The Productive Leader Blog
Improving Leadership Effectiveness One Task at a Time
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The Productive Leader Blog

When setting intentions and goals it’s helpful to categorize, or as professional organizers like to say; group like things together.  When we see things in categories it’s easier to make choices.

My favorite example of this is black dress shoes. If you put all your black dress shoes together you will likely have about 10 pairs.  When you see them all in one place, it is easier to decide which pairs matter most. Only then you can give away the shoes that don’t fit, hurt your feet, or are too worn to wear.  Grouping like things together brings clarity to what is most important.

We can apply this concept of grouping to the activities, obligations, and priorities in your life as well.  When we “see” them all together it helps us focus on what is most important.

Look back at your definitions of success from last week.  Now consider how you are spending your time.

Are you doing the things that support your definition of success?

How can you group your life areas together in a way that respects the uniqueness of what really matters to you? Here are some examples to spark your creative juices. Feel free to use your own words as well.  I recommend picking the 4 or 5 “buckets” that reflect the things that support your definition of success:

Self-Care Family Spirituality
Friends Volunteerism Service
Activism Business Growth Career
Work Professional Development Health
Personal Growth Fun & Leisure Home Environment
Creativity Relationships Exercise

 

Your UNIQUE Focus Areas:

  1. ___________________________
  2. ___________________________
  3. ___________________________
  4. ___________________________
  5. ___________________________

 

CHARACTERISTICS of your Focus Areas

The next step is to identify CHARACTERISTICS of your focus areas, and in turn the actions that support what is important to you. This will help you get clear about your focus and priorities.

Remember, only when you are clear about what you want to FOCUS on can you FOCUS on it. 

Here are some examples that can be applied to your non-business self:

  • Self-care:
    1. Go to the gym twice a week
    2. Make time to talk to four friends at least once a week
    3. Meditate 20 minutes 4 times a week
  • Family:
    1. Spend at least one hour a week reading, playing games, or actively engaging with my children/grandchildren/nieces/ nephews/etc.
    2. Have lunch with mom once a week
    3. Have a date night with my partner two times a month
  • Service:
    1. Volunteer at least 5 hours a week
    2. Identify one cause to stand behind
    3. Don’t spread myself too thin

And for work:

  • Professional Development:
    1. Read at least one business book monthly
    2. Listen to a podcast once a week
    3. Prepare for certification exam by October
  • Business Self-Care
    1. Leave work by 6pm most days
    2. Work from home 1 day per week
    3. Have lunch with one new colleague each week/month
  • Business Growth
    1. Complete XYZ project
    2. Develop program to improve customer feedback X%
    3. Improve department profitability X%

 

What are the characteristics of your unique focus areas?

  1. ___________________________________
    1. _______________________________
    2. _______________________________
    3. _______________________________
  2. ___________________________________
    1. _______________________________
    2. _______________________________
    3. _______________________________
  3. ___________________________________
    1. _______________________________
    2. _______________________________
    3. _______________________________
  4. ___________________________________
    1. _______________________________
    2. _______________________________
    3. _______________________________
  5. ___________________________________
    1. _______________________________
    2. _______________________________
    3. _______________________________

 

Creating Your Very Own Success Formula Blog Course Details – This is the 2nd in a multi-series of posts.  Check this post for the big picture. Future posts can be delivered to your inbox by signing up for my blog. And please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues.

What does success mean to you?

Don’t just say what you think you should say.  Stop.  Think.  Each and every one of us get to define success on our own terms.

  • For some success is defined monetarily
  • For others it’s more about lifestyle
  • And for others it’s about making a social impact
  • For you it may be a combination of these or something completely different.

What’s really cool is that you get to choose how your actions impact your definition. There are many things to consider as you create the life you envision or perhaps envision the life you wish to create!

This week’s exercise is a brainstorming about the life you wish to live. I don’t want you to write goals here (standard goal writing takes the form of   SMART Goals with the SMART meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.)  Rather I’m asking you to consider SMART Intentions.  This is your opportunity to reflect about what success really means to you.

This exercise doesn’t have to take long.  My guess is that you know the answers already. And remember your brainstorming guidelines:

  • Don’t judge your thoughts – write down anything and everything that comes to mind
  • Wild ideas are helpful and encouraged – the more creative you get the clearer you’ll become

To organize this information, pick one place to keep your notes.  This can be a Word doc, a Google doc, an Evernote, a OneNote, or a simple notebook or file folder.

What does success mean to you?

