The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #196 - Nick Sonnenberg
Nick Sonnenberg is an entrepreneur, speaker, Inc. columnist, and the author of Come Up for Air: How Teams Can Leverage Systems and Tools to Stop Drowning in Work. He is the Founder and CEO of Leverage, a leading operational efficiency consultancy that helps companies implement his CPR® Business Efficiency Framework. This is the culmination of Nick’s unique perspective on the value of time, efficiency, and automation which stems in part from the eight years he spent working as a high-frequency trader on Wall Street. The CPR Framework consistently results in greater output, less stress, happier employees, and the potential to gain an extra full day per week in productivity per person—just by using the right tools in the right way, at the right time. Nick and his team have worked with organizations of all sizes and across all industries, from high-growth startups to the Fortune 10.
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12:10 - nick's personal story
17:50 - trying to save a failing business
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25:40 - how do you know then to walk away?
26:15 - time banking, time saving
31:40 - Keyboard Shortcuts & small wins
34:05 - inbox zero
37:30 - the boomerang effect
42:15 - using email better
43:30 - push & pull notifications
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49:25 - optimizing your time
51:30 - Having agendas
54:00 - assigning tasks
56:20 - the true cost of a meeting
57:20 - the power of "no"
58:30 - delegation
1:00:50 - AI
1:03:20 - sprint planning
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1:05:40 - what's next?
1:07:45 - should you work yourself out of your job?
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends. Welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. I feel like it is a long time coming. I've so been looking forward to this. So, the backstory on today's conversation, if friends have heard episode or the-- I feel like it's episodes because I talk about him so much. But if friends have heard the episode I did with my fabulous friend Jon Levy for his book, You're Invited, he is an incredible person and he has a tendency to introduce me to just the coolest people. And so, I mean, it's been a long time now that he's been talking about this person, but for the longest time, he was saying, I had to meet this man, Nick Sonnenberg.
So, he connected me to Nick and Nick had a book coming out called Come Up for Air: How Teams Can Leverage Systems and Tools to Stop Drowning in Work. And so, what's interesting is I saw the book and the concept and the title. I mean, it looked amazing. I didn't know if it would be, like I didn't know if I personally would get a lot out of it since I don't have a big huge company situation. I'm just a little entrepreneur over here doing my thing.
Nick Sonnenberg: Don't undersell yourself.
Melanie Avalon: [laughs] No, but for real, I was like, “We'll see.” So, I read the book. Okay, wow, so, I learned so much in this book. I actually think this book is going to have a life changing effect on me because it is changing how I am personally approaching my own business. And then appropriately enough, halfway through reading it, I actually did launch a company or started launching a company that will probably be a more traditional company. So, that was really great because I was like, “Oh, I can start it off right from the beginning.” And then on top of that, I have been recommending this book to so many people, especially you guys know I do my AvalonX supplements and I work with MD Logic.
Some of you probably know Scott because I've done interviews with him and I've been like, “Scott, you have to read this book. You've got to start implementing this in your company.” And so, it was really just an amazing read. On top of that, even if you feel like it won't apply to you, like, I felt in the beginning, I learned so much about efficiency and productivity, which are things I love. I learned about dealing with email, meetings, just so many incredible things. So, I have so many questions and Nick, thank you so much for being here.
Nick Sonnenberg: Well, thank you very much for having me and for those kind remarks. It really means a lot.
Melanie Avalon: Also, apologies because I screwed up our meeting link in the beginning, so we wasted some time, which was embarrassing because this is the man who's all about systems and efficiency. So, my bad.
Nick Sonnenberg: It's all right. I was clearing out my inbox while I was waiting.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, perfect. Okay, I feel better. Thank you. So, to start things off, oh and by the way, because I have your book in my hand right now just to give an endorsement. So, the cover has an endorsement from Tony Robbins, “Nick has cracked the code on operational efficiency.” That's saying a lot. So, on that note, you talk about this in the book, but can you tell listeners a little bit about your personal story. You are with the company Leverage now, but what led you to, I mean, everything, because you talk about your schooling life and your life with stocks and being an entrepreneur and all the stuff. So, what led you to what you're doing today? Why did you write this book?
Nick Sonnenberg: Well, I wrote the book because I want to help people, and I firsthand know what it's like to drown in work. After a lot of tinkering, I feel like Leverage, my company is basically like a think tank where we really tinker with all the new ways of working, all the new systems. We really stress test. Not like, this is how you click a button to create a task, but how can we think about this outside the box and define best practices and really focus on not just how to use it, but when to use them and what scenarios should you use these tools. I saw that it made such a big impact to our company and to our clients that we do the training and consulting of all these different systems and processes. I wrote a book because ultimately, I want to make as big of an impact as possible, and time is our most valuable asset. And if I could help gift back to the world millions of hours of wasted time that was just going to be completely inefficient and not things that give people joy or tap into their superpower, I thought that that would be a pretty cool impact to make.
My background, I actually started off as a trader on Wall Street. I was a high frequency trader, in case, if you've ever heard of that. Basically, I'm a mathematician and I would build algorithms and code computers to trade stocks at microsecond speeds. So, we're talking literally microseconds, nanoseconds, knew nothing about the companies. It was all purely based off of math, trying to capture fractions of a penny of theoretical price discrepancies and would just trade billions and billions of dollars. And I did that for about eight years. It really taught me how to appreciate time in a completely different dimension, because in that space, literally, a microsecond can mean millions.
