Mastering Routine for more Productivity and Inner Peace, with Greg Layton

24 Jul Mastering Routine for more Productivity and Inner Peace, with Greg Layton

My guest today is Greg Layton. Greg is the founder of Chief Maker.  For over a decade, Greg has been a trusted advisor to CEOs and executive teams of multi-billion-dollar companies around the globe.   

He’s the author of a the bestselling book, Chief Maker: How to Rise Above the Pack and Get a Seat on the Executive Team. He’s also the host of a popular podcast called “The Inner Chief.”

In addition, Greg has spent 15 years traveling the world to learn and master the world’s foremost performance techniques. From living with Shaolin monks in China, all the way to racing in desert ultra-marathons, Greg has spent a lifetime studying the limits of personal endurance, as well as finding the best paths to mental strength and peak performance.

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INTERVIEW:

Let’s get to it, Greg. Welcome to DREAM THINK DO, buddy

Mitch, thanks, mate. Great to be here.

I love it, man. All right, so I want to talk about your book. I want to talk about the power of routine, all the stuff you do for managers and leaders. But it’s my show, so I get to go wherever I want. And I want to go to the Shaolin monks you hung out within China. How the heck did that happen and what was that like?

Well, it started out as a bit of a journey. One question I’ve had since the early days is, “Who out there is an outlier in performance?” I’ve seen the Shaolin guys on the telly and even at a circus kind of show once. I always thought they were out of this world. They were sticking swords in their bellies and all sorts of stuff, but it wasn’t hurting them. So, who are these guys and how the hell do they do that?

About six months later, I started doing Kung fu feverishly where I was living at the time. Six months after that, I found myself up to my knees in snow in the mountains in a remote part of China at a very small Shaolin Monastery and academy.

I was welcomed into this little Shaolin school, and I can tell you now, it was like going back in time, it really was. The training was 1000 years old, and just nothing seemed to have changed. We trained 12 hours a day, every single day, dawn till dusk. We didn’t just do Kung fu, which I found very interesting. They started off the day with Tai Chi and meditation. Even though Tai Chi is actually a form of martial art, the training is that it was a calming process and balancing the body and the mind and the spirit to begin the day.

Throughout the day, we did everything from Qigong to power stretching and conditioning to Sanda, which is China’s kickboxing, and also Kung fu. It was dedication to your art form all day, every day.

You were there for three months?

Three months. Yeah, three months. Interesting – I was never injured, and we did some crazy stuff. An example of one of the things I do is we did this thing called power stretching. I love to tell this story. Instead of a brief, gentle stretch, you get nice and limber and warmed up. And then you’d get into a splits position, with your feet out wide.

You might. I don’t.

Yeah. I truly do. My first day there, I couldn’t do splits. I don’t know. I was reasonably flexible, but no, I couldn’t do the splits. So, I’m in this vulnerable position with my feet out wide, and my hands on the ground. So, my back is parallel to the ground. And a guy comes in, and he starts sitting on my back because he thinks I’m not deep enough into this stretch. And then another guy, because now I’m finding that like a really difficult stretch, he starts kicking my feet up.

Wow.

It gets to be such a brutal stretch that I can’t breathe. I’m in that much pain with the level of stretch; I can’t breathe at all. I’m gasping. And then you actually at a certain point, you stop breathing. And then my shifu, my master who they’ve got a few key things there. One, no cussing and no complaining. So, here you are in this moment of extreme physical pain, where you feel like you’re about to have your legs ripped out of their sockets. And he gets down on the canvas next to me and says, “Just be quiet. Just accept.” In his broken English. My God, can you imagine someone saying that to you? This is my first morning, brother. I don’t know what to expect.

I guess not.

Anyway, the trick is you got to hold it for 30 seconds because that’s about how long you can hold your breath for in those moments and then you essentially roll over. You fall back onto the canvas. But then they do that every other muscle group on you. It’s like you’re put on the rack and stretched. They have a forward stretch; then you lie face down on the canvas. And then someone puts their hands between, like underneath your shoulders, and will roll you backwards, so you’re almost bent back on yourself for full extreme stretch. By the time he got to the end, I mean, I was waiting for a muscle snap. Never once.

