David Elikwu speaks with Jenny Blake an Author, Speaker, and Podcaster.
Jenny Blake loves helping entrepreneurs and organizations move from friction to flow through smarter systems, powered by Delightfully Tiny Teams.
We talked about this idea from her book, pivot about being able to make incremental changes in your career and really move yourself into a direction that aligns with what you really want to be doing and how to find joy in your work.
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📹 Watch on Youtube
👤 Connect with Jenny Blake:
Book: Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want,
Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, and
Free Time: Lose the Busywork, Love Your Business
📄 Show notes:
What are your early period experiences were like [4:26]
How did you find being able to balance that with what you were doing? [8:05]
I love the idea of finding enough [15:05]
Wanting the power of my medic desire and everyday life [16:52]
In Free time I say how we bake is as important as what we make [18:14]
What social media allows people to do is to curate what you show [19:05]
How they feel on the inside is how it looks on the outside [21:36]
I was always resisting watching the Kardashians. And finally, I just watched the latest season [23:57]
When I was still working in law, they were like, oh, is it like Suits? [25:05]
What made you realize it was time to make that change? [26:42]
What you're doing now & your current context? [29:59]
Two big things about pivoting [33:17]
When people think of Spartans and they think of Wow [36:58]
Interim pivots or leapfrog pivots [38:02]
What I'm finding is getting a little further along in my career [38:38]
I think you absolutely should specialise in some things [40:20]
A lot of the ideas for free time had been percolating [45:27]
Getting better at systems thinking [46:00]
Creating loops of your own rather than getting stuck in loops [48:17]
What are the building blocks of starting to have these systems thinking 49:35]
I spent a few hours building this notion. I call it like a digital pantry [55:09]
How do you design things that are useful that you're actually going to use? [56:21]
You have an opportunity to automate [1:00:52]
Falling off the proverbial horse is not altogether bad [1:05:14]
The best time to do the hard thing is when it's hardest [1:07:45]
🗣 Mentioned in the show:
Medill Northwestern University: https://www.medill.northwestern.edu/
Daily Bruin: https://dailybruin.com/
Palo Alto Networks: http://www.paloaltonetworks.com/
Free Time: https://itsfreetime.com/
Parkinson’s Law: https://personalmba.com/parkinsons-law/
Andrew Wilkinson: https://twitter.com/awilkinson
Shane Parrish: https://twitter.com/ShaneAParrish
Luke Burgis: https://lukeburgis.com/
Ama Amo Agyei: https://www.instagram.com/amaa__official/?hl=en
The legend of success: https://www.theknowledge.io/issue34/
Steph Smith: https://stephsmith.io/
Andreessen Horowitz: http://a16z.com/
Doug Kirkpatrick: https://dougkirkpatrick.com/
Nick Sonnenberg: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicksonnenberg/
👨🏾💻 About David Elikwu:
David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people think deeper and work smarter.
- Twitter: @Delikwu / @itstheknowledge
- Newsletter: https://theknowledge.io
- Website: https://www.davidelikwu.com,
- Podcast: http://plnk.to/theknowledge
🚀 Career Hyperdrive
Career Hyperdrive is a live, cohort-based course that helps people find their competitive advantage, gain clarity around their goals and build a future-proof set of mental frameworks so they can live an extraordinary life doing work they love.
During this course, you will make the leap from 'going with the flow' to actively crafting your journey. And you’ll join a community of ambitious peers who will hold you accountable for betting on yourself.
🧭 The Knowledge
On The Knowledge Podcast you’ll hear from the best and brightest minds in business, entrepreneurship, and beyond. Hosted by writer and entrepreneur David Elikwu, each episode features in-depth interviews with makers, thinkers, and innovators from a variety of backgrounds.
The Knowledge is a weekly newsletter for people who want to get more out of life. It's full of insights from psychology, philosophy, productivity and business, all designed to help you think deeper and work smarter.
TK Jenny Blake
Jenny Blake: I think sometimes people just write themselves off like, oh, I'm not good at that or that's not my thing, but it can be. And with a very little amount of effort, if you learn some key principles. That's what generates free time. So like a free time generator and the muscle grows, and then the possibilities really start to expand. And then we can all be more present for the time we have off, we can all do more of the big meaty, creative, strategic work when we are working. That's my hope for everybody is those two things like true presence when we're not working and true deep work flow when we are.
David Elikwu: Hey, I'm David Elikwu. And this is The Knowledge. A podcast for anyone looking to think deeper and work smarter. In every episode I speak with makers, thinkers, and innovators to help you get more out of life.
This week, I'm speaking with Jenny Blake. Jenny is an author and [00:01:00] podcaster. She's written three books, but two her most recent ones that we talked about in this episode are Free Time and Pivot. And she also hosts podcasts of the same name. So Pivot with Jenny Blake and The free time podcast. This was a really awesome conversation. Jenny has the most infectious smile of anyone that I know. I actually listened to one of Jenny's podcast episodes recently, and I was on a plane. I was having a really miserable time, but hearing her talk, you can't help, but be filled with joy and optimism. So I know you're gonna really love this episode.
We talked about this idea from her book, pivot about being able to make incremental changes in your career and really move yourself into a direction that aligns with what you really want to be doing and how to find joy in your work.
And we also talked about her book free time, and some of the ideas from that, I think it's applicable not just for business owners, but also for busy professionals. So if you are an entrepreneur, it's about how you can unravel yourself from busy [00:02:00] work and really create time for doing high leverage work.
But I think similarly, if you are a busy professional or anyone else, I think it's really an incredible framework for thinking about how you can intentionally create time for the things that matter most to you and not get stuck in the washing machine of day to day life.
You can get the full show notes and transcript at theknowledge.io. And while you're there, you should subscribe to my newsletter.
Every week, I share some of the best tools, ideas, and frameworks that I come across from business psychology, philosophy and productivity. So if you want the best that I have to share, you can get that in the newsletter at theknowledge.io.
You can find Jenny on LinkedIn at Jenny Blake and on Twitter at the same name. If you love this episode, please do share it with a friend and don't forget to leave a review Because it helps us tremendously to reach other listeners, just like you.
Thank you for making time with your book tours and everything that you've got going on. I know that it's a really busy schedule.
Jenny Blake: [00:03:00] You know what, there's nothing I love more than podcast conversations in either direction, whether I'm interviewing people or they're interviewing me. And I was just thinking today, how lucky am I that I get to do my morning reading have coffee, and then what we just hit record. And I get to know you like an awesome new person. I always joke that it's the introvert's guide to making friends because like, we actually don't just schedule a random coffee. We're doing this for some functional purpose, but at least other people can listen in and then we get to know each other and it just feels like this is one of the parts of what I do. What makes me pinch myself and just say, I get to call this work.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I love that. And actually, that's a perfect segue into you. Okay, so you've had this whole journey and we're going to get into it in second but what I'm really interested in, obviously you wrote this book called Pivot, and I know that you left Google at one point, which was like your dream job at the time, and I've actually done the same.
I ended up getting what I thought was my dream job in corporate law at one of my dream firms. I was there for like five years.
And then I reached a [00:04:00] point where eventually I felt like it was time for me to make a pivot of my own. So I would love to know, I want to start maybe as far back as you can go, I'd love to know what some of your early career experiences were like. And what started taking you in this direction and this trajectory, did you always have kind of like what I just shared clear vision of what you thought you might want to do, or was that something you were figuring out as you go along.
Jenny Blake: I thought I was going to be a journalist. So I started this little family newspaper when I was 10, 11 years old that I produced. This is called the monthly dig up, every month all the way through high school. I won this California journalist of the year award. I got to be the top four finalists in the country, in the US that year. And I applied to all these colleges and even the Medill Northwestern was like the holy grail school of journalism. And they rejected me. And I was so shocked. I was like, I'm top four in the country and this still doesn't get me in and that was a kind of rattling [00:05:00] moment because I was so convinced that I was going to be a journalist. And when I ended up at UCLA, which is, I was actually very thrilled to go to school there, even though I thought I would end up on the East Coast. I was a news reporter for the Daily Bruin for one year and the lifestyle of that was so stressful and so intense because they would call with a deadline that was two days from now and I'd have to drop all my schoolwork. And I realized even then that the pressure of that, and I couldn't quite see financial abundance on the horizon as a journalist. This would have been in 2001. So I kind of put it aside. And that was a strange moment of just thinking, well, yeah, here was this thing. I hung my hat on my whole childhood of what I wanted to do.
