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594: Achieving More by Embracing Your Productivity Style with Carson Tate

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Carson Tate says: "There's no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity."

Carson Tate discusses the four productivity styles—and how to pick the best tools and practices that best suit you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to pick the right system for your productivity style
  2. The top tools for keeping your inbox under control
  3. How to work in harmony with opposing productivity styles

About Carson

Carson is the founder and Managing Partner of Working Simply. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style. Her views have been included in top-tier business media including Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, CBS Money Watch, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, The New York Times, USA Today, Working Mother and more.

Prior to starting Working Simply, Carson worked in Human Resources and sales functions with Fortune 200 firms. Carson holds a BA in psychology from Washington and Lee University, a Masters in Organization Development, and a Coaching Certificate from the McColl School of Business at Queens University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Carson Tate Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carson, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Carson Tate
Thanks, Pete. I’m glad to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to be with you and to get into some of the mess that is our lives and productivity and such. But I understand you also love the mess of mud runs and more. What’s the story here?

Carson Tate
Yes. So, a couple of my girlfriends and I got bored a few years ago with just regular road races and we decided to branch out, and it is some of the most fun that we have, and we are literally cleaning mud out of our ears for days afterwards, and obstacles, and you push yourself, but it’s great fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s see, I’m familiar with the Tough Mudder. What are the other big names in mud running?

Carson Tate
So, the Tough Mudder is the one that we’ve done. And there’s also, in North Carolina, a couple of just very small local races as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s some fun background. I want to get your view here, so you’ve done a lot of work about work, researching people and productivity, and kind of what makes us tick. What would you say is maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about people and productivity from all of your explorations?

Carson Tate
If we really want to be productive, you’ve got to align your tools and your strategies to how you think and process.

So, what often happens is people try a new app and it doesn’t work for them, and then they think they’re not capable of getting organized or there’s something wrong with them. No, it’s just the tool that doesn’t work for you. So, it’s about aligning your tools to how you think and process, and then really creating a custom toolkit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in your world, you defined four different productivity styles. And I’d love it if you could, call me a skeptic or what the word is, but I’d love to hear a little bit about the underlying research in that. I guess for like with the Enneagram, for example, I’m like, “Who says there’s nine types? How do we know there’s nine? Why are there not eight or 12? Why are they not like 34 like the Strengths?” So, can you lay it on us, how do we come up with four?

Carson Tate
Absolutely. So, first of all, my graduate research looked at cognitive thinking styles, so this is different than personality. This is literally how you think and process information. And so, I looked at the research, neuroscience and research, into how we think. And so, the concept of left brain and right brain, it’s not technically accurate but that’s easy classification, and then started digging into an instrument called Hermann Brain Dominance Inventory that looks at thinking style, and realized that that’s a great instrument, and there’s a gap, and that that instrument does not tell you how your thinking style informs how you work. And by how you work, I mean how you think about time, how you structure your day, whether you like to take notes or not, what your inbox looks like, and whether or not you like file folders.

So, using what I understood around our thinking styles, I developed first-tier assessment in grad school and then tested it out, and realized that there really are topologies, there are four different styles that broadly characterized these thinking styles. So, one is prioritizer, analytical, linear, fact-based. These are the folks that like spreadsheets and data and details. Then planners, organized, sequential, detailed. These are the folks that have never met a checklist they didn’t like. These are the project planners. Arrangers, these are your intuitive, kinesthetic, relational folks. They do their work with and  through people. They like colorful pens, they’re visual. And then visualizers, these are your big-picture strategic thinkers. They are the ones that are pushing the envelope, “Why not?” They don’t like structure. They think in big, broad concepts.

So, first iteration, tested it, had to refine the topology. Tested it again. And now we’re on an iteration, this is our third iteration. We’ve had over 2.5 million people take it and validating the results.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. What’s the number again?

Carson Tate
Two and a half million.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good work. Cool.

Carson Tate
So, it’s working. It’s definitely working. And, Pete, I think what is helpful about it, like any of these assessments, and I hear you on what’s the science behind it. Fundamentally, it’s just an awareness tool. So, if you’re my client, I’m coaching  you, and I can help you see how your thinking is informing why you do not want to schedule your day in 15-minute increments in a way that would better help you optimize your time, that is what’s going to lead to your productivity. So, that awareness. So, it’s just an awareness too. It’s just access into how you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I would love it if you could sort of make that come alive for us here in terms of if you could maybe share a story of maybe someone who was doing something and it wasn’t working for him, and then they made a discovery about this, and then they saw some cool results from there.

Carson Tate
Yeah, absolutely. So, I was working with a client, we’ll call him Bill, he worked in the nonprofit sector, and Bill, very tech savvy, Bill had probably tried every app that’s out there, every to-do app, and he would stick to it for like a week or so, he’s so excited, and then the wheels fall off, and he’d be crazy it’s not working out. He could never find an email. He’d taken plenty of email management classes, he was late on all of his projects. And so, when I met with him, the first thing I realized was that he was a visualizer, really big-picture thinker. So, an app that was very linear and very designed for really discrete details, it went counter to how he thought about things.

He thought about things in terms of ideas, so this was how he was going to solve the waste management issue, like these big concepts. So, what I’d asked him to do was try mind-mapping software so he could anchor the central concept, and then from it, pull out things that needed to happen around it. So, making these really graphical charts he could see. And the second thing we did was we removed every single folder that he had in his inbox because out of sight was out of mind. He’d get an email and then he’d file it away in the to-do folder, but he’d forget about it because he was visual.

So, we turned his inbox into a visual to-do list by changing the subject line of his email messages to his next action steps so he could see them. They never went away. He could search them and see them. And then we reconfigured his calendar. So, these tight little very structured meeting, meeting, meeting didn’t work for him. So, we started thinking about his work in terms of theme days. So, Monday’s theme for him was admin, so all of the internal work, the internal meetings, the one on one’s. Tuesday, he was out in the field, he did some work out in the field inspecting job sites. Wednesdays was back in the office. Thursday was another field day, so he could kind of group and organize things based on themes.

So, fits and starts. Three weeks later, I checked in with him, and he’s still on those early stages of trying to get it to work, but what had happened is that his manager noticed that he was arriving on time to meetings, and that he’d actually turned in two things early. He was so proud of him, super proud of him. Fast forward six months later, he’s hitting all of his marks, he’s up for a promotion, and he actually had started working on a book that he was talking about for his nonprofit that he had setup because he created the mental space and the time space to also start to pursue some of his personal passions because he got work dialed in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot in there. And it’s funny because I’ve heard about how grand mind mapping is, and I haven’t really had much cool results with it, part of it is like my writing is hard to read and it gets kind of crunched. I could try the big piece of paper. So, yeah, I haven’t personally had a mind-mapping session that knocked my socks off in terms of, “Wow, that’s so cool. I’m glad I did that.”

And, yet, when you first mentioned the prioritizer, I am in so all about finding sort of the 80/20 high-leverage thing that does it. And I do have a spreadsheet that estimates the profit generated per hour invested of various business initiatives and then that gets me fired up, like, ‘Holy smokes, that one is worth ten times what that one is worth.” So, as you laid this out, it makes a lot of sense how, hey, mind mapping is game-changing for some but, for me, it hasn’t been resonant yet.

Carson Tate
Right, because it’s not quantifiable for you. So, as a prioritizer, you need to quantify your efforts. So, we either quantify in terms of minutes, we quantify in terms dollars, we quantify it in terms of emails processed in minutes, number of items checked off, how quickly you achieved an objective, how many minutes were shaved off of a meeting. So, that is speaking your productivity language. But for Ben, he doesn’t care. That doesn’t motivate him. He doesn’t care about that. He’s more concepts, “What’s next? And how do we build a system for him?” And he actually used a whiteboard, and then there’s also a software called MindJet that you can do mind mapping on the computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, okay, since you opened up that door, I can’t resist. Let’s hear the tools because it can be tempting to play tools all day long, but if we can have just a couple of minutes. So, MindJet is cool for mind-mapping individualizers. Is there any other sort software or tools you recommend for each of the other three?

Carson Tate
So, I like Trello for planners, and arrangers can use it a little bit. Evernote is great for arrangers and for visualizers because they have blank pages. And prioritizers, you can use Todoist, you can use Things, and there are a host of them that are designed for prioritizers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I think that I love OmniFocus and just a spreadsheet most often because I can see those numbers.

Carson Tate
Right.
I would say that you’re definitely onto something but it really doesn’t matter what the tool is as long as it works for you. So, Excel, a great tool for you, but it might not have the flash or the name recognition, but it works for you. So, part of the push and the struggle on productivity is, can you stand on the ground of, “Hey, you know what, I use a legal pad. It works for me”?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Understood. Okay. Cool. And then I guess I’m also thinking that, I guess, in some ways, different projects and different outputs that you’re shooting for sort of seem to align more readily to different folks. I guess I’m thinking if I’m trying to say, “Hey, manufacturing plant manager, I need you to optimize our outputs and shave off all the time associated with cranking out the widgets,” going on a visualizer style, or maybe just my bias as a prioritizer, but it doesn’t quite seem like that’s ideal but maybe all roads lead to Rome or something. Like, there’s multiple paths that will end up doing the same thing. What’s your take on that?

Carson Tate
All roads lead to Rome, and each of these styles has a strength. So, if we’ve got to optimize throughput on a manufacturing line, I’m going to strongly encourage that we have a prioritizer to think about that. If we need to redesign the line, then I’m going to suggest we have a visualizer to think about a new approach. And if it’s about, “Do we have a team that’s highly functioning on this line?” I’m going to ask the arranger to do that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I suppose, tell us, how does one learn what their style is?

Carson Tate
So, we have the assessments on our website WorkingSimply.com, you can go and take it on the website. Then we also have multiple articles on our blogs that talk about these styles and questions you can ask to help you determine your productivity style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, can you tell us, once we are aware of our productivity style, I guess what are some of the sort of top do’s and don’ts that we should keep in mind? Either things that are sort of universally applicable to all or the particulars, “Hey, prioritizers probably do this and don’t do that.”

Carson Tate
Yes. So, universal, I have two universals across the board for all four styles. One is the concept which, I think, Pete, you are 100% in alignment with, which is time is a commodity. And so, we talk about it with our coaching clients and our training clients that time is non-renewable resource, “We all have the same 168 hours in a week. How do you choose to invest it for your highest ROI?” So, that’s across the board best practice, “Can you make that paradigm shift to being as intentional and as thoughtful about your time spent as you are your money spent?” What you’ve done with your spreadsheet is you’ve quantified time. You know what an hour of your time is worth and you make your decisions based on that.

The second universal principle is around inboxes, and we believe that your inbox is the best personal assistant you’ve ever had.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you mean email inbox or…?

Carson Tate
Your email inbox, yes. And so, to use all of the technology tools that are available in your platform, to automate as much as possible of your email management.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t even know we’re going to go here. Let’s go there now.

Carson Tate
You want to dig into email? Let’s talk email. Let’s talk inboxes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s the tools. I mean, hey, I love my email tools. I like Superhuman to fly through them, and I like SaneBox to filter. I guess, what are the other tools, and what are the other just sort of approaches in terms of what you’re doing in there, kind of regardless of the software you got?

Carson Tate
So, regardless of the software, we suggest a process we call the email agility process. You read it. You decide what it is. Does it require action by you? If action is required by you, you do it, not channeling Nike. You just do it if you do it under five minutes. Delegate it if you can, if you don’t have the knowledge and authority. Don’t have the knowledge and authority, you delegate it or you convert it to a task. So, convert them to task in Gmail, Outlook, you can send it to Evernote, but you are making that decision around the action step because what we don’t want to do is re-read the email. And if no action is required, you delete it or you file it. And then the final step is to contain and think thoughtfully about how you want to store and retrieve your messages.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, how do I arrive with that decision, the containing?

Carson Tate
The containing, yes. And this goes back though, Pete, the containing piece is where it becomes really personal. So, for you as a prioritizer, it’s going to look different than my example Ben, the visualizer. So, he doesn’t use folders. His containment method is everything lives in there, and he uses search functions. It works great for him. You probably have some folders, yeah, or nothing in your inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
It depends on what day you catch me.

Carson Tate
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, search is the primary way I pull one up although I do have the labels and the archiving. Okay. And so then, you say it’s the best personal assistant we have in the sense that it’s kind of like bringing to our attention that which we need to deal with or…

Carson Tate
Right. So, I’ll take Outlook, for example. So, in Outlook, you can use a function called conditional formatting. It’s very similar to labels in Gmail. And we can set it up so every time Pete emails me, that email comes in in bright red. So, what I’m doing is I’m telling my assistant, “Flag Pete. Turn him this color.” And when you come in my inbox, I now have a visual prioritization. I’ll read red first, then blue, then I’ll deal with the black ones. So, my assistant, I’ve told my assistant what to do, and then my assistant does it over and over again with no input from me, saving me that step of getting in and prioritizing every time.

And so, it’s thinking through if you always file this email, well, write a rule. Don’t do it. Have the technology do it for you. Another example we use with all of our clients, a lot of the emails that we send, and I can imagine for you, a lot of these are the same thing, “So, here’s the logon, here’s the link, here’s what you need to do as a guest on my show.” You’re written it. It’s a template. Well, save it as a template in your email program so that you can just use it over and over again, just like you would a Word doc or an Excel doc. So, we want to eliminate rework and automate using the tools as much as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so then when we got the productivity style of your own self, and then you’re interacting with others, how do you play that game? Because I imagine some people are pretty kind of chill, “Hey, man, however you want to do it. Just get it done by this time according to these principles.” And others are going to pretty precise, it’s like, “Hey, I need you to do…” I’m thinking about podcast sponsorship now, “I need you to do an air check, and you download reporting at this time. And I’m on this platform and this system.” So, yeah, I imagine that can create either harmony or irritation when these things come together. How do we navigate that?

Carson Tate
You’re exactly right. So, harmony when you’re working with someone who has the same style as you or similar style. So, Pete, if I was a prioritizer, and you and I are paired up on a project, we end up speaking quite the same language. We’re focused on the outcome. We want the data. We want to be quick. We want to be efficient. So, it’s very easy for us to work together. We’re pretty aligned. We get it done.

But if you were working with an arranger who’s focused on the people and wants to get everyone’s opinion about what the objective is, that’s going to be pretty frustrating for you. Very frustrating. And for the arranger, they’re going to be frustrated because you just want to get to work, and they don’t feel like they’ve built the team and aligned around the team. The planner, detailed, organized, who wants to put together your project plan, when they work with a visualizer, the visualizer doesn’t like structure, they don’t want a project plan, they don’t want details, so that’s going to create a pretty predictable clash. So, when you work with someone like you, easy.

When we talk about going cross-quadrants, so prioritizer to arranger, that’s the most significant difference, the biggest clash. Planner to visualizer, going that way, other very significant clash. It’s just going to be harder to work together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, acknowledging that’s going to be harder, what do you do about it?

Carson Tate
What do you about it? So, first, you got to communicate. So, each of these four productivity styles has a central question they want answered. So, you as a prioritizer, you want the what, “What’s the goal? What’s the objective? What’s the data?” The planner, how, “How have you done it before? How do you want to do it? How do we need to produce this deliverable?” The folks on the process, the how. The arranger’s focus is on the who, “Who’s on the team? Whos’ involved? Who are the stakeholders?” And the visualizer is asking those big-picture questions, “Why not? Why are we thinking about this? Why does this matter? How does this connect to strategy?”

And so, if I’m a planner working with a visualizer, I need to be thinking about and answering those why questions, talking about strategy, talking about big picture, creating opportunities for innovation. And, vice versa, if the visualizer is working with a planner, they need to be comfortable talking about the how and the details and being willing to work through a sequential process with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, understood. And you also had a note associated with a master task list, an acronym, TASK. Can you unpack this for us?

Carson Tate
Sure. So, I’ll give you the why behind it and then we’ll unpack it. So, the why is because our brains are terrible at to-do lists, right? I mean, how often have you sat on your desk, like, “Oh, I forgot to do this on the way into my office.” Well, we all have this happen. So, the master task list creates one central repository to capture all of your commitments, both personal and professional, in one place. So, the T in task stands for think, and this is when we ask our clients basically do a brain dump, get it all out of your head everything you need to do.

