cover art for episode 57 with Alexis Haselberger cover art

Alexis Haselberger is a time management and productivity coach who helps people do more and stress less through coaching, workshops and online courses.  Her pragmatic, yet fun, approach helps people easily integrate practical, realistic strategies into their lives so that they can do more of what they want and less of what they don’t.  Alexis has taught thousands of individuals to take control of their time and her clients include Google, Lyft, Workday, Capital One, Upwork and more.

In this episode, Alexis shares many great tips to help you be productive, including planning ahead on a week-by-week basis and looking at your schedule every day. If you find it hard to focus on getting things done, you may want to look into her strategy and her challenge of turning off your notifications. I know it’s hard but think about what can you turn off? What are the nonessential things? Some devices actually let you turn off notifications during certain times; you can put on do not disturb mode, for example, so that you really can focus on getting the things done that are important, that you prioritize.

I recorded this interview on Nov. 17, 2020.

I think that sometimes when people implement systems, they find that there’s so much overhead it’s just not worth it to them. It feels like it just takes so much time to update this thing. And I find that if you are looking at a task list or a task system as something you update later, like at the end of the day you go through and you update it, it is burdensome. You’ll never do it. You’ll get to the end of the day and you’ll just say, Oh, I’m too tired. If updating your task list item on your task list, we’ve already lost here. And so I really use my system to drive the work that I do.

– Alexis Haselberger, Time management and productivity coach –

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 What will you do today to help you get closer to your dreams and the life that you want?

Remember change begins with one small step.

Your Challenge Invitation

We all have different things that distract us. When we are constantly distracted, we feel like we’re being pulled in many different directions. it can be really hard to slow down enough to move towards other goals.

Identifying what those distractions are can immediately give you some additional time back. And once you have some additional time back, then it’s much easier to start putting the work into the other things that you may want to do, or other strategies that you may want to try.

Identify what are the distractions that prevent you from being able to focus or from doing the things that you love. If you need help figuring out what those are, you can download a distraction action plan from Alexis’ website. It will help you identify the distractions that are very specific to you so that you can address them.

Contact and follow Alexis on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook. She also has a Facebook group and offers Online courses.

You can connect with Damianne on the Changes BIG and small website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. You’re also invited to join the Changes BIG and small Facebook community.

We tend to throw away strategies that could work really well for us because we don’t give them enough time

Timeline of the Chat

Alexis sitting down while giving a presentation

01:49 – Alexis’s career background
02:28 – Becoming a productivity coach
08:43 – Making an impact
09:53 – Prioritizing and getting things done
12:25 – Productivity in personal and professional life
14:42 – Building new habits
17:21 – Alexis’s other daily habits
20:38 – Communication and planning
22:13 – The Biggest two productivity challenges
27:15 – Urgent versus Important
28:54 – Purpose and intention
33:04 – Invitation/Challenge
34:01 – Importance of play
35:13 – Waking up and alarms
36:57 – The impact of COVID
40:41 – Recommended media
41:37 – Outtro

I have acclimated myself to the concept that you can build something from nothing, from just an idea, and that people do it all the time.

Quick Links

Work on whatever that important project is just for an hour, because what you’ll see is that then you’re actually able to make progress on it in a way that if you’re just hoping you’ll find the time, it just won’t happen.

Transcript of the Episode

Alexis’s Career Background [01:49]

Damianne: [01:49] So you’re a coach as I read in your bio, but this is not your first career. Can you give us a short background?

Alexis: [01:57] Sure. Yes. I spent the first 15 years or so of my career running HR and business operations in early stage startups in the Bay area. Often I was one of the first few employees. And I experienced a lot of people working really hard, trying to build something from scratch and a lot of people burning out along the way and really overworking. And that is why I became a coach because I started to realize that there was a way to be really, really productive that did not involve working 18 hours a day.

Becoming a productivity coach [02:28]

Damianne: [02:28] Can you identify a turning point? When did you really feel the call for coaching or realize, okay, I’m making the decision or I’m on a journey to do something different.

Alexis: [02:40] yeah. It’s funny. I think I, I probably had little inklings in my brain. For a long time. And then the last startup that I worked for went out of business as, you know, 90% of startups do. And at that time, you know, I had the productivity and time management piece had become something that was you know, it wasn’t something I was doing for a job, but it was definitely a central component of what I had been doing.

And so, you know, I had been setting up task management systems in the companies that I worked for and I had EEO’s that were asking me to do productivity workshops for the rest of the company. People had been coming to me for that sort of help. And so I realized that one, I didn’t want to go back and work for somebody else anymore. I had had wonderful people that I worked for, but I was just ready to wake up every day and work on my own goals instead of working towards somebody else’s goals. And so when I looked around to see how could I do that? It became obvious that there was a skill set around time management, productivity, stress reduction that came quite easily to me and yet was, it was very difficult for other people. And so I saw that there was a gap there where I could teach other people these skills.

