According to our next podcast guest Dr Frank Buck, staying productive is all about having a system in which you can put all the information and all the tasks you need to complete. Dr Frank Buck spent years working in the school system and crafting his organizational skills. He went all the way from using the tickler files, to the day timers and for the past 19 years he's gone digital. The tips he'll share today can be applied on an individual as well as on an organizational level, and he was so kind to introduce us to the way he uses his favorite apps.
Workpuls: Hello everyone, I’m Bojana from Workpuls and welcome to another episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks. Today we have with us Dr Frank Buck. He is the president of Frank Buck Consulting and he's sort of a time management expert. So we're going to hear more about what he has to say about time management and productivity, what it is that he does as a consultant and how he helps other people and companies manage their time better and increase productivity. Welcome, Frank, thank you for joining us.
Dr Frank Buck: Thank you. It's a pleasure. I appreciate you having me.
Workpuls: Can you tell us for starters in a bit more detail than I did, what it is exactly that you and your company do?
Dr Frank Buck: Okay. Well, first of all, this is a second career for me. I was in education for almost 30 years as a junior high Band Director, and then Assistant Principal, Principal, Central Office Administrator. So, heavy background in working with large school operations and I retired from public education in 2009, really to give a second career a chance to flourish in organization, time management, productivity. I guess one of the big accomplishments early on was writing my first book Get Organized: Time Management for School Leaders. And you don't have to be a school principal to get something from the book, it's really a book anybody could use, now in its second edition. But I write, speak, consult on organization, time management writer, weekly newspaper column. I live in the United States and have been as far away as Australia to talk with people about getting their desk clean, getting their email empty, how to stay on top of all of the stuff that we've got coming at us. When doing this stuff is not the hard part, keeping up with all that we have to do, is the hard part.
Workpuls: Yeah, I agree, that completely makes sense. So let's start off with some basics. Can you tell us, what do you consider to be a definition of productivity sort of? What would you say productivity is?
Dr Frank Buck: Productivity is getting the things done that are important to you, the people around you, and they're going to make a lasting difference. And the thing is, we could fill our days with little activities and never get it all done, and never accomplish anything that really matters. So it is much about what to say no to, as what to say yes to, and saying yes to the right things and having a methodology and the tools to help you accomplish those. That's what makes you a productive person.
Workpuls: And do you think that can be measured? Can productivity be measured? How can it be measured?
Dr Frank Buck: Good question, and I think your question is better than my answer because there's really no magic formula that will say, “Okay, your day to day was a 95.” And there's so many different ways we could look at it. A coworker could look at you and say that you had a very productive day. While you might feel that you didn't, or vice versa. So, gosh, I wish one day there was a way to really measure it. But so often when you try to put a number on something, your numbers turn out to be wrong.
Workpuls: Well, I spoke to some different people from different industries doing different things. A lot of them measure productivity based on results that the people are getting through what they're doing and not by actually their day to day actions, but what they were able to achieve so it's a more of a result-based thing than an immediate thing. Okay, so you do consultancy, besides I guess you do a lot for schools given that you have been in education for a long time, but I'm assuming you also work with companies and individuals and companies of all sizes and organizations, different types of organizations.
Dr Frank Buck: Yeah, you're absolutely right, just because of the nature of my background, so many of the conferences where I speak, and so many of the organizations that bring me in are school based. Say a school system that wants to bring all of their administrators together or an individual school that wants something for all of their teachers to help them stay on top of their day. But then I've also worked with lawyers, health professionals, insurance agents, because we've all got those challenges of all the things that we have to do and needing a way to do them.
Workpuls: And is there like a time management formula that can be applied across the board or it's different for lawyers, for healthcare workers, for teachers or whatever the industry is?
Dr Frank Buck: We’re all going to have different nuances, but I think there's some very common themes that run through all of them. The most basic of which is to have a system and you're putting everything in the system. The biggest problem that we have today is people just trying to think they can remember what they have to do, “Oh, yeah, I need to call Bob. Yeah, I can do that, call Bob. Oh, and call Sue and I need to talk to her about these three things.”
