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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jeff

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jeff Haden Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
You did? Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve walked it.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Jeff Haden
So, that was my shot at Tony.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Jeff Haden
How hot was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know that was a long answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
That’s all right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

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

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, yeah, you’re hammering.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Ooh, that’s a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear about your favorite quote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so great, Jeff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Yeah.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Maybe it’s mutually beneficial.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Haden
Awesome.

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

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

573: How to Leverage Your Time by 6000% through Effective Delegation with Bill Truby

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Bill Truby shares the simple trick to getting better results when delegating tasks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest mistake leaders make when delegating
  2. The most crucial thing you need to delegate
  3. The only four reasons why people fail to follow through

About Bill

Bill brings the background of common-sense learning (being raised on a cattle ranch), a B.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Psychology, the experience of a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), and nearly 30 years of business practice to the table.

These multiple perspectives and backgrounds synergize to bring amazingly simple, yet powerful tools to leaders and managers – tools that have been proven over and over for nearly four decades.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Bill Truby Interview Transcript

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

Bill Truby
Well, my pleasure, Pete. I’m thankful to be able to talk with you, and I guess it’s been a while since we’ve began to connect, and now we’re really voice to voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am thankful too because I remember I’ve discovered you in my very first batch of guest recruitment. It was in the For Your Improvement book by the Korn Ferry folks. It had a nice bibliography of folks and books and resources associated with each skill I thought I might focus in on. Yours is one. I looked, I liked it, didn’t work out. But four years later, well, here we are. I’m glad that we both stuck with it.

Bill Truby
Well, I embarrassingly apologize, Pete. There was a lot going on in life back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And I didn’t really follow up much. it was like every, I don’t know, year, “Hey, Bill. I still want you.

Bill Truby
Well, I am thankful too. And, yeah, it’s the way things are meant to be, I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve got a lot of fun to get into when it comes to delegation. But I want to hear just a smidge about… you grew up in a cattle ranch in Texas. And my experience with ranches is limited to the Nickelodeon program “Hey Dude” I watched as a child.

Bill Truby
Oh, you poor soul you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell us about this.

Bill Truby
Well, I tell you what, I attribute most of who I am and how I am to my cowboy background. And I didn’t grow up in Texas but I have roots in Texas. If you look at a map of Texas, about two hours north of Abilene, you’ll see a little town called Truby, Texas. And there’s a little book written by the Arizona Historical Society about the Trubys and the Coxes. The Trubys were the cattle ranchers, the Coxes were the sheepherders. And if you know about American history, they were at war, when guns ruled the land.

I mean, it was late 1800s and the Trubys and the Coxes were both bull-headed and they were shooting at each other, and the local sheriff finally rounded up the most offending Trubys and the most offending Coxes and put them in jail. And in those days, you couldn’t convict them till the circuit-riding judge came around, which he finally did.

Well, the judge finally said, because cowboys are loyal, and apparently sheep herders are too, and people were lying for their family of support and their family of choice. So, finally, the judge said, “There’s no getting the truth here. You’re free to shoot it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Bill Truby
Yup. So, everybody left the courthouse. The book talks about it. And Trubys, apparently, were smarter than they looked because they left, and they went to New Mexico, and that’s where my dad was born, and he was raised on a little ranch there and a sod house. And then he moved to northern California where I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Humboldt County. And I end this little story by telling you that the Texas Historical Society allows you to adopt a small town. So, I adopted Truby, Texas. I have a town.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Bill Truby
But, apparently, Trubys weren’t worth much because it only cost me 25 bucks to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what are your responsibilities if you’ve adopted a town, you’re the father? Like, do you have to pay for things?

Bill Truby
Yeah, I have a certificate. That’s it. That’s it. And there’s 24 people that lived there so they had to split that last dollar, Pete. So, that’s the beginning of my heritage, and a lot of things I learned though, Pete. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity. My word is better than a contract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, let’s hear your good word when it comes to effective delegation. it’s a universal skill. We need some more, great wisdom, on how to do it well. you’re one of the guys. So, your book has a compelling bullet that says “Effective delegation can leverage our time by 6,000%.” That’s quite a figure. It’s kind of specific. Where do we get it?

Bill Truby
Well, that book, first of all, was written long ago. And one of our claims to fame long ago was the ability to teach people how to delegate effectively, and always get follow through, or if you didn’t, you were able to fix it with one or two times, and it’s powerful. So, our co-author at the time, I’ve written some other books, but I did a co-author at the time, and he did some research on some of our folks that used the tool and multiplied their time that they used to take to fix delegations that just didn’t work well, and did the old math. I don’t know how he did it, but it was a pretty impressive number, but I know intuitively, and I know empirically that over 40 years of doing this is it just proves this tool. It works. It always works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I imagine, you know, 6,000%, 60X, I mean, if you’ve got 60 people and you’re delegating well, then that would do it and work out there. So, I want to really dig into a whole lot of the particulars, for what’s the system and how we can utilize it. First off, I think maybe could you frame it up for us? Like, I think we probably all know delegating is handy as opposed to trying to do everything yourself, and yet it seems hard. So, can you share what makes it hard? What’s holding us back? What are some of the mental blocks? Like, why don’t we just do this?

Bill Truby
That is an excellent question, and it’s excellent because it sets the premise. If we don’t delegate, then we have to do it ourselves. The only way that a leader, the only way that a father can leverage his or her effectiveness is by working with people and through people. So, it’s absolutely imperative that we delegate in order to be successful. We are self-limiting by self-doing. If we try to do everything ourselves then we are limited by the capacity that our energy and that our time extends to. That’s it.

So, the only way that you can play a beautiful orchestra is by not playing one instrument but leading and directing the delegation of a variety of instruments who all play the same song.

But your question, “Why don’t we do it?” Well, that’s a multifaceted answer. Some people are just too controlling. They will not let go. Other people are trying to make it perfect and they don’t think anybody else can so it’s a self-esteem issue. There’s a variety of issues, Pete, that cause people to not delegate. But the number one consistent theme that I’ve seen throughout all my years of teaching people to delegate is simply they don’t know how.

They’ll try to duplicate themselves. They’ll try to get people to do things exactly the way they would do it. They try to micromanage. They try to just give them a little, few pieces of information and tell them to go, and they don’t give them all the information. So, our tool has been built to cover every eventuality of delegation, and, thereby, make it successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Exciting. Well, so then you got a lot of reps of experience, a lot of clients and students who’ve picked up on this. Could you share with us maybe an inspiring case study of someone who was having some trouble delegating, but then they saw some really cool things happen on the other side just so we can get a taste and feel some inspiration for it?

Bill Truby
Sure. There’s a man named Mike Solano who owns a $14 million hardware billing supply enterprise. He has a rental center, two billing supplies, two hardware stores, etc.

Now, this man worked six to seven days a week, every day spending eight to ten hours a day. He was overwhelmed because he wanted everything to go well, and he was successful. But he was overwhelmed, tired, weary. He was not going to be able to keep up this pace. Now I want to say something right now, Pete, about delegation, and that is delegation is a tool. What you delegate is also very important because you just don’t delegate tasks. You delegate roles. You delegate departments. You delegate businesses.

So, Mike learned this tool. He used it at the core of all of our other processes and teachings and tools that we use to run a business, and this was the core, and now Mike works two to three days a week if he wants to. His delegation process has empowered people. People have a sense of ownership. People have a sense of accomplishment and achievement and they enjoy going to work doing their role, their job, and reaping their results. And he’s allowed them to feel that kind of ownership.

We teach people, we teach leaders, we teach managers that you need to lead accountable people and not hold people accountable. That’s a core concept that we teach always. If you hold people accountable, you’re the one holding the accountability. If you lead accountable people, then they’re the ones holding the accountability. And that’s a whole other subject.

But Mike’s people have learned to be accountable and he doesn’t have to hold them accountable, and this tool is the core of how this process works.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. Well, so then lay it on us. What is this tool, this process? How do we go do it?

Bill Truby
Well, when your listeners go to the delegation flowchart link and download it, they’re going to see what I’m talking about, but it truly is a flowchart, Pete. It starts at the top with what you do and then it flows down the page, and it teaches you what to do at each stage of the delegation process.

And at the very top, there is the point that you need to delegate. Accountability. Notice you’re delegating accountability. You’re not delegating just a task. You’re delegating accountability and you’re including responsibility and authority. Now that’s an important point. Sometimes people try to delegate by giving people a task to do but they don’t give them the authority that’s associated with the responsibility.

And here’s one of the first points. Sometimes the person doesn’t have literal authority. For example, there’s a safety officer in a big company. The safety officer doesn’t hire and fire, but the safety officer is charged with going through the facility and making sure people are doing safe practices and following safe protocols.

So, what happens if Mr. and Mrs. Safety Person says to John or Jane Doe manager, “Hey, you need to stop doing that”? If safety officer doesn’t have authority, that person doesn’t have any teeth in their words. So, how do you give the safety officer authority? You give it to him or her as vicarious authority, no different than air traffic control.

I’m sure you’ve flown a whole lot, Pete. When I listened to the pilots, air traffic control says, “United 73, descend and maintain 10,000.” I have never once heard a pilot say, “You’re not my boss.” And, obviously, they follow the instructions of air traffic control because of two reasons. One, there’s benefit. They’re not going to run into another plane. And, number two, FAA and the United Airline, or Delta Airlines, or whatever company you’re looking at, have given the air traffic controller vicarious authority to give orders to the pilots.

So, what that looks like is John or Jane Doe’s CEO says to the company, “People, Martha or John, this is my safety officer. When he or she is asking you to do something, it’s as if I’m asking you to do it.” So, that’s the first mindset that needs to be delivered in the context of delegation. We’re delegating responsibility and authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, responsibility, authority, accountability, and so it’s sort of like the whole enchilada. It’s like, “You own it. It’s yours.” And that’s really handy in terms of there’s not a lot of excuses that emerge in that, that’s like, “Well, I just did this because that was what was on the process sheet I was supposed to follow,” as opposed to, “Well, no, you own this sort of domain so, yeah, you’re going to follow the process but you’re also going to kind of exercise some judgment to do what clearly needs to be done to make it work out well.”

Bill Truby
You’re right, Pete. And that’s a very insightful way of putting it. The person who it’s been delegated to feels ownership of that enchilada. But the most important point is that other people know that he or she has that enchilada. If they don’t know, then that person is limited in their ability to carry out the task or the project. So, that’s the first mindset.

Many things that we teach, Pete, have to do with mind shifts. It’s sort of like leading accountable people rather than holding people accountable. That mind shift alone changes a ton of behaviors and beliefs and attitudes. So, that’s the top of the flowchart, delegate accountability, including responsibility and authority.

