MP3 File | Run Time: 37:25
Brandon: Hey there! Thanks for the download today, I’m your host Brandon Laws. In today’s episode, I have a conversation with Bethanne Kronick. She is the owner and CEO of Simplify Northwest, a nationally recognized productivity strategist, and an author and trainer working to empower people. She helps people learn new habits and behaviors so their life reflects what’s truly important to them, which is what they do with their time.
So our focus for today’s conversation is on time management. We jump around a lot in today’s episode and it’s partly because I’ve read a ton of books on time management and I have a lot of thoughts on it. I’m personally working on how to get the most out of my time and get better at it and she has got a lot of amazing presentations that are available. Some of the titles such as Be the Boss of Your Email, Meetings that Matter, Take Control of Your Time and Get More Out of Life and much more.
For today’s episode, Bethanne and I, we’re going to talk about work and life and everything in between. Without further ado, here’s the episode with Bethanne!
Brandon: Hey Bethanne. Great to have you in the podcast, welcome!
Bethanne: Good morning, Brandon. Happy to be here!
Brandon: So I wanted to ask you, how did you get into this field? Why time management?
Bethanne: Time management. Oh my gosh, it’s such a needed field. My background is in education. I actually have a master’s degree in teaching people who are blind and visually-impaired. So what does that have to do with time management, you ask?
I had a change in life and decided that it was time to do something that could make a big difference for people. As I surveyed my interests and my passions, they have always been teaching and I was looking at what the world needed. It’s clearly productivity and helping people make better choices with what they do with their time and how they work and be more successful and have happier lives.
So I had a little change of pace and delved into the world of productivity and organization because it meets my needs of helping and teaching busy adults to get things done in their lives.
Brandon: I think a lot of people share your passion, either on the giving or receiving end. Time management is one of those things you can never quite master and so you need people like yourself to help guide us along the way.
I’ve read a book and tons of blog posts about how productive, successful people tend to start their day. Of all the routines that you’ve kind of run across about how to start a morning, how do you recommend people start?
Bethanne: Well, having a plan is critical. Planning, I think, is one of the absolute most important things we can do to get to the end of the day and feel like you actually got things done and beyond that, not just getting things done, but getting the right things done.
So planning, whether you plan the night before for the following day or whether you come in fresh and plan for the day ahead, but having that plan and then one of the strategies that I espouse is when you’re thinking of your plan, being able to prioritize. And there are lots of different ways that we can prioritize, but a really simple one is asking yourself this question and it’s really easy and will get your day going so well: what three musts do I need to get done to feel good at the end of the day?
So again, what three things do I need to get done to feel good at the end of the day? You are defining three things that are the most important things because it can be so easy just to feel swamped by those major to-do lists and our inboxes and all those things, but what are the three most critical things? And then make that your road map. Write those things down, put them on a sticky note. Stick it on your computer. Put it in your calendar. But use that as your focus for the day so that every time somebody comes in and asks you to do something that really isn’t important or you see a squirrel and you start heading down a rabbit trail, if it’s not on that list of three things, you’re doing the wrong thing.
Brandon: I love that. So when you talk about planning, it obviously plays a big role in managing your time and really taking control of it.
Brandon: What do you tend to see people doing as far as planning? Do they do it throughout the day? Is it just one time?
Bethanne: Well, depending on what people do and how much information is coming at them during the day, sometimes people can create a plan for the day, stick with it, and proceed through their whole day. Other people who, again, depending on what their role is, what their industry is, may need to reset several times during the day. But the key is just making it a priority. Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I see it all the time, people who don’t make a plan, they go willy-nilly through the day and they waste so much time because they finish one thing and then it takes them 10 to 15 minutes to look around their office, to go into their inbox, look at their calendar and saying, Hm, what should I do next? If you have a plan for the day, then it’s like boom, boom, boom. You just deal with what’s next.
I like to equate not having a plan for your day to going on a road trip without a map, which can sometimes be really fun because you know where you start, you don’t know where you’re going to end up. You don’t know how you’re going to get there or what you’re going to see in between and that can be really, really fun to do! But at work, during our day, we have goals to meet, and we have projects to finish. We can’t afford to go willy-nilly through the day and just end up where we’re going to get, go where we want to go to. We’ve got to have a map, and that’s where those three musts can be a road map.