But about the fourth one of those, they just start falling through the cracks and the stress level goes up and the bad thing is we start beating ourselves up about how stupid we are, “A simple phone call and I forgot to do it.” Well, what we need is a system where we can just throw the things at the system and then concentrate on what's in front of us. I have several hundred things I could be doing right now but I'm not thinking about a single one. I'm thinking about this interview right now, because I know everything else is in the system, everything else can wait and the things I need to see today are on the list for today. And the things that I need to see two weeks from Tuesday are on that list and I'm going to see them two weeks from Tuesday, and the stress level’s very, very low. I learned that kind of thing when I was a senior in high school so very different tools. We didn't have smartphones in 1976. So over the years, the tools change but some of the principles behind it stay the same. The principle of put it in a system, whether it's write it down as soon as it occurs to you in a paper planner or whether it's put it in an app on your smartphone as soon as it occurs to you. And then, some type of system that gives it back to you at the right time. Whether it's put a due date on it, or put it on a particular page and a paper planner, so that it's out of sight, out of mind when you don't need it. And it's front and center when you do need it.
Workpuls: It seems so simple. It seems like a simple tip. I'm looking for my own example. I was a person who just would rather remember everything. And just as how I have to remember that, I have to do that. I'll remember that. Then at some point, I realized there's so many things to do. And like you said, the stress level goes up. And I just keep worrying, have I forgot anything else? Is there anything else that I should do? So having sort of a to do list and I adding things to that list to any kind of system. Like you said whether it's an app or a paper, whatever it is, it really helped a lot, at least helped me feel more relieved because I know everything that I need to do. There's no need for me to keep worrying if I forgot something, because I know I didn’t, obviously. But yeah, I completely get that. So that would be like one of, for first starters and it's a commonality between I guess, all industries and all individuals to have a system like that.
Dr Frank Buck: Yeah. If I could just tell you a quick little story. My first year as a principal. So I'm the new principal and a faculty of people, most of whom were a little older than I was, and most of them who had been at that school for a number of years; so I was definitely the new guy on the block. And this was 1997 so I had my day timer. This was before everything was so digital. And the teachers knew, they're always seeing me with this little book. And every time something came up, every time I promised them I would do something or every time they told me something that I needed to act on or needed to know about. I'm always opening this book and jotting it down and they start to wonder about this little book, but what they notice is whatever got written down in that book, just magically seemed to get done. And so when we had one of those professional development days, and if you talk to teachers, they'll tell you some of the worst happens there. You can get some of the worst professional development in. So I decided just for our professional development that day, just to show them what I did, just to show them what I was doing with the book. How here are these two facing pages for each day. On the left side here are my appointments and my do's. And the right hand page, that's notes from phone calls. That's notes from one on one meetings. That's sort of like the little memo pad that lists by the phone, anything I needed to jot down about anything that came up during the day was there. And at the end of the day, you just looked to see, alright what do I need to do about any of those things that I wrote down, put them on the pages for the future days, and then at the end of the day, you're done. And they're like, “That’s so easy.” And then most of them went out and got a little book. And now today, I don't carry my little book, it’s my phone that synced to my computer, but the idea is the same that things go into that system and then you see them at the right time along with the details that you need to do to get that particular thing accomplished.
Workpuls: Okay, is there anything, any other commonalities between industries or having it all in the system is the one?
Dr Frank Buck: Having a system putting it all in the system is the big one, and if a business is looking for what's the magic tool…One of the things that I've found over the years is trying to mandate that we're all going to use this digital To-Do-List, we're all going to use this piece of software is maybe not the best bet. Because one of the things that I tell people is personal and work, you're the same person, put it in the same system. Don't have a calendar over here for work and a calendar over here for personal but you want to be able to see the two things together, see how they integrate, same things with your to-dos. Let those things integrate so that you can go to one place and see everything, personal, professional, your hobbies, your goals, there it is. We might have a piece of software that sort of is outlining the major goals for the organization and sub goals, but then when it comes to the day to day tasks, the little phone calls that we make, the little memos that we're going to need to write, that the important thing is that everybody has good tools to do it. I don't think the tools need to be exactly the same across the board.
Workpuls: That's interesting, because usually in companies, it’s “this is a tool that we're going be using then the entire company uses it” And switching workplaces, you have to get a new tool and start learning a new tool and use a new tool.
