Episode 78: How to be more productive and know what to do next – with Megan Sandwick of Down With SSP

Productivity expert Megan Sandwick explains how you can be more productive, identify what you should do next and set yourself up for success.

Today’s guest

Megan Sandwick of Down With SSP

Website: Down With SSP

LinkedIn: Megan Sandwick – Down With SSP

Twitter: @megansmat

Email: megan@downwithssp.com

Megan never dreamt that a lifetime of asking questions, along with an addiction to planners and organisation systems, would eventually lead her to where she is now.  As a strategic productivity partner, Megan lives out her purpose every day by helping entrepreneurs who have more ideas than time go from a place of frustration and dread to a place of productivity and business growth.

Before transitioning into the remote lifestyle, Megan spent over twenty years working with people worldwide as an employment coach, national project and program manager, deputy director, and a benefits services and account manager in corporate America.

Over the last five years as a freelance strategic productivity partner, Megan has had the opportunity to specialise in the creation and management of international remote operations teams and has worked for Upwork as a Professional Team Project Coordinator.

Megan aims to help people to become their most productive selves and show what opportunities and adventures are possible in the remote world.  Her business was born out of her deep passion for empowering others to become their very best selves by working smarter, not harder, to achieve what they want with freedom, happiness, and confidence.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • [01:20] Megan explains what a strategic productivity partner is.
  • [02:20] Megan talks through her journey to her current role.
  • [04:13] Megan describes her typical clientele.
  • [05:08] Defining ‘productivity’ by looking at the bigger picture.
  • [08:39] The distinction between “productivity” and “effectiveness”.
  • [09:08] How to reduce the time spent doing repetitive tasks.
  • [10:58] Why you should focus on what you achieved in the week rather than what you didn’t.
  • [12:22] Setting realistic timeframes and organising priorities.
  • [15:09] How to prioritise daily tasks to ensure efficiency.
  • [17:26] Scheduling your time effectively.
  • [18:39] What you can do with extra time if you complete all your tasks.
  • [20:16] How to create a “dashboard” of your tasks.
  • [22:18] How the process can be adapted to suit everyone.
  • [24:24] Reviewing the dashboard to ensure your tasks are up-to-date.
  • [25:18] How project management tools can help you organise and consolidate your tasks.
  • [27:04] How the “kanban board” format can be used for smaller projects and tasks.
  • [29:30] Finding out what works for you through project management tools.
  • [33:00] Opening the day by checking notifications and messages.
  • [34:58] Closing the day by reviewing the day’s actions and planning ahead.
  • [36:52] Megan shares her tips to create positive productivity habits.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 78: How to be more productive and know what to do next - with Megan Sandwick of Down With SSP

Jeremy Cline 0:00
What's stopping you from getting things done? You always seem to be busy, yet your to-do list just never seems to get any shorter. In fact, if anything, it seems to get longer. Perhaps the solution is working smarter and not harder. And how to do that? Well, that's what we cover in this episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:17
Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. Now, I know it's a bit of a cliche, but whoever you are, we all have the same amount of time in the day. And if you're anything like me, it probably never feels like enough time. So, when you've got a to-do list as long as your arm, how do you make sure that you're using your time effectively? Well, to answer this, I'm delighted to welcome my guest, Megan Sandwick. Megan describes herself as 'your strategic productivity partner who helps people go from a place of stress and dread to a place of productivity and accomplishment'. Megan, welcome to the podcast.

Megan Sandwick 1:09
Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy. It's nice to talk to you today. And I always am happy to talk about productivity and how to help people be more productive.

Jeremy Cline 1:16
What is a strategic productivity partner? What does that mean?

Megan Sandwick 1:20
That's a great question. And I know, it is kind of one of those that sounds like, you know, what are those words and how do you do it? So, what I do, basically, is I help business professionals work harder, not smarter. No, work smarter, not harder, right? What I found is a lot of business professionals, and in life, we have a lot going on, when you think about what we're working on at work and projects and deliverables, we also have a lot that we're doing in personal lives. What I like to do is help people take control of their productivity habits, and identify what works for you, and how can you be strategic with your time. And so, what I do is I work with business professionals to say, okay, what is everything that you need to work on, what is everything that you've got on your plate right now, and how are you organising it and how can I help you to take control of that, so you're building daily productivity habits, so that you're able to get more done, and you're able to be less stressed about it?

Jeremy Cline 2:14
So, how did you get into this area? How did you end up counselling, coaching, whatever you like to call it, people about this kind of thing?

Megan Sandwick 2:20
When I hear most people speak and they have this clear plan and goal and how their plan worked for them, I love hearing that. I will be honest with you, my journey to get here, I didn't plan or realise that there was such a thing as a strategic productivity partner. I worked in operations in corporate America for over 20 years. I was a deputy director and operations manager. And so, I was always working with people on creating programmes, and I was working with my staff on their time management and productivity. And I loved doing that. There were a lot of things I didn't like in corporate America necessarily, or in the corporate world. But what I did realise is that there were the productivity and I really liked the operations. And I really liked being strategic, what I was doing. I left corporate America about six years ago, and I realised that there was this whole remote world where there were operations, projects and things that needed to happen in brick-and-mortar buildings were also happening for all of these online and electronic businesses. At that point, I started to realise the things that I'd been doing in my job in a brick-and-mortar building, I could also do online. I looked into online operations. And when I was doing that, I found that while operations and being strategic is what I'm good at, working with individuals and identifying that there are people out there who are like, 'I just need the help getting everything done.' And they need somebody that's strategic, somebody that's non-judgmental, somebody that's on their side. I just found that there was a need, and that there were people who were looking for a strategic productivity partner. That's how my business grew.