The second step is the A, is the action because a lot of the stuff in our heads will be a project. So, for example, clean out the garage. Well, you’re not going to do that. That’s a big project. So, what we have to do is determine the next action step. Well, the first action step would be maybe to measure the wall. If you want to hang something up, we got to measure to figure out how many hooks so that I can start to create some organization.

And then the S is just sort. So, once you’ve done your brain dump and you’ve need to determine next-action steps, we have to create a list that’s actually manageable and that you can get in and out of. So, the sort is just a grouping or a classification of like items. So, it might be podcast prep, it might be calls, it might be research, it could be a project name, but you group all of those action items under that category. And then the last one is you keep one and only one list. So, we don’t have a list in this app, a list in your pocket, a list on your refrigerator. You’ve got just one master list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And since you mentioned multiple lists and multiple places, I’m thinking about sort of the paper versus digital part of this all. How does that sync up to, do you find that some of the four styles prefer one versus the other? Or is it just sort of that’s a whole another dimension there, prioritizers who love paper, and visualizers who love computers, and it’s all over the place?

Carson Tate
it’s all over the place, absolutely, with an asterisk. So, all over the place. We have folks in each category that like paper or tech. The asterisk would be the arrangers. They tend to be kinesthetic, so they have very nice writing utensils. You will see them touch and feel objects. They’re very visual dashboards. They are more likely to use paper than the other four styles.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, tell us, Carson, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Carson Tate
Just excited I’ve got a new book coming out, October 6, called Own It, Love it, Make it Work: How to Turn Any Job into Your Dream Job. So, it is the roadmap if you do not enjoy your job or you want to enjoy your job even more. This is the tool to help you get there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Carson Tate
I’m going to say, “Just do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Carson Tate
My graduate research on cognitive thinking styles was my favorite research project I’ve ever done.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Carson Tate
The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve mentioned a few of them, but how about a favorite tool?

Carson Tate
Paper.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And with a paper, how specifically do you use it in a way that’s great for you?

Carson Tate
Yes. So, I actually have a paper to-do list because I have a little notebook I’ve created and leaves with me wherever I go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Carson Tate
Early morning meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect, it resonates with folks, and they quote it back to you frequently?

Carson Tate
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity. You must personalize it based on how you think and process information.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Carson Tate
WorkingSimply.com or on LinkedIn, Carson Tate.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carson Tate
Yes. Figure out how you think and process information, and then align your productivity tools to support you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carson, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun in your productive adventures.

Carson Tate
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it. Thanks.

562: How to Get More Done by Working Less with Alex Pang

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Alex Pang says: "It is possible to rethink and redesign everything about how we work."

Alex Pang discusses how to significantly boost your productivity while working fewer hours.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How working fewer hours greatly increases productivity
  2. Small productivity hacks that save a massive amount of time
  3. When you should and shouldn’t multitask

About Alex:

Alex Pang is the founder of Strategy and Rest, a consultancy devoted to helping companies and individuals harness the power of rest to shorten workdays, while staying focused and productive. He is the author of 4 books and have been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the New Yorker.

Pang is also an international speaker and has led workshops across the globe on the future of work and how deliberate rest makes creative careers more productive and sustainable. He received his B.A. and Ph.D in History of Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Pang Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Oh, thanks very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about working less and shorter and resting effectively, and so I’ll mention right up front that I found it more difficult to rest when there’s all this chaotic pandemic news around me. How are you finding rest during this time?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
I think it’s a challenge for everybody. I do an awful lot of work from home and work remotely anyway, so for me the biggest disruption is not being able to travel, but someone who mainly writes books for a living, kind of shelters in place anyway. So, I am fortunate to be less disrupted than many people I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well and that’s working out. I want to hear about your latest book Shorter. You’ve written a few. So, tell me, what made you think that the world needed you to craft this one?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, Shorter is essentially a sequel to my previous book Rest which was about the hidden role of rest in the lives of really creative and prolific people. And when I was promoting that book, I got a lot of questions along the lines of, “Okay, this all sounds great in theory, but if you’re a single mom or a working professional, how do you make the case to your boss or your clients that you should rest more?”

And so, I started looking for organizations that had figured out how to do this, and fairly quickly stumbled on these companies that had moved to 4-day workweeks or 6-hour days that not only were recognizing the importance of rest for creative work, for doing good work, but also were changing how they worked, redesigning their work days in order to make it available to everybody without cutting salaries and without hurting their productivity or their profitability.

And so, the fact that I was seeing these companies all over the world in a variety of industries, often in industries where overwork is the norm, like software, advertising, call centers, restaurants, made me think these are actually doing something really significant that was worth sharing with the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. I’ll tell you I was a fan of all the line graphs in your book. I’m a sucker for real numbers. So, could you share with us a couple of the most striking pieces of research, whether it’s a case study or two, or more of a global kind of survey, that really makes a compelling case that, in fact, if you’re working a shorter amount of time, you can see the same or better results?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Well, in organizations that have done this, what I am seeing is that if they are thoughtful about how they redesign their work days, if they explain it well to clients, if they use technology well, they’re able, actually, to not just maintain the same levels of productivity or profitability, but often increase them. So, for example, there’s a call center in Glasgow, Scotland, and Glasgow turns out to be like the call center of Europe, there are lots of these companies up there called Pursuit Marketing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the Scottish accents or…

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Exactly, yeah. Oh, yeah. And a couple of years ago, they made the move to a 4-day workweek, and they found that, after they did this, their productivity went up something like 40%, dropped down a little bit, and then settled down at about 30% higher than normal. So, even though they were working 4-day weeks, they were doing more business, generating more revenue for their clients than they had been when they were working 5-day weeks.

And they, not surprisingly, were also more profitable as a result, and they saw absenteeism and turnover dropped really substantially. This is an industry where people do an awful lot of job-hopping, you’re constantly attracted to the next job by a new set of potential performance bonuses and other incentives, so people generally move quite a bit. But after they moved to a 4-day week, attrition dropped to single-digit percentages which is absolutely unheard of.

Pete Mockaitis
Annually.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, annually.

Pete Mockaitis
In call centers that is striking.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Which is unheard of in the industry. So, that’s one. And this is also an industry where you measure absolutely everything, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Average Handle Time, First-Call Resolution, da, da, da.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Precisely. And so, they had really good numbers that illustrated that even in an industry where having constant contact with prospective customers, being on the phone a lot, where those kinds of things really matter, where you would not think necessarily that shortening working hours could deliver results, even in those kinds of industries, this turns out to pay off.

And this is a story that I saw over and over again, right? Places that whether it is very topline numbers, like just revenues and profitability, or whether it is the results of weekly surveys either internally with employees or externally with clients, or in terms of things like industry prizes and awards given. When done well, basically, all of those numbers, over time, go up into the right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s striking. And so, I think you said if we started with a 40% productivity boost, then we hit a 30%. Now, let’s clarify a couple of these. I guess if you’re reducing hours by 20%, five to four days, and you’re getting a productivity boost of 30%, you’re actually producing more in four days than you are in five.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you see folks take like five 8-hour days and turn it into four 10-hour days, or is it just, no, four 8-hour days?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Sure. There certainly are companies that convert to four 10-hour days including some fairly big ones now offer that option, especially in Japan. So, 7-Eleven does this and a number of other large companies. But what I was particularly interested in were companies that were shortening the total number of hours that people were working.

Generally, this means going from 40 hours to 32 or 30. So, doing four 8-hour days or five 6-hours. In the restaurant industry, because people are often working 12- or 13-hour days, to go to a 4-day week means you’re going to 48 hours, but still, even there, you’re going from like 60 or 70 hours down to something substantially lower.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, really, what I was interested in for this book was absolute change in working hours as opposed to just taking 40 hours and moving them around differently on the calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
And this is intriguing. Well, I’ve got my own theories but I want to hear yours, you’re the expert. What’s your hot take there on the mechanisms by which less time yields greater results? Is it they’re more rejuvenated so they have more creative ideas to solve the customer caller’s problem? Is it fewer silly mistakes that cause…? Like, what are the sources of productivity gains from working less?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Very broadly speaking, having more time for recovery means that you have more energy on the job, and that matters whether you’re in a creative industry, or you’re a maître d’, or you’re working in a call center. The second thing is that, in knowledge work, in office work, there are estimates that through multitasking, poorly-run meetings, interruptions, we lose an average of about two hours a day of productive time.

And so, if you can eliminate that stuff and get that time back, you go a long way to being able to do five days’ worth of work in four days. And what the companies that I’ve seen do, essentially, is figure out ways to get those two hours back. So, the second part, the redesigning your work day to use your time more effectively, gives you the fundamental ability to fit five days’ worth of work into four. And then, I think, having the extra time to cultivate other hobbies, to rest and relax, to deal with life admin, that gives you an additional boost that accounts for that increase in productivity or creativity on top of the 20% that you need to make up for working fewer hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, I’d love to dig into some of the how-to here even for individuals or teams. Like, I’m running all these, we’ll have the ability to persuade the top decision-maker at the organization that this is what we want to do. But I’m sure there are some leeway to be done here and there, particularly when more people are working from home right now. So, how do we go make it happen?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, the first thing that almost everybody does is dramatically shorten meetings, eliminate the standing Monday morning hour-long meeting, take the traditional meetings and make them half as long or less. Our calendar programs kind of default to running meetings for an hour which means that people tend to drift in, things start a little bit late, you check your email, you chat a little bit, then you do some business, and then maybe you pad out the time at the end by talking about what you did on the weekend, etc. By making meetings much sharper, more pointed, often smaller, having agendas and decisions that need to be made, and then focusing on those and then getting out of there, you can save an organization an amazing amount of time.

The next thing is getting technology distractions under control. So, implementing norms where you have email checks at particular times a day, you’re more thoughtful about how you use tools like Slack and other messaging programs, can go a long way to eliminating the kind of everyday state of what Microsoft executive, Linda Stone, called continuous partial attention, that state where you’re kind of focused on one thing but you’ve also got an eye on your inbox and you kind of toggle between different activities or different things that capture your attention. That feels like a very productive way to work but every study indicates that, actually, it’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
I might just sort of linger there for a moment. I think that’s critical. It feels productive so we do it and it feels good to do it but, in fact, if you actually took a look at your output, your outcomes generated, it’s lower. And I think that’s fascinating stuff. Do you have some insight into, like, the biochemistry? I’ve heard that we get a little bit of a dopamine hit in terms of, “Hey, there was an email, and now it’s gone. That’s done. I’ve done something. It might be tiny but it’s done. Ooh, and I did a lot of tiny things, therefore, I did a lot, or I feel I did a lot,” but, really, it’s like, “Hey, those 20 inconsequential emails versus that one meaty piece of thought that will generate thousands of dollars, they’re not at all equal in terms of their value.”

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
No, they’re not. Definitely not. And it is certainly the case that, as creatures who often seek novelty, and especially those of us who are in creative industries, tend to…we are a little more likely to like new stuff, to like stimulation, than sometimes people who are happy in other kinds of businesses. We have something of a bias toward this. But it’s also the case that there’s a real difference between the kind, in productive terms, between the kind of sort of multitasking where you’re juggling several different things that all aim at the same endpoint.

So, when you’re giving a talk, for example, you’re managing your slides, you’ve got the points you’re trying to make, you’re reading the room, you’re interacting with people, there’s actually an awful lot of different cognitive strains that are happening at once. But because all of them go to making a good performance, helping an audience understand some new thing, helping them solve a problem, it doesn’t feel like the kind of cognitive overload that trying to simultaneously be on a conference call and look at a spreadsheet about an unrelated thing incurs.

The problem is that, through a combination of organizational habit, through the fact that for most of human history, we haven’t had a lot of opportunity to do that second sort of multitasking, to look at multiple screens at once, we’re not yet very well-tuned to recognizing the difference between that really  productive, engaging kind of multitasking that involves multiple channels that all build to the same goal, and this other kind that feels productive, but which is actually a lot harder for us to manage and gives us the feeling of engagement and the feeling of productivity without very much productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is just a heck of a distinction because I’m thinking about times in which I’ve sort of been in charge of an event, like I’m pulled in very many directions kind of all at once, like, “Oh, the food is here, the volunteers are there, and the attendees are there, and, ooh, here’s an unexpected issue.” And so, for me, it’s when I’m properly prepared, it’s exhilarating as opposed to anxiety-provoking. But it’s all geared toward making a great event, great experience for the people who are present, and that works.

Versus, it might give a similar sensation if I’m doing five completely different things but rapidly switching between them, but they don’t, actually, synergistically helping each other. It’s just sort of like, “Oh, I’m cleaning my Mac files in one place, and my emails in another place, and my voicemails in another place, and maybe I’m switching between all three because that can happen, but they’re not actually helping each other at all. I’m not learning one from one source. So, that’s a really powerful distinction, I think. Thank you.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
And, actually, companies that move to 4-day weeks are pretty explicit about recognizing that distinction. And one of the most important ways in which they express it is by redesigning their work day so that they carve and set aside times for what Cal Newport calls deep work, right? It’s a couple hours of the day, usually in the late morning, when you can be…you have permission to be a little antisocial, to not answer the phone, you’re expected not to ask people those one quick question that turns into a 10-minute conversation, but rather everyone has permission to focus on their most important or most challenging, tasks.

And so, by creating that time, and creating it for everybody, you make it easier for people to get into that state of concentration, that flow state, and to get substantial stuff done. So, I think that’s another really important thing that I see these companies doing. And then the fourth and final one is using technology to augment people’s abilities, right? You, essentially…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m a cyborg, if you will.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, you automate kind of ordinary stuff, or of less significant, less value-added tasks, but you use technology to augment people’s ability to do really significant creative tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
We have an example of that. So, I can think of all sorts of ways to automate. We had Wade Foster from Zapier on the show earlier, which is cool. I’m a big fan of outsourcing whether it’s through a personal assistant service or to some folks in developing countries where there are some…the dollar can go farther and provide a good living wage with fewer total dollars. But tell me about using technology to do the big hard stuff.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Sure. And there are plenty of these companies who do have relationships with virtual assistants in the Philippines or Malaysia or such, but a good example is an accounting company called Farnell Clarke based in the UK. Farnell Clarke does cloud-based accounting. An awful lot of the accounting industry is still working on pen and paper or on personal computers using software loaded up onto people’s machines.

What Farnell Clarke’s specialty for years had been using cloud-based services like, I think Xero is one of them, there are a couple others that own most of this market, and moving clients onto those systems to make basic things like quarterly reporting, tax filling, that sort of stuff easier. What they have also realized once they moved to a 4-day week was that automating all that stuff freed up a whole bunch of time for the accountants that they could now spend on stuff like financial consulting or providing financial services, keeping in touch with clients often through Skype, and Zoom, and other tools, with which we have all become intimately familiar in the last few weeks.

And between those two things and then also becoming familiar with other kinds of financial planning tools or research tools, making it possible for the company to go from just mainly doing tax preparation kinds of stuff, ordinary bookkeeping, to more labor-intensive or more creatively-intensive kinds of financial advisory work. And then there are other versions of this that you see with, let’s say, restaurants or garages where people are using fairly ordinary tools, sometimes in far more labor-intensive kinds of ways. But I think that the Farnell Clarke example is a nice illustration of how cloud-based tools can be used in this manner.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool to see sort of like the virtuous cycle effect there in terms of, “Hey, now that we’ve freed up some time, we could put some time into something that yields even more cool benefits.” So, that’s really cool. I’m curious, when folks are saying, “Alex, this is awesome. Yes, we’re going to go forth and do this,” what are some common mistakes or hiccups that folks run into that you can give a watch-out, a heads up, to?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Right. I think that the first thing is that I’ve never encountered a company that said, “We spent too much time planning this. We spent too much time thinking about what could go wrong,” or thinking through contingencies, doing scenarios. I think that the more you’re able to plan in advance the better, partly because you do actually come up with problems that you might not foresee, but also because giving everybody an opportunity to think this through is really important in building confidence that they can actually make it work.

I think another thing that has killed off experiments in a couple places was letting everybody choose their own day versus deciding, “Everybody is going to take these days off. So, the office is going to be closed on Fridays,” or, “Half the workforce is on from Monday to Thursday, the other half is Tuesday to Friday if the office needs to stay open five days a week.”

So, I think that recognizing that you have to design with your own culture in mind, and you want to make sure that you don’t disrupt that. And then, finally the other thing is that it’s really important to make the transition something that the employees themselves drive, right?

