Listen to #48 episode to find out how productivity expert stays on top of his work!
Piotr is a founder of Produktywni.pl, where he helps people organize chaos of activities, tasks and habits, while not losing slack time and spontaneity.
For over 10 years he was working in corporations like Sabre and Motorola as a Software Developer, Scrum Master, Manager and a Trainer.
He runs a blog (in Polish), wrote a book titled “Effective Multitasking” and now runs offline and online trainings that help people be more systematic and build good time management habits.[00:01:15 – 00:03:07]
Kate: I have the first question to you. Why productivity? Why did you decide to work in this area of expertise and how did your life look like so far, so what happened that you decided to do that?
Piotr: Yeah so productivity is my big passion for the last, I don’t know, 15 years. I just realized some teams and some people are much more relaxed and they also achieve much more than sometimes teams that are very stressed and looking very busy but at the end of the day they don’t achieve much. So that was my curiosity, what’s the difference between them. I wanted to achieve something in my life and at the same time don’t be stressed and have the freedom to decide how do I want to spend my time. Yeah, I think that’s one thing.
And second thing is that I see an obsession about money, is like, I don’t know, if you lose 50 zlotych, 50 dollars or something like that, usually, it’s a pain. You think where you lost it or how could you or where was it. But if you lose 3, 4 hours by doing not even, taking a rest, which will be good in my opinion but just completely wasting your life. Then it doesn’t feel that much pain. So I see this difference that time has limited, let’s say length and so it’s the only resource that we actually manage. You can earn more money, you can inherit it, you can invest it, and time is just running out. That was crazy for me. That people don’t manage their time. So if you combine these two, then you have my story.
Kate: Okay, so you know, there’s this saying that time is money, what do you think about that?
Piotr: It’s completely wrong, it’s completely wrong. So the average age for people living in my country and my sex… my average life is probably 74. And I cannot have more, that’s just statistics. Okay, I can exercise, I can eat healthy. But any day I can die in car accident by someone else, okay? So I probably will not be living more than a hundred years so that’s the limit, that’s it. Can I earn a million dollars, ten million dollars, a hundred million dollars? It scales much more. I can inherit a house from my grandmother so you can always have more money but there’s a very limited ways to get more time. Even Warren Buffet in his famous interview with, I think there was also Bill Gates in it, he said, “you know, I can buy nearly anything in the world but I can’t buy more time.”
So if you say time is money, I think this is wrong because time is much more precious because as we record this, this time is gone, okay? You will never get it back. Money? Yeah, it’s free to earn anyway you want.
Kate: Yeah, that’s true. So when we talk about productivity, what is it for you?
Piotr: For me productivity is gaining or getting most of the time you have. And it is taking decisions that will get you where you want. And even if it’s playing with your kids or having a nap, if you take conscious decision that this is the best way of spending your time, yes, then it’s productivity. So it’s making a conscious choice about getting most of the time you have available, basically.
Kate: Amazing. So it’s kind of like being aware of your time and of yourself. How can we do that? How can we be more aware of that time and ourselves?
Piotr: Yes, so this is this scary question that I always ask everyone because people are very busy these days. And then I ask them the question, “Okay, Kate, so what are the three most important things that you wanna achieve today?” Okay, you probably have a list of ten or fifteen things to do but then, what is the most important or what are the three most important things this week?
And you probably list some that are really most important and sometimes also they are outside of work. Or what are the three most important things that you wanna achieve, I don’t know, by the end of this year or this quarter or by the end of your life? And that gives people perspective.
Life is not about doing everything or about completing all the tasks. It’s about filling your time that you have available with the most important stuff and maybe getting rid of the rest.
So that would be my tool. Like everyday somebody wakes up and asks, “Okay, I have plenty of things to do but what is the most important?” Which is funny because as we record it, in a month we will have Christmas, and so if you ask people what are the three most important things for them in Christmas, they usually say something like relationships and, I don’t know, having a good atmosphere and good food and maybe some spiritual time. And then people get angry because something is not cleaned very well. Because we think about tasks to complete , specific tasks we have to complete out of the list of fifteen things to do and we completely forget what is the most important.
And if you think the most important thing is good food, atmosphere and maybe, I don’t know, spiritual time, then why argue about, I don’t know, something that’s not cleaned. So this comes back with the perspective.
Kate: That’s true! So I wanted to ask you how do you manage your time. And you kind of answered that question by saying about the three most important things but do you maybe have any other strategies or tools that you use?
Piotr: Yes, but they will be very my personal. Because I’m one type of personality. I like structure. So I can pass this structure to other people but some people are not very much actually don’t like it. So if you have a person that is, I don’t know, maybe making photographs or is much more spontaneous in spending their time, this structure will kill them. So I can show mine but having in mind that every person in the world needs a little bit different, let’s say aspects of managing their time because different things are the most important for them.
