Brain Based Way to Be More Productive

This is something I work on every day. If somebody asks me to do something, sometimes their lucky if I remember what it was half an hour later. I get distracted easily. But the research consistently shows that we’re at our best when we’re focused on one thing at a time.

Sometimes you have to multitask. Sometimes your job is interruptions or multiple balls-in-the-air juggling. But as much as you can. Do one thing at a time.

Multitasking is evil.

A Brain Based Method for Being More Productive by Inc.

Curb Your Email Addiction

I call it an addiction, because it gives us the hit of feeling like we’re accomplishing something when we’re actually being distracted from the most important things we do that bring value to the company. Not sure I agree with Jim Schleckser on the “Do Nothing” suggestion, but you should certainly set up rules for your in-box. My favourite one is “If I’m not on the To: list, file it. ” Saves a lot of time not reading CYA (Cover Your Ass) emails.

One tactic I’d add would be to turn off your notifications and chimes that tell you when a new email has arrived. That really is an interruption that will destroy your productivity faster than just about anything else.

6 Ways to Curb Your Email Habit – Jim Schleckser

A Wise Man

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

—  Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee
More than just a pretty face


The Myth of Time Management

We can't really manage time
We can’t really manage time

We can’t and don’t manage time.  The first time I read that from David Allen I had to put the book down and have a think:

  • you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six;
  • you don’t manage information overload – otherwise…the first time you connected to the Web…you’d blow up; and
  • you don’t manage priorities, you have them.

What we manage is our focus (HOW we spend our time) and energy

So with this in mind, I present to you the three books on “time management” that make the most sense to me. These are not books on how to use Microsoft Outlook to be more efficient. Frankly I feel like those kinds of courses that often end up teaching people to do useless work faster are more of the “blaming the victim” mentality.

These are books on getting the right things done and still having a life.

I do them all a disservice by skimming only one or two ideas from each, but that’s enough for now. If you want more, go read them yourself. I suggest you read them in order presented here (going from simplest to sophisticated), but that’s up to you.

“Eat That Frog!” – Brian Tracy

Big Idea: Do the most important, hardest, least pleasant, or most procrastinated task first. Getting that done gives you energy and motivation for the rest of the day

This is based on the Mark Twain quote “Eat a live toad first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. It doesn’t sound very appetizing. But by doing so you release stress, gain momentum, and are free to do what you want for the rest of the day. And actually do the stuff you need to get done. If you have more than one frog, eat the biggest ugliest one first. If you can’t decide which that is, pick the one you’ve been putting off the longest.

“Getting Things Done”  – David Allen

Big Idea: Keep all your commitments in one place, review them regularly. If a task would take less than two minutes to do, just do it right now.

As you scan everything that’s coming at you, decide if you’re going to file it (for reference), give it to somebody else (delegate it), forget (trash) it, or do it. If  it’s going to take less than two minutes then just do it now. The effort of tracking it is going to take more than two minutes of your time anyway. Otherwise put it on your calendar (because it has a deadline) or on your to-do list (because it doesn’t matter when you do it).

Here’s the secret sauce: keep your system up-to-date. Having a system is useless if you don’t use it on a regular basis. This is the stress many of us feel when we’re overwhelmed – your brain trying to remind you of all the things you’re supposed to keep track of. And it’s not very good at it. So it makes your life miserable.

If everything’s in one place, in a trusted system (you review it regularly) your brain can shut up about what it thinks it’s forgotten. Now you can focus on actually getting things done.

“The Effective Executive” – Peter Drucker

Big Idea: Put your ladder against the right wall.

You can be the fastest ladder-climber in the world, but if your ladder is leaned against the wrong wall, then your ability to climb ladders is wasted. Likewise all that frog eating and getting things done. Think about your strategy and consequently what you’re going to spend your time on, and you’ll be an effective executive.

There’s so much more in this book, of course. It’s one of the most practical books by the most influential management theorist and practitioner of the last century. I learn something new on every page every time I read it. Some other topics he covers:

  • effective executives know where their time goes
  • they focus on contributions and results
  • they build on strengths instead of trying to fix weaknesses
  • they do first things first (and second things second if at all)
  • they make effective decisions (and he describes in great detail what that looks like)

So, here are your undergrad, graduate, and post-graduate courses in time management and effectiveness. Have fun.

Switching to Slow Mode

Slow Motion…because doing one thing at a time, and getting it done, is faster that moving between a whole bunch of little things quickly. Again, as often, self-awareness and catching yourself doing that unhelpful thing is the key to change and getting better every day…

The Brain’s Fast Mode

Who Owns the Strategy of Your Company?

Omar Bradley studying the current situation

I believe that there are two responsibilities a CEO cannot give away or delegate: deciding who works for them, and the strategy / vision / direction of the company. Which is interesting, because I make my living helping companies build and execute strategic priorities.

Really, if I think about it, my role is to create the habit of strategic thinking and execution inside their companies. Not just an event that happens once a year. I consider myself successful when I’ve worked myself out of a job. My clients “graduate” when they exercise disciplined strategic review and energetic execution  for themselves.

