Do you wonder where your day went? Do you have an unending to-do list that you never seem to get to? Join Elizabeth Bachman as she interviews Dr. Steven J. Kirch of PROtivity. Steven is a Productivity Consultant and the Founder of Business Culture Advantage. He shows us how he helps busy professionals become more productive by learning how to resist distractions and focus on what truly needs to be done. He also takes us into the five steps he takes people through in PROtivity and shares how he uses the Pomodoro Technique to increase productivity.
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Professional Productivity Tips With Dr. Steven J. Kirch
Focusing On The RIGHT Things To Avoid Stress And Accomplish More
I’m excited to have my wonderful friend, Steven Kirch. Steven Kirch is a productivity consultant and to be transparent, he’s my productivity consultant and has been helping me a lot over the last 1.5 years. Steven, I’m glad you don’t give up on me because I keep coming back. Maybe I made this much progress, but please. After retiring from a successful career as a manager and leader in high-tech, Dr. Steven Kirch brings his passion for people and organizational effectiveness to his clients. He’s been a Certified Facilitator of The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People for many years. He uses that along with other tools to create custom solutions to his clients’ productivity challenges.
In addition, he’s on the board of The Gratitude Network, a leadership development organization that works with social entrepreneurs around the world, helping these entrepreneurs grow their innovative companies to change the lives of children and youth. There again is the international part of this show. We talk a lot about how presenting works and how we work in our global environment these days. Steven also has a passion for music and he sings with two award-winning Bay Area Barbershop Chorus. He appeared on stage in theatrical productions and when not busy with music, you can find him on his bicycle or on the golf course. Steven, the part of your bio that I love is I’m a daughter who had a wonderful dad. Steven says he’s been married to his wife, Donna, for many years and have two wonderfully intelligent and talented daughters who are making their own way in the world. Can you talk a little bit about why productivity and time management are such a big theme these days?
Everybody has many things to do. Everybody’s list of to-do items is longer than their arm and people get overwhelmed. There’s stuff coming at you all the time, overwhelmed with hundreds of emails coming at you. How do you figure out what to do next? I find many small business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives overwhelmed with the list of things that they have to do and the different hats that they wear. The other piece of that I’ve been talking about with some of my clients, Peter Drucker in the late ’50s coined the term knowledge work. We went from factory work 100 years ago where you went into work and you made your wage and you went home. Knowledge workers had to figure out not only what to do but how to do it. With the advent of these devices, which are pervasive, our smartphones, we have the problem of what I’ll call flexible work, which means we need to figure out not only what to do and how to do it, but when to do it. We can work 24/7 and that’s not good for anybody.
I was thinking that this whole thing about many distractions coming in some ways, it’s the way mothers have had to cope for centuries. How is this different from the distractions of raising a family and you have to go out and gather the food and cook the food and make sure that the dinner is on the table and things like that? How is that different?
In some ways, it’s no different but for a lot of women, what’s happened is they have to add the workpiece to the family piece. In some senses in modern families, that workload has balanced. Thousands of years ago, it was clear the mother was the child rearer and the father was the hunter. We have balanced families, but people have responsibilities outside of just providing for their families. You have that additional burden.
I also think that although it definitely takes brainpower to figure things out, not everybody’s going to put on an eight-course gourmet meal when you’ve also got a whole bunch of kids around and so forth. That housework is not the same as childcare is as valuable, but not the same as the focused brainwork that we’re expected to do these days. You think about Virginia Woolf who said, “I need a room of my own.” In this modern-day, how do we manage? I’m a business owner and I have a smartphone and I confess, I get distracted. If I look up something on Facebook, I might lose the next half-hour because I keep wanting to go to the next thing. How do we manage things so that we don’t get distracted all the time?
