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AMY PORTERFIELD: Well, hey, there. Amy Porterfield here. Welcome back to another episode of the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast. Now, if you’re listening right now, you’re likely not a stranger to multitasking and being buried with a ton of important tasks. It can be so hard to stay focused and stay focused on the right things when you're the organizer, the manager, and creator of all the things going on in your business. We're entrepreneurs, after all. That's the name of the game, and these things that we're working on, they're what drives our business forward. They drive our passion. And I have so been there. Even last week I felt kind of crazy in all the things that I was working on. So, I’ve been at this for a while, and I still feel this way from time to time. The possibilities and the opportunities seem endless. New ideas will come, and all of the sudden, you realize you've been working for two hours on a task that wasn't even on your to-do list for the day. I know it happens.
So my guest today, Michael Hyatt, says this, “It's almost impossible to accomplish anything significant when you're racing through an endless litany of tasks and emergencies. And yet, this is how many of us spend our days, our weeks, months, years, sometimes our entire lives.” Okay, so that’s not going to be us, right? But this is how Michael operated for many, many years as an executive at Thomas Nelson Publishers. He was overworked and stressed and not working to his true capacity. Can you relate? It seems like there are just never enough hours in the day, and when we're operating in this mode of endless hours and tasks that just pile up on each other, it's a recipe for burnout, for sure.
So that's why I love talking about this topic, because I don't want to get to burnout in my own business, and I don't want you to get to burnout, either. And if you're already there, let's bring you back. And I think this episode is going to help you do so.
What I love about Michael’s story is that years ago he woke up from the crazy work schedule and unrealistic expectations of his life that just weren't sustainable and decided to change things. And when Michael Hyatt decides to figure out a better way, this man does not mess around. I have known him for years and years, and he is a go-getter. So the good news for us is that, thanks to the work he does now as a bestselling author, a leadership and productivity expert, we get to learn from him and from his mistakes. So, if you’ve not been introduced to Michael, you’ll see—he’s a master at productivity.
So, before we dive into my interview with Michael—I cannot wait for you to hear every single bit of it—I wanted to give a shout out to ashleyb67, who left the sweetest review in iTunes. She said:
I love, love, love Amy’s podcast. Her teaching style is easy to process, understand, and remember. The episodes are practical and useful, and for a busy entrepreneur running two businesses, these two characteristics are a must for anything I do. Time and time again, Amy overdelivers with the podcast content and the freebie opt-ins. It took me a month to binge on the back 200 episodes, and now I can’t wait for each new episode to drop on Thursdays. Thank you, Amy.
Ashley, come on. That is just the nicest review, and I live for when people think that my episodes are practical and useful and they use them like mini lessons. So, thank you, Ashley, so much. You just made my day.
All right, guys. So I won't make you wait any longer. You all know that I'm absolutely a huge fan of Michael Hyatt, so let's bring him on.
Michael Hyatt, welcome back to the show.
MICHAEL HYATT: Thanks, Amy. I appreciate you having me on again.
AMY: Oh my gosh. I’m so glad you’re here. Now, there are two reasons why I'm thrilled that you're here today. Number one, because I adore you, and you already know this. You are a dear friend. And also, I know that I would be the oldest daughter, but you know I secretly want to be daughter number six. Like, really bad.
MICHAEL: Well, we have the adoption papers in process. I was going to wait and surprise you with that, but I just want you to know we’re working on it.
AMY: Okay, that pretty much just made my whole year. So, perfect. I’ll be moving in soon, so make some room.
AMY: So, thank you for that, because I love your family, love everybody in your family. And also, another reason why I’m absolutely thrilled is that you have always been such a mentor in my business since the day I met you.
MICHAEL: Thank you.
AMY: Of course. And one of the things that I love about you is that you are such a clear communicator, and I always think in my head, “What would Michael do? What would Michael say?” And the way you run your business, I mean, you guys have completely up-leveled, I feel, in the last few years even, just dialing that all in. I’m just always looking to see what you all are working on and what you’re doing.
And so, when I heard you had a new book coming out and it was about productivity, I thought, “Oh, we’ve got to get him back on the show. We need to talk all about it.” So, your new book is called Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less. So, thank you for being on the show, and I cannot wait to get into all the details.
MICHAEL: Me, neither. Great.
AMY: Okay. We’ve got a lot to cover. So, I'd love for you to share a bit about your journey, sort of how you got to where you are today and why you wrote this book.
MICHAEL: Yeah. I guess I’ve kind of always been a productivity geek. I was the guy in college who carried around a paper planner and had all my classes scheduled, my study sessions scheduled, and I've always been looking for productivity hacks and a way to be more efficient. So when I started my blog back in 2004, it was called Working Smart, and it was me just sharing what I was learning about productivity because I love the interaction with the community of other productivity geeks.
But one of the things I noticed about 2006, 2007, as social media began to encroach or enter into all of our lives, that the distractions began to rise exponentially and so that it was increasingly difficult to keep our focus. And I realized that focus is the thing that drives our business forward, it drives our personal lives forward, and yet we have these multi multi-billion-dollar conglomerates, social media companies, who, I don't think it's nefarious, I think their business model is set up where they're trying to keep our eyeballs glued to their services as much of the time as they possibly can. And that, frankly, interferes with our work, with our ability to be productive.
And so I said, “You know, I'm working harder than ever before and accomplishing less. Something has to change”. And so this is a system that I first started to implement it about 10 years ago, and I've had thousands of my clients now go through this system when it was a live event and when it was a course, and now it's a book.
