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531: How to Differentiate Yourself to Get Promoted with Stan Silverman

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"That's really the only way to be successful long term, you have to take risks... and try something new and different."

Stan Silverman discusses how being different and taking risks pays off for your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why failing is the first step to achieving more at work
  2. How to take calculated risks that win at work
  3. Why and how to break policy

About Stan:

Stan Silverman is the founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is also a speaker, advisor, and the author of Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success. He is a nationally syndicated writer on the topics of leadership, entrepreneurship, and corporate governance, writing for several publications such as the Philadelphia Business Journal.  

Silverman has served on several public, private, private equity and nonprofit boards and currently sits as the vice-chairman of the board of trustees at Drexel University. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University.  He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

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Stan Silverman Interview Transcript

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

Stan Silverman
Well, Pete, thanks for inviting me. I look forward to our discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m looking forward to it as well. And you’ve got a pretty unique story, well, maybe for nowadays. But I want to hear the scoop. First of all, so you had 11 separate roles at PQ Corporation and ended at the top, so that’s pretty cool. We’ll dig into some of that. But, I guess, I want to know first, what led you to stick with one organization for such a long duration in your career?

Stan Silverman
Well, I never intended to stay with PQ for so long but I kept on getting promoted. And the hierarchy above me was very, very supportive of what I was doing and it was just a great company to work for. And so, I stayed through 11 jobs, including a stint in Canada as president of National Silicates Ltd, PQ’s Canadian subsidiary, came back as president of PQ’s worldwide industrial chemicals group, became the COO of the company and then, eventually, the CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’d love to dig into some particular moments in which you did some things that were differentiated and noteworthy such that you were the one they picked for the promotion. So, maybe we can go back in time and let’s start semi-chronologically in terms of towards can you maybe orient us to sort of what was your role, what was your set of responsibilities, and how did you win promotion again and again?

Stan Silverman
Well, thanks for allowing me to go through some history here. So, as I look back on my career at PQ, I did a lot of firsts. I was the first one at the company to use a computer to solve an engineering problem and a finance problem versus just pushing numbers around through the accounting system. And so, way back then, and a lot of our listeners are much too young to remember this but we did a lot of work with time sharing, so we access a mainframe computer that was remote through a teletype machine that did 15 characters per second that we ran at the time on the outside computer. And I was the first one at the company to build a model for doing this kind of cashflow calculations, looking at the financial attractiveness of various projects. And I did this while I was an engineer.

And so, I gravitated from process engineering to looking into the financial attractiveness of the projects I was working on and so that was a first at the company. And from that point, I moved onto production planning, to financial analysis where I was evaluating the various alternatives for placing a plan in this city versus that city, for doing this versus that, and at the time I was getting my MBA at Drexel University at night. And so, I tied in what I was doing at work with my work at the university. I wrote a thesis for my masters’ program which was a Monte Carlo simulation, which looked at various alternatives using probabilistic estimates for inputs into a cashflow analysis. And I was able to test this at PQ on the various projects that we were working on.

And so, gradually, slowly but surely, I moved from an engineering position to a financial analyst position, to my first product manager position at the company where I moved over to the marketing side of the company. I was responsible for three product lines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s a lot in there I’d love to unpack. And so, well, let’s start with some of these firsts with regard to, so you’re the first to use a computer to solve some of these financial questions using the discounted cashflow analysis. Well, what got into you that made you say, “You know what, this is what I’m going to go do because I think it would probably be more normative for engineers to continue doing their engineering.” But you popped your head up and said, “No, I’m going to check out something different.” How did that come about?

Stan Silverman
Well, I’ve always been curious about things which would allow me to grow and develop my skills in other areas other than engineering. And when I got my chemical engineering degree, I decided that I did not want to rise up through the engineering route because I thought that was too limited. I wanted to follow the business route, and that’s why I got my MBA so that I would be in positions where I would make strategic decisions with respect to the future of my businesses and, eventually, the company rather than building plants for the products that we made.

And it was just an interest in doing that, in making decisions on the strategic side of the business versus the engineering side of the business that pushed me and led me to get my MBA degree. And I’ve always been very curious. I’ve been testing new things, looking at new things, trying out things, and, really, that’s what drove me my entire career is that curiosity. And it really goes way, way back to when I was a teenager. At the age of 12, my dad got me my first chemistry set and I exhausted all the experiments probably within three months, and I got a little bored and I decided that I would try something new. So, I thought it would be really cool if I made gunpowder to pack into a firecracker and set off the firecracker, so I started up on it and learned how to do that with my chemistry set.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like fun to me.

Stan Silverman
Yeah, it was really a lot of fun but the creative part wasn’t actually formulating the gunpowder. You can look that up anywhere and at the time we didn’t have the internet so, of course, I had to go to a library to do this. But it was actually designing the fuse to set it off so that I wouldn’t blow my hand apart, I decided that I would run wires from my Lionel train transformer to the firecracker that I built and bury these wires with a matchhead inside the powder and then set it off 30 feet away. And, sure enough, it worked.

And so, this is a future engineer at the age of 13 now, basically, in his backyard fooling around with this stuff. And, of course, in today’s world, you can’t possibly do that because you’d have Homeland Security and the local police department all over you for doing this. And so, we’ve really taken some innocence away from kids that just like to play in the basement or in the backyard or in the garage and just kind of tinker with things. And so, that’s kind of a negative to the world that we’re in. We’ve taken some innocence away from our children in terms of allowing them to just roam and develop.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I hear that theme. So, the curiosity, the testing, the exploring, trying out new things. I guess, I’m intrigued because I think that this is common, I’d say, part of the human experience, we’re curious, we want to explore and seek new things. And, yet, I think a lot of folks, in the professional setting, experience some fear or a resistance, internal and/or external, so that they sort of shut those instincts down. How do you observe the ways in which professionals kind of shoot themselves in the foot or prevent themselves from exploring and rising as a result?

Stan Silverman
Well, I think it gets down to a feeling of self-confidence in yourself. I coach and counsel a lot of students right now in my career and, of course, with the launching of my book, sort of my fourth career, which we’ll get into in a little later on in the interview. But one of the things I do is I talk to a lot of students today and I talk to a lot of professionals who are stuck, who don’t like what they’re doing, who want to know what the path is to leave what they’re doing and do something more interesting. And, of course, it’s completely up to them. They have to find their own path.

They have a safety blanket in their current position and in their current role, and for 45 years they just never do anything.

And you go to the other extreme, you have people that are constantly developing themselves, constantly pushing forward, trying things, failing sometimes, and, of course, failure is a normal part of life and we should all get used to that. And as I tell the folks that I counsel“You can feel bad that night but the next morning you get up and get back at it because it’s a new day and a new world, and you have to move forward.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Seth Godin who is a futurist.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Stan Silverman
He wrote a book called “The Icarus Dilemma,” and he writes about Icarus who, of course, is a character in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and fell off his back, and he crashed into the sea. And what Godin says is, “Should’ve Icarus flown lower and safer so he wouldn’t crash into the sea?” And he says, “No, of course not, because it’s actually more dangerous to fly too low than it is to fly too high, because if you fly too low, you’ll never know what you’re made of, and you’ll never deliver the kind of results or contributions to society that society needs.”

And so, I added actually something in my book about that. I also said that if you fly too low and, all of a sudden, your job disappears and technology moves on, and you have to get a new job. If you fly too low, you’ll never know what you’re made of, and it’s harder to get a new job, so fly high, and if you fly too close to the sun and you fail and you crash into the sea, the next morning you get up and fly again.

And that’s what entrepreneurs are taught.  And so, that’s what drives a lot of the comments I make to folks that I coach and counsel.

Pete Mockaitis
But, you know, as you talked about that Icarus metaphor, and we’ve also been talking about finance, my mind is bringing them together as I think about sort of risk-taking and financial investments. Like, if you take no risk and just sort of do what your savings account will do for you, well, then you’re going to kind of crash in the sense of inflation is just sort of taking away your wealth. And so, in essence, in both instances, Icarus, financial investing, and career risk-taking, you have to take some level of risk because none is more dangerous than some.

Stan Silverman
Exactly. And what everybody has to do is learn how to mitigate their risks, so you try to control the risks. And the way you do an investment, of course, investing is that you diversity your portfolio, and so you don’t go after the homeruns every day. You go after the slow and steady. And the slow and steady, by all accounts, and by all the data and all the studies, wins over the long term. So, it’s slow and steady, slow and steady, so you mitigate your risks.

And in business, of course, a lot of people ask me, “Well, what do you mean by mitigating your risks? How do you mitigate risks?” And I always use the example, let’s assume that you’re a manager in your company and you need to make a decision which you have all the authority in the world to make. You don’t have to ask anybody else, you can either make it or not make it. You can go direction A or direction B, it’s up to you. But you feel that it’s risky and you want to mitigate the risk, well, what do you do? Well, you talk to people. You get other people’s opinions. You don’t have to do what they say but you get other people’s opinion so it expands your view of what you may do, or may not do, and you move forward.

A lot of people think that by asking other people their opinion, it’s a weakness. Wrong. It’s a huge strength and you should always be asking people, getting their opinions, getting their input, and you’re going to make the final decision on your own, but at least you have that input. A lot of people don’t realize that when they feel that something is very risky, or even a modicum of risk, and they want to get an opinion, it’s okay to get it. It’s okay to get an opinion before you move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I was just about to ask about some strategies and approaches if you do have some of that fear of failure, you don’t want to let go of your safety blanket, well, I guess one point is just you have to.

Stan Silverman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But, emotionally, there’s still a bridge to cross. How do you suggest folks do it? One is to seek the wisdom of other counsel. What else?

Stan Silverman
Well, you have to fall back on your experience and your critical judgment and common sense. And so, a lot of the decisions we make, we don’t always have all the information we would like to have, we don’t have that information, and you can’t get it or you don’t have time to get it. So, what do we all do? We fall back on our common sense, a good critical judgment. And when we do that, and when we do have good common sense and critical judgment developed over the years through our experiences, because that’s how you get that, we make a lot more right decisions than we make wrong decisions.

And so, that’s just part of life. You’re going to be making decisions without having all the knowledge and all the information you would like. So, let’s flip it around for a moment and let’s assume that you’re the leader of a group, and you have one of your employees, or many of your employees, actually, making decisions, and sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. You have to allow your employees to make mistakes. It’s the only way they’re going to grow and develop.

And one of the prime responsibilities of every leader is to develop future leaders below them. The only way to do that is to tell them what your expectations are and make sure they have the right resources, and cut them loose to do their thing, and sometimes it’s not going to work out, and sometimes it will work out. But if you have good people reporting to you, and you’ve hired people with good common sense and critical judgment, and allow people to develop that common sense and good critical judgment, you’re going to win in the long term. You’ve going to have a lot more wins than you’re going to have losses, and you just have to tolerate that.

So, there are many bosses that won’t allow their people to make mistakes. Those kinds of people you don’t want in your organization if you’re the board or you’re the CEO. You’ve got to get rid of them because you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re just not going to get anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you said common sense and critical judgment, I was just chatting with some folks about how that seems to be not so common. And I would love to get your take on are there any particular decision-making frameworks, tools, key questions, you ask yourself to bring forth more common sense and judgment to situations?

Stan Silverman
Well, let’s take a real-life example. Let’s take Starbucks, for example. They’ve been blasted, they’re really blasted a couple times a year for what the baristas or not do in their cafes, and, of course, the most important one, and the one that had huge ramifications around the world, is the one that occurred in Philadelphia about a year or so ago when the barista, at the Starbucks in Center City, Philadelphia near Rittenhouse Square, ordered two gentlemen to leave because they claim they were waiting for their friend to arrive before they ordered something, and they were just sitting there, and she said, “Well, if you don’t order something, I have to ask you to leave.”

And they didn’t leave, so she called the police, the police came and arrested these two guys, they were two African-American gentlemen. And as they were leaving, their friend shows up, and their friend says, “What’s going on?” and they tell him. And, of course, this got blasted all over the world. And, in fact, Starbucks had to shut down their cafes to do sensitivity training in this area. And had the barista exercised good critical judgment and common sense, she would’ve said, “Okay, when you’re ready, you can come up and order something when your friend gets here.” That’s how you diffuse. See, you should always diffuse a situation. These guys weren’t harming anything, they weren’t creating a ruckus, they were sitting at tables that weren’t needed by other people. So, you always diffuse, you always diffuse the situation. And so, she got blasted.

