Episode: The Power of Identifying Your Nonnegotiables
Megan Hyatt Miller: Hi, I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael Hyatt: And I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today, we’re going to be talking about some of my top takeaways from our brand-new book, which is out now, called Win At Work and Succeed At Life. We are pumped to be talking about this book because it’s so personal to us. It’s really the heartbeat of our message at Michael Hyatt & Company. So, Dad, I’m excited to dig into this with you today.
Michael: Me too. Even though we’re talking about your top takeaways, how about if I set it up?
Michael: Okay. I get asked all the time (because we’ve been doing a ton of podcast interviews about the book), “Why did you write the book?” The book opens with the story I’m about to tell. It happened about 20 years ago. I was given responsibility at Thomas Nelson Publishers for a division, one of 14 divisions, that was in trouble. It was the least profitable, slowest growing division in the entire company. In fact, we’d lost money the previous year, and we had negative growth.
So, the CEO asked, “How long is it going to take you to turn this division around?” I had no idea, but I pulled a number out of the air, and I said, “I think it’s going to take three years.” He said, “That was kind of what I was thinking,” and he said, “Go for it.” So I cobbled together a vision. I went back to my team, and I said, “I really think we can turn this division around, but it’s going to take some hard work.” Everybody said, “Let’s do it. We’re tired of being last. We’re tired of being losers.” Nobody likes to lose.
So we rolled up our sleeves. We were working 70 to 80 hours a week. We were working nights and weekends. We were working through vacations. I was traveling constantly. But we did it. In fact, it didn’t take three years. It only took a year and a half. At the end of those 18 months, we went from number 14 to number 1 in terms of fastest growing division in the company. Again, this was out of 14. We were the most profitable division in the company.
As a result of that, I got the biggest bonus check I’d ever received in my career. It was more than my annual salary. I knew that when I went home, my wife was going to be over the moon. She would realize, like I realized, that all this sacrifice was now worth it. This was the validation that working nonstop had been worth it. So I bounced through the front door, found Gail, unfurled the check, and expected her to be jumping up and down, and it was just flat.
She was not excited. She was not enthusiastic. In fact, she said to me some words that probably every spouse dreads hearing from their spouse: “We need to talk.” I knew this was going to be one of those pivotal, really consequential conversations. So we went into the den and sat down. She began to tear up.
She said, “Look. I’ve got to be honest with you. First of all, I’m grateful for all that you do for our family. I love you, and I want you to understand that. But I also need you to understand that you are never at home, and even when you are, you’re not really present. Your head is somewhere else.” Well, I really felt defensive inside, but I knew she was right. Then she said to me, “Your five daughters need you, and they need you now more than ever.” I knew that was right for absolutely sure.
Then she started crying. She said, “If I’m honest, I feel like a single mom,” and she said, “I’m not sure how much longer I can hang on.” Well, that’s not what I was going for. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of success, but what I discovered in that moment was that it was a false summit. Something needed to change. You know how you have those moments when your entire life seems to flash before your eyes? In this moment, I got a glimpse of where this trajectory was going to take me, and it was not a destination I wanted to visit.
Megan: That’s such a profound story. Of course, I lived it. I’m the oldest of your five daughters.
Michael: Right. Suffered through it.
Megan: Suffered through it. It has been really interesting to have that be my reality. I was probably in high school when that happened, so that was my reality growing up at home, but then you subsequently made a dramatic turnaround because you got introduced to what we now call this idea of the double win, winning at work and succeeding at life; that we have to give attention to other areas of our lives besides just our professional life, and in doing so, we actually improve our professional performance. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Really, they can be complementary. It doesn’t have to be the battle you felt like it was when you were making those calls back when I was young.
Michael: I mentioned on the episode last week (we’ll link in the show notes to this) where we set up the problem of the cult of overwork… Most people when they get to that situation think it’s an either/or choice. It’s something we call in the book the impossible choice. Either you can win at work or you can succeed at life, but you can’t do both, so you have to pick one. So what’s it going to be? Are you going to go all in on the hustle fallacy?
