn’t matter people’s title. Most people right now, “most leaders” are firefighters. And so, when you’re a fighter, you’re in a reactive posture.

So, what you’re saying is rather than being a proactive posture and really prioritize and sit down and plan, you’re just reacting to the stuff that’s burning that day, and then you’re putting that on other people. So, I agree completely. It’s trying to get them to shift that behavior, which is one of the many antidotes you can do when you’re getting someone trying to push that on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, lay it on us, if you think everything is urgent, and whether it means you haven’t done the thinking through to determine what’s truly more urgent, how do you recommend we go about thinking through that, and then arriving at some optimal decisions regarding the urgency of things?

Brandon Smith
So, to help with this, for everyone listening who has a boss, I no longer want you think of your boss as your boss. From now on, I want you to think of your boss as your number one customer or client because they really are. I mean, they are. They can decide to renew your contract or end your contract. So, when we do that, it, all of a sudden, turns on a whole bunch of other tools and competencies that we have around client management because, really, what we’re talking about is client management.

We want to sit down and say, “Miss or Mr. Client,” or boss, “I totally understand that you want to get all these things done. Unfortunately, we have limited resources. So, we have a couple options. One option is I would love to talk to you about the order in which we need to take these on and the importance of each so I can try to meet your needs with what we have. The other option is we can get more resources, so maybe we can find more people to get this done, or hire, or get better software, or wherever else we can invest. So, which path would you like to go down?” Essentially, it’s client management, and you’re forcing them to either trade off or offer more resources.

That’s also a boundary conversation. If you don’t do that, and you just say, “Yes, I’m going to get this done,” then what you’re sacrificing is yourself and your team because you’ll end up needing to work till 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning in order to get it all done if there isn’t enough resources, there isn’t enough time. So, you have to have the courage to also be willing to stand up for yourself and for your team to not sacrifice yourself in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this reminds me, is it called the project management trio, in terms of like the scope and the resources and the timing, and there’s sort of like a triangle there? And it’s like one of them has got to shift. And I think scope can also maybe include quality. We could do a lot of stuff poorly or we can do a few things really well given how much time and how many people we have available to do those things, and to just get very real about that.

And so, I guess I’m curious, there’s all sorts of data suggesting that we human beings do a poor job of estimating how long things take. How do you recommend we get a clear handle on, yeah, this is really what is a manageable amount for us to bite off right now versus not too much?

Brandon Smith
Oh, this is a tricky one. Now, the simple answer is time and wisdom helps to cure a lot of those ills. We just learn over time that, “Oh, yeah, I estimated I was going to take 10 hours. It turns out it took 40. That was not a good decision.” Like, I have not stained my deck myself in many years. Last time I did it, it took me 40 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Brandon Smith
I enjoyed doing it but it took me 40 hours. The next year, I hired a crew. It was like 300 bucks and they did it in like four hours. I will never stain my deck again. So, I think part of it is we learn over time. But the other part of this, too, is it’s really important that, as best we can, we try and under-promise and overdeliver when it comes to things like this. Because when we don’t make a gunline that we promised, we lose credibility. And when we lose credibility, it’s in the book, it’s part of a trust formula that I offer, we need to have trust in order to effectively push back on our manager. If she or he doesn’t fully trust us, or we don’t have that credibility, it’s going to be hard for us to push back. They’re not going to listen to us.

So, part of the way, one of the many ways we gain credibility is by kind of meeting and exceeding expectations on a regular basis. And so, it’s all about kind of managing those expectations. So, for example, I could tell my wife I’m going to be home at 6:00 o’clock. If I come home at 7:30, she’s going to be mad. If I tell her I’m going to be home at 6:00 o’clock, and I come home at 5:30, she’s going to be happy. So, it’s just kind of managing that. So, trying to think how we can do that is going to be key.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that really rings true with regard to with the trust. If you try to push back, and there’s low trust, the boss may very well say, “Nah, it’s not that much. You can handle it.” As opposed to, “Oh, no, I really do believe that you’re giving me your honest, genuine assessment of how long things take as opposed to like you’re sandbagging me because you’re lazy,” or something. So, that’s huge. And then under-promise and overdeliver, that’s excellent.

Let’s zoom into kind of the emotional difficulty associated with putting forward a smaller commitment maybe than you think they want, or saying no, or establishing or enforcing a boundary. All these things can be a little bit uncomfortable in terms of that. And I just sort of, this is my personal trick, I remember when I was an employee, and someone asked me, “Hey, when do you think you can have that done?” I just sort of reoriented that question in my brain not to mean, “When do I really think I can have it done?” to, “What is the latest data I can tell you just before you’re going to become irritated with me?”

Brandon Smith
That’s fair.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s kind of how I tried to play it. And sometimes they push back, and I’d be like, “Yeah, I think I could definitely have that by next Tuesday,” and I meant it. I definitely could because I could probably have it three days before that. And then they’d say, “Hmm, yeah, about Friday?” Then I would just sort of say something like, “Yeah, that’s more challenging but I still think that’s doable.” And then, in that way, it’s like, hey, I was never lying, I was never deceptive, I just said, “I could definitely have it done by then,” because I had a great deal of confidence that I had some bugger to schedule. And frequently they just took it, like, “All right. It sounds cool. We’ll do it then.” So, that was my little trick.

Brandon Smith
No, that’s great. It’s managing their expectations. That’s beautiful. That’s perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s one for me. Let’s hear, Brandon, what are some of your faves?

Brandon Smith
In terms of managing some of those expectations?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, managing expectations, saying no when forcing a boundary, when inside, want to people-please and accommodate.

Brandon Smith
So, let’s go back to like saying no. Saying no is difficult because it’s a vulnerable position we put ourselves in. We don’t like vulnerability because what are they going to do to us when we say no? Are they going to reject us? Are they going to get angry with us? What are they going to do? So, we just say, “Well, the path to least resistance is I say yes and just kind of keep on piling and piling and piling.”

Now, that story ends up always ending the same. We have so much on our plate that we end up missing expectations and starting to disappoint others because you can’t just keep piling and piling and piling. So, there are a couple ways that we can say no that will make it a little less emotional for us and easier. So, one very helpful tip is when you’re saying no, that conversation should be 20% no, 80% alternate solutions to solve their problem.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brandon Smith
Where we go wrong is we spend all the time, like, you asked me to do something, Pete, and I’d say like, “No, Pete, I can’t. Here’s all the reasons why,” and I go through all my list of reasons. You’re not listening to my list of reasons anymore. You don’t really care. You didn’t like the fact I said no. And what I’ve inadvertently done is I’ve set up a negotiation. So, what you’re going to say to yourself is, “Well, if I can counter his argument, then he has to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. It’s like, “Oh, well, if you could do this, we’d do that. Give it someone else.” And it’s like, “I didn’t mean to invite you into a micro assessment of the rest of my obligations and, yet, here we are.”

Brandon Smith
And that’s what happens. We end up inadvertently turning it into a negotiation. And so, what you want to do is quickly and very succinctly say, “No, I don’t have the capacity to do this, but I want to help you solve this problem. So, I’ve come up with some other alternate solutions to maybe get this problem solved. Let’s work through some of these to find another solution that will get this completed.”

So, you can suggest colleagues perhaps, you can suggest external resources, you can suggest moving things around. So, there are other options that you can lay out at the table. But, in a perfect world, all the other options should not involve you, so you’re kind of going into problem-solving.

Now, the other thing you can also do in terms of saying no is giving people a little more transparency into all the trains running on your tracks. So, often when people load up, even your own boss, your own manager, they probably have forgotten and are unaware of all the stuff you’re doing. So, giving them that window can be helpful.

I had a student of mine years ago, and she did an internship in New York in investment banking. And during that internship, she had multiple managing directors in that office, and they were notorious for coming up to her and giving her big projects. So, one day, one of them came up and gave her a project after his colleague had given her a project the day before. And she looked at him, she said, “I’m happy to do this for you. But in order for me to do this for you, I need to go to your colleague, the other managing director, and I need to tell them I can’t do their project that they gave me yesterday because I’m doing yours instead. Are you comfortable if I have that discussion?” And they looked at her, and they said, “Never mind.”

So, sometimes, showing people what you have going on, and letting them know who you’re going to have to tell no to in order to tell them yes can also re-shift the focus because, now, we’re going into politics and, all of a sudden, this person could put them self in a political limb that they didn’t realize because now you’re going to tell their boss no so you can do their project, or whoever that person may be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I like that so much because it’s honest, it’s real, it’s genuine. And then, sometimes, the person you’re communicating would be like, “Oh, not a problem. Happy to do that.” And then you learn something from that, it’s like, “Oh, huh, funny. Because from the outside looking in, it had seemed like those two projects were of equal importance but, apparently, one of them is way higher, and I didn’t even know that.” And by having had that conversation and learned that, you’re gaining some of that wisdom, that kind of say, “Oh, okay, this is what’s really important here and what is most valued in this team or organization.”

Brandon Smith
Yeah. So, if we go back to one of our bigger meta-principles today, it was about forcing prioritization. Don’t let everything be urgent all the time. Everything can’t be equal priority. That’s when we get overwhelmed and burned out. In a very kind of geeky way, we need to be lining stuff up in a process kind of way, and say, “Okay, where do I start with first? What’s first priority, and second, and third?”

And, by the way, the leaders and the companies that have really done the best job of keeping everybody focused and aligned during this whole time in 2020 have had anywhere between three and no more than five priorities. They’ve been operating off of a very set list of three to five. They haven’t made everything urgent all the time. They said, “No, these are our big things we’re going to focus on. Everybody, line up around these,” and it calms people’s anxiety, it gets people focused, it’s like just that right amount of hot sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, yes, that three to five is great. The forced prioritization is powerful. One way is to just say, “Hey, I could do that, but in order to do that, I’m going to have to drop this.” And so, you share sort of the constraints. What are some of your other favorite ways of forcing a prioritization?

Brandon Smith
So, when you’re thinking about going to your boss, it helps when you bring a menu. So, rather than say, “What do you want me to do?” we want to be a little more on the author seat and we want to bring them a menu, and say, “I’ve got three different options for you today. Which one of these would you like to go down? Which path?” So, that’s another way that we can force prioritization is by offering options. You’ll learn a lot from people based on what they choose off that menu.

