Working At Our Productive Best By Keeping Things Simple With Scott Friesen

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TBT 91 | Keep Things Simple

Scott Friesen is a Productivity Application Expert and owner of Simpletivity. In this episode, Scott talks about keeping things simple and doing your work at your productive best. Scott mentions by keeping things simple, you can learn to value your work more and have time to do other things instead of feeling swamped without really accomplishing too much. Scott dives into strategies on keeping yourself healthy while working and talks about how important rest and sleep are in your work. Lastly, Scott talks about load management and how you can work best by not jumping from one thing to the other.

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Working At Our Productive Best By Keeping Things Simple With Scott Friesen

We’re going to talk about keeping things simple. Less is more. We’ve heard that, but somehow we make things more complex than they need to be. Scott Friesen is here with us. He is a simple specialist and he helps people from all over the world to improve their productivity. His time management techniques have benefited thousands of individuals and organizations alike. Managing email overload, never-ending to-do list, and nowadays’ technological distractions are among Scott’s specialties and favorites. His experience in the technology industry has led him to be one of the foremost authorities on productivity application. Through speeches, courses and workshops, Scott provides powerful tools for those who want more out of their day. He’s dedicated his life to helping others to focus on what’s important and to do it with less stress. That is key because he says, “Being too busy isn’t productive.” Scott, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Penny. I’m so glad to be here.
You have this brand, Simpletivity. What’s the drive for you around keeping it simple?
In my experience, both in my own professional life but also with observing others and helping thousands of other professionals, I have found that in order for us to work in our productive best, it is important that we keep things simple. I know that we’ve heard phrases like, “Less is more,” for such a long time. In this day and age, with so many distractions and technology interruptions, it’s more important than ever. Something that you may hear me say at a conference or in one of my workshops is, “The easiest thing that you and I can do is to make something more complicated than it needs to be.” It’s simple. It’s easy to add one more suggestion, one more idea, one more thing to that to-do list and one more thing to our schedule. As a result, we tend to rob ourselves of our ability to work at our productive best. As the name Simpletivity suggests, my goal is to help people focus on what’s most important. That way, they can accomplish their goals and dreams, do what they want to accomplish within their careers, and enjoy less stress at the same time.
Set hard limits Share on X Isn’t there a personal story behind it? Were you crazy, complex, and lost something important in your life? Everybody has got a drive to why it becomes something important to them. I’m wondering if you’ll dig deeper for us.
I think one of the big a-ha moments for me was when I myself was working on a somewhat traditional corporate environment. For a number of years, I worked for a software technology company. Roughly 4,000 employees around the globe and myself were working in an office of a few hundred. What I found is that whenever I would ask someone, “How is it going? How is your day going? How is your week going?” it would seem time again that the immediate response was, “I’m so busy, Scott.” It didn’t matter who I spoke to or what level they were in the organization. It didn’t matter if they appeared relatively happy from the exterior and from their outside appearance, it’s always, “I’m busy.” I took that to heart. I’ve gone bouts where I’ve been swamped with my workload, commitment and so forth. I said to myself, “There’s got to be a better way to live this life, particularly within our professional careers than feeling swamped and being busy all of the time.”
