Welcome to Captain Time’s “Productivity Interviews” series.
Today we’re interviewing Sean Kosofsky from Mind The Gap Consulting.
Here is the transcript of the interview – some typos may occur in the transcript as it was generated automatically.
Garland: So Sean, give our listeners a brief thirty-second explanation of what you do.
Sean: I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for about 25-26 years now and I’ve started my own consulting practice to help nonprofits through consulting coaching and training. So mostly I help nonprofits build better boards, strengthen their executive director training and development of the executive director, and fundraising support.
Garland: Do you think that productivity is of extra importance in the nonprofit sector?
Sean: Yeah I think nonprofit organizations for sure are under a lot of scrutiny by the public, by funders, and our stakeholders to use every dime efficiently. More so than the private sector overhead is a big deal and it’s a public number that people actually want to want to know about. So taking every dime in every hour of your time to be as efficient as possible is particularly acute and important to nonprofits especially small nonprofits.
Garland: I’ve spoken at a lot of nonprofit conferences and I’ve worked with a lot of nonprofits and I know that’s the case. They can’t afford to just hire more people to throw more bodies at the problem. Nonprofits have to work incredibly efficiently. So did something happen to you in your career or your business to force you to take productivity more seriously?
Sean: Not a particular thing. All I know is that I am I’m pretty driven by self-improvement so I’m always looking for better and more efficient ways to do things. I think in my 20s I worked hard and lots of hours and didn’t really think about efficiency. Over time I consumed a lot of books and podcasts and information about how to do things even better or more efficiently or in a less time-consuming way. So there wasn’t one particular incident but I just know I could tell that there must be a better way to do things waiting till the last moment for this.
I passed ten years as an executive director and in the past few years as I’ve been building and developing systems for teams to work together it’s been even more of an interest of mine to crack this nut and figure out how to be more efficient with my time and be more effective with other people’s time.
Garland: it sounds similar to my experience when I first started to want to learn productivity for myself but eventually I was teaching others. And I’ve heard it said that the only way to truly master something is to teach it so that it makes you want to self-improve and makes you want to continually get better and continually learning.
So Sean, if you could give just one productivity tip to our listeners maybe the one that would have the biggest impact on your productivity or their productivity what would that be?
Sean: I would say work blocking. Work blocking has changed my life. So I’m fortunate enough that where I work and even at my own firm I’m the boss. But generally, if there’s a lot going on my number one tip would be work blocks. Work blocking is creating a section of hours in your calendar that cannot be disrupted where you can get a certain thing done. Specifically, I started making it so that Wednesdays and Fridays were a work block so the entire day of Wednesday and the entire day of Friday every week there were no meetings, no calls, no interruptions whatsoever.
Every single time there’s an interruption, even if it’s a notification on your phone or a staff member coming in to ask a quick question – each interruption slows things down and it takes minutes to get back into your groove. Almost anyone will agree it’s amazing what happens when you have an uninterrupted block of time to work.
So putting sections on my calendar for work blocking and, if you can get away with it as the boss or whoever, two full days Wednesdays and Fridays are the two days that nothing, not even email encroaches on my productivity time.
Garland: Excellent! That’s very similar to some of the things that I teach and you’re right it is amazing in a block of time how much you get done when you’re uninterrupted. Compared to your normal work where you can work all week on something and get nowhere then you’ve got a few uninterrupted hours and you blow through amazing amounts of work.
So how do you keep from being distracted?
Sean: It’s very difficult since I’m a little ADHD myself but I know for myself that you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. So I know that when I work from home I’m very easily distracted. If I need a particularly concentrated period of productivity I will go someplace else other than home. For me, the office is a great place to get work done, but if I have something I need to read or something I need to write like a grant proposal or something that needs to get out in about a day I will go to a coffee house.
For me, that background noise is needed. I can’t be in the library because all that quiet is just kind of creepy.
A coffeehouse is where there’s all this background noise and the whole reason I went there was to get a thing done so I cannot leave until it’s done. So there’s something about going off-site or going to another spot to get something done that for me is particularly effective.
I don’t know for me distractions can be eliminated by changing your surroundings but also I do think that making the conscious decision to turn off the things that give you notifications like your browser or your phone helps. Those are two things that it’s just so tempting to be constantly stimulated.
Once you know and realize that we are constantly being stimulated and we’re getting some kind of payoff for that – you have to turn it all off. Again I’ve learned for me background noise is the one thing I need but not the notifications.’
Garland: It’s very powerful the idea of doing something specific. I know some people, for example, have real trouble writing like maybe they can work fine in their home office space or their regular work for most things but for some reason writing is a problem. I suggest the same thing you do – pick a coffee shop possibly a library if the lack of background noise works for you and just focus on that. If the coffee shop or the library becomes your writing place then you get into the mindset that that’s a place where you do it.
Even something for simple as me when I’m editing something I will print it off but I for some reason if I edit at my desk it feels just like I’m editing on the screen. I will actually go to a different table, sit down and edit. That other spot it’s kind of my editing spot. My editing hat goes on and I’m far better at catching the typos and the mistakes.
So is there what is one area of productivity maybe you’re still struggling with?
Sean: I think an area of productivity where I could do a better job is scheduling things for groups so in terms of productivity I still think we haven’t really been able to solve this even with all of these great calendar tools out there. People are still kind of going back and forth. I think in the next year or two a lot of these tools are gonna be talking to each other in a much better way – knowing where there are windows of time in your calendar where you cannot be interrupted and windows a time when you are open. My own software allows people to schedule meetings just like I know you do and I have multiple email addresses and multiple accounts so I think over time this will get better but still making sure that there aren’t conflicts and that with time zones.
I’m now on the west coast I’ve always been on the East Coast people forget that so I think that a productivity area for me is just the amount of time it takes to actually get a meeting scheduled and then make a meeting start on time and then end that time. As a manager, I try to make all meetings start on time and end on time even if people are gonna miss out because it’s it’s disruptive to everyone’s time if something doesn’t start on time and end on time.
Garland: I think the calendar tools that both you and I use do convert automatically to local time zones which I find incredibly useful so a client in Australia looking to book a time with me I can just send them a link to my calendar and it will tell him in his time what works what the openings are and that’s fantastic. It gets more complex you got multiple calendars as you say with the team if you’ve got six different calendars you have to bring together and find them and I think there are some specialty tools for that. Maybe we need a little more digging into those.
I think that that’s a case where getting six or eight people together for a meeting can be incredibly difficult.
Sean: I think a lot of us human error I jump time zones all the time because I travel a lot so I’ll be putting something into my calendar while I’m in New York and forgetting to change the time zone so that it’ll be three hours also sometimes it’s my own error and then sometimes people’s phones and their computers are not talking to each other. You think you selected something but then something got changed and now a certain thing from Facebook that is not showing up in your phone so you’re double booked and then something needs to get canceled. So it really I think over time all of these platforms are going to be using some kind of synchronicity the way the way they ought to.
Garland: Yeah it’s already improved from say five years ago I know the tools out there are getting so much better for like I love the fact that I can put somebody in my calendar invite them but then if I have to change the date or the time they will get an update to the invite or if I have to cancel them it’s all automated.
So Sean if people want to find out more about you where is the best place to go?
Sean: There is my website which is MindTheGapConsulting.org or they can find me on Facebook which is again just searching for Mind The Gap Consulting if you just look for mind of the gap there are lots of those out there but look for Mind The Gap Consulting and you’ll find I’m on Twitter, YouTube channel everything.
Garland: Thank you so much I really appreciate your being on today and was sharing what’s worked for you over the years and I look forward to collaborating with you further.