Episode 230 – Carson Tate – Work Simply Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and we have a very special guest with us today! She is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply – a productivity and training firm that served a fast-growing list of clients including Delta Airline, FedEx, Wells Fargo, Chick-fil-A, and a bunch more. Welcome, Carson Tate!
Carson Tate: Thank you, Steve. I’m so glad to be with you! Thanks for the opportunity!
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet! And we’ve had fun visiting already, and now I’m really looking forward to getting into this. I’d like to tell you just a little bit more about Carson before we get fully into the show. She’s known for igniting personal transformation through her simple, powerful, and actionable strategies and tools. She wants people to work smarter, not harder, and Carson is on a mission to debunk the time management myths that keep us trapped or overwhelmed, and to help us personalize our productivity, so we can work simply and live fully. Now, prior to starting Working Simply, she worked in human resources and sales functions with Fortune 200 firms. She holds a bachelor’s in psychology, a Master’s in organizational development, she has advanced coaching certificates – Carson is all over it. So, Carson, just to get us going, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you, and maybe that’s even led you to do what you’re doing today.
Carson Tate: Absolutely! You’ve got the professional bio, so I will tell you the personal story – kind of my why. So, it was December 26th, the day after Christmas, and we had a light bulb that had burned out on our Christmas tree and I had the dreaded task of having to figure out which bulb and replace it. So, I have my strand in the middle of the den floor laid out in front of me and I quickly realized, “Oh, I don’t have the replacement bulb.” So, I go to try to stand up and I can’t get off the floor. I’m completely exhausted – physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, emotionally exhausted; even my spirit was tired. Ten days before we had celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, and Steve, I had made this cake thing, it was like the size of a castle. That’s called Working-mom Guilt. I now know what that’s called. And I looked at myself, like, “How did I get here?”
Carson Tate: Well, six weeks after my daughter was born, I got on an airplane, I flew to Arizona and spent a week working with a financial services firm. The entire first year of her life I followed that pattern: on the road, driven by my ego, building the company, serving folks – and, by the way, I’m teaching and consulting on how to work simply, and my life is a mess. And so, on that day after Christmas, my world came crashing down. And, as I sat there on the floor, I realized two things: One, I didn’t have any significant memories of my daughter’s first year of life because of the choices that I made, and my ego; and two, the way I was working, was not working. I was going to have to make some hard choices and do some things differently, and that was the catalyst that really shifted my business and moved more into that purpose, and why our work matters. I want you to be productive, I want you to drive revenue, but I also want you to have a robust, vibrant life – so, it’s moving from success to significance.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, what a great story! Oh, my goodness! I’m sure we can all relate to that, so thank you for sharing that and what’s brought you to this point. Now, where were you raised? What’s your background?
Carson Tate: I was born and raised in South Carolina, I went to school in Virginia, and now, my family and I – there are two dogs, which Steve has already been introduced to, and my daughter – we live in North Carolina. We live in Charlotte, North Carolina now.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, great! Well, thanks for that background. We’re so excited to hear about Working Simply, about the book that you’ve written – tell us about your book.
Carson Tate: Yes. So, I had this a-ha moment working with clients, where the “standard” or “best practices” around productivity tools, this app, this methodology, didn’t work all the time. And so, I had clients that were feeling like failures, like they couldn’t get organized – well, that wasn’t the case. What I quickly realized – this is not rocket science – we don’t all think and process information the same way. So, in graduate school, I did research into cognitive thinking styles, which definitely informs how you set up and organize your workflow and developed an assessment. We call it “The Productivity Style Assessment.” And my first book, “Work Simply” is built off of that assessment. There’s no one size fits all, so you take the assessment, and then the assessment identifies one of four styles. Once you know your style, then let’s say you want to work on your email management, you’d flip to that chapter, give you some strategies based on how you think and how you work. So, you build this custom, personalized productivity toolkit.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s terrific! I’m excited to learn more about that. So, I know that you talk about four productivity styles in the book, right? Is that correct?
