in: Behavior, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: September 28, 2021

Podcast #124: Self-Discipline & Personal Effectiveness With Rory Vaden

A few months ago I was talking to AoM food man Matt Moore when he brought up his friend Rory Vaden. Rory founded a multi-national coaching and consulting company that helps organizations and individuals improve their sales performance. He’s published two New York Times best selling books on self-discipline and time management, and he’s a sought after speaker. And get this — he’s only 32 years old.

When Matt told me how Rory’s speaking and writing has improved his own personal game, I had to have him on the podcast. In this episode, Rory and I discuss principles from his two books Take the Stairs and Procrastinate on PurposeIf you’re looking to be more self-disciplined and more effective with your time, you don’t want to skip this episode.

Show Highlights

  • Why waiting until you feel like doing something will result in mediocrity.
  • How to fall in love with your daily grind
  • Why asking “How?” instead of “Should?” will make you more effective
  • What farmers can teach you about success and work
  • The problem with time management
  • Why you should also focus on “significance” when prioritizing your actions
  • Why it’s okay to procrastinate on purpose sometimes
  • How to get over saying “No”
  • And much more!

Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True success book cover Rory Vaden.

Procrastinate on purpose book cover Rory Vaden.
I got a lot from both of Rory’s books. Both serve as great reminders of things I may have read or heard before, but haven’t really done a good job putting into practice. But both books also bring a lot of new things to the table on self-discipline and time management. If you’re looking to be more productive and disciplined, I can’t recommend these books enough.

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

Available on itunes.

Available on stitcher.

Soundcloud logo.


Google play podcast.

Spotify Logo.

Listen to the episode on a separate page.

Download this episode.

Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.

Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast!


Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. We all know that self-discipline is a necessary trait if we want to achieve our goals and be successful. What can you do? What are some tactics that you can do to actually instill self-discipline within yourself? Besides the self-discipline part there’s another aspect to being successful and achieving our goals that we have for ourselves. It’s managing our time in an effective manner so that we get the most out of it.

The problem is in our modern world we have so many things vying for attention. First we have the internet on our smartphones, on our desktops. There’s so many things there that can just distract us from work, from our family. Then you have work then you have family then you have commitments to church or maybe a community organization that are all competing for your attention and for your time. How do we manage all these things in a way that we get the most bang for our buck and that actually helps us lead a life of significance?

Well, our guest today has written two books on these topics. They’re really fantastic. His name is Rory Vaden and he’s the author of Take the Stairs and the other one is Procrastinated on Purpose. Rory started out his career as a salesman and now he is a consultant and coach for salesmen and as well as organizations that are sales focus. His job is to help people be more effective sales people. Anyways, the principles that he teaches to his clients are applicable to any person who is trying to do the best they can in this life so I wanted to have him on the show.

Stay on the podcast. Rory and I discussed self-discipline to having this take the stairs mentality towards life, we’re not going to take the escalator, and then we’re going to talk about how we can procrastinate on purpose and what that means to better manage our time. I think you’re really going to like this podcast. A lot of great practical takeaways that you can use right away after you’re done listening. Without further ado, let’s talk to Mr. Rory Vaden.

Rory Vaden, welcome to the show.

Rory Vaden: Thanks, Brett. It’s good to be here.

Brett McKay: You’re a business consultant, successful salesman and you’ve also written books about productivity, motivation, how to just live a more full life. Your first book, I love the title of it because it really encapsulates the philosophy that I take towards life. It’s called Take the Stairs and it’s about self-discipline.

You make the common sense argument that if you want to be successful in life you just have to keep doing the things that will bring you success even if you don’t feel like it. I think most people they get this, they know that on an intellectual level, but we have such a hard time putting it into practice. Why is that?

Rory Vaden: You know, there’s lots of reasons why but one reason is actually rooted in neuroscience. The dopamine drug that is inside of our brain we get these little hits of dopamine whenever we do something in the short term. It feels good. What feels good in the short term is something that we are drawn to biologically but, the thing is, our biology never prepared us for success, it prepared us for survival.

When you understand that, it’s like breaking free of that and working the brain is divided into these three parts, but the front part of your brain, the frontal lobe is referred to as the human brain, that’s the one for logic and thinking and rationale and that is the one that has to be consciously developed.

Like the Paradox Principle in Take the Stairs is easy short term choices lead to difficult long term consequences. Meanwhile, difficult short term choices lead to easy long term consequences. It’s this great paradox that only a few people understand, but ultra performers have realized that procrastination and indulgence are like these creditors that charge us interest. They make us feel good now, it’s easy in the short term, but it’s what creates the more difficult life.

