If your team ever says something like “We can talk about this, but nothing is going to change” (or worse, YOU feel that way), then this episode is for you. In this episode, David shares one critical skill to help you get results and make things happen. It’s not hard – and with this one small shift, you’ll gain credibility, energize your team, and achieve results you’d only talked about.
Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival! This month, our contributors share their best practices in leadership and productivity. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!
The August Frontline Festival will be about leading remote or non-traditional teams. We’ve expanded the Frontline Festival to include other formats such as podcasts and artwork and are always looking for new thought leaders to join the party. We’re always on the lookout for new ideas and best practices, Won’t you join us? Send us your submissions here!
Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog provides, Change May Be Good, but is Your Organization Ready for it? Change readiness is the prelude to change management and it can spell the difference between successful change and failed change. Adopting best practices such as devoting time and resources to establishing a clear vision and strategies, opening and prioritizing robust communication channels, employing change management tools and principles, and aligning leaders around a shared commitment and messaging will get your organization ready to successfully plan and implement change. Follow Robyn.
John Stoker of DialogueWORKS gives us Six Questions You Should Never Ask. (a contribution to Careers In Government.) Leaders have a real opportunity to make a difference through the questions they ask. Taking the time to be deliberate with their questions can pay huge dividends. Here are some tips to help you do just that. Follow Jon.
John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement gives us How to Successfully Lead Change Efforts. Leading change efforts requires paying attention to the existing conditions: the culture, the motivation to adopt this change and/or the motivation to resist it, the history of change where the change is being attempted and the reasons the change is desired (by at least you and hopefully others.) Then you will need to build a case for the change and manage the process. Follow John.
Julie Winkle Giulioni suggests we start with a sloppy copy! It’s easy to procrastinate on the important tasks out of a desire for perfection. So, short-circuit that by setting out to do an 80% job. It takes the pressure off, establishes some momentum, and frequently yields something that’s pretty darn good in the process.
Chris Edmonds saves time by tracking commitments & to-dos with Nozbe. It is a simple, clear, and available system that saves countless hours (and worry)!
John Stoker finds it helpful to take more time to plan before he executes.
Wally Bock finds it helpful to set up his work for the next day, before quitting for the day.
Beth Beutler keeps her to-do lists consolidated into two main apps, depending on their environment-of-use. Outlook is used for recurring tasks that are mostly completed at her home office, and Asana handles tasks and projects that she can work on in any location.
Want to Play?
Do you have a topic you would like to see covered in a future Frontline Festival? Please leave a comment with your ideas,
Are you a blogger, vlogger or podcaster? We would love to have you join us. Click here to learn more about submitting to the next Frontline Festival,
As a leader, there is one connection you can make that will do more to inspire your team and increase productivity than anything else you might say. In fact, when you move from none of this to all of it, you can double your team’s productivity.
To be more productive, embrace the secret of every time management system.
You want to be a productive leader, but your to-do list has more tasks, projects, and goals than you can possibly achieve.
The never-ending list can feel overwhelming. Leadership means a continual stream of information, problems, decisions, interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, apps—and that doesn’t include the strategic investments in people and projects that will help you build a better future.
It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.
Two Mindsets to Be a More Productive Leader
There are two mental shifts that will help you end the overwhelm and achieve the results you want.
There’s So Much
It’s not your imagination. There really is more on that list than you can possibly get done.
What do you do with that reality? Does it stress you and paralyze you?
If so, the problem isn’t with your list. It’s with your perspective.
Here’s the reality productive leaders embrace: there is always more to do than you can do. It’s a fact of life.
Right now you could check in with your boss, answer your emails, build a spreadsheet, talk to an underperforming team member, make a to-do list, help your child with her homework, work on your most strategic project, listen carefully to a peer, call a customer, hold a developmental conversation with a mentee, take a luxurious bath, go to yoga, read this article, call a dear friend, check your social media, adopt a cat, clean out the stale food from your refrigerator, and a thousand other tasks.
The list is endless. It always is and it always will be.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, the difference is that you’re more aware of your choices. When you’re relaxed on a beach, there are still a thousand other things you could do with that moment – you’re just not thinking about them.
To turn the problem into power, embrace the fact that you can’t possibly do everything.
You never could and you never will. The list is always infinite.
