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935: The Five Steps to Winning Every Week with Demir Bentley

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Demir Bentley reveals the five simple steps to successfully plan and execute vastly more satisfying and productive weeks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why nobody really plans their week—and how to fix it
  2. The master key to getting ahead of your to-do list
  3. How to transform your calendar into a power tool  

About Demir

Demir Bentley is an executive productivity coach, co-founder of Lifehack Method and WSJ Bestselling author of Winning The Week: How To Plan A Successful Week, Every Week.

He teaches hard-hitting efficiency techniques and proven accountability strategies that have helped clients generate millions in revenue while saving thousands of hours.

In the past eight years, he’s helped more than 70,000 professionals, including executives from Facebook, Google, Uber and PepsiCo, to prevent burnout and create more freedom in their lives.

Resources Mentioned

Demir Bentley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Demir, welcome.

Demir Bentley

Good to see you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

I am so excited to learn all about Winning the Week and your flavor of productive goodness. And I think I’d like to start with your origin story.

Demir Bentley

Like a comic book.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, very much, maybe as a radioactive spider but, in your case…

Demir Bentley

It’s close.

Pete Mockaitis

…you’re working at Wall Street, not loving it so much. Take us into the scene.

Demir Bentley

Like a lot of people, I learned to perform for love when I was really young, and I don’t want to get too deep, but I think a lot of people just realized that they just get a little bit more love and attention if they can get those A’s, and if they can exceed. And so, I figured out young, I was like, “Oh, I can do this stuff. I can perform. I can get grades. I can write papers. I can produce things.” And so, I became one of those insecure overachievers who’s really developed a strong juicy core of, “I’m only valuable by what I can do and what I can produce.”

So, obviously, I ended up on Wall Street because that’s where all of the insecure overachievers, the most insecure overachievers go when they really want to prove to themselves that they are somebody. And I really was that “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere” dreamer. I really felt, “If I could hack it in finance, then maybe that deep hole inside of me would finally truly be filled and I would be somebody.

No, I jest a little bit, but, seriously, there was that juicy core of, “I’ve got to make it in finance.” And I did, I got to a really high level of finance but I did it by working 80 to 100 hours. And my secret sort of sin, or my secret, like, hidden behind-the-scenes was that I was actually really massively unproductive. I just masked that lack of productivity with brute force work and just the deep guilt and shame that kept me coming back to the trough.

And so, I remember thinking, there was an episode where I remember thinking that I was so proud that my boss had come in on the weekend and had seen me there all alone, there was nobody else on the floor, and I was just there. And right after that weekend, he called me, and he said, “You know, this is actually not a good thing. Everybody else can get their work done in 40-50 hours, and you seem to be needing 80 to 90 hours of work to produce what other people are producing in 40-50 hours.”

So, that was my big wakeup call of, like, “Oh, I’ve been wearing this like a badge of pride, like a badge of honor,” the busy badge, I call it. I’ve been awarding myself the busy badge, thinking that I’m just inherently, intrinsically more valuable than other people because I have this ability and this desire to outwork everybody else and come in on nights and weekends, and just realizing that, “Actually, other people saw that as sad and pathetic.”

That didn’t stop me. I wish I could’ve said that that was the moment when I stopped but, actually, I had a health implosion. I was overweight, I was overstressed, I wasn’t sleeping, and I got, like, a mystery illness. After much testing and three surgeries, I was diagnosed with something called salary man sudden death syndrome. It’s not very common in the United States but it’s extremely common in Asia where, otherwise, healthy young person dies from extreme overworking.

And so, although there was no definitive, “You’ve got this condition,” there was a general recognition among my three doctors that if I kept working this hard, I would probably, at some point in the future, die, and that I needed to immediately cut my hours down to 40 hours a week. Now, mind you, I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water, working 80-100 hours a week, and they’re telling me, “As of next week, you need to bring it down to 40 hours a week.”

And so, that weekend, I talk about a lot in our book, that weekend was this like crisis moment. I felt like my whole world was crashing in. I thought I was going to have to quit my work or I’d certainly get fired. It just felt like there’s just no way that it’s going to happen.

And, yet, there was a series of events that happened over the course of that weekend. I walked in next week, I worked 40 hours, I got everything done in 40 hours, and that was the beginning of this sort of rebirth, this, like, religious awakening that I had, realizing that I suck at this productivity thing, and I realized that so much more was possible. And that was the beginning of my journey in my personal productivity work, and also the beginning of my journey as, ultimately, which is hilariously becoming a productivity coach for other people and showing other people how to have that same transition.

Pete Mockaitis

Wow, this is powerful. You have a chat about productivity, you don’t think it’s going to be life or death but, for you, it literally was.

Demir Bentley

It actually was.

Pete Mockaitis

“Become more productive or die or lose your job.” Like, high stakes stuff. So, I want to dig deep for a moment. You mentioned deep shame there. What were you ashamed of?

Demir Bentley

So, like many people who are unproductive, I’m a very emotional worker. And emotional worker isn’t defined by crying in the corner. That’s not what I’m talking about. Emotional workers are the kind of people that, if they’re feeling it, they can show up in two incredible acts of productivity, incredible feats of productivity, but they can also have incredibly long periods where they can’t motivate themselves, and they’re not feeling it. And in those periods, they can barely bring themselves to lift a pencil. And in those moments, they just feel incredible self-lacerating shame and unworthiness. And they know and think that somebody is going to find them out.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Demir, lay it on us the way. What were the initial steps you took when you were in the I-can’t-lift-a-pencil mode? And, ultimately, how did you survive by doubling your output per hour, I guess, like cutting your hours in half?

Demir Bentley

The funny thing is what really solved my first tranche of the problem was something that everybody thinks that they know that they should be doing. And I’m going to come back to the word “thinks that they know.” And it’s just planning your week. The problem with this is there’s nothing more dangerous than somebody who thinks that they know something because, then, they approach it with zero curiosity, zero sense that they have anything to learn or anything that they might be doing wrong, and way too much confidence.

And so, we actually ran a survey of 5,000 people, and the survey was only people who manage between five and 50 people, so managers, people who are already very successful, earning a lot. We asked them, “What are the top five things that you can do to be highly productive?” And almost everybody in the top three put, somewhere in the top three put planning their week. So, duh, that’s a duh moment. Almost everybody knows it. Out of 5,000 people, it is common knowledge that you should plan your week.

Then we followed up with the same 5,000 respondents. We said, “Have you planned the last, the four out of the last four weeks?” And out of 5,000 people who had said very confidently, these were people who manage between five and 50 people, making over $100,000, out of those people who confidently said, “Yes, you have to plan your week,” less than 1% of the people had planned their week in the last four weeks.

So, there’s something odd about planning your week. It is something we all know that we should be doing, and less than 1% of us have a consistent practice in doing it. That kicked us off on a sort of curious exploration around why that is. But let me just say, coming back to my story, that borne out of sheer desperation, I looked at my calendar and I did what I call the first planning session of my life, the first real planning session where I took all 40 hours, and I took every task that I needed to get done, and I allocated it a spot in that 40 hours.

And every single 30-minute increment had to fight for its life to be on my calendar. That was the very first real planning session I had. And, lo, and behold, it went from spinning my wheels at 80 hours a week to actually getting everything done 40 hours a week. And so, I will say that my rebirth, my sort of aha moment came a lot earlier than the framework that I built around it. I think I spent a lot of years trying to understand, “What happened to me? What went right? What was the difference? What changed?”

When I finally got that through the course of my coaching, I was able to sort of boil it down into the winning-week method. And now we have a framework where we can explain to people. But, at the time I realized that it was just me being desperate. And in my desperation, I realized “I’ve only got so much time. I need to be excellent with that time.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so then, you were putting individual tasks onto specific pieces of time, like, “Thursday 4:00 p.m., I answer my emails,” or whatever the thing is. So, it went there, scheduled, appointment style.

Demir Bentley

It’s called calendarization. It’s the idea that you take all of your tasks and actually put it on the calendar. And most people stop short of this. I almost say it, like, calendarization is when Pinocchio becomes a real boy, that’s the magic moment. If you’ve done all of your planning, meaning you’ve reviewed your calendar, and looked at your priorities, and looked at your task list, but you do not take your task and put them in a specific slot in the calendar, what’s happened is you’ve done all of the necessary work but Pinocchio cannot become a real boy now.

It is when you take your tasks and put them on your calendar that you truly become a plan because, now you’re actually allocating. By stopping short, we stay in the realm of wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is sort of we’ve got all of the things that I want to do over here in this bucket, and I’ve got my available time in this bucket, and I’m just sort of vaguely in a wishful thinking way, hoping that by the end of the week they’ll match up.

But by not actualizing them, by not marrying those two markets together, then we never really meet base reality. And this is where a lot of people’s plans fail, and that’s why a lot of people say, “Oh, planning doesn’t work for me,” and that’s why a lot of people stop planning after initial tentative events to plan. It’s because, the truth is, is that the way most people plan doesn’t result in a holy-crap moment where they just kill it in their week, and so they stop doing it because they didn’t feel that magic, they didn’t feel the lift.

You know, the moment in the Tesla when somebody hits the accelerator, and your face sort of gets plastered to the back, and you go, “Oh, that’s power.” That’s what you want to feel in a productivity technique when you try it, to be like, “Oh, this works.”

Pete Mockaitis

I love that, the planning gives you a holy-crap moment, like, “Whoa, this works.” And I feel that way about most interventions that I assess. It’s like, “Hey, is that supplement doing anything for you?” “Well, I mean, I think it might potentially be making a little bit of a difference.” More and more, I don’t really want to mess with much of that in my life. It’s like I want to be like, “Holy schmokes, I feel the difference with fish oil and saffron.” And the rest, I’m like, “Meh, maybe.”

And so, that’s that. Likewise, I think it was Taylor Jacobson, shoutout to Taylor, over at Focusmate.com, which is awesome, who put us in touch, and that’s how I felt about that tool, which is online accountability partners on demand. Very cool. It’s like, “Holy crap, this is making it happen. Wow!” And there’s no maybe squinting about it.

And you’re telling me we can have that experience from the act of planning our week, and if we haven’t felt it, we ain’t been doing it right. Is that fair to say, Demir?

Demir Bentley

Absolutely. People say, “How do you know you’re in love?” It’s like, you know because it hits you like a sledgehammer. “How do I know that my planning worked?” You know because it hits you like a sledgehammer. You have no doubt in your mind that that week, out of 100,000 variations of that week, different alternate realities, imagine 100,000 different realities of the last past week where there were 100,000 versions of you playing out the same scenario, you can look at yourself in the mirror, and say, “That was the best that I could’ve done. In any alternate reality, this one was the best that I could’ve done. I met my challenges with as much resourcefulness and willpower and ingenuity and leverage as I possibly could,” and you just know it.

Pete Mockaitis

Love it. I love it. All right. Well, Demir, lay it on us, calendarization is important. How do we pull this off? How do we, in fact, win the week?

Demir Bentley

So, I’m just going to start with just a tiny bit of setup, which is that a lot of people assume, and I think I totally understand why they would, that if you’re doing a technique right, that it’s going to feel good. Let me just start by foregrounding this that when you’re doing planning right, there is a base amount of fear, anxiety, and stress that is just table stakes.

If you’re doing any planning, and you’re feeling fear, stress, anxiety, you’re doing it right because the essence of planning is pulling forward all of the unmade decisions, worries, potential things that could go wrong in the next seven or 30 days, and you’re pulling that into a 30-minute moment. How do you think that 30 minutes is going to feel? Not amazing.

So, first, let’s let go when we’re going into planning, this idea that it needs to feel good, or that, “I’m doing it wrong if I’m feeling fear, stress, or anxiety.” No, that is the tradeoff. You’re taking a slap in the face on Friday instead of a punch in the teeth on Wednesday.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, Demir, it’s not going to be one of those Instagram-worthy situations where I’ve got my latte and my multicolored Post-Its, and I’m crafting a beautiful visual of what’s going to happen in my week or month. That’s not what it’s like?

Demir Bentley

So, what we did was we condensed it down into five simple steps. So, step one, actually, I’ll get a little clever. In our book, we talk about step zero. The reason we called it step zero, not to annoy people, is because you only have to do this step once and you’ll never have to do it again. And that is create an environment for your planning that is a reward in and of itself.

My wife and I, we go to a little brunch place, a little like French café experience. It’s like our date. Call us a nerd if you want because we probably deserve it, but this is like our date afternoon. We have babysitting, we go down to this French café, we spend 30 minutes planning, and then we’ll spend the rest of the time, two and a half hours, just connecting because there’s no better way to connect with your spouse than to get resolution on the unresolved things in your relationship.

So, step zero, do this once, you’ll never have to do it again.

On Friday night, go to a wine bar. Saturday morning, go to a café. Create an environment for your planning that you actually look forward to, that’s a reward in and of itself, and that will have help tamp down on that avoidance that people get around planning because you’ll think to yourself, “Oh, this is a treat. I’m making it a treat for myself.” Okay, that’s step zero.

Step one, and this is something you do every single week, learn a lesson from the past week, five minutes. Take five minutes, don’t learn five lessons, not 500 lessons, just skim the cherry right off the top of the cake, “If I had to find one lesson that I could derive from the past week, something that I did really well, something that I didn’t do well, what would that be?” And fold that into the next week, “How can I apply that in the next week?”

This is what we call a learning loop, and this is how people get better, whether it comes to flying an airplane, or playing sports, or playing music. They all have positive learning loops built into their practice where they’re not just practicing, they’re doing what we call positive intentional practice, where they’re focused on, “What did I do well?” or, “What did I do wrong? And how can I use that to get better?” And just five minutes, that’s it. Not 50, not two hours.

Take five minutes and just observe to yourself, one thing you did right that you want to keep doing, that you should do more this week; one thing that you did wrong that you should maybe correct and learn from this week, and then move on, and roll that into your planning. And that might sound small but do that 100 times, 200 times, and, all of a sudden, you’re getting 1% better in an accumulated sort of exponential way.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, the learning could be anything from, “Hey, when I worked in the morning, I felt very energized. Maybe I should try that again.” Like, that kind of a thing?

Demir Bentley

Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis

So, that’s our first step. What’s number two?

Demir Bentley

Step two, choose a leveraged priority, because the number one mistake people make is they’ll either choose too many priorities, which is an oxymoron because the word priority literally means the one thing above all other things. So, when somebody says to you, “I have five priorities.” It’s like you’re misunderstanding what the word priority means. Priority means the order: one, two, three, four, five. So, people tend to conflate multiple priorities instead of having one. Or, they choose a priority that has no leverage in it.

So, I just want to talk about that for a moment. When we choose something that has no leverage, it means that we have to expend a lot of effort to do that thing but it is no easier to do it the next time that we do it. And when we apply leverage to something, we’re doing it in such a way that every time we come back to do that thing, we have made it at least 1% easier to do it the next time, sometimes 50%, sometimes 80%.

And so, leverage is just walking through your world in such a way as you can say, “How do I choose a priority such that the thing that I do this week does not just benefit me this week but it makes every week in the future easier?” This comes from the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, that rings a bell.

Demir Bentley

Yeah, shoutout to Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. I’ve read that book 12 times. It’s a productivity bible for me. If you haven’t read it, and you’re out there listening, it’s a must read.

Pete Mockaitis

It is amazing. Jay has been on the show, and it’s one of my all-time faves.

Demir Bentley

It’s the ultimate. So, ultimately, it’s really just about as you’re going through your planning, let’s choose a leveraged priority for the week, because, ultimately, you don’t have to be perfect. I know this sounds crazy, people think, “I can only be great at productivity if I’m perfect.” No, if you are in there doing things with leverage every single week, everybody else is going linear and you’re going exponential.

And all it takes, and I’ve seen those with clients again and again and again, is when I get them doing that for six weeks, there’s something magic that happens between week four and week six, where the cumulative effect of four weeks of doing something that makes the future easy, by the time they get to week four, five, or six, they start seeing that loop coming back around, and start saying, “Wow, there’s something different about my life now. Things are feeling easier.”

Pete Mockaitis

And can you give us a couple examples of the sorts of things that have reverberating echoing effects for many weeks to come?

Demir Bentley

Yes, so it could be really anything but I’ll just give you a stupid example. So, when we first had our first kid, I had one of those overly-fancy coffee machines where it took, like, 30 minutes to make a cup of coffee, but now we have a newborn, and I just realized, “This is crazy. It’s taking me 30 minutes to make a cup of coffee. If I make two cups of coffee a day, that’s effectively an hour a day that I’m losing to simply getting caffeine into my system.”

So, I basically said, like, “No matter how much I love this coffee, it’s not worth an hour of my day.” I went ahead and created the simplest coffee station. I consolidated everything down. That whole moment, that aha moment, took me 15 minutes. Now, today, it takes me 10 minutes from the moment I walk into the kitchen, to the moment I walk out, it’s 10 minutes to make a cup of coffee. So, what does that mean?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now, Demir, if I may. What are we talking? Are we talking about a drip? Are we talking about an AeroPress? How was this done?

Demir Bentley

It’s just a button. Slide the thing in.

Pete Mockaitis

Coffee maker button?

Demir Bentley

Like a Nespresso.

Pete Mockaitis

All right, a Nespresso machine.

Demir Bentley

An espresso, slide in the pod, hit the button. There’s a little time for warmup, I’ve got the coffee foamer, and it’s just 10 minutes, in and out, and I’ve got a delicious-tasting coffee that’s 90% as good as the one I made in half an hour but it comes out in 10 minutes or less. And I’m talking about I could really, if I was rushing to it in five or seven minutes, but I’m being generous saying it was 10.

So, think about this in terms of leverage. I did something once that cost me 15 minutes to do in terms of setup. Then every single day now, instead of spending an hour, I’m spending 20 minutes. That means there’s 40 minutes a day, ad infinitum, that I get back into my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, we have steps one and two. What’s three?

Demir Bentley

So, three is interrogate your calendar. Have you ever heard the term review your calendar? “Oh, do a calendar review.” I find that to be so gutless and passive. Review, like, “Oh, okay, I glanced at it, right?” The truth is your calendar is a slippery bastard. There’s so much in there that could screw you up but it doesn’t jump out at you, and say, “Hey, give me a watchout for this, a watchout for this.” It’s there but it’s just sort of buried.

So, I like to think about your calendar, you need to put on the witness stand, and, like one of those procedural shows, or a witness in a movie, you got to sweat your calendar. You got to get in there. You got to hit it from the left, hit it from the right, try to trick it, try to catch it. And so, a lot of people will do a passive calendar review and there are still a lot of landmines hidden in their calendar. It could be that meeting that got rescheduled from noon to 9:00 and you just missed it, but now it’s going to blow you up next week, you’re going to forget it, it’s going to make you look bad.

It could be that you volunteer to take your kids and drive your kids and their friends to a volleyball game, but you forgot about it, you didn’t put in your calendar, another landmine. And when these landmines blow up, it costs us huge amounts of stress and anxiety, you lose social credibility and capital, and you end paying a higher price in terms of your cognitive energy and your actual time to try to fix it in the moment. That’s what I call a landmine.

So, you need to get into your calendar and sweat out those landmines. You need to pour it out and really find them. And the reason why is you need a calendar that you trust more than your instinct. To me, when I look at my calendar now, a lot of people will say, “Well, Demir, you’re supposed to be here next week.” I’m like, “I don’t think so.” And they’ll say, “Your calendar says so.” And I’ll say, “Then you’re absolutely right,” because that’s the kind of effort and attention I give to my calendar. I want my calendar to be the single source of truth in my life when it comes to my time availability and my time supply.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Noted.

Pete Mockaitis

So, when we interrogate it, we’re really looking at each thing and ensuring that it’s true, that it’s accurate, it belongs there, and it’s worth the time that you have put for it to be there. That’s what you mean by interrogate?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, I have a series of like nine questions, “What should be there that isn’t? What’s there that shouldn’t be?” because a lot of times people will decide they’re not going to go to that party but they don’t get it off their calendar. It’s like, “Get it off your calendar.” If it’s not actually going to happen, get it off. They also forget the things around the calendar appointment, like if you’re going to go to the dentist, you need to get out the door, get prepared, drive, anticipate traffic. Then you need to get back.

