Giuseppe Grammatico: Welcome to the Franchise Freedom Podcast. I’m your host, Giuseppe Grammatico, and today we have a very special guest. Today, we’re speaking with David Kadavy. Is that correct? I looked up the pronunciation.
David Kadavy: Yeah. Wow, you got it. Even people who say that they say, Oh, I’m your biggest fan. I want to have you on the podcast. And then they often still get it wrong somehow, which is weird because I say my name on my podcast. So yeah, you nailed it.
Giuseppe: Yeah, I saw KAD-A-VY. So I went on your website, so I definitely would have mispronounced it. So, but yes.
David: And Giuseppe.
Giuseppe: Yeah, you can’t, that’s probably even the more difficult one. But yeah, wanted just a quick bio for David. David’s a best selling author whose books have helped people be productive when creativity matters. He was a design advisor for behavioral scientists. Dan Ariely’s productivity app, where David’s mind management principles were applied to features now used by millions at Google Calendar. And he lives in, Is it Medellin? Colombia?
Giuseppe: Medellin. Very nice. That’s awesome. Well, welcome to the show.
David: Thanks for having me. It’s good to be here.
Giuseppe: Yeah. Very excited today. Today’s theme has been International. Our last guest was in Canada and now we are in Colombia. So we are traveling across the globe and very exciting stuff. So yeah, so really, really cool stuff. I want to just for you to fill in, I always ask all our guests, just to give a little bit of your background. How did you get started and what does that journey look like?
David’s Entrepreneurial Journey
David: Oh, there’s been so many different chapters to what I do. I guess the current chapter started maybe 10 years ago when I got a book deal. I never thought of myself as a writer. I hated writing as a kid. I grew up in Nebraska. And somehow I ended up in Colombia. I was this productivity enthusiast. I had read getting things done like back in 2004, 2005, I was really into it, was really into time management.
But I found as I began to try to write this book, that nothing I had learned about productivity had prepared me at all for doing this type of creative work where it’s not so much this procedure of following these series of steps. It’s arriving at these insights, arriving at creative solutions. And so I did finally make my way through writing that book. But once the smoke cleared from that process, I really wanted to look back on what had happened and what sort of patterns I saw in what it took to actually get this book written.
And so I started looking at the behavioral science, I started looking at the neuroscience of creativity and looking at how they compare to productivity and started to think about their history of productivity and how did we end up here. And that’s where I came upon this idea of mind management instead of time management. And that was years ago. But now I’m at this point where my new, that’s now a book, Mind Management,Not Time Management. That is just now out and I’m really excited to be sharing that with the world. But that’s kind of the last decade for me.
Giuseppe: Wow, so a lot going on. And yeah, I was very impressed with your bio on the website earlier and from our conversation right before the show. Talk to us a little bit more about the book because before the show we found out we’re both big fans of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. And, you know, I know myself, I’m known to my family as the organized person. And I always have lists, a list of things to do in no order. And it’s like man, I live and die by these lists. But if you could talk a little bit more about the book and if also your affiliation with Google Calendar, which I want to talk more about in a minute.
Your Head Makes a Crappy Office
David: Yeah, sure. So yeah, like I said, a huge Getting Things Done fan. I still reread it regularly. I’m rereading it right now. Actually just posted a summary of it on my podcast. Getting Things Done is basically taking all the things in your life and organizing them in such a way that you don’t have to store them in your head.
As David Allen says, your head makes a crappy office. Your head is not for holding ideas, it’s for having ideas. So it frees up this creative energy and it kind of clears the decks. And then there’s also other techniques such as time management, which was kind of what I initially was trying to do when I started trying to write my first book, which was just clear my schedule, delegate as many things as I possibly could, delegate my household chores and cooking and grocery shopping and anything I possibly could. clear the schedule.
Even looking at my contract and saying, Okay, well, I need to hit these milestones. I need to have this many words by this date. And okay, that comes out to 250 words a day. Well, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t just sit down and write 250 words and then the next day, write 250 words, and then you, that adds up to 50,000 and then you have a book. It doesn’t happen that way.
You need to actually have the thoughts behind that book. And I came to realize through doing some research, how we ended up here. Which is basically that time management is leftover from scientific management. Frederick Taylor, kind of turn of the century from 1800s and 1900s, standing with a stopwatch next to a worker who’s moving chunks of iron and saying, okay, pick up the iron this way, bend in this way, hold it in this way, move it over here. All right, now I’ve got it broken down into these movements. And these are the exact movements that you need to do.
And this is the amount of time it should take you. And given our workday, this is how many, how much iron you should be able to move. And I had productivity improvements. Well, keep that going until now we’re not in, through knowledge work, where now we have calendars, and we’re sharing each other’s calendars with one another. And there’s these empty spots on it. We’re kind of trying to fill it all up. Well, the thing is that now being productive isn’t so much about, it’s definitely not like a procedural thing. It’s not like moving chunks of iron. It’s not like stacking bricks. It’s hardly even, like knowledge work anymore.
I mean, we have AI breathing down our necks that there’s gonna be this automation revolution, there already kind of is, where if you can teach a person how to do a certain process, you can automate it, generally. And so this isn’t our edge as a human, as humans to kind of do one thing after another. Like, our edge as a human is not Oh, I can type a 50,000-word novel or a 50,000-word book in a day, cuz you could. You could sit down and type it. And that’s the part that takes a long time as far as a procedural way of thinking of things goes. But really, it’s the ideas behind it that make all the difference.
And so many of the things that we do, we live in this extremely highly leveraged world, so many of the things we do, don’t necessarily take a lot of time. You know, if you make a business deal or you make an investment, like it takes as much time to invest $10,000 as it does a million dollars. It takes as much time to write the book that sells zero copies as the book that sells a million copies. The difference is, can you have those insights?
Can you arrive at those moments where everything that you know about your problem space is all accessible and you’re able to come up with this innovative idea that within a moment, completely takes you to the next level. So that’s the thing that I’m exploring in the book. And that’s where I’m looking at it in terms of let’s create the conditions for creative work to happen. And we find that there’s a lot of these really counterintuitive things that we’ve known about, actually, for quite a while, and scientists have known about for quite a while. But nobody’s really put the pieces together so that we’re really intentionally using these things.
Just for example, a lot of us think that intuitively, if you want to do some work, you think well, I kinda want to be alert and really be sharp and be on my toes. Well, when you’re trying to be creative, that’s actually the exact opposite of what you’re looking for. In like a lab setting, people who are creative, people who have moments of insight, they’re actually maybe a little groggy. In fact, people who have damaged prefrontal cortices, which is sort of the planning, foresight part of the brain, they are like insight machines. But they can’t, they have trouble following through on that.
They can’t really, otherwise, they would be like the most innovative people in the world. But we all have maybe a time of day when we’re not, that part of our brain isn’t really working so great. For a lot of us it’s in the morning. You know, a lot of us are groggy in the morning. And so, for me as somebody who writes like, that’s extremely valuable time to me. You know, there’s not 24 hours in a day, there’s two, maybe four. And for me, that’s like in the morning, first thing, and that’s what I’m working on my creative work.
Now, in the afternoon, that’s when I’m maybe working on more administrative stuff or I’m working on maybe editing the writing that I did in the morning or I’m having a podcast conversation like I am right now. And so you start to find these rhythms throughout the day and throughout your week and throughout the year, even, that you can sort of work with and get more leverage to have those moments of insight to have a lot more impact in everything that you do. And so the book is really about trying to find and work with those things.
Giuseppe: Wow. That is interesting. And it’s actually, I’ve worked with a coach years ago and we talked about, you know, productivity times, and it’s different, you know, maybe in the morning for you, maybe in the evening for me. I remember about a decade ago when I had first started working with, it was probably my second or third coach at that point. I invested five bucks in a product called AquaNotes. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.
David: I have AquaNotes five feet from me in the shower.
Giuseppe: Wow. Well, there you go. You’re a first because no one has ever heard of it
David: Shower’s through the other wall and it’s on the wall there.
Giuseppe: That is so funny. Yeah, the AquaNotes, actually sent it as a gift to a friend of mine not too long ago. That is when I, maybe this is too much info, but oh, well. You know, it’s not, but I kind of, you know, jokingly say at night, you know, if I take a shower in the evening actually doesn’t really matter what time of day, I have the AquaNotes. In my mind, I don’t know, if it’s the relaxed state, as you mentioned, right? You’re more relaxed or you’re more just you’re not, you know, juiced up on caffeine and just ready to tackle something. And I guess just maybe the sound of the water and I get some of my great ideas.
Or if I forgot to do something, or like or maybe I should approach, you know, working with this specific franchise company, for example. And maybe I should bring this up or ask that. And it’s amazing how I get so many ideas. The problem is, I have to remember to rip that piece of paper off and bring it to me, you know, bring it to the office afterwards. But it’s a very good point. It just for some reason that just a flashed to those AquaNotes, how much they’ve helped. So I’m glad I’m not the only one buying these things.
Environments Conducive to Having New Ideas
David: Yeah, actually, it’s funny that you mentioned having ideas in the shower because that’s a really common thing that people notice or report. And I actually talked to one of the leading neuroscientists in The Neuroscience of Creativity, John Kunos, he was actually on my podcast years ago, episode eight, and he did talk about the shower in that. And he did mention, the state of relaxation, you got like warm water, there is sensory deprivation. Maybe your eyes are closed for a certain bit of time.
There’s also this white noise effect. Studies have shown that around, I think it was around 70 decibels of kind of indistinct noise is optimal for idea generation. And also, it’s, you know, you don’t have your phone in front of you, you don’t have, you’re disconnected from all these things and so it is really the perfect place to have great ideas. And yeah, having a place to write down your ideas when you do have them and being able to trust that, okay, you have this idea, you write it down in your AquaNotes, and maybe you forget to bring it to your office today but you kind of have a process. Maybe you just getting things done, where you go through your inboxes.
And every you know, every Sunday or so you have your checklist of Oh, I need to process my AquaNotes. You go in there, and then you see what’s on there and then you put that in the appropriate place and you eventually address it. If it’s not, it doesn’t have to be, you know, you do it today thing, but it’s important to be able to capture those ideas when you do have them. And a place such as in the shower is actually a great place to have ideas.
Giuseppe: So if I asked my wife to move my office to the shower, I’ll probably get a weird look, right? I mean, that’s, we’re always thinking of new things, the next book.
David: You know, but I think that should be accepted. Actually, you know, I’ll share something much, much stranger than having ideas in the shower, which is that I have a habit every morning, where I have a little portable word processor that sits next to my bed. It’s in my nightstand. It’s called an AlphaSmart. And it’s basically just a keyboard with like an ugly old school calculator screen on it. Holds maybe four lines of type on it, and they don’t really make them anymore.
They’re mostly used to teach typing in grades schools or high schools or whatever. You can get them used on Amazon for 30 bucks or something. I’m on maybe my fifth one because I keep breaking them. But it’s, I keep it in my nightstand. And every morning, I have a habit, and that is before I even open up my eyes and I sleep with a mask on so it keeps it dark, sensory deprivation, I just reach in the nightstand drawer, I grab that portable word processor and I type at least 100 words on it. It can be anything.
It can be a dream that I just had, it can be a thing that I’m thinking about. It can be, there’s, anything goes. And I have wonderful ideas during that time. And actually, you don’t even have to speaking of the AquaNotes and writing things down, I actually delete everything I wrote as soon as I’m done with that habit. Just because it’s really about exercising ideas, giving those synapse fires a chance to happen, and then later the good stuff resurfaces.
Giuseppe: That’s very interesting. Yeah, I do that with the voice recording on my phone on occasion. So I’ll do the voice recorder and, you know, then I’ll email to myself. And then once a week, I’ll go down and download them all and kind of go through there because you have some great ideas. And if you don’t write it down, or, you know, use that voice recorder, I’ll forget five minutes later. So it’s a, I’ve lost a lot of good ideas.
David: Speaking out loud is is another great way. Like, I mean, just having conversations like this, I often have ideas where I talk about things and then I later listen to it again, like oh, wow, that’s actually, I should write that down or do something with that. And I think this is one of the realizations that we need to have as we move into this sort of new age that I call the creative age where creativity suddenly is incredibly important.
Which is that we need to be able to have these ideas and we have some old ideas about what work means. Like, you need to be sitting at a desk, you need to be in a cubicle, you need to be in this environment. That is not good for having ideas and you shouldn’t be talking out loud and you shouldn’t be moving around. But whatever works for you. I mean, I do a lot of my best brainstorming in my hammock. And it really just depends what you’re trying to do in any given moment.
