The Lift 008 | Organization and Time Management
An ABA Technologies Academy Podcast
1.0 BACB, 1 Supervision
Tyra P. Sellers, JD, PhD, BCBA-D
This podcast episode describes the importance of teaching supervisees effective strategies for organization and time management. These strategies are described as critical stress management strategies as well as strategies for overall success in the workplace. Skills such as planning and running effective meetings, managing email/text/voicemail communications, schedule planning, and file management are all explored.
- Attendees will be able to identify at least one possible negative effect of poor organization and time management strategies Attendees will be able to identify the importance of agenda planning in making the most of supervision.
- Attendees will be able to describe one strategy for triaging and managing email to achieve inbox zero.
The book focuses on the importance of strong relationships and teaching higher-order skills throughout any supervisory endeavor. The authors provide a conceptually sound set of supervision practices that will guide the actions of those who aspire to become better supervisors or mentors at any point in their careers.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (00:08):
Welcome, everyone to The Lift. This is Dr. Tyra Sellers
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (00:13):
And I'm Dr. Linda LeBlanc
Dr. Tyra Sellers (00:15):
We're gonna chat with you today about organization and time management. We have a fantastic guest today. We are excited to welcome Dr. Amber Valentino, who is the chief clinical officer at Trumpet Behavioral Health. We've known Amber a long, long time. I'm gonna say some awesome things about Amber and then we're gonna hear about what's going on with her these days. Amber received her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. That sounds so fancy: Xavier University.
Dr. Amber Valentino (00:50):
It does, doesn't it? I'll take it.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (00:52):
Yes. Completed an internship and a post-doctoral fellowship and program coordinator at the Marcus Autism Center and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta in Georgia. At Trumpet, you oversee clinical services, research, and training initiatives, you build clinical standards for the organization, so you're super, super not busy and have a lot of time on your hands. You've published several articles. Several with me and Linda about supervision as well as book chapters on, as I mentioned, supervision, ethics, creating infrastructure for conducting research and practice settings, as well as applied clinical settings. Okay, so that's a lot. You currently also serve as an associate editor for behavior analysis and practice. You have previously served as an associate editor for the analysis of verbal behavior. That's a whole lot of awesomeness and I'm sure that didn't make you uncomfortable at all. [Laughing]
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (01:53):
Dr. Tyra Sellers (01:54):
Dr. Amber Valentino (01:56):
Thank you. It's always funny when you hear somebody articulate what you're doing and if you didn't know your name were associated with it, then you'd say, "Gosh, that person sounds really busy."
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (02:05):
Then you realize that person is you. [Laughing]
Dr. Tyra Sellers (02:09):
It's you. What else is happening in your neck of the woods these days?
Dr. Amber Valentino (02:12):
Oh my goodness. Well, you covered the big ones. As you mentioned, I'm the chief clinical officer for Trumpet Behavioral Health, so that is my daytime gig and keeps me very busy. I am involved in the editorial world. I've been an AE for several journals and it's funny, I was actually supposed to end my AE term this summer, but Stephanie Peterson, the new editor said, "Would you please stay on a little longer?" I've extended it for a little while. We'll see exactly when it's gonna end, but that's been a joy and a great learning experience. Probably the only thing that you didn't mention, which is really the ultimate test of time management, is I have an almost two year old son named Porter who if you ever need a test of your time management skills, having a toddler is it.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (02:59):
[Laughing] Yes it is.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (03:00):
Agreed. We're gonna be chatting about organization and time management today and we always have a quote that appears in each chapter. I'm wondering if you would do us the honor of reading it and then we can chat a little bit about sort of what that quote means to each of us.
Dr. Amber Valentino (03:23):
Yeah, I'd love to. This is a fantastic quote. I love it: "Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort". The quote is by Paul Meyer.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (03:36):
Dr. Amber Valentino (03:37):
Wonderful. Should I comment on that now?
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (03:41):
Yeah, you go first.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (03:41):
Dr. Amber Valentino (03:43):
I'm sure we'll get into this, but this quote reminds me of a book that I believe many people have read called "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. It's a wonderful book. It's got a lot of really great tips in it, but one of the things he talks about is that productivity, success... It doesn't just come. It's a result of systems and processes and these little baby steps that you take that get you to that success and that productivity. It made me think of that framework. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. The idea that it's just the little things that you do every day that are the things that result in big behavior change and big accomplishments.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (04:24):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (04:24):
I love that idea that it's not that you're the special lucky one and you really are a master of time management and organization, Amber, but it's not like that just happened. Oh, she's lucky she got that gene or something. You behave in very specific ways and you evolve yourself over time because it matters to you that you're organized and efficient with your time and able to have your time away from work for that little fellow and your two cute dogs, as well as your time at work for everyone there who relies on you.
Dr. Amber Valentino (05:03):
Oh, thank you. That's very kind and I'm talking to two experts as well. Frankly, I learned a lot of that from the two of you. You're very kind.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (05:12):
This quote makes me think of... I think it might come from the military, actually. Maybe British military. I'm not positive. Fact check and then get back to me and let me know how wrong I am. It's the seven P's of planning. I don't know if the two of you have ever heard it, but I had a friend at Spectrum Center a long time ago and her partner would always say, "Proper prior planning, prevents piss poor performance."
Dr. Amber Valentino (05:37):
I love that.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (05:38):
Dr. Tyra Sellers (05:38):
I think that's true, right? Not only do have off the plan ahead of time, but it has to be proper, right? It has to be before and it should result in more optimal performance.
Dr. Amber Valentino (05:51):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (05:52):
One of the things we talk about in this chapter is we borrow this notion of pivotal skills from the developmental literature. Certainly, this idea has been used in the autism literature, but that notion that there are these certain core pivotal skills that once you get that skill, once you develop those abilities, everything else gets better. You see this spread of effect. We argue that organization time management is like that. The more organized you are, the more effectively you manage your time and thus your stress, the better your communication is gonna be. You're gonna be a better leader. You're gonna serve your clients better. There are just so many things that are going to raise in terms of your professional gain.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (06:56):
Yeah. Organization and time management skills are like water, right? It's not bad for you. You'd have to drink so much water to have negative impact from water. Get you some organizational time management glass of water in the morning and get your day.
Dr. Amber Valentino (07:12):
Yeah. It's huge. I think you can have a lot of other great things in place. You can be highly intelligent, you can think conceptually about really difficult questions, you can be a good problem solver, but if all of that doesn't come together in a way that allows you to execute on specific actions and leads you toward movement and progress, then you're dehydrated. [Laughing] Right?
Dr. Tyra Sellers (07:39):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (07:40):
Love that. Yeah, absolutely. Organization, time management's not gonna replace your knowledge as a behavior analyst, but assuming you've got those skills in place, you are simply more capable of everything. Getting it all done, getting it done in the amount of time. I can remember when we worked together at Trumpet and the San Jose division had a bunch of brand new BCBAs, constantly. There was a small group of them and I said I'll work with them and mentor them. I think we called them the green team. They were fantastic
Dr. Amber Valentino (08:24):
Gosh. It's been a long time, but I remember that.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (08:28):
Yeah. I thought I am gonna really teach 'em some stuff. We were all so excited and I said, "Okay. In just a few minutes, we'll get to some of the behavior analysis. You can ask me any questions that you want. I can probably answer 'em, but first let me just give you a couple of tricks and tips for getting organized." I started chatting about that and immediately, every one of them, their faces just changed like, "Oh, this is how you do it." They started furiously taking notes and we spent the whole time on that and they said it was the most helpful thing.
Dr. Amber Valentino (09:11):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:12):
They didn't need that other stuff. They already had that. This is what was missing. The "MO" was strong for this. How do you get it all done?
Dr. Amber Valentino (09:24):
Dr. Tyra Sellers (09:25):
In the certain amount of time.
Dr. Amber Valentino (09:27):
Yeah. I's interesting. I was having this conversation a few days ago with someone. I was presenting at a graduate class at Georgia State University. A good friend of mine, Dr. Daniel Conine is a professor there. We were talking about this, and he has his students very engaged and they asked, "Tell us about your knowledge of behavior analysis and how that goes into play as a chief clinical officer." I thought, of course, there is a technical side, but I'll tell you the things that people typically reach out to me about are what you just described, Linda, which is time management, organization, ethics. Things that are a little bit more challenging in terms of the day to day. Of course, every once in a while, it's what treatment should I use for this attention maintained problem behavior. For the most part, it's those time management organization, professional development skills that people are seeking me out for. I'm sure seeking you, as leaders, out as well. It's important for sure.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (10:36):
Yeah. That was certainly my experience in, not just my clinical work, but even as a professor. You got people, like you said, Amber, super smart, super motivated, got a lot of knowledge in their head, but have trouble with time management or have trouble with organization. Both of those can lead to having issues with being able to prioritize or problem solve. I think you're right, Linda. These are cusp and pivotal skills that not only will facilitate acquiring other skills, but also contact with reinforcement for using all the skills you already have. I think when it comes to organizing, we're thinking about how to manage your resources so that they're quickly accessible to you or to others. We're also talking about being organized to impact other people, not just ourselves.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (11:31):
Find your stuff.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (11:33):
Yeah. Find your stuff, know what tasks you have to do, be able to prioritize those tasks based on a number of different factord, and then you got time management. How to use the time available to you with all of those inputs that you're figuring out from your organization side of things.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (11:51):
