So many people do productivity the wrong way. Part of that is because of issues with micromanagement – needing to be in control and not giving people the autonomy that they needed. International speaker, best-selling author and podcast host Penny Zenker tackles productivity and our tug of war with time. Penny shares the app she’s developed to help you think and act more strategically. She also talks about managing more effectively, growing faster, aligning your goals and your tasks, creating productive energy, and more.

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Productivity – Winning Our Tug Of War With Time with Penny Zenker



I’m with my good friend, Penny Zenker. Thank you so much for joining me.

Thanks for having me.

We’ve had a couple of organizationally-focused how-to women and I love that. Between Juliet Clark and Jennifer Ford Berry, we’re tackling the how-to side of things. That’s something you and I have in common and I totally love that about us. We have that mind share.

I love it when I talked to you. I know that stuff’s going to get done.

I think that is a really unique characteristic with most of the women that I have as podcast hosts here that there a lot of get stuff done women. They got lots of how-to, lots of know-how, lots of tools and systems. You’ve got some really cool things. Let’s set everybody up so they get to know you a little better because I know you really well. You are an international speaker, you’re a bestselling author. You’ve got Tug of War With Time as your website. You’ve got really cool tips and lots of stuff on there. Take Back Time is your podcast and I love that title. I had a little to do with naming that with you. I love it because it really is exactly what we all want. We just want some time in the day.

We want to take back time for the things that are important to us and that fits our theme on #BalanceforBetter and #LifeInHarmony. You’ve done some really cool new things. You’ve got your P10 Productivity. You’ve got the book, The Productivity Zone, which is a great book. If you haven’t all read it out there, I have written an article about Penny and the book and her system. You’ve got an app. There are people out there that love to develop an app and you’re working on one. There’s just so much to talk about. Let’s go for it. This is really interesting. I had not realized that it was before you were 31 that you sold your first multimillion-dollar business. I knew that you were really successful, but I had no understanding that it was that young. How did that happen?

It's really not balance that we're seeking because it's not attainable; we're seeking meaning and fulfillment. Click To Tweet

It’s funny you’re talking about all these tips and tricks and everything through productivity. It’s from all the heartache that I went through in those early years. I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had a lot of issues with micromanagement, needing to be in control and not giving people the autonomy that they needed in order to be more productive. I learned so many things so early on as many people do, from doing it the wrong way. I love to help people to learn from best practices and not have to go through all the heartache in getting there.

I have a whole podcast on that, Product Launch Hazzards. We save people from all the hazards of product launching. It’s the same thing. As my husband always puts it, I resemble that remark. That I might’ve been a micromanagement freak in my first business and it might’ve taught me how not to do things.

We’re getting-things-done kind of people. We’d like to see things moving forward. There are really good things with that, but there are also some challenges that come along with that, that we get to put it into perspective and to reflect upon. That’s why I call it the Productivity Curve. Where does it start to cost us? We actually tip out of the zone and into what I call over functioning or perfectionism.

We were just talking about perfectionism with Dr. Marissa Pei, who I know you know. That is such an evil. It’s one of those things where we don’t see that line or that zone and you’ve put that into an analysis. Is that what your app is about?

My app is about what I learned in those early years in running my own business and selling it, how to manage more effectively and how to grow faster. It’s all about reflection. For me, I have a different twist around time management. I’m not really the organization gal. You could tell if you looked at my desk. It’s really thinking and acting more strategically. My secret sauce is that I step back frequently and I look at the big picture. Whenever I’m even close to getting stuck or find myself spinning my wheels too long, I step back frequently.

My app and my process which I didn’t even realize that that’s what it is but now I get it better. The more you talk about it, people bring it out in you to say, “That is my thought process.” I cover the ten accelerators. I used to call them drivers, but now I call them accelerators. They are accelerators of success and so productivity is just a byproduct. It enables us to step back and see aspects of our mindset and where are we showing up and how are we showing up? Where are we in our aspects and accelerators of strategy and what about sustainability? They are in these three sections, but it gives us a step back to see it more holistically than drilling down into any one particular thing. What if we step back and look at the big picture? What’s the one thing out of those ten accelerators that’s slowing us down?

Productivity: We’ve got to be very clear about what it is that we want to achieve.


You’re speaking to right where I’ve been lately. I tend to have a big visual view of where we’re going and what we’re doing at all times in our business and in our lives and our goals. Sometimes you don’t take that step back on a daily basis and reflect and say, “Is this decision I’m about to make in service of that vision or am I just making a quick fast decision and I’m just going with it?” We’ve been doing that a lot lately and it got us really refocused on making sure that we were getting our book and our microphone. Really getting those going because they were essential to helping me have the impact that I wanted to have and our business to have the impact we wanted it to have. That was in direct lines with our bottom-line goals as well. Not sitting back and reflecting, not making time for that was going to hurt our ability to do that. Little choices you make during the day have a big impact later.

What happens is that your goal is going in this direction, but the tasks and the things you’re doing on a daily basis are diverging. It’s bringing those into alignment on a regular basis. I didn’t do that for a long time and then I created a method that I work with that really supports me every day to reflect if I am focused on the most important things. I was taking a bunch of actions and then I realized this isn’t my primary focus. I need to shift where I’m putting my energy because there’s only so much time and energy that we have. We’ve got to really be clear of what it is that we want to achieve.

Our theme now is #BalanceforBetter and #LifeInHarmony. A lot of what you’re doing has an implication to that because if you’re putting your time and energy into the things that matter the most and the things you love and the things you want to be spending time and the things you’re brilliant in, then you are already living in balance and harmony.

The whole concept of balance, I think it’s something that people are seeking. It’s something that is almost unattainable.

You and I are in the same wavelength. That’s exactly what I say. I actually called balance BS on stage once and didn’t realize it just went right out of my mouth. It’s because it’s not the goal. I’ve used this analogy already but standing on one foot and holding a balance pose in yoga may be beautiful, but you cannot sustain that forever.

It’s like a plane that goes to one destination. It’s almost never on course. It’s constantly re-correcting. I was having this discussion with someone and I said, “It’s really not balanced that we’re seeking because it’s not attainable, what we’re seeking is meaning and fulfillment.” That goes back to where are you spending your time and energy and is it fulfilling? Where we feel that we’re not balanced is when we’re not being fulfilled, because as an entrepreneur, we might be fully balanced working more hours than other people work because we love doing it. The question is, “Are you feeling fulfilled? Is there enough in other areas of your life? Are you taking care of your health or are you working at a cost to your health? When does that become a problem?” We go in sprints. It doesn’t balance. I say, “Stop it right now.”

The most important thing that we really need to look at in every area of our life is what not to do. Click To Tweet

Stop thinking that way because it’s not necessary. That’s also this comparison that we have, it should be exactly like this at this point in my life as it is twenty years later. That’s not the case either. It’s totally at different points in my life and totally different from you to I. We don’t have that. Those comparisons aren’t necessary for us to understand balance or harmony as we’re putting it here. Let’s talk a little bit about what people can find in your podcast. I love that you have some small things that people can get from your podcasts. It’s something I could apply. You once did this live stream that I absolutely love and I’ve shared it a dozen times, where you’re like, “Take back your morning.” It was like, “Take back your whole morning routine and get off your phones and email in the morning because now you’re in somebody else’s time.” I was like, “I’d heard that before but I’d never heard it put that way before.” I was like, “That truly is taking back time for yourself.”

Everybody talks about you win the day when you win your morning routine. They always talk about what to do. I think the most important thing that we really need to look at in every area of our life is what not to do. One thing that you didn’t mention that I think everybody needs to consider is the negativity of the news. If you’re a newsperson, that’s great but just don’t make that the first thing that you consume in the morning because it’s negativity. There’s aggression and it’s not a great thing to fill yourself up with in the morning. Give yourself a break and do it later like at 9:00 or do it at 12:00 and give yourself some time and do not listen to it before you go to bed.

We so often are like, “We’re supposed to live in the positive,” but I agree with you. I think there are a lot of things that we learn over time that we just need to avoid. Take some advice from someone who’s been there before. This is a big old land mine.

The thing is that we’re human. We’re impulsive. Why do we gawk when there’s an accident? Everybody rub their necks and everything stops. It’s not like we want to see something terrible that’s happened, but it’s human nature. We’re impulsive. When we know that, then we better to be clear on what our don’ts are. I did a little Resilience Workbook in my Accelerate series. I talked about “I don’t.” If you’re a vegetarian for instance, you know what you stand for. There’s some clear, “I don’t.” “I don’t eat meat.” It is a choice. It’s something that you don’t do. If we can put some really positive don’ts into our life, then that’s going to help us to take back our time and avoid distractions and impulsiveness and really be in alignment with our values and what we stand for. Unfortunately, we have to put those things intentionally and purposefully into place or else we get sucked into all directions.

You just talk about time management. You talk about energy management as well. I think that really is an interesting distinction because it’s not just about how much time. If it’s not the energy I want to be in at this time, then that’s not good either. Tell me some more about how that connection comes about for you.

I call it Take Back Time. We know that it’s a fixed concept, but it’s what people think they want. It really is all about our energy. In that discussion that we were just having about the, “I don’ts,” that’s where do we put our energy. I believe that energy is everything. We either are creating productive energy that puts us in the zone or it’s unproductive energy. For instance, we were talking about getting stuff done. Sometimes where I got caught up in the past was that I like to get stuff done. When I’m looking at my to-do list at the end of the day, I’d be a little disappointed in deflated because I didn’t do enough.

