Boost business profitability with CIO Magazine-featured author Tony Bodoh’s Productivity Zone Framework. With his book, Prophet Ability, Tony reveals the ultimate secrets to succeed in business. Tony is a #1 bestselling author and the founder or co-founder of five companies ranging from customer experience consulting to small business training to television. He easily navigates the international stage speaking both at personal growth seminars as well as the uber-nerdy technology conferences. Tony writes his business blogs, personal growth essays and children’s stories. He has taught high school for one year and in the Business Department of Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee for seven years, and now coaches business executives across the globe.
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Spend More Time In Flow with Tony Bodoh
We are talking to Tony Bodoh. Tony and I met a couple years ago and I was instantly impressed with his knowledge, his ability to communicate as clearly and simplify, taking complex topics and bringing them into simplification. He has a good sense of humor and a good guy. He has an incredible background in various different coaching and training with Fortune 1000 companies. He worked for CIO magazine. The list goes on. I’ve heard you speak and you’re a great speaker.
One of the things that impressed me in your profile is it said that you are a passionate believer in the power and possibility that’s contained in each moment of the human experience to alter the course of history. That is an amazing statement because I know you’re prevalent and an expert in the customer experience space. That takes the customer experience, but it also relates back to take back time of how to utilize the seconds, the minutes, and the time that we have for ourselves with our families, with our customers and all about. That’s a long way. Welcome to the show. I’m so excited to have you here, Tony.
Thank you, Penny. It’s great to be here. Likewise, when we met, I was impressed with your perspective on how to manage time and how to be more productive. It tied so well into some of the things that I’ve done in the customer experience world that I instantly saw this connection and these ideas. I think I picked up one of your books that you recommended at that point in time. I don’t know if you’ve written more than one now.
Just one so far, but we had a framework that we used in common. My Productivity Zone Framework was the bell curve and you used that for something as well. There’s good synergy.
It’s been fun because just even watching it from that conversation where we’ve gone, both of us, it’s been cool. We’re going to have a very delightful and engaging conversation because of that.
It could go on forever so we’re going to have to reel ourselves in and we could pick a topic so that we’re not all over the place. What we chose together was to talk about flow, and there’s a lot of synergy when you chose that. Flow could also be considered like in the zone. Just to introduce this session here, so many people are focused on time and the idea of what they’re doing in their time. That’s important, but I feel that the X factor is focusing on how you’re showing up for your time. You can have the same hour in one day get a ton done in that hour and another day nothing. The idea of flow is important because when you’re in the flow, when you’re in that state, you’re going to make the most of that hour. I’m excited to have that talk about flow.
The quality of the time you have makes the difference. As you’re reading my profile there, that’s what the moment’s all about. It’s about being present to where you’re at right now and making the most of this particular moment, because there’s so much that we can do in any given moment. We can alter what we believe, we can make a new decision, we can do something different that changes the entire direction that we’re going in our business and our life. We can affect human history as we affect everyone around us in doing that.
I liked what you said about being present because when we’re not present and giving our attention, we might miss some of those critical elements that help us to make the best decision or head in a certain direction or get the most out of that time itself. Tell me, what is flow? People hear us say that, but they’re like, “What is that?”
Flow, in the technical definition of it, it’s a state or an altered state of consciousness. That sounds technical. You can use drugs to get yourself to a state similar to flow. What flow is is this optimal state of human performance. What happens when you’re in the state of flow, so this isn’t necessarily the definition, I’m describing it, you can have on average a 200% boost in creativity, a 400% boost in motivation, and 490% boost in learning, think about learning something five times faster, and a 500% boost in productivity. When we talk about taking your time back, this is the way to do it.
Flow is about you might say in the zone. An athlete just sinking every shot on the basketball court. We’re in the playoffs right now, so that’s a great way to look at it. In hockey, they’re in the zone where they’re just dodging everyone out on the ice and the puck is getting in, hopefully we see some good work here in Nashville, but it’s been a little challenging lately. Being in the zone and being able to be one with the music, to be one with the conversation you’re in, to not be distracted by anything outside of that, just being part of something bigger than yourself and being one with that thing.
