Workpuls is bringing you another episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks.
Compared to our other episodes, this time around we have focused on the tools that can help you organize your work, and save time for more productive activities.
Workpuls: Hi everyone! Welcome to another episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks. Today with me, I have Will Bachman, he's a co-founder and managing partner at Umbrex. They are a community of consultants, different consultants from all over the world but I’ll let him tell us a bit more about what it is that they do exactly.
Will Bachman: Thanks so much for having me! So, Umbrex, it's a global community of independent management consultants. We connect consultants with one another and we also help our clients find the right independent management consultant for their projects. We have over 800 members around the world and about 85% of our members are alumni of McKinsey, Bain or BCG - the top consulting firms.
Workpuls: Are they mostly focused on productivity and time management or they're doing all sorts of consulting?
Will Bachman: Our consultants are, like I said, alumni of big firms, typically strategy, marketing operations, big data, organization type consultants. So, productivity would definitely be something that we'd look at, particularly in operational type projects but sort of a broad range of management consultants.
Workpuls: Okay. So, let's move on to the productivity part of the interview. What would you say productivity is?
Will Bachman: Well, I would define productivity as the value generated over time. So, a lot of times people might make a mistake by thinking about productivity as in, just the number of activities over time but really, we want to look at what is the value generated over time. Can I give an example of that?
Workpuls: Yeah, of course. Of course.
Will Bachman: Alright, so let's take a call center for example, something we're all familiar with. At the most basic sort of naive level, someone might try to measure productivity as the number of calls handled per hour. But then we might realize, well, there's some representatives that are handling a lot of calls but they do a not a very good job, and a lot of those callers have to call back the next day because their issue didn't get fixed. So, we realized that maybe just the number of calls per hour is not the greatest measure of productivity.
So, then we might say, okay, well let's look instead at the number of first call resolutions, the number of calls handled per hour that are resolved the first time. And we go along for a while and that's an okay measure. But then we realized, wow, there's some reps in here that are able to upsell customers. Get the customers to go from the silver to the gold plan, to the platinum plan or to pay for the extra, warranty or to get extra phone lines or something. And we're not currently measuring that but wow, they're really generating value to the company. Maybe they even have fewer calls handled per hour because they're taking extra time to sell. So, then we could start thinking, well, we need a more sophisticated measure of productivity. Because we have some reps, we're not even incentivizing them, but they’re doing more value to the company than the reps that don't sell. So, we could look at sort of the change in lifetime customer value for those calls handled, which should be a more complicated thing to measure but the basic idea is don't measure activities, measure the value created.
Workpuls: So yeah, the measuring is definitely possible. That was going to be my next question, but it really depends on the industry I guess and the type of work the employees are doing. Just how the companies can establish what exactly to measure and what exactly to track.
Will Bachman: That's right. It’s easy to measure activities for a sales rep. You could look at number of outbound calls made per day or like we said, number of calls handled or just the number of widgets produced. But to get to the next level, we want to think about what is actually creating value for our customers. What's creating value for the cost? And you know, it can be a simple framework but requires some deep thinking. So, increasing value at the most basic level is, are there things that actually increase revenue, that generates profit for the bottom line. Are there things that someone's doing that helps reduce costs? Perhaps on an ongoing basis. You know, maybe the procurement team is able to negotiate better rates and then we get better rates over time.
So even if it takes them, if we want to measure how much savings are, they generate or it doesn't have to necessarily be revenue costs. If someone is doing something that really increases the customer experience and improves the customer experience, well that customer may be willing to return and tell us about, tell their friends about the company or someone who spends time working with employees, and helps improve the employee experience and improves in employee culture. So, it's not trivial to measure productivity because you want to think about what is the value being generated and that requires really thinking deeply about what the company exists for.
Workpuls: Okay. So, what would you say that the employers must do first if they want to increase productivity? Of course, they should focus on the value, but what's the first step they need to take?
Will Bachman: Yeah, well the first thing I'd say is take the perspective of your customer. What are the things that the company's doing that the customer would be actually willing to pay more for? So, if you stop doing that activity, would the customer demand to pay less? Or if you did more of the activity, will the customer pay more? So, there's a lot of things that a company, especially as it gets larger, starts doing and it just, we do it because we've always done. But you gotta ask yourself, “Is this adding value to our customer?” So, in terms of how to improve productivity, I think there's three steps.
