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Graham Allcott is the author of the global best-seller, "How to be a Productivity Ninja".
He is the founder of Think Productive, one of the world's leading providers of personal productivity training and consultancy. His podcast "Beyond Busy" explores the issues of productivity, work/life balance and how people define happiness in their lives.
Previous roles include Chief Executive of Student Volunteering England, Head of Volunteering at the University of Birmingham and an advisor to the UK Government on youth volunteering policy.
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[00:00:00] Scott: Hi, before we get into this one Molly has very kindly left a voicemail for the show, which I'm gonna play for you now, if you'd like to leave one the details are in the show notes.
[00:00:08] Molly: Hi, my name's Molly Jenkins. I've been a member of police staff, eight years across three different forces in England and have recently started my own leadership journey. I really recommend Scott Fulton's Rebel Diaries podcast, such a huge variety of guests with really creative advice and different backgrounds and insights.
[00:00:28] Molly: The thing that I love about it most is that you can pick and choose the advice that speaks to you the most. And I found it really useful in reflecting on my own practice as a leader, what I expect from, other leaders and just generally how to create a really positive work environment. There's something for everybody and you can't go wrong.
[00:00:44] Molly: So give it a listen. Thanks Scott. Bye.
[00:00:47] Scott: Welcome to the Rebel Diaries podcast. I'm Scott Fulton, international speaker consultant and trainer. Work sucks for far too many people in business and corporate life. And my goal is to fix that. My guests each week include authors, millionaires, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and inspiring people who share their stories, insights, and tips to help you transform your work and life for the better. They are the rebels because they challenge the status quo and help others to do the same.
[00:01:19] Scott: You are listening to the Rebel Diaries show. Stick with me and work will never be the same again.
[00:01:26] Graham: It's amazing how many very subtle, even subconscious thoughts we have around all those things on our list, where you just feel a little bit of tightening in the stomach, or you just feel that your heart fluttering a little bit.
[00:01:37] Graham: I think busy is really the thing that holds us back from doing really intentional and really productive work.
[00:01:43] Graham: There's so much in the culture of organizations that are completely biased against that. Everybody feels like they want to be seen to be doing stuff, be seen to be in meetings, to be, seen to be part of the conversation the whole time.
[00:01:55] Graham: Clients just put everything on hold. There was just panic. Most of our business just vanished overnight.
[00:01:59] Scott: Graham is the author of How To Be A Productivity Ninja, a best-selling book, which changed my life at work. In this episode, he shares tips to help you be a productivity ninja as well.
[00:02:11] Scott: Hi, Graham, welcome to the Rebel Diaries podcast.
[00:02:14] Graham: Hi, really good to be here.
[00:02:16] Scott: Thanks for coming on the show. To help people who haven't heard of you, I'm sure many have can you just give a bit of background to yourself who you are and what you do?
[00:02:23] Graham: Yeah, sure. So I'm the founder of a company called Think Productive and we have offices all around the world, helping people to make space for what matters and basically improve productivity at work. And I'm also the author of five different books working on the sixth one at the moment and best known for a book called How to be a Productivity Ninja, which is a global best-seller, basically around the same kind of topic, really helping people to just makes sense of the world around them and to be clear in their work and get more done.
[00:02:52] Scott: Awesome. And I have that book and it changed my life and I tell everyone about it.
[00:02:58] Scott: So what got you started in that? Was it your early career, were you frustrated? What was the trigger point for you to say "I'm gonna fix this".
[00:03:05] Graham: Yeah, it was my early career and I was frustrated. Yeah, you got it I, yeah. Basically, I got into leadership roles really young, and then I realized I had a productivity problem myself. So I was really good at being strategic. I was really good at building a team and getting stuff done as a team.
[00:03:24] Graham: And then I left that role and I went freelance and I realized that my own productivity actually wasn't that great. And I'd missed out the middle management thing, which, people hate me for when I say that. But I'd just not had to execute in that kind of way.
[00:03:37] Graham: I basically just started voraciously reading around the topic of productivity and just taking all the best bits from places and building my own systems. And and it just went from there. And it was one of those things where I thought everybody else knew how to do this. And I didn't because I just, wasn't a naturally organized person.
[00:03:55] Graham: And then I started talking to people I was working with on other stuff about all this productivity stuff and all these new systems I'd got. And every time I brought it up as a topic, people would just say, "wow, tell me more. I want this", and so I, it was a real light bulb when I started talking to a few colleagues in an organization that I was doing some consulting in and ended up doing some at desk coaching with people at their desks and, just really helping people to coach their inboxes to zero, just get some structure around what they're working on and just seeing people's body language, like literally relax in front of me.
