Improve Your Workflow Episode 12 with Robert Gerrish

9 October, 2019

Robert Gerrish is a business speaker, consultant, author and podcast host. He founded Flying Solo, Australia's largest community of little businesses and now host a podcast series designed to help start-up businesses, Rekindle.

Improve Your Workflow is sponsored by Digital Pigeon. For an extra long free trial, visit https://www.digitalpigeon.com/workflow/ and use the coupon code: WORKFLOW.

Learn more about Robert Gerrish:

Products / Software mentioned in the show:

The manual processes that Robert practices:

  • Writing things in a diary/notebook
  • Colour coding notes
  • Pomodoro technique

Robert Gerrish's books:

Transcript of Improve Your Workflow podcast with Robert Gerrish of Rekindle

Voiceover:

Welcome to the Improve Your Workflow podcast brought to you by Digital Pigeon. Learn from other creative and media businesses about attracting more work, delivering projects efficiently, getting paid on time and everything in between.

Paul Evans:

Hi there and welcome to episode 12 of Improve Your Workflow. My name is Paul Evans and today I'm chatting with Robert Gerrish, the founder of Flying Solo. Full disclaimer here, I'm a big fan of Robert's work. When I leaped out of full time employment into this brave new world of starting a business, I read his book and found his forum and articles extremely helpful. So I was pretty chuffed when he reached out to be on the show. Without further ado, welcome to the show, Robert.

Robert Gerrish:

Thank you very much Paul. And thank you, I'm delighted that Flying Solo was able to support you in your start of your business. That's great.

Paul Evans:

Absolutely. Well I've give alluded to what you do, but could you please tell the listeners what you do and who you do it for?

Robert Gerrish:

Yeah, sure. So look, you very kindly mentioned Flying Solo. That was indeed the online community that I started, oh gosh, in the early 2000s and ran very happily with two business partners for a little over 12 years and we actually sold the business two years ago. I still work with Flying Solo. I still host their podcast every couple of weeks and I write for them and turn up at events and so on, but the business is no longer mine, which is good and bad. I designed it to be a business that would have some value, it would be saleable. But there's no doubt that in many ways I miss it because I love the team that I worked with.

These days I still do some work with Flying Solo. I run my own podcast as well, which is called Rekindle, where I talk to people running little businesses and try and understand how we get through the sticky phases of business. Not so much getting more business, but what happens when it all gets a bit hard? How do we stay motivated? How do we stay engaged? That's an area that I'm really deeply involved in at the moment, and that will hopefully be the subject of my next book.

I also still work with people one on one, so as a consultant and as a coach. I've got a new book already on the streets at the moment called The One Minute Commute so I turn up at various places banging on about that, at conferences and events and just getting used to life without my lovely fellow community around.

Paul Evans:

Your baby, yeah.

Robert Gerrish:

Yeah, that's right. That's right.

Paul Evans:

Awesome. All right, so you've had a successful business and you've sold that, so you obviously haven't been able to do that without some sort of productivity I guess, I won't call them hacks, but I'll call them ways of doing things.

Robert Gerrish:

Yeah

Paul Evans:

What would you say is your number one thing for getting things done?

Robert Gerrish:

Well I've got to tell you, and I should warn listeners I'm somewhat old school in that, so there's no doubt that certainly to run a business ... and at the time we felt that we have the 120,000 members, I think Australian small businesses, in our forums, in our community. So there was a lot of admin, so we ran a tight ship. I would say the main thing is ... the answer to your question of the productivity, is communication, which might seem a bit odd. But as a group we communicate, there's a little team of about eight of us, at the end we communicated regularly. We used Slack as our online discussion tool. And gosh that because that was hugely, hugely valuable to us so that's certainly a tool that we used.

But we had very clear ... again, this sounds so corporate and boring, but very clear job descriptions. Everybody knew what everybody was doing. We also, the way we came into the business is that anybody who worked with us, we basically said, "Look, these are the tasks. How do you want to do it? Do you want to come into an office? Do you want to do it remotely? Do you want to work daytime? You want to work evenings?" We designed it to suit each individual.

