S.7 E.5: Beyond Motion to Action

Learning for Life @ Gustavus podcast host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alumna and productivity expert Ellen Goodwin '84.
Posted on January 25th, 2021 by

Ellen Goodwin, Gustavus Class of ’84 and author of Done: How to Work When No One Is Watching, talks about her path from political science and sociology/anthropology student to acclaimed productivity expert, speaker, writer, and coach, how to get things done without wasting time, and (you are reading this correctly) what dive bars have to do with productivity.
Season 7, Episode 5: Beyond Motion to Action

Greg Kaster:

Hello, and welcome to Learning for Life at Gustavus, the podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College. In the myriad way is that Gustavus liberal arts education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, faculty member in the Department of History.

“I am a full-time action hero,” writes my guest today, Gustavus alum, Ellen Goodwin, in the introduction to her book, Done: How to Work When No One Is Watching. “My action hero skills don’t include multiple methods of self-defense, speaking obscure foreign languages, or being a mad genius at knife skills. My main action hero skill is that I am productive.”

That’s a good thing, since Ellen is a leading productivity consultant whose well-regarded book outlines how to get things done both efficiently and effectively or put another way, avoiding accomplishing things or taking far more time than necessary to accomplish them. Ellen graduated from Gustavus in 1984 with a double major in political science and sociology and anthropology. After working in advertising, she embarked on a 20-year career as a freelance graphic designer for corporate clients. Then in 2013, she launched ellengoodwin.com, her productivity consultancy, which has involved her in coaching, writing, speaking, and also podcasting as the co-host of The Faster, Easier, Better Show. This work also led to a fun and interesting TEDx Talk about her participant observer research in San Diego Dive Bars, about which more later.

In short, Ellen is a wonderful example of how a liberal arts education at its best prepares one not for a particular job or career but rather for success and fulfillment across a host of endeavors in the course of their life’s journey. That, and her quite interesting and useful work on productivity has made me eager for this conversation. So, Ellen, welcome. It’s great to have you on the podcast.

Ellen Goodwin:

Thanks so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, my pleasure. I should note that we have actually not met before. We’re meeting through this podcast and some previous emails thanks to another Gustie alum, Peter Smith, who lives in the building where my wife and I live in downtown Minneapolis and gardens with us. You were saying you and Peter, he was a year ahead of you at Gustavus, I think you said?

Ellen Goodwin:

Yep. He was a year ahead.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, so [inaudible 00:02:34] a shout-out to Peter for connecting us after, I guess, the two of you reconnected.

Ellen Goodwin:

After we reconnected. I haven’t talked to him in years, so.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of reconnecting going on during this [inaudible 00:02:48] lockdown. Speaking of which, how are things, and you’re in California, you’re in San Diego. How are things there? Is the whole state in a lockdown?

Ellen Goodwin:

Whole state’s in a lockdown. I mean, there’s parts that aren’t, but Southern California is in a complete lockdown, restaurants closed. You still can get groceries, but very much shut down. Numbers are going up, and I saw something today that said that we might have this even longer. We’re in a three-week shutdown, and chances are it’s going to go much, much longer.

Greg Kaster:

Here’s to the vaccines, multiple vaccines coming quickly. Yeah, my brother lives in Los Angeles in Sherman Oaks, it’s a mess, he’s been saying as well. But I’m just curious, how has this affected your work? Was a lot of your work already online or not?

Ellen Goodwin:

It’s affected me. I’ve always worked out of a home office, thus the book about how to work when no one’s watching, so that didn’t affect me that way. One of the things that it has affected is I no longer are doing in-person training programs, and speaking has shifted all to virtual, so any conferences or things like that I’m not traveling to go to anywhere. The bright side to this is now that I’m not traveling, I’m looking at conferences in Europe and across the country where there’s no worry about any sort of transportation issue because I’m just going to broadcast my speech, my presentation from my office.

Greg Kaster:

Right, yeah. I’m trying to keep track of silver linings. [inaudible 00:04:31] another one through my list. Maybe later we can talk about your thoughts about the impact on work generally going forward. So where are you from, first of all? Tell us a little bit about your background.

Ellen Goodwin:

I’m from Brainerd, Minnesota, right smack in the middle of Minnesota, born and raised there. My mother still lives in the house I grew up in. Yeah, I went to Brainerd High School.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I’ve been to Brainerd just once. Now, did you have other family members who went to Gustavus, or are you the first?

Ellen Goodwin:

I did not. My older sister, she went to Augustana in Sioux Falls. I spent several summers working with a woman who went to Gustavus, so she was, what, three years ahead of me, and her brother went there. They were from Sauk Centre. Every summer, we were counselors at a camp, and she talked about it and all of that and kind of convinced me that I should check it out. I was one of those people that put it way off. I think I got accepted in April. I had almost graduated from high school and was like, “Oh, yeah, I should apply.” But she loved it. I came down, checked the school out, and I’m like, “Well, at least I’m going to know someone when I start,” and she convinced me.