[00:04:28] Graham: It was. " Oh, like everybody needs this stuff". And that was the light bulb really for Think Productive. And that was 2008, 2009. Yeah, best time to start a business is in the middle of a financial crisis. But it actually served me pretty well. Yeah, that, that was the starting point.
[00:04:43] Scott: Great. So you said you were doing consulting at the time. Was that around productivity or was that something else? And you just pivoted to, it was like while you were there. Oh, I can help you with productivity.
[00:04:52] Graham: Yeah, I pivoted. So the early part of my career was in the world of charities and youth leadership. And I ran a charity called Student Volunteering England which doesn't exist anymore, but it was basically around helping students in universities and colleges to get good systems around student led projects and going out to the community and, whether it be working with disabled people, whether it be, going overseas, it was just like all these different projects that students were doing under the banner of student community action, if you've come across that whole world.
[00:05:22] Graham: But that was like that was where I started my career. And then I was going into organizations that had, that had that kind of knew me when I was in that role and then consulting with them around leadership programs and other training and other stuff. Yeah, it was nothing to do with productivity.
[00:05:37] Graham: But it was funny that everywhere that I was working, once I started talking to them about productivity, they wanted that more than they wanted my other stuff. So it just became a really natural pivot at that point. Yeah.
[00:05:46] Scott: I wonder how many people are just trapped in this kind of mindset of "this is just how my life is and how work is it's just chaos".
[00:05:55] Graham: Yeah.
[00:05:56] Scott: Do you have to pry people out of that mindset and "There's a different way. It doesn't have to be like this".
[00:06:02] Graham: People are addicted to busy, right? Busy, the state of being busy sets off chemical reactions in your brain, right? And then you get addicted to the dopamine, you get addicted to the adrenaline and it becomes very difficult to take a step back from all of that and stop, doing on the hamster wheel to actually take a step back and say "can I just think about what I have on my plate. Can I just think about my purpose in this work and figure out, what is actually the most appropriate stuff for me to be doing?" Because that's it's very slow. It's very measured and, and it feels, it's a very different kind of energy to the energy of just being busy.
[00:06:39] Graham: So once people are in that addiction to busyness, actually just trying. Break people out of that and allow people the time and the space to just sit quietly and start to make better strategic decisions. That's almost like the hardest bit I think, once people get to the stage of being able to look at the inventory of their life and work and see what they have, it's much easier to start good decision making good organization, good productivity from there, most people the starting point that I'm faced with. The objection is "I'm just too busy to take two hours out to fix my email" or "I'm too busy to, download a new app or get systems". And it's " yeah, but then if you did just take that time out, then you wouldn't be as busy and for the better".
[00:07:18] Graham: So that's always, for me the difficult kind of starting point is getting beyond that bit of the conversation.
[00:07:23] Scott: So what do you think's trapping them in that business state, is it they feel that they're delivering value or that they're just avoiding doing the hardest stuff. Cause I'm guilty of that. I'm like, "oh, a distraction. That means I'd have to write that report I don't wanna write".
[00:07:36] Graham: Yeah. So I think it does feel addictive for people. I often say that, the work that I've done with people around productivity, it's amazing how much. How much of people's personal productivity comes down to the two emotions of fear and guilt, right? So people are feeling guilty about what they're not working on.
[00:07:57] Graham: They're worried about the future. They're reflecting on things that haven't gone well in the past. One really good exercise that you can do actually is if you just get your to-do list and even if it's not a perfect inventory of everything that you might need to do, but just look at the last to-do list you have as you're scanning that to-do list, just notice what's happening within your body, as well as what thoughts are going on in your head.
[00:08:18] Graham: It's amazing how many very subtle, even subconscious thoughts we have around all those things on our list, where you just feel a little bit of tightening in the stomach, or you just feel that your heart fluttering a little bit, or just a little bit of tensing in the shoulders. I think sometimes when we can start to recognize that often those are coming from a sense of fear or coming from a sense of guilt, that can be again, a really good way to just get beyond this feeling of being busy and into, a much more kind of, mindful and thoughtful way of being around our work.
[00:08:49] Graham: My podcast is called Beyond Busy and I see busy as the enemy, I think busy is really the thing that holds us back from doing really intentional and really productive work.
[00:08:58] Scott: And that's you said that's linked to fear. How do you help people? Or what tips do you give people to overcome that? Is it the whole, just do it thing or, trying to lift the lid on what's causing that hesitation with that particular task?
