The Big Idea
Don’t wait for the right time, you’ll end up waiting forever.
Questions I Answer
- How can I get rid of distractions so I can be more productive?
- What’s the best way to multitask?
- How can I say no in a kind way?
- How can I stop procrastinating?
Actions to Take
- Listen to Episode 007: The Surprising Way ‘No’ Can Really Mean Yes to learn how to say no in certain situations, like in the workplace.
- Listen to Episode 012: Creating Your Ideal Planning System for tips on planning strategies & when to plan.
- Listen to Episode 006: The Power of Priorities for the new way you should prioritize your to-do list.
Key Topics in the Show
How to simplify and streamline your planning so that you actually accomplish your goal.
The best way to minimize kid distractions when working at home.
How to mono-task when everyone else tells you to multitask.
Avoiding procrastination and feeling positive.
The three key things to do when starting a business to ensure success.
Saying No vs. saying Yes in workplace situations.
Resources and Links
- Listen to Episode 022: Banking Time: 5 Tactics for Focusing on Your Priorities where I talk about how to bank up your time for yourself and your goals.
Hello hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is episode 19. Today is going to be a really fun day because this is our very first Ask Tonya episode. And I came up with this idea because I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from many of you asking me questions about how you can apply some of the productivity tools, and tips, and tricks and things that I talk about into your own life. So I came up with a little form for people to fill out, and then every now and then we’ll do another one of these Ask Tonya episodes. So I’ll try to tackle as many of these questions as I possibly can in our 20 minutes together. Whatever I don’t tackle, I’ll save for the next episode. So let’s go ahead and get started.
My first question is from Arumi who’s in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. And she asked, “What’s your advice for being productive in a hectic environment when you can’t plan because you get asked tons of things during the day?” That’s a great question because hectic environments make everything feel so much more urgent. So it’s really easy to fall into that trap of tackling those things first. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a big difference between urgent and important. It’s just that those urgent items are ringing out like a five alarm fire. So they tend to get our attention first. And when you’re dealing with urgent tasks, you’re in a reactive mode. When you’re dealing with what’s important, you’re really being proactive. And what we really want, is we want you to be more proactive because, in turn, that makes you more productive. And it’s really hard, I know, because when you’re being asked to tons of things throughout your day, I’m willing to bet most of those things you’re being asked to do really aren’t important. And by important, I mean really moving you towards your goals and your priorities at work. Right? Generally when other people are pushing their agendas, or their tasks, on us it’s really easy to forget what we really want to do. And it’s really easy to fall out of alignment with where our goals are. So that’s all well and good to know, but how do you actually deal with this?
Well, I noticed that she said, “You can’t plan because you get asked to do lots of things each day.” So I’m going to actually encourage you to make sure that planning your day is the first thing you do when you get into the office each morning. Don’t leave your calendar wide open for others to push their tasks into your day. Fill your time slots with the tasks that you feel are important. You want to definitely leave a few openings in your time slots for tasks you can do for others, but fill in your time slots first. It’s like that old adage about the rocks. Putting in the big rocks first, we’ve all heard that story about the professor who talks about putting in the big rocks firs before you put in all the small rocks. So you want to put in your big rocks first. The things that are important, and then you let the small rocks fill in. You don’t want to start with the small rocks. And the small rocks are most of the things that other
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people are wanting you to do. But here’s the catch. No matter what, not all the rocks are going to fit. So you’re going to have to say no sometimes.
So if this is your boss or a higher up, that gets really difficult. So here’s what I would recommend. You can accept the tasks from your boss or your supervisor, but with a little bit of a no attached. And here’s what I mean. When you push back in a gentle way, you can remind them that you have a lot on your plate already. Usually they’ve already given you a pile of work to do, right? And now they’ve just added to that pile. So you could say something like, “Great. I’m happy to do this. I’m working now on the project you assigned on Tuesday. Is this new task a higher priority? If so, I’ll need to push back the deadline of project X. I just want to make sure I’m working on the tasks you think are most important.” Or something along that vein. It’s a gentle reminder to your boss or you supervisor that you already have tasks that were deemed important on your plate. Sometimes it’s really a matter of reminding people that you already have other things that you’re working on. Other things that they have also deemed as important.