Dr Frank Buck: And half the company says, “Yeah, this tool will pass.” Or they're like, “Okay, yeah, well, that's the company tool, but really, I got this little memo pad over here where I am writing down. This little memo pad over here is really the thing that's driving my day.” People find a way around what the company mandates you must do. To me, it's such a personal decision. And I tell people, what's the best tool, the best tool is the tool that you are comfortable with and the tool you're actually going to use. I'm a very digital person. My wife is very organized, but she really likes pencil and paper. And that's okay. She's got a system, it works for her. People look at her as being very organized, nothing falls through the cracks, and she can go back to this folder to this piece of paper that's in there and say, “On this particular date, we had this phone call and this is what I told you, I would do and this is what you said.” And the person just goes, “Oh, okay.” No argument.
Workpuls: Yeah, well, I guess it really depends on what people are comfortable with what they like the most. We are using an online software, an online tool for our to-do-list at work and I do have a part that is mine. But I still like, some of the things I still like writing them in the notebook, I have a notebook with me always and I like writing them down in the notebook for some reason. I feel I'm going to remember them much better if I write them down in my notebook, rather, if I put them there in that, like the digital space. I know it's there, but still it makes more sense for me to do it by the hand. While on the other hand, some of my co-workers prefer the online tool, and wouldn't do anything else besides using the online tool. So it's really individual and that's I think, a mistake a lot of people make is what the company says that's how it's going to be. You mentioned, yes, people find other ways but I don't know if a lot of them think of it that way. I'm guessing that the majority of people are like, “Okay, the company said we should use this so this is what we're using,” and that's it. There's no other way around it. It's fine for the group for projects, for group stuff. But for individual things, I think it should, it can be and it is more flexible within a team.
Dr Frank Buck: Absolutely. And even with my own workflow as digital as I became. I've been keeping my calendar and my to-do-list and digital since the year 2001. But the thing that for me, remained paper based throughout the rest of my career as a principal and a central office administrator, was having a paper journal for those phone calls, those little one on one meetings, because… Think about it if you're in a meeting with one person, you can't sit there with a laptop and take notes. You can't sit there and take notes on your phone. They'll think that you are checking Facebook and you're emailing and you're not paying one bit of attention. You could be taking copious notes on that interaction with them, but socially, it's going to come across all wrong. Whereas if it's a paper journal, they’re thinking, this is really important, this is important enough, you're taking notes on it. And the thing is, when I'm on a phone call, I can be taking notes in real time, so that when the phone call is over, close the book, the note taking is over, I can then go right on to the next thing without having to recopy something or type something into a computer. And possibly that little ball dropped through the cracks, because with somebody else's at the door, well, I'll record that later and then yet, forget it. So it's something that's happening in real time. And also as a principal thing, we're so many little interactions that were so minor, but you did need to log them just to sort of cover yourself. Like here is this phone call that you thought was nothing, you handled it with that mad parent. But then three weeks later, they called the superintendent with a whole different story. Boy to be able to flip back a few pages in that journal and say, we talked on this particular date and here was her concern. And here's what I told her I would do. And here was her response. That is worth just so much and it takes up that much room on the shelf once the journal is…Once the journal’s filled, save them forever. You never know when you might need something.
Workpuls: When it comes to productivity in the workplace and increasing productivity in the workplace, almost every employer or manager wants to have a more productive team, wants to maximize productivity in their team. What's the first thing they should do if they want to take that approach?
Dr Frank Buck: I think the first thing to do is establishing that system to give you a place to put things. In other words, if we were preparing a meal and we're cooking spaghetti, we're going to need a container to put that spaghetti in. So once you've got that container, once you've got the place to put it. Let me throw out a word and I bet this word is going to resonate as a problem with everybody who watches this interview – interruptions.
I can't get anything done. That's why we come early. That's why we stay late. That's why we come in on Saturdays and we say, “Gosh, I can get more done on a Saturday morning than I can the whole week because there are no interruptions.” Even there's studies that show things like executives are interrupted, some studies say every three minutes, some say every eight minutes and then studies say that when you're interrupted, it takes you 23 minutes to get back on track. So if you're interrupted every eight minutes and then it takes you 23 to get back on track, you're pretty much interrupted before you ever got back on track. And that's the real pitiful part, is that when we're interrupted, generally, we don't get back on to the thing that it was that we were doing. Because well, how do we sort of eliminate the interruptions? Well, why do I interrupt somebody? Because that thing is on my mind right now and before I forget about it, let me transfer it to that other person.