  1. _____________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________
  5. _____________________________________________________
  6. _____________________________________________________
  7. _____________________________________________________
  8. _____________________________________________________
  9. _____________________________________________________
  10. _____________________________________________________
  11. _____________________________________________________
  12. _____________________________________________________
  13. _____________________________________________________
  14. _____________________________________________________
  15. _____________________________________________________

Sit with this list.  Highlight or asterisk the top few that feel most important.

Creating Your Very Own Success Formula Blog Course Details – This is the 2nd in a multi-series of posts.  Check last weeks post for the big picture. Future posts can be delivered to your inbox by signing up for my blog. And please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues.

When I begin working with productivity coaching clients, I ask them to share their goals for our work together. One of the most frequent responses is “how do I know what should be a priority?” Many variables impact the answer:

  • Do you work for yourself or do you have to consider the company/boss you work for?
  • Are we talking just about work, or do you want to understand this both professionally and personally?
  • What else and who else do you need to consider in this?

When we start coaching, I can help client’s triage by looking at their tasks and deadlines, however for long-term results it takes stepping back and deciding what’s important overall.  And this means setting intentions about the life they wish to live and setting goals to attain that life.

Until you are clear about what’s important, it’s next to impossible to know what to say yes to and what to say no to.

For the next few weeks I will walk you through (at no cost) my 7 steps to CREATING YOUR VERY OWN SUCCESS FORMULA program.  By the end you will have much more clarity about what’s important. Then setting priorities becomes easier.

And no worries, if you miss a week, it will all be posted on my blog. As well, each week’s exercise will be effective as its own learning experience

Here are the topics we’ll discuss over the next few weeks:

S – Success Defined of Your Terms

U – Unique Areas of Focus For Your Life

C – Characteristics of Your Focus Areas

C – Core Values

E – Essence of Your Yes

S – Space to Think

S – Success Formula to Guide Your Priorities

For a short-term fix, try prioritizing those items that if you didn’t do would:

  • Embarrass you if it didn’t get done
  • Let someone down you care about
  • Let yourself down
  • Cost you money if you didn’t do them
  • Cause you to miss a really good opportunity

For a long-term fix I hope you’ll follow my blog and gain some clarity about what is really important to you.  Those answers will underpin your actions moving forward.  Please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues. By signing up for my blog they too will get the course delivered to their inbox in 7 manageable chunks.

When you know what’s truly important knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to becomes much easier.

 

Email – you can’t live with it and you can’t live without it. It seems to take on a life of its own and it seems to impact everyone’s productivity. Today we will look at some email best practices that if we all followed would make everyone a little more productive.

Email Composition

  • Keep the SUBJECT relevant – update the subject line as topics change. Remembering that people search by subject will hopefully motivate you to take that extra second to check that your subject line is relevant. During the course of an email conversation, if the topic changes, change your subject line.
  • Be concise – make your point as briefly as possible. Long and complex emails are often put aside, never to be looked at again. If you want an answer, keep your message simple and short.
  • Be decisive – minimize emails going back and forth by making decisions. Instead of saying “should I call you or do you want to call me,” say, “I’ll call you.” Instead of saying “should we talk at 10 am or 11 am,” say “let’s talk at 11 am.” Better yet, say “I’ll call you at 11 am unless I hear from you otherwise.”
  • Share sentiments sparingly – while “thank you” and “great job” are lovely thoughts, email may not be the best venue to share them. Be mindful of email overwhelm before you share kudos and DO NOT REPLY ALL.

Email Triage

  • Get extraneous emails out of your inbox immediately
    • if you have reviewed an email and it has no use to you, DELETE IT IMMEDIATELY! You wouldn’t leave trash around your house, why would you leave it in your inbox?
    • For emails containing information that you might need some day and CAN’T GET ANYWHERE else, MOVE the email out of your inbox into a folder.
  • Unsubscribe – when sitting around waiting at the doctor’s office, for the train, for carpool, or on hold, use that time to unsubscribe from emails that no longer serve you. The fewer that come in, the more you’ll be able to manage the important ones.
  • Set Rules – if your email client (Outlook, Gmail, etc.) offers the option to set rules, use them to automatically move emails that are not important out of your inbox. I have one folder called RULES that I use for things that I don’t need, but sometimes like to see (favorite store ads, newsletters, political information, etc.)  The rule is set to automatically move those items from the inbox to the RULES folder. That way I can check if and when I want to.

Email Communication:

  • Feel no obligation to respond – just because someone asks you a question or wants your time doesn’t mean it is productive to respond. It is okay to delete something that is unsolicited or not important.
  • Stop the REPLY ALL craziness – Use Reply All very sparingly. Almost all the time your answer is most relevant to the sender and a time suck for everyone else.
  • Use Bcc when sending to a group – if sending out emails to a group be sure to use the Bcc (blind carbon copy) option rather than the Cc (carbon copy) option. This will ensure that others in the email string don’t have access to everyone else’s email address. It is poor form to publicly share other people’s emails with your group.

