17th October, 2023

How to Be REALLY Productive… Without Losing the Plot

With Graham Allcott

Photo of Graham Allcott

Listen to this episode

On this episode

Productivity and time management are difficult at the best of times. But when your job directly affects people’s lives, it can be tricky to make time to get organised, so that we have control over our days, and our inbox isn’t overflowing.

What we need is to manage our attention and make space for what matters. In this episode, Rachel is joined by productivity expert Graham Allcott. Graham shares ways we can prioritise and delegate tasks, make dedicated time for deep work, and get on top of our todo list rather than feel crushed by it.

Cluttered inboxes and disorganised days can lead to more stress, which can impact your work as well as your coworkers’. So listen to this episode for actionable strategies that will help you start each day with more focus, and less overwhelm.

Show links

About the guests

Graham Allcott photo

Reasons to listen

  • To improve your productivity without striving for perfection.
  • To manage your attention and prioritise tasks, especially in high-stress jobs.
  • To learn how to implement a weekly review to stay organised and in control.

Episode highlights


How to Stop Messing About on Your Phone


Managing attention for people in high-stress jobs


Introducing the second brain


Structuring your day


Making space for what matters


Weekly review


The second brain in more detail


What app should I download?


Inbox Zero


Good messaging hygiene for teams


How psychological safety can help when your team is stuck


Team dynamics around timings and deadlines


More email etiquette


CORD model


The end of your todo list


Graham’s three tips

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Rachel: What’s on your plate for tomorrow. How many emails are in your inbox right now? If these questions bring you out in a rash, the first thing I want to say is don’t panic. This week, I got to sit down with Graham Allcott, author of the bestselling book How to be a Productivity Ninja. Graham’s worked with organizations across the UK and beyond to help them handle email overload, fix meetings and bring in more psychological safety within teams.

[00:00:27] Rachel: Productivity doesn’t just mean fitting in more work in less time, because we know we just have far too much to do, and we’re never going to be able to do at all. Instead it means putting your brain to best use so that you can focus on the task you’re most suited to. So if like me, you’re feeling that you’re buried under a mountain of undone tasks and unread emails, by the end of this episode, you’ll know what you need to do today to regain some clarity and control.

[00:00:55] Rachel: If you’re in a high stress, high stakes, still blank medicine, and you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, burning out or getting out are not your only options. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, and welcome to You Are Not a Frog.

[00:01:15] Graham: I’m Graham Allcott and I’m the author of a few different books, but most notably one called How to Be a Productivity Ninja, and also the founder of a business called Think Productive. So we work with organizations around the world on topics like productivity, leadership and management, culture, all kinds of different workshops that we do in-house with clients. So that’s me.

[00:01:39] Rachel: Brilliant to have you on. Graham. Thank you so much for coming, and I’ve literally got your book here. So, um, I bought this quite a few years ago. Hooray. And it is a fantastic book. So right from the get go, say to people, get hold of the of Graham’s book.

[00:01:51] Graham: So yeah, it’s been out a few years and it’s, um, a lot of people kind of refer to it as it’s, like, the Bible for personal productivity that doesn’t ask you to be perfect. Um, so the first words of the book are Dear human being, and a very big sort of through line of the book is the idea that if you’re a productivity ninja, you’re not a superhero. You will sometimes appeal like you’re a superhero if you apply all the tools and the techniques, but you’re a human being with good tools and good skills, but you’re gonna screw that up sometimes.

[00:02:24] Graham: Um, so that’s, that’s really I think why the book kind of hit a nerve, is that it doesn’t ask you to plan every meticulous detail of your day and be perfect the whole time. It kind of starts from this premise of, yeah, this is messy and there’s lots of competing priorities and we’re maybe never gonna suss this stuff out, like ultimately and and fully, but it’s all, you know, for me that’s what makes it an interesting topic because it means there’s always some kind of improvement opportunity, like we can always get a bit better at how we do this stuff, me included.

[00:02:55] Rachel: And were you really, really, really unproductive and you learned to be productive, or you’ve always been pretty productive and you just wanted to show people how you did it?

[00:03:02] Graham: No, the former. I was, I was actually quite bad, and so I’ve always been quite productive, but I’ve always been quite productive by having good ideas and having good people around me. And the, the backstory to writing the book was, was basically that I’d gone from, um, being a, a, a chief executive of a charity, running a charity, having a whole team of people that could help, to suddenly being on my own and being freelance, and just suddenly having this realization in my sort of late twenties of like, Oh, actually I’m not very good at just having structures and being organized and pulling things together properly and so I kind of fixed me first. That was the start point.

[00:03:41] Graham: And I also think that is, that’s a really good tip for life I think, is if you wanna learn something, go and find the teacher who struggled with it themselves. ‘Cause I think sometimes what I notice in my little niche of the world of sort of productivity is lots of people who are just very naturally organized. And so their way of teaching and coaching is like, well, you just do it. Just do it like this. And it’s like, it really sort of neglects the whole premise that some people’s personality types are just not set up to do this stuff very well. Um, and that’s kind of where I come from is that I know a lot of those struggles and the resistance of it and kind of not wanting to be overly prepared and all that stuff. So I think that’s always a good rule for life is, um, if you wanna learn something new, um, then go and find the person who’s struggled themselves and they’ll, they’ll relate to your struggle. Yeah.

[00:04:30] Rachel: I totally a hundred percent agree with that. Yeah. The, the best teachers know what it’s like to be in the weeds and just not, not, not cope with it.

[00:04:38] Rachel: So I mean, gosh, I mean, there’s so much in that book. Probably you could have five podcasts worth. Uh, before we go any further, I’m just interested in what has changed from the purple cover to the green cover? Is there anything that, since Covid you’ve thought, well actually that’s, that’s important. Mind you, it was.

[00:04:55] Rachel: 2019

[00:04:55] Graham: was just pre, just pre covid? Yeah. Um, well, what changed then? So the publishers came to me and the book had done really well, and they said, Hey, we want to give it another edition. Um, so it’s quite an honor to sort of have an anniversary edition and, and, you know, rewrite it and rerelease it. And they basically were like, okay, so what’s changed? What do you need to to rewrite?

[00:05:16] Graham: And there were a few things like, in the first edition, I’m talking about Blackberries, right? ‘Cause it’s like 2014 and stuff. Um, and just little tiny little things like that. But actually in terms of the, the major principles in the book, so, you know, getting everything out of your head, having a really good, um, set of project list and actions list that becomes your second brain so that, that becomes your sort of control based dashboard, um, all that stuff is exactly the same. Uh, nothing’s changed at all.

[00:05:44] Graham: The only sort of big difference was I added a new chapter and it was called How to Stop Messing About on Your Phone. And it felt to me like between 2014 and 2019, it was really the time where the tech around phones had worked out how to steal more and more of your attention. And my entire kind of premise around the book is don’t manage time, manage attention, and really think about the fact that not every hour of your attention is equal, you have times in your day where you have much more energy, you’re much more switched on, times when you’re much less so. And so it’s how you set up your to-do list, your habits, everything to really maximize that quality attention that you have, that proactive attention, as I call it in the book.

[00:06:24] Graham: And so it felt like phones were stealing that a lot more in 2019 than they were in 2014. And probably, you know, another a hundred percent more than that in the few years since then too, right? So, um, that’s really kind of where I see, um, obviously sort of productivity in the last few years. And then I think if I was writing it in five years time, there’s gonna be a whole bunch of AI tools I dunno what they are yet. Um, but I does feel like we’re on the cusp of a big change in kind of how people do productivity.

[00:06:52] Rachel: That’s interesting, Graham, so you’ve said we need to manage our attention and I hundred percent agree. ’cause absolutely my attention is so much better in the morning than it is in the evening, particularly after a day’s work or day’s delivery of training or whatever.

[00:07:03] Rachel: But here we hit a problem. ‘Cause a lot of the listeners to the podcast are professionals in high stress, high stakes jobs who are delivering a day job. So they’re delivering a service. Um, so that they might be seeing patients or in operating theaters, or there might be dentists. So you’ve got all these appointments booked and that’s how you earn your money is by actually doing the service. And then you’ve got all the other stuff to do other times. And so it becomes very difficult to manage your attention, I would think, in fact, sort of industry.

[00:07:33] Graham: I mean, I would say firstly yes. Like that’s a structural problem that’s quite difficult to solve. I think a few things just around the edges of that though. So one is, I think, um, even if you don’t necessarily have lots of autonomy to use the best energy that you have in the day to apply to really difficult thinking tasks because that’s when your surgery hours are, for example, I still think getting that stuff out of your head, writing that stuff down, having a really good, um, set up around, you know, what those tasks look like and just clarity around that stuff will actually just really help you manage any level of attention. So even when you’re feeling a bit tired.

[00:08:12] Graham: So I use an app called Todoist, which is how I do all of my, um, my second brain stuff. And one of my lists in Todoist is just called the Mindless List. And the idea with that is these are things that I’ve thought about in advance, but they’re all things that I can do when I’m half asleep. I don’t need too much attention on them. So they’re kind of like little things like going and doing some Google searching or ordering something off Amazon or like looking into that, or just quick email to this person or whatever. And of course those are the sort of things that like if you’ve got that, if you are prepared enough that you have that kind of list and you have five minutes that you snatch in between appointments, you can do one of those things in that time. So there’s all kinds of ways where just having a bit more structure will help you anyway.

