How to Get Unstuck & Finish What Matters | Charlie Gilkey

Charlie GilkeyHave you noticed how hard it’s become to focus these days, to know what really matters, get out of the stuck zone, start to build momentum and actually finish the stuff that truly is important to you? It was already hard in Before Times, and now, we might as well go ahead and 10X the challenge. If you’re feeling this, you’re not alone. The struggle is real. But, what if there was a way to quickly figure out what matters most, focus on that, dislodge the wheel-spinning inertia, get unstuck, and go from idea to done? To become a productivity Jedi. That is what we’re talking about in today’s powerful Best Of conversation with one of my closest advisors, regular collaborator, multi-award-winning author of the book, Start Finishing: How to Go From Idea to Done, and founder of Productive Flourishing Charlie Gilkey. 

We dive into Charlie’s specific ideas around why so much of our effort to be productive fails, and how to rewire our brains and schedules and actions to more easily see beyond distraction, identify what really matters, choose what’s worth finishing, then take immediate action to make it happen. Along the way, we also explore how Charlie’s highly unique background as a philosopher, military officer, productivity strategist and consultant to creative professionals, founders and fast-growth entrepreneurial teams has shaped his powerful lens of going from idea to done.

You can find Charlie at: Website | Instagram | Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript:

Charlie Gilkey: [01:17:19] Do what matters most. And I’m going to focus on the doing right. If you know that you’ve been doing a lot of talking and a lot of ideating, but you haven’t been doing a lot of making or doing or leading or whatever your thing is. Just understand that that gap between the good life you want to live and where you are is probably bridged by certain types of doing that you have to start doing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:03] So have you ever noticed how hard it’s become to focus these days to know what really matters? To get out of the stuck zone, start building momentum and actually finish the stuff that is truly important to you. It was already pretty hard in before times, and now we might as well just go ahead and ten x that challenge. And if you’re feeling this, you’re not alone. This struggle is real. But what if there was a way to quickly figure out what matters, to focus on that, to dislodge that wheel-spinning inertia and get unstuck and go from idea to done, to become a bit of a productivity Jedi. Well, that is what we are talking about in today’s powerful best of conversation with one of my closest advisors and regular collaborator, multi-award winning author of the book Start Finishing and founder of Productive Flourishing, Charlie Gilkey. And we dive into Charlie’s specific ideas around why so much of our effort to be productive fails, and how to rewire our brains and our schedules and our actions to more easily see beyond all of the distractions and focus in on the stuff that we’ve started. Choose what really matters, what’s worth finishing, and then take immediate action to make it happen. And along the way, we also explore how Charlie’s really unique background as a philosopher and military officer, productivity strategist, and consultant to creative professionals, founders, and fast-growth entrepreneurial teams has shaped his powerful lens on going from idea to done. So excited to share this best of conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:41] It’s always kind of interesting for me when I sit down in the studio with somebody who. Is not only a friend, but I actually know really, really well. And hoo hoo hoo hoo. We have actually been co-conspirators in business and life and all sorts of different things. Um, and, uh, as we sit here today, you it is the eve of you launching a fantastic new book called Start Finishing. And we’re going to dive into that a whole bunch. But, um, I want to take a step back in time, because what I’ve learned over the years, too, is that when I get to sit down with an old friend, there are also gaps, because as it happens with friends, you kind of just hit the ground rolling with whatever topics you’re interested in in your current life. And very often you don’t actually know a ton about what got them to that place in life. So we’re going to fill in a little bit of those, um, gaps. So when we first met, it was what, ten years ago?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:02:39] It’s about ten years ago. Yeah. Ish. Right. 2009 South by Southwest. I went to see you at see you give your book talk of Career Renegade at the time.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:49] Right. What were you doing in Austin, Texas for like, what was your intention at South by Southwest ten years ago?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:02:55] You know, in 2009, South by Southwest was just one of those meccas for creatives. At the time. We didn’t have a lot of other conferences, and so this was deep enough into my work at Productive Flourishing that I just wanted to meet a lot of people. And I just knew that there were these people that I had been reading and looking up to, and I was like, this is my chance to say hi and how much they’ve inspired me. And so that was my main intention for that. South by Southwest is just to meet all these people and put a physical face to a digital avatar. Um, and so the primary connection there, or the primary point was connection at that point. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:33] I remember meeting you. Tell me if this actually matches with your recollection. We were at somebody’s house in South Austin. I have no idea how how I got there, whose house it was or what we’re actually doing there. But I remember sort of like bumping into you. And I was like, this guy’s brain works in a way that my brain absolutely does not work. And I need to understand this and go deeper and find out, like what’s behind all of this. What I learned really quickly is that you’re this. Kind of weird blend of philosopher-king and, um. Unshakable calm and also operating and execution brilliance. You think in systems and processes and frameworks in the way that my brain doesn’t operate. And I know that not long before the time that I met you, you actually spent a chunk of time in the military. I’m curious, does do these parts of you start to really, um, become super developed there, or were they showing up early in your, in your life to.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:04:43] I think they were showing up earlier in my life, and they were just cultivated to a way in the military experience. And so prior to joining the military, I was in Boy Scouts. I’m an Eagle Scout, and I always was in this place of. Never having the resources that I needed to do what I wanted to do, and always having to figure out, like, okay, I want to go there, but I don’t have what I need to get there. So how do I leverage or get in the right room or figure that out? And so there’s always been that way of working backwards in that way. That just was really. Really amplified as an Army logistics officer because that’s the point. Like, you’ve got to get stuff here, you’ve got to get stuff there. And you have limited. Limited resources to do that. And, you know, that part of my life, especially being deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was the best and worst time of my life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:40] How so?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:05:41] It was the best time because, um, it really required. Being your full self in ways and stretching and growth in ways that are unimaginable for most people. You know, not just the combat aspect of things, but the being away from family, being in a new environment, being 24 and being responsible for 46 people and 20 vehicles, and then later on being the battalion plans officer, which is the guy that writes all the plans and makes sure everybody is getting where they need to go. And again, that’s an incredible responsibility at that age. And there was. It was unrelenting in the sense of every day. It was just a growth opportunity every day. And you didn’t have a chance. You didn’t have a chance to navel gaze or figure it out in that sort of meta way. You just had to do it. And so it was the best time because of that and some of the friendships that I formed in doing all of that. And it’s the worst time because it pulled me out of my life. Before that, I was pursuing my PhD in philosophy. I was a graduate student. That was the route I was going. And so it introduced this major break in my life. And again, being away from my family for a year, all the things that, you know, come with being a deployed soldier. So it’s really terrible and really great at the same time. And I just came back a changed person and changed in a way such that those frameworks. That way of thinking about the world. The systemic, the systemic way of thinking about the world doesn’t leave you. Um, and so, like, you know, I’ll walk into a store and I’ll start thinking, just how is this operating and what could it go better? And what if they move this desk six feet to the left? What would that open up? And just small things and big things. And I can’t turn that off.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:29] Yeah. How much of it do you think I mean because so it’s interesting like when, when, when I’ve talked to people who are all about systems, process efficiency, logistics in the past. And again, my brain doesn’t work that way. So I’m fascinated by people whose brains do work that way. Usually that’s been developed in the arena of, um, money. You know, so the end game is how do we optimize efficiency? How do we get more stuff done more effectively? Because at the end of the day, we’re trying to grow a company or a business and enterprise and organization, a nonprofit, whatever it is. Um, but you you develop those chops, you know, the arena for you, the cauldron was life and death. Very different stakes.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:08:10] Very different stakes and. There is a degree of intensity that comes with that, because if you make a mistake, people might not go home. Well, they might not go home alive. And so you take it seriously in a different way. And that sense of continuous improvement in the military context, it’s not, again, maximizing profit. It’s maximizing the efficiency of your troops to accomplish the mission. But more important than that, bringing everybody home. Um, because no one wants to write that letter to families and no one wants to be that person that made a mistake, and that mistake cost them. And there are so many things that happen in combat and in military that are beyond your control. And so, yeah, it definitely took that. And so even now, the stakes are not nearly as high. There’s still that drive to smooth things out to make things more streamlined. Um, and to really do the best with what we’ve got. Um, the way I see it now is whether it’s my company or some of the companies that I’m consulting with. These are people’s lives. You know, we we spend so much of our life at work. And when you look at the amount of waste that happens at work. And more important than that, when you look at the amount of heartbreak that happens at work because people are not utilized well. Because leadership is not focusing them on what matters most people are not being appreciated for what they do. It just breaks my heart to see how much heartbreak happens at work, and it breaks my heart to see how many people spend decades of their life.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:09:53] Um, doing something because of the story they’ve told themselves about how they need to be in this world, and then looking back and saying, is that it? Um, all this time I put in. And I still am not fundamentally happy. I still have not done the things. That I know I could have been doing. And while you may have, you know, zeros in your bank account or not, there’s that sense of meaning and fulfillment that is lacking. And I think that’s really heartbreaking. Um, we have this one short life that we know of, and life is really fickle. You know, that’s the other thing that you learn from being, um, in the military and being deployed is that. A quarter of a second. Or a quarter of an inch. Can make the difference between, um, someone going home and someone not between you going home healthy, between you going home, not being able to walk. Um, and so and it’s sometimes really it’s just a matter of luck. Right. And so we don’t recognize how lucky we are every day. To be able to do the things that we do. Sometimes it’s just moving and walking right that we take for granted. Um, and so to spend decades of your life with this opportunity that you have in front of you, not doing the things that fire you up and not making your unique contribution is really heartbreaking.


