“Oh, my fur and whiskers! I’m late. I’m late. I’m late!”
When I think of productivity and time management, I think of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, panicked and rushed. He would frantically glance at his pocket watch and worry about nothing else but time.
While it seems like we have time in the world with the pandemic and staying at home, time remains a force we’re unable to harness. Suddenly, old, unfulfilled dreams are rediscovered, and we are in a rush to catch up. The list of things that we want to do is piling up on top of regular work.
I would say now is the best time to become an entrepreneur and start a business. We are not equipped with the techniques and strategies to take control of our time and to-do list. We remain a White Rabbit in this new normal, struggling through tasks, pressed for time, and running out of it. We wish we had a system in place to help us get everything done yet remain well-rested and focused.
Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity coach offers that. She has worked with big companies such as Google, Upwork, Capital One, and Silicon Valley Bank. She helps people achieve that work-life balance. She helps people use their time intentionally to do more of what they want and less of what they don’t. Listen to Alexis, and I talk about how to create a system to outsource your mind. You no longer have to miss out on all the brilliant ideas you have.
Covered in This Episode
[01:34] Early Life and Background
[06:08] Do Not Rely on Your Memory
[08:59] Adding a Methodology to Your To-do List
[11:29] Recommended Task Apps
[13:50] I’m Too Busy? Double-down on Your System
[16:11] The Urgent-Important Matrix (The Eisenhower Method)
[17:38] The Impact-Difficulty Matrix
[20:37] The Importance of End-of-Day Planning
[25:28] Working around Chronotype and Energy Patterns on Creativity and Productivity
[31:01] Methodology Behind Time-Tracking
[38:22] How to Develop A System for Productivity and Efficiency
[40:25] How to Contact Alexis Haselberger
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Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/domorestressless/
Chris Ippolito 1:03
Alexis Haselberger 1:04
Hi. How are you?
Chris Ippolito 1:06
I’m doing great. How are you?
Alexis Haselberger 1:07
Chris Ippolito 1:08
Welcome to the “Get Coached Podcast,” glad to have you on. Because we’re going to talk about something that I love, productivity.
Alexis Haselberger 1:17
Me too, it’s my favorite subject.
Chris Ippolito 1:20
Yeah. I was hoping before we get into really the meat of things, do you mind sharing a little bit about yourself as far as the whole journey as to how you came to be where you’re at right now?
Alexis Haselberger 1:34
Sure, yeah, I am happy to. I’m maybe going to go back even farther than you’re expecting here because it might help people understand why I do what I do. I have always been a super organized and structured person, but because I am ultimately a lazy person. I am a lazy person who likes to be excellent. I want to do things to maximum ROI, right? I was a kid in school who was always trying to figure out how can I go to class as little as possible while still getting straight As. Right? Which totally is possible, by the way.
Then into the work world I spent the first 15 years or so of my career working in start-ups. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area and I worked in start-ups where I was handling HR, business operations, finance, basically all the stuff that isn’t engineering and isn’t sales, right? What became really clear over that time was that my super power was the ability to get stuff done in as short amount of time, have it be done, stay done, and be done well, right? “How do I be excellent there, but not work more than 40 hours a week?,” because I think that’s really important, is having that time for yourself, for family, etc.
Over time I became the person where people would ask me, “Oh, can you get this new system set up?,” or, “Can you do a productivity workshop for us on X, Y, or Z?” Eventually I realized that the thing that was driving me was this time management and productivity piece because it was helping my life be better, but also it was the thing that seemed to be the most impactful for the other people that I was working with. People were really thanking me for helping them get their mindset straight around to-do lists, tasks, and things like that.
Eventually I just decided, “This is the thing I care about, it’s also the thing that’s helping people. I’m going to go out and create a business around this.” I decided to transition into being a time management and productivity coach, which is what I do now.
Chris Ippolito 3:28
That’s awesome. I knew there was a reason why we got along, because I was exactly the same way growing up. I always was looking, I don’t like the term “shortcuts,” but in a sense that’s what it was. It was like, “What can I do to get that desired result that I want, but not have to put in all the amount of effort that it looks like everybody else has to do?” It was like shortcuts, hacks, or whatever term you want to use. I’ve always done that, to the point where it even caused some friction as I got into my working career because, especially my background being in corporate in the world of banking, they’re not open to ideas like that. Whereas the world of start-ups, obviously, I would assume anyways, they were always like, “This is awesome.” If you’re getting the same amount of output but minimizing the amount of energy required to do that or, even better, getting more output with that energy, I’m sure they loved you for that.
