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440: Accomplishing More in Less Time by Building Microskills with Stever Robbins

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Stever Robbins says: "The hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability."

Stever Robbins shares how to break down skills into microskills…and shares which ones are worth building.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A productivity power tool to help you accomplish almost everything
  2. Why to break down learning into microskills
  3. Essential microskills that will save you years of time

About Stever

Stever Robbins is a serial entrepreneur, top podcaster, and productivity expert. He co-founded the early internet success story FTP Software, served as COO of Building Blocks Interactive, CEO of JobTacToe.com, and has been an initial team member of ten start-ups, including four IPOs and three acquisitions. He currently runs Get-it-Done Groups™, which help people make extreme progress on important projects and habits.

He was project manager at Intuit. He serves as business plan judge for the Harvard Business School business plan competition, the MIT $100K competition, and several other competitions. His Get-It-Done-Guy podcast has been downloaded more than 36 million times.

He’s been interviewed in numerous publications and is the author of It Takes a Lot More than Attitude…to Build a Stellar Organization and Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.

Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stever Robbins Interview Transcript

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

Stever Robbins
Thank you very much for having me. I’m hoping to learn how to be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking that we’re both going to do some great learning. I’ve learned a lot from you with your Get-It-Done Guy podcast. I remember listening to it in Brent’s car. Shout out to Brent.

Stever Robbins
Hey, Brent.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think it’s going to be a really fun one. And we were already talking about a lot of cool stuff. If we had to push record before we run out of time, but one fun tidbit about you I got to hear about is you grew up in a New Age commune. What’s this about?

Stever Robbins
I did. My parents were hippies, but they came to the scene late, and they didn’t have the hippie movement to join up to. So, my father got involved in some various New Age philosophies and we sold our worldly possessions, bought a 23-foot trailer, and went bouncing around the country starting psychic growth centers.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychic growth centers.

Stever Robbins
Yeah. Don’t get me started. Let me simply say that it turns out that most of America isn’t really very open to having you start psychic growth centers. Remember the kids on the other side of the tracks that your parents warned you not to play with?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, it’s Stever and company.

Stever Robbins
That was us. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just real quick. Psychic growth centers, does that help me grow in my psychic abilities, or what happens in a psychic growth center? Okay.

Stever Robbins
Yup. Also, the children of the people who start the psychic growth center become atheists. So, that’s the other thing that happens in a psychic growth center. It makes a real impression on you when you grow up. Actually, we switch religions every couple of years. My father was into lots of different things. And, as a result, by the time I was 18, I had been through four or five different belief systems, and once you’re through a certain number of belief systems you start to say, “You know, all of these are just belief systems.”

The more interesting part of your question, though, isn’t, “What’s it like growing up in a psychic growth center?” It’s, “What’s it like having grown up in a psychic growth center?” Because what it does when you’re the kid on the other side of the tracks is, you don’t take the same things for granted that everyone else does.

So, for me, the most interesting part about having a non-standard background is that I question things that everyone else simply take for granted. And, on one hand, this is very powerful. It means that there’s a lot of problems that I can solve that other people can’t because I ask different questions than they do, and sometimes the questions I ask are the ones that will lead to the solution. On the other hand, there are some real problems with this because there are plenty of places in life where you really need to understand how the standard people think, and you really need to understand what would be societally acceptable and what will not.

Let me give you a hint. You do not want to discover behaviorally that wearing a loincloth to school is a bad idea. Some people know that instinctively. Others of us had to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s maybe the pulled quote that we’re going to feature from this interview, Stever, is that tidbit right there. Well, yeah, I think we’re two peas in a pod in that way. Not the loincloth specifically, but the asking questions that others don’t seem to ask because I do. And what I find to be the downside is folks are just not prepared or equipped for it, and so it just slows everything down. It’s like, “Wait a minute. What do you want? I don’t even know how to address that for you. Maybe talk to someone else.” Because it’s sort of like customer service systems, or businesses. They’re setup to do a few things well and efficiently and by the millions at scale. So, when you throw these little monkey wrenches in there, it just slows everything down, and it gets inconvenient for everybody it seems.

Stever Robbins
Oh, yeah. And, in fact, one of the things I was thinking about before this call, because I knew you were going to ask me that question, one of the things I was thinking about was, “What are the perspectives that I have despite the fact that I have a fairly mainstream life in many regards?” But I’m always amazed at the fact that we live in the most materially-rich society in all of human history, by wide, wide measure the most productive in terms of labor hours needed to produce a particular result. And, yet, we have such an extraordinarily narrow range of activities and things that we do, and lifestyles that we have.

And it boggles my mind that we have the resources to give ourselves as a race lots of leisure time, lots of ability to pursue meaning, the resources to try out and experiment with different governmental types, with different ways of being, with different work weeks. And, yet, we create very narrow boxes, live inside them, and then forget that we’re the ones who created the boxes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a big question.

Stever Robbins
Yes, they may be bigger than we’re supposed to be talking about today. I think we were talking about getting things done or something similar.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess my first thought in there is, I guess, it has to do with like the fear of the unknown, or risk, or uncertainty, and how maybe relatively few people want to go down that pathway. But, yeah, I’m going to be chewing on that one as well. Thank you, Stever. I want to hear, yes, I do want to hear about getting things done. And maybe, so, you’ve got an interesting sort of start in terms of that New Age commune and travelling. But then you did get some credentials that folks tend to kind of think are more normal and desirable, you know, MIT in Computer Science Bachelors, MBA from Harvard Business School, good stuff. So, how did you become branded and adopt the moniker of the “Get-It-Done Guy”?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that was never supposed to be the case. I started the Get-It-Done Guy in 2007 because I was working doing one-on-one executive coaching and strategy consulting, which is the main thing that I’ve done through most of my career. And I was really yearning for a creative outlet because, frankly, one of the fascinating things about the business world, is the business world is really very anti-creative. It uses the principles of uniformity to grow organizations, and the uniformity exists in terms of people and behavior.

Do you ever notice when someone says that you should dress professionally or act professionally? What they mean is you should restrict your behavior to the narrowest possible window of things, right? Those are not expansive. When someone says, “Act professional,” what they do not mean is “be creative, be wild, be innovative, think outside the box.” What they mean is, “Oh, my gosh, you’re wearing a three-button vest instead of a two-button vest? I can’t be seen in public with you.”

So, I wanted a creative outlet, and I had started a little podcast called Business Explained, and I had produced about 10 episodes for it. And then I experienced Grammar Girl. And Grammar Girl talked grammar, but it was fun and it was interesting to listen to, and she had an attitude. She had character. And, oh, my gosh, Grammar Girl was, and is, awesome.

So, I wrote her a fan letter, and I said, “If you would ever like a business podcaster, I would love to be your business podcaster,” because she had a little network called the Quick and Dirty Tips network. And just out of sheer coincidence, my letter got to her right after she had sold the network to Macmillan Publishing, and they were having a meeting to decide who should the next podcaster be.

And my letter came in at the right time. I auditioned for the part. I got it. And they let me choose the topic. I chose personal productivity mainly because I thought it would be fun. I thought I could do a lot more with that in terms of humor than with corporate strategy. And I was right, as it turns out. Became the Get-It-Done Guy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, actually, not quite. What happened is for years I didn’t do anything with it professionally. And my branding in the marketplace was very much around strategy, and entrepreneurship, and high-growth companies, and how to be a good leader, and all that stuff. And then, about a year ago, I decided I had this podcast and I had a following, and why not start doing things that were more productivity-oriented, and just see if it flies?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, one thing I’m quite intrigued by are the Get-It-Done Groups. I’m a huge fan of accountability, and I’m intrigued as to what exactly is this.

Stever Robbins
Well, so Get-It-Done Groups are they’re accountability groups. And when I looked at the offerings out there, first of all, I’ve been an executive coach for about many, many years by the time I’ve developed this. And one of the things that I had noticed is that at the end of the day, coaches are trained to help people develop their innate capabilities, help people get that strength and motivation, that proactiveness. And, boy, is that a lot of work.

And, one day, I had a CEO client, because I mainly work with executives, I had a CEO client who had had a homework assignment, I don’t even remember what it was at this point. It was something simple, like write a letter firing someone. It was something. It was emotionally difficult but it was technically very easy. And three weeks in a row he hadn’t done it.

And so, this time we started our coaching session, and I said, “How’d the letter go?” And he said, “I haven’t sent it yet.” And instead of trying to get to the root of his blocks, and instead of trying to deeply trigger his motivation by connecting it to his highest values and his purpose and his why, I said, “Dude, I happen to know for a fact that you have one hour currently available on your calendar because that was the hour that we were supposed to be talking. So, guess what? We now have 57 minutes left. We’re going to hang up the phone. I will talk to you in 23 minutes, at half past the hour, and we will review the first draft of the letter. Bye.”

Hung up the phone. When we met at half past, he had the first draft done. And in that moment, I started to realize, “Wait a minute. Human beings are social creatures. We are hardwired to take our commitments to other people more seriously than we take our commitments to ourselves. And, if that’s the case, why are we bothering with all of this deep psychology bull pucky and all of this, “Oh, we must find your deep inner why”? Look, just, you need to get your taxes done. Great. Get them out. I’ll watch. Fabulous. Now, that you have them out, 10 more minutes, you start working and I’ll call back in 10 minutes to check up on how it’s going.

And then, real time, of course, if someone is getting stalled, you can, at that moment, diagnose why they’re getting stalled and work with it as opposed to checking back a week later, and saying, “Oh, why didn’t do your thing?” And having them try to remember what was going through their head at the time and so on.

So, what I recognize is that there are a couple of things. Number one, the hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability. Number two, people get lost in different ways. They get lost sometimes in their moment-to-moment ability to focus, which technology is making far, far worse. They get lost in their ability to concentrate on one project out of a portfolio of projects long enough to make progress.

And so, I said, there are three timeframes we can operate on. Let’s operate on the level of a quarter, 12 weeks, the level of the day, and the level of the hour. And what Get-It-Done Groups do is they provide accountability on all three levels. We have a couple days a week where we meet hourly, and every hour we actually commit to doing things. Those are the days when you do that stuff that otherwise would procrastinate the heck out of and that you just don’t want to do, and we all just get together and do it together. And it works really well.

The daily accountabilibuddies is what we call them. The daily accountabilibuddy is a thing where people divide up into groups of two or three and they meet every day. A very short meeting, like five to 10 minutes, and they go through, and make sure that they’re making progress on all of the things that they need to be accountable for, which will add up to where they want to go in the 12-week period. And then, over the course of 12 weeks, if we’ve designed the daily check-ins right, they will get most of the way, or all of the way, or well past their 12-week goal.

And people have used Get-It-Done Groups to write a book. In fact, she finished the last word of it this last Sunday, and several members of the group were on a Zoom call with her as she was writing those last two sentences. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about it until about 20 minutes later, but I would’ve been there too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just imagining, like, one who has a violin, and it’s like a very orchestral celebratory moment.

Stever Robbins
Oh, goodness, yeah. We had been there with her for almost the whole thing. I mean, it was amazing. There was another person who qualified for professional degrees. He had been trying for many, many years, and just hadn’t sat down to do all the work. Sat down and did all the work. We had somebody else who had multiple businesses that she had developed over the years, and she wanted to merge them all, and create unified branding, and put them all under one website. She did that. We have just a whole variety of things.

So, Get-It-Done Groups are groups where you get it done. And one of the people that are especially good for is people who are self-employed because when you’re self-employed you don’t have any external person who can stop and say, “Now wait a minute. You said that doing your marketing was important to you but for the last four days you haven’t done any. What’s up? Do you want to give up on that? Or do you want to do it but now we have to make some tweaks to how you’re doing your day because empirically you need some sort of tweaks in order to be making the progress you want to be making.” And they work amazingly well.

I’ve actually been quite surprised. I wasn’t thinking that they were going to work. I mean, I thought they would be effective but, in fact, the effect that they’ve had, I think, is almost out of proportion with how simple, well, it’s way out of proportion how simple they are. But it’s way out of proportion with what I thought. I thought they’d be useful and they’ve been life-changing for some people. Like, seriously life-changing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. Now, how big is a group?

Stever Robbins
We do it as a cohort introduced every month or every couple of months, and then everyone who is currently an active member all works together.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it could be dozens.

Stever Robbins
It could be. At the moment, we’ve never had more than 15 people involved in any given moment, which is a whole another story, having to do with customer acquisition versus customer retention. Well, what we found is that, really, I’ve already figured out how to scale it to whatever point is needed. But for like the hourly do-it days, we usually have between four and seven or eight people show up for that. That’s when we check in every single hour. We have a community call once a week, and every week we’ll get anywhere from five to 12 people on that. So, it depends.

All of the elements of it are optional except for the daily check-ins because part of the whole idea is we’re all busy people, and any productivity system that takes enough time that it impacts the way that you work is not a productivity system. You need productivity systems that mesh with what you’re doing so you don’t have to feel like you must do every single thing. You do just enough and just the pieces that will give you the results that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Awesome. Well, I’m a huge fan of accountability. It’s come up before. I wrote a book about accountability groups back in the day, and it had a big impact on me, so that’s huge. Well, specifically for we’d be talking today about microskills for sharpening focus and working smarter, that’s one of your key areas of expertise, and something that we dig here. It sounds like, one, a key skill is just trusting others and sharing and having some accountability. Could you maybe define for us the term microskill, first of all?

Stever Robbins
Yes. Just as people think of different timeframes, as I mentioned a moment ago, people think at different levels when they think of skills. I’ll call it a chunk size. Sometimes someone will say things like, “You need to learn to focus,” as if focus is itself a single skill. Well, it’s not. Focus is comprised of a lot of little skills. Focus is the ability to identify what you’re working on. If you don’t identify what you’re working on, you won’t do it because you don’t know what to be focusing on.

It’s the ability to block out or eliminate, in advance, external distractions. It’s the ability to either eliminate or notice when you have an internal distraction and pull yourself back on task. It’s the ability to know when you’re done, etc. So, there are actually tiny chunks of skills that make up this word that we use as a larger level skill.

And, to me, a microskill is one of the component skills that makes up what we would normally call a skill but, which in fact, is really the accumulation of lots and lots of things. And I will give you a slight spoiler, this is going to relate to our conversation about neuro-linguistic programming later in this because this is my NLP in the form of the brain that has resulted in the paying a lot of attention to microskills.

For example, we have two people in the current Get-It-Done Group who really, really, really aren’t doing enough prospecting, and they were like, “Okay, I keep falling down on my prospecting progress so let’s do a day that’s just prospecting.” And I talked to the two of them individually, and I said, “So, tell me about your prospecting process.” Now, what I’m actually listening for here is, “Are they both getting screwed up the same way? Or is there a difference?” Because if I’m going to be designing a day to work with them, I want to make sure that whatever I do during that day actually hits the causes of where they’re getting stalled.

It turns out they were getting stalled in different places. With one person it was identifying where to find prospects. For the other person it was actually picking up the phone and writing an email to reach out to the prospect, and then there’s a bunch of other skills, too, like follow up, etc. We can get into it a different time.

But, essentially, there are microskills that make up the skill of prospecting, and one of them is identifying prospect sources. The next one is identifying prospects from those sources. It’s not enough to identify the source. You actually have to go to the source and get the prospects. Then you have to craft a message, then you have to get that message out to them, which may involve doing research as to how each prospect likes to receive information, or it may involve sending out an email blast, or it may involve doing a bunch of phone calls, but whatever. You actually have to then take the action to get the prospect deal.

And, generally, when people say, “Oh, you need to do more prospecting,” they largely just mean this big chunk thing. And, to me, a microskill is one of the smaller chunk things that people don’t pay as much attention to but which often are where people get really tripped up.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that because these words, I’m right with you, prospecting, focusing really are huge. Like, I’m just thinking about my wife. We got stuck for a little while because she’s like, “We need to baby-proof this home.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know what all that means. I’m sure there are many steps, and components, and devices, and thingies that are built up when it comes to baby-proofing, and I don’t really quite know where to start.” So, we got stuck for a good while actually until I just Googled and I found a professional baby-proofer who made a lot of things happen for us. So, that was nice because it was a one-time thing as opposed to baby-proofing as a lifestyle.

Stever Robbins
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, installing new stuff every week is a skill I need.

Stever Robbins
And you know there are people who do that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure, yeah, you could find a new way a kid could hurt himself, a day without trouble. But I dig it because often that sort of, I don’t know, deflates the energy or makes it less actionable when it’s big and vague as opposed to, “Now, what I’m talking about is getting on the phone again and again and again,” or, “What I’m talking about is figuring out where the heck I can get a bunch of names.” Those are different problems that have different actions and solutions.

Stever Robbins
Correct. And so, that’s what a microskill is. A microskill is understanding the skills that make up the thing you’re trying to do and then, to some degree, even more importantly, is to identify which skills are missing, and then figure out how to intervene because it’s not the case that all interventions are created equal or that all problems are the same problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, then, when we’re talking about those goals of sharpening focus and working smarter, what are some of the most potent microskills that give you a good return on your investment, a big bang for the buck in investing to develop them?

Stever Robbins
Well, I’ll tell you my favorites because they’re not super popular – speed reading and touch typing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go. Now, touch typing, I’m right with you. I am sold and, okay, go ahead. You can sell a little bit more but I’m already with you. Now, the speed-reading though, yeah, I’ve heard folks who are like, “Oh, speed-reading, it’s a scam. You really can’t blah, blah, blah.” So, lay it on us with some evidence. What’s real and possible speed-reading versus what’s hype and fluff?

Stever Robbins
Okay, do you want me to address the touch typing or the speed-reading first?

Pete Mockaitis
Do speed-reading first.

Stever Robbins
All right, speed-reading. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. All that I know is that I push myself to read faster and faster but I never could go so fast that I don’t have comprehension. I know that some speed-reading systems say push yourself so fast that you can barely comprehend. And then when you slow down, you’ll be able to go much faster. And I’ve actually done that particular exercise a few times.

I’m not a fan of things like photo-reading where you supposedly can digest an entire book by flipping the pages quickly. Apparently, there are people who can do that. I’m not convinced that that is the level of useful skill because the context for most people do reading these days is on a screen. So, what you need to be able to do is scan a screen and really get the meat of the information. The problem is most people skim, and skimming is not the same as reading. With skimming you get a superficial understanding, maybe, if it’s a well-written article or well-written post. Of course, in this day of pay per clicks, not pay for quality content, there’s an awful lot of stuff out there that’s extremely poorly written.

[24:27]

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, don’t get me started on the sloppy junk out there, and the agencies that enable it, which I’ll leave right there.

Stever Robbins
What happens is, for a well-written piece of writing, for example, you can scan the headlines, the headers, and the subheads, you can scan the topic sentences and things, and you really will get an idea of what the article is about, what the argument is, and then you can go back to the pieces you want more information about and read up more deeply.

That just doesn’t apply to an awful lot of things on the web because most people don’t know how to write, or they don’t take the time, or they can’t afford to take the time because they’re being paid so little that they have to grind out 10 articles in the space you would have to do one.

Pete Mockaitis
I signed up for one of those just for funzies to take a look around, and it’s like, “Holy crap, I’d have to be cranking almost as fast as I can type for like a third of that hour to eke out minimum wage here. And you’re hiring US labor? What?” So, okay, that’s a whole rant we could go on.

Stever Robbins
We have an awful lot of rants that we can go on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, we got to get our own, you and me, the Stever and Pete podcast we’re going to rant all day long. Okay, so speed-reading, you push yourself to read faster, and then that yield some results. So, how might we go about learning how to read faster? What’s sort of the practices of developing that microskill?

Stever Robbins
You know, the thing that I would do for that, and I literally just took a speed-reading course, but the exercise that I thought was the most useful with the speed-reading course was the one that I mentioned a minute ago. Take a book or something that you want to read, give yourself, first, read a paragraph, not read a paragraph, read a chapter at normal speed, time how long that takes you.

