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638: How to Build Unhackable Focus with Kary Oberbrunner

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Kary Oberbrunner says: "The victor, the one that is unhackable, says, 'I happen to the world.'"

Kary Oberbrunner shares expert strategies for bringing your attention back to what matters most.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The wrong and right ways of dealing with task overload 
  2. The three components of deliberate magnetic focus 
  3. The two triggers of flow state

About Kary

Kary Oberbrunner is CEO of Igniting Souls. Through his writing, speaking, and coaching, he helps individuals and organizations clarify who they are, why they’re here, and where they should invest their time and energy.  

Kary struggled to find his own distinct voice and passion. As a young man, he suffered from severe stuttering, depression, and self-injury. Today a transformed man, Kary equips people to experience Unhackability in work and life and share their message with the world. He believes the most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. His vision is to ignite 100 million souls by 2030. 

Kary lives in Ohio with his wife, Kelly, and three children: Keegan, Isabel, and Addison. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Kary Oberbrunner Interview Transcript

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

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I‘m excited to dig into so much of what you’ve got to say. First of all, though, I want to hear about your connection to the Shawshank Redemption movie.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes, that is a fun tip. So, I was in a day job for a long time and it felt like a prison, and I remember watching Shawshank one evening, thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I relate to that.” So, quick story, basically, I was writing on the side and I finally did get out of that day job, and I said, “You know what, lots of people are asking me, “How?” so I’m going to write a book called Day Job to Dream Job. And the Shawshank prison is the day job. Zihuatanejo, where eventually, Andy goes at the end of the movie is the dream job, and I’m going to write the book.

And so, I started Googling where the heck was Shawshank prison. And I’m not from Ohio originally but it was The Ohio State Reformatory, and I said, “Man, I’m driving 90 minutes up to nowhere.” I found it and, basically, told the workers what I was doing and that I wanted to write a book in Andy’s prison cell on Day Job to Dream Job, and they’re like, “Sweet! Here’s the wi-fi password.”

And so, I ended up writing a good amount of the book in Shawshank prison. And then, a year later when we launched it, they heard about the story, the celebrities came back, and, sure enough, the warden, Bob Gunton, we launched Day Job to Dream Job at Shawshank prison together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Well, so…

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, I want to work out of a prison cell,” and they’re like, “Yeah, you got it.” So, there’s no fees or protocols. It’s just like, “Yeah, sure thing,” but…

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Well, it’s no longer like a functioning prison. It’s more of a museum now but, evidently, they trusted me. And now I actually train their board of directors once a year on leadership, so it’s a crazy full circle.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. Well, I’m excited to talk about one of your latest works, Unhackable. Great title. What would you say is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made about us, humans, and how we pay attention these days when putting together the book?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I wrote a fiction book called the Elixir Project in 2016 about a future society where people’s brains get hacked, and that was my first stab at fiction. And when the book came out, people said, “Man, this is not just a fiction book. Like, this is happening.”

And so, they kind of said, “Turn this into a nonfiction book for people in the workforce, in business.” And so, basically, I did a ton of research and found out that a hack is basically when someone or something gains unauthorized access to a system or a computer. And think back to biology class, and sure enough, we were made up of pulmonary, circulatory, respiratory system so our bodies are like systems and our brains are like supercomputers. So, in a real way, humans are getting hacked anytime we get distracted from our ultimate destiny, our dream. And the distractions are crazy big these days, and I’m sure we’ll get into it. It’s a pretty fun topic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, unauthorized access, that’s sticking with me here.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that almost implies a hacker or a…Actually, I love the podcast the Darknet Diaries, it’s all about hackers.

Kary Oberbrunner
Sweet.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what do they call it, a threat actor, I think is the term they use a lot, whether that’s a nation or a company or an individual, kid in the basement. A threat actor is kind of getting unauthorized access into our heads, but sometimes it’s us.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s a universe of threat actors that are kind of the big culprits of hacking our systems?

Kary Oberbrunner
It can be a lot of things. Unsexy hacks are just laziness or Netflix or these types of things, but, in a real way, the human species is now wired to crave distractions. We know from all the psychology that distractions produce a break from stress, and we know that smartphones create dopamine and addictions. So, I’m all for technology; I love technology.

However, human knowledge, once doubled every thousand years, so think about that. It took, essentially, from the years zero to 1500 to double human knowledge. And then the next time was 250 years, and it kept going and going. And, now, we live in a world today where every 12 hours human knowledge is doubling, and so we can no longer keep up.

Our ancestors made a handful of decisions a day back not too long ago. Today, we make 35,000 decisions. And so, we literally wake up with this limited attention, and throughout the day we dip into that and we create what’s called decision fatigue so that, at the end of the day, we’re saying things like, “I’m burnt out. I’m running on fumes. I’m on empty.” And, in a real way, we can no longer keep up with the amount of stress and distractions that are in front of us today.

Pete Mockaitis
When we talk about human knowledge doubling, is that kind of like the printing press or like unique content published? Is that what you mean by knowledge?

Kary Oberbrunner
Everyone has become a publisher. Everyone has become a content creator. We used to have gatekeepers where you would try to get a record out, you would try to get your thoughts out and be printed in the paper. We now have YouTube. We all are our own TV station, press release system, newspaper. We’re literally producing mountains and mountains of information not to mention computing, AI, I mean, you name it. It’s just an exponential curve.

And our brains haven’t upgraded. So, technology has upgraded but our brains have not. And not only that, Pete, but we now have new terms. Digiphrenia. So, schizophrenia was multiple personalities, this type of thing. Well, digiphrenia is a legit term that basically means that we exist in multiple places at once in the digital space.

So, most people have a Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, and so now, not only am I existing right now, Pete, but online I have a persona that’s existing that may be getting tweets and maybe getting comments. Not only that but you have the stress of trying to be consistent on all platforms at once. And so, there’s a tearing of the mind that happens. It’s literally a stress.

And not only that, the average person touch, clicks, taps, swipes their smartphone 2600 times a day according to dscout. We now have five hours a day but this is on screens, but it’s in 30-second bursts, so, not to mention COVID and kids now doing online school. Again, technology is not the enemy, but I’m saying technology used to be a tool that we used. Now, we’re the tool that technology is using.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s heavy stuff.

Kary Oberbrunner
It is heavy. It’s kind of like The Matrix, only real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned psychological research. Could you share some striking stories or studies or evidence, bits, that kind of lay out – well, you dropped the numbers already, which is intriguing – in terms of like the state of play right now? And then what’s really possible if we take on some practices to become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. So, right now, we have so many things going at us that a lot of us have adapted the lie of multitasking. And people get confused about multitasking, they say, “Surely, I can mow the lawn and listen to an audiobook. See, that’s multitasking.” Multitasking, we’re actually talking about doing two cognitive things at the same time. And so, therefore, it’d be like me trying to do a podcast with you right now and checking email and check my Instagram. When we do that, it’s not multitasking; it’s switch-tasking, our IQ drops 40 points, so it’s literally like being stoned.

And so, most of us, throughout the day, let’s be honest, we walk through the day stoned. And we do what’s called attention residue where part of my brain is still on the Instagram, part of my brain is on the email, part of my brain is with you. And not only is that productivity destruction but it’s relationship destruction. There’s a new term now called fobbing, not snobbing, where you’re trying to talk to me and I’m blowing you off or whatever, you’re blowing me off.

Now, when we’re talking with people, we’re looking at our smartphones. And this presence of relationship is now a thing of the past, and you can tell. I’ve got to do business on Zoom. You can tell when someone is watching or you can tell when someone is checking something else and something else, and it’s literally redefining the way we do relationships.

Kary Oberbrunner
But there is good news. There is good news.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us then, sort of, ultimately, how do we become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
How do we become unhackable? I love it. So, here’s the thing, in the book, I break down unhackability into three things. I’ll give you the three easy-to-remember words and then we’ll bump it out a little bit. But it’s literally idea, focus, and flow. That’s what unhackability is: idea, focus, and flow. Notice it’s knowing, being, and doing.

So, to stress that a little bit more, it’s flawless idea anatomy, so we talk about, “How do you create flawless ideas?” and there’s four components. Then we go into deliberate magnetic focus, and there’s three focus filters. We’ll get into that. And then optimal human performance – flow. And so, certainly people will have read books or heard books on just flow, like Steven Kotler is kind of the grandfather of flow; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist. There’s been books on flow, there’s been books on focus, and then there’s been books on ideas, but, truly, an unhackable person is one who leverages all three.

And I’ll tell you why this is so important, because, as kids, we grow up saying a weird word; we said, “Abracadabra” anytime we wanted something magical to happen. We didn’t know what the word meant but we said it. The word actually means “I create as I speak.” I create as I speak. People who have faith, very interesting, it even gets crazier. It’s made up of three Hebrew words. Abba, which is father, and so it’s Father-Son-Spirit, Abracadabra. Really crazy interesting stuff.

In the faith tradition, it says that “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” In other words, Abracadabra. I believe that we’ve been created to dream and do, ideate and implement, and that is our divine destiny. And when we’re doing that, we’re actually living out our calling. But, unfortunately, most of us dream, then we get hacked. We ideate, and then we get hacked; we don’t implement.

So, to your point, let’s talk about focus filters. Yeah, focus filters is one component of how to become unhackable. I, basically, break down focus filters into three of them: urgency, agency, and energy. So, most people, your great listeners, they probably have a dream, they probably have a desire, but, unfortunately, we always get hacked until we apply those focus filters: urgency, agency, and energy.

So, just to give you an example, it’s a beach example. If I go out to the beach, I got a bald head, I can burn in about three hours, or I can burn in about three minutes. What’s the difference? A magnifying glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, sunscreen.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah, that’s right. A magnifying glass. So, same sun, same skin, but a magnifying glass, or what I call a focus filter, it amplifies the energy. So, it takes all that energy from the sun and puts it into a laser beam where you burn a whole into your skin. Or, in the metaphor we’re using, you burn a whole into your dream. You take that dream that you have where you keep getting hacked, and you, essentially, narrow your focus.
Urgency is that focus filter. So, what I mean by that is we need a deadline. Every dream needs a deadline. And think back to school days, Pete, remember when the professor assigned something on day one? When did most people actually do the assignment?

Pete Mockaitis
The night before.

Kary Oberbrunner
The night, Pete, you nailed it. A deadline amplified the energy. In other words, it said, “We’re going to get so focused. We’re going to get laser-focused.” Why? Because there’s a cost. If you don’t complete the assignment you get a bad grade. Well, what I’ve realized is that urgency is one of these amazing things, just like physical healthcare, what makes it super important? You put the word urgent in front of it. Urgent care. Now, all of a sudden, you get rushed, you get seen fast. Why? Because there’s a cost. Most of us do not have a cost attached to our dream, or a deadline. Those two components – deadlines and costs – make urgency work for us and become unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued then, I think of deadlines, they are often associated with other people in terms of it’s like closing a house or whatever. It’s sort of like the lawyers, the realtor, the somebody said, “This is when this has to be in.” And so, when you think about our own dreams, how do we effectively harness a deadline so that there does seem like there’s a real cost? Like, if I do some work on a project tomorrow, I could do it the next day or the day after. How do I get urgency to be real and the cost to be real?

Kary Oberbrunner
Just to give you some client examples, I had one client who kept blowing off his weight dream, like, “I want to get down to a certain weight. I want to get down to a certain weight,” and he just struggled and struggled and struggled. Finally, he said, “Okay, I’m going to put a real cost behind this.” And I won’t tell you which political party he hates but he hates a certain political party so much that he said, “I will write out a check right now for $1,000 to the political party that I hate. I will put it in an envelope, I will put a stamp on it, and it will sit on my desk, and if I do not lose…” and this guy was a pretty big dude, “…if I did not lose 50 pounds by this day, that check is in the mail.”

I’ll tell you what, first time in his life he ever did it. He lost the weight because it, suddenly, was a real cost, which not just was a $1,000 but a “$1,000 to a political system that I do not like,” it was big enough. And I don’t know what people’s cost is but it needs to hurt. In other words, Pete, it needs to hurt so much that doing the dream is easier than paying the cost.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. There’s an episode of Nathan For You, it’s a comedy show, it’s kind of ridiculous that kind of explored this concept. You might enjoy that episode if you haven’t seen it.

Kary Oberbrunner
I might. I might, after you quote that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s intriguing. And I wonder if people are like, “Oh, I wouldn’t trust myself to actually do it.” I mean, you could sort of entrust that with a friend who happens to have the opposite political party affiliation.

Kary Oberbrunner
He did. He did. He told me.

Pete Mockaitis
And they’ll be eager to give it to that side. But then, also, they’re your friend so they’re not going to just sort of make a $1,000 of yours disappear without your consent.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Exactly. But that’s one example. But here’s another thing, Pete, it really becomes a mindset change. Unhackable people are victors, and hacked people are victims. And this is not my own but I love it, it’s a great illustration. Victims say, “The world happens to me.” Now, I’m not talking about victims of trauma or this type of thing, but I’m saying a victim mindset. So, a victim says, “The world happens to me.” And what happens is they often lie in bed – blame, excuses, and denial.

The victor, the one who’s unhackable, says, “I happen to the world.” These are people that put their quote “Oar in the water,” O-A-R, ownership, accountability, and responsibility. So, they literally take accountability for their lives. They literally are responsible. They take ownership. It’s not just a nice acronym. This is the difference between Capt. Sully on the flight. He didn’t ask the Canada geese to hit the propeller, but when Jeff, his copilot, was flying the plane, Sully said the magic words, “My plane.” And Jeff said, “Your plane.”

In other words, he took ownership, accountability, and responsibility. He took over that bird strike because he was unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that’s one way to make a deadline real. Let’s hit the agency and the energy. How do we crank that up?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. Agency, I’ll give you an example. When I get my oil changed at the dealer, I suddenly walk into their agency. Let me explain.

Chairs, magazines, Donahue is on the TV, or something crazy. In other words, I walk into their space and it’s their agency. Many people have that reality. In other words, no judgment, but when I fly on an airplane and look to the person next to me, they’re bored as heck, they’re flipping through the magazine, they’re busting out their phone.

Listen, if you got a dream, you’re not chilling like that. And I’m not saying you always got to be working, but I’m saying that, in the book we talk about what’s called your boon. Your boon is your deepest desire, your greatest ache, your truest longing. It comes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Luke Skywalker, Neo, Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games, Star Wars, you name it, Matrix. The hero’s journey is all about leaving the ordinary world, meeting a mentor, refusing the call, going into this special world, facing the giant, we think it’s external, it’s really ourselves or the ones who hack ourselves most of the time. But then, after we defeat the giant, we essentially get the boon. The boon is the holy grail. The boon is the elixir.

Let me say this, Pete. We don’t care if we get hacked until we know our boon. So, in other words, when I don’t know my boon, I’m like, “Hey, come on, Netflix, come on, XBOX, come on, all distractions in the world. What’s going on, on TV?” In other words, I actually purposely try to distract myself because it gives me this pseudo-purpose. But a someone who knows their boon, man, they are fighting for that. And that’s what really kicks us into unhackability, is knowing our boon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so how do you recommend we get some clarity and specificity on our boon, our deepest desire and calling and such?

Kary Oberbrunner
Well, I do have a free download, no email opt-in required. It’s at UnhackableBook.com, and if they click Resources, there’s 83 questions that gets you started, and these questions are fun. One question is, “What’s one thing you would regret not doing before you die?” It’s deep questions. It’s questions that you don’t just address every single day, but these are deep questions.

And what we begin to see is this melody line. It often doesn’t come just in one lightning bolt. It often comes with, I say, dream recovery, not dream discovery. In other words, your show is great and it probably talks about how we need to recover our dream. In other words, if you ask most kids, I’ve never met a young kid who said, when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you get older?” “Oh, I don’t know. I have no clue.”

I think we are born with this innate sense, maybe not exactly, but in the ballpark. Like, some people just say, “I know I was born to be on the stage.” Now, they might’ve thought the stage was one thing. Or, “I was born to always care for animals.” We lose sight of who we are along the way because we start listening to the voices of others. In other words, other people’s advice hacks us, “Pete, you won’t make money out of that,” or, “That’s not a well-paying job,” or, “That’s not a respectable job.” And, suddenly, we start listening, and that’s another way that we allow other people to gain unauthorized access to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, 83 questions, we can do some exploration, reflection, rediscovery there. And then how about energy?

Kary Oberbrunner
I think clarity…

Pete Mockaitis
What was that?

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah, yeah. I was just going to say clarity comes with action. I think that we don’t just sit in a room and wait for the clarity to come. A lot of times we have to work it out, we have to try, we have to experiment. But back to your phrase about energy. Energy is that last focus filter. And energy is super cool, super exciting.

Are you familiar with Twenty One Pilots? Have you ever heard of them? A band?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know.

Kary Oberbrunner
Okay. So, it’s a band, and there’s tons of bands out there so I don’t expect you to know, but the Twenty One Pilots are a band, and I’m just going to use…I like to tell stories to make a point. They come from my hometown Columbus, and they won a Grammy. But, well before they won a Grammy, nobody knew about them. And what’s interesting is you can actually go on YouTube and you can find one of their very first concerts, and it’s pitiful. There’s 12 people and it’s in a basement.

And the craziest thing in the world is that the lead singer is so enthusiastic. Oh, my gosh, like the guy is on fire, and you’re kind of like, “What the heck, man? There’s 12 people in the basement.” He had what’s called an enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the word entheos, God within. This is part of becoming unhackable.

What gets you on a bigger stage is enthusiasm. Most people say to the universe, they say, “Once I’m on a bigger stage…” “Once I have a big platform…” “Once I have a big show…” “Once I have a big business, then I’ll be enthusiastic.” No, no, no, you have enthusiasm, and that’s what gets you on the bigger stage. So, just like you, Pete, just like me, I mean, you’re successful, I’m successful. Why? Because we treated those first five listeners like rock stars. We didn’t say, “Hey, I’m going to overlook those first five listeners. And, some day, when I have a big tribe, a big showing…” No, no, no, this is what unhackable takes. It takes that energy where energy is E-motion. Energy in motion.

Like passion. I love the word passion. I’m into words. I’m a word nerd. But the word passion, very interesting. The ancients define passion not by how much love you had, but by how much you’re willing to suffer. So, that’s why I never understood, “Why was it called ‘The Passion of the Christ’? and there was talk about a cross? What the heck?” It’s because He was willing to suffer for it.

And so, I just want to challenge your listeners. Your boon is something you’re willing to suffer for. I mean, you look at any great person, they had to suffer for their dream and it had a cost. And so, energy is that focus filter where that’s what really helps us become unhackable when we focus urgency, energy, and agency.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the energy is comparable to passion and the willingness to suffer? Is that the key there? And then, I suppose, we get that by successfully tapping into the boon.