[00:08:54] Graham: And then there’s like the bigger question of is the stuff that you have to do outside of the appointments, you know, is some of that stuff, stuff that you really need like high quality attention on? And if it is, then I would say you’ve got to do something to break that structure. So whether that’s, do you come in an hour early and leave an hour early, like once a week? Like, you know, are, are there just those little changes that you can make, just acknowledging that, like leaving that really difficult thing to do until four in the afternoon when you’re tired and you’ve been seeing people back to back, it’s gonna take you three hours to do it then. Whereas if you just did it one morning where you’re fresh and you use your best energy on it, it might only take you an hour. So there’s all sorts of little things that you can do structurally, I think, um, that will really help around that.

[00:09:38] Graham: But yeah, I mean, if, if your main job and the way you earn your money is by actually doing the, the valuable work with of, of seeing people, um, yeah, you kind of have to see that as, um, as a pretty important thing to do, right? And it’s obviously, you know, most of the people listening to this are, they’re doing probably work that’s much more valuable for society than certainly, than, uh, you know, most of the stuff that the rest of us do. But also probably more valuable than doing emails and sitting in meetings and all that other stuff too, right? I think there’s gotta be something to be said for, um, you know, those, those jobs are so, they’re so vital for a good society that, you know, I think we have to sort of view that work in a really kind of, you know, uh, re reverential, is that the right kind of words? Um, I certainly do anyway, and I’m prob sure probably like when you’re in the middle of doing that job, you don’t see it that way. But, um, you know, like absolute respect to, to all of you listening who are doing those kind of jobs, you know.

[00:10:35] Rachel: Well, that’s really kind of you. And it is, it is, I think, a real privilege to do a job where there is a real purpose to it. Like you can actually directly see the people that you are helping doing that job. It does have a flip side, though. It means that you maybe elevate the bits where you’re actually seeing people above the bits where you’re organizing yourself or, or strategic thinking.

[00:10:54] Rachel: Because actually a lot of the, the listeners, they’re doing the day job, but also they’re in positions of leadership. So they’re directing healthcare for their local neighborhood or, um, integrated care system or something like that. And actually a lot of the time actually, they’ll have more impact in society, in spending an hour doing deep work and thinking about strategy for a whole community than, than seeing six patients, for example. And we find it very difficult to prioritize that really important stuff over the stuff that comes at us really, really urgently.

[00:11:25] Graham: Yeah. Well I suppose that comes back to a phrase I use quite a lot around productivity, which is making space for what matters. I kind of feel like that is the essence of productivity, right? So, I mean that’s a really good conundrum that you pose there, where it’s like, yeah, spending some hours doing deep work on stuff that’s strategic leadership focus is gonna have this big impact.

[00:11:47] Graham: So if I was that person, it’d be like, my question to myself would be, right, how do I get 15 hours of that instead of two, right? And how do I, like, how do I delegate some of that patient work? Or, you know, like, is there a, there must be like a way of unlocking that, you know, like there’s this kind of box of, of value in there and stuff, isn’t there? Um, so I, I would kind of think about it in that way.

[00:12:07] Graham: But then I suppose it’s like, you know, when it comes to the idea of making space for what matters, the, the trick is to have the time and the space to really evaluate that properly and really think about what matters. And that’s the thing that everybody in whatever your job is, struggles with day-to-day. And it’s all about quality thinking time, quality thinking space.

[00:12:30] Graham: There’s a couple of reasons for that. One is I think we sometimes we like the idea of. Taking time to think and plan and reflect and you know, look ahead and just really kind of think about stuff more intellectually. But we often don’t have the, the structures or the kind of, um, the sort of step-by-step guide to actually just make that happen in a really practical way.

[00:12:53] Graham: The second thing is there’s a massive load of guilt around. Spending any time and space just in a thinking mode. Um, we tend to view, you know, activity, being online, replying to emails, all those things as being work, and then thinking as almost being this thing that’s kind of separate from work. But there’s a lovely quote from Henry Ford who says, Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it.

[00:13:22] Graham: And I think, you know, we need to, in whatever our industry, like really kind of change this narrative around, you know, thinking time and prioritization time and planning time as being like a luxury or being like an extra thing or being not work. We need to look at that as being the most important part of the work, right?

[00:13:42] Graham: And so I think. Changing that mindset is one thing. And then there’s kind of practical tools, a lot of which I talk about in the book. Um, and the, the one that probably makes the most sense and is most easy to explain is the idea of doing a weekly review. So having a time in your week where you almost have like a checklist. I’d literally have a checklist with mine and you just go through. Certain questions like what’s on my calendar? What’s coming up in the next few weeks? Like, what’s on my, what’s on my to-do list? What projects am I working on? What new projects could there be? Or what new projects are there that I’ve not started? And just I go through these questions. And the aim of that kind of hour and a half is like not to do any work, but it’s for me to feel like I’m in control of my work. I’m thinking about it rigorously and properly. And the other aim of it, of course, is that I can then close the laptop at the end of the week and know that I’ve got everything ready for Monday morning and you know, I’m not gonna have to sort of take that work home, think about it over the weekend.

