My Interview with Kim Sutton on the Positive Productivity Podcast
Sat down with Kim Sutton on the Positive Productivity Podcast.
Some topic highlights:
- “One Table” — The most important decision we make as an entrepreneur
- How small process changes have outsized downstream effects on team performance
- Utilizing daily themes to minimize context switching
- Simplicity reduces friction and maximizes conversion
- Rich vs. King — Letting go of control of the recurring streams to create new streams
- The highest leverage activities usually are the most illegible
- Not mistaking instrumental goals for terminal goals —any activity that doesn’t back out to the bottom line is a distraction
- In all successful partnerships, both parties meet each other halfway
- The necessity of making recovery and self-care a scheduled non-negotiable
Audio recording below (55 mins). Full transcript below.
“PP 448: Chris Sparks, Founder of The Forcing Function” from Positive Productivity by Kim Sutton on…
“It’s understanding what works well for ourselves. There’s no universal best practice. It’s all personal best…
Note: transcript slightly edited for clarity.
Kim Sutton: Welcome to the Positive Productivity Podcast Episode 448.
Kim Sutton: The Positive Productivity Podcast was created to empower entrepreneurs to achieve and appreciate personal and professional success. I’m your host Kim Sutton and if you’re ready, let’s jump into today’s episode.
Kim Sutton: Welcome back to another episode of Positive Productivity. This is your host Kim Sutton and I’m so happy that you’re here to join us today. I’m also thrilled to introduce today’s guest, Chris Sparks.
Kim Sutton: Chris is the founder of The Forcing Function and I know we’re going to have a great time chatting and entertaining and enlightening you all so, Chris, welcome. I’m so happy that you’re here to join us today.
Chris Sparks: Thanks Kim. It’s great to be here.
Kim Sutton: I would love if you would jump in with a better introduction because you know your story better than anybody else. It will just come better from your mouth.
Chris Sparks: Sure. I would introduce myself as saying at The Forcing Function, we work with entrepreneurs. We brand around productivity in that we are trying to help entrepreneurs identify the key habits systems and routines that are going to help them get to the next level, as well as making sure that they are working on the right things in their business. I do that via one-on-one coaching.
Chris Sparks: I have a pretty interesting background, but most notably I was formerly one of the top 20 online poker players in the world. I had a few businesses of my own, done quite a bit of travel and yeah, these days I try to distill and deconstruct the best practices of top performers, particularly in the area of knowledge work. I’d love to share a few things that I’ve learned with you guys today.
Kim Sutton: I look so forward to that and I’m over here laughing just thinking about our pre-chat and how we just decided we were going to pull it right in here. Listeners, we are talking about how Chris is returning to work to a calendar that he loves because it’s basically what, how did you say it? Empty and free and open, is not pre-scheduled and I said, “But that sounds like one of my weeks that I return to. It’s like every Monday my whole week is pre-scheduled and like your week is different from mine.” I’m just so intrigued but really, first, I want to know, how did you transition from poker into this?
Chris Sparks: Sure. You want me to start with the poker then?
Kim Sutton: Oh, I forgot, that was one of the things that we didn’t talk about in the pre-chat. I [forgot the] questions. I just get so excited I forget to even leave a space for a response yet. I would love to know about the poker first.
Chris Sparks: Sure, cool. I’ll give the brief version, and we can dive into any part that you want. Yeah, when I went to college, poker was everywhere on TV as some of you might remember and being a typical college student I had lots of free time on my hands to pursue my hobby. Actually, I was going to make TV commercials after college at Ford and was fortunate that my job was in a hiatus or let’s call it — refer to it — as a purgatory.
Chris Sparks: During that time, I was able to pursue my poker hobby full time, and by the time the hiring freeze ended, I realized that I had quite the knack for poker to the point that it be fiscally irresponsible of me not to pursue it full time. I moved out to Los Angeles into a big house with some other poker players and we’ve formed a coalition. I had a couple of side businesses around that where I coached, mentored and invested in promising young players. I had a nice stable of talent around me[ . . . ]Obviously the best way to learn is by teaching, so [ . . . ] it continued to accelerate my own poker career.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. I played full-time poker online for five years as well as traveling to tournaments in countries all around the world and retired in 2011. At the time, yeah, I was ranked top 20 in the world.
Kim Sutton: Wow! Did you wear sunglasses?
Chris Sparks: It’s a funny thing. At the highest levels of poker in person, it is closer to business development than anything else [ . . . ]the key is to get invited to play back again. It’s actually more about being entertaining, and — let’s say — positive influence at the table, so that people want to continue to play with you [ . . . ] The players you play with are like your customers, in a sense, because if you’re good, you will be winning money from them. Things like wearing sunglasses, while they might get you a small edge, actually detract from your presence at the table.
Chris Sparks: I actually dress up and do things that make me more open and easy to talk to because even though I might give away a little bit more information, it allows me to build relationships that help me get into the better poker games, which, because you can only play in one game at a time, is where you make your money. The analogy that I give to entrepreneurs there is the same way, you can only play at one table at a time. You can only be in one business at a time. You can only be in one market at a time, and that decision on where you specialize and who you focus on is potentially the biggest decision that you’ll make.