Everybody’s different. For some, the best solution is not to go on Facebook at all or to set a timer so that you were pulled out and you say, “I’m going to go on Facebook, but I’m going to maximize my time there at 10 minutes or 15 minutes.” You get in and get back out if you have a tendency to get lost. You have to anticipate where you’re going to have problems. Get to know yourself a little bit. This is something that you and I have been working on. Understand where your biological primetime is. Where is it that you’re most creative? Where is it that you’re best able to do those things? Where is it that you run into trouble in the middle of the afternoon when your brain is exhausted from the activities? Maybe that’s the time when it’s okay if you get lost a little bit on Facebook because you’re not going to be that productive anyway.Everybody's list of to-do items is longer than their arm, and people get overwhelmed. Click To Tweet
That early afternoon after lunch at 2:00, I try to sleep after lunch because I’m much better if I have a nap. My partner doesn’t do naps and I’m much better off if I have a nap, if I have that break. I’ve learned from you not to expect myself to do serious thinking, but we can say 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, I will do other things. If I have to do any serious thinking or writing, maybe I’ll sit down about 4:00 and by then I’ve got a second win. The best thing that you helped me with was to not beat myself up for not being able to be productive for ten hours straight. That’s a great gift that you’ve given me.
I’m glad that’s helpful. It is all about progress, not perfection. Are we a little bit better than we were? Are we learning something? Are we knocking those things off of our list? Do we make a little bit of progress every day? You can’t eat an elephant all at once. It’s one bite at a time.
You’ve got the five steps that you take people through in your PROtivity class. Talk a little bit about what PROtivity is and how this class works.
PROtivity is a word that my daughter who’s a writer made up for me. PROtivity is the activities that help you make a profit, progress, avoid procrastination and feel like a pro. What we do in that system is to understand what your goals are. Those goals need to be inspiring. If you’re not inspired to go off and do something then what is life worth? Why are you here? You want to make sure that those goals that you have, that you’re working toward in your business or in your life are things that cause you to spring out of bed in the morning and say, “I can’t wait to get going on that.” It’s creating goals that are inspiring.
The second step is you want to make sure you’re working on your own priorities. Many people, the first thing they do in the morning is they pick up the phone and they look at their email. They start working on it and an hour later, they haven’t done anything that matters to them. Sometimes it takes them to Facebook, sometimes they’re replying to somebody else’s problem. The thing that’s important here is if you want to make progress toward your own goals, you have to work out of your priorities, not somebody else’s. Don’t be reactive, don’t be responding, be proactive. That’s a big thing out of the Covey, 7 Habits, being proactive on those things that you need to work on. That’s step two.
Step three is about progress, not perfection. How do you make progress every day? How do you select to those things that matter to you, that will move the needle, that will move you forward toward your goals? How do you manage those lists? I’m a big devotee of David Allen and his seminal work, Getting Things Done. I highly recommend that book. For me, the David Allen system, he calls it the Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s about how do you organize? How do you manage your myriad of things to do? What are your next actions? The fourth piece of this is how to deal with procrastination and distractions. We are constantly distracted. Facebook built billions of dollars in business by keeping us distracted. That’s their business model. They want to keep you moving from thing to thing, click here and there are many other things that come at us. How do you handle those distractions? I’m an ADD guy. I’m chasing squirrels all the time. How do you deal with that? How do you avoid procrastination?
There are triggers for us that cause procrastination. You need to anticipate those and say, “What can I do to avoid this type of procrastination? This is why I’m procrastinating on this project. I’m going to do this instead.” Finally, the fifth step is building habits for the long-term. How do you change those habits? Our brain loves to do things in habits. It’s much more efficient if we’re habitual, we don’t have to think about it. Getting in your car and driving, it’s a habit. It’s something you know how to do without thinking.
I’m sure everybody reading had a time when they were driving and then ten minutes later they realize they’d gotten where they wanted to go and they don’t remember any of the last ten minutes. Our brains work that way because if it didn’t, we would use up all of our energy in the brain. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to think. What’d you have to do? Our brain doesn’t know the difference between a good habit and a bad habit. What you have to do is to figure out how to create new habits that are good ones, the ones that you like. That’s the PROtivity system.
