true WELLth Podcast: Ron Friedman Episode Transcript

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Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible with support from Brighton Jones, helping clients, colleagues and the global community live a richer life. To learn more about how you can live a richer life visit brightonjones.com.

Ron Friedman: It’s only human to want to avoid the things that don’t make you comfortable, but often, the most valuable things we produce are found in those areas that we don’t even want to start.

Manisha Thakor: Hello, and welcome to this edition of the true WELLth podcast, where we speak with a wide range of experts in the four core areas of holistic wellbeing; social, emotional, physical, and financial. My guest today is Dr. Ron Friedman, an award-winning social psychologist who specializes in human motivation. Ron has served on the faculty of the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, and Herbert and William Smith colleges. Ron is also the author of a highly acclaimed book called The Best Place To Work; The Art and Science of Creating An Extraordinary Workplace. He is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Fast Company, Forbes and CNN. Ron has also consulted for some of the world’s most successful organizations on how to create a more productive, and enjoyable work environment.

Manisha Thakor: On a personal note, I’ll also say that Ron graciously agreed to be my personal productivity coach as I transitioned into my new role at Brighton Jones. Ron taught me how to truly make the most of my work day by utilizing a wide range of tips, tactics and tools that have bubbled up from his research. I’m so excited for you all to hear his ideas on wellbeing at work with hopes that they have as positive impact on your lives as they have on mine. Without further ado, let’s dive into today’s show. We’ll kick off by discussing psychology in the workplace.

Manisha Thakor: So Ron, you are a psychologist by training, and yet you’ve written a best-selling business book called The Best Place To Work. What inspired you to do this?

Ron Friedman: I spent years working as a college professor, studying human motivation in the lab, and teaching at colleges and universities, and then, I went off, and joined the corporate world, and what I came to realize in that experience that much to my surprise, many of the insights that psychologists have uncovered have just not been utilized in the workplace, and it’s not because people don’t care. It’s because if you’re a busy professional, or you’re a CEO leading a company, you don’t have time to worry about academic research, and so, what I did was I wrote a book that essentially summarizes all the latest science into actionable strategies that anyone can use regardless if they’re leading an organization, managing a small team, or just working on their own.

Manisha Thakor: Let’s talk about joy. What does your academic, and real life research say we need in order to be happy at work?

Ron Friedman: Well, what people want from their workplace is ultimately the same thing they want in every other aspect of life, and that’s to have their basic human psychological needs fulfilled, and so, what are those psychological needs? And so, there’re three of them, and this applies both to the workplace, to our home life, to when we’re playing in sports, really any aspect of life, and those three needs are the need for competence, feeling like you’re good at what you do, but also, having the ability to grow that competence on a regular basis, feeling like you’re connecting to others in a meaningful way, feeling like you’re valued, respected, appreciated, all the good things that come from human relationships, and feeling like you have some capacity for having choice in doing the work that you’re doing, some ability to shape the work that you’re doing.

Ron Friedman: And so, when we have our basic human psychological needs fulfilled, we tend to be healthier, happier and more productive. Unfortunately, most workplaces do a dreadful job of creating psychologically fulfilling experiences, and so, in The Best Place To Work I explain exactly why that is, and how some of the best workplaces on Earth are doing it better.

Manisha Thakor: I want to pause for a moment to reiterate the three things Ron says we need to be happy in the workplace, which he also points out our true basic human psychological needs in all areas of life. The first; competence, feeling like you are good at what you do, and that you have the opportunity, and support to keep growing your skills. Number two, connected, that you feel valued, appreciated and respected. All the good things that come from being unhealthy supportive human relationships. Number three, choice, that you have some capacity to shape the work that you are doing, even if it’s in seemingly minor ways.

Manisha Thakor: When we have these basic needs met in any areas of our lives, you’re happier, and more productive, and yet, and I found this fascinating is Ron says, “Most companies do a dreadful job of creating psychologically fulfilling workplaces.” Ron, you make the point in your book that close friendships with our colleagues make us more productive. How so?

Ron Friedman: Yeah, this is one of those things that was very surprising to me as I dove into the research, because for people like me, for example, I tend to be more introverted. I’m not as interested in having those conversations about what I did over the weekend, or what I did last night, or what I’m planning to do next weekend, right? There’s only two conversations, what did you do last weekend, or what you’re going to do the next weekend? In a lot of ways, having friends at work makes us better at our jobs, and they’re not necessarily in obvious ways.

