Skip to content

How can we manage our time to be the most productive? That’s the million-dollar question every leader wants the answer to. There’s no shortage of advice and technologies on how to make that happen, but are they enough?  

As a productivity-seeking leader, I’ve tested a variety of time-management practices and fine-tuned the ones that worked for me, but I’ve found they’re most effective only if I first develop a mindset that 

  • moves me and my team past uncertainty and doubt, and  
  • commits us to creating simple systems and sticking to them.  

Now, don’t get me wrong. Uncertainty and doubt are natural occurrences, but when we entrench ourselves in them and refuse to see a way past them, we lose time that we will never get back. The same is true when we waste time chasing complicated systems in which no one is quite sure what they’re doing or why.  

The best example I can give you on how the two converge is an experience I had as a turnaround executive.  

The company’s technology division was in trouble. Our biggest client had served us with a ninety-day cure notice or termination, and the division had lost money for the third month in a row. As dire as it sounds, I was eager to jump in and turn the division around. In my first meeting with the Technology Leadership Team their uncertainty and doubt were obvious. They had a list of reasons why it wasn’t going to work. 

“Our market has dried up, our sales team has lost their focus, there is too much pressure on pricing, overseas markets are hurting us.” Their time had been spent talking and “planning” around the obstacles they were certain they couldn’t overcome and ones they could never control—fix overseas markets? I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of conversations I’ve heard like this or calculate the number of productive hours lost. But I do know three things you can do to stop losing that productive time.  

  1. Stop spending time on things you and your team cannot control.  
  2. Focus on the ways you and your team can reach your goals.  
  3. Create simple systems to get there and stick to them.  

And that’s exactly what I did with my new team. We moved past their uncertainty and doubt by creating a series of workstreams focused on understanding the full situation: client, product/service, operations, people, and financial. Each workstream was given clear direction and twenty-four hours to come back with the top 5 challenges in order of magnitude.  

The next day we discussed every team’s list as a group, and then each team was given another twenty-four hours to solve one of the challenges that was selected by the group based on hearing all of them collectively.  

Adherence to this clear and simple system of identifying the challenges and then finding solutions  within finite periods of time provided us a clear and simple path forward.  

  • Each technician had to complete three transactions a day for us to be profitable and the current rate was 2.3.  
  • Every technician had to perform at 80 percent or better on every call. Currently, 18 percent of our technicians were providing poor service, which was driving our overall performance down with our biggest client.

Now the key was to clearly communicate this to every employee, which we did through a town hall meeting. I laid out the two pressing challenges and the simple system to solve them: Each technician must complete three transactions per day, performing at 80 percent or better. Everyone knew what was at stake and what they needed to do, and guess what? They did it. The technicians ramped up to 3.2 transactions per day and pushed our service levels up to 80 percent or higher. We made money and our client was healthy again.  

By pushing aside uncertainty and doubt, spending our time on what we could control, and committing to a simple system, we accomplished in sixty days what the division had been trying to accomplish in years. Time and productivity they will never get back.  

We can find all kinds of hacks to do more in less time, but they won’t have much impact if time is being wasted on creating complicated systems based on uncertainty and doubt. Are you ready to embrace a mindset that moves you and your team past uncertainty and doubt and commit to creating simple systems and sticking to them?  

If you are, here are a few hacks to help you build simple systems that will save you time and increase your productivity. 

Write things down 

The simple act of writing things down is important for any productivity system. It makes recall easier by helping you sort through your thoughts and organize them in a way others can easily follow.  

Create an action list  

The traditional to-do list has gained a negative connotation, as it can become overwhelming and take on a life of its own. Call it an action list instead. This simple relabeling signifies progress on a journey toward your vision and goals and serves as a reminder that you are in charge.  

Prioritize actions

Take time to clarify your self-driven vision and then include only the actions that are critical to obtaining it. It will still be a long list and you will need to prioritize and re-prioritize as things change. Begin by prioritizing based on short-term vs long-term and urgent vs important. Those that don’t make the priority list may still be beneficial, but if they don’t require you to take action to reach your current goals, they belong at the bottom of the list.  



The FUD Factor

Magnify your positive impact on the world by learning how to remove fear, uncertainty and doubt in yourself and the people around you. This book offers an in-depth, actionable approach to uncovering your fearless leadership potential.

Join the Fearless Leadership Movement

Discover how Brendan can help you or your organization thrive through fearless leadership.