Quick-Fix Tips for 4 Common Leadership Productivity Killers

Here’s what you need to do to avoid common productivity pitfalls and maximize every workday.


Here's what you need to do to avoid common productivity pitfalls and maximize every workday. 

The professional world is a busy place. A recent study found that the average CEO works around 9.7 hours per weekday – plus around four hours per day on weekends. That equals out to a whopping 62.5-hour workweek. And these long hours also seem to trickle down through organizations. According to a report from Gallup, it’s estimated that the average full-time worker puts in 47 hours of work each week – about 17.5% longer than the traditional workweek, and also among the highest in the world.

Ironically, a Work Market/KRC Research Workforce Productivity report, which polled 200 Chief Financial Officers and line-of-business managers, found that only 31% of upper-level managers feel their workplace is as productive as it should be. In fact, studies have shown that the average employee is only productive for a full three hours out of every eight-hour workday.

Given that salaries generally represent a substantial percentage of the operating costs of the average business, the ability to tap into your team’s wasted time and convert it to productivity is crucial. And as a business leader, this change starts with you. It’s on you to lead by example.

Read on to learn some quick-fix tips you can implement to help eliminate these common killers of leadership productivity:

  • Ineffective Decision-Making
  • Inefficient Task Prioritization
  • Inability to Delegate, Distribute Work, or Ask for Help
  • Challenges with Tackling Procrastination

Ineffective Decision-Making 


It’s estimated that we make . Some are big, some are small. But with that volume of decisions, getting hung up on even a few of them can be a waste of valuable time. Here are a few easy tactics you can to make quick, impactful, and actionable decisions:

Trust Your Gut - This is common advice for good reason. Your is based on the subconscious wisdom you’ve picked up from a lifetime of experiences and decisions. That means it’s giving you instant insight before you’ve even had time to think about it! When it comes time to make a big call, take note of your first instinct. It’s often the right one.

Seek Perspective - Ask for opinions on the subject and do your research. Whether it's a colleague, a mentor, or even a friend or family member, this will provide you with a middle ground to base your decision on. Sometimes, the people who are least connected to the subject can give you the most unbiased input. But be careful to avoid seeking too much outside perspective, though. It could risk over-cluttering your thought process. 

Evaluate the Pros and Cons - This is a simple and effective approach to decision-making. To adequately make a decision, you need to weigh the good against the bad, evaluate the potential outcomes, and put them all in a list. Not all decisions are black and white, so look at your list of pros and cons to make the best choice with the facts at hand.

If you’re looking for an even deeper understanding of how to tackle complicated choices, make good decisions, recognize common decision-making traps, and become more accountable, get in touch to learn how our Confident Decision-Making program can help.


Inefficient Task Prioritization 


As a professional, you’ve probably got a lot on the go at any given time. And there’s often a difference between what’s pressing and what’s important. This can make prioritization and practical time management challenging. Luckily, there are a few simple steps to help you get it right:

Build Your To-Do List - Build out a solid to-do list for the day to gain visibility on the tasks you need to tackle. Here are a few ways to build – and stick to – an actionable to-do list:

