Ready to be more productive? Experience more freedom? It’s time to tame your distractions with our guest, and productivity expert, Mark Struczewski.
Jen also shares about the limits of perception and experience, and why it’s just as important for providers to stay in their lane as it is for customers to avoid scope creep.
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About Mark Struczewski
Our guest today is known as Mister Productivity. He works with executives to help them gain control of their time by taming distractions so they can experience less overwhelm, feel a sense of freedom and enjoy their lives. His productivity-themed podcast, The Mark Struczewski podcast, available everywhere, has 360 episodes and counting. In his time with us today, he will share strategies for how to be more productive in a distracted world.
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Blind Men and Elephant Parable: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant
Transcript: How to Stay Productive in a Distracted World with Mark Struczewski
my name is Jen McFarland. I help business owners like you lead, plan, and execute their projects for maximum impact. Women-led businesses receive less funding, yet our businesses are more successful. As consumers, we hold the purse strings. It’s time for us to take on the business world. Welcome to Women Conquer Business. [music]
Well, hello. Welcome back to the Women Conquer Business podcast. My name is Jen McFarland. I can’t wait to share today’s guest with you. He’s totally awesome. But before I do, I just wanted to chat with you for a few minutes about something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit, which is the limits of perception and the importance of having a more complete context.
I wanted to start by sharing a parable with you. It was written by Buddhists or found in Hindu texts early on. It goes like this. A group of blind men heard that a strange animal called an elephant had been brought to town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said, “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable.” So they sought it out and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person whose hand landed on the trunk, he said, “This being is like a thick snake.” For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like kind of a fan. As for another person whose hand was upon its leg, “The elephant is a pillar, like a tree trunk.” The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant is like a wall. And another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its task, stating, “The elephant is that which is hard, smooth, like spear.” The truth is an elephant is all of these things. Just like your business or your family, just about any situation that you might be exposed to.
See, the truth is sometimes we reach out to people to help us with our business. Whether they’re a business coach, or service providers, or any number of things, and they’re really good at one thing. You’re hiring them for the one thing that they’re really good at. That’s where their perspective is. That’s where their zone of genius is. Where things tend to go wrong is when we begin to look at our coaches, or providers, or helpers as more than what they are. As more than what they can be for us.
Now, sometimes providers just don’t stay in their own lane, and that’s part of the problem too. People like to venture and go outside of what they’re really good at. I don’t think it’s always for nefarious purposes. I think some people do that may be out of luck, trying to get more money, but I think there are also people who just really want to help others. And somebody asked a question so people answer based on their own experience, not based on expertise and when that happens, it’s limited. It’s narrow. It’s focused on personal experience and not on maybe what is known or not based on case studies or not based on best practices in an area. And as business owners, I get it. We want to save money. We want to work with one person. We want to simplify, but we always have to be careful about who we’re letting into our business and what we’re having them help us with. Everyone is a specialist. We’re all generalists about some things, but when you’re hiring somebody, you’re hiring them to help you on a narrowly-focused element. No one person can be all things to all people. Business coaches are not God. I help people take action and work on creating plans and executing on those plans all of those projects that people have in the back of their mind that they think “Oh, maybe I should really get that thing done.” Today’s guest helps people become more productive in this tremendously distracted world. These are narrowly-focused things to help you get ahead as a business owner. So I just want to encourage you to really explore who’s helping you and how they are serving you and maybe consider whether they’re serving you well all the time, whether you’re asking for more from them than maybe what they’re capable of providing for you.
