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Success and why the process matters — Joel Brockner

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Joel Brockner is the Phillip Hettleman Professor of Business at Columbia University Business School and author of The Process Matters: Engaging and Equipping People for Success and a leading authority on a variety of psychological issues in the workplace, including managing change, leadership, decision-making, and cross-cultural differences in work behavior. He spoke with Stew Friedman about how to engage employees.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: Our society, our business world, is driven by measurable outcomes, data, and results. Now we’ve got the horserace of an election and the analysis and meta-analysis that’s happening around that. You’ve done decades of really important research on decision-making and most recently, about the process by which decisions get made, the fairness inherent in that. Why do you pursue that and why does it matter to us?

Joel Brockner: Joel BrocknerThat’s a great question, because we hear a lot about how the outcome matters. We live in a results-oriented society; you hear expressions like the bottom line. I love good outcomes, I’d rather win than lose, but my basic argument is that if you want your organization to be sustainably successful you have to care about outcomes but you also have to care about the process through which you arrive at that outcome. In the long term we need to get there and we need to get there in the right way. I always get nervous when managers say to their people I don’t care how you get there, just get there. They’re giving people liberty to do things in the way that they see fit, but it’s also a potentially dangerous statement, because among other things it might invite unethical behavior.

SF: There have to be some limits and restraints on behavior because we know that to be really clear on the ends and flexible on the means for achieving them is a recipe for engagement and motivation of teams and employees. We want to give people freedom but you’re suggesting that there’s a right way and wrong way to do that?

JB: I’m suggesting that the expression I don’t care how you get there, just get there can be taken too far, in which case people don’t pay attention to the way in which they get there. Doing things in a fair and humane way, there are a couple ways to talk about the process, what do we mean by a high-quality process.

SF: Yes, please define that for us.

JB: Partly it has to do with what I would call attributes of the process, so, for instance, if the process is fair. A lot of things go into a fair process: are people allowed to participate in decisions, were the reasons for decisions explained to them, were the decisions based on accurate information, was it transparent, was it a level playing field?

SF: Those are the crucial ones, whether people are able to provide input, whether they understand the rationale for decisions, if decisions were made on the basis of accurate information, and that there was a level playing field. What you mean by “level playing field?”

JB: Everybody has an equal chance for being successful, the same standards are being applied to everyone. The principle is known as consistency.

SF: So those are the elements that produce a fair process?

JB: Yes, and there are other ways to talk about a process being done well besides fairness. We can focus on not so much attributes of the process, but how it makes people feel. A process is a good one, for example, if people on the receiving end felt like their sense of esteem was bolstered, or it affirmed their identity, or gave them a sense of control. Those experiences that we have that are very motivational so that if a process is done in a way that enables us to feel in those ways, then that’s also a high-quality process.

SF: We know that all of those translate into positive outcomes in other domains of life by way of spillover, so if you know that people have a sense of esteem at work, and this has been traditionally more true for fathers than mothers, their kids do better. If your dad is feeling good about himself and his role at work, he’s going to be a better father. That probably doesn’t surprise you.

JB: That would make perfect sense. To give an example, what I meant by a process that affords people a sense of esteem, a typical way that companies will bring people in, the on-boarding process as it’s called, you might say to the new employee this is what we stand for, these are our values, this is what we’re good at, and this is why you should be happy to be here as a new member of our organization. That’s all well and good but a recent study suggested that if at the time that people are brought in, if they’re given an extra hour to just articulate what they are good at, what are their signature strengths and how they would imagine enacting those things on the job, not that people are given license to do anything they want, but at least their views are being seriously considered. The study shows that extra hour showed six months later higher customer satisfaction and a lot less turnover. This was in an organization with a lot of turnover and they found it fell dramatically. Just by spending an extra hour during that socialization process, they enabled people to feel a sense of esteem or affirm their sense of identity and it had huge positive payoffs months later.

SF: So when we talk about the process we’re talking about a sense of fairness, we’re talking about how the decision and the way things are make people feel in terms of their esteem, their sense of control over their lives, and their identity and by that you mean what exactly?

JB: It allows them to feel that the decision process recognized them for who they were. Again, this idea of identifying your signature strengths. A strength speaks to your esteem — it’s what you’re good at — but a signature strength is something that you in particular are really good at. It affirms your sense of identity as well as affirms your sense of esteem.

SF: Important in that element of how people feel as a result of the process is being seen as a unique individual that has a particular value and differentiated from the value that other people bring.

JB: That’s why I say it’s not simply a function of attributes of the process, like fairness of the process, it’s however they’re doing it, are they doing it in a way that allows people to have these psychological experiences, which make people feel good about themselves but it also makes them more productive, more satisfied with their jobs and as you implied with the whole purpose of your show, it allows for an overall better life experience.

SF: If you feel good about yourself, and you feel valued as an individual contributing in a unique way, and have a sense of control over the things that happen to you, all of those aspects of a work experience are going to spill over in a positive way to the other parts of your life. We focus a lot on the show about creating work arrangements that enable flexibility and control. I wonder if you could speak to how your model of understanding the importance of the process by which decisions get made, how it speaks to listeners who are looking for some guidance on how to negotiate a more flexible work arrangement that would allow them to be successful not just at work but in the other parts of their lives?

JB: There is interesting work by one of your colleagues at Wharton, Adam Grant, of the study on what’s called job crafting. The basic idea here is that you have a job description but people are allowed to take up their jobs in a variety of ways – the extent that you can be given input into what gets done or how things get done or when things get done. You’re allowed to craft the contours of your job, and that’s one of these experiences that allows people to have this experience of esteem and identity because you’re given control, you’re allowed to have input in how things are going to get done. The other thing is if people are given some license about their work arrangements, they’re probably going to be bringing more of themselves into it, so that’s the identity aspect of it. Sometimes, a little bit can go a long way. It doesn’t require organizations to change things all that dramatically in terms of time, money, and all those other kinds of resources. Sometimes just making small tweaks in how things are done can allow people to have these experiences of esteem, identity, or control and as a result have much better work experiences. More productivity, more morale, all sorts of good things.

SF: And it doesn’t cost a lot. We’re talking about small changes that can have a really big impact – having people feel better about themselves, uniquely contributing to some larger goal, and feeling a greater sense of control, and how important that is in bringing the whole self to work, which is what we’re trying to help people understand how to do. Can you give an example of how that has played out, in your own experience or what you have seen?

JB: It’s not just in the workplace, it’s in other kinds of organizations as well. There was a famous study done a number of years ago with residents of a nursing home, again this is the idea of how a little bit can go a long way. It was a very simple study, the staff was trying to do right by everybody there and in one group they were given a little bit more control. One group was told here’s a plant, and we’d like you to care for the plant. You have to water it, make sure it gets enough light. We’re not talking about a big responsibility, but it was more the symbolism of it all. They were given some responsibility. Another example would be they were told you’re going to be able to watch a movie one night this week. I want you to select the night of the week you want to view it; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it’s your call. The other group was given the same plant and the staff said you don’t need to do a thing, we’ll take care of it for you. In terms of that movie, we’ll decide. You don’t need to exert the effort to figure out what night to watch the movie; we’ll do that for you. There were very small differences, and when you followed those two groups for weeks and months afterwards, they found that the people who were given more control were more alert, more physically active and in better health, and actually there was some evidence that over the long haul, a couple year period, the death rate was lower. Small things can go a long way in work organizations and other kinds of organizations.

SF: One of the points you make in your book is that there are tons of solutions out there that don’t cost a lot and these are good examples. Can you say more about the importance of opening up your frame of mind as a manager to those low-cost solutions that can have a big impact on your people?

JB: You hit the nail on the head. Managers need to be more open-minded. We understand that they’re busy, we understand they’re operating in a constrained environment. Sometimes it’s not so simple, sometimes it’s a bigger intervention that is needed, but sometimes even those bigger interventions will pay for themselves, so it’s a little bit of pay-now-or-pay-later. I’ll give you an example. I oftentimes speak to groups at Columbia Executive Education programs and other places, private clients as well, and I’ll be talking about change management. The book also talks a lot about what we mean by well-managed change process, and lots of people have written about this. We’re talking about managing change, there’s a fair amount that goes into handling that process well. I’ll oftentimes lay those things out to managers whom I’m working with and they’ll say this works out on paper but we don’t have time for this and they’re quite right. It does take time to explain why and involve people in decision-making and to train them for new behaviors and perhaps give them some advance notice and plan things. It really does take a fair amount of time, this is not one of those small tweaks.

SF: Some investment is required in a good process.

JB: What I often hear when I say why don’t you do more of this is that they don’t have time for it. My answer to that is with all due respect, it does take time, but if you don’t do these things well now, you’re going to create a bigger mess for yourself in terms of people being resistant, dragging their feet, and not being on board with the change effort. Tell me, do you think you’re going to have the time later to correct things to remedy things that you didn’t do right in the first place? I would say, Stew, that it’s not so much a matter of pay-now-or-pay-later, I think the expression that comes close to it is an ounce of prevention and a pound of cure. Let me put it this way: you’re going to have to do a lot more later to do the process well if you don’t do it right in the first place.

SF: Because the process matters in terms of motivation, engagement? You’ve been asserting, and I know based on evidence and common sense that when you engage with people, when you make them feel good about how decisions are getting done that they’re going to feel better, but what do we know, if you could sum up the essence of the research evidence, how indeed that does ultimately affect organizational, group, team, and perhaps family and community outcomes?