And at that point, you create what we call a contract of expectations. There’s never an assumption. The person being delegated to never walks away with a question. It’s a two-way communication, and this is where our communication tools come in, but you must create a clear contract of expectations. The core of a contract of expectations, or CoE as we call it, is a, “What? By whom? By When?”

Pete Mockaitis
Who will do what by when?

Bill Truby
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
Included in that is the purpose and context. Because if I just asked you, Pete, “Go do this,” and you say, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and you have no purpose or context, then you cannot be creative in the obstacles that may come your way. If you know the reason, the why, the purpose and the context where it fits in, then you can be a little bit more creative in your work as you encounter the unknown, which is always the case.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so valuable and really worth, I think, underscoring because a lot of times we don’t know the why behind the request, and we just sort of kind of do it. But I think I’ve been on both sides of things in terms of being the doer of the task and not really knowing, it’s like, “Well, I could go either way but I don’t know. Is this in my thing? So, my instructions are I’m just going to make a note and kind of keep on rolling.”

And then, as a leader, when I have been so wise as to share the purpose and context, to be surprised and delighted with people that I’m managing, say, “Hey, I bumped into this and so I did that.” And I think, “Well, that is perfect. Thank you.” It just feels so good, like I don’t have to say anything, and it came back even better than I had imagined it could have from my just process instructions, so this is really cool.

Bill Truby
Purpose and context has many psychological benefits. It increases ownership. It shows respect. It feels like you belong, that you’re included. But, more importantly, if the percussionist in an orchestra doesn’t know the song, all he can do is play the music. And if you don’t play the music in the context of the song, you might play too loud, you might play too soft. Same with a violin, same with a piccolo, same with a French horn. We must understand the purpose and context of the notes that we’re playing in order to make it effective in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Bill Truby
So, this is the first thing that happens in the delegation process, it’s preventative. So, there’s this clarity of what, by whom, by when. There’s a purpose and context. If it’s a long project, then you clarify when you want reports, and you always ask the person to do it. You don’t tell. This is about leading accountable people.

Pete, if I said, “Pete, go do this or that,” then you’re just a puppet, you’re just a person that’s doing a job. If I say, “Will you do it?” and you say, “Yes,” now we have a contract and you own it. So, when you don’t do it, if you don’t, I don’t say, “Didn’t I tell you?” I keep the accountability where it belongs. I say, “Pete, didn’t we agree?” And where does that put the accountability? Right on you. Okay, so that’s the first step.

So, we build all of this, it takes a few minutes. Obviously, it could take hours depending on if it’s a large project but there’s clarity, there’s absolute clarity, no assumptions ever. Clarity, clarity. Pristine, clear communication and an agreement. Now, when you do that, one of two things happen. If the person follows through, and if you look at the delegation flowchart, you’ll see on the right side of the page there’s a box that says, “Follow through.” And when a person follows through, then the arrow goes down to what we call a continuous improvement celebration.

Obviously, the type of celebration depends on the extent of the delegation. If I asked you to go get lunch for the team, that’s different than solving world hunger. So, the celebration is congruent with the task. And I don’t know if we want to get into all the details of a celebration at this point but just to earmark the four parts, there’s the party factor because everybody wants to have fun. There’s the recognition and appreciation, people need to be recognized and appreciated. There’s the learning what went well, what didn’t go well. What didn’t go well so you can fix it. What did go well so you can repeat it.

Because if something went well and you don’t know why it happened, you’re not good, you’re lucky. And then you transfer that knowledge to other people in the company, or other friends, somebody else who could benefit. So, that’s the right side of the flowchart, follow through, and then the last thing you do is to have some kind of a celebration, which gives closure and recognition and that motivation to want to be delegated to again.

Now, the left side, is when somebody may not follow through. This delegation process always works but what happens when somebody who doesn’t follow through is that you follow this chart and you’ll fix it typically one time. There’s a circle that goes on. So, if there’s no or limited follow through, there are four reasons. You know, Pete, I’ve never heard anybody talk about this, I’ve never heard anybody write about it, I’ve never heard anybody speak about these four concepts. But there’s only four reasons why someone won’t follow through, only four.

And I’m talking about anybody. Your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your kid, your employee, your employer. Human beings have four reasons why they won’t follow through. A wise delegator will search for the reason in the order that I’ll give them to you right now. The first is, and they all start with lack of. The first is lack of awareness. They weren’t aware.

Now, typically, we’re communicating when we’re delegating, and humans aren’t the greatest at communicating. And so, if it’s lack of awareness, it’s often some glitch that occurred in the communication process, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant that.” We could use the same word success and you could think of different criteria for success than I do. So, the first is lack of awareness. And you never demand, you always ask questions, “So, what was your understanding of the task?” to see if there was awareness.

If there was awareness, the second reason a person won’t follow through, or can’t follow through, is lack of training. They thought they knew how but they didn’t, “So, did you know how to do this?” The third reason is lack of resources. They didn’t have enough time. They didn’t have enough equipment. They didn’t have enough staff. They didn’t have enough money. Something was lacking that wasn’t prevalent or wasn’t known at the beginning of the delegation process. And the only other reason a person won’t follow through is lack of accountability.

So, lack of awareness, number one; lack of training, number two; lack of resources, number three; and lack of accountability, they’re just not doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s define accountability there in this context. So, is it they don’t feel like or what do you mean specifically by accountability here?

Bill Truby
They just didn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
It’s just the outcome wasn’t there, “You didn’t bring lunch.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess, well, call me a stickler as a former strategy consultant about when you lay out, hey, there’s four reasons, I get really excited about a mutually-exclusive collectively-exhaustive categorization set because I’m a dork that way. So, lack of accountability, they just didn’t do it. That almost feels like an everything-else bucket, I guess, in a way, you can maybe subdivide that. Like, there are multiple reasons why they just didn’t do it. They didn’t feel like it. They weren’t motivated, and they don’t care. Yeah, can you unpack the lack of accountability a little more?

Bill Truby
Sure, and I love all those big words you used to identify this set. That was awesome.

Bill Truby
Okay. Remember what we delegated at the beginning of time, at the beginning of this delegation process. We delegated accountability. Well, there’s an obvious finishing of that sentence. The accountability to do blank. So, you and I are climbing a mountain, and I delegate you the holding of the rope to belay me as I climb.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
If you do not adhere to that accountability, you just don’t hold the rope, I don’t really care why because at this point, we’re not talking about the why. We’re simply talking about the outcome. Period. So, if you don’t hold the rope, there’s danger. If your hands hurt, if you’re sad, if you sneeze, if you don’t feel like it, those are all beside the point. When you’re out on the football field, and the ball is thrown to you, it doesn’t matter how you feel, your job is to catch the ball. And if you don’t go up to catch the ball, then you have not been accountable to what you’ve agreed to be accountable about.

So, it’s really not a catchall. It’s specifically focused on the task that was delegated. In some ways, I suppose the four reasons are the why, but they’re all about behavior and resources to do the behavior. They’re not diving into the emotional or psychological or relational reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m driving is, what I love about the first thing is lack of awareness, “Oh, okay. well, we’re going to have a clarifying conversation, we’re going to have some more detail, and we’re, okay, good, good, good. We’re all on the same page. Solved.”

Lack of training. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Well, here’s an instructional, a tutorial, a class, a course, whatever. Okay, now you know. Okay, good to go.” Lack of resources, “Oh, shucks, you’re right. We’ve got to free up some things from your plate or get some more people or budget under your purview, so that’s solved.” But how does one solve a lack of accountability?

Bill Truby
This, again, insightful, Pete. That’s fantastic, because if you’ll look at the chart, you’ll notice that the first three items, awareness, training, and resources, are typically one-time things. Once you find that that’s the case, then you provide the fulfillment of what was missing, awareness, training, or resources. And then you re-negotiate the contract, it goes up, you re-negotiate the contract by saying, “Okay, let’s look at the contract of expectations again, and re-enter your delegating process, your process of doing what I’ve delegated you to, given your new resources, or your new training, or your new awareness.” So, that one is a one-time loop. One-time loop.

Now, the lack of accountability, that one is fixed by using a separate tool. Now, first of all, I want to make sure that we understand that lack of accountability is binary, they either did it or they didn’t. And if they didn’t, they agreed to, so the first thing we do is to ask the question, “Didn’t we agree?” Right now, we’re working with a $440 million 2500-person nonprofit dialysis company. That entire company is using this particular process to fix people who are not performing effectively, who are not being accountable.

And, HR, if you call HR, the first thing HR will say is, “Have you asked them if they agreed to the contract of expectations?” So, we keep the accountability where it belongs. And, quite frankly, that’s respectful. If I take your accountability away, and say, “All right. Now I’m just going to demand this, and I’m going to make you do what I’m wanting you to do,” then you’re a slave, you’re not a fellow human being.

So, how you fix a lack of accountability is through this process. Number one, “Didn’t we agree?” and the person says, “Yes.” Then, secondly, “Then what happened?” We don’t ask why, “Then what happened?” We give a chance for a person to give their reasons. Then, third, “Then let’s re-negotiate the process here. Will you do A, B, and C by X, Y, and Z with J, L, and K outcome?” So, you’re basically revisiting the contract as well, but this time the person is simply agreeing again.

Now, let me get a little more practical. Let’s say that you asked somebody to do something, they didn’t do it, they weren’t accountable, so you ask these questions. Then they don’t do it the second time. Now, it’s your wisdom that has to determine how many times you loop. If it’s very, very important, it may be one or two times. If you’re trying to grow something, somebody, maybe it’s 12 times. But you will never ever, you can never ever, and this is the beauty of this tool, you can never ever, ever say, “Oh, well, that’s Johnny.” Because if we do that, everybody around us knows that we broke the contract and we perpetuated Johnny’s behavior, we’ve allowed it to happen to other people, we destroy our own ability to delegate if we break the contract ourselves.

So, whatever your wisdom says, one time, two times, 12 times, there comes a time when you say, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, what happened?” “Well, A, B, and C.” “Well, let’s agree this time that if you don’t do it, that…” and then you have to default to your discipline process, “…that you’re going to be getting your first verbal warning.” Let’s say it’s a verbal written writ and termination. So, the person says, “Okay.” So, if the person doesn’t follow through, they know before you do, that they’re not following through so they’re managing their own discipline process. So, they come back, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, then you remember, too, I’m giving you a verbal warning. Let’s agree that if it doesn’t happen again, you’ll be getting your first written warning.”