Greg Kaster:

I love all these stories I learn podcasting about the place, the connections that are so important. Actually, I was podcasting with a professor in dance recently, and the only reason she, we historians, we talk about contingency, but the only reason she even knew to apply for a job at Gustavus, she was out of Utah at the time was running into someone who was from there or knew someone there, something like that. So that’s great. Had you applied to the U or other places as well, or were you just sort of-

Ellen Goodwin:

Yes. Not to the U. I was definitely going private school. At that time, I was all looking at schools for pre-law, and I can’t even think of where else I applied to, but I’d gotten into four or five, but I hadn’t committed to any of them when I finally applied for Gustavus. Yeah, my whole trajectory was pre-law, so that was the filter I was looking at every school through.

Greg Kaster:

So that explains, I assume, the poli-sci major. Did you know that that’s what you wanted to major in already or-

Ellen Goodwin:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Yeah.

Ellen Goodwin:

I started out as doing econ and poli-sci, and after my first semester of economics, I’m like, “That is so not happening.” I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I took, I remember … I don’t even know if I stuck out the one economics course I took at the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, big state school. I know at least I signed up for one. I don’t think I finished it for the same reason. The math part was just killing me [inaudible 00:07:46].

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Let’s see. Were those the days of Ron Christenson. I’m trying to think who –

Ellen Goodwin:

Ron Christenson was … Yep. Was he my … Yes, he was my advisor. Gosh, who was my sociology … Why can’t I think of his name?

Greg Kaster:

Maybe [inaudible 00:08:05] or John Preen?

Ellen Goodwin:

John Preen, loved him.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, he passed away unfortunately some years ago.

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah, I knew that, and that was very sad.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Yeah, no, there were just some great, great props. Ron was a kind of informal mentor to [inaudible 00:08:22]. When we came, I loved talking about political trials and had some students in common. But from there, so what about Don Olstrom? Was he there at that point too?

Ellen Goodwin:

Oh, Don was there.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, Don too. We run into him up here, he and his wife Florence sometimes up in Minneapolis where Kate and I live. But how about [inaudible 00:08:43]? How did you get from [inaudible 00:08:46] to there?

Ellen Goodwin:

That’s a good question. And looking back through the filter of whatever 40 years ago, I have no idea.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah I wonder. I mean, [inaudible 00:09:01] since, looking forward from there to what you’re doing now, but both majors I think probably inform your work in all kinds of ways, we could talk more about that. But yeah, we still have a good Socio/Anthro program at Gustavus.

Ellen Goodwin:

Oh I loved it, I thought it was great.

Greg Kaster:

Well, actually, that’s one of the things I want to ask you about, you’re making me think back. But are there certain experiences, whether they’re academic or not from your years at Gustavus that stand out in your mind? Good, bad, ugly, It doesn’t matter.

Ellen Goodwin:

One of my favorites is back during the Nobel conferences and having breakfast, because one of the years and it must’ve been my senior year because my senior year I was off campus in the fall. So it would have been probably my junior. And whatever the topic was, it had to deal with anthropology. Richard Leakey was there.

Greg Kaster:

Oh yeah. Well, it was a famous one, I wasn’t there yet, but I’ve read it, I’ve read the proceedings.

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah. [Steven Jackal 00:10:14]. We had breakfast there, the people in the major, we got to sit down and have breakfast with them. And at the time I didn’t realize, “Holy cow,” who I’m sitting down and having breakfast with, but it really stuck in my mind of what they talked about. And just, “Hey, here I’m a college student sitting with you having breakfast.”

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I was a huge fan of [inaudible 00:10:44]. Before I even heard Gustavus, before I took the job, interviewed and took the job, I was offered the job. But that’s one of the things that, again, made me want to come <reading about the Nobel conference and seeing, I just remember vividly looking at that line up, And to be, “Wow, this is really cool.” And it’s still going strong. I podcasted with Lisa Heldke, the philosophy department and now directs, and she has her own podcast called ScienceWhys, W-H-Y-S, which I urge everyone to listen to, it’s fantastic. And it features people who’ve come to the different  Nobel conferences.

Ellen Goodwin:

Very cool.

Greg Kaster:

It’s still incredible. The impact it has on not only Gustavus students, but also high school students who come from near and far as well. So, yeah, that’s a really cool thing about the college that I still love. And I think Lisa was telling me that everything is going to be … I think everything’s going to be digitized or something like that, or recorded, It’s all available now.

Ellen Goodwin:

Oh wow.

Greg Kaster:

Miracles of modern tech. That’s neat. I’m envious too, I mean, I would love to [inaudible 00:11:48]. So after you graduated in 1984, what did you do? Did you go right into the advertising world at that point?

Ellen Goodwin:

No. So we’d have to go backwards a little bit. My senior year, one of my last internships because I did several different internships with several different law firms and things because I’m still on at this point, still on a pre-launch trajectory. So fall of my senior year, so that would’ve been, well, what, 1983, I went and worked for the public defender’s office of Washington DC.

Greg Kaster:

Oh wow.

