Who doesn’t want to be more productive and accomplish more throughout the day? But what should you do to become the owner of your time and not let the time own you?
We asked Nicole Chamblin, a productivity speaker and consultant. She shared her thoughts sand experience, and we accordingly share them with you!
1. You help people be more productive. How did you come to be a productivity speaker/consultant? When did you understand that this is the type of career you want to have?
The seed was planted when I was a junior in high school and joined a peer leader program that focused on teaching students how to help each other make better decisions. It was my first foray into “soft skills” training. While working on my BA in Psychology, I continued working for the program by facilitating groups for high school students.
Through my focus on Industrial Organizational, I became more interested in persuasion and influencing behavior which led me to my 10+ career in marketing. Throughout my marketing career, I was often a part of special projects tasked with streamlining processes and helping to make the workflow more efficient. I realized I had a knack for not only fine-tuning the way we worked but also teaching others how to do so.
During that time and working on cross-functional teams, I also had a front row seat to how easily personality clashes and different work styles could detail collaboration. When the crazy advertising schedule and continual corporate downsizing started getting to me, I did a self-analysis began exploring the organizing and productivity industry. I joined NAPO (officially the National Association of Professional Organizers) which was my best source for developing my skills says and body of knowledge on organizing, productivity, goal setting and time management.
I launched my business over 10 years ago and my productivity consulting and speaking business grew. My work focuses on helping clients connect with their vision and communicate their goals so they can collaborate productively.
2. What are the most common problems that people come to you with? Do they just say I want to be more productive, or they name some specific problems?
People typically start by saying they want to be more productive and organized. Through digging deeper, I look for what that means to the individual. For some person, it might be checking off more things on their “to-do” list or getting over procrastination. Others don’t have set goals and are working without focus, so they want help clarifying their goals and prioritizing tasks. For the most part, I see a lot of stressed-out people who feel overwhelmed because they have a large volume of work, and everything is a “priority.”
3. Are there one-size-fits-all solutions for productivity? Meaning are there general rules that companies and their employees should follow, or every case is unique?
There’s definitely no one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual and company is unique. While they may have common issues of feeling overwhelmed, their particular product, industry, stage in their life cycle, group composition and available resources/tools requires a customized approach.
As a consultant and speaker, I start with my process, systems and framework, but the outcomes are all different. While there are no hard or fast rules, I recommend that companies make sure that there is clarity on the shared vision, that goals are clearly communicated, and expected outcomes are expressed and tracked in a collaborative environment. Check processes and systems to make sure they work for the way the organization does business today and that they are likely to work in the near future. Don’t establish procedures and then put the manual on the shelf. Systems only work if they are maintained, updated and continually evaluated for efficiencies.
4. What are some of the best ways to have a productive day?
Start by having a plan and working with the end in mind. Being able to “see” the outcome through visualization makes it easier to identify potential obstacles and plan resources accordingly. Be clear on your goals to the point that you can picture what the completed project will feel and look like when you are done.
Make a list of the 2-3 most important things that you’d like to get done for the day. Schedule what I call “focus time” on your calendar daily for a total of 90 minutes at least, when you will focus on these key tasks. Try to do them early in the day so when emergencies come up, you’ll have completed your important items.
Also, leverage tools/apps/resources when you can to automate workflow and processes.
5. What is the best way to save your time? What are the obstacles to saving time on projects?
Truthfully there is no way to “save” time because time is a non-renewing commodity – we only get 24 hours a day. We have to be more mindful of what we choose to do with our time. I teach my clients to focus on energy investment and to be selective about what they commit to. One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to “time management” is that we are unrealistic about what we can accomplish in one day. We typically over commit ourselves and then become stressed out trying to get it all done.
Another challenge is the “one more thing” mentality. It’s not that we don’t keep track of time – it’s that we always try to squeeze one last thing before our next appointment and then end up behind schedule. Being realistic about what we can actually do and leaving buffer room to account for the unexpected will make a big difference. Practice saying “No” to things, or at least “not right now.”
6. How can one determine an appropriate amount of time for a task?
List out all the steps of the task and write down how long you think it should take. Consider the other things going on for the day. A ten-minute task like posting a social media update, for example, can take three times as long if the person has to search for the password for the corporate account. Before you sit down to work, make sure you have all the necessary resources for the task ready and at hand.
It’s important to track your time while doing the task, so you really know how long things take you. Once you see how long things really take, you can plan your schedule accordingly in the future. There are a lot of great tools and resources to help with time tracking.
7. What are your favorite productivity tips and tricks, that keep you productive?
Forming good habits is key, so I have to first be honest about the bad habits I have and plan for them. Just because I am a productivity consultant, it doesn’t mean I’m immune to things like procrastination myself. I am a closet procrastinator, which means I can sometimes delay on my own things if it’s a task I don’t like, especially if I promised someone else something. I set deadlines that matter and have an accountability partner to keep me honest.
I am a big believer in time blocking or chunking my tasks. I try to group like tasks together it’s easier to get in a groove and keep the momentum going when your brain is focused in on one particular thing. I schedule a specific day to do my marketing tasks or to do my research.
Another trick is that I use rewards for those tasks that are necessary but not fun (like filing). I love chocolate, and it makes a perfect reward for finishing unpleasant tasks!
I have a permanent block on my calendar in the mornings. I schedule my tasks and that time is when I get to work. I don’t schedule other appointments during that time unless it is paid client work or completely unavoidable.
