Productivity is often associated with the number of tasks you’ve accomplished within a certain amount of time. Yet, some fail to see the tremendous effect it has on the quality of life. To be productive, one has to be organized, and following a process certainly helps with that. Inc. Columnist and Podcast Host, Tracy Hazzard, joins this episode to share her best practices and processes in life and business to keep everything in check and organized. She talks about how her team maintains a high level of productivity without stress. Learn the questions you need to be asking in order to break down resistances and obstacles hindering your productivity in this conversation.
Listen to the podcast here:
Organized Process: The Key to Maximum Productivity With Tracy Hazzard
Tracy, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Penny. I’m excited to be here.
I’m excited to have you here because not only are you this amazing innovation guru, as well as the podcast master, but you also are a productive individual. I know that you’ve got a lot of productivity tips and things that you do that work for you that would be great to share.
I thought you were going to call me the podcast mistress, which is the way that I approach everything. Everything is disciplined around here, so it’s funny. I seem like I’m an easy-going and cool person. I have an art and designer background, but everything has a system and a place here. That’s how we maintain high productivity and what we do and systems and processes have to come out of that.
That’s interesting. A lot of creative people probably feel that’s an oxymoron, “Structure me and put me in a box.” How did you find that out that that was essential for you? Does it stop you from being creative? When did you find out that it was so important?
I don’t think that I ever realized that I was different than the other artists and designers when I was in college. I didn’t intend to go to art school. It happened. It’s one of those things where I didn’t get into my first-choice school. Art school came up and I thought this was the rebellious thing to do.
“I’m going to get my parents. I’m going into art.”
I honestly made my mom happy because she is an artist. It’s one of those things where I didn’t realize my brain works differently than other artists. I didn’t understand that because the creativity was flowing from me. I was compelled to do that and I was that compelled to create. I didn’t think about that it was an ongoing thing but I was an organized thinker and an organized person, which made me a successful student. It made me successful in business and has given me success factors that I didn’t even realize it. That had become a basis of an underlying structure to it. I needed it in order to free up the creative thought. I didn’t realize that at the time. It’s one of those things that happened that by creating an organization and structure, I gave my mind a lot of freedom to innovate, create, to be thinking all about that, and not worrying about all these little things in the chaos of everyday life.
I hear that from a lot of people that are creatives. Once they found the structure, it created freedom that they didn’t expect, but a lot of people aren’t born with it or naturally like that.
I have an artist mom and an engineer dad. The two blended perfectly.
It’s those systems and structures that have helped you to scale Podetize the way that you do and be able to bring on a lot more people onto the platform because it’s already automated.
This is the thing, in April 2015, we started our first show. When we started it, we started it with an organization in mind, because I couldn’t let it derail our daily workload. We started with this organization of, we’re only going to do four interviews a month. We’re only going to have a half-day where we record all of our other shows and other content. We’re going to do it twice a month and have these blocks of time. We blocked it out because we had clients and we had other things in our core business at the time that we had to structure around. I couldn’t let it derail everything. We quickly discovered that there are all these tasks to do. If I’m going to hire people to do them, I need to be specific about hiring them to make sure that they’re efficient, so I don’t have to do a lot of overseeing. My least favorite thing is to reread things, re-listen to them and do stuff twice. I hate to do things twice.
It’s a good motivator. If I’ve recorded something and I knew it was good while I was doing it, then I’m done. I don’t want to hear it again. I got to leave that to somebody else. That’s where the drivers for me has always been this efficiency model for me to be able to do what I want to do and when we built that people looked at it and said, “Would you do that for me?” I was like, “I’ve got capacity because I hired this team, so why not?” That’s how we became and overall, that’s what we do. We look at those difficult things, the things that we procrastinate about, the things that we also spend too much time in. It gets to weigh into it and it’s not progressive for your business in any way shape or form. You deep dive into it because you’re detail-oriented and you want it to be perfect.
