Are you productive, or just busy? How about the people on your team? It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent and not focus on the important. Today, Chris and Perry talk about how to move yourself and your team from being busy to being productive.

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Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results.

Hi, I’m Perry Holley a John Maxwell, facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining us once again. We’re grateful that you take some time to listen to our thoughts on this leadership podcast and continue to grow yourself as a leader.

As a reminder, before we get started, if you want to visit, Perry created a learner’s guide there for you that you can download, follow along with us, if you want to leave a question or a comment, maybe even just learn a little bit more about what we’re doing with organizations and The 5 Levels of Leadership, 360° Leader, all that information is there.

Well, here’s why we’re here. Today, and you guys know, this is my favorite part, nothing else matters in the next 15 minutes, what we say, what we talk about. I love revealing Perry’s title, which is really ironic because they’re his title, his content, but I get the fun job of revealing it. So, today’s topic is we’re going to talk about leaders challenge, moving people from busy to productive. Now, immediately, I feel like I shouldn’t be talking about moving people, we should talk about me, like how to we move-

Perry Holley:    This is an intervention.

Chris Goede:     This is the intervention. How do we move us as leaders, really, and people from being busy to productive? And what I love about this is this really falls into level three influence. How are we increasing our level of influence by being productive inside organizations? I was just talking to an organization this morning, and getting ready to run and do some podcasts with Perry, and I said both of us have a natural level to bent. We’re all bent one way or another, and we would just sit around and talk and connect and sing Kumbaya, but we have got to make sure that we are being productive as leaders. So, talk to me a little bit about where this is coming from.

Perry Holley:    I thought about that when you came rolling in here a few minutes late, I said, “Should I just tell Chris we need to go to level three right now?” We do not have time for a level two.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. And you should have. And you should have. That’s right. That’s right.

Perry Holley:    So, yeah, level three are producing results. And one thing we do in the workshop when we’re studying level three, we often ask leaders do you transfer your level of productivity to the people on your team? Do they mimic you? If your team were as productive as you are, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? And many leaders flinch a little bit when we ask because although they are hyper-busy, and nobody, by the way, I’ve done a worldwide survey, everybody’s busy, many of them say that they’re not that productive. And they do a lot, but they don’t have much to show for it except for a lot of busyness. So, I often said to myself, actually I have a sign on my desk for years to remind myself “I know you’re busy Perry, but busy doing what?” So, the idea today was are there ways you as a leader can move your people to a high level of productivity and maybe even yourself as you said?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And I love that because there are a lot of things that we can get busy with. I think about I like to make checklists, and I like to mark the off. And at the end of the day, am I marking off the right things, or am I just marking off the things that I can mark off because they’re easy to get done?

Perry Holley:    Because they’re easy. Yes, that’s right.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s right. It wasn’t necessarily productive. And so, as you know, Perry brings different thought leaders to us, different quotes. One of the quotes we have here for you today is just from Jim Rohn on this topic where he says, “Learn how to separate the majors and the minors. A lot of people do well simply because they major in minor things.” And I think that’s so true. If you thought about the list that you had to accomplish and what you have to go through, you began to then break it out into major versus minor, it’d be interesting to see which one of those Chris Goede is checking off the list and is it the right category? And so, is that kind of where we’re going? Is that what you’re going to help us with today?

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Yeah, it’s very interesting. That little quote, the reason I put that in there, it really affected me. I use it all the time on coaching calls when people are telling me that they didn’t get this done or that done. I said, “Are you majoring on majors or are you majoring on minors?” And it just stops the conversation because we start analyzing it. Yeah, a lot of the minors creep in because they’re easy to do. I can knock off a bunch of things quickly, and I don’t have anything to show for it when I’m done.

Chris Goede:     Another thing, what I was just thinking about when you said that was are we majoring in things that only you can do for the organization? Right? You and I were just having a conversation before this it was like, “Hey, how can I help you? What’s going on? What can I … And so when we look at that list of things, it’s just kind of right off the top of my head, am I majoring on those things that maybe some other people on the team can be doing, maybe even a little bit better than I can? And so as you begin to look at that … I love that we’re going to unpack this today.

