How to be a Productivity Ninja
Our guest is the author of the global best-seller, “How to be a Productivity Ninja“. He is the founder of Think Productive, one of the world’s leading providers of personal productivity training and consultancy. His podcast “Beyond Busy” explores the issues of productivity, work/life balance, and how people define happiness in their lives. Previous roles include Chief Executive of Student Volunteering England, Head of Volunteering at the University of Birmingham, and an advisor to the UK Government on youth volunteering policy.
Welcome Graham Allcott
•What stops people from being productive?
•What are the ways to ensure a good work-life balance?
•How do you switch off?
•How do you ensure that a keynote delivery always feels tailored for the specific audience?
Artificial Intelligence Generated Transcript
Below is a machine-generated transcript and therefore the transcript may contain errors.
What Stops You Being Productive
James Taylor 0:00
I’m James Taylor and you’re listening to the speakers you podcast a show for aspiring and professional speakers. This episode is with my co-host, Maria Franzoni. Enjoy the episode. Our guest today is the author of the global bestseller on how to be a productivity ninja. He is the founder of think productive one of the world’s leading providers of personal productivity training and consultancy. His podcast beyond busy explores the issues of productivity, work-life balance, and how people define happiness in their lives. previous roles include chief executive of student volunteering England, head of volunteering at the University of Birmingham, and an adviser to the UK Government on youth volunteering policy, please welcome to the show, Graham Olcott.
Graham Allcott 0:52
No, just finished bopping. Yeah, fantastic.
Maria Franzoni 0:57
Lovely, lovely to see you. Great. I know you go back years, and you had a profound effect on me when I met you because I read your book, How to be a productivity ninja. And although I haven’t applied everything, I’ve maintained a lot. So So what is it then would you say in your experience that stops people from being productive?
Graham Allcott 1:19
There are two key things to think about here. One is busyness. And the idea that when it’s frenetic, and there are so many things going on, it’s very easy to grab on to the next email, the next thing to do without really focusing on what matters most, you know, I often say that productivity really boils down to making space for what matters. And the other side of it is people play the wrong game. So people spend a lot of time thinking about time management. And what I spend a lot of time with people helping to reframe it to is the idea of attention management. So rather than trying to manage your time, really focus on the times in your day, the times in your week, where you have your best attention. And putting that to the most difficult, the most creative, most interesting stuff. And part of that also means that when you’re tired and not so great, you can put that lesser attention to more kind of easy stuff. But managing your attention fundamentally it’s a bit more subtle than managing time, but it just has a huge effect.
Disruption Of Social Media
Maria Franzoni 2:23
And it did and I definitely applied that because I had always been one of these time management people I’d come back from, you know, I’ve come from a management consultancy background, which was, you know, which involves some time in motion, which of course, is all about time. And it’s attention for sure. And sort of that energy as well, when you’re you have more energy to be attentive, there is something that is all else that I think people have are what’s the word I’m looking for disruptive, their productivity is disrupted by social media, what do you think about that?
Graham Allcott 2:54
Yeah, for sure. I mean, social media is a really good example of what fits into busy, right, people just spend every moment just scrolling and getting distracted. And so I think there’s something about so I when I rewrote how to be a productivity ninja as a, as the fifth anniversary of that book. You know, my publishers were saying to me, what’s changed, and I said, pretty much nothing in terms of the fundamentals of how to manage attention and the kind of structures that we need and, and how once you start to put an apply, you know, really rigorous thinking and get specific on stuff and get a really good sense of what the project is and what the action is, once you do all of that, you know, it helps you to be productive. But I said the only thing that has changed in the last five years is, you know, I just noticed that people spend more time scrolling and less time, actually just allowing space for thoughts. And when you think about where do you have your best ideas, you don’t tend to have your best ideas at your desk, you have them in those moments where you stood in the checkout queue or, you know, sat in the car or walking along or whatever. And so if we’re filling all of those little spaces with more scrolling, then actually we’re doing ourselves a disservice in terms of solving the biggest issues in our work and in our lives. Right. So I think for me, that’s a really important thing. And I’m very mindful of how I use my phone and social media. So Instagram is, you know, they say like, Tinder is the most deleted app on in on the planet, because people kind of, you know, get excited about matching with people and they get, you know, a bit dispirited and leave my most deleted app, for sure is Instagram, right, because I go on it mainly for work. And then when I’m there, I just feel myself just getting hooked into it. And soon as they have that feeling that it feels less in control for me, I delete it. And I also use an app called freedom, which kind of blocks a lot of other stuff. So I don’t get email notifications and all this sort of other stuff as well. Yeah, I just think it’s a huge challenge. And I see a lot of people talk to a lot of people who have this idea that well I will use my willpower and just be better than that. And then you realize, actually, the brightest and best minds on the planet are employed in Silicon Valley with one job, which is to rob as much of your attention as possible. So when you realize what you’re up against, you know, you have to really take that seriously. And the idea of just using willpower on it for me is just like, you know, that’s for the birds like, we really need to see that. This is something that we have to take very seriously.