[00:09:09] Graham: Yeah. I think, let's think about where that fear comes from. So a lot of it comes from a part of the brain called the amigdala. Often known as the lizard brain and I'm really influenced by Seth Godin's work on the lizard brain. There's a really good YouTube video you can look up, which is Seth Godin talking about the lizard brain.
[00:09:25] Graham: Basically the thesis of that is to say that the lizard brain is the part of the brain that gives us fight or flight, but it's also the part of the brain that you know, instinctively wants us to blend in and not stand out to be part of the tribe.
[00:09:37] Graham: To not risk any kind of alienation. And then when we think about work, the lizard brain is prevalent the whole time. So if you think about anything that you're doing, that you are handing in to be judged, whether that's a report, whether that's me pressing, send on the latest book draft that I'm sending to my editor or whatever, like a lot of our work gets judged and a lot of our fears are around our own judgment, how are we performing? How are we perceived by peers and so on. And then you think about down to the micro little judgment. So if you're sat in a meeting and there's five people around the table or 10 people around the table, and everyone's going around and saying their name and their role and what they do, what happens when it's the person's turn just before you?
[00:10:12] Graham: So it gets to the person next to you and your lizard brain is just going "don't screw this up, don't screw this up. Just make sure you sound professional", and like your lizard brain is just absolutely just crying out to you in that moment. And so much of what we do has a consequence to the lizard brain and so then it becomes a about how do we then manage that lizard brain, cuz that's really where the fear is. And I think there's various different ways. So you can also, if people have come across the Chimp Paradox, you can kind of substitute lizard and chimp as basically the same thing they're describing really the same thing.
[00:10:42] Graham: And one of the things that Steve Peters says in the Chimp Paradox is basically take your chimp out for a walk until it just gets tired and then there's nothing left for it to give. And what that's about is just like verbalizing those things out loud or writing down on paper, like here are all the things that could go wrong.
[00:10:56] Graham: And after about 10 minutes of doing that, you realise. "Oh, I'm actually just free to just get on and be productive now", and so sometimes I think we have to take on those strategies really as a way of saying how do I silence the lizard or kill the lizard for today or just figure out a way to to cheat it and get around it.
[00:11:12] Graham: And do you know what if I had like the perfect answer that worked every time? Then yeah, I'd be a lot richer. And I think that's for me, what makes productivity interesting as an area is that I think, humans are inherently weird, right? We're all weird. We all come at our work with, a whole range of different biases and bits of baggage and, we all think differently.
[00:11:32] Graham: And so I think there's various different things that you can do around it. But one of the things that will almost always work is just starting by just employing the art of specificity. So getting really clear about what does the end point look like? So the desired project outcome, and then what's the next physical action that I need to take to get towards the outcome.
[00:11:54] Graham: And when I say next physical action, I'm talking about getting really specific around physically. What am I doing? So for example chase up, Dave, that's not a physical thing that I can see write email to Dave. I can see that physically happening or call Dave or speak to Dave, whereas chase up doesn't really have that same effect.
[00:12:13] Graham: So getting down to the absolute kind of bear essentials of like, how do I actually describe this, how do I picture this in my mind? Because once you can start to do that level of granular thinking about each of the tasks on your to-do list. When you look at your to-do list, it's really easy to know what to do next and then, and much harder to procrastinate at that point.
[00:12:32] Graham: But the real trick to that is doing as much of the thinking on your to-do list before you actually write it down rather than having really vague, people have stuff on their to-do list like uh, you know, appraisals or mum or whatever and it's yeah, what does that mean? Like, partly that's, it's actually probably a project rather than action.
[00:12:49] Graham: And then it's not even an action that you can do because you haven't spelled it out in terms of next and physical. So I think once people just get a little bit more specific around the stuff that's in the world that in itself is a really big sort of counterbalance to the fear that the lizard brain will give us.
[00:13:03] Graham: And the other thing that lizard brain gives us is like laziness, right? Sometimes it's just, especially on a really hot sunny day, like it is today. The lizard just wants to lay in the hammock and sit in the sun so we have to be aware of that's part of us that we have to deal with too right?
[00:13:17] Scott: When you were describing that, I thought of procrastination as well. I'm a terrible procrastinator and I've always tried to get to the bottom of it. Is it about being a perfectionist or is it avoiding that judgment? So I guess that's all intrinsically linked as well isn't it?
[00:13:30] Graham: Yeah. And again, I think it's harder to procrastinate when you have a specific starting point. Often procrastination is part of the root of procrastination is about avoiding the fear of the blank page, right? So before you start and you have nothing, then sudden, suddenly that's a position of fear, whereas if you have, "okay, I've written three ideas in a word document, I'm just gonna go and open Word and start with that page". If you have that, then you have something to play with. And so I think often, yeah, like procrastination is much harder if we've just done the first 1% of something and we know where to pick things up.