Those two types of things, when I look at those, those are the places where I’d say, “Here, needs to be a system or a process that’s going to go underlie all of this.” That’s how we do it. We wait and we see those points. We see crunch in our team. I have 55 employees, so probably even more. I won’t know until the next payroll, probably 60. When I see what’s going on like what we have right now, we have a high load of change requests. We look at that and say, “Our team is handling that.” Is there a better process? Do we take all change requests and put him with one person who does them efficiently and quickly or do we send them back to the original person who did the work? There’s a whole thought process that goes to how you create a process to it. It isn’t until you see a bulk of things going wrong or things being difficult or stressful on you that you know that’s the place.
A lot of people tolerate that stressfulness or problem.
I have no patience. That’s probably why.
That’s good. There’s a question that you typically ask yourself that might be different from what other people ask, that is your driving question. What do you think it would be that gets you to start this domino effect of going through, finding the problem, and automating or finding a system for it?
One of the questions that I’ve always asked whether it’s designing products or designing systems, software, and processes is, you look at that and I say, “Does this have to be like this?” That’s always the fundamental question. “Just because this is the way things have been done or the things are done, does it have to be like that?” That can be unsettling. It can make your team stressed if you’re constantly changing things on them. You have to build a culture that accepts that change in a way. Tom, my partner and husband and I did a ton of products over in Asia. They don’t change at all. They want to run the same old, ugly product, year over year. The last thing they want is me to come in and say, “We’re going to redesign this product. We’re going to do it new. You’re going to have to run a whole new machine, process, or get a whole new file you’ve never used before to make it happen.” They flip out and they will tell you, “No.” We learned early on how to push against that no and get by it and that is essential.
Organized Process Productivity: Self-resistance is sometimes the worst in the process because you don’t always look at that introspectively.
I can appreciate the pushing against the no, so the way that that came about for me was I used to be an application developer. As I started to be that interim person between the developers and the companies that I was consulting with, the first thing that my developer would say is, “It’s not possible. No.” I was like, “No. I was there. I know it’s possible and they know it.” You know it’s possible and they’re in resistance. I do believe that resistance is one of the biggest, what’s in our way and the obstacle is the most important thing to get through when you want to be more productive. Whether it’s your resistance and procrastination or someone else’s, how do you go about getting that buy-in?
You’re right. Self-resistance is sometimes the worst in the process. You don’t always look at that introspectively and you don’t always think about that, so that’s one’s harder in the process. That’s where you get to this place of, you keep doing these things day in and day out and they’re stressing you out, but you’re not looking at them going, “We could do this differently.” Sometimes I have to step in. My oldest daughter is my Operations Manager. She’s fantastic and a great systems person. She builds fantastic systems, but she doesn’t have quite that creative mindset. Sometimes I’ll have to say, “Why are we doing this? Isn’t there a way?” She’ll say, “The software doesn’t let us do that. There’s this restriction here.” I would say, “Could we hack that and could we do this instead?” She’d be like, “How did you think that up? Yes. I can do that,” and she’s off and running and things are moving again. Sometimes we need to have that discussion between two people and a group. Imagine that.
Can I chat with them and text them?
No, it has to be live and it has to be dialogue. That’s how buy-in happens. We did a lot of FaceTime when we went over to China. We would be in with the factory beyond the floor. They’d have to talk to us about the problem. They’d have to show it to us. There’s not a lot of hiding that can they can do and their resistance starts to fall away. In the process, our excitement about something or we’re expressing what the end goal is and the result of how much better their daily process, workload, and all of these things are going to be. That’s how buy-in happens. The other thing is people want to be heard.
One of the things that you have to do in that process and that is the one thing that I do at the beginning before I start telling them what we’re going to do because, at some point, you will have to go in and tell them what they’re going to do. Before that is that you have to listen to their issues, so I usually ask them a lot of questions about what’s not working? What is working? Why do you want to keep making the same product? Why do you want to keep doing this the same way? What would it look like if it was ideal for you? Walking through those with them, they feel that they’ve had input into the process. A lot of times, for me, I don’t know how to make everything.
I have a lot of experience making products, we’ve done 250 products. There probably isn’t a material or machine I haven’t touched, but I don’t know it, someone, who’s on the line running it. They may have great ideas that might make it easier for me to design or make something that I’m doing. My ability to listen there and us having the ability to collaborate will make a better product. At the end of the day, what I found is this makes products that are more efficient, profitable, more buy-in happens and more excitement happens in the process. When people are excited, products and services sell. You’re proud of them, you tell everybody.
