With so much riding on your shoulders, it can be so easy to think that being overwhelmed and burnt out are just part of the job of being a leader. But this episode’s guest tells you that you don’t have to be. In fact, you can take more of your time back and still create a bigger impact. Penny Zenker sits down with Sarah Olivieri, who is the founder of PivotGround, co-founder of the Open Center for Autism, Executive Director of the Helping Children of War Foundation, and the Deputy Director of GRASP. With all these leadership positions under her belt, Sarah is well-familiar with the challenges of many busy leaders. She joins us to talk about how she is helping those struggling in their roles with her framework, The Impact Method. At the heart of it, Sarah shows us the importance of being time-rich. She discusses the difference between time goals and money goals and doing what makes you fulfilled. Follow along to this insightful conversation to learn more!
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The Framework Busy Leaders Need To Take Back Their Time And Create Impact With Sarah Olivieri
On this show, we’re always looking to bring people who can bring you new insights so that you can take back time and be smarter in the way that you go about your day-to-day. I’m super excited to have Sarah Olivieri with me. She is going to do just that. She is going to give us some tips on how to take back time in our day.
She says, “Have you ever seen Casino Royale, the moment when Vesper slides in elegantly opposite of James, all charming smile, a razor-sharp wit, and mighty brain power and she says, ‘I’m the money?’” My next guest has been likened to Vesper. One of her clients said that anyway, and not just because she’s charming, beautiful, and brainy but because of the bold statement, “I’m the money,” as it turned out to be right on the money.
Anyway, she’s a former Director of three not-for-profits and a Founder of five for-profit businesses. She understands deeply the challenges and complexities that are facing organizations now. Also, she’s created a framework called The Impact Method, which can help you to simplify operations, build aligned teams, and make a bigger impact without getting overwhelmed and burning out. Every single one of you wants to know more about that. That’s what we’re going to talk about. Sarah, welcome to the show.
Penny, thank you so much for having me here and having such a great topic now more than ever as we’re in this hustle culture. At the same time, we’re hustling but we’re more distracted than ever. It’s like a bunch of paradoxes that are working for us and against us. It’s an age-old topic and here we are to talk about how we can make the most of our time.
Why is this topic near and dear to your heart?
Two reasons. I heard this saying once, which totally changed my life completely, and it was so simple. “You can make up for lost money, but you can’t make up for the lost time.” I learned that phrase right when I had a son who was about to turn three and I was realizing that I needed to leave my marriage. I started this journey in my life that was so intentional and it was all about having my time. At that time, I was in my mid-30s. I wasn’t old, but I wasn’t young anymore. That was very much true for me. I could feel in every way that I had wasted a lot of time. I wanted the rest of my life to be about being time rich and enjoying every moment of my life.
I thought about that another time. You can’t make it. there’s no more of it. It’s a fixed entity, so how do you become time rich?
I was thinking about that as I was comparing my income goals from a number of years ago and reflecting that, over time, my income goals have been replaced by time goals. I feel like now in my life, I am time rich because I’ve designed a business using a lot of the principles that we might talk about now or you’ve heard on previous episodes of your show to create a business that doesn’t take a lot of time to run. I spend a lot of time with my son for fun but also for needs. He’s got some special needs so there’s a lot that I have to put in there.
I resell sailboats with my dad, who’s 76, so I spend a lot of time on the boat and doing boat things. When I say I’m busy, at the end of the summer, I had to move from a 3-day work week to a 4-day work week. Not the kind of busyness that other people have gotten used to. I’ve created this license around maximizing and having free time, which I fill up with things that I want to be doing. There’s not so much free time, but making sure that every moment, you’re doing something that you enjoy.
I love what you said about instead of money goals, you’ve got time goals. I wanted to repeat that because that’s rich. That’s very interesting to think about because very often, we’re focused on the wrong things. Our money goals take us more and more away from the things that matter most, which we can only accomplish with our time goals. We think it’s the money but it’s really the time.
I love that. Thank you so much. That dropped the mic. We’re done here. We can totally do it. If people take a moment to let that sink in and think about it, that’s powerful. I’ll bet there are a bunch of people who say, “I’m not an entrepreneur.” Not only entrepreneurs are tuning into this. They can say, “My time is not my own.” What would you say to them?
It is your time and it’s your life. I would think very carefully about it and make yourself a list. What are the things that you want to do? You may love your job. You might just need to acknowledge that you’re happy spending your time. It’s your choice to have the job that you have to a certain degree and maybe you’ll make a change. I made drastic changes like leaving my husband with a young child. I had to move a bunch and close a failing business while starting another business. Certainly, as a parent, it’s not that I have a choice over how I use all my time. My son needs me. I just have to do it. It’s about the intention.
