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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.

586: Insights on Working from Home’s Largest-Ever Experiment with Nicholas Bloom

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Nicholas Bloom says: "Working from home is going to be here for a long time... we're in the long haul."

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom shares insights from the largest study on working from home to show how to adjust to the new world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key findings from the largest study on working from home
  2. What the ideal work from home week looks like
  3. Why this isn’t the end of the office

 

About Nicholas

Nicholas (Nick) Bloom is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University, and a Co-Director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on management practices and uncertainty. He previously worked at the UK Treasury and McKinsey & Company. His work has been covered in a range of media including the New York TimesWall Street JournalBBCEconomist and Financial Times.

On the personal side he is English living with his Scottish Wife and American kids – a multi-lingual English household on Stanford campus.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicholas Bloom Interview Transcript

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

Nicholas Bloom
Very happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to get into your wisdom in the world of working from home. And I understand that when you’re working from home, one issue that presents itself frequently is the bagpipe playing in the house. What’s the story here?

Nicholas Bloom
Well, before this podcast started, it was delayed by about 5 or 10 minutes as, Pete, I did not know just from trying to ask my older son who was practicing the bagpipe next door. My wife is Scottish. In fact, my mother is Scottish too, so there’s quite a lot of bagpipe activity going on in our house, and it’s just unbelievably noisy. You may think it’s romantic when you hear it outside the tower of London or something or Edinburgh Castle, but when it’s in your house and it’s over and over again, the same song being played repeatedly with like a different mistake each time.

So, yeah. And I live out in California and it’s a wood-built house because of the earthquake risk but, unfortunately, it has no sound insulation so I think it’s not just me that’s tortured by the bagpipe, I think most of my neighbors in the street can hear the same thing. But, you know, it does highlight, I think we’ll come onto it, the challenges of working from home right now with our kids in the house.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, it’s funny, I think with the bagpipes, I’m thinking about an episode of Better Call Saul in which he was trying to get himself fired one of the things he did was play the bagpipes in the law office, and it contributed to getting him fired. So, that’s a little take-home message for being awesome at your job is be careful about playing the bagpipes in the office if that were an issue for anybody, that’s covered.

Well, we’re talking about working from home. You did quite the study on working from home. I’d like it if we started there and then we fast-forward to the current situation where there’s a lot of working from home going on. It’s a little bit different. So, could you tell us the tale of your Ctrip study?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes. And I should say, actually, for anyone listening that has an intransigent manager or maybe other partners in your business that are anti working from home, you should feel free to forward on the TEDx Talk that I gave, it’s on YouTube, that I received many emails from people that’s saying, “You know, my manager, she didn’t believe working from home, and so I sent her.” So, I’ll tell you the story, and it’s really, this is the summary of the video.

So, back in 2010, I teach in Stanford University, I’m the professor there, and I had someone in the back of my class who turned out quite amazingly to be the co-founder of a huge Chinese multinational, Ctrip. It’s listed on NASDAQ. It’s worth about $15 billion. The guy was called James Liang, and he basically founded this company, and he was worth almost a billion dollars at this point. He decided to kind of step back and become the chairman and take a Ph.D.

But Ctrip had this big challenge which is they’re in Shanghai, their headquarters, and they were growing very fast but they were struggling to keep up with office space, so as they grew they didn’t want to have to spend huge amounts of money on very expensive Shanghai office space. So, working with them, he set up what’s called a randomized control trial on working from home. So, quite explicitly, they asked a thousand people in the firm who wanted to work from home four out of five days a week, 500 of them signed up, it’s already indicative that 500 people did not want to work from home.

And so, sticking with the 500, they then formally randomized them home to office over the next nine months. So, James on TV, in front of a huge crowd, pulled a ping-pong ball out of an urn and it said, “Even,” and everyone with an even birthday, so if you’re born on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, etc., tenth of the month, worked from home for the next nine months. And if you’re odd, so like me, I’m the fifth of May, you stayed in the office. And it was a way to scientifically evaluate the impact of working from home on these employees.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, I mean, that’s pretty thorough as far as exploring this phenomenon goes. I mean, it’s better than an office of eight people, said, “Hey, let’s give this a shot for a few weeks and see how it goes.” No, no, we’ve got some randomization, we got a large sample size. Tell us, what happened?