We see this all over Instagram and Facebook and everywhere else, where people are talking about “If you want to get ahead, you’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to take that second or that third job. You’ve got to do whatever is necessary to get ahead and win.” Or the alternative is… People who don’t want to do that, who realize their health is important, their family is important, and they don’t want to sacrifice that, apply what we call the ambition brake. They throttle back their personal ambition, but that ends up with wasted potential and a lot of frustration.
It was, really, me beginning to wonder after that conversation with Gail in the den, “Is there a third alternative? Is there a third way that wouldn’t require me to sacrifice or to relinquish my professional ambition or my personal aspirations?” I really think that’s possible, and that’s what this book is about: how you can win at work, how you can succeed in a major way, but at the same time succeed with your personal relationships and with your health and all the rest.
Megan: It’s funny, because one of the questions I keep getting asked on podcasts is, “Okay. So, you’re advocating for work-life balance.” People say it a little bit cynically. I think the reason they’re saying it cynically is because one of two reasons. Either they have been so disappointed by the promises, as we were talking about last week… Like, “Oh, this is really possible,” and then there are no real solutions, and it doesn’t really take into account the real challenges people face on this journey, so it never happens for people.
Or I find this to be even truer. If you’re somebody who, like us, is a high achiever… I think most of the people who listen to this podcast would consider themselves high achievers. It’s just who ends up coming to us. You’re like, “Yeah, but that’s not really serious. Serious people, serious achievers who are doing amazing things are not necessarily thinking that much about work-life balance.”
What I want to propose before we even get into a couple of my favorite takeaways from the book is that this strategy of the double win is a serious performance strategy. If you think about it like professional athletes… Think about Serena Williams and the remarkable career she has had. It just seems to keep going. Certainly, she has had her challenges from time to time, but she’s just incredible to watch.
You would never expect her to have that kind of a career as long as she has if she had been overtraining. She would have been sidelined by injuries. Her career would have been cut short. Yet somehow, we convince ourselves that in the professional arena, we can perform at our best while shortchanging our well-being in a number of different areas outside of work. On its face, we know that doesn’t hold up.
Nobody who’s serious in terms of athletics… Think about Tom Brady. Tom Brady would not consider sleeping four hours a night or six hours a night as a good solution to watch more game tape and work on his plays. He would never do that, because he knows that would compromise his performance on the field. I think we tell ourselves a story that we can overtrain, so to speak, and still expect to get good results.
What we say in the book is, no, if you want the very best results you’ve ever had professionally and personally, then you need to apply the strategies we talk about in this book Win At Work and Succeed At Life. Just a little plug. Seriously, this works. Last year in our company, we took our workday down to six hours in the middle of COVID. It was crazy. People were stressed. We were pivoting like everybody else, and all of the kids were home, and all of that.
We decided to do an experiment. (We talked about this on a previous podcast in detail. We’ll link to that in the show notes.) We decided to cut our workday down to six hours. This is something I’d been doing for years and years, and we decided to give it a try. We steadily started moving toward it. Well, last year, we exceeded our profit target by 50 percent while cutting our hours by 25 percent.
Michael: It’s crazy.
Megan: Those are astonishing professional financial results we achieved with way fewer hours. Anyway, just as an anecdotal story… We’re not kidding about real, concrete results when we’re talking about this. This is for serious achievers too. I just wanted to put that out there, because I know there are some skeptics listening to us, and this is for you too.
Michael: I’ll also say, in my personal life, for the last four or five years I’ve taken 160 to 162 days off a year. That’s every weekend, that’s our 11 paid holidays, and that’s 11 weeks of vacation, including a 30-day nonstop sabbatical where I didn’t do any work. So, 162 days off a year, yet for three years in a row we’ve been on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing 5,000 companies in the United States. So, there’s not a correlation, necessarily, between the amount of work you do and the results. In fact, it’s obviously inversely correlated, and we try to prove that in the book.
