Podcast: Strategies to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Carson Tate Life today is busy! We tell ourselves that if only we could make better use of our downtime or multitask more cleverly we’d get ahead of the busyness…but that’s not how it works. In this 30-minute podcast, productivity guru Carson Tate offers strategies to help you work simply AND live fully. Click Play to listen or read the full transcript below.

Do you walk around daily feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and frazzled? Do you find yourself reading emails in the elevator, stop light or in line for a coffee? Do you catch yourself saying “I can do this conference call and walk the dog and throw in a load of laundry?” As we work harder and harder, we invest more hours and energy fighting a losing battle. Something has to give. In this 30-minute session, you’ll learn:

– How to stop guilt in its tracks before it can hijack any more of your time;
– How to be more productive and get more done; and
– Simple, yet powerful strategies to take back control of your calendar.

View Transcript

Conferences for Women

Work Simply and Live Fully: Strategies to Work Smarter, Not Harder 

Guest: Carson Tate

Interviewer: Karen Breslau

Karen: Welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass: Work Simply and Live Fully, Strategies to Work Smarter, Not Harder. If you find yourself reading emails in the elevator, at the stop light, or in line for a coffee, thinking you have to make use of every moment. And no matter what you feel like you can’t catch up, then this class is for you.

Our guest today is Carson Tate, nationally known expert on workplace productivity, and the founder of Working Simply Inc. She’s the author Work Simply, embracing the power of your personal productivity style. Carson is a dynamic teacher and coach, known for personal transformation, and simple, powerful, actionable content. She serves as a consultant to executives at fortune 500 companies, and prior to starting Working Simply she worked in human resources with large firms.

We’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation at Penn Women, at Texas Women, at Mass women, and in California at hashtag leadonca. And a reminder, today’s class will be available as a podcast on your conference website. If you registered through event bright you’ll receive an email telling you when the podcast is available. And no before you have time to check one more email, let’s welcome Carson Tate to the Conference for Women Teleclass.

Carson: Hi, Carson Tate here and thank you for listening. If you’ve spent too much time during the first half or your year feeling overwhelmed, and wondering why you could not get more done then this teleclass if for you. The truth is that the problem is not you, it’s how you’re trying to overcome your busyness that’s the problem. So it is time to start working smarter, not harder, because you cannot outwork your work. In this teleclass you’ll learn simple yet powerful strategies to take back control of your calendar, and time. So you can finish the year feeling relaxed, focused and in control.

It was 2000 and I was selling drugs, legal drugs, and I’d gone out to our national sales convention in Las Vegas, and it was day four of a five day conference. And tired of sitting in those uncomfortable conference chairs I decided to go down that afternoon to the work out room. This is when the concept of the cardio seater had come into the grid. Where they line up all the torture devices in a row, and I get on my treadmill. And in front of my treadmill there is a row of mirrors, that’s evil you don’t need a mirror there. And then suspended from the ceiling were 10 different TV stations, and they were all on different stations. I get on my treadmill and start jogging and I try to watch all the different TVs. I get distracted and before you know it I have stumbled and fallen off the back of my treadmill. And to make matters worse two treadmills to the right is the senior vice president of sales. This is my big, big boss George.

He turns to his left, looks at me, turns around and he keeps running. I slink out of the gym mortified. But you probably don’t really care about my ability to stay on a treadmill, because it’s embarrassing that I can’t. But I do think the treadmill’s a really good analogy. Because how often have you felt like you are running as hard and as fast as you possibly can in your life, trying to keep up and not go flying off the back yourself. But who controls the speed on the treadmill? Well you do. And who controls the incline on the treadmill? Well you do. So the first step to work smarter not harder, is to really acknowledge and accept that you are at choice. You can choose and decide to do something differently to create the life that you want.

So let’s take ants for example, ants are really busy workers. However have you ever been to a picnic where there weren’t ants. Ants always find time to go have some fun. So even in the midst of our busyness we can create and choose a life where you are attending all the picnics that you want to. Now as we all know and experience life gets in the way, but I think that there is something a little more powerful than an overflowing calendar, and task list, and inbox that keeps us from attending all of those picnics and that would be guilt.

Well I felt so guilty, my daughter woke up soaking wet because the day before I’d accidently bought pull-ups for boys instead of girls. See I’d been rushing through Target completely distracted and consumed by a pressing deadline at work. And so I just grabbed and pulled a box of pull-ups right off the shelf. Quickly checked out and then I raced home. So during the night our poor daughter you see paid the price for my haste and distraction. Well no wonder I felt guilty the next morning. Now this is just the minor leagues when it comes to my guilt. I can lay it on myself so thick it’s almost paralyzing. Am I working too much, not spending enough time with my family and friends? Am I underlying my health and my family’s health because a significant majority of our food that was consumed this week came from a takeout box. Am I letting my community down because I’ve said no to that request to serve on a local board? Or all I need to do is spend a few minutes pondering questions like these and soon I’m in that black hole of guilt. I’m insecure, confused, and miserable.

