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

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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:

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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

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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.

594: Achieving More by Embracing Your Productivity Style with Carson Tate

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Carson Tate says: "There's no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity."

Carson Tate discusses the four productivity styles—and how to pick the best tools and practices that best suit you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to pick the right system for your productivity style
  2. The top tools for keeping your inbox under control
  3. How to work in harmony with opposing productivity styles

About Carson

Carson is the founder and Managing Partner of Working Simply. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style. Her views have been included in top-tier business media including Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, CBS Money Watch, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, The New York Times, USA Today, Working Mother and more.

Prior to starting Working Simply, Carson worked in Human Resources and sales functions with Fortune 200 firms. Carson holds a BA in psychology from Washington and Lee University, a Masters in Organization Development, and a Coaching Certificate from the McColl School of Business at Queens University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Carson Tate Interview Transcript

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

Carson Tate
Thanks, Pete. I’m glad to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to be with you and to get into some of the mess that is our lives and productivity and such. But I understand you also love the mess of mud runs and more. What’s the story here?

Carson Tate
Yes. So, a couple of my girlfriends and I got bored a few years ago with just regular road races and we decided to branch out, and it is some of the most fun that we have, and we are literally cleaning mud out of our ears for days afterwards, and obstacles, and you push yourself, but it’s great fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s see, I’m familiar with the Tough Mudder. What are the other big names in mud running?

Carson Tate
So, the Tough Mudder is the one that we’ve done. And there’s also, in North Carolina, a couple of just very small local races as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s some fun background. I want to get your view here, so you’ve done a lot of work about work, researching people and productivity, and kind of what makes us tick. What would you say is maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about people and productivity from all of your explorations?

Carson Tate
If we really want to be productive, you’ve got to align your tools and your strategies to how you think and process.

So, what often happens is people try a new app and it doesn’t work for them, and then they think they’re not capable of getting organized or there’s something wrong with them. No, it’s just the tool that doesn’t work for you. So, it’s about aligning your tools to how you think and process, and then really creating a custom toolkit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in your world, you defined four different productivity styles. And I’d love it if you could, call me a skeptic or what the word is, but I’d love to hear a little bit about the underlying research in that. I guess for like with the Enneagram, for example, I’m like, “Who says there’s nine types? How do we know there’s nine? Why are there not eight or 12? Why are they not like 34 like the Strengths?” So, can you lay it on us, how do we come up with four?

Carson Tate
Absolutely. So, first of all, my graduate research looked at cognitive thinking styles, so this is different than personality. This is literally how you think and process information. And so, I looked at the research, neuroscience and research, into how we think. And so, the concept of left brain and right brain, it’s not technically accurate but that’s easy classification, and then started digging into an instrument called Hermann Brain Dominance Inventory that looks at thinking style, and realized that that’s a great instrument, and there’s a gap, and that that instrument does not tell you how your thinking style informs how you work. And by how you work, I mean how you think about time, how you structure your day, whether you like to take notes or not, what your inbox looks like, and whether or not you like file folders.

So, using what I understood around our thinking styles, I developed first-tier assessment in grad school and then tested it out, and realized that there really are topologies, there are four different styles that broadly characterized these thinking styles. So, one is prioritizer, analytical, linear, fact-based. These are the folks that like spreadsheets and data and details. Then planners, organized, sequential, detailed. These are the folks that have never met a checklist they didn’t like. These are the project planners. Arrangers, these are your intuitive, kinesthetic, relational folks. They do their work with and  through people. They like colorful pens, they’re visual. And then visualizers, these are your big-picture strategic thinkers. They are the ones that are pushing the envelope, “Why not?” They don’t like structure. They think in big, broad concepts.

So, first iteration, tested it, had to refine the topology. Tested it again. And now we’re on an iteration, this is our third iteration. We’ve had over 2.5 million people take it and validating the results.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. What’s the number again?

Carson Tate
Two and a half million.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good work. Cool.