And then read the next chapter giving yourself half that time. And then the chapter after that, half that time, and just push yourself to get successively faster and faster and faster until you’re going so fast that it’s very clear you’re not absorbing very much. But, then, when you downshift, you will downshift to a much faster rate than you started with.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, now, I’ve heard the term, because I’m dabbling reading about speed-reading before, and I’ve heard the term subvocalize which I understand to mean inside my mind, inside my brain, I’m saying each word to myself. So, if I’m looking at your bio, I might say inside my brain, but not out loud with my lips, I’d say, “Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and a BS in Computer Sciences.” So, are you pushing past the subvocalization speed or not?

Stever Robbins
I don’t think that I am personally. What I’ve heard is the maximum speed you could get to, while you still subvocalize, is about, I think, 1500 words a minute or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s still lovely. That’s 55X normal, right?

Stever Robbins
Right. And I can get up to that, I think, when I’m really going. I can get up, assuming that it’s not something that requires lots and lots that I have to stop every sentence to digest it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a ton. That’s reassuring.

Stever Robbins
But I don’t think I ever really quite break the subvocalization barrier. I think that for the most part, well, you know what, now that I’m saying that, that isn’t true. When I took the speed-reading course, I always subvocalized. Now that I think about it, this is a conversation I’ve had with friends before, I’m at the point where I see a sentence and I know what the sentence means. And there’s a sense that somewhere I might be subvocalizing a little bit, but it happens faster than I could possible talk it. So, if it’s subvocalizing, it’s subvocalizing it two or three or four times what my external talking speed is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, that’s reassuring then that I always thought of that as some kind of crazy transcendental, the Matrix, Neo-type experience. It’s like, “Whoa, I’ve entered a new plane of information processing which is unfelt ever before.” So, okay, cool. So, that’s just all you got to do is push yourself to read about twice as fast as before, and then twice as fast as that, and then maybe twice as fast again, and then once you’ve reached the “clearly I’m not absorbing anything” level, you back it off a little bit. And then, holy smokes, you find that you are able to maybe read two, three, four, five times as quickly with just as much retention. Is that accurate?

Stever Robbins
Yeah. I tell you, it works in both directions too. It also works in the direction of output. When you’re doing public speaking. I was just helping a friend of mine prepare for an important presentation he has to give. And I would love to say that invented this exercise, I did not. This was taught to me by my very first business mentor years and years ago, back right after I had graduated, you know, at least six or seven years ago.

And he had me give a presentation at my normal speed. The presentation took about 40 minutes, and said, “Great. Now you can do 20 minutes. Give me the presentation again. You’ll have to decide what to leave out. And then do it in 10 minutes. And then do it in 5 minutes. And then do it in 2 minutes. And then do it in one minute.”

And when you push it down to one minute, and especially when you do it in that order, because each time has to learn how to filter through and decide what’s important and what isn’t. When you get it down to one minute or 30 seconds, the only thing you can say is the main points. You can’t give examples. You can’t give supporting evidence. You can say…

Pete Mockaitis
Prop down. We’re scared.

Stever Robbins
Right. And that’s it. But then what happens is when you then expand that back out to 40 minutes, your brain has gone through the process of compacting everything down and putting into the chunks that makes sense with you. So, on the fly, you can dynamically expand and contract portions of it to be able to adjust to any length.

And if you make it too short then you say, “Now, we have room for Q&A.” And if anyone asks about the pieces that you left out because you misjudged the time, well, they’re in your brain because you’ve already been through this presentation this many times and packaged all the information up nicely for yourself. So, then, all of that preparation simply serves to make you look like a genius and uber-prepared during the Q&A portions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. We had a guest who wrote the book Brief and that was good stuff and he recommended a similar exercise which is so handy. So, okay, that’s how speed-reading can go down, also applies to presentations. His name is Joe McCormack, for the record, the author of “Brief.”

So, now, let’s talk a little bit about the touch typing. I understand that the average typing speed in the United States is 41 words per minute. I just research these dorky things of my own volition. So, you’re saying that we got a lot more room to grow in that front.

Stever Robbins
When I was in 7th grade, I took a touch-typing course, and I took it on a manual typewriter, not an electric, a manual. And at the age of – what’s 7th grade, 12 years old? At the age of 12 years old on a manual typewriter, I could consistently test out at 70 words per minute.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stever Robbins
If I can do 70 words per minute as a 12-year old on a manual typewriter, anyone can get at least that fast if not faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. How do we get those skills?

Stever Robbins
You take a touch-typing course or you go online and I’m sure there are websites because I learned to type the DVORAK layout I learned from a website and from some apps. And you know what? It’s not sexy. It really isn’t. If what you want is some magical thing that will teach you to, suddenly, boom, get the touch-typing skill overnight, that doesn’t happen.

What you have to do is you have to train all of the common letter combinations. You have to get your fingers used to moving in those combinations. You have to practice it over and over and over, punctuated with appropriate sleep periods so that your brain can consolidate the information. And it may take weeks or months. Actually, I don’t know if I’m as fast on DVORAK even now after I’ve been doing it for about 10 years as I was on QWERTY at the time.

I find the big advantage to DVORAK is far less finger strain and finger movement which is, and I’m still pretty darn fast typing DVORAK. But I practiced DVORAK for months before I got up to a reasonable typing speed but it was completely worth it because, in the 10 years, or actually it was more because I was already typing DVORAK when I started the Get-It-Done Guy. I have written roughly 750,000 words of paid content, which I guess makes me a professional writer now that I think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Bling. Bling.

Stever Robbins
But part of why I was able to do that is I could type fast enough because it doesn’t matter how great your ideas are, it doesn’t matter how great you are at composing sentences, if you can only type 20 words a minute, you’re not going to be able to write 700,000 words of text because you just don’t have the time to move your fingers that much.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s true and I played around with all kinds of speech-to-text and dictation tools and software, and it’s not there yet. Maybe in five years, maybe 10 years, but we’re not there yet. And so, when it comes to keyboarding and typing faster, one of my favorite resources, I’m going to drop this in the show notes, is keybr.com. They’ve got some cool case studies of folks doubling their typing speed in like five hours of practice over the course of a couple weeks. And part of their brilliance, I think, is that it starts you, it kind of drills each key in order based upon its frequency versus difficulty to type so that they’ve really kind of leveraged it for you as much as possible, and it’s free. So, keybr.com is a handy one, and I’m digging it.

So, okay. Well, let’s move. Time is flying here.

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Stever, I want to make sure we get a chance to touch base on, so you are a smart dude and you’ve got impressive credentials from impressive places, and you think clearly about stuff. And I’m so intrigued that you are also a certified master trainer elite of NLP, neuro-linguistic programming. Now, NLP has got an interesting reputation. Maybe, could you give us a feel for, first of all, what is it, for those who are less familiar? And then, can you kind of like with the speed-reading, tell us what’s real, what’s exaggerated, and what benefits can we really expect to glean from NLP?

Stever Robbins
Sure. So, NLP is a set of models for understanding how humans think and how the way they think can be inferred from their language, and ways to change the way you think, or someone else thinks once you know what that is. I learned about it first because I wanted to learn things, and NLP was originally introduced to me as a technology for being able to sit down and talk with someone who had expertise and understand at a cognitive level, which basically means, “How are they thinking about the task involved to be able to produce whatever results they produce that constitutes expertise? And how can that be expressed in such a way that I can learn it or you can learn or someone else can learn it?”

Because, for example, if you’re talking to Mozart, and you say to Mozart, “Gee, how do you compose that passage?” And Mozart says, “Well, the way you compose it is you just play it over and over, and you listen really carefully until it sounds right.” That’s not a useful description. If you don’t happen to be Mozart and have Mozart’s definition of “sounding right” then you’re not going to produce the kind of music that Mozart can produce.

However, if what Mozart says to you is, “Well, what I do is I make colored pictures in my mind, and every color corresponds to a note. And I notice that when the pictures have a particular type of symmetry when played as notes they sound good.” Every step of that is something you could teach someone. Again, maybe not easily. This phenomenon of matching visual things with sounds is called synesthesia. If you want to create a synesthesia such that your colored pictures can be translated into notes, I’m guessing that doing that itself is a skill, and if you don’t happen to develop it as a child, or you’re not born with it, that itself is going to take you a while.

But assuming that that really is the way Mozart creates music, then if you have those skills, and this is where the microskills come in. And, in this case, the microskills are being able to make these colored pictures, being able to judge if they’re symmetric, being able to make them symmetric if they’re not, and being able to translate it back and forth into sound. If you have those skills, then you can produce probably not the identical results to Mozart because he has his own personal history that he’s filtering all of this through, but you’ll be able to produce things that are in the realm of musical expertise.

Now, I made that example up, by the way. But the idea there is NLP helps you listen to how somebody does what they are talking about that they do, and figure out what are the mental steps they’re doing to get there. And, as I mentioned before, that’s really at the heart of so much of what I do, because NLP says, “Given a big chunk skill, like composing musical piece, what are the tiny chunks that make it up?” And the tiny chunks may well be different for different composes, in which case, there are many different ways you can learn to compose music.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, I like when you said that because I think sometimes as I’ve seen NLP, neuro-linguistic programming presented, it’s talking about, “This is some mind control hypnosis stunt that’s going to make you crazy persuasive if you anchor touching your tie when you say something really compelling.” You know, I was like, “I don’t know about that.” Or, “You can tell if anyone is lying based upon where their eyeballs move.” It’s like, “I don’t know if that is accurate or being validated by any of peer-reviewed research.” What do you think about these kinds of claims?

Stever Robbins
Depends on a specific claim. The NLP will make you an amazingly unbelievably persuasive. NLP does make a set of distinctions which teach you how to understand how someone is thinking and how to package information in such a way that it fits with the way they think about something.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a persuasive booster.

Stever Robbins
Right, it could be a persuasive boost. But the information, even if you packaged the information so somebody will use it the way that they want to receive it. So, let me give you an example. Let’s say that I’m someone who is a visual thinker, and I understand long-term trends by visualizing a graph and noting if the graph goes up or down. So, if someone says to me, “Oh, unemployment is falling,” I actually picture a graph that has a line that goes from the upper left down to the lower right, and that’s my mental representation of what the sentence means “unemployment is falling.”

If you know that that is how I represent things, and you want to communicate the information that consumer happiness is rising, or maybe that consumer happiness is all over the map, then if you simply show me a picture that has this line going up and down, and left and right, and all over the place, and say, “This is consumer confidence,” I don’t have to do any work to understand that because that matches with the way that I understand things.

However, if you show that exact same map to somebody who understands things by visualizing a column of numbers, not a graph, they’re going to look at that graph, and go, “I don’t know what the heck that is. I can’t make any sense out of it,” because their mental representation is not making graphs with lines in it.

So, what that means is for a given person, if you understand how they take in and process and understand information, you can package whatever case you’re trying to make so that it fits their type of information so they don’t have to work to understand it. However, just because they don’t have to work to understand it, it doesn’t mean they’ll immediately take it in. It just means that they won’t reject it because it doesn’t make sense to them. If they make sense to them, but then they may reject it because it doesn’t make good sense.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Fair enough. And how about these eyeball directions indicating if someone is lying?

Stever Robbins
So, that’s interesting. The actual NLP model does not say that eyeball directions indicate if someone is lying. In fact, if you read the book, they explicitly say that’s not what they do because that’s one of the common ways people misinterpret them.

What the eyeball directions are claimed to do, and this is something that drives me nuts because of the way this is phrased, it’s one of the easiest things to “test.” And I put that in quotes because, so far, I have yet to see any test that actually does a good job of genuinely testing the claim.

The observation is that people systematically move their eyes while they’re talking. Sometimes they move them up, sometimes they move them to the sides, sometimes they move them down. And in the NLP model, we pretend that what goes on inside people’s brains is they make pictures, they talk to themselves, they hear sounds, they basically have an inner sensory life in the five senses that corresponds to the same five senses that you use on the outside.

And, in fact, since NLP was developed in the 1970s, there’s been a lot of research that shows that’s probably even accurate in terms of what’s really going on because they found that if you have somebody visualize moving a muscle, all of the same neurons fire in their brain except for the very final neurons that actually activate your limb moving or whatever.

So, what the eye movement model in NLP says, it says when you’re constructing visual images, your eyes move one direction. When you’re remembering visual images, your eyes move another direction. When you are imagining sounds you’ve never heard before, your eyes move in a third direction. When you are remembering sounds you’ve heard before, your eyes move in a fourth direction. When you are talking to yourself and engaging in internal dialogue, your eyes move in a fifth direction. And when you are experiencing your feelings very strongly, your eyes move in a sixth direction. So, there’s three directions on each side, there’s three to your left, and three to the right.

And they may be different for different people. On some people, especially left-handed people, one or more of them might be swapped left to right. But the NLP model says that when somebody is retrieving information, when they’re really involved in information processing, their eyes will move in a particular direction that corresponds to the type of processing they’re doing.

You can then use that to help choose an intervention to decide what to do with them to help them change their thinking if what you’re doing is trying to help someone change their thinking, because NLP, the first place it was really used extensively, and the fact where it was developed, was in the realm of therapy. So, people would come in and they would say, “I have this horrible phobia.” And by watching their eyes, one of the things that you could find out is every time they talk about the thing that was a phobic trigger, they would always move their eyes to visual memory, or to the direction that corresponded to visual memory.

If that’s what happened, there is a particular technique that was developed in NLP that says, “When somebody is having a phobic reaction, and it is instantaneous, and it involves a remembered visual image, use this technique and it will help get rid of the phobia.” And you then could use that technique and it would help you rid of the phobia.

And, like all things, there’s plenty of margin for errors. Some things don’t work all the time. Some things sometimes you misdiagnose, etc. That’s the NLP eye movement I’m on. The way that people have misinterpreted this is to mean, “Gee, if you ask someone a question, and their eyes move to the creating a visual image area, that means they’re lying.” Well, maybe. It may mean that they’re remembering something and they’re creating an image that they’ve never made before that’s based upon the thing they’re remembering. It may mean they’re not paying any attention to your question. Instead, they’re making an image of…

Pete Mockaitis
Daydreaming. That sounds more interesting.

Stever Robbins
They’re making an image of the delicious casserole they plan on making just as soon as they can get out of the job interview or whatever. And this is the problem with a lot of NLP. Number one, the term is not copyrighted or trademarked so anyone can claim they’re teaching it, and anyone can claim they’re good at it. And, number two, an awful lot of people do, and they have no idea what it really is or how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, if we want to read a book or two or three to get some useful understanding that is applicable, what would be your top recommendations on that?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that’s so difficult because I don’t think there are very many good NLP books out there. My favorite one is called Using Your Brain for a Change by a man named Richard Bandler who is one of the co-developers of NLP. The impression I get is he was really, really the principle key to the whole thing. And it is a book about how different changes in your mental imagery affect the reactions that you have to those mental images. And the reason this matter is that a lot of our behavior is driven off from mental imagery.

So, let’s say that somebody says, “Hey, we’re going to raise your tax rates,” and you’ll get super upset at that. Well, you’re not actually getting upset at the words, “We will raise your tax rates.” You’re getting upset of what that means to you. And it may be that what happens is you make a mental image of yourself lying in a gutter surrounded by really bad liquor with people stepping over your body because you think that if your tax rates get raised, that’s what’s going to end up happening to you. And what you’re going to reacting to is that image that you’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful.

Stever Robbins
So, Using Your Brain for a Change teaches you to identify the images that are actually driving your behavior and gives some specific techniques for how to manipulate those images and change them so that they drive your behavior differently. Because if you took that exact same image of yourself lying in the gutter with the cheap liquor, and you put circus music behind it, “toot, toot, root, toot, pop, para, pop” it wouldn’t produce the same emotional reaction. It may not make you want to be there, but it’s not going to be this horrible tragedy.

But, on the other hand, if you put these strings and violins, just doing the slow mournful thing, well, that makes it worse, you know, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Stever Robbins
Now, people go, “Ugh, that’s just a funny little mental trick.” And I’m like, “Yes, it’s a funny little mental trick that completely changes the way that you feel about something. Isn’t that useful? Like, if you can just do a funny little mental trick and, suddenly, this thing that has been causing you incredible stress and high blood pressure and anger, suddenly becomes funny, that sounds like a mental trick worth learning and doing more of.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said.

Stever Robbins
So, the thing about NLP, to me, number one, very few people who claim to understand it really understand it very well. Number two, they often misrepresent it as a thing that accomplishes a certain result, like being a lie detector, or persuading people of things. And it’s less about getting a specific result, and it’s more about when you’re dealing with people, how do you understand the way they communicate? How do you understand the way they think? And how can you communicate to them so that you could be most understood by them?

And if they want to change, and if they want you to tell them how to change their behavior so they get better results in their life, how can you package the communication about how they can change such that, number one, they can hear and understand it; number two, they can then turn that understanding into different behavior; and then, number three, how can you make sure that the behavior you’re telling them to do, like in this case the circus music, is actually the thing that will make a difference for them? Because, for some people, circus music may not make something silly. For some people, circus music may make it ominous because maybe they saw too many clown films as a kid or whatever.

But once you know for a given person how they think, which things are meaningful for them, what their language is, you can help them reach the results that they want by using NLP to understand all of those things. Has this been clear?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you.

Stever Robbins
Sure.

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

Stever Robbins
With me you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Stever Robbins
With me, I’m at SteverRobbins.com, GetItDoneGroups.com, and if you are interested in the podcast, which is the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More, which is way too long. It should just be called the Get-It-Done Guy, or it should be called Work Less and Do More, go to itunes.com/getitdoneguy. Or, essentially, Get-It-Done Guy on any place that you listen to podcasts.

436: How to hack your time and motivation wisely–and when not to–with Joseph Reagle

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Joseph Reagle says: "When people get too far down the line of optimizing, sometimes they're putting themselves at risk for a very marginal gain."

Joseph Reagle shares handy research insights on hacking life optimally and safely.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The question you need to ask when optimizing your life
  2. Why lifehacks should be taken in moderation
  3. How to use your own money  to hack your motivation

About Joseph

Joseph writes and teaches about digital communication and online communities. He’s an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. He’s also served as a fellow and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. His doctoral dissertation was on the history and collaborative culture of Wikipedia. Joseph has appeared in media including The Economist and The New York Times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joseph Reagle Interview Transcript

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

Joseph Reagle
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your stuff. And I’d love to start with you sharing a little bit of how you came to adapt a practice of Japanese techniques of T-shirt folding. What’s the scoop here?

Joseph Reagle
I came by it by way of YouTube. I’m a bit of a sponge. I watch a lot of YouTube channels, I read a lot of blogs and whatnot. And I saw that there’s this particular technique for folding T-shirts, and I can’t say it verbally. If your listeners want to check it out, you can Google Japanese T-shirt. It’s very nice. You just kind of pinch two parts of the shirt, and you do a little flick of the wrist, and then, bam, it’s folded.

And it’s a trivial sort of thing. It doesn’t really save me much time, but I think the thing I enjoy about it is I don’t really enjoy folding laundry. And so, this gives me a little practice, a little technique that I can improve upon, that I can hone as I’m folding my laundry, so that gives me something to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is nice and it sort of makes you feel like there’s some craftmanship involved. And I believe this Japanese T-shirt folding practice is different than what Marie Kondo is advocating as I looked at your reference videos. Is that fair to say?

Joseph Reagle
It is. She also has some great ideas. I don’t know if she calls it vertical folding. But, basically, if you have a lot of T-shirts, or maybe we use this with the hand towels in our kitchen. Instead of piling all the hand towels on top of one another, you arrange them side by side so you can see your whole gamut of things that you want to select from. And that’s a very handy tip as well, and we use that in our kitchen.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like, in particular, the ability to not have to make one hand into a levitating shelf to take the things that are up above it in the other hand to grab the thing that is now on the new top. And then things get a little bit disjointed along the way. So, I’m right with you. Well, it’s funny, we’re already talking about it. You’ve got a book, it’s called Hacking Life and I’m quite intrigued by your premises and your discoveries. So, maybe you can start us off by sharing what was one of the most striking and surprising discoveries you made when putting this together?

Joseph Reagle
Well, in the book, I’m looking at lifehackers and all the domains of life that they apply this hacking ethos to. So, it includes things like motivation, time management, productivity, health, material possessions. And when I got to relationships, I was looking at various types of people who use various tips and tricks for seduction, pickup artistry, for managing their marriage, the negotiation part of a relationship, as well as people just going online like OkCupid and trying to figure out how to get themselves to be able to be matched with people that they might like.