JB: It’s not simply about making people feel good. It’s about bottom-line productivity. Productivity is the bottom line for organizational psychologists. When people are engaged with the change process, an organization needed to downsize for example, or needed to grow, whatever the change happens to be, to the extent that they are embracing the change, engaged with saying things like this is great, we should have done this a long time ago. That’s not just about making them feel good, although that’s certainly a good byproduct. That means they’re more on board, they’re working on behalf of organizational goals and the importance of that is immeasurable.

SF: What are some of the other obstacles you have people telling you? What should people and managers know in terms of the obstacles they might face in improving their decision-making process and how to improve them?

JB: It’s sort of a puzzle. If we know this, how come we don’t do it? One answer is that sometimes it’s not as obvious as it might seem. The small-tweaks-can-go-a-long-way sometimes is not so obvious. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap. That’s why I think, not just plugging my book but reading others’ studies like other books and articles similar to the point, I think helps managers be more informed and they have a richer understanding of just how much the process matters. Sometimes it’s a matter of what I call skill, the interpersonal skill needed to pull things off. A number of years ago, I was doing a presentation at an organization that was downsizing for the very first time and the pain in the room was palpable. I could feel everybody’s pain and I hung in there and tried to give them some guidance, but I could understand how the urge people have to hide when others around them are feeling depressed or angry or anxious. You want to hide sometimes to cope yourself, and that’s the worst thing that managers could do, when they feel that temptation to run away, when they need to make themselves more accessible, but that’s hard. It’s risky and you have to have the courage to stand up and make yourself available to tell someone that you’re very sorry but you’re going to have to lay them off. That’s one of the really difficult challenges for managers. To have the emotional intelligence or social skill to pull that off gracefully is not easy, and that’s another obstacle. We have lack of time, sometimes the lack of knowledge, sometimes the lack of interpersonal skill needed to pull these difficult processes off, and then sometimes there are other factors or motivational reasons. It’s not a matter of I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it. For example, oftentimes you have to allow people to have input into decisions. Some people would say if I give them input, then they have more power and I’m reducing my own power.

SF: One might be reluctant to engage employees in providing input on a decision.

JB: It could be philosophical or it could be this view of a win/lose, zero-sum view. The more authority I give to others, the less authority I have for myself.

SF: In your book, what can readers find to help them, both managers as well as employees, to produce a better process in the decisions that they are facing?

JB: The essence of it is we’ll give ideas about what goes into a quality process. We’ll talk about the obstacles. There are also a bunch of inventories in the appendix of the book that allow people to assess themselves about where they come out on the very factors that we’ve been talking about throughout the book. I always encourage readers to turn to Appendix C, for example, to look at how good you are as an agent of change. Well, here are a bunch of process dimensions and fill out this instrument and see where you come out. Even better, get other people to rate you on the very same dimensions and you’ll have a more informed view of not only what makes for a healthy process, but where you come out on those dimensions.

SF: And that, of course, can form your development and growth as a leader, as an employee, perhaps as a father, brother, friend in being able to produce outcomes that are better for the process by which they were achieved.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Deep vs. Shallow Work with Cal Newport

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Cal Newport, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and the author most recently of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, a book which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace, and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a book which debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about the importance of emphasizing deep vs. shallow tasks.

Excerpts below. Full podcast.


Stewart Friedman: Distraction is a huge topic on this show. We’ve had many guests talking about distraction —  Catherine Steiner-Adair, Jenny Radesky, Ned Hallowell, Bridget Schulte, Maggie Jackson —  and others who have talked about the problem of distraction in the digital age, and how much it is causing all kinds of health problems and productivity issues. What you’ve done is flip the question and look for ways that we can find focus, deep focus to be able to pay attention to the people and projects that need us, and that require full attention when they need us.  Give us a brief overview. What is it that you have discovered? What is this thing that you call deep work?

Cal Newport: Cal NewportThe point you just made is a great one. It’s that we spend so much time worrying about distraction and it’s an ambiguous worry because these things that distract us also have benefits. It’s confusing and what are we supposed to do about it? We don’t spend enough time talking about what’s so good about its opposite. And that’s what I call deep work, when you focus without distraction for a significant amount of time on a cognitively demanding task. And the simple summary is that this tool, deep work, is incredibly valuable, but almost no individuals and no organizations are actually focusing on it. I think that this is a great opportunity if you’re one of the few who actually focuses on building their ability to apply deep work. So, if you prioritize focusing without distraction for significant amount of time on cognitively demanding task being at the core of your workplace or the core of your organization, I think there’s huge advantage to be gained.

SF: Competitive advantage is what you’re getting at.

CN: Yes, this is an economic opportunity. It’s something that’s becoming more valuable, this skill, at exactly the more time it’s becoming more rare.

SF: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need to develop this skill.  In my work here people complain about this all the time. They’ve tried various methods, some quite successful and some probably consistent with what it is you’ve discovered in the four rules for how to make deep work happen, which I want to get to in just a minute. But before we do, let me just ask you to clarify. When you say a significant amount of time, can you quantify that, please?

CN: It’s got to be more than an hour, and probably at least 90 minutes before you’re getting the full benefits of depth.

SF: Alright, so that means doing one thing for at least 90 minutes?

CN: Yeah, that’s right one cognitively demanding task. And I have a zero-tolerance policy for distraction. It doesn’t work, even if you just quickly glance at your inbox every once in a while. Even that glance is really going to impair the amount of work and quality of the work you are able to produce.

SF: Right, because we know, and we talked a lot about this on the show, that there is no such thing as multi-tasking. When you switch, there’s a cost to switching from one task to the other.

CN: Yes, and it’s important because we have shifted on from the behavior we had from the late 90’s when people literally tried to multi-task, where they would actually have multiple windows open at the same time. We’ve moved on from that. So, now people will single task, but switch quite a bit. You’re working on something hard, and maybe you take a glance at your inbox, and you think, “I’m doing a good job, I don’t have it open, I don’t have notifications on, so I’m doing the right thing”. But actually, research makes it clear that that’s not the case. It’s exactly what you said about switching. Even a quick glance at something like an email inbox leaves a cognitive residue, which could actually create a relatively significant cognitive impairment for quite a long time to follow. So, really the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to use your mind at its maximum limit, would be what almost everyone does, which is let me just take a quick glance at the phone, or the web, or my email every ten to fifteen minutes. That’s like working with a significant cognitive handicap.

SF: Because there’s a residue of what it is you are switching over to look at that requires you to process it so that you can start up again when you switch over to the task you were working on or the new one you were just checking out very briefly.

CN: Yes, the actual term that comes out from the studies is ‘cognitive residue’. That’s what they actually call it.

SF: Yes, I chose that term intentionally. I have read some of that research. It’s a great term too because it really helps you to see or envision the idea that it’s sticky when you go from one thing to the other there’s no on-off switch. There’s something there that resides that you have to deal with even though you are not necessarily conscious of it. So, better not to even get a little peek of what’s coming up on your email screen.

CN: In some sense that can be worse because to see an email that’s important and you know you have to answer, but you don’t have time to do it then, that’s really going to leave a residue. So, even the very quickest of glances can actually be the worst because your mind says, “wait a second, I just fell upon something that I’m going to have to do. I have got to pay attention to this.” You can try to bring attention back to that really hard memo you were writing or computer code you were writing but now you are thinking about this new information, too.

SF: I’m very curious about what you’ve learned about deep work. Let’s just jump to that, and then we’ll get back to how you got to this, especially how you got to it as a professional computer scientist. What’s a computer scientist doing thinking about psychology anyway? First, tell us Cal, what are the guidelines that you’ve developed from your research about how to create deep work in your life?

CN: I broke it down into four guidelines. So, the first I call the rule work deeply, and at a high level, what this means is you have to be relatively aggressive about protecting time for deep work, having rituals and routines that surround your deep work to make it as effective as possible. The second rule is to embrace boredom, which captures a point I think is important, that deep work is a very hard skill to get good at. We all assume we know how to focus, and it’s just a matter of finding time. But actually it’s a skill that requires practice. And if you want to be serious about using to deep work to get ahead, you’re going to have to get serious about training your ability to focus. My third rule is controversially titled, as it turns out. It’s called quit social media.  If you want to be serious about your ability to really to focus and get all of the benefits that that can give you, you need to become much more selective about what you let into your attention landscape. And the final rule drain your shallows means you have to be careful about all of the non-deep work obligations on your plate. Eliminate a lot more than most people do, and be much more efficient about what remains.

SF: Sounds easy enough, Cal. Let’s dig into these. So, it’s work deeply, which means aggressively bounding time for specific tasks, embracing boredom – I have to learn a little bit more about that, quitting social media – why would anybody object to that? –, and being more disciplined about cutting non-deep work obligations. I think the last part might be the hardest one. Which do you find people struggle with the most?

CN: People think they are going to struggle with the quit social media, but as someone who has never had a social media account I can tell you that nothing bad happens, and people who do cut back figure out that that is actually the case.

SF: You’ve heard of FOMO?  Do you not suffer from FOMO? Fear of missing out?

CN: I guess I miss out a lot, and I don’t realize it.

SF: So you’re blissfully ignorant.

CN: I guess so. To me it’s important to recognize that companies that provide these social media platforms have done a very good job of marketing this technology as somehow being at the cornerstone of civic life in the 21st century. But the reality is that they’re media companies that sell advertisements and hire people who are very highly trained at figuring out how to grab and distract as much of your attention as possible. Someone like a serious athlete is going to be very careful about what they eat, I think someone who is a very serious mental athlete, someone who makes a living using their mind to do skill-based labor, should at least be wary about voluntarily and regularly using services that are really meant to make them worse at that type of work.