Contrary to what people think, Take the Stairs is not about making life as hard as possible. It’s t exact opposite. It’s about making life as easy as possible, but it’s based on the unpopular premise that creating the easy life comes from doing the hardest parts of things as soon as possible.

Brett McKay: It requires you to play the long game.

Rory Vaden: Exactly.

Brett McKay: That’s hard to do though. There’s been all these studies that people know they need to save for retirement because retirement is going to come, but then they don’t save. Is it just because the future is amorphous and not concrete that it makes it hard to play the long game?

Rory Vaden: I absolutely think so. A lot of times when people come to us and they say, “Hey, I really struggle with self-discipline in this area or that area,” what we almost always find is it’s not that they struggle as much from a lack of discipline as they do from a lack of vision. The amount of our endurance is directly proportionate to the clarity of our vision.

If we have a crystal clear picture of what we want in the long run, then that creates a naturally strong connection to how the sacrifices we’re asking ourselves to make today forward us towards the future that we care about, which thereby creates this context for action to take place and our discipline engages almost automatically.

If we don’t have that clear vision or if we don’t spend much time thinking about it … which most people don’t, Most people suck at vision and we were thought as kids not to be dreamers. Like get your head out of the clouds and think realistic and focus on what’s in front of you and yet the most successful people in the world, at least in the business realm and in the athletic realm and really in entertainment realm too, they have such a clear vision and they spend so much time thinking about it, they see it so vividly in their mind that it’s like the vision pulls them through all the crap they got to go through to get there, whereas absent that long term vision, you’re simply governed by your emotional impulses of what feels good right now because biologically, you’re set up that way.

Brett McKay: Got you. There’s that verse in the Bible, it’s in Proverbs, right? Where there’s no vision the people perish.

Rory Vaden: Yeah.

Brett McKay: How do you make that? How do you create that vision? Is it just a matter of sitting down, journalism, writing, thinking about it, talking about it with a mastermind group or your friends or your wife? How do fashion that vision?

Rory Vaden: Well, we recently did like a little blog miniseries on the seven realizations of rich people. One of the most common characteristics that we found with wealthy people is that they fall asleep every night thinking in very vivid detail about what they want in the future. That is something that I started doing a couple of years ago and it’s made a huge difference because the more you can see it, the more likely you are to work towards it.

Some people call that the law of attraction, it’s this cosmic force and maybe part of it is that, but I tend to believe it’s less of that and it’s more just about you’re creating this context by which making sacrifices make sense and you’re paying attention and you’re open-minded to things that you would not have been open-minded to in the absence of that vision.

From a tactical standpoint, a little technique that we do, and we take all our coaching clients through this, we do sales coaching. That’s really our core business so we work a lot with sales people. We have them go through this exercise called VAST, V-A-S-T and one of the things, again, coming down to neuroscience is understanding that the brain thinks and pictures and things that are more vividly experienced in our mind are more likely to become true in reality. When I say ice cream cone, most people see an image of an ice cream cone. They don’t see the letters I-C-E C-R-E-A-M.

When we think of vision, a lot of us talk about vision abstract and companies are some of the worst at this. You say, “Our vision is to be the best in the world at whatever.” That’s a crappy vision from an inspiring perspective, from a motivational perspective because what is more motivating is a picture. It’s to say, “Imagine a picture of our company headquarters inside of Forbes Magazine being written up for the most enriching customer experience of all companies in the world and there’s features on us and everywhere you go people recognize the logo on your business card and they ask you about it.” That becomes more alive.

V-A-S-T, the V stands for visual, the A stands for auditory, the S stands smell and the T stands for touch. When you think of your vision don’t think of it in some obscure term like I want to do this amazing thing. Think about in your mind what can you see, what can you hear in that moment that it came true, what can you smell and what can you touch. When you think in as much vivid detail, your mind really can’t differentiate between what is real and what is not real. It’s why nightmares wake us up because they feel surreal because your mind doesn’t really dictate and you have these emotional responses based on it.

That’s a couple of ideas about how to do it. I think it really is important to get that basic because most of us just don’t do it, but the bigger thing is be willing to do it and spend time thinking about it.

Brett McKay: Awesome. We’ve talked like big picture, playing the long game, but we got to deal with the day to day. It gets a lot of people down because they know what’s the stuff they need to do to be successful but it just feels like a grind. They don’t want to do it. They can’t get up. It’s another Monday. They have to do these reports, they have to make the call, they have to whatever it is. How do you usually make the case that you should fall in love with the daily grind? How can you do that? Don’t you feel like it’s mind-numbing.

