The Productivity Zone With Penny Zenker

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TSP Penny | Productivity Zone


Episode Summary:

Throughout our lives, our relationships with many important concepts shift. While all of these relationships are important, our relationship with time determines a lot of what our lives will be like down the line. Our relationship with time informs the way we work and if, ultimately, we can put ourselves in the right zone for productivity at the right times. John Livesay is joined by Penny Zenker, an international keynote speaker and the author of The Productivity Zone: Stop the Tug of War with Time. Penny and John delve into how our relationship with time also affects the way we live our lives and the way we work. Take your first step to rethinking your relationship with time and reaching the productivity zone today!

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The Productivity Zone With Penny Zenker

Penny has high energy and interactive keynote presentation and workshops that inspire and challenge you to think differently, be more purposeful, and more strategic, which allows you to be your best. She’s an international female keynote speaker, business strategy and executive coach, and the best-selling author of The Productivity Zone: Stop the Tug of War with Time. As a Master NLP Practitioner, she integrates the elements of thought, communication, and behavior to provide strategies that allow us to make positive changes in our life. Penny, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me.

What are three words that describe your relationship with time? Click To Tweet

I always like to ask my guests to take us on their own stories of origin. You can go back to childhood, high school, call it wherever you want. How did you become fascinated with helping people stop this tug of war with time?

Part of it is that we teach what we have challenges with. I’ve always been a little bit here and there, excited about new things, and easily taken off track. At the same time, I’ve always been somebody who loves to take something that exists and make it better. Interestingly enough, my first job was as an auditor. Everybody hates the auditor. I was the least favorite person who would go in and people would not talk to me. They would do everything they could to avoid having a conversation or telling me anything. It was like pulling teeth. What it did for me was it made me naturally curious. I was always interested in mindset strategies and other types of skills of looking at how to make things better and smarter in the way that we approach something. When I was growing up, I felt like I wasn’t smart enough. My brothers were always smarter than me. I never thought about this so you’re bringing this out in me.

TSP Penny | Productivity Zone

The Productivity Zone: Stop the Tug of War with Time

Working smarter came from, “I’ll show them. I can do this.” I wasn’t book smart. That could be where that came from, combining the idea of being easily distracted and involved in new things, but also looking to make things smarter. As that auditor, I’d be curious. I’m wanting to see how they could do it smarter and finding where things were distracting them or causing errors. I’m not judging it but seeing what could be done to make it better. Everybody thought that I was judging them because they think that that’s the role of an auditor but it’s for the ultimate productivity of the company. I love that aspect of the role of being able to look at things and stepping back. You see it from a different perspective because I’m not in it. There are a lot of other stories going forward but originally, that’s where my story began of me constantly stepping back, looking at the big picture, and looking at how to work smarter.

How did you come up with this great concept of having a tug of war with time? It’s the name of your podcast. It’s part of your book title. I love the consistency, branding-wise, by the way. Congrats on that. Did you say something? Was it a personal experience that said, “I feel like I’m in a tug of war with time?”

It was a personal experience. It’s looking for how we feel because that’s what connects with people. It’s what connected with me the minute that that came up. I had my first technology business that I started and built up from just me to a multimillion-dollar business and I sold it to a public company. From the outside, it looked amazing. It was killing me from the inside, from that tug of war with time, and from my own expectations that I piled on myself. The difficulty of delegating as you grow a business, I’m sure many entrepreneurs can appreciate that. It’s hard to let go of control. I didn’t have kids at that time. Now that I have kids, I understand another level of tug of war with time. That’s what we feel. That’s what I felt and that’s where that came from.

You talk about ten drivers of productivity that impact us. One is the mindset. Can you talk a little bit about how we can learn to improve our mindset around time?

What I like to do is challenge people. Here’s a little thing that they can do to see what their current relationship with time is. Say, “Time is,” and then give three words that come to mind what time is for you.

Let’s play with that. That’d be fun. Time is limited, I would say. Time is precious. Time is valuable.

Think about it. How you live your life and how you interact with time is based on those words. We label everything. Even though it’s unconscious, we have this label for how we perceive and interact with time, just the same as we do with money. These are interesting relationships because we never think about them but they’re some of the most important relationships that we have. That gets you thinking about it and then you think about it if you are utilizing time in the best way. Precious is good in the context that it can create productivity. You’re going to look at your time and look to do what’s most important if it’s precious to you. You said valuable so if you value your time and know the value of your time, you’re going to interact with it differently than if you’re not conscious and purposeful with that. What about limited? For most people, all three are unproductive. One is limited, scarce, or farce. The question is, having limited as one of those aspects, how does that hold you back psychologically in your relationship with time?