It’s like, “Okay, I’m out on my first day.”

Exactly. But about 15 minutes later, I felt the most nimble I’ve ever felt.

That is incredible.

Now, this is not something I’ve ever coached or said to people you shouldn’t do. I’m not certain I’ve ever really come back and done with any amount of effort. So, don’t run out over there and start extreme stretching, will you? Get some guidance from someone who knows what they’re doing. I just found it was interesting because it was counterintuitive and against everything that was going on. Within a month, I can do the splits; I could put my foot clear above my head, no problems. It was phenomenal in different training.

Incredible. In the book, Chief Maker, you tell of the first Saturday you’re there. And you’ve heard about this exercise you’re going to do. Why don’t you tell us about that a little bit? Because I think that’ll be a good segue into talking about routines.

Right. At the end of every week, there’s a run. On a Saturday afternoon, I think it’s about three o’clock because you tend to train six days a week, and Sunday, you don’t do too much. But on Saturday afternoon, it’s all on, end of the week, you go all out. I had done a bit of ultra-marathon, and I thought, “This is my time to shine.”

I got this.

We go up the hill and get to this monastery, and everyone’s going around like, “That was a bit of a hill. That was quite good.” No one looked tired, but they all look nervous. So why the hell do they look nervous?

“I got this handled, fellas, just follow me.”

The shifu turns up and gets everyone lined up. So there would be three massive flights of stairs up to this monastery, maybe 20 steps each. And everyone gets down on their hands and feet almost like a scrunched-up push-up position, what we call bear crawl. And they start crawling up these steps, up every single flight. So you crawl up 60 flights of stairs.

Don’t you realize this is not how you do stairs, people?

When we get to the top, and they turn around and go back down headfirst.

Unbelievable. I remember reading this the first time. I could hardly fathom it.

I was finished shortly after that. I was like, “Crack the beers. Let’s get out of here.” No. It was bear crawling for the rest of the afternoon. So we go all the way back down the stairs headfirst. You get to the bottom, and your front hand touches the ground, and you, stop right? You’re still down the stairs with your feet up in the air, and then what do you do? You go back up, feet first. So you’re crawling up stairs, feet first.

I am no longer centered, Greg.

So anyway they just went up and down these stairs for another 20 minutes. We’re another probably two kilometers from the top. I thought we’d go for the rest of this run. No, no, no. We bear crawled to the top.

Wow, that’s incredible.

It was freezing cold, and I thought, “What the hell am I doing out here?”

Exactly right. How easy is it to get home from here? Yeah, now. I’m done. I’m good. But I do love that you went further with the story, and even though it seemed impossible, you pushed yourself passed fatigue. But in a relatively short amount of time, you started to see a difference.

Without a doubt. But within a couple of weeks, a few things changed. One, my body just got used to the fitness of the rhythm of the day. Which tends to happen when you’re exerting yourself. It’s almost like when you go on a seven-day hike or something; the first two days are the hardest.

Right.

But then you get into the rhythm of it, and the body gets used to it. So that happened. My body physically changed. Because we weren’t eating as much as we could. We had to eat with chopsticks, and it was competitive. I put the food in the middle of the table with five other guys, and you had to literally eat as fast as you could. Now, my chopstick ability is not as good as others. So I was missing out.

Wow.

Yeah. And I got this real sense of the beauty and the art form of kung-fu. Because kung-fu for them is… It’s a metaphor.

Yeah.

They’re not there to try and hurt someone; they’re there to become the best version of themselves. And that was why I went there in the first place. I didn’t go there to learn how to beat someone up. I went there to look at what the hell these guys are doing. Mentally, physically, spiritually so they could apply it to other parts of their life.

That was one of the questions I had. What’s something that you do fundamentally different because you had that experience? What’s a way that you live differently?