Megan: I feel like this is a good time to stop and say, hey, if this resonates with you and you’re like, “I want to know more about this. I want to hear what kinds of solutions they’re going to propose in this book Win At Work and Succeed At Life,” we want you to get a copy of this book. This is the core heartbeat message of Michael Hyatt & Company.
You can get it anywhere books are sold, you know, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, whatever. Make sure you go back to the book website, which is winandsucceedbook.com, because we have over $500 worth of awesome bonuses that we don’t want you to miss out on that are going to help make it easier for you to design your own double win.
Michael: Okay. Meg, let’s get to your top takeaways, because that’s how we build this show. I kind of gave some of my takeaways last week, so let’s talk about your takeaways. What were some of the top ones?
Megan: I think my favorite concept in the book… We talk about five principles of the double win and five practices that go along with those, and this is really when it gets down to brass tacks of “This is how you do this in your life.” My favorite one of those is the principle that says constraints foster productivity, creativity, and freedom. The practice that goes along with that is to constrain your workday.
Now, this is one of the hardest things to wrap your mind around, but once you do it, you won’t even be able to believe you ever did it any other way, because it’s going to change your life, your productivity, your ability to produce results, and your happiness and well-being in other areas of your life.
What we’re advocating for is that you decide when you are going to start working, that you don’t just drift into work from the time you wake up and drift out of work right up until you go to sleep and on weekends and vacations, but instead, you say, “I’m going to start my day at 8:00 or 9:00, and I’m going to end my day at 5:00 or 6:00.” You know, whatever it is for you…3:00 if you’re like us. You pick these hard edges.
Here’s what I love about constraints. All of a sudden, when you put these hard edges on your day and you say, “You know what? I’m not working before that. I’m going to do my morning ritual before that. I’m not working after that. I’m going to tend to the other priorities in my life outside of work hours…” All of a sudden, you start making better decisions about how you spend your time inside of work. All of a sudden, you’re focused on leverage instead of tasks.
Michael: Let’s explore that a little bit, because I think people think, “What do you mean you make better decisions?” Before I started doing this… By the way, this was the key component in beginning my recovery from the addiction to overwork.
Megan: Way back.
Michael: The first thing my executive coach asked me to do was to establish these hard boundaries. One of the things he said was the only difference between a swamp and a river is that a river has riverbanks. It has boundaries. You don’t want to be the swamp; you want to be the river. You want to have a direction to the flow. He asked, “Is there a time that you’re willing to stop working every day?”
Well, it sounds kind of crazy, but that was a new idea. The way my day normally went was that I would realize about midafternoon, usually about 2:00 or 3:00, that there was no way I was going to finish my to-do list, so I would say to myself… My inner conversation was this: “No problem, because I can go home, have a quick bite to eat with the family, and then get right back to work.” It didn’t force me to prioritize, it didn’t force me to make better decisions, and it didn’t force me to stay focused.
But once I established a hard boundary… I told him 6:00 p.m. was my hard boundary in the day. Then in the middle of the afternoon, when I was tempted to say, “Oh, I’m not going to finish; no problem,” I said, “Whoa. I’d better start triaging, deciding what’s important, getting really focused on that, and keep from getting distracted.” I’ve explained it this way, and everybody gets this, I think. It’s kind of like that Friday before you go on vacation for me. You’re crazy, über productive.
Megan: You finish all of the projects you’ve been putting off for three months. It’s amazing what happens on that day.
Michael: That’s right. You have a hard edge. The plane is flying out in the morning. You have to be ready. You have a hard edge, or a boundary, that creates that sense of urgency and focus. Well, that’s the same thing that happens when you have constraints on your workday.
Megan: For me, this looks like now… Actually, in my own story of the double win, like you, constraining my workday was the catalyst for ultimately achieving this. Way back in 2011, we adopted two boys from Uganda, our third and fourth children. Like all kids who are available for adoption, they had some special needs coming into our family. Our business was taking off. I was riding high. It was going great. It was really an exciting time.