Now, if I've got a system that's going to keep me from forgetting about it, and it could be something, it could be a paper planner. And when I think about that question, I need to ask Bob, if I jot it in my planner, instead of getting up walking down the hall and interrupting Bob, then that saves Bob some time. And then when I think about something else to talk to Bob about, let me jot that down also and the next. So instead of going and interrupting Bob six times before the morning’s over, chances are he's probably going to begin to walk in the door to interrupt me. And when he does, with what he wanted to talk to me about, I can just run through the list that I have with him. And if I'm doing it digitally, then anything I need to talk to Bob about I just put Bob somewhere in the task that when he calls me on the phone or when he comes walking in the door, I'm just going to search for his name and boom, there's everything I wanted to talk to him about in one nicely, little list, and we can just go right through those things. So, once people say, “How do we minimize interruptions?” It's have that place to hold things and let the other person work. And then when we get together, let's go through a whole bunch of things with each other, where we can be fully present with each other, instead of worrying about, “Gosh, I wish she'd get him out of my office so I can get back to the project I was working on.” That's where I would start.
Workpuls: It's much easier said than done. That's why we have coaches and consultants and everything and it's much easier done on an individual level. I can start doing that for myself, but how am I going to transfer that to my employees? How am I going to make my whole team or my whole organization work in the same way – how does one do that?
Dr Frank Buck: Yeah, I think started by modeling it and whether you're the low man on the totem pole or low woman on the totem pole, so to speak, or whether you come in as the top dog. Whether you come in, say as the principal, his idea, start by modeling and let other people see that, “you can count on him. He comes through, he's not missing deadlines.” And so what happens is, you start to get more responsibility and responsibility for more substantial things and people start to see how you handle the little things. That you're out, that you've got that memo pad or you've got that tool, that you're immediately throwing something into, and that you're not just stopping what you're doing to immediately jump over to this other thing, but you're throwing into the system and then getting back to work on that project you were working on. And then you handle the other things in a timely fashion. They start to see you and wonder how does he do it? Share your secret with me and then that starts to spread. Every New Year's day everybody wants to, this is the year I'm going to lose weight and this is the year I'm going to get organized. And by February, people end up giving up on both. But like you say towards the beginning of this interview, you something like, that’s easy and it is. It's ridiculously easy, and that's one of the things that people tell me after workshops. I think of one particular gentleman who emailed me about six months after I had done a workshop in the Quebec area, this work was for a school board in Canada. But he said, “Gosh, you know, the things that you talked about, I don't know why I didn't think of some of those things myself. It's so easy.”
And he said, “Can I share a story with you?”
I said, “Sure.”
He said, “You see, my Secretary came in one morning, and she closed the door and she sat down across my desk. And from the look on her face, I could tell that this was going to be a heavy conversation. And she looked at me. And she said: :I'm going to get right to the point. Are you leaving us?” I said: “No. What are you talking about?” She said: “Your desk. All the papers are gone. And all the paper from everywhere. It's all gone. What happened? Are you leaving?” And then he said: “No.” And so he just went through some of the things that we talked about, like one of the things I always started the workshop with is, even though I'm a very digital person, I talk about paper because we're all getting that paper for other person. So an old time management tool called the tickler file, something I learned from my dad when I was eight years old. He was a lawyer in a one man shop. He didn't have a secretary. He didn't have a bookkeeper. He did everything himself. So when I would go and hang out his office as a little kid, here was this one drawer, he would open first thing in the morning and they were these folders 1, 2, 3, 4 up to 31. So, okay, today is the 22nd of the month that we're having this interview, he pulled out folder number 22, and there was all the paperwork he needed for that day. Motions he was going to file at the courthouse, packets of paper for the people who were coming to see him that day. I was like there was his whole day in that one folder, and as an eight year old kid that intrigued me. And then at the end of the day, after having taken notes and all those little packets of papers, he just filed them according to when those people were going to come to see him again, his desk is clean at the end of the day. So when I graduate college, I become a teacher and here comes the paper and nobody, there's not a course in college that teaches you how to deal with that. But I had my tickler file from day one, those 1,3,31 folders and just when do I need to see this again, file it for then. And from the very first other much more experienced teachers kind of looked at me like this new kid has really got his act together.
And it was so simple. It was so simple as an eight year old I understood it. And there's some 40 year olds that don't get it yet.