Kim Sutton: I can see that and I can also see, if I started talking, can you imagine if I’m sitting in a poker table and just start stacking all of my questions up to somebody. Kim Sutton, Positive Productivity Poker, let me just stack 15,000 questions up to you at the same time, you’re going to lose track of what card I just put down. Bang! I win and I don’t even know what cards I’m holding because honestly, I was engaged in a conversation without looking at my own hand, ideally.
Chris Sparks: [With] improv comedy, [an] exercise you do early on is that you keep going until you’ve revealed one thing about yourself, and then you stop and you let the person react to that, or add to something similar that they have done. If you reveal too many things, then the person doesn’t know which one of them you want to talk about, and you end up confusing them more — it’s like the paradox of choice.
Kim Sutton: Positive unproductivity.
Chris Sparks: Yes.
Kim Sutton: I’m getting coached right here today. That’s awesome, but I don’t know how to control it. Okay. How can we get our own excitement under control? I mean, I’m sure this is something that you see a lot with your clients. We have so much that we want to do, so many things going on. I finally just today said to my own online business manager, how do you feel about me only checking my email three times a day unless you notified me otherwise? She says, “Please. Please.” She didn’t say, “Yes.” She just said, “Please.” All right, I guess that’s been settled. My next step was, well, can you turn off those notifications that keep on popping up on my computer? Yes. They’re gone.
Chris Sparks: You touched on a few interesting things there, the first is second and third order effects of decisions, right? That one small decision we can make, let’s say checking emails fewer times a day, has implications downstream that we want to take into account. In this case, by checking email less often, the people who report to you feel obligated to check email less often and thus, can spend more time heads down rather than in reactive mode looking to see if you’ve changed your mind or need anything from them in the meantime — because if you’re sending off emails fifty times a day, the expectation is that they’re doing the same, right? This setting the heartbeat idea that as a leader you lead by example, and every decision that you do has this second and third order effects that come into play.
Chris Sparks: Another interesting thing that you touched upon is that our behavior is somewhat deterministic by the context we put ourselves in. What I mean by that is you find yourself sending more email because you get pulled into your email by these notifications, but by taking one small move of turning off these notifications, you’ll be triggered less often and the desire to check email will go away on its own, simply by changing the context that you put yourself in.
The third thing I would touch on is that, so many times where I give advice to clients — let’s stick to the email theme — of, you don’t need to be checking email first thing in the morning or you don’t need to be replying to emails every hour [ . . . ]they have all of these unproven fears and I say, “Try it for a day and see what happens,” right?
Chris Sparks: Try not responding for a day and see if anyone complains. Try asking your boss or your employee, “Hey! Can I do this? Does this work for you?” Almost every time, you’ll be very surprised that the world doesn’t catch on fire, and in fact, other people were wanting to make this change or wanting you to make this change, but just didn’t feel empowered to speak up about it.
Kim Sutton: I love that. This might be anti-productive, but email is not our primary form of communication anyway within the team. We have a project management software that we use and it has a chat function. If something is critically necessary, it will come up but for the most part, we’re all nose … What’s the expression?
Chris Sparks: Like nose to the grindstone or something like that.
Kim Sutton: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. I always recommend establishing a channel that is deemed urgent. I think calls tend to work. I think text can work as well. Yes. Slack is great for communication but it’s not an urgent channel. Email is basically an electronic letter, right? It’s not meant for urgent communication [ . . . ] keeping those channels to their intended uses rather than blending them saves a lot of headache.
Kim Sutton: Oh, yeah. We use Teamwork. I don’t like the sound that Slack makes which I know might seem like a silly excuse for not using that one but Teamwork I love because any part of any conversation, and I’m sure is the same with Slack but again, okay. Listeners, total transparency. See, Chris, this is how I get off topic sometimes.
Kim Sutton: I had one client who I didn’t particularly care for who use Slack. It’s like what is it Pavlovian dog, they hear the bell and then they just, they start drooling.
Chris Sparks: Sure. You’ve created association with the emotion that that client brought up in you from that sound.
Kim Sutton: Exactly. Yeah. One of my team members worked with the same client and we just couldn’t stand the sound anymore and I was never using it in my business. We just decided we’re never going to use it, like it’s not our first. We’ll use it if a client already has it but it’s just not our first choice but then we were like, “Well, how can we get around it?”
Listeners, we’re recording right now in Skype but I realized that by being in Skype all day every day, clients, team members, podcast guests, all of the above, they were always seeing me in here and always thinking, “Okay. I can reach out.” Then it got to the point where I just had to show myself as offline all the time even if I’m not but then some people started to figure out, “Well, she actually is online” but I didn’t set up my own boundaries there. Like if I got a response or if I got a message from somebody, I didn’t go through the action of turning myself to looking like I was online.
Kim Sutton: People started to figure out, “Oh, she’s actually there even though it shows her offline.” I’m actually wondering now. No, it shows me as online, just away right now but I’ve actually just started shutting it down altogether. Just this morning, I changed my little message to say, “This is only to be used for scheduled calls” because I realized just in the last week, I am not controlling my calendar.
Kim Sutton: Listeners, you’ve heard me talk about it before, we need to control our own calendar. How do you control your calendar, Chris?
Chris Sparks: I’m the only one who puts things on there. I try not to schedule anything more than a week in advance. I think this ties into the first question which we passed by which is what I think is important today, I think I can make the best choice for what is the most important thing I can do today rather than choosing that for myself a month in advance. I can have a guess and I can plan that far out but things change so quickly that something that I think I’m going to want to do a couple of weeks down the line. My priorities might have completely shifted along those vehicles.
