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JOHN ZERATSKY BUSINESS UNVEILED

How to Make Time for Things That Matter

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How to Make Time for Things That Matter

Technology is amazing right? I want you to think about all of the technology tools that help you be more productive. Now, I want to ask you to think of the things that lower your productivity. Technology is great when you are using it in the right way to better yourself and your business. In this episode, I chat with John Zeratsky, Author and Creator of Make Time all about how technology and cultural norms shape the defaults of how we spend out time, processes and habits to change the way you work and how to invest your time.

MAIN TOPICS
  • How technology and cultural norms shape the defaults of how we spend our time
  • Team processes and collaboration techniques, especially for starting, prioritizing, and validating new projects
  • Personal money management and investing, particularly as it relates to gaining greater control over how we spend our time
KEY TAKEAWAYS

Productivity hacks are less important than working on the right thing.

Processes and habits can change the way you work.

Learn how to invest your time, and you’ll crush your competition.

MORE ABOUT THIS GUEST

John Zeratsky (JZ) is a technology designer, startup investor, and the bestselling author of Sprint and Make Time.

JZ has focused his career on helping small teams build big things through customer-driven discovery and validation. He was an early employee at FeedBurner, which Google acquired in 2007. At Google, he led design for AdWords Editor and DoubleClick Search, enterprise ad platforms responsible for ~60% of Google’s revenue. He joined YouTube in 2010 and helped create the YouTube Channels platform.

At Google Ventures (GV), JZ helped develop the Design Sprint process and personally supported many of GV’s most successful investments, including Slack, One Medical Group, Flatiron Health, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Digit.

JZ has reached millions with his writing about resetting the defaults of busyness and distraction. He’s written two bestselling books and published articles in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Harvard Business Review, Wired, Fast Company, and many other outlets.

JZ studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin and graduated from the UW School of Human Ecology, where he’s now an advisor to the Dean and faculty.

Originally from small-town Wisconsin, JZ has lived in Chicago and San Francisco with his wife Michelle. They spent 18 months traveling in Central America aboard their sailboat Pineapple before moving to Milwaukee in 2019.

EPISODE TRANSCRIBED

Hi y'all, it's Angela. I'm back for another episode of Business Unveiled, and you're in for a treat today because we get to talk to an author and he's a creator. He's worked with Google and all types of companies that you've heard of. Probably the biggest is Netflix, Airbnb and a few others that I know what they are, but you might not know what they are because it's in the tech world. And so he's going to share with us today two things that I… well, really, three things that I absolutely love and live for, which is time and productivity and that equals profitability. Continue Reading

Angela Proffitt:
And so he has a new book out, I believe it's his second book and he is going to share some of that insight with us today where we can talk about how to be really focused in your business and then how to keep distraction away. And then really make time for the things that matter, which I think I know the one word simple answer for this is just to be able to say the word no, which is really hard. So John, thank you so much for being here today.

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Angela Proffitt:
I'm super excited to share all kinds of stuff. You have quite the background. Before we delve in to talk about your new book and technology and productivity and profitability and all that stuff, take us back, where did you grow up and where did you start to understand that time and things that mattered is far more important than a dollar amount?

Speaker 3:
Welcome to Business Unveiled, the podcast designed to help you thrive in the creative community. Here's your host, events and productivity consultant, Angela Proffitt.

Angela Proffitt:
What's up TST leaders, thank you so much for tuning in to another episode of Business Unveiled. Where we share expert tips and secrets from top creative industry professionals. You know were going to take you behind the scenes of our experiences, share with you what we've learned from them and how it's made us stronger. Because no one said it's easy owning a business. But it's a lot more fun when you've got a strong support team around you. And that's exactly what we do at GSD Creative.

Angela Proffitt:
We're right there by your side and I'm so excited that you've chosen this podcast to take the first step in growing a productive, profitable and successful, wildly successful business within the hospitality and creative industry. Today's podcast is being brought to you by one of my favorite platforms, Kajabi. So stop trading your time for money. Kajabi provides digital entrepreneurs and all-in-one platform which enables you to create a life of freedom on your terms, whatever that may be. Everything is housed under one platform, so there's really no need for multiple services. Kajabi really has all of the tools that you need in one place if you're looking for a home to share your knowledge and build online courses.

Angela Proffitt:
You have a community of like minded people with proven success in selling knowledge online and the support with Kajabi is amazing. Give it a try today, bit.ly/apkajabi.

John Zeratsky:
I grew up in rural Wisconsin. I grew up in a very small town, a town of about 1,000 people and I was always a nerdy kid. So from a young age I had to make my own fun and so I remember my picture of childhood that I have in my head is certainly it's playing outside in the summer and all that stuff. But it's also like spending hours alone just deeply immersed in stuff that I cared about. And that obviously changed over time when I was really young it was playing with Legos and blocks.

John Zeratsky:
As I got older it was after we got our first computer it was doing design work on the computer. And then I was really into music and that kind of stuff. But I sort of developed this love and this appreciation for just deeply immersing myself, just diving into that work, those activities, those projects that required an rewarded uninterrupted focus. And I don't know where it came from, but it became its own reward, that sense of accomplishment, that sense of satisfaction. And I ended up getting into design. I studied journalism, but I started working at a newspaper during college where I was a designer and got really interested in just how do you figure out how a product or a service or a company, how should that look? How should it work? What features should it have? That just became really, really interesting to me.

John Zeratsky:
And so I ended up pursing a career as a technology designer and worked for a small startup in Chicago that was acquired by Google. And then worked inside of Google and worked at YouTube. And around 2011, I got this job at a place called Google Ventures. And this is a division of Google, but it's a venture capital firm that's funded by Google and invests in outside companies. So outside independent startups that have nothing to do with Google other than the fact that Google has invested some money. And my job there was sort of like a consultant to these companies. So after we made an investment, I would go inside that company and work with that team.

John Zeratsky:
And that's where I really developed the appreciation and the perspective that I now have for time, for focus, for productivity because I would go from company to company to company and work with all these different teams and these people that I worked with, they were amazing. They were so brilliant, they had every reason to succeed. Yet, again and again, I saw how they struggled to focus their time as individuals and as teams on the parts of their business that really mattered. The stuff that creates value for their customers and just like the rest of us, they found themselves sitting in too many meetings, answering too many emails and getting distracted by Twitter and Facebook and the news and all that stuff.

John Zeratsky:
And so in my time at Google Ventures, I began to really work on developing systems and processes and frameworks that these people could use to really focus their time on the work that mattered.

Angela Proffitt:
Well, and you have quite the extensive list of companies to me that are leaders in productivity. So working with Slack and working with Airbnb and working with Uber, to me, they have to run an incredibly productive tight ship or they would not be able to grow the way that they have grown over time or am I wrong to think that?

John Zeratsky:
Well, you're not wrong. I think it's a interesting dynamic because I think what makes those companies so… what makes them so amazing and enables them to grow so quickly is the ways that they use technology to scale their business. And I think that… and this happens at Google, this happens at Facebook, this happens at all the big tech companies as well as the ones that you mentioned. I think that the scale and the leverage that comes from technology actually hides a lot of inefficiencies. I think that because they have such an amazing business model, they can get away with not being ultra productive.

John Zeratsky:
And I think if you go to talk to anybody who works at any of those companies and this is certainly the way that I felt when I was a full-time employee at Google, you don't feel like you're spending your time… you feel like you're going to meetings all day and then in the space between meetings, you're staying on top of your email and then maybe if you're lucky, by the end of the day you'll have some free time to actually do whatever your real job is. If you're a designer or you're a product manager, you're a coder, you're a marketer, that's when you get to finally do that stuff.

John Zeratsky:
And so I think that the people who work at those companies really struggle with that just as we all do. And I think that they have an extra challenge, which is that tech companies are the most eager and the most willing to adopt new technologies internally. They are by nature tech enthusiasts and so when there's a new chat app, a new project management app, a new video conferencing app, whatever it might be, they're going to try that. They're going to say, oh let's build that into our process. And before you know it, you've got 16 different inboxes to check and you've got to keep all these things updated. Did you put it in that doc or this doc? And so I think that for Jake, my co-author, Jake Knapp and I, being inside that environment gave us two interesting perspectives.

John Zeratsky:
One was what I just said, which is that we were struggling and then eventually learning to thrive in an environment that was really saturated with technology and information. But also gave us this inside view as to how a lot of technology products are made. So why do we find emails so difficult to deal with? Why do we find Instagram so irresistible? Just having the perspective of being a little bit behind the scenes, I think enabled us to step outside of it and help people get control of it and create a better relationship with some of those tools.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah, absolutely. So I know that just a huge buzz phrase is productivity hacks, like productivity hacks. What are your thoughts around using these productivity hacks which I would love to know what your favorite is? But how do you find out what that one right thing is?

John Zeratsky:
Well, I've got a different perspective on productivity.

Angela Proffitt:
Tell us. I would love to know.

John Zeratsky:
So I'm, I don't know, the fifth page, maybe third page of our book Make Time, we say this book is not about productivity. And that philosophy comes from something that I experienced early in my career where I had grown up like I said being really into these projects and then going to college. And then being out in the real world and feeling like I wanted to make the most of that opportunity that I had in my first real job. Going from a structured environment of college where it's go to class at this time and do your work in this way.

John Zeratsky:
And even if you have a big project in a class, it's like they break it down for you and they say, okay, first is you're going to have the bibliography source review is going to be due this week and then the outline is going to be due the next week and whatever. And then all of a sudden, I was on my own. And it's just like with anybody who gets a new job, there's a learning curve of not just what do I need to know to do the job, but how do I manage myself? How do I manage my time? How do I make sure that I'm getting the right things done?

John Zeratsky:
And because of that I found myself very interested in productivity optimization. And so early 2000s or let's say around 2005, I was obsessed with productivity hacks, reading books and blogs and trying to be as efficient and optimized as possible. And I found after a couple of years of tweaking that and really focusing on this idea of optimally using every single minute, I found that I had become really, really productive at reacting to other people's priorities. When an email came in, I was on it. When I a meeting got scheduled, I was there, I was prepared for it.

John Zeratsky:
When somebody needed something, I had it for them. And being responsive like that is obviously important. We can't just live in a bubble and ignore people, but at the same time, I think we can all understand that nobody ever accomplished anything great by being the fastest to respond to email. That's not like when the biographies of successful entrepreneurs are written, it's not about how you know how responsive she was. It's not about how everybody knew they would get a text back right away from that person. And so I guess my perspective has really shifted into not how do we be productive, which I view as being about output and efficiency and quantity.