And if it’s co-workers that’s a bit of a different story. It may be that you need to assess whether your really saying no enough. If you’re saying yes each and every time you’re asked to do a task people, whether meaning to or not, they get used to that and they start to assume that you can always take on more tasks. So it’s not really their fault. People don’t know your boundaries unless you show them. And that doesn’t have to be ugly. Back in episode seven we talked about five ways that you can say no without coming across rudely. So I would encourage you to use those at work too. You might just have to modify them a little bit to fit. So I hope that helps Arumi.
And now let’s get to question number two. And this one is from Lauren in San Francisco, California who says, “Sometimes I feel as if I’m spending more time planning and outlining how I want to spend my day, week, or month than I do actually getting the things done. Any tips on how simplify and streamline planning so it actually helps me accomplish my goals rather than get in the way?” And I have to say, this was a really popular question. I had several people ask different variations of this question like Maritza Ray in Northern California who said, “How do I get back in the planning bandwagon once I’ve fallen off without feeling overwhelmed?” So because this was such a popular question, I wanted to make sure and address it. Because what I don’t want to have happen is that your planning becomes a vehicle for procrastination. I don’t want you to spend so long planning that you miss the best part. The actions themselves. Right? The activities. You don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. Planning doesn’t need to be one of those things that eats away a lot of your time. I know some people love to spend a long time making their planners beautiful with stickers and illustrations and I think that’s fabulous if it’s something you
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really enjoy doing, and as long as it doesn’t keep you from taking those plans into action.
I want to give you permission though, that it’s okay for your planner, or your plans, to be messy. You’d be surprised at the number of people who apologize to me, and tell me that their planner is messy. That’s okay. Life can be messy, right? The most important part of planning is that it helps you create the road map of where it is you want to go. So how do you do this? Well, I really think it helps to automate your planning so it happens around the same time every day, every week, or every month, and then set how long that planning session should take. The amount of time is really up to you. Your planning, and your productivity, is personal. So figure out what amount of time works for you. And I know I talked about creating your ideal planning system back in episode 12, but I’ll just review it here quickly and kind of go over how long it takes me to do it.
For me, I sit down on late Sunday afternoons and I write out my weekly task list of what I want to accomplish. I basically do a big brain dump on my weekly kickstart. I literally just write it down. I don’t assign it a day, and I give myself 30 minutes on Sunday to do this brain dump because I actually do two of them. I do one for work, my husband and I do that one together since we work together, and then I do one with my family. I don’t sit all afternoon and plan. I don’t sit for more than an hour. I sit for 30 minutes.
So what we do when we’re together as a family is we go through and each of takes two or three minutes each talking about our week. And that gives me a touch point to know what projects my kids and my husband have going on, and it allows me to support them in being responsible for their own work. I hold their hands, but my goal is to have them fly my nest someday. So they’re responsible for creating deadlines for themselves, and for turning their work in. I’m there for support and encouragement, and, if I’m being honest, the occasional kick in the pants. I’m not going to lie. But if we have time, we talk about meals too that they’re requesting. So that helps me with my meal planning. And that’s it on Sunday. 30 minutes. I don’t write anything down in my planner. Seriously, nothing. I just do my brain dump. And then each day I spend ten minutes at the beginning of each day planning. And I plan that day. I block off my time for important tasks just like I talked about in that last question, putting in my big tasks first, and I write out what I want to get accomplished for that day. I use that weekly kickstart as my springboard to let me know what I need to do.
And at the end of the day I take a few minutes to reconcile that weekly kickstart and make sure all the things on my weekly list that were accomplished get checked off. And then spend five minutes at the end of the day doing my daily download. So all told, I spend about a total of 15 minutes each day planning.