Chris Sparks: I try not to schedule too far in advance. Obviously, batching calls, not having the call scheduled longer than it needs to be, trying to keep these things to a conversation offline if possible and I guess the simplest rule, I mean, people have probably heard this elsewhere is just the hell yes or no rule, as is this a hell yes for me? Am I extremely excited to have this meeting or this phone call and if the answer is not hell yes, then I don’t schedule it in the first place. I mean, I’m a full believer in I only work with people who I love, who I’m incredibly excited and honored that they would give me their time and attention.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. Even if something is potentially beneficial if I don’t like the person and I’m not incredibly excited to see them, I mean, complete abundance, right? There’s plenty of other people who can do the same thing. We can nerd out about productivity all day I bet, Kim. Something that I really like is this idea of daily themes. I have a consistent daily theme of Monday is planning, Tuesday and Thursdays are calls, Wednesday is generally writing, Friday is administrative — so that allows me to batch similar tasks together and thinking about wearing a work uniform where if I’m doing similar tasks together, there’s a little bit less cognitive overload or switching between contexts.
Chris Sparks: If I’m batching all of my calls and meetings to Tuesday and Thursday, these are my head above water days. There’s less room in between calls where I’m trying to stick in some deep work, right? Where if I’m on my deep work days, I can have a couple hour-long blocks to do things that are really hard and difficult [ . . . ]let’s send these five-minute emails or let’s do these quick updates and checks into things between calls on Tuesday and Thursday, where I know my mood will be a little bit more aligned with those types of tasks.
I mean, really, I think what a lot of this gets back to is understanding what works for ourselves, right? There’s no universal best practice, it’s all personal best practices. If you find something that works well for you, thinking about how can you recreate those conditions that those conditions happen more often.
Kim Sutton: I love that. I was actually just talking to my sister this morning, she’s joining my team and I was sharing with her that when I started the podcast, I basically opened up my whole calendar. Talk about positive unproductivity. People could schedule their appointment any day of the week and like you’re just saying I mean, I could have been going from one task into a completely different task and it got me totally fried.
Kim Sutton: I don’t think there’s any better way to say it. I took it down to two days and just last week I took it down to one because I realized when I’m working on client work, I can’t be working, working, working, working. Oh, I need help on a podcast. That does not work for me.
Chris Sparks: It’s an interesting realization that it’s actually better often times to offer fewer options and saying something like we can talk anytime you want, right? People say, “Hey, what’s your availability in the next few weeks?” Okay. There’s lots of places I could be available in the next few weeks, but instead offering a couple of times that works gives people a couple of options to choose from. There’s a lot less friction and especially in client work, I would assume the same for you, Kim. My job is to offer a heavy ROI on every single minute that I ask for.
Chris Sparks: I want to make it as easy as possible to set up time to talk with me but at the same time if I say, “Hey, we can talk anytime,” then I’m putting the burden upon the client to figure out what works best for him. I’m actually making it harder for him to set up a time. It’s just a counterintuitive idea that giving some direction as far as what works and offering a couple of options instead of keeping things completely open actually is a better option.
Kim Sutton: I love that. When I lived outside of New York City, I remember there was a diner that we would go to and the menu was probably 12 pages long. I don’t know if this is a national chain. I seem to remember it growing up but Big Boy. Have you ever gone to a Big Boy restaurant? I’m sorry to be calling them on you.
Chris Sparks: Sure. Sure, back in Ohio. Yeah.
Kim Sutton: Yeah. I’m in Ohio and on Saturday night, listeners, if you’re not familiar, I can’t really explain what Big Boy is. I think somewhere along the lines of Perkins or Denny’s maybe, is that fair?
Chris Sparks: That’s fair.
Kim Sutton: Yeah. The menu was like six pages long. I went knowing what I wanted but as far as the kids went, it took a little bit of time to figure out what they wanted but you walk into someplace like Chipotle, no, this show is not endorsed or an affiliate of either. You’ve got three meat selections, some toppings that you can put on, done, done, done, get through the line, right? It’s the same there. Give them limited selections, it’s going to be a lot easier for them to figure out what they want to eat and you can increase table turnover because it doesn’t take them so long to go through the line.
Chris Sparks: Sure. I would say the same metaphor applies to your business or to your life is don’t be a Big Boy, right? If you’re offering all things to all people, it’s going to be hard to be amazing at any one of those but instead, if you figure out what you do best and what offers the best value and reinvest all your resources into making that even better. I said like, “Product is the marketing” and I said rather than offering a buffet, if you pick a really well-targeted, high-value option and just reinvest resources into making that option even better” that seems like the best ROI. The maintenance costs of maintaining a large menu versus being known for one particular thing, yeah, I think that metaphor stands to a lot of things.
Kim Sutton: I love that. Just because you advertise one thing on the menu doesn’t mean your clients will inquire about other things. It’s just up to you as to whether or not you offer them or maybe a team member offers them.
Chris Sparks: Absolutely. The word I like here is legibility. I think we’re all a little bit hesitant to put ourselves in a box, right? The, “Oh, but I do oh so much more than that” and the problem isn’t that people don’t think you do more, [it’s] that if you try to tell people everything that you do, none of that will resonate because it’s too much to take in. By being legible, by being very clear and concise, having something that is easily remembered and transmitted to others, you give others the opportunity to discover all that lies beneath your iceberg surface versus that if you try to convey all the things that you do. There’s too much noise there, the signal gets lost.
