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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:

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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.

609: Why You Need to Stop Multitasking and Start Singletasking with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "You can either do one thing well or two things poorly at any given moment."

Devora Zack debunks multitasking myths and shares how singletasking can help you get more done– one thing at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why multitasking reduces your efficiency 
  2. How to unplug effectively 
  3. Why we get addicted to multitasking 

About Devora

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street JournalUSA TodayUS News & World ReportForbesSelfRedbookFast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate NetworkingManaging for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Devora Zack Transcript

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

Devora Zack
It’s a pleasure to be back with you. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear, you’re doing a lot of interesting work and research and speaking and training. Tell me, have you had any cool insightful new discovery since the last time we spoke?

Devora Zack
Oh, yeah, I’ve had so many cool discoveries since we last spoke mostly about how to transform the virtual environment into one where people really can connect in deep meaningful ways whether it’s networking or interpersonal connections. It can be done. And I’ve had a great time uncovering those possibilities and helping people feel more connected during this challenging time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that sounds so good. We might have to have a third appearance because that’s right up our alley. But we’re all prepped up to talk about singletasking today. But if you found some tools, yeah, maybe drop those into the favorite things and integrate some of that and the goodness here as a sneak peek. So, I want to talk to you about singletasking, sort of what’s the big idea here and how do you define singletasking versus multitasking? Like, what counts versus doesn’t count when we’re determining something multitasking?

Devora Zack
Well, just let’s start with understanding the foundation of my work, which is that multitasking is a myth. It’s actually impossible to do two simultaneously competing activities in your brain at the same time. So, when people claim to be multitasking, what is actually happening is what the neuroscientists call task-switching. And when we’re task-switching, what’s happening neurologically is our brain is very, very rapidly moving back and forth between tasks, and that has all kinds of negative impacts on our lives internally and externally.

It makes us less productive, which is interesting because the big reason people say that they “need to multitask” is because they have so much to do. So, doing that makes us unable to enter an emerging state or a flow state because, by definition, we’re not focusing deeply on one task in front of us. It lowers IQ and, here’s the biggie, it even shrinks the gray matter in the brain. So, multitasking isn’t really multitasking, it’s task-switching and it has a whole range of negative effects on us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, those sound negative. So, could you share with us any of the most hard-hitting research, like the alarming numbers or studies or stats that would make us say, “Whoa! I’m convinced. I got to cut this out”?

Devora Zack
There’s so much. I think that what is alarming and overwhelming is that this international research done over the past 10 years in the highest esteemed institutions and organizations are all in agreement, they’ve all been consistent, that attempting to do more than one thing at a time is neurologically impossible, and that it does everything from harming our relationships, it makes us much less respectful than we used to be of people who are standing in front of us engaged in a conversation, and it also makes us feel professionally because we’re not able to maintain focus on one thing at a time.

And just as a quick aside, when you said I have a virtual environment, what’s interesting and maybe it links to singletasking, it absolutely does because it’s getting even harder now because we’re all sitting behind screens so much at the time, it’s very tempting to allow ourselves to be distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. It’s sort of like right now we can see each other but you don’t really know what I’m looking at. I’m looking at my prepared questions but I could be looking at any number of other interesting news articles or Facebook or you name it while, supposedly, having a meeting, and I’m not really there at all.

Devora Zack
And we have all kinds of reasons for that. We can say, “Oh, I’m very effective at doing this. I can get away with it,” or, “I’m being more efficient,” or, “The meeting is not interesting anyway.” But one thing I can say is that, just to do a reality check for ourselves, we know when someone else is not giving us their full attention, whey they pause between a question and answer, when they ask to repeat. So, we’re not tricking anyone either when we’re living distracted lives. I call it SBS, scattered brain syndrome, that we’re dealing with these days.
Sometimes people say to me, “But, Devora, I can multitask, I can go for a run and listen to music, or I can empty the dishwasher and talk on the phone.” So, that’s an important point to raise because it’s all touched in my book called “When Multitasking Isn’t Multitasking.” So, it’s only considered multitasking if the two activities are competing for the same brain space. So, if, for example, I’m on a conference call and I’m squeezing a stress ball, that’s totally fine. It’s when I’m on a conference call and returning emails that things start to fall apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, it’s like we can’t compete for the same channel or function stream or capability. I guess, are there…how might we segment that? So, running and listening is fine, stress ball and online meeting is fine, I guess one is physical and one is mental. How do we think about the channels that we have available that are distinct from one another?

Devora Zack
It’s a good question and an important question because we tend to err in the direction of thinking that things are not competing for the same set of our brain. So, for example, if I’m driving in my car, and at home, on a route, I take all the time, then I may not need as much of my conscious part of my brain as if I’m on a business trip driving in the rain in the dark and somewhere I’ve never been. So, we tend to overestimate our ability to do two things at once. So, I caution people to really think hard about, “Are two tasks really separate?” And as a good example, something that people think they can do, is walk down a busy street while talking on the phone. And, in fact, while we’re all aware by now of the terrible dangers of texting while driving, but a more recent phenomenon is texting while walking. And it sounds silly, but, in fact, there are people fall down staircases, walk into traffic, bash into other people, just because they think, “Oh, I can handle it. I can do it.”

So, really, to spend time in self-evaluation about not only, “What can I physiologically handle doing two things at once?” but also “Maybe I’m diminishing my life experiences personally and professionally by deciding that I’m never where I’m at.” So, part of it is being where you are. Like, how about, when I work with coaching clients, I often encourage them, to take a walk even for 10 or 15 minutes outside without their phone and see how that experience is different from what a lot of us have gotten used to. And the other side of all these studies is they’ve discovered that even if we spend 15 minutes a day being “non-productive,” like if we’re doing a crossword puzzle, or just taking a walk outside, that that actually increases our productivity by 25% overall.

So, there’s lots of good news too, is that by giving ourselves some downtime, for example, there was a Harvard Business Review study that found that if you take lunch, like even half an hour at work without doing work at the same time, that you’re more productive over the course of the day. So, if you got to feel guilty about, “Oh, I’m not working hard enough,” just reverse that guilt, and feel guilty if you’re not spending some time, I call it time-shifting, shifting down your time so that you can do things that maybe seem idle but actually are very rejuvenating.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Devora, I love that. And any encouragement you can give me to play a game of Fortnite or have a nap or take lunch in the middle of the day?

Devora Zack
Oh, I’m glad you mentioned that. Fortnite, actually…no, I’m just kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
She’s got it all. She’s got it all prepared. And I love the point about just sort of diminishing the quality of your life when you’re not paying as much attention. I remember, boy, when my buddy Mohamad was in town from Dubai, he was on the podcast, and we were just sort of walking in Chicago. We’re trying to find a place to eat, that’s the goal, we’re going to eat lunch. But I was just so happy to see him and having so much fun with the conversation, but I actually made the conscious choice, it’s like, “I’m going to devote zero attention to looking for a place to eat and all attention to chatting with and enjoying Mohamad.”

And it was funny, we walked around kind of aimlessly for a good while, which is fine by me, I’m sure. Any of the food would be perfectly adequate, and then we happen to bump into a great spot. But I think that’s a good point in terms of we can be, without even being aware of it, diminishing our life experience by not thoughtfully, conscientiously choosing “This is the one thing I’m doing now.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. We tend to blame our technology for the interruptions. There’s a section in my Singletasking book called “If Your Phone is so Smart, Can You Teach It to Heel?” and it compares smartphones to puppies. So, we’ve all been around puppies that are cute and adorable and lovely, and around puppies that are out of control and jump up on the table and don’t leave you alone. And who is responsible for that? Is it the dog or is it the owner? So, I think we all kind of know, it’s the owner’s responsibility to keep their puppies, to train them so that they’re good members of a shared society or sidewalk.

And we do the same things with our phones. So, maybe you and I are meeting for lunch, and we haven’t seen each other in a year or two, and I’m like, “Oh, darn. I can’t believe my phone is going off again. Just a minute. Just a minute. This is so annoying. Oh, no, here’s another text.” So, in reality, technology obviously can be a great friend of ours and super useful. However, we need to be in charge of it rather than letting it run away from us.

And there’s all kinds of tips and techniques in my book about ways to manage technology personally and professionally. So, I’ll tell you a fun one since we’re talking about going to lunch with a friend. I’ll tell you a fun one, which is that we can go out with a group and, depending on when you listen to this podcast, to socially distance if necessary, and everyone puts their screens, anything that have screens, onto a chair off to the side, and the first one to touch the pile of phones or screens treats everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. A little pressure.

Devora Zack
Exactly, a little peer pressure. And there’s a version of that you can use for work which I encourage people do, which is if you have a team meeting, is to give everyone, or have everyone if you’re working remotely, an agenda and a pen or pencil, and the only electronics that’s allowed to be on is whatever you’re connecting through, whether it’s Zoom or another platform, and make the meeting half the length of time with everyone committing to be fully engaged. And you’ll be amazed how much more efficient you are, and how much more community you build, and more better connections, because people are there actually together instead of being a million different places at once.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that so much. Well, so we’re going to dig into some particulars when it comes singletasking and how to do it optimally and sort of avoid the multitasking and the distractions, and technology as being one of them. I got a real chuckle, you’ve got an appendix called “Retorts to Multitask-hardliners,” and I think I’ve been here before, and I think some listeners are probably here now, and say, “Okay, yeah, I think I maybe heard about some of that research. And that might be true for the population at large and maybe the majority of people in a given study, but, you know, that’s just really how I like to operate, and it really works well for me. And, boy, I feel so productive, so multitasking works for me, but maybe not most people.” Lay it on us.

Devora Zack
So, I would say, first of all, what kind of mistakes are you potentially making? Like, if you’re responding to an email and, in a team meeting, are you fully engaged or are you answering the questions? Did you hear the questions? And, at the end of the day, how much have you actually gotten done? And then compare it, just test a little bit, just spend an hour or two focused on whatever is at hand. And I really encourage people to start small, and you’ll be blown away by how different your work is and how different your mood is when you focus on one thing at a time.

Another piece of resistance people have to the concept of singletasking is they think that it implies that we’re somehow less productive, or we get less done, or we don’t have as many capabilities, and it’s not about that at all. You can get 10-12 things done in the course of a day while singletasking at any given time. So, it’s not saying you can only do one thing in a 10-hour period. Maybe you can do one thing for a 20-minute period, and that’s all you’re doing, and then you switch to another thing. And it’s the conscious choice that a lot of us aren’t making these days about “What am I committing to in this moment? Am I going to watch my kid play a sport? Or am I editing a legal document for tomorrow’s meeting?” So, just pick one for that time. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the other choice. It just means that’s not your choice in this specific time period.

Now, another resistance people have is they just don’t have the tools, like, we’re overwhelmed. So, set up systems that will not require superhuman strength to overcome temptation. So, an example is if you’re driving in a car, we all know we shouldn’t text while we’re driving, but,” It’s just this once, and I’m at a stoplight, and I’m late, and I’m lost, and I’m going to an important meeting, and I’ll keep looking at…” Like, we always have reasons to convince ourselves to do things that aren’t maybe in our best interest. But don’t require yourself to combat those reasons. Set up, I call it, a fence. Set up a fence to mitigate the temptation in the first place. So, when you get into your car, toss your phone in the backseat under a pile of coats and start driving.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Devora Zack
And you’ll be cursing yourself, probably you’d be like, “Aargh!” but in the end you’ll get there alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. What is it, Ulysses or Odysseus kind of getting himself tied to his boat so he could hear the siren song but not be tempted to go toward it and its destruction? It’s sort of like you just decide, you cut off that option, it’s not available to you. So, there it is.

Devora Zack
That’s a great analogy. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And so, I want to get your take in terms of sometimes multitasking feels really good. Is there some neuroscience or some dopamine or neurotransmitter stuff going on in terms of the sensations and how it feels to switch or do a lot of things quickly? What’s going on there?

Devora Zack
So, our brains crave novelty. So, if I’m sitting at my computer inputting data for three hours, and then something pops up on my screen that’s different, my brain is pretty psyched, so there is something to that. And then what we would do then is, there’s various techniques we can use, but one of them is to turn off all auditory bings and all visual popups so that when we’re focusing on writing something that we’re completely focused so we don’t get that novelty in there.

Another is to say give yourself treats. Like, if I’m going to work for 45 minutes, then after that I can do something that’s completely different. Create that novelty for yourself. And you might be surprised at how deeply you go into a thought state, and so I recommend actually setting an alarm so that you don’t have to keep looking at the clock or wondering how long it is. And then when your time goes up for doing your tough tasks, the harder one, then even if you’re like, “Oh, I feel like I could go longer,” it’s better to stop and take a break, because if we stop a task while we’re still excited about it, the next time we engage in it, we’re much more likely to have a positive feeling about it as oppose to if we work, and work, and work until we’re just hating our jobs, and then you’re going to avoid it the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that is just a powerful reframe for me personally. Thank you. To stop when you’re still excited about it means you’ve got some enthusiasm ready for next time. And sometimes I think it’s, “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be enthusiastic about this. I better milk it for all I can right now because it may never come back.” Like, if I feel like doing my taxes right now, that’s a rare event so I better really run after it until it’s absolutely gone. But, instead, I should stop while I still got some enthusiasm left.

Devora Zack
That’s right. It’s like an old saying about a party, “Leave while you’re still having fun.” What you can also do is to do a little self-awareness about why do you think this time, working on your taxes, felt okay. Do you happen to have music on in the background? Were there no distractions? Were you sitting in a different environment? Was it that you did it following an exercise? Just try and identify maybe what made it different so you can replicate that. And other times, it’s just a matter of you don’t feel like doing it. You force yourself to, and 15 minutes into it, it’s not so bad, and you’re in the flow.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Very nice. Well, so I’d love to get your take here, when you talked, you mentioned sort of setting an alarm or an amount of time, “I’m going to do this for this window.” You’ve got an approach called the cluster tasking technique. Tell us how this works.

Devora Zack
So, many of us have an activity or two that takes over our day and it prevents us from getting any of our bigger work done. So, as a way of example, for a lot of people it’s messaging, whether emails or IMs or texting, and we can spend all day messaging and then we never get to the bulk of what we’re here to do. A study, which wasn’t even that recent, it was a few years ago, so I bet these numbers have gone up, found that we look at our phones at an average of 150 times a day for a total of four hours.