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. It comes with clarity. Like, Rosa Parks, she was unhackable, man. Like, you look at her, she says, “I’m not getting up off this seat. Like, I’m not going to,” and she suffered for it. There’s people all throughout history that suffered for their dream. And being unhackable, let’s face it, choosing not to binge on Netflix every day when it’s in front of you, that takes some suffering. Whatever your dream is, we can go through the list, but whether it’s physical, spiritual, mental, relational, this type of unhackability does require a suffering.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so in your book you talk about a 30-day elixir. And so, we’ve talked about a number of things that are important along the way. So, can you maybe share what are some particular real practices or interventions that help us get to, let’s say, the superhuman focus?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. So, here’s an example for Day 17. So, right now, there’s a lot of open loops inside your brain and mine. These could be open loops, like, right now, mine is, “Call the plumber because we got a leak upstairs.” It could be, “Mulch the yard.” It could be, “Mail the letter.” It could be, “Buy the birthday gift.” In other words, most of us have this subconscious program that’s running all the time in the background.

Now, we don’t think about it but just like your computer has multiple tabs on it, the more programs, the more browsers, the more tabs, the more time and energy sucked, the RAM goes down. Actually, the available RAM goes down because the RAM you’re using, it goes up. And what I’m saying is that any open loop, any indecision that you and I have, is grinding on our productivity.

So, one of the exercises I have people do, my clients, I say, “Grab a stack of Post-it notes and, literally, write down one per, one task, one open loop, per Post-it note.” And so, what people do is they begin to lay out all these Post-it notes on their desk everything that we just talked about, all the open loops, all the undecided things, because it’s literally leaking their lifeforce, it’s leaking their energy. They’re getting hacked by it.

These are the things we get up in the middle of the night and say, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot to get the dog immunized,” or whatever. Then what we do is we write on a piece of paper, “Do, delegate, and dump.” So, I encourage people to do this, like, literally in their house – do, delegate, and dump. You don’t put delay. Delay is what we always think about, “Ah, I’ll just delay it. I’ll just delay it.” Do means you’re going to do it, delegate means someone else is going to do it, and dump means no one is going to do it.

And what we do is we do this on purpose, this exercise, because what it does is it clears the mind. It literally frees up your RAM. In the book, we talk about the unhackable impact equation. And, sure enough, when you go through this exercise, you begin to free up your brain, and you allow it to have more usefulness for what you’re boon is rather than chewing up all these open loops. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it’s the act of categorizing these that unleashes it or do we actually have to get them all done?

Kary Oberbrunner
First of all, by seeing them written down automatically takes them from being internal to external. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed and I don’t even know why I feel overwhelmed. I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot to do.” And if you actually slow down and say, “Well, what are those things to do?” this is the exercise. We stop, we slow down, and we allow ourselves to unload this, first of all. It goes from internal to external. Now, I’m looking at it.

The moment something is external, now I can make a decision. The word decide is a Latin word caedere. It has the same suffix as suicide, pesticide, insecticide, genocide, homicide. Decide means to cut off and kill. And so, what does a gardener do to a tree that’s unhealthy with sap going into all of its branches? He cuts them off. He prunes them. In other words, that’s what we’re doing. We’re deciding that, “I’m going to do it.” Or, we’re deciding that someone else is going to do it, delegation. Or, we’re deciding that no one is going to do it, dumping. And you, literally, open up your subconscious mind to focus on your boon. It’s a very cleansing process.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is nice and I’ve done variants of it and it sure does feel great. Let’s hear a piece about flow.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you recommend or what are the sort of your top perspectives on how to get more flow flowing?

Kary Oberbrunner
Flow is amazing. Flow is the optimal state of human performance. It’s the place we all must be in to win a gold medal, but not only that. For those of us who aren’t athletes, it’s where productivity skyrockets up to 500%. It’s where we begin to see pattern recognition. It’s called lateral thinking. So, how do we get into flow? There are flow triggers.

One of the flow triggers, believe it or not, is a deadline. Another flow trigger is novelty. Interesting, novelty. So, what that means is that when we are stuck in a rut, we go through the same route every single day, with the same menu, and the same restaurant, and we sit in the same table. What happens is we begin to go on autopilot. And when we’re on autopilot, the brain is an energy hog and it wants to essentially map out everything through our day so it can conserve energy.

When you are on autopilot, you don’t experience flow. So, how do you interrupt the autopilot? By novelty, by doing things, by going places, by having experiences that you’ve never had before, because the brain has to engage, because there’s an element of surprise, there’s an element of unpredictability. And so, many times people feel in flow when they go travel somewhere.

And so, Pete, to get really philosophical here, we’re in a pandemic. There’s a lot of people that haven’t been able to travel. They’re not experiencing novelty. What’s the result? They’re getting hacked. And then what else is happening? Not to be a downer, but mental health. And in Japan, a few months ago, more people died of suicide than all of COVID the whole year in one month. Why? Because all of this relates.

In other words, unhackable people are people who have flawless idea anatomy, deliberate magnetic focus, optimal human performance. And one of the byproducts is that we get neurochemicals. And so, the neurochemicals are endorphins and norepinephrine and anandamide. All these neurochemicals that are supposed to be happening in our brain don’t happen when we’re not in flow, and that’s why depression is on the rise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, noted and, yet, there are some simple thing that we can do to fix that.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exercise, yeah, all kinds of good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t you give us the quick bulleted list here? Exercise. What else?

Kary Oberbrunner
So, exercise, sleep, okay? When we starve our brains of sleep, I mean, I get it, but we’re actually not allowing, just like back in the day, all day, I’m older than you, a long time ago, but defragging your computer. Literally, the brain repairs itself in sleep. Margin, where you’re not just blowing out your adrenal glands and cortisol. Eating the right way. Think about it. We call it carb crashes, sugar rushes, caffeine fixes. All of these are essentially altering the chemistry to create a certain type of feeling. Well, we can do that naturally. Community. Having good discussions where time seems to go by like that. Why? Because you’re in flow. And when you’re in flow, there is a time dilation that occurs where it either slows down or speeds up.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I mean, I think people’s eyes are open now. More and more my clients are saying, “Man, I got hacked last weekend.” And people who don’t know the vocab, they’re like, “What? What do you mean you got hacked?” They’re now aware of it. So, awareness is really the first step. Just, for all the listeners to realize, like, “When did you get hacked? When did you just blow through five hours and you don’t even remember what you did? But you scrolled, these types of things.” And we do have an unhackability assessment. Again, all my stuff to help is free in this area because I just have a passion. I believe that when we are living our calling, when we’re fully alive, that’s our greatest contribution.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
Carl Jung said, “What’s the most damaging thing in the life of a child? it’s the unlived life of the parent.” And that’s a negative, but I view that as a very inspirational quote because it makes me want to live the lived life not the unlived life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kary Oberbrunner
The current one that I’m digging is, believe it or not, The Psychology of Money. I just finished that. I like it. It reframes the way we think of money.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
Audiobooks, man. I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Kary Oberbrunner
My Peloton.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate and folks quote back to you frequently?

Kary Oberbrunner
“Show up filled up.” It basically means that you are doing the work internally before you ever step foot into the world every single day, and you attract people, you get clients. Why? Because they’re like, “Something is different about this person.” You show up filled up.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
I would say go to UnhackableBook.com.

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

Kary Oberbrunner
I’d say, look, even if you’re not in the right job, your ultimate calling, don’t waste the time. Back to our original thing with Shawshank and Andy, that dude didn’t just sit in prison. He was very resourceful, digging a hole on the side of the prison. So, I just want to encourage people, like, whether you’re in the right job or the wrong job, be all there because it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kary, thanks for sharing the good word. I wish you many, many fun unhackable adventures.

Kary Oberbrunner
Thanks for the amazing interview, Pete.

636: How to Advance Your Most Important Priorities with Eric Papp

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Eric Papp says: "Preparation begets confidence."

Eric Papp shares foundational perspectives on saving time and prioritizing effectively.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one question that cuts your tasks in half 
  2. The strategy that makes plans stick 
  3. The key to starting off your week right 

About Eric

Eric Papp has a successful history of delivering proven strategies to increase productivity and performance in a complex world. 

Before becoming the success he is today, Eric earned his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame. He founded Agape leadership, LLC, an intellectual capital firm focusing on leadership and sales for business performance, with the sole purpose of driving leaders and their teams to success.

As a successful author and public speaker since 2010, he has worked with thousands of managers to aid teams toward success.

Eric Papp has been evaluated as one of the top management trainers in North America for his expertise in leadership effectiveness. His books Leadership By Choice and 3 Values of Being An Effective Person — published by John Wiley and Sons — are both top sellers and recognized for their unique impact in the business world.

Eric now lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Brieann and their daughter Elliana. In his spare time, Eric frequents his local church, engages the community, and practices the kettlebell.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Eric Papp Interview Transcript

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

Eric Papp
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to dig into your wisdom and I know one thing you’re excited about is the Kettlebell. I like your shirt. Could you read it for the audience who’s listening?

Eric Papp
Oh, man. It says, “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more Kettlebell,” which, of course, is a play on the SNL skit with Will Ferrell where he’s talking about more cowbell.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s right. And what do you love about the Kettlebell and what should we know if we’re at home and not going into the gym, thinking about workouts?

Eric Papp
Oh, man. It combines all three: strength, endurance, and flexibility. And it is probably one of the most effective pieces of equipment, bar none. Kettlebell swings to build endurance and flexibility, Turkish get-ups to build overall strength, and it’s incredible in terms of you do a 10, 20 minutes and the return on it on time is phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, now you got my attention. The return in terms of energy, in terms of strength, they’re feeling amazing. What kind of return are we talking about?

Eric Papp
Yeah, all of the above in terms of returning. And they’ve done some studies, like when someone is doing a Kettlebell swing based upon your metabolic rate and all that stuff, it’s like equivalent to running like a six-minute mile.

And then one of the great things, obviously, in the situation that we’re in now is you can do it from the comforts of your own home. And that’s also, by the time it takes you to go in your car and go to the gym and come back, you can already be done with your training.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I like effective, I like returns, and we’re talking about just that productivity, and “Better Thinking vs. More Effort” is a title of one of your keynotes. That sounds right up our alley. So, tell us, what’s the big idea there?

Eric Papp
Yeah, better thinking versus more effort. You know, I think so often than not, as knowledge workers, and especially being here in America, there’s always a pressure to do more, get in there early, stay later, climb the ladder. And that is good in a sense, and even for companies too, “I’ll take on more projects. Let’s do more initiatives. Let’s get more joint ventures going.” And that can be good to some degree but then also, it breathes a lot of complexity, it breathes a lot of, “Okay, we got our hand in a lot of different things. What are we really focused on? Where are we really moving the needle?”

And better thinking is really thinking about taking a step back and identifying the two or three projects that we can really move the mile as opposed to trying to move a hundred things an inch. And that’s really where it comes down to, is to be able to subtract and to simplify and then get to a higher level of performance or productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And so, by doing better thinking, you’re able to exert less effort and get similar or superior results. Could you paint a picture of that for us, maybe the case of a particular person or client or study? Like, just how much is possible if we could go down this route?

Eric Papp
So, on a macro level, on a company personal level that everybody knows, Apple, Steve Jobs, right? Listeners out there, probably 70% or 80% of your listeners have some form of Apple product whether it’s an iPhone or MacBook Pro, whatever it is. Steve Jobs, in a sense, was forced out of his own company that he creates. He comes back right around 1996-1997. In that timeframe, Apple is just on the ropes. And, once again, they were trying to do too much. They had their hand in everything: scanners, printers, you name it.

And he comes back, and a family friend asked him, they said, “Steve, what desktop computer should we buy? You’ve got 17 of them that Apple offers.” And he says, “Shoot, I don’t even know.” So, he cut down all the desktop computers and only did one. He says, “Okay, we’re going to cut everything out, all the desktops, and we’re just going to produce one.”

He really did a great example of better thinking versus more effort, and it requires that ability to take a to step back to really do the hard thinking, and that’s a lot of times what we don’t want to do because we want the quick fix, and then we want to just kind of stay busy, and then that kind of consumes us, consumes our time. And then look what happened to Apple. If you had stock, if you bought Apple stock in the early 2000s or even late 1990s, it’s incredible. My father-in law had Apple stock, he still does, and it’s just mind boggling the return he’s made on that. And then a large part comes from Steve Jobs coming back, applying better thinking versus more effort.

Pete Mockaitis
And that does resonate in terms of whether it’s a business with their products or an individual with the to-do list, just what you can accomplish there.

Eric Papp
Oh, yeah, I was going to say, on a micro level, so a colleague of ours, James Clear, he wrote the book Atomic Habits.

Eric Papp
He started off 2011-2012 just writing a newsletter. Would write one on Monday, I think, would write it on Thursday. From the first year, he had, I want to say, around 100,000 subscribers, and then that’s all he did. And I think he had a day job at the same time and just kept building on that, building on that, then writes a book. And then his newsletter just went over one million subscribers, and it’s absolutely mind boggling, right? So, that’s a great testament to, okay, sticking with the one thing and really getting good at that and staying the course.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m into that. And tell us then, with this better thinking, are there some key questions in terms of identifying what is the stuff that makes the impact and what is the stuff that we should cut?

Eric Papp
First thing I look at is subtraction, right? One of the questions we ask ourselves is, “Hey, if I stop doing this, would anything happen? Would anybody notice?” because a lot of times we do things out of obligation or we do things because, “Oh, that’s what the person did before me,” or, “Oh, that’s what I’ve always done.” So, that’s the great question to ask ourselves, “If I stop doing this, or these activities, what’s the impact?”

And a lot of times there’s not an impact. And so, that’s a great way because we want to start to allow ourselves that room, that space. It’s kind of like I think it was Claude Bristol who said, “It’s the space between the notes that creates the music.” And I think we really need more of that, that ability to not fill our day up with everything and anything because we really need…things are going to come up as they naturally do, but also we need that time to just going for a walk, let that thinking time to take a step back.

And by not filling our calendar up with everything, it allows that room for us to really start to process and analyze, “Okay, these projects, are they really important? Are we really making progress or are we just kind of going through the motions?” So, the first part I would say is to subtract. The second part would be really good to look at is to simplify and to see, “Okay, of all the complexity, how can we make this simpler? How can we make this easier? How can we reduce the friction to get the result that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I love that. And that’s intriguing in terms of, “Would anybody notice if I stopped doing this?” I guess, how do you get to the answer to that? One, you could just try it, try to stop doing it and see if anyone reaches out to you. Other ways you’d recommend in terms of, I think if you’re in organizations and collaborating with folks, there can be some resistance in terms of, “Well, that’s just what we do. This is what we’ve always done,” or, “This is how this works. That is the process”? So, any thoughts on how when there’s other stakeholders and people in the mix, you interact with them to get things moving?

Eric Papp
I use a couple tools that I created. One the effectiveness process. Another tool called organizing, clarify your thinking to really get the goal, impact and focus down, because a lot of times in organizations, people just launch into projects and they don’t know what’s the desired outcome. They don’t know what success looks like. They don’t know what’s the time involved, “Who else can we collaborate with?” things that you think that are basic. And then the person gets tasked with something, and then they’re not fully doing it, and then the manager gets upset or the director gets upset. That’s where we get back to, like I was saying earlier, moving a hundred things an inch.

So, I think right from the start of it, it’s just for all of us to spend more time in the asking ourselves a question, “Okay, what’s my desired outcome? What does success look like? What’s the impact if I do this? What’s the impact if I don’t do this? And then, do I have the bandwidth right now to carry this out? What level of a priority is this for me? Is this a top three or is this just a good idea?” Because the key thing we always have to remember as human beings is we will always generate more ideas than there is the ability and our capacity to execute them.

And that is where I see kind of the downfall. Even as entrepreneurs, managers, it doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur or it doesn’t matter if you’re inside of a company, but we’ll always have good ideas. But always remember that our capacity to execute all of them, we don’t have that. And so, we really have to be diligent of selecting just a few and then really going deep with what we’ve selected.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, we’ve zeroed in on what to eliminate. And then I’d like to get some indicators then on, let’s just imagine, okay, we had a hundred ideas or there’s a hundred things vying for our attention. And, hey, great job, we successfully eliminated half of them, which is cool. And so, we are twice as clear as we were before. Nonetheless, how do you recommend that we zero in from, I guess, the semi-finalists to those top three?

Eric Papp
Yeah, great question. And it goes with what is our desired future. What’s the future that we’re living into? At any point in our lives, we’re always thinking, we’re either in three different mindsets. We’re in the past, we’re like, “Oh, man, 2019 was such a great year, and we were gathering and we did this, and our company I did this,” or we are in the present, “Okay, what am I doing right now? What’s important right now?” That acronym WIN, “What’s important now?” Or, we’re in the future, we’re thinking about. “Hey, where do I want to be?”

And sometimes we have to be very mindful of how we’re thinking because sometimes we’re dominated by the past, we’re, “Oh, my gosh, this is so bad. I can’t. I wish it was this time. I wish it was…” And so, asking ourselves, “Okay, what’s the desired future that I want?” and then just backtracking it. It’s, “Okay, what’s the desired future? And then now what are the projects that I think will get us there?” And a lot of times we overestimate what we can do in a day but yet we underestimate what we can do in a year.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s true. And, well, talking about those timeline horizons with the day and the year, you’ve got something you’ve created called the Weekly Strategy Sheet. Tell us, how do we think about that and use it to plan priorities?

Eric Papp
Yeah. So often than not, where this kind of came from, Pete, is when you ask people, you would say, like, “Hey, what did you do last week?” “Oh,” they’d look at you and it’s kind of like, “Oh,” they really couldn’t give a definitive answer, it’s like, “Oh, I got a lot of emails done. I was in a lot of meetings.” And so, this is really to give people a high-level overview, a high-level strategy of, “Okay, what’s most important this week?”

First of all, there’s three parts. There’s past, present, and future. And the idea is, okay, we celebrate our past, we connect with our present here, and then we commit to the future. And so, the idea is, over time, as we’re planning our week, is to see some synergy between the past, present, and future. And we identify, so in the past, celebrate the past, “Okay, great. What are the top three or five accomplishments I accomplished last week that were very meaningful to me in my business or in my role? Okay, great. I’m going to list them down,” because that’s going to give us confidence.

Our confidence comes from seeing the progress and what matters most to us, and whether that’s personal or professional. So, great, we can see that. When you write it down, it helps us keep moving forward. But a lot of times, in our culture, we don’t. We focus on where we are and where we want to go. And I call that, you got to be careful because that’s kind of frustrationville, right? That’s comparison, that’s, “Oh, man, well, I see this person on social media. Oh, I see this.” So, I get people to take a look back and to see all the progress that they’re making and have this on a weekly basis.

And the middle part then is we’re looking to really kind of connect with the present, “Okay, what are my top three weekly priorities this week? If everything goes to H-E Double Hockey Sticks, what’s the three most important things I want to get done, I want to accomplish?” and then the future. And I need to future-plan it, I use the OKR Method, Objective and Key Results, “What do you want accomplished and how you’re going to get it done?”