John Zeratsky:
But knowing that we have a finite amount of time and infinite number of things that we could do, how do we choose the right ones, the things that actually matter? And then once we've identified those things, how do we set up our days and our lives so that we can really give those things the time and the energy and the focus that they deserve. Not try to squeeze those things in between meetings or get to them at the end of the day or whatever, but really build our days around them so that we can focus on those parts of work or even those things in our personal life that matter most.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah, and it's amazing. I didn't really understand until I worked with this specific coach through the entrepreneur organization and he's like, “Why do you have a pet product? And why are you in the wedding industry? And why are you in the productivity industry?” And he's like, “You have all this stuff and can you just pick one and focus because if you would just focus on one, you would be so impactful in that one area that you're so passionate about, but you have yourself spread so thin.” And he started to make me… well, he told me if I didn't track my time, that he was going to fire me. I'm like what? And so I literally learned how to track my time, how to do time blocking, how to… he made me color code everything so I could see how unbalanced shit was in my life when everything was in all of our meetings are red.

Angela Proffitt:
All of working on the business, not in the business is in green. Blue was like home stuff, me stuff, family stuff. And he's like, “Look at how you're a workaholic.” He's like, “Why are you doing all of this?” And I'm like nobody's ever asked me that. I don't know why. I don't know. So it's like when people actually start to ask you these really simple questions of, “Well, you're always saying you're too busy and if you really wanted to do something, you would make the time.” So when people come to say to you like if something matters, what are your top suggestions? Which I'm sure you're going to say you're going to have to read the book.

Angela Proffitt:
But what are some takeaways that… but anybody that's listening, go get the book. It's simple, Make Time. And we all bitch and complain and moan and groan that we don't have enough time and when people complain and get negative around me with time, I'm like it's your own damn fault. You need to say no more and you need to think about do I really want to go to dinner with this person? Do I really want to work with this company? Do I really want this client? Are they on our list of the things that are in alignment with our goals and where we want to go and where we want to grow? And so it's real easy to say yes all the time. It's actually way easier to say yes than it is no, but your perspective on that?

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, well, I actually just… so let me start with a little bit of context. So our book Make Time is the combination of years of experimenting both as individuals, but then also with all the teams that we've been able to work with. We kind of structured it like a cookbook. So it doesn't give you a prescriptive step-by-step, it doesn't say, do all these things and you will make good use of your time. Because we don't think that's realistic and in fact I've been down that road so many times of getting the latest productivity system, the book whatever it is and going through and following it to the letter and then having it start to fall apart and feeling like a failure because I wasn't doing it right.

John Zeratsky:
And so we wanted to create a book that the people could personalize, that they could take and they could adapt to their own life. And so we think of Make Time as a cookbook. So it's a collection of recipes, the goal is not that you're going to do all the recipes. The goal is that you will pick out the ones that appeal to you and then experiment with them, tweak them, make them your own and then eventually, over time, just like with your favorite well-worn cookbook that's got grease stains in the corner and pages folded over and little bookmarks stuck inside. Eventually it becomes your own personalized guide.

John Zeratsky:
And so there are a lot of different approaches and I tend think of them in terms of offense and defense. And a lot of people when they're thinking about productivity, they start with defense. And they start with how to not get distracted and how to stay on task and things like that. But we actually think it's much better to start with offense. And so the first section of the book is called Highlight. And you were talking about difficult questions and one of the questions that we want people to ask themselves every day is what do I want to be the highlight of my day? So not the passive view, not waiting for the end and looking back and saying what was the highlight? Did anything good happen? But actually being proactive about it and saying what's the one thing that I want to bring my best attention to?

John Zeratsky:
Is it something that needs to get done today? Is it something that is going to bring me great satisfaction, something I been meaning to get around to? Or even something that's just fun. And start with that and it sounds super simple and it sounds ridiculous almost because it's just this one thing, but it's amazing what a sense of clarity and purpose that creates for people when they start each day by thinking about that thing that they want to make time for. We also touched on sort of this bigger picture idea of what are the things that I want to be saying yes to and no to in my life. And there's a tactic in the book called Stack Rank Your Life. And we do this at the beginning of our workshops and at the beginning of our online course.

John Zeratsky:
And it's really an opportunity to take stock of all the things that use up your time and use up your energy. So we have people go through and exercise making a list of all the big things in their life so it might be running my business and it might be if I'm on a board or if you're a parent, being a good dad or staying healthy and staying fit. Whatever sort of the big categories of your life are that take up some of your bandwidth, listing those out and then ranking them in two different ways. Sort of the ideal ranking of which one do you… deep down inside, which one is most important to you. But then the next with the actually ranking, so where does your time actually go? And then looking for the contrast or the differences between those numbers. If there are things that you say are really important to you, but you're not actually spending any time on them. And conversely if there are things that aren't really that important like staying on top of social media mentions and replies.