Ellen Goodwin:

Thinking that, “You know what, this is like the coolest thing ever.” And it was fantastic. They work out of a building that [inaudible 00:12:42]. It’s the building that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in.

Greg Kaster:

Yes exactly.

Ellen Goodwin:

And then some of the people I worked with, the attorneys, they have gone on to amazing, amazing things. And I got to say, I knew them when. But by the end of that semester, I knew that I was just not going to be a lawyer. I was bored. It was really boring. And we were doing interesting law stuff. And I just knew that that was not my course of action for the next 30, 40 years of my life. So I returned to Gustavus in January of 1984, not having a plan because all of a sudden, I’d already taken my law school exams. My plan had been to apply to school as soon as I graduated, and the next year, I was going to go to law school. But I came back and basically I had pulled the rug out from under myself because I had nothing.So I did the last semester not knowing what I was going to do. And I graduated, went back home for the summer, worked at the camp. And I decided since I already knew people in Washington, DC, and I didn’t want to stay in Brainerd, I was going to head back there and see what happened. So I moved to DC in September, and I stayed there for about three and a half years, sorting things out.

So I initially was a writer for a company that dealt with timeshares. And I wasn’t at that time much of a writer, more of a reporter is what they needed. And after that, I managed a small boutique toy store in Georgetown, which was fantastic. And after that, I worked at AARP for a while, and it was there that I finally decided I was going to go to art school and made the decision to go to art school out in California, in La Jolla. They had a one-year advertising arts program. So I flew out here not knowing anyone, I flew out on a Friday, started school on Monday. And the plan was to be here for a year, finish school, go back to Minneapolis, which at the time was pretty much the advertising [inaudible 00:15:14] that everyone wanted to be there. Fallon McElligot was the name of the ad agency that was just taking the world by storm. And then I met my future ex-husband.And I ended up staying and that’s when I got into advertising. So we’re looking at three, four years after I left Gustavus is when I got into advertising, but I had a fabulous three or four years doing other interesting things.

Greg Kaster:

No, it’s great. If you could [inaudible 00:15:52], some podcasts, people see each other, but not this one, but anyway, I [inaudible 00:15:59] on my face. I love the story because one, some students come, and feel, “My God, I have to have everything planned out. I must know from day one what I’m going to do at Gustavus or in college and thereafter.” And you maybe weren’t that extreme, but you sort of knew, you had this plan and then you self-destructed, [inaudible 00:16:21] and it’s great and you went on. And I just think it’s so important for students and parents to understand that. Even if you think you have it all figured out, something could happen that changes what you would plan to do. And that leads me to the point about internships. I think internships are mixed feelings about when they’re unpaid and all of that stuff, but still, they’re so important. I’ve seen over the years for students to discover not what they want to do, but what they don’t want to do.

Ellen Goodwin:

Do want to do. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

And I think it can save a lot of misery. Because in my experience, is many more students come out of an internship saying, “No, that was really a valuable experience, but it’s not what I want to do.”

Ellen Goodwin:

Oh yeah, I am so grateful for my experience because yeah, I saved myself years of misery, lots of money and lots of frustration.

Greg Kaster:

Right. And the way you, I don’t know if you’d describe yourself as adventurous, you sound adventurous to me, or at least compared to the way I was, and still am, certainly the way I was at that age. But that you just were able to pick up, you had to have some confidence right? In your ability to-

Ellen Goodwin:

You can call it confidence. In retrospect-

Greg Kaster:

[crosstalk 00:17:42] recklessness. I don’t know.

Ellen Goodwin:

I’d go with that.

Greg Kaster:

So you were actually already in advertising program, is that what you were saying? It’s something weird.

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah it was not necessarily like a vocational school. It was a private for-profit school that taught advertising arts such as they were back then. I mean, this was computers where just showing up, which makes me sound old. What’s that?

Greg Kaster:

I was going to say the same here. I mean, we had one clunky IBM [inaudible 00:18:18], it’s hard to believe. Yeah.

Ellen Goodwin:

But the whole idea was that it prepared you for whatever kind of advertising you were going to go into, whether it was print or radio or television. I mean, it was a very comprehensive program. And some people left and went to really high level, even today they’re still in high level advertising agencies. So it was very much, go to school, I went to school in the morning and then had a part-time job in the afternoon and then would spend nights doing my art projects, whatever I had to get done.

Greg Kaster:

You’re on a creative side of advertising.

Ellen Goodwin:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. So then after that, did you then just start actively seeking? Why didn’t it work? Did you just apply to advertising firms or what did you do?

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah, I started with a company where other graduates were in from that program and they kind of like, “Hey, I’m working here. Why don’t you apply here?” And the first couple of jobs weren’t the glamorous ad agencies. But it was really what I needed, in retrospect, you’re building up to things. And then got a job working in in-house agency for a hotel chain. And from there, I ended up going to a full-service ad agency where we represented the gas and electric company and a hospital chain. And for a while, we had the San Diego Padres. So it was a full advertising agency like you would see on a television show.