The way I became literally paper focused on this is very great. Two things happened at the same time. I was in divorce mediation and we had homework that said, “Write out your ideal parenting schedule. How would you like to share which days?” I took that schedule and I said, “What if I reverse engineer this? How many hours do I have left to work if I have spent all the time with my son that I’m proposing here?” It was 28 and a half hours one week and 32 hours the next week. I said, “How much money do I need to live off of? How can I make that much money in that much time?” At that point, it didn’t matter that I had chosen to be an entrepreneur.
You can think about that question and reevaluate how you’re making money and spending time. It’s surprising that I didn’t know then that I know now. I would reach a period where right now, working 28 and a half hours a week, which sounded so little back then, sounds like so much right now. I’ve come out of a period of working 10 to 12 hours a week, and now it’s a little tight to make enough money. Are you time rich when you work that little? It’s about making the choice that’s right for you, but crunching the numbers a little too.
I would want to make a comment about that as well. For people who have full-time jobs, that’s totally okay. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still create time goals. What about from 5:00 to 9:00? If that’s what you’re doing from 9:00 to 5:00, what about from 5:00 to 9:00 or 5:00 to 12:00 or whatever the timeframe is? What you said is about being much more intentional. We live in an age of distraction of always on-the-go. We’re more in automatic mode than we are in intentional mode.
That means slowing down and paying attention to be more purposeful then we have to set those goals. We have to say, “This is how I want to spend my time.” I’m thinking that we’re all busy in this household too. My kids are teenagers now. Quality time may not be the amount of time that I can have ten hours a week with them. That’s not going to happen with their jobs and all the conflicting schedules. What about purposeful intentional time? We’ll schedule a date to spend some time together. They have a date night for couples. Why not date nights with your kids or whenever that might be during the day?
I want to come back to what you said about being intentional. Time goals to me would be about being intentional. You can do that no matter what your schedule is. You said you have a child with special needs. There are all different things that are people projects priorities and vying for our attention. We have to slow down and I’m going to come back to that point that you made. Think about that in terms of the time goals in your time buckets.
That’s how we create balance. Maybe we’ll come and ask you that question about balance, but sometimes people think balance is an equal amount of time at work and at home, or in each area of your life. What we’re really looking for when we say balance is fulfillment. We are focusing some of our time in those areas that matter most and focusing on the things that matter most in those areas so that we can feel fulfilled or we’re making progress or deepening our relationships. What do you think of that whole concept of balance?
I don’t think balance is the right word. I’m completely in agreement with you. It’s about enjoyment. All of us probably, to one degree or another, are told there are things we should do or that we have to do, and most of them we don’t. I say I work with nonprofit CEOs. They tend to be overwhelmed and busy. The number one thing about getting more time back is don’t overload your plate. Choose how you’re going to use your time, and we can’t do that. In our personal lives, we have to recognize, “Are we doing this just because we’re following somebody else’s rules or is it what we want to do?” I like to have a clean kitchen, but I’d rather have sometimes gone sailing than have a clean kitchen.
I’ll be like, “I’ll have a dirty kitchen because I’m doing something even more fun. I’ve been cleaning my kitchen.” I’m a single mom. Sometimes my laundry is all over the place. Eventually, I need to clean up my house because I like to have a clean house. When I clean, it’s for my own peace of mind. Not because I feel like I have to follow somebody else’s rule.
I often ask myself that question, “What do I want to be doing with my time right now?” I try to let go of those things that maybe your mother told you or somebody made a comment once and you’re doing it for somebody else’s priorities and not your own. I encourage people to not do those things unless of course they really affect somebody. Try to do what is fulfilling for you and your family.
How do you define productivity and why?
I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to define productivity. That’s a good question. I am very outcome-oriented. It’s important to remember that when we’re thinking about setting goals, the goals we have are for things that we’re not in control over. I’d like my son to be happy, but I can’t control that directly. I’d like my clients to be successful, but I can’t control that directly. That’s one type of goal. That’s a nice visioning thing to set but then there’s the other type of goal like, “What are you going to do about it? What do you have control over?” Maybe I’m going to do a fun activity with my son. He just learned skiing. It’s almost the end of the season.