My biggest productivity block is usually all the mental clutter – all the ideas for programs, trainings or projects. I love to MindMap and get all my ideas out, so I don’t forget them, and then I can sort them out later.
There are several tools I use that help me keep my sanity when it comes to repetitive tasks or prep work.
8. When you have a lot of work to do, how do you get it all done? Is there any example, you’d like to share with us?
I prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. I am usually good about keeping deadlines front and center, and while I can perform well under pressure, I prefer not to. When there is a lot on my plate, I streamline and deal only with the top priority. If I can, I outsource tasks to a virtual assistant if I have multiple priorities. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, so I have to pull out the tricks out of my hat.
This past summer, I had several presentations in Virginia and California and had to get the presentations and handouts customized for each client. When I am under the deadline that way, I blocked my calendar out, went into my office and hunkered down. I set alarms to make sure I took breaks to work out and eat. I only checked my email at set times to make sure they were no emergencies and put an auto-reply to let everyone know I would be delayed in my response time due to schedules.
9. Many entrepreneurs, coaches, etc. write their own books. It’s a great way to share their experience. Are you planning to write a book on productivity?
I’ve been a contributing author on a productivity book and have been quoted/consulted on several others. I am developing a book concept focused on vision and goal setting. Stay tuned for more details.
10. What place does technology take in our productivity?
With the amount of tools literally available at our fingertips, technology has a HUGE impact on our productivity. On one hand we are easily accessible, so everyone expects us to immediately respond to email, text, social media posts, etc. This adds to our feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed out.
On the other hand, we also have amazing tech tools that are portable, so we can accomplish our work on the go. I use cloud-based resources for my email, client management, and task tracking. I can work from my tablet or smartphone when traveling and without having to turn on my computer. Technology shouldn’t replace good habits, though. As with everything else, use it wisely.
11. Do you agree that time tracking can help businesses and employees become more productiveIy?
As I shared in the answer to question #6, time tracking is important. Most people that report feeling like they never have enough time for their work, sometimes don’t realize how much of their day are filled with distractions, delays, or interruptions from others or themselves.
When you start tracking time, it makes it easier to see how much time is dedicated to actual work vs. lack of resources, interruptions or other unproductive behavior.
12. Have you ever used a time tracker?
Yes, I have used a time tracker when tracking how long tasks take and still use one whenever I am doing hourly work for a client. Time trackers are a foolproof way to really understand where your time is going.
13. Can you name some of the productivity tools you recommend and why they are important?
I have a long list of tried but true productivity tools that I share with my clients.
You asked for it, so here it goes. The following are a list of resources that I typically recommend to my clients. Please check back often as new additions are made all the time!
17hats.com is built for the solopreneur and is a great one-stop management of business administration under in one platform (Contacts, Projects, Questionnaires, Quotes, Contracts, Invoices, Credit Cards, Bookkeeping, Calendar, To-Do Lists, Time Tracking, Workflow, Templates, Email Sync, and Lead Capture).
Creately is a great online tool for creating collaborative Mind Maps and Concept Maps. I recommend it for clients who need to do a lot of diagramming and workflow maps.
Dropbox is cloud/hybrid service that lets you bring your photos, docs, and videos anywhere and share them easily with others and among all your devices. The Pro or Business versions are packed with a lot of powerhouse features to make collaborative work and integration easier.
Evernote helps you remember and act upon ideas, projects and experiences across all the computers, phones, and tablets you use. One of my favorite ways to use Evernote is to clip articles and things I find on the Internet that I want to go back to later. If you use Google Chrome as a web browser, it has an Evernote Web Clipper plugin that makes it even easier to save articles to Evernote.
Google Drive is a cloud-based product by Google that makes files accessible across different computers and mobile devices. It works like Dropbox but is for the person or group that prefers to keep it in the Google family.
iThoughts is by far my favorite Mind mapping tool. I plan my presentations, task lists and do my braindumps in iThoughts. It lets you import and export Mindmaps to and from over 7 of the most popular desktop mindmap applications. iPad and iPhone only.
Lifetick is a web-based software goal setting and task management. What I love is that is is based on setting SMART goals to make sure that goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Mindomo is another Mind mapping solution that is available for Android, Windows, MacOSX, iOS and as a cloud service (search for it in the Google Play store).
TimeTrade is an online scheduling tool that integrate with your calendar to allow others to schedule appointments based upon your availability, without playing calendar tag.
Trello is a favorite. It is a visual based task management that integrates with other tools, mimics a post-it note, with the benefits of checklists, hyperlinks, and PC/Mobile access. It is reminiscent of Post-it-Notes on a whiteboard.
TSSI Time & Space Style Inventory™ (TSSI™) is an assessment tool available to help people understand their natural behaviors regarding their use of time and how they organize space. This is an assessment that I believe in enough to be an affiliate. The results will let you know what your personal preferences are for the way you approach time and how you like things placed around you. Understanding these key things help you find your “flow” so you can adapt the way you work to your personal style.
Roboform integrates into web browsers to manage online passwords. Instead of struggling to remember multiple passwords, or writing them down in obvious places, you only have to remember one secured by one master password, search “keyword,” printable list.
Shoeboxed organizes receipts, business cards & bills online in sorted categories that allow you to generate expense reports or import data into a contact management system.