[00:14:05] Graham: This is my favourite writing tip actually when I'm writing books cuz it's really hard sometimes to open the document and get started when you're writing, especially something as long as a book And actually part of the, what they call writer's block is actually lots of other things, but a really nice little tip for anyone writing anything, whether it's a report or even a long email or whatever, is if you are gonna get up and go to the loo or make a cup of tea do that when you're halfway through a sentence, which is one of those things that runs counter-intuitive to what we're taught at school, which is dot all the I's cross all the T's like complete. But of course, if you come back having made your cup of tea and you're halfway through a sentence, it's so easy to know how to get going. It's almost impossible to procrastinate at that point. So it's a really nice little thing that I use myself and weirdly, I only learned that one about two years ago.
[00:14:48] Graham: And so I just think, oh man, how much easier would all those other books I've written have been? But yeah, so you just leave it halfway through a sentence, go away and do what you need to do. And then when you come back, it's oh cool. I know where I'm at, where I'm up to. I know what's going on next.
[00:15:00] Graham: Finish the sentence you're back in and carry on.
[00:15:02] Scott: And do you think your subconscious is still working on that then while you are doing other things? Is it almost "right I might write this next", but you're not thinking about it?
[00:15:11] Graham: Yeah, I think so. And I also think not that it's a good idea to use your subconscious strategically or rely on your subconscious strategically, most people don't get their best ideas when they're sat at their desk, they get their best ideas when they're out walking the dog or in the shower or running, or, and so I will sometimes if I've got a really knotty bit of the book that I'm thinking about, I'll just immerse myself in that before I go for a long run.
[00:15:35] Graham: And then when I'm on the run, it's not necessarily that I'm like trying to work on it, but sometimes just things just pop, just, I think often the brain I think, is doing its best work when we tell ourselves we're not at work. And I don't think you can rely on that and make that a strategic choice.
[00:15:50] Graham: But I do think you can you can do a couple of things. One is you can be conscious of the stuff that's unclear or knotted and two is you can make the space to still go and do the run or still go and do the walk. Even when you feel busy and feel like you shouldn't get up and you shouldn't leave your desk or you need to be around or whatever, make that space.
[00:16:07] Graham: And I always think, there's very many times in my in a working week where I'll say to myself, oh, I shouldn't go out for a walk or I shouldn't go for a run or whatever. And I, I could regularly, even though I know all this stuff, count those up as that's me feeling guilty for stepping away.
[00:16:24] Graham: And I can also say that never have I gone for a walk or a run and not come back and said, "oh, that was worth doing" like it's always worth doing. So that's like the difference, between like the logic part of the brain knows that it's gonna be a useful thing. And then still the lizard brain's just shouting louder.
[00:16:39] Graham: " Stay here, do more. Don't go for a walk. You don't have time, it's too busy". So I think we have to just really be mindful and conscious. Of those thought processes and those biases and just the power that the lizard brain has over us. And that's half the battle and actually it still, isn't always gonna lead to the best solutions, but it's a great place to start.
[00:16:59] Scott: Yeah. Yeah, I like that. I'm gonna take that one. In terms of the whole office environment and productivity, I've always thought not always, but when I've been thinking about it more recently is around the whole Industrial age thinking it's about the amount of cuz I used to manage teams of developers and some developers get treated really badly.
[00:17:16] Scott: It's " oh, you should be writing more and more code" when actually no, it's the discussion time is actually really important. The problem-solving time, it's not about producing stuff. It's about the value deliver. So do you think there's still a culture in organizations of managers thinking "be more productive, just produce more widgets", What are your thoughts on that? You still finding that?
[00:17:35] Graham: Yeah. There's a couple of quotes that I really love around this. There's a quote by Henry Ford, where he says, "thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason that so few engage in it". And so I think we, we are naturally biased against the idea of quality thinking and it comes back to that addiction to busyness stuff that I was talking about before.
[00:17:56] Graham: And then there's a quote by Peter Drucker, the management guru, where he says something like, I'll probably butcher this one, but it's something like, " there's nothing more infuriating than doing something efficiently that didn't need to be done at all". And so I think within all of that, the thing I'm a big fan of is like thinking of the 80 20 rule and thinking about, looking at what's on your plate, really ruthlessly and trying to say no to as much stuff as possible.
[00:18:21] Graham: I think no is a much bigger friend of productivity than yes. And actually it's about honing and choosing the right stuff to do rather than, trying to do everything or, trying to multitask or do a hundred things. And for me, it's about doing a small number of things, but doing them really well.
