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.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins