As part of our series on Productivity we’ve interviewed Rand Fishkin to quiz him about his own personal productivity challenges, how he handles them and the tools he uses day to day to help.
Rand is the CEO of SEO software company; SEOmoz. He co-authored the Art of SEO from O'Reilly Media and co-founded Inbound.org. Rand is an addict of all things social, you can find him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare and Pinterest.
Meetings are often cited as being unproductive – whether that’s because they run on too long, are unfocused, fail to result in action (the list is endless!). Please share your experiences and your tips for keeping meetings productive.
We haven't done a ton of work to systemically improve meetings yet. Thus far, they haven't been a big thorn in our side, and are generally productive, enjoyable and not overly burdensome; particularly for product planning, reviewing, specs, wireframes, etc. Deeper meetings are also a good chance to collaborate and share opinions.
I would say that we've done well with ad hoc meetings to establish quick goals, give action items and get everyone on their way; but for formal meetings, it's really important that people feel heard, communication is shared, and folks don't feel like they're "out of the picture." I suspect we've been lucky so far and will have to work harder in the future to prevent meetings from becoming unproductive or a distraction.
How do you manage your own personal workload?
I keep my life very minimal - basically just work and Geraldine (my wife).
My Google calendar runs all my appointments and obligations and everything I do or need to do runs through email. If it isn't in email as a task or on the calendar as an appointment, it never gets done.
I also keep other life stuff very simple - don't own any property, don't own a car, don't buy much, don't have kids, don't take on many outside obligations that aren't directly tied to Moz. My work life and obligations are so extensive that I wouldn't feel confident that I could effectively manage much else, so I try to keep it very simple. I also have an executive admin who helps with scheduling, expense reports, documents and lots of other tasks that help keep me focused and productive.
How do you keep track of what your team are working on?
In terms of others at Moz - we have an executive lunch every Monday where I hear about the plans for each part of the organization (operations, product, engineering and marketing). I've then got semi-regular one-on-ones with team members and e-team folks to get a sense of what's challenging them and where I can be helpful. Finally, each team has monthly status updates that show their goals and progress to the rest of the organization (sent on an all-staff mailing list).
How do you manage collaboration between your employees? Are there any tools or apps you’d recommend?
We've found email and Google docs to serve 90% of our needs. Inside specific teams, they'll be other individual cases for bug tracking or customer service tickets or product planning, etc but organisation-wide, email, Gcal, and Gdocs have done the trick.
How often do you check email a day? Do you have a system for managing your inbox?
Constantly - literally every 10-20 minutes, with only a few rare breaks (long meeting, sleep, plane flights without wifi, dinner with friends, etc). Email's my primary application for 80%+ of my work (notable exclusions being writing and creating presentations). I use a modified version of inbox zero, attempting to answer/solve everything in my inbox and then archiving so as to reach a point where there's nothing active on my plate.
What are your tips for working efficiently when you’re away from the office?
Get through all the email I can starting in priority order (meaning from Mozzers, first, then important external contacts, then all the other stuff). I do a lot of delegating, too, but try to limit what's on anyone's plate internally if possible. I want to be the grease of Moz's engine and help it run more smoothly, make everyone's job easier, not the cog that's constantly churning out more work for people, increasing complexity or heaping external concerns on team members.
Your top productivity tip
If you had to give one tip to small companies looking to grow and improve their output, what would it be?
Determine your primary focus and value-add; then outsource, hire for or simplify/remove everything you don't do well. Also, try to keep all your tasks and communication in a single source (email's been fantastic for that for me, and enables dramatically more productivity, IMO, than when I see folks who have lots of different ways to-do items in their personal/professional life can come in).
What ROI have you seen on your efforts to improve productivity within your company?
Simplification and focus have helped a lot. I think a lot of Mozzers in the early days got very stressed concentrating on so many diverse tools and products. As we've grown the teams, we've actually shrunk the diversity of our offerings and functionality, so that we can concentrate on doing a better job with the 5-10 features that matter most to customers.