And then who am I? What's interesting to me? Without that I ended up adding, I was a comms major, ended up adding political science. I almost minored in computer science, but my poly scie advisor, she offered me a job at a startup in Palo Alto as the first employee. [00:06:00] And I think that the founder of this really brilliant Stanford Economics Professor, I think he just was kind of skeptical thought I was going to be filing papers. And as soon as I got there, he started. Giving me all this work, because I was also indicating that I could handle all kinds of stuff. So the startup was really fun. I left school, I ended up finishing at UCLA kind of a little bit remotely, a little bit through Stanford classes. And the startup was really where I learned.
I mean, we grew from zero to 30 people. It was in the now famous stretch of university Boulevard in Palo Alto. And when I hit a plateau there, that's when I started interviewing at Google and moved over to Google. So it was interesting to go from a teeny startup doing political polling and then Google, which was at that time had 6,000 people.
So I was there as a grew to 36,000. All the while during that time on the side, I started blogging and that let me kind of express my computer nerd side, teaching myself coding and HTML [00:07:00] in order to do some of my job at the startup. But blogging is where that journalism thing comes full circle. And now podcasting, which is the current love of my life. It's the same thing. It's like journalism, even coaching that I ended up doing at Google. Coaching, journalism, podcasting blogging, they'll have curiosity in common and communicating with people and taking in ideas and then packaging them and synthesizing them and publishing back out so that the common threads are there. But the actual forms they've taken have changed over the years.
David Elikwu: I love that. I wanted to ask how you found during that period, managing all of these interests that you had, because I think that's one thing that people more so I would say maybe very early in their careers, but actually it carries on through later in their careers, people that have competing interests, but they still work and they want to be able to balance. It might not necessarily be a side hustle, but it's a hobby, right? You enjoyed doing this journalism, you enjoyed, you started this blog. I'm sure maybe the blog [00:08:00] started to grow. People were reading it and you started to find a passion in doing and publishing that. How did you find being able to balance that with what you were doing?
Jenny Blake: It was tricky, always. And I talk about this in Free Time. My third book that the inner time blueprint that I was raised with, whether nature nurture society I grew up in San Francisco was just this frenetic pace, like day was filled from A to Z morning, noon and night with activities that was like the form of childcare, you know?
And then I did it to myself. And then as I got into high school, I put the pressure on myself and college and Google. And so I always had this overflowing plate and I was always hitting burnout. So, I mean, in some ways it was very satisfying to juggle that many things. I felt fulfilled doing that. And then also, I probably took on too much and I did that over and over again until I started to be able to have full autonomy over my time and craft more [00:09:00] balanced existence. But in the early days, I think, I mean, still to this day, I learned the hard way. Who are we kidding? It's not like there's ever a, there there, I find that even if I get my sort of work patterns under control, then my life complexity grows like, oh, I got married. Oh, we have a house now. Oh, we have a dog. So I joke that it's like the number of browser tabs open at any given time is five X. What it was when I was in my twenties, in my twenties though, I had a tremendous amount of just overall anxiety. And I joke that I have 10,000 hours of neurosis under my belt. Like if I was a master at anything, it was worrying. And at least the blogging and the side hustles helped me work through some of that. And I was always so afraid to post the really vulnerable writing and I call it now truth while it's fresh. And yet those would be the posts that people would share the most. Those would be the ones that people would write in the most. Those would be the ones that even had [00:10:00] coworkers coming up and talking to me.
So I started to realize that we all crave, that nobody really wants to hear about. Someone's like state of perfection. I mean, yes, that can be informative too, but I find it more interesting to talk about the process and the imperfection and the insecurity and the uncertainty. That's really, those are some of the big themes behind pivot.
It's not like, oh, here's this process that you'll never have doubt again. It's like, if you're racked by uncertainty and anxiety and insecurity, like I often am, here's a process that will still help you move forward and do creative things. Even, even with those things carried up alongside you.
David Elikwu: I really agree with that. And I think there's a few things that stuck out to me from what you were sharing, but I think, okay, so one is finding this sense of control within your schedule. And I think that's one thing that I personally found hard and I'm sure a lot of people would probably empathize is that it can be, it can feel really difficult when you hear, so I have a [00:11:00] lot of people on, on, on this podcast and I'm sure people have a lot of other points of reference that they see out in the wild where it's, it's very easy to see people that are completely in control of their time and they're not completely working full-time. Or they're working, full-time on their own thing, like of something they've created. And so they are able to set their schedule and say, okay, I'm going to work on this. I'm going to work on that. And so a lot of the advice that some of those people might give, or a lot of the perception that you might see is from people that have complete control.
Whereas there's also a lot of people like you are once upon a time that you feel like all of that time pressure is being imposed on you and you are almost subject to the tight, everyone else's timing. You have to follow everyone else's clock. That's how it can feel. So how did you maybe start to disentangle yourself from those feelings and start taking active control of your time? Even when, at least at first you were still on other people's clocks to an extent.
Jenny Blake: One of the things working at a [00:12:00] company like Google. And I'm curious to hear about your experience too, is that there was a saying, even working there, the bar is always raising and we were, at that time, I know they've shifted how they do performance evaluations in recent years. But at that time you get two performance reviews a year.
And the goal is to be always exceeding expectations and always working toward a promotion. And even if the managers weren't reinforcing that idea, because often it was the early in career, people who were obsessed with promotion. And there's only one CEO, like at some point in your career, you got to realize promotion isn't the end all be all to happiness. It's actually quite a stressful goal. So there was a point around year four of my Google tenure out of five and a half. Where I realized that striving to get promoted again, was not serving me. And I had been promoted twice quickly, early on when I first joined, but that next level, the amount of stress and pressure that I was putting on myself, [00:13:00] even beyond the time boundaries placed around me by just by nature of working at a full-time job in a very intense company, the obsession with getting to the next level and the next and the next was actually hurting me. And there was this moment, this aha moment where I said, you know what? I'm earning enough. My title is fine. Like I was a level four. That's not going to mean anyone to anyone else, but I was not even qualified. I created and launched co-created and launched this global dropping coaching program called Career Guru. When I created it, when I was training the managers and directors on how to coach others, I was not even qualified to be a career guru of this program of my own design and yet when I realized I don't care if I get promoted again, it was so freeing. And I actually thought to myself, what's the worst that can happen if I stopped trying to get promoted, I thought, well, maybe they'll fire me. Okay. Well that will take at least six months because for the first three months, they'll start to notice, then they'll put me on a performance plan. Then [00:14:00] we'll be another three to six months before they give you the boot. If I don't turn things around and I was willing to have that be a consequences on some level instead I kept exceeding expectations. So then what that taught me was that actually I could scale back my obsession a little bit and the burnout and still perform so that this association of just pure nose to the grindstone hard work, it does not always correlate to performance and results. And that, especially as you get to higher levels, especially when you run your own business, there is not a linear correlation between hard work and results. And in fact, sometimes it's harder to work less because you have to be more strategic and you have to delegate more and more creative and think outside the box.
So, um, that was really something that helped me even when I was still within corporate was just relaxing, the sort of arbitrary standards. I mean, on some level they're not arbitrary because they're associated with salary and other kinds of benefits. But at some point I think it's helpful to [00:15:00] realize and be grateful that what I have is enough and this is okay for now.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I love the idea of finding enough. I think that's something being honest. I've struggled with quite recently as well, being in, maybe, I don't know if it's exactly the same position, but a similar position where this reminds me of, and I think you talk about this in free time as well, which is Parkinson's where essentially, you know, the amount of time you spend on something expands to fill whatever time you've allocated to it.