Brandon: I’m glad you brought the mapping piece because I really wanted to ask you about scheduling your day in general. I imagine you use some sort of calendar function. Maybe you use a handwritten planner, I don’t know what you do and what you recommend, but how do you recommend planning your day? If you have meetings, do you plan that? Do you plan time in between meetings? What does your calendar look like and what do you recommend people do?
Bethanne: Well first of all, figuring out what type of calendar is going to work for everyone. It’s a really individual thing. I know personally I use a combination of paper calendar and my Outlook calendar. I still am one of those people. I like to see a full month at a time, so I use my paper calendar for that, but I use my Outlook calendar for scheduling individual appointments and for scheduling blocks of time.
Figuring out what works for you is really important and then once you know what works, I recommend time blocking, which is scheduling blocks of time, batching like activities together, so that you’re not jumping around from one thing to the next. Obviously, meetings get planned at those specific times but then having times where you’re actually doing your email, having project times, batching activities as much as you can together, having a planning time that you actually put on your calendar.
One of the things I always encourage people to think about is in batching those times and blocking those times on the calendar, it’s really easy to say, Ok, from 9:00 to 10:00 I’m going to do this, 10:00 to 11:00 I’m going to do this, then 11:00 to 12:00 I have a meeting and just wham bam blocking things together back to back. It’s like, how realistic is that? Because we have those unexpected things that come up, those needs that we weren’t anticipating that we’ve got to leave room in our calendars for, otherwise, we completely defeat ourselves. You get to lunch time and you think, I didn’t get any of those things done that I had on my calendar because I was unrealistic.
Brandon: I’m glad you brought that up. I often have found that people do schedule meetings back to back, it may be in the same office, but let’s say they have a meeting from 9:00 to 10:00. But then they have a meeting from 10:00 to 11:00 and let’s say the meeting goes over by a minute and then you’re backing yourself into a wall. You didn’t leave yourself any buffer time.
Brandon: Do you schedule buffer time in between? Just maybe to check the phone really quickly or checking email in between or just being able to get from point A to point B?
Bethanne: Yes, absolutely. One of the things I love talking about is meetings because we’re so over-meeting-ed and meeting-ed out in most company cultures. It’s really hard when people schedule back to back meetings because, like you said, it doesn’t allow for those meetings that run over. It doesn’t allow for us to make that transition in our minds so that if you fly from one meeting to the next, the first 15 minutes of that next meeting, you’re going to be thinking about the meeting you just came from as well as the to-do list that you came out of that meeting with.
So yes, having that time in between, whether it’s 15 minutes, half an hour, where you can come back to your desk. The most important thing that I think using that time for is to say, Ok, how do I need to debrief from that meeting myself? What action items did I come out with? Be able to put those on your to-do list or your calendar. Manage those things so that then you can transition to the next thing. Get your mind in the game for what’s next and feel like, Ok, I have closure from that first meeting.
It’s a matter of calendar management as much as possible and, granted, it’s not always doable and especially for those organizations where calendars are shared and people will go in and say, Oh, they’ve got a meeting until 11:00. I’m going to block one after that. It’s not always doable, but as much as possible when those meetings show up on your calendar to go in and block a chunk of time before and after is great.
Brandon: Something I’ve been doing a lot lately is I will work a half-day in the office where I know people can find me, and have meetings, I’m working on things here that I don’t mind people interrupting. Then the other half of the day, I will block out as out of office, working at home and I will label it as such in my Outlook calendar so that people know that I’m away and they don’t know necessarily what I’m working on. It’s heads down time for me and working on projects and, to your point, chunking similar tasks together uninterrupted. Do you see people do that? Do you recommend that?
Bethanne: Highly, highly recommend it. I don’t see enough people doing it. Dealing with interruptions between meetings and email, interruptions to me, those three things are the top three issues that we work with productivity-wise during our day and getting away from the office or some people say, Well, my company won’t let us leave. Ok, find a conference room where you can go hole up so that people can’t necessarily find you but you can have that uninterrupted time where you can be so much more focused than sitting at your desk especially if you work in a cubicle. Find a different place to work. So that’s a great idea, Brandon, I bet you’re so productive during that time.
