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Adam Grant on how to turbo-charge productivity and motivation

On today’s show, I speak to organizational psychologist, best-selling author and Wharton’s highest-rated professor, Adam Grant.

His books Give and Take, Originals, and Option B have sold over one million copies and have been translated into 35 languages. Adam has been recognized as one of the world's 10 most influential management thinkers, was named one of Fortune’s 40 under 40, and he also happens to be the host of one of my favourite podcasts, WorkLife which is a TED original podcast.

In this conversation, we cover a whole bunch of topics such as:

  • How to make email more bearable
  • How becoming a parent completely changed Adam’s way of working
  • How Adam approaches social media usage
  • How Adam starts every week
  • Why meetings kill productivity
  • The podcasts Adam is listening to and books he is reading

And a whole lot more.

You can sign up to Adam’s e-newsletter Granted (one of my faves!) right here.

And here are links to some of the books / podcasts / e-newsletters mentioned by Adam:

Invisibilia on NPR

Revisionist History

Dan Pink's newsletter

'Joyful' by Ingrid Fetell Lee

'Rule Makers, Rule Breakers' by Michele Gelfand

If you are looking for more tips to improve the way you work, I write a short monthly newsletter that contains three cool things that I have discovered that help me work better, which range from interesting research findings through to gadgets I am loving. You can sign up for that here.

Finally, for a full transcript, see below.

Adam Grant: I just wanted to make sure that those two things, achieving my own goals and then helping other people that they stayed on my radar. What I like to do is I like to start a week by asking myself, what are three things I want to accomplish and what are three people that I want to help, or three ways I want to be helpful. Then, just kind of do an informal check in on a daily basis to ask, am I making progress toward those goals? I think it keeps me from getting stuck in the weeds of the one goal that's happening to loom large at the moment, and it forces me to make sure that I've got my priorities in order.

 

Amantha Imber: Welcome to How I Work, a show about the tactics used by leading innovators to get so much out of their day. I'm your host, Dr. Amantha Imber, I'm an organizational psychologist, the CEO of Inventium, and I'm obsessed with finding ways to optimize my work day. In today's show, I speak to organizational psychologist, best-selling author and Wharton's highest rated professor, Adam Grant. His books, Give and Take, Originals, and Option B have sold over one million copies and have been translated into 35 languages. Adam has been recognized as one of the world's 10 most influential management thinkers, and he also happens to be the host of one of my favorite podcasts Worklife, which is a TED original podcast.

 

What I loved most about this chat with Adam is not only that Adam happens to be a walking encyclopedia of psychology findings, but I love how he applies these findings in really thoughtful ways to his own life to be more productive. On that note over to Adam to find out about how he works. Welcome to the show!

 

Adam Grant: Thanks, Amantha.

 

Amantha Imber: Now, people talk about being productive, but I don't think I've ever met anyone on your level. Your books have sold over a million copies, your TED Talks have been viewed over 12 million times, you've written a huge number of academic papers in well-established and very well-respected journals and you've been Wharton's top rated professor for the last seven years.

 

Then if that wasn't enough, you somehow managed to be a Junior Olympic Springboard Diver and a professional magician. When I learned all this about you, I thought, well, if you were 70 years old, that would be incredibly impressive, but you've actually packed this all into 36 years. I've got a ton of questions on how on earth you made that all happen.

 

Adam Grant: Well that's very kind of you. I don't feel very productive on most days, so this is going to be one of those conversations where I have no idea how to answer, some of the questions are going to ask, but I'll do my best.

 

Amantha Imber: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, why don't we start with the morning. I'm really keen to know what does a typical morning look like for you? If there is such a thing, and what are the critical ingredients in your morning that helps set you up for a good day?

 

Adam Grant: It's changed a lot since we had kids, I would say before kids, I would basically wake up in the morning and sit down at my computer and work until I ran out of ideas. Sometimes that would mean I sat for four or five hours, sometimes I would work until late at night and obviously I'd get up to eat and stuff like that. I really liked just waking up and digging right into a project and then being laser-focused on it for as long as I could.

 

Once we had kids, obviously I decided I was going to change my schedule. So now it's much more of, I wake up in the morning, we have family time, our kids go off to school and then once our kids leave I start working. The goal is to finish when our kids get home and then not work again until after they're asleep at night.

 

Amantha Imber: Wow, that sounds incredibly well-balanced and I can definitely relate to just the schedule changing when you become a parent, everything changes. I'm curious like when you sit down at your computer when the kids are off for the day, like what are the first few things that you do to get into that zone?

 

Adam Grant: I think that in an ideal world, what I do is I actually spend a little time the night before, if I'm going to work on something creative the next morning, the night before, I'll spend a few minutes just kind of mapping out a few ideas. Then when I wake up I find that I've processed some of them a little bit and whatever version of subconscious thought you believe in, then I feel like I can just hit the ground running.

 

Amantha Imber: That's awesome. You're kind of sleeping on the problem so to speak?

 

Adam Grant: Yeah, I guess, I don't know if it hurts the quality of my sleep, but it definitely helps the quality of my work.

 

Amantha Imber: That's excellent. I love it. I love it. On the topic of academic work, I was really intrigued when I read Cal Newport's Deep Work about how you batch your teaching work in the full semester and research work in the spring and summer semesters. Firstly, I'm curious, is that still accurate? Is that still what you do?

 

Adam Grant: It is, yeah, I've always taught in the fall and I feel like teaching is an immersive experience where I want to spend time in the classroom getting to know my students, figuring out what kinds of questions they have. Every year, I redesigned 20% of the course, I'd like to redesign more, but I don't want to subject the students to the terrible ideas that I've had every year. I figured if 80% stays constant then there's at least some major elements that are tried and true that have gone reasonably well.

 

Then, I just spend a lot of time answering emails, doing meetings and office hours and I didn't want to have anything to distract from that work wise. Then I thought, okay, well I'm going to have a semester that's teaching focused and then I'll have January through July every year to work on research and ideas and some of the other things that I've brought into my job. That's been a nice balance in part because like right now, it's basically June and I can't wait to get back in the classroom.

I haven't been since December and I'm like, "Why am I not teaching the most energizing part of my job?" In December, I was really eager. I had a whole bunch of ideas that I wanted to develop, and I was excited to have more free time to work on them. So I feel like I get to alternate between two different jobs that I love.

 

Amantha Imber: That's fantastic, I love that. Was that something that you did right from the start of your academic career?

 

Adam Grant: I think it's pretty common here in the states, at least in business schools, I would say, so I've done it from day one. I always wanted to teach in the fall because I remembered the excitement of going back to school and how he couldn't wait to learn, and then always feeling like in the spring semester I was like, "Nah, I'm ready for the summer to come around."