Speaking of no pun intended, speaking of talking out loud, I’ve done a thing where I’ll put in my iPhone earphones and go for a walk in the neighborhood and I don’t even bring my phone with me. I just like to tuck the cord in my pocket and I’ll just start talking out loud. And so I’m wearing the headphones so that it looks like I’m talking to somebody on the phone but I’m really just talking out loud.
Giuseppe: I like that. Yeah, and right, if you didn’t have those headphones you’d be looked at and get some funny looks.
David: Yeah, and I mean, and also who cares about that, but like I feel more comfortable. Like, you know, knowing that people think I’m talking to somebody. So
Giuseppe: Right. That’s funny. So I had a question for you. So behavioral, you had work with Dan Ariely, behavioral scientist and it just sparked a, years and years ago, I was in the investment world so this is going back 2000, probably 2001, 2002 I believe. I remember his investment firm, it was behavioral science, it was mutual funds launched. You know, taking the behavior, taking the panic and all the other emotion and things like that from the portfolio managers and investors.
I always thought that was interesting. And when I saw your bio, I was like, wow, I, you know, haven’t heard about behavioral science in a while. Can you talk to us a little bit more about, you know, behavioral scientists and the project and the app that you had sold to Google to be utilizing their Google Calendar because as we were talking, I live and breathe by Google Calendar. My entire family does. So we’d love to learn a little bit more about that.
The Inception of David’s New Book
David: Yeah. So as I was saying, when I wrote my first book, it was this incredibly difficult task. And I sort of look back on that, and I came up with this idea of Mind Management, Not Time Management. This was 2012. And I wrote a blog post about it. And something like, I think of it a year and a half later, I get this email.
And basically, there’s this behavioral scientist, Dan Ariely. He wrote a book called Predictably Irrational. He studies irrationality, how there are all these behavioral biases, much like you saw in the investment world, which is like, everybody’s working off the same information. So you’re not going to get an information edge. And so I think it’s what, it’s like alpha versus beta, right? And so the, one of the ways that you can have an edge is to actually understand human behavior.
And so anyway, he studies that stuff. And apparently, he had seen my blog post and liked it and was working on this new productivity app and it was called Timeful. And they were using machine learning AI to come up with this kind of new twist on the calendar and asked if I wanted to help work on it I have a background as a designer. I worked in Silicon Valley for a number of years as a designer. And then I had this behavioral scientist, behavioral science interest and productivity background and this idea of mind management instead of time management.
So I agreed to work with them as an advisor. And I advised the design team, met with them regularly and helped you play with the product and try to get this philosophy of managing your mind and your energy instead of your time into the product that we were working with. Now, another year and a half later, I got an email and it said, Oh, please sign these documents because Google is buying the company. So it was a surprise. I didn’t know that that was happening. But anyway, I signed the documents and then Google bought the company.
And so they have taken a lot of the IP, the, some of the machine learning stuff, some of the AI things that we had incorporated into this calendar app. And they’ve incorporated some of those things into Google Calendar. Not everything. One thing that you might see is there is a feature called Goals and that’s basically, if you, say you want to go jogging. You tell the app, I want to go jogging three times a week, and the app will use machine learning to decide and propose to you a good time for you to go jogging based on your schedule, based upon the patterns in your schedule, which should also follow patterns in your energy.
And basically, it shows up in your calendar and then you have to reject it. And the way this works from a behavioral standpoint is that it is a lot harder, once something’s on your calendar, people tend to follow it. If you have, if you want to get yourself to do some sort of habit, put it on your calendar and you’re much more likely to do it. However, the part about putting it on your calendar is difficult from a behavioral standpoint. You’ve got all these decisions to make about where to put it and you kind of don’t want to make the commitment because that means that you’re going to do it.
But if there’s kind of an easier decision to be made of just oh, this is the number of times a week I want to do this, this is about how long I’m going to do it and then the calendar, you know, puts it on your calendar for you and then you have to reject it, well, then that just makes it a little more likely that you’re actually going to follow through with the behavior. So just one example about how using behavioral science knowledge in a tool that you use to organize your life can help you do things that you would like to be doing, but that aren’t so easy to motivate yourself to actually do.