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:24] Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting too, to. To have the experience that you had, where you had so much on your shoulders in your early mid-twenties, and awaken and then come home and awaken to the fact that, okay, you saw this when you were deployed, and now you come home and you sort of see a similar pattern, but in a different context, a much broader context that for most people will last the vast majority of their waking years. Um, you know, was was that the reason? I mean, it’s one of my curiosities, you know, has been you were you’re pursuing your PhD in philosophy before you go, you end up being deployed. Um, you develop this fierce expertise in operational capability when you’re actually in the military. And then when you come back home, instead of immediately diving back into the academic path, which I know you have a fierce desire to learn, like you’re somebody who loves to devour knowledge. And and you did that to a certain extent, but the next move for you was to actually turn around and effectively start a company to be of service to other people. Is this all partly what was behind you launching this endeavor, which I guess even back then was called productive Flourishing?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:12:36] So yeah, it’s really interesting because I came back in two weeks after being redeployed. I was back in class. I was back on my life, right back doing my thing. I had figured all that out, set everything up so that I was just going to slide back in, not missing a step, um, getting back to it. And. I’m glad I did that. At the same time that there’s a reason why people need space from things like this, right? Um, because about a year later, I realized that though I could excel as a philosopher, it wasn’t the way that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the academic echo chamber, talking to each other about all sorts of abstract things, because I was like, we are the people. That should be in the world solving problems. Like there are real things going on right now, and it felt like such a waste of, um, potential. It was it felt like such a waste of people’s lives. And I’m not trying to, you know, dismiss academic philosophy or anything like that. I just knew for me that there was more to life than that. And being in those classrooms and what I was studying a lot of was ethics, social political philosophy, and especially, um, economic development. Because what I understood and saw when I was overseas was, yes, we’re in the middle of this war of ideology, quote unquote. But at the same time, we’re in the middle of this vast contrast between the lives of people in the Middle East and their economic livelihood and the lives of people in the First World.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:14:21] And if we didn’t address that gap, we’re always going to be in the situation. We’re always going to be in the situation. So I started studying a lot of that and I started applying it to my life. It’s like if I’m really about thriving, if I’m really about helping people live the most of this one life we have, where can I do that? What’s going to be the best place for me to do that? And the next best available option for me was to start Productive Flourishing, start teaching people that. And I kind of came to that after I started productive flourishing because what I, my, my main pain when I started productive flourishing was I was this creative idea bomber and had a bunch of ideas and a bunch of knowledge and a bunch of stuff that had to get out of me. And I found a really frustrating contrast between my ability as a logistics officer to move battalions of equipment and to do joint force military logistics coordination, and at the same time struggle with getting a 5000-word essay done. What’s that about? Right? How can I do this and not do that? And what can I apply from this world of getting stuff done at this really excellent level? And I don’t often say this, but the other thing I’ve recently learned about myself recognized is that I served with the 101st Airborne Division, right.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:15:38] That was the parent unit that I was attached to, and that is one of the Army’s like elite forces. So it’s not just that I learned logistics in a military deployed context. I learned it under the 101st, and excellence was just the way everything was done, everything was done. And I would say that was my first real. Professional experiences in adult again, I was 24 and in my brain that was just the standard, right? Um, and so when I got out and didn’t notice that standard, I was like, huh, what’s what’s this gap here? But rolling it back a little bit, I started productive flourishing because I had this problem and I was reading all of the literature and I was trying to synthesize, synthesize it and translate it. And I was like, well, if I’m already doing that, you know, fundamentally, I’m a teacher and trainer, right? And I was like, I’m already doing this for myself. Why don’t I share it with the rest of the world? Because blogs were a thing then in a different way than they are now. And so that started, and it started with very terrible names and very terrible niches, because my first attempt was teaching academics how to get stuff done and live a bigger, a bigger, bolder life. And what caught on was a lot of the creatives on entrepreneurs found my work and loved it. And I was like, this is really interesting.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:16:59] I didn’t anticipate this. Um, and so I started writing more for creatives and more for entrepreneurs. Um, but it came to this point where I was like, you know, there’s this fork in the road that I have in these careers that I have because I was simultaneously that still in the Army, still, you know, in like a three quarter time position with the Army. I was still pursuing my PhD, and now I had a business on my hands. And I reached that point that Seth Godin calls the dip. Where I realized I was not going to be excellent in all three of those. I was going to be mediocre at best and be struggling and juggling and, um, I didn’t want that for myself. And so it was really picking which of these. Most advances, the unique contribution that I have and allows me to live the fullest life possible. And it was with productive flourishing. And so it wasn’t, you know, a lot of people start their businesses because they either hate their jobs or they’re in a soul-crushing managerial environment. It wasn’t that for me as much as it was. What’s the best way for me to do what I’m out to do? And that continues to evolve. And there may be some point in which there’s another, you know, I get back in academia or whatever, but it’s always that sort of evolving question for me is, what’s the best way to do this thing that I’m here to do?