Carson Tate
So, it’s working. It’s definitely working. And, Pete, I think what is helpful about it, like any of these assessments, and I hear you on what’s the science behind it. Fundamentally, it’s just an awareness tool. So, if you’re my client, I’m coaching  you, and I can help you see how your thinking is informing why you do not want to schedule your day in 15-minute increments in a way that would better help you optimize your time, that is what’s going to lead to your productivity. So, that awareness. So, it’s just an awareness too. It’s just access into how you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I would love it if you could sort of make that come alive for us here in terms of if you could maybe share a story of maybe someone who was doing something and it wasn’t working for him, and then they made a discovery about this, and then they saw some cool results from there.

Carson Tate
Yeah, absolutely. So, I was working with a client, we’ll call him Bill, he worked in the nonprofit sector, and Bill, very tech savvy, Bill had probably tried every app that’s out there, every to-do app, and he would stick to it for like a week or so, he’s so excited, and then the wheels fall off, and he’d be crazy it’s not working out. He could never find an email. He’d taken plenty of email management classes, he was late on all of his projects. And so, when I met with him, the first thing I realized was that he was a visualizer, really big-picture thinker. So, an app that was very linear and very designed for really discrete details, it went counter to how he thought about things.

He thought about things in terms of ideas, so this was how he was going to solve the waste management issue, like these big concepts. So, what I’d asked him to do was try mind-mapping software so he could anchor the central concept, and then from it, pull out things that needed to happen around it. So, making these really graphical charts he could see. And the second thing we did was we removed every single folder that he had in his inbox because out of sight was out of mind. He’d get an email and then he’d file it away in the to-do folder, but he’d forget about it because he was visual.

So, we turned his inbox into a visual to-do list by changing the subject line of his email messages to his next action steps so he could see them. They never went away. He could search them and see them. And then we reconfigured his calendar. So, these tight little very structured meeting, meeting, meeting didn’t work for him. So, we started thinking about his work in terms of theme days. So, Monday’s theme for him was admin, so all of the internal work, the internal meetings, the one on one’s. Tuesday, he was out in the field, he did some work out in the field inspecting job sites. Wednesdays was back in the office. Thursday was another field day, so he could kind of group and organize things based on themes.

So, fits and starts. Three weeks later, I checked in with him, and he’s still on those early stages of trying to get it to work, but what had happened is that his manager noticed that he was arriving on time to meetings, and that he’d actually turned in two things early. He was so proud of him, super proud of him. Fast forward six months later, he’s hitting all of his marks, he’s up for a promotion, and he actually had started working on a book that he was talking about for his nonprofit that he had setup because he created the mental space and the time space to also start to pursue some of his personal passions because he got work dialed in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot in there. And it’s funny because I’ve heard about how grand mind mapping is, and I haven’t really had much cool results with it, part of it is like my writing is hard to read and it gets kind of crunched. I could try the big piece of paper. So, yeah, I haven’t personally had a mind-mapping session that knocked my socks off in terms of, “Wow, that’s so cool. I’m glad I did that.”

And, yet, when you first mentioned the prioritizer, I am in so all about finding sort of the 80/20 high-leverage thing that does it. And I do have a spreadsheet that estimates the profit generated per hour invested of various business initiatives and then that gets me fired up, like, ‘Holy smokes, that one is worth ten times what that one is worth.” So, as you laid this out, it makes a lot of sense how, hey, mind mapping is game-changing for some but, for me, it hasn’t been resonant yet.

Carson Tate
Right, because it’s not quantifiable for you. So, as a prioritizer, you need to quantify your efforts. So, we either quantify in terms of minutes, we quantify in terms dollars, we quantify it in terms of emails processed in minutes, number of items checked off, how quickly you achieved an objective, how many minutes were shaved off of a meeting. So, that is speaking your productivity language. But for Ben, he doesn’t care. That doesn’t motivate him. He doesn’t care about that. He’s more concepts, “What’s next? And how do we build a system for him?” And he actually used a whiteboard, and then there’s also a software called MindJet that you can do mind mapping on the computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, okay, since you opened up that door, I can’t resist. Let’s hear the tools because it can be tempting to play tools all day long, but if we can have just a couple of minutes. So, MindJet is cool for mind-mapping individualizers. Is there any other sort software or tools you recommend for each of the other three?