[00:14:39] Graham: So for me that’s like, it’s the time of my week where I probably think the hardest. And at the end of that hour and a half, it’s the time of my week where I feel most in control, calm, like, you know, ready for, uh, being able to kind of switch off for a couple of days, you know? So I think that’s just a really practical thing that, you know, we, we can all, we can all do more of, of that quality thinking time. But just having a really good structure around doing a, a kind of weekly review and weekly planning session, in whatever your role is like, will just make a huge difference.

[00:15:11] Rachel: I love that idea. You’ve talked about the weekly review helping because you don’t lose stuff because it just doesn’t sort of go from ether. And I think that is the thing that stresses, well, stresses me out the most. It’s like, yeah, I’ve gotta do that. And where have I written it down and do I have, do I have that and how am I gonna make sure I do it or whatever. And it is that what you talk about being your second brain?

[00:15:32] Graham: Yeah, so the se, so the idea of the second brain is to basically take away from your actual brain the job of trying to retain information, right? So the idea of the second brain is it, it’s the holding place for all of the projects I’m working on or the actions that I need to do. And it’s my memory, right? And so the brain’s really rubbish at memory. Um, if you don’t believe me, think back to when you last played that game that goes something like, I went to the shops and I bought, and someone has to remember thing. No one can get past like 12 or 13 things in that game. We’re rubbish at it.

[00:16:04] Graham: And then you think, what does the brain do really well? Creative thinking, strategy, empathy, communication, intuition. Like we’re so good at that slightly more subtle, you know, art of our work. And so, You know, really it’s about saying well, I wanna use as little of my brain as possible for the retention of stuff and as much of my brain as possible for strategy, creativity, and everything else.

[00:16:27] Graham: So the idea is you basically have a list of all your projects that you’re working on. You have a list of all the different actions that you could take. And then, you know, either in the moment as you have that, those like 10 minutes and you reach for like the mindless list or another list, or at the start of the day, if you’ve got, you know, a few hours of time or whatever, it’s like, here’s what do I want today to look like? And you almost like that second brain becomes your menu, and then it’s like you’re kind of choosing your meal, you know, in whatever the, uh, time period of that is. Um, whether it’s a little, uh, uh, quick takeaway or a big feast or whatever, whatever it had it can look like for you that day.

[00:17:02] Graham: Um, but yeah, like, so the second brain is just to really replace your brain at memory. Um, and it’s like, takes a little bit of getting used to and a little bit of, um, uh, sort of adjustment to be able to trust it, and then it takes a little bit of maintenance to keep trusting it, so you have to keep going back to it. Lots of people have a to-do list from three weeks ago that you just intuitively stopped using. And why is that? Is because you just stopped trusting it one day. And so it slowly no longer becomes a good record of choices that you could make and becomes a slightly old crusty thing. And so you have to keep going into the app or your pen and paper, wherever you’re doing it and just being like, is this still everything I need? Is this, is there, is there new stuff?

[00:17:46] Graham: And that’s really what the weekly review process is too, right? It’s like just making sure that everything’s up to date and current and feels like something that you can trust and work with.

[00:17:53] Rachel: And what’s best for that. I know you say you use Todoist, that’s a, a useful version of the second brain.

[00:17:58] Graham: Yeah, I used to do is, I mean, the, the answer to that question is like, um, it, it’s really like what is, what’s the tech that you’re gonna be most comfortable with? So, I see a lot of people that do this with bullet journals or pen and paper. If I have a group of people who work in finance or accounts and I say, right, let’s go and open a second brain, they all go and open Excel, ’cause it’s just what they use all day.

[00:18:20] Graham: So like there’s no one tool, which I would say is like the silver bullet tool because really the aim is let’s not be distracted by the tool, and let’s use the tool as a support system for our own thinking. So you just need to find a tool that you feel good using and isn’t gonna distract you because it’s too technical or it’s not technical enough, or you don’t like it or whatever.

[00:18:43] Graham: And, um, I think there’s no such thing as a perfect tool. I think there’s a lot of, a lot of people in, um, organizations when they find out what I’m there for, they or they find out I’m there to coach someone in productivity or speak about productivity, their first question is like, oh, productivity. What app should I download? And it’s, you know, I just think it’s the wrong question. Like, psychology before technology every day of the week. It’s all about how we think.

[00:19:06] Graham: And, um, I, I think sometimes we can get so distracted by, The latest, coolest tool and really, like for me, that’s procrastination. You know, we really need to spend time actually using these tools for good effect to help us think.

[00:19:20] Rachel: A hundred percent I’ve, I’ve lost kind of the different tools I’ve tried to use and then, because I haven’t used them properly, I haven’t got everything down. And I think one of the problems is I end up just flagging emails and then using that as a sort of quasi to-do list. And then the emails get older and older and I’ve got them and I can’t find them. And it’s, um, it’s a real problem.

