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Productivity Champ Spotlight — Getting Focused with Alice Ferris

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We have written almost 1,000 articles on productivity since AE started, and one thing we have learned over the years is this: the people who take action and implement productivity strategies consistently are the people who succeed.

If you were to sit in on one of our planning meetings, this is something you will hear a lot: “How do we make this actionable?”, or “How can people implement this information?”

Thankfully, every day we hear from members of the AE community that are taking action, and we want to take the opportunity to celebrate those who are making progress towards their goals and are finding success (whatever that means to them).

There’s no better person to start our series of productivity champ highlights with than Alice Ferris, so let’s get started.

Introducing Alice Ferris

Alice Ferris

I am the founding partner of GoalBusters Consulting, which specializes in helping the small but mighty organizations in the nonprofit sector become more effective in fundraising, planning and leadership. We work with social service, education, healthcare and public media, and also with causes we believe in. More about our company philosophy is in the GoalBusters Manifesto, posted here: https://www.goalbusters.net/about-us.html.

As the founding partner, I handle new business development, administration and management of the company and our team of ten, oversight on all clients, and direct service for select clients. I’m also occasionally recognized for my on-air work with PBS for national pledge events such as Downton Abbey, Ken Burns: America’s Storyteller, and Suze Orman’s Financial Solutions for You. (Usually, it’s “why do you look so familiar?”)

Tell us a little bit about your productivity journey

I have always said yes to far too many things. In addition to running my company, I do a ton of volunteer work, including serving on international boards. When I first discovered Asian Efficiency in 2015, I was in a serious state of overwhelm. I was in a constant state of panic thinking that I had forgotten to do something, or that something was overdue, or that I had done something at such a last minute that it was below my standard of work.

In my head, I had a sense for things I needed to do to organize myself, but my approach was pretty haphazard. What I needed was a simple to do list, a checklist for me to gain control, even over just one thing.

The first thing I signed up for was the Morning Rituals Starter Kit. I was already trying to put some new self-care practices in place, but my application of the strategies was inconsistent. I figured, why not try this and see if a ritual sticks? The program was so easy to implement, and really made my mornings seem less hectic. I’ve revised my routine a little over the last few years, but ultimately, I still use the tools from this program every day.

From there, I continued to follow the blog, and the podcast when it started. I finally joined the Dojo because I really do use the tips and tools every day. I became a Dojo member because I wanted more practical lessons to keep refining my effectiveness.

What productivity strategies have led to the most success for you?

Two resources that have really helped are the Dojo courses How to Delegate Effectively and The Asian Efficiency Way to Implement the 12 Week Year. The delegation module was particularly useful.

As I went from being a sole practitioner in 2001, to adding my partner in 2005, to building the team out to 10 people, I had to be much more effective at releasing tasks in a way that would still have them done to GoalBusters standards. I really struggled with this, and I think that the Delegation course is part of the reason we’ve been able to grow as a company more rapidly in the last year.

“Definition of Done” was particularly transformational. It took me 17 years to hire an executive assistant, and I thank AE specifically for her!

In addition to applying things that I learn in the Dojo to my own efficiency, I also use the techniques with my clients and in the presentations I give throughout North America, and occasionally in other areas of the world. At first, I referenced AE more for the laugh, since I actually am Asian (i.e. “Of course Alice follows Asian Efficiency!”), but the tips really do work in the charitable sector, where people are almost always trying to do a lot with very little.

Concepts that have resonated with my colleagues in the nonprofit world include the overall model of the 12 Week Year, clearing to neutral, strategic imbalance and a regular ritual (morning or otherwise). Also, thanks to AE, I’m working on modifying Scrum to help manage a $54 million capital campaign. (It’s a work in progress!)

Are there any apps or tools that help you stay on top of everything? Are you an analog, digital, or hybrid person?

I’m mostly a digital person, since I travel a lot and need to have access to everything, although I do keep a physical journal. I rely on Evernote to keep my 12 Week Year plan up to date, Trello to track the backlog, and Sanebox to manage incoming emails. I’m also on Slack for my team, my clients, and AE!

Do you work in an office or at home?

I have a home based office, and frankly, am not in it much. I’m on travel 220+ days per year! I am working on having longer stretches when I am not on the road, so that I can actually get some work done, but it’s not quite there.

If you have one piece of productivity advice for someone who is struggling to make progress towards their goals, what would it be?

Conducting a personal retreat was a game changer for me. I modeled my retreat after what Mike described in the podcast. I had an unexpected open day on a client visit, so I took a full day in a hotel room for my retreat.

My main revelation was that the core values that I had written for myself didn’t really resonate with me; in reality, they were what I thought people should think my values were, not what they really are!

I took half a day to review them and ended up with new ones that do a much better job of speaking to me. It’s not that my values changed, I became better at articulating them.

Alice Ferris Core Values

My advice to people, which I just presented in Toronto at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Leadership Academy, is block out the time to work on your goals. Take a day and really focus on reflecting and refining who you want to be. The caveat? Don’t expect immediate success. It may take several iterations, like the fact that I had to redo my values statement, but eventually, it will feel right and become incredibly motivating.

What Does it Take to be A Productivity Champ?

Thanks so much for sharing Alice!

Alice is a great example of what we refer to in our community as a “productivity champ” — someone who had productivity struggles, recognized it, looked for solutions, and most importantly took action and continuously improves. Other examples of people who have succeeded are Lisa and Scott who we have written case studies about.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or distracted, you can overcome that and become a productivity champ too:

  • Review our TEA Framework, and become familiar with the 3 Pillars of Productivity.
  • Take our super-quick Productivity Quiz, which will give you actionable insight into where you should get started.
  • Pick one (only one!) action step and schedule it on your calendar to implement it.

If you think we should feature you as a productivity champ, get in touch and let us know!

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1 Comment

Posted by Alice  | November 27, 2018 at 9:46AM | Reply

Thanks for featuring me in your series, guys! I just presented on scrum at another conference, and it was a hit. I shouted out to AE, so I hope to see some of the attendees in the Dojo soon! 😊

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