Nick Sonnenberg (@nicholassonnenberg) is an entrepreneur, author, and world-renowned innovator of efficiency for self and teams. Nick’s recent book Come Up For Air made the Wall Street Journal’s best-selling list in 2023. Nick Sonnenberg's Come Up For Air is a timeless guide for anyone who wants to improve their productivity and work smarter, not harder. “Work has changed. And it's kind of like what's going on as people are still using a typewriter. Basically, when you could get a new M2 chip and a MacBook Pro, and you're trying to get stuff done on a typewriter, it's just suboptimal.” - Nick Sonnenberg
Time is precious. I believe in working smarter, not harder.
Nick Sonnenberg (@nicholassonnenberg) is an entrepreneur, author, and world-renowned innovator of efficiency for self and teams. Nick’s recent book Come Up For Air made the Wall Street Journal’s best-selling list in 2023.
Nick Sonnenberg’s Come Up For Air is a timeless guide for anyone who wants to improve their productivity and work smarter, not harder.
“Work has changed. And it’s kind of like what’s going on as people are still using a typewriter. Basically, when you could get a new M2 chip and a MacBook Pro, and you’re trying to get stuff done on a typewriter, it’s just suboptimal.”
– Nick Sonnenberg
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Mark Divine 0:00
Hey, this is Mark Divine, and this is the Mark Divine Show. Thanks for joining me today super stoked to have you. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, and resilient leaders. I speak to folks from all walks of life. Every week martial arts grandmasters, meditation monks, Blockchain, wizards, and efficiency experts like my guest today, Nick Sonnenberg. Super stoked to have Nick. We’re going to learn how teams can leverage systems and tools to stop drowning in work. Nick is an entrepreneur, speaker, and columnist-author of Come Up For Air: How teams can leverage systems and tools to stop drowning. Nick is the founder and CEO of Leverage, a leading operational efficiency consultancy. Helps folks implement his business efficiencly framework, which is the culmination of his unique perspective on the value of time efficiency and automation. Stems in part from his eight years he spent as a high frequency quant trader on Wall Street. His framework consistent on results in greater output, less stress, happier employees, potential to gain an extra full day a week of productivity per person just by using the right tools in the right way. Nick, thanks for joining me today.
Nick Sonnenberg 1:09
Great to meet you. Thanks for having me.
Mark Divine 1:11
I would like to get a little bit into the weeds on your experience of high frequency trading. Because I don’t have any experience there. And I think is fascinating. And I’ve heard a little bit about that quant world, but what is it like? You said it’s very hard work., and
Nick Sonnenberg 1:23
It was a lot of work to kind of ramp up and really become an expert at that space. Right? Because you have to understand the math, the computer science, you have to understand how the markets work, you know, and that’s based, like I’m not researching companies to know what the earnings report of company ABC is going to be. I’m literally know nothing about these companies. I’ve, you know, managing billions of dollars off the balance sheet of a large investment bank where I’m in the internal hedge fund and, you know, they basically given us open mandate, do whatever, you know, you have risk limits, and, you know, some expectations, but other than that, it’s figure out a way to make money, use the math.
Mark Divine 2:04
Now, were you just competing against math? Or are you competing against others who are trying to trade the same stocks really fasr? Or, what’s your competition?
Nick Sonnenberg 2:13
Well, nowadays, like over 90% of all trades happening on a stock exchanges, is bots and algorithms, right? I was doing this 2007 To end a 14, so, and I was doing it in Asia for the first period of my career. So back then, it wasn’t as popular, at least in Asia. Right? So the percentage of people I’m trading against, we’re probably more retail. But yeah, so you basically in high frequency trading, I’m developing algorithms, creating math formulas, coding computers, to automatically trade stocks, based off of, you know, the algorithms that I built. And I’m trying to capture fractions of a penny. But I would trade billions and billions of dollars. And we’re looking at, you know, micro and nano second speed. So we’re having conversations about, should we invest X million dollars to have a microwave line from New York to Chicago instead of, you know, fiber optic, or some of the other different ways that you can send orders, and you know, sometimes you’re talking about millions of dollars to save microseconds. So that was fun. I did that for about eight years, I had a successful career, made more money in my mid-20s than I ever thought I would. But then, ultimately, I got into startups because I had an idea for a startup and didn’t want to have any regrets. So by 30, I retired from high-frequency trading, got into the startup world totally underestimated how difficult it would be to run a team and a company.
Mark Divine 3:36
Right. Right, before we dig into this, what did you learn as a quant trader about life and about leadership?
Nick Sonnenberg 3:44
About leadership, ultimately, I decided to leave a large part because I didn’t jive well, with my team in the US. They it was a French bank, they were speaking French, most of the day on the desk, there were some people, there’s a lot of ego involved. And so it wasn’t as collaborative and ultimately, I think it impacted our performance, and I didn’t believe in the direction that my boss was taking the team. Fast forward a few years after I left the team dissolved, because it wasn’t working,. Not to say, oh, I told you, so I was so right. But I didn’t see a kind of a long term play there where I saw a successful path for them. Versus in Asia, when I was doing it, there was a lot more cohesion on a team level, so.
