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How to Build Strong Connections in Virtual Teams with Andy Cahill

Andy is the Founder and Lead Coach in The Mindful Creative. He has more than 15 years of experience working in education and public services, inspiring people to be their best version of themselves.

He is an advocate of remote working and coaches groups and individuals virtually helping them build resilience and to activate their full potential.

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Life Coach

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. This podcast is a podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. I am your usual host, Luis. And today, with me, I have Andy Cahill. Andy is a leadership coach and high impact facilitator, and he’s here with me today to discuss what else remote work and leading people remotely. Welcome to the show, Andy.

Andy Cahill:

Thank you, Luis. The pleasure to be here. It’s great to meet you.

Luis:

It’s awesome having you. So we are living in a special moment in human history. I wish it was special for better reasons, but it’s coronavirus world out there. There’s a COVID-19 panic sweeping across the world. The pandemic is real. I am here in Portugal where it is indeed very real and has been very real for the past couple of weeks and a lot of companies are going remote. What do you think about that?

Andy Cahill:

I think a lot of things about that, Luis. Yes, you’re right. It is a unique moment-

Luis:

Let’s take it one at a time.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, let’s take it one at a time. That sounds great. I read somewhere recently that trees… This might’ve been in the book, The Overstory by Richard Powers. So this is a wonderful book for people to read about how we are deeply interconnected in nature. And in that book somewhere, he refers to the idea, the fact that trees which grow in rings and layers, you can understand what happened to that year by looking at how the ring of the tree, if you were to cut it open and make a stump, you could look at how the ring of that tree is. And one remarkable thing is you can actually tell, for instance, when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, really terrifying, scary moment that everybody felt on the world stage. Certainly, first and foremost, the people of Japan, but that moment is marked in the record of every tree around the globe, or at least maybe every tree within a certain radius.

And in that same way, we’re living in this moment that I think all of us are going to look at our lives right now to look at recordings and podcasts, to look at blog posts that we’re writing, to look at how organizations shifted and restructured. This is going to be one of those moments, where when people look back 100 years from now, they’re going to see the ways in which COVID-19 and our years around the virus or the realities of the virus and also our creative responses to the virus all kind of show up all at once in this moment. So it really is a remarkable time, a scary time, yes. But also, a remarkable time for us to think about what does it actually mean for human beings to connect to each other and work together when we literally are not allowed to be physically with each other.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a great question. I assume you’ve thought a bit about it over the past couple of weeks. What are some insights that you got in that direction?

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. So I have the good fortune of working with individuals from many walks of life with leaders, with entrepreneurs, with change makers, people who are up to something big in the world. And to a tee, everyone right now is sitting with that question, what next? The world that we knew might not ever come back. So we have to be experimental. We have to try things out. I don’t think there are any guarantees right now. But in my mind, that’s actually underlining a reality of life, that in fact there are never any guarantees and things that we assume are predictable often aren’t. So one insight that I’ve been thinking a lot about is how do we help ourselves become more adaptive and creative in the face of uncertainty because that’s a useful skill, not just in this heightened moment of tension and uncertainty, but frankly in any space where anyone is trying to navigate complexity.

And if we’re going to build businesses and run initiatives that impact more than just the people we can see in an office building, but rather people who are spread out over the globe, we got to think really intentionally about what does it mean for me to meet with someone or to meet someone for the first time like you and I are in a way that balances the scales a bit. I can only see you from about the chest up, but I can also on the flip side see into your world, I can see this your room and your listeners can’t see this. But you’ve got this wonderfully decorated apartment behind you, or living room behind you with books and paintings and figurines and your cat. So in someways I’m-

Andy Cahill:

In someways, I feel like just by seeing you in your space, I’m getting information about you that I wouldn’t get if we met on the street or in an office room. So I guess my big takeaway is that it’s just different. And in those differences, we can be really mindful of what we pay attention to and how we pay attention. And the possibilities for creation, for new ideas, for connection, it’s all still here, at least for those of us who are privileged enough to be able to have access to an internet connection into a video call.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah, for sure. I have a question about that. I followed a bit of your work recently. I know that sometimes you work with groups of people, am I correct?

Andy Cahill:

That’s right.

Luis:

Okay. So I have a big challenge with working with groups of people through video conference. I always get this feeling that I don’t get when I have everyone around the physical table, which is that when two people are talking, the other people in the call are wasting their time, or we are wasting the time of the other people in the call. What are your feelings about this? Am I wrong? Am I right? Is there a way to solve it, if I’m right?

Andy Cahill:

There is a way to solve it. But I want to just step back. Have you ever, Luis, been in an in-person meeting where it feels like some people they’re not paying attention?

Luis:

Oh, yeah, for sure. I see your point. I would pause it. That happens in way more in virtual meetings and in-person meetings, right?