You made it as a team. I like that a lot of the things that you’re talking about are overcoming these obstacles and getting buy-in is how much you’re creating that collaboration with the team. If you only told them what to do, you’re going to bump up against that resistance, which is what happens in a lot of organizations. There’s not a lot of inclusion.
We think, “We’re going to have a meeting. It’s going to drag the timeline down. It’s going to be unproductive and everything.” Your job as the leader of that is to make sure that it is a productive meeting that people are listening, having input, and it’s moving forward. That’s a skill in and of itself and I’m not a big fan of lots of meetings, but I do have them because, at times, they’re critically important to this buy-in process. If you don’t get that, that will bog down your systems and you will have no ability to move your company or product design forward or any of those things that you might be working on like your app. All of those things can happen in the process. They get bogged down and they don’t happen and they turn out with a poor result. That is a part of not communicating.
Let’s switch gears a little bit. Let’s hear about some of your personal side of things in the business. What are your hacks, shortcuts, and tools? If your machine was wiped, what would be the first things that you would install?
That’s a great way to put it. The thing is, I have a busy personal life. I’ve got two young kids, a puppy, and I’ve got a whole family to take care of. We work out of our home office even though we have this many employees because we have offices that are remote, so I have to be at different time zones too. My ability to be efficient in my personal life is essential to my sanity. Otherwise, I don’t get downtime. I don’t get to read a book or do the things I love.
Sanity is important to you because you do something about it, whereas for some people not so much.
It is important to me because if I don’t operate a top-level, my team will not have the resources that they need. I won’t be able to bring in capital and I won’t be able to do the things that are necessary to keep my company floating. Nothing sustainable in the process if I’m not. I look at that as a job. It’s important. It’s critical for me to set my personal stuff in place. A lot of times, we let them go. We’re like, “I’ll skip it. I won’t read or do this.” We skip these things. What I found over time is, if I don’t read a lot of resources, listen to a bunch of podcasts, go through all these things or check social media periodically myself instead of, yes, I have a team for that but if I don’t check it myself, I don’t understand what’s going on in the world.
I don’t understand what’s happening around me. How my families are doing or should I check in with my mom? I don’t see what’s going on. This happened. I got a phone call out of the blue from my aunt and I had been checking all over the place for her. I knew her husband was going into, into some intensive care and with everything that’s going on, she found out that day that she couldn’t visit him. No outside visitors were going to be allowed care facilities. She was worried. I was grateful that she picked up the phone to call me because I couldn’t see that from what was going on social because she was posting nice things. Sometimes we have to read between the lines and check in on people and do things. I have a process by which I do that periodically.
I’m always checking in with family members over the course of a week and I rotate it. My grandmother did this, so did my Nan. She used to call me once a week. She always called. She would say, “It’s Nan. How are you doing?” “Okay, good,” and she’d hang up and I’d be like, “Nan. This phone call doesn’t cost it used to anymore. I can talk to you for longer.” It was her efficient way of dry, touch base to make sure you were okay. I got me into this place of where I felt if I didn’t touch base with those types of family members, my mom, dad, sister, and all those people every single week, I wasn’t getting a real sense of how they’re about what’s going on in my family and my community.
That’s essential and that requires sometimes, I text and sometimes I pick up the phone. It depends on what I’m getting back. I try to respond with the way that they want to be connected to. My sister is a busy executive. If I text her and touch base with her and she doesn’t send back a funny GIF or a video, pictures of her dog or something like that, I know something’s up. The next day, I’ll pick up the phone, so I know something’s not going. She’s stressed. That’s a process a connection that I’ve put into my day, even though it sounds like, “Why would you do that? That takes so much extra time. If people don’t need you, wait until they call you,” but it’s intentional.
What I’m hearing is the theme of being intentional in your relationships, in the way that you plan and run your business. It sounds that’s the theme. It’s your recipe for success. Go figure. When you’re intentional, you’re directing the result that you’re getting.