I get it. Scope Creep is a thing. That’s what we call it in project management. It’s when you ask for a little more and a little more and a little more. And people who are project managers in large companies say, “Give me a change order for that.” And what that means is you’ve just changed exactly what we’re working on. We’re going to circle back [laughter]. We’re going to sign another agreement, but now you want this extra thing. It seems to me that, in the small- and medium-sized business world, it’s a little softer on that. People have boundaries, but people also can get pushed into another lane. So what I’m going to ask you to do or ask you to consider is, “Am I pushing somebody into another lane, or did I hire someone to help me as a life coach and now are they suddenly helping me with marketing or social media or – I don’t know – learning how to do cartwheels down a hill?” It could be anything, right? These are all examples of what we call Scope Creep, and you really want to focus on working with people at what they’re best at. Just like you started your business because you’re really good at something, and you really want to share that with the world, I want to really encourage you to work with the people who are good at something, one thing. And then when you’re done, move on to somebody else because the people that are really good and support you in your business will help you find somebody who is a better fit for what you’re looking for because we’re all blind men out there feeling around on the elephant that is our business. We all have about what works and what doesn’t work. Use that to your advantage, but also don’t use it as the only voice guiding you. Remember, there’s more to an elephant than the pillar like a tree trunk or the tail that feels like a rope. We’ll be right back.
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Our guest today is known as Mr. Productivity. He works with executives to help them gain control of their time by taming distractions so they can experience less overwhelmed, feel a sense of freedom, and enjoy their lives. His productivity-themed podcast, the Mark Struczewski podcast, available everywhere, has 360 episodes and counting. In his time with us today, he will share strategies for how to be more productive in a distracted world. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Mark Struczewski.
Hi, Mark. Welcome to the Women Conquer Business podcast.
Thank you for having me, Jen. It’s an honor to be here to serve you and your guests– or you and your audience. I am the guest. What am I talking about [laughter]?
Well, in case you don’t know, Mark is a professional podcaster as well. He’s got, as I am told, 372 podcast episodes. Is that right?
He’s been podcasting since 2017 so it’s very common for him to think of me as being his guest [laughter].
Yeah. I’m like, I’m on the opposite end of the microphone right now.
It’s so crazy. So you’re known as Mr. Productivity, but I’m going to assume that you haven’t always been Mr. Productivity. So how did you get into productivity?
Well, yes. When I was born, my mother and father said, “There’s Mr. Productivity?” Why don’t you believe that [laughter]? No, obviously, that’s not true. When I was born, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be till I was about 50 years old. I’m 54 now. I was just kind of like out in the Atlantic Ocean in a leaky canoe with no oar, and I’m like, “What do I want to do?” So those of you in the audience who are listening to this going, “I don’t know what I want to be.” If you’re still breathing, there’s still time. So in July 2005, that’s where my career in entrepreneurship really started. I was fired from my job here at a local hospital. Whether I was justifiably or unjustifiably fired, that’s beyond the scope of this podcast, but I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur. That’s what you do, right? You get fired you become an entrepreneur. So I started as a portrait and wedding photographer. Now, I really didn’t want to be a portrait wedding photographer, I just wanted a really cool gear. Now, this is 2005. This is before Facebook and before all the social media sites out there. And so when I promoted myself, I decided that I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to speak. So I went to one of my friends, she’s a professional speaker. And I said, “Hey, listen. Can you teach me how to speak? Because I want to promote my business.” And they said, “Yes.” And so I got into speaking. The first time I spoke, my wife said, “You shouldn’t be a photographer. You should be a speaker.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s great, honey.” So I decided to become a speaker. And I said, “What am I going to talk about?” So I went from photography to talking about two topics which I don’t know where I came up for– come up with this time. First of all was from hopeless to hopeful. I don’t know where I came up with that idea. It doesn’t make any sense even when I say it now. The other one was how to overcome roadblocks in your path to success. Note to self, when you’re not successful, don’t tell people how to become successful.
So one day I’m on the phone with one of my coaches and I was having a down day. And he goes, “What’s going on?” I’m like, “I really want to be a speaker and a trainer, but I don’t know what to speak on.” He goes, “Why don’t you speak on productivity?” I’m like, “Why would I speak on productivity?” He says, “Well, because you’re so good at being productive.” And I said, “Well, isn’t everybody?” And after he got done laughing, he says, “No. No. Most people have no clue how to be productive.” And that kind of gave birth of my whole way of being a productivity guy. And the title, Mr. Productivity, came from someone on LinkedIn who says, “You should call yourself Mr. Productivity.” So I kind of stole that from him and that’s how I became known as Mr. Productivity.