Greg Kaster:

Like in that show called Mad Men.

Ellen Goodwin:

There were some parallels.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah it does.

Ellen Goodwin:

Let’s leave it at that.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Coming to the industry line. I have a good friend’s son worked here. He’s still in advertising, now with Red Wing Shoes to [inaudible 00:20:26]. And he was with Fallon for time here in Minneapolis. My dad was a hairdresser and he for time worked for a company here when I was a little kid, my brother and I called Maxims and it was in the Foshay Tower. But my dad always talked about Minneapolis being progressive in terms of hair, care, which is I think still true, but also in terms of advertising. Maybe it’s lost some of that luster, I don’t know. But yeah, something places like Fallon, I mean, wow. I mean a huge, huge agency.

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah. And it’s interesting, you said Red Wing Shoes because George Swezey went to Gustavus.

Greg Kaster:

Yes. Also interesting. Right. Yeah. I just wish I were a stylish, as this young man who works in advertising, [inaudible 00:21:14] shoes and look good in them. I don’t think I look so good. But that’s another podcast. Were there things you really liked about, about that world?

Ellen Goodwin:

Oh, absolutely. I loved meeting with the clients and the interaction between the creative side and the client side and the account executives and the craziness that all went with it, where just understanding how people communicated, because the whole idea where the count would come in, the count side and they’d be like, “We need this now.” And you’re like, “Well, we got to come up with ideas and we don’t just pull those out of a hat. It’s going to take some time.” So I very much enjoyed being in the agency.

Greg Kaster:

Did you work on a particular campaign or campaigns that you remember fondly?

Ellen Goodwin:

No. Like I said, I think I was mostly on the hospital chain and the gas and electric company. So it wasn’t like, “Hey, I did Coca-Cola.”

Greg Kaster:

I’m thinking now hospitals and COVID, oh boy, they need more than advertising. What led you to sort of reinvent yourself? How many years were you in advertising? More than more than 10?

Ellen Goodwin:

Oh yeah. If you combine the time that I worked in agencies and the time that I ran my own, over 25, 30.

Greg Kaster:

So you’re counting when you were doing the graphics-

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah. It was a long time. And I reinvented myself when I basically almost lost my business because I started just procrastinating on things. And there was no watershed moment where I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to stop doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” I just started not doing what I was supposed to be. I was divorced at the time. No one was watching me. No one knew what I was doing. I mean, I was only responsible to the clients. And in my mind, if I got this stuff done today or tomorrow, it was fine. So this whole procrast, I call it the pit of procrastination, and once I fell down that pit and I almost lost a business is when I started really looking at where procrastination comes from, what is going on. I mean, I’m a smart person and I was doing this. I was just procrastinating and losing clients. And that’s when I started doing a lot of research and education, training and learning, basically it all comes from our brain doing weird things. And after that, I put together some tools and systems I used and got myself out of that pit of procrastination, got the business back up and running, but people were noticing what I was doing and how I was getting things done. And I got a lot of requests to help them out. And it just flowed from there.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s great. That’s a great story. And before I knew what you had majored in, just knowing your current work, I’ve wondered have you majored in psychology or even, I guess maybe Gustavus didn’t yet have a neuroscience program at that point. This is exactly what I wanted to head, and of course I’ve never procrastinated, never.

Ellen Goodwin:

No one does, it’s just me.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Put a pile of student and papers in front of me and I just am ready to dive right in. Why do we procrastinate? Why do people procrastinate? I suppose there is more than one reason. And I guess what I’m getting at before we talk about how to be productive, which is what your work is about. Maybe talk a little bit about what makes us unproductive?

Ellen Goodwin:

Well it basically comes down to your midbrain and the limbic system. And your limbic system is the oldest part of your brain. Some people call it the lizard brain, or it gets called the monkey mind. It’s the part of your brain that’s there to protect you. The fight or flight response lives there. And one of the key points to your limbic system is it loves the comfort zone, and the comfort zone is the safest place you can be. And unfortunately, that’s evolved from, “Oh, I’m going to be safe and I’m not going to get eaten by a large animal,” to the point where, “Oh, look, I’m safe on the couch watching Netflix.” And the brain wants us to be comfortable. And I truly believe that is where procrastination comes from because we default to comfort, whether it’s not doing something we perceive as hard, or it’s just, “Hey, my whole body’s comfortable. I’m laying on the couch. Maybe I’m playing video games, the whole body state is comfort. And there’s no reason for me to get out of this comfort zone because I’m safe.”

Greg Kaster:

So it’s neurological and physiological it sounds like. And I suppose psychological [inaudible 00:26:37]. It’s all fascinating. I mean, you didn’t study this formally, right? You were just reading up on the brain, am I right about that?

Ellen Goodwin:

I didn’t go back to school to get this. No, I’ve done some trainings with neuroscientists, but I didn’t go back and, “Hey, let’s get another degree.”