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Sometimes less. So when I first started this system I set a timer for myself to make sure I didn’t spend too long getting caught up in my planning. I don’t have to do that anymore because now I have the system down. And the reason I started with the timer is because tasks like planning can easily expand to fill the time. And that time could maybe be used more productively. So by setting a timer for your planning, you’ll most likely get your work done quickly and find the tasks that absolutely need to go in your planner and discard those that you don’t.
One tip too I want to mention, is that it could be that you’re putting too much in your planner. Try using that priority that I discussed back at episode six, and put only the important tasks into your planner. Once those are done, then you can you tackle anything else on your master list. So that’s my planning in a nutshell, and that’s what I would recommend for any of you really wanting to implement a system. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, it’s just a matter of giving yourself a little bit of a compartment to work in.
Okay, moving on to the next question from Jill in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jill says, “I’m a stay at home mom, my kids are seven and nine, and I have six hours to myself to get personal and household to dos accomplished. And I feel as if I failed each day. It’s almost like I have too much time, yet I don’t have enough. What advice do you have for domestic engineers? I work out, run errands, worry about my kids, prep dinner, et cetera, but somehow I’m falling short. I’m reactive instead of proactive. I don’t have time to develop my hobbies and interests. I feel like I’m missing some key tip in life, so how am I supposed to get it all done without losing my sanity?” Okay, Jill. First of all, give yourself a little of bit grace because it sounds like you’re actually getting a lot more done than you realize. I was a stay at home mom myself for quite a time, and I remember it when John would come home and ask me what I had done, and I wouldn’t be able to think of a single thing even though I had done laundry, taken the kids to the park, read 5,000 books, did craft time, and about five million other things.
So make sure that you’re really giving yourself a little bit of grace. If you really don’t feel like your finding the time to be proactive, especially with your hobbies and interests, I would recommend you schedule it. Don’t wait for the time. Make the time happen by slotting it into or day just like you would an appointment. So that’s what I want to encourage you to do. Pick two times a week to start you off. And then block off for the things you want to do. Since your kids are both in school, schedule it
during the day. And that maybe will help eliminate some of that mom guilt you feel. And I want you treat this like a priority. If you had a dentist appointment at 11:30 in the morning you wouldn’t miss it, right? You wouldn’t push it to another time. I want you to treat this the same way. And for those people who have littles, you may need to slot that time during a nap. Yes, there is a mountain of laundry that could be done during that time. But there’s always a mountain of laundry. Take the time you need to help you make sure that you are taking care of you. There’s reason why they tell you
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on the airplane to put your oxygen mask on first. You have to take care of you so you can take care of others.
And here’s the other thing. You ask how you’re supposed to get it all done without losing your sanity? You don’t have to get it all done. Are there things you maybe need to say no to that are really pulling at your time? I’d love for you to step back and assess if all the things you’re doing in your day are really important. I’m really excited because I think that an episode we have coming up, number 22, where we’ll be talking about begging up time, I think that’s really going to be helpful for you. So that should be … Let’s see, we’re in episode 19 now. So just in a couple weeks from now I have a really great episode planned where we’re going to be talking just about that.
Next up I have a question from Pagnia in Raleigh, North Carolina just up the road from me. And she says, “Inkwell Press is an incredible company. And as Steve Jobs once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.’ So when you were first starting out, what were the three most important things you did that you believe led to the success of your company?”
So, first of all Pagnia, thank you so much for the sweet words. I really appreciate it. Running a business is something I’m truly passionate about. But it is a lot of work. And I love that quote from Steve Jobs because I think it’s so true. Hindsight is definitely 20/20. So if I were to pinpoint the three most important things I did when I was first starting out, I would say first of all, I treated it like it was a big goal.