So, typically, people’s calendar is more of a sketch of their time supply than it is a detailed accounting of exactly where their time is going to need to get allocated. I’m not saying there’s no place for blanks in your calendar. In fact, that’s where we’re going to go next when we actually look at our task list, that’s our time demands. So, once we do this, you should end with a calendar that still has some open spots but you feel very confident, “These are the hard-edge commitments that I have in my calendar, and here’s the time that I have available.” This is what I call your time supply.

If you’re running a basic business, if you don’t have a really good sense of supply and demand, like, “How much inventory do I have to sell this week?” If you don’t know how much inventory, you’re liable to oversell your inventory, which is what people do all the time with their time. They commit to too many things and think that they’ve got more time to get thing done, which means they overcommit to doing to many things, which means that they’re either going to have to work nights or weekends to get it all done, or they’re going to suffer a loss of credibility when they invariably have to come back to people, and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that for you.”

Pete Mockaitis

Understood.

Demir Bentley

Got it. So, time supply and time demand. So, we just took care of time supply. Go over to the demands. Where do your time-demands live? Look at your task list. And that was weird, like when I call your calendar your time supply, and I call your task list time demands, people have to sort of scratch their head, and be like, “Oh, yeah, I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way.”

Your calendar is not just your calendar. It is a tool to help you understand your supply of time, and your task list is really there to help you understand the demands on your time. These are the bids for your time. And the problem is you don’t have enough supply to meet all the demand. So, what you’re really doing when you’re going with your task list is you’re saying, “What are the best highest quality bids?”

So, if I was selling truffles, I used this example in my book, if you’re selling truffles, there’s always fewer truffles in the world than there are demand for truffles. There’s only the small finite supply. And so, this is really elaborate system for allocating truffles in a way where the highest bidder always gets the truffle. And so, that’s what we need to see our time as, as this highly perishable, incredibly finite thing that needs to go only to the highest bidder. And if you don’t send it to the highest bidder, what’s happening is you’re leaving money on the table and under-utilizing that precious resource.

So, we go to your task list for five minutes, and what I really want you to do is the same thing that you did on your calendar, get rid of the stupid stuff. Come on now. Let’s get rid of all that stuff that you know doesn’t really need to happen. Let’s identify that really high-value leveraged stuff. Let’s get into places where something might be urgent but not important, and let’s start to put it in an order where it’s going from the order of most leverage to least leverage, or at least most urgent to least urgent so that we can really understand and look at that top 20% which is our highest-value bids for our time.

I’ll say one more thing here, if I can plug it in. The nature of the modern world is that you will never, from now on to the day that you die, ever finish the weekend that we can get everything done that you planned for the week. I defy you to have a week, because human nature is that, even if you had one week where you got it all done, next week you would increase the amount that you thought you could get done, and you would, thereby, get back into the cycle.

We are greedy and lusty for life. We want more. We want to do more. We want to live more. We want to be more. It’s great. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you need to understand that the definition of winning your week is not that everything got done this week. The definition of winning your week is that, “I did the right things at the right time in the order of leverage and the right level of completion.” That, my friends, is what David Allen calls the martial art of getting things done.

Let me say it one more time because I said it really quick. It’s doing the right thing at the right time to the right level of completion with the right degree of leverage. If you can get those things right, you can look back and say to that bottom 80% of your task list that didn’t get done, “I’m fine with that. I can live with it because I know I did the right things in the right order to the right level of completion.”

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. And the next step?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, and that’s the final step, which is marry the two together. You’ve got this beautiful market, you’ve got time supply, you’ve got time demands, but if you don’t actually marry them together on your calendar, you’ve stopped before Pinocchio becomes a real boy. So, the idea now is to take that top 20% on your task list and actually take it over onto your calendar and give everything a specific time that you’re going to do it. Does that mean it’s written in stone, like the tablets from Moses of old, and God Himself cannot change it? No, it’s just an initial sketch of a plan.

But here’s what happens, and here’s what’s so beautiful. When you start pulling things over, I don’t have one client who will not come back to me after pulling things over and calendarizing, and saying, “Wow, I really don’t have as much time as I thought I had.” But we tend to live in this world of wishful thinking, and there’s nothing that will banish wishful thinking around your calendar and around your capabilities quicker than actually saying, like, “How much of this will fit?” Right?

My grandma used to have a saying, a very religious woman, very pious, so this is the only cussing she ever did, she said, “It’s like 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.” She had this analogy, “That’s like 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.” And what I thought was funny of that was this idea that it’s just you’re trying to put more in here than can possibly fit, and it’s just exploding out. And this is the case with a lot of people’s week, is that by not marrying the two together, they have this idea that they’re going to fit more in than they can. And what ends up happening is that they got a lot of you-know-what sitting all over the place.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s graphic, and it makes the point because you are. You’re going to have a big old mess on your hands and it will be…and something is going to get hurt. Maybe it’s your credibility, maybe it’s your sleep, maybe it is your patience with your loved ones. Something is going to get damaged when you have too much stuff that just doesn’t fit with your time supply available.

Demir Bentley

We’re in a crisis right now of commitment debt. This is something people don’t think about. We know about financial debt. We know about the crisis of financial where people are borrowing against their credit card, they’re not really living within their means, but it’s happening so slowly and so insidiously that it’s just building and building, and for a while they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and everything is fine, until it’s not fine.

And we’re actually experiencing the same thing with commitment debt, meaning every week for 10 years, we’re just overcommitting a little bit, and we’re just taking what we didn’t do this week, and we’re trying to push it into next week, and we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we’re shifting things around and trying to, oh, apologize here and come up late with some miraculous productivity here.

But you run that for a decade or two decades and there’s a point at which you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul anymore, the whole Ponzi scheme comes falling down, and you realize, “I am way overcommitted,” and that comes from not being clearly anchored in living within your means. And it’s not just that you can live within your means financially, you can live within your means from a commitment perspective, “Am I actually making commitments that I have enough or more than enough time to satisfy?” And I would tell you most of my clients come to me and they’re in severe amounts of commitment debt.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Understood. And what’s our next step?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, that’s it. You allocate time supply to time demand, and you meet those two together. Now you’ve got a plan for the week that actually matches base reality. And I can tell you, do that the first week, you’re going to experience something different. And it’s not because there’s anything so amazing or magical about our coaching. It’s just because you’ve covered every single important base.

You have looked at your time supply, you’ve looked at your time demand, you’ve understood where your leveraged priority is, so you have what I call the holy trinity of planning your week. Look at your time supply, your time demand, and your priorities. You’ve covered off on each of those bases, that is better than 99.9% of people do. Most people don’t plan the week at all. The people who do plan the week, they’ll do maybe one of those of three, two of those three. It’s incredibly rare that you’ll see somebody do all three of those and make sure that it fits into the allocated time in the calendar.

The funny thing is it feels magical when you do it. It feels like one of those aha moments where it becomes advanced common sense where once you do it, you’re like, “Well, I can’t really unthink this, I can’t really unlearn this because it has to be like this. It just makes sense.” But then you look back, and say, “Yeah, well, it can’t have made that much sense because I wasn’t doing it for years.” So, it’s just a simple way to cover off on every base.

When most people can actually just plan their week correctly in the right way, they’re going to see that they’re winning more weeks.

And just like investing, you don’t have to win on every investment. You just have to win more investments than you lose to make money. Well, you don’t have to win every week. You just have to win more than you lose with leverage to see yourself in a much better position next year than you are this year.

Pete Mockaitis

And winning, so we do the planning, what is winning, just like executing most of the plan, or how do we define winning?

Demir Bentley

Well, that’s why I defined the leveraged priority. To me, winning is if I can achieve my leveraged priority, I have won for the week, and most of the time, I can do that by Tuesday. So, if I can do something every single week that has leverage on it, I’ve won because I’ve done something this week that makes next week and every week thereafter easier.

Now, that’s probably 5% of my time. Five percent of my working hours is my leveraged priority, not even close to the majority. Again, perfection not needed, not required here. You don’t need to spend 50% of your time working on a leveraged priority. If you could just allocate 5% of your working hours to do something that has a little bit of leverage in it, that means that you’re planting a seed every single week that’s going to benefit all the weeks thereafter.

So, that, to me, is the definition of winning. If I can get my leveraged priority done every week, I’ve won. And then, thereafter, I’m just scoring extra credit bonus points.

To win the week is not, “I’ve got everything done.” Win the week is, “I’ve got the big thing done and I made the biggest possible dent I could in the rest.”

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Demir, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Demir Bentley

I would just say that I wrote the book Winning the Week because I think that we need to be more humane in our conception of how we treat ourselves in the productivity world. There’s a strong undercurrent right now of, like, “Be more disciplined. Be more excellent. Get up at 4:00. Do all of the things. Do the perfect habits. Do everything right. Don’t lose a day.”

And I just feel like that doesn’t match up with the thousands and thousands and thousands of clients I’ve had. Human beings have good days, we have bad days. It’s a mix. Every day in every week, we’re sort of meeting ourselves at a different level. Sometimes we wake up, we’ve got more energy, more desire to do something. Sometimes a little bit less.

The thing I love about playing the game in a week-long increment is you can have a bad day or two and still win the week. And this is sort of the message I want to get out to people. You can feel that you got your butt kicked five days out of the week, and yet still look back and look at what you did that week, and realize that you won the week.

So, I don’t want people trying to connect themselves to this idea that, “I need to be perfect every day. I need to crush it every day.” Actually, no, you can get your butt kicked five days out of the week. And if you did it with the right level of intention, and you chose the right leveraged points, you can actually look back on a week that you really felt like took you to the cleaners, and realize that you won the week.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. Well, now can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Demir Bentley

We came up with The ONE Thing when we were talking earlier. I think that book is a productivity bible. There are so many quotes and amazing things from that book. So, although I don’t have a quote, I’ll put in everything in the book The ONE Thing. That book is just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Demir Bentley

I think the best one, his name is Czechoslovakian. It’s so hard. It’s Czecemensky or Zemensky or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

Demir Bentley

There we go. Thank you, yeah. He did a study that, basically, said, it proved that when we walk away from a task that’s incomplete, our brain continues trying to problem-solve around it, unless, and this was the important part of the study that really intrigued me, unless you actually gave yourself a breadcrumb trail to come back to it. So, that when we actually terminated something midway, meaning we hadn’t completed it, if we actually created a specific plan for when we were going to come back to it, and what we were going to do when we came back to it, they found that your brain actually didn’t spin around it.

I think the reason I love that so much is because the truth is that we still have to live as human beings in the midst of our productivity journey. There’s always going to be moments where you’re deep in the middle of something, you’re knee-deep in it, and you need to step away, whether that’s the weekend where we all have to step away every five days, or whether it’s a crisis in your personal life and you need to step away from something.

I think there’s something so beautiful about being able to sort of recognize, “If I don’t give myself a specific time and plan when I’m going to come back to this, I’m going to be spinning on it and burning a lot of cognitive energy that’s going to keep me from enjoying my weekend, that’s going to keep me from being present in this moment where I need to be present. But if I actually just say, ‘This is the plan, and this is where I’m coming back to it,’ I can actually put it down and know that my brain isn’t burning and losing cognitive energy as I’m facing this thing that I need to face in my personal life.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite tool?

Demir Bentley

I think my favorite tool is Asana. And the reason my favorite tool is Asana, or choose your flavor, it could be Monday.com, is because I think it represents a paradigm shift in how we think about productivity and communication, and that’s a different podcast. But I think Asana is more than a technology. I think it’s a paradigm shift.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

I say all the time, I say perfection not required.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Thank you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, check us out at WinningTheWeek.com or you can check us out at LifeHackMethod.com. That points to over our different socials, and we’re everywhere. We’re on Insta, and we’re on YouTube. It’s got some cool trainings. So, if you want to sample a little of the goods, we’ve got a lot of free trainings on YouTube and different places you can check us out.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

Yeah, I’ll just say do less than you think. Just like working out, people think, “I got to get in the gym. I’ve got to become this warrior. I’m going to lose all this weight.” And, really, what you should be doing is getting out and getting up to 10,000 steps. The difference between 7,000 steps and 10,000 steps is huge when it comes to your health. And the difference between planning your week for 30 minutes versus not is tremendous in your productivity.

So, stop trying to be a weekend warrior, and get in there, and be Rambo, and just blow the competition away, and start thinking about really, really small things that can have huge disproportion effects for your productivity.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. Demir, this is awesome. I wish you much winning of many weeks.

Demir Bentley

Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure, man.

REBROADCAST: 357: The Six Morning Habits of High Performers with Hal Elrod

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Hal Elrod says: "Be at peace with where you are and take steps every day to get where you want to go."

Miracle Morning author Hal Elrod condensed the six habits of the most successful people in history into the SAVERS acronym and describes how they changed his life—and how they can change yours, too.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Approaches for silence that generate new ideas
  2. How NOT to do affirmations
  3. The impact of tiny amounts of exercise

About Hal

He is one of the highest rated keynote speakers in America, creator of one of the fastest growing and most engaged online communities in existence and author of one of the highest rated, best-selling books in the world, The Miracle Morning—which has been translated into 27 languages, has over 2,000 five-star Amazon reviews and is practiced daily by over 500,000 people in 70+ countries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • UpliftDesk.com. Build your dream workstation and get 5% off with promo code AWESOME

Hal Elrod Interview Transcript

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

Hal Elrod
Pete, I’m feeling awesome at my job of being a podcast guest right now, so ….

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, well you’re off to a great start with the enthusiasm.

Hal Elrod
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
I also hear that you’re enthusiastic about UFC. What’s the story here?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, it’s kind of funny because I’m the most non-violent UFC fan I think that there is. For those that don’t know, UFC is Ultimate Fighting Championship. If I would have ever turned on the TV and saw two guys fighting, I don’t think I ever would have gotten pulled in.

In 2004 I think it was, I just turned on the TV on Spike TV and the reality show The Ultimate Fighter, which for those of you who don’t know, this is actually how the UFC turned – they were a failing company and they turned themselves around by putting fighters in a reality show.

It was like the Real World meets UFC fighting, where fighters lived in a house together for six weeks and they competed in a tournament, where they’re fighting each other and they’re sharing rooms with each other. I got really connected to the storyline of the fighters. Then I actually cared about what they were going to do. Then fast forward, I’ve been a fan now for gosh, 13 years or so.

Now it’s just two people that are – the people that compete in the UFC, they have to master seven or eight different fighting disciplines. There’s no other sport – in basketball, you just master basketball. In UFC, it’s you’ve got to be proficient, not proficient, you’ve got to be excellent in wrestling, and excellent in jiu-jitsu, and excellent at karate, and excellent at boxing, and excellent at all these different styles.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a full hour of UFC programming before. I’m impressed by what these athletes do. They are fit – in great shape. I just hurt watching it, so I think I turn away. It’s like, “Ow,” then I find something else.

These athletes – you literally at the top level, in the UFC essentially, you’ve got to be as good as Michael Jordan at basketball and while you’re as good as Jordan at basketball, you have to as good as Tiger Woods at golf and – these guys train, they’ll train – they’re basically train 12 hours a day, 6 to 12 hours a day. They’re training – Monday they do wrestling for 3 hours, then they do boxing for 3 hours. Then Tuesday – it’s just crazy to have to train not just one sport, but 7 or 8.

Pete Mockaitis
That is why their physiques are striking. It’s like that person is among the fittest that I’ve beheld.

Hal Elrod
And their cardio, to compete at that level and do that.

Yeah, the funny part is I’m non-violent. A lot of times in a match it will get too violent for me. I love the sport. I love the storyline. I appreciate the athletes, but yeah, when it gets bloody and stuff, which it does sometimes, I’m like, “Ah, ….” It’s funny, I’m a huge fan, but I don’t like when they hurt each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. It’s funny, that’s sort of like – that’s kind of one of your things is you are such a positive guy and talking about sort of potential and possibility and how to unlock that largely in terms of getting the momentum going through morning routines. I’d love it if you could give us maybe the short version of your incredible story about how you got into morning routines to become such a believer. What happened in your life that sparked this?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, I usually frame the story by saying I’ve had a few rock bottoms in my life. Those kind of, each one was the catalyst for a different component of my life’s work today.

Let me start by just saying to define a rock bottom, it’s something that we’ve all had. In fact many of them will have more of them. I define a rock bottom as simply a moment in time, moment in your life, a moment in adversity that is beyond what you’ve experienced before.

I don’t compare one person’s rock bottom to another and say, “Well, mine’s worse than yours or yours is worse than hers.” It’s relative to who you are at any given moment in time.

When I was in elementary school and my girlfriend broke up with me, we had been going out for two weeks that was a rock bottom for me. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine going to school any more, like life was over relative to who I was at the time.

The major rock bottoms I had when I was 19 years old I was one of the top sales reps for Cutco Cutlery. I never considered myself a salesperson but a buddy got me into – “Give this a chance.” I’m like, “Eh, I’ll try it just to get you off my back.” Ten days into the career I broke the company record. That sent me on a path of oh, maybe I’m not this mediocre person I’ve been my whole life. Maybe I can do something extraordinary. I went on to break all these records.

A year and a half into the company that I was working with then, I was giving a speech at one of their events. After my speech driving home in a brand new Ford Mustang – I had bought my first new car a few weeks prior – I was hit head-on by a drunk driver at 70 to 80 miles per hour. Then my car spun off the drunk driver, another car hit me from the side, directly in my door at 70 miles an hour and instantaneously broke 11 of my bones.

My femur broke in half. My pelvis broke three separate times. My humerus bone behind my bicep broke in half. My elbow was shattered. My eye socket was shattered. Ruptured lung, punctured lung, ruptured spleen, so on and so forth. I actually, clinically, I was dead. I clinically was found dead at the scene. I died for six minutes, was in a coma for six days and was told my doctors that I would never walk again.

Came out of the coma and three weeks later took my first step and went on to fully recover and walk again. That was really – the turning point for me there was – or I decided maybe I’m meant to do more than just stay in sales because I was going to stay with the company forever. I loved the company. I decided I had to do more.

I had always wanted to be a professional keynote speaker, Pete, because I had been speaking at all these conferences for my company. I thought man, I would love to do this for a living. There are these people like Tony Robbins and you see all these – this is what they do. I would love that. It would be like a dream come true.

I had this kind of – I don’t know if you’d call it an epiphany or just a realization – I thought maybe that’s why I’m going through this experience. They say everything happens for a reason, but I’m a firm believer that it’s our responsibility to choose the reasons. It’s not predetermined. It’s not fate. It’s not out of our control.

Something bad could happen, you can say “This happened because life’s unfair and there is no God.” You can find all sorts of reasons why everything happens or you can say what I did, I went, “Maybe I’m supposed to learn from this and grow from this and take this head on so that I can learn how to teach other people to take their adversity head on.” That’s what I did and I launched that into a speaking career.

Then fast forward and kind of bringing it to what led into more morning rituals, in 2008 when the US economy crashed, I crashed with it. I lost over half my coaching clients, I was a coach at the time, half my income in 2008, couldn’t pay my mortgage, I lost my house, I cancelled my gym membership, my body fat percentage tripled in six months. It was just this real six month downward spiral.

A sequence of events led me to go on a run and listen to an audio from Jim Rohn.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Jim Rohn. The musical—

Hal Elrod
The great Jim Rohn.

Pete Mockaitis
I love the music in his voice.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, absolutely. Jim Rohn, this is the quote that he said on that run. This quote came to my life faster than I ever thought possible and it really is the catalyst for the Miracle Morning. He said “Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development because success is something you attract by the person you become.”

In that moment I went, I’m not dedicating time every day to my personal development, therefore, I’m not becoming the person that I need to be to create the success that I want in my life. I had this epiphany that I’ve got to go figure out what the world – I’m going to run home and figure out what the world’s most successful people do for their personal development.

I’m going to find the best personal development practice in history of humanity or best known to man and I’m going to do that. And I didn’t know what it was going to be. I ran home and I Googled best personal development practices of millionaires, billionaires, CEOs, Olympians, you name it.

And I had a list of six different practices. They were all timeless. They had all been practiced for centuries. I almost went well, none of these are new. I think we’re really conditioned in our society to look for the new, the new app, the new movie, the new season on Netflix. We want new, new, new. We’re all new.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got to update the app like every month.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, exactly. I almost dismissed these. I was like, ah, these are timeless. It’s almost really silly. When you really translate it you can say these are the practices that the world’s most successful people have been doing for centuries. I want something new. It makes no sense.

The epiphany I finally went, wait a minute. This is what successful people do. I don’t do these. Then the real epiphany was which one of these am I going to do and then I went wait, what if I did all of these.

