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How To Manage Urgency To Avoid Burnout And Create A Healthy Work-From-Home Setup With Brandon Smith

TBT 153 | Workplace Dysfunction


When working from home, it’s easy for everything to appear urgent. Constantly trying to stay on top of all these can lead to burnout. How can you manage urgency so that you can take care of what needs to be done while keeping a healthy work environment? Penny Zenker talks about this with Brandon Smith, an executive coach, author, and speaker who is on a mission to eliminate workplace dysfunction forever. Tune in as he expounds what workplace dysfunction is and in what ways he is combatting it. He also share some tips on how to manage urgency and create healthy work-from-home setup.

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How To Manage Urgency To Avoid Burnout And Create A Healthy Work-From-Home Setup With Brandon Smith

I am always excited by the great people that I run into on my search for taking back time for working smarter. I’m super excited to introduce to you, Brandon Smith. He is a leading expert in leadership communication and the cure of workplace dysfunction. Known as The Workplace Therapist, Brandon is a sought-after executive coach, TEDx speaker, author and award-winning business school instructor. He’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, CNN, Fox News, NPR, Forbes and many more. His book, The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything is Urgent All of the Time, helps readers to master urgency so that they can be more effective leaders and manage other’s unrealistic expectations and prevent burnout at home. There’s no better time to talk about this incredible sense of urgency that is part of our culture, and how it’s amplified with the situation of the pandemic and the environment that we’re in. Brandon, welcome to the show.

Penny, I am so glad to be on the show. Before we get started, thank you so much for protecting our most precious resource which is time. I’m glad you’re on that mission because it’s such an important one.

I am on a mission. For me, it’s an interesting question. Is that my mission to protect time? My mission is to help people live happier and more meaningful lives. Time is a vehicle. That’s the way I see it. When we can protect our own time and create space for ourselves, then we’re doing that. How about you? How did you come up with The Hot Sauce? What’s your underlying mission there?

My mission is simple. It’s to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever. I was kidding with people. I said, “I figured it out,” then there was the pandemic. It starts all over again where people have Zoom fatigue and people having meetings at 7:30 in the morning because everyone knows you’re not commuting. They lost all the natural boundaries between work and life. It’s become a different world we’re in now.

Don’t you think our boundaries were eroding before this? I always say that the pandemic amplified our dysfunction.

It did, but there were still some natural breaks. We knew, “I’m not going to have the meeting with you at 5:00 or meeting with you at 7:30 in the morning.” That’s your commute time. That’s when you’re taking the subway or you’re driving into the office, whatever you’re doing. We had some natural breaks with the natural transition time. Now I know exactly where you are at 5:00. You know exactly where I am at 5:00. It becomes this weird stew where there’s not a lot of buffers.

Why do we accept that? I’d be like, “No, I don’t start work at 7:30.”

My training originally was as a clinical therapist. I also have an MBA. That’s where The Workplace Therapist handle comes from. If you think about therapists, one of the foundational ideas of healthy relationships is boundaries. Being able to set healthy boundaries is such an important job for us as human beings. We got off easier in the past because work had a natural boundary established. If we go back several years ago, you could only work when you were at work. You couldn’t work at home.

We didn’t have to set them. They were set for us. What I’m hearing you say is it’s harder because those natural or structured breaks in the workplace are gone. Therefore, it’s up to us and we were not so good at it. Is that what I’m hearing?

Yes, because it requires self-awareness. It requires being able to state and ask for what you need. Every person is different. Maybe you prefer to meditate in the morning before you go to work, or workout before you go to work, or work early, or maybe you have family commitments. That’s part of the boundaries you need to set to be able to manage those. Every person has to navigate and negotiate those individually. That’s a little bit harder. There’s power in that, but it’s also a harder conversation to have.

I know a lot of people feel like, “Maybe I’ll get fired if I speak up.” There’s this fear factor of speaking up for your boundaries. I’m wondering why employers aren’t being more cautious and conscious of those boundaries because everybody’s in a different place and it’s unfair.

Make your boss your number 1 customer. Click To Tweet

It’s varying by managers. Some managers are conscious of that and they’re saying, “We’re not doing any meetings after 5:00.” I did a presentation for a whole group of managers and leaders within a large healthcare organization. They said, “No, we’re not doing video. We’re giving everyone a break. We’re going to be audio-only.” Some managers are being conscious and aware of that and trying to care for their people. Other managers are saying, “I’m going to keep asking until you say no.”

They’re leaving it up to you, which is the way that it’s been in many business cultures. You’ve got to speak out and stand up for yourself in what your boundaries are.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with saying, “It’s your responsibility to tell me what you need. It’s not my responsibility to guess.” There is something fair about that, but we’re all trying to figure it out. That’s the short answer. Just like the world we’re living in now, we’re all trying to figure this thing out.

What are some tips to help people be clearer and stricter about the boundaries that they’d like to set for themselves?

The first one right out of the gate is the hardest. It’s to be clear on what you need. You would be stunned or maybe not in how many people that you ask, “What do you need?” They say, “I don’t know what it is that I need.” You have to know yourself. What do you need in order to be a healthy human and to make your life work in the season of life that you’re in because seasons change. You’ve got to be gut-level honest. The second step is to sit down and script that conversation. Script how you want that to go with your manager and play that out in your head because it is a business conversation. It doesn’t have to be emotional. It doesn’t have to be that big, scary thing we think it is. We’re going to have a business conversation, “In order for me to get you what you need, this is what I need. Let’s find a path forward.”

By scripting it out, it helps you to work through the emotional part and the fear part. Is that what I’m hearing?

Yes. It helps you to start to think about what it is they need too because this is a negotiation. An important thing I talk about it in my book and it’s something I preach to all the people that I get a chance to preach to is never view your manager as a manager from now on. View them as your number one customer. That changes your relationship with them because now you’re saying, “Ms. or Mr. Customer, for me to give you what you need, which I want to because that’s my goal, here’s what I need in order to make that work.” You’re going to negotiate that. You’re not saying they can’t have what they want. You’re saying, “This is what I need in order to give you what you want.”

The third step is to find someone that you trust well. It could be a spouse, a friend, and play it out with them, run it by them. I can’t tell you how many times when people will say, “I want to have this conversation. I want to know how to do it.” They talk it out and say, “You did it. You said it exactly the right way that time. You shouldn’t be scared. That was perfect. It had the right amount of vulnerability, authenticity and genuineness.” Practice and play that out so you’ll feel comfortable. Now you’re ready to have it.

Can I challenge you a little bit so we can have a little conversation? I’m not sure that I agree that we should negotiate our boundaries. If I need this and my normal work hours used to be 8:30 to 6:00 or whatever it was, I don’t feel that I have to renegotiate or negotiate that I start before 8:30.

You’re negotiating the relationship. You’re not negotiating your boundaries.

It’s important for people to understand that. That doesn’t mean that they have to give in to certain points. There are some things that might be negotiable, but some things are boundaries that you have to set, and you have to hold people to it. We train people how to treat us.

TBT 153 | Workplace Dysfunction

Workplace Dysfunction: Constantly having meetings as early as 7:30 in the morning can cause Zoom fatigue.


You say to them, “In order for me to get you what you want, this is what I need.” If they say, “No, I want this from you,” you say, “That’s fine. I can do that but that means you’re not going to get this.”

It’s also okay to say, “I’m sorry but I have a family and I can’t. Perhaps I could work later or perhaps I could work through lunch.” There could be an alternative solution without compromising your boundaries. Is that fair to say? It is a huge issue for people. I never thought about it before this conversation that we had those natural boundaries that protected us, our time and our energy. They went away and we’re not good at setting them ourselves. Why do you think we’re not good at asking for what we need?

That is one of the scariest things we can ask of any other human being. If it’s what you need, then it’s deep-down core to you, and what if they say no? That’s always our fear. Let’s say there’s something you need from your significant other that makes your heart sing. It’s scary to ask for that because what if they say, “No way I’m not going to give you that.” That hurts at a deeper level. We tend to avoid those conversations because it’s so meaningful to us. We’re concerned about what will happen if we get rejected.

You said to treat your boss like your number one customer. I like that because it does shift your mindset so that you’re looking to serve or to please, which people generally are.

There’s something even more important than that. When we treat them as a customer, all of a sudden we turn on that engine that we have about managing expectations. We’re much better at that when there is more customer. We proactively send them updates on projects. We proactively set up meetings to ask questions, to clarify what success would look like. When they’re our boss, we sit back passively and wait for them to give us work, give us projects or reach out and ask for updates. We would never do that if they were our customer.

You’re saying that by making them our number one customer, we fall into more of an ownership position and then we’re proactive.

We lead them. Otherwise, we’re waiting for them to lead us. That causes a whole bunch of problems. When we lead them, it’s a lot easier to set boundaries. When they’re leading us, they’re coming at us. We’re always on our heels. That orientation helps to unlock many healthy things.

I like it. I’m going to start using it now. Although I don’t have a boss, but I’m my boss. Sometimes I have to look at myself as my best customer and treat myself proactively. Let’s talk about urgency now, and then I want to talk a little bit about your book in general and the whole concept. The whole idea of everything is urgent. I read a book some years ago. It’s a pretty old book from the early ‘80s or late ‘80s, The Stuff Americans Are Made Of. It talked about that sense of urgency is embedded in our culture. Anything that is a gift can also be a curse after a certain point when you’re not careful. It’s at a hand now. People are overwhelmed and unable to set priorities. It’s a constant discussion about managing urgency. Why has this become such an issue?

It’s accelerated probably since the last recession because so many companies are in some kind of a transformation mode or trying to catch up. Usually, that has to do a lot with technological infrastructure, but it could be lots of other things. You think about our friends in retail and how much that whole world has changed and been changing.

It’s change that has created this sense of urgency.

John Kotter is a famous change expert and change guru out of Harvard. Any book you pick up on change management, he’s either written or referenced heavily. John is one of the godfathers in this space. He’s got an eight-step model for change that he’s been preaching for years. The first step is you have to create a high enough sense of urgency. All these leaders have been taught that if I need to create change, I got to create urgency. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with urgency. In the right doses, it’s a healthy good thing. If you want to change anything in your personal life, you need urgency. We can talk more about what are the components of that, but what’s happened particularly in publicly traded companies where they’re trying to please the shareholders is they’re trying to change everything at the same time and making everything urgent all the time.

No more than 3-5 urgent initiatives. Click To Tweet

All that does is create urgency in the clinical sense as anxiety. That’s an important reminder for us too. When you put urgency into a system or a person, you’re intentionally creating anxiety and discomfort. Anxiety is a high energy emotion. Sometimes we need to do that. Even with my kiddos, there have been times where they’re too comfortable. I need to make them uncomfortable on purpose. There are times when we have to do that, but when we create everything being urgent, we’re pumping and dumping anxiety into the system.

The boy who cried wolf. Don’t people then ignore it? There’s an expression that if everything is urgent, nothing is urgent. That’s the norm.

They ignore it and then ultimately, that level of anxiety in the system will translate to burnout. That’s where the story ends. It ends in the same destination every single time, burnout. It means either the employee quits, the employee gets hospitalized or who knows what else they do? They can’t keep up that pace. It’s unsustainable.

I have another theory on that like your thought. It’s not that it’s in line with yours, but I have this thing called the productivity curve. In the center is we’re healthy, we’re productive, we’re focused on the things that are most important. We have the right level of urgency. On one side, we have perfectionism where we go over the top. We over-function. We have procrastination where we under-function. If we looked at that from an emotional perspective, procrastination is apathy. I was thinking as you were saying that, it can turn into burnout or it could turn into apathy. I don’t care. It doesn’t have to burn people out, but it’ll remove them from any ownership of completing the task or working towards the goal.

I would go even further to say apathy is a sign of burnout because it’s a self-protective mechanism. If I numb myself to caring. If you think about the TV show The Office or Stanley Hudson, he will walk in every day and get a cup of coffee. He was so over the place. It’s a self-protective mechanism. I’m no longer going to personally invest. They often talk about that the opposite of love is apathy. It’s not hate. It’s apathy because I’m no longer going to emotionally invest in this person or this place. You push me far enough in burnout, that’s what I’m going to do because I’ve got to protect myself.

There’s this creation of discomfort and anxiety. Is that the organization that’s creating that? How does the employee deal with that? It’s turning into burnout. Let’s say their organization is unaware of the amount of pressure that they’re putting on them and they are not going to stop any time soon. Other than being apathetic and going to the hospital with burnout or not caring anymore, what can they do to offset this everything is urgent?

We can go back to something we talked about, turn your manager or whoever it is that’s putting this hot sauce on you into a customer. Sit down with Mr. or Ms. Customer and say, “I understand that this and this is urgent. I’d love to spend some time getting your help prioritizing these things.” It’s having that conversation to make them prioritize them in order, rather than having them be like hub-and-spoke where they’re all equally urgent and you got to do them all now and having those trade-off conversations. Also, let them know and say, “I can get you this and this, but I can’t do it by this date. If you want this and this by that date, then I need more resources or let’s talk about other options.” It’s having some prioritization and managing expectation conversations.

I was talking to a group about managing expectations and also understanding that expectations have to match the circumstances. With the pandemic, sometimes the expectations are pre-pandemic expectations that don’t work during the pandemic in certain people’s circumstances. That’s one way to also manage your manager. Make them aware of the circumstances that you might be under or what’s changed and help to manage that.

A lot of these techniques we’re talking about and others that I referenced in the book work in every single case, except for one. They don’t work if you’re dealing with an adult that is not a fully formed adult or fully rational.

Does that mean everyone?

No. As a manager, you’re willing to make trade-offs and compromise and recognize that we are in 2021, not 2018. Some people aren’t, some people think in their mind, “If I push harder and ask for everything, I get it all.” We have an irrational set of expectations of what is possible and capable. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re on some kind of a spectrum like a narcissist, “It doesn’t matter what you want. I want what I want. You better give it to me or you’re not going to be employed here.”

TBT 153 | Workplace Dysfunction

Workplace Dysfunction: There’s nothing necessarily wrong with urgency in the right doses. There are times when you need to make people uncomfortable on purpose.


Is it possible that some are under that as a circumstance where they had to let go of people because they have fewer resources, but they still have the same deadlines and capacity that they have to meet? Is there that, where they’d like to meet people where they’re at, but they don’t know how because of the circumstances around us? What would you say to that?

The tension is normal and natural. Those happen all the time. It still requires compromise and negotiations. It still requires a realistic rational approach. Let’s say you’re my leader and there were myself and two other co-workers. Both the other co-workers quit and you say to me, “Brandon, we still have a deadline. You’re going to have to do both of their jobs. It’s due tomorrow.” You can answer that all day long, but if I physically can’t do it, I’ll say, “I’m sorry, Penny, you can’t have that. There’s only one of me. I can’t do that. It’s not possible. I’m sorry. I don’t know who you need to tell that you’re not going to deliver, but I’m happy to help you have that message, but it’s not going to happen.” There has to be some level of groundedness in reality, which is the rational part. They’ve got to have some level of rationality.

That’s why I said everyone because many people are not rational because when we’re stressed out, then we lose that side of our brain that’s rational. We’re into a fight, flight or freeze mode where we aren’t in full access to that. How would you say managers should deal with that if they find themselves in that position?

It has to be a conversation that feels more like a partnership or a team. I once had someone describe this image to me and it’s a beautiful image. They said, “Whenever I was sitting down trying to work with an employee or deliver performance review, I didn’t do what typical managers would do, which is sitting across the desk. I would pull up a chair next to them and put the document in front of both of us so we’re looking at it together.” That needs to be the orientation for both managers and employees. Be shoulder to shoulder looking at the problem together so it’s not adversarial. If it’s adversarial, it’s I win or you lose, or you win and I lose. That’s not the world we’re in now. We’re going to have to work together to figure out a solution that’s going to work for everybody. It’s the best-case scenario given the circumstance.

I’m starting to think here a little bit about some of the things that I remember in your book. I liked the fact that you talk about it being that hot sauce, The Hot Sauce Principle. Tell us more about The Hot Sauce Principle and how we can use it to our advantage when we need it and how to back off. How do we find the right amount of hot sauce that makes it taste good and also isn’t too hot?

Building an idea of urgency, from now on, when any of your readers think of urgency, I want you to think of hot sauce. Hot sauce is a good thing. I love hot sauce. If you put hot sauce on food, it adds a little bit of focus, a little bit of flavor, a little bit of spice. That’s great, but if everything that’s coming on the kitchen is covered in hot sauce, the appetizer, the salad, the entree, the dessert, the iced tea, if you’re like me, you’re going to be curled up on a ball. That is the concept. It’s knowing what to put urgency on or what to put hot sauce on and how to use that in the right ways. Why I also like the analogy is when you’re applying it to people, like me with hot sauce. For some people, 1 or 2 drops is great. Other people need the whole big bottle. You got to douse them with it.

