The High Value Impact Of Productivity With Ray Sidney-Smith

pennyTake Back Time PodcastLeave a Comment

TBT 92 | Value Of Productivity

We all have different perspectives and skepticism whenever the topic goes to productivity. Still, one thing is for sure; everyone knows its value, especially the emotional, mental, and physical reward you feel after a productive event in your life. President ofW3 Consulting, Inc., and Evernote Regional Leader for North America, Ray Sidney-Smith, defines beautifully what productivity is. He spends the time to anatomize productivity and talks about in detail his insights, understanding, and application. Ray goes the extra mile and shares the strategy of Focus Mastery for determining the value of a task and how it makes you more productive through constant improvement through examples of real-life scenarios you can relate with.

Listen to the podcast here:

The High Value Impact Of Productivity With Ray Sidney-Smith

I’m here with Ray Sidney-Smith who has a Productivity Summit that you are going to want to get registered for. He is a Management Productivity and Technology Consultant who’s focusing on small business. He’s an Evernote Regional Leader for North America and Evernote Certified Consultant. He’s the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, Community Manager of Digital Community Personal Productivity Club and he hosts a podcast, ProductivityCast and Getting More Done with Evernote. These are many, ProdProd and Productivity Book Group. This guy is Mr. Productivity. He’s going to share with us some of his geekiness right around the tools, tips, and tricks and why productivity is so important to him. Welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me, Penny.

The moment we choose to have meanings in the things that we do, we create control and greater command over our life, passions, and values. Share on X

Tell us a little bit about why productivity is important to you. Why that?

It started in college and I probably started in adolescence. I was always gravitating toward organizations and having a planner. My real interest in productivity came in college when I embraced self-help books and realized that I didn’t particularly land toward things that have a better life, be happier content. It was the stuff that was how do you become more productive? What is personal productivity? What is time management? What’s efficiency and effectiveness? I became interested in psychology at that point. I’ve been interested in the intersection of personal productivity, the psychology and science of productivity and then technology. I had the pleasure of working in the legal field of technology for many years and the nexus of those three pieces excite me.

You’ve been curious about wanting to know what is the definitions of what it’s all about. How would you define productivity and why?

Productivity for me is about doing the right things in the right amount to get the right results. For so many people it is about getting things done, and I happen to be a huge fan of David Allen and the GTD methodology.

If you are reading, go back and read that one too. He’s awesome.

Any time David talks, I am happy to sit there and listen. The thing for me though is that most people are not interested in getting things done. They are either stuck and they’re looking to get more done. Over time, over these past years of me paying attention to this material and being steeped in it. I’ve come to an understanding of the reality, that people are looking for the ability to get more done. To look and be able to say, “What am I doing now?” You are doing something every day. What are you doing with your time and how you fundamentally get yourself through that? It’s come to me and I’m calling it this as a framework. I wouldn’t consider it as a personal productivity methodology like Getting Things Done which is more of an organizational methodology. Getting more done is a framework to look at how to be more productive truly.

My philosophy around on that is I believe that productivity is a byproduct of thinking and acting more strategically about the right things with the right amount of time to get the right results. We are not searching for balance. I don’t even think we’re searching for productivity. We are searching for meaning and impact on our life. That comes out in the goals that we want to achieve whether it is meaningful for us. Whether that means having the house and the car. The lifestyle, whether it’s that or whether it’s contributing to charities or whatever. That’s why we want to be productive because we want to feel like we are adding to the value.

Productivity is about doing the right things in the right amount to get the right results. Share on X

Everything is a values statement. I don’t think of it as being values in the sense of morals. A lot of people think values are being morals. What I value in terms of my time is a factor of many different things. For example, something as intrinsic and extrinsic value to me in every moment of the day. We need to determine what that value is and figure out what’s going to provide us with the highest impact. Picking up the phone and calling Sally about X is not necessarily a high-value task so to speak, but that three minutes on the phone can have huge amounts of impacts.

We can be a lot more productive than an email. We know that because it’s faster doesn’t mean it’s better.

When we talk about deep work and shallow work, what I want to talk about is high-impact, high-value work and that which is low-value work in terms of its outcomes. What’s the value of the outcome of that particular work? If I can do three minutes of work that can get me high value, I am certainly going to prioritize that over say long amounts of work and arduous work it’s going to give me low value. That’s where the right outcomes come to play. I want to play in the right amount of time in the right way to get the right outcome. Many times, people will try to do hard work instead of smart work. That’s not always wrong. I am a hard worker. I was raised by mom and dad to be a hard worker, but it’s about how much more I might do? How much more can I be getting done if I choose the right paths to get there?