What if I woke up tomorrow morning an hour earlier, because that was the only time I could figure out in the schedule to add an hour. I was working all day trying to not lose my house, which didn’t work. I lost my house. But I was just trying to stay alive, stay afloat. I didn’t feel like I had any extra time.

Even though I wasn’t a morning person I thought if I want my life to improve, I’ve got to improve. I’ve got to wake up an hour earlier and I’ve got to do one of these six practices. The epiphany was what if I did all of them, what if I woke up tomorrow morning an hour earlier and I did the six most timeless, proven, personal development practices in the history of humanity.

I woke up the next day, I did them. I sucked at all of them. We can talk about what the practices are, but I didn’t know how to do – one is meditation. I didn’t know how to meditate. I didn’t know how to do any of these things really well. I was really terrible at all of them.

But one hour into it my very first day, my very first hour of what is now called the Miracle morning, it didn’t have a name back then, I felt incredible. I felt confident for the first time in six months. I felt energized. I felt motivated. I felt like I had clarity.

The realization is if I start every day like this, where I become a better version of the person I was that went to bed the night before, and I do this consistently day after day after day after day, it is only a matter of time before I become the person that I need to be that can create the success that I want, any level that I want in any and every area of my life.

I thought it would 6 to 12 months; it was less than 2 months that I more than doubled my income. I went from being in the worst shape of my life physically to committing to running a 52-mile ultra-marathon. I had never run more than a mile before. My depression went away within a couple of days. Because my life changed so dramatically and so quickly, I started calling it my Miracle Morning. The rest is history.

Years later I wrote the book and now it’s this worldwide movement with about a half million people from what we can track every day do their miracle morning and the results are really amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an awesome story. It makes sense in terms of having engaged some of these practices. I love the gumption, okay, I’m going to do all of them. You put this together into a snazzy acronym, SAVERS, standing for these six steps of silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and scribing, which means writing. I understand you’ve got to make the acronym work, no shame there.

Hal Elrod
It was my wife’s idea for an acronym. I was writing the book one day and I was frustrated. I go “Sweetie, Stephen Covey’s got the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Robert Kiyosaki’s got the Cashflow Quadrant. These gurus always create this memorable system.” I said, “I’ve got these six hodgepodge practices and I didn’t invent any of them.”

She goes, “Sweetheart, why don’t you get a – calm down first of all,” because I was all stressed, she goes, “Why don’t you get a thesaurus and see if you can find other words with the same meaning and make an acronym?” The acronym is a huge part of it. She gets all the credit for that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I guess along with that then, I’d love to dig into each of these practices and just hear a little bit in terms of what it means then the best practice or a pitfall associated with doing it or an optimal dosage or amount of time to do each of these.

I imagine in many ways the answer is it doesn’t really matter, just do something like that and you’re all good. But if there’s some finer points to maximizing, well, hey, you’re the expert. I want to hear them. Let’s dig into silence and then the rest.

Hal Elrod
Here’s what I’ll preface all of this with. I am a very results-oriented person. A lot of these six practices are taught in a way that’s kind of woo-woo, that makes somebody feel good while they do it, but they don’t necessarily see measurable improvements in their life.

And for me that was unacceptable. It was unacceptable in my own practice, but then especially when I wrote the book I thought, I need to make these really practical and actionable and not just fluffy and airy-fairy and woo-woo. I’ll give a tip on each of these in terms of how do you make it kind of practical and results oriented.

The first S in SAVERS stands for silence. I’m actually really – it was originally meditation. I’m really glad that it became silence because some people, their silence is prayer. They might not want to meditate. Or for me it’s actually a combination of both. But meditation is really the crux. It’s the majority of my time in silence.

If you think about it, most of us, we don’t have a lot of time in silence. It’s usually we’re – it’s kind of chaos from the time we get up, then we’re in the car listening to podcasts or the radio, music, something like that. Then we’re at work with people and on phone calls. There’s usually not a lot of time for kind of peaceful, purposeful silence.

Yet that’s when – when we quiet our mind, that’s when our best ideas come. We tap into our inner wisdom. We tap into the wisdom of – if you want to get woo-woo for a second – the universe or higher intelligence, whatever you want to call it, God.

But meditation, the way it’s been taught, people often – they’re taught to clear your mind. Most people, they can’t do that or it’s very challenging and it takes somebody years to get where they can actually do that. Well, for me, I want results. I will use my meditation as a way to set the mindset for the day.

I’ll look at my schedule and I’ll go “Okay, what do I need to accomplish today?” It depends on what’s on the agenda. I just finished writing a new book. When I was working on that book, every day, every morning, I’d meditate before I’d write and I would go, “Man, I need ideas.” I need some content for today. I would set my intention for the meditation.

My intention would often be “Okay, what am I working on? What chapter am I working on today? I need ideas for this chapter.” I would just set that as an intention. Then I would meditate. I would always have my notes app on my phone in front of me with my timer going for ten minutes usually is what I meditate for.

I don’t think there was a single day where I wasn’t flooded six ideas, where I would pause the meditation timer, I’d open up the note tab and I would write an idea. Then I would go back to mediate and then I would just sit there.

Here’s the difference, I wasn’t trying to think. When you force thought, you don’t usually get your best thought. It’s in those moments – that’s why when we’re in the shower, not even thinking about something, we have our best ideas. When we’re falling asleep, not even thinking about something, we have our best ideas.

This is a way to engineer that space for you’re tapping into your genius every single morning so that you bring those ideas and that clarity into your day. That’s one way to meditate.

Another way to do it is sometimes I might have a speech for that day and I go “I need to feel confident. I’m speaking.” I will literally just affirm things while I’m in my meditation. I’ll just affirm things like what did I do today – I chose three statements.

I’ve been having some cognitive challenges because I just went through – I just finished cancer. I beat cancer, but I still have chemotherapy ongoing for maintenance and it really – the effects to your cognitive ability are really damaging. They call it chemo brain. They kind of laugh it off, but it really – it’s a very real thing what it does to your brain. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my memory and this and that.

This morning I just meditated on saying “I am brilliant. My brain is brilliant. My memory is excellent.” I forgot what the third one was. Anyway, the point is use meditation not to remove thought. You can. Sometimes I’ll meditate in that way where I just try to get a state of being really loving and peaceful.

But ultimately I typically will have a specific result that I want to generate internally, either mentally or emotionally, and I will set that intention going into the meditation. I will use the meditation actively to do that. I will think something over and over and over while I deeply feel it in a way that will serve me for the rest of the day. Any questions? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Can you give us a sample of your internal dialogue of going over and over and over again?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, that was the one today. Here, I’ll bring it up real quick.

This morning I went “My brain is brilliant. My memory is excellent. My heart is pure.” I just affirmed that. What’s interesting is we’re about to get into the A of SAVERS, which is affirmations. But I often will combine the SAVERS.

For example, when I get to the E in SAVERS is exercise, while I’m exercising, I’ll often do the V, which is visualization. I’m then making that mind-body connection and leveraging the power of both simultaneously. I’m also being efficient with time.

“My brain is brilliant. My memory is excellent. My heart is pure.” That is an affirmation, but I will meditate on that affirmation and then kind of get the benefits of both.

Sometimes I will – I have pictures – I’m in the room where I do my Miracle Morning right now. I have pictures of my children, my family, my wife up along the wall. Sometimes I will just look at those pictures and just maybe look at one. I’ll look at my picture of my daughter like I am right now and I’ll just internalize the gratitude and the love that I feel for her. Then I’ll close my eyes and I’ll just meditate on that for a minute or two. Then I’ll go to my son.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say meditate on that, you’re just sort of experiencing that.

Hal Elrod
I’m just feeling it.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to letting your mind chatter in any direction.

Hal Elrod
I’m just deeply feeling it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, I’m just deeply felling that emotion. Yeah, that experience.

I’ll use meditation a lot. I’m big on gratitude. I’ll often use meditation – I’ll simply take the emotion of gratitude or the experience of gratitude, most people when they experience gratitude, it’s usually at the intellectual level. If you say “What are you grateful for?” they can list things off. They feel it in their head, but there’s a big difference between intellectual gratitude and deep, heart-felt soulful gratitude at the level where it puts you in tears.

I’ll use meditation to try to get there, to try to get to feel that much of an emotion that serves me. Again, the emotion – gratitude is one, it could be confidence, it could be love, it could be whatever.

I do pray. I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. That’s a whole other conversation, but prayer on even the scientific level as well as the spiritual level. A lot of times I’ll use my silence as prayer and I’ll just – for me, it’s very fluid. There is no right or wrong and that’s probably the biggest – here’s the biggest key.

Let me, whether we close with this for this portion, but when it comes to silence, if you’re at all overwhelmed by meditation or anything like that, set a timer on your phone for ten minutes and be in silence for ten minutes, that’s it.

The only way you can fail is if you judge yourself for any part of your experience. If you go, “Oh, I shouldn’t be having these thoughts. Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking. Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling this way. Oh, I shouldn’t have thought of that.” That’s the only way you can fail at silence is to judge your experience. If you just sit there in silence, you cannot help but get value.

Number one, it lowers your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the fear and the stress chemical in your body, the hormone that causes fear, that causes stress. When you sit in silence, it’s scientifically proven – there are over 1,400 scientific studies that prove the benefits of meditation. It’s scientifically proven that when you sit in silence, it lowers your cortisol.

Now, granted, if you are intentionally thinking stressful thoughts, I don’t know that that would achieve that objective. That’s where judging yourself is a stressful thought. But yeah, if you sit in silence, you will lower your stress, you will gain clarity, new insights will come into your mind and you’ll get better with practice.

Your first day in silence is your worst day in silence. Every day that you do it, you’ll stumble upon new levels of consciousness, new ways of feeling, thinking, being that once you grab them, you can then get there quicker, easier, stay there longer. The benefits of spending time in silence will simply be amplified and deepened over time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Then with silence, what makes it silence is just that you’re not actively reading something, listening to something, tapping away on your phone, you are – or in motion, so you are seated and you may have your eyes closed and you’re just sort of letting your own internal self be the focus.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, exactly. I like to sit up straight. I bought a meditation pillow on Amazon a few months back. That’s been big. There’s something about just having a – it was like 29.99 or something – having a spot that I specifically go to meditate. Because before I got lazy in my meditation where I was doing it on the couch kind of slouched over.

If there’s any wrong way to meditate, really the big one is judging yourself for the experience, thinking that you’re doing it wrong. You’re not. As long as you’re in silence, you’re not doing it wrong. If you have a negative thought, just let it pass and focus on something positive.

But if there’s a wrong way to mediate beyond judging yourself, it is your posture. When you sit slouched over, laying down, your breath slows, you’re not – you want to find the balance between relaxation and alertness, attentiveness. Sitting up straight, sitting tall, breathing deeply, being really alert and aware, but very calm and relaxed, that’s the ideal state for that silence.

Like you said, it just means that there’s no stimuli. There’s no stimuli, where you’re not focused on something. That’s why closing your eyes is good. Now there are ways of meditating where you can have your eyes open. Sometimes I will open my eyes and so I’ll look at the pictures of my family or I’ll look at a beautiful picture of a sunset/sunrise that puts me in a really nice state.

But yeah, everything that you said is correct, just doing – by the way, setting a timer is the other piece I was going to mention. You don’t have to think “How long am I doing it? Am I doing it long enough? Should I do it longer?” Don’t be checking the clock, just have your timer set.

That way you know, “I’m free for ten minutes to not think about anything,” or think about, whatever, “I’m free for ten minutes just to sit here in silence. I’m not going to lose track of time because that timer is going to go off when it’s time for me to get up and do my affirmations or whatever’s next in your Miracle Morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Cool. Yeah, let’s talk about the affirmations next in the Miracle Morning. What do you mean by that and what do you not mean by that?

Hal Elrod
I’m biased in that I’m often asked do you have a favorite of the SAVERS and the politically correct answer would be no, they’re all equally important. But the answer is affirmations are my favorite by far.

Affirmations are – first let me just say, I believe they’ve been taught incorrectly or ineffectively I should say by self-help gurus, if you will, for, I don’t know, decades. I don’t know how long. But let me define what an affirmation is then I’ll talk about why they’ve been taught wrong and what I find is the most effective way to do them.

An affirmation is simply a written statement that directs your focus towards something of value. Now, you could write affirmations that were negative, that were not of value. Obviously that’s not an objective of yours. We have written statements that directly focus towards something of value.

The way affirmations have been taught, there are two problems with the way they’ve been taught for decades, I don’t know, centuries, I don’t know how long.

Number one is a form of affirmation that’s essentially lying to yourself, trying to trick yourself into believing something that is not true or is not yet true. For example, let’s say you want to be a millionaire, well, a lot of self-help pioneers have taught, just put the words “I am” in front of whatever you want to be and say that to yourself until you believe it.

You say, “I am a millionaire. I am a millionaire. I am a millionaire.” But we all know the truth. We know our truth. We’re not a millionaire. We want to be millionaire. We say, “I’m a millionaire,” our subconscious or even our conscious mind is going to go “No, you’re not. You’re lying.” Then you’re fighting with reality, which is never ideal. The truth will always prevail.

You go “I am a millionaire,” and your brain goes, “No you’re not. You’re not even close.” You’re like, “Shut up. I’m doing my affirmations.” Number one problem with affirmations the way they’ve been taught is lying to yourself is not optimal.

The second problem with affirmations the way they’ve been taught is that self-help pioneers have taught you to use flowery passive language. We’ll still on the topic of finances. You may have heard this affirmation; it’s very popular, or some variation of this. “I am a money magnet. Money flows to me effortlessly and in abundance.”

A lot of people say that affirmation and they really like it. I believe they like it because it makes them feel good in the moment. They go, “Man, I checked my bank balance this morning and it was negative, so I need some affirmations to make me feel better. I’m a money magnet. Oh, that feels good. Money is flowing to me effortlessly. All of my financial problems will be taken care of by the universe,” or whatever.

It’s like no, that’s not how money works. It’s not effortless. That’s very rare. Go buy a lotto ticket, hope. That’s not going to happen most likely. The way that money is created is by you adding value to the world or to the marketplace and then you’re compensated for that value.

I’ll give you an example of how to use affirmations in a way that is not based in lying to yourself or in this passive language that makes you feel good at the moment, but takes your responsibility away from creating the results that you want. There’s four steps to create affirmations that produce results.

Number one is, affirm what you’re committed to. Don’t say, “I’m a millionaire,” or not even “I want to be a millionaire,” say “I’m committed to becoming a millionaire,” maybe even add a when, “By the time I’m 40 or 50,” or whatever or in the next 12 months or 24 months, or whatever.

Start with number one what am I committed to. It’s a very different when you affirm something you’re committed to versus something that you think you are or want to be that you know you’re not.

The second thing is why is that deeply meaningful. After you affirm what you’re committed to, reinforce, remind yourself, why is that deeply meaningful to you. If you want to become a millionaire, why? Is it because you want to … financial freedom for your family, because you want to buy fancy cars.

Depending on how meaningful it really is, that’s going to determine how much leverage you have over yourself to actually do the things necessary to get you there. That’s number three is affirm what specifically you’re committed to doing that will ensure your success. What are the activities you’re committed to that will ensure your success?

I’m committed to increasing my income to $100,000 a year and saving 50% or whatever. Get very specific on the activities that you’re going to do. When I was in sales I would affirm how many phone calls I was going to be making every day because I knew if I made that number of phone calls, my success was inevitable. I couldn’t fail. The average … would work themselves out if I made my phone calls every day.

Then the fourth part of the affirmation formula is when specifically are you committed to implementing those activities. When are you going to make your phone calls? When are you going to run every day to lose that weight? When are you going to take your significant other out on a date or tell them you love them or write? What and when are you going to – what are the activities and when are you going to do them?

Those four steps: what are you committed to, why is it deeply meaningful to you, what activities are you committed to doing that will ensure your success, then when, specifically, are you committed to doing those activities. Those are the four steps create what I call Miracle Morning affirmations.

Miracle Morning affirmations are practical and they’re result-oriented and they reinforce the commitments that you need to stick to ensure that you achieve the results that you want to achieve in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig. It. Well, we’re having fun here, but I could get perhaps the one-minute version of the visualization, the exercise, the reading and the scribing?

Hal Elrod
Yeah, I’m long-winded, so thank you for setting me up. I appreciate that.

Visualization, here’s what I’ll say two things on it. Number one is the world’s best athletes, almost all of them use visualization including UFC fighters. There’s a reason for that. It’s they visualize themselves performing optimally and achieving their goals so that they go there mentally and emotionally before they ever step on the court or before they ever open the book or before they ever write.

They’ve already gone there in their mind, so when it’s real time, when it’s game time, when it’s practice time, it’s that much easier to go there.

The other thing I’ll say on visualization is don’t just visualize the end result, visualize – in fact, more important, visualize the activity. See yourself getting on the phone to make those calls. See yourself opening your computer to write those words that’s going to make that into a book. See yourself going to the gym or lacing up your running shoes and heading out your front door, especially if you don’t feel like it or you don’t like doing those things.

See yourself doing it with a smile on your face in a way that’s appealing. When I was training for my ultra-marathon, I hated running. Every morning I visualized myself enjoying running. Because I did it in the morning in my living room, when it was time to run, I actually had already created this anticipation that I would want to do it. Then I actually felt that when it was time to go for a run. That’s the power in visualization.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Now when you say visualize yourself, I’m thinking almost like dreams. Sometimes they’re first person, sometimes they’re third person. Do you visualize, like you’re seeing yourself from a third-person vantage point putting on the shoes?

Hal Elrod
You can do both, but I usually do yeah, first person and then – or no, third person, where I see myself from the outside. I see myself like I’m watching a movie of myself. Part of that movie will involve me looking in the mirror usually. That’s part of it almost always.

Pete Mockaitis
The dramatic montage music.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Yeah, feel free to play the music. Literally play that music on your phone while you’re doing the visualization. A lot of people do that.

The E is for exercise. Here’s what I’ll say is that if you like to – if you don’t exercise at all, this applies to you. If you exercise – if you already go, “Dude, I go to the gym after work or on my lunch break or I like to run in the evenings. It’s my-“ this still applies to you and here’s why.

I’m not telling you that you need to switch your gym time to the morning, what I’m telling you is that the benefits of exercising in the morning even for 60 seconds, if you’re sitting on the couch going, “I know I should – I don’t have any energy. I’m so tired,” stand up and do 60 seconds of jumping jacks.

I promise you at the end of the 60 seconds, you’ll be breathing hard. Your blood will be flowing throughout your lymph system. Your brain – the oxygen, your cells will be oxygenated. You’ll feel ten times more awake than you did before you did those 60 seconds of jumping jacks.

I in the morning usually do stretching followed by a seven minute workout. That’s an app on the phone. It’s also on YouTube. It’s totally free. I highly recommend it. It’s a full body workout in seven minutes. It’s fast-paced, so you get cardio as well as strength training, as well as stretching and flexibility. That’s what I recommend in the morning, just a little bit of exercise and –

Pete Mockaitis
What’s the video or app called? The seven-minute thing?

Hal Elrod
7 Minute Workout, number 7 Minute Workout.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s just called 7 Minute Workout. Okay, that’s easy.

Hal Elrod
Yeah, it’s phenomenal. There’s a few different apps. I use the free version. Then the – actually although I subscribe to the monthly version to open up all the different exercises and different workouts and this and that.

But the R is for reading. I don’t need to say much on this is that we’re all, every single one of us is one book away, whatever topic we want to improve in our life, we’re one book away from learning everything that we need to learn to improve that area of our life.

You want to be happy? There’s a book on that. In fact, there’s hundreds. What to have an amazing marriage? There’s a book on that. In fact, there’s hundreds. Do you want to be a millionaire or be wealthy and financially free? There’s hundreds of books on that.

In fact, so I just made a documentary called The Miracle Morning. It reveals the morning rituals of some of the world’s most successful people. In that is world-class entrepreneur Joe Polish.

He said that, he goes, “When I meet someone and I say ‘What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?’ and they go, ‘Well, I don’t read. I haven’t read a book.’” He said, “It blows my mind that in places where people have access to books and they know how to read and therefore they have access to everything they need to know to transform anything in their life to be at the most extraordinary level they could be,” he says, “It blows my mind that people aren’t reading every single day.”