So, people either step up or step out. And here’s the good news, Pete. Most people step up. We don’t lose good people. They step up. They just needed boundaries, they needed clarifications, kids need boundaries, our employees need boundaries, friends need boundaries. And when we put a boundary in this tool, a person steps up or steps out. And so, that’s what you do when there’s no or limited follow through, you find the reason, fix it one time with the first three, use wisdom to fix it for the fourth reason, the lack of accountability, and then one or two things happens. The person follows through, which happens most of the time, or the person doesn’t, and they’re terminated from the team, they’re demoted, they’re not allowed to be on the team anymore.

And so, the delegating of the task always works. The person who is in the process of being delegated to sometimes might change if they’re not willing to step up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is really stretching my brain in some great ways, so thank you. I guess I’m wondering if, let’s say, they do the work but the results are not as grand as you’d hope. I don’t know, maybe in terms of like the quality, like, “Oh, I asked you to write up this document, and the writing is lackluster.” Or maybe it’s a higher-end result, like, “Hey, you were supposed to run this business division and generate $10 million in gross profit this quarter, and you got 8.” So, I guess, in a way, they do the work but they don’t get the results. How do we play that game?

Bill Truby
Well, two things. One, we must look at the delegator first, because you’ve got to be sure and have a clear contract of expectations at the beginning. So, lackluster of a writing material is a bit fuzzy. So, it’s up to the delegator to be clear and precise in communicating what needs to be done. The $10 million is rather clear and precise. So, the first thing, we’ve got to look at the delegator to make sure that the delegator is clear in his or her communication about the contract of expectations.

And then, secondly, part of the contract of expectations at the beginning, I mentioned just briefly in passing, if it’s a longer timeline, you want to get reports. And so, the $8 million at the end of this stretch of time should not be a surprise. The first benchmark, the first waymark, if the person was not on track, there’s a communication that goes on with the delegator and the delegate as to what’s going on. And one of two things happen. Either the goal begins to be adjusted or it is strengthened by some other resources to allow that goal to be reached.

So, the delegator in both cases, the lackluster in the writing or the diminished return on the 8 million versus 10 million, is involved in the process of guiding and helping along the way. But the key thing is the delegator is not doing it. The delegator is leveraging him or herself by delegating to the person who’s trying to play the violin, “Oh, you’re not playing that note quite right. Here are some techniques that you could use. Go practice those and then come back.”

I will tell you this, that through the delegation process, we do find that some people just are not bad people, nor are they unwilling people, but they don’t have the capacity. It’s up to the leader and manager to understand this over time. I didn’t mention this earlier but I have a master’s degree in psychology, and I was a marriage and family therapist in the early ‘80s for a couple years. And I’ve always needed to know the intent of a person not the behavior of the person.

In fact, my dad taught me that on the farm, he said, “Billy, always know why people are doing things. Don’t just look at what they’re doing.” So, I look at the why when a person isn’t following through, and it could be those four reasons, like I said. But we’ve entered into another little dimension here. If a person doesn’t have willingness or capacity, they won’t do it. In fact, they can’t do it. Even relationships. Relationships can only be successful if both parties have willingness and capacity. And I’m not talking just about a married couple. I’m talking about business and customers. Both sides of the equation, both people, have to have willingness and capacity.

So, in our process of delegating, everything might be going well but then we realize, “This person, no matter how great they are, no matter how talented they are, no matter how willing they are, they just don’t have the capacity,” and that’s where we have to adjust who we’re delegating to.

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

Bill Truby
The core concept of everything we teach is to be other-centered. I want to just highlight that. That’s embedded in this. It’s clearly seen in leading accountable people. It’s clearly seen in asking the person to agree. It’s clearly seen even in the disciplining process if a person has lack of accountability. But I believe that the most successful businesses, the most successful leader, the most successful delegator will do so in the context of where the other person is coming from, how to communicate to them.

We’ll communicate to a 12-year old differently than we will a 48-year old. We’ll communicate to a person with a different skillset differently than a person who has a limited skillset. So, the delegation process is a tool. It’s like a shovel but you dig differently in sand than you do in clay. So, we exercise our interaction with the other person using the same tool, we exercise it a little differently based on that other person’s needs and wants. And that’s how we make them successful is that we’re always other-centered in our application of this tool.

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

Bill Truby
I suppose my favorite quote in all of my life has come from my dad, and I’ve illuminated it earlier. He always said two things, “Billy, always understand why the person is doing what they’re doing. And that understanding breeds empathy, acceptance, and the ability to lead them.” Then he also said, “Billy, if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

And what that meant, I grew to learn over time, is that I deal with what I can do and I don’t take your stuff. And that gives respect. And that particular quote has caused boundaries that are freeing. It enables me to not have to run to the rescue. It’s like, if it’s not mine, I’ll care but I won’t carry. I’ll love but I won’t take it back from you. So, that’s a roundabout way of saying my dad gave me those two quotes that I live by, and they are very, very meaningful. They’re very deep in my soul.

He said, “Always know the why, and then you’ll understand the person. And if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

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

Bill Truby
I love the book Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman wrote it, and it tells you what goes on in your brain, very fast when you encounter something, and then what happens after you think about it. And that research has literally changed my life on how I teach, on how I think, on how I do what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and people quote back to you often?

Bill Truby
Well, there isn’t necessarily one, but I will tell you this little story. There was a man in one of the large companies, 8500-person company, that had this Christmas party, and this man went as Bill Truby, though nobody knew he was Bill Truby.

And he was dressed in a tie and shirt and overcoat. And people said, “So, who are you?” This was a dress-up affair masquerade-type thing. He said, “I’m Bill Truby.” And they would say, “What do you mean?” And he’d open up his coat, and in there were 3×5 cards that he called Trubyisms. So, apparently, I say things all the time that people remember and, yeah, I don’t think there’s one, Pete. I think that there’s things.

I make them up. I go to a company and I’ll “efficiefy” them, and then people start using that word, “Okay, we’re going to get efficiefied.” “And I’m here to bring you to a state of efficiefication,” so I don’t think I’m stuck on one.

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

Bill Truby
TrubyAchievements.com. And this delegation flowchart can be found there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the good word, and good luck in all you delegate.

Bill Truby
Thank you, Pete. I really appreciate you hanging in there for four years so we can meet each other. I do appreciate what you’re doing and I’m glad that I could help support it.

572: How Morning Practices Like Savoring and Investing in Calm Boost Productivity with Chris Bailey

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Productivity THOUGHT LEADER(!) Chris Bailey shares how investing in your calm can boost your productivity and how savoring the little things every day can help you start your day right.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How calm provides the greatest return on productivity
  2. Why you shouldn’t feel guilty over being less productive now
  3. How and why to savor

About Chris

Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and the international bestselling author of Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project—which have been published in seventeen languages. Chris writes about productivity at Alifeofproductivity.com, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process. To date, he has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity, and has garnered coverage in media as diverse as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, The Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review, GQ, TED, Fortune, Fast Company, and Lifehacker. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Pitney Bowes. Simplify your shipping while saving money. Get a free 30-day trial and 10-lb shipping scale at pb.com/AWESOME 

Chris Bailey Interview Transcript

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

Chris Bailey
You have me back.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. It’s number three. That’s pretty rare. Far too rare.

Chris Bailey
Wow, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Did you forget one already?

Chris Bailey
Huh, I think I was asleep through one of them and intoxicated. No, I’m kidding. It’s good to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s good to have you back. And, boy, in the meantime, from my stalking of you because I wasn’t invited, you know, not a problem, I see you got married. Hey, congratulations.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, you can see the ring in the video.

Pete Mockaitis
That too.

Chris Bailey
Thank you for the congrats. It’s fun. It’s been fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I just imagined that your wedding was a star-studded event full of productivity giants which is why it was odd that my invitation didn’t come through the mail.

Chris Bailey
You know, my wife and I, we’re pretty cheap. Frugal. Cheap has negative connotations. We’re frugal so we just had like a dinner party.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, because we thought, “Man, we should put this money towards a house or something rather than a wedding.” And so that’s what we did. It’s hard to keep wedding costs down because you order the same service. The first time you tell them you’re having a wedding. The second time, you don’t. The wedding quote is twice as much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I noticed that. I was tempted to see, “How can I not lie?” It’s like, “We’re having a family gathering. Families are gathering.”

Chris Bailey
Two families, specifically, gathering and combining. We’ll pay a third of the price for that photographer and that photo booth, it turns out.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that’s wild because they know they can get you. And so, well, you’re married and I want to get your quick take. So, you’re a productivity thought leader.

Chris Bailey
Oh, no, please don’t say that.

Pete Mockaitis
You lead thoughts. What has been like sort of the marital adjustment in terms of how does it feel different?

Chris Bailey
Well, you know, Pete, life as a thought leader is challenging during the best of times, let alone when you’re trying to introduce thought leadership into a new…oh, man, I feel like such a douche right now. But I don’t know, it’s fun. In a way, nothing has changed but, I guess, legally, pretty much everything has changed. We’re both pretty productive. I think the biggest thing that’s changed lately is how our routines are integrated into one another.

I think pretty much everybody on the planet has the same situation that they’re facing where maybe they work with their loved ones, maybe they’re not newly-weds and so their work situation is becoming more challenging perhaps. And we’re all trying to find a new normal right now amidst the virus shakeup, the great shutdown, the hibernation, whatever you want to call it. We’re all trying to find new routines.

So, we settled into a nice routine of working from home around one another. I have my office which makes things a bit easier for me, but she has her own system of doing focused work in her desk area. So, I don’t know, we’re having fun, we’re dealing with the challenges, and we’re just having a good time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, so I caught your name in the Washington Post, nice job, thought leader. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, let’s get Chris again,” because, yeah, we’re in a new world for awhile here. And we’ve had a couple people with sort of episodes kind of really particular COVID-focused and then just a smattering of COVID tidbits and some others. But I want to get your take on, alright, so we’re in this environment where there’s a virus raging, there’s some restrictions and limitations. Some folks are really gung-ho, like, “This is going to be my moment to do this stuff,” and other people are saying, “No way. There’s such a mental load. I’m going to do almost nothing.” How do you think about this?

Chris Bailey
I think everybody is different, and that’s a terrible answer that nobody wants to hear, but the fact of the matter is everybody’s situation is different during a time like this. And productivity is so often a process of understanding the constraints inside of which we live and work. And in a situation like this, everybody’s constraints are changing overnight, and we all had different ones to begin with. So, what we’re seeing right now, it’s a word that isn’t mentioned enough, but privilege. Those of us who have cushier jobs where we’re able to work from home, we’re not experiencing the economic brunt of the crisis that’s going on.

