Coffee With A Stranger Cup 115 Maura Thomas

Cup 115: Maura Thomas – Productivity expert, author and reluctant exerciser.

TCoffee With A Stranger Cup 115 Maura Thomashe Place: Radio Coffee and Beer

The Cup: A decaf latte for Maura and a regular coffee with cream for me.

The Background: Where to begin? The truth is, Maura and I weren’t exactly strangers. Roughly two years ago I attended one of Cup 5 Steve Harper’s infamous 8 Minute Ripple events. Maura gave a brief presentation about time and attention management. We didn’t end up connecting at the event, so technically, she’s pretty close to a stranger. Since that time, her name has come up in conversations with a handful of people. Most recently, Cup 107, Ken Kuznia talked about her during a follow-up coffee and then I got an email a week later from a friend introducing Maura and I. It seemed the time had finally come for Maura and I to get to know each other.

Maura is the picture of poise and togetherness, but not in an intimidating, “Hey, look how organized I am!” sort of way. When she arrived, I was just coming off of another meeting that was fairly high-energy. In Maura’s presence, I was calmed and immediately her focus and centeredness began rubbing off.

Make no mistake, the woman has a lot going between her thriving speaking and training business RegainYourTime, centered on helping people manage their time and attention, and her work as a writer. Maura is the author of Personal Productivity Secrets and is in the middle of writing another book, and she maintains a blog as well as writing for other publications. And yet, she’s present and tuned in to what’s happening in the moment. I was eager to discover her secrets and learn more about this new friend. Hopefully you are too. We’ll get into it all, but first, a few:

Common Grounds:

  1. What is the best gift you ever got? My wedding ring. {Maura and her husband Shawn have been married for almost 10 years and are planning a fabulous anniversary celebration this summer in Boston – surrounded by family and friends. The love birds have already renewed their wedding vows, but will likely do it again and Maura is even contemplating wearing her wedding dress.}
  2. What is the best way to unwind? Watching TV with my husband, snuggled up on the couch. Sometimes we hit pause and chit-chat about something. That’s my favorite thing to do.
  3. What book should be required reading for all human beings? The Four Agreements
  4. What’s a food you can’t live without? Chocolate. Wine is a close second.
  5. Who is your celebrity doppleganger? Jennifer Love Hewitt. {Oh yeah, I totally see that!}
  6. How did you make your first buck? Doing chores — like my Mom used to give me a quarter if I made my bed.
  7. What’s the most amazing movie you’ve seen? Avatar. It was a great story, but also such a great cinematic achievement.
  8. What’s your guilty pleasure? Watching TV. I don’t have cable but I have subscriptions to all the services. I think it’s fashionable to say, “Oh, what a waste of time, that television!” But I’m not one of those people. {Maura is currently loving Quantico and Blacklist, in case you are curious. I too love Blacklist! James Spader is the perfect villain!}

Maura grew up in Boston and stayed close to home for college and the first part of her career. In September of 2002, a job offer brought Maura to Austin and she’s been here ever since.

The job didn’t work out long-term, but just five days after moving here, Maura met the man who is now her husband. Funny how life works out sometimes. In March of 2003, Maura started her business and she has been doing that ever since.

Unlike many people who get a degree in a field and then wind up working in a variety of jobs that often aren’t related to their original training, Maura has made her whole career from productivity. In fact, her first job out of college was working for a paper-based planner company.

I admit to Maura that I have a deep, almost religious, affinity for paper and explain that it remains my preferred method, even after trying countless electronic options. I prepare for a little scolding, or, as is more often the case, a bewildered look followed by the face that says, “Oh, you poor, simple creature.” I didn’t get any of that from Maura. In fact, she told me that she too once loved paper and she admits she left it “kicking and screaming”.  She went on to tell me that though it was quite disruptive, at first, when it comes to managing all the details of your life — paper is hard and that the many advantages of electronics over paper can’t be ignored.

Moleskine Bullet Journal Cover
My Moleskine Bullet Journal in its fancy new leather cover (Christmas gift from my dad).

I know, I know. But for ME – I still say, long live my Moleskine and the Bullet Journal system!

The truth is, I am also looking into using technology for other systems in my life and of course, rely heavily on technology for my business systems. As a Realtor, I gain access into homes via an app on my phone. My clients view listing information and send me questions or notes about properties via an online tool. I have an app I give them to use when they are out driving around and spot a house they want the details about. All contracts are sent electronically and signed via electronic signature. I have done an Open House via Periscope, so that people who weren’t able to be there could get the virtual experience. Last year, I even got a client through Twitter for the first time. Technology is incredible and my life is infinitely more simple as a result. And yet, also more complicated.