Mark Divine 4:30
The whole culture is a weak culture, right? So I could see how they’re doing it for the team and the mission, that less less individuality.
Nick Sonnenberg 4:37
There’s a lot that goes into it to do high-frequency trading, you need to, need to have good research, good models, good systems, good algorithms, you know, and you want to share learnings and research amongst the team in a very collaborative way. Because, you know, if something’s helping me trade the Australian stock market, maybe there’s some learning there that you can adapt and tweak that would be helpful to you in Korea or Europe or somewhere, you know. So. So ultimately, the team aspect was a huge factor with why I decided to just step away.
Mark Divine 5:12
I have a question, is AI, replacing humans?
Nick Sonnenberg 5:15
Mark Divine 5:16
Yeah, in trading.
Nick Sonnenberg 5:17
Yeah, I mean, everything that I was doing was using machine learning and advanced math. Right. So, yeah, I think I think we’re already there with that.
Mark Divine 5:25
That’s kind of terrifying. When you think about, you know, an AI that develops, you know, like a master algorithm that’s actually like, radically successfu. Starts to become, you know, billionaire than a trillionaire. I know, it’s not the, you know, there’s the owner of the AI. But is there is there a way for for like a breakout, AI to corner a market?
Nick Sonnenberg 5:44
Like AI against HI. You know, the beauty of bots is they’re never going to complain, get sick, or ask for a raise. So I mean, I don’t know, we’ll see what happens with that. But other things, though, that I did learn is two things I think would be helpful to listeners. One, I look at risk in a unique way. Most people are just thinking about, you know, how do you make money, or, Hey, if I put in $1, I’ll make two, but they’re not thinking about all the different levels of risk. And then high-frequency trading, or any trading, you know, it’s not just about reward, but its reward relative to risk, we call it a sharp ratio, you know, if you went to Vegas and won $100 million, but because you bet it all on black and you got lucky, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re super smart, you got lucky, right. And if you play that game, 100 times, your p&l is going to look like a jagged line. Versus, you know, I would much rather make $10 million, but every day, you know, you’re making like 30 grand consistently. So, you know, it’s, it’s like a straight line. So, you know, it’s all about reward relative to risk. And I think even in business and your team, you know, people are, are not thinking about blind spots, you know, if all your payments are coming in through one payment processor, what happens if that one shuts you off? If all of your leads coming from Facebook ads? What happens if Facebook changes their algorithm? If only one person knows how to do payroll? And that person quits? What are you going to do if it’s not documented? So I think that the my background in high-frequency, trained me to look at risk and a unique lens. You know, in certain ways, helped me to develop my framework and content that now I’m focused on.
And I would also say in that space, literally, microseconds can can mean millions. So I also celebrate the small wins, a lot of people are just trying to, you know, make some massive, how do I save 10 hours a week in one shot? Versus I might say, Look, I’ll show you a way to save two seconds by like, some shortcut. But that two seconds, if you do it 60 times a day, that’s two minutes a day, that’s 10 minutes a week, that’s 40 minutes a month, right? At the end of the year, now you’re talking five to 10 hours a year. And, like, if you have a team of 10, you know, it starts adding up in meaningful ways. And, you know, maybe I can find you 1002 second ones like that, right. And so, looking at things from a microscope, like that, also gives you a unique vantage point to see things.
Mark Divine 8:09
That’s cool. So you pivoted to entrepreneurship, I know that certainly had its challenges in terms of leadership, capacity, and trying to work together as a team to get, you know, a common vision mission done there. Let’s talk about that. And then I’m gonna really want to get into your book and operational efficiency for the listeners, like how can we really bring some of this stuff to, to life for them?
Nick Sonnenberg 8:30
Mark Divine 8:31
What was that like to go from being a quant trader where your environment was fairly certain, to being a complete VUCA shitstorm, starting to pivot constantly, because I’ve been there several times.
Nick Sonnenberg 8:41
It was tough man,
Mark Divine 8:41
And even thinking about being an entrepreneur is tough journey.
Nick Sonnenberg 8:45
It was tough. So originally, my company leverage was a freelancer marketplace. So I’ve always been obsessed about productivity and saving time. So I vote, you know, and I think I probably develop this from a younger age. But even like, as a high-frequency trader, it just really, really instilled the value of time, because a microsecond could mean millions. And so in the early days, we were doing tasks and projects for people. We were a freelancer marketplace. We scaled very quickly to seven figures in the first year, 150 people remote. We made a ton of mistakes, though, along the way. And we had, you know, three-quarters of a million dollars of debt, half a million dollars of losses each year. And we had an ord chart where it was just the two of us with 150 people underneath us, which, you know, isn’t probably the optimal way of having some type of hierarchy. And so he was in charge of people, and I was in charge of not people. That was how we split up.