Andy Cahill:

I think that’s a fair assumption. I bet if we gathered some data on that, we’d see that. It’s a lot easier to check out. Well, you’re pretending to be checked in on a virtual meeting, but of course the truth is that people can pick up on it right away. I was just on a call with someone the other day and I asked them a question and it was like they weren’t even there in the space. We were in a virtual call just like this. And then I could actually see in their glasses, I could see that they had a window open that wasn’t the video screen. So it’s just easy, it’s so easy, it’s so frictionless to go, “Oops, let me open this window, or let me open that window.”

So I think that the approach is the same as an in-person meeting. You just have to make some of the invisible visible. And ultimately, it’s on each participant upholds the commitment for what a really great meeting is. But it starts with the person who’s hosting the meeting. The person who’s hosting the meeting doesn’t invite people into that discussion of what commitments are we going to make while we’re here together? Are we committing to closing out our email applications? Are we committing to minimizing or closing our internet applications? Are we committed to turning off those intrusive notifications that pop in and really being in this meeting? And the beautiful thing is that leaders who structure meetings like that, whether in person or in virtual, the meetings move more quickly. People are much clearer on the so what of the meeting? “Well, great, we’re meeting to do this.” “So what?” “So what is X, Y, and Z.” This is the outcome or objective of why we’re meeting.

And as a result of those clarities, people are willing to make a commitment to show up with a lot more presence and focus. I think that’s just true in person or virtual. And when you’re in virtual, you just have to be willing to state very clearly that these are the rules of the road and to let people know in whatever way you can, maybe if you don’t call them out the group, but to connect with people and let them know like, “Hey, Luis, I just wanted to check in at our last meeting. It seemed like you weren’t really present. Was there a fire that you were trying to put out? Tell me what was going on.”

Luis:

I usually find that the fault does not lie with the people that aren’t listening. I find that the fault usually lies with the people that are talking, meaning that they usually talk. It would be the equivalent of turning to one person in the crowd table and talking directly at them instead of including the whole table in the conversation. And I also find that it’s hard to keep people on topic on these meetings. Let’s say that we’re talking to my cat, Jessabelle. Let’s have a three-person meeting. Well, the three sentience being meeting right here, right now. And we are here to discuss remote work, but then I get into the weeds with you. Instead of just discussing remote work and the things that we come to discuss with the podcast, we actually get discussing the figures that I have on the background.

And it can be tangentially remote work related. You can say, “Well, Luis, how does your space affect your remote productivity?” And then we start having it back and forth like thread, a conversational thread that is about, “Well, I put things here, and I put things there. And this helps me do remote work better because etc.” And Jessabelle is just checking out because she was here for a more broad conversation and doesn’t really care about how we get better focus by organizing our figurines.

Andy Cahill:

Yes, your insight is spot on. Oftentimes, particularly if we are the person responsible for let’s say a meeting, how we show up for that meeting and what we model for the meeting is the most important element.

Luis:

So what’s a good to model?

Andy Cahill:

What’s a good way to model? Is that your question? What’s a good way to model?

Luis:

Yes.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. I’ve been hosting these three online circles right now because my sense is that people are hungry for connection. And so far, that’s proven true, people are showing up and having conversation. One of the things that I model for people is real clarity about how the technology is mediating our connection. So, for instance, if there are six people, I might say each of us is seeing this collection of six people in a different way. You’re seeing your version of our six, I’m seeing my version of six. But what we’re going to do right now is just make in our minds a circle so that we’re all sitting around the same table. So, Luis, I see you first, Jessabelle, I see you second, Peach, I see you third. These are Luis’s cats, for anyone who’s not clear. And Andy, here I am four. So that’s our circle. Does everyone see that? Good.

And then let’s say the conversation starts going, I say, “Okay, we’re just going to go around in order and share, and Luis shares and Jessabelle shares, but then I notice that Jessabelle says something and you want to jump in. Now, if it’s appropriate for there to be crosstalk, then my job as the facilitator is to let that happen and support it and then bring it back to the topic if it goes on a tangent. If on the other hand in this setting, there shouldn’t be crosstalk, I might just say, “Luis, thanks for jumping in. Can you table that until we get to you?” So I’m being really clear about the rules of the road for people so they can see them in action. And people see that I’m going to make sure that if Jessabelle is getting cut out of the conversation, that I see it, I notice it, and I bring it in.

And what happens eventually is one of two things. Either people start to trust you to hold that and so then they can just let go and relax and they don’t have to worry about holding the complexity of like, “What if Jessabelle’s video starts to drop out?” I might just say, “Hey Jessabelle, could you turn off your video and just go on audio for a few minutes? Your internet connection seems to drop.” I can hold that, or the other thing is that people start to do it for each other. And that takes more time. That’s not going to happen in the first meeting or the fifth meeting. But if you keep meeting and you have very clear ways of meeting, then eventually you as the leader have modeled it and other people will start to do it. I start to jump in and go, “Andy, remember the rule. It’s Peach’s turns to talk right now.”