AMY: And now it's a book. Now, the book is a system, and before we get into the three phases of Free to Focus, I want to ask you, where do you think other productivity systems go wrong, and how is the Free to Focus system different?
MICHAEL: Yeah. You know, I think for other productivity systems, the end game is more productivity. In other words it becomes an end in itself. You know, I want to use these apps, I want easy strategies, read these books, be more efficient. Why? So I can be more productive. Why? So I could be more productive. I don't think that's a good goal. I think productivity has got to be a means to an end, and for me, the end is freedom. I want greater freedom.
Now, I know a lot of people in your audience are entrepreneurs, they've got a business of their own, and I think that most of us—and this was certainly true of me, was probably true of you—is I wanted to get into business because I wanted freedom. You know, I was tired of working for “the man” or working for a board of directors. And what I found, I woke up—my entrepreneurial dream turned into a nightmare when about two years into it I woke up and I said, “I am working for the most stubborn, overbearing, demanding boss I've ever worked for. He won’t give me any time off,” and I had to look in the mirror, right?
AMY: Yes! All the time. When I complained about working too much or I'm tired, Hobie will always say, “You need to talk to your boss because she's not being very nice right now.” I'm like, yes, you're right. So I'm with you.
MICHAEL: That’s exactly right. So, I think it's got to be about more than productivity, and for me it's about freedom, Amy, and specifically, I talk about in the book, four different kinds of freedom. And I love these because it kind of expanded my vision for what my life and my work could become.
But first of all, the freedom to focus. And it's very difficult for the average person in our environment, this distraction economy, to focus today. So the average worker is interrupted every three minutes. Well, you cannot create with that kind of interruption or distraction, you can't solve complex problems; we need sustained focus and concentration to be able to do that. So I want a productivity system that leads to that kind of focus.
Second kind of freedom is I want the freedom to be present, you know, present when I'm out on a date with Gail so that I'm not distracted by my phone or distracted by concerns at work. And then when I'm at work, sitting in a meeting, I don't want to be distracted by things at home because I haven't given attention to that part of my life as well. So the freedom to be 100 percent fully present with the people I’m with.
Then, the third freedom is the freedom to be spontaneous. I think for so many of us, we kind of have this scarcity mentality that we've got to program every minute of every day, and it's like trying to read a book that didn't have any whitespace. You know, the type goes all the way to the edge of the pages. And you feel anxious. And life can sometimes be like that. We need margin, we need breathing room, we need whitespace. So I want a productivity system that doesn't just create more time for me to do more work, which is what seems to be the end game of so much productivity, but creates big spaces where I can be free to just be spontaneous and do whatever I'd like to do in that moment.
And then, finally, and this is what I learned from my Italian friends when I was in Italy a few years ago when Gail and I were over there for a month, it's a concept called la dolce far niente, and it means the sweetness of doing nothing. And so the fourth freedom is the freedom to do nothing. And all the brain science says that we're usually the most creative, we get the biggest breakthroughs, when our mind is relaxed. And so we've got to allow that kind of whitespace for that, too, so that we can just be doing nothing and come up with amazing breakthrough ideas, whether it's in a relationship or it's in our business. That's why we get these kind of breakthroughs when we're in the shower, we're on a walk, when we're basically doing nothing.
AMY: Ah, so good. So, freedom to focus, to be present, to be spontaneous—I totally hear you on the whitespace. I need so much more of that—and to do nothing, which right now, I've been in a crazy launch cycle. I can't even imagine what it feels like to do nothing. So I am going to be paying very close attention as I walk you through the next few questions because I need this, Michael, just as much as so many of the people that are listening right now. So I'm all ears. Are you ready to dive into these different phases of Free to Focus?
MICHAEL: Let’s do it.
AMY: Okay. So the three phases are stop, cut, and act. And I feel like stop seems like an unusual step for boosting productivity, but I'm kind of getting it now that you're talking about freedom. But talk to me about this idea of stopping.
MICHAEL: Yeah. So, this is the first third of the book, and there’s there chapters, or three steps, that we need to take. First of all, formulate. And by that, I mean formulate a vision of a better, more productive, freer future. That’s what we just talked about. The second one is to evaluate. And not all work is created equal, and if we don't get off the hamster wheel and stop and look at the work we're doing and evaluate it, we're just going to continue to do the same things we're doing, and it's going to lead to the same results. So in that chapter, I talk about something called the freedom compass. So we probably ought to come back to this in just a minute, but let me finish the overview. And then in the third chapter in that section, I talk about rejuvenate. So, formulate, evaluate, rejuvenate. And the reason rejuvenation’s important is if we don't give attention to self-care, if we don't do simple things like getting enough rest, nothing destroys our productivity more than when we're burned out, when we're tired, when we're not getting proper nutrition, when we're not doing the exercise, when we're not relating to people and have good relationships. So we've got to make sure all that basic stuff is laid kind of as the foundation if we're going to bring to our work and to our lives our most productive self. So I get into really some fun stuff there, like some ideas that will be new to entrepreneurs like taking time off, taking vacations, taking sabbaticals, getting adequate rest, taking care of your nutrition, and all the rest. So that's kind of the overview of the stop section of the book.
AMY: Gotcha. Okay. So, with that, in the book, you say the first action on the path to becoming free to focus is to get clear on your objective. You said productivity is not about getting more things done; it's about getting the right things done. So with that, my question is, and so many of my students will ask me this, how do we get really clear on our objectives—the things that we want to work on—and things that we don't want to work on so that we know that we're working on the right things?