Maura and I talk for quite a while about her business, because it’s fascinating. Her business is largely corporate training, and the chief complaints that get her hired are: employees are drowning in emails, there are too many meetings, or they are not effective, everyone is working a lot and in danger of burn-out, and there is a lot of activity but they don’t seem to be moving the important things forward.

Maura says she comes at productivity from the perspective of attention management versus time management. She says, “Common time management principles have run their course. Traditional time management might tell you, go in your office, close your door, make a list, prioritize A, B, C and then work from your list until you get everything done. This was back in the day before the internet and smartphones, and when people actually had an office, with a door. That was a little bit more reasonable. But now it’s not at all.”  Maura observes that people are using lists, sticky notes, flags in their email and yet are still unproductive. She adds, “Something in the application isn’t working.”

I’m curious whether personality affects productivity and if training is geared toward what style a person is. Maura explains that isn’t the case. She says, “There are rules, but this is a system — a workflow process. You either work the system or you don’t. If you go in to take a dance class and you want to learn the tango, the teacher isn’t going to say, “Show me how you like to dance and I’ll customize your tango lesson.” They say, ‘Here’s the proper way to do the tango. If you want to add something later, go ahead.’ There are things that work and you can either do those things or not do those things. If you don’t do all the things, it might work, but it won’t be as effective as if you implemented the components that I have seen work.”

That makes good sense.

I want to know, what is the most significant thing that’s happened for Maura in the last 30 days? She tells me, “I found out that the very first post I wrote for the Harvard Business Review was their most-read post for 2015.” If you’re interested in reading that post (and I suggest you do!), here it is: Your Late Night Emails are Hurting Your Team.

If Maura had a year to get really good at something, what would she try? She tells me, “I am about to try to get really good at speaking Spanish. I think it’s important to be able to speak another language. And I think it would be good for my work — to be able to give my presentation in Spanish.”

Something Maura would like to see fixed in her lifetime is the wealth gap issues in this country and the effect money has on politics. She says, “I think our little experiment in a republic is in danger of failing because it’s not anymore what it was set up to be. I want anyone who wants to run for any office to be able to, if they feel like they have the experience and something useful to contribute. Politics is supposed to be public service. But now you have to be a millionaire. That’s not public service, that’s pursuit of power.”

Life is a series of lessons. I am curious about a lesson Maura has leaned in life that she wishes she had learned sooner. She tells me, “It’s one that I still struggle with — judgement. I think it’s so easy to make judgements about people and their behaviors and think that it means some particular thing about them. I get that we have to make judgements all day long to keep ourselves safe and to make smart decisions, but I was very black and white when I was younger. I wish I had learned the lesson sooner that it’s not necessarily like that.”

If you had to guess what the thing Maura says is the skill she’s ridiculously good at, I bet you’d be spot on. Her answer, “Getting stuff done. I’m pretty on top of it. I know at any moment what needs to get done to keep all parts of my life running smoothly. I’m not sure I’m ridiculously good at anything else.” What a gift — make a living sharing the thing that you’re most amazing at with other people — helping their lives to be simpler and more productive.

As a little experiment, I am adding a feature called In Their Own Words where I will share a 5 minute audio snippet of the conversation. I may move toward offering the Coffee With A Stranger experience in podcast format, but for now, this is where I’m starting. I hope you enjoy it and I promise to work on getting better sound quality next time. Would love to hear your feedback in the comments.

Maura Thomas – In Her Own Words, where Maura answers the questions:

1. What is a ritual, habit or practice you feel contributes to your overall happiness, success or well-being?

2. What is something you want less of in your life? What would you like more of?

3. If you had 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, what is your message?

Maura Thomas – in her own words

As you heard in the audio clip and likely gathered from the conversation to that point, Maura is a balanced, productive and purposeful human being. She is full of insights and wisdom about attention management and leading a productive, and ultimately happier life. She knows that happiness is complex and personalized, but she’s also witnessed that there are certain rules, as with productivity, that are universal.

Take time to reflect on the voice inside and then find ways to quiet that voice. Pauses for quiet and reflection won’t delay your progress. In fact, quite the opposite. You will be more productive if you take the time to sit in stillness.

Move your body for health, mental clarity and happiness. Exercise really is a good thing.

Lead with acceptance and love. The commonness in our stories is greater than the differences. When we focus on the things that unite us, we feel a sense of connectedness and from that place, loving and acceptance flows more freely. Maura is right — this world would be a much better place if we had more of both! Acceptance and love are precisely what we could all use more of. That’s my wish for you! May the love and acceptance you put out into the world flow back to you one hundred fold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *