We all have that magical time in our day where we’re firing on all cylinders. For those 2-3 hours, our energy is gushing, we’re switched on, and our creativity is at its peak. On the flip side, there’s also that daily feet-dragging lull, where concentration wanes, and even basic tasks become a grind. You know that time — the lights are on, but there’s nobody home.
Does this sound familiar? The search for better productivity is universal, but we need strategies for reality.
Enter my special guest this week, Graham Allcott. His best-selling book, “How to Be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do,” can be found on every CEO’s desk. With offices worldwide, his company, “Think Productive” coaches “Attention Management” so normal, everyday humans can make simple changes to get more stuff done in an efficient way.
Graham shares his pragmatic solutions to establish rhythmic habits, so you can become a Productivity Ninja too.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- The Law of Diminishing Returns
- Breaking out of “to-do” list paralysis
- The 3 types of attention & how to maximize their power
- Why you shouldn’t plan things in advance
- Boss Mode vs. Worker Mode
Listen to the Full Episode:
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 2 am in New York, 9 am in Johannesburg and 2 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
You have 237 unread emails in your inbox, your to-do list is undefeatable, you have so much to do you start dreaming about tidal waves.
Oh wait, sorry I was talking about me not you. But I know I’m not alone, so many of my clients have big goals and big responsibilities but are frustrated because they never feel like they can get on top of things. And if you’re living a globally mobile life then throw in a big move every two to three years or even when you least expect it.
If anyone can help with this, I know it is our special guest this week Graham Allcott the author of How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do, is here with us and what we’re looking at is, how do we take back control of our life so we can enjoy more of what’s on our list.
And I’m a huge fan of Graham’s work, so much that I recommend it to my clients and I’ve even tweeted about it, and when he responded I kind of fangirled. And yes, I am that nerdy about productivity.
And here is why Graham Allcott is the perfect person to join us today, he is an entrepreneur, he does keynote speaking around the world and is the founder of Think Productive. Not only that, he’s also the host of a popular business caste called Beyond Busy and the author of many many many other books.
And so I can’t think of anybody better than someone who practices what he preaches to join us today.
Sundae: All right Graham, welcome to Expat Happy Hour.
Graham: Good to be here, thank you.
Sundae: I am so excited you’re here, and I know that my audience is ready for a huge dose of wisdom when it comes to productivity.
But before we get into some of the tips and tricks, I kind of want to know how did you become a productivity ninja yourself:
Graham: So my book is “How to be a Productivity Ninja.” So I kind of describe myself as a Ninja. How it started for me was realizing that I wasn’t very good at productivity about 15 or so years ago and I had, at quite a young age, got into a leadership role in the charity. So I was chief executive of this charity that was small but national. Going in and having breakfast meetings with government ministers and all kinds of stuff, it was pretty crazy and I was 26.
So what I missed out on was the middle management years of really learning how to get a lot of stuff done over the line in an efficient way. And I could sit at my desk and have ideas and then a team people would pick stuff up and do stuff and it was it was all great. But then when I left that job, I went freelance and so I was on my own working solo.
And one day I sat at my desk and I wrote some ideas down, I turned around to see who was going to help me make everything happen and I realized it was just me and I was in the spare bedroom of my house. And I had a problem and that problem really is that my natural style is not someone who’s particularly organized or I’m not really a completed finisher in a kind of natural sense. I’m much more of a strategic big picture thinker than I am a detail person.
And really what happened was I solved productivity for me and got good at it and then people started saying to me, “How come you never used to reply to your emails and now you do?” And so I said, “Okay, I’ll run a lunch and learn and tell you how.” And that turned into a business called “Think Productive,” which now has four offices around the world in Sydney, just outside Toronto for North America, in the Netherlands for Western Europe and here in the UK based in Brighton on the south coast, which is where I am right now.