Alexis Haselberger 4:37
Yeah. I mean I used to have a CEO that I worked for who used to brag, he would be like, “Alexis can do in 20 hours what anybody else can do in 60.” That was a point of pride.
Chris Ippolito 4:48
And it really should be because that’s awesome. One of the books that really sent me down this path of wanting to be an entrepreneur, especially a digital one, was Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek. Which, even he admits, not the best title, very misleading as far as what the content is all about. But just maximizing that output with minimal input. Right? If you could do in 20 hours what most people are doing in 60, then imagine what you’re doing with 40 hours a week.
Alexis Haselberger 5:24
Chris Ippolito 5:26
Cool. The topic we wanted to dig into and explore a little bit was the idea of, and I’m very guilty of this, I always have tons and tons of ideas, good or bad, most of them probably bad, but developing a system to take all of those things that are in your head, then putting them somewhere and having it as this, in a sense, almost outsourced brain or memory system. Do you mind sharing a little bit about the concept, the principles behind that? Then we’ll start digging into maybe the tips and tactics around it.
Alexis Haselberger 6:08
Yeah, totally. I tell all of my clients, and it’s definitely something that I do myself because I don’t teach anything that I haven’t seen work for myself or for somebody that I’ve worked with, right? Is never rely on memory, just never. Right? The reason for this is that, I bet you can tell, memory doesn’t actually work that well for the things that we need to get done. Right? It’s like if you have ever received a text in the middle of the day from your spouse or significant other that said, “Hey, just can you pick up some bread on the way home?” You thought, “Yeah, sure, no problem, of course.” Right? Then what happens throughout the day, right? Two hours later you’re in the middle of writing your big report, you’re like, “Oh, remember I’ve got to pick up the bread,” and now you’re distracted, right? Then you’re in a conversation with your boss an hour later, your brain is just like, “Oh, I’ve got to remember the bread,” and you missed something that they’ve said. Then on the way home, do you remember to get bread?
Chris Ippolito 7:00
Alexis Haselberger 7:01
Nope. Right? I mean maybe if you pass a store that jogs your memory, right? One, we know that memory is just not a good place for actually getting the stuff done. But two, we have too much in our brains right now. We have about 200 times more data coming at us every day than we did 30 years ago. Actually, that’s an old stat, I bet it’s even more now. Our brains have not evolved to be able to handle this. In order to reduce stress and actually make sure nothing falls through the cracks, we need to essentially externalize our brain, as you said. I call it a single trusted system. We want to essentially get everything out of our head so that we can use the brainpower that we have to focus on the thing that we’re doing instead of this rehashing over and over of, “I’ve got to remember this.” It’s that same scenario, right? Where you think of a good idea, and then you’re like, “Either I have to repeat this to myself for the next 20 minutes until I get somewhere or I’m just going to forget it.” That’s actually happening all day long to us all the time, it’s just most of the things we deem not important enough to repeat to ourselves.
Chris Ippolito 8:06
Right. There’s one thing that came to mind, was there are so many apps out there that pitch, “Hey, use us and we’ll do that for you.” Though the thing that I always find that they end up just becoming is a to-do list. Then what ends up happening is, I’ve done this a couple times, you dump all your ideas into these to-do lists, then you look at your to-do list and you’re like, “Oh, man, there are so many things on here.” Maybe I don’t know how to prioritize or you look at it and you just feel overwhelmed so you end up not doing any of it. How do you help people get around that aspect of it? Is that a system thing, or is that also a bit of a mindset thing?
Alexis Haselberger 8:59
I think it’s both. Actually, when I coach people, we spend about the first month or two of coaching really refining what the system looks like for them. I think you’ve made a really important distinction, even if you don’t know it there, and that is between a list and a system. A list is not a system and it is just as overwhelming as you say, right? If I think about my business task system right now, I have about 620 items in there. If I were looking at 600 items every day trying to figure out, “What am I going to do next?,” one, I would get nothing done. Right? Because I would just be sitting there every day thinking, “Oh my god, what do I do next? What do I do next? Am I prioritizing the right things?,” etc.