James Taylor 5:28
I remember when I was working in Silicon Valley, and there was, I was at dinner one night, I was sitting next to a developer who worked for one of the big social media companies. And I looked at them, I looked over to his phone. And it was interesting because the first thing I noticed about his phone was it was in black and white. It’s like, he tweaked it in some way. So it took all the color from the phone because he said, We engineer in such a way that we go for those reds, those hot colors to make people do things. And the other thing he said was that it had no notifications, all the notifications are taken off all of those things as well. So something we do seem to happen, I think pretty much everyone’s been thinking about it. But these past two years or so is this idea of work-life balance, we’ve had to kind of reassess what that might look like today. And for some of us, it’s been very nice to have a little bit more life for of us, because we’ve had a little more work. And so what are the ways to ensure a good balance between those two things? Or should we even should the idea of work-life balance? Is it just a is it a fallacy? Should we just be looking to go full-on for work for a little bit full-on for life? And then that’s the way it works? Well, I
Graham Allcott 6:38
think I mean, it’s a really interesting thing. A lot of people talk about work-life integration, rather than work-life balance. And I use the term work-life balance because it’s what people understand. But I personally, think that there are times in there, they’ve been times in my life. And they’re also just times, you know, in an average week, where I’ll be much more full-on, you know, in terms of my focuses my work, and then also times where I’m really all in on leisure and family and downtime, I’m pretty bounded, personally around, not working weekends, not working evenings. So I do keep some quite firm boundaries myself around that stuff. But I think the other thing that people often miss is that often the way that people think about their home lives, our social lives or personal lives, is I’m going to go to work, I’m going to do my day’s work, and then I’ll manage all the rest of it, you know, manage the personal life, the social life, all that stuff. And consequently, what you’re doing is you’re leaving yourself with a depleted level of energy left to manage what’s actually the most important stuff, right? So, what I say to people a lot is take your personal life, take your leisure time, take your, your downtime, and your chill time. take that seriously and plan that as seriously as you plan your work time. So, you know, people have said to me over the years, like how come you always get Wimbledon tickets, it’s like because I take it really seriously when the ballot is I put it in my diary, just as I would a work deadline. And, you know, there’s I think there are always those things that, you know, to create really amazing memories and to create really incredible opportunities often in life, like you have to put a bit of work and you have to research stuff, you have to figure stuff out. And, you know, I take that as seriously as I take my work. And I just I for me, that’s a really important thing and just living a more interesting, more fun and also more relaxed and present life.
James Taylor 8:36
What about you, Maria? How have you been? How do you think about this whole kind of work-life balance, because you’ve I know, for many years, you had a very full charging kind of work with the Bureau and everything like that? And more recently, you’ve kind of made a lot of changes in your work.