MICHAEL: Yeah. So, you know, we could approach this from a lot of different angles. In my previous book Your Best Year Ever, I talked about setting the right goals. But here I want to talk about—and this is chapter two of the book—the evaluate section, where I want to come back to the freedom compass, because we’ve got to get clearer on the kind of work that we're uniquely wired to do. So all of us are different. All of us have different roles. We have different kind of jobs, different things we're trying to accomplish or bring to the world. So the way that I think about it is imagine a two-by-two matrix where proficiency is one axis and passion is another axis. So we want to look at the things that we love and don't love. That's the passion aspect. And then the things that we're good at and the things we're not so good at, that's the proficiency axis. That is, rotate that 45 degrees, put a circle around it, and now it's a compass. So true north is where your passion and your proficiency come together. So the things that you love, the things that you enjoy, the things that give you deep satisfaction, where you just say, “You know what? I was made to do this. I really enjoy this.” Then there's the proficiency aspect. Are you really good at it? And not only do you think you're good at it, but the world recognizes that you're good at it. And here's the key. They're willing to pay you to do it. So when your passion and proficiency come together, that's what I call the desire zone. That's where we're going to experience the most freedom, the most satisfaction. Okay, that's true north.
Now, due south of that, on the freedom compass, is the drudgery zone. These are those things that you’re not passionate about, and you don’t have any proficiency at it. So, I’ll give an example. When I left the big corporate world to launch out on this entrepreneurial adventure in 2011, I went from a world where I had two full-time assistants, 650 employees. I was really able to focus on the things that I did well. But now all of a sudden, I was a solopreneur, and I was trying to manage my email inbox, my calendar, book my travel. I mean, heck, I was trying to find the FedEx box. I didn't even know how to get something in the mail. So these were things that I had no passion around, and I had no proficiency at. It was my drudgery zone. And for me, those things were a grind.
Now, the cool thing is, that the way that the world's created, things that are in your drudgery zone are in somebody else's desire zone. So my assistant Jim, all those things that I just said were in my drudgery zone are in his desires, and he loves managing my inbox, he loves booking travel and creating these event briefs so that when I go someplace I've got everything I need. That stuff is a grind for me.
Now, there's two other zones, and I won't get into these in-depth, so just so you have the full map, east on the freedom compass is what we call the disinterest zone. Now, these are things that you're really good at but you don't have much passion around it. So, for example, when I started my business, I was doing all my accounting, and I had become really good at doing QuickBooks and doing the accounting. I was good at it, but I didn't enjoy it. You know, I had no passion around it. That was my disinterest zone. And those are things that lead to boredom. I’m going to come back to why this is important in just a second.
Then, due west on the freedom compass is what I call the distraction zone. So that's things I enjoy doing, but I'm not that good at it, and these are things I go to escape. So, for example, for me over there—this is pretty funny. So I've got some ability to do some design work and do some programming on a website. I'm not all that good, but I really enjoy doing it.
MICHAEL: And plus it's a lot—yeah. But it's my distraction zone. It's a lot more fun than the real work I should be doing. But so, I go there to escape. And so the distraction zone is where you don’t want to be, either.
So here's the key. That's a long way to get back to your question, which is, how do we know which work we should be doing? We should be focusing the bulk of our time and the desires on the things that we love and the things that we're good at. Now, fair disclaimer here. You can't get there overnight. It's a process. But here's why most business owners can't scale their business: because they can't scale themselves. And you've got to be able to scale yourself before you can scale your business, and it begins by getting focused on your desires, on the more you’re in your desire zone, the more leverage you're going to create, the more your business is going to move forward, the more you're going to grow. So that means you've got to eliminate, automate, or delegate the things that are in the drudgery zone, the things that are in the disinterest zone, the things that are in the distraction zone so I can focus on the best and highest use of my abilities and my talents. Does that make sense?
AMY: It does make sense. So, I’ve got two questions for you on that. Remind me again, the desire zone. How do you figure out what’s in the desire zone, again?
MICHAEL: Well, those are the things you love and the things you’re good at.
AMY: Gotcha, okay.
MICHAEL: So, for example, for me it’s only three things.
AMY: Okay, what are they?
MICHAEL: And I’m able now to spend about 95 percent on these three things. I mean, they're creating content, I'm delivering content, or I'm finding the future for my company and creating the vision and communicating that back to my team.
AMY: Okay, so, those would definitely be mine. But truth be told, those might be 50 percent of my time, and then I'm in the weeds with too much stuff. So hearing you say 90 percent, that is, like, the holy grail. That is outstanding.
MICHAEL: It’s awesome, because that makes me—I’m not burned out, I look forward to coming to work every day. Why? Because I’m working in my desire zone, where I love it, and I’m good at it, and I know it. And so, again, it’s a process. You’re not going to do this overnight. But I have an exercise you can go through in the book, where you can kind of benchmark where you are right now. And what you measure, you can improve. So if you know, if you go through the process and find out that you're at 50 percent, then incrementally, you can move that up and have the goal of getting to 90 or 95 percent.
AMY: Okay. I’m all about that. I will be doing that. So can you tell me, as you were journeying into this 90 percent—obviously, you didn't start there, and I feel like over the last few years I've seen you step into it even more. I could be wrong. Maybe you've been at 90 percent for many, many years. Have you?
MICHAEL: No. No, I haven’t. I’ve definitely—every time I step, I’ve increased it, my business is expanded, because again, I’m scaling myself. I’m bringing more people in, I’m staying in my lane and bringing more people in that not only can do things as well as I can—we’ll talk about delegation here in a minute—but better than I could imagine.
AMY: Okay. So, that’s what I love, right there. Better than you can even imagine.