Shift your Perspective

Think of email like snail mail.

  • Do you feel obligated to open every piece of junk mail that comes into your home and office?
  • Worse yet, could you imagine KEEPING every piece of junk mail that comes into your home and office (gosh I hope not; and if the answer is yes, I have wonderful Professional Organizer colleagues that can help you!)
  • Just like you get rid of the garbage in your physical life it is necessary to get rid of the garbage in your virtual life too!

We’ve all gotten pretty good at squeezing in an email, quick call, or text in a moments time, however when we have project work or multi-step tasks it a bit more complicated. Both productivity and performance improve when we are in flow.

Daniel Goleman, the Father of Emotional Intelligence, describes FLOW as a state in which people become utterly absorbed in what they are doing and their awareness is merged with their actions. He says “you know when you are in flow; work becomes easy, you lose track of time, you feel happy, and joyful, and productive.

It makes sense that we would want to create the flow state for when we finally get to doing our really important work. For the brain to engage, work has to be challenging enough to stimulate the brain. The challenge itself is energizing and motivating.

However, there is more we can do to propel ourselves into flow:

  1. Clearly define the goal and create an outline or plan. Being specific minimizes your getting off task.
  2. Create your optimum environment by eliminating distractions. This can mean no noise, white noise, music with words, or music without words. Wear headphones so people know not to interrupt you, close your office door (if you’re so lucky to have one), or find a secluded place to work.
  3. Clear the decks. While some people can jump in and “eat the frog”, others need to get the little nudgy annoying tasks off their plate so they can concentrate and be completely engaged.
  4. Block off enough time. Some people can work in micro blocks – 15-30 minutes, and the next day pick up right where they left off. Others need 2 or 3 or 4 hour chunks so they don’t have to waste time ramping up to get to where they were the day before.
  5. Build in accountability and feedback. Outside support often helps to stay on task.

 

When I dig into a task this is what works for me:

  1. I write out my goal and put it in front of me. Then I outline the steps to reach the goal, often on post-its, organizing the process. And, it helps me stay motivated when I can throw away a completed post-it.
  2. My optimum environment includes finding a quiet spot where no one can talk to me. I turn off my phone, ALL social media, and often the internet. I prefer to have either white noise or music without words playing in the background
  3. I clear the decks almost 100%. My desk surface only has the current project – nothing else.  My critical email are completed, my phone calls are made, and I try to have completed as many  little annoying tasks as possible.  This enables me to solely focus on the important work.
  4. I block out time in big chunks, preferably 4 hours. I waste too much time remembering where I was and getting back to that point if I work in lesser amounts.  If I am working on a presentation or something with lots of moving parts, I may block out the entire day.
  5. My accountability to myself is enough for me, so engaging others isn’t helpful, but many clients and colleagues do benefit from knowing they will be reporting in on their progress.

 

The one most important thing to know about flow is that it happens when we are working on things we love doing. What do you love doing?  How can you create your environment to get to do the work you love more?

Much is being written about productivity these days, though it doesn’t seem to be really helping too many people.  Perhaps it’s because of the “one size fits all” approach I discussed in last weeks blog. My perspective, and why I’m choosing to include LEADERSHIP in my blog theme, is because your productivity is influenced by the productivity of others in your sphere. We don’t operate in a vacuum. The effectiveness of the people we work with impacts our personal effectiveness.

I know, you may not think of yourself as a leader, but I do.  I define a leader as someone who influences outcome through collaboration and communication.

And, I just love this quote from Jed Bartlett of West Wing fame: A leader without followers is just someone out taking a walk…

Do you influence outcomes?  Do you lead people?

  • As a entrepreneur you lead your vendors; be it your web designer, bookkeeper, virtual assistant, graphic designer, professional organizer, or coach.
  • As a member of a team you lead the people on the team. While you may not always have formal authority over them, quite often informal leaders have great impact on outcome.
  • As a subordinate you lead your boss. If you have ever influenced the outcome of a discussion with your boss, than you are a leader.
  • As a volunteer you lead to achieve the mission of the organization for which you volunteer. No matter what your position, your work influences and impacts the team and the outcome.
  • As a family member you lead your family. Think about deciding where to go to dinner. In my family this takes the ultimate of leadership skill!

For you to be effective, not waste time, and get work done, you depend on those around you. You can either isolate or collaborate. When you collaborate, your productivity is impacted by the cultural health of the team.

And if you’re the leader, your success is absolutely dependent on the productivity of the team.

Productivity isn’t just personal, is it?