Maria Franzoni 8:51
He does this to me, Graham, he puts me on this. Because you saw that I was pointing to myself, I’m bad at the work-life balance. I’ve always been bad. The problem is with me, Graham is that my work is my passion. And so I love it. And so people say oh, you know if you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t feel like work. And it’s true. But I do need to prioritize because I got to think about the fact that I’ve got other people in my life who actually would like some time with me and would like to quality time with me not when I’m feeling drained or diffused. So what’s changed for me, James, is that certainly, my life is less stressful because the new work is less stressful, actually, interestingly enough, and it allows me can step away from it. And actually, close things off. I can actually, you know, I planned a week’s holiday and I’m going to switch everything off. I couldn’t do that in the bureau world. You can’t do it. You know, because with bureaus, as soon as somebody doesn’t respond, they go to the next Bureau, the next person, they do not mean so it’s going to be better and I’m going to take some grounds advice and actually prioritize and plan because I’m good at planning. I’m going to plan my free time better. Thank you. Nice, huh? So here’s the other problem I have. And I don’t know if it’s I don’t think you have this problem, James, I can’t switch off. How do you switch off? I just can’t stop?
How to switch off
Graham Allcott 10:17
Hmm, well, I mean, there’s so many, that means so many things to so many different people, doesn’t it? So let’s just maybe take two or three of those. So, I mean, one really obvious thing you can do, I mentioned before the app freedom on your phone. So just in terms of thinking about trying to switch the world off a little bit, and some of that, that new information that comes in and, you know, I think humans are naturally very curious species, right. So when new information comes in, it’s like, what’s happening, who loves me that we’ve curious, we want to find out at that moment. So switching on something like freedom, which blocks a lot of those things, and I have notifications off, just as a general principle, but it just also just turns off things like the WhatsApp stuff, and you know, all those things just don’t come in then. And also like, it can restrict access to stuff. So there’s like certain times a day where if I’ve got Instagram on my phone, I just literally can’t open it, like, go to open it. And it just, it just defaults back to the screen. And the same actually, freedom also works on laptops. So at certain times in the day, if I go on to the BBC football website, it just comes up with a green screen with the freedom logo, which is like a butterfly, and it just says you are free, go do something important, right. And I allow myself that in the afternoon, but in the morning, which is my more productive time, I just have that set that just if I ever go on to the BBC website, it just goes off. So that so that’s a way of switching off. I think just a real practical thing is if you’re sitting in bed, and you can’t get to sleep, because your mind is worrying, and you can’t switch off. The most important thing with any ideas and any data is to get it out of your head as quickly as possible. So have a pen and paper by the bed and just write that stuff down. And Psychologists call this distributed cognition, which basically means once you can see it in front of you, your mind, lets go of it, and it’s easier to actually process it and work with it. So just having something just that gets that stuff out of your head at the time it comes into your head. And then I think for me, it’s also about, you know, what can you do to put your mind in a different state to the work state. So in perhaps more of a flow state, for example, like if you’re, you know, playing five a side football or other sport, what tends to happen is, your brain just goes into this kind of, you know, you’re seeing the shapes and you’re seeing the passes and seeing the people or is it going just for a walk in the woods and just getting really immersed in, you know, because nature’s really, it’s full of data, isn’t it, like, there’s so much data in nature, but actually just it puts your brain into a different relationship with that data than it is if you’re, you know, reading emails on a screen. And you know, other people, it’s swimming, other people, it’s running, other people’s cooking, dancing, you know, whatever that thing is, all those things are that put your mind into a different state. I think that’s a really important thing. In terms of switching off. And, you know, you mentioned like, the last couple of years, I think it’s been really interesting how there’s been a blur for a lot of people, you know, in work and life has been happening all in the same location, and, you know, everything’s on the kitchen table, and all that sort of stuff, but also a lot of the things that give people that sense of flow or that sense of switching states were just denied to us, you know, you know, the pubs were closed, the gyms were closed, like all that stuff that people do, to really switch off wasn’t there anymore. And I think, you know, maybe that’s made people a little bit more aware of, of that being a need and, and it’s a real human need to, to sort of need to switch off and change states every once in a while.