I think we probably all agree that these are critical skills and we use them a lot. We help other people with them. The flip side of having them makes you better is not having them makes you worse, in terms of stress and distress, and feeling overwhelmed. Feeling burnt out, feeling just anxiety all the time.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (12:23):
Yeah. Feeling ineffective.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (12:25):
Yeah. Feeling ineffective and feeling like there's not enough time and I can't get this done. That stress also can lead to some performance problems that is you are correctly describing that you're not getting it all done. Some of our fellow "Trumpeteers" and I published a study where we were looking at success of BCBAs and also barriers to success. Trying to identify a functional approach. What could we do? What are all the things that could be leading to high performance or lower performance in case of management and by far these organization time management skills were the best predictor of success or failure in caseload management skills. More so than size of caseload, geographic distribution, drive time, funding constraints. All the things that you would think and that people reported. Nope. It was this. The crazy thing is that most graduate programs do not teach this skill set.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (13:49):
Dr. Amber Valentino (13:50):
Yeah. Just listening to you talk about those elements and sort of that stress that can occur as a result of poor planning, poor time management. I think the initial transition is hard because it requires you to step back and look at your whole life, really. Not just your work life, but look at it and just really critically question where you are spending your time. Is that a good use of your time? If not, what can you do about it? There's a lot of work that goes into that initial assessment. Let me figure out what I'm doing and why it feels this way, but then there's maintenance. Once you figure it out and you maybe make some movement toward it, you have to check in. I don't know about you all, but for me every once in a while I will look at my schedule and think, "Well, why the heck am I even in that meeting?" I say nothing, I do nothing. I'm not even sure why we have the meeting anymore, or why am I doing X, Y, Z when somebody else is better suited to do it? It's just constant evaluation of where your time is spent and then having all the resources in place for where your time is spent when you narrow it down to what you should be doing. It's a lot of work. I think it's just easier to go through the day and then at the end of this say, "Well, I didn't really accomplish anything today, but maybe I will tomorrow."
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (15:14):
[Laughing] Try, try again.
Dr. Amber Valentino (15:15):
And you just keep on going. That critical analysis... If I could make a recommendation on where to start, it's just look at your whole life, your whole day, what you do and figure out are you doing things that you shouldn't be, or that could be accomplished in a different format or different way or different frequency or duration or something like that. Even if it's one small change to start, that's one small change, right?
Dr. Tyra Sellers (15:36):
I love that. And I think that frequent revisiting is so important, particularly for newer folks in the profession, because you are also simultaneously likely to be experiencing other life events that are gonna impact your ability to do your regular to-dos. It may make it easier. It may make it more difficult, who knows. Those things are gonna change, right? You get married, now you have a different pull on your time potentially, or you buy a house that needs to get fixed up, or you have an elderly family member that needs some care. This isn't just a "strap in and do the same thing", because it's what you've always done. You have to constantly... When I chat with folks, it's always, as Linda mentioned, "Oh, I need more time in the day." I can't get you that. I can't give you more time, but what we can look at is what time you have and what are the inputs and how do we arrange those optimally and those are gonna change. So I love that recommendation, Amber.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:37):
And I love the idea that David Allen, in some of his Ted talks, talks about these kinds of skills as having a tether to your surfboard.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (16:55):
Dr. Amber Valentino (16:56):
I like that.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:56):
They make you capable to try bigger, better waves, bigger, better things. It's not gonna keep you from wiping out, but if you do, you know exactly how to pull that surfboard over, hop on and go again. It's not like I never get a little wobbly or fall off the surfboard. When I became JABA editor, I had to really decide, "Okay. I've gotta do something differently. I gotta shift some things." You add in, it's gotta go somewhere and can't just add on top and not expect there to be ill effect.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (17:41):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (17:43):
Dr. Amber Valentino (17:43):
Yeah. I like that idea of if you fall off the surfboard you get back on and you know the tricks. This also comes from that "Atomic Habits" book by James Clear. He says to build habits and what he tries to do is just never do something that he doesn't want to do twice. Let's say you have a writing schedule in place, or a project focused time. One hour a day, every day of the week and you miss one. Well, some people's natural reaction is, "That's it. It's all out the window. It's gone now." Just try not to do it twice. Let's say you're trying to lose weight and you have a cheat meal. Don't throw it all out the window. You had one meal. It's okay. You just get back on the bandwagon. Just try not to make that same mistake twice. I use that in my day too, because like you said, you fall off, you get off course, but okay. Try not to do it twice in a row and if I follow that, I find that I do get right back on track and it's no big deal at all. It's easy to respond to that as if, "Well, clearly this isn't gonna work. I'm done. Throw it out the window."
Dr. Tyra Sellers (18:47):
Yeah and normally we would want a few more data points to throw an intervention out the window.