Carson Tate: Yes, that’s correct! Yes.
Steve Shallenberger: Do you mind talking about those a little bit? And then we can talk about applications in our lives today.
Carson Tate: Absolutely! So, there are four productivity styles and you have an assessment on our website – workingsimply.com – so you can take it and figure out your style, but I’m going to describe them, and I bet your listeners, Steve, can figure out which one they are. So, there are four styles: prioritizer, planner, arranger, and visualizer.
Carson Tate: So, prioritizers – they’re thinking analytical, linear, fact-based; they’ve never met a piece of data they didn’t like, they’re very goal-oriented, they’re very driven towards completing the goal. I always say that if you get on an elevator with a prioritizer, and they need to go somewhere, they’re going to close the door on you. It’s not personal, but they have a goal. And they’re going to drive towards that goal. They’re succinct, direct, really to the point. And if you want to annoy them, you tell them that we need to do this project because you feel that’s the right course of action. They’re not much of the feeling folks. So, that’s your prioritizer.
Carson Tate: Your planner is thinking organized, sequential, detailed – these are the natural project planners. These are your folks that love a list. They’ve never met a list they didn’t like and, in fact, they’ve been known to put something on their list that they’ve already done. Do you know why? Just so they can cross it off!
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that feels so good!
Carson Tate: It does feel so good! And that’s it! For a planner, there’s nothing better than a sense of completion – strong action orientation, very detail-oriented, they’re the ones on our teams that we want to make sure they look at the documents before they go out to our customers because they will find the typos. They set the agenda, they’re very organized and on time.
Carson Tate: Our arrangers – the third style – these guys are more emotional, more relational, they’re more kinesthetic. They do their best work with and through people. I always say that they’re the ones that can walk into a room and they know what’s not being said. They have high emotional intelligence, they’re excellent communicators, excellent teachers. They’re also the ones on the team that have the nicest writing utensils, and they don’t want you to take their pens – don’t take their pens, don’t take their colored markers because they like color and they’re highly visual.
Carson Tate: And last, but not least, we’ve got our visualizers. They are our big-picture thinkers. They are the ones that can synthesize disparate ideas and data, they’re adrenaline junkies, they’re always pushing, “What’s next? Why not?” They’re the innovators. They see the future – out of side is out of mind. So, all of those file folders and organizational tools do not work for visualizers because they need to see it. They’re the ones in a meeting that go off on the tangent and they’re all off, talking about some idea that appears crazy but then they connect it back to the agenda item in a novel new way. They get a lot of work done quickly, and they get bored very quickly.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, thanks for that overview! I noticed the subtitle of your book is “Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style”. So, what does that mean?
Carson Tate: Steve, part of the myth around time management that I want to debunk is this one size fits all – that you have to do it this way, or you have to use this app in order to be productive – and that’s just not true. So, the visualizer, their productivity is whiteboards, markers, not a lot of structure – that really optimizes their performance. But if you gave whiteboards and magic markers to our planners, you would completely derail their productivity. They need a sequential project plan, they like checkmarks and list. So there’s no one size fits all. You’ve got to identify how you think and process and then use the strategies and tools that will work for you.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, that is very interesting! So, any particular recommendations for our listeners on the best strategies?
Carson Tate: Yes! So, first, identify your styles. You’ve got those descriptions, you can always check out our Productivity Style Assessment on our website. And so, if we’re thinking about productivity strategies, I’ll give one for each one of the styles.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay.
Carson Tate: So, for our prioritizers, it’s a strategy that we call “Protect Your 90”. Now, remember that prioritizers are very goal-oriented and very data-oriented. And so, what this is, is 90 minutes a day focus on your high-value, strategic goals. Now, if you focus for 90 minutes a day – and it doesn’t have to be 90 contiguous minutes – over a five-day workweek, that’s seven and a half hours. That’s a significant amount of focused effort, and the prioritizers will get significant amounts of work done.
