You’re Not As Busy As You Think You Are: 4 Steps To Becoming Less Busy

BusySo you’re busy. Join the club. It seems that everyone is busy all the time. Granted, there are times when it can get overwhelming. That’s the nature of business. That being said, you’re probably not as “busy” as you think you are.

How so? Well, it boils down to a simple comparison: “busy” work vs. “productive” work. Most managers and leaders spend way too much time on “busy” work. Things like putting out fires, running reports, allowing interruptions, and micro managing are examples of “busy” work. Of course, fires have to be put out and reports have to be run. Inevitably, interruptions will also occur. The question is whether or not such tasks can be delegated to other people in order for leaders to focus on “productive” work.

Examples of “productive” work include coaching, mentoring, strategizing, planning, and producing. As part of my Leadership Thought-System, ABSURD!, participants are encouraged to “let go” of the “busy” work. It’s hard to do but it absolutely must be done. Here are 4 steps that you can take right now to become less busy:

Prioritize – you can’t do everything. Rather, you can’t do everything well if you’re trying to be a “one man/woman army.” So it’s important that you create a WRITTEN priority list. Ask your superiors to provide you with the most important tasks that you should be working on every day. Stick to that list. Everything you do from now on has to relate to the items on the priority list. If something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t have to be done. Scrap it.

Delegate. Delegate again. Delegate yet again. Your job is to be a leader. You’re not a babysitter, crisis manager, psychiatrist, or punching bag. If you’re honest with yourself and create a list of the things you work on every day, more likely than not you’ll come across things that can and should be delegated. Part of your job as a leader is to empower others. They need to learn how to deal with challenges and problems. They need to “learn the ropes.” The only way that they’re going to learn is by doing. There’s an old saying: “Show me and I’ll forget. Tell me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”  So involve people. Do it more. Do it often.

Prohibit unnecessary interruptions. You have permission to say “no” to being interrupted. And remember that “no” is a complete sentence. There are times when you have to close your door. You have important meetings or conference calls scheduled. Your full attention needs to be paid to other tasks. It’s nice to have an “open door” policy but truth be told, having such a policy often decreases productivity. Think of looking at your “to do” list at the end of the day and finding that you didn’t accomplish anything. Could it be that every time you started to work on something, you were interrupted by one of your staff? You have permission to tell your employees that you won’t be available from 9 to 11 or for the next half hour unless of course, there is an emergency. If a customer insists on speaking with the manager and you’re not available, your employees need to be trained to politely ask them to sit and wait until you’re free or encourage them to make an appointment. Your time is valuable. Start acting like it.

Cut down on the number of meetings you have. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how I feel about meetings. To summarize: most meetings are completely unnecessary. So it’s time to have meetings that matter. If something can be communicated via e-mail or a carefully written memo, you don’t need a meeting. A leader recently told me that on Mondays and Thursdays, he has 4 standing meetings, back-to-back before Noon. Seriously? I asked him how many of them are productive. His answer: none. He surmised that all of the different meetings could be held once or twice a month at most. I encouraged him to be brave and suggest that to the powers that be. He did. He prepared, showed data, and had a solution ready to be implemented. I wish I could say that all of the meetings were cut from weekly to monthly. Only 2 of the 4 were. But you have to start somewhere.

So make better use of the limited time you have.  Start with these 4 steps.  I’d love to hear your feedback so please comment below!

One of the services I provide is Strategic Planning facilitation. Take a look at the information page for more information and to see testimonials from clients that I’ve worked with.

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A Lesson in Poise & Professionalism…..PART 2

OBX Sunrise“A Lesson in Poise Professionalism…..PART 2”

 (Continued from PART 1)

 You’ve now been waiting 30 minutes or so and have moved a couple of paces forward in this gargantuan line of people trying to get to Raleigh, NC. You can see the frustration and tension mounting. Passengers are going to other ticket counters to see if the agents at those can help but those agents tell them that they have to work the flights leaving out of that gate. So back to our line they come. If they’re lucky, their fellow passengers will let them back in the line at the same place. If not, they come to the back of the line just behind you. Now the blame game really kicks in. “It’s this airline. They suck.” You try to remain calm so you don’t snap at the complainers who obviously don’t understand that it’s not this airline. It’s every airline and flight that needs to fly through D.C. airspace.