So, what we can do instead is to put those tasks, that repetitive task, and for right now we’re just going to call it messaging, it could be a different task for you, and we’re going to find two or three cluster times during the day where that’s all you do. So, maybe it’s right when you get into the office in the morning, right after lunch, and maybe 4:30 near at the end of the day. And you can decide this is a half an hour block, a 45-minute block, and a 20-minute block, or whatever you decide. And so, during those times, all you were doing is reading and responding to messages, and during the rest of your workday, you’re not looking at your messages. And this is a tough pill to swallow, at first, for many people because you’re like, “Well, I have to be available all the time,” and so I’ll address that in a minute.

However, if you’re not like going off the grid for two months, if you do it three times a day, you’re only going to be not looking at your messages for a couple of hours at a time, and, as a bonus, when you are looking at your messages, that’s all you’re doing so you’re not distracted, so you make fewer mistakes, and committing to two different things at one time, or writing the wrong date for an event, so you’re way more efficient overall. So, that’s a great simple technique to try. A lot of my clients say it’s worked really well for them.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that.

Devora Zack
Yeah, thanks. You give it a try. It’s very useful.
So, people say to me sometimes that they need to be available to others and so they have to always have their phones on and nearby. And a general true rule of thumb is if you try to be everywhere for everyone all the time, you’re never anywhere for anyone with full focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Any of the time, yeah.

Devora Zack
So, you can either do one thing well or two things poorly at any given moment. And when people say, “Oh, you need to be available all the time,” if I’m coaching someone, and I might ask some follow-up questions, like, “What do they think they really mean? They really mean that you follow through what you say you’re going to do, that you’re going to be responsive, that you’re clear about deadlines?” And people get used to the idea that “Even though you may not be available to me every minute of the day, when we’re talking, I get your 100% full attention so our conversations are more efficient and shorter, and I get the picture of how helpful it is.” And there’s going to be exceptions.

So, if you were on a conference center, and there’s a huge conference that day, you might need to have your phone with you all day, but just to be aware that there’s exceptions but, most of the time, to err in the direction of saying, “Here is when I’m doing this particular repetitive task.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that turn of a phrase there in terms of you can do one thing well and two things poorly, and I think it’s possible, although rare, that, you know what, doing two things poorly is the right choice right now in terms of there’s sort of a mandatory conference call of little value to you and to your team, but it’s, “Hey, everyone’s got to do this thing, so it’s like, okay,” so you just got to do it. But your desk is also a mess and even just a little bit of attention is going to make it better. So, you can make the conscientious choice that, “I know what’s happening here. I’m going to do two things poorly, and that’s the right answer. But most of the time it’s not.”

Devora Zack
And there’s also ways to work within that situation. So, for example, if, again, when I’m working with clients and if they have exactly what you just described, a mandatory department-wide meeting that’s two hours every Thursday, or whatever it is, that there’s an opportunity to, in some cases, delegate that responsibility to maybe someone who works for you who could actually learn from the call and it would be a benefit for him or her to be on that call.

You could say to the group, “I’m available for the first half of the call. So, the items that I can contribute to, is it possible to discuss this in the first half?” And this isn’t always possible, but I’m just saying to always explore options so that you really are where you need to be. And sometimes, also, you might think, “Oh, this call is boring,” and so you start organizing your desk, and then you might miss something, and maybe there was something interesting that just happened.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, there is the risk you take.

Devora Zack
But one thing for sure is that if you’re on one of those calls, you can tell when someone is doing something else, and they’re not impressing you with their professionality when you know they’re distracted. So, part of it might just be building a reputation with someone who’s present.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, yeah. Thank you. Okay.

Devora Zack
I’m a tough cookie.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, absolutely. Sure. And I think there are some exceptions to every principle or guideline, like, “Hey, hundreds of people are out there, everyone’s muted.” Okay. But even then, you have options as oppose to it’s either/or, doing two things poorly or giving this my full attention. You can get creative and say, “Well, maybe I’m here for this part, maybe I’ll delegate,” so there’s many ways to slice it, which I like.

Devora Zack
Actually, one thing I heard recently is that doodling can be a very useful device in staying focused on a conversation. The doodling doesn’t take up a conscious part of your brain, and kind of releasing that extra energy, just by drawing images on a notepad can help people stay focused. That’s another new technique I learned recently.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if we’ve got some lifelong multitaskers, and this is kind of challenging in terms of training the attention to zero in on the one task, how do you recommend we develop that skill, that focus, that discipline?

Devora Zack
So, there’s really two parts of our lives, to speak broadly, that we can apply to singletasking. One is internally, and we’ve talked a little bit about that, like in our brains, how to manage our brains, and the other is externally, how to manage our environment. So, the first thing I’d say is start small and pick something that you can manage and that you think is doable, and also start with something tangible.

So, we have these smartphones and they’re incredible. As a matter of fact, I heard someone recently say, “Really, the phone is just a rarely used app on the smartphone.” They do so much more than just phone-calling now, and so that can be very convenient. It’s also our alarm clock. It’s also our camera. It’s also our flashlight. It’s so many things. And I encourage people to look for places to unbundle some of the potential areas of usefulness in our phone because it can lead to distraction. And a good example is we all know, and every sleep scientist in the world would tell you, the worst thing you can do before going to sleep is to look at your phone, for all kinds of reasons, because the blue light wakes us up, because there could be a stressful text popping up, a news report we don’t want to see. But when we use our phones as our alarm clocks, that’s the last thing many of us do.

So, how about investing in a cool old-fashioned alarm clock that you can play your favorite song to wake you up, and see what it’s like to wake up and fall asleep in a relaxed atmosphere is one example. And so, looking for ways to unbundle. Like, when I teach seminars, I time people a lot of times for timed activities, and for a while I used my phone because there’s a stopwatch on it. Then I realized that I wasn’t unbundling, so I got just an old-fashioned kind of handheld stop…what is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Stopwatch?

Devora Zack
Stopwatch, right. And it’s great, and it keeps me focused. So, look for ways to help yourself succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, before the stopwatch, I had it around my neck, and just even feeling the pressure of it around my neck was a little reminder, “No, no, I’m on the clock for this one.”

Devora Zack
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I’d love your view then, if folks think, “I am too busy for singletasking. I have to multitask,” then a part of the game is really just identifying, “Well, hey, what’s truly the most important thing? Like, what is really worth that?”

Devora Zack
Also, learn some of the science because you’re actually too busy to multitask. You will be way more efficient in getting things done by focusing on one thing at a time. And in my book “Singletasking,” I have some examples of going through a typical day while you’re attempting to multitask versus singletasking and seeing how the time flow works, and it’s based on reality, just through a lot of different people’s experiences, and it’s remarkable. So, we start off with like, “Oh, there’s this bad news.” But now we have this great news that you can live a more sane structured life by doing one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, just how many hours a day do you think is at stake here in terms of excellent singletasking versus poor multitasking? What kind of a lift, or a gain, or a timesaving do you think this adds up to on a daily basis?

Devora Zack
Maybe all our waking hours. It depends what measurement you’re using for what’s a good use of time. So, if you consider a good use of time being with a significant other for 45 minutes for dinner without anyone looking at any screens and talking about interesting topics beyond just the mundane? Do you consider a good use of time to be taking your dog for a walk outside? So, it depends how you define it. What I will say is that in terms of work tasks that there have been, again, studies that show that when someone is having a pure focus on one activity at work at a time, that they’re more creative, more structured in their output, they get it done in less than a few hours, and so it really works in your favor to be fully focused.

And some people say, “I can’t focus anymore. Like, I’ve lost ability to focus because that’s the kind of world we’re living in.” So, when people say that, I encourage them, or you, as you’re listening now, to think of something you love to do. Just think in your mind, if you’re listening to this podcast, of something that you enjoy, it really brings you happiness. And when I ask that question with people in the room with me, I get all kinds of so many different types of answers. Maybe it has to do with doing an athletic activity, or an instrument, or a craft, or a conversation with someone you care about.

And what we find is that there’s a correlation between that act, whatever activity you thought in your mind or said out loud, and the fact that you’re totally focused on it, that it focuses you when you’re doing it, that nothing else exists in the world, that if you love going to museums, and when you’re in a museum, that’s the only thing that exists in the world, or reading a book, or running a race, or whatever it is. That’s part of the appeal. And so, it also shows that you can do it. You can focus. If you thought of even one thing in your life that you really get fulfilled doing, then there’s a correlation in that and being able to focus your brain on other activities. And that’s called mental elasticity.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, tell us then, if let’s say there are some interruptions outside your control, a sudden emergency, an interruption, how do you recommend we refocus?

Devora Zack
Okay. Great. So, I’m glad you asked that because there are emergencies, and we want to go with the flow when there’s an emergency, and it doesn’t negate everything else you’re working on when there’s not an emergency. However, we’re always looking for ways to manage emergencies. So, an emergency can be big or small. So, a smaller type of emergency is you’re being interviewed on a podcast, let’s say, and you’re working from home and someone barges in and starts yelling in your office, your home office, for example, so that would be an emergency you need to deal with.

But we always want to take it one step back, and say, “Is there anything potential I could’ve done to anticipate a possible emergency and how to make sure it doesn’t happen?” So, I encourage people to, very simple low-tech technique, put Post-It notes on your door, if you have a door where you’re working, at home, virtually or in a shared office, and make a note saying, “This colored Post-It notes mean don’t come under any circumstances. This one means come in if it’s super important. And this one means I just closed the door because I don’t like the breeze. Come visit and we’ll chat a little bit.” So, again, it has to do with setting up systems.

Now, let’s say there is something that distracts you and you asked about pulling back in. How do you get focused again? And I would say taking a little in-between time, like, “Maybe I got so scattered or overwhelmed by the emergency that I can’t seem to focus back on the work I was doing before. So, that’s a perfect time for me to let myself go for a walk, or to talk to someone, or get some fresh air, to reboot.”

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

Devora Zack
One thing I’d like to share is that singletasking is a relatively new idea, and it’s also a super old idea, it’s in our nature. So, when we were hunting and gathering, we wouldn’t have done very well if we were distracted all the time, so it’s kind of part of our ingrained human success. It’s ingrained in us to be successful by singletasking. And it’s also a new concept to a lot of us today, this day and age, and so to be kind to yourself when you try these techniques and to give yourself plenty of space to mess it up and to take two steps forward and one step back.

And there are a lot of activities suggested, and also that you can actually use in the book Singletasking. So, the first part of the battle is convincing yourself that it’s worth a try, and the second part is learning how to do it, just like some people are organizing and structure their physical environment, and for others of us, it just seems so impossible. So, there are techniques that can help you be successful. So, I wish you all the best of luck in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Devora Zack
You’ll be happy that you did.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Devora Zack
I love quotes so much. I change my favorite quotes all the time. Okay, here’s one of my favorite quotes right now. I’m sorry, it’s Steven Pressfield, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb, the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

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

Devora Zack
It’s a scientist named Douglas Merrill, and he works on this area of focusing our brains, and the quote is “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem? Everyone is wrong.”

[36:18]

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. And a favorite book?

Devora Zack
The Phantom Tollbooth.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job, or to help virtually remote-working folks connect all the better?

Devora Zack
My favorite tool in helping virtual folks connect all the better is in building connections among them through embracing technology instead of fighting against it. So, I teach a class called “You Are Not Alone,” and instead of saying, “Here are all the things we can’t do,” we take whatever technology each of us has and we figure out what we can do based on what’s right in front of us. And it sounds simple but it makes a huge difference in how we build connections with each other, and how we accept what the possibilities are given what the reality of the situation is.

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

Devora Zack
Yes, especially for people that are in fields like ours, whether you’re interviewing people, or working with people, or inspiring people, or writing books for people, what’s a great rule of thumb, because there are so many so-called experts out there, and I love this one. Elinor Glyn, an author, “Life is short. Avoid causing yawns. Be interesting. Be fun. Be unique. Be quirky. Engage people.” Life is short. We don’t want to be the cause of any yawns.

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

Devora Zack
My website is MyOnlyConnect.com, and it has tons of samples from media, podcasts, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and all sorts of information about my three different books. Networking for People Who Hate Networking just came out in a second edition. It has tons of new chapters and sections that people are finding really useful in this day and age.

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

Devora Zack
Yes. It’s another quote but it’s also a call to action. It’s from Philo of Alexandria, and this is especially important today, “Be kind for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Devora, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you all the best in your singletasking adventures.

Devora Zack
Thank you so much. You, too. I hope it works well for you.

605: How to Stop Firefighting and Start Executing with Chris McChesney

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Chris McChesney says: "Get very comfortable with the currency of results."Chris McChesney discusses how to achieve more with your team by following the four disciplines of execution.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three roadblocks to execution 
  2. The only two things that create engagement 
  3. How to instill accountability in 20 minutes 

About Chris

Chris McChesney is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey and is one of the primary developers of the 4 Disciplines of Execution. For more than a decade, he has led FranklinCovey’s design and development of these principles, as well as the consulting organization that has become the fastest growing area of the company. 

Known for his high-energy and engaging message, Chris has become one of the most requested speakers within the Franklin Covey Organization, regularly delivering keynote speeches and executive presentations to leaders in audiences ranging from the hundreds to several thousand. 

Chris, and his wife Constance, are the proud parents of five daughters and two sons. His love of family is combined with his passion for boating, water sports, coaching, and trying to keep up with his children. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Chris McChesney Transcript

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

Chris McChesney
Thanks, Peter. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear your story about how you did not get a job at FranklinCovey but you faked an internship. How did this go down?

Chris McChesney
I think desperation is probably the best explanation for that. They were not interviewing. I mean, they would not interview anyone, and I just had an idea. Wow, this is almost 30 years ago. This was Stephen Covey’s company, the guy that wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I was kind of a groupie and I really wanted to work for this organization. And I decided if they wouldn’t interview me, I‘d interview them, so I pretended to work for the newspaper and told them that I was doing an article on up and coming companies in the area. And I submitted the paper to the newspaper, they published it, so they kept me from being a liar, right?

