Tiffany studied Language and Economics, and now likes to write about business topics and conduct interviews with interesting people. She spends her free time looking after her plants and with her dog.
Mailbutler has the pleasure to talk to David Stiernholm, a productivity struktör, coach and writer. David realized that he was not the only one who needed structure in his life. That's why he decided to change his job and share with people and organizations the knowledge he gained by himself. Today, David tells us some of his secrets that we all should put in practice!
Hi David, nice to meet you. The Mailbutler team wants you to know that we are so glad to be able to talk to you today. We all are excited to learn from your professional experience!
As we know, you are a struktör and writer who helps people and organizations become more efficient by creating better structure and order. Could you explain a little more what your job is about?
Yes, most often, I give talks and hold seminars, but from time to time I also help people individually. Always, the topic is how to simplify our workdays and make them more enjoyable by enhancing structure.
Structure is a broad concept, of course, but I often summarize it in three areas; organize, focus and automate.
If we are organized at work when it comes to how we keep track of everything we have to do - small things and large, how we handle a constant inflow of emails (!) and messages and how we keep our documents, files and other information, that will benefit our productivity and wellbeing immensely. We all need to focus, too. Focus includes for me the ability to prioritize correctly and deliberately, with our goals as a solid base. Also, it is of course about getting rid of all unnecessary distractions we so easily are exposed to. And finally, the more of our tasks that we can automate or at least make easier to complete, the more time we get for the really important things - whatever that is for us personally. So, what I share in my talks and assignments (as well as in my three books) are concrete tips and methods that help us implement all this.
I find it really interesting and helpful and the areas you mentioned, organize, focus and automate, are good ones in which structure could be divided.
However, I have read that there was a time in your life before starting to be so structured. Would you tell us a little bit about the time when you worked as a project manager?
Of course. Then, in the late 90’s, I worked in a large whole selling company, both as a project manager and as a business controller. I managed four IT implementation projects simultaneously, in three cities and I traveled four days a week and tried to keep far too many things on my mind. I stressed a lot, I didn’t sleep very well and I thought about work all the time - even during the weekend. So, I realised that I had to do something about my situation. When I began with what most people I help also begin with in that I collected all my notes of what I had to do into one single list - at that time a database I had put together in Microsoft Access - it made a major difference. I could relax, knowing that what I mustn’t miss was safely stored in my list. I didn’t have to keep it on my mind, but I could instead focus on more interesting things. There are better tools for structure than my mind, apparently.
It is totally fine to make changes and use tools to feel more relaxed!
Then, why and how did you decide to become a coach and give tips to different companies and organizations?
Well, it is evident that I need structure myself - and I have always needed that - since I am somewhat forgetful and easily distracted, and at the same time I want to experience all the fascinating things that life offers and I want my workdays to be as enjoyable as possible. So, sixteen years ago I realised that I am not alone in needing structured work-ways, but there are many who also would benefit from using the tools and methods that I had found and that helped me. So, I began holding seminars about structure and since then, demand for tips around structure at work has increased every year.
And, I just love what I do, since I get to share things that are helpful and that fascinates me, while meeting so many people in so varying industries. I always learn something new at every talk I give.
The best thing is to work on something we really love and enjoy, and share what you have learned could be very useful for others!
How did you find the tools and methods you are talking about?
Well, have followed blogs and podcasts about productivity as long as I can remember (I guess that somewhere there is where I found Mailbutler!) and I follow the research in this field intensely and read every article I can find that covers topics related to structure. Also, I develop tools as well as methods during my assignments, when I have a client that expresses that they have a particular problem that we then find a solution to. This solution is often something that I know other clients would have used for as well, so I share it, in my own newsletter, on my blog, in my podcast or in a video on my YouTube channel.
So, basically, you did your own research in order to gain knowledge about productivity, fascinating!
Now that you have mentioned your clients, do you have a typical one when it comes to companies or branches?
I have assignments in the private as well as in the public sector. The industries differ immensely. I gave my latest talks at a paper mill and in a computer game development company and for a group of hotel managers in the Swedish countryside. They work with very different things, but they all need structure.
I understand that you have clients with different characteristics but with a similar need: structure. And I think that is what we all need.