And then from there I developed the book. So “Productivity Ninja” is kind of my best known book. I have one called “Study Ninja” which takes that on to sort of help people who are in kind of 16 plus education something around there. And then I recently released one with a co-author Colette Hennigan called “Work Fuel” which is basically how to eat to have the best possible energy for getting stuff done.
So that’s really been the journey, “Think Productive” was 2009 we launched and so we’ve been going just over 10 years and had our ten-year anniversary birthday this year.
And now I am much more productive, but what’s really important about “Productivity Ninja,” I’ll say this right at the start is that “Productivity Ninja” is a human and not a superhero. So you have good tools and good habits and good skills but there are no special powers. And because you’re human it means you’ll screw up sometimes. So I’m not perfect at it now, but I’m much much better than I was.
And really that’s been the sort of journey, is sharing my own struggles with others, because I think it’s really useful to learn stuff from someone who struggled to learn it themselves rather than learning stuff from somebody who it comes really naturally to, I think it’s much easier.
Sundae: I have the exact same philosophy, learn by failure is my method.
Graham: But it’s much easier to teach stuff where you can really identify with the struggles and really identify with that, getting something to come naturally to you that didn’t come naturally to you before is a struggle. So once you start to see that struggle, for people who are very naturally organized when they try and coach productivity, they’re like, “So we’ll just do like this.” And they don’t get that there’s all these kind of resistance and you know human baggage and biases that we bring to the table with all this stuff.
Sundae: I kind of want to punch those people in the face.
Graham: Well, they have a place, they should just be teaching something else.
Sundae: No, I don’t want to punch you in the face if you’re really organized. I just mean I’m jealous that you have that. It’s so funny you say that about being human and not a superhero because I wrote in my notes that I wanted to share that with you. Your book is so human. I really appreciate that because what one of the things you know, I think back in the day everybody read Stephen Covey and I love that classic where we’re thinking time management and all of that.
And when I picked up “Productivity Ninja” I’m like finally somebody who gets my life. Because I as I was saying before we started recording, my business is a hundred percent location independent. I do training and coaching but half of the time I’m on social media and I’m doing a ton of marketing and sales and connecting and that is all in real time. So I can’t predict what’s going to happen and I need to be responsive, and this book, what I love about it is that you have offered what I think is the best book on reflecting strategies for our reality now. Accepting that social media is part of our lives or even part or central to our business, and then how do I work with that.
Graham: Yeah, and not just social media, so instant messaging, tools, slack, email, there are so many other things that are tugging on our attention. And so I think what I try to do with the book is, you know, because I read Stephen Covey too, and I read David Allen’s book “Getting things done” which has a big influence on a lot of other books. But you know for me what all of those books lacked was, well I think all of them kind of come from this standpoint of ”I’m the guru and I get it right a hundred percent of the time and you just you should just be a bit more like me.” Which just felt completely, completely alienating.
But I think the other thing that they really lacked was, like you say that acknowledgement that we do live in a 24/7 “always on” culture and so therefore when you start from not recognizing that, what you’re really assuming is that people have a hundred percent of their attention available to themselves at all times and it’s just about how they allocate it.
And what I’m saying is, your attention is always going to be grabbed by something else and therefore you have to proactively make the space for the stuff that matters and so you have to carve out those periods of time to do what Cal Newport calls “The deep work.” So getting down and really doing the deep thinking and the creation and the problem solving and all that sort of stuff that is much deeper than the kind of surface level noise of email and social media, but you have to do that proactively.
I mean if you just start the day thinking, “Okay, I’ve got my to-do list here and I’m going to crank open my email and have a look at social media.” The day will be well gone before you get through that to-do list. So it’s really about how you carve out and get savvy around carving out the time and the space for using your best attention in the most wise way possible.
Sundae: And I know that the majority of my audience believes that they wake up every morning with this delusion, “Today I’m going to get through my to-do list.” And then when you don’t you feel like a failure.