I think that when we get all of this stuff out of there, we have to have now a system applied to the to-do app, right? I actually think that it doesn’t really matter what app you’re using. I mean I certainly have favorites and I’m happy to tell you which ones I recommend most frequently to my clients, I’ve reviewed probably 50 different task apps. But what I find is that a lot of people, like yourself, have downloaded a task app, downloaded everything from their brain into it, and then it has become part of the graveyard of abandoned task apps where you pull it up on your phone and you’re like, “Oh, look, it’s a list of things I didn’t do from three years ago.” Right?
The way that we combat that is actually by having a methodology to attach to the list. I use this concept of next action dates. I never want to look at a list and say, “Oh, it’s just a bunch of stuff.” I always know what the next actual step is for everything in there, then when is the date that I’m actually going to do that next step. So that I can take my list of 600-odd things and all I have to look at today is, “Oh, here are the 15 next steps I need to take to move my projects and things forward.”
In this way you’re able to essentially say, “Okay, here’s this massive amount of stuff we have going on, but I’m actually going to be realistic about when I can accomplish the next steps and put dates around those things in a way that actually reflects the time that I have on my calendar.”
Chris Ippolito 11:06
Okay, yeah, that makes sense. The tool isn’t what ends up helping in this case, it’s more the system built around the suite of tools that you ultimately incorporate into your system. You mention you do have some preferred ones. What are some of the ones that you recommend more frequently?
Alexis Haselberger 11:29
Yeah, the app that I recommend most frequently to my clients is called TickTick, it’s T-I-C-K-T-I-C-K. Not to be confused with TikTok. Something very different, right? The reason that I really like this app is because, one, the free version is great, it’s low barrier for entry. Two, it’s very easy to use. You don’t have to sit there for an hour and take a tutorial or anything. I think a lot of these task management/project management systems, they’re very robust, but we don’t need robust all the time, right? We don’t need a million different tags, priority flags, and things like that when we’re using this concept of next action dates. I really like TickTick.
I think if you’re on a team, you need to collaborate with other people, Asana is probably your best. I think it’s just simple and you can set it up in such a way that it is very easy to use and to look at things.
I think, again, it doesn’t really matter though so much about the app. It’s like almost any app can work, it’s the discipline of using it. Right? Because I think what often happens to people is they have the best of ambitions, right? You’re going to put everything in there, etc. But then the one key jump you have to make is that you can’t view your task system or your task list as something that you’re going to update later, you have to use it as the thing that drives the work that you’re doing every moment. It has to be actually open all the time, you have to be looking at it on a regular basis. Because if “update my task list” is an item on your task list, you will never do it. Right? You just won’t because you’ll be like, “Oh, I can do that tomorrow,” and then you’ll say, “I can do that tomorrow.” Then it’s a week out of date and you’re like, “This seems like a waste of time, this isn’t even helping me.” But if you use it in the moment, if you’re updating things in the moment.
For me I do a task, I update the task, then I do the next task, then I update that task. It takes like 10 seconds to keep things updated, but you save so much time in the long run and you don’t have to use that brainpower to be thinking about what you’re going to be doing tomorrow or at some time in the future.
Chris Ippolito 13:34
Yeah, I like that. When you had said, “Put a list item of ‘update task list’ on your task list,” it’s like saying, “Okay, remember to remember the milk.”
Alexis Haselberger 13:47
Chris Ippolito 13:48
You’re not going to do it.
Alexis Haselberger 13:50
No, exactly. That’s actually what happens. Another thing I see really frequently is that people will put a system in order, right? They’ll get things going, then they’ll say, “Well, I got too busy, I stopped using the system,” right? For me it’s like the second you feel “I’m too busy,” that means you have to double down on your system. Because what’s happening then if you don’t do that is that now you’re probably prioritizing the wrong things because you’re focusing on the immediate and the seemingly urgent. Let’s just be honest here, what we think is urgent is rarely urgent, right? It’s just the fact that it’s in front of our face or somebody sent us a Slack message or an e-mail.
We have to actually really double down on our system because that’s what allows us to say, “Is this incoming thing, this new thing, is it more important than anything I’m supposed to be doing today?” If you’re using a system that is date-based like this, you can actually easily tell, “Okay, there’s 10 items I’m supposed to be doing today. This new one, actually no, it’s not as important, I’m going to have to push the date back.” Or, “You know what? It actually blows everything out of the water for today because it is more important than all of these things.” Both of these things are okay, it’s just you want to be sure that you’re making the right decision.
Chris Ippolito 15:00
Right. It’s having almost a decision-making matrix, which hopefully it’s not too time consuming. But one, I can’t even remember where I heard it, is factoring in two aspects. There’s important, then there’s urgent. Then scaling whatever new piece of information as far as is it important but not urgent, then obviously it gets placed in a certain category. But if it’s important and urgent, then it gets placed probably at the top of the list. Whereas if it’s urgent but not really important, it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got to get to this, but it shouldn’t be literally breaking what I’m currently doing. I’ll get to it.”
That’s one that I’ve tried using. Not “tried,” that is a system that I currently use as far as how I prioritize things. Do you have something similar as far as a decision-making, almost, matrix as far as, whether for yourself personally as well as when you’re coaching your clients, how to decide when something should be done, as far as the timeline?
Alexis Haselberger 16:11
Yeah. What you’re describing is called the Eisenhower box, right? Or sometimes it’s called the urgent-important matrix. They call it the Eisenhower box because Eisenhower used it when he was President to be able to figure out what he was doing during the day.
Definitely I teach the Eisenhower box, I think it’s a really important framework to have in your head. Because I think, just as you mentioned, right? There are things that are urgent and important, they obviously go first, right? There are things that are urgent and not that important, these are the things that we should be delegating to people, right? If we can. Or then they just came after the urgent things.
You’ve also got things that are not urgent and not important, these are actually the things we should just kick off our list entirely. If they’re not urgent and not important, the likelihood that they will ever be is very low, right? I mean I’m thinking about my own personal life. Like I once had something on my to-do list that was like “reorganize all my books by color,” right? This was not urgent, not important, and at a certain point I was like, “I’m just taking this off, this is ridiculous,” right?
Then you’ve got the things that are not urgent but important, and I think people really get into trouble there. Because they don’t schedule out the time that they need to get them done. Right? It’s like if things are falling into that category of they’re not urgent but they are very important, you just have a tendency to procrastinate them. Then they pop over into the urgent and important box, and that’s when you’re pulling an unexpected all-nighter on something, right?
I really like the urgent-important matrix, or the Eisenhower box. I also really like the impact difficulty matrix, and the impact difficulty matrix is slightly different. Impact and importance pretty much the same, but difficult is very different, right? Difficulty is like, “How complex is this? How much effort is it going to take? How much money is it going to take?,” how resource-intensive it is.
That’s another one that I teach with my clients and that I use personally. Which is if things are both very difficult and very important, well, we’re probably going to do them, right? But sometimes not, sometimes the difficulty is so great, “It’s going to cost a million dollars,” “We’re going to have to hire 20 more engineers,” or something, that it doesn’t outweigh the impact.
Then we have things that are very impactful but not very difficult, and these are the things we definitely want to prioritize, right? These are things like creating a template for something or creating a canned response for e-mails and things like that. Something you can do once, then really you just reuse it over, over, and over.
You’ve got things that are not impactful but very difficult. We don’t want to do these things, “This doesn’t make sense. Then you’ve got things that are not that impactful but not that difficult either, and these are your nice-to-haves, right? It’s like these are the aspirational items. If I got to them, that would be fantastic.
I think when people hear us talking about these things, it might feel like, “Ah, this is a lot of stuff to be putting around every task.” I think that we’re not saying, or at least I’m not saying, that you would print out these matrices, then apply them to every task as you’re thinking about it. But once you’ve got them in your brain, it actually becomes a pretty quick heuristic when something is coming in to just be like, “How important, urgent, and difficult is this thing?” Then you can slot it in where it makes sense.
Chris Ippolito 19:21
Yeah. I feel like I would 100% agree. A lot of people would hear this and go, “Oh, jeez, that sounds like a lot of work, which is going to take a lot of time to simply figure out what to do.” But, like a lot of other things, if you develop the habit around it and exercise that habit regularly, it just becomes a quick, like you said, okay, I can determine quite easily is this important, urgent, the level of impact, and the level of difficultly. Then add it to, again, whichever list is required and scheduling it out.