I want to pull him out of school one day so he can get an extra day to learn skiing and let all that new knowledge sink in and all those good feelings come. I can take him skiing and that will make him happy. I’m pretty sure he will. That’s the thing that I have control over. When I think about being productive, it’s measuring both those things. Am I doing the things that I have control over, or am I not doing them? Sometimes we don’t get to those things. We’re not productive. I’m also evaluating when I do take action, is that action having the results that I want? If it’s not having the results, then I need to change what I’m doing and reevaluate.
I had that personal experience. My son has a lot of anxiety and he’s ten. He wanted to go skateboarding, so I took him to the skate park. It’s half an hour away. You have to go over a bridge. When we get there, he refuses to get out of the car. He won’t because there are other kids in the skate park. For a moment, I have that very selfish moment. I was like, “We drove all the way here. I left work early. I stopped all these other things that I wanted to do because I wanted to give you this opportunity. You won’t even get out of the car.” I figured I’d pretend to work for ten minutes and see if he would get out, but he didn’t.
We then started to drive home and I start to tell him how I’m feeling without trying to be angry at him. I was like, “I feel like I tried really hard to give you something, but you didn’t try as hard.” I didn’t expect him to make many results, but I felt like he didn’t try as hard. He then starts to say, “I want to try again. I want to go back.” For a moment, I was angry. I didn’t want to drive back and then I said, “What’s the thing you’re trying to achieve here, Sarah? What I’m trying is to give him an opportunity to overcome a fear.” That’s what’s happening right now.
Did I spend more time driving back and forth than I planned? Yes, but the total time is not that much more. If I just drive us home, then I didn’t even begin to get the thing that I want, and neither did he. If I turn around and let go of my anger about the frustrating experience, he can have this opportunity to try something that’s a little bit hard for him. I can have what I wanted out of the situation, which was to give him that opportunity.
Did he get out of the car?
He got out of the car. He stood by the skate park until the sun went down and everybody left. He got on his skateboard. He did a few tricks. He had some big smiles and we both went home and had sushi.
I forgot how we got into that.
It comes. You have to think about what result you want and you have to be prepared sometimes to check your emotions that might be coming from some other thing.
It’s another distraction. Maybe our phones and things like that are distractions. Other noises or emotions that get in the way that sabotage us are also important distractions to be aware of. Let’s take a pivot into your framework because we only have a limited time together with people’s limited attention spans. Give us a high-level overview of understanding this framework that you have.
It’s designed for nonprofits but can be used by any business. Nonprofits are more complex as businesses than for-profits. It’s very easy to get distracted and overwhelmed. There are lots of people. There’s very little money, and there’s so much to do. The goals are the biggest goals like curing cancer or solving hunger. I needed a simple set of rules to help nonprofits run better. Not just rules, but ways of operating.
At the core of this framework, there are three things you need to focus on if you’re trying to manage this level of complexity in any business. One is you have to be attending to your capacity and expanding your capacity. A big surprise is it’s not about having more money. It’s about having the right people working together in an aligned way.It's not about having more money. It's about having the right people working together in an aligned way. Click To Tweet
That dramatically will increase your capacity. You have to have a continuous process for improvement, a way of always getting better, evaluating what’s working and what’s not, and pushing yourself forward. The third thing you need is a truly actionable strategy. When you’re on your own deciding things, you don’t necessarily need a written strategy, but when you start to try to get people working together, you needed a strategy. If you don’t want to waste a ton of time and feel like you’re hurting cats, the strategy has to have goals, both the types we’ve talked about. It has to be written and have some work plan attached to it. If you have goals and you didn’t turn them into, “What am I going to do now?”
I think so much about having a great actionable strategy. Do you have periods where you look up at the big picture, look all around, stick your head in the sand, and work on what you know is the right to-do list? It’s because you’re focused on making a good to-do list for a certain amount of time and you know you’re going to review it. If you spend too much time looking at the big picture, you’re distracted and you’ll get lost. If you spend too much time with your head in the sand, then you won’t know where you are either.
You need to know the appropriate amount of zoom in and zoom out and rinse and repeat with that.
I’ll tell you what we found as far as the right amount for being complex. It’s to look at your strategy every two months, reassess your work plan every two weeks, and then have a daily plan where you’re double-checking you’re on track with what you are supposed to do that day. Looking every two weeks at a strategic and tactical cycle and your to-do list.
Thank you for adding that in because that puts some context for people to understand what is the right amount. That’s great. Would you say that the amount is for not-for-profit or would you say in general with the speed of change that is appropriate for this market across the board?