So here’s the thing, the work that I do, I help people really create more purpose and meaning in their lives and that might be starting a business, it might be refocusing on family or doing something for their community. So there’s something they really believe in and it’s almost like a place of inertia and there’s this whole big thing they want to do. And when they start looking at all their multiple priorities and all of the obligations, with family, etc. etc. I watch them initially get into paralysis.
So what do you think when you look at all the people that you’ve worked with one-to-one or in large groups, what do you think is honestly the biggest barrier that people face to really being productive?
Graham: Oh wow, well I mean we mentioned before the barriers around just the general circumstances that most people find themselves in, if you’re not a kind of solo location independent worker you’re probably in an open plan office, which is probably even worse, distractions and interruptions and all that stuff.
But I think just some very simple regular rhythmical habits are the biggest barrier. So once you start to enact certain habits, then your brain just thinks in a different way.
So a couple of those really quickly I talk about in the book, this four chapters in the book actually capturing, collect, organize, review and do. And so capturing, collect is about getting all the stuff that you are working on out of your head and either onto paper or into some kind of app or some kind of place where you can start to just dump it all there and free up your own mind to be able to do quality thinking.
Sundae: I’m giggling because I have about 14 Post-it notes on my desk right now because of your capture thing.
Graham: So you’ve captured and collected it, and then what you need to do next is to convert them from Post-it notes into something that’s more organized. So putting those into the projects and the action that relates to or making a note of the people that you need to chase up in a week’s time because you’re waiting on them to do something, putting stuff into your calendar, so really organize.
It’s about asking yourself some really simple questions about each and every one of those things and they’re the kind of questions that we ask ourselves very naturally, but yet we don’t necessarily do it kind of rhythmically, habitually and sort of more fully than that. So, really there’s like a diagram in the book that goes through some various questions around that, but really the end point is to aim to have a really comprehensive projects list.
So all the things that you’re working on, make a note of those and sort of list them as things that you’re explicitly committed to. And then for each of those things that you’re working on, those bigger picture things, have at least one what I call next physical action. So you need to be able to close your eyes and picture yourself doing the thing and you know, “Chase up Brian” is not a next physical action, “Call Brian on this number” is a next physical action.
So the difference between that language is really vital because then when you’re even at the most tired points in your day or in your week, you can look at your to do list and say “I’ve got a phone and I know I have to phone.” Punch in the number and call Bryan.
So you’re trying to make it as easy as possible for your brain to be able to look at those things. What most people’s to-do lists look like is a mixture of projects, of the nagging thoughts of people. So what I mean by that is “Oh I need to get that thing back to Martha.” So you just write “Martha.” or “It’s my dad’s birthday coming up.” So you just write “Dad”. Or it’s like some huge big project like “I’ve got to clear out the garage.” or “I’ve got to organize a conference.” So what you see people just write “Conference” on their to-do list. And it’s like well, no wonder when your brain looks down that list, there’s absolutely no chance of you making that conference happen because it will just go “Conference?”
Our brains are lazy in the way they think, so you’ve got to really proactively get into this way of defining the next physical actions with everything. Do the thinking first and you know, the more you think the easier your work becomes.
Sundae: Which I think people don’t realize, it’s kind of like if you run regularly, the easier it is to run. So for those of you who are reading the book or are going to get the book, he’s talking about the cord method, capturing, collect, organize, review and do. And this is really cool because you talk about the difference between boss mode and worker mode. Can you tell the audience quickly about the differences, because this made a big difference for me.
Graham: Yes, so if you think about the kind of job that you do now, the vast majority of people listening to this are knowledge workers. And that means you add value and create value out of information. And so actually the most important skill in your work is quality thinking.
We weren’t always knowledge workers, So back in the Industrial Age economy, you might have had some kind of job where it’s like you go into the cake factory and you’ve got a big box of cherries and you put one cherry on each cake and it’s just like a function that you’re performing. But for most people in knowledge work, you are simultaneously the boss and the workers, so all of you have to put cherries on cakes. You don’t do that literally, of course, but you send the emails, you set up the meetings, you send off the proposals, you complete the stuff, whatever. Those are all the cherries on the cakes that you have to do as part of whatever your job is.