Brandon: Absolutely. I love it because what happens is – and I think most people would default to this – is that everything becomes urgent for everybody else. And it could take over your calendar and if you don’t schedule out time for yourself to either think or get projects done, then you’re just going to be always in Stephen Covey’s top left corner quadrant, the urgent. Maybe it’s important for somebody else and maybe even you, but you’re always fighting fires and it doesn’t feel good to be there.
Bethanne: No, it doesn’t. It’s stressful and you don’t feel like you’re getting anything done. The thing I really like, Brandon, about the approach that you take and about people knowing that they’re going to escape to a conference room or working at home or something like that is we work so much anymore in a collaborative environment. So we’ve got to be available for our peers, for our colleagues, or the people that we supervise to be there.
If you know – for instance you, with your afternoons at home, working, if you know you’re going to have that time, it’s so much easier to say, Sure. What do you need? How can I help you? Because you know you’ve got that protected time coming up in your day. You don’t have that panic of, Oh, well, if I help you, when am I going to get my own stuff done? So that’s such a great, great approach.
Brandon: I appreciate that. So we talked about planning, chunking. We could talk about email for probably an hour. And you have workshops dedicated to just managing email. But at a real high level, how do you see people managing email flow? I’ve heard of people like chunking out certain times of the day, maybe checking three times a day. So then you sort of train people that I’m responding to emails at this time, so they will just know that you’re going to respond at that time. What do you tend to see and what do you like people to do?
Bethanne: Well, what I see is that email has taken control.
Brandon: Manage them as they come in?
Bethanne: Well, it has taken control of our lives. I had a woman who attended one of my sessions and I did some one-on-one coaching with her a couple of days later and I walked in her office and she said, I had the biggest ‘ah-ha’ during your session the other day. I said, What was that? She said, I realized that my email has taken control of me and I want control back. I’m sure everybody who’s listening to this realizes that email has taken control of our lives because we have it at work, we have it on our computers, we have it on our tablets, we have it on our phones. It’s everywhere.
Anyway, this woman came up with a new mantra, and her new mantra was, Minimize my inbox. She said, I want control back. That sort of leads to a couple of strategies that I recommend is that you take control back and we can do that by not living in our inboxes all the time, by scheduling as you said, scheduling set times or I would like to think of it as a routine for our email. Depending on – again, depending on what people do, their roles, the industries they work in. Some people can do 2 or 3 times a day, it works great. Other people, if they may be in customer service types of roles, they need to do it more often, potentially once an hour. But deciding, Ok, what is that? What’s realistic for me? Scheduling that routine as part of how they work their day, letting the people know, letting their colleagues know, letting their customers know. We check our email once every hour or three times a day and then a lot of times people say, But people need stuff and if I don’t check it all the time – you know what? Let the people know that if they need something in between those times, they can pick up the phone and call you or if you work in an office, they can come by your office and say, Hey, I need this. I’m sure you’ve probably had those situations where somebody will come by your office and they will say, Did you get that email I just sent a couple of minutes ago?
Brandon: Oh, all the time. It drives me nuts!
Bethanne: Yeah! So if people know that this is the way I check my email, I’m not in it all the time – having sort of a routine for it. But then when you’re in your inbox, having a really good process for checking it so that you’re not jumping from Oh, this one looks like it needs some attention and scrolling down. No, it needs to be a really solid process.
Brandon: Since we’re on the subject, I want to ask you kind of a big question. I tend to default to email when I’m communicating. Not only is it a great tool because you can attach files, it’s a good documentation tool, but it’s really efficient when you’re communicating, especially short emails. When do you typically go from phone or in-person communication versus email? Because it seems to me that especially if somebody wants something, you would either call somebody or they would walk by and there’s so much small talk that it actually becomes less efficient. But on the other side of it, it’s a relationship-building tool, in-person and phone. So what’s the rule of thumb when you kind of manage those two ways of communicating?
Bethanne: That’s a really loaded question, Brandon! There are several things that come to mind as you bring that up. As you say, first of all, our work, everything we do, is about relationships and there’s so much more that we can do when we have good relationships with people. And we do that with our voice. But yes, there are times when quick things make so much sense just to fire off those emails.