Two things that have stuck with me like glue since I left there. The first is just the pursuit of excellence. That has become something that I take with me all the time. I’m always trying to learn how to just do one thing better. And practice the good things. And practice makes perfect. I think that’s easy to apply in a sporting world. But when you apply it in a business world, it has a very different application. I think that’s number one.

And then number two is having a ritual. I have a very ritualistic sort of morning. I don’t do it every single morning, but definitely, at least three to four times a week, I have a morning focus session where I sit down and get my brain back in tune. And that’s both a mental and a spiritual practice. Without it, I get lost in the world of chaos. And I almost find myself slipping down a very slippery slope or into a vortex that has an incredible pull. And that is into a world of overload and overwhelm.

That’s the beauty of being a coach and a speaker, right? You get to experience these things for yourself, but you’re also tasked with turning around and teaching others, right? You are a person that wants to live in congruence with what you are teaching. And we all know that there are people out there teaching stuff they no longer do. But you can’t do that and be congruent.

Exactly.

I love the pursuit of excellence. It’s interesting too when you say that. And one of the things that just totally resonated with me is that how easy is it. It’s easy to say you’re doing a good job, just so that you don’t lose your job. Or to do a good job because that’s your job. But it’s an entirely different thing to pursue excellence because that’s who you are. You wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s what I heard when you say that. It’s like you’re just doing it because it’s become who you are.

And I think it shifts your whole paradigm about the world. Because if you go to work and all you’re doing is just to perform and to get the job done, it brings in completely different energy, and people can sense it.

When someone’s in a meeting, and they’re pushing their agenda, or they’re pushing a result, rather than pushing excellence. And one attitude creates resistance in a room, and one creates openness and buy in. And so when I come across someone who has made excellence the core of who they are, there doesn’t seem to be any pressure from them. They’re just comfortable that they’re on their journey. They’re much more at peace with themselves because they’re in pursuit of excellence. There is not really an end. It’s going to take time.

Yes. I like that a lot.

Yeah. Actually, I think it was in your book, The Dream Job: Redefined. You interviewed a race car driver said, “The pursuit of excellence is never wasted.” I think that’s exactly right.

You’ll never regret excellence. It’s so true. I love it.

Alright – your new book has the title, Chief Maker. Describe for us, when you say Chief, what does that mean and why is that important? What are we aspiring to here?

I think a lot of people think it means I want them to be a CEO. Chief Executive Officer. But really what I’m saying is to become the master of your own life and career; the chief. Often people go to school then start on a career path. And then really all you’re doing is following the lightest and greatest opportunity that’s in front of you.

So what I’m talking about now is that step out of your career and step back from your life for a minute and regain control. Get back in the driver’s seat because right now, no one’s driving. You haven’t given yourself a destination. And that is how you’re running your career.

What I’m saying to you is step out, get out Google Maps, put in a destination.

You’re talking about a person with a career who often is working for another organization. Not necessarily themselves, but saying, “Alright, what code am I living by? What are the standards that I’m going to hold myself to and how do I master that?” And I think that there’s a lot of freedom and power in that.

Exactly. When we get you straightened out inside, then you will be on the outside. A great chief that has a magnetic call.

It doesn’t matter if you are a web developer, it doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant, it doesn’t matter if you’re CEO of a big company. The most important thing is that you are comfortable in your own skin and you are the driver of your own destiny.

Now I’m a little bit contrary in the market, but I don’t believe most people should start their own organization. I think it too often leads to more misery than they already have. A lot of people should focus on bringing their right minds at the right attitude. Just to improve on the conditions of their current job. Excellence, the number one criteria for your role, where you’ll develop and grow and make an impact. This as opposed to money and hierarchy.

We could spend hours and hours on the book, but one area that I wanted to dive into was step two which is all about routine. One of the things you talk about is P2R2. Which is; Prepare, Perform, Recover, and Review. Talk to us a little bit about this. Why is routine important? Why specifically are these elements important?  