Something else is kids. Our lives are structured, we don’t have kids at the time, but our lives are structured around families and daycares and schools, and those kids existing in a system that isn’t our home during the day when we’re trying to work from home. And so, I think a question like this, you know, there are a lot of posts flying around right now, “Oh, make the best of your quarantine time. Don’t gain the quarantine 15. Lose the quarantine…How to stay productive, how to write the great American novel whilst in quarantine.”

These things totally miss the mark. They don’t get the fact that, “Okay, maybe my situation is different from yours, which is different from the situation of a single working mother with three kids, which is different from the situation of a retiree, somebody who lives in an old-age home, whatever.” Everybody’s situation is different.

And so, I think we have to, A, realize that we’re all operating under different constraints, and, B, not feel guilty about how we’re spending our time right now, because the simple truth and the fact of the matter is some of us are struggling, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you find it hard to be productive right now. It’s okay if you find it hard to focus. It’s okay if caffeine is no longer working for you for some reason. It’s okay if you feel a bit anxious. These feelings are universal and we do need coping strategies for these, but we do need to take care of ourselves at the same time.

People talk of the importance of self-care in the normal-est of times because it’s just a topic that we need to hear and practice, but it’s so much more important right now. And so, in a way, I think I’m a bit fed up with people giving too much productivity advice right now, saying that we should make the best of this time while they don’t recognize the fact that everybody is going through something different right now, and maybe that works for them but maybe not for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, rant over.

Pete Mockaitis
No, that resonates. It’s absolutely true. We’ve all got a different situation and sometimes it’s a more dramatic change for some than others. I’m still working from home in my home office, which is what I was doing before the pandemic, although there’s different things going on in the family and kid situation. And so, I think that’s a great word right there in terms of it’s okay and it’s normal to be experiencing those sorts of things. So, I’d like to know, that’s one mistake is beating yourself up. Another mistake is providing one-size-fits-all prescriptive advice. What are some of the other don’ts or mistakes you recommend we avoid as we’re trying to stay productive during this time?

Chris Bailey
I think trying to push yourself too hard. It’s something that I’m quickly realizing during a time like this because I’m feeling anxious just like most other people. I have parents who are getting a bit older. I’m connected. My wife has asthma so she’s definitely one of the more vulnerable people in a situation like this.

I think something we need to realize right now is that the path to greater productivity during a time like this is through calm, right? By investing in our calm, we’re able to invest in our sense of productivity at the same time. And the reason for this is our minds are so anxious, they’re so revved up, mine is anxious just like everybody else is. In a time like this, when there’s so much chaos flying around us in our mental and our physical environments, it’s often a settled mind that we need more than almost anything else.

So, the path of productivity is through the lens of calm. And so, if there’s another mistake that we’re making, A, we’re not being kind enough to ourselves, B, we’re trying too hard to be productive, but, C, we’re not investing enough in calm, and there are multiple ways of doing this. One of my favorites that I’ve started to do each and every morning is investing in the analog world. When we’re spending our days inside, we tend to gravitate towards screens. We tend to gravitate to what’s latest and loudest at the expense of slowing down a little bit, and maybe disconnecting a little bit, and being kind to ourselves, and being patient with ourselves, and doing something slow with our time.

So, that’s something that I think is worth getting across. In addition to self-kindness, in addition to taking it easy with your productivity a little bit, invest in calm more than you think you ought to because that’s often…that’s one of the greatest returns on our productivity. And here’s the ruler stick against which we should be measuring our productivity advice today, is, “For every minute we spend on a piece of productivity advice, how much time does that allow us to make back?”

And so, some things, watching Netflix, for every minute you spend watching Netflix, you probably lose about a minute of productivity because that’s the opportunity cost of watching that. Maybe you’re a bit less motivated after the fact and so, you actually lose more time than you spend. But other strategies like planning out our day is a really good example of this. For every minute you spend planning out your day, you make back 5-10 minutes of productivity because of how much more focused you’re able to work.

In an environment as chaotic as the one in which we’re finding ourselves today, calm actually produces a remarkably high return on our time because trying to work with an anxious mind, it’s a struggle to focus, it’s a struggle to pay attention, it’s a struggle to think deeply, and do deep work, and hyper-focus on what’s important each and every day. But it’s calm that provides us with the greatest return. So, maybe that trifecta of ideas might help people out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to investing in calm, I’d love to hear, I guess there’s many ways you can do that. Let’s rattle them off. So, you’re doing some analog stuff, you’re doing some non-screen stuff, what are these things?

Chris Bailey
I think the analog world is key to spend more time in. And here’s the thing, a lot of people think calm is a passive thing, like, “Oh, I have a few minutes to spare. Let me go on Twitter. Let me check the New York Times. Let me hop on the Washington Post and see what thought leaders are saying about this current pandemic crisis.” But this is our impulse because we gravitate again to what’s latest and loudest, but it’s not necessarily right. And, by the way, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over that. It’s our natural impulse to gravitate to what’s latest and loudest. But maybe a good way of phrasing this is that we deserve better than we’re giving ourselves.

We deserve like genuine, true relaxation. We don’t deserve Twitter. We deserve more than Twitter. We deserve more than the news. We deserve more than Facebook right now. And so, a good place to start is realizing that calm, acquiring calm, is often an active process. It doesn’t just waff over us. We have to go and seek it out and invest a little bit in it.

And so, I’m kind of an antisocial person. In the best of times, I’m always trying to find excuses not to hang out with people, “Oh, I’d love to grab a drink tonight, Pete, but I have to go to bed early and wake up early the first thing in the morning.” But the truth is, after I spend time with people, I realize, “Oh, there was nothing to be anxious about. And, oh, it took a little bit of energy to get started with a tactic like that, but I was all the more calm for it.” And I think this is something we need to keep in mind right now, is it’s often through actively investing in relaxation strategies that we get the most calm.

And so, anything that allows us to reconnect with the fact that we’re human is a wonderful wellspring of calm. So, meditation, just focusing on our breath, it’s a simple reminder that we’re human, but it’s a beautiful one. Exercise, something we’re probably not getting enough of if we’re in a situation where we can step back a little bit from the current situation and invest in that. Eating good food, proper food that our bodies evolved to thrive in, not processed stuff, that actually elevates our cortisol levels, which is the hormone that our body produces in response to stressful situations. So, simple things like that. Finding something to savor each and every day.

So, I’m drinking a protein shake right now, as you can see, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re savoring it.

Chris Bailey
Savoring the hell out of this thing because it’s this delicious concoction – Vega Protein Shake. Not only are they vegan, if you’re into that, but they also have only one gram of sugar yet they’re chocolate-flavored. They contain a lot of cocoa so I like to savor that. But find one thing to savor each and every day. It’s an active process, and you think, “Man, why don’t I just savor stuff? Why do I have to make a task, a job out of it?” But the truth is you’ll get so much more out of what you’re savoring when you make a deliberate effort to do so.

No cheeseburger will be as delicious as the one you focus on with 100% of your attention because you’re trying to savor the heck out of it. No protein shake will be as delicious and energizing. No conversation will be as engrossing as the one you’re in completely. And so, this is something that we need to find. Engagement is a salve for anxiety, and so when we find things to be engaged with, not only do we become more productive, we also find calm, we also are able to settle down a little bit, become a bit happier, and enjoy the process of doing things.

One other thing that I’ll mention, at the risk of going too long on this answer but I think it’ll be helpful for people, is we walk around so often with a productivity mindset. And so, what I mean by this is we’re always looking to tick boxes, we’re always looking to get things done, and we never really let up with this mindset. So, when we find ourselves with a bit of time during which we can relax, instead of doing something that is genuinely relaxing, we realize, “Oh, we have just a few minutes of time. Let’s vege out.” When, really, intentional relaxation is what we need during which we set aside this productivity mindset when we’re trying to accomplish things.

And when we deliberately set aside this mindset, it abolishes the guilt that we would normally feel that comes along with active relaxation. So, we have this guilt of relaxation that often arises when we do something that allows us to invest in our calm, which is kind of ironic because when calm allows us to become more productive, we shouldn’t feel guilty about how we’re spending our time, and yet we do. And so, do minus productivity mindset. And the savor list, and the things that I was just mentioning, they do help combat this certain mindset because instead of trying to tick a box, we try to enjoy and experience a moment that we’re having.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, there’s a lot of good stuff there. You’re a real thought leader.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, that’s like a loaded suitcase that you now have to unpack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I dig it. Well, so then let’s talk about, alright, the process of savoring. So, you could savor a conversation, you could savor a glass of wine or a chocolate protein shake, a song, music, a sensation, a massage.

Chris Bailey
What song are you savoring right now?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a fine question. You know, I’ve actually been saving just some select nostalgic silly songs that remind me of happy times and laughter and friendship. So, it might be like Death Cab For Cutie “The Sound of Settling” for example.

Chris Bailey
Oh, that’s a classic tune.

Pete Mockaitis
It brings me back to college and my roommate and just like being silly, and it’s like, “Oh, those are fun times.”

Chris Bailey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one savor?

Chris Bailey
Well, what’s something in your life that you enjoy?

Pete Mockaitis
I enjoy hanging out with my kids.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. So, how do you savor something like that? You bring your full attention to it. That’s it. We savor things automatically when we bring our full attention to them. And, also, when we notice what’s good about the things that we’re paying attention to. And so, this might sound like the corniest thing in the world, but it actually does work. Savoring things in gratitude trains our mind into looking for more opportunities that surround us.

So, I like savoring my morning cup of tea. I have a whole tea process. I’m a fan of Oolong tea and so I have a fancy kettle where I can make the perfect temperature for Oolong. It’s kind of like a green tea. By the way, the reason people don’t like green tea is not that green tea tastes bad. Everybody is like, “Oh, green tea tastes so bitter.” The reason green tea tastes bitter is you’re burning it. Green tea is meant to be steeped at around, I think it’s 80 degrees Celsius boiling water, around 100.

So, that’s step zero, get the tea at the right temperature. But in the morning, I just sit. I have a hanging chair in my living room that I got from Wayfair, and it kind of swings back and forth. And I’ve usually just woken up, so I wake up, I walk over to the kettle, I steep myself a nice cup of tea, and then I bring it over to the hanging chair, and I just simply try to enjoy the taste of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t spill on yourself in the hanging chair.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, try not to sway too much or bump into something in my tired stupor. But a bit of sway never hurt anybody, as the old saying goes, and so I just kind of sway a little bit and enjoy that cup of tea, noticing the flavor. I think another key to savoring is to notice as much as you can, because when something is a desirable experience, the more you notice, the more you’re able to savor. So, notice as much as you can, bring your full attention to something, look for the things that are worth savoring embedded within an experience.