But I think the same applies to hard work in some ways where, or to ambition right. You, whatever ambition you set, the work that you do to fill that can always expand and because a lot of people, and I think even for me, right now, I'm kind of at an inflection point where I'm thinking about that now is because for most people, there is not a specific concrete and finite level that they are expecting of what their ambition might be or, or what they're hoping to reach.
And it's not to say that you should limit yourself, but it's to say, you know, okay, if you have this [00:16:00] objective, what fulfills that objective right now? And at what point will you allow yourself to be happy? I think that is the real critical issue is that a lot of people end up feeling like, because they haven't achieved something and they don't yet know what it is.
They can't be happy and they can't allow themselves to rest and they have to keep pushing the boundaries and keep pushing whatever it is. so you're doing all this work and I found that as well. Where I do all this work and long, long ago, I've probably already achieved three or four of the things that I said, we're going to be the prerequisite to me being able to happy and me being able to relax.
But as soon as you hit that, you kind of move the boundary out again. And then you're like, ah, now I'm so far from where I could be or where I should be. And so you're on this perpetual treadmill.
Jenny Blake: It is so tricky. I'm just reading a book, I heard Andrew Wilkinson talking to Shane Parrish on Shane's podcast about this book, and it's blowing my mind too. It's called Wanting the power of my medic desire and everyday life by Luke Burgis. And it's the idea that we [00:17:00] learn what to want, what to desire by looking at other people. And I think now with social media, the way that it is, and even the sexiness of startup culture or entrepreneurship, and, oh my goodness, same as you David. Like, I find that, oh, it is so hard not to just constantly be comparing myself to others and measuring, oh, how many podcasts listeners do I have? How many newsletter subscribers, how much money am I making? How much money are they making? How much money should I want to be making? You know, like every metric, it is so hard not to just look over the fence. And I do there's even a chapter in free time, A sidebar Eyes on your own paper where I try to remind myself, okay, keep your eyes on your own paper.
You're on your own project, you're doing your own thing. And what you said, what's so hard is not to say I'll be happy when, because that bar is always changing. Oh, I'll be happy when I'm earning this much from my podcast or this much in my business, or, and then the [00:18:00] irony of that as well is that if we're not happy in the building process, and I know this gets to all the mindfulness self-help cliches, but it's true and it's hard to do is that if we don't appreciate and be grateful and enjoy the way to get there. In free time I say how we bake is as important as what we make. If how we bake is with agita and angst and envy and stress and burnout. Why do we think that what we're making is going to be good? Why does anybody want to engage with a product that was made with like self martyrism? You know, maybe that's a redundant word, martyr, you know, with martyring ourselves and, killing ourselves and then being like, oh, here, I killed myself for this. Do you want it? I just don't even think it's going to create the best possible end product.
And yet it is just so much easier said than done. It is so hard to be ambitious as a person, like you said, not hold ourselves back, but still be totally content with what is it's like, I think it's a [00:19:00] polarity that is almost ever present.
David Elikwu: Yeah, make a really good point by referencing wanting as well. But by Luke Burgis, I've talked about that a few times in my newsletter. And it's such an interesting idea because I like how he talks about, um, I think it's negative and positive models, but the point being that, so you have models of people that are close to you that kind of give you desires, so that could be your parents or people that own very close proximity to you. But then through social media, we also have these models that are a lot further away. And the difficult part about that is that you have no idea, the actual content of the rest of their lives, because what social media allows people to do is to curate what you show.
Right. And it's so funny. Okay. I'm not sure if you've seen, but on Twitter quite recently, and through TikTok so I've seen some people within tech make these TikTok it's typically like a gen Z thing of like, oh, here was my day as a product manager or something like that. And people show their day as this glamorous, you know, I [00:20:00] came out of bed, I took an Uber to the office.
We had some, some biscuits and some granola and you know, a completely healthy day. We had all this fun. We went to this party off all of the highlights of the day. People. I hate it when people are so angry and everyone's in the comment, lambasting them and just talking about how terrible they are and how terrible it is that we just pay people to do nothing.
And it's like, I don't know if anyone else is like watching in between the gaps because this day started early in the morning and ended late at night. And although the only clips that you see in this video are the parts where, you know, they went and had some lunch. Clearly, this is not a, a 12 hour video for their entire workday. This is literally just the two seconds highlights. The entire video is 15 seconds long or however long. And so I think that is the part that it's so easy to miss. Right? It's so easy just to see and notice and be hung up on the highlights and you see someone is having this kind of success. You see, someone's having this kind of fun and it feels like you're not having it. And it can be [00:21:00] easy to become angry and feel dissatisfied as a result of that. But you're not seeing everything else that comes with that package and all of the other work that they're doing and everything else that they might have to do. And I think that is when it can be easy to start feeling drained by what we have to do the things that we put ourselves through just like you were saying. This self-flagellation where we're flogging ourselves and making ourselves do all this work. But very often, you know, we are trying to create something that actually doesn't exist coz what we're trying to create is what we think is someone else's reality And that reality is not even that person's reality so we are all ending up chasing fantasies.
Jenny Blake: It's true, and we make the assumption that how they feel on the inside is how it looks on the outside. And, but there's nothing telling you that that isn't racked with anxiety throughout that entire day. And then that's what I find so interesting too, that we assume that if we have all those things, then we'll good all day. long, all day, every day. And just, just yesterday morning, I I [00:22:00] was walking my dog. and they're filming a movie in my neighborhood and we ran into a celebrity. She's like a list, you know, you would know her. And she had her dog with her. And so we start talking, she's talking to my dog and I'm asking her about hers. I didn't like let on that. I knew who she was. Um, but I, I said like something about her dog, he looks like such a good boy and she's like, he is a good boy. He's 13. And he just came through chemo. And I thought to myself, you know what, this woman, who is this a list, gorgeous celebrity. First of all, at 7:00 AM with her coffee looks just like anyone else on the block. If she wasn't instantly recognizable it's she's like anyone else and then nothing, no amount of money can prevent her heartbreak that her dog is 13 or that he just went through chemo. That she still has her heartstrings pulled in every direction by life, the same way that anyone else would, that any of us would. [00:23:00] And even though she's there shooting a movie and it has this like glamorous job, but also the mechanics of shooting a movie are you get arrive at 7:00 AM and she sits in a tiny trailer parked on our block. You know, like, I don't know. It was just this moment where I, I really thought about I'm she's probably making a and. but, so what, like here we are running into each other on the street, like it's nothing.
And just a reminder It's constant reminder that you, we can never know the interiority of somebody's experience no matter what they have and the reason I'm reading Wanting. It's so cool that it's already on already on your radar is because I keep struggling with this. And I heard on a podcast the other day that people will hate listen to a podcast twice, as long as the ones who like it. So like the ones who don't being said will engage with content for twice as long. And the catch I'll make here is that I was always resisting watching the Kardashians. [00:24:00] And finally, I just watched the latest season cause I couldn't get it out of the algorithm of my Hulu account. And like, I was just drawn by curiosity and the amount of wanting that, the show invokes of like how many followers, how much glamour, how much cosmetic procedure, how much clothing, how much interior house decorating? Like, oh my God, I just, and of course, you know, I watched the whole season after that, David, you know, I didn't just stop. At one episode, I watched the whole thing, like almost agape at how much wanting it was sparking in me. And that it must be doing that for gazillions of people because they have such a ginormous platform around the world.
So I feel like they are a real expression of this idea of mimetic desire of we see what other people have and therefore we want.