Dr. Amber Valentino (18:54):
Dr. Tyra Sellers (18:55):
I love, Amber, that you are talking about how we talk to ourselves about these things, which also is really relevant to the book, because we really have foreword in all of the content. This idea that supervision and mentorship is a committed relationship that goes both directions and speaking kindly to your supervisees and trainees about maybe they didn't get a task done on time. Well, what are your strategies for managing your time? Maybe that didn't work as well, or maybe you don't have any. Don't forget to be nice to yourself. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water, but also offer the same kindness and grace to your trainees and supervisees and realize that many of them haven't been taught any of these skills and it's contingency shaped. There's some learning history that we're having to go against there.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (20:03):
We talk about several different kinds of organization and time management strategies. The OG that it all has to start with is planning and managing your tasks and time. Figuring out when you're gonna do something, how long it should take you to do it, or how much you can get done in the allotted time. The only way to consistently plan is to plan, period. Plan time to plan and if you don't have that planning time in there, everything else is gonna rattle around. It might even be pretty good, but it won't be as good as it could be if you had really thought through, "When's the right time to do this? How much can I get done in the allotted time? It doesn't matter what I want to happen. What's the reality I'm working with?"
Dr. Tyra Sellers (21:01):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (21:02):
Tell us a little bit about some of your strategies in this area and then, Tyra, you add in.
Dr. Amber Valentino (21:09):
Absolutely. I will make another recommendation for a book that has been really instrumental in allowing me to really do exactly what you just said: Plan and plan meticulously. There's an author whose name is Cal Newport. He wrote a book called "Deep Work" and it's a great book. I highly recommend it, but essentially the strategy that he recommends is something called time blocking. He didn't create time blocking, but he's really been an author who has put it out there as, "Hey, knowledge workers, people in professions where you have to sit down and sometimes think about hard things should really think about this." He also has a manual planner that I buy and that I use very religiously. The general gist is that from the time you start working until the time you stop working is meticulously accounted for. You never want to have these situations where your time is just left free to bear, because guess what? You'll end up buying shoes on the internet, you'll end up on Facebook. People are working from home now. You're gonna be doing your dishes and you know it. [Laughing] Every moment is meticulously accounted for. He talks about some of the common criticisms of this. I have to be available via email all day. Okay, but if you really need to respond to emails, you just put that in your time blocking. I'm a person, I'm sure you guys are too, you do have to respond. That's part of my job, right? Not all day long. I can easily put in little 30-minute chunks that take me away from the internet and allow me to focus on something else. I have been using that time walking strategy now for about 18 months. I'll tell you; it made substantial changes in my productivity and just allowed me to take days where I thought I didn't have time. I would say, “I have back-to-back meetings on that day.” The truth is I do have time during those days. It's just that I was using it not productively. It’s a 30-minute chunk here, an hour at the end of the day. When you specifically say, “During that 30-minute chunk, I'm gonna do X, Y, Z”, it’s amazing what you could accomplish in a reasonable work week. That’s my recommendation and I'm sure you two are experts too. You probably have great ideas about that. Time blocking has really been a life changer for me.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (23:34):
I love that idea. I'll just give three short ones that have been really helpful for me more recently. This one isn't recent. This took me a really long time to learn, and I still currently struggle with it: To not put big overarching labels or tasks on my to-do list. If I need to edit a manuscript or need to develop a script for a video that we're working on at work or something, I can't just put that as the label. If I want to put that as the label as a motivator, in my calendar or in my journal I put the specific thing I'm gonna work on in that time. It might be something like editorial duties and then very specifically download these manuscripts and assign reviewers, or if it's my video script, it might say to just look at what's on the website right now, or rewatch that video to give yourself some ideas. I no longer put just large overarching titles, because it deflates me and I don't know what to do. I lose time and sometimes I only have 15 minutes. This is my second strategy and I learned this from Linda and it truly was life changing for me. I tell everybody this: It doesn't matter if you only have 10 minutes, you can still get some good crap done in that time, if you know what all your tasks are. You have thought about what some five-minute tasks are. What is some hour long tasks? You have those in a list running somewhere so that if I have a meeting that ends early, I don't get online and buy me some shoes.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (25:34):
[Laughing] You might if you plan for it.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (25:37):
[Laughing] If I finished all my other tasks, then maybe. I have very specific things like somebody tagged me in that document. I just need to go through and make sure it looks like it's in the right order. I can do that in 10 minutes. That was life changing, because those are the little irritating tasks that just don't ever seem to get done. Then my third thing is related to that. I track when I bump activities. That happens to me a lot because in my current job, I must be available to folks in the department to sometimes address immediate emergency type situations and if I had an hour to work on something planned, but one of my folks needs me to talk through a case or planning or something, I have to make myself available in that moment. If I'm bumping things, I track it. I'll say, “I'll reschedule it at another time. Linda, I can get on and I'll be right there.” I'll move that thing to another spot, and I'll say, “second schedule”. If it gets to a third time I've rescheduled it, I know that I'm not picking the right time to honor the fact that I need to get that thing done, or I have one task right now that I'm working on. I just don't want to do it.