Damianne: [03:48] And so what had to happen for you to be able to make this change? What did you need to put in place? What kind of thought process did you have to go through?

Alexis: [03:57] Well, I think that I really did not start with a great plan, you know? I think, I thought I’m going to go make this happen. And what I did was I gave myself a time limit. So I said, I’m going to give myself 18 months to see if I can turn this somehow into a business. And I did not have a business plan. I was like, I know I can teach these skills. I know I can help people. I know I can help companies but I’m not really sure. 

And so I basically gave myself an 18 month limit of if I’m not making money to help support me and my family by 18 months, then I’ll go back and get another job. But if I can turn this into a business in that period of time, then I’ll keep doing it. And so that’s really what I set out to do. And so when I started, I just figured, well, what does someone who has a business have? A website, so I built a website and I called myself a time management and productivity coach. And I updated my LinkedIn and said that’s what I was doing. And then I emailed literally every single person whose email address I had called over the last 15 years.

I think I emailed the insurance agent from three jobs ago and like every person from high school who probably hadn’t heard from me in years and was wondering why is she reaching out now? And I just got really uncomfortable and told the whole world this is what I was doing. That’s actually how I got my first clients and how everything started getting rolling.

 It did not take 18 months for me to realize that this was a valuable business. It took about six months for me to start realizing that this was something I could do full-time.

Damianne: [05:26] I think for a lot of people who might be considering making this change or who might be thinking, ah, there was something else I want to do. I’m not fitting in in what I’ve been doing for quite some time, and then we can get stopped because we think are we good enough? Do we have all of the skills that we need? Do we need to create that business plan? Did you have some experience with business in the past? What gave you the belief that you could make this happen?

Alexis: [05:55] Well, that’s an interesting one because I think I’ve been blessed, I guess, since I was a kid or maybe cursed, I don’t know, with the kind of trait that I’d really never think about what other people think about me. It’s just not something that, probably to my detriment at times, but it’s just not something that I think about.

And so I don’t really have those feelings of, okay, can I do it, can I not? I don’t really focus on that stuff. It’s just kind of like, I want to do this thing. I’m going to try to do it. if it doesn’t work out it’s okay. I’ll figure something else out. And then I just went for it. So I didn’t really think too hard about that stuff, because I think that stuff just kind of gets in your way and especially because I had given myself a time limit I had to move fast. It felt like there was some kind of urgency around it. I had given myself this time limit, I had decided I don’t really want to work for other people anymore. And I’m giving myself 18 months to decide if that can be my reality or not.

And so I didn’t think too hard about that stuff. I mean the other side of it is too….

I had worked in startups for the last 15 years or so. And so I had acclimated myself to the concept that you can build something from nothing from just an idea and that people do it all the time. And that while those people are smart and connected and all sorts of things, they didn’t seem any more so than I was.

Damianne: [07:06] Okay. How long has it been since you’ve been a productivity coach, expert?

Alexis: [07:11] So I started this business about three years ago now. So not too long.

The path of entrepreneurship [07:15]

Damianne: [07:15] If you think back, at what point did you think yes, this is it. What happened or what feeling did you go through that made you feel this extra confidence, after those six months, for example,

Alexis: [07:30] Well, I started having more and more clients come to me. My very first client was someone who, and I think that that really turned it for me because he was really gaining a lot from what we were doing together, he was really progressing a lot and then he started referring me to his colleagues. And so I think there’s some amount of, you know, where you’re like, well, I think this is working, but if my client is now referring me to his other colleagues because it’s been so helpful for him, then that’s something that I can really get behind. 

 I don’t want to toot my own horn too much, but like, you know, I started having people tell me on a semi-regular basis that I had changed their lives. And to me that was something where it feels real cheesy to say, but it’s real, it’s really palpable. When, when you’ve worked with somebody to the level that they’re not burning out and they feel like they can take on what life has for them. And they feel like they’re using their time in a way that supports their goals and their values instead of just having the days wash over them over and over and over again.

And so I think once I started to see that there was a real difference that I was making, that it’s not just that it was like super fun for me to do all this stuff, which it was, but also that there was a significant difference that I was making in the lives of the people that I worked with.

Making an impact [08:43]

Damianne: [08:43] Connected to that in terms of coaching either now, all, when you sought out to start coaching, what kind of impact were you looking to make?