In three or four other instances around the country, baristas have refused, I can’t remember the city, it might have been Arizona where a pregnant woman came in and wanted to use the bathroom, and the barista said, “You can’t use it unless you buy something.” And then the news report claims that even after her husband offered to buy something, she wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom. Well, what were they thinking?

So, therefore, one of my prime tenets whenever I coach and counsel future leaders and current leaders, is don’t hire anybody if they don’t have common sense and good critical judgment. Do not hire them especially if they’re customer-facing. Do not hire them even internally, even if they’re not customer-facing. You don’t hire these people. And there are tests to test for this which, of course, aren’t 100% but you don’t want to hire people who don’t exercise common sense and good critical judgment because why would you want to get blasted for a mistake they make on social media which, of course, happens within minutes around the world, and it kills your reputation. It kills your reputation. And then, of course, you have to rebuild that reputation but you never really regain it back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, when you say test for this, are you talking about commercially-available assessments?

Stan Silverman
Oh, yes. There are tests for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a fave that you lean on or have historically?

Stan Silverman
No, actually, I don’t. When I hire people, I interview them at length and I talk about I want them to explain their experiences when they’ve had to handle certain situations which were sensitive. I do it through interview but there are tests, there are commercially-available tests which can test for that. Among other things, they can test for new employees.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s interesting, and I wonder, maybe it’s just too expansive and complex to boil down and to a couple of rules of thumb because it’s sort of like you would hope that you wouldn’t have to tell somebody, “Don’t make people leave. Allow folks to use the bathroom.” And I guess, hey, some operational manuals will spell it out, and that could be helpful, certainly, if folks don’t have that critical reasoning or judgment. So, it seems like you shared one principle there in terms of when possible try to diffuse situations as opposed to inflame them. Good rule of thumb. I think that would serve 99% of us well just about all the time. Any other key principles that you come back to again and again?

Stan Silverman
Well, I have a key principle which a lot of CEOs don’t agree with me when I give speeches in front of meetings of leaders. I get a lot of pushback on this.

And I’ll give you my aha. So, I’m a 26-year old business manager for my company and we’re making a product on the West Coast which goes into pharmaceuticals, and I get a call from the plant that the plant manager just discovered that there’s some iron filings in the product that weren’t picked out by the magnet, and he gave me the lot numbers. And so, this product had to come back. It will have to come back anyway but especially for going to a pharmaceutical, it has to come back.

The problem is I don’t have the authority to order a recall. My boss and the CEO were traveling in Europe, and this is the years before cellphones and before email and before text messaging, and every moment, almost every hour, every day that we wait to recall the product it goes further and further into distribution and, eventually, perhaps, gets into one of our customers’ final products, so the costs of recalling this product goes up exponentially every day.

And so, I made the decision at my young age to recall the product, and my people are saying, “Stan, you don’t have the authority to recall the product.” I said, “It’s got to come back. It’s got to come back.” And so, I said to them, “Either I’m going to be celebrated or terminated.” So, I recalled the product. And when the two guys got back, my boss who was vice president and general manager of the industrial group and the CEO came back, I told them what I did and they celebrated me, they said, “You did the right thing.”

So, here I am, a 26-year old, just starting out my career, a couple years into my career, thinking, “Boy, I’ve just learned something.”

And so, that has governed my management leadership philosophy that I give my people permission to do so.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I think that’s dead-on and I can understand why senior executives, that makes them uncomfortable. It’s sort of like, “I’m not fully confident that I have the people in my organization I can trust with that.”

Stan Silverman
Well, let me give you the perfect example. So, I’m not going to name the company, okay? I won’t name the company. But I’m waiting for this to happen so I can write an article about it. And so, here you have a person who greets customers at the door when they come in, and that’s the person’s job, that’s the employee’s job. And the employee sees an elderly individual pushing a cart full of product that they just bought in the store out to their car, and they’re having trouble pushing the cart. So, I’ll use the masculine, he leaves his post to help unload the cart into the customer’s trunk and returns back two minutes later, or three minutes later. And because he left his post, and that broke policy, the store manager fires that individual.

Pete Mockaitis
This happened or you’re waiting for this to happen?

Stan Silverman
No, I’m just waiting for it to happen so I can write about it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s probably happened somewhere, we just don’t know it.

Stan Silverman
I’m waiting so I can write about it, right? And so, this is all hypothetical and, of course, I’m not naming any store. And so, the store manager fires this individual, and so if I was the regional manager of all the bunch of stores in the region and I found that that’s what happened, I would probably fire the store manager because you didn’t allow your employee to break policy for the good of the company. It didn’t hurt for him to be away for two or three minutes. In fact, he created a lot of goodwill by helping this elderly individual load the car. So, he broke policy, so what? Again, you diffuse the situation. There’s no harm and it was in the best interest of the company to do so.

And you wouldn’t believe how many people disagree with me. I have a lot of CEOs and a lot of senior leadership, when I speak about this, I do a lot of speaking on various topics, and when I describe this, they push back and say, “No, no, no, no , no, that person should never break policy.” Well, of course, they should.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’m in your camp and I think it all just depends on who did you hire and how much do you trust them.

Stan Silverman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And really what’s at stake. Is the greeter also a loss-prevention person, and if they left their post, $50,000 worth of high-electronics are going to go out the door? I mean, maybe that’s a different scenario, but most likely there’s very little downside and very much upside to helping a customer out.

Stan Silverman
So, let’s look at the extreme. I always like to test the outside of the envelope. So, let’s look at the extreme, okay? So, that’s at one end of the extreme. The other end of the extreme is that you’re running a nuclear power plant making electricity. You never, ever, ever want the operators of that plant to break policy by themselves, ever, because the downside is catastrophic. And so, therefore, if something has to be done, and it could be different than policy, you want to get that checked up, up and down the line, and have a lot of people involved in that discussion before anything ever gets done.

And so, it depends on the situation that you’re in. Look at Boeing today, Boeing was announced that the CEO was terminated by the board because of the 737 max issues of the past year. And, of course, if you go all the way back, the FAA allowed Boeing to do a lot of the quality checks and balances that were really the job of the FAA. They delegated that down to the company and to the engineers within the company.

Well, I got to tell you that is closer to the nuclear power plant example that I just gave. If I was the FAA, I would never ever delegate that down. And if I was Boeing, I would never permit us to do that. That’s the job of the FAA. So, the best friend of the CEO at Boeing is to have the FAA do their independent checks and certification of a plane and not have my people do it. I would never allow my people to do it because the consequence of a mistake is catastrophic. They had two airline crashes.

And let’s go to the other end. So, I’m the CEO of my company, and in our chemical plants, we allow the chemical operators of the plant to do quality assurance on the product they ship out and so, therefore, they have ownership in the production because they have ownership in the quality. And so, the worst that can happen is the place don’t go down, but a product is out that’s off spec, and the customer tests it, and they send it back, so it costs us some money.

And so, you have to look along the continuum where that decision gets made. For nuclear power plants and for aircraft certification, you don’t want anybody making unilateral decisions that break policy. On the other end of the extreme, when you see a customer carrying out packages to the car and they need help, or when you’re testing a chemical product where the only downside is it’s off spec, maybe that’s way over to the end, so you got to figure out where you are in the continuum.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really makes sense and adds up, yes. I’d like to get your view, then, when it comes to kind of zooming out and thinking across these promotions, you’ve said part of it was, first, curiosity and pursuing new things, and you’re finding the self-confidence, and managing your risks and delivering value. Any other kind of core things that you tend to see over and over again that makes the difference between those who get the promotion and those who are passed over for the promotion?

Stan Silverman
Yes. In fact, I’d like to tell you a story which is my favorite story which really was most impactful to me. And I think to answer your question, people that get promoted learn lessons from everybody within the organization. So, I’m president of our Canadian company and a subsidiary of PQ Corporation, and we had a small production unit which produced a product for high-temperature refractory cements…

Stan Silverman
Okay. And so, when I was president of our Canadian company, we had a production unit which made a product for high temperature, an acid-resistant refractory cements. The unit was sold out. It was at capacity. It was a very high-margin product. The product was growing, and we were basically out of capacity. So, the one gentleman who operated this unit was working all kinds of overtime so we needed to expand the unit.

And our marketing department came over with projections that we really needed a 50% increase in capacity to handle the demand over the next five, to six, to seven years. And so, rather than give the project to one of the corporate engineers, we decided that that would not be the best thing to do. This was a very small unit. I estimated that, to expand the unit by 50%, it’s probably half a million-dollar job, and the engineers, of course, want to work on millions and 10 million-dollar projects because that’s how they get promoted because they’re very complex projects. This is a very simple project.

So, the plant manager and I decided to give the assignment to the operator who runs the unit and ask him, “Well, how would you expand this unit?” So, we called Luigi Pail, the operator of the plant, of this production unit into my office, and he looks around and says, “Am I being fired?” I said, “Well, Luigi, why do think that?” He said, “I’ve never been to your office.” I say, “No, no, no, we’re not going to fire you. In fact, we want to ask you how to expand your unit because we know that you’re working all kinds of overtime hours, it’s hard work. We want to expand the unit. So, how do you think we should do it?” He says, “Oh, I know exactly how to do it but nobody’s ever asked me.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stan Silverman
“You’re the first person to ever ask me how I can expand. You know, I’ve been working over the last 10 years.” I said, “Well, would you work on it?” He said, “Yes, but I need the help of a mechanic.” And very quickly we said, “Pick your man.” He says, “I pick Don McNeil,” who probably was the best mechanic in the planet at the time. Excellent mechanic but he was terrible with respect to labor, management relationships, always filing grievances, always wanted to go on strike, bad mouthing, he was a negative-opinion leader in the plant, and I’m thinking, “This will be a huge disaster,” right?

So, we tell Luigi, “Well, you ask Don tomorrow morning and then we’ll ask him in the afternoon and see if he’ll do this.” So, we go out and see Don the next afternoon, and he says, “Oh, I spoke with Luigi this morning. I’ll do this but I’m not doing it for you. I’m going to help him expand his unit because Luigi is my friend and I’m not doing it for you. I just want you to understand that.” I said, “Okay, Don, we understand. Go to work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Noted.

Stan Silverman
Well, four weeks later, they come into my office and they present the scope of the expansion to get a 50% increase in capacity, and this is, of course, before PowerPoint. This is when you had these overhead projectors, and you had these slides that you put on the overhead projectors. So, they explained the scope, and I’m thinking, “My God, this is so creative. I never would’ve thought of this.” Don McNeil did something that we never asked him to do, he cost-estimated the project out. Well, of course, Don works with contractors all the time so he knows what it costs to do things. He comes out with an estimate of $260,000 to do the project, I’m guessing 500, right?

So, we say to them, “Okay, guys, we’re going to do it. You’re in charge of doing it. You’re in charge of managing the project.” “Well, that’s not our job. That’s a project manager’s job.” I said, “Hold up. The unit is going to be down for a period of time so you have to work in the construction along with the production. You’re the perfect people to do this.” “Well, okay, we’ll do it.”

Two months later, the plant is done, the unit comes back up on stream, withing seven days we’re at 50% increase in capacity, exactly what we asked him to do. Within two weeks they’re at 64% increase in capacity. The product is coming out much tighter within specification, perfect quality, much easier for Luigi to operate the plant and were often running, and Don brings the project in at $250,000, 10,000 less than what he told us it would be. I think he did that on purpose.

And so, all four of us changed fundamentally. Don McNeil is now walking through the plant telling his fellow union brethren, the blue-collar workers that operate the plant that, “You know, these guys in management, they’re not so bad. They trusted me for what I can do with my mind in addition to what I can do with my hands.” You know how powerful that statement is? And he’s now a positive-opinion leader in the plant. Luigi changed in this way.

And so, about two weeks after startup of his unit, I’m taking a visitor through the entire plant, we stopped at his production unit, and Luigi says, “I’ll take the visitor on tour of my production unit.” I said, “Okay.” So, he does so, and after the tour, we head off to the other six production units within the plant. The next day, Luigi talks to me and says, “You know why I did what I did yesterday?” I said, “What did you do?” He says, “I took the visitor for the tour.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” He said, “I did it because this is my plant not…” I’m sorry, “This is my unit, not your unit. This is my unit.”

We created a sense of ownership in Luigi for his production unit, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my God. How come I didn’t learn this right out of school?” You have to create sense of ownerships in everybody for what they do within the company, and then great things will happen. And that has stuck with me for the decades after that incident occurred. And, sure enough, it’s proven true every single time you create a sense of ownership in people in terms of what they do, and great things will happen.

And so, therefore, I learned something from an hourly guy, probably one, two, three, four levels below me in a production plant, and everybody realizes they can learn from everybody including the people at the bottom of the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Stan, I love it. Good stuff. Thank you. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stan Silverman
Well, I do. But I think let’s move on and I’ll kind of weave it in as we go along if the opportunity arises.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stan Silverman
My favorite quote is “Never lie to yourself,” So, I have a chapter in my book, Chapter 1-5 which is about the Challenger explosion and disaster which all of us are very familiar with. And it turns out that the Thiokol engineers who designed the O-rings for the solid rocket boosters, basically, advised NASA not to launch the shuttle on the day they wanted to launch because the temperature outside, the ambient temperature, was 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and they designed the O-rings for 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

And they felt the O-rings were going to be too brittle and there was a huge risk of leakage of fuel around the O-rings because they were brittle which would, of course, cause a disaster. And the Thiokol engineers lost the battle because they faced a huge, huge pressure by NASA. And I’m just going to quote two comments, I’m looking it up now, by a NASA manager. I say one NASA manager is quoted as saying, “I’m appalled by your recommendation, Thiokol.” Another NASA manager said, “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?”

So, they didn’t listen to their experts. They didn’t listen to their experts. They went ahead and launched, and, of course, we know what the result was. We lost the shuttle plus five astronauts. And that taught me a huge lesson. The lesson is you always have to listen to your experts. Always listen to your experts. Don’t discount them. That’s why you have them around you.

After I wrote my article, one of the engineers, one of the Thiokol engineers’ daughter, this is Robert Ebeling who was the Thiokol engineer, his daughter reached out to me because my email is at the end of all my articles. Now I talked with her half an hour about what her dad went through that day, and she was actually with him during that launch day, and she said, “He’s held himself responsible, personally responsible for 30 years, for the crash and the disaster of the shuttle when, in fact, he tried to stop it but the managers at NASA decided to launch anyway.”

So, I said to her, “Leslie, would you mind if I called your dad and speak with him on the phone?” She says, “He would love to hear from you.” So, I got his number, he was in an assisted-living facility, really dying of cancer, so I got him, he was very, very sick. I called on the next day and I spoke with him for a good 20 minutes, and I said, “Mr. Ebeling, you and your fellow engineers at Thiokol are true American heroes because you tried to stop the catastrophe but you couldn’t. But don’t feel that that’s your burden. You did your best.” He died five days later.

And so, that was a very, very compelling moment for me when I spoke with Robert Ebeling. And the quote that I wanted, or the author of the quote, “If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule, never lie to yourself.” It was by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist, a very renowned individual. And that’s my favorite quote because had NASA not lied to themselves, they would’ve listened to their engineers and not launched the shuttle. So, that’s a lesson for all of us. Never lie to yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stan Silverman
Oh, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, absolutely. It’s a book that a lot of people have written. I probably read it three times, I listened to a tape on it. And what Jim Collins says is that when you decide where to take your company, you need to pick the right people, put them on a bus, put them on the right seats, and they will decide where to take the bus. And so, you, unilaterally, aren’t going to be very successful, at least most of the time, if you decide where your company should go without your people got buy-in into it, and they have ownership in it.

And so, every time I’ve made strategic decisions and change in the strategic direction, I’ve had input from the people who work for me, who report to me. I trust them. I’ve hired them with good critical judgment and common sense, and we argue our points, we argue all the time. And I have a story to tell you about that in a moment.

And so, you have to staff your company with people reporting to you who aren’t afraid to talk to you, who aren’t afraid to say you’re wrong, and you need to listen to that. If you’re the CEO that can’t take being told you’re wrong, you’re not going to be very successful.

So, this is the story. So, when I was chief operating officer of the company, I would come up with an idea or a proposal and I would talk to the CEO about implementing it. And, more often than not, before I could finish talking about it, I would hear from him, “Well, it’s not going to work.” And I’d say, “Well, don’t tell me it’s not going to work. First, let me explain the whole thing, and then tell me it won’t work.”

And so, I started writing him memos which, of course, he would read without me in the room, and you’d have to read the whole memo, a page, a page and a half memo. He’d come in and say, “Boy, this is a great idea. Let’s get it done.” And so, that’s how we got stuff done. So, when he left the company and I became the CEO, I swore that we would change that cultural norm because he did that with everybody.

And the cultural; norm would be this. So, I would not often kind of give my opinion on how we should go somewhere and the direction, I would kind of tease it out of my folks. But, every once in a while, I would say, “You know, I think we should go direction A with a certain issue.” Well, if my CFO or the head of our chemicals group didn’t agree with me, I would expect him to say, “No, Stan, I don’t think that’s right. I think rather than go direction A, which is your direction, I think we should go direction B.”

Well, how I react to that comment will forevermore, in the future, govern the dynamic between that individual and myself. Rather than say, “I don’t want to hear it. Just go direction A,” which is bad, I would say, “Well, Bill, why do you think we should go direction B?” or, “Why, Mike, do you think we should go direction C?” And we would debate A versus B. we would bring in experts, we would bring people very knowledgeable, we debate for a day, for a week, for a month. And at the end of that discussion, one of three things would happen.

I would say, “Bill, thank you very much for suggesting B, but we beat A up against B, and B up against A, and I really think Ai is the way to go so that’s the way we’re going to go,” and we would go that direction. Or, I would say, “Bill, you know, thank you for suggesting B. After beating one up against the other, I think B is the better alternative,” and Bill would feel really good that I picked his alternative.

But more than not, and this is real live data, real live experience, more often than not, because we debated A versus B, we would find direction C better than A and B, and we would go direction C. Well, when we did that, we really made a mistake. And it’s one of the reasons why we drove earnings from $14 million to $43 million over a five-year period which included the year of 9/11 2001 plus the horrible recession of 2002. We never had a down quarter during that recession because we debated things as equals. As equals we debated things.

And that, I think, is just a huge, huge cultural norm within any company to really get great results, you debate, and then you pick the right one. Pick the right direction.

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

Stan Silverman
Well, they can read my book. My book is called “Be Different: The Key to Business and Career Success,” and it talks a lot about leadership, it talks a lot about tone at the top and culture, but the focus in the book is it teaches every business how to be better than their competition so that they become the preferred provider of product or service to the marketplace so that your customers, your clients, want to buy from them preferentially above any of the competition.

And it doesn’t matter whether or not you make widgets, whether or not you’re an accounting firm, whether you’re an attorney, you’re a doctor, you’re a surgeon, you’re a hospital, or whether you put roofs on houses, or you sell bicycles in a bike shop. You want to be the preferred provider so that anybody that needs a roof on their house, or medical treatment, or surgery, or wants to buy a bicycle, they want to buy from you versus the competition. And I teach how to do that.

The other part of the book is that all of us, as we all rise up through our careers, become better than our peers so that we get the next promotion or the next job on the outside the company. And so, that’s what the book is about. It’s about how to do that. And I have a lot of examples of great leaders, and leaders that aren’t so great, great companies and companies that aren’t so great, a lot of boards which are great boards and boards that aren’t so great.

And it’s really a handbook for success, future success, for your company or for yourself. And you can buy it at Barnes & Noble, or if you want to buy the Kindle version, you can buy the Kindle version on Amazon.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Stan Silverman
Or BarnesandNoble.com for the hardcopy.

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

Stan Silverman
Well, yeah, I think you have to decide. We all have legacies. We all have to think about what our legacies are going to be. What do we want to leave this world? What do we want to leave this world when we check out? And my legacy is I want to be able to say that I created a bunch of great leaders and helped them develop and be successful. I want to help companies develop and be successful.

I start a lot of talks off, I say, “What is the holy grail of any business, of any individual? What’s the one thing everybody, every business, or what’s the one thing everybody wants? What is the holy grail?” And three or four people will raise their hand, and one of those responses is, “To make money.” I said, “Well, that’s certainly something everybody wants to do, but that’s a measurement of how well you do with something else. Money is a measurement of how well you do. It’s not the objective. Because if it’s the objective, there are other ways to make a lot more money.”

And so, I tell them that, “If you’re running your company, you want to be the preferred provider of product and service to your marketplace and give a great customer experience. Give a great customer experience, that’s what you want to do. And as you rise through your career, you want to be better than your peers, and that should be your holy grail as you develop your career. And, of course, at my point in life, my holy grail is to help other people be successful. And that’s what I do every single day by coaching and counselling and writing about this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stan, this has been a pleasure. Thanks so much and keep up the good work.

Stan Silverman
Well, thank you, Pete. It was really great being a guest on your show and I really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you today.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Julie:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Julie Morgenstern Interview Transcript

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

Julie Morgenstern
I’m so happy to be here.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds awesome.

Julie Morgenstern
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Morgenstern
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Morgenstern
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Julie Morgenstern
You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

520: How to Start Finishing Projects with Charlie Gilkey

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Charlie

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Charlie Gilkey Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Gilkey
Hey, I got it. Cool.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one say that?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ever.

Charlie Gilkey
Ever.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It ain’t free.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 3.5, yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Gilkey
Thanks so much for having me, Pete.

517: Doubling Your Productivity with Tim Campos

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Tim Campos says: "Give yourself that time."
Tim Campos discusses how he doubled Facebook’s productivity—and how to double your own.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to how Tim doubled Facebook’s productivity
  2. The biggest mistake people make with their calendars
  3. The two kinds of time professionals have

About Tim

Tim Campos doubled productivity for Facebook while he was Chief Information Officer between 2010 and 2016. Now, Tim runs Woven. Woven is a digital calendar that helps people get the most out of their time while studying the analytics behind how we’re using our time.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tim Campos Interview Transcript

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

Tim Campos
I am glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and hear some of your tales of increasing productivity at Facebook. And, for starters, I understand that just a couple of weeks into your job, you’re called into a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg himself. What’s the story here?

Tim Campos
Well, actually, it was from Mark Zuckerberg’s EA. She sent me an urgent note, two weeks into the company, she said, “You’ve got to show up at Zuck’s desk first thing tomorrow morning, and there’s something really important that we need to discuss.” And I was really excited, I was happy that Zuck was interested in getting strategic with IT from the get-go. This is a really good sign when a CEO is that interested, and so I showed up.

The first learning was Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t actually show up until 10:00 in the morning so an 8:00 a.m. meeting is a sign. The second was I was ambushed by Anikka and Camille, this is Mark and Sheryl’s executive assistants, and they basically sat me down and said, “Look, this calendar thing does not work for us. Here’s a long list of problems that we’re having. These are not only strategic issues for us. They’re becoming embarrassments for Mark and Sheryl. And you got a week to fix them.” And it was a rude awakening to the challenges of calendaring at a next-generation company like Facebook’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting because, so, weren’t they just using the same stuff everybody else uses? But what are they using and what was wrong?

Tim Campos
Yeah, they were using Microsoft Exchange which is what everybody else uses. But a couple things that were different. One is Facebook, at the time, was using a much higher density of Mac and Apple devices than anybody else, so 80% of the workforce is on Macintosh, and most of the workforce used iPhones at the time. And the second thing was just the nature of how Mark and Sheryl’s schedules are very dynamic, a lot of changes to the calendar events and this was really aggravating many of the problems that already exist with calendars.

So, they were experiencing problems where a conference room would forget about the meeting, or it could get double-booked, or Mark was supposed to be in one place and the calendar said he was supposed to be in someplace else, and these were hugely embarrassing for everybody involved. And to fix it required me to do something I’m actually quite good at, which is getting into the details of how this thing was built, why is it behaving the way that it is because it wasn’t just a simple problem of this button hadn’t been pressed or something like that. And it gave me insight to why calendars are so bad.