The first is thinking about stop doing things that don't generate value that we consider waste. So, the whole field of lean operations has a set of things that are called sort of the seven or eight types of waste. And that's a useful framework for thinking about things that you can stop doing – one is defects. So, in manufacturing situations, obviously if you spend all this time buying raw materials and produce a defect, that is pure waste if you can't sell it. So, eliminating defects would be a source of value and in kind of intellectual work or knowledge work. If someone's producing defects, then how can you stop that from happening? And another one would be excess processing. So, are you doing more processing on something than necessary? Maybe you package it and then you realize, Oh, it's, you know, we need to remove the packaging, put different packaging on, overproduction, producing more than you need to. Examples, our inventory. So, if you're producing more inventory than you need that would be example of waste. Are you moving things around a lot more than you need to? So, stop doing the things that don't actually add value, things that we consider waste.
Then you want to look at are there ways that we can, the things that are adding value, can we do those more efficiently? Do the same thing in less time or with less energy or effort. And that's an area where you can look at tools, technology tools that can help automate processes. You can look at taking activities and having a lower cost resource through that same thing. It's also a place where having standard operating procedures can help because then you're not trying to recreate the process every time a standard operating procedure can also reduce errors. So, for example, for my company, when we onboard a new subcontractor, we have a process that we follow, we have email templates that we send out. So we don't have to come up with the email template every time we make sure we get the person's financial information, we make sure we get the contract signed, we make sure that we even send a test payment to make sure we've tested our ability to pay the person. So, we have a standard process that we follow and that can help.
Workpuls: It saves a lot of time and actually cuts the chances for error definitely.
Will Bachman: That's right. Yeah. So… So, in terms of you want to eliminate unnecessary activities and then automate activities and then see if you can shift activities to a lower cost resource and standardized activities. So those are kind of some common steps to follow when you're trying to increase productivity and definitely technology tools are an important one of them.
Workpuls: Okay. So, when we first talked, you shared some of the tips that I like to cover. I have them right here. You mentioned a tool for emails called, Mixmax.
Will Bachman: Yes.
Workpuls: How does it help?
Will Bachman: Yeah, and I love Mixmax so much. I use it, I recently did a podcast episode on my podcast, which is Unleashed: How to Thrive as an Independent Professional. So Mixmax gives you email superpowers. I think there may be a few other tools like that out there. So, it's not the only one but I'll talk about Mixmax. Mixmax I believe only works with a G Suite or with Gmail. So, for using Microsoft Office, I believe there's other products but let me tell you some things that Mixmax does. It's really emails for the 21st century. With the basic Gmail or G Suite email there are templates that you can create. But they're pretty, unwieldy, you can't file them very easily. They don't work the greatest. Mixmax has those templates are sort of on steroids.
Mixmax has its own website that you can go to do things like create sequences and create the templates but then it has a plugin where you can just work out of your normal Gmail browser window and those capabilities are included. So, one capability is like I mentioned, creating templates. That's pretty standard. The next thing is you can take those templates and create sequences. So, most of us have received those from various lead generation type people where you get an email and then maybe three days later, a week later there's a follow-up email that comes to you that says, “Hey, I didn't hear from you. I'm just following up.” And then another week later you get another email. You can do those. Now that's a power that you should use sparingly because if too many people mark you as spam, then you can really have some problems getting blacklisted. But it is a super power if it's used in the right way.
Another power is being able to see who has opened your email and when. So that's really nice. If you send an email to a client, if you send a proposal and you don't hear back, maybe that's because they just missed it in their email and they didn't open it or maybe it's been passed around the company and 15 people have opened it. It's nice to know that. So, knowing who's opened your email is pretty powerful. The other thing is a mail merge. So, it's possible to figure out a way to do mail merge with Gmail, but a bit complicated if you want to send out 10 emails or a hundred emails and customize them by putting in the first name and maybe the person's company name and any other variables you want. Mixmax makes that very easy. You just create the template and then you can upload a CSV file with different columns for those different variables and it sends them all out. And then another tip is, it can even send out the email at a future time.