Every company has a leader at the top who, for various reasons, decides, “This is an experiment worth trying and a risk worth taking.” But the actual implementation is done by employees themselves. And they have to be able to conduct, to experiment with different ways of working, to try things out, to prototype, to rapidly iterate, and to also be sure that if this works out, that they’re going to keep the kind of benefits of the time saved by learning how to be more productive and how to use technology better.

The only other places where this experiment falls apart is where there’s a sense that, “We’re going to do all this stuff but, ultimately, and the company is going to get 20% more work out of us, but we’re going to go back to a traditional schedule.” So, I think that being very clear that everybody is going to benefit from these changes, is a really important thing to establish and to honor from the outset.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, tell me, Alex, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, I think that the other critical thing is that everybody worries about how clients will react. And I was amazed to hear exactly one story of a prospective client who had objected to a company moving to a 4-day week. Clients, it turns out, are incredibly supportive of this partly because they have the same kinds of problems that companies moving into 4-day weeks do with work-life balance, with burnout, with recruitment and retention and sustainability.

So, I think that involving clients early on, making clear to them that this is what you’re trying to do, that you’re still available under emergencies, all of that is important, but you’ll also find kind of sometimes contrary to your initial expectations or worries that clients can be some of your biggest allies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
I often remember a line from Bertrand Russell from his essay about the uses of idleness, where he talks about how we could, by now, have a 4-hour work day. And he says that modern technology offers the prospect of convenience and ease for all, or a future that offers overwork for a few and idleness for many. And it feels to me like that he was really onto something there, that in a sense we have, for various reasons, chosen the second future, but it’s not too late to choose the first one.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Probably the book that has affected or changed my life more than any other in the last ten years has been Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, which is the classic study of flow states, what they are, why they’re important, and why they not only make us happy but are essential for living a good life. And I think that for those of us who really enjoy our work, who love nothing more than getting lost in an interesting problem, Csikszentmihalyi offers a great key for understanding what it is that is so rewarding about really interesting problems, about really good work, and a foundation for thinking about how we can build on that to make our lives better, not just to be more productive, not just to be more successful, but to become better people, and to have better, more sustainable lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. And I like that you pronounced his name perfectly.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Hey.

Pete Mockaitis
I had to look that up and practice it a few times because I name-drop his as well. It’s an excellent book. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Scrivener. It’s a kind of supercharged word processor that also has a bunch of organizational kind of outlining tools. I’ve written three books using Scrivener, and without it, I probably would’ve written like one and a half. It is for writers, what something like Lightroom is for photographers. It’s not simple and it’s got, definitely, a learning curve. But once you figure it out, you can’t live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, if you want to learn more, my company website is www.Strategy.rest. Rest is now a top-level domain, very happily for me. And then on Instagram, on Twitter, and pretty much everything else, I am @askpang. So, those are the best places to find me. And, of course, the books are available in fine bookstores, virtual and, one day, one hopes again, physical everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
It is possible to rethink and redesign everything about how we work. And that even starting with small things, like changing how you run meetings, can have very big impacts over the long run. It can start teaching you how to improve things that you’ve kind of put up with for years, that everyone complains about but no one has figured out how to change. These things actually turn out to be changeable. They turn out to be fixable. And when we take a kind of more experimental, more skeptical approach to how we work, and we ask the question, “Why is it this way? Can it be different? And what can we do to figure out how to improve it?” it turns out you can do dramatic things that pay off both for your company and for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Alex, thank you. This has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways that you’re working shorter.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Oh, thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

517: Doubling Your Productivity with Tim Campos

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Tim Campos says: "Give yourself that time."
Tim Campos discusses how he doubled Facebook’s productivity—and how to double your own.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to how Tim doubled Facebook’s productivity
  2. The biggest mistake people make with their calendars
  3. The two kinds of time professionals have

About Tim

Tim Campos doubled productivity for Facebook while he was Chief Information Officer between 2010 and 2016. Now, Tim runs Woven. Woven is a digital calendar that helps people get the most out of their time while studying the analytics behind how we’re using our time.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tim Campos Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Tim Campos
I am glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and hear some of your tales of increasing productivity at Facebook. And, for starters, I understand that just a couple of weeks into your job, you’re called into a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg himself. What’s the story here?

Tim Campos
Well, actually, it was from Mark Zuckerberg’s EA. She sent me an urgent note, two weeks into the company, she said, “You’ve got to show up at Zuck’s desk first thing tomorrow morning, and there’s something really important that we need to discuss.” And I was really excited, I was happy that Zuck was interested in getting strategic with IT from the get-go. This is a really good sign when a CEO is that interested, and so I showed up.

The first learning was Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t actually show up until 10:00 in the morning so an 8:00 a.m. meeting is a sign. The second was I was ambushed by Anikka and Camille, this is Mark and Sheryl’s executive assistants, and they basically sat me down and said, “Look, this calendar thing does not work for us. Here’s a long list of problems that we’re having. These are not only strategic issues for us. They’re becoming embarrassments for Mark and Sheryl. And you got a week to fix them.” And it was a rude awakening to the challenges of calendaring at a next-generation company like Facebook’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting because, so, weren’t they just using the same stuff everybody else uses? But what are they using and what was wrong?

Tim Campos
Yeah, they were using Microsoft Exchange which is what everybody else uses. But a couple things that were different. One is Facebook, at the time, was using a much higher density of Mac and Apple devices than anybody else, so 80% of the workforce is on Macintosh, and most of the workforce used iPhones at the time. And the second thing was just the nature of how Mark and Sheryl’s schedules are very dynamic, a lot of changes to the calendar events and this was really aggravating many of the problems that already exist with calendars.

So, they were experiencing problems where a conference room would forget about the meeting, or it could get double-booked, or Mark was supposed to be in one place and the calendar said he was supposed to be in someplace else, and these were hugely embarrassing for everybody involved. And to fix it required me to do something I’m actually quite good at, which is getting into the details of how this thing was built, why is it behaving the way that it is because it wasn’t just a simple problem of this button hadn’t been pressed or something like that. And it gave me insight to why calendars are so bad.

And throughout my tenure at Facebook, I had a love-hate relationship with the technology. And, with time, I got so motivated to do something about it. I actually decided to quit my job at Facebook and start a company to help the calendar be a lot more intelligent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool, yeah. Well, so what a nice prompt and bit of inspiration. And I guess I can understand how that would be embarrassing, it’s like, “Well, you’re one of the most advanced tech companies in the world and you’re telling me that your calendar is wrong? Okay. What else is broken over at your organization?”

Tim Campos
Yes, exactly. And, for Mark and Sheryl, part of why I was hired was, and this was 2010, and Facebook had no specific plans to go public but they knew that was going to happen, and they were concerned if something like this doesn’t work, what does it mean for the financial system? What does it mean for the things that really matter for the company? And so that’s why it was such an important issue for them and why they hired me.

But, like I said, as I got into the nuts and bolts of this, my job at Facebook was the productivity of the workforce, make everybody more productive including myself, and that starts with time. Time is the most valuable asset that we have. And one of the things that I found that was just incredibly frustrating is it was so difficult to understand how I was spending time, in fact. I wanted to know from my EA, like, “How much time am I spending at 101s? Or, how much am I spending on sales versus finance versus recruiting?” It took my EA hours a week to just do the math on it. And why wasn’t that a simple button that you press on the calendar to get that question answered? I just never understood that.

And things like we want to have effective meetings, or at least do an effective meeting, have a purpose for it, have a reason for this meeting to occur, whether it’s a staff meeting, or an interview, or a 101, and those meetings require agendas and some of that purpose to be communicated ahead of time. Sign on a calendar, in the description field maybe there’s some information about how to log into the meeting if it’s a BlueJeans meeting or a Zoom meeting or something like that, but everything else is nowhere to be found. If that stuff exists, it’s hidden in email someplace. Another system that is just absolutely built to drain our time. And none of us have time to go search email for why we’re supposed to be in an event, so you end up spending the first 10 minutes of every meeting setting the stage what the purpose is as oppose to doing what you really need to be doing, which is meeting, getting something done, making a decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much I really want to dig into here, so let’s see. Okay. So, that is one of your big claims to fame there, is doubling the productivity of the Facebook employees. And so, I want to give you a hard time for just a moment. So, when you say productivity, you’re specifically referring to the metric revenue per employee moving from 900K to 1.8 million per employee. And I guess doubling productivity, on the one hand, makes you think, like, “Wow, everyone is getting twice as much stuff done. That’s awesome.”

And so, I guess there’s certainly some of that, which we’ll talk about, although, for the skeptics listening who are saying, “Well, yeah, but, I mean, Facebook makes a lot of their money through ads, and that platform doesn’t really require any humans to do anything. So, isn’t that more just a function of more people buying ads and having a similar number of people in the workforce?” So, I’ll let you make your case, Tim.

Tim Campos
Oh, it’s absolute a fair criticism, and I’ll be the last to say that 100% of Facebook’s productivity gains were solely due to things that my organization was responsible for. Quite the opposite. There’s a lot of things that Facebook would do for itself in terms of how we built the product. You point out some industry aspects that contribute to productivity. But it’s worth looking at revenue per employee because it’s a useful benchmark. It’s easy to calculate across different companies, and you can look across an industry to see what’s the standard here.

For technology, for example, most companies are between 300,000 and 400,000 in revenue per employee. For a company like Google, at the time they were closer to 1.1—1.2 million per employee. But the other thing is how is it trending. As we’re growing as a company, what do we have to grow and what don’t we have to grow? Most companies, for example, they want to grow revenue but they don’t want to grow costs. That’s how you grow profit and that’s how a company is valued.

And you can achieve a lot of that through economies of scale, that if you’ve got a manufacturing facility, or, in Facebook’s case, a data center, you can drive more revenue out of that data center without having to build another one, then you’d get more profit. Well, for knowledge-based companies, the human capital is the thing that you’re looking for economies of scale with, “Can we do more without having to hire more? Can we support more customers without more salespeople? Can we recruit more engineers without having to hire more recruiters?” And these were the challenges that my team was given.

And we accomplished that, in large part, through technology innovations. So, we think things like, “How do you do CRM? How do you manage customer information? How do we source for candidates? What’s the way to make predictions about who would be the best candidates? We can surface those resumes to the recruiters first.” And by doing enough of that, we were able to offset the need to grow as much proportional to the company.

Actually, oftentimes, a lot of companies get less efficient as they get bigger because you need middle management, you need people inside the company just to coordinate with other people, and that’s tax, that’s an overhead. And it can become just a significant driver of cost and bureaucracy. And this is something Facebook was deathly afraid of as they got bigger and why we placed so much emphasis on productivity.

So, I completely agree with the criticism, but at the end of the day, I think it survives review when you take a look at what we did that a lot of the growth in productivity ultimately comes down to, not just the culture of the company or the space that it’s in but tooling. And Facebook has absolutely grown its productivity much more than even companies like Google and Microsoft which are already very productive on their own.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Tim, thank you. I am convinced. You checked that box. I think I can do the due diligence here. So, let’s talk about, then, what are some of the interventions that made the biggest impact and are the most transferable? Because I imagine most listeners are probably not going to say, “Hey, let’s build out a new system that helps predictively surface resumes of candidates,” although some might, so that’s not off the table. But I’d love to know which ones have the most impact and are the most transferable?

Tim Campos
Well, I think it does very much depend on what kind of business you’re in. So, if you’re a lawyer and you’re trying to make yourself more productive, optimizing recruiting is not going to help, or even optimizing your ability to predict what a customer might need. So, you really have to adapt your productivity strategy for the business and even for the role that you are in. But a few things that I think are general strategies that we employed. One is really understanding what are the long poles and getting things done.

So, for Facebook, the biggest function in the company is the product organization. The second largest function is the sales organization. The product organization, their productivity is driven by how much code can they write and is that code impactful. And, to be quite frank, that really wasn’t a problem that my organization could fix for them.

But sales is a different story. Salespeople, you know, they got to meet with customers, they need to understand which customers to spend time with, and there were a lot of things that we could do to help them be better prepared for those conversations. And, especially, because Facebook’s customer base was growing so much, having a much richer and better understanding of, “Who’s an advertiser of the company? What is their advertising objective? What problems are they trying to address with Facebook advertising? Where are they in their journey? Are they being successful and, therefore, they need some more advanced advice? Are they just starting and they don’t really know how to use the different advertising products?” would affect how the sales organization would approach customers.

And so, a lot of what we did was just centralizing information to make it clear at what stage a customer was in, and that helped to give the sales organization the right tools, the right conversations to have with companies, conversations that were specifically designed to help them alleviate problems with the advertising products, and help them be more successful with accomplishing their objectives, and, therefore, spend more with the company. And we became very, very good at this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But, you know, I’ll tell you what, that resonates in terms of you’re centralizing information. And, in a way, that doesn’t seem like such a revolutionary move but, in practice, it makes a world of difference. So, just even putting on a podcast, you know, and sort of like, I’ve got to pull a lot of different pieces of information in terms of after this interview is concluded and before it’s published to the world.

And I’m pulling information like, “Okay, what’s the date of the release? And who’s the guest? And who are the advertisers? And what’s the copy for that advertisement? And is that copy new or is it similar as to last time? And who’s the next guest that we’re going to tease at the end? Is there anything cool happening that we’re going to mention? What are the parts of the interview that we’re going to cut versus sort of try to tease?”

And so, it’s actually pretty cognitively intense and it requires me to kind of open up, like, five or six different windows. But, sure enough, with my awesome team (Thanks, guys) has put more and more of that into one place and so I can do less work in terms of, “Yup, I like that teaser. Yup, I like that quote. Hmm, yeah, I agree. We should cut that part. Yup, that’s the sponsor. Let me change a few of the key words or segues,” and then away it goes. As opposed to, in a way, this is going to make a big deal if I spend 8 minutes pulling information from different places. But multiply that by hundreds of episodes, or occasions of an activity, and you’re really impacting productivity simply by centralizing information.

Tim Campos
And making it easier for people to access.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Tim Campos
Another example of this was, “What do we do for recruiting?” It’s the same thing, same objective, where this information about a candidate, their resume, their LinkedIn profile, who they’ve met with, if they’ve given us permission to answer this question, who are they friends with, Facebook friends with, in the company, who might know them, have they interviewed in a previous stage. Like, maybe they declined to accept our offer but a couple of years later, now we’re interviewing them again. What was the outcome of those interviews? What did people have to say?

By just centralizing all this information, it streamlines a recruiter’s ability to put the right candidate in front of the right manager quickly. And so, you can follow the same methodology in almost every role. I do this today for a little bit for my customers. When we onboard users, some of our users request personalized onboarding where we literally get on the phone with them, talk with them about what they’re trying to do with their calendars, and teach them how to use the product.

And we start with all the information that we know about them going into the discussion so that we don’t have to ask them things that we should already know, like, “What platform are they using? And do they have a lot of calendar data or just a little bit of calendar data? Are they busy? Are they not so busy?” And, by having understandings of these questions, we can more effectively tailor our conversation to our customers in a way that’s going to give them a better outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in practice, this streamlining, I guess, at times that requires you and your crew to create some custom applications and coding and such. But what are some of the things that the every-person can do to realize some of these gains associated with centralizing information?

Tim Campos
Well, I’ll actually start by saying some of what I did, actually everybody can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Tim Campos
For example, with sales at Facebook, we changed the onboarding process for a salesperson. Most salespeople are not technical, right? However, they can be taught some aspects of technology, so we would send them to data camp.

Data camp was a way of understanding how to answer a customer information at Facebook, so how to access the data, and how to write queries, how to use SQL, and we would teach them how to fish on their own so they wouldn’t have to come to us to get us to build some special custom report for them. They could do it on their own. And that empowered people.

So, there is a bit of self-learning that can be employed, even for the individual, of, “Learn to use the technology yourself so that you can solve some of these problems.” It very much does help to have an advanced, very business-oriented technology function to partner with who can help solve some of the more complicated things that you can’t do.

So, if you’re a manager at a company, and you have some control over this, that can make a gigantic difference, and, therefore, IT professionals still have a job if the rest of the world becomes coders and able to do this. But I think then there’s even simpler things, “How do you organize your time? How do you spend your time? What are the things that you spend your time on?” This has huge impact on most people’s lives because most of us, in today’s day and age, we’re knowledge workers, where it’s our thoughts and ideas that result in the value that we create. It’s not our ability to pick up a brick and move it to another side of a room and put it down. For those people, there’s a different way to drive productivity. But for knowledge workers, time management, and time allocation, has a huge impact on what people do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to talk about that in just a moment. I’m thinking, with regard to using the tech yourself, you could even have some of the tech do some of the centralizing for you. I’m thinking about Zapier, for example, right now.