Now there’s a very close cousin to guilt that’s often just below the surface, and I call it the shoulds. The shoulds are those voices in your head, and you know the one saying, “You should be doing this. You should like that. You should spend time on this. You should stop doing that,” and so and so on endlessly. And there are numerous unspoken shoulds that were contributing to my guilt. Well the problem with the shoulds is that they then become a runaway train completely undermining your ability to get clear and focused on what you need to create the life that you want. So if you find yourself hooked by guilt’s close cousin the shoulds the best way to break free is to strengthen your own boundries. So you need to start saying no to the voices inside your head and maybe externally as well, and doing it in a new way. A way that I like to call the power no.

It’s based on an anagram, POWER. So the P stands for priorities, O opportunities, W who, E expectations, and R real. So here’s how it works priorities, when that voice in your head tells you that you should complete this task, lead another project, attend another meeting, or make cupcakes from scratch, evaluate the priority of that message. How should this should align to your priorities, the organisation strategic priorities, and or your family’s priorities.

Opportunities, explore the opportunities. What opportunities does the shoulds create for you? Is there something that does actually need additional attention in your life. The should could be shining a light on something that you need to address.

Who, who or what triggered the should, was it an old script from childhood, was it an ad in a magazine, was it your colleague? Expectations, whose expectations are these really, your manager, your mother, your spouse, your child, society? R, real, get real what is the should really about. Are there real priorities that are driving this should, or are you taking on societal expectations that are not in alignment with your priorities. Only after you’ve worked though all five sets of questions in the Power No, are you really in a position to make an informed decision about where or not to listen to and follow that should. Shoulds lead us to over commit, and when you over commit the quality and impact of your work suffers.

When Steve Jobs returned to helm of Apple in 1997 he quickly recognized that the company’s employees were spreading their creative pallet far too thin, so he reduced their product portfolio from 300 devices to 10. In the process saving Apple from bankruptcy. Follow Jobs example, say no to the many things that are threatening to distract you and derail you, so you can focus your energies on the handful of things that really lead to your success. The Power No enables you to think carefully and critically about all of the shoulds, so that you can consciously and thoughtfully respond. It puts you back in the driver’s seat, enabling you to respond rather than react. Stop shoulding all over yourself and take back control.

So now that we’ve addressed guild and the shoulds which I believe are the psychological roadblocks to what’s keeping us really from working smarter not harder, let’s tackle your overflowing calendar and look at how to invest your time wisely. Have any of you heard of Randy Posh the author who wrote the bestselling book ‘The Last Lecture?” Well if you haven’t you can actually hear Randy on YouTube because he gave a lecture called ‘The Last Lecture, really achieving your childhood dreams,’ which lead to his bestselling book. And it was a very popular YouTube video that went viral. In this lecture Randy says that you can go and earn more money later, but you cannot ever get your life back. Randy talks about time as a commodity. Have you ever thought about time as a commodity?

I think that Posh’s comparison really emphasis the difference between time and money. But if unlike money time is non-renewable resource you can go and earn more money later but you cannot ever get your time back. We all have 168 hours a week, and the challenge is to shift the way you think about time so you think about it as a commodity that is more valuable than money.

In my work with clients I find that they’re often giving away this valuable commodity, they’re giving away their time. so be aware of where you are indiscriminately giving away your time. you would indiscriminately give away your money so don’t do it with your time. Remember every time you say yes to someone or to something you’re saying not to someone or something else. That’s the nature of time, it’s a limited non-renewable resource. So do you know what you’re saying yes and no to during your day, and the impact that those decisions are having on you personally and professionally. Stop giving away you’re most valuable resource, you’re time.

So now that you’re clear on who and what you chose to invest your time in, let’s explore some best practices to help you find just a few more minutes in the day. The first one is to batch task. The suggestion here it to batch or group like tasks. So for example you would batch or group all of your phone calls, you would batch or group all of your reading and responding to email. Batch or group all of your filing, all of your writing, all of your drafting. Because the more that we switch between different tasks the more time it takes, and it makes it harder for us to actually get into that flow. We’re working smoothly and effortlessly. So look at your task list and consider organizing them by like task, and then just execute on one task at a time.

Second strategy, work and vacation mode. So what happens before you go on vacation? At our house all the laundry is done, my inbox is cleaned out, my desk is organized and projects are either at a stopping place or they have a clear next step that a colleague is taking care of. You get a lot of work done. The reason that you’re getting a lot of work done is because you have a hard deadline because on Saturday at noon you’re going to on a beach towel, maybe with a beverage with an umbrella in it enjoying your time. Work and vacation mode set many deadlines, hard stop for yourself throughout the day. So instead of leaving the office at 5:30 maybe you leave the office at 5:00. And watch what happens to your productivity as you give yourself these hard stops during your work day, you’re going to get a lot more done.