Nicholas Bloom
So, yes, on thorough. I mean, as far as I’m aware, it’s still, to date, the only large-scale scientific evaluation of this. My father actually does drugs testing, so it’s very much modeled on the way you would test a drug before you roll it out formally. The Federal Drug Administration requires formal randomized control trials.

So, what did we find? We found four key things. The first was, quite amazingly, working from home significantly improved performance. So, performance of home-based workers went up by 13% which is huge. That’s like almost an extra day a week, completely against what Ctrip expected.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about, now, in Ctrip, this is a travel agency. And how are we measuring performance in that context?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. They’re not professionals in the sense that they’re not managers. They’re people that are making telephone calls, making bookings, so in that sense, it’s very easy to measure performance because you can look at the number of calls and bookings, they actually have quality metrics. The downside we’ll come on to later hopefully in the podcast is, of course, they’re not creating new content. And so, working from home is more challenging for that. In terms of executing, we had amazing performance data.

And so, in terms of basically total phone calls since the quality is unchanged and for the bookings, that was up 13% which is huge. And then you ask, “Where did this improvement come from?” Well, of the 13%, about a quarter, so 3.5%, came from the fact they were just more productive per minute. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups, the stories they would tell us is, “Look, it’s just quieter at home.” And the story that resonated with me in particular is this woman that said, “You know, in the office, in the cubicle next door to me, the woman, she, like, clips her toenails in the office and it’s disgusting.”

Pete Mockaitis
Every day? How much toenail have you got? Maybe weekly or bi-weekly.

Nicholas Bloom
And she has obviously very finely-clipped toenails. And the woman said, “She thinks I don’t notice but I tell you, I notice. I see her picking up that clipper and putting it below the desk,” or there’s a cake in the breakout, or a world cup sweepstakes. So, I’m sure, everyone listening has plenty of experience of why it’s noisy in the office. And, believe it or not, on average, people are actually focusing better at home.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a quarter of them just cranked out more work in the same per minute.

Nicholas Bloom
Yup, they were more efficient. So, that’s a quarter of that. And then you’re like, “Well, where did the other three got the uplift?” So, the majority is they’re actually working more minutes. So, I should be clear, for this group, it’s not that they used their commute time because they’re actually on shift work so they’re supposed to be 9:00 to 5:00 Mondays through Fridays. What you see is in the office, they don’t actually start work at 9:00, they often start working at 9:10 because the bus is late, or the motorcycle breaks down, or they take long lunch breaks, they take long tea breaks, they even take longer to get to the toilet. So, just quite practically at home, the toilet is in the room next door. In the office, you’ve got to walk a long distance.

And so, that explains about half of the uplift. So, they’re basically working more minutes per day, they’re working their full shifts. Then the remaining quarter is they’re working more days because they take less sick leave. And, again, when we interviewed people, they’d say, “You know, often, I wasn’t that sick when I took that day off. I just wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to come in and suddenly get worse, but when I was working from home, now, I actually just kept going.”

And sometimes they’d say, “By lunchtime, it got worse and so I’d stop, and other times I’d work the day.” Or, there were other stories we’ve heard about, they say things like, “I wasn’t sick at all but I needed to have the cable repair guy come, so I took a day off.” So, collectively, performance was just massively up 13%. It’s a huge increase. So, that was fact one.

Fact two, again, very positive was quit rates are halved. So, for Ctrip, quit rates and churn is a huge problem. They had 50% of their staff leave every year. So, for anyone that’s listening, ever recruited or trained somebody, you know how painful that process is, they then turn around and nine months later leave. So, their quit rate from 50% down to 25% from home-based workers. And the reason was, again, they just said, “We’re happier,” on average like working from home.