 

I felt like it was the right time to really reach students and connect with them. I guess from the very beginning, I felt like I needed protected time to get research done and I also needed some boundaries to make sure that didn't spill into everything that I wanted to do in the classroom, and the relationships I wanted to build with students. I guess, I've never known it any other way. I've studiously avoided teaching in the spring or in the non-fall, I should say.

Although, I've occasionally done a week or so in the spring, but that's about it.

 

Amantha Imber: Oh, wow. Fantastic. I've also heard with emails, is it true that sometimes you will go a few days without checking emails?

 

Adam Grant: No, definitely not.

 

Amantha Imber: Good to clarify that. What I have had about your inbox checking is that you frame up the task of like waiting, like going through an inbox with let's say 300 emails in it, which I'm sure is a daily occurrence for you in a really interesting way. Can you talk about how you think about inbox checking?

 

Adam Grant: Well, let me first say that email used to be one of my favorite things. I remember in 1990, I sent my first email. I think I was either nine or 10 and it was to a cousin in Colorado and it took about 48 hours-

 

Amantha Imber: Oh my God-

 

Adam Grant: ... to send halfway through to us the United States.

 

Amantha Imber: ... I love that you remember that.

 

Adam Grant: Yeah. I mean it was one of those defining moments where I could not believe that I could type something on the computer was just a sentence or two, and that it would somehow travel halfway across the country. I just loved email and I guess it appealed to this, I guess I'm really into efficiency and it bothers me when something is inefficient.

I love the fact that with email I could reach multiple people at once, and I could respond to multiple people quickly as opposed to having separate phone conversations with each of them all the time. Slowly as I went through college and moved into grad school, I started to hate email, and I wondered what happened. What happened was I started getting too much of it.

 

There's a curse, I'm sure you've experienced this as well, that the more responsive you are, the more email you get.

 

Amantha Imber: Oh yes.

 

Adam Grant: But I didn't realize it at first. It's really important to me to get back to people, and so often I think I went a couple of years where my average email response time between morning and evening was just a few minutes max.

 

Amantha Imber: Wow.

 

Adam Grant: I took pride in that, it was part of being there for people. What I didn't quite realized at the time was, "Okay, I'm incentivizing these people to send me more emails. This is the reinforcement." Then the number of people you know goes up and so I just ended up with more emails than I could get to in a day.

 

I found myself especially if I was working on a big project, it would be nighttime and I'd have hundreds of emails accumulating, and it felt like I couldn't keep up. The way that I motivated myself was I said, "Look, this is something I've studied in my research," and when a task is unpleasant, like trying to clear out 300 emails.

 

I'm not going to motivate myself by thinking about the benefits to me, because if I thought the activity was beneficial to me, I would already be motivated to do it. The only way to motivate myself is to ask myself, "Okay, what good is this going to do for the people that I'm answering?"

I actually started going through my inbox and sorting by where I could have the most impact, and so it wasn't who emailed me first, it wasn't necessarily who I knew best, it was where could I add the most value?

 

As I answered a few of those emails, I started to get a rhythm and I started to feel like, "Al; right, you know what, this is kind of annoying and aggregate, but I also feel like I'm doing something useful here." Then that would give me the energy I needed to sort of finish the task and get my inbox cleaned.

 

Amantha Imber: That is so cool, I'm completely going to change how I look at email after hearing that. I love that.

 

Adam Grant: I don't know if you should actually.

 

Amantha Imber: Really?

 

Adam Grant: Amantha, I think it's a risky idea because you don't want to convince yourself to like email because then you'll just spend all day everyday doing email. I think you just want to make it bearable.

 

Amantha Imber: Yeah, okay. That's good, I'm making email variable. I love that. I guess like where email can be quite troublesome for a lot of people is where they've got the inbox open all day, and they've got notifications popping up, and they just kind of doing the just check of the email. You seem to be someone who is really good at fighting off those digital distractions and just staying focused. I'm wondering like, how do you do that? What are your tricks for not being tempted by the various digital distractions that are out there?

 

Adam Grant: Well, it's funny, I think I've been really intrigued by the science of self-control here, because if you study self-control one of the things you will see in the data is that people with high self-control actually exercise it less. If you have really great willpower, you use less willpower. It sounds like a paradox, but the reason for that is anyone who has good self-control recognizes that it's easier to prevent yourself from getting into a situation where you have to manage an impulse than it is to manage the impulse in the moment.

 

It's the equivalent of saying, "All right, I should probably set an alarm clock and then put it halfway across the room so that when I wake up in the morning, I am not tempted to just hit the snooze button." That's a habit that I think you can carry throughout your day.

 

I think there are extreme versions of this that I actually don't endorse. I guess you could go cold turkey and say, "All right, you know, I'm going to turn off all notifications, I'm not going to check any technology, I'm going to disconnect myself from the Internet," whatever I need to do. I actually find some of those distractions to be useful mini breaks.

 

When I'm stuck on an idea or a sentence when I'm writing, I'll actually go over to Twitter and check it for a minute or two. I limit myself on a clock and I also usually have goals for how much I have to finish before I'm allowed to go over and check.

 

Amantha Imber: I love that.

 

Adam Grant: That kind of helps. It's a simple thing, right? Saying, "All right, I'm going to aim to use social media five to 10 minutes a day when I can't be doing anything else." I will do it when I'm sitting on a flight waiting for it to take off," or, "I'll be on it when I am actually ended up doing it quite a bit in like a Lyft or an Uber, a taxi," and otherwise I'll use it as a small reward for making progress on the things that I think are important.

 

Amantha Imber: I like that, so it's a reward. Then, you said that you set the clock because where I can imagine people coming undone is that they go, "Great. Adams told me to reward myself with Facebook. I'm going to pop on." Then two hours later, "Hang on. What task was I working on?" How does that work? Like you setting a really noisy stopwatch?

 

Adam Grant: No.

 

Amantha Imber: How does that work?

 

Adam Grant: No, I just have a time in mind. If it's 7:56, I'll say, "All right, I've got four minutes," and then at 8:00 I'm going to get back to work. If I fall short on that, I'm disappointing myself and I start feeling guilty and that's not pleasant, and so next time I'm like, "Ah, I don't want to feel that way again, let me just stay on task."

 

I will also say though, I feel like if the urge to spend hours scrolling through Facebook is dragging you away from your work, then your work isn't motivating enough. I feel like I actually feel the opposite of impulse if I'm scrolling through Facebook, I'm like, "Oh, but I have this really exciting work to do, I want to get back to that." I obviously don't think it's practical for every single moment of every single day to be that intrinsically motivating.

 

I think to have an enjoyable and meaningful work life it's probably worth asking. That desire, you feel to engage with whatever your guilty distraction is, how could you actually design your work so that it creates that?