Carson Tate: My planners, I like to give them a list because remember, they are organized sequential list makers, so their productivity tool is something we call a “15-minute List”. And this is a list of tasks that can be completed in 15 minutes or less. Now, the magic in this list is they’re simple – it’s like, “Call the vet”, “Prep for a one-on-one”. But what this list allows my planners to do is capitalize on those micro-segments of their day. So, the 10 minutes you’re waiting for a conference call to start, or at some point, we will all be waiting in our dentist’s office again – when you’re waiting somewhere, you can pull out this list and actually get some work done. And a planner loves nothing more than getting work done.
Carson Tate: My arranger – for them, it’s around energy management. And so, it’s making sure that they’re leaning in if they’re a night owl or a morning person, but also making sure that they’re well hydrated and fueled throughout the day. And, since they’re so emotional and so intuitive, having emotional reset tools – movement, music, and humor are some of the best ones. So, after they have a challenging conversation, they’ve got a set of tools that allows them to reset and get going again.
Carson Tate: And then, for my visualizers – these are my adrenaline junkies. They get bored really fast, they’re always pushing the envelope. So, their productivity strategy is to oscillate between interesting or creative work and boring or uninspiring work. So, this is a little bit, Steve, like a carrot and a stick. So, the work you love to do, then you do a little something you don’t love to do; work what you love to do, then a little something you don’t love to do.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I love it! That’s awesome! Carson, in other words, really learning what your strengths are and what your natural flows are, and kind of really organizing strategies to maximize your productivity around those. Is that what you’re saying?
Carson Tate: That’s exactly what I’m saying! And another thing – I know your listeners can do this – it’s the courage to really own them, even though maybe your office or your manager uses a different tool or strategy, but the confidence to say, “You know what? This is the way I work best. Let my results speak for themselves.”
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s very interesting! Well, that’s a whole other level in itself, isn’t it? It’s knowing what style your manager has or team members, right?
Carson Tate: Absolutely! So, like you – you talk about this: We believe that the highest performing teams are diverse in every sense of the definition of diversity. And so, we add in one more – we call it Work Style Diversity or Productivity Style Diversity. So, the highest performing teams have all four, and so, knowing what your manager’s style is, is important so you can see how this falls out in the composition of the team and you can know where there might be some predictable conflict between you and your manager.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, good stuff! Let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s just think about, with all the changes that businesses and employees have had to face over the past few weeks or a couple of months, it can be overwhelming for many people to really pivot from going to a job outside of their home, perhaps every day, to now work in virtually. It’ll be interesting to see what the new norm looks like, but we’re having to learn new things. So how can we conquer that overwhelm of working and living in this ever-changing and complex Coronavirus world?
Carson Tate: It’s hard! So, the first place is just a little grace and the acknowledgment that this is a big change. And then, my team and I have always worked virtually, so I’ve always led a virtual team and the team that I’m leading right now, they’ve been working virtually for 10 years. So we definitely know the roadblocks, pitfalls, as well as the things that really optimize performance. And so to work simply and live fully in this Coronavirus world, there’s a four-part framework that we’ve used internally on our team and that we’ve taught to other virtual teams. It’s, go for an early win. So, when we don’t have the structure of the commute, and going to an office, we’ve got to have an early win in our day to kind of get that mojo, get that motivation going. And it can be, Steve, a personal or a professional win. So, if I’m coaching a prioritizer, I might tell them, “Your early win is to beat your time. Get dressed faster today or process 10 emails faster today than you did yesterday.” That taps into their goal orientation, and I want that win really, really early. So, get a win – quick, quick win.
Carson Tate: The second one is some kind of plan or schedule or structure to the day. Now, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach here. We might have multiple generations, you’ve got grandchildren, I’ve got a daughter, we’ve got dogs. So, first of all, we have grace around that we’re all dealing with different constraints and we also think differently. So, my prioritizers and planners, their plan is going to be more calendar, more linear time blocks. Well, if my arrangers and visualizers have too much structure, they’re going to chafe against it and it’s going to undermine their productivity. So, I coach them to plan or structure their day and their virtual world more thematically. So Monday, let’s say, might be admin and Thursday afternoon’s day might be reading and prep for a podcast. So, you’ve got to get an early win and have some kind of plan or structure to your day. Then you’ve got to execute.