And, like I said, the whole idea of using the Weekly Strategy Sheet, it takes under 20 minutes to plan it out but it’s so important because a lot of times, as knowledge workers, we don’t plan our weeks. We just go from one week to the next, and we kind of kid ourselves that, “Oh, something will be different,” or, “Oh, this will turn around.” But if we don’t really get a handle on the planning aspect, then the execution kind of falls short.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, so we got the Weekly Strategy Sheet, and so then you can reference it at the end of the week. It’s written, it’s there, you see, “Hey, this is what I accomplished. That’s cool.” And you zero in on those top three priorities. How do you think about it in terms of, I guess, scheduling or calendaring or putting time against those things within the week?

Eric Papp
Well, you got to have a day where you actually spend time to plan. Having a planning day, I like to do mine on a Friday. Sometimes I do it on a Thursday late afternoon. But when you have that time to really devote to the planning, and you’re not trying to fill up your week either. You’re not trying to. You’re just saying, “Okay, what are the three most important things?” And, also, too, those three most important things, you might get those done in two days, and that might very well be, and that’s okay. But it’s really to give you a better sense of clarity and organization.

Pete Mockaitis
So, within that planning time, and so it sounds like this isn’t a 10-minute operation but it’s a bit more in-depth. What are you doing with that planning time?

Eric Papp
Yeah, you’re going from left to right: past, present, and future. So, I’ve got my Weekly Strategy Sheet, it’s sitting right here on my desktop, and this is the week of January 4th or the 8th, and, boom, okay, I celebrate the past, I write down my top five accomplishments, and I make some personal or two personals in there as well, and then I check in with the present, “What are my top three weekly priorities? And then, what’s for the future, my objective and key results?” And that can change as well.

But you’ll see when you ask people, “Hey, do you plan your week?” A lot of people don’t and then some people that do kind of quickly plan their week. The more that we spend time planning our week and really being diligent about that, and we’ll get better. A, you’ll get better at it, and, B, you’ll be able to get your priorities done and things done with a lot greater intention. And that’s kind of the cool thing and you’ll actually have more time. You’ll be accomplishing more and you’ll have more time when things come up that you’ll be more able to more flexible.

I think one of the things it gives people is it helps relieve some of this, the pressure of time that a lot of people are faced with nowadays.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you maybe do an hour with the Weekly Strategy Sheet planning process? Or, roughly how long are you doing there?

Eric Papp
Yeah, I’d say it’s about an hour. Sometimes I’ll go…what I’ll do is I’ll take two cracks at it. I’ll look at it Friday, and then I might look at it again on Monday and just make some adjustments just to make sure that, okay, I’m on track for this week. But it really gives me that structure and it really gives me that guidance. Because the other thing too is, as knowledge workers, our confidence, we have to protect that, right?

And so, if we know, as human beings, if I’m making progress, that I’m feeling good about myself, and so that’s so important. And knowing that I’m progressing towards where I want to go. And so, by doing this, it really helps us with that. So, yeah, it’s about an hour or some people have done it under an hour. I’m typically around that dependent upon how detail I get with it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re saying that that hour you spend there ends up saving significantly more than one hour during the course of executing the week.

Eric Papp
Tremendously, yeah. And I don’t remember who said it or where I read it, but it was something like, “For every minute you spend planning, it gives you 10 additional minutes,” or you save 10 additional minutes, or something like that, so, yeah, it’s kind of like that 10-to-1 ratio, yeah. And so, that’s why the planning is so important. And you get better at it too as you go on.

A lot of times we just start our day very reactive, right? When I say reactive, we just start our day, we watch the news, listen to the news, or we start our day reading emails, checking emails. And so, we’re not really proactive. We’re just responding to whatever is in our inbox, whatever is most pressing. And often what’s a priority gets masked with a hundred different other things.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks have a hard time letting go, because I think what could be perhaps a mistake, and you tell me about the biggest mistakes you see when folks are trying to manage their time, is you say, “Okay, these are the really critical priorities, and so we kind of go after those.” But we don’t really subtract, we don’t really let go of the other things, and then we’re just sort of get stressed because it’s like, “Well, no, I really identified and I’m totally clear that these things are critical but I’m still doing everything else.” So, if there’s an emotional hurdle or a hump or resistance, how do you recommend we get through that?

Eric Papp
You’re spot on, Pete. It’s absolutely right because I’ll see people are like, “Oh, I need more time,” or, “Oh, yeah.” Like, I’ll recommend or something, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t have time to read this now.” It’s like, “You’re not planning, you’re not prioritizing, that’s what it really comes down to because you’re trying to do everything, and you’re regarding everything has the same level of importance when it doesn’t. So, then you can’t multiply your output and you can’t leverage what you’re doing.”

So, one of the things I share with people is come at it with like a spirit of experimentation, experiment of like trial and error. A lot of times we want certainty as human beings, we want to know, “Hey, if I do this, is it going to give me this? Or, if I don’t do this, this will alleviate this problem.” And so, it’s like, “Hey, just test it out.”

And then, also, I share too the idea of when you give yourself less time, we tend to be more productive. A little story, a little sidenote on this, is when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he was President, he had an advisor, Harry Hopkins. And Harry, due to some health issues and such, could only work three to four hours a day. However, he was one of the most effective advisors for FDR. Winston Churchill went so far to call him like Lord Heart of the Matter. And the reason why is, hey, he only had three, four hours, so then, therefore, it really caused him to think deliberately about, “Okay, what am I going to do in the time that I do have?”

Because there’s that whole Parkinson’s Law, right? And work expands to fill the time necessary for its completion. So, if we give ourselves eight hours a day, we’re going to fill it with eight hours. If we give ourselves 10 hours, then we’re going to fill it with 10 hours, and so that’s a very interesting thing. And you’ll see this not only from a time standpoint but you’ll also see this from like a storage standpoint. Like, when somebody has a house, they went from like, let’s say, a thousand square foot house, or 2,000 square foot house. Well, over time, they’re going to fill that house up with stuff. Why? Because they’re just going to fill it up with stuff.

So, it takes a deliberate level of discipline and just mindfulness, too, of, “Okay, hey, we don’t want to be over cluttered. I don’t want to be overwhelmed. Just because I have the capacity doesn’t mean I need to buy more stuff.” So, that’s kind of the idea on that. But yet, somehow, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot by adding more and doing more.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And I know you’ve also zeroed in on some key habits of super achievers. Can you tell us what are they and how do we go about developing them?

Eric Papp
Yeah, I’d say some of the habits of super achievers, number one, is to get a real clear sense, and we’ve talked about this a little bit earlier, of what your future is. Knowing what it is that you want in your future, that’s a key thing. The second thing I would say is knowing what are some of your unique talents. Super achievers are very good at knowing what their unique talents are, and then spending time working on those talents.

And then, after a while, people take a step back and, “Wow, that’s a master at work. Wow, that person, they’re at the top of their field.” So, that’s a big thing. Knowing what you want and then knowing your talents, what you’re good at or what you like to do, and then really spending time learning more every day, and getting better. Just getting 1% better, reading more, talking to people. And then when you take a step back, then you see, then you’re kind of regarded as a super achiever. People are like, “Wow, that person, look at the gains they’ve made.”

And it’s not anything that they’re extraordinary. In some cases, talent is there already but other cases it’s the talent that has been cultivated over and over. It’s kind of like water dropping on a stone. It’s just that over and over and over, that repetitive nature, eventually it changes the stone and it forms the stone into something unique.

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

Eric Papp
No, I think we’re right on track. We’re doing great.

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

Eric Papp
Well, one of them I already mentioned, and it’s a quote that’s just been top of mind. Our capacity to generate ideas will always be greater than our ability to execute.

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

Eric Papp
A lot of what I’m saying is in alignment with Richard Koch, his idea on The 80/20 Principle. And what I’m talking about is kind of from Pareto and going back and looking at that. So, a lot of that is if somebody wants to explore more or go deeper into being able to identify priorities and such, that’d be good to look at.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great one and I think a lot of people have heard about the 80/20 rule, but he’s just like, “You’re not taking it nearly far enough.” Like, that’s the theme that hits it over and over again at each chapter. It’s like, “All right, man. You got it.” And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Eric Papp
I would say a notebook that I have. I’ve got the Priority Planner that I use. It’s something that I created. It’s in its third edition. And this keeps me focused because it’s the way I’ve created it. It’s three wins from yesterday so it causes me every day to write down what are my accomplishments from the exact day before. So, this helps keep my confidence high, and that’s one of the top things I need to protect as a knowledge worker.

And then it says three priorities for today. So, it’s asking me, “Okay, what are my three priorities?” And sometimes I just only identify one or two, and then in that way I feel great about accomplishing that. And the next part I have, “Stay curious, stay creative.” I ask questions throughout the day. I think that’s important, too, is write down questions.

When questions come up, just write them down if you don’t know the answer to them because a lot of times we get stuck with, “I don’t know how to figure that out.” And it’s very easy to kind of throw up our hands or say, “Oh, that’s somebody else’s responsibility. That’s somebody else’s department.” But just write down the question because there’s a great chance that you just kind of sit with it, you’ll get the idea, it will come to you later on.

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite habits for you personally?

Eric Papp
Spending time, taking care of yourself physically, whether it’s going for a walk. I go for occasional morning walks. I also cycle. I’ve got the Peloton here, so cycling. And that’s great because it’s low impact on the knees. And then, obviously, the Kettlebell, so alternating between cardio and strength. So, exercise is such an important part. And not so much just from like a vanity standpoint but so much from it clears your mind.

I can’t tell you, Pete, how many times where I‘ve just gone for a walk or I’ve gone on a bike ride, and then I’ll come back with like three great ideas that I’ll write down just of different things, or an email to ask somebody or a question. And then spending time in scripture with the Bible, just reading some of the New Testament. I do a little thing called Lectio Divina, and I’ll read a little small passage of the New Testament, and then just kind of ask questions, just journal from there.

And then, also, every day in the morning, I usually just start to write. I just kind of start typing or writing just to kind of empty, purge all the stuff in my head, whatever it is. It might be questions, it might be concerns, it might be what I’m excited about, just whatever it is, because I find that to be a wonderful clearing process so I can start my day be in the present moment.

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

Eric Papp
Well, I would say preparation begets confidence. And that comes from planning your day, right? When you’re prepared, when you’re planning your day, kind of know where you want to go, then when things do come up, then you have the flexibility to adapt. Oh, here’s something that I say, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall never be bent out of shape.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Eric Papp
And I think 2020 was a great reminder that we all had to have flexibility. It teaches us a lesson, flexibility. And, also, a lesson in resiliency. I think resiliency is such a wonderful, wonderful quality to have whether an entrepreneur or manager. The capacity to overcome difficulties quickly because there a lot of challenges that we experience and there’s a lot of challenges that we’re going to continue to experience as well.

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

Eric Papp
My website EricPapp.com. I’ve got some videos on there, the Weekly Strategy Sheet is on there so they can download that for free, and they’ll get the PDF version of that. And that’s just E-R-I-C-P-A-P-P.com.

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

Eric Papp
Hey, we’re starting off the year here in January. Ask yourself, how is this year going to be different for you? Not just from what are you going to do that’s going to be different? How are you going to get to your goals? How is it going to be different? And then, when you’ve got that planned, work it and get your outcome that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Eric, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and success in your productivity and adventures and priorities, and keep on rocking.

Eric Papp
Hey, thanks, Pete. It’s been great, man. And thank you for doing what you do. Having this, doing over, what is this, episode 600 and something. Yeah, that’s incredible, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I appreciate it.

Eric Papp
Yeah, that’s a lot. So, that’s great. We need more of this in the world.

632: How to Reclaim 40 Hours Every Month (WITHOUT Multitasking!) with Dave Crenshaw

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Dave Crenshaw says: "The holy grail of productivity is increasing how much you're worth per hour."

Dave Crenshaw shares hard-hitting research on the perils of multitasking—and how to improve your focus.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The right and the wrong way to “multitask” 
  2. Why we love to switch tasks—and how we can break that habit 
  3. How a 2% increase in productivity makes all the difference 

About Dave

Dave Crenshaw develops productive leaders in Fortune 500 companies, universities, and organizations of every size. He has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have been viewed tens of millions of times. His five books have been published in eight languages, the most popular of which is The Myth of Multitasking—a time management bestseller. As an author, speaker, and online instructor, Dave has transformed the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands around the world.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

David Crenshaw Interview Transcript

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

Dave Crenshaw
Hey, I’m thrilled to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, last time we talked about having fun and how that’s super important. And I tell you what, your words come back to me frequently when I’m like having fun in the middle of a work day on a break, I was like, “Is this appropriate?” It’s like, “Dave said it’s going to make me better,” so thank you.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, how are you having fun these days?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, I take July and December off now every year.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Well done.

Dave Crenshaw
So, I just came off of a nice long December break, spent some time hanging out with the kids, I may or may not have played a little too much XBOX so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling rested and ready to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you get the new XBOX?

Dave Crenshaw
I did.

Pete Mockaitis
I did, too.

Dave Crenshaw
I made that a priority.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, kudos. Those were hard to snag for a little while there. Well, let’s talk about multitasking. So, you’ve got your second edition here coming out The Myth of Multitasking. I want to really dig deep into this. First of all, what’s the big idea here? What is the myth of multitasking?

Dave Crenshaw
The myth of multitasking is that multitasking simply does not exist, not in the way that people think about it. The word is an inelegant and improper word to describe various things that could be happening. So, what I cover in the book is helping people understand what really is occurring in their day when they try to do multiple things at the same time, and identify whether they’re being productive when they do it, or whether they’re really screwing things up while they’re attempting it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love the way you teed that up because it sounds like there’s some nuance and some distinguishing to be done which is why I wanted to have this conversation with you because that’s kind of come up before a bit but I think we can drill really deep here. So, if multitasking isn’t the appropriate term, what alternatives do you think we might and should be using?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. So, what I present in the book is that one of two things are happening. Either you are switch-tasking or you are back-tasking. Switch-tasking is when you’re switching attention. You’re switching between listening to this podcast and answering an email, you’re switching between having a conversation with someone at work and thinking about the unresolved laundry that you left at your house, and every time you switch your attention from one thing to something else, you pay a cost associated with that. So, switch-tasking is always ineffective and we can go more into depth on that.

The other is back-tasking. That’s where something mindless, mundane, or automatic is occurring in the background. For instance, I’m listening to this podcast while I’m exercising, right? Hopefully, at this point, I don’t have to pay attention to how I run on the treadmill. I can focus on Pete talking. And that can be productive. The problem is, first of all, most people are using one word to describe multiple options, so they say multitasking, and we create a lot of confusion when people use that word. And when people say they’re a good multitasker, most often they’re talking about switch-tasking. And saying that you’re a good switch-tasker is like saying, “I’m excellent at screwing up multiple things at the same time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, strong words. So, that seems to be the core distinction. So, back-tasking means something is so automatic it can be done in the background and requires no attention and, thusly, we’re pretty much only really doing one thing as far as our attention is concerned.

Dave Crenshaw
Correct. And that also includes things like starting the printer, printing a job, delegating a task to a coworker. Basically, something else is occurring that doesn’t require any effort from you, that can be productive and that should be encouraged but that’s not what most people are doing. You see how people are behaving in the workplace and in their day, especially now that so many people are working from home. And what are they doing? They’re constantly switch-tasking and they’re telling themselves, “I’m multitasking. I’m being productive,” but what’s really happening is things are taking longer, they’re making more mistakes, and they’re increasing their stress levels.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I like the term back-tasking, I think that’s short for background, things happening as you’re tasking. And, indeed, when you mentioned the printer, I think that’s a great example because sometimes I feel euphoric. There’s a strong word. But if I have, let’s say, I’ve got some dishes being cleaned by the dishwasher, I got clothes being cleaned by the washing machine, I’ve got a vacuum robot going, and I’m doing something else, I mean, that’s like nirvana for me in a productivity nerd kind of a way.

Dave Crenshaw
And you even have your podcast working for you. Wow!

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, people are listening.

Dave Crenshaw
You’ve got a podcast working for you right now while we’re recording this podcast so that’s effective back-tasking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s totally true. Thousands of listeners as I sleep. I get a kick out of it when I see people, like sometimes I’ll refresh and I see downloads happening like at late night, like on a holiday or something.

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, we got to talk about that. That’s a different issue altogether.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, I shouldn’t be refreshing my podcast stats on a holiday?

Dave Crenshaw
Correct. Yes, that’s something else. That’s switch-tasking on your holiday. See, it is back-tasking because it’s taking care of it, but the moment you jump in and start looking at it, now you’re switch-tasking.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess fair enough. I’m just going to let that go. It’s not about me. It’s about the listeners. Okay, cool. So, the book, it’s on its second edition here. Are there new discoveries that you’ve made associated with multitasking? Lay it on us.

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, okay, so the book first came out in 2008, and you think about where we were and what we were doing in 2008. Something like a Twitter was just barely starting to surface at that time. And, in fact, this shows how dated the original version was. The original version had a BlackBerry on the cover, right? And now you think about how powerful the phones are that we use.

One of my favorite comedians, Gary Gulman, says calling an iPhone a phone is like calling a Lexus convertible a cup holder. And we’ve got these devices that are constantly vying for our attention and then, on top of it in the workplace, since we’re talking about how to be awesome at your job, in a work context, there are so many different channels of communication that people are using. They’re using Slack, they’re using text message, they’re using Skype, they’re using Zoom. And so, when we have all these channels of communication, we’re creating lots and lots of different ways that we could switch-task in our day.

So, I had to make some updates and some adjustments to address, in particular, that issue; the channels of communication. A lot of other things are still the same. The tendency that we have to have a conversation with a human being while we’re tempted to look at our phone, that’s always been there. It’s just maybe a little stronger than it used to be. So, some things have changed radically and some things have stayed the same or just gotten more intense in their impact in our day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s really zoom in on the comment associated with if someone says they’re really good at multitasking, they’re really good at screwing up multiple things at the same time. So, all right, lay it on us, many people really do think they’re good at multitasking. Are you going to tell them their own experience is wrong? Dave, how do you counter that?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, honestly, the best way that I have to counter it, and it’s not going to work well in a podcast, but I can tell people where they can get it and, of course, it’s in the book. There’s an exercise that I do. I do it in my live presentations, I do it in the book, and if you go to DaveCrenshaw.com/exercise, you can find it. And I do an exercise in the book where, first, someone performs a task. It’s just simple; just copying numbers and letters, right? And they focus on that for 30 seconds and they do it and they see how long it takes. And then we do it again, but this time we switch-task.
So, for instance, if I was just doing the alphabet, I would write A and then I would write 1 and then I’d write B and then I’d write 2. And that simple exercise does far more to convince someone than me rumbling on for 30 minutes about the scientific studies, and there’s a mountain of scientific evidence that shows that it’s less effective. But when you get someone to experience firsthand how much they screw things up doing the most simple thing in the world, it opens people’s eyes. The truth is right in front of them and they can’t hide from it.

