Sara: Theresa Ward, my friend, I am so excited to have you on the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast. How are you doing today?
Theresa: I'm pretty good. I'm really excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Sara.
Sara: Oh, my gosh. I love it. I love it. I -- we had coffee, what, like a month ago? Two months ago? And I just thought I need to get you on here to share with my listeners some of the stuff you've been thinking about, some of the stuff you've been working on, so I'm glad it worked out. So, thank you for giving us your time today. You know, before we got on here, I looked it up. We met back in 2013. Like that --
Theresa: I knew it was a while ago.
Sara: It's been a minute.
Sara: It's been a minute and we met back when you were working at First Data in the innovation space, and I always tell people that you are a collector of friends and I love that about you and I'm glad that I was one of the people you collected that day. So tell me a little bit about kind of the journey from when I met you back in 2013 to where you are today, working as this productivity and culture champion -- and I love the way that you describe yourself -- so of what are you doing now and how did you get to that place?
Theresa: Yeah, it's definitely been, as a fellow design thinking and innovation friend, it's been a squiggly line. It's been a relatively non-linear journey. I got a chance when I was at First Data and in the financial technology space and in the corporate space overall, wear a lot of different hats and dabble in a bunch of different roles. So collector of experiences, collector of friends. I know you guys have been talking a lot about values on the podcast and, like, diversity and novelty is definitely a value of mine; it keeps things interesting. But in the corporate space, I did some innovation, I did some training, I was in sales, I was in product, and when I left, I realized that kind of the common thread or the common value that I could add to the clients that I worked with or the projects that I was on was like clarity, structure, momentum, and productivity at the time seemed like, OK, that's kind of a nice umbrella term for those things that I can contribute to whatever project I'm working on, in whatever industry, with whatever kind of team that I'm working with. So it was really just a series of experiments, innovative, low-res experiments and failures and lessons that brought me to this place where I was like, "OK, this is the consistent value that I can provide." I think I took it for granted in a big corporate company that, you know, a type-A person working with a bunch of other type-A individuals that everybody sort of, in other industries, in startup environments, in creative craft spaces, that they would have that same kind of structure processes. They don't! Everybody's at a different place, and so it was really fun and engaging to say, like, or to explore, "Where am I rare? Where are these things that come naturally to me valuable to other people?" So that's where -- that's kind of up until this point and then we'll talk a little bit about, you know, where this is going maybe, because I think "productivity" has become a much more loaded term. There's a lot of baggage around this term as we've gone through the pandemic over the last 18 months, and I think it's shifted for what it means for a lot of people.
Sara: Yeah, I definitely want to talk about that. That was what you shared with me, that I was like, "Ooh! We got to talk about that."
Theresa: It's juicy.
Sara: But let me ask you this kind of in this space of how you find a place where you get to bring a unique perspective and unique gifts and use those to serve your clients, what are the things about that work that you find the most rewarding or the most exciting about what you get to do and bring to those organizations?
Theresa: It's such a double-edged sword. Usually, like, our gifts can be our burdens or our pleasures can be our annoyances and, you know, it's like an interesting dichotomy. So I usually end up working with clients who have very different personalities and different strengths and tendencies, and I am there to balance things out. So I might be working with a creative visionary who has this amazing strategy for the long term picture, and they're so motivated by their mission, and I'm there to help organize the, like, in-the-weeds details, you know? Help them with project management or "let's document the standard operating procedure," and so sometimes I will feel myself being like, "Oh, this is this is hard because somebody isn't speaking my language. They don't have the same tendencies as I do. They aren't operating using the same tools and frameworks that I am." But then again, it's that beautiful diversity of perspective that allows us to sort of make something that's bigger than each of us could individually. Does that does that kind of answer that question?
Sara: Yeah, I love it, because I think it's -- it shows what we've talked about before in our podcast on personality, I think.
Sara: I don't even remember what episode that was but, how when I'm at my best and I'm bringing the things that I'm best at, the people that are wired differently need me and don't like me, right?