I usually divide my time into four categories which is rest, which is managing my goals, things to achieve, and then there’s relationships, and the creative time. So I hope to have them balanced and that’s it. So there are different tools for each of the time. For rest I think this is pretty obvious but I do a lot of things, even physical exercise is a rest for me, sometimes. Because I feel much better energized after them than before.
If you ask specific tasks like tools, for managing my, let’s say, normal activities like projects and tasks I simply use an application for a calendar. I have a task list application and I store my, let’s say projects separately to just look at them maybe from much wider perspective, let’s say, once a week. And I have plenty of other tools like taking notes maybe or a shared drive, and so I could talk about tools for the whole day. Just because I see some tools are more helpful to one type of people, and the other for others.
But I’m rather structured guy that sometimes completely want to have creative time and allocate a block of two, four hours or three days without any goal in mind, just let’s start and see what happens.[00:10:15 – 00:14:01]
Kate: Okay. So Piotr, you are kind of a teacher because on your website produktywni.pl we can find a course, right? On productivity. So what do you teach people in that course?
Piotr: So I have two courses actually, to be honest. So one course is a classroom training for companies. And so we meet in regular classroom, let’s say 15 people and we do a two-day workshop. And this is all about what we just discussed. So one day is focused more on your productivity like day and a week; we talk about forming habits which is really important for me that it’s not about learning something intellectually but how to actually form a sustainable habit that can stay with you for the rest of your life.
Then we play a boardgame to visualize how you spend your time. And if you spend your time for one thing, you will not be able to spend it on something else. And then we talk about how our brain, let’s say, does some harm to our task list because urgent things seem much more important than they really are or our brain is very curious so you can open some website and scan it for an hour even if it was not planned simply because an open loop in your thinking will just drag you there. So, yeah, that’s probably side discussion so.
This today one day is only focused on let’s say your day and a week productivity. The second day is more about projects and maybe teams, how teams can work.
The other course is online course which is nearly completely the opposite. Which is, you spend with me 30 days but 15 minutes a day. Because it’s all about forming a habit so small steps but everyday. Every day after 31 days of the course, you don’t receive any e-mail, there’s no task. People still have this triggered question, like, hey, what is the most important today.
But specifically what do I teach? I think if I just say what we do in the course. So the first thing is organizing your calendar a task list, that’s first. Get out of your head. I think David Allen from Getting Things Done, that would be the first thing to just mention.
Then we have the second week, let’s say online course, the second week is focused on dividing the large tasks into smaller ones because everyone has something on their task list that’s stuck there for half a year. So we try to see it and maybe divide it into smaller manageable parts.
Then we think about the goals of these activities. Because many times people don’t know what they actually expect by completing the activity.
And then we talk about slack time also and managing your energy levels. Then, I think it’s important to talk about, okay, plan is one thing, reality is the other thing. So then how to react to unexpected things and urgent things and how to protect your time against Facebook and other stuff that’s actually good. It’s there but you manage it, not it manages you.
And then, what to do if your plan suddenly changes completely. So that would be the week number three. And then we focus on say, wider perspective, which is how to plan your month or a quarter and stuff like that so.
Kate: It’s like a step by step guide really useful, I think.
Piotr: Yes, exactly.
Kate: Alright, so you are a teacher. But I think teachers also learn something from their students.
Piotr: Oh yes.[00:14:02 – 00:15:49]
Kate: So maybe you’ve learned something interesting about productivity or any other things from you students?
Piotr: Yes, of course. So the beautiful thing is I only know myself really well. And so I could assume that everyone is like me and this is the beautiful set of techniques that will work for everyone. Of course I know it’s not true but now I have evidence because let’s say with over five hundred people who completed the online course, I have all the reports and all the comments and so I can see what’s working. I can see people’s struggles. I see that some techniques are, I don’t know, life changing for some and completely ignored by the others.
So this is why I constantly learn that you never know which technique will work for who. Because a mother of two will organize tasks differently, especially with the small child not knowing when she can expect being let’s say, completely dragged out of what she wants to do and then completely differently manages the energy level for example than the, I don’t know, the director in a corporation.
So this is what I’m constantly learning that be very kind to people maybe and don’t assume that there’s a technique for everyone because it usually serves a purpose. But then I need to ask myself the question, who it applies to.[00:15:50 – 00:16:27]
Kate: Because everybody’s different and everybody has different techniques.
Piotr: Yes, and preferences, and habits, and is completely… in some ways things are usually general. But then it applies to a group of people, for example. Task lists usually require very structured people. But then you can see how differently people manage their task lists. Some people have two hundred tasks on it and others have twenty. So I think, yeah, that’s what I learned a lot.[00:16:28 – 00:18:20]
Kate: Do you think it’s difficult to actually be able to somehow point in different directions actually when it comes to people?