I have taken this class. I made a little bit of progress way, but I’m far from perfection, that’s for sure. You’re an ADD guy. How come an ADD guy is teaching productivity?
Somebody said, “We best teach what we need to learn.” When I was introduced to the Covey 7 Habits many years ago, it was transformational for me because it was a system. First of all, as you pointed out, permission to fail. As long as I was making progress, that was okay. In fact, a funny story was when I was doing the training for the 7 Habits, becoming a facilitator, the woman who was teaching us said one day she literally ran into Dr. Covey in the hallway of the Covey Institute and was frustrated because she wasn’t making much progress in implementing the 7 Habits. She asked Dr. Covey how well he does with the 7 Habits. He said, “I’m at about 35%.” That gives those of us that aren’t doing well a cause for celebration. You could argue, his standards are probably a little higher because he wrote the book. If somebody who understands it that well is only doing 35% and we look at him as a paragon of productivity, there’s hope for the rest of us.
I love what you were saying about having permission to be human about this. I heard something that reminded me that often where we are unhappy is not so much paying attention to where we are, but if we focus on the gap between where we are and where we think we should be. That made a lot of sense. How can we get some help with the shoulds? I’m good at beating myself up for all the things that I should have accomplished that didn’t happen. How do we deal with the shoulds?
The best way that I’ve found is to focus on the difference between where we are now and where we were yesterday, to be thankful and to celebrate those things that we did accomplish. Focus on what we have to be grateful for, what we have to be thankful for. We have so many gifts, our gift of health, the gift of our minds, the gifts of our friends, our relationships, and the opportunities that we have to make a difference in the world. Focus on the positive. That’s the biggest thing. Everybody is imperfect. Everybody has faults. You can’t fix everything, but can you make it a little better and celebrate that?
Where is the balance between be gentle with yourself and say, “I did this. That was fine,” and what needs to be done to move your business further or satisfy? You’ve got an assignment from your manager and you’ve got to get your team going. Where’s the balance there?
I’ll admit that I’ve borrowed this from the Franklin Covey folks, it’s that you need to pick out a couple of things each week to say, “These are the important things. I need to make sure I get them done and I’m going to put them on my calendar. I’m going to block out time to make sure that it’s only a couple of things that are important for this week. Let’s make sure that I make some progress on those things.” This is the Eisenhower Matrix or the Time Management Matrix as Covey calls it where you have importance on one axis and urgency on the other. These things tend to be in what we call Quadrant II, the things that are important but not urgent. All the planning activities, these long-term goals, those are the things that we find the hardest to get scheduled. If you look at your list of things to do and the things that will have the most impact on your business, on your life, on your role, you’ll find that those things are important but not urgent.Focus on the difference between where you are today and where you were yesterday. Click To Tweet
It’s easy to go from urgent to urgent. It’s easy to go from other people’s urgent. How do you plan time for thinking, for doing the long-range planning?
My methodology is I take a little bit of time every Sunday evening as I’m getting ready to launch into the next week. I look at my calendar. I look at the things that are important on my to-do list. I look for spaces on my calendar. When I was working at corporate, I had a couple of two-hour blocks on my calendar every week where I knew I didn’t have recurring meetings. I had a couple of hours on Monday morning and a couple of hours on Thursday morning that I blocked off and it looked like I was in a meeting that I already had some of this. If somebody wanted to look at my calendar and try to find when I was free, they wouldn’t see that those hours were available. On Sunday evening, I would schedule the things that I wanted to get accomplished in those two two-hour blocks.
That takes me to to-do lists. They’re all of those things that you want to do and you’re going to get there. I know you’ve talked about the someday maybe category. Explain a little bit about what that is about.