A lot of people are, “I believe that, but how do I do that?” That’s one of the challenges that they have is being able to identify what are the right things to do. What will you say to people who are struggling with that?

The first step is focus. What I call focus mastering.

What do you mean?

Much of our world is fragmented, distracting and what we need to learn how to do is to choose a goal and focus on that goal doggedly until it’s completed. We frequently forget that much of the things we do, much of the work we do in the world while it has much value to us is fairly arbitrary. For example, a meteor can come crashing and hurdling towards our planet and end human civilization as we know it. The good part about that is it’s unlikely, but the point is that most of what we do on a daily basis is arbitrary.

We give it meaning. We choose to have meanings in the things that we do. The moment you do that, you create control. The locus of control now moves closer to you. You have greater command over your life, over your passions and over your values. At that point, then you to choose to focus on what you do. Focus mastery is choosing one thing and making that thing better. Improving on the skills, the knowledge and the experience about that thing. I will give you an example of writing reports. I have a job that requires me to write a lot of in-depth reports. It’s not a fun project. I took that as a focus mastery exercise and I spent a good three months working on a height tuning template that had many different permutations. Every day I am working to make myself produce more of those reports faster and better every single day.

TBT 92 | Value Of Productivity

Value Of Productivity: Focus mastery is choosing one thing and getting better at it by improving on the skills, knowledge and experience.


Over time, what that meant was, “I finally have a client and I have to produce a report for that now.” It is done in blazing speed and it’s done with high quality. My clients love seeing my emails with those reports now because they’re engaging, I try to make some jokes, have a good time with it. That’s focus mastery. It’s the idea of saying there is something I need to be able to do better with how do I get more done. I get more done by filtering out some things for a short period of time and focusing on being great at this one thing. You can use that focus mastery in all kinds of areas of your life once you learn how to use focus mastery in that way.

You’re investing. Once you’ve done that focus mastery in that one thing then you are freeing up time and space for something else to be the point of focus. I want to play devil’s advocate a little bit here. When people hear one thing, you’re going to focus on that one thing. That’s all well and good. Probably not realistic in reality. We all have lots of different things. How does one do that? How do you choose what that one thing is? Let’s say you’ve got a single mom who’s running her business. She’s got three kids that she has to shuttle around to different places. She has dating on the side, taking care of her elderly parents. There is a lot going on. They have a hard time to see any reality in that and they push away and say, “There is no value in that.”

I am not asking you to stop your world indifference to this one thing. I’m asking when you’re going to do that one thing, you’re going to go back to that word doggedly. You are going to give a maximal effort to improve that thing. You have to feed the kids every day, why not do it in the best possible way? Pick the best food and pick the best time of day. Figure out mise en place for your kitchen so all the pieces are in the right place, so dinner time, breakfast time, lunchtime moves with the ease of Wonder Woman.

I’m playing devil’s advocate because I know there are people who want to be more productive, but they are also in resistance. They heard so many different strategies. What you’re saying is that you are filtering out those things for other things, but not everything. You are also talking about taking a specific amount of time not all your time. That’s where people get a little hung up. If you’re going to focus, maybe that focus is even for one to two hours a day, but on the same thing maybe for two weeks or three weeks. Is that what I understand you’re saying? That you can make progress and be amazing in that space?

You got it. This comes down to your daily routines. I tend to have people look at their routines throughout the day. I happen not to be the big habit fanatic that a lot of people are. It’s not that habits aren’t great, habits are fundamental, but to learn habits requires a little higher level which is looking at routines. When we look at routines, we then see the way habits connect to one another. If anyone is reading this and saying, “I don’t like habits,” because I get it quite frequently in my talks. It’s not about disliking habits, it’s about the fact that we have habitual behaviors that are connected to one another that establish routines. Habits are difficult to change. Habits are difficult to adopt, drop and maintain.

