This transcript is from Episode 39 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/39
Interview only transcript
Tom: Folks I'm on the line with Laura Stack. Laura you are the productivity Pro, you're in the speaker Hall of Fame and you've been featured on major media. Welcome to the show.
Laura: Thank you so much Tom, happy to be here.
Tom: Thrilled to have you. Now Laura, can you briefly give our listeners little bit of background on yourself; where you come from, and how you evolved into the speaking role at events.
Laura: Wow, well, where do I come from? I live in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, south of Denver. I grew up in Colorado Springs on the Air Force Academy. My father is a retired colonel, so I grew up in the military lifestyle, with the colonel saying, “Jump,” and you say, “How high?” So I learned structure, discipline, planning, preparation, all of those foundational principles from my upbringing.
I received my MBA when I was 21, at the time the youngest given at the University of Colorado and started giving little talks on time management, and discipline, and being organized. I was the kid that at five years old made her bed, had to do list, this was just in my nature and that turned into a 25 year, now career.
I started working in a corporation, I rotated through management training position, rotated through University of Colorado, went to career track, type public seminars for them, just really trying to figure out where my niche was and it turned out to be in charge of my own business. So I started my company in 1992. So almost 25 years later here I am, still teaching, talking, writing about workplace performance and productivity.
So I have written now 7 books on the topic and travel about 20,000 miles a year mostly domestic, going to conferences and giving keynotes and workshops, helping people be more productive. So that's kind of the long and short of my story.
Tom: Well, that's an amazing story. Now Laura usually you're speaking to, I guess corporate and association events.
Tom: Today our audience is event planners, and I'm hoping we can discuss some productivity tips and ideas that can help them make better use of your time. And as I was going through your site there's one thing that just kept jumping out of me and that was the term workflow. I was talking to Brian Moran, who is the author of The 12 Week Year, in episode 33, and he mentioned that people need processes around them to make sure they maintain a peak performance, and I'm kind of guessing that a strong workflow would be one of those processes. So I'm wondering if you could share with us how somebody determines what would make a good workflow for them.
Laura: Well, I think people know when they don't have a good workflow. When we have information that is coming at us from multiple sources, in multiple inboxes, and we can't quite seem to get our arms around the entire mix of everything that we need to do, and things fall though the cracks. Pending items are missed, we don't have good follow up and reminder systems, we have thousands of e-mails in the inbox. So there usually are symptoms of workflow problems, and sometimes people don't even realize they have the workflow problem because they never learned how to do something the correct way, and they had figured out work arounds that for them, they are kind of making it work, but they realize once learning a new way of doing it, “Wow, gosh, I can save an hour a day. I'm doing it that way.”
I use what most people have right in front of them as their tool…most of my corporate work in your, and you’re correct, I mostly work with for Fortune 1000, large companies and then also association meetings of people who are mostly corporate employees, and entrepreneurs too to an extent. So sales meetings, leadership meetings, that kind of thing and they are all using Microsoft Outlook. Almost 99% of my corporate clients are still on Microsoft Outlook, but they don't use it correctly as a tool to help them with this workflow.
They're either using their inbox kind or like a big to-do list, or they're putting things that they need to do on their calendars so that when they don't get it done, now they have to manually move things all of the time, and most of the time it's simply learning the tool the correct way. For example, they never learned that Outlook gives you the ability to delegate a task and what's called a task request, and to be able to track what other people have for you. They don't know that Outlook does project management; they don't know that Outlook can help you with planning and create to-do list for you. So some of those things when taught become kind of eye-opening for people.
Tom: Okay, now you've mentioned something about the inbox and that was another thing that really jumped off your side for me, and I was the empty e-mail inbox. I was taught zero e-mail in the inbox or what do they call an inbox zero, it sounds like a mythical unicorn. So as somebody who suffers from that myself I'm going ask you for our listeners can you give tips on how we can, I guess go through that. It feels like a task that you just never want to tackle.