I think that’s great. And isn’t it true sometimes you’re biggest strength has to be shown to you by somebody else?
That thing that’s so easy for you.
Yes. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.
Totally. Because I can tell you, productivity isn’t easy for most of us.
And I think most people– one of two things. One, they think they’re more productive than they actually are. Or two, they say, “Well, I can never be productive. It’s not my lot in life. It is what it is.” And I’m like, “No. No. You can be as productive as you want to be. You just don’t know how. You can learn basically anything.” I mean, I could learn brain surgery. But I don’t think you want me to do surgery on you. But you can learn how to be productive. It’s not that hard. You just learn how to do it. And I think once people realize that they can do it, then people go, “Oh, I can do it.” And all of a sudden, they become more productive.
I think that that’s fantastic. I love that you say that we can all learn it because I believe it. And I’ve been reading so many books about digital distraction and all kinds of things like that. And that’s your specialty. I mean, productivity is such a big umbrella, but how did you choose distractions?
Well, the more I spoke and got involved in my podcast and got involved with the people on social media, I realized, as I looked around– the only thing you have to do is [inaudible] always be looking around. If you stay in a bubble, you’re going to miss a lot, any experience in life. I’m like, “Wow, people are spending a lot of time on their phones.” I mean, always on their phones. They’re on their phones or talking to someone. They’re on their phones or on the bus. They’re always on their phones. I’m like, “Man, are these people even being productive.” So I started watching people more and more and I go into Walmart and local shopping stores and the cashier and the workers are always on their phone. I’m like, “What is so important? Why you’re on the phone?” The phone [mode?], the fear of missing out. They feel that they always have to be, “What’s breaking? Let me go to Twitter or Facebook. Let me go to Instagram. I got to know what’s going on right this moment.”
And because people are spending so much time on their phones, on social media– and by the way, if the listener doesn’t realize, social media is designed for you to be on there forever, okay? It’s not designed for you to ever say, “I’m done.” They’re designed to give you video after video, post after post. And so I decided I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution. So I started to come up with simple strategies that anybody can use in order to extricate themselves from the five biggest distractions I teach on, which are social media, email, people, those fellow human beings walking around the planet with us, entertainment and our mindset. Now, that’s not all of them. So don’t send me an email saying, “Oh, you forgot this one.” Those are the five biggest ones. And I’m sure anybody who’s listening can say yeah. Those are pretty much the biggest five I have to deal with every day.
I couldn’t agree more. And yet when I talk to people about social media or being on your phone all the time, I’ve had people tell me, “That’s just our kids. That’s not me.” Have you ever heard that?
Yeah. And I see more adults getting obsessed on their phones. I won’t mention my wife because that would not be right to be on the podcast and mention my wife. I talk about her all the time. It’s okay. She is on her phone all the time, and I’m like, “Whoa.” And she’s not playing– she’s not texting. She’s playing games, and I’m like, “Why?” I mean, I’ve never been a gamer so I don’t play Fortnite. I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons or– I don’t even know what the big games are. I know Fortnite is the anti-productivity game out there, but I don’t know. I’m not a gamer, but she plays a lot of games. And a lot of people play games Words With Friends or whatever. I’m like, “Why?” I don’t understand. I mean, I’d rather read a book than be on a video game, but there are a lot of adults, and I’m not talking 20- and 30-year-olds. I’m talking 70, 80- year-olds. They’re on their phones, and they’re on their phones all the time. They’re texting. They’re checking out sports scores. They’re checking out the news, and you need to really get away from that stuff because that stuff is really detrimental to your productivity.
I couldn’t agree more, but I mean, how can we tame the beast known as social media?