Carson Tate
So, I like Trello for planners, and arrangers can use it a little bit. Evernote is great for arrangers and for visualizers because they have blank pages. And prioritizers, you can use Todoist, you can use Things, and there are a host of them that are designed for prioritizers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I think that I love OmniFocus and just a spreadsheet most often because I can see those numbers.

Carson Tate
Right.
I would say that you’re definitely onto something but it really doesn’t matter what the tool is as long as it works for you. So, Excel, a great tool for you, but it might not have the flash or the name recognition, but it works for you. So, part of the push and the struggle on productivity is, can you stand on the ground of, “Hey, you know what, I use a legal pad. It works for me”?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Understood. Okay. Cool. And then I guess I’m also thinking that, I guess, in some ways, different projects and different outputs that you’re shooting for sort of seem to align more readily to different folks. I guess I’m thinking if I’m trying to say, “Hey, manufacturing plant manager, I need you to optimize our outputs and shave off all the time associated with cranking out the widgets,” going on a visualizer style, or maybe just my bias as a prioritizer, but it doesn’t quite seem like that’s ideal but maybe all roads lead to Rome or something. Like, there’s multiple paths that will end up doing the same thing. What’s your take on that?

Carson Tate
All roads lead to Rome, and each of these styles has a strength. So, if we’ve got to optimize throughput on a manufacturing line, I’m going to strongly encourage that we have a prioritizer to think about that. If we need to redesign the line, then I’m going to suggest we have a visualizer to think about a new approach. And if it’s about, “Do we have a team that’s highly functioning on this line?” I’m going to ask the arranger to do that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I suppose, tell us, how does one learn what their style is?

Carson Tate
So, we have the assessments on our website WorkingSimply.com, you can go and take it on the website. Then we also have multiple articles on our blogs that talk about these styles and questions you can ask to help you determine your productivity style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, can you tell us, once we are aware of our productivity style, I guess what are some of the sort of top do’s and don’ts that we should keep in mind? Either things that are sort of universally applicable to all or the particulars, “Hey, prioritizers probably do this and don’t do that.”

Carson Tate
Yes. So, universal, I have two universals across the board for all four styles. One is the concept which, I think, Pete, you are 100% in alignment with, which is time is a commodity. And so, we talk about it with our coaching clients and our training clients that time is non-renewable resource, “We all have the same 168 hours in a week. How do you choose to invest it for your highest ROI?” So, that’s across the board best practice, “Can you make that paradigm shift to being as intentional and as thoughtful about your time spent as you are your money spent?” What you’ve done with your spreadsheet is you’ve quantified time. You know what an hour of your time is worth and you make your decisions based on that.

The second universal principle is around inboxes, and we believe that your inbox is the best personal assistant you’ve ever had.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you mean email inbox or…?

Carson Tate
Your email inbox, yes. And so, to use all of the technology tools that are available in your platform, to automate as much as possible of your email management.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t even know we’re going to go here. Let’s go there now.

Carson Tate
You want to dig into email? Let’s talk email. Let’s talk inboxes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s the tools. I mean, hey, I love my email tools. I like Superhuman to fly through them, and I like SaneBox to filter. I guess, what are the other tools, and what are the other just sort of approaches in terms of what you’re doing in there, kind of regardless of the software you got?

Carson Tate
So, regardless of the software, we suggest a process we call the email agility process. You read it. You decide what it is. Does it require action by you? If action is required by you, you do it, not channeling Nike. You just do it if you do it under five minutes. Delegate it if you can, if you don’t have the knowledge and authority. Don’t have the knowledge and authority, you delegate it or you convert it to a task. So, convert them to task in Gmail, Outlook, you can send it to Evernote, but you are making that decision around the action step because what we don’t want to do is re-read the email. And if no action is required, you delete it or you file it. And then the final step is to contain and think thoughtfully about how you want to store and retrieve your messages.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, how do I arrive with that decision, the containing?

