Episode 238 – Attention! with Rob Hatch

“We are bombarded every single day by buzzes and dings and notifications… I wanted to help people find some simple ways to reclaim the power of their decisions instead of reacting all the time, to take a breath or to set up some simple rules and systems that they could use to make better decisions for their life, for their business.”

Rob HatchRob Hatch had been training to write a book for nine years without knowing it, as he built up not only a loyal readership for his weekly newsletter (all now poised to buy his book on launch day) but also his own writing practice.

In this conversation we talk about making technology work for us rather than against us, finding your people, seeking out critical feedback and some super-practical tips to help you regain control of your most precious resource of all – your attention.


Rob’s site: https://robhatch.com/

Rob on Twitter: https://twitter.com/robhatch

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge January 2021: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=proposal-challenge-jan-21

Virtual Writing Retreat wait list: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/virtual-writing-retreat/

My K-day countdown for the National Literacy Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alison-jones1000

Alison Jones:  I’m here today with Rob Hatch, who’s the co founder and president of Owner Media Group, providing strategies and skills for the modern business.

He brings a unique blend of knowledge and background in the field of human development, his experience as successful business leader and executive coach and his weekly newsletters read by tens of thousands of individuals all over the world.

As a speaker, trainer and coach Rob works primarily with business leaders and teams guiding them through critical transitions in their organization.

And he’s the author of Attention! The power of simple decisions in a distracted world, freshly out from Practical Inspiration Publishing. Welcome to the show, Rob.

Rob Hatch: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Alison Jones: Great to have you here. And actually what it doesn’t say in that bio, but what it should say of course, is that you are also a winner of the 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge.

Rob Hatch: Yes. Yes, indeed. And grateful winner too, I know you’re running one right now and I was sort of envious of the people going through that process, because it was such a great and fun way to approach the book.

Alison Jones: Especially when you win, right?

Rob Hatch: Right. Well, definitely, that definitely was nice, but I felt really prepared at the end regardless, you know, prepared to take the next step, whatever that might’ve been.

But yes, I was very grateful to be a winner as well.

Alison Jones: And what you didn’t expect of course, was that we’d have the book printed, it’d be all ready to go, and then a global pandemic would hit and all the bookstores will close. So for you, and you’ve even had the books there since March really, haven’t you? You were supposed to be publishing in May and we took the decision to put it back to October, which I think was the right decision, but oh my goodness…

Rob Hatch: I agree.

Alison Jones: Just talk us through how that was.

Rob Hatch: Well, I mean, it was always the idea of getting the book deal, you know, from Practical Inspiration, from the get go was incredibly exciting. And then going through the process of putting it all together and submitting, and finally getting to that point, we had set the date and all that expectation.

And I think though the pandemic actually occurred right in line with when I got my first copies of the book in hand. So I was hopeful that we were still going to be on track. But …

Alison Jones: A few weeks, a few weeks, we should be fine. That’s what we were saying. Isn’t it?

Rob Hatch: Exactly, I think everyone was saying that, Oh, we’ll be back to school. We’ll… all of these things that we’ll get past this, but yes, I think the decision was good, but it was really hard because there’s all this excitement and anticipation, and finally you have it in your hands and it felt so good.

And I loved the way it turned out and looked and to be all excited for that and prepping for the launch, to then have to hit pause on that activity. And  in many ways, almost hold back on the promotion of the book so that it was timed right. So to sit on something that you’ve been working so hard to finish and complete and share, and then have to essentially not say a whole lot publicly, or that was my decision.

I think it was the right one to kind of hold back because that we wanted the attention to happen when launch came. So I think it was a good decision all around but it was definitely a hard thing to sit on for a while.

Alison Jones: Yes, we were just saying before we came on that there are sort of cohorts of people in every walk of life who will look back and they were navigating a thing at this point, whether it was going to university or, you know, not having the launch of their book.

So there’s a whole cohort of authors who have released during lockdown and not been able to have launches. It’s been a really, really strange time and it is very, very good to have the bookshops open again. But yes, attention was definitely elsewhere. Wasn’t it?

Rob Hatch: It definitely was, definitely was.