The circumstance can also dictate how much you need to use. The key is you want to minimize the number of priorities that you make urgent, that you put hot sauce on. I’ll share with you my favorite story that illustrates that point. Some years ago, I was working with a client and I was talking about this analogy of hot sauce. He was an anxious guy, a small business owner, but one of the most anxious small business owners I’ve ever met. He probably should never have gone into entrepreneurship. He’s that anxious. He had a 50-person technology marketing company. His people were getting burned out because he comes in every day worrying about everything. He makes everything urgent all the time.

I tell him about this analogy. On his own, he came up with this brilliant idea. He went out to the grocery store and bought three bottles of hot sauce. He stuck them on his desk, 1, 2, 3. Whenever there was a new project that was urgent, when he gave that project to one of his direct reports, he would hand them a bottle of hot sauce to indicate this is urgent. He said, “Here, this bottle means this thing is urgent. You keep this on your desk until the project is complete.” Here’s the beautiful thing about that, he only had three bottles he could give out at a given time. Three to five is the rule. No more than five things can be urgent and important at a given time. As a leader, that’s about how many initiatives you want to have going on at the same time. Where it gets more complicated is we’re in a larger organization. My leader, she’s got things that are urgent and important, and she can follow that rule, but she’s got a peer who also has things that are urgent and important, and she might come knocking on my door. One person’s hot sauce might not be another person’s hot sauce. It requires a lot of that expectation management when you sit in the middle.

We can relate and associate well with different types of metaphors like that. You can get those little mini bottles.

I buy the mini bottles from Tabasco. I buy these by the case. Back in the days when I would do these kinds of talks in person, I would give everybody a little mini bottle and say, “Stick it on your desk.”

My thing is Rubik’s Cube. I talk around the Rubik’s cube and I give out a little mini Rubik’s Cube. What else do we need to know about managing urgency? Is there anything else that you haven’t told us yet that’s an important tip that we need to know?

Urgency is like hot sauce. The right amount is a great thing, but you have to be careful about putting it all over the place. Click To Tweet

I can add two more to it and then we’ll see where else you’d like to go. First, if I’m going to put urgency into the system or I’m going to make somebody feel this, I have to have established trust first because at that moment I’m making them uncomfortable. They’re going to ask themselves, “Do I even know this guy? Do I trust him enough to allow him to make me feel this way?” Don’t jump in on day one driving urgency. That isn’t going to work well. You’ve got to make sure you build that relationship. Build trust before you start to create discomfort. The only other point I’d add to this too of why urgency is so important is that discomfort triggers in people a desire to take action to make it go away. That’s why we use urgency. It creates a desire for action.

If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night thinking about work, that’s workplace anxiety, workplace urgency. It’s knocking on your head in the middle of the night. Most of us, the way we cope with that is we get up and we maybe do some work, shoot some emails off, or get ready to send some emails the next morning, or grab our little notepad next to our bed and write down some thoughts, take it out of our head and put it down and make a plan. Urgency stimulates action. You don’t want to overwhelm people by dousing them with urgency. You want just enough so they’re ready for an action plan, whether we’re talking about getting an employee to change their behavior, or we’re trying to drive change with a whole department or company.

Let’s shift gears a little bit. I’d like to ask a couple of questions to all my guests. How do you define productivity and why?

The way I define productivity is thinking about what are your life priorities in a given day or week, and making sure you are being intentional about putting the big rocks in first, making sure you’re being intentional about putting those in your calendar first. For me, productivity is tactical. It’s all about calendar management. It’s putting in and protecting the important things in your calendar first every week. That’s an important way I would define it. The other way I would define it is not only by things you’ve accomplished at the end of the week but how you felt along the way.

I say the same thing. I haven’t heard anyone else say that out of all the people that I’ve interviewed. I was saying a similar type of thing. That’s great. It’s like happiness. It’s a feeling that you’re productive.

If you’re exhausted and clawing at it and getting things done, that’s not a fun journey. In many ways, our workplaces are like interval training. It’s high intensity, but you need rest. High-intensity, rest. Many workplaces are like, “No, high intensity until you drop.” That’s not a good feeling. I’m glad we’re on the same page.

There’s no off-season. If you look at any sport, there’s an off-season. We are the athletes that have no off-season. If we don’t take those little opportunities like weekends and vacations and the things that we need to reset, it is a huge strain on our system.

If I look into my crystal ball, your crystal ball probably shows the same thing, I see a lot more hybrid workplaces going forward where people are working some at home and some at work. Most of those are probably going to be Fridays and Mondays at home, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the office for meetings. If that is how things start to play out, I highly encourage people to take quarterly long weekends as their interval break. Take a leave on Thursday, come back on Monday and you get this nice long mini vacation. Do it once a quarter. You could still do a regular vacation, but that break is well needed for people. Even if you have to work in part on one of those days, you’re remote and everybody’s remote, it doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach. Fire up your laptop for four hours or something, at least you’re in a different place.

It does make a difference to change that location. Even if you’re working a little bit, if you’re by the beach or you’re somewhere else, it doesn’t count. Changing locations even in your own house can make a big difference. That’s why some people like to work in a coffee shop or to be in different locations, it gives you different energy. Sometimes this same environment for whatever reason is not a creative space anymore. If everything was taken off, your phone and your desktop, I know you’re going to say calendar first so let’s not include the calendar and the email, what’s the first app that you would put on that helps you be more efficient and effective during your day?

I’m a cheat. I’m not going to answer the question exactly the way you intended. I can’t believe I’m being difficult. An old-school little pad of yellow paper and a pen.

I’m not going to let you answer that way. I’m a paper person too. I still like to write things on paper. What I’m getting at is I have a couple of little tools that are super helpful for me. I have this thing called TextExpander. It allows me to put #Gig. Every time I’m putting something out for my gig, it’ll bring up this whole blurb formatted so that I don’t have to write the whole thing and I don’t have to search for it. That’s a huge time-saver for me. Do you have something like that that you might recognize that you use?

TBT 153 | Workplace Dysfunction

Workplace Dysfunction: You have to make sure to build a trusting relationship before you start to create discomfort.


I don’t have a good answer to that question. Maybe the answer is I need to go find one.

What’s your biggest time waster? We’ll start there.

My biggest time waster now is probably administrative stuff. Although I’ve tried to get rid as much of that stuff as I can. My mantra has always been, what can I say no to, what can I delegate, or what can I outsource? I had a client and he shared with me the four Ds. I thought that was good. He said, “What do I need to do? What do I need to delegate? What do I need to delay? What do I need to delete?” I liked that. I haven’t thought about the delay.

I have something called the 135 Planning rule. When you’re scheduling, you can take 1 thing that you’re working towards a long-term strategic goal, 3 things that bring you towards the midterm milestone. There you have your important things that typically would not get done at all, and then your urgent things, which are 5 things that must be done by you today.

I would need to download whatever you’re doing. Your show would be the thing I would download.

We’re at the end of our time. You were great. I love having you on the show and some of those core conversations. We talked about boundaries, which is huge. We talked about urgency, which there is some overlap, but also distinctly separate, and protecting your time was an overall arching piece of it. Thank you so much for being here.

Penny, I had a great time. Thanks for having me.

Where can people find out more about you and your book? Do you have a website we can send them to?

The easiest place is The Workplace Therapist. You can even Google it because I’m the only one. You can go to TheWorkPlaceTherapist.com or Google The Workplace Therapist and you’ll find me. On that site are podcasts, blogs, articles, all free resources for people to make their workplaces healthier. They can also order my book. My book is available on Amazon. They can order it directly from me and I’ll send them a signed copy.

Thank you so much, Brandon.

Thanks, Penny.

If you’re new here, please subscribe to all of our different channels. We’re on iTunes. Check us out on YouTube and the website. We are dedicated to helping you find great people like Brandon who have their unique twist on how you can take back time and how you can work smarter and protect your time so that it works for you and not against you. We’ll see you in the next episode.

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About Brandon Smith

TBT 153 | Workplace DysfunctionBrandon Smith is a leading expert in leadership communication and curer of workplace dysfunction. Known as “The Workplace Therapist,” Brandon is a sought-after executive coach, TEDx speaker, author and award- winning business school instructor. He has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, CNN, Fox News.com, NPR, Forbes and many others for his expertise. His book The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time helps readers to master urgency so they can more effectively lead others, manage others’ unrealistic expectations, and prevent burnout at home.

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Find The Right Time Management Strategy For Your Creative Personality With Wayne Mullins

TBT 152 | Time Management Strategy


Time management can differ from person to person, especially in the creative space. Today’s guest Wayne Mullins, the Founder of Ugly Mug Marketing, shares how he would get frustrated with himself because he couldn’t fit his time management strategy into Zig Ziglar’s planners that he bought on a yearly basis. Not until he began experimenting with himself to find out which time management tools worked for him and which didn’t. Wayne explains two things that worked for him most: making time blocks and setting day themes. In this episode, Wayne and Penny Zenker talk about the benefits of time blocking and setting day themes, how setting parameters enhances creativity, and how you can experiment with yourself and figure out which time management strategy works best for you. If you’re having difficulty managing your time and making it work for your creativity, then this episode is for you!

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Find The Right Time Management Strategy For Your Creative Personality With Wayne Mullins

I’m excited because we talk a lot about how to work smarter. We don’t necessarily make it clear that there are different types of personalities and ways that people want to approach their time management and what makes somebody productive. I’m excited to talk about productivity for creators, time management and how to create balance for those people who are more creative thinkers than structured thinkers.

I’m excited to have Wayne Mullins with us. He’s the super expert in this area as he’s super creative and has learned a few things along the way. He’s the Founder and CEO of Ugly Mug Marketing. He’s worked with, inspired and motivated clients from over 100 industries. His work has directly influenced more than 100,000 entrepreneurs. Through his books and training programs, Wayne influences more than a quarter of a million entrepreneurs a year. Welcome, Wayne. I’m great to have you here.

Thank you so much, Penny. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Let’s start out and understand, was time management and productivity an issue for you as a creative that’s why you worked to find solutions?

Penny, it started way back in the day with this planner that I got from this gentleman of the name Zig Ziglar. I don’t remember the name of his planner, but he always talked about Zig and his CDs, which is what I got back in the day. He always talked about the importance of scheduling your time and assigning your priorities to your calendar. Penny, for years, I would order his planner. I had the greatest intentions every year of using that thing and maximizing my life and time. I hope so many other people can relate to it. I always fill out a few pages, a few weeks we go by and then it would get more sporadic. By the time, March, April, and May rolled around, there was nothing going in this wonderful planner that I had spent $50 or whatever it was. Can you relate to that?

In different ways. I’ve had so many different tools that people have given me. I had all good intentions to use them but I couldn’t use them for whatever reason. It didn’t feel like a fit, so I didn’t. A lot of people can relate to that, whether they’re creatives or not. There are some great tools that aren’t working for them. Tell us more.

That was the beginning of my journey, but what happened along the way was I kept getting frustrated with myself because I couldn’t seem to fit my personality style into this planner that Zig Ziglar created. That began an experimentation process of me trying different things, seeing what didn’t work. I would go from extremes. I went from trying to use his planner, which was scheduling out your weeks and your months in advance, to not doing anything other than identifying priorities and then letting happen what would happen to this week.

Over the years, this process I began refining. What I discovered was that someone creative identifies with big ideas or picture things, they don’t like details, which I’m in that category. The assumption is that we don’t want boundaries, or parameters around our time because it “stifles” the creativity. What I found out to be true is that when we don’t give ourselves some form of boundaries with our time that we become less productive as creatives. I’m speaking specifically as someone more of a big picture person.

That’s true for everyone. Back in the day, when Henry Ford was working on time management or the assembly line, they went to 50, 55 hours. They found when they extended the day and time that people were working, that it was less effective. They went back to the 40-hour workweek. Boundaries are important for everyone. I do want to hear what specific boundaries and how they work for creatives. I do think that’s one of the things that people across all different personality types struggle with is they fail to set some of their own boundaries. Whether those boundaries are deadlines or started at the day end of the day or whatever they are, they can be different things for different people. This is great.

From the creative standpoint, though, is we tell ourselves a story and that story is those boundaries or parameters around our creative time. The time we give ourselves to do these creative things, that stifles us and the opposite is true. If you think of a painter with a canvas, the canvas doesn’t necessarily stifle them and their creativity. Instead, it enhances their creativity because it gives them boundaries and parameters within the area to work. The same is true of our lives and for creatives. A lot of what we do from a company perspective, we have a lot of creative people on our team. When we set the parameters around the creative time, we are more creative than when just have open-ended take as much time as you want to come up with the ideas or the solutions to these problems.

How to avoid snoozing your alarm: decide in advance when you will wake up and make that decision every day. Click To Tweet

What does it look like for you? Does that look like blocking a segment in your calendar for creating or a start and end of your day and leaving your day open? What are your boundaries look like in that context?

I’ve experimented a lot. I now use time-blocking. That’s the way I set my schedule or my agenda. I working in three different ways. One would be with my natural rhythm, the rhythm of my body when I have energy. That is the circadian rhythm. I’ve learned over time when I’m able to do my best creative work, when I’m the most creative. What I make sure to do is schedule to block that time where it aligns with my natural energy levels or creative thought process. The other thing I love to do is theme my days. Even within keeping the time-blocking, I love to theme certain days. Certain days of the week are the themed for various activities. Towards the end of the week, as I know that my mental capacity will have dwindled, my ability to come up with creative ideas or solutions will wane over the course of that week. I try to avoid scheduling things that need a lot of creative thought towards the end of the week. For me, it’s a mixture of both time and energy management. It’s a mix of where those two things intersect.

You must have read my book. I talk a lot about energy management in that understanding our body’s energy, but also being able to control and direct our energy. I’m a big fan of it’s how we show up for our time and understanding at what times are the best to do different things. I can relate to that. This isn’t just for creatives. This is how you implement it for your creativeness. I want everybody else who’s not necessarily considering themselves in that bucket to see that time-blocking is good for everyone. We all have times where we have more energy where it’s better to do something that requires more thinking when you have the highest level of energy. That makes a lot of sense and theme days help us to keep that overall focus if we have any extra space. We’re going to use what’s on the theme. If you’re doing a cold calling day and you’re a salesperson, if you’ve got a little space, you can make another call. These are top time management practices.

One of the things that I also do is work in 50-minute blocks, and then a 10-minute break. That break in our office, what we do is we work in the same rhythm. We work for 50 minutes distraction-free so that means if you have a question for your coworker, you’re not allowed to get up and go ask that coworker question, unless if it’s an emergency, and we’re very clear about emergencies are. Often, what we think are emergencies aren’t emergencies. Here we are in a creative space, a marketing advertising space where collaboration is key, collaboration’s important, we still restrict when distractions take place. We have to do that because we know that Deep Work, as Cal Newport would call it, is required to produce the results that we want for our clients.

I would encourage people, even when you look at your time blocks, or your theme days, to reward yourself. If you have a big-time block of mentally heavy activity that is going to be working on, reward yourself with your next time block with something you enjoy or that’s easy on the mind. The same thing with your theme days. For me, I don’t like digging the financials and the details of financials going through financials. I always make sure that I have an easier day scheduled after that. When I’m going to spend my theme day on financials, the next day I’m not doing something that’s very mentally taxing for myself.

I want to highlight some of the things that you said that are important for entrepreneurs who are running a business with other staff members or even managing up for those of you who could bring this idea to your department or your head of your company. You, as a company, have taken responsibility to set some structures in place to help everybody to be more productive. I do not find that enough in organizations. You said two things that struck me that I have not heard before anybody share on the show. You set your whole team in certain rhythms.

That’s powerful because that means everybody is focusing at the same time so you don’t have those got a minute meeting at the wrong times because people take a break and then they make it everyone else’s break when it’s not. It’s like, “Let me come up and tell you what I did this weekend.” I love that you’re bringing that from top-down to help them to put that structure in place. I want to ask you about your defining emergencies. That’s another thing that not many companies do is to help to define what would be okay to interrupt me or one of your colleagues. How do you define that? That process could be beneficial to some other people who are reading.

In the entrepreneurial space business owners, we believe often by default that almost everything’s an emergency. Every time a potential sale calls in, it’s like an emergency because I can’t afford to talk to that person or somebody calls on something that I’ve been waiting to hear back from them all. It’s an emergency. The reality is rarely are those things emergencies. For us, the way we define emergencies is simply this. One of the functions of what we do is websites. We build websites. If a client calls and says their website is down, that’s an emergency. That’s a very specific thing.

The other thing that would constitute an emergency is if one of the people in our office is expecting a call and they need to speak with someone, they will let the person know who’s answering the phone. If this person calls, “Please come distract me or come let me know because it is urgent. It’s important that I speak with that person.” The thing that is most people are going to get hung up because I know for years I was hung up on like, what if we miss things or an important call, or lose an opportunity?

Trust me, I get that. Always use the analogy of, let’s say that God forbid, I was diagnosed with something that was very life-threatening. A disease that was life threatening. I can make an appointment with a doctor here in my town and go see that doctor early next week. I could attempt to get an appointment with a specialist, one of the top guys or gals in the country who specializes in this, but they can’t see me for three months. The question is, do I disrespect or do I respect the world-class expert less because I can’t see that person for three months or do I respect them more because they’re so booked up that they can’t see me for three months? It’s this scarcity mindset.

