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Ari: Welcome to the Less Doing podcast. Today I am speaking with Dan Markovitz who is the
founder and owner of TimeBack Management. Dan thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Dan: The pleasure is all mines Ari; thank you very much for having me.
Ari: First of all, tell everyone what TimeBack Management is all about.
Dan: TimeBack is a consultancy that specializes in improving organizational performance by
improving business processes. My roots actually come from corporate time management
coaching and consulting and I've expanded that as a foundation to focus on the individual, I've
now expanded to the processes in which individuals operate.
Ari: So when we’re talking about processes because that’s something that I talk about with my
audience a lot about improving your processes, and everybody has processes that they go
through on a daily basis in their business, in their life. What kind of processes are you talking
Dan: I look to processes that people work in. So, let’s say for example there's a process that a
company uses to credit memos to customers or a warranty process or a sales process or product
development process – as a friend of mine calls is mind market. Someone thinks hey, what
about making a product like this and how do you actually go through the design and
development of it and the manufacturing and logistics and sales all the way through to the
customer’s hand. So, all these are processes; often times they are written with the same kind of
inefficiencies individual work is written with.
Ari: That’s exactly the kind of thing people that are listening to this part are interested in kind of
improving. What are some of your main techniques or tools that you like to use to make those
processes more efficient? Are we talking about outsourcing? Are we talking about automating?
What are the main things you kind of focus on?
Dan: Not outsourcing for sure and not automating…
Dan: …because if you automate a broken process all you have is a faster broken process that doesn’t
make it any better.
Dan: My background and my interest really is in the application of lead manufacturing principles to
non-manufacturing environments. From my perspective, it all starts with – and by the way, for
your listeners who don’t know Lean is really the production; it’s a business philosophy and
production methodology that was pioneered and developed by Toyota which has then enabled
them to make cars of higher quality with shorter development times than any other company in
the world. There are also other companies that are employing Lean and healthcare
organizations and so on but this is something that I'm really fascinated by. So, from my
perspective, that improvement starts really with a thorough analysis of the problem so first I
need to find what the situation looks like. Now, also a lot of times people make assumptions;
they leap to conclusions about what the problem happens to be without really understanding
what's going on. A perfect example of this, and this is also a good example of why automation
doesn’t do the trick, is a company that I've been working with recently that actually is having
problems with their credit memo insurance process. A customer will call them up, a retailer will
call them up because they sell to retailers and the retailer would say well, we shipped this
defective product and he wants a credit. Okay, no problem. It takes companies somewhere
between 4 days and 21 days or 25 days to issue a credit memo; it’s crazy. The head of the
customer service department says that he wanted to develop an electronic form because right
now the forms are literally paper. It’s sort of like the golden copy goes to finance and the teal
copy goes to accounts receivable and the blue copy goes to customer service.
Ari: And they're probably using [4:13] right?
Dan: Yeah, exactly. He said, you know, if we had an electronic form where the customer service guy
gets a phone call and types it in and sends it to me, that would take care of it. And as we
analyzed the process, which meant me watching him, it turns out that these forms were filled
out on a pretty kindly fashion by the customer service reps. And then it would sit on the desk or
in the inbox of the customer service manager for 3 days, 4 days, 7 days, 12 days; however long it
took them to get to it. You know, if we would have made an electronic form, it would have sat
in his electronic inbox for 3 days or 7 days or 12 days; it wouldn’t have mattered at all. But you
could see he was so close to the process. So, what we did was change the way they operated.
Every day there is going be a 10 minute standup meeting in the customer service department
and they're going to have a folder with all of the customer credit requests and he’s going to
evaluate them and approve them right at that moment. So, the longest turnaround possible
turnaround is 24 hours and usually less than that. Using the same golden rod teal and
cornflower colored forms but now we've taken a low tech solution. We haven’t outsourced
anything, we haven’t used any technology; we've taken a low tech solution and made it
improve service to customers. So that kind of approach is something that comes really straight
out of the toilet. It’s like how can we fix something without hiring more people, without
outsourcing, without buying technology? How can we make the process work better to improve
quality, improve service, and reduce costs?
Ari: That’s a wonderful example and I just want to point out something to everybody. Toyota lean
manufacturing processes are actually really, really widely applicable. There was an article in the
Times about a month ago I think about how Toyota donated to their efficiency service s to a
soup kitchen in Harlem where they took the average time to get a meal from 90 minutes down
to 18 minutes using exactly the kind of principles that Dan is talking about. So, I really like that
idea of not adding anything, not taking away anything really and really examining the actual
connectivity of the process and changing that completely. So, that’s really, really cool.
Dan: Just a sec; for you listeners there's also a video about that. I don’t remember the name of the
food bank but the article mentions the name of the food bank and if you'll Google that and
Toyota, you'll see like a 5 minute video that shows how they think and how they operate.
Ari: Good. Actually, we’ll link to that in the show notes. Now, let’ just switch gears a little bit
because I'm really excited to talk to somebody who has similar views on to-do lists as I do.