Alison Jones: And let’s, I mean, ‘attention’ is such a great word and actually I have to say I’m going to put the picture of the cover up  on the podcast notes as well, it is literally one of my favourite covers ever. It’s so clean and simple and striking, and minimalist. Just tell us what made you write this book and what you were hoping to achieve with it.

Rob Hatch: Well, the drive for writing the book from a sort of personal heartfelt reason was to help people reclaim just even a sliver of the time that is, and our attention, that’s in such demand right now, we are bombarded every single day by buzzes and dings and notifications or the little red dot. As I talk about it in the book, the red dot reaction phenomenon, and I feel like there’s this cultural attention deficit that’s going on right now. And I wanted to help people find some simple ways to reclaim the power of their decisions instead of reacting all the time, to take a breath or to set up some simple rules and systems that they could use to make better decisions for their life, for their business, whatever it may be.

Alison Jones: And it’s all about the systems, isn’t it? I mean, it’s so practical. Actually, you talk about obviously the philosophy behind it that, you know, the value of your attention and so on, but just give us a few examples of the really simple but effective systems that you’ve put. I particularly loved action stacking.

I thought it was just really, cause you’re right, it’s the end of the thing where you just kind of run out of momentum that, just talk us through that.

Rob Hatch: Sure. So, action stacks is one of my favorites as well. And an action stack is simply a simple repeatable plan for something that you do at least more than twice.  There’s a friend of  mine, Ron Hood, who had a quote he always used: ‘If it happens more than twice, it needs a system.’ So an action stack is, for lack of a better term, a checklist of all the steps that you need to go through.

When I’m loading up a webinar or getting ready to record a webinar or, there’s this whole set of steps that I’ll go through. And I know them by heart, right. But I’ll start with step one, step two, step seven. Oh, darn step four, no step three. And I’m trying to remember this, right? Cause I know it and eventually I’ll get it all done, but inevitably there’s one step that I might’ve missed or I did them out of order and I go back and forth.

And worse than that, I’m expending all of this mental energy, trying to remember, rather than simply pulling up the action stack, which walks me through. And I just don’t even have to think about it. I check it off as I go and everything gets done and it’s completed all the way through, those are my favorites just because I have things that I do every week or every month.

And if I can just put it on my schedule, I pull up the action stack. You can keep it on a notebook. People use Evernote for them. I happen to use Google Keep, but some simple system where you can store these  and every so often you should revisit them as well and adjust them.

Alison Jones: And it’s interesting you start to talk about the technology there as well, because that’s so key as well, isn’t it, to you’re talking about .The technology is both the enemy and the slave that can help us.

Rob Hatch: Yes, but that to me is about reclaiming the power of our decisions too. You know, our phones, our computers do so much, but what we’ve failed to do is take some time to think about what do we want it to do for us. How do we want this to serve us? And it’s as simple as, or if it’s an action stack,  you can have it on a schedule to pop up every week or remind you of something.

And it’s right there and you can use the technology to help support you through that, if you were filling out a calendar entry, you don’t need a new app to capture  all sorts of information. You can use it, but in most calendar entries on Google, for example, there is lots of space to put links and numbers and notes and references.

And it’s all there for us. But instead we’re in a rush and I’ll just put, Oh, Alison and Rob, you know, Monday at 11. Right. But that’s not enough. And so we’ll come up against that appointment and then we’ll go searching through our email, trying to remember what it is we’re doing. Where’s …

Alison Jones: What the hell are we supposed to be talking about?

Rob Hatch: Right.

So, but there’s space there. So if we just follow through a little bit further and use the technology to serve us, rather than us being, you know, as you said, you know, on call basically to all the notifications on our phone and having it interrupt us or get in our way.

Alison Jones: Yes,  it’s so powerful. And you also write in a very calm way, which I find helpful because it’s very much the medium is the message. Isn’t it? And these are short, simply written, deceptively simply written sentences, actually. And it just all goes together. And you sort of, you get to the end of the section and you think: I can do that. Was that very conscious?