Giuseppe: Right. Wow, very interesting. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the goal option. So I need to take a look. Yeah, that’s
David: Yeah, check it out. It’s on the mobile app.
Giuseppe: On the mobile. Gotcha. I need to check that out. So that is my project for tonight. Yeah, very big fan. And this is really, really cool. I can say I spoke today with someone that had some input with Google Calendar. It’s kind of cool. Switching gears a little bit, entrepreneurship, you know, we had kind of talked about in the beginning, how you almost stumbled or accidentally got into entrepreneurship?
Can you, you know, for everyone listening in, we have a lot of people that are in transition or thinking of leaving their jobs or have been forced out of their jobs due to the pandemic and have always kind of thought about business ownership. Can you talk a little bit about that, you know, that journey and maybe some advice if you have any, for people looking into, you know, owning their own business.
An Accidental Roller Coaster of a Career
David: Sure. As I said, it was kind of an accident for me. You know, I studied graphic design in college. I wanted to be a famous designer. I wanted to work at, you know, some ad firm or design firm. And there was always something off whenever I went to an interview because I always had a wide breadth of skills, I’m very curious, I like to take on a lot of different things and learn about a lot of different things. And all of the job positions I was looking at were very constrained. Like, you just, you only want me to like, make brochures and illustrator all day. I don’t understand.
Like, I can do so much more. I can make the website, I can do all this other stuff. And it never really felt quite right. But I did end up getting a job at an architecture firm back in Omaha, Nebraska where I had grown up and I worked there for a few years, but during that time I was on the internet, reading all these great blogs that were out there. A lot of these blogs were about getting things done, actually. And I thought, Gosh, I would, I should start a blog. I wanted to get out of Nebraska. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t really know how to get out. I was stuck in a great cubicle.
And, you know, one night I just got the courage and said, Well, I’m going to just get a post out there and start a blog and get a post tonight. And I went on to blogger.com at the time, and I just, you know, went through the whole process. It was trying to get me to pick a template and all this stuff. I’m just like, No, okay, just do it. And so I wrote this terrible blog post, a run-on paragraph, it’s got a misspelling, it makes no sense.
But in it, I’m saying, you know, I don’t know why I’m doing this but hopefully, I’ll be able to inform a little bit about web design. I don’t want to paralyze myself in, you know, not at least getting started here. And that was 16 years ago. Kadavy.net is the name of the blog. And within about a year of that day, I kind of got discovered by a startup in Silicon Valley. And through the help of my blog, I ended up getting a job there. So mission accomplished. I got out of Nebraska, I moved to Silicon Valley. I didn’t really know that much about Silicon Valley at the time.
I remember the founder was talking to me about VCs and venture capital and how he’s raising money. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just wanted to get out of Nebraska. And I happened to end up in Silicon Valley. And it turned out to be a really great experience because something really jived well with, you know, the entrepreneurial spirit, believing in your ideas of being very curious about a lot of different things.
And it was really a wonderful experience. I worked for a couple different startups. But then after being out there, I felt like I had kind of gained a lot of confidence being out there because in Nebraska growing up there, if you have like a weird idea, the furthest it’s going to go, you’re going to talk about it. You know, this is pre-internet. I’m sure it’s very different now. But first, you would go at the time is you’re going to talk about with your friends over a pitcher of beer or something and nothing’s going to happen. But in Silicon Valley, if you talk about an idea, people will pressure you to actually do it, or they would at the time, at least.
They would make you follow this idea. It happened to me numerous times. So I had gained that confidence but at the same time, there was something about this sort of venture capital scale entrepreneurship didn’t really work with me. I wasn’t really interested in hiring a big team. I wasn’t interested really in raising a bunch of money. You know, it was the social internet was new, things like Facebook and MySpace back then even. And I even tried to start a startup in that space.
And the economics didn’t look so good. And we can see the results of that with the, you know, attention economy that we have. Things like the social dilemma, that documentary that’s on Netflix. Anyway, it didn’t really all feel quite right. So I decided I need to get away from this bubble here. I need to find a place where I have the time and the space to just explore my ideas. And so I left Silicon Valley in the middle of the bubble. 2008, you can imagine the opportunities that were in front of me.