Workpuls: Yeah, that's like, it’s really almost all of those tips for productivity, for individual or team productivity. Most of them are incredibly simple. It's just that we aren't really trying to make a habit out of them I guess. That's one of the reasons I found that they usually fail. But yeah, that's also a good system even in the digital age, that's a good system, the one with the papers. It's amazing.
Dr Frank Buck: Yeah. And then, when I went to the day timer, and it was really like the tickler file. Yeah, with a tickler file, when do I want to see this piece of paper again, put it in the file for that day. When do I want to do this task again? When do I want to do this task? When do I want to think about this task? Open the book to that day, and write it down so the principle stayed the same, even though it is a different tool. Today it's put it in my digital task list. I use Remember the Milk, but there's so many out there that are good, but if I put it in there and give it a due date, for when I want to see it again, then it becomes just like the tickler file. It's just a digital version. So it's like I've got the same principles working, whether it's paper, or whether it's digital. But again, the important thing is, it's got to be easy because as people, it's human nature, we're going to do what's easy. If I've got two things on my list: buy shoestrings and solve world hunger, at the end of the day, one of those things is going to get done because buy shoestrings, I know where to go to get them. I know how much they cost, I know how to install them once I get them home. Solve world hunger, that's much more worthy, but how do you even get started so it's going to sit on the list day after day after month after month. So breaking things down so that they're easy. And so that when I look at that list, having the list of what to do is one thing and really doing the list is another. So if it is so attractive that I can't wait. If I've broken things down into, call this person and there's the phone number on the list right beside the name so that I'll have to look up the phone number and I can tap on it. And in the little attached notes section, there are the five things that I'm going to discuss with that person. It's a no brainer, pick up a phone and give him a call right then so that there's just no resistance. People say, if you want to exercise, let your exercise clothes out and that will eliminate some of the resistance, absolutely. One time I looked at it, I'd looked at statistics on popcorn consumption in the United States. When I looked at 1980, versus 1990, it had doubled. Well, the population hadn't doubled and there wasn't this huge weight gain in 10 years but think about what happened between 1980 and 1990, as far as popcorn - microwave popcorn. You are suddenly, instead of get the boiler, get the oil, get the popcorn kernels, put it all in there, stand there shaking the boiler back and forth over the stove that you had the heat. When it became: throw the bag in the microwave oven and push the button that said popcorn, it made it easier and popcorn consumption doubled 10 years later. We just got to do the same thing with all of our tasks that we were able to do with popcorn - to make it easy. And that's the hard part, is making it easy. Well, I won't say the hard part. It's getting into the routine. It's getting into the routine of before you go to bed, look at tomorrow and structure it so you can't wait to get started. I have what I call my Fab Five, at the very top of the list, that if I only get those five things done during the day, I would still have had a successful day. So making the decision of what those five are going to be and wording them so that they're very clear, and they're very easy to do, and they have all the details with them. That is so worth the couple of minutes that it takes to do. And then there are a whole bunch of other things as you get past the Fab Five, then here's some things I'd like to accomplish during the morning and things that would go well during the afternoon, and then things for the evening so that I'm sort of batching related items together. So as I go through the day, I can really just throw work through the list in order with the full confidence that I'm not forgetting anything. And that when I get to tonight, I'll plan tomorrow, tonight.
Workpuls: Okay, and I'd like to ask you, when you first start working with a company or a leader, what were the biggest push backs, let's say that you get on some of the tips and some of the ideas and some of the systems that you're creating for them?
Dr Frank Buck: I think for anybody, change. We’ve got so much to do already and now we're going to have to add to it, new procedures or new tools, and teaching people how to do those particular things. Maybe the boss sees that this is a problem and the boss brings you in, but not everybody on the team shares the idea that this is the problem. And it's like, “Oh boy they brought in somebody else. It’s going to be more work for us.” So, breaking down those barriers, I think one of the most successful days that I had this was a school system in a neighboring state and the Supervisor I think she was very wise to do this. She brought in her principles, and she brought in her central office people, the bookkeepers, the secretary, so forth. And I demonstrated task lists, we email, this sort of thing. And then in the afternoon, spent the time just going from office to office there at the central office. So I went in and sat down with one of her financial people and she said “My email, I'm just covered up in email”. They were using Gmail, which I use Gmail, I love it. She had 52,000 emails in her inbox. And she said, “You know, I don't know when I might need some of these.”