  • Be Selective - Don’t confuse quantity with quality. Unnecessary items can make a to-do list feel overwhelming and unapproachable. Be selective in your tasks and only include real priorities.
  • Double Down - Develop two lists – one long-term and one daily list. This way, you’ll have visibility on your ongoing projects while also setting daily priorities to keep momentum.
  • Break Out To-Do’s into Actionable Steps - Big to-do list tasks can be daunting. Instead, break big tasks into specific, actionable items. This way, the individual items in each task will take less effort, energy, and time to achieve, in turn making them more approachable and accomplishable. For instance, let’s say you’ve got a report to do and it’s comprised of three parts: an overview, an analysis, and a recommendation of what to do with the information. Rather than adding “Finish Report” to your to-do list, add the individual components instead. Having the portions broken out will make the project more manageable and easier to get started on.
  • Check Things Off Your List - This may seem basic, but there’s a feel-good effect that comes from completing tasks and checking them off your to-do list. Why does that happen? Because when you check items off your to-do list, your brain releases a kick of dopamine – the “feel-good” chemical. Here’s how it works. In her book, “The Entrepreneurial Instinct: How Everyone Has the Innate Ability to Start a Successful Business,” author Monica Mehta explores the role of brain chemistry in entrepreneurship. She explains that collecting wins, no matter how big or small, releases dopamine into our bodies. So, when we experience even small amounts of success, like checking items off our to-do list, we get a small kick of dopamine which fuels us to keep going and keep achieving more tasks. So, whether you check it off, draw a line through it, tap an app or a digital calendar, or any other favorite form of indicating that particular job is done, make sure you do it - and enjoy the small victory. 
  • Schedule Time Blocks – It’s important to put your to-do list into action by scheduling specific time blocks in your day for each task. Psychologically, it will help you commit to doing it. And even if you don’t complete it entirely during the scheduled time block, you’ll at least have gotten a start at it. And the good news is that, once you’ve gotten underway, you’re statistically more likely to complete the task – science has shown that it’s harder to ignore an unfinished task than it is to ignore one you haven’t started yet.
  • Plan Ahead and Be Realistic - Give yourself some time to build your to-do list. For your short-term list, try to do it the night before. That way, you’ll wake up knowing exactly what’s on the go for the day. For your long-term list, build it out at the beginning of the month and do a mid-month check-in to evaluate how things are going. Most importantly, be realistic. Things inevitably pop up, so allow yourself some flex time during the day.
  • Find and Implement the Right Tools – Finding the right tool to manage your to-do list is a key step in actually using it. Whether it’s a traditional pen and notepad, or a digital solution, there are plenty of options available. If you’re a proponent of digital to-do lists, look for something that makes it fast and easy to add items; offers a clean and easy-to-use interface; makes it difficult to miss deadlines; and, most importantly, syncs between every app you use. We recommend checking out apps like Todoist and TickTick. If you’re a heavy Gmail and Google Calendar user, check out Google Tasks. And if you want a little bit of fun to help you get through your list, download Habitica, which treats your to-do list like a real-life game.

Decide What’s Urgent vs. What’s Important - According to a recent studyby the Journal of Consumer Research, people often choose to focus on urgent tasks with short completion windows rather than prioritizing more important, longer-term goals. That’s because, sometimes, urgent tasks disguise themselves as important tasks, but that’s not always the case. To avoid this, look at your to-do list and decide what needs immediate action – think “mission critical” – and what can wait. Here are a few steps to help you distinguish between the two:

Understand That All Tasks Aren’t Equal – Not all tasks hold the same value. Some will take a long time to complete, while others can be executed quickly. The thing is that the amount of time required to achieve a task isn’t necessarily an indicator of its value. Some tasks will take forever to accomplish and not really carry much value. Others will be quick and have a huge impact. Understanding this fact is important.

 Think about this as a “time/value” ratio:

  • High-time, high-value (like developing a marketing strategy or conducting fiscal planning)
  • Low-time, high-value (such a s putting the final touches on a  high-importance project)
  • High-time, low-value (this might be something like filing away the content of an extensive inbox)
  • Low-time, low-value (scheduling meeting invitations or responding to non-urgent emails)

Categorize Tasks Based on Value - Impartially assessing the value of a task isn’t always easy – especially when you have deliverables due to different departments or colleagues. But once you’ve tested each task against the “time/value” ratio, you’ll get a realistic look at what’s important versus what’s urgent. It’s integral to assign realistic time estimates to each task and be honest about their But be wary. We know that checking items off the to-do list feels good, but you need to be disciplined in your approach. Because it’s easy to get bogged down by a bunch of low-value, low-time tasks – and getting the satisfaction of checking items off your list – but this will inevitably lead to a crash when you find yourself up against a whole bunch of leftover high-time, high-value tasks.

Weigh Time/Value Ratio Against Deadline - By now, you know how long a task is going to take you, and you know how important it is. Next, it’s important to be ensure you’re aware of the deadlines for each task. With each item, make sure you’ve an understanding of when it’s due. This will help inform the final step of the process.

Order Tasks Accordingly - Once you’ve put the time/value ratio to your tasks and assigned each one a deadline, you can get a better look at your day and determine how to execute them. If your day is wide open, you can work through tasks as you see fit – if you prefer to get the quick, important stuff out of the way, then go for that. Or if you’d rather start with the time-consuming important things while you have energy before moving onto quicker ones, that works too.