When you surrender the unrealistic hope that the list will somehow go away and acknowledge that it is always there, always has been, and always will be, it frees you to focus.
You’ve Got Serious Limits
Our son loves to multitask. He’ll watch a YouTube documentary while trying to clean his room. Inevitably, one of these tasks wins (and it’s usually not the room.)
The problem is that multitasking is a myth. He’s shifting his attention back and forth between each activity (or not shifting it at all).
It’s another tough reality for most of us to accept: in addition to the fact that there will always be an infinite list, there’s a very limited amount of you to go around.
The second mindset shift that will help you be a more productive leader is that you can only do one thing at a time.
Finish that one. Or move it forward as much as you can, then move to the next.
This is the secret of every time management and productivity system: There’s always more than you can do and that you can only do one thing at a time.
So how do you choose what to do?
Mind the M.I.T.
There are many sophisticated systems to answer this question.
We prefer to keep it straightforward: What’s your M.I.T. (Most Important Thing)?
What is the most important strategic outcome your team will achieve this year?
Today, what is the most important thing you will do?
What are the two or three critical behaviors that will produce the best outcomes for you and your team?
As a productive leader, your M.I.T. often shifts from day to day. Today, it may be to clarify your strategy for the year. Tomorrow, it may be to address an underperforming team member. The next day, your M.I.T. may be a coaching conversation or working with a colleague and your boss to get alignment on their M.I.T. It may be to ensure you finish what you’ve started.
Mind the M.I.T. means that you know what’s most important and do it first, if at all possible. Do it before the inevitable rush of interruptions, problems, and fire drills.
It takes humility to accept your limitations and choose excellence somewhere over presence everywhere.
It takes self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge that today’s M.I.T. might be a walk in the woods or time with loved ones.
It takes determination to ignore what’s easy and do what matters most.
When you focus on your daily M.I.T., help your team understand the strategic M.I.T., and know their daily M.I.T. behaviors, you will unleash your team’s energy and transform your results.
To help him be a more productive leader, one Winning Well reader told us that he posted these words from the book on his office wall so he can see them every day:
Focus On the MIT.
To be a more productive leader, embrace the infinite need, remember that you can only do one thing at a time, and focus on the behaviors that will make the most difference for you, your team, and the results you want to achieve.
Leave us a comment and share: What is your best secret to maintaining your focus and productivity?
We’ve been fans of Brian Tracy’s ideas on productivity and efficiency for a long time. So we were delighted to find that we were all keynoting at the HR Asia Summit in Singapore. We enjoyed chatting with Brian about his thoughts of getting results that last and building confidence.
Thanks, Brian for your decades of thought leadership and inspiration.
Click on the image for more information about Brian’s book.
Winning Well Reflection
Brian is a master at personal productivity and you can easily see why. His advice on building confidence in your team through task completion is a core part of the Winning Well Confidence Bursts strategy. We particularly appreciated his advice to help you evaluate what is truly the MIT among the competing priorities you face every day.
Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is all about preparing for 2017. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about goal setting. Please submit your very best links to your goal setting posts. The question for the month is: “What your best practice for helping teams set meaningful goals?”Submit your answers and blog posts related to this question: here!
The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
From David Dye: In Winning Well we emphasize the importance of Committing with Clarity: mutually shared, clear commitments are the backbone of breakthrough results and healthy relationships. To that end, one way we’re preparing our team for 2017 is to create a playbook – a one-stop guide to the critical goals, messages, and activities of each strategic theme. It creates alignment, ensures we’re all focused on the same goals, and helps us to move faster. Follow David.
Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture says: I’m a solopreneur – but I have some fine players in my “band.” (Bear with me – I’m a working musician on the side.) My publicity pro is amazing. My virtual assistant is brilliant. I’m doing more proactive strategic planning with my publicity pro with monthly calls so we can stay on top of trends and news-jacking opportunities that arise quickly. My goal for 1Q 2017 is to decide what my extremely capable VA can do more of – so I can do less of that and more content creation, writing, and marketing. Only if I trust these players more – and delegate more – can we do more for leaders, companies, and communities in the months to come. Follow Chris.
Eileen McDargh of The Energizer shares: There are three people on my team: me, myself, and I. If I can get those three people in sync, then I can manage the other people who support me. I take myself away for three days on a silent retreat. I hike, write, and journal ideas. I meditate. I listen deeply. In the stillness that surrounds me, I come away refreshed. I don’t always have great breakthroughs and that’s ok too. The silence centers me because the rest of the year, I will be surrounded by the spoken word. Follow Eileen
Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.
Becky Robinson of Weaving Influence is preparing her team for 2017 by reflecting about and sharing wins from 2016 while setting goals and priorities for 2017. We’re all excited to launch a new website in the first quarter of 2017, which will more clearly reflect our company’s unique offer in the market while showcasing our authors/speakers. As we work on the website, we’re setting the stage for our best year ever. Follow Becky.
William Steiner of Executive Coaching Concepts says his team is cleaning up all contact files so our communications can be cleaner and more strategically targeted. They are also going to have a nice party in January to celebrate the publishing of his new book, which was a collaborative, group effort. Follow William.
Every day brings new choices.
~ Martha Beck
John Thurlbeck of Wear Consulting is reviewing how he did on goals in 2016 and setting goals for 2017 using Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever model. Follow John.
Dr. Artika Tyner of the Planting People. Growing Justice Institute is preparing her team for 2017 by focusing on their brand. She feels this will serve as the foundation for developing new products and services while also holding the team accountable for clearly conveying their brand purpose and consistently delivering their best. Follow Artika.
Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimitedhas a unique arrangement — she has a small team of colleagues that help her provide virtual assistance, and she is ON more than team, providing virtual assistance. One of her hopes for the new year is that she cultivate herself and her own colleagues in such a way that the clients HOPE serves feel like the only team HOPE is on–is theirs.Follow Beth.
Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.
Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival gives tips about setting up a productive work space. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!
Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about communication tips. There are two ways to participate…either submit a blog post on the topic, or your 1-2 sentence answer to the question. Click here to participate! Now on to our topic for August:
Chip Bell of the Chip Bell Group says that everything he needs is within arms length of the desk (printer, work table, copier, scanner, large computer monitor, supplies (like scissors, stabler, rubber stamps, paper clips), speakers for music, etc. His office looks out over a gorgeous lake and his floor to ceiling book cases sit six feet from the desk. Follow Chip.
Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited has the following elements in her home office, the main “headquarters” for her VA and business soft skill business: stand up desk with monitor exactly mirroring the one at the sit down desk, screen behind her chair at sit down desk for a backdrop for video calls and recordings, chair for relaxed reading, and a number of items with the word HOPE on them as decor. She also has a small fountain, candle, succulents and other items throughout to create a pleasant atmosphere in the office. Follow Beth.
Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC shares that productivity is the result of an open mind and energy working together. Where we work has enormous influence over our attitude toward what we’re doing. Consider how you can change your energy by being inspired in your surroundings by taking a look at this post.Follow Michelle.
Eric Dingler of EricDingler.com keeps his physical and virtual space free of all clutter. He has an inbox that everything goes in. Once a day, he clears it following the GTD system. He also uses the free version of Nozbe to keep himself on track and clutter free. When he leaves his office, he has zero emails in his inbox and nothing in his physical inbox, so he leaves work free and walks in prepared and ahead. Follow Eric.
David Dye of Trailblaze finds natural light to be a key to productivity. He will turn off florescents and use desk lamps if sunlight isn’t available. Being surrounded by an aquarium, plants and living things also humanizes and relaxes him, helping him maintain perspective. Follow David.
Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture finds that having a clear surface area (no matter where he’s working—his office desk or at a desk on the road somewhere) is most helpful in keeping him focused on the task at hand. Papers on his desk for needed tasks “talk to him.” Those stacks yell “Do me first!” Remove those piles and he can work his plan without distractions. Follow Chris.
Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.
~ Steven Spielberg
Mike Henry of MikeHenrySr.com says that his work space must be distraction free. When he is doing work he enjoys, distractions are less of a problem. But when he is doing something that isn’t very interesting, he needs to focus and can be easily distracted. Follow Mike.
John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement really enjoys living as a digital nomad and having workspaces like the one here. He admits that the setup isn’t one that optimizes productivity though it can be energizing, inspiring and motivating, and that the “digital nomad” lifestyle isn’t for everyone. His setup is just a Macbook Pro (he also had an iPad mini to tether if he needed to use a cell phone signal to access the Internet) all of which allows him to work from just about anywhere. Follow John.