Sara: Like we are the most able to come to a complete better solution when we are partnering with that diversity, but it is the hardest work to do because, as you said, they don't speak your language. They don't work the ways that we do. And so -- and I love that it's not just you coming in and taking your style and telling these kind of free-spirited, creative, artistic people or entrepreneurs, "This is how you have to do. You have to be structured. You have to be efficient and you have to be these things." It's you recognizing, "Together we'll find a way that works for you, but bringing the skills and knowledge that I have to help make that better. Is that fair?
Theresa: Yeah. Yeah, and I think I've heard you say on the podcast before, you have to meet people where they are.
Theresa: So that been a lesson, you know, that I've learned. They say that there is a journey, really, when you go out on your own and you're running your own business from, like, kind of freelancer to consultant to true entrepreneur, and I think what's helped me grow in my own maturity as, like, becoming a grown-up and an entrepreneur is leaning into those areas of friction or tension or even conflict. So I've learned so much over this last year about the value of conflict -- healthy conflict -- and I -- that's so relevant not just, you know, for us as individuals, but what's going on socially, politically, globally. Being able to hold space for that tension and that disagreement, work through it instead of shortcutting around it, and I think that leads to long-term productivity, because you establish long-term trust in those relationship dynamics and bring our authentic selves to that interaction, and into that work.
Sara: I love that you tied it to the long-term productivity, because I was thinking, as you were talking about this, leaning into the conflict and the tension and creating space for that, I get a lot of people that say "I don't have time for that," right? "It's going to slow me down, we have stuff we have to get done. We just have to go," and so can you talk about why the value -- why there's value in slowing down to deal with that and how that leads to long-term productivity?
Theresa: Yeah, I totally empathize with everyone who's in that mode, because my default mode is just "go" and go as fast as possible, because slow is scary sometimes, especially when we're living in this ‘VUCA’ environment. I mean, that's an acronym. I don't know if you guys have talked about like a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment that the pandemic has brought us. When we're faced with uncertainty, it's like, "Well, I can't slow down, I can't drop the ball," and that's what will lead to burnout. I wish I could credit the person who said this, so we'll have to look it up and put it in the show notes: "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast," and that is something that I'm really trying to embrace in in my work lately and, again, it's not natural but it's important, and so part of that slow work is, like, you guys have been talking about self-awareness, knowing your personality type, examining your values, establishing your priorities. When you're trying to have a really productive day, one of the tools that I like using is that Eisenhauer matrix, right? The two-by-two grid important versus urgent and kind of plotting out, "OK, I have a to-do list that's way too long. What do I do today? What do I do tomorrow? What do I delegate? What do I cross off my list?" and the only way that you can sanely plot those things out on important versus urgent is to first know what's important!
Theresa: And so that's the slow starts that will eventually put you into these sort of more, I think, automated habits of filtering through the noise.
Theresa: Knowing when to take a deep breath and when to just, like, let things go.
Sara: So how do you help people determine urgent versus important? That's a concept that we teach a lot, and I love it. So how does that come into the work that you do with your clients?
Theresa: I want to hear your definition of these too, in case they're different than mine, because I want to keep, you know, expanding my portfolio in my understanding of these concepts, but importance is like what will ultimately get you towards your North Star, your purpose, your long-term goals of who you want to be and how you want to be remembered, and that can be anything from financial planning to keeping in touch with your grandma, you know?
Theresa: Like, having certain kinds of relationships, investing in your own learning and personal development by reading or listening to podcasts, going to conferences, the urgent stuff is anything that is time-bound and has a clear, pressured deadline on it, and the things that are both important and urgent are the things that you want to prioritize in your day. The things that are urgent but not important, can you delegate those or can you crowdsource those? "Oh, my gosh, the fridge is empty. I need food for dinner tonight." Instacart, right? Like, I can't prioritize going to the grocery store, right? So how can I delegate? How can I automate? How can I leverage technology to help me out there, so that maybe I can spend a little bit more time in the important, not urgent quadrant, which is usually involving like long term goals and relationships. How do you guys think about it?
Sara: Yeah, we think about it really pretty much the exact same way, because we do this exercise with clients in our programs on the heels of values day, right? Once we've have them take time to really name, we call their "legacy statement", which is kind of the same concept of a North Star, but what are the things that matter to you that you -- and we call it "quadrant one", those things that are urgent, but -- I mean important but not urgent -- that we find that we most often neglect, but then there's the other kind of quadrant of not urgent, not important, which is the total zone-out, you know, Netflix binge or games on your phone or just the stuff that's not adding value in either camp, and what I find, at least for myself and a lot of people I talk to is, if I'm not doing that important but not urgent stuff...
Sara: I need more of that waste -- time-waster stuff just to survive, because I'm getting burnt out. I'm living in this [urgent space where everything is pressure and when I'm careful to get up in the morning and take time to read or exercise or connect with friends. The draw to turn on the TV or to pick up my phone is less, and so I'm getting more things that matter done, but in a way that is like that important stuff is life-giving to me.
Theresa: I am doing a horrible job of giving people credit for their quotes because I've been maybe just absorbing too much content lately, but I did get an email yesterday -- I have to look back at whose newsletter it was -- but it talked about like create a life that you don't need to escape from, and it sounds like that's what you're referring to, right? So if you don't invest in those important things first, it's, yeah, it fills your cup so that you feel like you don't need to fill it with YouTube videos or junk food or retail therapy or whatever else.
Sara: Yeah. So let's use this as a launching point and then to move into this idea of how this idea of productivity has changed for you recently and how it's not just getting more done. Theresa: Yeah. Sara: So tell us about what you're thinking in that space and how your work is shifting.
Theresa: I think a couple of years ago, it was really important for me to find and share the best path to optimal productivity, and I read all the books and, you know, did all the research and tried to sort of compile, "This is the framework" or "These are the 10 steps," or "You need to be doing this in the morning and that in the afternoons. You know, everybody needs to be -- or a Google calendar" or, you know, all of those specific things, and I think what I've not only learned but, more importantly, what I'm trying to embody now is how many different paths there are to get you to a feeling of productivity, because that is what matters is the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. Your ability to go to sleep with a sense of fulfillment and not with a sense of anxiety, with a sense of, "Oh, I did something impactful today," instead of feeling burnt out or, "Oh, it wasn't enough." So I think I used to take productivity more literally -- how many things can we check off our to do list in any given day? -- and now there's a lot more soul infusion. That's a strange term, but I just feel like "soul" is the thing that I'm leaning into right now and it's so important in again, what's going on in our cultural and social and political spaces, if we are truly going to be allies and we're going to embrace diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, if we are going to be trauma-informed and we're going to be --, just seeing people and embracing who -- there has to be more than one way to get to this sense of impact and results that we're looking for.
Theresa: But that's hard because we all work for, I mean, whether -- even if you're in a nonprofit organization, like, there are clear metrics and they are relatively binary and either you meet your goals or you don't. So it's a balance. It's a balancing act and that is what I love doing, is just being present and being a champion for people as they kind of teeter-totter and figure out where their balance is.
Sara: Wow. A feeling of productivity, like, that -- you and I are wired similarly in a number of ways --
Theresa: I know!
Sara: And it's like I want the checklist. I want to quantify how much I've done, but how many days am I running, running, running, and I go to bed and I don't feel like I accomplished the things that really mattered? Right? So it's back to that important thing.
Theresa: And as a psychologist, you're probably familiar with these terms, but I'll share them for your audience. Have you guys talked about completion bias?
Sara: We have not.
Theresa: Ok, so it's just basically the tendency to want to get things done when you're stressed out, whether they're important or not. It just feels good to, yeah, go grocery shopping, you know, even if you don't have time to do it or this is -- some of my clients are like, "Why do I keep doing the laundry instead of doing my projects?" Because they're at home and how do you be productive from home? We've talked a lot about that in the last year or so, and it's because we just want to feel like we checked something off a list. Sara: Yeah. Theresa: So being aware of completion bias, I think, Is one helpful element for people who are wired like you and me, and then the other thing that's been really helpful is the concept of Parkinson's law and that that you -- that work will fill the available time. So if I told you that we had a really important presentation that we had to get done within twenty-four hours, we'd get it done. And if I told you that we had a really important presentation, that was the same content but it's not due for three weeks, we'd take three weeks to get it done.