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. We probably have read some of the same books as Tom, and I imagine I haven’t read nearly as much as you, but I find it fascinating how our brain works and also you have a layperson’s knowledge and also how it tricks us. And as you kind of say, it works against us. Now, in my own case, that comfort is accompanied by a lot of guilt. Why am I not grading those papers? And I suppose different people respond differently to that. And what I like about your approach to productivity, you make it quite clear one, there’s no one way, right? I mean, there are principles, we can talk more about those. But there are different approaches for different people. In other words, you’re not saying one-size-fits-all as I understand your book, which by the way, I highly recommend, [inaudible 00:28:01] for the book, which is available on Amazon, I recommend it. So let’s talk a little bit about that. So this concept of action hero, I found interesting, and you make a distinction, which I think is important between an action hero and a superhero. Tell us a little bit about the difference.

Ellen Goodwin:

Well superheroes usually came from other planets. They have super powers. They can turn to, except for Batman, because his is all toys that he has. But superheroes have these super powers, but action heroes are using what they have. They don’t have a super power, Indiana Jones, perfect example of an action hero, he’s got no special powers. He has just put things together. He understands how to do things, and that’s just inside of him. And any other action hero, they’re in action, they’re assessing the situation and doing what they need to do to find the solution and overcome the problem. They’re not relying on any magic.

Greg Kaster:

Right. And I like that, that appeals to me as a teacher. The word action, because I think that learning is action, teaching of courses is, but learning is also action, learning and absorbing stuff. It takes action or engagement, it’s kind of the word of the day, I guess among educators. So tell us a little bit about the sort of principles and valve in your approach. Let’s see, we don’t want to make this a free consultation purpose, but to the extent that you can your program. So you’re trying to help me, I would be an entrepreneur, because you mostly work with entrepreneurs, is that true tight now?

Ellen Goodwin:

I’ve pretty much worked with anyone that has issues, issue is a wrong word, challenges. A lot of the people I ended up working, I do work with, are obviously solopreneurs, and even authors and artists, anyone that is finding it hard to get going. So I hate to be that person like, “I help everyone.” You always hear, “Oh, you have to niche down.” But technically it kind of comes back to that, it’s whoever is finding themselves not getting things done.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. Well, so I’m that person, especially when it comes to grading, help me, what do I need to do to avoid procrastinating? Especially for me, it’s especially around tasks that I feel might wind up disappointing me. There are always some fabulous student papers. And then there’s some that you just think, “Oh no, what did I do wrong as a teacher?” But in all seriousness, what would you counsel?

Ellen Goodwin:

So can you hear me?

Greg Kaster:

Yes. I hear you fine.

Ellen Goodwin:

I just switched something over.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Ellen Goodwin:

What would I counsel you for getting your papers done? Well, I would say don’t look at it as such a huge project, because I think that’s probably one of the things you do, right?

Greg Kaster:

True.

Ellen Goodwin:

Yeah. So figure out a way to make a game out of it. And one of those is maybe it’s just, “Okay, today, this hour, I’m going to move the papers, oops, to the center of my desk and they’re going to be there, so when I’m ready, they’re there.” That’s it. Next, you’re going to set a timer and, “I’m going to look at papers for 10 minutes. And as far as I get in 10 minutes, that’s perfect. And then I’ll go do something else and I’ll come back and set a timer again.”And I’m a huge believer in using my kitchen timers, not the timer on your phone, because the timer on your phone, every time you touch your phone, it becomes a moment of choice. And that moment of choice is whether you do what you’re supposed to be doing, or you give in to temptation and you, “Oh, hey, let me check and see what’s my notifications, let me go over there.”

So I’m a big believer in using a kitchen timer. I also use a timer they’re called MOA timers, and they’re just a square, and it’s got different numbers on each side and you just turn it up, like say I want 30 minutes, I turn it so the 30 is up, then I turn it face down and it automatically starts timing. So again, there’s no moment of choice where I decide, “Hey, I’m setting a timer. It’s just, I go.” So I would do 10, 15 minutes. Just time yourself. You’re playing a game with your brain because your brain goes, “Oh, I’m not going to do this all day. It’s not going to take my whole day to do this.” And in 10 minute increments, it’s going to take a while, but it’s not going to end up taking the whole day. And you’re not going to put it off as much as you would.

Greg Kaster:

I am really feeling better already. I mean all profs work differently, but I am one of those people who once I start, I feel I must finish. So I’ll spend sometimes six or seven hours in a row. It’s crazy, right? And I mean, I’m not productive. I’m actually, I’m probably a lot less productive then I wouldn’t be doing it the way you just described. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Ellen Goodwin:

Well, I’ll tell you right now. Oh, I was going to say right now, end of the year, cleaning out, we’ve just not discovered. I’ve always known they’re there. But I’ve got years and years of receipts and tax forms that I need to keep for my business. But after seven years, you can get rid of them. So I’ve got several years of stuff and it needs to be shredded. It’s not like the shredding places are available right now to us. So I have everything just stacked by my desk and I set my timer for five minutes at a pop, And I shred for five minutes, which is enough to fill up a bag and then I go do something else. So I’m attacking it five minutes at a time, and it works.