How do I know when their ready? First, they have priorities. Second, the way they spend all their individual and company resources (time, money, materials, people) lines up with what they say their priorities are. Third, they are successful doing so (for whatever their definition of success is), and can vigorously confront or adjust for any obstacles to that execution.

If you need a little more strategic thinking in your organization / team / company / life, this article talks about the role of the strategist / strategy in a company:

Rethinking the Role of the Strategist


Building World Class Teams

A 1992 article featuring the former Captain of the mighty New Zealand Rugby team, on building teams and leadership: once again the role of the leader in providing vision and focus is at the top of the list, but also the role of a leader in developing others as leaders, getting people into the right roles at the right time and then staying out of the way. Well worth a read.

World Class Teams

How Very Successful People Are Different

I was skyping with my brother in Haiti the other day. He was talking about how he had to decide between two job offers and trying to figure out which one would give him the better work/life balance. He wants to be there for his kids (both jobs involve travel) and have a successful career (he has a young family).

I tend to want to choose between one thing and the other. My sweetie points out that this false dichotomy is sometimes a less than creative solution, and she’s often right. But I’ve seen too many careers flounder because leaders think they have to do everything to be “successful”. Sometimes we have to make yucky choices.

Then I ran across this article on LinkedIn about the Difference Between Successful and Very Successful People. The top of the list? Very successful people are absurdly selective. I think what this means for my brother is that he can have that work/life balance if he guards his commitments beyond those to career and family extremely ferociously.

Successful People Are Different

The other items on the list are equally thought-provoking, like very successful people are very powerful listeners, focus on what they can do better, and sleep more than four hours a night.

 Bernie works with small, medium (and sometimes) large companies, start-ups, and volunteer organizations to help them set a vision that is executable, effective, and to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I believe the workplace is a place to thrive, not just survive. Call me if you want help transforming your business. 

Start With the “Why?”

You must inspire people to drive business executionDan Pink argues that three surprising things motivate people: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. In business execution, I argue, you need to start with the purpose.

That’s what I wrote for this month’s article at – You must inspire people to drive business execution. Check it out and let me know what you think?

Question for the Comments:
What is your purpose for working or running a business, beside just making money? How do you inspire people?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Why Are You Hiding Your Values
Deep Survival: Business Lessons From the Wild
What Do You Want to Be the Leader Of?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

Stop Interrupting Yourself

I love working with new clients. There are simple things that outstanding managers and leaders do well, and introducing a new client to those simple (but not always easy) things pays off so quickly. I don’t even want to charge them for it. But of course I still do.

Last week I introduced some time-management concepts to a group of front-line managers at a construction company. Of course their biggest personal challenge is having enough hours in the day to react to everything be instantly available to everybody all the time.

Now when I say it that way it doesn’t sound very appealing. Re-framing our work day in these terms gives us a different perspective, and maybe even an “Aha! No wonder my head feels like it’s exploding with this feeling of being constantly overwhelmed!” Now we can shift our perspective.

The Power of Interruptions

In “The Mythical Man Month”, published in 1975, Frederick Brooks talks about how programmers are more efficient, correct, and productive when they can close their doors, transfer their phones, and focus on their work. Even a 30-second interruption from a single phone call would mean they would have to spend the next 15 minutes getting their state of mind back to where they were before they were interrupted.

Those four phone calls you answered in the last hour? That’s why you didn’t get that report / estimate / article done.

The Power of Being Focused

For one particular manager, that shift was simply reducing office noise. By asking his office peers to close their door when they were having meetings (or closing his own door), turning off his email notifications, and not answering his phone for an hour (he still kept an eye on who was calling, just in case it was a client), he was able to get done in that hour what usually took him two.

We use “courtesy flags” in our office when the noise gets out of control. We like to have fun, but that’s not always appropriate when somebody is on the phone with a client and they can’t carry on a normal conversation. It’s a simple pendant on a straw that gets waved when somebody needs things to calm down. It works well.

A Minute a Day

Here’s the interesting bit. One hour saved in a day doesn’t seem like that much. But if our construction manager does that every day he’ll have 200 extra hours in a year. That’s five weeks. Maybe he won’t have to come in on the weekends any more. That’s not a small shift any more. That’s a huge shift. For him personally, for his family, and for the company. He’s better rested, better energized, and working harder when he is there.

Even small changes, continually applied, add up. It’s like the power of compounded interested. Finding even a minute a week, over 52 weeks, isn’t just 52 minutes. It’s 23 hours: 1 minute the first week, 2 the second week, and so on.

That’s the part I love, making my clients eyes go wide when they realize how small changes sometimes have huge impacts. In this case not continually allowing ourselves to be interrupted. It’s doing the basics right. Being focused. It’s sharpening the axe before cutting down the tree. Being productive and working on what we want to work on.

Your Actions:

If you’re a fireman, you’re exempt from this question:

Is there something you can do to stop being interrupted at work when you need to focus? What’s the worst thing that will happen if you don’t answer your phone or every text right away every time? What can you do to build at least some uninterrupted time into your daily routine?