This is an interesting concept from David Allen in Getting Things Done. I’m all about learning from other people. If you have an idea of something that you want to do, but you don’t have the time or energy to do it. The best way not to lose it as an idea is to put it on another list, but put it on a list that you’re not going to look at every day because you don’t want that project to go, “I should be working on that.” You shouldn’t be working on it. You haven’t made a commitment to do it yet. Put it on a list called someday maybe.
I confess, I have a stack of papers that have traveled with me to Europe because I was going to finish them and they’re going to travel with me back to the US. I say for years I’ve been doing this. There are stacks of things I’m going to get to one of these days and I need to get to. It’s, how to start? If that’s a good reminder. I was looking at those stacks saying, “I was going to do that.”
Periodically, you want to take a look at that someday maybe list and see if maybe there is one of those projects you want to pull onto your active project list.
I know one thing that’s been helpful for me because I know I’m an Olympic-class procrastinator is I will hire a student or somebody. There’s a woman who lives in my apartment complex who will come in and help for $15 an hour. We have a day once a month to look at the piles and her job is to say, “Do you need this? Do you need to keep this?” I could do it for myself but I won’t. I know I won’t. It’s worth it to hire somebody for three hours to come and maybe I can have that person finish that thing that’s been bugging me. You’ve talked briefly about the Pomodoro Technique. What’s the Pomodoro Technique?
Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato and it was invented by Francesco Cirillo. He’s an Italian who basically said, “You can’t focus forever. Let’s focus for 25 minutes.” You set your little kitchen timer, the tomato-shaped timer that comes from Italy. That’s why it’s named the Pomodoro Technique. You set your timer for 25 minutes and you focus on one task for that 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, you stop and you take a five-minute break. Everybody that has adopted this technique, what is amazing to them and to me when I do it, is how much you can get done in 25 minutes of focused effort. For me, as somebody with ADD, I leave the timer ticking. There’s an app on the phone. I don’t have a tomato timer but when I get distracted, that ticking reminds me, “I’m supposed to stay focused.” I use that ticking to help me stay focused on the moment in what I’m focused on.
That’s good because I use the timer on my phone all the time, but it’s all too easy to hit restart and keep going. One swipe and it’s gone. It doesn’t make enough of an impression to make me pay attention. I like the idea of having it tick there. That’s a great thing. I know you’re in the middle of the PROtivity course and you’ve got students. What are they working on? Do you have any insights that you could share with us that have come up to be useful or things that have surprised you?
We did, it’s a relatively small class and they wanted to get at their email, which is something that we don’t get to for a couple more weeks. We spent some time because they’re overwhelmed with their email. How do you get your inbox to zero? I have a five-step method to get your inbox to zero and to keep it there. We spent some time working on that and I saw one of the class members at a networking event and she said, “In the last week, two times I’ve had my inbox to zero.” She had over 1,000 emails when we started. It can be done and it feels good when you get your inbox to zero.
That reminds me of stuff that you said I was going to ask you about. You talked about setting goals, but say my goal is to finish my book. It’s such a huge goal. What do we do after setting a goal?
It’s crucial because when you have a thing on your to-do list that says, “Finish book,” your brain goes, “I can’t finish my book. That is forever.” What you can do is ask yourself, “What’s the next physical action I could take for this project?” Stolen from David Allen, he defines a project as anything that takes more than one action to complete. It could be something as simple as getting new tires for your car. We don’t think of that as a project, but it is a project because you have to decide where you’re going to go. You have to make an appointment and then you have to go. There are three steps. The next physical action if you’re going to get new tires for your car is to figure out where you’re going to go. Maybe that takes you two seconds, I don’t know. The next thing is to call the place and make an appointment and then it winds up on your calendar and it winds up happening. Projects like finishing the book, ask yourself, don’t put finish the book on your to-do list. What’s the next action? Maybe it’s revising chapter one or maybe it’s doing some specific research that’s for chapter seventeen or whatever it is. Put down on your to-do list on your next actions list the next physical action for that project. Do that for every project you have. Active people probably have something north of 50 projects that they’re working on, but you can’t do a project, you can only do actions. Each action is a step along the way toward completing that project.
