In this Productivity Interview, we chat with Alison Donaghey of Domino Thinking about the time management tips she uses to be productive while creating a successful podcast show.
Transcription below – the transcription is automated so please excuse any errors.
[Garland] Hello everyone and welcome to Captain Time’s productivity interviews. Today we’re interviewing Alison Donaghy of Domino Thinking. Welcome Alison.
[Alison] Oh thank you so much for having me, Garland it’s a treat to talk to you.
[Garland] Yes I’m really glad that you were able to make it and I really enjoyed the last interview we did where you interviewed me so I thought turnabout is fair play and now I get to grill you.
[Alison] Thanks, hopefully you didn’t have a too bad of a grilling by me. You were so great though you have so much great information on scheduling in time and tips it was was such a treat to talk to you.
[Garland] Oh well thank you. So let’s get started by letting our viewers know a bit about you. Maybe give me a 30-second overview of what you do.
[Alison] Oh I do probably far too many things. I own a house painting company, but I’m transitioning out of it. I’ve had it for 20 years and my son is now taking it over. So it’s coming with all sorts of unique challenging problems and I’m working mostly on my Domino Thinking company where I challenge people to think about what they think about. I have a radio show, I’m a speaker, I’m an author I have a book out of international bestseller and yeah mostly though I just want people to think.
[Garland] Wow I think you may have a little too much on your plate between the painting company and and the best-selling book, radio host and everything else so it’s good you are passing some off to your son.
[Alison] Yeah well I think it’s one of those things like when we’re entrepreneurs it swells and it narrows and it swells and it narrows and so when transitioning with my son taking things over it has swelled a bit because it flows into other things and we’re learning new things and taking courses to adapt and all of that. So yeah I suspect by this time next year I will be a little less busy.
[Garland] Great, we’ll interview you again and see what’s on what’s happening. What happened in your career where you realized you suddenly had to take your productivity a lot more seriously?
[Alison] Ha, well at the beginning way back of my house painting company, I was a one-man show and so I did everything. I was a single parent and so right from the get-go I think I really grasped the productivity thing. That organization you know. I had to get him to soccer class and you know and lots of mums know this stuff too and dads probably as well I don’t know I’m not a dad I’m but it’s that how do you fit everything into a day and then how do you become efficient at it? And so as I hired more staff I understood the necessity to become more and more efficient all the time.
[Garland] So once you realized this how did you learn about productivity? What steps did you take to get there?
[Alison] Well sadly I didn’t have you back then. Trial and error, unfortunately. You know we’re talking when I started this 20 years ago, nobody had email, I had to hand-deliver my estimates and so it’s a different world now and a lot of it was just trial and error. I think there are so many programs now that are probably really helpful to a lot of people that are that are readily available.
[Garland] You know it’s a really good point about the experimentation and trial and error because with many of my coaching clients I find that we try something and if that didn’t get the result we wanted we try something else and people are too worried about the failure of it to realize that this is how you find out what works. You get feedback by trying this and oh, that cratered spectacularly so we know not to do that next time. Not to book three paintings on the same weekend or something. Now we know and and really that experimentation is part of that process of learning to become more productive.
[Alison] Well and the fallout of not being organized, not having good time management is massive overtime. You know when you think that you upset a customer and then you upset another one and upset another one you upset another one because you just weren’t organized, you didn’t have good time management. The cost are hidden costs things that you may never realize are huge.
[Garland] And the reputation can get out there as well I mean especially with social media. Now at least in the past when you first started people couldn’t go out there on a soapbox and yell that yeah this is a really bad company. It’s out there and other people pick up on it and suddenly its gone viral and doing damage control, it’s really difficult.
[Alison] For sure.
[Garland] So if you if you could only give one tip to our audience, what’s that the biggest productivity tip you could give the one that’s had the most impact for you?