[00:19:40] Rachel: I mean, emails, I know you talk a lot in your book about email zero, Inbox Zero, and whenever we do training on productivity, people always talk about emails. Now I’ve read lots of different things. So there’s some people that love Inbox Zero and then some people that, that absolutely don’t. And you are, you are one of the, you are one of the lovers, right?

[00:19:59] Graham: I am. I’m also not, um, I don’t think it’s the only way of doing things. It’s a way of doing things that works really well for me. I also have some sympathy for the opposite view, which is, um, inbox Infinity, right? Just the idea of just letting them pile up and basically, I think for different people, both of those things work for exactly the same reason, which is if you are someone like me who will be worried or nervous about things falling off the first page of your email inbox and things get buried and you are worried that somewhere down there is like, you know, you are about to step on a potential landmine or miss a potential goldmine, um, then Inbox Zero is really helpful. ‘Cause what you’re basically doing is saying, let’s go through all of this. Let’s find a place for it all to go. Um, there’s lots of cheats and ways of doing it so that you’re not spending much time on email, um, you know, it’s not kind of distracting your whole day, where you get that sense of sort of completion and clarity. That’s why I like, like Inbox Zero.

[00:21:00] Graham: But the other reason I like Inbox Zero is once you get to zero, you can get out of email and actually go and do some proper work. I think amazing stuff happens when you’re outside your email inbox, right? Um, and that’s also the reason the inbox Infinity works really well for other people, right? So if you don’t have that gnawing sense of, if you know that 99.9% of your email is not that valuable, and you know, you’re checking it often enough that you’re gonna fish out the one that is, then why would you spend any time filing the other ones, right? I just don’t happen to have an email inbox that works like that. Uh, but some people do and that’s okay.

[00:21:35] Graham: So I, I’m not like a massive zealot about it. I think it’s, um, the two most important principles are spend as much time outside of your email inbox as possible, ’cause that’s where the real work is. And then find something that gives you a system that just gives you peace of mind in doing that. And like once you’ve got those two things like, do it how you wanna do it.

[00:21:54] Graham: But there’s a whole chapter in, in the book called Ninja Email, which basically is like, so my company Think Productive does workshops. One of the workshops that’s probably been, uh, one of our biggest sellers for years basically is called Getting Your Inbox to Zero. And it’s a three hour workshop and we do about an hour and a half, um, doing some exercises with people. And then we do, the second hour and a half is at desk coaching, looking at your inbox, getting your inbox two zero as the name suggests by the end of the three hours.

[00:22:21] Graham: And what I did for the chapter of that book is I basically just followed the exact process of that workshop. So it’s just the three hours of workshop just distilled into the book. So my challenge to anyone who buys the book is if you read the Ninja Email chapter and you spend about an hour and a half just implementing it, you will get to zero. ‘Cause when we’ve done. Are sort of evaluations on that workshop, 96% of people get to zero in that hour and a half, in that second hour and a half.

[00:22:48] Graham: So it doesn’t take like a huge amount of time. Um, it’s not just control a press delete, but it’s also not far off that because, you know, what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to fight with extracts, the real work and get out of email as quickly as possible. So it’s not. Let’s find the most perfect way to file everything, ’cause that’s just, you know, a waste of time.

[00:23:09] Graham: So there are some cheats and some ways of doing it where you can file stuff in massive batches and move things away really quickly. But the idea is that ultimately you pick out the things that really matter., You get out of there and then you can really do the best work with what’s left.

[00:23:24] Rachel: One of the questions that people ask is, obviously you can, productivity isn’t just you being productive, isn’t it? No. Man is an island. We have teams around us, and people get so frustrated with other people, you know, sending them massive amounts of emails, you know, copying them into everything, sending them everything on the task on email and think, well, ’cause I’ve, because I’ve sent it to you on an email, I’ve then got it off my shoulders, it’s now under your shoulders and I’ve just delegated it like a absolute delegation ninja.

[00:23:53] Rachel: Um, what advice do you have for, for teams to really sort out their sort of email hygiene so they’re properly handing over tasks rather than just, you know, CCing everyone and expecting people to pick stuff up?

[00:24:04] Graham: Yeah, well what’s even worse than that is where people go, I’ve got this email. I need to figure out some progress on it, and I don’t really know where to start. So what I’ll do is, uh, rather than just do a reply or email, I’ll actually set up a meeting and we’ll talk about it in a meeting. And what people don’t recognize in that moment is like, yes, you get your little dopamine hit for half a second because you’ve set up a meeting, cool, progress, there’s some momentum, great. Um, but that’s probably the most expensive way to solve that problem, like getting four people in a room who are all highly paid for an hour. You know, you’re using space, you’re using people’s time. It’s just a really, really expensive way of doing things.