It really teaches you how to deconstruct a process, how to celebrate small wins, and just trains you how to think in a unique way. By the time I was 30, I did pretty well, I had some money in the bank, didn't have family or kids. I had an idea for a startup and I decided it was a good time to take the leap and give it a go at the startup world. I was always passionate about productivity saving time my whole life really. And so, I had an idea for a scheduling app called Calvin and did that for about a year. During that year, one day I was having dinner with one of my best friends who was also in the productivity space. It coincidentally happened that that night we're having dinner, a company called Zirtual, which was the biggest virtual assistant company announced bankruptcy. And we were really familiar with the freelancer marketplace space and the virtual assistant space.
And so, we were talking during dinner and at the end of it, we had an idea for a new type of freelancer marketplace. I said, “Why don't I build the backend in a day? You get five clients and we launch on day two as a fun side project.” We weren't really thinking much about it and we did it. About a month later, speaking of Tony Robbins, we're at a conference where he's the day 2 speaker and were the day 3 speaker and were talking about kind of what we're thinking about and talking about new ways of work. And this is back in 2015. So, things like Slack and Trello and Zapier and a lot of the tools that still many companies aren't using most, and if you are you're probably not using them to their highest and best use. Back then, they were kind of just a foreign language. We kind of introduced these things at the conference and got like 90% of people to raise their hand and sign up as clients. Fast forward a year, we're doing seven figures in revenue and have 150 people on the team, and we didn't raise any money.
Now, that all sounds impressive, but under the hood we're a complete mess. We scaled prematurely. People were really impressed with kind of the seven figures and 150 people, but we got too far ahead of our skis. We didn't have that operational efficiency foundation. For example, our work chart was just two people. I was the head of non-people, so I was doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff and my partner was the head of people. So, literally clients and team members only knew him. I was doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. One day we're having coffee, year two, and he taps me on the shoulder and he tells me he's leaving not in two weeks or two days. He's literally leaving in two minutes. And I go white. I'm thinking myself like, “Holy crap, we're going to go bankrupt,” because on top of kind of missing this foundation, we're also losing a lot of money.
We're like three quarters of a million dollars in debt and the P&L that year was minus $450,000. We were growing fast but weren't making money. And so, he leaves and immediately, in a three-month period, we lose 40% of clients in revenue. And I'm cashing out my 401(k). My dad's taking a second mortgage on the house to help us make payroll. Bank accounts are getting frozen. I mean, it was to say I was drowning in work would be an understatement. And I had to take a choice, “Do I just bankrupt the company that most people advised or do I stick it out, not screw our clients out of the credits that we owe them.” But also I did see a path to turning things around. I could see where were tripping up. Communication was all over the place. We were wasting so much time on communication. It wasn't easy in one or two clicks to just answer basic questions like, “Who's working on what? What's the status of this project?” I knew I needed to be able to do that.
And then lastly, where we documented our knowledge, we were pretty good about that already. Had we not have been, we probably would have gone bankrupt. But I knew that we needed to be able to retrieve any piece of information in the companies very fast. I started kind of focusing on those three key areas. And very quickly, things started turning around and word got out about kind of how we're operating. Just through referral, people started introducing me to companies to consult them on internal efficiency. So, that's how I met Tony. And I worked with poop spray companies like Poo-Pourri and cryptocurrencies and financial advisors. What I found was all this stuff that was turning Leverage around was really impactful for the number one coach in the world or a poop spray company or a financial advisor.
It didn't matter your team size or industry. Everyone needed to communicate with team members and clients. Everyone needed to manage tasks and projects. That's what I call their plan. And everyone had resources. They had intellectual property. And so, that was kind of the genesis of this framework called CPR, communicate, plan, and resource. And I just saw this big opportunity to pivot Leverage to help businesses in CPR. And so, I kind of organically, over time, we just shifted into bringing that into Leverage. Now that being the core of what we do, which is operational efficiency training and consulting for teams and companies. What we found is, on average, we're able to almost immediately save every single person in a company a full business day a week.
In often cases, we're able to see 20%, 40% productivity gain per person in a company. If you think about what your payroll, if you're an entrepreneur or a business owner, say your payroll is even a million dollars a year, 20% to 40%, that's 200K to 400K of value creation, just cleaning up some dumb stuff that's really quick to clean up. Then, obviously if it's a $10 million a year company, you're talking $2 to $4 million dollars a year. It was massive bottom-line impact in this kind of niche consulting world. And yeah, we just kind of put a stake in the ground. We're like, “We're going to best in the world at this.” And that's kind of what led me to writing this book. At this point, we've worked with thousands and thousands of teams and we've just at this point realized that this CPR framework is kind of this indisputable, call it law for lack of a better word, that every business needs to be thinking about. It's worked with every single team that we've ever worked with and we wanted to write a book to get the knowledge and the message out.
Melanie Avalon: That's a very epic story and it sounds very stressful. Oh, my goodness.