Ron Friedman: When we are surrounded by people who value, and respect us, and appreciate us, we can spend less of our attention focused on whether, or not we’re fitting in, and paying more attention on actually doing our job, and that’s critical. In a lot of organizations, you tend to have people who have just joined, who spend a great deal of cognitive bandwidth worrying about whether people respect them. We forget how valuable it is to have friends from the perspective of allowing us freeing us up to not worry about whether we’re fitting in.

Ron Friedman: Beyond that, it’s also the case that when you have close friendships at work, when you’re making a mistake people will take you aside, and let you know, and so, it almost sounds like an early warning detection system. Whereas, if people aren’t close at work, they tend to stay quiet, and stay in their silos, and let other people make mistakes, because they don’t want to rock the boat. The third way that having close friendships at work benefits our performance is now that we have that basis of trust in other people we’re more willing to ask for help, because we’re not as concerned about how that reflects on our level of competence.

Ron Friedman: And so, for all of those reasons, having close friends at work makes you better at your job, and if I get to just add one more point, and that is that loyalty to an organization is something that really is a thing of the past, it’s become an archaic notion now that it’s so easy to just fire someone, and replace them, and it’s so easy for us as individuals to go find other jobs, but loyalty to friends at work is something that will never go away. From the perspective of an organization trying to lower turnover, and build that loyalty within the workplace investing and creating the conditions that lead to those friendships is really critical.

Manisha Thakor: Okay, Ron, let’s look into the crystal ball. What will the workplace look like 10 years from now in your opinion?

Ron Friedman: Well, it’s hard to predict, obviously, but there’re a few things that I think they’re trending in the right direction. The first is, I think that in the same way that if you think about sports, lots of teams have become really adept at using statistics to determine which players are going to peak, and which players are going to fall by the wayside, and so, they’re using a lot of analytics now to determine what is the right decision in the right moment. I think we’re going to get a lot smarter about applying those analytics to ourselves in determining based on our genetics, based on our bodily rhythms, when are we sharpest? And, how do we calibrate the tasks that we’re doing to certain times of day, so that we’re no longer trying to effort through everything that we do. It just happens to be easier, because we’re matching the work that we’re doing to when we’re feeling energized.

Ron Friedman: Beyond that, I think that you’re going to see more and more organizations rewarding their employees for not working, and we are starting to see some of this now where now that we understand that if we want people performing at their best, we need to ensure that they have the opportunity to let their minds and their bodies recover, and you can’t do that if you’re always on email, if you’re constantly on your phone, or even if you’re just always consuming some form of media, so not working is not the same thing as recovering, and so, we’re getting smarter about the ways that we can recover, and more, and more organizations are starting to do some things that reward their employees for taking time off.

Ron Friedman: For example, in The Best Place To Work, I talk about a number of organizations that either turn off email when their employees are away on vacation, and automatically delete those emails with an auto response that says, “If you need to reach this person email back on the day they come back, because this email’s about to be deleted.” There are other organizations that actually provide their employees with a bonus if they can manage not to check their emails once while they’re away, and the same applies to the weekend. Recovering isn’t just something that needs to happen four weeks of the year when you’re vacation, it’s something that, especially top performers are really good at incorporating into their day to day lives.

Manisha Thakor: Ron has just explained to us the psychological underpinnings of human motivation that corporations must understand if they want to create environments that truly support holistic wellbeing. I want to next shift our conversation from the fundamental logistical elements of creating an environment in the workplace that supports wellbeing to the topic that Ron helped me with in our personal coaching sessions together, which is productivity. Ron, why do we feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done?

Ron Friedman: People feel like they have way too much to do, and not enough time, and that’s a theme that comes about over, and over, and over again as… and a related point to that, I think, that flows from feeling like you have too much do, and not enough time is that people feel like they don’t necessarily have a personal life in which to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and they feel like they’re constantly bombarded by requests from others. They feel like they’re constantly in reactive mode, and so, that’s why the strategies that we teach the folks that we work with center on prioritizing more effectively, figuring out what it is you’re trying to achieve, and then showing you how to align your schedule, and the tasks that you do with achieving those goals over the long term.