That’s fascinating. I’ve had this done. There are a lot of subconscious things that are going on that come out when you say those three words. In your book, The Productivity Zone, you’re talking about this concept of where your arrow will fall and how overwhelmed and stressed out you were as a businessperson. As you said, entrepreneurs are notorious for never stopping work. There’s always something to do. How do you help people who are overwhelmed with feeling like they can never get enough done?

One of the things that I do is to get people more conscious of their relationship with time and where they are operationally spending their time. I don’t go into this in the book because some of the content was developed later and that I use in events. If we think of the Pareto Principle, and that’s the 80/20 Rule. Part of that is understanding that 20% of the tasks and activities that we do are going to get us 80% of the results. I like to help people get clear because it’s freeing when you find out that, “If I spend time on this 20%, the rest of it doesn’t matter as much.” I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t matter as much. If we know that we’re focusing our efforts on the most important things, then there’s a sense of satisfaction with that. In that aspect, I have a number of different things that I do with them to help them get clear on that 20%.

I’m fascinated by this concept because from a personal standpoint, I launched an online course on storytelling and sales. There are many details and you can get bogged down in one. Someone said, “The sound is not perfect on your recording.” I said, “You’re a sound engineer. You care about that stuff.” For 99% of the people that buy the course, it was professionally recorded. It’s just not perfect.

That last 20% is what costs us the most time and money. We have to decide what the cost is. You’re going to piss off two people and they’re not going to continue with the course.

Stop having a tug of war with time. Click To Tweet

I should be spending my time more on promoting it. The other challenge that I have been told from time to time, and I’ve heard other people say it, is you’re overthinking something. You also talk about perfectionism in your book. I’m big on trying to help people let go of being a perfectionist and become a progressionist and celebrate progress. For a lot of people, myself included, we have such a fear of not getting it perfect. It causes us to overthink something. We’re afraid of, “Should I do it this way or this way? Now, I’m completely overwhelmed. I’m not doing anything.”

We go to the other side and we procrastinate. They’re connected. That is a big issue and through the pandemic that we’re going through, one of my challenges or learning that’s going to come out of this is something that I’ve been challenged with. Part of this tug of war with time is the expectations that I have on myself. If we’re functioning on the expectations that we had before the pandemic, we have to change our expectations as situations and circumstances change. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. We’re either going to cause stress for ourselves because they’re unrealistic expectations or we’re going to remove the flexibility that we need in order to get to our solution more optimally. That’s where expectations can be quite a limiting factor. I know that I have that a lot because I want to deliver value. When I go on stage, I go, “Is this going to deliver value for that audience?” I am looking at their expectations and the expectations of myself. Sometimes, we want to curl up into a little ball with all those expectations and binge for the weekend and not think about it.

When the quarantine started, I saw people saying, “You should be learning a foreign language.” I’m like, “The pressure. Can’t I take a minute and process what happened? I have to come out of this knowing another language.” That seems crazy to me, the expectations of what we should be doing with our time.

It’s an assumption that everybody’s sitting around with nothing to do. I had more to do. I’ve now placed upon myself, in terms of expectations, where I need to be, should be, and all the things we do to ourselves. They’re coming from where they are, where they might feel that they don’t have a lot to do so they could feel that. It’s great but we’re all in a different place. Greg Reid has this great saying. I don’t know where he got it from. Whenever people give us advice, and even maybe in their expectations, we can consider it sand in our hands. Whatever doesn’t fit, we can allow the granules to slip through our fingers that don’t make sense for us. It’s not a fit. It causes stress for us. If it makes sense and it’s something for us to think about, it’s a good question to ask ourselves, then we can do that. Don’t get too caught up in things that aren’t a fit for us. Let them go.

I had a live event scheduled to be a keynote speaker at a tech healthcare company. They said, “We’re going to shift to virtual.” That required a lot of new learning. Upgrade your Zoom so you can accommodate 300 people and figure out how to do breakout rooms. “By the way, we’d like you to train some of our salespeople on how to become better storytellers. Could you call on them to make it interactive?” The amount of time that it took to do a virtual keynote and workshop was much more than it did showing up. They still do a lot of time in preparation but this was probably at least double the amount of time preparing for something. We weren’t sure if it’s going to work. There are new technologies to learn.

