Cerius Business Today: Kim Miller-Hershon on Productivity
Kristen McAlister: Hello! Thank you for joining us today. Welcome to Cerius Business Today. This is Kristen McAllister, co-owner and president of Cerius Executives. And I am joined today by Kim Miller-Hershon. Now, her clients call her The Queen of Productivity because she helps busy executives and their teams improve productivity.
And I have to say I didn’t choke on “queen of productivity” because years ago before I bought Cerius, I called myself “the queen of productivity.” And I came across someone using that same title and I kind of choked a little bit, because it’s a little troublesome relinquishing that title, but knowing how fantastic and fabulous Kim is, I hand it over gracefully.
Kim Miller-Hershon: I certainly appreciate that.
Kristen McAlister: So I love that we’re talking about this topic because obviously we’re getting busy school is starting. We’ve got a lot that we’re juggling. A lot of us are working from home offices and it is tough to focus. And one of my biggest challenges, admittedly, is I see that email icon telling me I’ve got more emails.
If I’m in the middle of typing up a proposal, I can’t help it. It’s like a laser on a wall for a cat. I have to go chase it. And I click back and I click back and I click back and forth. I’m doing it so quickly. I’m not wasting any time. Am I, Kim?
Kim Miller-Hershon: Listen, you know what? There were some studies out there that say multitasking actually makes you dumber than smoking weed.
Kristen McAlister: Don’t tell my husband that because I don’t do the former and you’re going to give him ammunition for our next disagreement. I am an absolute expert multi-tasker and you just gave me a reason to listen a little harder to this podcast today as you’re going to give me tips on how to stop that. In reality, how much time are we wasting?
Well, you know what I’d love to do is I’d love to tell you how much it costs you. Let’s just say you are paying somebody $50K a year to do their job. If they waste 10 minutes a day, it costs you over a thousand dollars a year. Think about this. If they waste 60 minutes a day, it costs you close to $6,000.
Now I’m not talking about somebody necessarily being on the internet or looking at social media. I’m talking about what happens if once a day you have an employee who is in a meeting that is a total waste of their time. It costs you $6,000.
And let’s just say that you have some executives that you pay $150,000 a year. It costs you over $18,000 in lost productivity. And then if you add that up for all your employees, it’s just astounding how much money you’re losing through lost productivity.
Kristen McAlister: Now, I know if I can save that time, I’m not going to get that money back, but I can see how I can have them do more or add productive work without needing to hire someone else.
And we’ve talked about this a lot with CEOs this year as to, well, my revenues didn’t take a hit, but my profitability should, or I’m growing, but I’m not seeing it in that profitability. And they’re taking on more work, they’re needing that a lot more overhead because we have all shifted and our productivity has dropped; it’s different. We’ve got distractions out there.
Kim Miller-Hershon: It’s different. Right. You can also think about it: what if you replaced some of that lost time with, again, revenue, new producing activities, or just taking care of more clients? There are all kinds of ways that you can, like you said, improve profitability by improving productivity.
Kristen McAlister: It’s a challenge in order to improve productivity. I know I just had a conversation the other day with my business partner, Pam, who said, “God, I’m just getting barraged by emails and calendars.” What is your system? How do you go about it? I was so proud. I spent five minutes showing her my finely honed system of how I track it all.
And in the end, her comment was, “yeah, that’s not going to work for me.”
Kim Miller-Hershon: That’s what happens with productivity and that’s actually the reason that I got into what I do because I, like everybody, else wanted to be more productive. I’m good at some things, not good at others. And I ran out to go get the latest, greatest New York Times best-selling author’s system.
It’s a five-step system and you’re like, “this is fabulous, except that I can’t do step three.” And then what happens? You just don’t get to have the results? That’s a terrible answer. And that’s what really led me to create a system that is not about the system, as much as it is about you. There are really three parts to it.
First, we don’t want to throw away things that work. So it’s really, really helpful if you understand what your productivity style is and then taper and tailor those ideas of how you’re going to create your systems to what works for you, which is the reason why you and your business partner have different styles. Therefore you’re going to have different systems.