 

Amantha Imber: Yeah, so that's interesting. You bring up intrinsic motivation and I was quite intrigued by, I think it must be one of your latest publications in the Academy of Management Journal where you talk about when people work on a task that is intrinsically and deeply motivating, performance on the extrinsically motivating task falls. Can you talk a bit more about what you found it and I'm personally curious how have you applied that to your own life? Because it was such a curious research.

 

Adam Grant: Amantha, you've really done your homework here because this was just accepted for publication in the last few weeks. I'd say it's hot off the presses, but it's not even on the presses, it's impressed. This is a series of study, the GA Haitian lead and we started off with this idea that it's assumed to be a good thing to have intrinsic motivation, but we all have a range of projects and tasks that make up our jobs.

 

Nobody's really ever thought about or studied the spillover effects, and we wondered if there's a dark side of working on an intrinsically motivating task that it can make your boring tasks even more dull in juxtaposition. That's basically what we found, so in one of the studies, GA gathered data from a Korean company and it turned out that the more you have one task in your portfolio of five or six, that's off the charts and intrinsic motivation, the more your performance suffers on your less interesting tasks.

 

Then, we designed an experiment which was really fun. We had people search for YouTube videos as the first task, and so the interesting version was to find the most fascinating videos on YouTube and then write about what made them so interesting. There was kind of a medium interest condition where you had to search for life hack videos and just summarize what the practical insights were there.

 

Then in the boring condition we had people watch videos of paint dry, just sit there and watch paint drying and we had people describe them so that we could check to make sure they were actually watching them. So then you've just done an interesting or boring task or one somewhere in between, and then in a second task we had to either play a really fun computer game or copy numbers from a phone book. It turned out the people who had watched the fascinating YouTube videos actually made more mistakes and performed worse on the copying task.

 

Amantha Imber: It's so interesting. What I was really curious about because I was reading that research and reflecting on how would I apply that in my own life, and I felt quite sort of challenged. How do I do that? I was curious like, I would imagine that when you find these things in your research studies, you reflect on your own life and think about how can you integrate that. I'm curious, have you found a way to integrate this into your own life? And if so, what is that?

 

Adam Grant: Yeah, I have actually, I think about it a little bit like athletes who taper before a big competition. If you're a runner or a swimmer or a weightlifter, you're not supposed to do like a max intensity workout in the few days before your big competition. Runners, if they're training for a marathon and in the few days before they won't do a really long run, or same for a swimmer or a weight lifter won't lift quite as heavy.

The idea is that they're kind of tapering down to have maximum strength. I think that there's, I don't know if the analogy holds just perfectly, but I've started to think about the sequencing of tasks in my day as involving some tapering. I used to think that I should put interesting tasks and boring tasks back to back, and that as I'm working on something that I find just endlessly intriguing right after that, I should do my most dull task of the day because then I'll have some energy to carry over.

 

When our data shows that's false instead of energy carrying over, there's just this awful contrast where you're like, "Wow, this was horrible before and now it's going to crush my soul. How can I possibly do this?" How do I just spend more time working on this fun task instead? What's interesting is that if ... This is all assuming that you care about your performance in the boring task, right? It may be dull, but it's important or it matters in some way.

 

If you don't want your performance to suffer in that task, then what you want to do is sandwich a medium task in between, and so you taper down from interesting to moderately interesting to boring. If you work on a moderately interesting task that's kind of okay before the boring task, it's not so different to create that contrast, and so the boring task doesn't suffer. Instead, you actually do have a little bit of energy that seems to carry over and it boosts your performance on the boring task.

 

Now, I think about these kind of little trios of tasks where I start out, I go, interesting, okay, boring. Then I go back to the interesting task and what I love about that is that helps power me through the boring task because I've got something really exciting to look forward to when I finish.

 

Amantha Imber: That's really cool, I love that idea of tapering. I feel like I can definitely apply that in my own life, that's very cool. One thing I was very curious about is that something you're very well-known for is being such a generous giver and so much of your research is focused on essentially the power of giving.

 

On the other hand, I read so much in the productivity space about the importance of saying no and the power of saying no, and I was curious, how do you balance that? Because I can't even begin to imagine how many people are requesting your time. I know that you are very much a yes person, and how do you balance that? How do you know when to say yes versus saying no?

 

Adam Grant: Oh, I don't know. I feel like I'm struggling through this the same way that everyone else is. I'll tell you what has been most helpful to me though, I think, I used to try to say yes to everyone and to everything. I just found that that was impossible as I got busier as my profile, I guess got raised outside the Ivory Tower. I just didn't have enough hours in the day to filled all the requests that were coming in.

I ended up coming out with a bunch of heuristics that more or less mirrored what I've studied when I've looked at the differences between people who are, would I have called successful givers, who are productively generous, and failed givers who are too selfless and ended up burning out or getting burned by the takers who they have the misfortune of dealing with.

 

There are a few kinds of choices that really matter. The first one is to be thoughtful about who you help. So for me, that's meant that I have a hierarchy of people that I'm trying to support, and it's family first, students second, colleagues third, everyone else fourth. At some point, I realized that friends were not in that list, I felt really bad about it. But then I realized, you know what, actually my goal in a friendship is not to be helping the person it's to be a friend and that may involve lots of different things and I'll fit them in wherever.

 

The other categories, it was important for me to be clear because when a request comes in, I know that I'm not going to be equally generous to everyone. So I had to realize, you know what, I'm okay with the fact that my colleagues may well think that I'm less generous than my students do because I just did not become a professor to try to inspire other professors. I became a professor because I wanted to have an impact on students the same way that I was really influenced by the great teachers that I'd had and I wanted to try to pay that forward.

 

When a request comes in, I just kind of go through that list and it depends on how much I have in the day. It was so important to put family first there because it's easy to say, well, there are lots of requests that come in work wise that are urgent and you also are able to gain status and build connections by helping people and some of the family stuff is sometimes less exciting, if you're changing diapers for example.

When I took a step back and thought about my values, I knew that it was most important to me to be showing up for my family first and foremost. That I found really helpful. Then, the other choices are about how you help and when you help. That basically breaks down to saying, "Look, I want to help when I can add unique value and when it does not detract from my energy or my ability to get my own work done."

 

What I tried to do is break down all the different ways that I was trying to say yes to people and figure out which ones I enjoyed an excelled at. If people are asking for help in domains where I didn't feel like I had a unique contribution to make, or it was exhausting me, I knew that over time that meant I was going to have less impact. For me, that's been kind of zooming in on two things. One is knowledge sharing.