Perry Holley:    So, I came up with seven things that I look at and we’ll move quickly through them, but I just want to remind our listeners, if you’re the leader, this is for you, but it also is for you to coach your team on. These are seven things you could be helping everyone to move past busy to productive. Number one, and I have to say, and you probably have too is I have lived this. This is one of the biggest challenges I face personally because I’m a distractaholic, I can be easily distracted and get doing too many things at one time. But number one for me was you just absolutely have to have a system for organizing and tracking your most important work, or efforts, or projects.

A lot of this comes from the teaching of David Allen in Getting Things Done where he called it capturing your open loops. You can’t keep all these things in your head. We try, but it’s exhausting, and it leads to a lot of missed loops if I don’t have a system for capturing what it is I’m doing and what the next action is. And this is you can track your outcomes on what you’re trying to accomplish, the actions that you’ve got to take to get there. You can also track the next action required. I started doing this was if I want to put a project away for a bit, what is the next action required? Did I delegate something? Then I can put that aside and move onto something else. But I need to know what any of the to-dos that I may have assigned to someone else or to myself, where are we with those?

People that use electronic, they keep it on in the Cloud, what do you do? I started using file folders, physical file folders at my desk, but you can do this obviously with digital file folders as well, do it electronically if you prefer that, but I tried both, but what I had was I had stuff all over my desk and I wanted a way to clear my desk, to clear my space and say, “What am I working on so that I could focus”?” So, I would take that file folder out. I put a little box next to my desk that had the other file folders, and then I would use that as a file. And when I pulled the folder out, it would say what’s the next act you need to take, and I would begin to work. It’s a little system, and like I said, reading from David Allen and others the ways that you can make it work for yourself. But I personally prefer to have the physical folders, although a lot of my documents and things are in the Cloud on my desktop on my laptop. But what do you think about systems?

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Chris Goede:     Well, I think we have to have them. I think Chris Fore, one of our executive facilitators and coaches says all the time, “Lead where you’re strong, team or build systems around systems where you’re weak.” And I’m just going to go out on a limb and say most of us are probably pretty weak in this area about having a system of being productive. Can we be productive? Are we productive? Yes. If we had a system would we be even more productive? Absolutely. And I think as we talk about a culture inside your organization, a leadership culture, you often say leadership is a visual sport. People are watching you. And as leaders, if you have a system and are becoming more productive, I think your team will see that, your people will see that, those that you have influence will do it, and it’ll be contagious. And I think as a team, you’ll become more productive.

For me, personally, again, we went back to the checklist. I have a bad habit of where there’s a notepad I grab it and I write down thoughts in other meetings or phone calls or whatever, and then all of a sudden, I got 15 different little stickies around my desk and I got to kind of bring them all back into one page.

What I was thinking about though, two things came to mind around this. Number one, I was being coached by a gentleman that ran a very successful insurance organization a long time ago, and one of the things he said I thought was very interesting was that he devoted certain days to certain parts of the company or projects, and so Monday’s a meeting day, whatever, maybe Thursday, Friday are different, availability meeting, but on Tuesdays, it was this part of the business and we’re going after this really, really hard and we’re staying focused. And on Wednesdays it was this part of the business, we’re going after really hard. And I thought it was very interesting because it allowed him to build a system where he was really, really focused on being productive with that part of his organization that time of day.

The other thing was what we do on our Monday meetings with EOS, it’s a system that we have implemented inside of our organization, use their tools, we’re also helping other organizations begin to do this, to run more effective meetings, and I thought about that when you said, “Hey, what’s the next step that I need to do?” One of the things that’s really helped us is as a team is become very clear on what that next step is in order to be productive, not just busy, and we’d be like, “Oh, okay, here’s something we’re going to be working on.” And then the next meeting it’s like, “Oh, we’re still working on it.” No, no, no, no, no. What’s the next step and were you productive? Did you complete it? And then henceforth. So, that’s another example of a system that our team is using outside of just us as leaders to help build this productive leadership culture.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Good. I love that. Number two is similar, but a little different is you must also have a system to capture inputs. I cannot tell you the number of people I speak with, and this was so true of me as well is that if the phone rings, a text message comes in, an email comes, I’m actually almost working out of my inbox, which is not a healthy thing to do. So, inputs are coming at you all the time. Like I said, email, phone calls, text messages, WhatsApp, somebody stopping by the office door. It really never stops. So you need a way to decide what’s important, what’s not, and where it goes. Fix it. Take action on it. Send it to someone else, whatever that is, but we get in trouble and things fall through the cracks when we don’t have a way to really capture what’s coming at me. So, again, if I get an email, and I do schedule when I do my email, I see something that relates to one of those projects, I might grab that folder, make a note, put that in there. It might be online. I have a folder there and capture those inputs. This is so key by capturing those open loops and capturing those inputs, it doesn’t stay in your head. I’m going to tell you what, this is going to sound funny-

Chris Goede:     Yeah, it’s good.