Alexis: [08:51] I go back to when I had my first kids. So I had kids when I was still working at an office full-time. And I remember coming back from maternity leave and there were a lot of other young mothers that I knew and they all had full-time jobs too. And I just remember everyone being so stressed out all the time. And I remember going, I just didn’t feel that same stress. And so I was wondering what is it that I’m doing? What is it that other people are doing, like what’s going on here? And I realized it was all kind of coming back to systems and so it wasn’t like it was something that I was special.

 It wasn’t like, Oh, I just don’t experience these things. It was like, no, I just put systems in place; I don’t have to think about that stuff. And so I kind of realized this is a skill set. It’s not like a set of internal changes where we’re like changing who we are. It’s not like something that we are given at birth that we are a certain way or that we aren’t a certain way. It’s like this is a skillset that you can apply and when you apply it, you don’t have to feel the same stress anymore.

Prioritizing and getting things done [09:53]

Damianne: [09:53] That sounds great. Okay. So let’s talk about what this looks like in your life as an example. So many of us have to figure out lots of different things we have to do on a day-to-day basis on a week by week basis. How do you go about prioritizing the things that you’re responsible for or the things that you choose to do?

Alexis: [10:13] Yeah. I rely entirely on an external brain, basically. So I use a task system. I use one for my personal life and I use one for my work life, for my business. I’ll just think about my personal life, I have everything in there. I’m going to actually look at it and tell you what’s in there for today. You’ll see how granular this gets.

 So I have thaw shrimp. That’s what we’re having for dinner tomorrow, but I need to take that out of the freezer today. I have that I need to work with one of my kids on his R sound cause he’s in speech therapy and that this is something I have to do that takes two minutes every day.

So all of the things that I have to do, I just put them in my system and I assign them to the day I need to do them. Or in some cases, these are recurring types of things. I put everything in there. My kids’ passports, I put that they have to get renewed one year before they actually expire. So it’s like all of the stuff that just usually clutters up our brain, that whole mental load, I just offload it so that I can very easily look at what needs to be done and it seems doable because I’m not looking at a list of 500 things. I’m looking at a list of just the 10 things that I have to do today.

 I put everything, like the fact garbage has to go out to the street on Thursdays; that’s in there because otherwise it would be taking up valuable mental space. And then every day I do what I call end of day planning, where I kind of look at tomorrow and I make sure it makes sense. I look at my calendar, I look at my task list.

I say do I have time for these things? Is this too aspirational? Do I need to move something off? How can I turn this to a realistic plan that I’m going to feel good about and still have a bunch of time leftover for myself? And then on the weekends, I do the same thing for the whole week. So on Sunday, I’ll sit down and, you know, how did the shrimp get in there? Cause I made a meal plan for the week and then I said, okay, when do I have to take what out of the freezer so that things are ready by the time I need them to be ready so that when I have to cook dinner, it takes me 15 minutes instead of, you know, the 45 minutes of going to the store to get the thing that I forgot and coming back to and realizing, the shrimp are not thawed; I need to deal with that now, et cetera.

And so I use this process for my personal life and I also use it for my business life. And it’s a process that I, that I teach to all my coaches and my students as well.

Productivity in personal and professional life [12:25]

Damianne: [12:25] I’m curious. What about the other people in your family, in your life? Do they use the same type of system? How does it relate when you have to do something in collaboration and connection with somebody else?

Alexis: [12:39] So yes and no. This wasn’t always, but at this point within my task list, my husband and I have a shared list, so we can assign things to each other back and forth. But also, I think my husband learned a long time ago that if you want something done, he needs to send it to me via email so that he can get it into my task system, into the flow of things.

I mean, my kids, you know, one of them likes to use a system like that for his chores and things; the other one doesn’t at all. And so of course, I interact in the real world. We tend to have a family meeting once a week where we surface things that are working, things that aren’t working, what we’re going to do to try those things. And so for me, if it’s something on my plate, I’m putting it on my list. You know, they might have other ways of dealing with things. And so, you know, I’m not going to impose the way that I do things on them to the extent that it doesn’t work for them, but that’s how we kind of surface those things.

Damianne: [13:27] Yeah, I think that’s an important point because different methods and different systems will work for different people. I know that I like to do a lot of things digitally, but there are some things where putting it on the fridge…. When I’m trying to create a streak, seeing it on the fridge is somehow more powerful of an effect on my brain than putting it in my digital calendar.

And so I think for listeners, the important thing to consider is try the different methods and see what works for you. If you’re finding that you’re dropping things a lot, probably your method’s not working that well; you might want to try something else.

Alexis: [14:02] Yeah. And I think you bring up a really valid point too, that there isn’t a one place for everything. If I’m trying to remember to take my vitamins after I brush my teeth in the morning, I probably want to put a post-it note on the bathroom mirror until I build that habit because that’s something that’s not in my flow to look at my task list before I brush my teeth.