Why aren’t you reading every day? It could be five or ten minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be a long time. Think about it, if you read 10 pages a day, that’s 300 pages a month. No, no, let’s say 5 pages a day, that’s 150 pages a month. That’s one self-help book a month, 12 a year. You’re a different person.

You’re separating yourself from 95% of our society and you’re joining the top 5% that reads those books because you’re learning everything you need to transform any area of your life. Any questions on reading and then we can dive into the last one?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. No.

Hal Elrod
Okay. The final S is the word scribing. That’s a pretentious word for writing, but I needed an S for the final part of the SAVERS to round out the acronym.

For me, journaling is – this is where goal setting is involved in scribing. That’s under that umbrella. Journaling is what I would – that would be my scribing. I use an app called Five Minute Journal. They also make a hardcover version if you prefer to write by hand. You can also just write freehand on a piece of paper.

The Five Minute Journal, I like it because it’s scientifically researched and it’s very simple and takes five minutes. It’s simply pre-prompted statements or questions. There’s just a few.

In the morning it’s three things I’m grateful for and the three most important things that I need to do today to make today a great day. I don’t know if it’s worded that exact words, but that’s paraphrasing. Of all things on my to-do list, what are the three that will make the biggest difference in my life, my business, etcetera.

Every morning I start by focusing on three things I’m grateful for, which remind me that my life is already amazing. It doesn’t matter what’s going on outside of me if I focus on internally what I have to be grateful for, everything is – there’s always things to feel amazing about. There’s always things to complain about. What we focus on becomes our reality.

I start with gratitude, then I look at my to-do list, I look at my goals, like okay, of the infinite things I could work on today and out of the 20 things that are on my goal and to-do list, what are the three that will make the biggest impact for me right now and move me forward toward my most important goals?

If you think about it, most people we don’t take the time to just get that level of clarity. It only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s a game changer.

Because here’s the problem, most of us are busy. Every day we’re busy. Being busy tricks our brain into thinking we’re being productive. But productive isn’t busy. Productive is busy doing the things that move us toward our biggest goals, our greatest dreams, the life that we truly want to live and the impact we truly want to make.

That simple act of scribing every morning, forcing your brain to clarify it in writing, what are those top three priorities, that is – for me, that’s been a game changer. It’s allowed me to make massive progress on these goals that once were just fantasies that I never even thought – really believed I could accomplish.

Like making a documentary, that was a fantasy. I didn’t know how to do that. Now we just debuted at a film festival. That will come out probably later this year.

A lot of that is because of – it’s all because of the SAVERS. It’s all because of this process reinforcing the beliefs through meditation, through silence, and affirmations, and visualization, and all of these practices all combine to really create optimal physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual kind of capacity every day that will allow you to become the level ten person that you need to be, if you will, on a scale of one to ten, to create the level ten life that you want, that I believe that all of us really deserve.

Pete Mockaitis
That is beautiful. Thank you. Well, Hal, tell me, anything else you want to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Hal Elrod
The point is that the SAVERS, any one of them will change your life, but if you implement – try them all for a month. I would say do the 30-day challenge, the Miracle Morning 30-day challenge, do them all for a month, either 5 minutes each for a half an hour total routine or 10 minutes each for an hour routine.

Then you’ll have real experience to go, “Okay, do I want to keep doing all 6 of these?” Maybe only 4 of them really resonated with you. You only want to do 4. Maybe 4. It could be 5. I don’t know. But try them all and see what happens. It’s pretty life changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now could you share with us a favorite book?

Hal Elrod
Favorite book is – well, it’s this book – one of my favorite books is called Vision to Reality. In fact, let me give you two. They’re by the same author. I just got her new book. Vision to Reality is her first – I think it was her first book. Oh no, it’s her second book by Honoree Corder.

Her new book is called Stop Trying so F*cking Hard Live Authentically, Design a Life you Love, and Be Happy. It’s in my hand right now. I’m reading. I’m about halfway through. I am loving this book. She’s a great author. She’s written like 25 books. Her original Vision to Reality has been my favorite for a long time, but I think the new one might surpass that. It’s called Stop Trying so F*cking Hard.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Hal Elrod
Favorite tool would be that app I mentioned earlier, the Five Minute Journal app. That’s one of my favorite. I put one picture every day and it allows me to capture my life every day for the past few years that I’ve used it. Reflecting on that is really meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Hal Elrod
The biggest thing is we all usually have this monkey on our back of urgency, like, “Man, I want to be where that guy is or where she is.” “Man, I have all these goals and dreams; I want to be there now.” It creates this feeling of scarcity, where we’re not where we want to be.

What I found, not only in my own life, but studying other people is that any time you find yourself wishing or wanting that you were further along than you are, just realize that when you finally get to the point that you’ve been working so hard for so long, you almost never wish it would have happened any sooner.

Instead, you look back and you see the timing and the journey were perfect. All of the adversity, all of the challenges, it all played a part in you becoming the person that you needed to be to get where you want to go. If you can take that hindsight and bring it into your life now, use that to be at peace.

No matter where you are right now, no matter what’s going on, no matter difficult or whatever is going on, be at peace with where you are, every day, along that journey while you simultaneously maintain a healthy sense of urgency to take action every day to get where you want to go. But don’t get there out of a feeling of stress, and anxiety, and I’m not where I want to be, just embrace where you are.

If you’re alive, you’re perfect. No matter what’s going on around you, all that matters is what’s going on inside you. Be at peace with where you are and take steps every day to get where you want to go.

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

Hal Elrod
Go to MiracleMorning.com. That’s probably the best place. There’s a bunch of resources there. You can put in your name and email and get the first few chapters of the book for free. You can get – it comes also with an audio training for free on the Miracle Morning, a video training for free. Of course, the book on Amazon you can get the audio book, the paperback, the Kindle. That’s probably the best place to buy it.

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

Hal Elrod
Yeah, here’s the thing, to be awesome at your job, I think to be awesome at anything, it’s really about who you are as a person. There’s so many components to that. There’s your knowledge, your emotional intelligence, your physical energy, the enthusiasm that you bring. There’s many components to who you are.

To me that’s what the Miracle Morning is. It’s dedicating time every day to become better. Not that there’s anything wrong with you, but we all have unlimited potential as a human being, if you want to get better at your job, become a better version of you, dedicate time to your personal development.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be in the morning. You can do a miracle evening if you wanted. Just dedicate that time so that every day you become better than you were the day before. You become more knowledgeable, you lower your stress, you increase your belief in yourself, your confidence. All of the things the Miracle Morning does for you, you do that every day and you can’t help but bring a better version of you to work every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Hal, this has been a real treat. Thanks for unpacking this and giving some finer distinctions. I wish you and the Miracle Morning and documentary and all your up to tons of luck.

Hal Elrod
Pete, man, I appreciate you. Thank you so much for having me on. For those of you listening, I love you. I appreciate you. Thank you for tuning in and please leave a review for Pete on iTunes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

881: How to Find Focus, Fight Distraction, and Boost Your Attention Span with Dr. Gloria Mark

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Dr. Gloria Mark shares her science-based solutions for overcoming distractions and finding more flow. 

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest hurdle for your attention span
  2. What drains your attention span tank–and how to refuel it
  3. How to design your day to maximize productivity

About Gloria

Dr. Gloria Mark has published over 150 papers in the top journals and conferences in the fields of human-computer interactions (HCI) and Computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) and is author of the book Multitasking in the Digital Age. Her work on multitasking has appeared in outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Atlantic, the BBC, and many others. Her newest book, Attention Span: Find Focus and Fight Distraction, is out now.

She is the Chancellor Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. She received her PhD from Columbia University in psychology. She has been a visiting senior researcher at Microsoft Research since 2012. Her primary research interest is in understanding the impact of digital media on people’s lives and she is best known for her work in studying people’s multitasking, mood and behavior while using digital media in real world environments.

Resources Mentioned

Gloria Mark Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gloria, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Gloria Mark
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so excited to talk about your book Attention Span: Find Focus and Fight Distraction. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about how you did not start your career in the science research professor world but rather in the art world. What’s the story here and how did you make the switch?

Gloria Mark
That’s right. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I studied art, never thought I would be doing anything except art. Graduated from art school and then I discovered the hard reality of making a living as an artist. Now, it turns out that I was also good at math and science, and I also found those topics interesting. So, I made the switch into a science field but there is a story there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, do tell.

Gloria Mark
Yeah, I was originally just going to do a terminal master’s degree in biostatistics because you could get really good jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like a good job field.

Gloria Mark
So, I thought that’s a relatively easy thing for me to do. But while I was at the University of Michigan, I applied for a job as a research assistant because I needed a job, and I walked into the office of Dr. Manfred Kochen. And he asked me, can I code? No. Do I know network theory? No. Do I know Fuzzy Set Theory? Nope. And I started to walk out, and he said, “Wait a minute. Stop. What can you do?” And I said, “I can paint.” And he said, “Well, come back in.” And he said before he got his Ph.D. in math at MIT, he studied art at The Art Student League in New York. And we talked about art for the next two hours.

And then he said, “Do you think you could do research on the discovery process of artists?” And I was very young and naïve and bold, and I said, “Of course, I could.” And that’s how I began to study cognitive psychology, and before I knew it, I ended up getting a Ph.D. in psychology, and that’s what I’ve been working on since.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. That’s really cool. And I’m excited to hear your insights and wisdom gained from a career spent in this domain, particularly in the zone of attention, and us humans and how we pay attention, and can do that better, and distraction and that stuff. Could you share any particularly surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about attention over the course of your career?

Gloria Mark
Oh, I’ve made a number of surprising discoveries. Maybe one of the most surprising things was actually how short our attention spans are.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lay it on us. I’ve heard about goldfish. Let’s get this straight, the straight info from the source.

Gloria Mark
Yeah, the goldfish result is not exactly correct, so that shouldn’t be our starting point. So, when I first started tracking attention, and I’ve been studying this empirically, so using methods like computer logging techniques. We actually started studying this using stopwatches where we would shadow people and click the stopwatch every time they switch their attention. When we first started doing this 20 years ago, attention averaged about two and a half minutes on any screen. I was astounded at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Too big, too small.

Gloria Mark
Yeah, I couldn’t believe it was that short. We continued tracking attention. Around 2012, we found it to average 75 seconds, and in the last few years, it’s averaged 47 seconds. And also, others have replicated the result. And so, again, these are all done with objective measures. We’re not asking people to self-report how short their attention span is or how long it is, but we’re actually measuring the length of time people’s attention is on any screen, computer or phone.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m intrigued here, look, I’m the sort of guy who, though not a researcher, will frequently want to read the full text of the scientific journal article and be frustrated I can’t get it for free online.

Anyway, all that’s to say I’m actually very interested in the details of how you conduct this research. What are you observing on the screen? And what are we seeing was two and half minutes, and now is 47 seconds?

Gloria Mark
Yeah. So, let me back up a little bit and say that most psychologists tend to bring people into a laboratory to study them. So, they create this simulated environment, this model of the world inside of a laboratory, and then they perform tests. But I thought that if we’re studying attention on our devices, it’s so much important to study what people do in the course of their everyday lives. Like, why should we pull people out of their environment? So, let’s go to where people are.

So, I created what I call living laboratories, where I used a variety of different kinds of sensors. So, these are measures that are not obtrusive. They don’t interfere with how you do work, such as computer logging techniques that will log the length of time a screen is in the foreground, and it’ll log that in the background.

We have people use wearable devices. We’ve had people wear heart rate monitors. We have had people use wrist wearables to get measures of stress. And we’ve had people wear these cameras that are called SenseCams, very lightweight cameras, you wear around your neck that can record photos. They take continuous photos so that you can then detect who people are speaking to. Are they having a face-to-face conversation? Or, are they rather online?

We sync together all these measures in real time so that we create a fairly comprehensive picture of what people are doing on their devices when they’re at work or if they’re at home. Most of the time, we’ve done this in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, that’s intriguing. So, we’re putting together a picture based on logging in the background what’s happening on the machines, as well as the photos. And so, I’m thinking, we had Dr. Amishi Jha on the show earlier, and she talked about the SART, the sustained attention response test. It sounds like maybe that’s the main difference in terms of constructing a laboratory in which you come on in.

And so, what I’ve heard is like those results are actually somewhat stable over time. Like, hey, by that measure of attention span, it looks like it’s about the same. However, you’re telling me – was it in vivo, what’s the right word, science-y?

Gloria Mark
In vivo, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
In vivo, yeah, got it. Feeling good. In vivo, we see a substantial decline from 2.5 minutes to 47 seconds. Is that a fair state of play under the two different ways of looking at things?

Gloria Mark
Yes, that’s right, because, don’t forget, when people are using their devices, think of everything that’s happening in their environment. So, they’re trying to stay focused on their tasks, they’re dealing with email, they have this urge to check social media, they have people interrupting their office, they’re experiencing stress, some of it might be chronic stress.

You’ve got career trajectories that people are worried about. Someone might’ve had a conflict in the workplace. So many things are going on and it’s just not possible to simulate all of that inside of a laboratory. And laboratory research is great if there’s a particular thing you want to test in an ideal kind of environment. So, something where you won’t have variables that can affect the thing that you’re trying to study, then it’s great for that. But if we’re talking about what really happens with attention in the real world when people are at work, this is what we see.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the human capacity to pay attention is relatively the same as it’s been for decades but the real-life experience of how we pay attention has declined dramatically. Like, the vast majority of attention span has been decimated. It sounds like two-thirds reduction there. And so, when did we have two and a half minutes? And when did we have 47 seconds? What’s the rough timeline history for us?

Gloria Mark
Yeah. So, we started doing the research in 2003. It was first published in 2004. That was two and a half minutes. The 47 seconds, this is not just my work. Again, it’s been replicated by others through the pandemic. So, the last study that was done actually was published in 2020, and we find the estimates ranging from 44 seconds to 50 seconds, and 47 seconds is the average of those studies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, Gloria, this seems like a big deal for our species, can you contextualize this for us? What does this mean? What is the implication of living lives this way?

Gloria Mark
Yeah, there are a lot of implications. First of all, this kind of fast attention shifting, it’s associated with stress, and we know that, and that’s been documented. We know in laboratory settings, when people are performing, when they’re multitasking, we know that their blood pressure rises, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. There’s a physiological marker in the body that indicates that people are stressed.

In my research, when we measure stress in vivo in the real world, we see a very strong correlation between fast shifting of attention and stress going up, and that’s measured by heart rate monitors. We’ve also used wearables to measure heart rate.

Pete Mockaitis
And, if I may, is the physiological marker something like cortisol or heart rate variability, or what are we looking at?

Gloria Mark
It’s a more complicated marker, and it’s probably not something that listeners have heard of.

Pete Mockaitis
Gloria, I might very well get my blood tested for it. So, lay it on us.

Gloria Mark
So, we know that fast shifting of attention leads to the decreased secretion of immunoglobulin A reactivity, and that’s known as a marker of stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the fast attention shifting is associated with increased stress. Well, then this kind of makes me think of maybe a little bit of a reinforcing loop. Might the increased stress also impact the way we can pay attention?

Gloria Mark
Absolutely. When we’re stressed, we’re not making the best use of our attentional resources. Absolutely. And it’s harder to focus. Another impact of this fast attention switching is that it leads to what’s called a switch cost. And a switch cost is the extra amount of time that it takes for you to reorient to a new task when you switch. So, it’s not like you can immediately switch to a new task, dive in and get focused right away, but it takes some time for you to get into this new task.

And the best way that I can explain it is by using a metaphor. Imagine that you’ve got a whiteboard inside of your mind, and every time you’re switching tasks, you’re erasing the mental model of the task that you just did, and you’re rewriting a new mental model for the new task. And just like in the real world, when you erase a whiteboard, sometimes you can’t erase it completely and it leaves a residue. And that can also happen in our mind.

And so, imagine you’re reading the news, and you read about some horrific catastrophe, and then you try to go back to work, and that stays with you. Or, you’ve just had an email and discovered that the deadline is a lot sooner than you thought it would be. That stays with you and it affects your ability to focus on the next task, leaves a residue.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, the task switching, leave a residue, we increase stress. What are some of the other implications?

Gloria Mark
Well, another really bad implication is that switching attention so fast leads to errors. So, we know, again, from laboratory research, decades of laboratory research, people make more errors when they’re switching their attention between different tasks. There was a study done with physicians not too long ago, where they observed physicians when they multitask.

So, they shifted their attentions, they’re continually being interrupted by nurses, by other physicians, patient queries, and they made, out of over 200 different prescriptions that they wrote, they made roughly like 80% to 90% errors in the prescribing. And some of those were very serious errors in terms of writing the wrong drug or the wrong dosage.

Pete Mockaitis
So, 80% of the prescriptions were wrong?

Gloria Mark
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
In a highly distracted, interrupted condition.

Gloria Mark
Do you want me to tell you the exact number?

Pete Mockaitis
Please.

Gloria Mark
So, in 2018, there was a study done of physicians, looking at the effects of them multitasking, which is shifting their attention rapidly. And physicians, of course, are distracted pretty often. They’re distracted by nurses, by other doctors, patients. And in this study, it was found that out of 239 prescriptions that the physicians wrote, 208 of them showed errors.

And most of these errors were just incomplete prescriptions but 12 of those were really severe in the sense of writing the wrong drug or the wrong dosage. So, there can be very serious consequences to multitasking. Let me also point out that people think multitasking can lead us to perform better. The idea of multitasking, of doing two things at the same time, is a myth. Humans cannot perform two things at the same time. What we are doing is shifting our attention rapidly between different tasks. And that’s what we picked up when we studied people’s attention on screens.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, with these prescriptions in the interrupted condition, the good majority of them were errors, most of those inconsequential, so I guess that’s nice. And then in the uninterrupted condition, do physicians get it right, I mean, 99 plus percent of the time?

Gloria Mark
So, this study was done in situ, which means in the real world, and so they didn’t have a condition where physicians were not interrupted.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re never not distracted.

Gloria Mark
Right. So, they couldn’t really compare what physicians do if they’re in a perfectly peaceful environment without distractions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, increased stress, switching costs, residue. And then maybe can you show us the light on the other side? Maybe is there a cool story of someone who improved their attention span and saw cool results?

Gloria Mark
Well, there are cases. So, there are ways that we can regain agency over our attention. And people very often will tell me that some of the techniques that we’ve discovered do work for people, and they’ve been able to focus better. It’s really important to consider that when you’re shifting your attention so fast, it affects our wellbeing. It leads to higher stress. And as you pointed out, we get into this cycle where, if we get more stressed, it becomes even harder to focus.

And so, people have reported the benefits, for example, of being able to take, really, significant breaks. Also, the benefits of becoming aware of when you’re starting to feel immensely tired, and taking a break, pulling back to replenish. Because by doing less, by pulling back, we can actually do more and we can be more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say significant break, what does that mean in terms of length or approach, like what you’re doing?

Gloria Mark
Yeah. So, first of all, let me talk about when is a good time to take a break. So, it turns out that people are not able to have extensive nonstop focus. And if you search the internet, you’ll see a lot of sayings that advertise, “Use this technique and you’ll have nonstop focus,” “Ten hours of nonstop focus,” “Hours of nonstop focus.” It’s just not humanly possible. Why? Because people have a limited capacity of attentional resources. You can think of it as a tank.

We start our day with a tank of attentional resources, things we do over the day drain our resources. Focusing drains our resources. Shifting our attention very rapidly, that also drains our resources because of the switch costs that we talked about and because of the stress. And so, we have this limited capacity for attention.

What can we do to optimize our attention? Well, we can take breaks. Now, first of all, starting your day with really good quality sleep gives you a jumpstart on your attention, and you can start your day with a full tank of resources, or nearly full tank. So, you would be in really good shape to start your day off with a good night’s sleep.

Now, people tend to have a peak of focus around mid-morning. Most people, for them, it’s 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning but it depends on your chrono type. So, if you’re an early type, your peak focus will be much earlier. If you’re a late type, your peak focus will be later. People tend to have a second peak in the afternoon, usually mid-afternoon between 2:00 and 3:00. Again, it depends on your chrono type, if you’re an early type or late type.

Now, it’s important to understand when your peak focus time is, and you plan your breaks around that peak focus time. So, you want to make sure that you’re really well-rested and that you’re alert before it’s time for you to really dive into doing that hard work. And after working for a while, it’s really important to probe yourself and understand whether you’re starting to become mentally exhausted. And if you are, it’s time for a break.