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, I mean everything that I develop is it's never like do as I say, not as I do. It's because we've experienced the pain of not having something work. And then the engineer and me will say, “Okay, well we have to come up with a solution and figure out some intellectual property content, best practice that then we package and deliver to our clients.” So, everything that we develop is something that we've stress tested internally first and it's always come from pain. I mean [laughs] I literally couldn't have been more drowning in work during that situation. But the silver lining is at the end of the pain comes a new best practice that not only helps us, but helps a lot of other teams.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that was something I was really impressed with when you were telling the story in the book and you mentioned it just now, but that decision not to file bankruptcy and basically just leave all those people in the dark. So, how would know when to leave something? For example, the Calvin app you didn't continue with, but this you did address and fix. How do when you're drowning if maybe you should just let that thing drown.
Nick Sonnenberg: I think you need to see a light at the end of the tunnel and if you don't have a vision with a clear path to achieving it that can sustain your current pain, then you should get out.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, I have a very nuanced question about time and I hope I can properly articulate it, but you're speaking about this idea of basically giving people however many extra days back of work in time. And throughout the book there are all of these examples and processes and ways to save time and be more efficient. So, what happens when the time requires it being cumulative? What I mean by that is because I think you talk in the email section, you talk about how even keyboard shortcuts, for example, can save you a few seconds. If you add up all those seconds over a year, it's X amount of time you got back. But if you're getting time back in minute little packages where it's like a second, does it not require time to be linear in a row for it to actually have value? Does the clock reset every night? Do you get to bank up that time? That is the question. And get productivity from it.
Nick Sonnenberg: Think about it in cumulative or think about it-- There's a lot of parallels to money. You can invest money, you can spend money, you can waste money. It's the same thing with time. You can spend your time, waste your time. You could paint a wall and stare at the wall and watch paint dry and literally it'd be the equivalent of burning dollars. You're just burning time. You can invest money. You could go and put $100 in the stock market and hope that in a year from now, maybe it's worth maybe you've got $110 and you got a 10% return. You can invest your time. You can learn how to use email properly, which is probably our number one training program. Let's say it takes you five hours to really become a ninja in email. But on average, we're saying that you can save, depending on volume, three to five hours a week.
I mean, basically after your first one or two weeks, you've broken even on that investment because what you've invested in terms of time, forget about the money aspect, which is negligible, just the time commitment. After two weeks, you've now recovered all the time you've put in. Now for the rest of your life, every week you've just gotten a gift of three to five hours that you could do whatever you want with. You could do more work, you could do more projects, you could go and read more books. I'm not trying to tell anyone what to do with their freed-up time. So, try to think about it in perpetuity. I invest this much to learn something. How much time savings is it going to yield for me in perpetuity or if you want to do a 10-year calculation. Over the next 10 years, if I do this, I'm going to save this much time and it's going to take me these many hours to set it up. Is it worth it? Things like a keyboard shortcut are just so easy to do that at scale one click of a button that you save a second isn't going to change your life. But think of things at scale, like how many times do you click that button in a day. If you do it 120 times a day and you save a second, that's two minutes a day of time savings.
Okay, maybe that's not going to be the end all be all. But maybe at the end of the week that's 10 minutes. Maybe at the end of the month that's 40 minutes. And then maybe at the end of the year that's eight hours. Again, maybe that eight hours isn't going to be the difference between you being broke and a billionaire. I don't know about you, but if you wanted to give me, say your time is worth $100 an hour. If you get eight hours of savings, that's like someone just coming up to you and throwing $800 in your pocket. I take it. And also, when you start celebrating small wins, which is one of the lessons I got from high frequency trading, you start noticing other things. Like when you start training your eyes to celebrate these small wins and look at these things, you might start finding hundreds of these small wins. Like, imagine at the end of the year, someone doesn't just throw one $800 check in your pocket, but they throw 100 of them in your pocket. So, think about it from that lens I think.
I don't think a lot of people are just looking for immediate signals or immediate points of gratification, which is hard to usually find. But when you start looking at things and looking at things from that lens, I like to look at everything from the lens of how does this affect an entire organization. So, what we just talked about was one person. But if you have a team of 10 that's an $8,000 check at the end of the year for the business. And so, it starts becoming even more so important from the lens of a business owner or an entrepreneur when you start multiplying these benefits by the number of people on your team.
Melanie Avalon: Got you. I like the small wins thing. It's kind of funny how much I've been thinking about the keyboard shortcut thing and trying to figure out if the time, if you get to get benefit from that time, I know I'm going down a complete rabbit hole. Say you do the keyboard shortcut and it gives you back two seconds doing that email right then. You can't do anything in that extra two seconds probably before your next commitment. So, did you actually get that time? I get the small win aspect and you feel better because you get it done quicker. But can you actually do anything?
Nick Sonnenberg: Every second matters. Think about it, the extreme opposite. Say you don't care about any seconds. Think about what your life and productivity would be if you always just with everything thought, “Oh, well, what's a second?” Well, I always like to think in extreme cases as a step in my process for developing kind of IP and content. So, imagine the opposite. If the opposite is happening, you get nothing done in a day. Every second matters especially in this day and age because, okay, yeah, that one second maybe you're not going to feel it, but again, if that one second happens 120 times a day and then you've got 100 other tricks that are saving you a second, it definitely does add up. Even one second, I can click to another tab. Okay, I mean, we're starting to get kind of really granular.