 And so thinking through what actually works in your life and you’re right that everybody is different. And so even though I teach this method to everyone, the format of it is going to come out in different ways. Some people might use the task lists that I like; other people might use a bullet journal. Other people might like to write things on a big whiteboard. There’s lots of different ways that people can do it.

Building new habits [14:42]

Damianne: [14:42] Yeah, because our brains all tend to work a little bit differently. In fact, this is a very silly example, but I’m playing with this right now to see how long does it take me to build a habit. And so what happened was. The light bulb in my bathroom burnt out about two weeks ago, and I have not bought a replacement light bulb yet. And I tell myself it’s because I’m doing an experiment. So I actually have another switch above the mirror and that’s enough light actually. But the experiment is that there are two ways to turn on this light switch. I can press the button right on the mirror, or I can press the button on the wall. I want to train myself to press the switch on the wall. It has been two weeks and I am still regularly pressing that button under the mirror.

Alexis: [15:40] Well, I will tell you why. I mean, I love this example, but also we have been living under this tyranny of this stat that we heard somewhere that it takes 21 days to build a habit. And in my work with people on habits and in the research, this actually just isn’t true. It takes somewhere between three weeks and nine months to build a habit and the average time it takes to build a habit is 66 days. 

And so the fact that you have not built this habit at two weeks is not at all surprising to me because it fits right in with the data. But I think you bring up such a good point as we start to feel really frustrated with ourselves when we’re like I tried to do this thing. Why am I not doing this thing? I’ve been trying it for a week. I say to everyone, it’s like, yeah, yeah, give yourself another six more weeks or eight more weeks and then we’ll talk about whether it’s working or not working. 

Damianne: [16:29] That makes sense because I had signed up for the one thing, which is a habit developing system from Gary Keller. And I think they use a 66 day model for whatever that one thing is that you’re trying to build. So that fits right into the research, I guess.

Alexis: [16:46] Exactly. But yeah, so many people get so frustrated with it and I think we tend to throw away strategies that could work really well for us because we don’t give them enough time.

Damianne: [16:58] Yeah, I think that’s a very good point because we’re not really trained for the long haul and that idea of three weeks, 30 days, 21 days to 31 days, we’ve really drunk that KoolAid because it sounds great.

Alexis: [17:14] Yeah, it’s very appealing, right? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just change our whole lives in 21 days.

Alexis’s other daily habits [17:21]

Damianne: [17:21] You already shared with us a bit of detail about your tracking method for the things that you need to get done. What else do you do every day as part of your routine to be on top of things and to be a fully functioning person in the world?

Alexis: [17:39] Personally, I’m a big fan of planning the day before. As I mentioned before, I use my calendar, so I really time block a lot. Some people might think I’m a crazy person if they look at my calendar. But for today my entire day is blocked out.

I know exactly what I’m going to do during each moment of my workday. I have planned that in advance. I’ve never liked looking at a task list and saying, Oh, what should I do from here next?” It’s all planned. Of course I live in the real world and things come up, right. Just last night I had one hour of a break today when I didn’t have meetings. And I thought, okay, this is what I’m going to do during that time. And then somebody scheduled the coaching session right over that hour and so I don’t have that anymore. So of course I needed to pivot and reprioritize things. But I use my calendar a lot and I really try to work from the task list.

 I think that sometimes when people implement systems, they find that there’s so much overhead it’s just not worth it to them. It feels like it just takes so much time to update this thing. And I find that if you are looking at a task list or a task system as something you update later, like at the end of the day you go through and you update it, it is burdensome. You’ll never do it. You’ll get to the end of the day and you’ll just say, Oh, I’m too tired. If updating your task list item on your task list, we’ve already lost here. And so I really use my system to drive the work that I do.

 I don’t do something unless I’m looking at the list and updating it in the moment and moving along. So that’s kind of how I manage it throughout the day. Also, I just don’t believe in memory. If something comes up to my mind, I write it down immediately, and then it gets put into my system because I think that we spend a whole lot of time just rehashing the same thoughts or thinking about the same thing and our brain doesn’t. 

Damianne: [19:16] Don’t forget. Don’t forget. Don’t forget.

Alexis: [19:18] Right. Right. And our brain doesn’t care that we’re in a big meeting when it’s thinking, Oh yeah, I gotta go pick up milk later. And the milk’s running out in the fridge and Oh, I have to email and all that. So I make sure that I stay on top of that and I don’t try to keep these errant thoughts in my head; I get them out immediately. I also really am mindful about distractions because we all know how it feels when we get distracted. We intend to be focused all day and we get distracted by things and it feels really bad. 