 

There's almost nothing that brightens my inbox more than somebody reached out and saying, "Yeah, I had this question about something related to work psychology. Has anybody ever studied fill in the blank?" I'm like, "Yes, there's a chance to take all that esoteric information that I'm collecting from academic journals, and share it with somebody who might be curious about it or who can apply it in some way."

 

That's always a treat and I feel like there aren't that many people, well that's the way that they help. Then, the other is I really love making introductions provided they're mutually beneficial. I feel like by virtue of the kind of work that I do, I get to interact with lots of different industries and kinds of people and it's just really fun to connect the dots between two people who could help each other, or who could create something really meaningful together.

 

I've tried to focus on those requests and that means that when somebody reaches out and it's not in one of those buckets, I'll let them know that their request is not in my wheel house, but if I could be helpful by sharing knowledge or by making an introduction, then I'd be happy to do that.

 

Amantha Imber: On that, I'm very encouraged to hear that you do indeed say no, and how do you say "no" politely? Do you have like a go-to no strategy?

 

Adam Grant: I have a few of them, let's try them out. Make a request.

Amantha Imber: Adam, I'm going to be in the US in a couple of months' time. Can I stay with you for a week?

 

Adam Grant: No. There are a couple different ways how to answer that. The first one is, "Amantha, I would love to see you in you're in the US, I try not to impose people on my family life and in particular my wife is a segmenter and an introvert and it's important for her to have boundaries, and she doesn't like the blurring between work and home. So I learned a long time ago that it wasn't fair to her to just invite people that are total strangers to her into our home. As much as I would love to have you, I can recommend some great hotels."

 

Amantha Imber: That's great. You're giving a very clear and detailed rationale behind the "no".

 

Adam Grant: Yeah, I mean, look, I don't feel like I actually have an obligation to do that. If somebody has the goal to ask something that's unreasonable, then I can be perfectly unreasonable back, but I still prefer to err on the side of politeness. Another thing I might say though, which is, it's not that often that somebody would just ask out of the blue, can you stay with me?

 

I do get a lot of, "Well, hey, I'm going to be coming through Philly, can we meet up?" My standard answer to that is actually when I'm in Philly my time belongs to my family and my students, and those are my two priorities. The only way that I can really protect my time and show up for the people that I've made a commitment to supporting is to set that boundary, and I really hope you understand.

 

Amantha Imber: Nice. That sounds very polite and reasonable, I like that.

 

Adam Grant: I'll try.

 

Amantha Imber: Now, before we move on to rapid fire questions, there was one other thing that I wanted to ask you about, and I'm not sure if this is still true, but I read that there's a certain way that you start every week where you think about what you want to accomplish and how you want to help it and then that kind of becomes your compass for the week. Is that still something that you do and if so, could you maybe elaborate on what that looks like?

 

Adam Grant: Sure, so I started doing this when I realized that, I guess, I think about personality in terms of we all have lots of traits, but are the traits we express in any given moment. I think that's often governed by our dominant trait, the trait we're most extreme on. My dominant trait is probably being goal-oriented. If you give me a goal, I just get tunnel vision, and the only thing I can see or think of is that goal. I wanted to improve my peripheral vision, I wanted to make sure that I didn't lose sight of my priorities and I saw that going both ways.

 

Sometimes, I'd get totally focused on a work goal and I'd miss out on some ways that I really wanted to be responsive to other people. Then on the flip side, I'd get totally immersed in helping somebody and a work task would fall off my plate. I just wanted to make sure that those two things, achieving my own goals and then helping other people that they stayed on my radar.

 

What I'd like to do is I'd like to start a week by asking myself what are three things I want to accomplish and what are three people that I want to help, or three ways I want to be helpful. Then, I just kind of do an informal check in on a daily basis to ask, am I making progress toward those goals.

 

I think it keeps me from getting stuck in the weeds of the one goal that's happening to loom large at the moment, and it forces me to make sure that I've got my priorities in order.

 

Amantha Imber: I like that. Can you give me an example of maybe what one thing that you're trying to accomplish this week has been, and one way that you are trying to help a person or something this week to give an example?

 

Adam Grant: Sure. So this week my big work goal was finishing up a draft of an audio book that I'm releasing later this summer which is called power moves. It's been a really interesting project, it's a collaboration with audible where they said, "Look, we know you're going to be going into the world economic forum in Davos in January and we're wondering if you want to do an audio book around a theme about the lessons, that you can interview a bunch of people and add in your own analysis."

 

I ended up doing about two dozen interviews in Davos with all sorts of interesting leaders and thinkers, and it was around the theme of power asking how it's changing and how we can use it for good. I've been working on that since then and my goal for this week was to finish a complete draft so we're ready to record soon. Then, in terms of being helpful on a professional front, my big goal for the week was to help one of our doctoral students get a paper out for publication.

 

I read it, I gave comments, then we strategized about which journals to submit it to and how to best frame it to make a contribution. Yeah, I had both of those actually on a to-do-list and I was just checking up on myself over the last couple of days.

 

Amantha Imber: Awesome. I love it. Love those examples. Now, onto the sort of the rapid fire finish for the shows. There are a large part of staying focused is tuning into useful and insightful stimulus and tuning out the rest, because there's so much of that. To finish off, I've got a few quick questions for you on this topic to start with, what podcasts are you currently listening to and loving?

 

Adam Grant: Oh, I love Invisibilia on NPR, I think it's a show about all the hidden forces that shape behavior and I just think it's mind bending is a good way to describe it. My favorite episodes were how to become Batman and flip the script.

 

Amantha Imber: Awesome.

 

Adam Grant: Then, I'm also a big fan of Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell.

 

Amantha Imber: Oh, that's so good, isn't it? Yes. What is it a newsletter that you subscribe to and actually look forward to writing?

 

Adam Grant: I have a lot of favorite newsletters, but one of the ones that I get the most out of is Dan Pink's every other week.

 

Amantha Imber: I love that one too, that's such a good one. Yep. Now, what is a great book that you've read recently?

 

Adam Grant: I actually just read two outstanding books that are both released in the fall. One was 'Joyful' by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and the other was 'Rule Makers, Rule Breakers' by Michele Gelfand.

 

Amantha Imber: Fantastic. I'm going to check those ones out. Finally, what's your favorite research study into productivity and what did it reveal?

 

Adam Grant: Oh, there are so many, do I really have to choose one?

 

Amantha Imber: You do, you do, yes.

 

Adam Grant: Oh, that is cruel and unusual punishment. I don't know that I can choose a favorite, but I'll tell you actually the most interesting one that I read this week when I was procrastinating on some writing.

I read this study out of Ohio State University, which really bothered me because the arrival of my Michigan Wolverines, but I'll try to get over that, and it was actually a series of I think eight studies which showed that when you have a meeting coming up in an hour or two, you use the time in between much less productively.