[00:18:40] Graham: And I think. There's so much in the culture of organizations that is completely biased against that. So yeah, like present, like you're saying like presenteeism, just the idea of people, everybody feels like they want to be seen to be doing stuff, be seen to be in meetings, to be, seen to be part of the conversation the whole time.
[00:18:59] Graham: And actually I think often the job of managers and leaders is to get out the way. And, give people the time and the space to do the thinking for themselves to come up with the ruthless lists of here's the stuff that would be good to do, but let's not do it. And, actually give people the autonomy to work out what is gonna add the most value.
[00:19:17] Graham: So I think, yeah, we are, we're often in this this state of presenteeism and I think it's probably been in some ways like exacerbated by the whole working from home COVID period as well, where, I think people were even more freaked out about that people are feeling guilty and wanting to feel like they're present and show themselves to be online and all that sort of thing.
[00:19:37] Graham: And then also, just in terms of how managers are dealing with. And I've seen it go lots of different ways, right? There's some really nice examples. I think of organizations that have really settled on much more trusting working practices, I think as a result of COVID, but I've seen it also go the other way where you've got people installing monitoring equipment on PCs.
[00:19:52] Graham: So they know when people are clicking and all that sort of thing, so I think what's been interesting is that I think COVID has definitely started those. Those conversations and the kind of post COVID world has started those conversations around what is the relationship between, me as an employee and my employer.
[00:20:09] Graham: And also just what does leadership look like in that kind of context? y'know.
[00:20:13] Scott: Yeah the company I was working for before I set up my own business last year was there were people you see they're online. It's the dreaded green dot, isn't it.
[00:20:20] Scott: So you go, "oh, they're available". So you message them "got a minute?" And they might not answer straight away. And then they come on the call and they say, "sorry. I was going to the toilet". I'm like, "please don't apologize for going to the toilet!", but you would have that culture people would feel, "oh", from what I saw, it wasn't actually being driven by managers or it was just, people felt this.
[00:20:39] Scott: " If I'm not sat my screen with that green dot someone, the system is gonna know that I'm not.." We weren't like that when we were in the office, you'd go for a walk. You'd sit on a bench and chat to a colleague about work. You wouldn't have to be in front of the screen the whole time. Yeah, it's quite sad that it's, it is gone that other way for people.
[00:20:56] Graham: Yeah, and I think that's about culture. So I wrote a book a couple of years ago called how to fix meetings with my colleague, Haley Watts. A lot of that comes down to culture. One of the things we talk about in that book is the fact. There are so many unwritten rules of culture that just no one's ever really had a conversation about, but have just been assumed and just of taken on.
[00:21:15] Graham: And I think it's really important that when you have your regular get-togethers with your team is that you bring some of those unwritten rules from below the table onto the table. And you actually start to say, so when do we actually expect to reply? What's, what is optimal? What is acceptable?
[00:21:32] Graham: What are we actually supposed to be doing when we're on holiday? Are we supposed to be checking at all? Are we not and just having some of those conversations, which feel, I think often feel a bit fearful to have. And generally what happens is everyone avoids being the person who puts up their hand or sort of makes the first move, but then once you bring these things up as issues, half the rest of the room just goes, "oh, thank goodness we're talking about this. Cuz I've had exactly the same thing" and they'll thank you for it. So I do think there's yeah, there's a real need to bring some of those unwritten rules and some of that cultural stuff. Just more consciously to the table and actually just get some clarity around it.
[00:22:07] Graham: We've done a lot of work at Think Productive as well about etiquette around email and etiquette around messaging systems and stuff. And I think the pattern that I've seen is. Generally, people at more junior levels of the organization have a higher expectation around, I just need to get back to people really quickly because they're at the junior level.
[00:22:24] Graham: So they're just, they're more fearful about, they've got more bosses to be fearful of for a start. And they're more fearful about, doing a good job, whereas as you go up the sort of chain of command. Those at more senior levels tend to be a bit more relaxed about saying, "oh actually, no, like what you think I need to have response every three minutes. No, like it's fine for you to take three hours. If that means you're doing really great autonomous work with it". Just getting different levels within organization together as part of a team and just saying " what's our sort of collective expectation here?". I think even just having that really simple conversation about email, or about slack or something like "when's it okay to be online and offline?" Just to like totally, takes a lot of stress out of organizations cuz stress comes from uncertainty and when we feel uncertain about some of that stuff, it just, it leads to a lot of stress.