Theresa: And that phenomenon or that paradox when it comes to productivity, I think is really, really helpful for self-awareness. Isn't it amazing how sometimes when you put urgency on something important, you could get it done instead of like, "Eh, I've got a year to train for that marathon," or, you know, "I've got my months until my performance review," or fill in the blank.
Sara: Right. You're not resorting to Netflix and cell phone games when you have 24 hours to meet an important deadline.
Theresa: Yeah. Yeah, and you got to break it down into small milestones, right? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So setting those small, small, but urgent milestones I think can help on your way to that feeling of fulfillment and celebration is the other key. Like, we do a bad job of reflecting at the end of the day, you know, when you lay down in bed, Sara, and you're like, why did I even do today? Like, answer the question. Be like, you know what? I did a lot today for my family or for my business or for my mental health and, like, whether it's journaling or it's meditating, at the end of the day, like I have now, it's hundreds of slides long, but at the end of every week, I add a Google slide on what did I accomplish, what's coming up next, and where did I struggle? And it helped me just develop these patterns for my own, not just productivity, but my own personal fulfillment. I'm like, "Wow, I really enjoyed doing that. Oh, I really got that done ahead of schedule. Oh, I keep procrastinating on that. Oh, I feel terrible every time I take on one of these client projects. Why do I keep doing that?" The reflecting and celebrating on whatever you got done or whatever you even struggle to get done I think could be really helpful too.
Sara: Wow, so you do that every week and you just have this kind of ongoing list where you get to look at patterns and themes and -- That's really cool.
Theresa: Friday night and a glass of wine. I have a -- Yeah, my epic social life, I think I just disclosed.
Sara: So this question is a little personal, so you decide how much you want to share but as you have gone in this transition of moving towards more of this soul focused feeling of productivity. Kind of focusing on the things that bring life. How has that changed you and not just your clients?
Theresa: Oh, that's such a good question! Oh, yeah. It's definitely what I said earlier about leaning into the tension and the friction as I grow as an individual and I have to get out of my own comfort zone and my own obsessive patterns about my time management and my list making and, you know, managing me and my partner's schedule and all of those things from a personal perspective. It's just really allowing myself to sit with the discomfort of growth. Yeah, yeah. Just sort of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Because of that Parkinson's law paradox, I know that I want my day to be filled with things that I have to do and so I tell myself, or visually represent for myself on my calendar, I start to create more like, "You HAVE to get up and go for a walk. You HAVE to meditate. You HAVE to take a nap. You HAVE to take a lunch break. You HAVE to read" and I, "Oh, oh! I have to read a book at the end of the day. How nice." Somebody told me I had to do that. So creating those sort of accountability-based white spaces has really helped me -- yeah, it put more emphasis on my own soul and my own fulfillment.
Sara: Yeah, I love that, because it's you using your natural wiring, which is creating that accountability in that structure, but structure in order to create space for kind of the "less productive" air quotes in terms of you're not accomplishing anything that's going to bring in revenue or, you know, it's not doing laundry. You know, it's soul care and making that a priority for you, but using a structure and a way to do that, right?
Theresa: And you better believe I colored-code it as well, right?
Sara: Perfect. Perfect, because --
Theresa: And Sara, I'm glad for you to give me that feedback, because if that was like an unhealthy way to do things, you know of, I mean, I feel like sometimes there's multiple, multiple personalities living in my brain, but we harness them.
Sara: Yeah, but it's you know, you can't just make yourself be somebody that you're not, right? You can't say, "I am this way and I want to be 180 degrees different," and so, you know, for you and I to just be the total throw-all-structure-out-the-window and just go with what feels fun in the moment and don't care about deadlines would not work, but then for people who are as the way you've described some of your clients and the people that are better at more naturally kind of being in the moment and creating space for those things, they still need some element of accountability or structure to get the things done that need to be. Some discipline of some sort to help them without becoming overly structured and locked down to some process that's going to feel really unnatural to them.