Jeremy Cline 3:51
And how do people know to find you? How do they know that you're the person who can help them out with this? I mean, I know there's lots of books on productivity and time management and there's a ton of tools out there, which we might come on to talk about. But how does someone go from that to thinking, A, I need someone to come in to help me with this and B, I need you to help me?

Megan Sandwick 4:13
That's a really good question. A lot of times, people know they need a change, and they're looking for something to help them. I've had a lot of people that have said they're looking for a business coach. Once they start talking about looking for a business coach, when we talk about what they're looking for, it's specifically about productivity and how to get things done. Because a lot of times when people are looking for a business coach, they know what they want, they just don't know how to get there. And it's identifying the right tools that they need. For me, it's been by word of mouth and by getting out there and by connecting with people and saying, 'Okay, where are you now, where do you want to be, what's getting in your way? And I can help you with productivity tools.'

Jeremy Cline 4:51
Before we start to talk about some of the specific tools, techniques, tricks, hacks that people can use, let's talk about what we're talking about. When you mean being productive, what it actually means. I mean, is being productive just about getting more work done?

Megan Sandwick 5:06
That's a good question. And I would say no. I think productivity, there's one way to look at productivity in that I create a to-do list every day and I check everything off. And that's absolutely – is someone being productive when they do that? Definitely. But I think if we take a bigger, more global picture at productivity, one of the things that we realise is that productivity is about the tools that we're using, it's about the expectations that we're setting and it's about the mindset that we have. If you look at it, in our lives, there's a formula I heard Jack Canfield share years and years ago, which was 'event plus response equals outcome'. So if you look at any event in life, the way that we respond to it will directly impact the outcome. I heard that years ago, in the early 90s, when I was working in job search contracts and doing employment services, and we've used that a lot with participants, whereas, if the event is that I'm unemployed right now, and maybe I don't have a car, or maybe I don't have a wardrobe for... You know what I mean, if there's an event, if you look at what the response to being unemployed in that situation is, and if you take control of that response, it will determine your outcome. So, in the employment contracts that we worked in, we looked at how do we respond to being employed and what are the barriers. I did that for years and years, when I was, again, in my corporate world job. When I started working with people on productivity and started working with individuals, I realised that event plus response equals outcome – if we look at our response, that's where productivity happens. Because when you think about it, and sometimes people think that productivity is just the transactional, it's the physical action that you're taking. Which it is, but if you look at it, productivity is also, what are our expectations, what is our mindset, what are the tools that we have? I don't know if that makes sense to you, but for me, it's looking at how are we taking control of the response. We're looking at productivity as our responsiveness to whether it's needing to get things done, whether it's when challenges arise. Because one of the things that I say to clients and to people is, and when people say, 'Do I need a productivity partner?' And what I say is, 'Are you ever in that situation where you plan your day, and then 10 minutes later, the day starts and your day is already shot?' At that point, then what people will tend to say is, 'Ah, forget it, I'm not going to be productive today.' And my response is, that's actually not true. How are you going to respond? Right? So, we know you had a day planned, and we know that whatever challenges have arisen, and so we look at that response. Is it resetting expectations? Is it looking at what my day is? Is it looking at... So, for me, productivity is a lot more holistic than just actually completing that task.

Jeremy Cline 7:42
I also love the way that you're focusing on the response, and we're focusing here on what we can actually control, because very often, events, the email coming in, the boss demanding that something is done, the clients making the phone call saying, 'Where's my X, Y, Z?' – you can't necessarily do something about that. But you can do something about what you do next, what your response is to it. I absolutely love that.

Megan Sandwick 8:06
That is so true. Because that's where, you know, when the boss says, 'Oh, hey, I have this new report' – 'That's great. Let me show you what the rest of my day is', you know what I mean? And that way, you can have that conversation not to get frustrated or to say no, but to say, 'Okay, so let's reset expectations so that we're both happy.'

Jeremy Cline 8:23
I've heard some people talk about a distinction between being productive and being effective. And that, really, we should be striving to be effective rather than productive. I mean, maybe it's just semantics. But could you talk to what the distinction might be and what we're aiming for?