Now, you can take quick breaks, 10-minute breaks. Those would be very useful. The best break of all that we know from research is to walk outside for 20 minutes in nature, and that’s the best replenishment that we can have for our attentional resources. I realize that not everyone can do it. If it’s the middle of winter and you’re living in the northeast, you may not be able to simply walk outside in nature.

I live in California, so, of course, it’s a lot easier for me to do that year-round. So, if you can’t go outside, you can at least move around. Take a walk, move around, make sure you’re focusing on things at a distance. You don’t want to be walking around using your smartphone, checking your email. Really detach, pull away, and make sure you have really one, two, or three significant breaks a day like that. And make sure that you plan those breaks around the time that you’re really starting to feel that your mental resources are getting exhausted.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. There we go. So, pay attention to chrono types when you’re feeling alert and when you’re not, and then take those significant breaks. We don’t have unlimited attention. To the sleep point, can you tell me, does it matter a lot or a little if, let’s say, an ideal amount of sleep for a person is seven and a half hours but, on a given night, shucks, they only got 6.2 hours? Is that a little deal or a big deal?

Gloria Mark
So, one night of poor sleep is not going to make that much of a difference. What will make a difference, if you consecutively acquire what’s called sleep debt. And sleep debt, it’s like if you keep removing money from your bank account and you’ve got more expenses that you have to pay than you have money for, that’s debt. And same thing happens with sleep debt.

And we’ve done in our research, we found that as sleep debt accumulates, people have a harder and harder time paying attention. So, if you’re looking at sleep debt accumulating over a week, you see people’s attention spans getting lower and lower over the course of the week. So, it’s really important not to let sleep debt accumulate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’d also like to get your view in terms of the amount of attention resources we have. We can’t do for 10 hours straight, like this is not possible even with whatever miracle supplement is being sold. Roughly, what is reasonable? If we are well-rested and we’re going to attend to something for as long as is reasonably humanly possible, what kind of time ranges are we talking about here?

Gloria Mark
So, I think two hours. If you can get two hours of focus at a stretch, that’s pretty good. That’s really good. It depends on a number of things. It depends how intrinsically motivated you are. If you’re really motivated in what you’re doing, you’ll be able to spend longer time. Time will seem like it’s flying by. If you’re less intrinsically motivated, it’s going to be more work for you to try to stay focused.

But think about two hours, but don’t despair. If you can only get 30 minutes of focus, that’s fine as long as you make sure you take a break, get yourself replenished, and then you can go back and try it in 30-minute segments. And so much of it depends on the nature of the work as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then by focusing, if there were an exercise, so we talked about the rest portion of this, sleep well, take breaks, watch when you’re sharpest in terms of attention based on your chrono type, are there any sort of exercises or practices we could do to bring us? If we’re on the 47-second world, what could bring us back to a two-and-a-half-minute world?

Gloria Mark
So, I practice what I call meta-awareness as an exercise. And this actually comes from mindfulness, which you’ve probably heard of, many of your listeners have heard of. During the pandemic, my university offered a course in mindfulness, and I find it very, very helpful for helping me relax, helping me fall asleep.

But I also realized that when I’m on my devices, I can also use a similar kind of technique. I’ve adapted it for the way we use our devices, which is learning to become aware of the present because that’s what mindfulness is about. It teaches you how to focus on the present.

So many of things we do when we’re on our devices are unconscious. So, I look at my phone and I have an urge to grab it, or I have this unconscious desire to switch to social media, or to switch to news. I’m a news junkie. I read a lot of news. Meta-awareness is probing yourself to become aware of these urges and to recognize them.

And so, I’ve learned to be able to recognize when I have this urge to switch screens, and I can reflect on it, and I can ask myself, “Why do I have this urge to go to social media?” It’s usually because I’m bored or because I’m procrastinating. And once I become aware of this urge, I can make this unconscious action conscious. I can bring it to my conscious attention. I can come up with a plan.

And my plan is usually of the form, “Gloria, spend 30 more minutes on this task and then you can be rewarded and go and check the news.” And so, learning to probe yourself is so valuable, and it’s really a way to gain mastery over your attention, and to be able to be intentional and to make decisions about where you want to be able to focus and for how long.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then we become aware of the urge and the causes and make a plan. That’s great. Any other key interventions that are great for improving our attention span and abilities?

Gloria Mark
Yeah, another very valuable technique is to practice what’s called forethought. And forethought is imagining how your current actions will affect your future self. And what makes the most sense for me is to imagine how my current actions are going to affect myself later in the day, say, at 7:00 p.m. And if you’re a person who can easily spend 30 minutes to an hour on social media, or surfing the web, first, visualize your end of the day and where you want to be.

And I’m betting you want to feel rewarded and you want to feel peaceful, you want to feel fulfilled. And imagine yourself sitting on the couch, reading your favorite book, watching your favorite show, drinking a glass of wine. And the more concrete that visualization is, the more powerful of a tool it is to get you to stay on track in the present.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may on the forethought. So, the approach there is to visualize ourselves in a future moment wherein we have successfully completed the things that we wanted to attend to. And so, it sounds like this isn’t so much your dramatic final victory, you’re being hoisted, or Gatorades being doused on you, but rather, “Hey, I finished this day and I accomplished the things I wanted to in this day, and I can feel a quiet pride satisfaction, kind of whatever flavor of goodness,” is there for you at the other end of the effort.

Gloria Mark
That’s right. And we shouldn’t undermine this experience at the end of the day because that’s pretty valuable. Having a day where you feel fulfilled and having the luxury of being able to relax at the end of the day, that’s quite powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. And you have another.

Gloria Mark
Yes. So, attention is goal-directed, and that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize. We pay attention according to what our goals are. So, if my goal is I want to finish writing an article, I’m going to be writing that article. That’s where my attention is. If my goal is I want to relieve boredom, then I’m probably going to be playing a game or going on social media. And so, it’s so important to stay aware of what our goals are.

I did research with colleagues at Microsoft Research, and they developed a very simple chatbot that asks people two very simple questions at the beginning of each day. The first question is, “What is your task-goal for the day? What do you want to accomplish today?” The second question was, “How do you want to feel by the end of the day?” So, that’s an emotional goal.

So, at the beginning of each day, people were reminded of their task-goal and their emotional goal. And the result was that people stayed on track more effectively after being asked those questions. But what we also discovered was that these effects don’t last very long. It might last one hour or a few hours. And the reason they don’t last so long is goals slip from our minds. They can slip so easily.

And so, what I’ve learned is that it’s really important to keep reinforcing our goals. So, whatever it takes, if you have to write goals on a Post-it Note and make sure it’s in your field of view, or put it on your phone where you can see that goal. So, don’t let our goals slip from our minds, is the message.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you mentioned Microsoft and research, so I’ve got to ask you, the attention expert. I had read a study, I think it was done with Microsoft folks, and it said when they were distracted, they shifted their attention from one thing. It took them an average of 24 minutes to return to the thing they were doing. I’d love it if you could share. Is that true or accurate? Is there nuance to it? And is that just the way all of us have to be or can we shorten that?

Gloria Mark
So, first of all, there is something that’s not accurate. The study was not done at Microsoft Research, but the study was my study.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. We’re setting the record straight. Here we are, Gloria.

Gloria Mark
Yes, but you’d be surprised how factoids can change.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Gloria Mark
Yeah. So, this was a study that I did, and this was with a graduate student of mine, Victor Gonzales, and this was done at various tech companies, so financial analysis companies, software companies. And it turns out that if you look at people’s attention spent on a task, not just on a screen, like you can switch screens very rapidly, every 47 seconds from email, to Word doc, to Excel, to Google Search.

But if you look at the level of a task, how long do people spend on any task? And granted, they might be switching their attention within that task. For example, I write papers for a living, and I might have my attention on a Word doc, and then I’m switching to read an article, and then I’m switching to look up something on the web, and I’m switching, switching, switching, but it’s all the same task.

So, we might ask, “Maybe it’s not so bad to be interrupted if your attention stays within the same framework of a single task.” Well, it turns out that if you’re interrupted from any particular task, there’s a pattern that we find in the data. And what happens is that people’s attention is then switched to another task.

They work on that, and then another, and then another. And then they start to work on a fourth task, and then go back and pick up the original interrupted task. That’s a 25 and a half-minute gap on average. People spend, on average, 10 and a half minutes on a task before switching to something else. That’s a big switch, to really switch to a completely different task.

Now, what happens? I was describing, they switch, and switch again, and switch again, and switch again. These are cognitive shifts in our minds. We’re not just shifting doing one single thing for 25 and a half minutes, and then coming back, but our attention keeps getting diverted. And so, let’s go back and think about that tank of mental resources, our limited precious mental resources.

They’re just draining because it requires effort to have to keep reorienting to these new tasks and trying to understand, “Okay, what am I doing now? Where did I leave off?” and so on. So, it’s a lot of effort that’s involved but it’s 25 and a half minutes on average to go back to an interrupted task.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, during those 25 and a half minutes, they’re not just fiddling around on Facebook. They’re doing other tasks in the interim, yet there is a cost of that attention switching. And so, Gloria, can you share with us what is misrepresented when this research is shared in factoid format in popular media?

Gloria Mark
So, a lot of people, first of all, they’re not aware that we’re talking at the level of a task, so they tend to think of, I mean, we’re interrupted all the time. If I’m doing email, I can get interrupted, or I can get interrupted from Facebook, for that matter. But they tend to think that there’s just some single thing that’s going on but in between, and people are coming back to that original task, so there’s a lot of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. When, really, it’s a multi-step journey. Okay. And it sounds like that is what we observe but it certainly doesn’t have to be the norm. If I’m, say, working in a home office, I get a knock on the door from my wife, she says, “Can you take care of the spider or this very heavy thing?” it is entirely possible for me to do the thing, return within two minutes, and return to my task in far less than 25 and a half minutes, but I have utilized some of my attention resource tank in executing those switches.

Gloria Mark
That’s right, yeah. And, of course, if it’s a minor interruption, like taking care of a spider, assuming you’re not afraid of spiders, then you should be able to come right back and pick up your task without too much of an effort.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, as I’m thinking about that scenario, I’ll tell you, this is a quirk of me. I don’t know, I think I’m also easily hypnotized. I remember the stage hypnotist in college picked me out probably for a reason. And sometimes I’ll get really kind of mesmerized in the work I’m doing, and it’s really fun. It’s a groove and a flow, and I’m thinking about, “The implication of this, but what about that? But then what about this?” like several layers of implication, cause and effect.

And, Gloria, do you know if this, in the attention research literature, is this a personality domain that people can vary on? And does it mean anything? Or, is this just some whole another thing I got going on?

Gloria Mark
There are individual differences in people’s ability to be engaged in something. And, yes, some people can be…it’s more easy for them to get deeply absorbed in something than others. There’s actually a test you can do.
So, there is a scale that you can use, it’s called the Tellegen Absorption Scale. And this has been shown to measure traits of absorption. And some people have this uncanny ability to be very deeply absorbed in things. For example, when people read mystery, some people can become so absorbed in reading the mystery that they actually hear the footsteps on the stairs. They can visualize the imagery a lot better than others. So, you might be one of these individuals who scores at the extremes on the Tellegen Absorption Scale.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Gloria, tell us, are there any other key tools, tactics, interventions, things people who want to be awesome at their job should know or do to improve their ability to pay attention?

Gloria Mark
Yeah. So, it’s about how you plan your day. So, most of us, we’ve been brought up with the idea that you create a schedule for your day, and most people will write down the tasks that they have to do, and they’ll assign a time to doing it. That’s the way most of us, it’s how we’ve been brought up. It’s what we do. But I’d like to turn that around and talk about designing your day.

So, rather than scheduling tasks with a time, think back to when I was talking about that people have natural rhythms of attention. There are certain times of the day when people are at their peak focus, and other times when they’re in valleys, their focus is not great. Think about your unique times of peak focus and design your day so that you’d leverage those times to do tasks that are the hardest, that require the most creativity because you will do your best.

So, rather than creating these artificial schedules that ignore our attentional capacities, think instead of your personal rhythm and when you function best. And so, if I have, say, to work on a paper, I might plan the times to work on the paper for mid-morning for me, mid-afternoon for me, and then, of course, I have other things to do. I have to write emails, do what I call subordinate work, filling out forms, things like that. I will do those when I have these valleys of attention because it doesn’t require that much effort.

So, design your day, and also design your day with what I call empty space. There is a Japanese expression that’s called “yohaku no bi” which refers to the beauty of empty space. And I came up with this idea from when I was an artist. Because when I was an artist, I learned about the concept of negative space. It’s this space that surrounds a figure, and it’s as important as the figure itself. It’s what makes the figure shine. It’s what makes it vibrant and gives it energy.

And when you design your day, make sure you design empty space into your day, time that you can use for contemplation, meditation, for going for a walk, doing rote activity. And rote activity could be things like knitting. Some person talked about how he loves to just throw a ball against the screen. That serves to relax him and helps him de-stress. There’s a lot of things you can do during that time of empty space.

And think about what helps you the most. What I like to do is I do exercise, and I love to go outside and do exercise during that time. It really helps replenish me. So, yeah, don’t pack your day but give your work a chance to breathe so that you can really come back and do your best.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gloria, now I’d love to hear about your favorite things. Could you share a favorite quote with us?

Gloria Mark
Well, I actually have two favorite quotes, and it’s really hard for me to decide which one I like better, so I’ll share both. The first one is by Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” And I love that quote. It’s something that’s just benefited me in my whole life. If you have radar for opportunities, and an opportunity comes along, you can pounce on it and grab it.

The second quote comes from an art teacher of mine, and it’s “To have the courage to fail.” And I love this quote because so much of the time we do things that are safe, and we know that they’ll be successful because they’re safe. We’re not taking risks. But if you can have the courage to take that risk, knowing that it’s likely that you will fail, you have the chance to make a great discovery. So, that’s why I like those.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study?

Gloria Mark
Yeah, there is a study done by French scientists, where they had people do hard tasks over a six-hour period. And most of the times when people go into laboratory studies, they’ll do a task for an hour, and they’ll do a hard task and then they’ll take some measurement of how stressed they are or how many hours they made. This was done over six hours.

And what these researchers found was that as people got more exhausted, they became more easily distracted. And so, they were asked questions periodically, “Would you rather have a monetary reward now or would you rather wait, and then you can get even a higher reward? So, take $10 now, if you wait 30 minutes, we’ll give you $15.”

Over the course of the day doing hard tasks for a six-hour period, people became less and less likely to delay gratification and more likely to just grab that money at the time. So, they lost the ability of self-control. And when you lose the ability of self-control, that’s when we become more distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Gloria Mark
I always go back to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s such a powerful book, and it just shows how, if people have purpose, if people have goals, that can really help us perform best in our lives. And it’s just a very powerful message.

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

Gloria Mark
Well, the idea of probing myself is a tool that I’ve learned to constantly probe myself, to ask myself, “Do I feel exhausted? Is it time for a break? Why do I have an urge to switch my attention?” And it’s become second nature, it’s like a muscle that I’ve developed. And I find it to be a very important tool, and it’s very powerful, and it’s very effective for keeping me on task.

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

Gloria Mark
It’s the idea that we have limited attentional resources, and people don’t realize that. People realize that our attention is infinite, we can do so many things, and not worry about consequences. We do have limited mental attentional resources, and we have to pick and choose what we pay attention to.

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

Gloria Mark
Well, you could go to my website www.GloriaMark.com. Everything that I spoke about today in the episode, you can find in my book. It’s called Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity. And this describes my 20-plus years of research into studying attention with our devices. You can also find me on Twitter @GloriaMark_PhD and also on LinkedIn.

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

Gloria Mark
Final call to action is to gain agency over your attention. So, be a master of your tools, your computers, phones, tablets. Don’t let your tools be the master over you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gloria, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and pleasant attention.

Gloria Mark
Thank you so much for having me.

867: How to Stop Being Busy and Start Being Strategic with Richard Medcalf

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Richard Medcalf says: "The most important project is the one that no one else is asking for."

Richard Medcalf reveals how to free up time for the strategic activities that will advance your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why productivity won’t solve busy-ness
  2. The crucial question that makes you more strategic
  3. The powerful reframe that slashes busywork

About Richard

Richard Medcalf describes himself as “what you get if you were to put a McKinsey consultant, a slightly unorthodox pastor and an entrepreneur into a blender”.

He is the founder of Xquadrant, which helps elite leaders reinvent their ‘success formula’ and multiply their impact. His personal clients include CEOs of billion-dollar corporations, successful serial entrepreneurs, and the founders of tech ‘unicorns’.

Richard has advised the C-Suite for over 25 years. After a Masters at Oxford University, where he came top in his year, he joined a premier strategy consultancy and later became the youngest-ever Partner. He then spent 11 years at tech giant Cisco in an elite team reporting to the CEO.

Richard is bi-national English/French, lives near Paris, and is happily married and the proud father of two. He has an insatiable love for spicy food and the electric guitar.

Resources Mentioned

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Richard, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Richard Medcalf
Pete, it’s a pleasure to be back. Thank you for inviting me on the show again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom and your book Making TIME for Strategy: How to be less busy and more successful. I’d love to hear your take. It’s been three years, and what a three-years it’s been since we last spoke, any particular discoveries that have really struck you in this time?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, actually, one thing that’s really struck me is this whole shift of virtual work, which, obviously, blah, blah, blah, everyone’s talked about time and time again, too much now perhaps, but it has exacerbated the problem that I saw everybody was having before, which is being overloaded and being overwhelmed because the barriers have really gone down for so many people.

They’re at home, they’re at work, or they’re everywhere, and there’s more and more stuff coming, and more and more pressures at any one time. It’s the Zoom call phenomenon. You’re on a call one minute, your baby is crying the next minute, everything else. So, I think people have felt a lot of pressure to deliver a lot of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, in your book Making TIME for Strategy, I’d love to hear any novel insights you’ve picked up along the way as you’re researching and assembling this?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, one of the studies that I talk about there, this sense, especially over the last two, three years, there’s just so much coming at us all the time from every direction. I realized this is something which almost every leader and every individual contributor, frankly, is feeling these days because the boundaries aren’t there. I call it the infinity trap because we have an infinity of things, Pete, now.

You want to chat with somebody? You’ve got infinite social media opportunities to go and speak to somebody. You want to consume content? You’ve got an infinite amount of videos, podcasts, books to read, blogs to consume, you name it, movies to stream. You’ve got an infinite number of messages coming into your inbox, tasks from your manager, from your colleagues, from clients, or from anybody who wants to get an email into your inbox or message into your Slack or Microsoft Teams, so, it never stops.

We think we can just kind of plow through it but you can’t beat infinity, and I think that’s what people have been suffering from, and why I see everybody around me is crazy busy these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Infinity trap. Well-said. I think it was Matthew Kelly, in one of his books or talks, said, long and ago and it hit me, he’s like, “You’ll never…” and he’s Australian so he’s got a charming accent, and he’s like, “There’ll never be a moment in your life…” and he’s like, “All right, I’m all caught up now. All the things that are on my list are now off of it. Like, that just will never happen, and it’s good to just see…”

Richard Medcalf
But we say this, though.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hear it, say it.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, we say this all the time. We don’t say it quite like that. We say, “It’ll be quieter next quarter.” A number of people say that, “Oh, Richard, I’m really crazy busy right now, so busy. Yeah, it’s a bit difficult time but next quarter, I’ve got some time opening up in my diary.” I’m like, “Of course, you’ve got time. It’s 12 weeks away. Of course, it’s not full up yet,” and we just keep telling ourselves that, somehow, it’s just a bit busy right now, and it’s going to get better. And does it ever get better, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a really good reality check right there in terms of “Is now really especially busy?” And I guess, I think sometimes that feels true in terms of cyclical industries like, I’m thinking, accountants in the US near April. All right. Fair enough. It really is a particularly crazy busy time. And you know it, and you’ll feel it. But in more of a typical workflow world, it’s sort of just always true that many stakeholders are requesting many things from you, and that’s just every day of the year.

Richard Medcalf
And when you least expect it, you get, even your accountants or your finance team that you’re talking about, they get past the yearend, and then, “Oh, no, there’s an M&A going on. Now there’s an order.” Who knows? So, I agree there’s a cyclical part to business but, actually, when we’re on the down cycle, there’s always other projects that come in. So, yeah, I think we have this.