MICHAEL: Right. I mean, I could tell you right now, like, you were gracious enough to speak at our Achieve Conference. Well, when Suzie, who’s our director of operations, set all that up, planned it, did everything related to it, I didn’t check in on her. I never saw anything, including the venue, or how it was going to be set up, until the day before that event opened, when I saw it for the first time. It blew me away. It exceeded my expectations in every way. That’s what I’m talking about.
AMY: It was. First of all, it was amazing. Suzie did such a good job. And you’re speaking my love language, the fact that you didn’t have anything to do with that, and it was done in such an impeccable way, I absolutely love that.
Okay, so, here's a question I have for you that I know a lot of people thinking and that is give me one thing you had to do to get to that 90 percent. What was one of the most difficult things that you had to do, give up, change your mindset, what did that look like?
MICHAEL: Well, that actually leads us to the second part of the book. So we started with stop, and now we go to cut, okay?
MICHAEL: So, what I had to do—and this is tough for a lot of entrepreneurs because they want their fingers in every aspect of the pie—but to cut, and that begins with eliminate. And really the crux of this—and, Amy, you and I are so much alike on this. I know this is going to be true of you—I'm a recovering people pleaser. So I have a hard time saying no, but I had to determine, I had to understand, what my bigger yes was so that I could say no to the smaller things that were requests for my time, events that I could go to, all this stuff. And so I think learning to say no and eliminating, first of all, the things that no longer need to be done. We get so kind of ensconced in these activities that maybe they made sense at one time, but they kind of outlived their usefulness and we continue to do them in our organization. So we constantly have to be evaluating, what doesn’t need to be done at all anymore?
And then, secondly, I think hitting it off at the pass by learning to say no to the things that come in and threaten to overload us and fill up our day with a lot of busy work, with a lot of fake work. And I love this quote from Warren Buffett. He said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
AMY: Ooh, that one just got me in the gut.
MICHAEL: That’s tough. That’s tough. But how do you say no? And so I have some really practical hacks in this chapter. And one of the things I talk about is the power of a positive no, and this is something I learned from Dr. William Ury, who wrote a book called The Power of a Positive No, and it looks like this. I’m just going to give you something real practical, and I think this will be helpful to your listeners, okay? So, you say no by saying yes, no, yes. Okay? So that’s kind of the formula, and I’m going to illustrate this for you here in just a second.
So, somebody makes a request, and let me just give an example from my life. Because I used to be in the book-publishing world, I often get an email request from somebody who just finished a book proposal, and they said, “Hey, would you mind reviewing this? I know used to be a book publisher. Could you kind of review this and give me some feedback?” Well, I don't have time to do that anymore. I never say yes to that, but I also don’t want to hurt people's feelings, right? So in the past I would have said, “Yeah, I'll try to make time for this,” and then I would just beat myself up for saying yes.
So instead of that, first of all, I’ll affirm them. That's how I start off the email. I affirm them, and I affirm my bigger yes, okay? So, I’m going to give you an illustration here in a second how I do it. The second thing is I want to give a clear unambiguous no, with no weasel room. And then the third thing I want to do is I want to send them off also with a yes, with something that’s positive, wish them well, whatever.
So here’s how it might look in that book-proposal-request example. I would say to somebody, I would say, “Hey, first of all, congratulations. You have done something that 98 percent of all aspiring authors will never do, and that’s you’ve finished a book proposal. That’s the most important, significant first step you can make. Way to go.” So that’s the yes.
Now here comes the no. The no is, “Unfortunately, due to my other commitments—“ and the wording of this is really important— “unfortunately, due to my other commitments, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.” So, now what I’ve said is that in order to be a person of integrity—and who can’t respect this—in order to be faithful to my other commitments that I’ve made, I’m going to have to say no to you. And I do it in an unambiguous way. So I don’t say, “I’m really busy. I’m in a busy season right now. Could you check back with me in about a month?” knowing full well that it’s going to be the same exact situation a month from now, right? So I say no.
Then, what I say is a positive at the end, like, “All the best for getting your book published. I can’t wait to see what happens for you. I’ll look forward to picking up a copy when it comes out.” You know, something that leaves it with a positive taste in their mouth.
Now, I can’t tell you how many people have written me back after I’ve written something like that, and they said, “First of all, thanks for getting back to me,” because so often, when people don’t want to do something, they just let it languish in their inbox, right? “So, thank you for getting back to me, and I totally understand. I get it.” So, people understand that.
AMY: Ah, I need to use this.
MICHAEL: So that’s a way to say no in a positive way.
AMY: I need to use this formula, for sure. And just even thinking about the quote about the most successful people say no most of the time, I feel like everybody listening really needs to hear that, even if you’re just starting out, because if I were to hear that 10 years ago, I probably would’ve been making some different decisions as I started to get my business going.
MICHAEL: Me, too.
AMY: Yeah. That’s a good one.
MICHAEL: I think that the backdrop to all of this is you’ve got a bigger yes you’re trying to say yes to. So, for example, for me, time is a zero-sum game. There’s always a tradeoff. So if I say yes to a person who wants to have coffee with me at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, here’s what that means. That means I’m not going to work out today.
MICHAEL: And taking care of myself is kind of the foundation of everything I do. If I'm not taking care of myself, I'm going to have the energy and the focus and the productivity to be able to do what I do well and keep the commitments I've already made. If I commit to somebody who's coming through town, that I barely know, to go out for dinner with them, that means time that I'm probably not going to spend with a family member, and I've got 17 people in my immediate family that live within 15 minutes of me. So, it’s not that I can’t—I’m not legalistic about it, but I want to understand that when I’m saying no to somebody else, I’m really, truly saying yes to a higher priority, and that’s what we’ve got to get clear about.