And throughout my tenure at Facebook, I had a love-hate relationship with the technology. And, with time, I got so motivated to do something about it. I actually decided to quit my job at Facebook and start a company to help the calendar be a lot more intelligent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool, yeah. Well, so what a nice prompt and bit of inspiration. And I guess I can understand how that would be embarrassing, it’s like, “Well, you’re one of the most advanced tech companies in the world and you’re telling me that your calendar is wrong? Okay. What else is broken over at your organization?”

Tim Campos
Yes, exactly. And, for Mark and Sheryl, part of why I was hired was, and this was 2010, and Facebook had no specific plans to go public but they knew that was going to happen, and they were concerned if something like this doesn’t work, what does it mean for the financial system? What does it mean for the things that really matter for the company? And so that’s why it was such an important issue for them and why they hired me.

But, like I said, as I got into the nuts and bolts of this, my job at Facebook was the productivity of the workforce, make everybody more productive including myself, and that starts with time. Time is the most valuable asset that we have. And one of the things that I found that was just incredibly frustrating is it was so difficult to understand how I was spending time, in fact. I wanted to know from my EA, like, “How much time am I spending at 101s? Or, how much am I spending on sales versus finance versus recruiting?” It took my EA hours a week to just do the math on it. And why wasn’t that a simple button that you press on the calendar to get that question answered? I just never understood that.

And things like we want to have effective meetings, or at least do an effective meeting, have a purpose for it, have a reason for this meeting to occur, whether it’s a staff meeting, or an interview, or a 101, and those meetings require agendas and some of that purpose to be communicated ahead of time. Sign on a calendar, in the description field maybe there’s some information about how to log into the meeting if it’s a BlueJeans meeting or a Zoom meeting or something like that, but everything else is nowhere to be found. If that stuff exists, it’s hidden in email someplace. Another system that is just absolutely built to drain our time. And none of us have time to go search email for why we’re supposed to be in an event, so you end up spending the first 10 minutes of every meeting setting the stage what the purpose is as oppose to doing what you really need to be doing, which is meeting, getting something done, making a decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much I really want to dig into here, so let’s see. Okay. So, that is one of your big claims to fame there, is doubling the productivity of the Facebook employees. And so, I want to give you a hard time for just a moment. So, when you say productivity, you’re specifically referring to the metric revenue per employee moving from 900K to 1.8 million per employee. And I guess doubling productivity, on the one hand, makes you think, like, “Wow, everyone is getting twice as much stuff done. That’s awesome.”

And so, I guess there’s certainly some of that, which we’ll talk about, although, for the skeptics listening who are saying, “Well, yeah, but, I mean, Facebook makes a lot of their money through ads, and that platform doesn’t really require any humans to do anything. So, isn’t that more just a function of more people buying ads and having a similar number of people in the workforce?” So, I’ll let you make your case, Tim.

Tim Campos
Oh, it’s absolute a fair criticism, and I’ll be the last to say that 100% of Facebook’s productivity gains were solely due to things that my organization was responsible for. Quite the opposite. There’s a lot of things that Facebook would do for itself in terms of how we built the product. You point out some industry aspects that contribute to productivity. But it’s worth looking at revenue per employee because it’s a useful benchmark. It’s easy to calculate across different companies, and you can look across an industry to see what’s the standard here.

For technology, for example, most companies are between 300,000 and 400,000 in revenue per employee. For a company like Google, at the time they were closer to 1.1—1.2 million per employee. But the other thing is how is it trending. As we’re growing as a company, what do we have to grow and what don’t we have to grow? Most companies, for example, they want to grow revenue but they don’t want to grow costs. That’s how you grow profit and that’s how a company is valued.

And you can achieve a lot of that through economies of scale, that if you’ve got a manufacturing facility, or, in Facebook’s case, a data center, you can drive more revenue out of that data center without having to build another one, then you’d get more profit. Well, for knowledge-based companies, the human capital is the thing that you’re looking for economies of scale with, “Can we do more without having to hire more? Can we support more customers without more salespeople? Can we recruit more engineers without having to hire more recruiters?” And these were the challenges that my team was given.

And we accomplished that, in large part, through technology innovations. So, we think things like, “How do you do CRM? How do you manage customer information? How do we source for candidates? What’s the way to make predictions about who would be the best candidates? We can surface those resumes to the recruiters first.” And by doing enough of that, we were able to offset the need to grow as much proportional to the company.

Actually, oftentimes, a lot of companies get less efficient as they get bigger because you need middle management, you need people inside the company just to coordinate with other people, and that’s tax, that’s an overhead. And it can become just a significant driver of cost and bureaucracy. And this is something Facebook was deathly afraid of as they got bigger and why we placed so much emphasis on productivity.

So, I completely agree with the criticism, but at the end of the day, I think it survives review when you take a look at what we did that a lot of the growth in productivity ultimately comes down to, not just the culture of the company or the space that it’s in but tooling. And Facebook has absolutely grown its productivity much more than even companies like Google and Microsoft which are already very productive on their own.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Tim, thank you. I am convinced. You checked that box. I think I can do the due diligence here. So, let’s talk about, then, what are some of the interventions that made the biggest impact and are the most transferable? Because I imagine most listeners are probably not going to say, “Hey, let’s build out a new system that helps predictively surface resumes of candidates,” although some might, so that’s not off the table. But I’d love to know which ones have the most impact and are the most transferable?

Tim Campos
Well, I think it does very much depend on what kind of business you’re in. So, if you’re a lawyer and you’re trying to make yourself more productive, optimizing recruiting is not going to help, or even optimizing your ability to predict what a customer might need. So, you really have to adapt your productivity strategy for the business and even for the role that you are in. But a few things that I think are general strategies that we employed. One is really understanding what are the long poles and getting things done.

So, for Facebook, the biggest function in the company is the product organization. The second largest function is the sales organization. The product organization, their productivity is driven by how much code can they write and is that code impactful. And, to be quite frank, that really wasn’t a problem that my organization could fix for them.

But sales is a different story. Salespeople, you know, they got to meet with customers, they need to understand which customers to spend time with, and there were a lot of things that we could do to help them be better prepared for those conversations. And, especially, because Facebook’s customer base was growing so much, having a much richer and better understanding of, “Who’s an advertiser of the company? What is their advertising objective? What problems are they trying to address with Facebook advertising? Where are they in their journey? Are they being successful and, therefore, they need some more advanced advice? Are they just starting and they don’t really know how to use the different advertising products?” would affect how the sales organization would approach customers.

And so, a lot of what we did was just centralizing information to make it clear at what stage a customer was in, and that helped to give the sales organization the right tools, the right conversations to have with companies, conversations that were specifically designed to help them alleviate problems with the advertising products, and help them be more successful with accomplishing their objectives, and, therefore, spend more with the company. And we became very, very good at this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But, you know, I’ll tell you what, that resonates in terms of you’re centralizing information. And, in a way, that doesn’t seem like such a revolutionary move but, in practice, it makes a world of difference. So, just even putting on a podcast, you know, and sort of like, I’ve got to pull a lot of different pieces of information in terms of after this interview is concluded and before it’s published to the world.

And I’m pulling information like, “Okay, what’s the date of the release? And who’s the guest? And who are the advertisers? And what’s the copy for that advertisement? And is that copy new or is it similar as to last time? And who’s the next guest that we’re going to tease at the end? Is there anything cool happening that we’re going to mention? What are the parts of the interview that we’re going to cut versus sort of try to tease?”

And so, it’s actually pretty cognitively intense and it requires me to kind of open up, like, five or six different windows. But, sure enough, with my awesome team (Thanks, guys) has put more and more of that into one place and so I can do less work in terms of, “Yup, I like that teaser. Yup, I like that quote. Hmm, yeah, I agree. We should cut that part. Yup, that’s the sponsor. Let me change a few of the key words or segues,” and then away it goes. As opposed to, in a way, this is going to make a big deal if I spend 8 minutes pulling information from different places. But multiply that by hundreds of episodes, or occasions of an activity, and you’re really impacting productivity simply by centralizing information.

Tim Campos
And making it easier for people to access.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Tim Campos
Another example of this was, “What do we do for recruiting?” It’s the same thing, same objective, where this information about a candidate, their resume, their LinkedIn profile, who they’ve met with, if they’ve given us permission to answer this question, who are they friends with, Facebook friends with, in the company, who might know them, have they interviewed in a previous stage. Like, maybe they declined to accept our offer but a couple of years later, now we’re interviewing them again. What was the outcome of those interviews? What did people have to say?

By just centralizing all this information, it streamlines a recruiter’s ability to put the right candidate in front of the right manager quickly. And so, you can follow the same methodology in almost every role. I do this today for a little bit for my customers. When we onboard users, some of our users request personalized onboarding where we literally get on the phone with them, talk with them about what they’re trying to do with their calendars, and teach them how to use the product.

And we start with all the information that we know about them going into the discussion so that we don’t have to ask them things that we should already know, like, “What platform are they using? And do they have a lot of calendar data or just a little bit of calendar data? Are they busy? Are they not so busy?” And, by having understandings of these questions, we can more effectively tailor our conversation to our customers in a way that’s going to give them a better outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in practice, this streamlining, I guess, at times that requires you and your crew to create some custom applications and coding and such. But what are some of the things that the every-person can do to realize some of these gains associated with centralizing information?

Tim Campos
Well, I’ll actually start by saying some of what I did, actually everybody can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Tim Campos
For example, with sales at Facebook, we changed the onboarding process for a salesperson. Most salespeople are not technical, right? However, they can be taught some aspects of technology, so we would send them to data camp.

Data camp was a way of understanding how to answer a customer information at Facebook, so how to access the data, and how to write queries, how to use SQL, and we would teach them how to fish on their own so they wouldn’t have to come to us to get us to build some special custom report for them. They could do it on their own. And that empowered people.

So, there is a bit of self-learning that can be employed, even for the individual, of, “Learn to use the technology yourself so that you can solve some of these problems.” It very much does help to have an advanced, very business-oriented technology function to partner with who can help solve some of the more complicated things that you can’t do.

So, if you’re a manager at a company, and you have some control over this, that can make a gigantic difference, and, therefore, IT professionals still have a job if the rest of the world becomes coders and able to do this. But I think then there’s even simpler things, “How do you organize your time? How do you spend your time? What are the things that you spend your time on?” This has huge impact on most people’s lives because most of us, in today’s day and age, we’re knowledge workers, where it’s our thoughts and ideas that result in the value that we create. It’s not our ability to pick up a brick and move it to another side of a room and put it down. For those people, there’s a different way to drive productivity. But for knowledge workers, time management, and time allocation, has a huge impact on what people do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to talk about that in just a moment. I’m thinking, with regard to using the tech yourself, you could even have some of the tech do some of the centralizing for you. I’m thinking about Zapier, for example, right now.

Tim Campos
Great product.

Pete Mockaitis
I have Zapier yank the stuff from my Calendly scheduler onto my Google Sheets media sheet, and I think that’s pretty awesome. And so, sure, so maybe you could have someone make a quick app, or maybe Zapier or a tool like it can do some of the automation for you. But, moving past the tech, yes, let’s discuss organizing your time. What are some best practices and worst practices that are really high impact?

Tim Campos
I think one of the best practices around time management is to be deliberate and proactive about your time, deciding upfront, “This is how I want to spend my time in the next week or the next month,” and blocking it, giving yourself that time by saying, “Okay, I’ve got to write this presentation. I’m going to schedule time on my calendar to make that happen. I’ve got to do this investor or customer outreach. I’m going to schedule time for those things.”

And even though they may not involve other people, just by taking the time to block it. Now, when somebody else makes a request of my time, either I know I might not want to do take that request at that particular time, or I can, again, be proactive, “All right, that means I won’t be able to do that presentation on Thursday morning but I can still get it done Friday afternoon, so I’ll just move that time block from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon.”

Conversely, I think one of the worst things that people can do is be reactive. If we’re responding to the request of others, we are responding to their definition of what we want to get done, of, yes, what we want to get done, not our definition of what we want to get done. And it is best to own that and not give that up. And we see with Woven, as an example, that most people don’t schedule that far in advance. Most people schedule the events that they have two or three days in advance. Why is that important?