 

In one of their studies when people knew they had a meeting on their calendar, they use their time between now and then to get 22% less work done, then they would have if they had taken that off their calendar.

 

Amantha Imber: Wow.

 

Adam Grant: It's obviously a mistake, we waste a lot of time. You had to say, "Well, there's no point in starting that because I have a meeting in six hours, how can I ever make any progress between now and then?"

I think when takeaway from me on that is, it's reinforcement for something I've done for a long time, which is stalking meetings more or less, back to back on a meeting day. On a teaching day, what I'll do is I'll hold all my office hours back to back. I learned that I needed a little buffer so that maybe five minutes between each meeting just to catch up on email or in case a meeting ran long helped, but then I'd have another day with no meetings at all where I could really focus and be productive and this research just kind of reinforced that for me.

 

Amantha Imber: I love that. That's fascinating. Well, thank you so much for your time, Adam. I was really looking forward to speaking to you and you did not disappoint. Now, for those who want to get more Adam Grant into their lives, how can we do that?

 

Adam Grant: Well, I wouldn't wish that on anyone but if that's what you wanted. I've had a lot of fun during my Worklife podcasts with the Ted team and we just finished season one, and are just starting to think about season two. Then I do a newsletter every month called 'Granted' where I share new insights about work in psychology and answer reader questions.

 

Amantha Imber: Fantastic. Where can we sign up for that?

 

Adam Grant: Oh, it's just at adamgrant.net.

 

Amantha Imber: Wonderful. Wonderful. I got to say, I'm loving your WorkLife podcast and also your newsletter is one of the ones that I look forward to-

 

Adam Grant: Oh thank you.

 

Amantha Imber: ... so I thank you for that. Yeah, so thank you so much, Adam, it's been an absolute pleasure.

 

Adam Grant: Pleasure is all mine. Thank you, Amantha.

 

Amantha Imber: Hey there, that's it for today's episode. If you're looking for more tips to improve the way you work, I write a short monthly newsletter that contains three cool things that I've discovered, that helped me work better, which range from interesting research findings through to gadgets that I'm loving. You can sign up for that at howiwork.co, that's How I Work dot co. You're probably sick of podcast telling you to give them a review in iTunes if you like the episode.

I promise I won't ask you to do that, but if the mood strikes you then go for it. If you liked this episode and you want more, just hit the subscribe button. See you next time.

Adam Grant: I just wanted to make sure that those two things, achieving my own goals and then helping other people that they stayed on my radar. What I like to do is I like to start a week by asking myself, what are three things I want to accomplish and what are three people that I want to help, or three ways I want to be helpful. Then, just kind of do an informal check in on a daily basis to ask, am I making progress toward those goals? I think it keeps me from getting stuck in the weeds of the one goal that's happening to loom large at the moment, and it forces me to make sure that I've got my priorities in order.

Amantha Imber: Welcome to How I Work, a show about the tactics used by leading innovators to get so much out of their day. I'm your host, Dr. Amantha Imber, I'm an organizational psychologist, the CEO of Inventium, and I'm obsessed with finding ways to optimize my work day. In today's show, I speak to organizational psychologist, best-selling author and Wharton's highest rated professor, Adam Grant. His books, Give and Take, Originals, and Option B have sold over one million copies and have been translated into 35 languages. Adam has been recognized as one of the world's 10 most influential management thinkers, and he also happens to be the host of one of my favorite podcasts Worklife, which is a TED original podcast.

What I loved most about this chat with Adam is not only that Adam happens to be a walking encyclopedia of psychology findings, but I love how he applies these findings in really thoughtful ways to his own life to be more productive. On that note over to Adam to find out about how he works. Welcome to the show!

Adam Grant: Thanks, Amantha.

Amantha Imber: Now, people talk about being productive, but I don't think I've ever met anyone on your level. Your books have sold over a million copies, your TED Talks have been viewed over 12 million times, you've written a huge number of academic papers in well-established and very well-respected journals and you've been Wharton's top rated professor for the last seven years.

Then if that wasn't enough, you somehow managed to be a Junior Olympic Springboard Diver and a professional magician. When I learned all this about you, I thought, well, if you were 70 years old, that would be incredibly impressive, but you've actually packed this all into 36 years. I've got a ton of questions on how on earth you made that all happen.

Adam Grant: Well that's very kind of you. I don't feel very productive on most days, so this is going to be one of those conversations where I have no idea how to answer, some of the questions are going to ask, but I'll do my best.

Amantha Imber: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, why don't we start with the morning. I'm really keen to know what does a typical morning look like for you? If there is such a thing, and what are the critical ingredients in your morning that helps set you up for a good day?

Adam Grant: It's changed a lot since we had kids, I would say before kids, I would basically wake up in the morning and sit down at my computer and work until I ran out of ideas. Sometimes that would mean I sat for four or five hours, sometimes I would work until late at night and obviously I'd get up to eat and stuff like that. I really liked just waking up and digging right into a project and then being laser-focused on it for as long as I could.

Once we had kids, obviously I decided I was going to change my schedule. So now it's much more of, I wake up in the morning, we have family time, our kids go off to school and then once our kids leave I start working. The goal is to finish when our kids get home and then not work again until after they're asleep at night.

Amantha Imber: Wow, that sounds incredibly well-balanced and I can definitely relate to just the schedule changing when you become a parent, everything changes. I'm curious like when you sit down at your computer when the kids are off for the day, like what are the first few things that you do to get into that zone?

Adam Grant: I think that in an ideal world, what I do is I actually spend a little time the night before, if I'm going to work on something creative the next morning, the night before, I'll spend a few minutes just kind of mapping out a few ideas. Then when I wake up I find that I've processed some of them a little bit and whatever version of subconscious thought you believe in, then I feel like I can just hit the ground running.

Amantha Imber: That's awesome. You're kind of sleeping on the problem so to speak?

Adam Grant: Yeah, I guess, I don't know if it hurts the quality of my sleep, but it definitely helps the quality of my work.

Amantha Imber: That's excellent. I love it. I love it. On the topic of academic work, I was really intrigued when I read Cal Newport's Deep Work about how you batch your teaching work in the full semester and research work in the spring and summer semesters. Firstly, I'm curious, is that still accurate? Is that still what you do?

Adam Grant: It is, yeah, I've always taught in the fall and I feel like teaching is an immersive experience where I want to spend time in the classroom getting to know my students, figuring out what kinds of questions they have. Every year, I redesigned 20% of the course, I'd like to redesign more, but I don't want to subject the students to the terrible ideas that I've had every year. I figured if 80% stays constant then there's at least some major elements that are tried and true that have gone reasonably well.

