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Productivity Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Demir

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

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

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

Resources Mentioned

Demir Bentley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Demir, welcome.

Demir Bentley

Good to see you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

Like a comic book.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

It’s close.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

It actually was.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

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

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

Coffee maker button?

Demir Bentley

Like a Nespresso.

Pete Mockaitis

All right, a Nespresso machine.

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Noted.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

Understood.

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. And the next step?

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

Demir Bentley

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite tool?

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Demir Bentley

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

929: Ending Overwhelm by Delegating Masterfully with Kelli Thompson

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Kelli Thompson reveals how to beat the cycle of overwhelm through smarter delegation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you seem less capable when you don’t delegate
  2. The four mindsets that hinder effective delegation
  3. How to ensure others don’t screw up delegated tasks 

About Kelli

Kelli Thompson is a women’s leadership coach and speaker who helps women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. She has coached and trained thousands of women to trust themselves, lead with more confidence, and create a career they love. She is the founder of the Clarity & Confidence Women’s Leadership Program, and a Stevie Award winner for Women in Business—Coach of the Year. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Closing The Confidence Gap: Boost Your Peace, Your Potential & Your Paycheck.

Resources Mentioned

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Kelli Thompson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Kelli, welcome back.

Kelli Thompson

Oh, I’m so excited to talk to you again.

Pete Mockaitis

Me, too. Well, you’ve been talking a lot about shifting from a doer to a leader lately. Tell us, why, of all the topics you could research you’ve chosen this one?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah. Well, I think the things that we need most in our lives, what we’re most guilty of, sometimes become our most common topics. I mean, I don’t know, tell me where I’m wrong. But I just found myself always, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, Pete, in corporate America, I think a lot of times we promote the best doers. And I remember seeing this not only as a leader, I remember experiencing this myself, I remember I experienced this as an HR person. I think we say, “Okay, Pete is the best we have at producing these widgets. He’s amazing. He’s so fast. We should make him a manager.”

And so, I think sometimes what happens in this, we promote this person and we think this magic transformation is going to happen overnight, that tonight you’re going to bed, and tomorrow you’re going to wake up, and go, “Ooh, my new title, my new salary, I’m going to be comfortable delegating, coaching, having hard conversations, and really stop doing all the doing,” when I think, we don’t realize how payoff we get from doing.

Doing feels good. You can check a box. You get a gold star. We were raised our entire lives doing, “Oh, we’re so fast at this,” “You’re so quick,” etc. and it just feels good. And I think, even as a parent, I really have struggled with this, asking myself, “How much am I doing for my child?” So, I don’t think this has leadership implications or work implications. I think, as parents, we see this, too. We see somebody do something that that’s not how we would do it. They do it slower than us. It’s, like, really painful for us to watch. And so, we jump in and we do.

And even now, running my own business, it’s been really hard for me to let go of all the doing. But the problem is my business can’t grow if I’m doing all the doing. And so, I’ve had to hire a lot of help in the last 18 months, and so this topic has never been more important to me, or more relevant to me, in raising a teenager who’s gone off to college, but then also really learning the hard work of letting someone else take care of things for you and do it in their own way.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really resonant. And as I’m thinking about my kids who are four and six, and then one super young, but it’s like they are capable of cleaning, and yet it is so much harder to ask them 20 times, sometimes literally 20 times, to pick up sort of maybe three key items. It might require 20 requests because they get distracted and they have imaginative play fun, which is adorable, and I sort of hate to put a kabash on that too much but sometimes it’s just not that quick.

And so, it’s like if I actually want the place clean fast, doing it myself is so much faster and less aggravating than asking many, many, many times, as opposed to asking them repeatedly. And so, yes, I could see from an emotional payoff perspective there’s a wide array of tasks in the world of work that would probably feel a whole lot better to just do yourself than to delegate and coach and to feedback-refine through other people to get done.

Kelli Thompson

Absolutely. And you really hit on something important because these are the things that I hear with leaders today, especially folks who are moving into kind of that first jump of leadership. So, they’re moving into team lead, maybe a manager, senior manager, director, is they say things, like, “Kelli, I don’t have time to delegate. I don’t have time to explain this to anyone.” They might say things like, “Kelli, I can’t delegate because people just make too many high-impact mistakes. I have company coming, and so we cannot make any mistakes in this presentation.”

The other thing that I hear a lot is when leaders say, and I remember feeling this, too, and even as a parent, “It makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty that I am delegating this.” It’s almost like I feel like I’m shirking work. But one of the things that I like to remind folks and offer them to consider is that people will make mistakes, expect them. Yes, it is normal to feel all sorts of uncomfortable feelings when you’re delegating because society has told us that our worth oftentimes is tied to our productivity, and, yes, people don’t do things the way that we would do them, and, yes, it can take some time.

But those things are going to be exacerbated when you are delegating and you’re waiting to delegate when the stakes are too high. So, I just want to talk about the overwhelm cycle. So, like, what tends to happen is, let’s just say, we are working on a project, we get more projects put on our plate, and we want to say to all the things because maybe we are in this belief that, “If I say yes to everything, I look capable and confident.” Well, then we get overwhelmed.

And so then, we delegate sometimes out of panic. Even as parents, right, it’s like we hoard and we hoard and we hoard, and, “Oh, my gosh, company is coming in an hour, and I’m delegating out of panic.” And so, when we delegate out of panic, lots of times we’re delegating when the stakes are way too high, when mistakes can’t be made, when it will take a long time to explain something to someone because the project that you’re trying to delegate is just huge.

And so, what happens is the stakes are high, we’re panicked, we delegate, and people make mistakes. Of course, they make mistakes because that’s what we do the first time we try something. And then when people make mistakes, as leaders and as parents, we get frustrated that people make mistakes, and we say, “See, I can’t delegate. I have to take this back. I have to jump in and fix it.” And so, we jump in, and we fix it, and tell ourselves a story, “See, I can’t delegate because nobody can do things as good as I can,” and the whole overwhelm cycle starts again.

So, one of the things I’d offer leaders and parents is to start delegating while the stakes are low. So, I can think of a time where I delegated out a presentation that needed to go to senior leadership, way, way, way too high of stakes because the people made mistakes. They didn’t put the slides together the way I would’ve done it. And so, what did I do? I took it back. And so, I had to learn to say, “Wait a minute. You don’t delegate out a whole presentation. You delegate out one slide. One slide that perhaps the person has expertise or experience in, and you coach them on the delivery of that one slide.”

And we should just hope that people make mistakes because if you’re delegating when the stakes are low, there’s low impact. In fact, those mistakes can be used for learning. When there’s a mistake in that single slide, we can have a coaching moment about it, we can start to talk about it, we can start to talk about delivery and presentation and those sorts of things.

And so, my challenge for you is to really think about, “How can I start to delegate when the stakes are low?” And if you are panicked about someone making a mistake, mistakes are still too high, let’s cut in half. Because here’s the thing, we’ve all learned through making mistakes, and that uncomfortable learning and growth moment, and I think lots of times we feel guilty that we’re dumping or shirking work when, in fact, the opposite is true.

And Gallup research shows us that one of the number-one things that keeps people engaged is the ability to learn and grow on the job. And so, if you’re hoarding all that work, you are not allowing people to learn and grow. And so, how can we create those safe spaces for people to learn and grow, and that’s what’s very low-stakes delegation, so that they can build their rep and confidence? So, when the stakes are high, we’ve got some reps under our belt.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Kelli, can you tell me, really, what’s at stake for someone who’s an emerging leader who has done a smidge of delegating and coaching, and it’s like, “Nah, this isn’t working so well for me,” so they haven’t really embraced it, and they are continuing to do a lot, maybe 80% plus of what they were doing before? They started taking on the leadership responsibilities as well. Like, just how bad is it to keep on rolling that way if it’s comfortable, and you know you’re awesome at your job?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah, honestly, that, I think is the biggest hurdle is you are, you got promoted because you are awesome at your job. And so, when you get promoted into leadership, guess what? Because you’re awesome at your job you get more projects because they hope that you continue to be awesome at your job. But now, you not only have doing responsibilities, especially if you’re a working manager, but now you also have to hold team meetings, coach your team, develop your team, think strategically, plan for the future.

And so, what I see happen sometimes, and I think what the consequences are of this, is these leaders keep saying yes to these things. And then they often get told, “Well, you’re not being strategic.” “Well, because I haven’t left any time to be strategic because I’m still doing all of the doing.” The other thing that I see happen is burnout. More than ever with my own clients, lots of times they’re coming to me because they are so burnt out.

And when we do a little bit of a calendar audit, one of the things that we see is they are still holding onto and attending meetings that their team members are in. They should’ve stopped attending that meeting six months ago. They’re still hanging on to work projects that are no longer a development opportunity for them. They still just keep doing them because it feels good and they get the rewards and the accolades but they’re exhausted because they’re still doing all the doing, they’re still saying yes to all the things, and they haven’t delegated down.

The real impact, though, and where I see this, especially with the clients that I coach, because they’re coming to me wanting to accelerate in the organization but, unfortunately, it becomes really hard to accelerate in the organization when you continue to hang on to old projects. So, let me just kind of give you an example of what happens. So, they hang on to projects because they are the expert in what they do. And lots of times, that first promotion into leadership, we are managing people in which we have also done the work.

And so, you know what that means, it’s so easy to jump in and do and help and all the things, but as you promote, want to get promoted into leadership, guess what’s going to happen? You are going to start to inherit teams in which you have never done the work. And we see that with senior leaders all the time. They manage teams in which they’ve never done the work. And so, lots of times there’s a crisis of confidence that happens because, before, they got all their confidence and leadership expertise because they knew the work. But now they’re managing teams in which they don’t know the work.

And so, they have to learn how to lead in a whole different way, and that’s why delegation becomes so important. One, because you’re going to need to learn how to expand your leadership team to coaching people in which you’ve never done the work, so you can’t do anymore, but now your job is to coach, to motivate, to inspire, and you can’t do that if you are still hanging on to all those pieces of work that you know how to do, and you can jump in and do it better, faster. It becomes a real kind of skill and confidence crisis as people want to accelerate in the organization. And lots of times, it can really keep them stuck if they’re unwilling to start to delegate when those stakes are low, and test and trust people.

Pete Mockaitis

Kelli, that’s powerful and what a compelling case there. So, when you’re doing the stuff that you need not to be doing, you’re going to burn out, you’re not developing. It might feel good in the moment but developing also feels really good. So, you can just trade it for another source of work pleasure if you’re doing the stuff that is development-y instead of not development-y. And then, ultimately, you’re going to capped in terms of your career progression. It’s like, “Oh, I guess you just don’t have the capability to lead folks doing work that you have not done before because you’re not sort of inching in that direction.”

Okay. So, I’m also curious, could you tell us a hopeful story of someone who was struggling with these very common sorts of challenges and then did some things differently and saw some cool results?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah, so I’ll just throw myself under the bus here. So, I remember early on in my career, I went to my leader, and I said, “Hey, I want to develop my executive presentation skills.” I was that leader who was managing a team that I hadn’t done the work but I had gotten a few other teams, and so I’m thinking big picture, “I want to develop these presentation skills so I can continue to accelerate,” all the things.

And my leader, she was awesome, she goes, “Oh, that sounds great.” She goes, “You know what, all those slides that I have you prepare that I present to the C-suite every month for the month review, I’m gonnahave you come and you just present them.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds great.”

So, I go ahead and I prepare my slides, like I’ve always done, and we go to the top floor of our building, and I’m meeting with the CEO of the company, my boss, my boss’ boss, I think the CFO was there too, and I start presenting, and so far, so good. They’re asking me questions; I know the answers.