Dr. Amber Valentino (26:57):
Then you want to make it motivational.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (27:00):
Yes. Then I engage and account a buddy and I say, “Okay, Amber. I've moved this task like five times. Seriously. I'm gonna do X, Y, Z by this date. Check in on me. Please hold me accountable.” Those three things have been really helpful for me.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (27:14):
I love all those ideas. The idea that I must always be available by email or everything else is more important than this thing I was going to do… It's an illusion. I'm pretty responsive to email and I don't have my email open right now. My email alerts are turned off on every single device. When I am doing this thing with you, I'm doing it with you. I am giving it a hundred percent and then I'm gonna look at my emails. In fact, in trying to do that, I end up more responsive than most people who are getting pecked to death by their email little ducks coming to get them constantly, because I actually get the work done. I put in time to manage emails and respond to things or manage tasks. That idea, I think, is one that you will simply not believe it can be true until you try it and get the data. Just gotta do it.
Dr. Amber Valentino (28:42):
It's so true. It’s interesting, that same author… and I apologize I keep talking about him, but he's really a wonderful author, Cal Newport. He is actually a computer science professor. In his book, he talks about the history of email, and he says nobody was ever hired to be a professional emailer. That's not a job, but yet that's what a lot of people find themselves doing. He traces back the history of email and email was never intended to be these long, open-ended questions for this dialogue. It was really meant to be just a quick way to give somebody a quick, short answer or a quick directive, but it's turned into this thing that has just replaced all other forms of communication that bogs people down. Like you say, Linda, even though you're not constantly checking, you're probably more responsive than the people that are, because it's so focused. This is another tip I will give: If you find yourself spending more than a minute on an email, it's time for a phone call. [Laughing] Cut that off. The long back and forth. I'll be honest, I was a little guilty of this early in my career. You guys probably remember some of my long emails. That's just shifted because it's an efficiency strategy. It's, “Hey, there are a lot of open-ended questions here. I'm really not gonna be able to answer in short words.” Sometimes what I find is people don't really need your response that bad. When you say, “Let's do a phone call,” they say, “No, I'm fine.” For some phone calls are a little bit aversive. They don't want to do that. If it is really important and you can knock it out in 15 minutes. You would've spent all day. If the content gets a little bit stressful, then your anxiety level is increasing. That's a really important one, I think, for the listeners. Look at that email communication and make sure it really is focused on quick back and forth responses. One thing you're sharing here. If you've spent a ton of time, then there's an analysis that needs to be done on how it could be communicated a little bit more efficiently.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (30:51):
I love that.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (30:55):
I think that takes us into the notion of inbox zero, and managing your emails and staying on top of stuff. When I say to people that my goal is inbox zero, you mean zero that you haven't read. No, I mean actual zero. None in there. Zero. [Laughing] That seems almost unbelievable to them. How could you not have any emails in your inbox and maybe even why? The why is the important part that I think if you don't understand why, you will never take the actions required to get there. And the why is, I want to always know that the things in front of me are the important things that remain. They're not just stuff, they're not stuff I've looked at five times. It's not like find the needle in the haystack. Here's a thousand emails in your inbox. Which of these are you gonna respond to now? You can't win that game, right? You spend all your time deciding what you’re gonna do instead of doing it. It’s kind of the equivalent of what Tyra was saying of at this time, write down exactly what you're gonna do. Not just: Basically, if I write down “manage email”, I know what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna go through every single email triaging it exactly the same way until they're all gone. All I need to put is email, because I know I'm gonna do that every single time. I'm gonna look at it. I'm gonna decide if it is actionable. If I can do it in two minutes, that's it. Most of the time, it's 30 seconds. If it's doable in that amount of time, I do it and then I get rid of it. I either file it or delete it. If it takes longer than that, I identify what I'm going to need to do and then when I’m gonna do that.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (33:26):
On your calendar.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (33:28):
That's right. On my calendar, or once I've gone through all the emails once, I may have enough time to go back and actually do the tasks for those two or three things. Number one, getting to zero is super reinforcing. My husband and I tell each other when we get to inbox zero and we celebrate that. To me, problems can be scary unless you know how to problem solve. Email can be scary unless you know how to triage.