Third strategy, turn off the email notification alarm. That new message arrival popup where your computer chimes, your curser changes, or you get that little dialog box, it’s distracting. Well I don’t know about you but every time I get that new message pop up I have to look at it because there got to be something more interesting than what I’m working on. but that pulls me away from my task and again we’re back to that task switching that waste a lot of time. So turn of that new message notification alarm so that you can stay focused and not distracted.

Fourth strategy, start your day with your highest priority task. So the default for most of us, and its actually for folks all over the world, it’s the first thing that you do as you sit down at your desk and you check email. The problem with email is that your inbox, your email inbox is nothing more than everyone else’s agenda. That’s what everyone else wants from you. It’s not necessarily what you want and need to do to move you closer to your goals. So start your day with a task or project, even if it’s just five minutes that are aligned to your strategic priorities. If you do this you’ll start your day from a place of relaxed control and you’re going to move yourself one step closer to your goals.

Fifth strategy, do it now. Here I’m channeling one of my favorite brands Nike, and suggesting that you just do it. If you can complete a task in two minutes or less do it. By the time it takes for you to come back and redecide about what you need to do with that task, it’s going to take twice as long. If you can execute quickly on emails, phone calls, and task, just do it, move it on.

Sixth strategy, listen to your body clock. So if you’re a morning person do the work that’s more mentally engaging, more intense, more thoughtful in the morning, and save those tasks and projects that aren’t as mentally challenging like filing maybe responding to email for the afternoon when you have that mental slump. Or if you’re a night owl do your mentally challenging work at night. Listen to your body because when you fight against nature and your body, it’s always going to win, and it’s going to end up taking you twice as long to complete a task. Align your days and execution to your energy levels, and watch your productivity sore.

And then lastly do a daily wrap-up. At the end of your day clean out your inbox, organize your work surface, and make a decision around the one, two, or three priorities that you want to get done for the next day. So when you sit down the next morning you can hit the ground running and you don’t even have to think about what you need to do, you know. The other benefit of the daily warp up is that I don’t go to sleep at night and lay down and then all of a sudden my to do list starts churning through my brain. Because I closed out my day, I wrapped it up and made decisions around what I’m going to do the next day, and makes it easy for me to drift off to sleep.

Well thank you for listening and investing your time, because you cannot out work your work. So embrace the power of your choice and choose to have a new relationship with time. A relationship that leaves you feeling empowered and able to respond instead of react. And focused on the high value projects and people that drive revenue and bring meaning to your life. Choose to invest your time wisely and say yes to the people and projects that move you one step closer to your goal. So what are you going to do differently as a result of your time investment today, because today is your day, the day you work simply and live fully.

If you ‘d like some additional strategies and techniques, I’ve got 99 simple ways to work simply and live fully available on my website which is CarsonTate.com. And now I’m going to turn it back over to Karen and open it up for some questions.

Karen: Thank you so much Carson. We’re going to take questions in just a minute, first a reminder we’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation at Pennwomen, at Texas Women, at Mass Women, and in California at hashtag LeadonCA. And another reminder today’s teleclass will be available as a podcast on your conference website. If you registered through Event Bright, you’ll receive an email telling you when the podcast is available.

And now I can tell by the volume of questions that have come in that you have touched quite a few cords in people, let’s start with this one. How can I make the most of short segments of time? The days often feel so fragmented and I’m fine with that, but with love some tools for really kicking it into gear in the time allowed.

Carson: Great question. So one strategy that I would suggest is to create a list of to do’s that you can do in 15 minutes or less, I call this my 15 minute list. And on it are all the things it’s the phone calls, the quick emails, it’s the quick brainstorm maybe for an article that I can do in those really short compressed amounts of time that are actually moving me closer to my goals. And I also like this list because I don’t know about any of you but I definitely at times find myself procrastinating. And this 15 minute list I can go to I can do a quick task and it will get me jump started. And it will help me kind of avoid that black hole of procrastination. Carry this list with you so that you can use it as micro-segments in your day.

Karen: Okay, well I’m relieved to know that even a productivity expert is prone to procrastination.

Carson: Absolutely. Karen I’m human, I’m very human.

Karen: Okay, all right here’s another one. How can I better keep track of hours worked on a project? I like to work on three projects at a time but it makes it hard for me to accurately project hours spent.