That’s what I took on the title of Busyness Killer. If you need to see a business card, I’d be happy to prove it to you. That’s the title that I’ve chosen for myself. I made it my goal to relinquish the world of all of this business. At the same time, I want to clarify that there’s a difference between being productive and being busy. We say to ourselves that we’re having a productive day because we’re feeling swamped. There’s a big difference between those two things. You could be a busy individual and still not get those important things done. I hope to clarify that as a part of my messaging and my teaching.
We all get there. We’re all human. When I’m focused on helping others with productivity, I still have my challenges. My favorite thing to do is to step back and de-commit. That means to simplify things. I’m like, “I’ve committed too much. I get to correct that and I get to simplify things.” My greatest mentor was all about keeping things simple. It created many a-ha moments for me to step out of the complexity and into simplicity. I know that you’re big into technology. Does technology make things simple for us?
In order for us to work in our productive best, it is important that we keep things simple. Share on X It can. It depends on how you engage with that technology. Some of the things that I think most of us are facing is number one, there are many options out there. There are many different tools and apps. You have friends, colleagues, and people that you trust who are constantly telling you, “You’ve got to check this out, download this, or install that.” We can often get tempted by all of this amazing technology. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it is good. One of the problems that many professionals face is they start jumping from one thing to the next. Maybe there’s a little bit of a fear of commitment to staying with something for too long because we see the next flashy thing. The exciting thing that works with our device and is built for our industry and that type of thing.
I don’t know that it’s our lack of commitment. Maybe impatience means a lack of commitment. If we’re not getting immediate satisfaction or not getting results fast, whether it’s a diet or a piece of technology, we decide it doesn’t work. We’re not good at consistency. We want that instant payout.
Another thing that affects us is that sometimes we are tempted or drawn to the flashy feature that we don’t need. It’s about stepping back and getting that higher-level view, “Is this going to help me? Is it going to help my business? Is it going to help my communication?” Sometimes we start plugging in things or installing things that are overcomplicating our world. My background is in software development and managing the life cycle of software products. I always found it amazing how some of these large organizations like governments, states, universities are taking a long time to go through a number of different applications and that RFP process. Even after all of this research, demonstration, and testing that they’ve done once they’ve selected a product, as soon as they had signed on the dotted line, they wanted all these changes, too. They want everything else. We’re like, “We’ve gone to a year-and-a-half of addressing your needs, what you wanted and how we can solve that.” There’s always something more. That’s a separate conversation in this world of more. Focus more on the core needs of what you want out of that tool, what’s going to help you and making sure you can fulfill it on time.
What technologies do you feel are simple to use? Some of them have a learning curve. It takes a while to implement it and hard to stay consistently using it. What are some of the top technologies that you think are simple to use, simple to implement, and are getting simple results?