Kim Sutton: Yeah, absolutely. I’m embarrassed to say that when I started my business I was a virtual assistant and I actually had in my proposals that I was a “Jill of all traits” and then I said, “Wait, that would be a Kim of all traits.” By the way, I’m a multitasker and I’m really good at it. Talk about bad and I got hired which makes me think about the people who actually hired me. They didn’t realize, number one, that multitasking is not good. I figured that out, that doesn’t mean I’ve …
Chris Sparks: It’s a myth, I think.
Kim Sutton: Which part?
Chris Sparks: We don’t actually multitask. We just rapidly switch between tasks.
Kim Sutton: Yeah.
Chris Sparks: We think we’re splitting our attention 50/50 when we’re doing two tasks but really, it’s 40/40 and that extra 20% is just lost with either.
Kim Sutton: Yeah. I still struggle with it on a daily basis. Your partner’s parents just went back to wherever they came from. I mean that in the best way possible. I can’t wait until my older boys go back to school. I love my kids. I love all of them but during the summer break, when they’re at home with me, it’s like, “Go away. You just distracted me again.” I’ve had to try. I don’t like the word try, Chris, because to me it’s either do or do not try. Isn’t that Yoda, right?
Chris Sparks: Yup.
Kim Sutton: But I’ve been trying to get it through their head, “Every time you distract me, you’re adding like twenty more minutes on to how long it’s going to take me to get this task done. Just let me get it done.”
Chris Sparks: Sure. Yeah. I mean, that is true and I think fits into what we were talking about before as far as setting boundaries and expectations — letting people know the times that you are available to give them your full attention, and if you follow through with that agreement, then they won’t be seeking your time and attention in other ways. But it’s our own personal responsibility to communicate and enforce that. I mean one of my favorite productivity sayings …
Kim Sutton: I’m sorry to interrupt you but I want to reinforce…
Chris Sparks: Absolutely. I mean, we all thrive on feedback.
Kim Sutton: Yeah.
Chris Sparks: It’s this idea of a stated speed limit and the actual speed limit, right? The sign says the speed limit is 55 but if you don’t get pulled over until you go 65, everyone drives 64, right? It’s one thing to say, “Hey, I’m only available during these times and between, let’s say, 6:00 and 7:00, you’ll have my full attention” and then you actually work through to 7:00. Well, that sends a complete mixed message and they think that, “Okay, well, I have to come in and get my own time if you’re not going to follow through the agreement.”
Chris Sparks: Yes, as I was saying before, we are the common denominator in all of our productivity challenges. It’s very easy to ascribe everything to outside influences, like I would have got so much done today if it wasn’t for X — and notice that all of those sentences include the word “I” [ . . . ] you failed to anticipate these things, you failed to work around them and of course, things are going to come up, but it’s our own responsibility to deal with them.
Kim Sutton: A hypothetical question for you. If you had a client who you told on a repeated basis what time you would not be available. Say, I have calls starting today at 11:00, I won’t be available after that, and that client decided to start messaging you at that time and then got multiple channels if they didn’t get in touch with you on the first, what would you do?
Chris Sparks: Well, I’ve never had that happen, so I have to think on the spot as far as hypothetical. Well, I mean, I’d have to assume because it’s never happened in two years that it’s some sort of emergency. I’m not sure what sort of productivity emergencies [exist], but I would assume that it’s really important. I would drop everything to help them. I think a lot about inflection points where there are major moments in life or business where you need all hands on deck, and I would be there in any way I can.
Chris Sparks: [But] I assume from the way you phrased your question that this is just a, “Hey, I forgot to do my morning routine today, this really sucks, can you please help?” Something that’s relatively minor and I would take it as an opportunity to maybe make my procedures around communication and expectations a little more legible within my organization and to myself and to communicate those. Yeah. Presuming that is not their failure but my failure to disseminate.
Kim Sutton: Thank you for that. I’m just coming out of a situation where it’s happened multiple times with one person. I realized it just wasn’t working for me. In the last week, I had a conversation with Perry Marshall about 80/20 Rule and I realized that 80% of my stress was coming out of 20% of my clients and there needed to be a change.
Chris Sparks: Absolutely. I mean, 80/20 is what first came to mind. I would actually invert that and say that in general, 80% of our clients, we shouldn’t be working with. That we aren’t actually the right person or the right fit for them and that we should be concentrating and trying to find more like the 20%. That it goes along with what you’re saying before. We’re trying to be all things to all people, rather than being really clear on who we can be most helpful with. Yeah, I heard that you give this advice on a different episode but I think the same applies to clients as far as like hire slow, fire fast where if it’s not working on either side, help them find someone who is a better fit.