In fact, you came to me and said, “Hey, I want you to run the company. I think that’s the next stage of our evolution. That is going to allow me to focus on some other higher-leverage projects and opportunities for the business. Would you be willing to step into this chief operating officer role?” I’m thinking to myself, “I really want to, but how can I do that and give these kids the attention they need?”
What I knew was that I needed to be able to pick them up from school. I needed to be available to them after school to do the things they needed to ultimately get to a place where they were thriving. So I came back to you and said, “Dad, I really want to say yes to this opportunity, but I’m not willing to compromise what my boys need. When we adopted them, we made a commitment to them for life, and I’ve got to show up for them. So I can do this, but I have to be able to be done working every day at 3:30.” That’s what I told you.
“I can’t go on a lot of trips. I can’t be taking meetings with clients or customers at night very often. I can’t work on the weekends,” etcetera, etcetera. You said, “Okay. That’s fine. As long as you can produce the results, I’m willing to give it a shot.” That’s kind of what we went into the future with all of those years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Establishing those hard edges has made it possible for me to build a really fast growing, successful company but do it on six to six and a half hours a day. (Now six hours. Back then it was six and a half.) I start work at 9:00 now. I’m done at 3:00. Those are the edges of my day. I make way better choices about where to focus, and I’m very conscious about results and outcomes, not tasks and projects. I’m thinking about, ultimately, “What results does this drive?” and that makes me far more effective than I would be otherwise.
Michael: Okay. Let me ask you a hard question. I’m sure there are people who are listening to this who say, “Oh, well, if my dad was my boss… All girls have their dads wrapped around their finger. I’m sure I could get my dad to say yes to whatever it is I want to do.” But what do you say to the person who doesn’t have that, who has a boss who wants them to be working 12 hours a day, or maybe the single mom or single dad who really struggles and just doesn’t have the same kind of discretion over their time?
Megan: Sure. That’s probably most people. We always talk about this. Whenever you want to sell somebody on something… And maybe you’re not going for a 3:00 end to your day. Maybe it would be a huge transformation for you to be done at 5:00 or 6:00 at night. That would change your life if you could just be done then. You could have dinner with your family or exercise or whatever is important to you.
This always goes best when you sell it from the perspective of what matters to the other person. Usually, what matters most to your boss is not your butt in a chair 12 hours a day. That’s just a proxy for what they think it’s going to take to create results. How I would frame this up is, “Hey, I want to do an experiment for 30 days in which I work from 9:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00 every day.
What I think I can do is I can actually produce better results than the ones you’re counting on me for now if I have those hard edges, because I know I’ll be able to come to work with my best thinking, my most creative ideas, etcetera. I just wonder if you’d be willing to give that a try. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the old way, but I think I can really move the needle for the company here.”
That is a great setup to getting somebody to try something that otherwise they might not, because you’re speaking to what matters to them, which is, hopefully, the results. If you have a successful business, most bosses are oriented toward results.
Michael: Yep. Totally. The other thing I would say is just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Maybe you could negotiate for having weekends off or you can negotiate for preempting calls and emails on your vacation or during the evening. Like, stepping into your boss’ office, if your boss typically calls you in the evening, and saying, “Hey, I’m going to be tied up this evening.”
You don’t have to go into the detail about how you’re going to be tied up. Nobody cares. But you can say, “Hey, I’m going to be tied up this evening, but I just wanted to check in with you.” Maybe this is 30 minutes before you quit work. “Is there anything you think you might need from me tonight? Because I want to be available to you now to answer that question or whatever comes up later. Otherwise, I’m going to pretty much be offline, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
So, there are ways to preempt it in that way. But do what you can. Just because you can’t do everything… Just because you can’t get a six-hour workday doesn’t mean toss the whole thing out the window. No. Do what you can, and then incrementally begin to build on that anchor point.