Well, imagine, I’m really busy and I got all these things going on, and somebody says, “Hey, can you go and meet with me for this lunch meeting sometime in mid-December?” If I don’t have a proactive view of what my calendar should be and how much time I should be spending on networking or personal relationships, it’s easy to say yes to that when it’s actually not as important for me, and I just gave away some time that’s going to prevent me to do something that I need to do when that week comes.

On the other hand, if I am very proactive about my time and I’m using these time blocks to forecast my availability, I might know that I can only spend three hours a week on these kinds of personal discussions. And if I already have three hours that week scheduled, well, maybe I’d push it up to the following week in that way I can just preserve it and not put myself in a position where my time is being dictated to me, I’m a slave to my calendar, instead of what it could be where I’m the master of my time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, this is really expanding my brain and I love it. The phrase you said that’s sticking with me the most is give yourself that time. And, for me, it’s such a flip because ever since I was a kid, it’s been very important to me to have “free time,” and I think that just means time that I don’t feel obligated to something or someone so that my brain can just percolate or I can decompress or whatever. And so, when you talked about scheduling the time, sometimes I’ve done some of that but I’ve also had some resistance in terms of, “Oh, boy. Well, then if all these hours are spoken for, then when is the ‘free time’?”

But when you say it that way, “Give yourself that time,” it really does shine a light on it in terms of saying, “Well, if you don’t schedule that time for that important thing for you, it’s at risk and it will likely just not occur, so you have to give yourself that time.” And that language feels as though you’re giving yourself a gift, or a treat, or some sort of luxury spa time or something.

Tim Campos
That’s exactly what events are, they are gifts of time. And you could give yourself time to do nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Tim Campos
I mean, maybe some people need that sort of free unencumbered time just to think and take a breath, experience what’s going on around them, and that itself can be the objective. But you won’t have it if you don’t reserve it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, when you say that, that’s also connecting to I was watching this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates, like Inside Bill Gates’ Brain, and he schedules think weeks, which I think is awesome. Like, “This is what this week is about. It’s me reading a lot of books and thinking about them,” and it sure seems to be effective for the guy. So, he gave himself that time with good effect.

So, I’m also intrigued by that notion that most people only schedule items three or four days in advance. That kind of gives you a little bit of a clue that you’ll have better luck getting on people’s calendar if you schedule it with a greater amount of lead time, so there’s a little tactical takeaway right there.

Tim Campos
Yes and no. So, it’s easy for people to say yes, but what happens?

Pete Mockaitis
They change up on you.

Tim Campos
Yeah, if things get really busy, and then all of a sudden now somebody needs to reschedule, and they need to reschedule because they didn’t properly plan. And that’s a burden on them and it’s a burden on you. So, reschedules are probably 20% to 25% of events that something changes after they are put on the calendar. And they’re hugely impactful in terms of being a time drain because imagine all the prep that you had for that event. If I rescheduled this podcast for you, you both weren’t able to do a podcast with somebody else, and any preparation that you did for this podcast would have been not necessarily wasted because, hopefully, we would reschedule for a different time, but done at the wrong time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’d have to refresh my brain on who you are and your background and what I want to ask you, so there would definitely be something lost.

Tim Campos
And that holds true for one-on-ones, for staff meetings, for interviews, for any kind of event that there’s a drain on both parties when the time has to change. So, it’s much better if people can be proactive and effectively forecast their time. Now, obviously, things happen, right? So, maybe you get sick or there’s an emergency thing that you could not have planned for. Those things are obviously going to be disruptive but even there, the more proactive you are about managing your time, when those emergencies happen, sometimes you can anticipate you’re going to have an emergency, therefore don’t book 100% of your time. Have some time left over for emergencies. Or other times, because you weren’t able to in this particular case but you are elsewhere, when you reschedule, you’re only going to have to reschedule once, or you only have to reschedule one other thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Tim, you really piqued my curiosity. You dropped a couple of fun stats that I did not know before, and you are uniquely positioned to know working over at Woven there. So, most people only schedule items three to four days in advance, rescheduling occurs to 20% to 25% of events. Any other intriguing benchmark data points that have real relevance for professionals?

Tim Campos
Here’s a very interesting fact. We looked at, “When does the workday start?” And we had a debate within my team on we put default work hours in the product. Should those default work hours be at 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m.? And when do they stop? Do they stop at 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.? And it’s fascinating to see that it’s not a simple Bell curve when you look at, “When do most meetings start?” There is a very strong bias against early morning meetings. Most people don’t schedule before 9:00 or 8:00 o’clock. There’s a significant drop off there.

And there’s a strong bias for later evening meetings. Some of those makes sense, right? We’d like to have a dinner meeting than a breakfast meeting. But it does get to, “Where does one have the most control over their time?” And it’s when there aren’t things that are being scheduled in the universe, and that’s the morning.

And this very much fits into my own personal experience. I find that if I’m going to have my most productive time of the day, or if I’m going to have the time to work out, it’s usually in the morning. It’s not in the evening. If I try to do things in the evening, inevitably something gets in the way that I didn’t plan for. And so, that bias turns out not to be just slanted to me and the people that I meet with, but it actually seems to be somewhat universal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that is a great takeaway. People say, “Hey, wake up early and do your stuff. It’s magical and powerful,” and it seems like that’s largely just because it so happens that your odds are better if you’re having less interruption by third parties if you take that strategy.

Tim Campos
Yeah, absolutely. What we found that’s really interesting is there’s something magical about 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. meetings. It’s the highest frequency of events that occur in our system is the 10:00 a.m. or the 11:00 a.m. meeting that seems to be when people would want to go begin their day. So, it’s also, conversely, the worst time to try to schedule something. It’s not an easy time to get access to a meeting. More people than any other time are busy there. But there’s a lot more richness and depth into this.

I mean, what’s really interesting is that a lot of what is different about time allocation for people is very contextually dependent, “What company do I work for? How big of a company is it?” And so, certain predictions I could make are different depending on the context. If I were to say, “What’s different about a smaller company than a bigger company?” I can tell you one defining difference between those two. Small companies tend to spend most of their time meeting outside of their company. They schedule with people who are not inside of their corporation. Whereas, large companies tend to spend most of their time meeting internally. And the difference is striking.

I mean, you go from a 10-person company to a 10,000-person company, you go from 80% to 90% of the small person’s time is externally focused, whereas, 90% to 95% of the large company’s focused is internal. And imagine all of the people who don’t have an outside view, a company like Facebook where 90% to 95% of the time that the workforce is spending is with itself, then you don’t have the same sources of information and insight that you would have if everybody spent more of an equal portion of their time internally and externally. It can very much lead to different kinds of biases and perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very thought-provoking. Thank you. I would schedule some time to think about that later, and while I’m with you, dig more into the notion of…so let’s talk about optimal calendar management. You’re a human being, you’re a professional, you’ve got a number of goals you want to achieve inside work and outside work. You mentioned that one of the keys is to really proactively give yourself that time on the calendar specifically during this time and doing that even if it’s just with myself. What are some of the other pro tips in terms of really maximizing our use of the calendar to get great results?

Tim Campos
So, the most valuable events on your calendar are going to be recurring. Now, they could be recurring but you haven’t been strategic about how they got there. I used to have this problem at Facebook where I would setup one-on-ones, those one-on-ones would go on into perpetuity, and they might’ve been important in the early days but, as time went on, the one-on-ones were less important yet people were still having them. So, they were taking up time on my calendar.

But when you get into things like time blocking, where you have, for me, I like to reserve the time in the morning for maker time, short time, time to work on the things that require uninterrupted intervals. I make those recurring meetings so that they’re always there and I look very strategically at the recurring events that I have. And I also try to minimize them so that I don’t have recurring events just because somebody said, “Oh, we should always have this particular meeting at this time.” It may be important for me to have that meeting on a regular interval but not necessarily at that specific time. So, recurring events are very important.

I think another thing that is really notable is the difference between – I wish I could properly attribute the thought here. It didn’t come from me, for sure, but this idea that there is two kinds of time that people have – maker time and manager time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think that came from someone in The Lean Startup movement.

Tim Campos
I wish I could attribute this. In fact, you’re making me…

Pete Mockaitis
But I love the idea. It hasn’t come up before. Lay it on us, Tim. Lay it on us.

Tim Campos
It’s an incredible idea. There are certain tasks that we have to do, like email or making coordination, quick calls. They don’t take a lot. The context switched to start, perform, and complete them is very low. And then there are certain things that take a while to get your brain going to do and then complete. You think of like a software engineer, for them to code, they have to really sort of get in the mood, get going. If they have to write 10,000 lines of code, they can’t just split that up into 5 minutes here, or 5 minutes there, or 5 minutes someplace, because the whole thing ties together, and they have an idea in their mind that has to be front and center. Or if I’m writing a document, or a presentation, for me, I need a lack of interruption in order to complete that. And so, that happens during maker time for me.

Manager time is time that I reserve for all the stuff that can be interrupted. It is not challenging at all for me to be interrupted from going through my email, because each email only takes a few seconds or maybe a few minutes to complete, and I don’t need to go through my email all at once. I could do that in 10 minutes here, and 10 minutes there, or 10 minutes there. Slack, dealing with Slack, or dealing with customer service, customer response, just small inquiries that are easy to respond to and deal with.

And so, my manager time, I try to reserve for the times in the day that I will most likely have conference calls, or coordination with others, because what that leaves me with is these little holes, so 30-minute holes here and there, that I could not put my presentation-authoring time in, but I could easily put my manager time in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it makes great sense. And so, your personal approach is to have more maker time in the morning and more manager time in the afternoon. And so, do you think that that is a, dare I say, universal best practice given the human condition and energy levels? Or do you think it’s more a person-by-person condition?

Tim Campos
Oh, I absolutely believe it’s the person-by-person. I know many people who are quite the antithesis of me and they’re most energized and engaged in the evenings. Mornings, it takes them a while to wake up, and so they need to do lightweight tasks. My co-founder is this way, for example. So, I do think that each individual has to find what works for them and then optimize it, but the concept holds true. The concept that there are different activities that you’ll perform that require lack of interruption, and others, activities which are interruption-friendly.

Pete Mockaitis
Interruption-friendly. That’s well-said.

Tim Campos
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Most of my life is in maker mode these days with some manager here and there with my team.

Tim Campos
I’m envious.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it is fun. It is fun to chat with you, interruption-free, or think hard about what the future, the next cool product, or whatever to make. And so, you’re right. I don’t feel as friendly when I’m interrupted in those moments as opposed to when I’m doing emails, like, “Oh, sure. Hey, what’s up? Interrupt me away.” Interruption-friendly, nice turn of a phrase. Boy, we’ve got so much good stuff I want to jump in. So, at the risk of being a little bit scattered, let’s hear a smidge about you’ve got a cool phrase. You say that lazy people are often the most productive. What’s this about?

Tim Campos
Well, it’s a learning that I’ve had over the years. It started when I was at Silicon Graphics, my second company, and we had a build engineer who was a self-professed, he would just say, “I’m super lazy.” If you ask him to do something, “I don’t really want to do that.” “Why don’t you want to do it?” “Because it sounds like work and I’m lazy.”

But he was also one of the most productive people because he was so lazy at what he was doing, he valued free time. And so, part of how he would allocate his time is finding ways to eliminate the repetitive recurring activities that were a drain on his time. And so, he built tons and tons of automation.

And this, I think, in part was endearing to me because my first job as an intern is the same thing. I found a job to be working at a company called Sybase, and the job was really boring. It needed to be done but it’s really boring. And I was grateful that they were paying me but I didn’t really want to do it so I wrote a bunch of automation to figure out how to do my job in less than 45 minutes of the day, and then I had all these other time to do other stuff, and, eventually, more interesting work found my way.

And so, I started to see that there’s this pattern. And when I got to Facebook and had an opportunity to work with some of the best engineers in the world, I saw that this pattern was strongest in those engineers, that they would find ways to just eliminate the work from work, to cut the work out of work, in large part by just identifying where the redundancies are, and whether that manifest itself as an architecture in terms of how they would design something so they wouldn’t have to reimplement things over and over again, or a process for, “How should we assess candidates who are being considered for hire? Or, how should we do our performance reviews?”