Tim Campos
Great product.

Pete Mockaitis
I have Zapier yank the stuff from my Calendly scheduler onto my Google Sheets media sheet, and I think that’s pretty awesome. And so, sure, so maybe you could have someone make a quick app, or maybe Zapier or a tool like it can do some of the automation for you. But, moving past the tech, yes, let’s discuss organizing your time. What are some best practices and worst practices that are really high impact?

Tim Campos
I think one of the best practices around time management is to be deliberate and proactive about your time, deciding upfront, “This is how I want to spend my time in the next week or the next month,” and blocking it, giving yourself that time by saying, “Okay, I’ve got to write this presentation. I’m going to schedule time on my calendar to make that happen. I’ve got to do this investor or customer outreach. I’m going to schedule time for those things.”

And even though they may not involve other people, just by taking the time to block it. Now, when somebody else makes a request of my time, either I know I might not want to do take that request at that particular time, or I can, again, be proactive, “All right, that means I won’t be able to do that presentation on Thursday morning but I can still get it done Friday afternoon, so I’ll just move that time block from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon.”

Conversely, I think one of the worst things that people can do is be reactive. If we’re responding to the request of others, we are responding to their definition of what we want to get done, of, yes, what we want to get done, not our definition of what we want to get done. And it is best to own that and not give that up. And we see with Woven, as an example, that most people don’t schedule that far in advance. Most people schedule the events that they have two or three days in advance. Why is that important?

Well, imagine, I’m really busy and I got all these things going on, and somebody says, “Hey, can you go and meet with me for this lunch meeting sometime in mid-December?” If I don’t have a proactive view of what my calendar should be and how much time I should be spending on networking or personal relationships, it’s easy to say yes to that when it’s actually not as important for me, and I just gave away some time that’s going to prevent me to do something that I need to do when that week comes.

On the other hand, if I am very proactive about my time and I’m using these time blocks to forecast my availability, I might know that I can only spend three hours a week on these kinds of personal discussions. And if I already have three hours that week scheduled, well, maybe I’d push it up to the following week in that way I can just preserve it and not put myself in a position where my time is being dictated to me, I’m a slave to my calendar, instead of what it could be where I’m the master of my time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, this is really expanding my brain and I love it. The phrase you said that’s sticking with me the most is give yourself that time. And, for me, it’s such a flip because ever since I was a kid, it’s been very important to me to have “free time,” and I think that just means time that I don’t feel obligated to something or someone so that my brain can just percolate or I can decompress or whatever. And so, when you talked about scheduling the time, sometimes I’ve done some of that but I’ve also had some resistance in terms of, “Oh, boy. Well, then if all these hours are spoken for, then when is the ‘free time’?”

But when you say it that way, “Give yourself that time,” it really does shine a light on it in terms of saying, “Well, if you don’t schedule that time for that important thing for you, it’s at risk and it will likely just not occur, so you have to give yourself that time.” And that language feels as though you’re giving yourself a gift, or a treat, or some sort of luxury spa time or something.

Tim Campos
That’s exactly what events are, they are gifts of time. And you could give yourself time to do nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Tim Campos
I mean, maybe some people need that sort of free unencumbered time just to think and take a breath, experience what’s going on around them, and that itself can be the objective. But you won’t have it if you don’t reserve it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, when you say that, that’s also connecting to I was watching this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates, like Inside Bill Gates’ Brain, and he schedules think weeks, which I think is awesome. Like, “This is what this week is about. It’s me reading a lot of books and thinking about them,” and it sure seems to be effective for the guy. So, he gave himself that time with good effect.

So, I’m also intrigued by that notion that most people only schedule items three or four days in advance. That kind of gives you a little bit of a clue that you’ll have better luck getting on people’s calendar if you schedule it with a greater amount of lead time, so there’s a little tactical takeaway right there.

Tim Campos
Yes and no. So, it’s easy for people to say yes, but what happens?

Pete Mockaitis
They change up on you.

Tim Campos
Yeah, if things get really busy, and then all of a sudden now somebody needs to reschedule, and they need to reschedule because they didn’t properly plan. And that’s a burden on them and it’s a burden on you. So, reschedules are probably 20% to 25% of events that something changes after they are put on the calendar. And they’re hugely impactful in terms of being a time drain because imagine all the prep that you had for that event. If I rescheduled this podcast for you, you both weren’t able to do a podcast with somebody else, and any preparation that you did for this podcast would have been not necessarily wasted because, hopefully, we would reschedule for a different time, but done at the wrong time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’d have to refresh my brain on who you are and your background and what I want to ask you, so there would definitely be something lost.

Tim Campos
And that holds true for one-on-ones, for staff meetings, for interviews, for any kind of event that there’s a drain on both parties when the time has to change. So, it’s much better if people can be proactive and effectively forecast their time. Now, obviously, things happen, right? So, maybe you get sick or there’s an emergency thing that you could not have planned for. Those things are obviously going to be disruptive but even there, the more proactive you are about managing your time, when those emergencies happen, sometimes you can anticipate you’re going to have an emergency, therefore don’t book 100% of your time. Have some time left over for emergencies. Or other times, because you weren’t able to in this particular case but you are elsewhere, when you reschedule, you’re only going to have to reschedule once, or you only have to reschedule one other thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Tim, you really piqued my curiosity. You dropped a couple of fun stats that I did not know before, and you are uniquely positioned to know working over at Woven there. So, most people only schedule items three to four days in advance, rescheduling occurs to 20% to 25% of events. Any other intriguing benchmark data points that have real relevance for professionals?

Tim Campos
Here’s a very interesting fact. We looked at, “When does the workday start?” And we had a debate within my team on we put default work hours in the product. Should those default work hours be at 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m.? And when do they stop? Do they stop at 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.? And it’s fascinating to see that it’s not a simple Bell curve when you look at, “When do most meetings start?” There is a very strong bias against early morning meetings. Most people don’t schedule before 9:00 or 8:00 o’clock. There’s a significant drop off there.

And there’s a strong bias for later evening meetings. Some of those makes sense, right? We’d like to have a dinner meeting than a breakfast meeting. But it does get to, “Where does one have the most control over their time?” And it’s when there aren’t things that are being scheduled in the universe, and that’s the morning.

And this very much fits into my own personal experience. I find that if I’m going to have my most productive time of the day, or if I’m going to have the time to work out, it’s usually in the morning. It’s not in the evening. If I try to do things in the evening, inevitably something gets in the way that I didn’t plan for. And so, that bias turns out not to be just slanted to me and the people that I meet with, but it actually seems to be somewhat universal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that is a great takeaway. People say, “Hey, wake up early and do your stuff. It’s magical and powerful,” and it seems like that’s largely just because it so happens that your odds are better if you’re having less interruption by third parties if you take that strategy.

Tim Campos
Yeah, absolutely. What we found that’s really interesting is there’s something magical about 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. meetings. It’s the highest frequency of events that occur in our system is the 10:00 a.m. or the 11:00 a.m. meeting that seems to be when people would want to go begin their day. So, it’s also, conversely, the worst time to try to schedule something. It’s not an easy time to get access to a meeting. More people than any other time are busy there. But there’s a lot more richness and depth into this.

I mean, what’s really interesting is that a lot of what is different about time allocation for people is very contextually dependent, “What company do I work for? How big of a company is it?” And so, certain predictions I could make are different depending on the context. If I were to say, “What’s different about a smaller company than a bigger company?” I can tell you one defining difference between those two. Small companies tend to spend most of their time meeting outside of their company. They schedule with people who are not inside of their corporation. Whereas, large companies tend to spend most of their time meeting internally. And the difference is striking.

I mean, you go from a 10-person company to a 10,000-person company, you go from 80% to 90% of the small person’s time is externally focused, whereas, 90% to 95% of the large company’s focused is internal. And imagine all of the people who don’t have an outside view, a company like Facebook where 90% to 95% of the time that the workforce is spending is with itself, then you don’t have the same sources of information and insight that you would have if everybody spent more of an equal portion of their time internally and externally. It can very much lead to different kinds of biases and perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very thought-provoking. Thank you. I would schedule some time to think about that later, and while I’m with you, dig more into the notion of…so let’s talk about optimal calendar management. You’re a human being, you’re a professional, you’ve got a number of goals you want to achieve inside work and outside work. You mentioned that one of the keys is to really proactively give yourself that time on the calendar specifically during this time and doing that even if it’s just with myself. What are some of the other pro tips in terms of really maximizing our use of the calendar to get great results?

Tim Campos
So, the most valuable events on your calendar are going to be recurring. Now, they could be recurring but you haven’t been strategic about how they got there. I used to have this problem at Facebook where I would setup one-on-ones, those one-on-ones would go on into perpetuity, and they might’ve been important in the early days but, as time went on, the one-on-ones were less important yet people were still having them. So, they were taking up time on my calendar.

But when you get into things like time blocking, where you have, for me, I like to reserve the time in the morning for maker time, short time, time to work on the things that require uninterrupted intervals. I make those recurring meetings so that they’re always there and I look very strategically at the recurring events that I have. And I also try to minimize them so that I don’t have recurring events just because somebody said, “Oh, we should always have this particular meeting at this time.” It may be important for me to have that meeting on a regular interval but not necessarily at that specific time. So, recurring events are very important.

I think another thing that is really notable is the difference between – I wish I could properly attribute the thought here. It didn’t come from me, for sure, but this idea that there is two kinds of time that people have – maker time and manager time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think that came from someone in The Lean Startup movement.

Tim Campos
I wish I could attribute this. In fact, you’re making me…

Pete Mockaitis
But I love the idea. It hasn’t come up before. Lay it on us, Tim. Lay it on us.

Tim Campos
It’s an incredible idea. There are certain tasks that we have to do, like email or making coordination, quick calls. They don’t take a lot. The context switched to start, perform, and complete them is very low. And then there are certain things that take a while to get your brain going to do and then complete. You think of like a software engineer, for them to code, they have to really sort of get in the mood, get going. If they have to write 10,000 lines of code, they can’t just split that up into 5 minutes here, or 5 minutes there, or 5 minutes someplace, because the whole thing ties together, and they have an idea in their mind that has to be front and center. Or if I’m writing a document, or a presentation, for me, I need a lack of interruption in order to complete that. And so, that happens during maker time for me.

Manager time is time that I reserve for all the stuff that can be interrupted. It is not challenging at all for me to be interrupted from going through my email, because each email only takes a few seconds or maybe a few minutes to complete, and I don’t need to go through my email all at once. I could do that in 10 minutes here, and 10 minutes there, or 10 minutes there. Slack, dealing with Slack, or dealing with customer service, customer response, just small inquiries that are easy to respond to and deal with.

And so, my manager time, I try to reserve for the times in the day that I will most likely have conference calls, or coordination with others, because what that leaves me with is these little holes, so 30-minute holes here and there, that I could not put my presentation-authoring time in, but I could easily put my manager time in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it makes great sense. And so, your personal approach is to have more maker time in the morning and more manager time in the afternoon. And so, do you think that that is a, dare I say, universal best practice given the human condition and energy levels? Or do you think it’s more a person-by-person condition?

Tim Campos
Oh, I absolutely believe it’s the person-by-person. I know many people who are quite the antithesis of me and they’re most energized and engaged in the evenings. Mornings, it takes them a while to wake up, and so they need to do lightweight tasks. My co-founder is this way, for example. So, I do think that each individual has to find what works for them and then optimize it, but the concept holds true. The concept that there are different activities that you’ll perform that require lack of interruption, and others, activities which are interruption-friendly.

Pete Mockaitis
Interruption-friendly. That’s well-said.

Tim Campos
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Most of my life is in maker mode these days with some manager here and there with my team.

Tim Campos
I’m envious.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it is fun. It is fun to chat with you, interruption-free, or think hard about what the future, the next cool product, or whatever to make. And so, you’re right. I don’t feel as friendly when I’m interrupted in those moments as opposed to when I’m doing emails, like, “Oh, sure. Hey, what’s up? Interrupt me away.” Interruption-friendly, nice turn of a phrase. Boy, we’ve got so much good stuff I want to jump in. So, at the risk of being a little bit scattered, let’s hear a smidge about you’ve got a cool phrase. You say that lazy people are often the most productive. What’s this about?

Tim Campos
Well, it’s a learning that I’ve had over the years. It started when I was at Silicon Graphics, my second company, and we had a build engineer who was a self-professed, he would just say, “I’m super lazy.” If you ask him to do something, “I don’t really want to do that.” “Why don’t you want to do it?” “Because it sounds like work and I’m lazy.”

But he was also one of the most productive people because he was so lazy at what he was doing, he valued free time. And so, part of how he would allocate his time is finding ways to eliminate the repetitive recurring activities that were a drain on his time. And so, he built tons and tons of automation.

And this, I think, in part was endearing to me because my first job as an intern is the same thing. I found a job to be working at a company called Sybase, and the job was really boring. It needed to be done but it’s really boring. And I was grateful that they were paying me but I didn’t really want to do it so I wrote a bunch of automation to figure out how to do my job in less than 45 minutes of the day, and then I had all these other time to do other stuff, and, eventually, more interesting work found my way.

And so, I started to see that there’s this pattern. And when I got to Facebook and had an opportunity to work with some of the best engineers in the world, I saw that this pattern was strongest in those engineers, that they would find ways to just eliminate the work from work, to cut the work out of work, in large part by just identifying where the redundancies are, and whether that manifest itself as an architecture in terms of how they would design something so they wouldn’t have to reimplement things over and over again, or a process for, “How should we assess candidates who are being considered for hire? Or, how should we do our performance reviews?”

That these engineers were really good at identifying ways to simplify the work. And if you ever them, “Why?” it’s because they didn’t like it. They were lazy. They didn’t want to do the work so they found ways to eliminate it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool perspective in terms of lazy we might define as highly motivated to not do work. And then, as a result, they have an extra dose of creativity and persistence to do what’s necessary to do the automation or the simplification or the elimination such that that work doesn’t have to be done because they don’t want to do it.

Tim Campos
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I’m reminded of David Allen we’ve had on the show a couple times, of Getting Things Done fame, and he says that he’s so lazy he doesn’t want to have the same thought twice, which is why he’s got this whole system of organize your mind so that you don’t have to have your brain continually remember things. It’s done for you.

Tim Campos
I think it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg is famous for wearing the same clothes every day because he didn’t want to allocate thought-time to what he’s going to wear.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Tim Campos
So, he didn’t actually wear the same pair of jeans and the same T-shirt, but he had hundreds of the same T-shirts so he didn’t have to think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup. I’ve heard that Einstein and some others similarly, and Steve Jobs certainly had recurring motif in his apparel. Maybe last one before we hit the fast faves. How do you think about burnout? And what should we do to prevent it?

Tim Campos
That’s a great, great question. Yeah, for myself, what I have learned is that the hardest part about burnout is detecting when I’m in it because it’s a vicious cycle, “I am busy and so I’m not being as…I’m working really hard so I’m not getting as much rest. I’m not taking a break. I’m not thinking creatively, and so things are taking longer, which means I have to work even harder, and then I’m busier,” and it just builds upon itself.

One of my leaders at Facebook that I worked for was, his name is Jonathan Heiliger who said this. He pointed out, the analog was cycling, that one of the things he loved about cycling is that you’d climb a hill and it’d be lots and lots of work, and then when you get to the other side of hill, you coast, and you coast down. And you actually really needed those pauses and effort in order to be able to complete a century, without going on to be able to complete the century, that you would sprint and you would pause, you’d sprint and you’d pause.

And he brought that same idea into work, he’s like, “Look, there’s going to be times when we’re all going to be working really, really hard together, and we’re going to be really busy. And after those times, it’s really important we all, in our way, find a way to pause, take a break.” And I think that one of the reasons why his organization was very effective and productive was because of this notion of sprinting and pausing. And this is an idea that you can bring into your own life, that if you haven’t taken a vacation, or you haven’t…one of my favorite ways to pause is to take a class, to learn something new and different. Then, yeah, maybe you should, maybe it’s time to do that.