So, I hope that the listeners aren't thinking that it's just like, “Oh, he's teaching me how to save a second.” It's more of a mindset. This is more of a mindset. It's like seconds at scale. Every second matters. And if you can save a second but hundreds a day across your team, it starts adding up to meaningful amounts of money at the end of the day. And money aside, productivity aside, people want to have a better work environment where it's not as stressful, where they're not getting distracted every second, where it's not like a scavenger hunt to find things. So, it also makes work just more enjoyable, the closer it is to being a well-oiled machine.
Melanie Avalon: To give listeners a broader picture, this was me going super granular on just one tiny little thing. But the entirety of the book is much more, like Nick said, well, bigger processes and implementations and more about a mindset and a complete shift in everything. While we're on the email topic, because that's something that pretty much most people are dealing with. And so, you have something very, a very cool system called Inbox Zero, which I haven't done it yet.
Nick Sonnenberg: Got to get on it.
Melanie Avalon: I do my unread system. I do the unread system.
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, that's a popular system, too. But I'm telling you, the Inbox Zero system, it literally can save on average because we survey people that go through our programs and we work with we'll do a survey kind of pre and post where it's like, “How many emails did you have at the beginning? How many you have at the end? How many hours a week did you spend on an email before? How many are you spending now?” It literally can give you almost immediately three to five hours a week. It's the number one thing. It doesn't matter if you're an employee, if you're an entrepreneur, if you're a team of one, if you're a team of 100, that's the quickest path to just getting back a quick 10%.
Melanie Avalon: So, I don't want to give away all the secrets, but long story short, what is Inbox Zero?
Nick Sonnenberg: Inbox Zero. Basically, let's start with what is email. Email is just an external to-do list that other people can add to.
Melanie Avalon: Which I love that. Sorry, I don't like interrupting, but when I read that, I was like, “Oh, that's powerful.”
Nick Sonnenberg: Right. What do you like to do with to-do lists? You like to check off that you've done things. It's the Zeigarnik effect who's a psychologist back in the 1930s. You like to check things off. Like as humans, it's just a part of our nature. And email is the same thing. You don't want to be looking at the same stuff over and over, read or unread. You want to treat it like a to do list and clear it out. When you're opening it, right now, and I'm not saying this to brag, Inbox Zero does not literally mean you have zero things in your email. It just means, say you have less than 20, 30.
It means that you have a system where you're not wasting time relooking at things where you have a system where you're not wasting time going on a scavenger hunt, where you're not wasting time organizing things into a complex foldering structure instead of searching, where you could snooze emails and things magically pop up when you want them to pop up. A world where you're not missing. I can't tell you enough how many people that go through these programs and we ask them kind of, “What were some of the big takeaways?” A lot of it's not even the time savings, it's that they would have missed an email that could have been worth tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to them that would have slipped through the cracks because they just didn't have a good grip on their email.
So, you have way less missed opportunities. So, Inbox Zero is basically you have less than 20 or 30 emails in your inbox and we teach you a very structured framework of how to deal with every email that comes in, so, you're never going to miss a single one, you're never going to miss an opportunity, and you're never going to waste time and have email control you. It's a way to empower you to take control back over it.
Melanie Avalon: I encourage listeners, if they want to learn this magical system, to get the book. And then actually, you did just mention something though, the boomerang effect of emails. And that's something that really stuck with me because you talk about in the book, about how one of the ways just in general with email to help reduce emails is the less you send out. Basically every time you answer an email, you're inviting a reply back by sending out less, you get back less. That's something I've really struggled with because I personally feel the need to answer every single email even if it might not need to be answered. I've cognitively tried to not do that going forward, so that's been really, really helpful.
Nick Sonnenberg: Well, the best way to get to Inbox Zero is email zero. So, a big emphasis on a lot of the stuff that we do research on and we train and consult on is when should you use these tools. It all starts with the when, not the how. When should you use email versus Slack, versus text versus Asana or whatever it is because if you don't align with your team on when to use these tools, even if you know how to click certain buttons and where are the things, how to do some of those things. The biggest waste of time in companies is what I call the scavenger hunt, which is where you have to go and look in a million different places to find what you're looking for. And so, most of the things happening in email actually should be either in a tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams if it's internal communication and there's specific functionality that those tools have which makes it optimal for internal communication or it should be in a work management tool like Asana or Monday or one of those tools. If it's actionable and you want to hold someone accountable, and you want to be able to click a button and now you know that Melanie, this week is working on this, this, and this, or the status of this project, you want to be able to click a button and answer that. Different tools are built for different purpose.
One of the biggest issues I see today inside of companies is that there's a misalignment of the purpose of all these tools. It's just kind of fallen into this mindset where everyone can just do whatever they want. It's largely a personal preference thing and that just doesn't work if you're running a team or a company and everyone's just kind of putting stuff wherever they feel like it. It just becomes a cluster. And by investing the time and aligning your team on the purpose of each of these tools and in what situation should you put something in the first drawer, the email drawer versus the Slack drawer versus the Asana drawer. The way to get exponential productivity inside of teams is you align your team on the purpose of each of these drawers and people start taking the time to take a step back. And even if it takes an extra click or two, put it in the right drawer. And that's the mindset shift of optimizing your team from transferring information fast to optimizing your team for retrieving fast.