Megan Sandwick 8:40
I do agree with that. And part of that goes to mindset, right? Like, when we think of what's effective, and I like when people start talking about, 'Okay, I don't just want to be productive, but I also want to be effective.' Because to me, it's like, okay, we're taking it up a level now, right? We understand that we want to be productive. And then when we look at, okay, how are we being more effective? And the way I look at that is, are we using tools, are we using automation, you know what I'm saying, what are we doing so that we are – and that's when we go into working smarter, not harder. Are there things that you can do in your day to eliminate some of the repetitive tasks? Duke did a study recently that we spend 45% of our day, or about 11 or 12 hours, doing repetitive tasks. So, when you think about a 24-hour, like you'd said at the beginning, we all have 24 hours in the day, everyone everywhere. That's a fact, right? We have 24 hours in the day. So, if you look at that we spend 10 or 11, or if you spend seven hours doing the same thing every day, then you can look at what are some ways we can make this easier, what are some ways we can – you know what I'm saying? Are there repetitive tasks that we can reduce? Or are they repetitive tasks that we need to do? And so, it really gives us that chance to look at, yes, we're being productive and are we also being effective at how we're being productive?

Jeremy Cline 9:55
And is this in part about not being busy for the sake of busy? Because there's always lots and lots of things you can do, it's just whether you're doing something which is going to push you forward in whatever it is that you're trying to do.

Megan Sandwick 10:08
Absolutely. And that's actually, if you look at it, and I think, if we're to look at the global pandemic and what our change in work has done is it makes us begin to look at things such as how many hours a day do we work? And when you think about it, there are studies and research that say, we will fill the time that we have. You know what I'm saying? And that's where mindset is important, to look at it as are we trying to fill in a time block, or are we finishing the task? Because those are two different things.

Jeremy Cline 10:38
I'd like to dig into this mindset a little bit, because there's, first of all, what causes people to think that they are or aren't being productive or effective? And then there is, what is in fact making someone unproductive or ineffective? So, is there a difference between what people think and what the reality is?

Megan Sandwick 10:59
Absolutely. There's a huge difference. And one of the things that I do – I work with my clients on an ongoing basis, so I have productivity clients that I've worked with, I have a couple clients that I've worked with for four years, you know, so I have clients that I've worked with for a month to up to four years. One of the things that's most interesting in working especially with clients that I've known the most, and that I've known the longest, is when we're talking about, okay, how was the week, what is the wrap-up, and one of the things that I've been able to identify with my clients is there's a lot of times when they'll say to me, 'Oh, it wasn't a very productive...', you know, 'Oh, the week', and they'll start going on about how the week wasn't very positive, or they didn't get very much done. Then I'll just kind of say, 'Time out, let's do...', it's what I call 'but I did do' list. It's not grammatically correct. But it's just for something in your mind that when you start to go down the, 'Oh, but I didn't do, but I didn't do, but I didn't do', and when you start to feel again that dread, to say, 'Stop, time out, but I did do...', and answer the question and then just say, 'But I did do...', and, 'Look at...' And what I find nine times out of ten – not scientific, this is just Megan-tific – so, nine times out of ten when I talk with my clients, and we go through the 'but I did do' list, they realise they did way more than they thought, that they had unrealistic expectations going into it.

Jeremy Cline 12:12
So, how does somebody start to manage their expectations? There's the thing, what's the expression, that people overestimate what they can do in a day, but underestimate what they can do in a month, or something like that?

Megan Sandwick 12:23
That's a really good question, and to be honest with you, one of the things that I do work with with my clients on an ongoing basis, and in fact, my next call after this, one of the things – so, I have many clients, like many of us, there's a lot of us that we have just a lot of tasks that we're juggling. You know what I'm saying? When you think about the projects that we're working for work, for personal life, for family, we all have an incredible amount of tasks that we're juggling. And it's not about saying that we're not going to juggle the tasks, but what it's more important to do is prioritise and set realistic timeframes. So, one of the things that I work with my clients to do is to always look at and come up with kind of a daily process. And one of the things that they do is look at, okay, what is my calendar today? And then, we'll expand it out to the week, but we'll say, 'What is your calendar right now?' And then, on your calendar, you're looking at two things. One, how many hours of meetings do you have? Because we all know, we all have meetings every day. So, we need to figure out, we have X number of meetings in that day. Then you figure out how many hours are you going to work. And then you identify, okay, how many project hours do you have, and how many tasks do you need to finish. And when you think about it, if you first A, identify the number of hours you're going to work that day, and then you say, 'Okay, if I'm gonna work eight hours, and I know I have five hours of meetings, and I know I have seven hours of tasks', right there, you know you're not going to win the day, right? Because you're not setting it up realistically. So, one of the things that it's important to do is to look at a purely numbers approach of looking at your calendar as numbers. How many hours do I want to work? How many meetings do I have? How many tasks do I have? And you need to make sure that your tasks and meetings equal the number of hours you're working, otherwise, you're not going to be able to set it up for success.

Jeremy Cline 14:04
So, is this something which you recommend people do basically every day at the start of every day?

Megan Sandwick 14:11
I do.

Jeremy Cline 14:11
You must get some pushback on that. I mean, people saying, 'I can't waste time spending...' I don't know, how long does this take, to go through this exercise?

Megan Sandwick 14:19
It would surprise you. So, yes, I've had pushback. And when I have pushback, I also, clients can do it on a weekly basis. I always say do it on a daily or weekly basis. But what I will say is, with one client that I do this with, at the beginning, he was like, 'It's too much trouble. We're not gonna do it.' I said, 'Let's do it for 10 days. If we do it for 10 days in a row, we'll get it to where you will get this process to 10 minutes.' That's what we did. So, it takes him 10 minutes a day to look at it now. But it's a matter of being focused and it's a matter of looking at your calendar and your tasks.