Well, what I didn’t know was she had prepped them ahead of time to let them know that I wanted this development opportunity, and I did not know this at the time. But they started to have a little fun with me, I think, and they started to ask me questions that, quite frankly, I didn’t know the answers to. Now, these questions were next-level questions that the senior leaders should be able to know and answer about sales, and revenues, and ratios, and all that sort of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

“Kelli, how is this going to drive long-term scaleable synergies and keep going on?”

Kelli Thompson
Yeah, it was like that. And so, if you’ve ever been in a meeting like that, like let’s just pause and picture. Like, I’m stammering, my neck is red, I’m pitting out, I’m feeling like a complete idiot. It is so uncomfortable. But I know we’ve all been in meetings like that. And I don’t know who it’s worse for, the person, like me that’s sitting and stammering, or my boss, who is watching the train wreck go down in action.

And I think all of us watching the train wreck, and I know I’ve done this as a leader, have jumped in, interjected, saved the day, answered the questions, but she didn’t. She just sat there silently and gave me space to struggle through and answer the questions. She only answered questions when they were directed at her directly.

And so, the meeting finished, and we get in the elevator and we ride all 40 flights down, and she looked at me, and she said, “So, how do you think that went?” And I’m like, “Oh, my God, it went terrible,” and all the things. She goes, “You know what, Kelli, I prepped them a little bit. They were having a little fun at the end.” She goes, “But those questions are things that you’re going to have to learn how to answer.”

So, she goes, “I have a question for you. Who do you know that always seems to present well in front of senior leadership with those types of high-level questions?” And I actually named off a few people who I really admired. She said, “Great. I want you to go to them, and I want you to find out how they prep. And I want you to incorporate some of those methods so that you can do this again next month when I ask you to do it again.” And I was, like, “Oh, my gosh.”

So, I think we learn a couple of things from that. One, had my manager jumped in to save me, all I would’ve learned was that I only need to prep to a certain amount because, at any point, if this gets too uncomfortable for me or her, she’ll jump in and save. And so, when we do that to people, I know I’ve done that to people, they’re like, “Eh, I only got to do about this much. My manager will come in and take the rest,” and that really limits someone’s development and their learning because we never allow people that uncomfortable space for growth. So, one, she did not jump in and save me.

Number two, she did not tell me what to do. She just said, “How do you think that went? How do you want it to go? Who else do you know that does this well?” Well, she gave me my problem back, she’s like, “You go talk to them, you go figure out new ways, and then let me know how you’re going to present differently the next time.”

And so, she really let me own that discomfort and that struggle. And while it didn’t feel good, she still provided a lot of empathy, “Hey, we’ve all done this the first time. This is totally normal. They were testing you a little bit, so you can relax. You didn’t kill your career.” There’s lots of empathy and compassion but there was also this, “Hey, you have a new problem to solve, and how are you going to go about that for your own personal development?”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s beautiful. Thank you, Kelli. Well, now can you share with us what are perhaps the mindsets we need to adopt in order to pull this off effectively? And I think the answer to that is mistakes is to be expected, but you have more.

Kelli Thompson

There is. And so, maybe you can ask yourself these questions. I have found in my own life and in all of the hundreds of clients that I’ve worked with, there are four mindsets that keep us saying yes instead of saying no. And when I say, say yes, it’s doing all the doing, saying yes to all the things. Mindset number one is kind of a capability mindset. It’s this belief that, “Oh, if I don’t say yes, people are going to think I’m not capable.”

Then there’s sometimes a people-pleasing mindset, and it’s this, “Oh, gosh, if I don’t say yes, people are really going to be disappointed in me. They’re going to be really unhappy.” We say yes to keep people happy. Then there’s mindset number three. These are our responsible-caretaker mindset folks, where they’re like, “I have to say yes so that I look responsible and people know that I support them.” And then the fourth mindset that I often see is of, like, a perfectionist mindset, “I have to say yes so that I look perfect, and then I’m going to stall and stall and stall in this until it is perfect.”

And so, I think, sometimes, just by recognizing what’s happening in that moment can bring a little bit of self-aware so you can pause, in that way when your leader comes to you, and says, “Hey, can you take on this massive project?” or when you think about continuing to do the things instead of delegating, it’s like, “Wait a minute. Why am I hanging onto this project? Why do I feel that I’m the only one that can do this?”

I know for me, personally, capability mindset was a big thing, “If I delegate this and I delegate all this work, people are going to think I’m not capable, and that’s going to show up in my performance review, and my manager is going to be upset, and then I’m going to get fired,” we go down the whole spiral. So, maybe just really think about what is that mindset that keeps you saying yes, and then ask yourself, “Could the opposite actually be just as true?”

I know one of the things that I learned in my own life, and I know my clients have learned, is that sometimes when I say yes to too much, people actually start to question my capability. Why? Because I’ve said yes to too much. My quality suffers. I turn stuff in late. I don’t get back to people when I promised them. And so, now all my fears of looking incapable have come true.

And so, I think that would be the first place that I would really start is just to go, and we’re going to be like, “Why am I keeping this? Why am I taking this on? Why am I saying yes when I should be delegating and coaching others?” And so, something to take a look at.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s powerful. And it’s funny, when you said when you say yes too much, people’s perception of your capability declines. And where I thought you were going to go with is if there’s a restaurant that has everything in the buffet, like, “Oh, we got pizza, and French fries, and, oh, burgers, and sushi, and Lomi,” it’s like, “Hmm, yeah, I don’t know if you’re actually capable of making all these items well. I actually sort of have less faith in this restaurant as being able to do that.”

So, is that also a phenomenon that happens in the human work perception of each other’s skills domain? I imagine it would. What’s your experience?

Kelli Thompson

Oh, absolutely. So, I often call this rust-out. It’s a type of burnout. And so, you’re right. What can happen? “Because I’m people-pleasing, or I want people to see that I’m capable and responsible so I’m going to say yes to all the things. And now, all of a sudden, I’m running a project, and I’m quasi-managing a sales ops team, and, oh, yeah, why don’t you add in a little bit of training team to that or HR,” right? You have all of these things on the buffet. So, you’re just very mediocre at all of them.

And one of the things that I’ve noticed, and I even notice this for me, personally, especially in running my business because you kind of have to do the buffet of all the things, is those create a ton of energy leaks because my hunch is, and I work on this with my clients, there’s something that probably just totally ignites your energy.

Same with you, Pete, right? You probably do a podcast because you geek out, and it’s exciting, and people know you for it, and every time you come, you’re like, “Yes, this is going to be so fun. We’re going to have a great conversation.” That’s the type of energy that you want to bring into your work because it builds your brand as a leader, is you become known for something.

And so, when you start saying yes to all of these things that are outside your genius zone, at least in my own experience, I face a lot of what I call energy leaks. I was spending my time and energy on things that absolutely drained my energy. And that sort of energy drain creates rust-out. And I call rust-out as not using your talents. You feel rusty, you feel tired, and it’s actually a type of burnout.

And so, I love that you brought up this restaurant that offers too many things on the menu because they’re not known for anything, they’re not doing that one thing that they can do in their genius zone and offer excellently so they become known all over town as the place to go for that thing. And I don’t think leaders are any different. I think it’s so important to find that genius zone. What is it that you’ve been put on this Earth to do? Where do you make the biggest impact for your organization, drive their most revenue, save the most money? And how do you delegate everything that isn’t that?

Because my hunch is, if you’re doing work that’s not in your genius zone, you are robbing the people around you and below you of doing work in their genius zone. I can’t work in a pivot table. But you know what, I’ve got somebody on my team that excel in pivot tables, and numbers is their genius zone. Why would I rob them of that and do it in a mediocre way that just burns me out at the end of the day?

Pete Mockaitis

That is beautiful. And it’s so true in terms of, I think, we can all think of tasks that, really, we’re fired up to do, and tasks that we really, really, really dread doing, and then afterwards we just feel not great.

I also like what you had to say with regards to when you delegate, mistakes are to be expected. And this brings me back to one of my favorite conversations, Episode 528 with Aaron Levy, is that we have an expectation of iteration on certain things, and other things we don’t, and that’s really intriguing. It’s that if you look at that where you have it.

And it’s funny, I’ve been working with a composer to redo the music here – Shoutout to Breakmaster Cylinder – and it’s been really cool how we’ve been going through a lot of iterations, and I don’t mind. I actually really appreciate Breakmaster Cylinder for going through that with me, I appreciate that patience, they’re like, “Hey, here’s the eighth version. Tell me what you think about these things.”

And yet there are other times in which if it doesn’t come back perfect the first time, I’m really annoyed and irritated, and so I’m like, “What’s that about?” I think it has more to do with me than the person who is sending me something. And I think that’s just an intriguing area to explore within our own psyches, is, “Where do we expect mistakes and iterations? And where do we not? And why? And is it fair?” Can you help us sift through a little bit of this mess, Kelli?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah. So, I learned this lesson the hard way, as all hard things are learned. First, when I switched jobs, when I switched careers, and switched industries. And the second time I learned it was when I launched my own business. And so, I remember switching, I moved from banking and I went into, like, a healthcare tech startup.

And in my first 90 days, and I see this a lot with my clients, too, I think there’s this expectation, like, “I’m going to go in, and I’m going to knock their socks off, and I’m going to do all the things and achieve all the results in 90 days or less,” and it doesn’t happen that way. And, in fact, a lot of times you kind of push people the wrong way. People are like, “Gosh, who’s this person coming in and pushing their agenda?”

I had to learn a different way. I had to learn that, actually, your first 90 days should be about learning, “How much can you learn? How much can you ask? How curious can you be?” And when I was working for that tech startup, I had a gift that I didn’t I was going to give me a reading The Lean Startup.

Pete Mockaitis

So good. Eric Ries. Shoutout in the show notes. Link it.

Kelli Thompson

It’s so good. And if you don’t have time to read it, just watch the YouTube summary. You’re going to get everything you need. When I started my own business, I totally had a, “If I’m going to launch this, it better give me all the results I want.” But, thank goodness, I had read that book because I had to change my mindset, that when we try something, when we test something, when we delegate something, our goal should not be results. Our goal should not always be revenue, or perfection, or excellence. Our goal should be learning.

Because if we can go in with that curious, iterative, experimenter’s mindset, Pete, it’s the only reason I’m still in business five years from today, and I haven’t totally burnt myself out, or had unrealistic expectations. But it’s just way more fun. It is just so much more fun to be, like, “I’m going to just test this and just see what happens, see how the world responds to it.” Like, when your only job is curiosity and learning, it is so much more fun. It is so much more freeing.

Like, I know so many people who beat themselves up and it does, it causes depression, burnout when they launch something, and they expect it’s going to be perfect on that first iteration. Like, what a pressure to put yourself under as a leader, and what pressure to put people under us. So, I just find, personally, it is way more fun, and it is so much easier to be a leader for the long game, or be in a business like mine for the long game, when you are just thinking about iterating, and testing, and learning, and just seeing what the world gives back to you.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s so true. And I recently did a keynote speech to a bunch of creators, and it was really fun. And I sort of shared, “Hey, here’s ten of my creations, from books to podcast, to whatever, and you’re going to vote in advance. Was it a hit or was it a dud? And then I will tell you afterwards, and then what lessons I learned.” And so, it’s kind of a fun format we did.

And it was intriguing that, as I took this stroll through memory lane, the majority of the things I created were a dud, particularly the first time around, and then I took some iteration, or you scrap it, like you learn something. And one of the biggest lessons learned is just about sort of validating a concept before you build it. There’s some more Lean Startup action for you.