It's the equivalent of how we already do our laundry. When you do your laundry, you don't just take stuff out of the dryer and throw it into one drawer even though that would be the fastest way to be done with your laundry. What you do is you take pause and you put things in the right drawer. You put your underwear in your underwear drawer, your socks in your sock drawer. That takes an extra few seconds for each piece of your laundry, but you do that because tomorrow when you need to put an outfit together, it's much faster to retrieve your outfit. And so, it's the same thing in business. You've got all these different drawers. People need to understand, most importantly when to not use a tool, and then they also have to understand when to use a tool. And then the third most important is the how to and the best practices.
Melanie Avalon: That was definitely a major paradigm shift that I think a lot of people can have. It's something that I intuitively, I think in life was catching on to and knew I should be doing but hadn't really concentrated on implementing. Now ever since reading your book, I've become super aware of it especially in today's modern age where we can communicate so many different ways and things will sync up. Your text and then you have iMessage on your computer and then you have email and then these internal communication systems. So, basically this idea that the communication needs to be in a certain place, a large portion of what you say is this might be of a little bit shock to people, but that email should just be for external communication. So, from your company out like clients and such, not internal, I think that's going to scare people. [laughs] Maybe that concept of not using it for internal communication. Do you get a lot of friction from people with that?
Nick Sonnenberg: Especially email, it's been around for decades and not every team or company has heard of some of these other tools or use them. Every single person uses either Gmail or Outlook and they've developed bad habits over the years. Most people, basically everyone, I'm sure you listening right now, think to yourself, I've got a good system. I've been doing it this way for years and it seems to be working. That's always a challenge when you develop. It's like telling someone that they need to brush their teeth with their other hand. It's uncomfortable. Behavior change is hard. I think the most important thing though is people have a student mindset and you're always thinking and open minded to a better way. If you have that mindset, you can go really far.
Melanie Avalon: I wrote down one of your quotes. You said that you used to think a business could only grow as fast as knowledge transfers, but really it can only grow as fast as it's retrieved, which I think is, yeah, a good foundation. This is actually sort of similar and related, but it's something that I read about in your book and then I realized it's something I've been doing in my own life as well. I just hadn't really put a label to it. This idea especially in today's society with all of our overwhelming slew of notifications that this push pull system and I realized I've been doing this, so I have all notifications turned off to the greatest extent possible that I can. I turn them off because I don't want everybody to be able to just attack me with information all the time. So, then I have to go in. So, I'm slightly different. I'm like a social media influencer and biohacker and podcaster, but I have to go into Facebook and engage or I have to go into Instagram and engage. It can't just come to me, insert itself in my life. So, I really liked that concept of the push pull system. How does that manifest in a company mindset?
Nick Sonnenberg: I mean, push pull is just another way of saying kind of optimize for retrieve. Cal Newport wrote a book called Deep Work. My friend Nir Eyal wrote a book called Indistractable. When you have a push system and you're just getting constant notifications, you kind of lose control. When you're in a flow state and you're taken out of a flow state, it could take 15 minutes to get back into it. Steven Kotler is a friend of mine. He's the world expert in flow. When we're behind the scenes talking about putting together some content about the intersection of flow and operational efficiency, but when you're in a push state, you cannot be in a flow state. You want your team, you want yourself to be in a flow state to produce the highest quality work possible. And also, I just want to emphasize, we've been talking a lot on this call about saving time, but it's also about optimizing time. Not all time is worth the same. So, of course you want to save as much time as possible, but you also want to optimize your time.
So, we used the example earlier, say your time is worth $100 an hour. That's just a blanket statement. It is not the case where if you look at every time slot on your calendar, it's not that every time slot is $100 an hour time slot. For example, a lot of your listeners are biohackers. So, let's just say you wake up in the morning and you go to the gym, you take your supplements, your pre-workout smoothie or drink, you meditate, you do breathwork, you journal, you do whatever you do in your mornings, whatever sets you up for the day. You do that, say, every day, but say it's Monday right now, and you've just also had a relaxing weekend, and you finish all that and maybe you do a Bulletproof coffee or a coffee or whatever, all of that's done, you shower. Now it's 9 o'clock. At that point, your brain is probably firing. Assuming you have a good quality sleep, your brain is functioning at full horsepower.
So, what you can achieve at that time slot could be exponentially more than fast forward to Friday at 7 o'clock, you had 100 Zoom calls for the week, you're tired. You're in the back of an Uber. You don't have your laptop with you. What you can do at that point just based off of your brain's horsepower and not having your laptop is not going to be worth the same. So, different time slots based off of where your brain's horsepower is and what you have access to are worth different amounts. So, it's not just about saving time. It's about optimizing your time. So, I always encourage people, you could do things also, some quick wins are analyze the meetings that you're having and anything that could be done asynchronously meaning you have someone kind of pre-record a video that you could watch on your own time when you're in the back of that Uber and you've got kind of nothing better to do. Imagine if you could cut your hour long 9:00 to 10:00 AM call. What if you could cut that to 30 minutes or 45 minutes? And now you've got an extra 15 minutes when your brain's at that high horsepower. If that is worth $1,000 an hour for that timeslot, 15 minutes is worth $250. And if you could just do a time shift, and now that 15 minutes, you could do high level work. Now instead of just looking out the window, doing nothing in that Uber, you can watch the recording at 1.5, 2X speed. That's a massive win.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. It's sort of similar as well to a concept you talk about, which is doing things that can only be done at certain places, doing those things there. And that was very vague, so let me elaborate. Basically, and this is something that I try to do as well, and I've tried to do even more since reading your book. But if you're at your desk that is when you are going to do the work that can only be done at your desk rather than something that could be done, like you just said in an Uber on your phone. Or for example, I do a sauna session every night and it's this unit where my head is-- the Sunlighten Solo unit, so my head is out of it, so I can do work on my phone. So, I only do things then every night that can only really be done then.