John Zeratsky:
But you're actually spending a ton of time on that, that becomes then like a roadmap to start to make changes. So this Stack Rank Your Life, this idea of the highlight and then I think once you've begun to do that, then you can start to get defensive and you can start to say now that I've got this clear sense of what I do want to be making time for, how am I going to create barriers around a lot of the distractions and the other things that eat up my time. And that's where our sort of experience as technology designers comes in because we believe that it's not enough to turn off notifications or do simple hacks to make your phone a little bit less distracting.

John Zeratsky:
We think that if you want to be in control of how you're spending your time and what you're paying attention to, you really need to go to the source and cut off access to the apps that distract you. So one of the tactics in the book that I think has been the biggest quality of life improvement for me over the last few years is called the Distraction Free Phone and it's a phone-

Angela Proffitt:
What is that?

John Zeratsky:
It's my phone sitting right next to me, but it has no… I don't have email on my phone. I don't have social media. I don't have news apps. I don't have games. I don't have streaming video. So my phone literally… if I reach for it or if it's sitting there on the table, there's literally no way that I can get sucked in to my phone. But on the flip side, my phone has an amazing camera, I can listen to music and podcasts, I can download any book in the world in five seconds. I can control the music that's playing in my apartment. I can do all the amazing things that our phones can do, but do those things in support of what's important to me because I think all to often we get the sense that we are being used by technology. It's in charge and that's because I think we leave the defaults of how our devices and how our apps are configured. We leave those in place and we don't take those steps to actually play defense and try to set up some of those barriers.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah, I was in a recently like a daylong business retreat and the guy leading it was like, “How many of you think that your iPhone is ruining your children, your life, all that?” And it's funny because half the room raised their hands and he's like put your hands down. All of you put your hands down. He's like, “It's not the technology. It's you. And you do not have the brain power almost and you're allowing the distraction and you have to be demanding with your time and it's like you almost… it's like oh there's some cookies, but you're not supposed to eat sugar. And you got to have a little bit of practice and faith that you have to put boundaries and guidelines in place. And he's like, when you think of it like that, now I'm going to ask you the same question again and how many of you are going to raise your hand that you're guilty of giving in of the distraction. And everybody raised their hand. So it was neat that he said it like that.

John Zeratsky:
That's actually a really interesting way to look at it because I think it's very illuminating because obviously we don't want to absolve ourselves of responsibility. In fact, it's one of the big messages in our book is that we tell people it's not your fault but it is your responsibility. And you need to, I think if you want to make changes to these things, you need to understand the dynamics at play. And so if we take the example of the cookies, if you're eating unhealthily, you weigh more than you like to, you've got chronic health issues because of your diet. Sure, you could try to white knuckle it, you could summon all your will power, grit your teeth and say, you know what, I'm going to eat healthy today. I'm going to eat healthy today.

John Zeratsky:
And you might have some success with that in the short term, but the research on habits is very, very clear. And anything we do repetitively, anything we do repeatedly I should say becomes a habit whether we choose to make it a habit or not. That's what happens in our brains. But the research on habits, this is very clear that will power is not a sustainable strategy for over coming bad habits. And so if you have again problems with eating the cookies, eating whatever the foods are, you might have some success with sort of trying to stay strong, but you're going to be far more successful if you never allow cookies into your kitchen.

Angela Proffitt:
Amen.

John Zeratsky:
If you take will power out of the equation because that will power, that takes energy. That's a bit of your life force and you don't want to be spending that life force on avoiding the cookies, you want to be spending it on your work or your relationships or yourself. The things that matter. And so whenever possible, we try to help people outsource their will power and that's where things like removing the apps from the phone. Taking responsibility and say what is the relationship I want to have with this thing, this technology is powerful, it can do amazing things for me, but I'm in charge. I'm the human here. So let's only allow into the kitchen the foods that we want to eat. Let's only allow onto our devices the apps that we want to use.

John Zeratsky:
Let's only allow into our inboxes the information that we care about that is going to really help us. And anyway, I'm glad you brought up that example because I think it's a really important way to look at these dynamics.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah. Well, I feel like the number one thing that's talked about like we're working with a client right now who's a huge influencer in Keto diet. And it's kind of a healthy cult thing, but it's oh my God, the people that follow these different Atkins diets… I thought that like my industry people who were like productivity crazy, that we were like die hard, don't waste our time, but these food people is a whole different level. And so it's like wow, they are committed, but it takes commitment, but it's the same exact thing in productivity.

Angela Proffitt:
And allowing the distractions in it's like just take it off your phone. And if I ask 10 people around me in my office when I'm there, it's like would you do that? They would look at me as if someone gave me drugs. Like what? So when do you check email and social? Do you time block that and you're like I'm only going to do it an hour a day when I'm sitting at my computer and not on my phone or do you just not do it period?

John Zeratsky:
No, I take the sort of time blocking approach and there's few different strategies or tactics I guess that I layer. To directly answer your question, I have a couple of email slots scheduled on my calender every day. So I have two quick checks in the morning just to see if there's anything time sensitive. They are at… I'm actually going to look at my calender and tell you for real where they are just so you know that I'm not making stuff up.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah.