[00:24:47] Graham: And I think the same is true of email interruptions. So there was a study that found that a one minute email interruption will take you 15 minutes to actually recover from, in terms of getting you back on task, doing the thing that you’re doing before. So if you think you’re sending out an email to five people that’s, you know, five people times 15 minutes, you know, you really start to see the, the ramp up of cost of you just blindly BCCing, CCing, you know, and just filling. And it’s so easy to do, right? You write the first two letters of someone’s name in Outlook and their name magically pops up. Like it’s just free, right?

[00:25:23] Graham: So I think there’s, um, some really important sort of cultural team conversations that need to happen around that. And I think they can be really like sticky issue conversations. Um, so I think the trick with that stuff is a couple of things. One is you’ve got to try and orientate the conversations around psychological safety. So the idea that people feel able to say things that are slightly controversial, people get to really express, here’s the thing that’s stopping me from doing what I need to do. Um, and, and that’s about, you know, kind of like having the right kind of culture in place.

[00:26:02] Graham: So with Think Productive, in my company, we have a daily huddle meeting, which is 15 minutes long. One of the questions we ask every single day is, where are you stuck? And I think that’s a really important question to ask for psychological safety, because we’re not starting with a starting point of you’re stuck? We’re starting from a point of view of, of course you’re stuck. And just, just what? What is it that you are struggling with? ‘Cause of course you’re struggling with something. Let’s start there, you know? So I think there’s something really important about setting the expectation where.

[00:26:34] Graham: Because you know, we are taught from school that everything has to be perfection. And so the more you can set the sort of parameters of the conversation around perfection is just nonsense, and you know, you will be stuck. Stuff will be difficult, you know, there will be things that you don’t like, there will be friction and creative tension, let’s talk about those things. Let’s talk about those creative tensions. I think that’s a much better place to start than like, oh, there’s a, there’s a disagreement? You know, as if it’s like an imperfection or like, or something that shouldn’t happen, you know. Um, so I think having that psychological safety, I. Is just a really important thing.

[00:27:09] Graham: What I also notice as well is I get brought in quite a lot to do, you know, someone’s doing a two day off site and I come in and do a, a sort of keynote on productivity, but they’re also, um, sometimes then asked to sort of hang around in the room while people are having some of the more in depth conversations and contribute to some of those. And one thing I see quite a lot is that people just, had this a few weeks ago, people just want clarity. So people want clarity on what are the rules? Like how long can I leave an email before I reply that’s acceptable? Um, you know, what kind of approach is it okay or not okay for me to take with this? And I think, um, often there’s a couple of things happen. One is everyone assumes that if they heard what the rules were five years ago, then everyone knows them now. It’s just not the case. Um, also expectations change over time.

[00:27:59] Graham: The other one I see a lot is, um, there’s a sliding scale where the most senior people in the organization are the most relaxed about response times, and the most junior people in the organization are anxious as hell about response times. And what happens is, because no one’s bringing that conversation from below the table to on the table, then there’s just a, a very different level of stress at each level of the organization over the same stuff.

[00:28:24] Graham: And so I think sometimes, you know, the way to solve those is not when you are stressed because someone’s missed a deadline. It’s taking that stuff outta the day-to-day. It’s doing it in the offsite, it’s doing it in the team meeting, and it’s doing it where possible, in a way where you’re not saying, Right. people on the junior, um, level of the hierarchy, what do you think? It’s like, let’s do that collaboratively with people for, from all levels in the room. And if you’ve got that kind of culture where that can work, then, you know, I see that really effectively happening in organizations where it’s like, it’s not just email as well. It’s like in a lot of organizations now it’s it’s teams or it’s Slack or it’s, you know, just other IM tools and all those kind of things where it’s like, you know, am I allowed to be offline for an hour? And, and just those sort of questions where again, you tend to find the more junior, um, end of the organization is so much more tuned in and tapped into the idea of presenteeism. And guess what? They’re doing a lot less quality thinking because they feel they can’t. And so again, you know, just having those conversations, I think just opening that stuff up, um, you know, you need to have what you need to know what the team expectations are supposed to be.

[00:29:31] Rachel: Thank you. So actually having conversation around the email, when do we expect to apply? Do we expect to apply? Please stop

[00:29:37] Graham: Yeah. Yeah. And that comes into it, right? Yeah. Like, um, what six, just a little bit of that etiquette around, um, so one of the things we try and do at Think Productive, I think we do it pretty well, actually, is um, you are only in the To bar on an email if there’s an action for you to do, and you’re only in the CC bar if you really need to hear it.

[00:29:58] Graham: Um, so once you have that, it’s like, so it’s totally okay to not cc me, um, if you think this isn’t something that I actually need to hear. And I will not moan at you about, oh, I missed a thing. It’s like, I, I respect and I appreciate the fact that there’s probably 20 other things that I didn’t care about seeing, and you protect me from those. So if I miss one, cool, you know?