Theresa: Yeah. Yeah, I'd recommend if your listeners are sort of leaning into this and are curious to dig into this more, Better than Before is a book by Gretchen Rubin that --there's also like a free quiz online and you can find out what your sort of habit-building and habit-breaking tendencies are, because there's those of us that are just upholders, obligers where we need somebody else, and then there's rebels who just, like, need to wake up every day and be like, "Maybe I'll make the bed today. Maybe I won't" You know, they need a lot of white space and permission and freedom to make their own decisions, like, in the moment, spontaneously. And in that book, there's a follow-up one called The Four Tendencies that digs deeper, but she also just talks about personality tendencies, like, "Do you like novelty or do you like routine? Are you task-oriented or relationship-oriented?" and knowing all of those things about yourself it's so empowering, I think, in setting up your own version of productivity and then also, you know, doing it as a team-building activity. “How am I compared to other people on my team?” Because you can't just set one calendar policy that's like, "This is how we're always going to structure our day," or "This is the only time of the week or the day when we're going to have meetings." You have to know where everybody else on your team is coming from as well.
Sara: Yeah, that's really good. So why do you think time, in this context of how we manage our time and what we choose to do with our time, why do you think that is such a ripe area for leaders to look at how they're using it, how they're making decisions in terms of their own growth. It seems like such a, kind of, tactical --
Sara: Yeah, but yet it is, you know, as you just shared for yourself and as we use with our clients, like, there is something about time that we can learn a lot from. So do you have any thoughts on how that -- why it is that time is such a ripe area for growth?
Theresa: I mean, that's why I've really chosen this career, because that is such a deep question. It's exciting to me that there isn't one specific answer, and I might have had an answer for you in 2018 that looked different in 2019 than it does now. So in one of my workshops last year, I asked people to give me words on their relationship with time and I got everything from "weapon" to "oasis."
Theresa: It's so fascinating. So I'm not sure we have enough time left on the podcast for me to try and answer that question, but I think it is worth me looking into and maybe the first exercise, right, if people want to explore that is to think about what is their relationship with time, and is there a scarcity mentality around it? I'm sure it wouldn't take long for us to come up with a list of all of the terms that we use with time that are money-related. How you invest time. You know, what -- Gosh, how you spend your time, how do you get more out of your time? Like there's an ROI for it. Yeah, we use so many money-related words, but it's not a resource that we can think of in those terms.
Sara: Yeah, and it's -- as I was telling, I think one of my step kids the other day -- "Time is the one thing you can't ever get more of," right? Like, how you use your time it's not a resource in the sense that I can work harder and get more money. I can save and get more money, but yet those two things, time and money really do provide a great window into values and priorities and, you know, just what's important to people.
Theresa: Yeah. Yeah, time to me seems like, you know, a five-dimensional construct that we're just like barely scraping the surface of understanding because we've all had those experiences where we do get more time back and it feels magical when it happens. It's usually when we're not on our screens, it's when we're in a place that we love being where "time stands still", quote unquote. So how can we create more spaces like that and minimize those areas of time-suck like YouTube videos and doom-scrolling and, you know, things like that. Yeah, I -- it's not linear like money is. It isn't a one-to-one and I do think, you know, if you invest wisely with setting up some good values and some good productivity habits, you can do some really magical things with your time.
Sara: I love it, I love it and you've already established that there are so many different paths and approaches to productivity and in using time, but I'm wondering if there is, like, one piece of advice that you find useful for yourself and for your clients in terms of these decisions that we're making and these things we're putting in place. Is there something that you find kind of universally valuable that you would share?
Theresa: "Eat the frog."
Sara: "Eat the frog." Ok, tell me what that means, because I don't actually want to eat a frog.