And what you’ll see is, first of all, everything takes longer and the mistakes, people start just writing weird numbers and letters, and they’re crossing things out, and they’re going up and down, and their work just goes all over the place, and then how they feel, the stress impact of that. And when you experience it that firsthand, it opens your eyes, and then you start thinking about what your work day is like, and why at the end of the day you feel so stressed out, and why you feel like you didn’t really accomplish anything that whole day. And it’s simply because you were switching rapidly throughout the day between all these different activities.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have seen one of your videos in which you did that exercise, and it is…you’re right, seeing is believing in terms of like you feel it. So, folks might counter that by saying, “Well, you know, I never really actually have to list the letters and the numbers in order while alternating.” So, can you drop some additional sort of research studies in terms of like maybe just how can we convincingly, compellingly prove that this is a big deal? It’s not like you’re, I don’t know, 3% less effective but rather massively less effective when you multitask.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Okay. So, just a few things to consider. There’s a study by RescueTime that found that the average number of minutes a worker can go until checking their email or instant messages, so that’s excluding all the other things like other people interrupting them, six minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Dave Crenshaw
Every six minutes, on average, someone checks their email or instant message. Then you consider that there’s a cost associated with that. It’s not just the check, right? You got to look at it and then you’ve got to remember, “Where was I?” I could be in the middle of writing an email, and then another email comes in or a text message, so I stop. I look at the text message, I read it, I go, “Okay.” And they’re asking these questions, I say, “All right,” I type back the answer “42,” I send it back. Now, what do I need to do? Now I have to return to the email I was writing, I have to re-read everything that I was doing, I have to get my train of thought back to that frame of reference, and then I can start working again.

Another study out Michigan State found that just under a three-second interruption doubles the likelihood of making a mistake. Just three seconds. And this is an impact that everyone is experiencing constantly. That’s why I paraphrase Mark Twain, and I say, “There are lies, damned lies in multitasking,” because it’s a lie that everyone lives. We live it constantly throughout our day. And the beautiful thing though is if you can reduce it, that’s really where the evidence comes from, is when you start to cut down on the switches and you start to feel sanity return to your day. And you start to realize, “Wait a minute. I can get done everything that I was getting done in about a quarter less time.”

I had clients who go through my training and I’ll tell them, “When you go through this training, you’re going to recover about 40 hours every single month,” and they think that’s insane, that’s an unbelievable claim, and I used to hear it coming out of my mouth and say it’s an unbelievable claim. But I have had people literally tell me, Pete, they say, “I thought you were crazy. Now, it’s 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I don’t know what to do with myself.” And it’s simply by reducing one thing. By reducing the switches that take place in your day, you reclaim that much time.

Pete Mockaitis
That is striking. Well, maybe could you share with us maybe a particular success story, that 3:00 p.m., that drive it home in terms of it being real in terms of really painting a picture for what was this person’s life and work like before, what did they start doing differently, and then what results did they see from that?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, in that case, and I don’t have direct permission from this individual to use his name.

Pete Mockaitis
Call him Hank.

Dave Crenshaw
Okay, yeah. Hank, a real estate professional, very well-respected, successful in his industry, but just burning the candle on both ends, working long hours, feeling stressed out constantly, and that’s why he brought me in was to help him. And this was back when I did it in person. Now, my training is on LinkedIn Learning, which you’re very familiar with. But he brought me in to help him with this, and what we did is we started to look at how many different interruptions he was getting in his day, and we were saying, “Okay, which of these are absolutely necessary?” because you can’t get rid of all switches. I never make that claim and no one should ever think that that’s what I’m saying.

But what you can do is you can implement strategies to reduce the number of switches. “Which of these interruptions can wait? Rather than leaving my phone on 24/7 and setting the expectation I’m going to answer every time you call, what if I checked my messages every hour on the hour?” When we think about that, especially like in a real estate business, that reduces the number of switches by an order of magnitude. That would cut it down by 50% or more the number of interruptions that are taking place in your hour. He said, “Rather than checking email constantly,” that’s what most people do, right? Either their phone notifies them or they’re constantly hitting send and receive sitting at their desktop computer.

And if instead, if we say, “Here is a scheduled time in my day, three times in my day when I’m going to check my email,” that kind of stuff cuts down. And so, it was little strategies like that that I implemented with him that’s just stacked on top of each other and helped him realize, “Wait a minute. I can perform much more productively if I start to emphasize my ability to focus.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s exciting. So, let’s hit the word cost for me here. You say when we do a switch, we incur a cost. Tell me, what are the types of costs and just how costly is it?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We heard about making more mistakes and taking longer. Do we have any quantifications on any of that?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, the quantification really depends upon the individual. Some people pay less cost than others.

Pete Mockaitis
Bargain shoppers.

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, yeah. And there’s a question that often gets brought up about the statement that women can multitask and men can’t, right? And there have been studies into this. Some will say there’s no difference at all. I’ve seen some that say less. I have consulted a lot of female executives, business owners, and what I would say from my experience is that women do incur less switching cost than men do, but there’s a problem with that statement. They’re still incurring switching costs.

And what is that cost? Yeah, what is the cost? It’s the amount of time to recover; the mental recovery time. Sometimes even the physical recovery time of locating the thing that you set down and forgot where it was. There are a handful of costs that we incur every time we switch our attention. And this is a funny thing, and this shouldn’t surprise you as someone who wrote the book called The Power of Having Fun.

Occasionally, I’ll recommend that people practice learning how to focus simply by just watching a show on Netflix but doing nothing else. And as I say that statement, I know that there’s probably half your audience that feels tension at the thought of that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
No snacks, no bathroom, no…?

Dave Crenshaw
Okay, bathroom, we’ll let that go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you can do that before or after the show, I think.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, exactly. But what about not media multitasking? What about not looking at your phone while you’re doing it? What about not looking up on IMDB, “Who’s that actor that I’ve seen before, while I’m watching it?” Our brains have become so conditioned and hardwired to jump from task to task, from thought to thought, that we are creating a situation where we are perpetuating switch-tasking in everything that we do. And so, there’s that other part of it which is the amount of time that we gain but it’s also the amount of stress that we relieve when we stop behaving like we’re a CPU that’s being overclocked.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, any sense for how many minutes that is? I heard one study, I think it was from Microsoft, that when you entertain an email interruption, it can take like 24 minutes to get back to what you were doing.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that valid or are there other stuff in that ballpark? I imagine, you said it does vary from person to person, but I would just love it if there’s anyone on the fence, we can just nail them with a number.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, yeah, I’ve seen that study from Microsoft. It’s pretty old and I see that it still gets cited. One thing to keep in mind with that study is they’re talking about software programmers. So, it’s the amount of time that a programmer took to recover, and that is extremely high for an intense task like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re deep into it.

Dave Crenshaw
I can tell you, like the U of U, University of Utah, they have a great department by David Strayer where they do a lot of studies. They found that just issuing a voice command to a car while you’re driving, it can take 27 seconds to regain your attention. So, the answer to that, I wish I could give you a hard number but I can’t because it varies according to the individual and it varies according to the task that they’re performing, both the switch that occurred and the thing that they were doing before.

But I can tell you that BaseX research did a study a while back, and I still find this number to be pretty accurate, which is that the average knowledge worker loses 28% of their day due to interruptions and the recovery time associated with those interruptions. I would say that it’s probably closer to over 30% at this point just based on my field experience.

So, again, we go back to that question, if you reduce the switches, you can reclaim 40 hours every single month. That is an entire work week every single month. Where does that come from? It’s the reduction of switching costs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Powerful stuff. So, then, okay, first of all, why do we do this to ourselves then? I think some people even know it’s destructive and we continue to do it. It’s almost like it feels good or we just got a curiosity that we want to scratch. What’s going on inside our brains?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, an example of that is if you haven’t seen the documentary on The Social Dilemma, that is extremely eye-opening. And it talks about how even some of the things that we use, like the social media, are deliberately created to be compulsive and to feel that we must do them.

So, part of it is the ghost in the machine, is “What’s been created that’s doing this?” And part of it though is just human behavior. There’s a psychological concept called variable reward ratio. And it’s the same thing that drives compulsive gambling. It’s the same thing that drives people pulling the lever or pushing the button on the slot machine. And the idea is that sometimes you’re going to get a payoff and sometimes you aren’t, and that is very attractive to the human mind. We like the randomness of it and so it becomes…we want to keep pushing the button, “Am I going to get the jackpot?”

Well, what’s the equivalent in our work day? “I’m going to hit send and receive. Maybe someone is going to say yes to my proposal. Maybe I’m going to get something from a Nigerian prince that’s going to make me millions of dollars.” Whatever it is, we know that it’s not going to pay off most of the time, but the fact that it might pay off is enticing. The fact that you might see that you got a whole bunch of new subscribers to your podcast, going back to that example, right?

So, we have to start conditioning ourselves to be okay with silence, to be okay with not getting an answer. And there’s another concept that I teach elsewhere where I talk about the missing minute and restoring that minute to your day. Meaning, giving yourself just 60 seconds for nothing. I guarantee, people are going to listen to this podcast, they’re going to get done with the podcast, and they’re going to do one of two things. They’re either going to jump back to work or they’re going to click the button and go to the next thing.

Now, that’s great for you to get views but it’s not necessarily serving them as much as it could be if they just stopped, set a timer for 60 seconds, and just sat with it. Just tell the brain, “It’s okay. It’s okay that you’re doing nothing right now.” And the more that you create little pockets like that in your day, the more you start to realize, “I am in control.” And you can retake that control 60 seconds at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
That is inspiring. Well, Dave, perfect transition. I think we’ve built a real good why, so let’s really rip into the how.

Dave Crenshaw
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the top sort of high-impact, high-leverage practices we can engage in to help us reclaim control here? So, one of them is taking a 60-second breather to do nothing. I love it. What else?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. By the way, I like to think of these, I call these switch busters. I like the show MythBusters. I know it hasn’t been around. It’s not for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Somehow it just seems up your alley. I don’t know you super well, Dave, but it just seems right when you say that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. So, these are little things that you can do to reduce the number of switches in your day. No one of them alone is going to solve the problem but all of them, together, start to really build a nice big strategy for reducing switches. So, yeah, we’ve talked about that. I also mentioned about setting a schedule for when you’re going to check your email. In that case, if someone is taking six minutes, every six minutes they’re checking their email, their instant messages, even if we can cut that down to every hour on the hour, we’ve reduced the number of switches that you’re making by 60% or more. We’re making a big, big drop.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s like 70 a day, nine eliminated times eight hours. There you go.

Dave Crenshaw
There you go. Yeah, so now we just do it eight times a day. Or even better, what about three? What about the beginning, lunch, and the end of the day? What if it’s less than that? And only someone listening to this can answer that question for themselves because every industry is different. But the question you would ask yourself is, “How long can I reasonably go? What is the longest that I can go without damaging my career, without making things hard on my customers and my coworkers? What’s the longest I can go?” And whatever that is, create a schedule and start using that schedule.

And I’m going to pause for a second and teach a different principle that’s really important, which is there’s no such thing as a perfect system; there’s only the next draft. Meaning, just try something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, don’t try to make it perfect. Just try something, give it a go, and then make an adjustment after a week or two, and then tweak it again. Maybe you went to three times a day and that was not enough. So, maybe you go to four times a day or something like that. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the principle is broken. It just means that your system needs a little bit of adjusting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I love to get your view, right now, I’m thinking of a lawyer friend of mine. I think we talked about something like this once, and he said, “Yeah, that’s really just not an option for me to ignore the partner’s email to me, an associate, for a full day.” And so, I guess your response will be, “Well, hey, maybe it’s a half a day or a quarter of a day or an hour, but it’s something other than nonstop checking.” Any pro tips on how we can sort of help shape our environment in terms of like the people and the messaging we convey to them?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so that’s another switch buster. In fact, that’s the one that I really key in on the second edition, which is having a conversation about channels. One problem that we run into in a variety of areas at work is the assumption of common sense, and we believe that everyone should have common sense, but common sense is not common. Common sense is the result of repeated life experience. The easiest example of that is it is common sense me, being an American, that cars belong on the right side of the road, right?

Pete Mockaitis
But of course.

Dave Crenshaw
But it is common sense for someone in the UK that they belong on the left. And that is simply because that’s what we’ve seen our entire life. So, then we go into the work environment, and let’s just say that we’re using something like Slack to communicate with each other. What is the shared common sense of how much time we should allow until we respond to something? What is the shared common sense of how much time we should allow for an email response? Or what about a text message?

So, you have a discussion with your team and you just list out each of the channels: text messages, email, Slack, whatever it is you’re using, phone calls. “Let’s get together, let’s have a conversation, let’s agree, how long can we wait? And what should these channels be used for? Can we say that text messages are the back channel, that they’re for emergencies only? So, we know if someone sends a text message, it needs to be done within the next several minutes. But we don’t put anything into that channel that isn’t an emergency.”

And you have a conversation about what is an emergency. A lot of the stuff that you have at work is not an emergency; it’s just an impatience-y.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And your point on common sense there, it’s so compelling because people have wildly different expectations. And this comes up, I’ve facilitated a few training sessions in which we have a norms discussion around email, and it’s just wild. Some people are like, “Oh, you don’t need me to reply within an hour? Oh, wow!” And it’s just sort of lightbulbs go off. It’s like some of the easiest result I can deliver in a training, frankly, to just have that conversation.

Dave Crenshaw
And they do it themselves which is great.

Pete Mockaitis
And then, likewise, I remember back when I was single and had some dating activity going on, I remember, through a friend of a friend, someone said, “Well, Pete Mockaitis is a real jerk.” And I thought, “Uh-oh. Did I not communicate that I’m like seeing other people? I thought I made that clear.” And then apparently the reason I was a jerk was because I never replied to a text message for about four hours. And it’s like, sometimes I won’t reply to my mom’s text messages for like 12 hours because I have all my notifications off, and my phone is off to the side, and I’m in a good work groove, and that’s just sort of how I operate. But there is no common sense. It’s all just sort of the expectations you mutually agree upon with the people you interact with.

Dave Crenshaw
Right. And that illustrates, too, that it’s not just your team members. You can have those conversations with your customers. There’s nothing wrong with educating your customers, saying, “Hey, if you need to get me for a normal thing, send me an email. I’ll respond within a business day. If you have some catastrophic problem, here’s my phone number. Use it for that.”

So, you can have these negotiations, this training, whatever you want to think of it, that we all get on the same page as much as is possible. And, again, will that get rid of all switches? No. But will it greatly reduce the switches? Yes. And what it will do is it will help us move from the culture of now to the culture of when.

The culture of now says, “At work, when I have a question, I want an answer now. I’m going to knock on your door,” or at least we used to when we weren’t working from home, “I’m going to knock on your door, I’m going to send you a text message, I’m going to give you a phone call, and if you don’t answer any of those, I’m going to keep doing it until I get an answer.” This just perpetuates switch-tasking in our day.

If you move to the culture of when, you say, “I will respond to everything, and this is when I’m going to do it. This is when you can expect a response.” And that one thing alone dramatically saves time and reduces mistakes and helps everybody feel less stressed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Okay. Any other top tips, Dave? Lay them on us.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, we kind of danced around this and this is not going to surprise you at all. Making sure that you have clear time off, making sure that you have a time when you’re going to work and when you’re not going to work, and respecting that because that’s going to help you be more focused when it’s time to work. Like, I just came back after a nice long break, like I’d mentioned, and so I believe that my success is dependent upon the fact that I did that.

Also, though, related to the schedule is scheduling the time for your most valuable activities. If I talk to an average person, they’re going to have between 5 and 25 job descriptions, and more if they’re a business owner. And so, what I want to do is I want to look at all those different things, and say, “Which of these is most valuable? Which of these is worth the most per hour? Or which of these is the hardest to replace or will help you advance in your career the most?”

And then I want to look at the schedule, and say, “How much time are you spending in this most valuable activity? When is the time of your day, or the time of your week, when you are least likely to be interrupted, when you can be the most focused? Schedule time to work on that most valuable activity during that time. And that not only will reduce the switches but it increases your value per hour.”

And, to me, that is the holy grail of productivity, is increasing how much you’re worth per hour, not how much you make per year. If you increase your annual salary but you also increase the hours that you spend working, that wasn’t a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’m right with you.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, you’re just making more work for yourself. But if we can increase how much you make and decrease the hours that you’re working, now that’s fantastic, and that gives you the freedom to reinvest that time into whatever else you feel is worth investing that time into.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. I totally agree with you there, but some people may say, “Hey, that might be easy for you self-employed trainer types to say,” but I just have a good friend who got a job, it’s a sales role, and it’s pretty awesome. They said right up front, “Hey, we don’t care so much like how many hours you work or which hours you work, so long as you’re hitting these particular goals of new prospect meetings occurring per month.” So, it’s like game on. Like, if he can crack the code on more compelling communications or whatnot, he can work less or, if he wants to, hey, work more to get more commission.

But it is magical because there are some thresholds, like at some point when your hourly compensation rises to one point, it’s like, “You know what, now might make sense to have me hire someone to help clean the house. It might make sense for me to hire a handy person to fix up some things.” And then it just can really snowball because you break these thresholds where outsourcing more and more makes great sense and you’re able to deploy that time to either even more wealth creation or alternative results and fun that you want to make happen in life.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes. And it doesn’t have to be limited to someone in sales or someone who runs their own business or whatever it is because everything that you just said there is one less thing that you have to think about, one less thing that you have to devote time and attention to, which means less switches. And less switches means you get things done faster with less mistakes, with less stress.

And sometimes people hear that too, and they go, “Well, okay, that’s great but I can’t hire someone to do this and that.” Okay, fine, but you do hire people. You don’t make your own hamburger, do you? Not most of the time, maybe on the weekend. You go to wherever it is. You go to Wendy’s and you hired someone to make that for you. You relieve yourself of the burden of having to think about how to put that thing together. When you hire Uber, you’re relieving yourself of the burden of having to spend time driving, which, by the way, is one of the least productive things you can possibly do.

And you can look at it and say, “How can I use technology to reduce the amount of time I’m spending doing each of these things? How can I outsource one task at a time? Could I use Fiverr? Could I use Upwork, to have one person take care of part of this so that I can focus on the thing that I do that is truly amazing and truly valuable?” The more you start to be aware of those things, the more you start to do them, the more productive you become. And, again, I’m kind of throwing some stuff out here, and maybe some thing is going to hold on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I just appreciate that you do it.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, but I go back to that principle of the 2% increase in productivity. A 2% increase in productivity is an entire work week every single year. So, if you look at the computer you’re using, the keyboard that you have, the chair that you’re sitting in, all of those things can create switches. If I have a chair that is uncomfortable, isn’t that going to cause me to switch my attention a few times a day to go, “Man, I don’t feel good. I’m not performing well”? I just lost a whole lot of time and a whole lot of value, so it’s worth making the investment to get the best quality tools that you can get.