When it comes to there being the value of having a conversation, when there’s a back and forth issue. When I think about email, I have what I call the “three-volley rule”. If an email has gone back and forth more than three times trying to get an issue resolved, it’s just so much easier to pick up the phone or go talk to somebody face to face. Now, you did bring up the issue of how sometimes there can be a lot of chitchat that goes on and we end up spending a lot more time than if we just sent off an email. That, again, comes down to how we manage that time, so that if there is an issue that would be easier to have a discussion about, but you’re concerned about that chitchat, manage it well. Meet with that person or call that person and say, Hey, I just have a couple of minutes. But I would really like to talk this thing through. So again, we can manage it well so that we don’t end up losing a lot of precious time.
Brandon: What’s a good way to communicate in email to make it very clear what you’re either asking or what you’re responding with? I’ve seen people being really diligent about changing subject lines when an email is forwarded or replying. Any tips for listeners?
Bethanne: One of the biggest things, I think, is using the subject line well. I have what I like to call directive or keywords that I start the subject line with that either start with “request” or “reminder” or “FYI” or “urgent,” something so it gives somebody a heads up of are you asking something? Are you just sharing some information? And then being really concise but to the point with the rest of your subject line. Really important, really key I think in that subject line is if something is time-sensitive, if you need information by Friday for a meeting or a report or something, include that in your subject line.
For example, with one of my assistants, I might say Request: Needing workshop materials by Friday, May 19th. So that, to me, when I see a date, a due date in the subject line, boom! My eyes go to that email really quickly because I know that it’s time-sensitive.
Brandon: Big question here. What’s your take on social media in the workplace?
Bethanne: Do we have an hour?
Brandon: You knew it was coming!
Bethanne: It certainly can be valuable, just like everything else, if it’s managed well. It’s critical for companies that use it to promote their businesses and use it for their customer service. But again, it’s how you manage it because with social media, as we all know, we can just get sucked in and you look down and two hours has flown by and just gone away. I really encourage people to use timers if they need to, whether it’s a timer on your phone, just a little handheld timer that you put on your desk, that if you say, Ok, I’ve got to do my work on my Facebook posts. Set a timer for however much time you think you need and have a start time and a stop time, so that you don’t get sucked in and your time just goes away.
Brandon: Similar to what you mentioned about email, it’s on your phone. It’s on your desktop. There are notifications, all sorts of things. That’s sort of what I feel like social media has become – where you have apps on your phone and they always push you notifications about – somebody just liked this photo or somebody commented on a string that you commented on. It’s like really, like that’s so much noise. Couldn’t you just remove the apps from your phone and tablets?
Bethanne: Yes, absolutely, or if nothing else, just adjust the notifications so that you’re not getting all of those because those are huge interrupters during our day and not only do they pull us back in, but those interruptions alone affect our productivity because we stop for a moment. Even if it’s momentary to read what that is, guess what, you lose your train of thought on what it is you were doing. It just costs us so much time.
So anytime a notification, whether it’s social media notifications, the little ghost window that most people get for their email that pops up in that lower right corner of the screen, I encourage people to turn all of those things off.
Brandon: Get it out there.
Bethanne: Yeah! Get rid of it, so that you can truly put your head down and work.
Brandon: What’s your take on multitasking? Because I personally think it’s not a time saver. It’s a great way to, for a lack of a better word, half-ass two things at one time!
Bethanne: Yeah. You got that right!
Brandon: Would love to hear your thoughts.
Bethanne: Yes, you are absolutely right! We don’t do anything completely when we’re multitasking and research backs it up so, so well. There are three things research says. Research says that first of all, it takes longer when we try and do more things at once. We make more mistakes when we do multiple things at once and the third part of the research is really interesting. When I share this in front of a group of people, I always get this big groan. But the third thing is that people who spend a lot of time multitasking are seeing negative effects on their short term memories!
Bethanne: Does that explain some things?
Brandon: That makes total sense. I think my wife has caught me on that a few times where if I’m trying to do something and she’s talking to me. I didn’t hear a word she said and there’s the short term memory going out the window.
