Welcome to the first LWD interview! I plan to make this a monthly feature and am so pleased that Laura McClellan of The Productive Woman podcast graciously agreed to this interview.
I can’t recall how I first found Laura’s podcast but I do know I’ve been listening since the fall of 2015. Whenever I decide to listen to a podcast hers is the first I look for. I’m always delighted when I see there is a new episode. Laura is informative and truly a pleasure to listen to.
January’s theme here on LWD has been organization and productivity so it’s only fitting that on this last day of the month we learn a bit about my personal favorite resource for productivity information – The Productive Woman.
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LWD Interview: Laura McClellan, The Productive Woman
Note: I’ve added a few personal comments. One of these days perhaps I’ll be set up to do actual audio interviews and have a genuine conversation with my interviewees. But I didn’t want to allow the lack of that setup to hold me back now. So, without further ado, I give you The Productive Woman.
1. Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to start your podcast, The Productive Woman.
I grew up in western Washington state, oldest of six kids. I met my husband in a music group when we were students at rival high schools. We married less than a year after graduation, and had our first child a couple years later.
Many years and several kids later we moved to New York so I could attend Cornell Law School. After graduation I started my law practice with a large firm in Dallas, Texas. Our five kids are grown, and we still live in north Texas.
I started my podcast in mid-2014. I was looking for something to do outside my law practice. I had discovered podcasts, which I listened to each day during my long commute to and from the office, and thought podcasting might be something I’d enjoy. I took an online podcasting course (Cliff Ravenscraft’s excellent Podcasting A to Z course) in December 2013 and a few months later launched The Productive Woman.
2. Have you always been interested in productivity and time management?
I actually have. Even clear back in junior high I enjoyed reading books about time management and organization, and entertained myself organizing my room. I’ve always loved creating checklists and charts, and as I got older got into planners and notebooks. Kind of geeky, but all the stuff I learned turned out to be a big help later in my life when I was managing a growing family and then going back to college and then law school.
Deanna: Ah, so I’m not the only weird kid who enjoyed organizing my room. 😉
3. What would you say are your greatest strengths in regards to productivity? Your greatest weakness?
I think I’m pretty organized. I have a knack for seeing how to break down a project into its component parts, organize the resources and tasks, and create a plan to get them done. I’m generally pretty efficient—I’ve had to be, managing a family and school and a busy career—and I actually enjoy finding ways to save time and create functional, organized, pleasant spaces.
On the other hand, I can waste time with the best of them. For one thing, can get totally sidetracked and carried away trying different tools and systems. I also constantly battle both perfectionist tendencies and impostor syndrome (the former being a common symptom of the latter).
4. What are some of your favorite productivity tools?
Oh, this could take me so long to answer. I could recommend specific products, but really the basic productivity tools are a calendar and a to-do list. I tend to favor digital tools that I can access from any of my devices (I’m an Apple fangirl), but when things get crazy I revert back to a plain old legal pad and mechanical pencil to create a working to-do list.
As far as specific tools I use, I rely heavily on the digital calendar on my iPhone. I like Calendars 5. I sync all my calendars through it: my work calendar, my personal calendar (which I share with my husband through iCal), and a separate iCal for The Productive Woman matters—planning future episodes, guest interviews, mastermind meetings, and coaching sessions.
My primary task manager is OmniFocus, a robust digital task manager that lets me enter and organize and view my projects and tasks in any way that makes sense to me. It’s Mac & iOS only, though, and since at the law office I have to use a Windows-based computer, I’ve tried a couple other digital task managers there. I love Nozbe, but currently I’m experimenting with Todoist. Either of those options lets me access my work projects and tasks both on my office computer and on my iOS devices, absolutely critical for me to be able to manage all my projects for clients.
Aside from the basics of calendar and task manager, I could not be productive without tools like Dropbox (where I store most documents I’m working on, including legal forms and documents, and share recordings of mastermind meetings, etc.) and Evernote (my external brain, where I store anything I need as a reference—receipts, research documents, running lists of podcast topic ideas, etc.).
For a more complete list of my favorite productivity tools, your readers are invited to download my “Productivity Toolbox” by going to The Productive Woman/favorite apps.
Deanna: I really encourage you to go download this helpful resource.
5. Your podcast tagline is “making a life that matters”. What does that mean in general and for you personally?
What a great question. What it means to make a life that matters is, I think, going to be different for every person. For me, it’s living a life in which I’m able to make a positive impact on the world around me—my family, my friends, my colleagues, and beyond. The fact is, we all have an impact on the people we come in contact with. I just want my impact to be a positive one. I think I’ll feel I’ve made a life that matters if I’ve made the world a better place, in however small a way, for the people who know me.
Deanna: I love this aspect of Laura’s podcast. She frequently reminds listeners that productivity for productivity’s sake is not the point. It is simply a means to help “make a life that matters” or as I say, “create a beautiful life”.
6. One of the questions you always ask your podcast guests is how they handle a day where things have gotten away from them. What about you? Do you have a specific way of getting back on track?
Way to turn the tables on me, Deanna!
When everything falls apart on me, when I’m overwhelmed and stressed out, I have a little protocol I follow. It’s most likely to happen at work, so it’s easiest to describe in that context, but the same process applies whether at the office or at home. First I stop, close my eyes, and breathe for a minute. Just a few deep, slow breaths in and out, to calm myself and slow my heart rate. Then I clear the decks—clear off my desk or workspace, get all the clutter out of sight, in a cupboard or box (I put a task on my to-do list to pull it out and deal with it after the crisis passes). Then I close all my screens, put aside my phone, etc., and sit down with a legal pad and pen or mechanical pencil, and quickly list everything that’s on my mind and making me crazy and distracted—every task I need to do, call I need to make, etc. I get them all out of my head and onto paper, where I can look at it all.