[00:23:07] Scott: Yeah. And I can see how that culture would just spread. If someone joins an organization quite new, and then they see that, their boss has sent an email at, I dunno, five in the morning or at a weekend, they're gonna think, "oh, am I expected to be sending emails at the weekend?" and as you say what you've described as those conversations that don't ever happen, the unwritten rules that needs to be transparent and the boss needs to set a delay so it doesn't deliver until nine in the morning. For example, that kind of stuff.
[00:23:34] Graham: Yeah, it's my favourite button in Microsoft Outlook is if you go to the send and receive tab in Microsoft Outlook, and there's a button called work offline, and basically it, you just click that and it means that you can work on all your stuff. You can even send replies, you can press send on them.
[00:23:49] Graham: And then until you go back and click work offline again and go back online, it's all just stuck with you. So you don't get any, anything new coming in and nothing that you are doing goes out. But that's great. If you wanna work at seven, eight o'clock at night, you've got kids and that's your time, knock yourself out, but just know that if you are a leader or manager, like you're setting the expectation, if you are replying at that time.
[00:24:06] Graham: And really, I think it's so important for people to switch their brains off and get rest and recharge. And again, I, a lot of it comes back to guilt, but we need to see rest and recharging as an investment in our future productivity and therefore a good thing and not something to feel guilty about.
[00:24:21] Graham: We need to jump back online, so yeah, I think there's lots that you can do that will just role model that in a good way too.
[00:24:28] Scott: Yeah, I'm glad you brought up meetings. Cause as well as emails and interruptions with instant messaging now, which obviously has added a new layer of chaos to people's distractions, the amount of meetings that are just completely such a waste of time in organizations. I won't name the organization, but a whole day was dedicated to senior meetings. Like the whole day was back to back meetings and people are like falling asleep, losing the will to live and they walk out going " I only needed to be there for 5% of that".
[00:24:56] Graham: Yeah, for sure. When we wrote the book, How to Fix Meetings and Haley is our kind of our lead really when it comes to meetings and facilitation she's just like the person with the most sort of passion and energy for that topic within the company, she's our subject matter expert, but we were sat there writing this book and we were thinking to ourselves, so there's two things here.
[00:25:14] Graham: One is we should all have a lot fewer meetings, right? So we should just a lot of things that pretty much every organization I'd include my own organization. There'll be times where a meeting is set up because someone sat at their desk and they're like, "okay, I wanna make progress on this.
[00:25:29] Graham: How can I make some progress? Oh if I've set up a meeting, then something's happening", so people set up a meeting rather than make, the harder decision around that project, or rather than doing the harder thinking that needs to be done. It just gives the illusion of progress. And so you end up with this thing where there's all these recurring meetings and there's all these other meetings that go in.
[00:25:47] Graham: So we had this thing where on the one hand we wanted to write a book that said, how do we cut down on meetings? And on the other hand, I do think sometimes a meeting is not only is it the best solution, but it's actually I think meetings are beautiful. I think there's something really beautiful about people coming together and sharing attention, especially when you set them up with ground rules where they're not checking IM like you say, and their mind is fragmented.
[00:26:12] Graham: I How often do you give your, somebody else the gift of your fullest attention? And so when you've got a meeting like that, where you've got, let's say four or five people, and they're all really listening in a really hyper-attentive way to each other and really taking stuff on board.
[00:26:26] Graham: And perhaps there's some really difficult very emotional conversations going on and so on as well. Like I think there's something so beautiful about that. And so I didn't, we didn't wanna write a book. I kept saying to Hailey we need to do both in this book and it's really hard.
[00:26:39] Graham: So we actually came up with this little model in the book, which is like the yin and yang of meetings. And so the yin is the energy of listening and reflection and cooperation. And then yang is the energy of doing and like cutting through and they're totally different energies. And so you need both of those things, both within every meeting, you need both of them.
[00:26:56] Graham: And also as a culture, you need both of them. So you need to have that kind of yang energy of cut meetings out, just get on with the doing. And you also need a little bit of that yin as at the same time. And once you have them in balance then I think that's where organizations are onto something good and the yin and yang symbols.
[00:27:11] Graham: It became this really perfect thing for us because when you think about it, so the seed of each is within the other, right? So the spot in the middle of the yin and yang symbol. So like in the middle of a meeting, which is very yin energy, it's very discussive or whatever. You need, at some point, someone say what are the actions?
[00:27:25] Graham: You need yan, like in the middle of that. And then likewise, even when you are just in a sort of a culture of complete ignorance, and you're saying, "we're not doing meetings, just get on and do your stuff". You need a little bit of your energy and a little bit of your attention to just be scanning the horizons to where a meeting might be needed or where the niggles are gonna get too big.