[Alison] Well I’m still a little old-fashioned – I like a list. Yeah I’ve tried so many computer programs and a list is really what works best for me so my advice would be but what you were saying is find something I don’t care what it is find something because it just changes your whole world. When you’re organized and you have a process that works and it’s gonna be different for everybody.
[Garland] And you know for many people sometimes the software can get in the way. It can be complicated. You’re learning something new. A simple list most of us know how to write it down and how to do that – except in my case I can’t read my handwriting! Because a list tells me what am I supposed to do. It was marked number so it must have been important. So a list where you write out and mark them by priority maybe use a highlighter even under color or write numbers next to that and then at the end of the day you just carry everything forward.It’s very powerful and it works. Sometimes I know people find too when they work with an analog system where you’re handwriting instead of typing and being in the computer sometimes people remember better as well.
[Alison] Yeah well and I’m super tactile so I like that thinking, writing connection all through university that was what got me through. It certainly wasn’t studying, right. And so it’s again it’s that learning of that style that’s going to work.And from me online programs I get challenged with them because I’m such a squirrel, right. Like I’m like squirrel moment, oh what’s over here and then I get a message if I’m on my phone checking my list and then I feel like I have to and that pulls me off course all the time.
[Garland] Yeah and that sort of brings us to – I guess another question is how do you keep from being distracted and I guess one way is to keep your list off of your phone or off of your computer.
[Alison] Yeah. Because you know I get so many text messages and emails and like probably most people like I probably get a couple hundred emails a day regarding such a variety of different things. Plus this text messaging and there’s LinkedIn messages and there’s Facebook just it’s everywhere people are trying to connect and so for me when I have to actually get down to tasks those things have to just get shut off.
[Garland] Right. Yeah, I find I tend to work in blocks too like I do check my email regularly a couple times a day at least I reply to everybody within one business day but I don’t always have it open. I don’t always have Facebook open. because as you say it it’s so easy to get distracted yeah you’re you’re trying to write your next book or in my case my first book. Often the email questions are not that important or it was a newsletter that came in it wasn’t even anything high-priority. Tt was relatively minor and yet you took that deep focus you had and you blew it broke it entirely just to answer something really tiny.
[Alison] So yeah and then you answer that tiny thing and then you’re like oh I should go do this and while I’m up I should do this and maybe there’s this and I have my email open I should just check a couple more or email that other person that’s not really important but I should do it anyway and so it’s that slippery slope that is just so dangerous and then an hour in you’re like whoa I’m supposed to be writing my book.
[Garland] Yeah like oh that was only take a minute I’m just gonna answer these two emails.
[Alison] There’s no such thing.
[Garland] Well in our in our household I mean I’ve had that issue to where I said “Oh you do you want to go out for a walk?” when I’m going out for my walk at lunch. The answer is “Oh yeah I’ll just go answer a couple of emails first.” Well, 20-30 minutes later the other person’s still not ready. So I’ve learned to I just go for my walk then I’m gonna be productive when I get done.
[Alison] We’ll be there when you get back you’ll be there and the world will not come to an end.
[Garland] The world won’t come to an end. Everybody can be answered within a business day or so and they’re all gonna be happy. But somehow you’re right when we know we’ve got mail there’s just that thing that just wants you to drag your focus over it’s like it could be really important I should go check. It could be my publisher with a big new book deal and you know it’s usually not.
[Alison] You know it’s the new ringing phone. It’s like back in the day like when your house phone rang you just ran. Dropped what you’re doing a ran to answer it right? And I think it’s become that. Obviously, our cell phones are ringing but all of those bells and whistles going off and they just we’re so Pavlov’s dog we’re so conditioned to respond.
[Garland] I know well it’s funny too because I I know a lot of people are really hot about the the software program Slack which gives teams a way to message each other back and forth. I mean the tool has its uses but it’s one more channel. Now all of a sudden instead of just email, phone, and Skype messages,you’re also getting Slack messages.