And there was a Wired article about this one hacker who hacked OkCupid and he created fake profiles, and he downloaded a bunch of information, and he kind of figured out the sort of women that he would be attracted to, and the sort of questions that they were interested in. And he ended up calling it a success, and he published a self-help book about how to hack OkCupid. And he went on 88 dates.

And when I talk about that with students, they’re like, “That doesn’t sound very successful,” but I teach in Communication Studies, and most of my students are women, and when they hack dating, they also add a filtration mechanism, interestingly enough, so they don’t have to go out with bozos and boneheads.

And then I came across someone else, another engineer who went on 150 dates in four months. And he spoke about—it was so tempting in this age, when we have all this technology and choice available to us, to try one more date, to get one more datapoint to figure out like who that perfect person would be. And that’s been leading me into some of the downsides, I think, in approaching life this way.

I’m very hackery myself. I think we can learn a lot. There’s a lot of handy tips and tricks, and they can even help us craft some meaning for our lives. But there are some excesses.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. However, I want to talk about some of your hackeriness, if that’s a word, as well as some of the pros and cons. But maybe just to make sure, from a language standpoint, we’re on the same page, what makes a lifehack a lifehack per se?

Joseph Reagle
Well, the term “hack” goes back, surprisingly, far amount of time. It emerged at MIT at their Tech Model Railroad Club. So, that was a very geeky    early electronics club at MIT in the late 1950s, and hacker culture emerged out of that. And they started accumulating a fair amount of jargon back then, and they put out a dictionary in 1959, and they said a hacker is the person who avoids the standard solution.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Joseph Reagle
More recently, the founder of LifeHacker.com, Gina Trapani, she wrote that as a computer engineer-type of person, she thinks about reprogramming the tasks of her life how she would a program. And her goal is to optimize them to make them a little faster and a little more efficient. So, the idea of lifehacking spans the mundane and include things like tying your shoelaces or folding your shirt, but it goes up to what I call meaning hacking, trying to find contentment in a life of uncertainty and loss. But all of these entail an appreciation of systems and employment of systems, maybe trying to figure out how to exploit those systems, to bend the rules so that you can be a little more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I mean, that sounds great to me. What are some of the downsides you’re unearthing here?

Joseph Reagle
Well, what I wanted to do in this book is not pillorize lifehacking. And people do sometimes, particularly cultural critics and academics. You know, they hold their nose when it comes to self-help, and I think lifehacking is a part of self-help. And there’s plenty of shade that people can throw at lifehacking as well.

But I didn’t want to do that because, as I just said, I’m geeky myself. But what I wanted to do was then draw some distinctions. So, let’s not throw lifehacking out altogether. Let’s figure out, are there ethical lifehacks and less ethical lifehacks? Are there different types of hacking? And I call them nominal and optimal hacking.

And I think, in this case, optimal hacking certainly has some excesses entailed. So, you might optimize a wrong thing. So, the example that I spoke of, of that hacker who went on 150 dates, I think he was optimizing for the wrong thing. He got fixated on the dates rather than the starting of a relationship. And when you approach life as a system that can be optimized, you do have the tendency to sometimes fall into this trap of what I call naïve optimization.

Pete Mockaitis
These are great distinctions I’m wrapping my brain around here. So, I got optimal hacking, where we’re seeking to optimize something. In that one case, he was optimizing such that he could get a bunch of dates. And what’s nominal hacking?

Joseph Reagle
Nominal hacking is an engineering term, and I could’ve used the word normal, but I didn’t for various reasons, because that’s loaded as well. But it’s the idea that you’re good enough. So, for example, I spoke to lots of folks in the quantified self-movement and lifehackers who might want to lose a little bit of weight, or who have migraines. And so, they’re not trying to like boost their brains like some lifehackers and biohackers take nootropics that supposedly make them smarter. That’s how Tim Ferriss actually got his start, selling a nootropic online.

They’re just trying to get back to a good enough sort of state. And I can appreciate that certainly because if people take some risks there, they’re doing it for a particular reason. But when people get too far down the line of optimizing, sometimes they’re putting themselves at risk for a very marginal gain. So, for example, one of the people I speak of is Seth Roberts, and he was very big in the Quantified Self movement when that started. And the Quantified Self movement is just like the number measurement fixated wing of lifehackers.

And he came up with, well, he discovered for himself that eating half a stick of butter everyday made him a little bit faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Faster, running? Thinking?

Joseph Reagle
Thinking. And so, he had a little program on his computer, and it would give him little math puzzles, and he would respond to them as quickly as he could, and he would chart and measure his response times and accuracy, and he would track that over the days so he could see when he was a little bit faster, or when he was a little bit slower.

And he, originally, had started eating a large amount of pig fat everyday to help with his sleep because he discovered that helped him by way of accident. But then eating pig fat everyday was difficult because you can’t really carry it around with you. But he discovered if you ate half a stick of butter, you can get butter even when you’re out at a restaurant. That helped with his sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Butter, please.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, and it improved his mathematical abilities. And when he would give talks about this, he was like, “This is really great. This really works for me. I prefer to manage my own health in this way.” He didn’t really trust the medical establishment. And he wasn’t a kook. He was a professor of psychology. He worked on rat psychology, but he was very much into his own quantification and experimentation. And a cardiologist, in one of his talks, suggest that he might give himself a heart attack.

And the big irony here was that he started a column at The New York Observer, where he would write about his lifehacking and experiments on a monthly basis, maybe it was weekly. And his first column was his last column. It was entitled “Butter Makes Me Smarter.” And a couple of days before, he had had a heart attack.

So, I can’t say that eating half a stick of butter gave him a heart attack. He’s just a single person. But I think it speaks to some of the risks. Like, why eat half a stick of butter so that you’re a couple milliseconds faster on this trivial arbitrary sort of little quiz you setup for yourself?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yes, so that’s very clear, optimizing for the wrong thing. So, you’re a little quicker but your health is suffering, and so that’s not a great trade certainly. So, given that, how has your thinking evolved in terms of establishing whether a particular practice seems like a good idea or a bad idea?

Joseph Reagle
I don’t know if I can say beforehand something is great or something is really a bad idea, but I have some heuristics. And so, again, if you’re to push yourself to that leading edge, I think you need to ask yourself, “Am I focusing on one thing beyond all others?”

So, there’s a fellow by the name of Nick Winter, and he wrote this really nice little self-published book that you can buy on Amazon called Motivation Hacker. And he read all the popular literature, the pop science literature on motivation, on habit formation, on curing procrastination. And he thought, “Well, what happens if I could amplify all this to be absurdly productive?” And he used all these psychological techniques, and apps and hacks that were available to him, and he was savvy about it.

He did end up working 120-hour work weeks as for fun almost, but he also had to create goals for himself, like to go on so many dates with his then girlfriend, now wife, go out to be social with his friends like 10 times a week, make sure he was still doing his pushups and pullups and health regime. So, that works for him. And you can go to a webpage, he dynamically, in live time, has a webpage where he charts his productivity and the hours he has spent coding. And he plots it against his running average over days, and months, and weeks. But at least he was cognizant of the fact that he had other things that he needed to keep his eye on, and he didn’t just focus on and fixate on productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s interesting is, as you talk about that life and that quantification and striving to sort of beat it and have it at the top, I mean, it’s interesting because I love spreadsheets for all sorts of things. And I have quantified a number of things in my day that most people don’t bother or would find excessive or over the top.

But, as I think about and imagine that scenario, it seems to me a real risk would be just a sense that your, I don’t know, meaning, or your value, or your purpose, or all that matters is that which is you are quantifying, charting, publishing, which can kind of suck you into some, I think maybe really, depressing places. Is that kind of what some patterns that you’re seeing in your research here?

Joseph Reagle
Oh, definitely. So, I have the chapters on hacking time, hacking motivation, material possessions, and you can almost see a progression of people looking for contentment. So, people think, “If I can be super-efficient, then I will be happy. I will be content.” And it turns out that’s not necessarily the case for a lot of people. They realize, “I still am not happy. I climbed to the top of my hierarchy at my work, I make a lot of money, and I bought a house. Now, I have all this stuff, and that’s making me anxious.”

So, then, you can look at the digital minimalist, another wing of lifehacking, and they decided, “Well, why don’t I do another experiment? Why don’t I get rid of everything except a hundred things?” So, there is the hundred things challenge, and some people did 99 things, and some people did 50 things. And that worked for some people for a time, and some people still lived that very minimalist life. But one of the people I spoke to, it’s a pseudonym, but I had been following her, and she, again, had had a breakdown, had a good job but very stressful, ended up on the floor in a pool of tears, that’s how she spoke about it. And quit the job, sold everything except what she could fit in a backpack and traveled the world writing about digital minimalism.

And, after a year or so, she quit it all. And I found that out because I was checking some of my sources for the book, and all her webpages were gone, and her e-book was gone, and her Twitter account was gone. But, fortunately, I still had contact information, and I said, “Now, what happened? Where did it all go?” And she said, “Well, everyone was doing the same thing, all shouting about how happy and content they were, and how awesome this was, but it just started to ring hollow,” and she got out of it.

And so, that’s the chapter on material possessions. And then there is a chapter on health and relationships, then ultimately meaning. Like, when you realize that none of those things will necessarily guarantee you happiness and contentment, when you realize that life, even perfectly optimized, is still likely to throw you some disappointments and loss. What do you do? And that’s the next to the last chapter when people start pulling from stoicism and mindfulness and Zen Buddhism in particular among lifehackers.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. So, yeah, I can see how that really makes sense in that, just like, “Okay, if I could just do a little more, a little more, a little more of efficiency, or productivity, or production of stuff, then I’ll arrive.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait a second. It can’t get any more optimal than this and you’re still not doing it.”

Joseph Reagle
So what do you do then?

Pete Mockaitis
Bummer! A realization. And so, well, I mean, that’s a big question. Now, what do you do?

Joseph Reagle
Well, one of the parallels I draw, I found this really interesting in the meaning hacking chapter, was that people do, are very fond of the Zen minimalist sort of aesthetic, and mindfulness is really big in Silicon Valley. There’s a conference every year called Wisdom 2.0 where they bring in Google and a bunch of tech companies and all the mindfulness gurus.

And people pick and choose in various aspects of religions, and it tends to be very individualistic, and we’ll hear people talking about how like Tim Ferriss will talk about mindfulness as an efficient operating system for the brain. There’s a fellow who started at Google, he wrote a book and he has a non-profit called Search Inside Yourself because he started at Google, so he’s playing on this search thing. And he wrote about how EQ is great for your engineers’ and your techies’ and your employees’ emotional intelligence.

And the employees know the more EQ they have, the more money they’ll make, and so they’ll be happier at the companies. And that just seems very crass. And so, people get frustrated with that. And, again, the ironic parallel is Siddhartha, the original Buddha, started out living a life of extreme luxury. His father was the king, his mother the queen, he was provided with everything a young man could be provided with: money, exotic foods, courtesans.

And he woke up one morning and he just said, “I am not happy. I am not content.” He became a minimalist. He went out, traveled around, taught and learned from a lot of yogis. He became very extreme. He tried to optimize his asceticism, nearly starved himself to death, passed out, was revived by a young girl who fed him some rice milk, and realized, “Huh, maybe what I need to do is pursue the middle way, the middle path, the path of moderation.”

And so, wow, that’s the insight. Maybe being super extreme about optimizing everything is not the solution. Maybe moderation is good in all things. And that’s the neat thing about lifehacking as a type of self-help. A lot of the genuine bits of wisdom and insight that people do come to have been around for centuries, if not millennia. But what self-help does is it wraps up those bits of wisdom, those bits of insight, into a vocabulary that people in a current moment, in a current culture can understand.

So, what lifehacking really is it’s a type of self-help, for what’s been called, you know, the geek class, the engineers, the techies, the creative class, the people who aren’t on someone else’s clock but they still have a lot to do. And they have to figure out, “Well, how in this world of increased demands and expectations on your intention, but also increased distractions, how can you possibly focus?”

And so, lifehacking, as a type of self-help, says, “Here are some lessons that have been around for a while, like the middle path, the middle way, making sure you connect with your family and friends, and you don’t forget about it, making sure that when you schedule your day, you give yourself time to do meaningful long-term stuff, that you give yourself time to maybe be spiritual, or spend time with your friends and relations, and it couches it in contemporary terms.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I appreciate, Joseph, you’ve also given me a prescription for a bestseller, just to go ahead and find some ancient wisdom and package it in modern terms, and that seems to be a winning formula.

Joseph Reagle
That’s what self-help is. It’s always being done actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, all right. Well, that gets me all the more motivated to finish off Plutarch’s Lives and any other books that are on my shelf that I haven’t built in meaningful time to tackle just yet. Well, that’s really cool. So, getting acquainted then, or having covered these kinds of cautionary bits, and getting a broader perspective on what we’re really going for, I do want to touch base on a little bit of tactical stuff. What have you discovered have been, for many practitioners, some pretty excellent habits, or approaches, or hacks when it comes to time?

Joseph Reagle
One of the insights I came to in doing this work, and again this has been around for a while. There is a theorist, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, Schelling, who came up with this idea of Egonomics. And decades ago, he said that there’s a lot of things that we would like to do, but that we don’t do. And the Greeks even spoke of this as “akrasia.” We do things that we shouldn’t do, and we don’t do the things we should do.

So, one of the things that I take advantage of is called the Pomodoro technique. And “pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato, and the guy who came up with it just happened to have a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato.

And the idea is that when you have a long-term task that you want to do or go on, like I want to write a chapter for a book, getting started writing a chapter of a book is daunting. It’s very hard to motivate yourself. So, what you can do is you can say, “I’m just going to set this timer for 40 minutes, and I’m going to sit down, and I’m just going to look at that page in front of me, I’m not going to allow myself to get distracted. But after the 40 minutes, I can take a short break.”

And that allows you to get over that hump of, “Oh, my gosh, I could never start this big project that I’ve been worrying about and thinking about.” And so, that’s one of the techniques I love. On the cover of my book, under the title, there is a little Pomodoro tomato timer. I don’t know how many people will get that, but that’s what it is. And I also glitched it up a little bit to show there might be a dark side or some excesses.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the Pomodoro, you are a fan there. And so that is, I believe, 25 minutes is the time there.

Joseph Reagle
I think that’s how it was started. I tend to do 45 to 50 minutes for writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, that you found to be good and workable and helpful in your world.

Joseph Reagle
I do. And, again, the interesting thing is it’s not so much a time management. It’s really a self-management tool. Because time really is what time is. You can’t do a lot with it. The real challenge is motivating ourselves. An economist from a couple of decades ago, who won a Nobel Prize, actually called this Egonomics. He proposed a new field of study for ways that we might understand the economics of our own self-regulation, the sort of economy of our desires and wants.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fascinating. Can you share perhaps an insight or takeaway or two from that study?

Joseph Reagle
Well, he didn’t do a study. He wrote an essay where he was proposing this sort of study. And some of the examples he used back then was, he says, “Well, people do things to keep themselves from smoking cigarettes, or biting their nails.” Like, people would paint some disgusting nail polish on their nails so they would taste it. Or, if you have poison ivy, you put gloves on your fingers. And so, he said, “Just as a real economics, you see these exchanges and tensions, we grapple with these within ourselves.”

And, interestingly, if we go back even further, the Greeks spoke about this. They had a term for it called akrasia. And that was that frustration related to doing things that you shouldn’t do, and not doing things that you should do. And the classic example for that is Ulysses. He wanted to hear the sirens when he and his sailors were sailing by, but he knew that if everyone heard the sirens, they would be pulled to their death on the rocks. So, what did he do? He had himself tied to the mast, and could listen to the sirens, had the men put wax in all their ears so they couldn’t hear the sirens, and he could enjoy it but he knew he wouldn’t go crazy.

And, in economics, they call those Ulysses pacts, or—Ulysses is another name for Odysseus. And what you do is you commit yourself to something that it’s not easy to back away from. So, earlier I mentioned Nick Winter and his book, The Motivation Hacker, and he’s really fond of this app called Beeminder. Now, this would never work for me, but the app, what it does is it asks you to commit a certain amount of money to a task. And if you don’t do that task you forfeit the money.

So, you might say, “I want to work for 50 minutes to get started on my chapter today,” you set your Pomodoro timer. But what’s going to keep you from getting distracted? Well, there are some tools like Freedom that can keep you from going to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. But you could also set a little goal on Beeminder that says you’re going to lose $10 if you fail to satisfy your Ulysses pact, your commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, I guess then you just have to be honest.

Joseph Reagle
You do.

Pete Mockaitis
You could go back in there and say I did or did not do that thing.

Joseph Reagle
That’s the question. Like, “Well, why would anyone not just lie and not lose the money?” But the thing that I encountered when I spoke to users of this application is that, one, they have this app very much integrated into their lives and their quantifications, so they really want good, accurate data for like how many words they wrote in a day, or how many Pomodoros they did, or whatever it is that they’re trying to do. And they don’t like to have their data distorted, and that’s helping them manage their data.

And then, two, they really appreciate the service. And so, they’re happy. Like, if you have a habit you really want to create, spending 10, and then if you fail, 20, it doubles. Spending that amount of money is worth it to you. And they very cleverly designed the app such that you end up paying the least money that’s still worth what that task is worth to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. How do you arrive at such a figure?

Joseph Reagle
They’ve done some research. The company is a joint effort of two folks, Bethany Soule, who has a graduate degree in Computer Science, and Danny Reeves who has a PhD in Economics and Incentive Systems. And they have applied that economic quantified approach to the whole of their lives. I talk about their marriage in the chapter on hacking relationships.

And they bid for things in their relationship, like who’s going to take out the trash tonight. The one person might say, “Well, I would give you $2,” and the other person will say, “Well, I’d give you $3.” And so, the person might, “Okay, I’ll take the $3.” And for them, from an economic point of view, it’s very efficient because the person who least wanted to do it didn’t have to do it, and the person who got the most value of it did it. So they have a very unusual but interesting approach to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess, again, you need to be honest, like, “Oh, boy, I’d give you $500.” It’s like getting you trump, trump, trump, trumping them each time with a huge sum. But I guess that’s part of the marriage game is being honest and forthright and not trying to game the system there.

Joseph Reagle
Yeah, and they do exchange the money, they do have a hack on top of that, so they don’t exchange every single interaction they have. They only record and exchange money every 10 of these interactions, but then they multiply that interaction by 10. So, if it was $3 to take out the trash, it’d be worth $30. And it’s very unusual and they received some criticisms out there on the web.

But unlike some of the other excesses and unsavory hacking, at least they’re trying to be fair, at least it’s very explicit. They call it, you know, they are respecting one another’s utility curves. They’re not being exploitative. And I think you can find that in some other instances of lifehacking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, respecting each other’s utility curves sure sounds romantic.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, that’s what some of the folks said, like, “This doesn’t sound like a real relationship.” And it’s definitely unusual, but it works for them. And when I tried to apply those distinctions of this, if it’s ethical or not, it seems above board.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I’m sort of being a little cheeky with the actual words that phonetically you don’t sound romantic, but the concept, I think, really is in terms of being thoughtful about each other’s needs, and also somehow balancing your own stuff. And it reminds me back in the day when I had three roommates, and then we had four rooms in the apartment that were all a little bit different in terms of their pros and cons, with their space, and they have their own bathroom, etc. And it’s like, “Well, okay, how are we going to divide up this rent?”

And that was the game we played. It’s like, “Okay, you’d like the big room. Gotcha. And just how much would you be willing to pay in rent for that big room?” And so, by iteratively going through this, it worked out just right. It turns out I was a bit more frugal and I had the small room with a small rent, and the lawyer and the doctor, you know, they were living larger, and it was good and fine that way.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, it can be efficient. Of course, there are some downsides and they’ve had to think about that in the context of their relationship. So, she’s the only one that could actually be pregnant and have the kids. So, what is the value? Let’s say, for example, one of them was in school while the other person was working. And so, they had to figure out, like, “What is the value of these things?“

Their first daughter’s name was Fair, and they actually bid between themselves when they name the kid, and Fair won. And it went for a couple of thousand dollars between them. And, again, it’s very unusual, but at least, for them, those things weren’t taken for granted. I think that’s preferable to a relationship where you just assume, “Oh, you’re going to get pregnant and you’re going to stay home with the kids, and I’ll be earning the money and have plenty of spending money.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Well said. Well, tell me, any final thoughts about lifehacking, great practices, how professionals might use some of this wisdom to accelerate their own ends?