It’s different being in a room with people versus how to hold someone’s attention for 1 hour, 1.5 hours on Zoom calls. You have to rethink what you’re doing and this concept of time, especially when you’re trying to keep people’s attention via the camera versus in person. It takes on a whole new meaning. The interesting thing that I think was fascinating, Penny, is they also asked me to train their outside salespeople on how to sell better on camera. That’s how they’re interacting with the doctors now. You think, “This is a bad thing. It’s taken away my precious fascination. I travel for many hours to have that hour with the group. Now, there’s another need that came up because of this.” We need to pause as opposed to judging something right away. Some people are like, “I’m not willing to put in the time to do a virtual talk.” I’m like, “Okay.”

I’m surprised. I’m also primarily a public speaker and now we’re doing this online. It’s a huge opportunity that’s not going to go away in the future. It will come back eventually, whatever it is 3, 6, or 9 months. Why not have both? Why not have the flexibility of being able to do it from your home?

This particular person was such a perfectionist that he couldn’t control everything. I have to admit, you’re on and everyone’s on mute. You’re putting all this energy out and nothing’s coming back until you wait for that feedback when you’re done and people start talking and putting in the chat. All through the lens of our time and how that comes back. What I love about what you’re talking about on this championship psychology in your book is, “What is our purpose?” If we keep going back, our purpose as speakers is to inform, inspire, engage people, motivate them, and give them some new tools that we can be a little flexible on the platform. You talk about language. It’s an interesting conversation, “Do I change my language? Do I have more or less pauses virtually versus in person?”

It’s telling a good story. The basis is the words that people are going to connect with, that are going to convey the energy of what you’re trying to talk about. I find that the language piece is huge. The words we say to ourselves and how it impacts our productivity, but relating it back to storytelling paints a picture. That’s what gets people engaged in your story, those little details that you’re able to bring across.

TSP Penny | Productivity Zone

Productivity Zone: We have labels for how we perceive and interact with time, just like we do with money.


That’s what makes us memorable. The worst thing in the world is to give a talk and then people don’t remember what you said. The opposite is true with stories. The third element of championship psychology is physiology. Can you talk about what that is? I’m not sure a lot of people think about that.

When I talk about it, I put it in terms of self-care. For a lot of people, physiology is about our body, the physical element. The mind and the body are connected. It’s about how we eat, sleep, and move. We need to sleep. There are a lot of studies that Arianna Huffington and more are talking about how important sleep is. A champion athlete sleeps a large number of hours. Martina Hingis sleeps ten hours a day when she’s performing because it’s important as part of their performance. We need to make sure we’re getting enough sleep. Most people don’t get enough sleep. Because we’re stressed, we breathe more shallowly. We need to put a more conscious focus on taking those deep breaths. Perhaps meditation isn’t for everybody. If you get your heart moving, like doing some quick walking, it’s almost like a meditation. I find exercise is like meditation. I used to mountain bike. I used to live in Zurich, Switzerland. There were serious mountains. I felt like I was meditating because I was focused on my breath to get up the hill.

It gets out of your head, doesn’t it?

It makes you present and at the moment. Everything else washes away. I do some great exercises when I’m live with people. I’m figuring out how to do them online. If you’re standing there and you’re thinking of something that’s stressful, you’re off-center. Somebody could push you over. As you take a couple of deep breaths, it grounds you. You see the people can put twice, three times the pressure on that spot that used to push you over but you’re completely grounded. That affects everything that we do. When we can take care of ourselves or self-care physically, we’re going to be in a much better mental position to handle stuff like we’re dealing with. For example, the pandemic and the stresses that we had as entrepreneurs, wearing all the hats and doing all the things that we do.

The fourth area is the focus. What is your tip on how we can allow ourselves to be more focused?

A great mentor of mine once told me that sometimes when you want to be focused or make a decision, look at what’s in the way first. We want to be more focused and we know that. Let’s take something totally different. You want to eat healthier. You know what to do, we just don’t do what we know. I could give you ten tips on how to focus but maybe we still don’t do it. First, identify what’s in the way. What’s distracting us, and getting clear on that. I have some exercises that I do around that. We can take in those strategies once we break all those other habits or patterns of thinking or things that are in our way. We can then put these new strategies into place.

We teach what we've had challenges with. Click To Tweet

Is there something that’s common that distracts us like being obsessed with our phone and not turning it off?