Ron Friedman: Part of why people feel like they have so much to do, and not enough time is because they’re unclear about their priorities, and so, when you are unclear about your priorities, everything feels urgent, or everything feels important, and it’s amazing the extent to which once you’ve identified the one, or two, or three things you’re trying to achieve over the course of the year, how much easier it is to say no to everything else.

Manisha Thakor: This idea of not enough time to do tasks is not a new one. In 49 A.D., The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca wrote a whole book on this topic, aptly titled, On The Shortness of Life. In it, Seneca muses, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.” Productivity and time management are something I’ve long felt I can be better at. Far too often I find myself confusing the urgent with the important. For those of you who do the same, please visit our show notes for a link to Eisenhower’s Matrix. This simple, and yet incredibly powerful mental framework used routinely by General Eisenhower, and now taught at business schools around the world will give you a crisp visual reminder of the prioritization concepts Ron is speaking to.

Manisha Thakor: Okay Ron, lets talk about results. Can you give us an example of the way in which your research, and resulting recommendations have improved the lives of other people.

Ron Friedman: One of the products that we’ve developed is a course called The Peak Performance Formula, and it’s a course that shows executives, entrepreneurs, and high achievers how to apply all of the latest science, so the way that they schedule their work day, and within that program, one of the key insights is that our energy level fluctuates over the course of the day, and that when you align tasks to your energy level, you can get a lot more done in less time with it feeling relatively effortless, and it’s an insight that people I think, intuitively appreciate, but have never considered applying in a very strategic way.

Ron Friedman: For example, I’m an early bird, so for me I tend to be best between the hours of 10:00 and 12:00, and if I set aside my most important tasks for those hours, I tend to get them done a lot faster than had I had done them at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, and so, so for me, nine o’clock in the morning, until 10 o’clock in the morning, that one hour is worth two hours in the afternoon, so not all hours are created equal, and when you identify the hours that are most valuable to you, you can be a lot smarter about scheduling your day, and so, that’s just one of the insights that are in that program, and we’ve done research to look at how people are working before they enter the program, and then, how they’re working after they complete the program, and the average person is so much more effective after taking our program that they leave work on average an hour earlier every day.

Ron Friedman: I think a lot of it comes from insights like that, where it’s not about putting in more effort, or trying harder, it’s about being smarter in terms of aligning the way that you work with the way that your body naturally operates.

Manisha Thakor: What shifts, or insights have you personally had as a result of your research?

Ron Friedman: One of the things that I’ve come to realize over the course of both writing a book, and on this material, and also, teaching this to other people, is that if I reflect on the percentage of the day that I feel really productive, it’s about maybe 50% of the day, and it’s not because I’m not trying, it’s because if I work a 10 hour work day, for example, it’s just natural fluctuations in my energy level are going to lead me to be unproductive for a good portion of that day, and so, what I’ve learned to do is not to work during of the times a day when I’m not naturally productive.

Ron Friedman: I have come to realize that if I just work, I can be at the office for 10 hours, but really, I’m only working about six hours, and I’ll spend three hours of work in the morning, and then, I will eat lunch, and I will take a nap, and I will allow myself a 15 minute news consumption period. I won’t read the news throughout the day at all, because it can be addictive, but I am allowed to read whatever I want for 15 minutes after lunch, and then, I’ll work for three hours again after my nap. I only work six hours, but I am so much more productive than I would have been had I been working 10 hours straight, because I’m only using the hours when I’m at my best.

Ron Friedman: Not everyone can do that. Obviously, if you’re working with an organization, it’s very hard to control your schedule to that level, but there are little things that you can do that allow you to get more out of your day without spending more time at the office.

Manisha Thakor: Ron has a lot of flexibility being an entrepreneur. Not all of us can take a nap during the day. Although, I have to say on many days I sure wish I could, but his point about how there are small things each of us can do is a good one. For example, when I have the ability I try, and schedule the bulk of my conference calls, and meetings in the afternoon to keep my mornings open for the work that requires deep thought and creativity. I also try, and get outside at least once during the work day, and get some fresh air. Perhaps you’ll try this, want to walk around a few blocks, and maybe even listen to a podcast like this one. I find it really helps to reboot, and get re-energized for the next round of work, even if it’s just 10 minutes out in the air.

Manisha Thakor: Enough about that. The final theme I want to talk to Ron about was the one that gets to the foundation of the show, money and success. Ron, what does money mean to you personally?