AMY: Okay. So, if I looked at it that way, it definitely changes the perspective. Quite honestly, looking at it that way makes it easier for me to say no because I’ve got that bigger yes in mind.
MICHAEL: Me, too.
AMY: Okay. That's great. Now, you talked about delegation and automation, and what was the third one?
MICHAEL: That was it. Elimination, which we just talked about.
AMY: Oh, elimination, okay.
MICHAEL: Automation, and then delegation.
AMY: Okay. Talk to me about automation.
MICHAEL: Okay, so, here’s the thing. The reason we start with elimination is we don't need to automate or delegate things that don't need to be done at all, right? So that's why we start with elimination. We also don't want to delegate or do the work ourself for things that could be automated.
So one example that I did, just to follow up on the example I gave you on saying no with an email, is to create a template and automate it through technology. So I'll give an example on this. Like, this was about 15 years ago. I started to recognize that I was answering the same questions over and over again in email. In other words, I catalogued all the typical requests that were being made of me. So there were things like people wanted me to serve on a nonprofit board or make a contribution to a charity or get together to pick my brain or wanted some advice on a book they were considering or whatever it was. But there was about 40 of those things that people would typically write to me on. And so I would agonize over that. I would take 10 or 20 minutes to write a thoughtful email, or maybe I was short of time and I would just get something out that I didn’t feel that good about afterwards. So I said, “What if I pushed the pause button when one of those came in?” And I asked myself this question, and this is what I call the template mindset, if I think I’m going to have to reuse this again, that I’ll ever have to do this thing I’m about to do again, then I slow down the process, and I create a template.
So for me, in response to that book-proposal request, I have a template. So I wrote the most generous, gracious way to say no to that request, and make the other person feel good about it, and then get this: I saved it—there's a lot of ways to do this—but I saved it as an email signature. So a lot of times people think of the signature function of their email program as a way to add their name and their phone number and their title and all that stuff. But you can actually put as much text in there as you want.
So now when I get that request, instead of taking 10 to 20 minutes to respond to it, I just grab a signature with the template and literally I could personalize the front end of it, and I can get something off in probably 10 seconds. So, so much more efficient. So that’s what I mean by automation—using technology to make your life faster and simpler.
AMY: Okay, so, that is a must, and I love the practical advice there. Okay, and then, the final one—delegate.
MICHAEL: This is a tough one.
AMY: Yes. And I’m going to tell you right now, we have a lot of beginner entrepreneurs listening, and they’ll hear the word delegate and they’ll say, “I don’t have a VA. I don’t have a team yet. I’m a one-woman or a one-man show,” so they feel that they’re not ready to delegate. So, okay. Talk to me.
MICHAEL: Okay. First of all, I faced this myself. You know, I've got 35 full-time employees right now, but I started with one—me. And so that was back in 2011, and I was facing all the same stuff that every other solopreneur faces. So I was trying to do it all. You know, I felt like I was a juggler with too many balls in the air, and I was dropping a lot of balls. And I also wasn't making the progress that I wanted to see in my business. And so eventually I hired a part-time virtual assistant for five hours a week, okay? And so then after about two weeks, I went to 10 hours a week, and then I eventually went to 20 hours a week, but I baby—and this is the key thing—I baby stepped my way into it.
Now, what I have found, Amy, is that entrepreneurs, business owners, tend to have three sentences rattling around in their head about delegation. And here’s what it sounds like. First sentence goes like this, “If I want it done right, I have to do it—“ what?
AMY: Myself. I’m guilty of it.
MICHAEL: Myself. Myself.
AMY: I’m super guilty of this.
MICHAEL: And every entrepreneur is. The other thing that entrepreneurs often say is that “It takes longer to explain it to somebody else. I might as well do it—“what?
MICHAEL: Myself, right? Or, “I can't afford to do it right now. I guess I'm going to have to do it—“what?
MICHAEL: Myself. The problem is, as long as you're at the center of your business like that, your business will never grow beyond your capability, and, more importantly, your time, your 168 hours a week.
Now, I want to just bust each of those myths quickly. First of all, the idea that it takes longer to explain to somebody how to do it than just do it yourself. First of all, that's true, okay? It takes longer the first time you explain how to do it, but after you've made the investment in the training, then it's completely off your plate. You can go on to those things in your desire zone that we talked about earlier.
People say, “Well, if I want it done right, I have to do it myself.” Well, that’s true, unless you’ve got a hiring process and a delegation process, which I get into in that chapter in Free to Focus. Like, I talked about the five levels of delegation, the delegation hierarchy, and basically how to foolproof your delegation so that you end up with a result that is not only better than you could do, but better than you could imagine.
And then that final one, the idea that you can't afford to do it. Again, I’m not asking anybody to go hire a person full time. You know, if you go to a virtual-assistant solution company, like BELAY—I know you've recently met those folks. We've used them for years. Trivinia has her company also, but anybody that has a virtual-assistant company, those are amazing solutions because you can get in small and you can grow. And here's what I discovered. I discovered when I did this, every time I made an investment in somebody else, my business grew. And here's why—this is very practical.
I had a client by the name of Greg, who was one of my coaching clients, and Greg said, kind of like me, he said, “I’m doing web development, which I really have no business doing because I’m not that good at it, first of all, and there’s other things I should be doing.” I said, “Well, why are you doing it?” And he gave me the three sentences that I just recounted to you. And so I said, “Greg, what’s your hourly rate? What do you bill at?” And he said, “One hundred fifty dollars an hour.” I said, “Okay, let me ask you a question. How much would it cost you to get a WordPress developer to do this work?” He said, “About $50 an hour.” I said, “Could you ever imagine paying sort of a halfway-good WordPress developer $150 an hour?” He said, “Absolutely not.” And I said, “So why are you doing it?” And then the light bulb went on in his mind. He was paying somebody essentially $150 an hour, where he could have paid them $50 an hour, booked that same time and actually collected money on it, and made a $100 profit.