The line is moving now, albeit very slowly. Fast forward to about 2 hours later. You’re still about halfway from where you began to the ticket counter. By now, other gate agents have been told by their superiors to help with the re-bookings. For the past 30 minutes or so, you’ve been on the phone (holding) with the airline attempting to re-book that way. Your idea being either the phone representative or the gate agent is eventually going to help and you’ll deal with whomever talks to you first. Your family has eaten and taken a walking tour of the terminal, just to keep them moving and active. They’re back now and your wife is trying her best to not show her disappointment. But you’ve been together long enough to know better. You’ve also been hearing that flights to Raleigh are full for at least the next couple of days. After all, every airline is trying to accommodate passengers and you were at the back of the line. Not only Raleigh, but flights to surrounding airports are also being booked full – Norfolk, Richmond, Charlotte, Baltimore, Greensboro, Greenville. Now, despite your best efforts, you’re beginning to panic. What’s the point of arriving for a weeklong vacation 3 days late? Should we just drive? Hell, no. That’s 24 hours or so with a wife and children who are already at their limits. Can you fly out of other airports? Maybe New Orleans or San Antonio, or Dallas? Then you remember that it’s the destination airport that is affected so you won’t be able to get there from anywhere.

FINALLY, it’s your turn at the ticket counter. You disconnect your call with the airline (you’ve been holding for almost an hour anyway.) You are amazed that the gate agent greets you with not only a smile but also with her deepest apologies for this inconvenience. She wants to have a conversation with you. Really? After being yelled at, hissed at, cursed at and insulted for the past almost 3 hours, this lady still wants to know how you’re feeling and how she can help you?

By now dear reader, you’ve probably figured out that “you” is actually “me.” This is the story of how our family vacation began. So for the sake of avoiding confusion, I’m going to continue writing this post in the first person.

I say that it’s been a long day and I appreciate her willingness to help me. I explain that this is the start of our family vacation and that it’s extra special because my wife hasn’t seen her family in almost a year and our kids haven’t seen their cousins, aunts, uncles, and Pop-Pop. The agent is emotional. It’s been a long day for her too. She says these exact words, “we are going to get you all to your vacation. I know what it’s like to be away from family.” But then she renders the bad news that we won’t be able to get to Raleigh until Tuesday at the earliest (remember this is on a Saturday.) Before waiting for my response that while I appreciate that, we can look for alternatives to get us near the area earlier, she’s already one step ahead of me. Her fingers are working the keypad of her computer furiously. I can tell from the expressions on her face that she isn’t finding any availability on other flights. She tells me that if it were just me, it would be no problem. But finding 4 open seats on any flight is difficult. My heart begins to sink and I realize that we might not be able to pull this off. My wife is sitting close by and she hears all of the back and forth between the gate agent and I.

Then the agent says something that lifts both of our spirits….”I can get you to Charleston tonight. That’s not too far.” I look for driving distance between Charleston, SC and our destination in Corolla, Outer Banks, NC and see that it is about a 7 hour drive. It’s longer than the 4 hours it would take to drive from Raleigh but it’s much better than 24 hours! No questions asked, I said, “book it.” My wife’s face lit up. She smiled for the first time in hours. My son asked if we’re getting back on the plane and I say it’s going to be a different plane but yes we will get on a plane today. He shares the news with his sister, who is equally ecstatic.