That these engineers were really good at identifying ways to simplify the work. And if you ever them, “Why?” it’s because they didn’t like it. They were lazy. They didn’t want to do the work so they found ways to eliminate it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool perspective in terms of lazy we might define as highly motivated to not do work. And then, as a result, they have an extra dose of creativity and persistence to do what’s necessary to do the automation or the simplification or the elimination such that that work doesn’t have to be done because they don’t want to do it.

Tim Campos
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I’m reminded of David Allen we’ve had on the show a couple times, of Getting Things Done fame, and he says that he’s so lazy he doesn’t want to have the same thought twice, which is why he’s got this whole system of organize your mind so that you don’t have to have your brain continually remember things. It’s done for you.

Tim Campos
I think it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg is famous for wearing the same clothes every day because he didn’t want to allocate thought-time to what he’s going to wear.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Tim Campos
So, he didn’t actually wear the same pair of jeans and the same T-shirt, but he had hundreds of the same T-shirts so he didn’t have to think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup. I’ve heard that Einstein and some others similarly, and Steve Jobs certainly had recurring motif in his apparel. Maybe last one before we hit the fast faves. How do you think about burnout? And what should we do to prevent it?

Tim Campos
That’s a great, great question. Yeah, for myself, what I have learned is that the hardest part about burnout is detecting when I’m in it because it’s a vicious cycle, “I am busy and so I’m not being as…I’m working really hard so I’m not getting as much rest. I’m not taking a break. I’m not thinking creatively, and so things are taking longer, which means I have to work even harder, and then I’m busier,” and it just builds upon itself.

One of my leaders at Facebook that I worked for was, his name is Jonathan Heiliger who said this. He pointed out, the analog was cycling, that one of the things he loved about cycling is that you’d climb a hill and it’d be lots and lots of work, and then when you get to the other side of hill, you coast, and you coast down. And you actually really needed those pauses and effort in order to be able to complete a century, without going on to be able to complete the century, that you would sprint and you would pause, you’d sprint and you’d pause.

And he brought that same idea into work, he’s like, “Look, there’s going to be times when we’re all going to be working really, really hard together, and we’re going to be really busy. And after those times, it’s really important we all, in our way, find a way to pause, take a break.” And I think that one of the reasons why his organization was very effective and productive was because of this notion of sprinting and pausing. And this is an idea that you can bring into your own life, that if you haven’t taken a vacation, or you haven’t…one of my favorite ways to pause is to take a class, to learn something new and different. Then, yeah, maybe you should, maybe it’s time to do that.

And I always find for myself, when I make that time, when I give myself that time, I’m rewarded in either a brilliant idea that comes out, or just that renewed energy that I have to bring to my job. And I know it’s hard. I’ve certainly suffered from this where you just get to a point where you feel like you can’t do it, you can’t take a break, and sometimes that’s exactly what you should.

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

Tim Campos
Well, I love these questions, they really prompted a bunch of great ideas that I love to talk about, so, no, I think we’ve gotten through all of that, and there’s nothing that comes to mind that I really wanted to get out there that we haven’t had a chance to talk about yet.

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

Tim Campos
A good friend of mine says, “There’s no time like the present.” It’s very much get-things-done kind of mindset of if you can do it now, just do it. And one of the things I love about my product is scheduling. We’ve come up with a way where you can create that event and schedule it without having to have everything figured out. Put together a schedule and then send it off to somebody. It’s got times that they can have on their calendar and they decide which of those times work for them and, lo and behold, we’ve eventually scheduled. But just getting it done now, whatever it is, when you can saves you having to put it on your to-do list and manage it later.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I’m super intrigued about how Woven does the tabulation of the categories of time usage, like that’s cool. So, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Tim Campos
The one that comes to mind is The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Not to get too political on this but in today’s time where it seems like we don’t all agree on things. This book really studies some of the motivations and the reasoning behind it, and it’s surprisingly applicable even outside of the context of politics. When you are working in a work environment and you have a difficult coworker or a difficult boss, it provides a different perspective on how their mind might be organized to better understand the rationale. And I found that that book, in many respects, has changed my life.

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

Tim Campos
Going for a walk with my wife. It’s probably one of the best things that we can do is just take that break, take that step away from the noise of life, my children, company, housecleaning, everything, kids’ college applications, taking a step back and going for a walk, enjoying each other’s presence, and enjoying the gorgeous outside, taking a breath, enjoying life.

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

Tim Campos
Well, both my team at Facebook and my team at Woven know that I’m a firm believer in using data to make decisions. “Data wins arguments,” is what we used to say at Facebook. And so, when you don’t have the data, the question is, “Why? What is the measure that you should have?” And whether you’re talking about retirement, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time for blah, blah, blah.” “Well, why don’t you have time? Is it because it’s not important? Or is it because you haven’t properly allocated your time to allow those things that is important to get done? And then, well, how do you allocate your time? Where is the data on that?” So, I definitely find that data wins arguments.

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

Tim Campos
Well, if they want to learn more about Woven, our website is Woven.com, very easy to find. If they want to just keep in touch with me, I’m easy to find on Twitter @tcampos is my Twitter handle. And between those two, I would love to hear from people.

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

Tim Campos
Take control of your time. Spend time on what matters most and go find the tools and the capabilities to help you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this has been lots of fun. I wish you lots of luck and much enjoyment in all the ways you’re spending your time.

Tim Campos
Well, thank you very much. I really enjoyed this interview. It’s been fantastic. You have great questions.

506: Finding the Joy of Missing Out with Tonya Dalton (Host of Productivity Paradox)

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Tonya Dalton explains how saying no to opportunities leads to more satisfying work days.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you should embrace JOMO
  2. How to determine worthwhile opportunities
  3. How to say “no” without feeling guilty

About Tonya:

Tonya Dalton is a productivity expert, author, speaker and founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co, a company centered around productivity tools and training. She released her first book, The Joy of Missing Out, with Harper Collins this month.

Tonya’s messages about business management, productivity, and the pursuit of passion have impacted thousands and inspired her to launch her podcast, Productivity Paradox which has surpassed more than 1.5 million downloads.

Tonya has been featured on Real SimpleEntrepreneur, Inc.CheddarLauren Conrad, and Fast Company among other places. In 2019, Tonya received the Enterprising Woman of the Year Award and was named North Carolina’s Female Entrepreneur to Watch by The Ladders.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tonya Dalton Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tonya, welcome back to the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Tonya Dalton

Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad we didn’t miss out on having you back again. We’re going to talk about your book, The Joy of Missing Out, and maybe you could orient us first and foremost. So FOMO versus JOMO, what’s the story here?

Tonya Dalton
For your listeners who are not familiar, FOMO is the fear of missing out, which I think so many people experience. They feel like opportunity knocks and, “I have to open up that door every single time. Otherwise, I’m going to miss out. And if I do, oh my gosh, I’m going to worry about it.” And it’s this terrible thing. And so, we often have this fear of missing out. And, to alleviate that fear of missing out, we try to do everything. We chase our tails being busy all day long, trying to do it all.

And I try to tell people, all right, we need to let go of the FOMO and embrace the JOMO. We need a little more joy of missing out. I truly believe that there is happiness already really nestled into our day. There’s joy just waiting to be had, but because we’re filling our days and because it’s so crammed full of tasks and errands and projects and this and that and the other, we miss out on finding that joy, even though it’s right there.

So when you think about your ideal day, there’s a lot of incredible, amazing things in it, but there’s also some things that are missing. There’s that feeling of being stretched too thin, that’s gone. That feeling of saying yes out of obligation instead of saying yes to things you want to say yes to, that’s missing. So really getting rid of a lot of that clutter and that noise in our lives, that busy-ness allows us to find the joy that’s already there waiting to be had.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I think that really resonates. My mom just recently reminded me that John Mulaney has a joke, one of his specials associated with, once you reach a certain age, when plans get canceled on you, it’s like crack, it’s so thrilling and exciting because you finally have the opportunity to do nothing.

Tonya Dalton
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is awesome. And so then, that just sort of raises the question, well, why not just conscientiously decide to do nothing?

Tonya Dalton
Why don’t we purposely choose to have our days with a little bit of more open space, a little more freedom in our day?

Pete Mockaitis
And so when it comes to the joy of missing out versus the fear of missing out, to what extent is it true that you might be missing out and that’s terrifying and really unfortunate that you are not taking advantage of a given opportunity versus false. And I guess that’s kind of the core of it. Is identifying what matters and, and making informed choices. But are there some reliable guides, some indicators, that, “Ah, this is all an opportunity well worth taking,” or, “I really will regret missing out on this opportunity”?

Tonya Dalton
Yes, I really think so. It really is this idea, when we’re talking about productivity, I think the reason why productivity has failed so many people is because they think there’s this magic system out there, and they think they have to work their life and shift it and change it and make it work to fit this system. When in effect, let’s put you and your priorities front and center, and then let’s custom design a system to work for you to play to your strengths and play to your weaknesses.

And when you do that, when you create a system for your life that really feels manageable, maintainable because it plays to your strengths and to your weaknesses, when you really are allowing your priorities to sit front and center, that can really act as your filter for “What do I want to say yes to,” and, “What should I really be saying no to more often?”

I think that’s the issue a lot of times, is that it’s not when it’s black or white. It’s not when it’s good and bad. It’s when it’s the good, better and best. How do you know what to say yes to and what you should really, just let that opportunity knock and move on by to the next door so to speak?

And so really that’s one of the things that we talk about a lot in the book is, this idea of it isn’t just about saying no, it’s about finding your yes. It’s finding the yeses that are meant for you. The things that are really tied to your priorities, to your purpose, to your passion.

And a lot of that is really tied to the idea of your North Star, which is what I talk about in the first section of the book, which is your mission, your vision and your core values, and really allowing that to be your filter. To act as your first filter for, there’s opportunities here, do I even want to say yes to it?

Because I think that’s the problem. Is a lot of times we think to ourselves, “Well, I’ve got 15 minutes, I’ve got the time to do this 30 minute project, so I should just say yes.” And really, the question of time, that’s not really what we should be asking ourselves. We should be asking ourselves, “Does this fit the life I’m really looking for?”

I have this whole finding your yes blueprint that we walk through in the book, that asks these questions. How does the opportunity feel? Why do you want to take it on? Does this align with your North Star? We don’t ask the question of time until like four or five questions in. And I think that’s the problem is, we don’t often times know what we want to say yes to.

So in an effort to be at all, we say yes to everything, and that’s why we end up feeling overwhelmed, because we don’t know what we want to say no to. And I truly believe we all have our own yeses that are meant for us, that are tied to our North Star. And when we can really figure that out and we can use that North Star as our filter, that makes it so much easier to let those other opportunities to pass us by, and not feel like we’re truly missing out. To feel like, okay, this feels good. That these things are not things I’ve taken on.

Pete Mockaitis:
You said overwhelming and that reminds me of our previous conversation. I thought about it again and again, and you said, you said it better than, “That it’s installed into my brain.” But you said that, “The feeling of overwhelm comes not so much from having too much to do, but rather the feeling that we’re not actually making progress on the things that are important to us.” Did I say that right or how do you say it?

Tonya Dalton
I like to say the overwhelm isn’t having too much to do, it’s not knowing where to start. So it’s tied to that whole idea of, what do I want to work on? What do I want to say yes to and where do I start? And we’re spinning in circles, driving ourselves crazy. And this is why we feel overwhelmed because we have a to-do list that is three miles too long and unachievable and unattainable in our day.

And this is what happens is we end up with this long to-do list. We’re checking a million things off of it. We’re running around busy, slipping into bed at night thinking, “Gosh, why didn’t I get more done?” Even though we were busy all day long. Even though we chased our tail. Even though we checked all those things off.

When instead we choose where we’re going to start, when we choose to focus in on what’s most important to us as the cornerstone of our day and really the center point of what we want to do. When we do that and we do fewer tasks that have more meaning, that is when we really feel like we’ve accomplished something. That’s when we finish our days feeling satisfied.