So it’s really important that we’re crystal clear about turning the virtual space, making those limitations into opportunities for structure and process so that some people aren’t like, “Ah, I can just go on mute and surf the internet because who knows when I’m going to get a chance to talk. Andy just keeps talking, talking, talking, I’m never going to get a chance in edgewise. I think that’s a really important example.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah, for sure. And that is a good structure. Thank you for sharing with us. I’m curious, I am not aware of what was your process before the current COVID-19 situation that now obviously we’re all working remotely. I was working fully remotely because all of this. So I usually say to people, “I’m slowly realizing that quarantine for me was my previous lifestyle. I barely had to change anything.” But what about you? Before this, was your business run mostly remotely, minorly remotely, remotely every now and then? How did this change things for you?

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, I feel really fortunate and that I was already mostly remote. I work primarily with one individuals and teams. And when I started the business, it just became clear to me that we would all get a lot more efficiency out of our days and our time together if we didn’t have to worry about travel and in-person meetings as much. So that was just more. I made that decision primarily from a place of efficiency and impact. I could reach more people more regularly if we took out the hurdle of travel time and location scheduling. And all you need is a link and an access to the internet and a webcam and you’re ready to go. And in fact, some of my clients I just do phone calls with because they might be in a place where they… Couple of my clients are CEOs of smaller companies, really busy. They’re doing a lot and they’re going to walk from point A to point B. “All right, let’s have our coaching call during that time.” And it turns out you can do quite a bit over the phone.

That said, I’m also in Boston a lot and I have access to a coworking space in Boston. All of that’s closed down right now. So there’s like the sense, “I could go somewhere if I needed to, or if I had to have it in-person meeting, I knew where it was going to be,” and that has just all gone quiet. So there’s an increased intensity around filling the day the right way and not just getting caught up in emails or small to-do items and really doing the high impact stuff becomes that much more important.

Luis:

Nice. Awesome. So in a previous life, I had the coaching certification. And when I was taking my certification, one of the points that my teacher has imprinted upon me the most was the need for rapport. Now, rapport is definitely possible in a video call. I think we have pretty good rapport. I may be wrong, but that’s the feeling I get. So it’s definitely possible, but it is harder. What was the story in your mind that you were telling yourself when you decided that, “No, I am going to do this. I am going to do this from home, I’m going to do this remotely. I’m not going to be flying around the country coaching people”? It would certainly be a possibility. A lot of people do that. But tell me about the day where you realized that the pros outweighed the cons and what does that look like?

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, that’s a great question and a great insight and very cool. Real quick, I’m curious, what was the coaching program? What kind of coaching were you focused on?

Luis:

It was personal development coaching. It was many, many years ago. It was like, “God, nine years ago.” I did it in Lisbon. It was a coaching masterclass with Daniel. I don’t remember the name of his company. Again, it was almost a decade ago. It was re-something.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. But rapport was a really central piece of that training, it sounds like.

Luis:

It was.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, which of course is a powerful… whatever, if you’re in any work that involves interacting with other people meaningfully, influencing other people, negotiating with other people, rapport is critical. So what was going through my mind, just honestly a big piece. I’m a father of one, soon to be two. And I had a question mark in my head about will this be as impactful? But then I started talking to other coaches who did mostly virtual. And then I started doing it myself, and I started working with my own coach, mostly virtual. And well, there’s no doubt that there’s something special about in-person. I can think of one client in particular who we met mostly virtual, and then we met once in-person, and she had a huge breakthrough in that in-person session.

And I don’t know if that’s because she was ready to have the breakthrough or because the in-person element was enough to push her over. So I will absolutely acknowledge that we are three-dimensional beings who read not only words, but actually more body language and energy and all of that stuff. And when I say energy, I mean that really literally, like the neurochemical energy of our nervous systems in action. We’re attuned to that. The brain is the only organ that regulates socially. All of our other organs self-regulate internally, but our brain is constantly checking against other people. So it just comes with some trade-offs. The thing I’m learning is virtual, in someways, makes some people feel safer to share things that they might not share in person, and other ways, virtual makes it harder sometimes for people to really plug in and go deeper when they might in person.

And so my job as a coach, I see it. It’s just that much more heightened. I’ve got to be that much more present. I’ve got to be listening that much more deeply. I might start to talk and they’re about to talk, and I just stop and say, “Were you about to say something?” There’s a bit more of that interruption and stuff and just letting it be okay is a first step. And what I’ve discovered is, I don’t know what the ratio is, but it feels like you can get 95% of the way there and 95% of the way there is a whole lot better than 0% of the way there. So I’d rather be a coach who’s having an impact on someone, even if it’s at 95% out of 100 versus 0 because I’m not working with anyone because I’m only going to do it in person.