John Zeratsky:
My first email check is at 8:30 AM, my second email check is at 11:30 right before lunch. And I wake up at about 6:30 usually kind of varies with the seasons a little bit, but my goal is to wake up and to have a couple of hours of focus time because that's when I have my best energy for writing and for creating things. And so my wife and I we charge our phones and other devices inside a closed cabinet. So they're in there overnight so wake up in the morning and try to start my day intentionally before I jump into email or anything else. And then in the afternoon, I have an email block… it's actually it's my admin block, it's from 3:30 to 5:00 just as admin on my calendar. And that is when I do most of my email processing as well as anything else, any kind of administrative stuff that's on my plate.

John Zeratsky:
So I think at the base level time blocking and then there's a couple of ways to ratchet up that strategy. So the next layer is something we call Design Your Day, which is one of the tactics in Make Time. And that is to take that idea of time blocking, but to really go to the extreme with it and literally block out every single hour of the day. So that's what I do. So I've got everything from… the first item on my calendar is wake up and make first cup of coffee and then it goes through my first working block and email and breakfast and shower and working block again.

John Zeratsky:
And all these things includes social time, includes happy hour, dinner, winding down at the end of the day. So that's the second layer Design Your Day and then the third layer that I have recently started doing is something they call Calendar Template. And it is a secondary calendar, so it's not my main calendar, but I use Google Calendar so I have my personal calendar and my wife and I have a shared calendar. And then I have an additional calendar which is called template and it's set up to repeat every day with a few variations for different days of the week when I do certain things. But it's kind of my foundation, it's the thing that always there on my calendar and so if somebody asks, oh next Thursday can you join us for a fire side chat?

John Zeratsky:
I'm looking at my calendar and if I don't have something scheduled there, I'm not just going to see a blank space, I'm going to actually see that thing from my calendar template. I'm going to see oh that is a block of time when I was going to be working on a project. And am I willing to make that trade off? Am I willing to give that thing up? And so I like to have this calendar template that sort of captures the building blocks of my ideal day and my ideal week and have that there as a backdrop for my calendar so that I can make more informed decisions about what I'm saying yes or saying no to.

Angela Proffitt:
That's awesome. I was also looking at the book. It looks like there is a three step or a four step process that you have and you started to touch on one of them. And then what do the other components of your new book, what exactly does… because you talked about highlight the one thing in the day and then I'm assuming be laser focused and put your energy into that and then to reflect. So are those the three main things in the whole point of this is you decide where you want your energy to go to be laser focused?

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, so there's this collection of 87 different tactics in the book. Like I said it's sort of this cookbook, but they're all unified around these four steps. So highlight is all about really your intentions or your priority. Laser is all about creating barriers around distractions so that you can be laser focused. Energize is about taking care of yourself, of your body and your brain so that you're actually able to make the most of those moments. You're actually able to be present and bring your energy to those thing that you care about. And then reflect is maybe the simplest, but I think maybe the most important step of the whole framework and it's about paying attention to what's working and what's not working and making tweaks over time.

John Zeratsky:
And that's the secret to personalizing this framework and making it your own instead of it just being a one size fits all system. And it's funny, especially those of us who are entrepreneurs building business, motivated to be successful, we're so used to being analytical and critical about our work. And we do postmortems in retrospectives and now of all kinds of stuff. But we're not used to doing that about our time. We're not in the habit mostly of looking back and saying what did I really spend my time on and was it the stuff that I said I cared about? So the goal with reflect, this fourth step is to give people a really simple template for doing that reflection everyday so that they can make the next day a little bit better than the one that came before.

Angela Proffitt:
So for people who have children and home schooling and distractions and they feel as though they don't have as much control as those of us who don't have kids or we're not married or we are… it's real easy when you're by yourself and at least I think it's easy. It's like when you're in charge of yourself and you don't have to worry about anybody else, I feel like my day is going to be amazing and nobody's going to mess it up. But then when I have my sister's four kids or something happens with my mom and she falls or it's like how do you handle those types of things where it's still important and sometimes I find myself getting angry.

Angela Proffitt:
And I'm like you F-ing hijacked my day. And I'm like getting really irritated, but it's like you don't plan to fall. You don't plan to get into a wreck. You don't plan for your kids to be puking all over the place. For unplanned distractions, but things that you actually have to pay attention to like how do you help people? How can the book help people get back on track with what those types of distractions, I guess life distractions? [crosstalk 00:36:32].

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, yeah. Also, known as life. Life itself. I think probably the most important mindset for dealing with those unexpected things is the idea that every day is blank canvas. Every day is a new opportunity and that's why this idea of reflecting is so important and that's why we encourage people to choose a daily highlight. It's not about building this perfect master plan of a perfectly sequenced series of steps that lead to this ideal moment. It's about taking it one day at a time and then being flexible with yourself and saying, today did not go the way I thought it was going go. Today was not the perfect day, but tomorrow I'm going to try again. Tomorrow I'm going to start this process over with a new highlight, I'm going to maybe there's an app that installed on my phone to check it out. I'm going to uninstall that.

John Zeratsky:
Maybe I didn't have great energy because I got up too early or I went to bed to late. I'm going to tweak that and I'm going to try again. So that's the most important over arching mindset, but I've got a couple of other thoughts. One is that I think people underestimate how much they can get out of even a small amount of prioritization and change to their defaults. I think people have this idea and I certainly, I was this way years ago particularly when I was so into productivity. I had this idea that everything had to be perfect and that my whole life had to be organized. And I had to have everything in my GTD system and my filing cabinet and all that stuff.