David Elikwu: And funnily enough, so exactly what you were saying also brings me back to what I was saying about when I was working in law. I think you have these shows like Suits that really glamorize it. And obviously I was you know already working by the [00:25:00] time that that started and stuff, but it's really funny how. So people have asked me at the time. So before I started working in startups, when I was still working in law, they were like, oh, is it like Suits? And I'm like, actually it kind of is okay, take out all of the drama, all of the exciting stuff. And again, this goes back to what we were saying before. If you watch Suits again, you will realize that the majority of the show happens at night. The reason it happens at night is because people are working. So without the drama and all of that nice stuff, the reality of that show is that the majority of the time they're just working from early in the morning, late at night. That's it. So imagine that is your life. And it's not, there's nothing wrong with that. And I did it for five it's great, but I think, you know, for me, it got to a point where I I was looking at partners and people that was my original, you know, desire. I was like, okay, I'm going to come into this law firm huge. One of the biggest law firms in the world. I want to be a partner at blah, blah, blah.
And then you just watch people saying goodnight to their children on FaceTime and [00:26:00] having to like, they would go on family holidays and then come back after two days. And that the rest of their family is still on holiday and they have to change their plans and they have to come into the office and they are voluntarily coming in on weekends, even though no one has to do any work.
I dunno, it was just not what I ended up in visioning for what I wanted my future to be. And so it's really interesting where you start to have these kinds of crisis points or pivot points where the vision of what you thought you wanted starts to diverge from the reality. And so I'm interested to get to know maybe for you. I know you touched on this, but maybe at the point where you then ended up leaving Google and obviously going on to right pivot as well. What made you realize it was time to make
Jenny Blake: Well, yeah, my first book, so I was an early blog-to-book success story, if you will, because I had a tiny number of newsletter subscribers, I think 500 in 2010 when I got the book deal. But at that time it was a lot just to have a blog and a newsletter was like, oh, you're already onto something. But sure [00:27:00] enough, it got me a book deal. I was rejected 27 times. Some one said, yes, that's all it takes. So I was working on the book on nights and weekends, and by the time it was coming out in 2011, I intended only to take a three month sabbatical very quickly about a weekend. I realized, oh, this side hustle could take all day every day. And it is, and it would not be fair to myself to the new direction, which at that time was life after college or to Google or to my team. If I keep trying to do both, I will completely burn out and I will not do a good job at any of it. And that's when I felt that I really had to make a choice and. I was 27. I felt like if I'm not going to bet on myself now, when will I? I got to try. It was the first time in my life that I thought I had six months of savings in the bank. And it was the first time I was willing to spend every penny of it, run it to the ground and know that I tried. Because up until that point I had been very frayed. My inner CFO was really strict. It [00:28:00] was like saving birthday money since I was eight. I was really meticulous about money and really kind of paranoid. And finally I was willing to spend that little savings account and sure enough a month after. So I gave my two weeks notice toward the end of my sabbatical and I didn't need to dip into that savings for two years. So my sheer paranoia and motivation not to prove everybody wrong, who said I was an idiot to leave, just got me through the first two years, but surely enough that, that type of motivation to earn it's going to fizzle out. Cause it's more running away from fear rather than running towards something. That's a more of a magnet. But yeah, I think I think at that time it was the right move for me. And I also was ready for a simpler career setup. And also I wanted to have a bigger impact. So I knew that I could, at that time I could impact about 33,000 Googlers by working internally and people operations. And [00:29:00] I just wondered what would be possible if I could speak out to the world and Google is still a client to this day and they have been for 10 years. So I love Google. They're still like, I call them like my angel corporate Alma mater like that so much in my life to this day is thanks to Google. So I'm truly still grateful and I just like working from the outside. And the amazing thing is that they run pivot programs globally, internally. It was so cool to hear Googlers experiencing the material. And I think that for them, my story is a Google success story in the sense that you can pivot in and out of the company and within the company and so I think it kind of fits the whole idea of pivoting as well that we still work together just in a slightly different container.
David Elikwu: Sure. And I'd love to let's, let's dig into some of the principles that you discuss in pivot, because what you were just sharing actually is very similar to my story although I think it, it didn't end differently, but okay.
Jenny Blake: I'm also curious what you're doing now, what your current context is?
David Elikwu: [00:30:00] Ah, okay. Yes yeah, yeah. Okay. I will give you that in a second, but let me just I'll start from behind. So yeah, so I left, my job in law, I did a very similar thing, saved a six month runway because, so. For more context, while when I was working in law, like you actually, I started developing my own interests. I taught myself some photography and started being able to shoot like lots of really interesting things. I was going to fashion weeks. I did like London fashion week, New York fashion week. I was going around and doing all kinds of cool stuff or fun stuff. But then I was also consulting for businesses and startups as well. So I mentioned I'd done some work, I'd done some consulting and had done some marketing before as well.
So I was consulting for startups in a blend of like legal staff, marketing staff, and brand strategy, growth strategy. And so I was doing all of that on the side and it got to a point where I thought okay. You know, I'd love to be able to, I'm doing a lot with the minimal time that I have, like when I say minimal time. So what I used to do, and it was, it was tough. I was thinking about this earlier. So I had a [00:31:00] full-time secretary at work, the most everyone did. So you have a full-time secretary at work and then I also hired someone outside of work that was also working for me. That was helping me just to manage all of this stuff. And so I had all of this support and but it was still not that much. And I'm still having to just work like super early mornings. That was pretty much my time and it's still is, that's exactly how I still do things now. I just wake up a half four and it means that I have time to, like, I almost have my own mini day before I go to work.
And, but even at the time I was just thinking, okay, if I can, if I can do this much with this little time, what if I had the whole day? And so I was like, okay, I saved this six month runway. I eventually quit. That was a process of its own I think it had been in the back of my mind since the beginning of that year. And then it got to towards the end of the year and I was like, okay, fine. This is, this is enough. We're done. And so, yeah, I left and I started and it was going okay. But then this after I think, so I had the initial six months. That was okay. And it was [00:32:00] like seven months, eight months. Okay. And then this is actually just before the pandemics.
I remember we had, yeah, like a few months going into Christmas and then coming out of Christmas. And then suddenly I had to extend that six months to like 12 months plus, and then that was like a really tough period where, you know, I still had consulting clients, but it was, it was stretched. And so I did that in total for maybe about 18 months before.
So now I joined a startup full time. So first as chief of staff and then now in product strategy, but it is, I mean, that was voluntary. So it wasn't as a result of any poor circumstances. But what I wanted to dig in with you is, you know, thinking about a lot of what you discuss in pivot and some of those principles, I think a lot that stood out for me is about how you think about pivoting in advance and you start thinking and planning for what you want to do and what you're going to go on to do before it happens and before you're almost forced to do it.
Jenny Blake: What I found most interesting with pivoters that I spoke with was that they always said, in hindsight, [00:33:00] it was so obvious what the next move was like. In hindsight, the answer was right underneath my feet and that we're often so close to ourselves and our career that we don't see it. We feel confused, we're having this existential crisis. Who am I? What do I want? What's next? And so I learned two big things about pivoting.
One, it's not productive though it is tempting that we just obsess over what's not working, what we don't want, what we don't have, it goes back to the thing of wanting. But we're focused on the negative. What's not working and we complain to friends and family about work. Ultimately that doesn't produce a pivot output. It just keeps us stuck. So the first secret is you just look at what is working, even if it's five or 10%, what is the part that you are enjoying? And if we can double down on that, even if it's not a full-time role that starts to grow and it starts to expand, and we naturally grow into the next direction, especially in technology, especially in [00:34:00] startups, I've seen so many people create their own roles. It's just absolutely one of my favorite phenomenon to watch of somebody starting something small. Even my career guru project that I mentioned started as a 10% project. And then only later when a career development team was formed, one did not exist when I started that. When the team was formed, I was able to move on to it.
And the Second part of pivoting, it's more of a continuous process. Like we don't have the answer upfront. We actually don't just solve the pivot and say, oh, now I know what's next. And boom, boom, boom. Let me move into it. It's actually that you run a series of pilots or experiments. I compare it to race horses at the Kentucky Derby or you don't get to know the winner in advance. You actually just run these experiments and then they show you which one takes off and gets momentum. And only by experiencing that momentum among one of the many pilots, do you then are you shown you're shown what has energy, where to go next and where to double [00:35:00] down. As all those are I would say two of the big learnings from the pivot process.
