How to Feel Productive: Change Your Definition

How to Feel Productive: Change Your Definition

“How productive was your day, today?” I asked a member.

“Very!” he said.

“Great! What made it so productive?”

“I spent the day with my Executive Team. It felt good to resolve some important business issues with my key leadership.”

What a unique view of productivity!. Why don’t I hear this more often? “How do other CEO’s define productivity?” I wondered.  What causes their common frustration with not getting their “real” work done?

Broadly speaking, CEO’s accomplish their goals in two ways: completing tasks themselves and working with, and through, others. Completion of our tasks is easy to measure: either something was done or not. Checking items off the “to do” list is obvious evidence, and it satisfies our need for immediate gratification.

Measuring work done through others is more challenging. Consider these essential disciplines that require the majority of a CEO’s time:

  • Working with executives to set the direction of the business.
  • Communicating the vision, purpose, values, goals and competitive advantage to all employees.
  • Meeting with all levels of employees to identify and remove barriers.
  • Coaching and developing direct-reports.
  • Overseeing the business’s performance.
  • Helping others to manage priorities and create alignment.

The one thing these tasks all have in common is that they involve directly dealing with others. Even though most would agree that these are an essential part of a CEO’s job description, many often feel most unproductive when they’re doing them. Why is that? Maybe it’s because their short-term measurement of productivity doesn’t include these disciplines.

Randomly, I asked my members what appeared on their to do lists. Most answered that less important, small things dominated theirs. Their vital duties, many of which do not have a clear end point, were not even included on any list by which they judged their own daily productivity. Even though most of my CEO members are consistently performing the essential duties required by their positions, they still
feel unproductive. When I suggested that they include items relating to the vital “people” activities in their evaluation of productivity, the light bulb of recognition lit up over each of their heads. Most were already being very productive- the problem was only their own limited internal definition of it!

How do you measure your own productivity? I challenge you to find inconsistencies between your task tracking and what is actually most important. Update your daily or weekly to-do list (see the end of this article for ideas). Acknowledge the value and importance of face time with your employees, and stop feeling bad about the 1,000 less-important tasks that you didn’t complete today.

Consider replacing lower priority items with these recurring items on your to-do list:

  • Ask five employees to recite your company purpose, values or vision. Then check for understanding by asking them to explain each in their own words.
  • Ask five employees what are the company’s top objectives for the year. How does their job help achieve them?
  • Find organizational or procedural barriers that prevent people from doing their job.  Remove
    at least 50% of them.
  • Schedule one-to-one meetings with your direct-reports each month. How will you assist in their growth and development?
  • Delegate at least 3 items this week.
  • Check the validity of assumptions made in the budget and strategic plan.
  • Review key performance indicators with your Executive Team. Revise the 90 day plan as necessary.
  • Spend 15 minutes each day walking around the business and talking with employees.
  • Meet with new employees and ask how they interpret your culture.
  • Participate in new employee orientation. Explain the history, purpose, vision and values.
  • Schedule quarterly strategic sessions (off-site) with your Executive Team.
  • Review policies and procedures with your Executive Team for cultural fit.
  • Review the clarity of your business model with your Executive Team.
  • Develop an internal communication strategy to improve organizational clarity.
  • Interview key new hires for cultural fit.
  • Identify steps needed to make your Executive Team more cohesive and healthy.
  • Ask more questions and provide fewer answers.

Please share what you have added to your to do list because of this blog.


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5 thoughts on “How to Feel Productive: Change Your Definition”

  1. Bob Fritz says:

    “Find organizational or procedural barriers that prevent people from doing their job. Remove at least 50% of them.”

    If I wasn’t “retired,” I think I’d do this every week.

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