Mark Divine 9:40
Love it, simple.
Nick Sonnenberg 9:42
Literally, out of 150 people, maybe five knew who I was, and then we had about 500 clients. None of them knew who I was. And so we had all this superficial success. People really thought that we had our stuff together. And then one day we’re working at a coffee shop and he taps me on the shoulder, and he tells me he’s out. Not in two weeks, in two days, he’s out in two minutes. And so I go, white, I’m sweating, I’m thinking this can’t be real. And in the three months after that, we lose 40% of our revenue. I’m cashing out my 401 K, my dad’s taking a second mortgage on his house to make to loan us money for payroll. Bank accounts are getting frozen. I mean, it was a complete clown circus. And I had to make a choice, do I bankrupt the company, which everyone suggested, or do I try to turn it around. And when I didn’t think it was ethical to screw people out of their credits that they had purchased, we owed about three-quarters of a million dollars. And then two, I did see a path to turning things around. And so I decided to stick it out, it was really painful.
And I did start making things more efficient and simplifying the business and making things more streamlined. And it seemed to work. And the stuff that was working for me, simultaneously, people started reaching out to me asking me to help them with their operations. And, you know, I worked with Tony Robbins, I worked with poo-pouri got to work with small two-person gas and water leak detection companies. And all this stuff that was helping leverage, really, really navigate the ship was equally helpful for a two-person gas and water leak detection company, or, like, literally a fortune 10 tech company. And so ultimately, over time, I started realizing, like, hey, this stuff is super impactful. There’s all these tools available. Now there’s slack, and there’s Asana, there’s Microsoft Teams. It’s not just text and Gmail anymore. And people just had no education around how to use these tools, when to use these tools. And it can completely transform the productivity of your organization and team if you take advantage of them.
And so, and you know, it’s not their fault that these tools are like less than 10 years old. So work has changed. And it’s kind of like what’s going on as people are still using a typewriter. Basically, when you could get a new M2 chip and a MacBook Pro, and you’re trying to get stuff done on a typewriter, it’s just suboptimal. So we just start seeing tremendous results. We’re saving like a full business day a week per employee in these companies by teaching them best practices, not just how to use the tools, but when to use these tools. What problems do these tools solve? You know, in this scenario, you should use this, right? I’m guessing, you know, in Navy SEAL training, you know, it’s like, if this happens, you probably want to use a gun. If this happens, you want to use something else. So it’s the same thing. It’s just like,
Mark Divine 12:30
In a way, that’s yes, no, it’s just an algorithm, right? If then if this, then that, right.
Nick Sonnenberg 12:35
So that’s, and that’s what my book is, it’s basically an algorithm for how you should work effectively. And I’m not telling people, you must use Slack, you must use asana, I wanted to create a timeless book, that’s going to be the go to manual for how to run a high-performing team. And I’m not saying you need this tool, this tool, it’s more theoretical, like, these are the types of tools you need. This is when and how you use them to maximize not just your productivity but the productivity of the team. And, you know, my goal with this book is how can I save millions of hours of completely wasted time that people are suffering through right now. Stuff that doesn’t give them joy doesn’t tap into their unique ability? Right now, when I look at teams, they’re suffering on this issue of a scavenger hunt, where things are just fragmented all over the place, you know, did Mark text me was that in a group text was on an email was that in a Slack DM or a Slack channel, and everyone’s got their own idea of what, where to put something, and usually, it’s whatever was quickest in the moment for that person. And so you got all these people optimizing for them as an individual and in math, it’s like, we call this a local optimization versus a global optimization.
And so how do you get your team thinking in terms of global optimization, which means, hey, you might have to sacrifice 30 seconds or 10 seconds and put things in a well-structured place that’s easy to find. So that your colleague doesn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt, spend an hour looking for it, you know, and when everyone makes that mutual agreement, that’s really where we see exponential time savings. And so the underlying principle of what we do at leverage when we work with companies or my book, it’s shifting the mindset of optimizing for transferring information fast. To optimizing for retrieving information fast. Which means you take pause, and you put things in the right drawer where it belongs. So you know, when you do your laundry, the fastest way to be done is you take it out of the dryer and you stick it in one drawer. Most people don’t do that. You take the time to separate your socks and one drawer, your underwear in another drawer, not because it’s the fastest way to be done with laundry. But tomorrow when you have to put an outfit together, you can retrieve what you need to and it’s faster and it’s the same in business. You got different chores, aligned with your team on what type of thing goes into what type of drawer, and that’s where we see not just a business day back a week and more time to spend on high-level stuff, but to an increase in culture as a byproduct of an increase in trust, I see often people don’t trust each other not because they don’t think that they’re ethical or that they’ll steal. But because they don’t trust that if you ask someone to do something, they have a system to monitor, track, and be held accountable to those things and thing, you know, they don’t trust that it’s going to actually get done. Right. So then that causes stress and you know, constant chasing and texting and works already hard enough. You don’t need to make it any harder.