You make things simple. There’s a more complicated version of a definition out there. I love that and I like the sports analogy because most people have participated in sport in some way. Maybe they were runners and they got in the zone or in that flow. I was doing a presentation and I remember talking about doing some rock climbing. In that context, I’m not thinking about the past and I am not thinking about the future, I’m even not looking up above to look at where I’m going fully.
I’m looking at what my next point is to grab a hold of. I’m very present with my breathing, with my body and physiology and also what my environment and surroundings are so that I can make the most of it. It’s a great example because if people can’t see themselves in that space at work, they can take from another environment that they can either imagine or have experienced before and look to bring it into their workspace.
It was discovered in the state of the X games, those athletes. We watched the Olympics. It was fascinating to watch the snowboarding and the ski jumping because that’s where you can see them getting into the zone. As an example, there was the freestyle ski jump that impressed me. The first two jumps they did to get to that final, they were well-practiced, but nearly everyone in that final, they were saying they’ve done this maybe three or four times in practice. They were stepping out there and doing something that they had not mastered yet. That’s part of flow, is it’s not doing what you’ve mastered, it’s going beyond what you’ve mastered. That’s one element of what brings you into the state of flow. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again. That’s not going to do it for you.
That’s deep because it’s true. When you say it’s not going to do it for you, tell me what you mean by that?
To be in the state of flow, there are three conditions that have to be met, and these are well-researched and well-documented for the last 30 or 40 years now. The first one is that you have to have a goal that is clear. You have to know where you’re going. You have to know where you’re headed to. It’s not just a goal like, “By the end of this year, I’m going to do X, Y or Z.” It’s really, “Here and now, this is what I’m going to be doing. This is what I want to achieve.” You got that clear goal.
The second thing you’ve got to have is immediate feedback. When you’re rock climbing, you’ve got to be able to know, “Am I putting my hands in the right place or not? Is my breathing in control or not?” You’re getting this immediate feedback whether you’re on course toward the goal or you’re not, and you can make those immediate adjustments. If you don’t get immediate feedback, then you start wondering, “Am I on course or not? Am I making it?”
You get into your head, out of the space that you were in. The third condition is that the challenge you’re facing and your skills have to be well-matched. What they’ll say is that the challenge has to be beyond your current skill set. There’s a little trick to this part of it. It may not be the skill set that you have, but it’s the skill set you believe you have access to right now. It’s not necessarily how hard the challenge is, but it’s how hard do you believe it is. These are belief elements there.
I’ll give you a simple example. I have a good friend and a client of mine who’s a real estate agent and she does a great job, she’s in Northern Virginia, but she has a physical disability with her nervous system. There were some days where she can’t even get out of bed. We had this conversation and she said, “Yesterday, I was on top of my game and going and today, I can’t even get out of bed.” I said, “You have to look at where you are today and you have to judge your goals based on where you are today. Not where you were yesterday, not where you’ll be tomorrow, but in this moment, getting out of bed might be the achievements you meet.” That’s an extreme example.
I’m in the middle of writing a book right now with a good friend, Betsy. I can tell you that there are moments where I am frustrated. I was frustrated because there’s a part of this book that I know I want in there and it wasn’t coming out. It wasn’t flowing for me. That emotion caught me off guard because I’m trying to get this to move, I’m trying to get the words on paper, and they’re not coming. I had to step back from it, give myself a break, do something different and then I got back into it, and the pages are rolling off my keyboard.
Everybody can relate to that, but they forget. They judge themselves that they should be achieving the same thing every day. I know a lot of people who are listening to this, overachievers, beat themselves up at the end of the day because they’re like, “I should have gotten so much more done.” Tony Robbins says you should on all over yourself. I like that.
My personal trainer used to tell me that. He said, “Everyday, you’re not going to come with the same level of the strength, different circumstances. You might not have slept as much or you might still be in recovery or whatever. Bring the best that you can for the circumstances and where you are.” How do you help people to accept where you are and understand what today’s flow might be?
