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“Being productive is not about doing a lot of things”, with Fiona Adler

The thing we often miss is that being productive is not about doing a lot of things. Yes, over time it might seem that productive people get a lot of things done, but this is the cumulative effect of just doing a few small but important things each day. When we’re busy rushing and stressing […]

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The thing we often miss is that being productive is not about doing a lot of things. Yes, over time it might seem that productive people get a lot of things done, but this is the cumulative effect of just doing a few small but important things each day. When we’re busy rushing and stressing about all that needs to be done, we don’t have the headspace to really get clear on our priorities. Which of course, are the real key to all productivity.


As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Fiona Adler. Fiona is the founder of Actioned.com — a productivity tool for individuals and teams. She also writes about entrepreneurship at DoTheThings.com and is the marketing director at Power Diary — online practice management software for health clinics. Fiona previously founded and built Australia’s leading business reviews website and was the 3rd Australian woman to climb to the top of Mount Everest. With an MBA, multiple business successes, and a family living in a foreign country, she is an ambitious person who enjoys pushing the envelope to get the most out of life. But she has also come to realize that being successful doesn’t necessarily mean going at full-speed all the time. In fact, her productivity tool is all about helping people be more deliberate about how they spend their time and achieving more, without necessarily working more.


Thank you so much for joining us, Fiona! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ever since I read Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, I’ve been fascinated by productivity and the way we organize ourselves to get things done. As someone who has achieved some big things, people were often asking me how I did it all. The truth is that over time, I developed a system for really getting to the heart of what was most important and doubling down on that. So, after I sold my last business, I set about building a tool that others could use.

It really breaks my heart to see talented people with great ambitions, struggling to actually do the things that would help them achieve their goals. My mission with Actioned, is to provide a tool that makes it easy to do the things you want to do. This doesn’t mean working faster or more hours — it means being more deliberate in how we spend our time.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I think every generation feels like they’re busier and more rushed than the past, and it’s probably true! Partly it’s because of our cultural values: we admire people that have a lot on their plates and are hard-working, while idleness is seen as laziness.

Technology also means that our work never stops. There’s access to more information at all times and we’re hyper-aware that there’s always more that we can do. Now, it’s up to us to define when we do and don’t work and how we blend our work with the rest of our lives.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

Being rushed is never good for productivity. We’ve all had days when we’re running late and we make silly mistakes; we spill coffee on our clothes, we can’t find our keys, we forget to pack our laptop charger and more. The same applies when we’re rushing through our work. In an effort to get more done, often we end up being a lot less effective.

The thing we often miss is that being productive is not about doing a lot of things. Yes, over time it might seem that productive people get a lot of things done, but this is the cumulative effect of just doing a few small but important things each day. When we’re busy rushing and stressing about all that needs to be done, we don’t have the headspace to really get clear on our priorities. Which of course, are the real key to all productivity.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

If we slow down, we can stop thrashing around, decide on a direction, and take steps to get there — slowly!

One of the biggest benefits of slowing down is how we feel about ourselves and our work. When we’re rushing, we feel like we can never catch up, the to-do list gets bigger and bigger, and we end up feeling like we’re failing at life.

On the other hand, when we take the time to be more deliberate, we have fewer, but more important things on our list each day. It’s easier to get these things done and feel like we’re making real progress. This feeling gives us confidence which creates more momentum for being deliberate. Of course, this makes us happier and nicer people to be around. And it’s easier for us to be truly present with our loved ones.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Write an action list each day. Seriously, instead of just starting work and getting lost in it all, take 10 minutes to define a short list of your highest priorities. This changes everything about how we work and makes us a lot more productive.

Spend time alone with just a notebook and your thoughts. Journalling is a great way to get clarity on your thoughts. In today’s world, many of us never take the time to actually think. The act of sitting with just a notebook (no internet!) can help us identify patterns and solve problems — both in our work and personal lives.

Plan dinners and holiday activities. I used to get stressed and started to dread the task of cooking dinner for the family each night. Then I realized that I actually quite like cooking, it’s just the thinking about “what’s for dinner” that I don’t like! Now I take 10 minutes once a week and write out a plan, and suddenly this stress disappeared. Likewise, during school holidays, I’d hate the “what are we doing today?” questions that inevitably popped up around midday. Instead, if I have a rough plan with a few things scheduled, I can let everyone know what’s happening (and sometimes tell them to just enjoy being home doing not much!).

No phone in the bedroom. This is something I’d read about for years but never actually implemented until earlier this year. Believe me, you’ll sleep better and wake up less frazzled by leaving your phone in another room. (It really is an addiction!)

Make time to exercise. Of course, this has to be here! I try to do something physical every day — whether that be running, taking a yoga class, going out on my paddleboard, or just walking around the neighborhood. There’s nothing like gasping for air to bring you into the present moment!

Schedule downtime. If you’re an ambitious person and find it hard to relax, make downtime a priority and put it on your action list. By giving relaxation the same importance as some of your more tangible tasks, you’ll make sure it happens. For instance, I regularly put things like “watch a movie with the kids” or “call xxxx for a chat”, etc. It probably sounds silly, but if this is what it takes to get me slow down, so be it!

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

To me, mindfulness is about enjoying the process of whatever it is you’re doing. It’s deciding not just what you’ll do, but the spirit with which you’ll be present. What energy will you bring to this particular part of the day?

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

As you’re going about your day, just stop, take a few deep breathes and become aware of your surroundings. Really see what’s in front of you. Recenter and refocus on your objective for this point in time. If you’re working, it might be to get something done, but if you’re with friends it might be to connect on a deeper level, or if you’re with your children, it might be to provide them with a safe place to express themselves.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Aside from taking the time to proactively plan my day, I also use timers to help me stay focused on a particular task. I tell myself that I’ll stick with this thing for the time I’ve allotted and afterward I can let myself some slack to succumb to distractions.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

Honestly, my favorite mindfulness tool is yoga. It took me a long time to learn to love yoga and I remember hating it and watching the clock when I first started. But now I find doing a strenuous yoga session to be the best way to quieten my mind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” This quote from Stephen Covey speaks to me because I honestly believe that prioritization is so often the missing ingredient.

I also like Tim Ferriss’ idea that “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” It’s hard work to make difficult choices about certain things being more important than others, but once you have that clarity, it really is possible to slow down to do more.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love to see more people taking action towards their big goals. Too many people are all talk and no action, but if they channeled that energy into taking small but deliberate steps in the right direction, so many dreams could be accomplished.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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