Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorKevin McAllisterNoneWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
People

Google’s productivity guru has some advice for you

Here's how Laura Mae Martin helps Google's top execs work smarter.

Google’s productivity guru has some advice for you

Laura Mae Martin, Google's executive productivity adviser, works one-on-one with the company's top brass.

Image: Google

If productivity were a product at Google, then Laura Mae Martin would be its product manager.

She's Google's executive productivity adviser, a job she created following a successful 20% project about managing inboxes that she debuted while working in keyword sales. As the company's top expert on productivity, her remit seems simple enough: Make Googlers more efficient in their day-to-day work lives. But in practice, that means working directly with the top executives of a trillion-dollar company to make some of tech's most sought-after talent better at what they do.

For Martin, cooking up ways to phase out inefficiencies didn't begin at the tech giant, but in her childhood kitchen. While making cupcakes with her sister she realized that rather than frosting and adding sprinkles to each cupcake one-by-one, a frost-first, sprinkle-second method saved time. Martin now advocates for similar concepts at Google — even if the processes have more to do with Python than pastries these days.

While Google's executive team has been taking advantage of some of Google's best tips and tricks internally for years, the company recently made a lot of them public. Just a couple of months ago, in October, Google transitioned G Suite into Google Workspace, and in the process rolled out many of the tried-and-true hacks to its over 2 billion users.

While the revamp may have caused you to mistake Calendar for Drive this fall, Google sees the criticism of its homogenous icons as a feature, not a bug. Each Workspace app is still distinct in its purpose, it argues, but a focus on integration means each one can now do a little bit of what the others do too.

We spoke to Martin to find out how she helps Google's execs boost their productivity and how to make best use of some of Workspace's feature integrations. Here are some of the highlights.

Read nine of Martin's favorite productivity tricks here.

Know who you are

Martin's approach starts with a diagnosis. There's a spectrum Martin sees among the people she works with: On one side are the executives who need to approach productivity with a different mindset altogether to reclaim large stretches of time, and on the other are the executives who need to fine-tune their use of products and repurpose shorter chunks of time. She likens it to finding ways to eat better.

"You pick up a book about healthy eating, and you want to hear all the things about why you should eat that way or what's healthy about fruits and vegetables," she said. "But you also want the recipes. You need both."

In Google's case, that journey to a healthy work diet begins with a questionnaire Martin prepares for any of her one-on-one meetings with the company's C-suite. Martin says in her years of working with executives, she's developed archetypes of executives at the company that serve as frameworks for how she begins coaching. For global executives, for example, she needs to find time in the middle of the day, since international calls consume mornings and nights. When working with senior engineers, she often needs to look for tips that will keep them in a single product to limit the time spent switching back and forth and breaking their concentration.

"I have a couple of profiles of types of executives, and nobody fits perfectly, but it helps me guide through what my tips or thoughts would be," Martin said. "Some people prefer in-person communication, some people really need downtime or really need an agenda. I've seen enough of those profiles that I can now guide my advice instead of saying this is what works because it works for me."

Learn how you work

In a recent session with an executive who was overseeing product reviews that were eating up his days, with hour-long demos and subsequent time for feedback, she saw someone who needed more time back than product hacks alone could offer.

"We took the radical approach, saying, 'Let's just shave 30 minutes off those meetings,'" she said. "What if we cut that in half and challenged the teams to make the most of that time? It forced them to send a lot of material ahead of time, and we started blocking pre-read time so that he could review things that didn't need to be presented"

Martin said the transition for the team, like most changes, made people uncomfortable at the start. But the payoff came when the meetings were more engaging and helpful to the employees presenting, since questions could be more specific following the pre-reads.

Stop switching context

Though Martin occasionally gets to use an axe to reshape an executive's schedule, her work is more often done with the precision of a scalpel. That's typically where she leans into product tips that can additively save a few minutes each day. One of Martin's favorite tricks: a calendar invite from an email.