But what was really cool, some of the audience – shoutout to Jonathan Blevins – said, “You know, this was so encouraging because I’m embarking on this thing, and I put all this pressure on myself, like, this really has to succeed, it really has to succeed. But, no, it could fail and that can be fine.” And it really can.

And so, I loved what you said, in that world of delegating, is you want to give people those opportunities where they can fail and it can be fine because you’ve got some buffer in the deadline, you got a review step before it reaches the super CEO, or the clients who have a huge account with you, or whatever. Like, one way or another, it’s okay to fail, and, in fact, it might even be enjoyable, in so far as you come up with some new learnings and insights and aha-s along the way.

Can you give us some more practical tactical approaches for setting up that kind of safe delegating environmental vibe?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah. So, let me do it from two sides here. Side number one, I just want to continue to reiterate, delegate when the stakes are low. Okay, so let me give you an example from my own life. I didn’t go out and write my book, Closing the Confidence Gap, because it was the first time I’d ever talked about those concepts. Like, “No, we’re not going to go and put that out in a book.”

That book came from years of conversations, curiosity, asking questions, talking to people, and, quite frankly, putting information out. Like, I love sharing content on LinkedIn. I think it’s fun. It’s a good place to iterate and test, “I’m going to share this idea and see if people react to it.” And you know what, the more kind of people engage and react, I’m like, “Okay, I might be onto something. I can expand this and grow it.”

And sometimes, I’ll put stuff out and it is a dud. And so then, I have to ask myself, “Okay, was it tone? Was it too much? Was it too long? Is this idea not resonating right?” It’s really like a lab. And so, I wrote the book through lots and lots and lots of iteration and testing in low-stakes environments. Like, LinkedIn is a low-stakes environment to test ideas. But then we refine those ideas with people and with audiences, and I might share them with a small group, and then it gets into a book.

So, I want you to think about that at work, how we are constantly testing low-stakes environment where we can learn and it feels fun to learn, but I want to flip this and I want to put it also from the person who’s, like, “But, Kelli, I am not a manager. I’m awesome at my job. And because I’m awesome at my job, guess what, everybody wants me to do all the things.”

I want to share with you a tactic that actually my business manager did to me just about a month ago, because, as leaders, I just want to normalize, sometimes we get really excited about things. We read things, and we’re like, “Oh, I’m going to have my team work on this right away,” and we forget everything that we delegated to them the last three months.

So, that was me. I got all jazzed about an idea. I think it was some sort of competitive analysis, and I emailed my business manager, I said, “Hey, Kristen, I just thought about this, and we should do this this week.” And she so beautifully said, “Kelli, here are the three priorities that you gave me in the last month to work on for the business. Would you like me to stop one of these priorities so that you can focus on this one that you came up with today?” And, of course, she was very nice, she was very tactical, and I laughed, I was like, “Well, she’s read my book, and she used my technique on me.”

Because I think, sometimes, we forget, as leaders, what we’ve told people, what people are working on that maybe we forgot to tell them to stop doing, we’re like, “Oh, I forgot to tell them that’s not a priority anymore.” So, I think if you’re an individual contributor who’s awesome at your job, and you don’t want to be burnt out, just have a very intelligent conversation with your leader, and say, “I love that idea. Here’s the three things I’m working on this week because you said they were a priority, and they’re due by the 15th of the month. Is this still the case? Is this still a priority? Or, would you want me to pull one of these off the list so that I can put that one on?”

Like, let’s just have a priorities conversation because, that way, we’re not getting overworked, we’re not getting overloaded. And for somebody who has no one to delegate to, I think it’s a good way to manage up some of those delegation opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. And tell me, when you’re engaged in some of the coaching, the follow-up, the accountability, the hard conversations, do you have any top do’s or don’ts or favorite scripts you like to use in the course of these conversations?

Kelli Thompson

I like to think of the four P’s. So, when you’re delegating something, talk about the purpose, “Why are we doing this? Why am I asking you to do this? Like, what is the bigger picture?” The second thing that I want folks to focus on is the second P, which is people, “Who is involved?” And when you think about people, “Who are the decision-makers? Who needs to be consulted in your work? And who just needs to be informed?”

And so, that’s a really good conversation to have when you’re delegating something because, then, you can say, “Who is the decision-maker here? Is it you, Pete? Or, is it still me? Do you still need to bring things to me? Or, are you capable of making all the decisions about this project? Who do you need to consult? What stakeholders do you need to talk to before you move forward on any progress? And then when you made these decisions, or you’re doing this work, who do you need to keep informed?”

The third thing is the process. So, I think this is a good conversation to have to say, “Okay, here is where, perhaps, you need to follow some standardized processes.” I used to work in banking, so there were just some rules we had to follow, like, “Hey, here are some rules you have to follow here to get this done, but here’s where you can have leeway.” I think it’s great. Instead of just saying, “Hey, do whatever you want.” I think that can cause a lot of panic in folks. So, let’s communicate what processes or systems do we need to follow here but where you can have a little bit of creativity.

And then the last P is performance. I see people miss this one all the time. I struggle with this one. But be specific about what great outcomes look like, meaning, “What does success look like in this project? Are there ratios we’re trying to achieve? Is there a certain revenue number we’re trying to achieve? Is it a certain number of signups, or money saved, or risks reduced?” Whatever that is, but be specific so that you can communicate to this person.

And I think about, like in my own team, when I’m talking, my business manager helped me implement a customer relationship management system. And so, when I delegated that to her, I said, “We will know we have been successful in choosing the right system because it will do, A, B, and C.” Like, be clear about that so that people aren’t just assuming that they know what the results look like, but we actually have a conversation about what looks like success.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Kelli Thompson

I would say, in terms of delegations, I think sometimes, we do, we feel it’s hard. We feel uncomfortable Sometimes we feel guilty. It’s hard sometimes watching other people struggle. It truly is because it evokes feelings in them and in us because sitting in discomfort is not something that we, as humans, enjoy.

But I would really just encourage you just to pause one moment longer. When you’re watching somebody struggle, when you’re watching your child try to clean the living room or use the vacuum, before you jump in, can you pause just one moment longer to allow them to work through that discomfort because that’s where all the learning happens?

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kelli Thompson

Because I love to play the long game. I’ve been really reciting this quote back to myself, which is, “Consistency isn’t sexy but it works. Just showing up every day, playing the long game keeps you from burning out.”

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kelli Thompson

So, every year, I love the McKinsey and LeanIn Women in the Workplace Report. It comes out every year, usually November-ish of every year. And the one I’ve especially been focusing on is this, is that first promotion that happens. And so, what they find is that the talent pipeline breaks down because, for every 100 men that are promoted, 87 women are promoted. And as those job roles continue to accelerate in the organization to the C-suite, it gets less and less and less and less.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite book?

Kelli Thompson

My favorite fiction book I read in the last year was Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. It is fiction but it does read like nonfiction when it talks about, again, women’s role in the workplace in which it takes place. But the book I waited way too long to read was, Never Split the Difference by Chriss Voss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, we had him on the show.

Kelli Thompson

Yes. And so, I won’t give too many spoilers but I will say that that is not a negotiation book. It is an emotional intelligence and empathy book, and I highly recommend all leaders read it.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Kelli Thompson

I don’t know what I’d do without Calendly. It makes everything so easy, so much less back-and-forth.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit?

Kelli Thompson

My favorite habit is to lift weights almost every morning.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a key nugget you share, something that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Kelli Thompson

“Confidence is a side effect of taking action.” I think, all too often, we wait until we feel confident to take action, but it’s after we take the action that we actually feel the confidence.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Kelli Thompson

You can go to my website, www.KelliRaeThompson.com. I’m Kelli with an I, and then R-A-E. The two places I hang out on social are LinkedIn. So, find me at Kelli Thompson, or Instagram @kelliraethompson.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Kelli Thompson
I would say find that one thing, one tiny thing, even if it you don’t manage people, I bet you can do it in your personal life. What’s one low-stakes item that is draining your energy that you can delegate, either to your children, to an outside company, or to somebody on your team?

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, thank you, Kelli. I wish you many successful delegations.

Kelli Thompson

Awesome. Thank you.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Hal

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

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

Hal Elrod Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Hal Elrod
You got it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Jim Rohn. The musical—

Hal Elrod
The great Jim Rohn.

Pete Mockaitis
I love the music in his voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hal Elrod
I’m just feeling it.

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

Hal Elrod
I’m just deeply feeling it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
The dramatic montage music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hal Elrod
7 Minute Workout, number 7 Minute Workout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

906: How to Optimize Your Workspace for Your Wellbeing with Dr. Esther Sternberg

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Dr. Esther Sternberg reveals how to enhance your office environment to improve your health and boost performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How
 your workspace affects your wellbeing
  2. How your surroundings impact your sleep
  3. Tiny changes in lighting and sound that immediately improve your environment

About Esther

Esther M. Sternberg, M.D. is a Professor of Medicine, Psychology, and Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Planning at the University of Arizona and has been internationally recognized for her pioneering discoveries on the mind-body-stress interaction in healing and the impact of built environments on integrative health and wellness. She’s advised the World Health Organization, the US Institute of Medicine, the Vatican, and more, and has been featured on national stages, including CBS’ 60 Minutes, SXSW, NPR, ABC News, and more.

Resources Mentioned

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Esther Sternberg Interview Transcript

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so excited to hear about the wisdom you have stored up in your book Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in any Workspace. And you’ve worked with some very impressive clients, and I am so curious about your work advising the Vatican because, historically, the Catholic church makes a big deal out of getting high-quality spaces, churches, art. And I’m thinking about Bishop Robert Barron recently, I heard him say, “I take beauty very seriously.” I was like, “Ooh, that’s a fun turn of a phrase.” Tell me, was that intimidating and what went down there?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
No. What went down? Well, I had been, in my previous book, in Healing Spaces, I had written about Lourdes, the pilgrimage site in the south of France. And when I spoke at Lourdes, I was not aware that Pope Benedict’s Minister of Health was in the audience. And at the end of the talk, Monsignor Zimowski asked me would I sign a copy of the book for the Pope, and would I speak at the Vatican. So, that’s a pretty impressive signing.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the Pope got a book, and then you got to meet him.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Yes, that was Pope Benedict. So, when I spoke at the Vatican, Monsignor Zimowski, who was Pope Benedict’s Minister of Health, came up to me at the end of the coffee break, and he said, “Stick with me after the mass.” And I said, “Okay.” I followed him after mass.

But when I went to the convening, I was ushered into a separate area, and there were about ten of us. When the Pope arrived on stage, we were each individually invited up, and I didn’t know that you’re not supposed to shake his hand.

So, I put my hand out, and he took it and held my hands in his hands as if they were baby birds, and he looked directly into my eyes as if he were really looking into my soul. And all I can say is it was one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. And I could understand what Monsignor Zimowski was saying to him, he was telling him about my book, my previous book, Healing Spaces because I could understand French, and he was speaking Italian, and I could understand what he was saying.

And I was trying to figure out what do you say to the Pope. I thought, “Should I say something about my book?” And then I heard Monsignor Zimowski say, “And she is of Hebrew origin.” And at that point, I just could not think of anything to say, so I just said, “Shalom.” And we had a moment of connection over that that felt really moving, especially with Pope Benedict’s history during World War II, and it felt like…it just was very deeply moving. And that was my experience with the Pope.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
My pleasure.