I wasn’t interested in them. So I moved to Chicago and I rented an apartment, a two-bedroom apartment for the price I was paying for a tiny bedroom in San Francisco. And I just gave myself time and space to experiment. And my basic idea was freelance for 10 hours a week for some Silicon Valley companies, make a decent hourly rate, spend the rest of time exploring ideas. Well, after about three years of that, that was the time when I wrote a blog post and it became very popular.
And a publisher reached out to me and said, Hey, this is really good. Would you like to write a book about this? It was a book called Design for Hackers. Basically, teaching design principles to software developers. And that was kind of how I got to at least the point where I had that book deal that I was talking about at the beginning of our conversation.
Giuseppe: Wow. What a journey right?
David: Yeah. And if I could bring it down to advice, I would say that, and maybe this isn’t gonna work for everybody but this is the thing that was important to me was during that time, you know, that was when Steve Jobs was really big the. You know, everybody wanted to be Steve Jobs. And that can be dangerous. We saw what happened with Theranos with that like massive fraud, basically just trying to be like Steve Jobs in the medical industry. That can be a problem. But, you know, if you look at the principles of what he followed and apply that to whatever it is that you do, then I think that that can be quite powerful.
And he’s, there’s this wonderful talk that he did at Stanford for the commencement address, I think it was 2005 or 2006. I watched that talk over and over and over again in those early days when I really had no idea what I was doing, except that I was going to do my own thing. And the most powerful ideas from that, I think, were one, this idea to really just follow your curiosity unapologetically.
And the fact that your curiosity will lead you to these places that you would never expect and that you would never plan to go. So for Steve Jobs, that was, he was dropping in on calligraphy classes at his school. He dropped out of school, he just started dropping in on classes. And one of them was a calligraphy class. And he learned about how to like draw pretty letters, right? And it made no sense for him to do that. There was no practical application for him to do that in his life at the time, but he was very curious about it. He was just taken by the beauty of these letters, taken by the beauty of this art.
And when he and Steve Wozniak were building the Mac, he built all that type of graphic detail into the personal computer. And so it was the first computer to really have beautiful typography, an optically space typography. And so it just goes to show that when you’re curious about something, you can find yourself in places that you never would have expected to go. You become quite good and interested in those things. But then some opportunity comes along where you can apply that.
And when that does happen, you end up in this place where you’re kind of untouchable. And as Steve Jobs presents that lesson is that you can’t move, you can’t connect the dots moving forward, you can only connect them moving in reverse. So you have to have that confidence and belief that if you follow your curiosity, things are going to work out eventually. So that is really been my number one thing over my last 13 years of being on my own.
Giuseppe: That is very true and very interesting. I appreciate that. So if anyone wanted, I mean, I know you have the website but if anyone wanted to reach out, is that something can they reach out to you directly if they, you know, listening to this show and inspired to ask you a question or, you know, just kind of a follow up to this episode. How can they go about reaching you?
David: Yeah, the best place to do that for me is Twitter. I love Twitter, I’m very accessible on Twitter. I’m there every day. @Kadavy is my handle there. I know a lot of people are on Instagram or LinkedIn or Facebook, but I don’t really pay attention to any of those. Twitter’s my place.
Giuseppe: Perfect. So we’ll put that in the show notes. David, anything that you’d like to kind of end the show with? Anything we didn’t cover?
David: No, I think that we covered a lot of cool stuff. This is, you know, the thing that’s important to me right now is trying to help people be productive in a way that actually helps them be creative as well. So check out my book, Mind Management, Not Time Management. If you want to hear some of the ideas that are in that book, I’ve shared a lot of them on my podcast. Podcast is called Love Your Work. You’ll find it exactly the same place that you’re listening to this podcast.
Giuseppe: Awesome. Well, listen, David, I really appreciate it. This has been, definitely one of the more interesting calls, you know, shows I should say. And yeah, I would look forward to following up on this. We’ve been getting some really positive responses on the last shows and I’m sure we’ll get twice as many on this one since we covered quite a bit and this is a very interesting area for myself. So once again, I really appreciate you being on the show and I look forward to catching up in the very near future.
David: Great, Giuseppe. Thank you so much.
Giuseppe: Great. Thank you, David.