That’s where I come down with it. If I had infinite time and I could somehow both travel all over the world and spend the time I want to spend with my family, then I would probably do that. But that was the trade-off I made. And my clients seem to still be really happy with what’s possible in a virtual space. So I think we really can build rapport like you said. It just has to be a commitment we make to each other to build rapport. Otherwise, it’s easy to check out.

Luis:

Yeah, we need to teleportation, then we wouldn’t need the airlines.

Andy Cahill:

Yes, oh, boy. Listen, man, talk about the future of remote work. I’m also a science fiction author. That’s a labor of love. I do it because I love it, I’m not getting rich doing that.

Luis:

Tell me about it. I’m a science fiction writer, tell me about not getting rich doing that.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. But listen, we all got to do stuff that we love. If you find something you love, then the money comes or it doesn’t. But the money is a problem that you can solve for. And the more important thing I find is that when people are spending time on things they love, they get energy for the stuff they need to do.

Luis:

Absolutely.

Andy Cahill:

I think that’s a big insight I’ve had. There are already people who are working with technologies that allow for a day when I could appear as if we’re in the same room together, holographically. That sounds science fiction, but it’s not far off in the future. At least from a tech perspective, we’ll see if someone can make it at a scale that can go to market and make it in a way that people will pay for and buy into. But it’s totally possible that we might get to a place using holographic technology, or augmented reality, or virtual reality, where it feels as good as if not better to meet someone across the globe using this technology. I’m totally open to that as a future state. And I think that’s-

Luis:

Have you tried virtual reality?

Andy Cahill:

I have, yeah. I have. A friend of mine worked for many years for video game company that was moving into VR. And he also is a musician and an artist and so he started developing his own VR games for fun. And it’s cool. It’s not there yet. Yeah, but it’s cool. It’s like, “Okay, if this is a proof of concept, then the possibility for immersion is not out of range because there’s a sense of depth and a sense of movement and a sense of space that isn’t there when you’re just playing a game.

Luis:

Yeah. When you’re strapped to the helmet, when you’re inside, it feels great. I could work like that. The problem is having the helmet strapped. That’s the problem, that’s the problem. If you think working at the desk all day is bad, just wait until you work with three kilos on your head the whole day, not going to work.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. Perhaps we’ll get to the black mirror state where it’s just like they know that you attached to your temple. But I think that there might be other ways to do that that don’t require wearing a helmet. I think that you could imagine using projection technology, you can imagine using holographic technology to basically create three dimensional avatars of me and you in each other’s space. And that would be like a step forward in terms of being able to see body language and see how people are in their full body as opposed to gesture, something like that. So anyways, that’s a big tangent, but I think-

Luis:

Yeah, let’s wait until science figures out how to keep us all alive for the next.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, that’s great.

Luis:

And then we can figure out the virtual reality thing. Let’s take one step at a time. Okay. So, again, because it’s impossible not to mention it, I try to make shows that are not stuck in time, that can be useful for all time. But obviously, we need to mention a couple of times because there is a pandemic sweeping over the world, so we can’t escape from talking a bit about that. A lot of people are working from home for the first time. A lot of leaders are leading from home from the first time. And working from home is hard. Leading from home is harder. So when building your business, certainly you had to deal with people working with you as contractors. What is your method for making sure that you get the best out of those people? What is your method for making sure that those people get the message? And I guess more broadly, for the people working at home for the first time, how do you organize your day?

Andy Cahill:

Such an important question. In total transparency, I feel like I’m constantly evolving into that. For instance, right now at this moment, my assumption was that my schedule was going to change… I was going to be less busy, like lot of people are talking about how to use this time for slowing down and connecting, which I think is a wonderful-

Luis:

I’m envious of those people.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s a wonderful, important thing to do. Whether or not there’s a pandemic, we all need to slow down a bit. But I’ve found that people seem even more hungry to reach out and connect. So my own schedule has balloons in the past couple of weeks in ways that were like, “Whoa, the systems that I was using to manage my time need a reset.” But I essentially use two systems, and I really try and help everyone move towards simplicity. That’s a bias I have. I think it’s easy to overbuild a complex system, but entropy always sets in. Any system like just the rule of the universe, any system over time will degrade. So the more complex you make that system, the more failure points there are, and the more likely it is that you are going to drop ball.

Luis:

I agree. Much to the annoyance of my colleagues with backgrounds in engineering, they hate it when I try to use the simplest app and the simplest process to do everything.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, engineers are –

Luis:

Because they want to build business processes as if they’re these beautiful domino lines, lines of dominoes where everything works. And I’m just a bit allergic to that. I greatly admire the people who can do that. It’s absolutely great, but I always feel insecure. To be honest, I always feel insecure because I know that it’s going to break and I know that it’s going to be at the worst time possible.

Andy Cahill:

Right. Well, so there’s a great analogy there because for people who can think like that, their capacity for what they define as simple and what you and I might define as simple is just they just have a different threshold. And their ability to create complex systems… Engineers have had a huge impact on our society there. There are people who… like I don’t know how to fix my car, for instance. I have to take that to someone who knows how to fix my car.