Laura: Well, many people are missing a decision process. They don't know, well if I can't delete an e-mail, and I can't forward it to someone, and I need to reply to it, but I can't reply to it right now because maybe I need to do some work associated with it, and I don't want to file it because I'll forget about it, and not knowing else what to do with it. Most people right then leave it in their inbox and they either keep it as new or they flag it, they're trying all sorts of things and once you get past a screenshot or so, now you have to go back and scroll and that's how the inbox stacks up.
It's literally in that processing error, and not knowing what else to do we end up touching, retouching, reading, rereading e-mails multiple times because they don't know what else to do with it. I teach Microsoft Outlook and in Outlook there's a command called Move. And most people have never used the move command and it's actually that command that with a meeting invitation, when you get a meeting invite and you click accept, and it moves that message from your inbox to your calendar, that move command is what's programmed behind the button called accept.
So you can manually invoke the Move to Calendar command in an e-mail rather than dragging, copying, pasting, and it doesn't just make a copy of it. It actually converts the e-mail into, in this case a calendar item. And if you don't know how to use tasks you would not know how to do the Move to Tasks command and that takes the e-mail and puts it into your task list. It's not a to-do, it's not the same as flagging because that is just a hyperlink between the item where it lives in the inbox and your task list, but by turning it using the Move to Task command and getting it into that task list.
Now when you open that task there is the original e-mail, all the attachments and you reply from the task list. So many people don't know that an e-mail doesn't have to be living in your inbox in order for you to handle it or to reply to it. So for most people it's simply a matter of training. I just did a seminar yesterday, an all-day seminar on workflow in Microsoft Outlook in Atlanta Georgia for the Institute for Management Studies, and people are just wide-eyed and just cannot believe that this functionality existed this whole time and it's because no one ever really taught people how to use e-mail.
Microsoft did not do a good job of training people. The tutorials are terrible. A lot of times Microsoft people don't even know how to use Outlook correctly. And so it's like if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail and so until you show people a new way even power users are typically floored by some of these features.
Tom: Wow, if they don't even know how to use it at Microsoft, that's just amazing.
Laura: They bring me in to teach them.
Tom: Let me ask you this because not everyone of our listeners is going to be able to attend one of your seminars, although we will hope they could, or maybe even bring you in for one of their events, but is the training online that would help them with this, or do you offer anything like that to the individual?
Laura: Oh, yes. I have 12 hours of Microsoft Outlook training online divided into 200 short just-in-time videos all online. So if they go to my website, which is theproductivitypro.com and just put slash Outlook. Theproductivitypro.com/outlook they can see all of the topics that are available. We have an app, they watch it on their iPad, their Mac, their PC whatever it is that they have. In the functions work the same way, Google if you’re using Gmail.
They have a to-do list and many people have never seen that in Gmail, you click the More button and move to-do list and that you can copy that right over that it exists right there. Lotus Notes same thing. There's a to-do list but if you've been given, here's your inbox go, that's your instruction. You know you try to-do your best and you get a tip here and a tip there, but really until you see the way it was intended to be used, and how it was designed you can't really do empty inbox correctly.
Tom: Okay, that explains a lot. I'll tell you, one of my biggest problems is I'm always afraid I need to refer back to something, and I'm afraid if I archive it, I'll never find it again.
Laura: Yeah, some people just haven't really understood the search functionality and how easy it is to find things and that you don't have to save it in folders. Outlook was never designed to have folders, they were designed to be used like any other office document. And how do you save an office document like Word or PowerPoint or Excel? File, Save As. You do the same exact thing with e-mail, you save an e-mail by File, Save As and putting it on your hard drive. I don't have any personal folders, you don't have to do that.
Folders were made for auto filing things like newsletters and it's a way to subdivide our inbox but they never thought people would use that for reference. They would thought they would use it the same way. But there was an error in one of the drop-down boxes in the original version, it said Save As Type HTML instead of Save As Outlook Document and so people thought, “I don't want an HTML document,” and then they started creating these folders, but you know I save mine where I save all of my other documents. If you've already got a perfectly good filing system you don't need to use folders in your e-mail.