Joseph Reagle
I would recommend people experiment with various things, but they need to ask themselves two questions, well, more than two questions, but let’s focus with two questions. When you go out and you buy a bit of self-help, whether about it’s productivity or minimizing and getting around the clutter, you’ll have to think about, “Well, compared to what? Is this technique going to be cost effective? Is it likely to be efficacious? And are there any side effects or harms?”

And I think if you’re attracted to something, and you can ask yourself those questions, and all that seems to bear out, I think it’s worthwhile trying while you’re also keeping yourself in check with respect to some of the excesses that fall from optimization.

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

Joseph Reagle
Sure. So, one of my favorite books on time management, and again that’s a bit of a misnomer because it’s really about managing ourselves, was Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And that was real popular back in the ‘80s, and even the ‘90s, but now other books like Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, I think more people are probably familiar with. But he had this great quote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

And that’s because, I think, someone was telling me like Elon Musk has a calendar where he schedules every five minutes of his day, and I think that would drive most people nuts. That would not be effective for most people. And what Covey is suggesting instead is if you do want to prioritize having time to think about the long term, the things that are of high value to you, things in your personal life that you want to make sure that there’s room for, schedule your priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said.

Joseph Reagle
Don’t fixate on your calendar and making sure that every five-minute chunk of your calendar is full.

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

Joseph Reagle
This might not be appropriate because I know you’re looking for probably a study that tells you how to be more effective. But there’s a study I really like in terms of critical thinking, and it’s a follow-up to the marshmallow study. Pete, have you ever heard of the marshmallow study?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, Walter Mischel. It’s a fave. Did he do this one or was someone else building off that work?

Joseph Reagle
The follow-up was in 2012.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Joseph Reagle
So, the original one has been made use of a lot by people who were into like grit, and motivation, and sticking to it. And this study from decades ago was done by placing a marshmallow in front of a child, and they’d say to the kid, “You could have this marshmallow now or, if you wait, and I go look for more marshmallows and I come back in 10 minutes and you haven’t eaten the marshmallow, you can have two marshmallows.”

And so, in the study, they looked at the kids who ate the marshmallows immediately, and they looked at the kids who could persevere and hold off and be patient and wait for that second marshmallow. And then the interesting things is they tracked some of the indicators of those peoples’ lives as they move through their lives. And so, how did they do in school? Like, what was their SAT scores? Did they get a good job? Did they end up buying a house? You know, all those sort of things. Did they end up in a good relationship? And they found a very strong correlation between the people who were able to persevere and be patient, and those outcomes from later on in life, the good outcomes.
And for many decades, people then thought, “Well, if you want to raise kids, or if you want to do well in your life, you really need to learn how to persevere.” And the slight downside was that sometimes it led to the implication that if you ended up in life in a place where you didn’t really want to be, or if people fared poorly in life, it was their own fault because they didn’t have enough grit, and we just need to teach kids to have more grit.

Well, the study from 2012 added a step before the marshmallow. And the proctors of the study would do something with crayons. Before the marshmallow step, they’d bring out some dumpy crayons, half-used crayons, not a lot of shades of color, and they tell the kids, “Here are some crayons if you’d like to color in this book here. But I have a better brand-new set of crayons available if you’re willing to wait.” And they did the same thing. They said, “Would you be willing to wait and I’ll bring you back a nicer set of crayons?”

They went off and then the proctors came back and did one of two things. They said, “Oh, I forgot the really nice crayons. I’m so sorry,” or they gave them the good crayons. And so, the proctors were unreliable or reliable. Then they did the marshmallow study. And it turns out that when the kids had been exposed to an unreliable proctor, they did not get the nice new crayons, they ate that marshmallow right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that liar is not going to come back with two marshmallows.

Joseph Reagle
Yes, exactly right. And so, this is really nice evidence that it wasn’t necessarily the kids’ grit and perseverance, maybe these kids had a lot of siblings. And if you have a lot of brothers and sisters, you know you can’t leave that marshmallow sitting there. Or maybe they grew up in an impoverished family. And maybe those with the things that correlated with later-in-life outcomes, rather than in any essentialist kind of notion of grit and internal stick-it-to-it-ness.

Pete Mockaitis
That is clever.

Joseph Reagle
Yeah, so I really like that study because I think, again, it’s great for critical thinking. I use it with my students a lot. And it also is a bit of a caution with respect to some of the self-help advice we get, which is very individualistic, pull yourself up by your boot straps kind of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Joseph Reagle
I should’ve mentioned this earlier but there’s a great book on stoicism when you’re asking about that by William Irvine, called A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. And it really is, as you suggested, an up-to-date version of the ancient stoic philosophy. And so, he talks about how it emerged, and some of the differences between the Greek and the Roman. But the important thing is he says this is practical philosophy which isn’t taught in universities anymore. Now, it’s very formal, kind of a lot of history and theory.

But philosophy was supposed to be practical. It was supposed to give you some suggestions to provide guidance on how to live a good life. And I find Irvine’s book “A Guide to the Good Life” is full of really wonderful insights that are very applicable to the current day, to our immediate lives.

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

Joseph Reagle
Well, one of the things that’s just built into my personality, though I think it can also be developed, is I document everything. I’ve been blogging forever, microblogging forever. I have a mind map called Freeplane that I really like to use, so all my reading that’s going to Freeplane. I’m really fond of this application called Zim Wiki. It’s a personal Wiki, so you can just easily create pages, and tasks, and to dates. Maybe if people are familiar with Evernote, it’s kind of like that, but I like Zim Wiki a lot more.

So, I don’t have a very good memory, so whenever I need to remind myself or something or think about. Last time, I had to submit my expenses because we use this awful software in my work. Well, with the steps that I went through to make it work, and I have it all documented there, so I really love those sort of tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Joseph Reagle
A favorite habit? I ask myself, “Would I be happier person in the future if I did the thing that I’m waffling about doing?” So, maybe it’s brushing my teeth, or going to meditation, or whatever it might be, I try to think about my future self and whether he would be content and proud of the present self.

Pete Mockaitis
That is excellent. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers or listeners?

Joseph Reagle
This idea that self-optimizing can be suboptimal. I wrote a piece for The Guardian. That number, like a colleague just emailed me earlier today, saying, oh, she really loved that piece, and she wants to use it in her course.

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

Joseph Reagle
You can go to my website reagale.org, and I’m also jmreagale on Twitter.

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

Joseph Reagle
That’s a little bit difficult because then I would be setting myself up as a sort of self-help guru, which I’m being a little bit critical of. But I think people should be mindful of not only what they’re doing but why they’re doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joseph, thank you so much. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your lifehacking and optimally optimizing and falling into suboptimality. It’s been a lot of fun.

Joseph Reagle
Thank you, Pete.

423: Becoming Free to Focus with Michael Hyatt

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Michael Hyatt says: "What I'm after is... the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I'm not willing to compromise either."

Michael Hyatt offers useful concepts to upgrade your productivity and focus, including the  freedom compass, the zones of desire and drudgery, and more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to do more of what you want with the “yes, no, yes” formula
  2. Three beliefs that prevent you from delegating your tasks effectively
  3. How to feel like you’re winning each day with the daily big three

About Michael

Michael Hyatt is the founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership coaching and development firm twice listed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing US companies. A longtime publishing executive, Michael is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, now part of HarperCollins. He is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Your Best Year Ever, Living Forward, and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.
Michael is the creator of the Full Focus Planner, which combines quarterly goal-tracking and daily productivity in a proven system for personal and professional achievement. His blog and weekly podcast, Lead to Win, are go-to resources for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, executives, and aspiring leaders. He has been featured by Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Fast Companyand Wall Street Journal. Michael and his wife of 40 years, Gail, have five daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. They live just outside of Nashville, Tenn.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Hyatt Interview Transcript

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

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate being on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. I think we’ll have a ton of fun. But first I want to hear about something fun in your life. You mention your dog, Winston, is exceptional in your About page and I want to know why.

Michael Hyatt
He’s the perfect dog. His temperament is fantastic. He’s just so easygoing. He always obeys. I don’t know. I feel like we won the lottery with him. He’s an amazing dog.

Pete Mockaitis
How did you get him?

Michael Hyatt
Well, we found out about a breeder in Indiana, who bred Australian Labradoodles. We got the dog from her. Then we sent him to a trainer in Indiana, a lady who actually is a Russian immigrant, who trains dogs for the federal government and for state agencies and therapy dogs and all that. She had him for about six weeks. I don’t know what she did, but some kind of Russian thing, but it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Michael, I just love that so much because it’s like you eat, sleep, breathe people, development, and now even dog development. We’re going to find the best trainer in the world. We’re going to spend some deep focus time immersed and come back a renewed dog.

Michael Hyatt
Dog hacks. What can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. You’re unveiling some more wisdom in your latest book, Free to Focus. What’s the main idea or thesis behind this one?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the main thesis behind this is you can actually achieve more by doing less if you have the right productivity system. The problem with most productivity systems today is that they’re designed to make you more productive. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Here’s the problem.

People start out working a 12-hour day, they get some productivity hacks, adopt a few apps, they reduce it to eight hours and then they fill it up with more work. They try to be productive so they can be more productive.

I say productivity is a means to an end. You’ve got to be very clear about what the end is otherwise you’re just going to fill your life with work, you’re going to be overwhelmed, you’re going to be burned out, and you’re not going to get the kind of work-life balance that makes life rich and meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about defining the end, can you give us a couple of examples of how that gets articulated?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, absolutely. In the first part of the book I talk about stopping and kind of taking stock. Get off that hamster wheel and ask, “Where’s this hamster wheel going? Why am I running this race? What’s it all about?” I say the end game needs to be about freedom. More productivity should lead to greater freedom and specifically freedom in four areas.

I talk about the freedom to focus. Focus is a super power today in our distraction economy. If you want to move the needle in your business and in your life, if you want your business to grow, if you want to get ahead in your career, you’ve got to be able to focus and do the deep work, the creative work that really creates the breakthroughs in your business and in your personal life. The freedom to focus.

You also need the freedom to be present so that when you’re at your son’s Little League game, you’re not on your phone thinking about work or you’re out for a day with your spouse or you’re significant other, you’re not thinking about work or when you’re at work, you’re not thinking about something that’s going off the rails at home. The freedom to be present.

Then third, the freedom to be spontaneous so that your life’s not so managed and not every last second is so planned that you just can’t stop and enjoy life, smell the roses so to speak.

Then finally, the freedom – and this is really underrated, but the freedom to do nothing at all. All the brain research says that we’re the most creative, we experience the biggest breakthroughs when our minds are the most relaxed. That means we’ve got to intentionally have that white space where we do nothing.

I learned this when I was in Italy a few years ago. They have a saying in fact. They talk about a dolce far niente, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. It’s true. You think about when you have the breakthrough ideas, the most creative ideas, often it’s in the shower or out for a walk or doing something that amounts to nothing. That’s what I’m after is freedom. I think productivity should lead to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lovely turn of a phrase, the sweetness of doing nothing. I’m reminded maybe when you said Italy, it brings about images. I’m just thinking about just sort of strolling, just walking with a good friend, catching up and chatting. It’s like I enjoy doing nothing in those moments so much. It’s like I don’t even want to be burdened with having to think about where we’re going and where the restaurant is, just having faith that a good eatery will appear if that’s kind of what we’re up to. It’s much more fun.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, and I don’t think they have bad food in Italy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, in Italy you’re covered. Sure.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Everything I ate there was phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. That’s the process in terms of the steps as we’re stopping. We’re taking stock. We’re pointing to greater freedom and a few kind of particular forms of freedom. What comes next?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, in that same section, under Stop, talk about formulate, so formulate a clear vision for what your productivity, you want to accomplish with it. Then secondly, evaluate. This means taking stock of our workflow, our work style. I talk about a concept there called the freedom compass, which I think is really a big paradigm shift and a way to think about your work that makes it possible for you to focus on your highest and greatest work because not all work is created equal.

I talk about kind of a two-by-two matrix, where you have passion intersecting with proficiency. There’s some tasks – and imagine this rotated 45 degrees and you’ve got a compass, where true north is where your passion and your proficiency come together, the things you love, the things that you are deeply satisfying, that you enjoy, plus proficiency, the things that you’re good at.

Not just proficiency in your subjective opinion, but in an objective reality, where people are willing to pay you to do this. That I call the desire zone. That’s where you want to focus the bulk of your time and the bulk of your energy.

Directly south, directly below that is what I call the drudgery zone, things that you hate, you don’t have any passion around it and you’re not very good at. It’s going to be different for everybody, but for me it’s things that look like administrative kinds of activities, like managing my email inbox, managing my calendar, booking travel, even finding the FedEx box, just running errands. All that’s in my drudgery zone. It’s kind of a grind when I have to do that.

Then there’s also the disinterest zone, where you don’t have any passion, but you might be pretty good at it. A lot of people get trapped in this because maybe they were good at something, they lost the passion and they keep doing it because it keeps making them money, keeps bringing home the bacon.

For me, when I started out as an entrepreneur this was accounting. I did it because I didn’t want to pay somebody else to do it and I was really good at it, but I didn’t have any passion and that leads to boredom.

Then on the opposite side of the freedom compass from there, due west, would be what I call the distraction zone, where you like doing it, but you’re not very good at it and you end up escaping there and then it wasted a lot of time.

Again, the key, and it leads to the next part of the book, but the key is to eliminate everything that’s not in your desire zone, the things that you’re passionate about and proficient at, because that’s where you’re going to see the biggest growth, the biggest progress, the most results. That’s the chapter on evaluation.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a nice two-by-two matrix and a clever rotation that makes it a compass. When you talk about doing more of the good stuff and less of the drudgery, what are some of the best ways that we can accomplish that? You have some things about saying no and some things about outsourcing. How do we systematically get our proportions more and more in the desire space?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. One of the things is I think to set ourselves up for success. That’s actually that third chapter in that first section before we get to the Cut section, which is about rejuvenation. This is one of those things that’s easy to overlook because we live in the hustle economy. We’re encouraged to burn the candle at both ends, to work evenings and weekends. Elon Musk said unless you’re working 80 to 100 hours a week, you’re not going to make the progress you need to.

One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself if you want to be more productive. Getting a good night’s sleep, something as simple as that, can make the difference between whether you’re focused or productive the next day. I talk about sleep, nutrition, exercise, relationships. Those have a lot to do with how productive we are. That’s all the rejuvenation chapter.

But then moving into that second section, the section called Cut. The first one’s Stop. The second part of the framework is Cut. How do we prune all that stuff that’s not in our desire zone? It really does start with elimination. We’ve got to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t need to be done and the best way to do that is to head it off at the beginning by getting better at saying no.

Warren Buffet once said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything,” but how do we do that without being a jerk? In the book, I talk about how to do that. I talk about how to give a graceful no. I talk about it using a formula called Yes No Yes. It’s the positive no that William Ury talks about in his book, The Power of a Positive No.

Let me illustrate. I spent most of my career in the book publishing industry. I still to this day get a lot of requests from aspiring authors, who would like me to review their book proposal before they send it to an agent or a publisher. Now, I don’t really have time to do that. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t have time to do that. I have an email template that I use. I respond with that formula, yes, no, yes.

Here’s what it looks like. First of all, I start with an affirmation. I start off not resenting the fact that they asked me to review this proposal. But I’ll say something like, “Hey, congratulations. You’ve done what 97% of most aspiring authors will never do and that is create a written book proposal. That is a phenomenal first step. It’s a foundational step and an important one. Way to go.”

Then I move from the yes to the no. Here I want to give a very firm, unambiguous no, so there’s no misunderstanding. I’ll say something like this, “Unfortunately, in order to be faithful to my prior commitments, I have to say no.” I’ve made it very clear that I’m a person of integrity in terms of trying to be faithful to my other commitments, but I give them a firm no.

I don’t say, “Check back with me in a month. I’m a little busy right now,” because in a month it’s going to be the same story, so I might as well cut it off right now.

Then I end with a positive with a yes so that I leave a good taste in their mouth. I’ll say something like, “Best of luck with your publishing product. Let me know when it comes out. Can’t wait to pick up a copy. All the best. Thanks for honoring me with your request,” something like that.

I’ve never gotten a negative response when I follow up with an email like that. For the most part, people are just glad that they heard back from me because so often we send a request like that and we don’t hear because the person is procrastinating because they don’t know how to respond. They want to say no, but they don’t know how. I make it very clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. I find that when you talk about we don’t know how to respond and we procrastinate, I find that I get a lot of requests, it’s sort of like someone’s presenting me with an opportunity, but I don’t think that they’ve given me nearly enough information to even evaluate if it’s worth talking for 15 minutes about the thing.

I’m trying to craft my TextExpander, generic response, which says, “I will need to know more before I can tell you whether or not I can talk to you about this,” which feels a little bit like, “Oh well, someone’s really busy,” but that’s really how I feel. It’s like “You know your product/service/offer better than I do. What you’re saying might be cool, but I really have no idea what this is supposed to be. Where’s the value here? Could you explain that so that I could tell you if we can find 15 minutes?”

Michael Hyatt
See, that’s a perfect example of what I talk about in the next chapter on automation, where you take something like TextExpander or you could use your email apps signature capability, but come up with a list of email templates so that you can respond to the most common kinds of requests so that you don’t have to create it from scratch every time.

I’ve tried to develop sort of this template mentality, where I ask myself if this task I’m about to do if I think I’m going to have to do it again in the future, why not take a few extra minutes now, do it right, save it as a template or a TextExpander snippet so that I can reuse it in the future and not have to reinvent the wheel every time.

For that example, a great way to deal with that using the Yes, No, Yes framework would be to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me for your podcast. I’m honored. I would be happy to consider it, but I need just a little bit more information.” Then you’d go through the information that you need and then let it go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. That is a nice sentence. “I’d be happy to consider it. I need some more information.” Tell me, what are some other top templates you find yourself using again and again?

Michael Hyatt
Well, here’s what I did, how I started this. This is probably about 15 years ago. I noticed that there was sort of a limited range of requests that I was getting. I would get requests from people who wanted me to consider a speaking engagement or wanted me to consider serving on a non-profit board or make a charitable contribution or just have coffee with me so they could pick my brain. There were about 40 or 50 of these as I catalogued them.

Then what I tried to do – I didn’t sit down and write all these templates at once – instead what I began to do is incrementally populate a template database. At the time I was using email signatures to do this. Now TextExpander makes it even cooler. But to write these one at a time until I had a library of templates.

Every time one of those requests comes in now, I look for the template where I can respond, very rare that I don’t have a template. Instead of taking 10 or 20 minutes, now it just takes a few seconds.

But it’s not just email. For example, I use Apple Keynote for creating slide decks. If I public speech that I’m going to give or a webinar that I have to give, I always start with a template, like with a webinar. I’ve got seven main parts to all my webinars. They always start the same way. They’ve got the same transitions and the same pivots and the same ending and all that.

It’s kind of like paint by numbers, but again, I’m starting with sort of that template mentality of if I’m going to do this again, how can I do it right the first time so I can reuse it, polish it, improve it, and get better at this and take less time as I do it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s so much good stuff here. I want to dig in in all kinds of places, but it would be too scattered. First, let’s chat a little bit in the realm of going back to stopping for a moment. You mentioned rejuvenation. I think that we’ve heard from a few sleep doctors, a lot of good tips there and I’m a huge advocate for that. It’s so important.

But I want to get your take on when it comes to nutrition and exercise, boy, there’s a lot of advice out there. What have you found ultimately really yields good quality rejuvenation, energy, and freedoms?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, disclaimer, I’m not a physiologist or a doctor or a fitness trainer or any of that. What I do know is what works for me and I have studied a little bit.