Luis:

Yeah, you take it to the car wizard.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, you take it to the car wizard. But now, you have electric cars coming onto the map and you have mechanics who don’t know how to fix electric cars. They have to learn a new skill set to navigate that complexity so they don’t electrocute themselves and that they can get the car running again. So every time we introduce a new complex system, we as the driver are like, “Oh, good, I know how to drive a gas engine car.” Those skills translate pretty neatly towards driving an electric car. I don’t really have to learn anything yet, but the system underneath is more complex, or at least it’s a different level of complexity. So there is a layer of insecurity for all of us in that… Like Zoom right now, I don’t know how Zoom built this video platform for us to talk. And if it stopped working for any reason, we would lose that system. So it’s beautiful when we can build it. That’s right. It also leaves us vulnerable to a lot more failure.

So in terms of managing time and distributing work, simplicity is always better. That’s what I aim for. I don’t always get there, but I use two systems. One is a simple now, next, later done. So in my now column, there’s only one thing that I can do and that’s the thing I’m supposed to be now. My next column, I don’t let any more than 10 things into that column. Those are the things that I think are high leverage that I know I need to get done. My later column are things I might or might not ever do, but I’m going to capture them in the later column just because I want to give my mind permission to wander and think. And then when something’s done, it’s in the done column. And then the next thing, I make a decision about what moves from the next column into the now column.

Luis:

Nice.

Andy Cahill:

So it’s always about ideally what’s going to have the highest impact. So that’s one system that I’m using.

Luis:

Yeah. So may I pause you for a second. I love Kanban board, that sounds very Kanban-like to me.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, it’s a Kanban board. Exactly. That’s right.

Luis:

Yeah. Is it the physical Kanban board or do you use any tool?

Andy Cahill:

I like Asana. I think that’s what I use. Yeah, I think it’s elegantly designed. It’s flexible enough. You can share projects. So this gets to the delegation piece, I can share a project with my marketing admin person. I can assign it to that person. They can see the headline, they can see the description, they can see any subtasks related to that item. We can add a timeline to it. It’s all in there. But at the simplest level, it’s just a visual board that I can access on my phone or my computer screen. And they have a couple different options, but I always use the board option inside Asana.

Luis:

Okay, sounds good. So you were saying the second strategy.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. The second strategy is just the classic four quadrant matrix of urgent versus important. And that’s essentially what I use to determine if something is worth getting into the now or next column. Basically, you have things that are in the lower left quadrant that are neither important or urgent, and those are all going to go in the later bucket. And some of them might eventually become important, but they’re currently neither important or urgent. Then you have the upper left, I believe it’s urgent, but not important. And those are the deadly ones because we are physiologically wired to respond to urgency and we are surrounded by systems that are designed to capture our attention. So urgent, but not important items as much as possible need to be delegated or removed from workflow.

And then you have important, but not urgent and important and urgent. So important and urgent should always be the thing that you’re tackling. Almost always be the thing that you’re tackling first. That’s almost always what I’m tackling first. And then important should come before urgent in most cases. And so that’s like the very simple… I think that’s from Stephen Covey, Seven Strategies of Highly Effective People. It’s just a simple sorting mechanism to help me decide what goes in which column in that board.

And I don’t check against that every day, but at this moment in time, I literally just had a conversation this morning with some of my peers, and it’s clear to me that at this moment in time, suddenly my schedule has ballooned. I need to go back to the drawing board a bit and restructure how I want to spend my time and energy. And then just the third piece of my system is using Google Calendar, time blocking is really important. Once I’ve got that sorted, I’m going to say, “Okay, here’s two hours for working on a writing project, or here’s two hours for working on my podcast or whatever the project is.”

Luis:

So for the people starting working at home now, can you take us… Now, we know the tools, we know the systems, how does that connect? Can you take this through your day from beginning to end?

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, yeah. Let’s see what’s an easy way into that.

Luis:

If all your days are different, you can take me through the week.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, the week is easier a bit. There are two rules of thumb that I try and use, which right now is getting a bit overwhelmed. So that’s why I’m saying I need to go back to the drawing board. One is always to leave some slack in the system. So in other words, I have a scheduling, I use Calendly. I’m sure a lot of people who work remote use Calendly. And I’ve noticed that many people who use Calendly let people book meetings the same day, they let people book meetings at any time type, they let people book meetings back-to-back. But there are some rules you can set up in Calendly that ensure that, for instance, if you were going to book a meeting with me, you couldn’t book a meeting with me tomorrow. You’d have to book at least two days ahead.