[00:30:21] Graham: And so just having those little rules around that I think can really help. And the b c C one we use, um, so the blind copy, which is obviously like the devious button of email, um, we only use that where it’s like, if I’ve started a conversation and I’ve said, Hey, can you guys investigate this thing? Um, sometimes what will happen is someone will say, Graham, I’ve moved you to C to Bcc, just so you know that we’re on it, but now when someone does reply all, it won’t come back to you. So it’s just a nice way of, like, the conversation’s happening, but like we’re taking you off it. And yeah. Thank you.

[00:30:53] Rachel: ah. So I have seen that recently. Someone said, yeah, Rachel, I’ve moved you to Bcc. I’m like, Oh no, well that’s nice, but why have they said that and done that? But that makes sense. It’s so that when they reply, the rest of them replied to all.

[00:31:03] Graham: So someone else replies or you’re, you are then not on it. So it’s a really courteous, respectful thing to do and I really, I always appreciate it when someone says, Graham, I moved due to Bcc.

[00:31:12] Rachel: So that makes huge amounts of sense, and I like the idea of being super, super clear about, if you’re sending an email to someone, What’s it for? I guess we don’t have any control about other people and what they’re sending us. That’s the problem. So you’ve got all these things just landing in our inbox. And I’m a big procrastinator. I’ll just, if I don’t quite know what to do with something, I’ll flag it and then leave it. And that’s where things drop off. What, what tips do you have for those things that we’re like, oh, I dunno what to do, so I’m just gonna leave them, but I’ve got this open loop in my mind and I now I’ve gotta do something, ah?

[00:31:44] Graham: So then the other thing that I think is really helpful, and I talk about this in the book, it’s sort of one of the parts of, I’ve got this thing in the book called the Cord productivity model, and I talk about this in there. It’s one of the sort of key questions to ask is when you’ve got one of those things where you’re stuck and you’re just like, uh, where do I start? What do I need to do? And that can be an email, but it can be all sorts of other stuff, is ask yourself the question, what’s the next physical action? And imagine if you are a fly on the wall in your own office and you are watching yourself start that thing, so that’s the question, what is the physical thing that I need to be doing in that moment? So is it I’m Googling something? Am I tapping away on the keyboard? Am I. Pen and paper, sketching out the ideas. Am I reading, am I talking to someone? Am I sending an email? Like, just think about that physicality. That’s always a really good place to start.

[00:32:41] Graham: ‘Cause often our brain is lazy and our brain works on, uh, what is the, what’s the kind of laziest way to answer that question? So you’ll hear your brain say things like, Well, I’ll just follow up with the, or I’ll just, I’ll just figure out, you know, and so like the brain kind of wants to put off the, the clarity. And so that question of what’s the next physical action really forces you to go, is this, is this on me to come up with the ideas? Do I need to talk to someone who knows? Do I need to go back and read the archives? Like it just to really kind of figure out where the starting point is.

[00:33:17] Graham: And once you have that starting point, It’s much easier to get momentum because obviously you can do that thing really easily. Even when you’re tired, you look on your to-do list and it says, you know, call Dave to ask advice on it. It’s like, okay, I know what Dave’s number is. I can press Dave on my phone, like I can get advice from the thing. Whereas if it’s like follow up about the thing, you know, it’s like, oh, where do I even start? So when you’re tired, you read that and you’re just like, next, please, you know? So having that clarity and that specificity really, really helps. And so just that really simple question of what’s the next physical action will really help.

[00:33:51] Graham: And it, once you then start thinking in that way, you start writing all of your to-do list items like that. So it means they’re slightly longer, there’s a bit more detail in them, but they’re so much more user friendly and then you can just pick them up and get momentum. Um, so that’s a really great place to start.

[00:34:06] Graham: And then, and then the follow up question, people often have to me with that is like, What do you do when it’s like you get the email and you, and you ask yourself that question, what’s the next physical action? And you go, well, I just don’t know. Just dunno. Uh, what’s the follow up question to that? And so I always say the best way to deal with that is to ask yourself the question, What would you say if you did know? Or what would you say if you were blagging it? Because guess what? Most of us are blagging it quite a lot of the time.

[00:34:35] Graham: And so, um, once you, once you give yourself the permission to do it in a way that is less than perfect or do it in a way where you are less than a hundred percent confident, you probably still find the right answer. But it’s just sometimes overcoming that little sort of emotional hook of, I wanna hold onto this ’cause I don’t quite know. So asking yourself that, What’s this physical action, but then also that that sort of follow up of like, What would you say if you did know, is just always a good way around those things.

[00:35:02] Rachel: That’s a great coaching question. Yeah. If you did know the answer, what would it be? What advice would you give someone else and that’s really helpful. Yeah. I’ve got a really silly example, but not silly. We’re, we need a general manager and so we’re thinking, well, how, how do we get one? Where do we find one? So that action is, well put it out to our networks. And like, well, what does that look like? I’m like, how do I put it out to our networks actually? Next physical action, as you were saying, the thought fly on the wall, I will later write down what networks we’re in that we can put it out to.