I don’t think there is anything in the world that cannot be savored. And that might sound like an odd statement because there’s a lot of negative things in the world, but savoring is all about a mindset. By God, Pete, there are these twisted people that derive pleasure from pain. If we can derive pleasure from pain, we can learn to savor pretty much anything. That’s not to say that there aren’t genuine challenges. That’s not to say that we should be placing rose-colored glasses over our entire life, neglecting reality, but this is to say that no matter the time, no matter the circumstance, we can always find something to enjoy deeply even.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I buy it. I was just thinking earlier about finding joy, and that I’m going to be proactively seeking it out, and noting it, and celebrating it, and express some gratitude for it, so that aligns much of what I’m thinking.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. And something that people can do right away. Make a list of everything you savor. And you don’t need to think into the future. Look into your past. What experiences have you had that have enveloped you completely that you found just really enjoyable? Was it a conversation with a certain friend that always seems to draw you in? Was it a cup of tea? Was it a favorite sushi meal from a place that you frequent?

Make a list of everything that you savor. Every day pick one. Treat yourself. And by savoring things deliberately, it’s a nice way of finding calm. You don’t even need to do anything hard with this strategy. You don’t need to focus on your breath for half an hour on a meditation cushion, for God’s sake. You just have to do something you enjoy and bring your full attention to it completely. Do it a bit slower so it goes on for longer. It’s nice. It’s just a nice thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so think that’s a great practice to do daily and always. I’d love to hear, if you were to zoom in to the moment in which, all right, some stuff needs to get done pretty soon, and we’re not feeling it. We are not in that groove but we kind of got to get into that groove kind of fast, savoring is a good kind of long-term strategy. What do you recommend for, in the here and now, we got to shake off the funk, how do you do it?

Chris Bailey
Patience is how you do it. We can become engaged with pretty much anything. That’s kind of the point of meditation. You learn to be able to focus on your breath because the idea is the breath is so boring. It’s more boring than watching paint dry, and our mind actively wanders away from it. And so, if we can focus on our breath and become engaged with our breath, we can become engaged with pretty much anything. But we do need to be patient with ourselves as we settle into certain tasks.

So, if you’re working up to something, a big task, say, you’re writing a report that your mind is finding really aversive, warm up to it. Maybe set a timer for 10 minutes and give yourself the choice, either work on that thing or do nothing. Your mind will settle down naturally and you will be able to warm up to something. So, start with that ugly task if you want, but you can also start with smaller tasks ahead of doing that so you don’t need to do that report right away. But maybe just answer a few emails first, maybe start with something that doesn’t require your full attention, and warm up to doing that thing.

Also, pay attention because anxiety, these days, is not consistent. Usually, it ebbs and flows over the course of the day, and there will be times of your day, for me it’s the morning, although I’ve gotten better, kind of managing things as the pandemic has worn on. For me, it’s the morning though, or at least it was at the beginning, where that was my calmest time of the day, and the anxiety would come later on in the day when I would tune in to the press conferences du jour here in Canada.

And so, I would take advantage of that morning calm by doing the focus work, the hyperfocus work, the deep work, that there was a struggle much of the rest of the time. And so, align the difficulty and complexity of the work you’re doing on top of how you’re feeling throughout the day, and that’s one of the biggest piece of advice that I can give, not only it lets become kinder to yourself, but it lets you warm up to more productive tasks, and also it lets you get more productive tasks done as you become more patient with yourself. You’ll probably need a bit of time for certain tasks but do take it.

Also, know how you start the morning. It matters more than almost anything else. So, distraction begets distraction, stimulation begets stimulation, so the more stimulated and distracted we become, the more we want to continue with that level of stimulation. So, what this means though is if you start the morning on a slow note, if you do something that calms you, if you find something to savor, hey, call back to the previous tactic. Find something to savor first thing in the morning. Play with your kids for half an hour, set a timer, whatever you need to do.

If you find something to savor first thing instead of just checking the news, you’ll find that you’ll become calmer automatically, and that it’ll be easier to focus when you delay the time of first check, because once you get caught into the rabbit hole, you want to just keep going. But if you start the day on a calm note, your mind won’t want to escalate how you’re feeling and it’ll be easier to find calm in a situation like that.

So, when you start calm, you stay calm, but do give yourself a bit of time to warm up to certain tasks, overlay the complexity of work to how you’re feeling if you find that how you’re feeling fluctuates quite a bit still.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chris, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Chris Bailey
You deserve better than to distract yourself right now. And this is a lesson that it’s easy advice to give but it’s something that I’m continually re-learning. We need to reflect on how our behaviors these days, more than almost any other day, what emotions they lead us to feel. So, we tend to gravitate to apps like Instagram and other distractions when we’re resisting how we’re feeling in the present moment, almost like an escape hatch in a way.

Mind the escape hatches of your day and pay attention especially to how you feel after you indulge in them because it’s sometimes with a bit of extra work that we find tasks that are slightly more challenging. For me, practicing the piano is more challenging than going on Instagram, but the feeling that I have after a session of playing the piano, after a session of knitting, after taking a bath, the feeling after these strategies, when I compare them to Instagram, or Twitter, or email, or YouTube even, they’re not even close. They produce more calm. They produce more relaxation. They produce less anxiety. They produce more happiness.

Pay attention to how you feel after indulging in the activities that are habits, have always been habits, to these days more than any. And, now, these days, habits aren’t the same as they were before. If you check up on the news first thing in the morning, usually you weren’t depressed the rest of the day, but if you find that you stumble upon a couple of, frankly, depressing stories each morning, it might be a bad way to start the day.

There was one study that was connected, I believe, by Shawn Achor, he’s an author and a happiness researcher, where he exposed participants to just, I think, three or four minutes of negative news the very thing in the morning after people woke up. And when he measured participants’ levels of happiness six to eight hours later, he found that the group that experienced that negative news was 27% less likely to rate themselves as being happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Bailey
Wow, what a reminder that the information we consume matters, and that we need to mind the quality of it these days more than almost any other.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Bailey
Well, I don’t know where this quote came from. I don’t think I stumbled upon it myself, just something, a thought of mine, but my favorite quote that I think about a lot is “Why do anything if you’re not going to do it right?” I love that, and it speaks to pride of what we do, of our actions, of our work, of what we say, of how we act towards others, and make others feel throughout the day too.

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

Chris Bailey
Oh, I’d find it funny if I did this. This is the third interview and I’ve mentioned three different favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we want that. Well, actually, keep it coming.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, let’s do “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. I probably haven’t mentioned this before but it’s one that I’m re-reading. It’s one that I think is worth re-reading every few years. And it’s about the foods that we need to eat in order to live the longest, that are all validated by science. And here’s, again, the golden measurement for any productivity tactic, how much time do you get back. By God, this book might save you 10 or 20 years of your life by extending it by that much, so I can’t think of a better productivity book than that.

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

Chris Bailey
Well, we just bought a drill…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good choice.

Chris Bailey
…for home reno projects. But this clicky keyboard, this mechanical keyboard I would recommend…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen those.

Chris Bailey
…to almost anyone. This is the… I don’t remember the exact model. Oh, it’s on the bottom here. The Keychron K2 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard. And it’s these beautiful cherry brown switches that are like chocolate to write on, and it’s beautiful. It’s rich. It’s just a wonderful writing experience. I would equate, if you do a lot of writing throughout the day. Have you ever played a piano, Pete, in your life?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. You know, those like really crappy keyboard pianos where you press down and there’s no weight, and you think, “Oh, I’m just flipping a digital switch somewhere in the system, and it’s playing a sound through the speakers.” That’s what a regular keyboard feels like to me after enjoying the experience of a mechanical keyboard. It’s like upgrading from one of those crappy keyboards with no weight behind it to a grand piano. It’s all about the feeling. What you write matters more when you write it on a mechanical keyboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite nugget?

Chris Bailey
Oh, man, probably productivity is the product of our time, attention, and energy. That’s one of them. And, also, the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. Those are probably the top two. There’s probably others. I have to look that up. I’m curious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, right on.

Chris Bailey
Hey.

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

Chris Bailey
Well, there are a few places. My books are called “Hyperfocus” and “The Productivity Project.” I have a podcast now that I do with my wife called Becoming Better which we have a blast doing. And my website is called A Life of Productivity. There’s no ads, no sponsorships, just hopefully helpful productivity advice and one annoying newsletter popup.

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

Chris Bailey
Notice how different apps make you feel, the ones that you spend time on throughout the day. So, sometimes we’re on Instagram or Snapchat and we kind of scroll over to the wrong side of the app, and we see the selfie camera fire up, we usually don’t have like a huge gleeful expression on our face, like, “Oh, I’m on Instagram. What a wonderful time in my day and in my life.” We usually have kind of a dull stimulated look on our face because we’re not tuned in to how we feel when we’re using technology and when we’re engaged in certain activities.

I would say mind how you feel when you engage in your digital world this week, today even, to start after listening to this podcast. How do you feel after checking Twitter? How do you feel after checking the New York Times or the Washington Post? Mind that and change your behavior based on that. It’s one of the biggest and best weeks that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best in your life of productivity.

Chris Bailey
Thank you. You, too.

569: Thriving in the Stress and Uncertainty of a Crisis with Dr. Joshua Klapow

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Dr. Joshua Klapow discusses how to keep your health and wellbeing strong during times of crisis.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about being upset 
  2. How to quickly reboot your fatigued brain
  3. The four pillars of excellent physical and mental health 

About Joshua

Joshua C. Klapow is a licensed clinical psychologist and a performance coach. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and the author of Living SMART: Lifestyle Change Made Simple. Dr. Klapow works extensively with individuals and organizations in the area of performance optimization. His work focuses on leveraging behavioral science strategies to help both individuals and organizations achieve strategic goals. From athletes to executives, from start-ups to multinational companies, Dr. Klapow works with clients nationwide to help bring the power of behavioral science to human performance. Dr. Klapow was named by Yahoo Finance as a Top 20 Entrepreneur to Watch in 2020 and featured in Thrive Global for his approach to performance coaching. He is married with two children in college. He resides in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Joshua Klapow Interview Transcript

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

Joshua Klapow
It’s my pleasure, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I understand that you are a doctor and you have the nickname Dr. Disaster. How did this name come about? And can you tell us a story about when you got to make a cool impact in the midst of a difficult time for people?