The second part is what already works well for you. You’re already successful. You’ve got a ton of things that work, but you probably don’t know because those are your internalized systems. And it’s great to be able to take those and use those to help you with the things that you’re challenged by. So part of what I’m a big fan of is really teasing those out to consciousness.
And then the last part is about habits because all of this, in order to be actionable and executable, is about what we do every day and those are our habits. So we have to understand habit and habit change. And that’s really how you improve your productivity.
Kristen McAlister: Three-step system. I can remember three steps. I’m going to remember it better if you give me some examples. So let’s walk back to style. How do I figure out my style? What exactly do you mean by that?
Kim Miller-Hershon: Good. I like to use DiSC, which is an assessment of behavior. Here’s the thing: it’s great if you’ve taken a DiSC assessment if you know your DiSC style, but there are also some pretty simple ways to figure out how you work.
So one of the things I would encourage you to do is to think about, are you very fast-paced or are you more action-oriented? Are you more moderate-paced and thoughtful? Once you figure that out, then you want to figure out whether you are more questioning and analytical or more warm and accepting.
And once you kinda know that, you can sort of almost read yourself into what style you are. And then I like to then tailor what tips I give people according to what style they are.
Kristen McAlister: So then pulling that together with what works well: how do I sit there and figure it out in my day, knowing what’s working well and what is just a drain on my time causing me to multitask?
How do I go about piecing those apart?
Kim Miller-Hershon: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes we do need somebody from the outside to take a look at our systems to understand, but if you were to do it yourself, sometimes it’s just about, and this is painfully difficult to do, but you only need to do it for a short period of time, really paying attention to what am I doing minute by minute, hour by hour and really just track it.
You brought up a really interesting point: how do we know what to do? So for instance, one of the examples is if you really like high level thinking, if you’re really kind of a bullet point person and you find the details to be incredibly painful, then look at the places in your schedule and in your day where you’ve either tasked yourself, or you’ve been tasked with really detail-oriented things to do, like kind of what works for you and, and what drains your energy. And that’s going to give you a really good idea of the places where you need to make changes.
Kristen McAlister: By using that example, I feel like you read my diary, Kim. I know many where that’s a good way of looking at it. If you’re someone who doesn’t read emails beginning to end, and you almost speed read or read the highlights of them, what are we doing in our day that is similar to reading an email beginning to end and getting us bottle-necked?
That’s fantastic. And you just use an example as to the team, and sometimes it’s tough when we are trying to evaluate ourselves, you mentioned that you help entire teams be more productive and I’ve heard before about sitting down and asking people, “what are you wasting time on?”
Kim Miller-Hershon: Sure. We often create environments where people don’t feel comfortable saying either “I’m not sure good at that” or “I don’t know how to do that” or “I need help with this, too.” Even though we’re talking about time management, some of the hugest time-wasters is somebody trying to figure something out that somebody else could tell them in two minutes, if they just ask the question.
So part of it is creating an environment where there is permissibility to ask questions. And frankly, another huge time-waster in companies is when somebody made a mistake and they don’t own it. They don’t stand up and say, “I messed this up, I’m gonna make it right,” and somebody else has to untangle the mess.
A lot of times we can’t take the communication piece and the culture piece out of the time management piece.
Kristen McAlister: I love that you brought that together is when you look at your team and kind of going back to what you mentioned of the style. Some people do have the style of asking lots of questions and some don’t because they have that inquisitive curiosity and others just want to be head down.
And especially as we all went from 30 people in an office to 30 offices during this and creating some type of a tool or a mechanism for easily asking people and picking up the phone to not feel like you have to start with, “I’m so sorry. Do you have just two minutes, I’ll just do this really quick,” and they feel as though they’re bothering someone, right?
Kim Miller-Hershon: I agree with you. Although one issue that I’m seeing almost across the board in all the companies that I’m working with right now is that they don’t have a communication plan.