I’m sitting here, I’ve got a mouse in my hand that’s a gaming mouse with lots of different buttons that are assigned to macros. I just upgraded my computer to the best quality, and I like gaming quality stuff because gaming quality is built to demanding specifications. They usually perform better, so I just upgraded my computer for the year. I guarantee, that upgrade is going to yield me at least two weeks this year. It’s probably about a 4% increase in productivity. And that sounds crazy but once you start doing the math, you realize, “Wait a minute. Little things really start to add up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, just because I don’t know how many of us can dork out on at this level, I’m going to join you here because I’ve talked to myself about that as well in terms of like, “Hey, my computer is pretty good. It’s 2017. I don’t feel like I’m often annoyedly waiting for stuff.” By the way, my trick was I got a super fancy SSD, a solid-state drive, and plugged it in via a Thunderbolt, or USB-C, and that’s my bootup drive which I found gave me a lot of acceleration for not a lot of dollars.

But run me through the math. So, well, one, I just love to justify buying new stuff. But so, if my computer is fine, and then I went to top of the line, how do you see that turning into extra minutes for me each day, week, and year?

Dave Crenshaw
So, let’s just start with that simple math: 2% increase. So, if you’re 52 weeks a year, 2% is one week, right? So, if I increase anything that I’m doing by 2% overall, that almost immediately adds up to one week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
And then we ask the question, “Well, what is my time worth? What is a week’s worth of time in terms of my career?” And everybody is going to have a different number for that. And then, not to get too crazy with the math, but I also like to use the rule of three, which says, “If I‘m going to invest a dollar in my career, in my business, I want to get three back in return.” So, I look at that week. Let’s say that one week of time is worth a $1,000, okay? I’m going to be really conservative. It’s worth a $1,000. That means I can invest $300 to increase my productivity by 2%. Makes sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
Or $333. Because if I can invest $333, I’m going to get one week back, and then I’m also going to make money on top of it because of that value. And that’s being ultra conservative because, in many cases, these time gains stack from year to year. I recently did a video about this where I was teaching that concept and some of the things that I’ve done, and I’ve realized, looking back over the 20 years of my career, give or take, I’ve probably gained three to four years’ worth of time.

And that sounds crazy, but then you look back, and I go, “Wait. Did I really gain that much time? Let’s see. I’ve written five books in that time. Well, I’ve actually written six because I wrote a YA novel for fun. I’ve created 35 courses for LinkedIn Learning.” I can just start stacking out the list. “And, plus, I’m working less hours than I’ve worked in my life.” It is a real principle, and I’m making more than I’ve ever made.

So, little things, it started 20 years ago with me doing the same principle, looking at my workspace, looking what I was saying, and saying, “How can I gain some time?” And every little change has added up and made that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And so, well, here’s where I guess the rubber meets the road. So, if we want a 2% lift in productivity, and we’re thinking about upgrading your computer, then that means, in a 480-minute, eight-hour work day, we’re going to need a fifth of that. We’ll just call it 10 minutes. You think you’re gaining 10 minutes a day from your upgraded computer?

Dave Crenshaw
I think that’s an easy question to answer. In the case of your Thunderbolt drive, didn’t you gain 10 minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
I did but I want to see if I can justify and upgrade the whole computer.

Dave Crenshaw
So, in my case, so I looked at my computer and I actually have mine…the one that I had before was a tank. It was probably coming up on four and a half years. And just for tax purposes, I came on the year, I go, “Well, I need to make an investment,” so that was an easy one to make. And I probably, just looking at benchmark scores, I probably increased the speed of my computer by 30%. Now, am I going to use that full 30% every time? No, but I’m definitely going to get 4% to 5% out of it constantly all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess that’s what I’m wondering. Like, to zoom in even more, it’s like I don’t often find that I’m just sitting waiting for my computer to handle something.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, but that’s not the problem, or that’s not the issue. The issue is, “Could you wait less? Could things happen faster than you think?” And they can. They always can. Not just for the computer but other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Are we talking about waiting for one and a half second to half a second on a page load to open? Is that kind what the building blocks here?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dave Crenshaw
Now, I sense, what I know of you, Pete, you’re an analytical guy. You want to know the numbers, and I confess that I am entrepreneurial. I do entrepreneurial math.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Dave Crenshaw
So, I generalize broadly but I have found that my generalizations actually turn out to be quite accurate over time. So, yeah, I’m not like sitting down and crunching the numbers on this, but I can go, “Reasonably speaking, am I getting that kind of return? Yes. And am I going to be extra conservative with that assumption? Yes.” And it usually turns out to be correct.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve noticed, like, “Hey, when I open up a program, I wait less now with my newer computer.”

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, everything. Chrome opens faster. There are things that we’ve done. Like, for instance, with video editing, because I know you do stuff with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s huge. Amen. Yeah, if you’re video editing, you’re going to need that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, I open it up, I’m spending a lot less time with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Okay, that answers that. Video editing is demanding and makes you wait.

Dave Crenshaw
But here’s another thing that you could do. So, I use a thing called Phrase Express, and there are things like this, that are phrase macros. And so, I found that I was typing the myth of multitasking over and over again. Kind of ironic, right? So, I changed it into a macro where I just type a couple of keys and it spells out the myth of multitasking. You start creating a framework of that where you’ve got 50 to 100 phrases, you just boosted your productivity by 2% to 4% quickly. And that doesn’t cost hardly anything or maybe nothing at all to implement that.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, good, good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, the one thing I would say, and we haven’t really hit on this much, is the fourth effect. I’ve talked about the three effects of multitasking, or switch-tasking: things take longer, you make more mistakes, you increase your stress levels. But there’s a fourth effect, and this applies even for people who think that they’re good multitaskers, they think they can get away with it and still be productive. That’s fine. But when you switch-task on a human being, even back-task sometimes, you damage that relationship, and that’s unavoidable.

Because when you switch-task on a human being, you are communicating to them that they are less important than whatever it is you’re doing in the moment. And none of us would wake up and start our day and go down to see our spouse, and say, “Hi, honey. You’re unimportant. What are you going to do today?” Or, someone calls your business, you say, “Thanks for calling XYZ Business where you’re unimportant. How can I help you?”

We would never do that but that’s exactly what we do when we pick up our phone and we’re playing with it when our spouse is talking to us. Or, when we’re in a Zoom call and we’re kind of checking email out of the corner of our eye, we’re damaging relationships. Now, that’s negative.

The positive is when you stop doing that and you focus on human beings, you build relationships because it’s unfortunately uncommon to treat people that way now. So, you stand out when you’re someone who gives someone your full attention, and you build the relationship, you make them feel important. And there’s just hundreds of reasons why that’s a fantastic thing to do.

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

Dave Crenshaw
I’ve got it hanging on my wall right here next to me. It’s, “Every time you devote time to practice, you haven’t lost. You’re always a winner.” Any guess where that came from?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing it’s a sports person but I don’t know.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, it’s Bob Ross.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely.

Dave Crenshaw
So, that reminds me that I’m always learning, I’m always making mistakes, and sometimes I can get hard on myself, but I remember that every mistake is a practice. And if I’m practicing, I’m always getting better and always winning. Good old Bob Ross.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dave Crenshaw
I’m listening to Is This Anything? with Jerry Seinfeld. I am inspired by comedians because so much of what they do is very similar to what I do as a speaker. They have to hone their craft, and so I like getting inspiration from uncommon places. So, Jerry Seinfeld is giving that to me right now.

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

Dave Crenshaw
I always say that calendar is my favorite tool, but in terms of an app, I’m a fan of Evernote. I like the simplicity of it in keeping notes and staying on top of everything.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Well, if they’re interested in getting The Myth of Multitasking, you go to MultitaskBook.com. That’ll take you right to the Amazon page. And then, of course, my website DaveCrenshaw.com, all sorts of free resources there for you.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Pay attention. Pay attention today. Think of someone that you’re going to talk to whether it’s at work or at home. Practicing at home will help you get better at work. The next person you talk to, give them 100% of your attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your single-tasking adventures.

Dave Crenshaw
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure, Pete.

621: How to Banish the Four Habits of Time Wasting with Steve Glaveski

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Steve Glaveski says: "Focus on what you can control, not what you can't control."

Steve Glaveski reveals how to unlearn the four habits that make us time poor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often feel like we get nothing done 
  2. The simplest way to keep others from stealing your time 
  3. Why we achieve more when we have less time 

About Steve

Steve Glaveski is an entrepreneur, author and podcast host whose mission is to unlock the latent potential of people so that they can create more impact for humanity and lead more fulfilling lives. 

Steve is CEO of Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne and Singapore, and founder of Lemonade Stand, a children’s entrepreneurship program and now, SaaS platform, that has been delivered to kids across Australia and Singapore. Steve is also the author of Employee to Entrepreneur: How To Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters, the children’s picture book Lemonade Stand: From Idea to Entrepreneur, and the newly released Time Rich. 

Steve hosts the Future Squared podcast. His work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street JournalForbes, the Australian Financial ReviewTech in Asia and numerous other outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Glaveski Interview Transcript

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

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, we need to hear about your relationship with heavy metal and performance in a tribute band.

Steve Glaveski
Wow, that’s a great question, a great place to start this. Well, I always say that you’ve got to cultivate a positive relationship with adversity, put yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable places, and then everything just becomes easier. So, one of those uncomfortable places for me was wearing zebra-print pants, a snakeskin cowboy hat, and makeup in an ‘80s metal tribute band called Ratt Poison, that’s R-A-T-T, paying homage to the band Ratt many, many years ago now. I think I was about 21 at the time, and, well, I’m still a big heavy metal fan, and that was a great experience. Although I do recall snapping a string at that particular performance and spending about 10 minutes trying to fix my guitar while the band played without me. So, trial by fire, but, yeah, that’s my heavy metal story, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you said that this was an uncomfortable position, so you didn’t seek this out, it was thrust upon you?

Steve Glaveski
No, look, I joke. I was looking for a good way to introduce that but, ultimately, I loved it. Like, it was a lot of fun. I mean, looking back now at those photos, they can be used to incriminate me or can be used against me, but I proudly have them up on my Facebook account. So, Pete, if people want to look for that photo, they can find it on my Facebook profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. It sounds like a rich use of time. How’s that for a segue? Your book is called Time Rich, which sounds like an awesome thing I’d like to be. Can you tell us, what does it mean to be time rich?

Steve Glaveski
It really means living life according to your values. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you wake up in the morning and you spend all day in your underwear watching Netflix. It really comes back to having the time to invest your hours, your very few hours, into things that give you a more rewarding experience of life. So, for some people that might be working longer hours, for some people it might be spending more time with family but, ultimately, I think it comes back to how you choose to spend those hours, and spending those hours in high-value activities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like the ideal. Can you tell us kind of what’s the state of affairs right now in terms of how much of us, how many of us really do that?

Steve Glaveski
Very few of us do that. I think a typical person now is spending about 12 hours a day staring at screens. That’s actually gone up since the pandemic just because we find ourselves watching more Netflix and YouTube and whatnot. But if you look at what we’re spending our time doing with those screens, particularly now when it comes to work, people’s way of work, we’re effectively taking what we did in the office, which was 50 to 60 interruptions a day, which was 40 to 50 notifications, push notifications popping up on our screen all day long, which was responding to emails within five minutes of them being received, checking email every six minutes, we’ve taken that and we just put it all online.

Like, instead of a one-hour face-to-face meeting, it’s a one hour Zoom call. Instead of taps on the shoulder, all day long it’s a Slack message. It’s actually worse now because we’ve got that Slack channel or the Microsoft Teams channel up all day long, and the red light is always going off, new notification, so we’re bouncing back into that all day long.

And what that does for us in terms of our focus, effectively we’re paying a cognitive switching penalty because every time we switch task, it can take us up to 23 minutes to get back in the zone. And when we’re in the zone, when we cultivate the ability to get into flow, we’re about five times more productive. When we’re totally immersed in one task, the rest of the world seems to fade away and the hours just fly by, we’re way more productive. But we’re in this state of hyper-responsiveness where nothing gets done, and we can be “busy, busy, busy” all day long but have very little to show for it come the end of the day.

And just to close the loop on your question, Gallup ran a study last year which found that 85% of people are either disengaged or not engaged by their works. So, any 15% of us are engaged by our work, which comes back to these organizational cultures where either we’re not aligned with the values of the organization or we’re just not given a sense of control to actually get stuff done because we’re spending all day long in meetings, we’re being interrupted all day long, and we’re glorifying things like inbox zero, which demonstrates that we’re really good at responding to other people’s demands on our time at the expense of our own priorities. So, my sense is that very, very few people are doing the utmost with what little time they’re given.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that 23-minute stat, I think that sounds familiar, like the Microsoft study with email. Is that where that comes from there?

Steve Glaveski
Oh, that actually comes from an organization called Advanced Brain Monitoring in the United States who ran a study on the flow state. It also echoes a study that McKinsey ran, a 10-year study around high executives where they found that when these executives are in a flow state, they are up to five times more productive.

There’s also another study that Advanced Brain Monitoring ran where they found that even micro tasks switches, so a notification pops up on your smartphone and you see it but you don’t tap on it, you just notice it. That one-tenth of a second micro task switch, over the course of a day, they found that that can add up to about a 40% productivity loss because even if you’re in flow, and you notice that, that’s enough to kind of take you out of flow and it’s going to take you time to get back in. Not only does it compromise our productivity but this constant sort of recalibrating our minds around a different thing, it can leave us exhausted as well.

So, we can find that by, say, 1:00 P.M. we’re feeling spent just because we’ve spent the first four, five hours of our day just shuffling between browser windows madly instead of just focusing on that one-high value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is quite fascinating because when you said 23 minutes, I thought, “Oh, that sounds like the 24 minutes associated with the Microsoft email study.” But it’s a completely different study which arrived at a very similar number, which I find intriguing and validating. So, can you share with us some details on what was going on in terms of how we tested that and got to that 23-minute figure?

Steve Glaveski
So they basically got a number of control groups and it required a little bit of objective feedback in terms of the interruption and how they got back to it. So, they would look at a performance of, say, marksmen who were able to get into flow in terms of how well they hit the bullseye. And what would happen was they would leave them be to just, say, extended stretches of time of, say, 30 to 60 minutes to just work on their craft, and they performed at a much higher level than when they’d been, say, interrupted or when someone came over and had a quick conversation with them.

And then they’d look at the first, say, 5 to 10 minutes thereafter, as opposed to, say, 20, 30, 40 minutes thereafter when they’d had more time to just really hone in and get in the zone, and it’s kind of the same as, say, you might find if you meditate. The first two or three minutes, there’s a lot of monkey mind going on, but then 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes in, a lot of that stuff kind of starts to fade away and you really get into your element.

So, they ran these studies across a number of different fields where they basically took someone’s performance shortly after an interruption and then compared it to their performance 20, 30 minutes in, and there was a vast difference in that. And then after they’d been interrupted, how long does it take them to get their performance up to that sort of optimal level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so there we have it. I mean, it seems like there’s plenty at stake here in terms of whether or not you’re engaged at work, whether or not you’re having fun, whether or not you’re doing well, you’re executing at a high level and just sort of ultimately getting more stuff done during the course of the day in terms of whether we are in flow and doing things well in a time-rich fashion versus kind of just jumping and being scared all over the place with notifications and emails and interruptions in a time-poor fashion.

So, tell me, what are the best interventions, super habits, practices, tips and tricks, for those of us who want to cut out the time-poor behavior and be all the more time rich?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So, a good visual mnemonic that will help your audience is TYRE. So, I say when it comes to our personal productivity, we’re carrying around spare tires which effectively slow us down. So, the T stands for task switching. So, the best thing you can do there, actionable step is you turn off your notifications; that’s a really easy one. But the second one is really cultivating the ability to focus on one thing for extended periods of time. So, using something like a Freedom app or BlockSite to block Twitter, to block these app sites you’re inclined to jump into, and then just, “Yeah, let me just quickly check my notifications.” And that can send you down the Twitter rabbit hole for half an hour. The other thing there is also the browser windows. Like, rather than having 20 browser windows open, just focus on one. So, these are like some actionable things you can do in terms of that environment.

And then the other thing I would do on task switching is it’s like cultivating any habit. Like, if you’re not used to going to the gym, it can take you a while to get into that. But cultivating the ability to sit still on one task for 30 to 60 minutes without switching, that also takes effort so you might want to start with, say, 15 minutes and work your way up.

Environment design is important too. If you want to build new habits, cultivate an environment where it’s easy to build that new habit, where it’s easier to break bad ones as well. So, I’ve touched on a couple of them there, but also if I have my phone right next to my desk, and I was going to reach for it but I don’t have it here, which speaks to what I’m trying to communicate, it’s much easier for me to just pick that phone and just check Instagram quickly and do things like that. So, whatever you can do to build a habit free of distraction, build an environment free of distraction, do that.

And then the second piece on building that…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, before jumping to the I of TIRE, so this 30, 60 minutes of not switching, you say that could be hard. We might just need to start with 15. I think maybe it might be beneficial to paint a picture in terms of when we say not switching, I have a feeling you have a higher standard of this than most of us. So, give us an example of when you say, “Hey, okay, for the next 15, 30, 60 minutes, I’m doing this and only this.” What can be some examples and then what are we not doing? We’re not looking at any notification or ding or beep or buzz whatsoever or visiting any place. Paint a picture for us.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, look, I’m a writer so I spend a hell of a lot of time staring at my Google Docs module, and if I am writing a thousand-word article, I am not checking my phone, I am not checking other websites, and there are no notifications popping up on my screen. I’m focusing purely on the task of writing. Now, there may be, while I’m writing, I might need, say, a reference of some kind to help me elaborate on things but I’m going to go through one round first.

So, if there is a reference that I’m looking for, I might just make a note of that in the article, and write, “Reference,” highlight it in yellow, and keep on going. Because if I stop every 50 words to seek out references, that can slow things down. I want to write it first and then go off and do those other things because it’s, in a world of four million blogposts being published every day, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in content rabbit holes. And, again, we need to be honest with ourselves because it can be easy to conflate doing stuff with being productive because, ultimately, we derive a lot of self-worth from our work, but we need to make sure that we’re deriving that self-worth from productive activities rather than just stuff that makes us feel busy.

So, that’s essentially my definition of not task switching which is really focusing on not just the one task but also, “What’s the task within the task?” because writing, it could writing, it could be researching, it could be fact-checking, there are different elements to that value chain of writing, but focusing on that one task within the value chain of writing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, I really like that about the task within a task. And then I guess that’s where things get tricky is when you need to get something else to do the thing you’re doing, whether it’s inside your email, or whether it’s inside a reference, or whether it’s inside your phone text message history. That’s what trips me up in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I need to get this thing in order to finish what I’m doing.” But then as I go to that other place, I’m besieged with all the other stuff, and I hate it. How do I fix it?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that’s a great, great question, and in some cases, you might get to a point where, “Look, it’s a dead end, and I need to jump into my email to get this widget, to get this attachment, whatever it is, to continue with my work.” So, of course, you need to do that. Now, I would say that in some cases there are tools that exist. So, for example, if I need to quickly write an email but I don’t want to be besieged by all of my new incoming emails, well, there’s widgets like…or plugins rather, like Google Chrome’s compose email plugin, which will just open the Compose email window so that way I spare myself seeing my inbox. Or, it might be that if I’m jumping into my inbox to get an attachment, well, in that case, I might see those other things coming in.