Ron Friedman: Well, I think there are different ways of interpreting money. For some people, it can mean having a lot of money means that society finds you valuable, for others, it might mean just the ability to buy pleasurable things, and buy lots of objects, and it can also mean just having it be reflective of you being important to other people. For me, money is a path to freedom. It’s the ability to do things that may, or may not be successful without having to worry about making my mortgage.

Ron Friedman: For example, if you’re writing a book, or you’re thinking about writing a movie, or opening a restaurant, having the freedom to do that is very valuable to me, and so, the way that I think about money is a path to achieving those things, and I don’t necessarily value money for its own sake. For example, I don’t have fancy clothes, except for the one nice suit I will wear if I’m hired to speak. I literally will wear the same thing every time, because I don’t want to think about what I have to wear.

Ron Friedman: I wear in most day’s sweatpants, and a T-shirt, and I drive a not expensive car. You know where the money does go? Is food, so I’ve prioritized food in my life, because I really enjoy a good meal, and so, I will eat out most nights at nice restaurants, and so, yeah, for me, it’s really a thing that enables me to do the other things. It’s not really a central concern.

Manisha Thakor: Another question we think about a lot at the true WELLth Podcast is whether success as defined by modern society inherently leads to conflicts, or contradictions in life? As someone who focuses on the psychology of motivation, what are your thoughts on all of this?

Ron Friedman: I think social media, and traditional media now are bombarding us with lots of depictions of success, and there are lots of varied depictions of success. This is I think is the thing that is pushing us into all kinds of different directions simultaneously. So it ranges from everything about how does social media, or how is success depicted in traditional media? It ranges from having a lot of money, to having a lot of time, to having a lot of fame, to having hundreds of people reporting to you, and all of those different views are in conflict with one another.

Ron Friedman: Now, none of those are inherently good or inherently bad. It’s when we’re attempting to achieve all of those things at once that I think we get ourselves into trouble, and so, for me, I think, the key that I’ve noticed for myself is that it’s very important to define what success looks like for you in a very conscious way, and then, once you understand what that looks like, to establish some key metrics that hold you accountable to what you’re actually trying to achieve. Now, the flip side of that, and arguably the more important aspect of that is that in order for this to work, you have to let go of all the other metrics that you’ve deemed not a priority.

Ron Friedman: For example, if you’re aiming to start a business, and someone in your inner circle gets promoted, or wins some kind of coveted prize, you can’t get down on yourself for that, because that wasn’t a priority, and I say this as if this is easy to do. I appreciate that it’s not easy to do, but I think it’s really critical for staying true to what you find valuable, and at the same time staying grounded without being unduly influenced by what’s going on for other people.

Manisha Thakor: A key goal of this podcast is to help people align the way they spend their money, and their time with what matters most to them in their lives. While speaking with Ron, it hit me like a brick on the head that embedded in this desire for a money, time meaning alignment is potentially an unquestioned belief that making money should be the primary focus of our work life. I asked Ron what role money played in his self concept as a working academic?

Ron Friedman: In my case, I experienced the two extremes. There were periods of my life where I was working in politics, and later working in consulting, where I was earning a lot of money, and having no time to spend it, and in other times when I was in graduate school, for example, I was earning almost no money, and so, that causes a lot of cognitive dissonance for graduate students in particular, and especially for those who are studying psychology. I think that there’s a lot about convincing yourself, and you see this with the professors as well in academia where they convince themselves that seeking money is selfish, or narcissistic, or diluted.

Ron Friedman: Ultimately, I think that neither extreme is satisfying; when you have a lot of money, and have no time to spend it, or if you have a lot of time, but no money to make that time enjoyable. I think that your notion of aligning your values with both how you spend your time, and how you spend your money is a wise one.

Manisha Thakor: Ron’s comments about not valuing money for money’s sake really made me reflect on the almost obsessive focus I’ve had on earning money for most of my career, partly, because to be brutally honest, I felt the amount of my income was some kind of statement about my net worth as a person, yet coming back to contradictions at the same time, I’m also a die hard minimalist, so the money was never about buying flashy status items. For me, it was also about freedom, safety, having a voice, having choices. That got me thinking about my mom. Like Ron, my mom is also a Ph.D. who has taught botany at various different colleges and universities during her career.