Then, I just spend a lot of time answering emails, doing meetings and office hours and I didn't want to have anything to distract from that work wise. Then I thought, okay, well I'm going to have a semester that's teaching focused and then I'll have January through July every year to work on research and ideas and some of the other things that I've brought into my job. That's been a nice balance in part because like right now, it's basically June and I can't wait to get back in the classroom.

I haven't been since December and I'm like, "Why am I not teaching the most energizing part of my job?" In December, I was really eager. I had a whole bunch of ideas that I wanted to develop, and I was excited to have more free time to work on them. So I feel like I get to alternate between two different jobs that I love.

Amantha Imber: That's fantastic, I love that. Was that something that you did right from the start of your academic career?

Adam Grant: I think it's pretty common here in the states, at least in business schools, I would say, so I've done it from day one. I always wanted to teach in the fall because I remembered the excitement of going back to school and how he couldn't wait to learn, and then always feeling like in the spring semester I was like, "Nah, I'm ready for the summer to come around."

I felt like it was the right time to really reach students and connect with them. I guess from the very beginning, I felt like I needed protected time to get research done and I also needed some boundaries to make sure that didn't spill into everything that I wanted to do in the classroom, and the relationships I wanted to build with students. I guess, I've never known it any other way. I've studiously avoided teaching in the spring or in the non-fall, I should say.

Although, I've occasionally done a week or so in the spring, but that's about it.

Amantha Imber: Oh, wow. Fantastic. I've also heard with emails, is it true that sometimes you will go a few days without checking emails?

Adam Grant: No, definitely not.

Amantha Imber: Good to clarify that. What I have had about your inbox checking is that you frame up the task of like waiting, like going through an inbox with let's say 300 emails in it, which I'm sure is a daily occurrence for you in a really interesting way. Can you talk about how you think about inbox checking?

Adam Grant: Well, let me first say that email used to be one of my favorite things. I remember in 1990, I sent my first email. I think I was either nine or 10 and it was to a cousin in Colorado and it took about 48 hours-

Amantha Imber: Oh my God-

Adam Grant: ... to send halfway through to us the United States.

Amantha Imber: ... I love that you remember that.

Adam Grant: Yeah. I mean it was one of those defining moments where I could not believe that I could type something on the computer was just a sentence or two, and that it would somehow travel halfway across the country. I just loved email and I guess it appealed to this, I guess I'm really into efficiency and it bothers me when something is inefficient.

I love the fact that with email I could reach multiple people at once, and I could respond to multiple people quickly as opposed to having separate phone conversations with each of them all the time. Slowly as I went through college and moved into grad school, I started to hate email, and I wondered what happened. What happened was I started getting too much of it.

There's a curse, I'm sure you've experienced this as well, that the more responsive you are, the more email you get.

Amantha Imber: Oh yes.

Adam Grant: But I didn't realize it at first. It's really important to me to get back to people, and so often I think I went a couple of years where my average email response time between morning and evening was just a few minutes max.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Adam Grant: I took pride in that, it was part of being there for people. What I didn't quite realized at the time was, "Okay, I'm incentivizing these people to send me more emails. This is the reinforcement." Then the number of people you know goes up and so I just ended up with more emails than I could get to in a day.

I found myself especially if I was working on a big project, it would be nighttime and I'd have hundreds of emails accumulating, and it felt like I couldn't keep up. The way that I motivated myself was I said, "Look, this is something I've studied in my research," and when a task is unpleasant, like trying to clear out 300 emails.

I'm not going to motivate myself by thinking about the benefits to me, because if I thought the activity was beneficial to me, I would already be motivated to do it. The only way to motivate myself is to ask myself, "Okay, what good is this going to do for the people that I'm answering?"

I actually started going through my inbox and sorting by where I could have the most impact, and so it wasn't who emailed me first, it wasn't necessarily who I knew best, it was where could I add the most value?

As I answered a few of those emails, I started to get a rhythm and I started to feel like, "Al; right, you know what, this is kind of annoying and aggregate, but I also feel like I'm doing something useful here." Then that would give me the energy I needed to sort of finish the task and get my inbox cleaned.

Amantha Imber: That is so cool, I'm completely going to change how I look at email after hearing that. I love that.

Adam Grant: I don't know if you should actually.

Amantha Imber: Really?

Adam Grant: Amantha, I think it's a risky idea because you don't want to convince yourself to like email because then you'll just spend all day everyday doing email. I think you just want to make it bearable.

Amantha Imber: Yeah, okay. That's good, I'm making email variable. I love that. I guess like where email can be quite troublesome for a lot of people is where they've got the inbox open all day, and they've got notifications popping up, and they just kind of doing the just check of the email. You seem to be someone who is really good at fighting off those digital distractions and just staying focused. I'm wondering like, how do you do that? What are your tricks for not being tempted by the various digital distractions that are out there?

Adam Grant: Well, it's funny, I think I've been really intrigued by the science of self-control here, because if you study self-control one of the things you will see in the data is that people with high self-control actually exercise it less. If you have really great willpower, you use less willpower. It sounds like a paradox, but the reason for that is anyone who has good self-control recognizes that it's easier to prevent yourself from getting into a situation where you have to manage an impulse than it is to manage the impulse in the moment.

It's the equivalent of saying, "All right, I should probably set an alarm clock and then put it halfway across the room so that when I wake up in the morning, I am not tempted to just hit the snooze button." That's a habit that I think you can carry throughout your day.

I think there are extreme versions of this that I actually don't endorse. I guess you could go cold turkey and say, "All right, you know, I'm going to turn off all notifications, I'm not going to check any technology, I'm going to disconnect myself from the Internet," whatever I need to do. I actually find some of those distractions to be useful mini breaks.

When I'm stuck on an idea or a sentence when I'm writing, I'll actually go over to Twitter and check it for a minute or two. I limit myself on a clock and I also usually have goals for how much I have to finish before I'm allowed to go over and check.

Amantha Imber: I love that.

Adam Grant: That kind of helps. It's a simple thing, right? Saying, "All right, I'm going to aim to use social media five to 10 minutes a day when I can't be doing anything else." I will do it when I'm sitting on a flight waiting for it to take off," or, "I'll be on it when I am actually ended up doing it quite a bit in like a Lyft or an Uber, a taxi," and otherwise I'll use it as a small reward for making progress on the things that I think are important.

Amantha Imber: I like that, so it's a reward. Then, you said that you set the clock because where I can imagine people coming undone is that they go, "Great. Adams told me to reward myself with Facebook. I'm going to pop on." Then two hours later, "Hang on. What task was I working on?" How does that work? Like you setting a really noisy stopwatch?

Adam Grant: No.

Amantha Imber: How does that work?

