Expert Interview with Jared Goralnick from AwayFind

As part of our series on Productivity we’ve interviewed Jared Goralnick to quiz him about his own personal productivity challenges, how he handles them and the tools he uses day to day to help.

Jared is the founder of AwayFind, an email management system that sends mobile notifications for priority messages. Productivity, entrepreneurship and the tech community are his passions; you can find him online via his blog Technotheory or connect via Twitter or LinkedIn.

Meetings

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.

While there are reasons for meetings, my biggest gripe is when people choose to hold the wrong kind of meeting for their purpose. A couple of examples:

  • Having everyone face-to-face on a daily basis (“daily stand up”) can take too much effort and limit our schedules before and after. Instead, consider having that same meeting over chat, where there’s a chance to quickly paste what everyone is working on, one at a time, provide feedback, and have a record of it for anyone who missed the meeting.  
  • Having a conference call with no visual feedback is a good excuse for a nap. Consider mandating video for all attendees, which adds energy, nuance, and focus to the whole experience. I use Skype video for most 1-on-1 calls, GotoMeeting video for high res screen sharing and multiple person video, and Google Hangouts for team discussions.

Workload

How do you manage your own personal workload?

The main two concepts for me are minimising interruptions and carefully structuring my day:

  • To minimize interruptions, I try to avoid my inbox the first few hours of each day. I rely heavily on Google Tasks and the iOS app GeeTasksPro to stay on track. I also rely on my own product AwayFind, to let me know if I receive an email that demands my immediate attention.  
  • To get the most and best out of me, I try to avoid meetings before 11am. I have more focus, and it’s early enough in the day that if something comes, I can address it in the rest of the day. During the mornings I work on the most meaningful, intensive tasks—usually some form of writing, brainstorming, or strategy.  

How do you keep track of what your team are working on?

We use a combination of Trac, Trello, and Google Apps spreadsheets. I also hired a Product Manager (hi, Dan!) in January, which has meant way less time tracking and prioritising my colleagues’ tasks.

Collaboration

How do you manage collaboration between your employees? Are there any tools or apps you’d recommend?

We use Trac for software development and Google Docs/spreadsheets for most other collaborative projects. We also use Highrise for marketing/press and Salesforce for sales/BD.

There’s generally a weekly review and reprioritisation that’s partly based on our weekly team meeting (over Google Hangout) every Friday.

Email

How often do you check email a day? Do you have a system for managing your inbox?

The answer to this question is my raison d’être at AwayFind! I try to avoid my inbox as late into the day as possible. While I’ll skim through it before I go to work, once I get to the office I rely exclusively on my task list and AwayFind for the first few hours.

There’s a lot more to my system, and my best summary of it is in my Guide to NOT Checking Email, which is free in AwayFind. A 2008 compilation of the tools and techniques I used is archived here: http://www.technotheory.com/productivity-talk/

I take elements from GTD, Four Hour Workweek, and other methods. I was a productivity trainer for 8 years, so I take this stuff seriously!

Remote working

What are your tips for working efficiently when you’re away from the office?

Much more on this: http://www.technotheory.com/how-to-work-remotely/

The main thing I’ll suggest is to ensure that you’re 100% mobile with your tools. Some of my newer additions: I use Postbox since I love its offline mail sync, I store everything on Dropbox so all my computers are in sync and there’s no chance of data loss, I use GeeTasksPro so that my tasks are available offline, and I have a really good battery life on my very light Lenovo laptop.

I also LOVE this Plantronics headset and take all my calls with it, at the office or on the road. The Bose QC15 also helps a lot for focusing. I can fit both headsets in the same (included) Bose travel case.

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?

Kill your interruptions. Structure your day so that you have time to focus on one task for an extended period.

People think the problem is they have too much to do. The bigger problem is that they check email an average of 36 times per hour (see most recent Gloria Mark study and plenty of her references for details on this). Constant interruptions and task switching kills both the quantity and quality of our output. Sure, you may have too much going on in your life, but you have some say over the order in which you live those things.

Make it possible to do one thing at a time and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to accomplish more and feel sane. Yes, you need a task list for this. Yes, AwayFind helps a lot with it (which is why I built it). But you need to close your inbox and focus on the highest impact activity for an extended period every day.

ROI

What ROI have you seen on your efforts to improve productivity within your company?

To be clear, the needs of your colleagues are probably very different than your own. In other words, the small business owner who gets 75 emails a day from outside her company has very different demands on her time than the engineer who gets 10 emails a day, and all of them are internal.

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that a productivity solution for one will work for all in a company.

I mention this because my “productivity tip” and much of my advice above is for people more like me who have to report to different audiences or, for whatever reason, have lots of demands on their time.

With my team on the other hand, our efforts have focused on collaboration and clarity. We want to make it easy for us all to be on the same page and to ensure that every time we reply to a task that it adds value for anyone who might later start working on that project. As such Trac is very helpful for us in our engineering work and Trello for a high-level view of responsibilities.

In terms of the metrics that we monitor company-wide, given that we’re a product-focused company, we are constantly implementing processes to prevent us from duplicating the same task or making the same mistake that we made before. We also automate a lot of things. And the protocols we’ve adopted for our communications tools have made it easier to collaborate without confusion.