Perry Holley:    You will sleep better-

Chris Goede:     That’s very good.

Perry Holley:    … because you know it’s captured. You can focus better because you’re not trying “What was that I was trying not to forget?” I don’t have to. I captured it. And if I know it’s captured, I can let it go. I know where it is because my filing system is by design and I know where it is and now I can focus on the next important thing, a major to do.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, as leaders, what did we do before email? Don’t want to answer that. You were probably around. I wasn’t there yet. No, I’m just kidding you.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, we had stones and chisels.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. Yeah. Because when you talk about the input. No doubt leaders listening to this, the things that are coming in your world on a daily basis, it’s incredible, whether it’s customers, whether it’s some of your team members, whether it’s emails, and phone messages. What I have found is you just hit me on the head which is if I open it and I know that I can’t respond in the moment I get stressed out because it stays in my mind whether that’s a voicemail or an email. Now, this may not be the right system for you, but for me, I don’t open an email or I don’t open a voicemail unless I have time and I’m willing to respond to that in that moment. I heard you just mentioned and we’ll probably talk a little more about this about scheduling times specifically for emails. Because if I open a bunch of emails and then I have 10 open emails that are just sitting there that I know have action items that I’ve got to do and I don’t do it, it just it weighs on me. And so I commit to myself, I have a special time for emails. And then, even, voicemails. And those that may know me, have connection with me that are listening to this, they’re like, “Oh, that is so true. Goede doesn’t ever, Chris Goede doesn’t ever respond to my emails or voicemails in a timely manner.”

And I got to get better at it, but that’s kind of the system if I know if I open it and I don’t have time to respond or take action on it, it just weighs on me. So, I don’t open it or I don’t listen to that voicemail until I have time to do it and then I say, “No matter what, I’m going after this until I get it at least off my plate.”

Perry Holley:    Well, what I worry about you is you do respond but that’s at 12:07 AM when I’m receiving these emails from you. I’m like, I’m not sure I want to know about that. Number three was it’s just simple, but it’s probably hard is determine your priorities. And I just think of Big Rocks First, Steven Covey. I did a lesson and I often teach this, about Big Rocks First and how he did it with putting the rocks in the containers. If you haven’t seen that on YouTube go see it.

Chris Goede:     Oh, yeah, go watch it.

Perry Holley:    However, the question I got afterwards was well, how do you determine your big rocks? And I thought that was the obvious part, but it’s not for a lot of people. What’s your thought about determining what your priorities are?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I wrote down this. I was thinking knowing versus doing. So, am I just doing things as a leader or do I really go back and look and know what my priorities … I mentioned a few minutes ago, what is it that only you can do? Now, that sounds a little self-serving. There are other people do what you’re doing, but as a leader in an organization, what should you be doing? And I mentioned I was talking to an organization this morning, we were talking about self-awareness, and I said, “Hey, when it comes to leading or beginning to lead people, does your calendar align with the priorities of what the organization is expecting from you as leader? And I had to say, “Mine doesn’t at times.” And it’s going to be okay, but it’s not okay to allow that to continue to happen. I talked about how self-awareness is a habit, it’s an ongoing thing no matter where you’re at in your leadership journey. And so, I think as leaders, we really have got to sit down and think about what are our priorities, and then does the production that is driven from those priorities play a priority on our calendar, in other words, a priority right there? But I think that’s a question we should be asking ourselves often.

Perry Holley:    Well, I have always told people, if you give me your calendar and your checkbook, I can tell what’s important to you.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. That’s right.

Perry Holley:    Where’s your money going, those are your priorities whether you admit to them or not.

Chris Goede:     Would that mean Amazon is one of the priorities inside my family?

Perry Holley:    Yes, I think it’s Prime Day.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, Prime. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.