SF: That’s a great way to put it. Very persuasive. So how do you deal with people who are addicted to social media or feel it’s necessary perhaps because of FOMO or other reasons? How do you help them? Or do you have guidelines for how to quit because that seems like a daunting task, especially for certain people in certain industries who rely on feeds and social media?

CN: There are certainly people for whom social media makes sense. What I actually presented was a new way to make that decision about whether or not you should use these different tools. My inspiration for this process might be unexpected. I talked to a farmer. And the way I thought about it was this:  farmers use tools, but they have to be very selective, right? They only have so much money. They are very careful. The farmers I’ve known are very careful about tool selections. So, I sat down with a farmer and said, “Walk me through how you decide which tools you use in your life and which tools you don’t.” At the crux of the decision making process was this idea: Every tool has some benefits and wouldn’t be offered for sale if it didn’t have some benefits. I’m very careful about bringing into my professional life the tools that are going to have positive benefits that will substantially outweigh the costs. And I think that’s the same way that people should think about tools, like social media. Of course, some things you might miss, but the question is do these tools bring substantial benefits to the things you care about most that substantially outweigh the negatives upon grabbing your time and attention? And I think for some people, the answer is yes, but for many more people than we see today the answer really would be no.

SF: So, it actually pays for them to quit, and what they really need to do think through ‘is this a tool that’s helping me’?

CN: Exactly. Not only does it have any benefit, but do the benefits substantially contribute to the things I find most important in my professional and personal life?

SF: Right. Most people probably tell you, “Oh, I can’t do that,” right?

CN: Yeah, what I suggest is quit for thirty days. And after thirty days you have to ask yourself two questions. One: Was your life substantially impoverished? Would you find yourself missing out on things in your professional/personal life? And two: Did anyone else notice or care? I think part of the loop of self-regard that keeps people connected to social media is you can begin to develop this idea that I have this audience out there, and they need to hear what I have to say. So, it can be a usefully humbling experience to realize in that thirty-day experience no one noticed you weren’t sending out your insightful tweets.

SF: Part of my work is to help people try out intelligent experiments for about a month or less that are intended to make things better in the four different parts of their life: work, home, community, and the private self of mind, body, and spirit. And I call these four-way wins. And people do these experiments a lot.  They look to see where indeed is the benefit in each of the different parts of their lives?  In fact, I just launched my Total Leadership course here at Wharton this afternoon, and next month I’m going to have these Wharton MBA students do a digital detox for a day where they shut down all their systems and see what happens when they discover the world beyond their screens. And what I typically find is that most people feel liberated by that process. Is that what you’ve found?

CN: I have. And that’s why I was hinting before that most people think that ‘quit social media’ is going to be the hardest chapter or rule in this book, but a lot of people have the same experience you’ve seen with your students, which is that if you get a little bit of distance from this thing and you can realize how much of a hold it has had on your time, attention, energy, and sense of self. And there is a sense of liberation.  Alot of people find that that ends up being one of the easier rules to put into effect. When they let go of these tools they’re not missing them. It’s not like quitting cigarettes. It’s like quitting a bad habit you never liked in the first place.

SF: All right, so that one was pretty straightforward. Let’s talk about embracing boredom. What does that take?

CN: This is where people actually have the trouble. And the underlying idea here is that the ability to really focus and get the full advantage of deep work is something that you have to train. If you haven’t trained your mind to concentrate, you’re going to have a hard time, even if you are able to clear off your schedule. You’re going to have a hard time reaching the level of concentration that allows deep work to be this tool that provides fantastic productivity. So, I argue that most people actually have to train their mind just like an athlete would train a muscle to prepare to do deep work. A big part of that training is you need to be worried about the lack of boredom in your life, and I’m talking about even outside of work.

SF: Worried about the lack of boredom? So the goal here is boredom?

CN: Exactly.  The reason I’m asking you to embrace boredom is because if you live your life in such a way that at the slightest hint of boredom – that is, the slightest lack of novel stimuli – you whip out a phone and immediately start looking at something that’s a little bit more entertaining. If that’s how you live your life, you’re basically weakening your executive center’s ability when it comes time to focus to remain focused. So, actually embrace boredom to re-teach your mind that it’s ok to not have novel stimuli, to have it be used to the state without novel stimuli. So that when it’s time to sit down and work deeply, you’re going to be much better at it.

SF: Interesting. So you have to condition your mind so that you’re kind of at rest. Is that it?

CN: Well, the way I think about it is you have analogies as part of your executive center, which is like a bouncer at the nightclub of your attention. If you just let everything in there, you’re weakening the authority of that bouncer. So it’s really hard when you do want to lock those doors down to actually do it. What you do out of work has an impact on your ability to work deeply. So, people who take deep work seriously also take boredom seriously. They’re happy to have long periods of time where there’s not a lot of excitement or novel stimuli coming. They’re able to take long walks. They’ll go places without their phone. They’ll even stand in a checkout line, and just stand in the line. It might seem like, “why do we want to do it?” But actually this is like cognitive calisthenics when it comes to your ability to focus.

SF: The first rule, work deeply, means basically bounding time to be able to focus, right?

CN: Right, putting aside time. How you schedule that time is your schedule, and what you do surrounding that time to get the most out of it. All those types of factors are involved there.

SF: What have you found is the greatest challenge in being aggressive about establishing those rituals and boundaries that enable you to have that hour, hour and a half, or two hours of undistracted activity at one time?

CN: People sometimes feel guilty about protecting that time. When other opportunities come up, maybe a meeting or call, they say ‘yes’ because that seems more concrete. And they feel bad about turning that down. They feel guilty. Also, deep work is not business in a publically visible manner. If you take the phone call, if you go to a meeting, people seeing you doing it. You’re doing work. You are like, “look I’m doing work. I’m busy.” Deep work is a very private, solo endeavor. You sort of don’t get immediate credit for it, but I think it’s important to emphasize that we have this backwards. So, as we’re in this age of increasing automation and outsourcing, the jobs that survive, the jobs that are going to remain, become increasingly complicated and increasingly cognitively demanding. That’s where the pressures are in the job world. But we often get this backwards. When we think about the stuff that we can actually do to think really hard, to put our skills at their highest level, to apply it at work, to work deeply, the stuff that we can do and that’s valuable we see that as something that might be nice, but not for now. And we define real work to be all the other stuff we do, which is mainly talking about work. We spend all of our time sending emails and going to meetings and hopping on calls and preparing powerpoints together, and we really have that backwards. Today it’s the deep work that matters. It’s the deep work that creates massive amounts of value that can’t be automated, can’t be outsourced. And yet, we spend by far the vast majority of our time – and I mean the average knowledge worker – on these shallow tasks that would be easily replicated. We act like human network routers instead of actually sitting there and doing the deep thinking that’s our one competitive advantage. So, people do have a hard time protecting this time and saying no to the other things, but I think we have that completely backwards.

SF: How do you get over that because the pressures are enormous to be immediately responsive to your online and your face-to-face world? People want your attention. How do you bound it and protect it?

CN: Well, there’s two cases. If you’re not in a big organization, if you don’t have a boss so that you have control over what’s in your life, then be less connected be less responsive,  just push things to the side. Prioritize deep work and try to fit as much of the other stuff as you can as it fits. People who don’t have bosses sometimes over-estimate how much connectivity they need to have or how important these easy tasks are. I recently wrote an article that contrasted two popular bloggers and podcasters that were both having real trouble with the amount of email coming in through their websites. The first blogger hired a high-end executive assistant who works with him full-time just to help him keep up with the email. That was his solution. The other blogger took down his email address and said you can write me a letter if you want to contact me. And it turned out nothing bad happened when he did that. Nothing happened to his traffic. Nothing happened to his revenue. But suddenly he had massively more time available to write better content, and it was good for his business. In a lot of cases, we think we need to be really connected, we need to be doing these emails, we need to be saying yes to everything, but the reality is if we ran the type of experiments that you recommend we would realize, “wait a second, maybe 80-90% of the stuff that’s eating up my attention is nice, but not that important.”

SF: What if your manager isn’t okay with the deep work plan?

CN: Yes, so this is the other case. What I recommend here is actually you need to open a dialogue about deep work. I have this suggestion that you talk to your boss or manager about what your ideal deep to shallow ratio should be.

SF: Deep to shallow ratio – that’s a great concept.

CN: “I’m here forty hours. I measure my time very carefully. What should I be aiming for?” And you open up a conversation when you do this. But now when you have this agreement with a boss or a manager, you have a platform from which you can make stronger decisions. So, “the reason I’m going to turn down this meeting or I’m not here is because we’re way off of the ratio you said I should be meeting. I only got two hours deep work. That’s not producing value for this company. You don’t need me sending emails, you need me actually doing what I do best. So, how can we get more time?” I think the meta-point that’s important here is that there’s interesting research that says with these types of issues, once you actually open up a dialogue, a regular dialogue about these types of issues – “deep work is important to me. I’m not getting enough done.” – can uncover lots of different cultural things at your company that really aren’t that important to that the company and that the company can move past, or your group or team can get past. Once you start talking about these things, it’s actually enables changes to the culture that might’ve otherwise seemed hopelessly entrenched.

SF: Exactly. Indeed that is a part of the Total Leadership training that I do with my students in this program that I’ve been doing for almost twenty years now, and also with clients worldwide. After identifying what matters most to you, what projects and people matter most to you, you then engage in dialogue with the key people in your life about what’s important to them and what’s important to you, including the sort of terms of engagement and your expectations of responsiveness. It’s all about those conversations – stakeholder dialogues — because there are all kinds of assumptions we make about what other people need from us with respect to availability in response times. And often they are wrong.