I didn’t get to the man, I didn’t get to Stephen Covey but I got to his VP, and while in there, I said, “I needed an internship,” which that was a stretch. I didn’t really need an internship, there was no internship, and then I just stowed away. So, four months later, The 7 Habits, hits number one in the New York Times bestseller list, they had fired their publicist, and they looked at me, and said, “Hey, that kid is from New York. Let’s have him call Good Morning America.” So, here I am, unpaid something intern. Actually, there’s an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer actually goes to work for a company he doesn’t actually work for, but that was done after I did it. I want first billing on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Chris McChesney
And that’s how I got started.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s so good. So, well, I was going to ask, you know, Stephen Covey, boy, what a legacy, and really, integrity is one of the first words that comes to mind.

Chris McChesney
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to start with…well, what I like is that you’re working for the newspaper kind of on spec.

Chris McChesney
That’s one way to say it. That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to just a complete fabrication. Boy, that’s beautiful. Also, then can you tell me of any stories about Stephen that really stick with you in his memory?

Chris McChesney
Well, it’s interesting that we’re having this experience because one of my jobs early on was to set him up for interviews like yours. And so, just like my guy gave me a list of some of the questions you like to ask people and things like that, he never wanted to see the list of questions, and he really liked to be authentic and sort of shoot from the hip, and much more of a character than people realize. He’s a bit of a clown when he wasn’t on stage, and he would either be super serious or a complete goofball. And sometimes you needed him to be series, and he wouldn’t be serious. It surprises people to hear that because he comes off so serious in his books and his tapes but, yeah, he’s a character.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, can you give me a goofball anecdote?

Chris McChesney
Oh, I can and it’s almost unbelievable, but there’s a thing that he did with his sons. One of his sons felt really ignored by his father, David Covey felt very ignored by Stephen, and Stephen was on a phone call and so David got out, this is bizarre, but he got out peanut butter and jelly and started to spread peanut butter on his dad’s head, and then he put jelly on his dad’s head, then he slapped a piece of bread over it, and left.

And so then, they were two command performances of this, and, in your brain, you couldn’t get, you know, here’s one of the world’s leading thought leaders, having his son make a mess out of his head, and they just thought that was so funny. That was great. So, this family had its own brand of humor. But, yeah, that’s all real, believable or not.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. That’s good. Well, hey, sometimes some humor or peanut butter-jelly head sandwich can aid in execution, and that’s my forced segue, Chris, because that’s your claim to fame and your area of expertise is execution, and your book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. So, could you maybe start by maybe giving us a quick definition? What do we mean by execution?

Chris McChesney
That’s a really good question.

Pete Mockaitis
And then give us the lay of the land, like, how well are organizations and professionals executing today? Like, what are the measures? What’s the state of the union here when it comes to execution?

Chris McChesney
All right, so let’s do this. Because execution is one of those words that could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, right? It could just mean getting everything I got to get done, done, but that’s not what we mean by it. What we mean by it is getting that thing done that’s not going to happen anyways. Most of us have a routine, organizations have an SOP, they have their day job, their existing processes, and it gets stuff done. We get stuff done. And then every once in a while, you’ve got a goal and it’s not going to happen unless it gets special treatment.

And, typically, the nature of these things, Pete, is that they don’t have an inherent in-the-moment urgency associated with them. They’re really important. And if you made me fill out a quiz on the most important thing to me, like it’d be right at the top of the page, but it’s not getting any attention, and weeks are going by and we’re not getting any traction.

Usually, when you say that, people identify with something, and that’s really the execution conundrum right there. What is that thing that is not inherently urgent? Because people are good at working on the urgent, and, “I have to get it done and it’s not happening.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, give us just a few examples of things that tend to fall into this bucket again and again.

Chris McChesney
Yeah. I had one the other day, there was an organization, they needed to get these jobs to find, and they needed to get work aides for their physical therapy group. They had about 50 physical therapy practices. And every year, they would put money in the line item, budget item, for this, and every year it didn’t matter that there was money there, it didn’t happen. And they could see so many things but never at one time, that might be an example, they actually pushed through and got a hundred of these things made.

An organization that wants to focus on customer satisfaction, and they know that’s so critical but there’s 20 things that happen over the course of a day, and everybody’s busy and we’re not getting to that thing, maybe it’s an improvement in quality. The Georgia Department of Human Services, 10 years ago, reduced repeat cases of child abuse by 60% by attacking some things that weren’t unknown, they were known things but they were the type of things that weren’t getting attention. And if you can put energy against certain activities, sometimes it can have shockingly powerful effects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that really resonates, certainly rings true. And I think you’re right in terms of there are, boy, I tell you, there are systems and there are processes and things that just happen, and then there’s those that it’s like they fall through the cracks, or it’s not a recurring thing, and, thusly, it’s like you don’t get the scale for it maybe.

Chris McChesney
Yeah. And I tell you where it shows up, Pete, is leaders sometimes will have an agenda. And it’s a big deal when you get a leadership position, you get your first management role. It’s a big deal to you, it’s not a big deal to anybody else, right? And you really know where you want to make your mark. And what gets so many leaders so frustrated is there are so many people giving them the thumbs up and they’ll agree with you, and they’ll say, “I love this, boss. It’s key to our future.” And I just get people laughing when I’m saying this, and then nothing happens.

And it’s not that people are being deceitful or duplicitous, they bought everything that you said. They heard it. And then 45 seconds later, six crises hit their desk and they’ve been responsive. And so, for leaders to start to understand, “Geez, what does it take to get deliberate energy against activities that don’t act on people?” And, basically, let me sum it up this way. Executing strategies that require change in human behavior is kind of the whole topic or problem we’ve been in love with for 20 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so let’s dig into how that’s done. So, you’ve got a chapter called “The Real Problem with Execution.” Lay it on us. What’s the real problem?

Chris McChesney
We’ve kind of been talking about it. It is that there’s like one side of our brain that deals with importance, and there’s another side of our brain that determines how we actually spend time and energy, and they’re not talking to each other. In the moment, urgency is king. And if I’m busy all day long, and I’m active, and I just can’t work any harder than I already have, I’ll tell you, here’s how you could feel this.

Think about working on a critical job. Maybe it’s the most important project of the year, and you know it, and you’re like tying yourself to your desk. And the whole time you’re working, you want to get up and do seven different things during that period of time, and you think, “I must be out of my mind. And it can’t be 4:00 o’clock already. Where did that go?” That is the first. There’s a couple of real problems of execution. The first one is that urgency and importance don’t line up.

Number two is complexity. A lot of times execution does not like complexity too. Best friends of execution are simplicity and transparency. And our ability to sort of put so many things down that we want to accomplish. So, not only is it all the stuff that we’re responding to on a day-to-day basis, but then when we do go proactive, we try and bite off more than we can chew, and that is a whole conundrum in and of itself.

And then I’d say the third one is futility. And it’s the frustration that might be a byproduct of the first two. But when people start giving up, that’s when you see burnout kick in. It’s rarely a byproduct of actually the amount of work. It’s the feeling that I’m working and it doesn’t matter. So, urgency, complexity, and futility really do a lot of damage. And there’s ways to get around this but I think it starts with the question that you asked, like, “What’s the problem?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s really good, a really good synopsis of just kind of what makes stuff hard, in general, in terms of if it’s not urgent, it’s not sort of screaming to be at the top of your list, and, thusly, it can just keep getting pushed off and just doesn’t happen. If it’s complex, you’re just sort of like, “Well, I don’t even know how to start,” and it just sort of seems intimidating to approach it. And then, if there’s a sense of futility, likewise, that adds all the more psychological resistance to it.

It’s so funny, I’m thinking about we had a heck of a long hard time executing a shift in this podcast, which was we were mostly replying to incoming pitches. And we’ve been selective such that I thought we’re making great choices. But the consequence of that was the stuff we got wasn’t exactly what our listeners needed, and in the time they needed it. And so, we thought, “We really got a beautiful survey of all the stuff people say they need. Like, we just should be letting this dictate our agenda and our calendar.”

And we get emails just about every day from folks joining the email list, and they share their concerns. But it was hard to make that shift because it was not so urgent, it was sort of like, “Ah, okay. Hey, we say we have episodes two times a week, and so we got to get this calendar going.” And it’s a lot harder to…

Chris McChesney
The calendar was urgent. The needs and the specific requests, you had to go after that stuff. The calendar went after you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it was complex in that it’s like, “Well, geez, how do we reverse-engineer it such that we start with the request and then pursue the guest.” And then it wasn’t quite futile but it was, hey, I mean, someone’s got a book coming out says yes immediately. Someone who’s been like an expert on something for decades and he has all the press they ever needed is not as gung-ho to immediately reply to an invitation of the podcast, although most of the time they still say yes in their own time.

And also, some futility associated with, “Boy, how do we even do this? This is really tricky.” And I guess that’s ultimately how we just sort of got through it was we said, “All right. Well, we’re going to reduce urgency by getting ahead of the game a little bit. We’re going to reduce the complexity by trying to come up with a process, an acronym, or a framework.” And I guess we tried to reduce the futility by just acknowledging, “Hey, we don’t know what we’re doing yet, okay? We’re going to have to iterate a few times, and that’s fine.”

Chris McChesney
I really like what you just said. I want to press pause on what you just said. Sometimes, particularly in the area of new goals that you haven’t achieved before, you have to give yourself a little bit of slack because the real engine for innovation is trial and error. And there are certain aspects of your job where error is not acceptable. And because error is not acceptable in certain parts of your job, it’s sort of programs you think that error is always bad, and you have to give yourself a little bit of leeway around an area that requires innovation, otherwise you will not innovate. I’m convinced of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And so, I think, in a way, that was kind of a turning point because we got comfortable with this, like, “Okay, we’re going to make a process that’s going to be bad. We’re going to try it out and see why it took 12 hours to find some names, and then identify the learnings so that we can accelerate a bit and loop it through again and again and again.” And now I’m feeling pretty darn good about it.

Chris McChesney
Can I give you a podcast on this topic?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m listening.

Chris McChesney
You just, a matter of fact, the last three sentences would be a brochure for this podcast. The guy’s name is Tim Harford, he’s a British economist. And the name of the podcast, if you just Google, “Trial and Error.” Not podcast. Ted Talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris McChesney
TED Talk. Trial and error. Tim Harford. And, really, take 15 minutes and watch this. If you’re in a role that requires innovation and some breakthroughs, I think he struck a beautiful chord, very consistent with what we found in our work, and you just described it quite nicely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Chris McChesney
Unintentionally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you just described some things nicely in terms of you’ve identified four specific disciplines for execution. Can you give us the overview, and then let’s dig deeper into some of these?

Chris McChesney
Yeah, all right. So, the first one is, let’s do this. I’ll give each one a word. So, the first word is focus, and I’ll come back to this so you’ll get them. I’ll just give a list right now. So, the first one is focus, the second one is leverage, the third one is engagement, and the fourth one is accountability. And you think of these four words as sort of a mechanism for breaking through the urgency trap. Like, you want to fly an airplane, there’s four words, it’s lift, thrust, weight, and drag. Like, you get those concepts down, you can put something in the air and keep it there. In execution, we’re about focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability.

So, the first one, focus, is getting, really, first of all, narrowing your focus between the one thing that this team that I run is going to deliver, and everything that’s day job, everything that operationally has to get done. And I’m going to tell you that your operational reality, arguably, is more important, like that cannot slip. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not going anywhere in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re sort of on a treadmill. It’s like we’re continuing to do the things that we’ve done, and we’ll probably continue to get the results that we’ve got, and if you’re a big company, the results you’ve gotten are great. But, of course, over time, if you don’t innovate, you’ll kind of wither.

Chris McChesney
So, I’ve got a good one for you. So, the number two guy at Marriott, he’s retiring this year, his name is Dave Grissen. Marriott used this methodology for 12 years and they’ve improved their guest sat. every year for 12 years. The champion of this is now the number two guy at Marriott. When he was launching this 12 years ago, he told a group of leaders that were launching this process, he said, it was a two-part statement, he said, “First of all, if you want to keep your jobs at Marriott, just take care of the operation, just take care of the day job. We’ll never fire you because if we let you go, the next person might not take care of the day job. Like, you’ll always have a job here if you just take care of the day job.”

And then he gets this smirk, and he said, “But if you want to get promoted, give me one, give me your result, give me an improvement in arrival experience, give me an improvement in food and beverage quality, give me an improvement in everything in working order or event satisfaction. Call your shot and bring me something.” And it was his way of sort of communicating, I thought it was a great way to set, “Yeah, all right. If I just want to take care of the day job, okay, I’ll always have a job here. But if I’m serious about my career…” and then they backed it up. So, when a hotel manager applied for a general manager position, or vice versa, the first thing they would say is, “All right, tell me about your results. What did you target? How did you do it? Like, I want to know…” I think this is a universal principle for career movement, like, “I got to do those two things. I have to maintain the operation. That is job one. But if that’s all I’m doing, I’m treadmilling it. And then what is the one thing, what is the one result that I can deliver?”

And, by the way, that day job will take up 100% of my energy if I let it. I have to steal energy from that, and we say about 20%, to apply towards a breakthrough. So, figuring out what that is, defining it, giving it a starting line, a finish line, and a deadline, all of those things are part of discipline one and focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, Chris, I love that so much in terms of it’s just a clear framework and it’s just true. It rings true in terms of, yeah, doing your day job, keeping the operations going, will consume you, and it is important, and it needs to be done, and yet, just as you said, you’ve got to have that result. I’m thinking here about I’ve coached a lot of people on their resumes and career strategy development, and that’s kind of how that’s always my interpretation as I’m reviewing resumes for like hiring someone or for helping them to make their resume better.

Chris McChesney
There you go. You’re looking for it.

Pete Mockaitis
If you just show me, it’s like, “Okay. Well, yeah, you know what, I think it’s accountants. Poor guys. They’ve got such great skills and some of them I don’t have. I love my accountant so much. He’s so valuable.” And then when I read some bullets from accountants’ resumes, it’s like, “Hey, did invoicing, or controls, or books, or reporting,” and it’s like, “Yeah, absolutely, that’s got to happen. It’s hard. I wouldn’t be good at it. I’m glad that you’re on top of that.” But to make me go, “Hmm, impressive resume,” I got to see results and improvement on something, like you revised a process, you reduced costs, you improved revenue, you made something that took a long time, now take a little bit of time. I got to see a result and, ideally, there’s a number on it from like a resume judging perspective.

Chris McChesney
Yup, there is a number on it. That’s right. And think about this, so the great management guru, like the guy that kicked all this off was Peter Drucker. Drucker has got this one statement that is money. Drucker says, “The hardest thing to get people to do is think about their jobs in terms of results instead of activities.” And you just described that really well, “I do this, and then I do this, and then I do this, and then I do that.” If that sits on a resume, yeah, that’s fine if I need one of those, but that’s a certain type of job. But if you start thinking in the currency of results, what did I bring?

So, I’ve got right now, I have seven children, my wife and I do. My oldest is married and my third oldest is married, and so I’ve got, right now, I’ve got half a dozen little people in my life that are in their 20s that are looking at careers, and I’ve been just really hitting this note that get very comfortable with the currency of results. Somewhere, your boss, let’s say you’re in front-line management or event middle management, start thinking, and I’m going to steal from Stephen Covey who we were talking about earlier.

Think about what’s outside your job description but within your circle of influence. The opportunity rarely lives inside your job description, but it is something that you could influence. It’s like, what is the one thing that your boss wishes we had fixed? What is the one thing that the organization needs? And can you bring that? Maybe it is within your job description. But thinking in terms of the currency of results when it’s not being asked of you is a mindset shift for most people but it’s incredibly enabling.

And here’s the other thing. No one is going to have a parade for you when you deliver results. It’s funny, you’ll actually be…I think you’ll be discouraged. Like, you’ll get this done, and you’ll get that done, the whole time you’re doing this. If you’re not careful, what you’re thinking is, “Geez, Mary doesn’t do this. Mark doesn’t do this. I’m doing all this extra work. I’m not getting paid.” That’s the other thing. You’ll always feel like you’re adding more value than you’re getting paid, and that’s exactly where you want to be. And you just keep doing these things, and nobody cared about them, like you get a pat on the head, and a week later, they forgot. You keep doing it, and then one day they’re thinking, “Hey, we need somebody. Do you know who’d be great for that?” And, all of a sudden, you’ve changed your brand as you’re a real hunter. You seek and you get results.

And it doesn’t take very long because not everybody is doing it. Like, I promise you. Everybody applies for the position. Everybody. I’ve gotten 14 jobs. I’ve never gotten one of them from an interview. It’s always been, “Hey, Chris, we’re thinking of something.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. That’s focus. All right. So, you’re focusing and then maybe say a little bit more. It’s often outside your job description but within your area of control. It’s about results. And any other little telltale signs, like, “This may be the thing to focus in on”?

Chris McChesney
So, let’s say be careful of going too big. We don’t emphasize this enough in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, and the second version is getting launched this spring, and we really hit this point. Like, I’m in sales so we’ve got to grow revenue. Now I know what the thing is, the thing is the revenue. Well, be careful. Revenue is the title of the book, whatever the macro objective is, think of that like the title of the book, and that’s not where I want you to go. I want you to look at the chapters that make up the book, and I want you to pick the one chapter where you go, “Oh, if we could only do this. This is one product we sell. If we could grow that one product, boy, the margins are better, those people stay with us, they buy our other products.” Like, where are you going to put disproportionate energy? Against which chapter are you going to double down?

And if you could come down to sort of one level of abstraction from the big goal down to the chapter, come down off the title of the book, look at chapters and say, “Oh, yeah. You know what, if we get our first-year salespeople to pay for themselves, we could grow this thing forever.” Like, there’s always that one sort of small target that if we could just get that, wow, we could do X, Y, and Z. like, those are the really good, what we call WIGs, or wildly important goals. They’re not always these macro huge things.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s beautiful. So, it’s like a domino that sets it off, or the key that unlocks a whole lot more.

Chris McChesney
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right. So, we got the focus. What’s next?

Chris McChesney
So, the next one is the leverage one, what we call act on the lead measures. Think weight loss. If the scale is the lag measure or the goal, those two things are synonymous, the wildly important goal, or the lagging measure, the outcome metric is the weight, then if you want to lose weight, there’s two lead measures. Everybody listening knows what they are. It’s diet and exercise.

And you say, “Well, what’s unique about a lead measure from a lag measure?” Well, lead measures have two characteristics. I can influence the lead directly. You can’t directly affect weight loss but I can cut my calorie and I can burn calories daily. That distinction right there, folks, that’s the whole thing. A metric that can be directly affected. And then its other characteristic is predictive. Like, if I do that, I get the other. So, think of how a lever works. Rocks are too heavy to move but, you know what, I can move the lever, and the lever moves the rock. That is the idea.

And you want to prove this point, just ask people to think about someone in their life, and most people have someone, who’s lost 50 pounds. Like, there’s somebody they know, it wasn’t an accident, they deliberately set out to lose 50 pounds. So, everybody thinks of somebody, and then you ask the question, “All right. Was that person who lost 50 pounds, were they aware of a diet program and an exercise program, or were they counting daily?” And you do this in a room of 500 people, there might be one or two people that will say there weren’t counting. Everybody else it’s like it’s got to be like a 98%-99% statistic.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Chris McChesney
Why is that? Because, otherwise, we lie to ourselves. So, finding the diet and exercise, in the goal. Like, it isn’t just diet and exercise, it’s any lead measures. And the most sophisticated processes on the planet, like people that are building fighter planes, and structural engineers, and people like this, can always get into this thinking of, “All right, what’s the lag measure and what are the lead measures? Where in the process of these things that we could attack?” And that’s what lead measures are, figuring out and measuring those things that I can directly influence that will move the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, Chris, as you were saying this because I’ve had the pleasure, misfortune, I don’t know, of gaining and losing 10 pounds about three times now in life. And so, that has been my experience in that when I really am serious, I will use the Lose It! app or whatever. So, for real tracking, “How much am I exercising and how much am I taking in?” and not just falling into frozen pizzas multiple times a week, then it’s happening. And when I’m not, it isn’t. So, that’s my own experience on the loss.

Chris McChesney
Let’s put it in a business example. We got a hardware store. They want a likelihood to recommend number, and they’ve tracked it, and they said, “Look, if people will recommend our hardware store, if they’re likely to recommend, whether they do or not, if they answer that they are, you move that number, you see profits move.” Like, they know this is a really good chapter heading for wildly important goal. So, they’re like, “What are the lead measures?” What they find is, you know, there’s three things. When I go to a hardware store, I got to find what I’m looking for. Will someone talk to me? Number one. Number two, when I get to the aisle where the part is, do they actually have the thing I was looking for? Out of stocks. Number three. Once I got it, how quickly can I get out of the store?

Now, the group that we’re working with, the stores didn’t have to pick all three. They could pick one of the three, they could pick two of three, they have different teams working on any, but they had to have, and this is discipline three, is scoreboard, they had to create a compelling scoreboard out of the game. What’s the lag and what’s the lead? It’s a two-part equation. So, like, we’re going to try and move our likelihood to recommend, and we’ve never been able to move that score but we’re going after what we think are the three things that will have the biggest impact, and we figured out how to measure out of stocks, and we figured out how to measure how quickly we engage, and we know how to measure speed at checkout, and so we’re making the bet. In our store, we’re great at speed at checkout but we are terrible at out of stocks. And we’re going to attack that metric every single week, like somebody would attack running or whatever.

And this is where the trial and error comes in. Let’s see if that does it, and let’s learn from this. But if you can get, there’s an engagement dynamic here too, that when you can get people into the game of, “What will affect what?” It’s like a little riddle they’re trying to solve. And if they’re able to move a metric they’ve never been able to move before, you can get your team very engaged in, “All right, what was our score last week? We’ve been killing on out of stocks three weeks in a row. Do we do it four weeks? What the numbers are coming at?” And you could start to engage people in the work in a way, “Well, it was surprising to us. We weren’t expecting this. It’s not why we set out to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so good. And I think now we’ll talk about the third discipline with the engagement and the scoreboard is a tool for engagement. One of my favorite consulting projects, we saw exactly this. It was a customer service organization, they had six call centers, and we discovered that, “Well, hey, what we want is, like title of the book, lower costs associated with addressing customer needs.” And so, back it up a little bit, we see average handle time in terms of just how long they need to be on the phone with someone.

And then we’ve backed that up, we could see what influenced handle time is the experience of the customer service rep who those who know more, they’ve been around more, are able to quickly and knowledgably address the questions that come up. And then so we backed that up and we see, well, the attrition rate is horrible so that people are leaving fast and the average person is not very experienced. And so then, we backed that up and then we really kind of see, “Well, how are the supervisors treating, encouraging, motivating, supporting, the folks who work for them?” And then we see wild differences in that. So, those are some actions to take to reduce attrition.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the scoreboard is like, “The data was always suspect in terms of the attrition rates.” It’s like, “Well, you know, those were temporary. Those were college summer things,” and so no one every trusted the numbers, or could be held accountable to the numbers because they didn’t believe the numbers. And so, junior consultant here, it’s like, “That’s my job, is I’m making the real attrition numbers,” and then I get all these emails from people being asked to be added to the daily email about the attrition numbers that are the true numbers. And then it’s a game, it’s like they’re saying, “Hey, wow, this call center had their attrition go way down as compared to the previous month. Well, what the heck are you doing?” “You know, we tried this game where we offer this prize when they do such and such, and people are really getting into it.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, we should try that game too.” And it’s a beautiful thing.

Chris McChesney
All right. I got to dissect what you just said.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris McChesney
Because you hit a couple of really important themes right there. First of all, you had to get good data before this thing worked. So, think of any, I tell, athletics, I know people think that sports analogies are tired, and usually they are, but it’s really applicable here. Nobody is going to follow a game if the scoreboard is suspect for any reason. And so, “It’s not a first down. It’s somewhere between nine and 11 yards.” “No, it’s 10 fricking yards. Your nine and 11 inches, you’re going the other way.” And so, good data comes from good definitions.

So, I’m guessing, as you got into the data, you had to decide, “When did it really count as attrition? When didn’t it count as attrition?” You had to get very clear on the definitions that drove the data. And so, once you had a credible scoreboard, the next thing that you were able to show before people, I’m guessing, cared about it, is you had to show correlation. You had to show that when one number moved, another number moved. And so, this isn’t just something for analysts. Every business manager has to start understanding some basic correlations because, otherwise, you’re at the mercy of your business. “What do I put energy against that’s going to give me a return?” You stayed on that until you found.

Once you found it, once you saw a correlation, everybody wanted to see it. Everybody knew, right? Sometimes it takes a little trial and error, but you hit the two things. You had clean data, and you had cause and effect, then correlation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. While we’re reliving these moments, and we talk about correlation, that’s one error I think I met is I thought of correlation as, “Oh, you run the statistics in Excel and you get your R squared and adjusted R values,” but really, no, it’s just sort of like with stock outs, there was other project, it was sort of like for service of technological things. And it’s sort of like “Did the job get done right the first time in satisfaction?” So, you can run a big regression with all your variables and it wouldn’t look that compelling. But then if you look at satisfaction score in which the job was done right the first time on one half of the slide, and versus the job was not done right the first time, it’s like then it looks like it’s night and day, and that’s a way to make a correlation pop in my view.

Chris McChesney
Wow, that’s very well-said. We’ll do these meetings where we’ll get…and we like to get the action very close the frontline so we’ll work with leadership teams that are trying to do lead and lag measures three levels, four levels, above the frontline, and we’re like, “Sorry, let’s just break the goals down, let’s get those targets as close to the frontline as possible, and then we want to see half a dozen different scoreboards on a variety of things that are key bets for making the big number move.”

And then what we’ll do about three months in, four months in, we’ll do a report out. So, we’ll have the big bosses come down and talk to the managers and the teams, these are great sessions, and the teams will teach him what they’ve learned, like, “We tried this lead measure. I know we’ve been saying it for years. Didn’t have any effect. But, look, we just measured it differently and we did this, and now look at the results. Look, we got four weeks in a row, we’re moving the lag measure.”

And these VPs are seeing insights into the business and they get very excited about talking to what these frontline teams, and it’s a huge deal for the frontline teams because they’re getting some spotlight right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

Chris McChesney
Oh, I got a book recommendation for you if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m listening.

Chris McChesney
A lot of people like Patrick Lencioni.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, we had him on the show. He’s great.

Chris McChesney
Okay, great. Yeah, he is great. Maybe his least-read book is my favorite, and it’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. He likes it too. He’s re-releasing it. He thinks the reason it doesn’t do so well because nobody wants to be carrying that title of a book around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Get it on Kindle and hide it.

Chris McChesney
So, now he’s going to call it The Secret of Engagement, or something like that. But our 20 years on execution and his work really walked parallel paths. And the three signs of a miserable job are anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds miserable to me.

Chris McChesney
It sounds miserable. Anonymity, “Nobody cares what I’m doing.” Irrelevance, “It doesn’t matter.” And immeasurement, “I don’t know if I’m winning or losing.” And so, people don’t want oppressive data that doesn’t really tell the whole picture, and they’ll resist that stuff. But really helping, when they can actually influence creating a, and we use this words, high-stakes winnable game, you can get a great deal of engagement right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, let’s talk, finally, the fourth discipline here, creating a cadence of accountability. How do we do it?

Chris McChesney
So, this is one where it’s almost like if you think about disciplines one, two, and three as setting up the game. One is the target, two is kind of the how, three is sort of encapsulating it in a scoreboard, four is how we play the game. And now we’re going to go full circle back to the urgency thing. You can’t beat the urgency thing. You have to sort of trick your own brain. The way this works is everybody on the team makes a commitment during this little meeting, so every week at the same time, 20-minute meeting, Tuesdays at 9:00, it’s Tuesdays at 9:00, no matter what, you have to be kind of a freak about it, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris McChesney
We’ve got this meeting around this scoreboard, call them WIG sessions. And everybody in that meeting reports on the thing they committed to do last week that would have an impact on the scoreboard. So, I take one commitment. Like, we have a lead measure of interviewing 80% of our first-time accounts. But I could tell now that the script doesn’t look really good, so my commitment for the week is we’re going to rewrite that script, or, “The rent of Solaire office is really struggling. I’m going to meet with Marty, and we’re going to go over such.” Something I’m going to do every single week. In that meeting, everybody has to say, “Here’s what I said I was going to do last week. Here’s the impact it had on the scoreboard. And here’s my commitment for next week,” and that’s all they say.