So, a common example is, like, I always feel bad for the creative types in the world because they routinely get customers that say, “You know, I don’t know what I want but I’ll know when I see it.” It’s kind of like forces you to do just do all this guessing. But then if you bring them three options, say, “Well, which one of these do you like better?” People always react to a menu. So, spending that little extra effort in creating a menu will also teach you a lot. You’ll learn a lot about what the incentives and motives are, and it’ll help you kind of know what path you want to go down.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that. When I’m a manager, I like that as well in terms of that’s sort of something I ask people to do, is, “Okay. Hey, each day, send me a quick email on what you did today and what you plan to do tomorrow.” And then that really helps me because, one, I could say, “Oh, huh, no need to do that. Let’s do this instead.” So, I get the heads up so I can redirect as necessary.

And it helps me get a sense of, well, what are their preferences, their strengths, their desires, what would they naturally kind of flow to, as well as their judgment in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, you seem to be under the impression that that is really very important/urgent to me, and it’s not.” So, we can have that conversation, and say, “Hey, actually, we’re totally all set on that front for a couple months, so we can go over here.” They’re like, “Oh, okay, great. Didn’t know. Thank you.” So, I like that, the menu. Very good.

Brandon Smith
So, that made me think of something, another tip. So, we’re spending our time with tips as kind of the employee kind of dealing with the manager. But there are tips about being a more effective manager in this stuff. So, I’ll tell you my favorite example that came from a client. So, I was talking about this idea of urgency and hot sauce. He had a small technology company, about 50 employees, an anxious guy as it is, and so he was just bringing that anxiety into work every day. I mean, everybody was just so wound tight because he was so wound tight.

So, I shared this idea of hot sauce and urgency, and gave him one of my little bottles. I buy these little Tabasco bottles in bulk and hand it out to people. And so, he went out to the grocery store and he bought three bottles of hot sauce, stuck them on his desk. Bang! Bang! Bang! And every time he had an initiative or project that was urgent, when he assigned that project, he would hand that owner of the project a bottle of hot sauce to hold onto until the project was done.

And why that was such a great, really great tip and technique that he did is because he only had three bottles to give out. So, once all the bottles were given out, that’s it. He can’t make anything else urgent until someone gives a bottle back. So, thinking of forcing mechanisms like that that you can do is also another way for you to manage the flow of hot sauce on your teams.

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

Brandon Smith
The only other thing that I would say is also important when we think about hot sauce is just, as managers and leaders, just being intentional, what really is important and making sure we’re communicating that. One of the interesting little missteps I find with senior leaders when we talk about things like executive presence, one of the more common missteps that people don’t realize they’re doing is they talk out loud a lot or they think out loud a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, to their teams.

Brandon Smith
Yeah, to their teams. And they’re just thinking out loud, but their teams are interpreting that as an urgent priority, and they go off and start doing work. And they bring them back a PowerPoint deck the next day or recommendations or something else, and the manager looks at them and says, “I was just kind of just talking. I didn’t really want you to do anything.” So, just being really intentional about what you’re asking folks to do is an important takeaway too for managers so you can keep everybody focused and aligned and just that right amount of urgency.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brandon Smith
One of the ones I actually mentioned a couple times this week, they attribute it to Mark Twain but I don’t think anyone really knows who said it, but it goes like this, “I would’ve written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have enough time.” I love that quote. Because it emphasizes how hard it is to get to finish thinking, how hard it is to have that very concise, like, “This is what I want.” And when time is our most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time, we tend to kind of dump our thinking on people. So, that’s my favorite quote for at least this week.

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

Brandon Smith
Probably the one that is jumping out for me right now is about three or four years ago, a group of researchers studied this question, “What’s the worst kind of boss to work for?” And I thought they would’ve come back with the angry, yelling, and screaming boss, that wasn’t number one. Micromanager wasn’t number one. Ghosting boss wasn’t number one. The worst kind of boss to work for? The highly-inconsistent boss or like the unmedicated bipolar boss, because you never knew what you were going to get on a given day.

So, I thought that was really fascinating because it really speaks to the importance of consistency because anxiety at work comes from a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such a contagious emotion. So, we can prevent a lot of that if we’re consistent and predictable. So, that’s one of my favorite pieces of research that’s come out in the last few years.

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

Brandon Smith
One recently that I’ve continued to go back to is Daring Greatly from Brené Brown. So, she’s got a whole bunch of books kind of all in the same genre and theme, but I like the study and depth around vulnerability. It’s so important to us building relationships, and even us being more effective as leaders. So, I continue to find myself going back to that one.

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

Brandon Smith
If I think of a simple one that everyone can do, scheduling your emails. Simple tool. Simple-simple, so powerful, saves you so much time, saves you so much anxiety.

Now, I would say, in more recent years, the ability to learn how to hand things off to others who are better at it than you is a kind of tool. And I found it’s gotten me happier, gave me more leverage, and really allowed me to do the stuff that only I can do. So, I’m a big believer in finding ways to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Brandon Smith
Exercise. I’ve always enjoyed exercise and working out, but I’ve been really doubling down on that the last month, so I’ve been finding it’s been yielding a lot of results maybe that’s because I just had my annual physical.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, right.

Brandon Smith
We’re coming full circle, but that’s one that I think is really, really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with folks that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, and they repeat it back to you frequently?

Brandon Smith
Simple nugget, going to be something I’m going to be writing about in the future is distinction between being an author and editor, and we’ve touched on it a little bit today. But in every dynamic between a manager and a direct report, there’s always someone who sits in the author seat and someone who sits in the editor seat. And knowing what seat to sit in is key.

So, as the manager or leader, you want to spend the majority of your time in the editor seat, which makes a lot of sense when you think about your great all-time direct reports. They would come to you and say, “Hey, Pete, there’s a problem. Here’s what I think we should do about it. I’d love to get your thoughts.” They’re offering a solution for you to edit.

But where we get stuck sometimes, or tricked sometimes, is we’ll have a direct report say, “What do you want me to do?” And what they’re doing is they’re baiting you into authoring so they can sit back and edit. They can say, “Well, it’s not my fault it didn’t work out. He told me to do it that way.” So, making sure that we’re sitting in that editor seat as a leader is really important. It’ll save us time, and it’ll make our teams better because it promotes ownership, initiative, and critical thinking with them.

And then with our boss, we want to make sure we’re sitting in the author seat. Bring them ideas, bring them a point of view, and recommendations that they can react to, which again goes back to some of our comments earlier around how to more effectively manage our boss.

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

Brandon Smith
It’s very simple. You can Google “The Workplace Therapist.” That’s my handle and I’m the only one. So, you can go to TheWorkplaceTherapist.com. That’s where my blog is, podcasts, where you can get a copy of my book. Of course, it’s also available on Amazon and other places where you might purchase a book. And, again, the title of the book is The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time.

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

Brandon Smith
I think, particularly right now in 2020, I would say there’s two. First, make sure you’re setting healthy boundaries because while people have been working at home and from home, we’re seeing a lot of boundary creep. So, making sure you’re setting healthy boundaries and communicating that. That’s really, really important.

The second thing that I would add, too, is making sure you’re finding ways to remind your boss and other leaders of the value that you’re providing. We’re not always visible, we’re not in front of them every day, and no one likes to self-promote but, at the same time, we’re going to need to make sure that our boss does recognize the value that we’re bringing so we don’t get passed over for that promotion or we don’t get looked over for new opportunities. So, those would be two tips to particularly apply today.

Pete Mockaitis
Brandon, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all the things that have hot sauce on them.

Brandon Smith
Thank you. Really enjoyed coming on the show. Thanks for having me. Thanks for all the great questions. I really enjoyed it.

609: Why You Need to Stop Multitasking and Start Singletasking with Devora Zack

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Devora Zack says: "You can either do one thing well or two things poorly at any given moment."

Devora Zack debunks multitasking myths and shares how singletasking can help you get more done– one thing at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why multitasking reduces your efficiency 
  2. How to unplug effectively 
  3. Why we get addicted to multitasking 

About Devora

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street JournalUSA TodayUS News & World ReportForbesSelfRedbookFast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate NetworkingManaging for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Hydrant. Hydrate all the more effectively, efficiently, and deliciously! Listeners save 25% at drinkhydrant.com/awesome.
  • Magic Spoon. Enjoy free shipping on delicious, healthy, high-protein cereal that reminds you of childhood. Free shipping on the variety pack at magicspoon.com/HTBA. 

Devora Zack Transcript

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

Devora Zack
It’s a pleasure to be back with you. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear, you’re doing a lot of interesting work and research and speaking and training. Tell me, have you had any cool insightful new discovery since the last time we spoke?

Devora Zack
Oh, yeah, I’ve had so many cool discoveries since we last spoke mostly about how to transform the virtual environment into one where people really can connect in deep meaningful ways whether it’s networking or interpersonal connections. It can be done. And I’ve had a great time uncovering those possibilities and helping people feel more connected during this challenging time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that sounds so good. We might have to have a third appearance because that’s right up our alley. But we’re all prepped up to talk about singletasking today. But if you found some tools, yeah, maybe drop those into the favorite things and integrate some of that and the goodness here as a sneak peek. So, I want to talk to you about singletasking, sort of what’s the big idea here and how do you define singletasking versus multitasking? Like, what counts versus doesn’t count when we’re determining something multitasking?

Devora Zack
Well, just let’s start with understanding the foundation of my work, which is that multitasking is a myth. It’s actually impossible to do two simultaneously competing activities in your brain at the same time. So, when people claim to be multitasking, what is actually happening is what the neuroscientists call task-switching. And when we’re task-switching, what’s happening neurologically is our brain is very, very rapidly moving back and forth between tasks, and that has all kinds of negative impacts on our lives internally and externally.

It makes us less productive, which is interesting because the big reason people say that they “need to multitask” is because they have so much to do. So, doing that makes us unable to enter an emerging state or a flow state because, by definition, we’re not focusing deeply on one task in front of us. It lowers IQ and, here’s the biggie, it even shrinks the gray matter in the brain. So, multitasking isn’t really multitasking, it’s task-switching and it has a whole range of negative effects on us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, those sound negative. So, could you share with us any of the most hard-hitting research, like the alarming numbers or studies or stats that would make us say, “Whoa! I’m convinced. I got to cut this out”?

