Have you ever been starstruck? Maybe you’ve run into a celebrity and taken a selfie with them or went backstage at a your favorite artist’s concert? Well, that’s how I feel today - but instead of an actor or musician, I'm starstruck by one of the top productivity experts in the world, Michael Sliwinski! He is the founder and CEO of Nozbe, a productivity software company. In the past 10 years Nozbe (pronounced nose + bee) has served nearly half a million people and is available in 10 languages! It is designed to encourage users to DO more and MANAGE less. Not only does Michael develop software and run a productivity company, he also has written books, is the editor of Productive! Magazine and hosts a podcasts (The Podcast) and is getting ready to release a brand new book, 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity!
I have been fortunate to help with the launch of Michael’s upcoming book, and recently had the opportunity to interview him. I had a million questions about how he got to what seems to be the pinnacle of productivity, and his answers gave me hope that my quest for order in my life is achievable! What struck me most about Michael was his dedication to family and self-care. In a world where we often feel judged by how busy we are and how many things we accomplish, Michael explains how he stays grounded, “My family is more important to me than anything else in the world, and that is my source of infinite love, acceptance and happiness.” He credits his loving parents with inspiring his entrepreneurial spirit. He proves his dedication to his wife and three young daughters by spending time with them daily. Michael also finds taking care of himself essential to staying productive. This includes at least 7 hours of sleep each night, physical activity for fun and exercise, keeping a gratitude journal, and reading the Bible every morning. Here’s a guy who speaks 4 languages fluently (and can communicate in 3 others), with two degrees, several books, popular podcasts, a couple of blogs, a productivity video course AND a successful company-- and he is making himself and his family a priority everyday! Putting family and self first may actually be what leads to his continued success.
"My family is more important to me than anything else in the world, and that is my source of infinite love, acceptance and happiness."
Obviously, to accomplish all of this, Michael has to be productive, but not just in a check-things-off-of-a-to-do-list kind of way. In his words, being more productive means to “automate things, work smarter instead of working harder and save time for what’s truly important.” The passion for productivity seemed to follow Michael until it was at the core of who he was. After college and a couple of failed online startups, Michael worked as a freelance e-commerce and marketing consultant, but struggled to keep up with the amount of work he had coming in from clients. He discovered the GTD methodology (Getting Things Done by David Allen) which suited him, but he needed a tool to apply it. Taking after his father, Michael had an interest in computers, so he dedicated one weekend to building a very simple web-based program and just never stopped improving it. Nozbe got a great initial reaction from the U.S. productivity community, who liked the ease of use, but Michael worked on his passion project only after a full day’s work at his consulting business for a whole year before his “side hustle” became his full-time focus.
Over the past decade, Michael has continued to improve his productivity as his company and client base has grown. He “reads” about 30 books per year - he discovered audio books and now listens to non-fiction, business and productivity-related books (and the occasional Grisham novel) while on the move - even while skiing! Michael is also an avid tech and productivity podcast listener and enjoys shows like ATP, The Tim Ferriss Show, Beyond the ToDo List, The Model Health Show. He welcomes lessons from other experts to help him achieve the universal dream of having “...tasks under control, stress level low and being able to spend as much time as possible on the stuff they like and with the people they care about.” Michael said, “...after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, I decided to trim my project list and concentrate on what is really meaningful to me. It helps! And I promise - the removed items come back in nightmares pretty rarely.”
Michael didn’t only develop the Nozbe software, he and his team all USE it. Michael is from Poland but because he promotes a “no office” work style, his Nozbe team spans the globe. He’s long believed that a commute to work not only wastes time, but also hinders many other aspects of life. It’s important to him that his employees are able to work remotely to save time, be able to focus, and not have to move from their local community to earn a good wage. The Nozbe motto is, “Work is not a place to go, It’s a thing that you do.” The entire company uses and communicates through tasks in Nozbe. Does that sound like something you’d like to try at work? He suggests that companies start small as they dip their toes into the world of telecommuting and stresses that remote workers need tools to help them “get stuff done.” His team relies on cloud services like Nozbe and Dropbox so everyone can access shared resources wherever they are.
Nozbe’s sounding pretty interesting, isn’t it? The basics of the software are this: You create projects with as many individual tasks as necessary. Each project can be shared with team members (even those who don’t have a current Nozbe account) and everyone can comment on a task in various formats including text, Evernote notes, and Dropbox files. Even if you don’t have a team to collaborate with, it’s a fantastic tool to keep all your tasks organized. Color coding projects and creating labels and categories help to easily filter your tasks so you can even keep work and personal items in the same system. You can forward emails to a special address, and tasks will automatically be created. If you prefer a calendar view, you can assign due dates to individual tasks. Nozbe is available across all platforms (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPad and iPhone) and syncs between devices. All data is encrypted and stored securely. Michael is proud of a feature that Nozbe DOESN’T have - that’s the ability to create sub-project after sub-project. “We’re strongly against too much hierarchy, so we try to keep our project and task structure as flat and as lean as possible….[users] appreciate how easy it is to get stuff done when you’re focused on doing tasks rather than re-arranging them all the time.” If you’re looking for a way to get more organized and be more productive in 2018, check out a free 30 day trial of Nozbe here. I've been using it for years and love how easy it is to use!