So, I spoke at the Vatican. It was a conference that they hold yearly for the 120,000 Catholic orders that run hospitals. And I spoke about Healing Spaces, and about Lourdes, and how do you bring that kind of spirituality and wellbeing into hospital spaces. And that was the previous book.

This book, Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in any Workspace asks the question, “How do you do that in any workspace? How do you bring wellbeing beyond health, beyond getting rid of toxins and germs and allergens? How do you bring wellbeing into any workspace?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a juicy question, and one well worth digging into, and something we haven’t done much of before out of 900-ish interviews, so I’m excited to dig in. Can you tell us then, just how much of a difference does it make to have a workspace that is, I want to say, optimal in terms of wellbeing perspectives versus, “Fine. Like, you know, it’s fine. Yeah, I guess I got a comfy plate to sit. Yeah, I guess it works”?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
It makes a huge difference. And I have to say when I started studying this, I was surprised at the difference that it makes. I don’t know why I was surprised, well, I think I know, because we take for granted our spaces where we live and work and play and learn. And we don’t pay attention to how much they affect us even subconsciously.

So, 23 years ago, I started working with the then research director of the General Services Administration, that’s the agency of the federal government that builds and operates all non-military federal buildings in the United States and around the world, all your libraries, your courthouses, your embassies, and so on – Kevin Kampschroer.

Because the question that Kevin asked me, when we first met, I was at the National Institutes of Health, he was at the General Services Administration, and he asked me as a member of a sister agency, could I help him to measure the impact of the built office environment for the over a million office workers in the federal government over 374 million square feet of office space.

And could I determine whether those spaces stress people, whether they felt relaxed, and how could he design spaces to optimize wellbeing? And so, we began. Before the interview, you asked me about this ring that I’m wearing, this health-tracking ring. We began back in the early 2000s using clunky dinosaur health trackers which were about the size of a landline phone attached to your chest with wires and glue and whatnot.

And we moved on subsequently to use state-of-the-art wearable devices to measure the impacts of up to 11 different environmental attributes: sound, light, temperature, humidity, layout of the office space, and so on, on various aspects of health and wellbeing, both stress and relaxation response, mood, physical activities, sleep quality.

And what is really striking is that the spaces where you spend over 90% of your waking hours, that’s indoors, and much of that is in workspaces, they have a tremendous impact on your stress response, your sleep quality, your movement, and they can be designed thoughtfully to optimize all those aspects of health, or they can be designed without thought to actually end up stressing you, and impairing your sleep, and in making you sedentary and so on.

So, really, that’s what the book is about. The book is, really, about three things. It’s the journey that we, the researchers, had together as we elucidated these connections. It’s about how to embed all seven domains of integrated health into the built environment wherever you work.

But in order to enhance your resilience, you need to engage in all seven domains of integrated health. So, those are sleep; resilience, which is your stress and relaxation response; environment, which includes not only the air you breathe and the light you see but also the green environment, nature; movement; relationships; spirituality; and nutrition.

And the built environment can enhance every single one of those seven domains, and that’s really what the book talks about. It can help individuals wherever they work at home, in an office space, to embed those seven domains of integrated health into their work environments.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Thank you. And so, I’m curious, with some of these metrics associated with sleep or stress, is the difference…? I’m the kind of dork who will read the full text of some scientific journal articles, and say, “Okay, it was statistically significant but is that just because you had low variance and a large sample size? Or is it just like, ‘Whoa, it is night and day. Folks aren’t like 2% less stressed in a great space. They were like half as stressed in a great space’?”

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Well, no, it’s, “Whoa!” So, the very first study that we did was in a building in Denver that was being retrofitted, and we studied about 70 people, which is not a huge number but it’s big enough, especially since we were using two different measures of the stress response. We were measuring heartrate variability, which is what most of these trackers, health trackers, based their stress response levels on. And we also were collecting salivary cortisol, that’s the stress hormones cortisol in the saliva.

And we also asked the people how they felt in different spaces, and we compared the people when they were in the high wall, six-foot high wall cubicle space that was dark, musty, poor airflow, high mechanical noise, no circadian light, no sunlight, no views, and we compared them to the people in the spaces that were retrofitted with lots of great airflow, low mechanical noise, open-office design, no high cubicles, beautiful views to the outside, and lots of morning sunlight.

And what I was really shocked at is that, as we published that paper in 2010, is that the people in the old space were significantly more stressed than the people in the new space, and their stress response was significantly higher even when they went home at night and while they slept, but they were not consciously aware of the difference when we asked them if they were stressed or not.

So, your body recognizes the stress, your physiological stress response is higher, and you really do take your office space home with you at night. So, that was in 2010. And then in 2013, after I left the National Institutes of Health and moved to the University of Arizona to be research director at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, we continued with state-of-the-art study looking at about 270 office workers and four federal buildings in different parts of the country, and we, again, found the same thing.

So, to speak to your nerdy question, it can be statistically significant but is it biologically relevant? Yes, it is, especially if you’re finding the same thing using two completely different ways of studying of measurement, and in two completely separate studies.

We found in the people in the open-office design, which is really a misnomer. It’s really active-office design, a mid-century architect Probst defined it as active-office design. And, unfortunately, that became the dreaded cubicles when companies tried to squeeze as many people into a single space as possible. But, really, open-office design where there are lots of choices for people to go to, depending upon the kind of work they’re doing, what they’re doing, where they need to go, whether they need to gather, and so on.

So, the people in the open-office design were 32% more active during the day than people in private offices, and 20% more active than people in cubicles. The people who were more active during the day had substantially better sleep quality at night, were less fatigued the following day, were significantly less stressed when they went home at night, 14% less stressed every single night, accumulates to a medically relevant reduction in stress load, or if you’re more stressed, that’s a medically relevant increase in stress load, if you’re in the old kind of spaces.

And, again, people were not really consciously aware of the difference. So, it really does make a huge difference to design the spaces where you spend most of your time to minimize your stress response and optimize your resilience.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. So, let’s zoom into the world of a typical professional in which they may not have broad sweeping authority to adjust their space a ton in terms of, like, “Hey, call up the architect and the contractor. We’re making some moves.” Now, of course, we do have more control in our own homes, whether you own or rent. But I’d love to hear what are the sorts of interventions that are within all of our power that give us just a huge bang for the buck, like, “Boy, if you just tidy this up, you’re going to see a world of difference”?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Well, so one of the reasons that Kevin Kampschroer, he’s now Director of High Performance Federal Green Buildings for the GSA, and Chief White House Sustainability Officer for the GSA, so he has the power to implement these things across the federal government. But one of the reasons that he needed the data is to make a strong argument to the people that need to spend the money that this is important, that keeping your workforce healthy and happy is really important, and it’s important enough to spend the money on.

Now, if you’re in an organization where they’re not aware of the impact on health and wellbeing of office spaces, you can certainly advocate for it. You can advocate for it by bringing in the data. And there’s now tremendous amount of data, not just our data, but other collaborators working in the field. And I would say that pre-COVID, it was an uphill battle.

And what happened is that people who got used to working at home don’t want to go back to work in an unpleasant workspace. You go back to work in a cubicle farm, even if the ventilation is absolutely wonderful, nobody’s going to want to work there. So, there is a big problem now of organizations trying to get people to come back to work in the workspace, in the office.

And one of the points that I make in the book is that we have a lot to learn from the entertainment industry, from the hospitality industry. When Disney imagineers created the Disney theme parks, they didn’t force people to go to the theme parks. They figured out a way to attract people to go to the theme parks. Same thing with your spas. I live here in Tucson about ten minutes from about five global major spas, and you walk into any of those places, and right away, you feel wonderful and you feel relaxed.

Well, why can’t you do that in a workplace? It’s not rocket science. And it’s become actually really imperative and urgent that office owners, developers, organizations recognize that if they want their workers there, their workforce to come back to work, they need to create spaces that are attractive, and that actually are wellbeing workspaces, not just healthy workspaces. And you do that by embedding each of the seven domains of integrated health into your workspace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, let’s assume folks have gone ahead and they’ve assembled some data, they’ve made the pitch, they’ve got a favorable reception, and that’s cool. But, still, it’s going to take a while for them to get their act together to do the renovations. What are some things you recommend that we can start with right away?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Well, you don’t have to renovate necessarily. So, one of the big points that we discovered, and it was pretty obvious, but we really have proof of it, is one size doesn’t fit all. So, if you think about the high-rise office towers in the mid-century and up until 2000 and beyond, they tried to be one size fits all and one size fits none, basically.

There’s temperature, people are comfortable at different temperatures, different humidities, and one thing that you can certainly do is use local devices to optimize your own personal workspace. And one of the things we found is humidity really makes a difference. We published a paper, “Dry is not good, and wet is not good. It’s not the temperature, it’s the humidity that counts.”

And we found that when the humidity is less than 30% relative humidity or greater than 60% relative humidity, the stress response is significantly higher, again, 25% higher if it’s less than 30% relative humidity. Well, you can put a humidifier on your desk, improve the humidity there. If you’re in a wet climate, you can put a dehumidifier there.

It costs a lot of money for an entire building to humidify and dehumidify, a lot of energy. So, local solutions are really the way to go. Temperature comfort. There are now heated chairs that you can have an office chair that has heating in the seat if you’re too cold. Of course, your grandmother could say, “Put a sweater on.” There’s lighting. If you don’t have the luxury to be next to a window and have early morning bright sunlight, what we call circadian light from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon is very important for healthy sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, I’ve got Andrew Huberman playing in my head now. He is a staunch advocate for this and I’m a huge fan, so continue.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
So, early morning sunlight from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon is essential for healthy sleep. It’s a little counterintuitive, what you do in the morning, what you do during the day, affects your sleep. But what we found and other collaborators, Marianna Figueiro, whose work with the GSA in parallel with us, has done a lot of studies on light and sleep and sleep quality.

If you have that early morning sunlight, you fall asleep faster, you have a better quality of sleep, and you have better moods the next morning. But other things affect sleep during the day. Movement, if you’re moving more, you have better sleep during the night. If you’re less stressed, well, that’s pretty obvious, you have better sleep at night. But it’s not only whether you’re stressed because you’re unhappy with your job, or you’re under pressure, or whatever, you can’t control a lot of those things but you can control the elements of the environment that can help reduce your stress.

So, what if you don’t have access to a beautiful view or nature? Nature is also really important in reducing stress. You can take a walk outside. You can look at pictures of nature. Take, what I call, mini meditation breaks, like micro meditation breaks. And it’s not that you’re daydreaming, it’s that you’re giving your brain a chance to go offline from all the emails that are whizzing by and so on.

So, there are a lot of things that you can do. Also, what you eat. We talked about nutrition as one of the seven domains of integrated health. What you eat or what you don’t eat can make a difference. So, a healthy Mediterranean diet is not only good for your health, in general, but also keeps you alert during the day. If you eat a lot of fatty sugary foods at lunch, you’re going to be drowsy in the afternoon. I talk in the book about stimulants like tea, coffee, chocolate, all of that is great but there are individual variations and responses to those things, too, and you have to be aware of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a lot of good stuff. Tell me, with the early morning sunlight, you said 8:00 a.m. to noon is the window. So, like if you happen to wake up earlier, we don’t want to…

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Oh, no, you can wake up earlier. If you want to wake up earlier, you can wake up earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. But in that zone, it’ll be helpful versus if it’s in sort of midday, it doesn’t have much of a circadian impact.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Actually, it’s really important to not get too stimulated later in the day. So, blue light, which is full spectrum sunlight can be as alerting as a cup of coffee so you don’t want to have a lot of blue light in the evening when you’re supposed to be going to sleep, and you want to have more redder light. So, one of the ways that you can deal with that is…well, there’s a couple of things.