James Taylor 13:49
I’m James Taylor, keynote speaker, and speaker business coach, and this is the speakers you podcast. If you enjoy listening to conversations that will help you launch and grow your speaking business fast new thought possible, then you’ve come to the right place. Each week we discuss marketing strategies, sales techniques, as well as ideas to increase the profitability of your speaking business and develop your craft. You’ll find show notes for today’s episode as well as free speaker business training at speakers you.com This week’s episode is sponsored by speakers you the online community for international speakers, speakers, you help you launch grow and monetize your speaking business faster than you thought possible. If you want to share your message as a highly paid speaker, then speakers will teach you how just go to speakers u.com to access their free speaker business training.
Maria Franzoni 14:37
We’ve had a couple of comments. So we’ve got Kate Trafford loved Graham’s book, How to be a productivity ninja I recommend it to my coaching clients all the time. Juan Carlos is offering to help anybody who needs some help with work-life balance. Thank you, Juan Carlos. Rally Hello rally. This is a supersession. That’s nice because rallies from a speaker bureau so that’s quite nice, Graeme it’s a supersession. The rally, get your roster out. Make sure y’all go King make sure you, Graham. Wonderful. James, I’m sure you’ve got a good question for us. JAMES Well, yeah,
James Taylor 15:09
I’m just thinking of this the can switch off thing as well. I mean, I think that’s a great one you just mentioned about having by but
Maria Franzoni 15:22
are we losing him? Is it just me? We’ve switched off James. We switched him off. Yeah, I think his powers are gone. You know, it’s like who see, James, you’re intermittence Medea. So he was talking about switching off. And it was interesting. So I can’t read his mind. We’re not we’ve not that practiced. But let’s talk about being a productivity ninja, specifically in your speaking business then. And one of the things that’s very important, sorry, James, I think you might be back. We lost you for a bit you turned into a Dalek.
James Taylor 15:49
Oh, great. Bye. Good.
Maria Franzoni 15:51
Yeah, good, good.
James Taylor 15:52
I was switched off, maybe something was switched me off somewhere? No, I was just saying, I thought on that, on that comment you made there about having the thing by the side of the bed. I think that’s, that’s great. Because I know a lot of people I work with when we talk about that sense of flow, that sense of having ideas and creativity. For a lot of people it might be they get those ideas first thing in the morning, other people, it’s in the afternoons, other people in the evening. And for a lot of those people that are in the evening, that you know, the wee small hours, that’s great for them. But it’s the ability then to be able to calm that mind down so they can actually get some sleep in as well. So I think that’s a great idea, putting those things down on paper by the side of the bed.
How to be a ninja tailoring your SB
Maria Franzoni 16:32
Super. So while you were cut off there, we were about to sort of apply this productivity ninja to speaking business. And specifically, I think, let’s see how we can apply it to tailoring because if you’re a speaker, and you’re delivering you’re gonna be back delivering lots of speeches this year 2022 is going to be great. This is what I’m hearing from everybody, please let me know if you’re finding that in the comments. And you want to tailor for a specific audience? How can you apply productivity ninja tailoring?