But imagine if you’re putting cherries on cakes, but also at the same time someone’s coming into your ear in the factory and tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “What time should the shift start tomorrow?” and “How fast should the conveyor belt go?” Go and let’s think about what’s going on in the outside world, which is everyone’s talking about healthy eating. So we just just ditch the cakes completely and we’ll use the cherries and make fruit cocktails instead.
So it’s like we have this problem in knowledge work, which is that we’re simultaneously the boss and the worker. My experience with coaching people is most people spend more time in work mode and not enough time in boss mode and it’s about how you get the balance. And so what that means is if you’re spending more time in the worker mode, not enough time in the boss mode, AKA not enough time just doing quality thinking and decision-making and defining the work.
Then what happens is you end up being really reactive, you end up being really busy and you’re not necessarily seeing the bigger picture enough or working in the most efficient way. So you can work really frenetically, but not necessarily as efficiently as you could all with as much impact.
Sundae: This has been such a big shift in my business because I work directly with people, I love what I do and so it’s really easy to do. I’m like a maker in my shop, podcast, coaching, training, developing stuff, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Wait a minute, where’s the strategic direction? I’ve been so busy in my shop, I didn’t put my head above and look longer term.” And that’s where I think when you mention boss mode versus worker mode people want to feel successful so they go and do the easy thing to work, but they don’t step back.
Graham: Yeah, and it’s that difference between being really efficient with the stuff that’s in front of you and being really effective with the stuff you should do. And the opposite way round is equally as bad which is if you spend all your time just thinking about the work but you don’t put any cherries on cakes nothing gets done, that’s no good either. So it is about getting that balance and importantly recognizing that you know, like to my mind you can’t really do both at the same time, multitasking is a myth.
And so at the start of the day really spend some time at the start of the day or the start of a week working out “Which are the times in my week when I’m going to be in the thinking mode?” And planning the work and defining the work, and my experience is that most people don’t do that. They might just not be doing that enough and usually a little bit more time, not much, but a little bit more time in that thinking mode, in the boss mode, will really help. Working out the times in your day and your week when you’re going to be in that thinking mode and then the times when you are just going to say, “I’m in delivery mode, and I’m going to be head down and I’m going to try and screen out some of those distractions like social media”.
And then the times when you’re in a more collaborative mode and you’re able to be doing work, but also just reacting to the stuff around you, that’s important too. So, I kind of see it as really important to kind of set almost like the mental environment that you want for yourself and the kind of mode that you’re in, is to me as important as selecting the tasks that you are going to do.
Sundae: You said something to me that kind of took me off guard and I sort of questioned whether I was organizing my time well. You talked about, don’t plan tasks in your calendar in advance just do it for the day. And then I went into panic mode, because as an entrepreneur I have a lot of projects and I have clients that I onboard and then some of those hours are fixed for my clients and I am really good at over-committing. So it’s like I feel safety in my calendar when I block out all the regular things that I do in advance so that I know how much time I have.
So tell me more about that strategy. Why should we be careful about planning tasks in advance?
Graham: Well, here’s the thing, you started the conversation saying to me that you can’t predict when something pops up on social media, on email that you need to react to. And so that’s just like a fundamental part of particularly doing client work and at times we need to be in that reactive mode and we certainly need to make sure that we’re just checking in with those things as often as is kind of necessary.
So I think once you start to plan everything as kind of plumbed into the diary, what you do is you make it less flexible and often when you do that just don’t acknowledge the other work that goes on around it. So reacting and seeing stuff, most people are in my experience who follow that sort of strategy of planning out really carefully, meticulously in the diary everything they’re going to do over the next week, you’ll find nothing in the diary that says emails, or nothing in their diary that says lunch break.
Sundae: I added those into my calendar, those are there.