Megan: Okay. Let’s shift gears for a second. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Okay. I’m interested in this. This sounds like it might be something I want to pursue, but how do I get started?” I want to suggest an idea to you of establishing your nonnegotiables in three categories. We get really deep into this in the book and talk all about it. This is exactly what I did. This is how I arrived at that 3:30 proposal to my dad.
We want to start by thinking about what our nonnegotiables are. Now, I’m not talking about doing everything. We all know from personal experience we do not have time to do everything we possibly could want to do, but there is enough time to do the most important things. What are those, though, for you? They vary for every single person.
Let’s start with self-care. Again, this is a performance strategy. Before you can perform at your top, you have to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally…all of those things. So, what for you are your self-care nonnegotiables? For me, that looks like… By the way, this changes season to season. When our now 2-year-old daughter was just born, she was super premature and had some medical special needs. We were in a very different place in terms of what self-care looked like, and that has gotten better over time.
It’s true with all of my kids as they’ve gotten older. So be kind to yourself if you’re in a season where you have some limitations of those kind. But for me, now this looks like I get up every day at 5:00, and part of my self-care is that I exercise every day for about 45 minutes Monday through Friday. I don’t do it on the weekends, because that’s a little crazy with the kids. But that’s really important. I also go to bed at 9:00 every night, and I get up at 5:00, because I want to get those eight hours of sleep. So, those are the most central parts of that.
I also drink 64 ounces of water every day. I’m always carrying around a cup. If you see me, I have a big cup with me all the time. And I plan my food 24 hours in advance. That is relatively new in the last year for me. I want to make a decision about what I’m going to eat throughout the day so I can make sure I have enough energy to get through my day, that I’m making the choices my future self would appreciate as opposed to the ones in the moment when I get too hungry or too tired to make good choices. So that’s, for me, what my self-care nonnegotiables look like. Dad, what does that look like for you?
Michael: For me it’s similar. I get up at 4:45 to 5:00, and same thing for me. I’m going to take care of myself spiritually first. Then I’m going to take care of myself intellectually and physically, and those two things happen simultaneously, because I’m listening to an audiobook while I’m exercising. That’s a nonnegotiable. I can pretty much predict how my day is going to go by whether or not I do that.
By this time, after decades of doing this, it’s pretty ingrained, but there are times that I miss. Last week, I happened to be sick for a couple of days, so I missed that, and it really had an impact. And that’s okay. I’m not legalistic about it if there’s a good reason to not do it, but I find that’s something that the more I can give my attention to and take care of myself… Because the alternative is to see self-care as the reward for hard work. I believe it’s the prerequisite for hard work.
Somebody brought this example up to me recently, and I don’t know who it was. I’d give credit if I could remember. What they said was if you owned a million-dollar racehorse, you wouldn’t take care of the horse only if they won. No, you would take care of the horse. You would give them the best nutrition. You would make sure they were getting the requisite sleep, and all that stuff, in order to perform on the track. That’s how I view self-care. It’s the foundation. It’s the prerequisite to high performance.
Megan: We talk a lot about this in the book, but sleep is really the foundation of self-care. If you feel like you’re way out of whack right now after 2020, I would encourage you to read that chapter about sleep, because that is the most basic of all self-care. If you’re a high achiever, you’re probably like, “Ooh, I need to exercise more.” Not if you’re not sleeping enough. That’ll only make it worse.
Anyway, I think this is so critically important. You don’t have to do everything here. I mean, maybe you’re in a season of life where a 15-minute walk and getting to bed on time are part of your self-care. Great. Build on that over the years. You’ll look back with gratitude for how far you’ve come, and it’ll be awesome.
Okay. The next area is relational priorities. This one is so important. After you’ve set the foundation with your self-care, what matters to you in terms of your priorities with the people you love? Maybe you have kids; maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re married; maybe you’re not. Maybe you have really close friends in your life or other family members you’re heavily involved with or take care of.