And I talk about the perfect day. We often say, “It’s not the perfect day right now to get started on whatever. So, you know what, I’ve got more important things I need to get to. I know that but today is not a great day because I’ve got my year end, because I’ve got this project going on, because COVID has just hit, because there’s a macroeconomic shakedown happening somewhere in the world.”

So, we kind of keep waiting often, we say, “Well, I’m really busy right now but I can’t quite sort out that busyness. It’s just happening to me, but give me next week, it will be better, or next month, it will be better, or next quarter, it will be better, and then we’ll get there.” But that’s like me, I’m going on a diet. I struggle to do these things, take on new habits sometimes because I’m waiting for the perfect day, like, “Well, now is not a good day to lose a few pounds because there’s a massive chocolate cake in front of me.”

“Now is not a good day because it’s the weekend,” “Now is not a good day because I’m in a restaurant,” “Now is not a good day because it’s your birthday,” or it’s my birthday, or the weather is nice, or whatever. We keep creating excuses sometimes for not dealing with some of the issues in our life, and it’s a myth. It’s a mirage that we put up. So, when it comes to this subject of busyness, I think we often put off dealing with it because we’re so busy we haven’t got the bandwidth.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s just true. And it’s really kind of potentially vicious cycle there in terms of to do wise prioritization, for me at least, it feels like, emotionally, I need some, I guess I’d call it space, in terms of my brain. Like, there’s the mental-emotional state of being besieged by lots of stuff, it’s kind of like a stress, a narrowing, a tightening vibe. And then there’s the opposite, which is like, “Oh, hey, we’re on a retreat, and we’ve got wide open views and whiteboards or something.”

It’s like, “Ahh, here I can dream and think big, and zero in on what really matters.” And it’s tricky because when you need it most is when you have too much stuff to do, and yet that’s when it’s hardest to execute that kind of thinking.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I think that’s right. I talk about war time and peace time. We often think, “Yeah, I’ll do all that stuff in peace time when I haven’t got all this stuff,” just as you said, “when I’m on a desert island and I can just kick back and muse.” The reality is most of our lives is lived in that high stress, high pressure busy environment and we have to make it work there. I think that’s really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in your book Making TIME for Strategy, first of all, how are we defining strategy or strategic time here?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, strategy doesn’t have to be corporate strategy, so this is something that we can apply at any level in the organization. We might be the CEO, and I worked with some of the most incredible CEOs on the planet, and it does apply for them doing corporate strategy, but it also applies to the individual contributor and anywhere in between.

And the reason is I’m talking about this strategic, “So, what’s going to move the needle for you?” Let me give you an example. Most of our days, we spend basically doing the same old thing, we do the same thing every week, or every month, or every time we get a new client or a new project.

And so, we get caught into the operational, keeping the lights on, turning the machine. And the strategic is going to be what breaks you out of that pattern, build a new capability, creates a new relationship, basically changes the game for you so that things become easier in the future.

I like to say that this idea of strategic time, it’s actually your number one KPI for your future success. It’s your key performance indicator. If you want to know how successful you will be in the next three years, or one year, three years, five years, then you need to look at how much time you’re investing in your future success, and that has to be looked at week on week, “This week, how much time did I spend, did I invest in making the future better? Or, did I just use all my time on all the day-to-day stuff?” I think that’s the big shift that we need to focus on.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much, investing to make the future better or make things easier. And this brings me back to one of my all-time favorite books that we had one of the authors on the show, Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing, that magical question, “What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”

And so, here though, you’re really making me think of, I don’t know, compound interests, finance, planting acorns, getting huge trees kinds of things. So, another way to conceptualize it, so that’s really cool.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that’s right. I like to say, imagine that you’re a business, and, basically, you’re making zero profit, you’re bumbling along month by month, and you’re spending everything that you make, and you don’t have any money left, any margin, to invest in the future. Well, that business is a very precarious business. It can’t really respond to shocks. It’s not really going to get much better because it can’t invest in growth. Growth takes capital.

And so, a business that has no profit isn’t going to be a very successful business. It’s going to keep going very incrementally. Now, compare it with a business that can generate enough extra margin that it can invest in its future, build out new factories, do marketing, do customer acquisition, create new technology platforms, whatever you want. That business is going to go places.

And it’s like, individually, we’re that business. Often, we have no spare margin of time in a week, so how can we invest making the future better? We can’t. Which is why, in the book, I say, you’ve got to start small but you’ve got to start to find a little bit of time that you can reinvest in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Could you share with us a particularly inspiring story of a professional who found themselves enmeshed in any number of infinity traps, too busy, and then made some changes, invested, put some time into strategy and saw some cool results?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’ll give you an example, actually, from my own career, at the very start of my career. I started my career as an analyst in a strategy consulting company, and we were working long hours, like, building basically Excel financial models for our clients, and this is how we got successful, which was bill all sorts of hours to clients, made the company money, and deliver some good piece of analysis.

What I realized after a few months, “You know what, every time we get a new client, we build one of these models, and they’re always different but they’re always kind of similar, and yet we’re building them from scratch each time. They take a long time, there’s lots of potential errors or bugs.”

Pete Mockaitis
I made those errors before, Richard. Flashbacks for review.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, this thing can happen. It also takes a lot of time building out a model from scratch.

So, what I realized is I needed to actually invest in building myself a framework, a template that allowed me to build these models quicker than before. So, when my colleagues were doing all their billed hours, I took some time off customer billing to work late at night sometimes on building my own template. My colleagues thought I was geeking out, that I was just have lost the plot, “Richard, what are you doing? That’s not how you’re going to be successful in our company. You’ve got to bill to clients.” Well, fast-forward two weeks, I’d built a model which would suddenly allow me to do in a morning what they were taking a week to do.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Richard Medcalf
And it was more beautiful, it was less error-prone, it had all the charts built in, it’s more flexible, we could do analyses and scenarios, all the rest of it at the fracture of the time. With that time that I’d freed up, I was then able to invest it in project management, learning how to do business development, sell projects, generally use this time on the next level of activity because I’d already got the base level nailed and systematized.

Now, it wasn’t just because of this, but I ended up becoming the youngest ever partner in that strategy consulting company. I had a great trajectory because I’d figured out, “This is stuff which I shouldn’t be spending my whole life doing. It’s not going to get me to the next level. No one ever gets made partner because they’re spending all their time building the basic Excel models.” And so, it’s that kind of shift, I invested a bit of time, a couple of weeks, and then it freed me up forever after then.

I had another client I was working with on one of my programs recently in finance. He was a finance manager, kind of mid-level, and when he came to me, he said, “I’m just overloaded. I can’t do anything. I’m completely overwhelmed.” And then when we started to get into it and we looked at his time, we found 30% of his time was doing all the finance processes every month – payroll, and sales commissions, and these things, and it was incredibly complicated in his business.

He’d become successful because he had nailed those, he’d mastered it, he’d actually figured out the whole mess, and was able to process it and do it all well. So, he’d become successful because of that but it was now holding him back. So, I said to him, “You’re not going to be made CFO because of your ability to do the monthly payroll.” And he realized this was a gamechanger for him, and he had to shift, otherwise, he was going to get stuck.

So, 30% of his time, where that’s, I think, almost two days a week, a day and a half a week was being stuck on all this stuff. So, we figured out a plan, he didn’t think it was going to be possible to start with, he didn’t think his had what it took, everything else. But within about two months, two or three months, he was able to go to his manager, and say, “Hey, what else shall I take on? I’ve a bit of a spare end here. I’ve got some time.” And he took on extra responsibility in the commercial part of the organization. He got this promotion.

He couldn’t believe at how much he managed to free himself up. It’s because he thought it was just a question of a few tactics that he had to sort, but it wasn’t just a question of tactics. He had to address his mindset, he had to address his influence with his team. These are the deeper-level issues that keep us held back.

So, after we think we can’t do anything else, because we’d looked at the productivity, we’ve applied our Gmail filters, we’ve got a good to-do list, and we think we’re doing all we can, but there’s a whole level of other things that we need to be working on if we’re going to actually free ourselves up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Thank you. And I would like to see this miracle model template, as the former consultant dork in me would just like to see what that looks like in practice. So, that’s cool. Well, yeah, let’s hear about some of these deeper mindset belief stuff before we get into some tactics associated with shortcut keys or email filters. What’s going on internally that we should really address?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, when you’re really busy, you haven’t got much time, by definition, so you have to work on the number one limiting factor holding you back right now. And that’s really how I structured the book, because the first part of the book actually talks about “What do you actually want to put your time on?” Most people, they don’t actually know what they want to do if they had a free hour, or a free morning, or a free week. They’re not really clear.

And so, when faced with a vague, ambiguous idea of being more strategic versus concrete, specific, and rewarding actions like getting an email off your list, or taking some low-level easy activity done, we’re going to gravitate to the latter. So, the first thing is to really get clear on what is your strategic agenda, what are the questions you want to be asking yourself, the projects you want to do if only you had time.

So, once we figure out what we want to actually focus on, then we have to figure out what’s stopping us from focusing on them, and naturally we tend to go to tactics. We tend to say, “I need to get a better workflow,” and there’s a lot there that we should do but we can never beat infinity with increased productivity. We can’t. It doesn’t work. As I said, infinity is the realm of the gods, and productivity is a mortal’s weapon, a sort. You can’t defeat it, and so we need a different strategy.

And so, actually, in the book, I focus on these four areas, and I was very impressed with myself, I must say, when I realized that they spelt the work TIME. So, there you go, four easy strategies to focus on. The first is tactics, and so there are things we need to focus on there. And perhaps some leaders do it very well, other people, you know what, they do need to kind of get a bit sharpen up on how they deal with meetings, how they deal with incoming tasks, how they deal with incoming messages, what their workflows are.

And, also, whatever you are, if you are over-busy, you do need a tactical plan to extract yourself from all of this in a very short space of time. It’s, like, if your business is losing money, you can’t wait too long. You have to make big changes now so that you become profitable and you can start to grow again. So, the first is tactic.

The second is influence, because if you want to go on a diet, the people that are going to stop you tend to be your family by waving the chocolate cake under your nose, or offering you the alcohol, or whatever it is you’re trying to stop, because the people around us have a certain stake in how we operate. So, at home, if you want to eat differently, well, your family, well, their share their meals with you so it affects them, or they feel guilty if you’re not eating something that they want to eat, if you’re not opening the bottle of wine if they want to a drink or whatever it is.

And so, in the work situation, it’s the same. We have all these stakeholders and no matter what our plan is for being more strategic, we have to face the reality that all around us, we have our boss, our peers in the organization, perhaps our team, who require and expect things from us and have a certain way of relating to us, so we need to better influence and renegotiate their expectations. We need to say, “You know what, you’ve been getting this from me but, actually, it’s not my highest use of my time. To have a bigger impact in the organization, I need to do something differently, so let’s talk about that and figure out a way forward.” So, influence is a big issue.

And then there’s mindset, which is what we believe and think. I can give you a story about mindset, but perhaps one from the framework first. Mindset is clearly important because, often, we just don’t believe we can, or we believe we’re optimum in some ways. Mindset is basically so important because what we believe is necessarily possible or desirable is what governs our behavior. So, if we think that what we’re doing is basically necessarily, basically the only thing we’ve got, the only choice we have, and it’s also kind of desirable in some way, we won’t actually change our behavior.

And then the final part is environment, because if we have a team, then we owe it to ourselves not just to work ourselves but to free our team up so that if we want to delegate, they can actually receive our delegation, or if they’re getting pulled left to right by busy work in the organization that they get to free themselves up and work on their high-value activities. So, environment is all about shaping a culture across the broader organization and being a force of change in the wider business.

So, you have these four areas – tactics, influence, mindset, and environment – and the point I made before is really important. You have to focus on the right one to start with, otherwise you just get frustrated because nothing is changing. If you’ve got the wrong mindset, then all your tactics aren’t going to really make a big difference because you can be locked into the wrong way of working. Or, we haven’t got enough influence, then you might have the best plan possible but you fail to implement the plan because you get pushback from people around you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you talk about the number one limiting factor, it seems like that rule applies here as well in terms of, “Okay, is it the tactics, the influence, or the mindset, or the environment, that is the number one limiting factor at the moment?” and then you can dig in.

Richard Medcalf
You’re right, really figuring out what the number one limiting factor is really important. So, I’ve actually built a little assessment, I’ll probably link to it later on as we think about it. But what we actually have is about 20 questions, you give a sense of your score on the journey, and you actually can then choose, you’ll actually find out, which score you have into these four areas, and then you can go, “Oh, look, it’s actually mindset. I need to start on mindset.”

And so, the book is actually written to be nonlinear. Now, if you want t o jump straight into mindset, go there if that’s what’s going to be more important. Or, it’s actually, you’ve got the tactics sorted out but influence is holding you back, then perhaps open the book at that chapter and jump in there. So, I think I felt it’s really important because I don’t want to give people another big book to read when they’re very busy. I wanted people to be able to jump in and get pretty quick results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess this sort of feels like mindset, and it kind of feels like tactics, but I’m thinking of a scenario in which, sure, we’re overwhelmed by requests and firefighting and all of that, and yet, at the same time, I think, often, speaking at least for myself, there’s a thing going on where it’s like maybe it’s kind of energy levels are maybe on the mid to low side, motivation levels or focus levels also on the lower side. It’s like, “You know, I could do that thing but I kind of don’t want to, and there’s something else that’s more interesting at the moment,” even though that thing may well be the most strategically valuable. So, how do you think about this challenge here?

Because I think, in a way, most of us, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we could probably say, “All right, with a little bit of hustle, or staying a little later, or pushing back wisely and diplomatically on a couple of things, we could find that hour to do the thing that’s high, that’s leveraged.” But then it’s hard to actually do it, it’s like, “Ooh, I found an hour, I just want to sleep or relax.”

Maybe this is me talking with three young kids at home. So, how do we think about that vibe in the world of mindset, motivation, energy, focus, just the ability to summon our personal power to go forth and crush it?

Richard Medcalf
Well, probably, if you leave it to the end of your day, it’s probably not going to be a good point because you’re going to go, “Oh, I’m tired.” So, I think you do need to know when you’re energized and make your success early. So, if you figure out what’s that high-leveraged activity, get it in your diary before all the operational tactics come, all the operational issues come.

If you can say, “I’m just going to not even be on the radar, not even be on communications activities for the first hour of my day,” imagine what you could do if you did an hour a day, that’d be five hours a week, on this activity that’s going to move the needle. So, I think respecting energy, I think that’s one place because then, actually, the things which fall off the, “Ahh, I need to go home now,” or, “I’m too tired,” they’ll happen later on in the day, and, hopefully, those will then be the lower-value activities that you end up pushing back or procrastinating on.

But I think, Pete, to your point, the first thing I would ask in that situation isn’t so much when in the day you’re doing it, though I think it is important for the reasons I mentioned, it’s more, “Are you really sold on the value of doing it? Are you really sold on the value?” because the first sale is always to our self. One of the things I say in the book is the most important project is the one that no one else is asking for.

No one asked me to build that financial model in my consulting company. Nobody was asking that finance manager I mentioned to actually delegate the payroll activities and the sales commissions activities. He was doing them fine, but that was his pathway to more impact as it was mine. And so, if we’re going to do that, we really have to sell ourselves because no one is going to make us do it. That’s almost the definition of the strategic, is no one is asking us to do it. We are taking the initiative.

So, we really have to go, “Is this really important? And what’s the picture of success? If I don’t do this, what’s my trajectory going to be like? If do do this, what becomes possible?” We need to really understand the stakes. And if it doesn’t inspire us, it probably is the wrong project in some ways.

So, I always start by inspiring ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that notion, the most important project is the one no one is asking for, that’s heavy. It seems often true. I guess, occasionally, the most important project might be something someone happens to be asking for. That’s my intuition. You can challenge me on that, Richard, if you like. But for the most part, yeah, that really seems to track.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I’m sure there are examples you could come up with, of course, but I think, often, it’s we’re being asked for one thing but, often, what we need to think about is, “How am I getting better at getting better? How am I getting more of this in the future? Or, how am I going to do this without burning out, or whatever?” So, there’s normally something that isn’t being asked in the direct request to us very often.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And so then, when it comes to mindset, any other kind of critical beliefs that you think we need to face head on and readjust?

Richard Medcalf
Well, there’s so many, there’s a bunch of them, and I talk about different ones in the book. It’s personal. Some of us, the people-pleasers, if we’re people-pleasers, we find it hard to say no, but, actually, that’s because we got a tunnel vision. We’re just looking at the person in front of us and what they’re looking for, and we don’t realize that every time we say yes to them, we’re saying no to somebody else.

If I have an idea of serving stakeholders and not pleasing people, pleasing people means I’m just going to say whatever makes you feel good in the moment, or helps the person opposite. So, I think stakeholders means thinking about the bigger picture, “What’s the highest contribution that I can bring?” I’m a big fan of this, contribution rather than fear, rather than anything else, really. If we figure out how we maximize our contribution, make an impact, I think everything else flows from that.

But when we get stuck into perfectionism, people-pleasing, over-responsiveness, sometimes people get over-responsive, they feel they need to be responding to anything that comes their way, but I’d like to say, “Well, you’re an important person, and if I was reaching out to some other important person, like the president or the CEO, well, I wouldn’t even expect them to drop everything and respond within seconds.” In fact, you’d be worried if they did that. You wouldn’t respect them more; you’d respect them less. And so, why do we think that people will respect us more if we respond immediately to everything?

Actually, we should be focused. Strategic leaders working on big projects, making big things happen, they’re not just waiting around for people to be sending us messages. Now, again, this requires influence. Even with your boss, you can change this but you have to perhaps go, and say, “Look, I’m working on some big projects that we’ve agreed are key for our success. To do that, I need some focused time. And to do that, I need to ask your permission to not reply to all your messages that you’re sending me on Slack on a Monday morning between 9:00 and 11:00. Is that okay?”

And either they’ll say, “Yeah, fine. I’m glad you’re really focusing. That’s great,” or they’ll say, “No, no, no, I can’t live without you.” If they say that, then you might say, “Okay. Well, what else could work so that I can differentiate the urgent from the not quite so urgent?” because you perhaps agreed, like, “Pick up the phone and call me on a Monday morning if you need me, and I’ll leave you on my VIP list. But if you send me a message, I’ll get back to you at 11:00 o’clock.”

So, you can start to create agreements with the people around you in order to address these things. But, for me, the focus is always on contribution. If you put contribution first, then that provides a lens through which to evaluate all the different activities we’re doing. So, mindset, it does really, yeah, some of us we’re addicted to the thrill of action and doing things, some us are people-pleasers, perfectionist, all these different things. But I think we need to really be honest with ourselves about what are the stories that we’re telling ourselves.

I’ll give you an example. One of my clients got pledges from the C-suite of his company, very big role, and we’re working together on some transformational projects that he wanted to roll out. I was helping him onboard, really, onto the C-suite and be a more strategic transformational leader. A few weeks into our engagement, he said, “Richard, you’ve been coaching me for a while now, and this has been great. I’ve got a problem. I’m stuck in my email too much.”

And I said, “Well, okay, how do you want me to help?” “Richard, just give me some tips.” And I said, “Well, you’re paying me too much money as a coach to give you some tips but you can Google those. But tell me what you really need?” And so, he decided to talk, and I said, “Okay, so why are you feeling the need to deal with all these emails coming in your way and so quickly and they’re taking so much of your time?” And he says, “Well, I want to be trustworthy, reliable, and a team player.”

I said, “Well, that makes sense, so I can’t help you.” “What do you mean you can’t help me?” “Well, you just said you want to be reliable, a team player, and you want to be trustworthy. If I tell you not to do your emails so often and not answer them all, then you’re going to be unreliable, not trustworthy, not a team player, right? That’s your value, that’s your mindset, I can’t help you.”

He said, “Well, we’re stuck then?” I said, “Well, just answer me this. If your CEO was in the room, what would he be asking you for?” “Oh, he wants those transformational projects.” “If your investors were in the room, what would they be saying?” “Oh, yeah, they’d be the one that brought in my benefits. It’s going to be big.” “What about if the team were in the room?” “Oh, the employees, they’re so desperate for more modern workforce experience.” “Okay, and what about customers?” “Well, our customers won’t really know. It’s an internal transformation but it will free up the team to spend more time with customers. That’s the whole objective, so I guess the customers will be for that as well.”