Mark Divine 15:27
Yeah, totally. What’s the CPR framework? So let’s talk about the framework for you know, how to think about this stuff. And then I’d love to really dig into some of the most impactful tools or processes for efficiency.
Nick Sonnenberg 15:40
CPR is what I found, it didn’t matter if you’re it doesn’t matter if you’re a coach, financial advisor, or poop spray company. The three drawers that every business and every team needs is C,i P, and R. C stands for communicate. So every team in the world, you need to communicate internally with your team and externally with clients. You know, communication is like the oxygen of your business. If you can’t communicate with people, I guess, kind of guess I was never in the military. But I mean, I would imagine that a key strategy in war is how do you cut off the enemy’s communication systems, it’s gonna make it hard for them to fight, right. So, same thing, if you’re not communicating as a team properly, it’s everything slows down. So there’s different tools in the communication bucket. And it’s important to be aware of what is what should go into a communication tool, versus into a planning tool, which is the P, right? If you were to go camping in the forest with your team, you would need walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. But you would also need a map to navigate out of the forest. Most people are using text and email, which are the walkie-talkies. They’re using they’re trying to hack it to be a map. So for example, if I were to say, Hey, Mark, can we edit this podcast by Friday? Right? You know, and we’re on the same team. That shouldn’t be a commun, it shouldn’t be done in text, Slack, Microsoft Teams email, that is a task that I need to hold someone accountable to, I need to be able to click a button and know what are all the things that I had requested to get done? Did they get done what’s past due? What’s the status of this thing? You can hack it in a communication tool. But if you want to hold someone accountable to something that should be done in a work management tool, which is the P. Communication really should be things like, Hey, welcome Nick to the team. Or, hey, does anyone have any idea what time we’re meeting at this time? Like those are communication things. But, you know, we’re trying to roll out a new website for my book. That would that would be so inefficient if we were just texting and emailing about that, you know, that’s a project we need milestones, we need tasks, different people should be responsible for different parts of that, there should be different due dates on some of those things. So in one place, we should be able to just see kind of the state of affairs, what’s going on. And we should be able to collaborate effectively. And so there’s, it’s important to understand what’s communication versus what’s planning, and then the R is resources. So every company, you have intellectual, you have IP, you have knowledge, you have standard operating procedures, right. So how you onboard a new client, how you do payroll, what your core values are. All of this is knowledge that needs to be documented somewhere. So that one, you don’t waste time repeating yourself. And people can just go, and self-serve. But to back to my point before about risk. You don’t want to be sitting on risk that only one person knows how to do payroll, and they decide to leave tomorrow. What are you gonna do? So it’s not just about moving fast or forward, it’s about how do you avoid the setbacks. And so, documenting knowledge both helps you avoid setbacks, but also it helps you be more efficient because you don’t have to repeat yourself.
Mark Divine 18:47
Right? Awesome. So communication planning and resources, starting with communication, like is there a top tool or processing tool that has led to like the most time saving or most efficiency gain?
Nick Sonnenberg 19:01
I would say most people should start you know, the most popular thing that we’re doing at leverage right now is we do training on how to use email properly. Gmail and Outlook, and how to get to inbox zero.
Mark Divine 19:12
Right? By the way, I am an inbox zero person literally not only my inbox, but my trash folder because Gmail is so Goony that you know, a lot of important email goes into my trash folder. So I’m an inbox zero for both my inbox and my trash folder. Isn’t that weird? Strange I thought it was a strange guy was good to hear. You say that’sit.
Nick Sonnenberg 19:29
Basically, email is just a to do list that other people can add to and just like any to do lists that you want to tick things off. You want to get end the day not with and we don’t care if you have unread or read. For me, it doesn’t matter. You have your inbox, which is kind of your to do list. And then you have strategies. You have an archive which you can still find in your own mail. And you can snooze emails, but not every company listening here, not every team maybe is using Microsoft Teams or slack or Asana or these tools Everyone you are using email. And you’re probably able to save three to five hours a week if if you learn how to use it effectively. And so Inbox Zero is just a methodology to get your email under control, both so you don’t waste time but also so you don’t miss opportunities. It’s there’s so many people when I’m when we’re dealing with, with them, they’ve they’ve, they find, oh my god, I can’t believe I missed this, this is worth $100,000 to me this email, you know.