I learned from my dad early on. He would travel a lot and he was in your building oil pipelines around the world and things like that. He’s a big oil and gas executive, but when he was home, he was with us. We were the most important thing in the world, so I do that with my young girls too. When they come home from school, even as soon as I’m off calls or whatever it is, I’m going like, “How was your day? What happened? What did you learn today? What’s going on in it?” “Okay, great.” Touch base, “Go do your homework and we’ll talk later,” and we get back into it later in the evening. We have dinner and we’ll talk through that and bedtime at that’s my favorite time because I’m a night person. It’s my best time. We have funny discussions at night and bedtime will drag out for twenty minutes sometimes. It frustrates Tom to no end. He can’t stay. He wants them in bed efficient and done. He doesn’t function well at night. He’s not a night person. I’m like, “This is my time to hear what’s going on in the world and what cool, interesting and funny things do they say that pop out of their mouth.” It makes my next day even thinking about it.
My youngest was losing teeth so we read a tooth fairy book. Her big question was, “How does the tooth fairy know which house to go to and who’s lost their teeth?” She thought about it a little bit more. We talked about some ideas about how that might work. Maybe the teeth had a sensor in it. There was a creative thought process here. We ended up with a list. That was probably the most efficient thing. A list was made and she received a list in the tooth fairy goes out to the homes. I was like, “She came to her result.” This is the most efficient system, but it’s great because you start to see how their brains are working. If you don’t concentrate on that, if you’re like, “This is bedtime. There’s a routine.” If you don’t let that freedom happen to the process in it within constraints, you do want to get them to bed before they’re too overtired. That’s how I approach everything that I do. I do you meditate and listen to my podcasts in the morning when I’m putting my makeup on and cleaning up and do my hair done. That’s a process for me but a lot of it is work-related, but it is also personal growth-related. It’s my way of keeping that in touch.
There’s a lot of things in there. You listen to podcasts in the morning, I know that you’ve got a hack about how you listen to more podcasts. I’ve heard this a bunch lately. When you listen to your podcasts? How do you productively listen to your podcasts?
I told you I have no patience. That means I can’t stand the people who talk too slow on podcasts, so I learned early on to use a player that allowed me to do double speed. If you listen to me on double speed, you’d be hard to understand me. I’m not a chipmunk, but it’s still hard to understand me. You probably can only do about 1.5 times. What I would do is I would speed up the podcast and that way you can get through. You have some of the podcast players that I know and Google podcast is one of them, where you can take out the empty space. You can take out pauses. On our end, in our company, we edit those but many people don’t edit their show, so there’s a lot of this dead space in there. Their podcast player can automatically take out when there’s zero sound. It compresses it. What was a 30-minute show is fifteen minutes. I can’t get a lot more done.
It means you can listen to two shows.
Imagine that. There are people that we call podfasters. There’s a term in the industry for the people who do that. Podfasters also tend to be binge listeners, meaning that they will listen to multiple shows from the same podcast in a row. Sometimes they’ll go through an entire series. They purposely pick a show that has 25 episodes or more, and they’ll binge listen to that entire show over the course of a weekend or week. Average listeners listen to six different shows. If you’re picking up six different shows all the time, and you’re picking up new ones they want to catch up. A binge listen, podfasting way is a way to catch up on a show and add it to your repertoire if it was worth it.
My philosophy and that’s why I have to interview so many different people is we all have different tips. We all have different things that we do and so I started to do that and to listen to it at 1.5 or 2 times.
I don’t recommend it if you’re seriously trying to learn something specific like something detail-oriented. Don’t do it. The other thing is, don’t do it and multitask with something that’s not mindless. I can do that and wash dishes, or I’m fixing my hair and my makeup because it’s the same every day. It’s not something I have to think about what I’m doing at the same time. Don’t try to work and listen, it will not happen.
That’s multitasking you shouldn’t do anyway because you’re not going to retain anything.
People drive and listen to faster speeds and they also jog, run on the treadmill, bike or whatever it is. That’s the perfect time because you can get the speed up for yourself too.
It’s context-specific to what you’re listening to, what it is you want to take away from it, where you are and what you’re doing. What other productivity hacks do you have that you can share?
Organized Process Productivity: Let freedom happen to the process.
I am an email zero inbox person.
You believe in the zero inbox? I should have figured that.