If you don’t have access to full spectrum sunlight in the morning, you can look at lightboxes, full spectrum lightboxes, and these have been used for depression for decades. You don’t want to use those in the evening because that’ll wake you up and disrupt your sleep. So, you want to have more of a redder light. You want your computer, or whatever screen you’re looking at, to be able to have that circadian light going from bluer to redder as the day progresses.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in terms of general lighting inside a room, are we better off with the full spectrum stuff except for the evening as opposed to like a fluorescent or unnatural type situation?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Oh, absolutely. You really don’t want a fluorescent light. Fluorescent lights also have this sound that I remember when I was studying rats at the National Institutes of Health.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmmm.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Yeah, thank you. We were studying rat behavior and we couldn’t figure out why these rats were looking so stressed, and then we realized the fluorescent lights were on. And they were very sensitive to the sound and the light, but people are, too, and they’re not even aware of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, what I love about this, and I’ve had some conversations with my wife even when it comes to home shopping sorts of things. It’s tricky because I just know in certain spaces, I feel amazing, and I dig it. And other spaces I feel kind of gross and I don’t. But I could not very well articulate for you, Esther, “Ah, yes, it’s because of the sound emanating from those fluorescent lights, and it’s like my lighting profile is not mirroring the sun effectively.” And I think that really matches up with what you see in your research. It’s like, “They don’t know they’re stressed but they are.”

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
And unless you’re an architect, and even if you’re an architect, you don’t necessarily know what each of these different elements, how they affect your physical health and emotional wellbeing and physiological health. I wanted to tell a bit of a story about the circadian light. So, in the book, I tell the story of there was an engineer. He was actually playing with photography. His name was Ott, and this was mid-century, and he was trying to do timelapse photography with plants, and trying to get the plants to grow.

And he was an early experimenter with LED lighting, and he found that the seeds didn’t grow unless they were exposed to the equivalent of full spectrum sunlight at the right time of day. And he did these timelapse photography, and Walt Disney became aware of him, and asked him to grow a pumpkin from a seed, and he did that. And the Disney imagineers used that to do the animation for Cinderella’s pumpkin coach.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. And all made possible with full spectrum lighting.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Right. Well, full spectrum lighting that changed as the sun does. That’s the critical thing, to mimic the sun. Marianna Figueiro, who, again, as I said, was another collaborator with the GSA, worked with submariners. You know, submariners are in submarines for months at a time, and so they used the appropriate lightboxes, blue in the morning, red at night, to mimic the circadian light of the sun to help them sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
And can I purchase lightbulbs that will do that for me with all the smarts?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Yes. Absolutely, you can. You absolutely can. Go online, there’s plenty of the smart lightbulbs that will do all of that. And we can do it now because of LED lighting.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a magical keyword or phrase? Because, my gosh, there are so many lightbulbs at Home Depot and they’re smart for different reasons because they talk to my phone and Alexa. But what are the magic words I’m looking for, for circadian alignment?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Look for circadian light.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the word, right? Okay. That’s cool. Well, we mentioned fluorescent light sound. What else should we know about sound?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Ah, we just published a paper, actually, mining the data from these many studies that we’ve done, Karthik Srinivasan is the first author, and we found really interestingly that there is what we call an upside-down U-shaped curve, sort of think of a rainbow, where we all know that sound that’s too loud is not only stressful but also harmful to your ears.

But it turns out that there is this optimal at about 40 decibels, which is interestingly the level of bird song, but lower than 40 decibels, you actually are more stressed. And we’re not sure why this is, but as the sound gets higher, starting at about less than 30 decibels, and then peaks at around 40, your physiological wellbeing improves.

And then as it gets louder and louder, your stress increases. So, there is that optimal. And we think the reason might be because the brain is a difference detector. When it’s really, really quiet, you can hear a pin drop, and that will disturb your focus as much as if you’re in a loud space, say, a coffee shop and somebody drops a dish and it breaks on the floor.

So, sound is really important, and noise is actually the single biggest complaint that people have in open-office design. But, again, it’s not rocket science to design a space to mitigate and minimize noise. You’re sitting in a recording studio. Recording studios know exactly how to minimize noise and direct sound. That’s really important.

What disturbs people is not so much noise, in general, because white noise masks disturbing noises. If you’re in a space and you can distinguish the words of somebody else speaking, that is what disturbs people. So, there are many ways, to rubber flooring, carpets, sound-absorbing tiles. There are many ways to mitigate noise.

And architects will know that every material that you use in interior design has a noise absorption or noise reflection level. And you can intentionally make a space louder or make a space quieter. Concert venues are designed to optimize sound.

Restaurants will often want to sound louder to make them seem more lively. Libraries want to be quieter. So, you can certainly design an office space to minimize noise and maximize comfort. I actually visited, and I described this in the book, Green Mountain Power in Colchester, Vermont, which supplies the power to the entire state of Vermont, and they have a call center which, you can imagine during a snowstorm, when the power is out, there’s a lot of people calling into the call center.

Well, I stood in this call center, which was open-office design, and it was quiet even though the agents were taking calls because they had rubber flooring, they had baffles on the ceiling that directed sound, they had cubbies that, on purpose, absorb sound, and there were a lot of features that kept this space quiet. So, it’s entirely possible to design a space to minimize sound, and have the advantages of an open-office setting with lots of airflow and light and views to the outside.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And I’m curious, when thinking about our own personal soundscapes, or music, or white noise, brown noise, pink noise, anything that we know there associated with focus or creativity, etc.?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Absolutely. So, noise, background noise, can either mask distracting sounds, so that’s what white noise does. I have an air purifier, or air conditioners do this, too, and that gives you white noise. Nature sounds are sort of pink noise, brown noise, and they not only can mask distracting sounds but they’re actually calming.

Like I said, bird song is at about 40 decibels, and we associate nature sounds with calming. So, last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, there was a thunderstorm, and in Tucson we don’t get very much rain so it’s really very calming to hear rain on the roof, and it just sent me right back to sleep, hearing that nature sound. Well, if you don’t happen to be able to call up a thunderstorm in your area, you can go online and download any of these nature sounds.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you also speak a bit about nutrition? What are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to eating for cognitive performance?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Yeah, that was one of the hardest chapters to write, I have to say. I started off with stimulants, with coffee, tea, and chocolate, all of which are great stimulants to keep you alert because of the caffeine. Theanine is also in tea, especially green tea and matcha tea, and that has both a stimulant and a calming effect. So, if you notice when you take your first, well, I’ve noticed this when I take my first sips of green tea in the morning, everything comes more into focus. It’s as if you’re suddenly more aware and alert.
And tea has more theanine than coffee, so it has more of that calming effect at the same time as the alerting effect. You never say, “I’m going to have a calming cup of coffee,” right? You say, “I’m going to have an alerting cup of coffee.” But one of the things to remember with any of those stimulants is there’s a lot of different individual variability, and some people are much more sensitive than others to caffeine or chocolate coffee, so you need to be aware that too much is not good also because it can give you the jitters, you can start shaking, you can be anxious. It can certainly keep you up at night.

So, then when you think about, “What about nutrition?” again, if you have a heavy fatty sugary lunch, you’re going to be less alert, your cognitive performance is going to be poor, you’re going to feel more fatigued, you’re going to want to sleep in the afternoon, than if you have a lighter lunch, what we call a Mediterranean diet, high in vegetables, protein like a little bit of fish or a little bit of meat, or if you’re a vegetarian, beans or whatever protein can be added to the vegetables will keep you more alert in the afternoon.

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
We haven’t really talked about spirituality, and that was another chapter that was a bit hard to figure out. How do you bring spirituality into the workplace? And I don’t mean let’s all do a prayer circle. That’s not spirituality. Spirituality has many elements to it, and one of them is flow. It’s moments of meditation, so being able to go offline for even a few seconds, sort of micro moments of meditation.

There’s also, in spirituality, a sense of purpose, being part of the greater good. There’s a sense of respect for everyone around you. And the flow piece is very important for work. How do you get into that space of being in the zone, of being in flow? And all of these things, moments of meditation, being able to get up and walk around a little bit if you feel logy. If you feel anxious, do something that’s calming. All of those things can help you get into that state of flow, which is really a sense of effortless enjoyment.

If you feel effortless but, in fact, when brain studies have shown that the stress response is actually turned on when you’re in a state of flow, but your awareness of your bodily functions is turned down so it feels effortless. So, how do we bring that into a workspace? Well, if you don’t have a place to go to where you can go offline, where you can take little meditation breaks, where you can be in nature, or see a view of nature, if there’s no place to gather with colleagues so you can feel a sense of community, you don’t have that, and these spaces can be designed to allow you to enter that kind of zone.

I described how, at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, they’re designing a walkway from the parking lot to the hospital because during COVID, the healthcare workers were devastated, they were burnt out. Dr Brian Chong, who’s leading this redesign, told me that he would see the healthcare workers sitting on the curve, in the parking lot, crying. They were just devastated. And they asked for a way to enter the workspace in a state of grace, so transition zones from your daily life, or from your workspace, to your daily life can be really important to help center you and bring that sense of calm as you move from one space to another.

I describe the Japanese tea ceremony, and the tea rooms that were designed in the 1500s, 1400s, that, on purpose, had this element of being able to move from one space to another slowly so that you could leave your cares behind and come into a quiet space where you could focus. And those kinds of elements can be brought into a workspace, or even into your home space.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And, especially, I’m thinking about working from home environments in which you go instantly, like seconds between, “I’m working, working, working, and family. Here we are.” It’s zero transition can certainly be jarring.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Right. Right.

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Well, the 23rd Psalm, I think, embodies all of these elements of the healing aspects of place.
So, I would say the 23rd Psalm is really my inspiration, and it comes to me because it was my father’s favorite psalm, and he would read this often at the end of dinner or lunch. And we discovered after my father died that he had been in a concentration camp in Russia during the war, and we had no idea. We didn’t know what he’d gone through.

But I suspect that this psalm sustained him when he could not be in nature, or go out into nature, or have nature views, and yet he could do that in his mind. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.” And I think those elements immediately take you to a place of nature, of calm, and it can sustain even in the valley of the shadow of death.

And I think that that is an important element of how a place, whether it’s in your memory or in your mind, can impact your whole wellbeing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is beautiful. And you know what’s funny, I recently saw, and we can link this in the show notes, “The Basque Sheepherder and the Shepherd Psalm.” This was a popular reprint in Reader’s Digest that an actual shepherd is like, “Well, yeah, this is just kind of how we kind of operate. Like, every shepherd knows that sheep don’t like to drink gurgling water so they got to go to the still waters.” So, it’s like very literally, like, “Yeah, this is how you do shepherding right, btw,” which I thought was eye-opening.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Oh, that’s interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
I’m right now into Wodehouse who wrote humor in the mid-century and early actually 20th century just because it’s lighthearted and his use of the English language is really, really remarkable.

I love Jane Austen. I love Pride and Prejudice. I think that the structure of these novels, of her novels, really broke ground for how a novel should be written.

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Well, I have my desk. My desk faces a window, and I make sure that I have a view out to nature. I do like to sit outside and work when it’s not 110 degrees outside in Tucson. I like to take a break in the middle of the day to either swim or walk. So, it’s not necessarily a tool. It’s what I do in the space and how I orient the space.

I am very careful to not have too much exposure in the evening to blue light, and I actually have a pair of glasses that block blue light.

So, I think I do a combination of all of these things: access to the outdoors, access to nature, beautiful views. To me, that’s very important.