So it’s a way to get a grip on your email, save time. And it’s usually the best starting point. But if you’re not using tools like Microsoft Teams, or Slack, for internal communication, you’re missing a big opportunity. You know, if you think about email, one, just separating out email is for external Slack and teams is for internal. So really, really helpful. Because then already, if I’m looking for something that Aiden told me, I know that the most logical tool to look in is Slack, I don’t have to look with equal probability in text, email, Slack, Asana, you know, so already, just knowing that the highest probability of tool that that information lives is here, you’re ready, simplifying the problem by an order of magnitude. Now, you know, where were some of these other tools like Slack and Teams starts becoming really interesting is, email is ordered. The logic is chronological. So the most recent emails at the top, that’s it. These other tools, you have advanced functionality that’s more optimized for what a team needs, for example, it’s organized by topic. So you can create channels, you could have a podcast channel, you could have a channel for a private coaching group, you could have another channel for, you know, new hires, or all team. And you can write messages in those channels. You know, if you’re looking for, you know, where it was a conversation about the podcast, go to the podcast channel, it’s probably the most logical place, right? So you can organize by topic versus organizing by chronological and that that’s a subtle but distinct difference. Plus, it has third-party integrations and other kinds of cool features that makes it really productive.
Mark Divine 22:08
That’s really interesting. And I see how those I love that distinction of use email for external comms and slack for internal, we use both. And we don’t have that distinction, though, that just kind of set a light bulb off and think a lot of people.
Nick Sonnenberg 22:20
Well, the best way to get to Inbox Zero is email zero. So all the stuff that’s going in currently going into email that shouldn’t go into email. So anything that really is internal communication, put it in Slack, or Teams, anything that is related to task, or projects should go in a work management tool. And so that alone is going to help reduce the amount of email by an order of magnitude. And then we have a system called Reply, archive, defer, you know, once you kind of reduced the volume of email, because you got it go into the right places, and then you follow this R A D system, you can get through email so much quicker, so much less stress, and miss far less opportunities.
Mark Divine 23:04
Right. You heard of the hub and spoke concept?
Nick Sonnenberg 23:05
Are you talking about like in a flat organization versus like a hierarchical organization?
Mark Divine 23:11
With the technology stack. So the idea is like with Teams, or Zoom, and even Slack, you can use that as like your primary platform. And then through these apps, and these add ons, and these plugins, you know, you basically plug in everything, like for instance, if you let’s say, zoom, you use a lot of zoom. Now they’ve set that up, where now you can use that as your hub. And then you can plug in, right, slack to that. And you can plug in Yeah, your email app, and you can plug in, you know, some sort of repository, like Asana. And so then you’re not switching back and forth between all these apps, you just use that kind of hub app, and you do all your work from there. Is that effective? Or is that just a theoretical concept I learned in my doctoral program, because we’ve tried to implement it and we still bounce around and it hadn’t been really effective for us.
Nick Sonnenberg 23:57
So I call it my command center. So it’s funny that you’re calling it.
Mark Divine 24:02
Nick Sonnenberg 24:02
So I make Slack my command center.
Mark Divine 24:05
Okay. Same idea.
Nick Sonnenberg 24:06
Now, do what I do. Yeah, same idea. Now, look, there’s no avoiding CPR, communication planning resources are foundational stuff to your business. So there’s no getting around needing to log in to a handful, call it five or so tools, and going in directly to those tools, because these are such foundational elements to collaborating efficiently with your team. And so, you know, some people are like, oh, man, that’s inefficient. I just want to use text and email. And they use that like a Swiss army knife, but you know, they’re kind of biting off their nose to spite their face. Because, you know, it’s like, what would you rather do to chop down a tree? Use a Swiss army knife or a chainsaw? Yes, the chainsaw is a new tool, but gonna chop it down faster. So you don’t want to have 100 tools, but you definitely want to have a few core tools for CP&R. Now, how I use Slack for the command center part of this is we have channels like we use HubSpot for CRM, so I have a notification channel for HubSpot. So anytime like a new deal is closed, for example, I get notified in that channel. Anytime a big invoice is paid, we have a stripe integration, so we get notified in a payment channel, because it’s connected to stripe. So I use it like a command center, so I don’t need to be logging into hundreds of tools all the same time to get information, I use it more to get information automatically that I’m interested in, right. But I’m not using those integrations to do core workflows, right. So you can get around things and, like, you know, use an integration of Slack and Asana and do stuff in Asana. But via Slack, I tend to not advise that just because Asana is such a core tool, like if, for work management, you might be using another tool, but it’s such a core piece of what you do day in and day out, you probably are going to be spending hours a day and that type of tool. So you shouldn’t be accessing it via a third-party hack solution. You should directly go into that tool. So I really recommend this hub and spoke, as you’re calling it more for notification optimization versus actual dealing within those tools. Does that make sense?
Mark Divine 26:14
Yeah, it does. You know, we all know that we waste a lot of time on meetings, so what are some, you know, how do we make our meetings more efficient and save time? You know, for group communication, Yammer, you have to all get-together and collaborate? Yeah.