That also helps hugely with productivity because when you've got people that are really enjoying how they work, they're enjoying how they're talked with. They're enjoying the way that they interact with their colleagues, efficiency just happens. When you've got happy people doing work they enjoy using the skills that they have, things tend to work. That was certainly a productivity tool for us, is that we let people work how they wanted to work.

Paul Evans:

Would you write position descriptions? Is that like, or would you create task-

Robert Gerrish:

Position description just sounds a bit too boring, sorry.

Paul Evans:

Oh no, yeah I'm with you.

Robert Gerrish:

We certainly had very clearly outlined, "These are the tasks, the jobs that we'd like you to perform," and everything was very fluid so if somebody started work and said, "You know, you want me to do this? Well I reckon it'd be better if I did it like this, or I think what about if I do that as well?" So we evolved and we used Google Docs a lot as a team. Basically at any point anybody could add tasks, negotiate removing tasks, shift tasks around.

We did all that through Google Docs and what that meant was over time we created basically a very detailed job description for everybody in the business so that when we came to sell ... often businesses, when they get to a sale process, they can buckle and they can really struggle with that. We didn't because we had everything in our Google Docs so when somebody came in to do due diligence and look under the hood of our business, everything was there. Everything was itemized. Every process, every procedure, everything was there.

It meant that any of us could step away from our work at any point and have somebody else step in and help us out. Anybody could go away for extended leave as they frequently did and again all that was in place. That helped productivity massively. No one really was ever fumbling about not knowing how to do something because everything was written down. Gosh, I'm sounding so boring and corporate.

Paul Evans:

It's important.

Robert Gerrish:

It didn't like that. It was important, yeah.

Paul Evans:

All right. You've mentioned Slack and Google Docs as two tools that you used in your tech stack. Is there any other tools that you can tell the listeners about that you think is-

Robert Gerrish:

This is not really tech and I know there's no video, but I'm going to show you anyway. I keep a manual diary and I have a pencil. Now that might seem credibly old school, but I was thinking about this because I knew the sort of question you were going to ask me. I was thinking about this on my journey in this morning. In my 12 or 15 years of running the business, I'd never missed a meeting. I was never late for a meeting, I never missed a train, I never missed a bus. I never missed the ferry, I never missed a plane. I was always on time. I never got pressured by things and the reason I did it is because I plan my day and that's how I do it.

I write stuff down and I still believe no matter what apps and productivity tools that might be there, nothing beats writing it down, looking at it and knowing who you're meeting, when you meet them or what your actions are. That's what I do and I do it to this day. Yes, of course I have my online calendar, but I also have a good old school diary. I can look at it, I can see how my week is and I can look at my week and go, "This is a pretty nice week. Nothing too scary there." I like that. That's how I work.

Personally, I'm not a great adopter of lots of tech things. If I find myself in a position where I think, "There must be a better way to do this," then yes, I'll investigate tech. What worries me with tech and apps is a lot of people do it the reverse way, is they find an app and they think, "How am I going to make this work?" That's the wrong way around in my book. If you're working smoothly and efficiently, then A, don't change anything.

If you think you can work better than sure, do some research around the place. But most times I look at tech and I go, "Well yeah, maybe that could make things a bit better, but maybe not." I mean, one of the other things, I actually haven't gotten in front of me now, one of the best little... it's tech, but it's very early tech ... is a Bic pen that has five colours on it. You know... That's a great tool. You can't get more old school than that but if I look down to my diary now I see things in green, that means it's Flying Solo. I see things in red, that means I better get on with it. I see things in black. I use colours and that's just how I roll.

Paul Evans:

That's cool. Do you think by writing it down it helps you remember it as well?

Robert Gerrish:

Most definitely. It's habitual for me. I'm in my sixties it's how I always used to do things and I've worked in project management in big design companies and ad agencies. So I'm used to being in a meeting and writing stuff down. That's what I do. I mean there's one app I suppose that I have used and do continue to use, which is Pomodoro, the Pomodoro technique, which you're probably familiar with, working in blocks of 20 minutes. I find that still supremely valuable. And yes, I do have an app on my phone that counts down the minutes and gives me a five minute break at the end of it. Aside from that, you'll find me fairly app and tech light, I would say.