There was a study that came out of UC Irvine a few years ago that showed that not only do we get distracted every 11 minutes, and it’s probably more now that we’re in COVID and everyone’s home, families and pets and everything, but that it takes us on average 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. 23 minutes, not 23 seconds.

 And so I think being mindful of what are the things that interrupt you. Maybe it’s your own mind that is interrupting you. How can we really track what are the things that distract us so that we can mitigate those things? And so for me, I know it’s notifications, so I don’t have any notifications on for Slack or anything else. I know that it’s people in my family now that we’re all home together so I have a printed schedule on the door of where I’m working that clearly tells people when I’m in meetings and what I’m not. And so I’ve really figured out what are those things for me that distract me and how can I work to mitigate those distractions.

Communication and planning [20:38]

Damianne: [20:38] A theme that I’m hearing coming up again, and again, is planning ahead and also communicating to the other people that are involved not just the way that you work, what works well for you, but also from different moments how are things changing? What do they need to know in order for the relationship to remain healthy for both people?

Alexis: [21:00] I think that is a hundred percent right. I think something I’m talking about all the time is how do we just keep the communication open, because I think something that we’ve all learned over the last eight months when we’ve all been in such close quarters with other people, is that it’s okay for things not to be okay. Not everything is going to be all hunky-dory in our homes and it’s worth surfacing those things earlier rather than later, so that we can talk about them, so that we can normalize the fact that not everything’s going to be okay all the time and that we can surface solutions from all the parties involved so that we can incrementally improve.

I’ve been calling it like my COVID formula, which is really just communicate, experiment, iterate, repeat. Keep going because that’s the other thing is change is our only constant, right? It’s that’s the only thing that’s going to keep happening.

And so we shouldn’t expect that, Oh, two months ago we talked about something and it worked and of course it’s going to work now that school’s in session again. That’s just not likely to be the case. And there’s also lots of smaller things like we might be just doing different projects at work that require different parts of our brain and that require different amounts of our time and things. And so being able to really surface all of that stuff and talk about it openly, I think it’s really helpful, not only in our families, but our teams too.

The biggest two productivity challenges [22:13]

Damianne: [22:13] Thinking about productivity, coaching do you have an example of a struggle or a challenge that you personally, or that you’ve seen people go through? And how would you think about working through that?

Alexis: [22:27] I’ll tell you the two big ones that I see all of the time. It’s that we don’t have enough time for deep work and there’s way too many meetings. So our schedule, our day, is just filled up with other people taking our time, essentially, and there’s never enough time for us to do our work. And then the other one is just email and messaging overload.

Damianne: [22:46] Those resonate. 

Alexis: [22:49] I think that these are the most common and so how do we work through them? I think there’s a couple of ways. With the calendar, it’s really about kind of doing a calendar audit and saying, okay, do these meetings make sense?

I’ll give you an example. I had one client who, when he came to me, he had 35 hours a week of recurring meetings in a 40 hour work week. What’s left. Right. It’s like, you barely go to the bathroom at that point. He’s a really smart guy. He was very successful and it’s just, these things are additive and he wanted to be available. And as his team got bigger, he had worked more one-on-one meetings and as his skip level employees wanted to meet with him, well he didn’t want to leave them out so he gave them time on his calendar.

And so we started out by just kind of looking at what’s there. Are these one-on-ones with people you need to be having one-on-ones with. Are these meetings that could be emails? What are these things? And so we really immediately were able to see he had 17 half-hour skip level, direct report meetings every week. We don’t need that. We’re going to instead turn that into office hours. We’re going to set up an hour a week of office hours that skip-level employees can book with him if they need it, but we’re not going to have just a recurring meeting on the calendar every single week. We took things that were status update meetings, and we said if it’s just a status update meeting, let’s come up with a format that can be done via email so that we don’t have to all sit in a room so that we can hear some information. Instead let’s let people digest that at their own times.

 We took meetings that were on there just for social capital. It’s like, yeah, I don’t really have work going on with this person, but they’re the department head of another department and we really should stay friendly with each other. We turned all of those into lunch meetings because you have to eat, you can talk socially while you eat. So going through and saying where can I pull back? Where can I cancel things altogether? Where can I just shorten the length of certain meetings? Where can I reduce the frequency? Where can I turn this into something else? Where can I send somebody in my stead?

 Maybe I have an employee who has really taken the lead on this project. Maybe I don’t need to be in this meeting anymore, and instead that person can just send me a roll up. So we do a lot of calendar audit kind of work like that. It doesn’t have to be done just once because six months from now, there’ll be more meetings on your calendar that have just gotten there, that they seemed like a good thing at the time.