The easiest way to do that is to look at the routines that are already established. By linking habits, to the beginning and the ending of an existing routine, we have a tendency to have higher success rates in developing those habits. What I am saying is to choose a routine that you already have an existence. The single mom with kids, that’s a circumstance where what she can do is choose focus mastery over that particular routine and once she has done that, the habits build themselves. If she gives that level of focus to it, she can develop herself in a way that then creates the seamlessness of that environment. What you’ve done is you’ve shrunken maybe the amount of time necessary to deal with the chores of it all. Maybe you can spend more mindfulness time with your kids in that experience so the kids have more quality mom time as opposed to run ragged mom. You have more time to do other things as well. You can get more done included with doing this one thing much better.

Let’s come back to your habits and rituals because I have old routines. I have some thoughts and things around that. Anybody who is looking to break a habit can agree with you that it is not easy to break a habit. Building a new habit, somehow it can be broken like that as well. What are some examples of how people can be more productive by using these routines outside of the working mom? What about the solopreneur that’s out there and looking to see, “How can I apply that in my life?”

This comes down to motivation. The way I see motivation is probably akin to what I’ve read about and heard from you in terms of motivation which is accountability. We are social creatures. We are built on our ability to collaborate and work with one another. We live an interdependent life. The more we are able to look to others will be able to help us in our routines and also in our focus mastery, the greater likelihood that we are to progressing in those things. When we have a solopreneur who is not so good with the books, they go out there, they bring in the business, but they are not invoicing. They’re not tracking their records. They have no idea what their profits and loss statement is better yet what it looks like for the past quarter. That’s the opportunity to be able to say, “Where am I in terms of how accountable I keep myself to things?”

Breaking habits comes down to motivation and the level of accountability you dedicate yourself to. Share on X

Gretchen Rubin uses this four-level paradigm of the four tendencies. We have the upholder, the rebel and other roles. I tend to look at this in four levels of accountability starting at self-accountability which is I hold myself accountable for things. That’s Gretchen Rubin’s I supposed upholder paradigm. We step outside of ourselves and we have one to one accountability. When Penny says, “Ray, will you show up for a podcast recording?” I say, “Yes.” Am I going to do it? I will, then we step one step further beyond that which is, “Maybe I am not good when my friend asks me to go running in the morning. I can’t quite get myself to be motivated for that.” We step up the risk for one more level and that’s group accountability.

I may join a running group and it’s not one friend, but a loose group of people that maybe now that I don’t know them so well the investment is higher because the social requirement, the social obligation is higher. More people have their eyes on me. We go to our fourth level of calculability which is public accountability. This is where people say, “I’m going to run in a marathon.” They post a Facebook page and they start a campaign to raise funds for breast cancer or for HIV AIDS funding. They’re declaring to the world this thing. I tend to believe that that type of highest level of public accountability is high-risk and low-reward. It’s not the best reward because I think about it from an eighteenth-century perspective or earlier than that even.

When someone makes a public declaration, shunned by their group and they get kicked out of the village. We don’t want necessarily to create that level of psychological danger for ourselves. The real right amount of accountability is setting the right amounts of accountability to the right goal. Usually, self-accountability, one to one and group accountability are the best kinds. If you can’t keep yourself accountable, motivated to get things done. Step to a spouse, friend or colleague and then to the group.

Accountability is important that people start at the beginning of the process. Before you start any goal, think about how you are going to hold yourself accountable first. It also depends on the circumstance and the person as to whether the public is something that is useful. I do some public and it works for me. Before I wrote my book, I created the cover and I put it out there and said, “Here’s the date I’m going to be releasing.” That had more power for me then I put it to one person, there is a greater risk. That greater risk drove me, but it depends on what you are putting at risk. It’s not going to ruin my whole career. It does depend on what it is you are declaring out there. It’s a combination of these that working together has a huge impact.

TBT 92 | Value Of Productivity

Value Of Productivity: Much of our world is fragmented and distracting. What we need to learn how to do is to choose a goal and focus on it doggedly until it’s completed.


Remember that personality and the person’s experience over time has a great deal of impact on what type of accountability works for someone. In your case, you are comfortable with the risk associated. You’re an entrepreneur, you have the inbuilt risk tolerance to it and most people don’t.

A lot of entrepreneurs do it either even they aren’t an entrepreneur, they may be there for different reasons.

I see that and I am probably the same. If I said I was going to do something publicly, it is a likelihood that I am going to be motivated by that and I am going to achieve it. That’s one of the things of how I roll like with the Productivity Summit. Publicly, I am going to do this and here we are. You have to know yourself. Do some internal testing. I believe in self-experimentation in any level of productivity systems you are going to invest in so you know who you are and how you best appreciate different types of accountability.

To add to that, different types of tools and processes. When you know yourself then you also know what works for you and what doesn’t. People are looking for that tool. It’s going to fix whatever they think is broken or is going to make them more productive. It’s when you understand yourself, then you might understand which tools are best to support you. Let’s talk about this Google and Evernote guru. What types of people would be best suited to work with Evernote? What are the features that you think are cool?

With over 220 million Evernote users globally, the reality is that almost any person can use Evernote in their world. That’s why I love it. If you want to be able to take notes across platforms in almost any modality whether that’s writing directly to the application. Taking photographs of receipts or taking notes on your computer while you are in a meeting. Evernote has the ability to do that in the easiest and efficient manner possible. You can record directly into audio-wise into Evernote. It’s simple on that level. If you take it up a notch if you’re someone like me and you like the technical components of being able to integrate and automate your functions, Evernote has your back. You can integrate with dozens of tools with Evernote. You have other tools like IFTTT and Zapier that allows you to integrate and automate with hundreds of other tools. That’s one of my favorite things to do. Sit around and think of workflows.

What’s a process that you created that you used Evernote to create automation from?

We frequently forget that much of the things we do in the world, while it has much value to us, is fairly arbitrary. Share on X

Denise Hurd is a fellow Evernote Certified Consultant in California. She had given me this idea of being able to generate a meeting note from a calendar event. I set myself on a mission to figure out how to jam a square peg into a round hole and take a Google Calendar event in a G Suite shop in my business which is the Google small business advice for productivity. I use G Suite. I wanted to be able to take a Google Calendar event to write up all my meeting notes and zones of worth and eventually create an Evernote note that was available to me at every start of a meeting. Using some duct tape and baling wire, I used Zapier to be able to do that, playing back and forth with tools.

I’m pretty comfortable with the format of having every meeting start with a preformatted custom list of who’s in attendance, date, time, name of the meeting, my meeting agenda and any other documents that I wanted available to me. All jammed into that note and ready for me to be able to take notes and follow the agenda in the meeting. That’s one small way which I have bent Evernote to my whims. There are so many ways that Evernote ends up being this backbone to data. It doesn’t necessarily be the place where I’m directly capturing even. It can be a place for your automatically capturing through filters in Gmail or filters in Outlook and automatically sending it to it.

What I love about it is it seems to be searchability is so much better than saving a Word document and having it somewhere in work. It seems I can find what I am looking for easier when I have it in Evernote and have it categorized.

I will tell you that Evernote is doing some fundamental foundational work to bring tags up to parody with notebooks in stacks. Hopefully, we are going to see Evernote bring tags forward. If you are an IOS user, you have an iPhone or an iPad, you probably felt some struggles with tags in your system. If that’s the case, I hope soon Evernote will have changed the fundamental structure of how we interact and exchange with tags to bring them to the fore. I’m excited to see that. I believe that notebooks, stacks and tags are equal partners in the organization, as well as in filtering and finding. Evernote is doing some good work to be able to make that possible. I am looking forward to being able to do that.

With powerful integration tools, how cool would that be? You’re sharing tags across your CRM and your other tools as well which is awesome. Where is the best place for people to go to get a hold of you and find out more about your tips and tricks and the Productivity Summit and other things you’ve got going on?

If people want to find out more about Productivity Summit, they can go to If they want to learn more about me, I have a Tumblr Omni feed of everything I publish at As you can imagine, also based on the David Allen principles of GTD is the two-minute rule. You can find me and jump out on to my podcast and everything that I publish in the world of productivity

Thanks, Ray, for being here.

Thank you so much, Penny. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you to our audience for being here. You were the backbone of this show. I highly recommend you check out the Productivity Summit. I am sure there is a way for you to get access to the various people who spoke in the summit and the lineup is incredible. Ray has put together an amazing event that’s going on there. Check it out. I want to thank you and invite you to come back to the next show. We are going to talk about more tips and tricks that are going to help you take back time.

Important Links:

About Ray Sidney-Smith

TBT 92 | Value Of ProductivityRay Sidney-Smith is a Management, Productivity and Technology Consultant focusing on Small Business.
Ray is an Evernote Regional Leader for North America and Evernote Certified Consultant, the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, community manager of the digital community, Personal Productivity Club.
He hosts the podcasts, ProductivityCast, Getting More Done With Evernote, ProdPod, and Productivity Book Group.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the Take Back Time community today:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.