Then I take a short walk, maybe down to the kitchen to get a cup of tea, or outside for a minute if I can. When I get back, I look at the list, add anything else that has come to mind, and then read through the list and see what can be deleted or deferred (I’m just not going to do it now), what I can delegate to someone else, and what absolutely has to be done now, by me. Then I pause and close my eyes and do another minute of deep breathing. When I open my eyes, I pick one of the must-do tasks and simply get to work. When I finish that one, I take a short break and then pick another one.
That’s how I power through when things are stressing me out and I simply must get things done. Sometimes, though, when a day has fallen apart and I’m exhausted and no longer able to work effectively, I simply acknowledge that, accept that I’m human, and give myself permission to quit for the day, get into some comfy clothes (or my pajamas), grab a cup of tea or a snack, and curl up with a book or a Netflix movie . . . or just go to bed! Tomorrow is another day, as the great philosopher Scarlett O’Hara once said.
Deanna: I was hoping this is what Laura would share. She did a podcast on this back in September 2014 and it was one of the first I listened to when I discovered The Productive Woman in the fall of 2015. It inspired me to write this post, 9 Steps to Take Control of Your Day.
7. What is your number one piece of advice for someone who has decided that 2017 is the year she is going to “get organized”?
Hmm. Probably to take a moment to think about what that (“get organized”) means to you and why you want to do it. Having a clear vision for what you want to accomplish, and having a personally compelling reason for why it matters to you, are both absolutely necessary for success in any sort of endeavor. Once you have those, get a plan in place, and get started!
8. Can you recommend a couple of favorite books about productivity? What about websites or other podcasts?
There are a ton of books I love, but the two I recommend most these days are Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and Gary Keller’s The One Thing. Both have had a powerful impact on my thinking about what it means to be truly productive, and they’re a great place to start your reading about productivity.
There are so many excellent podcasts about productivity. I’ve always liked Erik Fisher’s Beyond the To-Do List and Mike Vardy’s Productivityist. One I’ve been binging on lately is Lisa Woodruff’s Organize 365 Podcast—a great one for that person we were talking about earlier who’s decided this is her year to “get organized.”
9. What is your favorite thing about podcasting?
I enjoy researching and preparing and recording the episodes, but my favorite thing has to be the people I’ve been privileged to meet because of the podcast. The podcasting community is extraordinarily generous and supportive of each other, and just generally a nice bunch of people. Most of all, my favorite thing is hearing from and communicating with the listeners. It never gets old to receive an email from a listener sharing a challenge she’s working on, and I love the conversations in the TPW Community Facebook group. It’s a privilege to get to be part of these women’s lives.
Deanna: I feel the same way about the interaction I have with LWD readers. It always makes me happy to see an email from a reader in my inbox or a comment on the blog or Facebook page.
10. Tell us a little bit about your mastermind groups and your Facebook community.
I launched the TPW Mastermind groups last year as a way to work more directly with TPW listeners. These are paid masterminds, so they’re comprised of women who are ready to invest their time, energy, and money in their own personal growth and their journey toward making a life that matters. Each group is very small—I accept only 5 women into each mastermind group, so each member gets sufficient support and input. We meet weekly for 12 weeks, via video conference on Zoom. The groups’ purpose is to provide each member with support, encouragement, ideas, and accountability with respect to her personal and professional goals. It’s been so awesome to see the things these women accomplish—and the relationships that develop. Some members of past groups have remained in contact, continued to support and encourage each other, and even been able to get together in person in some cases! Facilitating these mastermind groups might be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
The Facebook community is a closed group, for TPW listeners only (and only women), that I launched last year as a way for us to all communicate more. I love the podcast, but that’s just me talking. The Facebook community provides a way for listeners to ask questions, share ideas, support and encourage each other. It’s so fun for me to see how the community jumps in to answer each others’ questions, and I love being part of the conversations there.
Deanna: I love the TPW Facebook community group and someday I intend to join a mastermind group.
11. What’s on the horizon for you and The Productive Woman? Any new projects in the works?
Well, I of course plan to keep putting new episodes out there, hopefully providing content that’s helpful to the listeners. The Winter 2017 TPW Mastermind groups are in full swing, and new groups will be forming soon to start meeting in late April or early May. I’ll soon be opening up some time in my schedule for a few more one-on-one coaching clients. And I’m working on a goal-setting workbook that I hope to release later this year. Beyond that . . . we’ll see. I dream of one day putting together a TPW retreat, so that’s something I’m noodling on for maybe next year.
Deanna: A TPW Retreat! How exciting!
I want to say a huge thank you to Laura McClellan for doing this interview with me. With a full-time law practice, podcast and mastermind groups, she is a very busy woman and I greatly appreciate her taking the time to answer a few questions for LWD readers.
If you aren’t already a listener, I encourage you to go check out The Productive Woman podcast. Here are a few of my personal favorite episodes to get you started:
- 10 Small Changes You Can Make to Boost Productivity (and one bonus tip)
- Productivity Challenges of Introverts and Extroverts
- What Should I Do With All These Memories
- My Current Favorite Productivity Tools
- Emergency Stress Protocol
- Time Thieves
- Give Yourself a Break
Laura McClellan is a lawyer, a writer, a productivity enthusiast, and a tech geek. Married for 37+ years to her high school sweetheart, with whom she’s raised five amazing kids, she’s passionate about encouraging women in their individual journeys as people, wives, mothers, citizens. Laura blogs occasionally at I Was Just Thinking . . . and Real Estate Law Blog and is working on her first novel. Connect with Laura on Twitter as @LauraMcMom.
The Productive Woman website
The Productive Woman Facebook page
The Productive Woman Community Facebook group
You might also enjoy these LWD posts:
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
The One Thing by Gary Keller