But with regard to nutrition, I found that one of the best things to do is to really take it easy on the carbs. A high-carbohydrate diet creates a lot of problems in terms of focus and productivity. It’s why when we eat lot-quality carbs and we eat a lot of these kind of carbs like at lunch, like I’m talking about white bread, pizza, mashed potatoes, pasta, that’s why we kind of go into that funk in the afternoon and get sleepy because that turns to sugar very quickly. It burns up fast and it just doesn’t keep our blood sugar level at a level where we could be really productive.

One of the things I’ve done, and this is – I may lose some of your listeners here – but one of the things I’ve done for several months now is I’ve been on the keto diet. That’s a high fat moderate diet, a moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet. One of the things I had no idea about was how much brain fog I had until I started doing this diet.

It was actually developed back in the 1930s to help epileptic children deal with seizures. There’s a cognitive relationship between this diet, high fat, and your cognitive function. That’s been helpful to me.

I’m very careful about taking supplements, about checking my blood a couple times a week with my physical – or a couple times a week, a couple times a year with my physician, just making sure that my markers are right so that can serve as an early warning sign to head off problems before they happen.

Then I work out five to six days a week usually about an hour, three days of cardio, three days of strength training. All that just keeps my energy level up. It’s important to move in some way like that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you do the cardio or the strength training, what kind of intensity are you shooting for?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I would say moderate intensity. I’m kind of an achiever, so I’m always trying to beat my personal best. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life that I’ve ever been in. I do work with a trainer, who prescribes a program for me. We get together once a month and reevaluate the program and see where I want to go from there.

I was training for a half marathon this spring, but I injured my foot, so I’m going to back that off till this fall. But typically what I’ll do on the cardio before I had the injury is that I’ll run about 30 minutes of interval training twice a week and then I’ll do a long run and a progressively longer run on Saturdays. Yeah, it depends on what I’m training for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Well, so now, talk about cutting again. You mentioned that there’s something that we should permanently remove from our to-do list, what is this?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, you should remove the drudgeries of stuff. That’s where you really start is with the drudgery zone activities. Those are not the best and highest use of you. They’re not going to create leverage in your business or your personal life. You’ve got to really focus on those desire zone activities.

Again, that begins with elimination and it goes to automation, and then that final chapter there is all about delegation, which one of the things I found with people that have businesses or leaders, until you can scale yourself, you can’t scale your business.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. All right, so when it comes to that delegation, any particular tips in terms of where to get started if you’re having trouble letting go of anything?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I think the first thing that we’ve got to do, Pete, is confront sort of the limiting beliefs or the way that we think about delegation. In my experience with coaching now hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs there’s usually three sentences that rattle around in their head. The first one is “If I want it done right, I have to do it,” what?

Pete Mockaitis
Myself.

Michael Hyatt
Right. Or here’s another sentence that they have. This would be a second sentence. “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself.” Or they say, “I can’t really afford additional help right now. I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.” As long as yourself is at the center of all this, you’re not going to be able to grow, you’re not going to develop additional capacity, you’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Let’s look at those one at a time. To the person who says “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself,” it’s true. It does take longer to explain it the first time, but once you explain it the first time and give people an opportunity to do it so that they can be trained, then you save yourself all the time because you never have to touch it again.

“In terms of if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” here’s the beauty of the freedom compass. What’s in your drudgery zone, might be in somebody else’s desire zone. If you hire right so that you have compatible people that offset what’s in your drudgery zone with what’s in their desire zone, then not only can they do it as well as you could do it, they can do it better than you could imagine doing it.

That’s basically how I’ve grown my entire business. I have 35 full-time people. Last year we grew 62%. I hire specifically for people that are doing their desire zone activities so that everybody’s functioning in their strengths and doing the things that they love and the things that they’re proficient at. That’s a real key.

Then the whole thing about affording, “I can’t afford somebody to do it,” you can take baby steps. I’m not advocating going out and hiring a big staff or even hiring somebody full time. You can start as a solopreneur or as a leader just with a part time virtual assistant. That’s how I started.

Back in 2011 when I left the big corporate world, where I was managing a large company where we were doing a quarter of a billion dollars a year and then I stepped into a solopreneur job, where I couldn’t even find a FedEx box. I had to start small. I hired a virtual executive assistant, who worked five hours a week. I did that for a couple of weeks. I saw the value of it. Then I upped their time to about 10 hours a week, then 15 hours, and 20 hours.

But here’s how the conversation often goes. I had a client by the name of Greg. Greg said, “Look, I’ve got a business where I have to have a web presence. I know just kind of enough about web design and web development to do it myself. It’s probably not the best use of my time, but I really don’t feel like I can afford somebody else to do it now.”

I said, “Well, let me ask you a question, Greg. How much do you bill for? What’s your hourly rate?” He said “150 dollars an hour.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “What would it cost you to get a WordPress developer, somebody that was really good that knew what they were doing? They could do a little bit of design work too.” He said, “Probably 50 dollars an hour.” I said, “Then why are you paying somebody 150 dollars an hour that you admit isn’t that good?”

The lights went on. He went, “Wow.” I said, “If you hired somebody at 50 dollars an hour, it would free you up to bill for that additional time and you’d come out ahead 100 dollars an hour.” That’s how we have to think about delegation. It requires an investment first, but boy, that’s when we begin to reap the rewards and that’s when we begin to clone ourselves in a sense because we’ve got other people that are helping us.

Pete Mockaitis
For folks who are professionals and not business owners, what are some key things you’d recommend they delegate?

Michael Hyatt
I think the same thing. Go back to the freedom compass. Start with the drudgery zone because your company is probably not paying you to do those things that you don’t love and those things that you’re not proficient at. If they are, you’re in the wrong job. Get rid of those things because it’s not the best and highest use of you.

Then go to the disinterest zone, then the distraction zone. Again, focus on those few things that really create the leverage, the things that your employer thinks the results you ought to be delivering. That’s where you’re going to see the advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. When it comes to cutting, how do you recommend we cut distractions?

Michael Hyatt
Well, you’ve got to have an offensive plan to begin with. I talk in the book about how to design your quarter, how to design your week and how to design your day. Once you have a good offensive plan, then you’ve got to come up with a defensive plan for the interruptions. I distinguish between interruptions and distractions, two different things.

Interruptions are the external things. It’s people dropping by to visit. It’s that text message you get. It’s people interrupting you. I often talk to leaders who say, “I can’t get my own work done because I’ve got so many people interrupting me to help them with their work.” I think one of the best strategies is to have an offense on those two.

First of all, schedule time to get your most important work done. Make it a commitment and put it on your calendar. What gets scheduled is what gets done.

Then, preempt those interruptions by going to the people who are most likely to interrupt you, and you know how they are, go to those people and say, “Hey, look, I’m about to do some really important, focused work. It’s important that I don’t get interrupted, but I want to be available to serve you, so are there any questions you have, anything I can help you with before I go into this session?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Hyatt
This is awesome because, now all of the sudden, you’ve put them on notice and you’ve also not been a jerk about it. You’ve communicated that you want to help them, but you kind of want to do it on your terms.

Then you’ve got distractions. Now distractions are all the stuff that look external, but are really a problem with ourselves with self-control. This could be jumping over to Facebook. The problem is we’ve got multi-billion dollar-social media companies, who are doing a tremendous amount of research and whose entire business model is built on high jacking our psychology and manipulating our dopamine.

They want us to spend as much time on those platforms as possible. Why? Because they’re repackaging our attention and they’re selling it to the highest bidder in the form of advertisers. We have to combat that. The best way to do it, I think, is to use technology to fight technology.

For example, my smartphone, it looks like a really cool device. It does a gazillion things. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max. It does a bazillion things, but it’s a very sophisticated distraction device if I’m not careful. On my phone, I’ve removed email. I’ve removed Slack, which is our internal communication program. And I’ve removed all social media with the exception of Instagram because I’m trying to build my Instagram following.

But even there I’ve used the technology to fight technology. I go into settings, screen time, and I limit my use of Instagram to 30 minutes a day. Even better, I gave my phone to my wife and I said “Set a passcode for that so that I can’t cheat and don’t tell me the passcode.” When my time is up on Instagram, my time is up.

There’s a great app for the desktop that works on Windows or Mac or any platform called Freedom. You can find it at Freedom.to. I don’t have any relationship with them except that I use this program and love it. But it allows you to selectively turn off apps and websites for a specific period of time, which allows you to stay focused when you do your most creative breakthrough kind of work.

The only way to defeat Freedom is to completely reboot your computer. That gives me just friction so that I can remember my intention that I’m trying to get focused work done. It enables me to avoid the distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. What do you think about mindfulness practice when it comes to building the capacity to resist distraction?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s really important. I meditate every morning for 15 minutes. It just gives me the opportunity to collect my thoughts, to kind of get centered, to get focused, to get re-connected with my most important priorities. Again, it kind of goes back to the freedom that I talked about before, the freedom to do nothing. It’s often underrated.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’d love to dig in for a moment now. When you say meditation, are you referring to more of a mind training exercise or more of a prayer exercise?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I actually do both. I do pray. I also do just straight up meditation. I use an app called 1 Giant Mind. Are you familiar with that?

Pete Mockaitis
I know a couple. I don’t know that one.

Michael Hyatt
It’s awesome. If you’re familiar with Headspace-

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Hyatt
It’s kind of similar to that, but I actually like it better and it’s free. But 1 Giant Mind. It has 12 initial lessons and then you can go into a 30-day challenge, but the instruction is fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed a little bit of all of them in terms of Calm, Simple Habit, Headspace. They all give me a little bit of a different perspective. I go, oh yeah, that’s a really good one. Thank you. Much appreciated. We’ll check out another one. Cool.

Michael Hyatt
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so we talked about stopping. We talked about cutting. Now what?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, so now we get to that third section of the book, which is called Act. It’s a little bit counterintuitive because you’d think that Act ought to come first, but I find that you’ve got to stop, kind of reflect where you want to go, then you need to cut or prune because anything that’s healthy has to be pruned from time to time, but now it’s time to act.

Now, hopefully, you’ve gotten rid of all the stuff that’s in your drudgery zone, a lot of the stuff in your disinterest and distractions zones and now we’re going to focus on how to get more done in your desire zone, the things that you love and the things that you’re good at. That begins with a chapter called consolidate. This is all about designing your ideal week.

The idea is that you want to design a week as if you were in 100% control of your time and resources. What would that look like? If you really wanted to give it some intelligent design and not just be reactive to what came over the transom and schedule those things, but actually we’re very proactive about it.

Here’s how mine works for example. First of all, I’m going to start with on Mondays is when I have my internal team meetings. I batch all these together for one simple reason. It’s the concept of context switching.

In other words, anytime I switch a context, for example, I go from a meeting to I go to some time where I’m working on a project to maybe I’m going to record some video, anytime I go to a different context, there’s a certain amount of ramp up time, a certain amount of time to kind of get into the groove, find my equilibrium and get into flow. Well, the less you can do that, the more momentum you can build.

When I get into that space in my head of meetings and I’m in meeting mode, then I just batch them altogether. Internal meetings are all on Monday.

Tuesday, is all about what I call backstage time. This is my time for preparation on the front stage. Everybody’s front stage is going to look different, but the front stage is what your employer or your clients are paying you, that’s what you’re delivering, but there’s always some backstage work that has to be done in order to do that.

If you’re a lawyer, for example, your front stage might be arguing a case before a court or negotiating a contract on behalf of a client, but there’s a lot of research in the backstage that has to go into that preparation. For me, Tuesday is all about that preparation.

Wednesday and Thursday for me are front stage activities. For example, when I record my podcast, I do that in a day and a half once a quarter and I record 13 episodes in a row. It takes me a day and a half, but then I don’t think about it for another quarter. I get into that headspace and I stay focused and knock it out.

Then on Friday is when I try to consolidate my external meetings. If anybody wants to meet with me, they come in from out of town or a vendor or a client or whatever, I try to move those to Friday. Why? Because I don’t want those meetings interrupting my progress on my front stage days or my back stage days.

Then, of course, I have – and a lot of people don’t know about this – but there’s actually an offstage. All of life doesn’t have to be work. On the weekends, on Saturday and Sunday for me, I’m not thinking about work. I don’t talk about work. I don’t read about work. I don’t do work. Why? Because I want to get back in on Monday morning totally rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running.

That for me is my ideal week. This could be a game changer for people to begin to get some sense of control back. I would say, Pete, probably in any given week, I’ll probably approximate that about 80%. Things are going to happen. I don’t try to be legalistic about it. But boy, going into the week with a plan is a whole lot better than just reacting to what comes over the transom. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Yes. What do you think about in terms of total hours of work in a day and a week, energy levels and optimizing that?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I keep my work to 40 hours a week. I can tell you that the science and I quote it in the book, but once you get past about 55 hours a week, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time you work and the level of productivity you have. It actually goes backwards after you give 55 hours. There’s been a lot of study done on this.

But the average person is buying into what I call the hustle fallacy, where you’ve got to work 80 hours, you’ve got to work 100 hours. That’s a recipe for burnout. It’s also a recipe for screwing up your life, screwing up your health, screwing up your most important relationships.

What I’m after, personally, is what I call the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I’m not willing to compromise either for the sake of the other one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get your take, I don’t know if you would liken yourself to this, but I think of, hey, Michael Hyatt, Elon Musk, two titans, very different perspectives. I guess, when it comes to Elon Musk it’s like I cannot deny that is one successful dude, who has made a lot of things happen and he espouses very much the hustle mentality.

Michael Hyatt
He does.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we reconcile that?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think it depends on you define success. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He, by his own admission, doesn’t talk to his kids hardly. He’s sleeping at the factory so much so that his fans started a Kickstarter page to buy him a new couch, kind of as a joke, so he’d have something better to sleep on. He’s appeared in the media and said some crazy things, which have led even to fines from the SEC and other federal agencies.

I think it depends on how you define success. Look, I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue, but here’s the thing. Here’s what’s possible. Last year I took off 160 days, now that counts weekends, so 160 days including a one-month sabbatical, which I’ve done every year for the last eight years and my business grew 62%.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Michael Hyatt
I really think this idea of achieving more by doing less – the hustle fallacy, I want to keep my health. I’d like to live a long time. I’ve been married for 40 years, almost 41 years. I have 5 grown daughters, who I adore and who like me. This doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s not because I’m lucky, but I’ve tried to focus on those things.

Again, I’m not trying to hold myself up as the paragon of virtue, but I’m just saying that there’s a different model for success than the one that Elon Musk espouses. I’m not trying to judge him, but just look at the fruit, look at the results.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well done. Thank you. Well, tell me before we sort of shift gears and do your favorite things, any sort of key mistakes folks make when they’re trying to say, “Heck yes, I want to get free to focus and do these things.” What are some roadblocks or some fumbles folks make along the way as they’re trying to enact this stuff?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think the biggest tip I can give people is to get a plan for your day. This is where you’re going to get the biggest leap forward. I advocate something called the daily big three. Here’s how it goes for most people. They start the day – if they have a to-do list, and not everybody works with a to-do list, which is also a guarantee for being reactive, but let’s say you have a to-do list. The average person’s going to have somewhere between 20 and 25 items on that list.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Before they begin the day, they’re already feeling overwhelmed, like there’s no way that I can accomplish what’s on my list. They get to the end of the day and even if they’ve done half of it, where do they focus? On the half they didn’t get done. They go to bed defeated. This becomes a vicious cycle. It creates a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of frustration and ultimately leads to burnout.

But the problem is they’ve created a game, they’ve set themselves up to fail by creating a game that they can’t possibly win. What I suggest is instead of that, go ahead and identify the three highest leveraged tasks that you can do today. Not all tasks are created equal. We know from the Pareto principle that 20% of the effort drives 80% of the results.

Let’s just go ahead on the front end and say “What are the three most important things that I can do today?” Now all of the sudden that seems manageable. At the end of the day when I accomplish those three things, even if I didn’t do all the other trivial things, at least I got the most important things done.

You do three important tasks like that a day, you do it 250 days a year, which is the average number of workdays people have, that’s 750 important things per year. That, more than anything else, will give you a sense of control and give you a sense that you’re winning. When you feel like you’re winning, it builds your confidence and it builds your momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I like feeling like I’m winning. Well said.

Michael Hyatt
Me too. Me too.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. I think one of my most favorite quotes is one by Warren Buffet. He said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Michael Hyatt
I would say the research that I’ve done into sleep has been probably the most rewarding, especially into naps because I sort of knew intuitively that napping was a powerful way to rejuvenate and kind of reboot in the middle of the day. I’ve faithfully practiced it for about 30 years.

I took a nap today, so between interviews I laid down for 20 minutes, fell to sleep – I trained myself to fall to sleep quickly – I wake up and I’m a little bit groggy maybe for about ten minutes or so, drink a cup of coffee, and then it’s like I’m rebooted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to know, how do you train yourself to fall asleep quickly?

Michael Hyatt
It’s not unlike training yourself to meditate. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to fall asleep. What I do is kind of try to focus on my breathing and focus on relaxing. If you do that and do it routinely, you’ll find yourself falling asleep. If you don’t fall asleep, it’s still rejuvenating, even if you do nothing but put your feet up and relax.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Michael Hyatt
I’m one of those guys, I read a ton. I tend to focus on the books that I’ve read most recently. The book that I love that I just finished here about two weeks ago was Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Have you read that?

Pete Mockaitis
I have perused it. Can you tell me maybe a takeaway that was particularly valuable for you?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the biggest one was on the value of high-quality leisure, so really being intentional about your leisure time and how it correlates to our work, it makes us more productive at work. But that was really challenging and really exciting to think about.

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

Michael Hyatt
Let me think here for a second. I would say the tool that I’m enjoying the most right now is a tool called Notion. Have you heard of it?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Michael Hyatt
Notion is kind of like a personal Wiki. It could be. A lot of people are using it as an Evernote replacement. I’m still using Evernote, but only as a digital junk drawer. Notion is where I put structured information, information I want to get back to. It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s an outstanding tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Michael Hyatt
A favorite habit without question is my morning routine, just going through my drill every morning, setting myself up for high performance. Again, I learned this from the world of athletics, where the world’s best athletes have a pre-game ritual. I think of my morning time as a pre-game ritual. That’s the time when I’m going to pray, the time I’m going to meditate, the time I’m going to exercise and get fueled for the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s that one about winning at work and succeeding at life. I think that with my clients, that’s just captivated their imagination and gets them really excited because I think most people have kind of fallen into this idea that you’ve got to give up one or the other. You can’t have both. I think when people are given a model, and that’s what I try to do in the book, Free to Focus, for how that can be done, it resonates with people.

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

Michael Hyatt
Well, in terms of the book, I would go to FreeToFocusBook.com. It has links to all the places where you can buy the book, but more importantly, it also has 500 dollars’ worth of free bonus material related to the book that you can get just by turning in your receipt. That’s all you’ve got to do. Turn in your receipt, claim the free bonuses. It has some amazing stuff including the audio version of the book for free. Then for all things related to me, just MichaelHyatt – Hyatt with a Y, not an I – MichaelHyatt.com.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I would say that in this kind of distraction economy where people are so sidetracked and there’s so much sideways energy and so much fake working going on, if you can learn to focus, that could become a super power.

I would just encourage people to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from their peers by being the person that really can deliver the highly creative, deeply important work that moves their business forward, that moves their personal work forward because so many people are sidetracked and distracted. You can differentiate yourself and make a real difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Michael, this has been a ton of fun. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it.

418: Separating Your Self-Worth from Your Productivity with Rahaf Harfoush

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Rahaf Harfoush says: "We have this constant narrative that if we're not always hustling... that we're shameful and that we don't deserve our own success."

Rahaf Harfoush masterfully unpacks history, psychology, philosophy, and more to discover how we got obsessed with hustling / productivity…and how that obsession often hurts our  creative output.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How productivity and creativity are incompatible
  2. The reverberating negative impact of the 2008 economic recession on how we work
  3. Best practices for optimizing your limited reserve of energy

About Rahaf

Rahaf is a Digital Anthropologist, Best-Selling Author, and Speaker researching the impacts of emerging technologies on our society. She focuses on understanding the deep (and often hidden) behavioral shifts that are taking place within organizations and individuals as global digital infrastructures enable the unprecedented exchange of ideas, information, and opinions. She teaches Innovation and Disruptive Business Models at SciencePo’s Masters of Finance and Economics Program in Paris.