And I always find for myself, when I make that time, when I give myself that time, I’m rewarded in either a brilliant idea that comes out, or just that renewed energy that I have to bring to my job. And I know it’s hard. I’ve certainly suffered from this where you just get to a point where you feel like you can’t do it, you can’t take a break, and sometimes that’s exactly what you should.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, tell me, Tim, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Tim Campos
Well, I love these questions, they really prompted a bunch of great ideas that I love to talk about, so, no, I think we’ve gotten through all of that, and there’s nothing that comes to mind that I really wanted to get out there that we haven’t had a chance to talk about yet.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tim Campos
A good friend of mine says, “There’s no time like the present.” It’s very much get-things-done kind of mindset of if you can do it now, just do it. And one of the things I love about my product is scheduling. We’ve come up with a way where you can create that event and schedule it without having to have everything figured out. Put together a schedule and then send it off to somebody. It’s got times that they can have on their calendar and they decide which of those times work for them and, lo and behold, we’ve eventually scheduled. But just getting it done now, whatever it is, when you can saves you having to put it on your to-do list and manage it later.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I’m super intrigued about how Woven does the tabulation of the categories of time usage, like that’s cool. So, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Tim Campos
The one that comes to mind is The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Not to get too political on this but in today’s time where it seems like we don’t all agree on things. This book really studies some of the motivations and the reasoning behind it, and it’s surprisingly applicable even outside of the context of politics. When you are working in a work environment and you have a difficult coworker or a difficult boss, it provides a different perspective on how their mind might be organized to better understand the rationale. And I found that that book, in many respects, has changed my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Tim Campos
Going for a walk with my wife. It’s probably one of the best things that we can do is just take that break, take that step away from the noise of life, my children, company, housecleaning, everything, kids’ college applications, taking a step back and going for a walk, enjoying each other’s presence, and enjoying the gorgeous outside, taking a breath, enjoying life.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you?

Tim Campos
Well, both my team at Facebook and my team at Woven know that I’m a firm believer in using data to make decisions. “Data wins arguments,” is what we used to say at Facebook. And so, when you don’t have the data, the question is, “Why? What is the measure that you should have?” And whether you’re talking about retirement, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time for blah, blah, blah.” “Well, why don’t you have time? Is it because it’s not important? Or is it because you haven’t properly allocated your time to allow those things that is important to get done? And then, well, how do you allocate your time? Where is the data on that?” So, I definitely find that data wins arguments.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Tim Campos
Well, if they want to learn more about Woven, our website is Woven.com, very easy to find. If they want to just keep in touch with me, I’m easy to find on Twitter @tcampos is my Twitter handle. And between those two, I would love to hear from people.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Tim Campos
Take control of your time. Spend time on what matters most and go find the tools and the capabilities to help you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this has been lots of fun. I wish you lots of luck and much enjoyment in all the ways you’re spending your time.

Tim Campos
Well, thank you very much. I really enjoyed this interview. It’s been fantastic. You have great questions.

466: How to Get Home Earlier by Automating (Some of) Your Work with Wade Foster

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Wade Foster says: "Automation is a mindset; it's not a skill."

Wade Foster shares super-simple mindsets, tools and tricks to automate repetitive work  tasks and liberate extra time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how much time you can save through automation
  2. Where automation works, and where it doesn’t
  3. The latest low-cost software tools to optimize your workflow

About Wade 

Wade Foster is the co-founder and CEO of San-Francisco-based Zapier, a company offering a service that makes it easy to move data among web apps to automate tedious tasks. He, along with co-founder Mike Knoop, was featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30: for Enterprise Tech.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Wade Foster Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Wade, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Wade Foster
Yeah, thanks for having me, Pete. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into this conversation. I have used your tool Zapier before but, first, I want to hear the tale of you playing the saxophone—I, too, was a sax player in high school and marching band—at The Missouri Governor’s Mansion.

Wade Foster
Oh, goodness. So, I played saxophone for a long time. I started playing in 5th grade. And my instructor had a quartet that played at The Governor’s Mansion in Jeff City regularly at the time. And they had a member of the quartet who moved out of the state and so they needed a fourth member on pretty short notice. And, for whatever reason, in their infinite wisdom, they thought, “Let’s invite this 9th-grader to come play with us at The Governor’s Mansion.”

And so, they say, “Hey, Wade, come to our rehearsal, come to a trial run.” And I walked in and I’m probably, I don’t know, 4’7” and don’t even weigh 100 pounds, like sopping wet or anything like that, and they gave me a go, and they say, “Hey, try this out.” And, for whatever reason, I must not have done too bad because they said, “Why don’t you come play at The Governor’s Mansion.

I ended up getting to play over at The Governor’s Mansion quite a few times over the course of the next year. And then, eventually, a new governor came around, and he had different entertainment, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
“No saxophones for me.”

Wade Foster
Yeah, and so we weren’t invited back after that. But it was a ton of fun as a 9th-grader. I loved it.

Pete Mockaitis
Did that shape your political views?

Wade Foster
You know what, it didn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Liked one administration and not the other.

Wade Foster
Yeah, as 9th-grader, my views on, I guess, the political landscape were pretty rudimentary at the time. I was just like, “Let’s play saxophone. That sounds fun.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, sax is fun, and I would take a crack at a terrible segue of just as the saxophone has many buttons to push down so, too, can automation have a lot of different layers and buttons and approaches. So, that’s the topic du jour. And before we get into the nitty gritty of what to automate and how to automate, I’d love to get your overall kind of philosophy on automation. Like, why is it helpful? When is it not? Lay it on us.

Wade Foster
Yeah, I think automation is going to be one of the, sort of defining topics of the next decade or so. I think the way the mainstream press talks about it, it’s often pretty scary. They’re talking about how robots, especially in manufacturing—it’s a scary topic. But the way we see automation at Zapier, we see this across, we have, I don’t know, something around four million users now.

And most of the people doing automation tend to be knowledge workers. It tends to be white collar folks in professional jobs, they’re business owners, or maybe they’re entrepreneurs themselves, or many times they’re just a person in a job, whether it’s in marketing, or in sales, or a data analyst, or an engineer or a real estate agent, or a lawyer, or whatever, who’s sort of is using a suite of tools, maybe it’s some marketing software, or maybe it’s some sales software, or some customer support software.

And, oftentimes, they’re doing pretty manual stuff on a day-to-day basis. Maybe they’re downloading a list of leads out of Facebook or LinkedIn, and then uploading those into a CRM. Or maybe they’ve got a bunch of files that they’re pulling out and collecting from forms, and they’re making sure those get sent to the specific parties. But all of us kind of have stuff like that that we do on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.

Maybe you’re a podcaster and you get transcripts manually delivered to you, and you’re trying to find ways to not do that stuff. And so, I think automation is a way that you can really take some of this mundane stuff that you’re doing every day, that you’re doing every week, and find a better way to do it, for really just not have to do that stuff anymore, and allow you to focus on the creative parts of your job, focus on the things that really deliver value, and leave the stuff that computers are good for to the computers.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Or just get home earlier.

Wade Foster
Yeah, that too.

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t have to do that. Just get home now.”

Wade Foster
Yeah, see you tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
The work is done. Okay, so that’s cool. So, a real time-saver there. And so then, now automation sounds, in some ways, kind of big and spooky, not just because the robots are going to destroy and enslave the human race like Terminator, but also just because, “Oh, boy, do I need to know like scripts and APIs and codes and get developers involved,” like that just seems like too much for many of us.

And that’s one thing that’s nifty about Zapier, I’ve used it a little bit myself. So, why don’t you orient those who are not familiar? What does it do? How does it go?

Wade Foster
Yeah, so it used to be you did have to do that, you need developers and scripts and APIs, but with Zapier you don’t. We use a sort of simple metaphor called triggers and actions to help you set up automations. And so, a trigger is an event that might happen in any sort of software that you use. So, maybe it’s someone fills out a form that’s on your website; maybe you have a contact form, or a lead form, or any sort of form; maybe you’re collecting data for an RSVP for an event. When someone does that thing, that’s called a trigger, and then the action is, “What do you want Zapier to do for you when that happens?”

So, if you say like, contact form on a website, “Well, when someone fills out this contact form on the website, the action, I want them to log that person’s detail in my CRM so that I can make sure to follow up with them and communicate with them later.” So, at Zapier, we follow that simple trigger action logic, and it has a really simple UI to set some of this stuff up. And, in fact, a lot of the use cases are out-of-the-box where you don’t even have to understand what a trigger and action is. You can just turn that stuff on. And it helps you automate all sorts of different things that you might want to do around your job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. I was just thinking recently about Zapier. It’s very fortuitous, the timing, just because, in my huge listener survey—thank you so much, listeners, for spending that time there. Something came up associated with community, and that’s something I’m trying to figure out and build and, “How do I do that? Boy, is it even manageable with so many thousands of people and probably need to be paid to have fewer folks?”

But, anyway, as I’m going through the ins and outs, one thing that came up was listeners would love the opportunity to be able to chime in and share their questions associated with a guest as soon as they learn that a guest is going to be interviewed. And I thought Zapier is pretty cool in that I could say, “Hey, Calendly is what I use for booking,”—which is a really easy way to set appointments.

I could say, “Yo, Zapier, when I get a new booking for a podcast interview, I want you to share that information over in a Slack channel for the listener community to announce, like, ‘Hey, Wade Foster is being interviewed on this day. Here’s what he submitted.’” And then they could just have at it without me having to remember, “Ooh, shucks, I need to kind of find, and copy, and paste the booking info inside the community Slack channel so folks have the opportunity to chime in and say things.” So, what’s cool is that once you’re just aware that tools like this exist, you sort of start to see opportunities, and I think that’s pretty exciting.

Wade Foster
Totally. And I think that example you just shared is a great one because you sort of stumbled across a use case that helps you solve a very specific problem. And now, once you have that skill in your skillset, you can start to refine these things. You might say, “Hey, I’m glad that I’m getting all this feedback in Slack. But now when I go interview Wade, I have to go find that Slack channel or that Slack thread, and it’s buried because it was a couple weeks old. So, maybe I don’t want them to put it in a Slack thread, so maybe I’ll have the Zap setup when a Calendly then gets booked, I’ll have Zapier generate a form, and then I’ll post a link to the form in Slack so that, then, when I got to talk to Wade, I just pull up a spreadsheet that’s got a bunch of questions in it, and I have them all right in front of me, and it’s a little easier to find that stuff.”

Like, once you sort of get the hang of automation, you can start to go, “Well, I like this basic thing, but I could tweak it a little bit and get a little bit more out of it and customize it to the needs that I have.” And so, I think that’s when automation becomes really fun because you have that ability to let your creativity go wild on the problems that are unique to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess that’s sort of the thing, it’s like everyone is going to have their own unique things and it’s sort of hard to say, “This is the top thing you must automate.” But, nonetheless, someone will take a crack at it. Could you maybe share with us a story of someone who used Zapier or some other automation tools out there to receive just like tremendous time savings and career and life benefits in action?

Wade Foster
Yeah, I think one of the ones that I really loved is there was this company that started in Australia, and they run an on-demand lawnmowing service. And the way it worked…

Pete Mockaitis
I’d would like that.

Wade Foster
Yeah, right? So, it’s kind of like Uber, right, you’ll hail a car to come pick you up. Well, this is you hail a person with a lawnmower to come mow your yard. And so, if you start to think about like, “What are the problems that you have to do to run a mowing service like that?” It’s like, well, you need a website, you need an order form, or a mobile app where people can say, “Hey, I want to book this thing.” And when they get booked, you need to be able to send an alert out to the people who have lawnmowers to say, “Hey, who wants to come do this thing?” And then you need to let the person who booked it know that you’ve got someone available.

Or you can just have a person just paying attention to the form and then doing all the matchmaking manually. Well, what this person did was said, “You know what, here’s how I’m going to set this up. When people request a lawnmower to come in, I’m going to have that get published automatically through Zapier into a spreadsheet. And in the spreadsheet, I’m going to have that trigger out a message via Twilio that goes out to our people who are currently marked as available to come mow the lawn. And then the first person that replies…”

Pete Mockaitis
Like a text message then?

Wade Foster
Yeah, a text message.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. That’s so smart.

Wade Foster
That says, “Hey, someone wants their lawn mowed,” right? And then the first person to reply to it then gets assigned to it so it gets marked back into the spreadsheet to say, “Bob is going to come mow the lawn.” And then via another text message, it publishes back to the customer that says, “Hey, Bob is coming to mow your lawn.”

So, this thing that would’ve been like a pretty manual matchmaking service is now run by like a couple zaps behind the scenes. And so, as a result, the business spends most of its time just trying to find more people, more customers, and find more lawnmowers. They don’t have to worry about the matchmaking process themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
And what was so cool about that is if someone would say, I imagine—we recently had a chat about side hustles with Nick Loper—but if someone were starting out as like a side hustle, and to think, “Oh, my gosh, this is going to be so hard. I’ve got build a mobile app that has all of this connectivity with all this people.” And then, no, they just sort of hacked together like with Google Sheets and some other stuff and Zapier a means of getting the job done without the huge investment, Uber or Lyft or some stuff, just made into that.

Wade Foster
Totally, right? Those folks made hundreds of millions of dollars to build their stuff, and this person did it with a handful of apps, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. Well, so I’d love to hear then – so that’s a pretty cool use case – so let’s talk about those professionals you mentioned, the lawyer, the real estate agents, the knowledge worker, the engineer, some stuff that is super popular and effective and helpful to automate, like it shows up again and again and again, and the time savings can be substantial.

Wade Foster
Yeah, the thing that I see happen and over and over again is sort of managing requests and interactions and relationships with other people. So, you’re often seeing this in the form of customer relationships. A customer, or a lead, or a prospect fills out a form on a website, “And let’s make sure that they get logged in our CRM, or logged in our mailing list, or the sales rep gets a text message to say, ‘Hey, you should call this lead,’ or something like that.”

But, oftentimes, it can be internal employees. Think about like an HR function, they have a form setup that says, “Hey, who’s going to come to the holiday party? Like, fill out this form real quick so we know how much food to order and like what your dietary restrictions are and whatnot.” And then get logged in a spreadsheet and then text the person a response back or sends them an email to say, “Hey, we got your order and we’ve got you booked to get the chicken at the holiday party,” or whatever. And that all sort of happens automatically.

But there’s a lot of use cases around just managing and communicating with people, whether it’s customers, or employees, or fans, or your community, or things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And, I guess, the next stuff I was thinking about what you should not automate. And I guess what I’m thinking about, I think it was Ryan Deiss. And he was talking about when you automate outbound marketing messages too much, you have a real risk of embarrassing yourself and looking dumb. And I think that I’ve seen that with PR people reaching out to me, “Hey, Pete, we think so and so would be great for your podcast.” Like, “Yeah, I’ve already had them on my podcast.”

This happens to me multiple times a week. And that’s a whole conversation, like, “Isn’t that the first thing you did was figure out what shows this guy is getting booked on so you can have great recommendations for applicable shows?” But, whatever. We’re not here to throw publicists under the bus. I was talking about some of the risks or where is it unwise. I think that’s one zone is I think if you let automation run amok on sort of outbound messages.

Wade Foster
Yeah, non opt-in channels, like things like that. You obviously don’t want to go and buy an email list and then upload in this system and then bulk spam a bunch of people. That doesn’t feel good. But when you have a form that a customer filled out, and you’re sending them a confirmation email to say, “Hey, we got your request,” like people expect that. That feels normal.

So, I think those are pretty safe when you’re talking about direct customer communication. And then I think things around just making sure that that information gets logged in the right system so that you can track that stuff. Did you get a project spun up in your project management tool? Did you get them logged in Airtable or a spreadsheet so that you have that and know to follow up on those things? Kind of the back-office paperwork type stuff rather than the direct customer interaction but how to make sure that you’re properly managing the relationship. That kind of stuff is like a sweet spot for automation, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so there’s one sweet spot we’re talking about, the customer request and getting them processed and connected and moving to where they need to go. Any other kind of broad categories that show up a lot?

Wade Foster
The other big one we see a lot is things like, “How do you just collect all of the inputs for like a project?” Think of project management at work, or you’ve got a program that’s running, and you’re getting feedback in this plate, in something like Jira, you’re getting requests that come in from a customer via email, you’re getting a feature request that comes from your boss. You’re getting all these inputs from all these different directions.

