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A conversation with Kerry Gleeson, author of "The Personal Efficiency Program"

I've mentioned Kerry many times in my writing (more about him here: [1]), and his book, The Personal Efficiency Program, has been a significant influence on the development of my own ideas around personal productivity. This thought in particular went very deep:
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 white-collar professionals 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.
I'm pleased to continue my interview series with the top experts in the field by sharing some of the points that came up in my recent conversation with him. The transcript [2] ran to 30 pages - these are just a few highlights.

His story

Kerry had a background in business (sales and marketing ), and while in Stockholm for a year with his family (his wife is Swedish) he was looking for work. He came up with the idea that he would not accept a fee unless he could get concrete results. [3]. He started with small companies (the goals were typically to increase sales or profit), and worked on improving those with his philosophy that assumes the people doing the work typically know best what to do [4]. When he returned he quickly discovered that the big problem was they weren't implementing his advice. That led him to discover that most people weren't organized enough to take his advice, so he started focusing on that as a means to an end (helping their businesses). he then got a large Swedish bank as a customer, got results (increasing the amount of money in savings accounts) and again worked with their branches to implement his ideas. Attention kept growing and he was eventually asked to put together a training program for self-management that clients could teach along with other modules like sales and customer service. This become the core of his Personal Efficiency Program.

Business and franchise

Kerry now runs a business with hundreds of international consultants who specialize in his program. I asked him how the idea of a franchise came about. He told me it was always in the back of his mind to have more than one source of income [5]. I think you even mentioned that to me in an email. (He realized (as I am) that there's a paradox of consultants needing to continuously generate business, but while they're doing the work they can't spend time generating business. However, everyone needs to pay their dues, which is both a prerequisite and fun! Hence this blog.)

Modern challenges

Regarding the challenges we face today, Kerry identified email and meetings. The dramatic flow of information, which used to be limited by to how much paper you can get into your basket, has gone through the roof. Having to process hundreds of messages a day, combined with back-to-back meetings, is a recipe for being overworked, something I've certainly noticed. One part of the solution, Gleeson says, is to apply some of Peter Drucker's ideas around evaluating where our time is going, thinking about what these meetings consist of and which one's we don't have to go to, and considering what other technology can you use as a substitute. He also points out that in his experience most managers do not manage. Instead, they do the work themselves, which leaves very little time to manage. And the irony is most managers are made managers because they are good at doing the work, but that is not the skill they need after being promoted.

Metrics and follow-up

I asked Kerry about how to measure white collar work, which he acknowledge is difficult to do. They do it over time, and track things like how much time clients spend on their email, how much time they spend looking for things, how much time they spend in meetings, how much time is consumed with interruptions, etc. They find they typically save people about two hours a day. (You might check out my interview with Sally McGhee where we also talked about metrics.)

Gleeson makes the point that the vast majority of people he works with are professional people who already manage to get the work done. But most of them work harder than they need to. Put another way, his aim is to reduce their stress, which helps them and the company, and lets them get home on time and have a life, a point many other experts I've interviewed make [6]. I think this is important because some people, while they realize the need help, are hesitant to ask for it. They think it's a sign of weakness. Instead, I promote it as a sign of strength - it's the successful people who want to improve their work habits. I also think it's important for us not to judge ourselves. As Kerry points out above, we really aren't taught the basics skills of self-management. I still think this is a mind-blower.


Another them of my interviews is around habits, and how we can form new ones. Gleeson says the secret to getting people to change their habits is to get them into new habits, that is, making them do the new ones. New and better habits to overcome their old and bad habits, and his process builds this in. This is as opposed to telling them to do it. He points out that procrastination - a theme of his - is a big example of a bad habit that's been learned. Importantly, part of their approach involves obtaining the objectives and goals that are meaningful to clients, and concentrating their efforts around those things. That said, there are clearly principles that are global.

Definition of productive

I asked Kerry one of my favorite questions, what does being productive mean to him. He referred to an old article by Albert Gray: The Common Denominator of Success, and two ideas that stuck with him. The first is the common idea that we have to have a purpose - something that will drive us and enable to us to keep at it. He says this is common wisdom and we all know it, but it's important to becoming successful. And although it is hard work, there are a lot of people who work hard but aren't particularly successful. (You might enjoy The Achievement Factors, where the authors talk about the connection between achievement, goals, and purposefulness. They found that when there are priorities, these naturally lead to rank-ordered goals - some get more emphasis than others. And this then leads to action.)

The second idea that struck Gleeson was the ability to use habits to do things that other people are not willing to do. (Sounds like an application of the 80/20 Principle. You have read the book, right?) He gives the example of a sales person who, after a day of continuous calling and many rejections, stays to make that last call. He's the first one in, and he makes the cold calls nobody else will do.

Thanks Kerry!


Reader Comments (1)

Interesting read. I've seen this book a few times in shops and been intrigued by it. Will have to go check it out some more :)

April 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJames

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