So, I said, “Okay, so what you’re telling me is if you’ve been paid the big bucks as a C-level executive to roll out these transformational projects, and everyone wants you to do those, so I’m going to predict to you that you’re going to be untrustworthy, unreliable, and not a team player when you’re in your inbox doing the emails.” And in that moment, he got it, he had the aha moment, his mindset shifted, “Oh, yeah, I’ve a different role here. Being trustworthy and reliable is about me doing the big stuff and not all this little stuff.”

And so, when you get a mindset shift, it’s like that, then your possibilities open up. You see what’s desirable, necessary, impossible has just changed for him in that moment. He didn’t need a tip on how to filter his emails, more of the important thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s good. And I think that’s super helpful when you get deep down into the core values of a thing and see, well, really, which pattern of activity best serves those. And it could conceivably be possible that, in the certain seasons of the work life cycle, yeah, those emails are going to be critical to ensuring these transformational projects unfold.

I found out, it’s like, “Hey, we’re launching a thing, there’s a lot of people with a lot of questions. Oops, something broke and we got to get it fixed really quick.” And in so doing, that is what enables this transformational project to happen. But most days, I find that the emails are mostly not all that transformational, in my experience.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so it’s back to “What you’re trying to achieve? Do you really know what this breakthrough success is going to look like, or what’s this breakthrough project?” And we know that it’s quite easy to maintain things in an incremental fashion and get a bit better, and a bit better, and a bit better, to live a week in, week out, and culture in and culture out. There’s always new stuff that’s going on. There are always things to address.

So, for me, as I help people, I really help people in two areas. One is from going from being an operational leader to being a strategic leader, which I find happens at the kind of mid to senior levels of an organization where people want to make that shift. And then, actually, with some of my top clients, they want to move from being more of a strategic leader to being an impact-centric leader, which is actually having a systemic impact beyond the company.

But if we look at these shifts, then I think it does start with an understanding that we have to play a different game as a leader. So, when you’re really good at operations, it’s putting many people are, then they know that they’re in a safe pair of hands, that they’re an expert, that they are reliable, that they basically don’t mess it up. That’s why they got where they are.

And, actually, when we become strategic, we have to start focusing on building the new, building new capabilities, forging relationships wider across the organization where we don’t have direct control. And that starts to become a bit more risky for people because it’s like, “Oh, this is a new game I’m playing. I might not be able to win it the same way.” And so, that’s like a big shift for people, and the mindset shift they have to really go, “Okay, to be strategic, I’m going to have to be a different sort of leader,” and that’s a big shift for people.

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

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’ll just say that if people are interested in this topic, the place I would start is by understanding which of the four pillars you need to focus on first – tactics, influence, mindset, and environment. To do this the best way would be to go to my website, you can take the test there, it’s about 20 questions, and it will give you a score in those four areas. And the best way to get there is to go to XQuadrant.com/awesomeatyourjob, and that will give you all the resources for this.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. What inspires me is this quote, “You don’t get what you want. You get who you are.” It reminds me that work is always on ourselves, who we are being in any moment and not what are we doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Richard Medcalf
I think my favorite piece of research is the one that Marshall Goldsmith did many years ago where he asked, I think it was 80,000 professionals where they rank themselves in terms of competency. And, basically, it was like 90% of professionals rated themselves in the top 50%, and 50% of professionals rated themselves in the top 10% in terms of competency levels and performance levels. So, we have to realize that we have a huge capacity for self-delusion and to think we’re doing better than we are, which, for me, is always a great reminder to try and get data points in how we’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, recently, one of the books I’ve really enjoyed, actually, is a book called Unreasonable Hospitality. It tells a story of a Madison Square place in New York and how they went above and beyond normal restaurant levels of service, becoming going from basically a three-star mediocre restaurant to the number one restaurant in the world by obsessing on customer experience, by doing absolutely crazy things, very unique one-off based on individual guests coming in.

They’d Google their guests before they arrive. They would listen in. They’d try to find things that would surprise and delight. It’s something which I try to integrate into my business. It’s an ongoing journey but I find that’s very inspiring, a very inspiring story.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I run pretty much most of my business these days on ClickUp, which I have found to have taken out a lot of the complexity and chaos in my business, so I must admit that’s a tool which I use all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Richard Medcalf
I guess my favorite habit is probably meditation at this point. I’ve struggled with that for years on and off. I’ve found just getting the Headspace app and just doing 10 to 15 minutes a day at the start of my day has really helped me become calmer and more focused as I head into each day.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Well, I actually have a little snail on my desk, a little pewter snail because my favorite quote is “You got to slow down to speed up,” or as the racing car world would say, “You got to go slow to go smooth, and smooth to go fast.” And what that means for me is when we slow down our thinking to think about what’s really important in this moment, then we put our focus on more important things than when we’re rushing along just to get through our to-do list.

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

Richard Medcalf
So, find me on LinkedIn. I try to write a daily post there, a value-added post around impact leadership and being strategic. My website is XQuadrant.com, and, as I said, if you go to XQuadrant.com/awesomeatyourjob, you’ll find a link to the book “Making TIME for Strategy” and all the details of that, you’ll find a link to the assessment I mentioned before as one of the few other goodies there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, it’s been a treat. I wish you much luck and time for strategy.

Richard Medcalf
Thanks, Pete.

843: The Master Key to Overcoming Procrastination with Dr. Hayden Finch

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

 

Hayden Finch says: "It’s not time management. It’s emotion management."

Dr. Hayden Finch unpacks the psychology behind procrastination and shares strategies for overcoming it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why time management won’t solve procrastination—and what will.
  2. The easier way to do what you don’t want to do.
  3. A powerful question to help motivate you into action.

About Hayden

Dr. Hayden Finch is a licensed clinical psychologist, behavior change expert, and dessert enthusiast.  She is the founder of the Finch Center for High Functioning Anxiety, an online therapy clinic that helps anxious and overwhelmed high-achievers learn actionable, research-proven skills to turn self-doubt into self-confidence.  She is a go-getter with a passion for empowering others to find meaning in a busy life.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Hayden Finch Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I should also mention, the video is not being recorded at all. So, however you want to roll, so there’s that. Hayden, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Hayden Finch
I‘m so thrilled to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so thrilled to be chatting with you. You’ve got the coolest name for your organization – The Finch Center for High Functioning Anxiety.

Hayden Finch
Doesn’t that sound official?

Pete Mockaitis
It really does. I think we have a lot of high-functioning anxiety in the listenership, myself included.

Hayden Finch
Yeah. Well, that’s how I sort of got in this space, was like, “That’s me.” I’m pretty high-functioning and have a lot of anxiety, and noticed that my clients were kind of being attracted to me because they were pretty similar to me in terms of being pretty high-achieving people, doctors, and attorneys, and scientists, and also having anxiety, and trying to work all that out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s powerful, it’s important. And kudos on zeroing in on your message and your uniqueness and your brand relatively early in the course of rocking and rolling in your practice. That’s really cool.

Hayden Finch
Yeah, I studied marketing for a minute after I realized that that’s an essential part of the process, and that really helped me kind of figure out how to actually reach the people that I thought would be a good fit for me and that I would be a good fit for. So, yeah, that’s really helped kind of get that branding right.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into some of the insights that you’ve shared in your book The Psychology of Procrastination. But maybe before we do that, could you share, is there anything particularly striking, surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive you’ve discovered about us high-achieving folk having gotten a unique vantage point of looking at the personal deep stuff that we’re all dealing with?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, one thing that’s interesting about especially high-functioning people is, obviously, procrastination hasn’t been so problematic that it’s kept them from being able to achieve great things. Like, these people that I work with are highly successful, and so procrastination hasn’t kept them from being successful like it can for some people.

And so, I see this kind of brand of procrastination in this population that’s really closely aligned with perfectionism. And so, they want to do things perfectly and that can kind of contribute to procrastination, and then the procrastination kind of influences how well they can do something, and there’s this relationship between procrastination and perfectionism that I think is particularly unique to this high-functioning population.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really resonating in terms of one thing I’ve really procrastinated on is just processing my mail, like paper mail, because if it’s really good, I usually grab it already, like, “Ooh, this is a cheque,” “Ooh, this is a card.” And then what’s left is a big pile of, “I don’t know what’s in that envelope. Probably not anything interesting.”

Hayden Finch
Yeah, that’s really common to struggle with, like those basic activities of daily living, but then to not struggle so much with some of the bigger things in life that would seem more intimidating.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And then with that perfectionism, it’s funny, I ended up buying a bunch of stuff in terms of I’ve got three different kinds of letter openers now, and a nice little six-stack tray, and some special redaction markers, etc. And I guess there’s some perfectionism in there, it’s like, “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it so freaking excellently.”

But I found that from my own motivational triggers at least, it’s really helping. It’s like, “I am well-equipped to tackle this thing now, so let’s get after it.” Whereas, before, it’s like, “Oh, it’s going to be so hard and boring, and I’m scared that I might realize I’ve neglected something important about insurance, or about taxes, or something, and then feel bad about myself.” So, anyways, yeah, a lot of stuff gets wrapped up in this procrastination.

Hayden Finch
Yeah, and sometimes, you’re right, like setting ourselves up with the best materials can really then motivate behavior. And sometimes people observe the opposite, and they get all the stuff, and they have all these great intentions, and still they can’t go through their mail, that there’s something missing that actually helps them overcome that barrier to really doing the behavior, so it can kind of go either direction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, boy, it sounds like there’s a lot of nuances to be untangled here, so let’s do that. Maybe let’s zoom out a smidge. If you had a big idea, core message, or thesis behind The Psychology of Procrastination how would you articulate that?

Hayden Finch
My main thesis is that procrastination is not as much about time management as we would expect. That’s what you hear a lot when you’re talking about procrastination, is you need to schedule, you need to plan, or you need to manage your time better. To me, poor time management can certainly affect procrastination, and improving those skills can be helpful, but, ultimately, overcoming procrastination requires addressing the deeper emotional causes. Overcoming procrastination is about emotion management as much as time management.

Pete Mockaitis
Tweet that, Hayden. That’s good. Uh-huh.

Hayden Finch
Yeah. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that distinction does a lot right there. Cool. So, then I’m curious, okay, well, we’ll get in the how in just a moment. Then, is there any distinguishing or defining we should do about procrastination itself? Like, in some ways, I think we know it when we see it, it’s like, “Well, yeah, that’s procrastination.” But how do we distinguish between procrastination versus, “Oh, I’m taking a break,” or, “This is actually another important thing that’s popped up and needs my attention”?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, there are different forms of procrastination. And so, there’s actively procrastinating versus passively procrastinating. So, active procrastination means, “Oh, I’m going to work on that later.” I’m making this active decision to do it later so that I can do this other thing instead. And that other thing may be something that is also important, maybe more important, or maybe also important but less important, or something that’s not important at all but just something that you want to do. So, I’m actively making the decision to put something off until later.

And there’s also the passive procrastination, which is just like just not getting around to the stuff, just not getting around to making a doctor’s appointment or to calling your grandma or something like that. It just doesn’t come around. You’re passively procrastinating on those things but not really intending to. So, that’s one important distinction, is, “Am I doing this on purpose? Am I purposely putting this off? Or, am I just like not getting around to doing these things that I need to be doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, either way, there’s something that ought to be done that you’re not doing.

Hayden Finch
Right, yeah. That’s essentially the definition of procrastination. And you bring up a good point, which is, like, there are lots of things that need to be done in life, so how do you distinguish if I’m working on something that’s important, how do I know if the stuff that is waiting in line is being procrastinated or I’m just not getting to it yet? And that’s a matter of priority.

By definition, there can only be one most important thing, and that’s your priority. And our job in overcoming procrastination is to get really serious about what is the most important, or most urgent thing to be done right now, and what are the other things that need to wait. And you’ll see your mind getting really creative with excuses to kind of trick you into changing the priority order, and making something seem like a greater priority than something else.

And so, you really have to be savvy in calling yourself out when you’re lying to yourself or when you’re making excuses that aren’t helpful in really prioritizing your list.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so powerful. And a couple things you said reminded me of the conversation we had with Perry Marshall who talked about the 80/20 Rule and marketing and other domains, and it’s intriguing. And for me, that’s been so huge with priority, is if I can quantify, like, “What is the expected profit created per hour invested?” as I think about different business initiatives, like, if that’s what I’m trying to achieve.

Then if I lay it out there, I can be dazzled by, “Sure enough, that one is ten times as much as that other one. So, even though it’s unpleasant, I should probably really do that one.” And it’s powerful and beautiful to be able to see it in black and white in such stark dramatically differing terms. Although, often, it is not that clear, it is not that quantified, and it’s much fuzzier.

Well, now, sorry, I’m pausing here because I want to jump right into, “How do I determine the priority?” but maybe that’s not the perfect sequence. Oh, perfectionism. Uh-oh. That’s so meta. So, yeah, let’s just do it. So, how do you think about determining priority?

Hayden Finch
Well, there are a lot of different ways that you can do that. There’s The Eisenhower Matrix, which is if you can imagine is this sort of two-by-two matrix of urgent, not urgent, important, not important. And so, you’ve got a box that’s both urgent and important, and a box that’s neither urgent nor important, and then the other two as well. And you can kind of categorize your tasks into that matrix.

And so, the things that are most important and most urgent are probably going to be your highest priority things. These are kind of emergencies in your life, or rapidly approaching deadlines, things like that. Things that are urgent but not important might be interruptions, so someone asking you, like a coworker asking you on your opinion on something, or for feedback on something. That may be kind of urgent, especially to your coworker but not especially important to you, so that might be a little bit lower priority for you.

Or things that are important to you but not necessarily urgent. These are projects that you want to work on that have no deadlines. So, organizing your closets or making a doctor’s appointment. These things are important but not necessarily urgent, so they’re also going to kind of be in the middle of your list. And then things at the bottom of your list are going to be things that are neither urgent nor important.

So, these are distractions in life. This is social media, this is just hanging out, this is kind of our time-wasters are definitely in that category. And these are going to be at the bottom of our list, and, hopefully, we’ll get there but in terms of prioritizing our time, we want to start with those things that are most urgent and most important. And, again, I haven’t said this, but you want to overcome the urge to, like, just use urgency to measure your priorities, and really looking at the importance of it too.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I think that you’re right in terms of the priority can slide or sort of like we rationalize or deceive ourselves. And so, you can say anything is important, like, “It’s important that I play this video game because self-care is essential. I’ve been working so hard and I need a break.”

But the flipside, it could be, “Well, yeah, self-care is important. You have been working hard, you should have a rest, and this isn’t going to fill you up as much as any number of other activities which might require a little bit more effort, and might not be as immediately accessible, do.”

Hayden Finch
And that’s where the emotional stuff comes in. When you’re really in tuned with your emotions, you can see that your emotions are making the decision to procrastinate more so than you actually making that decision to put something off strategically. So, the emotion is something like, “I just don’t want to work on that project,” or, “I just don’t want to open the mail right now.”

And so, whatever emotion word we would put on that experience, that is what’s making the decision to put it off versus you sitting down, and saying, “Well, mail is kind of like it’s important but not especially urgent, so, therefore, I’m going to kind of put it in the middle of my list.” Like, that’s a very rational process but that’s very rarely what happens because, instead, our emotions are making those decisions for us.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Hayden, I don’t know how many times I’ve dreamt about this ultimate holy grail, and maybe it’s not achievable for us mortals, but exactly that notion, “I just don’t want to.” I think I’ve even written this on a goal sheet somewhere, it’s like, I would like to make “I just don’t want to” or, “I just don’t feel like it” almost irrelevant in terms of the power it holds over me. It’s like, “Duly noted, emotion, but we’re going to do it anyway, so too bad.”

And so, tell me, Hayden, is that an achievable goal or is the state of humanity incapable of that ideal?

Hayden Finch
Well, we can’t certainly eradicate that as an experience. I think that’s what most of us sort of envision, it’s just like, “I have this emotion, I don’t want it, so I’m just going to get rid of it. I’m just going to amputate that from my experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds nice.

Hayden Finch
Probably not an achievable goal, so it’s more helpful to figure out, “How do I have that feeling, that ‘I don’t want to’ feeling, and put that in my pocket, carry it with me, but continue to choose my behavior in the direction that I want it to be?” So, it’s making this distinction where, “I can have that feeling but choose a behavior that’s incompatible with it, so I can exercise, or do this documentation, or go through the mail, even though I have this feeling that I don’t want to. I’m just going to put that in my pocket, carry it with me because I can’t get rid of it, and then do the behavior anyways.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. Yeah, understood. Yeah, the feeling is there, it doesn’t just disappear at will, but what is possible – it sounds like you’re saying, tell me if I’m accurate – is that with a high percentage, now, you tell me, Hayden, is it 100, is it 90? With a high percentage, with practice, and mastery, one can, with a high percentage, say, “Duly noted, I-just-don’t-feel-like-it emotion. I’m going to put this aside and proceed, regardless.” Is that accurate?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, and I love the way you just did that. You talked to the feeling, and that’s helpful, right? What that’s doing is taking the feeling from being, like, enveloping you, and you’re putting it out in front of you, and you’re speaking to it as if it’s something separate, because, in effect, it is, and you’re saying, “Hey, feeling, I hear you, I see you, I’m going to validate you, but I’m not going to let you make the decisions for me because you are separate from me. So, yes, I’m going to acknowledge you, say duly noted,” and then continue in the direction that you want to go.

This, of course, yes, is more difficult in real life than I’m making it sound, and it requires a lot of, like, emotional skill, but you can learn that, those skills, so you can learn that and you can improve those skills over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s really nicely said in terms of talking to the emotion, and “I hear you” validating. I think I’ve wrestled with this in my own journey with regard to emotions, is if folks say, “Oh, you know, Pete, emotions have information. Be curious about them.”

And I think that’s probably generally good advice for most people but, as a podcast host, I am pathologically curious, I’d say, in terms of…or a good distinction I’ve gathered is that emotions cannot be solved but rather felt, in that they have information but sometimes that information isn’t really relevant, or novel, or actionable, like, “Oh, I’m angry about this thing, which is a lot like this thing that’s happened before and is likely to continue.”

It’s like, “Yeah, that’s true. Yup, that much to be done, so duly noted. Thank you. Thank you, anger. We’re going to go ahead and do this other thing now.” Or, that’s how I’ve come to terms with things. What is your professional opinion, Doctor?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, for sure, emotions exist for a reason. Like, humans have evolved with emotions inside of us for a reason. Like, evolution tends to get rid of things that aren’t particularly helpful, and so humans and lots of other animals have emotions, so we have to believe that that’s there for a reason, because emotions are somewhat metabolically expensive in your brain, so, again, they must be serving a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, true that.

Hayden Finch
And so, yes, we do want to pay attention to our emotions and try to figure out what they’re telling us, and, at the same time, what they’re telling us does not need to necessarily dictate our behavior. In a perfect world, that’s why we have emotions because, for example, if I see a snake, that’s going to automatically, without me even thinking about it, motivate my behavior to get away from that snake.

And it happens so quickly that it’s life-sustaining, that I’m moving away from that snake before I can think about, “Should I? Is that snake dangerous? Is that one poisonous? Is that one going to bite me?” We don’t have to do all of that. We’re just already moving. And that’s really helpful, and those are the reasons that we have emotions in the first place.

But, in our human lives where it’s not all…like emotions aren’t always triggered by things that are life-threatening, we have to be a little bit more thoughtful about the behaviors that are following our emotions. There’s a natural behavior attached to every emotion. So, if I’m sad, I naturally kind of want to hide and just slow down. If I’m anxious, I kind of naturally want to plan and worry.

And that can be helpful in certain contexts but we just have to ask ourselves, we have to pause on that emotion, and say, “What is this emotion trying to tell me? And is this one of those contexts where I need to do exactly what it’s telling me to do? Or, is this one of those tricky contexts that I actually need to go in the total opposite direction?”

Pete Mockaitis
Hey, I like that a lot. Natural behavior, and then we assess that, like, “Hmm, interesting suggestion you have proposed here. Let’s consider, is that the optimal move?” Okay. Well, so, Hayden, just kind of rounding out the why before we dig into the nitty-gritty hows, you mentioned it can be possible to practice to have a very high percentage of “Duly noted, I-don’t-feel-like-it, and we’re going to proceed, regardless.”