Well, the biggest thing I tell people, and this is going to be a really advanced tip, is use the timer on your phone. And you set the timer for 30 minutes, and then you do whatever you want on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, I don’t care. When the timer goes off you stop social media. I mean, you literally get off of social media when that timer goes off. Now obviously, we have to be a little disciplined here and realize when the timer goes off you don’t hit snooze, or you don’t hit done and then keep playing on social media because you got to build that muscle. If you are so addicted to social media you need to do some other stuff like first of all, disable all notifications for social media, but more than that, take all your social media apps and maybe put them in a folder far, far away from your home screen. If that doesn’t work delete the app. There are people who are so addicted they actually need to delete the app. If that’s not enough then you need to close your accounts, and people look at me like, “Are you serious?” I’m serious because if your life revolves around Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat or whatever, you need to really, as the kids used to say, check yourself before you wreck yourself. I don’t know if they say that anymore. I’m kind of like– I’m an old man. But you need to delete your accounts, and then you gradually add them back in. If you got a serious problem there’s nothing, nothing that important that you need to be on social media all the time for. I mean, I grew up, Jen, in an era where if my mom had to get ahold of me at school she would call the school office. The school office would send someone to my classroom. They pull me out of the classroom. I go to the office, and I talk to my mom on the phone. Now, parents are like, “Well, I have to be able to get a hold of my kid,” and like seriously? How did I make it out of grammar school and high school and these kids can’t today? You don’t need to be on your phone. I promise you, the leader of your country is not going to, in all likelihood, text you on Facebook with a question about foreign policy. So we need to realize this is just an imaginary thing. Okay. Social media is imaginary. Nobody on Facebook is going to meet you at the airport when you’re the last plane in and going to come and get you. Your friends that are flesh and blood are going to, and so I think we need to grow up, and I think we need to say, “Okay. I’m going to allow myself one hour on social media a day, and that’s it.” Or I just finished reading James Clear book, awesome book, Atomic Habits, say, “I can’t go on social media until I do X X could be three sales calls, X could be write a blog post, X could be writing 500 words for your book. Whatever the case may be. And then the social media is your reward, not the first thing you do.
I think it’s great. I think it would help so many business owners if they would realize that social media isn’t the money maker that they think it is.
Yes. And social media has two aspects of it. When you have a business or a brand you have to be on social media to promote your business or brand. Then there’s the consuming for enjoyment. I may spend maybe 20 to 25 minutes a week consuming social media. And when I tell people that like, “Are you serious?” I’m like, “Yeah.” “How?” I’m like, “Because I’m trying to grow my business. If I’m watching stupid cat videos on YouTube I can’t grow my business.” So I don’t consume social media more than 30 minutes a week. I’m on social media a lot promoting my business and my brand and offering value to help people be more productive, but I don’t spend a lot of time consuming because that doesn’t give me any return on investment.
I love it. I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I get static from people who are like, “You were a tech project manager. How can you not be embracing tech?” And I’m like, “Well, no. I’m embracing it, but I only embrace the parts that actually help me get ahead.”
Not all the rest of it.
You need to be the–
And I see it as a– go ahead.
You, as the user, need to be the boss of technology not let technology be the boss of you. And a lot of people are letting social media be the boss of their life or technology. You need to say, “Okay.” If you’re frustrated with Facebook, guess what? Turn it off. Guess what? You turn the phone off. Guess what? It goes away, and we need to be the boss and stop letting technology be the boss.
Oh my gosh. I feel like I’m listening to myself talk [laughter].
Just in a much lower voice.
Yes. That’s very true. So one of the biggest things that I find, not only with myself but also with my clients, is I myself can be my own worst enemy. I can be a total distraction to myself. You say that your fifth distraction is ourselves. What do you mean by that? And how can we deal with us?
We get in our ways more often than anything else. We cause ourselves so many problems. Okay. So it comes down to choices. It comes down to habits. So when you wake up in the morning– let me ask you. Let me turn the tables on you here, Jen. When you first wake up in the morning what does your first 15 to 20 minutes look like, not including going to the restroom? We’ll assume you have to do that, but what does your first 15, 20 minutes of your day look like?
Let’s see. I get up. I make coffee, and I either start reading a book or meditate.