Dr. Amber Valentino (34:03):
Yeah. That goes back into what Tyra was saying. Sometimes there's something in an email that you can just respond to really quickly, but then usually the email is just the communication to connect to something bigger. If you have a system like Tyra described which there are these four or five tasks that I have to do underneath that overarching thing, then it just goes on your to-do list and you can delete the email, or you know that's not the thing. Sometimes it doesn't need a response. It's just a prompt to you to say, “Oh yeah. I gotta put that on my list or add to my list based on that big thing.” While we're on this email topic, I'm a little more familiar with Gmail and the filters have been a lifesaver for me. As an example, there are some things that I get in my email that I need to respond to, but not all day long. We have a discharge committee where we review all the cases that are discharging out of the company and there's a form that goes along with that. People are filling those out all day long. One strategy could be that I just look and read them, and I respond, but I set up a filter that all of them go into a folder called discharge submissions. I put about 30 minutes, 45 minutes, depending how many there are each week on my calendar. I'm in the right mind frame, right? I'm thinking about discharge. I go through all of them for that day or that week. Whatever frequency I need to do based on the volume. If you find yourself with these things coming through, but they're all in the same category, you could just filter and then put time on your schedule. As long as there's not an immediate, “I gotta respond to this right away.” I'll get to it Wednesday during my time block where I'm supposed to be looking through those things.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (35:43):
You're gonna be more effective when you get to that time block, because you're doing all of these things at once. You're focused and you're also going to see multiple examples in close proximity in a way that allows you to think like, “You know what? This person did this or talked about this. That should be happening here.” You wouldn't do that if you did them at random times. You give yourself a benefit of doing these clustered similar tasks at the right time.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (36:17):
I agree. I do the same thing, Amber. In my inbox comes emails from a bunch of different email aliases and web forms that are about different things. Some are about self-reporting. Some are notices, a variety of things, but they all require different mindset and standard steps that I follow. If I was looking at a mix of them, I'd be constantly shifting. Now I have to remember what the considerations are for a self-report, or what I need to go search for. Same thing, I filter. It took me a minute, because I don't even know in Outlook 365, the filters were not my best friend. It took me probably a good week to figure it out. I had to keep retrying, but I was persistent in the face of a lot of punishment. I got it down and it's amazing. It's incredible and then I can block time for any emails related to that content and I'm already in the right mindset. I already know exactly what my checklist is when I'm going through them. I think that's a fantastic recommendation. I get heart palpitations, especially now that everyone is so remote, and you get the chance sometimes to see people's desktops or their email and they have 3,952 unread emails, and I clutch my chest. Like, super gasp!
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (37:48):
[Laughing] I hope mine’s not in there.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (37:49):
Yeah. How about we just cancel this meeting, and you deal with your inbox? I think one of the smartest things is to stop thinking about your email as a filing system. If you truly want to save an email, you should save that as a PDF in a cloud system somewhere. Just because the little bit of law school in me, for liability purposes as well, it is not a good idea to keep emails inside, even in your deleted folder, forever and forever. I also have regularly scheduled purge times where if I didn't move something… like if Amber sends me an email and I think, “Oh, it's got a to-do list and I'm gonna need to do those things for her.” I will save it as a PDF or, better yet, I copy and paste it into my calendar event to get those things done for you. If I'm really good, I'll invite you, so you can double check on me that I actually get them done, and then it goes in the deleted. About every three to five weeks, I go through and delete my deleted box. I do the same thing for my downloads and my trash can on my desktop too. You all might want to get looking at that stuff.
Dr. Amber Valentino (39:01):
I think my trash can might be very full. You might have palpitations if you look at my trash can. [Laughing]
Dr. Tyra Sellers (39:07):
[Laughing] Take out the trash!
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (39:08):
I actually do use a filing system within my emails. I think one of the things that this illustrates is that there is not a perfect system. There is the perfect system that you build for yourself that you consistently use that produces your own productivity. We all use different email systems. We all use different calendaring systems. We all use different cloud systems. If someone's looking for, “I'll use your system”, they're going about it the wrong way. It's really more about what do I need to do? What do I need to find? When I am trying to figure out how I should name something or where I should store it, I ask myself, “In a week when I'm looking for this, I'm gonna look for…?” Then I fill in the blank and I've already behaved as I will behave. I create the thing that I'm gonna be able to find when I later behave that way. It's very much about the things we do every day to evolve our systems. I just want to mention one more strategy that I think is a game changer and that is: Don't keep it in your head. Your head is a terrible place when you start filling it with a bunch of things. You ask me where my coffee is. I don't know. It's either right in front of me or it's not. You ask me where my keys are. I don't know. I will find them when it's time. If you constantly have ideas or reminders that you are behaving to keep present, so that you don't forget them, you are overtaxing yourself. We have to remember, as behavior analysts, it's not storage, it’s behavior. You didn't put that somewhere in your brain and then just go get it. You are constantly behaving to remind yourself and that is taxing and it is occurring while you're trying to do something else. It makes you less effective and more stressed and more fatigued. Get it out of your head, write it down. I send emails to myself to do something.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (41:43):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (42:03):
…or voicemails, or what have you. I want to use my brain for some big old thinking and some focused doing. Not be a return, regurgitate machine for things that I could write down, because paper doesn't forget anything.