Kim Sutton: Thank you. Yeah. The hell yeah or hell no, it’s taken a few years but I’m finally there and it feels so good and I’m working on building my personal team now. It just feels so good to know that also we don’t have to be doing it all. I’ve been asked so many times how do you do it all and it wasn’t for the longest time that I realized that the correct answer was I don’t, I just don’t.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. We all have so much imposter syndrome in the entrepreneurial community and I think everyone, myself included, has gone through this, “Oh, I’m a complete failure.” There are all these hats that I have to wear, and I’m just not good at any of these things, and forgetting why we started the business in the first place [ . . . ] we have a unique offering that offers value to the world and focusing on making that as good as possible and bringing in people who have their own superpowers who can help get that message out to others, who can help craft it and help find who the right audience for that is, and realize that we can’t do it all. By trying to do it all, it’s going to take our time and attention away from the things that we do really well, where we offer the best value.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. I think that’s a big misconception about entrepreneurship is that a founder is doing everything. In a lot of startups, founders are responsible for similar things, but I think most founders are responsible for sales and responsible for raising money if you’re on a venture-funded company. They’re responsible for the quality of product, but I think they can have people who work with them to make sure all of those go well [ . . . ] they don’t need to be the sole person working on all of those, right? I think that’s a clear distinction — and maybe it’s this culture we live in today, but [there’s] this fear around showing weakness and vulnerability and asking for help.
Chris Sparks: I think people do themselves a disservice because most likely all of the people who you look at and say, “Wow! Those guys, they just really have their act together,” they’re probably looking at you and thinking the same thing, and you would both benefit greatly from a conversation.
Kim Sutton: Oh, I love that. I was actually thinking about a poker analogy while you were saying that. I mean …
Chris Sparks: Please.
Kim Sutton: … I might be saying this the wrong way but I was thinking professional poker players, you probably got a booking agent, right, but booking agent might not be the right word but you could have somebody who is helping you find the next tournament, somebody who’s doing all your travel planning, somebody who’s handling publicity. I mean, numerous people on the backend but you are the face of the organization. You’re the one who actually has to have your butt in the seat in your, is it a match, a poker match? What’s the right phrase? Game?
Chris Sparks: Poker game. But yeah, I think the analogy is a very good one, right? There are things that only the founder can do. In a poker context, yeah, I think a big part of my skill set for [helping] entrepreneurs now is how I was able to break down all of the parts of being a successful professional poker player and take the parts that only I could do. “Butt in the seat,” as you so aptly put it — like no one else can play for me or certainly can’t play as well as I can, but there are other parts of managing the career of a poker player — finding games, et cetera — that I can do and I probably still have the highest competitive advantage on, but if I can give that to someone else and redistribute that time doing what only I can do — playing poker — the whole business of poker player, Chris, benefits.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. I think the distinction I usually make is, are you working in the business, are you working on the business? I’ll give it an extreme example to illustrate. I work with a rancher who owns a giant cattle ranch with hundreds of cattle and it’s extremely complex, very interesting business and some days, he wakes up and he milks cows. I tried to explain to him in that every hour you’re spending milking cows is an hour that you can’t spend working with your partners to find sales or looking for expansion opportunities for the farm [ . . . ] there are plenty of people who can milk a cow for you, but there aren’t many people who can find other farms for you to purchase, right?
Chris Sparks: It’s these — you’re doing $10-an-hour tasks at the expense of your $1,000-an-hour tasks, and this is a really valuable arbitrage opportunity. [There’s] that the old adage: everyone gets the same 24 hours a day, but you can arbitrage that time by redirecting it towards uses of higher average expected value.
Kim Sutton: I never thought about productivity with ranchers. Wow!
Chris Sparks: That’s an extreme niche for you.
Kim Sutton: No, but it’s awesome because so many of us who aren’t ranchers get stuck in those same patterns, the $10 activities versus the $100,000, $10,000 activities. My team knows I do not expect them or want them to work nights or weekends but this weekend I saw my email inbox go from hundreds of emails down to 30 and I wasn’t even touching it. They were filed, they were sorted, they were assigned to whoever needed to handle it and I would go in just to see, like to be totally honest, I ordered lunch, I just wanted to see had the order gone through because it was 45 minutes later and still haven’t come. I’m impatient when I’m hungry but in the time that I refresh my email, I saw it go from hundreds down to 30 and I was like, “That rocks.” That’s like the $10 activity that I did not need to be doing but so many of us just do it, why? I mean that’s a rhetorical question.
Chris Sparks: Because it’s what’s comfortable. It’s what we know how to do. There are immediate definite returns, right? Seeing that inbox number go down is motivating. It’s an immediate feedback loop, and it’s something that’s very concrete and tangible, versus the things that are potentially very high leveraged, the $10X thousand an hour type tasks are a little bit illegible. They’re a little bit abstract. They’re not completely tractable, at least at first glance, and that it’s not immediately apparent what the best course of action is. That, for lack of a better word, gives us fear. Fear that we’ll be wasting our time, fear that it won’t have a desired outcome, fear that we don’t know what to do or aren’t able to do it.
Chris Sparks: I try to use that fear as my compass because I know evolutionarily that I am over-weighting that fear, and that if I think I might want to do something but it makes me very afraid — what I mean by using fear as my compass is that fear is a really good indicator of what I should be doing. Things that seem very clear and obvious on what to do, there’s likely not any competitive advantage there — because if I can easily do it, if there’s no moat in investing parlance, it’s probably something that everyone else is doing and there’s not really a lot of opportunity.
Chris Sparks: The real opportunities are the things that are non-obvious, that are nontrivial, that it’s not immediately clear whether it’s working — but that’s how the business gets doubled, right?
Kim Sutton: Right.
Chris Sparks: It’s not sending a slightly better email.