As part of the system, or a system that you would teach, I’ve heard this a few times, do you normally recommend that people, we’ll call it a task list for lack of better terms, but do you suggest that they review it from time to time? Like maybe setting 30 minutes to 60 minutes a week, we’ll say at the end of the week, “Okay, do I need to reorganize this or re-prioritize things?” Do you practice that, do you teach that?
Alexis Haselberger 20:37
Yeah. I think planning is incredibly important. I think it’s actually really important to separate the planning from the doing, I think this is what allows us to be productive. I recommend to all my clients, and it’s a practice I’ve done myself for years, to do end-of-day planning. I think end-of-day planning is actually far more effective than morning planning. I know that some people would probably disagree with me, but here’s why I think so.
One, when you do end-of-day planning, you are essentially wrapping your work world up in a bow, and you are then re-prioritizing any of those things you didn’t get to today, etc., for some time in the future. Because the reality is we can only do things in the future when we leave things overdue, etc. It’s both anxiety-producing and it doesn’t help us, right? Because we can’t go back in time.
Then also what it allows you to do is not only have that disconnect, that mental disconnect so you can go be present for the other things that you want to do during your life, but also it allows you to just start with execution in the morning. Then you don’t have to spend a half an hour with your coffee looking at your e-mail and thinking, “What should I do?” You, in fact, have a pre-organized list that you just act upon. Right?
I recommend doing about 10 minutes of planning at the end of every workday. In that time you’re going to do a little bit of a brain dump. Even if we’ve brain dumped into our task list, stuff comes up every day, right? There’s going to be more that’s in your head. Get all of that out of there, look at tomorrow, make sure that your task list and what’s on there for tomorrow still makes sense, re-prioritize anything that you didn’t get done today. Sometimes those things become our most important things to do tomorrow, sometimes not though. Right? Which is also why I hate the overdue status so much. Sometimes you have an aspirational item on your list for today, you didn’t get to it, like for me this happened recently, then I looked at what was on my docket, and I was like, “You know what? This thing, actually, I’m just re-prioritizing it out for June. Because it’s actually not more urgent/important/impactful than anything I’m doing before then. I’m just going to relieve that stress for myself and push it along.”
I also suggest that people do a little bit of a longer version of planning at the end of the week. When at the end of the week, you’re doing the same things that you would do in this end-of-day planning, but you’re taking a broader view. You’re looking at your week ahead, usually by Friday we have a pretty good idea of what our meeting schedule is going to be like for the next week. I mean of course there’s always going to be last-minute things, but it’s maybe 80% solidified.
Then we can look at our task list, our next action dates around things, and re-prioritize things to make sure that our plans are realistic. For instance, in my world I have days when I have back to back client coaching sessions. On those days I don’t assign myself anything to do, other than those coaching client calls. Because the reality is I am not going to do anything else. At best I’m going to be able to get through my e-mail, right? If we instead are like, “Oh, I just have this list and I’ve got to do this stuff whenever I can,” what happens is we feel bad about ourselves at the end of every day when we don’t finish everything that is on the list. But we weren’t being realistic with ourselves because we weren’t going to get it done anyway.
You can re-prioritize those dates to make sure that your calendar is a realistic visual representation of your task list, that you actually have time for the things that you’ve set yourself up to do.
Chris Ippolito 24:02
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. The 10 minutes a day, actually I like that. Because then rather than somebody going, “Okay, well, I want to block off an hour or two to structure the whole week,” a lot of people look at an hour and they go, “Jeez, I don’t know if I have an hour to set aside for this.” Though I would agree there’s a lot of importance there. But 10 minutes, it’s hard to argue, “I don’t have 10 minutes.” Well, I’m sure you do, right?
I wanted to add something to the comment about doing it in the evening versus doing it during the day. There’s a lot of evidence that most people are a lot more productive in the morning as far as because you just woke up, your body is fully refreshed, your mind and energy. You’re at your peak, basically, in the morning as far as being able to be creative, productive, and such. Most people anyways, I know there are some that it takes them a little while and they ramp up through the day. But that’s also part of the reason why I would agree that you should not do the planning during the morning because that’s when you are probably going to be the most productive, though I’m sure there are some people that would argue, “Well, I’m a night owl and I’m more productive in the evenings.” Well, okay, then restructure your system accordingly, right?