Dr. Amber Valentino (42:05):
Yeah, and it can be simple too. It can be just a little notebook that you have here, just on the side of your desk. I think what happens a lot of times, is people will maybe want to do it electronically or there's some emails and then you get sucked in your emails. You get sucked into your chats or your text messages or something like that. We’ll age ourselves a little bit here, but the old school paper and pencil, you're not gonna be distracted by that white paper there. You just jot it down and then maybe you have a system for transferring it over later. Related to that, I typically have a process where at the end of the day I have a shutdown routine where I will plan my next day. I'll time block it and give myself just some notes about what to think about, and then it’s sort of released. I don't have to think about it when I'm hanging out with my son and eating dinner. I know I've done my time blocking, I know I've got my day set up, and so the stress reduction is really there. I try and do that weekly too when I'm going into the week. Friday afternoon, looking at the main areas of my life and my work life. I just free write, “What do you want to accomplish?” I'll say, “You got a really busy week, so maybe just lower the bar a little bit.” Don't have high expectations for yourself. You're probably not gonna get a lot done and that's okay. The actual execution that comes through the daily shutdown and prep for the next day. You're exactly right when you're talking about just getting out of your head, and if you trust yourself and you found your system, then you know you don’t have to be stressing about, “Oh my goodness, that AE letter is due tomorrow”, or “Linda asked me for something, and I didn't respond”. You've got it programmed in. You can just let it all go, take a deep breath, enjoy your evening.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (43:44):
That's exactly right. It really is critical for lowering your stress and putting yourself in a position to do this when I'm doing this, do the other thing when I'm doing that. That's the same thing for work versus personal life. Don't half ass it. If I am spending time with my family, try to spend that time with my family. If I'm cooking dinner, I'm gonna make it the yummiest thing I possibly can. All I want to be focused on is that, and when I'm at work, I really want to be focused on that. I think carrying things around with you in your head, so to speak, just adds burden and we all have busy lives, so let's not make it any harder.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (44:39):
I 100% agree. I think the greatest gift you can give someone, speaking of supervision, a supervisee, a trainee, a caregiver that you're working with, is your attention and time in that moment. I think that's important and that leads into this idea of using our time together effectively, in meetings. Scheduling the right kinds of meetings, planning it ahead of time and then carrying it out. What are some of the strategies that you two have around even deciding if something should be a meeting, but then actually planning and carrying out effective meetings?
Dr. Amber Valentino (45:23):
Great question. Do you want to go first, Linda?
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (45:26):
Well, I have a lot to say about meetings, so you go first, because it'll just flow once it goes.
Dr. Amber Valentino (45:34):
I think it goes without saying: You have to have a structured agenda. If you're the person leading the meeting, you really have to lead the meeting. You have to notice, not necessarily content of what people are saying, but why they're saying it and you have to steer people back on course and it's active, right? When you get done leading a meeting that is productive, at the end of it, you should be tired. Especially the more people that are in it. One strategy that I have used is called a parking lot. I think this is common in business, but somebody gets a little bit off task, or their dialogue gets a little bit out there and you just say, “Yes, that's really important and we should talk about it, but let's go back to what we were talking about, and I'll put that in the parking lot.” Then you decide if it’s something you gotta follow up on. Sometimes, let's face it, people just want to talk to talk or to prove a point. There's just some other function to why they're saying something that isn't related to the task at hand, and then you have to identify that. If you're the person in the meeting, you gotta be really respectful of the leader. Please just don't get everybody off course, right? Try to contribute to the goal, the mission, and make sure that you're helping move the group along. I guess just strategies for determining whether you need a meeting or not. I don’t know if I have anything really good to determine whether you initially need a meeting, but I have a lot of great things in place for whether I need to continue having a meeting. [Laughing]
Dr. Tyra Sellers (47:05):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (47:06):
Am I gonna do that a second time?
Dr. Amber Valentino (47:08):
Yeah. Suddenly some meetings, as you all know, you could have them on your schedule for a long time and you just had assessment. Why are we meeting again?
Dr. Tyra Sellers (47:17):
You gotta evaluate.
Dr. Amber Valentino (47:17):
You just evaluate it, and usually you know pretty quickly. You can do some schedule purging, if you will, if you do that regularly.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (47:26):
I love that.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (47:28):
I think a lot of people feel like, “I can't get anything done because I have all these meetings.” I often view that as, “Then you're doing the wrong things in your meetings.” If you have a really good meeting, everybody knows why they're there, they arrive ready to do some doing, then you do all the doing and then you're done. What's better than that? You do have to think about, “Do I have the right people for what we're gonna accomplish?” Most of the update communication functions of meetings, people take a little bit too long to do it. Unless the update is, “Let me show you something and get feedback so that I can take it away and change it”, you just need to say, “Got it done, still working on it, update you next time”, and then use your time together to interact and have ideas that you wouldn’t have apart. I think that comes right back to this notion for any kind of meeting, but definitely supervision meetings. The supervision meeting should be used to answer questions and to explore things that you wouldn't be able to explore apart or that the supervisee would not have on their own. You only get so much time. Even as you said, Amber, being a good meeting leader and listening. A lot of times people come to supervision and they're telling you a story, or you can tell something's bugging them, but they haven't yet formulated. They can't tell you in 30 seconds flat. When you see that, as a supervisor, you have to not get frustrated, because here's a data point. They don't know how to concisely formulate a meaningful question that will get them what they need. Teach them that, right?