CN: I think a good place to start is having the terminology right. Just by understanding that deep work, for example, is a specific type of effort that returns a lot of value for the company, that isolating it from other types of work is a great starting point. Because now you have a particular tool and you can say, “What do I need to do to prioritize this tool, and what’s getting in the way of using this tool?” To me it’s a productive way to go forward than to just think about the distractions in our lives and struggling with whether the good outweighs the bad.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Daydream To Get The Job Done — Josh Davis

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Josh Davis, the Director of Research for the NeuroLeadership Institute, which is a global institute dedicated to synthesizing scientific research andguiding its use in the business and leadership fields. He’s a faculty member at Barnard College of Columbia University and the author of the just published Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done. They spoke about how to make the most of your time based on scientific research.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: I understand, you come from the field of neurolinguistics. First, can you just tell us what that field is, because not everyone listening knows.

Josh Davis: Josh Davis PhotoIt’s actually not the field in which I did my doctoral work, that would be area called social cognitive neuroscience. This is the study of the social contexts that we put ourselves in, the ways that we talk to each other, the ways that we use language, the ways that we talk to ourselves that can really influence actual brain function, can influence the emotions and influence whether we’re beating ourselves up or whether we’re working with ourselves most effectively. There’s a lot of flexibility we have in regulating emotions that comes from research in neurolinguistics, research in other branches of psychology, other branches of neuroscience.

SF: So neurolinguistics is really the study of the connection between brain and language, is that right?

JD: It is, yeah. Neurolinguistics is looking at what’s going on in the brain when we’re processing language, when we’re communicating or simply understanding language.

SF: Alright, so how did you get interested in using that science to understand how we can use our time more effectively?

JD: I realized we can be really effective for short periods of time. I’m sure you’ve had these moments where you have a couple hours or you figure out exactly what the lineup is going to be for the show, or for the whole fall. A big project which you can sort it out, get everything done you need to, and make tremendous progress in a short period of time. I know that I can have two or three days on end where I’m practically worthless, I’m getting very little done that actually matters.

SF: So you got those concentrated bursts of “ah, how the world seems right and I’ve figured it out”.

JD: Exactly — these short periods of time. So what I turned my mind to was this: if it happens sometimes, is there something we can learn about how to set up those periods of effectiveness, of really intense effectiveness, peak effectiveness at will, or more often. And that’s when I turned to the psychology and neuroscience research, to see what I could find about how to set up those conditions. The biggest-picture take-home was that many of the same things that help set up those conditions are also the same that create more work/life balance. So that’s the biggest-picture take-home.  But working with how a human being works, aiming to set up periods of peak effectiveness is going to help us get more done that actually matters, get to the important stuff and not be working all the time.

SF: Alright, can you give us a brief overview of what you discovered and how it’s portrayed in our wonderful book, Two Awesome Hours?

JD:  We can recognize that, most of the day, we’re actually on autopilot. We are right now, for example, in conversation mode. There’s a lot of things we’re conscious of, like deciding how to answer your questions.  But for the most part, I’m in conversation mode.  I’m not wondering how to spend my time and I’m not aware of a lot of things in the background, other things I need to get to. Once our conversation ends though, all of the sudden, the autopilot ends. Once you get to work after your commute, the autopilot ends. Once you get out of a meeting, the autopilot ends. Once you stop checking emails, the autopilot ends. In those brief moments, and we get them just a handful of times throughout the day: right before a test, right after one ends, or right when we’ve been interrupted. We get a chance to actually think much more deeply. We become more conscious. When we get to a crossroads, all of the sudden, autopilot can’t handle things anymore. We actually bring more conscious resources online in those moments, we’re more self-aware. It can be very unpleasant, it can feel like we’re not being productive, because we’re more aware of time passing, and it’s tempting to go for what’s right in front of us.  But those moments, I call them decision points, they’re moments to really savor, to step back, recognize that you got a golden moment in the day to take a few minutes.   It doesn’t need to be more than a few minutes, and just really remember what’s important.  Then go ahead and decide what task to get working on, because we waste time when we get started on the wrong task. You start checking emails it takes an hour and a half, but we don’t waste time in those moments when we feel like we’re wasting time just because we haven’t decided yet. So it’s recognizing when those come and taking advantage of them is the first step and it paves the way for all the others.

SF: Can you give an example of how that might actually occur or how you’ve done it?

JD:. Literally, 20 minutes ago I had just finished working on something, I had sent something off, and I had 20 minutes to go before this show.   And I thought, oh I have 20 minutes, how do I want to use it, I’ve got some time.

SF: How do I want to use it? I like that question.

JD: Right. I’ll be tired later. But I didn’t just jump in and look for what would take 20 minutes, those kinds of things. I took a moment, because I’ve learned to do this now, and I said, okay, wait a second. This is a decision point. I step back, literally, because that can help to give you more perspective.

SF: You mean you actually took a step in the rear direction?

JD: I literally got up from the desk and stepped back away from it, and I let myself stare out the window for a minute until I became more aware of the mental energy I have right now. It’s towards the end of the day, I’ve been doing a lot of hard work, and aware of the importance of showing up for this interview, in a way that I really want to be able to share with people something useful. And recognize that it’s actually going to be a better use of my time to take a break, have a little coffee, sit down and let my mind wander, and be ready for this call. The work that I would have done in those 20 minutes would have been very unproductive work, because I wasn’t in a good place to be working well. I’ll do that work much more quickly and effectively by saving it for tomorrow, and after our call I may go and do something relatively unimportant because I’ll be kind of spent. It’ll be the end of the day. But I had a chance to think about that, and end up showing up more effectively for the right work.

SF: So a decision point is really an opportunity for you to reflect on what you should be focusing your attention on, is that right?

JD: That’s right. And I do think that we all can be aware of what actually matters, what’s important. It doesn’t require a lot of deep soul-searching, for someone like me. If you ask me while I’m on vacation, what matters about your work, well I should be writing stuff and I should be speaking, public speaking of some kind or another. And if it’s not one of those two things, if it’s not really contributing to one of those two things, it’s not as important. For almost any job, we can figure it out fairly easily, but it’s remembering, having a way to remember the moments that matter, to do the important things and not just see urgent things, that’s the key.

SF: Right, because otherwise you’re wasting your attention on things that aren’t important. So identifying these points where you step back, quite literally in your case, and actually think about what’s going to be the best use of your time, that’s going to make a big difference in your making intelligent choices about how to invest your attention.

JD: And stepping back, by the way, this is one of those things that came from the research. I learned about the idea of priming something called “psychological distance.” When we think of something as being farther away, when we have an expansive view, or when you think of something being far off in time, that makes you more likely to be thinking big picture, to be thinking more abstractly, and that’s very useful for this type of thinking. So it actually primes that way of thinking.

SF: So that’s the benefit of stepping back from your desk or stepping towards a window where you have a broader vista, broader horizon?

JD: Yeah, so that’s the benefit of doing that. And actually stepping towards the window also has an additional piece of research that motivates that. This has to do with the value of having your mind wander. This one is a little counter-intuitive for a lot of people. You never see the report card that says: Joey’s great in class, but he should daydream more. Creative incubation happens when we let our minds wander, which doesn’t happen when we don’t let our minds wander, or not nearly as much. So if you’ve been working on something that needs creative thinking, who am I going to put on this team, how am I going to map out this chapter of a book, or whatever the creative project is, if you then let your mind wander, even if it’s just for a few minutes and come back to it, you’re more likely to have creative solutions and more of them, than if you just spend just as much time working on the problem. So actually, you’re better off in that context having the time spent wandering rather than working on it. It doesn’t just make you more creative in general, but it makes you more creative about those things you were already puzzling over. A second thing is, you’re probably familiar with the famous Marshmallow Test, the idea of delayed gratification?

SF: I am, but our listeners might not be, so a very brief recap of the meaning of that research?

JD: There’s a great book out by the author of the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel. It’s called The Marshmallow Test. The idea is this: you take some four-year-olds and you tell them you can have this marshmallow right now, but if you wait until I come back – and the kids don’t know how long that is and to a four-year-old it can be an eternity.–if you wait until I come back, then you can have this other treat that they had previously determined that the kid preferred over the marshmallow. Some of the kids actually waited the whole time, which turned out to be 15 minutes. Some don’t, and there’s variations in how long they waited. The ability to wait, the ability to delay gratification predicts things years later like SAT scores, college success, marital success, job success, likelihood to end up having trouble with the law, and all kinds of things. It’s not that there’s something magical about these kids, though. It’s not that they’re just gifted in some way, it’s that the kids are doing something different. And what the kids are doing is reframing the challenge in front of them. They’re thinking of it as the opportunity to get the thing down the line and not spending time thinking about how tasty the marshmallow would be. Or maybe they’re thinking about it as not a marshmallow, but just a puffy cloud. What daydreaming allows us to do is to reframe what’s going on. In the background, we tend to find new ways of thinking about challenges we face, so we’re more likely to hold out for something better in the future.

SF: So a wandering mind helps you to delay gratification because it opens you up to thinking about alternatives?
Garrison calling from Texas: You’re talking about brain activity as it relates to linguistics and the workplace environment and all the distractions and understanding when you’re in the zone, knowing that time of perfect efficiency and how social media and all these distractions play into it. I have friends and colleagues that are constantly distracted by what could be considered some alternate form of linguistics … How do you get in the autopilot? How do you get out of it? What’s the brain doing?

SF: Great question Garrison, and thank you for that. Josh, tell us, what are your thoughts about that question, how social media affects neurolinguistic functioning and our ability to focus on the things that matter?