The third finding, which is the one negative piece, is promotion rates also dropped. They dropped to almost half, so that’s kind of worrying. And, in fact, we interviewed them and three different drivers came out. One was the most obvious, the most worrying, is that out of sight, out of mind, “I’m at home. My manager has forgotten about me. I’ve been passed over.”

A second version of that was we heard it more from managers actually, said, “Look, you kind of got to be in the office, to some extent, to pick up on the office culture, to know what’s going on, to know what your colleagues are doing, to understand the strategy.” And so, that time it may feel like wasted chatting and lunch and coffee, actually some of it is quite valuable and is an input into management.

And then the third possible story we heard a bit, the least of all, is occasionally people will tell us they actually turn down being promoted because they didn’t want to come back into the office, “I so enjoy working from home, I turned it down.”

Tips for people that are full-time working from home, or four out of five days a week, if the rest of the office is in the office, with COVID everyone is at home so we’re all on equal footing, but if you’re the only person full-time working from home, I think there is some risks of being passed over for promotion. And then, I should say the final finding, which again is very relevant to policy, was at the end of the nine-month experiment, Ctrip was incredibly happy. So, profits went up by $2,000 per person per year, so they were like, “This is great.” So, they rolled it out to the whole company but they also let everyone involved in the experiment to reoptimize.

So, all these people who have decided to work from home or not, they’ve been randomized. Basically, a year later, they said, “Well, look, it’s work, but you can change your mind every other day, but you can change your mind.” And as it turned out, around 60% of people actually changed their minds. There’s a huge number of people who previously wanted to work from home who’d told us, “Look, it gets very lonely, it gets very isolating,” or they fell victim to one of the three great enemies of working from home, which are the fridge, the bed, and the television. They came back into the office, and other people said, “Oh, I actually saw my colleagues work quite well at home and I’d like to instead come in and move home myself.”

So, there’s enormous churn. And what we saw in the data was when you let people choose, their performance uplift from working from home went up to over 20%. What’s going on is people that tried it out and it didn’t work that well, came back into the office, and people that tried it out and it really did work, they can deal with the loneliness and isolation and performed well, they stuck at home. So, the final lesson is choice really matters.

I’ll talk about it later, I’ve been running a lot of surveys currently on the COVID on people’s preferences in working from home, and there is a huge variation. So, younger people without kids tend to want to go in the office most days. Older people with kids tend to want to work from home most days. Very few people want to do all at home or all in the office, and people often change their minds. They just don’t know how they’re going to like it. So, choice is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, well, thanks for giving us the rundown, and that’s interesting. That expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill,” it’s like, “The grass is greener 60% of the time on the other side of the hill according to this study.” And that’s really striking in terms of, yes, we’re in a bit of a different context now. Not as many people looking to have the evidence to make the pitch to be allowed to work from home, but tuck this away for when the time comes and you want more of it, we’ve got those evidence points.

So, let’s fast-forward to here, now, today. Choice isn’t so much something that’s working to our advantage anymore. Many of us are in a place where it’s like that is the only option is you will be working from home in the midst of the pandemic. So, tell us, what’s the latest you’re finding with your surveys, and how we’re dealing, and how maybe we can deal better?

Nicholas Bloom
Sure. So, right now, it’s just the total change from before. So, working from home, I think, there’s really three phases, and we’re in the middle phase. So, there was before COVID, and before COVID, around 5% of working days were full-time at home, so that’s pretty rare. In fact, only 15% of Americans even ever worked from home, so most people didn’t get to even have a single day working from home. So, 15% of us did and, on average, we were spending one in three days at home. So, pretty unusual.

If you look at who was doing it, it’s pretty varied by gender and age. They tended to be graduates, basically, managers, professionals, graduates. Now, under COVID, as everyone can appreciate, it’s very different now, 40% of working days are at home, so there’s an eightfold increase. In fact, if you look at the other 60% of the labor force, they’re roughly equally split between people working on business premises and those that are not working. So, actually, more than half of people that are currently working are actually working from home. The U.S. economy is like a working from home economy. But it’s very, very challenging. It’s not a great scenario.