Temporarily zero inbox. The minute I shut it down, it’s down. It’s shut whatever that was that. I believe in that. Don’t get me wrong, there are still emails to respond to and there’s stuff to do. I get hundreds a day. What I do is, everything’s flagged and noted as to if I’ve got to respond to them, when I’m going to respond to them, they were immediately addressed, they were filed and put away or my favorite is, Unroll.me, which is my favorite tool. I love it. I would do anything. That is worth every minute it took to set that thing up. It’s amazing. I’m constantly doing that, and I put things in and out of the roll-up. It’s a newsletter at the end of the week, so it allows me to catch up on the things that also allow me to put the people who I don’t want to offend, but I don’t want to read their stuff either. It allows me to put them into a place. Some of my clients think that the world revolves around them and I do love that. I’ve set that tone, but the reality is, I have 320 clients, there is no way I could read everyone’s newsletter.
Maybe once in a while, you want to.
Once in a while, a headline catches my eye through the newsletter and I’ll stop and check it out or I’ll periodically do that. That helps me keep up but not have to be inundated.
Do you use another type of tool within your email like Sortd or any of those others that help you to determine if there’s follow up CC that will send it away and send it back to you when you’re going to work on it? What are those?
I’m a fierce filer. I address something. I file it or I move it. I file it or I flag it. I still file it, so it’s not in my inbox. That’s the key for me. I’m fierce about that, but I don’t want to overcomplicate the whole way that it works. All my sent mail is always there. The Sort and Find on your email is super useful. I don’t understand the methodology of the people who are like, “I have to keep all them. I saved my saved and I move them.” I keep my saved and I archive them with everything else, so they’re always there. When I need to search for something, my follow up is going to be there, so it’s automatically going in the same folder.
My responses are always there. Everything’s always there. When I do it from my phone, which I rarely respond to emails from my phone unless they’re urgent, I CC or BCC myself. That’s the only time that I do it. I try to keep all my email in one place. For me, that’s productivity. If you’re constantly interrupting me on my phone, that’s not doing me any good. I don’t even love text messages, but people will text me. I don’t even love them because I have a hard time tracking them and following up on them. With email, I know I can do it and things won’t slip through the cracks.
That’s an important thing for people to think about is how are they using each of the tools. I’m talking about that to a lot of corporates with people working from home with the coronavirus. It’s like, “When do you use chat and does that make sense?” It’s less structured. When do you need to follow up and you need a more structured environment to be able to handle those requests, to dues and things like that so that might go into a different type of platform like email or project management?
That’s a huge thing. We have our big team and our team works 24 hours a day. There’s rolling going on it is hard to keep up with. I do have a rule that if they need me to do something that’s not immediate like they need an immediate answer, they cannot chat me, they have to email me because otherwise, I won’t remember that it’s in the chat because there are hundreds of little chat messages that go through and you lose it. It’s the same thing with texting me. Unless you need an immediate answer, don’t text me requesting something because I’ll forget about it. That’s our rule about it. Chat is for something immediate for getting immediate answers.
Email is for something more long term or a more report-like type follow up. We use WorkChat from Facebook as a part of our team. We chose that because it was easier with the team because so many people were on Facebook already. It made an easier interplay. We had been using a bunch of different programs over time but the problems for us were files are in different places so everything was consolidating. This works directly and links to our Dropbox. When there are files to look at, it’s an easily follow through on that. We do utilize it as a team, but it is our sole place for immediate response.
We have a feed you do on Facebook and the feed is used for us being able to acknowledge people and do more of, “So and so reached their anniversary,” “It’s your birthday today,” or “So and so became the Employee of the Month.” It’s an acknowledgment placement or a mass announcement. We made announcements that we were sending out masks, gloves, and things to our teams around the world, so they were all getting care packages, essentially. They all knew that was coming, so they all needed to update their address with the system and make sure we had it right. It’s those kinds of announcements. That’s how we utilize it, so everybody understands how properly to use the different places. When they don’t, that’s when it gets messy for all of us.
For a lot of companies, they don’t have those definitions. They don’t have those systems and structures and it comes back to that. I don’t even care whether you’re a big team or even a small team. I remember when I was starting in my technology business and we were only three people to start out with. You think that it was so easy because you’re all there. There were so many communication issues because we assumed that each other knew and, “You heard me on the phone,” but no. They were working and their attention somewhere else.