Devora Zack
There’s so much. I think that what is alarming and overwhelming is that this international research done over the past 10 years in the highest esteemed institutions and organizations are all in agreement, they’ve all been consistent, that attempting to do more than one thing at a time is neurologically impossible, and that it does everything from harming our relationships, it makes us much less respectful than we used to be of people who are standing in front of us engaged in a conversation, and it also makes us feel professionally because we’re not able to maintain focus on one thing at a time.

And just as a quick aside, when you said I have a virtual environment, what’s interesting and maybe it links to singletasking, it absolutely does because it’s getting even harder now because we’re all sitting behind screens so much at the time, it’s very tempting to allow ourselves to be distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. It’s sort of like right now we can see each other but you don’t really know what I’m looking at. I’m looking at my prepared questions but I could be looking at any number of other interesting news articles or Facebook or you name it while, supposedly, having a meeting, and I’m not really there at all.

Devora Zack
And we have all kinds of reasons for that. We can say, “Oh, I’m very effective at doing this. I can get away with it,” or, “I’m being more efficient,” or, “The meeting is not interesting anyway.” But one thing I can say is that, just to do a reality check for ourselves, we know when someone else is not giving us their full attention, whey they pause between a question and answer, when they ask to repeat. So, we’re not tricking anyone either when we’re living distracted lives. I call it SBS, scattered brain syndrome, that we’re dealing with these days.
Sometimes people say to me, “But, Devora, I can multitask, I can go for a run and listen to music, or I can empty the dishwasher and talk on the phone.” So, that’s an important point to raise because it’s all touched in my book called “When Multitasking Isn’t Multitasking.” So, it’s only considered multitasking if the two activities are competing for the same brain space. So, if, for example, I’m on a conference call and I’m squeezing a stress ball, that’s totally fine. It’s when I’m on a conference call and returning emails that things start to fall apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, it’s like we can’t compete for the same channel or function stream or capability. I guess, are there…how might we segment that? So, running and listening is fine, stress ball and online meeting is fine, I guess one is physical and one is mental. How do we think about the channels that we have available that are distinct from one another?

Devora Zack
It’s a good question and an important question because we tend to err in the direction of thinking that things are not competing for the same set of our brain. So, for example, if I’m driving in my car, and at home, on a route, I take all the time, then I may not need as much of my conscious part of my brain as if I’m on a business trip driving in the rain in the dark and somewhere I’ve never been. So, we tend to overestimate our ability to do two things at once. So, I caution people to really think hard about, “Are two tasks really separate?” And as a good example, something that people think they can do, is walk down a busy street while talking on the phone. And, in fact, while we’re all aware by now of the terrible dangers of texting while driving, but a more recent phenomenon is texting while walking. And it sounds silly, but, in fact, there are people fall down staircases, walk into traffic, bash into other people, just because they think, “Oh, I can handle it. I can do it.”

So, really, to spend time in self-evaluation about not only, “What can I physiologically handle doing two things at once?” but also “Maybe I’m diminishing my life experiences personally and professionally by deciding that I’m never where I’m at.” So, part of it is being where you are. Like, how about, when I work with coaching clients, I often encourage them, to take a walk even for 10 or 15 minutes outside without their phone and see how that experience is different from what a lot of us have gotten used to. And the other side of all these studies is they’ve discovered that even if we spend 15 minutes a day being “non-productive,” like if we’re doing a crossword puzzle, or just taking a walk outside, that that actually increases our productivity by 25% overall.

So, there’s lots of good news too, is that by giving ourselves some downtime, for example, there was a Harvard Business Review study that found that if you take lunch, like even half an hour at work without doing work at the same time, that you’re more productive over the course of the day. So, if you got to feel guilty about, “Oh, I’m not working hard enough,” just reverse that guilt, and feel guilty if you’re not spending some time, I call it time-shifting, shifting down your time so that you can do things that maybe seem idle but actually are very rejuvenating.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Devora, I love that. And any encouragement you can give me to play a game of Fortnite or have a nap or take lunch in the middle of the day?

Devora Zack
Oh, I’m glad you mentioned that. Fortnite, actually…no, I’m just kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
She’s got it all. She’s got it all prepared. And I love the point about just sort of diminishing the quality of your life when you’re not paying as much attention. I remember, boy, when my buddy Mohamad was in town from Dubai, he was on the podcast, and we were just sort of walking in Chicago. We’re trying to find a place to eat, that’s the goal, we’re going to eat lunch. But I was just so happy to see him and having so much fun with the conversation, but I actually made the conscious choice, it’s like, “I’m going to devote zero attention to looking for a place to eat and all attention to chatting with and enjoying Mohamad.”

And it was funny, we walked around kind of aimlessly for a good while, which is fine by me, I’m sure. Any of the food would be perfectly adequate, and then we happen to bump into a great spot. But I think that’s a good point in terms of we can be, without even being aware of it, diminishing our life experience by not thoughtfully, conscientiously choosing “This is the one thing I’m doing now.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. We tend to blame our technology for the interruptions. There’s a section in my Singletasking book called “If Your Phone is so Smart, Can You Teach It to Heel?” and it compares smartphones to puppies. So, we’ve all been around puppies that are cute and adorable and lovely, and around puppies that are out of control and jump up on the table and don’t leave you alone. And who is responsible for that? Is it the dog or is it the owner? So, I think we all kind of know, it’s the owner’s responsibility to keep their puppies, to train them so that they’re good members of a shared society or sidewalk.

And we do the same things with our phones. So, maybe you and I are meeting for lunch, and we haven’t seen each other in a year or two, and I’m like, “Oh, darn. I can’t believe my phone is going off again. Just a minute. Just a minute. This is so annoying. Oh, no, here’s another text.” So, in reality, technology obviously can be a great friend of ours and super useful. However, we need to be in charge of it rather than letting it run away from us.

And there’s all kinds of tips and techniques in my book about ways to manage technology personally and professionally. So, I’ll tell you a fun one since we’re talking about going to lunch with a friend. I’ll tell you a fun one, which is that we can go out with a group and, depending on when you listen to this podcast, to socially distance if necessary, and everyone puts their screens, anything that have screens, onto a chair off to the side, and the first one to touch the pile of phones or screens treats everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. A little pressure.

Devora Zack
Exactly, a little peer pressure. And there’s a version of that you can use for work which I encourage people do, which is if you have a team meeting, is to give everyone, or have everyone if you’re working remotely, an agenda and a pen or pencil, and the only electronics that’s allowed to be on is whatever you’re connecting through, whether it’s Zoom or another platform, and make the meeting half the length of time with everyone committing to be fully engaged. And you’ll be amazed how much more efficient you are, and how much more community you build, and more better connections, because people are there actually together instead of being a million different places at once.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that so much. Well, so we’re going to dig into some particulars when it comes singletasking and how to do it optimally and sort of avoid the multitasking and the distractions, and technology as being one of them. I got a real chuckle, you’ve got an appendix called “Retorts to Multitask-hardliners,” and I think I’ve been here before, and I think some listeners are probably here now, and say, “Okay, yeah, I think I maybe heard about some of that research. And that might be true for the population at large and maybe the majority of people in a given study, but, you know, that’s just really how I like to operate, and it really works well for me. And, boy, I feel so productive, so multitasking works for me, but maybe not most people.” Lay it on us.

Devora Zack
So, I would say, first of all, what kind of mistakes are you potentially making? Like, if you’re responding to an email and, in a team meeting, are you fully engaged or are you answering the questions? Did you hear the questions? And, at the end of the day, how much have you actually gotten done? And then compare it, just test a little bit, just spend an hour or two focused on whatever is at hand. And I really encourage people to start small, and you’ll be blown away by how different your work is and how different your mood is when you focus on one thing at a time.

Another piece of resistance people have to the concept of singletasking is they think that it implies that we’re somehow less productive, or we get less done, or we don’t have as many capabilities, and it’s not about that at all. You can get 10-12 things done in the course of a day while singletasking at any given time. So, it’s not saying you can only do one thing in a 10-hour period. Maybe you can do one thing for a 20-minute period, and that’s all you’re doing, and then you switch to another thing. And it’s the conscious choice that a lot of us aren’t making these days about “What am I committing to in this moment? Am I going to watch my kid play a sport? Or am I editing a legal document for tomorrow’s meeting?” So, just pick one for that time. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the other choice. It just means that’s not your choice in this specific time period.

Now, another resistance people have is they just don’t have the tools, like, we’re overwhelmed. So, set up systems that will not require superhuman strength to overcome temptation. So, an example is if you’re driving in a car, we all know we shouldn’t text while we’re driving, but,” It’s just this once, and I’m at a stoplight, and I’m late, and I’m lost, and I’m going to an important meeting, and I’ll keep looking at…” Like, we always have reasons to convince ourselves to do things that aren’t maybe in our best interest. But don’t require yourself to combat those reasons. Set up, I call it, a fence. Set up a fence to mitigate the temptation in the first place. So, when you get into your car, toss your phone in the backseat under a pile of coats and start driving.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Devora Zack
And you’ll be cursing yourself, probably you’d be like, “Aargh!” but in the end you’ll get there alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. What is it, Ulysses or Odysseus kind of getting himself tied to his boat so he could hear the siren song but not be tempted to go toward it and its destruction? It’s sort of like you just decide, you cut off that option, it’s not available to you. So, there it is.

Devora Zack
That’s a great analogy. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And so, I want to get your take in terms of sometimes multitasking feels really good. Is there some neuroscience or some dopamine or neurotransmitter stuff going on in terms of the sensations and how it feels to switch or do a lot of things quickly? What’s going on there?

Devora Zack
So, our brains crave novelty. So, if I’m sitting at my computer inputting data for three hours, and then something pops up on my screen that’s different, my brain is pretty psyched, so there is something to that. And then what we would do then is, there’s various techniques we can use, but one of them is to turn off all auditory bings and all visual popups so that when we’re focusing on writing something that we’re completely focused so we don’t get that novelty in there.

Another is to say give yourself treats. Like, if I’m going to work for 45 minutes, then after that I can do something that’s completely different. Create that novelty for yourself. And you might be surprised at how deeply you go into a thought state, and so I recommend actually setting an alarm so that you don’t have to keep looking at the clock or wondering how long it is. And then when your time goes up for doing your tough tasks, the harder one, then even if you’re like, “Oh, I feel like I could go longer,” it’s better to stop and take a break, because if we stop a task while we’re still excited about it, the next time we engage in it, we’re much more likely to have a positive feeling about it as oppose to if we work, and work, and work until we’re just hating our jobs, and then you’re going to avoid it the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that is just a powerful reframe for me personally. Thank you. To stop when you’re still excited about it means you’ve got some enthusiasm ready for next time. And sometimes I think it’s, “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be enthusiastic about this. I better milk it for all I can right now because it may never come back.” Like, if I feel like doing my taxes right now, that’s a rare event so I better really run after it until it’s absolutely gone. But, instead, I should stop while I still got some enthusiasm left.

Devora Zack
That’s right. It’s like an old saying about a party, “Leave while you’re still having fun.” What you can also do is to do a little self-awareness about why do you think this time, working on your taxes, felt okay. Do you happen to have music on in the background? Were there no distractions? Were you sitting in a different environment? Was it that you did it following an exercise? Just try and identify maybe what made it different so you can replicate that. And other times, it’s just a matter of you don’t feel like doing it. You force yourself to, and 15 minutes into it, it’s not so bad, and you’re in the flow.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Very nice. Well, so I’d love to get your take here, when you talked, you mentioned sort of setting an alarm or an amount of time, “I’m going to do this for this window.” You’ve got an approach called the cluster tasking technique. Tell us how this works.

Devora Zack
So, many of us have an activity or two that takes over our day and it prevents us from getting any of our bigger work done. So, as a way of example, for a lot of people it’s messaging, whether emails or IMs or texting, and we can spend all day messaging and then we never get to the bulk of what we’re here to do. A study, which wasn’t even that recent, it was a few years ago, so I bet these numbers have gone up, found that we look at our phones at an average of 150 times a day for a total of four hours.

So, what we can do instead is to put those tasks, that repetitive task, and for right now we’re just going to call it messaging, it could be a different task for you, and we’re going to find two or three cluster times during the day where that’s all you do. So, maybe it’s right when you get into the office in the morning, right after lunch, and maybe 4:30 near at the end of the day. And you can decide this is a half an hour block, a 45-minute block, and a 20-minute block, or whatever you decide. And so, during those times, all you were doing is reading and responding to messages, and during the rest of your workday, you’re not looking at your messages. And this is a tough pill to swallow, at first, for many people because you’re like, “Well, I have to be available all the time,” and so I’ll address that in a minute.

However, if you’re not like going off the grid for two months, if you do it three times a day, you’re only going to be not looking at your messages for a couple of hours at a time, and, as a bonus, when you are looking at your messages, that’s all you’re doing so you’re not distracted, so you make fewer mistakes, and committing to two different things at one time, or writing the wrong date for an event, so you’re way more efficient overall. So, that’s a great simple technique to try. A lot of my clients say it’s worked really well for them.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that.

Devora Zack
Yeah, thanks. You give it a try. It’s very useful.
So, people say to me sometimes that they need to be available to others and so they have to always have their phones on and nearby. And a general true rule of thumb is if you try to be everywhere for everyone all the time, you’re never anywhere for anyone with full focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Any of the time, yeah.

Devora Zack
So, you can either do one thing well or two things poorly at any given moment. And when people say, “Oh, you need to be available all the time,” if I’m coaching someone, and I might ask some follow-up questions, like, “What do they think they really mean? They really mean that you follow through what you say you’re going to do, that you’re going to be responsive, that you’re clear about deadlines?” And people get used to the idea that “Even though you may not be available to me every minute of the day, when we’re talking, I get your 100% full attention so our conversations are more efficient and shorter, and I get the picture of how helpful it is.” And there’s going to be exceptions.

So, if you were on a conference center, and there’s a huge conference that day, you might need to have your phone with you all day, but just to be aware that there’s exceptions but, most of the time, to err in the direction of saying, “Here is when I’m doing this particular repetitive task.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that turn of a phrase there in terms of you can do one thing well and two things poorly, and I think it’s possible, although rare, that, you know what, doing two things poorly is the right choice right now in terms of there’s sort of a mandatory conference call of little value to you and to your team, but it’s, “Hey, everyone’s got to do this thing, so it’s like, okay,” so you just got to do it. But your desk is also a mess and even just a little bit of attention is going to make it better. So, you can make the conscientious choice that, “I know what’s happening here. I’m going to do two things poorly, and that’s the right answer. But most of the time it’s not.”

Devora Zack
And there’s also ways to work within that situation. So, for example, if, again, when I’m working with clients and if they have exactly what you just described, a mandatory department-wide meeting that’s two hours every Thursday, or whatever it is, that there’s an opportunity to, in some cases, delegate that responsibility to maybe someone who works for you who could actually learn from the call and it would be a benefit for him or her to be on that call.

You could say to the group, “I’m available for the first half of the call. So, the items that I can contribute to, is it possible to discuss this in the first half?” And this isn’t always possible, but I’m just saying to always explore options so that you really are where you need to be. And sometimes, also, you might think, “Oh, this call is boring,” and so you start organizing your desk, and then you might miss something, and maybe there was something interesting that just happened.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, there is the risk you take.

Devora Zack
But one thing for sure is that if you’re on one of those calls, you can tell when someone is doing something else, and they’re not impressing you with their professionality when you know they’re distracted. So, part of it might just be building a reputation with someone who’s present.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, yeah. Thank you. Okay.

Devora Zack
I’m a tough cookie.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, absolutely. Sure. And I think there are some exceptions to every principle or guideline, like, “Hey, hundreds of people are out there, everyone’s muted.” Okay. But even then, you have options as oppose to it’s either/or, doing two things poorly or giving this my full attention. You can get creative and say, “Well, maybe I’m here for this part, maybe I’ll delegate,” so there’s many ways to slice it, which I like.

Devora Zack
Actually, one thing I heard recently is that doodling can be a very useful device in staying focused on a conversation. The doodling doesn’t take up a conscious part of your brain, and kind of releasing that extra energy, just by drawing images on a notepad can help people stay focused. That’s another new technique I learned recently.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if we’ve got some lifelong multitaskers, and this is kind of challenging in terms of training the attention to zero in on the one task, how do you recommend we develop that skill, that focus, that discipline?

Devora Zack
So, there’s really two parts of our lives, to speak broadly, that we can apply to singletasking. One is internally, and we’ve talked a little bit about that, like in our brains, how to manage our brains, and the other is externally, how to manage our environment. So, the first thing I’d say is start small and pick something that you can manage and that you think is doable, and also start with something tangible.

So, we have these smartphones and they’re incredible. As a matter of fact, I heard someone recently say, “Really, the phone is just a rarely used app on the smartphone.” They do so much more than just phone-calling now, and so that can be very convenient. It’s also our alarm clock. It’s also our camera. It’s also our flashlight. It’s so many things. And I encourage people to look for places to unbundle some of the potential areas of usefulness in our phone because it can lead to distraction. And a good example is we all know, and every sleep scientist in the world would tell you, the worst thing you can do before going to sleep is to look at your phone, for all kinds of reasons, because the blue light wakes us up, because there could be a stressful text popping up, a news report we don’t want to see. But when we use our phones as our alarm clocks, that’s the last thing many of us do.

So, how about investing in a cool old-fashioned alarm clock that you can play your favorite song to wake you up, and see what it’s like to wake up and fall asleep in a relaxed atmosphere is one example. And so, looking for ways to unbundle. Like, when I teach seminars, I time people a lot of times for timed activities, and for a while I used my phone because there’s a stopwatch on it. Then I realized that I wasn’t unbundling, so I got just an old-fashioned kind of handheld stop…what is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Stopwatch?

Devora Zack
Stopwatch, right. And it’s great, and it keeps me focused. So, look for ways to help yourself succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, before the stopwatch, I had it around my neck, and just even feeling the pressure of it around my neck was a little reminder, “No, no, I’m on the clock for this one.”

Devora Zack
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I’d love your view then, if folks think, “I am too busy for singletasking. I have to multitask,” then a part of the game is really just identifying, “Well, hey, what’s truly the most important thing? Like, what is really worth that?”

Devora Zack
Also, learn some of the science because you’re actually too busy to multitask. You will be way more efficient in getting things done by focusing on one thing at a time. And in my book “Singletasking,” I have some examples of going through a typical day while you’re attempting to multitask versus singletasking and seeing how the time flow works, and it’s based on reality, just through a lot of different people’s experiences, and it’s remarkable. So, we start off with like, “Oh, there’s this bad news.” But now we have this great news that you can live a more sane structured life by doing one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, just how many hours a day do you think is at stake here in terms of excellent singletasking versus poor multitasking? What kind of a lift, or a gain, or a timesaving do you think this adds up to on a daily basis?

Devora Zack
Maybe all our waking hours. It depends what measurement you’re using for what’s a good use of time. So, if you consider a good use of time being with a significant other for 45 minutes for dinner without anyone looking at any screens and talking about interesting topics beyond just the mundane? Do you consider a good use of time to be taking your dog for a walk outside? So, it depends how you define it. What I will say is that in terms of work tasks that there have been, again, studies that show that when someone is having a pure focus on one activity at work at a time, that they’re more creative, more structured in their output, they get it done in less than a few hours, and so it really works in your favor to be fully focused.

And some people say, “I can’t focus anymore. Like, I’ve lost ability to focus because that’s the kind of world we’re living in.” So, when people say that, I encourage them, or you, as you’re listening now, to think of something you love to do. Just think in your mind, if you’re listening to this podcast, of something that you enjoy, it really brings you happiness. And when I ask that question with people in the room with me, I get all kinds of so many different types of answers. Maybe it has to do with doing an athletic activity, or an instrument, or a craft, or a conversation with someone you care about.

And what we find is that there’s a correlation between that act, whatever activity you thought in your mind or said out loud, and the fact that you’re totally focused on it, that it focuses you when you’re doing it, that nothing else exists in the world, that if you love going to museums, and when you’re in a museum, that’s the only thing that exists in the world, or reading a book, or running a race, or whatever it is. That’s part of the appeal. And so, it also shows that you can do it. You can focus. If you thought of even one thing in your life that you really get fulfilled doing, then there’s a correlation in that and being able to focus your brain on other activities. And that’s called mental elasticity.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, tell us then, if let’s say there are some interruptions outside your control, a sudden emergency, an interruption, how do you recommend we refocus?