[00:27:42] Graham: So it, for me felt like a really good way to describe that sort of central dilema of what we had with that book, which is let's make meetings really great. And also let's ditch most of them, we kind of needed both.
[00:27:54] Scott: Yeah they've gotta have a purpose haven't they? One of the tips, one of my ex-team members said, and we started to implement that in the meetings we were running was every agenda item was a question. So it was actually required you to have an answer rather than just a vague line that's just, it was to your earlier point around like your to-do list, just write something that's vague. Actually, what's the decision that needs to be made? And then it keeps you focused.
[00:28:17] Graham: So that thing about the questions I first came across that from Nancy Klein's work and her book, Time to Think which she's quoted a couple of times in our book as well and there's a couple of really nice bits that she has that have been very influential for me.
[00:28:30] Graham: One of them is you always start a meeting with an opening round. So let's say there are six people. You'll just you just say like your name and how you're feeling. And so generally the thing is like your name, how you're feeling today. And then one thing that's going well. And she says, the reason to do that is it's always really important.
[00:28:49] Graham: First of all, for everybody to speak at the beginning. So that if they've got a niggle or something that they feel like they need to say, or a worry, or like a really daring idea, they've already spoken, they're already warmed up. They're already in the room. Whereas if that's the first thing that they're about to say, they're just gonna hold onto it.
[00:29:05] Graham: And often those things are like the most critical. And then also to finish it with the one thing that's going well is because then everybody in the room has begun the meeting with a positive reality and everybody is an expert in their own lives and there's always one thing that's going well.
[00:29:18] Graham: So you can always find something. And do you know what we had this really? We had this really influential pivotal meeting at the very start of COVID so our business is, doing workshops in companies. We, even before the pandemic, we were doing a slice of them.
[00:29:32] Graham: I'd say maybe 20% of them were virtual and 80% of them were in person, but basically even, a lot of the virtual stuff, it all just got, clients just put everything on hold. There was just panic. Most of our business just vanished overnight. And we had this conference call where we got everybody together and Elena our MD who was chairing it said " we'll do the opening round then, like, how are we feeling? One thing that's going well." And you could tell everyone was like, "there's nothing going well, like this is not the moment for it". But, you know what it put everybody into this really positive frame of mind and what came out of that meeting, where we were talking about COVID at the very beginning of COVID was like, "but hang on we have worked from home for the last 10 years. We're a virtual company. We've got loads of stuff that everybody needs. Like people need our help". Let's not, why are we so focused inward on our own balance sheet? We basically started doing this kind of hyper generous free webinar stuff like almost like about three days later, we'd written this new webinar and just gone out really early with it, to, to the market and got thousands of people signing up.
[00:30:32] Graham: And we won loads of new business out of it. And it actually really helped us turn it around, but it was at that time, like the last thing we wanted to do was to sit there in this crisis moment and say, what's going well. So it just shows you that I think starting with a positive reality.
[00:30:45] Graham: It sets the sort of tone for that room or in this case for that zoom to, to really be something that can bring positivity to it. Yeah, I think there's some lovely ideas of Nancy Kleins in there and just loads of other stuff in that book as well.
[00:30:56] Scott: Any final tips for anybody in terms of, your kind of top tips for productivity that you'd give to everybody? I take your point earlier different things work different for different people.
[00:31:06] Graham: I think there's something that I've not really talked about. That's probably quite helpful for people along the similar line, which is just around.
[00:31:12] Graham: Like the idea the idea with productivity often gets equated with the idea of time management. And I think we need to just kill the idea of time management. You can't manage time. It doesn't move. You only have, it just is. But I think we need to think much more about the idea of attention management.
[00:31:30] Graham: And I think this is a really useful. One of those like epiphany moments for a lot of people when they come across my stuff or do our workshops is basically the idea that you have three different types of attention in your day. So you have the hours in your day where you're fully alert, fully switched on able to do the most difficult stuff on your to-do list.
[00:31:47] Graham: At the other end of the scale, you have. The inactive attention, which is it's four o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, you've had a really long week already knackered. And it's what you're doing probably in that moment is scrolling up and scrolling down on the email inbox and it's the lights are on and no one's home.
[00:32:00] Graham: And then you have the bit in the middle where you can do most things on your to-do list, but not everything on your to-do list. Now I think this is so important for a couple of reasons. One. What it illustrates is the game is really how do you manage those two to three hours of your best attention every day?
[00:32:14] Graham: And if you do that well and defend that really quality attention from everybody else's boring meetings and really get discipline around putting that onto the most difficult stuff that you've got to work with. You can get an awful lot done in two to three hours when you are really focused when you're not distracted, when you don't have all those other pings and notifications scrambling your attention.