Paula Kiger of Perspicacity finds that despite having a lot of technology in her work space, it’s her paper notebook with information like passwords written in it that often saves the day! Follow Paula.
Lisa Kohn from Thoughtful Leaders Blog has found that one of the most important factors to consider when setting up her work space is what inspires her and makes her smile. She is most productive when surrounded by beauty and most creative when in a spot that pulls her out of her usual space and therefore out of her usual mindset. For example, when she writes, she never sits at her desk. A coffee shop or her couch at home works better. When not on the phone, she works outdoors as much as possible, such as on a side porch at home. Follow Lisa.
I’m quite an untidy person in a lot of ways. But order makes me happy. I have to have a clear desk and a tidy desktop, with as few visual distractions as possible. I don’t mind sound distractions, but visual ones freak me out.
~ Joanne Harris
According to Don Maruska of DonMaruska.com, it’s important to create opportunities for a worker to have only their most important task in front of them while working on it. Multi-tasking is inefficient and stressful. Follow Don.
Eileen McDargh of The Energizer shares her philosophy: A place for everything and everything in its place. With light bright surroundingss, flowers, pictures of friends, and equipment hidden from view, I feel productive and free. Follow Eileen
Andy Oziemblo of Cubicle Concepts suggests that some of the biggest gains in productivity and individual motivation can be achieved through the use of modern office designs. The use of ergonomically optimum seating, height adjustable tables, and movement inducing treadmill workstations can help one attain many health benefits along with increased oxygen in your blood. Increased oxygen in your blood allows for better focus and mental production output. To spur motivation, choose work space artwork and colors that give inspiration as well as drive you towards set goals. Follow Andy.
Dr. Artika Tyner of the Planting People. Growing Justice Institute advises to create a vision board which visually reflects your goals and desired business outcomes. Post your vision board in your office as a daily reminder of your goals and progress in reaching your dreams. Follow Artika.
On my desk I have three screens, synchronized to form a single desktop. I can drag items from one screen to the next. Once you have that large display area, you’ll never go back, because it has a direct impact on productivity.
Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival gives tips about favorite tools and technology. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!
Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about how to take a complete break from work (i.e. for vacation.) There are two ways to participate…either submit a blog post on the topic, or your 1-2 sentence answer to the question. Click here to participate! Now on to our topic for June:
What tools do you use to stay productive?
Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited has used the task/recurring task functionality in Microsoft Outlook for many years. She loves how she can set up task reminders to pop up on the appropriate days, can easily change dates to defer tasks, can batch tasks into categories, and can drag an email into task format (this helps keep her in-box clean too.) She also uses Google reminders for the occasional on-the-fly “thing to remember” to pop up at a designated time. Follow Beth
Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC shares that one of her stress saving tools is Evernote. “This application has a free component and I use it daily. How does it serve me? It puts all my information in one place, easily labeled and organized so I can find it! Follow Michelle.
Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.
~ Paul J. Meyer
For David Dye of TrailblazeEvernote is the first app he installs on a new phone, tablet, or computer. It is an extension of his brain! The other “tool” that helps stay productive: exercise–preferably a good hike in nature. He’s always more productive afterwards. Follow David.
Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture shares: The apps I use daily are proven tools that maintain my sanity and enable promotion of my concepts. They include Nozbe (a cloud-based brilliant task manager), Evernote (a cloud-based “memory enhancer” – for notes, photos, and more), Tweet Jukebox (a terrific quote scheduler that will soon add Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter posting), Sucuri (website firewall and anti-malware), WPTwin (backs up and restores my various WordPress sites), and SurfEasy (a private VPN that enables safe WiFi use, even in countries where social media is “blocked”!) Here’s a link to learn more about these and other tools I depend on. Follow Chris
Ariana Friedlander of Rosabella Consulting recommends starting your day by identifying your Big 5 tasks for the day and keep them front and center. These are the things you need to check off the proverbial list in order to fall asleep knowing you got the important stuff done. Follow Ariana.
I think I have over 60 apps on my iPhone. I use six.
~ Gordon Smith
As an entrepreneur with many projects on the go, Patrick Hankinson ofHello Focusgrew frustrated with current tools on the market, finding that none of them really kept his team focused, becoming harder to manage as the team grew. He followed the adage, “Scratch your own itch” and created Hello Focus. Follow Patrick.