Joshua Klapow
Okay, yes. First of all, it’s not a marketing ploy or I’ve had…

Pete Mockaitis
Your PR people said, “It’s going to be hot.”

Joshua Klapow
Yeah, that’s right. No, no, no. So, I got this name back during Hurricane Katrina actually. So, I’m a clinical psychologist by training, and one of my areas of interests is disaster mental health, but I’ve also worked most of my academic career in a school of public health, and so a lot of what I was doing there was crisis communication, how to help people, groups of people, during times of disaster or times of crisis, let’s say that.

Well, as we started getting Hurricane Katrina come through, there was interest from the local media and then from the broader national media because I’m down here in the southeast on how do people cope, how do people deal with terrible things that happen. And so, I did a lot of stuff locally and nationally in the media on Hurricane Katrina and coping with death, and rebuilding, etc. Well, as you might imagine, we had more hurricanes. There was Gustav and then there were tornadoes, and pretty much every time, and my kids were young at the time, anytime something bad happened, you’d see me on local TV, or hear me on the local radio.

And one of the media folks at the university where I work with, he just, one day, he said this, he’s like, “Damn! You’re like Dr. Disaster. Everytime something bad happens, there you are.” And, yeah, I said, “God, that’s depressing. That’s terrible. I don’t want to be known as…” He said, “No, no, no. I like it.” And then my kids were very young at the time, “Dad is Dr. Disaster.”

And ever since then, you know, the line is, people say, “We see you on TV sometimes.” I say, “Yeah, pretty much if something bad happens, there’s a decent shot that you’ll see me or hear me somewhere because that is one of the things that I do is help people through crises.” So, yes, I am Dr. Disaster. I wear it as a badge of honor in that I help people. I don’t like the connotation of what it means because it’s almost like, ‘Oh, God, here comes Josh. Something bad is going to happen.’” And I have to remind them, “No, something bad has happened. Here comes Josh to help.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then can you tell us, you’ve seen and helped a lot of people in a lot of disasters. How does this current COVID pandemic crisis situation, how is it similar to other disasters? And how is it unique?

Joshua Klapow
It’s unique in many ways. So, let’s talk about how it’s similar. I use the phrase, “Crisis is in the eye of the beholder.” And what I mean by that is we talk about disasters and crises, and we talk about them almost as if there is a formal definition. And if you think about it, a disaster or a crisis could be a global pandemic. It could be also the breakup of a marriage, or the loss of a job, or your dog dies. Crisis is all relative.

And so, one of the things that is very similar is that we are in a state of crisis from the sense of there’s lots of change, there’s lots of uncertainty, and there are lots of unpleasant things either that have happened, or happening, or likely to happen. And if you think about that, that holds everything from a tornado that’s come through, to a sick pet, to a relationship on the rocks, to a global pandemic. And the reason that that holds true is what remains constant is we’re humans. And the human factor remains constant, how we react to threat, uncertainty, discomfort, discomfort globally, everything from emotional discomfort to physical discomfort. All of those are sort of stress responses that happen to us no matter how big, or how many different people are affected, or if it’s just happening to us.

I think what is so different about this one is, if I really can think about it, it’s two things. One, the global nature of it. What I mean by that is so many people are affected unlike a tornado, or a hurricane, or an earthquake, where even if it’s huge, we can say, “It happened in this city, this town, this country.” That’s number one. So, so many people are in the same situation.

The second thing is while for some people there’s very acute levels of crisis, “My loved one is sick. My loved one…” God forbid it, “…is dying.” For many people, the crisis is both a restriction and a freedom, the unknown, “Will I get sick?” and then underlying that, there are sort of two more pieces of the crisis which is, one, financial for many people, and then, two, a complete change, prolonged change, of how we’re living our lives. This is not the storm that blew through and we’ll rebuild. This, even, and I dare say this, this is a little provocative, even after 9/11. The event happened. It was horrible. There were longer-term effects but it didn’t come on as slowly, rise as slowly, peak and stay for as many people. And that is something, frankly, all of us alive right now, with the exception of a few people who lived through the 1917 Flu Pandemic, none of us have experienced ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sets some context. Thank you. So, you say that this anxiety, this experience, it really does impact just kind of the way we think and operate and feel each day. Like, what are some of the telltale signs, like, “Oh, this is actually normal that I’m thinking, feeling, experiencing this, given that we’re in the midst of a crisis situation”?

Joshua Klapow
A lot of people can recognize when they’re under profound stress. They’ll say, “I feel stressed. I feel nervous. I feel anxious. I have a headache. I have a backache. My stomach aches. My stomach hurts. My temper is short,” those kinds of things. But the term that I like to use, Pete, that I think many people feel but they don’t equate it with stress or levels of stress, because for a lot of people it’s not super high levels of stress. It’s just kind of, what I call, it’s not low. It’s moderate. It’s there but we’re able to sort of function. The tornado hasn’t just come right through, it’s, “I still get up every day and I’m doing things.” But people feel discombobulated. That’s my favorite word to use.

Pete Mockaitis
Moderate stress. Discombobulation.

Joshua Klapow
Discombobulation. We like to use down in the South, we like to call it feeling out of sorts. We’re out of sorts. It’s not quite right, “I feel slightly agitated, slightly irritable, out of sync. I may not be sleeping as well but I am sleeping. I feel tired. I feel out of rhythm.” Sometimes a feeling, almost a little bit of jetlag, not a ton of jetlag. I see a lot of people feel like, and I think we’ve all heard this, “What day is it again? Where am I?” It’s that.

And that’s where the discombobulation comes because while there’s peaks and valleys, you know, if you lose a job, then that’s high stress that you can say, “Oh, my God, I know exactly what’s going on.” But let’s say you’ve already lost the job, and maybe you’re managing your books and you’re managing your finances, and it’s kind of okay. It’s not good but it’s okay. Or, let’s say you have a job. What people are feeling is, “I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know how to manage this.” And, particularly in those areas where we’re much more restricted in our movement, this feeling, for a lot of people for the first time in their lives, “I can’t do what I want to do,” which is very…it’s unique for Americans, right? It’s very unique.

And this came out in the early stages. You’ve heard of the whole hoarding of the toilet paper, right? Why are people hoarding toilet paper? “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go to the grocery store.” There was no place in this country, in the U.S. anyway, that shut down all grocery stores. They limited it. They limited how much you could buy. They limited, in some cases, how many people could go in. But that’s a stressor for our culture. Not being able to go where we want to go whenever we want to go and get whatever we want to get, and it creates this sense of…it’s a very primitive sense of survival. It puts us kind of into that fight or flight, and we’re not even highly quarantined, right?

For a lot us, it’s just, “Stay at home.” It’s not, “You will be arrested if you go out.” And that is very unique to what we’re experiencing right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to, because I think you’re really speaking to something here, and I keep going back and forth on this in terms of there are times in which I’d like, “Hey, well, this isn’t really so bad. I mean, this is the home I like. This is the family I like, my wife and kids. These are people I like, so it ain’t so bad. So, why are you worked up?” And then I think back, “Hey, what about in, I don’t know, war times? Like, the soldiers or those under strict rationing?” I was like, “Have I become soft? Have we all become soft?” Then, I don’t know, it’s sort of like I’m upset with myself for being peeved. It’s like meta upset, and I don’t know, like, “Are we weak? And is that bad?” What do you feel about this, Josh?

Joshua Klapow
I get blasted on this, although with my clients, I think it’s an important one. When I’m talking with my clients, a lot of times this is what comes up. It’s feeling guilty because we feel like we’re under siege. Now, I will say this, if you’ve lost your job and you have no income, and that’s happening at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum, if you lost your job, “What do I do?” Then you may have a reason to be quite upset, right?

But see, this is the thing. If you’re upset because you can’t go to the grocery store, or you can’t leave, or you have to spend time at home, then you have the right to be upset. Being upset is emotion. It’s an emotion. We have the right to feel what we want to feel. It is what we do with it that has the impact. It has the impact on ourselves and it has the impact on the people around us.

So, for example, if you’re feeling, “God, this really sucks. I’m here at home, I can’t go socialize the way I want to, I can’t go to the restaurants I want. And, yes, I know I shouldn’t feel bad but I do feel bad,” and you kind of get yourself a little bit irritable. And then, as a result, you take that out on your wife and your kids, and you’re mean, and you’re cranky, or maybe you’re in a leadership position, and you’re irritable because of this, and you’re yelling on the conference calls for everybody to work harder. Now, your justified emotion is having a very unjustified impact on everybody else.

This is where managing what you’re feeling is far more critical than whether you’re feeling it or not. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. It’s a great clear distinction, you know, bright red line there. So, then, yeah, how do we do this? How do we manage how we’re feeling? How do we cultivate this mental health amidst the stuff that’s going on up in here?

Joshua Klapow
It ain’t easy, I can tell you that. And I think one thing, people have to carefully open their eyes to where the sources of stress may be coming from. We can all talk about the restriction part, “I’m restricted in money. I’m fearful potentially for my health. Am I going to get sick? Is a loved one going to get sick?” There are sort of the obvious ones. But I’ll tell you, Pete, those are big sources of stress. But where these things start getting exponential is the inner section of work, life, family life relationships.

So, as you said, there are a lot of us now who are either home with family in a way that none of us have ever been home that way before. Or the opposite, we’re isolated. Maybe we’re not with family and we can’t be. We’re by ourselves. Those pieces, particularly the family dynamics, where I’ve seen more relationship issues, and you’ve seen the statistics, high rates of people, particularly in China, but in other areas, filing for divorce or etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have not yet seen those. So, I thank Josh, bringing fresh info, tell us about that.

Joshua Klapow
Let me tell you, it makes sense. When you’re stuck at home with your partner, whether or not you have kids, and you have to be with them every day, the floodlight is on your relationship. And every crack in that relationship, normal healthy cracks, are going to show. And if you don’t deal with them, and I’m not talking about necessarily going to therapy, but if you don’t deal with the pet peeves and the things that normally you’d be able to skirt by because you’re not spending as much time, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

Throw in there, for some parents, homeschooling. Throw in there for someone like me, two college kids who are now back at home, who are not happy about it, they love their mom and dad, but they want to be at school, and you get family stress that absolutely rolls on top of all of the other stressors. And what happens? People get tired, stress starts wearing them down, it starts bleeding over into conference calls that they may be taking for work. The work stress starts bleeding over to family, and we got a big stress ball that nobody can point to one thing. And that’s what catches people off guard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. All right. So, I think you’ve very nicely articulated what’s going on here, what we’re dealing with. So, what do we do about it?