Rob Hatch: Yes , the idea of keeping things short and in terms of the sentence structure or paragraph length, I want people to feel like they can move through the piece and not get bogged down in all of the text and move through an idea bit by bit. And I take that approach with a lot of things, you know, breaking down something very large, like writing a book into smaller pieces and I find it very helpful.

And then you have the sense of accomplishment and you can kind of nod your head along the way, like, okay. Yes.

And then the next thing comes up and you can nod your head again. And it builds. So yes, it was very intentional and you know, I’ve always had a very conversational style. I’ve always sort of put myself a little bit into the story, more as a bit of a foil for things. Cause I’m working these things out as much for myself and how my own brain works as I am trying to help others.

Alison Jones: And obviously you write regularly anyway, you’ve done your newsletter for years now. Haven’t you?

Rob Hatch: Yeah. It’s been about nine years now. Every week on Thursday morning.

Alison Jones: Which  is incredible. I’ve been doing mine for about four years now and that feels like huge

Rob Hatch: It is huge, I can’t think of something I’ve done as consistently, for as long really, other than wake up in the morning and go to bed at night,.

Alison Jones: And what does that do for you? That consistency and that obligation to get something out the door on a Thursday morning?

Rob Hatch: Well, the obligation is really great because it gives me a little bit of motivation to get it written. Right. I know that sounds strange, but there are people in fact, who at this point  are waiting for it. And I don’t say that in a way to be boastful in any way, shape or form, but I’ve made a mistake of setting the wrong time, or it went out at a different time. Maybe I put 4:00 PM instead of 4:00 AM. And I’ve actually received emails from people saying, ‘Is everything okay? I didn’t get your newsletter today,’ which is lovely, right? So I know that there are people out there.

And, and I think, you know, you were saying earlier about the style being, you know, kind of calm. And I always write in a very personal way as though I’m writing to one person, that’s something I’ve learned from my business partner, Chris Brogan, this idea of writing to one person. So I have a picture in my head of a person that I’m writing to.

And it helps me to tell that story more easily, to get it done. And, and yeah, the fact that people are waiting for it in some way, shape or form and I’ve been doing it for so long. It gives me motivation.

Alison Jones: Yes, it has its own rhythm, doesn’t it. And so you write regularly, you’ve developed that mental habit of imagining the reader in front of you. How did all of that translate to writing a book, which is such a different scale of a thing, isn’t it?

Rob Hatch: It is, but it actually helps enormously. And one of the things that, aside from signing up for the 10-day business book challenge, as a recommendation for anyone writing a business book, a shameless plug for you there,

Alison Jones: I appreciate it thank you. And I’ll highlight that in the notes. That’s great.

Rob Hatch: What it helped me do, what that challenge helped me do is frame the book better. And also to really think clearly about why I was writing it. What was the intention behind it? Or as my friend, Becky McCray asks me every now  and then, what’s going to change once the book has been written.

So the idea of writing every week, 500 words, 700 words, helped me understand that I could write consistently.

And that if I look back on the volume of all of that writing, it was easily a book or more. So I knew that the words were there and the concepts were there because I’d been writing about these concepts in different ways for nine years now.

But to put it all together in a book, what I found really helpful was framing it and just identifying the chapters and then the sub headings of each chapter. That helped me to break it down and really think about how do I want this to flow.

But the tricky, not the tricky bit, the best part of it was to say, okay, a business book is anywhere from say 65,000 to 75,000 words. And if I have 10 chapters, then I can start to go. I know how many words each chapter has to have, and then each chapter might have a few sections. So it really shrank the problem, which is something that I do quite often, is take something very big and break it down into smaller bite sized chunks that are more manageable. And I know that I can write 1500 words and convey an idea or a thought. Yes. And so that made it much more manageable for me.

Alison Jones: And of course, that’s great for you as the writer. It’s also how we read isn’t it, today at least

Rob Hatch: Yeah. I mean, I go to bed at night and I read as I’m going to sleep. And sometimes I don’t even read more than 500 words before I start to doze off, but yeah, we do read in small bits, we consume information on our phones in really small chunks, which again, going back to the intentionality of how the book is structured. I think it allows for that and allows for you to be able to revisit. If you happen to pick up in a place that you’ve already read, it doesn’t feel like you’re, again lost so deeply in the text that you can’t get back to where you were. You really can just move through it very, very easily.