And Zapier can help you consolidate a lot of that into one centralized system, whether it’s a spreadsheet, or Airtable, or CRM, or a project management tool that basically says, “All this information that’s coming at me from 10 different places, all of which is important, and I don’t want to go check 10 different places. I want to just see it in one list.” That’s a place where Zapier is just super helpful, Pete, for people who do project management and things like of this nature.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, so now I want to get even more precise. When it comes to Zapier, like what are the kind of absolute kind of most used zaps in terms of, “When I get an email about this, I want you to put it in Google Sheets like that”? So, in terms of when this program does this, trigger action, what combos are you seeing like have bazillions of, sort of installations or usages?

Wade Foster
Yeah, I think any sort of things like, “A customer paid me,” or, “Someone filled out my form on my website,” or, “Someone sent me an email,” that post a message into Slack sends you an alert, says, “Hey, this thing happened,” that’s really, really popular. Also, things like, “I got a lead through Facebook, a lead came in through Facebook, or LinkedIn, or Google, and I want to make sure a sales rep follows up on it instantly, so automatically route that into Salesforce or some other CRM,” things like that are really popular on Zapier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I wanted this before, because I clicked around Zapier. So, now if you don’t have the thing that I want, can I find a developer to go make that for me?

Wade Foster
Yeah, so there’s a couple things you can do if we don’t have what you want. So, we have things like our inbound email action. So, if the app you have or working with that isn’t supported by Zapier, but it sends out email alerts, you can use that to have emails forwarded into Zapier. You can use things like RSS which, if it generates an RSS feed, we accept RSS.

If the service provides webhooks, which is kind of a more technical thing, but usually not that hard to learn even if you’re not a developer, you just point the webhook at Zapier, and say, “Zapier, accept this.” And if the service you’re working doesn’t have any of those things, you can go track down a developer or a Zapier expert. At zapier.com/experts, we have a whole list of experts that help with more complicated workflows, and say, “Hey, can you help me get Zapier to work with this tool, where I might need a developer to dig under the hood and play around with some codes and some APIs a little bit?” So, there’s a lot. So, that’s kind of the way that most folks approach it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool to hear because I have, at times, I visit Upwork.com and found some people to code some things for me.
Okay, so if folks are digging this and they say, “I want to get started,” I imagine you’d say, “Well, go to Zapier.com.” But what are some other tips or strategies you’d recommend for folks who want to start automating and offloading some of the stuff they’re doing all the time?

Wade Foster
That’s a great question. I was talking to one of our experts, and he made this comment that automation is a mindset, it’s not a skill, which I thought was interesting. And the reason he said that was most people don’t even think about automation when they think about their to-do list on a given day. And so, he said, “One of the ways that I train people to get better at this is to start writing down what do you do every day, just write it down on a piece of paper. Or, when you write down your to-do list, don’t think, ‘How am I going to do this?’ Instead think, ‘How does this get done?’”

And shifting the way you think about your to-do list to not, “I have to do this,” to, “How does this get done?” starts to open your mind up to, “Well, perhaps I can delegate that thing to Zapier,” or, “Maybe I delegate something like this to an EA,” or, “Maybe I delegate this to a person that’s on my team.” But there’s other ways to get stuff done that don’t always involve you specifically, directly doing the task.

And I thought that such a smart way to help folks get into that automation mindset to step back and really understand where you’re spending time on stuff on a day-to-day basis, that maybe you don’t need to be spending that time on those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that is a cool mindset shift. Any other tools you’d recommend in terms of getting the job done? So, Zapier is handy and flexible and can do a lot. But things that either make automation happen or just keep work processes from being too boring or cumbersome.

Wade Foster
I think the other up-and-comer alongside Zapier that I see a lot is Airtable. So, Airtable is kind of like a souped-up spreadsheet database-type tool, and it’s kind hard to like describe it in a way that sounds really fun and interesting but, boy, do people love it. They start to get their hands on it, and they just find all sorts of interesting ways to do automation with Zapier and Airtable, and better manage a lot of projects and work that they’ve got coming in.

So, Airtable, similar to Zapier, we have a list of zaps all over the site that you can check out and use. Airtable also has their universe and a gallery that shows all the different ways you can use Airtable, which I think is a pretty fun place to go exploring.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, I’ll tell you this, I have heard Airtable mentioned here and there, but I don’t actually have any conception of what it is. I’m on Airtable.com right now.

Wade Foster
It’s like a spreadsheet but it’s like better. It’s hard to say because it’s one of those things that you just have to play with it. And as soon as you play with it for a little bit, you’re like, “Oh, I see why this is better.” But until you do, it’s one of those things that people will go, “Yeah, I guess, I use spreadsheets and I think spreadsheets are good.” So, I don’t know. You should have Howie come on your podcast and he can tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s intriguing. As I’m seeing right now, like there’s an Airtable, it looks like a spreadsheet, but they also have photos in there and notes in there. And those are kind of hard to do to stick a photo in an Excel or a Google Sheet.

Wade Foster
Totally. And you can put files in them. So, you can just like stuff more things in them, more like a database, like what you do with a database. But then you can visualize it in all sorts of ways. So, you can turn your spreadsheet into like a Kanban board, kind of like Trello would be, or you can do a bunch of pivot tables but in a way that you don’t have to know what a pivot table is. So, stuff like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I know deeply about pivot tables as a former strategy consultant.

Wade Foster
Oh, yes. Yes. But like most people don’t know what pivot tables are, and Airtable makes it easy to do it, and you wouldn’t even know you’re doing a pivot table. You’d just be like, “Oh, that’s a handy little thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Wade, I hope you have not incepted me with this new desire which is going to result in 10 or 20 bucks a month departing my wallet continually. I’m a sucker. I love tools that help me do more, and I very easily justify their expenditure, like, “Well, this saves me just six minutes a month. It’s a bargain,” and maybe it is.

Wade Foster
Well, hopefully, with things like Zapier and Airtable, we’re doing more than six minutes a month. Hopefully, we’re digging into the hours and days a month buck territory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s just how I persuade myself, “Well, surely, more than six minutes, and that’s all we need to be based on these parameters.”

Wade Foster
Totally, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, Airtable is handy. Any other tools leap to mind?

Wade Foster
You know, Airtable is great. I think tools like Typeform or Wufoo are really popular these days for putting in forms.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, a new level of form.

Wade Foster
Yeah, Typeform is really slick. There’s another up-and-comer coming up called Coda that’s been pretty interesting. I’ve seen a lot of our people playing around with.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you spell Coda, C-O-D-A?

Wade Foster
Yes, C-O-D-A. So, it’s a document software. So, the cool thing about Coda is if you spell it backwards, it’s a doc.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh. Coda.io.

Wade Foster
Yeah, Coda.io. So, it’s like a Google Doc but similar to like how Airtable is like a spreadsheet, it’s so much more under the hood. And you can do all these like cool little macros, and like nifty things that make your doc more living and breathing, and auto updates based on other project software that you work with. So, it’s one of those ones that if you fashion yourself to be kind of on the cutting edge of new things. I’m seeing a lot of folks play around with Coda these days.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, while we’re talking about project management and stuff, do you have a point of view on monday.com versus Asana versus the others?

Wade Foster
You know, I don’t have a strong point of view. You see monday, you see Asana, you see Trello, then you see stuff more on the personal side like Todoist or maybe…

Pete Mockaitis
OmniFocus.

Wade Foster
Yeah, OmniFocus, there you go. Yeah, so stuff like that. Honestly, I think people work in different ways, so whatever works for you. Like, each of these tools have their own little design paradigms and ways that you approach this stuff. I think what’s more important is that you find habits that you can stick to. And if the software helps you stick to that habit, that’s probably the one you should do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, and if the software gets in the way because you’re always tinkering and fiddling and formatting and customizing because your dorky little productivity sensibilities are firing off, and in a way that’s fun.

Wade Foster
Yeah, that’s a good time.

Pete Mockaitis
And if that makes work more thankfully enjoyable but I have, at times, saying, “Wait a minute. This is actually counterproductive work.”

Wade Foster
Yeah, it’s a bit of a form of procrastination, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. “I’ve got my formatting just perfect now. Oh, anybody know…?”

Wade Foster
Yeah, “What else can I do before I actually do the thing on my to-do list?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, hey, there’s one mistake not to make. Any other things you would flag in terms of a warning, or a common mistake, or failure when folks are trying to optimize and automate stuff?

Wade Foster
You know, I think one thing that’s really easy to get caught up with is the sort of hamster wheel of just working through your to-do list, like constantly just adding things to your to-do list, and continuing to trudge through them. I think the most sort of successful folks that I’ve worked with do this exercise. It’s not really an exercise, some of them don’t even know that they’re doing it. But they really have a clear grasp on what it is that they want to do, like what it is that they want to achieve over a longer period of time.

So, they might say, “In the next year, I want X,” or, “In the next five years, I want Y,” or, “In the next 10 years, I want to have Z.” And then they start to work backwards from that. And then when they look at their to-do list on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, yeah, there’s some stuff that you just kind of got to do to make sure that the bills get paid and whatnot. But they continually remember, “What is it that I’m trying to achieve over the long haul?” And they make sure that every day, they’ve got some things on their to-do list that kind of pushes them forward on that rung.

And so that way, they’re not getting stuck in this hamster wheel where, after five years, they look up and go, “I’ve done a lot of work, I’ve checked a lot of to-do’s off over the last five years. I haven’t really done anything. I haven’t really achieved what mattered to me.” And so, I think doing that just mental exercise of, “What is it that I want? What do I want for myself? What do I want to contribute to humanity over the next year?” And really understand that is a very important step for optimizing your work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Wade, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Wade Foster
Let’s do some favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite quote?

Wade Foster
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study?

Wade Foster
Favorite study? I did a lot of math and science in school but, lately, I’ve been studying a bunch of like writing rhetoric tricks.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Tell me examples, please.

Wade Foster
So, I picked up this book, and every week I write a Friday update for the team, and it’s like it’s usually some stuff that’s on my mind to help them just better see the bigger picture. And the book has like, I don’t know, 50 different rhetoric tricks in it. And so, every week I write the update, and then I’ll go read one of the rhetoric tricks. And then I’ll go back through my update and find a way to use it as part of it.

So, this week, syllepsis was the thing that I was using as part my Friday update. So, I dropped a couple of syllepses, I don’t even know, like, some of these things I don’t even know the plural of it, into the update. And then I use it as a way just to teach the team some little writing tips and tricks throughout the week.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I always get it mixed up. Is syllepsis the one like, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”?

Wade Foster
Syllepsis is kind of like where you would use a single word to sort of…it’s used with two other parts of a sentence, but then that same word is understood differently in relationship to each other. So, for example, “They covered themselves with dust and glory,” That’s a quote from Mark Twain. Well, covered with dust and covered with glory, like that’s two different ways to be covered. You’re still using the same word covered, but dust is like a physical thing, and glory is like more abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it feels awesome. It has a name and it’s used frequently in some of the word. Well, now, we’re all wondering what the name of this book.

Wade Foster
Oh, shoot, I have to find it. Let’s see, let me pull it up on my Kindle. So, the name of this book, I’m pulling it up here real quick, is The Elements of Eloquence is the name of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Wade Foster
It’s got a fancy title and everything.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s probably a name for that literary device right there.

Wade Foster
I’m sure there is. It’s “Elements of Eloquence,” it has some literation in there, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And who’s the author?

Wade Foster
So, the author for this book is Mark Forsyth.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right on.

Wade Foster
Just some of my writing friends said, “You’ve got to check this out. It’ll help you be more persuasive. It’ll help you write cooler things.” And I was like, “I’d like to sound more persuasive. I’d like to write cooler things.” So, I picked it up and I’m having fun with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. So, let’s see, there’s a book. How about a favorite tool?

Wade Foster
Can I say Zapier?

Pete Mockaitis
You can but give me another one as well.

Wade Foster
I’ll give you another one. So, one of the ones I’m really loving right now is this tool called Workona, which is a Chrome extension, that helps you manage all your tabs. So, if you’re like me, you might be a tab order, where you’ll have tens, maybe dozens of tabs open at the same time, but they’re all disorganized, and you can’t find the tab that you want.

Well, Workona helps you organize your tabs based on projects. So, for example, if you’re trying to plan a wedding, and you had a set of tabs for weddings, you could put that in one workspace. You had another set of tabs that was for meal planning. Maybe you’d put those in a different workspace. Then if you’ve got a set of tabs for this project you’re doing at work, that would go in a different workspace. So, as you switch back and forth between contexts, you can pop open those set of tabs all at once, rather than keeping all the tabs for all of those projects open at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoa! So, it’s kind of like I can bookmark a site, but that’ll take me to one site, but with Workona I can sort of save a collection of tabs.

Wade Foster
You’ve got it.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like when I need to get down to business and decide what goes in the podcast episode, get open up my Google Drive on my podcast files, and then open up my media schedule in a Google Sheet on another tab, and then open up my email with Superhuman on a third tab, and it could just save that for me.

Wade Foster
Totally, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty cool.

Wade Foster
Yeah, and when you think about how you do work, at least how I do work, it’s often thematically the same. So, it’s like when I sit down to do this set of things, I always have these windows open up. But if I’m doing a different task, it’s a different set of windows. And so, I can save those workspaces and come back to them really quick, which is nice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. Workona, W-O-R-K-O-N-A.

Wade Foster
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite habit?

Wade Foster
My favorite habit, honestly, this is my cornerstone habit, it’s my exercise habit. So, at 5:30, I’m usually heading to the gym to play racket ball or do some weightlifting, and everything feeds off of this habit. I exhaust myself at the end of the day, it takes my mind off of work. I come home and I’m able to eat dinner and get a good night’s sleep because I’m exhausted from working out hard. Then I wake up early in the morning, fresh and resilient for the next day’s things that I have to do. So, that exercise habit is really important for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with your teams and those you collaborate with that really seems to connect and resonate with them?

Wade Foster
Our set of values that we have as a company are probably the things that resonate deeply. So, we have things like default to action, default to transparency, empathy no ego, growth through feedback, and, “Don’t be a robot, build a robot,” are a set of core values. These are things that we use in part of our hiring process. We use it as part of our performance reviews. And we even have like Reacji emojis inside of Slack to sort of illustrate when people are operating with the values in mind. And these things, it’s just become a part of our DNA, and it resonates with everyone that works at Zapier.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, “Don’t be a robot, build a robot,” is a great mantra even if you’re not building automation software. But, no, seriously, don’t do the same process hundreds of times over, find a means by which that could be automated. I heard someone say, “Hey, if your definition of automation can include other people who are not you, you know?” So, for example, if there is a job could be done by someone in a lower-cost nation, for example.

Wade Foster
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Or someone who has a lower cost of labor because they’re an intern or don’t have a college degree because it’s not necessary, then that could be handy too if you build a process that has a lot of sort of software automation as well as other people such that you’re bringing down the total time load and cost load to the organization and yourself to make it done. So, that follows up to that mindset shift of not, “How am I going to do this?” but rather, “How is this going to get done?”

Wade Foster
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
And by building a robot or the systems and processes.

Wade Foster
You bet.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s going to stick with me. Thank you.

Wade Foster
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Wade Foster
Come check out Zapier.com. You can get in touch with me on Twitter, I’m pretty active there @wadefoster. And my email is not too hard to find, so if you’re really keen on getting in touch with me, email is always a good way too.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Wade Foster
I think just go get it. Go automate the stuff. Go find ways to work better. Why are you listening to us for? Go make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Wade, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you and Zapier tons of luck and keep on rocking.

Wade Foster
Yeah, thanks for having me, Pete.

442: How to Spend Less Time Doing Email with Dianna Booher

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Dianna Booher says: "If you can't write your message in a sentence, you can't say it in an hour."

Dianna Booher shares invaluable advice on how to minimize your email inbox and write more effective and efficient emails.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how much time you can save through email optimization
  2. How to reduce useless emails and optimize your inbox
  3. How to compose better emails in less time using the M-A-D-E structure

About Dianna

Dianna Booher’s lifework has centered around communication. As author of 48 books, translated into 60 foreign language editions, she has traveled the globe, talking with clients and organizations on six continents about communication challenges they face at work and at home.

Her firm works with organizations to help them communicate clearly. During her more than three decades at BooherResearch Institute and earlier at Booher Consultants, she and her team have provided communication training programs, coaching, and consulting to governmental agencies and more than one third of the Fortune 500 organizations.

