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Building a Personal Productivity practice from thin air: An update

In The crucible of teaching: Want to learn in a hurry? Teach! I wrote about using teaching as a means to learn a field of study, in my case creating an unofficial Master's degree in Personal Productivity. Because this idea appealed to readers, I wanted to give an update on my efforts to build a practice, put together workshops, do one-on-one coaching, and continue my professional development.


I've lately been calling my process "WorkFlow 101" (which stems from my appreciation for higher education), because it addresses the idea that few of us, regardless of levels of expertise or education, are taught how to effectively manage ourselves.

In the past, ad hoc or "grab bag" techniques may have been adequate, but no longer - today's exponentially increasing rates of commitments, communication, and information have out-stripped many traditional time management ideas. As Kerry Gleeson puts it in The Personal Efficiency Program:
Although most of us have been formally educated to work in our professions, few of us, especially white-collar workers, have been taught how to work efficiently and effectively. Too many [...] have no idea how to organize themselves or how best to process their work. They may understand how to draw an architectural plan, write a clever ad, or negotiate a deal, but they can't effectively organize their week or cope well with interruptions and unexpected new opportunities and priorities.

One-on-one coaching

I've now coached over a dozen desk-side clients, which on average takes two days back-to-back (with no interruptions). The coaching process is fascinating, can be exhausting, and always provides learning opportunities for me. As I said earlier, if you want to learn, teach! There's a lot to talk about here, but a few observations:

First, while the methodology may be "simple, but not easy," the concepts themselves are a lot for people to take in, even over a two day period. Of course each initial "intensive" is just the beginning to forming the permanent habit changes required, but I've found even very smart people can have trouble putting all the pieces together.

Second, it takes an interesting combination of skills and personality to take an individual through the entire process. I've found I alternately need to be consultant, coach, confidant, cheerleader, and more. In addition, I believe having a positive non-judgemental attitude is absolutely crucial, as is treating a client's trust respectfully. (Hopefully while still having some fun!)

Finally, I have to say that seeing someone "get it" [1] (i.e., seeing how all the moving parts fit together, specific to their lives) is an awesome experience. It's such a pleasure and honor to see the light go on in their eyes.

(If you are interested, you can read some testimonials on my recently-updated site: matthewcornell.org.)

Workshops: Designing and facilitating

I've now designed workshops ranging from ninety minutes to six hours, and they've all been both a significant challenge to put together, and fun to facilitate. The good news is they seem to help people, and I've been asked to continue putting them on (you can see the details on my events page).

One thing that's common, though, is designing a good one is a tremendous amount of work, in some ways far more difficult than actually leading it in front of clients. I can definitely appreciate those who get to start with an existing set of well put together materials. That said, the act of creating one is a great experience, opens a whole new world of learning [2], and helps me understand the material more deeply. (More on this in future posts.)

Marketing, networking, and sales

I continue my networking effort [3], and I continue trying to see people from the perspective of what I can do for them. (The concepts from Never Eat Alone are still useful; as a quick refresher, you might enjoy Mark Goulston's post Never Eat Alone made Simple.)

Interestingly, I'm about to test the idea of "build it before you need it:" I'm putting on a workshop in October in which I'm responsible for getting attendees (no participants, no pay), and I've reached out to my local network for help. My goal is to get 25 participants, and I'm looking at this as a test of how effective my network (and my skills) are at reaching this it. Of course I want overflowing interest, but I'm trying to treat it as an interesting experiment. We'll see!

Professional development - reading, reading, reading!

Finally, I continue to push on the concepts by studying every book I can find on the topic [4], taking competing workshops (e.g., Mission Control [5]), and writing to integrate the results. And the more I see others' work, the more I'm convinced that personal productivity methods like those by David Allen and Sally McGhee contain some tight, clean "modern" best practices.