So maybe you're working on a Saturday night and you don't want to send an email to a client on a Saturday night. It's kind of like you're a little crazy. So you want to go out Monday morning, you can schedule it for Monday morning or even you can use smart send and it will send it at the time that Mixmax knows that that person is most likely to be active on email. Because they're sending so many emails for so many people that they know when a given person is opening their email on average. So, they can say, Hey, 4:00 PM Eastern is the best time for this person. Or eight in the morning is when they're most active and it will schedule it and send it then. So, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. It has several other superpowers but those are some that I like.
Workpuls: Yeah. It sounds like a combination of an email marketing service with something that actually helps with everyday emails, not just marketing emails. So, it really sounds helpful.
Will Bachman: Yeah, that's right. So, and another thing that I like is, and there are other tools like this, but it does include sort of a text expander type tool. So, I for example, will often, want to reply to someone and say, “Hey, if you'd like to schedule a call with me, just click on my Calendly link.” (Calendly is another tool we could talk about) and my phone number is this. So, I just type a semi colon and then CAL and that whole sentence pops up, including the hyperlink to my Calendly. So, you can easily program in those sorts of text expander type phrases for phrases that you use commonly.
Workpuls: Calendly actually saved me a lot of time when I was scheduling these interviews. I was talking to somebody and they mentioned that they read somewhere that on average it takes eight emails to schedule a meeting or an interview. And I just thought of that. How much time would I lose? Because we do have a lot of these interviews. I just sent out an email blast with my Calendly link, which was integrated with my Zoom. So, they automatically created links for zoom, but they were also automatically added to my Google calendar and the calendar invitation was sent to everybody who actually entered into the Calendly. I cannot imagine how much time it would actually take me to go person by person and send everybody a message and try to figure out a time and schedule and figure out the times zones because obviously we're all in different places.
Will Bachman: Right.
Workpuls: So, it was really such a huge time saver and I was able to do a lot of other more productive things of course within the time that I would use for sending out those emails by hand.
Will Bachman: That's right. That's right.
Workpuls: You also mentioned note taking apps. I guess it's something that you use quite frequently?
Will Bachman: I do. Yeah. So, there are various apps out there. I also did a podcast episode and this one on Evernote. Evernote is a popular note taking app. It's been out for a long time. It does far more than just allow you to take notes. So first I'll say, it has a web browser version and there's also a version that will be on your phone or on your tablet and those all sync together. So, the most basic thing is just creating a note where you can type it, let's say on your iPad or your tablet and it will sync to everything. So that's like the most basic thing. It can also, if you're on, let's say, the browser and you come to a webpage that you, an article that you want to save, rather than trying to bookmark that, you can just click a little button, click a widget on Chrome and it will save that whole article to your Evernote, not just the link to it but actually take that whole page, scrape that page and save that page primarily.
So even if that page goes offline, you'll still be able to call it up. And that's really good for consulting projects. If I am going to reference a page and use it as a source for a project, then I want to be able to keep that information. And then you can organize them either in sort of notebooks. So, you can store multiple notes in a notebook or you can tag them or you can do both so you can organize in that way. So, it can take web pages, you can have an email that you want to save permanently. You could forward that to your Evernote, just forward it on and it will save it in your Evernote. You can also take pictures and save those to Evernote or video or audio. So, it can pretty much save any kind of media and tag them and then it becomes a, your external brain rather than kind of try to Google and find that article that you read three years ago. If you've saved it to Evernote, it'll still be available for you. Yeah, so I find it hugely valuable. Now whenever I take notes for say on a client discussion, I used to in the old days, open up a word document and type it there and then try to save it somewhere. Now just open Evernote and make my notes there and then it's available everywhere for all time.
Workpuls: Okay, good. And then we talked about the Expensify, something for submitting expenses. Actually, that also sounds like a huge time saver definitely.
Will Bachman: It really is. So, I used to, when I was at McKinsey, spend probably about an hour or two every end of the month taking receipts and pasting them down and then taking pictures of all those and scanning them. And I know people who, some people who still do that. I get expense from a lot of consultants and some people are still kind of, you know, just assembling JPEGs. So, what Expensify does, there's an app on your phone as well as there's a browser version. If you get a paper receipt, you just open up the app, you snap a photo of that paper receipt, you classify it, save it, you throw that receipt away. If you get an email receipt from a flight or a hotel, you just forward that email to your Expensify and it can scan it for you so it can use some artificial intelligence, scan it for you.