She’s worked with organizations like Starwood Capital Group, Deutsche Bank, Estée Lauder, UNESCO, The OECD, A1, ING Direct, and  more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rahaf Harfoush Interview Transcript

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk about your stuff, but first I want to hear about something you write that the world doesn’t see. You say that you write fiction secretly. What’s this about?

Rahaf Harfoush
I just love losing myself in a good fiction story, so I’ve just been toying around with thrillers and murder mysteries and just things that I write. Nobody has seen any of this yet, so maybe one day I’ll work up the courage to release that, but it’s a really nice outlet. It’s really complimentary to the nonfiction writing that I do for my regular job. It’s an interesting balance. It stretches my abilities in different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so murder mystery, that’s intriguing. How do you come up with creative ways for people to die?

Rahaf Harfoush
Let’s just say if anything was ever to happen to my husband and they looked at my Google searches, I think I would be in trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Although that’s the-

Rahaf Harfoush
I’m always Googling the most random things. It’s always like, “How long does it take for a body to do this?” “What happens if you do that?” My husband always laughs because he goes, “Honestly, you better hope nobody ever looks at your search history.” Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s actually perfect if you really were going to do some malfeasance, then having that as a cover would be great. “Well, I am an amateur novelist. This is all part of the research, detective. Look elsewhere.”

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, that could be the big plan.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, again, I really appreciate you’re up late in France, taking the time to chat. I’m excited to dig into it. One book you’ve got out, it’s no secret, Hustle and Float. There’s so much good stuff in it. Could you share, for starters, perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery that you came about when you were putting the book together?

Rahaf Harfoush
The most fascinating thing that I experienced when writing this book was how there was often a gap in my own behavior and my own knowledge. It was like really frustrating because or I would originally be researching stuff like burnout and the need to meditate and things like that. Then even though I was writing about them rationally, I would be doing behaviors that were the opposite. That was a thing.

The other thing was, this was a book that was written to try to understand why we often act against our own creative performance, against our own creative best interests. I guess what surprised me was that I was surprised by how much these forces were influencing my life and how much they were impacting the way I was approaching my job, my work, my performance, my productivity.

There were moments when I would finish researching something, identify how it was manifesting in my own life and just really be like “Wow, I cannot believe that this narrative that has developed over the last 50 years is the reason why I do X or the reason why I can’t do this, or that.”

That was really interesting. It was almost like peeling back the layers of an OS and kind of looking into the code and realizing there’s all sorts of stuff in there that are determining your decisions that you never knew.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very intriguing. When you talk about the phrase ‘acting against our own creative best interests,’ what exactly do you mean by that and can you give us a rich example?

Rahaf Harfoush
What I found out in my own experience and in talking to hundreds of professional creatives—so strategists, entrepreneurs, leaders, managers, writers, designers, lawyers, accountants—was that people who were high performers or people who identified as high performers had all experienced at least once in their career a time where they were burnt out, where they experienced physical or mental symptoms as a result of overwork.

The thing that really intrigued me about this research was I asked them, “Did you try frameworks? Did you have the knowledge to prevent this?” They all said yes. This was really interesting to me because that meant that the problem wasn’t a lack of knowhow.

It wasn’t like you were going to open the door and be like, “Hey guys, I want to introduce you to this thing called napping, and this thing called vacations. You should really try it one day.” It’s like we all knew what we should be doing and none of us were doing it.

When I started to look to understand why, I realized that our work culture has taken two really big important concepts—productivity and creativity—and we’ve shoved them together to create our modern work culture. The problem is is that these two things are not compatible and when we try to chase our obsession with being productive, we end up hurting our creative performance. We end up getting in our own way.

We end up getting in our own way even when we know better, even when we feel tired, even when we sense burnout coming on, we can’t seem to stop ourselves. This contradiction in behavior from smart, intelligent, ambitious people—I was like, I have to figure out what’s going on. That’s kind of what the general gist of the book is about.

An example would be that you’re working on a client project or you’re writing something or researching something and you keep pushing yourself. Even though you’re tired and even though you know that the best thing you could do for yourself would be to step away, you don’t. You pull an all-nighter. You don’t get sleep. You start skipping meals. Your health starts to suffer.

You do all of these things in pursuit of this productive goal, but in reality every step that you’re taking is actually making it more difficult for you to creatively perform. I’ve seen this across the board. I have seen lawyers, I have seen writers, I experienced this myself firsthand.

I had such a severe round of burnout that I was incapable of doing anything for my job for weeks. My hair fell out. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. It was actually, in all honesty, absolutely terrifying. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I never want to experience anything like that again.

The fact that it was totally preventable, was the most frustrating thing because even when I was at my worst, even when I was so sick, I was still kind of shaming myself about it. Why weren’t you strong enough? Why can’t you just push through? Why can’t you just hustle harder? Why can’t you just keep getting up in the morning? There was this like never-ending narrative of shame that was pushing me.

That’s when I was like, okay, I need to get to the bottom of this because this way of working is not sustainable and if I want to have a long and fruitful career, I have to find a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. What drama, losing hair, unable to work. Wow. That is primed nicely. Then tell us, when it comes to these narratives or wrong ideas or these behaviors, what’s kind of fundamentally going on inside our brains that causes us to do these things that are working against our own interest?

Rahaf Harfoush
What you realize is that you are this person and you think you’re this rational, intelligent person, but really you are in the middle of this crazy mix of I call them the three forces, which are your systems, your stories and yourself. In other words, the history, how our work culture evolved, how our thinking about idolizing productivity, why work is considered to be morally good, all these things, how those ideas developed.

You have just the history of productivity systems and how businesses evolved. You have the stories that we tell ourselves about success, so all those articles that you see about why you should get up at 4:30 in the morning to get the job done, how we sort of worship productive people, how any magazine cover, business magazine cover, you’ll see the ‘secrets of the highly productive people,’ ‘get more done.’

We have this reinforcing narrative that takes thing like the American dream, if you just work hard enough, you’ll be successful, combined with this obsession of being busy and productive. We have these stories that we tell ourselves about what success looks like in our culture.

Then finally you have ourselves, which is our body, how our brains and bodies are wired. These three forces together mix and they give us a very specific set of beliefs about the role that work plays in our lives, the role that it plays and links to our self-worth, to our identity, to our value in society, to whether or not we’re worthy, whether or not we’re enough, to whether or not we have accomplished our goals and what that means, to our social standing.

You have this really complex emotional relationship that’s been built on years and years and years and years of stories and belief systems and attitudes and reinforced narratives that you see in the media. Then you now have this new era of work, where most of us are being paid to do creative work, knowledge work.

Here we are trying to do a type of work, but we’re forcing ourselves to evaluate our performance based on systems that were designed during the industrial revolution, systems that weren’t designed for the type of work that we’re doing. They weren’t designed for us. Plus, we have this constant narrative that if we’re not always hustling, always pursuing, always chasing, that we’re shameful and that we don’t deserve our own success.

When you look and you see, for example, why is it that most people check email on their vacations or most people don’t even take the full allocation of vacations that they have, it’s not because they don’t want to enjoy their vacation. It’s because we have these deep drivers that are linked to our vulnerabilities and our ego that are convincing us that our work is linked to our worth as a human being.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh, this is so good, so good. What’s funny, as you were speaking, I was transported to a time I was on a fishing, outdoorsy vacation with my BFF, Connor, and company. We had a fishing guide. We were doing fishing. It was kind of fun to do, hanging out, nice sunny day. Then in the afternoon, I remember Connor, he looked at his phone and his emails and then he said out loud, “Why am I looking at my email?” He was like genuinely bewildered that it just kind of happened to his surprise.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, it’s a powerful motivator.

Pete Mockaitis
It wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t deeply addictedly habitual because some folks – I guess there’s a whole continuum or spectrum of that behavior. But it happened and it surprised him. I was sort of surprised as well. It was like, “Yeah, why do we do that?” It sounds like you’ve actually gotten somewhat to the bottom of the answer, why do we do that?

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. It’s really sad in a way because we’ve put so much of ourselves, which is now tied up in our jobs. When I was going through my burnout, the thing that kept rattling around in my brain the whole time was, “If I’m a writer that can’t write, what do you do with a writer that can’t write? Who am I if I’m not a writer?” I didn’t realize how much I had absorbed that part of what I do into who I was.

Then you start to understand, okay, now we’re dealing with all of this economic turbulence, we’re dealing with automation, we’re dealing with new industries, we’re dealing with globalization and all of these things are shaking the foundations of what we use to define as work. The definition of what work is, what a jobs is, what a career is, that’s all changing.  But all of that is so linked to how we see ourselves and how we see each other.

Of course we’re going to get a little bit nervous when people start rattling at that foundation. It makes sense that we’re behaving this way.

I’ll tell you a super really quick anecdote. During the 2008 financial crisis, this really crazy thing happened where a lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people were out of work. There was a lot of panic. But during this time, job satisfaction went up.

Even though during the financial crisis when companies fired people that meant that the rest of the work had to be divided amongst the people that were left. A lot of people suddenly found themselves doing 1.5 jobs, 1.75 jobs, maybe even 2 jobs, but because everyone was so terrified of getting laid off, happiness at work during that time actually increased. Job satisfaction went up because people were just so grateful to have a job.

At the same time, they were too afraid to ask for time off, they were too afraid to ask for extra help. We sort of solidified this traumatic economic experience, but we fused it with this bizarre thread of happiness, which I think kind of scrambled our brains a little bit.

Then when the economy recovered, many companies didn’t hire all those people back because they thought, “Huh, we’re getting by fine without it.” Many people sort of kept the link between their job satisfaction and the overwork they were performing and that overwork became the norm and it also became a reflection of the security that they had during a time of incredible economic turbulence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. You’re saying that – and maybe you have some data to back this up – that if you look at workers in say 2000 to 2007, sort of pre-2008 recession, to now, there’s a whole lot more hustling and idolization of the hustle now as compared to a mere 12 years ago.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. Yeah and it almost acts like – in the book there’s a whole chapter devoted on it in the book, but it’s almost like a form of Stockholm Syndrome. We ended up being exposed to these really unpleasant working conditions. People were working twice as hard for half the pay basically or doing two jobs, getting paid for one job.

I think the Wall Street Journal called them the rise of super jobs, where suddenly everybody was expected to do a lot more than before. But at the same time, because we were so grateful for the opportunity, we were still like yes. It was still seen as a good thing. We almost emotionally imprinted a different norm of work.

I talk a lot about the history of work, but for our generation and for us and all of us now, the 2008 financial crisis was one of the most defining economic moments. Most people in some capacity were touched by it or knew people that were impacted by it. It’s this very important emotional part of our work history.

We sometimes overlook the fact that it kind of changed a bit our approach to how we look at what work norms were and we never really bounced back from that. Even though the economy quote/unquote recovered June of 2009, we still maintained those same behaviors. It’s not like the economy recovered and suddenly companies were like, “You can go back to working one job.” It’s like the economy recovered and they were like, “Yup, this is the new normal,” and we never went back.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Let’s talk about identity first because that sounds huge with regard to being a master skeleton key that can unlock a bunch of this stuff.

You reflected, “Hey, what do you do with a writer who can’t write?” I’ve got the tune ‘what do you do with a drunken sailor’ in my head now. That notion that our identity, our worth, our value is wrapped up in our work and what we’re producing, can you deconstruct this for us in terms of if that’s not it, what is, and how do we combat this tendency to identify our very worth with our productivity in our jobs?

Rahaf Harfoush
It’s a really fascinating story because – I went back and I sort of traced the history of work, all the way back, especially in America, going back to the Puritan work ethic. I’ve heard this phrase – I don’t know how familiar you are with the Puritan work ethic – I had heard this phrase so many times over the years, but I never really understood the finer details of what that meant.

What did the Puritans actually mean? Where did this work ethic come from? It turns out that they believed that when you were born that your soul was predetermined, meaning before you were born God had already decided if you were going to go to heaven or not. God already knew. This was already all written. But they didn’t know, so they spent their entire lives looking for signs of which way God had decided, so signs that they were chosen or signs that they were not chosen.

Because of this, they kind of hypothesized that the type of person that God would choose would be somebody who was respectful, industrious, hardworking. These norms emerged where if you were hard working and if you were not lazy, which was also synonymous with being immoral, that if you were hardworking, then it’s clear that you were chosen.

From the very early, early point of work culture history, we started linking work with morality, work as being an indicator of the goodness or badness of your inherent self.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so fascinating because I’m thinking right now from Christian theological perspectives, there’s plenty of occasions when Jesus went away to a deserted place or he was talking about Mary and Martha and how the person doing all the work – he was like, hey, the person not doing the work has actually chosen the better half.

It’s interesting that the Puritanical work culture chose to, I guess preferentially, select the verses that kind of promote the industriousness over the others because even in the scriptures themselves, there’s a pretty good case to be made for rest, silence, rejuvenation, and not just work, work, work, work, work.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. But you also have a lot of quotes about idle hands do the devil’s work. I think that’s it or something like that. From the very beginning, we started linking our work to our worth as a person. The work that we did was inherently linked to whether or not we were good or not.

That’s a really kind of fundamental building block right there. That also never really went away. We just built more and more and more on top of it. We just added more narratives. Then with the American dream it was – think about it this way – if how hard you work depends on your goodness or badness, then the American dream also says that if you work hard enough, you’ll be successful.

The problem with the American dream ideology is that the flip side was if you’re not successful, you’re not working hard enough. When you couple that with this Puritan ideology, if you’re not working hard enough, it must mean you’re not good enough.

All of the sudden we’re not just talking about a job. We’re talking about the moral sanctity of your soul. We’re talking about your worth as a person. We’re talking about the value that you bring.

We have created a culture now where, again, combined with the economic things that happened in 2008, combined with the way we worship startup entrepreneurs and tech titans and billionaires. All these little signals come together to form this almost concoction that creates this ideal of what we think work should be, the role it should have in our lives and who we are in reaction to what we do.

All of that together forms a really strong bridge between our vulnerabilities, our ego, our weaknesses, our insecurities, and we link all of that, we anchor all of that to our jobs.

This becomes really problematic because if you’re a writer that can’t write, if you get laid off during the recession, if you get fired, if there’s no work, then we have absorbed – we’ve imbued work with so much value that when we take it away, we are just kind of lost. We really take a psychological blow when somebody takes that piece of us away.

That’s why you see so much attitude. For example, think about how we talk about people that are on welfare. Think about how we talk about people sometimes who are unemployed. There’s all these attitudes that we have that if you start picking apart the pieces that make up those attitudes, you can draw a direct trail right back to this idea that your job is linked to your goodness as a person.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s some powerful stuff. So if we’re enmeshed in this and you want to escape and this is also reminding me of there’s an awesome article recently in The Atlantic about what they called ‘workism’ and how that has completely become sort of the new religion for many people.

Okay, if that’s where we are, point of departure, and we want some liberation from that so we can start making some wiser choices, set some prudent boundaries, get some rejuvenation, how do we, I guess, reprogram our brains here?

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, often they say the first step is just recognizing that there’s problem. I think the first step is realizing that these three forces are influencing your life. They influence everybody a little bit differently. It depends on your own history, your background, the values that your parents instilled, the behaviors that you saw your role models.

They can manifest in a lot of different ways in people’s lives, but the first step is to recognize that they are there. The first step is to look at the things that you just assume were to be true about the world, about work, about yourself, and just start to question where those beliefs came from.

[24:00]

In the book, there’s a whole list of questions that you can ask yourselves, things like, “How important is your work ethic and your identity? What does hard work look like for you? Why is it important? Who are your work role models?” And to really just start to understand your own relationship with some of these concepts because the most important thing is getting out of your own head, getting out of your own way.

So many people will try – they’ll be like, “I’m going to wake up at 5:30 AM in the morning. I’m going to do David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I’m going to do inbox zero. I’m going to do-“ They try to do all these frameworks not realizing that the frameworks are just Band-Aids that are trying to address the symptoms.

What we have to do is really address the root cause, which is our fundamental relationship with our beliefs about work. To do that, you have to start by questioning everything you think you know.

Once you start asking yourself these questions, “Where do my beliefs come from? How do they manifest? How much do I like my identity and my job?” at least then you can start to see, the same way that I did, like “Oh, maybe all these articles I read about the top successful tips of entrepreneurs that always push the same type of thing, that’s a certain archetype, that’s a certain mythology that I’ve absorbed, but if I take a step back, that’s not actually linked to what I think a successful life looks like.”

You start trying to break apart, again, going into your OS, going into the programming, the algorithms and starting to say, “Are the assumptions that I used when making these predictions about how I see the world, are they really true or did I just accept them as true because of the media, because of our history, because of our biology?”

Once you do that, then once you see the forces, they can’t influence you that much anymore. Once you see them for what they are, then you can be the one to choose what serves you and you can be the one to choose what you keep and what you leave.

What’s really funny about this is I’ve had a lot of very polarizing reactions about this because so often, people want to pick up this book and they want to see some sort of five-step method, framework, easy acronym, let’s just get the solution right on the way. I’ll have people email me and be like, “You went too much into history. This is too convoluted. You didn’t get to the point. What’s the solution?”

It’s like, I feel like it’s a bit subversive, but it’s like, “Guess what? The only solution is, ironically, we each have to do our own type of emotional labor to figure this out. I can’t do it for you. You’re the only one that can unlock those belief systems, unlock that self talk, unlock all of those. I can’t do that for you and no framework will do that for you.” But there’s an impatience because everyone just wants a quick fix.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, this is so powerful and really potentially super transformative in terms of getting at the root as opposed to – I love GTD and David Allen, episode 15, so—

Rahaf Harfoush
I love him. I love him. I use it. I use OmniFocus. I’m all about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. It’s my favorite, OmniFocus.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, but my point is OmniFocus and Getting Things Done will never fix you if you feel productivity shame about the fact that you don’t think you’re good enough unless you’re constantly busy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, absolutely. Well said in terms of the fundamental psychological belief identity stuff at root, certainly, as opposed to hey, GTD and OmniFocus as a tool in order to organize all the incoming stuff so you can feel good about where it’s going. Those are sort of two different things we’re solving for.

I guess what really gets me going here is as I reflect upon what you’re saying, I recently had a podcast interview with Michael Hyatt, and that will release a little after this one I believe, in which we talked about Elon Musk, who’s Mr. Hustle himself, like sleeping at the Tesla plant and doing all these things. He really does seem to be heroically idolized.

I thought Michael Hyatt did an awesome job. He said, “Well, I guess it depends on your priorities. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He’s had these troubles.” Then you’re right in terms of the hard emotional labor, you’ve got to thing though, it’s like, “Well, would I like to have a life like Elon Musk in terms of those pretty cool entrepreneurial successes, but at those costs, or would I like to have a life that is different and prioritizes things differently?”

Rahaf Harfoush
Okay, but maybe I’ll push back on this a little bit because I don’t think that’s the actual choice. I think forget the personal costs. Put that aside for a second. Let’s just talk about performance. Let’s just talk about being an entrepreneur, you need out make the best possible decisions in order for your company to perform.

I want you to imagine yourself after sleeping on a factory floor. You just spent eight hours. You’re tired. You haven’t slept properly. Think of your state of mind. There’s no way that you’re going to convince me that the you that has had a terrible night’s sleep, that is uncomfortable, maybe has a backache, that crick in the neck, whatever it is that’s going on, you’re not going to tell me that that is the best version of you that’s going to make the best decisions for your business.

The problem is that we have started to talk about overwork as though it’s an admirable trait, when in reality when you look at creative performance from a biological perspective, from a psychological perspective, just all the research says the same thing, that you need to take breaks to let your brain recharge so that you are at peak performance.

You running this marathon, pulling all-nighters, not sleeping, doing all these things, sleeping at the factory, you’re not actually getting closer to peak performance. What you’re doing is getting closer to performative suffering so people can say, “Look how hard he’s working. Look how much he’s suffering,” because if you remember, the harder the work, the more deserving you are.

What he’s doing is he’s just hitting all of these emotional symbols to get us to say, “He’s so hardworking. Look how much he’s suffering for his business,” whereas honestly when I heard that I was like, “Elon, go home, man. Take a shower. Have a meal. Sleep for a couple of hours. Shut your brain off. Let it all settle down and then come back the next day and then you’ll be at the top of your game.”