[Alison] Yeah well that’s another thing I do too like if somebody connects with me on LinkedIn I usually say hey can you shoot me off an email and because for me compartmentalizing emails is a lot easier and I don’t lose them because I keep them if they’re actionable, I keep them in a certain spot whereas I don’t find I can do the same thing with Facebook messenger sort of once it goes it sort of gets lost into that whole thing same with LinkedIn all of those now I know people who use it very very effectively which comes back to your point find what works yeah.
[Garland] You’re right you can filter it (email) you can put it into certain folders you can even automate what folders it goes into you can drag it into a high priority folder or a follow up next week folder. It’s a way of dealing with it that tools like LinkedIn and Skype messaging just don’t have. A lot of people keep saying email is dead but email is still the way most people do business and it’s still that one area everybody goes to every morning they open their email inbox whereas Facebook Messenger, I mean for personal stuff yeah, people use it a lot but not so much for business and things.
[Alison] Yeah and I think it comes down to training people how to connect right. Like it’s that while there’s still room for understanding that they might want to stay connected on LinkedIn and then you sort of find that middle ground but I try to filter everything into my email because that’s my second favorite thing after lists organization.
[Garland] It’s interesting because I use LinkedIn more like a Rolodex just doing okay I need a graphic designer who’s in my contacts who’s a graphic designer yeah or I’m going to be traveling to a different city who what potential clients can I connect with in that city. So that’s what LinkedIn’s great for and but then if I’ve got their email address I would probably send them an email instead. If I only have a LinkedIn connection then yes I would send them a LinkedIn message. Interestingly enough some years ago the telephone was a really important business tool to me and now I think I could actually cancel my phone number and I don’t think I noticed a difference because…
[Garland]…get almost no phone calls now they’re almost all spam the ones I get.
[Alison] What you haven’t paid your taxes and the police are coming to arrest you?
[Garland] I know. Yes I’m in a different country than the tax people are from. What a surprise I owe taxes in the U.S. but I’m in Canada. There’s tons of it or I’ll register a new domain name and I’ll get like 10 web developers calling me from India over the next week offering their web services. You know if they at least do a better job on it like if they that would at least look at my existing web sites and see what’s there or offer me something I mean if the right person called with a search engine optimization package and said “You know. Garland I looked at your website I notice you’re not number one for time management coach and that has thousands of searches a month. Here’s how we would get you there.” I might listen instead it’s like “Oh we do this, we get you number one in Google and I can’t even tell if they’ve looked at my website.
[Alison] Yeah like maybe you are already number one in Google.
[Garland] And I am for many keywords. Yeah, there’s no actual looking so when I approach a client I’ve approached where I’ve read their website I know what their business is about I have a good idea what some of their needs are and then when I contact them I’m contacting them with something that makes sense.
[Alison] And that’s called good business – for me that’s called good business
[Garland] Yeah well it’s called understanding customers and providing value there are all sorts of aspects you work into that instead of just hitting everybody and hoping something’s going to stick. That’s interesting that you avoid distractions that you run everything through your list and emails a way of doing things there and by keeping things on an analog basis by writing.
[Alison] Yeah and lists work different for everybody too right. Like some people think I had somebody trying to get me to do a certain list on Excel and I’m like no it’s not gonna work. So I compartmentalize like so my list has boxes on it and so I know what I have time for and what box I can get done so I’ll have like a box of phone calls and I know I have an hour and I can get through a bunch of phone calls. So I’ll maybe just finish that box and everything in that box yes it’s really just finding find something anything find it.
[Garland] Well and that’s what I tell people. People are often expecting Oh Garland’s gonna force me to use this piece of software or this tool. There’s so many great pieces of productivity software and tools out there there’s no one tool that does everything right for everyone – everybody’s different. My wife’s very visual in some of the stuff that she works with and I’m more list and index oriented and so there’s a different thing that works for everybody and I work with people to find what works for them – that’s the key thing there. You know you find out that list system that works very well.How do you find that you take lists as well when you’re out like if you’re away from your desk?