Next person, “Here’s what I did. Here’s what my scoreboard looks like. Here’s what I’m going to do next week.” Like, brainstorming, problem-solving, something’s come up, out of this meeting. This thing, you are in and out. If you can do it in 20 minutes, great. And there’s this sort of two things about this. One, the commitments can’t come from the boss. You pull this, you don’t push it. So, the boss sometimes sits there chewing their tongues out because they know what they want to have done but, no, no, you got to ask everybody, “Give me that. What is the one thing, Pete, you’re going to do this week that’s kind of the biggest impact on one of those lead measures?” It’s like just-in-time strategic planning.

And then you know next week, we have people say all the time, “You know what, it was Thursday night and I had that week session Friday morning, and I was up till 2:00 o’clock in the morning. Like, I was not…” People don’t want to disappoint their bosses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Chris McChesney
They won’t disappoint their peers. They don’t like to disappoint their bosses. They could get over that. But we found that when it comes to peer accountability, they take it really seriously and you get really good commitments and you get energy. And then four, five, six weeks of non-urgent activity because these commitments would never make anybody’s to-do list but they’re the most important thing you could do to drive the lead measures. And so, that’s really the secret of the whole thing, is we just start to mind-harvest, pick your metaphor, energy against that scoreboard every single week until the team realizes, “We’re doing something nobody’s been able to do before, and it’s moving,” then we get the pop in engagement. That’s our story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s exciting and, certainly, I see what you mean about tricking your brain with the urgency, is it’s now urgent in that you don’t want to look like a fool, you don’t want to let people down, and the clock is ticking that you’re going to have to say something on Friday, so, hopefully, it’s going to be a good something.

Chris McChesney
And the day job has all that stuff built in, that’s why the day job has its own accountability system called your neck. Like, you get a phone call, like people get mad at you, you don’t want that phone call, so we do that, right? But the goals, the goals need a mechanism to create the same kind of urgency that the day job has. And if you could do it in a way where people feel like they’re part of something, and this is what we found.

So, I gave you the quote on Lencioni’s book “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.” I’ll give you another one. It’s an HBR, Harvard Business Review, article, May 2011, there’s also a book by the same name called The Power of Small Wins, and it goes back to a research that was done in the ‘60s by a guy named Frederick Herzberg. And Herzberg said, those of you that have had MBA classes recently, his name comes up. He came up with this theory, and he said, “Look, the stuff that people quit over – pay, best friend at work, job conditions, benefits – does not engage them.”

I’m going to say that again, “The stuff people quit over does not engage them.” Don’t quit over pay, whether they have a best friend at work, whether they like…they’ll over quit all that stuff. There’s only two things that engage people, really create engagement, and it’s “Am I winning? Am I progressing? Is it working? Is there some progress?” and “Does it matter? Is it a winnable high-stakes game?” And so, what we tell people is, “Look, don’t get overwhelmed by this. If you’re a leader, your team doesn’t have to feel that way about everything. The day job, 80% won’t feel that way most of the time. It’s okay. But if you can create a high-stakes winnable game around that 20%, that one thing, it affects the way they feel about everything else.” And I would even say in raising teenagers, it’s the same thing. Find one thing in that kid’s life that they’re wining at and they feel good at, it has an impact on everything else.

So, I’ll tell you, after 20 years, that’s what we’ve learned. If you can create a high-stakes winnable game for people, it has a profound effect on morale and engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it. And I think it’s true all of life in terms of, in my own experience, it’s like, “I got to feel like I’m winning something.”

Chris McChesney
Yeah, right. Give me something, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I might feel like a lame dad or a lame husband, but if I’m winning at work, it’s like, “Okay, life has some color,” or vice versa, I might feel like, “Oh, man, COVID hits, my downloads are down. You know what, man, but I’m having a blast with my kids.” Like, you got to be winning at something.

Chris McChesney
Right. Right. Right. And so, that’s the question to leaders, right? Do the people who work for you feel like there’s some part of what you’re doing that feels like a high-stakes winnable game? And if they do, they won’t forget it. It’s a much bigger deal to people than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Chris, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Chris McChesney
That’s it. That’s our story.

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

Chris McChesney
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose, considered by yourself to be a worthy one, instead of being a feverish little clot of grievances and ailments, complaining the world will not dedicate itself to making you happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard that. I forgot who said it.

Chris McChesney
It’s on the tip of my tongue. That was the one that I was looking for.

Pete Mockaitis
It was nice. It was well-done. The clot grievances is always like, “Oh, man.”

Chris McChesney
Yeah, be a force of nature, right? Attack something. Bring something down.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chris McChesney
You know what I’m reading right now? I’m reading the, the biography of Hamilton that Lin-Manuel Miranda based the Broadway play on. And my wife and I are just crazy for the play. And the biography is stunning, and it’s just a really inspiring story of someone who had no business having an impact on the world that he had. Chernow is the guy’s last name, the Hamilton biography. It’s fantastic.

Hey, on this topic, more to this topic, although I tell you, the book I read before that was Robert Greene on Mastery. And I actually had all my kids, we did at dinner, and you could only come to dinner if you had read at least the first chapter of Mastery. And it’s really an interesting perspective on the whole career conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Chris McChesney
Waterskiing. I’ve got to do a lot of it because I haven’t been on the road, so this is my summer of slalom waterskiing. That’s my addiction.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks, they quote it back to you and they highlight it in your book, etc.?

Chris McChesney
There will always be more good ideas than there’s capacity to execute them.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that very comforting because…

Chris McChesney
Good, because you don’t have to bring them all down. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And, in a way, it really is a blessing. It’s like it’s such abundance. We can sort of enjoy that as opposed to be stressed out by it.

Chris McChesney
Thank you. Right. Because it kind of shames us in one moment. But, you’re right, it’s just great to realize. Because there is this onus sometimes when we think, “Oh, that. Oh, I didn’t do, and we didn’t follow up on that.” Like, yeah, trust me, you and everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s so funny, sometimes when I have lots of opportunities, and I think even in business, it’s like I find that sometimes I get more stressed, and it’s like I’m enjoying my work less, it’s like, “What’s this about? Like, this is good. This is good.” So, yeah, thank you. It puts it right in the frame, right back where it needs to be. And how about if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris McChesney
All right. So, you go on Amazon and look up The 4 Disciplines of Execution, which is our book that has done way better than we ever thought it would with a title like that, with the words discipline and execution. If you don’t have high hopes, would you launch that book? It continues to be a bestseller to our delight and amazement.

And then if you go to, all one word, ChrisMcChesney4dx.com that will take you to my website and kind of the work that we do. Or you can go to the FranklinCovey website, that works as well, and you can find me there.

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

Chris McChesney
I’ll just go back to the one I said a minute ago. Find something outside your job description, within your circle of influence, and get your team treating it like a high-stakes winnable game. If you can do that, you’re not a manager. You’re a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck.

Chris McChesney
Right back at you.

594: Achieving More by Embracing Your Productivity Style with Carson Tate

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Carson Tate says: "There's no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity."

Carson Tate discusses the four productivity styles—and how to pick the best tools and practices that best suit you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to pick the right system for your productivity style
  2. The top tools for keeping your inbox under control
  3. How to work in harmony with opposing productivity styles

About Carson

Carson is the founder and Managing Partner of Working Simply. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style. Her views have been included in top-tier business media including Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, CBS Money Watch, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, The New York Times, USA Today, Working Mother and more.

Prior to starting Working Simply, Carson worked in Human Resources and sales functions with Fortune 200 firms. Carson holds a BA in psychology from Washington and Lee University, a Masters in Organization Development, and a Coaching Certificate from the McColl School of Business at Queens University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Carson Tate Interview Transcript

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

Carson Tate
Thanks, Pete. I’m glad to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to be with you and to get into some of the mess that is our lives and productivity and such. But I understand you also love the mess of mud runs and more. What’s the story here?

Carson Tate
Yes. So, a couple of my girlfriends and I got bored a few years ago with just regular road races and we decided to branch out, and it is some of the most fun that we have, and we are literally cleaning mud out of our ears for days afterwards, and obstacles, and you push yourself, but it’s great fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s see, I’m familiar with the Tough Mudder. What are the other big names in mud running?

Carson Tate
So, the Tough Mudder is the one that we’ve done. And there’s also, in North Carolina, a couple of just very small local races as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s some fun background. I want to get your view here, so you’ve done a lot of work about work, researching people and productivity, and kind of what makes us tick. What would you say is maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about people and productivity from all of your explorations?

Carson Tate
If we really want to be productive, you’ve got to align your tools and your strategies to how you think and process.

So, what often happens is people try a new app and it doesn’t work for them, and then they think they’re not capable of getting organized or there’s something wrong with them. No, it’s just the tool that doesn’t work for you. So, it’s about aligning your tools to how you think and process, and then really creating a custom toolkit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in your world, you defined four different productivity styles. And I’d love it if you could, call me a skeptic or what the word is, but I’d love to hear a little bit about the underlying research in that. I guess for like with the Enneagram, for example, I’m like, “Who says there’s nine types? How do we know there’s nine? Why are there not eight or 12? Why are they not like 34 like the Strengths?” So, can you lay it on us, how do we come up with four?

Carson Tate
Absolutely. So, first of all, my graduate research looked at cognitive thinking styles, so this is different than personality. This is literally how you think and process information. And so, I looked at the research, neuroscience and research, into how we think. And so, the concept of left brain and right brain, it’s not technically accurate but that’s easy classification, and then started digging into an instrument called Hermann Brain Dominance Inventory that looks at thinking style, and realized that that’s a great instrument, and there’s a gap, and that that instrument does not tell you how your thinking style informs how you work. And by how you work, I mean how you think about time, how you structure your day, whether you like to take notes or not, what your inbox looks like, and whether or not you like file folders.

So, using what I understood around our thinking styles, I developed first-tier assessment in grad school and then tested it out, and realized that there really are topologies, there are four different styles that broadly characterized these thinking styles. So, one is prioritizer, analytical, linear, fact-based. These are the folks that like spreadsheets and data and details. Then planners, organized, sequential, detailed. These are the folks that have never met a checklist they didn’t like. These are the project planners. Arrangers, these are your intuitive, kinesthetic, relational folks. They do their work with and  through people. They like colorful pens, they’re visual. And then visualizers, these are your big-picture strategic thinkers. They are the ones that are pushing the envelope, “Why not?” They don’t like structure. They think in big, broad concepts.

So, first iteration, tested it, had to refine the topology. Tested it again. And now we’re on an iteration, this is our third iteration. We’ve had over 2.5 million people take it and validating the results.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. What’s the number again?

Carson Tate
Two and a half million.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good work. Cool.

Carson Tate
So, it’s working. It’s definitely working. And, Pete, I think what is helpful about it, like any of these assessments, and I hear you on what’s the science behind it. Fundamentally, it’s just an awareness tool. So, if you’re my client, I’m coaching  you, and I can help you see how your thinking is informing why you do not want to schedule your day in 15-minute increments in a way that would better help you optimize your time, that is what’s going to lead to your productivity. So, that awareness. So, it’s just an awareness too. It’s just access into how you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I would love it if you could sort of make that come alive for us here in terms of if you could maybe share a story of maybe someone who was doing something and it wasn’t working for him, and then they made a discovery about this, and then they saw some cool results from there.

Carson Tate
Yeah, absolutely. So, I was working with a client, we’ll call him Bill, he worked in the nonprofit sector, and Bill, very tech savvy, Bill had probably tried every app that’s out there, every to-do app, and he would stick to it for like a week or so, he’s so excited, and then the wheels fall off, and he’d be crazy it’s not working out. He could never find an email. He’d taken plenty of email management classes, he was late on all of his projects. And so, when I met with him, the first thing I realized was that he was a visualizer, really big-picture thinker. So, an app that was very linear and very designed for really discrete details, it went counter to how he thought about things.

He thought about things in terms of ideas, so this was how he was going to solve the waste management issue, like these big concepts. So, what I’d asked him to do was try mind-mapping software so he could anchor the central concept, and then from it, pull out things that needed to happen around it. So, making these really graphical charts he could see. And the second thing we did was we removed every single folder that he had in his inbox because out of sight was out of mind. He’d get an email and then he’d file it away in the to-do folder, but he’d forget about it because he was visual.

So, we turned his inbox into a visual to-do list by changing the subject line of his email messages to his next action steps so he could see them. They never went away. He could search them and see them. And then we reconfigured his calendar. So, these tight little very structured meeting, meeting, meeting didn’t work for him. So, we started thinking about his work in terms of theme days. So, Monday’s theme for him was admin, so all of the internal work, the internal meetings, the one on one’s. Tuesday, he was out in the field, he did some work out in the field inspecting job sites. Wednesdays was back in the office. Thursday was another field day, so he could kind of group and organize things based on themes.

So, fits and starts. Three weeks later, I checked in with him, and he’s still on those early stages of trying to get it to work, but what had happened is that his manager noticed that he was arriving on time to meetings, and that he’d actually turned in two things early. He was so proud of him, super proud of him. Fast forward six months later, he’s hitting all of his marks, he’s up for a promotion, and he actually had started working on a book that he was talking about for his nonprofit that he had setup because he created the mental space and the time space to also start to pursue some of his personal passions because he got work dialed in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot in there. And it’s funny because I’ve heard about how grand mind mapping is, and I haven’t really had much cool results with it, part of it is like my writing is hard to read and it gets kind of crunched. I could try the big piece of paper. So, yeah, I haven’t personally had a mind-mapping session that knocked my socks off in terms of, “Wow, that’s so cool. I’m glad I did that.”