So, yeah, I don't know if that makes sense to people. Basically, if you're at your desk, don't be doing stuff on your phone that you could do later. Well, while we're talking about meetings, I love your section on agendas. So, there's a very helpful section on how to have meeting agendas, and you even go so far as to say, no agenda, no meeting. That's a heavy hitter. I feel that's something I need to start implementing in general. Do you find that really helpful for people or is that hard for people to implement?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, look, when you're drowning in work where everyone is, which is why I called the book Come Up for Air. You're kind of just in survival mode. When you're in survival mode, you're not making the best decisions. You're just trying to survive. When you're in survival mode, you don't have very much extra time. And so, you've kind of fallen to this trap where you stop following best practices because you don't have the time to follow the best practice. But then that gets you further into the quicksand of not having time. It does take time to prepare for a meeting. It does take time to think through what's the agenda and pre-work and all that stuff. Because it's not a spend that's an investment should generate a positive return because by doing that upfront heavy lifting you should net overall.
Maybe instead of not coming to a decision on the first call and needing to book a second call because of the pre-work, you've been able to achieve everything you need to on that one call. But because we're busy, we just show up not really well prepared, we don't get to a final decision and then what do we do, we got to throw another meeting on the calendar. So, you got to kind of figure out a way to kind of gain a little bit of breathing room so that you can slowly start to execute on these best practices and kind of reinvest the time savings that you're doing. It's also just to go back to that parallel of money. When you're in credit card debt and you're paying 20% interest on a credit card, it's really hard to get out of it because you're just in this quicksand and the moment you got freed up money, you're just paying the interest basically.
Melanie Avalon: And for listeners, if you get the book, the section on meetings is very helpful. So, it has a list of questions to ask to figure out if you actually need the meeting and then if you do need the meeting-- Well, first of all, it talks about how to reduce meeting time in general and then do you actually need meetings, and then if you have meetings, how to go about them. Very, very helpful. Something else I love and these are just random different things, but you talk in the book about tasks and projects and portfolios.
So, for listeners who have to get the book to read all about this. But something that really stuck with me, and I actually I don't know why I laughed, but I thought this was really funny. You talk about this idea of assigning tasks and diffusion of responsibility and basically that tasks within the company need to be assigned to just one person because apparently if you assign it to more than one person, people just assume other people are going to do it. I don't know why I think that's so funny, but that stuck with me. Now I've kept that going forward and I realized I didn't really ask a question there. Do you have thoughts on diffusion of responsibility and assigning tasks?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, I mean, if more than one person owns something, no one owns it. My friend Lee Brower says, I don't know where he got it from, but, “One noose one neck.” It just needs to be crystal clear. That's the purpose of tools like Asana or others is if you want to have transparency and accountability, you should be delegating in the proper tool. You shouldn't be delegating work inside of a communications tool because it's not communications, it's work management. If I want to know what's everything that I asked Melanie to do that's past due. You can't go into a communications tool and answer that.
So, different tools are built for different purposes, and you want to have a team that's highly aligned who's very clear on what they need to do, what success looks like, and then you need to remove all the friction and barriers to let them do their job. A lot of this operational efficiency stuff is removing the barriers to allow them to be able to execute on what their job is, but they have to be really clear on what their job is.
Melanie Avalon: Speaking to that agency that you're giving to people, I'm just curious because you talk about with meetings that Leverage, you let people leave the meeting if they feel they don't actually need to be there. How often does that happen that people leave?
Nick Sonnenberg: Not as often because we're also very conscious of the cost associated with the meeting. Meetings are one of the most expensive things in businesses. Last year I read a stat that there was over $30 billion of productivity waste in meetings in the US. The funny thing is, a lot of those meetings were about how to be more productive, but [laughs] that's another conversation. But when you start thinking about the cost of a meeting, if you got three people on a call for an hour and their hourly rate is $100 an hour, it's a $300 call. So, when you start kind of looking at it from that lens, it doesn't matter if they're a salaried person or not. They don't have infinite time. All of these people have some implied hourly rate. Whether you're paying them hourly or not it doesn't matter. And so, when you start really starting to think about the cost of certain meetings and putting dollar values on it, you really start questioning yourself, like, “Do I really need Nick on that call? His time is worth X.” And when you start really looking at things from a dollar perspective, you start really only making sure that you got the right people on the calls.
Melanie Avalon: So, deciding what actually needs to be done, you talk about this idea of the power of no, which I love. So, how can people know what they should say yes to and what they shouldn't? So, what they should actually be doing?
Nick Sonnenberg: This is the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right, which is what we've been talking about. That's what my book is about. Effectiveness is doing the right things. So, I really try to stay in my lane and stick to the efficiency part. My role with what we do at Leverage, my company and the impact I want to make to the world is, I want to just make sure people are doing things right and reducing all the friction and wasted time and optimizing free up as much time as possible. What they then go and do with that time, that's on the effectiveness side. And that's kind of on you. For me, I want to focus, refocus all this kind of new gifted time, I want to do it on things that are going to make the biggest impact that I'm relatively best at doing.