You have a goal. You have a strategy. The project that is going to get you to that goal, does that make sense?
You may have several projects that are going to get. You may have several projects that will take you toward your goal. Maybe your goal is making $200,000 next year. I don’t know what the year 2020 goals look like or maybe it’s $50,000. You might have several different activities, several different vectors that your business takes. You might have a project to work with this type of client and another project to work with this type of client or another project that is, “I’m going to get my CRM under control.” There can be a variety of projects that maybe 6, 10, even 15 projects associated with a particular goal. Some of them you haven’t even thought of yet because you haven’t gotten there and that’s okay. Maybe you’ve thought of them and you had to put them on your someday maybe list because you don’t have the bandwidth to handle all the projects and that’s okay too.
This is fascinating, Steven, and I want to thank you so much for doing this. I want to ask something that has nothing to do with your business or my business, but one of my favorite questions. If you could be sharing the stage speaking with somebody from history, who would it be?Focus on what you have to be grateful for. Click To Tweet
I thought long and hard about that question. The person would be Gandhi.
That’s great, but why?
The man had such an impact on all of those around him. It’s the change. He was an inspiration to Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ll say he invented the nonviolent protest movement. All the nonviolent protest leaders look to him. He was such a thought leader. To understand how he could create such an incredible passion within the crowd and yet they were always nonviolent. It was always peaceful. He’s clearly an impassioned leader but he led by example. He led by doing. He was clearly one of the most focused individuals ever to have lived at least in recent times.
How can we learn more about what you do and how you help people?
The easiest way is to go to the website. My company is Business Culture Advantage, modeled that after Peter Drucker’s statement, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It doesn’t matter how good your strategy is if you don’t have the culture that can support it. BusinessCultureAdvantage.com, you can go there, you can learn about the PROtivity system there. You can also take Productivity Checkup. If you want to learn about your own individual productivity, ProductivityCheckup.com is a place that you can go to take a quick little five-minute quiz and understand how you’re doing.
When people have taken that quiz, then what happens?
When you take the quiz and when you submit the quiz, you get a free eBook, it’s called Productivity Tips for The Entrepreneur. Honestly, these tips will apply even if you are an executive at a company or a worker that wants to improve your productivity. These tips work well no matter what business you’re in.
Steven, I want to thank you so much for being part of the show. You’re certainly someone who gets results yourself and you’ve helped me get results. I appreciate that. I hope to see you in the next episode.
- Steven Kirch
- The Gratitude Network
- 7 Habits
- Getting Things Done
- Productivity Tips for The Entrepreneur
- @SJKirch on Twitter
About Dr. Steven J. Kirch
Dr. Steven Kirch founded Business Culture Advantage because he saw so many executives, entrepreneurs and small business owners struggling to figure out how to achieve what they most desired. Through his research, he discovered that they were focusing on all the wrong things. With a Ph.D. in Physics and over 20 years as a senior engineering manager and leader in technology companies, he studied what made individuals and teams more effective and has become an internationally requested speaker and trainer.
He has held management and leadership positions in nearly every aspect of Si product strategy, design, manufacturing, testing, and reliability. Dr. Kirch also has the ability and experience in managing business processes, product development, and technology development as a program manager with technical breadth and business acumen. His forte includes coaching, training, and motivating leaders and teams in executing business strategy.
He loves enabling individuals and teams to reach their goals in areas which really matter to them. This is why he created his proprietary method called the PROtivity System – a powerful, step-by-step process that helps you create holistic life systems that enable you to create change and do more of what you love. Dr. Kirch delivers The PROtivity System through private, 1:1 consulting, group programs or in a team environment.