Interview with Leading Time Management Authority Ronel van Tonder
Author Ronel van TonderToday I'm talking to author and productivity guru Ronel van Tonder about her latest book, "How to Become a Productivity Guru", as well as what to look for in a time management tool or app, and how to deal with interruptions.

Ronel is a science fiction author from South Africa, currently residing in Johannesburg. Her works  include a dark, dystopian sci-fi trilogy, The Corrupted SUN Script, and a standalone cyberpunk novel, The Seventh Glitch. When she's not writing, Ronel spends her free time slaying rendered baddies in the form of robots, gangsters and aliens - with any weapon that happens to be at hand. She also runs her own website design company, and loves dabbling in graphic design, 3D modelling and animation.

Hi Ronel, thanks so much for stopping by our blog today. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I'm an indie author from South Africa. I run my own successful website design agency, write sci-fi novels, create book covers, and dabble in 3D modelling and animation. I guess that's one of the reasons I had to figure out how to squeeze as much as I could from each day: I've just got so many things that I'm passionate about, I had to find time to pursue them all.

Your latest book, How to Become a Productivity Guru is published on 6 May. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety after experiencing several panic attacks last year. It was so weird for me, because I didn't even know I was stressed at the time! I'm one of those people that tend to bottle up a lot of what's going on inside.

At first, I thought I'd developed asthma: I regularly had difficulty breathing and tightness in my chest. When I eventually got up the nerve to go the doctor, I was shocked when he told me that I was suffering from anxiety and what I was experiencing were actually panic attacks. I mean, I was having them four to five times a week!

It was a sign of early burn out. I was simply doing too much in a day and still driving myself crazy when I couldn't get everything done that I wanted. I'm incredibly stubborn, so I decided that instead of dropping any of my hobbies and passions I would instead find a way to do everything I wanted without ending up in a mental asylum. I began reading up on time management and productivity, and what I learned on the way has really helped me to achieve so much more than I could have dreamed possible.

Since I've discovered so many awesome techniques and apps on my own journey to productivity, I decided to put all those resources into one place, in an easily-accessible medium. Hopefully, someone like me who simply can't give up on all the stuff they want to do, will find the book. And, hopefully, they'll be able to become a productivity guru and chase their own dreams without burning out.

You’ve always been fond of writing, and you’re an author of four science-fiction novels as well as some short stories. What inspired you to switch from fiction to non-fiction and write about productivity this time?

One big reason for me is that I know a lot of writers do their writing on a part-time basis. This means they have a day job (sometimes two) and they still want to get their book out. I mean, that was me two years ago.

I was working as an IT girl for an insurance company, I had my design agency running on the side which took up several hours of my day, and began writing my sci-fi trilogy. Trying to do all three things at once led to burnout because I just had no idea how to be a productive person.

After meeting so many awesome indie authors, I realised that it was time to share what I'd learned about productivity and make a difference, even if it was just giving someone an extra hour or two every day to do what they love: to write!

What would you most like readers to take away from How to Become a Productivity Guru?

How to Become a Productivity GuruI think the overall mindset of most people that have day jobs where they make money for their bosses needs to change. I was scared to approach my boss and ask if I could shift the way I worked in order to become more productive. How is that even logical? But it was how I felt at the time, and I'm sure there are millions of people out there that have the same reservation.

Also, when I first suggested telecommuting as a way of saving myself some time (I used to spend more than two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic every day), I was told by my employers that didn't believe in people working from home. That it would allow their employees to slack off during the day, and they wouldn't be able to keep tabs on them and their actual output.

Getting an answer like that made me furious. But, it was also the push I needed to figure out how to become even more productive, to the point where I could quit my job and work from home doing what I loved.

So, it doesn't matter what job you're in at the moment. In my opinion, if you're not working for yourself, then you should be. If you lack the self discipline to make something like that work for you, then get your act together and start forming habits that will allow you to become more disciplined!

I've never been happier than I am right now, and it's all because I took the plunge and decided to make a change in my life. If there's anything to be taken from my story and the stuff I learned on the way, then by all means let it be that.

Are you currently working on anything that you can share with us?