The easiest way that I found is check in with your emotions, check in with what you’re feeling. If you feel in a state of overwhelm, then you’re going too far. What I mean by that is it’s one of two things happening typically. One is you’re looking at the challenge and you’re saying, “This is too big for me. I can’t do this. I don’t have the skills.” That’s the belief about the challenge side. The other possibility is that you’re trying to use habits that are not well-designed or well-suited for the challenge you are taking on. You might believe that you can do something, but you’re using old habits.
You have to raise your level of focus, and intentionally do the task at hand. What will happen is when you either reduce the challenge, you chunk it down into something smaller or you increase the focus, suddenly you can actually move into that state of flow, because you’re at the edge of what you’re capable of doing and you’re at the edge of your skill sets at that point, and then all of a sudden you need the immediate feedback. You know the goal that you’re headed for, and it starts to get you into flow.
When you break it down into small pieces, that’s getting you that goal for the here and now. It’s like, “What’s next?” versus the big goal that can get you overwhelmed. That’s one way to get yourself out of overwhelm. I also heard you say to increase focus. You can do one or you can do the other. Tell me, how do I increase focus from a flow perspective?
[Tweet “When you are in flow you are 500% more productive.”] Let me give you an example. Now, it’s a nice weather here in Nashville. If I was to go drive and pick up my daughter from school this afternoon, I probably would get in the car and start driving and I’d be thinking about something else. The radio’s on or I’m listening to a podcast or something. I’m not paying attention to driving, I’m driving out of habit. Let’s say traffic picks up and it starts raining, it’s one of those torrential spring, torrential downpours. Suddenly, I’m going to turn the radio off. I’m going to turn off my podcast. I’m going to go full in and focus on the road, the drivers around me, the cars that are near me. I’m going to slow down. That’s where I go from habitual to focus.
We do the same thing in our day-to-day life. As an example, as I’m talking here, you can tell when I slow down in my speech, I’m focusing on what I’m going to say. That raises my ability to say, “What do I want to communicate here?” I’m trying to figure out the right words to say that. Whereas if I’m talking fast, I’m speaking out of habit. I’m speaking out of things I already know. Slowing it down and putting your attention on what it is you’re doing right here and right now, that’s the focus element of it. It’s intentionally blocking out other options, other possibilities, or distractions.
One of the things that I talk about when I talk about laser focus, and maybe this relates to this a little bit, is there are three parts of laser focus. Maybe increasing your focus is one, getting connected and in touch with that goal to the next thing that you’re doing so that’s in line with what you’re talking about. Number two is making sure you’re in the mental focus. Sometimes we focus on what we don’t want versus what we want.
Mentally, we’re not there. We want it. Our goal says we want it, but for some reason, we’re saying, “I can’t.” Getting that mental side together and then the attention side of things is honing in on what we’re doing. That’s what we said in the sports thing is that you’re focusing, “Where does my hand go next?” If you’re driving in the rain, you’re going to be more conscious of holding the wheel and more conscious of what’s going on around you.
One aspect of that that’s important that people may not be aware of, what’s happening for you is that when you start to focus on a challenge that’s a little bit beyond your skill set, it causes certain parts of your brain to quiet. It’s the parts of the brain that determine your self-awareness. When you quiet this down, you’re no longer self-aware. You’re one with what’s happening or the task you’re working on because you literally become part of it from the mental and conscious perspective. The other part to it is your timeframe. How you think about time, that part quiets down as well. You don’t recognize how much time is passing. Maybe time flies by or time slows down for you because you have no relative judgment.
Literally, those parts of the brain, they’ve done the fMRI scans where they’re looking at what’s happening in the brain. They find that those two areas quiet down, which allows you to put energy elsewhere in your brain because you can only have so much energy at any given point in time processing. That’s what creates these new connections where new ideas happen or you learn a new skill set in a new way because you’re connecting new neuropathways. That’s the technical part of it, but what causes that is when you put your focus on achieving something that you haven’t quite mastered yet, you can’t do it habitually and you keep it up in that mind space of saying, “This is what I’m going to do and I know I can do it.”