Alison Jones: And were there any bits that were unexpectedly hard, Rob, as you were writing? What did you come up against?

Rob Hatch: That’s a good question.  I wouldn’t say with the writing, I would say more with the editing and the feedback and really thinking about how I wanted to carry the reader through from beginning to end and how I wanted to structure it. That was probably the hardest and feeling as though I had accomplished that and ended it where I wanted to end it

Alison Jones: So when you did that, what worked?

Rob Hatch: Feedback, feedback from kind but critical friends, you know, people that I knew

Alison Jones: Both of those things are important.

Rob Hatch: Yes. Honestly, you need that encouragement. I mean, family members, you tell them you’re writing a book and it’s as though you’ve already won a New York Times bestseller, like they’re all excited for you. Because not a lot of people write books right in our everyday lives. It’s a pretty big accomplishment. It’s akin to saying, you know, I’m going to run a marathon and all you have to do is say it and everyone’s excited for you. But you do have to find those people who will look at it critically but who also, know and believe in your ability to do it.

That was really critical to me. It was finding a handful of people that I knew would give me the right type of critique, but also were willing to spend enough time on it because they knew that I was working on something important.

Alison Jones: And did you steer them, because we often talk about this with authors and beta readers, is that you want to ask tailored, open questions, but you also want to give them space to tell you the stuff that you don’t know you don’t know. So how did that dynamic work, and also what was it like getting the feedback?

Rob Hatch: It was hard but encouraging, and again, I feel like when someone is willing to kind of dig in, to tell you that something isn’t working, it’s because something else is working, that they were on this journey with you, you had them, you had them. And then something went awry. So I tended not to give too much direction and just asked for feedback. That said, most of the people that I asked to read it were people who had been reading my newsletter for a while.

So they knew my style and it wasn’t completely foreign to them, neither the concepts or my writing. But I found giving them more freedom than not, was helpful to me. And then being willing to kind of take in that feedback because they wanted it to be good.

Alison Jones: And now of course, and this is the great thing about having that, you know, you’ve put those years and years of groundwork in building that newsletter list. And now, it really pays back, doesn’t it. You’ve got your beta readers and you’ve got your street team. You’ve got the people who are going to be shouting about your book and buying it and telling their friends about it.

It’s a great lesson in community engagement and involvement.

Rob Hatch: Yes. And it’s hard. I mean, I’ve benefited from, you know, my business partner, Chris Brogan and I have been writing our newsletter list for as many years together.  His newsletter goes out on a Sunday, mine goes out on Thursday and there’s a group of people who like one or, or the other of us, but, or prefer, I should say one or the other of us.

So there’s some groups that don’t overlap, but we’ve been really communicating and writing, again in a very personal way, every single week for nine years. And we respond to every reply. So when someone sends me a reply on Thursday morning, or my Thursday morning is generally blocked out to reply to anyone who sends me something back.

And that’s where I’ve developed a lot of friendships and relationships, that sometimes turn into business. Other times it’s just, you know, referral to a business, or sometimes it’s just a friendship, a trusted friendship. But every one of the people who had something, either blurbed the book or wrote the forward was a relationship I actually developed. That came about online, more than in person. There’s not a single person there that I met in person first. I met them all online, not necessarily through the newsletter, but connected with them online first and developed a relationship over the years.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s very cool. Isn’t it? It’s a lot easier to find your people than it ever used to be if you happened to be born in the wrong village, not with your kind of people. Yes. So there are going to be people listening that haven’t written a newsletter for nine years and haven’t written their book yet. If they’re starting from scratch, what would be the single best tip that you would give to a first time business book writer Rob?

Rob Hatch: For their book or to build their audience?

Alison Jones: Well, over to you really?

Rob Hatch: Yes. I mean, honestly I think you can do either in either order. I think it helps to write to an audience, to really understand who it is that you want to serve and what problem you solve for them, or you want to solve for them and really boil that down, whether it’s in your business or in the book that you’re creating, or the newsletter that you want to write each week or every other week.