Dr. Tyra Sellers (49:36):
Yeah. You don't know what you don't know.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (49:37):
That's exactly right. You can listen and say, “I'm hearing you tell this story, and it sounds like there's a couple of things in there.” If I had been coming to supervision, maybe I would've asked a question like this and then model that for them and say, “Does that really get at what you wanted to know, or did I miss part of it?” We have meetings where we hold each other accountable for using each other's time wisely and as a supervisor or manager, and if someone's not using your time wisely, getting upset usually isn't gonna be helpful, just point out to them, “What if we did this instead?” Help them know how to use it, help them not make that mistake a second time, then you often end up feeling like meetings are the most enjoyable, productive times of your day, instead of the field of crap you got dragged through. [Laughing]
Dr. Tyra Sellers (50:40):
Dr. Amber Valentino (50:42):
I was just gonna tell a really funny story. You, Linda, are the expert at meetings and prior to coming to Trumpet, I just didn't have this history where there were agendas, and you were prepared. It just wasn't part of my professional history and experience. I remember you and I started meeting together to work on some research lab type stuff. I had volunteered to take over for somebody who was on maternity leave, and I showed up to the meeting and I had no agenda. You did some of what you just described. I don't remember exactly what you said to me, but something that prompted me to say, “Should I prepare for this meeting?” You said, “Well, golly. That's great idea.” [Laughing] It wasn't my idea, it was your idea that I should prepare for the meeting, but then that was it. I remember it just clicking. This was nine years ago, right? You shaped my behavior of preparing and using time wisely. That's just evolved now over the course of many years to not even be a question anymore.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (51:46):
Now, you too, are a master of meetings.
Dr. Amber Valentino (51:49):
I hope so. [Laughing]
Dr. Tyra Sellers (51:53):
I just have two quick things. One, it frustrates me when people send me a meeting invite and I don't really know the content of the meeting. A gentle prompt that I often use is I might email Amber back and say, “Thank you for scheduling that meeting, Amber. Can you give me the top two, three things that you want to talk about or accomplish? I want to make sure I'm prepared, and I can honor your time.” What I’m really saying is, “Dang, Amber, let me know what we're doing in this meeting.” [Laughing] The last thing is it's really, critically important at the end of the meeting that you recap, especially when you're the leader, for everybody. “Okay, here we covered this and this and this, and this is what Linda's gonna do. Cool, Linda, you got what you need. Amber, you're gonna do this. I'm gonna do these three things and we're gonna meet again on blah, blah, blah.” That recap is important.
Dr. Amber Valentino (52:45):
I love that. You guys both talked about supervision, and you probably are getting invited to speak at conferences about supervision. It's a very hot topic. We’ve published several papers, you now have published a book, and people want you to talk about this. I have a little part of a talk that I give where I mention that if you are a supervisor, you really need to be completely present for your supervisee and I talk about simple things like not responding to your email, not checking your phone message, which based on our conversation today seems so straightforward, right? It seems like, “Of course you wouldn't do that”, but every time I talk about that, everybody in the audience is nodding their head which suggest to me that there's a lot of people checking their emails and doing other things while they're meeting with a supervisee. To me, that's so basic. That is where you start is just that 100% focus. It just relates back to everything we're talking about, which is in order to be focused, you have to have good strategies in place and know that you don't have to use that time to check email or text or whatnot.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (53:46):
That's right, and you have to acknowledge that your subtle behavior speaks. Each one of those people nodding their heads, you're describing that their physical behavior was evoked by a feeling that from the description of, “Yeah, my supervisor emailed and did other things when I was present”, because it sent them a message. These other things are more important than you and your behavior speaks. You have to know what you're saying and make sure that you actually want to be saying that, or else quit it. Say something different with your behavior and focused, engaged attention, says a lot to the person that you're interacting with about their value to you.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (54:38):
Yeah. Say something kind and compassionate with your behavior.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (54:43):
Yeah. Well, I think that is just about our time today, but I feel like we could do this forever and it was so good to see you. Writing that series of articles for the special issue in behavior analysis and practice, it was really transformative. It's like we all had to put into words the lessons we'd learned, the places where we were still hoping to grow, even some errors that we'd not only seen, but also made ourselves. I remember every time we talked about the paper, it’s this pressure of we've gotta help people know to do this. There's such a negative impact if you don't follow that kind of general big ideas and recommended practices. Maybe sometime you could come back, and we could talk about group supervision in a different podcast.
Dr. Amber Valentino (55:52):
I’d love to. This was a lot of fun, and I really appreciate the invitation. It's an honor to be able to speak with you too and talk about something that's important to everybody.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (56:01):
Oh, thank you, Amber. Well I guess this wraps it up. So we will say goodbye to all of our listeners.
Speaker 3 (56:08):
Goodbye, everyone. See you again on The Lift.
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