John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement has found that taking advantage of all the great ideas among leadership and management bloggers is very important to his continued productivity and success. He feels would be greatly disadvantaged in doing so without an RSS feed reader. Follow John.
Lisa Kohn from Thoughtful Leaders Blog says, “I’m sure that everyone has wonderful tools, apps, and technology to offer that they use to be more productive, but I’ve got something else entirely that is probably my biggest secret and tool. Quietness and meditation. If I forget to find quiet time, if I forget to slow my mind and breathe, if I forget to spend time in peace and meditation, I am simply not as productive. Or as happy. Follow Lisa.
Boundary setting is really a huge part of time management.
~ Jim Loehr
Alli Polin of Break the Frame shares: “Two of my favorite apps that help to manage my productivity are 1) Evernote: I keep everything in there and it’s at my fingertips; and 2) I’m also a huge fan of Rescue Time. You can’t change where you spend your time until you know where it goes. It’s an eye opener! Follow Alli.
Becky Robinson of Weaving Influence shares “My team uses Basecamp for every project, and using Basecamp helps us stay focused to deliver what we’ve promised. We can easily track progress, find files, and share helpful information with others. We also use Slack for in-the-moment communication and team building. These two apps are critical to our work success.” Follow Becky.
Each minute is a little thing, and yet, with respect to our personal productivity, to manage the minute is the secret of success.
~ Joseph B. Wirthlin
Have you ever looked at your to do list and just laughed? You think, “Oh right, that’s not happening,” and then moments later, you realize that none of the tasks on your list are really an option. Perhaps that’s the point that your nervous laughter turns to tears.
That’s the wall I hit this week. I’ve had a number of serious personal challenges that require an intense investment of emotion and time, some stuff I wouldn’t have chosen, and certainly not at a time like this, and other remarkable surprises filled with joy and hope.
And, I’m neck-deep in the throes of the most intense and exciting time of my entire career. We’re starting our tour for Winning Well, and response has been tremendous. There’s a constant flurry of speeches and media interviews to prepare for, and we head to Oregon next week to film for our forthcoming Winning Well online course.
Sure I took out Eisenhower’s good old urgent and important matrix and mapped my priorities. The truth is, the urgent AND important box would make your hair curl. My closest friends and family are all saying “You have every right to feel this way… even half of the list would feel impossible.” Although that may feel strangely comforting, it doesn’t actually make the list smaller.
So if you’re reading this because you’re feeling overwhelmed, know that I’m right there with you.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to cope. And it’s helping. I hope it can help you too.
6 Ways to Stay Productive When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
Identify Your Most Important Thing (MIT)
In Winning Well, we write about the importance of identifying your MIT each day, “At the start of each day look over your projects, tasks, and to-dos and identify the one item that is the MIT for that day.”
Follow the “Rule of One” The Rule of One means that you give one thing at a time your full attention. When you need to change focus do so fully and intentionally. If you spend much time with C-level executives, you’ll see that they do not multi-task. They focus. They’re all in. Concentrating. They’re confident their focus will make an impact. There’s a reason they focus on one important task at a time. Give it a shot.
Yes, that sounds cliché, and it is…if you keep breathing as a metaphor. But if you find yourself holding your breath as you’re working your way down the list, I encourage you to stop, close your eyes and take five slow breaths in and out.
Take a Walk
Before you scream at your computer, “Yeah, lady, I told you I don’t have time already and now you want me to go for a walk?” stay with me. This week I was feeling really blocked on the structure for an important speech I’m doing. I’m committed to adding real value for the audience, and we’re filming it, so I need to nail it to preserve the value for others as well. I was making myself insane staring at my computer writing and rewriting, and I just couldn’t get the stories to flow to align with my message. I got in the car and drove to a trailhead with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. I walked without consciously thinking, and whenever I got a surge of inspiration, I wrote it down. At one point, I just stopped and sat on a rock and sketched out a brand new model that’s perfect for this speech and others. Plus, I got to check off exercise from the list. BAM!
Ask For and Receive Help Look around, my guess is there are people offering to help. If not think about who you can ask. This can be tough for so many reasons… perhaps you think you can do it better, perhaps you want to be doing your fair share, or maybe you just don’t want to feel out of control. I get it. I also know when you receive help, tasks go away. Our Winning Well toolkit is done and the Frontline Festival will run as scheduled, all without much intervention from me because I said “yes” to help from my co-author, David and my assistant, Beth, when they said “Just let me do this.”