Okay. Now I want to say that’s very good. What most people– what do you think most do in the morning when they wake up?
Read the news or social media.
They grab their phones and either check email or check social media. And when you’re looking at social media or email you are out of control of what you’re reading. If you go pick up a book you are consciously picking up a book. If you go meditate you’re consciously meditating. You’re doing something you want to do, but if you open your phone and you go to Twitter and like, “Oh. Did you hear what happened last night?” And all of a sudden now you’re getting all these negative emotions put in your head. And I tell people you have got to control your day as much as possible and you have no greater control than when you first wake up because when you first wake up you have a choice. Are you going to hit the snooze alarm? Are you going to lay around in bed until it’s the last minute? Are you going to get up and do something like jumping jacks, meditate, read a book? What are you going to do? And I think the beginning of your day is going to set the tone, for the rest of the day. So if you are out of control in the beginning of your day, you’re getting in your own way to being productive the rest of the day. You need to control that opening moments of your day. And so few people do. There is no lack of information on how to start your day, right. But yet, so few people do. And I think people need to realize that the morning you had the most control, and then you have to start exercising the power of no. What does that do to your mindset? What does that have to do with you? Well, if you’re saying yes to everybody, most people are kind human beings. We like to help other people. The problem is when you keep saying, yes, yes, yes. Number one, you’re saying no to yourself. Number two, well, you still only have 24 hours in a day. And so now you’ve committed yourself so many times, to so many people, and you’re committing so many hours, that there’s not enough hours left in the day to do what you need to get done.
And would you like to know how to handle when people ask you favors?
Sure. That sounds great.
When someone asks you to do something, PTA, volunteer in the community, whatever. If you’re strong, give respect to them, and give them a yes or no answer. Because they need to get somebody on board. And if you say no, they have to go find some other sucker, I mean, some other volunteer. But if you don’t like to say no to people, here’s what you do. You say, “Listen, I cannot in the space right now to give you an answer. Can you circle back to me?” 99.9% of the time, which is a statistic I just made up literally, they’re going to find somebody else. So don’t say yes, if you don’t want to because then your heart’s not going to be in it. So let your no be no; let your yes be yes. So if you can’t say, I’m in 100%, say no. And a lot of people like to say yes, which causes a problem, because now like I said earlier, they can’t get done what they need to get done because now they’re committed to help Sally on the PTA committee. Does that make sense?
Totally makes sense. How do you feel about making a list of what your priorities are the night before?
I think everybody needs to do it. When we keep things in our head, we can start lying to ourselves. And here’s what I mean by that. If you have a to-do list, and you keep it in your head, well, I wasn’t really going to do those three things cuts in your head. But something magical, when you write it down. Write it down, put an asterisk next to it, not in your phone, not on your computer– I mean, you get a pen, and a paper, a notebook, a planner, whatever, and you write it down, because when you write it down, sciences has shone us, when you write it down, it’s more powerful. So you should write it down. Now I do have reminders on my phone, I do have an electronic calendar, but everything’s in my planner, I write it out in my planner because it makes it more real. It’s not pixels, it’s actually in my own handwriting in my planner.
So I think you should have an idea of what tomorrow’s going to look like. And you should have a general idea. What am I able to talk about the big three, what are three things you want to get done tomorrow? Do you even know? Most people get up the next morning to go. Wonder what I’m going to do today and they’ve already lost because now they enter the day, and they have no idea what tomorrow’s going to bring or what the day is going to bring. So you should do that. And guess what, you’re not going to get it right. You’re not going to get it right every day, but you know what, you’re going to be better off by having a general idea what tomorrow’s going to look like. Then if you don’t write any [doubt?] at all.
I totally agree. I just wanted to check in with you on that because it seems like if you’re not clear about your priorities – right? – the night before, then when you get up, you’re more likely to be like, “Huh, what am I going to do today? Oh, here, let me read the news and play video games and scroll social media for a couple of hours [laughter].”