Devora Zack
Okay. Great. So, I’m glad you asked that because there are emergencies, and we want to go with the flow when there’s an emergency, and it doesn’t negate everything else you’re working on when there’s not an emergency. However, we’re always looking for ways to manage emergencies. So, an emergency can be big or small. So, a smaller type of emergency is you’re being interviewed on a podcast, let’s say, and you’re working from home and someone barges in and starts yelling in your office, your home office, for example, so that would be an emergency you need to deal with.

But we always want to take it one step back, and say, “Is there anything potential I could’ve done to anticipate a possible emergency and how to make sure it doesn’t happen?” So, I encourage people to, very simple low-tech technique, put Post-It notes on your door, if you have a door where you’re working, at home, virtually or in a shared office, and make a note saying, “This colored Post-It notes mean don’t come under any circumstances. This one means come in if it’s super important. And this one means I just closed the door because I don’t like the breeze. Come visit and we’ll chat a little bit.” So, again, it has to do with setting up systems.

Now, let’s say there is something that distracts you and you asked about pulling back in. How do you get focused again? And I would say taking a little in-between time, like, “Maybe I got so scattered or overwhelmed by the emergency that I can’t seem to focus back on the work I was doing before. So, that’s a perfect time for me to let myself go for a walk, or to talk to someone, or get some fresh air, to reboot.”

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

Devora Zack
One thing I’d like to share is that singletasking is a relatively new idea, and it’s also a super old idea, it’s in our nature. So, when we were hunting and gathering, we wouldn’t have done very well if we were distracted all the time, so it’s kind of part of our ingrained human success. It’s ingrained in us to be successful by singletasking. And it’s also a new concept to a lot of us today, this day and age, and so to be kind to yourself when you try these techniques and to give yourself plenty of space to mess it up and to take two steps forward and one step back.

And there are a lot of activities suggested, and also that you can actually use in the book Singletasking. So, the first part of the battle is convincing yourself that it’s worth a try, and the second part is learning how to do it, just like some people are organizing and structure their physical environment, and for others of us, it just seems so impossible. So, there are techniques that can help you be successful. So, I wish you all the best of luck in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Devora Zack
You’ll be happy that you did.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Devora Zack
I love quotes so much. I change my favorite quotes all the time. Okay, here’s one of my favorite quotes right now. I’m sorry, it’s Steven Pressfield, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb, the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

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

Devora Zack
It’s a scientist named Douglas Merrill, and he works on this area of focusing our brains, and the quote is “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem? Everyone is wrong.”

[36:18]

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. And a favorite book?

Devora Zack
The Phantom Tollbooth.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job, or to help virtually remote-working folks connect all the better?

Devora Zack
My favorite tool in helping virtual folks connect all the better is in building connections among them through embracing technology instead of fighting against it. So, I teach a class called “You Are Not Alone,” and instead of saying, “Here are all the things we can’t do,” we take whatever technology each of us has and we figure out what we can do based on what’s right in front of us. And it sounds simple but it makes a huge difference in how we build connections with each other, and how we accept what the possibilities are given what the reality of the situation is.

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

Devora Zack
Yes, especially for people that are in fields like ours, whether you’re interviewing people, or working with people, or inspiring people, or writing books for people, what’s a great rule of thumb, because there are so many so-called experts out there, and I love this one. Elinor Glyn, an author, “Life is short. Avoid causing yawns. Be interesting. Be fun. Be unique. Be quirky. Engage people.” Life is short. We don’t want to be the cause of any yawns.

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

Devora Zack
My website is MyOnlyConnect.com, and it has tons of samples from media, podcasts, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and all sorts of information about my three different books. Networking for People Who Hate Networking just came out in a second edition. It has tons of new chapters and sections that people are finding really useful in this day and age.

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

Devora Zack
Yes. It’s another quote but it’s also a call to action. It’s from Philo of Alexandria, and this is especially important today, “Be kind for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Devora, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you all the best in your singletasking adventures.

Devora Zack
Thank you so much. You, too. I hope it works well for you.

605: How to Stop Firefighting and Start Executing with Chris McChesney

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Chris McChesney says: "Get very comfortable with the currency of results."Chris McChesney discusses how to achieve more with your team by following the four disciplines of execution.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three roadblocks to execution 
  2. The only two things that create engagement 
  3. How to instill accountability in 20 minutes 

About Chris

Chris McChesney is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey and is one of the primary developers of the 4 Disciplines of Execution. For more than a decade, he has led FranklinCovey’s design and development of these principles, as well as the consulting organization that has become the fastest growing area of the company. 

Known for his high-energy and engaging message, Chris has become one of the most requested speakers within the Franklin Covey Organization, regularly delivering keynote speeches and executive presentations to leaders in audiences ranging from the hundreds to several thousand. 

Chris, and his wife Constance, are the proud parents of five daughters and two sons. His love of family is combined with his passion for boating, water sports, coaching, and trying to keep up with his children. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Chris McChesney Transcript

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

Chris McChesney
Thanks, Peter. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear your story about how you did not get a job at FranklinCovey but you faked an internship. How did this go down?

Chris McChesney
I think desperation is probably the best explanation for that. They were not interviewing. I mean, they would not interview anyone, and I just had an idea. Wow, this is almost 30 years ago. This was Stephen Covey’s company, the guy that wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I was kind of a groupie and I really wanted to work for this organization. And I decided if they wouldn’t interview me, I‘d interview them, so I pretended to work for the newspaper and told them that I was doing an article on up and coming companies in the area. And I submitted the paper to the newspaper, they published it, so they kept me from being a liar, right?

I didn’t get to the man, I didn’t get to Stephen Covey but I got to his VP, and while in there, I said, “I needed an internship,” which that was a stretch. I didn’t really need an internship, there was no internship, and then I just stowed away. So, four months later, The 7 Habits, hits number one in the New York Times bestseller list, they had fired their publicist, and they looked at me, and said, “Hey, that kid is from New York. Let’s have him call Good Morning America.” So, here I am, unpaid something intern. Actually, there’s an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer actually goes to work for a company he doesn’t actually work for, but that was done after I did it. I want first billing on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Chris McChesney
And that’s how I got started.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s so good. So, well, I was going to ask, you know, Stephen Covey, boy, what a legacy, and really, integrity is one of the first words that comes to mind.

Chris McChesney
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to start with…well, what I like is that you’re working for the newspaper kind of on spec.

Chris McChesney
That’s one way to say it. That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to just a complete fabrication. Boy, that’s beautiful. Also, then can you tell me of any stories about Stephen that really stick with you in his memory?

Chris McChesney
Well, it’s interesting that we’re having this experience because one of my jobs early on was to set him up for interviews like yours. And so, just like my guy gave me a list of some of the questions you like to ask people and things like that, he never wanted to see the list of questions, and he really liked to be authentic and sort of shoot from the hip, and much more of a character than people realize. He’s a bit of a clown when he wasn’t on stage, and he would either be super serious or a complete goofball. And sometimes you needed him to be series, and he wouldn’t be serious. It surprises people to hear that because he comes off so serious in his books and his tapes but, yeah, he’s a character.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, can you give me a goofball anecdote?

Chris McChesney
Oh, I can and it’s almost unbelievable, but there’s a thing that he did with his sons. One of his sons felt really ignored by his father, David Covey felt very ignored by Stephen, and Stephen was on a phone call and so David got out, this is bizarre, but he got out peanut butter and jelly and started to spread peanut butter on his dad’s head, and then he put jelly on his dad’s head, then he slapped a piece of bread over it, and left.

And so then, they were two command performances of this, and, in your brain, you couldn’t get, you know, here’s one of the world’s leading thought leaders, having his son make a mess out of his head, and they just thought that was so funny. That was great. So, this family had its own brand of humor. But, yeah, that’s all real, believable or not.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. That’s good. Well, hey, sometimes some humor or peanut butter-jelly head sandwich can aid in execution, and that’s my forced segue, Chris, because that’s your claim to fame and your area of expertise is execution, and your book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. So, could you maybe start by maybe giving us a quick definition? What do we mean by execution?

Chris McChesney
That’s a really good question.

Pete Mockaitis
And then give us the lay of the land, like, how well are organizations and professionals executing today? Like, what are the measures? What’s the state of the union here when it comes to execution?

Chris McChesney
All right, so let’s do this. Because execution is one of those words that could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, right? It could just mean getting everything I got to get done, done, but that’s not what we mean by it. What we mean by it is getting that thing done that’s not going to happen anyways. Most of us have a routine, organizations have an SOP, they have their day job, their existing processes, and it gets stuff done. We get stuff done. And then every once in a while, you’ve got a goal and it’s not going to happen unless it gets special treatment.

And, typically, the nature of these things, Pete, is that they don’t have an inherent in-the-moment urgency associated with them. They’re really important. And if you made me fill out a quiz on the most important thing to me, like it’d be right at the top of the page, but it’s not getting any attention, and weeks are going by and we’re not getting any traction.

Usually, when you say that, people identify with something, and that’s really the execution conundrum right there. What is that thing that is not inherently urgent? Because people are good at working on the urgent, and, “I have to get it done and it’s not happening.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, give us just a few examples of things that tend to fall into this bucket again and again.

Chris McChesney
Yeah. I had one the other day, there was an organization, they needed to get these jobs to find, and they needed to get work aides for their physical therapy group. They had about 50 physical therapy practices. And every year, they would put money in the line item, budget item, for this, and every year it didn’t matter that there was money there, it didn’t happen. And they could see so many things but never at one time, that might be an example, they actually pushed through and got a hundred of these things made.

An organization that wants to focus on customer satisfaction, and they know that’s so critical but there’s 20 things that happen over the course of a day, and everybody’s busy and we’re not getting to that thing, maybe it’s an improvement in quality. The Georgia Department of Human Services, 10 years ago, reduced repeat cases of child abuse by 60% by attacking some things that weren’t unknown, they were known things but they were the type of things that weren’t getting attention. And if you can put energy against certain activities, sometimes it can have shockingly powerful effects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that really resonates, certainly rings true. And I think you’re right in terms of there are, boy, I tell you, there are systems and there are processes and things that just happen, and then there’s those that it’s like they fall through the cracks, or it’s not a recurring thing, and, thusly, it’s like you don’t get the scale for it maybe.