Anyone who has read my blog for even 2 seconds knows that I hate to-do lists because I think
they are anti-productive and I believe that, Dan, you are not a fan of to-do lists either, right?
Dan: I despise them. I think that they're just a recipe for feeling bad about yourself because all they
do is glare at you with all of the things that you haven’t been able to accomplish.
Ari: Great and that’s exactly what I say. so now what, and my focus just so you know is I focus on
getting people to think about the timing of the task so that something really comes to you and,
at the time, you can actually deal with it and if it’s not the right time to deal with it, then you
throw it to the time that is right to deal with it. That works for a lot of people that I work with;
what's your method of sort of dealing with those outstanding tasks and those projects?
Dan: You and I are I think we see the world the exact same way. I believe that it’s worth just as
something that needs to be done that means you have to commit the time to do it. And the
only way that I know of or at least the best way that I know of to allocate time to something is to
actually make a commitment in your calendar. The way I look at it is we have [8:17] and I hear
the listeners who are selling to a customer or to their employer to their time and attention, and
that is the most valuable asset. It’s also the most constrained. There's only 24 hours in day –
and that’s assuming you could stay up for 24 hours. So, what are you going to allocate that time
and attention to? Is it something that’s worth doing? It has to go on your calendar because you
can’t make it visible; you have no visibility into the opportunity costs of doing that or doing
something else. So if it needs to get done it’s got to be honored with a visible commitment in
your calendar. It’s a very simplicity approach but I think the simplicity or the power lies in the
Ari: So, the pushback – I guess a different kind of pushback – but one of the big pushbacks on that
kind of idea is what about big projects, you know? And I love to tell people now I've seen it 7
times on a client’s to-do list. The item was write book. That’s completely absurd; that’s not
even a goal, honestly. I tell people, you can break that, that’s simplicity example because you
could say, look you might just have to write 100 words or my task is to write a page. But how
do you sort of tell people to deal with those large projects and a lot of moving parts and a lot of
Dan: You know, I've spent a lot of time in the last few years working with physicians that had
academic medical centers and they have things on their to-do list like fill out a grant application
or write a paper. So same thing; write a book, right, compare to a research project?
Dan: I’ll just put that right on my to-do list and get to it. And of course it doesn’t ever get done
because you don’t even know where to start, you don’t know what to do. You have no sense of
how long will it take and as result the urgent that crops up every 10 minutes, pre-emptly
important. In this case, allegation is in grant funding is really what keeps these guys alive. So
what I do and I suspect it’s the same thing that you do is I say okay, if you're going to write a
paper, what are you going to do first? Then you say, well, I have to do a [10:36] medical
database. It’s like a Google search. [10:39] How long did I take to find the article? You say, oh,
you know, probably for this topic, about an hour. I said, great, so you’ve got a 1 hour task there.
Then, what happens next? Well, after sort of sweep the articles and see what the literature says
and see what experiments have done in this area and what I can write about. I said, great, how
long will that take? Well, it will take 3 hours. I say, great, there's a task. And we go on, okay,
how long will it take you to sort of to do some of the writing? Well, writing is really big; it’s
hard. Okay, well what sections are in there? And then they said, well, there's a background
section. And I said, the background section is that creative at all? They say, no, it’s really just
sort of grinding it out. You mention these articles, you mention those articles, you make sure
it’s footnoted properly and I can predict how long that will take. I say, terrific. So we break
down this massive thing of publishing a paper into discreet components that can be measured
more less. And there's a huge unknown, how long it takes to do the creative parts, which is fine.
So now you can just say, alright, here's this of the week or these are the 2 weeks or these are
the 3 weeks I want to spend some time really thinking into it. I don’t know where my research is
going to go. I don’t know what my, how my writing is going to go. I say, fine, you don’t have to.
So, what blocks his time, what lengths of blocks of time do you need in order to write? Can you
do it in half an hour? They usually say, no, I really need to think into. Say, so what? 2, 2 ½. 3
hours. And they say, yeah. I say, okay, when can you get that? And now they start looking at
their calendar and saying well, I can’t do it this week. I got these meetings, I've got this
conference. And he say, well, I can’t do it til weekends. I say, great, well then it’s going to be a
weekend thing or you can push it out to 3 weeks from now or 4 weeks from now. And so they
start to then just put in placeholders or thinking time or writing time or planning time. And by
taking something that’s massive and turning it into bite-sized manageable tasks to have a
fighting chance of moving forward.
Ari: You’ve taken so many words out of my mouth, I can’t even tell you. it’s honestly, it’s really
gratifying because a lot of times when I tell people and they say you want me to get rid of my to-
do list? I get look like I'm a leper. You know? But it’s like, yes, it’s making it so you can’t do the
things that you need to do. So, that’s great and I think that that’s a really nice way of looking at
it. just to sort of address this because I know there's going to be people thinking this in their
head and they're going to be thinking about GTB and I personally have a couple of issues with
GTB and I think that what you talk about and what I talk about is different in a lot of ways
because yes, can sit down and think about. Yes. How long is this going to take? What's the next
part? How long is this going to take? And I think that’s great. The problem becomes when you
start to force that i think and then it becomes like dehumanized, almost mechanical, and then
it’s almost stressful I feel like because you're trying to create that next step when the logical one
may not be there.