And, yet, when you first mentioned the prioritizer, I am in so all about finding sort of the 80/20 high-leverage thing that does it. And I do have a spreadsheet that estimates the profit generated per hour invested of various business initiatives and then that gets me fired up, like, ‘Holy smokes, that one is worth ten times what that one is worth.” So, as you laid this out, it makes a lot of sense how, hey, mind mapping is game-changing for some but, for me, it hasn’t been resonant yet.

Carson Tate
Right, because it’s not quantifiable for you. So, as a prioritizer, you need to quantify your efforts. So, we either quantify in terms of minutes, we quantify in terms dollars, we quantify it in terms of emails processed in minutes, number of items checked off, how quickly you achieved an objective, how many minutes were shaved off of a meeting. So, that is speaking your productivity language. But for Ben, he doesn’t care. That doesn’t motivate him. He doesn’t care about that. He’s more concepts, “What’s next? And how do we build a system for him?” And he actually used a whiteboard, and then there’s also a software called MindJet that you can do mind mapping on the computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, okay, since you opened up that door, I can’t resist. Let’s hear the tools because it can be tempting to play tools all day long, but if we can have just a couple of minutes. So, MindJet is cool for mind-mapping individualizers. Is there any other sort software or tools you recommend for each of the other three?

Carson Tate
So, I like Trello for planners, and arrangers can use it a little bit. Evernote is great for arrangers and for visualizers because they have blank pages. And prioritizers, you can use Todoist, you can use Things, and there are a host of them that are designed for prioritizers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I think that I love OmniFocus and just a spreadsheet most often because I can see those numbers.

Carson Tate
Right.
I would say that you’re definitely onto something but it really doesn’t matter what the tool is as long as it works for you. So, Excel, a great tool for you, but it might not have the flash or the name recognition, but it works for you. So, part of the push and the struggle on productivity is, can you stand on the ground of, “Hey, you know what, I use a legal pad. It works for me”?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Understood. Okay. Cool. And then I guess I’m also thinking that, I guess, in some ways, different projects and different outputs that you’re shooting for sort of seem to align more readily to different folks. I guess I’m thinking if I’m trying to say, “Hey, manufacturing plant manager, I need you to optimize our outputs and shave off all the time associated with cranking out the widgets,” going on a visualizer style, or maybe just my bias as a prioritizer, but it doesn’t quite seem like that’s ideal but maybe all roads lead to Rome or something. Like, there’s multiple paths that will end up doing the same thing. What’s your take on that?

Carson Tate
All roads lead to Rome, and each of these styles has a strength. So, if we’ve got to optimize throughput on a manufacturing line, I’m going to strongly encourage that we have a prioritizer to think about that. If we need to redesign the line, then I’m going to suggest we have a visualizer to think about a new approach. And if it’s about, “Do we have a team that’s highly functioning on this line?” I’m going to ask the arranger to do that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I suppose, tell us, how does one learn what their style is?

Carson Tate
So, we have the assessments on our website WorkingSimply.com, you can go and take it on the website. Then we also have multiple articles on our blogs that talk about these styles and questions you can ask to help you determine your productivity style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, can you tell us, once we are aware of our productivity style, I guess what are some of the sort of top do’s and don’ts that we should keep in mind? Either things that are sort of universally applicable to all or the particulars, “Hey, prioritizers probably do this and don’t do that.”

Carson Tate
Yes. So, universal, I have two universals across the board for all four styles. One is the concept which, I think, Pete, you are 100% in alignment with, which is time is a commodity. And so, we talk about it with our coaching clients and our training clients that time is non-renewable resource, “We all have the same 168 hours in a week. How do you choose to invest it for your highest ROI?” So, that’s across the board best practice, “Can you make that paradigm shift to being as intentional and as thoughtful about your time spent as you are your money spent?” What you’ve done with your spreadsheet is you’ve quantified time. You know what an hour of your time is worth and you make your decisions based on that.

The second universal principle is around inboxes, and we believe that your inbox is the best personal assistant you’ve ever had.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you mean email inbox or…?

Carson Tate
Your email inbox, yes. And so, to use all of the technology tools that are available in your platform, to automate as much as possible of your email management.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t even know we’re going to go here. Let’s go there now.

Carson Tate
You want to dig into email? Let’s talk email. Let’s talk inboxes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s the tools. I mean, hey, I love my email tools. I like Superhuman to fly through them, and I like SaneBox to filter. I guess, what are the other tools, and what are the other just sort of approaches in terms of what you’re doing in there, kind of regardless of the software you got?

Carson Tate
So, regardless of the software, we suggest a process we call the email agility process. You read it. You decide what it is. Does it require action by you? If action is required by you, you do it, not channeling Nike. You just do it if you do it under five minutes. Delegate it if you can, if you don’t have the knowledge and authority. Don’t have the knowledge and authority, you delegate it or you convert it to a task. So, convert them to task in Gmail, Outlook, you can send it to Evernote, but you are making that decision around the action step because what we don’t want to do is re-read the email. And if no action is required, you delete it or you file it. And then the final step is to contain and think thoughtfully about how you want to store and retrieve your messages.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, how do I arrive with that decision, the containing?

Carson Tate
The containing, yes. And this goes back though, Pete, the containing piece is where it becomes really personal. So, for you as a prioritizer, it’s going to look different than my example Ben, the visualizer. So, he doesn’t use folders. His containment method is everything lives in there, and he uses search functions. It works great for him. You probably have some folders, yeah, or nothing in your inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
It depends on what day you catch me.

Carson Tate
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, search is the primary way I pull one up although I do have the labels and the archiving. Okay. And so then, you say it’s the best personal assistant we have in the sense that it’s kind of like bringing to our attention that which we need to deal with or…

Carson Tate
Right. So, I’ll take Outlook, for example. So, in Outlook, you can use a function called conditional formatting. It’s very similar to labels in Gmail. And we can set it up so every time Pete emails me, that email comes in in bright red. So, what I’m doing is I’m telling my assistant, “Flag Pete. Turn him this color.” And when you come in my inbox, I now have a visual prioritization. I’ll read red first, then blue, then I’ll deal with the black ones. So, my assistant, I’ve told my assistant what to do, and then my assistant does it over and over again with no input from me, saving me that step of getting in and prioritizing every time.

And so, it’s thinking through if you always file this email, well, write a rule. Don’t do it. Have the technology do it for you. Another example we use with all of our clients, a lot of the emails that we send, and I can imagine for you, a lot of these are the same thing, “So, here’s the logon, here’s the link, here’s what you need to do as a guest on my show.” You’re written it. It’s a template. Well, save it as a template in your email program so that you can just use it over and over again, just like you would a Word doc or an Excel doc. So, we want to eliminate rework and automate using the tools as much as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so then when we got the productivity style of your own self, and then you’re interacting with others, how do you play that game? Because I imagine some people are pretty kind of chill, “Hey, man, however you want to do it. Just get it done by this time according to these principles.” And others are going to pretty precise, it’s like, “Hey, I need you to do…” I’m thinking about podcast sponsorship now, “I need you to do an air check, and you download reporting at this time. And I’m on this platform and this system.” So, yeah, I imagine that can create either harmony or irritation when these things come together. How do we navigate that?

Carson Tate
You’re exactly right. So, harmony when you’re working with someone who has the same style as you or similar style. So, Pete, if I was a prioritizer, and you and I are paired up on a project, we end up speaking quite the same language. We’re focused on the outcome. We want the data. We want to be quick. We want to be efficient. So, it’s very easy for us to work together. We’re pretty aligned. We get it done.

But if you were working with an arranger who’s focused on the people and wants to get everyone’s opinion about what the objective is, that’s going to be pretty frustrating for you. Very frustrating. And for the arranger, they’re going to be frustrated because you just want to get to work, and they don’t feel like they’ve built the team and aligned around the team. The planner, detailed, organized, who wants to put together your project plan, when they work with a visualizer, the visualizer doesn’t like structure, they don’t want a project plan, they don’t want details, so that’s going to create a pretty predictable clash. So, when you work with someone like you, easy.

When we talk about going cross-quadrants, so prioritizer to arranger, that’s the most significant difference, the biggest clash. Planner to visualizer, going that way, other very significant clash. It’s just going to be harder to work together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, acknowledging that’s going to be harder, what do you do about it?

Carson Tate
What do you about it? So, first, you got to communicate. So, each of these four productivity styles has a central question they want answered. So, you as a prioritizer, you want the what, “What’s the goal? What’s the objective? What’s the data?” The planner, how, “How have you done it before? How do you want to do it? How do we need to produce this deliverable?” The folks on the process, the how. The arranger’s focus is on the who, “Who’s on the team? Whos’ involved? Who are the stakeholders?” And the visualizer is asking those big-picture questions, “Why not? Why are we thinking about this? Why does this matter? How does this connect to strategy?”

And so, if I’m a planner working with a visualizer, I need to be thinking about and answering those why questions, talking about strategy, talking about big picture, creating opportunities for innovation. And, vice versa, if the visualizer is working with a planner, they need to be comfortable talking about the how and the details and being willing to work through a sequential process with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, understood. And you also had a note associated with a master task list, an acronym, TASK. Can you unpack this for us?

Carson Tate
Sure. So, I’ll give you the why behind it and then we’ll unpack it. So, the why is because our brains are terrible at to-do lists, right? I mean, how often have you sat on your desk, like, “Oh, I forgot to do this on the way into my office.” Well, we all have this happen. So, the master task list creates one central repository to capture all of your commitments, both personal and professional, in one place. So, the T in task stands for think, and this is when we ask our clients basically do a brain dump, get it all out of your head everything you need to do.

The second step is the A, is the action because a lot of the stuff in our heads will be a project. So, for example, clean out the garage. Well, you’re not going to do that. That’s a big project. So, what we have to do is determine the next action step. Well, the first action step would be maybe to measure the wall. If you want to hang something up, we got to measure to figure out how many hooks so that I can start to create some organization.

And then the S is just sort. So, once you’ve done your brain dump and you’ve need to determine next-action steps, we have to create a list that’s actually manageable and that you can get in and out of. So, the sort is just a grouping or a classification of like items. So, it might be podcast prep, it might be calls, it might be research, it could be a project name, but you group all of those action items under that category. And then the last one is you keep one and only one list. So, we don’t have a list in this app, a list in your pocket, a list on your refrigerator. You’ve got just one master list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And since you mentioned multiple lists and multiple places, I’m thinking about sort of the paper versus digital part of this all. How does that sync up to, do you find that some of the four styles prefer one versus the other? Or is it just sort of that’s a whole another dimension there, prioritizers who love paper, and visualizers who love computers, and it’s all over the place?

Carson Tate
it’s all over the place, absolutely, with an asterisk. So, all over the place. We have folks in each category that like paper or tech. The asterisk would be the arrangers. They tend to be kinesthetic, so they have very nice writing utensils. You will see them touch and feel objects. They’re very visual dashboards. They are more likely to use paper than the other four styles.

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

Carson Tate
Just excited I’ve got a new book coming out, October 6, called Own It, Love it, Make it Work: How to Turn Any Job into Your Dream Job. So, it is the roadmap if you do not enjoy your job or you want to enjoy your job even more. This is the tool to help you get there.

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

Carson Tate
I’m going to say, “Just do it.”

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

Carson Tate
My graduate research on cognitive thinking styles was my favorite research project I’ve ever done.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Carson Tate
The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve mentioned a few of them, but how about a favorite tool?

Carson Tate
Paper.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And with a paper, how specifically do you use it in a way that’s great for you?

Carson Tate
Yes. So, I actually have a paper to-do list because I have a little notebook I’ve created and leaves with me wherever I go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Carson Tate
Early morning meditation.

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

Carson Tate
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity. You must personalize it based on how you think and process information.

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

Carson Tate
WorkingSimply.com or on LinkedIn, Carson Tate.

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

Carson Tate
Yes. Figure out how you think and process information, and then align your productivity tools to support you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carson, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun in your productive adventures.

Carson Tate
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it. Thanks.

591: How to Prevent Work and Stress From Taking Over Your Life with Bryan Robinson

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Bryan Robinsons says: "When you have compassion and creativity, that's a whole different ball game for how you're showing up at work."

Bryan Robinson shares the small, but impactful practices that help us strike a healthier work-life balance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key difference between loving work and workaholism 
  2. How to keep your survive brain from overwhelming you 
  3. Four micro chillers that offset stress and boost your mood 

About Bryan

Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages.  He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, NBC Universal, the CBS Early Show, and The Marketplace on PBS. He hosted the PBS documentary “Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself.” His book, Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, is now in its third edition (New York University Press, 1998; 2007; 2014). He developed the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART), an instrument used worldwide to measure work addiction. He lives in Asheville with his spouse, one Yorkie, three Golden doodles, and Krishna, an adopted cat, who wandered into their lives, along with occasional bears at night. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Bryan Robinson Interview Transcript

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

Bryan Robinson
It’s great to be here, Pete. Thanks for asking me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I need to understand, you own four dogs, a cat, and some birds, but you have too many bears at night. What exactly does that mean?

Bryan Robinson
Well, I live in Asheville, North Carolina on the side of a mountain, and actually we have a bear alert. We have so many bears coming into the city because there are not as many people out. So, every night, and just about every afternoon, my dogs go crazy. I have three Golden doodles in the backyard, and I have a York inside, and so it’s a little disruptive but my philosophy is I live in their territory, they don’t live in mine. And so, we love the bears, we love nature, and so we’re adjusting just like they’ve had to adjust to us human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so I like that’s a good frame a little bit in terms of it sounds sort of chill.

Bryan Robinson
Yeah, it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Or relaxed, and that’s what we’re talking about. You wrote the book on workaholism and three editions of it. So, maybe you can start us there. It’s like, how do we know if we are workaholics or if there is an imbalance in the first place? Maybe we have it going on and we don’t even know yet.

Bryan Robinson
Well, a lot of times we do have it going on. I had it going on and didn’t realize it because if you’re a true workaholic, you have as much denial as an alcoholic has denial. We’ve heard that old saying, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” And most addictions do have a denial component. So, I’m a psychotherapist and I see a lot of people, actually, from all over the world, and all over the United States, who come to me, either virtually now or face to face, and usually it’s the spouse dragging the workaholic in to fix him or her.