My team knows that I do not hear anything in the office. I have a great ability to shut out everything. You could even talk to me and if I didn’t look up and acknowledge you, you’re not talking to me. They know that. We always operate in that mode and because I’m married to my partner, my business partner. If we did that, we’d spend the entire free time we had talking about work. What we got to is this comfort zone of, “If I need to know about it, you’re going to tell me about it here on the chat. If I need to do something, for you’re going to email me and asked me to do a task for you.” Otherwise, we’re trusting that the other person does it and it’s on top of the things. When we need to have a meeting or discussion, we will have it, but not in our free time. Not that we don’t talk about work, we don’t have a restrictive. We learned over the years because we’ve been working and married for a long time and on and off over the years we’ve worked together. We learned over time that to be restrictive and say, “After 5:00 PM we can’t talk about work anymore,” or we’re going to go on a date.
It’s too tight.
It’s too strict restrictive for creative people because of the creative process and innovative thinking happens at any time. We do have a sensitivity and understanding between the two of us that when I’m not in the mood or he cannot handle one more word, I said, “After 9:00 PM not good.” We know not to talk to each other at those times. We know to bring it up again at a different time. Other than that, we don’t have that restrictive level, which gives us the freedom to not talk about work a lot because we don’t feel we got to cram it in.
That’s a key thing for people that work together. It’s set some rules and boundaries and I want to bring this full circle to what we started talking about. You said that you talk to people about what’s working and what’s not working. It’s basic, simple things to do is to step back and ask those simple questions so you can use that to come up with rules, boundaries, guidelines, and systems that are going to support you and your organization.
Those are the two critical questions. You have to ask yourself all the time, too.
Organized Process Productivity: Productivity helps you do the things that you love and not be burdened with the stress all the time.
I asked myself all the time. That’s why I asked you, what question do you typically ask yourself? That in itself for people to realize what question they’re asking and whether that’s productive for them or unproductive can also be a huge shift in their productivity.
I have a life coach Michelle Young, who’s amazing. Michelle always says, “How’s that serving you? How’s that working out for you?” When you use that excuse side of things, “This is stressful,” but the minute you say that in there, her response would be, “How’s that working out for you?” That’s what you need to keep reminding yourself. Push those multi-layers of questions on yourself and is that acceptable?
Thank you so much. Is there anything else that you wanted to share before we end the episode?
People don’t realize sometimes there is comfort. They think organizations as restrictive. Productivity is this thing I have to do. The freedom that you get on the other side of being able to think about things, of having all this weight off of your mind to be able to do the things that you love and not be burdened with the stress all the time, that is ultimately valuable. I pack more into my day than most people do in a month and I’m okay with that because the systems that I have in place don’t make me feel that it’s a burden on my brain, heart, or soul. It’s finding those for yourself. Don’t be afraid of those organizational things and also don’t be afraid to say that one’s not working for me do ones that feel right for you.
Awesome. Thank you so much. Where can people find out more about you, your podcast, and the other avenues of what you’re working on?
You can find out a ton about us on Podetize.com big podcasts are Feed Your Brand and The Binge Factor. I also have a podcast for product designers called Product Launch Hazzards. There’s a bunch out there. The best way to do it is to google my name. It’s Tracy Hazzard and you’ll find a ton of content.
She’s out there. Awesome. Thank you, Tracy.
You’re welcome. There you go.
Thank you all for being here because what your goal and your aim is how can you take back time? That’s the name of the show, and you’re going to take back time through systems and organization. The next step is yours. My name is Penny Zenker and this is Take Back Time. We’ll see in the next episode.
About Tracy Hazzard
Tracy Hazzard is an Authority Magazine, Inc. Columnist, co-host of 4 top-ranked podcasts including Feed Your Brand –one of CIO’s Top 26 Entrepreneur Podcasts, and founder of the largest podcast production company in the U.S. As a content, product, and influence strategist for networks, corporations, marketing agencies, entrepreneurs, publications, speakers, authors & experts, Tracy influences and casts branded content with $2 Billion worth of product innovation around the world. Her innovative Podetize method and platform, provides businesses of all sizes a system to spread their content marketing message from video to podcast to blog, growing an engaged audience and retaining valuable platform authority without a lot of time, cost or effort.
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