Graham Allcott 17:02
Yeah, so there are a couple of things I always do is, the first is when I have the first briefing call. With a client, I was kind of saying a couple of things. One is like, this is not the only briefing call if you need more. So other things change, you know, then let me know. And we’ll and we’ll talk about that stuff. But what I always do is I always just capture it with a mind map, like in front of me. And there are always certain questions that I want to know. But the idea is that then when I’m then on the train going to that speaking engagement, I’ve got that vision in front of me, and it puts me back in the headspace of the call. And sort of back, you know, almost like in my head, I’m, I’m having the conversation with you know, the client and the other two people from the company are on the call and, you know, just putting my headspace into their headspace a little bit. And the questions that I always want to know, I always want to know, just really practical stuff, like who’s on before and who’s on after me. Just in terms of more in terms of the energy and the mood in the room and that kind of thing. And especially if you’re the thing on straight after lunch, like you just need to know that stuff so that you can just tailor the sort of flow of the content and the energy of the content to make sure that it’s engaging. I was also want to know, tell me, what is the current mood in your business? What’s happening in your business? What are the stories that are being told in your business like that stuff that I know people are walking into the room with? And then the other one I always ask is, at the end of the session, if it’s gone, well, what have I done? Or what have I said, so just really getting them to articulate sort of key messages. I had one last week, which is really interesting. There was a guy who he’d read, he’d read my book, he’d also been on and watch, I’ve got like a Talks at Google thing, which is on my YouTube channel. And then he listened to like five or six episodes of my podcast beyond busy and beyond busy episodes are an hour-long, right? So he’s like, six hours in plus the book plus, so he’s like, let’s say he’s 1520 hours into my content here, right? So because of that he’s got he’s sent me this really detailed email with a love this and all of that, that applies maybe that less so and it’s like, and actually, it was amazing, because it gave me such confidence that he had confidence in me. But also I was left thinking, but what’s the key message? So I always ask that and you know, and the reason for asking that is, is there one thing that that I’ve been ultimate that you’ve looked to me for as opposed to booking someone to talk about marketing or talk about something else? And it you know, usually what you’ll find out and uncovered quite quickly is a there was a staff survey and people really talked about just feeling too busy or, you know, there’s something to do with, you know, stress levels and resilience that we really want. have sort of pull out. So there’ll be something like that that once you get to the bottom of that, I think it’s much easier than to tailor the messages. The other one that I quite like is like the values of an organization, or sometimes it’s not even the values, but it’s like, there’s an initiative with a certain name. And there’s a way of tailoring some of my phrases or some of the bits of the content to, to sort of reflect those words back to them a little bit. So like, if people are having a year, which is about connection, you know, I’ll maybe bring connection into some of the stuff I’m talking about here and not a superhero or whatever. So just trying to use their language a bit is the other thing I’d like to do. And that kind of comes out quite naturally, once I’m doing that briefing call. But having that all on a mind map for me and like, I quite often take a photo of it. So that just if I lost it, I’m okay. But literally, for me, that’s what that looks like is physical pieces of paper that I take with me, which I think when people have read my book and how many apps I use and stuff, sometimes people are surprised that I also sometimes the best user interfaces of pen and paper, right.
Maria Franzoni 21:06
I love my maps to use mind maps, James,
James Taylor 21:08
I do as I was listening to you speak the I was just thinking I do exactly the same thing. With the mind map, I have had the client fill out a two-pager. Simply because I found after a while it helped them focus. Some people focus really well and actually have to write things down other people better verbally, and then we jump on the court. So there’s nothing that we don’t have to ask, or maybe I could just ask for clarification. But when I’m doing that call, I’m doing exactly I’m doing a bit of a mind map. And then from that mind map, I actually extend to and actually build up the structure of the presentation itself. And I’m going to do it and what needs to be in each place. So as you said, you’re traveling to that place on the flight or where or the train, you can just pick that up and go this is what the conversation what this is what their needs this what the value is, this is what the emotion that they want the audience to feel. And then how does that and am I taking all of these things in the structure of the presentation? So I think mind maps are great for that.
Graham Allcott 22:03
Do you have any other favorite questions? James, I left? I’m curious to hear what your questions are? Yeah, a
James Taylor 22:07
a lot of similar ones. I asked questions, things like, you don’t have to tell me the name of the previous speakers. But can you tell me speakers that you’ve maybe speakers you had in the past that your audience has either really loved and to those that they have that really hasn’t resonated with your audience? So they just kind of tell me a little bit more about what the audience likes and doesn’t like? I definitely do. you know, I asked him, What are the theme and all those kinds of things. But the other two questions are the 2 am of the people in the community or in the audience? What is their 2the am the problem? What’s keeping them awake at night? Because that will help me hit a little bit more of a nerve, Like You, I asked language lingo Have you referred to your salespeople? Like, pharmaceutical is a perfect example. I did date for Roche the other day, they don’t call them pharmaceutical sales reps anymore, they have a different term that they use. So you can build those in. And the one I still love, and it’s my guiding star. And I don’t know if you do this as well. But is that question of when they hear and finish? Here that speech that presentation? And as they’re going out that door or closing down that Zoom meeting? What is the overriding emotion that you want them to feel? And that just goes to that Maya Angelou quote, people forget what you say, but they should never forget how you make them feel?