So, the four big challenges right now, there’s kids. I have four kids myself and, as we discussed earlier, they’re playing instruments. My youngest, she’s four, she keeps bursting into the room. That’s really hard. Facilities, I’m actually in a spare room so I’m kind of lucky. I’m in the minority of Americans that have their own private room that isn’t a bedroom, but in survey data, 51% of people are basically sharing rooms or in a bedroom. Or another two-thirds of people have great internet. The remaining third have problems with internet, so facilities are a big issue.

The third issue right now is choice. So, basically, anyone working from home, they didn’t get the choice, “The office just closed and we’re going to send you home.” And it turns out, that’s a big issue because a lot of people really don’t like working from home. And then the final challenge right now is we’re doing it full-time, which, before COVID, it was really rare, so only 2% of people ever work from home full-time. Now, it’s 40%. It’s very isolating.

Interestingly enough, in China, in the Ctrip experience, the period we’re in now, which is about three months in, was actually the best period. It’s when people are the happiest. It’s like the euphoric honeymoon period. So, I’ve been talking to dozens of firms and individuals over the last two-three months because I basically spend about most of my time working on working from home. Firms are generally very positive, but I fear it’s going to wane a little bit as we roll on. So, that’s now very widespread, but it’s not great.

The sweet spot is looking ahead. So, right now, it’s funny you mentioned the evidence away of working from home. Right now, I’ve seen a number of companies that are thinking quite seriously about the long term. So, now, three months in, there’s major decisions. And you probably noticed, like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon have all made public statements about their long-run plans. And what’s by far the most common thing, which actually looks fantastic, is most firms have said, “Working from home is really great. We’ve very happy with it, and we’re going to extend it out even beyond the pandemic, and we are likely to let people do it part-time.”

So, the typical person, they get to work in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday, be at home Tuesday, Thursday, which, for many people, is the best of both worlds. You save a couple of days on commute, a bit less hassle, you got peace and quiet, but you see your colleagues throughout five days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of my sense. I’ve been working from home for about a decade in my running my business here, and I do get lonely at times, and would like colleagues at times, and have been tempted to pay for co-working space just to see people. But then what it really comes down to, it’s like, “Oh, man, but then I’ve got to commute out there and they don’t have a napping space right there.”

So, anyway. But I’d love to get your view, well, you mentioned it. I guess choice matters and people have different perspectives. Is there an optimal with regard to the days, one day, two days, consecutive, non-consecutive?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. So, I’ll give you three broad tips, and then I’d drill into the one that you want to hear most about. So, the three broad tips I’ve been telling firms, repeating, I think it’s becoming like a consensus. Every firm I talk to kind of affirms the same view. So, the first is part-time. I have lots of survey data, I won’t go through in details, but basically most people want to work from home something like one to three days a week. Only 20% of people want to work from home full-time, only 25% of people want to be in the office full-time. So, the vast majority of us want a mix. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

So, the first thing is part-time. The second thing is make it optional. So, I would strongly advise against forcing anything on anyone. You’re probably going to have to have some mandatory days in the office, so I wouldn’t probably let, in the long run, anyone be at home five days a week, but you may say, “Look, you can do anything from two to five days a week in the office, and how you split it is your choice.” And then, finally, I think it’s a perk, not an entitlement, which means if people goof off, you give them a warning. And if they goof again, you haul them back into the office. So, those are the three key tips.

On the first, coming back to the number of days, there are broad advices, something like Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, Tuesday, Thursday at home, and the whole team does it. So, the reasons for that are, firstly, the whole team is in Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so if you’re going to have a client meeting, or a lunch, or a presentation, or some kind of training event, you know everyone is going to be there. And if you’re taking that Tuesday and Thursday off at home, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. So, I think it’s important to coordinate.