Alexis Haselberger 25:28
Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean as an inveterate night person, a person for whom waking up in the morning has been the hardest part of my day since I was five years old, I think the world is built for morning people, and it’s lucky when people are morning people and can be productive there. But I actually don’t necessarily agree that most people are most productive in the morning. I do a lot of work with my clients around chronotype and what your energy patterns are, and I’ve found that there’s actually a pretty big difference. It’s not that everyone is a night owl, a morning lark, or whatever you want to call it, not everyone fits into a box like that. Like some people might be like, “You know what? I’m at my best from 10:00 to noon.” Other people I work with are like, “You know what? I am sharpest from 2:00 to 4:00.” Or whatever it is.
I think that that’s more about figuring out when your peak productivity or creative time is, then modulating your work around that, for sure. But I actually think that with the planning, doing it at the end of the day is important as a separation between home and life. Because otherwise we end up just having work thoughts, right? Like if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep because you are thinking about all the things that you need to do for work tomorrow. Or if you’re on your phone at the dinner table, you’re like, “I just have this one last e-mail.” You can avoid that by doing some end-of-day planning.
Chris Ippolito 26:56
Yeah, that makes sense, I can appreciate that, too. Because after you mentioned the chronotype, I was reminded of, of course I’m not going to remember the doctor or the scientist who was doing it, but the study of the chronotypes. He used the categories of, what was it? Lion, bear, and wolf. The lion being the people that just thrive early morning, the bears are the midday type people, and then the wolves are the people that just work a lot better at night. Then there was something about dolphins, and they’re just all haywire all over the place. But yeah, I think that makes sense. Actually, do you know of a way that people can help identify when they are the most productive in the day? Is there maybe a system or something that they could try and do to almost measure their productivity? Or is that something that you just, in a sense, coach them through, ask them the right questions, and try and help them identify the best time or the most productive time of the day for them?
Alexis Haselberger 28:06
When I work with my clients, I actually have them take just a little online quiz. Of course we take all online quizzes with a grain of salt, but I think the one that I have people take is really helpful because it asks just a lot of very specific questions that help people sort this out for themselves. It will be like, “Okay, if you’re going to exercise, high-intensity exercise, would it be better for you to do it between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m., between 9:00 and noon?,” whatever. It just gets people to think. I think actually most people can identify this for themselves when asked the right questions, right? That helps.
I also, when I work with my clients, have everybody do time tracking for a week or so so that we can get our actual data about where our time is going. Sometimes they will track energy levels and productivity during those times, as well. A pattern emerges for yourself. Some people are just so clear, they’re like, “You know what? I’m dead at 2:00 p.m. every day.” Some people just they know it, right? I think it depends on how self-aware we’ve been over our lives. But once you can start asking the right questions to yourself or to someone else, then you start noticing these things, right? You just take notice, then you can work to say, “Okay, well, here’s what’s on my list for today. I’m going to do the filing at the time I know I’m going to be brain dead. Because it has to get done, by I don’t want to spend my peak creativity hours doing my expenses or doing filing. But I have to write a blog post, well, I’m going to do that at 10:00 a.m. because I know that that’s when my brain is on fire for that kind of stuff.”
Chris Ippolito 29:44
Yeah, I like that. What’s the URL or the online form that you were talking about?
Alexis Haselberger 29:53
I can send you the link and you can put it in the show notes. I think it’s actually a test that was in Real Simple Magazine or something like that. I reviewed all of these online ones and I was like, “This one actually weirdly is the most instructive for me.” Yeah, I’ll just make a note right now. Because, again, I am not using my memory to send you this later.
Chris Ippolito 30:14
I appreciate that. Yeah, we’ll make sure to include that in the show notes. I agree though with the statement of, obviously, take the output of it with a grain of salt. It’s more to try and help get you thinking, I think. Which a lot of those types of surveys are meant to do, like self-reflect and start self-identifying.
Something I want to mention is you are now the third person who I’ve interviewed who has mentioned about time tracking. Do you have a specific system around that or is it mainly have a journal and just try and track things throughout the day, or are you putting it in your calendar? What’s the methodology behind the time tracking?