Damianne: [25:00] So what I’m hearing is it’s really about thinking about what the intention is that you have, what the impact is that you’re trying to create, and then thinking a bit more creatively about how can you redesign things to have that impact. And one of the dangers we know that we all run across is that we continue doing things the way that they’ve been done. And the only way to change that is to stop.

Alexis: [25:26] Yeah. Yeah. And it feels scary. And I think a lot of times what I run up against with people is that they’re scared to do these things because they rightfully worry about other people? They don’t want the person who’s meeting their canceling to feel bad and to feel like they’re not important.

And so we come back to communication. It comes back to really explicitly saying to people I’m trying to work on my own time management and productivity and this meeting, I don’t think it’s probably serving either of us right now, but I want to be available to you. And so if you need me, you’re more than welcome to schedule a meeting with me, but we’re going to take it off the calendar as a regular thing so that we both aren’t sitting there wondering what we’re going to talk about in this meeting. And so I think that it’s kind of that explicit communication that we talked about that’s really important as well as we start to make these changes.

Damianne: [26:12] One reason that I like to put things in the calendar is because sometimes I can lose track of how long it’s been,since I’ve done something since I’ve talked to somebody. And so I really like the idea of if it matters to you, put it in the calendar and then by auditing the calendar every once in a while, maybe you can see maybe where you are dropping the ball or where you might need to shift or change something. One thing we do know is that if a meeting is scheduled, the meeting is probably happening, whether or not you really do need to meet.

Alexis: [26:43] Right. Yeah. And I think that’s a key too. Sometimes people say, well, we have to have this meeting on the schedule because everybody’s schedule is so booked up that if we take it off, then we’re not going to be able to find a time to meet. And that’s reasonable.

 That’s a reasonable thing for people to be thinking and feeling. And so being able to then say, okay, let’s leave it on, but now every person who is invited to this meeting has a mandate that if they don’t need the meeting, they have to raise their hand and say, I don’t need this meeting today so that we can all take it off our calendar if we all agree we don’t need it.

Urgent versus Important [27:15]

Damianne: [27:15] Yeah I was talking to some people recently and one of the conversations we were having was about when things are urgent versus important and how sometimes urgent things prevent you from getting to the important things. But urgent doesn’t actually necessarily mean important; it just means it needs to be done right now.

And so I found that a very interesting perspective and way to think about it, because you really do need to plan ahead in order to be able to have time to get to the important things.

Alexis: [27:48] Yeah, I think you’re right. And I think that when people look at that urgent important matrix, there are things that are very urgent and very important and obviously we have to do these first. And then there are the things that are very important, but not very urgent. And what happens is if we don’t plan for them in advance, if we don’t make time on our schedules to do the work, they pop over into that quadrant of very urgent, very important, and now it kind of blows everything else out of the water. 

And so one of the strategies that I use with my clients around just that very concept is spend the first hour of your workday, your first non meeting work hour of your day, don’t check messages, don’t check email. Just work on whatever that important project is just for an hour, because what you’ll see is that then you’re actually able to make progress on it in a way that if you’re just hoping you’ll find the time, it just won’t happen.

 Also if we start with email, if we start with messaging, we’re social people. If you start by opening your email, you could be in email all day long, get to the end of the day, realize that you’ve been working all day long and somehow you have crossed nothing off your to-do list.

Purpose and intention [28:54]

Damianne: [28:54] That’s very true. How do you think about the concepts of purpose and intention and the whole idea of living in a way that’s purposeful or with intention?

Alexis: [29:06] I think we feel better when we’re doing the things we want to be doing as I guess the way that I would put it. And so I don’t know that I would necessarily use the words, purpose or intention; I guess intention, I don’t know, purpose. I think that people feel like they need to have this grand purpose and they need to know exactly where they want to go in life and what they want to do. I’ve just never found that personally as necessary as I think some people find it. 

For me, I feel like I want to know every day that the things I did were more important than the things I didn’t do. I want to feel good at the end of the day. I want to work with people who I enjoy working with and who intellectually stimulate me. I want to know that I spent my time doing something that seems worthwhile, that if you look at the scale of bad, neutral, good was on the neutral to good side of things. But I don’t know that having this one purpose or really even having it defined is totally necessary to be living a life of intention.

 I think that we sometimes give college kids this false sense that just follow your passion. And the reality is that most people’s passions don’t equal a great career either. And so I think there’s a place for having a career that you are good at, you enjoy, that is on that neutral to good scale, but it doesn’t have to necessarily be your passion or your purpose because sometimes those things are misaligned. 