But, often, what has to happen, unfortunately, like any other addiction, someone who is really out of control with work often hits a bottom, and that could be I’ve had patients who’d been fired because they called their employees in on the weekend to work, which was unreasonable. I’ve had a lot of folks who become physically ill with gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, because what we know, think about a car. If you just have gas and you don’t have brakes, well, I don’t even have to tell you folks who are listening what happens. You’re going to go off the cliff, you’re going to burn out your engine, and that’s what happens with workaholics. They actually burn out.

And burnout is not the same as stress. It’s not easy to get over. It’s not something you can just take a vacation from. It takes quite a bit of time because it becomes physical at that point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then, that sounds pretty serious. So, maybe can you share with us what are maybe the top indicators there? So, it can surprise us, it can sneak up on us, we can be in denial, and then, I mean, in some of those instances, there are some pretty clear indicators. You got fired because you were asking too much from people who you just expect to work the way you were working.

Bryan Robinson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or you have a health issue showing up at the hospital. What are maybe some of the earlier indicators?

Bryan Robinson
Well, your spouse says, “Hasta Luego. I’m out of here,” after begging and pleading, which I went through early on. It’s one of the things that got me into what we call recovery. You know, there is a Workaholics Anonymous, there’s a 12-step program for workaholics. We’re talking about people who not only can’t stop working, even if they’re with their kids playing catch or by the ocean with their main squeeze, they’re thinking about work because they can’t turn it off. So, they’re not always in the office or in front of their computer. They can be anywhere and still working.

Also, there’s something called work infidelity. It’s my term that I use in the book #Chill. And that’s when you sneak your work. I had a woman tell me once that her husband complained because she stayed at the office till 7:00 or 8:00 every night, and he never saw her. And it got to be real serious, and she said, “I tell you what, I’m going to take an aerobics class.” The workout closed and, at work, what she would do is change into the workout clothes, dashed bottled water on her to make it look like sweat, and she actually worked till 8:00 o’clock but he thought that she’d been going to a class.

You know, I did something very similar, and I know it sounds even crazy when I say it, and I’m a therapist. I used to, when we’d go to the beach, everybody would walk on the beach and I’d pretend I was tired. I’d yawn and they thought that was cool, I’m actually going to rest. And as soon as I saw them out of sight, I would pull out my project from the university, I was a professor at the time, and work feverishly just like an alcoholic sneaking a drink. And then when I saw them coming back up, I’d pretend I’d been sleeping. And that’s work infidelity, which buys into that old notion of wedded to work.

Now, everybody is not that severe if they’re workaholics. The book #Chill is for anybody who lacks balance. And the kind of workaholic I’m talking about is really an extreme. There’s actually a test that you can take on my website, which you’ll probably mention, that tells you whether you’re that severe, which what I had just described as pretty serious, or mild, or medium. So, there are degrees of it, but a lot of people think they’re workaholics when they’re really not. They’d work in tax season, for example, day and night. That’s not a workaholic. That’s just the demands of the job that’s temporary. But we’re talking about people who are on the ski slopes, dreaming about being back in the office, versus someone who’s in the office, dreaming about being on the ski slopes. So, it’s a mental thing. It’s an inside job, as we say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so much of that is, I guess, sort of looking in the mirror. I mean…

Bryan Robinson
Is it mind-blowing?

Pete Mockaitis
I go both ways here with regard to, it’s like, “Hey, I’m working less than I was when I was a strategy consultant, so then that’s pretty good, right?”

But I also had moments where I’m playing with my son outside, and I’m thinking about a cool project that’s coming up from an audio app that wants me to do a show. More about that later. So, yeah, I guess it’s not all about me, it’s about the listener and your expertise. But it’s sort of, I think, I don’t know, maybe I’m on the mild side of things. Like, it shows up here and there but I’m not sneaking work or spending 60 plus hours a week.

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. And the other thing I wanted to mention, this applies to volunteering, retirement. What I’m seeing with people who are retiring today, they may not be working at least, obviously, in an office, but they, if you’re a true workaholic, you continue to do that, to do volunteer work or keep busy all the time. And it can be a student who is a perfectionist, and who is a control freak. We often refer to workaholics as controlling because they use their work to assuage some kind of internal stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, Bryan, and then on the flipside, I think sometimes just like work happens to be really fun and interesting.

Bryan Robinson
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then you choose what seems to be freely to do plenty of it.

Bryan Robinson
Well, let me tell you the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, please do.

Bryan Robinson
That’s a good point. I still work. I write for Forbes. I write for Psychology Today. I have a private practice. I have a new book coming out. I have a marriage, so I have a lot going on. But, you know, the difference is being drawn instead of driven. So, when you’re driven, and this is the way I used to be, I was a madman. I was a chain-smoking, I never stopped, I worked holidays, weekends, days, nights. It was just really crazy. And it was because I had to. We call it musturbation. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that term. Musturbation. I must. I have to. I should. The should-y thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard you can should all over yourself.

Bryan Robinson
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
But musturbation is a new one.

Bryan Robinson
Musturbation, yeah, I ought to, I have to. And what it is, it’s a form of shaming, and we don’t even know we’re doing it, but we are requiring. It’s an oppressive way of requiring ourselves to stay focused and to stay busy. Now, that’s driven. To be drawn is, “I want to…” “I plan to…” “I will…” “I have passion about this.” You know, Michelangelo, so the story goes, worked day and night on the Sistine Chapel. That didn’t mean he was a workaholic just because he was working day and night. When you have compassion and creativity, that’s a whole different ballgame for how you’re showing up at work.

So, I don’t feel the same when I’m working. I feel calmer. I call this the C-spot, and I talk about this in the book. The C-spot is when you have about seven or eight C words that you’re aware of. You’re calm. You’re clearheaded. You’re compassionate with yourself and other people. You’re creative. You’re confident. You’re courageous. And you’re curious. And that’s a whole different way of being in your body.

Now, that’s what I call the thrive brain. I was chatting with you earlier, and I mentioned we have two brains, and a lot of people don’t realize they have two brains. One is the survive brain, one is the thrive brain. The survive brain is hardwired in us so that we will survive. So, if your house is on fire, or if your kid is in jeopardy, you’re not going to think, you’re going to react. So, we need our survive brain to keep us safe. The problem is, and you can see this today, you can see it in the workplace, you can see it on the news every night, the survive brain has become rampant in our society with how people are interacting with each other.

The thrive brain is reflective. It’s basically the prefrontal cortex’s executive functioning. It’s the thinking brain versus the animal or lizard brain, I sometimes call it, and that’s the brakes. The brakes is the thrive brain, the gas is the survive brain. And the key to balance is not just getting a hobby or going on a vacation, it’s making sure that you are acting instead of reacting.

I’ll give you an example. I was coming off of the freeway here in Asheville one day, it was a beautiful fall afternoon. I’ll never forget this. And I casually looked over, and a woman in a red car who had been in front of me, gave me the snarl and the finger.

Pete Mockaitis
What did you do, Bryan?

Bryan Robinson
Well, my first thought, I could see my anger, he’s a part of me, and it’s like he was coming toward me. And he said, “Tell the…” I don’t know if I can say these words. I don’t want to offend anybody. But, “Tell the blankity-blank to go to hell.” And I said, “Stop.” This was my thrive brain in practice. My survive brain wanted me to roll the window down and give her the same gesture. What I did, I was able to stop the anger and talked to him. Now, it used to be if we talk to ourselves, people say we’re crazy. Now it’s one of the best untapped mental health tools we have. And the research was showing this. I can talk about the research. It’s fascinating. But when I talked to him, he calms down. See, that puts me in my C-spot. The C-word.

Also, I had the clarity of what was going on inside of me. I didn’t get hijacked. So, I stayed in the moment, I stopped the anger, and I talked to him, and I said, “I know you’re pissed off, and I know you want to do that, but that’s not who I want to be in the world.” And I tattled down the road, and I had one of the most beautiful days I can ever remember because I felt like I just made a homerun, because I stayed in my C-spot, in my thrive brain.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And so then, you mentioned we got some research and there’s two sorts of brains. Can you lay it on us there with regard to what’s going on, either in terms of brain parts or biochemistry, neurotransmitter things? How is it working for us inside?

Bryan Robinson
Well, here’s what we know, and I actually teach this to my clients, and they just are amazed in how it’s changed their lives. I have my clients when they talk to me, and they’re not allowed to say, “I’m an angry person. I’m a control freak,” even though I did use that term a while ago, or, “I’m a worry-wart.” Because when you say that, you’ll start to identify yourself as that, and there’s no space for you to figure out who you really are.

So, the way they refer is what we call the second person, “He.” “I have this part of me, and he or she is anger.” And when they’re talking to themselves on the inside, and this is what the research is showing, if you use second person, you, or use your name, or like if you were to say, “Pete, you made a mistake. But you know what? That’s not the worst thing you’ve ever done, and you don’t have to worry about this.” As opposed to, “I made a mistake. What am I going to do about it?” It’s when you use the our, we call that blending, and you feel bad about yourself, and you don’t really find solutions. That’s the survive brain. When you talk to yourself in the second person, or by name, and this is what the research shows, you are happier, and it actually gives you a wide-angle lens. It’s almost like somebody else is talking to you because you’re more objective in what just happened.

So, instead of condemning yourself and vilifying yourself, you’re more likely to let yourself off the hook, and get a what I call a wide-angled lens view of what just happened, which is really the thrive brain that brings up self-compassion. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I love it. I love it when there’s these little distinctions that maybe we’ve never thought of that can make a world of difference.

Bryan Robinson
Yeah, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, I just geek out over that. And this reminds of the conversation we had with Tara Mohr, one of our most popular episodes, about she referred to it as your inner mentor. Like, you can imagine talking to your older, wise version of yourself in a beautiful setting. And so, that has a similar sort of outside yourself vibe to it. But what you’re describing sounds even faster and easier in terms of having to sort of enter into a place. Not that it takes that long.

Bryan Robinson
Well, I’ve developed a little, what I call, triple A. I think most people may be working remotely right now. But let’s imagine you’re in your office and your boss walks by, and she’s got this frown on her face, and she looks straight at you and doesn’t speak, and on the inside, you shrink, and you say, “Holy shit. I’m in hot water. I don’t know what I’ve done. And I’ve got an evaluation tomorrow. And, oh, my God,” and all night you worry and you obsess and you ruminate about the meeting with your boss the next day. You walk in, she smiles, you sit down, and she gives you a glowing evaluation and talks about what a great team member you are, and about a potential promotion.

So, what just happened? Your survive brain is always looking out to protect you. It’s its only goal. It doesn’t care whether you’re happy. It only wants to make sure you survive. That’s not just a physical survival. It’s also a psychological safety. And when your job is threatened, that’s one of the biggest threats you can have. And scientists, the neuroscientists, call this the negativity bias. What that means is our brain, and the survive brain, will automatically go to the negative scenario and will make up stories in our head that are almost never true. And this is an example, and I bet most people listening have had this experience, I know I have, and you probably have too, Pete, where not only does it not turn out the way you thought it would, it turns out the very opposite. And scientists say 90% of the time that’s true.

So, what does that mean? We’re living our lives from the survive brain 90% of the time and we’re miserable. So, when we can realize what we’re doing and shift into the thrive brain, we’re going to be happier, we’re going to be more productive, that’s a fact, and we’re going to live a fuller life.

Now, so here’s the little mnemonic device that I’ve developed. So, I’m angry, I’m on the freeway, and the woman gives me the finger, and I see my anger. So, the first A is aware. I’m aware I’m angry. The second A is I acknowledge it, like I just did, “Oh, I see you’re here.” And what most people try to do is get rid of it, or they think anger is bad, or they steamroll over it, or they try to debate with it. That’s the worst thing you can do. But when you just let it be there, you acknowledge it, “I know you’re pissed off, and I see you’re here,” you will start to feel a calm and a separation from that part.

The third A is allow, and that’s where you just allow it to be there. Just let it be there. Now, I’m doing some hand motions here that, Pete, you can probably see, but what I’m doing is holding my hand out when I say, “Allow.” You let it be there but it can’t be where you are. It’s got to be separate from you. And when you start practicing that, it widens what we call the resilience zone. This is one of the things I talk about in terms of micro chillers. These are little 5-minute exercises, or less, that really boost our confidence, and boost our mood, and keep us stress-free throughout the day. But the triple A is something I use all the time. I’ve used it twice this week already.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, there’s a lot of great stuff here. So, let’s talk about these solutions with regard to, okay, if you find yourself feeling threatened, and survival mode is going full force, or you find yourself in the throes of workaholism, we’ve got the three As. What are some of your other favorite tools for getting back on track?

Bryan Robinson
One is halt, H-A-L-T, hungry, angry, lonely, tired. And that’s a little mnemonic device that we can just carry around. And if we catch ourselves, you have to learn to be aware, or being mindful. I’d like to talk a little bit about mindfulness. And once you are, then you realize, “Hey, I’m hungry. And I wasn’t even conscious of it. So, I’m going to go have a snack.” Or, “I’m angry. And how can I deal with that anger?” Or, “I’m lonely. I can call a friend.” Or, “I’m tired. I’ll take a nap.” So, they’re these kinds of things.

Another one is, and here’s where the balance comes in, if I were to ask you, Pete, if you’re like most people, to list all your shortcomings, that would probably be an easy task. Then if I say, “Well, now, on the other side, list all your tall-comings,” it might take you a little bit longer, the research shows that. Why? Because of the negativity bias that I mentioned earlier. So, balance is making sure your list of tall-comings is at least close to in balance with your shortcomings. That creates the balance from inside in terms of you’re confident, how you carry yourself, how you feel about yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you just literally mean have that written down somewhere side-by-side.

Bryan Robinson
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And say, “All right. This is what I got going for me.”

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. Also, have a to-be list. We all talk about to-do lists. The to-do list is the survive brain. Now, it’s okay to have a to-do list, but how often do we have a to-be list? That’s the brakes. We need the brakes to complement the gas. So, the to-be list, for me, is, because of where I live, I’m so fortunate I have a beautiful view of the western mountains and the sunset, it’s something I do every afternoon, is sit and watch the sunset when the sun is setting, when you can see it. And I’m not doing anything but just I’m enjoying the mountains. I’m in the mountains and the mountains are in me. That’s the thrive brain.