Dan: Yeah. You know, I think – and now I'm taking a page out of the folks who say work in product
development or research – where you can clarify sort of the next 2 steps, 3 steps, 5 steps but
you don’t know where it’s going to go after that. And to tell you, to try to time block or sort of
box it in and say okay, I'm going to spend 2 hours writing this section. I can totally see how that
can be stressful because sitting here trying to determine that in 3 ½ months you need 2 hours
on Wednesday to write; it could be pretty stressful. So don’t do it instead worry about the 2 or
3 or 4 steps that are utterly visible to you and really definable. Then, in 3 weeks or a month or 6
weeks, you'll have more visibility into the next steps. So, maybe you can’t plan out every phase
of a large project today but you can plan out the first three steps and that at least gets you
moving. I think there's a lot to be said for momentum. If you started to move, you'll figure out
what comes next. You don’t have to see all the way to the finish line. And I think that in my
experience, and I suspect in yours as well, you see people paralyzed not in the middle of a
project, you see them paralyzed at the start. They can’t even get moving. So if it’s too difficult
to see far out, don’t worry about it. I think about Bill Walsh, the former football coach for the
San Francisco 49ers. He used to script the first 10 plays for his team. He didn’t try to script the
entire football game. You have to modify and change and adapt based on what the other team
is doing. Btu the first 10 plays he said, this is what we’re going to do regardless of what the
other team throws at us because this will, for whatever reason. With his best knowledge, he
assumed that this was going to get him to where he needed to go. He would have at least
learned about how the other team was playing defense and then he could make modifications.
No point in trying to plot out or map out the infinite permutations of offensive strategy. Much,
much, much better than saying here's what I'm going to do for my first 10 plays and then I’ll
figure it out.
Ari: That’s another really amazing way of looking at it and I agree. I always say to people progress
begets progress; you just have to move that needle a little bit because even if you make the
wrong decision, at least you're moving forward and you have a new decision to make and
maybe you'll get it right this time. So, I think that’s a great way of looking at it. So, we’re just
about out of time here; I'm really enjoying this conversation because I feel like I'm talking to
someone who is totally on the same page as me. The last question I always ask people in these
podcasts and I'm really excited to hear you answers, is what are the top three personal…what
are your top three personal productivity tips that make you more effective every day? And they
don’t necessarily have to be specifically about productivity, it could be about meditation or
whatever you want. But, what are those three things that make you more effective?
Dan: Boy, that’s a good question; my top three. I would say the first thing is not looking at my email
all the time. You know, I'm human like the rest of us and there are days where I just get
immersed in my inbox and I look at emails as they come in but my best days are ones where I'm
not sucked into the vortex, into the black hole, where I choose when I'm going to work on and I
do it. And then when I need a break, I’ll go into mail or something like. They’ll clean those
islands of undisturbed time is very, very important for my productivity. The next thing that is
really helpful for me is exercise. You know, I'm a runner and a swimmer and I find that I feel
much better and I'm much happier when I get exercise; usually in the morning. That’s very
important to me. And the third thing is I guess it’s related to that. It’s really eating well. You
know, I find that if I eat like crap, I don’t have the ability to focus. I've noticed a real direct
correlation between those two things; my diet and my ability to focus on what it is I want to do.
Those three things and of course, if I don’t have a decent diet I tend to snack more and snacks
lead to interruptions. I’ll have a little bite to eat here, whether it’s healthy or not healthy but
[18:40] a little bit of fruit. Well, since I'm having a little fruit I’ll read the newspaper; that’s a 10
minutes interruption and there we go. Itemized my day. So , this three really tie together to
create undisturbed blocks of time and that really is what's so key for me.
Ari: Great. those are three perfect examples and I do like that you talked about those things
because the [19:07] of Less Doing is wellness and I always say that no matter how catching or
oddly efficient somebody can become or how perfect their processes might be. If you're not
sleeping right and not eating right or you're pissed off about something, you're not going to be
able to do the things you want. So, those are wonderful examples. Dan, thank you so much for
the time to talk to me. Where can everybody go to find out more about you?
Dan: Oh, thanks for asking. So my website is TimeBack Management (that’s all one word),
TimeBackManagement.com. I blog once a week, I have a newsletter that goes out once a
month, I tweet on occasion and I also have a book. My book is called A Factory of One and
that’s available both in paper form and in kindle form; you could pick it up at Amazon, A Factory
Ari: Great. We’ll definitely link to all those in the show notes as well. Dan, thanks again and good
luck with everything.
Dan: Ari, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for having me.