Alternatively, if your day is jam-packed with meetings and you’re short on work time, you can prioritize based on importance and deadline.

For instance, a high-time, low-value task due at the end of the day today may need to take priority over a low-time, high-value task due two days from now. Having this visibility on your deliverables will help you prioritize what’s important versus what’s urgent.


Always Have Something You Can Be Doing – Now that you’ve gone through the time/value ratio and identified your deadlines, you can use this insight to eliminate “dead time” by making sure you always have something you can be doing. Break your to-do list into tiers based on time required to action them, for instance:

  • Things that take less than 20 minutes
  • Things that take between 20 minutes and an hour
  • Things that  take more than an hour 

Then, look at your schedule for the day and pencil in tasks to work on based on available time. That way, you’ll be able to maximize your day and check items off your list by filling every time gap you have, whether it’s a few minutes between meetings or a few hours of unimpeded work time.

Draw Time Boundaries on Tasks - There’s nothing worse than wasting unnecessary time on tasks – important or unimportant. Just ask author and former dot-com business executive Seth Godin. Seth suggests that eventually, you need to “Just Ship It.” The premise of this theory is that you get more done when you set a deadline and then submit whatever “it” is when that deadline hits – even if it’s unfinished and imperfect. While this doesn’t always work literally in a professional setting, taking that “Just Ship It” mentality can help you draw time boundaries on tasks, execute them to the best of your ability and get them out the door when the deadline comes.

If you’re looking for additional insights and hands-on practice at managing time effectively, connect with us to learn more about our Practical Time Management program.


Inability to Delegate, Distribute Work, or Ask for Help


Delegating, distributing work, and asking for help when you’re overwhelmed. All three of these are things that most professionals will, at some point, have to do. But for many, they aren’t easy to do, and they don’t come naturally. But failing to do so can kill productivity and waste unnecessary time. Here are five pointers to make delegating, distributing work, and asking for help a little bit easier:

1. Learn to Let Go - It can be tough to let go and trust your team to get things done. Maybe it's because you feel too dedicated to your work, or because you worry about your team being able to get it done right. It could also be because you know you're ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your team. But whatever it is, that's the first step in becoming a great delegator. Start with small tasks while you build the trust and work your way up. The better your rapport with your staff, the easier it will be to hand off assignments. If you're a new leader with a new team, consider hosting a team building event to break the ice and get to know one another. 

  • Motivate and Inspire - People do great work when they’re inspired and motivated. As a leader, it’s your duty to ensure they feel that way. Here are some key ways you can help your team feel more inspired and motivated: 
    • Set Clear Goals: The goals you set for your team need to be clear, measurable, and unambiguous. To be inspired, your team needs to know exactly what they’re working towards – and why (more on this to come!). To set effective and actionable goals, focus on making them “SMART”:
      • Specific – The more specific a goal, the more likely it is to be achieved. Instead of, “drive sales,” think, “raise revenue by 30%.”
      • Measurable - In addition to the specific desired outcome, set milestones along the way for your team members to meet so they know they’re still on track.
      • Attainable: Make sure goals can actually be achieved. Unattainable goals will only serve to dishearten and demotivate employees.
      • Relevant: Make sure your goals are aligned with the mission o f your company or the end customer.
      • Timely: Set deadlines. These will vary depending on the scope of the project, but goals will only be achieved if they're measured against a specific timeframe. 
  • Communicate the Vision - This is the “why” to your SMART goals. For your team, feeling connected to the company vision means feeling inspired and motivated. That’s why it’s important to let them know why their tasks matter and show them how they fit into the bigger picture. You can do this by:
    • Explaining the direct connection between their work and its benefit to the business or impact on the customer.
    • Being consistent and providing constant reminders of the goals being strived for.
    • Encouraging two-way communication so that your team feels comfortable and confident to ask questions if they're unclear as to why a direction is being taken or a task is being done. 
  • Empower People - There’s nothing quite as impactful as trust and empowerment when it comes to motivating a team. It’s important that you encourage your employees to believe in themselves by showing them you believe in them too. To do so, you can:
    • Assign your team challenging tasks and offer support as they manage them holistically.
    • Encourage proactivity in taking on new opportunities by giving them when they're asked for.
    • Reinforce your confidence in their abilities by providing proactive positive feedback. 
  • Give Support (When It’s Needed) - Be there for your team when they need you, but don’t micromanage. Be available, but don’t breathe down their necks. To do this, your availability from the outset, and coordinate preset meetings and check-ins. This will allow you to be more hands-off by providing you both with a scheduled time to get visibility and ask questions. To learn more about the effective and impactful habits and tactics used by some of the world's greatest leaders, check out our article: Actionable Habits and Tactics to Drive Leadership Success