TBT 152 | Time Management Strategy

Time Management Strategy: Setting parameters enhances creativity.


It depends on how urgent your illness is.

We get into that scarcity mindset that if I don’t answer their call and we’re talking for us 50-minute blocks. If someone can’t wait 50 minutes for us to make that connection with them, then that may be an indication that one, we haven’t been running other parts of our business well. We’re desperate to have to “get a sale.” Two, that person may be extremely needy and not the right type of client for us. I’m painting with a very broad brush here. That’s not absolute by any stretch. I would encourage people reading to do is to get started. You don’t have to set these in stone, treat this as an experiment. Here are how we’re going to experiment or the emergencies we’re going to start with. Let’s give it a try and see what happens.

What I’ve also heard that I think is very smart if find urgencies and create specific channels for different types of communication. Do you do that where all emergencies are communicated over one channel? For instance, if the whole group does chat over Slack that maybe Skype is the emergency channel or something like that. People know that when I get a message on this platform or in this way, it comes to my cellphone, it’s got to take her 911 or something like that. That helps them to understand that it’s an emergency.

We don’t necessarily, it would be personal. It would be the person answering or taking that emergency call who would come to get the person. We’re back in the office together as a team, it would be a direct text message if the person’s not in the office. We would text them directly saying, “This person called they need to speak with you.” One thing that is important and you mentioned Slack or Skype, and we use G Chat from time to time. There are all these wonderful tools that make so much of what we do easier or more convenient. If we’re not careful, all of those tools are masters at becoming distractions for us. Even in our 50-minute block, that doesn’t mean we can G chat with each other back and forth or we can text message each other. That’s another subtle thing that we don’t realize how much of that steals our precious moments away from our day. It’s the constant interruptions that distract us and take us away from what’s important.

I have a distraction quiz on my website that people can find out whether they’re a wizard, a squirrel, or a time zombie. It’s all about that is creating some heightened awareness as to all the things that are distracting us. I agree with that in those tools that we hold so preciously, those very often are the instruments that create the greatest distraction. We would have to set rules and boundaries that you talked about around not what blocks of time we have, but also how we use the tools that we have around us and those types of things as well.

They can either be wonderful tools or very terrible masters over our schedules.

I’m wondering while we’re mentioning tools. You got a new phone and you had to delete all the apps off your phone, other than email and your calendar, what would be the number one app or resource that you use that helps you save the most time or use most?

I wish I could tell you some wonderful new app or wizard thing that everyone’s going to be eager to hear about. The reality is this paper planner pad that I use. This is the tool that helps me plan or organize. I use a mixture of this along with Google Calendar, but I love being able to touch or interact with my calendar. There’s a lot of duplication in the effort, meaning what’s on Google has to match what’s in here and vice versa. For me, being able to very easily look at this to be a pencil in notes, or to look forward, flip over a few pages and see easily what’s next week look like. The tactile experience of having something on paper is such a lifesaver.

You mentioned it earlier and I want to bring it back up that different things work for different people. For everyone who’s reading, you mentioned that you looked at what worked for you and what didn’t work. The absolute key is for everybody to get clear on what works and what doesn’t work for them. We can all think about a time when we were super productive and what was present and what wasn’t present. That thinking about it in that way will already help us to see what are some of the things that we need to put in place that we might’ve forgotten or left out. Tell me how the pandemic has changed your work. When I saw some of the things that worked for me in the past, I don’t know why but I stopped doing them. I have this reflection review process where I was able to realize that pretty quickly and get back on to things. That’s what happened is it shook me out of my normal routines and things that I use that I know work for me. Did you have anything like that happened for you when the pandemic came around?

Not for me, Penny. I am very much rigid with my schedule now. When people hear that, they think, “You must be detail-oriented or love your schedule and all these things.” The answer is no, I don’t. It’s against my “natural normal tendency.” Over the years, I have forced myself to understand the importance of being rigid with my schedule. The thing that helped me transition through the pandemic and all the uncertainty and leading a team through the pandemic and dozens of clients maintaining those relationships bringing, was my morning routine. Being steadfast and not changing my morning routine whatsoever. The most important time of the day is before anyone else gets to work. It’s before I leave the house in the morning. It forces me or allows me, to do the most high priority work for myself, not for the company or the clients, but “me time.” That’s the time.

You hear a lot of people talking about the benefits and the value of the morning routine. I agree that the time before everybody gets up, especially before my kids get up, that’s the time for me. Those are the most important that I need to do during that time. I don’t know about you, even more so than what I do in the morning, I’m very clear about what I don’t do. Are there certain things that you know whether it’s in the morning or any time that you’ve got these rules of don’ts?

Just get started, give it a try and see what happens. Click To Tweet

What’s funny is one of those don’ts is I don’t check my email first thing in the morning. For years and years, all the experts you’ll hear say, “Don’t check your email first in the morning. Don’t get on social first thing in the morning.” It changes your mental state in the wrong direction, but because of the nature of our business, we’ve been growing a lot over 2020, I kept justifying saying, “I need to be able to see if something came in during the night that I need to respond to.” One of my don’ts now is simply I do not allow myself to check my email until 6:00 in the morning. I get up at 5:00 every morning. I have an hour of other time that I do reading, meditation, or some journaling, all of that takes place. I can check my email right at 6:00 in the morning.

The other thing is I limit that time. You can check your email for 5 or 10 minutes, but my time is limited because I know that by 6:20, I have to walk out the door to go run. If I don’t do that, I’m going to be late coming into the office. The time limits or limiting those activities are forced by the next appointment I have with myself. That’s a very important thing to learn. The employments we have with ourselves are often the most important appointments we’ll have all day.

That’s the hardest thing that people have, they tend to move and push off and eliminate the appointments that they have with themselves. You have built up a lot of discipline over time to follow that. What’s a piece of advice that you have for someone that doesn’t have that level of discipline and tends to cancel and move those appointments that are there for themselves?

First of all, no, I’m not wired this way. It doesn’t come natural to me. I’ve been extremely intentional for years. I’ve been very intentional in building this morning routine or about protecting my schedule. Am I perfect at it? No. There are days that I fall off the bandwagon, like most people I’m sure to do. Three specific things that looking back that I’ve done is one, I decided in advance. I decide in advance every single night, I’m getting up at 5:00. It’s a new decision every single day. I get up at 5:00, seven days a week and I’ve done it now for years.

The next thing that I do, I make the decision for one day at a time. I don’t make the decision to wake up at 5:00 AM for the next year. I make the decision to wake up at 5:00 AM for tomorrow, because often we scare ourselves psychologically by saying I need to start getting up at 5:00 AM. My life’s going to be miserable, trying to get up at 5:00 AM for the next year. If we can decide in advance and commit for the next day, then it doesn’t scare us so much. The final little piece is this. Treat it as an experiment. Don’t treat it as, “I’m doing this forever.” One caveat around this experiment piece is when you start waking up, or for me, I started running a few years ago.

When you start running, chances are you’re going to hate it. You’re going to hate it for quite some time. Getting up early is not fun, especially when you’re used to sleeping in as late as possible, but treat it as an experiment. Give yourself say, “I’m going to try this for 30 days. That’s the length of my experiment. At the end of this, if I don’t like this or see some positive changes out of this, I can give up this experiment.” Those would be the three specific things I would recommend for people.

For those of you who are reading, those three things are great. I especially like that you’re recommitting every day. You can decide and if you feel like sleeping in and you need to sleep in because you’re sick or whatever, you decide that day, I like that. For the 30-day challenge, you could also make a seven-day challenge. You got to get started. That 30 days might scare some people too so start with 5 or 7 days. Start with a small number. What tends to happen is you see the benefits, and then you keep doing it. If you keep taking one day at a time after that, it’s a 1, 2, or 4 years. That’s great advice. Wayne, we’re coming to the end of our time. I want to ask you the question that I ask everyone. I’d like you to let people know where they can find you and a little bit more about your business. First, the question. What is your definition for productivity and why?

My definition of productivity is simply achieving the desired outcome. We think of high productivity, low productivity, we’re achieving a certain outcome. It’s how efficiently, how effectively are we achieving that thing. I’m reminded of the quote. I don’t remember if it was one of the stoics or if it was Marcus Aurelius or Seneca or one of those, but he had that saying, “It’s not that we have a short time to live. It’s that we squander so much of it.” When I think of productivity and life as a whole, what are the desired outcomes that I’m after? What do I want my relationship with my kids to look like? What does productivity look like in that area? My relationship with my wife, what does that look like? What is the desired outcome that I’m after? I can work backwards from there to determine the level of effort and energy I need to put into those things based on that specific outcome.

Where can people find more information about you and what it is that you do?

TBT 152 | Time Management Strategy

Time Management Strategy: It’s the constant interruptions that distract us and take us away from what’s important.


Penny, the simplest place would be to go to our website. That’s UglyMugMarketing.com on there’s links to social media, my new mail address, our phone numbers, all that kind of stuff right there on the website.

What do you guys do at Ugly Mug? Give us a minute and tell us what you do.

We focus on three core areas. One would be website development. We work with people to build new websites. The second one would be social media marketing, and then the third would be more traditional marketing, everything from radio, television, print, whatever it may be.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom that you’ve gained over the years and giving us that perspective from the creative perspective. I love it.

Thank you so much, Penny. I enjoyed our conversation.

Thank you all for being here because these are tried and true types of strategies that are going to support you. Maybe there’s something that you’ve heard before, but are you doing it is the question. Maybe there’s a nugget that you didn’t hear before that could be the difference that makes the difference. Little tweaks sometimes are all that it takes. What are you going to put into practice from this show? Take that 7-day challenge or 30-day challenge. Make it a challenge and implement something new that’s going to work for you to help you to work smarter. We’ll see you in the next episode.

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About Wayne Mullins

TBT 152 | Time Management StrategyWayne Mullins is the Founder and CEO of Ugly Mug Marketing. He’s worked with, inspired and motivated clients from over 100 industries and his work has directly influenced more than 100,000 entrepreneurs. Through his books and training programs, Wayne influences more than a quarter million entrepreneurs each year.



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How You Can Benefit From Process Documentation And Virtual Assistants With Robert Nickell

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants


Managing a business can be lonely and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know how to delegate your work. This is why most managers and owners benefit from hiring virtual assistants, allowing them to focus on far more important business matters and letting these talented individuals monitor other time-consuming things. But without proper process documentation in place, you are at risk of outsourcing the wrong people, wasting a lot of money and time. Penny Zenker sits down with Robert Nickell of Rocket Station Careers to discuss the best way to conduct applicant screening and recruitment. Robert explains how this can impact the way you manage your business processes, teach you to appreciate individual team member skills, dispel the dangers of micromanaging, and discover the smoothest turnover process possible. 

Listen to the podcast here:

How You Can Benefit From Process Documentation And Virtual Assistants With Robert Nickell 

We are going to talk about how you can work smarter in the best way, which is to know how to delegate and work with virtual assistants. This is an area that is completely underutilized by so many business owners because we don’t want to lose control. The fact is we gain so much more control when we let go, especially let go of the things that aren’t on our highest priority and get other people who have the skillset to do those things so that we can do where our genius is. Robert Nickell is here to talk to us about that. He’s an accomplished real estate investor. He’s a realtor and serial entrepreneur in the business process outsourcing industry. That’s the industry we’re talking about and certainly, it’s come from his real estate side. He’s the CEO of the Dallas-based Rocket Station, which he founded in 2018. Without further ado, Robert, I’d like to introduce you and welcome to the show. 

Thank you, Penny, for having me. I love the show. I’m a big fan. I’m appreciative of you and all that you’re doing. I’m thankful to be here.  

You’re speaking our language. You solved the problem for yourself it sounds like, and then you decided to scale that so that other people could solve the same problem. Tell us about what your problem was and what drew you to outsourcing.  

I quit my Wjob two years out of college and jumped right into real estate, thinking that I was going to be some massive real estate mogul. I had all the Instagram and Facebook posts about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and grinding, and all of a sudden, you make your millions of dollars. That’s what I was hoping to do early out of the gates. I had to learn a lot of tough lessons. Unfortunately, I don’t learn very well from reading books, podcasts and audiobooks, even though I’d spent a ton of time doing that. Most of my learning comes from experience, getting kicked in the teeth, and then adjustingFor me, within real estate, I was a oneman show for a while. Real estate was great.  

Simply throwing bodies at a problem is not a very good way to run a business. Click To Tweet

How was that working for you? It’s the lone wolf syndrome.  

You can look at all the studies in real estate. What it shows is the people who make the most amount of money work the most amount of hours. The number of transactions that you could close is directly co-related to how many hours you work. At first, that was fine. I think it was good for my ego to be able to post about it, how hard I was working, and in the gym at 4:00 AM so I could fit it in and all those types of things. Like everyone else, I realized that real estate was the vehicle. It’s the tool. What I wanted was to be a better brother, a better spouse, and a better uncle to my nephews. What I wanted was the business to serve the life that I wanted. What happened for me is I was serving the business every single day. I was working 60, sometimes 80 to 90 hours a week, trying to get more done. hit a wall. I was ready to go back to my W2 job because it was a whole lot easier to wake up and work 8:00 to 5:00 for somebody else. Even if you got a great job with a lot of responsibility, you can still turn it off when you go home if you choose to 

Who is reading here that goes, “I’ve been there? You’ve been to that moment where you’re like, I think I’d earn more if I worked based on per hour, where you hit that wall. That’s something that many people have experienced or they’re in the process of trading that time for money. Their mind says work a few more hours and you work yourself out of it. You’ll finally get control over it. What would you say to those people?  

First, I totally understand that. You put so much into your business. As entrepreneurs, we all eat, sleep, and breathe our business. At some point, it becomes hard to separate yourself. What I had to realize and I was lucky to have some great mentors that showed me the way was if I wanted a hard ceiling above me, be limited in what I could accomplish, and get done then be the oneman show, be the lone wolf, and serve your ego. That can work out fine. Within limits, you can have a successful business depending on how you define success. For me, I was lucky to have people who were much more successful than I was around me. They were always showing me the way like, “You’re crazy. You’re totally doing this the wrong way.” When I started trying to do it initially was hire people. I started with friends from college, tried to hire some family, and make it happen that way.  

How was working with friends and family? Is that a good idea?  

It depends. I would say it’s great. My dad and my brother work for me. I had to learn some hard lessons. I was the guy for a while that was walking around after some failed hires, talking about how terrible managing people was, how hard it was to find good people, whining, and complaining. I had to look in the mirror at some point and realize the problem was not the people in my office. The problem was me. That became super clear. There wasn’t any structure, systems and processes in place. What I truly believe is that people want to do a good job. People want to come in and have success in the workplace. I feel like few people are in a working environment where there’s enough structure, accountability in place, systems and processes in order for people to truly be successful.  

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: If you start with the end in mind, you develop scopes of work for how tasks are supposed to be done.


I don’t like to guess when I show up to work every day. I know that my employees don’t either. The big lesson I had to learn early on being totally candid, I wish I knew these things from the beginning, was because I could fly by the seat of my pants every day, doesn’t mean that my employees can do that it would be successful. That definitely wasn’t what I needed from them. That’s the way it was. I’d hire people and come in. I’d expect them to figure it out. I hated driving to work every day because I knew that my entire day was going to be spent telling people how to do their jobs. I felt like I could do it better myself if I did it than telling somebody what to do all day. That is a backwards way of thinking. If you start with the end in mind, you develop scopes of work for how tasks are supposed to be done, then all of a sudden hiring people become so much easier.  

Looking at our company, we have over 800 employees. We’re doing some amazing things with amazing clients here that are range from publicly traded companies. We started in real estate. We have a bunch of real estate clients. Now, we’re in almost every industry you can think of from SaaS to customer service companies. We work with some of the CRM companies and anything you can think of. That’s success. People always like to look at human capital. They like to look at the virtual assistants and the number of employees that we have and point to that as success. Our foundation for our success is built on systems and process documentation. We are workforce management experts. That’s what I had to figure out at the beginning. It’s how to document every single task for everything that was happening in the business. Penny, I had a roadmap. I’ve got swim lanes for people to operate in and know exactly how they should operate, what buttons to press when, how they should operate the CRM, and how to be successful in the day. That’s what changed things for us. People like to talk about the number of our team memberbut what we’re most proud of is the structure that we get to place in people’s businesses. I believe that’s the foundation to success.  

People aren’t sure how this works if they’ve never done outsourcing. Every company is different, the way they outsource. I’m curious. The way that you said it made it seem like when an organization hires one of your team, let’s say in CRM, they will get some process that you may already have some established processes that that company could take and modify so that they don’t have to start from scratch. Is that correct?  