In addition, if I had a meeting scheduled at 1:00, you couldn’t book a meeting from 12:00 to 1:00. Calendly wouldn’t let you do that. You could only book a meeting from 11:45 to 12:45, or from… Yeah, I have 30 minutes, 45 minute, and 60 minute blocks. So I know that there’s always breathing room in a given day. Additionally, I don’t let anyone schedule on my calendar on Fridays, except for my podcast, which I’m currently building out and launching. It’s not launched yet, but I’ve recorded seven or eight episodes. And so that day is sacrosanct for creativity or connection for special projects that are really important to me, but are never going to get in the urgent category. So that’s the two rules of thumb is, one, leave slack in the system each day. Don’t book yourself back-to-back because when that happens, you will get overwhelmed. And two, leave slack in the system each week so that you have at least a half day. I always argue for a day, but at least a half day that’s devoted to either reflective time, or creative time, or help and moments time.

I think those are really critical because we don’t have that slack in the system. You will get ahead of yourself, you will get overwhelmed, and you’ll only be responding to urgent items and not important. So, for me, my day-to-day looks different. I’m having coaching conversations, I’m hosting group sessions, I’m recording interviews, I’m having sales calls, I’m attending networking events, many of which are now moving virtual, which is cool because I don’t have to go anywhere. So that’s like, “Oh, there’s some time save.” But on the week-to-week, I’m making sure that I’m not doing too much of any one of those things by having some filters in place that keep my calendar fairly manageable.

Luis:

All right. So it’s been almost 45 minutes now. I want to be respectful of your time. Are you up for playing some rapid fire questions? I ask the questions rapid fire, you don’t have to answer them rapid fire. You can answer as long as you want.

Andy Cahill:

Okay. Yeah, let’s do it, let’s jam.

Luis:

Okay. What browser tabs you have open right now?

Andy Cahill:

Okay. Let’s see. In Google Chrome, you can have multiple accounts. I have my business account open in one window, and I have my personal account open in another window. So let’s see, I have-

Luis:

Okay. You don’t need to go to the personal account unless you actively use it during your workday.

Andy Cahill:

So I have one window with five tabs that are all about the bullet journal system. This is a system I learned about recently that I haven’t implemented yet, that’s designed to manage complexity even more. And as I mentioned, I’m having a new level of complexity emerge in my business. I’m exploring the possibility of evolving how I keep track of what’s most important to get done every day. I also always have my Calendly tab open so I can easily… If we were going to schedule a follow up session, I could just easily grab the link and drop it right in the chat for you, and then you can schedule at your convenience, and you don’t have to waste any time looking at our calendars together. And then I also have some LinkedIn tabs open right now. I’m looking at a couple of different coaches who are in my industry, who are doing really great work that I want to reach out with and connect with. And so I was just doing some research about that this morning before we dropped into our call. So that’s what I’ve got open right now.

Luis:

Okay, so bullet journaling, it’s awesome. I love paper. My problem is that I found it hard to keep myself accountable on paper. If it’s digital, it’s in front of me every day. If it’s on paper, I easily forget it. What about you, digital versus paper?

Andy Cahill:

It’s a great insight. The one thing I don’t want to be doing at the end of the day that I have found myself doing lately because of the increased workload is getting pulled into my phone or getting pulled onto a screen after like 8:00 PM. So what I like about the bullet journal or something like it… And again, I’m not sure that’s the right system, I’m doing some research. But what I like about a system like that is it’s analog. And there’s no reason why you can’t convert analog over to digital once you’ve done some of that reflective work. But I often recommend this to my clients. The end of the day is one of the most powerful times. If you’ve down-powered, you’ve turned off, you’re not connecting to the news, you’re not to your home, you’ve had a nice dinner, maybe a glass of wine or some tea, your body state changes. Your brain waves change, your body state changes. You’re in a more open, receptive place ideally.

And in that open receptive place, you don’t have to exert as much energy to make decisions or choices. So I can look at like, what did I accomplish today? Great. What am I grateful for? Great. What do I want to do tomorrow? If I look at my next list, what’s the thing that if I can put it in the now column tomorrow and do that first, is going to have the biggest impact? So I’m totally agree with you. I need to move it into digital or I’ll lose sight of it, but there’s something about just going analog in the evenings, that seems at least to me to be really good for my mental well-being and my physiology.

Luis:

Sure. So systems and processes. Changing your processes, let’s say, adopting the habit of bullet journaling, there’s a productivity cost. There’s a cost of changing tools. Let’s say that you want to change from Asana to Trello. For some reason, you might have heard that it’s better anyway. Anyway, there’s always a productivity cost. How do you choose your tools and how do you choose when it’s more beneficial to change them than to stick with them?

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, great question. I’m only going to change a tool if I feel like something’s not working. And even then, I’m going to take some time to look at why does it feel like something’s not working right now. And what I’m discovering again at this moment is that people are actively filling my calendar because I have that Calendly link since my calendar is filling up in ways I wasn’t anticipating. And as a result, I wasn’t positioned for the complexity, says, “Okay, do I need a new tool here, or do I just need to shift my mindset about how I’m relating to the current reality?” And the answer is usually both in all cases. I’m only going to choose a new tool if it moves me towards simplicity, if it moves me towards the ability to act more decisively and more clearly than the previous tool did. Otherwise, good is always better than perfect. So because perfect doesn’t exist, so if it’s working, good enough for me, now I’m probably not going to do the mental and physical labor to switch to a new tool. And that’s what I’m checking in against.