The national media frequently interview Booher for opinions on communication issues, and she blogs regularly for Microsoft, Forbes, and The CEO Magazine.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dianna Booher Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dianna, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Dianna Booher
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. I think we’re going to get into some really important stuff. Your book is just a bullseye, I think, and for many professionals that they need to hear. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about you. You say you’re afraid of heights, yet you have 4 million frequent flyer miles in American Airlines. What’s the story here?

Dianna Booher
I don’t know. I’m going to blame it on my mom. You know, we blame everything on our parents. She used to tell me, when I was growing up, I was going to catch my shoelaces in the escalator, you know, “Jump off quickly. Quickly.” And I guess that’s where it came from, I don’t know, but I had been known to even walk over and ask total strangers if I could hold onto their shoulder or their elbow going down an escalator. I just step…

Pete Mockaitis
What do they tell you?

Dianna Booher
“Yes, yes.” At a trade show, would you believe, it was a competitor. She was standing at the top of an escalator about to go down, and I humbled myself to go over and say, “I am totally afraid to get on an escalator. Could I hold onto your arm?” And she just burst out to a hysterical laughter, and said, “Of course.” And it broke the ice, actually, it improved the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Was this a training competitor?

Dianna Booher
Yes, it was, a competitor of my training company. But I’ve even tried to get over it by going on tours, or climbing a mountain, doing something to go to this big lookout, and probably every country that I’ve visited, about 60 of them, and I would start off with my husband, you know, and this group and we’re going to go, and I would get to the first or second little stop, and just cling to the side of the mountain till I came back down. I just can’t do it. I just freeze.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe someday.

Dianna Booher
Someday.

Pete Mockaitis
But, nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped you from flying, and building, and selling a training business, so congratulations on that as well. That’s cool. But you’re still in the game somewhat because you wrote a new book, Faster, Fewer, Better Emails. Very on topic, I think, for a lot of us. So, tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dianna Booher
Well, basically, it’s about productivity and, of course, the writing skill because you want to be on message. But it increases productivity three ways. It gives strategies to reduce the volume that’s about to engulf everyone, it helps you write the necessary emails better so you get the action you want, and, really, the third way it increases your productivity is it helps you write faster because you’re thinking more clearly, and you say the right thing the first time and not have to do it over and over and over.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, that sounds great.

Dianna Booher
So, basically, that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe let’s talk about the why for a second. So, I know I don’t like having a ton of emails hanging out of my inbox. It feels kind of uncomfortable, just a low-level anxiety exists in my psyche when I’ve got it. And I know, listeners, I owe you some messages but you’re not forgotten. It will happen. That’s like two babies.

Dianna Booher
I think most people feel stressed about their email, or at least that’s what a report, you know, when we did our major survey, which is sort of the basis of all the strategies that we give in the book. Well, we surveyed people for more than 30 different organizations across all industries. And we found people are really, really stressed out by their email and not only at work but when they go home, they’re logging back in afterhours and on the weekends to just keep up with it, to start off even again the next Monday.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, so could you maybe give us the lay of the land then? You got the survey, some research, some study. Can we get some numbers on kind of what sort of time are we talking about and what kind of time could be saved if we were doing it faster, fewer, better?

Dianna Booher
Well, two to three hours a day, and that’s conservative, according to the research, and we found that 42% of the respondents spend three or more hours a day doing email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dianna Booher
And that’s just astounding to me because for many people that’s not their core job. We’re not talking about people whose job it is to sit there like customer service agent maybe whose job it is all day to sit there and respond to email. But maybe their core job is doing an engineering project, or arriving a feasibility study, or doing an engineering report. But that’s just on top of their regular job.

In fact, a story that one CEO was talking about, he was talking to a reporter, actually this story was passed on to me, but the reporter was asking about the volume of email. And he said, “Well, I have a project here that would probably take me an hour and a half to finish, but because I get so much email in here, it’s probably going to take me the rest of the afternoon to do it.” And that was at 1:30 in the afternoon.

So, Pete, the idea is that people just can’t get to their real work because of keeping their email up, staying through the inbox, going through it all the time. And we just found out a lot of things with the email that I was really surprised to know, and that comment from that CEO. It reminds me 55% of our respondents said that they check their email at least every hour.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Dianna Booher
In other words, they just leave it open, and they’re continually checking their email rather than focusing on their core work, and checking it two or three times a day, which is what I recommend in the book. You check it when you come in the morning, maybe check it after lunch and before you go home so you can respond to things that people are waiting on. And it’s either waiting for them before they go home or the next morning. But some people just, as things pop into their box, they handle it so they’re continually disrupted and distracted from what they’re doing.

Another thing that was surprising to me, since you’re asking about surprising things, 31%, in other words, one out of three people said that they spent more than 20 minutes every day just searching for information because they’re disorganized. And so, when they need to send an email or type something, they don’t file documents, they don’t title them consistently so they’re looking for things. They just kind of haphazardly put this here, put that there. So, when somebody says, “Can you send me the numbers on this? Or, can you send me data for that?” they’re searching. And some people said they spend up to an hour a day just searching for things. That’s where the disorganization really cost them a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if I guess some would say, “Well, hey, email is sort of part of life.” Just how much savings of time are you seeing when you implement some of these best practices?

Dianna Booher
Well, we have not asked per se different organizations to give us savings. Now, we have on our writing programs. So, when we’re teaching writing programs, before I sold my training organization last year, we surveyed every three years, and we ask organizations to report how much time they saved in writing time. And the average participant, or in the average organization came back to us and said they saved upward of 35% on their writing time, and also, we had to measure reading time.

Now, this was self-report, and we would say, “All right,” when they started, before they went through our program, we would say, “How much time do you spend writing normally? And then how much time have you reduced it?” Not just the next day, well, they remembered all the techniques we gave them. But we would ask organizations, not us, but the organization, their HR department, their training department, go back and ask them three months later, “How much would you say you’ve estimated reducing your writing time?” And the average would be upward of 35%. So, that’s a tremendous savings in just their thinking process.

And then also in reading time, we asked them to do the same thing for their executives’ perspective, you know, all the documents that are coming to them, and basically their job is reading, you know, decide, approve, buy this, consider, have a meeting on that. But all of that is coming to them in written form before they take those actions. And if they can cut the length of documents going to them, then obviously, and particularly if they’re copying six people or 42 people, then they’re saving a lot of reading time. So, it’s another way to measure.

But we’ve also had a client who actually literally, literally measured paperwork, because a lot of people don’t want to keep their screen time so they’ll print out, believe it or not in this day and age, they’ll print out a lot of emails and take it with them on the airplane to read, or take it with them in a briefcase, take it with them on the road while somebody else is driving, if they have a lot of commute time on the train, etc.

And so, this one client literally measured paperwork, how much paperwork did they have before they started this program, and then how much six months later less trash. And that’s an engineering company as you can imagine that would do that. And so, that’s another metric, so reading time and just thinking time and preparation time. So, there’s a lot of ways to measure that we let organizations themselves measure the effect.

And, of course, the results and if their salespeople are measuring the closing rate. If they can’t close a proposal, but after they learned to write better and they have a better closing rate on their emails and proposals where they’re dealing with their clients, that’s a measure as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so much good stuff. All right. Well, I’m sold. Hey, 35% on two to three hours a day, one HR a day, that’s huge. What could you do with that? Wow. So, let’s get into each of it. So, when it comes to, say, first of all, I just got a boatload of emails. How do we tackle that?

Dianna Booher
Well, there are several strategies to cut paperwork and just to reduce the volume. Let me give you one of the pieces before you understand how these strategies play out. When we ask people, “What are the kinds of emails that you get that are just totally unnecessary?” They said, let me check here, “Thirty-two percent of the emails that we get are totally either redundant or irrelevant.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dianna Booher
And when they defined what they meant, it either doesn’t apply to them. In other words, they’re on somebody’s distribution list and it’s long outlived its usefulness, they don’t need to be on that list anymore. So, people, they put together a list for this project or this certain kind of monthly report, and then they no longer need to get it, but people, rather than cleaning their distribution list, they’re just still sending it over and over so that just clutters their box.

Or, they have no interest in it. They never were interested in getting this information. So, every morning when you come in, and you look at your email, a third of it you don’t need or it’s redundant. Six people have sent you the same thing. So, just cleaning your distribution list and deleting and unsubscribing, rather than just deleting. If for all eternity you don’t need this, then unsubscribe, don’t just delete it. Of course, it takes a little bit longer to take three steps to un-delete, and the safe unsubscribe always asks you, “Why do you want to un-delete? Is this the right email? Why do not want it? Did you not sign up, etc.?” That’ll take you three clicks rather than delete which takes you one click, but then you’re out of it for good. You don’t keep getting it every Tuesday morning, etc.

But here are the kind of strategies that I’m talking about in the book. In fact, the first chapter gives 12 of these. But, throughout, you’ll come up with about 30 or 40, throughout the whole book. But let me talk about some of those that are the most troublesome that clogs up your email. And that is using your email box for a to-do list.

A lot of people open up their email, and they think, “Oh, I need to do something, but I can’t do it right now. I need to finish so and so,” or, “I need to collect this information but I don’t have it.” And rather than schedule that task, pull that over, put it on a calendar, or make a physical note of it if they need to do that, they just leave it open in their email box, and then they open the next thing, “Oh, I need to call so and so. Well, I don’t want to forget that,” and they just leave it in their email box.

And so, pretty soon they’ve got 15 open emails and they keep having to read through those. Then the next day, they don’t remember, “What was that? What was that detail? When was that due?” And they have to read through those. Oh, every time they come across it, they have to keep reading through it and reading through it to remember. So, it clutters up their box, it creates re-reading. So, when they come across something like that, they need to act on it. They need to either move it, file it, make another note of when they’re going to do it, move it over on their calendar, and just get it out of the inbox. It is not your to-do list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if there’s a to-do item, it doesn’t belong in the inbox but it should be not forgotten and placed elsewhere. So, do you just have like a separate folder or a label called To-Do or what is it called?

Dianna Booher
Yes, yes, you can have it separate. There are several ways to handle it. If you’re using Microsoft Office 365, you literally could pull that email over on a date to handle it. Let’s say you’re waiting for information to go in that email. Before you can respond, you’re going to get some data next Wednesday on it, then you can literally pull it over to next Thursday because you’re getting the information on Wednesday, and now you can respond on Thursday. You just literally drag it over on that pane.

Or you can make a note. Let’s say you have a paper calendar where you have a list of to-dos. You just make a note, “Respond to Jack about so and so,” and then file that document with that client if it’s merged with your CRM system, your customer management system. Just file it. Or, if you want to, you can have a folder that says “To-Dos” and just pull it in that folder, and then check that folder every morning for what you’re going to do, or schedule it on a certain day. Any number of ways. The point is don’t leave it in your inbox because you just keep having to re-read it and think, “What was this supposed to do? What were the details of that? What was the deadline of that, etc.?”
Pete Mockaitis
I dig it.

Dianna Booher
Yeah. And another thing that clutters up and disrupts people and distracts them from their core work that I was talking about is what I call piling on or hanging on. And what I mean by piling on, let’s say a manager, or just anybody, is working on a project, and they’ve written a document, and they want some feedback, or they’re just sending it out for input. And they send it out, and say, “I’m getting ready to forward this up to chain to such and such. Is everybody okay with it? Or do you have anything to add?”

Well, if you read it, instead of everybody hitting Reply All, and saying, “It’s fine. It looks fine to me. Okay. I don’t have anything to add,” and cluttering up 27 boxes with meaningless comments that all say the same thing, don’t do that, don’t use that Reply All. And not only are you at fault if you’re doing that kind of reply, but also the person who sent that out is creating the clutter too. What you really should do is if you want input, you want feedback, is to say something like, “I’ve put together such and such report that I’m getting ready to mail to Joe Schmo on this date. After you review it, if you have any comments or changes, please reply to me individually. Otherwise, no actions taken. If you see no changes, please no action is necessary.”

And then that takes care of it. You don’t expect any reaction. You don’t need 27 people to hit your inbox with meaningless comments, basically, all saying, “It’s okay. I don’t have any changes.” So, you see how people, they create sometimes their own clutter. You should just ask for an exception, “If you have an exception, email me back. If you have a change, email me back. But if you’re fine with this, no action is necessary.” So, it’s not only the person who’s doing the cluttering by hitting Reply All, but it’s the person who’s asking for the feedback, they’re not asking sometimes in the best way possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. It’s nice and clear. So, you put that out there. Lovely. How else do we slim that inbox?

Dianna Booher
Well, I think what I call piling on is similar to that but a little different. And I think people do it for relationship building but after a while it’s just clutter. Somebody is out sick, say, for example, and they send an email, and say, “I’m not coming in today. I’ve got the flu,” and all of a sudden they get 14 emails back, “Oh, sorry, you’re sick. Sorry, you’re sick. See you tomorrow, buddy. Take it easy. No problem. We don’t want the germs,” you know. All of a sudden you got 17 emails again that interrupt everybody else’s work.

Occasionally, if some over-the-top odd, unusual circumstance, then, okay, that might be necessary. And, occasionally, you do that kind of thing to build camaraderie. But when you do that routinely with just meaningless responses, it’s distraction, distraction, distraction, distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And you could show your support with an individual reply, you know, without involving everybody.

Dianna Booher
Yes, right. Right. Another issue that’s a problem or a thing that people need to think about is just using email for things that email was never designed for. When we first got into big email in a big way back in the ‘90s, people used email for everything because basically that was our only communication connection system, and so we used it to schedule things, we used it to invite people places, we used it for project management, we used it to collaborate with teams. It was just the all-purpose tool.

But that’s not the case anymore. There are all kinds of more appropriate software packages for specific tools. For example, Pete, when you schedule interviews, you use, what is it? Calendly that you use.

Pete Mockaitis
Calendly, yeah.

Dianna Booher
If you’re doing project management, there’s Basecamp, there’s Asana, there’s Workzone, there’s Slack, there’s all kind of project management tools and communication tools so that all of your comments as a group working on a project can move over to that area and be together without cluttering up your email. Whatever tool that’s more appropriate, take it off your email so that it’s done efficiently.

If you’re using Microsoft 365, and you’re trying to setup a meeting with three people, I mean, you’ve seen people go back and forth on their email, like, “But we really need to get together to discuss this. Are you up at the end of the week?” And somebody else replies back, “I can’t do it at the end of the week. I’m going to be out for a couple of days. We’re closing our new house. How about early next week?” Of course, he emails back, “Well, I’m going to be traveling Tuesday. How about Wednesday after 4:00?” “No, I can’t.” And they get six emails going back and forth trying to set a time when, on Microsoft, they could just say, “Cortana, find an open place on our calendars and schedule the meeting,” and it’s done.

So, my principle here, use appropriate software to do tasks that email was never appropriate, it’s just not the appropriate tool now. Maybe in the ‘90s it was. It’s no longer the appropriate tool. So, email is used only for correspondence.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, so, now I want to dig into a little bit of the composition side of things. You’ve got a framework, which I want to hit in a moment. But, first, I’d love to get just, you mentioned that you saw some cool results with regard to sales folks having better close rates, or I imagine also opening things up with a cold email and starting a conversation. What are some of your tips for just, generally speaking, writing emails that get responses maybe when you’re reaching out to someone for the first time?

Dianna Booher
Well, several things here. You always want to be specific. The reason a lot of people don’t get action on their emails is they’re just not specific about the action. They write to inform but they don’t persuade. Now, I’m not talking about hard sales. I’m just talking about that need to ask for an action. It’s amazing how many people who are in sales who don’t really ask for the next step, “So, can we meet with you to give you a trial run through this? Can we setup a tour? Can we do such and such?” They have to be very specific about time and date, a task.

The greeting needs to be tailored. You get a lot of emails that you know have gone to the whirls, so to speak. They send it to their entire database because it doesn’t use your name and there’s nothing in there that is specific to you, and there’s no indication that they know anything about you or remember anything about you from a previous conversation. So, there needs to be some tie to what you said previously.

I think it’s also important, in the subject line, that that subject line is not mysterious. I know if you are writing ads on TV, if you’re doing something for the Super Bowl, okay, you’ve got to be clever and cute and whatever, but that’s not email. Email, I call them sublines, S-U-B, and that stands for they need to be specific, they need to be useful, and they need to be brief. So, if you can take the S-U-B, specific, useful, and brief because…

Pete Mockaitis
Otherwise, you’re an S-O-B. I couldn’t resist it. You probably heard that dozens of times.