Decide What Must Go After three years, of religiously writing a blog post three times a week, the last few weeks, I’ve gone down to one. Yes, I felt guilty. Sure I worried about letting folks down. But the truth is, bringing you strong, fresh content three times a week just isn’t feasible right now. Better to take a step back and decide how to keep the blog adding value AND focusing on the rest of the list. People who are making an impact all feel overwhelmed from time to time. If you’re in that season, don’t spend time feeling frustrated and guilty. Take a deep breath, break it down, ask for help and work on what you know will make the biggest difference for your work and the people you care about.
I see them in every organization I work with–the super-busy, really stressed manager who gets in early, stays late, eats lunch at their desk, and still can’t get it all done. Sadly they’re also often resentful that their performance doesn’t warrant an “exceptional” rating or a promotion. They lament: “Can’t they see how hard I’m working? I’m sacrificing everything for this job.” The problem is not lack of effort, it’s effectiveness. Often this stems from letting other people set your agenda and spending too much time on tasks that add little value.
1. Productive people view productivity differently.
Get rid of that checklist mentality, stat. “Busy people concentrate on the task completion aspect of duties and responsibilities—maintaining a ‘checklist’ focus—while others embrace a broader perspective of contributions that measurably contribute to the higher strategic objectives of the organization, says Donn LeVie, Jr., a career strategist and former Fortune 500 hiring manager. “Workaholics ask: ‘What’s next on the list?’ while high performers ask: ‘What’s going to provide the biggest bang for the buck for the organization?’”
2. Productive people understand which tasks actually matter.
The tasks that feel urgent are not always the most important. Productive people understand that the point of any job is to deliver value. “It’s vital to understand which behaviors and actions are getting results and which are not,” says Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. “And then, you need to have the courage to stop wasting time on the behaviors that get no ROI [return on investment]. The biggest time-suckers are conference calls and unproductive meetings. Truly productive people don’t sit on conference calls that don’t add value. If you find you can multi-task through an entire call, that’s not an indicator that you’re productive, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t be on that call. Speak up and change the approach.”
It’s easy to fool ourselves into the illusion that “just having a conference call,” instead of a face-to-face meeting or one-on-one, will save time. In fact, it’s that kind of thinking that leaves many managers moving from call to call with little time to connect with their team.
In an attempt to salvage some productivity in their day, they put the phone on mute and try to get real work done at the same time—and don’t pay close attention to much as a result.
A Quick Rant Against Conference Calls
Perhaps you’ve been on one of these soul sucking calls. A direct report stops by, and, grateful for a distraction, you mouth “Oh it’s just our regular update call,” put the phone on mute and attempt to a have a meaningful conversation.
Just when you’re fist-bumping yourself for being a high-energy multi-tasker, you hear your name mentioned…twice. Oh crap. You quickly take the phone off mute, apologize and say, “I was speaking to the mute button,” which of course is technically true. The opinion you offer next is nowhere near as salient as it would have been if you had been paying attention. Your peer IMs you, “What are you doing, aren’t you going to bring up the idea we agreed to last week?” Oh boy, now you’ve ticked her off, and stumble awkwardly into, “Oh, I forgot I do have one more thing to add. You see Janet and I were thinking…” Awkward.
Think Like an Entrepreneur
One thing has been conspicuously missing this past year as I started my own business–no wasteful conference calls. Why? Well first, the last thing I want to charge my clients for is any time that will not add absolute value to them and their bottom line. Second, I don’t want to pay my contractors for a minute of wasted effort that could be working productively to advance our mission of growing leaders around the world. The next time you have a conference call, try thinking like an entrepreneur. Estimate the hourly rate of those attending the call, and see if there’s a more efficient use of their time to get to the result you need.
Look them in the eye
Honestly, one of the biggest reasons my “conference calls” have become so productive is that they’re almost always done over video–for free. Zoom (my favorite), Skype, Go to Meeting, or Google Hangouts all work. You can see facial expressions and get a better read on emotions AND it takes multi-tasking off the table.