As the agent is again typing furiously, I thank her for her assistance and I explain that I am a frequent traveler for business and that I try to use Southwest (that’s the airline, in case you haven’t guessed it yet) as often as possible because it’s just a better experience. She asks what I do for a living and I tell her that I’m a professional speaker and trainer and that I often use Southwest as an example when discussing outstanding customer service or business philosophy with clients. I also tell her that I’m sorry for what the other passengers may have put her through today. She looks at me and says, “thank YOU for being so patient and understanding. Really, it’s passengers like yourself that make me passionate about my job.” I’m impressed with her poise and professionalism despite the activities of the past few hours. I’m trying to pay her a compliment and she turns it around and makes me feel like a King. Over the past few minutes, it has been decided that we’re not going to try to drive through the night once we get to Charleston. So, we’ll need a hotel room for the night and I have to cancel our existing car rental reservation and make a new one to pick up a car in Charleston. So I ask my wife to see what she can find in both regards while I finish up at the counter. The agent hears me say this and tells me that I don’t have to worry about that because she is already looking to see how Southwest can be of assistance with hotel and car. Remember, I was dead last in line at this point so there really isn’t a rush. She asks another gate agent to see what she can do with a discounted hotel room for 4 people. Then I throw her a curveball. I ask if there is any possibility for us to fly back to Houston from Norfolk, VA instead of having to drive all the way back to Charleston. She doesn’t scowl at me, doesn’t frown, doesn’t sigh or express any kind of frustration at all. She smiles and says, “I’m sure we can find something like that.” And she did. I wanted to hug this woman but thought that might be awkward. I asked to speak to her supervisor instead. She looked concerned. I said that she did nothing wrong whatsoever. I just wanted to tell the boss how impressed I was and that as a customer service training expert, I wanted permission to share this story with my blog readers and conference audiences. She said, “seriously? How nice of you!” I told her that if it didn’t mean taking always such a valuable and passionate employee from Southwest, I would hire her tomorrow to work with me!

My dear friends – never underestimate the power of maintaining your professionalism and courtesy. It goes a long, long way. After my experience, I promised myself that from now on, I would look at Southwest first when looking to book business travel. It’s the least I can do for providing what I consider to be, one of the most pleasant customer experiences in my life.

Fast forward to the next morning. We leave the hotel room in Charleston en route to the Outer Banks. It takes us precisely 7 hours to arrive. When we do, my wife and kids leap out of the car. I’m a bit behind them but when I walk into the house, I see my wife hugging one sister, then another, then another, her brother, and finally her father. A lot of misty eyes, I can tell you (including mine.)

It was worth the wait.

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A Lesson in Poise & Professionalism…..PART 1

Picture it….you’re sitting on an airplane waiting to depart the gate. You’re excited because for the first time in a long time, you’re not leaving for a business trip. This time, a plane will be taking you to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for your annual family vacation. Actually, it will be taking you to Raleigh, NC and then you’ll be renting a car to drive the 4 hours to the coast. You’re not by yourself on this flight. Your wife and two children are with you. This vacation is especially meaningful for your wife because she hasn’t seen her family since moving across the country almost 10 months ago. This is your kids’ first time on an airplane. They’re also excited, but for different reasons. Actually, “excited” doesn’t begin to describe what they’re feeling. The plane is boarded but the aircraft door is still open and you’re still parked at the gate. The scheduled departure time comes and goes. 10 minutes past departure, 15, then 20. You travel a lot for business so you are pretty sure that there is a problem they’re not telling you about. Your son, age 4, asks, “why aren’t we moving yet, Daddy?” You have no response that would satisfy his young inquisitive mind so you simply say nothing at all.

Then the Captain comes on the PA and says that there is some kind of problem with Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Washington, D.C. and that all flights headed in that direction are being held at their departure points until the issue is resolved. A few minutes later, the Captain announces that there has been a power failure at ATC and he hopes to provide an update as to when you’ll be departing shortly. Shortly? You know how that goes. You pull out your cell phone to see if you can find any more information and when you pull up your flight status, you see the worst word possible when traveling by air – CANCELLED. You show it to the guy sitting next to you and he utters an expletive before quickly apologizing to you for doing so in front of your son. You smile and say that he’s heard worse. You are upset but maintain your positive attitude for the sake of your son. Your wife and daughter (age 7) are sitting in the aisle in front and across the plane from you. It’s only a matter of seconds before the Captain provides the dreaded news to the passengers. You know that your wife is going to be shattered because she has been missing her family and is anxious to see them. But you’re not next to her to provide comfort when the announcement is made.