[Alison] Oh sometimes I’ll send myself emails so if because I don’t like carrying my lists around with me. Yeah I usually know what’s on it so at the beginning of the day. I know these are the things I have to do – I have to get done and then I collect everything I need to do if I have to leave my office. But if I’m out and I’m like oh don’t forget to call somebody, I will send myself an email because then that’s my second form and everything gets compartmentalized and networks too.
[Garland] And again as you say a person just needs a system that works. The most expensive fantastic system in the world won’t work if you and your team aren’t aren’t embracing it and using it every day. I had a client who spent hours and hours getting everything perfect in his time management system productivity system but of course by the time he was done that the tasks were three months out of date and because he had not yet brought his team on board to do any of the tasks. Instead, I would have launched messy and said this is a new system let’s launch messy. Let’s break it, let’s find out but at least we’re working on the system and working on the tasks instead of creating this lovely perfectly crafted nested task list system no one is using.
[Alison] That breaks my brain I think that to me it’s that squirrel thing for me. Like I think it’s beautiful when I see it in other people and I would love to be able to be that guy who could have that task/subtask ask them but for me it’s tough. The downside is my assistant doesn’t always know what’s on my list so she doesn’t always know what I’m doing.
[Garland] Yeah the productivity systems where I can actually assign tasks to my team are useful. It’s not like I have a whole bunch of people working – I work from a home office, but I actually hire freelancers. It’s like virtual assistants and other people that work and so the system I use does let me delegate to them so I can see at a glance with each one of them is working on. The other benefit of a app or software is that if I do happen to be out for a walk and I think oh I forgot to do this I can actually pull up the app on my phone and I can just add the tasks there or something so there are some benefits to it but again it’s not worth abandoning a system that works just for that benefit.
[Alison] and I think sometimes there’s systems within systems that work right. So at some point my list only works for me and then I have to incorporate a system so that it works for my assistant and it works for my staff in a way that’s more effective.
[Garland] Yeah, my wife and I started doing that with Google Calendar where I had my Google Calendar and she knew what she was doing this week but we didn’t together know what we’re doing and all of a sudden I’d find out that a day when I thought I would have access to the car (we share one car because I work from home – both of us kind of work from home so we don’t need two vehicles), but on the day I was gonna go meet a client somewhere for coffee she had already booked to take the car in for an oil change. We found we had to start a shared calendar. Google Calendar works brilliantly for it because the items she puts on the calendar are a different color than mine. So I know it doesn’t affect me. For example, an interview like this which is on my calendar and doesn’t affect her but she knows that I’m not available at that point if she wanted to come and ask me questions or she wanted to get my help to maybe look at a new computer for her or something like that. So it really helps that were able to coordinate.
[Alison] Calendars are amazing like I live and die by mine you know my assistant we use iCal but my assistant has access to it and my son does and so for that painting end of it everything goes in there and then they see what I’m doing for Domino Thinking and when I what I want to call with you and when not to call me and all those sorts of things. So yeah that’s those are my top three – email, calendar, and old-school writing.
[Garland] It’s all about how you use it it’s not what the system is. It’s about that commitment that this is the system if you try to do a bit of everything to try to remember in your head what you’re doing you have a few things in an app you have a few things on a list and you’re split between the three then yeah things start starting dropping.
[Alison] And we’re never as good in our head as we think we are.
[Garland] And you know I learned that long ago to keep nothing in my head. I’ll teach my clients to be empty-headed like me. Everything goes into systems like new ideas for a new video. I have an editorial calendar to capture new ideas for new articles for videos. I capture all that stuff because I try to remember oh I had that great idea an hour ago for a new video what was that again and it’s gonna be gone.
[Alison] And what app is that?
[Garland] The main app I am using right now is Airtable Are you familiar with it?