JD: It’s right on target. The hardest thing for us to ignore when it comes to different sounds in the background, for instance, is speech. It’s been shown that people doing almost all kinds of work were more effective in silence, and what’s most difficult for us to tune out is speech, rather than white speech or music. We’re definitely designed to pick up on speech, but also there’s another element in the social media piece. It is quite linguistic, information is usually text-based. So whether or not we’re hearing it, it’s still information-rich, and it also has a very strong social nature. We are social creatures. There’s an argument that our brains have evolved in the ways that they have in large part due to the need to track the social environment that we’re in. There’s a study showing, across species, the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most different in humans than in other animals, right up front behind the forehead, the size of that correlates with the size of the social network that an animal needs to track across species. That and other data suggest that processing social information is very important to us. Social obligations, as everyone knows, are hard to put out of mind. They tend to be quite distracting, and social media is all about that. It’s about, am I getting back to this other person fast enough? Am I navigating this social relationship in the way that I need to? There’s excitement, because we’re learning where we fit in the social order, and we’re making friends, we’re making connections, and there are other social obligations involved. It’s the stuff that’s designed maximally to grab our attention. Our attention systems in our brain are not designed to stay focused. They’re designed to pick up on what’s changed. They’re designed to help us detect what’s changing in the environment.

SF: So we need to stop fighting distractions?

JD: That’s right. Trying to fight and use willpower, it backfires. It just increases the likelihood you’ll be thinking of exactly the things you’re trying to fight and makes you more likely to go searching for them.

SF: We just have another minute or so. We’re going to have to have you back; this is so fascinating and so important. Can you just give us a very brief recap of the other key strategies that you describe in your book?

JD: One of them, as you mentioned, is stop fighting distractions and it’s about what you can do instead. In what ways can you have compassion for yourself so that you can work with your attention system. Another one is to leverage your mind-body connection. We’re biological creatures, and there’s quite a lot we can do in terms of moderate exercise, food, coffee, water that actually has quite a big impact on the ways that we think and feel, and our concentration. And then finally, there’s making your workspace work for you. There are some things that anybody can do, regardless of how restricted your workspace is that have to do with controlling when you have noise, controlling the light that you have, controlling the clutter on your desk, understanding in what ways that’s affecting you, that you can make some choices about it. For those times that matter, recognizing you don’t need to be on all the time, and we can’t be, but we can be on when we need to be on, for short periods, and that’s really how to take advantage of a human system.

SF: And your strategies based on research are very useful in helping people to develop the skills, to be able to do just that.

To learn more about Josh Davis visit www.twoawesomehours.com.

Jacob Adler, jacob adlerW’18, is a sophomore at Wharton and contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.”

How to Focus and Be More Productive: Dr. Ned Hallowell

Contributor: Arjan Singh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dr. Ned Hallowell, a child and adult psychiatrist, leading authority in the field of ADHD and a former faculty member of the Harvard Medical School. He is a New York Times bestselling author and founder of the Hallowell Centers, which are located in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Dr. Hallowell spoke with Stew about his most recent book Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Dr. Hallowell, you have just published Driven to Distraction at Work, which is a super hot topic now. Everyone seems to be overwhelmed or driven to distraction. As a psychiatrist, you bring a medical perspective to this issue. So first, let’s start with what is clinical ADD? And what is run of the mill everyday distraction?

Dr. Ned Hallowell: Ned HallowellI often ask, ‘do you have true ADD or a severe case of modern life?’ Five to ten percent of the population has true ADD or ADHD.  I would say 75 to 80% have a severe case of modern life or what I call, attention deficit trait, ADT. That’s not an inborn condition. If you have true ADD, you are born with it. ADT is induced by modern life – the busyness of modern life.  In many ways, the great thing of modern life is you can do so much. But the curse of modern life is you can do so much.

If you don’t take control, then you become the victim of modern life. And instead of being wonderfully productive, you feel like you’re running around in circles, feeling kind of frazzled and frantic and frenetic and forgetful and frustrated. If you’re not careful, the world takes you over. One of the rules of modern life is if you don’t take your time, it will be taken from you.

The good news is that this is a problem everyone can solve. Every organization can solve. Every family can solve. Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, is turning that company around. A major policy he implemented that is driving the turnaround is what he calls ‘10% think time.’ He requires all his executives to spend 10% of every workweek thinking.

SF: Let’s back up for a minute: How did you get into this?  And what are the big costs that you are seeing?

NH:  I wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform.” They told me that the biggest complaint they were getting from executives was being able to focus. And that was the genesis of this book. As you let your circuits get overloaded, you tend to underperform and you feel frustrated. Most people’s solution to everything is simply to try harder. It’s imperative that you work smarter, not harder. It means creating boundaries and prioritizing. It means clearing out time to think.

There is this massive “superficialization” of life. Relationships become ‘sound bite relationships.’

SF: What are ‘sound bite relationships’?

NH: “Hello.” “Goodbye.”  “What are we doing this weekend?” Just short-takes and no in-depth conversation or any conversation more than a minute or two.

SF: What are the consequences of this superficialization of our relationships?

NH: The human cost is less than a full and satisfying life. Economic cost is many, many, many billions of dollars. The bottom line is that it is a lot of time. The good news is that it is eminently solvable.

SF: What’s a good place to start?

NH: Start with your screens, because that is the biggest sinkhole. Look at how much you give into “screen-sucking.” Screen-sucking refers to the very common tendency of I’m just going to check my email and then you’re still there an hour later. You’re not aware of how much time you give away. The first step is to find out how much time you give away to screen-sucking.  The easiest way to become aware of that is to turn the device off and not allow yourself access to it. Step two is to reserve time to think. That can be to write a proposal, to try to work through a problem or reason your way through a personnel or marital problem you are having.  But to ponder, think, wrestle with.  Reserve an hour. Step three is taking stock – what are your priorities? You would be amazed at how many people do not know what their priorities are. So sit down and ask yourself what matters most to you.

I had one patient who called her husband’s laptop his “plastic mistress.” He was with that laptop far more than he was with his wife.

Another important intervention – watch out for the modern habit of multi-tasking. The brain cannot focus on two tasks simultaneously.

SF: What do you say to your boss who says I need you 24/7?

NH: You come as a group. The boss that insists on that is going to get fired. The idea of 24/7 is over. Management is all about brain management. How do we partition time – online, offline, available, not available? You do your best work when you’re ‘not available.’ And the enlightened managers know this. You want to begin the discussion in your organization. What is the best way to get the most out of all of our brains? Raise it as a question.

SF: Let’s talk for a minute about entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity here at the Wharton School and around the world. What we hear from so many young people is the idea that their entrepreneurial startup is a 24/7 proposition, and that they have to be in work mode all the time. Do you work with people of that generation and in that kind of environment? And if so, how do you help them deal with distraction, overload, burnout?

NH: Yes, indeed. The book that I am working on now is about the mind of the entrepreneur. The working title is Race Car Brain: Tuning up the Mind of the Entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have these race car brains.  They are incredibly fast, and they love it that way. Their challenge is learning to strengthen their brakes, learning how to plan more effectively, learning not to jump the gun, learning how to ‘ready-aim-fire’ instead of ‘fire-ready-aim.’

Keep in mind 90% of new businesses fail. The best advice you can give an entrepreneur is “don’t do it.” But, these people are un-dissuadable.

SF: What is the one best way for an entrepreneur to strengthen his or her brakes?

NH: Choose a partner wisely. Choose someone who is different than you. Someone who has good brakes and will you pull you back and say ‘let’s think about this’ before we sign on the dotted line. A big reason for failure is the two people with a great idea, both have brains with no brakes, and they blow up. Try to slow down to learn a bit.  You do not be so stubborn and headstrong that you think you have all the answers. Do not let your bravado and incredible energy burn you out, bring you down, or blow you up.

To learn more about Dr. Ned Hallowell, please check out his website and his new book Driven to Distraction at Work.

About the Author

Arjan Arjan Singh (2014_02_10 08_00_04 UTC)Singh is an undergraduate junior at the Wharton School.

Bulletproof in Work and Life: Dave Asprey

Contributor: Arjan Singh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dave Asprey, a Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur who spent a couple of decades and $300,000 to hack his own biology. He’s lost 100 pounds without counting calories or excessive exercise, used techniques to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points, and he has lowered his biological age by learning to sleep more efficiently in less time. This transformed him into a better entrepreneur, husband and father.  He’s the Founder and CEO of Bulletproof, a company focused on teaching people how to upgrade their performance in every aspect of their life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You were a very successful person when I first met you, over a decade ago, when you were a student here at Wharton.  You decided, though, that you wanted to make some dramatic changes in your life. What was the spark? Why and then how did you make significant changes in your own life and body?

Dave Asprey: Dave AspreyYou actually get some of the credit for that spark. I took your Total Leadership class. I was already working on upping my brain and I recognized that I was obese.  I had already lost a lot of weight before I met you. I lost half the weight that I wanted to lose.  It was interesting to understand that I needed to get my brain working right in order to get the spiritual and emotional things that we are capable of when we are performing really well. And what happened when I was in your Total Leadership class is that you encouraged a type of quantification, a measurement.  I was focusing on my weight, how much was I eating, my IQ, my reaction time, and what I could do for those variables. But I never looked at investment return on the time and energy that I put into things. And it was your framework that said “if you’re spending a lot of energy in a particular area and you’re not getting results, maybe you shouldn’t do that.” And that made me start looking at how can I make this easier instead of just how can I get this done.  It is that sense of ease and ability to not just do it with struggle and striving and just working really hard but to do it with a little bit of effortlessness and joy. That has become a big part of me becoming successful as a human being and bio-hacker.

SF: How did you create that sense of ease or joy in the process of taking care of yourself?