Paul Evans:

Fantastic. All right we're just going to take a few seconds now to hear from our sponsor.

Voiceover:

This episode is brought to you by Digital Pigeon. Digital Pigeon is the leading file sharing service for creative and media businesses that can't afford to miss deadlines. With a focus on moving large files from A to B quickly and reliably, Digital Pigeon is the tool you can count on where others fail to deliver. Try Digital Pigeon out for free today at www.digitalpigeon.com/workflow for an extra long 90 day trial. Now back to the show.

Paul Evans:

Okay Robert, if you could work with one brand that you don't already work with, who would that be and why?

Robert Gerrish:

That's an interesting question. Brands don't do it for me these days. Working very much back as a solo individual, I'm much more interested in individuals, in people. So when you say brands, I go all blurry and I think, "the brand I want work..." but there's people and as I mentioned at the beginning, through my Rekindle podcast I'm very much looking at this whole issue of how we stay focused, how we stay engaged in our work, because I believe it's the one aspect of work that really isn't looked at. We looked at startup, we looked at exit, but we often don't talk about the bit in the middle. That's often where things get really hard.

We might be running a good little business, but every now and again it just gets a bit too much. So I'm looking and talking with people that I think, either have a real skillset there or they seem to be doing something very unusual and different and just keep on doing it and they're the people I'm interested in. When I thought of this question of yours, the one person I would love to speak with and maybe, just maybe I might actually take some action and make this happen. I'd like to speak to a guy called Andy Goldsworthy who's a British artist and I just hold him up as my solo business role model.

This is a guy who creates things out of nature. I don't know where he is right now, but he's quite possibly in some remote location stitching leaves together with icicles or wrapping bark around rocks or building spheres out of twigs.He does the most incredible things. Incredible things and they only last for a period of time and then nature kind of destroys them again.

But he's done this basically for the last 20 or 30 years and he gets up each day and off he goes and he does something spectacular. Over time he's now flown all around the world by countries, by nations, the organisations that want him to create something for them. And I think, "My gosh, how brilliant." But when he's out there, I don't know, maybe as the dawn's coming up in some freezing location, stitching together icicles, I'd like to know, "Andy, how the hell do you do that mate? How do you leave your family, get out of bed, go and do that and spend 15 hours stitching icicles together? How do you do it?" He's the guy I'd like to talk to.

Paul Evans:

Right answer, really interesting. I'll have to look him up. All right so how do you go about solving problems that you don't know the answer to? The obvious one is Google, but is there any blogs, and I always say you can't say Google and in your instance I think you can't say your own company, Flying Solo. So is there any places that you go to for when you're looking for help?

Robert Gerrish:

Yes, there is. Most commonly ... and yes, of course Google somewhere I'll go, but I'll talk to my friends, basically. I'll talk to my business friends, my life friends, and my little inner circle ... I've not really thought of them like that, but the people whose judgment I trust and value, that's where I'll go to. Because more often than not, what I'm looking for are people that can help answer things.

Not so much ... you know, sure. I do some other little work. I've got a little project with chairs. I've got a little project with old cameras and there I might need technical advice and so I'll reach out to technical people or I might Google it. In many cases what I need is a person to help me. So regardless of whatever other systems of word of mouth may exist, I still think the strongest is to talk to someone you trust and say, "Hey, I need someone to help me with this. Do you know someone? I need someone to help me create some better wording on my website. I need somebody to help create some better imagery." Those are the sort of problems that I typically come up against. So I'll talk to people. The other thing I do is I still see great value in those good old fashioned things called books.

Paul Evans:

Me too.

Robert Gerrish:

I'll bury myself in books and it just helps me understand things. You think you can get so much knowledge from somebody's brain for $25 or less.

Paul Evans:

That's funny, that's my take as well. It's the cheapest education you'll ever get.

Robert Gerrish:

Yeah it's the cheapest. And the thing with the book is ... just to sit on that for a second. I still like old fashioned books, books with paper in them. The reason I do is that I write all over them, so I tear pages out. We don't need to respect these things. We own them. They cost $25. If you see a section that you like, rip it out and pin it on the wall. Draw lines over it, it doesn't matter. No one's going to tell you off. These are not library books, or at least they shouldn't be if you're doing that sort of thing.