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:19] Yeah. Is that a regular prompt for you? Like, do you wake up once a week or once a day and sort of ask some variation of that question?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:18:26] It tends to come for me in seasons, actually. Um, and so summer is my stupefaction and depression cycle. So every summer I’m, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t really want to do much of anything. Um, I’m much less motivated.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:42] I’m just thinking how many other people listening to this go through something similar. Yeah.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:18:46] So it’s a seasonal thing for me a lot, a lot of times. And so every summer about I’m like, hmm. Um, as I start ramping up into fall. Am I ramping up in a way that is really pulling the best of what’s possible for me now? Or am I playing last year’s script? And what do I want this next year to look like? So and there was a very powerful prompt that I got during meditation a few years ago. So I’m about 40 now. I’ll turn 40in January, and about the time I was 37, I was sitting there meditating one morning and just this prompt came to me. It was like, what are you doing today to set up this season of your life? That will be your 40s, um, like that season of your life. And I was like, this is really weird. First off, where is this coming from? But second, how do I want that season of my life to be different than this season of my life? And I got some answers that didn’t like, um, but so it comes for me every year. But it does come in sort of instantaneous, like, what are you doing now, Charlie? And are you stuck in last year’s frame? Are you keeping your eyes open to the possibilities that have been created or that you’ve created over the last year? Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:03] I mean, two things jump out at me from that. One is that you? Wherever that prompt came from, I’ve seen that reflected in the way that you move into your decisions for years now. And you have there’s this really interesting, unique ability to think out ahead to, to not be stuck in short-termism. But we’re going to circle back to that in a little further, because you you’re also not a fan of thinking too far out ahead. So there’s a really interesting tension there that I want to, I want to circle back to. But what, what the other thing that jumped out at me is so you mentioned summers are like the season for stupefaction and depression for you and but so people couldn’t see your face when you’re talking about that. But you weren’t bummed about it. You were kind of smiling, almost like, matter of fact, like, well, this was almost it was kind of interesting slash, you know, like, good for me to recognize and acknowledge this and just know this is just the way I am. And I don’t every, every summer. It’s not like this is a thing I have to battle. You know, if I accept that this is kind of a thing that I just notice in the pattern of my life, then it allows you to sort of make peace with it and then build around it to a certain extent.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:21:16] Absolutely. And thanks for seeing that because. If we are talking a decade ago, I may have been much. I may have felt much different about my summer cycle. Um, because you’re not supposed to feel that way and you’re supposed to blah, blah, blah and all those things that we make ourselves. But one of the traps we fall into is that we think of ourselves like robots, and we don’t necessarily cognize that a lot and make that a conscious thought, but we think that we should have a constant or a sort of regular amount of output, a regular amount of the way that we feel. And we’re just not that we’re organic beings that respond to temperature and environment and seasons and things like that. And so being at peace with the fact that I’m a creature of this planet and am sensitive to the seasons, has given me a lot of peace and compassion for myself. But it’s also from a strategic perspective. I know where to put projects and where not to put projects right. And so during the summer is where I can’t usually juggle 17 different projects, right? I do better having one project that I can work on 2 to 4 hours a day, and when I’m done, I’m done and be at peace with that, as opposed to my winter cycle, which is I call my supernova cycle, where I can do a lot of things, I can work long hours, and it’s just sort of a natural, natural thing for me.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:22:40] And so that’s where I put that type of work usually. Right. This year is different because of the book launch coming up. And so I’ve had to I’ve had more head trash around what I’m supposed to be doing right now and where my energy is. Um, and most days the more sane part of myself wins. Says, you know what? Like, no matter what, all you think you’re going to do or you think you’re supposed to do, you’re only going to do x amount so that x plus y, the plus y, it’s just a tool to beat yourself up with. You’re not going to do it. So how are you going to adjust your plans to do X? And how are you going to make peace with the fact of X is what you got? Um, and in many ways it’s been a great relearning experience. Um, because it’s a decade after it’s like where I started, I wasn’t able to do everything that I wanted to do. How am I going to do it? Except for my approach in this season of my life is different than that season of my life. Um, because in that season of my life, it was do more and do better. And this it’s except where you are and leverage what you can do to the best way possible and learn to let the rest go.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:55] Yeah. Do you feel like, um, you’re sort of annual cycling is because you’ve worked with so many people now, like founders, creative professionals, um, larger organizations. So you have an interesting data set and interesting lens. Do you feel like this cycling that you feel on, on this sort of like annualized basis is unusual, unique to you, or do you think pretty much everybody goes through it, but we just don’t identify it?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:24:23] I think pretty much everybody goes through it. And where your energy may lie may be unique to you, but I think everyone has these ebbs and flows and organizations have ebbs and flows. And that’s where inattentive leaders and managers get stuck and not stuck. They create a lot of problems for themselves and their teams because they’re not recognizing that. Wait a second. My team’s natural, energetic state is here. I want them to be twice that. So how do I crack the whip? How do I motivate them? How do I, quote-unquote empower them to get to where I want them to be, as opposed to how do I shift my expectations and my priorities to be clear on what they can do in this amount of time? So, um, I think everybody has it. I think most of the time we don’t slow down enough. To really get that. Like we, you know, slow down a little bit and it’s like, well, I just need to drink more caffeine. I just need to I need to alter who I am through other practices as opposed to saying, where am I? And what matters now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:25:29] Yeah. It’s so interesting that you say that. My sense has been I’ve experienced some, some pretty major burnout over the last few years at different moments. And, and I it has taken me way longer to own that than it should have, because I would like to think of myself as somebody who sort of could perform at an extreme level for an extended period of time, and I’ve and it’s brought me to my knees, you know, and, and I’ve had to own the fact that, no, I actually cycle as well. And what’s, what’s been interesting for me to note also is that my, you know, nobody performs at the peak of their game on a sustained basis. Doesn’t happen in athletics. It doesn’t happen in music. It doesn’t happen in business. It doesn’t happen in relationships, in life. And it’s just like we were wired to sort of go through this, you know, like sine wave. And I think one of the big learnings partly from you has been that, you know, so you describe it as when you hit winter, it’s your supernova window where you’re just fiercely productive and creative and generative. But if during your sort of like your downtime, your slower time, you force yourself to to be as close to that supernova mode as you can be, then when you actually hit that natural window, you then you don’t have the juice left to actually perform at the level you know you’re capable of, and it becomes even more frustrating. It’s like this compound effect that that really creates a negative spiral.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:26:58] It absolutely does. And I think the more the more you hone your cycles like that. Like I realized at this point that during that period where I’m on supernova, I am going to create enough work and problems and opportunities in that period that me and my team can work on for the rest of the year. Right? Like, I don’t have to create at that level for the rest of the year for us to do it. And in fact, if I did, I would burn not only myself out, but my team out. Right? Because there would just be such an influx of new projects and new energy and new opportunities and new things. You know, I my team has a codex of all the sort of hashtags and shorthand language that we use, and one is brace for impact, right? And it’s when I’ve been on a trip or when I’ve been hanging out with friends, and I show up Monday morning and I’ll just preface it with brace for impact, right? Because I’m just know what my team is going to get on that day.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:53] I think I’m going to need to start using that too.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:27:55] Yeah. And so, um, but you you can’t expect your team to do that at that level at all times, or else you end up in that scaling trap that so many businesses get into to where their team is constantly out of breath and constantly just trying to do their best work from the bottom of the emotional and cognitive barrel, because they’ve been worn out for so long. And so I look at it from a long game, because if you choose your best work, if you choose that thing that you most want to do, you want to do that for the for the long haul, right? You’re talking about many decades. How do you do that over that amount of time sustainably? And how do you do it so that you don’t go through these burnout cycles to where you eventually you throw out the baby with the bathwater? You’re just like, I’m so burnt out, I can’t do this. This is not for me. Well, it’s not that. It’s not for you. It’s the way that you’re doing. It is not for you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:50] Yeah, I think that’s that’s so important because I think for me, the burnout didn’t come because I was doing. A whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t want to be doing. I just wasn’t doing it the way that was healthy or intelligent. You know, I actually loved a lot of what I was doing. It just I had to rewire the way that I, that I approached it. Um, so as, as we sit here in the studio today, you’ve been, um, I guess, about a decade into productive, flourishing, right? Developing a tremendous body of work frameworks, process systems, working with so many different people. And you have a book out called Start Finishing. So my curiosity with this is why did you feel the need to write this? There’s no lack of books on the market about, you know, like getting stuff done about productivity. It’s a big category. And I also know about you that you don’t do things just because you can, like there’s there’s got to be a reason. Like what? What did you see was missing that made you say, this is something I need to do? Because writing a book takes a lot of time and energy and takes you away from a lot of other things. So what in your mind, knowing the way your brain works justifies you saying this has to happen?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:29:59] So part of it is strategically, there’s a book-shaped hole in my business, um, of this book. Because if you go to productive flourishing right now, um, before the book is out, you can’t get the cohesive journey, um, the cohesive material, the coherent material on all the stuff that I’ve been creating for the last decade. And so it ended up being this sort of gap in that people would want to really start doing more of their best work, and it’s hours of clicking around productive flourishing, trying to figure out what it is as opposed to a systemic or a systematic approach to it. So that’s one. But more importantly than that, I think it’s more of what’s the heart of my work that makes me continue to write about productivity. And it’s really interesting because, um, Jonathan, you know, this is around 2014. I wrote a post called Foundations Are Meant to Be Built on, Not Flown Over. And what I found with so many of my entrepreneurs and executives and things like that is we love to talk about the big ideas. We love to talk about the big strategy. We love to talk about all that stuff. Except for when you look at where the real constraint in their business was, or where the real constraint in their opportunity set was, was the fact that they couldn’t execute on the ideas they already had. Right? And we just wanted to fly over sort of this scheduling and time management and project management and, you know, alliance building.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:31:24] We wanted to sort of fly over all of that and just talk about the big ideas. But those big ideas weren’t happening. And so it came from this sense of frustration in a lot of ways, with some of my set of some of my set of clients and peers is like, no, no, no, no, no, we’re not skipping over this piece because it will trip you up at some point. So that was sort of facing that set of people. But when I looked out and scanned the the productivity literature and even the personal development literature, I think there wasn’t. The hybrid I wanted to see that took the real reasons why we do and don’t do things, and mated it with the real ways we can get stuff done. There was always this divorce between. Deeper motivation and deeper systems and deeper processes for getting stuff done. And so we ended up in this sort of bipolar literature and bipolar place, where you end up with really good mantras for how to get stuff done, but doesn’t actually help you once you start getting into the thrashing of the project or doesn’t help you once you start it, or you have a bunch of solutions that don’t solve the real reasons, you don’t get stuff done. And so for me, I needed to create it for that reason so that I can say like, okay, this book does both, at least to the best of my ability, right? And looking at some of the other book ideas and other things that I want to write about, it’s going to come back to getting stuff done, because I’m neo-aristotelian in the sense of we become by doing.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:33:03] Right? So no matter what you want to do in the world or what you want to be in the world, there’s some doing that you have to do to become that. And whether it’s being a great parent or whether it’s being a great member of your community, whether it’s being a great pillar of your church, it doesn’t matter what that is. All of that being has some doing attached to it. And enough of us, I think, are over-committed to the being side of things. And we we try to be all of the things and we don’t fully understand how much doing we’ve also committed ourselves to doing until we look around and there’s just a field of drop balls and broken promises and regrets. And so. Interestingly one of. I find it interesting is that one of the pillars of my sort of principles of productivity is actually self-compassion. And I wanted to write the book. For multiple reasons, but one of them is so that people can see what’s going on in their world. And understand that they’re not uniquely defective. That they’re not constitutionally wired to never be able to get their shit together, that they’re not fated to struggle. They’re just making more promises. With their mouth that their hands can’t cash.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:34:27] Right. They’re promising themselves, and they set up expectations for themselves, that then there’s no way possible for them to actually live up to everything that they’ve said they’re going to do and be. So when we pull down and say, you know what? There are fewer things that we’re going to focus on and commit to, but we’re going to do those well and we’re going to finish them. Then we start to see the sense of satisfaction. Then we start to see that sense of happiness, and then we start to thrive in our careers because we become those creatives that you can trust when they say they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it. When they set out to achieve a certain goal, they’re going to do it. And there’s a rare breed of creatives, you know, we have a bad sort of rap of being all talk or being a lot of talk, and not so much follow through. But it turns out time and time again, I’ve seen this with people that I’ve interviewed on my podcast, all the research that I’ve done, all my clients, like the name of the game is follow through, right? And you increase your ability to finish the things that matter most. You know, you knock out those three projects of the year that really, really matter, and you let the rest go. That has like this compound interest effect on your career that you just don’t get when you’re half finishing 17 things.