Nick Sonnenberg 26:26
Oh, meetings are one of the biggest costs. And companies I think it was like over $30 billion last year was wasted and inefficient meetings. I’ve read some articles about it. And to optimize meetings, it doesn’t really require any new technologies right now. You can just it’s more of a mindset shift. So there’s a handful of things you should be thinking about with every meeting. One, does it need to have as many people, right? Every person comes with an hourly rate, right? If you’re on a four person one hour, call, everyone’s hourly rate $200 an hour, that’s a $400. Call, right? You get it down to three now just move move it to a $300 call, you know, next, does the meeting need to be as long as it is? Right? Can you cut it down from an hour to 45 minutes. Right, that’s still a huge win. Because even if you keep those same four people, you cut it down by 15 minutes, you just saved $100. It’s still back from 400 to 300. And it’s important to understand too, that time isn’t linear, not all time is created equal. So a lot of what we’re talking about, and a lot of what I talked about in the book, is a framework and tactics and strategy, how to save time, but it’s also about optimizing time, right? So like, when people think about their hourly rate, they just think every time block on the calendar is $100. So it’s like all the same color $100 at 9am on a Monday, $100 At seven o’clock on a Friday. But in reality, they’re not all worth the same. Right for me, after a relaxing weekend. 9am on a Monday, after I’ve worked out in the morning, had a cup of coffee, meditated, journaled, whatever you want to do, my brains firing at full horsepower at that point. So that might be $1,000, an hour time slot, versus seven o’clock on a Friday, after 100 Zoom calls for the week, I’m exhausted and I’m in the back of an Uber and I don’t have my laptop, my time isn’t worth as much, I can’t, I can’t, my brains not at the same horsepower, I don’t have the same tools with me to get the same amount of stuff done. So maybe it’s worth $15 an hour, whatever, right?
So think about that. Be aware of where you predict your energy levels to be at and try to optimize your calendar around that if you can, if you’re having hour-long meetings, and 15 minutes of that meeting is a report out someone’s just sharing with you numbers from something, you know, do you have an opportunity to have them asynchronously videotape themselves talking about it, sending it to you in advance. And now when you’re in the back of the Uber or you’re going on a walk, you can watch that video to hear what’s on their mind. And now you just freed up 15 minutes at the most valuable time slot on the whole calendar. Doing that one time isn’t going to change your your business. But if you think about that, for every single meeting, and you think about the number of meetings you have, that can save you millions of dollars.
Mark Divine 29:20
That’s pretty cool. So kind of extending this concept of being more efficient with how you manage meetings. What about what what is your like hack for organizing your day most effectively, so that you can, you know, have the brainpower to do the deep work you need to do, can get your meetings in, have time for you know, whatever else you need to do? Like what what’s I know there’s probably different methods and it might be meta preference, but is there a kind of a best practice that’s evolved in your work?
Nick Sonnenberg 29:47
I mean that now this starts moving more into the personal productivity space, and I can just share with you kind of what I do, but no, I think there’s a few things. One, you want to limit distractions. So with all these tools we’re talking about, most people have the wrong notification settings on. And so if you ever read Cal Newports book deep work, it’s like 17 minutes to get back into a flow state when you’re out. So you want to minimize distractions and not every time someone has an idea, you get a pop-up, and now you’re out of kind of the deep thought. So, look at your notifications. Two go back to meetings, you want to use agendas for meetings, because every time someone has an idea, even if you don’t have the notification pop-ups, you don’t want to just be bombarded with a million messages every day. So your brain is for having ideas, not holding ideas; you need to have systems and drawers to put things so that you don’t have to walk around, stressed out, clenching onto it. And so an agenda is a great strategy where you can tell your team, look, if it’s not urgent, and it can wait till next week, don’t distract me, add it to the agenda, we’ll cover it live next week. Things that I do, I try to not have calls on Fridays in general. That way, if I have for myself, non time-sensitive, urgent things, I can snooze. So back to that R A D system with email, it stands for reply, archive and defer. I do most of my deferring to Fridays, because that’s my day with the most flexibility of not having pre-committed times with on the calendar. So I like to personally try to see my days. So Friday might be a no-call day. And it’s more of like an admin buffer day. Monday is like a team call where it’s just back to back on team. Also, that allows me to optimize my travel schedule, I know that it’s pretty disruptive if I fly in on a Monday, because I’m just back to back all day. So I’ll try to avoid that andI will fly on a Sunday, you know, but I know that Friday is a pretty good day to fly. Because I typically don’t have calls, right? I try to also predict the horsepower of my brain. So I know that I’m more of a morning person I like to work out in the mornings. So I note that what I could probably get done on a fresh brain from morning till say 11 or 12, I probably can accomplish more during that time period than from like noon to eight o’clock. So I’ll try to stack my most important stuff there, I’ll try to put a buffer inbetween calls. Because oftentimes, if you’re too overly scheduled, you don’t have time to really digest what just happened, take notes, action items, etc. And you find that you just invested all this time on calls. But if you don’t capture the action items with the proper notes, you might only be getting a fraction of the value of that investment of time that you just put into it. So putting a little bit of a buffer, and then using these tools, right, frankly, you know, like, we eat our own dog food do with this stuff. And you know, you have to use the tools properly, you my team is probably getting the equivalent done of of a team, three times the size, just because we’ve removed all the other friction and hurdles and setbacks that a lot of people waste time on.