Chris McChesney
Yeah. And I tell you where it shows up, Pete, is leaders sometimes will have an agenda. And it’s a big deal when you get a leadership position, you get your first management role. It’s a big deal to you, it’s not a big deal to anybody else, right? And you really know where you want to make your mark. And what gets so many leaders so frustrated is there are so many people giving them the thumbs up and they’ll agree with you, and they’ll say, “I love this, boss. It’s key to our future.” And I just get people laughing when I’m saying this, and then nothing happens.

And it’s not that people are being deceitful or duplicitous, they bought everything that you said. They heard it. And then 45 seconds later, six crises hit their desk and they’ve been responsive. And so, for leaders to start to understand, “Geez, what does it take to get deliberate energy against activities that don’t act on people?” And, basically, let me sum it up this way. Executing strategies that require change in human behavior is kind of the whole topic or problem we’ve been in love with for 20 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so let’s dig into how that’s done. So, you’ve got a chapter called “The Real Problem with Execution.” Lay it on us. What’s the real problem?

Chris McChesney
We’ve kind of been talking about it. It is that there’s like one side of our brain that deals with importance, and there’s another side of our brain that determines how we actually spend time and energy, and they’re not talking to each other. In the moment, urgency is king. And if I’m busy all day long, and I’m active, and I just can’t work any harder than I already have, I’ll tell you, here’s how you could feel this.

Think about working on a critical job. Maybe it’s the most important project of the year, and you know it, and you’re like tying yourself to your desk. And the whole time you’re working, you want to get up and do seven different things during that period of time, and you think, “I must be out of my mind. And it can’t be 4:00 o’clock already. Where did that go?” That is the first. There’s a couple of real problems of execution. The first one is that urgency and importance don’t line up.

Number two is complexity. A lot of times execution does not like complexity too. Best friends of execution are simplicity and transparency. And our ability to sort of put so many things down that we want to accomplish. So, not only is it all the stuff that we’re responding to on a day-to-day basis, but then when we do go proactive, we try and bite off more than we can chew, and that is a whole conundrum in and of itself.

And then I’d say the third one is futility. And it’s the frustration that might be a byproduct of the first two. But when people start giving up, that’s when you see burnout kick in. It’s rarely a byproduct of actually the amount of work. It’s the feeling that I’m working and it doesn’t matter. So, urgency, complexity, and futility really do a lot of damage. And there’s ways to get around this but I think it starts with the question that you asked, like, “What’s the problem?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s really good, a really good synopsis of just kind of what makes stuff hard, in general, in terms of if it’s not urgent, it’s not sort of screaming to be at the top of your list, and, thusly, it can just keep getting pushed off and just doesn’t happen. If it’s complex, you’re just sort of like, “Well, I don’t even know how to start,” and it just sort of seems intimidating to approach it. And then, if there’s a sense of futility, likewise, that adds all the more psychological resistance to it.

It’s so funny, I’m thinking about we had a heck of a long hard time executing a shift in this podcast, which was we were mostly replying to incoming pitches. And we’ve been selective such that I thought we’re making great choices. But the consequence of that was the stuff we got wasn’t exactly what our listeners needed, and in the time they needed it. And so, we thought, “We really got a beautiful survey of all the stuff people say they need. Like, we just should be letting this dictate our agenda and our calendar.”

And we get emails just about every day from folks joining the email list, and they share their concerns. But it was hard to make that shift because it was not so urgent, it was sort of like, “Ah, okay. Hey, we say we have episodes two times a week, and so we got to get this calendar going.” And it’s a lot harder to…

Chris McChesney
The calendar was urgent. The needs and the specific requests, you had to go after that stuff. The calendar went after you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it was complex in that it’s like, “Well, geez, how do we reverse-engineer it such that we start with the request and then pursue the guest.” And then it wasn’t quite futile but it was, hey, I mean, someone’s got a book coming out says yes immediately. Someone who’s been like an expert on something for decades and he has all the press they ever needed is not as gung-ho to immediately reply to an invitation of the podcast, although most of the time they still say yes in their own time.

And also, some futility associated with, “Boy, how do we even do this? This is really tricky.” And I guess that’s ultimately how we just sort of got through it was we said, “All right. Well, we’re going to reduce urgency by getting ahead of the game a little bit. We’re going to reduce the complexity by trying to come up with a process, an acronym, or a framework.” And I guess we tried to reduce the futility by just acknowledging, “Hey, we don’t know what we’re doing yet, okay? We’re going to have to iterate a few times, and that’s fine.”

Chris McChesney
I really like what you just said. I want to press pause on what you just said. Sometimes, particularly in the area of new goals that you haven’t achieved before, you have to give yourself a little bit of slack because the real engine for innovation is trial and error. And there are certain aspects of your job where error is not acceptable. And because error is not acceptable in certain parts of your job, it’s sort of programs you think that error is always bad, and you have to give yourself a little bit of leeway around an area that requires innovation, otherwise you will not innovate. I’m convinced of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And so, I think, in a way, that was kind of a turning point because we got comfortable with this, like, “Okay, we’re going to make a process that’s going to be bad. We’re going to try it out and see why it took 12 hours to find some names, and then identify the learnings so that we can accelerate a bit and loop it through again and again and again.” And now I’m feeling pretty darn good about it.

Chris McChesney
Can I give you a podcast on this topic?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m listening.

Chris McChesney
You just, a matter of fact, the last three sentences would be a brochure for this podcast. The guy’s name is Tim Harford, he’s a British economist. And the name of the podcast, if you just Google, “Trial and Error.” Not podcast. Ted Talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris McChesney
TED Talk. Trial and error. Tim Harford. And, really, take 15 minutes and watch this. If you’re in a role that requires innovation and some breakthroughs, I think he struck a beautiful chord, very consistent with what we found in our work, and you just described it quite nicely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Chris McChesney
Unintentionally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you just described some things nicely in terms of you’ve identified four specific disciplines for execution. Can you give us the overview, and then let’s dig deeper into some of these?

Chris McChesney
Yeah, all right. So, the first one is, let’s do this. I’ll give each one a word. So, the first word is focus, and I’ll come back to this so you’ll get them. I’ll just give a list right now. So, the first one is focus, the second one is leverage, the third one is engagement, and the fourth one is accountability. And you think of these four words as sort of a mechanism for breaking through the urgency trap. Like, you want to fly an airplane, there’s four words, it’s lift, thrust, weight, and drag. Like, you get those concepts down, you can put something in the air and keep it there. In execution, we’re about focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability.

So, the first one, focus, is getting, really, first of all, narrowing your focus between the one thing that this team that I run is going to deliver, and everything that’s day job, everything that operationally has to get done. And I’m going to tell you that your operational reality, arguably, is more important, like that cannot slip. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not going anywhere in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re sort of on a treadmill. It’s like we’re continuing to do the things that we’ve done, and we’ll probably continue to get the results that we’ve got, and if you’re a big company, the results you’ve gotten are great. But, of course, over time, if you don’t innovate, you’ll kind of wither.

Chris McChesney
So, I’ve got a good one for you. So, the number two guy at Marriott, he’s retiring this year, his name is Dave Grissen. Marriott used this methodology for 12 years and they’ve improved their guest sat. every year for 12 years. The champion of this is now the number two guy at Marriott. When he was launching this 12 years ago, he told a group of leaders that were launching this process, he said, it was a two-part statement, he said, “First of all, if you want to keep your jobs at Marriott, just take care of the operation, just take care of the day job. We’ll never fire you because if we let you go, the next person might not take care of the day job. Like, you’ll always have a job here if you just take care of the day job.”

And then he gets this smirk, and he said, “But if you want to get promoted, give me one, give me your result, give me an improvement in arrival experience, give me an improvement in food and beverage quality, give me an improvement in everything in working order or event satisfaction. Call your shot and bring me something.” And it was his way of sort of communicating, I thought it was a great way to set, “Yeah, all right. If I just want to take care of the day job, okay, I’ll always have a job here. But if I’m serious about my career…” and then they backed it up. So, when a hotel manager applied for a general manager position, or vice versa, the first thing they would say is, “All right, tell me about your results. What did you target? How did you do it? Like, I want to know…” I think this is a universal principle for career movement, like, “I got to do those two things. I have to maintain the operation. That is job one. But if that’s all I’m doing, I’m treadmilling it. And then what is the one thing, what is the one result that I can deliver?”

And, by the way, that day job will take up 100% of my energy if I let it. I have to steal energy from that, and we say about 20%, to apply towards a breakthrough. So, figuring out what that is, defining it, giving it a starting line, a finish line, and a deadline, all of those things are part of discipline one and focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, Chris, I love that so much in terms of it’s just a clear framework and it’s just true. It rings true in terms of, yeah, doing your day job, keeping the operations going, will consume you, and it is important, and it needs to be done, and yet, just as you said, you’ve got to have that result. I’m thinking here about I’ve coached a lot of people on their resumes and career strategy development, and that’s kind of how that’s always my interpretation as I’m reviewing resumes for like hiring someone or for helping them to make their resume better.

Chris McChesney
There you go. You’re looking for it.

Pete Mockaitis
If you just show me, it’s like, “Okay. Well, yeah, you know what, I think it’s accountants. Poor guys. They’ve got such great skills and some of them I don’t have. I love my accountant so much. He’s so valuable.” And then when I read some bullets from accountants’ resumes, it’s like, “Hey, did invoicing, or controls, or books, or reporting,” and it’s like, “Yeah, absolutely, that’s got to happen. It’s hard. I wouldn’t be good at it. I’m glad that you’re on top of that.” But to make me go, “Hmm, impressive resume,” I got to see results and improvement on something, like you revised a process, you reduced costs, you improved revenue, you made something that took a long time, now take a little bit of time. I got to see a result and, ideally, there’s a number on it from like a resume judging perspective.

Chris McChesney
Yup, there is a number on it. That’s right. And think about this, so the great management guru, like the guy that kicked all this off was Peter Drucker. Drucker has got this one statement that is money. Drucker says, “The hardest thing to get people to do is think about their jobs in terms of results instead of activities.” And you just described that really well, “I do this, and then I do this, and then I do this, and then I do that.” If that sits on a resume, yeah, that’s fine if I need one of those, but that’s a certain type of job. But if you start thinking in the currency of results, what did I bring?