At the same time, I think it comes back to building that muscle and cultivating the ability to be like, “Hey, I see you. I see you, email, but right now I’m working on this other thing, and I’ll get back to you later.” So, that comes back to nothing new. I mean, people have talked about batching before, but really batching the checking of email to, say, three times a day, which is something I talk about in the book where a study showed that once people check email more than three times a day, their sort of emotional wellbeing starts to fall off with it. There was like an inverse correlation, the more times you check email throughout the day and how good you feel kind of tapers off.

So, batching that, whether it’s morning, mid-day, end of the day, and just having that time specifically for checking and responding to those emails is better than sporadically doing it throughout the day. Now there’s probably all sorts of reasons why people feel worse off when they do that. It might be just that they’re spending all day on shallow-level tasks, they’re not getting any high-value work done, and that could be part of it. It’s kind of like Netflix is all, well, and good, but if you spend four hours bingeing a TV series, you feel terrible at the end of it. Like, it’s just shallow-level work. You get into sort of a vegetative state and it can be that that would also happen with that email as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s hear what the I is in TIRE.

Steve Glaveski
So, I is actually Y, so we’re going with that definition, so it’s higher. But, basically, so the Roman philosopher Seneca once said that, “People are frugal when it comes to guarding their personal property but not so when it comes to their time,” which is the one thing which is right to be stingy with because time, unlike money, cannot be earned back once you spend it.

So, Y essentially stands for yes, saying yes to all sorts of demands on our time, oftentimes at the expense of our own thing. Because, as human beings, we have a tendency, well, not a tendency, we have a predisposition to wanting to be liked. So, if someone requests something of us, we say yes. If someone sends us a meeting request, in most organizations it’s expected that you will say yes, and that if you say no, well, that’s going to create a bit of a tension there between you and that person that invited you. But every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.

So, there is a lot of narrative, if you will, particularly in startup ecosystems where they say, “You know, if you say yes to everything, you create serendipity,” and that’s true but, at the same time, you’re saying yes to one thing and you’re saying no to everything else. So, being more diligent about what we say yes to, and making sure that that stuff really aligns with our goals, is going to help us get close to those goals.

But the one other thing that I would say on that is when it comes to meetings, for example, at Basecamp, if you want to book a meeting with someone else’s calendar, you just can’t do that. You need to sell the meeting to them. You need to, like, why is their contribution going to be valuable at this meeting. Whereas, in many organizations, there is just this tendency to just call every man, woman, and their dog to a meeting, and you have, like, 10 people sitting around a Zoom call nowadays, when, really, you might only need two or three people to be there.

One example I can talk of there is Dominic Price who is the resident work futurist at Atlassian. So, he uses this really useful visual of boomerang and stick. So, for so long, his calendar was basically back-to-back meetings all day long, all week long, and after a while, he said, “Look, I can’t keep working like this, I can’t work on my own goals, and I’m not just finding that my time is really optimized attending all of these meetings.” So, he started saying no, and two-thirds of those meetings didn’t come back so they were effectively sticks. He sent back the meeting rejection; they didn’t come back. One-third did and he called them boomerangs.

So, it might be that two-thirds of the meetings that you’re attending yourself, particularly if you work at a large organization, could be proverbial sticks, if you will. And just by saying no, you might save, as was the case with Dominic Price, 15 hours a week that you can reinvest into your own stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really inspiring because I think you said, perfectly earlier, like, yes, there’s this fear associated with, “If I say no to this meeting request, I’m going to create some friction, some tension,” and it sounds like that was not the case for Dominic in terms of he said, “No,” it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Well, I don’t know, maybe they were furious but it sounds like they were just fine with it, it’s like, “All right, that’s fine.” And then the one-third was like, “No, seriously, I really need you.” He’s like, “All right then.”

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s a pretty simple filter then right there. And do you have any pro tips on how we’d recommend saying that no?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, rather than just saying, “No, I will not attend your meeting. It’s not of value to me,” it comes back to human psychology, trying to empathize with that person, make sure that they understand your own position as well, and say, “Look, I’m currently working on XYZ. It’s a high priority for me. I need to get it done by then. I don’t think that my presence at this meeting will be of value but if there’s anything I can share that you think is valuable, I’m happy to email that along. If you think, for whatever reason that I absolutely have to be at this meeting, let me know why and I’ll come along.”

So, it’s just about, I suppose, taking the edges off somewhat and just being human with your rejection. It’s the same as anything. Even last week, I had organized for someone to appear on my podcast, and in line with this philosophy of not saying yes to everything, I had them come back and say, “Oh, you know, our AV guy wants to set up a 30-minute or 15-minute test call.”

And we’re a small team with only so many resources, and I don’t do test calls with anyone, so I went back to them and said, “Look, I appreciate that. I’ve never had any issues with AV. We’ve got a good setup. I’ve published 400 podcasts episodes. I have a small team and we’re very diligent about what we say yes to because if we say yes to one thing, we might find ourselves saying yes to everything, and I won’t have any time to focus on our goals. I hope you understand.” And they were completely fine with that, they responded and said, “Yep, totally understand,” and just about doing it that way rather than just saying no off the bat.

But, ultimately, what’s better than that is just getting to a point where your organization has a culture where you’re not expected to say yes to things and the onus is with the people requesting the meeting to say why you need to be there to spare you from having to say no in a very sort of diligent way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And if there are superior solutions, like I think, I don’t know what it was called, it’s like Online-Voice-Recorder.com or something like that, is something I’ve sent people to in that very context in terms of it’s like, “You see if it’s recognizing your microphone, and if you record it, if it sounds good. And then if it does, then that’s really the hard part. So, we’ll be all set by the time we’re meeting up here.” So, that’s great. And then it’s probably for them, too, in terms of they don’t feel embarrassed, like, “Oh, I’m sorry, Steve. Let me try to unplug it and then refresh, and sorry.” Okay, you can be there on your own with no self-consciousness, so everyone is better off.

Okay, so we got the T, we got the Y. What’s the R?

Steve Glaveski
Residual work. So, many of your audience will be familiar with Forrest Gump, and there’s this classic scene in Forrest Gump where he’s playing college football, and he was running towards the end zone, he gets there, he’s got the touchdown, he just keeps on running right into the change room, he takes out one of the band members on his way there. And this is essentially how we tend to approach a lot of our work where we don’t stop at the point of diminishing returns. We just keep on going. And so, we might spend, say, four hours putting together a sales presentation, but then we might spend another four hours tweaking it, working with the formatting, making it absolutely “perfect,” at the expense of just saying, “Okay, we’ve created most of the value. Let’s stop. Let’s move onto something else.”

And so, high performers tend to have a good relationship with that point of diminishing returns, and this is something that I find myself doing sometimes as well, and often it comes back to doing something that’s familiar, that’s comfortable, and that gives us that sense of being busy, again, at the expense of starting something new. Because when it comes to switching and starting a task afresh, something that’s perhaps somewhat challenging, our brain needs to recalibrate around that, it’s like staring at a blank page, you can get writer’s block or coder’s block or whatever block is associated with your work.

And the way around that, again, comes back to just breaking that up to its smallest possible unit, and getting started on that, and getting those wheels rolling because that comes back to Isaac Newton and his first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion,” which effectively means that once that ball is rolling, the amount of energy you need to apply to keep it rolling is much less than what’s required to get it started in the first place.

So, when you do find that you are at that point of diminishing returns, stop, maybe go for a 20-minute walk because that helps us release some BDNF, brain drive neurotrophic factor, which is like our cavemen brain sensing movement as a fight or flight moments, and that helps us focus. So, taking that walk, coming back, and starting on that fresh task, breaking it down to its smallest residual part, getting that ball in motion, and once it’s in motion, it’s so much easier to do that.

And the benefit of this is we’re not talking about this over one day, but if you do that over, say, a hundred days, you’ve saved yourself countless hours just kind of tweaking stuff, inconsequential activities that you do on a task long after it’s been done, and you’ve actually spent a lot more time working on high-value activities. So, the compounding interest benefit, if you will, over long periods of time is significant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are some telltale signs that you are approaching or have hit or have passed this point of diminishing returns?

Steve Glaveski
You’ve got to be objective based on your own work, so it’s hard to answer that without knowing the kind of work that people are working on. Like, I know myself that if I am getting into that state of just doing stuff because it’s comfortable, because it’s easier than moving onto something else, I have a pretty good relationship with that. Like, yes, there is value in, say, writing an article and then going over and making sure it’s spellchecked and it sounds good and everything else.

But once you’ve done that once or twice, you might just yourself scrolling up and down, and just looking at it ad infinitum, and that’s perhaps the point where you want to move on and go to something else because it really depends on the individual task at hand. I can’t think of a perfect way that we would say, “Okay, here’s a telltale sign around when you have hit that point of diminishing returns.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that’s…I’m picking up what you’re putting down there with regard to you kind of know it when you see it and feel it with regard to, “Has anything useful happened here in a while?” Like, for me, I find it often occurs like maybe I was in a good groove for like 90 minutes plus, and I’m still working but it’s more of a coasting at that point than a creating new stuff, and it’s like my brain is tired but I haven’t yet acknowledged that my brain is tired.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, you might find yourself, like if you work in social media, you might spend a bit of time putting together some content, and then you go off and you publish it, and then you might just find that you’re spending too much time refreshing the screen and seeing what kind of engagement you’re getting. Now that’s past the point of diminishing returns. People might say, people who work in social media will say, “Well, that’s part of my job.”

But, like the email, you can batch that. You don’t need to be doing that refreshing the page every five minutes, and then while you’re there, checking out some of the other things that have been posted, going into analytics and doing all these little inconsequential things that perhaps you should be batching once a day, and then moving onto another activity.

So, again, that comes back to that sort of the value chain of work, “What is the nature of your work? What’s the value chain within a task?” And batching that stuff rather than finding yourself kind of just in this hamster-on-a-wheel sort of mode. And the value in that case was creating the content, publishing it, and that’s it. But refreshing the page ad infinitum? That obviously isn’t a high-value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think you’re really nailing something there with regard to when there’s real-time stuff happening. It’s funny, we’re recording this on Election Day in the U.S., you’re in Australia, and so there’s a lot of refreshing I think going on in a lot of places to see, “What’s the news? What are the numbers? And how are things potentially unfolding?” But I found that that is a temptation, like when I’ve done my listener surveys, I’d refresh, “Ooh, we got two more. We got two more. What do they say? What do they say? Ooh, they love the show. Great!” It’s like, “Ooh, we have three more.” So, there’s that real-time temptation, I think maybe people who if they’re doing trading in the financial markets as well.

And so then, as I’m thinking about this real-time, it kind of gets back to, “Hey, what am I trying to accomplish in this moment?” And there may be a great reason to say, “Okay, hey, I just launched a survey, and I want to see the first 5, 10 results right away to see if maybe I had a really unclear question, and folks are not actually giving me answers that are what I’m after, or they’re confused, or skipping it. So, yeah, I do want to check, maybe repeatedly, in the early moments to do a quick correction and make sure I don’t let it run for five days and get 200 responses that are not what I wanted because I was unclear with my question.”

So, in a way, I think that that’s super helpful to do that refreshing, it’s not a diminishing return. It’s a great return. But other times, it’s just like, yeah, it’s almost like you go into a state of, “Duh, refresh anymore.” It’s like there’s less life and juice and drive and goal domination going on in terms of how it feels in my psyche.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, which comes back to what I was saying earlier, like you know it when you see it, essentially, when it comes to that point of diminishing returns. And what you’re talking about there is so valid as well. I’m not a big fan of absolutes and all-or-nothing type of advice or guidance on anything. I feel like most things in life exist on like an inverted U, like stress as well. Like, “No, stress is not a really good space.” I mean, some stress actually helps us get to that point of optimal performance. So, that inverted U, you want to look for that space at the very top of the inverted U, or the bell curve essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
Or an N, lowercase N.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, whatever the case it is, lowercase N, but then you’ve got two like peaks, so. But, essentially, finding that space. So, yes, maybe check it for a little bit, get the feedback you need. It’s the same with running an ad. You want to run an ad and you want to see that it’s performing in the early stages, and if not, you want to tweak the ad and make sure that you’re getting a better click-rate, for example, that you’re reaching the right people, whatever the case is. But if you’re sitting there, refreshing the ad all day long, “Oh, our cost per click has gone down a little bit. Oh, we’ve got a few more clicks now,” like that is obviously the point where you’re like, “Okay, let’s move onto something else.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the T, the Y, the R. And the E?

Steve Glaveski
So, the E, essentially, I suppose dovetails off something we touched on, which was the path of least effort. So, human beings, biologically, we’re predisposed to taking the path of least effort. I mean, that comes back to evolutionary wiring whereby tens of thousands of years ago, when we were naked running around the African savannah, we didn’t know where our food would come from, and so we needed to conserve energy for extended periods of time in case we needed to hunt out some prey or evade some predators.

This now shows up in our work when we sit down to our desks and we take that path of least effort, checking Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. And we already touched on some of the ways to circumvent that by breaking things down to their residual parts, environment design, and cultivating the ability to get stuck on the most difficult task perhaps first thing in the morning or first thing in the afternoon, whenever it is you tend to do your best work, which is something we touched on in the book as well, which is that about 50% of people are actually night owls, which means they do their best work 10 hours after waking. Otherwise, if you try and get a night owl to work an hour after waking, they actually suffer from a form of social jetlag, which can also predispose them to developing anxiety and depression over the longer term.

So, this whole idea of getting people to the office at, say, 9:00 A.M., getting them out of bed at 7:00, particularly if they’re night owls, it’s really detrimental to their health, but not only their health but their ability to perform at a high level. So, when you think about the fact that about 50% of the population are night owls, like they have these preferred sleeping patterns but they’re forced to get to work early, and I think it’s encouraging to see that now with the move to remote work at scale, hopefully more organizations stay that way.

It does create the conditions to move to more asynchronous communication where we’re not expecting real-time responses, where we’re not conflating presence with productivity, and people aren’t expected to be on Slack all day long and expected to all be on these back-to-back Zoom calls. It does give people the ability to design days as it best suits them, as it best suits their biological predisposition, the realities of their lives, their families and everything else, and they can get work when it best suits them.

And, ultimately, that benefits everyone. It also benefits the organizations because if you can create those types of cultures, it also is a compelling recruit tool because people want to work at places where they can create their own days as it best suits them but also work in organizations where they can actually get stuff done and not be bogged down by bucketloads of process and policy that just gives them no sense of control or agency over their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well-said. Well, so I also know you’ve got a take on the eight-hour workday. Lay it on us, are shorter workdays better and why?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So. Shorter workdays, there is no yes or no answer. Ultimately, a six-hour workday experiment was something we ran two and a half years ago and I wrote an article about this for Harvard Business Review and called “The Case for the Six-hour Workday.” And what you find is when you have a shorter workday, if you’re an organization that has a lot of bloat, that isn’t intentional about how it goes about creating value, a shorter work day forces you to focus on high-value activities. It’s a forcing function.

So, one, it will force you to, say, automate and outsource rudimentary process-oriented lower-risk activities so that your people aren’t doing that. Two, it will force you to focus on, say, high-value tasks. So, applying the Pareto principle, focusing in on those 20% of tasks that create the majority of the value rather than just focusing on those low-value tasks that feel good, that you’ve done because you’ve always done them before but don’t really move the needle forward. It forces people to cultivate the flow state, to get better at getting into that deep-work state, do away with those notifications, those distractions, and those meetings that inhibit our ability to do our best work. So, a shorter workday will help you in that regard. So, if you do have a lot of bloat, and you’re working at eight-hour workdays, and you come back to six, you will find more productivity.

Now, over the past couple of years, there’s been a trend as well to four-day work weeks. We saw Microsoft Japan run a four-day work week, and they suggested that their productivity improved by 40%. Now, me, personally, I would argue that five shorter work days is better than, say, four longer ones because if you have created this environment and culture where people can get into flow and people can do that for, say, the max amount of time, which is about four hours a day, maybe five, then if you’re keeping them there for, say, eight hours for four days a week, that suggests that maybe there’s two, three hours of waste there rather than running, say, five days at four or five hours a day, which I think is more beneficial if people are spending that time in flow.

Now, again, there’s something to be said about not all hours will be in flow. Like, for example, you may have to have some meetings. There is collaboration that’s required at organizations, there are things that need to get done where you’re just not working in isolation, so that’s why adding maybe a couple of hours to that workday, so it’s six hours rather than just four, I think makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you mentioned automation and outsourcing. Do you have any favorite tools or services or tricks?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, look. I think Zapier, for me, is probably one of the most powerful ones. So, Zapier, or IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. So, these tools will basically help different tools speak to each other. So, recently, during the pandemic, I spun off a media company called NoFilter, and one thing we found was taking up a lot of time was getting people that we had paid to take Google Docs that our writers had developed, take them, copy them, paste them into our CMS and publish that.

So, we created a very simple automation between, say, a web HTML form and our CMS so that our writers will just plug the content right into the HTML form, and that would get picked up by Zapier and come into our CMS, so then us, as editors, we just jump into that CMS and we just need to publish it, or we might need to just make some changes if we feel like the content is not good enough, or just delete it if it’s crap, right? But that saves us a lot of time copying and pasting, but it also meant that we could operate at scale because, then, we could reach out to a lot of different writers, and say, “Hey, if you want to write for us, here’s the online form. You can republish some of your old blogposts too and we’ll link back to that, and we’ll give you an article links and whatnot.” And that just helps us make the process a lot more seamless. So, that’s one.

Another example is tools like repurpose which help you effectively repurpose content for different platforms. So, you can think about something like recording a Facebook Live video and then using a combination of tools like Zapier, Repurpose, record posts, for example, where that Facebook Live video could get turned into a transcribed blogpost, an audiogram, a YouTube video, and social media post with a click of a button essentially.

Now, again, inverted U, sometimes there is an element of personalization that can get missed with that but these tools are slowly getting better and better, but just by recording that Facebook Live video, you can have all these other forms of content basically at the click of a button, and that just means that we’re creating a lot more content, we can reach larger audiences, and it saves us a hell of a lot of time in trying to manually create different versions of that content ourselves.