Apart from giving talks, holding seminars and helping people individually, you also write books. I have seen that you have published a new one: Super Structured - how to overcome chaos and win back time. Could you tell us what it is about?
Yes, it is a training programme in how to establish well structured work-ways in 31 steps - through the three stages Organize, Focus and Automate (that I mentioned earlier). The book is also published in Norwegian, Swedish and Chinese and it is a helpful tool for getting beneficial results quickly. I am a big fan of concrete tips that you can implement immediately - even on stressful days - so that is what I share in the book.
It sounds really helpful. We should definitely read it!
Focusing on you, how do I have to imagine a productive and structured person like you starting your day?
Well, when beginning my workday, I follow a morning checklist containing all the things I need to catch up on or check in order to get a steady grip on what needs to be done today and in what order. Far too many times before putting together that checklist, I arrived at my office, opened my email client and immediately got stuck on some email that at the moment seemed very urgent, but that I end up spending far too much time on right then.
In this checklist that I walk through, I process my physical inbox as well as my email inbox - as well as other channels for messaging such as LinkedIn messages, Facebook Messenger, Facebook ads comments, Instagram DMs etc - so that I collect all yet unformulated tasks that hide there. I look through my four next assignments to see if there is something extraordinary in relation to them that I need to do today. I compile today’s to-do list by selecting what important tasks I want to get done besides the ones that are due today. And then I begin working on the tasks. (But first, coffee, of course.)
And how about ending your day? Do you have a certain habit in the evening?
Yes, before leaving for home, I go through today’s list to see what remains there. Most days, unexpected things occur that I have to prioritize (like for most of us). So, there are often at least some tasks left. Instead of just having them linger there, I set a new due date for them or postpone them until tomorrow (or delete them, because at the end of the day, they might not be that important after all, since things have happened during the day). It is valuable for me to make a decision about every task and act on it instead of just keeping it in the list. Tomorrow, I will not be able to do the left things yesterday anyway. I might just as well deliberately move them to tomorrow, so that my list is empty before I get home.
It is a good option to do that! Are there also weak moments when it is even hard for you to be so structured?
Of course. If I get nervous about doing something that I haven’t done before, I easily lose my structure. Then, I have to concentrate on how I have decided to do things in a structured way and more do so, more deliberately than at other times.
I guess everyone has weak moments… Now that you are here with us, we would like to take this opportunity to ask you for some tips: What is one thing people should start doing to manage their workload more efficiently? And another thing that should be avoided?
Excellent question. If they have not done so already, I would recommend them to collect all their notes of what they have to do into one single to-do list. There are tasks spread out here and there that we often do not think about as tasks - in the emails still left in the inbox, for instance. I know that you have a feature in Mailbutler where I can quickly create a task from an email, which is much better than marking the email unread again or moving it into a “To-do” folder etc, if you ask me.
What should be avoided is for instance to prioritize by urgency only. Most people know that they should separate the important from the urgent, but far too few have defined for themselves what the criterion is for a task to be important. Rather, they think of tasks as important if they feel important, which isn’t necessarily the case.
As I see it, the tasks that contribute to the goals we are responsible for are the important ones.
If we let our goals be what we base our prioritization on, we will much more easily prioritize the important tasks that are not urgent yet - even if there are urgent but not important tasks that want our attention. To me that is the key to prioritizing correctly and get the time I need for the important tasks.
Good tips, we should put them in practice! You mentioned that you use Mailbutler. How has Mailbutler helped you structuring your day and make it easier?
I use the Send Later, Templates, and Tracking features the most. With Send later, I can write (and somewhat send) emails on Thursday that doesn’t have to be sent until Monday so that I don’t risk a reply on Friday when I am free. I can get the thing done and forget it. Templates make me write and send some emails in much less time, which is a huge win. Tracking helps me make sure that my client has received my email without me having to worry or ask if the client doesn’t respond as quickly as I had hoped. I can rest assured and my client doesn’t have to have me stressing them.
Features like that make me calmer.
We are so glad that Mailbutler helps you improve your email communication! We hope you continue taking advantage of our service. It has been a pleasure to interview you.
Thanks for everything, the information you have given us is really helpful and we will follow your tips. We wish you all the best for your career, David!