On the other side, we see people who become lawyers specifically or doctors, and they go through all this training and they have this big goal of being an attorney and being a doctor or whatever and then they get there and they’d hate the day-to-day experience of it. And so for me, I value the day-to-day experience a bit more than I value sort of the bigger picture. That’s the way I kind of look at it, but that’s just me. I know that lots of people feel very differently.

Damianne: [30:48] There are different things when I think about passion versus purpose. I think about do they have to be aligned? Is your passion your purpose. Is there a purpose or is there being purposeful, which is a very different way of looking at things in terms of not just being carried along in the stream, but I’m choosing this is what I’m going to do right now. This is what I am going to do, because it makes me happy, because I’m serving people, because the most important thing is for my parents to love me. It gets complicated because sometimes we try to apply the same metrics to the whole idea of purpose or passion but our weights, our criteria are all different. 

Alexis: [31:38] What’s really interesting too in what you’ve just said there, because I believe very strongly in being purposeful, but I don’t know that that means I have to have a purpose. Right. It’s like, in some ways, like having a purpose feels almost confining, like I have to just do everything there, but do I want to be purposeful? Yes, of course. I definitely want to be doing the things that I’m intending to do that I’m choosing to do, because it makes me happy because it serves my goals, because it makes other people happy that I’m around. And so it’s interesting just how language works. When you phrased it in that way, it resonated so much more with me than just purpose.

Damianne: [32:14] Yeah. And I’ve been thinking more and more about it that way. One of my recent interviews was about the concept called regenerative purpose, which was new to me. But even that aside, I think we can feel like we’re doing something that’s worthwhile and it’s not this magical realm. It’s not the whole idea of that one thing that is the utopian dream, which is the kind of reverent terms that we sometimes use around the idea of purpose. And I think that is very daunting and is very stressful and constraining. So I would like to explore how we can open that up definitely.

Alexis: [33:01] Yeah. Yeah. That’s super interesting.

Invitation/Challenge [33:04]

Damianne: [33:04] Do you have an invitation or a challenge for listeners, something that you think will help them as one of the first steps they can take towards whatever their goal is?

Alexis: [33:14] Yes. I really think it comes to actions. And so either I sent you a link or I will send you a link, but I have something that people can download from my website, which is a distraction action plan. And so it really just helps you to identify what those distractions are that are very specific to you. 

I named mine, right? It’s other people and notifications. This may be very different for you. We all have different things that are distracting us. Identifying what those are can immediately give you some additional time back. And once we have some additional time back then it’s much easier to start putting the work into the other things that you may want to do, or other strategies that we may want to try. But I feel like when we are constantly distracted, we just feel like we’re being pulled in so many different directions, it can be really hard to slow down enough to help us move towards other goals.

Importance of play [34:01]

Damianne: [34:01] You talk about the importance of productivity, but I read in one of your posts that it’s also important to play. And so I’m going to ask what’s your favorite way to play and why do you think play is important?

Alexis: [34:13] I think productivity is just doing exactly what you want, so doing what we set out to do. I often refer to myself as a very driven, lazy person because I think the reason productivity matters so much to me is because I want to have a lot of time to play. I want to have a lot of time to do whatever I want. And so right now, in the COVID world, this means I’m doing a lot of reading. It means I’m doing a lot of crocheting. It means I’m watching movies with my kids. I love to cook, and so it means I’m making elaborate meals because that’s something we can do in our house. When we can ever get back into the world, it means that I really like food and travel, so being able to take a couple of vacations every year. I’m someone who has never checked email on vacation so that’s like a complete disconnect; I love doing that. And then I love trying new restaurants and things like that. So lots of things, many things that I like to do outside of work. And I think that’s why it’s important to be efficient with what we do so that we have as much time as we want to do all the things that we want to do outside of work.

Waking up and alarms [35:13]

Damianne: [35:13] As we were talking earlier a thought came to my mind about alarms. When you wake up in the morning, do you wake up to an alarm?

Alexis: [35:22] Oh, yeah. Waking up as the hardest part of my day. In fact, this morning before we talked, I hit the snooze three times on my alarm. I’m a night person who lives in the real world, you know?

Damianne: [35:34] So you don’t always get to wake up at the time you want to wake up, right? 

Alexis: [35:38] My natural body rhythm is from like, I would go to sleep around 1:30 or 2:00 and wake up at 9:30 or 10, and that just does not fit into the world of having children who go to school and need breakfast and all of that. So I try to get at least eight hours of sleep, but I wake up to an alarm every single day.

Damianne: [35:58] This is so funny because it’s such the opposite of me. I set alarm most nights but my alarm means get out of bed now, if you’re not already out of bed. And if I wake up to my alarm, I am cranky. And I know this is part of the story that I tell myself, this is part of my mindset, but I think it was when I was in high school, I think I missed the bus one too many times because I slept through my alarm and I decided, okay, when the alarm goes off, you get out of bed and that’s it. And since then, that’s kind of been my routine, but it’s so interesting when I share space with people and I hear the alarms go off because that used to be me.