DA: We have this model that I wrote about in my recent book The Bulletproof Diet. The easiest way to explain it is to think about a Labrador Retriever, a big sloppy dog, and if you look at a three behavior set a dog has, those are behaviors that we have.

One, if something comes in front of our vision then we’re either attracted or scared by it and want to run away. This is a good survival behavior. It’s kept us from getting eaten by tigers and ensures we find interesting stuff. But it might distract us when we want to stay on task.

And then we have this other survival behavior which is eat anything so we don’t starve. And it keeps us from starving, but it doesn’t work if it is getting in our way. That Labrador will eat something even if it makes it sick or even if it gets obese. And these are instincts that fuel us, too.

And the final thing has to do with reproduction of species. The dog sees a leg and it wants to mate with that leg.  These three human behaviors can cause an enormous amount of stress and struggle. And the one that I found was most pernicious was food. Because if you’re eating stuff that makes you constantly just a little bit hungry – or even worse, “hangry,” the combination of hunger and anger.

SF: Hangry? What does that mean in terms of how it affects work and life?

DA: When you get hungry that “Labrador” in your body starts to get growly and then you treat people unkindly. To get past that, using willpower, comes at a cost.

Your willpower is a finite resource and you don’t want to waste willpower on being hungry all the time. You don’t want to waste willpower on doing things that are really hard for you, especially if they are things that are easy for someone else. So for me I made a resolution that I was going to spend my energy on things that I was really good at, or uniquely good at. And I would take the things that either did not bring me joy,  things that were more difficult than they should be, and I would find someone who enjoyed them or was just better at them than I was and I would work with them.

I don’t try to address my weaknesses. I try to fill them in with partners.

SF: Can you give an example of that?

DA: Even though I did go to Wharton, finance to me is like Valium; it knocks me out. I don’t like accounting and I don’t like finance. So I hired a kick-ass Chief Financial Officer instead of pouring extra effort into that when I would’ve gotten sub-par results anyway. And it’s the same reasoning you teach in Total Leadership. If you’re putting effort into this and you’re getting very little return, then you need to change your technique put in less effort. It’s a relatively simple example; hire a good CFO.  But if I was weak at marketing and strong at finance, I would hire a Chief Marketing Officer.

SF: It’s really about knowing what your strengths are – what you’re good at and what you enjoy – and knowing where you should invest.

DA: Exactly. It is easy to do the things you’re good at, and like, and it’s fun.

SF: How did this apply to your diet? And how did that affect your career?

DA: I spent seven weeks of my life with electrodes glued to my head doing advanced neurofeedback in a program called 40 Years of Zen. It teaches you byusing a lie detector when your body is perceiving something that you believe or don’t believe. It’s an advanced form of meditation.

SF: Your focus on getting data that helps you learn is inspiring.

DA: During this time, it gave me a very keen awareness of the inner dialogue that we all have. It’s different for each of us, but we all have this inner voice in our heads. What I learned was that every time someone put a bagel, a cookie, or a piece of candy in front of me, there was an immediate response – almost like a knee jerk reaction – that said “Eat that.” And I would tell myself “No, don’t eat that.” It’s the same as when you train a dog. You tell the dog “Don’t eat that” and the dog says “No.”

If you eat in such a way that induces food cravings, then you will feel that those cravings are hunger.  But every time there is food, you will use your willpower that should be going into making yourself an awesome life, making yourself good at your work, or good at what ever that matters to you and you’ll apply it to telling yourself not too eat that hamburger or whatever it is. Since willpower is a finite resource, there is willpower fatigue, there is decision making fatigue – like muscle fatigue.

Why would I waste muscle on basically telling myself no to something?

The breakthrough was figuring out that there are things you can do by either avoiding causes of food cravings or by fueling the body properly so when someone sets that bagel or cookie in front of you, it doesn’t register and your body doesn’t tell you “Eat that” and you don’t have to tell it “No” because you are actually satisfied by your diet.

SF: What are the keys to a high performance lifestyle?

DA: Number one: meditate. There are so many ways to meditate. You can just do deep breaths, you can take a class on meditation, or you can do the neurofeedback way that I have done. Find a way to meditate and use technology to do it faster.

Number two: don’t sleep too much. More sleep is not better or worse. It’s just more sleep. People who live the longest sleep six and a half hours a night. That doesn’t mean you should sleep less. It means that people that are healthy need less sleep and that’s why they are living longer. Get healthier, you will need less sleep and you will free up extra time every day.

Number three: don’t over-exercise. People who listen to your show, people who are high performers are naturally driven to do things that are supposed to make them stronger, better, and faster. When I weighed 300 pounds, I exercised 90 minutes a day, six days a week for almost two years and I didn’t lose the weight. The reason was that over-exercise is just as bad as under-exercise. You can get four or five hours a week of productive time back by exercising more intelligently, by doing it intensely for short periods once or twice a week instead of doing it for long periods every day.

SF: Where would you advise listeners to start?

DA: There are two easy places. The first one is the Bulletproof Diet Book explains all of these bio-hacks, including this psychology of willpower and food and how that willpower bleeds over into your business performance and your life performance. That book is a condensed version of the quarter million words or so that I have written on the Bulletproof Blog.

That said, on the Bulletproof Blog homepage, there’s a get started link that gives you basic things to do. The whole point of Bulletproof is not to be perfect, not to do everything. It’s about choice.  If we can help you understand on a roadmap that choice A leads you to slightly better performance than does choice B, then just make choice A. And the difference in your overall performance can be profound.

SF: What’s in store and on the horizon?

DA: The Bulletproof Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, California is slated to open in May. We are hiring for that.  The rest of the Bulletproof team is virtual and we are hiring for that, as well. It is a good sized company and we have people all over the west coast who work from home, which is a new model there. In May, a documentary called Moldy will be released. This is about a very common source of what I call Kryptonite – things that make us weak that we don’t know about in our environment. And we are going to open more coffee shops and continue producing content, especially about things affecting 100 million people that they don’t know about.

To learn more about Dave Asprey, please check out Bulletproof and follow him on Twitter @bulletproofexec

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

ArjanArjan Singh (2014_02_10 08_00_04 UTC) Singh is an undergraduate junior at the Wharton School.

What’s Your Work Style? — Carson Tate

Contributor: Arjan Singh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Carson Tate, a nationally recognized expert in workplace productivity and founder of Working Simply, a management consultancy focused on bringing productivity with passion back to the workplace. She’s the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What did you see in the world of human resources that inspired Working Simply?

Carson Tate: Carson TateFolks were working really long hours and would not take time off from work on the weekends. When looking at senior leaders in an organization, they seemed dead. It was as if their souls had left their bodies. Looking back at that, it was a sign of extreme burnout, fatigue, and overwork. As I sat there with my first position out of college — wanting to be successful and climb the corporate ladder — I looked at the senior leaders and realized ‘I don’t want that.’ There had to be a better way to serve, add value, and contribute to an organization without burning myself and my team out.  So how could I start to simplify and help folks be more productive without the expense of self?

SF: And you thought that the general idea was a way to help people feel more alive?

CT: Absolutely.

SF: How did you do that?

CT: I didn’t have the courage to leave corporate America and start my own business until many years later. It wasn’t until a colleague that I had been coaching on the side used a system that I had developed, shared it with her organization and had tremendous success with it, that I told myself that I had to take the leap of faith and go out and help as many people as I could.

SF: So how did this lead you to grow to scale and bring the idea of working simply to other people?

CT: I started working with more folks individually. I started doing corporate training events and writing blogs and articles.  I eventually researched the way we think and how that informs the way we structure our workflow.

SF: What is it that you help people change that allows them to work simply and be more productive and at the same time more passionate?

CT: The first step is to understand the way you think and process information, which is called your cognitive style. Your cognitive style informs the way you communicate, the way you structure your environment, the way you organize your calendar, and it even informs other choices you make such as the clothing you wear. So, the first step is to align your thinking to the productivity tools that you use.

SF: Could you give us an example?

CT: There are four different thinking styles. One of the most common styles is called prioritizer.  The prioritizer is very analytical, factual, and linear.  Prioritizers tend to be left-brain thinkers. When a prioritizer thinks about structuring workflow, it is more about the highest value task. They often time how long it will take them to do their work so they can get additional efficiencies.  They tend to be early adopters of technology so the latest app is a tool that might work really well for them. When they know the way they think, it allows them to filter all the methodologies, systems, and tools that exist and hone in on those that are going to add the greatest value for them and that are also going to be easiest for them to implement and stick with.

SF: That seems like a really simple idea – to know what you’re style preferences are and then choose the tools that fit best with the way you operate. What are the other three styles?

CT: Other than the prioritizer, there is the planner, who is very organized and sequential. They are natural project planners and are always looking for structure and process. They often manage their to-do list very well. Then there is the arranger — their thinking is more intuitive and they are more kinesthetic.  They do their best work with and through people.  The tools that they use really matter to them from a productivity perspective.  They want a certain type of pen, a certain type of folder.  And then the fourth style is the visualizer.  Their thinking is characterized by very big picture – they are very innovative, they are the risk-takers, they synthesize ideas very well and they excel at brainstorming.  In terms of productivity tools, a mind map would be very useful for them.  A mind map is a great way to brainstorm on paper and connect any ideas. One draws a circle, puts a central idea in it, and radiating out from that central idea are any thoughts and ideas that one might have. It helps connects different ideas.

SF: I can imagine if you are a planner and you are using a mind map, you’ll run into trouble.

CT: Exactly. Some of the tensions that exist on teams are nothing more than our thinking styles clashing. The planner wants to create structure and process and the visualizer does not want the structure because he or she feels restricted, so that creates inherent tension.