Kim Sutton: My online business manager said to me just before our call. She said, “I see you have a lot of client [projects assigned to you.” What do you have that can be assigned somewhere else? It’s like, “Yeah. I need to do that actually. I just assigned something.” She’s like, “Well, I’m trying to gently nudge you to give up more,” and I was like, “I don’t need gentle nudges, I need the iron skill on the side of my head. You don’t need to be … Just tell me I need to let it go because I am not going to grow this business. We are going to grow the business. I need to let it go.” It’s amazing how much inspiration I get from Disney movies because every single day I hear Frozen, Let It Go in my head. Let it go, let it go.
Kim Sutton: Seriously, I need to let it go. I think at the beginning I love how you brought up fear. I was afraid to let other people do client work because I was afraid that they wouldn’t do it as good as me but amazingly, sometimes they do it and more often if I hire the right people, right, hire slow, fire fast, they’re doing it even better.
Kim Sutton: I had a podcast episode scheduled one day last week but I was feeling really overwhelmed because I had a whole bunch of stuff that needed to get done and she said to me right then, “Well, [what] aren’t you letting go of Kim? This is not the first time. Today is not the first time that we’ve had this conversation.” I was like, “Well, actually” and she’s like, “Give me it, give me and get on the call.” I mean going back to the poker, there we go, right? She’s like, “Get on there. Get on there.” By the time I had that call and then the one that was immediately behind it done, she had that task plus like three others that was on my personal list done. It’s like, “Are you kidding me?”
Chris Sparks: I think that example is extremely illustrating. I think that the entrepreneur, the business owner is almost always the bottleneck in the business and that this letting go of control opens up a lot of opportunity. It’s really, there’s a dichotomy between being rich and being a ruler, right? Do you want to be the king or queen of your business or do you want to use your business to get rich or to have the most impact and just trying to maintain control of everything comes at the expense of everything getting done.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. Finding out the places within your business where failure is not a catastrophe, it’s just almost everywhere, right? No mistakes are unfixable and by handing off control, you empower your employees to find creative solutions that you would not have found [ . . . ] I got to say, Kim, I mean, this is a lesson that we learn every day so, I’m right in there with you.
Kim Sutton: What is something that you’ve let go control of in your business?
Chris Sparks: Sure, absolutely. I mean, we are both naked brands in a sense — in that our business is us, and it’s completely personal and it is a little bit scary because that line between business and “this is me” is blurred. I don’t know if you found this, but it has made me be a little bit risk-averse when it comes to sales or marketing or public promotion because I don’t want Chris Sparks the person to be [ . . . ] salesy or promotey. But at the same time, if people don’t know what you’re doing, if they can’t find you, how are you going to get clients?
Chris Sparks: It’s not until [ . . . ] I’ve brought on team members who I can hold accountable to hold me accountable, [and] say like, “everything you say, does it need to be perfect? [ . . . ] people will excuse mistakes,” [so I can say,] “you know me well enough to speak on my behalf,” and to give my team members the trust and confidence to do what they see fit. But if everything that gets said by the Forcing Function has to come from me, how much more often are pieces of advice or insight which I have, that can help many people, going to be kept to myself because I’m worried that the wording won’t be perfect or that it’s not 100% the correct way to go?
Chris Sparks: I think, [with] anything that’s good, it’s selfish to keep to yourself — and I think by letting go control of your identity in a sense, by keeping your identity small, as Paul Graham would say, you open up a lot of possibility as far as having more of an impact. It’s kind of the start [up]adage of, “move fast [and] breaking things” — that everything is fixable and that if you aren’t breaking things, you’re probably moving too slowly in your business.
Kim Sutton: You just gave me a huge “aha” and I’ll tell you why.
Chris Sparks: Let’s hear it.
Kim Sutton: My social media is at a standstill because I have loved up until now for every message that goes out to be like every caption on Instagram to be written by me. There hasn’t been anything that went out since April and it can’t be like that I mean, and it goes for all social media. Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean that nothing can be going out but I’m building a team. I mean, the pillars of positive productivity are self-care systems and support.
Kim Sutton: Why does it all have to be from me, right? We could be highlighting team members, let’s just say, in an Instagram post, from team member so and so. Here’s my caption, right? Don’t wait two, three months already for Kim to put a caption on something. Just go in there and put your own voice on.
Chris Sparks: Sure. I think changing the I’s to we’s is a very good first step — but Kim, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d actually be contrary — in that this seems like an excellent test [ . . . ] presumably business is still going well — like your house hasn’t caught on fire when you stopped doing social media. I mean, maybe this is a good opportunity to reassess what parts of that are core to your strategy.
Chris Sparks: I’m always telling clients to distinguish between instrumental goals and terminal goals — where for both of us, I imagine the terminal goals of what we ultimately want is to add a lot of value to high potential clients.
Chris Sparks: If it’s not leading to working with more clients, then it is not leading towards the terminal goa — and what often is the problem is that we confuse these terminal goals with instrumental goals. Instrumental goals are things that we do on the way. Everyone is doing social media, for example, but social-media-doing isn’t a goal, it’s a means to an end, it’s an instrumental goal.
Chris Sparks: Sometimes there’s some addition by subtraction there, where rededicating time and resources that you put on social media towards other parts of the business actually can have a positive effect. I’m not saying that this is the case, but just extending your example to a metaphor here, in that we don’t need to be doing everything.
Chris Sparks: We said before that we’ve been talking a lot about finding team members who can accentuate and build upon what we’re doing, but another aspect of that is focusing on what we’re doing and just not doing the other things. Not trying to do it the same way everyone else is doing because this is the way it’s always been done.