John Zeratsky:
But the truth is that even if you just made time for that one highlight, even if… let's say 80% of your day you can't control, you can't move those meetings. You can't change the fact that you've got kids and they have school and you can't change the fact that things are going on, but if there's one part of your day, if there's one hour, if there's one half an hour that you can make yours, that you can be intentional about, we've heard from people again and again, people from all walks of life, all different lifestyles who said just knowing that I made time for that thing, that made the difference for me. And so I encourage people who are thinking about this stuff to really start small and really just say I'm just going to try this one highlight. I'm going to try picking out this one thing. I'm going to make this one change to my phone. I'm going to remove what we call distraction kryptonite, the thing that renders you powerless.

John Zeratsky:
You don't have to go for the whole thing. Maybe you'll get there someday, but you can get a lot out of these small changes. The last thing I wanted to say about this was that was actually just having this conversation with my coauthor, Jake and he's got two sons. His oldest is 16 and I think his youngest is nine, something like that. And we were talking about… he lives in Seattle and so they are about a month ahead of those of us in the midwest in terms of the COVID crisis and being on lockdown. I was talking to him about how he had managed through this process and particularly with kids and them being at home and everything. And he said that the first couple weeks were really, really hard and he just felt like any plan that he made, it got crushed because something would always come up. Something would not go the way they thought it was going to and it was super frustrating and demoralizing.

John Zeratsky:
And so eventually they made a schedule. And I know it sounds so obvious and so simple, but he said the key was that they all sat down together. If they did it as a family and they literally put it on a calendar. So they said like all right, what time is breakfast, how long does it actually take to make breakfast? Okay, don't forget about the dishes, got to put that in there. And so they have these conversations about realistically what are we going to do when and how long is it going to take? And everybody was a part of that process and he said it made a world of difference. So again, I know it seems really obvious and it seems simple, but this idea of designing your day of scheduling your day either alone or with the people that you live with, the people that you work with, but being intentional and putting down that plan, I think that can make a world of difference.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah, and especially for the kids. It's so funny because everyone in the workplace we're all passing around Zoom calls, making fun of other companies that haven't used Zoom ever. And it gives you a good laugh, but it's like and everyone's like oh the parents are so stressed out and it's like what about the poor kids. They're freaking stressed out too.

John Zeratsky:
Yeah.

Angela Proffitt:
They're not enjoying this. I know this because I'm around these kids sometimes and in fact a couple of weeks ago, I was doing a little video on… I'll create little augmented videos for different companies and how these kids are taking it. And so I was interviewing these two little girls and I'm like, So are you love being at home? You get to cuddle with your dog and you get to work on your dad's laptop.” And the little girl looks at me and she was like, “No, it is not fun. I miss my friends and my teachers and my mom has this thing called a schedule and it is extremely complicated. You don't understand.”

Angela Proffitt:
It was the cutest… she's like, I don't know, maybe seven or eight. It was like the cutest thing ever. And so then I sent it to her mom when I was done editing the video and I'm like good job of implementing a schedule and making your kids understand that it's highly important that they stay on schedule. To me that goes back to implementing a parenting child style to help your child focus to make time for the things that they want to make. It kind of comes back full circle. But in terms of really starting new projects and I'm sure that people ask you because you have such an amazing wealth of knowledge on your journey. And so I'm sure you get asked a lot all these new things like hey John, come help me with this. Hey John… do you still get that or have you pretty much… everyone that's around you, you've potty trained their brain of like I'm only going to prioritize certain things and how do you know when it's really a good project that you're going to work on?

John Zeratsky:
That's kind of the million dollar question. I don't have a super great answer because for me particularly since I started working for myself and running my own business, deciding which things to say yes to and which things to say no to has become the single biggest challenge that I have. And I have a lot of different frameworks that I use. Sometimes I've got different scoring systems and things like that, different mental models thinking about short-term versus long-term and cost versus benefit and things like that that I sometimes use.

John Zeratsky:
But there's a couple of thinking tools that I think have been the most helpful for me. One is a tactic that I just recently came up with actually and even though we published the book and there's a bunch of tactics in the book, we continue to come up with new concrete ways of doing things. This one that I just came up with is called the iceberg yes. And so if you imagine an iceberg and sticking above the water is a beautiful shimmering white peak of that iceberg. And of course below the surface of the waters is most of the mass, most of the bulk of the iceberg. And when we say yes to things, we're saying yes to the peak. We want the beautiful shiny part, but every thing that we say yes to, most of the work involved, most of the actual obligation or commitment or responsibility is below the surface.

John Zeratsky:
And so when I'm saying yes to something now, I'm not only trying to think about that entire iceberg, but I'm literally scheduling all the bits of time that are going to be required to do that thing. For example, if I get invited to give a speech at a conference or these days a live video talk, I'm not just scheduling in that talk on my calendar, but I'm scheduling in all the time to prepare for it. If it's a talk that I've done before, then I know that I probably need probably three to four hours to update the slides a little bit and to rehearse a few times. So where's that going to fit? If it's an ongoing responsibility like joining a board, okay, so the meetings are once a quarter. I'm going to schedule those obviously, but how much prep work is involved?

John Zeratsky:
Well, maybe it's going to be two mornings worth of prep work the week leading up to it or there's going to be… maybe there's travel involved to get there. And so when I say yes to something now, I try to use this idea of the iceberg. The iceberg yes to schedule not just the thing itself, not just the part I can see, but the part that I tend to ignore and that is really, really helped me because it helps me be much more realistic about what I'm actually saying yes to. And on the flip side when I say no to something, it feels all the more amazing because I know that just said no to this massive iceberg instead of saying no to just the tiny little part of it.

John Zeratsky:
So that's one thing and the other thinking tool that I'll share when it comes to prioritization and sort of figuring out what to say yes to is something that I call emergent thinking. And it's basically a fancy word for day dreaming and it comes from creating space in our days, which is something that is really hard to do. The defaults of our world and our technology are to be always doing something. If you're going for a walk, you're listening to a podcast. If you're doing the dishes, you're listening to an audio book. There's sort of this expectation that especially if you want to make the most of yourself there's this expectation that you are going to always be trying to learn or trying to absorb something.

John Zeratsky:
But when we do those things, we don't give our brains time to really do what brains do best, which is work things out and solve problems and be creative. And so I try to build as much empty space into my days as possible. Even something as simple as going for a walk, but not taking headphones, not listening to something.

Angela Proffitt:
Interesting.

John Zeratsky:
Or doing chores around the house and just not having any music on and not having the TV on or the radio on. I find and I don't know if this is universally true, but I find that from those moments insights and clarity emerge. And that's why I call it emergent thinking because it's not directed, it's not sitting down with a worksheet and saying okay, I'm going to write out the pros and cons of this decision. It's something much more intuitive than that. And I think that we ought to embrace intuition, we ought to trust ourselves at some level. And so I try to set up the conditions so that I can use intuition when I'm trying to make a decision about what I should do.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah and some people think I'm crazy, but with this whole global pandemic COVID shit, it's just like I will go a few days in a row and I'll keep the news on in the background, which I didn't even have TV. I have a lot of monitors and then my mom's like, “Angela, you should really get basic cable so that you can understand what's going on with the news.” Because you know the older generation, you can't get your news from anything other than Channel two, four and five where I live. And I'm like okay, whatever. And so I have it on the background and then I'll go for a week and I sit in complete silence.

Angela Proffitt:
I do not talk to anyone, but those are… we call them our GSD Days where we get shit done and nothing, nothing is in existence to me around the world of whatever is on my freaking whiteboard, I am getting that done today and nobody's going to stop me. But when you don't have distractions like I have two dogs, so it's like they'll bark or something, but I get so much more done when I actually sit in silence. And people don't understand it. I'm like just try it. And when I homeschooling a 17 year old, she's like, “Aunt Angela, can we turn on some music?” I'm like, “Why? Does silence make you uncomfortable?” Like, “No, we're going to sit in silence and you are going to learn how to focus.” And then she goes upstairs and get her headphones, I'm like, “Nope, you're not going to use the headphones either.”

Angela Proffitt:
And she was almost angry with me. And I'm like, just try it and see how much more focused you are and I bet you, you could actually get done quicker than bringing all the other distractions in. And she did end up getting done with it. And then she's like, “Can we go for ice cream?” “You did a new trick today, so yes, we'll get ice cream.” But until you try it, you don't know how amazingly you can get all this stuff done in seven hours or eight hours.

John Zeratsky:
Well I really liked what you said about alternating between those plugged in periods and those unplugged periods. And I think that's a really key insight. This idea of compartmentalizing your time and so yeah sure having a period when you're going to be saturated with the news and what's going on and you're going to spend great… do an admin afternoon where you're just literally in your email all afternoon just cranking through things, taking care of things. But then, switch modes and have a period where you're literally not paying attention to anything in the outside world like you said where you're totally focused on one task instead of jumping from email to email to email. And I think the problems arise when we let those things blur together.

John Zeratsky:
When we let those things mix together and we've got meetings scattered throughout the week leaving little scraps of time. We answer a couple of emails here and there, we check email on our phone when we're waiting in line. And that message that we saw that we weren't actually able to do anything about now it's kind of rattling around in the back of our brain. When we blend these things together, then I think it becomes difficult to do anyone of those things really great. But I think when we compartmentalize our time, focus on one thing at a time and doing it well, even if it is answering email or even if it is watching the news or whatever, but when we can be deliberate about that, I think then we can amaze ourselves with what we're capable of.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah, totally. So one last question as we wrap up because I could talk your ear off about productivity and take forever so I'll just go get your book. But so I know the outcome of when people learn how to invest their time and one thing that I see listed is when you invest your time, you'll crush your competition. And so I have a client right now that he constantly sends me, forwards me… I don't know why he's on every competitor's email list, I don't know if that's a smart thing or not a smart thing.

Angela Proffitt:
But I've not gotten to where I am because I was watching, nor do I give a shit what other people are really doing. I know how I can help serve other people and I stay in my lane and I focus on listening to my audience. But is that healthy to pay attention and a good way to spend your time? What do you mean when you say learn how to invest your time and crush the competition? So many people that are listening, they care so much about what other people are doing because they're worried that they're getting ahead. And quite frankly it annoys the shit out of me. And so my assistant sees it and she's like, “Why does he keep sending us,” we've never ever had a client do this before.