Understanding why you’re doing that, I think is really critical. And for what purpose, what is someone going to get out of this newsletter that they can’t get anywhere else? Or, you know, why would they choose you? So I think that’s, that’s where you start.

Alison Jones: And that’s the same question about a book, isn’t it?

Rob Hatch: Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, the understanding that helps you to frame up who that one person is. When I talked earlier about writing to one person, I envisioned some of the challenges that they might be having. And that’s what enables me to write, I think, more clearly and easily to the issue or the problem at hand and offer an idea that they can work with or a solution that’s practical and sometimes it’s just a reminder, you know, I think sometimes  we get afraid to write, at least I know I’ve gone through phases where I’ve asked myself, man, I’ve already said this before, or someone else is already saying this.

But just recently I sent a newsletter out talking about a very simple concept that’s in the book and I know that I had written about it before, and I think it was less than 300 words, the newsletter. I had more responses to that newsletter, just as a thank you for the reminder. People needed to be reminded and again, with the newsletter, there’s new people on it. We can’t assume that they’ve all been along for this journey. So it could be the first time someone’s seeing it, hearing it, hearing it the way that you are going to say it.

So I think iit’s valuable to give yourself some credit that you have a unique perspective on a problem, even if something similar has been said.

Alison Jones: That’s so true and really helpful because we do get caught up in like, Oh, it’s not original. If it’s not original, there’s no point saying it. Which is just absolute nonsense. Yes. I always ask guests for a recommendation for a business book that they think people should read. And clearly, everybody should read Attention!

And it’s an absolute joy to read as well, it’s not a chore, but is there another book that’s perhaps meant a lot to you that you’d recommend for our listeners?

Rob Hatch: Yeah, there’s a book that I’ve gone back to a couple of times, more than a couple of times, I think, called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. And in particular, their discussion around solving problems by focusing on the bright spots. In the examples that they use in the book, and we’re talking large scale problems that people are trying to solve. Like, you know, famine issues or, you know, trying to shift someone’s ideas around.

I think there’s an example in there about whole milk versus 2% or something like that and the fat content, but in the examples that they talk about, the things that worked were the brights, finding the people who were doing it well or in a community, finding people who were successful rather than focusing on what wasn’t working and then building on that and using those examples, so if you can find something, and I say this with any of my coaching clients as well, I’m less interested in what you’re not doing well, right now, I’m more interested in what you do well and how we can leverage that.

So if you have been able to maintain, for example, writing every single week for nine years, we should probably be talking about that as a sort of a leverage, how to leverage that into writing a book. That’s a strength, you know, so we have to identify these strengths of these bright spots.

And Switch is a great book for that and for many other reasons, too. They have some really amazing stories in there and great examples and Chip and Dan write really well.

Alison Jones: They do and they may just about be the most recommended authors on the podcast, actually, partly because they’ve written so many books, but yeah. And they do really write well.

And I did love that actually in the book when you’re saying you’ve only done 10 days,  well, Hey, you did 10 days, you know, and it is, it’s a real reframe, isn’t it?

And again, actually it comes back to attention. If you putting your attention on the stuff that’s working, you’ve got something to build from there rather than beating yourself up about it.

Rob Hatch: Absolutely. I can find lots of things to beat myself up about, but I’ve rarely taken that and turned it into something positive, you know, I’m not a back against the wall kind of person. I don’t find myself doing well.  If my back was against the wall, I’m still going to be looking for the positive things that I can use to get out of a situation rather than then this sort of learning from failure or, yeah, focusing on what’s not working, it’s never going to do me well.

Alison Jones: Brilliant advice for life, thank you. And Rob, if people want to find out more about you, more about Attention!, where should they go?

Rob Hatch: Sure; you can go to robhatch.com and you can learn all about what I’m working on there, and a little bit more about what I do as a coach and if you want to learn more about the book, you can go to robhatch.com/attention.

Alison Jones: That was easy. I’ll put those links up on the show notes, obviously, at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, but I can’t imagine you won’t be able to remember that. And thank you. And congratulations again, Rob. I mean, it was a superb proposal. It’s a super book, I’m really, really proud to have published it.

Rob Hatch: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

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