Carson: So my first question is going to be, how are you working on three projects at one time? So if it’s you’re maybe doing research that applies to all three, I can see that. I might just not be this good, I’m not sure how you physically work on three different tasks at one time. The first thing would be work on one task at a time or one project at a time. There are a couple of different apps out there that you can use to help you time yourself, one of them is called rescue time. That is a good time tracking tool. It will also allow you to program in how much time you want to spend on a project, and then buzz and kind of alert you, “Hey your time’s up,” time maybe to switch to a different project.

Karen: Carson can you say the name of that website again?

Carson: Sure it’s an app and it’s called Rescue Time.

Karen: Thank you, okay. Now here’s a long one. I’m all about work life balance and most of the time I do a decent job of it I think. But within the work side of the equation I would like some guidelines on how solo entrepreneurs should allocate time for the things that bring in business such as marketing and social media verses maintaining the business, invoicing and following up with clients. Verses actually doing the things we went into business to do. How do we know when we’re either over doing it, or underdoing it in a particular area instead of working smart?

Carson: What a great question, and I would say thank you. This is a entrepreneur, this is something that I wrestle with myself. So a couple of things, first what I would suggest is that you determine what your hourly rate is. So you are probably billing out your time maybe for a project, or if you sell something you can determine what your hourly rate is. So let’s say for example, I wasn’t a math major, that your hourly rate is $10 an hour, so what we want to do is we want to ensure that the marketing, the invoicing that you’re doing that’s important for moving your business forward that you aren’t spending more than you’re generating. So if your hourly rate is $10 an hour and you’re spending three hours on marketing and the return is only one hour of business, they you probably want to adjust that time spend slightly.

The other thing to think about and track is how many hours your spending on this and what it would cost you, again we’re back to your hourly rate, and can you potentially find a contractor or a vendor who can do it faster, better, and potentially for less than you’re spending on it. I would suggest as soon as possible to start to find those vendors who can support you in the marketing and in the bookkeeping so that you can dedicate more time and energy on the stuff you love, the reason that you started your business, and it’s directly tied to your revenue line.

Karen: That’s great. Here’s one, how can you stick to a schedule when you’re a freelancer and every day is different?

Carson: Great question. So I would suggest you look at your days and your weeks a little bit more holistically, and in terms of themes. So you might say for example Monday’s theme is admin and support. So on Monday the type of task and projects that you take on are related to the administration of managing your freelance career. And then maybe Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday thematically it’s more client focused work and you would focus on tasks, and projects, and calls, and meetings aligned to that type of theme of client. And then Friday can be another admin day or a wrap up day where you’re aligning then tasks, calls, and projects thematically.

I think it’s hard as a freelancer to get really into a hard fixed schedule because it just doesn’t really mirror the realities of that type of work. But thematic days might support you a little bit better.

Karen: Got it, speaking of Mondays what are some strategies to push yourself and get fired up when you have a “Case of the Mondays?”

Carson: I love it. The Monday blues. So two things, one I’ve already mentioned. So I’ll start with a new idea I try to start Monday morning with a project, or a phone call, or an email that I’m pretty excited about. So something that gets me excited and fired up. If I’m having trouble finding that’s when I go to that 15 minute list and start knocking off a few things off that list because it’s going to jump start my energy making it easier for me to keep going.

Karen: Great, now I want to ask you about the “Power No,” I thought that was really interesting. Priorities, Opportunities, Who triggered the request, whose Expectations reflect this request, and are the expectations Real. So that’s the Power No.

Carson: Yes that’s the power no.

Karen: I think one of the things that women find really agonizing is actually saying no. So once you’ve done this analysis of the Power No, POWER, how do you convey that no to the person or organisation who’s asking?

Carson: So that’s where you’ve got a couple of choices around what feels right for you. So let’s say for example a local non-profit that you’re passionate about comes to you and asks you to be on their board. And you work though the Power No and realize that at this moment in your life that is not something that is going to align any of your goals. There isn’t the time or the energy, and it’s just not in alignment. So you get back to the executive director and, done this, “Thank you so much for the ask and your belief in me as a potential board member. At this time I’m going to have to decline your gracious offer. I cannot take anything else on, and I would really want to only take this on if I can serve the board and this non-profit in the highest way possible and I just can’t make that commitment right now.”

So I try to turn the no into making it all about that person. And that I’m not able to serve them, to provide the focus, the energy that they need from me, and so I don’t want to disappoint them. The other option is just to say, “Thank you so much I cannot at this time,” period, without an explanation. I have found that that is harder to do so you might have to warm up with an explanation and then get to the place where you’re able just to say, “No thank you,” and let the no thank you stand.

Karen: Great, great tips, okay. Well that is all that we have time for today. If you’d like to connect with Carson Tate on Twitter you can reach her at the Carson Tate, is that right Carson?

Carson: That’s right, thanks Karen.

Karen: Sure, thank you Carson Tate, and thank you to our audience for listening to today’s teleclass.

Carson: Thank you.