We force everybody through a two-step process. It doesn’t matter if you’re publicly traded or you’re solo member LLC. We push everybody through the same process. The first step is an alignment discovery phase. We want to know the ins and outs of your business. Everybody operates a little bit different. Multiple SaaS companies producing similar types of products but they still operate differently. The first thing we want to do is understand you and your business. We do the documentation of your systems and processes. We create scope for everything that’s going on in the business. That’s what defines what we term a job description. Most people create job descriptions and it’s everything they could ever think of. That’s not something you can work off of nor can you hire that. That would be some random unicorn sitting out there that could do all these random paths in and out of your head.  

We work with some large companies and they’re terrible at having scopes, having systems and processes in place. It’s because they’ve got great management and great leadership teams. People hear those word systems all the time. We all get tired of hearing it. What that means for us is it’s a documented repeatable process. We create those systems for every one of our clients as step one. Step two is identifying. If you’re working with us, we identify 3, 4, 5, or as many candidates as you need to interview that are perfect fit for that role or multiple roles if they did wear multiple hats. Finding that people becomes a whole lot easier because we built that system and process structure at the beginning. Those are the two steps we push to everybody.  

You have a step that a lot of other outsourcing companies don’t have. I can name a handful that I’m aware of. You’d say what the role is or what the task was you were looking for and they would find somebody to meet that. There’s very little in the discovery phase of them creating the process or the scope and then going and finding the person that meets that. There’s little in that initial interaction phase. That’s interesting to me 

Nobody likes to be micromanaged because it is usually a result of a lack of structure in an organization. Click To Tweet

From a couple of standpoints, one is we’re a partner with you. We’re invested in your success. It’s about long-term results and creating win-win. We’re not just trying to throw bodies at a problem. We don’t think that that’s a good way to run a business. We want to have data around your business on what’s happening. We do time studies on everything. We want your phone records. If you’re using Zendesk or whatever CRM you’re using, we want to export all your records, do a time study that says how many human hours it should take to complete all these tasks. That’s in alignment with what’s taking place. Many times, the businesses that come to us are not even sure how many people or what type of profile it would be to fit or solve these problems.  

We’re experts in that. We’re not going to have you guessing every day. We’re going to walk you through a strategic process that you’re driving. You’re in control, it’s your business but we’re supporting you in every way possible so that we can set you up for success. We stay with you for the life of the account. We never leave you. We support you for it. It doesn’t matter if you have one person. Some of our bigger clients have closer to 60 of our team members doing multiple things. We look at it truly as a partnership that we invest in your end results and your outcomes. As a result of that, we feel like that’s where the magic happens.  

One of the things that I see a lot in CEOs, leaders, organizations, as they think about putting these documents together and outsourcing is, “It seems like I could do it myself and it’s going to invest so much time. Sometimes it’s more work. “Am I going to get at the end the result that I’m looking for?” I’d like you to address the more work upfront. It is more work upfront to do that. I’d like you to talk about the type of results that you could expect to see over time so that people understand that it’s not a cost. It’s an investment.  

I was one of those people who didn’t have good documented processes. I’m great at sales, client interactions, outwardfacing things but when it came to backoffice support and running the day-to-day operations, I personally wasn’t great at that. All entrepreneurs and business people act like we’re great at everything. The truth is there are only a handful of things that were great at it. The rest of it, we forced through and make it happen.  

It’s at the cost of our satisfaction. It’s at a cost to the speed at which it could be done or the quality. 

There’s no way you can be great at it every day. If you are, then to me, that’s a problem because that means you don’t have the right people in place. You shouldn’t be. What happens as a result of documenting every single day, it’s a couple of things. The first thing is you get amazing clarity and alignment into what’s happening through your organization day in and day out. I like to laugh because when I pick up my nephew from school and I ask him what he did that day, he can hardly tell me. “It’s Tuesday. It’s music. Did you do music? “It was music,” and then he goes on. Employees and most business owners are the same way themselves. Whenever I ask them, “How was your day?” I get the same response, “Busy. Good.” “What’d you do?” They’re almost offended but they can’t tell you because they’re on meetings. Their calendar is backtoback. They’re putting out fires all day long.  

The first thing that documenting everything does is to identify what’s happening all day, every day. If that doesn’t create some awareness, I’m not sure what is. I like to think whatever my employees are leaving their houses every day. They’re making big promises to their family that the time spent away from home is going to be worth it. We want to have a lot of clarity and structure around what success is supposed to look like, what the outcomes are, and what’s happening all day. You get tons of clarity in that process. The second thing is you will get more efficient.  

I also start with almost everyone that I work with a time study. I think that awareness is like an aha for people. It’s like when you have to do a diet study to see everything that you’re eating, a food journal creates that heightened awareness to where you’re like, “I didn’t realize that I was wasting so much time in this area.” It opens your eyes up to you are spending it where it’s most important. I want to reemphasize that.  

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: Only a few people are in a working environment where there’s enough structure and accountability in place for them to truly be successful.


That solves a lot of your management problems. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Micromanaging is a result of lack of structure in the organization. Ithere are fires happening or there’s micromanaging, then that’s an opportunity to create downstream solutions where we make sure and solve problems before they happen. A fire is a great opportunity to put problem-solving methods in place to make sure that the fires don’t happen again unless you’re somebody who needs that significance and importance to feel like Superman all the time. It’s not a great way to do it. Management is the same way. Managing to task is a terrible way to lead your team but managing to outcomes, that’s leadership. When you view management as leadership where you’re empowering your teams to be successful, culture and everything else that people want to talk about seems to happen because you’ve got great management, leadership skills and abilities in place. It’s because you’ve got systems and processes. Your team can come in and know what success looks like. They can still depend on you as the leader for visionary things to ask questions, for review, and those types of things. Micromanaging no longer becomes a thing 

Another thing to having great systems and processes does is it provides a safety net for your organization. Turnover is one of the most painful, expensive things that happen in any company. None of us can avoid it. I’m super proud of our tenure of our employees. We had over 99% attendance rate in 2020 and little turnover, almost none. That wasn‘t what we call forced turnover, where we replaced some people from voluntary reasons. If you don’t have documented systems and processes and there’s not a lot of structure in your organization, then turnover is terrible. There is nothing more painful than that. If you’ve got a lot of structure in place whenever you turn somebody over and you put a new person in place, getting them on board and up to speed, I won’t say it’s a snap and super easy. That would be a lie but it is so much easier. It almost is that easy to do it because now you’ve got clarity. You have structure in place. Someone can take up where someone else left off instead of starting over from scratch again. Those are a few reasons why having the systems and processes is so important. We could spend an entire episode talking about the benefits that you get from having documented task management from every single thing that’s happening.  

I also love the fact that you’ll do the discovery and that you’ll do it. A lot of the people are like, “I don’t have the skills. I hate doing that. We’re not good at that. The fact that you’re focusing on delivering something that you are good at means that you can create it quicker and you can collect the information that you need to get that into place 

It will be usable. Many times people come to us thinking it’s completed systems or processes are completed scouts. You hand that to someone else. They can execute those tasks. They fall down within the first couple of steps because it’s not truly documented well in that. It sounds silly. To give somebody a username and password, there are many steps that go into that, identifying the website they’re logging into, where to get into the portal. Oftentimes, it’s a multi-step process, and then entering username and password. I never ever want to see the conversations in any of our chat threads about asking for user access or things like that. It’s one of those things where the number of details that have to be in place in order for those documents to be usable by your team is where most people fail. They get the general big picture stuff together, but they make too many assumptions along the way to hand that off to somebody to execute those tasks.  

Turnover is one of the most painful and expensive things that happens in any company, and none of us can avoid it. Click To Tweet

If they want to plan for this and say, I can see the value and have somebody come in and help me to document some of our processes for our employees or to hire somebody?” what’s the step one?  

We call it 2 to 3-week timeframe to get somebody up and running. The first step is having your systems and processes documented, which takes about a week. If you’re working in multiple departments and multiple different tasks, that can take us a couple of weeks to map everything out. We’re also coming back to you consistently to get feedback to make sure that you like everything we’re putting together. It comes in a couple of forms. You’re getting PDF documents that have stepbystep with all the screenshots, arrows, and everything that you’ve seen before. We also help record videos and do actual training as well so that teams can watch that without asking questions. 1 to weeks to get that set up and 3 to business days to identify the right team member interview and then get them running. Within 30 days, you can have everything documented and process within your organization, have a team member up and running, and be having some success.  

That’s a reasonable timeframe. It’s not debilitating. I think people have a different scale of what that could take.  

Sometimes it’s a little faster. We can get people up the road because we’ve got a huge infrastructure around recruiting and training. We’re screening 4,000 applicants a month. We’re hiring less than 2% of those people. The skillsets that people are looking for are common. The baseline is English proficiency communication skills and then be able to perform those tasks. We’re taking care of all that. They’re our employees. They get full benefits. They get healthcare, all the things that any employee would be to bsuccessful. We want them to show up distractionfree and crush it every single day in their job. The way we have found to do that is to take care of our employees. I meant it when I said we’re a partner with our clients. That’s because in a huge way, we’re eliminating all the HR liability and headaches that come with hiring and managing team members.  

The process can be a couple of weeks if it’s something that’s simple for us where it’s something we’re replicating. It can take a few weeks longer if it’s something that is a little more specialized or takes a little more additional training. The team members have been on our platform for almost two months before they even go into the interview pool. We’re training, profiling, segmenting those teams, and putting them within management leadership groups. By the time you’re interviewing somebody, you can be confident that they would be a rock star for that role. We want it to be a personality fit because they’re going to be dedicated to you. We want you to like who you’re working with every day and be excited about coming into the office. Personality plays a big role in that. We’ll match skillsets. We’ll make sure that person has everything that they need to be successful. It’s you to pick the person that you’re excited about to join your team.  

Let me ask you a couple of the questions that I ask everybody who comes on the show. I like to know the variety of different answers and string them together. If you were to define productivity, how would you define that and why 

Productivity is all about efficiently getting to your outcomes. Everybody’s got a little bit different definition of success depending on what their business looks for us. For us, we’re getting clients up to speed as quickly as possible. Productivity is all the steps in the day that it takes to get our clients from the onboarding phase to implementation. Systems and processes are important but the actual implementation is what it’s all about. Productivity for us is getting people to the productivity phase which is implementing the systems and process that we’re helping them create. Success is efficiently getting to productivity in our minds.  

You’ve gone through this journey to create your own level of productivity. In the way that you do things outside of the outsourcing, delegating, and having someone else do that, what’s your shortcut? What makes you most productive?  

There are a couple of things. One is I’ve always surrounded myself with people who were more successful and better at life than me in every way, better spouses, better uncles, brothers, nephews, and cousins. I want to be around people who are rock star human beings. I’m always surrounding myself with people that have it together, both personally and professionally. I know a lot of people who do well professionally and don’t have a great personal life. I know people who have a great personal life that don’t do as well professionally as I think they should. The five people you surround yourself the most is what you become. I fully believe that. I think that coaching is the only real shortcut in life. As an adult, how I get most of my coaching is through being around amazing people.  

The second thing is define success as how little I’m involved in my day to day. Productivity, to me, is about nobody depending on me throughout the day for anything to do their jobs. I was out of the office and everything ran smooth. come into the office and people are almost asking me why I’m there. To me, that is success. I want to drive the vision. The org chart is important to me, who’s in which position. The numbers matter to me but the daily task, if I’m involved in that, then that’s my definition of lack of efficiency and productivity.  

Is there a tool that you say is your go-to tool? For whatever reason, even though it’s not about the tools, they love their tools. What do you have that you love?  

As a company, we started outsourcing in 2013 in the industry of BPO, Business Process Outsourcing. When we first started, we were a mess of systems and tools. We had Google Drive with Google Sheets and lots of spreadsheets. We had Slack as chat, RingCentral as a voice, and had some video through RingCentral as well. Mostly, Skype is what we use for video. We had five tools that we were using day in, day out. I am thrilled to death that we encompass every single one of those into Zoom. Zoom is our voiceover IP. It’s our chat tool. It‘s also our video tool. We take three, cut it down to one. I’m so thankful for all the investments Zoom had to make because of the pandemic. It’s got so much better quickly. The pressure has been a great thing for them. Having chat, video, and our phone system all into one tool as Zoom has been amazing for us.  

Maybe there’s a function in Zoom I’m not aware of. When you’re not online together, is there a chat function through Zoom?  

Every department has their own individual group chats and then we have company-wide chats for both internal leadership. We’ve got it for the entire company. That is one of the big things about managing and leading virtual teams is the over-communication aspects. When you’re in an office, communication seems to flow. Try to keep a secret in a traditional office and it’s walltowall before lunchtime. I want to replicate that type of environment. We do that through our chat feature in Zoom because everybody’s in groups. For example, when you log in each day, everybody says good morning, hello, and share some pleasantries. That’s nice but it’s also an accountability structure where you know exactly when everybody is logging in. We do the same thing at the end of day. Everybody checks out at the end of the day and says goodbye. We’re replicating that feeling of knowing exactly when people leave the office.

Everybody is aware in a normal office when people are working and when they’re not. We have a lot of transparency. We also celebrate wins that would normally feel small or in the minutia. The reason for that is each department, each team member by celebrating all day long, not just wins but also roadblocks as well, they’re sharing exactly what’s happening. We’ve got amazing alignment throughout the teams. Everybody knows exactly where everyone else is, what they’re working on, where they’re having success, and where they’re not. It replicates that communicationfeel of being in an office. That over-communication piece and using a tool like Zoom, the chat rooms, and having people update constantly in there is a huge reason that we have such great culture. Everybody is so clear on what everybody else is doing all the time. 

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: Systems and processes are important, but the actual implementation is what it’s all about.


Do you find that people are finding it a bit overwhelming? You’ve been working remotely with everybody anyway for some context. I’ve seen people explain that they felt this overwhelm from having to check in so often. You can hear something at the office if you want to but you can also stay out of it. If you’re being required to filter through the chat, it can be time-consuming, like being in social media, it can suck away half your time.  

That’s where clear structure and processes come into place. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. We all get tired of being on camera all the time. We’ve got a system for the way we communicate. Chat is the majority of it. We do video anytime there are team meetings or one-on-one things happeninbut we’re not videoing all day long. We don’t require our clients to use video. We prefer it but we don’t require it. For us, email communication is simply external. Anytime we’re dealing with external accounts, third-party contractors or clients, we obviously use email because that’s the traditional method. Internally, we do a lot of chat. The chat is mostly within teams and groups. Those teams and groups have some rules about the start of day, end of day, and when they post updates.  

For the most part, it’s an organic structure. Each team takes on their own culture and their own group. I like to think it was a locker room within each department. It’s the same way in an office. Different people that have different structure. If you look at our IT threads, those guys talk so much less than the inside sales groups, the threads are ridiculous. I don’t know how they keep up because there’s so much happening in there every day. They take on a life of their own. Whoever’s leading and managing those teams is in charge of making sure overseeing that. From my end, I see all the numbers and the reports. I’m in most of the chats but I’d be lying to you if I ever said I read anything that was happening in there.  

Thank you so much for all that you’ve shared. Is there anything else that you didn’t get a chance to share that you wanted to make sure you shared before we close out?  

The five people you surround yourself with the most is what you become. Click To Tweet  

I appreciate it. I’m an open book so anything you want to ask, shoot me an email and let me know. Anybody who’s interested in this, I’m happy to spend time with them whether they hire us or not, we are workforce management experts. Spend a little bit of time with us. We’re here for anybody. We’re here to help and either one of those processes, whether it’s finding people or system and process documentation, I’m happy to answer questions. There’s some great information on the website. I appreciate your time, Penny.  

The website is RocketStation.com. There are some good interviews on there. We have a couple of sharks from Shark Tank that has been doing some cool stuff with us. I’m so excited about that. You can check that out. There’s also a scheduled time now button. If anybody gets on there and talks to our sales team, make sure to say you kneus here on this show so that we can treat you special. We want to track that. Make sure you mentioned Penny’s show if you do reach out to us.  

Thank you so much, Robert. I love the way that you do it. I’m excited to check out more of your resources and to refer my clients to that process. I know that that’s an area that a lot of companies can improve on. It’s getting their documentation together.  

I’m looking forward to talking to you more about it. I appreciate you having me on.  

Thank you all for being here. I know you’re scratching your head and you’re going, “Not sure that I want to invest the time or that I can give up control and all of those things that we go through.” I promise you that you’re going to get a new level of freedom. Start small. Start with one position. Maybe you’ve got a new opening. Why not look at it outsourcing and getting your documentation together for that position and then see where it goes from there? I can tell you that I’ve seen those who were able to let go and use a virtual assistant or work with outsourcing companies for myself and those that I’ve seen. They have been able to scale and expand that much quicker. The leaders like yourself, it enables you to focus on where your genius is. It allows you to be more of that vision. Push that vision forward and work more strategically so you don’t get stuck in your business that you’re managing overall. Leading your business and getting the right structure in place so that everybody can thrive. That’s the name of the game. That’s how you work smarter.  