Melanie Avalon: So, keeping it more specific within your framework, which actually works well because it ties into my second question. You talk about how basically if you're doing something multiple times within the work system, then it should be delegated or automated or deferred. When I read that, I was like, “Whoa,” because I was realizing all the things they do multiple times that I guess could be delegated or deferred or automated. But I think it's really scary for a lot of people to do that. Yeah, so, what are your thoughts on that concept?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, I think anything that doesn't tap into your unique ability or give you joy should be triggers for, “How do I get this off my plate?” The best way to stop to get something off your plate is a lot of things that are happening in business right now that you're doing. When I ask people, why are they doing it, the number one response is, well, it's because we've always done it. When you actually start challenging the status quo and really digging in, there're a lot of things that are happening that probably you could just completely scrap altogether and you don't need to delegate or automate or do later or anything. A lot of things you could probably just stop doing.
Joe Polish who's a friend and a small business partner, often talks about how your not-to-do list is more important than your to-do list. So, really being clear on what actually needs to get done and then when you kind of start looking at things through the filter, like, “Does this give me joy or tap into my unique ability?” You'll notice that probably unfortunately a significant amount of what you do day to day doesn't fall into that.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, one of my other favorite quotes from the book, it might have been a quote of a quote you were talking about, “What is the least productive thing?” And somebody said, “It might have been you or you might have been quoting somebody, but it was, nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what shouldn't be done at all.” That was another moment where I was like, “Oh, wow.”
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, well you can’t polish a turd, but who said that? Was it Drucker?
Melanie Avalon: I'd have to look, I didn't pull the name with it. I'm going to put it in a story post after this, so I'll find out. Super random question that I don't think you talked about in the book. How do you feel about how AI is going to affect all of this or continue to affect it?
Nick Sonnenberg: I think that AI is definitely, there's going to be use cases where you're going to be able to save time using it. So, I don't know. I'm interested to see how can we incorporate AI into collaboration and workflows. I think that right now where things are at with ChatGPT, I think that you can save time getting some rough drafts of content and blogs. I think it's going to help you save some time there. I don't think that it's as impactful in other aspects of business yet, but I think it doesn't take too much imagination to kind of forecast that it's going to improve our efficiency and productivity. But the beauty of it is, I still think that it doesn't mean that you don't need to be following that CPR framework or getting to Inbox Zero or any of these things. I think that just puts sprinkles on the cake or some gasoline on the fire, but you still need to be putting things in the right drawer and knowing when and how to use all these tools. And using AI as a tool and not really expecting it to be the panacea that's going to solve all of your problems.
Melanie Avalon: Do you use ChatGPT just in general?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, we're playing around with it. It's impressive. There's a lot of really interesting use cases for it, but it's only as smart as what you put into it. So, you have to be, so to speak, a prompt engineer and be creative on, I mean, that's going to be a role in itself in the future, like prompt engineering, knowing kind of being creative and knowing kind of how to get the most value out of that tool. Just like what we're talking about here, which is kind of what we do at Leverage and what I do, which is how do you get the most out of these other tools. It's just another tool just like Slack or Asana. It's important that how to use it because if you don't use it properly, it's not going to be that valuable to you.
Melanie Avalon: Feels like I was dating somebody like ChatGPT and I was like, “Oh, he's impressive. He's alluring, I like him.” And then I was like, “Oh, he lies. I have to start fact checking everything.” So, I'm a little bit disillusioned. I got to wait for the future versions. You make a big statement in that pretty much everything throughout history has been projects and has been accomplished through this idea of sprint planning. Listeners can get the books to get the full picture. But just briefly, what is this concept of sprint planning?
Nick Sonnenberg: I mean, it's basically just aligning with what matters most and being realistic and having a framework to reasonably guess what can get done in a week and having that visibility both for yourself but also of your team, so that everyone's kind of on the same page. That's what I'm calling sprint planning. We kind of go much deeper in the book on that one.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, so definitely get the book for that. Is there anything you're working on because you mentioned at the beginning when you have something you're trying to fix, what are you most trying to figure out right now?
Nick Sonnenberg: Well, a big thing right now is being clever and creative with all of these new OpenAI, ChatGPT and so on and so forth, using them in combination with everything in the CPR framework and kind of enhancing efficiency and collaboration and being clever with using those tools to collaborate better. That's a key area of focus right now of content and IP that we're building out.
Melanie Avalon: And just very specific random question, but this made me think of it because you have five tool categories. Will all companies be using all five categories or are there exceptions?
Nick Sonnenberg: Everyone, I mean, you could even at a meta level, there's three, there's communication, there's planning, and then there's resources. In communication, you've got the subcategory of internal communication, external communication, but and in resources, you've got static knowledge, you've got dynamic knowledge. But there's really three buckets and no, I think that that is going to stand the test of time. Even in 20 years, even once this AI stuff is even more well refined, you're going to still have those three buckets.
Melanie Avalon: I was super curious about that. If there was this future where there's just one bucket, but you think it'd always be the three?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, and I think that certain tools you might be able to achieve some of those buckets because some of these software start getting a bit better and you might be able to get rid of one tool because another tool kind of ticks off two buckets. So, you might not need five different tools. Maybe you'll need four or three because you can double dip. But it's still going to be the same theory that you've got those three major buckets that you need to solve for.