I never thought about that or knew about that, that certain parts of our brain shut down and that you’re not conscious of the self-awareness, you’re one with it. It’s deep and I guess that’s also the way we are. We’re so complex and so interesting the more you learn about the science behind this. One of the things that I like to challenge people with when I ask them in the zone and I’m going to ask you since you’re the master of this, there’s always a new level that we’re putting up, I ask people, “What percentage of your time do you spend in the zone or in this case, in the flow, so that we get more aware of where we are and where we want to be?” What would you say? What percentage of your time do you spend in that flow state?
That’s a tricky question because when you’re in the flow state, you don’t know you’re in the flow state. It’s only after you come out of it that you’re aware of it. You don’t have self-awareness of time. I would say on a daily basis, on a normal day, I give myself chunks of time, probably two to three hours, where I’m deliberately in flow related to work. Then there’s also flow in relation to my kids. As an example, I’ll shut everything off and be with my kids or my wife. Maybe an additional 35 to 45 minutes or something like that with the family relationships. There are things I’m doing, like I could be cooking dinner in a state of flow. I’m not measuring or tracking that, but I would say in a given day, probably a couple hours in flow. I may be exaggerating that. I know what I block for myself, whether I’m always in the state of flow, in that I don’t know for sure.
You are a perfectionist, trying to get exactly whatever. It’s 30% or 40%.
To track it is important to boost my productivity. If I can boost that productivity more throughout the day, it would be awesome because I get more done. I can achieve more. I can help more people. They do have a biofeedback equipment now, like a headset you can wear, and it’ll track the brainwaves and it’ll tell you whether you’re in that state are not. It’ll train you with biofeedback to know if you’re in that state. If you are, you can stay there longer. I have this desire to go there. I just haven’t taken the time to get the equipment to do it.
Along the lines with the productivity zone, I have ten drivers that when you focus on them, it helps to bring you into the zone if you fall out. It’s not a scientific analyzer like putting something on your brain, but it gives you a rough idea, so that you can take yourself from whatever percentage you are to increase that percentage. The tips that you’re giving here, just understanding those three areas, to be conscious of those, have them on a sticky and to whatever the number is for everyone. I hope that you answered that question too for everybody who’s here, what percentage are you?
Whatever percentage it is, that’s great. You have the opportunity to say, “If it’s 20% or it’s 50%, how could I increase that by 10%, 5%? What would that mean to your relationships? What would that mean to your business and how you could grow your business or what kind of processes you might be able to develop?” I encourage people that this is completely a way to take back time. The more focused and directed and purposeful that you can be, the more that you’re going to get out of that time.
There’s a couple of tricks that I use that might be valuable to everyone. The first one is I’ll go through my day and I’ll pick between three and five things that are very specific things that I want to accomplish. I don’t want to call them task necessarily because it might be a project, but I know that I want to accomplish this. That’s the first thing, is I pick my goal. The second thing is that I pick the time that I’m going to do this goal. I may give myself 30 minutes or I might give myself two hours to do something. When I’m in that timeframe, there are no interruptions.
What I literally do, I will turn my phone off, turn all alerts off, shut down Facebook, do the whole works. I shut everything off. I hear a lot of people say that, but the other side to it is I turn my alarm on to know when I’m done. That little trick has helped me because I was always worried about, “Is it time yet? Is it time yet?” If you’ve set your alarm, what happens is you forget about having to stop or what time it is yet, and you allow yourself to totally go into flow. The timelessness can kick in so you don’t need to worry about it. You become selflessness, timelessness, and then the richness of information comes in.
That is key, that timer piece. This became apparent for me that when you are focused on time, how much energy it takes from you as I had to be the timekeeper. I was volunteering for a leadership program and I had to let them know when it was ten minutes before doors, five minutes before the doors open, and so forth.