So, I’ve got right now, I have seven children, my wife and I do. My oldest is married and my third oldest is married, and so I’ve got, right now, I’ve got half a dozen little people in my life that are in their 20s that are looking at careers, and I’ve been just really hitting this note that get very comfortable with the currency of results. Somewhere, your boss, let’s say you’re in front-line management or event middle management, start thinking, and I’m going to steal from Stephen Covey who we were talking about earlier.

Think about what’s outside your job description but within your circle of influence. The opportunity rarely lives inside your job description, but it is something that you could influence. It’s like, what is the one thing that your boss wishes we had fixed? What is the one thing that the organization needs? And can you bring that? Maybe it is within your job description. But thinking in terms of the currency of results when it’s not being asked of you is a mindset shift for most people but it’s incredibly enabling.

And here’s the other thing. No one is going to have a parade for you when you deliver results. It’s funny, you’ll actually be…I think you’ll be discouraged. Like, you’ll get this done, and you’ll get that done, the whole time you’re doing this. If you’re not careful, what you’re thinking is, “Geez, Mary doesn’t do this. Mark doesn’t do this. I’m doing all this extra work. I’m not getting paid.” That’s the other thing. You’ll always feel like you’re adding more value than you’re getting paid, and that’s exactly where you want to be. And you just keep doing these things, and nobody cared about them, like you get a pat on the head, and a week later, they forgot. You keep doing it, and then one day they’re thinking, “Hey, we need somebody. Do you know who’d be great for that?” And, all of a sudden, you’ve changed your brand as you’re a real hunter. You seek and you get results.

And it doesn’t take very long because not everybody is doing it. Like, I promise you. Everybody applies for the position. Everybody. I’ve gotten 14 jobs. I’ve never gotten one of them from an interview. It’s always been, “Hey, Chris, we’re thinking of something.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. That’s focus. All right. So, you’re focusing and then maybe say a little bit more. It’s often outside your job description but within your area of control. It’s about results. And any other little telltale signs, like, “This may be the thing to focus in on”?

Chris McChesney
So, let’s say be careful of going too big. We don’t emphasize this enough in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, and the second version is getting launched this spring, and we really hit this point. Like, I’m in sales so we’ve got to grow revenue. Now I know what the thing is, the thing is the revenue. Well, be careful. Revenue is the title of the book, whatever the macro objective is, think of that like the title of the book, and that’s not where I want you to go. I want you to look at the chapters that make up the book, and I want you to pick the one chapter where you go, “Oh, if we could only do this. This is one product we sell. If we could grow that one product, boy, the margins are better, those people stay with us, they buy our other products.” Like, where are you going to put disproportionate energy? Against which chapter are you going to double down?

And if you could come down to sort of one level of abstraction from the big goal down to the chapter, come down off the title of the book, look at chapters and say, “Oh, yeah. You know what, if we get our first-year salespeople to pay for themselves, we could grow this thing forever.” Like, there’s always that one sort of small target that if we could just get that, wow, we could do X, Y, and Z. like, those are the really good, what we call WIGs, or wildly important goals. They’re not always these macro huge things.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s beautiful. So, it’s like a domino that sets it off, or the key that unlocks a whole lot more.

Chris McChesney
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right. So, we got the focus. What’s next?

Chris McChesney
So, the next one is the leverage one, what we call act on the lead measures. Think weight loss. If the scale is the lag measure or the goal, those two things are synonymous, the wildly important goal, or the lagging measure, the outcome metric is the weight, then if you want to lose weight, there’s two lead measures. Everybody listening knows what they are. It’s diet and exercise.

And you say, “Well, what’s unique about a lead measure from a lag measure?” Well, lead measures have two characteristics. I can influence the lead directly. You can’t directly affect weight loss but I can cut my calorie and I can burn calories daily. That distinction right there, folks, that’s the whole thing. A metric that can be directly affected. And then its other characteristic is predictive. Like, if I do that, I get the other. So, think of how a lever works. Rocks are too heavy to move but, you know what, I can move the lever, and the lever moves the rock. That is the idea.

And you want to prove this point, just ask people to think about someone in their life, and most people have someone, who’s lost 50 pounds. Like, there’s somebody they know, it wasn’t an accident, they deliberately set out to lose 50 pounds. So, everybody thinks of somebody, and then you ask the question, “All right. Was that person who lost 50 pounds, were they aware of a diet program and an exercise program, or were they counting daily?” And you do this in a room of 500 people, there might be one or two people that will say there weren’t counting. Everybody else it’s like it’s got to be like a 98%-99% statistic.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Chris McChesney
Why is that? Because, otherwise, we lie to ourselves. So, finding the diet and exercise, in the goal. Like, it isn’t just diet and exercise, it’s any lead measures. And the most sophisticated processes on the planet, like people that are building fighter planes, and structural engineers, and people like this, can always get into this thinking of, “All right, what’s the lag measure and what are the lead measures? Where in the process of these things that we could attack?” And that’s what lead measures are, figuring out and measuring those things that I can directly influence that will move the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, Chris, as you were saying this because I’ve had the pleasure, misfortune, I don’t know, of gaining and losing 10 pounds about three times now in life. And so, that has been my experience in that when I really am serious, I will use the Lose It! app or whatever. So, for real tracking, “How much am I exercising and how much am I taking in?” and not just falling into frozen pizzas multiple times a week, then it’s happening. And when I’m not, it isn’t. So, that’s my own experience on the loss.

Chris McChesney
Let’s put it in a business example. We got a hardware store. They want a likelihood to recommend number, and they’ve tracked it, and they said, “Look, if people will recommend our hardware store, if they’re likely to recommend, whether they do or not, if they answer that they are, you move that number, you see profits move.” Like, they know this is a really good chapter heading for wildly important goal. So, they’re like, “What are the lead measures?” What they find is, you know, there’s three things. When I go to a hardware store, I got to find what I’m looking for. Will someone talk to me? Number one. Number two, when I get to the aisle where the part is, do they actually have the thing I was looking for? Out of stocks. Number three. Once I got it, how quickly can I get out of the store?

Now, the group that we’re working with, the stores didn’t have to pick all three. They could pick one of the three, they could pick two of three, they have different teams working on any, but they had to have, and this is discipline three, is scoreboard, they had to create a compelling scoreboard out of the game. What’s the lag and what’s the lead? It’s a two-part equation. So, like, we’re going to try and move our likelihood to recommend, and we’ve never been able to move that score but we’re going after what we think are the three things that will have the biggest impact, and we figured out how to measure out of stocks, and we figured out how to measure how quickly we engage, and we know how to measure speed at checkout, and so we’re making the bet. In our store, we’re great at speed at checkout but we are terrible at out of stocks. And we’re going to attack that metric every single week, like somebody would attack running or whatever.

And this is where the trial and error comes in. Let’s see if that does it, and let’s learn from this. But if you can get, there’s an engagement dynamic here too, that when you can get people into the game of, “What will affect what?” It’s like a little riddle they’re trying to solve. And if they’re able to move a metric they’ve never been able to move before, you can get your team very engaged in, “All right, what was our score last week? We’ve been killing on out of stocks three weeks in a row. Do we do it four weeks? What the numbers are coming at?” And you could start to engage people in the work in a way, “Well, it was surprising to us. We weren’t expecting this. It’s not why we set out to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so good. And I think now we’ll talk about the third discipline with the engagement and the scoreboard is a tool for engagement. One of my favorite consulting projects, we saw exactly this. It was a customer service organization, they had six call centers, and we discovered that, “Well, hey, what we want is, like title of the book, lower costs associated with addressing customer needs.” And so, back it up a little bit, we see average handle time in terms of just how long they need to be on the phone with someone.

And then we’ve backed that up, we could see what influenced handle time is the experience of the customer service rep who those who know more, they’ve been around more, are able to quickly and knowledgably address the questions that come up. And then so we backed that up and we see, well, the attrition rate is horrible so that people are leaving fast and the average person is not very experienced. And so then, we backed that up and then we really kind of see, “Well, how are the supervisors treating, encouraging, motivating, supporting, the folks who work for them?” And then we see wild differences in that. So, those are some actions to take to reduce attrition.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the scoreboard is like, “The data was always suspect in terms of the attrition rates.” It’s like, “Well, you know, those were temporary. Those were college summer things,” and so no one every trusted the numbers, or could be held accountable to the numbers because they didn’t believe the numbers. And so, junior consultant here, it’s like, “That’s my job, is I’m making the real attrition numbers,” and then I get all these emails from people being asked to be added to the daily email about the attrition numbers that are the true numbers. And then it’s a game, it’s like they’re saying, “Hey, wow, this call center had their attrition go way down as compared to the previous month. Well, what the heck are you doing?” “You know, we tried this game where we offer this prize when they do such and such, and people are really getting into it.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, we should try that game too.” And it’s a beautiful thing.

Chris McChesney
All right. I got to dissect what you just said.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris McChesney
Because you hit a couple of really important themes right there. First of all, you had to get good data before this thing worked. So, think of any, I tell, athletics, I know people think that sports analogies are tired, and usually they are, but it’s really applicable here. Nobody is going to follow a game if the scoreboard is suspect for any reason. And so, “It’s not a first down. It’s somewhere between nine and 11 yards.” “No, it’s 10 fricking yards. Your nine and 11 inches, you’re going the other way.” And so, good data comes from good definitions.

So, I’m guessing, as you got into the data, you had to decide, “When did it really count as attrition? When didn’t it count as attrition?” You had to get very clear on the definitions that drove the data. And so, once you had a credible scoreboard, the next thing that you were able to show before people, I’m guessing, cared about it, is you had to show correlation. You had to show that when one number moved, another number moved. And so, this isn’t just something for analysts. Every business manager has to start understanding some basic correlations because, otherwise, you’re at the mercy of your business. “What do I put energy against that’s going to give me a return?” You stayed on that until you found.

Once you found it, once you saw a correlation, everybody wanted to see it. Everybody knew, right? Sometimes it takes a little trial and error, but you hit the two things. You had clean data, and you had cause and effect, then correlation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. While we’re reliving these moments, and we talk about correlation, that’s one error I think I met is I thought of correlation as, “Oh, you run the statistics in Excel and you get your R squared and adjusted R values,” but really, no, it’s just sort of like with stock outs, there was other project, it was sort of like for service of technological things. And it’s sort of like “Did the job get done right the first time in satisfaction?” So, you can run a big regression with all your variables and it wouldn’t look that compelling. But then if you look at satisfaction score in which the job was done right the first time on one half of the slide, and versus the job was not done right the first time, it’s like then it looks like it’s night and day, and that’s a way to make a correlation pop in my view.

Chris McChesney
Wow, that’s very well-said. We’ll do these meetings where we’ll get…and we like to get the action very close the frontline so we’ll work with leadership teams that are trying to do lead and lag measures three levels, four levels, above the frontline, and we’re like, “Sorry, let’s just break the goals down, let’s get those targets as close to the frontline as possible, and then we want to see half a dozen different scoreboards on a variety of things that are key bets for making the big number move.”

And then what we’ll do about three months in, four months in, we’ll do a report out. So, we’ll have the big bosses come down and talk to the managers and the teams, these are great sessions, and the teams will teach him what they’ve learned, like, “We tried this lead measure. I know we’ve been saying it for years. Didn’t have any effect. But, look, we just measured it differently and we did this, and now look at the results. Look, we got four weeks in a row, we’re moving the lag measure.”

And these VPs are seeing insights into the business and they get very excited about talking to what these frontline teams, and it’s a huge deal for the frontline teams because they’re getting some spotlight right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

Chris McChesney
Oh, I got a book recommendation for you if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m listening.

Chris McChesney
A lot of people like Patrick Lencioni.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, we had him on the show. He’s great.

Chris McChesney
Okay, great. Yeah, he is great. Maybe his least-read book is my favorite, and it’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. He likes it too. He’s re-releasing it. He thinks the reason it doesn’t do so well because nobody wants to be carrying that title of a book around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Get it on Kindle and hide it.

Chris McChesney
So, now he’s going to call it The Secret of Engagement, or something like that. But our 20 years on execution and his work really walked parallel paths. And the three signs of a miserable job are anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds miserable to me.

Chris McChesney
It sounds miserable. Anonymity, “Nobody cares what I’m doing.” Irrelevance, “It doesn’t matter.” And immeasurement, “I don’t know if I’m winning or losing.” And so, people don’t want oppressive data that doesn’t really tell the whole picture, and they’ll resist that stuff. But really helping, when they can actually influence creating a, and we use this words, high-stakes winnable game, you can get a great deal of engagement right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, let’s talk, finally, the fourth discipline here, creating a cadence of accountability. How do we do it?

Chris McChesney
So, this is one where it’s almost like if you think about disciplines one, two, and three as setting up the game. One is the target, two is kind of the how, three is sort of encapsulating it in a scoreboard, four is how we play the game. And now we’re going to go full circle back to the urgency thing. You can’t beat the urgency thing. You have to sort of trick your own brain. The way this works is everybody on the team makes a commitment during this little meeting, so every week at the same time, 20-minute meeting, Tuesdays at 9:00, it’s Tuesdays at 9:00, no matter what, you have to be kind of a freak about it, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris McChesney
We’ve got this meeting around this scoreboard, call them WIG sessions. And everybody in that meeting reports on the thing they committed to do last week that would have an impact on the scoreboard. So, I take one commitment. Like, we have a lead measure of interviewing 80% of our first-time accounts. But I could tell now that the script doesn’t look really good, so my commitment for the week is we’re going to rewrite that script, or, “The rent of Solaire office is really struggling. I’m going to meet with Marty, and we’re going to go over such.” Something I’m going to do every single week. In that meeting, everybody has to say, “Here’s what I said I was going to do last week. Here’s the impact it had on the scoreboard. And here’s my commitment for next week,” and that’s all they say.

Next person, “Here’s what I did. Here’s what my scoreboard looks like. Here’s what I’m going to do next week.” Like, brainstorming, problem-solving, something’s come up, out of this meeting. This thing, you are in and out. If you can do it in 20 minutes, great. And there’s this sort of two things about this. One, the commitments can’t come from the boss. You pull this, you don’t push it. So, the boss sometimes sits there chewing their tongues out because they know what they want to have done but, no, no, you got to ask everybody, “Give me that. What is the one thing, Pete, you’re going to do this week that’s kind of the biggest impact on one of those lead measures?” It’s like just-in-time strategic planning.

And then you know next week, we have people say all the time, “You know what, it was Thursday night and I had that week session Friday morning, and I was up till 2:00 o’clock in the morning. Like, I was not…” People don’t want to disappoint their bosses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Chris McChesney
They won’t disappoint their peers. They don’t like to disappoint their bosses. They could get over that. But we found that when it comes to peer accountability, they take it really seriously and you get really good commitments and you get energy. And then four, five, six weeks of non-urgent activity because these commitments would never make anybody’s to-do list but they’re the most important thing you could do to drive the lead measures. And so, that’s really the secret of the whole thing, is we just start to mind-harvest, pick your metaphor, energy against that scoreboard every single week until the team realizes, “We’re doing something nobody’s been able to do before, and it’s moving,” then we get the pop in engagement. That’s our story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s exciting and, certainly, I see what you mean about tricking your brain with the urgency, is it’s now urgent in that you don’t want to look like a fool, you don’t want to let people down, and the clock is ticking that you’re going to have to say something on Friday, so, hopefully, it’s going to be a good something.

Chris McChesney
And the day job has all that stuff built in, that’s why the day job has its own accountability system called your neck. Like, you get a phone call, like people get mad at you, you don’t want that phone call, so we do that, right? But the goals, the goals need a mechanism to create the same kind of urgency that the day job has. And if you could do it in a way where people feel like they’re part of something, and this is what we found.

So, I gave you the quote on Lencioni’s book “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.” I’ll give you another one. It’s an HBR, Harvard Business Review, article, May 2011, there’s also a book by the same name called The Power of Small Wins, and it goes back to a research that was done in the ‘60s by a guy named Frederick Herzberg. And Herzberg said, those of you that have had MBA classes recently, his name comes up. He came up with this theory, and he said, “Look, the stuff that people quit over – pay, best friend at work, job conditions, benefits – does not engage them.”

I’m going to say that again, “The stuff people quit over does not engage them.” Don’t quit over pay, whether they have a best friend at work, whether they like…they’ll over quit all that stuff. There’s only two things that engage people, really create engagement, and it’s “Am I winning? Am I progressing? Is it working? Is there some progress?” and “Does it matter? Is it a winnable high-stakes game?” And so, what we tell people is, “Look, don’t get overwhelmed by this. If you’re a leader, your team doesn’t have to feel that way about everything. The day job, 80% won’t feel that way most of the time. It’s okay. But if you can create a high-stakes winnable game around that 20%, that one thing, it affects the way they feel about everything else.” And I would even say in raising teenagers, it’s the same thing. Find one thing in that kid’s life that they’re wining at and they feel good at, it has an impact on everything else.

So, I’ll tell you, after 20 years, that’s what we’ve learned. If you can create a high-stakes winnable game for people, it has a profound effect on morale and engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it. And I think it’s true all of life in terms of, in my own experience, it’s like, “I got to feel like I’m winning something.”

Chris McChesney
Yeah, right. Give me something, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I might feel like a lame dad or a lame husband, but if I’m winning at work, it’s like, “Okay, life has some color,” or vice versa, I might feel like, “Oh, man, COVID hits, my downloads are down. You know what, man, but I’m having a blast with my kids.” Like, you got to be winning at something.

Chris McChesney
Right. Right. Right. And so, that’s the question to leaders, right? Do the people who work for you feel like there’s some part of what you’re doing that feels like a high-stakes winnable game? And if they do, they won’t forget it. It’s a much bigger deal to people than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Chris, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Chris McChesney
That’s it. That’s our story.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, can you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris McChesney
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose, considered by yourself to be a worthy one, instead of being a feverish little clot of grievances and ailments, complaining the world will not dedicate itself to making you happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard that. I forgot who said it.

Chris McChesney
It’s on the tip of my tongue. That was the one that I was looking for.

Pete Mockaitis
It was nice. It was well-done. The clot grievances is always like, “Oh, man.”

Chris McChesney
Yeah, be a force of nature, right? Attack something. Bring something down.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chris McChesney
You know what I’m reading right now? I’m reading the, the biography of Hamilton that Lin-Manuel Miranda based the Broadway play on. And my wife and I are just crazy for the play. And the biography is stunning, and it’s just a really inspiring story of someone who had no business having an impact on the world that he had. Chernow is the guy’s last name, the Hamilton biography. It’s fantastic.

Hey, on this topic, more to this topic, although I tell you, the book I read before that was Robert Greene on Mastery. And I actually had all my kids, we did at dinner, and you could only come to dinner if you had read at least the first chapter of Mastery. And it’s really an interesting perspective on the whole career conversation.

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

Chris McChesney
Waterskiing. I’ve got to do a lot of it because I haven’t been on the road, so this is my summer of slalom waterskiing. That’s my addiction.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks, they quote it back to you and they highlight it in your book, etc.?

Chris McChesney
There will always be more good ideas than there’s capacity to execute them.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that very comforting because…

Chris McChesney
Good, because you don’t have to bring them all down. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And, in a way, it really is a blessing. It’s like it’s such abundance. We can sort of enjoy that as opposed to be stressed out by it.

Chris McChesney
Thank you. Right. Because it kind of shames us in one moment. But, you’re right, it’s just great to realize. Because there is this onus sometimes when we think, “Oh, that. Oh, I didn’t do, and we didn’t follow up on that.” Like, yeah, trust me, you and everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s so funny, sometimes when I have lots of opportunities, and I think even in business, it’s like I find that sometimes I get more stressed, and it’s like I’m enjoying my work less, it’s like, “What’s this about? Like, this is good. This is good.” So, yeah, thank you. It puts it right in the frame, right back where it needs to be. And how about if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris McChesney
All right. So, you go on Amazon and look up The 4 Disciplines of Execution, which is our book that has done way better than we ever thought it would with a title like that, with the words discipline and execution. If you don’t have high hopes, would you launch that book? It continues to be a bestseller to our delight and amazement.

And then if you go to, all one word, ChrisMcChesney4dx.com that will take you to my website and kind of the work that we do. Or you can go to the FranklinCovey website, that works as well, and you can find me there.

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

Chris McChesney
I’ll just go back to the one I said a minute ago. Find something outside your job description, within your circle of influence, and get your team treating it like a high-stakes winnable game. If you can do that, you’re not a manager. You’re a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck.

Chris McChesney
Right back at you.