And the third that I kind of mentioned is just this idea that it's not a surprise. The reason it's a pivot and not a 180, is that it is connected to something you're already doing. And that's where we just got to get curious and, and look at, okay, what's here already. What's here now. Acknowledge that and then dive in. So sometimes it's a process of stripping away. What's not working like cleaning out a closet. So cleaning out a closet. It's like, you obviously, you know, what's not a fit and you got to do it every couple of years because clutter accumulates.
David Elikwu: Yeah, Exactly, that's exactly what I wanted to highlight from what you just shared as well. Cause I had another episode of this podcast that actually just went out today on the day of recording, but it was really interesting to me just thinking about, so I was talking with this girl called Ama and she started a business during the pandemic as well, actually, [00:36:00] but she had been fired and then started this business and made, I think at the time 2.6 million pounds.
Like literally just in that period, which is incredible, but it's the fact that it wasn't instant and it sounds instant, but it wasn't because even when she was working before that, already started building some of these skills and actually. I'll take it back, two steps. I think she was working in a previous job, had started learning some copywriting skills, then that led to being able to get a copywriting job. And then while working in that job, she's still building skills. So my point is of these things are still incremental and it's really easy to draw a straight line in retrospect, like you said, you know, everything was clear when you look back. remember writing a newsletter a long time ago, which was um, I think it was called like Legends of success or something like that, where I was talking about, I think what sparked it was, I was listening to someone that was, they read some book or they were telling me about like ninjas and Spartans and stuff or Spartans.
Yeah, and [00:37:00] it was really interesting reading into that for myself and realizing that when people think of spartans and they think of, wow, this, you know, the battle of Thermopylae and all of these great stories, but the irony is that that is not necessarily, I mean, it's the truth, but it's not the whole truth. Because before that battle, that was not what the Spartans were known for, they had a completely different reputation, but you know, there was this inflection point and then that started to change how people thought about them. And so it's in retrospect that we're able to draw this line and say, ah, this is how it was, and this is how it always was.
And I think in careers in our lives, it can be very much the same where in retrospect, we can draw this straight line and say, ah, yes, of course, you know, I did this and then I did that and this is the story. But in reality, there's often many inflection points on the way where you're learning things and you're taking these small incremental steps. And actually, maybe it's the fact that you've been building this skill in the background that doesn't seem super relevant now, but it's something you enjoy if you spend more time on it then you know, one or two steps down the line, suddenly [00:38:00] that is what leads to opportunities.
Jenny Blake: Yes, so true. I call those interim pivots or leapfrog, pivots, where you actually know what you want to moves out, but you're not ready yet or you don't have the experience yet. And so it's okay to take something that's not the end all be all. I think we're doing this more now than ever. It's funny, you mentioned the Spartans because my husband has a giant Spartan tattoo. So he's like really into the wars. I'm like thinking. Hm. Tell me more because it was such a curious choice that he made a really go all in on Sparta. I have been thinking lately, I wonder what your take is and also I think chief of staff is a very fascinating job title. So I'd be curious to hear more about that.
But, I think now what I'm finding is getting a little further along in my career, I'm turning 39 this fall is it starts to narrow what I'm qualified for actually, you know. I don't know. I was, uh, just for fun I was looking at Google's jobs the other day and I thought, [00:39:00] what am I even qualified for at this point in my career where other people have an MBA and they have all this corporate experience. Meanwhile, what have I been up to? I'm like podcasting and writing newsletters. And yes, there is plenty I've learned about running my tiny media company, but it was kind of wild to realize as well that you do make choices about what to get better at, what's invest all this time in and where to build the network and that it does kind of over time, it opens many doors and it also closes other ones. And I just think that that's a very interesting thing to realize, like all the sliding doors, careers that when you're really early on in your early twenties, you can kind of pick anything and go in any direction. And then I'm finding now as approaching kind of mid-career zone, the niche, it gets, as my, one of my mentors has an inch wide and a mile deep, but like really starts to specialize. And, uh, I don't have any grant aha or conclusion on that yet. It's just something I've [00:40:00] been pondering.
David Elikwu: Yeah that's really interesting. Hmm. I'm trying to think what I think about that. I had an initial thought, but I'm also trying to think more about everything else you were saying. I think that you're right and I do agree, I think, but I think I, well, maybe this is me just I like being a generalist and I absolutely refuse to specialise in anything. I think you absolutely should specialise in some things and, and develop, you know, expertise and specialism, but I don't think that has to be the be-all and end-all, and I think you shown that in, in your career so far as well, where, you know, it's almost more like being, T-shaped where you have something that you can go deep on, but then you have other things that you can go wide on as well.
And actually, this is a framework that I use in the course where I actually, I think the next level of way that I think about that, I use a lot of video game analogies, it's kind of like, I don't know if you've played any of those games where you get points that you can give to different attributes as an example. So you get like 30 points and you can spend some of those points to increase your speed. You can [00:41:00] spend some of those points to increase your strength, things like that. And I think that is how I think about, you know, career building in the same way as well, where I think sometimes the default expectation is that any time, any opportunity you have should be you spent on your highest skill and you should just throw everything into the exact same thing and just build one long parallel career.
But I, personally also advocate for being able to build some of these other things as well. And I think that's what unlocks other opportunities down the line. And funnily enough, just what you were saying. I can think of one example. I think Steph Smith, who you may have come across is one example I can think of where I think she, I think she might have originally started doing like data analytics or some kind of BA type role, and then was also writing and then I think maybe moved into more of a journalism or content type role where she was doing research. I think she was working at the hustle. So doing the research which balances okay, [00:42:00] she had the previous expertise of doing that, but then she can also write and she had her blog so she's doing writing. And then she's now pivoted from that again, to now a fully content role where she's running the podcasts at, I think it's Andreessen Horowitz. So a16z, they have a new, I think it's their futures podcast. So she's now doing that. So again, it's this way of really, okay. These are different skillsets, but it's like over time she had this skill set, then she added a bit to this and then she's added a bit to this. And so now she's all the way over here. That's kind of like two jumps across, but been incremental through building that skill set. And I think you can do that when you are slowly nurturing and developing a wider range of skillsets. Whereas if she had only done the one thing and and the same with you, if you'd only stuck with the one thing you hadn't bothered investing in some of these other things at the time, then those opportunities don't open up. And just like for you, if you [00:43:00] hadn't been blogging on the side while doing your job, then you wouldn't have been able to write the book. And then if you hadn't written the book while maybe starting to do some podcasting or some other stuff, then you wouldn't be able to take that business to the next level, which is where you're at now.
And so I'm sure when you kind of think about how the rest of your skills balance out, whatever it is that you want to do next is just going to be some combination of everything you've already developed.
Jenny Blake: Yeah, it's so true. And I love how you described it as a T of breadth and depth. And then also when you were talking about Steph kind of reminds me of a spiral, even a double helix where one strand is getting attention and then the other one spirals around, and then they both kind of ascend in skill and depth and breadth and all that and network. And, uh, that's really cool to hear her story too off to go back and listen to that episode.
David Elikwu: Yeah. I'd love to know. Okay. So now you're, you're managing your right. And you've written free time, which I think was during the pandemic where you're starting to think about a lot of what it [00:44:00] is that's correct, right?
Jenny Blake: Yes, I wrote it in 2021.
David Elikwu: Yes. Okay. Yeah, that was great. So during the pandemic where you're starting to think about, you know, how we are managing our and I think that was a big opportunity for a lot of people to take a step back and say, I had all of this time pressure going in to this period and now you have to be at home and now you can really evaluate what is it that you're doing and how are you spending your time? And actually, I can give you one example of that for me. So I had, so there's a place that I'd moved to. And I'd been there for a year. This is prior to the pandemic. I'd already been living in this place for a year. And part of the reason I picked that house to move into is because it was five or six minute walk from the station.