Well, for me, never look at routines as though they are something that holds you back. Historically, we say, “oh, routine, I think about it as a bad habit.” It’s the other way around. Routine automates the pursuit of excellence. It automates growth when you get it right. But it is easy to get wrong. So if you think about that model, prepare, perform, recover, review. When you think about those different elements in your life, how good are you at preparing for something? What is the quality of your performance? How good are you at recovering?

And then there’s review. Recover and review in a business sense are the two we get wrong the most. Generally not too bad at preparing for something, and pretty good at performing. But we’re terrible at recovering. And we’re even worse at the review.

If you want to get better at something, which step is the most important? Review.

Right.

That is where you get the insight. That is where you get the learning. If you think of yourself as an asset, if I want to improve you as an asset, we have to do a review. If you’ve got a business and you’re going to improve the value of that organization, it’s only when you sit down and do the review of the data and look at the direction and the strategy you’re taking, that you actually can grow and get more value. So without good review, you’re stalled.

I love it. It is often where we focus the least because often it is also the least urgent. So it brings the most value, but because it’s not blaring, it’s difficult to take the time.

This is great because recovery and review is exactly where I wanted to go.

Because, DREAM THINK DO-ers, we know how to prepare, and we know how to perform, for sure, but I’m guessing that especially for high achievers, just like you’re saying, the recovery and review are the toughest ones. And I specifically wanted to go after recovery. I am totally busted on that one.

Let’s talk about rocking the recovery. What are some of the things that will set us up for success for true recovery? How do we do this in the real world, right now, today?

Okay. Break down recovery into two elements. Let’s go back to the mindset actually before we dive into the application. The mindset of recovery is as a weapon. If you think that recovery is taking up your time and it’s an annoyance, you’re wrong. It is a weapon. Use your recovery as a weapon. A weapon to refresh the mind. A weapon to create time and distance, so you have a greater perspective.

It’s like when you go away on a weekend, the drive back home, all the great ideas come flowing into your mind. If you don’t have that break, you will not get the great leaps of insight. You absolutely have to have it in there.

So, two types of recovery: active and passive. Active recovery is the kind of recovery you can do throughout a day. This might be as you’re about to walk into a meeting, just stop. Five seconds, do some good practicing of plain breathing. Reset your state and your composure before you fly into a meeting room. And that is a really important part. Just some nice, gentle breathing.

And you don’t have to sit down and crisscross applesauce, or whatnot, or on your knees for 30 minutes of silence. Just take a moment.

Giving yourself that, to just breathe a few times. And that is science as well. If anybody’s done it, they know the power of it, but scientifically, what it does in the body is amazing. So I totally agree.

Absolutely. The second thing is about what you just said there. What’s the science behind active recovery? One of the most powerful things you can do is get in the flow. So if you’re all day working hard on a particular report or proposal or maybe you’re preparing for a big presentation or something, the brain will eventually get fried. And one brilliant way to fix it up is to pull a whole range of the best biochemicals back into your brain so you’ll absolutely knock it out of the park. How do you do that? Get inflow.

So go for a ride, do some rock climbing, go for a run, do yoga. Anything that gets you in the zone. And getting in the zone will release all those beautiful biochemicals into the body, and it’ll create a new sense of recovery. And you get that feeling of, “Wow, I just feel awesome.” That is a refresher. That’s a bit of active recovery.

I’ve realized lately, I think there’s some importance to finding a physical activity that you enjoy. Obviously, some grueling stuff is good, whatever that might be. I think you can release a lot of creativity too to be able to say, “I will commit to finding something I really enjoy.” And that might be fencing, or martial arts, or doing something entirely different than maybe the rest of the office does. Experiencing flow in regards to active recovery, I have to wonder what aspects of that is finding something you enjoy doing too.

I completely agree with you because without the enjoyment factor you won’t do it.

And this does not to be about a “workout” mentality. You might enjoy golf. It might be a bit of tennis. You think, “Oh, it’s a bit of a work out, but it’s not as good as if I went and did a spin class at the gym.”