Rory Vaden: Yeah. That’s actually something that one of our very first coaching clients, his name is Chad Goldwasser, he was the number one Keller Williams real estate agent in the world out of 76,000. They have many more agents than that now even. He said that that was one of his philosophies was falling in love with the daily grind.

It ties in well to one of our principles that we embrace at South Western which is a lot of times people, let’s say they retake the stairs and they come up and they say, “Okay Rory, let’s say I start doing all the things you’re talking about. Let’s say I do start taking the stairs and, metaphorically speaking, I’m doing the things I know I should be doing, I’m doing the things that are making the sacrifices, I’m paying the price. How long do I have to do that for?”

The truth is that we never get to stop doing them. We never do. Now, that doesn’t mean life is going to be miserable. It doesn’t mean that life is going to be one great big giant trip to the gym or that you’re only going to eat foliage for the rest of your life. It does mean learning to embrace this concept that we call The Rent Axiom. The Rent Axiom says that success is never owned. Success is only rented and the rent is due everyday. Success is never owned. Success is rented and the rent is due everyday.

At first, sometimes that strikes people as bad news because it’s like, “Oh no,” but it’s really the most empowering truth of the all of the Take the Stairs principles because when you embrace this idea that I’m not going on a diet, I’m not going on a 90-day workout program, you embrace the idea that these changes and these choices that I’m making in my life are not temporary ones but permanent ones, then what happens is you stop wasting time looking for the shortcut.

You stop believing in this fantasy land that you’re going to somehow win the lottery or discover a magic pill or come up with some business idea that just goes viral and you let go of all that junk and you just get focused on doing the things that you know you should be doing. Again, it’s just a crazy paradox because it seems like this take the stairs, all of the stuff we’re talking about seems like it would be so hard.

What really happens is it’s hard today as it will ever be and everyday moving forward it gets easier versus the other way around, it always just keeps getting harder and harder because we keep making these indulgent choices. Like I said before, ultra performers realize that procrastination and indulgence are nothing more than creditors that charge us interest.

Meanwhile, ultra performers realize you’re always going to pay a price and that’s the thing that we have to come to grips with. We always pay a price. We either pay the price now, today, or we will pay it later with interest. Most of us are trying to go through life trying to circumvent paying the price. We’re trying to be successful without in the work. We want to believe and all that the daydreams of the overnight success with the online viral explosion and millions is coming in and it’s just not true.

When you sit down with any ultra performer, which is the top 1% of their industry, that’s how we would categorize that, it’s always the story of discipline. It’s always the story of doing the things they know they should be doing even when they don’t feel like doing them. It’s not about taking the escalator, it’s about taking the stairs.

Brett McKay: This has been an interesting point. There’s a lot of talk on the internet, for example, right? See all these memes, motivational things about following your passion and being passionate and you got to be passionate about your work. In my experience, I can get passionate about something but then I don’t do the work. Then I’ll start working on something even if I don’t feel like it and then 30, 45 minutes later I’m like I’m pretty excited about what I’m working on. Does passion come before work or is passion the result of just doing good work?

Rory Vaden: Well, I’m glad that you asked this, Brett. Nobody has ever asked me this question, not in a public interview. I really do love the question because I see the same thing as you. It’s a natural symbiotic relationship in some ways between passion and work. It can be. I agree with you that the memes that are out there they’re very under serving to people.

Look, as we talk about the art of manliness, we talk about what does it mean to be a man, to me being a man means you do what you have to do until you earn the right to do what you want to do. You do what you have to do until you earn the right to do what you want to do.

It’s like if you have kids or if you’re starting a business or if you’re married, if you have any sort of responsibility or obligation in your life, you need to let that passion crap go. You have other things that matter and being a man means you’re the protector. You’re the provider. Your passion is secondary. That doesn’t mean that you should be passionate. I do believe in the statement if you love what you do, it will feel less like you ever have to work a day in your life.

I think most people who complain about not being passionate, the reason they’re not passionate is because they’re mediocre at what they’re doing. This is a litmus test that we use. We basically call it the crush it test for how to know when you should change jobs and move on. People say, “I’m thinking about quitting my job and I want to just go start this business and I want to be online or I want to do a side business or whatever.” That’s great. I’m all about that stuff. We love entrepreneurs, we love side businesses, we teach people how to do that, and we also love employees. It’s not about the business, it’s about you.