Greg Kaster:

And so it’s not multitasking?

Ellen Goodwin:

Nope.

Greg Kaster:

I’ll come back to it actually, but it’s also not, “I must stay with this one task for two or three hours, until I finish it.” It’s not that. And again, that makes a lot of sense to me. What about multitasking? I think I read something where you … You tell me if I’m wrong, I heard someone on the radio, [inaudible 00:35:10] podcasts, I was just driving down from Gustavus to Minneapolis, that we actually can’t multitask. So is this true? I mean, we think we can, and then actually we wind up being very, very unproductive as a result.

Ellen Goodwin:

That’s exactly true. We cannot multitask. You can do things, you could make dinner and listen to a podcast because you’re doing two different sort of things. And either one is like, “Oh, I have to be precise with this.” And if you’re listening to a podcast while you’re making dinner, you may not pick up everything, it’s okay if you kind of wander. But if you’re trying to work, it just doesn’t work. I always liken it to your brain is a house. Just imagine your brain is a house. And the only place that you can listen, whether it’s to someone on the phone or to a conference call, the only place you can do that is in the living room. And the only place you could read or listen is if you’re in the bedroom, not listen, but you could read and understand. You’re going to read in the bedroom, listen and talk in the living room. But you can’t do both at the same time because you can’t be in two rooms at once. So let’s say you’re reading your email and a phone call comes in and you don’t stop reading and you keep listening and talking, after a while, you don’t know what you’re reading and you don’t know what you’re saying or hearing. I think we’ve all done that before.

Greg Kaster:

[inaudible 00:36:52].

Ellen Goodwin:

So what’s going on is you’re trying to be in both rooms at the same time. And you have to go back and forth between the rooms. You’re listening, you’re reading, you’re listening, you’re reading and you’re using up energy and you’re using up time because you have to go back and forth. You have to remember, “Oh, what was I saying? What were we talking about? Or what was I reading?” So you’re going back and forth using up the energy, using up time and you’re not being efficient. And that’s what multi-tasking is.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah it winds up being a waste of time in some ways and a waste of energy too. And you’re right, I mean, that feeling, I know that feeling so well, where you’re actually tired and then you think, “What am I just dumb?” I’ve done a lot of [inaudible 00:37:42], I did multitasking, but what have I really accomplished? And it’s not a whole lot. So then that makes [inaudible 00:37:52]. I’m trying to think back to the book, you talk about action and energy, what are the other core components?

Ellen Goodwin:

Action, energy and focus. Those are the three parts. Action, because there’s a difference between action and motion and people get confused with them and you need to be an action to get things done, not just in motion. And motion would be, if I decided today that I was going to get in shape. So I went online and I printed out a full on menu of what I’m going to eat every day. And then I printed out exercises, these are the exercises I’m going to do. All well and good, but I’ve been completely in motion because I haven’t done one thing to move a muscle, to do something better. I’ve just been in motion. I turn to action when I actually start following that diet. And I do my first sit-up, I do a couple of pushups, then I’m in action.

Greg Kaster:

That also makes a great deal of sense because you’re in motion and I’m going to talk about myself, I’m kidding myself that I’m being productive, but I’m not being productive, I’m in motion.

Ellen Goodwin:

And a lot of people, the whole idea of making a to-do list, that’s motion at its finest. It’s necessary, but you have to know when to stop being in motion and move into action.

Greg Kaster:

Well, I wondered about that. I wondered if you were an advocate of that because I’ve heard about argued both ways, whether you were an advocate of the to-do lists.

Ellen Goodwin:

I am, it depends, again, there’s no one size fits all and that goes for people and it goes for your days as well, because some days, it’s going to be fine to have a full-on list of this is what I’m going to get done. And other days, maybe all you need is a to don’t list, which is a list of things you’re not going to do, “I’m not going to waste time on the internet. I’m not going to be taking calls between this time.” Sometimes it’s just having an outcome list, which is, “I just use a sticky note and I put down the five things that have to be accomplished that day. I don’t make notes about how I’m going to do it. Everything I do during the day is going to be focused on making sure that those five things get done.” So you change your to-do list to match your day.

Greg Kaster:

Got it. And where does the energy come into this? That’s the most …

Ellen Goodwin:

Ah, energy. Well, everyone has different energy patterns, but for the most part, they’re all very similar. We have the early birds, and you have the night owls. And early birds, you get up, you have all this big surge of energy in the morning. You have a little slump in the afternoon and then another little surge at the end of the day. Night owls have that same pattern, but it’s backwards, which is an interesting thing. And the key is to know what your energy pattern is, not when you get up, whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, but it’s to know what your personal energy pattern is, and to leverage that as much as you can.