But it’s really important to do those other things, like tennis, golf, fencing, whatever your thing is. Play a musical instrument. Whatever. Because it’s good for you mentally and spiritually. Far above the physical games, right?

So don’t underestimate the power of those things. These are small things that make a big difference in active recovery. So if you think breathing, think getting in flow, and meditation which is linked to those two already. But just take those three things. There are other ways of doing active recovery, but if you just take those three things, put them into your routine and your rhythm on a day to day basis and you will find that you don’t get so worn out.

Yes. It’s just giving yourself those little windows to do it. Because we’re busy, we’re getting a lot done, but we can get so much more done if we give ourselves that permission to have a five minute window here or there. Or to give yourself 30 minutes to go do something. Whether we hit some golf balls or whatever. And then the meditation, too. I totally agree. What about on the passive side?

So the passive side is that trip to Fiji, right? So it’s to get away for a significant period of time. At least two to three times a year for a week. And it’s a full reset. And that means, at least, normally for the first four or five days, do not touch a piece of tech. Totally disconnect so you can just get back to yourself. And you’re generally fine. The first two or three days you want to check your phone, you want to check your emails and all this kind of stuff. But you have to resist it. You have to totally disconnect so you can get back on track.

Do some dreaming, and some thinking, and some doing. And get those little steps in place so you get your nice little strategic plan for the next quarter sorted. Then there’s good sleep. And sleep comes from making sure that you had a really good pre-bed routine. So just calming down, turning off tech, reading a good book. Just calming yourself down, preparing yourself for bed. And then sleeping as best you can. So a nice dark room and all the right principles of sleep. And get your sleep right. Because without good deep sleep, you will always be in debt.

You’ll be in physical debt. And as a result, when you get around to review, you won’t be ready.

Absolutely. Now I know you guys have twin boys, you’re getting to have that adventure. So we say do a bedtime, good sleep routine. But in the real world, what does that look like? On your best night, if you’re setting yourself up for a good night sleep, what does Greg do to maximize that? What’s your ritual?

First of all sign off. So I put my phone on flight mode from eight o’clock.

So it depends if my wife and I are watching a Netflix series, we’ll often flick it on and get one episode in around nine o’clock or something, right? But the best nights are eight o’clock flight mode all take off. We watch something on telly. Then we brush our teeth. Then what I do is I sit and do some quiet reading – something inspirational. So I might get out a book I’m reading that has cool quotes and things. And it just lets me to calm down and think about things at a deeper level. It drives me and inspires me to think differently. And it gets me out of the operations of my life. Not just my business but my life.

And just before bed, normally I’m just some deep breathing maybe to offer gratitude or some wonder at the world, what an amazing day we’ve had. And that’s it. And I’m out.

Sometimes it’s really easy to write stuff that we’re passionate about, but when we do, sometimes, we have to admit, that some things come easier to us than others. So of those four things, which is the most challenging and how do you overcome that?

Prepare, perform, recovery, review. They’re all important. You’re probably good at all of them, but for you, Greg, personally, which one probably comes the least naturally for you?

Oddly enough, it’s Prepare.

Interesting, I did not think about that. That’s interesting.

And let me tell you why: I’m a fairly impatient guy.

Uh-huh.

And I want to move onto things, and I want to get into them, and I just want to do them. So my quality component to what I do is naturally not good. I prefer to do a three-quarter job and do lots of things rather than a 100 percent job and half the number. But what I’ve found is excellence is the ladder. It’s when you do a small number of things exceptionally well. In order to do it exceptionally well, you have to take the time to do a really meticulous preparation.

So while I’m now getting better at it, I’ve never loved the meticulous preparation of rehearsing, and rehearsing, and rehearsing, to get ready for a key event. I know some people are fine with it. But to be honest, I don’t love it. It feels like it’s going over to the same old torturing. Having said that, if I’m going to give a keynote, I know that once I’ve delivered it about three, four times in front of the mirror, I know that the quality is 100 percent better when I’ve done that.

So that’s what I find, for me naturally, the most difficult.