The question I always ask people in the litmus test is have you crushed it where you’re at? Are you excellent at what you’re doing? Because if you have not laid it all on the line and you have not been fully committed and you’ve not done everything in your power to be successful, then you don’t really know what your current opportunity affords you because you’re being mediocre.

Your first step needs to be to crush it where you’re at, otherwise you’re just going to bounce from passionate idea to passionate idea. You’re just like this blowing in the wind and the reality is nothing ever makes you passionate because you didn’t put in the work to be successful. Crush it where you’re at, get to the top.

It’s like when you’re climbing the mountain the view at the top looks and feels a whole lot different than the view when you’re climbing up the side of the mountain. Climb to the top of the mountain and then decide, “Is this really giving me what I want?” Most people who use that passion argument is because they’re mediocre at what they’re doing and then they’re giving themselves the payoff of saying, “Well, it’s just not my passion,” and I think that’s weak.

Brett McKay: Let’s say people realize what they need to do, they got their vision, they know the things they have to do, but there’s still something that’s keeping them from just committing to it and getting going on it. You have this what you call the Buy-In Principle. What are some things people can do to buy-in to their commitment they want to make to be a better person?

Rory Vaden: The Buy-In Principle simply stated is this: that the more we have invested into something, the less likely we are to let it fail. The more we have invested into something, the less likely we are to let it fail. It’s easy to understand that intellectually but it’s very hard to live by that pragmatically because what the Buy-In Principle suggests is that if we make a commitment to do something and then it becomes difficult to follow through that we should actually increase our investment. We should spend more time, more money, more prayer, more effort, more focus, more resources on whatever that commitment is.

In the escalator world that we live in it’s almost exact opposite of that. Most of us keep our commitments conditionally. We keep them as long as they’re convenient to do so, but the moment it becomes inconvenient to keep that commitment we typically start questioning that commitment and we start convincing ourselves that maybe it’s because there’s another passion I should be pursuing.

That is really, really dangerous because we start thinking that success is a matter of our circumstances and really the success is a matter of our choices. That’s why you have some people who go from average performance to average performance and to average and they’re constantly changing jobs and careers. It’s because it’s a mental thing.

In terms of how do you overcome that, there’s a very practical strategy which is you increase your level of commitment and, thereby, the likelihood of your success by intentionally creating the question how so that you don’t accidentally relent to the question should. Most people when it becomes challenging to follow through on a commitment we say, “You know what, maybe this isn’t the right time. Maybe this isn’t the right place,” or, “Should I do this now? Should I do it later? Should I give it to somebody else?” They’re whole life becomes about that question should. Should, should, should, should, should. If you’re not careful, Brett, you’d become what I like to call a should head. You got to be aware of should.

The ultra performers, it’s not that they know all the answers but they ask themselves the right question. They shift. This is what we call the pivot point. The pivot point is when you think you’re shifting from should I do this or can I pull this off or is it possible to simply asking the question how can I pull this off? How can I hit that target? How can I meet that deadline? How can I lose that weight? How can I start that business? How can I get out of debt? How can I save this marriage? How?

Brett McKay: Got you. I love that, instead of asking should, asking how. Like trying to find a solution to your problem. Another thing I’ve done, I’ve applied the Buy-In Principle in my own life, I actually made bets with people. There’s a website called sticKK, I think it’s S-T-I-K-K, and you can actually put money in the line for goals you want to accomplish.

Rory Vaden: No way. That’s cool.

Brett McKay: What’s ingenious about it is you set up an accountability partner and if you don’t fulfill your goal you lose your money. You can make it hurt more by having money go to some organization that is against your values. If you are a die-hard Republican you can have the money go to the Democratic National Committee or if you’re pro-abortion, have it go an anti-abortion.

It’s crazy and I’ve done that a few times when I’ve had these big projects where I just wasn’t committed to it, wasn’t bought into it. I put money on the line. Once I’ve had that money on the line it hurt. Knowing that I was going to lose that money, no matter what, I was going to get it done. Get that thing done. That’s the other thing that I’ve done in my life.

Rory Vaden: I love that. That’s a great example. The more you have invested into something. There it’s not just money but it’s also that emotional pain.

Brett McKay: That’s the worst, yeah.

Rory Vaden: One of our coaching clients they just said this out on the email, I think she’s a huge Auburn fan. She lives in Alabama and she’s a die-hard Auburn fan. She set up a referral contest in her inner coast and if she didn’t get a certain number of referrals she has to wear Alabama clothing gear and talk about how much she loves Alabama for a week. Those little consequences, those play a big factor. Coming back to the earlier question you asked, like your story there about using sticKK, I think, Brett, it makes the future more real. That helps with that long term perspective.