It’s for everybody. The two months, as opposed to quarterly, is because that’s how our brain works. You can imagine 8 weeks is a lot more easily than you can in 3 months. You can hold an eight-week plan in your head. I’ve tried working quarterly and for most people, if you work quarterly, that last month is a little fuzzy. You’re like, “What was my plan again three months ago?” A lot changes.
At the speed of change, I would say that in a maximum of two months, things are changing so fast. We need to be adaptable to be able to shift and pivot as necessary. I love the two months and not the quarter.
I love that you said maximum, and I teach my clients two months at least. If some dramatic thing happens or something suddenly changes, you can go back to your strategy and restart a new cycle anytime you need to, anytime that the sand shifts suddenly.
We have to be aware. Not to go into a tangent, but I saw a presentation on the incredible amount of speed of change. I don’t remember the statistics, but it was shocking.
With AI stuff coming right now, we’re about to be in a very accelerated moment for the next year and a half from 2023. It’s the combination of the Great Resignation and people shifting jobs. AI ChatGPT stuff that’s coming in is like the camera coming into the art world. It’s going to change the landscape.With AI coming right now, we're about to be in a very accelerated moment. Click To Tweet
It already has. I’ve just heard now. I hadn’t even considered some of the applications of ChatGPT. It’s happening. It’s here, and the rate of change is only going to speed up as this becomes a general adoption. We’re talking about it, but we’re still early adopters. There are so many people. They’re hearing it for the first time, or don’t even know what it is. Put your seatbelt on, people.
We’re in such a special moment because some people are scared of AI stuff. It’s going to emphasize the importance of critical thinking, which AI is never going to do. What do we need to do in critical thinking? We need to be able to focus and decide what’s important. All of the things that are important about time management are things that we all need even more than we ever did.
It’s going to bring out new skills. I know people are nervous and afraid because we’re not good with change, but with every change comes opportunity. We can choose to focus on what sucks, what’s missing, and what we’re losing or we can choose to focus on the opportunities, the possibilities, and where things could go from here.
With every change, there’s a challenge but we come up with so many other cool things and people tend to be better off. We are better off now than we were 100 years ago. We have to look at it like that. There are momentary challenges to getting used to adopting and thinking differently, and that’s all part of us growing and learning. That’s what we’re here for.
That’s right. Back to my own time management. I’ve been thinking about, “Where am I going to free up so that I can play with these new tools and enjoy whatever opportunity they have to give me?” I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m sure there’s one.
That’s essential, especially for entrepreneurs. In any business, to stay on pace or even to be competitive, you must free up time to be playing with these technologies and think about how they’re changing our future. If you’re not thinking about that now and how you can use this to create a competitive advantage or stay competitive in the marketplace, you’re going to be shut down much sooner than you think. Something to think about is it’s not, “I should do this.” It’s an absolute, “You must do this.”
It can be fun because you’re proactive and your time will turn into opportunities that way. It’s the joy of life.
I’m having fun with it anyway. Where can people find out more information about you, your programs, and how you approach things?
Thank you so much for being here, Sarah.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Thank you all for being here. There were a lot of golden nuggets in here. First of all, I want you to think about your time goals. Take a few moments and think about where you are spending your time now and where you want to be spending your time. Where are the most important areas that are going to bring you joy, more fulfillment, and growth in your life that make a difference for you and be purposeful about those time goals? Setting those time goals was a big thing that came out of the beginning. There are so many things.
We talked about the framework, understanding your capacity and opening up capacity, creating a process for impact, and also making sure that you’re planning your strategy and then those cycles to stay on top of. Maybe you need to read it again, but the important thing that you’re here is you’re taking away these tips and notes, and you’re also going to be prepared for the future. You’re going to take back time if you’re going to be proactive and purposeful. That’s what we talked about with a number of tips that are going to help you stay competitive and bring you more joy and fulfillment in your future. We’ll see you in the next episode.
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About Sarah Olivieri
Sarah Olivieri is a #1 international bestselling author, holds a BA from the University of Chicago with a focus on globalization and its effect on marginalized cultures, and a master’s degree in Humanistic and Multicultural Education from SUNY New Paltz.
As the co-founder of the Open Center for Autism and the Executive Director of the Helping Children of War Foundation, and Deputy Director of GRASP, she’s felt – and understands deeply – the challenges and complexities facing nonprofits.
But Sarah has a fundamentally different way of looking at things; an ability to see a kernel of opportunity, to flip a problem on its head, to understand which levers to pull for success – and she’s poured her strategic brilliance into the heart of The Impact Method™️.
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