Tom: Okay, well, I was going to ask about that because I've never filed anything properly, but now I don't have to.
Laura: No, and if you already know where do you save your PDFs, where do you save your picture files. It's the same filing system and saved exactly the same way. So many people just don't know you can do that, it's like, “Wow, that's so cool,” when you’re first to try it.
Tom: That's an excellent information. Now, I'm going to move on to something else, and it's your workshop or seminar that you do on productivity suckers. Can you talk us a little bit about that because, obviously we all have the [inaudible 00:12:28] the classifications because I would assume everybody is a little bit different?
Laura: Yes, well, everyone is distracted by different things, but there tend to be four main distractions, attack of the productivity suckers, that I call that, it’s just for fun, kind of a throwback to the attack of the killer tomatoes, kind of a fun reference, but the things that suck the productivity out of you and not fight back. But the productivity suckers tend to be, what I call the four types, TYPE, technology, yourself, other people and the environment. And so by going through some different examples in that program with a lot of humor and videos and anecdotes, nothing is funnier than real life.
We just poke fun at the way that we are in the workplace. It's just hysterical, and just with the addiction to technology, kind of the Pavlovian response to the red blinking light on the phone and the e-mail pop-ups send all of the things that distract us from our real work, from our high-value activities to the things you do to yourself to distract yourself. Whether it's listening to your brain as you talk to yourself, whether it's time wasters like Facebook and things that really pull you away, or maybe it's other people coming and going, got a minute, got a minute.
So maybe we need to set up ways to let other people know that now is not a good time to interrupt or it could just be your environment. It could be your comfort, or the sounds of the person on the speakerphone having a conference call next to you, or just noises in general. So we really like to take a hard look at what keeps you from doing the things that you should be doing. I think people know how to work hard and how to make checklist. They know how to mark things off, that's not the problem. I think people know what they should be doing, and so it's all the things that are getting in the way of that that tend to be frustrating for most people.
Tom: Okay. Now if we notice that something is getting in our way are there are any advice, bits of advice you can give us on how to maybe stop that or [inaudible 00:14:47]?
Laura: Well, and it just again, depends what it is. Technology, many people don't know that you can turn off the alerts for the global notification and but turn on alerts for certain people. You see the reason people check their e-mail it's because they're afraid, “Gosh, that could be my boss, or my best client, or a coworker who needs me.” And 9 out of 10 e-mails are not important, but we don't want to miss that one. And we get an e-mail every four minutes on average, and it takes the average person seven minutes to ramp up into a state of flow or concentrations so we feel like we're sitting there staring at the screen all day. In our inboxes, it's pretty easy to do.
So in Outlook for example, in your file, if you go to your options in your mail, in your section called incoming items when new items arrive. There's four alerts, change the mouse cursor, put an envelope in the system tray, play a sound, and it actually puts up a little ghost, a little Phantom desktop alert. Really, we need four alerts for one e-mail? So if you turn off those global alerts, and then go into your inbox, and right-click on someone's e-mail that you consider important. That is any person who's high on your priority list, and then go down to create a rule and a box will come up for that person, when I get an e-mail from so-and-so then play a sound. That way you can minimize that second monitor that you're using to cheat to monitor your inbox while you're trying to “work,” and you can actually have a half hour of uninterrupted time without hearing that e-mail go off.
And then if it does, you've already predetermined that that person is important and you've said, “I'm willing to interrupt myself for this person,” but it dramatically increases the odds that you'll stop what you're doing to look at an e-mail of a shoe sale or something like that. So it makes the ones that you do interrupt yourself for much more important.
Tom: I absolutely love that. I'm going to have to go in and figure out how the heck to use this computer.