Chris Sparks: I mean, I love when you talk on your podcast to people about how they found unconventional approaches to basically support the way that they personally do work, and I think the same applies here.
Chris Sparks: I’m sure I’m wrong, and people love hearing from you and from social media and bringing on the right person is going to have a massive impact, but I would, just to apply this to everyone, I would say that this is a good opportunity to step back and say, “Do I really want to just jump back in and do what I was doing before?” I’m not sure.
Kim Sutton: Damn. You’re good because actually, the reason why I haven’t been out there is because I’m coming out of my best months ever by focusing on client work. I’ve got happy clients who are referring more clients who are in turn happy clients who refer more and the whole cycle’s right there. Social media wasn’t getting anything.
Kim Sutton: Yes, eyes are on it but I can’t say it was converting into clients. If it gets done it gets done but don’t allocate team members there, because maybe, well not maybe, what I need to be focusing on is just keeping that happy client loop continuing.
Chris Sparks: Absolutely. Yeah.
Kim Sutton: Bang.
Chris Sparks: Opportunity cost.
Kim Sutton: Yeah. I’m not going to mention who it is but one of my clients says new money first. If you have on your calendar a call scheduled with a client, but a prospective client, that’s the only time that they can meet. This client of mine says you should take the prospective and ask the current client to reschedule. I would love to get your opinion on that.
Chris Sparks: Oh, man.
Kim Sutton: I know, right.
Chris Sparks: A hypothetical example, I’ve never had someone say that they can only meet at one time. I think to think I’d be a little bit surprised by that, because if they’re going to be that inflexible and that this is absolutely the only time that I can meet all week, that doesn’t really speak well to future partnership.
Chris Sparks: That aside, let’s say for very good reasons in this exact specific instance they can only meet at this time. I might ask the current client to reschedule because I have a really great dynamic with my clients and I think, like hey sorry, this came up. I can literally meet at any other time that works for you. Let’s make this happen sort of thing.
Chris Sparks: I don’t think that’s the interesting part of your question. I think the interesting part of your question is new money first — to that I would adamantly disagree. I think a successful consulting business is built upon repeat business. My goal is to make clients be able to do things independently of me, to basically graduate from my coaching.
Chris Sparks: Everyone’s had the bad personal trainer who every time you go in they have a new workout to do rather than teaching you a workout you could do on your own. Now, what I love is when clients renew because they’ve advanced to a new level and they have an even more difficult challenge that I can help them surmount where they’ve surpassed their previous challenges, they graduated, but they think I’m still the right fit to help them with a new challenge.
Chris Sparks: That’s amazing. Most of the clients that I’ve been working with I’ve been working with for a year or more because I treat them as most important. I think someone who’s a prospective like there’s the possibility of reaching that rapport, but I built this to help the most high potential people succeed.
Chris Sparks: If I’m already doing a good job there, like could I even do a better job with that mission by helping those people more? I think so. I think that because time is limited, it should be reinvested in the most effective way possible and it’s generally with what is working. Not to mention, just — it makes good business sense to make your best clients your happiest clients.
Kim Sutton: Yeah. Actually, this is my best client who has this motto and I tried using that phrase with them. I’m not going to designate male or female here. It didn’t fly over so well, but I was like, I didn’t get to that yet because I had to focus on new money first. I was sort of just throwing a jab out there, but that’s the kind of relationship we have.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. I think every client should feel like they’re your favorite and best client.
Kim Sutton: Yeah.
Chris Sparks: No one likes feeling like they’re second fiddle.
Kim Sutton: Right. No, but I just realized that for me and my business model, that that’s not the way that I’ll ever be going. Know the client was scheduled first and like you said, well, for me there’s always a reason for everything. If that prospective can’t possibly find a time in my calendar then we’re probably not meant to work together and that might be a little bit too woo-woo for some people. For me, it’s just it’s not meant to be. Maybe we’ll be meant to be later on, but for now …
Chris Sparks: I think it’s very apt and not woo-woo at all because you have to meet each other halfway, right? If there’s no effort being made upfront to establish a relationship, how can we be confident they’re going to make the effort required to implement the things that we tell them to do?
Chris Sparks: A very strong signal of lack of commitment on their part and again, like before the hypothetical example — I’m willing to pass that up and say, okay, maybe this is a one-time exemption, but beginnings are delicate times and if this is how they’re starting our relationship together, you can kind of extrapolate out. It’s a good signal of what it will be like to work with them.
Kim Sutton: Right. I mean, I can’t imagine … Well, I never planned on reentering the dating rope, okay. I’m madly in love with my husband, but if that’s however it was with a new man who was entering my life, no. Just no, because if you’re not going to budge on your calendar that’s not going to work, because chances are it would extend to many dinner selections and vacation spots and everything else too, so just, no. Yeah.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. You tend to make time for things that are a priority for us. If we’re not doing it, it’s indicative that it’s not really a priority. If someone can’t make time it’s a signal that they’re not a priority for you.
Kim Sutton: Yeah, absolutely. With that said, I didn’t intend to go here. What are your priorities right now? What are unnegotiables in the day of Chris?
Chris Sparks: Well, sure, I mean for your audience, I would probably talk about my self-care and recovery. We’ve talked a lot about what we do at the office but I think it’s even more important [ . . . ]like we aren’t on this earth to build a business, right? The business is what allows us to support ourselves and find meaning in the world. It’s just a small sliver of why we’re here.