SF: After one figures out his or her cognitive style, then what?

CT: Once you know your style, you select the tools that are best for you. If I am a prioritizer or linear thinker, I should choose more linear tools.  For instance, the task function in Outlook would work great for me. If I am more right-brained, I might use a white-board or colored post-it notes. But I am not going to try and fit into a tool or methodology that counters the way I think.

SF: Is there something that comes next in the process?

CT: What’s next is clarifying the Why. What is the intrinsic motivation? Why do you want to tame your inbox, for example? Why do you want to have more time? What is driving this desire to simplify? If I cannot help my clients tap into that deeper desire, then sustaining the change will be very difficult. We have to be anchored.

SF: What’s the most important thing you want our audience to take away?

CT: It is up to you to customize your productivity and push back against this one-size-fits-all mentality that is so pervasive in our culture. I want the listeners and readers to learn to own the way they think and to understand their natural strengths and preferences and then learn how to align tools to those preferences. Finally, it is about understanding what is driving you and answering the question Why does this matter?

SF: What holds people back?

CT: They haven’t connected and owned the question Why? They are dealing with extrinsic motivation and what other people expect of them.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.
To learn more about Carson and her work, visit here.

About the Author

Arjan Singh Arjan Singh (2014_02_10 08_00_04 UTC)is an undergraduate junior at the Wharton School.

You Can Go Home Again — James Joseph

Contributor: Sathvik Ramanan

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with James Joseph, a business professional who spent 18 years in sales and marketing at global giants such as Microsoft, 3M, and Ford. He’s the author of God’s Own Office: How One Man Worked for a Global Giant from His Village in Kerala. He is also the founder of Jackfruit 365. Mr. Joseph spoke with Stew about how he was able to discover a work-life harmony by working from his home village.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: On this show, we talk about how you can make changes in your life to better align what you care about with what you do. You’ve written about moving back to your home village where you could have a work life with responsibility, impact, and resources to get a lot done, but your children could have an opportunity to grow up in a way that was similar to your own upbringing in a small village. How did you make that change happen? It must have been very risky.

James Joseph: James JosephIt was risky, but I think I planned the change really well; it was possible because I had the global exposure. I could work with anyone around the world, I already had global expertise. I had proven myself in three different continents, and I could fly out at any time to perform my job and then fly back to live in my little village.

SF: What did you have to do to be able to make such a radical shift for you and your family?

JJ: It was definitely tough. It took a lot of negotiation at Microsoft for them to agree for me to be able to leave the city and move back to a remote village. I put myself on a business case where I started to travel seven to eight days a month across all cities in India – India is large geographically, like the US – because the firm’s work happens in all different cities. Even though I was based in one city, only one-fifth of my time was spent in that city. Most of the time, I had to fly around and go for meetings with all my clients. It took me 90 minutes to go from my house in Bangalore to the airport and another 45 minutes to go through security. Then once I got to my destination, I was wasting a lot of time in traffic in the cities in India because, as I’m sure you know, the traffic situation in India is horrendous. Now, if I do the same thing from my village in Kerala, it takes me 10 minutes to get to the airport and 5 minutes to go through check in!

SF: So you made the business case to your colleagues and the decision-makers at Microsoft that you could save a lot of money and time by living in your home village?

JJ: Correct. And additionally, because an average employee in a city spends at least two hours every day in commuter traffic, but in my village, since I worked from home, I saved two hours every day. Half of that time I gave back to work, and half of it I devoted to my life – everybody wins. My managers said that since I felt so strongly about it, they would give me a six-month trial period, and if my performance went down, I’d have to come back to the city.

SF: That’s a great model, and it’s something we talk about often here on the show: designing experiments that have a time limit to them and, after which, all parties who have a stake in the outcome get to have a say in whether or not they feel the experiment is working. It’s not like you’re doing this forever; it starts out as a trial.

JJ: And I appreciated that. I’m a manager so I know that a job has to be performed well.  So after six months I got a call from the manager who had to approve that move. Actually, I first got a call and afterward a text message which read check your email, and take a bow. I looked at my email on my smart phone, and saw that I had won the highest award of Microsoft Worldwide. It turned out that my performance had been significantly up since I moved back to my village because I saved so much time. Beyond that, I felt I had the best quality of life, and I enjoyed my work. I call this the work-life resonance. It goes beyond work-life balance because, to me, balance requires a compromise between two.

SF: I couldn’t agree more. I talk about this all the time – that it’s not just about balance. Say more about what work life harmony means to you.

JJ: When I was in college, I learned that resonance means when two objects are vibrating at the natural frequency, and their sum is bigger than the individual parts. Essentially, I felt my life was in its natural frequency, and my work was also operating at its natural frequency.

SF: That’s great. Has it still been going well for you since then?

JJ:  Yes, absolutely. One of the CEOs of Infosys, one of the largest firms in India, told me that I must document my experience so that more youngsters can get the courage to do what I have done.

SF: So that’s the essence of what your book is about? Let’s talk about the lessons that you teach in God’s Own Office. What do our listeners need to know about to better align what they care about with what they do.

JJ: There’s a couple of big things which I talk about. First, is that you must have a strong conviction that this is what you want in life. And second, you need a constant focus. In my case, as I went around the world and came back, I used my Windows login password to remind me of my conviction. When I was a child, I learned about the importance of naming your child in order to remind them of something which they should be conscious of. My Windows login password is what I get reminded of more often even than my own name.

SF: Your Windows login password is like a mantra for you and a reminder of what’s important. That’s a great idea. We can all think about using a password — something that we use all the time and words that we actually have to type in – to represent an idea that reminds us of what matters most.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

To learn more about James Joseph’s book, God’s Own Office, click here.

About the Author

Sathvik Ramanan Sathvik Ramananis an undergraduate freshman in the Vagelos Program in the Life Sciences and Management at the University of Pennsylvania.


Gaining Self-Control — Katy Milkman

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Katy Milkman, the James G. Campbell Jr. Assistant Professor at the Wharton School with a secondary appointment at the Perelman School of Medicine, both at the University of Pennsylvania.  She has been recognized as one of the top 40 business school professors under 40 by Poets and Quants, and was voted Wharton’s “Iron Prof” by the school’s own MBA students.  Katy uses “big data” to examine the choices we make and how self-control, or the lack of it, affects those choices.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. And here’s the complete podcast.

Full Podcast with Katy Milkman

Stew Friedman: There may be a tendency to see self-control as personal issue.  Why is self-control important for performance and effectiveness at work?

Katy Milkman: Katy MilkmanMaking deadlines, avoiding distractions, focusing; these all require self-control. Self-control is linked with higher I.Q and with greater productivity. Also having self-control effects health and being healthy means you can perform better at work

SF: What’s the association between self-control and IQ?

KM: Waler Mischel, the Stanford University psychologist who originated the marshmallow test back in the 1960s, told children that they could either eat the marshmallow now or, if they waited they’d get a second marshmallow.  Then he observed to find out how long they could wait, delay gratification. He found that those who were able to wait longer ultimately attained higher IQ later in life, and higher SATs, too.

SF: So, is the ability to delay gratification, to have self-controllearned or are you born with certain propensities? What’s your take on this?

KM:  Both.The example that I use is that it’s like a muscle. You can exercise it and strengthen it to improve outcomes and health.

SF: How did you personally get into studying this?  It’s a bit unusual for a business school professor.

KM: It’s “me”search. You have to be passionate about what you study. I always struggled with food cravings, going to the gym, focusing at work (not checking Facebook and Twitter), and my sweet tooth. I struggle with self-control.  Studying it, I could see that, “Oh, it’s not just me, others struggle, too.”  Studying this phenomenon allows me to contribute to the literature on it, increase knowledge for others, not just for myself.

SF: So what are the big insights? How can we avoid temptations?

KM: Uncertainty is bad for self-control. If you don’t know if you’ll have a job, or if you’re waiting for results from a medical test, or something like that, if there are these “incidental uncertainties,” then there’s a tendency to reach for the Ben & Jerry’s,  low-brow magazines, and the like.

SF: So, anxiety, or worry, interferes with our capacity to stay focused on tasks; to exert self-control?

KM: If something is unresolved, that’s when self-control diminishes.  When are the moments that we are most motivated to have self-control? And how can we encourage workers to go to the gym, to have flu shots? Google asked these questions about its own employees. When’s the best time to deploy incentives? How about the New Years’ Eve effect?  This is when there’s a fresh start, a new year, people start diets at a higher rate, go to the gym more. There are many fresh start moments, not just New Year’s Eve.

SF: Does the beginning of the day count?

KM: Yes, in hospitals, people sanitize their hands more at beginning of day. Within the day, yes, there are fresh starts. The start of a new week, or month, following birthdays and holidays – these are other fresh starts. They break continuous flow of time. My past failures are behind me; I can restart this month, have a fresh start, a new semester.  Except on the 21st birthday!  People search more on Google for diets at beginning of the month, for example.

SF: Religions do this, denote time.  This wisdom has been around for a while through religious rituals using the architecture of time.

KM: Is there a higher rate in the Jewish population of greater self-control after Yom Kippur? We’re studying it!

SF:  What did Google do with what it learned about timing? Is there extra messaging and are there more incentives offered when people are ripe for fresh start at the beginning of the week or month?

KM: You can’t send messages out all the time.  So, yes, they now target them at those fresh start moments.

Caller from Minnesota, Molly: I only have so much energy and then it breaks down. Willpower is like a muscle, it gets tired.  What can be done?

