Productivity expert Adriana Girdler breaks down how to be more effective and efficient
These are just a few of the nearly 300 videos on Adriana Girdler’s popular YouTube channel, Helping You Slay Your Project. Every Wednesday she releases a new video on topics dedicated to project management and workplace productivity to her nearly 160,000 subscribers.
A two-time TEDx speaker who regularly appears on TV, radio, and news shows, she’s the president and chief efficiency officer of CornerStone Dynamics and the creator of the self-directed online course SLAY Project Management, both based in Ontario, Canada.
“I’m a big believer in vision,” she says. “I’m a big believer in asking: What is it that you want?”
We recently sat down with Adriana for a wide-ranging conversation about where organizations and people struggle most, why piling on off-the-shelf technology is never the solution people think it is, and why the pressure of an “everything is a priority” mindset results in a ton of noise but little productivity.
You work across industries from tech and manufacturing to marketing and finance. What common issues do you see?
The complaints are mostly along the lines of, “We don’t have enough people,” “We’re too busy to train the right people,” “We’re not efficient,” and my favorite: “We don’t have the time to fix what we know is broken.”
That last one is a biggie: We have this problem, but no one’s fixing it. Why? Because we don’t have time to fix it. That’s a fallacy. You do have the time to fix it. You’re just not correlating the importance of fixing it with getting things done strategically, well, and on time.
It’s simpler on a production line. If something breaks down and you can’t deliver, that means overtime and extra costs. People aren’t making that connection on the commercial side of business, so in finance, sales, marketing, etc. But if you’re constantly stopping and starting and not getting what you need to get done, that’s impacting your business no matter where you work.
You place lots of focus on vision and priorities. Why?
If your organization lacks a clear vision, you have a big problem — and that usually comes with a lack of clear priorities. But everything can’t be No. 1. Business is not about everything going perfectly each and every time. There will always be road bumps, and you have to know how to rejig.
This, by the way, is where I’ve seen businesses really struggle and get paralyzed: making hard decisions when everything is priority No. 1.
Who’s struggling the most? Who’s getting it right?
When I’m hired to do productivity work, I’m often told by the most senior leaders, “This is how we work.” I then say, “Are you sure? Because I’m about to go talk to your people. What you’re saying may not mesh with reality.” And I’m usually right.
Super senior leaders may not always get it because they’re not in the thick of things. They’re focusing on the big picture and being visionaries. But that often results in a disconnect.
During my work I tell clients that ideally, the senior executives will get it first, and then efficiency will get integrated into your strategy and trickle all the way down. But that rarely happens. So then I turn to middle managers. They know the strategy, the ways of working, how to pick the right battles, and what to fight for. So instead of a top-down or bottom-up approach, it’s middle-out.
You gave a TEDx talk about being “smart lazy.” What is that?
Our lives are a constant struggle of managing distractions. How often have you spent hours caught up in one email? Or scroll, scroll, scrolling on social media, and that’s two hours gone. Those are all OK, but when we start doing them at the expense of other things, that’s a problem.
A mindset shift is needed to counter all those distractions. It’s something you can put into practice right away, hence “smart lazy” and the MVP method: mindfulness, visioning, and prioritization.
Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment. Visioning is exactly that: a goal, a plan, a vision. We need to know where we want to go and how to get there. Prioritization means deciding what’s most important and tackling that first. Not everything can or should be a priority. And setting a No. 1 priority doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that. It could be for the year, the month, even the week.
If we were all able to shift our mindset to be smart lazy, we could work on things that truly mattered to us. We wouldn’t constantly be questioning where the time has gone. Because you can’t ever get time back. It just keeps ticking.
You focus on the process — and people. Why so?
In my work, I don’t focus on the end result, meaning a company’s product or service. Instead, I focus on the process of how an organization gets to its end result. That’s usually where the issues are.
Process is how things get done, sequentially, in steps. But processes are rarely standardized — sometimes even on the same teams! And even when standard operating procedure documents exist, they rarely match what’s actually happening. So now people are rearranging and making do and jamming things in.
Technology is never the solution for that, by the way. I work with the tech sector a lot. But technology is a tool, like a hammer, which you shouldn’t use on a screw. But I see organizations using hammers on screws all the time. By that I mean they pile on off-the-shelf technology instead of examining and cleaning up their work processes so that everyone’s no longer doing things their own way. Otherwise, you’re just band-aiding with technology, thinking that will solve everything. It never does.
Then there’s the people aspect, which is so important. That’s why I do what I do — it’s not just helping organizations be more effective and efficient, but helping people. It really comes down to people: helping them be accountable, helping them set priorities.
At the end of the day, we spend so much of our time at work. So why should work be inefficient? Why should we struggle, especially if we can find a better way?