I couldn’t even have a conversation without worrying about how much time had passed because I needed to call it out. It gave me this heightened awareness that we can be in that state when we’re expecting that we have to get up at a certain time if we don’t have an alarm on or give yourself that permission and free your brain from having to even think about it and it knows that the alarm is going to go off so it doesn’t need to pay attention.
Anything you can do to take a worry or a concern off your plate allows you to stay in that zone in the flow a lot longer.
One of the things here, and maybe we already talked about it but maybe not in this way, what’s the biggest enemy of flow?
The biggest enemy of flow is overwhelm. It’s that feeling like, “I can’t do this. It’s too much for me.” There is some research out there that says that when we go beyond 4% beyond our current skill sets, that’s where we might start to feel overwhelmed. We’re not thinking of doubling. We’re not thinking of stretching that far. We’re thinking of how do we do a little bit more, how do we take one more step? How do we do it a little bit faster? You were saying maybe 10% more. That’s the key, is you want to make sure that once you feel overwhelmed, you want to tune in to that. If you feel it, you want to pause, you want to back it off a little bit because that’ll get you back into the state of flow event. If you feel that overwhelm, it is going to get you off your game.
I’ve watched people and I’ve done it myself. I get into this negative emotional spiral downward where I start judging myself and saying, “I can’t do this.” Then while I’m not in the state of flow so I’m not going to be as productive, I start getting worried about that and then my time passes, I’m like, “I didn’t get done what I wanted to get done today.” It spirals out of control. The moment you start to feel, and that that feeling is overwhelm, that’s when you pause. You take a breath and say, “I went a little farther than I should’ve gone or not should have. I went a little farther than I’ve mastered. Let me pull it back a little bit and try again,” and keep bringing yourself back. That’s what that immediate feedback is, being in touch with when you feel something, then you know you’ve got to be aware of that.
It’s like a notification system. When you have an emotion like that that comes up, it could be anything. It could be anger, frustration, fear. That’s immediate feedback. Then it depends on what we do with it. Is this a similar thing? When you say take a step back, I feel like we lose perspective. Either we’re making the situation bigger or worse than it is and we’re lost in it versus when we take a step back, we can get a better perspective and ask a couple of questions about it and take that emotion away.
The moment we get back into your head and you start thinking about what’s happening, you’ve stepped out of that state of flow. You want to get yourself back to, “What can I do right now? What can I do in the next five minutes? What can I do to take another step forward in this moment?” The more you bring yourself back to the present, the more likely you are to reach your flow.
Just in itself, these couple of small and simple tips can make a huge difference in people to take back time, to be more productive, and more results-oriented. I thank you for sharing these. I know that you’ve got a new book coming out, is this one of the topics in the book? Can you tell us a little bit about your book?
We touched a little bit on this in the book. The book is called ProphetAbility. Like prophet, the days of old. ProphetAbility: The Revealing Story Why Companies Succeed, Fail, or Bounce Back. The book is about how companies need to have the three roles covered. The role of the king, which is the CEO, the decision maker, the executor. You’ve got to have the role of the priest, keeping, the order, keeping the traditions, keeping the culture alive. You’ve also got to have the prophet, the person who can see the future three, five, seven years out. They may not be the CEO, it’s often not the priest because they’re caught up with how do they keep it the way they’ve always been, but the prophet is the person who can see things differently, that can project where the future is going to be.
Who are they listening to? The prophet is listening to the God which is in business, the customer. We’re not trying to be disrespectful or anything here, but it’s an analogy that we’re all aware of. We’ve all heard the stories of the Greek Gods and the Roman Gods and the Judeo-Christian God. We have the prophets, the kings and the priests and the forces that are dynamic and fighting with one another. If we look at a company like Toys “R” Us, which is one of the examples we use in the book. Back in 2005, they went through a leveraged buyout and someone didn’t do a good job predicting what was going to happen with Amazon and online shopping or what Walmart and how Target and these other companies might react to that. As a result, Toys “R” Us is essentially dead today. They made too many bad decisions and didn’t have a profit there looking to the future to say, “What is the risk? What are the challenges that we might be facing, and how do we deal with that?