Graham: So I just think its inherently less flexible, and so it goes back to what I was saying at the beginning about the Stephen Covey “7 Habits”book and even David Allen, it kind of starts from this kind of premise of, we have all the time available to us and so we can kind of start from there. Whereas, really we need to be more agile and more flexible and kind of pick stuff up as as as the kind of mood and the whim takes us and as the world changes around us rather than being so committed.
I think the same is true with project planning on a bigger scale. So You know by all means with every project to have a really good sense of the key milestones, so like the key points if it’s a conference it’s like “I need to get the invites out by this time, we have to have the venue booked obviously before that and then we need the speaker confirmed by this day, and then we print our program on this date.” Whatever the thing might be, have those key milestones, but all the other stuff around that, the best way to plan those kind of projects is on a weekly basis, not having some hugely detailed project plan at the beginning because most projects don’t run exactly as you expect them to. So you can spend an awful lot of time planning and then rehashing plan that’s really old.
Sundae: I mean, I did project management in Switzerland and it’s really old-school, like detailed Excel sheets, it’s incredible how much time they spend planning and it doesn’t work like that.
Graham: And great, if you’re running that project on a desert island, that would work really well.
Sundae: It’s almost like when I did a project management course, it was almost like in the training the trainer said “This probably won’t go as you planned.” And I just thought “Well then why are we spending so much time with such fancy Excel sheets with so many fancy colors if this is not, right?”
So this is interesting, you talked about this, you know the cord model and it’s definitely integrated in the modes where we thinking boss mode or worker mode, you’ve talked about attention. I love in your book how you give people guidelines on what you should be doing based on your level of attention. And what I love about that is you give people permission to be organic material and not a machine.
I always talk about my clients are high performers, they expect themselves to perform like a race car, changing tires boom go. And it’s not like that, we’re organic, we get tired, we have moods, our attention shifts and when we when we pack our schedule like we’re race car, we’re headed for burnout.
Graham: The race car is the superhero, human not superhero. And so really what I’m talking about with attention management, because by the way, you know, a lot of people still talk about time management and I just think time management is nonsense, really what we’re talking about is attention management, how do we manage and protect our attention to do its best work?
I talked about these three types of attention, so you have proactive attention, those are the two to three hours in the day where you have the best energy, you’re most switched on, and generally people will have that at similar times during the day. But even within a week there might be an hour’s difference. You know for me it’s like it’s always kind of 8:00 till 11:00 or midday, something like that. Like my really core hours that I know I’ll have great attention during that time. But sometimes I just wake up a little bit grumpy or I wake up really fully switched on and raring to go and it’s kind of slightly different every day, but getting that real sense of when in the day you have your best attention is really key.
And then obviously the next step once you’ve got that awareness and you know when that is in your day is to protect that attention as ruthlessly as you can so. If it helps, have time during that time where you don’t have your emails turned on, if that’s something that you can do. Don’t be on social media during that time, don’t be sat in someone else’s boring meeting or on someone else’s boring Zoom call or something during that time. Spend that time as you can on the stuff that is your biggest priority and the stuff that’s maybe the hardest stuff, that involves the most thinking, so that’s proactive attention.
And then the other end of the scale is you have inactive attention, so that’s the time where you’re sat at your desk and it’s maybe four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and you’re scrolling up and down your email inbox and it’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home.
Sundae: This is me like twenty minutes ago if I’m really honest.
Graham: Well, so here’s the thing, it’s like we all have those times in our in our day and in our week because we are human not superheros. And the worst thing you can do when you’re in that kind of attention mode is to try and give yourself really difficult work to do, because you won’t do it and then you just feel really bad that you wasted that time. So to be kinder to yourself in those periods, which means find and store up the easiest possible stuff you can do.