So we have a train stations. I could just take the train straight into central London and go to work. And I'd been living there for a year and every day I get up, I just go to this train station, take this train and go to work. That's it done? And then suddenly during the pandemic, there's no way you can go. And I have to start actually walking around my own area and suddenly it's a way it's like a whole parallel universe [00:45:00] opened up where I'm seeing all of this other stuff that I, I would have never even taken a step back to notice if I hadn't been forced to intentionally take that time. And so I think a lot of what I've seen you talk about as well is being able to do that for ourselves, you know, without being forced to, by some pandemic or some external force, but being able to create free time for ourselves and intentionally work on our own time and curate our own time. So I'd love to hear you share some your thoughts from that.
Jenny Blake: Yeah. Well, I actually, a lot of the ideas for free time had been percolating, even pre pandemic. It's almost like free time. The idea of that is the paradise and the way that I like to get there is through operational efficiency. I know you're into these similar things. And so part of free time for me is how do we, it's it's a muscle.
It's not just a noun. Oh, it's the time we have when we're not working. And how do we get more of it for me? It's like, how do we build the muscle of creating free into the future? One way is then we're going to say the [00:46:00] only way. But one way to do that is getting better at systems thinking and yes, automation and delegation, but having a macro mindset about stepping back from the day-to-day work and saying, how can I work on this differently? How can I approach this differently? How can I take some steps, small steps today that are going to save time for my future self? Not just once, but over and over again. In many cases, how can I set something up now that I won't even ever have to think about it again? You know, there's just so many interesting questions that emerge. And so of course, I, wasn't just going to call the book like systems thinking, you know, but I wanted to make systems thinking accessible to people. And I wanted to show because a lot of people say to me, oh, well, that's your thing Jenny. Oh, you're really good at systems and software. And I just started to think about why is that? Why? Oh, because I get annoyed when I have to repeat myself or I get annoyed when I have to explain things for the fifth time to the next new team [00:47:00] member, it's not their fault, it's mine. I'm annoyed because I don't want to keep repeating myself. So the more that I kind of pondered, I think sometimes people just write themselves off like, oh, I'm not good at that or that's not my thing, but it can be. And with a very little amount of effort, if you learn some key principles. That's what generates free time. So like a free time generator and the muscle grows, and then the possibilities really start to expand. And then we can all be more present for the time we have off. We can all do more of the big meaty, creative, strategic work when we are working. That's my hope for everybody is those two things like true presence when we're not working and true deep work flow when we are. And so I wanted to write a book. I think a lot of business books, especially about systems are just so boring and that even if you're a nerd like we are, if you love this stuff that can be exciting, but no one on the team wants to read it. No one on the team can grasp any of it. And so I wanted to write something that even if the business [00:48:00] owner knows what's up and that I'm stating the obvious for them, that it's something they could give to their team and say, here, read this. This is how we work.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I completely empathize with that. And as you know, I'm a fellow nerd. I use notion for probably too many things. And I think a big part of what I was thinking about just as you were sharing that is it's being able to get almost creating loops of your own rather than getting stuck in loops. Because I think that is often the cause of frustration where very often you have things that you need to do and you don't always, I mean, very often you're doing similar things or the same things very often, right. And, and people don't always take the step back to think, okay, how can I organize this in a way that I can remove myself from the loop and allow the loop to continue maybe without me, or, or with that with minimum input rather than being right in the middle of it and then it feels like a hurricane where I'm getting spun around between all these different tasks, right? This person asks for this thing. Then I have to do that. Then I have to do that. Then I have to do [00:49:00] that. And when you're stuck in that cycle and you don't have the time to pause and to do anything else, and you don't have time to think, you don't have time to, to be yourself or make time for things you care about. You're just stuck in this cycle of, this is my calendar. This is, you know, it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, where you feel like you're constantly living on other people's time and everyone else sets your schedule. And you're almost like uh, you know, someone going around the monopoly board and someone's rolling the dice and telling you to move and you're just going, okay, I have to go four places now, I have to go six places now. And you're just being moved by some invisible hand. So I'd love to know maybe what are the building blocks of starting to have this systems thinking and starting to really, know, I'm thinking from the perspective of my life is a complete mess right now where it feels like a complete mess because I'm just being blown about by the wind.
What do you think are maybe the first concrete steps I can take to stop, stop just finding some stillness and being able to create some intentionality in how I use my time and how I [00:50:00] in the things that I do.
Jenny Blake: There's two approaches or of course, many more, but I'll start with A fork in the road. The primary diagnostic of the book is where are you in friction and where are you in flow? So what you're describing, let's say where you're totally feel like you're being carried by the winds of tasks and to do's and almost being buried by it. I talk about The burdens and bees, bored, bottleneck burned out or buried by bureaucracy. That's usually when we feel most stuck. So the Fork in the road is you could start with the area of greatest friction in your life or your work, because if you solve that it's going to free up so much mental energy or you could start with a teeny tiny area, a small friction area that allows you to practice some of these principles and not be overwhelmed because sometimes people get overwhelmed. If I say, oh, tackle the one thing that you can't fix. And they're like, I know, because if I could fix it, I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't be so stuck.
And the way that you tackle friction. One, noticing it. Two, that's where the free time [00:51:00] framework aligned, design, assign.
Align is should you be doing this at all? Is this still aligned or as I quote someone in the book, are you ordering off of yesterday's menu? So often we carry things through our life that are from yesterday's menu. They're stale now, they're not today's specials. And just the align stage is questioning. Should you be doing it at all? And if so, where did it get out of alignment with your energy, your strengths or your values? Because something is a miss. Something's not clicking. You even know from podcasting, I've gone through phases. I've been podcasting for seven years now. I'll go through a dip where I'm not even excited to get on the phone with my guests. Like that's a problem because if I'm not jumping out of my chair and geeking out and practically embarrassing myself with Gleave for who I'm talking to, why would anybody else want to listen? And so then I've, something's gotten out of alignment and and I've even in a very tangible way noticed, oh, I'm accepting too many pitches. I noticed this pattern that when I accept a pitch that I don't [00:52:00] proactively like squeal with glee to invite someone, it doesn't, it often doesn't click for some reason, even if they seem good quote on paper and it's nothing personal to these guests, it's just. The secret sauce of my shows has to go with my energy. It's like a very weird, intuitive process. So that that's the align stage.
Design is about being really intentional. What is your ideal outcome of this area? Like what does success look like in terms of project output impact on your end target audience? Even if it's your family and then designing the process before you delegate anything next steps before you look at who can help. So then the third stage assign is who will do what by when, and usually it's, you can assign to software. You can assign like a recurring subscription on Amazon. I assigned paper towel ordering once on subscription. I never have to do it again. So it doesn't assign, doesn't always have to mean that you need to assemble a team, but of course, having team members helping out even [00:53:00] part-time can be a really helpful way to free you. The person in the middle of this up to do the best work and the most strategic aspect of it. And then try to assign the rest.
David Elikwu: Yeah. I remember you highlighting that as an example before as well. The you know, it's something that seems so simple, but is almost so simple that you wouldn't even think of it. You already know that you ordered paper towels at this regular cadence and Amazon has a feature that you can just say, if I'm going to order this every four weeks, just send it to me every four weeks and then you don't have to think about it and you don't have to get in a farce about, oh my gosh.
Now we have to go grocery shopping. How am I going to find the time? What am I going to do with the
Jenny Blake: And it's going to take up the whole cart and then how am I going to carry it home? And the reason I give this example often is because it's so simple. If I give some complex business problem, people are going to think, oh yeah, it's over my head. Some people, not everyone, maybe not your listeners, but I try to give something so obvious and on the home front that it's like, oh yeah, [00:54:00] I get it. I get that if I do that once, I never really have to do it again. Maybe if you're going out of town, you don't want one time I had so many paper towels and toilet paper rolls, piled up in my pantry. Like I couldn't even go in there because the cash had grown too big, like, okay, sure. Then you have to interfere a little bit. But other than that, it's set it and forget it. And we can do that across so many areas.