Brett McKay: A principle you talk about in your book Take the Stairs, which resonated with me, I think it’s important for particularly younger people to understand and comprehend is this idea called the Harvest Principle. What is the Harvest Principle? Can you explain that for our listeners?

Rory Vaden: Yeah. One of the things that we have done is really studied time management and we’ve really challenged and we’ve gone out to ultra performers and we’ve taken this list of clichés you hear about time management and just said, “Hey, do you believe in this? Do you actually believe this statement? Do you operate your life or your business by it?”

We have found that emphatically, almost always, they do not and very often it’s the opposite. In fact, the new Procrastinating on Purpose book, that’s why we wrote it, was to dispel all of these myths about productivity. One of them, one of the most common things you hear is people talk about work-life balance. We go out and we ask these ultra performers. We now call them multipliers. That’s the term we use in the new book which the subtitle, Five Permission to Multiply Your Time. They said balance is basically a complete joke, that they have never embraced that idea of work-life balance.

If you think about it, now that I’ve asked them and we’ve gone through this interview processes, balance is really a horrible metaphor for how to spend your time because the word balance by definition means equal force in opposite directions. It implies the idea that being balanced in our time would be spending equal time on different things. The part that is crazy about that is that if you sleep something like eight hours a day and you work something like eight hours a day, then the only way you could be balanced would be to do one other task and you’d have to do that other task eight hours every single day, which is ludicrous. It doesn’t even make sense.

Multipliers have realized also that success is not related to the amount of time that you spend doing something. It’s not related to the volume of tasks that you complete. Success is simply related to the significance of those tasks and, namely, the results that are achieved. You can achieve results in certain areas of your life with less time.

Working out is probably the best example. You don’t have to work out eight hours everyday to be in great health. If you work out 30 minutes every single day, you’re going to find, for most people, that’s going to make a massive change.

What ultra performers do is they actually said it was the opposite. They said rather than trying to create balance, they intentionally create imbalance. They imbalance their life for a short, pre-defined season, which we referred to as a harvest season because it reflects much more the attitude of like a farmer during harvest. The farmer during harvest they work 16, 18 hours a day because the harvest is when the harvest is and they have to harvest their crop and that’s going to make them survive the rest of the year.

That is much more reflective of how life works. It works in these seasons. The idea is to imbalance your life for a short pre-defined season and leverage the power of focus and intensity to create a desired result. Then once you’ve created that result, it’s much easier to sustain that result overtime with less effort.

Just a personal story for me, I used to be 45 pounds heavier than I am right now and a lot of people don’t know that. When I first started on this whole journey of self-discipline, I made this resolution that I was going to stop drinking alcohol forever, that I was going to stop eating dessert forever. I was going to work out every single day forever until I got to my desired goal, my desired weight.

I hit that 8 months after I started, I lost 45 pounds, and ever since then it’s like yeah, I have couple of drinks, I have dessert a couple of nights a week and I don’t have to work out every single day. I work out a few times a week or I work out just a little bit everyday and it’s a lot easier to maintain it. I’m not in a harvest season that relates to my physical stuff right now because I already went through that and I’m just maintaining. Now I’m imbalancing towards other things.

Brett McKay: Awesome. I love that idea of like seasons in your life because I get a lot of letters from readers or young guys in their 20s and they just feel like they’re frustrated because things aren’t happening for them. They don’t have the success that they think they should have by now. Usually, it means like they want house or they want the typical trappings of success. I always tell them, “Man, that’s going to take a while.” You’re in a different stage in your life where you get to focus on different things and create a foundation so you can get to those things. You can’t have it now. I think that analogy of seasons to your life is really helpful in helping you think about long game.

Then when you get married and you have kids you’re going to move in to a different season. Like right now you’re not going to have as much fun as you did when you’re in your early 20s and single and footloosing fancy free and that’s okay. You in a new season, you approach it that way and then the kids will eventually move out and you’ll have more time to yourself again. The seasonal approach is really nice.

Rory Vaden: Thank you. Amen. I’m glad that it resonates. Sometimes I think people say that, they go, “Well, it’s just not going to be fun.” That’s the not the reality. The reality is when you do this right and you embrace these philosophies, it’s just your idea of fun changes. What used to be fun was getting bottle service at the club and then it was having a nice car and then, at some point, it might become fun is being able to spend time with your kids in the middle of the day and having the freedom to be able to do that because you work so hard.