Melanie Avalon: Should people work themselves out of their job?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yep, if you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted. We talk about this one in the book, too. And I would only be fearful of these things if you're not confident in your ability to adapt and do higher level work. But that's not really the mindset of a senior person. You should be excited that ChatGPT, for example, can help you write articles faster because now with all this freed up time maybe you can do more articles, maybe you can be more strategic with headlines and get a much higher hit rate because now you're able to spend an extra five hours a week on purely just headlines that is going to drive many more results. But more impact that you can make for your team and for your company, the easier it's going to be for them to justify paying you more money and giving you higher level work and putting you on a better path. So, you should be excited of all of this stuff, ChatGPT or the stuff we're talking about in my book. It should be exciting to you to get the crap off your plate because now with all this extra freed up time, you can spend it in just better ways.
Melanie Avalon: Well, so how can people get the book? How can people work with you? If so, what are the resources for people to grab here?
Nick Sonnenberg: So, the book is basically 320 pages of just pure content. It's the employee manual that you never got. It's very dense. It's not one of these books that has two concepts and then a million stories. I'm an efficiency geek, so if I weren't, this book would have been 1400 pages long, but HarperCollins didn't even want it to be longer than the 320. What we did was we created advanced additional content that we put up on comeupforair.com. And so, throughout the book we'll say if you want to see the quiz or you want to see this playbook or you want to see a PDF diagram of this, you could go to comeupforair.com.
We've invested a lot of time with the additional bonus content that I'd really encourage people to go and not just buy the book, but also go to that website, enter your email and I believe order number, but get the free resources. So, that's one thing. And also, if you want additional help at getleverage.com, we offer more advanced programs to take it beyond what we cover in the book.
Melanie Avalon: I will put links to all of that in the show notes. I always am just curious because I love the cover art. Were you super involved in the cover art or did they decide that?
Nick Sonnenberg: Every part of this book took a lot of time speaking of time, should there be a puddle of water underneath the chair. Should the level of the water come above the sea or below, everything. This book, we spent four years, we put our blood, sweat, and tears and that was everything. The copy, but also the cover makes a difference. Having a cool looking cover definitely attracts more people to buying the book. So, I did the Audible too. If you're more of a person to do the Audible. I spent four days in a recording studio, I hired a voiceover coach. Every detail, this because we want this book to still be talked about in decades to come. We threw everything at it so it wasn't just a one hit wonder.
Melanie Avalon: I'm so glad because I meant to mention that I love it when authors read their own book. I both read parts of yours and I listened to parts of it, and I love it when they take the time to do that. I think it makes it so much more personal. Also, I just have to let listeners know because you signed the version that you sent me. Thank you so much. And Nick uses little stickers of his face in the signature, which is the coolest thing I've ever seen.
Nick Sonnenberg: mystickerface.com.
Melanie Avalon: It's amazing. So, in any case, this has been absolutely amazing. Speaking of time so much, thank you so much for your time. The last question I ask every single guest on this show, and it's just because I realize more and more each day how important mindset is. What is something that you're grateful for?
Nick Sonnenberg: Wow, that's a great question. I'm grateful for so many things, but I have some amazing people in my life. Both my team, close friends, mentors, clients, partners. I really am grateful for kind of the network that I've built up in every aspect of the relationships that I have. I was with Jordan Harbinger years ago and he told me a great line that stuck with me, which was and Jordan has a podcast too, The Art of Charm, it's a great podcast, that "You could go bankrupt, the IRS could take away all of your money and your assets, but they can't take away your network." And I am very grateful for having people like you and Jon and just amazing people that I can call friends and collaborators.
Melanie Avalon: I love that so much. That really does bring it full circle because our introduction through Jon just felt very personal, and it's been a pleasure to get to know you. Like you said, your book, the timing of it is crazy that I am launching this other company while I was reading it, and I was just thinking, this is the perfect time to be reading this in my life. But clearly you're helping so many people with it. So, thank you for everything that you do. Yeah, we'll have to stay in touch. Are you writing another book?
Nick Sonnenberg: No, I just launched my own podcast, so that's kind of the next project. It's called The Optimize Podcast, theoptimizepodcast.com, and we're doing live consultations with people. I'm co-hosting it with Jay Abraham, if you've heard of him. He's like an OG world class marketing and business consultant. He charges $120,000 a day to consult.
Melanie Avalon: A day?
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, speaking of what I'm grateful for, I'm grateful for people like Jay in my life. He's a dear friend and mentor and co-host of this podcast, and we help uncover the biggest hidden opportunities in a business in a 60 to 90-minute consultation. At some point, we're going to charge. Right now, we're doing it for free while we've launched and we repurpose the content as a podcast. And that's really fun. So, that's the newest project. It'll be a while before I write another book. To do it right, it really just takes so much time.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, I know. I feel like people don't always realize. Well, welcome to the podcast world. That is amazing. I will have to check it out and I will put a link to it in the show notes as well.
Nick Sonnenberg: Yeah, I would love any suggestions because it seems like you've really cracked the podcast code, so let me know your thoughts and any tips.
Melanie Avalon: I will. Thank you. Awesome. Well, enjoy the rest of your day and I will talk to you later.
Nick Sonnenberg: Thanks for having for me.
Melanie Avalon: Bye, Nick.
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