Mark Divine 33:09
Right, right. Come back to your themes. I think that’s such a brilliant idea. And I don’t know if people are like this, but I’ve tried to do that in the past, and then you know, becomes OBE overcome by events. And then I’m back to where, you know, things are just getting slammed in my schedule, wherever. So first off, I’d love to hear what the rest of your theme days are. And secondly, how do you protect that?
Nick Sonnenberg 33:31
Another trick that I do there’s, I mean, it’s it’s tough, right? Because sometimes, you have to start saying no to things that are important. And you have to swallow a tough pill. So I use HubSpot for as a CRM, it has built in scheduling, if you don’t have a tool like that, there’s tools like Calendly, which are popular to get scheduling links. So what you could do right now is sign up for one of those tools, and it syncs with your calendar, and then you can start blocking off, you know, I only want to do calls Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, from this time to this time. And you could create different versions. So you could have like a VIP version. Like if it’s really important. I’m available Monday through Friday, eight to eight for really important people or nine to five, whatever you want. But for a regular call, I’m only available from noon to five, Tuesday through Thursday.
So you could have two or multiple, right? And then each of those views is a unique link. And I talked about this in my book, but then you could buy domains, you could have like chatwithmark.com, for example. And or talktomark.com, and then you could set up domain name forwarding to that scheduling link. So then when you’re meeting with people, you don’t have to remember, oh, go to calendly.com forward slash you forward slash 317. You know what I mean? You just make it nice and easy. So that’s a little productivity trick. And then for the other one for the VIP, when you could do VIP.chatwith mark.com, for example, right. And so based off of the context of your conversation, or your text or your email, you could start giving dynamic kind of custom vanity URLs to people. You could also do it with Zoom, you could, you know, zoomwithmark.com, that points to your personal zoom link. So that’s just a bit quicker. But you know, that I digress for a second, but using
Mark Divine 35:24
Now this is where my mind is going is like, you know, I’m not really a tech geek. And I, you know, I got a lot of things going on. And so I never really sit down, even though I think things like this are a really good idea. Like, I’m not the guy to implement it. Is that something you guys do?
Nick Sonnenberg 35:38
So my company Leverage, which you can go check out getleveraged.com? That’s what we do we do training and consulting for teams.
Mark Divine 35:46
What about actually rolling up your sleeves and doing it for them? Like, can I hire you to set me up for productivity suite and train me to implement into I have to have to do I have to do the implementation?
Nick Sonnenberg 35:56
Well, when you say implementation, like most of it is mostly training implementation would be, hey, we’re, we’ve got 500 projects on smart sheets that we need to transfer to Asana and we need to optimize the process. Yeah, we can do that, you know, we’ll charge a lot of money for that type of stuff. But for the most part, people get a ton of value just out of the training that we do in all these kind of core tools. But yeah, we have, we have services that could help, you know, on the lowest end, the most economical is get the book, the book, walks you through all this stuff, and you could try to do it yourself. Then we have a group which is like done with you, right, and then we’ve got like, more white glove consulting, which is, you know, done for you, for the most part, but you can’t really there’s no magic wand with this stuff Mark, like you, you know, it’s got to be a collaboration, because at the end of the day, like, we’re not going to sit there and click the button on the, on you know, slack to write a message to someone so
Mark Divine 36:51
And then the team’s got to have buy in, right.? And because if only Yeah, you know, if one person doesn’t use it, again, the whole system breaks down.
Nick Sonnenberg 36:58
Exactly. So you need to be bought in and backing the initiative. You don’t need to be the first person to, you know, be setting up the channels or these things, but you need to be bought in. And you need to be a participant in the process, and not just be kind of leading by, you know, do as I say not as I do. Because what you don’t want is to introduce a new tool, and then half the team is bought in half isn’t, and the ones that are bought in get punished, because now they’ve got to look in not just text or email or Slack. But now they’ve got to look at another tool. And you have to start keeping track of personal preferences like, well, I know Mark doesn’t like Asana, but he likes Slack. But you know, it’s worked hard enough as it is you can’t keep track of personal preferences. So for this to really work, people have to be on the same page with that CPR framework. And it’s like, all or nothing.