Alexis Haselberger 31:01
There are a lot of different ways. I think there are two primary ways. One is you can use a free app, like Toggl or something like that. Essentially you set up a set of categories in there, then you just click a button every time you’re switching from one category to the next, then you can get some aggregate data. I think this always sounds like the easiest method, then when people try it they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t press the button. Now I have to go back, edit all this time, and I don’t know what’s happened.” I think this is one of those cases where maybe technology isn’t our best friend here.
What I have most of my clients do if they don’t want to use Toggl, and I think most of them don’t, or I’m sure there are other time tracking apps there, is I actually just have a spreadsheet that I have, it’s essentially what time did something start, what time did something end, what was the activity, then the category, just a drop-down of categories. Then I have a pivot table that just wraps everything up and gives us some averages. When people are actually doing this, either they can input directly into the spreadsheet, and I suggest people do it as you’re changing activity. Like, “I am doing e-mail. Okay, e-mail ended at 8:30, now I switch to a meeting,” right? We’re not talking about the granularity of “I did this e-mail, and then I did another e-mail,” right? You’re talking about, “I switched from cooking dinner to taking care of my kids,” or whatever it is.
And tracking it in the moment. Because humans, it’s almost impossible for us to recreate anything that happened more than 24 hours ago. If we want accurate data around this, it’s just tracking it in the moment. If you can’t enter it into the spreadsheet in the moment, then it’s just putting notes quickly on your phone or on a notepad, and then entering it later so that we can get aggregate data. Because that’s what we really want, we want to be able to roll up a week’s worth of data and say, “Okay, on average, over seven days, how much were you sleeping? On average, over seven days, how much were you screwing around on YouTube and Reddit?” Right? “On average, over seven days, how much time did you spend with your kids every day? Or how much did you spend in meetings that you deemed useless?” Or whatever it is. Because once we have that data, now we can say, “Okay, what do we want to do more of? What do we want to do less of? What can we delegate or outsource? How can we really use that data?”
What I’ve found is that people, they’re like, “I know where my time is going.” I’ve never worked with someone who didn’t have a major aha moment around what they were doing with their time, in both good and bad ways.
I had one tech executive I was working with realize that he was spending four hours a day on Reddit and YouTube. He had no idea. He thought it was around 30 minutes. Right? Because when we’re in that endless scroll, in the infinite scroll, it doesn’t feel like that much time, right? It wasn’t all at once, it was throughout the day.
I had another guy who was a lawyer and he thought he was spending no time with his kids, he was just like, “I never spend time with them.” He was spending like two to three times as much time a day engaged with his kids as he thought. Right? That really helped him reset things.
I had someone who realized she was spending three hours a day driving her husband around to different things. I was like, “Well, you know what? Let’s get him a bus pass,” right?
I think I expanded onto why we do time tracking instead of just how we do it. But yeah, I think it’s a really important thing to do every once in a while.
Chris Ippolito 34:23
No, I like the stories there because I think that’s what people are going to resonate with. I think a lot of people who hear that are going to go, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t really need to do that because,” and then they insert their reason. But just highlighting examples like that, it goes, “Oh yeah, I have felt that way,” around maybe not spending enough time with their kids. I like that example a lot because I think a lot of, especially, ambitious entrepreneurs or career people, they’re putting so much energy, effort, and time into developing either the business or their career that without really knowing it there’s this level of stress and almost anxiety around, “Oh, maybe I’m not spending enough time with the family.” But they don’t have the data to back up that feeling. Now all of a sudden they measure it and they go, “Oh, jeez, I’m spending a lot more time than I thought I was.” Now all of a sudden it takes that stress and pressure off of them, and they’re just living a better life because of it. Right? Yeah, I really like that.
I’m trying to think from the perspective of people who are listening to that, it’s now the third time they’ve heard it maybe on the podcast, and they’re still resistant to it because they feel like it’s going to be a lot of work. What would be the message that you would share with them? Like, “Just do it for seven days because,” here’s the reason, kind of idea. What would be your response to that?
Alexis Haselberger 36:03
I think that this is something I have all my clients do and it’s met with resistance a lot, right? Because it sounds hard, and it is hard. You have to now remember to do something all the time, right? I say that for me I do it once a year or so, I’ll just track for a couple of weeks. Because it helps me to reset and recalibrate, right? I want to know, “Am I sleeping too much? Am I working too much? Am I not sleeping enough?,” etc.