For me that’s kind of a lot of my emails get done in my kind of inactivity attention time. If I’ve got filing to do, if I got online purchases to do, expense receipts, to take photos off and put onto my App, those kind of little things. I store those things up and I purposefully try and do them when I don’t have my best attention. And then I’m doing something of some value, whereas then the flip side of that is when I know I’ve got proactive attention, I’ll try as much as possible if I find a receipt on my wallet or my kind of kitchen top or whatever and it’s like, “Oh that’s a receipt I need to put in to Xero.” I will purposefully usually say, “Right, let me just chuck that in the in tray and I’ll come back to it.” And try and avoid getting sucked into even small tasks that you could do with less attention.
Sundae: I think you talked about how expensive that is, for example, if I change the printer cartridge during, my best attention, that’s an expensive transaction.
Graham: You can do that anytime. You can do that in your sleep and then you can take that thinking to the sort of next level if you have a team around you. So then you get into a whole thing of “What do I need my best attention for? What’s the stuff that really needs to be me or it’s just easier and more efficient to be me.” And what I suppose what I mean by that is stuff where it’d be quicker for me to just do it than it would be to delegate it. And then the next level is like, “What do I just need someone else’s good attention to do, they don’t need to necessarily know all of my preferences on this particular thing, but they can go and find out and research the thing or they can data entry this stuff or they can number crunch this or whatever.” So you can almost think about that as like the next level after managing your own attention is really looking at what somebody else’s attention could be put to within your team versus what are you what are your strengths.
Sundae: I think this is really particularly important for entrepreneurs, there are so many times I’m so sick of thinking, like I have to be so creative all the time, like creating a new podcast, creating the content, creating creating, creating. And sometimes I’m like “Someone else just please think for me.” So, you know “Make a suggestion on what we could do for ABC.” And I like that idea in the team. Did I miss one, we said your best attention, inactive attention, but I think there’s one more.
Graham: Yeah, well the middle one is just active attention, so you can do most of the stuff on your to-do list, but you can’t necessarily do the best stuff or the most stuff, that’s just the bit in the middle. But I kind of look at it as two to three hours of proactive attention a day. There’s probably an hour or two of the inactive attention usually at the very end of the day, sometimes at the very beginning of the day.
If you’ve not got coffee beans and you’ve not had your caffeine, usually a little kind of period after after lunch there’s usually a little slump there.
So, one of the things that you can do if you’re listening to this and kind of curious, is just map out your kind of instinct for where that might look like on a kind of weekly timetable. And my hunch from most people is that you have again a slightly greater level of proactive attention on the earlier days of the week. If you’re kind of working on a standard kind of Monday to Friday time period, Thursday and Friday will tend to have a little bit more active attention and a bit more inactive attention, a bit less of the really good stuff, because we work on a law of diminishing returns.
There’s a really good study, the sort of founding study around the age productivity came from Henry Ford. So he really kind of set up the kind of Monday to Friday 9 to 5 working week and not because he was a lovely guy and wanted to believe that everyone needed two days of leisure out of 7, but just because he realized that if you work people 7 days a week they burn out and if you work them five days a week, they come back refreshed on a Monday morning. So there was a big study called Ford on Productivity and the main kind of point of that was to say, where is that law of diminishing returns, where actually it It’s more efficient for us to pay somebody else then it would be to keep paying this person when they’re really tired. And it sort of tops out around 40 hours a week 37 a half, something like that.
And there was a follow-up study where they did for Ford on productivity in knowledge work and it was looking at where’s the law of diminishing returns where basically you work with your brain rather than with your hands. And what that report found was that the law of diminishing returns kicks in about 30 hours. So if you’re getting to say, Thursday, in the week and you’ve had a busy run of it and you’re feeling really tired, don’t beat yourself up about that. You are actually just totally within the realms of normal there.
You know “Think Productive,” my company, works a four day week. We work Monday to Thursday as a general rule. And the reason for that is that we send people home for a three day weekend, they come back really much more fully refreshed.