Dianna Booher
No, no. Quit pranking there, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you bet.

Dianna Booher
But people prioritize by their subject lines. When they’re busy and they’re on their phone, and they’re sitting at the gym waiting on their…sitting at the soccer field waiting on their child to finish the sports workout or whatever, and they’re going through 42 emails, and they’re trying to decide, “Read now, read later, or wait till I get home. Wait till I get back to the office in the morning,” etc. They’ve got to decide and prioritize.

And so, you’ve got to tell them immediately, and some of them actually just read the subject line and decide to delete and make the decision whether, “I’m going to open or send it to somebody else.” So, they need to be able to tell exactly what it is and see what’s in it for them. So, if you could put the action that you want in the subject line, that’s much better.

A lot of times, people just use a topic in their subject line. And what’s far better is to use a headline. Can you imagine reading the newspaper tonight and seeing something like, “Congress. Veto. Terrorist Attack. Weather?” You don’t. You see something like, “Terrorist attack kills 52 people in Malaysia,” or Sri Lanka, or whatever. Or you see, “Trump vetoes X, Y, Z legislation.” Or, “Congress passes X, Y, Z bill.” You see a message, and that’s what you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
this weekend.

Dianna Booher
Yeah, your subject line needs to say something not just introduce a topic. And that’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
You can say this with slide headlines too as opposed to just like report, data, survey. It’s like, “Well, tell me what I’m supposed to take away from this survey, otherwise we might all just draw our own interpretations,” which, if that was what you were going for, that’s okay. But usually it’s not. Usually, you’re trying to tell a story.

Dianna Booher
Right. I was coaching, I coached six executives last week, I was coaching them on executive…they’re already executives but I was coaching them to polish their executive presence and when they actually do a presentation to the board of directors. And we went through the entire slide decks. And, by far, most of them just had a topic as their slide. And I was saying, “Well, what’s the walkaway here? You’re talking about your revenue. But what about your revenue? Are you talking about your goals or are you saying you’re not going to meet your goals, you are going to meet your goals, your goals are falling short of what your budget, or your revenue, or your profitability? Is it that you’re not going to meet your profitability goals for the next quarter? What is the point about that?”

And they, finally, got it. And then once they understood, “We’re going for a headline here, if they could just read this and didn’t see anything on that slide, or they didn’t read anything in that email, could they walk away with a point?” And then they got it. And that’s key in email.

Another thing, too, that keeps people from even seeing your email is the habit, and it’s kind of a recent trend, of putting favorite quotes in the signature block, and putting images in the signature block. It wasn’t a big deal until about five years ago, or maybe it was about eight or 10 years ago, people started putting an image for their signature. Instead of typing it, they started writing, actually doing cursive, so to speak, and scanned it in, and they scan in their like, “Joan Smith,” and then they put that image there, and they’ll put their favorite quote, or they might put a banner, or their company logo.

Those are the kind of things that spam filters catch and keep things from being delivered. So, in the last three or four years, people have learned that, and they stopped doing that. But it’s really the spam filters are getting much more savvy about stripping those out and saying, “This is spam.” Being careful to not send those through from the outside. So, be careful about doing that, and use fewer images that will get clogged or get screened out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s some handy stuff in terms of getting the response. And so, now, let’s talk about the process you utilize to craft emails quickly and effectively.

Dianna Booher
Okay. Well, the book which talks about writing faster, fewer and better, there’s two parts to that. I don’t mean faster in the sense that you’re really going to type faster, or that you’re going to zap it all faster, there’s a faster way to get your email through technologically. What I mean by that is faster thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dianna Booher
If you do it better, and you think better, you will do it in a more complete fashion from the very beginning, and that will result in getting the action done the first time. Instead of having to write seven emails to correct the problem or to handle a situation, you’ll write one email that takes care of the whole situation.

And so, that’s what I mean about, overall, faster. Overall, the whole situation will be taken care of faster. And so, the thinking process, really, is to analyze your audience right up front. Do you have one reader or do you have multiple readers? Who should you really copy? A lot of people, if you think about this, Pete, a lot of people, they have a situation that they need to communicate about, they write the email, and then they think, “Okay, who should get a copy here?” That’s a totally wrong approach, because your email should be tailored according to, just like that slideshow we were talking about a minute ago. The email should be tailored according to who you’re writing to.

So, the first step is, “Who am I writing to? And then, what is their bottom-line message of interest?” If they could just read one sentence, what would that one sentence be? And why do they want to know this? What’s their interest about this situation? And then you ask yourself, “How are they going to use this information? I mean, are they going to actually do the action or are they just going to approve something? Are they just going to forward this email to somebody else, and somebody else is actually going to implement it? And if so, then I need to copy so and so because they need to actually implement it. Or maybe I should put the bulk of this information in an attachment for a reference so somebody can just print it off because they’re the doer, but the person I’m writing to is just the decision-maker on it. They’re just going to approve it, and then they can forward it to somebody else to actually implement this a month later.”

So, you see all those questions matter even in the format of what you’re sending. And then you ask yourself, “Okay, what do they already know about it?” Don’t tell people what they already know. And think about this, Pete, how many times do you get an email that starts off, “As you already know,” or, “As we discussed a couple of weeks ago,” and they spend a paragraph telling you what you already know.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dianna Booher
Or, “As we discussed in the meeting last week, blah, blah, blah.” And you think, “Yeah, I was in the meeting. Why are you wasting my time rehashing what we decided last week?” That’s a waste of time. So, think about that and then think the last question, and maybe the most important, is you ask yourself, “Okay, how are they going to react when I tell them this? When I give this one sentence overview message, are they going to be skeptical?” If so, that means you’ve got to add the why details to build credibility. “Are they going to be angry? Is somebody going to lose face? Are you creating extra work for them? Is this going to cost a lot more than they thought?”

There’s some typical negative reactions they might have. And that thinking dictates the details you’re going to put in. if you think there’s no negative reactions here, you may not include some of those details. So, that thinking, the answer those questions right up front, immediately tells you what details to include, and what you should omit, what’s just going to clutter it up. And then once you do that thinking, you’re home free, basically. You just arrange it in the MADE format.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the MADE format is the message, the action, the details, and the evidence.

Dianna Booher
Yes. And that’s what I spend a whole chapter on because that is what will revolutionize 95% of what you write. Literally, I’ve been stuck for three decades, I’ve been teaching writing, so I’ve literally read thousands and thousands, and probably hundreds of thousands of emails so I can say it with confidence. In all different industries, all different types of documents, 95% of what we write in the business world can be structured that way. And that is an overview message of one or two sentences, maybe three if it’s a really long document.

And then, so what action next? Based on that message, what do you want the reader to do? It could be a recommendation, big picture recommendation, or it could be a follow-up action. You might be saying, “So, based on that message, here’s the action I’m taking, or here’s the action I want from you, the reader.” And once you get that message and action, then you circle back and then you elaborate on the details.

Now, if they’re just brief details, like a word or a phrase or who or when or what, those brief little details, it could be answered in a word or phrase, or probably already going to be part of your message and part of your action. But if you need to elaborate, that’s the key phrase. If you need to elaborate on the details, then that elaboration comes in this details section. Generally, it’s the how and they why. Most often you can make this, and elaborate, “And here’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. And here’s how to take the action.”

And then the E, evidence, if you have any kind of attachment you want to send along, like, “Here’s a copy of the spreadsheet that I’m referring to, where I’ve done a calculation,” or, “Here’s the copy of the contract that I’m saying I don’t agree with this clause that we’re going to dispute in court,” or whatever, or, “Here’s a map of the layout of this building that I’m saying we need to renovate this particular wing,” or something like that, then you attach it.

But if you use that structure, you just start thinking like that. And then emails are so easy to write when you just think, “Okay, what’s my message, what’s my action? Okay, now, what needs to be elaborated on?” And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you send out an email.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. And I think so often, it’s like I start writing an email, it’s like, “Wait a minute. What am I really going for here?” And then I like to rewrite it, and then maybe rewrite it again. Whereas, you could just sort of take a moment. So, it sounds like you might even sort of jot some notes on a tablet or some scratch pad somewhere as you’re doing this. Or how do you think about that?

Dianna Booher
Yeah, a lot of times people can. Once they start thinking like this, and they practice this, they can do the M-A-D-E in their head, you know, while they’re getting dressed in the morning, while they’re driving down the freeway, while they’re sitting on the subway, while they’re eating breakfast, and think, “Okay, in a sense, what’s my message? If I just picked up the phone and thought for a minute, and it’s about to cut off, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I got to get on the point of…’ It’s like turn off your cellphone, turn off your cellphone, I’ve got 30 seconds, what would I say?’” And you can figure out that part in your head.

If you’ve got a scratch pad, write it down. You don’t have to even write out complete sentences. Just say, “Here’s the phrase for the message. Action. I want them to setup a meeting. Detail. I need to explain why this fine is going to happen, how much it’s going to cost, and how to setup the three steps to do so and so.” And that’s a scratch sheet of paper, that’s your outline. And then when you get to the computer, you’re ready to just turn it into sentences, and it goes very, very quickly. But you can do that thinking anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, I’m wondering, so how do you think about the headline, the subject versus the message?

Dianna Booher
The subject is last. See, a lot of times people fill in the subject line first, but you can’t summarize if you don’t know what your message is. So, always write it first, and then go back and put in your subject line. Your subject line is like the Reader’s Digest condensed version of your message.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that is an even shorter version of the one- to three-sentence message.

Dianna Booher
Right. It’s a summary version of your message and your action.

Pete Mockaitis
House on fire. Insurance payment $5,000.

Dianna Booher
Yeah. Or, “Just hired new VPs; starts next Monday.” That becomes a summary of the longer message of your first sentence which would be, “Our executive senior vice president just hired a junior vice president Mr. So-and-so who’s coming to us from XYZ Corporation. He’ll be starting next Monday, and his key responsibilities will be blah, blah, blah.” That would be the full message, but your subject line might be, “Just hired a new executive vice president; starts next Monday.”

Pete Mockaitis
And the action is, “You need to invite him to the luau. Make the necessary welcome here and acquire a Hawaiian shirt.”

Dianna Booher
Right. And be sure to shake his hands and ask for a raise right up front.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Cool. Well, any other thoughts? So, you do your thinking up front, and then you put that out there with the MADE format, and then you do the subject last. Any thoughts for doing some of the editing in terms of, “Okay, I’ve written a bunch of words on my screen.”

Dianna Booher
Just do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Just do the editing.

Dianna Booher
Do the editing. A lot of people just, when they get through the thinking, they do the one draft and they hit “send”, and send it out, and that’s not a good idea because you’re going to have missing words, you’re going to have an awkward sentence, you’re going to have a grammatical error. So, take the minute to go back and re-read it.

It’s best, if it’s a really important email, to let it cool off, particularly if it happens to be bad news or a sensitive topic. Let it cool off overnight if you can. If you can’t, a couple of hours helps. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back just after a couple of hours, just go to lunch and come back and read it, and think, “Oh, no, I’m so glad I let that sit here. I see two missing words here.” You just can’t see things. You read what you think you wrote. The message is still in your mind. So, always let it cool off if at all possible.

Now, if it’s just a two-sentence email to the guy next door, and you don’t care about a missing word, or an awkward sentence, then, okay, sometimes you just have to do something immediately. But if it’s important, yes, cool off is really important. Now, if you can’t do that optimally, you could read it aloud if the tone is important. Read something aloud to yourself and you can catch errors. If you think, “People are going to think I’m crazy, I’m talking to myself,” pick up the phone and hold it like you’re talking to somebody, or you’ve got your Bluetooth plugged in and you’re just talking out loud, and people won’t think you’re crazy. They’ll think you’re talking to your spouse on the phone. And it’ll sound funny to your ear. If it sounds awkward, it’s stilted or something, your ear will catch it, and you can improve it.

If the sentence sounds too long when you start to read it, it will feel awkward to you, and you’ll think, “Whoa, I lost my breath. I couldn’t get to the end of the sentence.” It’ll help you go back and think, “I need to cut that sentence in two, it’s too long. I ran out of breath, ran out of steam, ran out of energy.” If that, still, you think, “Well, you know, I think I’ve got some hot words in here, and I’m not sure. It could be offensive. It could be a little blunt,” then have a colleague read it.

Don’t read it to them because you add the inflection, and you can change. It could be really blunt on page, but you’re softening it with your tone. So, just hand it to them and say, “Read that and tell me what you think about the tone.” And so, when they pick it up, they can be a more objective reader for you on sensitive matters.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. Thank you. Well, tell me, any sort of key software, plugins, add-on, services, tools that make this better, or help with the email struggle?

Dianna Booher
Well, I mentioned things for software to do other things other than email, like Calendly, Slack, Workzone, Smartsheets. Those are the kind of things that you want to look into, just think, “Do I have other things that are not correspondence-related?” Those are what’s helpful to you. ShortKeys. If you find yourself writing the same messages over and over, maybe like a bio, like when I respond to reporters frequently, they want your credentials or your bio, so you have that on ShortKeys, you can just hit two keys or a code, and the whole paragraph goes in.

If you have a certain product or a certain service that you provide, then you hit ShortKeys and the whole paragraph goes in. What you don’t want to do is to write those over and over, because even if you know with your brain what you’re saying, it’s too easy to incorporate an error, to leave out a word just because of familiarity to create a typo, so it’s good to make sure it’s error-free to begin with, and just plug it in with ShortKeys.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about email before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dianna Booher
I think that you just don’t want to create distractions for yourself. Many people create their own distractions with email because they keep it open and they use it for to-dos, and don’t ask things in the right way. And so, they write six or seven emails to accomplish what the first one should’ve accomplished.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dianna Booher
I like the quote by Martin Luther who said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” Now, for me, of course, that’s been inspiring because I’ve been a writer all my life, but for others I think you’d do the same thing for your own reputation when you write a good email because that has staying power. It establishes your credibility on any subject.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Dianna Booher
I always like to read the major studies that IBM does, that McKinsey does, PricewaterhouseCoopers, all of the Gallup. I like surveys because I like to keep my finger on the pulse. And, of course, they’re very revealing, our study, with the University of Northern Colorado, their social research lab when we did this major study for Faster, Fewer, Better Emails. That was very revealing. So, whatever study that you put faith in, look at the trends from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, over time.

Dianna Booher
Pardon me?

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like over time.

Dianna Booher
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it came out this year, then next year, then the following year.

Dianna Booher
Yes, yes, and how they change.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dianna Booher
Traveling Mercies. I like Anne Lamott. Basically, anything she writes. I really like her. A lot of people haven’t discovered her writing, but she’s an excellent writer. She has a book called Bird by Bird which is on writing. But Traveling Mercies is more my favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to help you be awesome at your job?

Dianna Booher
I like snipping tool. It’s just so easy, I keep it right at the bottom of my taskbar. I find I use that all of the time. It’s just so useful for adding something, screen capture, to send in an email, to show people exactly what you’re talking about. So simple and yet so useful for so many tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s called snipping?

Dianna Booher
It’s called snipping tool, that’s the name of it. Snipping tools. The icon is like a pair of scissors and, literally, you can cut anything on your screen, and then attach it to an email and send it. You can email it, you can paste it into an email, you can capture the screen and send it as an attachment. It’s like the simplest miracle you can imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite habit, something that you do that makes you awesome at your job?

Dianna Booher
This is weird, I know, because most people like to procrastinate. But I like to move all of my deadlines for any kind of task, I move them forward in case of emergency. Somebody tells me I have to have something done by May 31st. I will move it up at least two weeks because I don’t want to be caught in case of an emergency. If there’s a major illness, if there’s a death in the family, I just don’t want to be stressed out, and I don’t want to miss a deadline. So, whatever deadline somebody gives me, if it’s just a few hours or days or weeks, I’m going to move it forward. That’s just a habit I’ve had all my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with listeners and audience members?

Dianna Booher
Yes, this sentence. I have quoted and collected the most quote collections online more than any other. It’s been out there for a while, and people just keep repeating it and quoting it. It’s, “If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, Dianna, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you tons of luck with “Faster, Fewer, Better Emails,” and your other adventures. And just keep doing the good work.

Dianna Booher
Thank you, Pete. It’s been great to be with you.