Manisha Thakor: I thought I’d give her a call, and tap into her 77 years of harder knowledge, and I asked her some questions.

Manisha’s Mom: Good morning, okay.

Manisha Thakor: Mom, when you chose your career path in academia, what role did money play in that decision?

Manisha’s Mom: I think the only comment of money that I can recall was that one student said, “It’s too bad money is in the hands of the old people, because the young people could use it more.” We did not discuss salaries, or potential goals, or anything, no. Well, I think the big difference is that academia is a different world than a corporate world, or finance world, which are all tied around money. Academia is drawn to by people who are interested in a topic, and the learning of the topic, and expanding knowledge on that topic is what drives them, it’s what gives them satisfaction. That’s the purpose of their life.

Manisha’s Mom: They get a salary. Yes, they have to live on it, but that is not the driving force for most people who go into academia. If money were the force, people would not go into academia, unfortunately, because it doesn’t pay that well.

Manisha Thakor: Okay, mom, let’s go down memory lane. Can you share with listeners the advice you gave me when I graduated from Wellesley College back in 1992?

Manisha’s Mom: Well, I think I told you that in life you can spend your money, whatever you have for an income on things that you can have, or on experiencing. Having would be more clothes, furniture for your apartment, etc, or experiences would be things that you enjoy, so that’s what I told you, be careful what you choose to spend your money on, and experiences are more worthwhile than things.

Manisha Thakor: One last question, so mom, you know, all my personal, and professional ups and downs, and there have been many over the years. What advice do you have for me today as I approach my 49th birthday about the role you think money, and professional success should have, and creating a life of peace, contentment and true meaning?

Manisha’s Mom: I think the only different thing I might have added is that, if you’re going to be happy, it’s not how much money you make, it’s if you enjoy what you’re doing. You have to enjoy the journey, you have to enjoy the job you’re doing, and no amount of money will make up for a journey that is unpleasant. So, it’s more important to like what you’re doing than to get a lot of money for doing something if you don’t like it. If you can get the combination best, but don’t go after money for its own sake.

Manisha Thakor: Seriously, I have the best mom ever don’t I? And Ron, well, Ron gave us so much great advice. Three themes that really struck me were; one the importance of friends at work, two that not working is not the same as recovering, and peak performers are committed to recovery time, and three, Ron’s observation that not all hours are equal in terms of your energy levels, and ability to be productive.

Manisha Thakor: Normally, I go into much more detail about my takeaways, but given we are out of time, I invite you to visit our show notes for this episode at truewellthpodcast.com and remember, that’s WELLth, we spell it W-E-L-L-T-H. There you can both read the additional nuances that I took away from Ron’s insightful comments, and also, share with us your own takeaways. We love hearing from you. On the show notes, we’ll also have a link not only to Ron’s best-selling book, but also, to the Eisenhower Matrix, and to the newsletter that Ron sends out 12 times a year with links to the best articles he’s come across the prior 30 days on topics ranging from productivity, to happiness, to exercise and more.

Manisha Thakor: I personally think it’s one of the best wellbeing newsletters out there, and I truly look forward to receiving it each month, which is saying something as we all know how flooded our inboxes get. I’ll wrap this episode by returning to Seneca, and his wisdom, and the book on The Shortness of Life. As he said, “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes, or fears, but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us, and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” I’m Manisha Thakor, and that’s it for this episode of true WELLth.

Announcer: This episode of the true WELLth Podcast was made possible by Brighton Jones. Brighton Jones is an innovative wealth management firm founded 20 years ago in Seattle. Today, Brighton Jones helps clients, and offices coast to coast with the singular goal of helping them live richer lives. Today’s show was produced, and edited by Stan Hall with help from Hallie O’Reilly, John Dougherty, Michael Stubel, Chris Sylvester, and Marc Asmus. If you enjoyed, or you just listened to we would be forever grateful if you subscribe, and rated us wherever you get your podcasts, and to learn more about today’s show, or drop true WELLth team a line visit truewellthpodcast.com.

Announcer: Oh, and if you made it this far, you deserve one last piece of sage advice. I just couldn’t leave it on the cutting room floor.

Manisha’s Mom: The other thing I always realized, or I learned very early was that the second half of the shampoo bottle always lasted longer than the first, because as you were running out, you tend to be very cautious, and not use so much, so my knowledge just came from trial and error.