The Captain comes back on and renders the bad news. The flight has been cancelled.  Groans, moans, and more expletives ring out throughout the plane. You look over at your wife and see that her excitement has turned to sheer and utter disappointment. She looks back at you and shrugs her shoulders. You attempt to give a reassuring look back but despite your best efforts, her reaction to this tells you that your effort has failed. The crew instructs everyone to proceed to the ticket counter to discuss rebooking and alternate flights. You’re at the back of the plane so you know you’re going to be at the back of what is certain to be a very long line….

You stand up and your son innocently asks, “are we here already?” Then you have to try to explain to this little boy that you have to get off this plane and onto another one. His naivety is an asset here. As you exit the plane, the crew and Captain are standing at the door apologizing. You realize that the issue is completely out of their control because again, you travel a lot for business and at this point, you are pretty good at discerning what is and what is not under the airlines’ control. You walk up the jet bridge and emerge back onto the gate area and see that a line about 200 people deep has already formed. You hug your wife and ask her to have a seat with the kids and proceed to the back of the line. It’s going to be a long wait. People are angry. They’re frustrated. Some are obnoxious and downright rude. But you take it all in stride (to the best of your ability, of course.)

It’s been 15 minutes and the line hasn’t moved an inch……


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Press 1 for….. Press 2 for…..

Hang in there frog“Press 1 for ….., Press 2 for ….., Press 3 for ……” And it goes on and on. It used to be easier, right? You’d just hit 0 and the call would be routed to an operator. Not so much anymore. More often than not, what you hear now is “invalid selection” and the menu starts all over again. There are valid reasons for companies to use these menus. These include tracking the reasons for people calling and to create appropriate departmental staffing levels based on call volume. I get that. What annoys me to no end are the endless attempts by those organizations to placate me while I’m on an extended hold. “Your call is very important to us….” And that’s if they have those recorded messages in place at all. Many of them don’t.

If you’re like me, there comes a point during the hold where you start to debate (with yourself) the merits and consequences of just hanging up and calling again later. On the one hand, you decide that your time is just too valuable to continue holding. On the other, you realize that if you do hang up, yours might just be the very next one in the queue. Some companies tell you where you’re at in the queue but it’s certainly not the norm. Again, if you’re like me, you suck it up and continue to hold until you finally get a chance to speak to someone but not before your finger hovers over that “end call” button.

I’ve been in business for myself for a few years now. I was prepared for the challenges that go along with being your own boss and running your own company. But I’m human. There were the “lean” times when I thought of throwing in the towel. There are still times like that but I’m grateful to say they are far fewer than in the beginning. Whenever I got into that rut, I recalled the various stories of successful leaders that were going to give up but instead made the decision to recommit and hang on. As a result, they were able to achieve great things. Honestly, I wonder how many times Thomas Edison thought of giving up when he was trying to invent the light bulb. The guy had tried and failed a couple thousand times. But he didn’t quit. He believed in himself and in his ability to achieve the desired result of his labor. He accepted his failures and learned how to be better. He tried different tactics and performed other experiments. It’s the consummate definition of “trial and error.”

The point is that we are all faced with our doubts and realization of our limitations. This is true for self-employed individuals as well as for those who work for others. The principle of persistent effort applies just the same. When faced with disappointment or failure in an endeavor, experiment, try different tactics, and press on. It really is about the journey, not the destination.

The poem “Don’t You Quit” may help you in your quest. The author of the poem is unknown. Perhaps it was Edison?

 When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit-

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

 Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won had he stuck it out.

 Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

 Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,

How close he was to the golden crown.

 Success is failure turned inside out –

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It might be near when it seems afar;

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.


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Talking ABSURD! Leadership with CU Broadcast’s Mike Lawson

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LazyTown? I Call Bulls***

LazyTown    I have two children, ages 6 & 4. I’m not going to lie: they’re a handful. But they’re mine and I love them. They watch appropriate kids’ shows on TV. One of these is LazyTown and it’s on the Sprout network. In brief, the show is about a girl that lives in the fictional hamlet of LazyTown. You know the deal. She goes on adventures, gets into trouble, gets out of trouble, etc.

Again, the show is called LazyTown. But there’s nothing lazy about it. Honestly, I get exhausted just watching it. The action never stops. They sing, dance, become pirates, ride rocket ships, and on and on. There’s no sleeping, no resting, nothing that would come close to being described as lazy.