So they are communicating with each other in five ways, as opposed to just in one way. Sometimes you just got to pick up the darn phone, right? Like if I get another Slack message, talk about interruptions, right? Having stuff floating across your screen, when you’re trying to get something done. Honestly, if somebody just gave you a call and you were able to answer it in two minutes or – and this is sort of a whole other thing: how we time block and how we actually sometimes just tell people that we’re not available. Which is kind of like a whole other piece of this whole puzzle.
I’ve even done it sometimes at professional services firms where we block out an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon where it is heads-down time for everyone. So everybody gets an hour in the morning and in the afternoon where they don’t answer phones, they don’t answer emails, and they block out the time to do whatever uninterrupted work that they need to do. And it can be a very effective tool to increase productivity across the board.
Kristen McAlister: I can see that, especially when it is that continuity you mentioned, everyone doing one thing of blocking that time out. It’s tough when everyone’s doing it a different way. So once you figure out the style of your team and how they best communicate – I love that you hit on communication – you talked about the second piece of what works well. And what maybe doesn’t work so well. What is that big thing that sucking up the time? Communication is a big part. So if we all just work on communication right now – I think that that could be a 2021 strategy alone. Is that communication piece and asking what is working well for them? and what’s bottlenecking? What’s just clogging it up? The Slack messages, the text messages that you don’t know where it’s coming from. That’s fantastic.
Now you talk about habits. How do we make this not just a onetime thing?
Kim Miller-Hershon: Right. So I think that one of the tips that I’d love to give today that is a habit because if you did it every day, it would be a game-changer is a very small thing to do that gives you huge results. And that is that however it is that you do your to-do list, whether you have it on a piece of paper, whether you have it on your computer, whether you have it in an Excel spreadsheet or an app, it doesn’t really matter (even frankly, if you have it in your head, although we could talk about whether that’s a good idea or not) – that you put time next to tasks.
Because here’s what we do: we create a to-do list, there’s no context for it. It’s just all the stuff that we need to get done, except the reality is that you have to do things in the context of time. I guarantee you, if you add up all the things on your list, it’s going to take you between 24 to at least maybe 78 hours to do all of the things that you have down that you think you’re going to get done in, let’s say an 8 to 10 hour day, and it’s unbelievably unrealistic. If you create that habit and you connect it to what you actually have on your calendar, it will make a huge difference in your ability to prioritize what you’re actually going to get done. And frankly, a majority of those things probably shouldn’t even be on your list to begin with because you really have no intention of doing them; they’re just a “should”, not a priority.
Kristen McAlister: And what’s your take on prioritizing A’s, B’s, C’s. Do you find that that works well for most people?
Kim Miller-Hershon: Totally depends on your style. People who like systems and details, and even some high-level thinkers, keeping ABCs, red, yellow, green tiers can be very helpful.
Some people need it to be even simpler than that. Because sometimes if your mind is all over the place and somebody says you have to use the system, they spend more time trying to use the system than they do doing the thing.
So here’s another tip for everybody, no matter what your style is: when you stop doing whatever it is that you’re doing, take a minute to just write yourself a quick little note about what the next step is. Think about how much time, especially because we don’t tend to get concentrated times to work on tasks – we are task switching very frequently – a lot of time is lost because we go back to that task and we have to spend 10, 15 minutes just figuring out where we were. So just take two minutes when it’s fresh in your mind to just say, “this is what I need to do next.” Boom. Done. Switch tasks. But then when you go back to it, you can start right in.
Kristen McAlister: Fantastic. I didn’t realize — cause one of my mantras was always “if it takes much longer to do, it usually goes to the bottom of the list” — especially when it’s something you’re doing for the first time and you don’t know what all the steps are.
Kim Miller-Hershon: Absolutely.
Kristen McAlister: We procrastinate those tasks every single day because it’s not a habit. We have to figure it out. So you mentioning the list – that just all came together and connected for me, Kim: let’s just list out a couple of the steps so I don’t even have to think through what do I do next or where did I leave off and need to pick up.
Kim Miller-Hershon: Right.
Kristen McAlister: Excellent. So I love that you use the style.
I’m now forming in my head what you mean by “what is your style?” and would love to ask you to talk about the to-do list and people who – I’m Type-A personality so I won’t show you mine but it’s color-coded and everything. But then there are people where their to-do list is the multicoloured PostIt notes all over their computer monitor and their wall and they open up their notebook that’s supposed to have the to-do list and it’s got colored PostIts. Is that a frame of mind or is that or style and what do you recommend for that style?
Kim Miller-Hershon: In DiSC, that is an I style. They are your idea people, but they don’t tend to have a lot of internal organization.
So, sometimes we have to have interim steps. We have to have steps that are, like the baby steps to get to where we want to go. And the other thing that I’ll say is that there is a point at which just because you have a particular tendency towards a behavior does not mean that you have to always do it that way.
In other words, we have the maturity to make choices about what we’re going to do. That being said, what I often recommend for people who have that style, where they’re all over the place – it is actually really important to have one place where you put everything. And that is a no-compromise rule.
You can’t have PostIt notes all over the place. It has to be in one place, even if you get a notebook and put the PostIt notes in the notebook. If you love postage, you can still have the postage, but you have to put them in one place.
If you have a big easel with a big pad, you could even put the PostIt notes on the pad and just put it in a place where you’re looking at it, but you can’t have them in your car, on your computer, in your pocket or purse; you just can’t have it all over the place.
You know, the other thing that I really liked for those people is that especially because now we have smartphones – because those people tend to like to talk to process things – is that you actually talk it through. And you record yourself on your phone. I like Evernote personally, but you can use any app or you could just actually talk about into Word. Or whatever program you’re using. So talk it out, as opposed to making yourself write it all.
Kristen McAlister: Fantastic tips. Thank you so much.
Kim Miller-Hershon: And you know what, one last thing also, just for those people is I love mind mapping for somebody who is super visual. I use Simple Mind. I have an app on my phone, I have an app on my computer and it connects through either a Google Drive or Box or whatever you use in the cloud.
And so you can get it everywhere and it’s intuitive. And once you map everything out, the program will make it into an outline for you.
Kristen McAlister: Fantastic. Especially someone who’s very visual and paints a picture first. I know one of those people so I’ll have to recommend that.
Just kind of going back and recapping. As leaders right now, it’s tough to be able to help all of our employees, whether we’re in the office or out of the office, we’ve had to redo systems. We’ve had to completely shift how we’re doing things. And I think that alone is taking a toll on productivity.
Where do we now keep all of our documents? Our SOP is changing.
So, trying to get everyone a little bit more on the same page with their individual styles – got that. Looking at what works and what’s not working, what is sucking up our time versus what seems to be going smoothly. And everyone’s gravitating towards that affinity. I like that. I love that you use that. And then the habits, and you mentioned one of the biggest things is getting in the habit of a to-do list with time to get some realization as to how much time is this really going to take, or if I’ve got it blocked out for an hour and I just wrote down that I’m going to try and get it done but it’s going to take two hours. Now I’m going to get interrupted, so write down the steps so that you can easily get back to it after that interruption.
Kim Miller-Hershon: Right.
Kristen McAlister: Fantastic. Kim, I officially relinquished the Queen of Productivity title over to you.
Kim Miller-Hershon: Wow. Wow.
Kristen McAlister: To improve productivity with yourself or for your team, Kim Miller-Hirshhorn and as well, Cerius Executives provides interim and fractional executives. So when you need more than an extra 10 minutes in your day and you need actual expertise or to simply take off one of those many hats that you’re wearing, a fractional or interim executive is a great solution.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Kim.
Kim Miller-Hershon: Thank you. So what are we going to buy with all of our money that we’re saving, because we’re so efficient?
Kristen McAlister: Just that 10 minutes I’ve got, I can count up how many bottles of wine. I can buy with that thousand dollars a year. How about you?
Kim Miller-Hershon: There you go. I’m buying bourbon, personally.
Kristen McAlister: On that note, we’ll let everyone imagine what they’re going to buy with the savings from increased productivity, either themselves or their team, maybe they can buy a fractional executive. That would be fantastic.