Jeremy Cline 14:49
Presumably, something you just get better at.

Megan Sandwick 14:52
Absolutely, definitely.

Jeremy Cline 14:54
So, if you've got a to-do list where you identify that, actually, there are insufficient hours in your working day in order to do everything – something that you mentioned earlier, prioritisation – how do you go about the process of prioritising what you should be using your time for?

Megan Sandwick 15:10
That's a good question. So, what I always look at, what are your deliverables and your due dates right now? You know, we all have tasks that have an end date, a due date, if you will. So, I always say start with that. When you're looking at your priorities, look at what's due first, and that way you're able to finish it. And then the next thing that I look at is, so I'll look at it kind of in two passes, and with two lenses. And after time, you look at it, you only have to do one pass, but look at it for what's the priority due date, and then what are the resources or allocations that I have? So, for example, if I know that today I need to finish an end of the month report for November, I know that I need to finish scheduling and some posts for December. If I know that and I can begin to say, 'Okay, here's the tasks that I have to finish', then I can also look and say, 'Is there anybody else? Or am I the only person that has to do it?' Sometimes we have somebody else that we can push it off on and sometimes we need to do it ourselves. But again, it's just beginning to look in it. One of the nice things about doing it daily, I'm glad you said about the pushback, I always say, intentional planning pays. And it takes effort, but it's worth it. By intentionally saying, 'Every day, I'm going to look at my tasks', and that way, because you'll have fresh eyes with, maybe I got an email this morning that our meeting's been pushed back. So, I can change that priority. Or maybe somebody is on vacation, and so I'm waiting for something, you know what I mean, but it gives you an opportunity to look at everything on your plate and begin to take control of it. And that way, you feel that you have control of it, because if we're honest, when it comes to doing things, if we want to do it, we'll do it a lot faster than if we don't want to do it.

Jeremy Cline 16:45
So, you've mapped out this ideal day, you know when your meetings are, and you know what you're going to be doing in between your meetings and in the other time. How, then, do you deal with disruptions? And I use deal in the widest sense, as to whether this is something that is to be ignored, so you basically say to yourself, 'No matter what comes in, be it a phone call or an email, forget it, I'm just not responding', or is there another way around it? Because in today's society, the phone goes, you feel compelled to answer it. If you've got your notifications on your email and something pops up from a particular person, you probably will open it. So, what sort of strategies can you employ to deal with those sorts of disruptions or distractions?

Megan Sandwick 17:27
Glad you asked that. So, one thing is, when determining your daily formula, like I have X number of hours, I have three hours I can work. You know what I mean? I have three hours of, I always call it project time, because we all have different titles. So, I just say, we kind of have meeting time and we have project time. One of the things that I do work with my clients on is when you identify how much project time you have, then you need to identify how much to schedule. And it's never going to be minute for minute. So, for example, if I know I'm going to be in four hours of meetings today, and then I have about four hours of project time, I don't want to schedule four hours, because again, I know things are going to happen. So, it's beginning to find out what is your ratio. Is it 70%? Is it 50%? And then, that way, you know, say, 'Okay, I'm going to schedule two hours of work. And that way, I know I've got two hours for whatever happens', if that makes sense.

Jeremy Cline 18:17
So, then you've got time to deal with distractions and that sort of thing. What do you do if you get to the end of that period and you discover you have more time? You know, maybe it's four o'clock, you kind of look around and think, 'Okay, I've done everything I set out to do.' How do you then figure out what to do with this extra time that isn't just busyness? Because again, I can just think, 'Oh, well, in that case, I'll check some emails or do this, that and the other.'

Megan Sandwick 18:40
Well, I do one of two things. So, one is, if someone finishes early, and they've gotten everything, I always say schedule for some "yay" time, you know what I mean? Celebration time and for you time. So, if I have clients that like to golf, or like to walk or anything like that, or for me, because I'm not too far from the beach, so to me, that's like my bonus time, it means I get to go to the beach. So, you know, on one hand, you can schedule – say, 'Okay, I'm going to do something for me, because I did everything I need'. And that way, it's kind of a treat.

Jeremy Cline 19:09
But if you're in the office, you're expected to be there till five o'clock, you can't really do that.

Megan Sandwick 19:13
Then you can't do that. That is a good point. So, then what I do is I always say, so whatever your project management tool is, so for example, let's say it's a Trello board, and you know, you've gone through your day, and you've identified the tasks that you're going to complete, you're still going to have the next tasks on your list, you're still going to be able to see what you have that's next, if that makes sense. So, it's kind of like, you've gone through and you've said, 'Okay, here's what I have to do today.' And then you know what's coming up. And so, you're able to add one of the other tasks, or if it's reading a book, or you know what I'm saying, maybe it's some professional growth at that point, especially if you have to be in the office, it might be possible to do a little bit of online learning or it could be possible to do some reading or some research or move into another project.