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
By engaging in those seven domains of integrative health, and by designing the spaces where you live and work and play and learn to incorporate everything that can enhance those seven domains of integrative health, you can help improve your resilience.

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Well, they can go to my website, www.EstherSternberg.com. There’s a lot of information on there and, of course, they can buy my book, Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in any Workspace.

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

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
I think the challenge is if you find yourself in a workspace that is not a wellbeing workspace, you can certainly advocate for it. And, especially now, the C-suites, the developers, the owners, are listening because they are very concerned. Building occupancy is still only 20-30% in the high-rise office buildings. There’s a prediction of a downtown apocalypse when leases are up, and footprints shrink, they’re going to be fewer downtown.

And the owners, developers, and C-suite are desperate to find ways to get people to come back, and this is a way to get people to come back: create wellbeing workspaces that attract people to want to go there, to be with their colleagues, and to work together.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Esther, thank you for this. I wish you much wellbeing in all your workspaces.

Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Thank you so much. It’s a great pleasure talking to you.

903: How to Save Time Using ChatGPT at Work with Donna McGeorge

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Donna McGeorge provides practical examples of how to use ChatGPT to get work done faster and easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get started with ChatGPT
  2. What ChatGPT does better and worse than a human
  3. Tricks and prompts to get the most out of ChatGPT

About Donna

Donna McGeorge is a passionate productivity coach with modern time management strategies designed to enhance the time we spend in our workplace.

With more than 20 years of experience working with managers and leaders throughout Australia and Asia-Pacific, Donna delivers practical skills, training, workshops, and facilitation to corporations—such as Nissan Motor Company, Jetstar, Medibank Private, and Ford Motor Company—so they learn to manage their people well and produce great performance and results.

As a captivating, upbeat, and engaging resource on time management and productivity, Donna has been featured on The Today Show, on radio interviews across Australia, and has written for publications including The Age, Boss Magazine, Smart Company, B&T Magazine, and HRM.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Donna McGeorge Interview Transcript

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

Donna McGeorge
Thanks for having me, Pete. Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to be chatting with you about ChatGPT. It’s overdue, frankly, that we have an episode dedicated to this. And, Donna, you just happen to be an expert, and we already love you, so I’m stoked to be chatting again.

Donna McGeorge
Oh, look, it’s not as overdue as you think. I’m quite surprised at how I thought ChatGPT would be taken up by millions, well, it has, but it’d be over the place by now, but it’s been a little slower than I thought.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I just saw some research from Pew, and this was maybe in July, so it’s probably a little higher by now, that in the US, about 60-ish percent of people had heard of ChatGPT, and of those who had heard of it, who have college degrees, which is most of our listeners in the US, about 32% of folks had used it. Does that sound about right from what you’ve seen in your research as well?

Donna McGeorge
Yeah. And so, my research is mostly standing in a conference and asking people to raise their hand. And so, when I’ve got a room full of people, and I say, “How many of you have heard of it?” It’s the same, it’s around 60-70% of hands up. And then, “Keep your hand up if you’ve actually used it or you are using it?” and the hands dropped considerably.

And then I’d say, “Now, who’s loving it and using it pretty much for their everyday world?” and then the hands dropped again in terms of using it consistently. But, again, that’s pretty anecdotal just from watching crowds.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, it’s just good to get a fresher test on that because it’s sort of, in my world, it comes up a lot. And so, it’s just good for context.

Donna McGeorge
I don’t know if I’m just a bubble but, like, everyone I know is using it but it’s like I go out into the world and I find all these people that some have never even heard of it, it’s like, “Wow, you’ve been living under a rock,” because that’s how it feels to me anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it’s funny, when it comes to many tools, I remember it had been years until I learned that I could enable shortcut keys in Gmail, and I was like, “How come nobody told me about this all these years? How many hours have been burned without me knowing I can enable shortcut keys in Gmail?” But then I did and I never went back, and, actually, I went with Superhuman to kick it up another notch. So, yes, tools can take a while to permeate.

And that’s what I want to talk about because there’s a lot of hype, and maybe why don’t we start with it since, hey, not everybody’s familiar. Let’s take maybe three minutes. What is ChatGPT? How do we get it and use it? And why bother?

Donna McGeorge
All right. So, I’m not going to go down the massive technical path that people are hugely interested in, the technical backend of it all. I’ll let them go Google that. But in terms of what you need to know to use it every day, it’s a large language model it’s been trained on. What that means is it has access to all published written communication up until about September 2021, so that’s all books, all articles, all websites, all research papers, pretty much everything.

So, the way I like to think of it is it’s like a librarian that has read every book ever written, read any paper, looked at every website, remembers anything, and can quote from it, ad nauseam, really. You ask it a question; it can pull from all of that knowledge to give you a reasonable answer. And so, look, it has its pitfalls. If you know a little bit about it, you probably read some of the negative stuff because it’s pulling data from all over the place, sometimes it puts stuff together that’s not true. The technical term of it is hallucination.

And, certainly, sometimes when I’ve asked it to give me references for various bits of stuff that I’m looking for, it makes up whole references, puts whole names of scientists together, and says they’ve written a paper, and they just never did.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, indeed. Well said. Thank you. All right. So, we’ve got an artificial intelligence, a large language model, it’s called, and it’s read the whole internet, or a fraction of it, and a bunch of books and stuff, and, thusly, you can interact with it. And so, if someone is like, “Whoa, that is cool. How do I do it? How do I get there? How do I play with it?”

Donna McGeorge
Okay, the easiest way is to go and register a free account with OpenAI, and you can get started straight away. What I’ll do is I’ll send you, and you can put it in the show notes. I’ve got a list of prompts across a range of different aspects of both our professional and personal lives, but it’s straight out of the book that I’ve written. But it can give people something to play with rather than just sitting there, looking at it, going, “I don’t even know how to start.”

Because it’s so big and it’s got so many potential uses that I hear someone, even today, say, “Hey, I used it for X, Y, Z,” and I’m like, “Well, I would never have even thought of that.” So, it’s not exactly something you can just go and sit in front of and start playing with. You got to have a reason. So, you go register for a free account. It’ll talk to you probably about the paid version. I would say 80% of my use it with the free version.

I’ve got the paid version but I mostly use the free version. And go play around with it with something that’s relatively harmless, like, I don’t know, meal planning and holiday planning just to see what it’s capable of.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. So, OpenAI.com, and you click Try ChatGPT, and so you can start taking a look. And you’re right, you just have a box, you can type anything into it, and then it will go for it. You can say, “Hey, tell me a poem about sand timers,” and it will tell me any number of things. I have a buddy who likes to say, “Hey, rewrite this email I just wrote but make it more polite,” and then it does the thing he forgets to say, like, “Hello, hope you had a great weekend.” He’s like, “Oh, yeah, I probably should’ve said that. Okay, yeah, thanks, ChatGPT.”

So, that’s really where I think you can be super useful here, is to help us understand, like, what is overly hyped and just sort of silly? Like, are the robots taking over mankind, they’re going to enslave us? Is this the answer to everything? We’re all going to get fired. Like, what’s too much hype? And what is really possible for us right here, right now that’s useful that can save us time and increase our results at work?

Donna McGeorge
Okay. So, the overhyped stuff is, now, look, it could be because I come in from a more Star Trek optimistic future of the world where humans are awesome and everyone is getting along nicely, and we’ve got the occasional attack from Klingons. Like, that’s kind of it. So, I have a more utopian view of the future so I don’t believe robots are going to take over the world. I think it could be a thousand years from now, an evolutionary marker where humans just get, again, a whole level of smarter than the technology that we’re creating, it could be.

I certainly don’t think we’re going to see a wholesale loss of jobs no more or less than any other technological breakthrough that has created some loss of jobs but created some new ones. So, I’m old enough to remember when the internet first came out, and all the kind of palaver we’re hearing now about it’s going to take jobs, it’s going to destroy the world, all of that started to happen when the internet became a thing that we carried around in our pockets, it was on our desktops, it was readily available.

So, it’s the same kind of technophobia that’s been around since, frankly, the printing press was a thing. And so, what we’ll see is new jobs or new ways of doing work. So, my advice around this is let’s not worry, “Is it going to take my job?” I can’t remember who said this but it’s been floating around for a while, “Don’t worry about it taking your job. Worry about someone who adopts AI and use the tools of this. They’ll probably take your job.” So, if you don’t keep up with it, then you’re at more risk of that than losing it straight out to AI.

Having said that, gosh, there’s some mundane administrative things that we do on a day-to-day basis that AI could be really helpful for, like any kind of repetitive processing or data entry that has a human looking at some kind of written file, and then typing it into some kind of system. I mean, there’s already systems that do that. So, I suspect that’s the kind of work that would go away.

Pete Mockaitis
And for right now, today, something that professionals can use ChatGPT to assist them with, I’d love to get your perspective. I know that some folks, if English or whatever language, is not their first language, and is maybe a little bit rough, they’ll say what they’re roughly trying to say in the language that they mostly know, and then ChatGPT just give it an automatic polish that has a little bit more smarts to it than, say, a spell check or grammar checks, so that’s sure handy. Tell us, what else are you seeing is super useful that folks are doing right now?

Donna McGeorge
Right. So, look, so I don’t even know where to start but I actually think this is a massive literacy gamechanger. So, you talked about English as a second language. I’m going to go back to the kids that struggled at school because written comms wasn’t that easy for them or they were dyslexic so they left early and have now considered themselves not terribly well educated, can’t spell, don’t know grammar terribly well, and that holds them back.

And so, this is an absolute literacy gamechanger so we don’t ever have to worry about that again. In fact, there are already stories about people who are saying, “Here’s what I wanted to write,” misspelled, no grammar, really poorly strung together sentences, whack it into ChatGPT, and it comes with a “Dear Madam,” like perfect kind of phrased email.

So, what I know, as someone who writes a lot about productivity, is one of the biggest bugbears of many people is email. And so, first of all, it’s volume, so volume of email, then other ChatGPT can’t help with that just yet. But, certainly, sometimes the time we spend responding to something that’s a bit tricky, so, as you said before, your friend that had to, “Here’s what I want to say. Now, make it sound slightly empathetic and friendly,” well, people are using it, heaps are writing emails.

In fact, I predict, once Microsoft get their act together with this, there’ll probably be a button in your Outlook email in the future, maybe Google as well, that you click on, that says, “Compose a response,’ and it will automatically generate a response for you. So, that’s going to save us a pile of time. But right now, you can already do that.

I even did it myself recently, a delicate no letter. Someone wanted to work with me, not really my thing, they were pretty insistent, so I said, “Hey, help me write a really delicate letter that’s assertive in my no, I don’t want to roll over, but maintains the relationship.” So, I’m going to say any written comms. So, as a business owner, I struggle with writing about myself, bios, website copy, email newsletters, social media copy, that’s the sort of stuff I struggle with, so I use it for that.

In corporate, so I’m hearing people using it for similar things, putting proposals together, writing about products, and getting ChatGPT to edit and get feedback on product descriptions. So, if you say, “Here’s a product description. It’s for this market. Can you please make it sound more attractive or irresistible to this market?” and it will then put the words in it. Because of our humility frames, we’re not terribly good at talking up stuff, whereas, ChatGPT is shameless. It’ll talk to your stuff up no end.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Oh, Donna, I think you’ve just really nailed something there. Our humility frames that we have as humans, ChatGPT does not, is not a human, and it can be shameless. And I think that’s great, you said, “Hey, I have to say no but in a way that’s polite.” I think, whenever you have some written communication with some emotional resistance, like, “Aargh, this is kind of complicated and tricky. I sort of feel like I owe them but it doesn’t work for me,” it’s like you could just say, “Hey, write an email response to this letter, copy/paste, or email copy/paste, that is very polite and says no.”