Perry Holley:    All right, number four. Got this from Dr. Jason Self, a book that he Organizing Tomorrow Today, and it really got my attention was when you have your priorities, determine each day for tomorrow, what are your three most importants and one must. Your three most importants and one must. What Dr. Self said is that on a daily basis, really looking at what am I going to start with tomorrow, and what are the three things I absolutely have to get done, and one thing mandatory? And he usually says get it done before 11:00 AM, which made me smile because that’s about when the day comes off the rails and everybody wants something from you in doing that. But I think if you can think of the most important task you need to accomplish tomorrow and write it down, it’s going to get you off to a great start. And that means that I don’t start my day with email. I don’t start my day with phone calls. I start my day with my three most importants, and usually start with my one must first, and then work on that until it’s done. And then I can schedule. We’ll talk about time blocking in a minute. But when do you do the email? When do you do these other things? Not while you’re doing your three most importants and one must.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And if you’re having a hard time deciding what that is as a leader, then what I’d encourage you to do is have a conversation with your leader and review that list and say, “Hey, from your perspective in regards to what you need of me, how would you prioritize these? What are they?” Now, you can’t do that on a daily basis, but if you want to get into the right rhythm of it, I would encourage you to have that conversation. The reason I say that is that again, leaders go first. So, you should be having that conversation with your leader as you’re looking at so that you know what your big rocks are, what you got to go after, that’s really hard, not easy for you to kind of check through that list that you have. And the reason why I say you go first is because then I would encourage you to do that with your team. “Hey, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate. Bring the entire list to me and let me help you kind of look through it and let’s talk about it so you know this week which one to go after first.” That’s kind of more of a weekly approach.

I do think it’s something as leaders you got to be aware of on a daily basis because you want to make sure that you are definitely not just responding … You know, we talk about the urgent versus important, you’re not just responding to the flavor of the month, the urgency, but what’s really important and due after first, I think it’s great to be able to have a collaborative conversation about that.

Perry Holley:    You just triggered a thought. I had a coaching client, we were talking about things, it was this exact subject and he said, “What do you do if you’ve got your priorities, you know what you’re supposed to be working on, you’re majoring on your majors, and your boss keeps bringing you stuff and telling you to do something else?” And thinking about you saying do you have agreement with your boss about what are the priorities? But bosses still have a way of throwing other things on your plate.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    As I look at you sternly. And what I came up with and I’ve thought about how I’ve handled this is I call it the yes-no paradox is that if I say yes to one thing, I’ve by default said no to something else.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    And so, I just turn that back to my boss in a very respectful way to say, “I hear you. You want this done. If I say yes to doing what you just said, I’m going to need to say no to something else. Which of these priorities would you like me to say no to?”

Chris Goede:     That’s good. That’s it.

Perry Holley:    And then the boss really realizing, and may say, “I need you to say no, this is a priority, I need you to say yes to this.”

Chris Goede:     That’s good.

Perry Holley:    Or, “No, you know what? This can wait until you get those priorities completed.”

Chris Goede:     That’s good.

Perry Holley:    And it wasn’t meant to be pushing back or being rude, it was just meant to shine a light on the fact that let’s quit kidding each other. I have X amount of time to work on things, what things should I be working on? What priorities? And I want my boss to help me with those priorities and make sure I’m on the right ones. But occasionally, other things put up, and if I say yes to that, I’m going to have to say no to something else.

Chris Goede:     Love it. That’s good.

Perry Holley:    Number five, I mentioned it briefly was time blocking. Just it took me a really long time to figure this out, but I need to schedule time and block my calendar for the important things I need to do. So, for instance, the three most importants and one must, I would look at 45 minutes to 90 minutes, never more than 90 minutes before I check back in with voicemail or text, or the team, or whatever I need to do, but maybe block another 45 minutes to 90 minutes. I would try to do my email just before lunch and just before going home. I would return calls at the end of the day, maybe late morning, depending on what I had going on. But big thing I learned here was I was allowing other people to schedule my calendar and I took whatever time was leftover, which was not much, or I could schedule these things, block on my calendar, and then give everyone else what’s leftover, which really worked better for me.