Jeremy Cline 19:19
So, let's go back to the client before they come to see you, who, they can't see the wood through the trees, they've just got an almighty pile of stuff going on, they're paddling as fast as they can just to stay still and actually find themselves drifting backwards. Where do you start? What's kind of the first thing you do to start to make sense of all this?

Megan Sandwick 20:17
Good question. What I always do is I start with a Google worksheet and what I do is I just have clients start to tell me, okay, what are all the projects, all the deliverables and everything on your mind that you've got to do right now? And just do a big mind dump and get everything out that they've been thinking about, everything, whether it's oh, next year's Christmas cards, or, oh, I need to finish that report, or, oh, I have an article that I'm editing or, you know, whatever it happens to be. Oh, I want to learn Spanish next year, you know, everything that you want, we do a brain dump. And then what we start to do is we start to organise, and we start to categorise. Let's put all of the projects stuff together, let's put all of the personal stuff together. And then we literally create a dashboard, where it's on a Google spreadsheet, and you have all of the categories, and then we start to identify, okay, so here are the tasks. Then we start to say, once we have all of that laid out, then we start to say, okay, what is your desired outcome for each one? So, then they have a desired outcome for each. And then we start to look at what is the priority, what are the resources and what are the assets you need to be able to complete this. And that's what we start with, once we have all the tasks that we've organised, and again, we've said what's the desired outcome, what are the assets or resources you have or need, who are the people that can help you, what's the deadline. Then we say, okay, here's your next action. And we just define the next action for each of them. And some of them might be that it's pending until 2021. Or it's pending until –but again, the goal is that my clients have one place where they can see everything, and they know what they've got on their plate. And then from that, we'll go into, okay, what is the project management tools that you use? Are you using Asana or monday.com or ClickUp? You know what I mean? What are the tools and let's create this, but it's starting to just get a big visual of everything on their plate.

Jeremy Cline 22:06
Do people look at this and then kind of go grey with a sense of horror at the amount of stuff they've got on there? I mean, does this actually inspire people to start culling maybe some of the things they wanted to do, like learning Spanish or whatever?

Megan Sandwick 22:20
Yes. And so, I've been working for about seven months with an ADHD counsellor. It's been interesting, because he has ADHD, and he counsels clients with ADHD. When we got started at first, his mind was like, 'This is too much for my mind.' You know what I mean? For him, he was like, 'This is too much', the first hour that we started. But by the second session, once he could see everything that was laid out for him, and again, once we were able to add – some people like to add like a status, or what's my focus. So, for him, what we did is we did the board, and then we added, okay, what's my focus? So, it's, what's his mental focus or what's the status? And some of them, we were able to say, 'Your focus is none, because you have these other people working on it.' You know what I mean? We were very clearly able to identify. So, it does seem like a lot of information, but we're able to do it in a way that is important to you. And it captures the focus and the details that you need.

Jeremy Cline 23:18
And how long does this process take, if there is a typical timeframe?

Megan Sandwick 23:22
Two hours. So, I generally take two one-hour sessions to sit down and go through it with people.

Jeremy Cline 23:26
And that's after they've thrown everything at the wall?

Megan Sandwick 23:29
That includes throwing everything at the wall. So, the first session, the way I like to do it is the first session, throw everything at the wall, that takes about an hour. Then I wait a couple of days. And that way again, you ruminate and wherever you think of things, I know, for me, it's always in the shower, and I'm like, 'Oh, that's right. I also wanted to do...', or whatever, you know, it gives people a chance to think about it. Then we come back the second time, and we again begin to fill in, okay, what is the desired outcome, what is the priority, and they're able to see that. And then, we come back the third time, and that's when it's like, okay, now I'm comfortable, I see what the plan is, and I'm able to move forward. It takes a lot of information. And one thing I did find, so for the client I mentioned earlier, he had a major life change happen over the summer. Fortunately, we had started this process in March. When the life situation happened, we were able to say, okay, we're going to review your dashboard and we're going to put everything into pending that we can and only focus on what you need to, if that makes sense. So, it kind of gave an ability for his mind to shut off what it could shut off and just focus on what it needed to.

Jeremy Cline 24:31
You mentioned review there. How often do people or should people review this dashboard?

Megan Sandwick 24:38
I recommend weekly. I review my dashboard on a weekly basis.

Jeremy Cline 24:42
That again, I can see clients pushing back on that and saying, 'Hang on, you want me to go through this two-hour process every week?'

Megan Sandwick 24:49
I'm so glad you said that. So, the review process is not two hours. The review process probably takes 15 or 30 minutes, depending. So, that's when people go in and they look at it. So, the weekly review process would be probably between 15 and 30 minutes.

Jeremy Cline 25:03
I promised my listeners that we would start talking about tactics and tools and that sort of thing. And you mentioned a couple of tools, you mentioned Trello, which I'd heard of, and a couple of others, something to do with Monday and ClickUp that I hadn't heard of. I mean, without going into all the details of what these things do, what are these tools designed to do? How do they help you?