Or, emotionally, I remember I had a landlord who, I think, just had some unrealistic expectations for what a tenant was supposed to do. I won’t go into details. But at one point, I thought, I’m sure this landlord is going to drop in and find fault with all sorts of things, and demand that we do all kinds of things, like, “How about you repaint some walls?” I’m like, “I’m pretty that’s not my job as a tenant.” But whatever.

So, I said, “Hey, write an email from a landlord that’s utterly disgusted with the condition of a unit in the nastiest language possible, taking the role in the nastiest thing, whatever.” And so, what’s funny was so I read it and it was sort of like an inoculation or a vaccine or a preventative measure, because it’s like, “Okay, this is not real. This is not a real human but this is just the AI writing it up.”

And sure enough, once I read this harsh language that was AI-generated, later on I did get a harsh email from the landlord that was like, “Oh, I was expecting this, I prepared for this, and this isn’t so bad.” And it genuinely helped my emotional coping with that situation because I don’t like being judged and told I’m doing a terrible job at something in any context. That’s me.

Donna McGeorge
Right. So, it took the sting out of that because you had somehow prepared for it. And chances are, the actual email you got was nowhere near as harsh as the one that ChatGPT generated.

Pete Mockaitis
No, it was about half as harsh.

Donna McGeorge
Right. And lots of people are doing around things like feedback. And so, if I’m writing something, and I say, “Give me feedback on my style,” I don’t get offended by…I call it Charlie, by the way. I don’t get offended by Charlie because it’s just a robot, and it gives me really good structural, editorial, to-the-point, very distinct feedback.

Now, I don’t know why I would take it better from Charlie than I would from a human, but two things I reckon. One is the emotional aspect of working with a human. And, secondly, the human probably wouldn’t be that harsh with me. They’d probably couch it with a little bit of cottonwool around it or something like that. And so, that’s one side of it.

The other side of it is Charlie doesn’t get offended. When you tell it, it writes you something, and you say, “Actually, that’s a big pile of rubbish. I need it done this way, this way, this way.” And it apologizes, “Sorry about that. I’ll have another go.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m sorry, Donna.”

Donna McGeorge
Yes. Not quite in the dulcet tones of how, which is probably showing my knack for anything but, yes, no it doesn’t quite speak spit to me yet.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so another’s thing. I guess now it can speak to you in the iPhone app and/or with some plugins. I haven’t played with that yet but I think that just might be handy like on the car. Like, you’re thinking about something, you could have a little bit of a conversation, I assume you could use the Siri activation button, I don’t know yet. Be safe, everybody, in your vehicles. Don’t look at your screen.

But I assume you can have some voice activation, get back-and-forth conversations, which can be handy so I can then read that later, and maybe actually get some good thought work done while driving, which is often hard to do because you’re not looking at a screen or a notebook to write it, so that’s really cool.

Donna McGeorge
Well, the thing that I find when I’m driving is accessing. Usually, if I’m driving, particularly long distances, which is just about everywhere in Australia that you’re driving long distances between one place and another. And so, I go into that really awesome alpha brainwave state, which is often when my creativity kicks in, so you’re absolutely right.

So, whether it’s, “Hey, Siri, make a note of this,” or, “Hey, Charlie,” or ChatGPT, “look, let’s have a conversation about this,” I think it’s a useful tool to think about. But you have done something else in here around, again, the aspect of literacy or creativity where some people say, “All right, I’m terrible at written communication but I can talk about my ideas.”

And so, maybe you’re struggling to explain in written form so you talk it through, record it into ChatGPT, ask it then to construct whatever output you’re looking for, like an awesome proposal letter or something like that, or lots of people are using it to help them get their resumes in good shape, their cover letters in good shape. But just be very careful that you edit it because it’s starting to get pretty obvious when people…there’s things you can do to not make it obvious.

If you’re not very well-versed with it, a straight copy and paste out of ChatGPT is a little obvious, it can be a little obvious.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I found, because we’ve been experimenting with it in all kinds of contexts, in terms of writing episode titles and teasers and descriptions, it doesn’t do as good a job as we humans do, in our humble opinions of ourselves, but it can spark a few ideas, like, “Oh, that is a good turn of a phrase. Yeah, I’ll grab that. Okay. Oh, okay. I like that sentence there. Okay, we’ll take that.”

So, it can be a nice little starting point, and sometimes your copy doesn’t have to be smashingly captivating, it’s like, “Yeah, good enough. Good enough for this email response, copy, paste, done.” Other times, it can be a launching point. But one of my favorite little tricks is I’ll just ask for sheer quantity. I’ll say, “Give me 20 potential titles for this summary,” and then it’s like, “Ooh, I like this word from number two, and that word from number seven, and, thank you for your inspiration. Your work is done here,” even though I took none of the titles that it actually gave me.

Donna McGeorge
And that’s the shift that a lot of people are struggling to make because many think of it as something like Google, where you go in and you put a command in, and say, “Hey, give me a recipe for a banana bread,” or something like that. Whereas, you can go into ChatGPT, and say, “Give me 10 recipes for gluten-free sweetish snacks, and generate a shopping list that goes with that,” and it’ll give you the whole thing. So, the volume aspect is really powerful.

I did the same thing. I played around with blog titles. So, one of the tricks that I do is if I know my target audience, which is often women in leadership positions who want to level up, so I say, “This is my target audience. Give me a list of their hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations. And then give me three suggested blog titles for each one. And then give me an absolutely irresistible captivating headline that will draw people’s attention.”

And, boom, before I know, I’ve got a quarter’s worth of social media, not copy because I’ll still go in and create much of it. I’ll get it to help me but at least I’ve got a plan in place and all my topics sorted out. And that sort of thing, this is where it really, for me, this is where I became interested in it. I became interested in the time savings that we can garner from it.

So, whether it’s spending time and energy agonizing over an email response, or the time energy to generate a social media plan for your target audience, or whatever it might be, research out of MIT says you’re saving at least 37%. I reckon it’s more for me. I reckon it’s taking me maybe about 30% of the time to do some of this stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. So, lay it on us, what are some of the hugest timesavers, and if you’ve got them, special prompts, that you’ve generated that had helped you realize these time savings using ChatGPT?

Donna McGeorge
Probably the first one is teaching. So, I’m a writer, so that may be a bit different to some of you, so I’m regularly writing articles and things. So, I’ve taught it how to write in my style. So, one of the very first prompts I did was I told it its personality, “You are an expert, a writing style analyzer. Analyze the following passages and play it back to me in a way that I can then,” this is a bit convoluted, “…that I can then feed it back to you so future writing will be in this style,” and so it made sense of that.

I then copied and pasted a couple of chapters from one of my books, and it spits out, and says, “You have a very engaging conversational style using anecdotes and rhetorical questions.” I go, “Awesome!” Now, in the free version, I then I copied it and say, “I need an article, 700 words, for this publication on this topic using this style. Get a start for me.”

Now, to make a start on any kind, like a blank page, whether it’s an email, or a proposal, or anything, that’s often the hardest bit to overcome. So, you never have to wait again. So, I go in there, it gets me a start, and then I’d say, “Rubbish first drafts are around 50% useful.” That’s one thing, teaching it to write like me.

Just FYI, the paid version now has an option in it where you can permanently put information like that, “Anytime I ask you to write an article, use this information.” And so, you can now train it with your stuff. There’s also plugins where I’ve been able to put PDF versions of my books, and I say, “Write this article using the following content from the following PDFs.” So, I don’t know if we’re about plagiarism now because it’s using my stuff.

So, there are a couple of timesavers for me, straight away, that means that I can generate good quality content, still human edited, in a matter of an hour. Whereas, it could’ve taken me half a day, to a full day, sometimes to write something of reasonable quality. So, that’s the first thing, any writing task. I would say anytime you’re stuck, as someone who’s done a bit of research into what happens in our head when we start to get overwhelmed, we end up in cycles that uses a lot of energy, and two hours of agonizing and we’re still having got more than a sentence on a page. So, whatever you’re agonizing over, ask it, and it will give you at least some response.

I think the volume thing is a good one because we can cut straight to the chase, “Give me 10,” you don’t have to ask for one, “Give me 10, 20, 30” however many you need. Things of a personal nature, “I’ve got my 55-year-old sister-in law, likes 1980s country and western music. Can you suggest 10 gift ideas for her that aren’t records, as in CDs or music or whatever, under 50 bucks?” because I’m a cheapskate. So, boom, all my Christmas shopping now will be a list generated there.

Meal planning. Holiday planning, “I’m about to jump in the car with a couple of pre-teens, what’s some great podcasts we could listen to?” So, it’s an entertainment curator. They’re all the things I’m using it for that just mean I can put my time and attention on the things that only a human can do in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I like these sorts of themes we’re collecting here. So, emotional writing, we’ve got some hangups, we’re humble, we’re awkward. Just starting the writing. It’s a blank page. It’s intimidating. “Give me a volume of ideas. Give me 20 options.” A curator of things. And with that, I like it how you could say, “Hey, I’m looking for the music,” for example, like, ‘80s music, or, “I want music kind of like artist A, B, C and D. Now give me some more,” which I think is pretty cool.

And, likewise, even with podcast guests, it’s like, “Hey, ‘How to be Awesome at Your Job’ is about this. We’ve had some guests such name, name, name. Who might be some others?” And it’s funny, it’s sort of like, “We had them, and them, and them, and them.” It’s like, “Well, we’ve already had them but thanks for trying, ChatGPT. You’re in the right zone.”

Donna McGeorge
That’s why sometimes I think of it as an eager intern. It’s eager to give you more of the stuff that you want but doesn’t always give you the right thing. But, hey, just quickly on the playlist thing, there’s a Spotify plugin now, so you can now give it access to your Spotify account. So, when you say, “I like artists like this. Give me playlist for this. Oh, by the way, then whack it into Spotify for me.” So, that’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Also, with curation, it’s cool. Sometimes I’ll say, “Hey, I’m looking to do this. Give me a great book that will help me do just that.”

Donna McGeorge
Or, even better, “Give me 10. Give me 10 great books.”

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly, yes. Like, “What’s a good book to help me reprogram my brain to enjoy effort, struggle, and mistakes?” ChatGPT recommends Mindset. And I say, “Can you give me 10 more?” And it says, “Oh, yeah. All right, here we go.” So, we got Grit, Antifragile, Ode to Happiness, etc. So, I just think that’s pretty darn handy.

And it works differently because sometimes it’s different than keywords because it’s, like, sometimes I don’t yet know the keywords, and sometimes I’ll specifically say, “Hey, what’s a word that means like Washington counts for like the seat of US governmental power that’s a figure of speech?” It’s like, “Oh, you’re talking about metonymy.” It’s like, “Oh, yes, thank you, if I’m even saying that right.” It’s like I didn’t know the keyword but it can generate that for me, so I dig that.

Well, maybe let’s flip it on its head now, Donna. We’ve been speaking breathlessly about how great this tool is. What are some of the limitations? What are some requests that it’s probably just going to fail us on, disappoint us on, and we would take its advice at our own peril?

Donna McGeorge
Well, first of all, it does make stuff up because it’s pulling information from all over the world, so it sometimes puts stuff together that’s not quite right. So, if you’re writing, for me, if I’m writing a book, and, by the way, to write my recent book, I did get Charlie to help me do that. So, if I’m writing a book, I still go back to Google to check my references and stuff like that because that’s important.