And I said, “Well, how many of them do you really need to do something about?”
And they're like, “Well, there were two that had just come in that she really needed.” Everything else was really, I need to get to it if I need it. So I just showed her a simple little system and most of it was just showing her how to archive. So we archived the 52,000 minus two. It took Gmail about five minutes. So I was like, get a cup of coffee, but it was a bit of a check at the top. And we look at this little question that says, Do you want this action to apply to the 50 messages on this page or the 52,582 that are in your inbox?
We said, apply to it all. And then click archive. Go get a cup of coffee, five minutes later, boom there too sitting there and she's said “Where the others?” So well, we'll just click over here on all mail and then you can search, just like you would have searched your inbox only now your inbox is sort of like the metal mailbox in front of your house. It's empty every day. And you go to it and here's the new stuff and then you just handle it. And I showed her how to take emails that related to a place she needed to be, we're having this meeting on Tuesday at five o'clock and here's the agenda. How to just take that and put it on her calendar so that it didn't have to sit in her email and be seven screens down by the time the meeting occurred? And then one of the big things and the thing that really made me put aside my day timer back in 2001 for a digital system, think of all the emails you have that sit in your inbox because they remind you of things you have to do. So any good digital system is going to give you a way to just put those into your to-do-list. For example, with Remember the Milk, there's a special email address it gave me. I put that in my contacts and just called it remember milk. So every time I get an email and I'm reading that email, and it's like, “Oh, I need to call Sarah about this.” Just hit forward, say it's going to be to: remember milk, change the subject line to call Sarah, send, and I delete the email. And now sitting over in Remember the Milk: call Sarah. And in the note section is the entire body of the email message. And for some people, that's the revelation that oh my goodness. And now I can actually put it in the to-do-list and give it a date for when I want to see it because not everything am I going to work on today. Some of the things I can't do for a week or a month but yet they've been sitting in my email and I'm having to keep up with it all in my head. Sending reference information to Evernote. I'm a huge Evernote user. Remember the Milk is for the things I need to do and Evernote is for the reference information that I don't know when I'll need it again but when I do, I can get to it from anywhere.
Let me give you an example with Evernote, when I got the email from you, with the invitation for us to be together this morning, in an email, and I just sent that over to Evernote. And then I took and I googled you and found a picture just so that I can have a mental image of the person I'd be talking to this morning and just right click to copy that. And so now what am I going to do with it? Well, I just went over to that note in Evernote, pasted it there. And then there was the address and the phone number for your company in San Francisco, right there with your picture. Well, let me just copy and put that in. And then as I started to think to myself about what are some of the questions I might get? Or what are some of the points, I might hope that I would have an opportunity to bring out in the interview? So where am I going to write those down, is that going to be on a Kleenex, the back of a napkin, keep it up in my head. No, I just went back to that same old note and just started making a little outline. And the neat thing about it is of course what's on my computer screen now are the big pictures of you and me during this interview, so they’re taking up the whole screen. But if for some reason I wanted to get back to my notes, well, I looked at them this morning, made some changes to them. So when I pull up Evernote, look at what the very… I don't know if the audience can see the very first note is going to be the last note that you worked on. And so not only there the notes but Evernote also if you have put an image somewhere in the note, it will take that image and it will put it right there in the preview so that as you're scrolling through your notes. We're all very visual people that there's that little image that was in that note, that's often a real reminder. Oh, yeah, that's the one that I'm looking for. And then, you know, after this interview is over, I'm not going to delete that. I'll add some other notes to it when the interview post, I'll put the link to it, there. And then I'll move it to a notebook called Completed Projects. But you know, five years from now, if you call me, I'll be able to search Evernote with your name and I'll be right back to that note. And even if you don't call me, but I think of you and maybe I don't remember your name, but I remember the name of the company, or I remember the date that we did this interview, or I remember a particular word, maybe that I put in my notes. I can search for that and it'll bring up the note for me.
Workpuls: Yeah, so it's in a way more, practical than paper, in a way that you can search through it.