3. Provide Instructions and Timelines and Follow Up - Mistakes are often made when people don’t fully understand what’s being asked of them. You can help avoid this by providing detailed instructions – even if it feels like you’re over-explaining. Make sure you’re also providing clear timelines for the task and follow up routinely while you build up a trusting rapport. There are some great tools available to help keep transparency on tasks and deadlines. At Outback, we use Smartsheet to help our team track tasks, deadlines, and the status of ongoing .

4. Be Available for Questions - Even after a thorough briefing, it’s still reasonable to expect that your team might have follow-up questions. Letting them know you’re happy to answer questions will empower them to be able to deliver their best work. Making yourself approachable and available will ultimately enhance the outcome of the task you’ve delegated.

5. Trust but Verify - It’s important to trust your team, but everyone makes mistakes or misses from time to time! So, always ensure you verify the work you’ve delegated. And once you’ve done so, take the time to give praise, or provide constructive criticism to help your team learn for next time.

Providing clear and actionable feedback is integral to the success of your team. If you want to learn more about effective methods of doing so, give us a shout to learn more about our Productive Feedback and Performance Reviews program.


Challenges with Tackling Procrastination 


Have you ever sat at your desk, looked at your to-do list and simply gotten stuck? No matter your job or your role, procrastination is a problem that plagues everyone from time to time. Here are a few quick tricks you can implement to help you tackle procrastination:

Visualize Success and Understand the Cost of Inaction - Look at both sides of the coin when it comes to your tasks. Consider the repercussions of failing to get the task done, and who it will have implications for. On the flip side of the coin, visualize how great it will feel to get the task done and use that positivity as your motivator.

Set Daily Non-Negotiables - On any given day, there will inevitably be things you just don’t feel like doing. So, when you’re building out your to-do list, categorize a few tasks as non-negotiable. That way, you know that you’ll be accomplishing goals every day, even if a few get bumped back to another day.

Set a Time and Eliminate Distractions - It’s all too easy to get sidetracked – whether it’s meetings, incoming emails, or even looking at your phone. To cut out procrastination, set a timer and eliminate all distractions. Tell yourself that, within that timeframe, you won’t look at your phone, you won’t check your emails and you won’t get into conversations or meetings. And don’t be afraid to communicate this to your colleagues. If you need a little bit of support in eliminating distractions, there are a ton of great apps available, including Freedom, which allows you to block any sites and apps you want, and Mindful Browsing, which provides gentle nudges away from purposeless internet surfing and app usage.

Create Accountability – Have you ever set a meeting but then found yourself feeling like you don’t want to or don’t have time to attend? The odds are you most likely went through with it anyhow because you had committed to somebody else. Right? So, when you’re coming up against a task you simply don’t feel like doing, make yourself accountable. Set a deadline and verbalize it – to a client, to a colleague, whoever it might be. And if you don’t have anybody to verbalize it to, then set a deadline and add it to your calendar. Even the act of having to look at it will help you stay on track.

Change Your Scenery – A study by Regus found that 53% of workers suffer from symptoms of cabin fever at work and find relief by varying their work environment. So, if you're feeling stuck, try mixing up your scenery. Relocate to a new area of the office, go to work at a coffee shop, or go for a stroll. Even a ten-minute break for a walk and some fresh air can be enough to refresh your brain and give you some much-needed renewed focus.

Indulge in a Little Self-Reward - Don’t be afraid to reward yourself for accomplishing tasks. It’s important to “dangle a carrot” in front of yourself! Whether it’s something small, like giving yourself a coffee break once you finish a deliverable, or something bigger, like a celebratory dinner to wrap up a project, the key is to create incentives to get things done.

Learn More About Professional Skills Development 

For more information about professional skills development activities you can do with your colleagues, download your free copy of Actionable Habits and Tactics of Success Leaders or just reach out to our Employee Engagement Consultants.

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