Carson Tate
The containing, yes. And this goes back though, Pete, the containing piece is where it becomes really personal. So, for you as a prioritizer, it’s going to look different than my example Ben, the visualizer. So, he doesn’t use folders. His containment method is everything lives in there, and he uses search functions. It works great for him. You probably have some folders, yeah, or nothing in your inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
It depends on what day you catch me.

Carson Tate
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, search is the primary way I pull one up although I do have the labels and the archiving. Okay. And so then, you say it’s the best personal assistant we have in the sense that it’s kind of like bringing to our attention that which we need to deal with or…

Carson Tate
Right. So, I’ll take Outlook, for example. So, in Outlook, you can use a function called conditional formatting. It’s very similar to labels in Gmail. And we can set it up so every time Pete emails me, that email comes in in bright red. So, what I’m doing is I’m telling my assistant, “Flag Pete. Turn him this color.” And when you come in my inbox, I now have a visual prioritization. I’ll read red first, then blue, then I’ll deal with the black ones. So, my assistant, I’ve told my assistant what to do, and then my assistant does it over and over again with no input from me, saving me that step of getting in and prioritizing every time.

And so, it’s thinking through if you always file this email, well, write a rule. Don’t do it. Have the technology do it for you. Another example we use with all of our clients, a lot of the emails that we send, and I can imagine for you, a lot of these are the same thing, “So, here’s the logon, here’s the link, here’s what you need to do as a guest on my show.” You’re written it. It’s a template. Well, save it as a template in your email program so that you can just use it over and over again, just like you would a Word doc or an Excel doc. So, we want to eliminate rework and automate using the tools as much as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so then when we got the productivity style of your own self, and then you’re interacting with others, how do you play that game? Because I imagine some people are pretty kind of chill, “Hey, man, however you want to do it. Just get it done by this time according to these principles.” And others are going to pretty precise, it’s like, “Hey, I need you to do…” I’m thinking about podcast sponsorship now, “I need you to do an air check, and you download reporting at this time. And I’m on this platform and this system.” So, yeah, I imagine that can create either harmony or irritation when these things come together. How do we navigate that?

Carson Tate
You’re exactly right. So, harmony when you’re working with someone who has the same style as you or similar style. So, Pete, if I was a prioritizer, and you and I are paired up on a project, we end up speaking quite the same language. We’re focused on the outcome. We want the data. We want to be quick. We want to be efficient. So, it’s very easy for us to work together. We’re pretty aligned. We get it done.

But if you were working with an arranger who’s focused on the people and wants to get everyone’s opinion about what the objective is, that’s going to be pretty frustrating for you. Very frustrating. And for the arranger, they’re going to be frustrated because you just want to get to work, and they don’t feel like they’ve built the team and aligned around the team. The planner, detailed, organized, who wants to put together your project plan, when they work with a visualizer, the visualizer doesn’t like structure, they don’t want a project plan, they don’t want details, so that’s going to create a pretty predictable clash. So, when you work with someone like you, easy.

When we talk about going cross-quadrants, so prioritizer to arranger, that’s the most significant difference, the biggest clash. Planner to visualizer, going that way, other very significant clash. It’s just going to be harder to work together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, acknowledging that’s going to be harder, what do you do about it?

Carson Tate
What do you about it? So, first, you got to communicate. So, each of these four productivity styles has a central question they want answered. So, you as a prioritizer, you want the what, “What’s the goal? What’s the objective? What’s the data?” The planner, how, “How have you done it before? How do you want to do it? How do we need to produce this deliverable?” The folks on the process, the how. The arranger’s focus is on the who, “Who’s on the team? Whos’ involved? Who are the stakeholders?” And the visualizer is asking those big-picture questions, “Why not? Why are we thinking about this? Why does this matter? How does this connect to strategy?”