Meetings are meant for two things, to move results forward or to build relationships. Be clear on your objectives. Are you there to make a specific decision? Are you working to gain buy-in to a change? Knowing why you have each item on the agenda will go a long way to keeping the call on track.
Invite only necessary players
When you’re considering flying people in for a meeting, you take a lot of thought to the time out of the field and the expense involved. Don’t let “It’s just a conference call” suck you into a trap of over-inclusion. That kind of thinking compounds quickly.
Use a narrowing agenda. Arrange the more general topics up front and then let people drop off as the topics become more specific. Explain what you’re doing and why in advance, so you don’t get people riled up about secret meetings. Be sure that it’s not always the same people invited to drop first.
End standing calls early and often
I get nervous about weekly check-in calls, mostly because discussion expands to fill the time, when a briefer discussion could do. If a regularly scheduled call is important for your team or project, craft the agenda and estimate the time you think you will need. State that intention up front. “If we keep to our agenda, I think today’s call should only last about 37 minutes. Let’s be as productive as possible so we can all have some time back.”
Done well, conference calls can be an effective and efficient way to get the results you need. A little extra planning can save hours of lost time and productivity.
Are you looking to help your team streamline efforts and produce better results, please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.
I texted my colleague: “do you think we both need to attend the 3pm meeting?” He quickly shot back: “Karin, I don’t think anyone needs to go to that meeting. Don’t worry, I’ll represent both of us.”
And there we were two executives, not speaking up in the spirit of being politically correct, and covering for one another to minimize the pain. After all, we had real work to do.
Sometimes, apparently, I’m also the instigator of such meetings. I attended a meeting the other day and every person in the room was on their iPad working except the speaker and I. I stopped the meeting and questioned what appeared to be very rude behavior.
As I soon uncovered, the rest of the participants had held a dry run of the meeting the day before I arrived in town. Since I was the boss they wanted to practice. This entire meeting had turned into a read-out for me. Those meetings should have been consolidated, or the second meeting should have been cancelled: “Karin, we’ve got this.” Or at least become a one-on-one.
They did have this and didn’t need me. Pre-meetings are often a sign of wasted time. Invest in knowing how much your team is preparing to meet with you. Even if you think you’re low maintenance.
Despite my best efforts to change-up the meetings under my influence, I sometimes succumb, keep my mouth shut, and attend my fair share of time-wasters. That’s why when I received this note from a subscriber, I promised to write a blog response and schedule it up next.
I’ll offer my best thinking and hand it over to the LGL village for additional suggestions:
“I just read your recent post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork, and was personally touched when you started talking about misuse of staff meetings. It seems all I do is have read-out staff meetings and my staff hates them. But, I like it because the team is together as a whole and they learn what each other is working on and it does stimulate great conversation. However, they still hate them and, honestly, I hate them too. I would love to hear your perspective on how to have high-energy staff meetings. What are my alternatives? What can I do to achieve my goal of getting my 12 member team together weekly but not be a boring mess?
Make Your Meetings More Productive
Cancel The Meeting & Create White Space – Pick one afternoon a week or a month that no one can talk to each other. Or take a regularly scheduled meeting, and just cancel it. See what happens over time. See how work gets done. See Jason Fried’s TED Talk: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.
Make Each Meeting Unique – Even if you hold a regular weekly meeting, have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting that you articulate in advance. For example, by the end of this meeting we will:
identify the most important pages for our website
review our declining customer service trends and brainstorm 3 key actions to take this month
identify the theme and breakouts for our next symposium
If your answer is read-out on results and progress on action plans cancel the meeting, and find another way.
Ins-and-outs – Decide who needs to be there for which part of the meeting and then design the agenda accordingly. My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect. We started with the larger group and narrowed as the topics move along. I make it clear that this is not to exclude, but a time-saving exercise.
Stand-up Or Walk Among Yourselves – I’ll admit, when results go down, I intervene more. I’m a big believer in the stand-up huddle. Almost like a time-out check in for the day (or week). I think a big problem with meetings as we see them as sit on your butt occasions. Some of the best meetings start with “got a sec?” Try to emulate that feeling as much as possible. As Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk: Fresh Air Drives Fresh Thinking.
Make them think – I love the idea of Idea Tickets from Michael Michalko: “In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.”
PS: Tune in on Monday and we’ll talk about the most challenging kind of meetings: skip level meetings.