Adam Grant: No, I just have a time in mind. If it's 7:56, I'll say, "All right, I've got four minutes," and then at 8:00 I'm going to get back to work. If I fall short on that, I'm disappointing myself and I start feeling guilty and that's not pleasant, and so next time I'm like, "Ah, I don't want to feel that way again, let me just stay on task."

I will also say though, I feel like if the urge to spend hours scrolling through Facebook is dragging you away from your work, then your work isn't motivating enough. I feel like I actually feel the opposite of impulse if I'm scrolling through Facebook, I'm like, "Oh, but I have this really exciting work to do, I want to get back to that." I obviously don't think it's practical for every single moment of every single day to be that intrinsically motivating.

I think to have an enjoyable and meaningful work life it's probably worth asking. That desire, you feel to engage with whatever your guilty distraction is, how could you actually design your work so that it creates that?

Amantha Imber: Yeah, so that's interesting. You bring up intrinsic motivation and I was quite intrigued by, I think it must be one of your latest publications in the Academy of Management Journal where you talk about when people work on a task that is intrinsically and deeply motivating, performance on the extrinsically motivating task falls. Can you talk a bit more about what you found it and I'm personally curious how have you applied that to your own life? Because it was such a curious research.

Adam Grant: Amantha, you've really done your homework here because this was just accepted for publication in the last few weeks. I'd say it's hot off the presses, but it's not even on the presses, it's impressed. This is a series of study, the GA Haitian lead and we started off with this idea that it's assumed to be a good thing to have intrinsic motivation, but we all have a range of projects and tasks that make up our jobs.

Nobody's really ever thought about or studied the spillover effects, and we wondered if there's a dark side of working on an intrinsically motivating task that it can make your boring tasks even more dull in juxtaposition. That's basically what we found, so in one of the studies, GA gathered data from a Korean company and it turned out that the more you have one task in your portfolio of five or six, that's off the charts and intrinsic motivation, the more your performance suffers on your less interesting tasks.

Then, we designed an experiment which was really fun. We had people search for YouTube videos as the first task, and so the interesting version was to find the most fascinating videos on YouTube and then write about what made them so interesting. There was kind of a medium interest condition where you had to search for life hack videos and just summarize what the practical insights were there.

Then in the boring condition we had people watch videos of paint dry, just sit there and watch paint drying and we had people describe them so that we could check to make sure they were actually watching them. So then you've just done an interesting or boring task or one somewhere in between, and then in a second task we had to either play a really fun computer game or copy numbers from a phone book. It turned out the people who had watched the fascinating YouTube videos actually made more mistakes and performed worse on the copying task.

Amantha Imber: It's so interesting. What I was really curious about because I was reading that research and reflecting on how would I apply that in my own life, and I felt quite sort of challenged. How do I do that? I was curious like, I would imagine that when you find these things in your research studies, you reflect on your own life and think about how can you integrate that. I'm curious, have you found a way to integrate this into your own life? And if so, what is that?

Adam Grant: Yeah, I have actually, I think about it a little bit like athletes who taper before a big competition. If you're a runner or a swimmer or a weightlifter, you're not supposed to do like a max intensity workout in the few days before your big competition. Runners, if they're training for a marathon and in the few days before they won't do a really long run, or same for a swimmer or a weight lifter won't lift quite as heavy.

The idea is that they're kind of tapering down to have maximum strength. I think that there's, I don't know if the analogy holds just perfectly, but I've started to think about the sequencing of tasks in my day as involving some tapering. I used to think that I should put interesting tasks and boring tasks back to back, and that as I'm working on something that I find just endlessly intriguing right after that, I should do my most dull task of the day because then I'll have some energy to carry over.

When our data shows that's false instead of energy carrying over, there's just this awful contrast where you're like, "Wow, this was horrible before and now it's going to crush my soul. How can I possibly do this?" How do I just spend more time working on this fun task instead? What's interesting is that if ... This is all assuming that you care about your performance in the boring task, right? It may be dull, but it's important or it matters in some way.

If you don't want your performance to suffer in that task, then what you want to do is sandwich a medium task in between, and so you taper down from interesting to moderately interesting to boring. If you work on a moderately interesting task that's kind of okay before the boring task, it's not so different to create that contrast, and so the boring task doesn't suffer. Instead, you actually do have a little bit of energy that seems to carry over and it boosts your performance on the boring task.

Now, I think about these kind of little trios of tasks where I start out, I go, interesting, okay, boring. Then I go back to the interesting task and what I love about that is that helps power me through the boring task because I've got something really exciting to look forward to when I finish.

Amantha Imber: That's really cool, I love that idea of tapering. I feel like I can definitely apply that in my own life, that's very cool. One thing I was very curious about is that something you're very well-known for is being such a generous giver and so much of your research is focused on essentially the power of giving.

On the other hand, I read so much in the productivity space about the importance of saying no and the power of saying no, and I was curious, how do you balance that? Because I can't even begin to imagine how many people are requesting your time. I know that you are very much a yes person, and how do you balance that? How do you know when to say yes versus saying no?

Adam Grant: Oh, I don't know. I feel like I'm struggling through this the same way that everyone else is. I'll tell you what has been most helpful to me though, I think, I used to try to say yes to everyone and to everything. I just found that that was impossible as I got busier as my profile, I guess got raised outside the Ivory Tower. I just didn't have enough hours in the day to filled all the requests that were coming in.

I ended up coming out with a bunch of heuristics that more or less mirrored what I've studied when I've looked at the differences between people who are, would I have called successful givers, who are productively generous, and failed givers who are too selfless and ended up burning out or getting burned by the takers who they have the misfortune of dealing with.

There are a few kinds of choices that really matter. The first one is to be thoughtful about who you help. So for me, that's meant that I have a hierarchy of people that I'm trying to support, and it's family first, students second, colleagues third, everyone else fourth. At some point, I realized that friends were not in that list, I felt really bad about it. But then I realized, you know what, actually my goal in a friendship is not to be helping the person it's to be a friend and that may involve lots of different things and I'll fit them in wherever.

The other categories, it was important for me to be clear because when a request comes in, I know that I'm not going to be equally generous to everyone. So I had to realize, you know what, I'm okay with the fact that my colleagues may well think that I'm less generous than my students do because I just did not become a professor to try to inspire other professors. I became a professor because I wanted to have an impact on students the same way that I was really influenced by the great teachers that I'd had and I wanted to try to pay that forward.

When a request comes in, I just kind of go through that list and it depends on how much I have in the day. It was so important to put family first there because it's easy to say, well, there are lots of requests that come in work wise that are urgent and you also are able to gain status and build connections by helping people and some of the family stuff is sometimes less exciting, if you're changing diapers for example.

When I took a step back and thought about my values, I knew that it was most important to me to be showing up for my family first and foremost. That I found really helpful. Then, the other choices are about how you help and when you help. That basically breaks down to saying, "Look, I want to help when I can add unique value and when it does not detract from my energy or my ability to get my own work done."