To wrap up, I asked Michael for his best productivity “hack," and he said, “planning your day in advance, defining most important tasks for the next day and trying not to get distracted before getting them done.” If you’ve been studying productivity for a while or if you’re brand new to trying to get the right things done in less time, this suggestion is such a good one because it provides focus for what really matters instead of allowing the little things to bog us down! Michael gathered up this and more of his best advice in his new book 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity. It’s a guide for total beginners with productivity theory, a ready-to-use toolbox, and serves as a step-by-step manual using 10 simple action steps. The book will be available early this year on Amazon. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available! If you have any questions about Nozbe, feel free to include them in the comments or submit through the contact page. I'm a longtime user and would be happy to share my experience with you.
We all want to get the most stuff done in less time - especially if that stuff is not all that enjoyable. You can tell what people like and are good at by what they spend their time doing. Well, it is pretty obvious that I do NOT like, nor am I particularly good at, reviewing giant, dry policy documents! Recently I had a document like this that needed my review and edits, and I procrastinated long enough that I HAD to get it done at home over a weekend. I needed to come up with a strategy to just get it done and in the least painful way possible.
I read and listen to a ton of productivity content, so I was certain I had the secret sauce, the Pomodoro Technique. Basically this is where you set a timer for a certain amount of time (suggested 25 minutes) and plow through your deep work until the timer goes off. Then you force yourself to take a small break (suggested 5 minutes) when you get up, move and do something you like, and then repeat over and over until you’re done. It works, but it still doesn’t make it fun…. Here’s how my Pomodoro-assisted day went, and what I learned.
I was ready to slay this thing and arranged for my family to be away for a few hours so I had the house to myself. I got everything situated to give myself every opportunity to succeed - and hopefully succeed quickly. I got out my laptop, my lap desk, my document for review and sat in the most comfortable place in my house - the recliner in the living room. I set my iPhone’s timer for 25 minutes - now I don’t call it cheating that I set the timer before I logged into my computer - I call that smart because that eased me into that first 25 minutes of reading and editing this document. I worked diligently, but AS soon as that timer went off, I jumped up with a little “Woohoo” escaping my mouth. I set the timer for 5 minutes and did something I wanted to do. Wait for it….organized my coupons. The 5 minute break went so fast, but I did obey the rules and go back to my work for another 25 minutes. I did this three times, and by that third, 5 minute break, my coupons were organized which was pretty cool. By this time I was really hating the Pomodoro Technique. Doing the review of my document was so boring, and there were all sorts of other things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday - especially a Saturday at home ALONE - that never happens!
So by this time I was fizzling out a little so I decided it wouldn't hurt, and I’d still be following the spirit of the Pomodoro Technique, if I set the time for 20 minutes instead of 25 (right?). Then I was like, “maybe I’ll have a snack during my break.” I chose Death By Chocolate ice cream, so I rationalized that my break would have to last just a little longer than 5 minutes because I didn’t want the ice cream to melt and then get my hands all sticky and in turn ruin my computer’s keyboard. Then I was back at it, but I was B-O-R-E-D with this process - I mean I had done over an hour and a half’s worth of work, so I decided maybe it would be ok to just do 15 minutes of work this session. This 166 page document was just SO long, and I was only halfway through. I started watching the clock, and time crawled until it was finally break time. I decided with this break, I should take a shower (I did have that sticky ice cream after all…). Honestly, it was longer than a 5 minute break. But the important thing is I went back to work, and I kept going til I was done.
I think by the end, my break time was longer than my work time, but the moral of the story is - - even with a boring task you may dislike - be it reviewing a document or organizing your closet, the Pomodoro Technique DOES work, but you don’t have to do it exactly as advertised. If you need a longer break, take a longer break, and don’t make yourself feel guilty for needing to! Productivity is individual, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work and may actually produce the opposite results if you get discouraged. Give yourself permission to “cheat” at being productive as long as you get to the finish line.