TBT 91 | Keep Things Simple

Keep Things Simple: We live in this culture that continuously applauds and champions the thinking of sacrificing your sleep and rest for the good of the business.

One area that is often overlooked is something as basic as email. That’s something we all use whether you’re a Gmail user or an Outlook user. What I often recommend to a number of people to take a closer look at, you can find a number of examples on the Simpletivity YouTube channel, are add-ons or extensions that enhance your email experience. For example, I use Gmail as my primary email client and one of my favorite tools is an extension called Boomerang. It does a number of different things. It can remind you of emails, it can remind you to follow-up, you can snooze an email so it comes back later.
One of the core features that I love about Boomerang is that before I send a message, if I’m asking a question to someone or if I’m making a request, I can tell Boomerang, “Let me know if this person doesn’t reply to me within a certain time frame.” Let’s say two days. If that person does reply, nothing else happens. I don’t get an additional email and I don’t get any other clutter in my inbox. If that person does not reply to me, Boomerang does all that work for me. I don’t even have to think about it again. I don’t have to go to my calendar and set another reminder or have to use a special flag. Boomerang will bring that email back to my inbox if there’s no response after whatever time frame you set. It’s not only the amount of time saved but the amount of stress that’s taken off of my plate. Another one is a meeting scheduler, we’re able to organize a meeting with either one or multiple people without all of the back and forth of, “Can you do this?” “No. I can’t.” “How about this?” “No. I’m busy all day.” There are so many great tools out there that can ease that meeting organization process.
I had one client and I had an assistant at that time. Because I use many online tools, I don’t need a full-time person working for me but I did. I had somebody making those appointments. I needed someone that works all that ridiculous back and forth. Give somebody access to your calendars, it’s much easier. What else? I know that you’re also a big Trello fan. Tell us why Trello is one of your tools of choice.
I’ve been using Trello almost since the beginning but I didn’t fall in love with it immediately. I thought it was an interesting tool and way of displaying projects, managing tasks, and collaborating with others. I was using Trello about a year or two after I was first introduced to Trello that I realized how much more I could do with this tool. Beyond my business world, professional career and personal life, it was easy to collaborate with others, plan daycations, manage family household chores and a variety of other things. What I love about Trello is that it’s relatively simple and it’s a visual interface. Unlike a spreadsheet and many other project lists which are not much more than a bunch of fields and inputs, Trello is much more visual. That’s why a lot of people gravitate towards it. It has a fast learning curve. People can start using Trello almost out of the box. You don’t need to watch a couple of videos. If you want to, by all means, there’s plenty out there who’ll help you with it. It’s quick and easy to set up those projects.
There’s a difference between being productive and being busy. You could be a busy individual and still not get the important things done. Share on X The last thing I love about Trello, and I hear this from many of my clients, is that it’s such a flexible tool. I know that we’ve all dealt with a project management tool or a task management piece of software where you’re locked into the way that they had set it up. You’re going to have to do this next step or you’re going to have to add a due date. It wasn’t going to give you that option. You can set up Trello in many different ways. That’s flexibility which is what a lot of people enjoy about the Trello tool.
What are some other tips and tricks that you give people to help them to simplify what’s on their plate and the way they think about things? What do you typically bring as your biggest nugget to people?
One actual tip our readers can take away from our conversation is using some hard limits as a part of our day. What I mean by a hard limit, you can look at it either from a time perspective in terms of using a timer for a particular task. Emails are another great example. I strongly encourage people to set limits like, “I’m going to spend the next twenty minutes in my inbox and then I’m going to move on.” They get onto something that’s more valuable or more important as a part of my day. The other place where I encourage people to think about hard limits are things like the number of tasks that they’re going to focus on now. There’s not enough time in our lives to accomplish every single thing that we would like to do. Because our mind is producing far too many ideas, maybes, could do’s, and should do’s than we can keep up with.
We’re built around a finite period of time. I often encourage people to use three hard limits. Pick the three things that you’re going to do before anything else. Maybe the three things that you’re going to accomplish before you even open up your inbox now. Using limits like that can help us focus our minds and attention on what deserves our attention now. What maybe can wait another day or can be deferred or maybe I need to let that simmer on the back burner a little bit longer before I give it the attention that it deserves. I’m a big fan, whether it’s either time limits or even a number limit of the things that you can accomplish that can help us focus on what’s most valuable.
The easiest thing that people do is to make something more complicated than it needs to be. Share on X Hard limits for entrepreneurs who are reading. We have to set an end of the day otherwise, we don’t. It bleeds into family time, “I should have done that.” In so many ways, that’s going back to the office. Hard limits and boundaries in a lot of different areas are our keys now especially with all of the technology that’s always on. Those hard limits in different qualifiers are important.
We look back to it many years in the past and we think that it’s archaic that people started their work at 9:00 AM and then they were done at 5:00 PM. They never even took a second glance at work until the following morning or maybe Monday morning if it was after a weekend. I do believe, in many cases, we need to see at least how we can incorporate that into our lives. I see too many people shrugging their shoulders or throw their hands up and say, “Work and life balance. I don’t know what that is. I’ll sit here and tread water. I’ll try to do the best that I can.” When can you set some hard boundaries in terms of, “When does my workday finish? When’s the time for me? When’s the time for my family or time for my friends to begin?” Otherwise, one of those two is going to win out.
Our brains do not segment things terribly well if you are mixing your personal life and your business life in the same inbox account and the same calendar. If you allow your phone to be on all waking hours of the day, chances are, your work life, your career is going to win out and has a negative effect on those personal relationships or those family relationships. I’m not saying that you have to have a hard stop at 5:00 PM or whatever is appropriate for you. There’re some good things to learn about from the past. Maybe somebody healthier, relationships that some of our previous generations enjoyed. Of course, they didn’t have the technology distractions and the same things that we are facing now but making sure that we make time for those other important opportunities in our lives.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