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

Steve Glaveski
There are a couple. Another couple of tools people might want to look out for: WebMerge and Airtable. So, I mentioned earlier our sales presentations, we use Airtable to automate our sales proposal generation, right? So, rather than having to manually seek out, “Hey, where’s that proposal we prepared for that client about six months ago?” getting that PowerPoint or keynote, and then manually putting that together, we’ve created this tool where all we do is plug in the prospect’s name, their logo, and choose the color scheme, and also just choose what products they’re actually interested in, and this will spit out a presentation that we might spend 5 to 10 minutes customizing. And, over the course of the year, that also saves us a bunch of time when it comes to just automating these rudimentary process-oriented tasks.

So, I would challenge people that whatever task you’re all currently working on, like whether it’s customer service, sales, marketing, testing, administrative tasks, like so many things can be automated, and the cost of doing so is not high, but a lot of people will say things like, “Yeah, but I haven’t got time or money to do that,” but it’s kind of ironic because over the long term you actually end up spending a hell of a lot more time and money trying to do it yourself rather than just spending that time upfront which will pay itself back in orders of magnitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s what I found. It’s like it’s not so much that you don’t have time, it’s just that it’s kind of hard and tiring to figure it out and execute it and set it up, but once you do, yeah, I’ve had many instances of setup a system and a process with a combination of training someone to do something, and software doing something, and bring them together, and I spend two hours and it saves me 40 hours. There’s not a lot of 20-to-1 returns to be had in your investments, but when it comes to time and automation outsourcing, there’s many, many to be done.

Steve Glaveski
Many, many. One quick one there, just on that 20-to-1, if you look at things like a five-minute task done five times a day, like if you just outsource that task or automate it, that saves people something like 15 days over the course of the year, like if you extrapolate that five minutes out. And that’s just that five minutes, like we’re not even accounting for the fact that you need to stop what you’re doing to do that task and then come back to what you were doing, so the task switching as well.

So, it doesn’t need to be a big task to save a lot of time, but it’s the small task that you’re doing often, like even five-minute tasks, think about outsourcing that as well.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’m a big fan of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation, And one of the quotes in his book was, “When you have power over your mind, not external events, realize this and you will find strength.”

So, essentially, I think that navigating life in that way where things will happen to you that perhaps aren’t pleasant, things won’t go your way. You might pursue business and perhaps it doesn’t work out, but you have control over your mind and how you choose to interpret and respond to these things. Just by having that sort of mindset, it just opens you up to trying things where you might fail and you might not be good because so many of us suffer from a sense of paralysis when we’re scared that things will not work out our way.

I’ve tried to cultivate that adversity in my life just by doing things that scare me. Like, last year, I hit the standup comedy open-mic circuit here in Melbourne, and I did five shows. Now, I’ve done keynotes and things of that persuasion in front of hundreds of people but getting up in front of a crowd of ten in a smokey back-alley bar somewhere and trying to make them laugh, man, that’s scary. Doing these things just, I find, optimized not only your life but just predisposes you to taking that path of more effort rather than the path of least effort. And, oftentimes, even if you fail, you end up in a much better place.

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

Steve Glaveski
One that I pulled out during my research for the book Time Rich was around some group of scientists that…so there was three control groups: so one was working 20 hours a week, one was working 35 hours a week, and the third was working 60 hours a week. And what they found was that the group that was working 20 hours a week was twice as productive as the 35-hour a week group, and the 60-hour a week group was the least productive of all, which they found came back to the fact that the more hours these groups had, one, they’d spent it on non-consequential tasks, but, two, they also had less time to rest and rejuvenate and come back as the best version of themselves. So, that’s why the 60-hour a week group were just the least productive of all.

So, that comes back to something I talk about in the book, which is burnout. Burnout essentially, where that comes from is the fact that us, as human beings, we might be present on a Zoom call or in the office, but if we’re burnt out, we’re only physically present. On the inside, we’re a shadow of our former selves, and that’s kind of like a house that’s been ravaged by a house fire. It might still be standing but if you go inside, everything has just been burnt out to a crisp. So, that’s an interesting study that I think validates some of these thinking around shorter work days and focusing on high-value activities rather than just conflating hours with output as we might, say, on the factory room floors of the industrial revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Glaveski
For now I’m going to say Ray Dalio’s Principles just because he is someone who’s been in the trenches for a number of decades in the funds-management space. His initial business failed, he effectively came up with ways to codify decision-making based on what’s worked in the past but also adaptive decision-making in a way where he will update his worldview based on new evidence that comes to light which is a core of the scientific method, but just lots of principles in there which I think help us navigate not just business and life.

For example, multi-order thinking, so not just thinking about, “What’s the benefit of making this decision but what are the consequences? What are the second, third, fourth order consequences of this?” So, it’s just a chock-full of these principles that effectively help us better navigate life essentially.

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

Steve Glaveski
It’s really about a quadrant that I drop on a whiteboard once every quarter. So, not a fancy like tech tool or anything like that, but I just draw up this quadrant and I just write in each corner start, stop, more, less. And so, I’ll do this with my business, I’ll look at, “What should we start doing, stop doing, do more, do less?” And I’ll apply this to sales techniques, marketing channels, products we’re selling, customers, geographies, real targeting, all that sort of stuff, so that every period of time we’re always optimizing, we’re cutting away wastes, and we’re doing more of what works, we’re introducing new things that we perhaps haven’t tried. We’re always experimenting.

But it’s also a valuable tool that you can apply to your own life in a sense that, “Hey, here’s what I should start doing, stop doing. Hey, here’s what’s not really working for me. Perhaps I need to stop doing this, and perhaps I need to be more of a friend to these people,” whatever the case is. But being objective with that and just taking the time out to stop and reflect, as Mark Twain urged us to do, and actually act on those reflections, I think, just helps us get to a place where we’re just living more contended lives.

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

Steve Glaveski
Just getting started to the most difficult thing first thing in the morning, whatever it is. It might be a gym workout. It might be writing a 1500-word article. It could be anything, but I find that if I start my day achieving something, then that kind of permeates the rest of my day in a way. And not only that, but there is something to be said about dopamine release that comes with accomplishment, that comes with achieving something, that puts you in a better state of mind as well, which then, in turn, impacts how you show up with the people around you, and impacts the energy that you bring to the rest of your work. So, for me, that all just starts with making my bed first thing in the morning and then going from there.

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

Steve Glaveski
Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control. I think that’s a big one. So often, people don’t delineate between the two and find themselves getting wrapped up with what they can’t control, and that’s really putting yourself in a place of victimhood narrative. There’s nothing you can do about that other than make yourself feel like crap. So, really delineate between the two and focus on influencing what you can control and the stuff that you can’t control, well, there’s no point working yourself up over it because it’s essentially outside your locus of control.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’d point them to SteveGlaveski.com. They can find all of my links to businesses, social media, books, all that sort of stuff over there. And if they want to learn more about Time Rich, they can do so at TimeRichBook.com. They can download the first chapter for free as well as a 30-page document of Time Rich tools over at TimeRichBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Steve, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in being time rich.

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

616: How to Handle Work in a World Where Everything’s Urgent with Brandon Smith

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Brandon Smith says: "Don't let everything be urgent all the time. Everything can't be equal priority."

Brandon Smith shares how to cut through non-stop urgency and work on what’s truly important.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How urgency is just like hot sauce
  2. What your boss really means when they say everything’s urgent
  3. How to expertly say no to extra work

 

About Brandon

Brandon went from not being able to order a pizza due to a debilitating stutter to becoming a master communicator. 

He went on to teach communication in two leading business schools and has won 12 teaching awards for his work in the classroom. 

Through his work with businesses, Brandon has helped countless employees go from being on the verge of getting fired to becoming some of the company’s top performers. 

Brandon learnt the secret of urgency, what he calls ‘Hot Sauce’ and how different people react differently to it. Today he is the author of The Hot Sauce Principle. 

Used in the right amount, hot sauce can be the very thing that turns a bland or stressful workplace into a place of flavorful productivity. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome 
  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome 

Brandon Smith Interview Transcript

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

Brandon Smith
Pete, really excited to be on the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I was just telling you off the recording that your subtitle is so good. Your book is called The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time.

Brandon Smith
Everything is urgent all of the time, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re speaking to my experience and the exhaustion associated with that. But I want to sort of go back in time a little bit. So, you were not always a master communicator. There was a time, I’m told, that you had quite the stutter and were nervous about ordering pizza. What’s the story of the transformation here?

Brandon Smith
Yeah. So, let me tell you a little bit of the story. I don’t know if I can answer the transformation part as well but I can at least tell you part of the story. So, I was the youngest of three boys, I had two older brothers, both were adopted, and my oldest brother was always in and out of trouble, so creating a lot of drama and dysfunction in my house, throwing up.

Well, when I was 10, he took his own life. And during that time, it was a really kind of transformative period for myself and my family. It was a hard time. And I ended up, I don’t know why, but I ended up coming down with a stutter about six months after he died, and I couldn’t shake it, and that was going into middle school, which I do not recommend.

So, every day, before middle school, I would have to go and see my speech therapist early in the morning and we’d work on the letters that always tripped me up, which were the Bs and the Ps and the Ts, so then I would work on those and then go on to the school day. And so, yeah, during my entire middle school career, if you were to call it that, things that involved those letters were really tricky for me. I would find any way to avoid that.

But when you’re ordering a pepperoni pizza, there’s just no escaping. You can’t say, “Can you put those little things on there? What are they called again?” so, then, ordering the pepperoni pizza, that would never really end. I would just get caught in that stutter. And I just decided that people were just kind of messy and dysfunctional, because growing up with my brother, and then the way kids with stutters were treated in school, I thought, “Man, people are messed so I’m just going to keep distance from them.”

And that was kind of my high school years. Really kind of made myself kind of a wallflower, an introvert, and then went off to college, didn’t really know what I wanted to major in, ended up majoring in communications, ironically enough. And then, at some point along the way, my stutter kind of shook free, I suppose. However, I can tell you, when I get really, really tired, or really, really stressed out and tired, it comes back a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, what a story, and I’m sorry to hear about that difficult moment but it’s reassuring to hear that you, ultimately, triumphed and, here we are, benefitting from your wisdom.

Brandon Smith
I’m working on it, Pete. I wouldn’t say triumphed. So, I’m working on it. I’m working on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you sound great, and you’ve got something important to say, and I’m excited to hear about it. So, first, The Hot Sauce Principle, why don’t you just define that? What’s the big idea there? And where does this term come from?

Brandon Smith
Yeah, you know, the big idea, what I was finding, so I wear lots of hats in the world. One of my hats is I’m an executive coach. Another hat, I teach at universities and business schools. And I was just finding that a lot of the people I was interacting with in the workplace, didn’t matter what kind of job they had, didn’t matter whether they were nonprofit, for profit, big, small, work in the United States, work internationally, two things were true. Time was everyone’s precious resource. Not money, it was time. And everything was urgent all the time.

And that urgency was like hot sauce. One day it just kind of hit me. It’s like just being hot sauce just poured on everything. And while I love that concept of hot sauce for urgency for lots of reasons, one, I like it because a little bit of hot sauce is actually kind of a good thing. I like hot sauce. It adds focus, it adds flavor, makes things a priority. But you put that stuff on everything, if you’re like me, you’re just going to be drenched in sweat, curled up in a ball, and not really able to function. And some people can tolerate a lot of this stuff, and some people can’t tolerate much at all.

So, it’s a nice, simple way of thinking about how we deal with urgency, and that sometimes it’s a good thing. But too much of anything, particularly urgency, is like hot sauce. It just overwhelms us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you mentioned some people can handle a little, and some people can handle a lot. That reminds me of there is this like local comedian who was making a joke about how some people who are really into their hot sauce will sort of demean others, it’s just like, “Oh, you probably can’t handle this.” It’s like, “You’re belittling me for having a tongue that works properly.” Like, where else has this happened with regard to, “Oh, man, you probably don’t need glasses, but I need huge glasses”?

So, we’re going to dig into that, I’m sure, in terms of just how much you can handle and how much is optimal. And so then, tell us then, what would you say is sort of the most surprising or fascinating discovery that came about when you were putting together this research associated with urgency and what we do about it?

Brandon Smith
I think there’s probably a couple things that really are big highlights that are important for us to think about. First, urgency is a good thing. So, if we kind of flip into another part of the workplace world, all the experts in change management, one of the more famous ones is a guy by the name of John Kotter who teaches at Harvard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had him on the show.

Brandon Smith
Oh, you had him on the show?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Brandon Smith
Okay. Well, then you know John well. Well, John is famous for change management. And when you look at a lot of the concepts he brings, in his frameworks, he says, “You know what, if you want to turn out a change, the first place you got to start is urgency. There has to be a high-enough sense of urgency.” So, urgency is really important when we’re trying to change.

My kids always joke with me because every year, about a month out, six weeks out to a month out from my annual physical, I will start really doubling down on exercise and health. And they’re like, “Oh, here comes dad’s physical again.” But it’s that urgency. I want to show up really good for the physical. It creates urgency. It gets us to change.

So, I think one big takeaway is that urgency is a really good thing. It’s a healthy thing. We need it. As one client told me many years ago, she said, “I know I need to light a fire in my people, but sometimes I need to light a fire under them too.” So, we don’t want to cut out hot sauce, but the problem is when we, as leaders, just think everything is urgent and we make our emotions, our anxiety, other people’s problems. It’s kind of like kick the dog syndrome.

There’s a whole new set of research studying emotions in the workplace, they’re called emotional contagion. And one of the big takeaways in that research is that anxiety is one of the more contagious forms of emotions. It’s super contagious. So, we want to make sure that we’re not making other people feel that pain. That’s a really, really bad thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Brandon, you know, that rings true in my experience in terms of anxiety. I just pick up on it. It’s just like, “Aargh.”

Brandon Smith
And you think of the year we’re in, it’s really easy for a leader to be really anxious about a lot of things. Anxious about uncertainty, about where the business is going, anxious about their family or the health, so are all our employees. They’re all anxious too. So, sometimes we actually need to be the calm in the storm. We’ve got to say, “Okay, I’m going to show calm today, or peaceful today, so I don’t freak everybody else out and they can focus and do their job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m with you. So, urgency, it’s not bad, we need some of it, especially in order to make a change. If you don’t got it, it’s probably not going to happen. And so, at the same time though, hey, we’re in a global worldwide disease pandemic at the moment with COVID-19, as we speak. Hopefully, people will be listening to this, years from now, and say, “Oh, I remember that. That was a difficult time. I’m so glad it’s such a distant memory now.” But, in addition to that, you say that professionals these days are in an urgency epidemic. What do you mean by that? And what are the consequences of it?

Brandon Smith
So, the urgency epidemic is when other people put their urgency on us, on you. They make their problems your problem. Notorious for this would be like large publicly-traded companies. So, shareholders and everyone else putting so much pressure on them, so what most C-level leaders do in this company, I hate to say, is they just tell all their direct reports, “All this stuff is urgent. We have to change it all right now. All of it now.”

And I was actually sitting in a meeting a few years ago with a senior leader who said this to the room, and one of his direct reports raised their hand and said, “Well, I totally get that, boss. I totally understand that but help us to prioritize. So, what’s the priority? What’s the order here?” And he looked at him and he said, “All of them are urgent right now equally.” And you can feel the room just deflate.

So, the real epidemic is everything being urgent all the time and having that pressure being pushed down on us. So, it’s kind of like rather than running a marathon where you say, “Okay, I’m going to be done at 26.2 miles,” it’s like run until you drop. Because we can sprint, we can do urgency for a little while, but the school of thought is it needs to be more like interval training. Like, you sprint, you get a little rest, you sprint, you get a little rest. Not just run until you drop.

And so, that’s what the real urgency epidemic costs us. It costs us exhaustion, burnout, and performance, and lots of other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, this is very much ringing true. Oh, there’s so much I want to dig into there. First, okay, maybe this is a quick one, with intervals, there’s all sorts of different interval timers. I’ve got so many apps on my phone and different recommendations for four minutes on, one minute off. Do you have a sense for what is “optimal interval”? If we really want to make some stuff happen, and we also want to not burn out, what’s kind of the range of, hey, sprinting versus chilling ratio?

Brandon Smith
Oh, man, yeah. Pete, this is tough. I hate to give that, like, classic business school answer, “It depends,” but it really totally does depend. So, for example, let’s say we were a software company, and we did a product release. Well, the natural time to do interval for rest would be right after the launch of a new product. So, if you’re in that kind of a world where you have a beginning, middle, and end of something, then you want to take the break at the end.

There was a company out in Silicon Valley a couple of years ago that tested this idea. And they would launch a new product every quarter, and at the end of every quarter, they’d shut down their business for a full week so everybody could rest, so nobody worked that week. So, at the end of the year, they were actually only working 11 months out of the 12 months because of one week off every quarter. That first year they did it, they had a higher productivity and higher performance and higher revenue than the year before.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. So, working fewer total days.

Brandon Smith
Yeah, fewer total days. If you look at another example of that, you might say like in the quick-service restaurant world, Chick-fil-A is number one in revenue per store, and they are only open six days a week, and they don’t have the late-night hours, like McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any of the other players might have. So, that’s an example of interval training. They found a way to make that work in their rhythm. They did one day off a week.

So, I think it really depends upon the business but the notion is really important. So, I think almost a better way to think about it is if you’re a leader or a manager, how can you give your folks a break between sprints so they get a moment to catch their breaths? And what are some creative ways you can do it that kind of work for your world?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, can you give us one or two or three creative ways right off the top of your head?

Brandon Smith
So, one would naturally be trying to find an extra day off a week, or working from home. So, there are many uncomfortable things and not pleasant things that came from 2020, but there are some positives. One positive is a lot of employers realized people can work from home. And then, as a huge not only morale boost and perk, but it impacts motivation if used in the right doses in a positive way.

So, allowing people the opportunity to work from home is probably going to be more like our new normal. My guess is, if we look out in the crystal ball, we’re going to see people coming into the office one, two, maybe three days a week, and then working from home the other days of the week. So, that’s an example of interval training, giving people a little more space to get things done.

Another example would be thinking about times and opportunities where you can close and turn off the whole business. So, what makes this tricky is if you’re going to give someone a break, you got to make sure people aren’t pinging them during the break. Like, I could tell you, “Pete, take this day off.” But if customers are still calling you and they didn’t get the memo, it’s not really a day off. So, boundary is really important.

Part of my background is I’m a trained clinical therapist, and any therapist, one of their passion areas is boundaries, and to really do this thing well, interval training and intervals, and protecting ourselves from urgency, we’ve got to know how to set boundaries, know how to communicate that and say no when necessary.

So, I’ll give you one more, a quick one. This is a personal tip that you could use. Everyone listening to this can use this. I started doing it this year. Really easy. I stopped emailing people on the weekends. Period. Now, it didn’t mean I didn’t do work. So, Microsoft Outlook is the tool I use. They have a function, like a lot of emailing software tools, where you can schedule emails.

So, what I did was I would still do my work but I would schedule all my emails to go out on Monday morning when people were actually supposed to be at work or working. And what I found. when I did that, was I wasn’t getting any emails on the weekend. Because, before when I would send an email, there would always be that super hardworking ambitious person at the other end that would kick the email back with a response. And then I would respond, and then they would respond, and now we’re playing an email tennis match on Saturday afternoon.