Could you also share with us a particularly inspiring story of someone you’ve seen really turned it around in terms of they had some procrastination that was causing some challenges, and then they just really came out the other side, and were taking care of business?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, I have a woman I used to work with that, again, very high functioning. She’s an attorney in a pretty prestigious position, and have obviously been very successful her whole life. She was very successful academically and, honestly, in everything she ever did. Like, she’s just super bright and driven, but part of her success was because she would pull all-nighters to get her briefs written, or her motions written, or whatever, and she was kind of constantly asking the court for extensions because she just didn’t have the time to finish some of the things that she needed to write for the court. And that became problematic, as you can imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
The judges are tired of that.

Hayden Finch
Yeah, they kind of catch onto this, and they’ll put some limits on it. And so, overcoming procrastination became important for her because like, she’s not 20 anymore, like pulling all-nighters is not necessarily a great way of living your life as an attorney, and asking the judges for extensions is not super helpful either.

And so, we worked for a long time on setting up some systems in her life that are going to support her moving up deadlines and being able to work on things earlier, but mostly we were looking at what are the emotions that drive the procrastination. And for her, it was a lot of distraction. It was a lot of distraction by other things that were also interesting, or overdoing it on one brief that then made it so that she couldn’t work on another one.

So, kind of like you, she’s just super curious and would do too much on one project and then procrastinate another project because of that. And so, we worked a lot on kind of figuring out emotionally what’s going on here. So, curiosity here is driving some of the procrastination, and being able to work with that so that she could set that curiosity aside, say, “Yes, duly noted, I’m very curious about this project, and I actually need to shift my focus to this other project that I’m a little bit less curious about.”

So, doing that kind of emotional work in addition to really setting herself up with some good systems for prioritizing tasks and subtasks, and knowing really what the priorities are, and how to manage her time so that she can get everything done on time. And now she holds very few all-nighters, or like less of an all-nighter, like, “I’m going to be able to sleep for two or three hours tonight instead of zero hours,” which was a significant progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, I’m inspired, I’m motivated, let’s dig into some of the means by which we win against procrastination. So, we talked about it’s really much about emotional management as opposed to just time management. So, could you orient us, you’ve got a procrastination cycle, how does this work?

Hayden Finch
Right. So, this cycle kind of starts with the idea that I’m going to have a thought about working on something, “Oh, I should open the mail.” And then some things are going to happen after that thought. And those thoughts that come up after you have that initial thought, that’s what, ultimately, is going to determine whether you are successful at following through with opening the mail or you defer to a different task.

And so, that interim space is really super duper important. So, I think about working on a project, so I think about opening the mail, and then I have this feeling, this, like, “Ugh, I really don’t want to. That’s kind of boring, or there’s a lot stacked up, or I don’t know what some of it is, or it could be bad news, like I could have some bills in there I can’t pay.” There’s some feeling that comes up. And then I want to get that feeling out of my body as quickly as possible because we don’t like feelings.

So, I’m just trying to get rid of that feeling. And the quickest, most effective way to do that is to just say, “You know what, I’ll do that later. I’m going to go over here and I’m going to go get a snack, or I’m going to play a video game, or I’m going to work on a work project that’s also really important. I’m going to go do something else.”

And as soon as I make that decision to go do something else, that feeling goes away. And that is really reinforcing, or in other words, kind of addictive to our brains, that relief from that anxiety that we felt or whatever that kind of feeling was, that relief from that feeling is kind of what makes us do that. And because our brain figured that out, that that felt good to get that feeling out of our body, it’s going to do that the next time too.

So, like, “Oh, I got to get around to opening that mail. Oh, yeah, I really don’t want to. Oh, there could be bills in there that I can’t pay. Oh, you know, I’m going to work on this other thing. Oh.” That relief, again, your brain learns that relief feels good, and it’s going to encourage you to do that every time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. It’s not so much that doing the other thing is just orgasmically pleasurable in terms of, like, “I’m being deluged with dopamine because this snack is so amazing, or this video game is so good.” I love that distinction you brought there in terms of we’re addicted to the relief, like, “I was feeling yucky, and then I felt un-yucky, and, oh, that’s real nice,” even if the alternative isn’t all that amazing.

Hayden Finch
Right. Yeah, even just less yucky. If I feel 2% less yucky doing this other project, then that’s a 2% gain for my brain, and, “Ooh, that’s better, so we’re going to move in that direction.” So, yeah, our procrastination doesn’t have to be just something that we actually enjoy or want to do. It just has to be incrementally better than what we otherwise would do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that a lot. And so then, okay, so that’s sort of the cycle. And you say it’s the thoughts we have that determine which pathway we’re going to end up going down. So, can you give us a demonstration? We heard some of the thoughts that don’t take us where we want to go. What’s the flipside of that?

Hayden Finch
Right. So, that would be a lot like what you demonstrated. So, here I am, I have this thought, like, “Oh, I really need to get to that mail. Like, oh, gosh, there could be some bills in there that I can’t pay. And there’s so much stacked up, I feel so guilty about just not being good at this, and there’s just a mass of mail. Okay, yup, yup, there is that guilty feeling, there’s that anxiety. Yup, there it is. Duly noted that this feels bad.”

“I can actually feel bad and do this at the same time. I can feel guilty about this and open the mail at the same time. Those are not mutually exclusive. So, here I am, I’m going to put that guilt in my pocket, and I’m just going to carry that with me, and I’m going to feel guilty while I open the mail. And maybe I don’t commit to opening all of it. I’m just going to open up a couple pieces of mail. That’s what I feel like I can commit to today. And so, I open a couple of pieces of mail, and then I move on.” And so then, I’m going to feel some relief after that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Hayden Finch
And that feels good to our brains too. So, now I’ve actually done some work, and then I feel relieved, and that’s kind of the process that we want, is that relief to come after engaging with the task rather than before.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that’s really nice. That’s really nice. I think I heard an interview with Dr. Andrew Huberman in which he suggested that whenever there’s a means by which we can very easily acquire feeling good, whether that’s alcohol or nicotine or porn or whatever, there’s a risk that addiction and not a great cycle can begin there, as opposed to what you’ve laid out is that sounds like what I’m picking up.

It’s like, here, we’ve got a choice in terms of which pathway are we going to go down. And in so doing, which behaviors are going to get reinforced. Is that accurate, Hayden, that if we do choose to procrastinate this one time, we’ll be more likely to procrastinate next time? And, vice versa, if we do choose to do the unpleasant thing, we’ll be better able to do the unpleasant thing next time? Is that accurate or am I reading too much into it?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, right. So, your brain is paying attention to these reinforcement schedules, and it is noticing that, “I avoided the task, I decided not to open the mail, and I felt better.” So, in this case, avoidance is being reinforced. And, in general, that’s kind of not what we want to happen in our lives. But if, instead, I actually engage with the task, maybe not completely but in a way that feels manageable for me today, then my relief comes from engaging the task rather than avoiding the task, and that is what we want to see more of.

And the more you do that, yes, you’re right, the more you do that, the more resilient you become. And so then, what feels manageable today, which is opening two pieces of mail, like, down the road somewhere, I might be able to open ten pieces of mail, or maybe even feel capable of approaching the entire task.

So, we want to start where we’re at, and then, as we kind of build some resilience to that where that starts to feel easy, then open that up a little bit so that we actually can do more and more, and tolerate more distress.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. So, we talked about the cycle and we talked about prioritizing. Any other just absolutely core themes, principles, practices that make a world of difference in terms of getting better at not procrastinating?

Hayden Finch
One thing that comes to mind is this idea of motivation, and I hear that come up a lot in my clinic about, “I’m just not motivated to exercise,” or, “I’m not motivated to write my notes, do my documentation,” “I’m just not motivated to work on this project.” That comes up a lot as a factor that perpetuates procrastination.

And so, we really have to rethink motivation in this context. And there’s a lot floating around the internet, so your listeners have probably encountered this, that motivation is fleeting, it’s unreliable, it’s definitely not something that we want to rely on to motivate behavior. Like, we don’t. We want to choose our behavior, whether we have motivation or not, because this misconception that, “If I’m motivated, then I can take action,” but it’s actually the reverse, “If I take action, and then I start to see results from that, then I may feel motivated down the road.” But that’s neither here or there.

In overcoming procrastination, motivation doesn’t even really need to be part of the equation. We just need to focus on tolerating the distress, the emotional piece, and then choosing our behavior that’s aligned with our goals rather than what we feel like doing or not doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, motivation, fickle, fleeting, and so it’s not essential to have but it’d be nice to have. Are there any things that we can do to, over the long term, build up more? I guess, is it just doing that path that brings about more resilience will also yield more motivation? Or, is it just like “Can’t count on it. It’ll come and go, and just move on”?

Hayden Finch
We certainly don’t want to count on it but definitely there are things that we can do to enhance motivation. So, these are things like reminding ourselves why, “Why is it important to go through the mail? Why don’t I just want to let this accumulate?” And if I have a good compelling reason that this is an important task to do, and I remind myself why it’s important, then I’m probably going to feel more motivated to engage in it, or, in other words, I’m going to feel more motivated to push through that “I don’t want to” feeling.

So, importantly, that “I don’t want to” feeling is probably still going to be there, but it’s a little bit easier to put that in your pocket and carry on when you have a compelling reason to do that. So, reminding yourself, like, “What are my values? What’s important to me? Why am I trying to do this?” that can be really helpful for being able to push through that discomfort.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Hayden, do you have any thoughts when we talk about the why? I think I’ve historically viewed the why as some grand ennobling purpose that just inspires and is maybe even extra fun to say and articulate, versus the why could, in fact, be pretty mundane, like, “Well, if you don’t open your mail, there could be some nasty bills that you haven’t paid and your credit score will go down, and you’re going to have to pay more for your next car payment, or mortgage, or something.”

And so, I think I’ve gathered that that’s a perfectly valid why that can nudge you and get the results even if it’s not all that inspiring and pretty.

Hayden Finch
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it doesn’t have to be anything that you’re going to…that’s going to be tweetable. Like, it doesn’t have to be. Like, it can just be, like, “I need to get this stuff off the counter. That’s just an important thing to do, just clear this up so that’s it’s just not taking up space.” Or, also, it’s not taking up brain space, “Really, I keep having to think about the freaking mail, and that’s a silly waste of brain space, and so I’m just going to go ahead and do this so I can clear that up to think about things that I’m actually more interested in.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so then, the why can be either carrot or stick, it can be pain or pleasure. Okay.

Hayden Finch
Right. Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And then I’m thinking, once we’re actually started which…well, maybe let’s talk about that. So, I’m thinking about Dr. Timothy Pychyl, I don’t know if I’m saying his name right, but he wrote another book about procrastination which I thought was pretty good. But that was one of the themes over and over again, it’s like, “Just get started,” which, in some ways, is, I don’t know, felt like an oversimplification, like, “Oh, you’re procrastinating? Well, just get started.”

But, on the flipside, it’s like, “But, no, it’s true. If you could just get like a minute or two into it, magic happens.” Can you comment on the “Just get started” concept?

Hayden Finch
Super important because that’s where the emotion, that’s your choice-point, like, “I have this emotion, and I have a choice to either avoid it or to tolerate it. And if I can just get started, every time I just get started, that is me tolerating that emotion even if I only get started for two pieces of mail. I’ve tolerated that emotion for longer than I, otherwise, would have, and that is a step in the right direction.”

And, typically, once we can overcome that first hump of the emotion, it’s kind of downhill from there. It’s a whole lot easier. It’s that first step that is the most difficult. And so, yeah, there’s some truth to that, that if we can just get started, and there are lots of ways that people have come up with how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell.

Hayden Finch
And if we can just do that, that tends to help us down the road. It tends to help us continue the task longer.

Pete Mockaitis
Hayden, you said lots of ways, and I can’t let that go. What are some of these ways?

Hayden Finch
Well, like, with the mail example, right? I’m just going to commit to doing a little bit of the task. So, if I can break this big task into something smaller, “I’m going to unload the dishwasher. I’m just going to put away the forks,” or, “I’m going to do the laundry. I’m just going to fold the towels today.” If we can break it down to just one thing, that’s one way to get started. So, we’re not committing to doing the entire thing.

Or, commit to a certain amount of time, “I’m just going to do this for five minutes, and then I’m done after that. I’m only committing to five minutes of this hard thing, then I’m done.” Or, a renewable strategy, “So, I’m going to do this for five minutes, and then after five minutes, I’m going to ask myself whether I want to continue for another five minutes,” and then kind of having that renewable engagement with the task.

And so, there are lots of ways like that, that essentially, come down to breaking that task down into a small-enough component that it feels manageable. And that maybe, like, what’s manageable for you at the moment, if it’s something you’ve been putting off for a long, long time, that may be, “I’m just going to put one fork away, and that’s all I can manage today. Like, that’s just where I’m at, and that’s totally fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. And it’s so funny that state of mind. I’m thinking I’ve had times where I’m looking at a kitchen island just full of junk. We got mail, we got trash, we got recycling, we got laundry, we got a car seat, because it’s big and convenient, it’s right there, so we stick things there. And so then, it’s overwhelming, it’s like, “Oh, there are so many things.”

And it’s funny, sometimes I will do a little bit and I’ll feel exhausted, like, “Ah, that’s all I can muster. I put the car seat on the stroller, which makes a lot more sense for it to be, and that’s good.” And other times, I do that and then I behold the wake, the space, that has been cleared, beautified, liberated, from that action. And I find it to be beautiful and inspiring such that I keep going.

And maybe this is just a fancy way of describing what motivation feels like in practice. But, Hayden, it’s just a mystery to me, is, why is it sometimes I take the path where it’s like, “Ooh, that was great. Let’s keep going,” and other times, I go, “Ugh, that was exhausting. Let’s stop”? What’s behind that?

Hayden Finch
Well, it’s a lot of things. Sometimes it comes down to emotional energy. We have a certain amount of emotional energy, and some days you’ve probably already spent a lot of your emotional energy on, “I didn’t sleep all that well,” and, “My boss was mad at me,” and, “I got in trouble for this thing,” and, “This project isn’t working out the way I want it to,” and, “There was no toilet paper in the bathroom.”

And so, by the time you get around to just cleaning off your island, like, “Ugh, I just put the car seat away,” is all you can muster. But other days that are going pretty well, you might have enough emotional energy to actually do the entire project. So, it just kind of depends, I think, a lot on kind of what’s already been stocking up for you in the day or the week or whatever time is leading up to that task.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s say we did get started, mission accomplished. And then distraction appears, maybe it’s from the phone, maybe it’s from a knock on the door, “You got a minute?” or any number, or just our own internal thoughts, like, “Ooh, it’d be fun to go on Facebook right now.” What do you recommend for sticking with it once we’ve started?

Hayden Finch
Well, obviously, if you’re a person who’s prone to distraction, then you want to do the normal things to limit distractions. You’re going to leave your phone somewhere else or turn it off. You want to shut your office door. You want to take all of those steps that we all know we ought to do. I have nothing revolutionary to add there about limiting distractions. So, if you’re prone to distractions, you certainly want to do that.

And I think we have to be honest with ourselves about what we’re distracted by. So, if you’re distracted by your phone, you’re getting on social media, you’re checking text messages, or whatever, then your phone needs to go. And, also, I think we just kind of need to be honest with ourselves about how long we’re able to work before we take a break.

And we need to kind of schedule in some breaks, and that can get your key for people to, in terms of coming back from a break. But everyone needs breaks to just kind of refresh our energy and our focus, so we have to be thoughtful about that. But, certainly, limiting distractions is important, and setting ourselves up with systems that are going to help us with the distractions that you don’t normally think about.

So, you were mentioning getting distracted by your own thoughts or ideas. And so, one idea there is to keep a list where you can follow up with those ideas. So, right now, I am working on this memo, and I should not be getting on Facebook to look at the events that are going on this weekend. That’s a distraction. I’m going to write that down so that once I’m done with my time commitment to this memo, I’m going to follow up with the Facebook idea.

Or, I’m going to follow up with, “Oh, yeah, I want to do Wikipedia, that thing, like I’m going to follow up with that later because I’ve got a list. I don’t want to forget them so I’m going to make a list of them, but kind of having the discipline to, not right now, and just put that away,” which, again, is going to bring up some emotions, like, “I really want to get on Facebook. Oh, I really want to, like I’m really curious about that thing.” We have to tolerate that distress of postponing that experience until later.

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

Hayden Finch
I don’t know if I’ve said it, but like the emotional piece is super duper important. Yeah, I think it’s, like, I know, I’ve sort of beaten that dead horse, which is then my intention because I think that people continue to try to overcome procrastination again and again and again, and they’re trying similar strategies and not finding progress.

And I think it is because a lot of people are neglecting the emotional piece. So, that really has to be your focus, is trying to figure out that arch of your emotional experience. So, I think about doing something, I have this emotional experience in response to it, and then I choose my behavior accordingly. When you can master that emotional arch, you are going to make so much more progress in overcoming procrastination.

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

Hayden Finch
There’s this author and finance expert named Nathan Morris, and he has this quote, like, “It’s not always that we need to do more, but rather that we need to focus on less.” And I find that pretty inspiring. He talks about kind of editing your life frequently and ruthlessly.

And, for me, being the person that I am, who’s like prone to anxiety and perfectionism and doing more, more, more, it always feels like if I just do more or work harder, then I will get to my destination. But I think there’s a lot of truth in what he’s saying, which is, like, we just need to focus on less. Like, choose the priority and focus on that, and then that’s where success will come in.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Hayden Finch
There’s this study where they had human subjects at a starting line, and they had to walk to a finish line, and along the way, they had to pick up a bucket. And they’re going to encounter one bucket sooner, and then there’s another bucket kind of closer to the finish line. And they can choose either one, they just have to walk with a bucket from start line to the finish line. And so, rationally, what we should do is, like, pick up that second bucket that’s, like, closer to the finish line, and just walk from there to the finish line.

But actually, people tended to pick up that first bucket and then walk farther with this heavy bucket to the finish line. And what I love about that study is that it sort of highlights how irrational human behavior is, that we will, in some cases, do more work for no good reason. Like, obviously, in that case, just pick up the second bucket and we won’t have to carry it farther. We are predictably irrational, and that’s why psychology is so interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so funny, and I guess we have all of our own little reasons for that. It’s like, “I’m going to show this bucket who’s boss. I’m a tough guy. I can handle carrying a bucket the whole way, so I’m going to do it. This is boring, so carrying a bucket makes it a little more interesting, so I’m going to do it, I think.” Yeah, okay. And a favorite book?

Hayden Finch
Sophie Mort, who happens to be a friend of mine, wrote A Manual for Being Human, which I think is revolutionary because you know how people is, “Oh, there’s no manual for, like, being a human. There’s no manual for figuring this out.” Well, she, like, literally wrote the manual for being human in this space in psychology and mental health. And it’s a great read for people trying to figure out how to manage mental health and really thrive in life.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Hayden Finch
I love Google Reminders. I think that is such a big help in my life for trying to keep me on track so that I don’t have to keep it all in my head. But I can just set up reminders to remind me to do stuff every four days, or every six weeks, or whatever it is. Love that tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Hayden Finch
My sleep schedule is definitely number one. I am very rigid about my sleep schedule. I protect sleep at all costs. I am headed to bed at 8:20 every night. I sleep by 8:30, so that when my alarm goes off at 4:45, I am well-rested and ready to go. I think that is the secret to just about everybody’s success, is making sure you protect your sleep schedule.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really connects with folks, resonates, they tweet you?

Hayden Finch
Yeah, it’s got to be that. Like, it’s not time management. It’s emotion management. And once people get that, which it makes sense, but once you get that in real life, once you experience that, like, that unlocks everything. And, really, honestly, when it comes to mental health, that’s kind of the bottom line with everything. It is emotion management more than what you would typically think of, “How do I overcome depression?” Well, you manage the emotions and separate your behavior from that.

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

Hayden Finch
My website is HaydenFinch.com. There, you can learn more about The Finch Center for High Functioning Anxiety, you can contact me and work with me directly, or find links to the books I’ve written on the psychology of procrastination, or habits, all there at HaydenFinch.com.

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

Hayden Finch
Yeah, I would say, based on that quote that I just made, it’s not about doing more in life, that’s not it. It’s about editing your life. So, find something to edit to create more space because more space in your life is going to be a greater ability to stay in the driver’s seat and manage those emotions that are going to come up. You need space to be able to do the emotion management piece.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Hayden, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and very little procrastination.

Hayden Finch
Yeah, thank you. I’ve enjoyed this and, hopefully, that will help your listeners be awesome at their jobs.