Also, to your question, “Which days?” I would avoid having the whole team at home on Monday or Friday. It tends to generate the extended weekend and, in fact, I’d also try to avoid them being consecutive days. So, Tuesday, Thursday is kind of the best two days because you’re in the office every other day, so if something comes up, you can easily say, “Hey, let’s talk about it in person tomorrow. Let’s have a meeting tomorrow.” So, that’s probably the most likely scenario I see firms gravitating towards Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, everyone does that Tuesdays, Thursdays. It’s really a personal choice. And I guess maybe Wednesdays, potentially, but I would avoid actually what was common before the pandemic, having Friday the working from home day. It’s not really ideal.

Before COVID, the big challenge working from home is the stigma, the whole thing of working from home, shirking from home, that’s basically gone. But, even so, working from home on Fridays is not kind of the best message. If you’re going to take one day off, take a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you think that there’s a higher probability of the shirking actually happening when it’s on a Friday or Monday?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes, and also the perception isn’t as good. So, if you’re a manager, it’s hard. Perception is reality, they kind of merge one into another. But I really want to encourage working from home in an adult way. I mean, very few jobs are basically…there are two ways to evaluate some sort of performance. There’s what’s called inputs and outputs. Mature, graduate types of jobs, I assume pretty much all your listeners are based on you want to be evaluated in outputs, what you do, but you don’t want to be evaluated in inputs, “I’m assessed on the fact that I sit on my desk and look at computer screen all day.” That’s not really great. I want to be treated as an adult and left to kind of get on with stuff and plan my own work.

And, as part of that, I have to build trust. And one of the things is trying to avoid things that maybe look a bit suspicious. So, I would work from home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There’s no real…it’s very hard to argue for a Friday except for the fact it’s next to the weekend, and it makes it easier to go away for long weekends, and that’s just not a good signal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I’d love to get your take on when we are in this environment where, like it or not, working from home is what you’re doing, what are your top do’s and don’ts for helping us do some great output as well as be recognized and promoted and all those good things?

Nicholas Bloom
I came to the realization about three-four weeks ago, this is going to be the long haul. So, just to explain, Stanford University, my employer, has just announced that, effectively, all online teaching, and it looks like all conferences and seminars, so all teachings and conferences and seminars are going to be online probably till next summer. It’s not certain but I see us, we’re going to be in this for another year or so. And, for me, at that point, it became clear it was worth thinking about logistics of working from home, and so I went out and spent $150 on a better microphone,

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, when you booked this, you didn’t have that, and now you do.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I mean, we’re spending hours every day and our laptops are not designed for this. I actually dropped my main laptop. I’m on my old spare one.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean just ergonomically, like your hands and your neck and where you’re looking, is that what you mean?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, exactly. It’s like the working from home version of a nice suit, except it’s cheaper. I mean, $300 is cheaper than a nice suit and a pair of shoes so I would totally buy a webcam and microphone. I would also do a trial run on how you look on the camera. I was doing a TV interview and the woman on the…the reporter said, “You know, your glasses are reflecting a lot.” And it’s turned out I didn’t realize that. And I’d been fiddling around with this. It turned out, having a light source, you’re always told to look out the window so the light is shining onto your face rather than you’re like some dark shadowy silhouette. But there’s a second thing. So, that’s number one. Always, you want to have the light behind the camera so it lights you up.

But the second thing is trying to avoid it literally being directly behind the camera because then it reflects into your glasses back into the camera. You can’t see because I’m on a podcast, but I’m actually looking out a window but I put a cardboard screen that blocks light right behind the laptop, and I put lights on either side. So, I probably spent four or five hours a day on video. And in some sense, again, it’s creating positive touch. You want people to see your eyes, so if you’re wearing glasses, I don’t want to wear contact glasses. Pete has just taken off his glasses. He’s giving me very romantic looks over our video connection.