Look, I had to say it but it’s often about the quality of the prompts that we do that means that you get a bit of rubbish from ChatGPT. So, when people say, “Oh, I tried it once and I got a terrible response,” I’m like, “Well, did you go back and have a conversation with it? Did you tell it, it was terrible? Did you give it some more parameters?”

So, I got a bit frustrated this week because I was trying to get it to write me a story in the first person about some famous people, and it kept giving me almost obituary-style responses. And I asked it three or four times, and it still wasn’t getting it right, so I kind of pause, went off, had a bit of a break, came back, and re-crafted my prompt, and put the words in, “And I don’t want an obituary,” and I started to get the right thing.

So, occasionally, it kind of is smarter than its own good. It thinks that that’s what, in that case, it’s trying to outthink or be that eager intern that says what it thinks you’re looking for and add a bit of extra value, when I just didn’t need it to do that. So, for me, it comes back to the prompts. Certainly, if you’re looking for current data, just my point, asking it what the weather is like in San Francisco today because it will say, “No, I can’t help you with that because that’s not what I’m for.” I have had once, I violated their terms, the way in which they operated, there’s this little message that comes up.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, what did you do, Donna?

Donna McGeorge
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
You naughty.

Donna McGeorge
I was researching for a fictional book, and I was using a real-life person as the model for what I was doing. And so, I asked a pretty tricky question about this real-life person, and I think it was implying that I was either going to stalk him, or murder him, or something like that, I don’t know, so I had to go in, there’s a little, “Please explain” thing that I had to fill in.

So, on the one hand, that was a little bit frustrating, but, on the other, I was kind of encouraged by that. So, I would say that’s the efforts by the OpenAI folks to try and alleviate some of the fear that people have around it being used for evil.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And any other shortcomings you’ve seen? I guess I’ve asked it to write compelling headlines, it sort of fallen a little bit short but it just gave me a ton of options and I can mix and match and edit, and that’s cool. And I think I’ve also found that someone said it very well that AI can tell you, because that’s how it works, it generates the next most likely word to come, so it tends to give you the most obvious answers, as opposed to wildly creative answers, which I think I found that to be the case. But sometimes, the obvious thing is actually really handy, like, “Thank you. I should’ve thought of that.”

Donna McGeorge
Right. Yeah, if you need any obvious thing, it’s awesome, because sometimes I do that. I say, “Here’s a pattern that I’ve created. Here are two points in a pattern, because we know the world loves the rule of three. So, what could be the third? Give me 10 options for the third thing.” And the first one is the obvious one, and I go, “Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?” So, that’s useful.

But I’ve told it, if I’m really wanting something different, I’ll ask it to be a critic of whatever I’m talking about. So, one time, I was writing about burnout, and I said, “Be as if you’re a critic of burnout, and write me three paragraphs on why you think burnout, or what criticisms you have of burnout.” Anyway, so it spat out this piece that said, “Burnout is just a thing made up by people who are lazy, and dah, dah, dah.” And I’m like, “That was fun.”

Like, I would never use it in the article, but it was just fun to kind of get kind of like what you did with your “Write me the nastiest possible email from a landlord,” thing. It gave me a bit of, “Whoa, that’s interesting.” But I do ask it several times, “Give me nonconventional, give me something out of the box.” It’s not quite capable of doing that. It’s not able to do really, I don’t think, yet the really abstract stuff that the connections that a human mind can make as well. So, often when I say, “Give me this stuff that’s nonconventional,” I still get pretty conventional stuff from it.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. And there was a Wall Street Journal article, which we’ll link to, and I’ve mentioned in a recent podcast episode, about how AI was generating more and more new creative product ideas than some MBA students, and I had to read the full text of the paper, as I do, and I wasn’t that impressed. I guess it can generate a lot of ideas fast, no doubt. That’s very impressive that it can do that. But the quality of the ideas were like, “A portable printer,” I was like, “Well, yeah, that’s nice but you didn’t invent that. That exists, there are many options for that.” So, it can’t do that.

But what I do like is sometimes I’ll ask for it to engage me in metaphor, like, “Hey, let’s say that running a podcast is like captaining a ship in the ocean. What would be some of the elements of the metaphor?” And then that can help just spark my own ideas, and I find it handy in that regard. Or, I’ll say, “Give me advice on this issue as Yoda would, or as Tony Robbins would, or as Marshall Goldsmith would.” And so, that’s just sort of fun to say, “Oh, yeah, I guess Tony Robbins probably would say something kind of like that. David Allen probably would say something like that.”

So, sometimes I think that helps me a little bit in terms of it’s not groundbreakingly novel but it gets my own brain a shove in a direction to help me get to novel with a little bit of help.

Donna McGeorge
Yes. So, I’ve got it because a couple of my favorite writers, because I love the way they think, Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Levitt, so I’ll say, “This is the topic. What are some quotes, if they were writing the article, what might they say about it because I’m looking for a slightly different angle?” But you’re right, it’s usually something to give me a bit of a poke or a bit of a shove in a direction when I’m stuck.

And so, I think this kind of comes back to this idea of, “In what aspects of your world do you just get stuck and you end up wasting your time spinning your wheels because you can’t find an answer?” On the more emotional level, I had a woman recently say to me that she’d been using it to help craft responses to her ex who she was divorcing.

Because she couldn’t afford a lawyer, and a lawyer had said, “If you give us the basic information we need, we’ll then spend a small amount of time crafting the legal documents that are needed. But all the research-y stuff and all the kind of the backend stuff, if you can do the bulk of that, it’ll save you a truckload of money.”

And so, she was using, she told ChatGPT, “Act as if you are my divorce lawyer, ask me a series of questions to be able to fill in all the paperwork,” and she was able to get all the documentation that they needed collated, and saved herself a whole pile of money as part of her divorce, which I thought was quite…

Just quick disclaimer now. Please do not use ChatGPT for legal documents. You’d still need a lawyer to submit all that stuff, but, yeah, it was a real gamechanger for her.

Pete Mockaitis
I also recommended ChatGPT to a friend going through a divorce in terms of like, “I’ve got all these questions I’m supposed to answer,” I was like, “Well, for a first draft, let me show this.” He’s like, “Wow, that’s pretty impressive.” So, that is cool. You say when you’re stuck, I’ve also found it helpful when you’re stuck, when you’re researching and your search engines aren’t getting it done.

And it’s because, well, hey, the sad state of affairs of the internet in terms of searching is that many of the top search results are there very intentionally by companies with a budget who have hired search engine optimization professionals to accomplish that very goal, and they have succeeded. And so, you might not actually be getting the most useful information. It’s just like the most “relevant and authoritative in the eyes of Google” information, and that’s, in many ways, gamed intentionally. And not everywhere, and often it works just the way it should, and so we’re delighted with the result.

But sometimes I found, when I can’t find a product, ChatGPT can find it. Like, “I need to find a car seat that’s super narrow so I can get three across,” and it’s like I’m having a hard time finding that in Google and in Amazon, and then this thing is recommending, ChatGPT is recommending stuff that was not popping up in those searches, like, “Well, that’s very helpful.”

Donna McGeorge
Look, I’m going to catch this with at this point in time, there doesn’t seem to be that kind of product bias. Like, if you pay someone a chunk of money, your products end up being at the top of the list no matter what search criteria is put in there. I would agree. But I’d also say the risk is that we treat it like a search engine because it’s not a search engine. It’s someone you’re having a conversation with.

It’s more like you’ve got someone sitting next to you that you turn around, and go, “Hey, I’m really struggling finding this product, and, clearly, my search string in Google is not working. Can you help me maybe redefine what might be the parameters I need to get Google to work better for me that also bypasses all the paid ads so I can actually get to the product that I need?” and get it to help you craft your Google search right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it is. I think about it, I read somewhere, it is an intelligence but it’s an alien intelligence, and I thought that was well said. And I like to think of it as my alien intern who has read the whole internet or a good chunk of it, and so it’s like, “You’ve read a lot of stuff, alien intern. What do you think about this?” Alien because it’s got to be different than human, so watch out. And intern because, “Hey, I’m in charge. I am never going to blindly copy/paste what you say. I’m going to, at the very least, read it, and most likely edit, pick and choose, edit heavily.”

Donna McGeorge
Right. What you’ve actually got is an alien intern that has a hangover.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Donna McGeorge
And so, they’re keen and eager to do the work for you. It’s going to be a bit nonhuman and alien in its form, but you better check it because sometimes it’s just a bit dim on certain days if it’s had a big night the night before.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. An alien intern with a hangover. We can get some AI to generate art to that effect for us as well. That’s a whole another episode, I guess.

Donna McGeorge
That’s a whole another episode.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Donna, any final thoughts before we shift gears? Well, first of all, your book is called The ChatGPT Revolution. Got to make sure that title gets in there, right? It sounds like it talks about any sorts of things. Anything, specifically, you want to mention about the book proper?

Donna McGeorge
Only that you can grab it from any reputable online bookselling place, on my website. But, look, I’d say when my publisher approached me to write it, we were like, “Well, what’s the angle we want on it?” So, it’s very much “Get me started, I’m interested.” It’s probably already, in fact, I know this passage in it, it’s already a little bit out of date because the technology is moving very quickly, but it’ll get you started and get you going, and get you interested.

And in terms of, I think you started to say what would be a last message, I think, around this or any kind of last comment I’d say, I would say get interested, get curious, and a saying we have in Australia is just have a crack, have a go at it, go in and try it out, and play with it. Be playful at first, which is why the list of prompts that’ll be in the show notes, are not terribly earth shattering but they’re something to get you going with.

And you can’t break it. It’s not like you can get in there, and go, “Oops, I broke ChatGPT.” The worst that can happen is you just get a somewhat rubbish response, in which case you tell it, “Gee, that was a bit rubbish. Try again from this angle.” So, have a go, have a crack is what I would say.

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

Donna McGeorge
From David Allen, you mentioned him earlier, “The human mind is for having ideas, not storing them.”

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

Donna McGeorge
So, Taylor’s study, it’s called the pig iron studies from the late 19th century. I love him. He discovered that you can actually achieve way more if you take plenty of breaks throughout your day.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Donna McGeorge
Apart from my own, I can’t stop thinking about Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
And what do you love about the book?

Donna McGeorge
Look, it just got me thinking differently about the finite nature of time. And he has a really interesting angle around settling. So, we’re told nearly all our lives, “Don’t settle. You could always go for more.” And his position is, “Well, why wouldn’t you settle and make good with what you’ve got rather than constantly seeking this better job, better relationships, better something?” And I’ve not stopped thinking about that, actually. That’s really got me going.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Donna McGeorge
I’m afraid I’m going to talk about my own, which comes from one of my books, called The First 2 Hours, which is a way in which I think about how I do my work and how I do my to-do list. There are some things that are better to do in the morning and some that are better to do in the afternoons. So, I’m happy to share a PDF of that tool as well in the show notes if you like.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, thank you. And a favorite habit?

Donna McGeorge
Early to bed, early to rise. That’s me. I like to get plenty of sleep.

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

Donna McGeorge
Yeah, pay attention to the clock in your body, not the one on the wall.

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

Donna McGeorge
Just my website, DonnaMcGeorge.com. And I’m a shameless self-promoter, you’ll find me on my social media platforms, and my name is a bit unusual, Donna McGeorge.

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

Donna McGeorge
Absolutely. It’s a version of something that Sean Patrick Flanery said, which is, “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Donna, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun with ChatGPT and all you’re up to.

Donna McGeorge
Thanks, Pete. Great to be on the show. Thanks for having me.