Joshua Klapow
Yeah. If you’ve ever been a parent, and you remember when you had a young child, and I’m talking the infant child, the child who was screaming and you’re feeding them every three hours, or even a toddler, one of the things I distinctly remember from not being a parent to being a parent, I used to judge the quality of my time in weeks or months, “This was a great week. It’s a great week. This was a great month.” And I quickly remember, as a parent, that didn’t work, particularly with a young child. It’s like, “Oh, my God, this day sucked. Like, this day was really bad.”

And what I started to realize was I need to think about the quality of my time in smaller increments, “This was a really good hour. This was a good minute. This was a good 10 minutes.” Now, I’m not advocating that, because of COVID-19, we only live and savor the quality of every minute. But what I do mean is you may have a really bad day because of work, because of finances, because of family, but then you may have an awesome day, because, you know what, you got to be on three conference calls and spend some time with your spouse in a way that you never got to. Or maybe you got to do a video conference, and we’re seeing this, reuniting with college friends.

My point is we have got to shift. What we have to do is we have to stop trying to live our life right now as if tomorrow it’s going to go back to the way that it was. That’s what we typically do in crises. What we typically do is we go, “Okay, if I can just ride this sucker out, if I can just ride this out, it’ll be a few days, a few weeks, I’m going to be okay. It’s all going to get back to normal.” I’m not a doomsdayer here. I don’t know how long this is going to be, but I can guarantee you that by next week, even with everything open, or next month, everything is going to be back to normal. And even if it is, that’s probably not the most healthy way to think about it.

What we have to do is look at what’s given to us right here, right now, “What do I have? What do I not have? What am I certain about? What am I not certain about? And how do I maximize that? How do I maximize the fact…? I’m just using things that everybody is doing…  that I can wear shorts all day long now.” And that’s not saying, Pete, to just look on the rosy side of things. What it’s saying is in order to get a grip, you must find the nuggets of goodness in your life because there is a lot of uncertainty and chaos going on.

And if you can cling to those nuggets, what that allows you to do is it allows you to move forward. It allows you to be less stressed, less distressed, sleep better, eat better, etc. And it allows each day to have a little bit of goodness in it, which, frankly, to be honest with you, as humans, that’s about all we need besides food, water, and shelter, in order to make it to the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’re noticing these things, and we’re embracing them, and looking at sort of smaller, shorter time increments. Do you have any other pro tips on how we can go about sort of noticing and appreciating and, I suppose, letting these things pass us right by?

Joshua Klapow
You must recognize that, and I know this is a little broad-brushing because everybody’s situation is slightly different. Your brain is going to go offline frequently during this kind of situation. And let me explain what I mean by that. When you’re home and you’re trying to work in particular, but let’s say you’re home and you didn’t work. You took care of the kids, or even if you have always worked from home, you got all kinds of different things going on right now. There may be people that were at home that weren’t at home before.

You may have never participated on so many video conference calls. You may not have had the dog interrupting you every five seconds. Your brain is going to be distracted in a way that it never has before. One more piece to put in, all the newsfeeds, right? I mean, in my lifetime, I never remember a daily briefing where updates were actually new information. I mean, if you think about it.

Okay, so what that does is our brain can’t attend to the task at hand, and you’re going to feel tired, you’re going to feel inefficient. And so, what I’m encouraging all of my clients to do, and the people that I interact with, about every 45 minutes or so, you may notice yourself feeling fatigue. It’s time to take a break. Not an hour break but what I call the bathroom break. If you’re hydrating properly, you go into the bathroom, you should be going to the bathroom about every hour or up to 90 minutes. And, literally, sometimes I have to remind my clients to put in their schedule to drink water so that they hydrate during the day, because I got people that I work with that will go nine hours on conference calls and never stop.

You have to pace yourself. That means taking a minute to, literally, remind yourself, “Where am I? What am I doing? What is the task at hand?” to take your eyes off the screen and look outside, and it’s not an hour of meditation. It’s a minute to get your brain back, focused to the task at hand. Most of us don’t have to do that that frequently throughout our day. Now, I don’t know that everyone has to. I can tell you it doesn’t hurt. And what I can also tell you is you feel so much more focused because your brain comes back online. It’s a critical stress management tool that most people don’t use and they have to right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s dead-on because I’ve just been and many, many times I am, I don’t know, on news, or social media, or something, it’s just like, “What is even happening right now?”

Joshua Klapow
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like I have to regroup. And part of it, I think, is so helpful is, like, when I have days in which I actually write down the key things of the day, then that’s really helpful to remember, “Oh, yes, this is what I meant to do today, and I’ve kind of forgotten about that and got suck into news or whatever.”

Joshua Klapow
And that’s a great example of you might say to yourself, “God, normally I never forget these things. I don’t have to write them down.” Right now, your brain is more likely to go offline. And I’ll tell you where it has a larger impact. It’s not just for you, it’s for the people that you interact with. So, if you think about it, and this is what I was saying, it can cause relationship problems. It’s like, “Hey, I just told you to make a grocery list.”

Joshua Klapow
Can you imagine how it impacts your home life, your relationship life? And, particularly for work, if you’re working from home, how you interact with colleagues, how you interact with your boss. We have to be much more mindful of what our emotions are doing right now. And I love what you said, although it’s not pleasant. You have to sit back and go, “What? What is going on?” That’s a very normal response. The difference is you have to do that while you’re working, while you’re parenting, while you’re being a husband or a wife or a spouse or a partner. That is going to make you tired at the end of the day.

And that understanding, that and then taking action on that, making sure you’re hydrated, making sure you’re well-nourished, making sure you’re writing yourself reminders, making sure that you call a timeout, and say, “You know what, I don’t have the bandwidth, guys. I don’t have the bandwidth to do all these today.” That kind of communication is critical.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I love these particular bits of sort of in the moment recognizing and good communication with folks. What are some of the habits or recurring practices you recommend that make a world of difference in kind of boosting our overall mental health and resilience, and then, specifically, just providing a large boost of rejuvenation? Like, I guess, where do I get the most bang for my buck when it comes to self-care, Josh? That’s what I want to know.

Joshua Klapow
So, there’s a couple of things and they are things that we all know but that most of us, even those of us who may have done this before, and this is also unique to this particular situation.

So, the number one thing you’ll hear is make sure you’re getting exercise. And everybody is, “Aah, I know the exercise. I know about the exercise.” Let me tell you why exercise is super important. Number one, for a lot of people who’ve exercised regularly in the past, their gyms are closed, right? And so, you’ve got a lot of people who are used to having that metabolic boost in the morning or in the afternoon who aren’t exercising. That throws off your entire metabolic system if you’re an exerciser.

If you’re not an exerciser, the mental fatigue wears on your body. Being strong physically, and I’m not saying start a crazy exercise program, but just getting the blood flowing actually is super important for your immune system, it’s super important to regulate your sleep system. So, that exercise, everybody knows about, even if it’s just for a walk, Pete, is probably one of the best things that you can do. I wish I had another way to say it. You got to get out there and exercise. And if you tell me, “I can’t,” I can show you five gazillion YouTube videos on different ways to exercise. People are finding the most creative ways to exercise that fit their physical needs, their mental health. So, that’s number one. You’ve got to move the body, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to moving the body, I’d love to get your sense. It sounds like you’re emphasizing more so cardiovascular as opposed to strength-resistance training, or anything. Yeah, lay it on us.

Joshua Klapow
Not necessarily. A lot of this depends, A, on your health status, B, on your previous exercise history. So, do not go start running marathons if you never have before. What you’re looking for is physical activity. You want your body moving, you want your muscles stretching, you want your heart rate elevated. Does it have to be an all-out run or trying to do a thousand pushups? No. If you did that before, more power to you, and keep doing it.

I’ll tell you, myself personally, and this has been a big change for me, I was very much into the weightlifting. I went to the gym. I never did anything from home. My gym closed. I went immediately online to go buy weights. You can’t buy weights online. Or if you can buy them, they’re like a thousand dollars now. And so, I was like, “I’m not going to do that.”

I’ve been dabbling in yoga, just dabbling. I’m now doing yoga six days a week. I would’ve never done that before. I’m experimenting. So, one of the things I would also encourage your listeners is if there’s a kind of exercise that you’ve always wondered about, now is your excuse to try something different. So, I think that’s absolutely important. It’s not a particular kind but I don’t want you sitting in a chair for seven hours a day. It’s bad for you. Bad for you.

The other thing that is really important, if at all possible, and I’ll get to the nutrition part in a second, I’ll do that quickly, is get your Vitamin D. Get some daylight. If you’re inside and the weather provides and allows, step outside. The norms have changed, Pete. The norms have changed. It’s okay to hear birds in most companies now in the background chirping while you’re on a conference call. It’s very important that we don’t sit in one room for eight to ten hours a day.

Get outside, get the fresh air even if that’s every hour taking a two-minute break. You need that natural sunlight both for your metabolic purposes, also to regulate your sleep. And if you don’t believe me, try and experiment. Stay in your room, wherever room you’re in, this is assuming you’re not quarantined in a room. Stay in your room for six hours versus get outside every hour for two to three minutes, you’ll feel much better.

The other piece that people neglect is proper hydration and nutrition while they’re at home. We need to drink water. We need to eat good food. If we don’t drink and we don’t pee, and we eat crappy food, we’re going to feel bad. I’m not telling you that you have to become a vegan. I’m not telling you that you have to get completely clean on your health or on your food. But the better you can do, the better you’re going to feel. I can’t tell you how many people right now are saying, “God, I’m snacking. I’m snacking.” Why are you snacking? Because you’re sitting there and you can see the snack cabinet in your own house.

So, these are the kinds of changes. A lot of my clients will say, “I already know that stuff. I already know that.” And my number one comeback is this, “Great. Are you doing it?” “No.” “How do you feel right now?” “Like crap.” “Tell you what, eat a little bit better, make sure you drink a lot of water throughout the day, get your behind outside. Move. And then maybe the last one, too, is…” and this is one that is new, something that I haven’t seen as much. A lot of dysregulated sleep cycles. People are kind of going to bed at strange times because they don’t have as much of a routine. And when your sleep cycle gets off, it messes everything else up. Try to remain as regimented as you can on a sleep cycle. I don’t care if you don’t have to get up the next day till 9:00. Don’t stay up till 2:00 o’clock in the morning just because. The more consistent your sleep, the better you’re going to feel.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s a really nice lineup. Now, when it comes to hydration, how much is enough?

Joshua Klapow
Yeah. So, again, I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a psychologist. But this is the classic, and I have one client who…I was surprised to hear this. This was somebody, she’s an executive, mostly working from home who, literally, would prevent herself from drinking because she was on back-to-back conference calls, and she didn’t want to be late to the conference call. I’m not kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been there before. I’ve had those days, yeah.