Piotr: Actually this is what I like about that if you don’t have silver bullet, you need to do experiments and it’s like new year’s resolution for diets or anything like that. People usually have that goal in mind and then they are so stressed that if they go off the track that they are usually very embarrassed or angry or anything like that. But if you think, “Okay, let’s do a small change in my diet for the next 30 days and see what happens.”, then you start looking with curiosity what happens and observe and learn.
So that completely changes the dynamics of the whole learning experience. And so this is what I’d like to put more into people lives. Maybe be less stressed that you achieve your goal or you don’t achieve you goal or you changed or didn’t change but, hey, let’s try this for next 30 days and see if I see a positive change.
And it’s like driving a car. At first it’s a lot of energy, you have to focus yourself, you have to put a lot of effort into something but then, as time passes, you completely forget about driving and you can listen to podcasts, for example, or do other things which seemed very hard in the first place but after some time it becomes a part of your life.
This is how I think people should learn about productivity and all that’s, I don’t know, management techniques that at first it seems very unnatural to focus but if you keep doing small steps but regularly, after a year or two you don’t even remember that you’re doing it because it’s so natural.[00:18:21 – 00:21:16]
Kate: That’s actually a good piece of advice that everybody should implement in their life. So I’d like to ask you about more creative things, and to be more specific, about books. Do you read some interesting books on productivity or maybe some other topics or you have your favorite genres maybe?
Piotr: I try to read a lot. I try also… I’m stimulated by music much more. So books are for intellectual. For me music is the thing that touches me a lot so I’m also, I can say, a part time musician may be too big but yeah, I love music, listening and playing. But the books I think there are few books that changed my perspective that I would recommend.
Of course there’s Stephen Covey and all the big guys, let’s say in that area. The book that is not that much known that I really like is Your Brain at Work by David Rock. I just finished today Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow. I think I could list like ten or more books that really affected me like Charles Duhigg Power of Habit and also Charles Duhigg’s books. But it’s also Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning. People normally consider it a productivity book but it’s much more on productivity rather than any other book that you read because it’s about the meaning of life and how you spend your time. And if you consider your goals from the perspective of 40 or 30 years, would you really remember? And Viktor went through a death camp during the II World War, he also shared that experience and his observations and it’s amazing.
I recommend it to everyone because it requires to ask the question about what is really the most important and brings that perspective of… maybe it’s not about having more money or vacations but what’s really meaningful to me, yeah, so I could send you the list of my books. It’s also on my blog but it’s in Polish I think yeah, Your Brain at Work and Steven Covey books of course David Allen Getting Things Done, Charles Duhigg with his two books Faster something and Power of Habit, yeah, and I think Essentialism also, of course.
There’s a lot of these books that usually cover each aspects but sometimes these ideas connect very well with each other.[00:21:17 – 00:22:31]
Kate: Fantastic my list of books to read is getting bigger and bigger. So thank you for adding some positions to it.
Piotr: Yeah, I love David Rock’s book because it’s very short chapters. Each chapter starts with a story. And usually a story is like a disaster that someone does something, it’s you know, completely not what they wanted and then the whole chapter is about what happened in their brains and what limitations kicked in. And then there’s a replay of this same situation with managing that limitation. So every chapter you see some aspect of your life that you can improve and so it’s very practical which I love. And at the same time it gives you understanding that it’s not your willpower or, I don’t know, something wrong with you but hey! you just hit a brain limitation which you are not aware so why would you be angry at yourself.
Kate: That’s interesting.
Piotr: Yes, and because many people know Essentialism it’s known, and you know, Charles Duhigg is known but I found that Your Brain at Work is not that much.[00:22:32]
Kate: Okay. So I have one last question to you related to the name of this podcast, Stay on Top of Your Work, how do you stay on top of your work? Beside all the techniques that you just said, maybe there’s something more. Or maybe you just keep it simple and, you know, that’s all you do.
Piotr: Yeah, I keep it simple. I always ask myself this question of what is the most important and try to get rid of everything else. I wanna do way too much and so my question is usually what is the most important and what I don’t want to do?
So if people have to-do list, I also have pretty large not-to do list. But of course, I have a lot of structure around it so I’m big fan of habits so if I find some techniques that work, I usually try to make it a habit and so this is probably how I stay on top of my work which is a lot of things automated by some system or by my brain which does things automatically for me and I can focus or rest.
Kate: Fantastic! Piotr, if we want to find you, where do we look for you?
Piotr: You go to produktywni.pl. That’s it, the site is unfortunately in Polish only as for now, I have few articles on Lifehack or some other blogs in English but this is rather, let’s say, not very frequent, I’d say. But produktywni.pl is the site and then you can find me on Facebook, on LinkedIn or the links to the courses that I have but that’s the central place.
Kate: Piotr, thank you so much for the interview. It was an honor and a pleasure to talk to you.
Piotr: Thank you for invitation and yeah, hope you got something out of it.
Kate: Of course! Thank you!
Piotr: Thank you.
Thank you for listening!
Connect with Piotr