Jonathan Fields: [00:35:43] Yeah. Completely agree. And I feel like there’s also. When you when you shift those gears, you know, and you actually you learn all the steps in the process and the way to actually focus in on the smaller number of things and actually go from idea to completing it, you know, like when you start finishing and you do that repeatedly, it’s I feel like once you do that, you go through that cycle a handful of times. It’s almost like your identity begins to shift as well. So you you start to identify, not as a person with a lot of great ideas who rarely ever gets them done, but you start to identify as the person who’s accomplishing who is like, who is who is doing the big things, and you identify as somebody who is actually completing and putting good things out into the world. And and that shift in identity creates this sort of like spiraling effect. Have you seen that also?


Charlie Gilkey: [00:36:40] Absolutely, absolutely. Because. At a certain point you develop this theory of yourself and. When you’re not finishing. A lot of times, the theory of yourself is that you’re not a finisher, that you you know, you can’t get it done or that, you know, um, you overcommit, you have all this head trash about who you are. And then that’s what you project out in the world, and that’s what you see. You you develop a confirmation bias about that. Once you do start finishing, I think what you realize is the word can’t for most, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist in your in your psychology or in your language. It’s you’re choosing to do certain things over choosing to do other things because you’ve done many great things already. And that shift from can I do it? Or that sounds like a good idea to like, no, I can do a lot of things, but what matters most now? Yeah, it’s such an identity shift, and I’ve seen it in the way people’s people carry themselves in posture. I’ve seen people. I’ve seen it in the way that people mysteriously start losing weight. Right? I’ve seen it in the way where all of a sudden money starts flowing their way. There’s all these outer changes that happen from that inner identity shift. Um, because I think, you know, I call it creative constipation. And creative constipation is just it’s kind of what it sounds like. You take in all of these ideas, you take in all of this inspiration, you watch all the TED talks, you read all the books, you listen to all the podcasts, and at a certain point you get full, but you’re not pushing it through, you’re not doing anything with it, and you become toxic.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:38:14] And you become to that point to where, like there’s this resentment of a new idea or a new thing coming in because you know that you’re not going to be able to do it because you’ve got everything else going on. And as humans, we do one of two things. We either create or we destroy. And there’s a certain point when you’re in creative constipation and you’re not shipping, what matters most to you that you’ll start destroying the things around you. You’ll start destroying the relationships. And through your resentment and frustration, and you being the martyr, and you finding ways to insert yourselves into other people’s lives and projects. Um, you’ll destroy your resources, you’ll go on shopping binges, or you’ll go, you’ll eat a bunch, or you’ll do whatever thing that you have, and or you’ll start destroying yourself through the ways that you stories that you tell yourself, through all the ways you find evidence about why you can’t do something, and why you’re uniquely defective, and why failures of the past mean that you’re going to have a failure tomorrow. So I think we don’t fully recognize the cost of not doing our best work in that way. Like we think it’s something we can get to.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:39:22] But I would want to put it more on just an essential way to find your happiness, both long term, but also in that presence, because there is that shift when this week you made a dent in your best work, this week you got something done versus being the to do list ninja. You know where you put 82 things on your list. You crank them out at the end of the week. You look back and you’re like, but really, like, I didn’t do the thing. I’m no closer to doing the thing, and everybody has a thing. That’s the other thing that I’ve noticed, like, um, I talk about best work and it’s got a few unique factors to it, but it’s that work that your soul most yearns to do. And everybody’s got a project they put in a physical drawer, in a mental drawer, in a virtual drawer that they’re going to get to at some point when, you know, someday when the time is right or when their boss is less of a butthole, or when their kids are in college or whatever. We’ve always punted that to some day, some some later day. Everybody has that. But there’s that sense of deep satisfaction. When you quit the bullshit, when you quit the quote-unquote researching, when you quit all the conversations about doing the work and you actually do the work. And it’s surprising how simple it is to actually do it. And yet we don’t.