This isn’t a rant about what I consider to be an egregious misnaming of a kids’ television show. Well, the first part of the post is. (Note to self: Sean, get a life!!)

But I digress.

Laziness is one of those culprits that can ruin an organization. And it’s not a fast-moving killer. Indeed the very nature of laziness is lethargic, snail’s pace, and glacier-like withering of progress. And it’s extremely contagious!

Organizations like yours need employees that are akin to the characters in LazyTown. They’re energetic, always smiling and singing, and have a passion for their work. People are going to have bad days. That should be expected, we’re human after all. A bad day every now and again isn’t the problem.

The problem is chronic laziness practiced by unmotivated employees. You know the type: the constant complainers, the troubled tardys, the party poopers. These are the folks who need attention. Perhaps they need training. Incentives might help increase their energy. Maybe an attitude adjustment is in order. The point is you cannot tolerate chronic laziness. Here are 3 steps on how to deal with the unmovable:

Cause. Find out what it is. Is it something that can be controlled or changed for the better?

Evaluate. It could be the employee isn’t in the right position at the organization. This happens more often than you think. They might want to learn new things or accept additional responsibilities. Are you challenging them enough?

Agreement. Once you uncover the cause and evaluate the situation, it’s important to agree on a mutually beneficial course of action. Each situation is unique. Recognize it as such and understand that a “cookie cutter” approach usually won’t resolve a problem that presents itself as laziness.

Are there other steps that you’ve taken to address laziness in your organization? Leave your comments below and let’s start a conversation!

I came across a quote the other day and I wanted to share it: “A bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.”

 It’s 100% true. Don’t be a sucky leader. Find a better way.

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A Pathway to Humble Leadership: 3 Simple Steps

“He who serves his fellows, is of all his fellows, greatest.” – Dr. E. Urner Goodman

I have a long history with the Boy Scouts of America. I am an Eagle Scout and have held a lot of leadership positions in the organization, both on a local and national level. and I worked on summer camp staff for several years. My best friends in the world are those I made through my involvement with Scouting.

The caption for the photo above is a quote from the founder of the Order of the Arrow, a service organization in the Scouts. The purpose and sole duty of “Arrowmen” is to serve others. It’s as simple as that. There are a variety of ways to serve, too many to discuss here. Suffice to say that every action, project, or work should be tied back to that very simple goal: to serve others.

People lead organizations from all demographics, age groups, creed, race, and backgrounds. The vast majority of these leaders are good at their jobs. Some could use an ego adjustment. A few fall into the category of “servant-leaders.”

The concept of “Servant-Leadership” is catching on. Organizations that use the philosophy often enjoy the best productivity, highest profits, and lowest turnover of employees. As a leader, who wouldn’t want those things?

Here are 3 Steps to becoming an effective “servant-leader”….

Share power. It’s not all about you. It never was, isn’t now, and never will be. Get humble. Your role as a leader is not to grab power and hoard it over people. If you’re looking for more collaboration and higher morale, empower those with whom you work to do more. You’ll get to see what they’re made of. And they’ll get to see what you’re made of.

Put the needs of others first. This can be challenging, especially in the world that screams “me, me, me.” But it is possible. More than possible, it is necessary. Recently, we are hearing about company owners or leaders making sacrifices for the betterment of their employees. One company executive recently announced that he would pay college tuition for the children of his employees. Talk about a great tactic to achieve employee loyalty! Richard Branson created an unlimited vacation program for his employees. He understands that if employees are well rested, they will be more productive and happier.   You’ll have to find out which “others first” programs might work for your organization. But start to look for opportunities, right now.

Develop your people.  I’ve always been baffled as to why bad leaders, including those who don’t train and develop employees, get upset when their best employees leave. It’s not rocket science. Great employees want to increase their knowledge, be prepared to take on additional responsibilities, and be acknowledged for doing awesome things. A servant-leader understands this and takes action. A servant-leader creates opportunities for the best employees. A servant-leader makes it known that he or she values professional development.

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Let’s get a discussion going!

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