And so, if I’m a planner working with a visualizer, I need to be thinking about and answering those why questions, talking about strategy, talking about big picture, creating opportunities for innovation. And, vice versa, if the visualizer is working with a planner, they need to be comfortable talking about the how and the details and being willing to work through a sequential process with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, understood. And you also had a note associated with a master task list, an acronym, TASK. Can you unpack this for us?

Carson Tate
Sure. So, I’ll give you the why behind it and then we’ll unpack it. So, the why is because our brains are terrible at to-do lists, right? I mean, how often have you sat on your desk, like, “Oh, I forgot to do this on the way into my office.” Well, we all have this happen. So, the master task list creates one central repository to capture all of your commitments, both personal and professional, in one place. So, the T in task stands for think, and this is when we ask our clients basically do a brain dump, get it all out of your head everything you need to do.

The second step is the A, is the action because a lot of the stuff in our heads will be a project. So, for example, clean out the garage. Well, you’re not going to do that. That’s a big project. So, what we have to do is determine the next action step. Well, the first action step would be maybe to measure the wall. If you want to hang something up, we got to measure to figure out how many hooks so that I can start to create some organization.

And then the S is just sort. So, once you’ve done your brain dump and you’ve need to determine next-action steps, we have to create a list that’s actually manageable and that you can get in and out of. So, the sort is just a grouping or a classification of like items. So, it might be podcast prep, it might be calls, it might be research, it could be a project name, but you group all of those action items under that category. And then the last one is you keep one and only one list. So, we don’t have a list in this app, a list in your pocket, a list on your refrigerator. You’ve got just one master list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And since you mentioned multiple lists and multiple places, I’m thinking about sort of the paper versus digital part of this all. How does that sync up to, do you find that some of the four styles prefer one versus the other? Or is it just sort of that’s a whole another dimension there, prioritizers who love paper, and visualizers who love computers, and it’s all over the place?

Carson Tate
it’s all over the place, absolutely, with an asterisk. So, all over the place. We have folks in each category that like paper or tech. The asterisk would be the arrangers. They tend to be kinesthetic, so they have very nice writing utensils. You will see them touch and feel objects. They’re very visual dashboards. They are more likely to use paper than the other four styles.

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

Carson Tate
Just excited I’ve got a new book coming out, October 6, called Own It, Love it, Make it Work: How to Turn Any Job into Your Dream Job. So, it is the roadmap if you do not enjoy your job or you want to enjoy your job even more. This is the tool to help you get there.

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

Carson Tate
I’m going to say, “Just do it.”

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

Carson Tate
My graduate research on cognitive thinking styles was my favorite research project I’ve ever done.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Carson Tate
The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve mentioned a few of them, but how about a favorite tool?

Carson Tate
Paper.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And with a paper, how specifically do you use it in a way that’s great for you?

Carson Tate
Yes. So, I actually have a paper to-do list because I have a little notebook I’ve created and leaves with me wherever I go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Carson Tate
Early morning meditation.

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

Carson Tate
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity. You must personalize it based on how you think and process information.

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

Carson Tate
WorkingSimply.com or on LinkedIn, Carson Tate.

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

Carson Tate
Yes. Figure out how you think and process information, and then align your productivity tools to support you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carson, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun in your productive adventures.

Carson Tate
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it. Thanks.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jeff

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Jeff Haden Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
You did? Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve walked it.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Jeff Haden
So, that was my shot at Tony.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Jeff Haden
How hot was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know that was a long answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
That’s all right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

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

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, yeah, you’re hammering.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Ooh, that’s a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear about your favorite quote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so great, Jeff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Yeah.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Maybe it’s mutually beneficial.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Alex:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Pang Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the Scottish accents or…

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Annually.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, annually.

Pete Mockaitis
In call centers that is striking.

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Correct.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Hey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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