[00:32:34] Graham: And then at the other end of the scale, here's the good news is there are hours when you're gonna be really tired, give yourself the most mundane, boring stuff to do, and don't apologize for it because our attention is limited. There's loads of really great science around this. There's a guy called Roy Baumeister whose work I really love.
[00:32:51] Graham: And he talks about the idea of strength control, which is basically similar to decision fatigue. And he basically says like your level of self-discipline and your ability to manage yourself and make the right kind of decisions will just wane as you go through the day. And there's nothing you can do about that.
[00:33:07] Graham: And so once we know that I think that really gives us a clue as to what we should really beat ourselves up about and what we shouldn't. And if you're really tired at the end of a long day just do the filing, do the most simple stuff and just be proud that you're doing something. And then, be really disciplined at those hours where you have the best attention to make sure that you are using that to do great work.
[00:33:29] Graham: And for me, that's, what's interesting about it is that I think otherwise we get to this point where, like people get really perfectionist about every hour of the day. And I just think life's not like that. It's it's what you do with those two to three quality. That really counts,
[00:33:43] Scott: Yeah, that's really interesting. I'd heard somewhere that decision fatigue and the worst time to be interviewed for a job is like just before lunch or mid-afternoon with panel are less likely to give you the job.
[00:33:54] Graham: Yeah. There's a good study of parole board hearings actually, which talks about similar stuff. So parole is all about the parole board, making the courageous decision to say, "yeah, I think we'll risk this guy in the community". Cause otherwise you just stay in jail.
[00:34:08] Graham: So it requires to get a, you are gonna be granted parole requires a really proactive decision. So basically you want the parole board hearing first thing in the morning or you want it just after lunch when they're refreshed again, but you don't want it just before lunch or at the end of the day. And there's there's amazing, like graphs that will, you you can look that stuff up online. But yeah, all very similarly based around a lot of the Roy Baumeister ideas and yeah. I just think that stuff's really fascinating. Yeah.
[00:34:36] Scott: Awesome. Thank you. So one of the questions I ask all my guests is if you could take one book to a desert island, what would it be?
[00:34:44] Graham: Oh, wow. If I could take one. just the whole world and I don't get
[00:34:49] Scott: the rest of your
[00:34:49] Graham: works of Shakespeare and the Bible to take the video already. Oh, wow. Do you know what I'm gonna say? Oh man. I'm gonna say it's a book called I've. Got it. Just here. Let's see if I can grab it. This is, I think this is like the book that made me like made me cry the most and made me think the most.
[00:35:06] Graham: So it's a book by this guy called Atul Gawande and it's called Being Mortal. And basically, so he's a medical doctor and in this book, he talks about how it's basically a book about how to die with dignity. And so his thing is when you're dealing with cancer treatment, for example, it's like, how do you make the decision between chemotherapy might give you another six months of life, but what would the quality of your life be? And so it starts out as like a book that's about death, but of course, it's just a book about life, isn't it, and life choices and what matters and it's just a hugely thoughtful book. So yeah, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is my yeah, there's probably the book that has influenced me and changed my life the most.
[00:35:50] Scott: Brilliant. Thank you. I'll put a link to that in the show notes. So if anyone wants to work with you, how do they get hold of you?
[00:35:55] Graham: Yeah, really simple. So just go to https://www.grahamallcott.com/links, and then everything I'm doing is on there. So I do once a year, I do a thing called Six Weeks to Ninja, which is coming up in the autumn, which is a kind of live six weeks on a one evening, a week kind of basis on Zoom talking people through all the stuff in Productivity Ninja.
[00:36:12] Graham: I have a weekly email that goes out called rev up for the week. It goes out at 4:05 PM. I dunno why it's 4:05 PM. I just chose that once every Sunday evening. And that's free and basically the links to all of that and all my books and everything else it's all at https://www.grahamallcott.com/links.
[00:36:28] Scott: Perfect. Put that in the show notes as well. Thank you, Graham. It's been absolutely fascinating chatting to you. Thanks for being on the show.
[00:36:34] Graham: Pleasure, Scott, thank you so much.
[00:36:35] Scott: A big thank you for listening to the Rebel Diaries show, your time is precious. So thank you. It is appreciated.
[00:36:42] Scott: The show has a new Facebook group for you to engage with others, discuss topics, and let me know what you think of the show.
[00:36:48] Scott: There's a link to the group in the show notes or search Facebook for the Rebel Diaries community.
[00:36:52] Scott: It'd be great to see you there.
[00:36:54] Scott: Until next week take care, be a rebel and deliver work with impact.