KM: “Temptatation bundling” helps with things like struggles to get to gym and watching too much low-brow TV.  What if you only watch low-brow when you’re at the gym?!   Time flies at the gym and you’re anxious to go to gym; you look forward to it, there’s an incentive. Temptation bundling harnesses the power of the temptation of the low-brow. You only let yourself go to the burger joint when you’re with a difficult colleague, or get pedicures when responding to email. So you give in to the indulgence and you find that you have available willpower storage, so you don’t exhaust or deplete the reserve.

SF: What has the biggest impact?

KM: Prompting people to form concrete plans about when they’re going to follow through. Let’s take an example with onsite free flu shot clinics, which are important because they decrease absenteeism, reduce costs, and yield happier and more productive employees.  So, how can a company increase free flu shot use?  We did a mailing, and we did the same mailing plus a prompt for the employee to write down a date and time when they would come to get the shot.  They didn’t have to reply, they were simply asked to write this down for themselves. There was a big effect; flu shot use went up 13%. And attendance more than doubled (with the writing-it-down group) when there was only one day flu shots were being offered.

And we’ve discovered the same effect with getting a colonoscopy – which is a lot more to ask!  Same thing. Write it down. Same with voter turn-out.  The prompt is free and yields big effects. It’s a way to overcome forgetfulness and procrastination.

Katy Milkman is the James G. Campbell Jr. Assistant Professor at the Wharton School and has a secondary appointment at the Perelman School of Medicine, both at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research relies heavily on “big data” to document various ways in which individuals systematically deviate from making optimal choices. Her work has paid particular attention to the question of what factors produce self-control failures (e.g., undersaving for retirement, exercising too little, eating too much junk food) and how to reduce the incidence of such failures.  To learn more, follow her on Twitter @Katy_Milkman

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.



Thriving at Work — Gretchen Spreitzer

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Gretchen Spreitzer, Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan about her research and teaching on thriving at work, part of the Positive Organizational Psychology scholarship.

Stew Friedman: How did you come to studying thriving at work, engaging with the work, and being productive at work?

Gretchen Spreitzer: gretchen spreitzerSeveral colleagues and I were talking about how much we loved our work and how meaningful it was, but also that it’s the type of job that is never ending; there’s always something to be done. We wondered how we could avoid burnout, but still be on the cutting edge. What we’ve found is that people thrive in their work when they feel energized, have vitality, feel alive at work, and feel as though their learning, growing, getting better.

SF: So what’s the impediment to this? Why doesn’t everyone feel energized and alive at work?

GS: People tend to learn from difficult situations; a crisis jolts people out of their complacency.  And it propels people to do better. We took the opposite tact. We wondered What about when there’s no crisis? How can we be pro-active?  How can people pro-actively manage rather than wait for a crisis?  How can we learn to turn on a light bulb to help people get more out of work and life?

SF: So what’s the key?  How can people take control and pro-actively find ways to thrive at home and work?

GS: We designed a study that asked people to report incidents when they are thriving at work and report when they feel they’re thriving outside of work. We found that those two correlated. When I’m thriving at work I’m doing things that create energy, not deplete energy. When they finished their day and went on to other activities, they had energy.

SF: It’s what social psychologists call “positive spillover” from one life domain to another. Feelings from one domain spillover to other domains; it’s not an either/or, it’s not a zero sum game.  It’s possible to have both, indeed it may be likely.

GS: We call it a “virtuous cycle.” It produce more resources rather than using up resources.

SF: Have you found that people in business are open to this idea that they can feel vitality at home and at work, or are they skeptical?

GS: Many people say they want that, but that they have too many other pressures and constraints that prevent them from making changes.

SF:  They feel trapped, they feel as though  they can’t make changes, that they can’t control their circumstances.  What can they do?

GS: With Jane Dutton I’ve written How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big ImpactWe encourage people to figure out what small steps they can take to kick start a change in the right direction.

SF: This is similar to the Total Leadership approach I started at Ford Motor Company in the late 1990s.  We asked people to experiment with things that were under their control to create demonstrable and measurable change at work, at home, in the community and for their private self; what I call four way wins. And in doing this weekly radio show I hear the same thing each week from CEOs, practitioners, researchers. So why don’t more people do this?

GS:  We are kindred spirits. My point of view is that we need to look for the psychological pre-conditions that allow people to feel empowered, not the external factors. Self-empowerment includes four things: a sense of meaning or purpose in their job — a personal connection, a sense of competence, self-determination or autonomy, and impact. Being self-empowered is not about whether they are in an empowering situation.  An individual can feel self-empowered by finding ways to have meaning and purpose, for example helping customers or having strong connections at work.

SF: It’s relatively easy for us professors.  We have comparative freedom and resources. What about others?

GS:  Everyone can do this.  Our Center for Positive Organizations has developed a Job Crafting Tool.  It helps you figure out what are the parts of your job where you can still do the core work, but where you can make subtle changes, for instance in how, how frequently, or with whom you do different tasks. For example, how can a cook craft a job so it’s more meaningful, more energizing? What small changes around the edges can be made while still doing the core work? Maybe you can design a presentation on the plate so it’s more creative. The tool takes you through the process to find levers to make small changes even if you have little autonomy.

SF: What’s your advice for leaders in organizations, for managers, for small business owners?  How can they help to create an environment that supports and supports self-empowerment?

GS: If you are a leader you can be proactive, take the initiative, be transparent, minimize incivility in order to enhance high quality connections, provide performance feedback, and play to your own strengths.  If you are striving to be the best you, you are likely to thrive at work and elsewhere.

Gretchen Spreitzer is the Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.  Her research focuses on employee empowerment and leadership development, particularly within a context of organizational change and decline.  Her most recent research examines how organizations can enable thriving.  This is part of a new movement in the field of organizational behavior, known as Positive Organizational Scholarship (www.bus.umich.edu/positive).   To learn more, go to http://howtobeapositiveleader.com/.


Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

The Building Blocks of Productivity — David Allen

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with David Allen, the best-selling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life about the five steps in his method to maximize what you accomplish by being focused and present wherever you are, and the habit that can change the culture of productivity in an organization.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You’ve developed and refined a method that helps people to be present in the moment. For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief synopsis of the essence of that method?

David Allen: david allenThe one sentence version is both very simple and practical and pretty sublime. It is: You need to pay appropriate attention to what has your attention; otherwise, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. What has your attention? How many things are on your mind? “I need to get cat food.” “I need to find God.” “I need a career.” “I need to talk to my aunt.” “I need to answer those ten emails.” If you don’t handle those things appropriately, you are inappropriately engaged with your email, with your cat, when you are at work, or with your family. Here’s the big secret: getting things done is not about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your life. I figured out the algorithm for being appropriately engaged. There are five steps. First, you have to capture the idea, identify what’s on your mind and record it; do something to get it out of your head. Second, decide what it means to you and what you’re going to do about it. Third, park the results of that decision somewhere you’ll see them at the right time. Fourth, look at the results of those decisions – the things you need to get done – when you need to get them done. And fifth, engage appropriately with doing those things. It isn’t rocket science, but it is something most people haven’t yet truly implemented.

SF: What do most people struggle with, in your experience?

DA: They try to keep everything in their head. If you’re going to try to go somewhere, you need a map – an orientation tool – and a place to store it. Most people are trying to use their psyche, inside their head as an orientation system, and it’s not designed for that. Your psyche is a terrible map, and a terrible office. Since my first book was published, in the last decade, a lot of neuro- and social scientists have validated a lot of the underlying principles I’ve talked about, including that your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. Evolutionarily, your brain was not designed to remember anything. It was designed to recognize patterns, but not to recall them. Once people get stuff out of their head, they have a much better sense of control and focus about what to do next. Everyone has at some point felt overwhelmed or confused, sat down and made a list, and felt better. Once you reverse engineer that and ask why you felt better without anything actually changing, you’ll never keep anything in your head for the rest of your life.

SF: And it doesn’t matter where you gather the ideas you’ve captured – you’re impartial to the tool as long as there is one.

DA: You can’t beat a pen and paper – that’s my basic collection tool. I carry a notepad in my wallet and tear sheets off for my in-basket, which I can then empty out. I think digital is dangerous for that reason – out of sight, out of mind. The problem with the digital world is that it gives you so many opportunities to put anything anywhere – in files and folders all over the place. You have to keep the collection buckets as simple as possible and empty them as often as possible. Once you’ve gathered the ideas, the next step is to clarify what they mean. Is this something to act on? If it is, what is the action? What outcome are you committed to?

SF: If you have 85 things in your collection place, how do you start?

DA: Pick up one at a time. You can’t prioritize until you’ve been through the whole list – number 84 could be more important than number two, and if you only have ten minutes, your highest priority is to accomplish something that will only take ten minutes. Until you know what all of those 85 things are, you can’t make that judgment. You need your whole inventory.

You have to work at the habit of doing this. For some reason, we don’t seem to be born with these behaviors that seem obvious. People fall off because they have a habit of keeping things in their heads. People also avoid making decisions – someone may write “Buy Mom’s birthday present” and put it in their in-basket, but then pick it up and put it back down over and over saying, “I don’t know what to get her.” You have to decide the next action and make a commitment to what you’ll do. That’s how you get things done, but those questions are not obvious – your brain doesn’t automatically think in terms of outcome and action. “What am I trying to accomplish?” and “How do I move toward that?” are the zeroes and ones of productivity. For companies, for teams, for families, beginning the conversation with “What are we trying to accomplish?” and ending with “What did we decide, what are the next steps, and who’s responsible?” can change a culture.

David Allen has been recognized by Forbes, Fast Company, and Time, and has delivered a TEDx Talk on his method. Hear more from him on Twitter @gtdguy.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz Stiverson Liz Stiversonreceived her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014