And then the beautiful thing is if you're doing this throughout the month, instead of having to, kill yourself and compare credit cards and so forth, you just create a report at the end of the month and you'll get a one page summary of all the expenses listed. Plus, all the subsequent pages will be images of all the receipts. So, you get one nice PDF that you can submit with your expenses. And if you have multiple clients going on, you can create charge codes and tag expenses as they come in. If some clients want you to classify your expenses by category: airlines, hotels, meals, et cetera, you can do that as well. So, it saved me so much time doing expenses at the end of the month.
Workpuls: Okay, good. And what about the scanner apps that you mentioned?
Will Bachman: Yeah, scanner app is awesome. There are multiple scanner apps out there. There's probably several that are, they're all good. I like Scanner Pro. The great thing about it is as much as possible, we should just avoid printing and be able to use, let's say DocuSign or something but in some cases, you do need to have a wet signature on something or you'll get emailed a document. Scanner Pro allows you to take a picture of multiple pages and then it does two things. One is it automatically uses intelligence to sense the edges of the page and crops it to the edge of the page and then if the page is sort of on an angle, it will use its brain to correct it. So, it actually looks like it was perfectly scanned. And then it will, instead of just doing a color picture, it will turn it into black and white. So, it kind of removes all that contrast., it looks like a black and white scan. And then it can take multiple pages and turn it into a multiple page PDF instead of trying to email six JPEGs, it'll turn into one PDF. So, it's a great tool. I've been using it for years. If you receive a paper document and you want to scan it, send it to a colleague or if you get something that you need to sign and then scan and send. I love Scanner Pro.
Workpuls: Yeah, I did use a, I'm not sure what was the name of the app because I'm not really in touch with paper and documents so often. So, I just usually install the one that I find on the app store, scan what I need and erase afterwards, because I don't need it anymore. But it's a huge lifesaver because I don't own a scanner, so if I needed to scan something, I would need to go to a printing company, print it out there, sign it there or whatever, scan it there, they need to send it through my email and need to make sure that it will come through and all of tht. And it can happen when you get it to your email you realize that they messed up something they didn’t scan right, or it’s turned on the side or whatever.
Will Bachman: Yeah.
Workpuls: It's just so handy to have it on your phone and just like scan as you go basically. So, wherever you are, you can do it without worrying if you're going to find a scatter anywhere, you've got to find a printer probably, you have to. But finding a scanner maybe isn't so easy. So, it's definitely something that works quite well. Okay. So, collaborating across a team with Google Docs is definitely something I believe most of us are doing, if not through Google Docs then through Microsoft Online, depending on what they’re using in the office. So, I wouldn't really spend a lot of time talking about it... But what I liked is that you mentioned outsourcing work through Upwork or any other tools. What kind of work do you typically outsource and how did that save you time and energy?
Will Bachman: Sure. So, and there's another one where I did a podcast episode on it. If you want to include it in the show notes, the link. So Upwork is a real superpower, figuring out how to outsource certain tasks to freelancers around the world is a super power. I've outsourced probably 20 different categories of tasks. I can give you a few examples. The most basic one would be saying, doing some data entry. So, let's say that you have a bunch of different websites and you need to get that information into a single document. You can hire someone on Upwork, typically, at least in dollar terms, that type of task might be anywhere from five to $8 an hour with a college graduate, someone who is very, very capable. And I've hired people to do data scraping.
So, you have a website with a bunch of price data on it, on multiple pages. You can hire someone to data scrape that into an Excel document for you so you can do some analytics on your competitor. I've used people to do mystery shopping, so I had a project where I wanted to understand what type of coffee machine cleaner was being used in countries around the world for this due diligence effort. And I hired on Upwork, people in 20 different countries to walk into their local coffee shops and ask what coffee cleaner do you use for your machines? And then to take a picture of that and fill out an Excel sheet on, you know, they were using in the location and so forth. Definitely you can use Upwork for finding people to do search engine optimization. I'll use it a lot for doing kind of lead generation or business development.