So that mean, “In the morning, I’m most creative. So that’s when I do my writing, that’s when I rarely will take meetings. But I know in the afternoon, you know what? That’s a perfect time for me to do research, to send emails, to sit in a meeting. I’m not giving up my creative time. I’m not giving up the time where I’m the best.” So it’s knowing and leveraging your energy as best you can. And I know some people can do that better than others given work constraints and things like that, but we can all do it to some effect.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. And I like the knowing in leverage. I’m the early bird for sure. Then focus, I think I know where you’re going to go, but tell us a little bit. So what is focused means?

Ellen Goodwin:

Focus means doing what you need to do with no outside distractions or minimizing distractions. And I get a lot of people, they’re like, “Yeah. I just can’t, I can’t focus for hours and hours, and no one can, so that argument goes right out the window. We can only focus for a short,” when I say short, 90 minutes is pretty much the outer edge of really concentrated focus time. So I don’t say you have to do that all the time. I just believe that you set a time limit of let’s say, “I’m going to work for 30 minutes on this. I’m not going to have any distractions. And at the end of the 30 minutes, I’ll take a break. And then I’ll come back and do it again if I need to.” But it’s knowing what you want to do during that time, what the limit is, eliminating distractions and then just doing your work without outside influence, outside problems.

Greg Kaster:

And that I thought you would bring up distractions, and it just seems like the distractions are so much greater than even when you were in college, I was in college, Oh my God. So, yeah, and I mean, I’m certainly guilty of that. I sometimes manage to shut off my phone and shut off my computer, but too often I’m working and [inaudible 00:43:57] a glance at the incoming email. That’s when hours kill. So I mean, it must be incredibly challenging, especially if you’re dealing with people whose work depends on the internet and online, [inaudible 00:44:18], just shut down?

Ellen Goodwin:

I block. I block things. I use a blocker, a computer blocker called SelfControl, and it allows me to pick whatever I want to block, whatever apps or programs. And for however long I want to block them. And once I’ve set it, I can’t just go, “Okay, Nope. I want to go back.” So it’s a pretty solid application that will keep me away from the things that I know I get distracted by.

Greg Kaster:

And so that allows you to … It sounds like that you’re not shutting your computer off.

Ellen Goodwin:

No.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Okay. So that also sounds great.

Ellen Goodwin:

No, I’ve got a full list of blockers for phones and computers. And really, they might even be on my website, I’m not sure.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, I’ll check it out. [inaudible 00:45:18] I’m kind of laughing to myself and I’ll be more productive already this spring. I mean, in all seriousness, the other thing I like about your … Well, let me back up. So I did some training and labor history in graduate school. And you may know this too, when one thinks of productivity in terms of workers, let’s say on the factory floor, particularly you think of tailors back in the early 20th century, the Frederick Winslow Taylor with a stopwatch or Charlie Chaplin in modern times has turned Charlie into a let’s automate Charlie to see [inaudible 00:45:55] be more productive. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand what I’ve read in your book, all of this isn’t an end in and of itself,  the point isn’t just to be more productive for the sake of time. Talk a little bit about that.

Ellen Goodwin:

No I’m a firm believer in that if you can get the things done that you have to do and do them efficiently, you’re going to have more time for the things you want to do. So productivity, it makes your life better because I don’t want it to make you crazy like the Charlie Chaplin thing. But you get things done more efficiently, you’re happier because you have more time to do the things you want to do, whatever that might be.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Let me ask you this, and here I am thinking of Walt Whitman, it was actually a poem about loafing, is there a case, and maybe you’re already starting to answer this, is there a case for being unproductive? I mean, are we being unproductive when we are walking or whatever we’re doing, not related to work? I mean, is there any case for being unproductive?

Ellen Goodwin:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, with your example, walking, it’s a wonderful time for your brain to just be able to ruminate for lack of a better word, to have things float around in your brain and new connections being made. It’s great to sit and daydream. It’s great to meditate. All of those things don’t sound like you’re getting things done, but you’re doing amazing things at that point because your brain … It’s like turning your computer off and letting it do its thing, because you don’t want your computer on all the time and you don’t want your brain on all the time. So there’s definitely a case to be made for being unproductive at times.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I thought that’s what you would say just based on what I’ve read, and again, it makes so much sense. Now, speaking of being unproductive and productive your TEDx Talk on Dive Bar, I urge people to watch, I mean it’s entertaining [inaudible 00:48:16] and illuminated too. I’m not as familiar with Dive Bars as you are. But I do like certain, I guess they’d be called … First of all just give us the definition as you do in the talk, what’s a Dive Bar? How do you define it?

Ellen Goodwin:

One of the things is there’s no real definition of a Dive Bar. It’s sort of like it’s a Supreme court ruling on pornography, you know it when you see it. But Dive Bars are traditionally neighborhood bars that have, because of time circumstance, have become just … It’s not the place you go for our high level drinks, you don’t want to pick stuff up off the floor if you drop it hidden, really good Dive Bars. So they’re good bars to go to. You’re comfortable. You’re relaxed. You meet interesting people. They have photos on the wall of the regulars, they take care of each other. It’s a place to go. [Cheers 00:49:17] was not wrong. Cheers was not a Dive Bar, but cheers was not wrong. It’s the regulars. Everybody knows their name.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a place here, now it’s shut down, that my wife and I love to go to, we go almost every week on a Friday and it felt like a cheers. Just, ah, man, it’s so rejuvenating at the end of a workweek. So now one would assume going to a Dive Bar of course has nothing to do with productivity, but that is not the case you make. And I’m curious too, so talk a little bit about that, but also how did you come to do your research, if we can use that word, in Dive Bars out of your work on productivity, or you were already a Dive Bar fan?