Always! I've recently put out two colouring books, so we'll see how that goes. I'm also co-authoring a children's book with my mother who's recently dipped her toe into short stories. I'm very excited to see where that leads.

I got my hands on a few shorter novellas and stories that I wrote when I was younger, so I'm polishing  them up and publishing them for some extra exposure.

Then I'll be starting on the first novel of a seven-book series in the paranormal genre in May. That I'm really keen to start working on, since it's been brewing in my head for quite a while. I'll probably be releasing the Hellhound series under a pen name, but I haven't quite decided yet.

I'm also in the final stages of completing an online course for indie authors that takes them through the entire process of researching, plotting, writing, editing, proofing, publishing, and marketing their first novel. It includes a ton of stuff that I've learned on the way that will make the process a lot less painful for first-time authors.

So, for now that's about it. I haven't worked out what I'll be tackling next year, but I know book five to seven of the Hellhound series will be written during that time, and probably a bunch of new stuff that I'll come up with later in the year.

One of the issues you cover in your book is managing your incoming emails and, more specifically, how to empty your inbox. How often do you check your emails in a typical day? Do you have set times in the day just for dealing with these or do you have another system that works for you?

My number one rule for emails is that I don't check them first thing in the morning. I will be the first to admit that there are exceptions - for example, if my partner needs an immediate answer on an email sent that morning which I have to review, but this happens rarely.

Instead, I check my emails at about 10am each morning, and then sporadically throughout the day, keeping it to about 3-4 checks, usually less. Some days I am much more disciplined than others, but overall, as long as I stick with that first rule and make sure that I get two or three Pomodoros in before checking my emails, then I know my day will turn out to be a productive one.

Being a writer, it’s important for you to be able to focus on your work. What do you think is the best way to deal with unexpected interruptions?

I must admit, I do still struggle with this. I live in an open-plan house, so there is no study or office where I can close the door and put a huge do-not-disturb sign on it.

I've found that communication does make a huge difference, as well as other visual cues that say you're in a Pomodoro and can't be disturbed. Our dogs, however, seem to have trouble with this concept, so I do occasionally have to abandon my Pomodoro and throw a ball around for a few minutes before returning to my tasks.

You also need to have the self-discipline to actively maintain your focus. I do mention ways you can avoid checking social media and stuff like that while you're working, but if you don't make a resolution to stick to your own rules then you're setting yourself up for frustration.

Does multi-tasking ever work?

Generally, no. But I do say that I'm super impatient (you couldn't tell?), so I do tend to do other things while I wait for internet pages to load, or resource-intensive programs like Photoshop to open on my computer. But, as a rule, when I'm busy with a task I will stick to that task until I have another stretch of waiting time on my hands.

There are hundreds of different time management tools out there to help us get the most out of our days. Do you think there are certain features that one should look for in a productivity app when choosing one for everyday use?

Integration. This is huge for me. At the moment, pretty much all my apps 'talk' to each other on some level.

As I mention in the 99% Automation chapter of the Productivity Guru book, we have our website agency set up so that pretty much everything is automated in our New Sales cycle. This saves an astounding amount of time for us, and it wasn't overly complicated to set up.

I think, as long as you are willing to accept that you might have to change some of the apps you work with, or introduce some new ones into your workflow, there's a huge potential for you to shave hours off your work week.

So what are the secrets of time management from your experience?

Find a system that works for you. One of the things I discuss in the book is that my own personal workflow was patched, welded, and riveted together out of a great many blog posts, books, and personal experience. What works for me might not work for you. But once you have the tools at your disposal, you can easily decide how you want your day to look.

As long as you know what's available to you, and once you can get your mind around the fact that your hours do belong to you, even if you clock in for someone else, you can significantly improve your productivity and free up valuable time for yourself.

Finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

Never hesitate to pursue your dreams. Even if you don't succeed at something, you'll have gained some invaluable life experience anyway, and you might even help someone else not to make the same mistakes you did.
Productivity Guru email courseRonel's book, How to Become a Productivity Guru is published on 6 May, 2016. If you'd like to have a look and get your own copy, you can do so here. If you'd like to connect with Ronel, make sure to say hello on Twitter at @RonelvanTonder.