So that's what I was able to do. When I hired a virtual executive assistant, I was able to repurpose that time that I was using doing administrative stuff and actually bill out and build my business, do the things that move my business forward. That's the importance of the delegation.
AMY: Okay, I’ve never heard it explained quite like you just did, where basically just heard, so if I keep doing it, I’m paying someone to do it, and I’m paying them a lot of money to do it so-so, which is me if it’s not in my desire zone. And so I’m already paying for it, so do I want to get smarter and more strategic in terms of how I pay for it, or do I just want to keep going on the path I’m going?
MICHAEL: That’s it.
AMY: That’s good stuff. That light bulb just went off in a very different way, because I've heard that concept before, but not like that.
Okay, this is good, Michael. This is good. But we’re not done yet, because we got through the first phase, stop. We got through the second phase, which is cut. Now we’re moving into phase three, which is act. Tell me about what that looks like.
MICHAEL: Okay. This has three steps, also: consolidate, designate, and then we get to the final phase which is activate, where oftentimes people think we should start.
So consolidate. This is something you know all about because you spoke at this at our Achieve Conference on the ideal week. But the idea is to come up with a week that if you had 100 percent control of your time and resources, what would that look like? And you shared with us at the Achieve Conference what your ideal week looks like. My ideal week looks like this, and I divide time into offstage time—by the way, this is a new idea for a lot of entrepreneurs that they can actually take time off. So, for me—
AMY: What a concept.
MICHAEL: What a concept. So for me, I don't work in the evenings, I don’t work on the weekends, I take lots of vacations. Last year I took 160 days off, including weekends. And all my business did was grow. I grew 62 percent last year, and I’ve never worked less. So that was the crazy thing.
AMY: Okay, speaking my language.
MICHAEL: Okay. So, offstage time. Then there’s backstage time where you're preparing to do your front-stage work. Now, people's front stages will look different. You know, if you're an attorney, you're front stage might look like arguing a case in court, negotiating with the client, but then there's all the backstage stuff you have to do as well.
So here's what it looks like for me. Monday is my day for internal meetings. So I'm meeting with my team on Monday. I try to consolidate everything on that Monday. Tuesday is a backstage day where I'm preparing for whatever front-stage activities—might be rehearsal, it might be some last-minute content, prep, whatever. And then Wednesday and Thursday are front-stage days where I'm either doing interviews, like I'm doing today, or I'm doing a webinar or I'm literally speaking on a stage somewhere. And then Friday is also a backstage day, but this is where I consolidate all my external meetings. So somebody comes into town, and they say, “Hey, can I get with you on Thursday?” I do my very best—I'm not legalistic about it—but I do my very best to try to push that into Friday.
Now, the reason why I do that is it's a concept called context switching. So every time you switch a context—you record a podcast, and then you go to a meeting, and then you work on something at your desk—that’s switching context. The ramp-up time to get into that mindset that it takes to do that activity, you know, it's a significant part of getting started. And if you could do that once and then batch a whole bunch of similar activities together, then you avoid that ramp-up time for each one of those activities, so it's what more efficient.
So, for example, when Megan and I record our podcast, we've got a podcast every week just like you do, and we record them, 13 in a day and a half. So we ramp up, we get in that headspace, we're undistracted, and we just bust it. And then we don't have to think about it again for another quarter. So I talk about mega batching in that chapter as well.
AMY: Ah, so good. I mean, it’s intense to batch, but then when you’re done, you’re always so glad you did it.
MICHAEL: So glad. And you did a great job at the Achieve Conference on this very topic. In fact, I think we ran that as a podcast episode on our podcast.
AMY: Okay, so, keep going.
MICHAEL: That leaves us to designate.
MICHAEL: And this is where we have to design not just our year, which I talked about in Your Best Year Ever, but our quarters, our weeks, and our days. And the alternative to designing these things is drifting, where we just kind of, in a reactive mode, we drift through the quarter, we drift through the week, we drift through the day, we're responding to other people's requests. And unfortunately, if we don't have a plan, that's what's going to happen. We're going to be fulfilling other people's agendas instead of pursuing the things that we've been called or inspired to do.
So, I've got several things in that, but I encourage people to identify three goals for the quarter, and this comes out of Your Best Year Ever, but three goals for the quarter. Most people can't do more than that. You may have dozens of other projects, but they don't rise to the level of a goal. And a goal, by my definition, is something that is outside of business as usual. It's a new initiative. It's something that represents new territory, something you’re going to conquer that's outside the whirlwind of what it takes to maintain your business.
So three goals per quarter. Then, three priorities for the week. So, you probably have dozens of things that you could do in the week, but if you could only accomplish three things, what are the three most important things that would drive your business forward or drive your personal life forward? And then each day—and, as you know, we talk about this in the Full Focus Planner—the daily big three.
Okay, so here's the big idea, and this might be the most important tip that I give in this entire episode, if you can take your to-do list and identify the three highest-leverage tasks that you could do today, your must-dos, it will change everything about how you feel about your day. The typical person gets up in the morning with 20 to 24 items on their to-do list. They immediately feel overwhelmed because they have this sinking feeling, they know in their heart that there's no chance they're going to get all those things done. So they're defeated before they even start. They've set themselves up to lose. So then they work through the day, kind of low energy because there's so much to do and so little time, and it's overwhelming. Then they get to the end of the day, even if they complete 10 to 12 tasks, they still feel like they're a loser because they've got 10 to 12 tasks that they haven't finished. So they go to bed discouraged. So it’s this vicious, negative, defeating cycle that repeats day after day after day.