And I think that’s really the difference is, knowing where to start that you’re not going to start with the menial tasks, the things that aren’t really important and driving you forward, but knowing where you’re going to start with those big tasks that feel really good to our soul. Instead of filling our calendar, let’s work on filling our souls and feeling really good about our days.

Pete Mockaitis
I think the corollary to that that struck me is that, I’ve had days that had lots of activity to them, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed, and it’s because each of those things indeed was filling up the soul.

Tonya Dalton
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it’s hard to feel overwhelmed say on a camping trip. Even though I’m doing a lot of things. I might be hauling a canoe over my head, cutting wood-

Tonya Dalton
Catching dinner.

Pete Mockaitis
… Boiling water. Yes. It’s like there’s a lot of activities happening here, but I don’t feel frantic. Like, oh no, it’s just sort of like, well, yes, this is exactly what I wanted it to be doing, is enjoying some outdoor time and being with great people and mission accomplished.

Tonya Dalton
Yeah. I think that’s so true and I think this is the thing. I like to tell people that productivity is like what I use to get them in the door. “Oh, come over here, look at their productivity,” and then they come in and I go, “Okay, it’s really about being intentional. It’s really about intentional living.”

It’s choosing how you want to have lived your life and choosing how you’re going to spend your day, and really doing the things that do have meaning to you. Whether that is when you’re camping and doing a lot of things that are really important, like you said, like getting the canoe together and getting dinner and cooking the dinner and doing all those things.

You end up feeling really good because you’ve gotten something accomplished. You’ve worked towards your goal versus chasing our tails, picking up the dry cleaning, returning a shirt to Target, doing these little teeny tiny tasks that are really filling up our schedule and keeping us from doing the important work that will make us feel like we’re making big steps towards where it is we want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now I want to talk a little bit about the particular how’s of zeroing in on some of the North Star guidance. But first maybe could you inspire us by shooting a tale of a transformation? Someone that you worked with who was dealing with one set of circumstances and experiences of stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and then what that person did and the results that emerged?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve worked with a lot of different people. I like to tell people that I’ve worked with men and women in all different seasons of life with all different life circumstances. I think the difference that it makes with what I teach in the book and in my courses is truly, it’s all about customizing it so it works for you.

So, I had this one woman who I was working with who was really struggling because she just felt like she was in a dead end job, but she felt like, “Well, I don’t really have any choices because this is what I trained for. This is what I’ve been doing for the past 10, 15 years, so there’s no other options for me. There’s no other place to go look because this is just how things are.”

And I think that’s oftentimes what people fool themselves into believing that there are no choices. When in fact if we look around and we change our perspective a little bit, there are options everywhere. It’s just a matter of sometimes having to go and look for them a little bit.

So she was feeling really, really stuck and those are her own words. She was like, “I just feel stuck and I feel like, I’m not really happy, but this is just how life is. I’m chasing after the kids and I’m doing all the things that they need me to do, and there’s no time left for me.”

So she and I sat down and we worked on, discovering her North Star, uncovering what her mission, her vision and her core values are, and then creating all these systems at work around that. And it was interesting, because at the start of working together through this course, she was really determined that this was just not going to work, because this was just how life was.

And then by the second week you could see that she was like, “Okay, there are some choices.” So we first opened up her eyes to the choices and really taking a lot of what she discovered about herself. And this is why I think it’s so important to start with that discovery phase. To really think about who you are in your heart of hearts.

So she took what she learned from that discovery phase, and then she started really implementing that into, how do I make it so this is the center point of my day. And so she started to feel really good about that. And then we started doing the simplifying and adding systems and making sure all the other things are running.

And then now, I just caught up with her a couple of weeks ago and she goes, “I quit my job. I’m now doing something I’m absolutely passionate about. I had conversations with my family about what their schedule look like, what did I want, what did they want?” We have a lot of these misconceptions that our kids want to do 5,000 different things. Our boss wants to give us 5,000 different projects.

And when I started having her create these conversations where she was like, “What do you really want? What are your priorities?” We began to uncover that a lot of this was stories she was telling herself. That her kids really wanted to do five different after school activities every day. When in reality, her kids were like, “No, we’d be fine just doing, piano and doing field hockey.”

And so she was like, “Oh.” So she was able to really make that manageable, not only for herself but also for her family. And now she’s starting up a job that she’s truly passionate about, that’s really tied very strongly to one of her core values of faith. And she says she’s in a completely different span of life than she was back when we started a year ago, because she really customized and made it all work for her.

And to me that is really what’s most exciting. Is when you see those light bulb moments where people are like, “Oh, I do have choices.” Or, “Oh, this is why I feel this way.” Or, “Oh, I love how now I’m spending more time on these things I really love.”

I mean that’s just one example, but I’ve had people who have gone back to school. I’ve had people who have changed careers. I’ve had people who’ve done all different kinds of things, because I think when we open our eyes and we begin to realize that we really can make life work for us, that life is meant to be enjoyed rather than just endured. And that we can create systems so the other things still happen so that the grass still gets mowed, the bills still get paid, the laundry gets done, and those types of things, that it really is achievable to have that ideal day and make that into your everyday. And that is truly what I love about what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s exciting stuff. And so, we talked about that mission, vision, values pieces last time. So I’d like to zoom in on saying no in terms of one, I guess being okay internally, psychologically with your own self—

Tonya Dalton
Going to say space to say no, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And secondly, how you find the ability to articulate that when you’re kind of nervous. What are your top perspectives when it comes to saying no well?

Tonya Dalton
Well I think this is one of the problems that people have is, sometimes we know we should say no and we’re like, “Ooh, I want to say no to this.” But yes, feels so good coming out of our mouth for about 10 seconds. And then it’s like, what did I just say yes to? Because a lot of times we’re either taken off guard or we feel guilty. We feel bad because we feel like we’ve let people down.

And we forget that every time we say yes, we’re actually saying no to something else. So every time we say yes to someone else’s project, we’re saying no to our own passion project. When we’re saying yes to volunteering for a project that we’re not really excited about or truly invested in, we’re saying no to our own goals and we’re saying no to time with our family.

So if you start to reframe that and realize, you know what, every time I am saying yes, I’m actually saying no, but most times I’m saying no to my own priorities and to the people and to the things that are truly important to me. I think that’s the first stepping stone to get to is to realize, “What am I saying no to every time I’m saying yes?” Because I really think that makes you stop and think for a minute when somebody asks you to do something.

But I think it’s really important too, to have a little something in your back pocket ready to go. Because we are thrown off guard, and then a lot of times if we say no, we ended up overexplaining, over apologizing and somehow, somehow getting roped into saying yes after all.

I like to teach people that there’s a really simple strategy to use called the sandwich strategy. And it’s like the little black dress of saying no. It works in all situations and it really is so simple and easy to do.

So it’s essentially this idea that if you think about a sandwich, you have two pieces of bread with some kind of filling in the middle, the meat in the middle, right? Well, with our sandwich strategy here, we have two slices of kindness, that’s our bread with that solid no right there in the middle.

And when we sandwich our know, it makes it more palatable. It’s easier to give, and it’s easier for that person to receive so there’s not a lot of guilt.

So let me give you an example. Let’s say someone asks you to volunteer for yet another project. You could say to them, “Oh, thank you so much for thinking of me. I really appreciate that you’re pulling together a group of people to really make this fundraiser happen. Unfortunately I can’t give it the time it deserves. However, I do have some ideas that I’d done for this other project, so I’d be happy to pass those along to you.”

So there, we’ve had kindness at the front, kindness in the end, but right there in that middle there was that no. There’s no question about it. I can’t give it the time it deserves.

And to be honest with you, that phrase, I can’t give it the time it deserves, is one of my favorite phrases to use when you’re saying no. Because I’m not saying I’m busy, I’m not elevating myself. I’m not saying what they’re doing is unimportant. In fact, I’m saying, “Gosh, what you’re doing is so important, it really deserves time and I am not able to give it to it.”

So that’s really the sandwich strategy in a nutshell. It’s starting with kindness, putting in you no and then finishing up with a slice of kindness.

And because it works for all situations, it’s so easy to remember. If let’s say that somebody asks you to go out for a girls night, and you’re really wanting to spend more time at home with your spouse. You could say, “Oh, thank you so much for asking me to the movies. I’ve heard some really great things about it. I’m so sorry, but right now I’m really committed to spending a little more time at home with my husband, and so I’m going to give this time to him. I really think you guys are going to enjoy the movie and I would love to go next time.”

I think so often we forget that being kind and being assertive are not mutually exclusive. We can be assertive with our time, we can be assertive with our calendars, we can be assertive with our boundaries. And that doesn’t mean we don’t have to be kind or generous or thoughtful. We can be both at the very same time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. That’s a real nice clear perspective on saying the no. And so then, you’ve got a nice section on finding clarity within the realms of focus, time and energy. How do you recommend we go about doing these things?

Tonya Dalton
Well, this is the thing is, I think we don’t realize that we have these three precious resources of time, focus and energy. Once we give those away, we cannot get them back. Once you give away time, there’s no getting it back. But we don’t think anything of handing out 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, five minutes here.

If we thought about our time like we do our money, we wouldn’t do that. If we had a set amount of money for the week, we would make sure that we paid our bills, that we fed ourselves and fed our families. We would make sure that we paid our mortgage before we started handing out dollar bills. But with our time, we don’t think about, first I need to invest it in the places that matter, invest it in my priorities, invest it in my goals, and then I can hand it out.

So when we shift the way that we’re looking at how we spend our time and we start looking at it as an investment, I think that really does help. So we go through in that section, that section two of the book, this whole idea of how do we clarify our day so that really we are spending most of our time on what matters most.

And this is where I get into that very controversial idea of tossing the to-do list. The to-do list is one of those things that people have talked about for decades and decades. It started back with Bethlehem Steel where they started doing a to-do list. That’s where it actually originated. And people have taken it so much further than what it was originally intended.

It was originally intended to be a list of three things when it first was brought about. And now people have these to-do lists that are 25 miles too long. So I really tell people, “The problem with a to-do list is it’s taking you everywhere, but where you want to go. It’s long, it’s unorganized, it’s jumbled, and it doesn’t tell you where to start.” And as we said earlier, overwhelm isn’t having too much to do, it’s not knowing where to start.

So if instead of making a to-do list, you spend five seconds longer—and I can promise you that’s all it takes—to make a priority list, that tells you very intentionally where you want to start. I like to say that a priority list is a to-do list with intention.

So like I said, it takes the same amount of time. It’s just really thinking through what are the tasks that are most important to you?

So it’s a little bit of a riff on the Eisenhower matrix, which I know you’re familiar with and I’m sure your listeners are familiar with, which was originated from Dwight D. Eisenhower, our most productive president, and then adopted later on by Franklin Covey and that whole system. But we, instead of having the four quadrants in the priority list, we start at the top with, there’s three levels.

So we have the top level, which is escalate, which is our tasks that are important and they’re urgent. So they’re important in that they are connected to our North Star. That mission, that vision, that core values. It’s linked to a goal. It’s something that’s essential to be done by us. It’s advantageous. It’s not tied to our perfectionism or a story that we’re telling ourselves about what we should be doing. So it’s important, but it’s also urgent.

And so we put our items at the very top because that’s really where we want to begin our day. With the things that are important, but have a deadline, because that’s why they’re urgent. And then that next level goes right underneath it. So instead of being a quadrant, it’s just almost like a vertical list. That second level is cultivate. Which are our tasks that are important but not really urgent.

So what’s amazing here is that this is truly the area where you’re going to see a lot of professional growth, a lot of personal growth, because these are things that are going to cultivate. These are investments in ourselves that will pay dividends in the future. So these are things like, creating a budget, taking a course, bettering yourself, reading articles that are in your industry, doing things like that. Working on a presentation that’s not due for another two weeks.

So things that are really important, but they’re not urgent. But because they’re not urgent, a lot of times those get pushed aside, even though that’s really where we’re going to see the most growth because they’re not screaming out at us. So that’s our second level.

And then our third level is our accommodate. And these are our tasks that are urgent. So they’re screaming out, they want to be done, but they’re not necessarily important. They’re not really tied to our goals, our vision of where we want to go. But because they’re screaming out at us, we oftentimes want to do them first. And a lot of times they’re really easy things. There the kind of ticky tack things in our day. Running to the dry cleaner, or returning a shirt to Target, Answering emails. Because 99% of what’s in your inbox right now, is not really important, but it’s urgent. It needs to be done. Those emails need to be returned.