Jonathan Fields: [00:40:48] Yeah, it’s interesting too, because that you hear a lot in sort of a self-help pop psychology. This line, you can do anything, maybe for a heartbeat. When you’re listening to you speak, you’re like, oh, that’s what he’s saying. I can do anything. But in fact, it’s like you’re saying the exact opposite.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:41:06] Yeah. Um, displacement is a real thing, and displacement is just the idea that choosing to do one thing means that there’s a near infinity of things you’ve chosen not to do. Right? And so we too often conflate you can do it anything with you can do everything right. And while I might say you can do anything, I would also say, what are you going to choose not to do so that you can do that thing? What are you really going to commit in your life to be able to do that thing? And there are some things that, you know, I’m five foot ten, I’m never going to be a world champion basketball player, right? It’s just not possible. Especially given that I’m 40 and I don’t like basketball. There’s a lot going against me with that. Right? So I’m not going to say I can be you know LeBron James can’t do that. So within the realm of creative space though, there’s a lot. Of room to maneuver and grow and become whatever you want to be. And it’s going to come at a cost of all the things you have to choose not to do and choose to do to get there. And so. I talk a lot about displacement in the sense of I want people to really understand that we have this one precious life, and I’ve been talking for a long time about what I call project world. And project world is the idea that when we look at our lives, it’s kind of carved up into 3 to 5-year chunks of a Project Capital P project, both personally and professionally.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:42:37] Right. And so I’ll talk personally. First we go through these phases of relationships. We go through these phases of growth. Like if you’re a teen, if you’re a kid, you know, you go through that sort of pre-teenage stage, then you go through that teenage stage, then you go through that, you know, leaving your parents house, which could be college or could be whatever, but there’s sort of 3 to 5-year chunks to define your life. Um, relationships a lot of times, like getting married, there’s a 3 to 5-year cycle. We can go through that time and time again. In your career, it’s the same thing. You take a job, you’re in a position for 3 to 5 years and you move on to another job. And so life is sort of split up into these chunks. And one of the reasons people, I think, get stuck and, and decide not to do their best work is because they think they’re making a non-reversible, lifelong choice. Like, if I do this thing, I have to make this one choice. And then for the rest of my days, I’m going to be doing that thing. You know, the grace about Project World is win, lose or draw. In 3 to 5 years, you’re going to be moving on to something else, right? You’re not making that decision that that lifelong sort of decision.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:43:47] And. What are you really focusing your time, energy, and attention on for this next 3 to 5 years? As I was doing research for the book, I stumbled upon a insight from Stewart Brand via Kevin Kelly, via Tim Ferriss in one of his either Tribe or Mentors or Tools of Titans. And um. Stewart’s idea was any significant project takes at least five years to see through. Any real significant project takes five years to see through. And of course, I did what I do and I was like, okay, so most of us live to be 85 as a reasonable conjecture. When you look at lifespans in the United States. So take your age or subtract your age from 85 and divide by five. That’s the amount of significant projects you have left in your life. Does. What’s on your schedule next week? Reflect what you would want to be on that list, and if not, how are you going to make that change? Because if you don’t make the change. What you’re going to look at is all of these years, all of these projects that you didn’t get to because you chose to do something else in your life. And I know, especially in productivity and personal development, there’s so much. Emphasis on the choices we make. A lot of times that are divorced from the actual context of our lives. Right? And I understand that some of us have different degrees of privilege that allows us to choose in different ways.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:45:15] Right. Um, if you’re if you’ve got more money, you have a broader range of choices that you may be able to make than if you’re a single mom who’s working two jobs to put food on the table. And what I would say in, in scenarios like that is that be honest about. Those priorities that you have, right? If your priority is to make sure your kids have a good life, or that you do the best you can, that is a project. And so in my language, a project is anything that requires time, energy and attention, not just economic work. And the reason I talk about it that way is because after thousands of conversations with people, what they tend to think is that we have this mental switch that goes off and it’s like a new day equals 16 hours of open space of things to do. And so I should be able to feel that with all this. But every new day starts with 12 hours of routines and habits and stuff you got to do before you even like wake up, there’s that much work to do. But because we have so cleanly made the division between economic work and life, we only tend to count the economic work. And then we wonder why we’re not getting things done nearly as much, because that’s actually a small percentage of our.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:31] Life, right? We’re not. It’s like, oh, you’re not spending the time you say is really important with your family, or you’re not spending the time to exercise on a regular basis or create healthful food or develop relationships. Yeah. Because those are the things where we just think, well, I’ll just get it done in the margins.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:46:48] I’ll just get it done in the margins. And I was talking to somebody, I think Angela would be fine with me talking. So I’ll, I’ll say it was Angela because it was in fact Angela, where we were talking about her fitness goals and how she wanted to work out. And I was like, well, so now I’ll pause here. Angela is also a coach. I’m a coach. And when you have a partnership where you’re both coaches, it can be quite precarious, right, to have these conversations, because sometimes you’re not wanting to be coached by your partner. Um, but it was one of those places.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:12] Probably substituted sometimes where pretty much all that’s pretty.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:47:15] Much all the time. And so it’s always a precarious conversation. And this is also my body of work, which makes it even worse. Right? So she’s like, oh no, I know what’s coming on this one. And so she was talking about going to her classes and things like that. And I was like, so how are you scheduling that? How are you doing that? And she’s like, well, you know, I sort of look at my schedule and then I try to find a class that fits my schedule. And I was like, honey, like, we own are small, we own our own business. You could find the classes that work for you first and get those scheduled 2 or 3 weeks in advance, and then build your work around that, right. Build your economic work around that. And of course, she knew it in a certain way, but it requires prioritizing herself in a certain way. And so when you dig 2 or 3 levels under why we make sort of decisions like that, what I was really getting at and she knew was Angela. You need to see your worth and your value, and you need to see that this particular goal that you have is more important than the economic work that you’re prioritizing. And until we are willing to claim our importance and claim that things like that matter on the personal side, quote unquote personal side.