What do you think?

I’m guessing that’s probably one of the big ones.

It’s the number one thing. We all know it. Many people still have notifications coming on their phones or computers. I call them gatekeepers. Sometimes we need to put gatekeepers in place in order for us to be purposeful. For instance, I want to make sure that I have a great relationship with my boyfriend or husband. Why do you think the date night came up? Date night came up because it’s a gatekeeper. It’s a structure or process. It’s something that we can put in place that reminds us and makes us follow the intention and the purpose that we want. If we’re not purposeful and put those things into place, then day after day we’re in this automatic mode. We never connect. We’re just running around dropping kids in different places and all the day-to-day stuff. It’s the same in every area of our life. We have to not only have an intention for something, a goal, and a purpose but then we have to put accountability measures or these gatekeepers in place to help us to be accountable to what’s important to us.

Who’s your favorite kind of audience to speak to? What kind of company?

It’s hard because I speak to many different companies. I’ve spoken across from logistics which I thought I didn’t know that I’d be welcomed with high energy. It’s a different type of atmosphere. That was great. I deal with a lot of sales teams and leadership groups because I talk about innovation and communication. I don’t have a specific group that I love to talk to.

I can see the need. In sales, I remember when I lived in Southern California. My territory was everywhere from Los Angeles all the way down to San Diego, which is a 2.5-hour drive. There’s Orange County, which is in the middle. I remember someone else selling another product and having the same territory. He was getting yelled at by his boss when he drove all the way to San Diego in the morning, came all the way back to LA, and then drove back to Orange County. He was like, “Why didn’t you make that appointment on your way back up?” There’s a lack of time management of planning out your day. It’s like, “Whenever they see me, that’s where I go.”

It’s not being purposeful. All of us do that. We go from thing to thing without sitting down and taking ten minutes to plan it out. One of the things that I do with sales teams, which makes that show-up and pop out is time studies. For two weeks, we’ll have them track their time in specific tasks and categories that are set up for them. That’s one of the ways to see where we’re operationally showing up. We have to measure it. We have to track it, even though I know most people would rather have a root canal than track their time.

A nutritionist asks you to write down everything you eat, but I get it.

It works because it makes us hyperfocused and attentive so that we recognize and we get the lessons. At a high level, you step back and see, “On direct sales, I should be spending at least 30% of my time and I’m only spending 9% of my time. Something is off.”

TSP Penny | Productivity Zone

Productivity Zone: When we take care of our physical wellbeing, we’re in a much better mental position to handle all the stuff we’re dealing with.


The thing that sucks up many salespeople’s time is paperwork. They’re using the prime time to be in front of the client to do their expense report, for example. The reports of where they’ve been that the boss wants to see. It gets overwhelming and they’re staying up all night to get it done. That causes a lack of sleep problems. It’s all because they’re not managing their time and they’re not productive. The whole point is to be productive. You are offering a valuable solution and help for people’s mindset. Not to burn out is where I see the big a-ha moment, not to mention productivity.

There are things that the employee can do for better time management but there are also things that the employer can do to help their people to be more productive. I don’t think that there’s enough of that going on. There’s not enough responsibility from the corporate perspective of saying, “I could set these things in place to make it easier for people.”

Your book is called The Productivity Zone. If people want to hire you as a speaker, where can they find you on social media?

They can go to my website, first of all. It’s There, they can find all the links. I started a YouTube channel as one of my pandemic projects. I’m getting some videos and things up on YouTube so they can find me there. Also, I’m on Facebook, PennyZPerspective, or just look for Penny Zenker. Twitter and all those kinds of places but I’m not a big tweeter.

Any last thoughts or quotes you want to leave us with?

Dwayne Johnson has a quote about focus and effort in being successful, that those are the two keys. He’s saying that both of them are within our control. In any situation that causes stress for us is because we try to control something that we can’t control. If we focus on the things that we can control, we will move the needle, be more fulfilled, create more meaning in our life, be happier, reach that goal, and whatever it is we do. We do have a lot more control than we think we do on certain things and to focus on those.

Employers have to help make their employees more productive. Click To Tweet

Thank you, Penny, for sharing your wisdom, kindness, and insights on how we can be better managers of our own time and start to take a look at our relationship.

Thank you, John.

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Tags: Mental Health, Perceiving Time, Physical Wellbeing, Productivity Zone, Relationship With Time, Time Management

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