Episode 3: Helen Moulinos

Managing your tasks effectively

Helen Moulinos is the Chief Executive of POhWER, bringing a creative, empathetic & commercial approach to the role. Previously, Helen has held senior positions in the charity and private sectors, and has worked in organisations such as Marie Curie, Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society. As a survivor of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Helen lives with PTSD and hearing impairment, as well as thriving whilst managing lifelong dyslexia and depression.

Manage your time and tasks effectively by adapting concepts from Eat That Frog, by Brian Tracy – great if you’re a procrastinator!

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Table of Contents

(00:00) Podcast introduction – Not Another Book Review

Rhiannon Gibbs:

Hello, and welcome to this third edition of Not Another Book Review, the podcast where our guests will share concepts or ideas they have read about in books and their experiences of applying those concepts in real life. Much like our approach to consultancy, theory is all well and good, but it’s the application that matters.

 

(00:17) Guest introduction – Helen Moulinos

Rhiannon Gibbs:

Today, I’m joined by Helen Moulinos, Chief Executive of POhWER, a charity that provides advocacy, advice and support for people who find it hard to express their views or get the support they need, human rights and entitlements. Helen, thank you so much for joining us.

Helen Moulinos:

Rhiannon, thank you for having me.

 

(00:36) – Eat that frog: doing the toughest task at the start of the day

Rhiannon Gibbs:

So, you’ve chosen to talk to us about the concept, ‘eat that frog’ outlined in a book by the same name by Brian Tracy. And for those of you who may not be familiar with the term ‘eat that frog’, as Helen and I were both completely oblivious to it before we read the book, was originally coined by Mark Twain, who said, ‘eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day’. There is some debate about whether he actually said that or not, but that’s the myth of where it comes from. And in the book, Brian Tracy uses it as a metaphor for effective time management. So Helen, tell us a little bit more about the concept and why it appeals to you.

Helen Moulinos:

Sure. I must admit, it’s a phrase I had never heard of until I read this book. I don’t know anyone who uses that phrase either in personal or professional life. The book was recommended to me, and I must admit, it’s a book I hate to love and love to hate. There are parts of it that really appealed to me and others that don’t; I think the concept of eat that frog to a night owl like myself, is quite a foreign one. In some ways, the book is very much written for morning people and morning larks who can get up and get going and do these amazing things between, I don’t know, seven to 10:00 AM in the morning. I’m somebody who does my best work probably after 11:00 AM. Probably in some ways, although I like the concepts of the book, I’ve had to adapt them quite a bit. So, I tend to eat that frog and do the hardest thing of the day, probably between three and six. But actually, there’s a lot of things about the book that I do and have adapted in my sort of management practice. And other things that, you know, I haven’t adapted because they haven’t really resonated with me.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

The best approaches are always the ones that can be adapted to suit our needs. Very rarely we can lift things straight out of books.

 

(02:40) 80/20 rule

Rhiannon Gibbs:

So, we talked a little bit when we were preparing for this about the 80/20 rule that he talks about in the book. Tell us a little bit more about your experience of applying that particular principle.

Helen Moulinos:

Yeah, so really this is about 20% of your activities accounting for 80% of your results. So this is picking and choosing being involved in the right things to get the desired impact. I think the 80/20 rule naturally sits with me. In my role as a Chief Exec, my time is quite finite. So, I have to really pick and choose what I’m involved with. Sometimes this does go awry, and my own colleagues will tell you, I can sometimes get involved in things that are far too operational. So that’s always a good reminder for me, you know, to kind of have that 80/20 rule involved.

 

(03:33) Setting the table: setting out your tasks

Rhiannon Gibbs:

So many of the concepts in the book are, I suppose, what we would consider very common sense. He applies phrases to it, like ‘set the table’; write out your goals and objectives in advance and plan out the day in advance. So, some of it is incredibly simplistic, but I know we’ve all had, you know, clangers when it comes to doing those things in the past. You write down your plan for the day and it goes completely to pot. Have you got any tips for people who might set out with all best intentions to do those things, but have new things that crop up every day?

Helen Moulinos:

Sure. I think ‘setting the table’ has been sort of a lifelong process that I’ve been toying around with. So, in my personal life, I have this routine every year of the purchase of the annual planner and I’m a big lover of a hard back, physical planner that I can write in. And when I think about that planner and buying that planner every year, I always set a number of personal goals for myself. And I write them down, I tape them into the back of the book, and I even sort of check in with myself every few months to see how I’m doing against that. On a professional basis, because my past is very much as a Change Management Strategy professional, forward planning comes very naturally to me.

I think what’s changed over the years is, as a Chief Exec, I don’t really have the time to write really lengthy project plans and work out all the steps to my goal. The concept of ‘setting the table’ maybe looks a little bit different in my working life now. As we’re talking, I’m just looking at the board in my office and in my office, I have this giant magnetic board. And I have these magnets that only fit one sentence per magnet. And what I do now is I’ve got almost, what’s known as a Kanban board for anybody who’s listening to this, and I’ve got ‘to do’, ‘doing’, ‘awaiting review’, and ‘done’. And one of the things I love doing is writing my to-do list out on these magnets, because it’s this large board – I have to face it every single day, so I can’t be on the phone without looking at this board. I can’t walk into my office without looking at this board, and I can’t walk out of the office without walking past it. You can imagine that the physical activity of moving my to-do list from ‘to do’, ‘doing’, ‘awaiting review’ and ‘done’ is a physical task that actually helps me to ‘set the table’ every week.