Dr Frank Buck: And there's the magic word, the ability to search. When you talk to young children, you can tell them that Santa Claus visits every house in the whole world in one night, and they'll believe it. But if you explain to them the card catalog system that was used to when I was a child, the title of the book that you were interested in and just the library habit. And going over to the card catalog and figuring out, what would the drawer be? And then flipping through the cards to the exact spot where that book would be if the library had that book, and if it's there, they have the book, and if not, then the library must don't have that book. And then is it checked out or not? Well going to the exact spot on the exact shelf where it would be. They'll look at you like you've got two heads. They're like, why don't you just go to the computer and search for the title of the book. That's part of our culture in so many ways now, but we still have so many people where their system is, it's all pencil and paper, and you lose that ability to search. There’s some people that say, “Well, I think it was on kind of a purple piece of paper. And I remember I wrote that telephone number sort of in the upper left hand corner.” But, gosh, it's so much easier to just think of that word. Not too long ago, my wife asked me.. someone we go to church with and what was this particular person's wife's name. Well, I had no idea either. So I just pulled up Evernote and I put in his first name, his last name, and immediately it hit on one note in Evernote. And, and that note was where I had taken the church’s directory. It was on PDF, and had just drove that PDF into a note. And so what it had hit on was inside that PDF was that husband's first name and last name. So we hit that note, because of that, I opened the note I opened the PDF and highlighted was his name and right beside his wife's name. And my wife is like, “How did you do that?” It's not magic but it sure seems like magic. It's a whole lot better than magic because this is real, magic is an illusion and this is real.
Workpuls: I know how many times I've written down something in a notebook that came to my mind when you said like purple paper or whatever. I start flipping through my notes. I know this was written somewhere near this and it was towards the beginning of the month. So it must be around here in the notebook, I'm just flipping through it, trying to find it on the one side on the other side, and I lose like 10 minutes trying to flip through the notebook to find it. When I could have just put it in a search in my Evernote or any other tool and I can pull it out within seconds.
Dr Frank Buck: Yeah, whereas even when we entered the so called Digital Age and our computers became the center of our information system, and so we set up folders within folders within folders. So if you wanted to find something, it meant knowing where you had filed it, what folder and then within that what folder, and within that what folder. And with something like Evernote, sometimes if it's just a particular word that was kind of an obscure word, but you remembered it was in that note. Searching for that one word, finds it for you or a person's name or you remember that it was in March 2016. because it was that trip that you took to such and such a place, was where you met that particular person and had that conversation. Whatever was going through your head, however, you remembered that bit of information, you can find it with just searching for that word, even without thinking about notebooks or tags or any kind of organizational system. So, to me Evernote, they say, “Well, how's it different from Word or Excel?” Well Evernote is a place for information, whereas Word for example, that's a good place to create documents.
Workpuls: That makes sense. Makes perfect sense. There's another thing I wanted to ask you and it's, regarding some of the time management methods. I'm not sure if you're teaching any of them to your clients, to the people you're working with. For example, like the Pomodoro Technique, or the time blocking or whatever it is, there are so many of them and people tried so many different things regarding that. Are there any of those that you teach, and which are they and which have proven to be the most effective I guess?
Dr Frank Buck: There's not a particular one that I teach. I don't teach the Pomodoro method and I don't teach getting things done and I don't teach Franklin Covey. But yet, there are elements of all of those. And now if someone asked me, they said “Frank with what you teach, what is it, you teach? How is it different?” What I have is the five keys. key number one, handling the paper. So having the tickler file and having a good workflow, the papers that you're handling for the day, that there's a place for incoming, a place for outgoing, and just a place to hang on to things that you're going to need some time later in the day. So key number one, being able to handle the papers. Key number two, having what I call a signature tool or two, 20 years ago would have been my day timer. Now, it's that suite of Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Remember the Milk Evernote, where everything goes there instead of being scattered on random pieces of paper. The third key, putting repeating tasks on autopilot. And I think this is where what I teach differs so much from anything else I ever saw. So many other systems are silent on how do you handle those tasks that you're going to do every week, every month, every year at the same time.
And having come from a background in education, where we are so cyclic, you start school every year and there are those things to do to get school going. You end school in May, and there are those things that you're going to have to do. So how are you going to remember those from, the tasks aren't hard. The thing is that they're hard to remember to do. So from my very earliest days as a teacher, one thing that helped me was, back when I had, I've got a tickler file. So anytime I did something and went, wait a minute, I'm not going to just be doing it right now. I'm going to be doing it now and a year from now, and a year from then. Jot it on an index card. And when it needs to be done again, throw it in the tickler file with a card pops up, do the task, refile the card for when it needs to be done again, whether it's next year, next week, next month. So that really, it's pull the file out of the drawer first thing in the morning and there it is for me, there's, there's my work for that day.