Productivity: Energy is everything. We are either creating productive energy that puts us in the zone or unproductive energy that puts us out.


I actually got a new to-do list. It’s really short because I usually have this big long one. This only has many so spaces because I was like, “That’s it. That’s my priorities. Those are the only ones that I’m going to care about. I’m going to make sure it gets done.” I stopped looking at the bigger list. There are pages behind it because I wanted to make sure that I note some things that I remembered to do, but they’re hidden behind the other pages.

It changes your energy. When you look at the big list, you get overwhelmed. Warren Buffett talked about having two lists. He’s got his big list and then he’s got the smaller critical list. I have a little 30-day planner. The pages in there help you to do what I call the one-three-five which are nine things are on your to-do list every day. You can have the bigger to-do list that you’ll go back to after you do those nine things, but it’s one thing that moves you forward towards something really long-term strategic. Maybe it’s your legacy move, your thing that really energizes you. You wouldn’t even do those things if you focused on everything that had to be done.

Three things that are mid-term or short-term milestones that are also aligned with your goals and then five things that are urgent because it’s unrealistic to say the one thing. It’s a nice life you’ve got if you can focus on one thing. It’s not reality. Nine things, you can really feel satisfied at the end of the day. I shifted my whole energy and my transition into my home life by recognizing and celebrating the things that I did do and know that I did the nine most important and urgent things that needed to be done and if anything else got done, great. Actually, we don’t do that enough. As a go-go-go person, I don’t take the time to reflect and celebrate what I did do, what wins I had and do that daily reflection. I created this daily planning and reflection model so that every day I’ve got one page that’s all it is to go back to and do that summary. I encourage people to do that. I give the sheet away for free. If people like to have a book, there’s a book on Amazon that they can pick up that has 30 days and to do it for 30 days and see the difference that it makes.

I’m going to have to do that because I always take good advice from people like Penny because I know how productive she is, I know what she accomplishes. One of your big accomplishments was your TED Talk. How has that gone for you? How did you prepare for that and get ready and put that in the scope of priorities for you?

It’s one of those things that was in the long-term goal at the time. I do a vision board and it was on my vision board that I just love that platform. I think that it’s what it stands for and the quality of the messaging that comes from that platform. I said, “That’s something that I want to be a part of.” I put it on the radar and then I kept taking a look and I saw some that were theme-wise is going to work with what I talk about and I applied. That’s the process for TEDx is that you apply for it and if you’re a good fit and you do a presentation for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional speaker because they actually have all different types of students and people from different backgrounds and they put you with a coach, which was really fun. The thing that was interesting for me and probably most scary is you had to memorize it. That panicked me more than anything.

I’ve done theater. I should be able to memorize but I feel like the older I get, the harder that is to memorize stuff.

We're human and we're impulsive. We better be clear on what our don'ts are. Click To Tweet

It’s harder to come from the heart when you memorize it. The reason that I like to have a guideline is that then I can really let it flow wherever your heart feels like it wants to go and the words that it wants to use, but it was good. It was a really good process and I think it’s like anything. We’re talking about energy. It’s the energy that you come into it with that I was excited to do it in a different way and to learn and to work with these coaches. There were some amazing people and amazing stories that were part of it. Since then, I love when I hear from people, “They’re hiring me for a speaking engagement for their organization.” I say, “Where did you find out about me, did you find me on a platform? They’d say, “We saw your TED Talk and we really liked it and really wanted you to come and bring that message to our team.”

Speaking of that because it’s International Women’s Day, that’s one of the things that I’ve been very impressed with the TEDx programs and everything is that they really do highlight great women and men. It’s well-balanced there at how they’re doing that. I think that’s really important to make sure that women’s voices are heard. That’s part of why we were highlighting you guys because we want all of our wonderful women podcasters to have their shows found because there’s a lot of brilliance going on. There are a lot of day-to-day things that you were helping with. There are a lot of big-picture things and big business things. Many of us especially women in leadership positions in our company, whether we’re CEOs, we’re running our own firms or whatever, it’s very lonely.

Especially because we can’t really talk to our male counterparts because they have different challenges. I think you might agree with this that we feel as women that we might be being put on the spotlight. Because of women if we’re direct, then we’re bitchy. We’re not.