I quite like coming in early in the morning and then ‘setting that table’ for the day and saying, which of these things can I tackle? Which of these goals are short term? Which are them are longer term? The other thing I have with these magnets, which will make you laugh, and this is maybe sort of how I’ve adapted it is, I don’t just have magnets with the tasks. I have emoticon magnets to actually go next to the tasks, which describe how I’m feeling about that.

If we think about Eat That Frog, the tasks that I hate the most have really grim faces next to them and that actually helps me to organise my day. So, I tried to do a couple of tasks that feel good, come naturally, and other tasks which are more grim and unpleasant for me. I do try to eat that frog every time I sort of hit that board and sort of set that table. And those magnets move around depending on the week, the day and what else is happening in the charity.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

That is absolutely fantastic. I have organisational envy now. I have something very similar, but it’s on an electronic Kanban board and I have the days of the week across the top and then I can drag tasks and then I color code them by what type of activity it is. Green being the most important, the client things and then sales and marketing and then internal stuff.

Helen Moulinos:

That’s even more organised. Yeah, that’s amazing.

 

(07:23) – Eating the ugliest frog first: tackling multiple priorities

Rhiannon Gibbs:

I liked your emoticons. That would be really good. And the order is supposed to be the order I do them in, much like eat that frog and we have a daily priority at Ad Esse. Everybody sets their daily priority – the one thing you have to do above everything else. You might be with a client all day, but actually you have to call this one person back, or you have to do this one task. That’s how we try and tackle it, but there’s another concept in the book, isn’t there, about if there are more than one frogs or more than one priority that you have to do in a day. You have to eat the, the analogy sort of fades a bit after a while, you have to eat the biggest, ugliest frog first – the biggest, hardest job. Do you find that possible?

Helen Moulinos:

No. And I think the reason why, is because sometimes the ugly frogs need a bit of reflection time. And so that is one of the things in the book that I is very counter-intuitive to me, because I think I like to reflect on the ugly frog and actually say, what is it? What am I trying to actually achieve here? And why am I eating this frog? And am I the right person to eat this frog? And do I have the right skills and experience? And do I know everything before? So, you know, I tend to be a bit of an overthinker sometimes. Now some people might say that’s procrastination, but I don’t know. I don’t know that it is procrastination. I think it’s about being very thoughtful about how one does things. So maybe some of the bits of the book that are like really intuitive and just go get them. I just think, leaping into things is not always the best way forwards. So I think that’s part of the book that I disagree with.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

And that’s probably where that approach aligns with your night owl style, because the book is very much, as you say, geared towards morning people and you get in and you do that, you eat that big ugly frog first thing in the morning. And it doesn’t work if you’re a night owl, but somebody that likes to reflect and plan and be very considered about the big ugly frog you’re going to eat, you would tackle that last thing at night, potentially before you sign off for the day.

Helen Moulinos:

Yes, I also think that Brian Tracy who writes the book was a salesman by profession, and that’s where he gets a lot of the ideas as he studies really effective salespeople. And I think that’s another part of the book that’s a little bit flawed. If you have jobs like you have Rhiannon, or I have, you know, we’re expected to multitask at a very high level. And one of the challenges I think I have with this book is if you’re very single stranded, it’s very possible. You know, he talks about concepts like create large chunk of times where you can concentrate for extended period on these important tasks. Well, the real world doesn’t work that way, whether it’s our professional or personal lives, we’re constantly interrupted. And probably half of what goes on is unplanned and unforeseen. The book doesn’t really give you a guideline for how to deal with the unexpected. And there is so much unexpected in our lives. That’s the bit I couldn’t relate to because I thought, well, I try to create large chunks of time, but I’m interrupted just by, you know, the very fact that there’s this thing called of the world and the universe, you know, which I can’t control.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

Absolutely. And I suppose that’s where using a technique, like a Kanban board with the concepts in the book makes it more manageable. Because yes, you might intend to do these three tasks in a day and here’s the chunks of time I have, but as the Chief Executive, your diary can change with very minimal notice. Things come in and need your attention. And that allows you then to, in your case, and I to say very envious, physically move that item over to the next day. So you don’t lose sight of those things that are important, but it is adapting the techniques that they talk about. But with one eye on the fact that we live in the real world, and you know, you’re not making sales calls.

 

(11:22) Navigating people’s views on your priorities

Helen Moulinos:

One of the concepts that Brian Tracy talks about is developing a sense of urgency around your priority tasks. And sometimes in a role like the one I have, people have different views about what your priorities are. So that might be your colleagues, the staff, volunteers, the beneficiaries, or the charity, stakeholders in the public domain, your trustees, everyone has an opinion about what your urgent tasks are and what priorities are. So sometimes navigating around that is really tricky. That’s quite interesting as well. When I think about the developing a sense of urgency.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

Any tips for doing that? I know there’ll be a lot of people listening that will really resonate with. How do you manage that?