Laura: Yes, it really is, a lot of it is the mechanics of it. The foundational pieces. How do you set it up because if your system fundamentally is broken as things are coming in and you don't know within seconds, where that goes, how to access it, what's the start date, what's the due date, how do I categorize it, how do I view it, what kind of filters do I need. I know when I have a millisecond, all right, what do I do next? There's no wondering I do exactly what's next on my prioritized task list because I've already predetermined that every time I do my workflow and processing.
So if you just get an e-mail or a text, and you don't know, “Gosh, how I'm I going not to forget this?” And then you get something in a LinkedIn, and then someone sends you a request in Facebook, and if you don't know how to get that all into one system, in one list, in one place, then there's no way you can prioritize within all of those different request to know what the best use of your time is right now.
Tom: That's some great stuff right there. I really appreciate you sharing that with us Laura. Now, I'm going to put you on the spot for a minute because I'm going to take you a little bit away from productivity, we're going to talk a little bit about events. You've attended lots of events, both as a speaker and I'm sure just as a guest or an attendee.
Tom: Everybody has an event that kind of stands out in their mind, something that just was over-the-top, amazing. Can you think of anything and just share us a little bit about that event?
Laura: Wow. Well, my favorite time in terms of events and attending events was when I was the Chair of The Meetings Industry Council for the National Speakers Association. I was blessed to be the president of NSA in 2011-2012 and on the board for 10 years, and so during that time I was the chair of the Meeting Industry Council. So we had of course, MPI, and ASAE, and RNBTA. All of the meeting industry groups, we would get together, and there was a sitting member on the Council, and I spoke at a several of the national events. But I does remember some of the ASAE and MPI, PCMA events because they're meeting professionals and they are so well sponsored because everyone is trying to really make a great impression. I don't remember ever eating such great food that I did at some of those meetings, events, some of them have just been so extravagant and over-the-top. Raw seafood bars and those are the ones, it's kind of embarrassing to say, that have good food that really stand out in my mind. But I love food, just can't help it.
Tom: Well, I'm right there with you. Let's take it to a slightly different end of it. We've all attended one of those events where you just go, “Wow, they should've done this differently.” Can you give us an insight into that maybe, and tell us what you would recommend to an event planner to avoid to that type of a situation?
Laura: Well, the biggest thing is not building in enough time for networking, and not enough time for breaks, and not enough time for people to move between sessions. It's usually just an inexperienced person who was kind of thrown into the congratulations, you're the meeting planner type of role where they'll have me speaking from 9:00 to 10:30. And then another session is starting at 10:30 and it's like, “Whoops, wait a minute, we forgot to take into account other people have to get to the session.” So it's usually [inaudible 00:21:05] like that that end up throwing the whole schedule often. And I'm probably a little more sensitive to schedule the time frames being a time management expert myself, but those are the ones that seem to go the most awry where a lack of planning, knowledge, or even just a script…
Someone didn't write out the time codes and they've just got way too much crammed into a general session for example. I've had times where I was scheduled to speak for 75 minutes and got 50, 50 literally. It's just simply because the poor person putting it together did not go through realistically and map out how long everything was going to take, and I think that just stands up frustrating attendees.
Tom: Right. At that end everyone who's at the event to present, same way. That's some great advice right there. I really do appreciate you sharing that with our listeners. Now, Laura you've already given your website, but if you do that again, and if anybody wants to reach out to you, how can they find out more about you and all the books you’ve published and of course, your Outlook training as well?
Laura: Sure. Well, the books are anywhere books are sold. So Books A Million, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, anywhere if you just put in Laura's Stack I will come up off. My list is there, and my website is the best way to reach me at theproductivitypro.com or just laurastack.com and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, and of course would be happy to dialogue with anyone, or help them with some of that Outlook training at /Outlook.
Tom: Well, that's fantastic. Again, Laura I know you got someplace you have to be. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.
Laura: My pleasure Tom and I can't wait to hear how your inbox is now going to be empty once you become a master of your workflow. Keep me posted.
Tom: I will do that.
Laura: Thanks Tom.
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