When I was in my 20s I worked so hard and the reason why was because I wanted to work then because I said, “You know what, one day I’m going to have kids and when I have kids I don’t want work to be the driving force in my life.” I was working harder now to create an opportunity that was going to happen in the future. Again, a lot of this ties back to that longer term thinking.

Brett McKay: Your second book is called Procrastinating on Purse and you say in the beginning of this book that you should have written this book first, it’s the prequel to Take the Stairs. Why is that?

Rory Vaden: Honestly, Brett, I didn’t even realize that it was the prequel until we had done all the research and I was writing and I’m at the very end of the book and it dawns on me that this is the prequel because what Take the Stairs is all about the psychology of overcoming procrastination, increasing you’re self-discipline and how to do the things you know you should be doing even when you don’t feel like doing them.

What Procrastinating on Purpose is about is what to do with everything else so that you can get down to that. In other words, how do you know what the thing is that only you can do, that you must do and it must be done now even if you don’t feel like it? That is what the focus funnel, which is the core framework of POP, Procrastinating on Purpose. The POP book is really what to do with everything else so that you can boil it down to figure out the thing that only you can do.

Brett McKay: Got you.. I think you’ve already hit on this a little bit. You start off the book talking about the way most people approach time management just doesn’t work. I guess the way most people try to approach time management is balance for starters. Like I’m going to have eight hours of this, I’m going to do eight hrs of family time, eight hours of work, but then you’ll see that common way that people try to manage their time is prioritization. It doesn’t really work though. Why is that?

Rory Vaden: Yeah. We talked about the history of time management theory and how is a body of work had developed in the ’50s and ’60s. Originally, it was one-dimensional, it was all about efficiency. It was managing your time by trying to do things faster, which made sense because that was the paradigm of the day was on the heels of manufacturing era and cars, the model T Ford and all that sort of stuff.

Then in the late ’80s prioritizing your time emerged as the new paradigm. I give a lot of credit to the late great Dr. Stephen Covey because he popularized this thing called the Time Management Matrix where the Y axis is important and the X axis is urgency. What Dr. Covey did was he gave us, for the first time ever, like a scoring system and taught us that not all tasks are created equal. Based on these two calculations, importance and urgency, you could basically weight certain tasks to be more important and then you prioritize those tasks.

For the last 25 years, we’ve thrown around that word prioritizing your time like it’s the end-all be-all, the Time Management theory. There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing. Prioritizing is a valuable skill, but there is a massive limitation to prioritizing that nobody ever talks about and that is there is nothing about prioritizing that creates more time.

All prioritizing does is take item number seven on your to-do list and it bumps it up to number one, but there’s nothing inherently about that that creates more time. It also does nothing to help you accomplish the other items that are still remaining on your to-do list. It’s a valuable skill to be able to focus first on what matters most, but it doesn’t create more time and so it’s more like borrowing time. Prioritizing is like borrowing. I’m borrowing time from one activity to spend on another rightfully so, but it still doesn’t help me with the remaining items.

When you’re operating in those two paradigms, it’s like the only option you have is to run faster, be more efficient. It’s like we can work longer hours or we can move faster during the day or to try to juggle more things. You’re juggling a hundred different balls in the air and that really describes, I think, how most of our coaching clients initially feel about their schedule when we’re working with them.

We have met some of the most efficient people in the planet. We met some of the best prioritizing people on the planet, but really it’s like all we are is a bunch of insanely fast juggling hamsters sprinting towards this inevitable crash landing because you can only do things so fast which is very well evident by the fact that we all carry around miniature computers in our pocket or working longer hours than ever before. We have more technology and yet we’re still never caught up and we have more calendars and checklists that help us prioritize and none of that seems to help. We’re falling further and further behind. That’s the limitation of prioritizing and that was the problem we really wanted to solve with POP.

Brett McKay: You add in another line into that matrix and it’s significance. Is, I guess, significance a way of playing the long game? Is it putting your actions in a perspective of a longer frame of time instead of just the here and now?

Rory Vaden: Yeah. It basically is, Brett. That’s pretty accurate. Coming back to that matrix, if the Y axis is importance, which is how much does something mater, and the X axis is urgency, which is how soon does something matter, then significance becomes the Z axis, and that is how long is this going to matter. The significance calculation changes everything because it takes that two-dimensional model and it makes it into three-dimensional. It takes off a square and makes it into a cube. We have said that is now era three thinking, is using the significance calculation to multiply your time.