[Garland]Airtable is a really neat online tool – think of it as a spreadsheet meets a database. And what you can do with it is you can actually set up menus within it. So let’s say for example so you can use it for anything because it’s that flexible. So Airtable is now my CRM (customer relationship manager). I can put people’s names and where they’re at, even what time zones they are in and stuff like that. I have an editorial calendar and I just sort of capture article ideas at the idea stage. I just drop every idea I have and then I categorize it according to type. This one needs a whole presentation or just an idea for an interview or is this an idea just for a really short video where I just talk about a topic while I walk and I just shoot myself with a camera.
So if I’m gonna go up for my walk at lunch today I’ll look at my list and say which one do I feel like doing today and just grab it and go do it and that’s worked really well. I used to do a video about every 2 or 3 months and maybe one I would usually get at least one article done a month what I’m up to right now where I’m publishing two videos a week. I’ve actually got about 6 to 8 videos currently in the can that just need a bit of added in titles and things like that. again it doesn’t matter what the tool is I could do the same thing in a notebook, a handwritten notebook, I could do record it in OneNote I could do it in Asana or Basecamp or Trello or any of any of the regular systems but I just find Airtable really flexible for that and it is nice because it does have a mobile app too.
[Alison] Yeah it has to it has to work whatever you pick right?
[Garland] So what is one area of productivity you’re still struggling with Allison?
[Alison] I still I have a squirrel. It’s just too easy for me to get distracted and then stay off course. Yeah I have a few time suckers in my day or because I worked from home. When I am at home you know FedEx shows up and then it’s a distraction and I’m in the kitchen I’m like oh maybe I should but always bringing myself back to my desk can get going on it. I think that’s a challenge in and my days are never static. Like my assistants always throwing appointments in my day so when I think I have half a day free an hour in I don’t and so whatever I plan for that so is I’m always readjusting and recalculating.
[Garland] Yeah and that makes sense. One trick with that may be to set a block of time off that is just assistant can’t throw an appointment into.
[Alison] yeah I’ve tried.
Garland] You know you can beat assistants until they’ll stop booking.
[Alison]Right, yeah because like with the painting, I’m still doing estimates and color consultations it’s still that oh they didn’t need one now they need one and we’re painting tomorrow so can ya get there and then I just work later at night.
[Garland] I think that will be resolved once your son is able to take over the rest the rest of the aspects of the company.
[Alison] Yeah because the days like I do block off acouple of days for Domino Thinking and that’s it usually holds pretty well but not always.
[Garland] Yah the calendar software I use, I like how I can build in how much of a notice I want. For example, I don’t want to have another booking five minutes after you and I are done because I need to reset, I need to take care of a few things and don’t want them that close together. I can say okay no more than an hour-long appointment and they have to be at least an hour apart. Another thing too is I know the one I use also lets me set if I want four hours notice, so the idea is I know then at one o’clock in the afternoon I’m not going to suddenly get hit with a three or four o’clock appointment when I thought I had a free afternoon for writing.
[Alison] That’s nice all of those things help because we get so busy we get stuck in our brain my one of my other favorite things is Acuity Scheduler.
[Garland] Yes, it’s a good one.
[Alison] I love it it’s just so easy I’m sure there are lots out there it’s the one that I picked it was probably because it was the first one I stumbled across knowing me. Bt scheduling because I have a radio show and we’re trying to get guests or do things like this you know it’s so nice to have it all done automatically takes a while to set up a long time.
[Garland] Yeah because I have people booking both these interviews with me but I also have people booking their coaching calls. Usually they paid already for them but they need to book a time and it used to be a nightmare because I had clients in Australia and Europe and I’d say okay how about Monday at 4:00 pm my time which might be Tuesday at 8:00 am their time and then they’d say well no how about Wednesday? We’d go back we’ll be back and forth for weeks and wouldn’t get an appointment time to work for both of us.