Helen Moulinos:

I’m not sure I manage it very well. I think it’s something I’m always working on and always developing. I think a very busy diary means that there’s not a lot of choices about my time. I think what I try to do is sort of empower and trust, you know, people who work for me. I have this view about what a charity looks like in reality. And I have this take on POhWER, which is that it’s a bit like an orchestra. I’m the conductor, there are tuba players, there are violinists, there are percussionists, and so on. And what keeps us together as a common goal. You know, it’s that sheet music; we’re all paying the same piece, just different parts of it. And we all bring different skills and experience to it. So again, with that conductor analogy, I don’t know everything. I don’t have the right skills for everything. There are lots of people who will be specialists.

So, I think really managing priorities is about getting the right group of people in the room, and empowering people to be able to take the lead. So, I’m a big believer in nonhierarchical leadership and sort of, empowering people again around a common set of rules and guidelines to be able to fulfill what the charity does.

I think the other thing is also, you know, we have 423 staff, about 115 volunteers. I can’t be in all places at once. So having a very good management team that works alongside me is important. They have their own sort of specialties as well. But yeah, so I don’t think I have any great wisdom about it really.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

I think that delegation where appropriate is a good tip. It cropped up in one of the other book reviews we did actually. And it’s one of those concepts that I understand and yet it’s hard not to get sucked into it sometimes. I have excellent marketing people at Ad Esse, and I need to just let them get on with it. And yet I find it quite interesting, so I get sucked in. So, I realise that a lot of their time sometimes is spent managing me, as opposed to letting them get on with it.

Helen Moulinos:

Same. And I think also, it’s sometimes hard. I was talking with one of my colleagues the other day and we’re working on a particular piece of film content. And sometimes it’s really hard to articulate to somebody what you have in your head and expect that they’re just not like superheroes who can read your mind and scan your mind. So yeah, I think finding that right balance of being involved, setting the scene for what you’re looking for without taking over is often hard as leaders.

 

(14:52) – Enablers & constraints for staying productive

Rhiannon Gibbs:

One last question from me, the book in the later stages talks about enablers and constraints. It says, identify constraints. Then it talks about technology as being either a liability, I mean it eats your time or can be something that can enable you. Have you found there are any main constraints that reading the book has made you become aware of that you can manage, or any particular enablers? I mean, you and I were both visual management people. So obviously your board is a big enabler for you to remain productive and to follow the concepts in Eat That Frog. Any thoughts on that?

Helen Moulinos:

This year, the pandemic has been really interesting. I’ve probably been able to get to know more colleagues, more stakeholders under lockdown than I would have if I was traditionally just sitting on a train and traveling up and down the country. In a lot of ways, you know, video conferencing has been this really powerful enabler. And also, if we think about sort of the digital world, and the rise of what I would call the armchair activists here in Britain, how many people can you mobilize and empower around the country to be able to, again, amplify the work of the charity. So, it’s the fastest way to give people information, the fastest way for people to sign a petition, or get involved in a campaign or actually express their voices about what’s going well or what isn’t going well.

So, technology has been incredible for that, the amount of miles and people we can cover. And also in terms of advocacy services, some of our advocacy services have been virtual during the pandemic and although it’s not possible to deliver advocacy in all situations, virtually, that’s been really powerful. Our ability to grow our reach, we reached over 420,000 people last year between our health hubs and also one-to-one advocacy. That’s huge for a charity like ours.

The downside of technology is this idea, I think one of the personal constraints that I will often struggle with, and this is a wellbeing constraint, is this idea of being always on. So, I find one of the bad habits I’ve developed is like checking my email when I’m off on a day off or cause it’s so easy to do. You don’t have to go to a physical computer, like you would have 10 years ago; you’re in this world of office 365, Microsoft, you can just check your email at any point. So you could dive back into work quite easily. I think that that’s a real downside of technology and a real constraint on a personal and professional level. I also think we’ve had the rise of the troll as well through technology. The fact that anyone can write to anyone and just say anything I find is really worrying, particularly when a lot of the trolling that we see online wouldn’t occur in the real world. Like in a lot of those situations, would somebody just walk up to someone and insult them that way or harass them in that way. So yeah, I see sort of upsides and downsides. I’m a great lover of technology, but also can see how maybe we have lost our way in terms of the quality of human relationships, and it has been diluted. And I think we have to acknowledge that as well, that there are trade-offs.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

Fantastic. Thank you. And, last thing I promise, finish the sentence for me. You should apply the concepts from Eat That Frog if…

Helen Moulinos:

[Laughs] If you’re a procrastinator

Rhiannon Gibbs:

[Laughs] I love it. That’s brilliant. Helen, thank you so much. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish?

Helen Moulinos:

No, that’s great. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about Eat That Frog. I’ve had a great time. Thanks Rhiannon.

Rhiannon Gibbs:

Thank you. And for anybody who’s listening, Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy is available from good bookshops.