I understand exactly what you mean there. For me, that’s even harder because it’s a family business. If I’m having doubts or questioning things, it shakes the foundation when I really just need to have someone to explore with and talk with. That’s why getting to know and having some other voices in my head going, “I know exactly the person I can reach out. I can reach out to Penny or I can reach out to Juliet or Dr. Pei.” There are all these women in my life that I can reach out and they’ll get it. They’re not going to judge because they know that we all have these doubts and we all have these thoughts going through and we all need to explore them because our style is to talk things through.

That is not what men are used to.

Some men, mine’s good at it but some men are not. You’re right. Is there anything else you want to leave our audience with? Anything about women in your life and other things that you just like to leave us with.

Productivity: Be intentional about shifting from when you’re working and when you leave the office so that you can be fully present wherever you’re going to next.


I would like to thank my mother as the most significant woman in my life who has really instilled all of my work ethic and my integrity. I know she’s not listening, but I’ll make her listen to this and let her know how much I love and appreciate her. Definitely a recognition for my mom and all the challenges. Me being a mom now, I’ve never appreciated my mother more and knowing how challenging it can be at times. The sacrifices we make and all the things that we’re trying to juggle.

You have two teenagers. We’ve discovered already that teenagers are much more challenging than infants and toddlers. We don’t realize that until we get to the teenhoods. That’s when we appreciate our moms the most. I think that exactly happened to me. That was the moment I called up my mother and said, “I’m so sorry, mom. I’m sorry I was a terrible teenager.”

I was terrible too. I expect every piece of payback that I’m getting. As the last thing to have people thinks about is balance and harmony. One of the most important things I believe is transitioning and that we don’t put enough intention and it’s something I’m working on all the time because it’s easy to slip back into just being automatic. It’s being intentional about shifting from when you’re working, especially I work from home a good part of the time. When I leave my office door, then I’m really leaving the office. The more intentional that we can be about our transitions or after a meeting or going into a meeting, that we take just five minutes to dump what’s in our heads so that we can be fully present wherever we’re going to next.

Take a centering breath to ground ourselves and really be present, especially if it was any kind of a conflict or heavier situation. Because we can do this, we compartmentalize all the time. We just need to be intentional and really purposeful about it. I can say the transitions have been huge, especially in the most stressful times of my life. I believe it has served me huge by really being intentional with those, screaming out loud, singing because that actually has a really a stress-relieving effect. Whatever it is for you to really find that few minutes transition between different times of the day.

That’s such a great advice. Everyone out there, this is why I brought you Penny Zenker because always moments of brilliance, I’m like, “I’ve got to make a note of that.” Thank you so much. Take Back Time is available anywhere in Spotify, iHeart. You’re all over the place. Tug of War With Time is the website and you can all find all Penny’s books. All of her workbooks link to the app I’m assuming from there as well. All of that can come through there. Please seek her out because this woman is absolutely brilliant. I’m so pleased to be celebrating International Women’s Day with you, Penny. Thank you.

Thanks, Tracy. You are awesome. I don’t know if anybody’s told you that. I really appreciate you. Thanks for doing this for everybody who’s online.

You’re very welcome.

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About Penny Zenker

Penny’s high-energy and interactive presentations inspire and challenge you to think differently and inspire you to be your best and forget the rest.

Penny Zenker is an international speaker, business strategy coach and bestselling author of The Productivity Zone: Stop the Tug of War with Time. As a master NLP practitioner and neuro-strategist, she integrates the elements of thought, communication, and behavior to provide strategies for positive changes and maximizing results.

Penny’s expertise focuses on strategic thinking, leadership, communication, and productivity. She has coached hundreds of successful business leaders and entrepreneurs in leadership roles, relationships, and building culture.

She is skilled at helping individuals and organizations on:

  • Increasing Sales: Strategies to effectively manage demanding customers, sell more and faster in a competitive market
  • Boosting Productivity: Focus on greater self-awareness in the moment slows time and improve your productivity. She has created the P10 Productivity Accelerator program.
  • Reducing Stress: Methods to work smart and achieve more.
  • Improving Communication: Skills for managing difficult people and situations to make organizations function more effectively.
  • Enhancing Leadership: Perspectives to drive effective leadership in every aspect of business. Understanding the critical elements that deliver superior results in every leadership area

Penny’s experience and accomplishments include:

  • Being selected as a featured TEDx presenter
  • Supporting Women Veterans as President of the Board of Heart of a Fighter
  • Coaching for Tony Robbins’ Business Breakthroughs.
  • Building  and selling a multi-million dollar technology business
  • Leading a major division for GfK Switzerland
  • Leading two major corporate merger and acquisitions

Penny earned a BS in Accounting and Finance from Drexel University and attended University College London. Her professional training in coaching methodologies is from the International Coach Academy (CPC), Anthony Robins Leadership, Steve Linder-NLP and Jack Canfield-Success Principles. She is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and A Master NLP practitioner and Neurostrategist.


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