That’s why those boundaries are becoming even more important. The World Health Organization declared stress a worldwide epidemic. We don’t know that we had that back before we had a cellphone so there’s something to it. What other areas do you look to simplify in your life?
I’ve been paying a great deal of attention to some of the healthier aspects of my life. What you mentioned is a great segue to talking about sleep and proper rest. Whether we call it the rat race, run around or our workdays, too many of us are applauded for spending all-nighter. Like, “I only slept for three hours because I had to get the presentation done.” We live in this culture that continuous to applaud and champion that type of thinking. That you’re sacrificing your sleep and rest for the good of the business and the clients or whatever your champion and your cause happen to be. However, I don’t have to state the obvious that’s only going to last long.
You can only perform at that level for a certain period of time before you are going to experience burnout, increased stress, mental fatigue and so forth. Even professional relationships are probably going to deteriorate or struggle if you’re not performing at your optimal level. Something that a lot of people are often surprised that I mention the importance of taking a nap in the middle of the day. Here in North America or at least the Western society, we have the stigma that naps are for toddlers or for retirees. Everyone else in between is going to have to stay awake between those sixteen to eighteen waking hours or many hours you’re awake during the day.
Study after study shows that most accidents occur between the hours of roughly 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM. That is not a good time to have a company meeting, company training or important sales call that most of us are feeling the heaviness of lunch or being awake for that many hours somewhere in the early to midafternoon. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of going to a resting place to have a bed and lay down in the middle of the day but even if you can find some quiet time. Even if you can find as little as ten or fifteen minutes to either sit in the dark.
I had people who’d come back to me and say, “Scott, I go down to the parking lot and sit on my car quietly for a few minutes to take a breath and a way to relax and refocus.” How much of an impact that it had on the rest of their day? Of course, we had a number of other countries, they’ve been doing that culturally and they’ve even including these for many years. I’m not suggesting taking a two-hour siesta. Something as little as ten minutes or maybe twenty minutes alone in a quiet place can have a big impact on the rest of your day.
It’s huge and as a matter of fact the Fortune 500 companies are in mass. I understand the statistics, it’s 70% are implementing wellness programs where they’re having some meditation, lunchtime or helping people to get some of that mental downtime. It could come back to the boundary thing. It’s time for us to take back our lunch. In the context that crept in the industry by industry where people would stay at their desk and work. Most people now work at their desks and if they had that time to go out of your car. I know people who do that. What they do is go out and have a 30-minute nap and they feel completely refreshed. There’s some cool technology to support that. There’s an app called Pzizz that’s hypnotherapy. It will wake you up after 30 minutes so you can set the timer and you can take a little power nap. It worked for Edison and Einstein, they were huge nappers. Some of the smartest minds of our time were nappers and maybe we should take something from that.
Daniel Pink published his book When, and there’s some great research and information in there that supports the napping as well. It’s not easy when it’s something that’s been ingrained in our business culture and our professional culture for so long. It has been frowned upon. It’s not easy to make those changes but it is great to see a number of companies. Especially some larger companies are taking that time and money to invest in wellness, proper rest, diet and exercise.
If you are reading out there, maybe you’re a big company or an entrepreneur and you’re trying to keep up. You’re not going to find any better way to keep up and to get your rest and you’re going to be in a place of much more creativity. How can people reach you so that they can find out more about your great YouTube videos? Where would you like to send them so they can get in contact with you?
The best place to find out more information would be at the Simpletivity website, that’s Otherwise, there are links on the Simpletivity website to all of my YouTube videos. If you’re interested in learning more about my video content, do a quick search for Simpletivity or Scott Friesen and that will get you there. Almost regardless of what type of tool that you use, I can almost guarantee that there is something that you’re going to find value there on the Simpletivity YouTube channel. I hope to see some of your readers there and looking forward to what comes about.
Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for being here. We make things more complex. It would totally benefit you to step back and simplify. Take some of the tips that you read here and take a moment to think about it. What area could you start with and look at, “How can I simplify this in my life?” whatever it is, whatever process, whatever relationship. Right relationships also flourish better when you keep it simple. Look at every area in your life and look at how you can simplify it. There is a lot of value to that.

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About Scott Friesen

Scott Friesen helps people from all over the world to improve their productivity. His time management techniques have benefited thousands of individuals and organizations alike. Managing email overload, never-ending to-do lists, and technology distractions are among Scott’s specialties.
His experience in the technology industry has led him to be one of the foremost authorities on productivity applications.
Through speeches, courses, and workshops, Scott provides powerful tools to those who want more out of their day. He has dedicated his life to helping others focus on the important and to do it with less stress. Because being too busy isn’t productive.
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