David Elikwu: Yeah. Okay. So I'm thinking of two more types of issue I have personally encountered, and these are more maybe the other side of the spectrum. So one is how do you stop going too far the other direction? I can give you a really clear example. I have a really terrible example that I've done myself, where I would probably consider myself a systems thinker, and I love creating all these dashboards and all these wonderful things. And I do that for pretty much everything. And I remember at one point, this is maybe a year or so. I remember I was right here at my desk and I wanted to cook something and I wasn't [00:55:00] sure what I had in the fridge. And I was like, why does this even exist? I should know what I have in my fridge. And so instead of going to the shop and just buying something or going to check in my fridge, if I had it, I spent a few hours building this notion. I call it like a digital pantry and basically it's a few connected databases where there's one database that it has everything in my fridge and all of the sell by dates and all of the information about the items. And then that connects to like a list of all of my, uh, recipes and then that connects to another list of ingredients. So basically how it works is that I can say, okay, I can look and see what I have in the fridge, or I can decide, okay, I want to make this thing. And then it's going to check based on the recipes. And then based on what I have in my fridge, do I have the ingredients to make this? Or what do I need to get all of that sounds fun. I spent hours and hours and hours doing that. And then I used it for like a few weeks. And I think, you know, that's probably an exaggerated example, but I can think [00:56:00] of other systems where people can create these things. And it seems like it's going to be efficient. And I think I see this a lot with notion and with similar productivity tools where people spent, you spent hours and hours. Okay. Bullet journaling is another good example. When I first discovered it, I was like, wow, this is so fantastic. You spent 50 hours watching videos of people doing all these nice diagrams and stuff, then you're not going to do it, right. So how do you stop that from happening and only design things that are useful that you're actually going to use?
Jenny Blake: I know, and then it's interesting when you do sometimes invest all that time. There's an app for that. What you designed with your ingredients. Like there are apps now that will reverse engineer or smart fridges get invented where now the fridge knows what's in stock and what isn't. I mean, yeah. It's so interesting.
What I will venture to say, you probably had fun building that I have this feeling that it was like a Lego set and I mean, I think you had a lot of fun building that so there's not it's not all for not. There is a point of diminishing returns, of course, on time and systems, especially the complex [00:57:00] ones. And I love there's a guy, Doug Kirkpatrick. He said that something like the path through complexity is paradoxically simplicity. So in the case of the fridge, a fridge recipe, ingredients thing that that might have inventory, that's the word I was looking for. It might've been overly complex that it actually became hard to maintain. That's how I feel about Microsoft products. Sorry, Microsoft. They're so complex. The code is so dense that they're hard. They're clunky. I think if anyone's tried to log into Google teams compared to zoom, it's clunky, it just is. so I love the idea of coders who try to write impeccably neat code the fewer lines the better, the more intricate commenting the better. So that's one thing I would say, always look for the this kind of simplest most elegant solution. And I would question that a little bit before building it out. Sometimes you learn the hard way you build that whole thing out and you go shoot, I'm not using this, but Hey, [00:58:00] I had fun and I learned some things in the process. I learned how to make dots connect and you don't know that what you learned building that inventory management system may come in handy for something later on. I've also invested hours and hours. Like just the other day, I spent half of a Sunday in frustration trying to get Zapier to connect to Notion and Circle.
I want it to be able to batch schedule content from my private BFF Community where Circle doesn't currently have a schedule posts feature, but I like to batch content. I like to write it all at once and then and then drip it out and this didn't exist. So I spent five hours trying to get zapped to do the right thing, that when I would add a line to this notion database, the zap would pick it up and only publish it on the date, indicated in the notion database. After five hours though, I got it to work. It works now, this has made me so happy, even though I'm like shoestring these things together. And I have no doubt that in a couple months, circle's going to go, yay. We rolled out our schedule [00:59:00] posts feature, and all that I've done will be well be for not however it has made my life easier in the interim.
So there are a lot of things that I have learned the long hard way, especially being in this sort of online business arena. Even learning, teaching myself to hand code websites, HTML and CSS. I used to teach myself in text edit. How to make an entire website, just through text edit. And now it's so pointless because we can just point and click and Squarespace. That's what I use currently, and you never have to see the backend. You never have to know it, but those little things I learned intimidate me less when I do have to look at code or get in there or do something formatting with my newsletter. So I don't know. Sometimes it does feel like, we invest all that time and energy, and then all of a sudden an app exists. But I think if you're a little bit on the early side and you see what's possible of sort of seeing yeah, seeing what's possible and building it, [01:00:00] is still I find it very rewarding. I don't know, I just inherently have fun doing that, even if it becomes obsolete.
David Elikwu: Yeah. And you know what you're right. Because even just thinking about what you were saying now, I think when I add up and I'm sure the same for you when you add up the return on time invested, because I think very often it is worth taking two hours once to do something that is going to be a five minute task, because if you do that five minute task every day, then after three weeks or however many weeks it's already paid for itself. And after that, it's, you know, compounding returns, right? So all of that time, you don't necessarily realize that you've saved that time, but that time now exists. And so that's new time that you didn't have before.
Jenny Blake: Absolutely. Yes. And it's satisfying. I think it also flexes a problem solving muscle because that's what I often tell people. You have an opportunity to automate wherever you point and click. If what you're doing is pointing clicking repeatedly, click copy paste. [01:01:00] You can automate that almost always. And, or you can save in text expander, canned responses. I have all all my most common emoji are saved in text expanders. So I just have to type semi-colon squint or semi-colon cry. And then the right emoji face populates in my email. And it's just so much faster than looking for what I want to, you know, the of my Mac book air, there's a button or there's control command space bar, if you're on a Mac.
But my text expander shortcut is faster than I get to have the joy of using emoji without a couple extra seconds of friction everytime.
David Elikwu: Yeah, that's a really good point. I haven't done, I haven't gotten to that one yet, but I'm adding that to my list.
Jenny Blake: Even like hex codes to your brand, all my hex codes. So all I have to type is semi-colon Ft blue and the free time blue color populates the hex code, which, you know, often in tools like Canva or I use Kajabi on the backend. So it's like, I don't want to look up the hex codes every time. So I have all my, whether or pivot, you know, or it's just, semi-colon yellow [01:02:00] and the right yellow color comes up.
So just stuff like that, just little things that kind of tax your memory. Nick Sonnenberg calls it retrievability. Speed of Retrievability. I really butchered that, Speed of Retrievability that is hard to say.
David Elikwu: Yeah, but you know what, even just as you were saying that you're so right, and I use text expanders a lot, but I'm probably not even using them as much as I could, even just as you're saying that I don't use them for my hex codes yet. I use them mostly for like website links or email or things that I type the most, but actually even thinking about it now, every time I have to type a description of my podcast, have to like go into my notes, copy and paste the thing, all of those little steps that take time. I should have a text expanders them. Every time, know, there's a bunch of other use cases that I could and sometimes, and I think this is the thing that people underestimate as well, which goes back to what we were just saying. Even if you just shave like three seconds of the time, it takes you to do something all of those three seconds add up. Cause you [01:03:00] don't have to think about it. You take off the whole cognitive load of having to think about and plan all of these extra things you just do it. And funnily enough I think a good example is this, Oh go on sorry..
Jenny Blake: No, sometimes people get skeptical myself included, like, you know what? I don't need to save three seconds. I'm good. It's okay. But you don't realize is that the entire task itself becomes a little more cumbersome and you put your finger on it. Like, like you said, writing a podcast show notes or creating a newsletter. It's like, actually there's all these little micro parts that the more you can make them faster, have a template. I save all my affiliate links in text expanders so when I'm going to mention, like I mentioned Canva, I mentioned Kajabi, I have affiliate links for those. So sometimes if I'm even in a zoom and I want to use my affiliate links, I just type semi-colon Kajabi.