So when we create this priority list with those three levels of escalate, cultivate, and then accommodate, and we start our day at the top and work our way down, it really does help us focus our day on what’s most important. Because we’re beginning with those important tasks and we’re making sure those get tackled first, which is why we can end up feeling like we have bigger wins in our day. And I think that’s really important, ending our day feeling successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about email for a second here. So I agree with you that the vast majority of the emails that come in are not necessary to look at or reply. And yet, there are some that are just, change your life.

Tonya Dalton
That’s true. That is true. Not everything that’s in there is trash. There’s some jewels in there, yes, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So how do you think about processing email?

Tonya Dalton
Well this is the thing is, you’re right. There’s lots of great nuggets in there. There’s a lot of things that we need to just kind of discard and get rid of or just quickly reply to. Email is an important communication tool, especially when used correctly.

The problem is though, is that your inbox is like digging a hole in a sand storm. That whole idea of the inbox zero is such a great idea and I’m an inbox zero type of person, but that zero, and this is what I can’t remember his name, Merlin Mann, I think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Merlin Mann.

Tonya Dalton
Yes, Merlin Mann who came up with that term. He talks about, it’s not about the zero, it’s not really about the number, it’s about how you feel about your inbox. That it’s not really dictating your day and it’s not taking over your day. So if we’re spending all day going into our inbox, trying to empty it out, but it keeps filling itself back up, that is really an exercise in frustration. And it’s taking up so much of our time, considering most of the information in there is not truly important.

So if instead, we chose to very intentionally batch our emails and check our emails, let’s say four times in a day, that would give us bigger pockets to focus on the important work.

So for me, and I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there, and tell you that email for me, I’m like Pavlov’s dog. I hear that ping of the inbox and I’m like, “Oh, what’s in there?” I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is. It’s not the same way with texts. But, I love checking my inbox, even though I know it’s mostly junk.

So what I did for myself is, I started checking email four times a day. So I come into the office, I start off by creating my priority list. I process my day, I take care of setting my day up, and then I check my email for the first time. Then I let other people’s priorities begin to invade my calendar.

So I do a quick check and I get myself a container of time, 15 to 20 minutes to check it in the morning. And then I check it again around lunchtime, and then I check it again mid afternoon, and I check it again after closing time for work.

And I do it four times a day because that allows me to get through my inbox and really respond to the things that are important in there and allows me to clean it out and keep on top of it. But I’m not in there all day long.

So what happens is, if we’re checking email every five minutes or so, we’re continually interrupting ourselves. We’re not getting to that deep work where we can really do great things, the important tasks on our list.

If instead we batch it, we have these bigger blocks of focus time, where we can really get into our big work. And I think that this is the thing. It’s not about getting rid of email. It’s really about how can we make email effective, so it truly does work for us. So for me it’s four times a day.

Now I have worked with other people who are like I only check it twice a day. I have some people who were like, “Four times will not work with me. I need to do six or I need to do eight.” And I’m like, “That is great.” Again, it should be totally customized to what works for you, just be intentional with it. Make a decision when you’re going to be in and when you’re going to be out. And when you set that container of time, abide by it. And then use the time that you were checking email to do that big important work instead.

Pete Mockaitis
And so for you personally, four bouts of 15 to 20 minutes keeps you in control such that you are hovering near zero ish most of the time?

Tonya Dalton:
Yes. And like anything else, when you’re batching tasks, you’re able to do it a little bit faster. You’re getting kind of that zone where you’re just automatically like, “Okay, quickly checking them,” and you can tell what’s trash and what’s not. And you’re cleaning it out and you’re checking things. And because you’re in that batch zone, it’s so much more effective than if I pop in there and I check one or two emails, and then I come in 10 minutes later and I check one or two more emails, and then I come in 10 minutes later.

Anytime that we’re batching tasks and we’re doing the same repetitive action again and again over and over again, it’s very similar to that assembly line, right? It just moves quicker. So we get that task done off of our plate and then we move on to what is truly important.

Pete Mockaitis:
All right, so Tonya, when folks are on board, they say, yes, JOMO, I’m embracing it, I’m going to live it and love it, are there any common mistakes or missteps that seem to pop up a lot when folks are starting down this journey?

Tonya Dalton:
Well, I think one of the biggest mistakes we make, and this happens whether it’s with JOMO, or a goal, or a project or anything else, is we try to take it all on at once. Okay, there’s all these different things you can do, and we talk about different strategies and tactics throughout the book, but people try to take it all on at the same time.

I think anytime that you’re trying to effect a change and you’re trying to, maybe live more intentionally, it’s okay, let’s take a step back and let’s figure out what’s one thing you want to do first. Let’s focus just on one small thing and let’s make these adjustments slowly. So it really feels a little more natural so we can begin to see how does this really work for you? And we can make those adjustments that I think are really important and are really necessary.

And then maybe a week later, let’s add another step. And then maybe a week later, let’s add two more steps. And build up to it instead of trying to take it all on.

It’s kind of like, have you ever tried to start getting up earlier. People think, “Oh, I want to start this morning routine so. You know what, I’m going to start getting up two hours earlier.” Well, getting up two hours earlier, getting up at eight o’clock in the morning and then six o’clock the next morning, that’s jarring to your system.

So instead back it up. Back it up 30 minutes for the first couple of days, and back it up another 30 minutes and then back it up 30 minutes again. It’s taking these baby steps and making it so we can acclimate to these changes and really start building them in as habits. Because that’s one of the other things that we talk about throughout the book is, this idea of let’s take the thinking out of it. Let’s make it so a lot of these intentional things that we’re doing, these intentional choices, become habits. So we don’t even have to think about them, they just happen automatically.

We talk about that whole idea that our brain is one 50th of our body, but it burns one fifth of our calories. And we can choose, do we want to burn our calories on the nonsense and the things that aren’t really important? Or do we want to burn our calories on the things that are really going to drive us towards that life we really want? And when we choose to allow habits to kind of step in and work on autopilot, especially when they’re good, healthy, intentional habits, that allows all that to run automatically and seamlessly, allowing our brains to really focus in on what matters most.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to these baby steps, have you found historically that there tends to be one or two or three that make a world of difference, and just get that ball rolling quite effectively, consistently?

Tonya Dalton
I love that question. I would say, just like anything else I talk about, I think it really is personal to you. I usually tell people, “Start with what you’re most excited about. Start with what you’re most passionate about. What got you most excited? Let’s start there, instead of trying to say like, you have to start here, then you go here.”

The one thing that I do really encourage people to do is really do start with that discovery phase of what is important to you, because then we can really tweak and make everything work for you. And when I say for you, I don’t just mean like what you’re really good at. I also mean what you’re not good at. Let’s make it play to your strengths and your weaknesses.

So thinking about that and then starting with what you’re truly most excited about. Let’s say that the morning routine is what you’re most excited about. Let’s start there. Maybe it’s the priority list, then I would start there. So really to me, ultimately, with everything that I teach and everything that I talk about, it really is about this idea of customizing productivity, making it mold and work to you and your life. Instead of you feeling like you have to twist and turn yourself to fit the systems, let’s twist and turn the systems so they work for you.

And that’s really what I want people to get out of the book is that, when they finish reading the book, they’re like, “Okay, I know how to make this system for myself work, and I’m ready to get started.”
Because I wanted people to feel like they had a roadmap for how am I going to really start implementing this idea into my real everyday life? It needs to really work for me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well Tonya, I want to hear about some of your favorite things and we’ll see if any thing’s newly favorite. Last time your favorite quote was from Oprah. Are you sticking with, “Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.” Or, do you have a new favorite one?

Tonya Dalton
Good question. That’s still my favorite. It’s really hard to let go. I mean, Oprah, she knows what she’s talking about. And I think too, I think this is a thing, especially when I talk to people about, JOMO and really finding that joy of missing out, that there’s going to be times that people do push back. There’s going to be times that people are like, “Well I just think you should say yes to this because you should say yes to it,” and don’t believe you can be brave in this life and not get a little bit of flack from people. But yeah, I’m still with Oprah. She and I are still one.

Pete Mockaitis:
Okay. All right. We’re sticking with it. And last time you had a favorite study about multitasking at a Duke. Any other studies that have caught your eye?

Tonya Dalton
Well, I have this other study that’s actually about multitasking that I really like as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Tonya Dalton
Multitasking seems to be one of my favorite things. There’s been a lot of studies on it and there was a study at the University of London on multitasking, and what they found was that, when people were multitasking, they performed as well as people who had stayed up all night long. And so what they did is they had a control group that was, multitasking. They had a group that went to bed, they had a group that stayed up all night long, and they had a group that smoked marijuana.

Now, the people who are multitasking did not perform as well as the people who had stayed up all night or the people who had smoked marijuana. So I like to tell people, “When you are multitasking, not only are you increasing your cortisol, not only are you stressing yourself out, but you might as well either stay up all night or smoke drugs.” To me it’s most interesting about this study—

Pete Mockaitis
“You might as well smoke drugs,” wonderful pull quote.

Tonya Dalton
Maybe not my pull quote please, no… But I think that’s so true. When people hear that, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I keep multitasking because I think it’s increasing my productivity,” but it actually is decreasing your productivity 40%. That means you’re losing about, I think it’s like 17 hours a week when you try to multitask. That’s a significant amount of time.

So really, when we think that we’re working harder, we’re not really working smarter, we’re just wearing ourselves out.

And the other part of that study that I thought was so fascinating is there was this inverse corollary where the better someone thought they were at multitasking, the worst they actually were. Which I found interesting because they said, they would ask people like, how good are you multitasking? And the higher they rated themselves, the worse they performed.

So this is the thing. There’s very few super taskers out there who really can multitask.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s almost like I’m one of them. So, caution, caution there. The odds are not in your favor.

Tonya Dalton
Yes, the odds are not in your favor and that’s one of the things that the researcher said. He says, “People want to fool themselves into believing that they’re the super taskers, but they’re not.” I mean, that’s like his direct quote, “but they’re not. They’re just fooling themselves.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well so, last time you mentioned your favorite book is Jane Eyre. Are there any other favorites you’d like to mention?

Tonya Dalton
Well, I just read not that long ago James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and I really enjoyed that book. That was something that I really enjoyed recently. On the fiction front, I’ve been doing quite a bit. I’ve been reading some Ruth Ware, and I’ve really been enjoying her. I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with her, but she just came out with one called Turn of The Key, and then she did, The Woman in Cabin 10. Those have been my reads lately that I’ve been enjoying.

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

Tonya Dalton
I would tell them to go to joyofmissingout.com for information on the book and where you can get that, it’s available really anywhere books are sold. And then if you want to connect with me or learn about my podcast or anything that I do, my products or anything else, you can go to tonyadalton.com. So that’s Tonya with an O and a Y, tonyadalton.com.

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

Tonya Dalton
My call to action could be just go get the book. Because I really do feel so passionate and excited about the book. But really what I want people to take away from this is, we’ve talked about that idea of the small steps and starting small. I think that that’s really what I want people to walk away from this episode remembering. That that ideal day that we dream about when we’re in the shower or we’re waiting for our coffee to brew, it feels so far away from where we are.

And, so because it feels so far away, we sometimes think it’s not ever going to be possible. But, if you take one small step each and every day closer to that ideal day, if you get 1% closer each week, by the end of a year, you’re going to be 52% closer to that ideal day, to that ideal life. It really is the tiny little itty bitty steps that matter.

We often think it’s the big giant leaps. It’s the leaps of faith and the giant running starts. But oftentimes, it’s just taking that first step that builds that initial momentum, and that’s really all we need to keep us moving forward. And one tiny step each and every day really does make a gigantic difference in how we feel about our days, and how we feel about ourselves, and how we feel about getting to that ideal life that we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Tonya, this has been so much fun. Thank you. I am overjoyed that we didn’t miss out on this conversation

Tonya Dalton
Me too.

Pete Mockaitis
So, keep up the good work.

Tonya Dalton

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me again. This was great.