Carson Tate: So, Steve, I was a college athlete, I ran cross country and track and I can tell you, when I was fat and lazy in the summer, it didn’t go well. I learned that lesson very quickly and I didn’t want to have that conversation with my coach when I showed back up in September. And so, it might be a cliche, but I really believe that what you do in the offseason, that’s where the champions are made – and so, what we’ve been telling folks is, this is a reset. So we can think about this as a little bit of an offseason, but the third piece around working virtually is that execution, that impact. You’re showing up, you’re leveraging your strengths, you’re getting the work done. And any of those strategies that I gave at the beginning, all of those work in a virtual world.
Carson Tate: And then, the fourth step is to celebrate, because if you’re used to being in the office where you can get an affirmation from your boss or just a smile or check-in from a colleague, you’re not getting that anymore. So, we’ve got to create systems that allow us to reflect and acknowledge the impact that we made, what we accomplished. It’s really important. So, it’s a four-part framework: early win – plan or structure for your day – execute, execute, execute, make an impact – and then don’t forget to celebrate and reflect.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, great advice! I love that! That’s excellent! Ten years of virtual working together. Wow, that’s a long time! So, what are some of the best tips that you have of working together virtually – things that really work, that are productive? This is a good four steps. I mean, I appreciate that. What are some things you found that works well, in addition to this?
Carson Tate: So, we’ve always been early adopters of technology, Steve, which is not new information for your listeners. However, we were playing with video technology a long time ago. So, I have a requirement with my team, and we train our clients as well, and I was so grateful that you jumped right in there on video too, that we employ video technology so we can see each other so that we can see those micro cues. The other thing that we do internally that works really well, is we start all of our team meetings with a professional win, a personal win, and one thing that we’re struggling with or one thing that is a challenge – and that can be either personal or professional – to continue to build that community and that psychological safety.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good thoughts! I love the idea of the use of videos, where you can see each other. It’s such a different dimension, isn’t it, than just the audio?
Carson Tate: It really is! And I can tell you, I’ve caught things that it might have taken me longer to catch, in terms of struggles with teams or clients, just because I can see them.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah. That’s great! Working from home, really, could be a minefield of distractions. I mean, you have dogs, kids, spouses, partners, things that break.
Carson Tate: Yes! And don’t forget the fridge. Maybe that’s not your but that’s my problem.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, food! Yeah, it’s always there. It’s calling your name.
Carson Tate: It is! And the chocolate… Anyway, we digress. But, yes!
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. But there’s all kinds of stuff going on. And so, how can people navigate and manage these distractions and not feel that they’re wasting hours each day?
Carson Tate: You’ve heard this and it’s worth repeating. The first one is some kind of office space. For three reasons: one – I need a transition. So, I need a psychological and physical transition from maybe you’re being a mom, maybe you’re being a granddad, maybe you’re cooking, to “now it’s time to work”. So, even if this is the edge of a countertop, it’s that dedicated space that you transition into. And then, it’s also really important because this space can help provide a boundary. And we use a system we call “The Stoplight System” to help manage the distractions of everybody who’s in the house. And so, it’s a colored post-it or a piece of construction paper – red, yellow, green – and if it’s on red, don’t interrupt. So, this is a distraction mitigation. Don’t interrupt. Yellow – proceed with caution. And then green, it’s okay. So, that office space and managing with some colors and communication can help with all of the people that want to come and interrupt you. We also are big fans of headphones. We love them. We use them all the time. And we also use music.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, how do you use music?