Joshua Klapow
Well, but that was every day. And it doesn’t take a medical doctor for me to say, “What are you doing? Like, that’s terrible. Don’t do that. You should be going to the bathroom…” again, we all have different health states, etc. Two to three to four times a day to pee and it should be clear relatively, right? And I tell you what, you asked for bang for the buck? Here’s the other reason why I want you to drink water or non-alcoholic beverages. If you’re peeing every 90 minutes to two hours, guess what you can do when you go into the bathroom? You can take that 90-minute to two-hour break to also reset your brain, to take the deep breaths, to come back to a good place. I call it the recalibration bio-break.

And that’s what I said. I said, “Look, if you want to multitask, multitask. Go do your business in the bathroom, and then take one extra minute in that bathroom to reset, to remind yourself, “What day is it? Where am I? What am I going to do?” It’s these little tweaks like this that allow you to carry on, allow you to power forward. What most of us try to do that is wrong is we try to have the good work ethic, “I’m just going to take one more call. I’m just going to do one more recording. I’ll skip this lunch. I’ll skip this water. I’ll power through, and if I do that, then I’ll get to the other side.” Psychologically, physiologically, and behaviorally, that could not be farther from the truth in non-global pandemic times. It is twice as bad in global pandemic times.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. Well, so, not to get too personal with you, Josh, but I’d love to zoom in to that one minute in the bathroom. So, you’ve just urinated, wow, it’s the first time I’ve said this on the show. All right.

Joshua Klapow
I’m a psychologist. You can say anything you want here.

Pete Mockaitis
You just urinated. What happens in the following minute that can be a great reset in the bathroom?

Joshua Klapow
So, as I’d like to say, you take care of your business. And in this day and age, and you can do this on either side. Either before you wash your hands or after you wash your hands, either way is okay because this is going to involve your brain, and you don’t have to touch your face to do this. What I really encourage people to do is close their eyes or not, but to take some deep diaphragmatic breaths. And we all know this, and I’ll show you the example I give you. But this is essentially the (inhales then exhales). Do that three to four times.

Now, I get a lot of grief as a psychologist because, particularly when I do this in any media, they go, “Oh, my God, this is the psychologist and now he’s telling me to deep breathe.” The reason I’m telling you that is, as your stress levels rise, your breath shortens. And one of the ways that we know that you cannot only relax your physiology, your muscles, relax your muscles, heart rate, blood pressure, but if you relax is to slow your breathing down.

And the classic example I give people is when you see a little child, or even an adult who’s kind of panicky, right, you see a little kid, “Huh, huh, huh.” What do we tell people to do besides calm down, which you should never tell people to do? “Take a breath.” We always tell people, “It’s okay. just take a breath. Take a few deep breaths.”

So, if we tell people to do that when they’re panicking, why wouldn’t we do that after we go to the bathroom and we’re a little offline? So, take three deep breaths, have a nice happy thought, and then. Wash your hands and get back out in the warzone. And it’s critical. I have physicians do this before they ever get back in, whether it’s the E.R. or an O.R., I have them do it all the time. I have athletes do it at every timeout.

It’s critical, Pete, that we do it right now because distractions alone will take us offline and we need to be online.

The other reason that it’s important, if you’re not going to do it for you, it changes the way you interact with your spouse or your significant other. It changes the way you interact with your kids, who, many a kids are very discombobulated right now. It also changes the way that you’re going to interact on conference calls, with your coworkers, your boss, and your direct reports. If you’re in a bad place, it’s going to show even if you’re not “freaking out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really resonating. All right. So, that’s it then. There’s the washing of hands, there’s the deep diaphragmatic breaths, there’s the happy thought, then that’s your minute, hey?

Joshua Klapow
It is, yes. Now, here’s what I don’t want you to expect, “One minute is going to last me nine hours.” So, here’s the good and the bad of it. The bad is It’s not going to last all day long one set of diaphragmatic breathing and your happy thought. But here’s a nice thing. It takes a minute to reset.

Again, I’ll share another thing that I do. Before I ever go on air, before I ever take a client call, before I ever switch from one conference call to the next, I make sure I got at least a minute. I’m a high-energy guy. I get going a lot. I reset. And most of us, Pete, don’t do that because we think that that couldn’t have an impact. It’s not a magic pill but it’s what our bodies and our minds need to stay on track in addition to all the other things that we talked about.

And I mentioned it in passing but it is equally important. Own up to your limits right now. Stop. Do not wear yourself out as a badge of honor because it does nobody any good. Work hard but if you’re driving yourself into the ground because you think that’s great, what I’m going to tell you is that by the time you’ve driven yourself just short of being into the ground, you’re no good for anybody. You didn’t do good work at the end. I always talk about, “Come to your limit, don’t go past your limit.” Come to your limit and then back off. You have to right now.

There is this expectation, “I must be a super parent, super spouse. I got to show my boss that I’m doing everything, and I got to be great and have fun and exercise and all that kind of stuff.” I wish I had a better word. It’s crap. We’re human. We’re not machines. And, particularly right now, nobody is firing on all cylinders. Anybody who tells you they’re totally dialed in, totally focused, not worried about anything, is either not human, or they’re lying, or in denial, or in a lot of denial.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thanks for laying it out there. Now, can you share some of your favorite things. Let’s start with a favorite quote.

Joshua Klapow
It’s from Pema Chodron, who’s a very famous author, Buddhist monk, New Yorker, an ex-nurse actually before she became a monk. And the quote is, “Feel the feelings and drop the story.” I love this because it’s kind of what I was saying as we first started talking.

You’re going to feel in your day all kinds of things. What makes them have an impact is the label, the interpretation, or the story that we associate with those emotions.

Right now, we have to feel the feelings and not have so much interpretation of them tied to them because there’s going to be so many feelings coming and going.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Joshua Klapow
So, I like that one. It’s a good one to live. It’s a good one to live by right now.

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

Joshua Klapow
Okay, this is going to go very opposite what I just said. It doesn’t contradict it. What made me become a psychologist was the work of B.F. Skinner.

The reason that I loved this was that it shows me, not just that we work only for reward, but that our behavior is predictable, is lawful, is on average. There is rhyme and reason to why we do what we do.

And what that tells me is that if something is not going right, or if something is going right, we can figure it out. We can figure out how to make you feel better, how to make you do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Joshua Klapow
I’ve got two quickly. I’m a sports fanatic. And a wonderful book by one of the most coveted international women’s soccer players, Abby Wambach, Wolfpack. It’s a short read.

Related to that book, not from the writing, is Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. She’s written so many great books. Daring Greatly is one that most people know. Rising Strong, for me, resonated because it was, look, if you’re going to live in this life, you’re going to get your butt kicked. You’re going to get your butt kicked if you’re going to live, and you’re going to fall down.

And you’ve got to figure out, not just how to be tough, because being tough is not about it. It’s about, you use the word self-care, how to get yourself back up on your feet physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually so that you can be strong in the world, which is different than just being tough and guarded and defensive. And Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong really teaches readers how to do that. So, between the two, between having your pack and learning how to rise strong, and then with that quote from Pema Chodron, it’s a good way to live.

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

Joshua Klapow
I’m a less-is-more guy. My family is they’re Slack and Asana and they got this organizer and that organizer. And my tool is my calendar. It’s an electronic calendar.
The reason that I use just my calendar is if you look at my calendar, you will see my appointments, you will see my professional things on there, you will also see things, my kids love to kid me about this, you will see, “Work out at 5:00 a.m.” I know that I work out at 5:00. I don’t need a reminder to work out. It’s on there every day. My lunch is blocked out from 11:45 to 1:00. Now, do I eat lunch all the time there at that time? No. But it’s on there. My rest breaks are broken out and they’re stated on there. My winddown period, it says, “Wind down for bed with good intentions.” My bedtime is on there.

Now, your listeners may go, “Oh, my God, what’s wrong with this guy?” This is my way of removing excess from my brain. It is structure in my day that I can disregard. I have the freedom to disregard anything there.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, and I think it’s also reassuring in which you can say, “Oh, this is the time of the day in which I’m going to check those things. I need not check them now. There is a designated time in which that’s going to occur,” so you feel all the more free and resilient to just put those aside for the moment.

Joshua Klapow
Yes, I love the way you described that.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. And how about a favorite habit?

Joshua Klapow
Yeah. If it’s just one it is to exercise. The biggest bang for the buck mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually is moving your body because it has all the physical health benefits that we don’t need to go into, that everybody knows about.

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

Joshua Klapow
You’ve heard the term “don’t work harder, work smarter” and that’s the one that work all the time.

The idea that, “I must work more in order to be successful” versus “As I get better at what I do, whether it’s work, parenting, relationship, it actually gets easier, and I may not have to work as hard.” And that is a beautiful, wonderful, acceptable thing that you get to have by being good at something.

So, my point is it doesn’t have to get harder, whatever it is. It can get easier. You could work less and get the same thing done. The one related to that, and it’s just aside, is this idea of “I have to.”

What I tell people this. You don’t have to. There are only a couple things in this world that you have to do. You have to eat. You have to breathe. You have to drink water. Anything else you don’t have to.

If you make it a choice, then what it allows you to do is bring the power of you to that choice. And that is really important because there are so many things that we do, most of them are our choice even if we tell ourselves that we have to.

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

Joshua Klapow
Social media, Twitter and Instagram. You can follow me at @drjoshk. If you’d like to see my webpage, it’s JoshKlapow.com. And my email, my very public email is askdrjoshk@gmail.com.

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

Joshua Klapow
We’re told all the time to think outside the box if you want to be great at what you do. If you want to be great at what you do before you ever think outside the box, take inventory of what you have inside the box. What do you already know how to do? What are you good at? What are you passionate about? And I’m talking about reading, writing, gardening, art.

Don’t spend all of your time trying to be awesome at your job by thinking so far out of who you are that you forget the gifts that you bring to the table automatically. It’s okay to think broadly but don’t lose the gifts or the skills that you have nurtured and matured when you’re trying to be awesome because those are your foundation that will allow you to be awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Josh, thanks so much for sharing these good words. It’s been a treat. I wish you all the best for yourself and your clients, and the disasters are manageable and workable in your lives.
Joshua Klapow
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate the opportunity to share this with you and with your listeners. And to everybody, exercise every day and please wash your hands.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Alex:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Pang Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the Scottish accents or…

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Annually.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, annually.

Pete Mockaitis
In call centers that is striking.

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Correct.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Hey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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