I can’t remember life without a microwave, but I can definitely remember life without a home computer, smart phones (or even just cell phones), streaming movies, iPods and digital music, Amazon, GPS and FitBits. In the late 90’s when AOL Instant Messenger was a novelty, I thought I was hot stuff, typing to my then-boyfriend/now-husband in real time from my dorm room when he was several hours away in his college dorm. Who knew that in a few years, the chat window on my huge computer monitor would be replaced by text messages on a pocket sized device? For those of us old enough to remember when at least some of our daily lives were analog instead of digital, the pace of change in technology can be overwhelming. It’s hard to keep up, and some don’t even want to. I am just old enough that I wasn’t immersed in social media during my youth (thank goodness!) so I understand the older generations’ confusion about the appeal of some technology, but yet I enjoy it and don’t want to be left out. Technology is supposed to allow us to be more productive, stay better connected, and even be healthier. Do you feel like you’re accomplishing these things with your technology?
I saw the new Jumanji movie last weekend, and there was a line that cracked me up, but my kids just didn’t understand. One of the characters new to Jumanji whose phone had disappeared when she was transported into the game kept asking if anyone had seen her phone, then continued to complain about not having her phone, and incessantly talked about her phone! The character who’d been in Jumanji for the past 20 years, said, “The word ‘phone’ must mean something different in the future.”
We are connected, if not addicted, to our phones. Some because of games (Candy Crush, anyone?), others because of how it ties them to their work, some who feel the need to document everything with photos or videos, and many who live for the rush of seeing how many likes they got on social media. Our phones can distract us from spending face time with our families, and that's what prompted me to craft my "Be Present" box for when I need a physical barrier between me and my phone. Read how to make your own "Be Present" box here.
As many negatives as there are about smart phones, there are so many positives that can really help us accomplish the things we want to do. I want to share how I use my phone for productivity, keeping me connected with my friends and family, and improving my health and well-being. Full disclosure - I’m an iPhone person, so this will be Apple-leaning, but many of the apps are available for other types of phones as well.
That’s a LOT of apps - so how do we keep them organized and accessible? I've seen some people's phones that have several screens full of apps that they have to swipe through to find what they want. It's so easy to organize apps into folders based on app category. You literally just drag and drop and name your folders something descriptive like "Finances" or "Social Media." This will allow you to fit many apps on your main screen. You can also reorder apps in a logical way based on how you use them and when you want to access them! Check out this video on how to organize your apps:
Do you have other apps that you recommend or thoughts about how to keep your phone as a productive tool instead of a distraction? Please share with us in the comments!
I was playing podcast catch-up recently and was binge listening to The Productive Woman. Host, Laura McClellan, was inspiring me with her usual thought-provoking wisdom when I noticed something she repeated throughout the episode. She used the phrase “actually take action” or “actually act on” many times in the episode. At first I thought maybe it was just one of those catch phrases that everyone has, like how I often end my sentences with, “so…” (That’s a terrible habit I’m trying to break, and my husband is ever-so-helpful in pointing out when I do it!) It kind of made me feel like my “so…” habit was just a version of something even successful women I admire also struggled with. But the more she said it, the more I starting thinking it was worth exploring further.
How many times have I used the word "actually" as if it described something that was unrealistic and unattainable?
It’s like throwing the word “actually” in there gives me a pass on doing the task. It implies there’s some underlying force beyond my control preventing me from completing my duties. It doesn’t take a linguist to recognize that the root of actually is act. The Latin definition is “activity - something that a person does.” Oh, so I have to DO something to accomplish a goal? Another word with the same root would solve these problems and eliminate the excuses - ACTION!
"Balance your thoughts with ACTION. If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." -Bruce Lee
It sounds so easy to just take action and get it done, but in reality, there are many things that get in the way. Time, competing priorities, and fear are the biggest stumbling blocks for accomplishing my goals. I’ve talked before about how I struggle with time (“Getting Better at Time”) and some strategies I’ve put into place to help overcome that barrier to inaction. Time is finite, and you truly have to make choices about what gets done.
Competing priorities is something I think every woman has in her life. Remembering that we are in charge of our own lives ( “Who’s in Charge?” ) and owning that our choices to do what we want to do may not make everyone else happy is a way to really put what is most important at the top. In order to give those items time in your schedule, you must remove the unnecessary to align with your long term goals.
Finally there is fear. I have lots of different types of fears: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of disappointing others, fear of not being happy, fear of regret, fear of hurting someone else. One thing I’ve learned is that letting any of those fears keep you from doing something you want to try only fuels the fear of being unfulfilled. If you’re reading this, I must have overcome some of my fears and actually published my blog! What will you actually do today?
Sometimes you just have to laugh (or else you would cry!) One thing I try to do a lot of is laugh at myself. It is such a good stress reliever and gives you perspective on how much of life can be experienced differently if we'd just laugh about it. Once a month, I'll share some of My Life in Laughter with you.
In the January 2018 episode, I experience "drive through judgment." Taco Bell is one of my weaknesses (as anyone who knows me well will attest.) If I go there without a plan, it can lead to trouble... Hope this gives you a laugh!
In case you missed them, check out the first two episodes of My Life in Laugher:
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!