Important links: 

About Robert Nickell

TBT 151 | Virtual AssistantsRobert Nickell is an accomplished real estate investor, Realtor and serial entrepreneur in the business process outsourcing industry. He is CEO of Dallas-based Rocket Station, which he founded in 2018. Rocket Station recruits and trains college-educated Filipino professionals to fulfill a variety of remote roles at small to midsized American companies. Under Nickell’s leadership, Rocket Station has become a multimillion-dollar company with 10% month-over-month growth since early 2020 and more than 700 Filipino contract workers.
Rocket Station is the second BPO company Nickell has founded. For four years, he co-owned Dallas-based Investor Virtual Assistant Services, which provided outsourcing services specifically to the real estate vertical. Previously, he owned Dallas realty investment firm, GreenRo Homes.
Nickell earned his BA in business and communications from Austin College in 2009.

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How Time Tracking Helps You Become More Productive With Deb Allison Lee

TBT 150 | Time Tracking

Time management is such a weird term because when you come to think of it, time is something that is not exactly within your control. What you can control though, is how you spend it. Time tracking, whether done manually or with the aid of tools, helps you allocate your energy better so that you can get more work done during the hours that work best for you. Penny Zenker enthusiastically discusses this with Deb Allison Lee, a digital productivity coach, certified professional organizer and Evernote certified consultant who specializes in helping entrepreneurs use technology to increase productivity. For Deb, time management is really just about knowing how your energy works, identifying your peak times and organizing your day around them. And there is no cookie-cutter approach to this, as very individual has their own rhythm. Listen in and learn how you can optimize yours with Deb’s personal tips on time tracking plus some app recommendations that just might make things a tad easier.

Listen to the podcast here:

How Time Tracking Helps You Become More Productive With Deb Allison Lee

Deb Lee is here, and I’m excited to have her. She’s a Certified Professional Organizer, speaker, Evernote certified consultant, and the woman behind D. Allison Lee LLC. She’s a self-subscribed appaholic. Some of you can relate, and I’m sure. She’s also a digital productivity coach, which helps small business owners and company founders master the leverage and leverage technology to increase productivity.

Deb, without further ado, welcome and tell us about that.

Thank you for having me. I love being here. I love talking about productivity. I’m one of those people that like to put productivity with technology. Some people have a little bit of a difficult relationship with tech and with apps. I like to find ways to have the tech help us to do the things that we need to do, to add a little bit of automation so that we can focus on the things that we should be focusing on instead of trying to figure out the tech. That’s my approach to productivity.

What’s your background? You’re a professional organizer. What makes you love and be passionate about helping people or yourself to be more productive?

As a professional organizer, back when I started, I would help people organize their stuff. I would organize their physical things in their offices and their homes because clutter would often impact their productivity. They wouldn’t be able to manage their household. A lot of times, I was getting questions about, “How do I handle my time?” It was stuff in time and time kept coming up. As my life changed, I pivoted and changed directions slightly. I don’t do the physical stuff anymore. I’m focusing more on productivity.

The physical stuff comes up if I’m working with a client where I go into their office and we’re talking productivity, but we’re resetting their desk because oftentimes, the desk is the hub. It’s the hub of the main space. It’s where you sit or stand, depending on the desk you have. If that is cluttered or if you have too many things there, or if you don’t have it laid out the way that works for you, your brain, your work style, then it can impede you. It may not be the main part of what I do anymore, but it comes up every so often, time management, how to use your time, and how to save time. It’s funny, we talk about time like it’s this tangible thing. We can’t hold it.

TBT 150 | Time Tracking

Time Tracking: Identify the things that work for you and create a routine around them. This is the best way to build productivity habits that stick and work.


We can control it like time management, why don’t we even use that expression if you’re managing time? There are 24 hours a day and it will tick by no matter what you do. It’s still going to go tick on.

They’re going to be the same but you can manage your energy.

I talk about that a lot too.

Manage your energy and peak times. You know when you have the afternoon crash. I am not an afternoon person. If you want me to do it well, talk to me at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. Send it to me. I will be blazing 3:00 or 4:00. I’m good but not as good at 7:00. Knowing yourself, your own vibes, and what your rhythm is, some people might be night owls and that’s okay too. Managing the energy, managing your peak moments, and using the tools that work for you. It shouldn’t be cookie-cutter. I like apps, but maybe you need paper notebook. Try to write down what you need. It depends on who you are.

Before we go into some of the tools and solutions, I want to talk about another couple of points about this energy management piece. You talked about in the morning you can get a lot more done. You can expand upon this. For me, it’s also different types of work at different times. I’m great because I need concentration. I’ve got that energy to concentrate in the morning so that I can do content creation or research. I like to fill my afternoons with interacting with people. That brings me energy. At times when I might tend to be lower energy, I do those activities that boost my energy.

That makes a lot of sense. To know when the difficult work, when you need to tackle that harder, mentally heavy stuff. For me, that’s still morning. The content creation, the writing, and putting the thoughts together, I need morning time for that. If I have to write something at the end of the day, I can still do it, and I can do it well. It’s not as well as if it were earlier in the day. Knowing the activities that energize you. By the way, it’s perfectly okay to get the energy by stepping away from your desk.

In the afternoon, I step away from my desk and if I can’t go outside because I also don’t like being cold, I will walk around my house or I’ll do some jumping jacks. I’ve been meditating which is very different than jumping jacks. It’s a different energy and some days call for, “Deb, deep breath, focus in on the breath. Take two minutes.” I don’t mean ten minutes, just two minutes to reset, refocus, and getting some water. Getting up from this space often will reenergize me and get me to say, “I reset. I’ve got another ten minutes to go.” I like to work in small increments of time. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to productivity. Know your own rhythm and structure your day around it. Click To Tweet

What are the increments that are right for you?

Perfect for me is 45 to 60 minutes. If I’m writing, 90 minutes is much better because I get in a flow and the words are pouring out of me. Other times, I need ten minutes. What happens is I convince myself it’s ten minutes and then it ends up being somewhere around 30. I double my output by saying, “Ten minutes.” That’s all you have to give. Nothing more, nothing less, set your timer, and off you go. If we wait for motivation to drop in our lap, we’ll never do it. Motivation is amazing but we can still get work done without it. Ten minutes is quick but I can do lots of things in ten minutes. Imagine that. Cross them off and get going.

I can write a paragraph in ten minutes. I convince myself and I also picture myself being successful at the end of those ten minutes. The feeling I will have when I put in what I say I’m going to put in. I know that I will put in 30 minutes, I say, “You’re going to be happy that you did this. You’re going to feel great when you’re done.” The feeling that hasn’t happened yet but will also propel me forward. There’s a combination of things that I do to help myself in anything. For the audience, they need to figure out what those things are for them. I’m a firm believer in talking to myself, not answer all the time, but I do talk myself through situations. If we know what those things that work for us are, we need to create a routine around them.

For you procrastinators out there, you don’t have to wait for the motivation. These are strategies that you can use to get started. Once you’re started, momentum happens.

Momentum starts to come. If it doesn’t come, it’s okay. Put in your 10 minutes or 20 minutes, and then you can move on to the next thing.

You made an important point. That’s why I asked you what’s your timeframe for your time blocks or your segments is for people to understand with their attention. Given that they’re blocking out, taking away some of the distractions, or whatever, how long can they focus? Some people have short attention spans. Twenty minutes is a better block for them whereas other people can do a 90-minute stretch, no problem. Know who you are and work with your energy type. Every 20 to 30 minutes, you need a quick energizer and then you can get back into it.

There’s no cookie-cutter here and there’s nothing wrong with you. You said, “I can’t sit for 60 minutes.” Get up. Don’t torture yourself. Don’t do that to yourself at all. Use the tools that you have. Make the tools and strategies work for you. Don’t try to fit yourself into them. If you have to fit yourself into them, you need a different strategy. One that syncs with you. That takes some trial and error. Maybe testing a few things and testing them for a while to see if they work or not and then building a solid routine. That’s what we’re trying to do. Build productivity habits that stick and work.

You mentioned something also of those breaks. Those breaks are important and give yourself permission to take those breaks because without those breaks, we don’t realize that our energy hits that peak and then it starts to go down. It’s like a frog that slowly boils in the warm water. We have to know ourselves and make ourselves go for the breaks. I love the fact that my watch will tell me to get up and sometimes it’s a matter of changing the environment too. Sometimes, I work better at the kitchen table or in my office. I need to mix it up.

I love to mix it up too. Now, I’m in my basement. It’s bright and airy down here but it’s also cold. I can’t be here for very long. I have my whole setup, and then I’ll go upstairs and I’ll work in my office, which, to be honest, is a complete wreck because I was planning a birthday party for my kiddo. All of her stuff is in my office. I’ll move myself over to the kitchen counter and I’ll stand. Some days, I need to be upright. Just because the strategy works now, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to work tomorrow because tomorrow is a different day.

You may be tackling something different that requires that movement or shift in environment back when we could all go off to the local cafe and work, which I used to do all the time. I love the hum of people talking. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I hear them. There’s this hum, I hear plates, I hear dishes, I’ve got my coffee, and I can get some good eats if I have to. I’m in a zone, and I loved that. Try to recreate that now. It’s a little trickier.

Did you know that you can play different audios? You can go on to Spotify or FM1 where they have specific channels that you can also tune in, like a coffee shop.

Play around with it. If you’re not in that vibe, it’s okay. We don’t beat ourselves up way too much. We probably get a lot more done than we realize, but we also have that negative talk happening. I’m guilty of it too. It’s not that I’m perfect. It’s just that I have a few more tools that perhaps are at my disposal. Again, I talk to myself a lot and I say, “Ten minutes is better than zero minutes.” Use whatever those things are and know yourself, know your own rhythm, how you best work, and work with that. Don’t try to change. That’s my personal opinion.

A lot of people think in terms of a shortcut like, “I want to get the results and I want to get it fast.” I’ve been asking the guests to share their favorite shortcut. If you have one thing that makes everything easier for you, maybe it’s an app, it’s a way of thinking, or it’s something you tell yourself. What would your shortcut be?

I don’t know if it is a shortcut, but it has become a habit and that is planning ahead. I don’t mean a ten-page production. What I mean is, “What do I have coming up the next day? How much can I accomplish?” Taking ten minutes to look ahead, look at my next day, and look at my calendar. I’m using a digital calendar so that helps. I can do some searching. If I need to, I can use a keyword that will cut down on my sifting through a paper calendar.

For me, that works. If that lasts 5 to 10 minutes of the evening before of looking ahead, not just at the next day, but then also a little bit beyond so I’m prepared. I find that when I don’t do that, I miss things like appointments or I’m thinking, “Is there something coming up?” There’s that nagging feeling, which I don’t like. It’s awful. There’s something looming that doesn’t feel good. I make a point that every night, I checked my calendar for the coming day. I look another day or so beyond that to see what’s next.

I do have to-do lists that I like to keep and that’s on paper. I love paper to-do list. I’m an app girl. I love apps. If you want to talk apps, we’ll talk apps forever. I love this notebook. I can take pages out, I can remove them, and rearrange them. I write down my to-do list. I crossed them out. I feel like a rock star paper, but if I have an appointment, that’s digital. You work with what you have, but for me, it’s a little bit of preparation the night before. It’s not a shortcut, it’s a habit, but it’s a quick one.

TBT 150 | Time Tracking

Time Tracking: Before you download an app, figure out why you need it and whether you really need it or not.


In the context of it takes you a couple of minutes, by doing that, it creates efficiency for those days that you’re doing it.

That is correct. It’s something that I do every night and to make sure that I do it, I have a repeated reminder in my phone that says, “Check your calendar,” because there are days when you were going and going, and the end of the day is here. When it’s hectic, you sometimes lose sight of those things that ground you your routines. I build in the backup to the mental memory break, “I’m stressed and I’ve forgotten to do something.” I have a reminder that says, “Check your calendar.” Look at it. You don’t have to do anything. If you’re looking at it then you’ll figure out what you have to do the next day. Do you have to be prepared? I knew what time I had to be here. I showed up, I was ready because I checked my calendar the night before, I’d say 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the day.

Let’s talk about apps a little bit because people love the apps. I do want to put this out there for everybody. The tool is not going to solve all of your problems. It’s a picking process. Tools do help but I want to make sure that people are aware that you have to also step back, look at your approach, and see which tools are going to fit you. Not that I get too hung up on that.

Before you even look at an app or download an app, figure out why you need it and figure out if you need it because maybe you don’t. Your friend tells you this app works for him or her. That’s great but they are different than you are. Can you look at it? Can you test it? Absolutely. Why do you need it? I like telling people to figure out what it is that they’re trying to solve. We’re solving for why. What are you trying to solve? What’s the issue? Map out. What are the steps? The buzzword is workflow.

That’s pretty much what it is. Step-by-step, what is it that you’re trying to do? Where’s the hole? Do you have a hole? If the answer is yes, is technology the best way to fill it? If the answer is yes, then go searching for the best tech tools to help you to do that. The answer doesn’t always equal yes. If you’re tech-averse, that’s fine. It’s an analog way of doing it. That’s okay too. Figure out the problem first, if technology can solve it for you, and then if the answer is yes, get it. I absolutely agree with you on that 100%.

Share some of the tools. If you were to say I’m going to take your computer, your phone, and I’m going to wipe them clean, and you’re going to add them back. What are the first apps that you’re going to add back outside of your mail and your calendar? Outside of that, what are those apps that you rely on day to day?

Evernote is one because I use it for writing. Evernote is the first place I go to write. It’s my hub for writing of any sort. It’s also a great place to put all of the brain dumps and the ideas that pop up when you’re supposed to be doing something important and they float to your brain. They’re the shiny squirrel that crosses by your desk. They try to pull your attention away. Evernote is a great place to throw them in there.

Why Evernote?

I started with Evernote and it was simple. It was a clean interface and this is years ago. It has changed and updated quite a bit. I built a routine around Evernote in writing and it stuck because it worked for me. I loved that clean, non-distracting interface that it built around writing. I love that it’s robust and that you can use it for other things too. That’s where people get a little tripped up with it.

Use it for things that is not designated for. Is that what you mean?

Trello is a project management and it’s Kanban-style, boards and lists, it’s set up for you. You use the templates as you see fit. Evernote is this blank canvas, you tweak, and you fix it. It’s building something of your own. There’s nothing set up. There are templates now these days. When I first started using it, we didn’t have that, but you still have to come up with your way of using it. It’s not as intuitive in that way but for those who have been using it for a long time, we’ve built that habit around it. For me, that certainly is true. I connect it very much and strongly to writing and the brain dump in. I’m collecting things that I want to refer to later.

If I had a magazine basket of things I wanted to read and then reread, I would throw it in Evernote because it’s my long-term depository. I would use an app like Pocket or Instapaper or other tools like that. Those would be my short-term reading. Those little articles that came across my desk, that I wanted to see but when I was done with them, I would delete them. My workflow has changed a little bit. I don’t need those two anymore. I focused on Evernote primarily. That’s one of them.

You probably get a lot more done than you realize. You just have to be more aware of how you spend your time so that you can optimize it. Click To Tweet

Before you go on, I want to say I use Evernote too. I’m using it for a long time. What I like about it is the searchability. When you talk about dumping everything in there, I take notes in it, and I dump it because I hate the search functionality in my Mac. When I went to Mac years ago, they said that it was better than Windows. It’s not. They’re all the same, but Evernote, without even tagging, it will find me the words in the text, and it’s so robust. That’s why I like it. I can find one word that I know that I use, and it will bring up four notes instead of hundred notes that I need to go through.

It’s perfect for search. That’s such a great point to bring up. It’s powerful. You can search inside of the PDF. You can search texts inside of an image. You can save various content like audio. You can type it in. You can do handwritten notes and take a picture of that. It’s very versatile, but you need to know how you want to use it for it to be effective. That’s where other tools like Trello sometimes. It comes already ready. It’s prepared and then you use the interface that you get. Again, find the one that works best for you, but Evernote search is amazing.

What are some of the other tools that he would add-in first?

I like Any.do. It is a task manager. When I first started using it, I used it with the friend and colleague. We were doing a talk together. There were certain parts of the talk that we were both responsible for. She was using it. Shout-out to Kim Oser. She then assigned me inside of Any.do a task. When I checked it off, she got pinged. I was like, “This is amazing. I love it.” This was before I started using Basecamp and some of those other tools but this one was a nice way to collaborate with someone else on something very specific. She didn’t have to ask me, “Did you do this or did you do that?”

It was obvious because she would be notified whenever I did. I loved it for that purpose. It also has a personal feature that I love, which is a grocery list. It’s a standard list that I keep recreating. You can check things off. When you check it off, it gets online right through it. I love that. It’s not the same as writing it but close enough. I love that grocery list and I’m able to organize. I know this sounds silly but from my brain, I love organizing. It’s by aisle, by type of item, produce, and pantry items. I can do that and I love it. It works well with my brain. Any.do would be one that I would absolutely put right back there. Calendar, Evernote, and Any.do.

One more.

I’m going to say not necessarily productivity, but Twitter. I say Twitter because in this time of COVID where I don’t see people as much as I could in the past, I’m able to maintain contact with folks and meet new people. Twitter has been great for conversation. When I’m taking a break, I can have that conversation. I know Twitter can be a time suck. I do my 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or 90 minutes, Twitter is my reward. I have to put in the work first so I can have the conversation but I’d say for something fun, which I do think also helps with your productivity. You can’t be all the time going, “I would put Twitter in there.”