But I actually got a couple of lamps. Another thing I did is I tried, I put up a couple of pictures behind me. You know, there’s two ways to go I’ve noticed on video calls. One is to have a reasonably-looking background, in which case you have…you know, I had a messy room before, and this is a spare room, there’s a pile of junk in the background. So, I put up some pictures and tidied it up.

The alternative is to have a plain, like a white wall, or you can buy it. Just before the call, I was looking online on Amazon, and I think you can buy what’s called a green screen, just hang it up. That actually works much better for having one of those image backgrounds, say, on Zoom because Zoom finds it hard to tell it’s you versus a picture of you against a cluttered background. So, that’s another key thing.

There’s a bunch of other more minor tips for teams which is one of the downsides that comes up a lot on working from home is the lack of casual conversations. So, in particular, walking in and out of meetings, you know, I personally used to notice, I miss the lunches and coffees, also even just the meetings, the first couple of minutes I turn to colleagues and watercooler discussions. It’s hard to perfectly recreate that but the people have done this best, I’ve been trying to do this in my own research group, is to setup a time each week to talk to each member of my research. I do it for like 20 minutes. It’s a very deliberate one-on-one time. I’ve heard other managers, one manager I was talking to, said, “Look, I speak to every member of my team for five minutes at the beginning of each day just to check in on them. And if I need more time, I spend more time.”

And the upside about doing this online is it’s very easy to just have a scheduling talk, like Google Sheets, and you just say, “Write your name, and you sign the names up,” and they fill up, because it’s online, it’s easy to be punctual. And then in meetings, actually, I actually have my weekly meetings. Rather than have an hour discussion on work, we basically have 45 minutes. And the first 15 minutes, we go around the group of 12 of us. Each person talks briefly about something non-work-wise. Like, Cody, he’s been telling about his garden, and Anika has been telling me about he’s been doing puzzles, and B has been telling me about Netflix shows she’s been watching. It kind of brings it to life. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I think we need to be more deliberate about fostering some sort of discussion casually.

The final thing I’ve heard about is it’s important just to be more scheduled and organized. So, particularly with kids at home right now, you have to think about it’s not just you but also many people in your teams are having struggles with spouses and schedules whoever looks after the kids, so it’s useful to have regular schedules. So, you have someone in your team, their husband and they have two young kids, it’s much better for her if she knows that she’s going to be working 9:00 till 12:00, and she can be more relaxed in the afternoon. So, actually being more organized because there are more conflicts for our time for those who have young kids is a final tip, and I’ve heard that discussed a lot.

And, in fact, being particular, avoiding sprawls of meetings and emails that can easily extend out. The fact they’re at home doesn’t mean we can easily, “We’ll happy to have a meeting at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.” We should try and stick to the working day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s an excellent lineup. I’d love to hear, is there anything that we…I guess I asked for do’s and don’ts. I heard a lot of great do’s. Are there some don’ts in terms of like you’re seeing a mistake appear again and again and again, or there’s sort of a hidden risk or peril or danger that folks don’t know that they are overlooking? For example, you mentioned, I think it’s a great example there with that sort of the watercooler type talk, those informal bits of conversation. Like, they can just disappear if you’re not sort of mindful and thoughtful and planful to get them in there. Is there anything else that you think people are overlooking?

Nicholas Bloom
I mean, a bigger thing is don’t get rid of the office. So, I’ve had so many senior managers say, “Hey, this is the end of the office,” or, “We’re going to shrink our office down just to go through the economics of this.” I’ve written it down. If anyone in particular fears that their boss is thinking of closing the office, the points to think about is, one, right now, we’re really in the euphoric phase. As I mentioned, three months is exactly the wrong time to be deciding office closes. It’s like planning your life after the first date. You’re incredibly happy but you haven’t seen the bad stuff, so I would wait.

In China, in Ctrip, we saw three months was literally the peak, so it’s literally the worst time to be evaluating long-run. And, in fact, from talking to firms, there are some major upsides about in-person meetings. The first is creativity. It actually turns out, it’s much harder to be creative remotely. The second is inspiration. You know, it’s hard to remain motivated and inspired sitting in our bedroom. And, finally, there’s an issue of loyalty, I think, if you’re at home month in, month out, you feel a weaker connection to your firm. So, I really think we do want to be in the office two or three days a week.

Now, you might think, “Well, we can shrink the office now. We’re only in it three days a week. Even if we’re on the same days, maybe we need less space per person.” But you have to remember, social distancing has actually dramatically increased the square footage per person. So, the firms I’ve been talking to are talking about two to three times space per person. So, I’ve just finished a survey around a thousand firms in the U.S. The forecasts are actually for a slight increase in demand in square footage of office space. So, sure, we’re going to spend less days per week in the office, probably something like 15% less days, I estimate, but we maybe need something like 50% more space per person. So, I think getting rid of the office would be a huge mistake right now. It really would limit your firm’s ability to, obviously, go back to part-time. In person, it would cause problems of loyalty. It causes all kinds of issues.

The other mistake, or the other piece of advice, I guess, is to location is going to remain as it is. There’s huge evidence to show we are shifting pretty radically out of skyscrapers into industrial parks. So, skyscrapers have a huge issue, which is, one, mass transit. How do you get to the front door? And the second is elevators. How do you get from the front door up to your desk? So, we think about a normal high-rise, it takes something like two-three square feet of space to put one person. In a crushed elevator, you basically, if you think of a person, they’re about a foot by two-foot. If we need six feet distance between us and the next person, that’s a circle of radius 6 foot. That’s about 100 square feet. So, that makes elevators just completely unfeasible.

So, from firms I’ve been talking to, there’s an enormous charge to think, “You know, we need all this space. What are we going to do? We’re going to think about moving out into industrial parks, maybe take over old leases of shops that have gone bankrupt, maybe gyms that have closed down, etc.” So, if you’re involved in that side of the office, the mistake would be to shutter the office. The advice is to think about actually where you want to be when you return to work six to nine months from now. And I think it could well be an industrial park where you can drive to or walk up a couple of stairs to get to your desk.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. Thanks. Well, now, can you share with us a few of your favorite things? Let’s start with a favorite quote. What’s something you find inspiring?

Nicholas Bloom
I heard a great quote the other day from Satya Nadella who’s the CEO of Microsoft. I had exactly the same thought, I was thinking, which is, he said, “You know, the thing I really miss in the office is those two minutes at the beginning and the two minutes at the end of every meeting when I get to turn to the person next to me, chat to them and say, ‘How are you doing?’” I feel the same thing. It’s not the meeting itself, it’s the before and after I miss, the personal interaction.

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

Nicholas Bloom
It’s hard to think of an individual one. Sticking to the topic of working from home. Upwork had a great survey came out recently showing how 90% of firms are actually very surprised that they’re very positive about working from home.

As I mentioned, I just caution about swinging from one extreme to the other. It feels a bit like if you have kids, you know how kids just they go so extreme, they’re like, particularly young kids. My four-year old goes from like unbelievably happy to minutes later in tears and floods. It feels like that’s a bit like the journey of working from home. So, now, we’re loving it. I think that’s great. There’s lots of evidence on that. I would caution on loving it too much.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Nicholas Bloom
I saw this in preparation for the podcast. I have to say, embarrassingly, I don’t really read books that much. So, I devour the media. I read a lot. If you talk about media, I talk about the BBC, I read the New York Times. Such a devotion, I love the BBC. You can hear from my accent I’m a Brit, but it feels a bit more impartial to me and it has my…it keeps track of my sports, my Tottenham Hotspur, my UK football team. So, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really read books anymore, I’m afraid. I know that is not the correct answer to give but I guess it’s the only…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I mean, you shared the favorite things you read, and we’ll take it. And how about a favorite tool?

Nicholas Bloom
Right now, I’m really excited, as nerdy lame as it seems, by my new webcam.

Pete Mockaitis
It looks good.