Yeah, and I think especially from people who work from home. If you’re a solopreneur or an entrepreneur and you work from home, you need to schedule your workday. And so if you look at my schedule, “I’ve got time. Okay, I’m going to watch this training video. I’m going to read. I’m going to take a lunch. I’m going to do this,” because if you just schedule the “important” things like sales calls or interviews, then the other white space, then you start going, “You know, I kind of worked hard this morning,” – even though you didn’t – “Kind of worked hard this morning–” And so you allow yourself to go do nonessential stuff, but if you scheduled, “I’m going to work on my website for 30 minutes here; I’m going to make sales calls for 30 minutes here; I’m going to do prospecting for 30 minutes here.” Well, now, you’re probably going to stick to your schedule because you took the time to schedule things. So it’s really dangerous to have nothing on your calendar because then you have no structure of your day. And again, you can move things around, but if you have a blank day, then you’re going to start justifying yourself, “Oh, you know what? I deserve taking the morning off. I deserve taking the whole day off.” All of a sudden, you’ve got nothing done because there’s nothing on your calendar. So always have something on your calendar. Always have something on your to-do list so you don’t have to wonder, “Hmm.” Like you said, “What am I going to do today?” Now you have a general idea of something you want to accomplish today.
I think that’s great. You have been so helpful on this podcast episode. Do you have any closing thoughts, or do you just want to tell people how to reach you?
I leave that complexity is the gateway to procrastination because complexity leads to overwhelm, which leads to stress, which leads to procrastination. So keep things simple. Breakdown things that you have to-do, listener, to the simplest thing. And then, you’ll get momentum, which gets you closer to your goal. If you want more help in this area, real simple, just go to misterproductivity.com. That’s mister all spelled out. There you can find out information about my coaching, you can get my website– or not my website, my podcast, my newsletter. Everything’s at misterproductivity.com, which, in full disclosure, is a redirect because most people can’t spell markstruczewski.com. So go to misterproductivity.com, it’ll redirect you to my website because I want to make it real easy for the listener.
I think that’s great. I mean, you have a book. You have all kinds of stuff. You have a course, an e-book, a podcast. Basically, people have no excuse to not be more productive if they go to misterproductivity.com.
And if you don’t want to spend money, you can follow me on social media. You can join my next-level digest newsletter. I mean, there’s lots of free resources. The podcast– Jen, I really want to help people become more productive, but you’ve got to want to do it. I’m not going to come to your house and do it for you. You’ve got to reach out and say, “Listen, I want to be more productive. Let me see what I can do,” and I can help you. You can pay me, or you can get a lot of free resources, but it’s got to start with wanting to become more productive. I can’t make you want it.
That is so true. That is so true especially around this. You can’t make people want to manage their time.
You just can’t. So, thank you so much for being on the show, Mark. And we’re going to put all of those links in the show notes and make it super easy for you to reach out to this excellent guest. Thank you so much for being on the show.
It’s a pleasure being here. Thank you for having me.
[music] Hey ladies, I know you’re working so hard to grow your business. A business that aligns with your vision and your values. A business that supports your lifestyle, and I know it’s been a bumpy ride sometimes. I see it all the time. Women overspending on shiny objects and magic pills because they’re tired of not seeing results. Business decisions based on short-term gains without a critical eye toward the future. Most heartbreaking of all, women who walk away because it’s just too damn hard. The good news is you’re not alone. You have support all around you. If you’re ready to take joyful action on your biggest business goals, if you need strategy, accountability, and a path to get you exactly where you want to go, let me know because I’m here to support you as a consultant and strategist. You can fill out a quick application to work together at jenmcfarland.com/ready. I’ve opened up just a few spots over the next couple of months for clients who are ready to make a move. It just takes a few minutes at jenmcfarland.com/ready
In addition to digging into business problems and uncovering the best solutions, I host the Women Conquer Business podcast, which provides actionable strategies, business how-to’s, and real-world advice from subject matter experts and entrepreneurs to help you grow, nurture, and sustain your business. But if you want the REAL story, I am an uber-nerd who loves dad jokes, building seamless systems, and helping leaders find more joy in their work.