And the research shows, there’s a groundbreaking study that just came out this year, 90 minutes in nature, and it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you can be sitting, you can be walking, you can be sailing, playing tennis, is a gamechanger. It elevates your mood. It makes you more productive and more creative, just being in nature, in a park, wherever you are. And that’s being, it’s so complementary to the doing. And a lot of people don’t want to take, especially if you’re a workaholic, you don’t want to take the time to do that because it feels like a waste of time. But the neuroscience is showing not only is not a waste of time, it really makes you more productive, and more successful, and more satisfied with what you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s a great bit there, the 90 minutes in nature. Are there any other sort of high-impact self-care practices that maybe most people don’t know about or most people don’t know just how much bang for the buck they deliver?

Bryan Robinson
Well, maybe we can talk about uncertainty because I’m kind of fascinated by this topic, especially with COVID. Uncertainty, the lizard brain or the survive brain despises uncertainty. And you can see why, because if your survive brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it freaks, and it also tells you the worst-case scenario is going to happen, which is not true, but we believe it because we think it and we tend to become anxious and worry because of it.

So, the key is to be able to understand that uncertainty is uncertain. Period. It doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen. But we tend to think of uncertainty as something catastrophic. British researchers did an incredible study, and I won’t go into all the details but I’ll give you the CliffNotes. They divided these folks into two groups. In one group, they said, “You are going to get an electric shock in just a few minutes.” The other group, they said, “There’s a 50% chance that you might get an electric shock.” Well, guess who had the highest anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
The ones who might get a shock.

Bryan Robinson
Exactly. When you know something for a fact, there’s something about that that relaxes the survive brain because it knows what’s going to happen. So, that’s how vital certainty is. The problem is there’s no way we’re ever going to have certainty. There’s no way life is going to tell us what’s around the corner. Life is not designed to do that for us, and that’s why we’ve got to figure out a way, individually in our lives, whether we’re at work or in our marriages or in our parenting, to figure out how we’re going to deal with uncertainty and not look at it as a negative.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, in a way, while I want to hear your particular strategies there, it’s like you’re almost better off if you just sort of acknowledge, accept, like, “You are going to suffer this year.” It’s like, “You will experience disappointments and unpleasant things that you would have preferred not happen. That’s going to happen.” And just sort of you’re healthier if you can step into that versus say, “Oh, something bad might happen. We don’t know but I hope not.”

Bryan Robinson
That’s right. You just described the thrive brain. If you can step into the truth, there are things that are going to happen to you and to me this week, probably, that we hadn’t planned that would happen. That’s the nature of life. And when you can say that, and then put yourself into it, the magic that happens is you feel you have serenity, and that’s the thrive mind. And, this is paradoxical, you’re willing to stick your neck out more. And when I stay stick your neck out, I don’t mean dangerous things. I’m talking about at work, you go out on a limb maybe with some creative ideas. So, we’re talking about psychologically sticking your neck. We call that a growth mindset. That’s the thrive mind. That’s how we thrive. That’s how people get successful. That’s how Meryl Streep got all her Oscars, and Michael, the swimmer, got all his gold medals.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the growth mindset.

Bryan Robinson
The growth mindset. They stuck their neck out. This is one of the qualities of highly-successful people who are not willing to take no for an answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s coming to mind is a bit of scripture in terms of the uncertainty. It said, depending on the translation, something like, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world,” is that this is sort of like head on, “Yeah, it’s coming, so just go ahead and embrace it now.”

Bryan Robinson
Yeah, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And so then, any other top tips in the world of self-care?

Bryan Robinson
Well, especially now is know what you can control and what you can’t. That kind of relates to what we’re talking about, right? So, I can’t control, obviously, a pandemic. I can sit and shudder and worry. That’s not going to prepare me for anything, it’s not going to help. That’s my survive brain. Or I can say, “Okay, Bryan, we’re going to eat well, we’re going to exercise, we’re going to follow the safety recommendations from the CDC, keep ourselves healthy as we can. Wear a mask. Stay six feet apart. Blah, blah, blah.” And that makes me feel in charge.

Most of all I can control is my thoughts, feelings, and actions. And when I stop and think about that, and what are those things, and then I do them, it brings me peace. And that’s thrive mind again. But when you get into this victim mode of, “Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do? What’s going to happen tomorrow?” it paralyzes you even though the survive brain, and this is the paradox too, the reason Mother Nature hardwired us was so we perpetuate the species, we will survive, but it scares us. Fear is a healthy thing but your survive mind is fearful. Your thrive mind is compassionate. And we need both.

I don’t want people to get me wrong. I mean, gosh, if there was a fire right now, you and I, we wouldn’t stop to think. We would just react. We’d get out of there. But if someone is angry with me, or if my spouse is hurt by something I said or did, instead of yelling and screaming, that’s when we want to start using our thrive mind. And when you see what’s going on in the world today with not only COVID, but the racialized society we live in, it’s how we are treating other people. That comes from our thrive mind, from compassion.

I sometimes think about when somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, or somebody unwittingly steps in line in front of me, what do I do with that? How many times have I stepped in front of someone in line? And I know I have, I did it at the Post Office last week. I didn’t realize I was doing it. How many times have I talked over somebody? We’re all human and we’re all in the same boat in lots of ways. If we can just forgive ourselves, first of all, for mistakes we make and are going to make, and are a little lenient or kinder to other people, the thrive mind can really offset the survive mind and make, not only individually in our everyday lives but on a global basis. I know that’s pretty grandiose.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s inspiring and rings true. I want to follow up on one thing you said. You said you can control your thoughts, feelings, and actions. And I think some might say, “Well, I don’t know if I can control my feelings.” And you’ve given us a couple tools for tackling that. But let’s just say, we’ll zoom right in in terms of I’m thinking, “Okay, I take a look at my day, a couple, and things are already not going to plan.” Let’s say I feel like, “Uh-oh, I got more that I need to get done today than I think I can get done. A couple people that are upset by something, apparently, I screwed up, and they’re irritated and I got to fix that. And I’m irritated that they were unclear about what they were asking of me. So, I got his morass of feeling angry, stressed, too busy. And what I would like to feel is calm and compassionate and courageous and curious.” How can I, in fact, control my feelings to get there?

Bryan Robinson
Okay. So, let’s take physics. What do you do in a riptide? I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one, but I have, and it’s terrifying because your survive brain says, “Swim like hell,” and that will kill you. Your thrive mind, which is reflective, says, the latest phrase I think is “Float, don’t fight,” and you float parallel to the shore and it brings you in. That’s counterintuitive. It’s paradoxical.

Think about women who, during childbirth, they’re screaming and yelling, and they’re all tensed up. Well, childbirth classes are all about relaxing into the labor pains. Well, that doesn’t make any sense to the survive brain. How can you relax when you’re having pain? But what we know is that it reduces the pain and reduces obstetrical problems.

If I’m on a motorcycle, which I have been, and you go around the curve, you lean into the curve, which is really scary, and it’s hard to do if it’s your first time, but your survive brain will say, “Lean out so you don’t flip over,” but that will flip you over. So, having said that, here’s how you deal with that. So, I am going to be Pete, and I’m going to talk to those feelings, and I’m going to do just like I did a while ago with the anger.

“So, Pete, yeah, you didn’t get done what you wanted to do. That really sucks. And you have every right in the world to be frustrated right now.” So, all I’m doing is allowing. I’m aware, I’m acknowledging, and I’m allowing that part to be there. And here’s the paradox. If we don’t fight these thoughts and feelings, if we allow them to be there, they recede, they calm down. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I heard that before, and I buy it. Like, that which you resist, persists.

Bryan Robinson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard it as a phrase.

Bryan Robinson
Yes, absolutely. And that is resistance. And I’ve heard a mental health expert say this, and it just is like fingernails on the chalkboard, “Fight your inner demons.” Some people call it your obnoxious roommate or that inner bully. I don’t like these terms because that’s really not what it is. This is your survive brain trying to protect in its way even though it doesn’t seem like it.

So, we don’t fight or battle those thoughts. We acknowledge them and allow them to be there, and that goes with that whole counterintuitive thing of they will relax, and then you will have the clarity, and then you will have the compassion instead of the judgment. So, that’s how you control your feelings by not controlling them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m allowing it and I’m not taking a Tony Robbins-esque approach of beating my chest and saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” and pretending to feel the way I want to feel.

Bryan Robinson
Just the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Got it.

Bryan Robinson
It’s the opposite, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, Bryan, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Bryan Robinson
Well, let’s talk about mindfulness for a minute. There’s a lot of research. We have such a body of research now from Harvard that shows the changes in the brain, from the survive brain to the thrive mind, that changes people’s lives. And meditation is one of the best tools for stress and anxiety on the planet.

Now, I’m talking about five minutes. I’m not talking about 20, 30 minutes, that’s ridiculous, unless you’re really an expert at meditation. Once you understand how to meditate, that’s great. I would encourage everybody listening right now, we can’t do it now because we don’t want to take the time during the show, but if you just take one minute after this broadcast, and sit somewhere, and listen to as many sounds as you can for one minute, don’t try to memorize them, just notice, just be mindful. Like, right now, I can hear shuffling a little bit of paper, and I can hear air-conditioning in the background, and I hear my gurgling stomach.

And as you do that, just for one minute, after you’re through, notice what’s going on in your body. And you will notice your heart has slowed down, your breathing is a little slower, your muscles loosen, you’ll feel calmer. It moves you into your C-spot automatically, and that’s one minute. If you do that for five minutes a day, it’s going to change your outlook. It’s going to change how you feel inside your skin but, also, it’s going to elevate your mood automatically. The reason is because it takes you out of your head, your worry, and your anxiety, and your thoughts, and it brings you into the present moment. We call that open-awareness meditation. That’s just one type of meditation.

There’s one more thing I wanted to mention. And, again, this is one of the best micro chillers there is from my perspective. Okay, so think of a camera. Your survive brain is wired to zoom in. If you’re threatened, imagine you’re in a dark parking garage at night, there’s nobody around, and if it were me, my survive brain would be helping me look around to make sure I’m safe, right? What it does is it zooms in, and it focuses like a telescope or like tunnel vision. In doing that, your eyes dilate, your body constricts, your whole physicality is focused on the potential threat, and you need to do that.

However, what it does is it clouds out the big picture. So, when we’re upset with our spouse, or a colleague, or a boss, or a child, we don’t even realize that we go into the zoom lens. And one of the quick and dirty tools that we can all use is, first, if you’re aware that your survive mind just went into the zoom, you can widen that. You can take that and put it, I call this the wide-angle lens, put it in the big picture and look at what’s going on here.

For example, let’s say I didn’t get that promotion, and my mind goes right in and I’m thinking, “Gosh, I’m never going to get where I wanted to go. I thought I was going to be able to get this promotion and then get this job, and then move onto such and such.” So, it kind of gets stuck there. And if you broaden that, we call this broaden and build, that’s the scientists call it, and this takes a few seconds, put that in perspective, and say, “my career is not over. My goodness, look, I can do this, and I can do that.” Basically, what the wide-angle lens does, it widens, it helps you see possibilities. It helps you see the opportunity in the difficulty. And that’s your thrive mind.

The thrive mind is the wide-angle lens. The survive mind is the zoom lens. And we need both, but a lot of people get stuck in the zoom lens, in the survive mind, and they don’t even know it. And so, anytime you’re looking at, remember there’s a negativity bias, and it’s for our survival, when you get stuck there, you can unstick yourself simply by putting on the wide-angle lens and do what I call a gratitude exercise. Think of all the things you’re grateful for: your health, your relationship, your kids, your animals, whatever, whatever it is. And it moves you into your C-spot. You start to feel calmer. You feel more clarity. Your thinking is not as distorted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. Thank you, Bryan. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bryan Robinson
One is Viktor Frankl, who was a psychologist, and he was in the Holocaust. He was in Auschwitz, in Dachau. And the way he survived was he said, “The Nazis can take everything,” and they did, they took his food, they took his clothes, people were dropping dead around him like flies, but he said, “…they will never take my will.” And holding onto that, he wrote a great book and talked about how that helped him get through. So, one of his quotes is, “Between the stimulus and the response, there’s a space. And in that space, I have a choice of how I want to respond. And when I make that choice, that’s where my freedom comes from.”

And we can all apply that. We’re not in concentration camps, thank God, but some people are quarantined still and under lockdown, and some people are just imprisoned within their psychology, the way they think about their life. So, you always have a choice. Always. And we don’t always know that we have a choice, but we do, in how we want to look at things. And that’s one of the most powerful quotes.

And the second one is Rumi, the poet, who said, I’m not saying this exact, but basically, “One of the marvels of life is a soul sitting in a prison with a key in his hand.” That’s pretty cool, ain’t it? I really like that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Bryan Robinson
Well, again, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s book. On the novel side, one of my favorite books is Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It’s a murder mystery but it’s written, it’s a coming of age. It’s just a fabulous book and it won all kinds of awards. So, that’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for and people quote back to you often?

Bryan Robinson
This is something I said once, I didn’t even know I said this, and one of my fans sent it to me. And I’ll just read it, “Instead of asking why life is treating me this way, because life isn’t personal, I can ask, ‘How am I treating life?’ If I say this is happening for me, instead of to me, I’m left with what I can do with it. That’s self-compassion in action, and it’s empowering.”

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

Bryan Robinson
www.BryanRobinsonBooks.com. And Bryan is B-R-Y-A-N, R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N.

Pete Mockaitis
And that has that test you mentioned associated with the workaholic?

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. Well, there’s a test on the website called “How Chill Are You?” and it’s all electronically-scored in just a few seconds. And there are blogs that I’ve written, some self-help information for folks on how to deal with stress and anxiety and some of the things we’ve been talking about today.

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

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. In the next week, see how many times you can act instead of react. And what I mean by that, we’re so quick to react when someone pulls in front of us, or steps in line in front of us, or cuts us off in a meeting, or things don’t go the way we want. And become more aware and use that triple A, and acknowledge the part, work on your self-regulation on the inside, and then you’re going to feel so much better, and you’re going to be more accomplished to more productive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bryan, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you many chills days ahead.

Bryan Robinson
Thank you. You, too, Pete. Thank you.