Well, I’m not playing email tennis matches anymore, and so it allowed me to really get ahead of the week and not feel that kind of pace and urgency. So, that’s a simple kind of interval training that we can all put into our lives. And if you’re a manager, I would encourage you to tell your team that you’re doing that so they don’t send you emails on the weekend either.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay, cool. Well, so already so many great takeaways there in terms of we’ve got to have some rest, and you could think about creative ways to do that. Shut down the whole business, or the whole team, or have particular days off, and so there’s a rhythmic groove that you’re in, and establishing a boundary, showing it to others so that they follow up. So much good stuff here.

I guess I also want to get your take on it is really frustrating when someone says, “All of these are urgent. Right now. And equally so.” Now, in my opinion, I want to get your take on this, one, I think when someone communicates that, it’s really just laziness and that they haven’t actually done the work to determine what is, in fact, the most urgent and/or important yet. That’s my hot take. What are your thoughts? Does that jive with what you believe as well? Or, how do you see what’s behind that message?

Brandon Smith
Yeah. Well, I agree with you completely. I would say when we live in a world where times are our most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time, it will default us to become firefighters. We’re not leaders. It doesn’t matter people’s title. Most people right now, “most leaders” are firefighters. And so, when you’re a fighter, you’re in a reactive posture.

So, what you’re saying is rather than being a proactive posture and really prioritize and sit down and plan, you’re just reacting to the stuff that’s burning that day, and then you’re putting that on other people. So, I agree completely. It’s trying to get them to shift that behavior, which is one of the many antidotes you can do when you’re getting someone trying to push that on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, lay it on us, if you think everything is urgent, and whether it means you haven’t done the thinking through to determine what’s truly more urgent, how do you recommend we go about thinking through that, and then arriving at some optimal decisions regarding the urgency of things?

Brandon Smith
So, to help with this, for everyone listening who has a boss, I no longer want you think of your boss as your boss. From now on, I want you to think of your boss as your number one customer or client because they really are. I mean, they are. They can decide to renew your contract or end your contract. So, when we do that, it, all of a sudden, turns on a whole bunch of other tools and competencies that we have around client management because, really, what we’re talking about is client management.

We want to sit down and say, “Miss or Mr. Client,” or boss, “I totally understand that you want to get all these things done. Unfortunately, we have limited resources. So, we have a couple options. One option is I would love to talk to you about the order in which we need to take these on and the importance of each so I can try to meet your needs with what we have. The other option is we can get more resources, so maybe we can find more people to get this done, or hire, or get better software, or wherever else we can invest. So, which path would you like to go down?” Essentially, it’s client management, and you’re forcing them to either trade off or offer more resources.

That’s also a boundary conversation. If you don’t do that, and you just say, “Yes, I’m going to get this done,” then what you’re sacrificing is yourself and your team because you’ll end up needing to work till 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning in order to get it all done if there isn’t enough resources, there isn’t enough time. So, you have to have the courage to also be willing to stand up for yourself and for your team to not sacrifice yourself in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this reminds me, is it called the project management trio, in terms of like the scope and the resources and the timing, and there’s sort of like a triangle there? And it’s like one of them has got to shift. And I think scope can also maybe include quality. We could do a lot of stuff poorly or we can do a few things really well given how much time and how many people we have available to do those things, and to just get very real about that.

And so, I guess I’m curious, there’s all sorts of data suggesting that we human beings do a poor job of estimating how long things take. How do you recommend we get a clear handle on, yeah, this is really what is a manageable amount for us to bite off right now versus not too much?

Brandon Smith
Oh, this is a tricky one. Now, the simple answer is time and wisdom helps to cure a lot of those ills. We just learn over time that, “Oh, yeah, I estimated I was going to take 10 hours. It turns out it took 40. That was not a good decision.” Like, I have not stained my deck myself in many years. Last time I did it, it took me 40 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Brandon Smith
I enjoyed doing it but it took me 40 hours. The next year, I hired a crew. It was like 300 bucks and they did it in like four hours. I will never stain my deck again. So, I think part of it is we learn over time. But the other part of this, too, is it’s really important that, as best we can, we try and under-promise and overdeliver when it comes to things like this. Because when we don’t make a gunline that we promised, we lose credibility. And when we lose credibility, it’s in the book, it’s part of a trust formula that I offer, we need to have trust in order to effectively push back on our manager. If she or he doesn’t fully trust us, or we don’t have that credibility, it’s going to be hard for us to push back. They’re not going to listen to us.

So, part of the way, one of the many ways we gain credibility is by kind of meeting and exceeding expectations on a regular basis. And so, it’s all about kind of managing those expectations. So, for example, I could tell my wife I’m going to be home at 6:00 o’clock. If I come home at 7:30, she’s going to be mad. If I tell her I’m going to be home at 6:00 o’clock, and I come home at 5:30, she’s going to be happy. So, it’s just kind of managing that. So, trying to think how we can do that is going to be key.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that really rings true with regard to with the trust. If you try to push back, and there’s low trust, the boss may very well say, “Nah, it’s not that much. You can handle it.” As opposed to, “Oh, no, I really do believe that you’re giving me your honest, genuine assessment of how long things take as opposed to like you’re sandbagging me because you’re lazy,” or something. So, that’s huge. And then under-promise and overdeliver, that’s excellent.

Let’s zoom into kind of the emotional difficulty associated with putting forward a smaller commitment maybe than you think they want, or saying no, or establishing or enforcing a boundary. All these things can be a little bit uncomfortable in terms of that. And I just sort of, this is my personal trick, I remember when I was an employee, and someone asked me, “Hey, when do you think you can have that done?” I just sort of reoriented that question in my brain not to mean, “When do I really think I can have it done?” to, “What is the latest data I can tell you just before you’re going to become irritated with me?”

Brandon Smith
That’s fair.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s kind of how I tried to play it. And sometimes they push back, and I’d be like, “Yeah, I think I could definitely have that by next Tuesday,” and I meant it. I definitely could because I could probably have it three days before that. And then they’d say, “Hmm, yeah, about Friday?” Then I would just sort of say something like, “Yeah, that’s more challenging but I still think that’s doable.” And then, in that way, it’s like, hey, I was never lying, I was never deceptive, I just said, “I could definitely have it done by then,” because I had a great deal of confidence that I had some bugger to schedule. And frequently they just took it, like, “All right. It sounds cool. We’ll do it then.” So, that was my little trick.

Brandon Smith
No, that’s great. It’s managing their expectations. That’s beautiful. That’s perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s one for me. Let’s hear, Brandon, what are some of your faves?

Brandon Smith
In terms of managing some of those expectations?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, managing expectations, saying no when forcing a boundary, when inside, want to people-please and accommodate.

Brandon Smith
So, let’s go back to like saying no. Saying no is difficult because it’s a vulnerable position we put ourselves in. We don’t like vulnerability because what are they going to do to us when we say no? Are they going to reject us? Are they going to get angry with us? What are they going to do? So, we just say, “Well, the path to least resistance is I say yes and just kind of keep on piling and piling and piling.”

Now, that story ends up always ending the same. We have so much on our plate that we end up missing expectations and starting to disappoint others because you can’t just keep piling and piling and piling. So, there are a couple ways that we can say no that will make it a little less emotional for us and easier. So, one very helpful tip is when you’re saying no, that conversation should be 20% no, 80% alternate solutions to solve their problem.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brandon Smith
Where we go wrong is we spend all the time, like, you asked me to do something, Pete, and I’d say like, “No, Pete, I can’t. Here’s all the reasons why,” and I go through all my list of reasons. You’re not listening to my list of reasons anymore. You don’t really care. You didn’t like the fact I said no. And what I’ve inadvertently done is I’ve set up a negotiation. So, what you’re going to say to yourself is, “Well, if I can counter his argument, then he has to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. It’s like, “Oh, well, if you could do this, we’d do that. Give it someone else.” And it’s like, “I didn’t mean to invite you into a micro assessment of the rest of my obligations and, yet, here we are.”

Brandon Smith
And that’s what happens. We end up inadvertently turning it into a negotiation. And so, what you want to do is quickly and very succinctly say, “No, I don’t have the capacity to do this, but I want to help you solve this problem. So, I’ve come up with some other alternate solutions to maybe get this problem solved. Let’s work through some of these to find another solution that will get this completed.”

So, you can suggest colleagues perhaps, you can suggest external resources, you can suggest moving things around. So, there are other options that you can lay out at the table. But, in a perfect world, all the other options should not involve you, so you’re kind of going into problem-solving.

Now, the other thing you can also do in terms of saying no is giving people a little more transparency into all the trains running on your tracks. So, often when people load up, even your own boss, your own manager, they probably have forgotten and are unaware of all the stuff you’re doing. So, giving them that window can be helpful.

I had a student of mine years ago, and she did an internship in New York in investment banking. And during that internship, she had multiple managing directors in that office, and they were notorious for coming up to her and giving her big projects. So, one day, one of them came up and gave her a project after his colleague had given her a project the day before. And she looked at him, she said, “I’m happy to do this for you. But in order for me to do this for you, I need to go to your colleague, the other managing director, and I need to tell them I can’t do their project that they gave me yesterday because I’m doing yours instead. Are you comfortable if I have that discussion?” And they looked at her, and they said, “Never mind.”

So, sometimes, showing people what you have going on, and letting them know who you’re going to have to tell no to in order to tell them yes can also re-shift the focus because, now, we’re going into politics and, all of a sudden, this person could put them self in a political limb that they didn’t realize because now you’re going to tell their boss no so you can do their project, or whoever that person may be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I like that so much because it’s honest, it’s real, it’s genuine. And then, sometimes, the person you’re communicating would be like, “Oh, not a problem. Happy to do that.” And then you learn something from that, it’s like, “Oh, huh, funny. Because from the outside looking in, it had seemed like those two projects were of equal importance but, apparently, one of them is way higher, and I didn’t even know that.” And by having had that conversation and learned that, you’re gaining some of that wisdom, that kind of say, “Oh, okay, this is what’s really important here and what is most valued in this team or organization.”

Brandon Smith
Yeah. So, if we go back to one of our bigger meta-principles today, it was about forcing prioritization. Don’t let everything be urgent all the time. Everything can’t be equal priority. That’s when we get overwhelmed and burned out. In a very kind of geeky way, we need to be lining stuff up in a process kind of way, and say, “Okay, where do I start with first? What’s first priority, and second, and third?”

And, by the way, the leaders and the companies that have really done the best job of keeping everybody focused and aligned during this whole time in 2020 have had anywhere between three and no more than five priorities. They’ve been operating off of a very set list of three to five. They haven’t made everything urgent all the time. They said, “No, these are our big things we’re going to focus on. Everybody, line up around these,” and it calms people’s anxiety, it gets people focused, it’s like just that right amount of hot sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, yes, that three to five is great. The forced prioritization is powerful. One way is to just say, “Hey, I could do that, but in order to do that, I’m going to have to drop this.” And so, you share sort of the constraints. What are some of your other favorite ways of forcing a prioritization?

Brandon Smith
So, when you’re thinking about going to your boss, it helps when you bring a menu. So, rather than say, “What do you want me to do?” we want to be a little more on the author seat and we want to bring them a menu, and say, “I’ve got three different options for you today. Which one of these would you like to go down? Which path?” So, that’s another way that we can force prioritization is by offering options. You’ll learn a lot from people based on what they choose off that menu.

So, a common example is, like, I always feel bad for the creative types in the world because they routinely get customers that say, “You know, I don’t know what I want but I’ll know when I see it.” It’s kind of like forces you to do just do all this guessing. But then if you bring them three options, say, “Well, which one of these do you like better?” People always react to a menu. So, spending that little extra effort in creating a menu will also teach you a lot. You’ll learn a lot about what the incentives and motives are, and it’ll help you kind of know what path you want to go down.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that. When I’m a manager, I like that as well in terms of that’s sort of something I ask people to do, is, “Okay. Hey, each day, send me a quick email on what you did today and what you plan to do tomorrow.” And then that really helps me because, one, I could say, “Oh, huh, no need to do that. Let’s do this instead.” So, I get the heads up so I can redirect as necessary.

And it helps me get a sense of, well, what are their preferences, their strengths, their desires, what would they naturally kind of flow to, as well as their judgment in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, you seem to be under the impression that that is really very important/urgent to me, and it’s not.” So, we can have that conversation, and say, “Hey, actually, we’re totally all set on that front for a couple months, so we can go over here.” They’re like, “Oh, okay, great. Didn’t know. Thank you.” So, I like that, the menu. Very good.

Brandon Smith
So, that made me think of something, another tip. So, we’re spending our time with tips as kind of the employee kind of dealing with the manager. But there are tips about being a more effective manager in this stuff. So, I’ll tell you my favorite example that came from a client. So, I was talking about this idea of urgency and hot sauce. He had a small technology company, about 50 employees, an anxious guy as it is, and so he was just bringing that anxiety into work every day. I mean, everybody was just so wound tight because he was so wound tight.

So, I shared this idea of hot sauce and urgency, and gave him one of my little bottles. I buy these little Tabasco bottles in bulk and hand it out to people. And so, he went out to the grocery store and he bought three bottles of hot sauce, stuck them on his desk. Bang! Bang! Bang! And every time he had an initiative or project that was urgent, when he assigned that project, he would hand that owner of the project a bottle of hot sauce to hold onto until the project was done.

And why that was such a great, really great tip and technique that he did is because he only had three bottles to give out. So, once all the bottles were given out, that’s it. He can’t make anything else urgent until someone gives a bottle back. So, thinking of forcing mechanisms like that that you can do is also another way for you to manage the flow of hot sauce on your teams.

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

Brandon Smith
The only other thing that I would say is also important when we think about hot sauce is just, as managers and leaders, just being intentional, what really is important and making sure we’re communicating that. One of the interesting little missteps I find with senior leaders when we talk about things like executive presence, one of the more common missteps that people don’t realize they’re doing is they talk out loud a lot or they think out loud a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, to their teams.

Brandon Smith
Yeah, to their teams. And they’re just thinking out loud, but their teams are interpreting that as an urgent priority, and they go off and start doing work. And they bring them back a PowerPoint deck the next day or recommendations or something else, and the manager looks at them and says, “I was just kind of just talking. I didn’t really want you to do anything.” So, just being really intentional about what you’re asking folks to do is an important takeaway too for managers so you can keep everybody focused and aligned and just that right amount of urgency.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brandon Smith
One of the ones I actually mentioned a couple times this week, they attribute it to Mark Twain but I don’t think anyone really knows who said it, but it goes like this, “I would’ve written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have enough time.” I love that quote. Because it emphasizes how hard it is to get to finish thinking, how hard it is to have that very concise, like, “This is what I want.” And when time is our most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time, we tend to kind of dump our thinking on people. So, that’s my favorite quote for at least this week.

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

Brandon Smith
Probably the one that is jumping out for me right now is about three or four years ago, a group of researchers studied this question, “What’s the worst kind of boss to work for?” And I thought they would’ve come back with the angry, yelling, and screaming boss, that wasn’t number one. Micromanager wasn’t number one. Ghosting boss wasn’t number one. The worst kind of boss to work for? The highly-inconsistent boss or like the unmedicated bipolar boss, because you never knew what you were going to get on a given day.

So, I thought that was really fascinating because it really speaks to the importance of consistency because anxiety at work comes from a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such a contagious emotion. So, we can prevent a lot of that if we’re consistent and predictable. So, that’s one of my favorite pieces of research that’s come out in the last few years.

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

Brandon Smith
One recently that I’ve continued to go back to is Daring Greatly from Brené Brown. So, she’s got a whole bunch of books kind of all in the same genre and theme, but I like the study and depth around vulnerability. It’s so important to us building relationships, and even us being more effective as leaders. So, I continue to find myself going back to that one.

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

Brandon Smith
If I think of a simple one that everyone can do, scheduling your emails. Simple tool. Simple-simple, so powerful, saves you so much time, saves you so much anxiety.

Now, I would say, in more recent years, the ability to learn how to hand things off to others who are better at it than you is a kind of tool. And I found it’s gotten me happier, gave me more leverage, and really allowed me to do the stuff that only I can do. So, I’m a big believer in finding ways to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Brandon Smith
Exercise. I’ve always enjoyed exercise and working out, but I’ve been really doubling down on that the last month, so I’ve been finding it’s been yielding a lot of results maybe that’s because I just had my annual physical.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, right.

Brandon Smith
We’re coming full circle, but that’s one that I think is really, really important.

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

Brandon Smith
Simple nugget, going to be something I’m going to be writing about in the future is distinction between being an author and editor, and we’ve touched on it a little bit today. But in every dynamic between a manager and a direct report, there’s always someone who sits in the author seat and someone who sits in the editor seat. And knowing what seat to sit in is key.

So, as the manager or leader, you want to spend the majority of your time in the editor seat, which makes a lot of sense when you think about your great all-time direct reports. They would come to you and say, “Hey, Pete, there’s a problem. Here’s what I think we should do about it. I’d love to get your thoughts.” They’re offering a solution for you to edit.

But where we get stuck sometimes, or tricked sometimes, is we’ll have a direct report say, “What do you want me to do?” And what they’re doing is they’re baiting you into authoring so they can sit back and edit. They can say, “Well, it’s not my fault it didn’t work out. He told me to do it that way.” So, making sure that we’re sitting in that editor seat as a leader is really important. It’ll save us time, and it’ll make our teams better because it promotes ownership, initiative, and critical thinking with them.

And then with our boss, we want to make sure we’re sitting in the author seat. Bring them ideas, bring them a point of view, and recommendations that they can react to, which again goes back to some of our comments earlier around how to more effectively manage our boss.

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

Brandon Smith
It’s very simple. You can Google “The Workplace Therapist.” That’s my handle and I’m the only one. So, you can go to TheWorkplaceTherapist.com. That’s where my blog is, podcasts, where you can get a copy of my book. Of course, it’s also available on Amazon and other places where you might purchase a book. And, again, the title of the book is The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time.

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

Brandon Smith
I think, particularly right now in 2020, I would say there’s two. First, make sure you’re setting healthy boundaries because while people have been working at home and from home, we’re seeing a lot of boundary creep. So, making sure you’re setting healthy boundaries and communicating that. That’s really, really important.

The second thing that I would add, too, is making sure you’re finding ways to remind your boss and other leaders of the value that you’re providing. We’re not always visible, we’re not in front of them every day, and no one likes to self-promote but, at the same time, we’re going to need to make sure that our boss does recognize the value that we’re bringing so we don’t get passed over for that promotion or we don’t get looked over for new opportunities. So, those would be two tips to particularly apply today.

Pete Mockaitis
Brandon, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all the things that have hot sauce on them.

Brandon Smith
Thank you. Really enjoyed coming on the show. Thanks for having me. Thanks for all the great questions. I really enjoyed it.