Sundae: But that’s what I mean by we are organic material and not race cars and that’s what I love about your book, there’s so much permission to be human and that’s what I find a lot with my clients, they beat themselves up because they want to be more productive and then they don’t crush their list like they want to and then they feel bad.
So if someone is getting started, I mean I would absolutely recommend reading the book. As I’ve been listening to you I was actually going to sort of shame myself for not being as good of a productivity ninja as I could be, but when I actually thought about it, I do organize my time with the attention, I do block out some of the core things that you mentioned, but I know there’s room to optimize.
So, of course, I would recommend that they get your book. What should they do after? Should they block off time and do as they read or should they read first and then block off time to follow the steps?
Graham: That’s a really good question, I quite often get tagged in Instagram posts and stuff where people are reading my book on the beach and it always kind of fills me with a little bit of dread because I just think, “Is someone really spending their holiday reading creativity in a chair?” And partly that’s my own narrative around that which is, I can tell when I’m truly relaxed on a holiday, when I switch from business or nonfiction books into fiction books. And usually that takes me about 6 days. It’s like I kind of feel guilty for infecting someone else’s holiday with more work stuff and more work things.
Sundae: I’m defending everybody on the beach reading “Productivity Ninja,” because now I’m going to say something that is really embarrassing. So I am the type of person who doesn’t read fiction, I read nonfiction because I’m super nerdy and I love to learn. So when I tweeted I told my audience about this book and I think your company retweeted or I don’t know if it was you or someone from the company and I completely fangirled. I was like “Yay.”
Because I love this stuff and I think it’s really important and if someone is on vacation on the beach and what they’re doing is they’re saying yes to themselves, they’re saying yes to taking control of their life, they’re sitting yes to taking control of their calendar and their priorities. And if that’s what happens on vacation before life gets crazy again, I’m gonna celebrate that with them.
Graham: Well, if that’s the time and space that really works the best, then do that. But seriously because I think that’s the really important thing with all of this, is why I was kind of struggling with that question. Because for some people it’s going to be about diving in chapter by chapter and doing it alongside work. And other people are going to be about devouring the whole thing and then figuring out what the three or four best things are for them to do. Because, I mean, of course my bias is to tell everyone to do all of it, but there are really small things that you can do to make a difference.
The other thing that happens is, a lot is people just read, they go straight to the chapter called “Ninja Email.” Which is basically about how to get your inbox to zero and then what they do is they from their have the momentum and excitement to start looking at how that kind of way of thinking can operate across their projects and actions and their apps and everything else.
So, emails are a really nice starting point because you just get that taste of “This is different and I didn’t feel so stressed and I’ve got more control.” And You know just having that kind of experience can just start the momentum rolling and it kind of goes from there. And then I get sent, because my email address is in the back of the book and it says “I’d love to hear your stories, email me.” So I get sent loads of screenshots of other people, that’s kind of my life.
Sundae: The irony, oh the irony.
Graham: Yeah, it was definitely someone else in the company by the way, you said about Twitter, it wasn’t me retweeting, it was somebody in the company because I’ve been taking a, pretty much the last six months, I’ve taken a complete break break from Twitter.
So my social media now is Instagram, that’s kind of like where I am, where I kind of hang out, not very much, but I’m there. But Twitter I was just finding was just taking up too much attention, I was trying to write a book at the same time and for me, I just thought, this is one of the Ninja characteristics in ruthlessness, and I thought, “How can I just make one ruthless decision about this which just cuts it out for a period of time.” So I may go back to Twitter, I may not.
But do you know what, it was one of those ones that took me about two or three months to finally pluck up the courage to say, “I’m leaving this platform.” And so now if you go on my thing, like I’ve got a pinned tweet on there that says, “I’m not here, here’s how to get hold of me”, or whatever. And I was really nervous about doing that, but then from about two days in the craving to check Twitter just left me and I haven’t missed it at all like at all, and so that’s kind of an interesting observation.
Sundae: So, listen there’s something that I don’t know if everybody picks up on this as much as I do, but there’s something that I really noticed about your book that I connected with and the funny part is it’s like in the last page and a half.