That's where I'll often go is I'll buy books. Books are wonderful things to just take you into a different place. Every so often I will take a day out, and in fact note to self it's time I did it again. I'll spend half a day on the train and then I'll go down to the South Coast or something, I live in Sydney at the moment. I'll go for a long walk, so I'll read a book on the train going down there and I'll think about it whilst I'm walking and then I'll sit on the train for three hours and read it coming back and that's a day of work and that's a beautiful day of work.

But often we don't give ourselves enough time. If you sit in an office and read a book, people go, "What's he doing?" "He's reading a book." Well that's a fine thing to do. That's a pretty good pursuit. It's far better than sitting there checking your email, you know what I mean?

Paul Evans:

Yeah. Any recent books that you've read that you can recommend?

Robert Gerrish:

Yes, there is. The last one I read is ... oh gosh, can't remember the author's name. It's called In Praise of Working With Your Hands. Forgive me, I cannot ... Matthews was the author but I can not remember his name.

Paul Evans:

That's okay. We'll pop in the show notes. That's okay.

Robert Gerrish:

Okay. The other one that I'm reading now is a book called Solitude. Now I'm going to find the author of that as well, which is going to be interesting ... and I'm enjoying that. This is a book that just looks at the value of solitude. It's by Michael Harris. That's a good book and I'm enjoying that. It's how to make the most of and value the time on your own. I find that a really interesting topic, and when I look through my diary, there are massive blocks where I'm on my own and going for a walk. And I love that. I do.

I teach ethics at primary school as a volunteer position, and I do ... that gives me time. I walk there. That's an hour and a half's walk to get to the school time, time, time. Solitude. Beautiful thing. I'm rambling.

Paul Evans:

No, that's great. I kind of do the same. I try find out blocks of time just to commute so I can read. Even on drives, listening to podcasts or audio books, et cetera. But I'm still the same. I like old school books.

Robert Gerrish:

There's a lovely quote which is by Bertrand Russell and he said many years ago, in the 30s or something, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." I should have that tattooed on my forehead. That's how I feel. The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time and yet, there's so much pressure on productivity and work, work, work, do it, do it, do it. If you're not standing on the edge, you're taking up too much space. All that bullshit. I don't agree with any of it.

I just think you know what? Step back. Give yourself some time. And finally on that point, then I will let you talk, there's some great research published quite recently from the university in California that showed that if we walk for 20 to 40 minutes, the incidence of idea generation is increased by over 60%. Over 60% and you look in these buildings with all these worker bees sitting there, they go out for a walk. You'll have much better ideas than sitting there banging your head on your monitor.

Paul Evans:

We have distractions for sure. All right, Robert, a final question, where can our listeners connect with you?

Robert Gerrish:

Well look, the place to go is my website, which is robertgerrish.com that's G-E-R-R-I-S-H, robertgerrish.com. I'd love people to check out my podcast Rekindle, which is wherever you get podcasts, and I'm mooching around, anybody wants to hit me up for a conversation, a cup of coffee, no worries.

Paul Evans:

Fantastic. Thanks so much for being on the show, Robert, and thanks for all your advice.

Robert Gerrish:

My pleasure. Thank you Paul. See you.

Paul Evans:

Some absolutely brilliant insights there from Robert, but definitely my key takeaway to improving your productivity and creativity is to actually make time for yourself to think. It's amazing the ideas that you'll come up with when you just unplug and give yourself that time to really let your mind wander. Anyway, thanks again for listening and until next time, keep on delivering.

Voiceover:

Thanks for listening to the Improve Your Workflow podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. Go to www.digitalpigeon.com/reviewpodcast for more info, and we'll add you into our monthly draw to win a Digital Pigeon T-shirt. Bye for now.

Voiceover:

Thanks for listening to the Improve Your Workflow podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. Go to www.digitalpigeon.com/reviewpodcast for more info, and we'll add you into our monthly draw to win a Digital Pigeon T-shirt. Bye for now.


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