So if you have a particular category and you can define what your persona is of your buyer, you could hire someone on Upwork who has a Sales Navigator License to go into LinkedIn and to search for that and to create a Google Sheet for you, let's say with the name of the person, their title, their company and their LinkedIn URL. And then you with your LinkedIn account can go and send maybe connection requests or InMails to those people. LinkedIn doesn't allow scraping they're pretty tough on that but you can hire a person to use intelligence and go person by person and find people that you might want to reach out to saving a lot of time. So that's just a few examples. The tip on using Upwork is, or my key tip is when you post a project, if you can, if it's a big, big project, see if you can break it down into a much smaller part. Let's say you're expecting is going to take 40 or 80 hours. Like I recently hired a video editor to edit a series of 90 videos for a course that I made on how to set up your own consulting firm. So, it wasn't easy to determine in advance which of the editors was going to do the best job. So, I ended up hiring 10 editors to all edit the same video. So, I gave him the same raw footage to all 10 and said, go to town. And then I picked the best one to do the remaining, remaining videos. So that's an example of rather just trying to pick one and just going to it. If you can break down the task and give a trial effort, then that's the best way often to figure out who's going to do the best job on it.
Workpuls: Okay, good. So, mostly what we've talked about different apps people can actually use to make their lives easier and leave more time for doing productive tasks. But what would you, have you tried maybe some of the time management techniques or productivity tips that don't really maybe involve a specifically a certain tool or an app and what are those and have they worked for you?
Will Bachman: Yeah, well I'll share one that doesn't really involve an app and it's the simplest one that you can think of, which is, so I have a notebook, a paper notebook, here's one that I haven't opened. Every day I start my day by rewriting by hand my task list for the day. And I find that that is such a centering exercise. When you have so many different tasks running around, that's a thing that I think if it's electronic, that list can just get too long and unwieldy. But by rewriting the task list every morning, that re-centers me on what I want to get done that day. A then I'll prioritize what are the one or two things that I really need to get done; that's step one. And then, time boxing in the day. This is something I learned from Nir Eyal’s book Indistractable, which I highly recommend, now that you've written all your tasks, look at your calendar and actually put on your calendar.
Okay, from nine to 10, I'm going to work on these two tasks and from 10 to 11, I had this meeting, but then from 11 to 12, I'm going to work on these two tasks. If you actually put your tasks onto your calendar, then you're not just wondering throughout the day, okay, what should I work on next? And if you have that written list, for me it reduces stress because if something else pops up from my email that I need to do instead of trying to remember that task, I just write it on my list and then it's not sort of requiring RAM here and your brain doesn't require your memory, you take it out of your brain, put it on the paper list. So that's my sort of key nontechnical tool productivity tip.
Workpuls: Yeah. I guess I actually had someone who does consultancy mostly for Time boxing. So, he spent a lot of time talking about it and that seems like a good technique. I guess that it's not really good for every type of business. I'm not sure that every role can fit in every part of their day into a time boxing thing. But for some projects, for some things it definitely can be done. Whatever the industry, there are certain ways you can create it around, at least a part of the project to be like that part of your day, to be time boxed. Everything else can be available but it can give you some better sense of direction, I guess.
Will Bachman: That's right.
Workpuls: Do you have any other tips maybe to share or anything?
Will Bachman: Well, I guess one, maybe one that I'll leave you with is to periodically do reviews. Looking backwards as well as looking forwards of longer-term list. So in addition to my daily list, in every morning I'll also spend just 5 or 10 minutes kind of writing in my journal and a little bit free form, it's often a form of lists, so lists of things I'd like to do, lists of podcasts episodes I might like to record lists of potential larger projects. And I don't force it too hard, I just let myself kind of brainstorm and freeform but putting on paper helps cement it. And just, I find that that's a very creative period of my day, just coming up with those ideas.
And then I'll also periodically review how I'm doing you know in the journals sort of on a weekly and monthly basis. I'll do a week lookback, in the month I’ll do a month lookback, the quarter, the year. And that's a period where it's not about beating yourself up, but like what went well, what could be improved. And that's an area where if you really are taking a step back, you can find some things that, really tied to productivity, what things generated value and what things am I doing that maybe I should stop doing?
Workpuls: Okay, great. Thank you so much for sharing all the tips and all the tools you're using that can help us all probably and thank you everyone for viewing another episode of the Workpulse Productivity Talks.
Will Bachman: And my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Workpuls Productivity Talks is a podcast about productivity brought to you by everyone’s favorite time 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.