Expert Interview with Corbett Barr from Insanely Useful Media

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

Corbett Barr is founder of Insanely Useful Media, which publishes the blogs Think Traffic and Expert Enough to an audience of over 100,000 monthly readers. Follow Corbett on Twitter: @corbettbarr.

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. 

I like the social aspect of meetings, but they can definitely be unproductive as hell. My approach to keeping meetings productive now is to avoid them as much as possible. I meet with my assistant editor about once a week to go over critical projects. Other than that, I rarely take meetings unless I could use some social interaction.

Workload

How do you manage your own personal workload?

First, I try to say “no” to as much as I can. It's easy to get in a habit of taking on more and more projects that don't really help the core mission.

Then, I usually have a set of recurring things I have to do, along with between one and three other bigger transformative projects I’m working on.

To manage tasks, I like. Beyond that, I use Google Docs and Evernote to keep track of project notes and goals.

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

We use email a lot (probably way too much) to communicate the status of various projects. Other than that, we don’t often use formal project tracking tools unless something is very time-sensitive or is client-focused.

Collaboration

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

We use Gmail, Google Docs and Skype. For sharing big files (especially for video editing), we use Amazon S3.

Email

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

I wish I could say I check email twice a day. That would be my ideal.

Unfortunately my inbox also tends to be a filing system, notification system, note taking system, team communication tool and to-do list.

I’ve found that if I leave my inbox open all day, it dominates my day and I get much less done (I become reactive instead of proactive). To mitigate this, I’ve gotten in the habit of completely closing my inbox in between uses, when I’m actually working on tasks. Then, I have to consciously open my inbox again when I’m ready or need it, instead of reacting to the latest incoming message.

Remote working

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

Bring headphones. Other than that it’s the same for me whether I’m in “the office” or on the road.

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?

Cut meetings down to a bare minimum. Give your employees way more respect and responsibility so they can do their work well. Ruthlessly cut out tasks and projects that aren’t high-value.

ROI

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

We don’t have a way to tie hard ROI to productivity changes.

On the “softer” side, I can tell you that we’re very happy with this system of holding very few meetings and focusing only on essential and high-leverage projects and tasks. We’ve been running the business under the 37 Signals philosophy as explained in their books Rework and Getting Real. There’s no way I would ever go back. This is the future of work.