Interview with Productivity Specialist Stephanie Wachman
Author Stephanie WachmanStephanie Wachman was born in Montreal, Canada where she attended McGill University. She is the author of Own Your Time: Professional Time Management Strategies for a Profitable and Balanced Life.

Stephanie is a certified executive coach, author, speaker and trainer specializing in helping professionals achieve their goals by tapping into their natural abilities. Stephanie became interested in understanding how her clients could improve their home and work lives after seeing so many of them suffering from a deficit in their work / life balance.

Stephanie is past-president of the International Coach Federation, Colorado Chapter and lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. She enjoys skiing, hiking, golfing and camping.

Hi Stephanie, thank you for joining us on Activia's Expert Insights. How and when did you become interested in helping others with their productivity?

I have been working as an Executive Coach for over 7 years now and I’ve seen hundreds of professionals from lawyer, MDs, accountants to business owners and teachers all saddened and stressed by the fact that they can’t seem to find time enough for themselves, their families or their work. In many cases, this excess of stress caused them to take medications to manage the stress.

I felt it was important to understand the underlying reasons that caused them to over-commit and see if by working with their behaviors and providing simple tools they could begin to change their habits and develop new ones. One example is simply understanding how to set boundaries without fear of what may happen. By setting clear boundaries and expectations you can say “no” to what doesn’t work for you and “yes” to what does.

Your new book, Own Your Time: Professional Time-Management Strategies for a Profitable and Balanced Life, was released earlier this month - can you tell us a bit more about it?

This book was written as an easy-to-read, short desk reference guide. The idea is that as a busy professional, you don’t want to spend hours reading a long book about time management. Instead, this book is short, concise and to the point with hundreds of ideas, tools and techniques that can be immediately put into practice. I’ve included short snippets from my own life along with humor to make it a fun read as well.

What makes Own Your Time different from other time management books out there?

Own Your Time by Stephanie WachmanMany books have been written about time management, which shows the high demand for help in this area. Despite all the books written by time management theorists, an enormous number of business professionals continue to be desperate for on-the-ground help.

In 2013, the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., surveyed 1400 senior executives from the public and private sector and found that a mere 9 percent said they were “highly satisfied” with the way they were using their time at work. One author of the McKinsey report concluded that, “time is one of the most precious and under-managed resources at a company, and it seems to be getting more so.” In other words, the lack of time management skills is hurting profits.

Lack of productivity leads to reduced profits, but this workplace problem also spills into our personal lives. According to a 2011 report by the American Psychological Association, about half of all American professionals say they don’t have a healthy work-life balance. And nearly 40 percent of the workers surveyed say they are extremely stressed during each workday. This is true not only in the U.S., but also in every developed nation.

As an experienced executive coach I’ve seen first-hand that the global tribe of business professionals needs a survival guide for time management. I wrote Own Your Time to equip readers with practical solutions for fending off the enemies that zap productivity and work-life balance. The solutions I present in the book have been tested and proven effective.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment or what’s next for you? 

Yes, I’m currently completing a workbook that goes along with the book to further help my clients identify their own unique challenges. I have also recently completed and designed a comprehensive program that I’m introducing to large groups as well. Next on the horizon is another book called Own Your Goals.

What’s your most effective time management tool - the one you rely on the most - and why?

My favorite time management tool is the word NO - so often we say yes because we are afraid of the consequences for saying no. For example, you are working hard on a project and have a million other small tasks to accomplish and then you are asked by a colleague to attend a meeting in her place. You say yes because you don’t want her to think you are not co-operative but then you become resentful because you don’t have time. Sometimes by saying NO to someone, the result is saying YES to your needs and what will keep you productive. We don’t say no because we are fearful, but FEAR can get in the way of making good choices that can improve our performance and decrease our stress.

Personally, what do you find is the biggest barrier to your own productivity? And how do you overcome this?

I am a self described email junky. I got into the habit of checking my emails every 5 minutes and this cost me in productivity. Recognizing my strong desire to check email was step 1 in my rehabilitation.

Secondly, I understand that there is a chemical that gets released in our bodies called dopamine which is a neurotransmitter released by certain types of neurons in the brain when we experience pleasure and, as humans, we all experience great joy in being socially connected, even if it’s work related. The more we check emails, the more we anticipate good news or social connection and it becomes a conditioned response. Awareness is the first step to changing this behavior.

And finally, I now turn my smart phone off (yes, completely off) when I am with my family or in a coaching meeting with a client - they need to know how important they are to me and being distracted by a phone sends the wrong message. I really like turning my phone off, it gives me the freedom to disconnect.

You mention healthy sleep patterns in your book - how important is this to someone’s productivity?

Tony Schwartz, author of the Energy Project, did a lot of incredible research on the topic of sleep, and he concluded that we have little control over how much energy we expend every day, but what we do have control over is how to renew it. The number of hours a person needs to sleep at night is between 7-8 - anything less doesn’t cut it. The fact is, a good night’s rest improves an individual’s overall health, productivity and ability to problem solve. Without a good night sleep, research shows an increase in obesity, cancer and stress, just to name a few of the negatives. So get to bed at a reasonable time and you’ll see your energy increase after a good night’s rest.

Do you think people's ability to manage their time is down to their personality or their developed habits?

I think it’s a combination of both. We can easily develop bad habits, especially if we try to emulate others that have bad habits as well. The good news is, you can always change your behavior. It takes discipline and commitment, but it can be done.

For example, if you are used to running a meeting without an agenda - maybe that’s how you’ve always done it or that’s how your boss does it - chances are, your meetings go on too long and may go off the rails completely. However, if you begin to get in the habit of setting an agenda for every meeting with an allotted time for it, you will stay on track. Attendees will know what’s expected of them and you will see efficiency increase and get better results from the meetings.

Thank you for sharing your insights, Stephanie. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our readers?

I think we all try and do everything at once. My recommendation for those who are tired, stressed, overworked and may be on the brink of a breakdown is to take a moment and catch your breath. Take one or two ideas that you learned from the book and employ them.

For example, take a 3-minute break during the day and stare out the window. That will reduce the stress chemical cortisol in your body and replace it with the feel better chemical serotonin, and help you think better and more clearly. Another idea is to turn off your web browser when you need to concentrate. With every distraction we lose 25 minutes of productivity. So if you can cut down on distractions, you’ll have more time in your day.

The fact is, we do have some control and we have to own what we have control over and let go of what we don’t. Thank you.

Stephanie's book, Own Your Time: Professional Time-Management Strategies for a Profitable and Balanced Life, is available to order now on Amazon. If you'd like to connect with Stephanie, you can find her on Twitter at @salescoachsteph.