Ellen Goodwin:

So we’ve been running a Dive Bar, The Month Club for over 10 years. Our 10th anniversary was this March. And of course we didn’t get to celebrate it because the week we were going to have our 10th anniversary celebration at a Dive Bar, all the bars, didn’t matter if they were dives or not, they shut down, but we’ve been doing it for over 10 years. And once a month, we take a group of people to a Dive Bar. And so the research just came about from being there and seeing, I guess my sociology degree pulled in there because seeing how things went, how people interacted. And that is one of the things that I believe, all productivity is human interaction and Dive Bars are wonderful places to see human interaction on all levels and in a wonderful environment.

Greg Kaster:

You just gave me the title, I think, I’ll think about it for the podcast here, all productivity is human interaction. And yeah, you elaborate on that so well in the talk and I found it so interesting. And of course, many of us would think Dive Bar, productivity. In a way, maybe it’s like what you were just saying about being unproductive, [inaudible 00:51:29] productive, it’s incredibly important to productivity. I always find it energizing to talk with people, I don’t know, assuming they’re more or less [crosstalk 00:51:41]. And that’s one thing about the podcast, I just love it. It just energize me, so I can relate to what you’re saying.

I want to talk a little more … We’re running close, we’re near to the end here, but I know you’re not an expert on work per se, but I wonder if you’ve thought about how COVID-19, its impact on work, office work in particular? I was just talking to someone in the business world the other night, who would normally be in his office in downtown Minneapolis, where he isn’t. And I’ve talked to people who say, “Well that’s done, that’s never going to come back. People are going to be working at home now.” Do you have any thoughts about that and how COVID-19 is or isn’t affecting productivity?

Ellen Goodwin:

Well, from a lot of the things I’ve been reading and seeing is that actually productivity for a lot of people is up working at home because they’re not spending the time commuting. They’re not having to go sit in meetings. Although of course the Zoom meeting is truly a thing. But a lot of people are finding that without the distraction of office work, they are getting more things done. Now, you add in a lot of people also are dealing with kids not being in school, and that changes the dynamic. But I think a lot of people are going to push for working at home when this is all over. And I think a lot of businesses are seeing that their greatest fear, which was people not getting work done when they weren’t supervised is not a true fear because people are doing just fine without a manager looking over their shoulder. It’s showing that people, for lack of better word, can be trusted, that they are still productive, that they still want to get their work done. And I do think it’s going to change how a lot of businesses work. And I think it’s going to make it easier for people to make the case for, “Hey, I should be able to work from home or be location independent.”

Greg Kaster:

Those are really, I think, fascinating and important observations. And be where managerial class, we may not need you any more. When you said about trust, that people are not … It’s like I’m thinking it is a labor history here, the old struggle for the 10 hour day, where we can’t give you 10 hours because you’re going to [inaudible 00:54:19], you’re going to squander that time and not use it. You won’t be productive. I’ve read a little bit, not as much as you, but I have seen that mentioned that productivity rates are up. So yeah, it’s fascinating. The part for me that I would miss, of course I’m a teacher, so in-person is incredibly important, and in liberal arts college obviously, but I’m thinking even in office work, I would miss sort of the schmoozing, maybe that’s unproductive, so-called unproductive. But interacting with my colleagues on a daily basis at the ‘office’.

Ellen Goodwin:

Sure.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I would miss that. And I’m enough of a city guy that I hope office work will come back. If only so we can have food trucks down there. We’ll see. Well, I feel like this has been a productive conversation.

Ellen Goodwin:

I think so.

Greg Kaster:

So thank you so much. It’s been great to talk. You’ve helped me out, I think I’m going to buy one of those timers or maybe use the kitchen stove timer or something. But seriously, it’s been a pleasure, your work is really interesting. And I like how it’s informed by you’re reading about and studying about the brain, it’s grounded in science and I think that’s really important and also quite fascinating.

Ellen Goodwin:

Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

So yeah, my pleasure. Good luck with everything. I’m glad you’re an alum, it’s been great to [inaudible 00:55:46]. And when you come back to Minneapolis, I’ve only been to San Diego once with my wife, and we’ll hook up in person someday and talk about my productivity.

Ellen Goodwin:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I’m always available. You can reach out to me, I’ll help you with anything.

Greg Kaster:

Thanks so much, Ellen, take good care.

Ellen Goodwin:

All right, Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

Bye-Bye.

Ellen Goodwin:

Bye.

Speaker 3:

Learning for life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing. Gustavus graduate Will Clark, Class of ’20, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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