The big distinction is let’s say absent the significant calculation, we inadvertently overweight the urgency calculation. Here’s a myth at time management: people say there’s nothing you can do to create more time. Time is the one thing that you can never get more of. Well, it is true inside of the paradigm and the construct of one day that you cannot create more time.

We all have the same 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds, but that’s exactly the problem. Most people only think inside of the paradigm of one day. When you are only thinking in terms of one day, you immediately always go to urgency. You’re sucked in to putting out fires, dealing with whatever is latest and loudest and you feel pressured to work longer hours and constantly cram everything in because you only have this one day.

When you make the significance calculation it changes everything because when you start thinking not just about today but tomorrow and the next day and the next and the next day, you start to realize that there are some things that you can do today that make tomorrow better. You can do things now that make tomorrow easier. You can set things up in a certain way today that will give you more time in the future.

That brings up to the premise of the second book. If you’ve been sleeping, wake up. You don’t want to miss this part. The whole concept is built around this one sentence and that is the way that you multiply time is by giving yourself the emotional permission to spend time on things today that create more time tomorrow.

Brett McKay: I love that, but how do you that? Is that what the funnel is about? Helping you weed out the stuff that won’t be significant in the long run. It’s what the five permissions are about?

Rory Vaden: Yeah, exactly. The significance calculation, the concept of multiplying time, that’s the philosophical part of the POP discussion. The practical part really happens with the focus funnel. The focus funnel was our attempt to codify the thought process that ultra performers go through whenever they are making a decision about how to spend their time and what to spend it on and what not to.

If you picture a funnel at the top part, the wide entry point, if you have all of your tasks and emails and meetings and all that stuff coming in the focus funnel, then the top part of the funnel is eliminate. It’s the permission to ignore. We can go through this in more detail if you want. If you can’t eliminate it then that task drops down to the middle of the funnel, which is automate, that’s the permission to invest. If you can’t automate that task, then it drops down to the bottom of the funnel which is the delegate section, that’s the permission of imperfect, and you say, “Can this be done by someone else?”

If you can’t eliminate, automate or delegate the task, then that task falls out the bottom of the focus funnel. At that point there is one key remaining question and that question is must this task be done now or can it wait until later. If the task must be done now, then that’s concentrate. It’s the permission to protect. It’s all about protecting your focus, eliminating distractions, doing the things you know you should be doing. That is where the POP book ends and the Take the Stairs book picks up.

If the answer to the question can this wait until later is yes, then that is where we’re inviting you and encouraging you and challenging you to not eliminate, automate, delegate or concentrate but to procrastinate on purpose. Procrastinate on purpose. We call it POP. That’s where the title of the book comes from. When you procrastinate on an activity on purpose, you’re not going to procrastinate on it forever, but what you’re going to do is pop that activity back to the top of the focus funnel, at which point it’s going to enter into this holding pattern where it cycles through the focus funnel.

Then what happens is ultimately or eventually, one of the other four strategies – eliminate, automate, delegate or concentrate – will be executed upon that task. If the answer to the question can this wait ’til later is always yes, you eventually develop the confidence to do what you should have done in the first place which was eliminate it or you figure out a way to automate it or someone rises to the call of leadership and it ends up getting delegated or you end up having to do it because the answer to can this way ’til later shifts from yes it can to no it can’t ad then you must do it now, you know it’s your next most significant priority.

Brett McKay: What permission do you think most people have trouble with? Where do you think this gets stuck is it the eliminate or the delegate? Which one is it?

Rory Vaden: Wow. It’s all of them. It’s all of them and it’s different for every person. That’s I think one thing that’s great about the focus funnel is intentionally it’s designed to be real dynamic and allow to be very fluid that you can apply it perpetually on any second of everyday because we live in this world of perpetual re-prioritization. Based on what comes into our inbox or what we see on Twitter or what we read online, our priorities can shift a second and then a second later they shift again.

A lot of people struggle with all of them. Eliminate is probably the one that I think almost everybody struggles with. It’s one of the ones that I struggle the most with. Eliminate is the one, Brett, where we have by far the widest swath of opportunity, if you will, for immediate improvement because if we eliminate something today we create more time tomorrow. By saying no to something today that we would be doing tomorrow, we have multiplied our time because now tomorrow we have space, we have margin where we would have been doing something.

For me, I have a hard time saying no to people. Really? Yeah. I’m a people pleaser. I just am. What ends up happening is I go through life without ever trying to say no. One of the multipliers, basically, and he was like, “Rory, that’s stupid. It’s impossible to go through life without ever saying no. You have to realize that anytime you say yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying no to an infinite number of others.”