Megan Sandwick 25:22
So, what they're designed to do is to be project management tools. So, there are right now, and this is an exciting, I mean, when we look at, there's a lot of things that have not been good about 2020. When we look at being at 2020 and if we were to look at even 2015, 2010, the number of tools and resources that are available for us online are pretty phenomenal when you think about it. Which is exciting and also overwhelming. So, there are a host of project management tools, like you said, a Trello, or an Asana or a ClickUp. All of those tools, the goal of it is to take and organise your projects, and so that you have them in one place. For example, it allows you to be able to say, 'Okay, here's all of the tasks and projects', it's a task management system where you can manage, okay, I need to call this person, today I need to send this email. The tools allow you to manage in the weeds, at a very minutiae detail level of being able to track details and information, you can track notes, and keep documents and have everything in one place. And then, at a global level, you're able to track everything that you've got, and you're able to prioritise all of your, again, projects, tasks, or anything that you're working on.

Jeremy Cline 26:34
Can we telescope in to those people who, maybe they don't have lots of big projects going on, or you know, if you're office-based, and you don't necessarily know what's around the corner, or if your projects tend to be relatively short-term, but you've still got all these issues where sometimes it will just get really busy and you've got the time to manage, can you talk a bit about what perhaps strategies people can use when they're dealing perhaps a bit more day-to-day? So, I know that you and I, when we've talked previously, you've talked about opening the day and closing the day.

Megan Sandwick 27:07
That's a great question. So, one thing I would say, so let me come back to the opening and closing of the day. One thing I wanted to say about project management tools, and I'm glad you brought that up as far as the format, the other good thing about project management tools is that they have different formats and different styles. So, for example, and I'm going to get very specific, the project management board, there's a style called a Kanban board, and what that does is that gives people – if you look at it, it's almost like there's a big board that has columns, and then under each column, there are cards, if you will, and the cards represent tasks. And so, one of the things about – and why I'm bringing this up is, what you want to think about with your project management tool is what do I need to capture and how do I need to view it. For people who think 'Oh, wait, I'm working in an office or I don't have that many projects, I don't need that tool', that is one way to think about it. What I would say is look at the format and what you need to be able to view and so, again, going back to a Kanban view where you can have – and so, for example, my project management tool, I have a row that says 'Today', and I put all of the cards of tasks that I'm going to work on today. And then, I have one that's this week, and I have the days of the week. And so, that way I can put my tasks under each day. And then I also have one that's this month and then next month. For people who might think, 'Oh, I don't have that project so that doesn't connect with me', think about it as tasks and think about things that you want to get done and how you want to take control and what you want that habit to look like. And that's how you want to set up your project management tool. And so again, that's where you can think of like a Trello, or a Kanban board, it allows you to say, 'Okay, here are the projects, here's the timeframe', and then you're able to manoeuvre within that. Does that make sense, or did I kind of lose everyone on that one?

Jeremy Cline 28:53
It does make sense. I mean, one thing I think people might be familiar with, particularly if they're in a corporate environment, is that they can't necessarily just use whatever tools excite them and that they'd like to try and have a go at. They've got to use the tools that are imposed on them. Quite often, these are Microsoft-based. So, you will have available to you Excel, Outlook, Word and maybe one or two other things. So, are there ways that you can use these tools, these software products, to effectively do this sort of planning, but without using tools like Trello or Asana or whatever?

Megan Sandwick 29:31
100%. And that's, to be honest with you, I always say the best planning tool is a Google spreadsheet or an Excel spreadsheet. Because you're able to use, if you want to be able to use and set it up in that format. So, one of the things that's important is to think about what is the information you want to capture and then the format, and then you can create it, and so again, that's where it goes into intentional planning pays. What works for you, what information do you want to capture, and then how do you want to structure it? You know what I'm saying? Do you want to structure it by project, do you want to structure it by time? And so, one of the things, especially when people are working in an office setting, say, look at how you're structuring your time. And then again, you can create a worksheet or you can create tools that say, okay, let's look at, I've got five days in the office or seven days, or fill in the blank, you know what I mean, and start to look at what are the things that you're wanting to do then, and that will be definitely very helpful.

Jeremy Cline 30:23
So, this is something that you could do using your calendar and Outlook, you can start maybe blocking things. I had a previous guest, he talked about time blocking, so you don't just use your calendar for external appointments, meetings, and that sort of thing, but you also use it for, this is what I'm going to do during that time.