[00:35:33] Graham: Make a list of networks. Yeah.

[00:35:35] Rachel: So one thing, Graham, that I find people have is this enormous guilt about never being able to get everything done that they need to do, no matter how many people tell them they’re not going to be able to. How do you help people deal with that guilt? ’cause we can never get to the bottom of our to-do list, I don’t think.

[00:35:52] Graham: Yeah, so I think, I mean, I just think there’s so much guilt out there and I would say that, you know, if I knew the answer to how to solve that guilt, um, you know, I’d be very, very happy. Um, I do think we need to reframe work though. And I think a lot of the older books around time management basically have this premise that you start the day with a big list and you tick them off through the day, tick, tick, tick, and then you close it down and there’s nothing left. And we need to just really reframe that, that you will never get everything finished because we live in a, you know, dynamic 24 7 information world.

[00:36:27] Graham: And so you can have a really productive day where at the end of that day there’s double on your to-do list to what there was at the beginning. And as long as you’re making good decisions and as long as you’re moving things from first idea through to completion and you are sort of managing that flow of work and you feel like you’re make, you’re doing that with the right stuff, that’s productivity, like, getting to the end of a list is not how we should define productivity. So I think that can definitely help with sort of thinking about the guilt.

[00:36:57] Graham: But I think also people do just feel like overly uh, connected and overly guilty around their work. And I think that’s just, for me, that’s more of a, a sort of question about work-life balance and kind of asking some of those bigger questions, which, you know, I sort of try and do on my podcast. ‘Cause like my podcast, um, beyond Busy is really kind of helping people to overcome the addiction to busy and thinking about where work sits with things like success and Happiness and, and work-life balance and just kind of trying to make the linkages between those kind of topics.

[00:37:27] Graham: But yeah, for me it’s like just really recognizing that there’s, there’s more to life than work and, and life as much as productivity is about making space for what matters. And so work matters to me hugely as part of that, that sort of triangle. But so does being happy in other places and, and, and so does having a life outside of work and family and everything else. So, you know, it’s about trying, trying to see that there needs to be trade offs in order to, um, to feel good about all of those things.

[00:37:55] Rachel: Yeah. Oh, a hundred percent agree. That’s wonderful. So, Graham, we’re out of time, and I know you’ve got to go in a second, but can you give us, I normally ask us to give us their three top tips, but I’m gonna ask you, do you, what three tips from your book do you use the most?

[00:38:10] Graham: Oh, I mean I use like all of it really. There’s, other than as much in the book that I don’t. You know, one of our corporate values at, at Think Productive my company is we walk our talk. So everybody that is out there doing the work for clients is also using all the stuff in that book, and that’s, that’s really important to me, like that sort of authenticity with it.

[00:38:29] Graham: Um, but if I was gonna say like, what are the three things that would just really help people? You know, if you’re at a start point where you’re just feeling overwhelmed, I would say just get a pen and paper and just get all the stuff that’s in your head, out of your head. That is just such a great. Start point if you’re feeling stressed. Um, you don’t need to have tools to do that, just pen and paper. Just get it all out of your head. That’s just a really great start point.

[00:38:51] Graham: Um, for people who are kind of half adopting this stuff and don’t really know, um, you know what to do next with it, I would say sit down and do a really thorough weekly review, ’cause that’s the time when you almost like, look under the bonnet of the car and just work out what’s going on, tinker around and just get things working really well again.

[00:39:10] Graham: Um, and then if you are, you know, if you’re pretty good at this stuff, often, what, then, then, then the next kinda level to solve is sort of procrastination and your own emotions and all that sort of stuff. And I would just say, figure out how you can get out of your own way and figure out how you can, um, sidestep the lizard brain thoughts and just get momentum and, you know, whether that’s kind of, uh, sort of tricking the lizard brain or getting accountability or whatever. But just whatever you can do to get out of your own way. Once you’ve got good systems in place, you know, it’s about really the kind of mental battle of, of just getting that momentum. However you can.

[00:39:46] Rachel: That’s wonderful. So if people wanted to find out a little bit more about you and and your company and the book, where can they find you?

[00:39:52] Graham: Well, I can give you one very simple place to go look, which is grahamalcott.com/links, and then there’s links there for everything that you need. So it’s, uh, Allcott, spelled A L L C O double T, so grahamallcott.com/links and you’ll find everything there.

[00:40:09] Graham: Um, I do this, um, Sunday email. Um, so it goes out at 4:05 PM uh, UK time every Sunday. And the idea is it’s one productive or positive tip for the week ahead. Um, and that’s free. You can sign up to that on grahamallcott.com/links as well.

[00:40:25] Rachel: Brilliant. That sounds like a, a great thing to do. So thank you so much for being here and, uh, speak again soon, hopefully.

[00:40:31] Graham: Pleasure, thank you.

[00:40:32] Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. And if this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at hello@youarenotafrog.com. I love to hear from you. And finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.