Is this like in a storytelling? How do you bring this across?
It’s storytelling and it’s also science. There’s a mix between the two. Betsy, my co-author, and I are not as established as something like a Malcolm Gladwell, but think about that type of concept where we’re doing some storytelling and then applying the principles as well. We’re trying to balance that. In essence, what the book is helping people understand is that the prophet is the person who can see the future and often today it comes down to the customer experience. A lot of my work has been, I call it from bottom up, understanding customer feedback, understanding what the surveys are, getting into focus groups.
My co-author, Betsy, she comes from the top down. She does what’s called client advisory boards or customer advisory boards where she has the CEO of a company listening to the CEOs of the companies that are buying products and services from them. They have this perspective of, “Here’s where we see our business going in three to five years.” Then with the bottom up approach that I give of, ”Where are the customers seeing their lives in one, two, three years from now?” It’s this forward-looking perspective as opposed to most customer experience or customer service today is all about, “How do I react in this moment right now? How do I solve this problem right now?”
[Tweet “Anything you can do to take a worry or a concern off your plate allows you to stay in that zone in the flow a lot longer.”] What we’re trying to help people be aware of is that that’s a path to disaster. That’s where failure happens. You will look at IBM in the mid ‘80s, that’s what they were doing. They didn’t have a prophet on board until Lou Gerstner came on board with them. You look at Toys “R” us, they’re an example of failure. You look at Apple when they got rid of Steve Jobs, they were getting rid of the profit and look what happened for the next ten years or so of that company?
When is your book due out? Is there a pre-registration or how do they hear more about you?
The book is going to come out in early summer. We’re looking probably the June timeframe, early June. We don’t have an exact date yet. The best way to find out more about the book is to go to ProphetAbilityBook.com.
Is there anything else that you want to share with our listeners or tell us before we sign off?
The last thing I’d say is get out there and try to get in a state of flow. Pick a goal that is something you can do immediately. Just experiment with it. It could be five minutes, could be ten minutes, but pick a goal that you can do right now. Give yourself something that you’ve got immediate feedback, you know you’re on course or off course and stretch. Go beyond what you’ve been able to do before. It doesn’t matter what area of life it is, but get accustomed to what it feels like to be in that state of flow, and then try it in every different aspect of your life. It’s a phenomenal experience to have and you’ll see your own productivity increase as a result.
Thank you, Tony, so much for being here and all the great strategies and tips that you provided.
Thank you very much for having me, Penny. It’s been awesome.
For all of you listeners, I want to say you have a great opportunity right now. I always like to leave the episode giving you an opportunity to take that challenge. Tony gave you a challenge. Let’s take it. Why don’t you take it for the whole week, start with one block, but then expand it? Ask yourself first this week, what percentage do you find yourself in flow? You don’t have to think about it too long and hard. Just give yourself an idea and then look how you can expand that. Be more conscious of it during the week and choose selective blocks of time to bring yourself into flow so that you can take back time, so that you can see how you can boost your productivity by 500%. That’s amazing and we want to see what kind of results you get from this.
I would love to have you share it back with us as well as to how you put these tips into practice and what they meant for your life. Remember, he also said that this is related to not just your business but also your personal life. This can be an effective resource for you in every area of your life to create greater fulfillment. I also believe that it’s not about productivity per se, it’s about the results that we’re looking to get. That means I’m ultimately creating more impact and meaning in our life and more fulfillment. Great tips on how you too can Take Back Time.
About Tony Bodoh
Tony is a #1 best-selling author and the founder or co-founder of five companies ranging from customer experience consulting to small business training to television. He easily navigates the international stage speaking at both personal growth seminars as well as the uber-nerdy technology conferences. Tony writes his business blogs, personal growth essays and children’s stories. While he now coaches executives, he has taught high school for one year and in the Business Department of Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee for seven years.