Maria Franzoni 23:27
Fantastic. I’ve got to ask you because all of us are at the beginning of our year. We’re all enthusiastic. We’ve all got resolutions, one of them would probably be to be more productive this year. Are you able to give us your freedom apps not on is it? I can I can
Graham Allcott 23:46
take him on trying to call me and I’ve just yeah,
Maria Franzoni 23:49
the freedom app wasn’t on the notifications answer can you give us a couple of tips before we really see Johnny more productive
Tips to be more productive
Graham Allcott 23:58
tips about being more productive, okay. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you feel like you don’t know where to start, the most important place to start is your own head, get a pen and paper, dump it all down onto the page. And you’ll just immediately feel better as a starting point. Most important, I’m often asked what’s the most important thing in your book, if someone’s read my book to make happen so that you’re more productive? And the answer to that is always doing a weekly review. So this is about once a week, getting out of doing mode and getting into thinking mode. So that’s about not being the worker of your work, but being the boss of your work, taking a step back. And what that’s about is looking at all the projects that you’re working on, looking at all the things that are available to you to do over the next week. lining that up with your calendar, thinking ahead. Spending a few seconds just thinking about the outside world and what else is going on and you know who else needs stuff and just taking that step back to do have that as a quality piece of thinking in one go, rather than what we all do, which is, you know, we’re constantly having some of those thoughts at different moments of the day, and it’s but it’s very fragmented, that will save you time. So it feels like an extra hour or a couple of hours that you need to add into your week to make that happen. Actually, it just saves you so much time. And the only way I can really explain that is to trust me, just try it a couple of times. And you’ll find what those examples look like for you. And then I mean, just really basic stuff, like Maria mentioned, keeping your inbox at zero. You know, just being really mindful of what’s noise versus what, what’s the really critical information. And the final thing I would say is, when we think about making space for what matters, we have to really hone down and be ruthless around what is actually my priority, like what’s the big priority. If you’ve got 15 priorities right now you have no priorities. So the way I look at it is you can do one thing in the morning, one thing in the afternoon, that are your big, your big priorities. And basically beyond that, you know, as you’ll, you’ll be out of control really quickly if you try and be more ambitious than that. So that’s about being ruthless and saying no to lots of stuff. But really productivity is, you know, it’s about doing less, but being really purposeful with what you do. It’s not about trying to do everything
James Taylor 26:33
that talks about having that weekly reminder that practice that prompt, you have a yeah offer. Tell us about something you do every week you put out into the world every week that can maybe help people that are watching, listening just now kind of focused around their productivity. Can you tell us about that?
Graham Allcott 26:49
Lovely segway, James, I have to say. So, so I do. So I’m working on a new book right now and also doing some talks in companies and actually saying no to quite a few bits and pieces. But one thing that I do every week, is I have this email called Rev up for the week. So the idea of it is 4:05 pm, I just picked a time out there on a Sunday, four or 5 pm. On a Sunday, I send out an email, which has one idea that’s either productive or positive for the week ahead. Sometimes they’re topical, sometimes they’re not sometimes they’re directly productive, sometimes they’re a bit more down to kind of positive or gratitude or communication or kindness kind of route. But the idea is this is one thing that’s positive four or 5 pm Every Sunday, and it’s free. And the idea is that that will just set you up for the week. So if you want to sign up for that, if you just go to grahamallcott.com You’ll see the little links on the page there and also, you know, the little forms to fill in. And also if you go to https://www.grahamallcott.com/links. That’s like everything. So there’s like the beyond busy podcast, there’s like my speaking stuff like everything’s all in that one place for Microsoft comm forward-slash links.
James Taylor 28:05
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for coming to the show today. Even just talk to you. I’m getting excited about getting more productive getting to inbox zero. That’s my task for this afternoon to get back on that. Thank you so much for coming to the show. You can subscribe to the speakers you podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts while you’re there. Leave us a review. I really appreciate it. I’m James Taylor and you’ve been listening to the speakers you podcast.