Bethanne: Yeah, exactly! It’s hard because our society has multitasking cranked up to be such a positive attribute, so everybody is expected to do it. But it’s such a negative thing when it comes to being productive and actually doing things well and remembering what you’re doing. Even though you think you may be good at it, you’re really, really not. Think about the times that you’ve been juggling two things. Have you ever been on the phone and somebody is talking to you and you’re thinking, Oh, I can just get this email done really quickly and then you hang up the phone and you think, Oh, you know what? I don’t remember the details of that conversation! So you have to call that person back because you forgot a couple of things, and that’s terrible.
Brandon: Isn’t that every conference call? Like where there were five or six people on it and four of them are playing with their phone or doing something else?
Bethanne: Yes, it’s incredibly ineffective. So I know lots of people are thinking, I’m good at it, but the other thing about multitasking is it’s really stressful because physiologically, here’s the other thing. Multitasking is not possible. Our brains cannot be in more than one place at a time. So when we demand that of our brain, we are stressing it to the max.
Multitasking puts undue stress on us, which if we take that off and say, Ok, I’m going to do one thing at a time, and even if you don’t do it to completion, but you just do it to a stopping point where you’re allowing 100% of your brain to be on one thing, oh my gosh. You will save yourself so much stress and you will be more productive and you will get things right and your brain will be so much happier with you.
Brandon: If I didn’t touch on meetings before we parted ways, I’m sure listeners would give me a hard time. What’s the best way to manage meetings so that they’re actually productive?
Bethanne: Lots of things. Like we talked about with your day, planning for meetings, is really, really important.
Brandon: Sending out an agenda maybe?
Bethanne: Yes. Sending out an agenda ahead of time so that if you are leading the meeting, you can have a good plan and it also lets people know who are going to be attending what they need to come prepared for, being timely, starting meetings on time, finishing meetings. I am really a huge proponent of finishing meetings early so that for those people we talked earlier who have those meetings back to back to back, start a new trend! Hour-long meetings, finish them up in 50 minutes, so that people have that chunk of time to make that transition to go back to their offices, deal with their action items.
A lot of times people think, well, we’ve got this meeting scheduled for an hour on everybody’s calendars. So we can just coast through it until the hour is up. If you can get your stuff done in half an hour, do it and send everybody out the door! There’s no bigger gift to anyone than finishing a meeting early, which brings up another thought, how many meetings do we all have on our calendars that are recurring meetings? They’re on there whether it’s weekly, monthly, and sometimes those meetings come around and there’s no reason to have a meeting. But because it’s recurring on the calendar, everybody gets together anyway and you sit down and you shoot breeze. It’s like, we don’t really need this. If you don’t need it, cancel it.
Brandon: We talked earlier about planning time, specifically for productivity purposes. I’m curious if you also plan out personal time.
Bethanne: Yes, big time, especially time out. I really think having time out is important whether it’s a day, a vacation, a weekend away, being able to put that on the calendar, planning ahead especially if you’ve got busy families, to be able to pull out your calendars and say, Ok, let’s put a couple of things during the year or something a month or putting a date night on a regular basis on your calendar. Because so often in our busy world, if we don’t put that stuff on our calendar, it doesn’t happen and it’s really, really important for how we balance our life and our work to have that family time, having the time with people that are important to you, to make it a priority and get it on your calendar.
On a daily basis, I also think it’s really important as you make your plan for the day at work, to ask what are the things that you need to do in your personal life, so that you’re charged? Whether it’s exercising, whether it’s family time, whether it’s time walking your dog, whether it’s time doing some of your volunteer activities, putting that on your calendar so that, again, having that plan gives you that road map so you’re not just willy-nilly so that when you get off of work, you don’t say, Ah, I made it. Which is good to do! Have that sigh and relax for a little bit, but then Ok, what’s important to me that I really want to do? Oh, I want to get out for that run or I need to go to my kid’s soccer game or whatever that is so that that can be planned in your day and you know you have that organized so that it can happen. There’s not the surprises, because those happen too in our personal lives!
Brandon: If people aren’t doing the planning as you’re suggesting and they’re really curious where their time is actually going, do you ever recommend people track their time for a couple of days or maybe every day to just recognize where their time is going in certain categories?