Nicholas Bloom
My old laptop is kind of this grainy, crabby picture, and it got damaged. It wasn’t quite as bad. I have a hall of shame, which is just kind of a running joke with my colleagues and grad students. There’s a guy that has a webcam so bad he looks like some kind of ghost from Harry Potter. Isn’t quite there though. I was so excited just to finally get a clean crisp image. I always wondered how other people did it. I thought they just looked clean and crisp, but maybe that’s part of the story. I think they also have better technology.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we got to know, do you know the make, the model?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, it’s Logi…and if I look…oh, geez, it’s about $180. I know it is now sold out. Something like a CD920 maybe. What is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Logitech CD920-ish.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I think it was the CD920 high definition. And, also, the microphone is the Blue Yeti.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Nicholas Bloom
That’s about $140. Both of them I searched around online, and there was a bunch of reviews. The Blue Yeti was reviewed by someone in the Wall Street Journal as the best mic. That was it. They interviewed a sound guy that did the voices for the new Avengers stuff and various other movies, and he said, “Look, this is the best cheap serious microphone out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
I agree that the Blue Yeti is excellent so long as it’s not an empty echo-y room, and yours is working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Nicholas Bloom
I picked up a lockdown habit which is juggling a soccer ball, a football as I call it. So, my 11-year old daughter plays in a soccer team, and she’s been told by her coach, because they’re not playing anymore because of the lockdown, to try and juggle, like kick it up easy, keep the ball kicking in the air. So, I couldn’t do that at all, I have to say, until about four months ago, but I can do like a hundred which is very therapeutic because you’re entirely concentrating on it. There’s no email, no phones, no kids actually, because everyone knows to avoid dad where he’s obsessively juggling the soccer ball, but I quite like it.

I wouldn’t say it’s high exercise but after 20 minutes of it, I feel refreshed and energized. So, if I have too many Zoom meetings in a row, and I have a half-hour break, I may go out into the garden. There’s a bit of fresh air. I may go out and try and juggle a soccer ball one. It’s something like that, something kind of absorbing. But I used to find mowing the lawn was similar like that, I’ve a very good lawn. But no one would come near me because you’ve got this large heavy piece of equipment making huge amounts of noise, so there was no phone, no email, no children. But, yeah, that’s my favorite hobby right now.

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

Nicholas Bloom
You know, I have become the working from home guy just because the TEDx Talk, coming back to the beginning of the podcast, is very pro working from home. And so, it’s useful if you have a manager that’s skeptical, or an owner that says, “Oh, as soon as the pandemic is over, we’re going back to full-time in the office.” And because of that, I’m kind of known for being pro working from home.

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

Nicholas Bloom
To my website. The easiest thing to do is just to type Nicholas Bloom into Google and it should come up as the top hit. I’m at Stanford University. So, if you type Nick Bloom Stanford, it will come up.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Nicholas Bloom
I think just stick with it in the sense that I think working from home is going to be here for a long time. So, just the realization we’re in the long haul, and investing in equipment, investing in setting things up, and your schedule. We can make this work as society is actually part of the fight against COVID. One of the most effective and important things is we can work from home because the economy can keep going while we socially isolate. And it does need everyone, I guess, to give it their best shot and help other people in your firm do the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nick, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Nicholas Bloom
Hey, Pete, thanks very much for having me on the show.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Bill

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Bill Truby Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Truby
Oh, you poor soul you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell us about this.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Who will do what by when?

Bill Truby
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Truby
They just didn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Chris

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Chris Bailey Interview Transcript

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

Chris Bailey
You have me back.

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

Chris Bailey
Wow, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Did you forget one already?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That too.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, rant over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
You’re savoring it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Bailey
What song are you savoring right now?

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

Chris Bailey
Oh, that’s a classic tune.

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

Chris Bailey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one savor?

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

Pete Mockaitis
I enjoy hanging out with my kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Bailey
Well, we just bought a drill…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good choice.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen those.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, right on.

Chris Bailey
Hey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Bailey
Thank you. You, too.