Megan Sandwick 30:40
Absolutely, yes. And to me, your calendar can also be one of the most incredible tools. For example, one of the things I do is, each morning, I meditate and I set an intention. I wanted to be able to capture that. So, I have a repetitive appointment on my calendar. And I can go in each day, and I can type in my intention right there. And then, you know what I'm saying? So, there are definitely ways that you can do it. The most important thing with productivity is to find what works for you, to figure out what you need and what works for you. And then, my recommendation is, the tools are helpful, but it's your habits and your actions that are key. And so, if you have a process where you're saying, 'Okay, I'm going to look at my calendar on a regular basis, whether it be daily or weekly, I'm going to look at it on a daily or weekly basis, I'm going to look at my calendar. I'm going to schedule meetings, and then look, I'm going to schedule focus time.' And that's that project time, you know, and then begin to identify. Because if you set up this process, and then you, at the end of the day or end of the week, then I recommend to people to go back and say, 'Okay, now let's look at how did today go? Did I finish everything? If I didn't, then I need to assign it to another time.' You know what I'm saying? When am I going to do it? Did I reschedule meetings, you know what I mean? But at the end of the day, it's going through that process again and it's building those habits of saying, 'Okay, at the end of the day, I looked through my day. I know what I didn't capture, I know what I did." And part of the reason I like doing that is because, I don't know about you, but I would find I'd leave the office and finish and then these mind cycles would come up: 'Did I send that email? Oh, did I do that? Oh, did I... What time is my...? Oh...' And so, my thought is, the way to get rid of those is to be proactive and to spend a few minutes at the end of the day saying, this is what I did, this is what I need to reschedule, here's what tomorrow looks like. And again, that way you have it in your mind, so that whether it's when you're falling asleep, or in the middle of the night, or any of those times that those thoughts come, you're like, 'Oh, wait, no, I know the answer to that. I don't have to be distracted, I can be present with where I'm at.'

Jeremy Cline 32:36
Yeah. And I think it goes to, not sort of wake up at four in the morning worrying about the things, but if you've got stuff written down and so, you can tell your brain, 'Don't worry, brain, you know the answer to this, or, you've written down the answer to this, you don't need to mull it and think about it again and again.'

Megan Sandwick 32:53
100%, it is. It's about building those habits, so that you have confidence in them.

Jeremy Cline 32:57
Now, I teased up opening and closing the day and then we got sidetracked. So, is that something we can revisit now or get into?

Megan Sandwick 33:05
Absolutely, definitely. I do have a four-step process that I recommend for opening the day. Part of the reason for this is because if you are able to take control of your productivity, the goal is to create habits to establish processes that are not time dependent and that allow for flexibility. So, one of the ways that we're able to do this is by starting with creating a daily checklist of actions that you need to take daily. So, one of the things that I recommend to people is, make a list. What are all the emails you need to check? What are all the messages, Slack, Telegram? You know, when you think about it, we used to just get mail via letter and a phone call. And now we have so many additional options. So, one of the things that I say is, identify what you need to complete on a daily basis, then approximate how long is that going to take. Schedule repeating times and tasks that you have. And then the magic is in the execution and adjustments. Right? So, it's going back and adjusting and updating those expectations regularly.

Jeremy Cline 34:02
So, is this daily things like I need to check my emails every morning, that kind of thing?

Megan Sandwick 34:07
Yes. So, it would be everything from emails to Facebook to, if you post on LinkedIn, you know, whatever it is, anything that you need to check on a daily basis, Twitter, if you have a corporate website or anything like that. Make a list, so that you have one place that tracks all of the things that you need to do. And again, you're able to take control of it by saying, 'Okay, how long is this going to take?' And that way, for example, let's say you have a quick start morning, right? So, let's say you have a morning where you don't have time for the full, you know what I mean? It's like, I just need to get in and go. You can look and say, 'Alright, I'm going to look at my calendar and I'm going to look at my email, everything else is gonna wait. And I'll look at that.' Again, you're making that intentional decision. And so, your mind doesn't have to come back and say, 'Oh, I didn't do that', or, 'Oh, I didn't do that.' You're able to get more stuff done.

Jeremy Cline 34:56
Okay. And so, is that opening the day, these sort of daily checklists?

Megan Sandwick 35:00
Yes.

Jeremy Cline 35:01
Okay. And so, what's closing the day?

Megan Sandwick 35:03
So, then, closing the day is very similar to what you want to do is, again, you want to go back and scan the messages, you know what I'm saying? Identify, are there any email accounts or anything that you need to do a closing time scan of? Check your messages. Then review today's action. Are there things you didn't complete that you need to complete? Are there things you need to reschedule? And then plan for tomorrow's actions, again, looking at that calendar. What's on your horizon? What's going on? Then ask yourself, 'Can I see myself doing this? Do I have the resources that I need? Is there anything that needs to happen so that that can happen?' Maybe it's a 6 AM meeting, so I know I need to go to sleep early tonight. You know what I mean? Maybe it's, I'm going to be eating out for lunch, so I don't need to bring lunch. Whatever it is that's getting you in that mind. And then the last step is to visualise the day. Because if you can't visualise it, it's not going to happen.

Jeremy Cline 35:52
And having worked with a few clients, how successful do they get at these sorts of things with the sort of, you know, the opening the day, the closing the day, the visualising what they're going to do, when, and actually doing that? Or do you get clients who end up sort of beginning to spiral back to where they were just because of the volume of stuff they've got?

Megan Sandwick 36:11
That's a good question. Actually, my clients do it and they like it. And then when they start spiralling is when it's like, okay, we need to go back to doing this. They'll realise when they're – you know, because I don't meet with all my clients every day, a lot of my clients I'll meet with either two or three times a week. And so, the midweek check-in, I can kind of see where people are. And then, if it's not happening, then we can do it together. And that kind of gives us a chance to do the process together, and then they'll see where they are, and then pick up on it. Because a lot of times, we just don't do something because it's not in front of us, or you know, that energy hasn't started or whatever. So, if they've got somebody, if they've got a productivity partner, and I'm on their screen, and we're doing it, it makes sure that it happens.