Carson Tate: So, music is used either to energize, to kind of get that Mojo going. And we also use it when, if I’m dropping into a writing sprint, and I need to kind of turn down the noise in my head, if I have music in the background, it gives my brain a little something to think about while I drop into writing. So, when you want to self-interrupt, when you have thoughts swirling, music can kind of calm that down, so that you can focus. But one of the other issues in working from home – maybe you’ve experienced this – is that you get bored. You get uninspired, and so, you’ll self-interrupt. So, you’ve got to have tools both for those external interruptions and those internal interruptions.
Steve Shallenberger: I love your recommendations here, particularly of really being mindful of your workspace and things that are there, that help you be productive. So, I’m glad that you mentioned that. Just like anything else. I mean, if you’re working in your office, in a workspace with other people, you’re going to be thoughtful about that, to be productive. So, I’m glad that you mentioned this, Carson, of having a dedicated workplace and that you’re set up to succeed.
Carson Tate: So, Steve, how do you do it? I saw a glimpse of your office – how have you set up your office so that it supports your productivity?
Steve Shallenberger: I love the idea of the different styles of people, but I like to have a clean workspace, but it’s not always clean.
Carson Tate: Do you clean it off at the end of the day? I’m just curious. I’m trying to figure out your style.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m really working on that. So, I’m really working on going paperless, cleaning out everything I’ve had over the years, and anything that’s critical I’m scanning, putting in my electronic files – and I’ve been working on it now for about a year and a half – and then everything becomes electronic. So, there’s no paper.
Carson Tate: Yeah!
Steve Shallenberger: And I easily can get to anything that’s important. That’s one of the blessings, I think, of the technology we have today. And then, doing some of the things you’ve talked about – thinking about what matters most, my various roles in life, and then setting goals for the week for each of those roles – so, being thoughtful – and then executing each day. So, just like you said, at the beginning of the day, taking time to focus on the bigger picture, but then narrow that down to the things that matter most and have a clear picture to get after them. And then, you just go to work. But I like your idea of the music and good thoughts on that! Okay, well, let’s just sit back and think – I’m always amazed at how fast time goes in these interviews, and we’re at the end of our interview. Any other final tips that you would like to give our listeners today that you think would help them in personal or professional productivity?
Carson Tate: I’ll give two more. One, I’ll just restate – I’ve said that a couple of times – there is no one size fits all. You have to personalize your productivity based on how you think and process information, and then use tools that will support you.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay.
Carson Tate: And then, the second one – and I’m hearing more and more from our clients, so I want to really bring this one up – is to make sure that when you work virtually you take breaks. Planners – you schedule them in; prioritizers – schedule them in; arrangers – they’re with people; visualizers -they’re with ideas. But breaks throughout the day are really important because we’re human beings. We’re not human doings. You can’t just sit and grind it out. So, make sure you’re taking some breaks.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good stuff! And then, not only that. Today, we have watches or rings or other things that keep you honest whether you’re taking your breaks or not.
Carson Tate: Exactly! So, let the technology work for you there – tell you to get up and move.
Steve Shallenberger: So fun to have Carson Tate with us today. Carson, how can people find out about what you’re doing, about your resources? You’ve mentioned some of them during our show today, but let’s just be sure we’ve got clear what’s available to people.
Carson Tate: Sure! So, on our website – workingsimply.com – you can take the Productivity Style Assessment, we have a resource center that’s got videos and articles that you can download. And then, also follow me on LinkedIn. So, Carson Tate on LinkedIn – fresh content, fresh videos every week on productivity, and staying engaged and motivated at work.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, I can tell you are such a delightful person! We wish you and your family – and dogs – all the best!
Carson Tate: Thank you, Steve! I appreciate it. Thank you so much!
Steve Shallenberger: It’s been a fun interview, and thanks for the tips and ideas and inspiration on productivity, and ways to approach it and how to move the bar up. Great job!
Carson Tate: Thank you so much!
Steve Shallenberger: We wish you the best, as you continue to make a difference in the world for good, and blessing other lives. And to our listeners, we wish each one of you the very best, as you’re working on these principles. You are touching people every single day, you’re making a difference for good in the world. This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!