When I made the decision to close my former business and open up Inkwell Press, I created a timeline very similar to the goal action plan I talked about back in episode three. The big goal, of course, was launching but there were so many little mini goals I knew I needed to hit along the way. Things like, first of all, learning how to use graphic design programs because I literally had no training. So I had to give myself a mini deadline for that. And then I had a deadline for finding a manufacturer. A deadline for finalizing my files, and so on. I didn’t worry about the big goal. That would’ve overwhelmed and scared me. I focused instead on these smaller goals and that’s what kept me on track.
Secondly, I think making sure that I blocked off time to really work on my business made a huge difference. I scheduled it into my day. As I mentioned, when I made the decision to open up Inkwell Press I still had my other business. And there were a thousand things to do to keep that running until I felt like I had saved enough to shut it down. I had to schedule my time in my day that was dedicated to Inkwell Press. So I blocked off chunks. I couldn’t give it my whole day, so I gave myself 90 minutes in the morning, 45 minutes after lunch, and a good three hour chunk after the kids went to bed each night. That time was nonnegotiable in my mind. If I didn’t treat it as such, I wouldn’t have kept myself on track with those goals I mentioned.
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And lastly, I always treated my business like it was larger than it was. And by that I mean I created and wrote down policy as I made decisions. Even when it was just John and I doing everything possible. And that allowed me to take a lot of the thinking out of it. And when you’re doing 20 different roles, you need to do that as
much as possible. So when I helped answer a customer service question, I would write down the answer. That way I didn’t need to rethink it the next time it was asked. I’d already spent the time thinking it through. So when I figured out the fastest way to package orders, I wrote down the process. Yes, I was packaging 99% of the orders myself, but doing that made it so much easier when I did need to have help. Even if that help was my mom or my dad. I could give them a sheet of paper showing them exactly how to package up an order. And that allowed me to scale up and bring on new people as needed, especially during hectic times like launches, or holidays. That way everyone knows exactly what to do without me having to stand over them. That way I can focus on other tasks, and we’re doubling up our work.
My kids even come in, still today, to help out. They make boxes, they cut bubble wrap, they take out the trash, and they know when they get to work they have to read through the process so they’ll do it the way it needs to be done. So all the cogs in the machine are working well together. So those are the three things I would recommend if you’re thinking about starting up a business.
Okay, I’m rushing through so we can get through as many of these as possible. So let’s go on to Kate in Seattle, Washington. “Do you have any tips for managing interruptions that cannot be turned off, like children when you’re working from home when you are a stay at home mom with kids?” So Kate, my first several years in business I actually worked from the house with my kids who were preschool age at the time. So I’m really familiar with these types of interruptions. Kids are tricky. But the good news is, they can be trained. Although sometimes it may not feel that way. One of the things that I did was I had two different phone numbers for my cellphone. So you can get a free system through something that Google Voice. So my cellphone had two different ringtones. One for business calls, and one for personal. My kids learned that when the business ringtone went off, I was in work mode. And that meant no interruptions. Yes, even when they were little bits they totally understood that because I had a plan in place so they knew exactly what to do.
So they knew I had a little sheet hanging up with images of what they could do because they couldn’t read yet, there were pictures. Reading a book, watching a TV show, playing in the backyard, and when my phone rang I would point to the activity for them to do. And if they came to me while I was on my call, I would silently point to the activity again. After my meeting I would give lots of positive reinforcement on how grown up they were for not interrupting. So we practiced this. I’m a former elementary school teacher, so I treated it just like I did when we had fire drills at school. And I’ll be honest, the kids thought this was great fun. I would pretend to get
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a phone call, we would act the whole thing out. I would totally ham it up and overact. The whole nine yards. And they thought it was funny. But sure enough, when the phone rang, they knew exactly what to do.
The other way I taught them not to interrupt was this little trick I learned. When I’m talking, or working on something, and they needed me they would come and put their hand on my wrist. And I would acknowledge that they were waiting by silently placing my hand on theirs. Then I’d wait for a pause, praise them for waiting so patiently, and then ask them what they needed. This worked really well when you’re meeting with other adults. And to be honest, my kids still use it today and they’re ten and 14. It takes work, they won’t get it right away, but keep at it just like I talked about with the fire drill practice, it’s the same thing. It’s no different than how they get those little preschoolers to walk in a straight line and raise their hands in class. It’s constant practice and praise when they do well. I promise you this can be done so that you can work without interruptions. It’s going to take a lot of redirection. It’s going to take a lot of training, but it can be done.
Okay, I’m just a hair over the 20 minute mark, but I want to take this last question from Jasmine in Zurich, Switzerland. And Jasmine asks, “What tips do you have to stick to a planning routine and forming new habits for those of us that deal with chronic procrastination and an almost ADD brain?” So when I read this question I went to my best resource on this. And that is Liz. Now Liz works with me in my office, and she helps me with the podcast, she helps me out with a thousand different things. I don’t know how I’d get by my day without Liz there. But, Liz is a recovering procrastinator which I think is so funny because she’s so productive. But I knew she would have some great insight on this. And she told me this is still something that she struggles with at times. And what she’s found is that’s really helped her is being very direct with herself. And she asks herself “What do I want to do right now?”
So she says that changing this question from “What I do I need to do,” to “What do I want to do,” has helped her frame her tasks more positively and makes them more enjoyable. This is especially true when she’s thinking about sitting down and watching TV even though she knows there’s a thousand other things that are more important to do. She says that usually you can put an answer to that question with one small task. Like when the whole kitchen needs to be cleaned, she decides she wants to put away the dishes. That’s the task that she really wants to do. So you do that one task, and then you ask the question again. “What do I want to do right now?” And you find another small task to work on, and allow that to build. Procrastination and overwhelm are closely related. Their like a pair of evil cousins. You know you have a lot to do, but all yous see are these big tasks in front of you. So you end up not wanting to do anything.
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The best thing is to break those tasks down into these little bits and do bit by bit. To make this work, consistently stop and reward for yourself for every couple of steps you get done. This can mean a piece of chocolate, going for a walk outside, reading for 10 to 20 minutes, watching TV, et cetera. Whatever it is that acts as a reward for you, use it. Help yourself stay positive, so that you want to do the things you need to do, and the rewards help push you along. “Don’t forget,” she says, “To do a daily download as well to help celebrate the things you worked on and you got done during the day.” So one of the things that she wanted me to mention to you, is that one of the biggest things that’s helped her is to have notifications pop up on her phone that reminds her how long she’s been on her phone that day. Which, for most people, is our biggest source of procrastination. So I’m going to be sharing a great resource for that coming up in episode 22 when I talk about begging up time. I go into a lot more detail on how that works. So you might want to listen in for that Jasmine.
Okay, as I said I’m a little bit over time. I like to keep us to a 20 minute episode, but there was just too many questions that I wanted to tackle and there were a lot more I didn’t quite get to, so what I’d like to start doing is doing this Ask Tonya episode a little more regularly. So I’ll have a little link on my website, or you can go to inkwellpress.com/question and it will lead you to a little type form questionnaire where you can ask questions for the next episode I have of Ask Tonya. So that’s it for today’s episode, keep the questions coming though because I love reading and finding out how you’re doing with the work we’re learning in the episodes and all of the different activities and exercises you’ve been going through. I’m really really enjoying this podcast, and I’m so happy that you are too.
Now next week I will be back with a regular episode. We are going to be talking about is the four hour work week real? What’s the idea amount of time you need to spend working? And we’ll be talking, of course, about editing, and streamlining as we continue through season two. So I look forward to that episode going live next week. And in the meantime, if you do have questions you’d like me to tackle in the next Ask Tonya episode, just go to inkwellpress.com/question and you can fill out the questionnaire there. All right. Until next time, happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is the best woman keynote speaker on topics like productivity, time management, goal setting and finding purpose.