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:48:25] Where you’re going to default to prioritizing actually prioritizing economic work. And then what happens in the moment, in the year or over the course of a lifetime, is that it’s actually this personal stuff that truly does matter to us, that gets kicked into the someday, maybe land. And then we look back and you’re like, but I never went on those trips. I never ran the marathon. I never built a guitar. I never did the things because I never could justify it economically. I never did put it in my schedule and say, I’m doing that. And I think when we start looking at everything as a project. That requires time, energy and attention. And looking at the fact that what is fundamental to our thriving is often not economically relevant. Then we can say, yes, economic work is really important. And it’s just a portion of my life. It is not my life. All these other things are important. So yes, I am making this choice to make less money or to do less work there. Because this two weeks of spending time with my kid, or my aging parent, or this new puppy, or fixing my backyard or whatever it is, is actually. Critical to living the good life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:49:54] Yeah. Part of the your ability to then make the decision but then actually make it happen is also getting sometimes I guess I would call it um, brutally honest about the bandwidth that you actually have available to accomplish any of these things. And my experience has been that I lie to myself about that, and everyone who I’ve ever worked with lies to themselves about that as well. You your approach to. You have a process which basically really helps you get very honest about it very quickly and then reorient the projects, the personal projects, the the career projects, the all these different in, in a way that reflects what you truly have available. It’s this approach where, you know, like by framing it as, as as deconstructed, as analyzing, like what are your available blocks? Walk me through this concept of blocks, because I found that just extraordinarily powerful and also eye opening when I actually understood, okay, so I have these four different types of blocks. And when I start to map that out in my life, I was like, wow, this, this explains so much to me about why I’m not doing certain things and why I am doing certain things, and what I might be able to rework in order to actually create a much more satisfying overall balance.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:51:28] Yeah, thanks for that. So, um, a few things about block planning first. Right? One of the traps that we fall into is that we actually think that we have any sense of estimating time, um, of how long something takes. And we’re terrible at it, consistently terrible at it. So we can’t tell the difference between something that’s going to take 75 minutes and 90 minutes. Right. Um, but we make up a lot of stuff. Um, and so we end up just trying again to treat ourselves like robots, like we have that degree of consistency and we don’t. And so once you let go of that idea and we go into sort of a block planning, it’s much more intuitive. So there are four types of blocks that I encourage people to think through. So one is a focus block, which is that block of time where you do the highest level work that you can do, whether that’s creative work or whether that’s strategic work. It’s usually solo time. Um, just when you get what’s ever inside out of you, and those blocks are 90 to 120 minutes long, right. And why that long? Because that’s about the time that it takes you to really dig in to getting something done, do all the translation or do all the transitions, do that thing and start to exit. And it’s about the time that matches, um, our biorhythms as well. We go through circadian rhythms about every two hours. Our body will recycle, right? That’s when you need to go to the bathroom because your body goes through these natural two-hour cycles. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:50] After about two hours, I realize I’ve just read that sentence the third time and third time. Still not entirely sure what it says.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:52:56] Yeah, and so it accounts for that. And what I do need to say, because sometimes people confuse it. No, that’s not two hours of you sitting there typing. That’s that entire block of time where you do all of the coffee getting and you do the bathroom, but you don’t switch to another project or you switch, you don’t switch to another tool. Right? So those are your focus blocks. And the second is your social blocks. And these are the blocks of time that you are interacting with another human right. And so it could be a meeting. Um, if you’re in a service profession, it could be that that’s a time that you’re working with clients and things like that. Um, those also tend to be about 90 minutes to 120, even though or 90 to 120 minutes, even though we like to tell ourselves it’s going to be 60 minutes and we stack ourselves from meeting to meeting. So why is it 90 to 120 minutes? Because when you look at the amount of time that it takes you to really transition into prep mentally and emotionally for a meeting and then to down cycle, and then the reality is, most of the time when you meet with other people. We’re there’s work that needs to happen that’s generated from that, whether you need to send email, so on and so forth. Right. And so we don’t give ourselves nearly enough time for this. Um, and then we end up in task debt because we, we don’t have a place for that in the schedule. Which leads me to admin blocks, which are 30 to 30 minutes to an hour long, where you do all the email and the phone calls and you just batch all of that stuff and get it done, and you’re in that mode, right, of getting it done.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:54:20] Um, and then the last one is your recovery blocks. And, you know, interestingly on this one, Jonathan, I, I used to not talk about recovery blocks because it’s on that self-care side. So recovery blocks are what they sound like when you do the self-care or the or the bits that you know, are you treating yourself like you’re human? So that could be meditation. It could be sleeping, it could be eating, it could be exercise, it could be whatever it is that helps you recharge and take care of yourself. And I didn’t talk about them a lot, except for I noticed in my work I read times where I’d sit down with clients and, um, I’m one of those people that I don’t really have a emotional difference between helping someone figure out what their schedule needs to look like versus figuring out what the business model of their, you know, or their team composition. It’s all work to me, and it’s all equally enjoyable. And so I would just be looking at their calendar and be like, so where’s lunch? Like. And you look at, you know, six meetings stacked back where like, where are you eating? And like, oh, well, I just kind of fit it in. Except for I also remember the conversation that I had with them about them not eating lunch.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:55:25] And I was like, you’re not actually fitting this in, right? Where is exercise? Where is all of these things? And so I made I became more adamant about people thinking about their recovery blocks and making sure that they’re on their schedule, because otherwise work or other things slide into those blocks and you just don’t get it done, and it becomes one of those things. But fundamentally, what I want people to focus on when it comes to their best work projects or when it comes to like doing the work that they most want to do, is those focus blocks, because we have far fewer of those. Then most people think. And that is what drives your projects. And if you don’t have enough focus blocks, you’re not going to get the momentum that you want. And if you have none, what you’re going to end up doing is committing to ideas. That don’t have room on your schedule to do. Um, and so there are just things to think about. Like what I will tell most people is if you can’t find three focus blocks for a project every week, you won’t actually make any momentum on that project. It will continue to be one of those things that you’re like, oh, I’ll do it next week, or I’ll do it next week, or I’ll do it next week and you’ll continue to punt it. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, it’s just there’s not enough room in your schedule and you’re trying to do you know, we learned about block planning in school.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:56:46] If you had those little shape sorter things where you’re like, got to put the triangle in the triangle hole and the circle and the circle hole. But unfortunately, what we do when we actually look at our work is we keep trying to cram the square into the circle hole, right? We keep trying to cram our focus time, our focused work into the in-betweens of meetings and social media and emails. And we wonder why we’re not getting anywhere. Because it really does take, you know, 90 minutes to 2 hours to dig into that, make significant progress and exit from that. And a lot of times I’ve noticed that because of the way people stack their days. They’re not even allowing themselves the chance to get into doing their work, because they know they don’t have enough time to get into it and get out of it. So what’s the point? Might as well jump to Facebook. You know, you might as well, you know, see whatever deal is on Amazon that you didn’t need today, but you’re going to find out anyways. Right? And so changing that and just saying how do I reorient my schedule. To put my focus blocks. During the times of my day where I’m most likely to be creative and focused and high energy makes a world of difference. And we’re just playing with time here, right? We’re not. We haven’t changed the amount of available time. We just changed how we’ve used that time in ways that are better at getting you to where you most want to be.