Luis:

You’re the president of a business with 50 employees. You have $100 to spend with each employee. You need to buy the same thing for everyone and you can’t give them the money. What do you buy?

Andy Cahill:

That’s a cool question. Let me sit with that for a second. It really depends on what kind of company it is and what the context is, but I’m going to assume it’s a version of my company that I’ve managed to scale to… How many people did you say, 50 people?

Luis:

50, that’s a good example.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, so I’ve got a team of coaches, we’ve got marketing, we’ve got all that stuff. One of the things I most consistently recommends… Do I have to spend all $100 or do I spend-

Luis:

No, you can spend less.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah, yeah. So one of the things I most consistently recommend to my clients and also to human beings in general is the book, Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s a seminal piece of research and writing about how what you believe about yourself impacts what you’re capable of in the world. And for people who are working for me, I want them to flourish and thrive the way that I’ve been able to, the way that my clients are able to. So that’s a symbol for me as an investment of, I’m going to make sure that you… And let’s say that’s $15. So I’m going to give them $15, I’m going to give them this book, and then maybe I’ll buy everyone a lunch and a lunch break, an additional lunch break or like an additional free hour of time that they can use to spend reading that book and spend time working on what they want to bring in for their own self-development and improvement.

Luis:

Sounds good. So what about you? What purchase in the last six months to a year has made your work life easier or more productive? Can be physical, can be digital. I’ve had answers from anything from like a dog to a house.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. So people can’t see us, but I have this bamboo screen behind me. I have a two-year-old, as I mentioned, we have another kid on the way. So my office has become also the de facto space for storing things that my daughter might hurt herself with. Yeah, so we’ve moved stuff in here and initially I was like, “Ah, man, this is going to be hard.” I was like, “No, actually I can just simply use a tool that’s going to help me keep my space because that’s really important to have a clean, clear space.” And you can see there’s not a lot here, just like that sense of calm. And then just right behind that screen, I piled up on the couch all sorts of stuff that would be distracting for people to see. So I think this was $100, this bamboo screen. It’s a full out screen, the room divider. And I’ll just tell you what, it’s having it in here that makes me feel much more relaxed when I’m in the office now, even though I know that there’s stuff hiding behind-

Luis:

So you should have given bamboo screens to everyone in your company?

Andy Cahill:

Yes. I’m going to be generous. I’m going to spend $200 and give them the book, the lunch, and the bamboo screen.

Luis:

Sounds good, sounds good. So apart from your own books and Growth Mindset, what book have you gifted the most? What books, if you want to have even more?

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. So, okay, Growth Mindset is off the table. Let me look at my list of other big ones over here. At the beginning of this year, one thing I like to do annually… It’s actually traditional I started this year that I’m planning on doing annually is every year, I send out a newsletter to not only all my clients and people on my professional newsletter, but also my personal newsletter. And in that, I bought everyone who wanted a copy of my three favorite books that I read that year.

And so the three favorite books that I read this past year were Give and Take by Adam Grant, which is a wonderful look at the power of generosity and the power of conscious and intentional giving as a strategy for growing your business, which inspired me to do this newsletter thing, which is great. I think I had like 30 or 40 people taking up on the offer. Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, which couldn’t be more relevant than this moment now when we’re thinking about how to not only reinvent how we work as individuals and as teams, but also doing that virtually. So that’s a great one. And then The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. Those are three books I read this year that I gave out to a lot of people. So the answer will probably change next year, but the feeling around-

Luis:

The Art of Gathering?

Andy Cahill:

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, yeah.

Luis:

What’s that book about?

Andy Cahill:

It is about exactly what it sounds like. It is about what it means to bring together people in purposeful ways that have an impact on their life. And that might mean from anything, from planning a birthday party, all the way up to planning the gathering of 10,000 people. And so she looks at gathering she’s hosted, she looks at really cool artistic, creative gatherings that happen around the worlds and everything in between. She looks at business meetings, all that stuff. And there are conscious things that you can do to make meetings more productive, more engaging, more impactful, but they also require making some intentional choices. A lot of times we have meetings and we just have a meeting. And so she’s not just saying not only having an agenda, be really intentional about who you invite, be really intentional about where you host it, be really intentional about how you lay out the space, all of those things are going to impact the experience that the group has. And it’s just great examples, great stories. I highly recommend it.