What do you want to do? If you look back and you know you’re not going to have any regrets looking back, what did you do? Not everything is a nonnegotiable. There’s not enough time for all of it, but what are the things that really matter? For me, that looks like I want to sit down for dinner with my kids five nights a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s fancy. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper plates.
It just matters that I look in my kids’ eyes with Joel and we talk about what we’re grateful for that day and what our best thing of the day was so we can connect and have that time around the table. The other thing is I want to pick my kids up from school, and I want to have a weekly date night. Those are my top relational priorities, and I work my schedule to make sure those are possible.
Michael: For me, it’s a similar kind of thing. I want to have dinner with Gail five nights a week. We’re empty nesters, so that’s pretty easy. One of the things we just started doing is eating dinner and then spending the evening either watching a TV show we both like or playing a game. We just started this this last weekend, and we’re loving this. We just started playing Qwirkle. Oh my gosh! Gail’s brother Karl and his wife Linda introduced this to us. It’s just a fun way to spend time together and wind down and get off the screens.
Megan: If you had told me 20 years ago that you would be playing a game in the evening, I think I would have fallen out of my chair. It’s so not in your personality wheelhouse, but I think it’s evidence that you’ve really grown and that you value this nonachievement time, like we talk about in the book, and you see its value for your performance professionally.
Michael: Absolutely. Yeah, I sent you girls a picture of us playing Qwirkle, and I said, “Never in a thousand years would I have thought that I would be sending you this picture, but here I am.”
Megan: I think we all sent back head-exploding emojis. Okay. So, we have self-care nonnegotiables, relational priority nonnegotiables, and then we have professional results. The reason this one is last is because you can’t have enough results to make up for self-care and relational priorities being out of whack, and you really can’t have your best professional results without those two things as the foundation.
When I think about this… Again, our focus is on high leverage. What professional results do you need to achieve in order to move the things you’re responsible for forward? Where do you get the leverage? Where do you really make a difference? Where do you have an impact? For me, the first thing is delivering our annual budget. That’s one of my most important responsibilities.
The next one is setting our long-term vision, and then also serving my executive team. Those are my direct reports, and they’re my number one clients. If I take care of them, they’re going to take care of everybody else, including our team and our clients and coaches and all the things. That’s really where my top three professional results are focused: on those areas. If I neglect any of those areas, then the business is going to suffer. Having that clarity is what enables me to make high-leverage decisions every day when I come into work.
Michael: This reminds me, Megan. I think when people think this is an either/or decision… You know, you can either have the professional results or you can have the personal results. The problem is that’s a failure of imagination. When you ask yourself the question, “What would have to be true for me to have both?” that sets your mind free to solve for that problem. But as long as you cave into this idea that it’s a myth… I really believe it’s a deception. If you cave into that deception that this is a myth, you won’t even try.
Megan: Absolutely. And we know from our experience and from our 700 business owner clients this is possible. It is absolutely possible to win at work and succeed at life. So, guys, I’m just going to be shameless here again, and I’m going to plug this book. You’ve got to get it. This is our heartbeat. This is the soul of Michael Hyatt & Company. It’s why we exist: to help people just like you figure out how to design their own double win, to really and truly win at work and succeed at life.
So go get a copy wherever you buy your books. Click that “Buy it now” button on Amazon before you’re even done with this podcast, assuming you’re not on the road, and then take your receipt and go to winandsucceedbook.com. That’s where you’re going to get to redeem that receipt for $500 worth of awesome bonuses that are going to help you do exactly what we’ve been talking about today: to design your own double win. So, go to winandsucceedbook.com. Don’t lose that receipt, and claim your bonuses, my friend.
Michael: I hope you guys can feel our passion around this topic. We are passionate. This is our life message, and we want you to share it. We’re not just trying to sell books. We’re trying to start a revolution, start a cultural reform, and we hope you’ll join us in it. At any rate, thank you for joining us for this episode of Lead to Win. We’ll see you next week with another great episode.