One of the things that you have is Time Tracking Worksheet. Let’s talk about time tracking and why should people time track. Let’s start there.

Sometimes, we know that we need to improve our “management of time” or how we use our time. You don’t quite understand what it is that’s taking our attention away. It’s what it is when you’re using time, and you use it for a purpose. If you sit down at your computer to start writing, Twitter is up on the screen, and then you notice that your attention is a squirrel, you’re moving away. Some people aren’t aware of where the time goes. Sometimes, you feel busy and at the end of the day, you were exhausted, but you’re not quite sure what you’ve got done.

Everybody can relate to that.

We can all relate to that. Time tracking and seeing where the minutes go, the data doesn’t lie. The numbers do not lie. If you have an hour to complete something, the hour is up, and you haven’t got anything done. Let’s assess, and let’s see where the time went because when you know where the time went, you can make a plan to address that. I said Twitter can be a time suck. All social media can be a time suck. We all know that. I use it as my reward. That’s my strategy. I can’t get to that until I do this. If you don’t know that it’s Twitter, Facebook, it’s someone who calls, or it’s the dishes in the sink if you work from home, and you can’t stand seeing dishes in the sink.

Everything has to be clean before you start working. Tracking your time gives you the opportunity to figure out where it goes, what’s working, and what needs to be addressed. For me, time tracking shouldn’t be, “It’s awful.” It’s an opportunity to make some good change and keep what’s working. Tracking your time whether you do it manually or using a spreadsheet or something, put in 6:00 AM I woke up, went down and got coffee at 6:30, and map out your day because it might also show you if you’re working too much. Not spending enough time doing other things outside of work because then overwork brings us closer to burnout and exhaustion. We’re looking for a balance or an integration. I prefer that word. I don’t think balance is the right word. You want to be able to have a nice integration of work and life. You’re not overdoing it in any one area and that you’re not overdoing it at work and keeping yourself frazzled because then you can’t be productive.

TBT 150 | Time Tracking

Time Tracking: Time tracking gives you the opportunity to figure out where your time goes, what’s working for you and what needs to be addressed.


It comes back to managing your energy. We’re full circle around but it’s about managing your energy.

Track the time and look at where it goes.

What’s that link that they can go to? How can they get more information about you, your services, some videos, and things that you’ve got?

I can be found about everywhere on the web, @DAllisonLee. My website is DAllisonLee.com. I also have a free download on my website that they can take a look at for productivity apps.

You’ve got a free Time Tracking Worksheet and you’ve got all your favorite apps listed in your website.

I’ve got my top five apps. If you wanted to take your company online or to productive online, there are five apps that everybody needs to have. That’s also a free download on my website.

Thank you so much for being here, Deb. It was a lot of fun and informative.

Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Thank you all for being here. I hope you took some notes and you wrote down some tips. What we’re looking for from each one of these blogs that you’re reading, if you find one thing that’s going to help you improve the way you approach, how you do your work or your play, or something that helps you think differently and be more productive in what you’re doing, that’s our goal. With that, you should be able to take back time. Whether that means work less, work smarter, or whatever it means to you. That’s our mission here to help you to be more productive and to get to your goals faster. Thank you so much for supporting the show. Make sure that you’re going in and you’re checking us out on all the different locations that we’ve got access to. Make sure you subscribe because it’s not just that you can comment. Also make sure that you’re here for the next episode. Every Friday we release a new blog. We’ll see you at the next episode.


 Important Links:

About Deb Allison Lee

TBT 150 | Time TrackingDeb Allison Lee is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, Evernote Certified Consultant, the woman behind D. Allison Lee LLC, and a self-described appaholic. She is also a Digital Productivity Coach who helps small business owners and company founders master and leverage technology to increase productivity. Deb is also currently having an intense love affair with coffee and is seriously fanatic about social media, WordPress, and blogging.
She is an avid tweeter and can often be found sharing tips and resources along with a helping hand. You may have seen her writing and ramblings around the interwebs on places like The Washington Post, Fox Business, FastCompany.com, Quartz at Work, Moneyish.com, and recently, the digital cleanse campaign with Xfinity Mobile, to name a few.
Deb has had the good fortune to be resourceful, which may be due to an insatiable technology obsession. Whether working one-on-one with a client or speaking to a group, Deb loves seeing when a carefully crafted strategy is met with success. She often infuses fun and humor in her work with clients to help reduce their frustration with technology so they can get on with the business of getting important things done.

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What Processes You Should Automate And How With William Christensen

TBT 149 Will Christensen | Automate Processes


You can automate processes to save time, but it doesn’t take much to realize that automation is not necessarily needed across the boardHow do you know which processes you should automate for your businessJoining Penny Zenker to talk about this is the co-founder of Data AutomationWilliam Christensen, who is also known as the Tony Stark of Software. Will gives valuable tips on what processes you should automate, such as communication, scheduling, and even cleaning! More to the point of increasing productivity, Will also shares how he uses automated processes to keep himself from getting swamped by the onslaught of messages across different platforms, allowing him to focus on more urgent things. Nerd it out with Will in this episode to discover how you can make your life easier with a little help from Jarvis’s friends! 

Listen to the podcast here:

What Processes You Should Automate And How With William Christensen  

I’m always out there looking out for you and how you can work smarter. I want to talk about automation because having an eye on how we can automate things and where we can compress time. Automation is how we compress time. I wanted to look for experts in this space that will going to be a value to you. I have Will Christensen on. He has over a decade of business development experience and it’s safe to say that he has an elevated passion, which you’re going to know about fulfilling what endusers desire and efficiently working towards faster iteration, so it’s “automation.”  

He’s considered by some to be the Tony Stark of Software. He enjoys tinkering and cutting edge technology apps, systems, and loves to create and innovate solutions for businesses and individual clients. He’s the Cofounder of DataAutomation, a nerd staffed agency, which customizes both the automation and integration processes for eCommerce sellers. Will, also heads up the business development for Round Sphere, a tech incubator dedicated to developing new opportunities through software. Are you guys ready to nerd out with Will? Let’s go.  

Hi, Will. 

It’s good to be here. As you were reading that, and I was thinking a little bit about our conversation, I was laughing because nerd is an understatement sometimes when we started talking about Will Christensen, the Tony Stark of Software. I am an app nerd. You go out there and you’re like, “There’s this new piece of software that does X, Y, and Z.” I’m like, “Did you know that it does this and this? I tried it out and I couldn’t stop digging and seeing what else it could do.” I’m that guy. We were getting on and I was prepping to hit the record button and I was like, “Alexa, turn off the front door alarm. Alexa, turn off the back door alarm, because me being the total nerd I am, I’ve automated the notification that my kids are leaving the house.  

My wife is at the dentist, and I’m trying to work. COVID-19 taught us all about the whole idea of working from home now and what that must be like. I use technology to continue the ability to keep my eyes on my keyboard, so to speak but have a notification if my child happens to make it out into the front yard. I had to turn off those routines before we started because otherwise, you’d be hearing, “The back door is openThe front door is open.” Automation is part of my blood. That’s who I am. 

I told you, we were going to get into the nerd in the geek here, which is awesome. We all want to channel our inner nerd when it comes to how we can be smarter in the way that we work about things. As a tip, there’s also a good thing that you can, and it’s not a technology or an app, but I locked my kids in with walls. I block them into a particular room. I could camera in and watch them in that room so they couldn’t get out of that room. 

There you go. The baby gate mode. My problem is that my child is a little more resourceful, so I’d probably have to buy three baby gates and stack them up so it would be a full-blown cage. Anybody from child services that are reading, they’re going to be reaching out pretty quick here. I hear you, 100%. I’ve played the blockade move several times and need to figure out how to do that in this house. We moved here, so I haven’t quite figured out my blockade strategy yet. 

I’m sure everybody will be anxious to hear what that is and they’re already online looking at how they can use Alexa or whatever they have at home to make that work for them too. It’s smart.  

Let me tell you how I set it up so for the readers that are like, “I want to figure that out.” I use a product called Wyze. They came out with a $24 Wi-Fi webcam several years ago, and that’s where they started. They were like, “We’re going to be the highend quality, low-end price Wi-Fi camera,” and they’re amazing. These cameras are out of this world. Once they get you, they’re like, “We’re going to make a vacuum.” They have a vacuum. I got it in the mail and the thing maps out your whole house and it’s only $200. Everybody else is selling those for $500.  

The belief that in-person is absolutely required to form a strong bond with your team is a total myth. Click To Tweet

The Wyze Vacuum I played with for 1.5 hours. I let it go over, mapped out the house, it got confused on the stairs, and wasn’t sure how to handle that situation. It’s not the random vacuum that bounces around other places. They’ve gone a step further, like it goes down and mows your lawn. It’s like, “If I were driving this thing, this is how I would make it go.” It’s got that much logic because it’s got a little laser in there that maps out the house. I’m excited to go play with it again and see if I can get it to map out the rest of the house because it creates a floor plan and separates the rooms you can go, “Go clean the front room.”  

That’s awesome. Stop it because I’m buying all this stuff that you’re talking about. When I got the electric robo thing, that was the best gift that I bought myself because it would go from roomtoroom but the idea of it mapping out and doing all that, stop it. Don’t say products anymore because I’m going to be listing them and buying them all. 

I’ve got two. I’ve got a D Bot, which is like the one I bought a few years ago for $200 and it is the stupid version of the bot but it’s cool too because that bot goes around and it was great. This is when nobody had them or they tried a Roomba and they didn’t work, so my wife gets there and my in-laws, who are both not super into the cutting edge of stuff they’ve started to get more. They have an Alexa because we took our Alexa over there and I showed them the cool stuff and they listen to music on it. They’re asking my wife, “What do you think about this robot vacuum?” My wife was like, “I like it.”  

We have a daily routine, we call All the Small Things and yes, we do play Blink 182 All the Small Things on Alexa. It automatically goes off in the middle of dinnertime to remind us to go pick up all the small things, so the vacuum robot works because otherwise, you find all sorts of things in it. It’s powerful. To get a step layer, Wyze has that aspect and they’ve got motion sensors as well now that they launched and they’re only $20 apiece per motion sensor.  

Slap that onto the front door onto the back door, hook it up inside Alexa and it’ll announce every time the door goes off. My wife gets annoyed if it’s left on for too long. I have to turn it off before I get on the show. She left for the dentist’s appointment and I turned it on and it didn’t go off. My child did not escape into the front yard. Wyze is a favorite home automation tool of mine for the different things that they’ve got out there. There’s no affiliate link there. I get nothing for telling you that other than, “You’ve got kudos for figuring it out.” 

People want different tips, tools, and strategies about how they can deal with their kids at home and juggle everything that they’ve got to do. Since we’re on that home front, let’s stay there for a moment and then we can move into other areas. What other types of things do you find that support you while you’re working at home? You’ve probably worked at home long before COVID and the pandemic, but what are some things that are key processes or tools like this that you’re using that support you in the work from home environment? 

The number one thing that I’ve done for myself in the work from home environment. I went remote back in the Fall of 2018. That would have been when I first went remote. August of 2018. I would tell people that Data Automation was remote before it was cool because now everybody is doing it by necessity. The one thing that I absolutely dislike is the aspect of the lack of social interaction. This is going to sound weird but a webcam is a basic entry. If you’re getting on those Zoom calls, and you don’t have a webcam, get a webcam, and encourage other people to get that webcam as well.  

TBT 149 Will Christensen | Automate Processes

Automate Processes: Set boundaries around your communication so that you can free yourself from the onslaught of messages that will eat up your time.


For example, I have an assistant who I’ve been working with for an entire year. She and I are amazing friends. She’s into my life, she knows everything that’s there, she laughs with me, and we cry together. I’m married, so it’s an intimate professional relationship. Part of the way that we’ve done that is all through webcams. You’d be amazed at how much that increases. That’s funny because webcam was not what I was going to say when you asked me that first. I’ve got another one that I’ll throw at you.  

Let’s discuss that one first because that’s a challenge. When you see each other, you don’t have to be present. It is better to be present, it’s absolutely true but to see each other bridges that gap. To hear each other isn’t the same. As you said, it’s to have that visual of her. All these meetings that are going on where people are not turning on their camera is a disservice to the team building and relationship that they’re still building. 

If you’re in sales, turn on your camera, even if they don’t turn on theirs. The reason I tell you that is because you get into communication experts, a lot of what you communicate is in your body language and in who you are. When I’m pitching myself for a podcast or when I’m pitching myself for hire data Automation to automate something, I turn on my webcam, even if they won’t, because I know that my ability to be genuine and real is going to be there. They’ll honestly feel a little guilty for not turning those on and eventually, I’ll get them to turn those on. Sometimes they’re not prepared. They’re so used to being with cameras off that it’ll take 3 to 4 meetings before they turn theirs on but you’d be surprised. The Law of Reciprocity is real and if you turn on your webcam, the others will. It’s awkward talking to a screen when you can’t see the other person but you can see your face. It’s powerful 

Don’t be afraid to ask because I always ask for it. I do a lot of public speaking and I can’t stand to be on these, speaking to people, and speaking to what feels like an empty room. I need to be able to see some people so I’m always asking people, “Please turn it on so we can interact at that level.” 

The only thing I’d say beyond there is, we’ve been remote from 2018. I have fantastic managerial relationships with people I have never met in person. I’ve never met them in person, and we hire remote. My salesperson who’s been with us. She’s amazing. She’s been with us for months now but I’ve never met her in person. Honestly, I’m excited for the day when COVID-19 calms down a little bit and we can figure out a way to see each other and do a company retreat. The myth that in-person is absolutely required to form a strong bond, strong trust, and strong relationship is a total myth. 

It’s a total limiting belief. Before COVID, I had a client that I worked with who was in a totally distant location. We worked together for years and we never met. I agree with you. That’s a mindset limitation that we have and we’ve got to get rid of some of those. 

The second thing I would tell you about being at home, it creates different channels of communication. What I mean by that is when you get a text message, a WhatsApp message, a Messenger message, a Slack message, you get a different channel that goes off in Slack, and you get an email, all of those things feel the same level of urgency if you have not defined them with your clients and your customers. My clients and customers know that the best way to get ahold of my team is through a form we created on the internet. There’s a Google Form that they can go to and they fill out that Google Form.  

They fill out that Google Form, it automatically puts it into our sales system, which puts it into the hands of the developers and they can get the work done. We’ve clearly communicated the boundary that this is the way we want you to communicate. Any follow-ups? Those are going to be through a private Slack channel that we’ve created with our clients. We’re going to talk through that. My assistant knows that I hardly check Slack. At this moment in time, I don’t know where my Slack is. It’s somewhere. I’ve got four monitors and I cannot see Slack now. As I look a little closer, I can see I’ve got 38 unread notifications in Slack. If I leave that up, I can’t focus. I can’t handle anything.  

Everybody on my team knows that if you want to get hold of Will during the middle of the day, and you need to get a hold of him in the next 10 to 15 minutes, you go through my assistant, who messages me inside WhatsApp. She has WhatsApp and I’ve got WhatsApp desktop and WhatsApp on my phone. Here’s the fun part, this can be totally free. I’m going to use Facebook Messenger for all urgent communication.  

All communication that needs to be handled by the end of the day, I’m going to do an email. If it’s long term, we don’t need to talk about it until next week, I’m going to flip and create a list inside a Google Document, a Trello board, or something where we know once a week, we’re going to always look at this and we’re going to discuss things on here, and limit it. Set boundaries around your communication, so people know in this level of urgency. That funnel has created freedom for me from the onslaught of messages that I was getting. 

That is so key. I talked about that as well. In the beginning, people were so overwhelmed with all of these different channels that they had to stay on top of. It was overwhelming in the office to be interrupted in person and now it’s overwhelming to be interrupted by all these others. Those are great suggestions in terms of creating that process and making sure that there’s a system for each one of those levels of urgency to define what that is. To take that one step further, this isn’t a tech technology but it is making sure that you can automate a process in that way. How do people know what’s urgent? You have to come up with a definition of here’s what makes something urgent to contact me and everything else goes in this bucket or this bucket. 

Shifting a little bit to business, one of the things that we did is we created what we call the Bat Phone. The Bat Phone is a phone number that we sent out to all of our customers and said, “If you’ve got a problem, and it’s the middle of the holiday, you call this number. You don’t try to Slack us because we’re not there. We’re with our families.” We took some time off to be with our families over the holiday. Even if it was virtually because of COVID-19 or maybe they were close enough that we could make that happen. We said, “Call the Bat Phone.” We made it funny and we put a little Bat Phone GIF of Batman picking up the red phone and send it out to everybody.  