[Alison] Well and then that’s the other point too right like now you’re getting if you’re especially for doing it through text or email now it’s popping up so now there’s in your brain going oh I have to answer that because I don’t want something else to get blocked during that time and so I think there’s always this urgency that we are creating when we do systems like that because we don’t have a good system like you know Acuity or Calendar or whatever they the other ones are I am so much time wasted
[Garland] Mine’s Acuity Scheduling too – yeah I’ve tried two or three and I think Acuity is what I settled on at the moment. It really made that the whole booking coaching calls so easy. I’m using it for people who are booking interview times with me as well.
[Alison] Mm-hmm so what used to take me an hour or more to set a time with a person get their notes, get their bio, get their headshot I don’t even have to think about anymore. I open my email I’m like oh so-and-so booked an appointment that’s fantastic and here’s all their information isn’t that great? So that time-saving part and the I’m not backup things really tight – especially like when I’m on the road like I back up appointments so that I don’t have 20 minutes where I’m driving and I don’t I can’t go anywhere I can’t do anything so I always make sure I I squish everything together on that end which is different than you’re talking about with clients because you need that time to reframe.
[Garland] You need the time to take notes, to set up, to send them links we talked about. When you’re out I agree with you – I tend to put all my appointments together too. So if I have to take an afternoon out, I just go out and do every possible appointment so I don’t have to go out again that week. And do it and squeeze in as many as many as I can and just drop bottles off at the recycle or whatever you need to do.
[Alison] Whatever yeah and it’s amazing how much we can accomplish. Because my son will say to me you’re not gonna get all that done I’m like well watch me. I can totally get it done because I’m organized right and I back it all up and so it’s um it’s just boom boom boom it all gets done and then he’s like you seriously got all that done? I’m like dude you need to rip a page out of my book as he’s getting older he’s getting a lot better he sees the value in and he’s doing a lot better with it but it’s a process I think to get to that place where you realize it can’t be all in your head it needs to go on paper or on a map or whatever the case may be
[Garland]And the system’s like that’s what I find is it’s not a most of my clients are really brilliant creative people. So it’s not lack of intelligence that has them scrambling, its lack of systems. One of the things I always say is people who are more successful than you are usually not any smarter than you, they just have better systems.
[Alison] Yeah and I always try to do things today to make my tomorrow easier right like that’s that’s what I live by. Like what else can I take off my plate today because I don’t know what disasters gonna happen tomorrow? Like you know there’s all sorts of things – the hydro could go out, the cable or Internet could go out. And now things I could have done yesterday I didn’t do. I put them off and now I can’t do them today because I have no Internet or whatever the case may be.
[Garland] Yeah and that’s one of the difficulties with procrastination is waiting too long then all sudden another big project also hits and the one you’ve been putting off is now due so now you’ve got two that are just too tight for the time frame.
[Alison] Yeah isn’t there like a great I said Eisenhower table or something about this.
[Garland] Yes, the Eisenhower matrix defines that are urgent and not important and these kinds of things. There are a ton of techniques like getting things done (GTD system), Pomodoro, and others. All of these have elements of good – they’re all good techniques. I tend to take the mixed martial arts approach to time management techniques where I steal from each one. I really loved the idea of setting a 20-30 minute timer and working – that’s the Pomodoro Technique. iI works fantastic for me so I steal that one. I don’t think any one system is perfect for everyone – they get kind of full of dogma and they force people into a certain way of working and thinking and not everybody works that way.
[Alison] Well and an app can only be so big right so you know it’s not reasonable to think that you’re going to get all of your needs met in one place in one fashion and that other people are going to coincide with that right.
[Garland] Well this has been fantastic Allison. Thank you so much for your insignts. If our viewers would like to learn more about you and what you do, where would they go?
[Alison]They can go to my website DominoThinking.com or they can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I answer all of my emails and I love hearing from peoples so those are the two best ways.
[Garland] Thank you so much for taking the time to share your productivity techniques and secrets with us.
[Alison] Thank you so much for having me.