Jonathan Fields: [00:58:08] Yeah. So I mean, it’s a combination of one. Owning the fact that. The focus blocks, like the work that we need to do in those focus blocks, is invariably going to take you’re just going to fall farther and farther and farther behind and then beating yourself up and then becoming, you know, just own the fact that and this is going to take way longer than I, I think, yes, even I’m smart, I’m accomplished all the yadda yadda yadda. And still it’s going to take more than I think it’s going to take. So let me set aside the time so that I actually feel like I can I can get real work that matters done. The other thing I took from that is that if you can’t find at least three of those blocks per week on a regular basis to do that for for a project, then it’s probably a really good idea to say no to it, because the only thing that you’re going to be building into your your week in your life is frustration rather than momentum.


Charlie Gilkey: [00:59:08] Absolutely. And here’s where displacement comes back in. Right? Saying no to that new project. What you have to get real about is you are prioritizing something in your life already. And so rather than saying, no, I can’t, right, because I don’t have time. The real true story is no, I’m choosing not to do that project because I’m choosing to do these other things. And that can be a point of frustration for a lot of people, right? Because they don’t like that. That’s actually what’s going on. But I think that is the wedge in your life. That allows you to start saying, okay, I if I want to do differently, I need to choose differently. Right. And the other thing that about focus blocks that are really important is it’s 90 to 120 minutes. When we look at how much time we’re watching TV, when we look at how much time we’re on distracting sites, when we look at how much time we’re shopping, when we look at how much time we’re doing things that are either wasteful or if we really had to counterpose those activities versus the work we’re most called to do, it’s a no brainer, right, to do the work. So it’s not like you have to go dramatically change your life.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:00:26] It’s just you have to start stealing time from things that are either wasteful or don’t nourish you as much. And so this is, you know, three fewer Netflix binges, right? Um, this is two less, you know, two times of you not going out to eat because that’s really time-intensive when you think about it, right. There are ways that you can steal back this time. And, you know, whether we want to tell the John Grisham story where he wrote most of his novels two hours in the morning before he went to work, like, there are so many stories where we have stolen that time and put it to things, or people who take longer lunch breaks and work on their projects during their longer lunch breaks. And, you know, there are so many different ways to maneuver. And the other thing that I want to remind folks is that we’ll really squander a day, right? We will really like a full day. That’s what we hope for. Like, I just want a full day or I want a full week, and then I’m going to do the thing, except for when that full week happens. What I’ve seen across countless clients and countless conversations is one.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:01:29] That’s when your body tries to claw back all the recovery that it hasn’t been getting. So you end up sleeping a lot and and vegging out because it’s like, oh, I can do it now, right? I actually have space in my schedule. And the second thing that will happen is that you will start thinking, okay, how am I going to spend this whole day working on something and you’ll burn your body out? Instead of saying, I need a whole day, I would want you to be thinking, okay, what are the three focus blocks for the day? What are the three significant chunks of a project that you can do in three in in those three ads, and be super clear about what that needs to be so that you don’t get to at the end of that full day. And you’re like, I just been clicking all day. Like I’m no further along, which creates this story in this head trash in this pattern to where you start resenting doing that because you look at every time you’ve done that in the past, and you’ve either slept the whole day or you’ve clicked the whole day and you haven’t gotten what you wanted out of it.


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:28] And that makes a lot of sense. And I have experienced that personally, as I’m sure a lot of people have. The other thing that I think it makes sense for us to touch on, sort of like while we’re sort of in this zone, is the idea of time of day. I have for two reasons, right? One, I have found that my brain works in different ways at different times of the day. You know, if you asked me to be hyper-creative and hyper-productive, like at 4:00, it’s going to be a completely different experience than if you ask me to do it early in the morning or even late at night. And so when you think about not just how many of these four different blocks do I have in my life, realistically, and then how many of the focus blocks do I have available to get the stuff that really matters done? The other thing I found super helpful, I know you’re a big advocate for is understanding. When in your day, does it make sense to actually build these into your schedule because it can make. I have been so surprised. It makes a profound difference what time of day I actually do these.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:03:30] Absolutely. And and that experience is not unusual, right? There are, roughly speaking, three different chronotypes that we all fall into. And that’s that early morning sometimes called larks. And that is the, you know, night owl, which we normally call people who have later sessions. And then, um, there’s this emu, this third Dan pink call, some third birds. But I like calling them emus, right. That are people who are really on fire in the afternoon. Neither in the morning nor in the evening, like the afternoon is their sweet spot. And again, unfortunately, we live in this industrial, um, reductionist society that makes that puts us on this like first shift, 9 to 5 schedule. And that’s when you have to do all of your work. And even when we go solo, we adopt that mindset, right? That 9 to 5 is when you work. But really, if you’re a lark. The reality is about seven to maybe 1:00 is your peak zone. Right? Outside of that, you’re going to be doing lower-level work, you’re going to be burnt out, you’re going to be tired, so on and so forth. And even if you get an evening session on top of that, like working in the afternoon just is not going to be your thing when we start talking about focus blocks. And you can sort of invert that for every chronotype. It makes such a huge difference.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:04:45] And. The reality is, I want to be more stark about this. If you try to do your deepest work in an off-peak cycle, it’s going to be a road of frustration because you’re not going to do it. Or you’re going to do it, and you’re going to wake up and look at what you’ve done and be really frustrated about how bad it is and how much time you wasted in doing it. Right. And so. Again using displacement. As our friend here, it’s really helpful to think if I don’t, I’m a I’m a morning person myself, right? If I don’t do it in the morning, it’s not going to happen. It is not going to happen. So choosing to do all the other things besides that in the morning means that I have also chosen not to do this thing. And that choice or that sort of recognition is really powerful when it comes to how we focus and how we set ourselves up for, for success. And again, I want people to really be thinking, yes, you can talk about taking every day. And, you know, if you’re a morning person doing it from 7 to 2 and doing all that, yes, that’s one way you can do it. But I’d also want to say like, maybe it’s just Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning that you steal one block.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:05:59] Every one of us, like the world, can live without you for two hours, I promise you, right? The world can just do whatever it’s going to do for that amount of time for you to focus on your work and what matters to you. Um, and that’s where we start talking about boundaries, because a lot of times we don’t set the boundary that we need for that. And so whether it’s a scheduling app or whether it’s whatever it is, we know we work better in the morning and yet we still take morning meetings. Why? Right. Because your client needs it. Because somebody needs it. Turns out time and time again that we have far more ability to choose our schedule, even in a corporate environment. Right? Then we really assert. And so we end up in these periods to where we’re sitting in a meeting right during our peak zone. And know at a certain point that the work is not going to get done, and yet we still try to take it home with us and get it done. It just makes such a difference so hard that it’s. If people were to do one thing, I would say, you know, take the time to figure out when you’re at your peak. An experiment with putting some focus blocks in there and just stealing two hours at a time.


Jonathan Fields: [01:07:14] Yeah. How would you recommend that people actually do that? Like, what’s the is there a simple process to figure out what time of day that zone is for you?


Charlie Gilkey: [01:07:22] Yes. So we have some tools on our website that helps people track this. But what I’ve learned is a really great tool. A really great way of backing into it is think about how you would operate on a vacation when you’ve already rested. It tends to give you an idea of when you would naturally do different types of things, right, because you don’t have the external constraint of other people’s schedules and other people’s priorities. Right? So part of it can be momentary journaling, where you look at every hour and say, how do I feel on a scale of 1 to 10? Am I creative or am I not creative? Um would be another way that you can do it. What I’ve experienced with this one, Jonathan, is most people already know. Um, they really do know. And they haven’t allowed themselves to make their schedules match their chronotype. They keep trying to make their chronotype match their schedules, and it doesn’t work. Yeah, right.