Productivity means having a plan and following through with it. Click To Tweet

I use a program called Twilio and Twilio Studio. In Twilio Studio, I made an IVR, which is a tool that you can use for an automated phone system. There were three options. It comes on and it’s my voice and it’s hilarious because if you call the Bat Phone, it comes on it’s like, “Thanks for calling the Bat Phone. We’re excited to provide emergency support. If you need some business help before the end of this business day or before the end of this day, press one and leave us a voicemail. We’ll get a text message with that and we’ll get back to you within one day. If you’ve decided that this isn’t as big as an emergency and you don’t want to interrupt people who are with their families, press two and we’ll get back to you when we come back to the office under normal operating hours.”  

“Press three if you’d like to be connected to our on-call,” I specifically use this word, “support team right now live.” If they press three, what I did is I made it call my cell phone and my wife’s cell phone twice. It does 2 or 3 rings on my phone, calls my wife’s phone 2 or 3 rings on her cell phone, calls my cell phone again, calls her cell phone again. If all of that fails, it goes to, “That sucks. You didn’t get anybody who is on call. Please record a message and we will text this to everyone to take care of you as quickly as possible and expect a phone call back as quickly as possible.” We created this Bat Phone so that nobody had to sit on and watch all of our Slack channels because that sounds like a fun thing to do over the holidays. Let’s sit in and watch. 

What I like about it is you’re not giving your number. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re running your own business, and you’ve got outsource teams, you can have this number that isn’t your number so it’s not going to interrupt you directly. I love that idea of, “Press one on the level of urgency.” That’s brilliant. I’m borrowing that with pride. 

Do it and if you need help setting it up, Data Automation does do work on that side of things but that’s not a pitch necessarily. You could figure it out on your own by watching the tutorials and seeing what Twilio has to offer in that. Here’s my favorite part, guess how much I’m paying a month for that thing? Less than $5 a month. You pay per phone call or text message. It’s a powerful system. It is somewhat complicated. I have a guy who paid me $2,000 to help him set up a similar workflow but he makes it, so he never misses an inbound call ever again. He put an option in his where it goes, “Press four if you’re looking for media relations and how to help us advertise better.” It goes to a voicemail box that he never checks. There are so many opportunities for automation and that’s one that we put in place.  

I’m the business owner. I don’t care if somebody calls me on Christmas Eve and the whole world is on fire, I’m going to help them out. I’m okay with that. The stress of knowing that my phone could ring and I did change my ringtone so when that thing rings, it plays the Batman theme song. I was happy that nobody called but I was disappointed because it didn’t ring. It was good because I was able to say, “Nobody has to be on call on Christmas. We’re going to have the Bat Phone on call on Christmas.” 

I love it. What a great strategy. There are so many different things that we could talk about. I know we only have a limited amount of time so hopefully, we can have you back again and talk around a different topic. Let me back up and ask you two standard questions that I asked every guest. What’s your definition of productivity and why? 

I’ve been going through Traction. It’s a fantastic framework. They call it the Entrepreneurs Operating System. There are two different books called Traction but if you find the one that’s called the Entrepreneurs Operating System, you’ll find the one that I went through. I paid a consultant named Dave Newell from Evolve Leadership. A huge shout out to him. I paid him to come in and help implement traction inside my company. When you asked me, “What does productivity mean to you?” Productivity means having a plan and following through with it.  

The reason I go so hard on that plan is, I’ve discovered that if I don’t create a vision and push towards that vision, I find that my efforts spiral out of control, so I’m not zeroed in on creating something of value. I do have productive moments where I’m like, “Sweet. I totally got a lot done that I didn’t plan on doing today.” The definition of productivity, if you look at the root word, product. A product, in my mind, is creation, and it’s hard to create sporadically. Vision then the creation of that vision. In my mind, that’s the true definition of productivity. It’s executing on a vision that you’ve created for yourself, your life, your company, kids, or whatever else that looks like. 

The truth is there are so many distractions, we get caught up in the weeds, and things that aren’t important that are the small things. Therefore, we waste all of our time, money, and energy often on things that are not on that critical path or not on that plan. You’re absolutely spot on that it’s the implementation there. That’s where people have the biggest challenge because it’s hard, especially under pressure. What does Mike Tyson say, “Everybody has a plan until they are punched in the face?” All plans went out the door when COVID and the pandemic came around like, “How do we continue this plan with a level of flexibility?” Your business got even more busy and productive because more people are looking to automate and do more with what they have.  

It punched us in the face as much as it punched everybody else. One of the things we do we work with big SaaS companies that are looking to connect to Zapier. Zapier is one of the automation tools that I use all the time. Zapier is amazing. I probably spent more hours there. We’ve been fanboys forever and before they had a Zapier Exercise Program, we were Zapier App Developers. We’re still the only company in the world that does Zapier app development. We’re Zapier Certified Experts and Zapier App Developers. Were the only certified company in both places.  

That platform is so powerful for where that goes. As you look at what you’re going to automate, you’ve got to get around how you’re going to decide where to go with that. Productivity is key. You have to make a plan, to stick to it, and you have to get that going the way you want it to go. I couldn’t agree with you more on it’s about seeing where that goes. Another good book that I’d recommend for productivity is Getting Things Done by David Allen. I love that one from that standpoint.  

TBT 149 Will Christensen | Automate Processes

Automate Processes: If you define what needs to be automated and what the process looks like, and then hand that information to an automation expert, you’re going to waste a lot less money.


In the middle of it, he goes, “I’m going to show you how to create five questions to ask to define a project. I want you to pick something and do that.” At the end of it, he goes, “I apologize for all of you who have been postponing and starting that business who now know how to start that business because of the five questions.” He talks about, “First, ask yourself, the why. What does success look like?” He goes all the way through that and it’s about defining a plan and a pathway to that plan. 

It’s clarity. I talk a lot about the Pareto principle, living it, and understanding when you are clear what the 20% is that gets you 80% of the difference. That clarity helps you to let go of the perfection and the need to focus as highly on that 80% that’s not driving the value. 

I couldn’t agree more. This VTO that they call a Vision Traction Organizer is part of Traction and that’s productivity. When the team comes together, when I come together, we execute on what we do what we said we were going to do, 

It’s that simple. If you’ve said that there’s one tool, process, or way of thinking, that’s your shortcut that helps make everything easier and faster for you, what would that be? 

There are about a billion different directions that I could go with that question. I’m going to share my litmus test for how we define what should be automated. I call it 15115. You’re looking for a task that takes you more than fifteen minutes daily, more than an hour weekly, or more than an hour monthly. You want to do that task five times then you want to automate it. If you haven’t done it five times manually, don’t automate it. If it doesn’t take you more than fifteen minutes daily, more than an hour a week, or more than an hour a month, stop. Don’t automate that. You’re wasting your time. The reason I say that is I’ve gone down so many automation rabbit holes and come out on the other end and I was like, “I saved myself ten minutes this week doing that.” 

You’re a nerd and you wanted to automate it. Come on. 

For me, I have an ulterior motive because I put that in my back pocket and I help somebody else automate. I’ve done that enough times for clients where they were like, “That’s great, Will. I spent $3,000 automating that with you but I’m not seeing the ROI because that only saved us ten minutes.” I was like, “Fetch. I should have thought of that beforehand.” Learn from me and my clients that have wasted money where we automated things that should have been automated and make sure that you find those things. It’s that rule that I give myself.  

Here’s the second part of the litmus test, where’s the data now? Where does the data need to go? What needs to happen to it in between? Which sounds super stupid and simple. Origin, source, destination, and what’s in the middle. If you define what needs to be automated, what needs to be processed, what the process looks like with those three questions, you hand that to a developer or an automation expert, you’re going to waste a lot less money. If you can’t answer those questions, you’re not ready to automate. 

It’s because you don’t know clearly what the steps are and how to do it. Along that vein, let’s pick a particular type of business. Let’s take a service business. Somebody is in a service business. Because you’ve dealt with lots of different companies, what are the top two things that if they automated it, it would make their life so much easier? 

In a service business, the two things that I would focus on for looking at that. The first thing I would focus on is automating the replies to your inbound inquiries. Let’s say that you’re a service-based business and you’re the guy who’s selling tile or selling courses. The way that people get a hold of you initially is they shoot you a text message. I love iPhones but in this situation, I’m going to tell you to go get rid of your iPhone, get an Android phone. Install an app called Automate. You can automatically reply.  

You change all of your messaging to say, “If you want to get a hold of my course or my tile, text the word TILE to my cell phone number.” You automatically reply to that message with a series of questions that create an inbound flow for you so you can qualify the people who you’re talking to. As services, it’s difficult to match ourselves with the right individual, so automating the inbound flow and the communication with those individuals is absolutely key.  

Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you have too many leads, and the leads are going to destroy you because you’re focusing on the guy who has no money and the guy who has all the money. Create a system that qualifies. If you go to DataAutomation.com, you can see a perfect example of that. Fill out the contact form or the sticky footer form and you’ll see that we auto-respond to you and we pre-fill a form that we then asked you to fill out. That form then pushes you to the right person based on what you tell us about your automated process or who you are where that goes, which gives us all the information we need to create a solid process for you. 

That can happen on your phone, website, and Facebook. There are tools that allow you to do those Facebook Messenger. That can be from almost any source that you are bringing those leads in. 

You name it. If you’re having a problem where you’re trying to figure all these things, all of my stuff’s inbound phone calls. Remember the beginning where I automated my Bat Phone. It’s totally possible via phone. You name it. You might have a problem. If you’re doing fax messages, we could probably figure it out. 

No one uses fax anymore, so we can roll that one out. 

I hope so. I’ve been amazed. I’ve seen some people still do. I have some automation that I’ve done fax stuff with. You can do email to fax, if you were wondering, or email to print. I have people who print stuff. They need labels printed or whatever. It has to go from digital to the physical world. You name it. That process can be automated. 

In inbound lead support, absolutely. That’s awesome. What do you think the second thing would be? 

Inbound customer support. We were getting all sorts of people who were coming to us. We are a service-based business enabled by technology. That’s what we do. We provide a service where we automate stuff for people. They would email us. That was their primary method of communication. Sometimes phone calls, depending on how urgent it was. Remember, I had not defined what the way to contact me if it was urgent was, so this is something that I’ve learned and I’m sharing with you.  

That form that we talked about where every single person, “This is the best way.” We trained our clients. If a client sends us an email, we’ll sit on the email for 2 or 3 hours before we’ll respond to it on purpose to show them that the form is faster. You almost have to Pavlov’s dog train your customers. If they’re in the habit of emailing you, snooze that flipping email for five hours and get back to them and say, “Thanks so much. Here’s the answer to your question. If you’re aware, if you use the form, I could have responded immediately.” 

Let’s say I’m the company. I deal with this all the time and I hear companies say, “We could never do that. We believe in quick response. We would never sit on it and not let them because we were afraid we’d either lose the business.” Real estate agents talk about how afraid they are to lose it. I did have an accounting firm that I work with that says they can’t do it either because their clients call with these things. What do you say to them to get them to train their customers and get past that emotional block that they have? 

When you give your customer the level of service that you can give them once you’ve trained them, they’ll never go anywhere else. The level of customer service you’re giving them is custom and disorganized and they know it. That’s the first thing I would say to you. You don’t think you’re naked, you’re naked. They know exactly what’s going on there and the fact that you’re giving them free rein and access is training them to be more abusive customers. 

My most abusive customer, he’s a beautiful friend of mine, so if he ever reads this, you probably know who you are and I love you. It’s okay. He has a hard time with some of that but we’ve trained him and his team to go through that form. Now that he goes through the form, we track every bug that he gives us, we resolve every bug that he gives us, and we resolve them faster than we did before. It took us a year to get that to move forward and get it where it’s going.  

It is shocking how much faster we are at resolving inbound ticketed issues, inbound requests, inbound sales requests, all of the above. We are much more rapid. I found that when customers want something, they’re willing to jump through 1 or 2 hoops if they know that you’re better than the other guys that are out there. Graduate from being a mom and pop, “We’ll do anything for anybody,” and turn into a real business so you own your business and your business doesn’t own you. 

Absolutely, amen. Will, this has been great. I can talk to you all day. We’ll have to make another appointment to talk about some other topics as well. Lots of great nuggets here for people. If they’re not a service business, they can at least think about what you’re talking about and what problem they might have in working with their clients or internally so forth, and put that hat on. Thank you so much. 

Remember, 15115. Fifteen minutes a day, an hour a week, or an hour a month. Do it five times manually. Define where’s the data now? Where does it need to go? What needs to happen to it in between? If you take nothing away from this episode besides that, that’s where you need to spend your time, automating delegating, or eliminating and figuring out where you’re going. 

Customers are willing to jump through a hoop or two for you if they know that you're better than the other guys out there. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much. Where do you want to send them? 

If you head to my website to DataAutomation.com, test out that form that I was telling you about where it automatically replies to you. You’ll get it and you’ll be like, “That’s nice. They put the inquiry there.” You send your email and you don’t have to enter your email again. We pre-fill the form so you get exactly where it is and we end up asking you the questions we were going to ask you in the first phone call in the first form. We save everybody time by having you do the form. It’s pretty powerful. That’s how I would reach out. It’s through DataAutomation.com. You’re welcome to mention this episode and we always try to do something a little extra for anybody who’s coming in off of our podcasts. 

Fantastic. Thank you, Will. Thank you so much for being here. 

Glad to be here. 

Thank you all for being here. I know that you took some notes. You’re probably already on Amazon buying some of those initial tools that Will was talking about like the Wyze cameras and whatnot. Stay tuned because we have more tips, tricks, and great guests who are going to help you to work smarter, think more strategically and be more productive in everything that you do. We’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Will Christensen

TBT 149 Will Christensen | Automate ProcessesWith over a decade of business development experience, it’s safe to say Will Christensen has an elevated passion for fulfilling what the end-user desires and efficiently working towards faster iterations. Considered by some to be the “Tony Stark of Software,” he enjoys tinkering with cutting-edge technology, apps, and systems, and loves to create innovative solutions for businesses and individual clients.
He is the co-founder of DataAutomation, a nerd-staffed agency that customizes both automation and integration processes for e-commerce sellers. Will also heads up business development for RoundSphere, a tech incubator dedicated to developing new opportunities through software.

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Are You Really Multitasking Or Just Switch-Tasking? With Dave Crenshaw

TBT 148 Dave Crenshaw | Multitasking


Have you been struggling to get your work done with multitasking but end up with poor results? Today’s podcast guest Dave Crenshaw, the author of the time management bestseller, The Myth of Multitasking, joins Penny Zenker to prove why multitasking is a myth and a costly one at that! Dave explains how multitasking delays results and also increases stress levels. Tune in to know the most effective way to productivity! 

Listen to the podcast here:

Are You Really Multitasking Or Just Switch-Tasking? With Dave Crenshaw 

Dave, welcome to the show. 

Thank you, Penny. I’m excited to be here. 

It’s great to have you. Your new book is coming out, version two of this topic around multitasking. I’m excited to hear how multitasking has changed in this work from home environment as we’re into the pandemic. 

The fascinating thing about this is I already had a course on LinkedIn Learning called Time Management Working from Home. That had been there for 1 or 2 years and not many people had been taking it, and this happened, and now everybody took it. It became the number one course in 2020. Here’s the thing that we’re seeing with multitasking. A lot of companies, business owners, business leaders are afraid that the people that they sent to work at home are going to be unproductive, playing video games, whatever it is. 

Do we have so little trust in people? What’s up with that? 

I don’t know if it’s so much that but it’s the fear. It’s the uncertainty. Whenever something’s uncertain, we don’t quite know what’s going to happen with it. The real problem is in fact the opposite. It’s that people don’t have boundaries of any kind and they’re working long hours. A business leader might see that and go, “That’s great. We’re going to get a good deal.” That’s horrible because it’s not allowing people to have healthy balance. Their performance is degrading over time. 

I hear that too. People are saying they don’t stop their day. They start way before they normally would start. They’re taking less time for themselves and that space that they need to stay sane. 

Where the myth of multitasking comes into this is when you are constantly switching your attention, whether that’s someone sending you text messages or your kids coming in and asking for something, you are only getting partial work done the whole day. If that continues throughout the day, by the end of the day you go, “I was working hard. I’ve been working long hours, but I didn’t feel like I accomplished anything.” 

They probably didn’t accomplish half as much. That’s why we have those days that we feel like we’re so productive. There are other days where we feel like death by a thousand paper cuts type of thing. It’s multitasking. It’s a distraction for us. 

Part of the problem is that the word itself is terribly inaccurate. What is most often occurring is switch tasking. That’s something I define clearly in my book, which means you’re trying to perform multiple tasks that would require attention. When you do that, you’re not doing any of them completely. You’re just switching rapidly back and forth between all the tasks. 

The three effects of multitasking: things take longer, you make more mistakes, and you increase your stress levels. Click To Tweet

We have this tendency that when we’re multitasking, we feel like we’re getting more done. What’s up with that? 

There have been a lot of studies of University of Utah. They found that people who pride themselves on multitasking are the least likely to be effective at it. Part of it is the human nature and having a blind spot and thinking if, I’m good at something, I’m always good at something. When we pride ourselves on it, we’re not humble enough to recognize that things need to change. 