So it’s time to stop the crazy. And the way to stop the crazy is to say, “Look, the Pareto principle says that 20 percent of the effort drives 80 percent of the results.” Not all tasks are created equal. Working on the show notes, or whatever you call in the show prep, for this episode is way more important than you running an errand to the post office. Now, those things can just show up on your to-do list of separate items, but so, what I'm saying is pick the three that are the most important, the ones that are related, first of all, to your weekly priorities—those three weekly priorities—and then your three goals.
So, I encourage people to review that every morning. I do it in my Full Focus Planner because I have those in the Planner, and I review them—it takes me about 60 seconds—and I want to pick out three activities for that day that either are related to my goals or my priorities or a really important project. Now, if I do that every day, five days a week, 250 days a year, that's, like, 750 really important tasks that I've gotten done over the course of a year. That will move your business forward like nothing else you could possibly do, and you'll feel great about it.
AMY: Feel so great about it. Feeling accomplished at the end of every day is really important to keep us moving forward and give us that momentum.
AMY: Yeah. This idea of three a day, it's so powerful, so incredible, I absolutely love this strategy, and I use it. So that one just sticks with me.
AMY: Okay, so, walk me through the three again. The first one was…?
MICHAEL: Okay, consolidate.
AMY: Consolidate. And then this one is called…
MICHAEL: Is designate.
MICHAEL: Designate, or design.
AMY: And then activate?
MICHAEL: Activate. So, the first two, consolidate and designate, are really about formulating an offensive plan. You’re going to design a plan so that when you get on the field, you’re ready to play ball and move it down the field. But life happens. And this chapter is all about how you play defense. How do you manage the interruptions and the distractions that we all face as we try to get stuff done? So I’ll start with interruptions.
MICHAEL: So I talk to people that lead teams, maybe two or three people on your team, but I talk to people who lead teams, and they say, “I can't get my work done because I'm so busy helping other people get their work done.” And interruptions are a real part of organizational life. And even if it's not your teammates, it can be your clients who are calling for this, calling for that, pinging you for this, pinging you for that. And so we've got to have an intelligent way to manage interruptions.
And I talk about some very practical strategies in this chapter. For example, before you go into a deep work session—and I advocate what Jason Fried calls time in the alone zone. In other words, you schedule time literally on your calendar to do this deep, meaningful work that you know is important for your organization. So schedule that time, but before you go into that session, go to the people who are most likely going to interrupt you—maybe your spouse and maybe your kids. It may be clients. It may be teammates—and here's what you say to them. You say, “Look, I'm about to go into a deep-work session where I really need to be uninterrupted, but I want to be able to serve you. And so I just thought I'd check before I do that, is there anything you need from me, any questions I can answer, before I go into that, because I really don’t want to be interrupted once I dive into it.”
And that, first of all, that really does give you an opportunity to serve them, so you're prioritizing them, but you've also put them on notice that you really don't want to be interrupted. And they're going to think twice before they knock on your door, before they send you a text message or what else. So that's a good way to deal with interruptions.
The second issue, though, and this is the more difficult one: distractions. You know, I'm talking here about notifications, email, social media. You know, we live in a distraction economy. By the way, if you haven't interviewed Cal Newport on his new book Digital Minimalism—
AMY: Is this a must?
MICHAEL: This is a must.
AMY: Okay, Digital Minimalism. Okay. Jill, my content manager, she’ll be listening. Let’s do it.
MICHAEL: Okay. He’s awesome. He’s a professor at Georgetown University. At any rate, the distractions are something we've got to deal with, but we've got to face the fact that we're the ones that are getting distracted. So one of the things I've done, I’ve realized that this—I'm holding in my hand a pretty new—I've had it for a couple of months now—an iPhone XS Max. So this is the latest, greatest from Apple.
AMY: Am I surprised that—
MICHAEL: Cost me about $1200.
AMY: —you have this?
MICHAEL: I know. I know, right? But here’s what this is. This looks like a really slick technological device; this is a very sophisticated distraction machine.
MICHAEL: And so, really, I bought it for the camera, but here’s the thing. I just recently—like, two weeks ago—took off email, Slack, and all social media with the exception of Instagram because I'm really trying to build my Instagram following. But get this, Amy. On Instagram, I went into screen time in the settings of my iPhone, and I limited my access to Instagram to 30 minutes a day. Okay, so I tried that for a while, by the way, and when you exceed the limit, a little thing pops up and it says, “Do you want to extended it for another 15 minutes or just forget about it for today?” Well, I was always punching it, you know, extending it. And so I gave my phone to Gail, and I said, “I want you to enter a passcode that only you know. You can actually give it to my assistant, Jim.” And I said, “I don't want you to give it to me. If I exceed my limit, I exceed my limit.” It has not been a problem at all since then. So now I've got this phone that I can get texts on, which is only limited, really, to my family and a few people at work because I have two phone numbers—another thing we could talk about—but I have two phone numbers, but the main one is the one that I get text messages on and phone calls. So, last night I was at dinner with another couple. I didn’t even take my phone into the restraint. That allowed me to be fully present.