What I tried to do is break down all the different ways that I was trying to say yes to people and figure out which ones I enjoyed an excelled at. If people are asking for help in domains where I didn't feel like I had a unique contribution to make, or it was exhausting me, I knew that over time that meant I was going to have less impact. For me, that's been kind of zooming in on two things. One is knowledge sharing.

There's almost nothing that brightens my inbox more than somebody reached out and saying, "Yeah, I had this question about something related to work psychology. Has anybody ever studied fill in the blank?" I'm like, "Yes, there's a chance to take all that esoteric information that I'm collecting from academic journals, and share it with somebody who might be curious about it or who can apply it in some way."

That's always a treat and I feel like there aren't that many people, well that's the way that they help. Then, the other is I really love making introductions provided they're mutually beneficial. I feel like by virtue of the kind of work that I do, I get to interact with lots of different industries and kinds of people and it's just really fun to connect the dots between two people who could help each other, or who could create something really meaningful together.

I've tried to focus on those requests and that means that when somebody reaches out and it's not in one of those buckets, I'll let them know that their request is not in my wheel house, but if I could be helpful by sharing knowledge or by making an introduction, then I'd be happy to do that.

Amantha Imber: On that, I'm very encouraged to hear that you do indeed say no, and how do you say "no" politely? Do you have like a go-to no strategy?

Adam Grant: I have a few of them, let's try them out. Make a request.

Amantha Imber: Adam, I'm going to be in the US in a couple of months' time. Can I stay with you for a week?

Adam Grant: No. There are a couple different ways how to answer that. The first one is, "Amantha, I would love to see you in you're in the US, I try not to impose people on my family life and in particular my wife is a segmenter and an introvert and it's important for her to have boundaries, and she doesn't like the blurring between work and home. So I learned a long time ago that it wasn't fair to her to just invite people that are total strangers to her into our home. As much as I would love to have you, I can recommend some great hotels."

Amantha Imber: That's great. You're giving a very clear and detailed rationale behind the "no".

Adam Grant: Yeah, I mean, look, I don't feel like I actually have an obligation to do that. If somebody has the goal to ask something that's unreasonable, then I can be perfectly unreasonable back, but I still prefer to err on the side of politeness. Another thing I might say though, which is, it's not that often that somebody would just ask out of the blue, can you stay with me?

I do get a lot of, "Well, hey, I'm going to be coming through Philly, can we meet up?" My standard answer to that is actually when I'm in Philly my time belongs to my family and my students, and those are my two priorities. The only way that I can really protect my time and show up for the people that I've made a commitment to supporting is to set that boundary, and I really hope you understand.

Amantha Imber: Nice. That sounds very polite and reasonable, I like that.

Adam Grant: I'll try.

Amantha Imber: Now, before we move on to rapid fire questions, there was one other thing that I wanted to ask you about, and I'm not sure if this is still true, but I read that there's a certain way that you start every week where you think about what you want to accomplish and how you want to help it and then that kind of becomes your compass for the week. Is that still something that you do and if so, could you maybe elaborate on what that looks like?

Adam Grant: Sure, so I started doing this when I realized that, I guess, I think about personality in terms of we all have lots of traits, but are the traits we express in any given moment. I think that's often governed by our dominant trait, the trait we're most extreme on. My dominant trait is probably being goal-oriented. If you give me a goal, I just get tunnel vision, and the only thing I can see or think of is that goal. I wanted to improve my peripheral vision, I wanted to make sure that I didn't lose sight of my priorities and I saw that going both ways.

Sometimes, I'd get totally focused on a work goal and I'd miss out on some ways that I really wanted to be responsive to other people. Then on the flip side, I'd get totally immersed in helping somebody and a work task would fall off my plate. I just wanted to make sure that those two things, achieving my own goals and then helping other people that they stayed on my radar.

What I'd like to do is I'd like to start a week by asking myself what are three things I want to accomplish and what are three people that I want to help, or three ways I want to be helpful. Then, I just kind of do an informal check in on a daily basis to ask, am I making progress toward those goals.

I think it keeps me from getting stuck in the weeds of the one goal that's happening to loom large at the moment, and it forces me to make sure that I've got my priorities in order.

Amantha Imber: I like that. Can you give me an example of maybe what one thing that you're trying to accomplish this week has been, and one way that you are trying to help a person or something this week to give an example?

Adam Grant: Sure. So this week my big work goal was finishing up a draft of an audio book that I'm releasing later this summer which is called power moves. It's been a really interesting project, it's a collaboration with audible where they said, "Look, we know you're going to be going into the world economic forum in Davos in January and we're wondering if you want to do an audio book around a theme about the lessons, that you can interview a bunch of people and add in your own analysis."

I ended up doing about two dozen interviews in Davos with all sorts of interesting leaders and thinkers, and it was around the theme of power asking how it's changing and how we can use it for good. I've been working on that since then and my goal for this week was to finish a complete draft so we're ready to record soon. Then, in terms of being helpful on a professional front, my big goal for the week was to help one of our doctoral students get a paper out for publication.

I read it, I gave comments, then we strategized about which journals to submit it to and how to best frame it to make a contribution. Yeah, I had both of those actually on a to-do-list and I was just checking up on myself over the last couple of days.

Amantha Imber: Awesome. I love it. Love those examples. Now, onto the sort of the rapid fire finish for the shows. There are a large part of staying focused is tuning into useful and insightful stimulus and tuning out the rest, because there's so much of that. To finish off, I've got a few quick questions for you on this topic to start with, what podcasts are you currently listening to and loving?

Adam Grant: Oh, I love Invisibilia on NPR, I think it's a show about all the hidden forces that shape behavior and I just think it's mind bending is a good way to describe it. My favorite episodes were how to become Batman and flip the script.

Amantha Imber: Awesome.

Adam Grant: Then, I'm also a big fan of Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell.

Amantha Imber: Oh, that's so good, isn't it? Yes. What is it a newsletter that you subscribe to and actually look forward to writing?

Adam Grant: I have a lot of favorite newsletters, but one of the ones that I get the most out of is Dan Pink's every other week.

Amantha Imber: I love that one too, that's such a good one. Yep. Now, what is a great book that you've read recently?

Adam Grant: I actually just read two outstanding books that are both released in the fall. One was 'Joyful' by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and the other was 'Rule Makers, Rule Breakers' by Michele Gelfand.

Amantha Imber: Fantastic. I'm going to check those ones out. Finally, what's your favorite research study into productivity and what did it reveal?

Adam Grant: Oh, there are so many, do I really have to choose one?

Amantha Imber: You do, you do, yes.

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