Chris Sparks: Even more important is like, what are we doing outside of work? How does our business support our life and what are we doing to make sure that we’re bringing our best selves to our work?
Chris Sparks: Having outside interests that we can blow off steam and use the other side of our brain — because our best ideas are not going to us at our desk, they come when we completely unplug and find ourselves in flow in a different activity.
Chris Sparks: Self-care has been a really, really big focus for me. I found that I was really sacrificing on sleep and that it was really hurting me as far as the presence that I could bring day to day. I’ve tried to recommit to, if it’s between a marginal hour of sleep and a marginal hour of work, that sleep always comes and that eight hours of sleep is the nonnegotiable that I built my schedule around. If that means that I can’t wake up early enough for something or that I have to go to bed before something again, that’s just fine because I know that long term, if I protect my sleep, that the results will follow and that the important things are going to occur regardless — that there’s abundance of opportunity out there.
Chris Sparks: I think working out I’ve gotten really big into yoga and meditation this year — as it seems like everyone has — and I’ve just seen immense returns in my life there, just from being more in my body and being able to focus and have a little bit more emotional control. Those are both part of my morning and evening routines which I don’t think we have time to fully dissect today, but are complete non-negotiables for me.
Chris Sparks: Also, one that I mentioned earlier but would reiterate [ . . . ]if I could tell one thing that every client has implemented that has just — like across the board, an immediate massive effect — is changing the way that they start their day, by being completely proactive rather than reactive. What I mean by that is, no outside stimulus — like starting the day with a morning routine, with some common elements like movement, focus, journaling, planning and then an hour on the most important thing of the day.
Chris Sparks: Then not checking email, not checking phone, not checking messages until those things are done. Treating that time as sacred [ . . . ] if that happens, the rest of the day is a complete bonus. You will be blown away that spending only one hour on your most important thing, just doing that, you’ll make more progress than you were on eight hours of “work” before that. Just being able to protect that focus time and having it at your most productive hour does absolute wonders.
Chris Sparks: Like I said, beyond those, like sleep, having time for my interests, doing my morning and evening routine, the whole day I try to keep open and available as possible to wake up and decide whatever I think is best — and having those things consistent allows me the freedom to be creative in the interim.
Kim Sutton: I love that. Actually, today was the first time in a long time that I have actually gotten up, taken care of myself first and I know this might be TMI, sorry. I actually got up before the kids got up without an alarm clock and took a shower. Then I did not check my email. I actually wrote down my top five for the day, what I needed to do. But I seldom check my email and I read and I made some coffee. I didn’t check my email this morning until close to 11:00 and it was absolutely amazing.
Chris Sparks: Yeah. World didn’t catch on fire, right? Everything was just the way you left it when you checked it.
Kim Sutton: Mm-hmm.
Chris Sparks: It’s a miracle — and the way I like to think of it is, if you start the day as if it’s going to be a perfect day, it might end up that way.
Kim Sutton: Yup.
Chris Sparks: If you try to approach the day like it’s going to be a great one, usually momentum builds upon itself.
Kim Sutton: Yup, because I think I’m going to have a date with myself again tomorrow. It will be amazing.
Chris Sparks: I’ll hold my jokes to myself.
Kim Sutton: Chris, I have enjoyed every moment of this chat. Thank you so much for joining me on Positive Productivity. Where can listeners find out more about you and connect with you online?
Chris Sparks: Thank you, Kim. This is so much fun too. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you today. My business, as you heard before, is the Forcing Function. If you’re interested in hearing what I have to say about coaching you can find us at theforcingfucntion.com. I wrote a book earlier this year called Inflection Point about establishing transitional points within your life and business where your complete trajectory changes. You can find some chapters of that book for free online on my Medium blog. That’s medium.com/SparksRemarks. @SparksRemarks is also my social media handle for all the places you can find me. Like Kim, I’ve been keeping a low profile since April, but I would love to engage on there if you see me.
Chris Sparks: Yeah, if anything I said today resonated, if you had any follow-up questions or just wanted to say hi, please feel free to reach out to me anytime. My email is email@example.com. Thank you so much for having me today, Kim.
Kim Sutton: Oh, you are so welcome and thank you to you too. Listeners, if you are working out, driving or otherwise preoccupied, please don’t burn your dinner on our behalf. You can go to the show notes page at thekimsutton.com/pp448 where you’ll be able to find Chris’ email and all the links that we just mentioned.
Kim Sutton: Chris, I would love to know, do you have one last piece of advice or a golden nugget that you can offer to listeners?
Chris Sparks: Sure. I think we both had a few today. I would reiterate, get back in touch with what you do best and what you enjoy. I refer to this as downhill. Sort of like you’re on a bike and you don’t have to pedal because you’re going downhill. Think what’s downhill and high value for you and just spend a minute thinking about what’s one thing you can do to make those things happen more often.
Kim Sutton: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Positive Productivity Podcast. When I’m not podcasting I’m supporting six to seven figure business coaches with their marketing automation and entrepreneurs like you through my coaching and mastermind programs. I want to invite you to visit thekimsutton.com to learn how I can help you take your business to the next level.
I’m Chris Sparks, founder of The Forcing Function, helping entrepreneurs multiply their productivity by designing the habits and systems which maximize personal effectiveness.
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