I know myself when I’ve been overworked, I’m not producing my best work and I’m not making the best decisions. I make more mistakes and the quality of the work that I am producing is subpar.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. All right. It’s like, hey, not only are we talking about outside work; we’re talking about inside work things and performative suffering. What a turn of a phrase. That’s lovely. That’s compelling.

I’m intrigued. You mentioned in the beginning you talked to a lot of high performers who experienced a bout of burnout at some point and they knew the things they should be doing with regard to hey, take a nap, take vacation.

Are there any things that you discovered that we should be doing that are not so obvious? You mentioned some good research and science associated with peak performance and creativity and what it takes. What are some of the key things we should do or not do that can prevent or rejuvenate us from burnout that really pack a wallop?

Rahaf Harfoush
One of the things that I looked at was, again, how historically we’ve devoted a lot of the work systems that we have today, the 40-hour work week, 9 to 5, all that stuff. I think the biggest injury that has been done to us from many of these methodologies is the fact that we are expected as human beings to show up for work in the same way, at the same energy level that is consistent for the entire time that we’re at work, 365 days a year.

That is just not the way human beings are wired. We have ebbs and flows of energy, ebbs and flows of creativity. We have different cycles. We’re productive at different times of the day. We’re more productive at different times of the year sometimes.

One of the things that we have to look at is the way that you’re working, is it designed to maximize your performance? Are you actually creating a way of working that works with your strengths instead of just trying to take yourself and shove yourself in a system that was designed for work that you’re not doing, designed for a way of work and a type of work that no longer really exists for most knowledge workers?

One of the things that I found is really powerful is starting to reframe the way that we even approach performance. Not every task in a job is created equal. A big presentation that you’ve got is going to suck up a lot more energy than just doing some admin and answering emails. Or when you’re travelling, that’s going to take a different type of energy level than when you’re sitting at your desk working.

We have to start to think about how can we conserve and optimize for this type of energy usage. That often depends, like breaking away from this mold of needing to conform to some arbitrary metric like 9 to 5 or that you have to work in the same way from 9 to 5 in the exact same way at the exact same energy level.

If we start to accept that these cycles happen in our creativity, in our performance, in the way that we approach hard tasks, in the emotional response – often creative performance, it requires a lot of emotion. You’re really excited that you have an idea, but then you get kind of frustrated because you hit a block. You get sad because you think you’re not going to solve it. Then you’re elated when you do solve it.

Those emotions also take an energetic toll on you as well. But we don’t really create systems that take all of this into account. We need to design systems that are made specifically for creative performers.

That respect I would honestly challenge you to look at your own natural rhythms. I’m a night owl. I am not productive in the morning. For so many years I killed myself trying to fit into this standard, into this ideal, where I’m raring to go at 8 AM. That was never going to be me. I am honestly at my peak hours between 6 PM and midnight. That is when I do my best work. That is when I do my most writing.

I had to design a business that worked around that. I had to say, okay, there are days when I’m going to manage my energy. I’m going to work on a highly cognitive task in the evening, which means maybe in the morning I’m going to do some lighter stuff.

Once I started paying attention to when I needed to step away, when I needed to replenish, when I needed to downshift to easier tasks, when I needed to really hustle and focus on high cognitive tasks, the craziest thing happened, which is I was better rested, I was happier, and most importantly, my output—which is the thing we’re all obsessed with anyway—my output went through the roof.

That’s when I realized that your output, your creative output, is not linked to how hard you work, how many hours and how many nights you spend and how much you don’t sleep and how many meals that you skip. It’s really based on optimizing to the fullest possible potential this limited reserve of energy that you have, so how you’re going to invest it or you’re going to spend it, how you’re going to replenish it.

Then if you do that in a way that’s designed for you and your body, your performance, your success, your happiness, your relationships, everything will go through the roof.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And you’re crushing it right now in your peak zone. I guess it’s just after midnight now in France.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Then I want to hear then, part of it’s just knowing yourself in terms of when you work best, you’re a morning person, you’re a night owl. Are there any kind of universal best practices that are great for allocating and optimizing and being strategically wise with your limited reserve of energy?

Rahaf Harfoush
This is the funny thing, all the solutions that I’m saying, none of them are new. It’s not like somebody’s going to be like, “Oh, I should really take a break,” or “Oh, I should get a good night’s sleep.” None of this advice is new. What’s new is that now we have the ability to start unraveling why we’re not taking this good advice.

You know. Everyone who is listening right now, you know what you have to do, you know what your body needs, you know the conditions that you work best in. you know this. What’s more interesting to me is why you’re not doing it. What is blocking you? What is holding you back from this? Where did these beliefs that you have come from? Is it shame? Is it insecurity? Is it fear? Is it ego? Is it the need for validation?

Because those are the behaviors that are hidden, that work in the background that often sabotage you so that when you’re tired that little voice will say, “Are you kidding? You’re going to take a break? No way. You’ve got to push through. You’ve got to hustle, otherwise you’re weak, otherwise you’ll never succeed.”

For me the best practices are really about having these conversations with your friends, with your teams, with your spouse, with your family about the role that work plays in our lives.

I’ll give you a quick example, which is with my friends. I noticed when I was researching this book that oftentimes when I ask my friends, “Hey, how’s it going?” the response was always some variation of “Oh, I’m so busy. Things at work are crazy right now. Oh man, I’m so overloaded. I haven’t stopped running. I’m on the road nonstop.”

All of these, going back to that term that you love, performative suffering, was basically the same thing. It was just reinforcing verbally to each other in a social context how much we were working, how much we deserved our jobs, and how we were deserving of our success because of how much work we were putting in.

What we said as a group, we actually said we’re going to ban saying “I’m so busy.” Let’s dig deep and try to find something else out use to describe our lives. It really highlighted how much this idea of being hyper busy, hyper productive was a behavior that we were all holding up like it was some sort of positive ideal.

Again, there’s no quick fix here. You already have all the quick fixes. You literally have everything you need at this instant to optimize your creative performance, but what is it that is blocking you from doing that?

Pete Mockaitis
In your research, what have you found to be the most common blockers?

Rahaf Harfoush
Shame and self-worth, thinking that you’re not good enough, thinking that if you rest it means that you’re not strong enough, it means that you’re not worthy enough, feeling the need to be validated, feeling like you don’t know who you are outside of your job. Those are the things that often manifest, especially in high performers because when you’re doing really well at your job, you’re even more tempted to link your job to your identity.

The funny thing is if you just start listening to yourself talk, like there were days where – and I run my own business, so I don’t have a boss telling me when I need to come in or what I need to be doing, and yet there were times when I was like the hardest on myself than any boss I’ve ever had in my life, where I said things to myself about why I couldn’t hack it or why I was feeling tired or how I could have hustled more or how I’m letting good business ideas pass me by or how I was watching an hour of Netflix instead of working on a side hustle.

All of these things that we’re constantly reinforcing these attitudes about my own self-worth, ended up really damaging the work that I wanted to do.

The biggest one is really feeling like you’re not enough, which is why when I work with groups, when I do these workshops and I go into organizations, I work with teams, it’s often saying something as simple as, “You self-worth is not tied to your productivity. Your value as a human being has nothing to do with your output or your job or what you do to pay your rent or what you do to pay your mortgage.”

Every time we have these conversations, the next day or two days later, inevitably, I will get a couple of emails of people saying, “I really needed to hear that. I really needed someone to tell me that this is not the sum of my identity.”

The flipside of that point, which is also interesting, is there are people – if you are not ready to hear this, if you are not ready to tackle some of these forces in your own lives, then much of what I’m saying is going to annoy you. You’re going to feel anger. You’re going to be like, “What is she talking about? She doesn’t know how to hustle!”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got to hustle.

Rahaf Harfoush
You’ve got to go get it. I will tell you, that emotive response is also something that I’ve seen. Anger, defensiveness, being very insulted. I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you just don’t have what it takes to succeed. You just don’t know what hard work looks like,” the whole thing.

What fascinated me is not the criticism, so the argument, let’s debate, let’s debate whatever you want, but it always the intensity of the emotion, which gave me the inkling that it had very little to do with me and much more with how they were responding to what they felt was a perceived threat on their identity, their status.

If you feel those emotions, I would encourage you to just sit with them and really try to understand where that resistance came from because when I was working through this stuff through the book, I was really resistant to a lot of it. There were parts of it, took me months to implement, months to wrap my head around, months to really feel it in my gut. I was angry and defensive. I was like, “Well, this can’t be the case. I don’t know about this.”

But once you do that work, once you unravel all of those things, and once you get to the point where you feel like my productivity is not linked out my self-worth, what you might not know is that it’s incredibly freeing. It actually frees you up to take even more risks, to do even more things because you don’t really have anything to lose because you’re already enough. You’re already worth everything.

For me, for example with my fiction, that’s when I started working on fiction stories because why not? If it bombs, it bombs. If it never sees the light of day, that’s okay. I found it incredibly liberating to be so secure in the fact that I was enough and I was worthy. That the work that I was doing, while challenging, while enjoyable, while I really liked it, was not the end all and be all of who I was as a human.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, to the notion of you’re enough and you’re worthy and your value does not come from your work and your productivity, how does one arrive at that place?

Rahaf Harfoush
Well, if that one is me, it’s when you hit rock bottom and you have nothing left. I had an option. It was either, “Okay, well, I guess I’m nothing because I can’t write anymore or I have to rethink the way that I look at myself.” It’s just a matter of really separating it. We have a really hard time doing that. We have to separate who you are, who you are as a human being. Your value and your self-worth as a living, breathing soul is enough in itself.

That could be something as simple as just reminding yourself of that, of recognizing that when you’re at work or when you’re doing really well at work, when you’re doing really poorly at work, that that is just a consequence of the information economy that we live in of jobs and all of that stuff. That is not tied to you. It’s kind of in the same way where – it’s almost the same kind of like Zen approach, where I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Four Agreements? I don’t know if you’ve read that book?

Pete Mockaitis
I have read the Blinkist summary of The Four Agreements.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. Actually, hilariously, me too. But the thing that I really took from that book was nothing has anything to do with you. If somebody’s angry or somebody is sad or somebody is kind of mean to you, that in reality when you really stop and think about it, it has nothing to do with you. That’s just a reflection of their own inner turmoil and their own inner state.

Once you kind of do that similar separation from your job, you kind of realize that it loses the power to kind of knock you around, for everything to feel so scary all the time, especially if you are somebody that self-identifies as a high performer and you have these big goals and big dreams and big risks that you want to take.

I found it incredibly comforting to separate that because that meant I could be a high performer, I could take risks, I could fail. I could have tons of failures and it doesn’t matter because my failure is not a reflection of my lack of hard work, which is not a reflection of my lack of moralness. That was really key for me. I actually found it made me enjoy my job a lot more because it didn’t feel like it was so personal to what I was doing.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Just again, don’t pick up this book if you want a quick fix. I don’t want to hear your angry Amazon reviews. If you’re not willing to do the work and to have a complicated nuanced look at our history and how we got here, honestly, this book is not for you.

But if you are really interested about the origin story of how knowledge workers and productive creatives, how we can thrive in this new environment, you have to know where we’ve been and how we got here. Then you can figure out where we’re going.

I just really wanted to put that disclaimer out there because I don’t want anybody to be disappointed. But if you are willing to do the work and if I can support you any way in your own journey as you’re answering these questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to hear from you.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Ralph Waldo Emerson has this really wonderful quote about how – I’m going to paraphrase here, so please forgive me. He says something like “The implanting of a desire indicates that its resolution is in the constitution of the creature that feels it.”

Basically he says that if you have a desire to do something, if you have a dream to be a writer, to be an entrepreneur, to be a whatever, then just the fact that you have that dream means that there’s something inside you that can fulfill it.

As a writer, it’s a very lonely job sometimes. You’re kind of on your own. You’re facing your own insecurities every time you look at that damn blank page. There’s something really nice to say, “The fact that I really want to be a writer, the fact that this is what I love to do, must mean that something in me can do this.”

I always remind myself that, especially when I’m in that valley of despair. The implanting of that desire means that my ability to fulfill it is in me. I just find that very motivating.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Rahaf Harfoush
My favorite bit of research was they took a person’s phone away, put them in a room and this room only had a device that if you touched it, you would get electrocuted. It turned out that people would rather electrocute themselves than be bored for 15 minutes. I thought that was quite telling about our addiction to information stimulation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Rahaf Harfoush
A favorite book. My favorite read of last year was Bad Blood about the Theranos scandal.

Pete Mockaitis
I listened to the podcast, The Dropout.

Rahaf Harfoush
Absolutely riveting, like jaw dropping. If you had told me it was fiction, I would have said it sounds too crazy. But I just thought that book was such a wild ride, so many interesting things.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Rahaf Harfoush
This is a little nerdy, but please bear with me. One of my favorite tools when I really want to get in the zone is I go on YouTube and there is an audio file of the sound of idling engines that the Starship Enterprise makes from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I know this is super obscure, but I have literally listened to hundreds of white noise machines and they never seem to work and this noise is just – it’s just magical. It just envelops you in this cocoon of creativity. When I have that on with my noise cancelling headsets, I am in the zone. I am a writing ninja. If it’s your thing and you need something to kid of help you focus, check it out. I know it’s a bit weird, but I really swear by it.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned this before we hit record and I loved it. It’s not so nuts because crysknife007, thanks for putting this video up, he put up three of them – or she, I don’t know who crysknife is – their total views are just over five million.

Rahaf Harfoush
I’m not alone. It’s really soothing. It’s really soothing. It’s just humming enough that it blocks out the noise, but not so much that it’s a distraction. I just find I can hear myself think better. A friend recommended it to me and it’s almost like been passed on from writer to writer in secret. I’m letting you guys know on this magical secret tool. If you do use it, send me a Tweet and let me know.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s powerful for me as well is because as I think about – so I’ve watched most of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, everyone on that crew is a high performer, from Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi La Forge, impressive folks. In a way, it’s kind of nice to have a sound that just reminds you, at least it reminds me, of excellence.

I think the dorkiest book I ever read was entitled Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s not bad. I think they were trying to just cash in on a built in audience of people who like Star Trek and leadership. Let’s see what we can do with this. But it was a fun read for young Pete at the time. But it’s true; those are some rock stars in their respective domains on the Starship Enterprise.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, and space is kind of like your imagination, sort of like the final frontier. It’s sort of like you’re exploring, you’re out there, you’re taking risks, you don’t know what you’re going to find. I just kind of find it – it gets me right into the zone.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Rahaf Harfoush
A favorite habit is to leave your phone outside of your bedroom and to just not have it anywhere near you when you’re sleeping so that you can just kind of read for 15 – 20 minutes before you go to bed and just have that silence.

I’ve become very intentional about how I use my social media tools and realize how silence is becoming a very rare luxury and how most good creative ideas come from silence and come from periods of silence and to be very protective of that silence in your life. Especially if you’re a strategic thinker or researcher or writer or you need to solve problems or innovate, those moments of silence, cultivating habits where you block off times where you can have that silence, is the best thing you could do.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences?

Rahaf Harfoush
I think it’s that we just have to get a little bit better at remembering why we’re working so hard. Many of us just fill all the efficiencies that we gain from all of these GTD systems, we were supposed to fill with the good things in life, instead we’re just filling them with more work. I think I always like to remember just what’s important. You touched on it with the Elon Musk example.

I think very few people get to their deathbed and say, “Man, I wish I slept at my factory a few more nights.” At the end of the journey, no one gets out alive, it’s like what is the important thing and to always remember your health is the most important thing, that’s a big one, as well as your relationships and nurturing the people that you’re with and loving them and being happy with them for as long as you have them because nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
You can find me RahafHarfoush.com or on Twitter or really anywhere. If you just type Rahaf Harfoush, I’m pretty sure I can connect with you on your platform of choice.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, take a look at your work hero, take a look at somebody that you really idolize and admire and challenge yourself to see how much of what you admire about them is their productivity and how much is what you admire about them is their creativity. Then see how you feel about the answers that you get.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. This has been such a treat. Thank you for going deep and staying up past midnight – when you do your best work – in France.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, I’m just getting started.

Pete Mockaitis
This has been a real treat.

Rahaf Harfoush
Same for me. Thank you so much.

393: Freeing Up Extra Time Through Optimizing, Automating, and Outsourcing with Ari Meisel

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Ari Meisel says: "If you make something 20 seconds easier or 20 seconds harder, you can make or break a habit."

Ari Meisel breaks down his secrets to greater productivity…from virtual assistants, to the best productivity apps, to easier ways to make decisions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How working at your peak time makes you many times more effective
  2. The power of the 20-second rule
  3. Why you should consider using virtual assistants

About Ari

Ari is the best-selling author of “The Art of Less Doing“, and “The Replaceable Founder.” He is a self-described Overwhelmologist whose insights into personal and professional productivity have earned him the title, “The Guru’s Guru.” He can be heard on the award-winning Less Doing Podcast, on international stages speaking to thought leaders and influencers, and for those who prefer the written word, Ari’s blog posts on Medium offer immediate and actionable advice for entrepreneurs seeking replaceability.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ari Meisel Interview Transcript

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

Ari Meisel
Well, thank you for having me Pete. It’s good to talk to you again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, I think we’re going to get into so much good stuff. I am all about less doing. But first I want to get your take on what’s the story behind you being on the cover of a Rage Against the Machine album?

Ari Meisel
Yeah, it’s the 20th anniversary of that. It’s funny. It’s been coming up a lot lately. The Evil Empire album from Rage Against the Machine, I was 11 years old and Mel Ramos, who is a famous artist and was a friend of my father’s, who’s an art dealer, made that painting for me as a birthday present when I was 11.

The band saw it a few years later in one of his books and they just liked it. They used it for their cover. I never met the band. I was never a fan of the band. I had a billboard of my face in Times Square when I was 15 years old.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, check you out. Well, and your fame has grown since then.

Ari Meisel
Yes, totally. I think it all stems back to that very moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, starting early, that’s good. Can you give us a little bit of a quick background on your company, Less Doing? What are you all about?

Ari Meisel
I empower entrepreneurs to become more replaceable. That’s what I do. That means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but the ones that get excited by that are the ones that I usually do the best with. Essentially we’re teaching people how to optimize, automate and outsource everything in their business in order to be more effective. We do that through a number of systems that we teach and processes and methods, but essentially we teach people to be more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love effectiveness here. Most of our listeners are not entrepreneurs, but I definitely thing that there are some applicable tidbits. Now, you unpack a number of these in your book called The Art of Less Doing. Is there a unique spin that the book takes?

Ari Meisel
Yeah. Originally when I got into this sort of world, the focus was on individual productivity for the most part. I was helping individuals be as effective as possible. Over the last several years, this has developed into much more of a business methodology for growing faster with less pain basically. The Replaceable Founder really takes that framework of optimize, automate, outsource and applies it to businesses.

The goal is to make people replaceable. The reason we do that is so they can have more focus, freedom and flexibility. The way that we do that is through looking at the way that they communicate, the way that they manage and execute processes, and the way that they have their project management system set up.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. I like your alliteration here. You’ve also got the three D’s. What are those?

Ari Meisel
That’s for email and decision making in general, which is to deal with it, delete it or defer it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us, how do we navigate? When is it best to choose to do versus to delegate, to defer?

Ari Meisel
We use email to teach the concept, but it’s not about email. The email problem for most people is not an actual email problem, it’s a decision-making problem. The first thing here is to understand that the three of them are there because those are the only three choices that you should have to make.

Most people treat not just email but decisions in general as if it’s a unique opportunity to make a thousand different decisions every time. It’s not.

If you limit yourself in your choices to three, then you can say deleting is saying no, dealing with it means you can deal with it right now, which could include delegating it, so you get in that sort of habit as well. Then the third D is for deferral, which is the most interesting because that’s really taking into account how you use your time and when you’re best at different things.

Every one of us has a different time and sometimes place where we do different kinds of activities better, such as podcast interviews for example. You would not have gotten this energy from me a couple hours ago, which is why I try not to schedule a podcast interviews before noon my time. It’s something I’ve learned about myself.