Jonathan Fields: [01:08:16] And then you end up being a person who either never finishes stuff or you’re finishing all the stuff that doesn’t matter. And then you start and then you go into that cycle of, you know, like, I am the type of person who doesn’t finish it. And that labels you as an identity of that person. And then the thing that also stood out to me from what you were just sharing is this idea of so many of us, I think, feel constrained. We feel like we can’t actually choose that in our work and in our lives because, you know, so I’m a parent and I know that for, you know, like many years, a certain time where where I am hyper generative and creative and productive would be a time where I actually want to be really present for my family. So I have I have made a choice to give up a certain amount of that, because one of the things that matters to me most in the world is being there for the people that I love most dearly. But also, it’s actually what I’ve realized over the years is it’s more complex than that. It’s more nuanced than that. Because when I do that every day, I feel great about the fact that I’m showing up for my family. But then slowly, over time, what starts to build up is a certain recognition that I’m not coming close to doing my best work professionally, and there’s a certain amount of, um, that flows through to my mode of being all day, every day.


Jonathan Fields: [01:09:40] And then when I think I’m, you know, oh, I’m here and I’m present for my family, I’m actually a little bit frustrated and pissed off when I’m with my family because I’m not actually doing the stuff that fills me up and nourishes me on the contribution side of things and what I think I’m doing in the name of being present for my family, is actually not only hurting my ability to do my best work in the world, but it’s also hurting my ability to be fully present and loving and open when I’m with my family. And I’ve realized over time that I really do have to do this balance, where sometimes it actually makes sense for me to say, you know what? One of the best things that I can do for my family is to actually take these two hours and go and do incredible work, because then when I come back for the other, you know, time that I’m with them, I’m going to really be there and I’m going to be in it. My, my, my state of mind, my state of being will be very, very different. And that’s a much higher quality of time with them. But that’s not an easy thing to come to.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:10:42] Yeah, I’m so glad. I’m so glad you put that out as the example. And also that you were honest about the frustration, the frustration and resentment that comes with that. Right? Because I think there’s not enough space, especially for parents who are creative folks. To be in that tension.


Jonathan Fields: [01:11:01] But you feel you feel shame owning that actually. Yeah. You know, because you’re like, I shouldn’t feel that way.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:11:08] Yeah. So like, um, I used to call it mom guilt, right? Because I’ve noticed so many of my clients and students who are moms, they have this huge sense of guilt about claiming that boundary and going to the coffee shop for two hours, right, and leaving, leaving their kids behind. But more importantly than that, guilt is the guilt they feel and the shame they feel about being frustrated and resentful about that choice and what’s not happening. And the story that they start telling themselves is I’m not able to do. I’m not able to do my work because of my kids, right? And so they start pushing their challenges and struggles on their kids when they realize it’s really about their choices. And so in that scenario, I agree with you 100% in the sense of. The simple. Choice is to be present. All be omnipresent, right? The cost of that choice is that in the end, you’re never really present. Right. And there is that sense of fulfillment, completion, um, satisfaction that happens when you carve away that two hours or you carve away that morning. Um, and let’s be frank, if you got a teenager, the mornings are a great time to steal anyways, because it’s not like they want to interact with you in the morning anyways, right? And then you come back and you’re whole in a way, and you can be extraordinarily present, extraordinarily generous with your time, extraordinarily focused, because you don’t have all the wheels turning in the back of your mind about like the way that you’re going to have to recalibrate your schedule or your project or what choices you’re going to have to make because you didn’t get it done.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:12:48] And you know how you feel about the fact that you didn’t get it done. And so I think too many of us approach our relationships with our emotional, creative, mental and spiritual wells empty in the name of being present. But how are we showing up in those in those moments? And is that the type of presence you would want to have? I would much rather have personally. I would much rather have an hour or 30 minutes of Angela’s. Really clear, focused time. Where she feels like she’s gotten everything that she’s needed outside of her relationship. I would rather have 30 minutes of that, then four hours of sort of that quarter time where she’s trying to do everything else and trying to be with me and trying to do. I was like, no, no, no, like, I can wait. Right. Go do your thing and come back. And I try to be that way with with her and with my friends and in the sense of like, if I’m not in that place, I’m going to tell you, like, I’m really not in that place right now. And I’d rather unless it’s a really, um, momentous occasion, like someone graduating or someone leaving and you just have that period of time, I’d rather us find times where we’re aligned energetically. We’re aligned in interests and we’re aligned in sort of our general life satisfaction to hang out and be truly, truly present. Then to be projecting that frustration or that tension into the into the relationship because it’s got to go somewhere.


Jonathan Fields: [01:14:20] Yeah. And I think it’s, you know, it’s the difference between just being present and bringing your most fully actualized, aware and available self to that moment of being present. It’s not an easy thing to do. We all have complex lives. We all have people outside of work, you know, who play various roles in our lives and who we want to be there for. And at the same time, when we are not doing work, that in some way allows us to actualize that deeper part of ourselves. It flows through to everything else. And that’s why, like when I think about the work that you’ve been doing, when I think about this book, start finishing, it’s, it’s it’s on the surface it’s about. Yes. Like, here’s a really cool methodology to start finishing the the work that you’re doing in the world. But bigger picture. It’s actually a methodology to allow you to do the work that matters most, um, most effectively, so that you can then spend the greatest amount of time being present and engaged in all of the parts of your life that matter most to me. And I guess it comes starting. It kind of comes full circle, because in the beginning I asked you, like, why this book? And you’re like, well, it’s kind of part productivity book, but it’s also kind of part, you know, like self-improvement book. And I guess it’s that ripple effect.


Charlie Gilkey: [01:15:42] I think so, and I would want to say it in a bit more nuanced way. What I want people to really get into is the work of their lives, right? So that we see that there and work is not a four-letter word for me in the sense of it’s something we want to get away from. We want to minimize so and so forth. It’s this really sacred stuff that we get to do. Only a parent can parent their child in a way that they’re going to do it right. Only certain people can be leaders in their communities in the way that they’re going to do it. Only a particular creative is going to create in the way that she creates, whatever that is. I want people to see that this life work can be prioritized. I won’t go as far as to say should be prioritized because people have have their own priorities, but it can be prioritized and that for many people. That’s where deep satisfaction, deep flourishing comes from. And so, yes, it’s a book that will help you do your economic work. I’m just as exciting excited about the fact that it’s a book that will help you do the work of your life and make sure that. What you need to do to become the type of person that you most want to be, is on your schedule, and is on your project deck, and has the group of people around you supporting that goal. Just like what you would do any other economic work that matters to you, right?


Jonathan Fields: [01:17:06] Yeah. Um, this feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So hanging out in the studio today, um, in the context of this container of the Good Life project, if I offer out the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Charlie Gilkey: [01:17:19] Do what matters most. Right. And I’m going to focus on the doing right. I won’t say stop talking and start doing, but I will say, like, if you know that you’ve been doing a lot of talking and a lot of a lot of ideating, but you haven’t been doing a lot of making or doing or leading or whatever your thing is. Um, just understand that that gap between the good life you want to live and where you are is probably bridged by certain types of doing that you have to start doing.


Jonathan Fields: [01:17:51] Mm. Thank you, thank you.


Jonathan Fields: [01:17:55] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode safe bet you will also love the conversation that we had with Brad Feld about focusing in on what really matters in life, or what he calls picking your 2% and putting everything up against it. You’ll find a link to Brad’s episode in the show notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me. Jonathan Fields Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life project.

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