And there it is. I don't have to go get it. Well, that could actually earn me money, you know, dropping my affiliate links or in my own show notes, putting affiliate links for the services I use. [01:04:00] So it's, it's less that I'm obsessed with saving the three seconds. And it's more that overall working on that task is flows more. It's just flowing. I don't, it doesn't take me as much look up time to go get all the little pieces that I need.
David Elikwu: Yeah, there's one more use case I want to ask about, I want to respect your time, so we'll end shortly, but there's, there's one more thing that I have personally been thinking about is how do you get back on the horse swing when you fall off? Because I think with productivity in general, or with a lot of these things is very not that it's always easy, this great system is, but it's, it's one thing to create the system of how something should work, all things going well, you know, et cetera, as part of us, all of that, oh, I have calendar blocking. I have all this stuff, all these high-tech solutions, but sometimes you fall off the horse and you just get busy and suddenly you're back, back in the cycle of just responding to everything. And, and not being on top of things and having to you're scrambling around trying to pick things back [01:05:00] up, even though there is still this ideal system, but you've kind of fallen out of it.
If that makes sense. I'd love to know maybe how you think about finding that space to take a step back and getting everything back into the into the system.
Jenny Blake: The first thing I'll say is falling off the proverbial horse is not altogether bad, because those are the times where we need the systems the most. And so I actually find when I'm tired, when I get sick, when my email has piled up way too high, those are the times where I'm too tired to do it the old way actually. I don't have the energy for that. So you actually do have an opportunity if you're someone that you feel like you've fallen off the productivity wagon, it's okay. Because maybe what you were doing before, wasn't actually working for you. And maybe now you have an opportunity to look at it really fresh and just say, I'm exhausted. I'm getting really sick of whatever the thing I was trying to build. So how can I take this with fresh eyes? And even with tired eyes is sometimes a good thing because you're too tired to do the [01:06:00] extra work. I like this British term that I'm learning from love island of grafting. Does it only applied to dating? Grafting get your grafting boots on.
David Elikwu: No, no, no. It's, it's a general, general term.
Jenny Blake: Okay. Because I feel that even the parallel of dating, but it's like, maybe you're doing too much grafting. You know, I don't know if I'm using that correctly, but like, you know, sometimes getting tired and sick of it is good because you just go, you know what? I'm absolutely sick of answering emails, five hours a day, every day, or being in meetings five hours a day, every day I've had it. And then you actually put up some new boundaries or you make a game of it. And one practice to be practical. I like to, if you have to play catch up because you've fallen off the wagon, somehow at least have something open where you're thinking at both levels. So working in the task and on the process.
For example, if I have I'm behind on email, I know I got to just put my grafting boots on, get in there for all day. That's my job today is answering email. I will have my [01:07:00] delegation task tracker open. Well, we have a text expander open alongside me, and I will take twice as long to answer those hundred emails.
But while I'm doing it, I'm going to save my future self time because I'm going to note, oh yeah, this is might come up again. Oh yeah. This is a canned response. Oh yeah. This is a certain type of task it's going to show up again and I'll be kind of designing my way out for the next time. So sometimes you don't have the energy to even work in that way. Cause it does take twice as long, but that is how you start to crawl out of the abyss. The hole of being overwhelmed is, is kind of designing your way out at the same time as processing.
David Elikwu: Yeah, that's a really good point. I love that that point that you just made because I think sometimes the best time to do the hard thing is when it's hardest like when it's already going to take long and you already feel the encumbrance of, oh, I have to do this thing. Sometimes it's at that time, they [01:08:00] you should also plan how you're going to avoid it the next time. Because very often we default to is like, ah I have no energy, I'm just going to trying get it off my plate and tomorrow is back on your plate because you haven't figured it out.
Jenny Blake: Yeah, and the fact that you're ignored and exhausted is kind of a good thing because you just don't have the patience to do it again. So it's like, oh, you know, I realize every summer I'm like, oh my God, I'm so hot. I get so hot in my office. It's like a sauna. I always forget that podcasting in the middle of the day in the summer. It's just not a good idea. So I started to block off all of August, have a recurring, do not schedule and it recurs annually. So I don't have to do it again. I don't have to remember again. And so you can kind of learn the hard way and then you've experienced it so viscerally that you're like, okay, having five meetings in a day or back to back is horrible. Horrible as my New Jersey friend Anne would say. So then that kind of, does it inoculates you from wanting to do that to yourself again [01:09:00] in the future? Hopefully.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I love that. Ah, you've said you've shared so many great gems and a lot of that been a useful reminder for me as well. Cause there's a lot of things that even, things like already do, just thinking of new use cases and ways to ways to do those things that I would save so much time. Like the email one is a good example.
Earlier today I was sending some emails and I sent two before I realized that I was going to send five more people are very similar email, so I just saved it as a snippet and then just used and then email. But yeah, there's so many more areas like could do stuff like that. And I'm sure everyone listening to this is probably thinking about their life and all the ways that they could start saving time and then being able to leverage that to use their time intentionally. Cause I think that's the other part of it as well. It's not just saving time for time sake because this goes all the way back to what we started with, Parkinson's law, where very often, and I fall into this trap all the time, save all this time and then you use that time to go do more work and make yourself even more busy [01:10:00] and make things even worse. Whereas really what we should be trying to do is okay, we're going to take these actions to save this time so that we can use it more productively in the future.
Jenny Blake: Yes, absolutely. And I feel like the reward it's so rewarding when you get to put your practices in place or use a snippet that you just saved, it actually feels good. I don't know if there's official dopamine that gets produced, but I certainly feel a little zing of happiness every time I'm able to implement one of these things. And then, the other thing I will say is be willing to make trade-offs and be bad at stuff, because to add to your comment about Parkinson's law, if I want it to be good at email, that is surely what I would be doing all day every day. The only thing I would do, and I got to run a full full-time week just answering email, but sometimes I need to give myself permission to be bad at email. So that actually creates stuff because the reward of being good at emails, you get more email, that's really it, you know, and yeah, sure. You can like, enhance relationships and connections, but if you [01:11:00] don't pull yourself out and be willing to be bad at it for stretches of time, you might not create anything else.
You're just reacting and responding all day. So sometimes I have to really remind myself that too, like, okay, being good at email is not the end all be all of my life and my work. And I I actually got upset when I looked back at my rescue time for 2020, and the top two was zoom and email. And on the one hand, someone might celebrate, oh, you were building all these relationships being in meetings then in the email. But in 2021, I felt grateful that it was notion and Google docs are the top two because I was writing a book. So for me, I want to see one of my deep work softwares up there at the top of that list. I don't just want to be reacting that's me personally, but I'm also more of a hermit than most. So I can't say my way's the good way. It's just, this is how I like to work it
David Elikwu: Yeah, but rescue time is a good tool. And I think the whole point again is being able to track and keep on top of how you're spending your time, because [01:12:00] then you can decide what means the most to you and where you want to optimise for and if you are someone that you don't want to spend any time in Google docs either, and that's something you're trying to get out of, then at least you can and find, okay, what, what can you systematise? What can you use Texas pandas for? What can you do to shorten some of that, that process? And, yeah, I think that's fantastic. So thank you so much, Jenny, for coming on and for making the time, I really appreciate it. The free-time.
Jenny Blake: You've got it. It's my favorite way to spend it. Thank you so much, David, for having me on this is really a joy to connect with you and we'll have to have a whole separate conversation on our love of no shame. And I'm really thank you for all the great questions and to everybody who is here, listening or watching.
David Elikwu: Yes. Oh, and actually, before we go, I would just say this because it's true. Your notion page is awesome. And I'm going to have a link to it in the show notes. Jenny has this amazing, I mean, it's the part of the resources for free time, but it's just this [01:13:00] huge stockpile of weapons that you can use to leverage your time better.
Jenny Blake: Thank you so much. Yes. The FreeTime toolkit it's totally free. You can go to itsfreetime.com/toolkit. And also I have an author toolkit. That's also free. If any of you are wanting to harness big ideas or collect and curate content that's at itsfreetime.com/authors.
David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time