Not to mention that my peak time, which is a period when any one of us is 2 to 100 times more effective than any other time of the day, that peak time for me is usually between ten and noon. I can’t do creative work before eight o’clock at night because there’s just too much going on in my head and I can’t write or be really creative.

Knowing that is really powerful because you can make an active decision. You’re not procrastinating; you’re saying, “No, I’m going to do this more effectively at this time, so that’s when I want to look at it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. We had Dr. Michael Breus on the show talked about the power of when and just some fascinating stuff associated with circadian rhythms and there’s actual biochemical things going on in your body at somewhat predictable regular times that point you to different states that let you be excellent at different sorts of tasks. Can you lay it on us again? What are your times and what are the capabilities you find you have uniquely available at those times?

Ari Meisel
Again, for me, the peak time for me is ten to noon.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say peak, you just mean, “I am unstoppably energetic,” or what’s peak mean for you?

Ari Meisel
The research basically says that for every person it’s different. There’s a time of the day that’s usually 90 minutes and you are 2 to 100 times more effective in that period. What they mean when they talk about effectiveness in that situation is that you’re most able to easily drop into a flow state.

Flow state for most people, that generally equates to a dilation of time. If you’ve ever found yourself in an activity where it felt like minutes had gone by, but it was an hour or two, that’s a flow state. We want that because our brain is just firing on all synapses in that moment.

My peak time is between ten and noon. In theory, I should be using that time for my highest and best use, which in my case is usually coming up with content or really interesting problem solving for whatever the problem might be.

Now, I know that I’m not good on the phone or podcasts before noon. That’s just something I’ve learned about myself. It’s not because I’m not a morning person, but maybe it just takes me a little while to sort of get in that mood or that mode.

Creatively, I can’t do creative work before eight o’clock at night because there’s a lot going on in my house first of all, but also we tend to be more creative when we’re tired because we’re less likely to sort of shoot down the bad ideas and things can flow a little more freely. But it’s different for every person. Some people, their peak time could be five in the morning. I’ve seen that. Some people it’s eleven o’clock at night and that’s when they do their best, best, best.

We all work out at different times or we should. We eat at different times. A lot of that you can see in Dr. Breus’s work. He’s been on my podcast three times because he’s so awesome. A lot of people think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But you really can dial it in and use that timing to your advantage.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m right with you there. The peak then is you’re most likely to drop into a flow state. The creativity is a different animal than the peak?

Ari Meisel
Right, right, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. That’s nice. I guess we’re already digging into a little bit. You talk about optimizing, automating, and outsourcing. One of the components of optimizing is knowing thyself. We’re already talking about some knowing thyself in terms of the times that you’re best for different sorts of activities. Are there any other key parameters you really recommend folks zero in on knowing thyself/themselves well?

Ari Meisel
Sleep I think is another one too. Not everybody needs to sleep eight hours a night in one block. Many people should, but not everybody needs to. That’s not the optimal thing for everybody.

In fact if you look back at old research, well even new research now, the natural pattern of human sleep seemed to be these sort of two different bulk sleeps, where you got this core amount of sleep, then you’d wake up for a little while in the middle of the night and do things, and then go back to sleep for what was then became known as beauty sleep.

Understanding that just because the rest of your team or your environment or your friends or family, whatever, might be on a nine to five work schedule and a ten to six or ten to seven sleep schedule, it doesn’t mean that that’s what you should be doing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great, so get clear on your real sleep needs and what’s optimal for you and not just sort of caving to the norms around you.

Ari Meisel
It’s so individual. It’s so, so individual. That’s the big thing. Understand that you can figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Any other knowing thyself things to know?

Ari Meisel
I think a lot of people are just generally unaware of how they use their time and their space and their resources and their money and everything. There’s usually a huge benefit in just tracking sort of anything that we do. You can track things like with RescueTime, you can track how you’re using your computer or your Apple watch and see how you’re moving around or not. That kind of information can be very powerful if you just take the data that you’re producing all day every day and actually look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you give us an example of let’s say Apple watch or Fitbit, you’re looking at your steps or movement data and how that can inform a useful decision?

Ari Meisel
One thing I would say is just challenging what you might inherently think you know about yourself. There’s so many people – there’s a lot of people who when they use these tools, they can guess the number of steps they’ve taken in the day and they’re probably pretty accurate.

Most people before they do that kind of thing are very – they’re usually pretty off. Somebody might think that they were on their feet for ten hours; it turns out they were only on their feet for two hours. Or they think that they walked five miles, but they didn’t even walk a mile.

That in itself, being aware of the unawareness I think is huge and the discrepancies because once you get into this and you sort of get to know your body and you sort of inherently understand these things a little bit better. We can make better decisions or we can even understand when we shouldn’t be making decisions because if we’re tired or not in a good place to mentally do things, a lot of people just sort of power through it and then make bad choices. Then those sort of build on each other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Can you recall a particular bad choice you made when you were tired or poorly resourced?

Ari Meisel
I mean a lot of it usually comes out with my wife and arguments that I wouldn’t normally have. But there – it’s funny actually. I think about a month ago my wife and I had a fairly aggressive argument. It was so out of the norm that she actually stopped and she’s like, “You’re acting like one of the children right now. You should go take a nap.” I can usually operate on pretty low amount of sleep, but this was a bad few days for some reason. I stopped and I realized I was acting like a toddler.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s well said. Cool, that’s a little bit about knowing thyself. Can you dig into a bit of the concept of the external brain? What is it and how should we tap into that power?

Ari Meisel
For the external brain is the idea that we really can’t use our brains the way that we think we can. The human brain is really, really bad at holding onto information. It’s great at coming up with it, but really not so good at keeping it. We try to use working memory for something that it really isn’t, which is long-term storage.

If we have systems in place – and when I say systems it’s important because a lot of people have tools or methods maybe or gadgets, but a lot of people lack systems. If you have a system in place to actually track your ideas, capture your ideas and put them in a place where not only you can save them, but actually act on them later, that makes life a lot less stressful and a lot more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, I’m so with you there. I’m thinking back to David Allen, episode 15 here for us. He said it very well, I might not get it perfect, but says, “Your brain is for having ideas not for holding them or for remembering them.”

Ari Meisel
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s been so huge for me is getting it out of my head and elsewhere. Personally, I love OmniFocus for the actionable things. Someone said, “Oh, this is a great restaurant,” “This is a great podcast.” “You should check out this church,” or place to go. I was like, “Oh cool. I will.”

It’s sort of like all those rich little life ideas don’t float away. They land somewhere and they can be acted upon in sometimes a year plus later, like, “Oh, I am going to watch that movie someone recommended a year ago. I’m so glad I had that recommendation ready to be accessed.” I dig OmniFocus for that and Evernote for more words basically in terms of maybe paragraphs plus. What do you dig for your external brain?

Ari Meisel
Trello.

Pete Mockaitis
Trello?

Ari Meisel
Yeah, I use Trello. I was a really big Evernote user for a long time, but I sort of fell away from it because with Trello it’s more speaking to that idea of having a system. I might capture things all day long from various sources, whether it’s a voice note to my Amazon Echo device or to Siri or a picture of something or a screenshot or I’ll forward an email, and they all go to one place. They all go to one list in Trello as an individual card, each one.

Then at the end of the day, it’s one of my sort of nightly routines is I look at that list and I can sort those ideas into various places. One might be for someone on my team to deal with, one might be for my wife to look at, one might be for me to read later, whatever it might be. But that sorting process is very important to me. You can’t really do that in something like Evernote. With Trello you have that sort of visual idea, like moving things around. It feels very congruent for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. Can you unpack for us the categories? They start by getting dumped into a singular kind of inbox, collection bin. They then go to, “Hey, read this later.” They go to teammate or wife or another person. What are the other kind of categories that it might fall into?

Ari Meisel
Let me think. It could be assigned to a virtual assistant. That’s certainly one. It could be something that I want to talk about in one of my webinars. That would be like, I do a tech talk Tuesday webinar, so it could go to that. There’s not too many. That’s the thing is you don’t want to have too many different options.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I’m wondering over time I imagine, if you’re anything like me, you have way more ideas that you’re excited about than you can take action upon. Let’s talk about some of the automate components, the decision matrix. What is that and in particular how might you apply it to, “Hey, do I do this or do I not do this?”

Ari Meisel
Well, that decision matrix is the three D’s. Saying no, for example, there’s just a lot more things that we should say no to. If anything, for some people it needs to be the default is to say no. If it’s not a heck yes, then it’s a heck no kind of a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for the children who listen to the show.

Ari Meisel
Yeah, right. That’s one thing. Dealing with it means you can deal with it right now like in the next three minutes. If you can’t – and in dealing with it right now, that could include delegating it – but if you can’t do that right now, and you can’t say no, then you have to defer it. At that point you pick a more optimal time for you to do it. That’s the point of it is you don’t have to put too much thought into what, when and why.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious to hear then when it comes to the heck yes and heck no, it sounds like that’s kind of a visceral your whole person is resonating with something is what lands you at a heck yes or do you have a more systematic approach by which you are determining “Yes, I shall pursue that and no, I shall not pursue the other thing?”

Ari Meisel
One is just understanding your resources, knowing if something is even possible, which part of that comes honestly from having that clarity of thought that comes from having a system like this. It sounds very circular, but it’s true. That’s the big one.

But the other one is also having the places to sort of delegate into that can possibly deal with it. What I mean by that is I have a number of virtual assistants. I have people on my team that I might think it’s a yes, but I have a system in place to sort of send it over to one of them to then validate that idea or at least move it a little bit farther down the field.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. You’ve also got a concept called set it and forget it. How does that work? Is this an infomercial?

Ari Meisel
Yeah. That’s how I think through automation. Automation to me should be something that we just sort of set up and then it just runs in the background and we just don’t have to think about it anymore. That could be simple things like a trigger through an IFTTT, for example, that if something happens here, then do something else over here. Or a process that is in place that people can go through a very detailed checklist, but it’s still that – that’s how you should be thinking about automation.

It’s not something that you should have to monitor or watch. I forgot who it is actually, but somebody, a friend of mine describes automation is just something that means he doesn’t have to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, automation means I don’t have to do it, which is great because in a way, that expands your mindset or how you’re looking at it beyond that of software, robots. Automation can very much include people, people engaging processes, which include a high or low-tech application there. If you don’t have to do it, then that means it’s been automated as far as you’re concerned.

Ari Meisel
Right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, you mentioned IFTT, if this, then that. It’s so funny I’ve looked at this app several times and thinking, that’s just cool. I’m sure I could probably find some use for it and yet I haven’t. Tell me, what are the most game changingly useful things you’re using IFTT for?

Ari Meisel
First of all, any time you find yourself in a situation where you say ‘every,’ so like every time this happens, every time a customer signs up, every time I book a podcast or video, every time I record an interview, every time I send a Tweet, every time I hire or fire someone, that ‘every’ should be a trigger to think about automation because typically that should mean it’s something that’s repetitive.

That’s one way of thinking through it. All those things that we do on a regular basis, on a repetitive basis, those are things that should be automated. I’ve automated hiring processes, content dissemination, even using machine learning to segment out potential customers from people on my email list. All of those things can be done with automations.

But at a really simple level, if you want to look at the things that you know you should be doing, but not you’re not doing them, that’s a great case for automation, like, “I’m on Facebook and I know I should be on Twitter and Instagram, but I’m not.” Okay, well you can automatically at the very least post all the things you put on one place into all the others.

I know that I should have consistencies so that if I change my Facebook profile picture, I should probably change my Twitter one as well. But those are the kinds of things most people are just like, “Ah, I’m busy so I’ll just let that one go for now.” A lot of those things where you should be doing them and you’re not, you can pick up the slack with automation.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say things you should be doing, I think one of the first things that leap to mind could be exercise, meditation, and sort of things that are boosting your effectiveness across the board. You talked a bit about attaching a new habit to an existing one, how does this work?

Ari Meisel
There are a lot of people who are way better about habits than I am. My friend James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits, is one of the better ones to be honest.

But if we have a good habit in place already, like most of us probably brush our teeth, then you – and you want to bring in a new habit, then you can associate it with the existing habit. That’s like an anchoring effect. It just makes it a lot easier to implement that habit.

The other thing that I like is generally if you make something 20 seconds easier or 20 seconds harder, you can make or break a habit that way as well. The most obvious example of that is if you want to drink more water throughout the day, have a big thing of water at your desk, you don’t have to get up and go get water. If you don’t want to eat cookies, don’t have cookies in your house.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice, so 20 seconds easier or 20 seconds harder can make or break it. Well, then I’m wondering then if there’s a threshold number of seconds that’s like beyond that, “Ah, it’s just too much,” like “If it’s 35 seconds, okay, okay, fine, but if it’s 55, forget about it. Ain’t going to happen.”

Ari Meisel
Yeah, all the research I’ve seen is around 20 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good. That’s helpful. Okay, cool. That’s a bit about the automation side.

Now let’s talk about the outsourcing. You mentioned virtual assistants a number of times. Most of our listeners are employees and not entrepreneurs or business owners, but I can tell you that when I was an employee, I used virtual assistants to great effect. Can you unpack a little behind this? Virtual assistants, what are they really, really good for and where do people go wrong when they try to make good use of them?

Ari Meisel
Even in your personal life you should be using virtual assistants because it allows you to focus on what you do best and delegate the rest as has been said before. I use the VAs for over 100 hours a week in my personal life with my four kids and booking travel for me and my family and signing up for after school things and insurance.

You have to understand the return on investment there is not necessarily something that you’re going to be able to directly measure in dollars. It’s just going to make your life better.

The biggest problem with outsourcing in general is if people try to do it as a first step and they can’t. If you take an ineffective problem and you just hand it over to somebody else who has less information, less context than you and expect some magical result, it’s just not going to happen. You have to start with the optimizing first, then the automating, then you can get to the outsourcing.

Because also if you give work to a human being that an automation could do, then you’re effectively dehumanizing them, which doesn’t work either. We have to get better at communicating what our needs are. A lot of that comes from going through and creating an optimized process to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great point in terms of “I don’t like this. You handle it,” often doesn’t give you some great results on the other side.

Tell me a little bit when you talk about that optimization, what I found is some of the hardest thinking that I do, which has been just tremendously rewarding in terms of the return has been how do I take this gut feel type decision and turn that almost into an algorithm that we can use to determine – to get pretty far.

For example, I get tons of incoming podcast guest pitches. It’s like, “Oh my gosh.” One by one by one, I was sort of looking at them is like this is nuts, but every once in a while there were some really amazing people who came in. I thought “Well, I can’t just ignore them all.”

I really had to stop and think. It’s like, I want guests who are relevant, who are authorities, and who are engaging. Now, what exactly do I mean by relevant? What exactly do I mean by authoritative? How would I assess or measure or evaluate that? What exactly do I mean by engaging? Now, I can have that – it just goes in terms of the pitch lands and someone evaluates it per all my parameters and then I only look at a small set of finalists.

That’s been huge for me. Is there a particular way that you think about turning things from, “Okay, I can handle this,” until it’s so darn clear that someone else can handle it repeatedly?

Ari Meisel
Delegation is a muscle. You need to practice it and do it and it becomes a lot more natural. It’s not necessarily even so much that there’s an algorithm. But if you say there’s only three choices in these situations and that’s it. There’s only three choices. You sort of create innovation by artificially restricting your options.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I dig. Can you give us an example of that in practice?

Ari Meisel
I mean, that’s one, the three options. If you say there’s 20 different things you could do, but you say, no, you only have three options. That’s a good one.

For me, if you artificially restrict time. A lot of people say “There’s no time in the day. There’s no time in the day.” It’s just not true. It’s just that priorities are messed up and people don’t have good systems.

If I told somebody that works a nine to five job what would you do if you could only work till four, you had to leave at four? For most people that’s pretty straightforward. That’s a fairly easy way to think through it. “Oh, I would skip lunch,” or “I’d take one less meeting,” or something.

But if you say to the same person, “What would you do if you could only work an hour a day?” that’s a very different question. That creates a whole different – you need a totally different way of thinking to make that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You’re already getting the wheels turning for me. It’s like, “Well, I would have to figure out how to have other people do the things that I’m no longer doing,” is what I would do with that hour, kind of like wishing for more wishes, if you will.

Ari Meisel
Yeah, right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. When it comes to these virtual assistants, boy, how does someone find them? Where would you recommend they go, they research, they explore? What are some first steps there?

Ari Meisel
I’ve worked with over 20 different virtual assistant companies over the years, including owning one myself. In that time my favorite one is a company called Magic. People can go to Less.do/Magic to get connected with them. There’s a reason for that. There’s dedicated assistants, which I think create just another bottleneck that you give to somebody else. Then this is what’s more of an on demand model.

Magic has 15 people. Half of them are in the States. Half of them are in the Philippines. They work seamlessly as like one giant entity that really knows your preferences, understands what you need, and their response time is about 30 seconds 24/7. They can do all the different things. They charge I think it’s like 51 cents per minute or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. I’ve seen ads for Magic, but I’m like, okay, well, I’ve used a lot myself. Are they any good? It sounds like you’ve been around the block. You say, “Oh yes, Pete. They are legit.”

Ari Meisel
Oh yes, Pete. They are ….

Pete Mockaitis
That’s valuable information. One of my favorite places I’ve gone to is OnlineJobs.ph, which is for hiring people in the Philippines, but you’re going to significantly more work upfront in order to select that winner. That is a bit of work, but I found that on the backend it’s oh so rewarding when you have those champions.

Ari Meisel
Right, yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. You also talk about outsourcing your outsourcing. What does this mean?

Ari Meisel
I’ve had Magic manage other outsource reliers. In outsourcing we generally have the generalist and we have specialist. Generalist would be the admin sort of VA. The specialist is more like the graphic designers and the programmers and stuff like that. I’ve had Magic manage them in some cases, so then I’m not even having to deal with them. I can have sort of one point of contact.

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

Ari Meisel
No, that’s the main thing. We have a couple different programs that we offer. We have something called a Replaceable Founder, which is a really great online course and now a one-day intensive workshop that we actually offer here in New York City. That’s something that I would recommend people checking out at Replaceable.fr.

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

Ari Meisel
Yeah, I sure can. I just have to pull this up. Too long, but it’s long enough that I can’t remember it. It’s a Robert Heinlein quote, if you’ve heard of Robert Heinlein.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I see his name in text in my mind’s eye, but I don’t recall anything more.

Ari Meisel
He wrote Tunnel in the Sky. He wrote some of the – he was sort of an Isaac Asimov contemporary.

But anyway, he said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Ari Meisel
Oh, that’s a good one. The Zeigarnik Effect probably. Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s in Berlin was a Russian doctoral student. She discovered this part of the brain that not only pushes us to complete the uncompleted, so it’s like the voice in our heads that pushes us to complete the uncompleted, but it’s also where we sort of process open-ended information.

Pete Mockaitis
So we know that that part of the brain exists. Are there any kind of key implications for how we live our lives differently knowing that?

Ari Meisel
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a really important understanding for us because we actually are more able to recall that kind of information than in any other setting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Ari Meisel
My favorite book ever is Emergency by Neil Strauss.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ari Meisel
Favorite tool. That would be Trello, really Trello.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Ari Meisel
Favorite habit. My nightly sort of brain dump, sorting of ideas that I do in Trello. It’s huge for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your folks, that gets them nodding their heads and retweeting and telling you how brilliant you are?

Ari Meisel
Well, I hope so. I think just this concept of being replaceable. It opens up a lot of ideas and philosophies and emotions for some people to understand that that’s a really good thing. It’s not just about replacing yourself in terms of the functions that you do and bringing other people to do them and empowering them, it’s also about re-placing you to the sort of glory and comfort and happiness that you once had.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s clever. Re-placing, to place again yourself.

Ari Meisel
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s profound. Thank you.

Ari Meisel
Thank you. There we go.

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

Ari Meisel
They should go to LessDoing.com. We’ve got this really cool little free mini course that people can go through. That’s a bunch of videos. Actually, if they go to Less.do/Foundations, they can get into that.

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

Ari Meisel
Seek replaceability in everything that you do. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well Ari, this has been a real treat. Thank you for taking the time and good luck in all you’re up to.

Ari Meisel
Thank you.