Do you think there’s an emotional block there? I’ve experienced this where I feel productive because I’m doing this. Emotionally, how do we get that in a different level? Logically, I know that to be true, but at the same time, emotionally, I’m driven to do it. 

First, you have to get rid of that word busy. People were busy like it’s a badge of honor, but it’s a white flag of surrender. When you ask somebody, “How are you doing? Are you busy? Yeah. I’m busy.” We pride ourselves on being constantly moving as if that creates self-worth. When someone equates their self-worth to moving around a lot, they’re going to have a hard time giving up multitasking because it makes them feel important. 

That’s it, it makes us feel important and therefore, we do it. We have to be able to shift that emotionally to see that we’re even more important when we give our full attention and focus to one thing at a time. 

Our aim and motivation needs to be about the results that we’re getting. Not about how much time it took to get the results, not about how much stress we felt to get there, but did we do it? If we did it, what was the outcome of it? I am a terribly lazy person, Penny. Everything in my career has been built around trying to figure out how to do it with the least amount of effort possible, but I accomplish tremendous amounts of work. I just do it in very little time. 

It’s funny that you say that because I often say that too that I’m lazy. Therefore, I find the most efficient ways to do things. I’ve heard many super productive people say that. It’s funny that there’s that driver there of wanting to be efficient to do the things that we want to do. 

We work very hard at doing as little work possible. We do it in an ethical way. We try to find where are the rough edges, the corners, and the legitimate ethical shortcuts that we can take, where a lot of people think this is the way it’s supposed to be done. When you do that, you lock yourself into unproductive ways of doing stuff. 

I want to come back to that point that you said, these ethical shortcuts. I’m doing a segment on that of finding out what are people’s shortcuts. If I had to ask you your number one shortcut, what is it? 

Can I give you a concept rather than a specific execution? We can talk about execution. The concept that I look for is 2%, meaning a 2% increase in productivity. That doesn’t sound like very much, but a 2% increase in productivity equals an entire workweek every single year. What I’m looking for are little 2% things that add up to months out of my work time. Every time I do that, they stack on top of each other and get me a lot of time. If you want, I can talk about some specifics. 

How do you approach that? This week you say, “I’m going to find another 2%.” What’s your process? 

If we’re talking about the myth of multitasking, one of the biggest costs comes from the interruptions that are coming passively at us. In other words, things are interrupting us. First, I would look at my phone. I would look at my computer. Am I getting notifications that are popping up? Every time that happens, that switches my attention away to something else. Not only do I have the interruption, but I have to pay the recovery time to come back to the email or whatever it was I was focusing on. A lot of people might be in the position where that’s happening to them. Notifications from a variety of sources, cut those out. Instead, schedule time in your day to respond to those and look at them. 

I want to highlight what you said about pay the recovery time. I like how you phrase that because it gets us into a different mindset. If we think that there’s a cost, there’s something that we have to pay for when we’re multitasking. 

TBT 148 Dave Crenshaw | Multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done

There’s a term in economics. It’s called switching costs. I talk about that a lot in the book. When we switched task, we pay micro switching costs. If I’m trying to type away at an email and then a text message comes in and I pick up my phone. I look at it and they ask me a question and I say, The answer is 42. I put the phone back and then, I’d have to do what? I have to go, “Where was I in this email?” There’s a tremendous amount of switching costs paid. There was a study out of Michigan State that a 2.8 second interruption results in the likelihood of mistakes doubling, the three second interruption increases. You think about the cost of that. I have to go back and clean up the mistakes I made because I was interrupted by something else while I was trying to perform something important. 

We could think about that. What if that’s our brain surgeon that’s working on the surgery for our brain, do we want them to be interrupted? We need to think about our clients in that way too. It’s costing them as well. 

There are three basic costs. There’s a fourth one that we can talk about later, but the three immediate costs are things take longer, you make more mistakes, and you increase your stress levels. You think about our world is filled with many stress relieving outlets. I can pick up my phone. I can play a game. I can go get a massage. I can go for a walk. I got many different options. Yet in the history of the world, has there ever been more stressed-out group of people as us? The reason why it’s happening is because we’re attempting to multitask almost constantly. 

Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization had declared stress a worldwide epidemic. Now, it’s off the charts. That’s interesting that multitasking is one of those drivers. Lately, I’ve been toying with this thought around the fact that we’re all control freaks. This idea of control, we exhaust ourselves trying to control the things that we can’t control. When it comes to the things that we can control, we are almost powerless because we‘ve exhausted our energy. Multitasking is one of those things that maybe we do because we’re trying to control. What’s your thought on that if you go a little deeper into the psychology there? 

It’s not as much control in general, from my perspective, as it is control in the moment. We are addicted to the culture of now. The culture of now says, “If I need to do something, if I don’t do it now, it’s not going to get done. If it doesn’t get done now, I start to feel out of control personally. What we want to transition to is the culture of when. The culture of when says, “I will get everything done. I can get everything that’s important done. I can respond to every single email. This is when I’m going to do it, not now, but at a time that’s more appropriate.” When you shift from the culture of now to the culture of when, you have far more control than you had before. You’re learning how to delay gratification a little bit. 

We’re not very good at that. 

No, but when you learn how to do it, you realize that you can get far more done in far less time. The average client who goes through one of my time management training programs gains an extra 40 hours per month. That’s an entire workweek every single month. I’ve said that to clients in the past. I’m like, “You’re going to get that much time.” They’re thinking at the back of their mind, “You are so full of it.” That’s an extreme statement. I have clients who call me back and they’re like, “Dave, it’s 3:00. I don’t know what to do with myself.” Wouldn’t that be a wonderful problem to have? You can have that problem if you break yourself of that cycle of constantly switching from task to task. 

I’d like to go back now into your history. I understand that you came to productivity for your own personal needs. Let’s share with people a little bit about understanding why this is important and why you’re passionate about it? 

As a psychologist, I was dealing with a lot of issues in my family life. I knew I was going to be new father. I saw the pattern of my father who never learned how to focus his entire life. I was like, “This needs to change.” I went and saw a psychologist and he gave me two tests to verify it because he couldn’t believe the first result. He said words I’ll never forget. He said, “You are freaking off the charts, ADHD. If there were a fifth standard deviation, you’d be in it. I can say with 99.9% accuracy, you’ve got it.” That is my background. A lot of time management experts come from a place of perfection. They’ve always been in control. I come from the place of severe imperfection. I’ve had to learn how to create a system that was adapted for somebody who didn’t have much patience for perfect. 

People come from different places and everybody’s got a different twist. My twist on productivity and time management is around energy management, how we think and thinking, and acting more strategically, which get us caught up in those things like perfection and procrastination. 

I completely agree with that. I like to use the term focus management. I believe that time management in its classic sense is dead. Our challenge is focus management. 

You’ve given us a lot of great topics to understand around the aspect of multitasking, going about your 2%, and what it’s costing us. Do you have any tools that you recommend? People want tools. Even though I know and you know that tools is the last step. You’ve got to get your thinking and your approach before you decide which tools. I did want to ask you about what tools do you find are quick wins for people that they can implement and be able to see quick results in their productivity? 

I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help in that because of the very thing that you said. It’s more about principles than tools. I believe that the best tools that people have are the ones that are already in front of them, which is the calendar. Most people either do not use the calendar to its full extent or they’re using it improperly like having multiple calendars. 

Let’s talk about that. 

People who pride themselves on multitasking are the least likely to be effective at it. Click To Tweet

Here’s the principle that I teach, which is there’s only one timeline. There’s only one you. You’re not Marty McFly where you can go into a time machine and suddenly there are two of you operating at the same space. Yet I see people in their calendar, double schedule or put appointments back-to-back as in our case. We had this scheduled and I said, “Some emergency came up. I moved it back and left a buffer because I realized that it would be unrealistic for me to try and jump from one to the other that fast. Yet people are scheduling their days so tight and so much on top of each other. When you do that, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Simply using the calendar and looking at it and say, “Do I have breathing room? Have I created a realistic schedule for myself? That visual representation of your time budget is incredibly powerful. 

When you’re using your scheduling and planning yourself out, do you plan more so by week, by month? What’s your planning routine? 

It’s years. I’m looking ahead as far as I can. Here’s the thing. When I have something that I want to do or need to do, I ask myself the question, “When is the latest this can be done?” That’s very different than what most people say because they’re addicted to the culture of now. Most people are only thinking of a two-week horizon in my experience. If you say, “Can you do this?” They go, “I can’t do it.” The reason why they’re saying they can’t do it is because they’re only looking fourteen days ahead. I look at it and go, “Can I do this six months from now? Can I do it a year from now? Am I still going to get the same result if I do this?” I’m a big fan of strategic procrastination. I push things off as far as reasonable. What that does is that leaves room in the short-term for the things that are truly emergencies and that crop up. For instance, I have an interview with a TV station in Philadelphia for the book. I would not have been able to do that if I had scheduled my entire day completely jam packed to the seams. 

I see that as a key issue for people as well, all these back-to-back meetings. What do you recommend to the employee or team member who doesn’t make those meetings? They don’t have the direct control and they’re being booked back-to-back. What recommendations do you have for them that feel like they’re trapped and they don’t have any ability to change it?

If only there were books that could convince people that multitasking isn’t a good thing. The reason why I say that is because I did write the book with the intent of convincing the unconvinced. There are a couple of options. You could get the book. You could give it to people. You could do a training on it. If you don’t have the budget for it, that’s fine. You can go to this address. You go to DaveCrenshaw.com/exercise. Right there, you will find an exercise for free that you can do with people at work. It’s a little two-minute exercise that helps people see, “When we’re trying to do all this stuff at the same time, we’re ruining our own success.” That’s where I would come from is the standpoint of not talking to your boss and saying, “We need to stop doing this.” Instead, coming from the standpoint of the truth and helping them experience for themselves what is occurring when they schedule things like that. 

I encourage people to do that. I always tell people that, You have more influence than you think. If you say nothing, nothing will happen. It’s all in how you approach it. If you go and you approach your boss, you buy them this book, you influence them in different ways with the exercise. 

If I can add one more thing to that too, I like that you said that. What I would suggest is put it in terms of their self-interest. In other words, we know it stresses you out, but how does it make things better for them to not schedule as many meetings or not schedule them close to each other? Maybe it’s like, “I can do better work for you. I’d like to be able to perform better for you. It would be helpful if I could do this. Would you be okay with that?” In that way, you’re not trying to force your agenda. You’re trying to help them with the agenda you know they already have. 

We’re already outside the box. We’re in the pandemic. Rules have been lifted or changed or removed. We’re doing things differently. Isn’t this a perfect time to step back as a team and to look at how you can do things differently and better? 

It’s super helpful to have an overall policy discussion about working from home. We’re now almost a year into it. We can ask the question, What is working and what hasn’t worked? This brings up something that I cover in the new addition to The Myth of Multitasking, which is a channel discussion. In other words, we’re communicating with each other through all these different channels, text messages, email, Slack, phone calls, an endless array, but we don’t have a set of ground rules for when we should use which channel, and how long it’s appropriate to expect a response to each channel. 

TBT 148 Dave Crenshaw | Multitasking

Multitasking: Our motivation needs to be about the results we’re getting, not about how much time it took to get the results.


I talk about that as well. I talk about it like a communication plan. People know what’s going to be communicated where and to set expectations. That’s the key thing out of it is expectations. Coming back to your point about the now, I love that because it’s true. That’s where we’re focused. We think I have to answer now. If we can set some expectation and give people that flexibility and include those expectations so that they know that they have permission not to answer now then that will free them. 

I’m a nerd. I love Batman. Batman, at least in the classic ‘60s show, he had the bat phone. Let’s designate a bat phone. That’s where the commissioner could call him and say, “Batman, we need you.” We have one channel that’s reserved for emergencies. We only ever use it not for impatiencies but emergencies. On the other side, we have the long-term method of communication. What’s something where it’s okay for us to take a week to respond to? You find out what’s in the middle and when are we using these channels? 

It helps to bring it home for people when we can put it in those types of analogies. I wanted to ask you before we bring the session to a close. I ask every guest this and every guest gives me a slightly different answer. I find that interesting. What’s your definition of productivity and why? 

Productivity for me, and I share the same definition as focus, is allocating your time and your resources toward things which are of greatest value. I also have another definition, which is the opposite of that, which is chaos. Chaos is allocating your time, your resources, your money toward things of variable value. This is where it trips people up. They feel that they’re being productive when sometimes things work out, when sometimes things are good, and then sometimes things are bad but in fact, that’s chaos. Chaos feeds on itself because it feels good. I’m getting some work done. Some nice things have turned out, but focus is strategic. Productivity is strategic. It’s saying, “I’m only going to devote my time and my effort to things that are going to have the highest value per hour, that are going to have the biggest payoff for my business.” That subtle distinction changes everything about someone’s business and careers. 

We are simpatico in that context. It makes all the difference. It frees people. What they have a hard time understanding is that when you can focus on those things and have clarity that they’re the most important, it frees you to let go of the things that aren’t as important or accept that you’re not going to get perfection. If you delegate something and someone else does it, but they don’t do it to the quality standard that you do it, if it’s not in your most important things, so what? 

This requires a skill that many have not yet learned, which is the ability to say no and say it a lot. Say it politely, but internally ruthlessly to say, “I am going to protect myself. I’m going to protect my time. I’m going to say no to this.” I’m only going to say yes to things that I know are of the highest value. This is something that I teach all the time, but I relearn it every year. I go, “I’ve been doing this, but I could do something that is going to require 50% less effort. I’m going to get pretty much the same thing. Why am I doing this thing that’s taking me double the time?” It’s constantly shaving off until I’m only left with what’s most valuable.

Do you have a process that helps you? Do you step back every week or every month to evaluate that? We’re always all learning it because it’s human nature to get caught up sometimes in all that’s going on. 

don’t have a formal process. There’s a formal process for somebody who’s getting started, which is you list out all the things that you do, and you determine the value per hour of each of those. In other words, how much would it cost me to replace that thing? How much would it cost me to hire someone to edit my book? I’m doing it. Should I be doing it? Can I hire someone else to do it? That’s a nice starting point for anyone. At this point in my career, the process is simply taking time off. I find that the act of stopping and I talk about this in a different book, The Power of Having Fun, but creating an Oasis where I step away from everything. When I step back, my thinking is much clearer because I got away from the craziness and the hectic part of it. I go, “I said no to this thing repeatedly over the last month. If I can keep saying no to it for a month, I could say no to it forever.” That’s the natural break. 

It gives you a fresh look. Whereas when you’re in the day-to-day, it’s not fresh anymore. 

You don’t have to take a big vacation to do that. I believe in lots of different sizes of oasis, a daily one, a weekly one, a monthly one. I don’t care who I’m talking to, how busy you are, how many jobs you’re doing, you can take a ten-minute break to do something fun and step away from it. You must. It’s critical for your success. 

We pride ourselves on being constantly busy as if that creates self-worth. Click To Tweet

My word of 2021 is joy. It goes along with that fun to look for, no matter what I’m doing, to find the people, the things, and the opportunities to create joy and to give joy. What’s your word of 2021? 

It’s family. That’s the most important thing for me. It’s making sure that they’re taken care of, that I’m being a good husband to my wife and a good father to my children. 

Thank you so much, Dave. Is there anything else that you want to say before we end up, a final point that you want to leave? 

I mentioned earlier the three effects of switch tasking, things take longer, you make more mistakes, and you increase your stress levels, but there is a fourth effect. The fourth effect is that when you multitask on a human being, when you switch tasks on them, you’re communicating to them that they’re less important than whatever it is you’re doing. Even if you think you hear this and go, “That’s full of it, Dave. I can still be productive. I can still multitask,” you cannot avoid this fourth effect. When you pick up your phone and fob on someone, you snap them in favor on your phone, you’re communicating to them that they’re less important. The beautiful thing is if you’re someone who instead focuses on human beings, it’s an uncommon behavior these days. You communicate to someone that they are important and you build relationships where everyone else is damaging them. It’s a wonderful principle, just focus on human beings. 

TBT 148 Dave Crenshaw | Multitasking

Multitasking: Cut interrupting notifications out. Instead, schedule time in your day to respond to them.


Thank you so much for being here and all that you’ve shared. You’ve added so much value and I’m sure there’s that much more in the new book as it’s coming out. 

If you want to get the book, go to MultitaskBook.com. That’ll take you right there on Amazon. 

Thank you so much for being here. 

Thanks so much, Penny. 

Thank you all for being here because you come back to this show. You can find the tips, the tricks and the strategies that are going to help you to work smarter. Thanks for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode. 

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About Dave Crenshaw

TBT 148 Dave Crenshaw | MultitaskingAs an author, speaker, and online trainer, Dave Crenshaw is a master of building productive leaders. The irony of Dave’s productive mission is his inherently chaotic and unfocused nature.
When he was clinically diagnosed as “off-the-charts” ADHD he took this as a personal challenge and developed simple systems to be organized and productive despite himself. Now, hundreds of thousands of high-performers worldwide utilize Dave’s training to improve focus, productivity, and profitability.


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