A little over a month ago, Candice Digby from General Assembly reached out to me about hosting an event on Productivity. Productivity is a topic that is near and dear to me. Candice and I talked about how staying on top of everything in our busy, digitally-driven lives is a huge challenge for most of us. Many people are challenged by how to balance fielding work demands, being attached to our smartphones, and staying on top of wellness, all while trying to excel in their careers.
I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to curate a diverse set of experts using different techniques and also throw some voltage control spice into the mix. We wanted to touch on the fact that it is no longer enough to focus simply on “time management” while encouraging folks to think about how we manage their attention and focus, their projects and actions, our choices and habits.
I prepared an interactive session that presented five different perspectives from five different productivity experts. They each look at productivity differently, so attendees were able to learn from each of them and decide what worked best for them. My desire was for them to walk away having identified specific tactics to improve their personal productivity and well-being.
“I curate tech and educational programming regularly, but Douglas and Control Voltage went above and beyond to create an interactive evening with a wide variety of subject experts to both inspire and inform our audience. Everyone walked away having learned something new, including me.” — Candice Digby, Co-Founder and Programming Lead, Austin Design Week.
I kicked off the evening with Impromptu Networking, to get folks out of their seats and talking with each other. The audience was invited to stand up and find a stranger. Then they shared with each other what they came prepared to learn at the event. I let them all network for about 10 minutes and then called their attention to begin the talks. Then, each speaker gave a 10-minute talk followed by few questions from the audience.
“If you want to become more effective and stress-free in work and life, this is for you.”
– Hank Wyman, Business Development Hustler at Trustwork
Nathan Ryan — Comprehensive Calendar
Nathan Ryan is an entrepreneur, business leader, and organizer. For more than a decade, his work has been influential in the creative industry, where his experience includes the collaboration with and founding of startup organizations, to multinational enterprises. Today, Nathan’s work is all about people. He is focused on helping leaders and their businesses gain clarity and alignment in their organizations through his consultancy, Blue Sky Partners, as well as community-based tech and entrepreneurial policy efforts in his home of Austin, TX, where he lives with his wife, Amanda, and dogs, Max and Rory.
Nathan Ryan walked through an exercise focused on maximizing the first few hours of your day so you can do your best, most focused work. This exercise involved examining your current morning routine and time-blocking a more effective and efficient one.
“Each presenter had a really actionable focus to their talk, and I took a lot away from each one. We also had a good discussion at my breakout session about how to time-block your morning to make sure it sets you up to be most effective throughout your day. 13 out of 10 would recommend any event Douglas, and Voltage Control puts on.” — Nathan Ryan, Co-founder/CEO, Blue Sky Partners.
Stacey Harmon — Get Things Done
Stacey Harmon is a productivity coach on a mission to empower you to be effective in a digital world. She is an Evernote expert and GTD® practitioner with a flair for systems and organizing. These talents are expressed through her company, Harmon Enterprises, which offers Evernote training products, workflow designs, and coaching for those looking to optimize their productivity and improve their lives.
Stacey oriented us to the five steps of mastering workflow as defined by productivity thought leader David Allen in his transformative book Getting Things Done — The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. She also demonstrated why Evernote is a brilliant tool to support a modern GTD® practice.
John Fitch — Rest & Reflect
John Fitch is addicted to prototyping and firmly believes in the power of rest. John is Venture Partner at Animal Ventures where he leads all venture developments. AV partners with some the world’s most successful companies to understand how their supply chains are evolving and form small startups to build Blockchain, AI, and Industrial IoT prototypes to prepare them for Industrialization 4.0. In between AV venture projects, you will likely find John resting and reflecting on a mini-sabbatical. His podcast Time Off studies the importance of rest, unplugging, and balance in today’s modern world. You can reach out at www.john-fitch.com
Busy is your enemy. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. You can get more done by working less. Rest is the secret to success. John shared a few excerpts from his podcast Time Off as well as the inspiration for Animal Ventures’ work-rest cycle.
“The event proposed several new methods to approach your work and productivity. Active rest, morning routines, new forms of complexity, or looking at Evernote were a few of the ideas. I hope that the audience is experimenting with which productivity approaches allows them to ship better work.” — John Fitch, Venture, Partner Animal Ventures
Kimberly Watson-Hemphill — What is Lean Six Sigma and why should you care?
Kimberly Watson-Hemphill is the CEO of Firefly Consulting, a boutique consulting firm, based in Austin, TX, focused on innovation and operational excellence. She is also on the faculty of the Acton MBA in Entrepreneurship, where she teaches operations. Prior to starting her company, she was a partner at Accenture and a VP with George Group Consulting. Her most recent book, Innovating Lean Six Sigma, was published by McGraw-Hill in 2016. Her previous book, Fast Innovation, hit Business Week’s Top 10 business booklist.
Almost everything in life is a process. In this introductory talk, Kimberly introduced us to the foundational ideas of lean and six sigma and illustrated how they work in everyday life.
Daniel Walsh — Comedians, Writers, Developers: Productivity Is Complex
Daniel is an entrepreneur, product development coach, and solutions engineer. He is a passionate advocate for Lean, Agile, and system engineering methods and practices with 20 years of engineering and product development experience. Prior to founding nuCognitive, he was an engineering manager and senior consultant at Intel Corp. He has dedicated his career to developing new products and bringing them to market. His current areas of focus include organizational transformations, innovation, product management, and managing complexity.
Why is productivity easy to measure in some situations and difficult in others? There are many different heuristics for measuring productivity, and the choice among them depends on the context of the situation. Daniel invited us to think differently about productivity measurements in complex situations.
“Productivity improvements are a canonical challenge for organizations and individuals alike. I had a great time discussing how to measure productivity and set outcome-oriented goals for complex and uncertain situations” — Daniel Walsh, Founder nuCognitive
Immediately following the presentations, I invited the speakers back to the stage, and the speakers took turns pitching their breakout sessions. The speakers split up into different areas of the space, and the audience met with the speaker of their choice. These breakouts allowed the attendees to engage directly with the speaker and explore the material in a more detailed and hands-on manner.
- Participants listed out the most common attributes of their morning routines (even when they didn’t think they had one, they discovered they did)
- They Distilled, added and subtracted activities, so the list was comprised only of those that made them most productive throughout the rest of the day
- Then time-blocked their mornings for a full week.
- Stacey guided participants through a hands-on activity that helped them understand the different types of knowledge work.
- She then had them reflect to identify opportunities to improve their productivity using a Getting Things Done construct.
- After individual reflection, participants shared in pairs and then with the entire group.
- Guided the group through “making time” exercises with their actual calendar
- Then took group’s devices away, so they were fully present with a few brainstorm activities
- Handed out examples of effective people’s calendars and had them select one that could maybe work for them as a starting template. Discussed why they chose that option.
- We Learned the lean six sigma basics with the famous card drop simulation.
- Self-organized in groups of 3 to 4 people
- Developed a productivity measure for a primary care doctor, a stand-up comedian, and a software team
- Shared responses for each case
“The big takeaway from the evening was not to create the right process by which to be more productive, but to be intentional and iterative in our approach to applying our best efforts to the tasks at hand.” — Reagan Pugh, Founding Partner, Assemble.