Bethanne: That’s a really interesting question, I just had somebody do that and it is an eye-opening experience. So yes, for people who when they get to the end of the day think, what did I do? It’s a pain to do, but just create a document in 10-minute, 15-minute increments. Print it out and just start filling it in. It is amazing to see how time just goes away or goes away on things that aren’t really important. So yeah, if you’re intrigued and want to know where the time in your day goes, I promise you do it for two, three days. It’s an eye-opening activity.
Brandon: I got a couple more questions for you and then I will let you go. This is a humongous question because I fight this daily – procrastination. What can I do to fight this?
Bethanne: First of all, knowing that you tend to procrastinate is huge. Just having that awareness is really big. And then we talked about the approach of having three musts as your priorities for the day. One of the things that I try and do when I create my three musts is look at those three things and say, Ok, which of these three things am I least excited about doing? and I will peg that for the first one I knock off my list, because when you do the one that you really don’t want to do, it feels so good to get done and then you could just fly through the rest of the day because you’ve gotten something done that you thought was going to be horrendous.
A couple of other things is to figure out in different situations why you’re procrastinating because procrastination happens for so many different reasons. Sometimes something we don’t like doing, sometimes we don’t have the information we need, we don’t have clarification on what we’re doing.
So figure out why it is. If you need more info, get it. If it’s a matter of just dragging your feet, pull out your calendar, set a time to do it. Oftentimes it’s because we have something that’s so big that we don’t really know where to start so it’s easier just to put it off. Being able to say, Ok, I’m going to break this down into little steps I’m just going to start at the first one. When we can see it in multiple steps or even mini projects, it’s so much more achievable.
And then doing what it takes, if it means setting a time on your calendar, making an appointment for yourself to do it, do it! Half the time, when we procrastinate, we’ve put stuff off for so long that it has snowballed, but it’s really not that big. So that when you get it done, it’s like that wasn’t such a big deal!
Brandon: A couple of months back, I think late last year, I read a book called The Productivity Project. I think you’re familiar with it. I thought it was interesting because it was a compilation of a lot of different time management tips and tricks, but what I found actually more interesting is the life hacking things about how to maximize your energy and know when your peaks and valleys are and he talked about food intake, exercise, movement and those sorts of things.
I know you talk a little bit about this and maybe a lot about it in your workshops. What have you known to kind of maximize your energy throughout the day so that you’re very laser-focused when you’re trying to manage your time and actually be productive?
Bethanne: Well, you said a number of things right there, Brandon! There are so many things that affect our ability to focus throughout the day. Taking care of ourselves is the bottom line. Are we getting enough sleep? Are we exercising regularly? Are we taking breaks? Breaks are huge during the day and so often people put their heads down and don’t come up for air. We’ve got to be kind to ourselves and take breaks whether that’s going out for a little walk, whether that’s maybe reading a book for a few minutes, just doing something to disengage our minds.
Eating is another thing. Really eating well when you’re at work, when you’re not at work. Eating the right foods during the day so that at lunch time you don’t go out for a huge double Big Mac – I don’t even know what they are anymore because I don’t eat them! But you come back and so you sit down at your desk. It’s like, ugh, all I want to do is take a nap, right? Eating well throughout the day as well as just overall.
And then just being aware of your energy. When you’re feeling like you’re going to start dragging, take a break, take a little walk. There’s a woman that I work with who part of her routine during her day, she actually sets her clock for alarm on her phone and every hour, she takes a break. She goes and walks the three flights of stairs in her office building, comes back and dives back in. It reenergizes her, gives her that break, and she’s good to go.
Brandon: All right, Bethanne. I want to give you the last word. Anything else we missed that you want to touch on, your website? Anything you want to drive people to so that they can learn more about what you’re doing?
Bethanne: My website is a great resource. It’s www.SimplifyNW.com. There are all kinds of information there about courses that I teach, webinars that we offer, products in our store that if anybody is interested, they’re there. If anybody has a question, there’s a place to contact me there as well as on the homepage. We offer a monthly newsletter that has productivity-related articles. Feel free to jump on that, send it in. We will send you a great article when you sign up called Six Easy Steps to Simplify Your Life. Would love to have you join us. But feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Would love to be a resource.
Brandon: Awesome. Bethanne Kronick, thank you so much for joining the podcast! This was a really fun discussion. I know people are going to get a lot of value from this.
Bethanne: Awesome, Brandon. Thanks for having me!