So I run an expat group called Expats on Purpose and I am really committed to supporting people to live with more purpose and meaning, and at the end you talk about how talk is cheap, action is what counts. And you say because it’s all possible, all of it, the limit isn’t your skills or your time, it’s your imagination. And then you go on to say you really can change the world. And this is what I love about what you offer, is you’re basically saying, between your productivity strategies where you are now and how you can shift your productivity strategies is an impact you can make in your life, in your family and your community. It’s way bigger than us.
Graham: It is way bigger than us, but what’s interesting is yeah, it’s way bigger than us, and also it starts with us and that’s what’s really exciting about it.
I had somebody actually last week, I was doing a talk and it was quite a funny one that it was for this big national charity. And I think what usually happens is when they do they’re bigger way days it’s generally their own staff doing talks. So this guy came in thinking he was going to get something about productivity from one of their staff and then he’s like, “Oh no way, it’s actually the guy that wrote the book, okay cool.” Because I think they’ve done a thing about my book before and he was like, “Oh, I wasn’t really that up for this hour and now I really am.” And he said “I need to sort of just stop you and talk to you for a minute.” And he did and he said that he had quite a deep depression and my book was the thing that got him out of the depression.
And it was like honestly one of the most emotional things I’ve ever heard like just to do with my work. And he said, “Thank you, not only on my behalf, but on behalf of my wife and kid because I’m just a different person now.” And I basically just hugged him and was close to tears, and for me what really drives me is I love the fact that my work can really make a huge impact on people’s work and on their life. And you know, people can do amazing things.
I support a lot of people in organizations that are just doing incredible work around the world. But what’s also really exciting about it is when you get those little stories and nuggets that are like one person’s individual life is better as a result of it. And that’s what’s really magical about it for me and I think once people start to adopt these kind of different habits and ways of thinking it becomes infectious like it affects the people around them, because “Ah you got your inbox zero, maybe I’ll try that.” And for me it starts off this little kind of ripple effect in other people too.
I just think there’s so much, like I walk into an open plan office in London and what I see, I could almost see the stress, like I can almost like visually see it colors and I don’t know if that’s just me because I’ve done this for so long or whether that’s something that other people pick up on. But it just breaks my heart because it’s just not necessary. Like we can work in a different way and we can work in a way that helps us to be kinder to ourselves and get more under control and be much more intentional in what we do.
So that’s really what I love about the work that I do and yeah, like that’s for me, it’s the whole spectrum. It starts with individuals making the changes that make them happier and then it ripples out to their family and it ripples out to their organization of the work they’re doing and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Sundae: So thank you so much for the work that you’re doing, it is way bigger than just getting more work done. It’s actually creating more life and joy and a sense of self-worth when you actually take action on the things that are most important to you and make time for the things that you value the most, so it’s really awesome.
So the book is “How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do,”
Graham, this has been amazing, thank you so much for being with us. here on Expat Happy Hour.
Graham: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
So there you have it, I’m taking away so many things from the interview, but probably if I narrow it down, I focus first on accepting how human we are and creating processes that acknowledge this and giving us some space to be this so that we can do more of what we love and less of the things that are dreaming us.
The other thing I’m taking away is that without a process that acknowledges that humanness, we’re going to set ourselves up for failure. How many times have you thought you’re going to get on top of things and then two weeks later you slid back into your old patterns.
But probably the thing that I am left with the most from this interview is when you are struggling to create a new routine, a new habit, a new process, whether it’s this one or something else, keep in mind what are you doing it for? You’re not doing it to be more productive, you’re doing it to have more joy, to do more of what you love, love what you do more, to create more time for family, to support that cause that means the most to you. That’s what you’re doing it for and I hope that drives you as you look at your own practices and seeing how they do or do not serve you.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean, thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with the words of Graham Allcott, “Talk is cheap, action is what counts.”