Theresa: Yeah, I think it's Mark Twain. It's a quote that says, "If your job is to eat a frog, eat the frog first thing in the morning," and it is basically a mental habit to minimize procrastination. So do the most important and urgent thing first thing in the morning. Do the thing you are dreading first thing in the morning, if you do that, the rest of your day feels so good and I am not saying I do it every day, but the days when I eat the frog, it's a game changer. You feel so good. So, yeah, that might be working out first thing in the morning. That might be spending quality time with your kids first thing in the morning. That might be getting a PowerPoint presentation done first thing in the morning. It might be having -- if you're an introvert, it might be holding your meetings or getting hard conversations out of the way first thing in the morning. But do it and then you have a lighter heart and a freer spirit to enjoy the rest of your day.
Sara: Eat the frog. Never heard that. That's really fun.
Sara: Do you just practically now I'm so curious about this. Do you have to figure out what the frog is like before you go to bed the night before?
Sara: Ok, I was like, if I wake up, I'm going to name the frog as something like "stay in bed and snuggle my dogs".
Theresa: No, minimize decision making, right? So if you minimize decision-making, like, the day of then you can put your best brain energy into actually strategizing or delivering or negotiating or whatever your job is. So that's why Steve Jobs, you wear black turtleneck every day, right? Because let's not make decisions about like, "Oh, what do I have to wear?" Put that brand energy somewhere else. Meal prepping, right? Doing all of your meal planning the week before or the night before. So you don't wake up, open the fridge and stare at it, be like, "Oh, what am I going to eat today?" So I think as many of those decisions as you can get done the week before or the night before allows that like big, beautiful brain energy to go into those most impactful things in your day.
Sara: Ah, producing decisions.
Sara: I heard somewhere that we make. I can't remember if it was like 30,000 decisions a day or 300,000, maybe 30 but it was like this obscene number that I thought, "I can't do that."
Sara: Right, so the more decisions you can make in advance, the more you get to devote your energy to the things that matter. I love that.
Theresa: That's been my experience, yeah.
Sara: Oh, so good, Theresa. So as we start wrapping up, let me ask you, what do you have going on in the world that you are really excited about right now. It's such a strange time, but --.
Theresa: Oh, yeah.
Sara: What's going on that's exciting to you?
Theresa: Oh, what I'm starting to look at, believe it or not, right? We're recording this at the end of August, but my clients are already starting to look at end-of-year reflection retreat time and 2022 planning, and what excites me is the themes of those conversations are so much around vulnerability, connection, empathy, developing emotional intelligence and shifting leaders away from status updates, like, "Did you meet your goals this year and what are your goals for next year?" I mean, this stuff is so important, but it's framed in a way that is, like, my leaders need to be good people coaches. How do I empower them to do that first and then trust that the results will come from that?
Theresa: I am sad that it took this pandemic, so much loss, so much struggle to get there, but I think it is a trend that I hope continues.
Sara: You know that I love that stuff. So, just bringing the humanity in the business again, I think --
Theresa: The soul!
Sara: Bringing back the soul, I love that. So where can people find you if they want to learn more about what you're doing, the services you offer? How do people learn about you and get in touch with you?
Theresa: Well, we've touched a couple of times on, like, social media being a non-productive element so I'm no longer active on Facebook or Instagram, but I am active on LinkedIn. So both either my name or The Fiery Feather's on LinkedIn or feel free to visit the website and get in touch with me there.
Sara: All right. We will put all of those links on our show notes.
Sara: And on the website at growinggrownups.com and ya'll need to just follow Theresa and what she's doing. She is bringing just a great, refreshing perspective to the business world, and I love this idea of the feeling of productivity in your soul rather than a checklist. I think that's -- I need to remember that,
Theresa: Sara, you and I always have such great conversations and I'm so glad that this time we got to record it and got to share it. So thank you for creating the space for me to not only share some things that I've learned and that have been sort of tried and true, but also the space to explore what's relatively uncertain about what I think is coming next. That's really fun and I really appreciate it.
Sara: My pleasure. Thank you. Just the gift that you are to our audience is great and hopefully I'll get to see you in person again soon and we can keep talking about all this stuff.
Theresa: Sounds good!
Sara: All right, Teresa, take care.
Theresa: Bye bye.