So, we’ve got to be smart and let the technology serve us instead of us serving the technology. And one application I recommend, also, that I use on the desktop is an application called Freedom. You can find out more at freedom.to. And it’s a really cool application that allows you to selectively block the applications that you don’t need access to and the websites that you don’t need access to when you’re trying to do that really focused work. And you can set up a session for as long as you want. You know, maybe you could do it for an hour. You’re just going to stay focused for an hour. You're not going to check social media and all that. And the only way to defeat it, like if you just really have an itch and you want to go check social media, the only way you can get to it is to reboot your computer. And that's enough friction that it makes me stop and remember my intention that what I'm doing. So it's like training wheels for your brain to get you off the dopamine addiction and allows you to stay focused. Highly recommended.
AMY: Okay. There are a lot of good resources you just mentioned. You guys, we’re going to put them in the show notes, for sure, because I don't even think about the fact that I need to go the extra mile in order to stay focused, and I think I kind of, like, white knuckle it sometimes. But you're using tools that are going to help you so you're not alone in this.
MICHAEL: That’s right, because I need the accountability, yep.
AMY: Yes. So very true. So, these are examples of how you activate, right?
MICHAEL: Right, exactly. These are examples of activation.
AMY: Okay. I love it. So, this is perfect because I'm talking about the fact that I love these resources and I love these tools. But the ultimate resource—and this might be a cheesy segue, but I am running with it because it's perfect—the ultimate resource is your new book Free to Focus. And I was asking you about the book before we got on, and I said—okay, so, just so everybody knows, freetofocusbook.com, that’s where you go to grab the book. Freetofocusbook.com. But I said, “Michael, are there bonuses?” And there are. So will you take a moment to talk about the bonuses if you buy the book?
MICHAEL: Yeah, absolutely. So, here's what you get. First of all, if you go to that site, it has links to all the major retailers where you can go buy it. You could even buy it at a brick-and-mortar retailer. But come back and then claim your bonuses by submitting your receipt. And here's what you get. You get, first of all, a free copy of the Free to Focus audio book. So that’s a $25 value. You also get a free copy of Your Best Year Ever e-book, which is my last book, all about goal setting. You get my list of my top productivity tools. You get a set of four videos called Your Productivity Secret Weapon. Amy, this is amazing. This is me and Suzie Barbour—my director of operations, who used to be my assistant, then she ran our pool of assistants—but all we talk about in these four videos is how to best use an executive assistant so you can maximize your productivity.
AMY: Okay. I will be getting that. We have a brand-new executive assistant. I am all over that.
MICHAEL: This is a really fun one. You also get a $10 gift card to the Full Focus Store, where you can get our Full Focus Planner. You get the Email Domination System, which is a set of screen casts that I did on how I manage my email; and then a set of 50 timesaving email templates. So altogether, about $500 worth of free bonuses, and all you have to do is buy the book.
AMY: Okay. This is definitely, by far, your best bonus package you've ever done.
MICHAEL: I think so, too. I’m really excited about it.
AMY: This is good. Okay, I am most excited about the VA trainings, and Suzie is just so smart, so the fact that you worked with her on that, I’m really excited about it.
Well, Michael, this has been fantastic. I think that everybody in my audience is going to grab the book because this is the stuff we talk about and what we struggle with the most. And we all know that as you rise in your entrepreneurship, 80 percent is that psychology and 20 percent is in mechanics. And I feel like this book focuses on so much of the psychology, but you actually weave in some of the mechanics as well.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I do. And you’re exactly right. The mindset, the philosophy, all of that is so important, and so many productivity books just get straight to the hacks and the strategies and all that, and all that does is make you run faster on the hamster wheel. We’ve got to ask the question, why are we on the hamster wheel to being with, and where are we going?
AMY: Exactly. That’s a perfect place to end. Why are we on the hamster wheel, where are we going? Let’s make sure that we’re not just doing productivity to be more productive, to be more productive. So, I love this idea of the four ways that you can really celebrate and enjoy your freedom. So, thank you, Michael, for being on the show. I absolutely love having you here, and I can’t wait to have you back.
MICHAEL: Thank you, Amy. Great to be with you.
AMY: So there you have it. I hope you loved this conversation with Michael as much as I did. I feel like the guy always brings the fire. I mean, that was good. And I hope you pick up the book because I already got to see much of the book before I prepared for the interview, but I'm getting the book so I can listen to it on audio. You guys know my drill, right? I take Scout for a walk every morning, and I love a good audio book in my ears, so this is going to be my next one, once I get through Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Stop Apologizing. That's the one I'm listening to now. So when Free to Focus comes out, it's going to be my next. And in addition to that, I love the bonuses. So take him up on the—I was going to call him Hobie. I was just going to say, “Take Hobie up on the bonuses.” I call every man Hobie, which I feel like my husband should love that, but I don't know. So take Michael up on these bonuses. Freetofocusbook.com, and let me know what you think about the VA training. As you heard, that's the one I'm most excited about. So, I'll let you know what I think, you let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoy the book.
All right, guys. I'll see you next week. And for the record, next week is good. I'm doing something special where there was an infomercial on television—I was flipping through the channels—and I started watching it, and I thought, “Oh my gosh. This is so good in terms of how this woman is talking about her product.” And she had certain themes and certain styles of how she talked about her product over and over and over again for the 30-minute infomercial. And I thought, “I've got to transcribe this and pull out some of the techniques she's using and teach my students how to talk about their products in the same way, because I know this infomercial has generated millions and millions and millions of dollars.” And so that's exactly what I did for next week's episode. So it's unique in the sense of different than anything I've done before, but I think you're going to love it. So I'll see you next week, and in the meantime, make sure to subscribe to the podcast if you haven't done so already so you don't miss a thing. Just hit “subscribe” wherever you listen to the podcast, and I’ll see you same time, same place next week. Bye for now.