"You have an email going, people are talking and you're like, 'let's just meet about this,'" she said. "You click a button and it makes a calendar invite with the description and all those people, instead of backing out, opening Google Calendar and copying all those people in. That one tip could save you minutes multiple times a day, and that really adds up."

Another small hack she advocates for is tab grouping in Chrome. Instead of wading through a sea of tiny tabs at the top of the browser, the grouping feature allows users to put multiple tabs under a heading for easy navigation.

Both illustrate how Google is trying to cut down on the amount of time between thinking something in a business context and actually doing it.

Become a super user

Those instances of integrating one product with another just scratch the surface of what the company sees Workspace allowing users (and its own employees) to do.

Already, Google has rolled out new preview features in Docs that don't require users to go to a new tab to scroll through a document. In the "coming months," Google plans to introduce picture-in-picture video via Meet into Docs and Slides, which will allow users to create on-demand, instant meetings with the other people editing a document simultaneously.

So much of productivity is thought of as getting from point A to point B faster, but Google's approach is increasingly about getting people in and out of each point between the beginning and the end more quickly. For Martin, the minutes shaved off of switching from task to task and the resulting focus are what can actually help cut down the total time needed to complete a project.

"Those are the types of things that our products are developing more and more of as far as collaboration across teams," she said. "We're really at an exciting place right now with Workspace, seeing how those are now all coming together."

Work how your brain works

Perhaps unsurprisingly at the company that revolutionized the search engine, search can also play a key role in productivity as well. For Martin, that means advocating for executives to employ the infrastructure that makes a search effective in their own file management — whatever their file management style is. It's a strategy she says is particularly effective when someone is trying to work even at times when their setup is inconvenient.

In a recent productivity session, she aimed to address that exact challenge with a marketing executive who most often found himself having ideas outside of the office. Trading extemporaneous notes for a platform that was searchable and organized allowed him to take notes the way he naturally wanted to. When he'd see an image, an ad or just a visual that he thought might be useful for future campaigns while he was out in the world, he would take a picture and hashtag it with a keyword that would populate a folder of ideas for quick reference later on.

"He then had a bulletin board in Google Keep that was just ideas, and he had an organization system that wasn't how I would organize, but it was how his brain worked," Martin said. "Because he could color-code all of these things, it was where he went for his ideas later."

Think of email like laundry

Introducing order where there is none is a big part of how Martin works. In fact, it was the thesis of one of her first initiatives around managing an inbox effectively, particularly through multiple inboxes. A standard feature on Gmail now, it was originally just an add-on that Martin began teaching in her internal course on productivity.

"I think about email like laundry. Your inbox is your dryer, but then you need to take everything out and make tiles like you're folding and you're hanging clothes," she said. "It can't just be all in the dryer all the time."

Teaching employees at Google about how to properly organize emails between inboxes led Martin to conversations with the Gmail team directly, and her feedback about how people were using the product catalyzed the feature's implementation.

"That was one cool feature that I feel like I saw from like a little baby add-on to a full-blown adult product," she said. "That's probably my favorite part of my job: Not just teaching the products, but helping shape them in the long run."

* * *

In launching Workspace late last year, Google laid out its products in such a way that each tool becomes slightly more reliant on the features that work well in its sister applications over time. Similarly, Martin's work has led her to try to get Google employees to do the same.

In a weekly email, she highlights to more than half the company the use cases for product features she's observed, and gives tips on how those same hacks could be replicated across different company processes and teams.

We can't all enjoy that kind of bespoke advice. But we can probably all find a cupcake trick or two somewhere in Martin's tips.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

Keep Reading Show less
Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

Keep Reading Show less
J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Enterprise

Alphabet goes deep into industrial robotic software with Intrinsic

If it succeeds, the gambit could help support Google Cloud's lofty ambitions in the manufacturing sector.

Alphabet is aiming to make advanced robotic technology affordable to customers.

Photo: Getty Images

Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.

The goal of Intrinsic is to "give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they're completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications," CEO Wendy Tan-White wrote in the post.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Latest Stories