Reader Comments (9)

Hey Matt,

How about a post on the where/when and cost of the October seminar - people need time to plan! :)

September 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBob Walsh

Hi Bob, thanks for the suggestion. I had left the details in the link to my site, thinking that readers wouldn't care, but I have sent out emails to people in the area. Here are the details:

Title: "How Do I Deal with All this Stuff!?: A simple system for taking control of work and life"

Date: October 5th & 12th, 9a-12p

Location: UMass Campus Center, Amherst MA

Registration: Through UMass's [ Workplace Learning and Development | http://www.umass.edu/wld/ ] division. Call them at 413-545-1787, or register on-line. Registration is $100 per person, and is limited to 25 people. They will begin taking registrations starting September 11, 2006.

September 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell


I'd love to see the "bibliography" you've collected. What is the complete list of books you've seen that have "productivity" as the topic?

(If you've already published this, please just direct me there!)

September 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJasonWomack

Hi Jason. Thanks for asking. There's no list yet, but here are some of them:

First, I listed a few in [ Double your income in a year ... by reading!? | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/04/double-your-income-in-year-by-reading.html ].

Here's a more complete list (but doesn't catch them all):

"Blink" by Malcom Gladwell
"CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!"
"Eat that frog!" by Brian Tracy
"Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers
"File...Don't Pile: A proven filing system for personal and..."
"Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve..."
"Free to succeed", by Barbara Rheinhold
"How full is your bucket" by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton
"How to Study and Make the Most of Your Time"
"How to have a 48-hour day" by Don Aslett
"Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up"
"Instant Productivity Toolkit, The" by Len Merson
"Love Is Letting Go of Fear" by Gerald G. Jampolsky
"Love is the killer app" by Tim Sanders
"Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fullfillment" by George Burr Leonard
"Networking - The great new way for women to get ahead" by Mary Scott Welch
"Organize Your Office! Simple Routines for Managing Your Workspace"
"Organized for Success : Top Executives and CEOs Reveal the Organizing Principles That Helped Them Reach the Top", by Stephanie Winston
"Taming the paper tiger at home" by Barbara Hemphill
"The Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond", by Elaine Biech
"The New Faculty Member: Supporting and Fostering..."
"The Office Clutter Cure: How to Get Out from Under It All!" by Don Aslett
"The Organized Executive: A Program for Productivity--New..."
"The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time"
"The World Is Flat : A Brief History of the Twenty-first..."
"Time Management Made Easy" by Patty Marler, Jan Bailey Mattia
"Time power" by Brian Tracy
"What Should I Do with My Life?"
"What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School"
"YOU: The Owner's Manual: An Insider's Guide to the Body"
"Time Management for Unmanageable People : The Guilt-Free Way to Organize, Energize, and Maximize Your Life"

Finally, check out my [ wish list | http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/IZZMVJXF5IQO/104-8085125-4087950?reveal=unpurchased&filter=all&sort=priority&layout=compact&x=10&y=14 ] (not all are under the "productivity" category).

September 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Matt, sorry to go off topic but you mentioned a label maker a while back that is more economical than the Brother model, would you mind reminding me of the name? Thanks

September 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Banks

Hi Joe. I talked about it in footnote 6 of [ Why every problem should be a GTD project | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/02/why-every-problem-should-be-gtd.html#6 ] :

[6] Please, use the Dymo LetraTAG QX50 instead of Brother models, which waste a ton of tape. Also, the tape is of the expensive laminated variety. The Dymo, on the other hand, uses economical paper tape, doesn't waste, and runs forever on its batteries. I bring this up because I had a client who bought a Brother and was very upset about it. I now carry some extras with me just in case they're not available locally. (Note: You can sometimes get them from TigerDirect for about $10.)

September 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I love this site! I haven't had time to digest it all yet, but I like the theme of personal productivity improvement -- I could definitely use more efficiency in all my works!

September 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPeakEngineer

Thanks very much for reading, PeakEngineer, and for the compliments. Much appreciated.

Hey, I really like your [ blog | http://peakoildesign.blogspot.com/ ]. You've got a new subscriber...

September 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Appreciate it, Matt. The same here!

September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPeakEngineer

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