One-to-One with Geezeo: Dr. Julie Gurner, Personal Development Thought Leader

November 13, 2017
Amy Hibbard

Companies go through growth stages; lifecycles of peaks and valleys that cause it to ebb and flow with the current of the competitive landscape. Being a leader who keeps enthusiasm up as a company grows is important. In this installment of One-To-One with Geezeo, Amy Hibbard talked with Dr. Julie Gurner, a thought leader in personal development and company culture about how exceptional workplaces come from exceptional people.

Geezeo: Do you see a correlation between mental state and the ultra-successful?
Julie: I don’t know about mental state per se, but I do see a number of common traits and personality characteristics. The four biggest that I see are persistence, a lifestyle of continued self-directed learning in their field(s), an unwavering belief in themselves, and a tendency toward execution.

To flush this out a bit, ultra-successful are individuals are, what we call in psychology, very “gritty.” They have high internal motivation and are not deterred by obstacles. While so many individuals are content to halt their education when formal schooling stops, these are individuals who are autodidacts by nature and are always growing in their expertise outside of a formal setting. If you’re not always learning and improving, you often quickly behind…but they don’t do it for that reason, they do it for’s an internal drive. When you combine these traits with a true self-belief in your vision and a proclivity toward execution, there is very little that can stop you.

Geezeo: What can neuroscience tell us about achieving goals?
Julie: Neuroscience can inform us in how to get the best performance out of what we’ve got, how to sustain it, and what to do to improve it. I compare it to a common gym-goer vs an athlete. Many people show up to the gym, do a little cardio, put in some haphazard weight lifting, and go home – but the person who is truly developing their physique takes a more calculated and informed approach by understanding how their muscles respond, grow, and achieve their desired build without the frustration others experience.

Bringing neuroscience to the table is a game changer. You understand how to optimize your own functioning – energy levels, focus, attention, task achievement, and because of this can accomplish more in less time. Science is very clear how to do this, and it’s what I do primarily with executive coaching on an individual basis.

I’m incredibly data and science focused, and so it strikes me as odd that we use data for everything but how we work. We’d never run a simple ad campaign without basing it on data, but we’d run our work life, time use, and even office culture based on no data at all. Working inefficiently is why most people are putting in unbearably long weeks instead of having time to enjoy life as well. It doesn’t have to be that way.

One example? A study out of Stanford University found that productivity declines after working 50 hours a week, and drops off of a cliff after 55 hours so much so that if you work 70 hours a week they found no gains with those additional 15 hours. Here is that study if you’re interested We only really have so much cognitive capacity to give – but we are wasteful in how we use it so we’re not accomplishing what we need to in the time we have to be most productive.

Getting people and organizations to function optimally often means going against conventional wisdom and following data and science. I’ve done it for venture firms (and their portfolio companies) as well as executives – but it’s usually those in startup cultures that are willing to look at these numbers and challenge convention. I love that. The “before and after” bottom-line numbers shows it works, but you have to follow the data.

Geezeo: What do you see as successful people’s formula for burnout?
Julie: People who experience burnout are functioning in a state of overwhelming mental wear and exhaustion from ongoing stress.

Successful people often push themselves mercilessly – it is how they get to where they are, but if left unchecked, this often ends up taking its toll. Despite the hype of endless “hustle,” we simply aren’t built to function in work mode 24/7, and sometimes those who push the hardest are least likely to realize that the pattern is physically unsustainable.
The thing to understand about burnout is that it’s insidious. It starts small – perhaps with insomnia, changes in eating, a shorter fuse, or an increasing awareness of stress seeming more overwhelming.

I’ve met a few executives who catch themselves falling into it, but many take the perspective to “power through” which never ends well. Employees see it, their spouses see it, and it becomes evident to everyone but them until it is overwhelming.

The successful person’s formula for burnout is doing nothing but work.

Geezeo: Any good work/life balance advice for busy professionals?
Julie: We’re all busy. Everyone is busy. But the research is very clear that human relationships make us happier than money, fame, or work. I think I would start by examining what makes you so busy…and be willing to make small changes. Two I would recommend – one personal, and one business-related:

Can you remove Facebook from your phone? Twitter? For example, if you spend only 2 hours on your phone a day, that’s over a month of your life – every year.
Be a meeting killer. Every meeting you hold is actively preventing people from getting tasks completed – including yourself. This is work they then have to try to fit between meetings or after them (broken time, inefficient) – leading to longer hours worked. They should always be essential, focused, spare, brief, and only involving people essential to the task at hand. Though some meetings are important, I average eliminating about 30-40% in places I’ve been.

Julie Gurner is a doctor of psychology who uses neuroscience to help executives and companies function efficiently in their use of time, improving their bottom line, productivity, and life experience. Retained by venture firms, startup companies/founders, and executives, she has been named a “Game Changer” by IBM, and featured in Time, Forbes, Yahoo!, Vox, VICE, and NBC News among others.

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