Angela Proffitt:
Should we tell him to stop and I'm like yeah, actually I think… tell him that I haven't gotten to where I am because I signed up for other people's email list to stalk what they're doing. I'm like if it's actually good information and he's reading and it's helpful to him, but he's forwarding it to me saying he likes this and he wants to copy it. And I'm not doing that. I'm building an authentic audience and I'm going to listen to my audience and he's an older gentleman who doesn't understand [inaudible 00:54:47] or anything like that. And I'm so close to just firing him, honestly.

Angela Proffitt:
But the book could help you understand that if you know how to invest your time and pay attention to your audience, then it actually to me doesn't matter what your competition's doing because you're serving the people that you want to serve based on your choices. So that's kind of what… when I read that I was like huh, yeah, I agree with that 100%. Now, how can I get other people to understand this?

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, the way that I think about this is that we… this is not an original thought, there's actually research on this that our experience of life is not just what happens to us. It's what we pay attention to. And so we can really define our own existence by what we choose to pay attention to. We can direct our focus and by doing that, we can change our reality. And so if you are competing, if you're building a business and you've got competitors, do you want your reality to be all about your competitors? No, to me it seems obvious that you wouldn't want that to be the case.

John Zeratsky:
Do you need to know sometimes what your competitors are doing? Sure. Is it important to know if your competitors offer a feature or a service that you don't? Do you want to know about that? Sure. But you can get that in very, very isolated efficient ways. And an example for me is when it comes to social media, I use Twitter and LinkedIn for my work, for promoting the work that I do. But I don't have those apps on my phone and in fact, I schedule time to log into Twitter and LinkedIn every day to see what people are saying, to respond to questions, to post new things.

John Zeratsky:
I use a scheduling app, so I used Edgar to schedule new posts so that I don't have to actually go in throughout the day and post things. And so I feel like you could do a similar thing with what your competitors are doing. If you said, yeah, at some level I want to be aware of my competitors, you could sign up for all their email lists, but you could have those automatically filtered into a certain folder of your email app. And then every two weeks, you could schedule on your calendar to just go through them and just see what they're up to and jot down… have a notebook with you as you're doing it so that you can jot down your impressions of what you're seeing.

John Zeratsky:
But I think if you are constantly paying attention to your competition, it's like constantly paying attention to anything. If all you do is read the news, you're going to feel anxious, you're going to feel stressed, you're going to feel worried about what's going on in the world. If all you do is sit in your email inbox, you're going to be frantic and sort of reactive and you're going to be focused on what other people are asking of you.

John Zeratsky:
So when it comes to paying attention to something like competition, I think you have to get to that big question that we started out talking about, which is why? Why are you doing that? And then where can you put it? Where can you compartmentalize it? What barriers can you create around it? What defaults can you create around it both in terms of schedule, but also technology? To support what you want to get out of it instead of just switching it on to autopilot and going with whatever the easiest path is.

Angela Proffitt:
That's awesome. That's great. This has been so helpful. Thank you so much for-

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Angela Proffitt:
Yeah.

John Zeratsky:
It was great, really enjoyed it.

Angela Proffitt:
… for the time and the insights and for those of you listening, be sure to go… you can go to Amazon, you can go to Audible, which is where I'm going to be going-

John Zeratsky:
Cool.

Angela Proffitt:
Because I like to listen. And it's simple, it's Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp.

John Zeratsky:
That's right.

Angela Proffitt:
So look them up and you've got another book too called Sprint?

John Zeratsky:
Yeah, yeah. And Sprint describes the five day design sprint process that Jake and I created. When we were working at Google Ventures, working with all those startups that I talked about and Make Time is your every day, individual operating system for how you spend your time. Design sprints are a process that you use when you're starting something big, something new. You're at the early stages of a new product launch, a new marketing campaign and you want to get the team align. You want to help people focus on solutions to that big thing that you're working on.

Angela Proffitt:
That's awesome. And then if you guys also want to connect with John, he's on LinkedIn and Twitter and then your website is johnzeratsky.com. We will put that in the show notes. It is spelled exactly how it sounds and so we'll make it easy for you in the show notes. But thank you everyone for listening today and go check out Make Time so you can make more of your life and your time and your matter while you're here. So everybody thanks so much, have a great day and be sure to tune in next week for another episode of Business Unveiled. Bye.

Angela Proffitt:
Now that you have all the tools you need to conquer the world in GSD, just share this with your friends and your fellow GSD leaders and be sure you're a subscriber so you never miss the juicy details of Business Unveiled and you can ask Siri to listen to the latest episode, but you got to be a subscriber. Before I go, I have a huge favor to ask. And it would mean the world to me. While you're listening, snap a quick screenshot, post it to your Instagram story, tag me at gsdleader_ and share with me your top takeaway from this episode and how it relates to you. Until next time, remember, stay productive and profitable.

Speaker 3:
You've been listening to Business Unveiled with Angela Proffitt. Join us next time as we share our experiences to help you be more productive and profitable in your creative business. For more great resources, visit angelaproffitt.com. 

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This episode is brought to you by  Kajabi, (the most amazing time saving all-in-one platform) check it out at: angelaproffitt.com/kajabi

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