Luis:

All right. Thank you very much for the recommendation. Sounds like a good set of books. I have read none of them, but I will make notes of all three and growth mindset, af course. So final question. Everyone in the podcast, as far as gotten this question, and it might be a good time to change it, but I’m not letting a pandemic change my questions. So you are inviting the leaders, hiring managers, decision makers, etc., of tech companies from all over the world to a dinner, the dinner as a roundtable about the future of work and remote work and is to be had at the Chinese restaurant. Because you are the host and the restaurant is Chinese, you get to choose what goes inside the fortune cookie. So what is your fortune cookie message?

Andy Cahill:

Oh, that’s fun. The fortune cookie message is we create each other.

Luis:

That sounds fortune cookie-ish, well done.

Andy Cahill:

Thank you.

Luis:

We create each other, from Andy Cahill. Nice. Okay, Andy, tell our listeners if they want to continue the conversation, where can they reach you? Where can they learn more about the services you provide?

Andy Cahill:

Sure. And Luis, before I answer that, I’m feeling moved to say one… to maybe share an insight I had this morning that relates to that we create each other statement and also relates to this moment. Many people will probably have seen some sort of infographic or live dynamic graphic about the way virus is spread. And it can be really sobering to watch one of those graphics because what I believe, there are lots of things happening. One thing that’s happening with this virus is it’s making visible all the ways that we are interconnected. For instance, I’m avoiding going to the grocery store because I don’t want to get infected. But that means somebody else like a delivery driver is doing that shopping on my behalf. And again, I’m privileged to live in a world and have the income to do that, but that means they’re exposed. And if they don’t have support and healthcare, they’re not earning income, what happens if they can no longer do that? Now, they’re sick and I can’t get food.

So in a very concrete way, we’re connected, me and that person and all of us. But I want to just to tune into the fact that there’s an inverse of that. The virus is visible. We can track it through people, but what if also our ideas, our beliefs, our actions ripple out through people in the same way that this does, that if I connect with some person and I elevate their life and I help them, and that person connects with someone else, I really believe that this is a moment where we can lean into the truth, that we connect with each other and create each other. And we might never know the impact we have on someone else. But people who are simply living from a place of fear and seclusion and not thinking about how they impact the world, they’re missing an opportunity to help us grow through this moment of change and duress, just wanted to do that.

Luis:

Absolutely. Thank you for sharing. I absolutely support that sentiment. This is what we in marketing call going viral. But I guess it’s going to be in bad days from now on. So we probably need to find another term for it.

Andy Cahill:

Yes, yes, love it.

Luis:

Yes, no one wants to go viral these days.

Andy Cahill:

No, but there is the positive version of that, for sure. So we’ll find the right language for it.

Luis:

Exactly. Let’s find the right language for it. So, again, I want to thank you for your time. But I will do that after you tell all the listeners how can they continue the conversation and how can they learn more about the services you provide.

Andy Cahill:

Yeah. The best place to go is mindfulcreative, all one word, dot coach. That’s my website. From there, they can find my blog, they can follow me out to LinkedIn, they can find me on social media, but that’s really the landing point. I’m also launching a podcast. I’ve already recorded, I believe, up to six interviews or seven interviews now. And that’s going to be called the Wonder Dome, which is about asking the question, what is your fiercest hope for humanity? So when that’s live, I want to invite people. That will be another great place where… And that question emerged for me last year. So it only feels more relevant at this moment in time. But that’ll be another place where I’m sharing a lot of what I’m learning and what I’m seeing by connecting with amazing practitioners from many different backgrounds. So that will be live on my website when it’s ready to go. And also, will be rippling out through the social media networks as well.

Luis:

Sounds great. I will be sure to include links in the show notes. Everyone can check them out there. Andy, this was a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming

Andy Cahill:

Luis, thank you for having me. I really appreciate you keeping this on the radar. It’s been a pleasure to connect. And I think you’re doing important work, man. Helping people navigate this question of remote work is even more important than ever. So keep it up and thanks for sharing this space with me.

Luis:

Thank you. You, too. Ladies and gentlemen, this was Luis and this was the DistantJob Podcast, the podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. And my guest today was Andy Cahill. Thank you so much. See you next week.

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, than any episode really, and subscribe.

By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts off the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form. And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country, look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of DistantJob Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

COVID-19 is transforming the way people work. Most companies have had to make their employees work from home. But for many, this has been a new opportunity to think about new ways of communication and connection.

In this inspiring podcast episode, Andy shares what remote work has done to his life and how he has managed to connect with his clients virtually. And the importance of being conscious with the time you have, spending it wisely doing the things you love.

''And the more important thing I find is that when people are spending time on things they love, they get energy for the stuff they need to do.'' Click To Tweet

 

What you will learn:

  • The advantages of living in an uncertain moment – COVID19
  • How to make virtual meetings productive 
  • The role of a virtual host in videoconference meetings
  • Strategies to manage your time effectively
  • How to distribute and prioritize your work in a successful way
  • Advice for people who recently started working from home due to the pandemic

 

Book recommendations:

 

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!

 

 

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