And with a digital task list, it's so easy to just put a task on there and say, repeats every May 1st, that’s so easy to do. So that's my third key. My fourth key is to handle the flood of incoming information. You might start today organized but what happens when the emails come rolling in and the people come knocking at the door. So having some way to document the phone calls and the one on one meetings, how we talked about a paper journal for documentation, so that you can just jot it down and then hang up the phone and get right back to what you were doing. How to take all the email and put it where it needs to go, put this one on your calendar, send this one to your task list and this one to Evernote. So at the end of the day, you are back to zero. And then the last thing handling multiple projects, and this is a big one for so many people. “I've got all the projects.” So how to take the big projects and break them down to individual tasks, and put those tasks on your list for given days. So that today I might work on 10 different projects, a phone call on this one, an email on that one. I may talk to one person and I'm actually working on three different projects because that's someone I happen to be in contact with a lot. So we might talk about three different projects and move the ball down the field, all three of those in a single phone call. So more or less have my own system that I call the five keys. I don't think I invented any part of any of them, the tickler file has been around for a long time. But I think how we put those together is what makes maybe one system a little different from the others. And say the Pomodoro Technique I don't teach you work for 25 minutes, take a five minute break. But definitely work breaks into your day is something that's important.
Workpuls: Okay, and in the end, I'd like to check if there are any other things that we have mentioned that you would like to give as a tip to the managers and employers who are looking to increase productivity not just of themselves, but in their entire organizations.
Dr Frank Buck: A big one is to listen to people to try to identify the things that we all feel like are problems within our organization. In other words, as an organization, do we feel that interruptions are a problem? As an organization do we feel like really knowing exactly what it is we need to do during the day? That that's a problem. Is it communication –what's the root issue here? And then coming up with the techniques or the tools that are going to solve it so that we all know where we want to wind up. Because if we can all agree on the problem and we can all agree that this is a pretty good way to solve it, we can all get on the same page, then those problems tend to go away. There's not many things out there that humans with the brainpower that we have and we're always one Google Search away from the world's knowledge. There’s not many problems that we can't handle.
Workpuls: That's true. But it really is, if we put our minds together and then we agree what's the problem. It's going to be way easier to solve than if we're just guessing what might be the problem so we can solve it.
Dr Frank Buck: Yes.
Workpuls: Well, yeah, that would be all I guess then for today. Thank you so much for participating. It was very interesting hearing on all these different techniques from the analog age to the digital age. Why have you been doing it, how have you been using the tools that you've had. And I'm guessing that people will really appreciate hearing all of this; it was very insightful. So thank you very much and I hope though, we'll get a chance to speak again soon.
Dr Frank Buck: And if I could just add for those that would like to know a little more and how do I follow up? Have I find out more about this person? If you go to my website, frankbuck.org not .com but .org, so just frankbuck.org. I've been blogging for probably over 15 years. So whatever you're looking for related to organization, time management, you're probably going to find it there on that blog. I have a weekly email list for those who are interested in joining that list, you'll see it front and center on the homepage. And for those that join, I've got two free gifts. First of all, is the first chapter of my book Get Organized: Time Management for School Leaders, you get the first chapter which shows you in depth about the tickler file, how to set it up, the kind of things to put in it, so that you get your desk clean. And then several days later, I put together an Ebook, I've talked about Remember the Milk. So I put together an E- book on how to get started with it. Here's the one time settings and how to go through. Here's where you'll find that little secret email address where you can send things to your to do list. So that it makes it easy to get up and get going and structure yours, the way that I have mine structured. So again, thank you, this has been a pleasure. It's so much fun to just talk to someone else who's interested in easy ways to make your life better, more productive.
Workpuls: Great. We'll have the link to the website in the video description on our own website as well. So everybody who wants to check it out, they can check it out there. Thanks once again and I hope you have a lovely rest of the day and we'll speak soon again.
Dr Frank Buck: Thank you.
Workpuls Productivity Talks is a podcast about productivity brought to you by everyone’s favorite productivity tracker - Workpuls. With every interview we’re bringing you new tips from people who are experts on productivity, but also from managers and founders who have found a way to really master productivity in their teams.