That was a big deal because I started to realize that for me, if I’m not consciously saying no to the things that do not matter, then I find that I almost always end up unconsciously saying no to the things that really do matter.

Inside of that realization, I then develop the first permission, which is the permission to ignore and the permission to say no to the things that don’t matter so I can say yes to the things that do. Most of our inbox we could just go through and just delete and eliminate and there’s things on our calendar that we could just stop doing and we don’t owe anybody an explanation, but we have a hard time emotionally doing that, which is another one of the big misconceptions is that when most of think of time management, it’s always logical. Tips and tricks, tools and technology, calendars and checklist, but time management today is no longer logical. It’s emotional.

Brett McKay: Do you have any advice on managing the emotions of saying no? Do you have scripts that people can use who have a hard time doing that and what can they do to take sting off? Besides understanding that if they say yes or say no to something else but once they have to actually do it. Anything there?

Rory Vaden: I would just say you ask yourself, “If I do this activity, what will I have to say no to or what will I end up saying no to by saying yes to this?” It’s just this checkpoint. I think that’s one. That’s one big idea.

The other thing to realize is you can say no and still be nice. If you become an expert at nicely saying no, it’s like y can say no and you can still be gracious about it. Maybe you have to turn down someone’s request like we get a lot of requests to go speaking and my speaking fee is whatever it is and a lot of times people will request and maybe they don’t have my speaking fee. It’s such a bummer because it’s like man, here’s somebody reaching out to us. They really want us to come. It’s such a compliment to be invited, but it’s just like at this point in the career I can’t say yes to doing that because then it’s pulling me away from the other things that I’m doing and it’s not empirically worth the time.

What we’ve figured out, we learned this from somebody, is that anybody that we have to say no to we will often send them a little gift package of just little books and video courses and things like that and it’s just like, “So sorry we couldn’t come but hey, here’s a thing.” What we learned to do is now we do virtual keynotes. We’ll do it via webinar where they can see my face and I’ll present live to a live audience, but instead of having to get on a plane and travel and go do that, I’m able to do it from my office so it really is less time out of my entire schedule.

Brett McKay: I love those ideas. I’ll start putting those in practice. Something else that helps when I had to say no to someone is to remind myself that when I ask someone if they could do something, I’m always expecting no for an answer. It’s like when I ask I’m not expecting they’d just say yes. I’m like, “Okay, they could say no.” If they said no, okay. It’s just like I imagine the other person when someone’s asking me to do something or asking a favor, they’re asking with the idea that he could say no to. I don’t get that upset when people say no to me, so maybe other people … I don’t know.

Rory Vaden: That’s a really good point, Brett. I think that’s really good. I’ve never thought about that but it’s like sometimes it’s harder for the person saying no than for the person receiving the no. We make it a big deal I feel the same way. It’s like if I’m reaching out to somebody with a favor I know it’s a possibility and it’s not a bad thing.

Brett McKay: Yeah. If it happens, okay. No big deal. I have a contingency plan for that.

Rory Vaden: Right.

Brett McKay: Well man, this is great stuff. We could probably keep talking forever, but I’m going to let you go. Before we go, where can people learn more about your work?

Rory Vaden: Honestly, I would say the best thing you could do is invest one hour. We put together a free one-hour webinar. It’s at If you just go you can register and watch this free one-hour training where I walk you through the whole focus funnel. You see it. We talk about the relationship to take the stairs. You can really get our hands around it.

I promise, if you invest that one hour with me, you will get thousands of hours back as a result of the shift that happens in your thinking. Then from there there’s links to my blog and podcast and all of my Twitter and all of my other stuff. Just go to Check out the free webinar and start there.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Rory Vaden, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Rory Vaden: Brett, it’s my pleasure man and you do such a good thing. I’m so glad that you said yes to having me. The last thing I would just leave everybody with is remember no matter who you are, no matter who you were yesterday, for all of us, success is never owned, it’s only rented and the rent is due everyday.

Brett McKay: Thanks, Rory. Our guest today was Rory Vaden. He’s the author of the book Procrastinate on Purpose as well as Take the Stairs. For more information about his work check out and for those free tools that he talked about on Procrastinating on Purpose go to

Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at If you enjoyed the show and you feel like you’re getting something out of it, I’d really appreciate if you give us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever it is you use to listen to podcast that will help get the word out about the show. Again, I thank you if you do that. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

Related Posts