I think the message that I’ll give to people who are meeting it with resistance though is we’re not aiming for perfection here. Yes, we want to track as much of our time as we can. But if you get carried away with something and you didn’t track for a day, who cares? Just remove that day and either do an extra day or divide by six instead of seven, right? We don’t live in a perfect world. When we wade and strive for perfection, we end up often just not doing things in the first place, right?
Like I had a client recently and he was like, “I was pretty good at tracking my time when I wasn’t at work, but basically between 9:00 a.m. and noon at lunch it was a blur, I don’t know what happened. Then between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. also a blur, I was just being pulled in many directions,” right? I’m like, “You know what? That’s valuable data. Because what that tells us is you are multitasking in a way that doesn’t make sense, you’re context-switching all the time. Yeah, we don’t know what you did exactly during that time, but we know it wasn’t as effective as it could be because you were being pulled in so many directions,” right?
It’s like whatever data you get, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be good data because it’s more data than you had before.
Chris Ippolito 37:42
Yeah, I like that, that’s a very healthy mindset to have around it, and a very good response to people who are resistant to it. Yeah, you know what? I think we’ve covered a lot, there’s been a lot that we’ve discussed, a lot of different tips, tactics, and obviously some recommendations. Coming out of it though, what would be that one thing you would suggest people take away from this conversation to really help them develop the system that’s going to allow them to be more productive, more efficient, and just extract more out of their time?
Alexis Haselberger 38:22
Yeah. I would say my best next tip for someone is going to be pick a system, any system. Right? Pick an app. If you don’t know what one is and you don’t have a good one, download TickTick, I just told you it was great, right? It doesn’t really matter what it is, just download something. Or if you’re a Bullet Journal person, use a Bullet Journal. If you’re a spreadsheet person, use a spreadsheet. The format, the container is not that important. Then sit down for an hour and do a brain dump. Literally think of every single thing that is in your head that you think that you have to do and just get it out of your head.
Because what can happen there, what happens is that you’ll either have two responses. One will be like, “This is so freeing, this is cathartic, I feel so much better.” The other response you might have is like, “Oh my god, this is so overwhelming, I have so much to do.” Either response it okay. Because the reality is if it’s overwhelming because there’s too much to do, it is going to be easier to look at outside of your head than inside of your head. It’s the same amount of stuff, right? It’s the same amount of stuff, no matter where it exists. It’s just so much easier to actually make decisions around, to manipulate, to prioritize when it’s something that you can actually look at with your own eyes, move around, and put decisions around.
Chris Ippolito 39:39
I think that is a great place to start. Myself personally, I’ve been using Trello as my main place. Just to be honest, once in a while what I do is I revisit my system to make sure, “Does this make sense? Should I be changing it, shifting it?” I agree, just pick something, get going with it, and develop the system as you go along. A comment you made earlier, don’t strive for perfection because there’s no such thing, just strive to make it better and improve. I think that was great advice.
Where can people find you? If they wanted to learn more, connect with you, what’s the best place to connect with you?
Alexis Haselberger 40:25
Yeah, the best place is probably my website, it’s alexishaselberger.com. I am sure you’ll put it in the show notes because no one will be able to spell it. If you are interested, I have a little downloadable freebie that you can get, which is a distraction minimization action plan. A very simple way to spend five minutes of your life to save probably hours a day. If you’re familiar with the stat that it essentially takes us 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption, and we’re interrupted or distracted every 11 minutes, you’ll know why. You can get that directly on my website, or at alexishaselberger.com/subscribe.
Chris Ippolito 41:04
Awesome. Yeah, I will make sure that’s all in the show notes. Thank you very much for the conversation, there was a lot of good stuff in there. It’s really reinforcing that I probably should do another session, or week or two, of time tracking. Because I bet you I am doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. Or I’m doing more of the stuff that I thought I’m not doing enough. I really appreciate that.
Alexis Haselberger 41:30
Thanks so much for having me on, it was really fun.
Chris Ippolito 41:32
You’re welcome. Take care.
Alexis Haselberger 41:34
Chris Ippolito 41:35