Except why email is such a great starting point is that is a single-user kind of tool, meaning if you follow the R A D system, reply, archive, defer, and others don’t, and you’re able to get to Inbox Zero, you still benefit even if others haven’t kind of gotten up to speed with the program. Versus the other tools, which are more collaboration tools. So you need buy in from the top, the change management is the hardest piece of this. It’s also hard that everyone’s drowning in work. So you have to find a little bit of breathing room to give people because if they’re already at full capacity, this is a long-term investment, where some things take longer than others. But the way I describe it, as you know, you have a sink that’s broken, and there’s water overflowing onto the floor. Like it’s quicker, probably just to quickly mop it up and then get back to what you’re doing. Versus you know, you spend an hour and you find the hole and you patch the pipe. But at some point of every week, you’re mopping the floor for you know, even five minutes. After 12 weeks, you’re better off, you know, spending the hour to patch the hole. So, you know, it’s a trade-off. There’s short term, quick patches versus long-term, you know, foundational shifts that permanently fix an issue that take longer. And depending on where you’re at as a business, you know, different things are optimal strategies. If you can’t make payroll next month, you can’t afford to invest in long-term things like you can if you’re, you know, just raking in cash, so you have to balance it, but most people are doing 100% short-term 0% long term, and I would advise against that. At least if it’s if you’re if you don’t want to invest in that that’s fine. But you have to just be intentional, like I am choosing not to invest in this stuff that will be good long-term, because we need to tomorrow, figure out how to get 10 grand for something, right. But people need to be thinking about it and being aware and you know, at some point, it will be the right time to do things. You don’t have to do everything at once. Just do one thing at a time you don’t get benefit, if you’re trying to roll out 10 things at once sub-optimally. So just pick one thing, get it rolled out, right. See the benefit, let the benefit catch up, give everyone back some breathing room, and then do the next thing.
Mark Divine 40:13
I love that you agnostic to any kind of a business operating system for smaller companies, you know, like I heard you use the term unique ability, which is you know, Dan Sullivan’s kind of scaling, not scaling up, strategic Strategic Coach. And then you know, we’ve we’ve used the EOS and kind of scaling up models. And I could see how, once you have those in place, then you can move on to kind of like these efficiency tools. But does it matter? Do you have a preference? Or doesn’t matter what stage the company is in?
Nick Sonnenberg 40:41
No, I don’t think it matters the stage. And I think that they can all be done in parallel. Like we’re all tackling different things. I think, you know, whether it’s EOS or Scaling up there, there’s a lot of similarities there, right? At the end of the day, they give you a framework, you should have long-term goals, you should have short-term goals, you should align your team, you should, you know, make sure that everyone is coordinated. So it gives you kind of a framework or a container. But likewise, like I’m teaching you ways to save time and be efficient. And I’m not, I’m not trying, I guess the differences, I’m about efficiency, and those are about effectiveness. And they’re both important. It’s two sides of the same coin.
Mark Divine 41:21
Okay, yeah, that can see how they work together. That’s awesome. Nick, thanks so much for your time, I can’t wait to read the book.
Nick Sonnenberg 41:27
The book just came out literally yesterday. And on our website comeupforair.com, we’ve got a ton of additional resources that we refer to in the book that’s just totally free. There’s calculators, checklists, PDFs, and that you can go and check out. But this is not a book that’s a 10-page blog with repetitive stories around the same concept. This is, this is meaty dense content that should be read slowly and should be given to your team. And should be the employee manual that you never got that if everyone reads and you have every new hire read, you will be getting 20 to 40% out of more out of every person very quickly. And there’ll be much happier in the process to.
Mark Divine 42:11
Sweet look forward to it. And super appreciate the work and appreciate your time today. Nick. This was an awesome interview.
Nick Sonnenberg 42:17
Thanks for having me.
Mark Divine 42:19
Yeah, appreciate it, buddy. Hooyah. Wow, that was super practical and really interesting conversation with Nick Sonnenberg totally loved his idea of email inbox zero, and using email only for external comms while using Slack for internal. And also the difference between using Slack for topic-organized conversations versus the chronological email. Fascinating learn about his CPR process or framework, communicate, planning, and resource in the different tools, projects, and processes. And I love the conversation about organizing your weekend to theme days, I’m going to do that myself.
Show Notes are up at MarkDivine.com video will be up on our YouTube channel, you can reach out to me at Twitter at Mark Divine and on Instagram at real Mark Divine also on Facebook. And you can reach out on my LinkedIn channel. So hit me up there if you use LinkedIn. A plug for my newsletter Divine Inspiration, which comes out every Tuesday, where I bring my latest podcast, show notes, my blog, and other interesting things that are going on, as well as the book I’m reading go to Mark Divine.com. To sign up and share it with your friends, shout out to my amazing team, Jason Sanderson and Geoff Haskell and Catherine Divine who helped produce this podcast in the newsletter and bring incredible guests and information to you every week. Reviews are very helpful. So if you haven’t reviewed or rated it, please consider doing so wherever you listen. Again, it really helps other people find it helps keep us at the top of the ratings. Thanks so much for being part of the change you want to see in the world. My mission is to make people or help make people stronger body, mind, and spirit working as a team. And if you want to learn about how we’re doing that as SEALFIT, and go check out our programs of SEALFIT, especially our year-long, unbeatable team mastermind and integrated training process, as well as our performance coaching challenge. SEALFIT.com Till next time, this is your host Mark Divine and thank you.
Transcribed by Catherine and https://otter.ai