And I found out that people are very flexible. They didn’t have to have 9:30 in the morning, they just took it because my whole calendar looked open to them. And if I said, “I’m only open from 10:00 to 10:20” they’ll take it. And so I just being intentional about where that time goes so that I know that I’m getting my most productive stuff earlier in the day and then giving people what’s leftover, not my prime time.

Chris Goede:     And what I want to encourage leaders is you know when your prime time is. For Perry and I, it’s first thing in the morning.

Perry Holley:    Yeah.

Chris Goede:     It may not be yours, so we’re talking about it being that, but I think the importance here is that you do block your time to be able to go after those things we’re talking about, to be productive. One of the things you mentioned about hey maybe it’s 45 minutes I block out, maybe it’s 90. One of the things that I’ve even started doing throughout the day so I can stay productive is we used to have hour-long meetings, and I’m like, “We don’t need an hour.” Matter of fact, I’m even contemplating maybe going back because now I do 45 so that I have a buffer of 15 to what are my takeaways? What do I need to do coming out of this? And making some notes, going into the next one. Now I’m even sitting there saying, do we need 45 minutes? Can we get it accomplished in 30, and then I have a 30-minute buffer to kind of move the ball along? The point here is to your point number five, we have got to be intentional about blocking out our calendar in order for us to be productive as leaders.

Perry Holley:    And your people need help with this too because-

Chris Goede:     Oh, yeah, everyone does. Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Number six, another big one I mentioned, I’m a distractaholic was minimize distractions. Actually having a coaching call about this topic and the guy … And we’re doing a Zoom call, and I noticed he was … I could hear the vibrating, but every three or four minutes a text message would come in and his phone would vibrate and he would stop and look over, and stop talking, and stop paying attention to what I was talking about to look at his phone, so I thought isn’t that a great example of turn off your devices if you’re going to focus and you hope to have any chance of focusing, you’ve got to turn off this symphony of noises that are in your office, email chimes, text message chimes, WhatsApp bongs, other brings, other pongs, give yourself the best chance possible to stay focused. Just for me, it was knowing how to silence a device for a certain amount of time, block that time, do that work, then turn that device back on. Catch up if you need to. And if you need to be reached by someone, let them know I’m going to be offline for 45 minutes while … Somebody once said, “I saw you were offline so I figured you weren’t working.” I said, “When I’m offline, it’s especially when I’m working.” But we train people the other way.

Chris Goede:     Other way. And in today’s world, and I think this is such an important topic because remember, we’re talking about helping you as a leader, but then, more importantly, you’re modeling something that becomes the leadership culture of your organization. And I promise you right now, there’s five generations in the workforce right now, and each one of them struggle with this in a different way.

Perry Holley:    That’s right.

Chris Goede:     But it’s getting worse. And there’s more distractions, the younger generations that are coming up, and they don’t have the ability to turn that off and focus. They got the TV on. They got the radio on. They got their phone there and they’re doing homework. I’m speaking specifically of some of my kids I’ve seen, and I’m like, “What is going on here?” I say that though, but that’s so relevant even from an organizational standpoint, what’s going on?

Perry Holley:    Number seven, and the final one was take the time to reflect and reassess what works for you? What doesn’t? Don’t be afraid to make intentional changes to increase your chances for success. I just know that you mentioned it a little bit earlier that not everything for everybody, but you got to take it seriously, you have to be intentional if you ever hope to really move past busy towards productive.

Chris Goede:     Well, as I wrap up today, Perry, thanks for bringing this to us, and I think this is so important that we’ve got to move from being busy to being productive to have a healthy, efficient, effective leadership culture. Here’s my challenge to you, some of these seven you’re probably already doing really well. Others, maybe not. To Perry’s point, I want you just to try them, and then evaluate that experience. What did you learn from it? What do you need to do differently? Ad then go back at it. And I’d also encourage you because there are so many things on our plate these days to really think about how do I major in the majors? How do I figure out what that is? And we talk about the fact that so many people are doing everything, maybe marginally well. Well, at the end of the day, your organization is not built to do marginally well, so how do we become really focused on being productive in one area? And that starts with you as the leader setting that example.

Perry Holley:    Perfect. Well, thank you, Chris, and thank you all for joining. As a reminder, there’s a learner guide for this episode if you’d like to see those seven written down, you can do that. You can also leave a comment or a question for us. You can do all that at We always love hearing from you, and we’re always grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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