Jeremy Cline 36:52
Are there any other tips or strategies that you'd like to cover that you think we should let people know about?

Megan Sandwick 36:57
I think the most important thing is drop attachments to what you think others are expecting of you from productivity. Because it's a very personalised thing. So, don't judge, you know what I'm saying? It can't be self-judgement here. Be open to find what works for you. And then realise that you can only do one thing at a time. One book that I would definitely recommend that made a very big difference for me was ONE Thing by Gary Keller. And just realising and thinking, our minds can't be happy and sad. We can't laugh and cry at the same time. You know what I mean? And so, when you think about it, we can't be busy and not busy at the same time. And so, if we identify what that one thing is, and if we, again, are building habits, that's going to help the mindset, that's going to help the expectations, and it's also going to help us realise when we're missing the mark, and we know we need help. And that's one of the reasons I do like meeting with my clients at least twice a week, is because I can help them and say, 'Hey, you know, let's get back on track. It's okay, it happens.' I think we've learned the last nine months, what we think is gonna happen in life isn't always gonna happen. So, it's about how, again, going back to the responsiveness. And if we're able to build positive productivity habits, then we can be aware of our responsiveness.

Jeremy Cline 38:03
And just for people who might be listening to this in the future, we're recording this just in December 2020. So, about nine months ago was when the COVID pandemic really hit and sent everything off the rails. And I mean, The ONE Thing, it's a great book. I think it's one of those books that actually, it's better on the second reading, because then you kind of realise how much you've forgotten first time, and it's a great refresher as to some of the suggestions that they have.

Megan Sandwick 38:27
I'm so glad you said that. Because I do recommend, the second time I read it, it was just, it's so much more impactful. So, I'm so glad you said that.

Jeremy Cline 38:35
And do you have any other tools or resources, books or productivity tools that people should maybe have a look at?

Megan Sandwick 38:41
As far as books, I would also say Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill has been a book this year that has been very helpful for me. It's not religious, even though the devil is in the title. But it's just, it's again, thinking about our thoughts, and the expectations and our mind, and how our minds can be negative or positive, and that we can work on taking control of that. And so, I very much recommend that to people.

Jeremy Cline 38:41
Well, you have provided an awful lot of tips. This has been really, really helpful. If people want to find you, maybe work with you, where can they find you?

Megan Sandwick 39:14
So, I am a strategic productivity partner. That is the title of my business, Strategic Productivity Partner, and my website is downwithspp.com. And you can also email me at megan@spp. And if anyone ever has any questions or thoughts, or if you're listening to this, and you're just like, 'I disagree', reach out to me, I'd love to have a conversation and learn more and come to a consensus and hopefully help you build more productivity tips. I'm always excited to do that.

Jeremy Cline 39:42
I will put links to all of those in the show notes. Megan, thank you so much. There's been some great tips here. So, thank you for joining me on the show.

Megan Sandwick 39:49
Thank you so much for having me. Have a great day.

Jeremy Cline 39:52
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Megan Sandwick, your strategic productivity partner. There were a couple of things I was really particularly pleased that she drew out. One was this focus on the response. She mentioned how event plus response equals outcome. The event isn't generally something that you can control, but the response is definitely something that you can control. And so, that's why she focuses on that. The second thing is this idea of having a 'but I did do' list. So, rather than having a to-do list and then recognising all the things that you didn't do, taking time to remember the successes, to make the list of things that actually, yeah, I did do these, I did get these done, I've actually got quite a lot done today. Maybe it wasn't what I set out to do, but no matter, I still have done quite a lot of stuff. Our tendency is to be too hard on ourselves, and how often do you get the chance, how often do you take the opportunity to celebrate the successes, celebrate the wins? I think just as a general point, it's something that's worth doing, just recognising that, oh, yeah, I did achieve something today.

Jeremy Cline 41:15
Megan was kind enough to provide me with a handout about her suggestions for how to open the day and how to close the day, and you'll find that on the show notes page for this episode. And that's at changeworklife.com/78, for Episode 78. And you'll find there the usual full transcript of the interview and a summary of everything we talked about, as well as the links to the resources we mentioned and where you can find Megan.

Jeremy Cline 41:21
I'm struggling to believe it myself, but Episode 100 is really not that far away. And I'd like to do something special, something different for it. But at the moment, I don't really know what. And so, I'd love to hear your ideas. If you've got anything in particular that you can suggest, that you think would be a good way to mark 100 episodes of the podcast, then do let me know. Go to changeworklife.com/contact, fill out the form there. How should I celebrate Episode 100? I'd love to hear your ideas. But we still have a few episodes to go before we get there. And next week, we've got another great interview. This one in particular is aimed at any parents who've taken time out to look after children. So, we're talking an extended time out, so maybe 10 years, 15 years, to bring up the kids, and you're now thinking of coming back to work. Well, this episode is exactly for you. We've got some great tips as to how you manage that, how you find something that you actually want to go back to. It's a great interview, so if you haven't already, subscribe to the show, and I can't wait to see you next week. Cheers. Bye.

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