Alexis: [36:44] I wish. It’s one of those things where, you know, thinking about just everyone has different brains. I wish I could be a morning person. It would be so much easier, but the reality is I’m not.

Damianne: [36:54] Yeah, we all have different chronotypes.

The impact of COVID [36:57]

So we’re in COVID and whether or not we wanted to, some of us it’s affected more, but it’s affected all of us in some way. Do you notice any change in your work with clients from before to now, or has your approach or the types of interactions you have changed at all?

Alexis: [37:16] Yeah. I mean, I think that ever since the beginning of COVID the main thing that people have been struggling with is just how do I work around my family, or how do I deal with the isolation of being the only person in my house. I think there’s a lot of work around boundaries that we’re doing now because our boundaries have been completely obliterated in COVID. And I think that the way that this is all rolled out, at least in the US, is that at the beginning it was like, okay, we’re going to be home for a couple of weeks. And then it was like, okay, we’re going to be home for two months. And then, you know, eventually they stopped giving the timelines. But what that meant was that we never had a chance to say like, Oh, we’re going to be doing things differently for some undefined period of time so we should figure out how that’s going to work. Instead it was just like band-aids, band-aids, band-aids and then people started to realize that either they’re working literally all the time or they’ve got… 

I have many, many clients who have come back from maternity leave into COVID, so they’re at home with a newborn doing a full-time job, no childcare. And so just literally, how do we actually get work done and attend to the needs of our families and ourselves all within the same space, all within the same timeframes. And so there’s just a lot of work on structure and boundaries, and communication is where it’s headed.

I think it’s maybe less about my personal productivity and more about how am I interacting as part of the system.

Damianne: [38:45] Yeah, it’s so interesting because I think that’s probably one of the biggest, most challenging things right now. Is that we don’t really know what to expect or when we’re going to be out of this. And sometimes I feel like we’re just jumping from stone to stone, but really we haven’t seen the path through that river yet.

Alexis: [39:02] And I think that also it’s kind of come back to that constant iteration, we don’t know because I don’t think there is a clear path. It’s like the school’s open and then the schools shut down. Maybe your child is in a daycare and then somebody at that daycare gets COVID, and so now it’s shut down. We’re in this state of kind of constant iteration. I don’t think there is a clear path.

Damianne: [39:22] It’s not possible.

Alexis: [39:23] No, it’s not possible and that’s really hard for humans, right? We want there to be a clear path, just do this and it’ll work. That’s just, unfortunately I don’t think the reality that we’re in.

Damianne: [39:35] I fall into this trap as well, because I would like to believe that’s the heads of the country, the heads of the companies; I would like to believe that the people in charge know what they’re doing and it doesn’t look like they do because they don’t. And I think I have to be careful not to hold them to some unreasonable standard because who can possibly know actually.

Alexis: [40:00] Well, yeah. I would say like, you know, where you are, you might say, well, yes, how could they possibly know and where I am in the U S we can say, Oh, they’re actively not doing anything; they’re actively deciding science isn’t important. 

Damianne: [40:13] Well, yes, there are definitely different places along that continuum, for sure. 

Thank you so much for talking to me. People can find your social links and your website, in the show notes. I also noticed that you have some courses that people can purchase about how they can do more and stress less.

You teach on Udemy and you also have them on your website. And I see you’ve taught over 24,000 students with great reviews. 

Recommended media [40:41]

So I encourage listeners to check them out and for our last question today, do you have any books, media podcasts that you recommend listeners check out? 

Alexis: [40:51] Well, you know, this is not going to be about productivity, but my favorite podcast these days, because I think we’re all in like the 24 hour news cycle is I listened to NPR’s Up First podcast in the mornings. It’s 10 minutes of news. And I don’t look at any other news all day long. It just gives me just enough.

So if you’re looking to maybe get away from checking the news and the COVID counts and everything 50 times a day, you know, pick that one or pick some news source that you trust and just limit your news to just that every day, because you will get the important stuff without feeling like you have to just be in it all day long.

 That’s the last thing that I’ll leave there, but thank you so much for having me on. It’s been such a fun conversation.

Damianne: [41:32] It’s been my pleasure. Thank you. 

I want to know every day that the things I did were more important than the things I didn’t do. I want to feel good at the end of the day. I want to work with people who I enjoy working with and who intellectually stimulate me.


It’s important to be efficient with what we do so that we have as much time as we want to do all the things that we want to do outside of work.

About the Author
I'm a curious problem solver.

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