Yeah, so for you personally then, how do you dig in? Whether it’s things you tell yourself, whether it’s routines that you’ve established, what are some of the things that you’ve done to help you prepare?

Number one is a little process. I know that I’ve got to write down the game plan. So if it’s a presentation, I develop the storyboard that I’m going to follow. And then I go through that in depth, and I write out all the little bits and pieces and make it clear. And I go through it again, and again, and again. It’s like starting out with blank storyboard boxes. I fill out those boxes until they’re full and vibrant with stories and analogy and all the right things, so it makes sense. But that normally takes three or four go’s.

When I have a presentation scheduled, I know the best thing for me is to do it in small chunks. So I’ll revisit it three, four times rather than trying to do all the preparation now because I’ll just get bored.

So what I’ll do is in my little calendar, I’ll put in writing, you’ve got half an hour to prep here, half an hour to prep here, half an hour to prep here, half an hour to prep here, so it’s just darting towards the outcome. And I know that works for me. Because the idea of sitting down and doing a three-hour preparation, that has no appeal to me.

I totally agree with you. If I give myself three-hour block, I know I’d get bored, I’d know I’d lose focus. And it’s making an appointment with yourself. And giving yourself that permission to schedule out time and make that date with yourself.

Because one of the things that I have found, in the early days if I had a little preparation thing planned in and a client called me and wanted that time slot for a meeting with me or a coaching session, I would swap out the prep. I would make it less important. Now that doesn’t happen. If something is in there and I know it needs to happen, nothing gets in its place anymore.

I know one of the things that people should check out your book, Chief Maker. It’s available on Amazon. So it’s Chief Maker: The 5-Step Blueprint to Rising Above the Pack and Getting a Seat on the Executive Team.

But I know, Greg, you also have an offer on your website as well. We were just talking about managing your time. So talk with us a little bit about your Save An Hour program.

So our Save An Hour program … In fact, if you think a lot about what we’re talking about here today is the right routines and rhythms. And one of the things I’ve found with the vast majority of people who are DREAM THINK DO-ers, what’s going on is they have an incredible amount of commitment and they don’t have an understanding of being really useful with their time. They get overloaded and overwhelmed.

This little series is just seven ways: seven ways to save an hour a day. How can you save an hour every single day by doing these little things? It’s things like how to do a really good morning ritual, how do you use mind mapping, how to prepare for meetings so when you get into a meeting it doesn’t go for an hour, it goes for 15 minutes. If you can imagine you are meticulously prepared for every meeting in your day. You knew the outcome, and you had to rehearse for it, you know the questions and the messaging that you’re gonna use. How much more prepared you would be than every other person in the room.

And so the Save An Hour series is at chiefmaker.com.au/saveanhour. That literally just goes through those save an hour. And that this three to five minutes of video plus a template. Go and do it on your own time, no problems.

Awesome.

So that’ll help people out if they’re getting a bit stuck and feeling overwhelmed anyway.

Right on, so chiefmaker.com.au/saveanhour.

Check that out, for sure. Greg, we could’ve kept going for another four hours. Thanks for bringing your awesome. And thanks for the wisdom.

No worries. Mitch, thanks so much for having me.

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. I love what Greg’s up to as well as the strategies and the stories that we were talking through. But I’d also love to hear from you. What’s one thing that stood out to you? I know, for me, even just hearing about the experience with the monks in China. Holy cow, right? I may not go to the other side of the planet and participate in three months at a temple in the mountains. But it might push me to go try something totally different. I mean, if Greg’s going to do that, maybe I can up my game too.

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know. Leave a comment at mitchmatthews.com\186 or find me on Twitter @mitchmatthews. You know we’ve got a Facebook page as well. Just Facebook.com\dreamthinkdo.

And thanks for sharing it too. Holy smokes, you guys have been sharing like crazy. So I appreciate it. When you do that, share it with the hashtag #dreamthinkdo. That way we can find you and thank you!

Keep bringing your awesome into the world because the world needs it.

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